Takin’ a Walk on the Pandemic Side

IMG_3468Obviously this is a weird time for the entire world. In fact, due to the coronavirus, more people are now in “lockdown” than were even alive during World War II.

To pass the time, other than trying a jigsaw puzzle (which we gave up on after a few days… we decided we’d rather have our dining table back… which is a good enough excuse to obscure the fact that a 1,500 piece puzzle with large areas of single colors is a puzzle only fit for someone whiling away the hours on death row, or the certifiably insane), we are keeping busy by engaging in some minor hobbies in addition to my taking long walks in the area surrounding our house.

So even though I haven’t finished the entries for our Luxembourg trip (which seems like a lifetime ago), I thought I’d post photos from my last walk. It’s kinda strange… here we have that one time where you are handed the perfect “That’ll get done when I get around to Round Tuitit” time, and when life actually gives you that round tuit, you really don’t feel like doing most of those things you’ve been dying to get done. I think we all just need to feel like there’s something more than can always be done, even if we actually never will get around to them.

So thanks for giving me the round tuit, Mr. Coronavirus, but now that I think about it, I think I’d rather have a square one. So I’ll just have to keep putting off those things I’ve been putting off until I get a square tuit. In the meantime:

Screen Shot 2020-04-17 at 4.11.43 PMThese two dung beetles provided some inspiration for me to make it a long walk. I mean, if one beetle can push a ball of shit five times as big as its body the equivalent of several kilometers, I can certainly add some extra kilometerage to my own expedition, especially since I’m sans ball of shit. Full of shit, maybe. But ball of shit, no.

IMG_3463I probably have 50 versions of this scene in my photo library. Every time I start out on a walk and see this, I have to admire it and take the shot.

IMG_3474Here we are looking the other direction after hiking for a while. I know I don’t have this exact perspective already in my photo library so yay!

IMG_3479This photo might make for a great jigsaw puzzle scene. That is, as long as someone else pieces together the whole water area. The town of Sesimbra is beyond the first promontory. If you look close you can see a hotel on the second one. Sesimbra is nestled right between the two promontories.

IMG_3483You wouldn’t know it, but before the lockdown it was a rare sight to see this much of the ocean without also seeing some boats. Today, not a one.

IMG_3485The waves crashing against the shore create the only noise you can hear when you’re out walking nowadays, especially in the nature preserve. Well, that and your breathing, depending on the incline you just walked and how many candy bars you ate the previous week.

IMG_3482There are paths everywhere. Despite that, most of the time I encounter no one, in fact almost no living thing at all. However, lately, because of the quarantine, I do encounter more people hiking than I used to. A friendly “boa tarde!” (good afternoon) is exchanged virtually every time, although I’ve noticed the younger people generally prefer “ola!” Or maybe they just want me to give them a cola, I dunno. This different language stuff is hard.

IMG_3493Once you get to the main road (the ocean you can see in the previous picture is beyond the horizon here), there are scattered houses, some of which are abandoned. This home here is in an area with about a dozen abandoned houses in an apparent failed development. Either the developer ran out of money, or they were building in a public nature preserve and the government told them to knock it off. Apparently, after the dictatorship was toppled in 1974, people built all sorts of things where they shouldn’t because the government was in chaos. Eventually, of course, things got under control.

They look a little nicer from a distance. Up close, they’re just shells of bricks and mortar.

IMG_3492Typically, abandoned houses in Portugal just sit and slowly (very, very slowly) dilapidate themselves to death. Since the construction style doesn’t seem to have changed for decades, if not centuries, it’s hard to tell if these ruins are fifty years old or two hundred. But man, you can’t see it so well but this place has a million euro view of the ocean and Lisbon. Amazing to let it go to waste.

IMG_3496Funnily enough, after they’re abandoned, almost all of them are plastered with “vende” (for sale) signs, often just with spray paint. This one has far more potential than most, obviously, because they get a printed sign in both Portuguese and English, which isn’t very common. Usually it’s just “vende” and some phone number that was probably disconnected in 1993.

