Put a cork in it- we’re full of blarney

Road Trip!

After spending part of one whole day in our new home sitting back and relaxing, we got cabin fever and had to get back out there to see the sights. We decided to head out west, specifically to the Dingle Peninsula (which we only saw from across the water as it turned out, dingleberries that we are), the Ring of Kerry, the city of Cork, and of course the Blarney Castle, which we actually added to our itinerary once we were out there quite by accident.

It’s about a three hour drive to get across the country east to west. Fortunately, there is a very nice highway for most of it, where you can go 120km/hour (75 MPH). They drive the way the Italians do… if you’re in the right lane you better be passing someone. There aren’t as many speeders here as there are in Italy, but if you’re in the right lane and someone comes up on you, you better get to the left pronto. It’s efficient, everyone understands it, and other than some congestion in Cork, the highway moves very quickly.

So Carolyn isn’t going to have known the following until she reads this entry, but it’s actually quite entertaining to be traveling with someone who gets so excited about everything she sees. I think the combination of her being a designer as well as the excitement of seeing things she only dreamed of seeing creates an exuberance that makes the whole trip rather joyful. She thinks I’m continually annoyed with her for being so interested in everything, but actually I’m not at all. In the end, she’s cute and loving and sweet and our love for each other continues to grow the longer we are together.

Of course, her enthusiasm also means that the picture-taking is nearly non-stop. Which is great for us in the long run, since we can pore through all the pictures in our old age, squealing with delight while she says, “Remember when I took a picture of my boots in the car?”


Indeed, one of the phrases that may I hear over and over again in my sleep is, “Maybe you should take a picture of…” It could be a house, a field, a business sign, a duck, a sheep, more sheep, even more sheep, a road, a landscape, the same landscape from two feet to the left, more of the house that was next to the landscape that I didn’t quite get enough of… you get the picture (literally).

It creates a lot of work for me to sort through them and organize them for the blog, but in the end, I love her for it because we’ll have an extensive pictorial documentary of this once-in-a-lifetime trip, and who can complain about someone being so excited to be where they are, wanting pictures of everything possible? Of course it’s not practical to have a video camera taped to your head so you can record the entire trip in order to relive it in its entirety some time in the future, but in a way that would be pretty cool, as long as you could edit and fast forward quickly and easily. Traveling with Carolyn is the next best thing in any case. I tease her once in a while, but deep down she’s a hoot to travel with, and we’re having a great time. I couldn’t ask for anything more than to be with someone who largely wants to do and see the same things I do, and is all the more excited about it.

Because of the volume of pictures, this will be organized with a brief summary of the main points of interest, and then a series of slide shows for those interested enough in knowing what it might be like to make this trip, just short of watching an entire video taken from a camera taped to our heads.

Since the drive is rather long, we decided to book a night in a B&B out in the area. We found one called the Hillcrest House. It is run by a kindly woman who has been doing it for 37 years. It was easily the best lodging value I’ve ever experienced in my life. For 60 euros (currently $68 or so), we got a room, a tea with lots of goodies upon our arrival, and a delicious breakfast of our choosing the next day. I had to order the Irish breakfast because we’re in Ireland. It included “black and white pudding,” which is a rather tasteless concoction that also includes pig blood mixed in. But otherwise the meal was delicious and filled us beyond capacity for our upcoming adventures of the day.

Here we are having tea upon our arrival:

While the value of the Hillcrest House was incredible in terms of the price, the room was quite small, with twin beds that had footboards, which meant my 6′ 3″ frame didn’t quite fit, making for a fitful night’s sleep. The shower reminded me of what it would be like to take one on a boat. And the owner kept the house very, very warm. She didn’t seem to mind our wandering throughout completely naked in order to accommodate the temperature (the only other visitors were a German couple, so we figured they’d be very accommodating to nudity since they practically invented it), but we were fortunately able to open a window and cool our room down to less than Saharan levels so that we could be fully dressed while in the privacy of our own room.

One of the main things that strikes you while you’re there, whether inside the place or out, is the quiet. It is just completely quiet. That is true for a lot of places in Ireland… if you want to get away from the noise… come to Ireland. It’s quiet. Ssshh. I’m typing too loud!

After depositing our bags, we got back on the road to drive what’s called “The Ring of Kerry,” which is largely a sightseeing tour that includes the coast and a series of small towns and some ruins and such. The Ring of Kerry drive is included in the slideshow below that consists largely of the various sights we saw while driving.

The next day we drove to the quaint fishing village of Kinsale, which gets its own slide show below. We also visited Fort Charles, which gets its own slide show as well, and looks like this from the air. It took me fifty-five tries throwing my camera up as high as I could with the timer on to get this picture, so I’m rightfully proud of it.


After Kinsale and Fort Charles, we headed up toward Cork, and noticed some signs to Blarney. Blarney hadn’t been on our itinerary for this trip only because we are still geographically challenged, and, to be honest, its current reputation moved it down our to-do list some. The Blarney Castle and Blarney Stone’s reputations have suffered as a result of the “kissing of the stone” being a bit silly and overblown, which is true. In Rick Steve’s book on Ireland, he even downplays the castle saying it’s underwhelming and just barren inside. On that, we couldn’t disagree more. The grounds were beautiful, but the castle itself was a wonder to behold and walk inside.

Indeed, Blarney gets its own slide show and individual pictures with comments.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get an overhead shot of the castle out of fear that they’d mistake my hurled camera for a drone and shoot it out of the sky.


Here’s the site that greets you after you walk past the entry. It’s quite imposing and impressive. The castle, not us.


Once inside, walking up this very narrow staircase is not for the faint of heart.


A little known fact is that the early Irish invented the plastic skylight.


This is where you lay down to put your head under the wall to kiss the Blarney stone.


Here’s a man, not me, who is doing it. There is absolutely no risk, other than if you’re too old to get back up off your back. But kissing a stone that has been touched by the lips of thousands upon thousands of people before us? Ick.


But here’s the main reason I especially didn’t want Carolyn to kiss it. With the gift of gab she already has, if the myth were true, she might never again, in her entire life, ever stop talking.


This was called “The Murder Hole,” where they could pour boiling oil or rocks, etc. on invaders if they made it past the walls. It’s also where Carolyn feared I might throw her if she’d kissed the Blarney Stone.


A very unusual tree in which the branches are growing downward. Apparently it’s a great place to gather eggs because the birds build nests upside down and when they lay eggs they just fall to the ground.


The Blarney House. Carolyn wanted to make an offer on it for a second home in Ireland.


They had Druids back then, but apparently in Ireland the Druids made their Stonehenges smaller, and with plastic. But their sound systems did go all the way to eleven.


The sign says, “The Rock Close.” They were right.


They had signs throughout the castle, including this old one at the entrance of the master bedroom that must’ve been posted by the queen:


Again, Blarney was a sight well worth seeing. The old medieval castles are fascinating, with Blarney being one of the most interesting we’ve seen. And that ain’t no blarney!

After Blarney we drove through Cork, which is Ireland’s second biggest city, and on to Kinsdale, which is extremely picturesque. We didn’t spend any time in Cork other than driving through it, but we saw this impressive row of buildings, although we have no idea what it is:


We also spotted this road construction, which impressed us enough to take a picture because of the clever way that they handle the traffic. Instead of road crew standing there looking bored while smoking a cigarette, and otherwise risking their lives to stop irritated drivers from driving past them despite their lazily held stop sign, here they have a light with a timer. When it turns green, you go. When it’s red, you know exactly how long you have to wait. Why we don’t have those in the U.S. is clearly a failure of either European marketing or the willingness of American to embrace change.


So here is the Blarney slide show:

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And here is the Kinsale slide show:

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And here is the slideshow of Fort Charles. Quite an impressive fort, built in the early 1600s, and the site of some of the most important battles in Irish history.

