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#1  Transitions:  March 1 - May 10, 2007

New Zealand Post-Script
Biking Woes
    We were sorry to read of yet another cyclist's rage upon arriving in Auckland just before our departure from New Zealand at the end of February. The cyclist's only recourse after being permanently injured by a motorist intentionally plowing into the group of riders was to vent in the newspaper--a story we read and reread for useful details.
    We were even sorrier to understand that they were riding on the spacious roads near the airport--right where we'd be riding. And just on cue, when we rode out to meet our plane a day later, we were verbally assaulted by a driver on the same road--a road with bike lanes. These most recent personal and second-hand experiences punctuated our conclusions after a 4 month tour of New Zealand--that it isn't a good biking venue. If you must bike in New Zealand, head for the south of the South Island where you have no more legal rights on the road than in the North but at least there are fewer drivers.
Ever-Wild Natural Events
    Just a few weeks after returning home in mid-March, a Portland friend alerted us to the lahar event in the Mt Tongariro region of New Zealand's North Island. The lahar in this particular location is usually a massive mud and rock slide that occurs when the lake in the top of the volcanic crater gets too deep and bursts out one side.

This lovely mountain produced another lahar mud flow after we left NZ.

    In 1953 most of the people on a passing train were killed when a lahar from the same crater destabilized a lowland bridge just before their train arrived. We had seen the memorial to the catastrophe when we pedaled by the area in early December and nervously joked that we hoped not to be so unlucky when our Wellington to Auckland train passed over the rebuilt bridge in late February.
    Indeed, by February the officials were on 24 hour "lahar watch" as the conditions were right for the next occurrence in February or March. We were lucky not to be inconvenienced by the event on our journey and the news report in March said that while no one was injured in the current lahar, many people were stranded by the road and rail closures. And in keeping with the terrible summer weather we experienced there, the current severe summer weather was hampering post-lahar repairs and clean-up.
Setting the Record Straight
    And just so there isn't any misunderstanding: we did enjoy our trip to New Zealand and are glad we went. We were very disappointed that the severe weather and bad culture for biking didn't deliver on our fantasy of tranquil, country riding in summery weather. But in all other ways, the country is an pleasant place to travel and the easy going, laid-back people are very welcoming. There are other venues we'd recommend more highly for mountain or coastline drama, engrossing history, or serene biking, but New Zealand is a great destination for a relaxing outdoor or driving vacation abroad.

Comfortable Routines
    After 6 years of traveling and coming home for a couple of months each year, we seem to have finally gotten the hang of the process. It is no longer jarring to make the transition. Even the switch from biking on the left side of the road to driving on the right once back home is going better. It seems that we've now done that home/abroad flip-flop enough times that it is normal and our brains make the necessary changes without so much fuss. There are still some little hesitations, but they are fewer and smaller than previously and we better understand how truly bilingual people make the analogous switches.
Bursting with Blooms
    Being home at spring time this year was a wonderful treat. The Portland/Vancouver area can be stunning in the spring if the weather is at all good and we had some fine days. Easter weekend delivered a to-die-for early April day that was warm before the dew usually evaporates and topped out just shy of 80°. Everyone who could find an excuse for being outside on the warmest days were out there and the number of dogs being walked skyrocketed--they provided their owners with a handy excuse for lingering in the fresh, warm air.
    Early spring is when the abundant perennials put on their shows in the Pacific Northwest and some home owners make their yards as colorful as 4th of July fireworks. Tulips, daffodils, camellias, cherry trees, heathers and other early bloomers deliver the clichéd riot of color. And I enjoyed long, deep sniffs of hyacinths and daphnia. The elaborate shadows from leafless trees added to the visual array on the sidewalks.  And we were home long enough to later discover that flowering trees like laburnums and tamarisks that we had only learned to recognize while overseas were literally in our own backyard.

 A rustic scene on a walk into Portland's city core.

