Wednesday, July 09, 2008


We always fly into Paris, just to root around in all it’s history and to determine which Boulevards Baron Haussman cut through the city in 1850. We visited Rue Montorguil, the pedestrian street that’s been a market for centuries. This gives us a couple of days to decompress our jet lag. We make our rounds in our neighborhood on the left bank, to a fromagerie, le Alimentation (Fruits), le Nicolas (Wine), un patissarie for baggette and fab desserts, head back to our hotel D’Orsay, and have a little dinner in our room. I take the opportunity to do my Tai Chi in deserted street in front of the Hotel D’Orsay AT 7 AM.
Met our friends the Dodsons, who picked us up in a Hertz car, drove out of Paris (Insane!) To a small town, Bains-le-Baines, a couple of hundred kilometers away. On the way we stopped at Ronchamp, Corbusier’s iconic chapel. I could never reconcile Corbu’s change of style but it seemed to be well wrought. There was a Sunday service going on so we went in and pretended to be Catholics for a few minutes. More surprisingly, a small school next to it was really interesting, rough concrete, sod roof and a few bright painted surfaces around. I don’t remember seeing any photos of it.
We stayed overnight at the Hotel de la Poste, a converted Post Office. Next day Bill & I went foraging for supplies for a week on the boat. Contrary to all rumors, we found the biggest super market we’ve ever been in. It even took us a while to figure out how to get in the damn place. There was nothing more we could have desired, even large selections of sliced bacons. We then returned the car to Herz, got a taxi back to the boat to unload our stash. We set off for our adventure (Our fourth) down the canal on our $150,000 42' cruiser, three staterooms and a bow thruster.
Joy is a genius at scheduling, she had all our lunch & evening stops already planned. The canal maps we get are extremely well documented, showing where boulangeries, wine shops, etc. are located. Even notes what day the town markets take place. When we got to the end of our trip a week later, we met Emma, CEO of the company (Hotels Afloat) we deal with to rent the boats. She’s a Brit expatriate we have been dealing with for several years. She brought over a bottle of wine and we learned a lot about the French method of taxation and deprivation. She and Joy worked out a deal for Joy to make up schedules for various canals that boat renters could buy from her. These boats cost about 180 Euros per couple per day, about the same as a hotel room.
After our canal trip, Joy and I rented a car and drove down to Cassis on the Mediteranian. We had been here before and wanted to spend a few days in a small old hotel on the plage (beach). This is a typical, picturesque small fishing village. The second day the Mistral started blowing it’s furious blast, which was constant for two days, interspersed with huge rain and lightning storms each night. We don’t get stuff like that in California, and it’s pretty exciting for us. No boats were able to get in or out of the port during the blow.
On our way to Marseille, I was eagerly looking forward to stopping at the Museo de Legion Etrangere, in Aubane, on the way to Aix in Provence. These towns look small on the very detailed maps we use but the’re a mess to enter. First of all you have to find the Office of Tourisme, which is generally by the gare, but not always. Sometimes there are signs that direct you to the Office, where you try to find a parking space. They gave us a map of the town and directions to the Foreign Legion. On the other side of town we finally found it, only to find they are closed on Thursday! Awww! I was so looking forward to seeing Capitan D’Anjou’s wooden hand there. He was killed in the famous battle of Camerone, Mexico, where 60 Legionaires fought off several thousand Federales, dying valiantly to the last man.
Well, on to Aix, where Joy tried to find her soap shop, so she can load us up with some heavy gifts for a few thousand of our close friends. Unfortunately, the shop had closed, probably replaced by another Gucci. However, I did find a shop totally devoted to Converse All Star tennis shoes. Probably a fashion I started years ago.
We usually had lunch at Le Deux Garcons, but we were not real starved so we stopped for crepes at a small sidewalk café.
On to Marseille, to La Residence, our favorite hotel on the Vieux Port. We settled in on the seventh floor where we spend endless hours on the deck watching the shenanigans of the French on boats and cars. We were here with the Dodson’s a while back, and it turned out they were celebrating the founding of Marseille 2500 years ago. Try that on for a bit of history! Seems the Greeks got here first while setting out colonies all over the Med. We found a small soap factory, La Savonaire, that Joy had seen on TV (Samantha Brown). We bought so much soap that they gave us a tour. Most of the machines were over a hundred years old but built so massive they are still working fine. They don’t build ‘em like that, anymore.
