Locking our Love Forever with Love Locks

Happy Valentine’s Day! We wanted to celebrate the annual day of love by sharing the story of our love locks.

A couple of weeks ago, Bob and I attached a little gold padlock to the new Love Lock Bridge near the Riverwalk in San Antonio to lock our love forever, then kissed and took a selfie to mark the occasion. On our lock was written in Sharpie “RG & LH,” inside a hand-drawn heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow. The bridge was actually a chainlink fence along the San Antonio River, but it was covered with hundreds of locks of other couples declaring their undying love.

It was the 15th time we have declared our forever love by placing a lock on a bridge. Normally we are not super-sentimental people, but love locks are a ritual we have grown to cherish during our travels, leaving our mark on bridges and walls all over the United States, Europe and Mexico (so far).

Paris, France

It all started in the summer of 2016, when I was planning to accompany Gavin’s scout troop on a week in the romantic city of Paris. Before we left, Bob gave me a padlock and asked me to write our initials on it and hang it on the Pont des Arts Bridge, which was famous for having so many lovers’ padlocks affixed to it that it groaned under the weight, and authorities had had to cut them off. He had seen the bridge during a weekend he spent alone in Paris during a business trip, and thought it would be nice to have our own lock there.

Surprised and touched by this rare sentimentality, I happily obliged. After the troop set off for the next leg of their trip, Switzerland, I went down to the River Seine and searched for the love locks. The city had decommissioned the Pont des Arts Bridge in 2015 because of the weight of the locks, so I went to the Pont Neuf. It was covered with thousands of lovers’ padlocks tumbling down the banisters and onto the railings of the river walls beyond. Across the River Seine from where I stood was a magnificent view of the Louvre. I locked our padlock, blew a kiss to Bob across the ocean, and took pictures. I’m sure if the locks get too heavy, authorities will cut them off again. But until then, RG & LH will grace the Pont Neuf in Paris, the city of lovers.

Paris

It was a grand, and small, gesture of love. It felt good. It made me think about why I had married this man, what we had experienced together, and how special our life was.

Hamburg, Germany

Three years later, we were visiting my brother Patrick in Hamburg, Germany, and walking along the Elbe River when we saw another bridge covered with lovers’ locks. We didn’t realize the tradition had expanded beyond Paris. Since we were leaving the country the next day, we went and found a hardware store to buy a lock, wrote RG & LH with a Sharpie and enlisted Patrick to hang it for us. A few weeks later, he sent a photo of our lock on the bridge. (Thanks, Pat!)

Hamburg

And with that, we were off, searching for love lock bridges, or creating our own, everywhere we went, together or apart. While on a five-week tour through Europe, we hung locks everywhere.

London, England

In London, we strolled across the pedestrian Jubilee Bridge and listened to a street musician playing Caribbean steel drums while we snapped our padlock in a spot all its own and kissed above the Thames River.

Rome, Italy

After a long day of sightseeing as a family in Rome, when Gavin’s and my feet were aching from miles of walking, Bob trekked back in the rain to hang a lock over the Tiber River. 

Rome

Sorrento, Italy

Farther south in Sorrento, on a solo weekend trip while I was off doing genealogy searching with some Italian cousins, Bob discovered an iron fence with love locks along the Mediterranean coastline about a mile from his hotel during his morning run. He spent the afternoon searching for a padlock and a Sharpie, but a torrential downpour forced him to wait to return until the next morning, when a break in the rain gave him time to quickly walk there and fix the lock in place before heading for the train station.

Sorrento

Hydra, Greece

In Greece, during a daylong boat trip, Hydra, an idyllic fishing village where bleached-white houses climb up the mountainside from the azure Mediterranean, offered herself as an entrancingly scenic host to our love lock.

