By Emily Bialkowski
In late November, Caledonia sisters Julie Lange and Kris Buege set out across the Atlantic to visit Lange’s daughter, Sadie Lange, in London, where she has been studying for a semester.
It was an exciting endeavor for all three ladies, who had every intention of squeezing as much as they could into their two-week time frame. Little did they know, however, that a series of events would unfold, making their jaunt across the pond extraordinary and possibly televised around the U.S.
Sadie Lange is a junior at St. Mary’s College in Winona. Her aunt Denise Sherrill, also a Caledonia native, studied at St. Mary’s as well and took advantage of the semester abroad program in the early 1990s. With encouragement from her aunt and others, Lange agreed to do the same. As her time overseas was winding down, Julie Lange and Buege agreed to fly over, enjoy some sightseeing and then bring Sadie back home.
The family reunited in historic London and spent six days enjoying all the sights, such as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, The Tower of London, Big Ben and Parliament. Other than Julie tweaking her ankle early on, the trip was fabulous but typical. Sore feet and keeping up was the name of the game.
“Sadie moved with the flow of the people much better than we did, and she would just go,” Julie said.
“I had been living (there) three months so I was used to the system and used to the pace,” Sadie said, adding that it was kind of comical stopping to wait for her relatives to catch up.
“I felt like a greyhound dog following the little bunny down the track,” Buege added.
When in Rome
Next on the list was a flight to Rome, which was a cultural experience on its own. Instead of the organized American version of boarding, the ladies found themselves out on the tarmac with mobile staircases leading up to both sides of the plane.
There was no assigned seating, and everyone was flopping up into the vessel with gobs of luggage since checking a bag could run $100. Passengers crammed their bags wherever they could and plopped down in any available seat. “It was just a little more chaotic,” Buege recalled.
But the group arrived no less for the wear and checked into their hostel, a budget-friendly accommodation where guests rent a bed and share a bathroom and lounge.
Visiting the Vatican was on the agenda next, and the ladies hoped to see Pope Francis, who has quickly earned popular status due to his habit of sneaking out and visiting with the sick, poor and having fun with those who come to see him.
The pope addresses those gathered in St. Peter’s Square twice a week, and Sadie, Julie and Buege waited for two hours in the cold – among thousands – to see this religious icon.
“It was amazing when the pope came out. He kept grabbing babies, hugging people, shaking hands and being with the people. I was tearing up. I’m thinking, ‘Get it together, Julie,’ and I looked over at Kris and Sadie who were choked up too,” Julie said.
“I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was just a really great experience,” Sadie added.
It was a satisfying day that included tours of St. Peter’s Basilica and The Sistine Chapel, they said. The trio intended to visit another section of Rome the next day but got off to a rough start.
After getting up later than planned and having trouble finding an operational money exchange, the ladies landed at the Piazza del Popolo, a large outdoor square.
“We just got there, and we were walking through when Julie noticed cameras, several of them,” Buege said.
As the three took bearings on what was around them, Julie advised her sister and daughter that they might want to stick around because it looked like something was going to happen.
Just then Buege noticed a familiar person. “I recognized the host even from the back,” she said.
It was Phil Keoghan, host of the hit reality television game show “The Amazing Race,” which pits teams of two against one another in a race, literally, all over the world.
“I took a second to process what was happening, and I said, ‘Shut up! We’re seeing a taping of The Amazing Race,’” Buege said, to which the host whipped around and said, “Shh! We’re taping a travel video.”
The ladies knew better, being faithful viewers of the show, and enjoyed a 15-minute conversation with Keoghan about everything from family to what happens between filming. The exchange was complete when the three were able to snag a picture with the famous New Zealander.
Fifteen minutes of fame
Keoghan excused himself when he received word that a team was headed his way and filming would commence. The trio walked a few blocks in the direction the teams were coming from and landed up at the Spanish Steps, a beautiful staircase that connects the lower Piazza di Spagna with the upper piazza Trinita dei Monti. The steps were built in the 1720s using Roman Baroque Style and are a common gathering place for people from all walks of life.
Upon arrival, the ladies recognized one of the Harlem Globe Trotter contestants, but it was contestant Jamal Zadran who solicited their help. In the show contestants frequently seek help from the residents with varying degrees of success due to language barriers. But these Minnesotans, no matter what the rest of the U.S. says about the northern dialect, spoke English.
The challenge was to acquire the date on the obelisk at the top of the steps, translate that from Roman numerals into digits and add that to the number of steps. The contestant then had to write that number on a postcard and present it to “the happy couple” at the top of the staircase. For every wrong answer presented, the contestant had to run back down the steps before trying again.
Julie, Sadie and Buege set out to assist Zadran by asking people, many of whom did not speak English, how many steps there are and what “D” equals in Roman numerals, among other questions. The intensity of the game impressed Buege, who said, “It kept striking me: It really is a race. These contestants don’t know who is ahead and who is behind.”
Having witnessed three teams enter the Piazza del Popolo, the threesome knew Zadran needed to act swiftly. Well over an hour passed as he and the Caledonians worked to answer the question. Zadran had to run the steps seven times before getting the thumbs-up.
Brimming with enthusiasm Zadran hugged the ladies and ran to pay for his cab before heading out. But just as he was paying the cabbie, the ladies noticed one of the Globe Trotters sprinting away.
“We were like go, go, go,” Julie said. To this day, they don’t know if Zadran and his cousin, Leo Temory, beat the Globe Trotters. They will soon find out when the Rome episode of “The Amazing Race” airs.
Even if you’re not a fan of the show, it might be worth checking out at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 13, on CBS. Here’s why: As Zadran sprinted off to finish the challenge, a cameraman pushed paperwork in front of Buege, Julie and Sadie urging them to sign. When Buege asked, “What am I signing?” the cameraman said, “If you want to be on TV, you’ll sign this.”
It’s unknown if their role in helping Zadran was significant enough for reality TV, but participating certainly made a lifelong impression on the family.
“It was a slow start to the morning, and we were just glad to get where we were going. Then I’m standing on the Spanish Steps thinking: I’m in Rome, which is one of my dreams, yesterday I saw the pope – I’ve been Catholic my whole life so it was incredible to me – and now I’m standing here having participated in a show that’s been part of my life. I realized how incredibly lucky I was with all the opportunities I was given,” Sadie said.
The family now waits for “The Amazing Race” Rome episode to air on CBS and is discussing having an “Amazing Race” party.