Saturday, January 7, 2017

Top 10 List for Baja California Sur

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A week isn’t very long to get to know a place and so, as per usual, we were just warming up to the place when it was time to leave. If I had to summarize my thoughts, it would be that Cabo is a destination favoured by Americans who haven’t really heard of Canada, and by Canadians who are trying to find somewhere, anywhere, to escape the cold. The fact that they are in another country is really just an annoyance to some travellers, especially those who consume fountains of beer and tequila before roaming the streets in packs, trying to outdo each other in the ‘obnoxious’ department and demanding their change in their own currency. However, there were pockets of loveliness and we did our best to find them.

10.Tacos. Even if you don’t like tacos, you will after a week here. Our group has likely consumed hundreds of them and may have caused a shortage.

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Seth after a session with his beloved/hated ‘the orange sauce’ at Taco Guss.

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9. Drinks by the pool: A necessary evil that someone has to do so it may as well be us:

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8. Deciding to have a bracelet custom made for your friend, thinking you’re so funny for your ingenuity, adding your request to the vendor’s list of names and then learning that you’re not the funniest person on the beach after all.

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7. Marvelling at exactly how tacky Cabo San Lucas can be:

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6. Drooling over all the awesome VW Beetles that still roam the streets…

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5. Lighting and sending off lanterns at New Year’s Eve on the beach

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4. Getting tired of what a circus Cabo San Lucas is and then being thrilled to discover charming San Jose Del Cabo:

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Even if the Baby Jesus in the local nativity scene is weirdly huge…

3. Being even happier to discover the beaches and amazing Baja landscape north of La Paz, even if you did have your camera on the ‘1972’ setting when you took most of the pictures

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2. Having one of the members of your party asked by a street hustler if he was the guy from Just for Men, deciding that is hysterically funny, and then hatching an evil plan to run with it and see if we could pass Kent off as a minor celebrity at dinner one night.

I then found this photo, which, if you know Kent, made this task much easier:

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In short order we managed to convince the waiter at dinner the next night that Kent was indeed very famous. The conversation went something like this:

Seth (to waiter): You know my friend here is very famous. (Holds up picture above for waiter to see)

Waiter (looking back and forth from picture to Kent, who is unaware of our evil plot): Si? Hee ees de same mayn?

Seth: Yes. He’s very famous. Muy muy famous. Just thought you should know.

Waiter: Hee ees from Yust for Mayn? Ok ok. Wow! I see that. Gracias, amigo.

Seth: Yeah no problem, De nada.

At which point the first waiter ran over to the second and started yammering away in Spanish, rubbing his face and pointing at Kent. Second waiter looked suitably impressed.

Then this happened:

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Kent is now down one very nice shirt purchased for him in Paris, and up one very purple shirt that used to belong to our waiter, but actually looks surprisingly good on him (Kent, not the waiter, although it looked good on him too…).

Things got even funnier as we observed the wait staff moving around the restaurant informing the other tables of customers that they were in the presence of greatness in the form of the ‘guy from Just for Men’. Each time they would tell a new table, we could see the waiter rub his face to indicate a beard, and point over at Kent. It seems that perhaps it was a bigger deal to the waiters here in Mexico than it was to the customers although there were quite a few stares and curious looks. We tried our best to hold it together, and the evening ended in fine form as Kent was blessed by the grandmother who owned the joint. I’m pretty sure she was on to him but went along with it anyway.

Everyone gets their fifteen minutes of fame, folks, and this was Kent’s second fifteen. He is well on his way to making a career out of impersonating other people in Mexico as this performance of “The Guy from Just for Men” rivaled an earlier performance two years ago in Sayulita where he played a Mexican beach hawker selling cervesas to our friend Pepi, who was unaware that we were in Mexico. You can watch that video here http://whats-the-plan.blogspot.mx/2015/01/in-which-zoe-faints-pepi-is-very-very.html

Yes, it was all very silly and we felt only slightly bad about fooling them all. I’m sure the last joke was on us though as really, what kind of a big deal is it to be “The Guy from Just for Men” anyway?  And definitely even less of a deal to be his entourage…

And finally..

