Posted by: marykfurness | December 27, 2011

Volcanoes, Research, and the Great Pink Paper Clip Caper

I am on the Internet, now in La Fortuna, Costa Rica– at the foot of the Arenal volcano.  I must keep this relatively brief, as the only place to get a signal is in the dining room of our hotel, and I don’t want to be in the way. 

Suffice it to say–we spent an incredible morning at INBioParque, a biological research park near San Jose, touring areas set up as dry forests, rain forests, butterfly areas, and more, all for research and greater understanding of animals and plants.  This was marvelous, and beautifully done.  Then a hike to the Poas volcano–still belching smoke and  sulphuring fumes from a greenish pool that looks like positively evil and strangely beautiful at the same time.  The road trip from Poas here to La Fortuna was over one-lane, twisty-windy roads that gave several of our people cases of the tummy heebie-jeebies; I tried not to think about it.

But when we arrived here at our little cabins, I and my intrepid young roomies discovered something; our toilet was non-functioning.  We investigated the tank, and discovered the chain and the flapper valve had separated, and would not stay together.  What to do?  No Lowe’s, no Home Depot, no Ace Hardware!  BUT….I never leave home without paper clips, rubber bands, and duct tape; I dug out a lovely pink paper clip, and held a flashlight for roomie number 1, who worked the two parts together, and eh, voila!! (or the Spanish equivalent!) One toilet McGyver’d together and working in fine style!!

Now a shower, and sleep; tomorrow a hike in the rain forest, a visit to one of the great waterfalls, and a soak in the local hot springs at the end of the day. Oh, and coffee. Lots of coffee.  After all, this IS Costa Rica.

(Pictures will be downloaded soon–promise!)

Posted by: marykfurness | December 27, 2011

San Jose–briefly

A horse parade, decent beer, a grand old hotel, and watching the cops defuse a gang riot in the midst of this wonderful old town; a wonderful way to begin my adventures!  Rumors are swirling I may not have access to wi-fi to continue day-by-day chronicling of this blog, but be assured there will eventually be information here!  Today I drink coffee, hike a volcano, and get my first look at the rain forest–WOW!!

Posted by: marykfurness | December 25, 2011

Coping, Christmas, and Costa Rica

It’s the night of December the 25th, and in a few very, very short hours, I will bid my family adieu, lock the door behind me, and gather with about 2 dozen other vagabonds (OK, collegiate-type vagabonds) to begin a journey to warmer climes. 

The journey has been long in coming–a bit over a year.  I have had to figure out schedules, as this occurs over our son’s Christmas break, so my husband has had to make sure he can take off work for the 9 days I’m gone.  We’ve had to factor in the financial side of things; done, done, and DONE!  There have been a huge series of concerts and special events in the months, weeks, and days leading up to Christmas this year, and with today’s Christmas morning church service, that is done. Presents were bought, wrapped, and unwrapped; stockings were hung, filled, and emptied; two small but oh-so-delicious holiday meals have been consumed, amidst candlelight and good cheer.  And phone calls with Christmas love and bon voyage wishes have come from far and near.

But I have been sick for 2 weeks.  So has most of the nation, with that nasty “creeping crud” upper respiratory thing….I will fly with a milder version of it, reeking of cough drops, and hoping for the healing that warmth and humidity can bring.

So I’m nearly off…on a study adventure, the kind of opportunity that comes calling, or knocking, or drops into your lap in the fall like an over-ripe apple when a friend says “so, who wants to go to Costa Rica?”  And you say yes, and you pack that bag; because long ago you learned that if you hang up, or shut the door, or toss that “apple” away–well, it’s not likely to come back.

Hello, Costa Rica?  Rain forest? Warm temperatures? Can you hear me now?


