Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Maggie's odyssey--by Lisa

After a long journey (mentally and physically) Maggie is finally a Parisian dog. She seems to have come through it better than anyone! Months and months ago, after learning the Queen Mary had no more kennel room, we began to explore other options for getting her to France. We finally came up with sending her cargo and picked Northwest because it was cheaper, and because she could go direct from Detroit to Paris, only spending about 8 hrs in the air, and we had willing family in Michigan to care for her and get her to the plane. Cargo, to us, meant she would fly in the plane with other animals, packages, maybe an employee. I was imagining the FedEx cargo flight Tom Hanks was on in Castaway, without the crash. I carefully combed through the French Embassy and Consulate paperwork on the rules and forms. It all seemed pretty simple and straightforward: Rabies shot, exam, international microchip, paperwork signed by a vet, no quarantine. And we had a 4 month window to get it done. She made 2 trips to the Ashland vet to get ready. Paperwork copied for all who would be caring for her. Before we left Michigan we learned Northwest had a tighter window--10 days between exam and flight. The other potential glitch was temperature--they would not put her on if the temp was over 85. The seemingly sane bureaucracy (oxymoron?) takes a turn:

New exam scheduled in Michigan, new papers dated w/in 10 day window. Dog still healthy, good to go. Arrangements made amongst family about getting her to Detroit, all good. She travels to Detroit, refused by Northwest because papers (so thoughtfully researched, completed and explained) are not "stamped". She goes back to Holland. We are informed at 1am, angry and sleepless. Irie informed when she wakes up, cries. It is now the weekend. Michigan vet not USDA certified so papers must travel to Lansing to get "stamped". "Stamping" can take weeks, and we have the 10 day window. On Monday appointment made to get papers stamped, they will be hand delivered. Tuesday is paper appointment in Lansing, then on to Detroit with fingers crossed that papers will be good enough to let her leave the country. Then Northwest warns the temperature may be too high and it's likely to get hotter the rest of the week. Situation getting tight as 10 day window has 1 day left. She goes anyway with positive thoughts surrounding her. We get a call at 4am, she's on her way.

Wednesday in Paris. Commute ourselves to pick up rental car, negotiate Parisian highways including Le Périphérique ("Beltway" to you East Coasters) to Charles de Gaulle airport. Find Terminal 2E where flight has landed, 15 minutes early. Pretty easy parking garage, lovely air conditioned building, equally lovely airline hostess who escorts us back to baggage claim to find dog. Oops, no dog. Another calm and lovely baggage office person tells us since Maggie did not accompany us she is "freight" and has been or will be (which verb tense did she use?) taken to Freight Area where we have to go get her.

Find the car, try to pay €3,50 but can't because machine does not accept change, nor does it accept our American bank card. (We have a French bankcard, it is sitting in Strasbourg at our "branch".) We are sitting behind an exit bar, hoping another car doesn't come behind us and honk. There is a call button! A very nice man helps us pay in the kiosk (what if it had been after hours?), gives a map and reassurance that finding Freight Area 6 will not be too hard. Bien marqué--well marked! Well, the map, with all its winding loops and off ramps looks like a plate of spaghetti with no sauce, and the well marked signs lead us to Freight Area 1. But we inch our way along, never discouraged, even when bien marqué shows us areas to Freight 4, 5 and 7. Where is 6??? We approximate with 5 (which is prelude for the rest of the day) and somehow find 6.