Ludlow, Vermont

The tradition continued when we returned to North America. First, we affixed a love lock to a bridge in Ludlow, Vermont, where we have our second home.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Then we headed down to live in Mexico for the first six months of 2019. During a two-night on break the road trip south, we took the streetcar to hang a lock on a chain-link fence in New Orleans, under a banner that read Love Locks NOLA in front of the Eiffel Society, a club built from parts of a former Eiffel Tower eatery.   

Leon, Mexico

When we came to Mexico in January 2019, the first city we stayed in was Leon, where we found the Puente Del Amor (love locks bridge) at one end of the Causeway of Heroes, a wide pedestrian walkway that serves as the gateway into the old city. After spending an afternoon looking for ferreterias (hardware stores) to buy a padlock, we put our lock through the padlock of another lock at the top. The bridge looked down upon a highway, with mountains in the distance.

Lake Chapala, Mexico

We never found a good spot in Tlaquepaque, where we lived for four months, or Guadalajara, the city next door. But we visited beautiful Lake Chapala, half an hour south, for a day trip and walked out to the end of a fishing pier to hang our lock on a rusted turquoise railing overlooking Mexico’s largest freshwater lake. On the way, we had been stopped by announcers for a local radio station who were broadcasting live, and thus posed for the obligatory selfie in our new orange Guadalajara T-shirts.

Guanajuato, Mexico

By far the most interesting place to hang our lock was the magical town of Guanajuato, where there’s an alley so narrow that people can kiss from across two balconies. There’s a tragic legend of a young man who was killed for stealing a kiss from the daughter of a rich man. We put up our lock and kissed across the alley. (Fortunately, Bob survived.)

Montreal, Canada

We lived in Vermont during summer 2019, and took a couple of trips to Montreal, Canada, hanging one lock on a bridge overlooking Gay Village and the other on a small bridge in the main pedestrian area along the St. Lawrence River, looking out at a huge Ferris Wheel.

The Farm, Cascade, Pennsylvania

When we visited The Farm, the family homestead in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania where Lisa’s paternal grandmother grew up, we hung a love lock from the rusty metal rope that secures the entrance to the old lane.

Thwarted

We were occasionally thwarted in our efforts. In the beach town of Cambrils, Spain, there was no official Love Locks bridge, so we scouted the promenade along the ocean but never found a spot where we could thread a padlock. There was an official Love Locks spot in Barcelona, but we didn’t have time to visit it. We have looked several times while in Burlington, VT, but have not yet found a spot for a padlock.

Part of the tradition of the Love Locks is to throw the keys into the river to seal your eternal love, but we don’t do that because we don’t think it’s good for the health of the fish or the river. Thus we still hold all the keys to each other’s hearts.

Our Love Locks Map

Click on each pin to see an image of the lock in its home!

Up Next …

We have just arrived in Mexico City and are looking for a place to hang our 16th lock. We’ll keep you posted!

Enjoy the video of our love locks experiences on the Messy Suitcase YouTube Channel. Happy Valentine’s Day!

By Lisa & Bob

Europe In Pictures

Before we leave for Mexico, we wanted to share some of the best pictures from our trip to Europe.


Visiting six countries in five weeks, we saw some spectacular sights: Ancient ruins, mammoth rocks, jaw-dropping waterfalls, amazing architecture, turquoise seas, fiery sunsets and too much more to list!

Let’s let pictures tell the story:

Germany

Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, Hamburg

St. Michael the Archangel Church, Hamburg

England

London Eye

London Eye

London Eye

Kensington Gardens

Kensington Palace

Spain

Gaudi rooftop

Montserrat

Greece

Temple of Zeus

Poros Island

Italy

Palatine Hill from Coloseo
Capri
Solofra countryside

Iceland

Skalatjorn Homestay, Iceland

Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik
Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Skogafoss Waterfall, Iceland
Dryholaey Nature Preserve, Iceland

The HoHos (Hop-on, Hop-off Buses)

(We leave for Mexico soon, so we have to quickly churn out some of the European blogs we have in the can.)

