Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Europe Trip

The last business of the trip was easy enough, as the car lease people were waiting with all the paperwork to take over possession, and after we cleared the security guards, Mary Ann found a duty free Harrods shop to get her last minute gifts for people at home.

The flight was on an American 777 and I was pleased with the individual television sets and spent most of the flight watching movies. The plane change at DFW was a mess, as we went from A terminal to C terminal just to find out that our plane had been moved back to A terminal. Still, we arrived home safe and sound, with luggage intact -- and several thousand pictures to process.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Europe Trip

No, the elevators weren't fixed, and I made several trips ferrying luggage down for the family. Mary Ann took the car off to get it cleaned up in preparation for turning it back in. She was nervous about it, since the contract had rather draconian penalties for mistakes, and this was our first lease.

When we finally checked out, we were caught in traffic gridlock and I made the unpopular decision to exit London rather than head in closer so Mary Ann could shop at Harrods. We connected to the M25 loop and drove quite a while before sending off the last box to the post office and buying a large duffel bag for the remainder of our loot.

We finally arrived at Gatwick and spent a goodly number of minutes looping and retracing our path, trying to locate the place where we were supposed to spend the night. We finally found it, and settled in for a pleasant last night in England. The rabbits were out in full force on the grass, and the pub had good food.

Monday, July 29, 2002

Europe Trip

Debra and Mary Ann headed back towards the British Museum, while I stayed at the hotel to pamper my bruised feet. At noon, an alarm went off in my room. I had been dozing and stumbled out of bed to look for an alarm clock. I turned off the TV. I checked the phone. Still the very loud noise kept going, and I located the source, a smoke detector on the ceiling. I looked around, checked the battery charger -- cool. I sniffed and didn't notice anything. I opened the door and sniffed outside. About then, the alarm stopped, and then a minute later started up again. I decided to go down stairs, for the quiet more than for any safety reasons. By the time I reached the elevators, I noticed a man in his underwear. He had left his room without his room key when the alarm had gone off in his room.

I decided it was time to go for lunch. I walked down to the local Mall and found a Burger King. On the way back, I noticed a sign for Hammersmith bridge and walked the couple of blocks over to the river. There were a number of river boats, beached by the low tide.

When Mary Ann and Debra arrived after their day, it was almost time to get ready for the theater. We took a taxi to Victoria Palace to see Kiss Me Kate. Another taxi brought us back, and we discovered that the elevators were out. We were on the fourth floor (fifth in US terms). Check out in the morning. We crossed fingers they would have it fixed by then.

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Europe Trip

Our bus ticket had a boat tour attached, so we went back the next day and took the boat tour on the Thames. After that, Mary Ann and I split up. She headed for the National Gallery and I did some walking. I wandered six or seven miles through London, seeing Big Ben, and a couple of palaces and several of the large parks. My feet were dead by the time I arrived at the hotel, just a few feet behind Mary Ann. After collecting Debra, we had a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant just a block from the Hotel.

Saturday, July 27, 2002

Europe Trip

Mary Ann and I took the Underground to the Tower of London where I spied out the area for details for an upcoming story, and then we took a tour bus for a loop around the scenic spots of London. We had a ticket for Debra for Lion King, and we raced back to the room when we realized that the bus trip had taken too long. But, with a taxi and some legwork we were able to make it on time. Mary Ann and I took standing room tickets, and stood behind the last row at the top of the highest balcony. One of the ushers took pity on us and found a couple of unused seats for the second act. My feet were killing me. After dinner, we were looking for a taxi when a non-taxi looking car pulled up and claimed to be a taxi. We were foolish and took it. The driver was fast and aggressive with the traffic, but got us back to the hotel with no problems.

Friday, July 26, 2002

Europe Trip

We drove into Wales, and I personally enjoyed the narrow one-lane roads through the deep valleys. We stopped at a waterfall for lunch and then touched the edge of Snowden National Park before heading back into England. Mary Ann called ahead and had us a room in London.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Europe Trip

We turned south, passing through Glencoe country, where there are magnificent mountains and waterfalls and fast flowing streams beside the narrow mountain pass road. Finding a room was difficult because we ended up near Manchester and it was during the Commonwealth Games. The first roadside services plaza along the M-routes was able to direct us to one we had passed a couple of miles earlier that still had a room.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Europe Trip

