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Angels Lead Us Home

We’re at the Airport, or more precisely and formally, “Liszt Ferencz International Airport.” On boarding passes and baggage tags, is written “BUD” bound for “YYZ” (Toronto).  It’s August 26th. Tonight, we’ll be home. This is a joy filled moment.


The trip home today has surpassed all my expectations. This morning, the courteous and ever-helpful front desk clerk printed our boarding passes and summoned a taxi for us. He negotiated the fare to the airport in advance, allaying Tom’s fears. The cab was prompt and spotless, the driver polite and helpful. He even folded down the front seat and pulled it forward, unasked, accommodating Tom’s size thirteen feet. We spent the long ride to the airport giving thanks Tom wasn’t driving. That was joyful. We felt God’s guiding hand leading us home.



On the plane from Budapest to Amsterdam, I was entertained by a most interesting, generous and kind man. When I struggled into my seat, he very carefully cleared the seat belt to the side. Our conversation began with my thank you. He seemed to want to talk so I asked him if he was visiting in Amsterdam.


“I’m Dutch,” he said, “And I’m heading home to Amsterdam.”


We talked. Proudly he told me about Amsterdam and the places that it would be good for us to visit. In the end, he ordered from the duty free shop on the plane, a tin of special Dutch waffle biscuits and the neatest music box egg timer painted in the Delft tradition.


“These are for you and your husband,” he said, “a gift.”


He touched my heart with his generosity.


The plane had been late leaving Budapest, shortening our connection time. Our new friend, Eugene, led us through the maze of the vast Amsterdam airport. He made sure we had our documents verified and escorted us into the correct line up. He couldn’t have been more caring and kind. He was an angel in disguise. Meeting Eugene was a total joy-filled experience.


Our good God had yet another angel in store for us. When I boarded the plane for Toronto, I was pleased to discover that my seatmate this time was a lovely women from the Ukraine, who spoke very little English. We had a great time as we struggled to share info about our lives, our children and grandchildren. The stewardesses, through their access to her passport, had discovered that today was a her birthday. They, brought her a birthday surprise of lemon cake and champagne which she shared with us. I got to pay Eugene’s kindness forward as I helped her get the movie screen going and fill out the Canada Customs form we all have to fill out. She enjoyed her company even with the language barrier. It was a privilege to sit beside her.


We have been truly blessed by angels of joy to finish our special journey.



A Day on Our Own

We delighted in Budapest yesterday, our last day. We began with the luxury of a slow morning, nowhere to go but breakfast. After breakfast, a short walk brought us to a shopping mall. Two of the casters on one of our big suitcases had disintegrated. With help from the desk clerk, we found the mall and the equivalent of Walmart or Zellers or Sears. Suitcases in every size, color and price awaited us. We focused on lightweight, cheap and sturdy. Our new suitcase fits the airline requirements and cost only 16,900 FORINT. We were grateful that the exchange rate was 204 FORINT to the Canadian dollar.


An afternoon nap prepared us for the rest of our day. We packed and weighed suitcases until our “stuff” was organized. The hotel clerk identified for us a live “Folklore” concert that evening, sold us the tickets and wrote down directions for the subway and concert hall. The Hungarian words seem to have an excess of letters, which makes them hard to remember. The tickets were worth every penny/FORINT. We soaked in a history of Hungary, superbly recounted in almost two hours of professional traditional dancing, singing, and orchestra. The evening was a highlight of our trip. Tom and I decided that we much prefer concerts and dramas to touring palaces. We returned to the hotel joyful and proud. With some good advice, we’d planned our own evening, found our way to the concert hall and back on public transport, chosen a fine Hungarian restaurant for supper, and experienced an awe-inspiring show. We crawled into bed still smiling.


One More Step to Home!

Yesterday morning, we disembarked in Budapest. Scenic had a big meeting room set aside in the Marriott Hotel for any of us who needed it. We left our luggage in a secure room. With two lovely couples from Australia, we walked over to the biggest local market in the twin cities.

As we wandered, I finally bought souvenir gifts for our grandsons. We had a lovely conversation with the young woman working in the stall. She and her husband had lived in Canada for a while. “My husband was homesick,” she said. “We returned home.” We talked a while longer. It felt good to connect with one person in this huge market that covered about three city blocks.