One of the things we did in almost every city we visited in Europe was to take one of the Hop-on, Hop-off (hoHo) buses. We did it in Barcelona, London and Athens. I had a great time on them. Here’s the story!

Barcelona

In Barcelona, there were several routes to choose from. We all took Route 1, which took us through the downtown area and along the gorgeous port area and waterfront. We got off to look around at the unexpectedly beautiful Playa on a 75-degree day when we wished we had swimsuits on, and then at the world-famous Sagrada Familia, a strikingly original cathedral designed by Antonin Gaudi, for exploration and lunch.

View of the playa from the Barcelona HoHo

 When we got back to the starting point we walked with Lexie back to our apartment to give her a little break, and Lisa and I went back and took Route 2, which took us up onto the mountain, past the Olympic facilities, and then stopping at a Decathlon store for a little shopping before finishing well after dark.

We thought the HoHo buses were a great way to get an overall orientation of Barcelona, since we only had a couple of days. They allowed us to pick and choose where we would get off, and gave us ideas for what we wanted to explore in future days.

London

In London, Lexie and I again took the HoHo while Lisa went to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studio. We started on top of the double-decker bus, as that always gives the best views, but it was just a little chilly for that and we eventually moved down inside. Since we had already been to the London Eye and were planning on doing something the following day with Lisa, Lexie and I essentially used the HoHo as a HoSo (Hop-on, Stay-on). We did get off in some now-forgotten neighborhood to have delicious fish and chips for lunch, and eventually got off at Buckingham Palace to walk around a bit.

Grand view from the top of the London HoHo

The London routes are pretty long and the literature told us that the routes would take over 4 hours in total, but by now it was getting close to 5:30. We were planning on staying on for another 15 minutes or so to meet up with Lisa in Trafalgar Square, but we were unceremoniously booted off the bus at Green Park and were told that the buses stopped running at that time. This was quite the shock to us since we had only days earlier ridden the Barcelona buses to well past 8 PM. Nonetheless, we were off the bus, and at rush hour, forcing Lexie and me to take a long walk to Trafalgar Square, essentially ruining our nice relaxing day of butt sitting and sightseeing. Nowhere in the literature did it mention the early stopping time, again a contrast with the Barcelona buses. I was quite mad, but there wasn’t anything we could do (except warn you!).

No HoHo in Rome

Rome has HoHos and it was our plan to take them. However, once we got there, examined their routes and did some research, we realized that they weren’t as convenient as Barcelona and London and didn’t get as close to some of the major tourist destinations as we would have liked due to city congestion and restrictions. Instead, we took the Metro and walked. Other than the information we might have heard during the tour, we don’t feel like we really missed out on anything.

Athens

The HoHo was just a block from our hotel in Athens, so we hopped on again the first day and got a great overview of the city. We saw some places we wanted to get off and visit in more depth. After going around the route, Lexie returned to the room and Lisa and I went around again so we could get off at the Olympic Stadium and walk to the Temple of Zeus, where we got some excellent sunset pictures. We finally made our way back to the hotel by walking through the Plaka, an old neighborhood with excellent shopping.

Rushing by Hadrian’s Arch on the Athens HoHo

The next day we used the HoHo as transportation to get us to the National Archaeological  Museum. It is considered one of the greatest museums in the world and contains the richest collection of artifacts from Greek antiquity worldwide. Given its reputation, we were surprised at how few people were actually in the museum. We stayed for several hours before getting tired and hungry and recatching the HoHo to get us back to our hotel.


What’s not to like?



In summary, we loved the HoHos. Sure, they’re touristy. But they are also a great way to get around, get an overview of a new city and get an idea of places you’d like to go back to and spend more time getting to know.

Resetting our Marriage

Bob’s Perspective

Lisa and I have been married 23 years. Our first few years of marriage were all about our careers, and the past 21 years we have been focused on dealing with the challenges of our two kids (if you know us and our kids you know what I’m talking about).

