I never thought I’d dread a free foot massage…

…but I do now.   I just got back from physiotherapy, which I have twice a week.   I don’t do any walking in PT yet.  What these appointments consist of is the physical therapist pulling and pushing my big toe joint  in ways it doesn’t want to go yet.  I call it “the most painful foot massage ever”.

The pink is where I would like to move. The blue is where he thinks I should move. I found the screw on clip art. Not sure if my screws are that big or not but I imagine it to be.

Above is a diagram of it.   I figured I’d spare you an actual photo of my feet currently.  Not that they are doing bad….in fact, today marks the 8 week birthday of the new joints.  However, because of the modified way I am learning to walk, they have like 17 blisters apiece from where my tennis shoes rub them differently.   It’s not attractive.  You don’t want to see that on your Thursday morning while enjoying your coffee.

My physio is a Swiss guy and so we spend the half hour of torture talking about the differences in Swiss and American culture in a combination of English and French.  Things like:

-Mexican food – I talk about this a lot. So much so that every time I go, he asks me if I am making Mexican for dinner.  He thinks this is bizarre that we make Mexican.  I don’t think he has every had Mexican.  Or else never been ripped away from a favorite food group and implanted into a new culture who doesn’t have those products.  Or else he’d understand.

-Coca Cola – he asked me if I drink a lot of Coca-Cola since I am from America.  I told him that when I was a kid that I drank a 2 liter a day, but now I refrain from the stuff. I think that maybe I helped build this stereotype up about the US with that comment.

-The state of Kentucky and the fact that people there don’t eat Kentucky Fried Chicken but they did just win the basketball championship.

-Skiing differences between here and the US.

-American politics.  We talk a lot about the election. I find it remarkable that people from other cultures know so much about the US government and current events.  It inspires me to want to soak up knowledge and know more about others.

-How much Swiss stuff costs.  I think everyone agrees with this generalization.

-The different approaches to food in Europe vs. the US and how much Gabe and I appreciate the change of offering and are glad to pay more for better food.   For more on my opinion, read this previous post.

Since I have gained a bit more mobility through PT, I am expanding my exercise routine on the days I don’t have sessions.   Like by doing quasi-yoga.   I call it quasi because all I can do is downward dog and a little “walking the dog”.   But still, its progress!!

I have 5 more weeks until my bones heal and settle.  Here’s hoping for more patience with PT and increased flexibility until then!

 

Rolling….

Post by Lauren

Because of the limited mobility of my feet, it was much easier to ride in a wheelchair for the longer distances when traveling with Gabe’s family.  I have gotten permission to walk up to 30 minutes at a time (at a snails pace) but I am supposed to keep them elevated the rest of the day if I walk that much.  By riding in a chaise roulant (French for “wheelchair”), we didn’t have to stop and take 1000 breaks.  It is also easier for Mama Mia when doing long long days of tours and exploration to ride in the same style.

Hanging out in the courtyard of the hospital where Van Gogh lived / painted.

However, wheelchairs are not common in Europe.  Or so we are guessing by the stares we received while riding in them in the three countries we visited.   Not kidding that people would stop in their tracks and look.  For extended amounts of time.

In Zermatt, we guessed that maybe thought it had something to do with the thought of ski accidents since it is a huge winter sports town.  Maybe it scared them for what was ahead on the slopes the next day.   I joked with Gabe that if someone asked, I was going to tell them that it was a result of heli-skiing on the Matterhorn.

Attracting curiousity in Zermatt

In Milan, as Gabe pushed me along the streets of the fashion capital, we realized that this particular accessory also garnished a lot of looks.

In Nice, an 8 year old girl rollerbladed backwards for an entire minute so she could continue to gawk as we strolled/rolled down the Promenade d’Anglais.  I was worried she might collide and need one herself by the time the viewing was over.

I wonder why wheelchairs aren’t as common in Europe?   Maybe its the difficulty of cobblestones or lack of access to elevators & handicapped bathrooms due to older buildings?

Anyhow, just another culture difference we are learning about.

Monaco and Monte Carlo

Post by Lauren

Gabe has wanted to go to Monaco and Monte Carlo since we have moved to Europe.  Being a fan of James Bond, I think he wanted to see the winding roads and glitzy casino up close.