A series of security guards and doors later we finally find "imports" for Northwest. Very nice lady tells me we must go to customs. I'm thinking we have to go back to the terminal and can only collapse my head in my hands. She becomes nicer, says "ne pas problem" customs is only a couple buildings away, we can walk (smart lady not involving us in those one-way spaghetti loops again). It is hot. These buildings are not air conditioned or posh. There are trucks, gates and security guards to negotiate. I feel my French has hit an all time low as we get door after door wrong, all the while seeming to get closer but not really getting there. Like a nightmare asymptote. By this time it is "le chien"--THE dog. Everyone knows there is a dog, but where is the dog? It seems like they know but we keep going to the wrong door! We get to customs at 12:31. Lunchtime! I go back to outside hot (temperature!) security guard, getting tearful as I ask him if this is really the customs office. No, wrong door, it's over there. Trudging on. Customs is buzzing as the young workers are going off to lunch, but sanely and incredibly, the window has not closed for lunch. We are greeted with "bonjour" by every functionere who works there. I have no clue what we did there but we got ANOTHER paper and went back to Imports. Very nice lady still there, maybe she delayed her lunch because we were so pathetic. Our American credit card is accepted for import tax and she says "go through that door and get your dog." We go onto loading dock and there she is, quietly in her crate, surrounded by workers. She barks when she sees us. The workers tell me they weren't sure if she had been drugged so didn't want to give her any water. When I assure them no meds they find her some water. She is alert, fairly clean (just a little poop on her butt and towels and toy) and robust. She is quiet on the way back to Paris and I have to turn and remind myself we have a dog in the car. When Rick originally booked Maggie's flight he was told "it could take up to 2 hrs to process before you can get her." It took us 1.5 hrs.

Maggie and the apartment. She has settled in nicely. She likes the cool concrete floors. She met one of the cats right away and was scratched. She retaliated by drinking all the cat's water and starting to eat the cat's food. She tolerated that flight better than the cross country car ride.

Maggie and the streets of Paris. She gets some looks--many people are taken aback and the few comments we've had I think these Parisians think she is a wolf. Other people rightly admire her as the gorgeous dog she is. "Elle est sympa"--she is nice--seems to do the trick. She also gets friendlier looks when Irie walks her--if a kid can manage "le loup"--wolf--she must be tame. We got kicked out of the grassy area of the park, only little dogs--whatever that means--can go onto the grass.

So, France and the rules, not liking that so much. Again, the lesson that personal relationships carry the day: our family--Rick's parents, Lisa's sister, Randy, and especially Lisa's mom--really stepped up for us; it's ok to show emotion like fatigue and worry to the office lady and she will help out; chat with the guy who has bad teeth and a weird looking dog and he will not be afraid of yours.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What I like about France--by Lisa

I love the French road system. The highways are well marked by the cutest sign posts, pointing you in the direction of a place. The road names (often a letter plus a number for the highways) are small in comparison to the name of the place they end up. Intersections are marked by roundabouts so you could always go around and around if you're not sure, or haven't made up your mind, and no one will honk at you in annoyance. These roundabouts do not stop the flow with lights. It is a system of manners and ceding the right of way. I cannot guarantee this mannerly system for L'Etoile however (the 12 lane roundabout circling L'Arc de Triomphe). The country roads also mark points of touristy interest by a brown sign. The supermarket is marked by a billboard (I remain grateful Ashland has banned these) but the old château in town is marked by a brown sign. In towns many cobblestones remain. There has been debate about keeping these, as they were used to build barricades and as weapons during the Commune uprisings of the 1870s and again by the disgruntled Parisien students in 1968. I especially like the small little pearly grey cobblestones laid in fan patterns.

I like how the guy in the wheelchair on a packed subway got looked after. The riders packed in around him, pretty much ignored him except for the occasional unobtrusive glance. He didn't seem to be verbal, but as his stop approached he hit a button on the panel of his wheel chair and when the doors opened a worker for the subway put up a ramp and he exited the car with more dignity than the rest of us herded cows possibly could. The worker then lifted up the ramp and was on her way. The whole process took very little time and absolutely no drama.

I love how Paris is so proud of itself that it completely lights up at night, shining lights on all its gorgeous monuments, saying "Look at me! You might have missed me during the day but I am so gorgeous!" France is now president of the E-U, a position that rotates every 6 months, and this pride shows up on the Tour Eiffel which glows blue at night and has the 13 E-U stars positioned on it.

I like that culture is promoted and encouraged. Half of the Metro billboards are for museum exhibitions. That is how I get my first inkling I want to go to a particular museum. They also reduce admission rates for the disabled, the unemployed and other categories of those who can't afford it. (As non-citizens the unemployed Bailey/Brownes don't qualify). Kids under 18 are free.

