What follows is a somewhat candid account of our recent trip to Europe, the names and places have not been changed to protect the guilty. I have broken it down into parts so you can bite off as little or as much as you want. This is a delight to share with you, and please take it as an informal attempt to provide a glimpse of logistics, the things and people we saw and met, and a general flavor of travelling Europe in the winter. Our deepest thanks go to our hosts, the Huynh family, Steve Cindy and Ronnie Berlack, the Maltman clan and the Martins, without whose hospitality we would have spent the vacation freezing and flooding in California. Read on and enjoy!
Hello from la Belle France; except the keyboard has the a and q reversed, An says it is a Frence keyboard; typical; so mind my a s and qs. KK and I arrrived here yesterday after a 9 hour flight from Oakland; driving in a wild storm from sonoma county with Heather and Brian: We still are tired; but had a grand meal with our hosts, Ann`Huynh and grand family. The food kept coming and coming and we fell into an exhausted sleep after calling Steve and Cindy in St Gervais; making plans to go to visit with them next week. Ah, Anne's brother just fixed the keyboard so it behaves like it should.
After much-needed 12 hrs sleep, we awoke to another grey foggy cold rainy day, such is life in n europe at this time of year. Annes mother set out the ubiquitous plate of cheeses, chevre, bleu, gouda, etc, and we pick with chopsticks at a huge slab of smoked salmon, washing it down with delicious instant coffee (not an oxymoron in france). After long conversations about our lives and what things are like here and there, socialism vs capitalism etc. we pack our zip off packs from our large bags and go out loaded for (cold) bear.
We went to paris on the train this mornig, a cold damp day, windy a bit, but nontheless impressive: Natalie; Anne s sister took us on the train and helped us buy one-week passes for the metro and rail systems and departed from us on the way to work. KK and I agreed not to talk english unless it was an emergency, and became french people for a day. KK looked great in granpa apple's long trench coat and I wore my baret: The first task was to cash some travelers checques; but no bank around would do that, so we settled for a change machine, you put in a us 20 and out comes francs; Fun thing to do.
We wandered around a bit, looking at gargoyles and the business of a big city, and finally headed down toards the Seine, taking pictures of said gargoyles and KK and Rockin' the bear who I went back to the house for after leaving for the airport: Notre Dame rears magnificently above the river and a large plaza with people milling around. They are sandblasting it, so half of the front is shrouded, masking the true magnificence. Once inside, though it is immense cavernous place with vaulted cielings 200 feet highm , and a huge vestibule. Just when you thinks it is going to end, it goes on and on. We wander about the stations of the cross each with myraid candles and a quietly moving throng of people. They are about to celebrate noon mass, so we cruise through, try to take a few pictures, now finding that the nikon f 3.5 lens and 100 asa film just doesnt make it in these dark places. We marvel at a model of how the cathedral was built, moving rocks by hand and by wooden cranes, what a job. We exit after taking an awesome last look down a city block of church, we agree that religion is a big deal here.
On along the seine, flying buttresses soaring above to the high eves of the cathedral, through a little park and into the latin quarter, with tiny narrow cobbled streets and ancient history buildings packed in. We found a bank willing to do our travellers cheques, after mastering the security system to enter through a metal detector. Police with automatic weapons are everywhere in the stations, signs reacting to terrorism, most recently a blast on the metro, several weeks ago. We wander some more, and finally agree to go to the modern art musem at the Crntre Georges Pompidue, and work our way along the metro to the exit they tell me in the guidebook, and we stumble around side streets for a while before it rears its glass and blue-pipe skyline above \Les Halles, a monster underground shopping center.
We walk down to the entrance the plaza a forest of christmas trees, and \huge speakers that look like air intakes for an ocean liner rearing above the street with whispered seductive voices emaniating from them "merry Christmas, joyeux noel" and stuff like that. We enter through security with a crowd, and take in the kinetic sculptures, a great scene of rube goldberg contraption, one with an intense light projecting the shadow on a monster screen. We check out the cybercafe, and they are very nice, assure me we can telnet into our stytem in california. We shall return.
Up the escalators through a plexiglass outside tube to the \musee and are very impressed walking through rooms and rooms of Picassos, Braques, miro, all of the great moderns. I use the flash and am admonished not to do that by the guard, gotta get faster film, and now a battery for the little camera which has un out of juice. We repair to the cafeteria on the roof, and wish it was sunny and warm so we could sit outside, but it is colder stillm and we settle for espresso, a delicious sandwich on a absolutely fresh baguette, they must make them fresh every hour to get them like this.
We are starting to feel a little run down, but \kk makes a plan to see les Invalides and Nepoleans tomb, so we find the next metro station, stick our ticket in the slot, and we are off again in short time to La place de la Concord, and Les Tuileries gardens, even in the cold winter the vista down to the Louvre is awesome and we stroll a bit, looking down the sparkling lights of the Champs DElysses and a huge Ferris Wheel all lit up people can ride for free. On to the Gold dome, spacious grounds and many cannons of the Invalides, dodging the traffic to get across where there is no light. Napoleon built this city block as a home for his soldiers, there is a war museum there, but it just closed, and so had the tomb of Napolean. So we rest for a while, totally out of steam now, then push on across the moat surrounding les Invalides and on to the |Metro, up to where I can see on the map we can get to the train station where we are to meet anns sister Seline, who will guide us home, but we cannot be sure of the signs and so return to the metro, a safer more obvious route, and get to the meeting place, a macdonalds, right on time. KK and I have beers to celebrate our success, and just to have a beer at Macdonalds, and Anns sister shows up right on time, and we wind our way back into the catacombs of the rail station and head out for Grigny. We meet her brother at the transfer point, Juvisy, and switch trains with him, after a quick call home, and An, annes father meets us at the station in a BMW and whisks us the mile or so home.
We rack out for a while and then the dinner call comes, another great meal, starring endive in a cheese sauce, more cheeze on a board, baguettes, cold cuts, beer cooled on the deck, and long conversations about french and california cuisine, KK and I holding our own in french. Hoo, tomorrow night is christmas eve and we will be going to an aunts place for dinner and we are invited also, hmm should be fun and interesting. We are doing our best to meld in with the family and they seem pleased and easy to get along with, and there is plenty of food. We brought roses for Annes mom and she was very pleased, made a great decoration with them
12.25.96 Grigny Centre
Eat, sleep, tour, seems to be the schedule. We wake late, KK later than I, and Maman hauls out the cheeze plate and the good instant coffee, and the diminishing slab of smoked salmon, and we go to it. Anne calls several times and we arrange to meet her at Gare de Lyon, but I get specific instructions from Maman, and kk talks to anne later, so we run around the station missing each other for a while, along with a pressing christmas eve crowd, coming and going every which way. The grand facade of the station hovers in the background, great lions and other figures adorn the building. The traffic is horrendous, and I finally sit on a street corner and watch the fun, while KK searches for Anne. They appear out of the din, running through the crowd. We find her car on a side street and take off driving into the melee.
I sit in back and take pictures, KK brings out rockin and the bear mascot sits on the dash to protect us. We drive over to Annes college, an old business college on the north side of Paris, pass the graveyard where Jim Morrison is buried, then pick our way past a long street market with vegetables, many trucks and people, and a guy trying to sell us grapes through the window. We find the right roads, kk navigating with my now well worn map of |Paris, and climb the hill towards Montmatre, passing a huge cemetary with all kinds of wild crypts. Jim Morrison is buried here, but we dont stop for the event. The streets narrow down to nothing and we find a parking spot, pay 5 francs for a parking ticket at a little metal postbox like affair, and walk the cobbled street and many steep stairs up to the square. It is artist and tourist heaven here, Frank would be right at home with the characature sketchers, landscape artists etc. It is very cold and overcast, so not many people around, but the cafes are advertising huitres (oysters) and my mouth waters. We head for the cathedral Sacre Coeur and run into an old friend of Natalie's on the way. After a short conversation, we head for the warmth of the church, towering above us as we climb the wide stairs to the entrance. It is beautiful inside, many tourists hiding from the cold, and we marvel at the stained glass and the vaulted ceilings. Now though, I have Notre dame to compare to, and this place pales in comparison.
Anne takes us to the catacombs, where all the priests are buried, and noble families of this hill. We tour the crypts, with displays of the bones of various folk and a myrid of chapels for worship. \Out into the cold again, we spot the gargoyls with icecicles dripping from their mouths, and immediatly focus on les gargoyles rabides. Back through Montmatre place, and find the Dali Museum, decide not to enter (35 francs) and then find a shop with prints and check them out, Anne buys one, I almost buy one le masterbateur, but decide not to.
Back down the steep hill to the car, and we munch smoked salmon sandwiches from Maman on white bread as kk and Anne plunge into the traffic. We head toward Place de la Concord, making a tour around Place Vendome with Cartier, St Laurent etc luxury stores and the Ritz hotel, many Bentleys and Mercedes, even a zippy Merceds sports car. On to the Place de la Concorde, and down the Champs d Elleseys, oog, 4 lanes in each directions, tree lights sparkling along the sides. Ahead we can see the Arc de Triomph and the biggest traffic round about in the world. Anne enters and follows the right of way rules, several times stopping with cars broadside to us, almost doing a bumper-car scene, but miraculously we make it through, and are off the opposite direction on the Champs, looking for a way home. The traffic is horrendous, and we find our way on to the main freeway A6 toward home, but it becomes a parking lot, and we circle through the airport to get home. Signs above the free way tell us where the traffic jams are, and how many minutes to which exit, very good idea, tell caltrans.
