Coincidences: Venice, Italy

Monday

Venice was everything I had thought it would be.  Ancient architecture, narrow, cobblestone walkways within the city, canals as major thoroughfare.  My romantic notion of a floating Venice in a Gondola was yanked when I found out how much it would cost a young traveler on a budget. Water-buses were the way to go. Cheap and convenient, they were everywhere.
On one such excursion, I noticed a young lady who (for some unknown reason) looked like she was English-speaking. Killing time, and using my standard while-traveling-through-Europe-line, I approached her...
  • Me: "Hi, So, where are you from?"
  • Her: "Dallas, Texas"
  • Me: "Getouttahere! So am I!"
  • Her: "Really? I've been here a while, going to Art School."
  • Me: "Wow, that must be cool."
  • Her: "Yeah, but my Dad had a heart attack a few weeks ago, so I think I might go back to Dallas."
  • Me:"Huh. I'm a Cardiac Nurse in Dallas - What hospital was he in?"
  • Her: "Baylor"
  • Me: "Getouttahere - I work at Baylor - What's his name?"
  • Her: (She told me her Dad's name)
  • Me: "Ha! I just saw him last week and he's doing great!"

Strange how these things happen, don't you think?

Coincidences: Oktoberfest

Thursday

In the mid eighties, my friend and colleague, JoBeth and I decided it was high time to see the world.

Saving up enough cash to last us a few months on the road, we obtained a leave of absence from work and before you could say "Beer Hall", we were dancing like chickens at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. The tradition spans 200 years and this year, Oktoberfest will celebrate its bicentennial. For more info...see Wikipedia's  Oktoberfest
The Oktoberfest grounds consist of several huge tents sponsored by different beer companies. Drinking at the 'Spaten' tent vs. the 'Heineken' or the 'Hofbrau' tent doesn't really matter. It's the energy of the tent, the band and word of mouth that draws you in. Tents are huge and brightly-lit with rows upon rows of wooden picnic tables, a dance floor and a band. Add about one-thousand beer drinking people being served by busty waitresses with impressive forearm strength and manual dexterity ...
And you've got the makings of a great party!

Armed with our "English-German Phrasebook " JoBeth and I would strike up a conversation with anyone that would listen.Our attempts at speaking German were welcomed and frequently laughed at. Loudly. After a few king-sized Heineken we thought ourselves to be quite adept in speaking German.

Somehow, knowing that we would never see our drinking buddies again made making complete fools out of ourselves acceptable.


Between chicken dances and beer guzzling, I began a little small talk with a fellow English-speaker...

Me: "So, where are you from? 
Him: "Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada." 
Me: "Getouttahere! I was born in Halifax!" "What year were you born?" 
Him: He told me his birth year. 
Me: It was the same as mine. "OK, when's your birthday?" 
Him It was the same as mine. 
Me: All squinty-eyed..."What hospital?" 
Him: "The Halifax Infirmary".
Me: "All right, let me see your I.D."

We had been nursery-mates.

Mackinac Island, Michigan - 4

Biking Mackinac Island is pretty easy. It takes about two hours of leisurely bicycling to get around the island and as a special bonus (for those of us who like to bicycle leisurely) ...no hills!
The Island House
Arch Rock


We were lucky to have had lunch at The Village Inn where we met our server, a charming Jamaican expatriate who lives year round on Mackinac Island. She told us that business is brisk in winter as many mainlanders will arrive via snowmobile. She had raised two daughters on Mackinac Island one of whom is currently working on her Masters degree in Economics at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and her youngest is attending The University of Michigan.

America. Land of opportunity. Gotta love it.
Dinner
Sunset on Mackinac Island


The Story of The Mackinac Ice Bridge

OK, so it's not really a bridge. It's a path or a Christmas Tree line.
Photo Credit: 'Ice Bridge' the movie
http://www.icebridgethemovie.com/

Time to get all comfy-cozy as your are about to read a heartwarming story of one man who made a huge difference in the lives of many.
________________________________________________________
Disclaimer: I have no clue if this story is for real, who the man was, when it happened or any other important details but after hearing it from a stranger from Cincinnati on a boat-dock in Mackinac, I just had to forward it on. If anyone can validate its authenticity, add/subtract/or delete from the story, I would love to hear from you.
________________________________________________________

The story goes that many years ago, just after Christmas, a man's young daughter was returning to her home on the island by foot. Crossing on the ice was commonplace but on this particular day, the man's daughter became disoriented and lost her way. She was found dead on the ice. 

Her father, distraught by her loss recruited the islanders to give him their Christmas trees which he placed in the ice creating a pathway to and from Mackinac Island to provide direction so that no one else would lose their life.
The tradition continues today.

Mackinac in Winter
I would just love to go to Mackinac Island during winter. My husband? Not so much. Being Dallas born and bred his inclement weather theory goes like this... "If your car breaks down in the heat, chances are good you'll eventually get to your final destination but if your car breaks down in the cold, chances are good, you'll die."



I, on the other hand, (being born and bred in The Great White North) have been known to get all misty-eyed at the memory of crisp, clean newly fallen snow.