Like many marriages, over that time, we’ve been focused on our kids, our jobs and our home. And, like many other people, that left little time for us as a couple. Even with stopping working and starting our European trip it was rush, rush, rush – we had a mountain of tasks that needed to be accomplished.

For me, however, things finally slowed down when I went to Sorrento by myself and Lisa stayed in Naples with Lexie and her relatives. It rained most of the second day I was there and I didn’t really have much to do. I began to realize how much we had been through and how lucky I was to be with someone who shared the same excitement about the adventure on which we were about to embark. I realized how lucky I was and I committed to myself to let her know that, to let her know how much I appreciated being with her and looked forward to spending time as just a couple. (Disclaimer: We really enjoy being with Lexie for this year and our visits with Aryk, but there is just the new opportunity for so much “us” time.)

View from the top of the London Eye

When we got back together in Naples, we talked about this and she told me that she had been thinking the same thing, that we had an excellent opportunity to essentially reset our relationship. We had the opportunity to throw away some of the conflicts we’ve had over time and really just enjoy one another going forward.
We’ll never have a fully carefree life, but we’re both committed to working hard to enjoy one another and our life together going forward.

Our trip to Europe was worth it just for this!

Together in Hamburg at the top of the St. Michaelis Church Tower

____________________________________________________


Lisa’s Perspective

For me, it started long before we left Colorado, in summer 2017, when we made the decision to retire early and travel,  and started planning the next phase of our lives. We spent a lot of weekend hot tub mornings discussing what our plan would be. I think for many couples, they retire but have the same habits they had before, and that can lead to dissatisfaction or boredom. Planning a new life as sojourners opened us up to a lot of new conversations and gave our relationship a new dimension.

To prepare, we traveled to Mexico several times, enjoying each other’s company as we explored different communities as potential future domiciles.

To meet in the middle of our diverse interests, Bob mentioned that he would like to try yoga, which I practice, so we would have something to do in common, and I said I would be happy to hike more with him. We also started doing more running and bike riding together, which took us full circle back to the genesis of our relationship – we met through a multisport club, the New York Flyers, in the early 90s.

Hydra Island in Greece

We have both started learning Spanish to facilitate our lives in Mexico. We are talking about taking dancing lessons, trying new foods, hiking new mountains, discovering new beaches, making new friends, tasting tequilas, learning a new language together.

It’s exciting!

In the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik

Extraordinary Weather

We were extraordinarily lucky with regards to weather on our trip. We knew that traveling in October and early November would be iffy, but other than just a few days, the weather was absolutely beautiful.

Iceland

We had one good weather day in Iceland, the rest not so great. This stop was the beginning of our trip, the first few days of October, and I’m glad it wasn’t at the end. To begin with, we were literally assaulted by the wind as soon as they opened the cabin doors of the plane so we could walk down the steps, onto the tarmac and into waiting buses. We should have expected that, as I could see the sideways rain and the water just being pushed across the runway as we taxied. 

Lexie holding onto her hat in Iceland
However, it was still a surprise when it was difficult to walk down the steps with what must have been 50 mph cold wind and driving rain.
(Note from Lisa: Airports generally protect you from the elements when you get off a plane and enter the terminal. But in Iceland, where weather can be brutal and winters are cold and windy, you walk down the airplane steps and across the tarmac to a bus completely exposed to whatever Mother Nature throws at you. And it didn’t help that we had flown out of sunny, 81-degree Northern Virginia!) 
It was even difficult driving the rental car, which kept getting pushed sideways by the ferocious wind. I’ve experienced that driving my high-profile truck, but a little car, on somewhat narrow roads, was a completely different story. We needed gloves and winter coats during our entire stay in Iceland.
The first thing Lisa and I did after we arrived at our goat farm lodging on the south coast was to hightail it to the nearest town with our swimsuits to sink into a hot spring and warm up!
The next day was our prime sightseeing day, and the weather cooperated beautifully: not too windy and no rain. And, it allowed us to see the Northern Lights!
The following day, we experienced wind, rain and even snow. Our visit to the waterfall was so brutal that Lexie stayed in the lodge. We still saw what we wanted to see, including geysers, waterfalls and a spectacular national park, but at times it wasn’t pleasant. The same could be said for our days in Reykjavik. We did and saw what we wanted, but the nasty weather was a significant obstacle to our enjoyment.
In the end, I went running in every place we visited except Iceland. I’m still torn on whether I should have run while we were there, but the wind was just too brutal.