An hour and a half of noise and brightly colored stuff left us all exhausted. We stopped at a local café for an iced coffee. The men bought a beer. After resting a while, we three women continued perusing the shops on the way back to the hotel. By 2:30 it was time to say goodbye. We exchanged emails and offers of visits. We had enjoyed these new friends during our canal cruise. They were truly God’s gifts to us.

Tom and I took a taxi to our hotel. After checking in, we dragged our suitcases into the world’s smallest elevator. Without exaggerating, it was no more than 3 feet square. On the fifth floor, we unlocked the door to another tiny room with two single beds, not even pushed together. We’d endured single beds on the ship. We were too tired to care. We dropped our stuff and collapsed on the beds for two hours. Once awake, Tom agreed to ask for a main floor room. I was not ready to go up and down many times in that tiny elevator. The desk clerk agreed with a smile to moving us to the first floor, as low as we could go. That meant climbing one flight. There was no extra charge. I was grateful. To our surprise and delight, this room had a regular queen bed. For the first time since we left home, we could cuddle up properly. Now that was a joyful moment.

We unpacked, changed some money and walked to the Huszar, the loveliest Hungarian restaurant, for supper. The hotel had recommended this place and it was just great. We had chicken paprikash, and Hungarian goulash with the sides that accompanied it. They were served on a board platter for us to share. The food was delicious. The young man who served us was helpful and sweet. We took our time and enjoyed our dinner. Our extravagance included tea for me and apple strudel to share. The entire meal was a joyful moment.

After dinner we walked a bit, returned to our hotel and once again collapsed into bed. Our wonderful cruise has taken its toll. We are both exhausted. We slept well…



The Party Is Nearly Over.

Wow, what a fabulous final day on our cruise. This morning, we were given a guided tour as our ship cruised into Budapest. Hunor Nagy, our Hungarian tour director, spoke with pride as he pointed out the attractions that can be seen from the Danube and gave us the history behind them. Our ship docked across from the stately and stunning parliament buildings. He deserves a lot of credit for securing that docking space ahead of everyone else.

We spent the afternoon at the spa, enjoying the hot springs. My knees and back were grateful. Back on board ship, we experienced an hour of Hungarian traditional music and dance. Four young dancers and three musicians filled with exuberance entertained us with their artistry and agility.

Tonight, the captain sailed from our docking place down the river and back so that we could experience Hunor’s daylight tour of magical Budapest after dark. High above the city, their statue of liberty holding the olive branch of peace looks down with love. She is free. After World War II, the Russian Communists had put a red star upon her. In 1990 when the Russian soldiers left Hungary, the star was removed. Once again, she is a Hungarian symbol of integrity, peace, and strength.

The short evening cruise brought a perfect ending to a dream holiday. Now, I am sitting on our little veranda. I am looking across at the parliament building. Totally illuminated against the dark sky, this bastion of new democracy outshines any prince’s palace. My heart is filled with joy and gratitude.

Tonight, we gave a copy of my book, Spectacular Stella, to one of the young women who served us all day and evening for the last two weeks. She has a four-year-old son at her home in Croatia. Our small gift obviously brought her joy. She fetched her phone from her cabin to show us a picture of her beautiful son with the sparkling blue eyes and long eyelashes. Her love and pride in her little boy touched my heart. This day has overflowed with joy.


We woke up this morning in Vienna. Just the thought of being here filled my heart with joy. I like cruising while I sleep. It’s a wonderfully painless way to travel. Our first concert took place at the Spanish Riding School. That’s right, we actually went to a performance of the Lipizzaner Stallions. Both horses and riders amazed us. The sand floor arena in the centuries-old school gleamed under the light of chandeliers. The horses danced to the music of Strauss, Schubert and Mozart. Years of watching my daughter and later, my granddaughter practicing their riding has given me just enough knowledge to be deeply impressed by the skill and precision of these riders and horses. This was definitely a joyful moment.

