Tulum

Cenote :: Mexico

Cenote :: Mexico

We’ve been here for one month visiting friends, working remotely and relaxing in Tulum, Mexico after leaving Vancouver, Canada. Many have asked what we’re doing and we don’t have an immediate answer to that question. We’ve embarked on a nomadic lifestyle, at least for now. We’ll see how long it lasts based on budget, desire and knocks on the door from my husband’s world of film and visual effects. We came here for tropical heat, cheap tacos and a slower pace of life. We’ve found all of that plus a few adventures, some big surprises and an alluring dose of Mayan history.

We’ve been staying in a great apartment on the edge of town, which also happens to be a 20-minute bike ride from the Tulum ruins. I’ve been to the ruins once before — about 15 years ago — but that was long before history and culture really began to make my heart beat. Being here again, in the context of the Yucatán Peninsula, has been given me a new awareness of the richness and depth of culture in this region. The highlights of spending time here have included watching the Travesia Sagrada, and learning about the vast network of caves and cenotes below the surface of Tulum and its neighboring towns.

The Travesia Sagrada honors a historic journey from centuries ago. Mayans traveled by canoe (departing north of Tulum) to the sacred island of Cozumel and its temple honoring Ixchel, goddess of the moon and fertility. The pilgrimage was important for women hoping to have children and men praying for a good harvest.

Nowadays, about 300 men and women in 30 canoes row to Cozumel and return the following morning. In the process of learning about the Travesia Sagrada through a friend who participated, I’ve also learned about temescals (sweat lodges) and a Spanish bishop named Diego de Landa who single-handedly did more than anyone else to both record and destroy Mayan culture. It was de Landa who documented the travesia in the 1500s, but it was also de Landa who burned essential Mayan manuscripts and images out of his religious intolerance.

As for the caves and cenotes here, they may be Tulum’s most enjoyable secret, although they’re not really a secret. Many people know of them but they aren’t too overcrowded. Yet. Typically, a cenote is a large hole in the ground that leads to a larger hole filled with fresh water draining to the ocean. Most cenotes are very deep (in some, you can’t see the bottom) and often connected to other cenotes by caves and channels.

Cenote Labnaha :: Tulum, Mexico

Cenote Labnaha :: Tulum, Mexico

If you’re an adventure scuba diver, cenotes are a unique paradise. If you’re not comfortable in the water, you will hate cenotes. They can be very dangerous if you’re inexperienced, unprepared or your equipment fails (which Jay was witness to at a cenote/lagoon south of Tulum). We explored Cenote Labnaha with a guide, which was both fascinating and freaky. For one hour we snorkeled through low caves, dodged stalactites, looked down at the scuba ropes leading into even deeper caves, and turned off our flashlights to 15 seconds of complete and terrifying darkness.

Cenotes played a part in Mayan history as a place of worship and sacrificial offerings. The Tulum ruins include a “House of the Cenote” and at Ek Balam there’s a cenote visible from the La Acrópolis. Our next door neighbor, who we call the Jacques Cousteau of the Yucatán, has been exploring and mapping Tulum’s network of caves and cenotes for the past two decades. He’s found artifacts and human remains in several.

Sargasso :: Tulum, Mexico

Sargasso :: Tulum, Mexico

Tulum itself is a gritty little town with upscale construction threatening its charm at every turn in the road. It’s straddling an impossible line between retaining its character and leveraging the considerable foreign interest it holds as a seaside destination not far from Cancún. A bigger, pressing issue may be global warming. The coastline here is showing signs of the battle — not against trash, but against a super-bloom of sargasso macroalgae that is relentlessly dumping ashore in a rotting brown mass (pictured above). No one can keep up with it and hardly anyone is hanging out at the beach as a result. In addition, Mexico’s elections are just a couple weeks away and running for office here can be a life-threatening pursuit. This is a country battling many forces against it, including its neighbor to the north.

Tulum Ruins, Mexico

Tulum Ruins, Mexico

Beneath all of this patina, the history here shines brightly. The region is punctuated by the magnificent temples of Chichen Itza, Ek Balam and Cobá, and countless smaller sites cover the peninsula. It would take weeks — if not months — to see them all. Yet it feels like layers and layers remain to be discovered in the crumbling limestone and tropical vegetation.

The Tulum ruins stand alone as a unique coastal site — the only one in Mayan history — and old port for the city of Cobá. Originally called Zamá (dawn or sunrise), the site of Tulum flourished from 1200-1500 AD, and declined in the 75 years after the Spanish made first contact in the early 1500s.

Between 1,000 and 1,500 people lived at Tulum. Based on the wall with four small doorways protecting the ruins, people living within the site may have been of a higher social class than people living outside the wall.

El Castillo (The Castle) sits at the cliff edge overlooking the ocean. Surely the view is spectacular from it’s highest level although you’re not allowed to climb the steps. Standing alongside the east wall facing the sea, it dominates and feels fortified against the weather with its battered construction. But the articulation of the stone ledges and borders adds delicate beauty. Whoever designed the castle and surrounding structures had an evident appreciation of design and proportion.

The Descending God

The Descending God

The Descending God, a notable deity of the Yucatán peninsula, is portrayed at the Tulum Ruins. This figure holds a characteristic pose — inverted, with feet at the top and face at the bottom looking forward. The Descending God is associated with bees and war, and interesting combination. Honey was a vital export of the region and war was a way of attaining power. You can read more about the Descending God here.