We arrive unscathed and KK beds down for a nap, I follow soon and am slumbering peacefully when the call for dinner at the Aunt's house comes, and we pile into cars, bouche de noel log cake in my lap and drive 20 minutes out to a golf course community and meet the aunt and cousins and father of An. 2 little sick boys also add to the fun. They tear apart the wrapping paper and get big toys, |I drink Glen Fiddich with An and watch as the table is prepared. Typical scene, 15 feet long and 4 feet wide, now set with linin, assorted silverware, mismatched and several sets of dishes. Front and center to my amazement are 3 long silver trays filled with oysters, les huitres of my dreams sont beaucoup, there is red wine, a very good Chateau Lafon-Rochet 1989 Burgandy, yum. I hold back, knowing there will be much more, but end up slurping 6 huitres and turning away another 3 or 4 that An eats. We are talking constantly, and I look at someones watch and notice we start eating at 10pm, this is going to be a late one. The talk is of society, taxes, work, the socialist system, I get to tell all what we eat at christmas (dind avec tous les choses=all the trimmings). Maman and the older women chatter in Vietnamese, KK and I talk in fractured french and we hear fluid french all around, hard to understand, and sometimes a short conversation in english. KK points at his watch, it is midnight. More food, lamb avec l'ail (garlic) absolutely delicious. I hold myself back, but it is so good, and a sauce also, food heaven. More red wine, Ans father doesnt let my glass stand empty for more than several minutes, then more conversation, the salad, more conversation then dessert, 3 different cakes, and a bouch de noel, chocolate roll cake, with the words "joyeux noel" inscribed on the plate in chocolate.
Time to head home, we pile into their little bubble cars (gas is $5.gallon here) and off into the night. KK and I fall asleep exhausted. I am wide awake at 4 am, realizing it is 8 pm for my body and it is going crazy with the time switch I have done. I doze a bit, KK is awake also, so at 8am, I take a shower and head downstairs. Maman insists that I have coffee and the cheeze board and white toast breakfast, then An appears, they are ready to cook again, a grand meal for the whole family this afternoon. I tell them I want to go into Paris to the gregorian chant mass at Notre Dame, so we make plans, and An drives me to the station, I hear a train coming, run down the huge mountain of staircase (escalator not working) jump on and slam in the Chapel, Court and countryside tape into the walkman, and listen to chant and ancient insturments as the red sun rises in the east at 9 am , glinting off of the window of buildings to the west, a clear day at last, but bitter cold, ice on the lakes. The Seine slides by, with a big current here. In 15 minutes I arrive at Gare de Lyon, another walk through the endless tunnels to the metro and wait in the almost deserted station until the next train, then to les Halles stop and climb out or the catacombs into the brilliant crisp sunshine of a winter day in paris. I sense the way to the Seine and Notre Dame, black with people gathered around, now worried if there will be any room, but it is 9:30, with 1/2 hour before the service and I see that there are busloads of tourists, groups of Japanese, others milling around outside. I enter through security, wondering if the terrorists will make a play at Notre Dame. There is plenty of room inside, and I find a seat near the front and settle in taking in the awesome space of the vaulted ceilings 2-300 feet high, and listening to great organ and singing during a preliminary service of some kind. More people pile in and the chorus enters and starts the chant, beautiful melodies from medeval times, with the sonorous echoing from the great chamber. The priests enter with alterboy assistants and smoking urns and crosses and do the mass. They talk, then the chant continues, and a singer appears up front and leads us in the chorus, sing-along chant in Notre Dame on christmas, this is really heaven for a singer like me. It goes on and on, with a collection, a greeting of the people around me, and taking of the bread and wine for about 300 people. The service ends with a great burst of wild organ music from the big instrument in the back of the chamber. The pipes are 50 feet high, and are in a loft so I can't see the organ master, but he is great..The music now gets wilder, with very modern stuff, the great doors, 100' high open to the square and the crowd filters out, and another crowd comes in for the next service. I stay put, to hear the Haydn missa breva, and to see what they do with it. A second mass in one day! Well, this place is worth it, we go through the same routine, with Haydn in the background, and we sing the chorus for the carol Adeste Fideles in latin and angels we have heard on high, in Latin of course. What will they think back at the Guernville Church when I say I sang service on christmas in Notre Dame? Ah well, this is great, as great as the architecture, the stained glass, the huge space, the Parisian people celebrating Christmas in this special place.
At the end of the service, the big doors swing open and we emerge into the light and a swarm of tourists, clogging the square, police with automatic weapons, barriers for crowd (or terrorist?) control, and a brilliant day greet me as I get used to the light, load up the camera, take some pix for tourists, and head down to the Seine, enjoying the flow of the water, and the warmth of the sunshine. I wander over to the left bank replete with cafes, patisseries and tabac stores, stopping at one to buy some postcards and a telephone card, so I can call home when I get to the station. Now to find the metro, pas difficile, and a bathroom, but they are all locked. My ticket works like a charm and I enter and ride to Gare Austerlitz, search for a train to Juvisy, finally find one and then transfer there to the line to Grigny Centre. Success, this is a piece of cake, I've been at it for several days now, but it is still a little scary. An picks me up 5 minutes after my phone call in his white BMW, and we are back ala maison in a flash. KK is still racked out, but there is food on the table and abottle of Pinot, so we plunge in. Seline and I have a long conversation about the service, paris, her life as a pharmaceutical researcher, and life in general. Anne and Jean-Laurent come in after a visit to the little nephews, and more people mill around. We eat crepes with Vietnamese sauce, vegetables, sausage, spring rolls that An deep-fat fries on the porch in the freezing cold. I tell him of similar activities on my part bbq on the porch in the rain and snow. Anne and KK have a conversation about conversation at table, marvelling about how the Americans eat and run and the French eat slowly and talk, it is a social time. I agree, that is what it was like in my family growing up, sitting around the table making conversation, sometimes forcing it, dad saying, "now Terry what did you do today?".
I have eaten a lot, can't stop doing those spring rolls and talking to Saline, so I repair to the bedroom and doze until KK calls me, "Time to eat" :"encore une fois?" I reply. Luckily, it is a light dinner, more crepes and noodles with cut up spring rolls and An brings me a beer, he likes beer and we drink together and talk. Most of the family is here, the 2 sick kids and parents and grandmother are not. I talk to the other female cousin, who is a researcher on compression systems for graphic data, headed to Australia in a week for a job and boyfriend. Dinner is over soon, and all repair to watch Casablanca on the Tv in French, and I repair to the computer to write this, ready to gird my loins for another day in Paris, now to the Louvre, and the musee d'orsee. 2 in one day,. is it possible, and also to the cybercafe to send this to you all.
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The weather is very cold, but totally clear, blue skies, another perfect day for paris.We find the travel office and talk to the ticket-dude who books us through to Amsterdam on the 8th jan, and tells us how to get validated for our eurail passes, tres compliquee. Back intothe din, checking out logistics to get our skiis and gear to the train, I try the ATM at "Point Argent" and score bigtime with 400 francs cash instantaneously, the miracles of modern technology. To the metro on the street outside, and on to the Louvre. We emerge from the metro right into the museum lower entrance, and climb up to street level to take in the plaza. It is immense, ringed by the museum, which used to be the royal palace. The plaza has the famous glass pyramids sticking up and a long queue to get in... KK and I walk over to a little arch to take a picture down the Tuileries to the Arc de Triomph, and
We walk up through several tunnels to the plaza, frozen fountains and reflecting pools, people with all languages talking, walking and admiring the vastness of the archetecture. On to the line,. which turns out to be for securite only, and moves quite quickly. We descend a circular stair under a vast canopy of glass and steel, the controversial pyramid done by a chinese=american archetect, very expansive and impressive. The French didnt like it at first, but now it is recognized as a national landmark. We head in after paying 45 francs per person (KK 35 student rate), and head into the halls of paintings, sculpture, ancient and mid aged, no modern stuff here. We walk through huge halls of monster paintings, a David of Napoleon crowning himself emporer with the pope in attendence, the Mona Lisa (la Joconde) smiling serenely from behind a pane of bulletproof glass, throngs of admirers passing by, flashes flashing, several hundred video cams grinding per hour. There are many people, but we pass quickly from one room to the other. A hall of Reubens here, a room of Rembrandts there, very impressive collection. We descend into the medival Louvre, with the foundation of a castle and a major tower, all that is left is the dungeon, with a part of the original floor preserved with bones (human?) and other debris. Huge sculpture gardens with glass roofs letting in natural light, we take the escaltors to the 2eme etage and sit in window seats with views of the city to the west, the tuileries and the arc de triomph and tour eiffel, to the north to the Montmatre hill and Sacre Cuoer cathedral shining in the low sun of late afternoon.
We exit after a 75 franc snack at the snack bar, and walk to the Place dela Concord along the Tuileries, throngs of people doing the same in the frigid late afternoon, and check out the Musee de L'Orangerie. It has many water lilies, but costs 35 francs and closes in 1/2 hour, so I buy a poster of wlilies and we head out into the cold. Back on the Metro, it is nice and warm, we head east, and hear opera. A street musician has erected a curtain, and is playing an aria from carmen with a puppet waving above, singing her heart out from a boom box around his waist. This goes on for several stops and ends to thunderous applause from the boom box and a purse passed by the young puppeteer who looks like Bruce Wismer!, I give him 5 francs in a mittened hand.
