Homeward Bound

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home again and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” — Len Yutang

When it’s time to go home, I can’t wait to get there. Just imagining seeing our grandkids and kids makes me smile. Hanging out with my friends? Talking to my sisters and my mother? There’s a lot of stored-up conversations ready to go.

Besides all the people I love, I’ve missed:

  • An all-American McDonalds large Diet Coke with plenty of ice. European Coca Cola Light tastes off, rarely comes with ice, and is a mere 12 ounces at best. Market Meadows drive-thru, here I come!
  • Matt, Natalie, and Al, who start my morning every day with some news and some mindless patter. The BBC morning news is a snooze and — imagine that! — all about Britain. Just ask us about the Scotland vote. We’ve become experts.
  • HGTV, or any TV for that matter. How I long to loll on the couch and hear those familiar words: “We have to have granite countertops and windows that let in a lot of natural light.”
  • The Jewel and Casey’s. I know where everything is and can confidently stock the fridge with ordinary stuff.
  • A toilet seat. Nine days ago, a workman came into our unit to fix a tiny leak from the hot water heater that we’d reported. He noticed that the lid of our toilet seat was leaning on the wall, broken before we’d arrived. So, he took our complete toilet seat, and said he’d be back tomorrow. He never returned and we’ve been “on the edge” ever since.
  • A shower door that closes. And, a shower bigger than a phone booth.
  • Driving around in my car. Yeah, the Metro is cool, but so is an instant escape down the driveway.
  • The old familiar everything. My kitchen. The neighborhood. Fox Valley Mall. The Riverwalk. I won’t feel compelled to soak in very architectural or historic detail. I can just BE.
  • A Portillo’s chopped salad. Quesadillas at Front Street. A homemade grilled burger in a pretzel roll. A grilled chicken breast smeared with barbecue sauce.

You get the idea.

 

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We’ll Always Have Paris

“The biggest mistake people make is thinking they have time. Cover the earth before it covers you.” —- Unknown

 

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At the end of any vacation, our tradition is to rehash it all. What was your favorite part?What was your biggest surprise? What was your best meal? Last night, we began the conversation by listing all that we’ve seen and done in Paris. What we haven’t seen might have been an easier list to compose. Later, in the middle of the night, awake due to a chocolate mousse-induced caffeine buzz, I thought of  biggies we’d omitted.  How on earth could we have forgotten the O Chateau Tour? The Pere Lachaise Cemetery?

Our trip is archived with a zillion photos, so when we get all of them into Shutterfly, we won’t forget places. But what I want to remember, more than grand palaces, draw-dropping cathedrals, and breath-taking views, are little moments, tiny images.

Here are some that I hope will stay burned into my brain.

  • framboise tarts at our Metro stop
  • the wedding we came upon marching  up the hill at Parc Butte-Chaumont
  • fist bumps when the Fitbit zings at 10,000 steps
  • little boys sailing wooden boats in the pond at Luxembourg Garden
  • guys playing boule in the almost-hidden Roman arena we found
  • wine-shopping on Mouffetard
  • gazpacho at Au Port du Salut
  • wine along the Port d’Arsenal
  • passers-by under our windows
  • the Holocaust memorials at the Pere Lachaise
  • the brilliant colors, the savory smells at the Bastille Market
  • the 174 steps we climbed at the Juarez Metro stop
  • men in red pants and short sport coats; skinny girls in tight jeans
  • scarves on every Parisian
  • note-taking at Cafe Louis-Phillippe
  •  sandwiches in the out-of-the-way spot near the Eiffel Tower
  • chili at Pommes d’Eve
  • filigreed wrought iron on every window
  • the Plan de Paris in Mike’s back pocket

Where do I stop? Recalling each moment is an impossible task, hard as I may try. I know that lots more will pop into my mind as soon as I hit “publish.”

That’s okay.

I love you, Michael Brosnahan. Aren’t we lucky that we’ll always have Paris?

Getting Out

“Delay and dirt are the realities of the most rewarding travel.” Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star

Air France pilots are still on strike, and chances of our flight taking off on Tuesday look slim. We needed to figure out a Plan B.  We got to the AF office fifteen minutes before opening, and were pleased to see no line. Here’s why:  a sign on the door read, ” This office is closed today. Go to the Invalides office.”

That office was two Metro trains away, and had opened at 9:30. Scrambling to the Metro station down the block, we imagined the worst: lines longer than Space Mountain Disney, with no fun at its end. When we arrived, we were given Number 80. The number being served: 36. We found a couple of chairs and settled in.

Everyone — the young couple with a toddler from Sweden, the group of Italian women, (one with a horrible collegan cheek job, I noticed), along with  Africans, Chinese, and even some French — had the same problem. They were stuck. Yet, there was no grumbling, no rudeness, no displays of frustration. No one was barking into a cell phone or demanding special treatment. An air of calmness permeated the room. At the stations surrounding the room, Air France employees were courteous  and attentive to their customer at hand and in hushed voices, discussed options with each one. One agent rotated through the room with a tray of coffee and juice for those waiting.