Hamburg, Germany

Just absolutely perfect weather. Sunny every day, temperatures in the 60s, no wind. 
Glorious weather in Hamburg


Barcelona/Reus, Spain

Again, just absolutely perfect weather. Even warmer, low 70s! (Note from Lisa: I wished I had time to lie on the beach there, it was so nice!)
 

Great beach weather in Barcelona

England

We were certainly expecting the worst here, especially over the course of eight days, but again, absolutely perfect weather. Mostly sunny, high-40s at night, the mid-50s to mid-60s by day. Never a drop of rain, either in Newcastle-Under-Lyme visiting Aryk, or in London, sightseeing. 
Strolling on a sunny London afternoon

Italy

Rome – The weather we had for our stay in Rome was again perfect, until the last day. Then the rain started,  the morning Lexie and Lisa left for the train station for Naples. Since I was staying another day, I waited out the heavy morning rain and then headed out for my explorations. I did get drenched heading home that evening, but all in all, we had really nice weather while in Rome. 
During our stay in Italy, the entire country was seeing really bad weather. Venice was 75% flooded, schools throughout Italy were closed, and Italian television was continually showing mudslides, flooding and washed-out roads and bridges.
Rainy Rome the last day
Naples – It rained nonstop in Naples. One day there was such a violent windstorm/thunderstorm that the road to our lodging was closed down because of flying debris. We were going to go to the Archeological Museum that afternoon and decided to stay in and ride out the storm.
Pompeii – Our day in Pompeii was again just absolutely beautiful, sunny and high-60s. I remember walking around in a short-sleeved T-shirt.
Sorrento – The forecast was for one good day of weather while I was in Sorrento, so I took a boat tour to and around Capri. The weather started changing in the afternoon, and it was colder and windier on the boat trip back. The next day was, for the most part, rainy, which gave me the opportunity to have a relaxing, easy day. It rained the next day as I traveled back to Naples to meet up with Lexie and Lisa.

Athens

Again, Athens gave us just absolutely perfect weather. Warm and sunny.
Perfect weather for Greek island hopping

All in all, we couldn’t have asked for better weather. (Note from Lisa: Except maybe in Naples.) We know we were lucky and we took full advantage of that!

Flying Home

It was eventually time to fly home.

The cheapest flight from Athens to Dulles happened to be on Turkish Airlines. I’ve never flown Turkish Air before, so I didn’t know what to expect. The flight included a 3-hour layover in Istanbul. When I first looked at that I even considered extending our trip a few more days so we could spend that time in Istanbul, but reconsidered when I thought about how tired we would be after 5 weeks on the road. I’m sorry we didn’t take the opportunity now, though.

The flight east to Istanbul would mean that we had an 11½ hour flight to Dulles. That’s a long time on a plane. But with our lounge pass, we looked forward to some good food and a few drinks in a relaxing atmosphere before we boarded.


Extra Security for Americans


Since we flew from Athens on Turkish Air, we expected to merely stay in the International terminal and get to our gate 40 minutes early. However, upon arrival, we saw signs that US and Canadian nationals needed to follow a special path. We did and were ushered through security again. I wondered if there is some special travel warning regarding Canadians and Americans.
We made our way to the lounge, passing through one of the nicest airports we’ve ever seen. It felt more like an upscale shopping mall than like an airport. There were a staggering number of stores, restaurants, elite designers, and of course women in headscarves. We settled into the lounge, one of severakl to choose from, helped ourselves to the buffet, plugged in our devices, and waited for our gate assignment.

