Monday, July 30, 2012

Up the Saone

A chalet in the Beaujolais region

It may have been the steak tartare in the outdoor cafe. Or perhaps the soft, very stinky cheese we had bought Sunday and were still eating Tuesday night. Or even, I suppose, the beautiful sausage with its white skin and dark red and white filling. It's even possible it had nothing to do with food but was just a bug left on a museum railing by someone who hadn't washed their hands.

When you feel really sick, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out how you got that way, but in the end (and that pun is intended) it makes no difference.

I awoke the morning we had to go from Paris to Lyon with a bad tum and Stage 2 diarrhoea. Stage 2 is when the first Immodium has no impact at all. I try to avoid Stage 2 because, although it usually works, it often overdoes its job. Not only is the crack in the dam plugged, but it may be days before any of the water finds its way down the sluice.

All in all the trip to Lyon was about as easy as could be. Taxi to the station, porter to the train, sleep like the dead until just outside Lyon, drag the bags to a taxi, check in, sleep like the dead for four hours, go to dinner and marvel at what it feels like not to come close to finishing your plate and quickly back to the room and sleep like the dead for 10 hours.

I can add that LK was not up to par, either, but seemed to be at about 20 percent of my condition. The best news to report is that the next morning we both woke after our long sleeps and were miraculously restored. Maybe too soon to try coffee, but lunch loomed large and how are you going to have lunch in France without a glass of rose?

So, tums all better, we boarded the river cruiser in sweltering heat, ready to join the dozens of Americans who, we assumed, had flown in to tour the Beaujolais and Burgundy wine districts with us. That had been our expectation since we had booked through an American tour organizer and their web site talked all about the flights Americans would be taking to get to Lyon.

Apparently our tour company wasn't quite as successful as they may have hoped. Our first hint was when we were approached in the reception area by the maitre d' who asked if we were with the Gate1 tour. How perceptive of him, I thought, because we were. Right after that the man in charge of excursions asked if were with Gate1 and said we had to choose between two conflicting excursions on the last day of the cruise. I better started to understand what was going on when I looked on his screen and saw that LK and I were the only two listed from Gate1.

A few moments later she explained to me that she had already understood what was happening because of what the maitre d' had said.

I, of course, had nodded and pretended as if my hearing was perfect and even gave an answer to what I assumed his question was. The fact is he had told us that there were only two English speaking couples booked on the cruise and would we mind if the other couple joined us at our table in the dining room. I did not come close to guessing what he was asking and yet it did not stop me from immediately saying no to his request.

The 1,000-year-old Abbey at Cluny

I am sure he must have assumed I am the most anti-social, uncharitable man he had met in ages. Oh wait, the boat is full of Germans. Cancel that last thought.

Anyhow, that night in the dining room LK sorted out our apparent lack of hospitality and we were joined by what the maitre d' called "the other American couple". My ears, unnaturally sharp this time, heard Tony say, "We jist chicked in" and I knew we had met a couple of New Zealanders. Who, by the way, have turned out to be very interesting and entertaining and have definitely made the trip more enjoyable. Since the four of us are lumped together for every excursion and meal as the only four English speakers on the cruse, I hope they aren't too unhappy to be saddled with us, as well. We are all learning what it is to be a member of the minority.

The first few days of the tour involved going up the Saone River to Macon, where we toured the Beaujolais wine region, and Cluny, a fantastic medieval abbey that at one time was the largest church in the Catholic world. The next day we walked around Chalons sur Saone and then took a bus tour to Cormatin,  where we wandered around a castle built
during the reign of Louis XIII. The gardens have been re-created in that period's manner and they were especially beautiful.

Yesterday back to Lyon and we just had the wander around that we didn't take on Bad Tum Day. And today we have gone through a dozen locks on the Rhone River on our way to Avignon. We will spend the next few days in the Provence region here in the south of France where the weather is classic mid-summer Mediterranean. In other words, gorgeous.