1. Visiting the town of Todos Santos, home, in legend anyway, to the iconic Hotel California of Eagles fame. There is some question as to whether or not it was actually the inspiration for the song but after driving down a dark desert highway, with cool wind in my hair, the warm smell of colitas rising up through the air, ahead in the distance, I saw the shimmering lights. My head was heavy and my sights were dimmed so we stopped for a bite.

Then I saw the mission bell and drove up right beside Hotel California.

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Such a lovely place. Really.

The dinner was excellent and the town beautiful and I would like to have stayed longer. Next time.

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I should note that the members of my group would probably complain that I have left off a visit to the Fox Canyon Waterfall from this list. This was done only because I didn’t actually go there with the rest of them but they regaled me with stories of crystal clear pools, beautiful rock formations, fearless youth jumping from dizzying heights (my two kids among them), etc etc. It’s just north of San Jose Del Cabo and you should probably go there.

Adios, amigos, and hasta luego.

Jane

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

So, This Happened.

I’m standing in a smallish bedroom. At least, it was a bedroom. Now, it’s mostly empty except for a couple of pieces of furniture. A pale grey light washes in through the window and outside, October isn’t having her best day. An empty bar fridge hums in the corner and a plug-in lamp version of Mother Mary sits on a low table, a small bulb doing its best to cast a glow while Mother Mary looks resigned. I know how she feels. Still, the worn wood floor, marked here and there after nearly 70 years of life, adds warmth to the room and there is a sense that, if you stand still long enough,the years will reveal themselves, one scene at a time.

The house in which this room can be found is newly purchased by my husband and myself. We live behind it and when it came on the market we snapped it up, eager for the potential. Maybe we’ll subdivide. Perhaps we can flip it? Let’s clean it up first, put our 20year old son in there with some roommates and think about it for a while. Mundane decisions made with the assumption that life would carry on much as it had done. Life being life, that’s not what happened. But back to the room.

The last time I was in here, it wasn’t quite this clean. A young man had lived in here and boys will be boys with their wet towels on the floor and piles of dirty laundry. Sean, a chef and a musician, had moved into the house six weeks earlier when a previous tenant moved out. I had never met him while he lived in the house but now, two weeks after all the tenants moved out, I feel like I know him quite well. That’s what happens when you pack up someone’s life for them.

Three weeks ago I had what I would consider one of the worst days of my life so far. It started with a surprise lay-off from my job of 18 years. Something about downsizing. My work being absorbed by the department. Would I like to bump another employee out of their position perhaps? Take a package? It was all over in a matter of minutes and included the words: “there’s no need to return to the workplace”. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like your life is a movie, I don’t recommend this one. I much would have preferred  Star Wars… but I digress.

Fast forward a few hours later, most of which passed in a blur of tears and shock, and I was sitting with my husband in his car in a traffic jam when my phone rang. It was my daughter. Mum! (Yes?) Where are you? (Stuck in traffic…) The police were here! (Why?) Someone died in the house we just bought! (WHAT? WHO?) You have to call him! (Oh My GOD) When will you be home? Why aren't you at work? Is everything Ok? (We’ll be home soon, Honey, and everything will be OK…)

I phone the cop and it turns out the story goes like this: one of the upstairs tenants, a young man, Sean, had passed away in his bedroom two days before and had been found by the downstairs tenant that morning. The police and the coroner had come and gone and now, as the landlords, we were responsible for the deceased’s belongings until such time as his next of kin could be notified and arrangements made. And by the way, did we, by chance, know who his next of kin were? And also, please be careful when you enter the room. Wear gloves.

