Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Then they got back, and Miriam began to send me photographs. It was all, 'Here's me in my thistle hat!' and 'Here's us at Arthur's Seat!' and then...'Check out this doggie in the window!'
Innnnteresting. That would be the exact doggie whom we petted while Fru and Natalia chose various unique and antique whiskies for personal bottling. That would be the House Dog of the whisky bottling shop Cadenhead's (see below). We've met that dog. Her name is Maggie. She tried to eat Charles' shoelaces. She's... filthy. No, really, really filthy. But nice enough.
Some coincidence, no?
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Thursday, August 23, 2007
But after a summer in England, where we couldn't find an apple to our taste, it's profoundly pleasurable to eat a cold, crisp, sweet apple.
The English have apples, of course. But they don't seem that into the apple phenomenon, except in pie. And since they're allergic to cinnamon and sugar (or something, I dunno), apple pie in Britain is a tart, vegetable treat rather than the sugary, spicy, buttery dessert it can be here.
As for fresh apples, well...it wasn't the right season. Maybe that's why they seemed sort of sad. It could also be latitude. The apples in Maine weren't great, either.
We returned to the land of importation and immediately purchased a nice, plastic bag full of large Fujis. They're pure white inside, dripping with juice, and sweet as can be. Delish. Even the dogs love them, waiting (and in Boris's case, drooling) for me to finish so they can chomp on the cores.
So: point one for Kentucky. Apples.
Monday, August 13, 2007
1. At the airport, one has to get on a shuttle bus which goes to the Central Bus Terminal in Cork. I knew to buy a period return ticket (period return allows you to come back anytime within a month), because it would be cheaper. I knew to buy my ticket to Killarney period return because that would be cheaper, too. The tour people said to buy the Killarney ticket on the bus. So after I got the return shuttle tickets, I asked "Can I buy two return tickets to Killarney?"
Whoops! The bus driver exploded. He started yelling "It's too late now! You should have said! I already printed the ticket! It's too late now! You might have saved 6 euros, but not now! Just go sit down!!" etc. Full bus, screaming bus driver, totally embarassed tourist. And a charming welcome. A hundred thousand welcomes, indeed.
2. At the CBT, I got in line to buy our Killarney tickets. A girl came up and said that her bus was about to leave and she had the wrong ticket. She wanted to jump the queue. We all said fine, so she went up to the bulletproof window (in the bus station!! Bulletproof!).
She opened her mouth, but before she could speak, the girl behind the glass snarled "You asked for a ticket to X." "But I need to get to Y." "But you asked for a ticket to X!" back and forth this went for three iterations.
It was completely obvious - totally, utterly obvious, that the ticket girl knew when she sold the original ticket it was wrong. She did it anyway, and was now rubbing in the customer's ignorance on purpose.
Finally, the customer-girl said, "Can you do anything to help me?" and the ticket-girl said, "Yes, for 60p." So for 60 cents, she handed the customer the correct ticket and that woman ran off to try to chase down her departing bus. A thousand welcomes.
3. The same girl sold me two tickets to Killarney. I turned away, consulted the electronic board, and realized that there was no bus to Killarney. Also, the departure time showed four different buses. Who knows where they all went? So I went back to the window.
Miss Charming cocked her hip, turned her eyes disdainfully toward me and sneered. "What?" I asked which bus was the one to Killarney. "Tralee." Because that was obvious. It wasn't on the ticket. It wasn't on the schedule. Oh, wait - there were no schedules in the little display case. It was empty.
Then I paid 20p to use the filthy bathroom and we got on the bus.
See how things didn't exactly get off to a thrilling start?
I don't think we really started to warm up to Ireland until we checked into the Malton, a truly beautiful hotel in Killarney where the staff (that's right - Eastern Europeans to the last one. I had to spell my name. My Irish name. But hey - they were nice!) made us welcome. Finally.
A building site, where they are constructing an enormous block of apartments. They're clearly intended to be young, hip loft-y type dwellings, and to appeal to the young, hip Irish Tiger folks. So the wall that surrounds the site displays eight-foot-high photos with silly slogans, intended to convey the ultra-hipness of it all.
"Had She Discovered Ireland's Greatest Secret?" asks one with a pretty girl.
[Because a building larger than any other in town, with huge advertising posters on the outer wall, is a 'secret']
But here's what caught my eye. Someone spray painted under the girl's face: "Skyscrapers are gay."
Nice. Real nice.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Our last few weeks were so action packed, however, that there were few detailed updates and fewer pictures. We may or may not remedy that over the next few weeks - you just can never tell what time will permit.
So, a brief summary of the last few weeks of our trip will have to suffice.
The Three Peak Challenge:
We successfully summited the highest peaks of Scotland, England and Wales within 24 hours. Ben Nevis was a great walk and we made great time on the mountain despite the 30 foot visibility, 65 mph winds, and driving rain on the upper third of the mountain. Scafell Pike was the biggest challenge in some ways because the pre-dawn darkness in which we started complicated navigation and because two of us had significant knee and/or ankle pain on the way down. In my case, the knee pain was exacerbated by the 6 hour cramped van ride between Ben Nevis and Scafell. My limping descent set us back a bit on time, but we did so well on Ben Nevis we were still in the hunt for making our time. Our driver did a great job getting us to Snowdon quickly. As the weather was excellent (a first on the journey, BTW), we all agreed we should all attempt the peak despite my rather dodgy knees. We started the short trail up and had a great time of it until the last mile or two of it which went straight up. I'm talking as steep as a spiral staircase up a medieval castle tower, sans spiral. I slowed down to a virtual crawl while the rest of the crew sped to the top. When I finally reached the peak my friends were there to greet me. We had all just made the time for three peaks within 24 hours. The walk down was beautiful and alternated between and easy stroll and a painfully long walk in my perception of it. After a drive to Liverpool and quick showers at the hotel we feasted at an American-style restaurant on chicken wings, fried onions, steaks and barbecue ribs. We topped it off with some Ben Nevis whisky for a night cap. Good times.
By the time Fiona and I reunited, checked out of the apartment, rode to Heathrow and flew to Ireland we were ready for a relaxing week. Things started well at the the Cork Airport which was friendly, small and easy to navigate. We then had a dodgy 24 hours between a very low-rent bus station and bus trip, an unexpected lack of service and failure to deliver from our walking tour company, and a less than expected B&B experience. However, with the help of my good friend in Seattle via e-mail and good teamwork between F and me, we booked new accommodations and re-planned our entire stay in Killarney. We then enjoyed a relaxing time of walking to local attractions, searching for good pub food (in vain, sadly), and drinking our fill of Guinness, which is still the best beer in the world. While our Ireland trip was not what we planned or expected, we are happy to have made the most of it.
Return travel to the states was a sort of slow motion affair. Buses, cars, trains, and airplanes all factored into the travel. The bright spots were another night in Milton Keynes with Bart and Tony, a chance to meet the Tony's delightful mom, sister, niece and nephew (and say hello to his brother Mick one last time), and a night with Miriam and Will in Will's beautiful DC digs.
My Dad met us at the airport in Louisville to take us home. We returned to a well-ordered house, a newly landscaped lawn, various home improvements (new light switches, shelves installed, etc.), and two happy, happy dogs. I couldn't have asked for a better caretaker for our dogs and our home and must say that Dad did a great job for us.
Friday, August 10, 2007
However, there has been a change.