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The last slide show are simply all the sights we saw as we drove across Ireland. You can easily summarize what we saw with one word: green. Everything’s green. Green green green. And then more green. But it’s beautiful, and gentle, and serene. And green.

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Speaking of green, they even use sheep here to mow the greens on golf courses!


We couldn’t resist this greeting card, seeing as how we’ve gotten lost multiple times on this trip. We’ve always found our way home, and sometimes have had a whale of a time being lost!



Kevin is awarded Sainthood

We arrived at our new Irish digs after a slightly confusing drive from downtown Dublin. I have to say that “slightly confusing drive” while driving in Ireland is probably a redundant phrase. When you factor in driving on the left hand side plus the congestion of downtown Dublin and highway numbering strategies that don’t make a lot of sense to a foreigner, let’s just say that when we pulled into the driveway, we both exhaled rather deeply.

The house is charming, and is on the property of the equally charming couple, Pat and Una, who own and manage it. We had a very nice chat with them upon our arrival, but I don’t remember anything they said because all I heard was their lyrical Irish accent, which we floated on like they were singing a siren’s song and we were sailors ready to crash into the rocks to hear it. They could have told us they thought either of us looked a lot like Donald Trump and we would have just smiled and asked them to keep talking.

Their property is quite large and filled with cows and some horses and a whole flock of rabbits. Maybe you don’t call a bunch of rabbits a flock… but if they all were to back up at the same time, you could call it a receding hareline. Har Har!

This is the house from the outside, and our VW Golf, which is a great little car despite having the stick shift for its manual transmission on the left.

The first morning the two of us went to get into the car, we both opened the wrong doors at the same time, looked up at each other, and busted out laughing. Ah yes, the driver’s side is on the right.

Here are some views from the house looking the other way, from inside the main kitchen/dining area window. Quite a gorgeous view, all the way to Ireland’s second tallest mountain. I don’t think one would ever get tired of such a view.


And here’s what I look like working on the blog (and work stuff) from our kitchen. The house appears to be fairly new, and after being in a couple of small apartments and hotel rooms, feels positively like a mansion with its three bedrooms and two bathrooms.


I tried to ride this noble steed so Carolyn could always remember me riding up on a white horse in order to rescue her from the flock of killer rabbits, but had to settle for this photo instead.


So for our first Irish excursion into the countryside we decided to visit the area called Glendalough, which features an ancient (we’re talking 6th century) cathedral and monastic settlement, founded by none other than St. Kevin.

But first, we had to get there by car. And by driving on the left. With the driver’s side on the right, with the gear shift on the left, and the windshield wipers on the right, on two lane roads that are about as wide as a typical one-lane road in the states and generally no idea where we were at any given time.

On the drive, Carolyn was snapping pictures right and left in order to collect a sense of the Irish countryside. It is green, and beautiful, and only bisected by these teeny tiny roads. Here is a short slide show to give you a sense of the countryside.

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Said roads are occasionally inhabited by some of the many sheep that can be seen just about everywhere. We even noticed a sheep pumping gas at one of the stations. Anyway, when driving on these roads, you certainly can’t afford to be distracted. In addition to almost creating a freezer full of lamb chops, one with a backwards “VW” imprinted on it, we also rounded a bend and nearly rear-ended a bicycle rider. You really have to be a little nuts to be riding a bike on roads with no shoulders and that can barely accommodate two cars.


Once we arrived at Glendalough, we were treated to a nice little tourist attraction which featured a fairly large cemetery, as well as a tower, a church, and the remains of a cathedral. The stone construction makes it look as if the church will stand for another 1,400 years.

Anyway, if you’re interested, here’s another slide show of all that we saw. Warning: It’s about 45 pictures so it may take some time to load.

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It’s not often I find a saint named after me, much less an ice cream cone.


Afterwards we went inside to escape the hail. It hailed off and on the entire visit. Carolyn had herself an Irish coffee and I couldn’t pass up a locally brewed St. Kevin’s Ale.


Do you like sheep? If so, you’ll love Ireland!


Aaand just to prove that Carolyn is not the only person in the world to get excited about doors, I couldn’t help snapping a picture of this postcard, which will also serve as our closing Door of the Day picture:



We’re Dublin Down


Why a picture of frying meat? I took the picture because the fan for this stovetop was on the other side of the kitchen, and the stove was right beneath some curtains. Just a little odd. Maybe the steam from the stove feeds the meat-sniffing plants above it.

Another weird appliance was the toilet: it had to be cranked at least 6-7 times up and down real fast before it developed a head of steam and got everything flushed. We were a bit panicked that it wasn’t going to be pretty until we figured out that little technique.

The orange juice concentrate they use here comes in a bottle and it is called “high juice squash.” At first I thought it was a combination of orange juice and squash. But I think that’s their synonym for “concentrate.” You mix it 4 to 1 just like with the frozen concentrate.


As you can see, we do home cookin’ while we’re traveling. It’s great to rent an apartment and bop on down to the grocery store instead of eating out all of the time. Neither of us are particularly “foodies,” so this is a great way to extend the travel dollar, plus you learn interesting things about their everyday food too.

So to close the book on London, we did enjoy it immensely. The friendliness of the people continued to impress: we had to drag our two (and too) big suitcases on about a ten minute walk from the apartment to the tube. They generally have no escalators or even lifts (elevators) in those stations, so I approached the three flights of stairs with two 50 lb. suitcases in either arm ready to suck in a deep breath. Suddenly out of nowhere a Prince Harry-looking chap stopped and offered his assistance. I would have been dumbfounded anywhere else, but I’d come to expect such courtesies from Londoners. If it had been in Paris, and it was a 98-year-old woman trying to haul a steamer trunk like John Candy had in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, they would have sneered at her as they jostled around her. Maybe spit at her too, plus maybe throwing a few stones and kicking the trunk while calling her names. Okay, they weren’t that bad, but I’d have been very surprised to have gotten the same offer in Paris.

We were just really impressed with Londoners in general. Good show, cousins!

And so off we go to Dublin. We took the train to the airport just like we were London professionals, and had an issue-free flight from London to Dublin. Once in Dublin, we were treated to the same kinds of courtesies we’d gotten used to in London. The information desk was friendly and informative, but then when we got a little confused down on the road, we asked a driver sitting in a bus a question about where to pick up a different bus. Not only did he provide great information, as we thanked him and walked away, he even pulled up beside us in his big bus, and elaborated even further, moving his bus slowly along to match our strides. For a moment I thought he was going to say, “Ah, the heck with ye. Jump into me bus and I’ll take you there meself!” So far, the Irish are definitely keeping pace with the Londoners in the courtesy department.

We’re staying in a nice old hotel that first opened in 1824. Here is the front of the hotel:


We took an initial walkabout around the hotel just to get a feel for Dublin. It suffers a bit by comparison with Amsterdam, Paris, and London, which, to be fair, are cities that will put most around the world to shame. It’s a nice city, but we’re not going to spend a whole lot of time here because the main focus with Ireland is to get into the countryside and explore all of that. It’s time to relax after the hectic pace of the big cities.

The hotel borders a park called St. Stephen’s Green Park. It’s a beautiful park that appears to be appreciated by Dubliners, as we saw many couples and families in the grass with picnics and/or blankets.

As you can see one of the first purchases we made in Dublin was a nice wool hat for me. My bald pate gets a little chilly in the cold wind, so now maybe I look a little more Irish or something, although we hear the Irish really do like Americans, so we’ll be unabashedly tossing our American accents about. But that Irish accent… it is truly music to one’s ears!


Carolyn had long dreamed of having an authentic English afternoon tea, and the hotel had a very nice one, so we had made reservations for that and spent the rest of the afternoon being proper Englishpeople. We had several types of tea as well as some delicious sandwiches and four separate desserts that were, well, you know, they were desserts!