“Go to Gate”

When the gate was announced, it was accompanied by a flashing note of “Go to Gate.” I ignored this for a while since it was way early. I let it go for about 15 minutes before I decided I needed to go to the gate to take a look. I went to the gate and sure enough, there was a line of people waiting to go in. I asked what was happening and was told this was passport control and that we needed to get in line. I went back and got Lexie and Lisa (who was annoyed at having to leave the lovely lounge and its open bar) and we made our way to the gate.
We got in line, passed through the passport check, and then Lisa and Lexie were ushered into the other, female only, line. We went through yet another security check, where we were all thoroughly patted down by security people of our own gender. After that, it was directly onto a bus, which took us to the plane, which was on the tarmac and boarding. We never would have made it if we had gotten to the gate 40 minutes prior, as was printed on our boarding pass.

New Istanbul Airport

On takeoff, the pilot mentioned that a new Istanbul International Airport had opened only a week before, becoming the largest airport in the world. The airport we passed through was stunning, but I don’t think we were in the new one, which appears to have been handling only domestic flights on the day of our departure. Nonetheless, I was surprised to learn that Istanbul is the 11th busiest airport in the world and 5th busiest in Europe.
Bye bye, Europe!
I’m still somewhat confused about exactly what was happening, security-wise, at the airport. (Lisa did some research and found that there had been a terror attack in 2016 that killed 41 people, necessitating higher security. And of course, the fact that it’s a Muslim country explained the separate sex pat-down lines.)  But we did make it home, and we definitely plan to return to Istanbul for a visit.
It was a great flight. There was a great selection of entertainment options and free movies, and we were each provided with a little kit with eye mask, slippers and toothbrush. We had a blanket, pillow and higher-quality headphones, not just earbuds. We were also served to meals with a limited selection of free alcoholic beverages. 
Altogether, it was a nice way to end our trip.

Greece, Part 3: Thoughts About Greece

Some thoughts about Greece:

  • It is clean! After dirty Naples, it was a refreshing change to see people out sweeping the sidewalks.
  • It is orderly! After chaotic Naples, it was a relief to see street lights and traffic lights and people who waited or the light to turn before crossing the street.
  • It is affordable! With a hotel in a prime location costing only $90 a night for a triple and meals costing as little as $6 for an entrée, we would recommend it to anyone seeking to visit a European capital on a budget. Entrance to the Acropolis was only 5 euros ($6), the National Archeological Museum was 10 euros, the Temple of Zeus was free on Sundays, the Olympic Stadium was only 5 euros – and everything was free for age 18 and under (with ID), or for EU students up to age 25. We could have taken a really nice bus from the airport for only 6 euros each, but we chose to take a taxi, which was also quite reasonable. The HoHo bus was by far the cheapest we’ve taken.
  • The food in Athens offered a different twist on the Mediterranean food we’ve had in the States, and quite wonderful. The desserts were amazing and the ice cream was excellent. The restaurants were stylish and innovative, and really made an effort to provide a comfortable atmosphere and entice people to come in and eat. Every one had a different selection, though many had the standards: moussaka, baklava, kebabs, yogurt, etc. Surprisingly, I never saw falafel on a menu.
  • There are cats everywhere. A black cat with no name resided at the café in front of the Arethusa, claiming a booth for herself out front and sleeping there all day, curled into a furry ball and occasionally opening one green eye, which delighted Lexie (who was missing her cat Ellie). A calico cat guarded the entrance to the National Garden. We ran into scores of cats on the Greek islands.
  • The weather is lovely. It was sunny and in the high 60s-mid 70s while we were there. When we ran, around 7:30 in the morning, the temperature was in the high 50s. I’m sure it gets hot in summer; the long pull-out awnings the restaurants on the islands have is proof of that. But they were tucked in for our visit and we enjoyed the warm sun.