IMG_3495This was a great home until that giant bowling ball came crashing through.

IMG_3449You don’t really think of forests when you think of Portugal, but while they don’t compare to the grand expanses of evergreens in the Pacific Northwest, they still have plenty of trees you can wander through. Almost no one in Europe has any idea what a sasquatch or Big Foot is however.

IMG_3499Lately I’ve been going one way through the nature preserve and then returning via the main road, especially now that there are fewer cars out.

IMG_3507This is normally a fairly busy street. Today, due to the coronavirus, I feel like Will Smith in I Am Legend. There are no zombies though, because it’s daylight. Duh.

IMG_3494Today, you can just walk and walk in almost total silence (if you tune out the huffing and puffing of course).

IMG_3506But all that silence sometimes makes you wonder if maybe you are in fact the last man on earth.

IMG_3527And then a dog suddenly snarls and barks and lunges at you from behind a fence, clearly desiring nothing more than tearing into your flesh… it’s today’s zombie!

Actually, this is a Portuguese Shepherd. It used to be German, but he emigrated.

Seriously, the main danger I face when taking these walks are from dogs that attack suddenly, constrained only by a fence or chain… usually. Plus I don’t always trust the chain or fence. I’ve never had a problem, but there are plenty of times I’ve encountered dogs running around untethered, and some of them don’t act too happy to see me.

The other danger is from the cars… which is why I’m loving walking that highway right now. In Portugal, a driver will slam on his brakes thirty meters from a crosswalk (nicknamed “zebra” because of the stripes) if he sees someone even start to take a step in its general direction. But perhaps because of some subconscious need to balance the pedestrian vs. car scales of equality, when they pass by someone on the side of the road half of them don’t move their steering wheel at all, and so whiz by while nearly grazing your arm at seventy kilometers an hour.

Which is why I am very careful around houses on that highway… once in a while a dog will come out of nowhere from behind a fence, barking and growling like they’ve been starved for a week, which creates an automatic reaction in my body to jump back. But there are no sidewalks so I’m usually right on the road, meaning I have to make sure I don’t automatically jump back into the road because if I did, and a car was coming at the same time, I’d go from being a meaty dinner for the dog to becoming a pancake for the paramedics.

IMG_3513But, I do get to see some amazing views even while dodging the dangers. Here, Lisbon is off in the distance. Sometimes the views are so clear it just takes your breath away. Kind of a Vista d’ Coronavirus you might say.

IMG_3523This is the view we get after we drive down our side road and stop to turn onto the main highway. While we don’t have that kind of view right from our house, we get to see it every time we go out and about.

IMG_3533But the thing that really gets my goat is, well goats.

IMG_3532For some reason, the grass is always tastier on the other side of the fence. And because they have horns (and don’t know it because they never look at themselves in the mirror), once they poke their head through they sometimes can’t get back out. I had to grab this knucklehead by the horns and twist and turn and fight him until he finally got his head back out. But not only did he not bother to thank me, he just stuck his head right back through again. Fine, eat your stupid greener grass you stupid goat.

IMG_3521

“Poupe” was one of the more puzzling and humorous words we encountered when we first moved here. Most gas stations have a big “poupe” sign on them. Now we know it means “save.” We were relieved to learn this, because otherwise we thought all those stores with poupe signs were advertising their toilet facilities, or in this case, how you can somehow create energy by pooping.

IMG_3517It seems that over 90% of the housing, perhaps all construction, features the beautiful terra cotta tile roofs that make any viewscape of Lisbon so spectacular. But if a builder ever veers from that standard, they pretty much do whatever they want.

IMG_3520Another oddity next door to that one, this looks like a pretty cool house with an amazing view of Lisbon across the water… and yet is apparently abandoned. I’m just waiting for the “vende” to be spray-painted on the wall so I can find out if we can maybe get it for a song. We’d need the big discount just to rehabilitate the yard. Or to buy a goat.