After the show, Tom and I wandered around Vienna on our own. That meant we got lost. We were searching for St. Stephen’s Cathedral. As we wandered, we discovered a stunning rose garden. There were plenty of big churches. We’ve seen so many ancient towns that the buildings and churches are looking very similar. We finally asked for help and learned we had set off in exactly the wrong direction. That helped a great deal. Eventually we found St. Stephen’s. It was truly a joyful moment. We went inside to pray. I thought it was a good idea to give God thanks for the good people who showed us the way. From there we caught the shuttle bus back to the boat.

This evening we attended a special concert at the Liechtenstein Palace with the Vienna Imperial Orchestra. The music was excellent. Two opera singers performed arias and a duet, and two ballet dancers interpreted the orchestra’s performance of Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz. During their performance, they chose audience members to dance with them. Tom was thrilled to be chosen. It was a joyful moment for both of us. What a fabulous day.

Saltzberg and The Sound of Music







There are no words to describe the joy of this day. I think it’s mixed with my childhood, my love of stories and the wonderful movie the Sound of Music. Of course we are here, actually here in the Austrian Alps. It’s hard to believe.

This was our longest day. The boat docked in Passau this morning. Planned for us was a two and a half hour bus ride to Salzberg, lunch a show and another bus ride for 1 hour to Linz to meet the ship. Many people decided the bus ride was too long and declined the opportunity.

I was determined to go. I have enjoyed the movie and the musical, the Sound of Music for most of my adult life. Tom came along because the only other choice was a day on the ship or tramping through Linz by himself. I’m glad he came along and so was he.

The bus ride up the mountain was beyond description. Mile after mile, turn after turn, brought a wider view of the idyllic countryside. It felt like we were on an airplane looking down at the neat fields and villages. Vista after vista appeared with every break in the trees. The winding road was narrow. We thanked the bus driver when we got to the lodge. Already the day was filled with joy-filled moments.

The meal was yummy. The show opened with a beautiful young woman singing, “the hills are alive with the sound of music”. I felt like I was living a dream. My heart soared. Tears dripped down my cheeks. Every song, the ones by the kids, the ones by the handsome young man, instrumentals by the orchestra touched my soul. Even as I write this the tears pour down my cheeks. One of the last songs they did was “Silent Night” written by Salzberg’s Franz Gruber. It was introduced as a song of peace so much needed by the world.

We still have Vienna but as far as I’m concerned I have flown, flown on God’s Spirit. Thank you God. I’m glad, I’m a woman and can weep with joy when my heart is so totally touched.


This trip has been filled with joy filled moments. Wow. It was expensive. When I was planning it I struggled to spend that much money for a holiday for us when half the world is starving. Yet today, I understand what Jesus meant when he said to the woman who poured the nard on his feet and wiped them with his hair. “Leave her alone. I will not always be with you”. Sometimes it is good to just relax into the joy God gives you.

Healing has begun.

Today I sat at the front of the ship soaking in the beauty as we travelled down river. Mile after mile of idyllic peace. A yellow canoe cut through the sparkling green water. Occasionally, a small village nestled against the hills and protected by its tall church spire, broke the lush green of the countryside with white and blue and red. Today families enjoyed the tiny beaches. Children frolicked in the water at the river’s edge. This is a joyful morning. On this trip most mornings bring this peace.


When we arrived in Nuremberg, both of us decided to skip the historical documentation of WWII. Hitler’s Germany is a dark and painful blot on human history. Today’s German citizens feel the shame and the pain. Everywhere we’ve stopped we have seen the results of their hard work, rebuilding and restoring after the war. This is a monumental job, not just with their buildings but with their souls.


Instead we went on the walking tour of Nuremburg titled, a taste of Nuremberg. Mostly we saw the castle and some spectacular churches, Besides feasting with our eyes, we were given a sample of German gingerbread made with spices and ground nuts- a yummy cookie. We also enjoyed German sausage on a bun plus a generous sample of the local beer. The tour was delightful, the people of the city warm and friendly. Our taste of Nuremberg was delightful – a joyful moment a new memory of Nuremberg to lay beside the horror of Hitler and hopefully add to the healing.

