Sunday, July 31, 2016

Traveling: Road Trip to Baton Rouge

Every summer, my Mom and I take a trip. We were planning to drive around Lake Michigan, but a dear friend is graduating from LSU with a PhD in French. She is the daughter of the Irish friends that I just visited with in Ireland and when they spoke of their plans to travel to America with Granny, uncle and aunt in tow for the graduation, I realized that I needed to be there too. Mom doesn't mind the change; she's good with whatever ride we take (Mom is pictured above in front if the lodge).

Our first stop is Giant City State Park in Southern Illinois. I graduated from college nearby, but when I was in school, I really never made it to the park very often because no one I knew owned a car. Since then, I have always wanted to stay at one of the cabins in the woods and here I am. We are only here for the night because I have cooked up an itinerary for us to hop down to Louisiana. We mustn't dawdle.

Most of Southern Illinois is covered with the Shawnee National forest and is really quite spectacular. When I was a freshman in college, I was friendly with a boy who had a car. One rainy, cool Saturday, I convinced him to drive out to Giant City. We packed the car with girls that lived on my dorm floor (lucky him) and drove out. We found a shelter with picnic tables to hang out in with our cheap wine. It was pretty cold with the rain, so we decided that we needed to have a fire. We found wood alright, but nothing to light it with except a Bic lighter. Manuel had ether in his car and we used it. The fire roared! It was one of those afternoons that I will never forget for whatever reason. I love being in the woods during a rain, especially in autumn. The smell of the wood and burning wood is intoxicating still. I don't know where most of those Saturday afternoon fire starters anymore, but I will never forget the time that we spent there for the sites and sounds of it.

Once, I paid a guy one dollar to use his car to drive out. My dear friend Jeffrey and I wanted to go out to visit our house. Once when we only drove through, we saw a faded home right outside the park. It hadn't been inhabited for years, but there was a charm to it. We discovered that it was built nearly one hundred years before. We sat on the porch and imagined what it would be like to fix it up and live in. We left that day to never return. We remained friends until he died. There were other fantasies that we created for ourselves, but none quite as sweetly innocent as when we first knew each other. 

I imagine that is the pull of this place for me. The remembrances are vague and unremarkable, I suppose. But tied into them is how I felt at that time: young, wildly naive, and hopeful for even the smallest moments. I am not quite so young, nor naive. But I still am looking for magic in small moments. As I told my niece and nephew this summer in our European adventure when everyone complained that we were slowpokes, the best part of new places or spending time together are the moments between the minutes. They are the sweetest strokes of time.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Pokemon Go

While on vacation in Europe, my nephew was disappointed that he only had occasional WIFI and not regular cell service so that he could play Pokemon go. Oh sure, everyone had reported on the phenomenon that has captured many around the world, but I will add that, although I wouldn't ever play, it is entertaining to watch the kids play it now that we are back at grandma's house. They have been headingoutside intermittently   throughout the day to hop on the bikes to get out and catch pokemon. As my older nephew said who isn't playing, it is really bringing people together. And the three who are playing are coming back with tales of whom they have met on their poke-travels. Given everything that is happening in the world, maybe that's what we need: a silly distractor to get us talking and having fun with people in the community that we don't know. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Traveling: Going Home

In Dublin airport ready to return to Chicago. We arrived early enough to have breakfast. I had to take the opportunity to enjoy my last Guinness in the land of its origin. I will tell you, the Guinness is just better here. And since we only stopped for two days, I was not able to fill my gullet of my favorite elixir, so I had a pint for breakfast.

Although we weren't in Ireland long, we managed to fill it with Irishness. Friends drove down from Northern Ireland and that was the craic. They filled us in in how Brexit is affecting them: the pound is low and prices are rising fast. They are for a united Ireland, but know already that the new Prime Minister is a Unionist, so that is not likely to happen. Europe has broken wings. One feels it here too.