Posted by: marykfurness | November 14, 2011

What’d You Say? Travel quotes-Day 14 of 30 days of travel blogging

When I saw that bootsnall’s day 14 prompt was travel quotes, I decided to pick up on this, before backtracking to catch up on the other pieces I’ve left behind.  But for a wild wordsmith like me–a woman who could get drunk on words like some get drunk on whiskey–I can’t pick just one quote! These things are addictive…..

And so, forthwith…..

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Innocents Abroad (Mark Twain)

“Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.”
Ernest Hemingway
“Yes, sir, there are things to see and do on the French Riviera without spending money.”
Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road
 “Adventure is worthwhile in itself.”
“The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one’s appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.”
Amelia Earhart
What does it mean to pre-board? Do you get on before you get on?
George Carlin

And from my late, much-beloved, much-travelled mother, Caroline Furness:

“If you can’t carry it on, don’t pack it.”

“Do you want to go to Egypt with me?”

And everyone’s favorite childhood travel quotes:

“Don’t MAKE me stop this car!!”


It’s a big, wide, wonderful world out there–take the sage advice of these travellers and enjoy it!

Posted by: marykfurness | November 13, 2011

An Exquisite, Perfect Feast–Day 11, 30 days of travel blogging

Yes, I’m still running a bit behind on my 30 days of travel blogging with bootsnall; not only that, but I’ve also decided to catch up by doing things a bit out of order.  Day #9 was “one perfect day of travel” and day #11 is “a perfect feast”–well, both of those happened on the same day, so consider my last entry part I, and this part II!

After a glorious day swimming in a glacier-fed lake at the town of Spiez, Switzerland, and exploring the nearby castle, we returned to Grindelwald, near Interlaken.  This, for those not familiar with Switzerland, is in the central part of the country, and Grindelwald is a resort town well-known for its hiking in the summer, and skiing in the winter.  My husband, son and I had joined members of my extended family for a “mini-reunion” there, staying in lovely chalets overlooking the valley and the mountains.

The Hotel Kirchbuehl, connected to our chalets, had prepared a special reunion/birthday dinner for all of us, as we were celebrating birthdays ranging from a 12th to a 75th along with the reunion! My cousin Susan and I share a birthday–although she is a few years older than I–and to celebrate together in such splendid surroundings nearly brought tears to my eyes. The hotel seated us on the patio, and we were able to look up from our conversations every so often, and watch as the sunset painted the mountains across the valley rosy pink.

But the meal!  Oh the meal!  A table setting worthy of the rich and famous…..

….and a meal to delight all the senses–melon and prosciutto; salad; lamb with duchesse potatoes; and perfectly steamed vegetables.

A delightful champagne….then wine….and then a mouth-watering, specialty-of-the-house fruit tart for dessert!

Dusk descended upon us as we finished coffee, liqueurs, and dessert, gazing over the lights of the valley and the very last of the sunset.  We talked quietly as we walked up the hill to our chalets, making the magic of the day last as long as we could.

I have become mired in my day-to-day life of wife; mother-to-a-teenager; part-time radio news anchor; and freelance news writer.  So I am behind on my 30 days of travel blogging project for bootsnall.  A gray and windy Saturday afternoon will hopefully allow me to catch up, beginning with the prompt for one day of travel perfection.

Wow.  Only one day? Which one?  I have been so very, very fortunate to travel to glorious places, and experience wonderful things; is it meeting my Bulgarian family for the very first time?  Seeing the Sphinx at sunset? Sailing the turquoise waters of the British Virgin Islands? All those were extraordinary experiences, and there have been many, many more.

But the most perfect of perfect days–the day when everything came together– happened 2 years ago in Switzerland.

My husband, son, and I were staying in a chalet in the Swiss resort town of Grindelwald, in the Berner Oberland, not far from Interlaken.  My favorite cousin and her husband had a chalet just down the hill from us, and her brother and his lady friend had a place in between.  This gathering was a “mini-family-reunion”, 2 years in the planning, and brought together people ranging in age from my son (11-and-a-half) to my cousin’s husband (75-years-young!).  It was a joyous chance for me to renew acquaintance with some of my favorite family members, and to introduce my husband and son to them.  We had dined on great food, hiked the hills, wandered the village, and had long, laughter-filled conversations throughout the first few days of the week, but on this day we looked forward to another excursion, and at the end, a dinner not only celebrating our reunion, but all our birthdays as well.

