Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Understanding "Collect Calls"

When you are overseas, your cell phone is your life line.  We had set up with Verizon a global plan for the paltry sum of $4.99/month.  It reduce our charges a bit and allowed me to use my phone to call home if needed at a much lower rate and use my cell here.  After my pocket was picked and all our credit cards had to be cancelled, we made several "Collect Calls" to MasterCard, American Express and City Bank.  Then I received our monthly bill on-line from Verizon.  Seems our "Collect Calls" to the credit card companies were charged calls.  One call lasting 59 minutes, due to many times being placed on hold by MasterCard, was $92 alone.  So the bill for $497.42 was a bit shocking, to say the least.

With the help of Erin, who called Verizon for us from home, we found out that if we notify the credit cards, they will re-imburse the charges from "Collect Calls" to Verizon.  Thank you Verizon.

Funny how they never mentioned that when we called 800 #'s Collect in desperation trying to cancel, resend and restore our cards.  "Collect" has a different meaning now.

Don't you just love big credit card companies!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Presepe Vivente Marcellano TRAILER

After meeting Paola and Marcello, we examined all the places Paola had recommended we visit.  The first one she recommended was the town of Marcellano.  Marcellano is a 12th century medieval town that was occupied by one of Napoleons generals when Napoleon was king of Italy.  It was less than a 30-minute drive from the house and each year on three Sundays surrounding Christmas, they do a live Nativity.   

Back when we went to Mass at St Cornelius, the four churches on Wardlow Rd. came together and put on a Christmas pageant called Portraits of the Prince of Peace.  Painted scenes with people dressed in period clothes, live animals, all leading to the Nativity scene with Mary and Joseph, the baby Jesus and a few sheep and goats.  We chaired the Pageant and worked very hard to make it successful.  I even played Joseph as we had a participant drop out at the last minute.  

Chris with a Roman Guard and his prisoner.

This live Nativity, however, was spectacular in its presentation.  As you entered the town, census was taken at the church.  People signed in with their name and the town they traveled from to come to Marcellano.  I signed us in as Chris & Tom, California, USA.  Which got a smile from the census taker.   Then the town’s people opened up areas and demonstrated life during the time of Joseph and Mary’s arrival into Bethlehem.   There were blacksmiths, jewelers, weavers making blankets, wood carvers making posts, stonecutters, and farmers with wheat grinders making flour using a water wheel to grind the wheat.  Vendors selling vegetables, cheese, honey, bread and mulled wine all dressed in period costumes.   Then, at 5:30, Joseph and Mary traveled through the town only to be rejected at every stop.  Finally, traveling with their mule, they came to a small stable just outside the city.  Shepherds’ visited the stall, then a star traveling from the church steeple to the stable lead the three Wise Men on horseback to the manger scene.   This all taking place while a light snow dusted the town.  Young Italians may not be very religious, but they put on a great live Nativity.

It showcased a great sense of community and we very much felt a part of this community.   It was another example of why, even with the BS we have been through, we came to Italy.  It’s all part of the adventure.

Vendors selling their goods.
A stone wheel grinding wheat to make flour.
Mary and Joseph

With our Mulled Wine.
Stone Carver.

The Manger Scene just right of center.  Fires lit by the Shepherds.

A 12th Century Door.

I included a UTube link.  You will have to pardon the music.  Their choice, not mine.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Making the Holidays Merry and Bright

After Christmas, we were paid a visit by Derek and his girl friend Ellie.  They traveled to Hamburg and Berlin to see Derek's relatives.  Then they flew to Rome and bussed up to Todi, just to see us.  They decided to stay in a B&B in the town center of Todi.  We drove there to meet them just in time to see the town procession from the Plaza del Popolo to the main gate.  Mary, Joseph, the wise men and Roman Centurions all making their way down the street.  With flute accompaniment!

Then nothing satisfies after a procession than a crepe of strawberry and custard.  Made by the kindly dressed Santa and his helper.

Nothing says Santa like these two.

We returned to our home in Collevalenza to exchange gifts.  Derek really liked the Likor Marille chocolates, having two.