It is officially a million zillion degrees. Washington appears to shimmer, when it's not just dripping.
Miriam and Will kindly installed a wall-unit A/C in the guest room, which brings the temperature down to bearable.
We will, therefore, be living in this room until October. Thank you for your understanding.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Stage 1: bus from Killarney to Cork, night at a hotel at the Cork airport. In case anyone is ever in Cork (why? Dunno, but it might happen), the Cork International airport hotel is tres hip. It's an old hotel re-done as a boutique, and it offers you many things you will not find elsewhere (air conditioning, for example). They have their own bakery, where they were cooking gougettes while we walked by. Nothing like delicious cheesy puffs to make you like a place.
Stage 2: Up in the morning, over to the aiport for breakfast and then to the aeroplane. Once in England, we made our way through Heathrow to the Central Bus Station where we purchased bus tickets to Milton Keynes ('No! We don't take no Euros. We don't like them Euros!' in case you wondered, that was the answer at the bus station information desk). An hour and ten minutes on the bus, then a short ride to Shenley Church End with Bart and Tony.
Stage 3: Tomorrow, we head up to Heathrow again, jump on another plane, and fly over to Dulles. Miss Miriam Hauss awaits, breathless with anticipation. In fact, everything in her life has become flat and colorless as she anticipates our arrival. It's true.
Stage 4: Up on Friday morning, we board yet another plane at BWI to fly to Louisville, where John Halloran will pick us up and we will all drive back to Lexington. Cue dogs.
I'm tired already. Aren't you?
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
But before we departed, we decided to walk the 1km out to Ross Castle. It's a 15th century castle restored in the 20th century, and looked dark and spooky, as castles ought to look.
As we found with Muckross House (5k according to people and signs in town, then you walk 4k and get to a sign that says 4.5 k to Killarney, 1.4k to Muckross House. Uh...ok), the distance wasn't what you'd call...precise.
Instead, we walked for about an hour and finally arrived at the Castle. It was lovely, and we took photos that we'll post when we return to our computers. A stiff breeze over the lake only made it more atmospheric, and we enjoyed it thoroughly.
The castle represents much about the history of the area, since it originally belonged to a local family (Irish and Catholic) but changed hands during the 16th century. From that point on, the house and land shuttled between the Irish Catholic family and an English family (sometimes Protestant, then Catholic). They all intermarried, inter-mortgaged, and fought each other through the generations.
You can take boats to Inisfallen island (site of a 6th century Christian monastery) or back to Killarney on the lake. Or you can hike around, since the castle is in the Killarney national forest. You can even take a 'jaunting cart' (a horse-drawn buggy) to or from town. In all, it's a really nice outing and a very well-done spot to visit.
To reinforce our amusement over distances, though, were two signs. The first pointed toward town and read 3k to Killarney. The second, about 40 feet away, pointed in the same direction and said 2.6k to Killarney.
Our advice on Ireland? Good socks, good boots, and a nice bottle of water. The walk will be nice, but you really can't be sure when you'll get there.
Monday, August 06, 2007
On the other hand, every restaurant here seems to bring a pitcher of iced water to the table when you order a glass of water. Me likey.
I guess it's a trade-off. And hey - I like Cheddar.
In other news, we took a coach tour of the Ring of Kerry today. Photos in a few days, as we are not exactly teched-up right now. It was very scenic, and we can confirm that tourist-based businesses are cheesy in every country. The landscape looks a lot like the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, or the coast of California near Monterey.
Company counts, too. A group consisting of two or three elderly women and three barely-out-of-their-teens girls shared our part of the coach. The ladies were aunts, the girls nieces. They were charming, especially when the girls started shooting pictures of the cars that risked instant death by passing our coach on the road (going in the other direction - the road was narrow, our coach wide). The aunts would gasp and say, 'here comes another one!' and the girls would lean into the aisle and snap a picture. Pass it around. Ooh and Aah. Repeat.
Too cute, they were.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Saturday, August 04, 2007
We reached Killarney.
We spent the night.
We ate breakfast.
We are going to stay in Killarney for the weekend.
We have reservations at a lovely hotel starting tomorrow.
The weather forecast called for rain, but it's ok so far.
The hills are pretty.
Perhaps we're too tired at this stage for yet another country and all the little challenges it presents. The new arrangements, though, will make it possible for us to do the things we imagined doing (Irish music in a pub, for example) and we are hoping that our perspective improves once we're a little more happily situated.
We did enjoy a nice dinner last night. The restaurant managed to mix pretty details with a pleasant informality, so I didn't feel funny in my jeans. We ate a hilarious mix of cuisines: egg rolls and buffalo chicken wings to start, then lasagna and roast turkey and ham with french fries, then apple sponge (like if apple pie bottom had cake on top) and bavarian chocolate cake. So, to recap, that's China, the US, Italy, France, and Germany.
Details jumped off the plate as rather odd, too. For example, my vegetarian egg rolls appeared to be filled with linguine. No lie. But they tasted great, and they were hot out of the fryer so they steamed enticingly. Likewise, Charles' wings were delicious. The chocolate cake. Yum.
And all this on an early-bird menu (we're not ashamed to eat with the old folks) for 20€!
So today we'll go see if we can find Mongolian bratwurst or Banana pate or some other bizarre combo. Because it'll probably taste really good. With that, and a Guinness for the man, all will be well.
Friday, August 03, 2007
That's the news from here.
Suck it whigs.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile
That's the news from here.
Suck it whigs.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile
Thursday, August 02, 2007
1. Eat French food as much as possible.
2. Eat lunch out and dinner in the apartment.
We executed both plans to perfection, eating only two dinners out (the first night and the one night we just couldn't deal with shopping because all the shops were closed - Sunday).
Dinner worked like this: we bought a few staples at the monoprix: butter, balsamic vinegar, milk, tea, coffee. Then we supplemented with delicious things bought on our ramblings. I modeled it on the dinners Charles and I ate with Brian and Dominique, except that they usually had real food (stuffed tomatoes, poached fish, noodles), whereas we did not.
So we bought raspberries and figs and cherry tomatoes and cucumbers and plums and nectarines and blood peaches, and apricots and a huge head of lettuce and a melon at Au 4 Saisons on Rue Rambuteau. And then we bought (every day) a fresh baguette.
Down the street from the bread place (because of the prejudice that one can be good at bread or good at pastry but not both, which was entirely confirmed by us), we bought tarte au citron, tarte au raspberry, eclairs, tarte au pommes (pattern?), tarte au abrigot (? apricots, anyway), tarte au chocolat...
Then we bought cheese. I picked up two cheeses at the monoprix, including a comte that Brian got me when we visited Angers. I love that comte. The other was a rebluchon. We bought supplemental cheese at a shop on Rue des Archives, mostly goat cheese in that case, a cheese from Rocamodur and a St. Marillac. Or something. It was from Dauphine, anyway.
We bought a non-pork duck pate at the grocery (thanks to Dominique for showing me how to find them and making me brazen enough to buy pate in the grocery) because there I could read the ingredients and confirm the absence of oink.
Then we bought wine at the Nicholas on Rue Rambuteau. So for dinner every night we spread out fruit, salad, wine and cheese, pate and bread. The crumbs were something to see.
[Possibly there was also dark chocolate with hazelnut filling and Italian cherries soaked in armagnac and then dipped in dark chocolate and fruit jellies with sugar coating. But I'm not saying so.]