My cousin Susan and her husband–retired professors–had fallen in love with that part of Switzerland, and had discovered the town of Spiez. We took a train from Grindelwald to Interlaken, changed to one for Spiez, and having brought swimsuits and picnic items along, headed for a very special swim beach.

This was not the “tourist” swim beach, but a place known only to the locals. More like a park, it was beautifully green and grassy, with trees and benches and a ramp leading down into the iciest, coldest water I have ever swum in! As I walked down the ramp, trying not to think about my entire body going numb, I looked up; there before me was the lake, with mountains climbing sharply up.

Sailboats dotted the water off to one side, like glorious butterflies wafting to and fro, and I forgot–for a time anyway–about being cold.  I swam for a bit, then as I was getting out, I looked up again, this time toward a castle and vineyards. Vineyards in Switzerland? Wine? Is this where they’ve been hiding? 

The sun warmed us, and we ate sandwiches, fruit and pastries, laughed and talked, watched the sailboats and the big boats taking people on tours around the lake, then swam again. There were no hordes of tourists where we were;  just couples, families, and small groups of friends, as though we were all members of a special club that knew about this place.  I heard very little English–mostly Swiss German, with a bit of French here and there.

My husband, son and I changed into street clothes–an interesting challenge, as there were no changing rooms nearby!–and walked up to explore the castle.  Wandering through there took us back centuries; unless I actually looked out the openings in the thick walls, it was easy to imagine that Swiss Guards might come riding up at any time!

Knowing we had our reunion dinner later that evening, we bid a loving, fond farewell to Spiez and found the train back to Interlaken, to make the change for Grindelwald.  Having made Grindelwald our base for several days, coming into the town felt a bit like coming home….what had been strange at one time was becoming hauntingly familiar. We knew which train to get from Interlaken, then which bus to take from the train station toward our chalet, then which stop was ours. All was right and comfortable in our world.

There was still dinner to come, and a sunset, and it was, indeed, perfection; but that, as someone once said, is the rest of the story…….

Posted by: marykfurness | November 9, 2011

You’re always learning–Day 8, 30 days of travel blogging

Bootsnall has posed an interesting question for day 8 of their “30 days of indie travel” blog challenge; “what have you learned from travel this year?”  As usual, I’m going to think outside that box, and write about what I’ve learned from travel in general.

I’ve been on the road, in one way or another, since I was about a year old.  My parents would take me–and later my brother, when he came along a couple of years later–on yearly road trips to the ocean from our home outside of Washington, DC, and we quickly learned that we couldn’t take everything with us on those trips!  Whether we were gone for a weekend, a week, or 3 weeks, there was only a finite amount of space in a four-door sedan with Mom, Dad, 2 kids and a dog, and my mother was a great believer in the “pack small” concept.

So, lesson #1–pack small.

When we began to take flying trips–I took my first one solo, at the age of 11, then the whole family went to Europe a few years later–my parents again were the travel teachers.  “Read about these places”, they said, and we did.  I can’t say I ever became an expert, but when I saw the Tower of London in England; Stephensdom in Vienna; Mozart’s Birthplace in Salzburg; and the Temple of Luxor in Egypt, all of those meant more to me for having read about them.

Lesson #2–know before you go!

And then there’s traveling with parents.  Especially when you are no longer under the age of 18.  Or under the age of 25.  Traveling with one’s parents–either singly or together–can put a strain on the relationship.  They’re used to being in charge; you’re used to being in charge.  I was 29 the last time I travelled with my dad–we had some issues, but for the sake of the trip and the relationship, I managed to put those behind me, as did he.  The last time I took any sort of trip with my mother, I was 42 and she had health issues; we managed, but it took patience.