We arrived into Monaco in the morning, making it a perfect time to enjoy coffee and croissants at the famous Café de Paris adjacent to the Casino Monte Carlo.  The Gladiator, Mama Mia, Gabe and I soaked in the rising Monaco sun as we watched Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Bentley’s roll by.

Gabe and The Gladiator enjoying Café de Paris

Our immediate takeaway is how pristine everything in Monaco was.  To me, it felt like we were walking through an alternative universe, almost like a Barbie village, too immaculate to be real.

Monaco is a sovereign state, ruled by a royal family.   It is currently ruled by Prince Albert II.  His parents were Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly.  Princess Grace, previously a Hollywood actress, died when she had a stoke and resulting automobile crash over one of the notorious corniches.

Monaco is the second smallest sovereign state in the world, after Vatican City.  It is also the second most densely populated, only occupying one square mile of land.   It is the same size as Central Park in New York City!  It takes about an hour to walk across the entire country (not counting me with my bum feet).

We took a little train tour, and learned a number of things about Monaco’s history.   For one, they have a police officer for every 60 citizens.  Thus, crime is virtually nonexistent.

Monaco doesn’t have taxes, making it a desirable place to live.   The casino was started as an effort to start bringing income to the principality.  There is also no border patrol. They speak French and take euros in addition to their currency, the monegasque franc.

 

And how can we forget the F1 races?  Monaco’s notoriety has soared because of these infamous races that take place in its winding streets.  We think these would be neat to see one day.

 

Image courtesy of F1 4 Kids

 

However, for now, “Goodbye, Monaco”.  Back to reality for us….

 

Villefranche, a quaint sea village

Post by Lauren

We had heard from numerous people that Villefranche was a great place to stay on the Cote d’Azur.   After spending one night, we’d wholeheartedly agree.

Villefranche was quaint and beautiful.  The colored buildings were gorgeous at both sunset and sunrise.  The small port had cozy restaurants lining the water and provided a nice way to relax and reflect on our trip.

We stayed at Hotel Provençal which provided stunning views. We have a dear friend that recommends The Welcome Hotel as well if you are considering a trip.

 

Adoring Villefranche

 

After checking in and enjoying our balconies for a bit, we drove down to the port.  We ended up checking out all the menus along the waterfront and selected Les Corsaires.  Mama Mia announced after we were seated that this night would be their treat in honor of Gabe’s birthday.  It was a perfect way to celebrate!!  Mama Mia had prawns, The Gladiator and Gabe had steaks (Gabe was still on the steak train from our experience in Arles) and I opted for a veal chop.

The place was family owned and dog friendly. In fact, this little guy kept checking on how my veal chop was.

My dinner table friend

 

Villefranche, we’ll be back some day!

A drive through Cannes and Nice

Post by Lauren

As we continued down the Cote d’Azur, I wanted to stop in Cannes.  I have always been intrigued by the film festival and this interest was accentuated by the HBO show Entourage.  I know, silly reason.

Luckily, Mama Mia & Gladiator were also game for seeing the coastal village.  So, we did just that – took a little detour and drove down the streets of this town in the South of France.

It was busy, bustling with a lot of folks getting photos ops by the grand theatre where the film festival is done.

Downtown Cannes, France

After our glimpse into Cannes, we continued driving onto Nice.  This time, we took a longer stop, strolling & rolling along the Promenade d’Anglais for about an hour.  The sky had grown considerably darker since our 30 min drive from Cannes.  However, people were out enjoying the breeze and beginning to start the nightlife on its stone beaches.

Both towns were interesting to see.   We weren’t blown away by either but have had several people who have lived in both say that we didn’t give them much of a chance.  I’d agree that a quick stop probably isn’t enough to form a judgement.

However, we can conclusively say that we adored the little sea village of Villefranche where we spent the night.  More on that later…

Cliffs of Cassis

Post by Lauren

On our way from Provence to the Cote d’Azur with Gabe’s parents, we traveled a bit out of the way so we could catch a glimpse of the cliffs near Cassis, France.   I had heard they were magnificent.   We traveled on the Route de Crêtes from Cassis to La Ciotat, grabbing lunch in the harbor, before heading east onto Cannes & Nice.

It was amazingly gorgeous.  I had no fear getting out to this rock but soon after looking down, I became a scardy cat and scampered down.