Later that evening my family and I are in the kitchen processing. I’ve just told the kids I lost my job, (Why, Mum?) and we’re talking about how death and why death and where death and my phone rings again and it’s Sean’s mother. All the air leaves the room in one big rush and I breathe it all back in before saying, mumbling, trying to find the right words and failing, and settling on something about being so sorry, so very very sorry. She’s calling from New Brunswick. It’s late there – one in the morning and she’s just learned that she has lost her only child, her beloved boy. I make it through the phone call in which we discuss what she would like me to do with Sean’s things (donate most of them to someone who could use them) but could I look out for a wall hanging she made for him of his dog? And also, a Christmas wall hanging? Yes, of course, I say, anything, anything at all that I can do for you. I’m shaking. She’s so sweet and I can hear the pain in her voice sharp and soft like the point of a shadow. I take down her address and phone number and we agree to speak again soon. “He was a good boy” she says, her voice breaking. “I loved him very much”. I tell her I’m sure he loved her very much too. We hang up. I lose it.

A week later and my mum (bless her caring, generous heart) and I are standing in Sean’s room sweeping up the last little bits of one young man’s life. It’s taken us two days but I have a box of things to send to Sean’s mum: the wall hangings, his set of chef’s knives, chef’s jackets embroidered with his name, cookbooks, journals, a laptop, his wallet and his handmade quilt embroidered with the words ‘For Sean, love Mom, 2011’. I enclose a card telling her that the wall hangings and quilt had occupied places of pride in Sean’s room and that he had obviously loved them very much.  I hope she won’t notice the tear drops on the card.

Since then I have spent time wondering how it is that we get to know each other.  Does familiarity need time or can we gain it through one life-changing experience? I don’t know what Sean’s voice sounds like or how he walks, I don’t know the nature of his laugh. But, as I made my way through the layers in his room, I learned much about Sean. Baking sheets sat next to guitar cases. Recipes were jotted down on pieces of notebook paper next to a poem, next to a song. Beer cans lay beside a laptop, a pair of hockey tickets for last Saturday’s hockey game sat next to his Chef’s knives. An old pay stub lay under a note from a friend. A set of wrenches and a new bike tire took up space beside a worn pair of Doc Martens. Cook books and novels were stacked on a cabinet.Turns out you can learn a lot about someone just by the books on their bedside table.

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As I packed up Sean’s things,I thought again of Sean’s mum. This was her little boy, just like your little boy, and just like my little boy, except now her little boy, who she held in her arms and watched grow from a tiny baby to an excited kindergartener, to a young man, is now made only of memories. Some paths in life are dangerous and some too hard from which to find a way home. Some swallow us up and there but for the grace of whatever spirit you believe in, go our sons and daughters too. It can happen to anyone, I have learned.

After I sent Sean’s mother his box of belongings, and gave away the remainder of his possessions, I found one of his recipes in the kitchen. I’m sharing it here in the hope that you can share it, too, and keep Sean’s memory alive. I’m doing it for his mother’s sake.

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Sean’s Poppyseed Flat Bread
Flour                           220 ml
Fresh rosemary             30 ml
Poppy seeds                  15 ml
Salt                                5 ml
Water                         180 ml
Olive oil                       60  ml

Combine the flour, rosemary, poppy seed and salt.
Add water and oil. Knead 2 minutes.
Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 230 C. Place baking stone or cookie sheet in oven. Take golf ball sized dough and roll very thin. Bake until crisp and golden, cool slightly, brush with oil and sprinkle with salt.

Serve with love.

Thanks for reading,

Jane

*This blog is published with the permission of Sean’s dear mother, who loved her son so very much.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Austria - In Which There is The Sound of Music, We Ride the Funicular to See the Alps, and Go for Baroque in Salzburg

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After another great walk through the morning sunshine to the U-Bahn station, during which I spotted this little beauty, we made it to the main station way ahead of schedule to meet our tour group. This allowed us some time to browse in the ‘international’ magazine shop which actually contained no English at all as far as I could see, except for this postcard:

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Uhh. What. Any German speakers out there please let me know if this is some kind of inside German joke. Otherwise, no, you don’t come to right at all.