That’s about it for this day: mostly a travel day. As is tomorrow in a different way; we’ll be picking up a car and driving to a house in the countryside. I’m sure it’ll relieve all two of our readers that we probably won’t be posting daily like we have been, because the idea is rest and relaxation, with of course occasional road trips. If we find somethin’ pretty, we’ll throw it up here. Unless, of course, we find a proper Door of the Day:




A Day at the Museums

Carolyn is prepped for another day out on the town, and also wanted to prove that she really does wear different outfits under that black coat.

After accomplishing all of the major objectives in London thus far, we only had a couple left to tackle. The weather looked to be more hospitable than yesterday, and we have mastered the Tube so well that Carolyn even helped an Englishman with directions. We’re even beginning to think in metric now, as in, “I’ve got to put my shoes on both my meters before we go out,” and “look at that cute little centimeter on that tree!” We’ve also memorized the days of the week now in metric.

Our first stop was to the Victoria and Albert museum, which is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, and is named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in a can.

The entry hall had an impressive display of statues.
It also had this. I’m thinking it’s a depiction of what your gut actually looks like after a long night of drinking margaritas.
“Samson Slaying a Philistine.” They apparently did a lot of battling in the nude, until someone invented the far more practical suits of armor.
We took advantage of this visit to explore new ideas for home decorating. This would make a marvelous entryway for our house.
The thing that most impressed me about the displays in this museum is that you could get your nose right up in the ancient art, and in cases like these, see the intricacies many layers deep in the wood or limestone. Of course, if you got your nose in too deep and the dust made you sneeze, you had to casually wander away before they discovered the new decor of snot. Not that that happened to us or anything. Move along.
This is a stunningly beautiful reliquary that held old bones that people believed would protect them from the plague. I don’t think it worked because all of those people are dead now.

Okay, now I have a funny story. As we wandered about the exhibit, Carolyn in one area and I in another, I came across a little display that allowed you to take a robe off a hook and put it on. All of this was unbeknownst to her, so I of course donned the thing and walked out from behind a corner and called to her. When she saw me, her eyes grew wide as she immediately thought I was goofing around and had pulled an ancient robe off of some exhibit. For about five seconds I think she truly believed I was about to get arrested. And it wasn’t only her. Another couple was walking through the room and kept staring at me like I was a crazy person. A pretty good off-the-cuff Candid Camera moment, to be sure. I wish I’d taken a photo of her face, it was priceless.

Once her heartbeat slowed down and I proved to her that it was quite okay to wear the robe, I was allowed to strike a pose.
The other robe that was available to wear was that of a peasant. At least now she doesn’t have to do any clothes shopping. She poses in front of an old window that never held any glass. Apparently the mosquitoes were much larger back then.
I was going to buy her a life-sized embroider-by-number kit replica of this but didn’t want to have to pay for oversized baggage.
These doors are over 700 years old. I’d call it the Door of the Day, but of course there are some more door pictures coming along. This trip has made me wonder what psychological condition results in her door obsession? If anyone knows, please contact me. I want to make sure it’s not something that leads to maiming puppies later or something.
Aaaand… it’s a whole row of ’em! Carolyn spent nearly an hour just staring at these doors, in a complete rapturous hypnotic state. I’m sure she’s fine. But if anyone knows someone…
This is an actual staircase from about 1522. I really wish the Doors had sung Stairway to Heaven; that would’ve been a perfect segue.
This is from a church. There’s probably a Craig’s List ad in the Lost and Found section posted by the church asking if someone knows where their missing facade is…
This is a bust of Charles II from 1684, who was obviously a forebear of Shirley Temple.
A mirror selfie. Or maybe a couple of ghosts.
We made sure to take a picture of this room to give us decorating ideas for our bedroom.
They had an exhibit there all about the history of underwear, but you had to pay extra to get in. We didn’t feel motivated enough to see a bunch of underwear to do that. Apparently we prefer free nude statues to pay-per-view underwear.

They had a somewhat intriguing dance show in one of the art rooms. We couldn’t quite figure out what it was all about, but it was very unique and artsy.

At this point we won’t bore you with any more pictures from the museum. But it was a fine museum, to be sure, and Carolyn was also intrigued by a bunch of the fashion and metalwork stuff they had in there. I took those opportunities to rest my feet, which have undergone a lot of extra use these past couple of weeks, so it was good to pace myself.

From there, we walked over to Kensington Palace, via Hyde Park. Below are the gates to Hyde Park, the largest of the royal parks in London. You don’t want to go through it at night, when they rename it the Jekyll park.


In Hyde Park, they have this memorial to Prince Albert. From a distance it looks like a whole church. Guess you could say it’s sort of like a church in a can, which is where that saying must’ve come from.
Once through Hyde Park, we came upon Kensington Palace, which looks less like a palace from the outside then a very, very large mansion. We asked after William and Kate, but they were too snobby to meet with us.
These actual stairs have been used by kings and queens throughout the ages. Carolyn didn’t like this picture of herself and asked me to remove it, so I did.
The view of the front of the estate from inside.
The view of the gardens from the inside. Plus a tree.
The King’s Gallery
The Queen’s Gallery
I’m stairing at something.

The Kensington Palace is definitely a “B” level tourist destination, but it was still worthwhile and we learned a bit more about the monarchy and such. We were glad we stopped by.

From there we went to the Natural History Museum. Our expectations were a little high because we both like that kind of museum, even if it wasn’t particularly England-centric, with exhibits we might see in any one of many museums around the world.

Truth be told, we were both a bit disappointed. It was more like a very large science classroom for middle-schoolers. It had far more plaster models of animals than real life exhibits. Overall, a bit cheesy for our tastes. We were very glad that we went through it at the end of the day when we were both a bit tuckered anyway. Plus it was free. So we dashed through it (well, it was the end of the day, so I think it’s safe to say that “dashed” is a tiny bit of an exaggeration), saw some of the highlights, and then wandered back to the flat to soak our feet.

They did have the world’s most complete Stegosaurus skeleton, so there was that. 
They also had a life-sized plaster replica of a blue whale, so there was that too. I had been hoping for an actual skeleton when I read that they “have a blue whale!” in the literature, but we had to settle for a larger version of the whale in the Geppetto ride at Disneyland.
They did have a few other dinosaur skeletons, which are always intriguing.

And they also had some of the skulls of the knuckleheads who put this together- doh! No, this is actually a representation of many of earth’s hominid species, some of which, but not all, were our evolutionary forebears.

In the end, we had a nice day and felt that we’d made the best of it. Truth be told, made all the better because as we have found ourselves wandering through Amsterdam, and Paris, and London, feeling very fortunate to have done so. We also feel even more fortunate to see our mutual love, affection, and appreciation for each other grow and grow. We’re not only best friends, but we largely enjoy the same things and have found our synergies are even better than we expected, and we expected a lot. So, no matter what happens on the rest of the trip, it has already been an awesome one.


And of course we must close with the Door of the Day.


Note: Carolyn has complete editorial and contributory access to this blog, and does so often. This is truly a team effort, and is only written in the first person for simplicity’s sake.

The Lost Scrolls of London

When visiting a city like London, it’s certainly a challenge to figure out everything to see in the time allotted. While there is plenty of research you can do ahead of time, you also have to factor in your own personal desires and biases against all the popular attractions and advice from prior visitors. Then you have to stir in how much energy you can put into everything. Then of course you have to gird your loins against the responses you might get upon your return, when you’re talking to someone who has already been and they say, “Oh, you didn’t go see that? You really missed out! Why are you so stupid?”

I’d hoped that we would have learned what “gird your loins” actually means by visiting the Tower of London, because no doubt it originated back in the middle ages when girding was all the rage. Alas, we failed to do so, but we do know a helluvalot more about the Tower of London than when we started. Unlike our first full day here where we crammed in more places than Donald Trump has hotels, we ended up only doing the Tower of London because A) we got a late start on account of this is a vacation and sometimes you gotta get late starts and B) we enjoyed it immensely and nearly closed the place down.