Lunch was more formal. There were tablecloths, waiters, and cutlery, for example.
We ate twice at Le Bouldogue, a fantastic brasserie on Rue Rambuteau (our food stomping ground, obviously). Cold pea soup, grilled veal chop, cream-poached leeks, country pate (yes, you can eat pate at every meal), salmon tartare (raw salmon, my favorite!!), little demi-liters of Sancerre...it was lovely. Watching the daily parade of French bulldogs added to the pleasure, though in future I wish they'd come over for a little kiss before waddling up the cast-iron spiral staircase.
We also ate at a cafe across the street from the BHV department store, at the cafe of the National Archives (the Terrasse, only ok but very friendly and helpful) and at the cafe I've already mentioned by the Bourse.
Our lunch there beat all previous records. First, I had those broiled crawdads on artichoke hearts. Mother also had artichoke hearts, but hers came with poached eggs wrapped in smoked salmon.
For the main course, Mother tried her best to eat the goulash. It was truly amazing beef stew, with the kind of thick, smoky sauce you never quite achieve in real life. The only problem was that they brought enough for a family of four, and Mother had ordered the formule. So she had dessert coming!
My main course was spectacular. They took a square plate, heated it up to supernova, then laid super-thin slices of salmon across it. They added a pile of buttery spinach to one corner, then poured on a light, garlicky cream sauce. The salmon cooked on the plate, all flat under the sauce.
Dessert? A soup made from citrus fruits, with supremed orange and pamplemousse (grapefruit) and a scoop of lime sorbet. And for me, though we shared dessert, what the cafe called a Cafe Gourmand: an espresso, a tiny pot of dark chocolate pudding with fresh whipped cream, two tiny cakes (small as your thumb) and an almond tuile cookie.
Oh, and wine and cafe creme and people watching and bread.
Eating in Paris? You'd have to be criminally stupid to mess it up. We did have one bad lunch, near Rue Rosiers in a place recommended by Rick Steves (grrr...). But there the service was very sweet, and I should have known better when I saw the menu. There was a cheeseburger on it.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Cue laughter. Oh, those terrible Americans!
But we've actually seen very little of that behavior this summer. Once, we observed a very cranky man make a scene in an Indian restaurant because our table received food before his meal arrived. He was a jerk. In his defense, though, the service was haphazard and his wife was at least 6 months pregnant. Getting some food on the table mattered to him. Still, he was a jerk.
In the train station today, I overheard a petulant, unattractive teenager dressed in what appeared to be pajamas (in the Gare du Nord!!) complaining 'I'm tired and sick, get me a chair!' to her frazzled parents. She, and the parents who put up with it uncomplaining, personified the unpleasant tourist. Thank God they bought business-class tickets. I heard that with glee, since it meant that they Absolutely Would Not sit with me.
These are petty moments, though. They don't rise to the stereotype in the movie, and they don't suggest any real conflict between Europeans and Americans. In both cases, it's just bad behavior.
But in Paris, during our lovely lunch by the Bourse, Mother and I watched the stereotype unfold before us.
A couple walked into the place, and Mother said, 'you figure they're American?' Maybe. They were both large, and the man wore shorts with a dressy short-sleeved shirt of the type you see a lot in Miami. He had on docksiders, too, which to me is a very American shoe. She wore a tropical printed shirt and had very long fake nails. Hmmm....Texas? Alabama? (surely not Alabama. Lawrence Culver expelled all the tacky people, didn't he?)
They walked back and forth between the two cafes on the corner, and we watched them from behind our wine. They made icky-faces at the menus, apparently not keen to eat salmon or steak or chicken or salad or...or...or... Finally, they settled on our cafe, and sat down. Right away, it was obvious they would not be happy.
No 'Bonjour!' for the waiter, no drink order. Then the English menus appeared, emblazoned with British flags. Uh oh. They sat for almost 20 minutes, trying to decide what to order, no drinks, no attention from the staff. Mother dubbed them Ed and Lurline, and we waited to see what would happen.
I should say, at this point, that the cafe was packed. Of all the tables, only 4 held people clearly not French. There was the table with 2 Italians and one French woman, the table of 3 lovely Italian or Spanish girls who spoke French, and us. We spoke French whenever possible and ordered in French and ate three courses and ordered wine. We were 'good foreigners.'
All those tables, ours in particular (probably because of how much we ordered), received impeccable service. Service with a smile, service attentive to the need for a new fork, more bread, whatever we needed.
But not Ed and Lurline. They sat, and sat. Finally, they gave up. We watched them leave in total disbelief.
For one thing, it's not clear to me what their real sin was. They looked kind of touristy, and they got English menus. But they didn't scream or complain or otherwise make a scene.
On the other hand, they never waved for a waiter or spoke to the staff, even though this cafe had 20 tables crammed into a space the size of my thumbnail. They sat there like planked fish.
It was bizarre. Both of us felt sorry for them. They seemed completely lost. What were they doing in Paris? Why wouldn't they even raise a hand on their own behalf?
Given Charles' ecstatic reaction to Scotland (now including Glasgow, which he loved), maybe some people are simply suited for some places. For Mother and me, Paris was perfect. For others, not so much.
In contrast, this beautiful church, attached to a gorgeous little park where old men play boules and lovers check each other's tonsils for polyps, offers the experience one is supposed to find in a cathedral setting:
Looking up brings stained glass and paintings, altar-pieces and statues. With no one in the way, you can wander along the chapels in the walls, reading the plaques to see who dedicated them, who is buried there, and other interesting little facts.
The view above isn't always about art. In other cases, it's about architecture. The fact that this building could be created by people who didn't know about germs is such an interesting comment on the way that knowledge moves forward and the things that drive innovation. You can see immediately that builders reached for ever-more inspiring spaces, in order to glorify the religious faith the building served.
Mother loved it, and so did I. When we entered, an organ concert was in full swing. Several hundred people sat quietly, listening to the magnificent organ playing an incredibly spooky piece of music. The audience listened so intently that I hesitated to take photographs for fear that the sound of the lens clicking would disturb someone.
If you find yourself in Paris, don't worry about Notre Dame. Instead, head on up to Les Halles. It used to be the "Belly of Paris," and now it's a mall. Have a tasty lunch at one of the gazillions of restaurants around there, then walk fifty feet toward the big stone building. If it looks like the one above, you didn't hear it from me.
On our second visit, Mother was especially keen to see Napoleon's apartments. We misunderstood, assuming that they would be the apartments of the Napoleon. Not so. They actually housed not the Emperor who embraced the ancient world and its aesthetic values, but the Emperor who embraced ladies who amplified the size of their rear ends.
We walked through one room after another, marveling at how much gilt, carving, and ornamentation one family could cram into a single set of rooms. Finally, in the grand salon, a room where entire factories of red velvet came to die alongside potted palms and gilded chairs, I turned to Mother.
I opened my mouth (cue slow motion) and she said, 'it's the proverbial French whorehouse.' No need for me to speak, obviously.
So let's revise history a bit. Napoleon III lost his crown and his country not because he met defeat at the hands of the Germans. No, the French kicked him out for one reason and one reason only. He was tacky.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
[Dude, nothing can match a cup of English tea and shortbread. Nothing, dude.]