I like the beautiful oldness. During its chaotic history of wars, pillaging, revolution etc many buildings were destroyed. But there are still quite a few left! Paris is old, way old. The Celtic tribe that called themselves the Parisii lived near Notre Dame around 2300 yrs ago. Their ruins were found and that site is a new museum! We had a date last night and attended a concert on L'Île de la Cité, which is right downtown, in between the arms of the Seine. We saw a group of strings play Vivaldi's Four Seasons at La Sainte Chapelle. This is a gorgeous little cathedral and we were surrounded by magnificent stained glass (these are not just windows, the stained glass windows are the WALLS) and some of the original statues. It was build in the mid 1200s. So here we have an 800 yr old chathedral, listening to music that was composed about 400 years later, played by musicians born about 300 yrs after that. That music in that place--spellbinding. The audience, which was small, stumbled out of there. Thankfully we had workers to direct us outside.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

La Vie à Paris

We have been in Paris since Tuesday. Our 4-bedroom, 2-bath apartment is spacious and well-furnished with everything we need. Our landlady, an American ex-patriot with 3 kids has been very nice and helpful, and is now on her way to Corsica for a month. She even set us up with (an expensive) baby-sitter. We have spent the first 4 days acquainting ourselves with our area in the 13th arrondisement (which is charming and not touristy), finding the local markets, metro stops, etc., while also being very much the tourists (see photos). We do a LOT of walking, though we finally got Irie some shoes that don't hurt so her mood has improved, and Irie is loving navigating the Metro. Paris photos

We are also starting to live like the French. Lisa's french is flowing and she obviously deals with the difficult transactions like buying week-long metro passes that require passport-type photos, or purchasing tickets to Vivaldi's Four Seasons at the historic St. Chapelle (we're going on a date Sunday night!). However, I have also been making my way around simple transactions alone like grocery shopping, and yesterday I went to the thrice-weekly market alone. I love these open-air street markets! I was able to ask for a piece of Morbier cheese the size I wanted, a European summer shirt, and all the various fresh veggies needed for ratatouille. I had never made it before, and Lisa said it turned out great. We are already accustomed to the daily rituals of bread, cheese, wine...and nutella!

On the downer side, we went to bed early last night knowing we had to get up and get ourselves out to Charles de Gaulle airport to pick up Maggie. Irie was so excited! We were awoken about 1 am with news that Northwest would not let Maggie on the plane because the vet had forgotten to put a stamp or seal on her USDA papers. This after my parents had taken care of her for a month, and Lisa's mom and sister had taken her 3 hours across the state to Detroit to put her on the plane. From what we understand, they drove all the way back home, are going to get the paperwork fixed, and make that drive all over again today. We feel helpless, burdensome, and reliant on others and want them to know that we are extremely grateful and humbled by their sacrifices!!! Hopefully it will all work out this time. We will miss the final of the Tour de France on the Champs Élysée, but we'd much rather our dog arrives safe and sound.

Meanwhile, our Fréjus landlords, who had already offered to help us get Maggie from CDG, are very understanding. Christine, on the phone this morning was very motherly, spoke slowly to a sleep-deprived Lisa and started using the "tu" form with her. We are going over there for dinner tonight and if Maggie makes it in on Sunday they will help us out then. That is the French way, making contacts and mattering to those with whom you connect.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tides in Normandy

Even though we are now in Paris, I have to write a post about the tides in Normandy.  They call them the "strongest tides in Europe," and a google search revealed that they come in at the speed of 1 meter/second, and are "as fast as a galloping horse."  We experienced this the first time we went to the plage (french for beach) in Granville.  We arrived at the beach at low tide, about 4 pm, and took a walk a few hundred yards out to the edge of the surf where Irie played briefly in the small waves and Lisa did a hula (ka uluwehe o ke kai).  As you'll notice from the linked pictures, when she started her dance she was on sand, and 3 minutes later the water was around her ankles.  We decided we had to get back and ended up having to wade through an area of water that was up to our waists.  Once safely ensconced back on the plage we were able to watch the water rise for the next few hours as it crawled up the beach, waves getting bigger, and eventually the pool disappeared.  We left for dinner and came back for the entertainment (there was a summer festival going on) and the waves were crashing against the ramparts.  What a trip!