The fountains are off and the statues are covered, but it is still a spectacular spot. We walk back up to the building and enterand follow the crowd from room to room, with progressive history through paintings of the people who lived here. The ultimate is the hall of mirrors, with dozens of glass chandeliers and a view down to the gardens. Here is where the treaty of versailles was signed after WW 1? and other treatys. We pass through one of the bedrooms, which is very crowded, and marvel at the art, the walls, the ceilings covered with paintings, all different. We also see the hall of batailles, with famous battle scothe din, checking out logistics to get our skiis and gear to the train, then to the metro on the street outside, and on to the Louvre. We emerge from the metro right into the museum lower entrance, and climb up to street level to take in the plaza. It is immense, ringed by the museum, which used to be the royal palace. The plaza has the famous glass pyrimids sticking up and a long queue to get in... KK aand I walk over to a little arch to take a picture down the Tuileries to the Arc de Triomph, and fiotected Paris from attack as a natural barrier. We breath many diesel fumes and work our way off the main freeway to narrow one-lane freeways and finally into the town of Versailles. We follow a grand |Michelin map and find the Palace with no problem, parking on the plaza in front, about 1/4 mile from the main entrance across a vast plaza. We walk on uneven rock cobbles and marvel at the long wings and the ornate decorations on the main building. It is sunny and warm in the sun, and we walk around to tho Now off to the Cybercafe in the Centre George Pompadeau, and finally connecting fast through netscape, and sending our electronic missives off into cyberspace. One hour and 60 francs later, we are connected to our friends and ready to return home. We catch a fast train this time and walk from the station, much to everyone's surprise. We see nooks and crannies not seen from the car, are attacked by a dog whose master is barbequing outside in the cold, and wonder about the stories of old houses, wrought iron fences with major spikes on them, and life in the Patisserie and Boulangerie. At home, dinner is ready soon and we eat and talk and talk and eat again, salmon steaks the main course, more beer (they appear miraculously in Maman's hand as I drink one) and more Vietnamese crepes, and on and on. KK and I are very tired, he settles in to watch a tv version of the bible story, and I repair to the attic room and sleep on. Now it is friday, and An will take us on a tour of Versailles, the old palace of Louis XIV. We rise at the crack of 8:45, and have the usual cheeze board, Maman has been to the store and comes back with an armload of baguettes hot off the grill. We work on the chevre, pate, and other goodies and drink coffee, me being scolded by Maman for not drinking 3 cups as I did yesterday. We have a long conversation about alcoholism, she is worried about all the people who have this problem, and I tell her about my encounters with same. Soon we are ready and An fires up the BMW and we are off. He to the bank first to get some cash, his first use of an atm card. We drive on the freeways and byways, I see some rocks for the first time, we are on the peripheral highway, going around the hogbacks of Cretaceous and Cenozoic sediments which Lyell studied to break down the evolution of recent life, and also the hogbacks that protected Paris from attack as a natural barrier. We breath many diesel fumes and work our way off the main freeway to narrow one-lane freeways and finally into the town of Versailles. We follow a grand Michelin map and find the Palace with no problem, parking on the plaza in front, about 1/4 mile from the main entrance across a vast plaza. We walk on uneven rock cobbles and marvel at the long wings and the ornate decorations on the main building. It is sunny and cold, but warm in the sun, and we walk around to the gardens, a vast stretch of trees and ponds, and take a long stroll down to the main cross-shaped lake, skipping ice blocks on the frozen pond where there is a great statue of Neptune is struggling to drive his chariot out of the water. An is fascinated by kk's and my practice of making waves on the ice, and the ping of the wave interference as it shoots out from the impact. You can actually see the waves in the thin ice, cool.
The fountains are off and the statues are covered, but it is still a spectacular spot. We walk back up to the building and enter (another 45 francs, I pay for An) and follow the crowd from room to room, with progressive history through paintings of the people who lived here. The ultimate is the hall of mirrors, with dozens of glass chandeliers and a view down to the gardens. Here is where the treaty of versailles was signed after WW 1? and other treatys. We pass through one of the bedrooms, which is very crowded, and marvel at the art, the walls, the ceilings covered with paintings, all different. We also see the hall of batailles, with famous battle of Napolean, even one of Geo. Washington at the siege of Yorktown, with the French general Rochembeau. We leave at that, and skip the chambres du roi, and head down the road for Paris, and La Defense.
Parking is a definate problem, twice as many cars in Paris as parking spaces. We emerge from a catacomb of parking lots to a crowded mall, piled vertically, and look for something to eat. KK finds a creperie and we settle in with wine and crepes ( kk chocolate, me pork and fromage, An herring) and have a jolly lunch. The people are agitated, talking, relating with their bodies as well as their minds, an integrated people.
Outside into the cold to take in the scene, a monster plaza with a Calder at one end, and a funny colored shape on the other. All leads to the new Arch, which is huge, 60 stories high, with 6 elevators going up and down all the time. We walk up a flight of steps 100 high and about 100 m wide. and turn to see a myrid of new buildings all modern archetecture, all commerce. This is the new business center of Paris, the major place for the stock market, all major companies. The arch is a marvel, with steel trussed fabric at various angles above and vertical thick glass panes set into the floor,we hear this is to stop the wind-tunnel effect. I take pictures down the Champs to the east, with the Arc de Triomph in the background. This is truly a huge city, and this Defense has extended it to the west. We wander some wooden buildings in the plaza with gifts and food from outside of Paris, listen to a Peruvian pipe ensemble and head out for the parking lot. I find a camera store and buy a battery for the little camera, twice as expensive as at home and a couple of rolls of ASA 200 slide film. I also try my atm card with the plus system and it won't give me any money, a twinge of fear inside, we are getting down to it cashwise, but have plenty of travelers cheques although they are a hassel to cash, banks or railroad stations change booths only. We steer clear of the independent change places, they charge very high rates.
The ride home is crowded, but An zips us back and forth into the correct lanes and exits, as the cars and motorcycles whip by on their merry way. We marvel at the French way of warning of traffic jams on lit signs, even telling the number of minutes to the various exits, and warnings of accidents ahead. We go south on A6 and sneak into Gringy past the market and into the driveway..
We sleep for a while, have a late dinner, now of green beans, baguettes, steamed veges and lentils and sausage. KK isn't into the sausage and shares his with me. Maman is worried he is not eating enough, she thinks the reason we are tall is we have a different diet, drink much more milk than the French. I try to tell her it is genetics, but she is convinced.
I talk of Mono Lake, where Jean-Laurent and Natalie visited last summer, and I get to give my Sierra Nevada lecture in French...and he understands. Robin hood is on the telly, so KK is off to bed, he is still sleepy, and I settle down to the computer (l'ordinaire) to write this and end another day in France. Tomorrow?? the musee dorsee? the musee picasso? time in Paris. We are clear to leave on monday for les alpes.
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12.29.96 Grigny Centre
Another cold, colder, clearer day, ready to head in on the train with kk, this time to the Musee D'orsay, for the impressionists and another landmark, world class museum. We walk to the train, taking in the town by the light, past the patisserie and the veternarian, and a back alley that leads to the huge apartment complexes, 15 stories high, that tower above the station. These are full of immigrants, indian, black, chinese, Anne's family used to live in this melting pot. We take the train and change at Juvisy easily and continue on into Paris to the museum stop, and out into the bitter cold. We wait in the security line with other colder, less clad people, and soon are in to the beautiful open space of an old train station, with huge spaces and rooms and rooms of classic art.
We go apart and then come back together at odd intervals. The impressionist hall is fantastic, all the paintings you never see anywhere else, only in books. It is very crowded, and my pack keeps bumping. I try to take some pictures but flash is interdit, and my film is encore too slow. The parade of fantastic paintings, sculpture and people, with occasional views out to sun-drenched frozen Paris goes on.
KK meets me we find a multimedia center and a guide shows us a virtual tour of the museum, with qtvr images of the galleries. I can't believe I missed the water lilies, but there it is a beautiful blue one, in rm 34 in virtual reality on the computer. You can focus in on the paintings and hear a commentary about them, very complete treatment, several gigs worth, KK thinks it on their monster hard drive-ibm aptiva here. I launch off in search of the blue lilies and dont find them in 34. Very frustrated, I head off to other rooms I havn't seen yet and there it is, along with several other minor lilies and garden pictures. They had changed the paintings around recently, not in the map or the virtual museum yet, technology cant keep up with change.
I work my way down to where kk should be, at the entrance, but no sign of him. I sit in a visible place and get worrieder and worrieder, not seeing him anywhere. after 1/2 hr on the monster clock, I feel someone watching me and there he is, looking like the phantom of the opera, black hair, eyebrows and trench coat posed on a catwalk above the ground floor,looking like the phantom watching me. We head off to try to walk to the tour Eiffel, and end up on a wierd metro ride north then south to the Academie Militare, where we take in a marche, KK in search of white chocolate. I grab a veale pastry, chauffe in a microwave on the street. KK and I are hungry, nothing to eat since the cheeze, baguettes and smoked salmon this morning, so we pound it down as we walk up a long park, with people strolling, dogshit everywhere, the scene dominated by the towering tower, all lit up, rearing above. We pay 12 francs for the privilege of walking up innumerable flights of stairs to the second landing and tour the view of Paris in all directions. Now it is really cold and windy here, and we huddle in the warmth of the little museum and marvel at the schlock being sold to the tourists. We sneak a ride down on the ascenseur with a press of people after running around a stairway to get to the second car above. Out on the square, KK noses out the train station and soon we are on our way.
We are both famished, he more than I, so we debark at the Gare de Austerlitz, and hit a brasserie, with smoking travelers and down some sustenence and a couple glasses of vin ordinare, KK makes a face, but we drink anyway. Back on the train we get to Juvisy in short time, but face a 25 minute wait for a train to Grigny. It is very cold, and soon we are jumping around and counting the minutes. I call An and he will meet us at the train. We are icecicles by the time we get into the train, go two stops and then it is freezing again as we climb the nonfunctioning escalator to the waiting An in his car. After a short warm ride, we thaw out in the heat of the room. Today is a high-priced power day in France, electricity costs 10 times as much as usual, so we had turned the heater off in the room. An had thoughtfully turned it back on this evening. My back is still very cold, so I sit in the shower for a while, then bundle up and head down to another great dinner with all kinds of great stuff. I am exhausted, so when the Xfiles comes on in French, I head upstairs and try to get warm, putting on my vest, and all kinds of warm clothes. I am asleep soon, and sleep well except when kk wakes me up for snoring (gonflier).
