"The perfect house to grow old in." That's what one of our friends said when she visited Sherrill and me in our new home in Berkeley. After a dozen years in our first Berkeley house, we sold it and bought one with far fewer steps, without the bay view we'd enjoyed, but comfortable and livable. As it turned out, she was right. We did grow old in this house.
It was from this comfortable house that we traveled for forty years, exploring countries on every continent except Antarctica and Australia. The first of these trips was an easy one: to England, France, and Italy in 1978. No driving, this time. We discovered how simple it was in Europe to get around entirely by train, bus, and boat. Although we'd been to England ten years before, this was our first time on the continent. Okay, we weren't overly daring this time, but our adventures would evolve as time went by. Before long, people would be asking, "You're going there—why?" Over the years, curiosity and opportunity would propel our travels to unexpected places, but we never regretted a trip.
"It's easy," Sherrill assured me, when she announced that she wanted to visit the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. "We'll take a boat from the pier down there." She pointed from Trafalgar Square toward the Thames.
As always, she'd done her homework. Not only did she save articles and clippings about places she wanted to visit and how to do it, she catalogued and filed them and brought the relevant ones with her. We got the boat where she said, enjoyed a ride along the river, explored Greenwich, including the Royal Observatory, and then stood on the Prime Meridian, zero degrees longitude. We even walked under the Thames and back, through the only pedestrian tunnel beneath the river.
"What's happening?" we shouted at each other.
I pulled on clothes and found a railroad employee who explained that the car had been lifted from its wheels and set onto the ferry.
"I'm glad we're taking the train," Sherrill replied when I relayed this, "so we can have a good night's sleep before we get to Paris."
For a while, we enjoyed relative quiet, then it happened again as we were lifted from the ferry in France and set on new wheels.
Paris: city of romance and mystery. And of tourists pretending they're Bogart and Bergman—not easy to do with lingering jet lag, but we managed the best we could, while staggering back and forth across the city—we even had dinner at the restaurant on the Eiffel Tower, the city of light dazzlingly sprawled around us, and spent a day at Versailles, imagining Marie Antoinette and all those courtiers frolicking among the gardens and gilded rooms. Then, eventually, it was back on a train for the journey south to the Cote d'Azur and the beaches at Nice and Antibes, where—properly brainwashed Americans—we were startled by the lack of fabric in the beachwear. Sometimes, by the lack of beachwear.
"Don't worry, I'm lucky," Sherrill assured me, after another train ride along the Mediterranean past boulder-studded cliffs and rocky beaches to Monaco. "I spent part of my childhood in Reno. I learned the games and how to bluff other players."
She was brilliant and fearless at games, alright, even when playing for money, and probably would've won, if she'd played. However, we weren't dressed appropriately for the casinos, Simone was too young to go in, and we couldn't afford it, anyway. Instead, we toured the royal palace and visited Jacques Cousteau's Ocean Museum. Sherrill eyed the casinos, but was resigned to not trying her luck—this time.
"A new Pope?" I groaned. "Today? Now?"
"We'll be back," Sherrill told me, confidently. "There'll be another time."
"Yeah, and another election for a new Pope, probably."
Which was exactly what happened the next time we were there.
The actual traveling was easy enough, but arranging it in those pre-computer days, without the assistance of a travel agent, had been a job. It was done by mail, studying travel guides, deciding where and what and when, writing letters, buying and enclosing international reply coupons, hoping for quick responses, and doing it again if someplace turned us down. Even when we were there, I worried about missing connections, losing reservations, misplacing travelers checks. In many ways, that was a simpler time, but everything took more steps than today and it was harder to fix problems.
"Don't fuss, sweetie," Sherrill always told me when she or Simone proposed a change to our plans. "It's easy."
I tried not to fuss. I really did.
"Didn't anyone tell us about the mosquitoes?"
The renaissance building where we stayed in Florence mirrored the gracefully arched building decorated with Della Robbia medallions across the square, creating a harmonious picture, but whoever turned it into a hotel must have thought that window screens would spoil the historic charm. We suffered from the heat if we kept the windows closed, however, the smelly mosquito coils the hotel staff gave us did nothing to keep away insects eager for blood. Soon, we were pocked with itchy red mosquito bites. At least, scratching away, we had no trouble strolling into the Uffizi museum, the Galleria de Academia (to see Michelangelo's David), or anyplace else. No crowds. No timed tickets. Later, in Milan, we were able to walk right up to Leonardo's Last Supper and study it for as long as we wanted.
Coming up: Venice, Naples, and more.
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