As we were leaving, a team of rock climbers began to repel down the cliffs. Wow, they were brave!  We preferred our seats on the ledge instead!

Gratitude Friday: Stepping into a Van Gogh Painting

Post by Lauren

We added Arles to our list because we knew The Gladiator would like its Roman history.  Arles has a Roman arena in marvelous shape.

However, I also was jazzed about hitting this UNESCO world heritage city because my favorite artist spent a stint of time here and credited it to be the most inspiring place of his career.  Thus, I am making our visit this weeks’ gratitude post.

Upon arrival, we stopped at Hotel Dieu, the hospital where Van Gogh recuperated after he cut off his ear.  We had learned in the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam that this incident was likely out of anger during a fight with fellow artist and object of his obsession, Gauguin.  Some say it was actually Gauguin who mistakenly cut off the ear in a sword fight and Van Gogh covered it up to protect Gauguin.  Only the dark streets of Arles can be sure.

Nonetheless, after the ear was no more, Van Gogh ended up at Hotel Dieu.  It was really neat for me to see this courtyard.  I instantly recognized it from a few paintings he did during his stay.

Espace Van Gogh, site of the Hotel Dieu, hospital where Van Gogh recovered

Later, we enjoyed an amazing dinner al fresco at Café Apostrophe in the Place du Forum.  I  say it was amazing because Gabe and I each both ordered a marvelous bone-in steak. We aren’t used to good quality beef in Switzerland.  It is typically small, expensive, and underwhelming.    We tend to get excited for eating out in other countries and Arles didn’t disappoint.

A highlight for me beyond the steak was sitting in sight of the café in the scene of the Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night. About the night cafe, Van Gogh said, “”I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad, or commit a crime.” (source: Wikipedia)

Recognize this scene? The Café - taken with my own camera - the source of my goosebumps!

When I was learning to paint in college, this was the second Van Gogh that I imitated, trying to recreate his brushstrokes in effort to learn the impressionistic style.  I have been lucky enough to travel to other cities that have been the scenes to famous paintings.  However, standing in sight of this little café in Arles sent chills up my spine.

The cafe one that I speak about is in the top left, but also included below are some additional paintings that Van Gogh did while in Arles:

Images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

 

In addition to the Van Gogh sights, Mama Mia, The Gladiator, Gabe and I visited Les Arènes, the ancient Roman amphitheater.   Arles thrived during Roman times.  So much so that they needed a stadium to hold 20,000.  In this stadium were executions, bullfights and other gory events of which the Romans were enamored.

 

Les Arènes

After the fall of Rome, Les Arènes remained but transitioned into a fortress and then later an entire town fit within it’s protection.

Les Arènes, circa 18th century. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Les Arènes is still used today for shows and bullfights.

Throughout the trip, we also enjoyed strolling down Arles beautiful streets and window shopping.    Mama Mia and I picked up some provençal goods…linens for me, and some souvenirs and gifts for her.   However, we all just enjoyed walking along taking in Arles. To me, the buildings were so gorgeous…

Streets of Arles

Arles is said to be the most creative portion of Van Gogh’s career.   Now, I see why Van Gogh liked it so much.  I am grateful to have experienced it myself.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Pont du Gard

Post by Lauren

Part of our group left after a week, leaving behind Mama Mia and The Gladiator.  The Gladiator had said he wanted to see the South of France so we took a road trip: SOF style.

This is the route we took; a big loop through 4 countries...if you count Monaco as its own country

Gabe and I tried to tailor the trip to:

-see a variety of geography

-see what was most interesting to all of us personally

-stay in financially efficient hotels. The South of France ain’t cheap.

Our first stop was at the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct  near Nîmes.  We knew that The Gladiator would like it because he enjoys history, particularly of ancient cultures.

The Pont du Gard was built in 19 B.C.    It is 50 km long and has three tiers.  It is remarkable site to witness and thus is designated a UNESCO world heritage site.  By the way, we hit 5 UNESCO sites during the family’s time here.  Gabe and I increased our total number by 3 during the family visit!  Woo hoo.

The Pont du Gard was designed to carry water to the fountains and baths of Nîmes, estimated 44 million gallons/day.  It is noted that Augustus’s son-in-law, Agrippa, was likely in charge of the design and execution as his aide and magistrate of water supply.

