Thursday, June 30, 2011

Give me your eyes...

Look down from a broken sky
Traced out by the city lights
My world from a mile high
Best seat in the house tonight

Touch down on the cold black top
Hold on for the sudden stop
Breath in the familiar shock
of confusion and chaos
All those people going somewhere
Why have I never cared?

Give me your eyes for just one moment,
Give me your eyes so I can see.
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity

"Give me your eyes", by Brandon Heath from the album What if We

As I listened to this song my mind drifted to all of the airports that I have been in over the years, both for business and personal travel.  All of those people going somewhere - people that I have seen, walked past, sat next to and yet, will never know.  Why have I never cared?

Those words began to haunt me.  I know that it is impossible to meet everyone that we encounter, but it is not impossible to meet a few and certainly not impossible to care.  I made a concious decision - as much as it is possible, I will get to know something about the people that sit next to me on every flight.  Instead of just being the person in seat 24B I would work to place an identity with the individual.  What a difference that decision has made in my life and my travels.

A young man sits next to me in the last row, middle seat of a very full flight from Newark to Denver.  He's going home to visit his mother and siblings for a week before being deployed to Afghanistan for the next two years.  He spoke lovingly of his mother and her heroic efforts to home school her four children while working to provide for their future.  I thought of his mother and felt a tug on my heart - she must feel a combination of excitement to see her son and fear for his well being when he leaves again next week.

A woman about my age shares the exit row with me on a recent trip to Phoenix.  She was going to plan the funeral of her mother, who'd passed away unexpectedly the night before.  She shared stories of her mother and even laughed a little at the memories.  As we touched down on the Phoenix runway I stole a glance her way.  Tears were running down her cheeks as she looked out the window and I felt tears of my own begin to well up.

A middle-aged business man sits next to me on a trip from Dallas to Guatemala City.  He is traveling to Guatemala City to visit his family and he spoke of the poverty and war that has taken hold in the city and made its people captive.  But his pride for his country shone through as he described the beautiful countryside and the gentle spirit of the Guatemalan people.  I explained that I was traveling with a medical team, on our way to hold a clinic in a remote mountain village.  As we stood to exit the plane, he touched my shoulder and said, "you will be blessed for this".  And oh, how I have been.

Give me your eyes for just one minute, give me your eyes so I can see.  Everything that I keep missing, give me your love for humanity.....


Brandon Heath - Give Me Your Eyes 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Lunch with a Princess? Tom's Take...

"If you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish will come true"    Cinderella

Tom's Take:   Ok I’ll admit, when Sandy first said that we were going to have lunch with a Princess in her castle my initial reaction was, "Boy, someone sold you a bill of goods. Is Elvis going to be there too?"   I mean really, who does that kind of stuff?  We are Tom and Sandy from Colorado, not Tom and whoever he’s married to from Hollywood.  How much wine did she have to drink anyway?  I went along with it because she was so excited, and it’s usually me taking her down some goofy boondoggle.  I thought, maybe I’ll finally know what it feels like to smile at her and say "See, I told you so”.

We arrived in Vignanello by train and when we walked up to the front of the castle I was expecting to see a pumpkin shaped carriage parked in the circular drive.  I figured the guy that was going to answer the door would look strangely like a mouse.  None of that happened and I was becoming slightly disappointed.  Instead we were met by a lovely woman who introduced herself as Princess Giada Ruspoli.  What, no big billowing blue gown? And no glass slippers? I’ll bet Elvis isn’t here either. She led us to her private quarters, a large room with a massive fire place, and a roaring fire. There we were treated to appetizers and an endless glass of wine.  The room overlooked the family garden, with path ways and sculptured trees and hedges.  I found myself thinking, "I could get used to this".   After a great lunch she led us on a tour of the castle where she showed us a room the Pope had slept in during the 16th century and revealed private escape passage ways behind hidden doors.  It was amazing! 

She later took us to her family's church a few blocks away, where the church organ was designed by George Frideric Handel.  I know, I said “who” too.  Handle is the great composer who wrote Handles Messiah and he was commissioned by the Ruspoli family to build the organ for the church. Floriana, the guide that had set all this up, serenaded us with her beautiful opera voice accompanied by a friend playing the organ and the acoustics were amazing.  Even without the glass slippers this was a very fun day. But the castle was the best part. Oh if I had been a little boy growing up in that place with all the rooms and secret passageways hide and seek would have gone on for days.  Okay, so once again Sandy was right.


Travel Tip:  Talk to the locals, they always know of the secret sites to visit!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lunch with an Italian Princess!