Of course, the biting cold rain also helped not only clear out the place, but scuttled any desires we had to wander about to see some of the B-level sights. And so instead we decided to get back to the apartment and cuddle under some blankets with visions of chopped-off heads dancing in our dreams.

So without further ado, here are a a whole bunch of pictures with captions and not much more, which means you’ll be scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. Since it’s all about the Tower of London, if you’ve already been, or you otherwise are a bit allergic to scrolling, you might want to skip this entry and instead go back to your favorite blog about, say, the amazing history of vanilla pudding, which I begrudgingly have to admit might be a bit more entertaining and informative than any of mine.

Our first view of the Tower of London, which isn’t as much a large tower as it is a castle complex.
Our second view of the Tower of London.
Our first view of the sidewalk outside of the Tower of London. Don’t worry, we won’t show every single picture we took. Just the really, really, interesting ones.
Our first view of inside the castle. All of a sudden we thought, “This is actually really, really cool, we’re really inside an authentic medieval castle!”
A tour guide who was quite funny and entertaining. Unfortunately, we’re not able to duplicate that effect here because we’re not getting paid for that and he is.
This building is cleverly called the “White Tower,” and is the centerpiece to the whole concept, much like Donald Trump’s hair.
Here’s the last thing you might’ve seen if you were defending the thing and an arrow just pierced your chest. 
And here’s the last thing you might’ve seen if the attacker would have been me traveling from the future and I was carrying a weaponized iPhone.
You’ve heard of the dueling banjos. Here, we have dueling iPhones. I think I won because she’s a lot prettier than I am.
Here’s proof of that.
These are implements of torture, not unlike forcing someone to read this blog. To the right is the famous “rack” they used to create basketball players.
The inscription says someone died there long ago but I forgot who it was and can’t really make out the words. I guess we can just figure it says, “I lived a long life back in the middle ages and all I got was this lousy plaque.”
George I’s crown. I’d make a joke here, but actually it’s really cool to see a real live old crown. Okay, who am I kiddin’. This is actually what they wore when they made margarine back then.
Victoria’s Crown. When she’d had a few too many glasses of port, that’s about all she’d wear. When she got older, all the men schemed on ways to get her a bit more covered up, which is the true inspiration behind the name, “Victoria’s Secret.”
I’m pretty sure these are replicates, but that middle one is 530.2 carats, enough to feed Bugs Bunny for over half a year.
I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this in regards to the ostrich, as proof that people always have, and probably always will, believe just about anything.
Take away the modern railings and the metal box and flagstones, throw in a bunch of smelly animals and even smellier people, and you know what it’d be like to live in the Middle Ages!
It was, frankly, simply cool to walk around a medieval castle. This was one of our favorite attractions in all of London, honestly.
I hadn’t realized how advanced some of their weaponry was back then. What was that? Oh. This was from World War II? Nevermind. Just part of a cannon exhibit.
They had a whole hall of knights display. Some of them were horsing around a bit, something I never do.

On display, in clockwise order, is the Keira Knightley, the Ted Knight, the Good Knight, The Suge Knight, The Bobby Knight, The Gladys Knight (sans Pips), The M. Knight Shyamalyan, The Ray Knight, The Knight Not in White Satin, and The Nighty Knight.

This is the actual toilet used by King Henry the Turd.
And this is what you definitely didn’t want to stand under when he was using it.
This is an actual book, and is only slightly larger than the size of this blog if you printed the whole thing out.
Can you imagine actually wearing this thing and developing an itch on your thigh? Or being in the sun on a hot day? Or discovering a bee is stuck inside of it? Or suddenly realizing you’ve got an urgent case of the runs?
If you’ve got knights, you’ve got to have a dragon one way or another.
An actual chopping block for lopping off heads. Apparently there were a lot fewer executions than the Tower of London became infamous for. But for anyone who experienced it, one was probably enough.
Of course we had to get all touristy.
I only allowed this to be taken so I could see what I would look like if I lost weight.
More art made from old armaments. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that to all of the weapons in the world?
It takes some mighty big balls to conduct war… although it takes even bigger ones to conduct peace.
A 3D rendering of what the whole complex looks like from above.
Cue the “waaaaaaaaah!” crescendo here.
The one in the middle is known as the Diane Cannon.
A view of the Tower Bridge from inside the castle.
Not the most comfortable looking throne. I would’ve insisted on a recliner with an ice chest next to it myself.
There were parts of this tour that were quite simply a major pain in the butt.
According to legend, the salute originated with the knights. I have no idea why I chose that particular time to illustrate that.
Ooh! We got to see these guys with the large fuzzy black hats up close!
I tried to make him laugh by doing the chicken dance, to no avail.
Apparently they’ve done the locking of the gate ceremony in this castle without interruption for 700 years. Even after a bomb dropped on them in WWII, they were only delayed by a half an hour. I don’t know why they were even delayed, however, as those hats certainly would’ve protected them against any bomb, short of nuclear.
I don’t know the origins of those hats, but I have to admit it’d be a good place to store a complete change of clothes, or maybe a ham.
There were signs that at the entrance of this chapel that said “no photography.” Carolyn missed the sign and so I watched in bemusement as she took photos, knowing that when I told her that she’d just violated a rule, she’d recoil in horror and attempt to delete them from the device as quickly as she could. When it became apparent the swat team wasn’t going to crash through the windows and throw her to the ground, she finally relaxed.
Well, maybe not completely relaxed. She still looks a bit like a deer in the headlights, doesn’t she?
They also forbade photography in the Crown Jewels section, which I did obey because I think a swat team really might’ve taken us out. What we got a big kick out of was seeing this ornate display of millions of dollars of precious jewels and then at the end there was a donation box. Hey. Brits! Put one of your diamonds in there once in a while and call it good!
Medieval porta-potties, I think.
Wire statues of baboons, showing where they might’ve been chained up, along with polar bears and lions and such, for the entertainment of the masses. We read that one lion tore the arm off a woman as she tried to pet it, and later died. Score one for the lion.


The Tower Bridge is quite impressive. We were going to walk over to see the London Bridge, but the bitterly cold rain that came upon us forced us to continue to only think of it in song.
And what more fitting way to close than the a positively medieval Door of the Day!




London Has Fallen

Phew. We did a lot today. It may take more time to document all of this than it takes Donald Trump to comb his hair. Although I will say the London “tube” is far easier to figure out than the Paris Metro, and not all of that is just because we speak English. Well, a lot of it certainly is, but not all of it.

As a result of all this activity, this entry is longer than some of the earlier ones. But please bear with me. The internet connection at this apartment is pretty slow, so when the pictures are downloading I’ve got to have something else to do. Besides, I’m typing it faster than usual so that you can read it faster than usual.

Now, on to everything we saw today, and this isn’t in chronological order, because A) who cares, and B) I’m too tired after sorting through the pictures to do anything else but throw them up here. We did as much as anyone’s 50-something body should be allowed to do. I need a foot massage, btw.

First up: Big Ben. The origins of the name is shrouded in mystery, but my theory is that it was named after Benjamin Franklin, who invented lightning and kites and probably clocks and I’m pretty sure Nutella as well, and spent a fair amount of time in London. Anyway, we circled the thing to make sure the time was the same on all four sides, but by the time we got to each side too much time had elapsed to be sure.

So now we move from Big Ben to Has Been, in other words, Buckingham Palace where the queen resides. She is, by the way, currently celebrating her 90th birthday (or was it 95 or 80? It’s so hard to remember at that age and no one wants to contradict her), which has resulted in huge celebrations over here. For instance, we witnessed an artist who made a “Happy Birthday to the Queen” picture in chalk on the sidewalk in Trafalgar Square and a pub we walked by advertising a sale because of the queen’s birthday. They’re going crazy man.