The same goes for immediate family–spouse and/or children. Discuss where you want to go, what you want to do, and build in some down time.

Lesson #3–patience, grasshopper….oh, and flexibility.

I travelled with my son to Washington, DC this past spring for his spring break, and for the Cherry Blossom Festival; and I realized all 3 of these lessons anew.  We packed small (carry-on only); we read up on the festival on the Internet, and decided what we had time to do and what we didn’t; and I did my best to be patient and flexible with a not-quite-14-year-old.  And I made sure to leave him some down time with his cousins while I went out with some old friends one night. It made for a memorable and joyous–if whirlwind–trip, and one I hope to repeat someday.

In just under 7 weeks, I go to Costa Rica, on an “educational” tour with a local college.  I’m supposed to learn things on this trip–it’s all about conservation and biology, and we will spend time with very learned people.  But I also have a feeling I will learn other things–concepts and skills and things about myself I can’t even fathom yet. Is it possible to teach this slightly-gray-haired lady some new travel tricks?

Three Dog Night “Celebrate”

I don’t know how it happens.  Really, I don’t.  Personal magnetism?  Sheer coincidence? But I seem to travel with people who find celebration and adventure around nearly every corner.   

My parents had the most propensity for that.  Everywhere they went, something always happened–we once found ourselves in the midst of a wedding celebration in the small Bulgarian town of Tergovishta as we stopped there for lunch in 1973.  Dad and I landed smack-dab in the midst of the downfall of Communism in Bulgaria in 1989, shouting for freedom and celebrating with thousands of other Bulgarians in the streets.  They bequeathed that “right place, right time” gift to me; often, I have found myself planning trips, then realizing they coincide with festivals or holidays.

In 2008, my husband, son and I anticipated a trip to visit a friend in Canada I hadn’t seen in many years.  We would be out of the States over the 4th of July, but in Canada for Canada Day (July 1st).  What did that mean up there?  A bit of what it means here–picnics and fireworks.  We stayed in Toronto, but took a ferry across the harbor to Centre Island for a day of food and fun, ending in one of the most awe-inspiring fireworks displays I have ever seen.

A year later, we took our dream trip to Europe–3-and-a-half weeks in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.  Again, a case of right-place-right-time…

The Salzburg Music Festival.

Now, I can hear some of you….so?  How terribly “Sound of Music” of you!  But you must understand–my father had been a concert violinist and vocalist; my mother played piano and tutored piano students; my husband’s father had been a jazz performer and band director; my husband is a musician (not his day job, however)and a student of historic music; my brother plays keyboards; our son plays several instruments; and I sing!!  This was like finding out we won the lottery!!  Every day we were in Salzburg and wandered the streets, it was as though we had tickets to multiple concerts–a string trio tucked away here, a balalaika there…

an accordion player in a garden; and the requisite notes of Mozart everywhere–all for free!

I head off to Costa Rica in 7 weeks, as a group leader on a collegiate study tour, and we will be there over New Year’s–I wonder exactly how the Costa Ricans ring in the New Year? Hmmm…..

So be very careful, those who choose to travel with me, for adventure and celebration are perched upon my shoulder–peek around that corner before stepping out; there might be a parade coming!

Posted by: marykfurness | November 7, 2011

The Fear Factor—Day 6 of 30 Days of Travel Blogging

It’s day 6 of my 30 days of travel blogging with bootsnall, and we’re talking about fear–coming face-to-face with it, overcoming it, all in the context of travel.

Well.  I have no fear of getting on a plane–done that.  I have no fear of going places where I have to: a) use a squat toilet (Egypt), b)drink bottled water only (Egypt), or c)try and decipher a language in an alphabet unknown to me(Egypt, Greece, and Bulgaria)–done all that. 