The Temple of the Frescoes holds weathered depictions of deities above the colonnade. Even a bit of color remains from the natural pigments (achiote, chochineal and palygorskite or Maya Blue among them) that once painted the sites of this region but have since washed away. What I find most striking about Mayan art is that it so closely resembles the style of indigenous art throughout western Canada. The depictions of gods and animals in both regions share a highly graphic quality of thick lines, robust shapes and bold expressions. Is it coincidence or relation?

I see you :: Tulum Ruins

I see you :: Tulum Ruins

 

Tulum Ruins :: Mexico

Tulum Ruins :: Mexico

Walking around the rest of the site, all of the structural remains have simple rectangular footprints with finished-floor elevations above ground level. Could the varied floor heights have indicated status even within the social hierarchy of the select people living here? Could this detail have helped keep the bugs and reptiles out — of which there are many! Or the rain? Did the added elevation simply keep the floor dry? It has rained in solid sheets over the past few days so this had to have been a concern at such an exposed site bordering the ocean.

Grand Palace :: Tulum Ruins, Mexico

Grand Palace :: Tulum Ruins, Mexico

There are so many unanswerable questions, lost to the forgetfulness of time. Even I have questions related to my own life that have surfaced while being here. When I was a kid — four or five years old — I had two imaginary friends for a period of time. I have no recollection of how I conjured them up. I only remember their unusual names: Chaka and Cobba (as I spelled them). Since coming here, I’ve learned two interesting names that correlate: Chaahk, the Mayan god of rain and Cobá, the historic Mayan city that once dominated the region.

Have I lived here before? Is it coincidence or memory?

Tulum Ruins, Mexico

Tulum Ruins, Mexico

Miscellaneous

Sagres, at the Edge of Europe

Sagres, Portugal

Sagres, Portugal

Spring, 2017

At the tip of southwest Portugal, we find Sagres. It is awash in pastel colors — flesh colored tones of earth, a moody green-gray ocean and a blue sky that is trying its hardest to transition to summer … unsuccessfully.

Pousada Sagres

Pousada Sagres

We spend the night in a pousada at the literal edge of the country. Portugal’s pousadas are old buildings — convents, castles and palaces — renovated and run as hotels by the government. They’re authentic, fairly affordable and, in some cases, stunning places to stay. I highly recommend checking them out if you’re traveling to Portugal.

Sagres, Portugal

Sagres, Portugal

From Pousada Sagres we have a westerly view to the lighthouse at Fortaleza Sagres. Beyond the fort and peninsula, there is nothing but the vast Atlantic Ocean, whipped up into a cold, churning bath on windy day like today. We bundle up and head to the fort, stopping first for a short hike down to Tonel Beach.

Except for the Mediterranean color palette, the dramatic coastline resembles Northern California’s Big Sur and Bolinas.

We enter Fortaleza Sagres, the departure point of Prince Henry the Navigator who sought a maritime route to Asia around the southern tip of Africa. The single column at the start of the path is a “replica of the marker stone (Padrão) used by the Portuguese navigators in the fifteenth century to mark newly discovered territories. It displays the coat-of-arms of Prince Henry, the Navigator.” I wonder … how many padrãos did he take with him?

The stark walls of the church, Nossa Senhora de Graça, support a cross silhouetted against the sky.

Sagres Fortress, Portugal

Sagres Fortress, Portugal

The most astonishing thing about the fortress is that the original was severely damaged by the earthquake of 1755. The resulting tsunami washed over this peninsula and everything on it. Can you imagine seeing a tidal wave coming toward you that’s higher than these cliffs?

We walk for an hour in the wind, following the road past the lighthouse to the farthest point of the peninsula. It feels like we’re in a never-ending journey of one-point perspective as the road leads eternally to the horizon.

A  circular maze invites us in at the end of the peninsula. Something about architecture in the middle of nowhere is hard to resist.

The churning Atlantic

The churning Atlantic

We return to the edge of the cliff. Although it’s a pretty color, the churning Atlantic does not look welcoming today. I’m happy to have my feet on the ground.

The path vanishes behind us as we head back to the entrance and find the mysterious Rose Compass interlaced with yellow wildflowers. Sundial or navigational tool? I’m not sure, but it’s time to go. Where to next? Let’s try the Algarve and Carvoeiro.

The Rose Compass, Sagres Fortress

The Rose Compass, Sagres Fortress

Miscellaneous Nature Outdoors Photography

Sintra: A Tale of Two Castles

Pena Palace :: Sintra, Portugal

Pena Palace :: Sintra, Portugal

We’re standing on a mountaintop west of Portugal. We’ve lucked out. It’s one of those perfect days when the blue sky extends all the way to the horizon.

To get here, we drove west from Lisbon to Sintra, parked the car, walked partially up the hill, stopped to think about it, hired a mototaxi, arrived at the ticket booth of Pena Palace and climbed the final path to the entrance. This is not an easy place to get to but no good view comes without a cost.

