We arrived in Austin TX on October 5, 2020, with the intention of staying for a few weeks' visit with Nancy's sister's daughter Caroline, her husband T, and their adorable boys, Wyatt and Ellis. A few weeks quickly turned into a few months because we enjoyed their company so much. Here's how the conversation went.
"Oh, why don't you stay for Hallowe'en to see the kids in costume." That was attractive.
"What about Thanksgiving?" T asked. That seemed like a great idea.
"And how about Christmas?' That was irresistible.
"New Year's Eve is just one more week!" That made sense.
"What about the 4th of July?" OK - that's a bit too much!!
We finally had a tearful goodbye in mid January with the promise to return for Easter. We just love these guys!
One bonus of this guest house was a fabulous deck where we often met our neighbors who lived in the main house - Rebecca and Robert and their dogs Rio and Charlie. (Rebecca is our host Gloria's daughter!). The friendship blossomed over the three months and we shared three socially-distant meals and enjoyed swapping travel stories with them on the deck. It was comforting to find Texas natives with similar political leanings to ours. For our final dinner with them, Robert slow cooked a brisket "sous vide" and mixed up some fabulous cocktails. We hope to catch up with them when we return for future visits with Caroline and her family.
While passing through Nashville TN we had dinner with an old friend from Massachusetts who has made Nashville her adopted home. Dr. Joy recently earned her Ed. D from Northeastern University, so our dinner was a bit of a celebration. Joy and Nancy met when she became a member of Nancy's Mary Kay Unit - way back in the day. It was great to see her after all this time.
Nancy’s cousin Kathleen - a faithful follower on our blog - added a comment to our first visit to Barcelona and mentioned a former colleague who was living in Valencia - “should you be headed in that direction”. Little did she know that her introducing us to Hop and Douglas would prove to be one of the highlights of our visit there. They were full of excellent suggestions for restaurants and sites, and they introduced us to a number of US expats who created a sense of community that we had been missing as we journeyed mostly alone. Some of these folks were veteran travelers who’d been to many places, yet they were unanimous that Valencia was the best - “Shh...don’t tell too many people our secret”.
One of those happy expats was Dan who graciously invited us to his home for night of tapas and cocktails, and again for a "down-home American meatloaf dinner". Dan was great company and full of enthusiasm about his adopted home of Valencia. At his urging, we enjoyed a fabulous Paella class that added this truly Valencian specialty to our regular meal repertoire.
This summer we attended a great party in our friends Martha and Roger's backyard that ended up having a "farewell to Nancy & Richard" moment orchestrated by our good buddy Laura. When Nancy took the microphone for a minute and introduced "Meet Us Anywhere" as the theme for our trip, Stefan immediately turned and asked Richard, "How about meeting us for Christmas in the Black Forest?" Seconds later Nancy agreed, "What could be better?"
Our 11 days in Baden-Baden with Stefan & Ariane and their sons Valentin & Leander (we missed you, Julius) were a major highlight of our adventures. They were full of advice on enjoying their home town, were great company over a number of delicious Badische meals, and were our "family" on Christmas eve when we dined and caroled with their extended family at the home of Stefan's parents. Richard even got to share the piano accompaniment duties with Leander during the enthusiastic singing - especially when we introduced "The 12 Days of Christmas" into the mix.
Several months ago, Richard connected up on LinkedIn with an old work colleague and Italian native, Daniele. When we let him know we were coming to Europe he encouraged us to visit his home town on Lake Maggiore. As we made our plans to wend our way to the Black Forest in Germany for Christmas, this beautiful lake in the Italian Alps would make a great stop-over point.
Daniele was ever generous with his time and advice for getting the most of our stay. We especially loved his stories of his own travels through the years as a tour guide to exotic places. Even today, in retirement, he and his wife Renata are avid travelers, finding the cheapest airfares to "anywhere" and taking in the sites and the cultures. We vowed to return to Lake Maggiore to spend more time with them when the weather is warmer and the botanical gardens are in full bloom.
On November 16, our nephew Patrick joined us for his first-ever visit to Italy. He was with us for 2 non-stop weeks that took us to Milan, Genoa, Camogli, Portofino, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence, Siena, Pienza, and a scenic drive around the Tuscan Val D'Orcia. We dropped him off in Orvieto to hop a train to Rome for 3 days where he clocked 30,677 steps on day one!
Patrick is our kind of traveler - adventurous in spirit, eager to explore without firm plans, an untiring hiker, and just a pleasure to be with. He helped us discover new things about places we thought we already knew.
Just before we left for Europe, Nancy's good friend Susan mentioned that she'd be traveling to Hungary for business at the end of October. It took us less than a moment to decide to meet up with her in Budapest. And we are so glad we did. Budapest was a beautiful city and Susan was a great travel companion who shared our sense of adventure, our penchant for walking everywhere, and our eclectic taste in food and culture.
We met up with David and Roseann on the train from Genoa to Camogli on the very first day of our adventure. Richard noticed that they were the only other folks speaking English on the train and struck up a conversation. They are from Toronto, have been to Camogli 4 times, and keep coming back - this time to celebrate an anniversary. We had a nice dinner with them a couple of days later and hope to stay in touch.
In the spirit of "Meet Us Anywhere", we encouraged our family and friends to let us know when they might be near us on our travels. We made every effort to meet up!
Here are some folks who took us up on the offer!