We had a sunny day.  However, it was incredibly windy.   We had brought a picnic to enjoy in view of Pont du Gard and had a hard time tying everything down while we ate.  Being the only one without sunglasses, I accumulated lots of Roman dust in my eyes which I had to flush out in the restroom of the tourist office.

My french tutor attributed the wind to “le mistral” the wind current along the Rhone river.

If you are touring Provence, this is a worthwhile stop.  Just be prepared for le mistral!

Enjoying Hermance

Post by Lauren

Geneva has a lot of lovely villages that surround it.  During the women’s club hikes, I have been able to experience a few of these little towns.  Since we walk fast through them, I just note which ones I should re-visit.

One such settlement is Hermance (pronounced Err-mance, with a silent H).   Hermance is about a half hour bus ride or car ride north of Geneva.   It is a lovely little village with a beautiful church and bell tower.

While the family was here, we decided to take a day trip up to it so that part of the crew could walk over the border to France. We took the bus which dropped us in the middle of town.

Hermance is on the border of Switzerland and France

 

Dunkel kindly pushed me around as I still wasn’t up for much walking.  We took a stroll down the streets of Hermance, noting it was like stepping back in time.  We only saw a few pieces of evidence of technology in bikes that had been left in the street — otherwise, just a peaceful quintessential Swiss village.

During our few hours, we ventured on the stone beach.  While walking near the shore, we noticed scuba gear.   Apparently the town is great for diving. They even have restrooms with showers for divers.

After the walk on the beach,  Dunkel, SweetWine, and The French Cougar took a quick walk over the border to France, which Mama Mia, The Gladiator and I just relaxed on the Swiss side.  Their passports weren’t checked as there is no border patrol at this quiet passing, but confirmed they were in France by some gentleman walking home from Hermance.

After the border crossing adventure, the group recharged with ice cream from the local epicerie (the only grocery store in Hermance) followed by some pastries and coffee at the lone patisserie in town.

Enjoying Hermance. In the photo of The Gladiator and Dunkel by the "creek", they are on the Swiss side, but the trees are in France.

The town is quite nice for guests to experience a quaint Swiss village.  And a plus for those wanting to add another country to their list.

Milano

Post by Lauren

Italy was high on the list for the family to see while they were here.   We considered going to Venice but our schedule was already packed as it was.  With Venice being 7 hours on the train, we opted for going to Milan instead as it is only 4 hours from Geneva.  We thought 14 hours would be overkill, especially since we’d done about 20 hours on the train thus far into the trip.

Direct trains leave Geneva twice a day for Milan – 7:42am and 1:42pm.  We picked the early train so that we could maximize our time.

We arrived in Milan just around lunch time and started to figure out how to take the metro and get euros out for the group.  We spent about 2 hours in the Milan train station trying to navigate.  Hello Italy and chaos!  As it turned out, we couldn’t take the metro with the wheelchairs – only steep stairs provided access – so we hopped in two cabs to take us to the city centre.

It took us a little while to find our hotel, but when we did find it we were rewarded greatly.  Gabe had done the research and found apartments nearby the Duomo.  Little did we realize that the view would be this good:

Glamour Apartments in Milan. Mama Mia, Sweet Wine and The French Cougar loved the marble bathrooms.

After marveling over the stately bathrooms and a quick lesson on bidets (see S in S for more), we dropped our bags and headed out for lunch.  We found a nice café directly in front of the Duomo and settled in for some wine and pizza.

Pizza lunch in Milan

Italy's best....gelato!!

The Gladiator's favorite part about Italy

Hanging out in Piazza del Duomo

After lunch, we grabbed some gelato, and Gabe took Sweet Wine, The Gladiator and French Cougar to the tour office to see if we could arrange something for the next day.  We had another small snippet of Italian chaos when some guy passing by stole The Gladiators sunglasses that he had left on the grass.   Mama Mia and I really couldn’t chase him down in our wheelchairs, so Dunkel saved the day by chasing after the guy who gave them back.