Since the weather had finally improved, we went back to the beach the next day to watch it happen all over again after visiting a corn field maze in the morning.  They have been doing a different maze at this sight since 2002 and this year it is in the shape of Mont St. Michel in honor of it's founding 1300 years ago.  The maze has quiz questions on the Mont to help us find our way (en francaise) and it still took some backtracking and teamwork - it was a lot of fun!  Later that night we took a drive to watch the tides rise around Mont St. Michel which we had visited during the day (low tide) earlier in the week.  The tides really are an amazing sight. Granville plage and cornfield maze pics

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Normandie revisitée (by Lisa)

It’s been 23 years since I was last in Normandy.  It was spring at the time I attended Université de Caen.  Now it’s July and the weather is slightly warmer, a bit less rainy, but still grey.  Bayeaux and the 1000 yr old tapestry (not photographed by us due to obvious concerns about flash) stitched by Reine Mathilde to document her adventurous husband William’s exploits was better than before.  The tapestry is now in a darkened room and the audio guide walks you through the stitched images telling of William, Duke of Normandy, moving onto bigger and better things as he invades England and becomes King.  They had a kid’s audio guide too and a splurge of tiny medieval figurines in the gift shop seemed to seal the history lesson.  Of course Irie ties all her Disney fairy tales into it too, and though the tapestry shows beheaded and naked soldiers it is not terribly gory.  A trip to Caen, later in the day showed us where William lived, as his château, built ~1060 is still there.  When I went to school in Caen, and walked through the ruins of the château daily, it was more crumbled than today.  It’s been extensively refurbished, with the local limestone as in the original.  In the pictures you can see Irie sitting on a wall of it, enjoying a circus performance.  Also in those Caen pictures is 144 rue Branville, where I used to live.  The nameplate is the same as the elderly couple I lived with, though it must be their son by now.  You will notice that many of the buildings in Caen are fairly modern in style.  Caen was about 90% destroyed during WWII.  This war brings us full circle to the interesting France/England relationship over the centuries.  One thousand years after William invaded England, claiming it for France, England returned the favor, this time, with a lot of help from the Americans and the Canadians, invading France to turn it back over to itself, free from Germany.  See the photos of Omaha Beach and the American cemetery that rests on the cliffs above it.  The German bunkers, now filled with the stench of pee, remain dug into the hillside.  You have to walk carefully so you don’t fall into a gun hold.  The walk through the cemetery, amidst all the markers was long and tiring, but Irie made us do it.  She simply said “If people just go some of the way through then the soldiers down there don’t get visited.”

Of course no trip to Normandy is complete without saying hi to some cows.  Camembert was our cheese selection today, it can ONLY come from Normandy.  In fact, the origin of our particular cheese is Isigny Ste. Mère, a tiny town north of here, on the Cotentin peninsula.  Get this--a father/son duo from Isigny (d'Isigny en francais) were in William the Conqueror’s army. They stayed in England after William's success. Part of the family later moved to Ireland and the name was anglicized to Disigny.  Then in the 1800’s one of them moved to Chicago and the name was modified again to Disney--Walt Disney came along later.  The seven steps of Kevin Bacon (in this case Mickey Mouse) via French history......

Normandy photos

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mont St. Michel (by Lisa)

The view of this place from afar is enough to take your breath away.  We had plenty of opportunities for that as you can see it several times from the road as you make your way into the Cotentin peninsula.  It is the stuff of myth and legend as well as history and this year is celebrating its 1300th anniversary.  I was here 23 years ago on a day trip and mostly hung out as at that time couldn’t afford the abbey entry fee.  Happily we don’t have to live like students, at least not yet, so toured the abbey and listened to the audio guide.  We snaked our way through the various stages of architecture over the centuries, imagining the knights on pilgrimage partying in their large dining hall, and monks eating silently in theirs.  Our favorite area was the cloister garden, as it was open air, a welcome splash of color within all that stone, and seemed to be a garden that floated between sea and sky.  Irie had a special attraction to doors, trying to open them all, and if unsuccessful peeking through the old key holes.  After the abbey we continued to snake our way through the charming, touristy, one-street village that is at the base of the mount.  The tacky curio shops caught Irie’s attention immediately and she spent some of her money on a key chain (she’s announced she’s collecting them) that has nothing to do with Mont St. Michel--or maybe I just missed the puffy owls made out of rabbit fur flying around.  Squeezing through the tiny passageways was a big hit and if I had spent much longer on the Queen Mary I would not have fit.  The tide, for which Mont St. Michel and the surrounding area are famous, was out all day, so we ended the day surveying the sandy/mucky flats.  We watched many modern day pilgrims, some on horse back, trekking to and from the mainland.  We also saw a fox that didn’t survive the last tide.  We managed to avoid quicksand though the stinky low tide zone gave a hint of memory of the draining of Diamond Lake.