Rubber to the Concrete
    Like during our brief stay last October, we often used foot power to propel us to our appointments rather than taking the bus or borrowing a car. Walking was our new time-slicing way of getting our exercise while doing errands at home. (Biking to most destinations wasn't an option because of the high risk of theft of our very expensive bikes.)
Most days I walked 5 to 10 miles, often with a 10 pound pack stuffed with rainwear, water, snacks, and perhaps a book to read while waiting my turn at an appointment. And on at-home days without errands, I walked to nearby Mt Tabor Park and intensified the cardio workout by climbing hundreds of stairs.
    Aside from admiring the extensive floral displays as we walked, the new elements to watch for were the rockery and wandering paths in front yards. Creative yard design seemed to have gone mainstream and it was great fun to look for the newly completed projects or the ones just underway. And a number of homeowners inserted little whimsical visual surprises to reward the careful observer.
    Oh, and as we walked, we savored what was missing: the fierce New Zealand wind. As Bill noted, by comparison the Pacific Northwest's weather drifts in, whereas New Zealand's often comes and goes with gale force winds. Rain or shine, it was delightful to be walking to our appointments without bracing against the wind or keeping one hand on my hat brim. Not that our home area doesn't get some winds, but in comparison, wind is a noteworthy event and not the daily diet.

 Italian lessons decorated our attic room.

Italian on the Fly
   As always though, the slow pace of walking wasn't quite enough to fascinate my mind by the second hour of putting one foot in front of the other, so our Italian studies that accelerated in New Zealand continued while at home.  Our system of pocket-sized notebooks filled with several thousand Italian words made for easy study and review without hampering the pace too much.   
     Indoors, our studies were augmented with wall decorations of our hand written stories that featuring new verbs and bilingual bike part instruction sheets. And near the end of our stay I finally tumbled to the idea of carrying our i-Pod like device so Italian lessons could accompany me for my longer walking commutes.

Odds & Ends
    Our time at home wasn't as rushed this spring and we welcomed the ease in our schedule for overdue organizational projects. A wooden rack for too many spools of thread left over from our big sewing days will make our annual sewing projects less frustrating and Bill's commitment to culling what he could from old files will pay dividends for years to come. And we figured out little things to reduce some of the annual headaches we face when doing taxes.

More Gray Hair
    Of course, being at home is always catch-up time for the confrontive process of medical and dental work for us. I turned 56 while at home and noticed "for your age" and "as we get older" creeping into more conversations with health professionals. The effects of aging the last few years has been sobering enough that I wasn't pleased to have that tag being added to the discussions--a tag that I knew would now be a permanent label.

Ah, order after all these years.

    And like it or not, aging does poignantly educate one more fully to the range of big and little things that can go awry if you didn't already know it. Who would have guessed that one could get varicose veins on their lips? Of course, that was a more welcome diagnosis than that of skin cancer but still seemed just a bit bizarre. And then the ophthalmologist commented that my left eye had managed to heal a small hole--the type of hole that often becomes a detached retina.
    The gastroenterologist noted that my redundant (extra long) colon was a harmless normal variant of thin women. The accompanying endoscopy revealed a raging esophageal ulcer, but fortunately not the type that opens the door for esophageal cancer. Amazingly, I developed the ulceration without having any typical signs of the almost always associated heartburn--which is good from a comfort stand point but makes it next to impossible to monitor the treatment.
    And lucky for me, the worrisome density discovered during a routine mammogram could be "pressed out." (Even though it sounded like laundry room talk, it was good news.)  "Not to worry, not to worry" they all said but it was hard not to notice that the absence of such news in prior decades was more reassuring than the "good news" I was getting these days.