The internet connection here is so bad I am not going to even try to upload pictures to Shutterfly. I will wait until Thursday night when we are back in Paris, overnighting before our flight home.
The gardens at Cormatin Castle

One final observation from this trip. After dinner Saturday night the bar was having a bit of a trivia quiz/ dance party (it is that kind of ship, we are discovering). We wandered in for a nightcap and stood somewhat dumbstruck as we watched seven or eight oder German couples cavorting on the dance floor, dancing to "Hava Nagila". They where loudly hummung the notes because they didn't know the words, of course, but they did seem to be having a grand time trying to replicate the Jewish folk dance. It's not the first time I have wished I understood German so I could figure out what they were saying.

Lyons from the Old Town

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Catching Up is Hard to Do

Well, technology got the better of me for a while, but now that we're in Paris at a lovely hotel with free WiFi it is difficult not to try to catch up on posting pictures and writing about our trip.  Actually, it is difficult. Trying to remember which waterfall was which from over 2 weeks ago would challenge a younger, more attentive person. (OK, more sober person)

So if some of the pictures have captions like "a waterfall" you will just have to bear it. Actually, about half of the pictures from Norway could have had that caption. After four days of fjords, it was pretty clear that the water melting at the top of the cliffs made for some pretty spectacular views down below.  Except, as one of the other people on the ship noted, you do start feeling you've seen enough waterfalls at this stage.

There were some great waterfalls in Iceland, too, but most of what made Iceland intriguing were the geothermal springs, geysers and cracks in the earth from earthquakes. Which, I guess, shows that I am more interested in hot water bubbling below the ground than cold water melting on top.

Rather than write a book-length post, some quick observations:

All of the places were lovely, but Iceland takes gold. It didn't hurt that the weather was spectacular the three days we were there.

Klaksvik in the Faroe Islands is a pretty, tiny harbor town in this remote chain of islands which is a self-governed territory of Denmark. If you think there wasn't much to do there as tourists, consider this: one of the tour excursions offered by the ship was a visit to a farm to see how it worked.

We took the EuroStar from London to Paris. That's the train that goes under the Channel and gets you from one city to another in about 2 hours. It was very comfortable and anything that keeps us out of airports and their security queues is a major plus.

The weather here in Paris has been fantastic since we got in Saturday. Cloudless skies with temperatures in the high 80s and breezes. It would be perfect if it weren't the height of tourist season so that today, for example, we had to stand in a line for more than 40 minutes to get into the Musee d'Orsay, our favorite museum in the city.  Who would have thought that many people want to see paintings by old dead guys!

Finally, when I say technology failed us, it did in a major way.  We had no Internet or mobile phone access for many days during the cruise. But even when we did our emails have been spotty at best. Linda has not been able to receive or send any mail from her hotmail account. And Microsoft support, which promises 24 hour response is now in its third day and still not back to her.

We know we've received only some of our mail and are pretty sure some of our mail hasn't got through. LK's is starting to look like a lost cause. So, if you've sent anything and haven't heard back send it to my account. If you don't know the address, leave a comment at the bottom of this blog.

Tomorrow we take the train to Lyon. And if you want to check our pictures, it is at the usual spot:

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cruising North: Reykjavik Iceland

Apparently long winter nights led to odd sports in Iceland

There is no better way to beat Hobart's winter weather, I suppose, than to travel to the Arctic Circle. We are sure to stop complaining about our weather after spending some summer days this far north.

Right now we are in Reykjavik, about 2 degrees south of the Arctic Circle, but tomorrow we will be in Akureyri and well and truly into the northernmost zone. Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world, and the locals seem quite proud of this as if to say their ancestors went higher up the globe before they stopped than anyone else's ancestors. Take your pride where you can, I guess.

Frankly, the weather for our tour yesterday was fabulous. The sun was brilliant and warm, the air probably heated up to the high 60s (high celsius teens) and even our guide told us how lucky we were to catch such a perfect day.

This is an amazing country to look at. Every turn in the road brings a new volcano into sight (not all active - but many). There are plenty of places to see the glaciers that cover more than 11% of the country in ice all year long and steaming geothermal pools dot the countryside. It's no coincidence that its volcano closed down European airspace for about 10 days when it erupted in 2010 or that its language gave the world "geyser".