Bishop’s Palace Residence

Bishop's Palace Residence
Bishop’s Palace Residence

On our excursion Monday, we toured the “Bishop’s Palace Residence”. Wow. I could not ever have imagined the opulence. Although much of the palace was destroyed during World War II, enough remained to restore it to its former splendor.

Ceiling Freescoe
Ceiling Freescoe

Today’s visit helped me to understand what the history books meant when they talked of the lust for power and wealth that existed within a few of the church leaders of the time. This palace was an official residence, built to impress and intimidate. As we followed our tour guide, I struggled to let go of the crimes against the poor that this structure represented, and see the beauty, creativity and skill of the art work. The frescoes, and gilded plaster sculptures on ceilings, around windows, across walls were breathtaking.


Ornate Baroque Architecture and Decoration

Cameras were not permitted, so I found these pictures by Andreas Faessler on Wikipedia. If you google the Wurzberg Bishop’s Palace, you will see many more pictures and learn a great deal more. No picture can capture the wonder of the artists’ works. The grace of line and color filled my heart with joy, even as I lamented the extravagance.

Afterward, we walked through the town and back to the ship.


The rest of this day – afternoon and evening – we ate, slept and danced. Three of our favourite things. It’s wonderful to be able to dance every evening and then walk back to our bedroom. We are truly blessed.


Solving the Mystery

Well, today was quite a day. This morning when I reached for my hearing aids on the bedside table, I found only one and the second battery. We took the bed apart. We covered the entire floor in the room with our hands searching for it. The maid came in and said, “You get ready for your excursion. Once you are gone, the butler and I will search. Don’t worry. We will find it.” By then I was upset and willing to give the responsibility to someone else.


I turned the search over to her with great joy. We left for the special Octoberfest celebration organized by a local town just for us. We ate special sausage and cabbage, all traditional, even apple strudel. They entertained us royally. Of course local beer and wine flowed like the river among us. While we ate, they sang traditional folk songs and asked us to join them on some pop songs from the 1950’s and 60’s. We had a grand time.

This was followed by a stroll through town with a local guide who also entertained us with lots of local history. It was obvious she enjoyed her job. She told us about the fate of the Jewish families in their town. She talked of the shame the German people felt. Carefully, she pointed out bronze bricks that were embedded in the cobblestones in front of the house where three generations of a Jewish family lived until they were arrested and carried off. “You will see more bricks in front of other houses,” she said. “My son and other youths from his school raised funds to purchase these particular bricks,” she said. “When children turn fifteen, they must go with their schools and teachers to visit a concentration camp so they will know about this atrocity. We don’t want to forget our shame. Our mayor stood in this square several years ago and apologized publicly for what the German Nazis had done to the Jews.

She pointed out many other things, some of which were funny. We saw the narrowest house in town, less than three meters wide. We saw a pair of skeletons above the sign for a restaurant that mark the place where a cemetery had been. We saw the flood lines marked on one of the houses. This town floods every seven to nine years. House insurance here is a problem.

When we returned to the boat, the mysterious hearing aid was still missing. We had a snooze. There was really nothing else to do. Tonight, we were scheduled for a special intimate dinner with a few of our new friends in the Portobello Café. When I was dressing for the occasion, I opened my special green jewelry carrier, the Christmas gift from Connie and family. Surprise! Hiding among the earrings was my hearing aid. It must have been entangled with last night’s earrings. Gratefully, I put it in my ear only to discover that the other one was no longer in my other ear. Tom was sweet. We searched until it was time to go for dinner. He found the battery, but no hearing aid. After dinner, we returned to our room. A careful search of the floor produced it, hidden under the closet floor. Needless to say, they are both now carefully nestled in my glasses case.

So where were my joyful moments today.

  1. When I was crying over my lost hearing aid, the caring and assurance of the maid was pure joy. Why? She took over when both Tom and I were defeated in our search. It was life-giving.
  2. Of course, ending the hearing aid mystery was certainly a joy filled and thankful moment.
  3. Tom’s loving attitude all day helped so much. Whatever he felt, he treated me with kindness and love through the whole ordeal and patiently helped me search both times.
  4. I was amazed that I was able to leave my worry and frustration back at the ship and enjoy the Octoberfest celebration. At one point, the entertainers gave us a beautiful Bavarian waltz. Tom and I danced, floated around the room. Yes, that was a joy filled moment.
  5. The guide’s description of the German attitude to the holocaust was not exactly joy-filled, but for me, it was an important learning, a story I needed to hear.