The shop lady glared at me as I took this picture, so I took another one:

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Must be another inside joke…

A few minutes later we met our tour guide, Iain, a likeable guy form Staffordshire in the UK. He soon had us all under way and on the train bound for Salzburg. Zoe and Terra were a little worse for wear after not having had quite enough sleep (or maybe too much de-alcoholized beer in Terra’s case – what a lush) so they opted to sleep during the history lecture, safe in the knowledge, I am sure, that I would be spouting it all back to them shortly anyway so why not sleep instead.

I enjoyed Iain’s sense of history, and his sense of humour also as he told us about the origins of the city of Salzburg as one of few sources of salt in Christendom. The Church seized the opportunity to control this valuable resource as early as the 800s and the town of Salzburg grew rapidly as the need for salt increased. Of course there was a lot more which I won’t bore you with, and several centuries passed until he got to the part I was really interested in, The Sound of Music. I was beyond excited to see some of the original sites from the movie and was thrilled to receive a city map with the main ones clearly marked on it. Of course, he had to discuss the real story of the Von Trapp Family versus the movie story and if you don’t want to  be disappointed, then skip this next part. In reality, Captain Von Trapp was under no obligation to serve the Third Reich as a ship’s captain, and, given the choice, he and Maria decided to leave Austria on their own accord and emigrated to the US, where they settled in Vermont and ran a guesthouse. But that doesn’t make for a very good plot conflict, so the story was adjusted to allow for the family’s dramatic escape. But the love story part of the movie is true – Maria was a novice (nun, that is, although I suspect she was a novice in other ways as well), and they did fall in love and marry.

Anyway, like I said, I was super nerdy-excited to see it all but first, we had to finish the two hour train ride, and get to Salzburg. The scenery out the train window was spectacular as we passed blue lakes shimmering in the sun, little villages with red roofs and church spires rising out of the valleys, and lots of chalets, complete with window boxes full of red geraniums.

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Germans, and the French too, are big on solar and wind power: even the smallest villages have fields of solar panels, and most roof tops have at least three or four panels on them. Wind turbines are everywhere looking like gentle futuristic giants. It’s strikingly different from home, and it made me wonder why we don’t all make more use of these re-useable resources.

Time flew by and soon we were rolling into Salzburg. I have wanted to come here for so long it was great to check it off my bucket list

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Salzburg train station is a busy place. Europe is on high alert these days and heavily armed police and soldiers can be seen patrolling stations and  public spaces all over the place so we were used to it by now but was still a bit disconcerting to see police cars screeching to a halt outside the station and police running inside, doing up their bullet poof vests as they ran in. Iain calmly lead us out the door to the bus stop and nothing more was said about it although several more police cars pulled up as we were leaving.

We wasted no time in getting to one of the first of the SOM sites, the Mirabel gardens, which features in the movie when Maria is leading the children through town singing “Doe, a Deer”. My two fashionistas can be seen in the forefront of this photo, although I was extremely disappointed that they wouldn’t run in and out of the flower beds like Liesl and Fritz.

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These funny little stone statues feature in the movie as well when the children are running around them. Germans and Austrians are big on any kind of stone statue or gargoyle and many of them are more comical in nature than the more serious statues found in France or England. They are also big on bums:

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Speaking of England, I was pleased to see June and Tony were also in Salzburg with us and had brought their friends Eileen and Ralph.

For such a small city, Salzburg really has more than its fair share of cultural references

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During our day there, we could have watched film, theatre and marionette versions of The Sound of Music, gone to either a classical concert or children’s theatre version of Peter and the Wolf, and enjoyed any number of free or paid classical concerts featuring the music of Mozart and/or Haydn. I also saw notices for a music festival being held just out of town that looked like a good time, too. More time, I need more time…

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Given the current refugee/migrant crisis in Europe, I found this sign interesting. I couldn’t read the German below but the message is clear. Trouble is, they would have to get here and it’s not the easiest place in world to find. Still.