Actually, its language also gave the world the word "berserk" and I suspect that has something to do with its winter days when the sun rises around 10:30, takes a quick look round and sets about 5 hours later.

Pretty sure the connection here won't like uploading too many pix, but will try for a few and put the rest up on Shutterfly once we are back on land.

That's the edge of the largest glacier in Iceland

Gullfoss Warterfalls

Strokker Geyser - about 100 feet up and every few minutes

In this area, the European and American tectonic plates meet

A magma wall at Pingvellir Plains

Saturday, July 7, 2012

On to Europe

And so we have left the US once again and are now in cold, rainy England waiting to board a ship this morning for a cruise to cold, sunny Iceland and Norway.

We squeezed in lots during our two weeks in America. After my Dad's service, I stayed at my mother's and helped her pack her kitchen in preparation for moving to a different apartment in the Maples, the senior living community she and my father lived in.

They had a two-bedroom apartment that sat at the end of the hallway - as far away from the entrance as possible. She doesn't need the second bedroom and has landed a new place that is the closest apartment to the entrance, which will help immensely since the walk is getting more and more difficult for her.

We bagged some stuff for the charity bins, converted several VHS tapes to DVDs and generally got things as close as we could until the move in the middle of this month.

The Dyer women at the reunion
LK was several hours to the west during this week with Peg. On Friday they joined Sandy, Dave and Jordan and drove several hours south and west to the family golf outing and reunion that is held every year.  

 Judging by the activity on Facebook, it was a grand event and Linda returned with several pictures of the event. You can check them out at our Shutterfly share site here.

I like the one to the left of Peg with Sandy and LK.  Peg looked so fantastic in her photos. It's hard to believe these were taken just three days before her 93rd birthday.

 While Linda was celebrating with her family, I was taking the Ethan Allen Express back to New York. My mother made double sure that I didn't miss this train, and I was there with 20 minutes to spare. 

It is such a comfortable ride - quiet, scenic, no security checks, no seatbelts and you end up right in the middle of Manhattan without a taxi ride. I walked the few blocks to the Port Authority, caught a bus to Freehold and was back at Walt and Terry's within 90 minutes.

LK flew back the next day and we spent the remainder of the week sitting by the pool coping with a heat wave, with temperatures soaring into the 90s (mid-30s celsius) each day. And now we are in England in the middle of its wettest summer in history with the high today not much warmer than we would have in Hobart if we had decided to spend the winter at home.

I know. It's England.

But the whole point of coming here is to get on the cruise ship, and we will be doing that in a couple of hours. We've looked forward to seeing Iceland and the Norwegian fjords for ages. Should be fun even if it is a bit cool this far north.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Pockets and All

Red, my dad, died on St Patrick's Day, but we waited until June to have his funeral because so many friends and family members were not around in March. It turned out to be a good decision because there was a large turnout at the church with more than 100 friends, family, co-workers and even some of the people who helped care for him in his later years.

The pastor, Father Remi officiated. Remi is a short version of his name, and I think his parishioners call him that because they can't quite get their Vermont tongues round his full name - Remigius Bukuru Ntahondi. I suspect that for most of his 87 years Red never dreamed his funeral mass would be said by a priest from Tanzania. I also know that he really liked Father Remi, who visited him frequently. And based on his sermon it seemed pretty evident that Father Remi liked my father, as well. That alone says heaps about how much the world changed in my father's lifetime.

Funerals are sad affairs, of course, but I think having that much time between his passing and the service enabled most of us to be a lot less emotional than we would have been while we were still absorbing the loss. There were still plenty of tears, of course.

Aunt Nelly and Dad two years ago
My Aunt Nelly sat between me and my mother during the funeral, and almost as soon as she sat down she began sobbing. Now in her 90s, it must have been hard to farewell the last surviving sibling from the family of 4 boys and 5 girls.