I think we’ll do the whole Buckingham thing in a slide show so that you can look at it if you want or just pass over it and go on to the next section, unlike when you’re captive at a friend’s house and they want to show you 400 slides of their last vacation. Anyway, some of the pictures are of the Changing of the Guard, which is a big enough deal to shut down a whole boulevard virtually every day and entice thousands of tourists to watch almost nothing happening. We did get a video of them leaving their staging area and marching to the palace with music playing, but you’ll have to call 1-900-baldsasquatch with your credit card to get a special code so you can see it. Short of that, here are about 50 pictures from that area:

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Another stop we made was to Westminster Abbey, which is where a bunch of weddings and funerals have been held, hopefully not at the same time. Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

They forbid picture-taking on the inside, but since I am something of a rebel, I pretended I was talking on my iPhone when all the while I was snapping enough photos to fill up another slide show (although there aren’t nearly as many as in the Buckingham Palace slide show you already ignored):

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OK, I cheated a little. So sue me.

Now I must digress into a small dissertation as to the character of Londoners (partly because the pictures for the slide shows are taking longer to load than it takes Donald Trump to wash his hair). As I heard them talking around us, using their snobby manner of speech, trying so hard to sound as sophisticated as Hugh Grant, or James Bond, or Mr. Bean, I assumed they were just trying to outdo each other in how aristocratic they could sound. Turns out, that’s just their accent. Who would’ve thunk?

But seriously, we’ve found Londoners to be some of the most polite and helpful people we’ve ever encountered!

Consider this: We walked to our closest train station and stood staring at a big poster that looks like different colored strands of spaghetti randomly tossed on to a blank piece of paper, when we found ourselves talking to a couple of middle-aged sisters who were new enough to the city that they were also trying to figure out the proper station on which to disembark. During our chat, they gave us some brilliant pointers that made using the Tube pretty much a breeze. When we entered the train, we continued to chat with them all the way to their stop. They were delightful, friendly, and helpful.

At the end of the day, we ended up in a slightly incorrect place (like three floors off) due to missing a sign, and asked one of the attendants for a little help, and he spent a good five minutes giving us detailed instructions, only occasionally interrupting his real job of guiding everyone else with a megaphone while he did so. At one point, I thought he was going to offer to tattoo a map of it on my forearm, and/or ask one of the other Londoners to take on his duties and then take my hand and walk us all the way to the proper station. Let’s compare that to Paris. Or maybe not: we liked Paris… other than so many of the people being evil twins of Londoners.

The icing on the cake was that once we were on the train, which was plenty crowded, a seat emptied after a stop. A man in about his mid to late twenties was standing right by it, and rather than jump into the seat as if his butt was chock full of iron and the seat was outfitted with the world’s strongest magnet, as most anyone in Paris or New York would have done, he politely inquired if one of the two young ladies also standing by the seat would prefer to sit. They both declined. He then looked at me and asked the same question. Naturally I thought, “You silly British wanker, you really think I’m that old? Are you making fun of my bald pate and grey beard? Would you like to have a go?” But instead I nodded “no” politely, and he smiled and shrugged and took the seat almost reluctantly. What the heck? How did these people in such a large, busy city, stay so polite to each other? We need some of their magic sauce in the US.

Okay, now we must move on to our next stop, which is the National Gallery, a free museum in the heart of London and reminds me of the Smithsonian. Here, we saw more paintings like in Paris, except there were a lot fewer nudes than in Paris. Not that I noticed that at all. Anyway, we saw some more van Goghs and Renoirs and other famous names. They also didn’t like pictures being taken but we were able to outrun them before they grabbed the camera:

Walking from Buckingham Palace toward the city center, you pass by St. James Park, notable for its 60 pence bathrooms. They have fun with tourists who have no idea what their British coins are worth as they’re trying to make change while jumping up and down and squeezing their legs together all at the same time. But it’s a pretty park once you feel, ah, a bit relieved.

Also on the walk, you see that they’ve had so many monarchs in the history of this country that they didn’t know what to do with all the old crowns, so they stuck them all on the light poles that lead up to Buckingham Palace:


Once downtown, you can wander through some famous names, most of which I’ll admit to having heard of but not having the slightest idea what they were all about. Take Piccadilly Circus… there are no elephants or lions, or acrobats or clowns. I’m being totally serious. Here are our pictures to prove it. I’m surprised someone hasn’t sued due to false advertising.

By the way, if you’re now getting in any way tired of reading this installment, how do you think we felt actually doing it? So quitcher belly-achin’ and keep readin’, we’re in this together! Besides, we’re coming to the home stretch!

The other famous name you’ve heard of but probably had no idea what it’s all about either is Trafalgar Square. After seeing it, we’re still not sure why it’s such a famous name, but it was busy and had some statues and tall things and stuff.

Along the way we saw random sights, like the Great Scotland Yard, which was right next to the Pretty Good Scotland Yard:


We are also delighted to inform you that the Brits are apparently the only ones in the world who really know how to make a proper hamburger:


I promptly called the headquarters of McDonalds to let them know in case they wanted to pay me a bunch of money for that information. Phone booths are all over the place in London. I can only assume someone there never received the memo that everyone in the world, including every member of that lost tribe in Borneo, has a cell phone.


They also have a huge ferris wheel called the London Eye. We thought about going on it, but when looking at it from afar, it’s apparent that it moves so slowly that it takes about forever to make a complete circuit. Each car can hold up to 25 people. I have to think once in a while they open up the next arriving car to nothing but rotting corpses.

After that we went to the Winston Churchill museum. It’s a combination of a very nice interactive museum and a self-guided tour through the actual underground bunkers and offices used by Churchill to conduct World War II. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time learning about WWII, it was a treat to experience firsthand the place where so much happened. A worthwhile visit, to be sure.

At that point, however, it was near the end of the day, and we both felt something like this:



And I still need a foot massage.


We’ve come London


Today was mostly a travel day. I personally was looking forward to getting to London only so that I could quit writing this blog in French and having Google Translate translate it for us. It’s tiring to write in a language you don’t know.

So we packed our bags, bid adieu to the amazing and beautiful and sometimes rude Gay Paree, and boarded a Eurostar train from Paris to London, which traveled under the English channel. The trip was largely uneventful… I kind of expected more out of the “chunnel,” but it was just dark.

Along the way we took some pictures from the train of the French countryside. It was mostly pretty boring scenery, which caused us to entertain ourselves in other ways:

Once in London, we saw some of the typical London scenery, including the ubiquitous double decker buses, and while we didn’t pass by any of the touristy sights, the architecture is markedly different than Paris, looking more like any US city than the grandiose and ancient edifices that are peppered throughout Paris, although this one was a little high fallootin’:


Speaking of ancient, it was the first time we’ve seen a phone booth in eons, so we had to take a picture of them, and two different kinds to boot!


Our Uber driver dropped us off at the address provided, and we proceeded to the door and knocked with the knocker. No answer. We rapped again. Still no answer. I dug up the contact information I had through VRBO (for the record, I think I like AirBnB better than VRBO), sent a message, tried to call… all to no avail. We asked several passersby if they knew where the address we had was… they were all friendly and polite, but none of them knew.

Hmm. Other than getting lost on the Paris Metro, this was the first major foul-up we’d encountered on our trip. I called again, checked Google Maps, did all sorts of things. Finally we began walking up and down the street. Voila! (We’re still thinking in French.) The address contained the name of the apartment complex, and the number within said complex. There really is no such address as was given to us per se. We were deposited within a shouting distance of the address, but it certainly wasn’t obvious. The VRBO property manager loses a star or two for providing less than stellar directions. Even the neighbors had no idea where the place was.

So we lug the suitcases (well, I lug the suitcases: note to self: get smaller suitcases for the next international trip) up to the third floor, and are greeted by a Russian maid who speaks virtually no English. Sigh. We were so looking forward to communicating only in English for a while.