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We continued on our walking tour across the river Salza. All the foot bridges are covered in locks here, too. The river was flowing along at quite a clip but I didn’t see one boat on it the entire day.

A narrow passage way took us out of the busy streets and into the pedestrian enclave of the old town. While it did remind me a bit of Government street, I didn’t mind at all as it was so pretty. Sorry about the filter…not sure what I did there but it looks kinda cool.
Reading was a problem back in the medieval times and so in order to let their customers know what they were selling, shopkeepers had elaborate wooden signs carved depicting their wares. This was the only way to let people know what was inside the shop for most of the year as hardly any of them would have had windows due to the high price of glass.

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Further down this street we came to the birthplace of Mozart.  Like as in Wolfgang Amadeus! To think of him roaming these streets and composing music from the young age of 5 or 2 or pre-birth or whatever it was, blew my mind a little.

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Salzburg really is one of the most beautiful cities I have visited and we walked the streets in the heat of day (32degrees that day) awed by the lovely buildings and narrow cobbled streets.

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Salzburg was, as you may or may not know depending on how many times you have watched The Sound of Music, occupied by the Germans during WW2. Many Jewish citizens were deported to concentration camps during this time and they are today, commemorated with gold cobbles located in front of the homes they were taken from.

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It’s a miracle, actually, that more of the city wasn’t destroyed during the war.

Turn a corner in this town and you will bump up against another mind-blowing historical fact, like this building, which lays claim to being the oldest continual restaurant in Europe, starting in 803 AD. As if that weren’t enough, Iain really blew the top off the girls’ heads by telling us that Charlemagne himself was said to have eaten here.

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Hearing about Charlemagne always reminds me of my Western Civilization 12 class in which our teacher, Mrs. Davies, once asked us who Charles the Great was also known as, and Verne Burden answered, in all seriousness, “Chuck”. We all laughed so hard at poor Verne but he was as good natured as always about it. To this day, I think of Charlemagne as Chuck the Great.

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Further up the way was an old cemetery, still in use today, but known as being the inspiration for the cemetery in The Sound of Music that the family hides in before making their escape. The scene in the movie was recreated in Hollywood. There was big stone cistern here full of cold clear water used for filling up watering cans as all the graves are covered in flowers. We gratefully plunged in our arms as far as we could and left them there until they were almost numb with the cold. It felt wonderful.

Just around the next corner was another beautiful square beside the Cathedral. In the shade amongst the tall pillars, a classical quartet was playing Mozart (what else). The sound soared up and filled the space and it was a beautiful moment.

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There are several large churches in this town but only one Cathedral ‘worth its salt’ as the saying goes here and it is this one, the first example of an Alpine Baroque Cathedral in Europe. I have not been inside a Baroque Cathedral before but I knew it would be stunning. The girls made a show once again of suggesting we had already seen enough Cathedrals, which I once again ignored, and in we went. Hard to do it justice with photos, but hopefully you can gain a sense of the ornate and opulent style, for which we can thank the Counter-Reformation movement.

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It was nice and cool in there so we stayed and stared and laughed at the squeaking noise my shoes made on the old tile floor.

Just outside the Cathedral is another scene from SOM, the part where Maria is running around the City like a crazy woman singing “I Have Confidence”. At one point she runs and splashes her hand through the water of a large fountain. I was happy to see the fountain, and made a note of the fact that Horse Messes can also be found in Austria, but it was too hot to try and enact my original plan, which was to recreate the running and splashing scene. Also, Zoe and Terra would likely have refused to take my picture due to a high embarrassment factor. Seriously though, I can’t be the first one to do this…

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By now Iain had left us to explore the town on our own. I really wanted to see the Abbey and we had been told that the best place to do so was to take the funicular up the hillside to the fortress. From there it is possible to see the Alps, and the Abbey. They only used the Abbey for exterior shots as the interior scenes were filmed elsewhere i.e. Hollywood but I didn’t mind.

