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   Rick's mother Yvette had never been to Europe, or even out of the country (except Canada), so in March, 2001 we took her and Mary's aunt Mary, on a vacation to Europe. For twelve days the four of us visited Paris, France, then on to Lucern, Switzerland, then Venice, Italy and finally Rome, Italy, with short stops in Geneva, Switzerland, plus Milan and Florence, Italy, as well as a 2-hour stopover in Munich, Germany, to change planes on our way back home. To enjoy as much scenery as possible we travelled by train from Paris to Lucern with a change of trains in Geneva, from Lucern to Venice with a change of trains in Milan, and from Venice to Rome. The timing for this trip was truely blessed, because after this trip Yvette's health began to deteriorate preventing any further travel. She passed away November 23, 2002.

Paris was our first stop. An eleven hour non-stop flight from San Francisco had us at the Charles de Gaulle Airport just after 3:00pm, France time. An hour later we were at our hotel, the Abbatial St. Germain. This is a favorite hotel of Mary and Rick's, and we have stayed there several times. The hotel is located in the Latin Quarter, a lively part of Paris known for it's shops and many cafes, and is only a block away from the famous Notre Dame Cathedral.

We stayed in Paris for two days and three nights. The first day we went sightseeing around Paris on an open top double deck bus, giving us a easy way to see the Arch de Triomphe, the Champs-Élysées, the Royal Palace, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, and several more key sightseeing spots. The second day we took a minibus tour to the Palace of Versailles, about 20 miles west of Paris. Later that afternoon we visited the Montmartre section of Paris, using the subway system, called the Metro, to get there and back.

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Yvette, Rick and Mary in Paris with Notre Dame in the background. The weather didn't cooperate, but we didn't let occasional showers dampen our fun! We had arrived late the previous afternoon after an 11 hour flight, and relaxed that evening, only venturing out for a nice dinner at a nearby bistro Mary and Rick had found on a previous trip. The next morning we visited Notre Dame first thing before hopping onto an open-top double deck bus which drove past many of the city's best signtseeing spots.

Mary and Yvette display happy smiles while dodging rain storms at the top of the open-top double deck sightseeing bus in Paris. Watch out for those raindrops! Even though we occasionally had to open up our umbrellas, we had a lot of fun on this bus. The busses make several trips around a set route, stopping briefly near the major sights. We had the opportunity to get on and off whenever we wanted to, making it easy to get around Paris.

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Yvette at the Hall of Mirrors inside the Palace of Versailles, about 20 minutes west of Paris. The palace was built in 1668 by King Louis the 14th of France as a private residence so he would be farther away from the rebellious people in Paris, and closer to his favorite hunting forests west of Paris. The huge palace, the largest in Europe, is beautifully decorated in the style of the times. Overlooking the extensive Versailles park which is part of the estate, the Hall of Mirrors is the biggest room in the palace. It owes its name to the 17 mirrors facing the 17 windows which reflect the beautiful gardens just outside the windows.

After our three nights in Paris, we caught an early morning 190mph high speed express train through southern France to Geneva, Switzerland. There we spent a pleasant two hours people-watching before we boarded another, but much slower, "local" train through the mountain valleys of Switzerland before arriving in mid-afternoon in the beautiful city of Lucern where we stayed overnight. As we travelled through Switzerland the scenery became increasingly spectacular, with tall snow covered mountains on each side of us and green, picturesque fields dotted with small villages down in the valleys. We lost count of the many quaint covered bridges we saw ouside our windows.

Our hotel in Lucern, the Hotel des Balances, was built in the 14th century and is located on the River Ruess, at the end of Lake Lucern. Our river view rooms overlooked the famous Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge), and the stone Wasserturm (Water Tower), also from the 14th century, which is Lucern's trademark and the most potographed monument in Switzerland. The hotel is in the older section of Lucern, which is filled with cobblestone streets flanked by shops, hotels and resturants in carefully restored buildings which are hundreds of years old.

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Aunt Mary enjoying her train ride from Geneva, Switzerland to our destination of Lucern. Outside it was overcast, but the scenery was enjoyable just the same, and the seats were quite comfortable. This sure beats being crammed in a small airline seat!