Mackinac Island, Michigan - 3

Wednesday

Dinner was Fish & Chips at Pat Sinclair's Pub on Main St. A comfortable, casual little place not far from our historic hotel, The Island House. Afterward, a sunset stroll downtown where I counted only one Starbucks but eight fudge shops. Huh. Those Mackinac-ers are really into their sweets.

The Island House at dusk
A view from our hotel
Chocolate is a big seller here too. Check out these chocolate pumps...
 

Chocolate Artist in action
As a word of caution... The Ghost Tour is located across the street from this place. Dragging my very skeptical husband on the tour was my first mistake. Actually going on the tour at all was my second. It was pretty lame. I guess I should have known better but I've always been a sucker for a Ghost Tour.

Mackinac Island, Michigan - 2

Tuesday


I'm dedicating this post to all those Mackinac Island cottage-owners out there. 
You know who you are. 
 
I have but one question...
What in the hell do you do for a living?
One of my favorite "cottages"
Baby blue paint detail
With matching baby blue ceiling





OK, so not all of the five-hundred year-round Mackinac Island residents live in such palatial homes but even the simpler dwellings can't be described as 'shabby'. Immaculately landscaped condos, townhouses, apartments and employee housing is all close to downtown - but then again, what isn't? The island is eight miles around.
I want to live here.

Mackinac Island, Michigan - 1

Monday

The charm of Mackinac Island is accentuated by the fact that motorized vehicles have been banned on the island since 1898 leaving the bicycle, the horse and your feet as transportation options on this beautiful island nestled between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.Ferry service runs from St. Ignace and Mackinaw City, Michigan on the hour.

Who knew that there would be a one hour time change as we traveled over the Michigan border from Wisconsin? Not us. We caught the last ferry within minutes of its departure.

Arriving on Mackinac Island during a brutal rainstorm wasn't all that bad. Being from Dallas, we hadn't seen rain in months so we were good with a little water but having luggage to lug, we hailed a cab...
 Ahhhh, What a vision. Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) how cool are you?

Pass-tee
After arriving at our hotel, we geared-up for the rain and headed out to dinner at a little place called "Millies on Main". Intrigued by the ad campaign throughout Wisconsin and Michigan for "Pasties" I had to experience one for myself. Sure enough, it was on the menu. Again, a pronunciation problem. Do I ask for a "pays-tee" or a "pass-tee". The was a difference and I was sure it would be huge. It's "pass-tee", said the friendly waitperson.
Pays-tee
After calling it a night we were up early the next morning and set out on foot to explore the island

Walking through town, we couldn't help but notice that there was certainly a lot of horse (ahem) poop to dodge. But I guess that's part of the deal... manure vs. exhaust fumes. You pick.

The Grand Hotel

Schlepping up to the fabulous, ritzy and oh-so-proper "Grand Hotel" we approached the hotel entrance. Signage made the dress code clear; after six pm, gentlemen were to wear a coat and tie, ladies were to be in dresses. Before six? I think anything goes. A ten dollar admission fee was required to enter and it was well worth it. The fee helps with crowd control.

They say you have got to have dinner here but we travel light and were not suited for the evening dress requirement. Also, if you're in the right outfit, there is a live band nightly, cocktails and dancing.
The Geranium Room is the site of where I forced my sweet husband to enjoy afternoon tea with me. He reluctantly complied and it was lovely. Tea, teensy lady-like sandwiches, petit-fours and (this part cheered him up) sherry and/or champagne. He had both.
The most beautiful horses and livery service on the island. The drivers are suited formally, complete with top hats but the creepiness factor is enhanced when combined with shiny, dark enclosed carriages. Somewhat funereal.
View from the 4th floor bar
The garden. Try your hand at Bocce Ball, enjoy the horse and carriage topiary, the colorful geraniums and people watching.
The hotel lobby is covered in green and white stripes. A little busy but it worked.



A Lesson Learned...

With my shoulders back and my head held high, I rode The Grand Hotel's elegant elevator in my hoodie, sneakers and blue jeans looking for the 'heart' of the hotel - the restaurants, lounges, galleries and such. Surrounded by those in Dolce and Gabbana, Dior and the like, I refused to let them see me sweat.

When asked for my desired floor number, I confidently chose... "one, please" - like I knew where I was going. Strangely, it was then that I noticed 'P' level was between floors one and two. How odd that parking would be located between the main and second floors, I thought. My sweet husband piped up by saying "I think we want "P". With a side-glance and hint of smugness I said "Oh Honey, I believe that's Parking". With that, the doors opened on "P" and a smartly dressed fellow-rider turned towards me as he was exiting the elevator and said,  "It's the Parlor Level - I made the same mistake myself when I got here".

I suppose there is no reason to have a parking level on an island without cars, really..


The moral to this story is... "If you're in The Grand Hotel elevator on Mackinac Island and you don't know where you're going. Choose 'P'."

Paranoid in South America

Anticipating travel to South America was both exciting and scary. Admittedly, reports of muggings, kidnappings and police corruption go...