The morning after we checked into the Palazzo we met Floriana. Born and raised in Soriano, this beautiful young woman led us and our new companions on a walking tour of the village and the castle. She shared the village history in such a real manner that I half expected to see Roman soldiers awaiting us as we crossed the drawbridge into the castle.  Another day, Floriana took us to meet her friend, the Princess Giada Ruspoli, and we were all invited by the Princess to have lunch with her in the private quarters of her castle in the village of Vignanello.  Lunch with a Princess!  This was every girls dream and I was so excited at the prospect.  Princess Ruspoli was pleasant and friendly and her staff served us a wonderful lunch while we ate and sipped wine in her private quarters in front of a roaring fire.  Her beautiful castle has an amazing history all of its own, including playing host to Popes and to George Frideric Handel himself.  She shared the history of the castle and her family as she led us on a private tour of the castle.  After this wonderful lunch and castle tour, Floriana took us to the small village church which boasts an organ built by Handel in the 16th century, while he stayed in Vignanello as a guest of the Ruspoli family.  This castle and church are not on the tourist lists of Italy and had it not been for Floriana and her relationship with the Princess we would never have known of this historical gem.  As we sat in the wooden pews of the church, the organist played the organ and Floriana sang the most beautiful version of "Ava Maria" I have ever heard.  The accoustics were amazing and the organ had perfect pitch.  I had tears in my eyes as I listened to the sweet sound of Floriana's voice and thought of the history I was experiencing that day.

And on yet another day Floriana and her talented friends entertained us with an opera dinner at the Palazzo. The talents of this little troupe was very evident and we all enjoyed the evening immensely.  These activities allowed us a rare peek into the lives of the local Italian people and each of us came away feeling richer for the experience.

We had numerous wonderful experiences in Italy, more then I can possibly share in this blog.  We made a connection with each person we met, and made friends quickly for the remainder of our time there.  For me, the real beauty of travel is meeting fellow humans across the globe.  My true meaning of humanity is the realization that we are all the same inside, no matter where we are born or the upbringing we experience.  Our dreams and hopes, our fears, longings and our prayers echo those of each other.  I look forward to my next adventure!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

European Adventures: All Roads Lead to Rome

Our first trip to Italy was a dream come true.  I planned our itineray, used frequent flyer miles and a timeshare exchange for the accomodations and booked the rental car online.  We were ready!  We landed in Rome on a beautiful sunny morning and that's when the fun began.  But to do this story justice, it needs to come from the perspective of my chauffer/husband - the driver and navigator who drove us through the country. 

Tom's Take:

“Driving in Rome will test every fiber of your marriage”  Pete B.
Our dear friend Pete and his lovely wife Wendy are world travelers and wonderful people. It would take Pete less time to tell you where he hasn’t been then where he has been. Pete is a New York Italian and has been a great influence and travel adviser.  When I told him Sandy and I were going to Rome, he was excited and asked our itinerary. When we mentioned we would be driving from Rome to Soriano, he paused and said “Driving in Rome will test every fiber of your marriage”.  I kind of laughed him off, and we talked more about the trip. But his comment kept ringing in my head. Surely it can’t be that bad. I mean, I have driven in may countries and I’m a good driver.  I’ve driven in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, LA. I’ve driven in Honduras and Cayman (they drive on the left side), heck I even drove from Colorado all the way to Cabo San Lucas with my buddy Jim, how bad could it possibly be?
I soon discovered it would be easier to defuse a nuclear bomb, blind folded, with my fingers taped together riding down the Colorado River in a raft, then driving your way around Rome. Here in the good old USA on every street corner there is a sign telling you what street you’re on and what street you’re crossing.  Somebody should bring that idea up to the
Italian street
department. Oh sure, every few blocks on the side of the building is an old plaque with the name of the street.  The sign is old and high above the street level and probably placed there by Caesar himself.  By the time you find a sign you have already passed where you needed to turn, and intersections -- oh my.  Most don’t have a stop sign, you just  close your eyes and go through (at least I did).  It takes both of you to get out of that town. Quite often the driver behind me would be so close I could smell his breath and count his whiskers. 
Pete could have shared this information with me, but he wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as letting me find out for myself.   We finally got out of Rome and found our way to Soriano, but to this day neither one of us could tell you how we did it or what route we took. After a beautiful and restful week in the countryside of Italy we drove to Florence.  Sandy asked if we might need directions to the hotel we were headed to. Of course I said “No, Florence couldn’t possibly be worse than Rome”.  One more piece of information Pete could have passed on. Thanks Pete.

Travel Tip:  Always book your rental car before heading overseas.  You will get the best rates that way!

Amicizia Duratura: Lasting Friendships in Italy

In planning the itinerary for our upcoming trip to Italy, I could never have predicted the people I would meet during my travels or the lifelong impressions they would leave.  The people, it turns out, were the most fascinating part of Italy.

Tom and I began our adventures in Rome, that most wonderful blend of ancient and modern cities.  We stayed at  Hotel Giuliana, a small, clean hotel that fit our traveler’s budget.  Touring ancient Rome and Vatican City was awe-inspiring and wonderful, but soon it was time to move on.  The morning of our departure, when we ventured out to the hotel breakfast room, we found someone new sipping a cappuccino and she smiled broadly at our appearance.  She introduced herself as Jean Santa Croce, the proprietor of this wonderful little hotel and as she invited us to sit and enjoy our breakfast with her, our stories began to unfold. 