Sunday Another clear day, and not so cold, I am up late and the family is off to play tennis. An says 6 homeless people died last night in France. Seline will take us to the Natural History museum after lunch, so I settle in to a quiet house and read Chriton's Sphere for a while. Natalie comes down, but goes back up to bed, she is very tired and has a stressful job. Maman and Seline return and finally KK wakes up at 1 pm, and soon another major meal is ready, and we eat range chicken roti, salad, mackerel in mustard sauce and in wine sauce.
We bundle up and head off to the train, soon at Gare Austerlitz and the jardin of the natural history museum. This was started in 1632 as a garden of medicinal plants for research, and has grown by gifts from the Rockefellers and the country to a complex of buildings very large. We check out the mineral exhibit, Seline gets us in for free because I am a professor of Geology from USA, and we marvel at monster quartz crystals from Minas Geris, Brazil and think of Brian. Downstairs there is a great mineral display, including fans of natural gold from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. We segue into a display on radioactivity, and just when we are getting to plate tectonics and great geology displays, the museum closes and a guard shoos us out. We head over to the new Evolution museum where there is a crowd. We also get in free to the new huge display of evolution, a major effort pushed by Mitterrand. The state of the art displays, computers, huge space, looking like the musee dorsay, are very impressive, and I run around for an hour taking notes madly about the displays and marvelling at the space. They close this place to at 6 pm, and we are herded out on to the street.
We decide to walk for a while, up a hill along a street with dozens of restaurants and a comfort inn. Each place looks more inviting than the last, but empty, and I remember people dont eat here until 8 or 9 pm. We walk to the Parthenon, a huge hall where the Curies and many famous French are buried, and a foucault pendulum swings...This is a grand plaza with the law school of the university of paris on one side. We walk down to the boul. St Michele, and ogle at fancieness of it all, but its getting very cold, and we are too, so mercifully we jump on the metro and return to the gare, then to juvisy, and instead of freezing for 20 min. waiting, we take the next train, and An picks us up at another station.
There are remains of a snack and chocolate in the living room,. so KK and I assume this is it for dinner, and have a snack, and resume reading. Wrong again, the plates come out and there is another meal, quiche lorraine and other quiches, chicken leftover from lunch, rice, salad, and for dessert crepes and more crepes, and more. with creme fraiche, confiture-jelly, rum, sugar and chocolate. KK has a ball, making many crepes, and Maman keeps bringing the good stuff out.
Now it is time to write., I print out our schedule for An and he knows we leave tomorrow for St Gervais. I want to get to the station early to get a ticket for St gervais from lyon, and there are 2 stations in Lyon and I worry how to get from one to the other. The bible (Lonely planet guide) tells me all TGV trains stop at both stations, and feel better. We have an adventure set out for us tomorrow. And Cindy., Steve and Ronnie tomorrow night in the Alps.
Back to Adventures and Family
30.12.96 Paris to St Gervais, the first train ride.
Another cold day, record cold in Europe for many places. After the breakfast with Maman, we get organized and repacked for the trip to Lyon and St Gervais.Somehow we fit the skiis, 3 bags, me kk and Seline and An in to the bubble car and are off to the station. We play keystone cops, and get our stuff down to the tracks right on time. We say Good bye to Seline at the Juvisy switch stop. She has a room in town where she stays during the week, instead of commuting all the way home. We head off to the Gare de Lyon, wrestling our stuff over the turnstiles, hiking to the Grand Lignes TGV, composting our billet, a validation process you have to go through that takes a nip out of the edge of your ticket, and validating our Eurail Passes at a booth with a nice black dude who tells us we don't need reservations for St Gervais and we are off. We sit outside in the cold sun, watching people and trains come and go. We get a 10 franc cart, but the front wheel is screwed up and we wrestle with it up and down the station. Kk reads Sphere, we are now battling each other for it, it is getting exciting. I find some vitamin c in a drug store, we are both feeling a little sniffly. Finally our number comes up, and we have to walk again along a long line of cars, still wrestling with the cart. The car is beautiful, big plush seats, 1st class, and worth it. We find a place to stash our gear and settle down to a smooth ride south. 300 km in 2.5 hours and we find there are two stations in Lyon, I talk to the conductor and he assures me in French that the train stops at both.
The train tools through the edge of the city, then along the freeway and out into the countryside. Looking like Pennsylvania with rolling hills, old farms and open farmland, we gather speed and cook along with the scenery flashing by. Suddenly we slow down, and stop altogether in the middle of nowhere. The announcement comes there has been a grand accident, and we will be delayed. Oh shit, what if we miss the train to St Gervais?? I am full of worry, but we soon gather steam and head off to Lyon.
We arrive at Lyon Part Dieu to a mobbed station with people running every which way and skiis definately a handicap. KK finallly finds the major sign board and sure enough, there is our train, heading off at 2:33 to St Gervais. We haven't got much time, I send KK off to see if we need a ticket, and try to call cindy, but the phone system is really not cooperating. I finally give up and we mount the platform, but there is a tgv there headed to Paris, and it is late. There was some major accident on the rail line south of Lyon which has screwed up the schedules a bit. There are a lot of people waiting with skiis and all kinds of baggage, and the announcement comes that the train is leaving from another quai, so we all mob the stairs down and up to the correct spot. KK and I get separated on the quai, looking for the first class car, I find it first and secure 2 seats, make a sweep to the front of the car, no KK. I try to get out the forward door, but people are crowding on, I spot him in the crowd outside, and yell for his attention, and he goes to the other end to enter and we are reunited. We settle into what is a long ride, stopping at every little podunk place along the way, but cutting through towering contorted limestone cliffs of the Jura mountains, I've only read about them in books, and relish the sight. I finish Sphere, and give a sigh of relief that they survived, and put on the headphones with the Gregorian chants and we travel into the late afternoon and evening.
I am worried about many things, which station we end up in Lyon, if this train does go to St Gervais, etc, but it is all right. Snow is falling lightly as we come into Fayet-St Gervais, and we try to call Cindy, no luck with the phone again. We work several phones, and finally KK notices that you have to put a 0 in front of the 4 to dail in this region. We connect and in a while, Cindy comes down in a new red Volvo and Ronnie in the back seat. We load up and soon are winding high into the moutains above the town, arriving at a newish chalet with Steve whipping up a spaghetti dinner for us. We chat and chat and play with ronnie, who is a very excitable 2.5 ans. I admire the view of the lights below, and cant wait to see the mountains tomorrow.
31/12 St.Gervais and life in the Mountains
Morning comes at the crack of 8:30 and we wake to the chirping of Ronnie and Cindy, getting logistics together to go off for the garderie, his nursery school. The mts are out, spectacular scene of mt blanc and a beautiful open syncline mountain size across the valley, and an air view of villages, chalets and towns below. I' m stuffed up, hacking with the Paris crud, but get up to help cindy off and then to take Steve to the slopes, 2 km up the narrow windy road. We work on a summary of Frog city stuff to send to Tom and Carolyn via email and fax, then take off for xc skiing on a nice up and down track about 3 km to another ski area. The areas are all linked here, and you can ski from town to town, restauraunts and little bars dot the slopes, you could spend your life exploring all here.
We kick back in the afternoon, recovering, me trying to kick this cold. It is new years eve and we celebrate with a grand fondue, with the warning to eat lots of salad to break up the cheeze goo in our stomachs. The babysitter arrives, a nice young high school boy, and we head to Megeve, the expensive town, find $18 drinks at one place and end up at a pub with vin chaude. Glitter town, lotsa shops.
It is bitter cold, and the snow is falling as we return, to drink great champagne, talk of the old year and listen to the fireworks and cries of "bon annee, bon annee" sung by drunken revelers out on the streets. 1.1.97 A New Year, time to ski
New Years day, time to ski, with Ronnie in tow, to the Bettex lift, and cash $200 in travelers cheques, and pay about 230 for 2 4-day passes for kk and me, about $26/day US. It is really cold, and the clouds are in and out, but we take a gondola (telepherique) up Mt Arbois on one of 2 parallel ridges which is the ski area our tickets serve (57 lifts), ski down to Megeve on new powder in the sun, take a tram (telecabine) across town and a spectacular gorge to another set of lifts on another ridge and ski off there. Steve shows us the territory and KK and I set off to explore. He tangles with a poma lift and we return to Megeve for hot choclate and hot wine, eat lunch and then up to the Mt Arbois ridge. We are both tired so set off down the mt, and find Steve's secret route along trails and through the woods to the house and collapse. I am fighting a big cold, and the antihistimines aren't doin it. I remember the nazal irrigation trick from last year, and go to town with Cindy and get a bottle of dish soap which, combined with some salt and baking soda are just what I need.
2/1 Second day skiing, foggy and damp in the valley, Cindy and I set off after Ronnie delivery and meet steve at Mt Arbois. We head to expert territory, the Epaule, with fantastic views of Mt Blanc and the cliffs around it. I am cold and hacking, but follow them down a huge slope with soft snow and many icy spots. Thanks to Robin and K2 for good edges on the ice. Good off piste, says steve, cindy and I dont agree, but we follow along and descend in to the valley to the little town of St Nicolas, for coffee with thier friend andre, 50 today, and great conversations, then he and Steve go off to train ski racing, and I head up with Cindy to the ridge again. She splits off to get Ronnie, and I head to Mt Joly, the highest point on this ridge. I ski a wonderland of steep slopes above timberline with the ever-present cliffs of the Mts all around. Spectacular views to rest and take in when the skiing is tiring. I can see I should be in much better shape to ski here, the runs are very long and you can usually choose an easier route or narrow track, or an open steep slope.