Rock Gym
    Hanging out at the Portland Rock Gym for a few weeks was one of our indulgences while back in Portland (though we again noticed we were older than the parents of most of the other climbers). Our starter class last October entitled us to a 1-month membership for half price and the managers kindly allowed us to defer our discount offer until we returned from New Zealand. We made the most of it, climbing almost every other day for much of first part of the month until an unrelated back ache of Bill's brought it to a halt. We'd bought inexpensive shoes, harnesses, and other hardware in October to eliminate the rental prices on equipment and we quickly saw the return on those modest investments.
    We were pleased with our progress, as at the 10 day point in our discounted month, we were both noticeably more accomplished. I whizzed along from doing climbs rated as 5.8 to 5.10's and Bill was satisfied to be tackling the 5.9's. The rating system at the gym goes from 5.6 to 5.13 but it sounds like many people often plateau at 5.10 for years. Aside from the ego boost of moving up on the difficulty scale, the advancement meant that the number of routes for us to choose from jumped from 15 to 60.
    Passionate rock climbers risk the integrity of their finger joints and arm muscles from extreme overuse, but we have no such fears for our bodies. For us, sore muscles and a few bruises were the worst we experienced. And climbing allowed us to get the upper body strength benefits of weight training by using our body weight, which is wildly more entertaining than pumping iron. The playful challenge of solving a puzzle by moving our bodies added a special novelty to the workout.  And of course, all of the time spent at the Rock Gym will pay dividends if we are again able to indulge in Via Ferrata hikes in the Italian Dolomites that require some comfort on the rock.
Nordic Walking
   A pair of walking sticks bought at budget prices in Europe a couple of years ago provided us each a walking staff there but worked as a pair while at home. We took turns using them like Nordic walking sticks--the extremely popular fitness activity in Europe. It is so popular that when biking abroad we often saw signed courses like is done for cross country skiing.

Heading to town for a walking stick workout.

    The sticks were instantly a hit for both of us when used as a pair for striding around town. We both noticed that in using the sticks we effortlessly achieved the sought after but rarely attained good posture. Something about having the hands supported at elbow height that cranked us up like we were at one end of a crane.
    We also noticed that we easily upped our walking tempo into a more cardio-vascularly stimulating range. The 4 mile/hr walking pace that we clocked on the track but that was difficult to maintain was once again in reach. It seemed that the momentum of the small swing of the sticks was like a metronome in keeping us walking with a good tempo. And I later read that indeed they were upping my fitness level as I suspected as one burns 20% more calories using the sticks than not, even at the same speed. It's the higher arm position that does it. Of course, one can attain that position without sticks, it just takes more discipline than most of us are happy to rally step after step.

Choosing Your Battles
    Roiling frustration is something we are largely sheltered from when traveling and seem to experience heaps of when at home. Each time we return we notice that shift and have pondered it and at last, I think I understand its origins. When abroad, our contacts and hence our aggravations tend to be simple. Overseas we are primarily engaged in 1-on-1 exchanges with grocery clerks, accommodation staff, transportation clerks or other resource gatekeepers. These tend to be more straightforward situations where things either go as expected or don't, and there generally isn't much room for discussion. They are much more "take it or leave it" transactions where we have little real or imagined leverage.
    But all of that changes when we are at home and we are more often caught in 3 or 4-way tussles, as in trying to reconcile information from a doctor's office with that of our insurance company and the papers we have in hand. And of course, we take on more complicated tasks, like organizing on our income tax returns or assembling furniture for my mother from kits. And at home, we have more concrete expectations about how things should be, so when retailers drop our favorite products, we notice. All in all, many forces are at work to test our patience and suddenly revive a pile of out-of-use coping skills.
Us vs the US Government Bureaucracy
    Our most expensive aggravation while at home this year centered our passports. We innocently sent our passports off to have new visa pages inserted, not knowing that the national passport office was in federal-administration-inflicted chaos. We thought that sending them off our first morning back in the country would guarantee an uneventful process, but we quickly learned how wrong we were.
    Our passports were to appear on the government's online tracking system within 3 weeks of mailing them, but on last day of that 3 week period, the passport office's webpage announced that the lag time was now 4 weeks. At 5 weeks, their receipt still wasn't acknowledged.
    The stated turn around time for return of passports started out at 6 weeks, then slipped to 10 weeks, and then they dropped the turn around time predictions from the webpage entirely. We had 10 weeks to work with before our flight, which shifted from looking like plenty of time to looking like taking a spin on the roulette wheel.
    Our nonrefundable airline tickets to Frankfurt were immediately at stake and our opportunities to take advantage of internet specials to and in exciting places like Copenhagen or Luxor, Egypt slipped away. We had to cut our losses by not making any more plans or reservations incase our passports arrived after our flight departured.  The delight of anticipating and planning our jet lag layover destination was displaced by tension and uncertainty around even making our flight while we waited for news that our passports had even successfully traversed the postal system.
    The online checking system didn't show our passports had arrived and emails to the identified site that promised 2 to 4 day reply times didn't deliver. I tried calling but was deterred by the repeated message of  something like "We won't take your call until you are departing in 14 days or less."
    Frustration and anxiety mounted and I called the general number again. Muzak and recorded messages filled the receiver for the first 20 minutes on hold. I waited in silence for another 5 minutes, with only the timer on the handset suggesting I was still connected. At last a person answered. At last I knew our passports had been received. She reassured me that they were being worked on but had no prediction as to when they'd be sent to us.
    I offered that if they were "in the works" and only needed to have pages added that perhaps they'd get them out in the next week or so. But no, their target was to mail them out 2 weeks before our departure date and I should call again at that time. The idiocy of that stance would have made me "go postal" but the deep relief in knowing that at least our passports weren't lost in the mail subdued me. We were no longer vulnerable to the worst-case scenario: our passports never arriving at their office and them refusing to inform us of that until the prescribed 2 weeks before departure.

