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This 'n That
home : features : this 'n that
August 8, 2022

7/29/2022 2:56:00 PM
Adventures In Europe
Connie Friess and Jim Wasowski at Penny Lane
Connie Friess and Jim Wasowski at Penny Lane
Stained glass in the Sagrada Familia
Stained glass in the Sagrada Familia
by Jim Wasowski

When my wife, Connie Friess, and I said our, “I dos”, to each other in May of 2017, one thing that we pledged to each other was to fulfill our dreams of seeing the world. Connie and I lost our first spouses to cancer in late 2015 and early 2016, and then found each other on Match.com in late 2016. Connie and her first husband, Joe, had just retired and dreamed of traveling but the circumstances suddenly curtailed that plan. My first wife, Libby, and I traveled a little to see our kids in New York and Chicago and we did one trip to Europe, but we longed to do more before disease stopped us in our tracks.
Well, Connie and I are living our dreams. Since our marriage, we have taken six Caribbean cruises, one five-country River Boat Cruise throughout Europe on the Rhine that included a trip to Lake Como in Italy, many driving trips to our blended families all over the country, and we just recently finished a four-week 13,842-mile trip all over Europe. And yes, we are smiling about it all, but admit that we are a little bit exhausted.
Our recent adventure was made possible with a lot of planning that began five months before our departure. Betsy Bouchard, our good friend, and retired travel agent helped a lot by arranging ground transportation, hotels, and excursions. The trip started on April 29, as we drove to Ft. Lauderdale to board the Vision of the Seas for a two-week (4667 miles) repositioning cruise to Barcelona. We were careful not to eat or drink too much (right!). We enjoyed the events on-board, especially the competitive egg-dropping competition, which was surprisingly interesting, and played a lot of trivia. We got off the ship for several excursions, including La Palma, Canary Islands, where we walked on a volcanic beach that was black in color. Upon returning to the ship that day, we enjoyed the four-hour Chef’s Table meal which included champagne, seven courses, six different wines, dessert (which actually was made to erupt like a volcano) and an after-dinner drink served by our Indian chef and Ukrainian sommelier, who had fascinating, sad tales to tell about the current war and how it was impacting his family. As we neared Barcelona, the ship passed the Rock of Gibraltar and, at that time, we were three miles from Africa and three miles from Europe. During the voyage, the ship gradually changed the clocks to get us 6 hours ahead for the Barcelona / Paris time zone.
In Barcelona, the highlight for us was the tour of La Sagrada Familia, the magnificent cathedral that was started in the 1880s by Antoni Gaudi and is still considered not finished. Gaudi is often called “God’s Architect”. We were struck by the rising steeples and stained-glass windows that were so majestic that, inside, the light through the windows gave the feeling that we might have been in heaven. The cathedral just might be completed in 2026.
From Barcelona, our trip to Paris by TGV bullet train was interesting. The 643-mile run was very quick, with the train’s speed peaking at 187 miles per hour. As we quickly passed through the Pyrenees, we were struck by how modern technology enables us to do things that seemed impossible in the past. As a former history teacher, I recounted to Connie how long it took Hannibal to cross the Pyrenees with elephants. We crossed them in almost no time at all.
While in Paris, we walked to the Arch of Triumph from our hotel, had wine and olives, strolled the Champs Elysees, took two boat rides down the Seine, walked the Tuileries Gardens, witnessed the reconstruction of Notre Dame and gawked at the size of the Louvre and shed a tear at Place Diana, the death monument to Princess Diana. We toured the gardens at the Palace of Versailles and walked through the palace itself with a lot of time spent in the Hall of Mirrors. We marveled at the size and scope of the Eiffel Tower, which is just awesome! Connie and I were both impressed by the friendliness of the people and enjoyed one afternoon talking, for over an hour, to the manager of our hotel, who gave us complimentary champagne and shared his views of his President Macron and our President Biden. Everyone laughed as we all agreed that most politicians are just a little bit crazy. Later that day, we traveled past Macron’s house which was guarded by police and military folks all armed with assault rifles. The house is right in the middle of a normal neighborhood close to the Parisian opera houses.