From Edinburgh, we headed north to see Lock Ness. It is a beautiful lake, many miles long, straight and narrow, formed from an ancient fault line, and then carved out during the ice age. Of course we looked for Nessie. There is an exhibit that covers the history of the over 1000 sightings and all of the scientific research done to try to identify what people were seeing. It was a great multimedia presentation that ended on a skeptical note, and then immediately funneled you out into a gift shop where you could buy fuzzy green stuffed Nessie dolls to your hearts content. We made their day, because they also sold sweaters and tartan plaid clothing and souvenirs of all kinds -- not that Melton is clan name, but it was appealing. I got a hat and sweater, partly because the weather was down into the 50's every night and my Hawaiian shirts were a bit thin for night time walking along the lock. We stayed at a hotel at the end of the lake and went Nessie watching at sunset. Debra saw something, possibly a seal or otter or some such.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Europe Trip

Rainy day, laundry. We shipped off two boxes to Texas. Mary Ann had the energy to head into down town Edinburgh and see the sights.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Europe Trip

Long driving day from Peterborough to Edinburgh. We stopped at the town of Melton Mowbry where we walked the streets and took pictures of shops named Melton. The terrain changed noticeably when we passed the Scottish border. The flat lands of England became more interesting.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Europe Trip

We visited the Mall and the cathedral

Saturday, July 20, 2002

Europe Trip

We drove over to Peterborough, where Debra's friend lives

Friday, July 19, 2002

Europe Trip

Most of the day was spent in down town Bath, where Mary Ann and Debra soaked up the shopping and old buildings

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Europe Trip

We headed over to Salisbury, and Mary Ann wanted to see the cathedral, so after a few twists and turns, we stopped at a parking garage.

We stopped later at Stonehenge and then proceeded to Bath. We located a B&B from the guide book and settled there.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Europe Trip

Leaving Dover, we stopped at a nice park beside the white cliffs and took a little walk. From then we followed the south coastline, stopping in Rye to see the boats stranded in the mud by the low tide and then on again, stopping at the rocky beach in Hastings, and then following the twisty slow roads until we reached Brighton.

Mary Ann snapped photos like mad as we passed the Royal Pavilion and other locations familiar from books. We stopped again at the beach, hoping to get a postal box, but no luck there.

Then we headed towards Salisbury, but the roads were so slow that we finally gave up and stopped in a Hilton in Southampton.

The perpetual story of no internet access continued, although we were able to check our mail by various methods.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Europe Trip

We tried to stay another night, but the hotel was booked, so we packed out and then waited for the morning tide. Debra and I walked around the mount on the slippery mud taking pictures.

After staring out over the miles of mud flats, and trying to see any water, we were finally notified by the security guards that we had to go back to the entrance because the sea was coming.

We walked back in stages, waiting for any sign that the water was coming, but it was still later that we noticed one of the channels through the flats being filled with water. After that, it was just a matter of marveling how fast the entire bay was being filled.

When we were driven back to the parking lot, we had to wait for Mary Ann. I walked back up the mont, but the crowds were elbow to elbow and you had to walk in baby steps if at all.

When I got back down, Mary Ann was at the car, and with one more picture to take, we left, stopping in the town to have a nice long lunch.

But then it was 350 km to Calais, and a deadline. I started out driving at a comfortable pace, but halfway there I had to move over into the fast lane. I cruised at 160, peaking at 170 km/hr for a quite a while. The car took it in stride, but it was wearing on me.

We arrived at the ferry right on time and made the crossing, spending the night in Dover.

Monday, July 15, 2002

Europe Trip

Mary Ann drove the Macks off to the airport and then returned for us.

We had a day before we were due at the Calais ferry, so we drove down to Mont St. Michael.

It was a pleasant drive through the country side, and then when we saw the place, it was immense. There is something about the sight of the place that touched something inside the mind.

Mary Ann had called ahead and found a room on the island itself, so we arrived and talked our way into the close parking lot. The room was much larger than what we had been used to in Paris and the girls were thrilled.

We walked up the mountain, totally built over with structures, and managed to get to the upper gardens. From above, we could see people out on the mud flats making a trek over to the neighboring island.

It was evening, and the mobs of tourists were down to a throng, and we found a nice place to eat. Note, mussels come in large quantities. We had that as an appetizer and the plate was stacked high with the two-inch black shellfish.

After dinner, we went out to the causeway to get some night shots of the place, and realized that the tide had come in, covering the mud flats and making the place an island again, except for the causeway.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

Europe Trip

Bastille Day. Mary Ann, Jane and Elizabeth headed out early to get a place to watch the parade, and I noticed that Mary Ann had left without her umbrella and camera.