I think early November was a great time to visit because it was officially “winter,” which meant fewer crowds for popular sites, but the weather was quite pleasant.
Two words: Visit Greece!

Greece, Part 2: The Islands, and Observations

On the third day in Greece, we marked the last day of our vacation by giving Lexie a day off to sleep late and do her own thing, while Bob and I embarked on a 12-hour cruise to visit three islands: Hydra, Poros and Aegina. It was a romantic and magical way to close the circle on our five weeks exploring Europe.

The cruise ship headed south through the Aegean Sea for three hours to the farthest island in the morning, and the views were spectacular. We sat on the deck drinking coffee and taking hundreds of pictures, each more beautiful than the next. The cruise ship also featured live Greek music and folkloric dancing, which was surprisingly good.

Hydra 

Hydra was a picturesque walking island (they had donkeys you can rent to get around), and we just bopped around the alleys and up the hillside, where we found trails down to the sea for swimming and a cluster of old cannons. We loved it!

Poros 

We were at Poros for such a short time we barely got a taste; we need to go back. We had time for a glass of ouzo, which made Bob a little woozy, in one of countless sidewalk cafes facing the sea. Then, still ravenous, we split a delicious waffle sundae with Nutella.

Aegina

Aegina, which has a surprisingly large port, is the Pistachio Island, so we bought pistachio liqueur and pistachio-chocolate bark, explored the shops (unfortunately closed because of the late hour), sat on a couch in a tavern facing the sea while we enjoyed some ouzo, and spent sunset on a pier watching the scarlet sun sink behind the distant mountains through the bobbing masts of wooden sailboats.

Our Cruise Ship

Couldn’t finish without some images of our cruise ship and the entertainment and food on board!

Greece, Part 1: Athens and Antiquity

We added Greece to our itinerary at the last minute. Bob said, “Hey, since we’ll be in Italy anyway and Greece is so close, how about we finish the vacation on a Greek Island?” He had been to Greece about 30 years ago and remembered it fondly.

I couldn’t think of a reason to say no, especially after we found incredibly cheap 4- and 5-star hotels and apartments available during the time we would be there – as low as $26 a night for a really nice two-bedroom apartment in a resort near the sea. The catch? November officially launches the winter season in Greece. So while we could find affordable, beautiful lodging, it would be too cold to go to the beach and no restaurants would be open.

So the islands were out

But then Lexie chimed in that she was really interested in mythology from her World Civilization class and books she had read, and she would LOVE to visit Athens and see the ruins and the seat of western civilization.

So Athens was in

So we added three days in Athens to the journey. I found a boutique hotel in a location that Booking.com gave a grade of 10. Bob did some research into what to do while there, finding guides to what to do in one day in Athens, or two days in Athens. He worried that we had booked too much time there and would be bored.

He was wrong.

Temple of Zeus, sunset
From the second we stepped off the plane, we were in love. The airport was new and modern and welcoming to tourists. The weather in early November was sunny and in the low 70s. (This is considered winter?) The cab driver was friendly, and his cab was large and state-of-the-art, with leather seats and the most advanced GPS we ever saw. A self-driving car (Lexie had a moment of panic about him not watching the road until he shared this piece of information), the Mercedes made its way to our hotel while he chatted away about sights we should see and places we should visit and pointed them out on his 3D, shape-shifting GPS screen.
The Arethusa Hotel, as it turned out, was just a short block to one of the main squares in Athens, Syntagma Square. When we arrived, a bellman promptly grabbed our luggage and delivered it to our room for us – a nice change from the hoofing around we had done in Naples, and a good idea since the elevators were tiny. From the wall to wall windows, the city view was delightful, the towels thick and fluffy, the beds soft and comfy. We looked at each other with delight and said, “We deserve this!”