IMG_3515This is an old windmill that doesn’t have to do any work at all for this restaurant right now due to the coronavirus. Where we live is so windy we’re surprised there aren’t some wind turbines in our area (even though Trump tells us they’d give us cancer). Still, Portugal is very progressive with energy, recently producing more power from clean energy sources than it actually needed. Which may be another reason the windmill isn’t running, I dunno.

IMG_3536This is in our neighborhood, and I always find it amusing. Someone built a car ramp right on the edge of a cliff. Let’s hope they never accidentally lurch forward… both the car and driver would end up, well, let’s just say the hospital admittance form would probably use the word “crumpled” in the “patient condition” box.

IMG_3534After a long walk, home sweet home, obscured by the greenery.

The Top Ten Castles of Luxembourg

Lego CastleI decided to finally put my doctorate in Medieval Construction and Castleology* to better use than building medieval towns with Legos®, so we set about identifying and exploring the best castles in Luxembourg. Because the only thing cooler than making a castle with Legos®, is seeing a real one in person.

(I hate those ® things. If I write Legos without the ® are they going to sue me? Lego! Lego! Lego! Ha! Bring it on you crazy Danish peoples!)

Anyway, there are about 130 castles in Luxembourg. We needed to narrow that down, so we made a list of the important criteria necessary for such a vast and complicated expedition. The list is as follows:

  1. Find it on a map and drive to it.

Once armed with these strict guidelines, we put the pedal to the metal and criss-crossed Luxembourg to check out these amazing medieval sites. Of course, Luxembourg is only 82 km (51 miles) long and 57 km (35 miles) wide, so it only takes about an hour to get from one end to the other (20 minutes if you pretend Germany’s autobahn extends into Luxembourg), but still, it was a massive undertaking, eclipsed only by the logistics needed for the Battle of the Bulge, because, y’know, all they needed were nuts.

You’ll only get that if you know your trivia about World War II.**

So let’s start out with these first five, carefully presented to you in no order whatsoever.

Useldange Castle

IMG_2644Useldange Castle is thought to have been built in about the 12th century. The castle and its chapel were damaged during a war between France and Burgundy. France obviously won, because Burgundy is now only a wine, a color, and an anchorman, not a country.

It is mostly in ruins but they did a nice job of restoring various parts of the castle, including installing a metal spiral staircase which allows you to climb to the top of the tower for some great views of the little town.

IMG_3353The town of Useldange sports a bustling population of just over 600 people, which means it’s not much useldange to anyone anymore.

Beaufort Castle

Beaufort Castle was kind of a bust to visit since it is closed to visitors in the winter. Such is the lot of Castle Hunters such as ourselves. Still, it is an impressive castle, dating back to the 11th century. It fell into complete disrepair in the 18th century, but was restored in 1893 and opened to visitors in 1928. Just not to us, because it wasn’t summer. I wonder if that ploy worked against invading armies? “Sorry, but put your stupid catapult away, we’re closed!”

The bustling town of Beaufort has a population of just under 1,500.

Bourscheid Castle

IMG_E2379
Bourscheid Castle sits on a site with archeological evidence of structures dating back to Roman times. It is estimated to have been built around the year 1000 (or as they called back then: “Y1K.”) It is one of the most important medieval castles in the area, as well as the largest.

The castle is open to visitors, unfortunately we got there 15 minutes before closing time and watched the lady operating the entrance desk spot us and then hurry to slam the door shut and flip the sign to “Zougemaach” (which is Luxembourgish for “closed”) before we could make it to the door. Oh, well. Not a big loss because it’s mostly open air anyway, so we stuck our faces up to the fence and saw it for free. Ha!

We enjoyed the cute conical caps, making us think of gnome hats. Despite our not being able to go through it, we could see that it is a reasonably impressive castle, earning itself a well-earned place in the top ten castles of Luxembourg.

The town of Bourscheid counts a little over 500 residents as its bustling populace.

Mersch Castle

IMG_2669Well, yeah, as you can see by my expression, Mersch was kind of a bust. That’s just part of the deal with castle hunting, sometimes you see something amazing, and sometimes you see something that used to be a castle and now houses the administrative offices of the county, or maybe just looks like a pile of Lego pieces because it’s in ruins.