Mont St. Michel photos


Now that we are actually here, in France, I can look back and analyze the mistakes that we have made.  They revolve around two main themes: how the first month of the journey was planned; and, how we packed.  

I will deal with the latter first as that is an easier subject to tackle.  We decided before we ever left home that we wanted to keep our luggage to one suitcase and one carry-on sized bag per person. That meant one suitcase full of clothes per person with the carry-ons being used for niche items.  My carry-on was devoted solely to electronics: ie., dvd player, dvd’s, dvd burner, ipods, cameras, computer, and all the necessary cords and batteries.  Irie’s carry-on was used for her “friends” (stuffed animals), books, and games.  Lisa’s carry-on consisted of jewelry, toiletries, and the like. We might have been able to pull that off except that we had chosen to take the QM2 so we needed to bring nice clothes for the ship.  Thus, we ended up with an extra hang-up bag (the size of a suitcase) that had dresses, my tuxedo, and dress shoes, among a few other things like books.  

Unfortunately, we were unable to keep it to just that one extra bag as we madly scrambled the last few days in Ashland to pack up the house as well as pack up ourselves for the year abroad.  As it turned out, all the electronics couldn’t fit in my carry-on so we had to carry the computer separately in it’s own case.  We also had a briefcase-like purse that carried all of our important itinerary papers, passports, money, and important info from home like banking and insurance.  “Our life is in that bag.”  Another canvas bag was packed with extra books and journals, so in the end we stuffed our rented SUV with 4 suitcases, 3 carry-ons, a computer case, a brief case, a canvas book bag, Irie’s American Girl doll...and Maggie. 

Let us not forget the 4th member of our family who is still in Michigan with family, waiting to be flown to Paris next week.  Besides Maggie, we had to pack her very large kennel, food, leash, brush, chew toys, and food and water dishes.  When she joins us in Paris we will need to, somehow, transport all of the above to Fréjus.  We are hoping to rent a Eurovan (like we used to own) or possibly a small RV.  Unfortunately, our lack of internet access is causing a delay in making those arrangements as well.

Considering that we had to transport all of the above from Oregon to Michigan, and then everything except Maggie and her supplies from MI to Baltimore, to NY, on the QM2 to England, and finally to France, we did well with one glaring exception.  Our one and only flight (with Flybe) on the entire journey turned into a nightmare as we attempted to cross the English Channel for a 1-hour flight from Southampton, England to Brest, France.  They allow 20 kilos/person checked baggage and 10 kilos/person for a carry-on.  Our total came to 84 kilos and 2 extra carry-ons which ended up costing us an extra $500 or about $10/pound over the limit.  So much for the cheap tickets which were originally about $60/person.  We got taken to the cleaners.  

So in conclusion, we overpacked.  Not only do we have too much stuff, but considering the very gray and cool weather we’ve had on the ship, in England, and Normandy, we packed the wrong stuff.  We still have a “winter box” sitting in our friend’s garage waiting to be sent to Fréjus (or not) that holds most of our long pants, sweaters, winter pjs, coats, etc.  Live and learn.