Another frustration--no place for panniers.

    The weeks slipped by and when we were close to the magic "14 days before departure" I called again. Twenty, almost 30 minutes passed before a live voice was on the other end. I was assured they were still working on the passports and that if I didn't have them in a few days that I should call again and they would be expedited at their expense.
    Of course, when I called on the appointed day, they were still working on them but now they were too far into the process to be expedited. It appears that no matter how far in advance passports are sent in, they sit on them until 2 weeks before your departure then send them out as we did get ours back 13 days before our flight.  

Where the Mind Wanders...
    When traveling, our minds wander down somewhat predictable paths with our rushes to references usually falling under the categories of history, geology, or the origins of words. Gender bias differences between cultures, the portrayal of women in the media, and the levels of obvious alcoholism catch our eyes on the sidewalk and stimulate discussions. But when back home, our much deeper conversations with family and friends and the easier access to information have us tracking down different categories of information. I was surprised at the mix of items that suddenly became urgent to understand more fully:
Rancidity & Indigestion
    A bad case of indigestion early in our stay had me surfing the net longer than I usually choose to afford when overseas and discovering that polyunsaturated cooking oils often begin turning rancid before they leave the factory. For most people it is only an academic point, but for the subgroup of us with persnickety guts when it comes to the quality of fats (though thankfully, not the quantity), it can make the difference between experiencing days of GI distress or not. Even more interesting was sharing this new insight with a friend and having it be a plausible explanation for her odd pattern of indigestion too.
Vitamin D vs Calcium
The slowly evolving official position on just how much vitamin D we all need also became a hot issue for us to understand. My 1984 medical nutrition book said 200 IU's was enough though that value had only been established by US officials in 1980. For some years now, the US RDA has been 400 IU and I was surprised to learn that osteoporosis experts were recommending 600 to 1000 IU and substantially more for the elderly. Some are even considering hefty vitamin D doses as more important than high calcium intakes for strong bones. Given that we haul pounds of calcium tablets overseas with us when we travel, the thought of cutting that load in half and replacing it with a few ounces of vitamin D capsules was immediately appealing. (In many European countries such supplements are priced like exotic pharmaceuticals and not the ground up clam shells that they often are.)
    It was only a few weeks after our vitamin D epiphany that our new concern was highlighted. A friend chimed in when I mentioned our research as she had her own story to tell. When she was about 54 she was diagnosed with significant osteoporosis and her astute doctor checked her circulating vitamin D levels. Her levels were in the basement and at only age 54 she was put on massive, geriatric, doses of vitamin D (25,000IU) for weeks to get her levels up to where they needed to be to support bone regeneration. 
Socially Inappropriate Behavior
    We first learned of Asperger's Disorder from a TV story while in New Zealand and were intrigued by what we heard. A conversation with a shirt-tail relative fanned the fires of interest soon after we returned home. Asperger's is a narrowly defined mental disability that is primarily limited to producing socially inappropriate behavior and has only been recognized as a condition in the US since 1994 though it was first described by Dr. Asperger 50 years earlier. It ranges from being a disabling condition to being the reason that some people we all encounter are a little odd. What was even more surprising was that almost any one I discussed it with knew of someone with the condition.
    It was quite startling and a little disappointing to be "discovering" these things that were new to us that we'd somehow missed. We've been quite aware that as full-time overseas travelers we have become somewhat detached from the popular information flow but these little surprises underscored it in a more tangible way. 
Electronic Coupons
    On a lighter note, reading an AARP magazine (another reminder of being a part of the graying population) while I was brushing my teeth one night saved me an instant $6. An article mentioned 2 websites--CouponCabin.com and eDeals.com-- that gather promotional or coupon codes for e-retailers. Frustrated by the $7 shipping charge on a feather-weight, $20 shoe insert, I was thrilled to discover the $6 savings awaited me on CouponCabin.com. I was out of touch but got with it just in time for a satisfying savings for little effort. The lack of such popular press English reading material overseas and the miniscule amount of online buying that we do when traveling means this kind of thing never happens when we are away from home.