I am still feeling cold, so I check out the vin chaude at Mt Joux bar and watch the animated faces and bodies of the French as they talk, reminding me of my way of talking and lls. It is very cold, windy and cloudy out, and I take a few more runs but am ready to quit at 2pm, and head down the mountain to the Monte Rosset lift, long cruising trails, and the trail through the woods to the chalet. I shower hot to revive and spend the afternoon recuperating in bed.
I buy 100 francs of stamps for our postcards and promptly lose them, but can finally breath again after more nasal irrigation. Another great meal, chicken, wine, Steves scotch warming the tummy. KK was sick last night on the remains of the fondue, and he spent the day recouperating. I crash early
3/1 Steve leaves for london today, friday, to a boat show. I stll feel like shit so I stay racked out until they leave, and cindy goes to practice slalom with the coaches, andre and their landlord, carlo, the french ski team coach. I revive a bit and hike up to the Monte Rossa lift and head on up the mountain. It starts sunny, but soon is cold and windy and cloudy, and I'm still feeling sick. After several runs on icy slopes and cold winds on chairlifts and a chocolate chaud with rhume, (rum) I'm off down the trails after taking some pictures with the big camera. I barely have the strength to make it home down the sneak trail through the backyards of chalets, skiing over walls, barbed wire and lawns and driveways. I take a shower to warm up and collapse after another nasal irrigation. I rest and sleep the afternoon throough as Carlo the landlord tries to fix the satellite tv. and we have a long conversation with cindy and off to bed.
4/1 Cindy takes Ronnie to garderie, and we head up the slopes, kk cindy and I feeling much better after my rest. K decides to stay on the easy slopes on Mt Arbois, and C and I make the long traverse over to Cote 1000, the farthest lift on the Megeve side. The weather breaks, the warm sun is out and we have a blast skiing the challenging slopes, watching soaring cliffs above us and a super GS race with lotsa hot skiers. She heads back for Ronnie and I take a few more runs, really enjoying myself now with perfect snow, sun and my flu beaten back to a respectfully dull roar.
I meet KK at the takeout place "Freddy" over a flat hamburger done on a press grill and a big mug of vin chaude lieing on chaise lounges in the sun. He takes me on his favorite run, that includes some expert terrain, and then we head for Mt Joly, the highest point in the area, with great views. We have to do the Epaule first, which is steep and narrow, which KK doesn't like, so he heads down as I work my way over to the Mt Joly ridge. It is spectacular country, with untracked steeps and a mini-tuckerman's bowl with a long steep run and blocks of avalanche ice as slalom poles. Several more long runs and the day is done, head back in the dusk, pausing every several hundred yards to take in the 360 degree view of the Alps, with Mt Blanc and the Auguille du Midi poking above the skyline the peaks going in and out in the local clouds. KK arrives after skiing through the woods behind me, great, he is really into it. We thaw out and have another fun evening with Cindy and Ronnie, ravioli and hotdogs, very American.
5/1 Switzerland and Zermatt
Off at a reasonable hour to Switzerland, I get tickets for a more direct TGV trip back to Paris at the station, and we head for Chamonix, pick upsome pcards, marvel at the steepness of the lower glaciated valley, and the glaciers poking their heads over the edges of hanging valleys.
A long climb over the mts to Switzerland, and a steep descent into the valley, the slopes lined with vineyards, snow-capped peaks above, very unique. We hit a super highway and are soon whizzing down a broad valley with towering snow-capped peaks high above and the occasional castle poking above isolated cliff-sided knobs. We hit Sion, with a castle and church on top of the cliffs, and the new town, get some gas after some consternation about what cards can be used. We get gas, and KK cashes a travellers cheque at the train station so we have some cash, and we head off after a stop to change Ronnie and a poster-perfect view of the castle below a major peak.
We cruise in the Volvo to Visp and turn into the mts towards Zermatt, a narrow tortuous canyon with many spectacular scenes. We park at Tasche and take the train with Ronnie, Jane the Dog and KK in tow. The town has no cars, so everyone walks, and it is quiet. There are some electric cabs and mt bikes, and kids and sleds. I am hot to see the Matterhorn, it is in clouds, but we walk out of the shopping center and down toward the lifts, where we find a great cafe with a perfect view of the mountain. My mountain, with a picture above my desk through high school and college and grad school. The clouds lift and Cindy dances on the deck as we have vin chaudes and soon most of the mountain is in view, with a smoky pyre of cloud emanating from the summit, the sun setting behind it. Spectacular, I burn a roll of slide film.
We head back, again into the bitter cold, and join the throngs on the main street. We find some American tourists and have a conversation. They tell us of major flooding in California, we missed it. I have Jane the wonder dog, and suddenly, cant find anyone, They have dissappeared, so I go back up the street, to no avail, and then make a run for the train, thinking they got ahead of me. They arn't on the train, but Jane and I get on anyway (I sneak her through) and off we go. After a short wait at the Tasche station talking to a German boy who likes Jane, they appear, they had ducked into a shop that took amex cards, so Cindy got some doodads. We pack up and drive in the gathering dark to Visp, find a place to eat by asking at a California 50s theme bar and have an Italian meal. Ronnie decides to take Jane for a walk on the leash, and Jane decides to chase a cat, and drags Ronnies face across the pavement for a while inflicting scrapes and screams on our ears. We drive off into the night, back over the mts to Chamonix, down to Fayet, and somehow miss the exit and end up travelling an extra 1/2 hour on the big toll road toward Geneva, and having more great conversations.
6/1 KK wants to ski on St Gervais, and Cindy wants to go to Chamonix, so we set Ronnie in the gardiere for the day and head off. KK is fine on his own, and we zoom up the suspended road into the high valley to Chamonix. We find the Bevard lift, a gondola takes us straight up out of the valley, then to a telecabine, suspended between two peaks, to a series of slopes and trails. We ski totally alpine territory, rocks and steep bowls all around down to the bottom of a chair. Cindy takes video of me and we ski now in the brilliant sunshine with spectacular views across to the Auguille du Midi and its telecabine, reaching up to the start of the glacier run, the mer de glace. Not on the docket for today, but now that I know where it is...
We head up another long chair and investigate another side, this place is huge, and is only a small part the area here. We find a sunny slope with rocks like Tuckerman's and set down our skiis and have a long talkative lunch, with wine, cheeze, fresh bread (pain plein-wheat bread) and jerky. The sun is warm, the view is spectacular and all is right with the world. We eventually work our way down several more runs, with video, then Cindy leads the way to the gulley, a left gulley like slope, steep, narrow and hairy. She leads the way, loses a pole and stops to video me coming down. My heart in my mouth, I head off, find it icy , but managable, and get to the narrow spot and sideslip for a while. Then I am trapped, no sideslip possible because of a major rock below, cliff on one side, and no way back. C is below me and says "kickturn", well I used to do that in Tuckermans, so I start the movement, get half-way around and then fall about 20 feet before the skiis dig in and Im ok and back up and soon down to cindy, adrenalin pumping my heart, breathing hard. I take over the video and pack, and C skiis down to her pole, and I follow with no incidents across the slopes to the waiting chairlift below. We take one more tour to the top of the telecabine and ski off into the shadows of the afternoon. The telepherique takes us down to the town and soon we are buzzing back to St Gervais. I buy more stamps to replace the ones I lost (another $20 worth), and Cindy and I pick up Ronnie, some $2.00 Merlot and some quiches for dinner and head home.
KK is there, elated after a great day on the slopes, and Steve arrives back from London in good time, and we mellow out for the evening. I finally master the phone system and call An, in Paris, and let them know we will arrive the next evening, and even get the MCI credit card to work to call Amsterdam to get bunks at Nellie's hostel for two nights, a place recommended by the lonely planet guide.
7/1 Paris Run, loaded
Up mod early, we fix up our gear for the trip and head off with Cindy after many goodbyes to the station, where we find the 1st class car and load our stuff in and are off for phase 3 of our adventure. Switch to the TGV at Annecy, it is on the next track over, so no sweat, and on to Paris without incident. It is still very cold, and we deal with Gare de Lyon crowds and find our way to the RER and a train to Grigny Centre. We arrive in bitter cold, and call Maman, who answers after 10 rings, and she says she'll be down in a few minutes. KK says my pack is open, and I look in and cant find Rockin' the bear, he must have dropped out on the train. I run back down the platform, to no avail, he is lost forever in the subways of Paris. Maybe he will find a new home.
We pile our stuff by the telephone and wait. A mini gang of french hoodlums (as steve would call them) gathers at the telephone arguing loudly, one asks me if he could make a call on my telephone card, and I stupid americanly say yes and whip it out. They argue more and finally give me my card back.. They leave and kk tells me to try the card, I do and there is no credit left on it! He says he saw them looking through a pile of cards for one that looked like mine, and must have substituted an empty card for my full one. Hoodlums. they are everywhere.
Maman finally shows up, and we pile our stuff in, and soon are at home, stashing the stuff and getting relaxed before dinner. An is trying to repair a shoddy set of shelves for shoes, so I pitch in, his tools are archaic and nails too small, so we reuse nails and communicate in French and by motion. Maman pitches in a finds another board and saws it, and we grunt and try to make everything work, and finally get it somewhat together with a string x on the back to stablize it more. Then we reerect it and the mound of shoes, boots and other stuff that was piled on it gets rearranged and set up in more stable position.