Pena Palace :: Sintra, Portugal

Pena Palace :: Sintra, Portugal

According to the experts, Pena Palace is an example of Romanticism in architecture. It’s definitely romantic and inspires visions of Rapunzel unfurling her hair from the turrets. With its fanciful spires and crenellations, it looks more like a castle than a palace to me. But either way, Pena Palace is a Unesco World Heritage Site that was built as a chapel, developed into a monastery in the late 1400s, destroyed by the earthquake of 1755 and rebuilt in the mid-1800s by King Ferdinand as a residence for Portugal’s royal family. It became a national landmark in the early 1900s.

The palace’s madder and yellow exterior projects happiness but I imagine all the history, all the love and fear, all the sunny days and terrible storms, all the glorious moments and sad departures that have happened at this mountain monument throughout the last 600 years.

Pena Palace :: Sintra, Portugal

Pena Palace :: Sintra, Portugal

The interior tells less of a fairy tale and more of a biography. Weathered tiles cover the interior courtyard and residential spaces display the furnishings of the day. The dining room drips with character and I imagine a royal dinner for twelve or a candlelight tryst between two lovers with Madeira wine and the silence of the stone walls. The kitchen, bright with sunlight and an enviable range of copper cookware, feels almost luxurious with its farmhouse style and arched ceiling. But there’s no refrigerator, or dishwasher, or even running water back in the day.

Pena Palace :: Sintra, Portugal

Pena Palace :: Sintra, Portugal

I remind myself to mind the gaps here at Pena Palace. The battlements are thick but plenty of precarious viewpoints will be death drops for anyone who gets carried away with photography or a quest for the perfect selfie.

Mythical Triton at Pena Palace :: Sintra, Portugal

Mythical Triton at Pena Palace :: Sintra, Portugal

And then there’s this guy — a mythical Triton on the front of the palace. I’m not sure what he’s doing in that clam shell but he’s eternally posed and begs for a photo.

Sintra, Portugal

Sintra, Portugal

Sintra, Portugal

Sintra, Portugal

We mototaxi back down the hill and find some lunch in the lovely town of Sintra. We tuck around the back of Lawrence’s Restaurant and have the balcony to ourselves.

After lunch we debate about driving back up the hill to see Castelo dos Mouros, the Moorish Castle. Can it really be that spectacular after seeing such an overwhelming example of Romanticist architecture? We drive up the hill, park the car and follow the path.

There are no pretty colors or spires, just old stone walls and staircases following the contours of the mountain. Archaeological evidence reveals this site was occupied as long ago as 5,000 B.C. The castle we see today was built by the Moors in the 8th or 9th century. It’s far less comfortable than Pena Palace but just as strategically positioned.

The Castle Keep, Castelo dos Mouros :: Sintra, Portugal

The Castle Keep, Castelo dos Mouros :: Sintra, Portugal

The entire castle is open for exploring so after walking through the entry we turn right and climb up to the Castle Keep. Much like Pena Palace, Castelo dos Mouros requires careful steps along the narrow wall-walks and parapets throughout the site. High on the hill, the Castle Keep was one of the prime places to watch over the land for approaching invaders.

Castelo dos Mouros :: Sintra, Portugal

Castelo dos Mouros :: Sintra, Portugal

We descend the north side of the castle and climb the south side to the Royal Tower. The staircase is like a ribbon of stone up the mountain and turning around to see the view is truly breathtaking. The village of Sintra sits directly below us.

Sintra, Portugal

Sintra, Portugal

The Toyal Tower :: Castelo dos Mouros :: Sintra, Portugal

The Toyal Tower :: Castelo dos Mouros :: Sintra, Portugal

The Toyal Tower :: Castelo dos Mouros :: Sintra, Portugal

The Toyal Tower :: Castelo dos Mouros :: Sintra, Portugal

Castelo dos Mouros :: Sintra, Portugal

Castelo dos Mouros :: Sintra, Portugal

Looking south we see a complete view of Pena Palace that was impossible to see when we were standing there looking up at it. From here it looks proud and less of a caricature as it catches the thin fog that’s drifting around the mountain.

Castelo dos Mouros :: Sintra, Portugal

Castelo dos Mouros :: Sintra, Portugal

These sites are so close to each other yet they have such different stories to tell. I can’t help but wonder, was there ever castle envy as the shiny new Pena Palace took form in the 1800s while Castelo dos Mouros looked on with its raw fortitude? We’ll never know.

Castelo dos Mouros :: Sintra, Portugal

Castelo dos Mouros :: Sintra, Portugal

Miscellaneous Travel

Azulejo and Zellige

Azulejo and zellige. I know, readers! These are tough words to get your mind and mouth around. But they’re relevant terms if you’re traveling through Portugal, Spain and Morocco which is what I did last April and May. Before I share a bunch of new posts with you about this region of the world, it’s important to understand the meaning and history behind these two related words. You’re going to see azulejos mostly in my photography of Portugal, zellige mostly in my photography of Spain and Morocco, and the influence and presence of both throughout my photography of the whole region. So let’s get it all started at the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum) in Lisbon, Portugal.

Queen Leonor's Chapel, The National Tile Museum

Queen Leonor’s Chapel, The National Tile Museum

The building that is now the tile museum was originally the Convent of the Mother of God (Madre de Deus), founded in 1509 by Leonor, Queen Consort of Portugal. Through the centuries, tile was brought to the convent for decoration but little of it was applied to the interior. In the 1950s, the convent was annexed by the National Museum of Ancient Art to house its ceramic displays (along with tiles that were already stored at the convent) and eventually the annex became the National Tile Museum.