But it’s relevant to this list because it’s also one of the castles that belongs to the famous “Valley of the Seven Castles.” There are even signs on the highway pointing to a drive where you see all seven castles. But they didn’t pick the seven castles for anything other than they were all castles in the same general vicinity. It’s not worth making that drive, except to cherry pick the better castles. Except that the tower on the left sort of looks like a surprised Pinocchio, so there’s that.

But unlike all of the other bustling metropolises with their populations of 500 or 600 people, Mersch has over 3,000! We could barely stomach the traffic congestion.

Clervaux Castle

IMG_2586Clervaux Castle dates back to the 12th century.

IMG_2578As you can see, not all castles look medieval and like they were only built for combat. In fact, Clervaux Castle was built in a kind of bowl, with hills looming above on all sides… meaning it was one of the rare times we didn’t get any kind of a view from a castle.

IMG_2563The castle was the site of a pitched battle during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, and was destroyed by fire. It was subsequently rebuilt.

IMG_2579The neighboring Church of Clervaux.

IMG_2558Clervaux Castle doesn’t look very castley from this angle, but neither does this umbrella-wielding knight look very nightie.

IMG_3318A monument to the Battle of the Bulge, which is still a pretty big thing around these parts.

IMG_3315Which is why they erected this monument. I guess he won because he’s not fat.

IMG_3314However, due to the Coronavirus scare, the poor little town, with its bustling population of just under 1,500, was seemingly deserted. We talked to a proprietor (one of a multitude of Portuguese expats we encountered) who said that normally it was busy with people year round. Little did we know that was just the beginning of a long, sad tale of quarantines and limited travel around the entire world.

Next up: The best of the rest.

 

* I got my doctorate in Medieval Construction and Castleology from Trump University. Which means, of course, that I’m lying, which is about the only thing anyone could have learned from that defunct con job of a school. I just thought it would be funny for anyone who happens upon this entry by searching on “The Top Ten Castles of Luxembourg” to think they’d really struck gold with such amazing expertise and knowledge! But nah, we’re just a coupla Yanks who like castles.

 

** Nuts!

 

 

Where we take our lives into our hands by flying the riskiest way possible.

Boarding RyanairNo, I’m not talking about flying during the Coronavirus pandemic. I’m talking about flying Ryanair.

If you read the blog entry preceding this one, you’ll know that I poked a whole lot of fun at Ryanair for the way they recoup their money after advertising a 19 euro fare to Luxembourg.

Turns out, the joke was on us. Ryanair really is that bad. I won’t bore you with all the grimy details, but suffice it to say Ryanair does everything in its power to remind you that you’re flying on the damned-cheapest-airline around.

Like most airlines, they charge you for luggage. But unlike any other airline I’ve experienced, they don’t let the employees at the gate take your payment: they make you go to another line across the terminal to pay for said luggage before you can even check in… after you’ve already waited in line to check in. Because a helpful sign or employee might cost Ryanair something, and we can’t have that!

IMG_3061
I think they captured the laughing faces on the sign by asking the models where Ryanair’s customer service was. There are actually three real employees at the counter in this picture, but only one of them is helping a customer, and she’s doing that very, very slowly.

Once you’re in the new line, they make damn sure not to be in any hurry whatsoever. We went from getting to the airport in plenty of time to ending up walking right into the boarding line with barely enough time for a preflight visit to the restroom, and that was despite a lighter-than-normal security queue.

 

There’s more, but I’ll just leave it with this: I’ll never book another flight on Ryanair again. Not only is the aggravation they dole out not worth whatever savings you might gain, by the time they’ve tacked on all the other expenses, it may even be more expensive. If you’re flying with only a backpack or something… maybe. But I’d still worry about how many other corners they may cut in their efforts to be the CHEAP airline.

Abuse sign
They actually had three of these notices posted on their single counter. Y’think Ryanair employees encounter some of these behaviors much?

Be that as it may, when it was all said and done, we didn’t regret the trip for an instant. Luxembourg is a wonderful little country (actually a Grand Duchy… the only one in the world).