I guess my fears are of things that might either embarrass me greatly in another country (or domestically, in another region of the US), or might honestly cause me bodily harm.  Not saying the right thing to someone in a foreign language, or using an incorrect gesture, is something I worry about.  Being half-Bulgarian, I talk with my hands a lot, and have to remember to be careful about that, and to be careful about personal space.  I also tend to be a bit loud (yes, my broadcasting friends, I see you nodding your collective heads), and have to remember my “indoor” voice, even when outdoors overseas. 

Driving on the left in the UK?  Um, no thanks.  I will drive anywhere else, any time, but the idea of driving (to me) on the “wrong” side of the road bothers me greatly!  (Thank you to my English and Aussie friends, you may stop snickering now) But put me on that bus or train or ferry boat, and I am just fine!

And forget scuba diving and caving…I am, sadly, claustrophic.  I will sail, try surfing, swim in the ocean, but anything that requires covering my face and weighing me down to spend time under the water terrifies me.  I can do show caves/tour caves (think Carlsbad or Mammoth Cave) but anything requiring me to squeeze through teeny spaces, and I start to hyperventilate.

Will I let any of this keep me from travelling? HA! Are you kidding?  There are  ways to get around and over these barely-there-obstacles, and many other joys to be found at home and overseas.  To paraphrase my dear old Scottish ancestors, don’t let the “ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night” keep you from exploring our wonderful world!

Kindness. Strangers.  In this day and age, one would think the two mutually exclusive; but it has not always been so in my experience.

I can’t hear the phrase “the kindess of strangers” without thinking of Tennessee Williams and “A Streetcar Named Desire”.  Williams spent a great deal of his childhood here in Missouri, and his first two years of college right here in my current town of Columbia, MO–he wasn’t particularly fond of our dear old Mizzou, so left for St. Louis to work, then resume his studies.  But I digress.

In “Streetcar”, the very Southern character of Blanche Dubois states that “I have always depended on the kindess of strangers”. While it’s an interesting sentiment, I can’t say I use it as a travel mantra; mine is more along the lines of, “I have always depended on myself, but accept and appreciate the kindness of strangers”.

My parents–who gave me the gift of independent travel at the age of 11–told me on that first plane trip what to do and how to do it.  This was back in the early ’70’s, when you didn’t have security checks, people could walk down to the gate with you, and truly “see you off” on a trip.  I was flying on my own to visit a cousin–DC to upstate NY–and my parents very matter-of-factly prepared me for the possibility of my cousin not being at the airport, how to get in touch with her, what to expect at the airport, how to pick up my suitcase at the luggage carousel, etc.  The flight attendants knew I was travelling alone ( no need for any “minor travelling solo” tag back then) and were kindness personified; all went well. 

There were times when travelling with an elderly parent prompted a random act of kindness.  Travelling to Bulgaria in ’89 with my dad, many people noticed the gray hair and stepped aside to make room for the “old gentleman” ; if they’d only realized exactly how old he was at the time–nearly 90, but he didn’t look it!

My parents also taught me to read and research as much as possible before a trip.  This is something I always do, and allowed my husband, son and I to gratefully accept the kindness of an unnamed, unknown German man in an U-bahn station in Munich 2 years ago.  We had a map, we knew where we wanted to go, we knew what we wanted to do, but weren’t sure which train we should be on.  This lovely gentleman–understanding just enough of our English– assisted us, and we, in our broken German, showered him with effusive, “Danke, danke” as we jumped onto the correct train.

I have also found that kindness given, means kindness repaid.  In a foreign country, if you walk into a shop and smile at the person behind the counter, greet them with the proper greeting of the day for that country, ask for your item(s) politely, and thank them, all shall be well. Knowing the words for “please”, “thank you”, “where is?” and “may I?” go a long way toward finding a new comfort zone in that place. 

And if you’re in the good ol’ U-S-of-A, “please”, “thank you”, and an extra smile for the barista who made your cappucino never hurt either!

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