The museum tells the history of decorative tile that likely originated in North Africa in the 13th century and reached across the Gibraltar Strait into Spain and then Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries. Initially, decorative tiles may have been a reaction against horror vacui — fear of the empty, a Greek term that has been applied to numerous styles and periods of art.

Moorish influence on early azulejos

Moorish influence on early azulejos

The museum offers this definition of azulejo: From the Arab word azzelij or al zuleycha, which means ‘small polished stone’, refers to a ceramic piece, usually squared, with one side glazed. Zellige is a similar Arabic word, meaning “mosaic,” particularly with geometric tiles of the style seen throughout Morocco. Because zellige is a form of Islamic art, its designs are purely geometric with no portrayal of living things. In contrast, the azulejos found throughout Portugal are painted with patterns, design motifs and scenes of life.

The National Tile Museum :: Lisbon, Portugal

The process of Azulejo

The National Tile Museum holds a historic collection of azulejos, assembled in vignettes on the walls and also applied throughout the former convent’s church, chapel and cloisters. A display case at the entrance of the exhibition explains the process of making azulejo: A tile is cut from a slab of raw clay; one side is covered with a layer of powdered glass and tin-oxide; a line drawing is made on tracing paper; the paper is flipped over and pricked along the lines with a sharp instrument; the pricked tracing paper is placed over the tile and brushed with powdered charcoal to transfer the line drawing onto the tile in a process called pouncing; a rabbit’s tail erases any charcoal mistakes; the tile is painted with color and fired at a very high temperature to create the saturated, polychrome beauty of the finished piece.

The National Tile Museum :: Lisbon, Portugal

Azulejos were sometimes assembled together to look like tapestries, known as tapete (carpets). In the 15th and 16th centuries, the azulejo color palette was limited to blue, yellow, brown, green and white. In the 17th century, the color trend turned toward a simplified blue and white palette in the style of Chinese porcelain which was popular around the world.

The museum is arranged chronologically which helps with understanding how tile design, color and illustration evolved over centuries. The AzLab, an organization of the museum, is working to identify, date and catalog the vast tile designs of homes, buildings and churches throughout the country. AzLab also has a great interactive timeline of important examples in the history of azulejos. Only some of Portugal’s tiled works of art have been signed by the artists, several of whom were master oil and ceiling painters: António de Oliveira Bernardes, Manuel dos Santos and António Pereira.

Nossa Senhora da Vida, 1580

Nossa Senhora da Vida, 1580

Scene from the Hunting Room

Scene from the Hunting Room

Lisbonne au Mille Couleurs, 1992

Lisbonne au Mille Couleurs, 1992

The National Tile Museum :: Lisbon, Portugal

Crates of tiles are stacked along the interior hallways of the museum and restoration appears to be ongoing. What a huge job to reconstruct the tiled history of an entire nation, one small square at a time from the past 400+ years.

The Manueline Cloister is beautifully decorated in 19th century tiles with a diamond pattern which complements the arched ceiling.

The Church of Madre de Deus is a surprise within the tile museum, a remnant from the former days of the convent. Gilded at every glance, it’s a vibrant expression of a Baroque Portuguese interior. Upstairs the Chapel of St. Anthony is similarly covered in opulent paintings.

Ending the museum tour, the Great Panorama of Lisbon wraps half of the room in a blue and white pictorial of the city before the devastating earthquake of 1755. Each tile is delicately painted with detail showing homes, ships, life along the coast and scenes from the countryside.

Manueline Cloister and 19th century tiles

Manueline Cloister and 19th century azulejos

Traveling this region that straddles the Strait of Gibraltar is like taking a visual safari through the worlds of azulejos and zellige. Colorful and intricate, one cannot walk much more than a block or an alley’s length without stopping to admire the beauty of so many tiles and mosaics, as you’ll see in my upcoming posts.

If you’ve ever tiled a floor then you know the painstaking, backbreaking effort it takes to properly cut, mortar, assemble and grout a tiled surface — even with power tools, let alone manually as in past centuries. So it’s pretty easy to conclude that in the heyday of azulejos and zellige, beauty and craftsmanship must have been valued tremendously in spite of the time and pain involved in creating these works of art. No wonder the WINE of the region is so good and such an important part of Portugal’s culture! Saúde!

Culture Miscellaneous

Final Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

This is the last post of a four-part series. To read the first three posts, go here, here and here.

It was summer, 1972 — exactly 45 years ago. As my grandmother Peg set out on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe, I was almost two years old and learning to talk in the U.S., and my future husband was about a year old and learning to walk in Germany. When my grandmother landed in Frankfurt at the start of her itinerary, she was just 80 miles from his house. Small world.

Coincidences and connections are everywhere in the postcards she sent home and the journal entries she wrote. Reading them now, so many years later, I’ve discovered things we had in common that I never knew before. Among them, that we shared a deep affection for Rome and if she, or I, had to choose a site in Europe that left us most awe-struck, without question we would both choose St. Peter’s Basilica.