The National Garden

National Garden selfie

Emporr busts in the National Garden

The next morning, getting up early to run, Bob and I discovered that the National Garden, with miles upon miles of running trails and views of the Temple of Zeus, was only two blocks away.  We saw scores of fit runners covering the trails in small groups. Then we went to the breakfast room. Mama mia!  Hotel Arethusa offered a delicious, abundant Greek/American buffet breakfast that included Greek yogurt, granola; spinach, meat and cheese pies; eggs, toast, fruit, cold cuts and cheese, Nutella and jams, eight kinds of coffee, juices, hot chocolate, and more. All this for just 80 euros a night ($90)!

Changing of the Guard

We started, at our cab driver’s recommendation, at the Parliament at 11 AM on Sunday morning to watch the Changing of the Guard. This happens quietly every hour round the clock, but the Sunday morning show is 30 minutes long and a spectacle designed to entertain a crowd. And in fact, hundreds of people turned out to watch, jostling with each other to get the best pictures and video. It was wonderful! Soldiers somehow managed to look manly high-kicking in perfect synchronization while wearing traditional country guard uniforms, which consisted of white tutus, matching white tights, red berets with long black feathers down one side, and black clogs with large tassels on top. Their serious faces and the long red and black rifles they carried certainly helped.

Hop On Hop Off Bus


Next we boarded the Hop On Hop Off bus to get a quick lay of the land. We took lots of great pictures from the top level of the double-decker, where every corner brought a new discovery. The tour was informative and comprehensive, and the headphones actually worked well. We used the bus as transit after the initial circle, and visited the original Olympic Stadium (including the underground tunnel, a museum that featured Olympic posters and torches, and of course the winners’ podium), the Temple of Zeus (our timing at sunset created amazing light for the pictures), Hadrian’s Arch, the Plaka (an atmospheric old city with wonderful shopping and dining options), the Acropolis and Parthenon (of course), the National Archeological Museum (where you can eat in a café surrounded by ancient sculptures), and even the Flea Market.

Views from the HoHo:

Acropolis

Fish market

Next … Greece, Part 2: The Islands, and Observations

The Retirement Itinerary: Europe First

LISA

People are asking, “Why are you in Europe? We thought you were moving to Mexico!”

Well, we are … but not yet. We are not going to Mexico till January 2019.

First, Le Tour de Europe

First, we are launching our adventures with five weeks in Europe — Iceland, Germany, Spain, England, Italy and Greece.

We are visiting family — our oldest child Aryk at Keele U. in Newcastle Under Lyme, England, and then London because why not? (Also got tickets to Hamilton and the Harry Potter Studio Tour.)

We’re visiting Lisa’s brother Pat and his wife Ines and their family in Pinneberg, Germany, outside Hamburg.

First we gotta visit Aryk at uni!

We are spending a few days with the family of our awesome foreign exchange student, Laia,  around Barcelona and Reus.

We are joining Troisi (Lisa’s mother’s side) cousins in Italy as part of a family genealogy trip. So we’ll be in Rome, Naples and Solofra.

Then we’re wrapping it all up with a few days in Athens before flying home Nov. 7.

Then, New England

Then, we gotta hang out in Vermont!

We’ll be spending about a month at our vacation home in Ludlow, VT – hopefully taking a couple grandmas and Bob’s sister, Beth.

Next, Holidays with Family
We’ll spend the winter holidays in PA with Bob’s Mom and Lisa’s stepmom, sister Julie and any family we can see.

Finally, Mexico
After Aryk goes back to Uni after Winter Break, the first week of January, we’ll begin the next road trip, taking the cats and Lexie on the road from Pennsylvania to Tlaquepaque, Mexico. The trip is about 37 hours, so we will stop in Nashville and spend a couple of nights in New Orleans on the way.

Stay with us — it’s going to be a blast!