Summer!

After a very long winter and an extremely cold absent spring, really warm weather finally came to us, with the temperature suddenly rising to +30C. In two days time, everything that could burst into bloom. There is lush greenery all around looking for all the world as if it’s been here for a couple of months instead of the mere couple days. Apple-trees hastily unfolded their lovely white blossoms, lilac-trees began to carefully shake off last year’s dried leaves and to push forth their own bunches of pretty tiny flowers. Every little plot of land, every lawn seems to have been carefully cultivated and tended, to produce all kinds of plants. And there are flowers, grasses and the ubiquitous nettles in the woods. Lilly-0f-the-valley peeks out from its thick large leaves; dandelions look like bright yellow carpets; wild flowers spring forward in abundance. And even the silent dark conifers display bright light-green new shoots. Ah, summer!

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PARIS IN BLOOM.

PARIS IN BLOOM.

The first indication that you are in Paris is of course the sheer beauty of it. On a warm sunny day one can go into any park and enjoy the surroundings. There are plenty of benches and chairs, gazebos and cafes, and even public toilets; there are lots of sculptures, ornaments, fountains and flowerbeds. In a big round fountain in Tuilleries Gardens we suddenly noticed a large fish swimming around in its murky water lazily! In spring when everything is in bloom one can spend hours wandering around or sitting on a bench or lawn and simply gaze at the lovely splashes of color – and at the never-ending never stopping streams of people, both locals and tourists.

My favorite chestnut trees are still in bloom, with their white, yellow, pink and red candle-like large clusters of flowers turning them into fairy-tale creations. A lovely fragrant tall tree with hanging down huge white grape-like blossoms turned out to be not the white wisteria but the black locust, of the legume family; one can see the black bean pods of last year still peeking out among the green leaves. Those are rather poisonous and thus survive the winters untouched. There are gorgeous rhododendrons and many trees whose names I don’t know – but they are still very pretty. Tall rose bushes of all colors seem to be ubiquitous; in one place we saw a magnificent climbing rose artfully arranged on a trellis.

A thing of Beauty is a joy forever.

 

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Mobility Assistance

Mobility Assistance.
For the first time in my life I travelled as a special needs person. I broke my ankle badly in winter, had surgery, spent a long time in a cast and still have metal plates with screws inside. Walking normally is way away in the future. My surgeon said all this was not an obstacle to travel and advised we go somewhere warm. After being cooped up at home for three months I was apprehensive about it, so we browsed lots of sites, made some phone calls to airlines, and finally decided to risk it.
Naturally I have seen all those signs at various airports: Mobility Assistance; Reduced Mobility Passengers; Care Services; Special Needs. And how many times have we half-watched an airplane hostess deliver the safety instructions waving her arms left and right in sync with the pre-recorded audio? But of course we never took it all in consciously until we found ourselves in this special needs category!
When we arrived at our first airport we made a phone call as instructed. A young uniformed man appeared in a few minutes with a folding wheelchair. He settled me in it, walked through security, and in to the check in counter, where we were told surprisingly to stand in line. There were four of us reduced mobility passengers, two very old ladies, one woman who was flying to have a complicated brain surgery and I, plus two accompanying persons, my husband and the woman’s sister. The two ancient ladies were unaccompanied but this obviously was not a problem, though the airlines reserve the right not to allow such passengers on board.
We were whisked through all security, passport control et cetera without waiting anywhere. Then we were all wheeled into a special sort of container which drove straight to the airplane. The container whirred up, a small gangplank stretched out, we were carefully half-walked half-carried into the plane and settled into our allotted seats. My husband and I got those seats where you have extra space in front so that stretching my leg was possible. I confess that after almost seven hours I was very tired but alive. At our first destination, Frankfurt International Airport, we again waited for the special crew to take us out of the plane. The container actually came from the opposite side to the gangway, a door opened in the plane and we were taken out through that! We were taken through all the formalities in wheelchairs.
After we got our luggage the other three passengers were conveyed to the people who were meeting them. We told our accompanying airport worker that we were to spend the night at an airport hotel and fly on next morning. He took us to the hotel where they immediately gave us a room even though it was not check in time yet. We also got an upgrade to a larger room! The wheelchair was left for our use till next morning which made it possible for us to go shopping for food at a large airport store. It was the first such shopping outing in more than three months for me.
Next morning we checked out, waited a bit for someone from the airport mobility assistance unit to come, and went through the same by now familiar procedure. No waiting, no lines, no hassle. Once inside the plane a stewardess told us that someone would meet us at the airport on arrival. Yes, same cart, same wheelchair, and a very polite and helpful assistant. Our transfer service worked like a charm, and finally we arrived to the lovely hotel in Paris. It is nice and warm here, all the trees are in bloom, all the parks are green, and all the lawns, chairs and benches are occupied.
My ankle was swollen to twice its size in the evening but it responded to the exercises and massage in the morning. I know I won’t be able to walk around a lot but I can get out and get my eyeful of the beautiful buildings, magnificent parks and above all the swarms of tourists who are so lucky to be able to move around freely on both legs! I feel warm gratitude to all the people who make it possible even for those of us with special needs and reduced mobility to go places and enjoy life.