Since she had an hour to go, we deposited our luggage and explored the neighborhood. Shortly we saw a place featuring fish and chips. You gotta have fish and chips in London, and so we thought it very appropriate as our first meal. The place was very cleverly called, “Fishers Fish & Chips.”

So we order the fish and chips, and when we were served, we realized that we had both experienced a new personal record for the largest piece of fish ever served to us as a fish and chip:


And here we thought they’d serve smaller portions overseas. The good news is that I now have breakfast for the next morning, since there was no way either of us could finish those monsters. We’re hoping the fish didn’t get caught near the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The waitress was a hoot, and we even bantered with another couple next to us. Thus far, we have found just about every Londoner we’ve encountered to be exceedingly friendly. One lady even hit my leg just a little in the grocery store and just about fell all over herself apologizing profusely. In Paris or even Amsterdam they wouldn’t have even acknowledged it if they’d drawn blood.

The view from the flat is not exactly touristy, but it’s fine. The flat itself isn’t going to get a great rating. In addition to the lack of communication by the owner, the fridge stunk to high heaven (I walked into the kitchen after Carolyn had the door open while depositing our groceries and noticed the significant odor even then), the toilet has a hard time flushing, and the bathtub’s vinyl shower curtain has that mold they so often get. It’s not horrible, but the place is definitely not cared for to the level we’ve seen in other VRBO’s and AirBnB’s. But it’ll do.

At least the decor is magnificent:


We’re gonna relax the rest of the day. All of this walking has been hell on our feet, and we’re both a bit tuckered out. We’ll probably even take it a little easy tomorrow: just figure out the Tube and get our bearings and see maybe a thing or two, but we won’t push it. Part of the vacation is to see things, sure, but the other part is to relax, and there hasn’t been a ton of that so far.

And of course, we must close with the Door of the Day:


We’ve had an Eiffel good time…

Carolyn and I both freely acknowledge that we are incredibly lucky to be able to be sitting here in Paris, sipping some French wine purchased at the grocery store for under ten bucks, eating some chocolate, and letting our feet rest up from the well-intentioned abuse we’ve put them through.

Despite this great fortune and our gratitude for same, we felt even more fortunate after deciding to put our shoes back on last night and wander out of our apartment to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up. Once there, we knew we had to go up in it and see Paris at night.

Before we post the slide show of our best pictures of the experience, I thought we’d describe the surrounding area around the tower a bit. Everyone sees the tower and understand it represents Paris, but what’s it really like around it?

There’s a fairly large park that surrounds the tower, and at least at night it looks to be filled with couples and groups that bring maybe a blanket and a picnic basket and some wine in order to view the thing as if it was one continuous fireworks display. While romance is in the air, the area is also filled with street vendors hawking everything from bottles of wine and champagne to miniature statues and flying toys and even roses that they stick in the ladies’ hand and then step back expecting to be paid. I also suspect that these same vendors are probably the most responsible for the many warnings that are posted to be wary of pickpockets.

So, it’s a bit of a mishmash and I think it’s best just to plow through all that and get to the base of the tower and decide whether you want to go to level one, two, or all the way to the top, which apparently doesn’t get offered every day. There are four elevators on each of the tower’s bases that go to levels one and two. Once on level two, there is a single elevator that takes you to the very top through the ever-narrowing spire.

On this lucky day not only did they offer rides to the top, but it was a crystal-clear night, with visibility as far as the eye could see. In addition, they have a light show of sorts once an hour, with twinkling lights that sparkle all over the outside of the tower. As we approached it for the first time, suddenly the light show began, and we stood and watched in complete gratitude that everything was going so well for us. It was quite a special night.

I’m not especially fond of heights especially if it’s in any way dicey. I don’t mind flying at all, and can look down from the highest building if I’m not standing next to a wall that only comes to my waist or some such. But if it’s something like an outside glass elevator or where you don’t feel totally secure, then I hear the siren’s call from below and can picture my body hurtling through the air to be met with a thud on the ground, and it’s just no fun at all for me. So once we got to the second level and I could see as far as the eye could see and was completely safe and content, I really had no desire to go up the spire to the very top. Carolyn, however, has no such phobia (unless there were spiders in the elevator), and so after some contemplation I decided I really wouldn’t have any fun taking the elevator ride, and so she went up on her own. By her description, I wouldn’t have had any issues at all once at the top; it’s all enclosed by thick wire or glass, but even she felt a little uneasy about the elevator ride, so in the end, I was glad I didn’t go up. Her pictures are included in the slideshow but even with the extra height, not much more can be seen so I have no regrets not going to the very top.

In any case, and without further ado, here is our slide show of the Eiffel Tower experience:

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The tower is truly a remarkable feat of engineering, and worth every bit of its iconic status as representative of Paris. We shall never forget that shimmering tower of steel and light, and our magical evening ascending it and seeing the City of Light in all its glory.

The next day began around noon as I’d woken up in the middle of the night and just couldn’t return to sleep, and the next thing I knew I was stumbling out of bed to discover it was almost 11:00 and Carolyn in all her sweetness had just let me sleep. Our main game plan to start was to see Notre Dame, which we did, and can be best presented with yet another slide show:

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After that, we had a nice meal in a little restaurant in the Latin Quarter, although we noticed that virtually every restaurant in one of the side streets had almost identical menus. The food was tasty, but I’m not sure why they think everyone wants the same thing. That seemed a little odd to us.

Afterwards, we navigated through the Metro again and went to the Champs-Elysees (which is pronounced something like “Shah is silly” and translates to: “Elysee is the Champ” because Elysee was the wife of the guy who invented the boulevard and she made him make it all about shopping) and had a romantic stroll on a street with a famous name but that is really nothing special except that you can say, “We had a romantic stroll along the Champs-Elysees.”

We wandered about the Arch de Triomphe again and then made our way home on the Metro, almost not getting lost most of the time, and then camped out drinking wine, eating chocolate, writing this blog, and being content with our two full days and two half days in Paris. We will gladly come back.


Paris: Louvre it or leave it

Before departing on this European adventure, we purchased a Paris two-day museum pass, which allows you quick and easy access to a gajillion of the museums and attractions in the city. The Mother of All Museums is of course the Louvre, so that was first up.

After walking the first couple of blocks from our apartment to find the Metro Station, we came around a corner and saw this:


We’re not sure if they have a name for it, but it sure is one big-ass cell phone tower.

So we got lost four or ten times finding the Metro Station; I think our first mistake was  that we first got on at a different station than we intended. We were trying to get to the Tourist Bureau to pick up our Museum Pass, but by the end of the ride we were the only ones left in the station and the train just sat there as if to say, “only dumb-ass Americans should be sitting in me now.” Note the lack of anyone else in the station. I’m pretty sure I saw a skeleton covered in cobwebs in one of the corners.

We were glad that we purchased a two-day Metro pass, which allowed us to jump from train to train without having to pay yet another fare. We think we saved about 143 Euros today alone, plus we taught all sorts of Parisians how to sing the theme from The Flintstones.

After backtracking and pondering the maps and my iPhone and arguing about which direction we should go, we finally somehow ended up at the tourist bureau in the early afternoon. And we started at 6:00 AM.

Just kiddin’.

We’re actually taking it fairly easy, and not pushing to see every damn thing possible since we’re not as young as we used to be and our feet are getting a little sick and tired of being walked on, so they complain more often. So we’re just doing what we can and not trying to conquer Paris in two days. Conquering Paris didn’t work out too well for Hitler in any case.

The funny thing was that it seemed like every time we got lost, we’d stumble upon something interesting or that we already wanted to see, for instance, the Arc de Triomphe, which stands for, “Victory Over Your Arches,” a slogan Nike originally rejected in favor of “Just Do It.” We walked out of a Metro Station thinking we might be near the Louvre, and instead came face to face with the second most famous Parisian monument there is, with the first being the well-known “Statue of a Rude Parisian,” which we neglected to take a picture of.