This is a perfect lead-in for the mistakes we made in how we planned the first stages of our journey.  This experience is about spending a year abroad in France.  Thus, Lisa and I are in agreement that spending our first month (and tons of cash) trying to get to France was probably not the best way to start our adventure.  Too many stops, too much stress, and too much baggage (literally and figuratively).  Instead of focusing on France, language skills, and what would be involved in fitting in, and getting situated, we were trying to please others.  It was too much.  We feel that the time we spent with family in Michigan and old friends in Baltimore was forced, that we were distracted and thus unable to give our full attention to where we were and the people we were with. That was not fair to anyone involved. We have paid a price for these mistakes, and honestly, still are as we attempt to now regain our footing in a completely alien environment.  

If I had it to do over again, we would start the journey on the QM2.  It was a luxurious, relaxing way to enter Europe in a kind-of reverse pilgrimage.  That would have meant flying straight to NY, which also might have forced us to reexamine our luggage.  We also visited the kennel on board the QM2 and as it turned out, there was a kennel available for Maggie.  Yes, it would have been expensive, but she would be with us which would have helped Irie’s ability to feel less homesick.  She has had a tough time this first week in France.  She is missing contact with other kids, is shy and insecure about trying to speak any French, and has repeatedly said she wants to go home.  Since the two of us are are dealing with our own issues of integration, this has been emotionally difficult.  Lisa worries we are “wrecking her life” while I argue that, like us, she will start to feel more comfortable and this will be an experience that will help her be more flexible and open-minded throughout her life.  She just doesn’t know that yet.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Arrival in France

Up early again on July 15 as we are finally going to France.  It’s hard to believe that we left home a month ago, and we are just now arriving in France.  A year of planning and imagining, a month of traveling and lugging our belongings, and we’re finally here!  Will it live up to our expectations? Will Irie and I ever feel confident using French? Will we really feel settled until we’re actually in our “home” away from home in Fréjus?  Will we, even then?  I think we’re all going through a bit of culture shock, though Lisa’s French is flowing easily.  

After landing in Brest, on the far western tip of France, we have about 3 hours of driving time to get to Granville where we will spend the next week.  We stop off in the first town, Morlaix, for lunch and I definitely feel in a foreign place immediately.  It’s about 2 pm, and it is clear that we are on the far end of the lunch hour.  There is a rather large party at one of the tables, and a couple guys at the bar.  They all look at us like we’re aliens, as we decide to sit (wrongly) in the bar area.  The waitress addresses me, and I point to Lisa who then asks about dejeuner (lunch).  She points to the empty buffet, and we all feel like bailing out, but somehow Lisa manages to order 3 ham and cheese sandwiches, 2 coffees, and a water for Irie.  The sandwiches turn out to be huge and delicious (ham, brie and pickles) and the waitress friendly.  Lisa not only managed to order lunch, but also to get the waitress to take an interest in us. I doubt they get many Americans in such an out-of-the-way place so we get back into the car feeling successful in our first foreign endeavor.

We realize about 4 pm that we only have about 10 euros so decide to get off the freeway in Dinan to exchange some currency.  We finally find the centre-ville which, in typical European fashion is full of narrow, crooked streets and lots of pedestrians. It’s a charming-looking town, but we strike out at finding a bank so end up driving through some beautiful countryside before finding our way back to the freeway.  

We finally arrive in Granville around 5:30, and after getting a bit lost, manage to find our apt. on a busy thoroughfare.  I get lucky with a parking spot out front and Lisa handles the check-in with the landlord’s mother.  It is a quaint and spacious.  We feel a bit overwhelmed from the day which only grows after I fry our surge protector trying to use our electrical converter.  Luckily, only the surge protector was damaged, but it was yet another learning experience.  We manage to find an open grocery store after 8 pm and have soup for dinner in our kitchen.  Exhausted we sleep for 11 hours, and now face a rainy day in which we need to exchange money and find a place with wifi so we can update everyone on our adventures. 

One Day in England

After 6 days of being pampered and spoiled we exited the QM2 with a touch of sadness.  We had really gotten our days on board down to a science: breakfast in bed, DDay lectures by an onboard historian, lunch (in various locales), the amazing Planetarium shows, afternoon activities, then dressing up for another elegant meal.  The last day Lisa entered the talent show and initiated the ship into the world of hula dancing.  Irie made a last minute decision to do her dance as well, and they were both a big hit. Irie and an 11 year-old from South Africa became very close so Irie often wanted to go to Kid Zone which allowed Lisa and I to have some nice alone time in the afternoons or evenings. Dancing with my beautiful wife was a treat even if I am a lousy dancer.  We made an impromptu commitment to take another voyage on the QM2 alone in about 10 years.