Back to Adventures and Family
We have a leisurely bkfst with Maman, and work on the writing for a while until 11, then prepare for a run to Amsterdam. An is there, very thankful for my assistance with the shoe garage, and we get ready to bust out into the cold. We hone down our belongings to only the essentials needed for the voyage. All we are carrying are the backpacks, and I have my belt pack with walkman, and food, which Maman packs for us, including hardboiled eggs. I have adopted a travelling costume: my silk tops and bottoms for underwear, wool slacks below with wool socks, and layers above with a vest, wool shirt, my neck purse with passport, tickets, travellers cheques, phone numbers etc, then 2 jackets and then the red parka. This makes the cold tolerable.
We take the RER train to Gare de Nord, and KK finds a nice warm waiting room, while everyone else freezes out side. We have several hours to wait, so I wander out as KK guards the stuff, deep into the McNamara book on Vietnam that Steve loaned us. I find a nice sidewalk cafe with plenty of room at the window seats, and order red wine and moules frites cheep. The waiter returns with a pile of steamed mussels, bread, wine and I dive in to a delicious feast, part of the scene, melding into the scene outside-a black dude selling hot chestnuts heated from an oilcan barbeque, people hurrying by in the cold. Back out into the cold, and into the warm waiting room until it is time, and we head for our last TGV 1st class ride.
No one on the train, we have nice seats and can move around, and relax with the music for 3 hours through Brussells and up to Amsterdam. The CS-Centraal Station is a very busy place and I immediatly notice a majority of young people and hawkers telling us about their hotels and things to see. We wander out, into very bitter cold, damp, windy, cutting through all garments. We head off and eventually find Durty Nellie's pub and hostel in a narrow side street of the medieval part of town, and present ourselves to the Irish barmaid, who is very friendly and accomodating. We pay 50 guilders each for 2 nights($17/night) deposit 15 g on a lock, and find our bunk beds up a narrow twisting staircase. We settle in and rest a bit with about 15 other people in the room, some talking, others sleeping. We lock up our stuff in a wooden box locker and head out into the night.
Checking out the sex shops, and souvenir shops, ducking down several narrow alleys lined with restaurants, and lead our noses to a "cafe" named the Doors, looks like a likely place to find to mellow out. I nurse a beer and we mellow out, listen to great music of the 70s 80s and early 90s, and watch the small crowd ebb and flow. All young, doing the same as us.. "Who would have thought?" KK says several times, and we have long conversations about life and the trip.
After a while checking out the pictures on the walls, and another beer (Heinekin of course, made in this town) we head out into the cold, check out a few more stores, and then head for the hostel. It is super cold, -10 degrees C, about 5 degrees f. the papers today had long stories about the cold snap in europe and its economic and social effects. We settle into our bunks, KK sniffleing bigtime, and I put in the earplugs and watch the lit Heinakin sign outside the window, my night-light, listening to shouts from the mideval people in the street below.
9/1 Amsterdam: Van Gough and Rembrandt
Up at the crack of 8;30, and it isn't even light out, we must be further north even now than Paris, and we are. Down the steep stairway in the pub we settle into coffee, toast and coldcuts breakfast, included in the price of the hostel. People mill around and consult their bibles -the Lonely planet western europe guidebook. We talk to 2 guys from British Columbia, and exchange stories and itineraries. We lock up and bundle up and head off to the station, get tix for the major train run tomorrow starting at 6:30 am with a train to Brussels, then Eurostar throught the chunnel to London, then 5.5 hrs local trains to Wales. We get tickets for the trolly cars and head off for the Van Gough museum, finding it and marvelling at the collection after wandering around a bit. The Reichmuseum is almost next door, so we get a major hit of Rembrandt and the flemish (kk squirms and sniffles at the word) painters, and a dutch history section with all kinds of great stuff on wars, Napolean and Waterloo etc.
We bust out into the cold and take another trolley, but it stops with an open door onto a little square, and there is the Bull Dog, the famous cafe from the guidebook,and we jumpship, and settle in to a Haagendaas icecream cafe, watching people walking and riding bikes all over. KK finds the Hard Rock cafe is just down the alley, so we check that out, no one there, but the cadillac is coming out of the balcony, the momentos are on the walls, and the music is loud. We tire rapidly, no one here, and hit the Bull Dog. We mellow out a little and have a beer with flickering candles, spot lights and pictures of famous people on the wall.
Out into the cold again, it is dark and there are even more people, and KK proposes to walk the mile or so to the hostel. I agree, and we are off. The sounds are gentle, no cars on most streets, but people everywhere, going someplace, and funky old bicycles with generators on them to light the head and tail lights. We are lost, I am convinced, but keep heading in one main direction, and come upon the CS at the end of a long boulevard. We did it again. Warm up in the hostel and rest for a while , then dinner at a hotel with a great view of the passing on the street. People everywhere, bicycles and gaily painted Trollycars looking like pieces of modern art. Back on the street, we find the Doors again and mellow out, back to the hostel and crash early after conversation with a girl form SIU who is at school in Austria, and has an old sugar daddy sending her money to keep her in Europe. She gives Kailen a clove cigarette, then announces to her drunk friend who is asleep that it is 9 pm, time to party some more. He protests, but they are soon off, leaving us to sleep as best we can.
10/1 Major train day: Amsterdam to Aberystwyth
Up at 5:45, and pack and downstairs for our lock deposit and a quick cup of coffee with the funny Irish innkeeper. He makes us a white bread and cheeze toasted sandwich, which we kill as we walk the frigid deserted streets to the station. We find the train in plenty of time and settle in for a day of travelling. It is still dark at 9 am as we near Brussels passing within tantalizing distance of red neon lit windows with women sitting in them with almost nothing on, offering their wares. Up to the Eurostar area, a clean, new modern terminal, check in, get securitized and head in with gear on a beautiful new aluminum cart with brakes. I end up in car 4 and KK is in Car 16, so we head our different ways. I settle into my seat as the supertrain starts buzzing along the countryside. A guy is doing business on his cellphone, offering people jobs and contracts and being called by his office every 10 minutes. It doesn't go as fast as I thought it would, but we make it to the chunnel and all is black for about 20 minutes until we explode into the glare of snowy England. We are delayed for some time, and I get more uptight. I don't know the schedule for trains to Aber, and I want to get to the Waterloo terminal to find out asap. The announcement comes, apologetically, a snafu in the lines, very unusual in our experience on the trains of Europe.
We finally pull in and KK and I reunite, cash some travellers cheques to get quid, then run upstairs to the Britrail info counter, where I find we have to take the tube to Euston station, and have 45 minutes to make the next train to Aber. We ditch the cart and run down a non-working escalator to the tube, put in some coins for a ticket and head for the north line. It is primitive compared to Paris metro, dirty, dusty, cars from ww2 vintage, wooden slats on the floor and crowded. We make the run to Euston, and exit to find we need our ticket to get out, and I can't find mine. KK is on the other side of the barrier, waiting, and the seconds are ticking. I make a desperate attempt to find the ticket in one of my 20 pockets and finally say the hell with it. and follow my baggage on hands and knees through a little luggage tunnel next to the human exits, and we are off, clean sweep, so many people milling around no one noticed. I find the ticket buried in my clothing later. The first train we take is an old crowded commuter to Wolferhampton, north of Birmingham, with business people, kids, students, familys, and the inevitable business man programming his cellular phone. The conductor lets us go, but our britrail passes are not validated, and we promise to do that at Wolverhampton.
At W. we have 10 minutes before the train to aber leaves, so we split duties and KK validates the tickets and I find a friendly telephone operator who lets me leave a message for alex as to our arrival for free. We board another crowded train and head off into the night. KK makes friends with some college students and we joke and laugh as we travel into the night. A girl with incredibly beautiful eyes, long wool skirt from Scotland, and a short-haired guy from Ireland with an earring, teasing each other about their language variations, prononciation etc. Talking about partying, funny things people do as jokes, like "cow tipping" where you push a cow over on a hill. I sit across from an old lady, with little conversation, but she has a Welsh dictionary, and I'm sure is very interesting. At Aber, Alex is waiting and we get in the wrong side of the car, and Alex drives on the wrong side of the road to his 17th century farmhouse, smiling wife Jo, and daughter a beautiful red-haired 14-year old. We have a great meal, alexs delicious home brew, and talk and talk into the night with single malt whisky to finish off. KK gets going on religion and I decide to sleep, we leave early tmw for our encounter with DS Wood.
11/1 Wales tour and DS Wood
Still darkish at 8:15 Jo wakes me and I shower, get dressed and have a good bkfst, and KK, Alex and I head off for Bangor, 70 mi. to the north in the rain and mist. We pass pastures full of sheep, hedgerows, more stone houses than ever, all made from the local stone, different slates on the roofs. Alex gives a narrative on the local rocks as we wend our way north. We stop at an ornamental slate craft store, and I buy some beautiful coasters and trivits, donating my lens cap to the cause somewhere outside. Rainy and misty in the mountains, but warm at last, at 8 deg. C the warm spot in GB on the news. We find Dennis with white shirt and tie, looking great and a little grayer at his country cottage and sit around in his living room with the fire blazing coal amidst huge trilobite specimens. We have a great conversation, talk of old friends, picking up where we left off 28 years ago when he was my PhD thesis advisor at U of Illinois and Alex and I lived in Vermont doing field work.
We get lunch at his favorite pub, a major steak, wine, draft dark heavy bitters local beer in a small room. He grew up in this town and now teaches a the local U and does consulting. He' remembers the days at Illinois fondly, and invites me to come and visit to do field work or whatever at any time. More tales, bitters, red wine. Very funny stories of Fred Donath, the dept head in England, must write them up for the UI alum report about Nick Rast and Fred and the turn signal. We have a grand reunion and then head out to the biggest slate quarry in the world, Penryn quarry, 1000 vertical feet of cut in a mountainside. We geologise and have a great time with the rocks and Dennis tells the story of the quarry, a complex syncline, that had a major rockfall 7 years ago and was abandoned for work further south. We get some slate, and part company, driving through Snowdonia, with many hikers, iceclimbers and hostels for same, looks like a great area to come back to.
