gmhTODAY Spring 2022 - Page 32

J . Chris and Larry Travel the World :

A European Trip of a Lifetime

By Crystal Han and Larry Mickartz Photos by Larry Mickartz

For as long as J . Chris Mickartz could remember she has wanted to visit Europe . Between family life and publishing gmhToday magazine with her husband , Larry Mickartz , she never had time to travel . Now that she and Larry have retired , she was finally able to take the European trip of her dreams .

The pandemic gave the couple ’ s European cruise trip a rocky start . It was canceled , rescheduled , and then canceled again due to lockdowns and Covid surges . When Larry and J . Chris were finally able to go in October 2021 , they weren ’ t allowed to roam as freely as they could in pre- Covid times and they couldn ’ t visit some of the ports they hoped to , most notably the Grand Canal in Venice .
Traveling during the pandemic did come with a few silver linings , however : Their Viking cruise ship only had two hundred passengers onboard , far less than its nine hundred capacity . “ There were just as many staff as there were people on board , so you can imagine the kind of service we received ,” J . Chris said . Restaurants that normally required reservations were available for walkin every night . Larry and J . Chris were able to dine at the Captain ’ s Table — a place where they pair wine with different dishes — on three occasions . Had the ship been at capacity , they would have been lucky to dine there once .
Although conditions weren ’ t ideal , Larry and J . Chris didn ’ t let it stop them from having a good time . Before their cruise began , they spent three days in Tuscany , Italy , where they stayed in a villa that was built in 1408 , with a picturesque view of rolling hills and vineyards . While they spent most of their time touring Florence , Siena , and San Gimignano , they were able to catch one of the villa ’ s gorgeous sunset views .
Of all the places they visited in Tuscany , the little hilltop city of Siena was J . Chris ’ favorite . Home to the famous University of Siena , half of the city ’ s 54,000 residents were students , who gave the area an atmosphere Larry described as a “ very young , bouncy , medieval town .”
As a catholic , J . Chris enjoyed the story of how , after the St . Catherine of Siena Catholic Church was bombed in World War II , they preserved remnants of the original church and built around it . She and Larry also loved learning about Siena ’ s Corsa del Palio (“ Course of the Banner ”), called “ the Palio ” for short , a horse race that consists of three turns around Siena ’ s main city square , the Piazza del Campo . Ten professional jockeys are chosen from the city ’ s seventeen ward organizations , called contrade , and they dress in their contrada ’ s colors and race bareback through the square .
Larry and J . Chris were blown away by the magnitude of the event . “ The courtyard wasn ’ t that big and there ’ s like forty thousand people that came to it . And I ’ m sitting there going , ‘ how do you fit the people , much less the horses ?’” J . Chris laughed .
They were particularly amused that a horse didn ’ t need a rider to win . “ The last race they had in 2019 , the rider fell off and this particular horse won ,” Larry said with a grin .
Although they weren ’ t able to witness the Palio in person , the videos and the stories their tour guide told them helped bring the event to life . “ It was phenomenal . I really enjoyed it , and I know that part of it was that she was such a good guide ,” J . Chris said .
From Florence , the couple ’ s cruise had a dazzling start in Venice , where they took a gondola ride through Venice ’ s iconic waterways . J . Chris felt that riding the gondolas at night made it more romantic . “ There were a lot of lights and people hanging over their balcony saying ‘ hi ’,” she described . One of the gondolas in their group even had an accordion player and an opera singer .
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