HJ/EDApril 10, 2006

Bette Luhmann enjoys trip to Paris

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Life for Bette Luhmann of Cokato is not a dress rehearsal. “This is the only life you have,” she said.

That’s why she booked a round-trip to Paris before she had made any plans. She had only six weeks to prepare, and she didn’t wait to get a travel partner either. She spent two weeks touring Paris, Venice and Rome from March 15 to 29.

“Life is short. Nobody could believe I really did that,” said Luhmann, a registered nurse at Cokato Manor Community.

“I’ve always wanted to do Venice in my heart,” Luhmann said of her choice of tours.

After she arrived, one of her favorite activities was sitting at the foot of the Rialto Bridge and allowing the reality of her presence in Venice soak in, said Luhmann, originally from Winona.

The Rialto Bridge is famous because shops extend across its length. At each corner is a fine outdoor restaurant with steps that lead directly down to the canal. The one corner that didn’t have a restaurant is where Luhmann enjoyed sitting, watching the gondolas and people go by, she said.

Venice is built on a series of islands. The Grand Canal is actually ocean water. There are no cars. People move about on foot, crossing bridges over the canals, or by boat.

Observing this activity created the most romantic moment of the tour. Luhmann watched some laborers unload boxes from a boat and they sang as they worked. “It was wonderful,” Luhmann said.

Because she was by herself, her time was unstructured. She could do what she wanted, go where she wanted, and even eat whatever she wanted.

“I can take my own picture,” Luhmann said, demonstrating how she held the camera in front of her and snapped her own photograph whenever she was in a special place.

The laborers weren’t the only ones who loved music. Music was one of the features that made Venice “magic,” she said.

Luhmann attended a very high-brow concert while in Venice. She also stayed in a bed and breakfast built in the 1800s for an Austrian consult, she said.

All the buildings in Venice are extremely ornate, decorated with sculpture and carvings at every turn. Every flat space is covered with paintings. “It’s just not America,” Luhmann said.

Although strolling around Venice was “in her heart,” the highlight of her trip was Rome. The antiquity of the city was ever present, she said.

The weather was warm. Luhmann loved how she could walk over and touch buildings from the time of Jesus.

“There’s something magical about being back in history of that time,” she said.

Luhmann wishes now that she had an extra day to spend in Rome. She had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, and visited Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, which she described as “awesome.”

Ancient Rome’s building construction fascinated Luhmann also. Luhmann’s husband, Wayne, who died seven years ago, was in the construction business too. He helped build the IDS Tower in Minneapolis and Mall of America in Bloomington. Her sons also are in construction.

So when Luhmann saw how the ancient Romans used primitive tools, no tower cranes, and still managed to create towering arches and the Colosseum, she was enthralled, she said.

The Colosseum was especially magnificent, although it disturbed her that its original purpose was to glorify death and violence. A tour guide pointed out to her that modern entertainment, such as Hollywood movies and videos, also often is violent. People who think of themselves as far more civilized than the ancient Romans enjoy watching violence as much as the ancient Romans did, he said.

Crime wasn’t obvious in Rome, however. “I never felt unsafe,” Luhmann said. “Almost all I did was walk, walk, walk.”

Luhmann also believes that is why she didn’t gain weight, although she was determined to enjoy the local food as much as possible.

On the other hand, Luhmann had the worst room in Rome. She called it a “closet,” because it was so tiny. Food was expensive in Europe too. Luhmann recalled that a bottle of wine was the equivalent of $1.50, a bottle of water was $2.50, and a Diet Coke was $3.50. It was strange that the soft drink cost more than wine, she said.

Luhmann was told everyone would be able to speak English in Europe, but that turned out to be false. In addition, there often were no street signs, or the signs were painted on the sides of buildings and the paint was faded. Luhmann adapted by pointing at the name of the place on paper she wanted to go to instead of trying to pronounce it, she said.

Luhmann has a good sense of direction so she didn’t get lost. She also used her digital camera to take photos of landmarks on the way so she could find her way back to her hotel, Luhmann said.

While in Europe, Luhmann traveled from city to city by train, another indulgence, because train travel is expensive. Luhmann wanted to experience as much as possible, though.

The food in Paris was exceptionally good, for example. Luhmann delighted in the best creme brule she ever had. It is a warm custard with a crunchy burnt sugar topping, she said.

Luhmann also ate at a swanky restaurant in Paris where four waiters in tuxedos served her. “It was a little bit unnerving but it was fun,” she said.

Luhmann liked the Eiffel tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the artwork in the Louvre the most while she was in Paris.

“Fountains are all over the place,” she said.

The architecture was often jade or gilded. Even the green beans in the market were laid out artfully, Luhmann said.

Luhmann started the trip traveling lightly. But buying things was irresistible, so she ended up getting an extra suitcase to carry it all, she said.

She hasn’t tallied all her expenses yet. She estimates, though, the trip cost about $3,000. And for a once in a lifetime adventure, it was well worth it, Luhmann said.

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