We flew on Ryan Air up to Brussels, but next time we’ll do our math. The short flights around Europe are pretty cheap (80E), but the airports are always way out, there is always a baggage surcharge (200E for us this time!). Maybe back to the train (If they aren’t on strike!). Our ship to Edinburgh goes out near here so we stayed a couple of days in this seaside town. There didn’t seem to be many old buildings (Except our hotel), it was probably bombed to smithereens during the war. They had a slick little tram system that ran up and down the coast, alongside a huge dike that might have been natural. However, it continued through the whole town which was were a wall of ten story apartments extended for many blocks. These all seemed to be second homes.
In a toilet here, Joy found a guy drying his false teeth on a roll type hand towel which was a new experience for her.
We boarded a huge ferry for an overnight trip Scotland. No huge waves on the North Sea, just a great lightning storm during the night. Checked into the Hotel Premier Inn - 85 Pounds ($170) new, no phone, no minibar, no coffee maker, no coffee. Had to get up and go next door to a restaurant for breakfast, about $20 each for a buffet. Found out later we could get a $6 continental breakfast.
Visited the Queen’s ship, Britannia. Recently decommissioned. The incredible waste of resources is mind boggling. You had an admiral to run 250 crew. These folks would sail around the world to visit all her domains, review the fleets and all that, but really, was any of it necessary? Not to me, anyway. Even more pathetic was the dukes job, probably all make work shit, which he could do in his very own little play office.
The main reason we came up to Scotland was to see this jewel of the world’s engineering projects. Recently regenerated two old canals, replacing 11 locks at this place with a fabulous wheel. A pretty far out concept, with lots of really sticky problems to solve, all done in about 3 years. The first canal ran from sea to sea yet was only 172 km across Scotland. What’s that? Like Sonoma County? When your boat gets to the top, you go thru a tunnel under the Antonione Wall, Romes’ way to keep out the bloody Scots to the north. These Scots must have been real buggers if the Romans couldn’t suppress them.
The 1890 engineering feat. At the time , it was comparable to our flight to the moon.
This is a monstrous structure, consisting of huge steel tubes 12' in diameter. The term "Like painting the Forth Bridge" meant a job that would never be finished. However, the Brooklyn Bridge (suspension) was completed in 1883 but was not subject to the huge winds of the Forth. Also the Forth’s span is greater at 1710' vs. 1595' for the Brooklyn. 63 workers died during construction. About the average for the time. No worker’s compensation there.
We specifically took the ferry from Holland in order to come in under the bridge.
Our first order of the day when we arrive at a new town is find a good Italian restaurant. We found Prezzo right next door and had a few meals there. Our waiter was a large fellow from Estonia (Wherever that is). He had great accent so we told him he looked like a movie actor playing a Russian in a James Bond movie. He said he had done a couple of bit parts.
Salade Caprese, Ministrone soup with a bottle of Pogobonsi Chianti.
The first day in Scotland, after visiting Falkirk, we started walking up to the Royal Mile, where all the goodies are in Edinburgh (Pubs, Scotch tasting, etc..) About halfway up my body began to fall apart with a tremendous pain in my back. We had to abort and get back to our hotel so I could writhe in pain lying down. After a couple of hours I began to feel OK. We had no idea what happened , thought it might be my back was out. Next day we got into the pub so Joy could have real Fish & Chips. After waiting a long time and finally getting a table, I was so ill we had to leave immediately. We found a cab, back to the hotel to writhe around a bit. By the next evening, after several hours of agony, Joy got a cab to the Royal Infirmary emergency room. The first nurse I talked to said "Have you ever had Kidney stones?". That made us feel better right away as I had no idea what the hell was wrong with me. After several tests the young woman doctor said I should get an x-ray to see where the stone was. This was at one AM & we had to get to the airport in a few hours so I checked out. Guess what? Even though this was Scotland, they didn’t charge me! (Unknown tourist). But they also didn’t give any pain pills.
By the time we flew to Amsterdam, checked into our houseboat "Donna Teresa"on the De Costa Gracht canal, I had more attacks and pretty much in pain on this nice modern houseboat. By the time we left after a few days we realized I should have gone to a hospital there.
Beautiful women, hair and skirts flying, zipping along the boulevards and traffic, are all over the place. Nobody wears a helmet, except they might put one on a little kid. Most bikes are rattly old things as theft is a major industry there. Bikes have the right of way. Any accident with a bike, the taxi or car is automatically responsible. Unlike here, where motorists try to run down anyone on a mere bike.