Monday, December 17, 2012


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  at 7 AM.
Vieux Port
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.
Soap factory
  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.
Italian resuarant
  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. .
Our stateroom
  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.
Falkirk Wheel

  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.
Firth of Forth Bridge
  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.
Our hotel window
  We trained over to Delft, Holland,  dropped our bags at the Museum hotel, got a taxi over to a hospital. In contrast to Scotland, the first place they took me was to the finance dept., where they relieved me of 250 Euros ($390). Had an x-ray, saw a doc who gave me pain pill prescription. By this time it was getting close to store closing time (5:00 in Holland) so we went back to old town to find an Apotheek. This first one we were directed to had just moved. We got to the other one just as they were closing the steel shutters. We stood around flustered and defeated until a lady showed us the after hours window that was open. Finally had my stuff! This was fortunate as I had another attack the next morning, but the drug got the pain to a bearable level. Well, I had always wondered about what happened when you had to get to a hospital in Europe.
  Our hotel was a major chain with all modern rooms and baths. However, no phone, no minibar, no coffee maker ($240!). Worse, there are no restaurants in town open before 9 AM.  We at least like to have coffee at 7 AM but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. The hotel did have a nice breakfast buffet for $30 that opened at 8 AM. Talk about a captive audience! We finally frequented a coffee house called  “Stads Koffyhuis” on a canal, great coffee and pastry (Apple something with Slagroom (Whipped cream) & ice cream). We were always the first one’s there.  They employed a local retard lady to stuff silverware into a paper pocket.

   Time to return to France. Took a train to Brussels, then one to Lille, where we got a Hertz car to drive down to Honfluer, just across the Seine from La Havre. We were so ill the last time we were here (a terrible cough) we wanted to be here again, after all, this is Calvados country. It’s a wonderful old medievil town, our hotel was built about 1650, but the rooms are super modern.  The old buidings surround the Le Veaux Port (Old Port), a major port in the old days, the explorer Champlian began all his trips to the new world from here, discovering Quebec and lakes. I finally found a restaurant that served frog legs (Grenvilles), something I hadn’t had since a ten year old in Iowa. I caught my own then, however.
    In our hotels, I always like to study the fire exiting drawing to see how the owners installed bathrooms when plumbing was finally introduced. It used to be pretty basic, as all you needed was an intricate winding stairway in the back of the building, even when it was four or five stories. Usually a lift was installed about a hundred years ago that fit inside the winding stair. Of course, the lift is only 18 inches wide by about three feet. One person with bags can squeeze in.
    Visited the Margolis Calvados Distillery nearby.  They had an interesting museum with a lot of old tools used in the process. Once you get the apples fermented, it’s pretty much like making cognac. Use column stills or copper pot stills, depending on the quality you are looking for.  The first product is cider, which has various grades, usually about 5% alcohol. A nice, refreshing drink that isn’t as filling as beer.
 It gets pretty confusing when traveling around different countries, although it certainly is easier with most using the Euro (Except the Scots). Don’t have to count up the thousands of Lire any more for a glass of wine. One has to remember what the platform is called at the train station. For instance. Is it a Voi? A Spoor? Your train car is one thing, also a seat. How do you buy a ticket for a tram? Sometimes in a tobacco shop. Don’t forget to punch your ticket in the yellow box when you get on the tram or before boarding a train. Tipping is different , too. France usually is included in the price of dinner. But Holland and Scotland want tips as an extra. About the time you learn it, it’s time to move on.
   These countries we were visiting all had great water in cafes, but do you think I could get Joy from buying two bottles of the stuff per day? At 1.5 Euros x 2 = $4.5/day = $210
per trip! She thinks she has unlimited funds, I guess.

Pompideau Center  - Paris
  After Honfluer we trained to Paris, where we had an excellent dinner at the Trocadero called, Café du Man, on the terrace overlooking the Eiffel tower across the Seine. This was in memorium of our wedding in Greece twenty years ago. We both had a teriaki chicken, I had a bowl of mashed potatoes (It’s hard to find potatoes in France), Joy needed two deserts to finish off.    When it gets dark (about ten) they light up the tower with a Micky Mouse light show for ten minutes. It looks better with just the regular lighting.   It always amazes me to see how many stupid tourists are shooting the Paris panorama of miles around (from the top of the tower) while using their flash that illuminates about 20 feet.  And this is during the day all day long.

To be continued….