Back home, the kids whip up some great pizzas and we feast, and prepare to relax tomorrow.
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Up late, and putter around, each doing his/her own thing. The weather is still overcast, but again much warmer, and we plan a hike. I write a while on their computer,and old IBM compatible with ancient word processing. I tour the grounds, Alex the farmer is digging up huge carrots and plucking brussel sprouts off the withered stalks from the frost in a huge garden. Everyone has gardens here, and is serious about growing stuff all year round. Alex has a freezer full of summer bounty. The view is of rolling hills, hedgerows and sheep fields full of the furry characters, quiet, curious and benign. We munch a lunch and head off for a shore hike. We drive down the lane from their house past the garden with a scarecrow with a soccer ball (football) for a head, and out onto the highway, on the wrong side, I cant get over this. We drive into town along the waterfront, parking next to a magnificent row of hotels mostly abandoned because the sea pounds 50-60 feet up with waves, throwing stones. Essentially, the hotels shouldnt have been built here, so close to the shore. The breakwaters do some good, but large cobbles are strewn across the road and impact holes in the windows demonstrate how the sea lashes the buildings. Alex explains they drive on the left because of habit inherited from the middlle ages where if you rode a horse, you apporached your enemy so your right sword hand was free to kill.
Our hike starts with wind and rain and continues under sheer looming cliffs with a beautiful turbidite sequence (the one Kuenen used to first propose the concept of turbidity currents). There are beautiful folds and faults, and ladders to climb, old corroded iron, over breakwaters. We pass some large tidepools and have problems with the dog, tess, getting through. After much yipping and yowling, we coax her around to a shallow area where she can cross. We enter a large valley, U-shaped from glaciers, filled with house trailers, for the vacationers from Birmingham and London who come here in the summer. Ugly, but a good thing for them, is the opinion. We study some curious concretions with cone-in- cone structures of unknown or dubious origin.
We return to the house via a monster hotel, which is now part of the University, and another iron-age fort topping a hill next to the ocean. We rest up, then head to the local indian restauraunt, where I treat all to a mega-meal, on the order of $100 American, with a great waiter from Mauritania, off the coast of India, who speaks French. We gorge ourselves, looking from the pier at the waterfront hotels (which shouldnt be there) and the glistening ocean. Back home, we treat to icecream and the picture book of the house and how it was when they started remodeling, and off to bed for another quiet rest.
13.1 To Birmingham
We wake to another great breakfast of Jo's jams, toast, granola etc. and take the long-awaited hike to the fort at the top of the hill. It is sunny and warm at last, with a purple then red dawn out the window, and sheep scampering everywhere. We bask in the sunshine, feel the wind and hike over turnstiles and barbed wire fences to the top of the hill. The twin ridges of the fort are obvious, probably augmented by a wooden fence. Protection against animals, bears and wolves, as well as enemies was the purpose, with probably 2-3 families occupying the area. Dating from perhaps 2000 BC, this is the oldest house I've been in bar none. We marvel at the views and I take lots of pix and then we are off down the hill, and to the University, where Alex gives us a quick tour of the facilities, his lab measuring dynamic permeability in some impressive triaxial apparatuses, a plasma mass spectrometer, and great maps and photos. We visit the web-man John Gratton and have a great session with him about the web, showing him my website, and he showing his and trading tips. Off to lunch with Jo at a cafeteria, with great food, more fish and chips, endless drinks. Now it is time to head to the station, and we ensconce ourselves on the train, bidding fond farewells to Alex and jo, with the last view of Alex giving us the thumbs up sign throught the window before we pull out.
We travel through Wales country, more rolling hills, hedgerows, stone houses and sheep finally giving way to row houses, factories, powerplants of Birmingham. We exit at New Street station, follow Harriet's directions and immediatly find Chris, her husband, greeting us at the station entrance. We load up and are soon driving through neighborhoods of very english tudor, stucco houses with chimneys with several flus. We arrive at their cozy home, unscathed by the horrific traffic, and greet Harriet, my cousin and thier son Tom, an electrician. Many conversations later, we have a chicken dinner and KK and Harriet talk geneology, relatives, plan the next day, a walk in Birmingham.
Birmingham; All have left by the time we get up at 9am, after a quick bkfst, clear, sunny and much warmer now (61 farenheit, very civilized). The Guardian is a great paper, has a story about a kid who saw 101 dalmations (the movie) and painted spots on his granma's golden retriever, with predictable results. It even has Doonsberry, up to date about the marajuana buyers club in SF which had just reopened. KK has the A to Zed book map and the directions, and we head off through neat neighborhoods and a few walkers to a park. We pass a huge area with individual gardens, the response of a cramped city life to the desire to work the land. We proceed then to the Cadbury chocolate factory. It is huge, and the Cadbury world, the tourist attraction, is closed this day, except for some school groups, KK thinks of disguising himself as a kid, but we carry on into a nice small town, dont find anything exciting, and proceed around Cadburys to the rail station, and head into town.
We plunge into the business of New Street station, people running every which way, and then bust out of there and follow the crowd to an open market, with booths lining the streets, people milling around, auctioneers calling out the prices from a frozen food truck, passing out frozen items, juice bars etc to the bidding crowd. Everything from trinkets to bolts of cloth, vegetables, fruits, clothing, wedding dresses, the whole gamut of stuff and all sorts of people, jabbering in brogue, snapping up stuff. I check out a big church, another magnificent space, with candles burning, and a donation box and apathetic looking priest there trying to raise money to reconstruct. I follow KK, he is easy to spot, head and shoulders above mostly short people.
We are on a mission to find the canals, and cruise throught the middle of a modern city, bustling with energy, a part of the street made over into a walking mall, the central square with a modern statue of a woman in a fountain respectfully called "the floozie in the jacuzzi" and an interesting sculpture of a box and bronze sheets of writing paper on the stairs leading to a man writing words like "liberty, freedom, the vote" the man who emancipated the workers in this industrial revolution town. KK consults the map book and we find the canals, a great piece of history, reconstructed with locks kk could work by hand. We watch people jogging along the canals, walking their dogs, having conversations in the warm sun. The water was ripped off of Wales, flooding several large valleys, displacing towns for the industrial might of Birmingham during the i. revolution. Another LA scenerio here of water piracy. We also follow the signs along some 1800s brick walkways and low bridges, along the canal to the museum of science and industry. It is free so we go in after a great conversation with the jovial greeter man who immediatly spots us as being from the states. He welcomes us with open arms, and we cruise.
Hunger pangs are gnawing tho, and KK heads for the cafeteria, but I dissuade him, and we talk to the doorman who waves a hand down the street to the "Queen's Arms" sign, unmistakably a pub. The neatly painted sign, the curtains in the window, and the smoky press inside fit right in with the image. I get the attention of a nice Irish lady and she brings us bitters, now our favorite brew after the lunch with Dennis, followed by huge piles of fish and chips which we devour with gusto and liberal splashes of vinegar. Little scenes are happening all around: a thin guy with a ponytail talks in a circle of friends (they stand in circles and drink here) and constantly is getting calls on his cell-phone, the single men working on paperwork, or just reading a book during lunch, the large, jovial waitress setting down to her lunch of a major hot-dog and a book. The sign saying "Irish happy hour, 2 drinks for the price of one". We take it in, shovel in food and mellow out, the hike over here was a good one, and we are famished. We finish and smoke the clove cigarette the girl in the Amsterdam hostel gave KK, blowing smoke rings and savoring the atmosphere.
We finish up and head back into the museum. There we study large machines of all kinds, even a whole locomotive, steam type that used to work around here. There is a great display of old guns upstairs, and kids play areas with projects on energy and interactive stuff to occupy the hoards of schoolkids chirping away. We have had it, KK dissappears for a while, but, as always, he shows up just as I am ready to leave. We retrace the canal system back and use the map to find New Street station, walk through more catacombs with tvs showing the departures and the dock. We see and hear the announcement of our train back out to Northfield near Harriets. We're running through stations again, and find a train, but it isn't marked, and the dock has no sign, so we let it go, and then find it was our train. We try to decipher the schedule, but can't understand it, but I ask a train-uniformed guy and he tells me the next train is in 10 minutes. Now heres a good way to find things out, ask a guy who looks important, and you solve your problem.
A short train ride later, KK navigates us through the streets lined with row houses with multiple flus, all very neat and prim, very English. We even take an alley through and end up at the house. The big gold square key turns out to open the deadbolt, and we are in, hanging out till the others got home. We did it, we are a good team at travelling, with a map and minimum directions we did the best we could of one day in Birmingham.
We eat out, Indian balti cuisine, a local specialty, bringing our own bottle of wine. My prawns are tiny shrimp served in a metal pot, and just delicious, mopped up with nan bread. We crash early, after another great dessert. Chris drives the narrow streets like a madman, but stopping to let the oncoming car through a narrow area, usually between parked cars.
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15.1.97 To London...
Up early to say goodbye to Harriet, and bkfst and pack. The Guardian tells us that Billy Hallyday (the French Elvis) is doing a show in Vegas and outraged the French press by saying he wants to move to America because the French are too rude. Big article on nuclear waste disposal in GB, the same problem there, nobody wants it in their back yard. Chris drives us to the local station then goes off to rescue Harriet, who is stranded on her way to work. We catch a train, after hanging out for about 15 minutes takeing in the scene, people, posters, lists at the station, and crank around the New Street station and find the next train to London is in a half hour. Time to kill, I innocently take out my camera and take a picture of the station, and am immediately accosted by a Indian cop, who wants to confiscate my film. I pull the dumb tourist act, but he isnt buying it, sends me back to the office, where I talk to a polite manager who explains "for publicity purposes" you can't take pictures in the station. I can keep the pictures, "just don't go taking pictures all the way out" he quips.