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PARIS IN JANUARY.

Paris is beautiful in all seasons, it’s a given. Every street, every nook and cranny may present something new, unexpected and totally lovely. The familiar places never lose their charm. What added to our positive impressions this time was the unusually warm New Year, with the temperatures staying firmly in the plus area. There were occasional rains, what <meteo-paris> called “spits of rain”; there were some gusts of wind. But every day the sun would come out to shine on lovely buildings and lush greenery, and of course to brighten up the never-ending streams of pedestrians, tourists and locals alike. We decided that the time Mother Nature herself took the warm weather as an indication of Spring and reacted accordingly. Day-by-day we noticed more and more greenery around. Not only the grass-covered lawns and slopes, but also the trees and flower-beds. One of my own favorites, the tulip poplar definitely was putting forth tiny buds – it goes into bloom first with tulip-like large flowers, later leaves appear. For those of us who come from places where Winter holds its sway for several months, with snow, ice, blizzards and real frosts, this very warm month was a great gift. It felt like we stole two weeks from the cold itself by walking around and simply enjoying the warmth. All the Christmas decorations were in place, the lights, the fake snow-covered trees, the reindeer. And all around those the tiny blossoms, the fresh green leaves were busily poking out everywhere. Enchanted!

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PARIS IN THE MORNING.

Paris is always beautiful, and a November morning is no exception. It is still quite warm; there is lots of greenery; amazingly most trees still bear all the leaves, and the grass is green. I heard the church bells early in the morning and snapped a rare picture of an empty street, with the church at Rue Lafayette and Franz Liszt square standing tall above the wide steps. It’s called l’Eglise St. Vincent de Paul in French (I think). A small café nearby opens very early for breakfast, and the inimitable smell of fresh baked bread wafts outside into the street. The florist’s shop is also ready to open, in case one needs to buy a bouquet. The lovely buildings all around the square clearly proclaim that one is indeed in Paris. Even seen briefly, the City of Light, the City of Love is a great place to visit, always and forever.

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Florence Walks

Florence walks.
The old center of Florence is full not only of wonderful historic places but also of signs which tell the tourist where to go. And yet it is not as simple as it seems. There are lots of little winding streets, turns and twists, arches and shortcuts, columns and wide open spaces, like the one in front of Palazzo Pitti. It seems that you are definitely walking towards the cathedral but then suddenly it disappears from view, to reappear after you take the next turn. Some sought after place may seem a bit difficult to find yet it is actually right in front of your nose. Thus I checked again how to get to Santa Croce, the church which is famous not only as a great architectural monument but also as the last resting place for many famous people. The statue of Dante stands in front of it on your left; the poet’s heart is buried there. So as not to lose my way I chose the simplest route: from Palazzo Vecchio, past the Uffizzi, towards the river; turn left and walk along the embankment seeing the greenery and the lovely mountains in the distance. The old bridge, Ponte Vecchio, stays behind you. When you reach the colossal building of Bibliotheca Nazionale, turn left and left. Visit the little souvenir shops, especially the one which sells Murano glass. The church is to your right, as well as the large square in front of it, the street vendors and the crowds of tourists. When I had my eyeful I turned around and immediately saw the unmistakable tall tower of Palazzo Vecchio in the distance, so I walked towards it along the narrow winding street, watched the restoration repairs ongoing around the Neptune fountain, made a small wave to Donatello’s David and walked on, through the bustle and hustle. The original statue dates back to 1430-40; it is kept in the Bargello Museum, which is itself a fine example of the florentinian architecture.