On our one full day, we decided to drive out to Blarney. Everyone needs to kiss the Blarney Stone. I had already, so I did not again. It was crowded, and I didn't want to stop in one of the staircases and imagine all of the horrors of being trapped in a tower staircase. Plus, I have enough of the gift, so. The grounds were lovely and more than what I remembered from previous visits.  It was a long day with  3 hours out and then back, butso worth it.  It gave those new to Ireland, a real taste of the beauty of the island.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Traveling: Realities

We flew from Paris to Dublin today to spend two days in Ireland. Old friends, who live in Northern Ireland, came down to spend some time with me. For living so far away from them, I am lucky that I get to see them as often as I do. Their daughter lives in the States and has just completed her PhD in French with a college job on the horizon, so, it seems, that I will see them again this summer when they fly in to celebrate her graduation.

But it is a bitterseet event knowing that terrorists attacked Nice today during Bastille Day celebrations. Everywhere we went, we encountered this new world order. Soldiers walk the streets of Paris with machine guns, my bag was checked and I was patted down at every building we entered. I didn't feel safe for the effort. For one, the searches weren't exhaustive and if they took my sunblock, they didn't take the next 3.  Apparently, France needs to be locked down. The idea is absurd, of course. But how else will ordinary citizens feel safe again?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Traveling: Les Invalides

Our hotel is a block from the Seine near the Eiffel Tower. Whenever we head out toward the Metro, we walk along the river. My youngest niece and nephew and I always lag behind to experience the petit moments: time that is found between the minutes. Along the river sut barges and houseboats. My nephew is very athletic and likes to jump on or up on everything that he comes across. A couple of days ago, he asked if I would bet him to jump on one of the barges. I told him that I would give him 20 Euros if he did it. Well, of course he did it! It was a sucker bet. Today, the first rain that we've seen, we took our usual spot up in the rear. There, we came across two swans taking a nap between two of the boats.
Oh sure, everyone is irritated by our dragged heals, but we are seeing the moments between the minutes on our trip. And if I can give them anything, I can guve them this lesson.

Today's big detination was Les Invalids, which houses the largest military museum in Europe. My brother-in-law and eldest nephew love history and war. I wasn't too keen on going, but I figured that I would be able to entertain myself somehow. The dawdlers and I were in the rear. Caroline was given this great Napoleon hat to wear. Isn't it a great picture. After scanning through the rooms of swords and soldiers, the three of us found a bench to hang out on. Before I knew it, I was taking a cat nap and my nephew put the hat in my head and took pictures. I roused and it gave him a laugh. He promised me that the pictures would not show up on Snapchat. Ha!

The tomb of Napoleon was pretty cool to see. I'm not sure if it is worth the price of admission if you're not a military history fan, but it captured my attention in an otherwise dry activity. Plus, the cathedral it is housed in that was built by Louis XIV was spectacular.

Traveling: D-Day Beaches

Omaha Beach, Normandy. I was here several years ago over a Thanksgiving week. It was cold and no one  was on the beach. It was eerie. In July, everyone was out to enjoy the wonderfully warm July sun and the cooling breezes off of the English Channel. Some were even bathing in the extremely cold water. We took our shoes off and walked in. The cold was shocking, but it felt wonderful on my tired feet. We are walking, on average, 8-10 miles per day. And for as much as I think that I am bringing comfortable shoes, they always fall short of comfort. 

After lunch, we moved to Point Du Hic, the point where US Army Rangers scaled the cliffs to get at the Germans. After the war, the French left it as is, which is phenomenal. Nature has reclaimed its land, but it is mowed so that sightseers can navigate the giant craters that the bombs carved into the landscape and the bunkers. I can't express how beautiful it was as we meandered, climbed, and remembered. My young niece said to me, 'it is so sad that all of the soldiers died here, but I'm happy that they rest in such a beautiful place.'

As it is ligt here until 10 p.m., we were able to move further along  the coast to the battlements. There, we found bunkers and guns in the middle of hay fields as the sun was just beginning to set. In the truest sense of sublime, we remember the horror while exsisting in beauty.