My grandmother had a fabulous time on her solo journey to Germany, France, England, Greece, Italy and Switzerland. She made friends along the way and embraced everything unfamiliar with curiosity and grace. But she had challenging days, too. In this final post of the series, she is worn out from looking for a hotel room, worn down from battling the heat, and worn thin from trying to communicate. All of us travelers have been in her shoes, so it’s easy to understand her frustration when she gets locked in her room and also experiences a major miscommunication with a hotel manager — who speaks English!

But Peg gets back on the right foot again and leaves us with some priceless thoughts about Italian men, Italian food and that feeling we all get when — even though the trip has been amazing — we’re done living out of a suitcase and ready to go home.

Well done, Grandma. You opened your heart, blazed a trail and left me with the most endearing account of your trip in postcards and journal entries. When you wrote, “Please save the cards I send” I don’t think you had any idea how many people would eventually read them and love them, 45 years later. You’re a star! But that’s nothing new to me. I love you.

Rome, July 16th

Rome, ItalyPostcards From My Grandmother, 1972July 16
Hi! Start saving your money so you can see St. Peter’s! This is worth the whole cost of a trip to Europe. I am absolutely stunned at its splendor! Everyone just gasps as they enter. Saw the Sistine Chapel this A.M. — simply magnificent! Saw yesterday the Forum, Coliseum, so many piazzas I can’t name them. Wish I could stay 2 wks. Food is the best in Europe so far — but expensive. Italians are great — love them! Thanks for your letter. Love, Mom

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972Rome     Pleasant     Rain at 5:30
July 15 — Saturday
Went through the Vatican & Sistine Chapel this A.M. Such crowds of people it was hard to hear the guide. The Raphael tapestries were gorgeous. Of course, the Sistine Chapel was fabulous but jammed with people & had to stand an hour & 45 minutes, but it’s worth it. I am still most impressed by St. Peter’s. Its impact is just unexcelled & unrivaled by anything else.

Rome
July 16 — Sunday
Went back to St. Peter’s today & spent about 3 hours. What a stunning place. It is surely my favorite place in Europe to visit.

Florence, July 19th

Florence, ItalyPostcards From My Grandmother, 1972July 19
Hi! Haven’t seen a thing in Florence yet. Spent the day just getting here & getting a hotel room. Waited in line 1 hour for a hotel reservation. Italy is hot & humid. Walked 2 blocks down the street to see what I could find & saw the most elegant shops with marble & silver artifacts. Saw the marble eggs you gave me — big containers of them. Beautiful — in all colors. Love Italy & the people — just great! Love — Mom.

Florence, July 20th & 21st

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972Florence
July 20 Thursday
Took the Am. Express morning tour. Saw the Baptistry, the Medici Palace, Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore, the Pitti Palace, & Galleries. In the afternoon I went to see Michelangelo’s David & then walked to Uffizi Gallery & window shopped. Such elegant shops — beautiful clothes, purses, & jewelry.

Florence
July 21 — Friday
Shopping today. Bought the big platters for each family. Am not real excited about my choices — but at least it’s something from Florence. Am. Express is trying to get me reservations in Lucern & Frankfurt. The hotel got me one in Venice, thank goodness.

Venice, July 22nd

Venice, ItalyPostcards From My Grandmother, 1972July 22
Am reading The Agony & The Ecstasy for obvious reasons
Hi! I’ve just loved Italy. The people are just great — so warm & so happy. The men really know how to treat a woman! Even the porters are gracious! No pinches — just consideration for a woman. I have loved the food. Our lasagna is all wrong. Must work on that when I get home. Venice is unique & colorful, but it doesn’t equal Rome or Florence. Love, Mom

Venice, July 24th

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972Venice     95°
July 24 — Monday
This has been the worst day of the whole trip. Without the Klingles I would have committed hari-kari (harakiri). Train 45 minutes late in leaving. Train like a 120° steam bath. Trip until Lake Lugano so hot & unbearable. Last 1 1/2 hours were refreshing when we got to Swiss border. Got to hotel at 10:00. Big mix-up about the room. I was starving & needed food — no water on the train, either. Washed my face & wanted to get some food. Locked in my room for 45 minutes …

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972… Nobody could unlock my door. Finally, a man was called into the case & he told me to throw my room key out the window. They finally got the room open & I ate a hamburger next door & then fell into bed — completely exhausted but loving the cool night air of Switzerland.
Hotel Cachet

Lucerne, July 25th

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972Lucerne
July 25
I was appalled at the price of this room but I do love it. Went out to find a cheaper one. Found one on the 4th, 5th or 6th floor of a hotel down the street for 30 Francs a night. Am going to have to take it. Back at the Cachet, I packed my bags but decided to wait to talk to the manager about my bill & pay her directly. She was due in at 11:00. When she came …

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972… I explained I could not pay the price she was asking. After much adding of figures I finally paid what I owed & prepared to leave. She said, “It’s a shame you don’t pay the 30 Francs still owed from now until Friday when you leave.” I was stunned. All this time she was talking about the cost of 4 nights & I was talking about the cost of one.

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972Lucerne
July 25 — Tuesday
Today I tried to recuperate from the heat. Have done nothing to exert myself. Just heavenly to have a shower and be cool. Window shopped & got mail from the Am. Express. Only one letter from Fred. Lucerne is beautiful, but I can’t see enough of the mountains. The city is so clean & the people so friendly.