I remembered where they had talked about going, so I picked up the stuff and headed over to the Metro station. Unfortunately, the Concorde station was closed off as a security measure, and I had to go on to the Madeline station, hoping that I was anywhere near the correct location.

Crowds were gathering, and all I could do was follow the mob. Many of the streets were closed off, so I couldn't just head in the right direction. Finally I reached the Champs de Ellesay and then it was a matter of moving up and down the street looking for the right head of hair.

After some time, heading towards Concorde, I reached one too many police barricades and gave up. I sat down in the Hugo park and waited. I chose comfort over visibility, so when the parade started, I could see the dignitaries in the car, and the tops of some helmets, and a few flags, but not much more.

Then the planes came roaring in overhead. I snapped pictures like mad.

After that, I watched people watching the parade, and began my trek back to the Madeline station. I bought a carnet and arrived back near the hotel. I checked in with Debra, and then went to eat lunch.

When I returned, the rest of the party had gathered and were ready to go eat lunch, so I stayed behind for a nap while they went out, ate, and purchased sandwiches for the fireworks.

At about 9pm we walked over to Champs de Mars and found a nice spot in the grass among several thousand other people. We watched kids playing soccer, and Elizabeth joined in with several boys smaller than she was. There were toddlers toddling, and one man blew soap bubbles for the children to chase. The gypsies wandered through the throng selling water, and beer, and occasionally fireworks.

About 10:30 it got dark enough and the show began. There was multimedia slide and video projected from inside the balloons. There was laser lights, and fireworks, all synchronized to a voice in french telling the history of france, and several musical pieces, such as 1812 overture, Ode to Joy and others. The most artistic and controlled fireworks display I have ever seen, with selected colors and flames on the ground across the river, and the usual aerial bursts.

When it was done, all our cameras were full and we walked the couple of blocks back to the hotel in a throng of many thousands. We downloaded our cameras and marveled at the event.

Saturday, July 13, 2002

Europe Trip

A relaxation day, with naps. towards the afternoon, I went to the Champs de Mars and watched the preparations for Bastille day events. I paid particular attention to a crew inflating 20 foot helium balloons which hoisted some kind of light equipment.

When I brought Mary Ann over to see, it started to rain, and the crowds thinned out.

Friday, July 12, 2002

Europe Trip

Mary Ann, Debra and I went for breakfast and then took the Metro to an old roman arena that has been refurbished. The old roman stonework can still be seen in places.

Then we went to the Museum of the middle ages. They have a series of gardens around the museum, which I enjoyed. In side there were the usual statues and artifacts. I particularly liked the illuminated books. Mostly they were books on gardening, although I would have liked to understand what the book of instruction to a young prince was. The text was in latin, and the explanations in french, so I had a difficult time understanding anything that wasn't in pictures. Maybe that is why the books were so heavily illustrated. If all you had to read was a few books, just how literate would you be?

There was also a set of tapestries called the Dame and the unicorn. I didn't like them. The Lady had such a deeply depressed look on her face that I left.

After that, since we were so close, we walked over to the Seine and viewed the bookstalls along the river.

By the time we reached the Louvre we stopped for a coke and then Debra split off while Mary Ann and I went into the gardens of Tulliery. For the first time in her life, Mary Ann rode a Ferris wheel. We took pictures and enjoyed the sights.

Then we walked the park, sitting and enjoying the people and the antics of the ducks in the fountains.

By the time we reached the hotel, our feet were sore, but we felt good.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

Europe Trip

I wake up nearly crippled from the stress on my back from the air travel. I can walk fine, but the hotel room has limited furniture, and nothing fits correctly, so my back is re-stressed just by sitting around in the room.

People scatter on their own touristy things. I head out on a random walk.

First, I visit the Champ de Mars, which is the big park that the Eiffel tower lives in. After some park bench time, I head across the river and find a pharmacy that knows what ibuprofen is.

Paris has a number of streets named for foreign people and places. There is the Ben Franklin road, where I found the pharmacy. There is the New York Avenue, the United Nations Avenue, President Wilson, John F. Kennedy, Roosevelt, and others like Simon Bolivar.

I took Avenue Kleber to the Arc de Triumph, and after sitting on a park bench watching the world's most famous permanent traffic jam, I walked down the Champs-Elysees to the Egyptian Obelisk and into Jardin Des Tuileries, which is a nice large park with fountains and statuary and an amusement park along one side.

Continuing on, I reached the Arc de Triumph du Carrissel, which is a smaller arch next to the Louvre. I crossed over the river then and walked up the Left bank of the Seine, looking at all the magazine and book seller stands, until I reached the Saint Michel statue and crossed over the bridge onto the island. I meandered over to Notre Dam, and then wandered through the tourist trinket area until I stopped at the Cafe de Quasimodo for lunch, and to rest my feet.