I know my thoughts have been read at the top levels of Paris government, because a campaign has begun to make me leave. How has this been accomplished? Consider these facts:
1. This morning, no sooner did I jauntily say 'These stairs are slippery!!' than I did fall about ten steps, down down down. On my booty. I have a bruise that would make certain people feel very frisky. You know who you are.
2. At lunch
[Digression: if you really want to see men eat, I suggest lunch near the Bourse in Paris. These are stock brokers, bankers, etc. I think they must do very well, because they seem to have a spirit of celebration. Witness the table of 3 who consumed a 5 course lunch plus beer, a bottle of wine, and a bottle of champagne - Moet, says Mother. Lunch was like television, except sunny, and with pudding.]
So, at lunch, I ordered an appetizer of broiled crawdads on artichoke hearts with a little veg in cream. Yurm. The waiter says to me, 'the plate is hot.' Yeah, ok. Then I reached for my knife and accidentally touched the plate. I now have a one-inch red burn to show for it. And I gasped loudly enough to attract a few stares.
What other conclusion can I draw from this, than that the city itself seeks my destruction? I have said too much, embraced it too liberally. Now, they fear I won't ever leave. The city supply of tarte au citron will never survive, so they resort to drastic measures. Zut Alors!
I have this to say to Paris: I love you anyway. Even if it's the kind of love that makes you call a hotline.
Monday, July 30, 2007
a. The woman at the Louvre who personally walked us over to the correct entrance so Mother could use the elevator to get under the Pyramide.
b. The waitress last night, who wiggled over to us, dancing to the Brazilian pop music, to smile and charm and bring us Armagnac. She chatted, and winked, and was generally the cutest thing. And her colleague the bartender, with his tiny devilish mustache, took a break from shaking his booty to wish us well as we departed.
2. There is no handicap accessibility in Paris: In fact, practically everywhere has been just fine. At the Louvre, there's an elevator every 20 feet (partly because they change the elevation of the exhibit constantly), at the Pompidou elevators and escalators take you wherever you wish to go, and people have been charmant about singling Mother out for special accomodation. They see that she limps a bit, and they pull her out of line to take the lift.
3. There's no tipping: Ok, actually the guidebook says that a 5% tip is a good thing if you had a really good time, and since we seem to have a really good time everywhere...we are tipping a little. But it's hardly a problem, especially since the exchange rate on the Euro is better than that on the pound.
4. Salesclerks are rude: In fact, every shop into which we venture greets us with a cheery 'Bonjour!' and then either gives us space or smilingly checks us out depending on what we wish. And the shops are beautiful. Beautiful.
So. Today the theme is "Encore." We will return to the Louvre and the the Centre Pompidou, since with our passes we can go back anytime. Then we will have a huge lunch and buy snackage for dinner (eclair, tarte au limon, tarte au chocolat, baguette, fromage, pate, figs, melon, and wine). It's a terrible life.
Meanwhile, Charles, Devin, Gary and Gary's lovely daughter have finally embarked on their epid mountain climbing journey. Wish them well as they scamper up 3 mountains in 24 hours, then seek out a nice, cold beer.
[At the Louvre, entering the salon devoted to the history of the Louvre: I say to Mother, 'That's Francis I, Catherine d'Medici's father-in-law.' She says, 'How can you tell from over here?' 'The nose.' Big nose.]
Sunday, July 29, 2007
So far, Paris is as pleasurable as Angers, though more challenging. Mostly the challenge is that there are a gazillion-bazillion-tamillion tourists here, and they tend to get in the way. We don't count, naturally. The other challenge is that Mother's doctor gave her a knee brace to wear. The brace makes walking quite difficult for her, and thus even a short walk takes a lot longer and is a lot more tiring than it ought to be.
So we are staying in our neighborhood (the Marais) and using taxis to get to places more than 10 blocks away, like the Louvre.
Contrary to rumor, we've found no rude Parisians. Of course, I find New Yorkers charming, so perhaps I have a bad radar. But here, everyone smiles, they say 'bonjour!' constantly, they inquire about our needs, speak English when they think we need it (which is about half the time), and offer us nothing but courtesy and assistance. I read an article which made a huge deal out of getting a Parisian waiter to smile a tiny bit.
Piffle, I say. On the first day, a waiter grinned at me, on the second day he winked at me as we left, and on the third day two waiters might have been our best friends.
It's true, that crossing the street is a challenge (crazy drivers!), but not as much of a challenge as in London. At least twice, in London, I thought I might die. Charles was hyperventilating. Here, people don't seem to drive as fast, and we don't get the kind of angry gestures, either.
Yesterday, we visited the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, the Orangerie, the Tuileries Gardens, and the Centre Pompidou (the best of the lot, truly wonderful). Having flexed our tourism muscle, we are taking a bit of a breather today to check email, have a leisurely lunch, and then go see this little place called the Louvre. I figure 20 minutes for that, then shopping.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
[Ok, that's the replica. The real one's in a glass box surrounded by vicious tourists. And I didn't really get up close and personal with the Museum guards. Probably for the best.]
By contrast, the only place at Edinburgh Castle that gets too crowded is the 12th century chapel dedicated to St. Margaret. The reasons for the crowding are two-fold: first, it's got only one door, and second, it's about 20 x 10. Teensy! In there, claustrophobia takes hold. Otherwise, the castle is pleasantly open and easy to navigate.
Lots of historic places suffer from the ills of reconstruction. This is true for Edinburgh like everywhere else. One example is the great hall. It was built quite a long time ago (1511, to be exact), but during the English Civil War (that's mid-17th century to you), Cromwell's fellas used it for stabling their horses. Not very nice.
Then, in the late 19th century, the hall was restored to a Victorian fantasy of 16th century design. Naked nymphs frolic on the corners of the fireplace, if that gives you a sense. Of course, the walls are literally covered in pikes, swords, helmets, and other elements of warfare. So it's a nice balance.
In that room, Historic Scotland (which runs the Castle) provides an outstanding example of historical reenacting. It's not outstandingly intellectual, nor outstandingly 'authentic' (whatever that means this week). But it captures the attention of hundreds of people every hour, because it's true living history.
What I mean is that it uses artifacts and Scots history as if these things belonged to living people (which they did) and as if they were worth knowing about (which they are!). This is not an obsessive attempt to make things perfectly resemble the past; it's an attempt to get people interested in what happened and why.
So, for example, the reenactors (who are hilarious) vividly describe the many uses of the pike, how it could go in through your mouth, into your spinal column, and out your skull. Or, if you prefer, how it could enter your body through the gut, twirl your intestines like spaghetti, then pull them out with a jerk.
They also explain the uses of the scottish broadsword, and demonstrate the catch mechanism on the hilt that allowed them to either take the blade (thus preventing the other man from striking) or disarm the other fighter.
Like everyone else we met in Scotland, these 2 reenactors might have been standup comedians. They managed to capture the attention of two hundred people for 45 minutes while those folks sat on a cold stone floor. The teased, and complimented (notable, 'Ye're too pretty to stab in the throat, darlin' Awww...), and generally held us all in the leather-clad palms of their hands. It was great.
But what I liked best about it was the way that they treated history. None of the false earnestness you so often see. None of the pretense to haughty expertise, intended to make the audience feel reverential not so much toward the story as toward its teller. They loved the past, and they wanted everyone else to love it, too.