This funicular seemed to have a much greater sense of purpose than the last funicular I encountered in Mexico:

Me: Hey Funicular, having a good day?

Funicular: Guten Tag. Plees I am alvays hazing ze goot day. I am ze Salzburg Funicular. Vot ozer type of day vere you sinking I vood have?

Me: Oh that’s great. I was just wondering. I met one of you in Mexico and he was a bit depressed.

Funicular: Ah yes, Carlos, Yes he is alvays complaining about zis and zat. I told heem, Carlos, you must learn to leeve to ze fullest. To always take it to ze top. He vasn’t leesening though, I don’t seenk. Now, are you getting in or vat? I don’t have all ze day.

Me:  You know Carlos the funicular? That’s so weird. Small world! He never told me his name. Wait, he has a name? Do you have a name, too?

Funicular: Of course, my name is Wolfgang. Vat else vood it be. Now, please get on, ve are leaving shortly.

Me: Thanks, Wolfgang.

Wofgang: My pleasure. If you see Carlos again, tell him from me, no more of thees ‘Manana’ atteetude. He must try harder!

Me: Ok but it’s a bit weird that you guys, like, know each other. I can’t get over that, actually.

Wolfgang. Going up!

 

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The views from the fortress at the top were phenomenal – I was actually so thrilled to see the Alps which of course, just looked like other mountains, but who cares!

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I tried to organize the girls to have their picture taken. It took forever to get their hair sorted out and to have them both standing there smiling:

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This was the normal course of events in these situations….

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And there, below the fortress, was my Abbey. If we had had more time, I would have dragged everyone there, and also to the original manor house where the filming of some of the exterior scenes by the lake took place, but it was some ways out of town and we had a flight to catch the next day. More time!

In the fortress there was a creepy marionette museum with all sorts of weird things like this display of marionette hands. We didn’t spend much time in there.

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Wolfgang took us back down the hillside and we spent the remaining time wandering the market stalls and cute little shops. We even fit in time for ice-cream by the lake. Or rather, the girls did. Being on a no-dairy diet is tough in Europe but I have held up very well with only one tiny taste of the fondue cheese sauce back in Paris. I haven’t even wanted to ask for non-dairy options as I suspect they would look at me like I had twelve heads and then call the police. So that means I haven’t partaken of all the ice cream and treats that everyone else has, but that’s probably not such a bad thing.

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It was time to head back across the river and meet up with the group again for our return journey. We went to our chosen meeting place, which just happened to be outside the birthplace and home of this dude:

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As in, the Doppler Effect. It seemed like I was more interested in this than the girls,who looked less than thrilled as I started in on a lecture about the nature of sound waves, replete with ambulance siren sound effects.

Of more interest to them was the fact that you can just see my mum’s reflection in this picture, something that seemed to happen throughout the trip. She was a bit like Forrest Gump in that she managed to get herself into the pictures without even trying. On more than one occasion, Zoe and or Terra would be in fits of laughter looking at their phones at yet another photo with my mum inadvertently appearing in it, bless her. This is mostly due to the fact that she is off looking around actually experiencing where were are, rather than looking at it all through a camera lens so it can shared on social media at the next opportunity.

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Our trusty leader, Iain.

I was sad to leave Salzburg and hope to return one day.

The trip home was lovely – winding our way through valleys and past rivers as the late afternoon sun turned everything golden. Back in Munich we walked back through the leafy streets to our hotel.

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We had a mountain of packing ahead us and so it was a night in. We were all exhausted anyway and the girls had their requisite two hours of social media updating still to do for the day. I was happy to find a rooftop terrace at the hotel and I spent a bit of time up there as the sun went down over Munich. Back in the room I spent the rest of the evening sitting on the balcony listening to a women’s choir practicing Katey Perry songs (and sounding really fabulous) in the top floor of the building across from me, with a full moon overhead, feeling pretty lucky.

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Thanks for coming along with us on this trip.

Cheers,

Jane