We didn't roll back into Paris until 1 a.m. The restaurants were all closed in the area of our hotel. We called the front desk to ask for suggestions. He thought that we were crazy to be looking for dinner so late. He did think to call the good van. The van pulled up, and sild bugers out if his trunk. They were delicious.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Traveling: Euro Cup in Fan Zone Under the Eiffel Tower

My family are big soccer fans and are excited to be in France during the Euro Cup. The final game was Portugal v. France. As you can imagine, this was a big game, so we decided to join the throngs of soccer fanatics and head to the fan zone that was set-up at the Eiffel Tour. We were told that as many as 100,000 people were expected. I think that it was many more.

The line to get in snaked through the neighborhoods surrounding the tour. My brother-in-law did a smooth move and we cut in pretty close to the front. But the bottleneck was the worst that I have ever seen with a big crowd. Soldiers stood along a defense line and were the first checkpoint to enter. In total, we were pat down 3 times and our bags were searched pretty thoroughly as many times. The security was necessary. Their presence is omnipresent here in the wake of recent terrorist attacks.

Once inside, it was a huge soccer party. A couple of us hit the beer line and stood in line for an hour and a half! It was hot, crushing, and the most unorganized selling of beer that I have ever seen. Three girls waited the counter where hundreds of fans lined up to buy. I thought that I was going to faint. But we got some beer. My nephew and I had made the pact that if we did get the beer that one of them would be ours to chug. I never had a beer taste so good!

For all of the people there, I had expected more chants and cheers, but it was a relatively tame crowd. It was a tense game, and it wasn't until overtime that Potugal kicked the winning goal. A couple  rooting for Portugal stood right in front of us and they were cute smooching the victory in a crowd of French fans. And the French fans were pretty cool, until we got outside. Fans were throwing bottles into the street and sirens became the majorative sound across the city. We headed straight back to hotel. We were hungry, but all of the cafes had battened down the hatches. Either way, the fans were going to command the streets of Paris on this night.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Traveling: French Beer Tasting

Not to worry! The drinking age for beer in France is 15, so my nephew legally participating in the big French beer tasting. We tasted a saison, a black IPA, a cognac barrel , and a Belgian triple. As we ascended the ladder of alcohol content, each was more delicious than the last. Craft beer has definitely has captured the great craft beer revolution. Louis would be proud. And we tasted some mighty fine beer.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Traveling: Le Louvre

Six hours. That's a long time looking at some art! But the kids were super excited about seeing what they've read about, so the time was well spent. We saw the Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa and Wings of Victory, naturally. But they were as taken by the lesser known works of art. The Napoleon rooms were stunning with gorgeous chandeliers. And we were all taken with the Lady of Shalott.
Tennyson wrote the beloved poem of the girl stuck in a job she was tired of who falls for the prince who rides by her tower. Leaving her job to go after her love, she drowns in the river.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Traveling: Beer Rules

Jet lag hit, and we all slept until Noon. We were a little late getting to Versailles. The crowd was light, so we were able to get around the Palace. The grounds closed early for a special event. We took to the street of the town to check it out. We found pastries, and my nephew, and I found a French craft beer store. We bought by label, which were as beautifully drawn as craft beers in the U.S. And are looking forward to having a tasting. Next, we sat down for a couple of drinks at an outdoor cafe. We decided to head to the Eiffel Tour because we thought that the lines would be manageable. Wrong. With only an hour until closing, the line was substancial. But we decided to give it a go. Security is pretty tight for obvious reasons; plus, the European Cup is now and France has made it to the finals. To get into the ticket line, we had to pass through security. Well, the nice lady found my beer in my bag. She told me to toss it. I exclaimed, " but the beer is my groceries!" Beer is my groceries! She pointed me to the can. Everyone had already gone in, so I had nothing to do but put the beer into the can. When I found my family, I told them what had happened. My brother-in-law said, we don't need to go, go get your beer! So I went back, pushed my way back into security and said to the security, I want my beer. She laughed, and I grabbed it. 
The Eiffel Tour looked lovely from afar as we walked back to our rooms. And the beer is cooling in the fridge.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Traveling: First Day Long Haul

We are traveling with 7-7. Seven people, seven suitcases, and various and assorted carry-ons. 