Normally, I hate tourist crap. Charles literally had to drag me out of the dungeons (!!) to see these two perform. And he was right, as usual. So if you go to Edinburgh Castle, don't run away when you see the sign for a 'historical performance.' Get a seat in front, but don't answer any questions.
You might end up with a pike in the mouth.
1. Both are reknowned for dour, silent people. In fact, however, when you go there you can't get them to stop talking.
2. Both have rugged, rocky coastline famous for seafood.
3. Both have coastal cities of moderate size, full of art, history and shopping.
4. Both have historic ties to France (Maine was part of New France, while Scotland had the Auld Alliance).
5. Both remained colonies of larger (not beloved) neighbors for a long, long time (Scotland and England, naturally, and Maine/Massachusetts).
6. Both welcome tourists from nearby, but don't really like them (see above).
7. Both have funny accents.
8. Both are on the far northern edge of their nations.
9. Both are cold, but hardy (and dislike whiners).
10. Both are frugal.
11. Both contributed soldiers to the American Civil War.
12. Both are very 'green'.
Hmmm....no wonder we liked Edinburgh so much.
Monday, July 23, 2007
England is a rainy country. Everyone knows this. We prepared for it, bringing rain jackets and telling ourselves we would be sanguine about heavy clouds and moist towels. Once here, we suffered through a first morning of terrific rainfall, blowing wind and cold temperatures (in the 50s in May).
But who knew? That was child's play.
As of today, we're enjoying the wettest summer on record. They've been keeping records since the 18th century, in case you wondered. May and June both broke rain records. But wait, there's more:
Last month, York and other northern areas flooded. This week, it's Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. The rivers Severn and Thames are full and overflowing, leaving towns like Tewkesbury and Abingdon under water. Oxford itself is not yet flooded, though the rivers (Thames, called Isis here, and also the Cherwell) have jumped their banks.
This morning, as I walked to the library, people were gathered at the Magdalen Bridge, watching the river. I saw a motorbike rider prairie dogging it, popping up on his pedals to look out over the water. The path we used to walk through the park is no longer available to us, because the bridges are closed. Punting? Not safe, though on the telly they showed one enterprising man punting along a sidewalk to get back to his home.
[Punting: pushing a flat-bottomed boat with a pole. Generally a pleasure-filled pastime of undergraduates and tourists. Beware the swans. They bite.]
The rivers have not yet reached their peak, because water continues to flow south from northern sources. In addition, the Thames is affected by the tide. So as the tide rises tonight, the river will rise as well.
The weather forecast calls for more rain on Wednesday and Thursday. Lots more rain.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Also, anyone who chooses to enlarge the second picture will note, on the left, a barrel with a spigot in it. That picture was taken in the whisky store Fru found. They bottle whisky for you, on demand. So that barrel? Full of scotch. Gallons of the stuff.
I finished Harry Potter. Now what?
At Blackwell's, there were live owls (really!) to examine, and a friendly staff making little jokes. "Got yer book right here, mate, just need a blood sample...Joking, of course." I picked up my book (pre-ordered, naturally), and received a free cookie as a gift.
We toddled home, stopping for throat lozenges for Charles, and I began to read. Now, I obviously can't aspire to finish the book as quickly as Susan Kroeg, but I read fast. I'm currently in the mid-400's, and intend to finish this afternoon.
But the body must be served, so we took a little walk just now to obtain lunch. Mmm...delicious KFC. Don't laugh. Anyway, home again and lunch served and eaten, I began the dishes. Our kitchen is so tiny that you have to do the dishes the moment you finish eating or risk honey mustard sauce in your hair.
There I was, washing up, when I turned to find: Charles sitting at the kitchen table with my book in his hands. He was reading the last page.
Inside this building is the most impressive and touching war memorial I've ever seen. It honors the Scottish soldiers who died in WWI.
Down a tiny little 'close' - we'd call it an alley - we found Hume's digs. Too bad it is so ugly, huh?
Always working, Fiona found this memorial honoring Abe and the Scottish that died in the U.S. Civil War.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
But the day before, we looked up from the bottom of the Royal Mile and saw a park with three hills. Fru examined the map and decided that this must be Arthur's Seat, a local landmark set in the park by Holyrood Palace.
Those of you who are familiar with Eaton Canyon remember that it serves as a wilderness in the center of Pasadena/Altadena. Any time you like you can pop into the park and climb the mountain, visit the waterfall, etc. Families picnic there, people work out, and it generally serves the purposes that parks are supposed to offer, but rarely do. Arthur's Seat is like that. You can see the summit below, on the right side of the picture. In the front, the fields of flowers with tracks moving through it. Lovely.
It took us about 35 minutes to hike to the top. [One hour walking through Edinurgh, 35 minutes to the top, 20 minutes down, an hour back up through the city for a coffee] Below, here I am sitting just a few yards from the summit, enjoying the breeze and the view.
The view from the top is excellent. It was a cloudy day (but it cleared only a couple of hours later! Grrrr.), but you can see that the entire city is spread out below. One can see out to the sea, over the palace below and up to the castle in the distance. Paths led down to the other summits, to lakes and villages.
Anytime one likes, in Edinburgh, one can head up this little mountain (251 meters at the top) and enjoy the pleasure of a good walk, good company, and a look out to sea. If this doesn't constitute a good reason to consider Edinburgh wonderful, then I'm a Norwegian Ridgeback.
As a result, I don't have photographs yet. BUT, I can tell you one reason why Scotland Rocks.
It's the sense of humor. On this trip, we've met one Scot with no humor. She was a border guard in Paris. Obviously, living away from her home was the problem, because every Scot in Edinburgh lives to laugh.
I laughed, too. First, at our shuttle driver. Within an hour of our arrival in Scotland we heard him say, "Och, aye." It's like going to New Jersey to hear someone say "yous guys."
Everyone else is funny, too. Witness the restaurant where we ate dinner Wednesday night. The Sizzling Scot. No, really, that's the name. And it's not (just) because the waiters are sizzling hot. Though they are.
At the Sizzling Scot (which specializes in Scottish beef and carries exclusively Scottish products. In fact, there's a signboard on the sidewalk outside that warns customers that if they don't want to eat Scottish food they ought to go someplace else) there are customer comment cards. Have a taste:
"Please tick the appropriate box:
a. Pure dead brilliant
b. Not bad at all
c. Just filled a space nae mair
d. I would hae been better aff Doon the Road.
e. Ah wouldnae' gie it tae ma dug
a. Treated like Royalty - The Bees Knees
b. Didnae set the house on fire
c. Discreet is one thing - invisible is another
d. Excuse me, Jimmy! Ah'm no deid yet
e. You mean it's NOT self-service?
b. Just cooking
c. Only at MY table
d. Early closing
e. Been in a cheerier Dentist's waiting room.
4. Value for the money
a. Worth every bawbee
b. The fayre is fair
c. Nay enough
d. No - whit else can I say
e. Isn't extortion illegal?
Imagine these witticisms in the same restaurant where the (hot) waiters bring you whisky with a smile and then haggis and venison sausage and a strawberry pavlova for dessert. Ridiculous!
Then there was the cab driver who teased us about the contributions of James Watt to worldwide happiness. "Ye've got a bit o' Scotland in yaer hoos!" Guessing what, we determined it was not my J.K. Rowling books, nor our many bottles of whisky, but in fact the lightbulb! Invented in Scotland by a Mr. Watt.