The Hard Realities
Tax Time
    Taxes, electronics, the bikes and then his back were Bill's main areas of concern while at home. As much as we dread doing the taxes, coming home and running the numbers is always reassuring. That theory of making your money work for you has worked for us and the forced annual review process sooths the persistent doubts about the wisdom of having retired early. "How can it be working out?" is the question we often ask even though we've long known the answer: interest, dividends, and capital gains is how. It really does work with careful planning and a dose of good luck but we still need to periodically reassure ourselves.
    Bill had looked forward to a session at home without being in search of electronics but the void was filled by a nagging need to have a cell phone. We often are asked if we have a cell phone and our answer is always the same "Who would we call?" It's way too expensive to use a cell phone for calling home when overseas and the pricing schemes had demanded a separate phone for each country. But hiking in the Italian Alps pushed up our perceived need as cell phones are the safety device in the mountains. In getting into higher and less populated hiking areas last summer, our sense of vulnerability in not having a phone for an emergency skyrocketed. It's expected that all hikers have a phone and we didn't.

Back to the basics for our 3 year-old bikes.

    So, Bill invested endless hours researching the protocols used in the US and in Europe, the pricing systems for service, compatibility issues and the like. He finally settled on buying 2 obsolete phones for cheap off of eBay and getting the "sim cards" after we arrived in Italy. The phones are for an emergency in the mountains and since there is no way to predict if the person who goes over the edge will be the one with the phone, he wisely decided we should each have a phone. Good thing we've been working on our Italian.
    And late-in-our-stay problems with our desktop computer we'd left for Bill's sister to use unexpectedly consumed hours of his time. Those electronics--can't live without them but they sure suck up the time when things aren't just right.
    Ah, the bikes. We've had our second pair of custom touring bikes for 3 years and it was time for a major overhaul. Luckily, our side trip to New Zealand had meant we'd hauled them home instead of stashing them in Europe as we usually do. The little darlings were practically shivering in shame at being stripped naked without their wheels, pedals, saddles, handlebars and most of their wires. But rusty frame dings were sanded and spot painted; new cranks were installed by a local shop; new, improved brake levers were ordered and installed by Bill; and the more usual new cables and chains were put on.
    Expensive tires were also ordered, with Bill reluctantly buying a new model after riding on our old pairs for 2 years and only having 1 flat towards the end of their life. We knew these tires were on their last legs but it wasn't until he took off his that he knew just how far we'd pushed them. The thick blue inner liner was showing through dozens of slices, gouges, and gashes in the rubber that meets the road. We couldn't imagine how these great tires could have been so puncture-resistant despite the thinnest of the road rubber and the many holes. The new, thinner and lighter tires that are supposed to be almost as tough suddenly looked suspect and Bill immediately planned to ditch them if they didn't perform.

Got our money's worth out of these dandy tires.