All in all, we’ve had a grand day. The leisurely pace of this wonderful cruise is fantastic. I’m thrilled.



August 9, Joyfilled Moments Are Easy.

August 9, 2016

I’ll add pictures tonight.

Wow! I slept 11 hours. That is a record for me, two nights sleep in one. Tom said he got up at 5 a.m. showered, went for a walk, read the paper and more. Now, he’s crawled into bed, and I’m awake.

Today was a lovely day. We started with the same, scrumptious hotel buffet – same as yesterday. Tom had already eaten when I staggered downstairs at ten a.m. One piece of advice for those travelling to Amsterdam: the “I Amsterdam” city pass is expensive, but worth every penny. The city pass also covers admission to most of the main attractions. Those really add up. We are enjoying being able to get on the tram whenever we choose. Service is frequent, often ten trams to the hour, and they take you anywhere – anywhere, once you figure out which tram, and in which direction. More than once today, it seemed to be taking us an extra long time to get to our destination. Tom finally asked the tram driver and discovered we were going the wrong way. Real men, swallow your pride. Enjoy the adventure of a very inexpensive city tour.

Once we arrived at the Amsterdam Centraal (yes, there are two ‘a’s) Station, we found the “Media Mart” right beside the Doubletree Hilton, where we rendezvous with our shuttle to the cruise tomorrow. This was the only place to purchase the adaptor we needed for the German style electrical outlets at the hotel. They are round, and recessed, and we do need our electronics charged up.  We walked back to noon mass at the oldest Roman Catholic church in Holland. A small pub beside the church advertised soup and bread for 5 Euro’s. Eating out is expensive here. The food is good. We had already received four joyful moments, two based on relief (computer adaptor, tomorrow’s rendezvous) The elegant ancient church brought us peace. Down the row from us sat a Buddhist monk, and up ahead a woman in a head scarf. I felt as if hope had joined us on our journey. Of course, delicious home-made soup and crusty bread fresh from the oven combined as “comfort” food: pure joy.

Well-fed, we walked to the nearest dock. We took the “Lovers” canal boat tour thinking it might be something special. It was. It gave us a joyful moment. The seats are arranged at tables – three on each side. Across from us were parents with a teenaged girl. Together, we figured out how to get the electronic guide to speak to us in English. Don’t always believe the LCD labels. One of ours said we were hearing Arabic. The shared confusion broke the ice. When the tour was over, we talked long after everyone else had left the boat. In the end, I gave them my card. Already, I’ve decided that finding moments of joy is easy.

The afternoon was fast disappearing. We thought we’d go to the Rijksmuseum, but decided to save it for tomorrow. A half hour wasn’t nearly enough time. Out came the guidebook. “Let’s check out the concert house. Maybe there’s a play on,” I said. Tom agreed. We couldn’t just ask Google because of course our cell phones are turned off. We hopped a tram. That’s when we discovered that jet lag was making Tom as directionally challenged as I always am. When we found it, the theatre was closed for renovations. The opera and ballet theatres had no shows this week. At that point it was nearly seven. We decided  just to get off the tram at any collection of restaurants and walk. We left the tram at the Rembrandt Park monument. The life-size bronze statues come alive, and you can touch them. Spectacular.

We walked for nearly an hour checking posted menus, looking for a reasonably priced supper. Once desperate, we stopped. God must have been looking over our shoulder. We found a pub down a side lane. It looked straight out of the “Three Musketeers.” The two of us ate for 30 Euros. I had a spinach, onion, camembert quiche with a shaved almonds top crust. My salad was fresh and pretty, the dressing savoury sweet. Tom enjoyed his smoked salmon pasta. All was delicious

Twilight arrived while we ate. The waitress directed us to catch the #2 tram to our hotel. A friendly woman at the tram stop showed us the direction we needed to go. Our day was over. Time for tea, this blog and bed. It’s been grand. Quiet and fun, interesting and challenging. We were truly blessed.