After an hour and ten minutes, it was our turn. Mike and I explained our situation to the agent, and watched silently as she clicked incompressible numbers and codes into her computer. Finally, she said, “I can get you on a direct flight on United on Monday morning.” Done and done! We got our tickets, instructions on how to get our refund from Air France for the price difference, and by noon, we all set.

Walking out the door, we passed a line that snaked down the hall — at least three Space Mountain lines long. Poor souls.

The rest of our day? Lunch on Rue Cler, a walk through the 7th and the 15th, some new territory for us near the Eiffel Tower. A gelato at Amorino’s. Tonight, dinner at the best place we’ve been, Au Port du Salut. Dominique is scheduled to sing.

We’ve one more day in Paris. By Monday afternoon, reality and the dreaded weigh-in set in.

 

 

 

 

The Louvre at Last

“You should definitely see visit the Louvre, a world-famous art museum where you can view, at close range, the backs of thousands of other tourists trying to see the Mona Lisa.” —- Dave Barry, the Only Travel Guide You’ll Ever Need

 

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We kept saving the Louvre for a rainy day, but there have been no rainy days. With our Paris adventure coming to an end,  we went late on Friday afternoon when there would be short lines and fewer crowds.

No lines at all! We purchased the Nintendo system audio guide to provide commentary and direct us around the museum, and we were off. Or so we thought. The website promises that “with the  Nintendo system interactive maps you can’t get lost.” Really?Instead of  heading right towards the cache of priceless art treasures, we stood around poking at the touch screen like a couple of dolts.

We tapped in to the Masterpieces tour, but which way do to go? We walked to the Sully wing, we walked back to the Dennon wing. The little icon on our devices stubbornly remained close-lipped,  and we were clueless.  If only our grandson Owen,  was with us to decipher it.

Does this sound like a fun way to see a museum? It’s not. Finally and inexplicably, the icon began to move and the commentary began. We found Venus de Milo and Winged Victory. Then, there she was…. Mona…. surrounded by a horde of selfie snappers.

We hit a few other biggies,  oohed and aahed over the grand halls, and our masterpiece tour was completed in about forty minutes. Now what? We decided to leave the Sully wing and head to Richelieu. Impossible.  The miserable little gadget taunted us with its blinking as we went back and forth the grand halls in search of an exit.

Using our common sense, we managed to get there, and were rewarded with a gallery of beautiful ancient sculptures. Just by luck, we happened by the apartments of Napoleon III and wandered through them.

Maybe we’re on opulence overload. But after only a couple of hours at the  world’s most magnificent art collection, we hit the wall.

“Want to leave and find a place for dinner?” Mike asked.

We were out of there. I didn’t even browse the gift shop.

 

 

On the Rue Mouffetard

“Most of the time, beauty lies in the simplest of things.” — Winna Efende, The Journeys

 

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On Rue Mouffetard, we’ve bought a rotisserie chicken for dinner, with a side of potatoes roasted in the drippings. We’ve shopped for salami, a couple different kinds of cheese, some bread, and called it dinner. We’ve stopped for gelato at Amorino’s a couple of times. One night, we ate at the counter in Chez Nico, where Nico prepared fresh, savory crepes while we waited. Another night, we picked up slices of tarts, one a chicken-and-mushroom, one goat-cheese-and-tomato,  brought them home and ate them  window-side.

What a street! Rue Mouffetard is a dazzling melange of everything to eat. Little restaurants  serve French food, of course, but if you’re in the mood for Greek, Japanese, Indian, or Turkish, you’ll find it. New York pizza? An Irish pub? Sushi?  Yup, those, too.

Ernest Hemingway lived right around the corner on Rue Descartes, and maybe Mouffetard inspired his title, “Moveable Feast.” Fromageries, charcuteries, boulangeries, patisseries, poissonneries,  chocolatiers,  tea shops, wine shops, and fruit and vegetable markets display a beautiful banquet.

Just food?  Mixed in the stew are cute boutiques,  a couple souvenir stores, pharmacies, an optician, a flower market, a jewelry store or two, shoe stores, a shop selling  household items like shopping carts or baskets, a nail salon,  a cinema, a youth hostel, and one chain store, L’Occitane. Mike even got a haircut right around the corner.

We’ve been there bright and early, when housewives cluster around vegetable markets, peruse meat counters, and select perfect loaves of bread.

We’ve gone at night, too.   When the food shops close, the bars open and college students pour in while high-schoolers rove in packs, eating crepes. Restauranteurs hover in doorways, pointing out their menus de jour to Looky-Lous passing by. Sometimes a musician plays a guitar or sings for tips in the plaza, and the brasserie tables load up. Motorcycles weave in and out among pedestrians.

In the afternoon, things quiet down. Today, on a mission to buy some quiche and wine for dinner,  we strolled along at a slow pace, knowing  we may not have time to return. We passed parents clustered outside the elementary school for dismissal time, and the children’s shrill voices carried over the school’s stone wall and down the street.

