Michael & Danielle’s 2007 Newsletter
2007 was a year of many journeys: some revisited, some new, and some on-going.  In January, we again took time out for a ‘personal retreat’ at Esalen.  It’s the most wonderful place I know to let go of all the noise and edginess that comes from trying to manage everyday living in the 21st century; a welcome change of pace and perspective.  Another of our favorite ‘escapes’ to Big Sur is the Ventana Inn, and we were fortunate to take a few days in the early Spring to relax and rejuvenate. The above pictures are from Esalen and dogwood blooming at Ventana Inn.
In January we received the official announcement of Michael’s promotion to Aikido 5th degree black belt.  This level is only awarded by the Aikido Doshu (head of the art) during New Year ceremonies in Tokyo, Japan, and is a very high rank in this art.  In February, our teacher Frank Doran, Shihan (7th degree black belt), invited Michael to teach at our semi-annual Division
Training at his dojo (school) in Redwood City.  At that time he presented Michael with his shosho (official document of his rank).Michael also was an instructor at the Mt. Baldy Aikido Retreat in So. California and the Big Sur Weapons Retreat in Carmel Valley, CA.  Also, during the course of the year, Danielle was invited to teach at several other schools/seminars: Aikido of San Leandro, Aikido of Fair Oaks, Aikido of Santa Cruz, Heart of San Francisco Aikido, Mt. Baldy Aikido Retreat, and the Big Sur Weapons Retreat.
In April we travelled to Europe to train with our teacher, Frank Doran, at the Aikido annual seminars he teaches in Switzerland, and also to spend some time visiting friends and travelling. We flew first to Dublin, Ireland, arriving late morning
on April 7th,Michael’s 55th birthday! We were met by our Aikido friends Helma and Brendan (in picture above), and even though we’d flown all night, after a quick breakfast we headed off to the dojo for a couple hours of vigorous training! We were only in Ireland for 3 days, but we packed in a good amount of sight-seeing around Dublin and the surrounding environs: the Newgrange and Dowth mounds (ca. 3000BC), Mellifont Abbey, Monister Boice, and Glendalough ruins (see picture, above).  We attended Easter Sunday services at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral which is famous for its musical program.  The service included a performance of Mozart’s Mass with orchestra and the Palestrina choir, a truly uplifting experience! From Dublin we flew to Frankfurt, Germany where we picked up our rental car. Before we left the U.S. we decided that we would bring Danielle’s portable GPS unit, so we purchased the European map card for it. It was a very good decision that paid back countless times as we travelled on our own through Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria.  On the spur-of-the-moment, while driving to Zurich, we made a side trip to
   Strasbourg, France for lunch. We meandered a bit through town before finding a sidewalk café for lunch (left photo). When it was time to resume our travels, we simply asked the GPS to take us to Zurich and it
guided us out of town and back to the motorway. No worries! This was the 19th year Doran sensei has been invited to teach these seminars in Switzerland. On our first day there Doran Sensei (by now an honorary citizen of Zurich, I should think) and his Swiss wife, Ursula, played ‘tour guides’ for us and showed us some highlights of the city: where to find the best breakfast, the best spa, the best Italian restaurant, the best hot chocolate shop, etc. The great part of the seminar schedule is that Wednesday thru Friday the training takes place in the evening, leaving the daytime open for exploration. We were also blessed with exceptional weather - sunny and mid to upper 70s the entire week. (right photo, above: “Jules Verne” bar, Zurich, Switzerland, with Frank & Ursula)
  Thursday's class was in Luzern, so Danielle and I took a morning train for the 1 hour trip. We spent the entire day strolling along the Reuss river that runs through the center of town, stopping for "2nd" breakfast; then a bit further along, a
cappuccino while writing postcards; a bit of shopping; then lunch; then afternoon coffee... The picture, above left, is of Danielle standing on the famous 14th century wooden bridge in Luzern.  The Aikido class was in the evening, followed by dinner with friends, old and new.  All in all it was a very enjoyable day in a very picturesque city.  The training on Saturday was at the university in Zurich, with over 100 students attending.  Then next day Danielle and I continued our travels, driving through the Alps to Venice. Northern Italy and Switzerland and are so breathtakingly beautiful! I had the near-constant feeling that I was driving through
  picture postcards! We drove through the St. Gotthard Tunnel (10.5 miles), which is a bit creepy I must say.  We stopped for lunch at Lugano (right photo), and arrived late afternoon in Venice. We stayed
at a small, family-owned hotel, Locanda Ca Foscari (www.locandacafoscari.com) that had been recommended to us in the Sestiere Dorsoduro area of Venice. It was ideal for us: a fairly large (!) room, with bath, in a quiet but still close-to-everything location, for a very reasonable (by Venice standards) $100 per night.  We stayed for two wonderful days.  The weather was ideal, in the low 70s; the crowds were low, and the canals still relatively fresh from the winter-spring rains (we hear they can get rather ‘fragrant’ by summertime).  It was Danielle’s first trip to Venice, and my second. We had dinner that first evening at a nearby restaurant, and in keeping with Venice tradition we got quite lost walking back to the hotel. The next day we walked to the Rialto bridge and took the obligatory gondola ride: 20 minutes for $60! Later we strolled through San Marco square taking in all the famous sites seen in countless movies. That evening we splurged for dinner at the famous Harry’s Bar, starting off with a “Bellini” (white peach nectar and Italian sparkling wine) in the place where the drink originated.