We get on the train and have a quick trip to London through the countryside, then into the grime of the city. I find the ticket office at Euston station and get KKs ticket for the Eurostar, but they won't give me a ticket for my Britrail voucher. She says call this number, or go to the intl station, Waterloo, is the advice. I try calling, and run out of change just as we are getting somewhere, then there is no answer.. I am about to give up, when an agitated women, bruises on her face, cries to me "20 pence, do you have 20 pence for a call about my baby" she is flipping out, I think she says 20 pounds, but she says no 20 pence. So I fish out 20 pencepiece and she goes away.
I notice now, I dont have my posters, and must have left themon the train or in the ticket office. KK says I had them in the ticket office, so I go there and the lady has the box for me! We are off again on the tube, old hands at putting in the coins and getting the right ticket, now bound for Kingston High Street station and the Holland house hostel.
We arrive after a walk through Holland park with doggie doo doo bathrooms (a wood-edged sandbox with sawdust in it, these english have great ideas) deal 20 pounds apiece for bed and bkfst and settle into a locker and 2 bunks in a triplet which are like little caves. I called several hotels, and they were all 80 pounds+ for a room for 2, so we found the hostel in the bible, as we now call the lonely planet guide.
After a short rest, we are at it again, out into the misty/sunny afternoon. KK with the map, ready to guide the tour. We take the tube and end up at Westminster Abby, Big Ben is lit up because parliament is in session, marvel at the architecture and take a quick side trip into W. abby and are impressed, but not like at Notre dame. We trek to Trafalgar square with Lord Nelson high on a pinnicle. Past slick-looking pubs, #10 downing street, souvenir stands and lots of people. We take our bearings after KK feeds the scores of pigeons there, they gather around him like patrons to a saint. Feeding the pigeons is a big tourist thing here and they have vending stands with pigeon feed, an ecological disaster. We hike up some side streets with the crowds and hit Leicester square and the busy theater district, then Picadilly circus with huge neon signs climbing the sides of the buildings, night clubs with barkers and a crush of people. KK leads our escape to St James' park and Buckingham Palace, as the sun sets grayly over the statues. The security, knifed fences, the guard strutting around (2 with busby hats and automatic rifles) are all impressive, a big house, streaches for several blocks. We checkout the royal family bookstore, and pass up an opportunity to pay 2.5 pounds for 15 minutes of Leonardo's sketches from the Queen's private collection because the exhibit closes at 4 pm or 16 pounds for a book of Prince Charles' paintings. No books on Di or Furgie though. A bright red uniformed guard goes through our bags at security on the way in.
We pass up an internet cafe down the street and wander the streets until we come upon Victoria Station, we check it out, a monster roof overhead and huge space with dozens of trains coming and going. I can get my eurostar ticket here, so I do and get seated in the same coach as KK. Back into the tube, we emerge at Kensington high street into the crush of the crowd. We find a party place that has awesome fireworks, rockets with sticks 3 feet long, but pass up the opportunity to serve a jail sentence. It is supper time, and we wander to find a pub, and after a funky place called the Holland Arms, we find the Cumberland arms tucked away down a side street and a big waitress who takes a likeing to us and serves us a righteous dinner of steak and mushroom pie and fish and chips. She gives us her choice of 3 bitters, "Old speckeled hen" and it is excellent, smooth, little carbonation and delicious dark musty taste. I call An from a civilized pay phone at the bar after MCI spends some time straightening things out, and call Heathers, but a strange message "does it work?" comes over, and I leave a long message anyway. It is a great place, so kk goes to the bar and gets 2 more bitters and we nurse these for a while, enjoying the scene and being part of it. We agree on the strength of 2 scores and one strikeout, that pubs with "Arms" in the name are best bets.
Off into the night, with a misty walk through the park and into the rear entrance of the hostel, images of Jack the Ripper emerging from a dark alley. The hostel people are very well organized, used to dealing with travellers. We bed down amongst the snorers, earplugs in, and think away the night until I drift off, my head 3 feet under another bunk and my feet snuggled in a cave under another.
16.1.97 Triumphant return to Paris
Up at the crack of 8:30 just as it gets light with a brilliant clear sunrise day. KK is still racked, so I head over to a nice cafeteria and get a plate loaded with "english breakfast" bangers, bacon, toast, fruit, all the coffee and OJ I can drink, great english porridge the top of which falls back into the pot, making a great mess, a great takeoff for the morning. KK joins after a while and we check out the traveling people, 4 girls tittering from spain, several older english, some italians, french and u.s. spoken in various corners, a pleasent international dull roar.
We shower and pack up, kk letting me take his wet towel in my pack, along with the slate, gifts etc. I attach my day pack to the main pack, and hold the camera separately, my belt pack with the bible and walkman around my waist, and the box of posters from amsterdam in one hand. Dressed for the trip. KK has his act down to one pack, with daypack attached, he is totally organized.
We have a nice stroll through the park, and out into the press of the street, into the tube. We plan a trip to London Bridge, but the trains are late in the underground, and we are coming up on time to show our faces at the Eurostar entrance in Waterloo station. It is another rush crush at the station, and we find the new super carts, and load them up with our gear and enter the waiting area, posh, set aside for us Eurostar passengers. There is a big crowd, 2 trains leaving at about the same time one for Brussels, and one for Paris. We snuggle down into seats with a table between to spread out our stuff, and are off, slowly at first, then gathering speed in the countryside. A tittering group of teens across the way come from California, Auburn to be exact, with news of the floods that devastated Calif around new years. I head for the food bar, 6 cars back and take a whiff of the smoking car, brushing against people doing their things. I reach the food bar, make an order and am 20 pence short. An elegant lady next to me shells out the extra coin, and I tell her the story of the bruised lady in the station who I gave 20 pence to call about her baby. She is French and responds with understanding. Through the chunnel in the dark and flashing into the light, sunny afternoon of the French countryside around Calais and Lille where the olympics will be in several years. They crank up the train and we get the announcement that we are at top speed of 300 km/hr, about 160 mph, with everything flashing by at blinding speed. I try to envision the invading forces after D-day, fighting from wood to wood, hill to hill on the way to liberate Paris.
We cruise into Gare de Nord, our final pass through Paris, and finally find the train to Grigny Centre after some confusion in a train-metro station. It finally makes sense and we cruise the suburbs, the wrecking yards where on one end are piles of cars, and the other end is a pile of bits and pieces of metal. Out at Grigny, on the lookout for French Hoodlums, we walk back through the towering housing projects, through the alleyway, past the patisserie and home to the house. Maman is there and forces us to eat some more pate on toasted baguette, and we relax, and watch French tv for a while. An incredible series of sexy shots of a naked woman turn into an ad for yogurt. Whew! advertising is different here. We have another meal that can't be beat, roast pork with garlic and soy sauce, an incredibly tasty combination.
Anne comes out for the evening and we say our goodbyes after a long conversation about our different ways of life. She may be in Seattle next year, and we will visit. An gives the ok to a ride to the airport tomorrow afternoon, Maman confirms the reservations over the phone, and we are set. An takes Anne in town, she has to be at work, interviewing people over thephone about the concept of a European common currency, at 8:30 am. This is a hot topic of conversation, and with good reason, the currencies now fluctuate against each other with the economies of the countries reflected int he money market. It will be very difficult to get France with 12% unemployment to join England, which is booming. We kiss the French way on both cheeks, with a big hug and are off to sleep.
17.1.97 Departure day.
Up before everyone else, make bkfst and get ready for action. I have a long conversation with An about costs of trains and hostels, and the viability of a true EC common market. KK does a store run and comes back with a pile of white chocolate. I write on the computer for a while, but feel the urgency, and pack up the rest of my stuff. Maman brings an extra bag of gifts for Ron and Miako, and we consolidate the stuff, creating a large pile of stuff to go. But we have to eat first, "on mange" is the cry from the kitchen. Now it is pork chops, green beans, rice, delicious garlic-soy sauce, and dessert of chocolate pastries. An brings in a fresh pile of baguettes, breaks one like a stick of wood on his knee so it will fit into the oven for warming. We are full now, and bid our fond au revoir, a bientots, and pile into the bubble car skiis and all barely fitting, and take a short ride to Orly, find the Corsair counter with people checking in for Oakland, and we are in the groove, wandering for an hour or so, try to call Cindy, to no avail, and Heather again, but get the same strange message. The cattle are lowing as we push our way onto the 747 and find our seats way up front next to the door. We pack into the seats and ready the walkmen for the long journey. The sunset lasts for hours, we are chasing the sun at 600 mph. We see another mr bean comedy, then movies come on, the lights go down and I try to sleep, with glimpses of the main movie, Dragonheart, with a kindly dragon and lots of swordplay. We have great meal, bkfst and watch the computer display showing our progress across Greenland and Canada to the Rockies and the lights of the bay area.
Touchdown at 7 pm local time and back on US soil. The check in through customs is slow, the guys didnt show up on time to do their thing. A few fat chicks wander around looking important, one with a sniffer dog with a sign on back, protecting California agriculture (fat chance, sniffing for drugs). We are outta there in no time stuff piled high on the cart. I phone H, having found I was calling KKs number by mistake to get the wierd message. They will pick us up at Days inn, and we wait and wait for the SR airporter, which takes us on a 2.5 hour trip, with a long layover in San Rafael to change busses. Home and in bed by midnight, having left paris at 5 pm. 11 hour flight, 9 hour time difference.
next day, pick up the pieces, open the mail, change the ricerocketss oil and the oil in kks volvo, pack the rr and I'm off to the Gathering of Men in Sonora at Marty's cabin (q.v.).
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