Ellie looking on in amazement.

The following day we were able to meet up again with Danile and Maria at their dress shop to drop off their Christmas gifts of American Tea Towels and a Italian Cake.  We were fortunate that a cousin Marcello and his girl friend Paola where there to visit and purchase some clothing.  Paola spoke excellent english and gave us about four towns near by we should visit and what to see.  Then Danile's daughter, Elena, also speaking very good english, gave us wineries in the area to visit and a few more towns we should see.  

L to R Elena, Chris, Maria, Danile, Paola and Marcello

That night we finally got snow.  Well, hail actually on a stormy thunderous night.  Only to wake to this sight out our front door.  The hill town of Todi.

A very nice post Christmas to be sure.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Cry me a River

Our final leg of the Danube River cruise brought us to Passau, Germany.  This tiny city on the peninsula at the edge of three rivers captures your imagination.  The confluence of the Danube,  the Ilz from the Alps and the Inn river springing from the Black Forest region bring much beauty and also much damage when the rivers flood.   The last flood occurred in June, 2013.  The high water marks are still present and brought un-imaginable damage to this town.

Second to highest water line from June of 2013
The River Ilz side showed how high these rivers got. The walking bridge was completely submerged.

A family of bakers gave demonstrations of their baking prowess and wreath making.  Mother, father  and son making us all hungry.

Finally, the inscription on the floor of St. Stephen's cathedral sort of summed up our trip,  "we are meant to live simply on earth while looking up to the splendor and beauty that awaits us in heaven". 

St Stephans Cathedral

This ended our adventure up the Danube.  We took a train to Munich and spent two days there.  Munchen is a modern city with 17th Century buildings, transit of every conceivable type and Christmas was in the air.  

BMW headquarters

A Glockenspiel in a 17th Century Gothic building

One last Christmas Market

Leaving Munich brought us back to Collevalenza by way of biggest screw-up we have committed to date.  Taking a train to the airport to catch our RyanAir flight home, we discovered there are two airports in Munich and we were at the wrong one.  With not enough time to make it to the correct airport and being 2 days before Christmas, we were hosed.  994 euros later we jetted to Rome via Lufthansa airlines.  OUCH!  OUCH!

So now we sit in our Collevalenza home, heater working sometimes, on Christmas morning wishing you all the Merriest of Christmas' and a very Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Sound of Music with Brats and Beer.

Linz was our next stop up the Danube.  This city is another that has been around for over a thousand years.  It is the home of two universities that educate European’s at no cost to the student.  Salzburg has three universities.

(Aside) Could it be that better educated people are least likely to become a drain on countries where this not the case?

But, what was important to this cruise is this is the gateway to Salzburg.  We traveled about two hours by bus to this magical town lead by Helmut, with two dots over the U.  An Austrian by birth, he lives part time in Linz and part time in Salzburg.  He regaled us with stories about The Sound of Music and Mozart for the entire trip up to Salzburg.   (Sorry, we didn’t get a picture of him in his authentic Austrian garb.) 

People of Salzburg are not altogether thrilled with the depiction of the Von Trapp family in the movie.  But, Hollywood was not to be denied.  The family did escape the Nazi annexation of Austria by escaping to Italy.  Not by climbing 600 miles over the Alps, but by train.  Not as romantic for sure.  A funny story Helmut told was the scene in which the Nazi banners were hung up for the movie were left up over night.  The next morning a Russian contingent of politicians arrived in Salzburg to witness the banners hanging in the square.  Not what they were expecting, I’m sure.

Of course there were Christkindl Markets galore but Chris and I took the funicular up to the castle to witness an exquisite view of the city.  This is also where I believe Chris fell in love with sausage.  Never one to partake in sausage, “too many hard chunks to bite into”, she loved the Brats and beer. 

View from the Castle in Salzburg

On the way back, Helmut was asked more about Mozart, who never had the name Amadeus except in the movie. He also did not die a pauper.  He was, however, buried in a mass grave.  His son was also a composer who suffered from the identity crisis that comes from having a famous father.

All fun stuff we learned on our trip up the Danube.