So many commonalities we had, as we talked about our pasts, our futures, our children, our hopes and dreams, and our faith.  We talked and talked and I suddenly became aware that over an hour had passed and we had all comfortably shared so much with one another.  We began as complete strangers, yet after one hour of conversation, we came to know one another as humans who share common worries, hopes, dreams and joys.

We left Rome with mixed feelings – we had loved our time there and knew we would return.  But more adventure awaited us!  Our next stop was the small village of Soriano Nel Cimino, a beautiful medieval town in the hills of Lazio, about 80 miles north of Rome.  As we rounded the curves of the mountain road, winding gracefully up the hills towards the village, we saw the castle of Soriano rising magnificently above the village walls, casting its shadow over the town and the people.  The castle evoked visions of fairy tale settings and different times, when the wealthy landlord ruled over the village people and the village sought protection within its thick stone walls. 

Using our timehsare exchange, we stayed at Palazzo Catalani, a former palace and the only lodging available in Soriano.   The Palazzo was beautiful and our room was authentic yet comfortable and inviting.  We were the only American guests registered that week.  The other 18 guests were from England, Ireland and Scotland.  As we gathered before dinner, sipping wonderful local wine and munching on bruschetta, we learned about the others who would share this week with us.  All were friendly and open, having just arrived that day and the soothing wine was calming our travel weary bodies.  We shared stories of our lives and families, forming connections and friendships that would last past the week.  So many of our new friends had common lives and stories and as the week progressed we found there was something unique that we could share with each one of them.

Travel Tip:  Renting or bringing an international GPS device (like Garmin or Tom Tom), can be invaluable when navigating in foreign countries!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

When did the travel bug bite?

Sandy's Story:  I can't tell you exactly when it happened but I do know this - the bug bit, and it bit hard.  As a child growing up we traveled some but I always heard my parents talk of the travels they would take upon retirement - those trips to Hawaii, the Caribbean, etc.  Retirement never came for my mother, she passed away at the young age of 44, having never realized her dream of that Hawaiian vacation.  Life is short and there are no guarantees, I learned this from my mother.  And it is in her memory and as a tribute to her, that I travel today.  I travel to expand who I am and to experience as much of God's creation as possible.  And I think of my mother on each adventure - dedicating my travels to her memory.  Fortunately, my husband is just as much of a travel hound as I am and we have friends and family that we often travel with.  We seek fun and different adventures as we plan each itinerary and every trip is different from the last.  And my husband is an excellent photographer, capturing our experiences in fun pictures perfect for reminiscing later.  I've learned alot along the way and I'll share my knowledge with you in travel tips and ideas.  Before long, you'll have been bitten by the travel bug and you, too, will be experiencing extraordinary travels!

Tom's Take:  Other then occasional trips to Illinois to visit relatives, my family didn't travel much when I was a child.  My first experience with travel was at the end of my college years, when I was recruited and flown to San Jose, CA for job interviews.  This was my first plane ride and Santa Cruz was my first experience with the ocean.  I was so excited to see the Pacific and I made a mad dash for the waves, planning to body surf my way back to the beautiful beach.  I ended up being tossed around like a rag doll and thrown onto the beach - no graceful movements here! As I lay on the beach breathless, a typical "beach dude" approached me with a grin.  Looking down at my sand filled face he chuckled and said "This is your first time at the ocean, isn't it?"  I had to laugh.  But there was no doubt that I was bitten that day and the bug bit hard.

An ordinary couple

We are just an ordinary couple, living in an ordinary house with the ordinay challenges.  But we have experienced some extraordinary travel adventures in our 26 years of marriage and this blog will be my platform to share them. 

How did I come up with the tag of "ordinary couple"?  It derives from a wonderful dinner experience in Rome.  We were hungry and jet lagged after a day of sightseeing and found ourselves standing on a street corner studying the map.  We had that obvious tourist look of "where are we and how do we get back?".  Suddenly a man was standing next to us and he animatedly asked, "Are you looking for my restaurant?"  We turned in utter surprise then chuckled at his exuberant smile.  "Sure", we said, opting to play along. We were starving after all, and who can navigate foreign streets on an empty stomach?  He led us to what was to be a gastromical delight - truly the most delicious dinner I had ever experienced with an attentive waiter who spoke fantastic english.  As he served us course after course, we got to know Roberto and found him quite charming.  "What are your names?" he asked with a flourish as he refilled our wine glasses. "Tom and Sandy"  we pleasantly answered.  Roberto's expression changed as he pondered this information, then with a slight sigh he said, "Such ordinary names."  As he left the table we turned to each other and burst into laughter - he was right!  We are an ordinary couple, with ordinary names but extraordinary adventures to share.