Lucerne, July 27th

Lucerne, SwitzerlandPostcards From My Grandmother, 1972Hi! Will be glad to see you all. Love Lucerne. The lake is gorgeous. The food is fabulous. Having a nice rest here. I don’t think I could take another week. Love, Mom

Thank you all so much for reading and commenting on
Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972!

Miscellaneous Travel

Continued Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

This is the third post of a four-part series. To read the first two posts, go here:

Postcards from My Grandmother, 1972

More Postcards from My Grandmother, 1972

After Wiesbaden, Paris and London, my grandmother continued on to Athens and Rome. Although she found Greece entirely foreign and unbearably hot, she was fascinated by the culture and in love with the food. As travelers know … when everything is lost in translation, a good plate of food or a hot cup of tea can delightfully bridge the gap between you and your foreign surroundings.

To me, my grandmother’s postcards and journal entries from Rome (which will continue into the final post of this series) are the most special and endearing of the entire collection. I visited Rome for the first time in 2001 and just like her, I was awe-struck when I entered St. Peter’s Basilica, captivated by the elegance of Bernini’s sculptures, and generally transfixed by the entire city of Rome itself. It is one of my favorite cities in the world — so worth seeing that years ago I took my mother there for her birthday so she could experience it, too.

We are three generations all in love with Rome. Truly, the apples haven’t fallen far from the tree. Or maybe in Rome, the tomatoes from the vine!

Athens, July 5th

Athens, GreecePostcards From My Grandmother, 19727/5 – Athens
Hi! Hope everything is all right with all of you. Athens is sunny & I’ve had very little sun in Europe. Temp 80° with a wonderful breeze off the Mediterranean. It’s so blue! Saw the Greek islands from the air. They are not green & lush but arid with almost no green on them — not what I expected. This is really strange because even the alphabet is Greek to me! I can’t read the signs! Love, Mom
∆∆∆ — That’s Greek, but doesn’t help!
Sent toys from Herrod’s

Athens, July 6th

Tourkolimano, GreecePostcards From My Grandmother, 1972Athens – July 6
Hi! This is my idea of really being in a foreign country. Can’t understand anything except the money & you learn that fast out of necessity. I see things I can’t figure out, smell things I can’t identify & it is thoroughly fascinating! Had fish & eggplant for lunch — served separately but they tasted so different. Have met & seen only 2 Americans — a couple from Texas staying at the hotel. Had no trouble finding a cheaper one than I had last night. Love, Mom

 

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Athens   Hot
July 6 – Thursday
Spent the morning on foot looking for a hotel room.  Found one in about the 7th stop — Hotel Epidavros. Nice room for less than $3 — bathroom & shower right across the hall. Toured around on foot today to see the sights. The smells are what get me — so strange. Almost no one speaks English. Dimitrious carried my bags from the Ambassador to the Epidavros. He insisted! Nice boy.

Athens    Sweltering
July 7 – Friday
Took a tour to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. Walked up the steepest steps & got separated from the tour. Read up on the history when I got back to the hotel. Saw the temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, the Stadium, & the Archeological Museum. Also saw the Olympic Stadium where the first Olympic Games were held in 1896. It is completely built of white marble but looks pale pink, just beautiful.

Athens, July 12th

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Athens   Sweltering   Must be 100°
Tuesday – July 11
Maria, her 4 cousins, & I went to Aegina by boat. It was a refreshing relief from the heat. Aegina is a little island where they make pottery. Ate lunch & the kids bought trinkets in the little shops. Got home tired but cooled somewhat.

Athens   Sweltering
July 12 – Wednesday
Dreadfully hot. Had my hair done at the Ambassadors Hotel. Feel civilized now. Spent the rest of the day trying to keep cool & repacking the luggage.

 

Aegina, GreecePostcards From My Grandmother, 1972Athens – July 12
Hi! Went to this little Greek island yesterday with Maria & her cousins. Had fun & got cooled off on the beautiful blue Mediterranean. Maria is so much fun & so sweet. She & I love Greek food & I’m hooked on fish soup. She really knows the right places to eat so I’m really enjoying this strange food. Hope you are well and having fun in the new house. Leave for Rome tomorrow. Looking forward to nice cool Switzerland. Love, Mom

Rome, July 13th

Rome, ItalyPostcards From My Grandmother, 1972July 13
Hi from beautiful Rome. It’s cool & raining. What a relief from Athens! Am staying in a singles hotel and I have a private bath for the first time in Europe. It’s really cozy. Walked past the Spanish Steps & down to the Trevi Fountain today. Tomorrow I see Rome. Saturday I see the Vatican & Sistine Chapel. Can’t wait! Saw the Forum on the way in from the airport. La dolce vita — Love, Mom

 

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Rome   Cool   Rain late aft.
July 13 – Thursday
Arrived in Rome after a beautiful flight. Rome is 71° and I think now I’ll live. Hotel Croce de Malta Via Bourgonona had a single with bath — $5.50. It’s great to have my own shower & toilet. Am on a side street one block from Spanish Steps. Walked to them this afternoon & to the Trevi Fountain. Love this city.