Then there were the re-enactors, the barmaid at the bar next to the Sizzling Scot, etc. etc. ad infinitum.
Stand by for future entries in this genre: Why Scotland Rocks, part 2 (rocks!); Why Scotland Rocks, part 3 (re-enactors!); Why Scotland Rocks, part 4 (The castle!).
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Natural beauty, castles, hot chicks, good food, and, of course, whisky are readily available. Friendly service by nice people has been the norm. The people in the restaurants and bars seem to be having a good time.
Yeah, New Zealand finally has some competition for my foreign travel dollar. I can't wait to hike Ben Nevis.
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Edinburgh is the shizzle. The Absolute, Undisputed, Heavy-weight Champion of the Shizzle world. Seriously.
It's really pretty small, and it's foggy, chilly, windy and grey. So what's so nice about it? Well, for one thing, the food is outstanding. We've eaten local beef, mashed potatoes with grainy mustard, various game sausages, and haggis.
Yes, HAGGIS. It was excellent. They slice it and pan fry it and it's crispy and salty and flavorful. I would eat it again, which is a lot to say about a sheep's bladder full of ground up heart-meat. With oats, because that's tasty. Or something. Anyway, it's really very good.
What else? How about hot tomato and basil soup with fresh soda bread and Irish butter? How about creamy coffee with lovely foam? How about a roasted vegetable and goat cheese panini?
How about bars with 40-100 types of Scotch whisky? Or the little store Fru found, the one that:
2. Had a little white scottie dog named Maggie, who reaped a whirlwind of love from us until she began to seriously gnaw at Charles' shoelaces.
Did I mention that the Scots are HIGH-larious? Our waiters on the first night had us choking on our dinners. The shuttle driver made me snort. Then we visited Edinburgh Castle. More on that in a later post, but for now, let me just say that all historical reenactors should be so funny. And good looking. But that's another paragraph.
Charles said to me, "Scottish women are really pretty." Um, yeah. And Scottish men? Ahem. All I'll say on that front is that I now understand why so many romance novels are set in Scotland. Makes perfect sense.
Friendly? Check. Reasonable prices? Check. Beautiful parks? Check!
Pictures to follow when we return to Oxford (Saturday night, so probably a slew of posts on Sunday). Suffice it to say for now that we would spend a year here in two shakes of a lamb's tail. Possibly one shake. The lamb can take the day off, actually.
Tomorrow, more delightful Edinburgh, until 4pm when we board the train to go back to London.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
This is amusing.
Also amusing is hit 3, 'I'm in ur lueezeeana perchiss, manifestin destiny!'
LOL Cats has much to offer history, as a profession. I think I might add an extra credit to my midterm: Compose an LOL Cats commentary on a historical event we have studied.
I'm in ur courtroom, citin' spectral evidence! (Salem, 1692)
I'm in ur Ft. Necessity, rainin' on ur gunpowder! (Virginia, 1754)
Monday, July 16, 2007
Anyhoo, today's adventure involved lots of crumbling marble and a certain amount of bronze. I'm talking, of course, about the British Museum. We visited this morning, which was a wise choice since every single human being on the planet arrived about noon.
The British Museum is free. This is fantastic. More, it welcomes all sorts of people. Upstairs in the Roman Britain section, Charles and I overheard this exchange:
Officious American to Museum Guard: "All these screaming children have no business being allowed in here."
Museum Guard to Complete Jerk: "Sir, this is a national museum, we can't prevent them coming."
UNbelieveble. This same guy, no doubt, will complain about how children today don't learn anything.
You will have gathered, from this outstandingly interesting little story, that we visited the Roman Britain section of the Museum. We also checked out Egypt, Ancient Greece, China, Malaysia, Tibet, Japan, and India. We saw enough Buddhas to sink the Titanic and a goodly amount of classical statues with no arms, heads, legs, etc.
The best part, for me, was the 18th and 19th century jewelry. I found jewelry in every room, however. I think I could find jewelry in the dark, blindfolded, upside down. Some of it was fabulous, while other things were simply odd. For example, ancient Celts apparently wore torcs (necklaces that are basically rings of metal you fit around your neck) weighing up to 1 kilogram. That's heavy, dude.
Downstairs, there is one long room devoted to the collecting obsession of the Enlightenment (the late 18th century, basically). It's like being in your crazy uncle's knick-knack room, only it's about 100 yards long and two stories tall. The walls are lined with bookshelves, and the shelves are full of stuff. Stuff? Yeah, Maori objects, skulls, Egyptian organ-holding vases, intaglio gems, Chinese urns, African baskets, etc., etc., etc. The sheer variety makes the room vaguely spooky.
As wonderful as the Museum is, and it's definitely fantastic, it leaves you with a slight tinge of imperial guilt. All this stuff used to live in a variety of countries. Then the English came. And took away beautiful things, religious things, precious things, pretty much every thing. Part of me thinks it's wonderful that this air-conditioned building, secure and carefully maintained, preserves the treasures of the world. The other part feels like a cad.
Then we took the bus. Back to Oxford, to our favorite pub, the Cape of Good Hope. Tomorrow, the tuck shop. Mmmmm....beloved tuck shop.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Luckily, we had the best company we could ask for in our good friends Dan and Natalia, so a good evening was had despite the shady tramposo.
We also watched a disappointing soccer match between Brazil and Argentina. Brazil scored within the first five minutes and it was downhill from there. The crowd of Argentina fans, ourselves included, were not best pleased. Well, as the French say, c'est la vie.
Anyway, according to the Tower, here's the story. This guy (can't remember his name, sorry) went to prison but he threatened to reveal something bad about the Countess's first marriage. She sent him tasty vittles. She also sent a letter to the Tower's governor, warning him not to let his family eat any of those vittles. This was, obviously, super-subtle.
So the governor tested the food and - lo and behold - it turned out to be poisoned. He didn't give it to the prisoner.
Here's where the Tower gets shifty.
They say something like, 'but then he was poisoned and died and later the Countess and her husband were convicted which was dicey for the King since they were his homies.' I'm paraphrasing.
Yeah, kids. Notice they don't explain how he was poisoned. The governor caught the food, so how did it happen?
Shhhh....he was poisoned in his enema. Yes, in his enema.
So today I learned this: at Royal Heritage sites you can't allude to poo.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
I, on the other hand, could eat Indian food every day. Every.Single.Day. Especially at lunch.
However, Charles is a stand-up guy. So if Indian is on the menu, he'll give it a try. He did it when we first arrived (thank you, Bart and Tony!), and he did it again tonight. Dan promised Natalia that here in Britain they would try Indian food, since the large population of Britons from the sub-continent allows for endless variations and great flavors.
And being such a nice guy, Charles said sure. So I had garlic naan, palak paneer, a taste of lamb vindaloo, a taste of chicken tikka masala, chilli paneer, vegetable samosas....[Excuse me. Must go beat head against wall until this feeling of euphoria passes.] Charles enjoyed his dish, chunks of chicken sauteed with vegetables and coriander.
So Nancy Reagan was totally wrong. When your friends want you to try something: Just Say Yes.
In other news, 3 billion people shopped at Harrod's today. I think I bumped into all of them.
Friday, July 13, 2007
So the Friday Night Project (a fun Friday comedy show) has a different host every week. This week, it's Beth Ditto. She's in a band, but what she's famous for is being kind of...zaftig. And dancing in her underwear, wet. And stuff like that.
