Europe

Fringe Festival, whiskey, water, castles, and driving on the left side

Fringe Festival, whiskey, water, castles, and driving on the left side

by Betsy Herbert

After six weeks of extreme heat in Spain, Italy and Austria, things were about to change! I flew from Munich to Edinburgh, Scotland on August 8. As soon as I got off the plane, I dug down in my suitcase and pulled out my rain jacket, flannel shirt, and wool hat.

I could hardly wait to check into my B&B in Edinburgh, the Fraoch House, within walking distance of Edinburgh's Old Town, the site of hundreds of Fringe Festival venues offering theater, street performances, art, music and comedy throughout the month of August (https://www.edfringe.com/). Yes, it's a circus!

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Austrian retreat: “The hills are alive with the sound of . .?”

Austrian retreat: “The hills are alive with the sound of . .?”

by Betsy Herbert

In late July, I arrived at the Schloss-Pichlarn Hotel in Irdning, Austria on a fast train, after a scenic two-hour journey from Salzburg. I had a Global Eurail pass, so I traveled first class on this beautiful train through the Alps with no additional fare. When I arrived, a very amiable hotel driver in full uniform was there to meet me.

As we drove to the hotel--a renovated castle perched on a hill overlooking the small, picturesque town of Irdning--I felt a little out of my league! The grand hotel entrance, complete with marble balustrades and fountains, was lined all around with shiny, black BMWs, Mercedes, Audis, Porsches, Range Rovers and even a Rolls Royce.

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Returning to Spain after half a century

Returning to Spain after half a century

by Betsy Herbert

Good grief! It has finally sunk in that the first time I visited Spain was 51 years ago. I remember the time well, because it was just a few months after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I sailed from New York across the Atlantic on the Italian cruise ship "Cristoforo Columbo" with a group of students, as part of Beloit College's semester abroad program.

At 19, I thought I was fairly well prepared for the experience of living with a Spanish family for three months. I had taken several years of Spanish in high school and college, I'd read some Garcia Lorca poetry and studied Cervantes' Don Quixote de la Mancha. I also had read the novel, The Ugly American, (1958, Burdick & Lederer) and I was dead set against becoming that type of unenlightened world traveler..

What a shock when we got off the ship and couldn't understand a word of Spanish as spoken in this part of southern Spain, known as Andalucia.

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A visit to Crete during the EU-Greek crisis

A visit to Crete during the EU-Greek crisis

by Betsy Herbert

Foreward: I want to state up front, that despite the EU/Greek crisis dominating the headlines lately, I had a wonderful two weeks in Crete, the largest Greek Island. Though the Greek people I met were clearly concerned about the situation, they graciously went about their business. As a tourist, I was a little worried when I left Crete June 30 on the overnight ferry, because I was low on euros. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to withdraw funds the next morning from an ATM in Athens to cover my meals and bus ride to the airport later that afternoon. So when the ferry docked just before 6 a.m. in Piraeus, Athens I headed straight for an ATM. Hundreds of people were already lined up in front of the banks waiting to withdraw funds as soon as the banks opened. Thankfully, I was able to access an ATM and withdraw 100 euros (the limit), which would get me to the airport and on my way. But it was terrible to see the desperate faces of people worried about losing their savings.

I've wanted to visit Crete ever since I took my first art history class when I was introduced to the ancient Minoan murals of Knossos. Naturally, Crete was on my bucket list for my round-the-world trip, so after leaving Croatia on June 14, I flew to Athens and took the overnight ferry to Chania on the north coast of Crete.

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Clear waters and captivating cities of Croatia

Clear waters and captivating cities of Croatia

by Betsy Herbert

It was pitch-black dark when my train pulled into Zagreb from Villach, Austria on May 30. The day before, I had notified the Hotel Dubrovnik in Zagreb that I would be arriving late. I headed straight for an ATM in the train station so I could get some local currency...the kuna is the official currency here. Even though Croatia is now part of the European Union, the euro has not yet been adopted.

Emboldened by a full purse, I flagged down a taxi and headed straight to the hotel. It was so close I probably could have walked, pulling my carry-on bag. But, given that it was 10 pm and I was alone, I got the cab. It took only about 5 minutes, including a couple of extra trips around the block the cabbie took.