Body Challenges
    Bill's back dogged him for most of our stay at home this spring. It had increasingly bothered him in New Zealand and 2 days before departing for Frankfurt he finally summarized it with "50 years of poor back hygiene has finally caught up with me." It hasn't been a history of serious abuse, just casual neglect.
    Cyclists develop massive psoas muscles ("so-as") and our very skilled massage therapist added that Bill's history of slumping reinforced the shortening of this large, deep muscle. The buried psoas is difficult to massage and it connects the interior of the low back with each inner thigh. The good news was that every stretch Bill did, whether it was for hamstrings, quads, psoas, abductors or adductors, made him feel better. The hard reality was that he should be doing the stretches regularly, not just as a "fix."
    And of course, Bill had to endure more than a few "I told you so's" from those of us who long ago accepted the necessity of regular stretching. The stretching remedy is a nuisance because it takes time but it is far more effective with little downside compared to more common body remedies like medications and surgery. 
    Aside from the good news/bad news aspect of his back recovery, another casualty of the ailment was his weight control. Muscle spasms and the associated pain severely curtailed Bill's exercise regime. While I was out trotting up and down 500 stairs sandwiched between 5 miles of walking, Bill was walking carefully to the bus.
    The belief that he'd be getting better soon interfered with trimming his calories early enough in the recovery process and the pounds went on. Luckily, the new clothes he bought for his new body last October still fit as he had discarded all of his fat clothes. But Bill's resolve to cut the calories kicked in about the same he was able to pick-up his walking regime, so it should only be a temporary blip up on the scales.

Friends & Family
    All of the serious undertakings and realities while at home were balanced by more pleasant reconnects with friends and family. My 90 year old mother had undertaken an in-the-building move a few months before we returned and so we helped her with some settling-in issues. I focused on finding more suitable small furniture items for her new apartment and Bill troubleshot a string of electronics problems that coincided with her move. And we shortened her list of more playful "to-do's" like taking a ride on the new boondoggle tram from the river to the hilltop where most of the local medical school resides; looking for shy birds out at the sanctuary on rural Sauvie's Island; and dropping in at her favorite pizza-by-the-slice place.
    We shared in the excitement of Bill's older sister's emerging activities, which included a new part-time job. It took a while to crank our brains into the proper gears to revive out-of-use skills for strategizing about the right interview outfit and providing wardrobe consultations after the job was secured.
    My mother and Bill's sister are the people who see the most of us while we were back home but our longer stay gave time for tea, lunch and dinner with a range of friends. We always savor renewing those connections and catching up with other peoples lives. Email while we are away is of course a wonderful way to stay in touch, but there still is nothing like the face to face connection.