First, we all had to get to the airport. We couldn't all fit in grandma's car with 7-7. The eldest child, now a college junior said, let's Uber. Said child's parents weren't too sure of that plan. So they checked out rental cars and other forms of airport transport and worried, worried, worried. I decided to stay out of the cray and go to my apartment to pack and Uber to the airport on my own. I knew that was the best option. To Uber? No, to stay out of the worry. In the end, Uber was successfully navigated, and two cars took six people and 6-6.

The flight to Paris via Dublin was seemless and enjoyable. We made connections, 7-7 didn't get lost, and we all managed to get a cup of coffee.
Aha! How do we move this parade from the airport to the city center? This is not my first time visiting Paris! I knew to take the suburban train to the center of the city and satellite out to accomodation on the Meto. Of course, I was younger and happy to schlep my bag because I was usually with my good friend who insisted that we have 2-1 (2 people and approximately 1 suitcase between the two of us). It is a much different thing this with 7-7 and worry-worry! 

We dragged and pushed and up'd and down'd more than I ever remember happening. At this point, I was wiped out. And we had gone up the same staircase more than once because worry wasn't sure which direction to take. And I have learned that I assist when called on; otherwise, I wonder at my own sanity. At one step, the decision was made so late to get on the train and I was 7 of 7 boarding. The doors started to close and my nephew, truly trying to help me, grabbed my bag as the door grabbed my shoe. I thought that I was a goner, but he was able to pull me and my bag on to the train. My nephew became very protective of me and made sure to keep track of my 1-1. I told him my idea that schlep was no longer a romantic notion, and I would rather be picked at the airport in a car to be whisked to my accommodation. He agreed.

Once at the hotel, I had to hide behind the curtain because my brother in law found an apartment for a 6-6, not a 7-7. He had to turn in passports to verify the number, so I am surely to be arrested and locked up in a French jail with no way of getting in contact with my traveling posse. My niece suggests that I call grandma back in Chicago to take care of it. I think that she may be right.

Here are the four of us who are awake. Worrier marched us around in a very warm midday sun to ensure that we areable  to sleep normally tonight so that we can dive in tomorrow. They are sound asleep while the TV blasts the Clinton email crisis hearing. The four of us took showers, found some snacks and are having a cellphone party in a room away from the snores.

Paris is great!

Traveling: Through Dublin to Paris

On the road again on a European summer vacation. The 'we' is my sister, her husband, four kids, and me ... the same band of merry travelers who roared through Vienna, Bavaria, and Prague last summer. Our immediate destination is Paris, but we flew through Dublin on Aer Lingus. Before our connecting flight, we had time to catch the sun rise and get a cup of coffee. The trip from Chicago to Dublin was quick, but I am getting sleepy waiting for the next leg. Papi has said that we will take it easy today. We shall see.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


Vogue July 2016
Is this pose silly, or what? Love the fashion ... but really, is she drunk? Is she lost? Will she take off?

Patsy is 3rd on the left.
This reminds me of is the episode of 'Absolutely Fabulous' when the girls, Patsy and Edina, travel to France on the EuroStar to be a part of a fashion editorial of women past and present. While Edina is touring Paris with Safron her way after convincing her daughter that Paris isn't about monuments and museums, but fashion and elaborate lunches, Patsy tries to strike a pose as she remembers from her days as model during '60's. The editorial for the models photographs is 'grunge.' Patsy, who has packed scarfs and hats and lipsticks, is appalled that she has to dress in drab. And in striking a pose, she turns Twiggy, much to the dismay of the younger models and famous photographer.

The model above? She's all Patsy. Silly and a little trashed.