After five days in Paris, we took a train through the Chunnel and spent five days in London. Highlights included witnessing the Buckingham Palace “changing of the guard” as England prepared for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, a trip down the Thames with great views of Big Ben and Parliament, and a visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral where Charles and Diana got married and both Winston Churchill and Lord Nelson are buried. We also toured the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels and the place where Henry VIII killed several of his wives. Side trips included Windsor Castle (Queen Elizabeth was in residence at that time), Stonehenge (thoroughly spooky but amazing) and a visit to the village of Bath (parts of Bridgerton are filmed there). And in a story that borders on the unbelievable, Connie did see the Queen clearly in her car (whose escort was only five motorcycle police officers) as she was returning from the Chelsea Flower show. Connie almost had a heart attack as the Queen passed by on her side of the cab, only about 10 feet away. The elderly cab driver, who had lived in London all his life, said that he had only seen the Queen three times in his entire life, including this time with us. The last stop in the London area was to emulate the Beatles as we crossed the street on Abbey Road. It’s a really busy street!
From London, we took a short train ride (222 miles) to Liverpool, where we checked into the Hard Day’s Night Hotel to celebrate the Beatles. A picture of Paul and Linda McCartney hung over our bed, and Beatles music was playing constantly in the hotel lobby and restaurant. Photos of the Fab 4 were everywhere and black and white photos of all the people on the Sgt. Pepper’s album cover were used as wall coverings on one big wall. The hotel was right around the corner from The Cavern bar where the Beatles played in the early days. Next door to The Cavern were dozens of souvenir shops and restaurants and even the Sgt. Peppers bar, which we loved, with some of the locals taking us under their wing. We also did a walking tour of downtown Liverpool and enjoyed seeing the Mersey River, thinking of Gerry Marsden (Gerry of Gerry and Pacemakers) as we gazed at the river made famous in the song Ferry Cross the Mersey. There was also much hoopla going on for the Liverpool soccer team, which was playing in the European Cup in Paris that very weekend. Imagine the fun if your team makes the US Super Bowl.
Our second day in Liverpool was a highlight as we jumped into a private cab to take the Fab 4 Taxi tour. Included on the tour was stopping at the homes where each of the Beatles grew up, (Paul had the nicest house, John’s was nice too, Ringo was the poorest and lived near a bar and George’s house has been left in disrepair). We saw Penny Lane, which still has the bank and barber shop, Strawberry Fields (which was an orphanage for those who don’t know) and St. Paul’s Church, where John was kicked out of the choir and where Eleanor Rigby is buried. As we drove along, you could see where the lyrics for their songs came from. The driver was a great guy who I thought could have been the world’s best authority on the Beatles. He explained how some of the lyrics came to be, for instance ‘nothing to get hung about’ in Strawberry Fields. That lyric was a response by John Lennon to his aunt, who kept telling him to stay away from the bad kids at Strawberry Fields. John was there a lot because those kids were his friends. Finally, his aunt, Mimi, warned him that the police would arrest him and maybe would hang him if he kept going there. Thus, the lyric was John’s response to his overprotective aunt.
     From Liverpool, we took a cab to Manchester to board a flight to Reykjavik, Iceland, where we spent two days experiencing 21 hours of light and only three hours of darkness. We saw numerous volcanoes and saw a landscape that looked more like the moon than the earth. At that point, Connie and I admitted that we had hit the wall and decided to cancel an excursion to the Blue Lagoon, which was supposed to be the last grandiose stop on the trip. But we did walk the streets of Reykjavik, celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary at a great restaurant and marveled at how fifty-degree temperatures were comfortable if the sun was out. Who would have thought that a couple of Floridians wouldn’t freeze at that temperature? We also appreciated that almost every Icelander spoke perfect English and how the locals were caught up in the hoopla of the European Cup with many bars and street cafes offering outdoor TVs for the throngs of interested sports fans. In fact, during that last night of the trip, there was cheering at outdoor venues for the big game causing a bit of a sleepless night. Unfortunately, Liverpool lost to Spain in the big game.
On our final day in Iceland, we took a cab at 5:30am for a 50-mile drive to the airport. Interestingly, as we got into the cab, there were people outside waiting for a cab, as they hadn’t gone home from their Saturday night reveling! We boarded a plane for our six-hour flight to Boston and then a three-hour flight back to Ft. Myers, arriving home on May 29 at about 8:00pm. We had started the morning in the Arctic Circle, waking up at 4am (midnight Eastern time) and ended the day in Southwest Florida!!!!! What an adventure. What a trip. No wonder we are still tired, but what a fabulous 13,842-mile-long trip!
As a sidebar, we left again on June 15 for a trip to Los Angeles, Dallas, and Columbus Ohio to visit family, to attend a wedding and to follow the Cleveland Guardians baseball team. We returned on June 28 and hope to sleep until August!

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