I wanted to memorize it all. While Mike picked out some wine displayed in wooden boxes outside our go-to shop, I zeroed in on the people of Mouffetard. The owner of the fancier wine shop across the narrow street stood outside like so many proprietors do, his arms folded, watching the passers-by. In a gray wool apron over his blue slacks and shirt, and a stylish scarf knotted around his neck, he looked spiffier than the fruit-and-vegetable men in long blue canvas work smocks over their rumpled clothes.

Roasting chicken and fresh bread scented the air, and an elderly woman with a cane minced along the uneven cobblestones. A guy in a brown  velvet blazer, a white shirt, and jeans carried his baguette home for dinner. A young couple, both in skinny jeans, trotted along, his motorcycle helmet tucked under his arm. Pigeons swooped. Above the shops, most apartment windows were open on this warm afternoon. Bedraggled summer geraniums lingered on some window ledges.

We headed back uphill, passing the little plaza where a couple streets converge. A fountain is surrounded by greenery and a metal fence perfect for perching on while eating a gelato. At Delmos, one of the open-all-day brasseries around the circle, a couple of gray-haired matrons enjoyed an afternoon coffee in the sun. A couple of tourists sat at attention, watching the action, while a young man and woman nuzzled each other over a glass of wine.

Now past the pedestrians-only section, motorcycles lined the curbs. We avoided the German shepherd that always sleeps in front of the pharmacy, and headed home.

Yeah, it’s gritty. Some of the trash ends up on the curb. The cobblestones are grimy. Dress code is come-as-you-are.  Metal security doors that cover the closed businesses are smeared with graffiti. But, this is truly Paris.

My advice: skip the Champs-Elysées. You can see a Gap anytime. Come to the Mouff instead.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” — Unknown

Mike likes to go to Home Depot, and I don’t get it. He’ll happily wander the aisles, browsing through bins of nuts and bolts, fittings, and tools intended to do only one job. Once he bought a nifty basin wrench, so when he needed to crawl under the kitchen sink, he had the torque required for the job.

Home Depot holds no fascination for me. An extension cord or granite cleaner? I’ll dash in, find it, and get out. I won’t be lingering to admire power washers or garage floor brooms. Once in a while, happenstance had landed me in Home Depot with Mike. It’s excruciating.

For the last couple of days, we’ve window shopped a bit,  equal in thrill factor for Mike as a stroll through HD is for me. Of course, I have no intention of buying a five hundred dollar pair of shoes, but that’s not the point. What shoes I’ve seen! Gorgeous designs, sumptuous leather! And blouses?  Coats? Luscious colors, lush silks and wools. Isn’t my fantasizing about these beauties just like Mike’s ogling a shop vac with six attachments that he’d never use?

Mike, ever the trooper, slogged along, wearing the hair shirt of husband martyrdom. Why is she looking at shoes she’d never wear? Why is she commenting on another overpriced handbag? Why  doesn’t she just go in, buy something, and then we can get the hell out of here? His unspoken words rang in my ears loud and clear, even as he repeatedly said, “Go ahead and go in. I’ll wait here.”

For the long haul, Mike and I are great travel companions. We don’t butt heads about what we should see, or how much time we should spend somewhere, or where or what to eat. Settling on a day’s agenda is tension-free.  But a day of window shopping is where we part ways. I need someone — you know who you are— who understands that  eyeing fashions we’d never wear is a fun way to spend a day.  Mike needs a guy he can hang out with in a sports bar,  a guy who  doesn’t expect him to pretend a mild interest in pretty sweaters.

Tomorrow’s agenda? Not sure yet, but window shopping is off the table..

Striking Out?

“You can handle just about anything that comes at you on the road with a believable grin, common sense, and whiskey.” — Bill Murray

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The Air France pilot strike may not be the lead story on NBC Nightly News. Probably  it’s not even a lead story in Paris. But, since our departure date is coming up, it’s now on our radar.

Before we left home, we’d read about an impending strike. Then, our main concern was that we’d  get here. We did. The pilot strike began on the 15th, scheduled  to end on the 22nd. No sweat, at least for us. Then it was extended to the 26th. Now it’s on until the 30th. Ruh-roh!

A woman we met suggested that we trot on over to Air France ASAP and get in line just to see what the deal was. This afternoon, after we enjoyed a stroll through Le Marais and a nice lunch, we spent 90 minutes to get to the head of the line at AF. The rep  was sweet and reassuring, but she hadn’t heard  about the strike’s extension.  We told her the latest online report, and her shoulders slumped. Why did we have an update when she didn’t?  The steady stream of cranky stranded passengers showed on her work-weary face, poor woman.

She could get us on tomorrow morning’s flight to Chicago, since that one is  flying. There are no promises that the Chicago flight would fly on subsequent days. Yet, her guess was that they’d be a go. What should we do? We took our chances. We’re staying put, but we’ll keep checking the AF web page.

Strikes in France are as common as  corner patisseries,  and don’t follow the same protocol as U.S. strikes. There’s not a 100% shutdown and the number of pilots who are working increases daily. What can we do about it all? Go out to dinner, I guess.

Will we be home on Tuesday? I hope so, but we’re not in panic mode. We  have a few days left to savor, and besides, we can’t come home yet. We haven’t bought souvenirs for the grandkids yet. Or gone to the Louvre.