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Train journey from France to Croatia

Train journey from France to Croatia

by Betsy Herbert

I began traveling with my Eurail pass (the one you can only buy in the USA before you leave) when I left Aix-en-Provence, France on April 28. I was bound for Zagreb, Croatia for a two week Sierra Club International Tour beginning on May 31, so I had 3 1/2 days to make the journey.

I thought from reading my Eurail Pass brochure that I would be able to make my train reservations all the way from France to Croatia at the Aix-en-Provence railway station. After all, I had a Global Eurail Pass which entitles me to train travel at a hugely discounted rate in most countries in Europe, including all of the countries on the most direct route from France to Croatia: Switzerland, Italy, Austria, and Slovenia.

But this was not the case. As the agent at the Aix-en-Provence ticket counter explained in a patronizing way, French policy is to not allow Eurail Pass holders to reserve seats on any trains except French trains leaving from France (unless of course, I wanted to pay the full fare, which was already included in the cost of my Eurail Pass).

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Pastels of Provence

Pastels of Provence

by Betsy Herbert

After a stressful day of driving rental car from Aix-en-Provence 90 km north to the village of Forcalquier, my 5-day respite at La Campagne Berne was to be a great compensation.

Surrounded by gardens, La Campagne Berne is an old Provencal farmhouse that has been converted to a bed and breakfast for 10-12 guests. Located in Montagne de Lure within the Luberon Regional Nature Park, it has panoramic views of the Southern Alps, the small village of Lurs and Lure Mountain.

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Travel woes: Getting to Provence

Travel woes: Getting to Provence

by Betsy Herbert

On April28 I left Paris on the TGV (bullet train) going south to Aix-en-Provence, where I would pick up a rental car to complete the remaining 90 km journey to a country inn called Campagne Berne, just outside of the old village of Forcalquier. But before I tell you more about Campagne Berne, which defines in my mind the laid-back, rustic beauty of Provence, I feel compelled to describe my short journey there, just to acknowledge the darker side of traveling solo.

After arriving from Paris at the Aix-en-Provence TGV station, I had no trouble finding a restroom, but to my dismay, pay toilets are still au courant in French train stations. Had to pay half a Euro. As I fished a coin out of my purse, I paid a silent note of gratitude to March Fong Eu, the California legislator who led the campaign to ban pay toilets in California back in the 1970s.

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Solo but nurtured in Paris

Solo but nurtured in Paris

by Betsy Herbert

Paris was my first stop after disembarking from the Queen Mary 2 in Southampton on May 17. The last time I was in Paris I was just waiting to get on a plane home after spending a semester in Spain and hitchhiking around Europe for the summer...back in 1964!

I remember that time quite distinctly because a combination of factors left me feeling not quite up to sightseeing in Paris. I had gained some 20 pounds during my previous 6 months in Europe (wine, peanuts, tapas, fried fish, and cafe au laitduring my homestay in Spain, then lots of beer in Germany). My good American shoes had worn out while hitchhiking and my arches were falling. As a result, my lower back was killing me. Plus there was a record heat wave when I got to Paris, and I had run out of money. I was definitely ready to come home!

This time, though 50 years older, I was much better prepared. I had been working out with a personal trainer for 6 months before my trip. I had brought 4 pairs of good quality shoes, and I had a decidedly larger travel budget.

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Cruising and bruising aboard the Queen Mary 2

Cruising and bruising aboard the Queen Mary 2

by Betsy Herbert

What a send off it was on May 10 departing on the behemoth Queen Mary 2 (QM2) from New York Harbor on a sunny and warm afternoon. Cunard’s welcoming brochure urged all 2,429 guests to come to the main deck at departure time for a glass champagne to toast the beginning of the week long Atlantic crossing to Southampton, England.

The joy of the moment was somewhat diminished when I found a $20 charge to my stateroom for that single glass of champagne. And I thought Cunard invited me for that drink!!

Ah well, it wouldn’t be the last of the unexpected charges aboard the big ocean liner. No doubt the most annoying and exorbitant was the bill for wi-fi. Given that there was no cell phone coverage out at sea, the only way to stay in touch with friends and family on the big ship was wi-fi, made possible through satellite technology.

Were passengers offered free wi-fi? Not a chance.

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