But she's a Kennedy, and that means you couldn't keep her down for the whole day.

I delivered the eulogy, and in it I reminded everyone that one of my father's greatest loves was to make people laugh. I invited everyone to take a second to recall something he had said or done that made them chuckle, and I was not surprised to see so many smiles light up the faces of the people who had come to mourn my Dad.

It was at the reception that Aunt Nelly told me that when I said that, she had thought back to when Red was very young - probably third or fourth grade. As you would expect of a family of nine in Wallingford Vermont during the Great Depression, there was very little money to go around.

All of us kids were told in no  uncertain terms, Aunt Nelly explained, that we would get one cap, one coat and one pair of mittens for the winter so we had better not lose them if we wanted to stay warm. But one day young Red came home, crying his eyes out.

"Mom," he sobbed, showing his bare hands, "I've lost my mittens - pockets and all!!!"

My grandmother looked at him and quickly figured out what he meant. "Red," she said, "you go back to school right now. You're wearing somebody else's coat!"

And with that story from 80 years ago, we all had one more laugh with my Dad.

Monday, July 2, 2012

St Kevin of Thrifty

I spent the past week in Rutland with my Mom and am now back in Jersey with our friends, Walt and Terry, until we fly to the UK on the 5th.

There were certainly enough dramas getting to Rutland last Friday for my father's funeral service the next day.  We were booked on the Ethan Allen Express, the Amtrak train from New York to Rutland. It leaves Penn Station at 5:45, so we hopped on a bus from Freehold at 2:45 due into New York a little after 4 leaving plenty of time for a leisurely 10 minute walk to the train station.

Sounds like I left plenty of time in case of traffic jams, etc, doesn't it? Well, I didn't. Approaching the Lincoln Tunnel, traffic stopped dead and a battalion of buses lined up and began moving about 10 feet every few minutes. And then they stopped even moving ten feet forward for long gaps of time.

LK and I figured we were still sitting pretty with more than 90 minutes up our sleeves, but our sleeves were way too short. I've watched people's eyes glaze over as I describe all the details of our bus not moving much so I will cut this story very short. We exited the bus with less than 5 minutes to get to the train station. Not a chance of that, so Plan B went into effect.

We stumbled upon the Trailways ticketing office. I vaguely remembered that they served Albany so we went in to check. Turns out there was an express bus to Albany leaving in about half an hour, so we bought two tickets, made the easy decision that despite the obvious downside peeing in the bus station was still far more desirable than peeing on the bus, and headed to Albany.

From the bus station, we grabbed a cab to the airport to rent a car. There are about 6 car rental companies at the airport. Unfortunately there were no rental cars available at the airport. Remember, this is the capital city of New York State, and yet the airport was completely sold out of rental cars.

Hertz didn't have even No 1; Avis wouldn't try harder; didn't matter what my budget was with Budget; Dollar didn't want mine; National was national except for Albany; and Enterprise showed absolutely none.

So we were now only 2 hours away from Rutland but things weren't looking good for closing that gap.

Then the man from Hertz suggested I call Thrifty. They aren't located on the airport grounds, he explained, and maybe they hadn't run out of cars. Calling on their courtesy phone, I reached Kevin who quickly explained that they, too, had no cars available.

Starting to feel a tad desperate, I just as quickly explained that I understood this but could he possibly help me think of some other solution since I had to get to my father's funeral in the morning. Kevin put me on hold for a moment, came back and asked if I would be able to return a car the next afternoon if he rented one to me. Not a problem, Kevin, I said.

And so St Kevin of Thrifty enters our travel lore as one of the very good guys who took pity on us, helped us out and gave our potentially sad story a happy ending. So happy, in fact, that we arrived in Rutland only 40 minutes later than the train and with 3 minutes left to still buy a bottle of wine. Cue happy music and roll the credits.

Writing this reminds me that I intended to send Thrifty a note about what a great guy they have working for them. Of course, being me,  I have put it off for a week. So if I don't do it now, I probably never will. I am going to do it.

More about the time in Rutland tomorrow.