So try as they might to aggravate us, at least Ryanair got us there in one piece, and so far anyway, coronavirus free as well (not that Ryanair deserves any credit for that, I wouldn’t be surprised if they start selling seats based on the amount of disinfectant they’ve applied).

We were, in fact, very lucky to get in and out of the country when we did. Within a week of our return, borders were closing, airlines were cutting routes, and most countries were basically going into full lockdown mode.

If we would’ve been booked to leave a week later than we did, we’d probably would have not made the trip.

IMG_2415Which means we would’ve never seen this: the view of the “Grund” from The Walls of the Corniche, which have been called “the most beautiful balcony in Europe.” The Grund is basically the old city.

IMG_3153It’s quite a ways down; the walls we were standing on here were considered so impregnable they were called “The Gibraltar of the North.” But not anymore, because we were able to impregnate them easily.

IMG_3144We didn’t go down there because it looked like it went uphill both ways, and all the guides I read basically used adjectives like “charming” and “quaint,” which are usually travel euphemisms for “boring.”

IMG_3150But the views were spectacular.

IMG_3154The Grund is also a popular nightlife area, which means nothing to us because the world “nightlife” at our age actually means, “What’s on the telly tonight?”

IMG_3142This is also the place where they have the Casements du Bock, a 21-kilometer network of underground passages hewn from solid rock. Unfortunately, the tunnels were closed for the winter, so we could only wistfully imagine how exciting it would have been to be stuck in a bunch of tunnels while the hoards were attacking outside.

IMG_3158I can just picture a befuddled army lolling about down there asking each other, “How the hell are we gonna get up that?”

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 11.20.54 AMThis is in front of the Grand Ducal Palace. It is the official residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and where he performs most of his duties as Luxembourg’s head of state. Here, he’s seen also providing the security, due to the country’s current financial straits.

IMG_2401Actually Luxembourg is swimming in dough. If you need a loan or something, just go there and start asking Luxembourgers for money. Luxembourg’s GDP per capita is third in the world, only behind Qatar (“We’re so rich, we gave away the ‘u’ in our name”), and the former Portuguese territory of Macau (who can crow about having a gambling industry seven times larger than that of Las Vegas). The US ranks tenth in GDP per capita, in case you were wondering. Portugal is 42nd, but no one wonders about that.

IMG_3138Built in the early 17th century, The “Cathédrale Notre-Dame” is Luxembourg’s only cathedral. And it hasn’t even burned down yet!

IMG_2396This is a building.

IMG_E2394Simon and Garfunkel would have loved this bridge if it were over troubled waters.

IMG_2400-revisedIt’s obvious here that I fell in love with Luxembourg. Or maybe I have a thing for flagpoles.

IMG_3161One of the interesting things about Luxembourg is that they basically grow up speaking four languages: French, German, English, and Luxembourgish, not necessarily in that order. I didn’t know there was even a language called Luxembourgish until we got here. Actually, English isn’t on the official language list, because once they’ve put three languages on a sign, they’ve pretty much run out of room. There is also a lot of Portuguese spoken because there are a lot of Portuguese in Luxembourg, mainly because the pay in Luxembourg is a lot better. Of course, everything is more expensive than in Portugal, too.

The sign above is only in German, so I shot this photo in order to translate it. Unfortunately, Google Translate left me more confused than I was before: “Here you will find so large with grace, so much seriously associated with loveliness that there is nothing to be desired, Poussin had worked his wonderful talent in such spaces, goethe über Luxemburg, campagne in France.”

Uh huh. Oh, well, someone who actually speaks German might help me translate that better.

IMG_3159At least UNESCO leads with English. There are over 1,000 UNESCO heritage sites in the world. We’ve got a long way to go to see ’em all, but we’re trying!

IMG_3147Because a sunglasses-wearing harp-playing bird is exactly what this wall needed.

IMG_3134The Gate of the Day.

IMG_3132Some of the streets were a little barren, presumably due to the coronavirus. Not much else seemed overly affected, really, especially since it was our first time and we had nothing to compare it to. But it did seem less crowded than it otherwise would have been.