Yvette watching the Swiss scenery go by her window. Like Mother, like son - both Yvette and son Rick enjoy passing the time away watching everything going by outside the windows. And the route we took from Geneva, Switzerland to Lucern to Milan, Italy was one picture postcard scene after another. From Lucern to Milan we travelled through the Swiss Alps, sometimes clinging to the sides of the mountains, other times passing through the many tunnels which make the train tracks possible in these rugged mountains.

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Travelling by train in Europe is certainly a great way to get around. It's quite obvious in this picture that the ladies are enjoying themselves and are much more comfortable than if we had taken a plane. This is on the train from Lucern to Milan.

This is a view of our hotel, the Hotel des Balances. When we arrived we found out that our original room reservations had mysteriously been cancelled and rescheduled for the following month. The staff at the hotel was very understanding and helpful and even upgraded Yvette & Mary to a beautiful room overlooking the river. Mary & Rick's room was directly above. At the bottom right of the picture is the Chapel Bridge.

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This is Yvette & Mary's room, which happens to be the hotel manager's favorite. This room is much larger than the picture shows, with an intricate hand laid parquet floor, glass enclosed alcoves displaying art objects and a large balcony. The bathroom, which included a separate shower, a large tub, a two-basin sink, and a bidet(!), was larger than our rooms in Paris!

The view from Yvette and Mary's balcony. The stone tower is the famous Wasserturm, or Water Tower, and the covered bridge in front of it is the Kapellbrucke, or Chapel Bridge. The building to the immediate right of the tower is the train station. The white birds on the other shore are some of the hundred or so swans that live here year round.

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Our schedule allowed only one night in Lucern. The next morning we caught a taxi to the train station for our trip to Venice, Italy with a change of trains in Milan. After leaving the station in Lucern the train follows the River Ruess for several miles providing wonderful views of the Swiss countryside. Yvette was glued to the window, enjoying the spectacular views as we climbed higher into the Swiss Alps and the scenery became more rugged. We passed through many tunnels as we climbed higher, and in places the tracks were literally carved into the mountainside. Eventually we were high enough that we could see snow on the ground outside our train.

After passing through the twelve and a half mile long Simplon Pass tunnel, which marked the summit of our route, we entered a long valley and started going downhill towards the border into Italy. Here the sun was shining and we could clearly tell that we were entering Italy due to the different building architecture and signs on buildings which now were in Italian words.

A quick train change in Milan found us in a first class compartment which we shared with a retired couple from Canada whom we enjoyed talking to. The scenery was much more plain now, and when we finally approached Venice the excitement level certainly increased. After a water taxi trip to the dock near our hotel we relaxed for a short while and then ventured out into the Venetian night for a nice dinner before retiring to bed to rest up for tomorrow's exploration of this magical city growing right out of the water.

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As we entered Italy after passing through the Alps (literally, by way of the 12-1/2 mile long Simplon tunnel) we passed many lakes like Lake Luzanne. This perfect picture was taken by Mary as the train glided by on our way to Milan.

Our first picture taken in Venice. We had just gotten off the train from Milan, found an ATM to load up on Italian money, and were looking for the water taxi stand to arrange for our transportation to the dock nearest to our hotel. The Ponte dei Scalzi, or Scalzi Bridge, in the center of the picture, is one of only three that cross over the Grand Canal, and one of over four hundred in all of Venice.

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Yvette, Mary and Mary on the Rialto Bridge, one of only three bridges that cross over the Grand Canal in Venice. Behind them can be seen the buildings which are literally at the edge of the water. The grand canal is equivalent to a busy boulevard in a normal city. At the left center is a "vaporetto", or water bus, a popular and often crowded way to get around on the canals.

Mary and Yvette in front of the famous Bridge of Sighs. Prisoners who passed through the covered bridge from the courthouse on the left to the prison on the right gave it it's name. The name derives from the sighs that would escape their mouths as they caught the last glimpse of the sun before descending into dark, dingy cells.

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Mary and Yvette during their gondola ride. What a great picture! For an hour we were treated to a picturesque ride through the canals of Venice, while being serenaded in Italian by a singer accompanied by an accordianist.

Mary, Mary, Yvette and Rick pose for a group picture during our gondola ride. Originally planned for our first day in Venice, we postponed it to the next day due to a light rain which started to fall just before we were scheduled to depart. Our gamble paid off! The second day was dry and not too cold, and we all enjoyed ourselves much more than we might have on that first, rainy day.