Rome   Great weather   Rain late afternoon   Moses Fountain
July 14 – Friday
Took 2 tours — Ancient Rome this A.M. Forum, Coliseum, Arch of Constantine, Circus Maximus, St. Paul outside the city, only pyramid outside Egypt. This afternoon was the highlight of the trip to Europe — St. Peter’s Square & Basilica. Absolutely stunning. Tourists gasp as they enter. Bernini sculpture is magnificent. Pantheon is a truly great sight too. Raphael’s tomb is there.

The fourth and final post of this series is coming up next week. Thanks for reading!

Miscellaneous

More Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

*This is the second post in a four-part series. To read the first post, go here.

After landing in Frankfurt and traveling to Paris, my grandmother departed for London on June 27th, 1972. She explored the city for one week and made a side trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon. By the end of the week, she loved London for its history and regalia but not for its weather or food. Her thoughts came to us in postcards and journal entries from a bygone era when family members would send letters abroad to their loved ones who were traveling, to be picked up at places like Claridge’s or through the services of American Express.

I think I knew my grandmother pretty well, but while reading her postcards now — 45 years after her trip and 15 years after her death — I find bits and pieces of information I didn’t know about her before. She experienced the same anxiety we’ve all had in learning how to navigate London’s Underground. She admired the Magna Carta at the British Museum, just like I did in 2007. She had an evident appreciation for Oxford commas, and soaking in a bathtub was one of her most cherished luxuries in life.

She was like all of us travelers — brave and bold to travel across the world, yet a little timid and unsure about what she would find on the other side. But as the world unfolds in front of her, the delight in her voice appears on the page. And one of the things I find most incredible is that when she saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, that palace was occupied by the same person who lives there today.

Long live the world’s great grandmothers!

*Click on any image to make it larger, or read the typed text below it.

London, June 28th

London, England

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Hi! The Queen & I send greetings. Arrived this AM. Have my first bathtub in 10 days — a welcome sight! I soaked and soaked! England is the city of white starched curtains in every window — Paris was the city of bright geraniums on every balcony. Meet my friends tomorrow at a hotel right around the corner. They didn’t have a single for tonight. Have to learn to ride the subway — scares me, but I’ve studied maps & think I know how to do it. Love, Mom

London, June 29th

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

London
June 29 — Went on a tour & thoroughly enjoyed it. Saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, the Cloisters at Westminster Abbey. Saw much more but there were 2 places we got out. W. Abbey holding services so we could not go in today — St. Peter’s Day. Had an excellent guide — Pam — a real authority on British history. Cloisters were fascinating — replicas of all Coronation regalia. Changing of the guard very colorful & interesting. Went to Claridge’s & got mail — hit the jackpot — 5 letters.

London, July 1st

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Cold & cloudy
London
July 1 — Saturday
Went to Westminster Abbey — loved the Poet’s Corner, but still feel Notre Dame is more impressive. Went to the Cockney Pride & had Scotch eggs. I wasn’t too impressed with those. British cooking is so unimaginative! Then went to Dicken’s home & encountered no mobs of tourists. Then went to British Museum — saw the Reading Room, but enjoyed the manuscripts the most — the Magna Carta in particular.

London, England

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Hi! Hit the jackpot on mail & I feel better after hearing from you. Have taken 2 tours and have seen Old Curiosity Shop & the Crown Jewels which are stunning — a 317 carat diamond, & rubies & emeralds such as I’ve never seen  before. Weather is cool, pleasant, & sunshiny. Am flying to Athens from here. Can’t afford Austria. Money is just evaporating! Cheerio Luvs, Mom

London, July 2nd & 3rd

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Cold
London
July 2 — Sunday
Went to Stratford on Avon & what a delightful trip. On the way up, saw Oxford, Churchill’s grave, had coffee at the White Hart Inn  & saw the Rollright Stones (1500 B.C.) — older than Stonehenge. Had lunch at the Shakespeare Hotel (roast beef & Yorkshire pudding). Visited Shakespeare’s birthplace & Ann Hathaway’s cottage, a 12 room house with a beautiful flower garden. Cold & dreary day but the Eng. countryside is beautiful rolling land with beautiful trees.

London
July 3
Went to the bank, then rode the Underground to Herrod’s. Had lunch there and had my hair done. What a treat! Herrod’s is exclusive & expensive. Was not impressed with the toy department. Bathroom shop was fun with the flowered bathtubs.

Stratford-Upon-Avon, July 5th

Stratford-Upon-Avon, England

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

July 4
Yippee!
Have really enjoyed London. Saw everything, I think. Loved the changing of the guard, Mme. Tussaud’s wax works, and Stratford On Avon which we did on Sunday. Have taken in British Museum, West. Abbey, saw Churchill’s grave, 10 Downing St., Dicken’s home, Fleet St., the Tower of London, & on & on. The weather is gloomy, gray, & overcast. It is cold in the mornings. Have worn a coat every day but one. Something about icebergs in the Atlantic. Fly to Greece tomorrow. Love, Mom

Thank you for reading! To read the next post in this series, go here.

Miscellaneous
Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

When I think of her, I picture her sitting at the kitchen table next to the window, working on the crossword puzzle in the Denver Post. A deck of cards sits in front of her next to a stack of papers to be graded. Depending on what day it is, she’s either watching the weekend golf tournament or looking forward to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Depending on what time it is, she might be drinking a scotch and water. A shallow glass dish on the coffee table holds a handful of lemon drops, and the living room decor centers on turquoise. She steps outside to enjoy the shade of the back patio. The grass has been cut, leaving the distinct scent of summer lingering in the air. Mint grows thick along the north side of her single-story brick house and her pinkish ’65 Ford Mustang is parked in the driveway.