Getting processed and disembarking was smooth, and the next thing we knew we were at our hotel in Southampton, England.  Moving about is a huge pain with our year’s worth of luggage, thus every hotel room, small to begin with, feels even smaller.  We only had one day in England so we immediately set out on a tour.  The first step was getting the rental car and overcoming my anxiousness of driving on the left.  Lisa made some hilarious video of us as we headed out of town; not only making sure I stayed on the correct side of the road, but figuring out exactly where we were going.  We made it to the medieval city of Salisbury safe and sound where we had a beer and a monster plate of fish and chips, then it was onward to our goal: Stonehenge. 

Got a bit lost trying to get out of Salisbury, but eventually found our way.  Out in the country, we turn a corner, and suddenly there it is. I’ve seen pictures of Stonehenge all my life, but there it is, for real, on a hill, surrounded by people.  It cost about $33 admission for the three of us, which included a headset telling about it’s history, possible uses, and how it potentially got built. Lots of theories, but no one really knows for sure, and most people don’t realize that there are numerous “henges” around the Brittany region of France that for some reason haven’t become as famous.  Still, despite the crowds and the fact that we couldn’t get up close, it was a very cool place that I enjoyed seeing in person.  

We headed back into Salisbury and toured the 750 year old cathedral. This was Irie’s first experience in a typical huge old European church with towering painted ceilings, large detailed stained glass windows, burial crypts, and massive organ pipes. There was even a choir singing.  Salisbury was a good introduction into the differences between the U.S and Europe with regard to size, architecture, and age.

Pictures from the day at: England pics

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Queen Mary 2

The Queen Mary 2 is magnificent!  What a contrast between the hotel room in Brooklyn and the cabin on the ship.  Both are small, but they are worlds apart.  Brooklyn was very grimy, the ship is luxuriant.  We boarded early, so had a full afternoon on board before the ship pulled out of port about 5:45.  The processing was smooth and efficient and everyone was pleasant and courteous; from the porter checking our bags out front to our tuxedoed cabin steward.  

We walked around the ship, orienting ourselves, awestruck by the size and attention to detail.  We found the 500-seat theater and Lisa and Irie did an impromptu hula on the empty stage.  Our luggage was waiting at our room when we returned so we unpacked and went to the pool for a swim.  The decks were starting to fill up with people for the departure and we simply grabbed a rail at the aft and watched as the Manhattan skyline disappeared and the Statue of Liberty waved us by.  We had a 6 pm dinner seating, so with the late departure we hurried back to the room to change.

Our room is near the bow on the 6th level while the outdoor pools and the Kid Zone are at the aft.  Walking the hall from one end to the other is what Irie calls “the never-ending hallway.” It is truly amazing how long this ship is.  Our restaurant, The Britannia Club is somewhere in the middle.  Our dinner companions for the trip are a family from Boston with 5 year old twin girls and the dad, Stefan, is a Frenchmen which is serendipitous. He and Lisa get to parlez vous, while I try to understand what they are saying. The meals have been first rate with multiple selections for appetizer, salad, main course, and dessert.  

Each morning we awake to the arrival of our room service breakfast, delivered by a handsome young man in white tails.  Ahh, good coffee and all we had to do was answer the door.  Starting the 2nd night, we have dressed formal for dinner and on the 9th we went to the Black and White Ball, while last night we put Irie in the Kid Zone and went on a date to hear some jazz. We are feeling very pampered and relaxed, life is good.

I am working on this post in the library on the 8th floor looking directly out over the front of the ship.  The Atlantic Ocean is calm but foggy which only adds to the feeling of being cocooned.  Here's the pics so far:  QM2 photos

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Michigan revisited

On the way

Berlin Raceway, Marne, MI

Browne cousins

Lake MI sunset

Irie in the surf

Irie above Chicago   

The Girls above Chicago    

Rick and Jordan

the 5th wheel

K College Quad