And so, feeling a little smug because we walked out of a Metro Station right into the Parisian version of the Golden Arches just like we knew what we were doing, we proceeded to return to the Metro Station in order to enjoy another hour or two of subway riding. There’s simply nothing like it, there were times we both raised our hands in the air screaming “whoo hoo!” like it was a roller coaster. We were even entertained by an accordion player who played for free and even offered us something out of his cup, which we politely declined to accept because he looked a little bedraggled.

I know it doesn’t look like much, but this building was a real sight for sore eyes, let me tell you. The Paris Tourist Office: the finish line of a two-hour Metro ride that should’ve been about fifteen minutes.


After retrieving our Museum Passes, we proceed to walk to the Louvre. What follows is a pictorial guide to what we saw, with a little less commentary than you’re used to ignoring:


We finally made it to the Louvre, featuring the iconic pyramid and the even more iconic selfie.


The courtyards surrounding the Lourve are expansive, with massive buildings surrounding it. Even the sky looks big in France.


Trying to remember the name of that big tower thingee.


How’d you like to get the cleaning contract for this building?

The French obviously like their arches; this isn’t the Arc de Triomphe, it’s in the courtyard of the Louvre. The U.S. imitates the French by building thousands of McDonalds.


A nice Canadian couple traded picture-taking with us. We stole their camera and ran.


Everyone’s seen pictures of the Louvre Pyramid from the outside, but how about from the inside? The Pyramid is what you go through to enter the Louvre. Once inside, all that glass makes it quite hot inside.


Veni, vidi, vici.


Winged Victory. Too bad she lost her mind over it.

The Mona Lisa. We were told that it would be smaller than we expected, but actually, maybe due to those expectations, it seemed just the right size to us. It isn’t often you get to see the most famous and iconic piece of artwork in the history of the world in person. Viewing this was worth the visit to the Louvre alone, and perhaps even Paris.


It’s behind glass so you’re getting the reflection of Bernie Sanders’ head in it, but that just serves to prove we saw it and didn’t just pull an image off the internet.

IMG_6744I was going to buy a copy of this as a paint-by-numbers set, but I didn’t want to pay the airlines for oversized luggage.


Even the ceilings throughout the Louvre have artwork elaborate enough to enhance nearly any brothel.


This chair scared Carolyn. I think it was the lack of cushions.


Every bedroom should have a view of a glass pyramid.


Sometimes you have to get naked to pull a sliver from your foot. Quite a beautiful statue, actually. I just hope the model didn’t have to sit there with the sliver in her foot the entire six years it took to carve it.


Vinnie, vampy, Visa.


Michelangelo  so beautifully captured the angst one feels when you can’t find your pants.


We have to admit there were a few times when we got a little boared.


The Venus de Milo. Are you kidding me? First the Mona Lisa, and then the Venus de Milo?  All that’s left is a portrait of Donald Trump!


I asked Carolyn to pose without her clothes on to match up better, but she declined.


This statue of Athena was created around 430 BC, which is before cable and iPhones and everything. But not apparently before the invention of chocolate ice cream, which the model obviously had just finished eating.


We sphinx this is something Egyptian.

That was about the last of what we saw at the Louvre. I read that if one took the time to just glance at everything the Louvre has to offer, it would take nine months to do it. I’m a little dubious of that fact, unless they’re counting an Indiana Jones-like basement warehouse full of antiquities, but the place is indeed massive. There’s just no way to cover much of it in just one day, much less enough of a day to make the feet on old farts like us start barking like a couple of chihuahuas having their tails stepped on.

That said, you can only look at so many big paintings of naked people being harassed by little naked angels, or statues of other naked people standing around wondering where their clothes are, or sculptures of faces with blank stares on account of the fact that they hadn’t yet invented glass eyes when they carved them.

But my other thought was that only the French would create a museum like the Louvre, where millions of people all over the world would come visit to see some of the most famous pieces of art in the history of the planet, and have almost every informational placard printed only in French. I’ve seen one-room museums in the US that have four languages on every sign. As a result, we had little idea what the history was for most of the artwork, and we sure as hell weren’t going to try and translate every one of them on an iPhone app. Yes, France, you lost the battle for the world’s go-to language. So just surrender to that fact and put some English and German and Japanese and maybe Italian on some of those cards. Keeping everything only in French just makes you look petty. You have a beautiful language, to be sure, but there a lot of other ones too.

That said, just so you don’t get the wrong idea, Paris is an amazing city. It’s as if the French wanted to build the biggest of everything anytime they could. Hopefully, they’re not trying to compensate for other issues, but the result is a city full of history, and very large buildings with statues and decorations that give true meaning to the word “awesome.” Paris should be on the bucket list of every traveler. Sure, the French are a bit arrogant, and sure, almost all of them who work in information kiosks deliver only one sentence answers with no hint of any smile or enthusiasm, but it’s an amazing city and you can in fact run into people in Paris who are more than happy to help. Just don’t expect it to be the ones who are paid to do so.


No day would be complete without a Carolyn Door of the Day, and in typical French fashion, it’s pretty massive.

On the way back from the Louvre, we again got turned around in the Metro, plus the line we wanted to go on had a big X through it because they heard we were coming, so we ended up walking some more and came across this plaza with some Very Big Things in it, including a ferris wheel from the Middle Ages.

And yet another Door of the Day had to sneak in, because, you know, Paris doesn’t horse around.

And now we’re back in the apartment, after giving up on the Metro and calling for an Uber car, resting our weary feet and making plans for our next day of sightseeing. We could have used another three or fifty days here to see everything, but after knocking out the Eiffel, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and best of all, the Metro Subway system, we’re content that we’ve already hit the main highlights of The City of Light.

The rest is already gravy.


Amsterdam to Ohmigod


And so we bid a fond farewell to Amsterdam. What a lovely city full of lovely people. The contrast it provides to Paris, as you’ll read later, makes us especially appreciative of that Dutch city. I don’t know if we’ll be back, but if we do come back, it will be gladly.

These are our last photos of Amsterdam, including a bevy of parked bicycles that so defines the city.

And of course the last Door of the Day:


We boarded a Thaylis train for Paris after returning our rental car. It was nice to drive early on Sunday morning as there was little traffic, and downtown Amsterdam is as challenging a city to drive in as I’ve ever seen. Already we’ve seen parts of Paris that are a little daunting (like four lanes all converging in a sort of roundabout with no street lines whatsoever, in what can only be described as complete chaos), but Amsterdam is overall more complicated. But it’s a good thing, because the complications favor bike-riding, pedestrians, and mass transit.


The journey through Holland, Belgium, and then France provided a little countryside scenery. Nothing overly interesting, although we did observe that once we hit Belgium you could see a noticeable difference in cleanliness and quality of life and surroundings. Far more junk was strewn about everywhere, and it looked much more industrial. The houses were far more unkempt than in Holland. Granted, it was a view from a train, but it was noticeable throughout Belgium until we approached France.

I’m not sure what the cultural and political differences are between the two countries that causes that, but whatever it is, it’s another feather in the cap of Holland.

We also have noticed throughout all three of these countries that graffiti is far more prevalent than we normally see in the US, but a lot of it is of an artistic quality that is quite impressive. Again, no idea why something like this is true, but from the train’s window, anytime there was a building, there was likely graffiti on it.

The train stopped in Rotterdam, Antwerp and Brussels before it finally arrived in Paris. And that’s when the fun really began.