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When on vacation it's time to give in and eat those foods you probably don't normally eat. Here is Yvette enjoying a banana split at a cafe on St. Mark's Square in Venice, thousands of miles from the nearest "31 Flavors" ice cream parlor. Vacations do seem to bring out the child in us, don't they.

A picture worth a million bucks of a mother and her son posing in front of the fountain at their hotel in Venice. Originally a 15th century palace, this four star hotel is tastefully decorated, very comfortable and close to the Rialto Bridge and St. Marks Square. The fountain is in the courtyard just ouside the hotel's cheerful breakfast room where we had just enjoyed a tasty breakfast buffet!

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Rick, Yvette, and Mary having a before dinner drink in a sidewalk cafe on the edge of the Grand Canal. The Rialto Bridge, the most famous in Venice, is in the background. There are several sidewalk resturants located here in which we ate dinner a couple of times. Watching the boat traffic on the canal, as the sun sets and the nighttime lights start to glow, is a pretty special way to spend an evening!

As our time in Venice was coming to an end, we all went to bed that last night dreaming of our next destination, Rome. But we were awakened around 5:00 am by distant noise, sounding like empty barrels tipping over, or a Reggae band playing the same notes over and over, or maybe it was pranksters pounding on large metal trash bins.

As the noise became louder we suddenly realized that it was raining hard outside and that the noise was thunder! None of us had ever heard such loud and frequent thunder as that night, even aunt Mary who lives back east where thunderstorms are much more common than for the rest of us who live in California. The thunderclaps were so loud that the windows literally rattled from the force. The narrow alleys of Venice made the noise even louder. And the rain came down in buckets!

We were scheduled to catch our train around noon, which meant that we had to catch a water taxi at the nearest loading dock, which was several hundred feet away down uncovered alleys from the protection of our hotel. Plus, we would have a similar distance to cover from where the water taxi would drop us to the train station. Although we all had umbrellas, we had prepared nothing to protect our luggage. We envisioned arriving at the station with waterlogged suitcases with our damp clothes and ruined souvenirs inside.

But a miracle happened! Just fifteen minutes before we had to leave, the rain stopped! We made it to the water taxi with the help of the hotel porter who loaded all of our luggage onto a cart and who then wheeled them all to the dock. No rain!! We made it to the taxi stop near the station, and unloaded ourselves and our luggage. Still no rain! We made it to the station and as we were climbing the last steps and through the doors, the rain started up with a vengance. We had done it! We beat the rain just in the nick of time.

As our train left Venice promptly on time, the rain got even heavier and stayed that way over much of the trip. As we approached Rome the weather gradually cleared up and when we arrived the sun was out in a bright blue sky, and that was the way it was for the last three glorious days of our vacation.

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Mary taking a break in the Vatican Museum. This museum, made up of over 1,400 rooms, would take at least three days to walk the over four miles of hallways and stairs. We instead took shortcuts in order to visit the Sistine Chapel in a reasonable three hours.

Yvette, Mary and Mary at the Vatican Square with St. Peter's Basilica in the background. St. Peter's is the largest church in the world and is truely spectacular, both inside and out. This was on our first full day in Rome and after we had visited the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. The weather had warmed up enough that we did not need to wear our jackets.

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By pure luck we happened to be at the Vatican when the Pope made an appearance and spoke, and then blessed, the crowd below. We had been there before and wanted to return to see if a Mass might be in progress. As we walked up we noticed that the crowd in Vatican Square appeared to be waiting for something. We asked one of the polite Vatican police officers what was going on. He told us that the Pope was appearing in a few minutes, pointing out where he would appear, and suggested the best place to stand for a good view. The Pope spoke for about fifteen minutes and finished by blessing the crowd below. We consider this moment one of the highlights of the trip.

Rick, Yvette and Mary in front of the famous Trevi Fountain. We all followed tradition and tossed a coin over our shoulders. Legend has it that by doing so we will return some day. Apparently the legend works, because Mary and Rick tossed coins on their trip last year and here we were, this time with the added pleasure of having Yvette and aunt Mary with us!

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Mary, Yvette and Mary enjoying drinks at the small sidewalk cafe in front of our hotel.

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