Just now, she came out on stage and greeted the regular hosts by pressing their faces into her (ample) bosom. And then she spoke.
OMG she's American. And southern.
[Added 3 minutes later: she just said "titty sweat." Swear. To. God.]
So we spend Saturday, Sunday, and Monday in London. Monday, we return to Oxford. Tuesday and Wednesday Charles will show D&N Oxford while I work at the RAI. Wednesday afternoon, we all jump a train for Edinburgh (that's Scotland to you). Thursday and Friday are spent in Edinburgh, then Friday evening we return to London. Saturday morning we try to recover. Dan and Natalia head for the airport Sunday, while Charles and I (hopefully joined by Bart and Tony) lunch on Saturday with Luke Robinson, who will himself have just gotten off a plane from Boston or Texas or someplace.
It makes me tired just to think about it. But I know that when Dan and Natalia arrive their boundless energy will boost me right up. Plus, I can't wait to show Natalia St. Peter ad Vincula, once called the 'saddest place on earth.'
Why? Because practically everyone in there is headless!!! No, really.
So that'll be fun.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
That's right. And I get the book from Blackwell's in a week or so. [stuffs fist in mouth with glee]
I have been accused, at times, of being "obsessed" with "talking" in the "movies." I deny this. Categorically.
However, I will say that our theater was admirably calm, considering. With 200 tweens, many girls, in the audience, you don't exactly expect silence. But when the actual movie started (as opposed to the stupid previews and even stupider commercials), there was a chorus of loud "shhh"-ing. Excellent. I love this country.
What's not so lovable is the habit of taking real food into the theater. I always kind of wished for this in the US. At some theaters, such as the Angelica in NY, you can get pastry and sandwiches and beer for the show. People talk about this as a fantastic thing, and it is pleasurable if you're the one eating.
BUT, I learned today, if you're not eating, it can be a trial. Was it the stinky sandwich on my left, or the smell of an egg mcmuffin toward the end that offended me the most? Unsure. The only thing I'm certain of is that taking food into a darkened room where everyone is concentrating....that's not good. It's a stink-fest.
On the walk home, all sweaty from the new temperature spike (up to 72 degrees!!), we saw a very inviting pub. It said:
And plenty of it!
So those are my weekend plans. Oh, that and the Tower of London.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Surcharge? What Surcharge?
When it's reflective, you can see the people in front of you as if in a mirror. You can watch them do whatever they do, and examine their bosoms and books and hand gestures and whatever.
Returning from Paris, I noticed a young woman eating lunch with her friend. Like anyone in France (at least like me), they had packed an enormous bag full of goodies. She kept dipping in and dipping in and bringing up various treats.
She ate yoghurt. And by "ate" I mean that she spooned out the obvious bits, then expertly cleaned the inside of the plastic cup with her spoon. Her moves reminded me of a plasterer, who makes it look easy even though you know it's actually nearly impossible. She had the touch. And I thought, "seriously? It's only yoghurt, honey."
But then, this morning, I realized I was doing it,too. Scraping that last tiny bit of pear and butterscotch yoghurt (Marks and Spencer, 59 pence per tub, also in Honey Heather and Ginger flavor) out and greedily consuming it.
It's not our fault. The yoghurt here (in Europe, not just England) is dirty. Absolutely unlike American yoghurt. It's definitely not a health food, in the sense that it tastes good. Also, it's full of fat and ridiculously creamy. The Kjerulf's eat a vanilla version for dessert, and no wonder.
Each and every morning I sit at the table and think, "I could have another one." And you know I'm not taking any on the darn train when I return to Paris.
Because everyone will see.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
As far as I can tell, you can often do very well on train prices if you book far in advance. By very well I mean you can sometimes see an order of magnitude price difference between the cheapest fare - only available in limited quantities, supplies going fast - and the basic, buy it today and ride now fare. The system is maddening to say the least.
To complicate things further, just last week I saved 26 pounds on two tickets by waiting a week to book, after which time the super secret deluxe low advance fare for 8 pounds became available for one leg of my Liverpool to Oxford journey after having once been available, only to disappear overnight before I booked it. This price was down from about 21 pounds, the lowest price available after the mystery disappearance of the good fare. I actually had the temerity to ask the agent why the price disappeared overnight and after much persistence was told that it was because it was raining and that if I checked in a week I'd probably get the lower price.
I was sure he was full of shit until the lower price showed up.
So, it seems like I'll get there, but I'm no travel agent, that's for damn sure.
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This is Brian, Fiona and Charles just before walking across the Maine river toward the cathedral in Angers.
This is us in a bar after our dinner out in Angers. Note the color of our shirts. Note the slight flush caused by wine and (in Charles's case) beer. Note giddy smiles caused by three days of French food, beautiful French towns, and charming French folks.
This is Brian and Dominique, the same evening. If you look at the sign behind them, you'll see that we are in the James Joyce pub, an Irish bar in Angers. Because it's all about the Guinness, folks.
First, Charles sought train tickets for the four of us (the Hallorans plus the Frumins) to Edinburgh. After two phone calls, 45 minutes on the website and a moment of panic when it emerged that we cannot pick up the tickets here in Oxford or at either Victoria or Waterloo stations (picking up the tickets began to feel something like finding Platform 9 and 3/4. And if you don't know what that means, shame on you), and about $1000, Charles had four tickets to Edinburgh from Oxford and back to London. Whew!
Then, one intrepid member of our little band mentioned the BritRail pass. Why didn't we get one, since it's a bit less for a 4-day pass than we'd just paid? Well, the answer is: the pass only gets you to the border of England. Not into Scotland or Wales.
Are you getting this? We'd like to travel up England and into a country that's part of the UK. A reluctant and rather grumpy part, but part nonetheless. But no. BritRail says that their pass covers only travel within England, and if you want to go up to Scotland (and God only knows why you would), then that's up to you.
On to the hotel. After 30 minutes online and a variety of sighs, Charles finally said, "I can't figure out how to get to this place!" Turns out that we have reservations in a building of small apartments. The building and the check-in are not in the same place. You can make a reservation, but the confirmation doesn't tell you where the check-in is. What about the website? It shows you where the apartment is, but not the check-in. No use having an apartment without keys, dude. And the directions say "keep going on Queen street. Proceed to central office." Ok, how? Where? No idea.
Google to the rescue. The address is 6 Queen Street, which allowed us to Mapquest it. But honestly, how absurd is it to take a reservation and then provide no phone number, no address, and no directions!!?!
I begin to understand why Scotland is the nation that gave us the deep-fried Snickers bar. More than even the British (who, as you will recall, consider a cup of tea a delightful luxury because the weather is so dreary), the Scots need a little something to get them through the day.
So when they get tired of BritRail dropping tourists at the border, and when they run out of hapless Americans with reservations but no keys to their room, stalking the streets of Edinburgh complaining, they turn to fat. Deep, fried fat on top of buttery caramel and molten chocolate.
That'll fix anything.
ADDED LATER: Charles tells me that there is a BritRail pass, for the same money, that would get us to Scotland. Whatever. Or, as they say here, Wha-evah. The point is: it was hard! And confusing! Wah!!!
Monday, July 09, 2007
Dinner? Well, we planned on driving over, havinng dinner at the airport, then wandering about in a leisurely manner before convincing the lovely young lady behind the Virgin Atlantic desk to give us a nice pair of first-class seats, gratis.