So just to paint the proper picture, when we left Amsterdam, it was on a peaceful Sunday morning with little traffic. The train station there was quiet and peaceful and well organized. The information booth they held to help passengers answered the questions thoroughly and understandably. Once on the train, it reminded us as to how quiet and smooth a nice train could be. You could almost hear a pin drop in the compartment. I will say I expected a little bit more of a full-service train, however… we were in car 18 and the food car was all the way up in number 1, and that’s just too far to walk to bother. It was otherwise like a very comfortable, and quiet, commuter train. We watched the countryside roll by, looking forward to seeing Paris for the first time.

The first problem we had with Paris was all my fault. I apparently wrote down the arrival time in a trip book I created to keep track of all this as 11:30. The reality was 1:30. In the meantime, Arnaud, our host of the AirBnB apartment we were staying at in France, had planned to greet us at 12:00. At 1:00 he began texting me. This is the actual transcript of the text:

Arnaud “Hello Kevin it’s 1:00 PM. Where are you please?”

Me: “Still on the train.” (At that point, I had no idea that I had given him the wrong information.)

Arnaud: “I will plan on another meeting at 6:00 pm. I am sorry I have other’s meetings and I cannot wait you.”

Me: “I’m sorry, perhaps the eta they gave us was wrong? How will we get into the apt.?”

Arnaud: “Where are you exactly?”

Me: “I’m not sure- the internet on the train isn’t working. My best guess right now is that perhaps instead of 11:35 arrival it was 1:35.”

Arnaud: “Where are you?”

Arnaud: “Hello Kevin it’s 1:00 PM. Where are you please?”

Me: “I can only guess that we are 1/2 hour outside of Paris.”

(long delay)

Me: “Please confirm that you can read this text.”

Arnaud: “Yes I can. We meet us at 6:00 PM.”

Me: “Any suggestions as to what we can do in the meantime with our luggage?”

Arnaud: “At the train station Gare du Nord.”

Um, yeah. As it turns out, Arnaud is a delightful man who simply doesn’t speak English as his first language. I still don’t understand why he kept asking where we were no matter what I said, but in the end, I screwed up and gave him the wrong time, and we departed the train knowing that we were going to have four or five hours to kill with two big pieces of luggage.

But boy what a difference a big city like Paris makes. Unlike the bucolic friendliness of Amsterdam with bluebirds nesting in the rafters pooping little sherbet rainbows, the Paris train station was all noise and mayhem and confusion. As soon as we got off the train we were accosted by Middle Eastern-looking women asking us if we spoke English and if so could we sign this petition for something or other? Taxi drivers wanted our fare. We saw a man and a woman, presumably competing vendors of some kind, screaming at each other to the point where the man raised his hand as if to strike her. Unintimidated, the woman continued to scream at him. The crowds roiled around them seemingly without taking any notice of the near-violence.

Carolyn went off to find a toilet (only to discover that it costs about 70 cents to get in. I’d heard that one of the U.S.’s hidden benefits was “free toilets everywhere!” Apparently that’s true. The bathroom was also unisex.), and while I was standing there wondering what we were going to do with our luggage, a very nice and well dressed man approached me and offered his assistance. When I explained our predicament with the luggage, he said that every apartment complex has a doorman or whatever and you can leave the luggage with him no problem. I was a bit dubious about that, and he even looked at a map with me and called Arnaud to see if he could straighten out that fact in French, but only got a message. I told him we were going to take an Uber to the apartment and he said Uber was not so good there, and there was a big strike of some sort in the city and traffic was horrible. I grew ever more suspicious as his helpfulness knew no bounds, until he began to offer the limo service his company so conveniently offered. I politely declined and proceeded to an information booth where the man inside gruffly pointed across the terminal saying I could store our luggage “over there.”

Not knowing quite sure what he meant, we proceeded with the luggage in that direction, with Mr. Helpful calling after us as if he couldn’t believe we weren’t going to allow him to continue to help us.

(I don’t know if there was a strike, but the traffic wasn’t that bad, there was no doorman of any kind at the apartment, and Uber was absolutely no problem. It began to appear to us that the French were either extremely unhelpful or extremely helpful if they wanted to rip you off.)

We saw a bank of elevators (why are all the elevators in Europe so small? Most of them can barely handle four people, much less two or more with any kind of luggage) with a floor that said something about lost luggage, so we proceeded there. We were greeted with an XRay scanner just like at an airport, so we put it through, hoping we weren’t about to board a plane to Algiers, collected it on the other side, and wondered what to do. Not a one of the employees bothered to help us, and of course none of them spoke English anyway. Then we spotted a whole bank of lockers. Voila! Lockers!

Unfortunately, despite this being a seven week trip, our big American luggage just doesn’t work that well in Europe. In fact, before we boarded the train in Amsterdam, the lady who checked our tickets shook her head and pointed us to another door, even though we had assigned seating, saying something about “there are written rules for oversized luggage, you have to go over there.” Like I’d read the rules about the size of the luggage. I think she was French, it was, after all, a French train.

Although to be fair, we did encounter a train purser who was French and very friendly and joked with all the passengers as he checked the tickets. Maybe he lives in Amsterdam.

Anyway, I did my best to cram the two suitcases into the largest locker they had, but after much grunting and sweating we just couldn’t fit them both in. Okay, two lockers. They’re $10 lockers, so my mistyping of a “1” into an “11” will now cost us $20. Long story short, it probably took us twenty minutes to figure out how to lock those lockers and get them paid for. The people at the counter were of no help at all. A man who was fixing the lockers came over to help, started the process, and left. But it still didn’t work. I used credit cards, got some change converted to some that looked like they only took change, it was useless. I must’ve tried 15 times and 15 different ways. And we weren’t the only ones. One couple had their ticket eaten by the machine when they were trying to retrieve their luggage. The man explained to them in French they didn’t understand that they had to have a ticket to get their luggage out. They explained that they did, but the machine ate it. The man continued to explain that they needed a ticket.

Some of the lockers were broken. Some had numbers over them while others did not. It was a mess worthy of a third world country.

All the while, virtually every French person we met would only provide help in one sentence increments, except for the guy who was trying to con us into an expensive limo ride, where we would’ve been left at the curb at an apartment that had, in fact, no doorman or anything of the kind.

It was a madhouse. Dirty. Noisy. Grumpy. Chaotic.

Welcome to France!

As we finally successfully locked the lockers, I simply cracked up. All of the stereotypes of French people were confirmed to us in one fell swoop. I thought maybe they were just a little touchy about speaking French. But in fact, most of them are just totally disinclined to provide any assistance to anyone, even if they are sitting under a sign that says, “Assistance Here.” Hey, it’s a better story than everything going smoothly and everything working well. And it proves that sometimes stereotypes develop for a reason.

So, our plans for that day changed somewhat, and we found a little restaurant and ordered lasagna and a Heineken beer (which tasted sweeter than the Heineken I’ve had in the US), because when in Paris, you must eat Italian food and drink Dutch beer. It was actually quite good, however, and not terribly expensive.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in a walkabout around Paris. Paris reminds me so much of New York, except for the architecture. It’s just a big, bustling city with people of every stripe and color, with cars and busses competing on the roads that are virtually bereft of bicycles. Amsterdam, it ain’t.

So we just wandered about, snapping some pictures here and there, until it was time to go back to the train station, retrieve our luggage, and Uber over to the apartment. But not, of course, without getting the Door Fix in:

The apartment is as advertised, and as mentioned earlier, Arnaud is a lovely man who gave us a nice tour of the two rooms. It has everything we need and nothing more, and is only a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, which we drove right by on the way to apartment. The side-street neighborhood it’s on looks nice and quiet, and we’re content to be in our new home in Paris, albeit already exposed to the craziness that Paris can offer.

After yet another afternoon of walking, along with all of the challenges of travel, and after washing our clothes worn in Amsterdam, Carolyn lay on the couch for a well-deserved nap. During the next two days, we will conquer the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees, The Louvre, and whatever else we can find. Two full days in Paris is certainly not enough, but we’ll get our taste of it and then move on to London.