My grandmother and my mother, 1945

My grandmother and my mother, 1945

My grandmother’s name was Margaret but everyone called her Peg. She earned a living as a middle school English teacher in an inner city school district of Denver, where her love of the English language met the challenge of teaching teenagers. She had the demeanor to handle it — serious and scholarly but happy to see any child learning and growing, including me. I don’t remember her being a disciplinarian but her desire for me and her other grandchildren to be good students, good people and succeed in life was always deeply implied in the focus and intensity of her pure blue eyes.

In 1972, my grandmother was divorced, in her late fifties and planning what would be her first (and only) trip to Europe. She would land in Frankfurt, see a bit of Germany, travel to Paris and on to London. From there, she would fly to Greece, travel to Rome, Florence and Venice, and end her trip in Switzerland. She would go alone except for a few acquaintances she knew who were also traveling to Europe for the summer break. I admire my grandmother’s courage to take on such a grand itinerary by herself, as a single woman, with very little travel experience. In one trip, she defined Go Big or Go Home before it was ever a trendy cliché.

When my grandmother passed away 15 years ago, I inherited a few of her possessions including her travel journal and postcards from this once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe. I was just beginning my deep dive into traveling the world so I wasn’t yet aware of the significance these items would eventually have for me. Today, I cherish her journal and postcards not only as a record of traveling in a different era but also as a portrait of her character and personality. She was sometimes pessimistic and frustrated but a nice sunset or a good meal or even a bathtub in a hotel room could persuade her back to happiness.

She departed for Europe forty-five years ago this month. She shared her thoughts and experiences using the social media of her day — postcards from abroad sent by mail to my family. They offer a unique look at the challenges of travel so long ago — no internet, no Google maps, no booking ahead, no way of knowing where you’re going to stay upon arrival. No, no, no, no. But my grandmother said YES to all of it and documented much of it. I’ll be sharing her journey with you in a series of four posts over the next few weeks. I hope you enjoy her thoughts, her experiences and the trail she blazed for many of us travelers who have followed in her footsteps.

*Click on any image to make it larger, or read the typed text below it.

Wiesbaden, June 18th

Wiesbaden, Germany

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Hi! The logistics of all this is really a hassle! But here I am in Wiesbaden on a beautiful Sun. afternoon. Frankfurt is noisy and confusing. I came here by train, got a hotel room, and feel as though I’m learning the ropes fast! I’m in a sidewalk café having a drink and enjoying all the local color. Everyone is so nice! I just smile & nod my head! Love, Mom

Paris, June 20th

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Hi! Greetings from la belle France! Am having the most unbelievable experiences! Ran into Dave Mendes from Morey (junior high school) while buying apricots for the train trip to Paris. This was in Cablentz at the end of the Rhine boat trip. Can you believe it? We had lunch together! Slept on the train & got a hotel 1 block off Champs Elysee for $5 a night. All is well! Love, Mom

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Paris
Cool, Need a coat
June 20
Paris — We arrived at 6:40 and the Jensens & I had coffee & then parted company. I then met a nice New Jersey gal who told me where to find out about rooms. French Tourism — 125 Champs Elysée. Took a taxi & came down the C.E. with the sun hitting the Arc de Triomphe & it was so beautiful. They got me a cheap room & I took it sight unseen. I learned something. It’s a hole in a garret. I feel like a starving literary genius. No window — just a skylight. If the weather were hot, it would be insufferable. The water won’t stay in the sink so I can’t wash clothes successfully. I was dismayed when I saw it, but it’s less than $5 a day, so I’m going to rough it — 22 Francs to be exact. Always ask if the room has a window! It still is not as bad as Frankfurt!

Paris, June 21st

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Paris
June 21
Toured the city on a tour bus & thoroughly enjoyed it. Am learning the city layout. Have not had the nerve to ride the Metro. I can walk the full length of the Champs Elysee without too much trouble. It ends at the Place de la Concorde where Tuileries Gardens & the Louvre begin. It is probably a mile & a half — but so exciting. I can’t believe the traffic! C’est dangereux!

Paris, June 23rd

Notre-Dame de Paris

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Cool, & cloudy. Please save the cards I send
Bonjour! Toured the Louvre and learned what you told me — all the early sculptures were painted. Guide pointed out traces of red paint on men’s hair & lips. Wish you had been with me, Jo, to enjoy the masterpieces. Only 12 Raphaels DaVincis in the world & 6 are in the Louvre. All have the Mona Lisa expression as the guide pointed out. I’m exhausted but loving it! Love, Mom

Paris, June 26th

Place du Tertre, Paris

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Hi! Have walked about 20 miles today. Saw Notre Dame & went in. The stained glass windows are truly majestic — just magnificent. Saw the stalls along the Seine. Walked back again to the Louvre & did the Rubens gallery. Just huge pictures & at least 20 of them. They must be each 20 ft. by 20 ft. Voluptuous women. Hope you’re all well. Kiss Kelly & Tommy for me. Next from jolly old London. Love, Mom

You can find part two of four posted here. Thank you for reading!

Miscellaneous