IMG_3128Kind of a cool old building they’ve turned into a think tank lab or something.

IMG_3127Because nothing screams “selfie” like a fountain in a park.

IMG_3166We heard this was a good way to keep the coronavirus at bay. So far it’s worked!

Luxembourg City is rather small, with just over 120,000 inhabitants, 70% of which are foreigners. When we rented our car I chatted with the gal behind the desk, and I asked about her French accent. I was wondering if she had the accent of Luxembourgish, which is pretty much a cross between French and German. She kind of laughed and told me she was French, and that no Luxembourger would ever work behind a counter anyway. Well then. Must be nice to be a Luxembourger!

The car came in very handy, as you’ll see in our next posts where we visit a number of the over 100 castles in the small country. Plus we got to go to Germany and Belgium, because as soon as you start driving out of the city, you can pretty much accidentally go over a border. The country is smaller than Rhode Island, the smallest state in the US (and the most weirdly named because it’s not even an island).

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Woo hoo! Lisbon to Luxembourg for Only 19 Euros! (Well, only if you fly naked.)

One of the great things about living in Europe is how quickly and cheaply you can get to all sorts of other countries and cultures. In fact, we’re now making some of our travel plans based solely on special airline sales. So, when I saw a 19 euro fare from Lisbon to Luxembourg, I thought, “Why not?”

My next thought was, “Where’s Luxembourg?”

Luxembourg is one of those places where everyone knows the name, but virtually nothing else. A quick poll of our friends indicates that absolutely no one in the world has ever been to Luxembourg. But it does sound exotically European so I quickly got on the RyanAir website to book the flight. After struggling with all the options and complications, I decided to call them. Here follows a transcribed version of the conversation… and I swear this is all true (except for the parts that aren’t):

Plane is extraRyan Air (in a charming Irish accent that has me melting into butter): “Hello – Dia duit, and thank you for calling Ryan Air. How may I assist you?”

Me: “Yes, hello. I’m on your website trying to buy a 19 euro fare from Lisbon to Luxembourg, but there are so many options and add-ons it crashed my browser. Can you help me book the flight? I love your accent by the way.”

Ryan Air: “Oh, thank you sir. You’re making me blush! I can absolutely help you.” (I give her our account number and desired itinerary.) “Okay, so that’s no problem ‘tall. I just have a few questions for you so we can finalize this.”

Duct tapeMe: “Okay.”

Ryan Air: “First of all, will that be seat or no seat?”

Me: “Excuse me?”

Ryan Air: “To actually have a seat to sit in, it’s a 50 euro upgrade.”

Me: “Really? So if I don’t buy a seat, what happens?”

Ryan Air: “You have to stand in the aisle, usually near the toilet. Don’t worry, hand straps are available.”

Me: “Hand straps?”

Turbulent makeupRyan Air: “Yes, to hold on to during take off, landing, and any rough air. They’re only 10 euros more.”

Me: “And if I don’t get a hand strap?”

Ryan Air: “We have complimentary zip ties to secure you to the plane, but that means you can’t buy the toilet pass. There is only one set of zip ties per passenger, so they have to remain on for the duration of the flight.”

Me: “Toilet pass?”

Ryan Air: “Yes, that’s only 25 euros.”

Me: “And if I don’t get the toilet pass?”

Ryan Air: “Then you can’t use the toilet.”

Holding peeMe: “Even if it’s an emergency?”

Ryan Air: “Well, there is a small bucket in the section with the people with the zip ties, but we don’t like to publicize that too much, we prefer to emphasize, you know, “holding it.” But sometimes if there are a lot of passengers that are, well, a little stingy and elderly, so, ah, I think you can guess how things turn out. Especially if it’s a turbulent flight, ha ha!”

Me: “Okay, then we definitely want seats.”

Ryan Air: “Oh good, it’s so nice to talk to a non-stingy flyer! You’re obviously not Irish, ha ha! So I assume you’ll want the toilet pass?”