After a little bit of free time exploring, we met up for walking to a close-by restaurant, Al Mercante, recommended by a few folks.  It was family owned, cozy and welcoming.  We ordered in the typical Italian way, with a primi and a secondi.  In Italy, this is customary – to start with a pasta and then move onto a meat or fish dish.  Real Italians also add on an antipasti prior, but our tummies weren’t conditioned to this treatment yet so we just left it with the two courses.   However, some of us did participate in dolci, dessert.  Special thanks to Sweet Wine for treating Gabe and I to this marvelous meal.

The next day, after breakfast, we took a guided tour.  The guide, Esther, was quite good.  We’d recommend her for anyone traveling to Milan.  We navigated through the thousands of soccer fans in Milan for the Milano vs. Barcelona match happening later that night.

Dunkel, embracing the soccer spirit

Our first stop was the Duomo.  We learned that it took 500 years to complete, constructed between 1300 and 1800 AD.  The Duomo of Milan  is the world’s 3rd largest church (behind the Vatican and Sevilla).

Waiting to enter the Duomo of Milan after learning that "an Italian 5 minutes" really means 15. Not very Swiss.

The Duomo of Milan was styled after Notre Dame of Paris, built 200 years later.  It can contain 5 times the people however, at 40,000.  It is a Gothic style and has 3000 statues.

Duomo of Milan

There are 91 masses a week.  However, no weddings or funerals with the exception of very important events.  Versace’s funeral took place here in the Duomo of Milan.

One of the Duomo’s most notorious events took place in 1805, Napoleon ordered the Pope to come to Milan and crown him.  No one had ever ordered the Pope to travel before.

The marble used inside and out came from Lake Maggiore, outside of Milan.  Back then, it was quite important that it was a local source because of the difficulties of transportation.  As I mentioned, the marble used outside is the same as inside.  However, inside, the marble is dark.  Because of the current economic crisis in Italy, they cannot afford the expense of cleaning it inside.

The inside of the Duomo, 2012

After learning about the marble, we studied the stained glass.   Esther taught us that before the Catholics who attended the Duomo could read & write, that stained class told stories of the bible.  This particular scene details the life of Jesus Christ.

Some arts don’t improve with technology.  Esther said that today, designers are still not able to recreate the blue color that the talented craftsman achieved in the 15th Century.

Stained glass in Duomo of Milan, circa 1450 AD, telling the story of Jesus Christ's life.

After the Duomo, we continued on through the Galleria, the “living room of Milan”.  Gabe and I had discovered it the day before so enjoyed the second look.  We saw the original Prada, which will celebrate 100 years next year.  Speaking of the devil, our guide had the pleasure of touring Meryl Streep herself when she visited Milan. She said she was a very nice person.

Galleria, Milan

The original Prada store, Galleria, Milan

Next was La Scala, the famous opera house in Milan.  It was finished in 1778.  Esther listed three reasons it was so famous:

-the superior technical / sound accoustics

-the history, particularly Giuseppe Verdi, the talented composer who put the crack-down on the social antics of the Milan well-to-do when attending the opera

-the fact that success in the Scala gives you an international passport for your music career

The final stop was The Last Supper.   This was my favorite stop.  Until recently, I didn’t know that The Last Supper was painted on an actual wall.  It was done in the dining room of the monks in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in a style like a fresco.  During WWII, the church was bombed and the adjacent wall crumbled and so The Last Supper barely escaped.  It is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

They are very protective of the painting, with due cause, so we had to go through three independent air-conditioning chambers before we were let in the dining room.

Last Supper courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

It was simply amazing to witness Da Vinci’s perspective compared to the other art that day. If you stand back in the dining hall of the monks, the scene seems to go on endlessly.  Noticing the other painting opposite the room, which was painted during the same time, the perspective and depth simply wasn’t there.  It was a new concept which made Da Vinci stand out as an artist.

Also of note is Da Vinci’s use of emotion in The Last Supper.  Previous artists had used the same faces for all of the apostles.  In order to differentiate Judas, they put him farthest away from Jesus.

However, in his rendition, Da Vinci focused on the emotion of the men at the moment when Jesus announced that one of those at the table was going to betray him. Disciples are grouped in threes for further examination, each with different reactions.  Judas is now depicted in the middle of all of them, fairly close to Jesus; however, he is in the dark, not the light.

What a treat, especially a week before Maudy Thursday to experience this painting.

Ciao Milan!