But no. Thanks to traffic, we arrived late enough to worry about timing. So we went straight into the secured terminal. There, we chose among: a repulsively seedy bar/restaurant, aged sandwiches in a cooler, and candy at the dirtiest magazine shop I've ever seen. Grrr...Newark.
Of course, I see my mistake. I told Mother, on Saturday night, "Newark used to be a dump, but now it's nice!" MIS-Taaaa-aaaaake. Turns out that the arrivals area from the international terminal is nice, but when you're heading out of NJ, it's more like "don't let the door hit you..."
So, one bag of Combos and some Jordan Almonds later, having read enough about Nicole Richie's pregnancy and Stars: They're Just Like Us! to feel American again, we finally boarded our crowded plane, took our tiny economy seats, and settled in.
And now, a word for my new best friend. The woman who has taken my heart and made it her own. Her name? unknown. But she's a princess. How do I know this? She moved across the aisle, in flagrant defiance of the flight attendants, before the flight began. This left Charles and me with an empty seat between us. I gave her my blanket and would have given her much more. Wherever you are, Miss, I hope you win the lottery. Also, your jean jacket is totally cute.
The flight proved uneventful, and catching the bus to Oxford was the easiest thing ever. We rode back to town in a haze, just biding time until we could lay down our heads on the pillow.
So here we are, six hours of jet-lagged sleep later, one trip to Tesco accomplished, with the first cup of British tea with British milk (excellent!) sitting here on the table. Delish, and so, so welcome.
Observed on a church billboard near Sylvan Beach: "Afraid of Burning? Try some Son Screen"
And that's all I have to say about that.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Friday: slept late, lunch, necessary shopping for things needed for the wedding like socks and razors, rehearsal (another hour drive, thank you very much), rehearsal dinner, drive back to East Syracuse, and bed. Luckily, we did locate Starbucks. (Only travel in England can make US prices at Starbucks seem cheap.)
Today: breakfast at hotel, pick up the groom, drive to church (another hour in the car - can you say, "Good times?" I thought so), wait for an hour for wedding to start (groom needed to be there an hour early, naturally), 37 minute ceremony (not that I was timing it or anything, but a tuxedo is a bit warm at the best of times), receiving line, photos, drive back to hotel (another hour, with stop for coffee at Starbucks, thank you very much), some more photos, reception, return from reception to hotel via drug store, post to blog.
Along the way, of course, we had nice visits with nice people.
Tomorrow, we can look forward to the reverse trip from Thursday: East Syracuse to Newark (4.5 hours), anxious queueing at the airport (.5 to infinite hours, but we've budgeted at least 3), flight back to London (7.5 hours, give or take), more customs (Yay!), baggage claim, bus to Oxford (2 hours), walk home (10 minutes).
Now, I'm not trying to be funny here, I'm just being honest, I'm not bovvered, I'm not, really, I'm not bovvered.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Then into a Vegas style mall area with high end vendors and run of the mill, but nice enough, restaurants and many seating areas. We had a pub lunch/breakfast complete with magner's cider.
Then about an hour or an hour and a half of waiting for our gate to be announced. Up until just over an hour before departure they don't even tell you the gate number and the mall area is a 10 minute walk from the gates.
This made sense once we arrived at the gate area because there is yet more security but no facilities.
And now, the flight.
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Wednesday, July 04, 2007
And to add another fun bit. In the Metro, the doors have a little sticker. It says something like, "Don't put your hands on the door, or you risk a good hard pinch." Translated into English, this comes out, "Avoid putting your hands on the door." How boring.
Somehow, we find ourselves without a picture of little Sophie, Brian and Dominique's smallest daughter. It's too bad, because she's ridiculously cute. My mother would be particularly fond of her, since I only saw her once wearing any color other than pink or purple.
We had great hosts and saw more cool stuff than we could photograph.
Below, the kitchens at Fontevraud. They date from the 11th century, I think. The chimneys around the edges show where fireplaces sat on the outside of this round room, so you could cook over many fires at once.
Outside of the Abbey of Fontevraud:
Gargoyles at Fontevraud, on the kitchen building:
More recent buildings, mostly 15th and 16th century. The Abbey began as a refuge for abused women, a place of worship, and a retreat for the family of the Counts of Anjou. The Abbey contained both nuns and monks (and people just visiting), but was always governed by an Abbess, which was rare for its time.
Below, the gardens of the Abbey. They are flower gardens, food gardens, and medicinal gardens, all laid out in lovely French precision.
Looking upward into the chimneys of the kitchen building. There are multiple chimneys.
Below, the inside courtyard of the more recent part of the Abbey.
In the room where they ate, the walls have eyes.
Imagine eating here. In silence. Or with someone reading the Bible in Latin.
Fontevraud had an exhibit which tried to link the history of medieval France to the fantastical imagination of the present and the past. So they put up images of unicorns, Robin Hood, etc., alongside descriptions of the reality. A favorite translation? From "C'est bon? C'est mal?" into English: "Was he a goody or a baddy?"
Knight in Armor, Armor...Darth Vader. Umm...ok.
The back of the Abbey church:
Inside the Abbey church:
King Richard of England (Richard the Lionhearted), laying next to Isabella of Angouleme. She was married to John, Richard's loser brother. John stole her from Hugh Lusignan, to whom she was engaged, and whom she married after John died. Meanwhile, the French managed to smack John around (reportedly while he was lazing about in bed with his new wife, enjoying connubial bliss until noon) and take almost all of the land the Plantagenet dynasty held in France. The French remain proud of this. The proof is that throughout the Abbey, whenever John appears (and he comes up often) he is identified as John Lackland. Nice.
At Richard's head lie the bodies of his parents, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England. Henry is the same king who inadvertently ordered the death of Thomas a Becket, now Saint Thomas. And let that be a lesson to all of you. You go around shouting things like, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" and bad stuff happens. You could end up crawling on hands and knees to a shrine while wearing a hair shirt and letting monks whip you. Seriously.
Claire, skipping along happily in her pretty outfit. Claire is as delightful as her corkscrew curls.
Laura, learning to use a camera, model, and enjoy modern art all at the same time.
Also Laura, in the garden at the tapestry museum in Angers. Laura was about to burn off some energy by running madcap around the garden for 20 minutes or so. Laura is living proof that cold fusion exists. She only weighs about 40 pounds, but I swear she could generate enough electricity for a major city. Think about it.
The castle in Sameur. Very pretty indeed, perched over the Loire in one of the prettiest towns I've ever seen. You can get a good lunch there, too. I'm just saying.
Below, the moat around Sameur castle. It's crazy deep.
Another view of the castle. It's under renovation, so we could not go inside. On the right, that's the Loire.
Here we have the cathedral in Angers as seen from down the hill. It is even more impressive up close and inside.
Trelaze was a mining town, and they have a museum to commemorate the mine. We missed it, but walked around and this beautiful cottage is part of the grounds. The whole thing is made of slate.
Guess what? Angers has a castle, too. And it's a corker. Check out these towers. There are 17 of them. Inside lies a much more recent chateau, and it's lovely. Also inside are a set of tapestries. They're the oldest, best-preserved tapestries in France, and they are very beautiful. They tell the story of the Apocolypse, though, so you have to stiffen your spine before venturing inside.
Below, the entrance:
You wouldn't expect this, would you? And yet, there it is, pretty as a picture.