After lunch, I headed back along the Right Bank of the river, looking at still more book and magazine stalls.

By now my blisters were becoming more noticeable, so I concentrated on getting back to the hotel, following the river mostly, and then hobbling back to the hotel room after a five or six mile walk. Pitiful. My legs were up to it, but not my feet.

Still, after a rest, and having the blisters treated, I had no problem going out for the three block walk to dinner.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Europe Trip

After an erratic night's sleep because of noisy neighbors that came in after midnight, I got up fairly easily. Mary Ann appears recovered, and she heads out with the Mack's on a walking tour somewhere. I head over to a reported camera shop to get a replacement camera.

The Metro comes back to me, and I don't get lost. When I walked out into the daylight, my GPS tells me the shop is 89meters away, so I head off in the indicated direction.

This place is a shopping area, and I quickly find FNAC, which appears to be an electronics store. They have a modest selection of digital cameras, so I get an Olympus C-300 which is about the best they have. At least it doesn't appear to be a French-specific version, which is good.

I am tempted to pick up some CDROM blanks for Mary Ann, but all of them are clearly marked as incompatible with Macs and PC's. I don't understand, but maybe it is just a French thing. We can burn the CD-s later.

I head out of the store and am accosted by a greenpeace activist. I tell her I don't understand, and she switches to English. When I decline to support Greenpeace, she asks why, and I tell her I contribute elsewhere, to my church. She asks if I am a Mormon, I tell her no, but explain that I have thought about it and have made my decision. She is cheerful about it.

I step into a Pomme de Pain, which is a sandwich shop and order a chicken sandwich on a hard bun while I unpack my camera and read the instructions.

I decide to walk the 2.7 km back to the hotel, and don't get too lost.

We join up with the Macks and go walk to a nearby cafe for dinner. After that, we visit the Cyber World cafe, and I get to check my email for the first time this trip.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Europe Trip

Morning, over the ocean. I slept a bit, but I am not a seasoned air traveler when it comes to long flights. Thus far I have taken pictures of clouds, a little fishing fleet and an island.

Oops. My camera died -- hard. The lens assembly appears broken. Oh, well. 3.5 years of service. I won't let this get me down.

All of the mainland is overcast, but I do get some views of the landscape as the plane drops down through the clouds for landing.

Getting through customs and collecting my bag was a breeze, and Mary Ann was waving for me as I left the controlled area. Unfortunately, she is down with some ailment.

We wait for David's plane to arrive, and then we take a short tour of Chantilly before heading back into Paris. I take a little catnap while Mary Ann rests, and then we go eat supper at a sidewalk cafe. Mary Ann and Debra take me to Cyber World, an internet cafe so they can check their mail and friends.

I take a trial walk, over to the Eiffel Tower, where I ignore all the street hustlers selling little tower trinkets. I cross over the Seine, but some of my favorite fountains are closed for renovation. I head up the river a couple of bridges before looping back. I wanted to get a feel of whether my moccasins would do the job, or whether I would have to use my walking shoes. Walking shoes, definitely.

Monday, July 08, 2002

Europe Trip

Today I left on the first leg of the family European trip. This is the first time I have taken America Airlines in a long time. I was looking forward to seeing if their advertised greater leg room was as good as advertised. This far, as I am writing this after the first leg to Chicago, and in the air towards France, it does seem more comfortable.

Now for my complaints. -- AA has put GPS units on the prohibited list like pagers and cell phones. This was quite a shock when I got called down for it by the stewardess. I asked, and she showed me the paragraph in the magazine. I think she was irritated with me the rest of the flight. It didn't help that I spilled part of my coke and had to get cleanup napkins.

Truly, it upset me. I have had a favorite toy taken out of my hands, metaphorically. I would like to complain, write a letter, make my case, but I know I will never do that.

It also hurt to be classed as a troublemaker. That was more personal. I am a low-key mild mannered person. Clark Kent with no Superman.

On the Chicago lap, I was seated with a ground of teenagers on a 10 day trip to France, London, and Scotland. It was interesting to see people who got into serious debates over which teen music performer was better than the next one. And what they said about Madonna make her sound like she was gray haired with grandchildren of her own.

The next lap started out much better. There are about a half-dozen empty seats on this flight, and I have one of them next to me. Real leg room and I have the chance to use my laptop. However, on the 8 hour flight, I hope to get some sleep.