A short visit to the Disney store left me with a feeling of wonder and awe. There is a huge choice of products for kids of all ages, toys, clothes, shoes, games, all decorated with the familiar figures, from Mickey and Minnie on to the latest prince and princess. If you wish to buy a princess costume prepare to shell out quite a nice sum. If you only want to buy a simple dress or little pants, it will cost you €16-40. All the goods have labels which clearly state ” Made in China”. As the joke goes, these are probably the three most popular words in the world now. Or at least the words which one comes across often. The quality is fine.
This is one of the most attractive features of the flowering city. You see all the cultural places, marvel at the human genius lavishly displayed all around, but you also see the workshops where one can find Pinocchio’s figures in all sizes and see pictures of the little wooden boy with Papa Carlo. Then you can do some window-shopping at Prada and the other designer stores. If you find yourself in this lovely city just let your mind relax and absorb, take lots of pictures, make notes. Or do nothing. Settle down in one of the myriad cafes, sip your drink and enjoy the sights.

 

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Florence!

Finding one’s way.
Florence is beautiful, one can wander around staring at the many buildings each of which is an architectural delight besides being a historical monument. The number of churches, basilicas, museums, squares and parks is enormous. Every hotel seems to be located in a former palazzo, palace. The various epochs blend and merge into one continuous wonderful tapestry of human achievement, and yet each one remains unique. Somehow the city manages to create one harmonious image, to preserve its own inimitable style. I set off in the morning having consulted all manner of maps both real and virtual, determined to find Casa di Dante and pay my respects to the first poet of the Renaissance whose main opus La Commedia Divina is almost eight hundred years old. I walked miles it seems enjoying the sights, snapping pictures. I saw plenty of statues, fountains, parks, lovely historical buildings, domes, churches, palaces, museums and of course crowds of tourists everywhere. In spite of the heat huge lines wound around the cathedral, the Uffizzi Gallery, Palazzo Vecchio, Capella Medici, Palazzo Pitti… This is Florence, one probably needs a lifetime to study all it has to offer. Incidentally I found lots of supermarkets which eluded me the day before. I saw via Guibellini and Via Guelfi which I know from my university history course were the two main warring factions in Florence in Dante’s time. This showed me that his house was nearby, but I could not seem to find it. Finally I did the one sensible thing: I turned my mind off and just floated along. Et voila, as the French would say, I suddenly saw the sign which said clearly “Casa di Dante”. I followed the arrow and then the ubiquitous large group of Japanese tourists to the house, took some photos, saw an announcement that the little church nearby was closed for repairs, made a mental bow to Beatrice and her family, and walked back, or rather strolled along looking for either the dome or the bell-tower, or some other landmark which was to help me get back. I finally found one: it’s a large sign on top of a building which says MARTINI. I walked towards it and from there to my hotel.
Aha, but that wasn’t the end of my adventurous day. While the morning is best spent at trying to enrich one’s cultural awareness, the evening usually brings about the more mundane cares. I needed to find a good food supermarket. The thing is, I perfectly remember the one I liked, I know it’s somewhere nearby, but where? Blessed and cursed with zero topographic ability I can never find anything again. I walked along Via Giglio looking to my left, reached Via Mallarancio and luckily saw the sign CONAD very close. The entrance is really small and it’s easy to miss it unless you are looking for it. It’s a good supermarket with a nice selection of fruits and veggies, cheeses, hams and dairy products. Then I walked in the direction of the train station, towards Via Nazionale directly opposite the station, studied various menus in cafes and pizzerias, found a few supermarkets. Then I walked back, towards the cathedral. Rather than walking along the street which hosts Merkato Centrale, the street goods market and the large farmer’s market, I turned into a parallel street, saw the well-known baptistery ahead of me, strolled along – and wonder of wonders, I found that store I was looking for these three days! I realized that I must have passed it many times and never noticed it because I was walking from the cathedral. The entrance to the shop is small and it is easy to miss it. Coming from the opposite direction however I clearly saw the familiar CONAD sign. Inside the shop is huge, the food choice is really great, and there is a nice large counter where you can buy hot freshly made meats and chicken. Yay! I carefully memorized the location: if you have the Baptistery on your right, you have to take the first street to your left and walk along the left hand side. There is a store called Tiger, than one called Cover Me which sells all kinds of phone covers and more. CONAD is right next to it. I sincerely hope it will still be there today and I will be able to find it at lunch time.

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