Finalizing Our Preparations
Packing the Bikes   
    In the last 10 days of our stay, we had to resist the tug to visit and connect and instead turned our attention to bundling our things for the airlines. Flying with the bikes is always a challenge and preparing them was the most pressing practical problem to resolve. It's always a 50-50 gamble that the latest packaging rules we'd discerned from the internet or from phone calls will be the rules we are held too, so we always hold our breathe until our luggage is actually checked-in. But the seemingly arbitrary system bowed in our favor, as the "no box needed" instruction on the phone matched the expectations at the check-in counter.
    The "no box" ruling is huge for us. First, it means that mechanic-Bill doesn't have to dismantle the bikes until their shape conforms to the dimensions of the current box. And second, the lack of a box means the bundle weighs about 10 pounds less. The increasing cost of fuel of the last couple of years has dropped the international luggage weight limit from 70 lbs to 50 lbs and that extra 10 lbs in bike box weight is a huge differential for us. Our bikes with locks, racks and their every day do-dad's weigh well over 40 lbs, so replacing the box with a sheet of plastic is reason for celebration. Wrestling with the awkward 50 lb bundles that each bike becomes is always physically stressful, so being box-less keeps their shape more compact and reduces my risk of back strain.
    And given the more restrictive per person weight limits, we culled our gear even more carefully this year. Things like the prudent but never used thermometer for monitoring fevers got left behind, as did favorite reference books, and our first few days of staples that usually take the pressure off of grocery shopping. But that extra rigor we demonstrated in our gear selection and the lack of boxes for our bikes meant that we beat the weight limits with a little to spare rather than hoping for leniency in being a tad over as when we flew to New Zealand with extra-heavy bike boxes. 
Last Minute Details
   Despite what seemed like plenty of time scheduled back home, we were again uncomfortably scrambling in our last days of our 10 week stay. There is always more to do but at least the importance of the tasks left undone is less each year. There were the good intentions of another phone call or visit with a friend; one more little sewing project; cleaning out another chaotic drawer; and culling more from our files--none of which got done. And then there were the other aggravations, like leaving before my favorite brand of backordered cycling/traveling pants arrived and departing without a reply to a request for reservations in Rome. At least our increasing confidence as travelers had given us more resilience and a greater ability to dismiss these as inconveniences instead of viewing them as crises as they would have been perceived in the past.
Packing For 2 Trips
    Packing this year was complicated by immediately flying on to Rome the same day we arrived in Frankfurt. That meant our gear had to be perfectly sorted before we left Portland so the right items would be lined up for stashing in Frankfurt with the bikes and just the essentials would go on to Rome with us. That final sorting process would be done in the haze of sleeplessness in the airport corridors at Frankfurt, so had to be simple to implement.
    We would be flying seriously "no frills" Ryan Air on to Rome, which charges an extra $15 for checking a bag. Since we could meet the 22 lb/person carry-on limit, we had to be meticulous about not carrying restricted items like our folding scissors (allowed on the flight to Europe but not within Europe), my pocket knife for picnics; or more than 3 oz in any bottle of liquids. Ryan Air is so cost conscious that there is no free water to drink on board and none of those handy seat pockets that have to be cleaned out.  
    As the last time around, our friend Mulvey shuttled our bikes and 1 of us in his station wagon to the airport and Bill's sister shuttled the other person and the luggage. I made a brief stop on the way to say a last goodbye to my mother and with that we were off to Europe with the bikes for about 7 months--a little shorter trip than usual.

Our May - December 2007 Itinerary
    We departed Portland after lunch on May 10th, arrived in Frankfurt the morning of the 11th and that evening went on to Rome without the bikes. Our 10 night stay in Rome was for bright sun light and warm weather to help with our jet lag recovery. We will return to Frankfurt late on the 21st, and head west from Frankfurt on our bikes the next morning. We'll be heading towards Metz, France to visit a missed corner that country and then will loop back into Germany to catch a missed steel museum that's been on the "To See" list for many years. Then it's on to the Black Forest and to Lake Constance on the border between Germany and Switzerland.
    From there we will cruise along the southern border of Germany until just north of Innsbruck where we turn south into a bit of Austria. That will position us to enter the stunning Italian Dolomites via a new route. We'll spend about 6 weeks in the Dolomites, taking in hiking and Via Ferrata hiking routes and of course biking some of our favorite passes.
    We'll tear ourselves away from our beloved Dolomiti and go east to the much touted Julian Alps in Slovenia, though it's hard to imagine they'll dazzle us as much. Turning south will take us along the beautiful coast of Croatia, which we've only seen while shivering from the chill of winter. Timing will be adjusted so our ferry ride from Croatia west across the Adriatic leg of the Mediterranean to Italy will land us in Sicily about November. We've never been to Sicily and are looking forward to that Italian island's special bend on history.
    That's the plan for traveling season #7 and "Yes", Bill has a rough plan for #8. And "No", we don't know how long we'll keep doing this. We've learned it is less complicated to keep traveling than it is to stop and rebuild a stationary life.
    We don't have return flight tickets yet, but the prices go up for the holidays on December 12, so we'll be back home by then. Given that you now know about what we know, Map Man is going to be busy in the coming months filling in the details--we'll keep you posted.

We We Are Now:  May 21, 2007
  Our pleasant stay in Rome is in its last hours and we are catching up on emails near the train station before boarding a bus for Rome's suburban airport. Tomorrow morning we'll load up the bikes and begin our touring season in earnest. Our piece about our stay in Rome is in its final stages, so it will be online soon.


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