Me: “How long of a flight is it?”

Ryan Air: “Let’s see, it looks like it’s just under three hours.”

Me: “Then God yes. We’ll take the toilet pass.”

Ryan Air: “Okay great! Good choice. Now, would you like a level one, two, three or four padded seat?”

Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 6.06.55 PMMe: “Come again?”

Ryan Air: “Each seat is available with a different depth of pad. One is just bare metal, as I’m sure you would assume. Two is with a one centimeter foam pad. Three is with a three centimeter foam pad. Oh wait! I see there are two seats available that also have the back of the seat padded as well! Those go fast if you’re interested.”

Me: “So the other seats just have bare metal on the back?”

Ryan Air: “Yes, of course. But you can bring your own pad for only twenty euros.”

Me: “Well, jeez, I guess we’ll take the ones with the pad on the back.”

Ryan Air: “Excellent. By the way, those are only available with the level four padding, so we’ll just add that to the total.”

Me: “How much is–“

Ryan Air: “We still need to determine the seat location. Would you like the “Top-flight” inflight service personnel, standard, or sub-standard?”

Girls of Ryan Air
Rated 8 or above.

Me: “What does that mean?”

 

Ryan Air: “Well the top-flight inflight service personnel have been rated an 8 or above.”

Me: “Rated how?”

Ryan Air: “By the passengers. We take a poll after each flight, just before we get to the gate.”

Me: “And they base that on…”

Ryan Air: “Overall service, as well as presentation.”

Me: “Presentation?”

Ryan Air: “Frankly, most people base it all on looks. As you can imagine, the real good-looking ones can get away with throwing the peanuts at you, while the homely ones usually have to work a little harder. Just like in the real world, of course! The sub-standard are generally homely and a tad unfriendly, although you didn’t hear that from me.”

Me: “Really? So why doesn’t the airline just fire the sub-standard ones?”

Flight attendantRyan Air: “I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know how it works in your country, but over here we don’t fire someone just because they’re ugly! I mean, trust me, (now in a whisper) the guy sitting next to me here wouldn’t be sitting there if we had that policy!”

Me: “Well, whatever. I just want a comfortable seat. Gimme a standard, um, attendant. So what has all that come to?”

Ryan Air: “Well first we have to figure out your luggage situation before we go any further. Are you planning on bringing luggage?”

Me: “Of course.”

MaskRyan Air: “Okay, so that’s 75 euros for each checked bag as long as they don’t exceed the two kilogram limit.”

Me: “Two kilograms? Isn’t that like about four pounds?”

Ryan Air: “Four point four, to be exact. Will you need to upgrade that?”

Me: “Well, yeah, I think our empty luggage weighs that much!”

Ryan Air: “Ah, yes, I see here you are American. I’ll just check the “American luggage” box, that’s only five euros. In any case, you’ll definitely want to buy a weight upgrade for it. The good news is that it’s only ten euros more.”

Now TransportingMe: “Okay, for how much weight?”

Ryan Air: “That’s per kilogram, up to ten kilograms. Over that is an additional five euros per half kilogram.”

Me: “What th–“

Ryan Air: “But you can bring some things aboard too, if you need to, you know, travel on the cheap.”

Me: “Like a bag?”

Ryan Air: “Well, we usually start with the clothing.”

Me: “Clothing?”

Fly NakedRyan Air: “Yes, will you be wearing any clothing on the flight?”

Me: “Um, yeah, I mean, I hadn’t really considered anything diff–“

Ryan Air: “We do have to account for the added weight, and to, of course, prevent the cheating that sometimes goes on. So if you prefer the nude section, we can save you an extra 50 euros right there.”

Me: “The nude section?”

Ryan Air: “Of course, for those who need the absolute cheapest fare, although we do insist on the ten euro purchase of a non-returnable Ryan Air towel for you to sit on. Of course, we also have clothing kiosks near the gate when you land, if you also don’t purchase a carry-on luggage pass. Would you like an entry pass to our clothing kiosk for twenty euros?”

Me: “We’re not going to fly nude for God’s sake!”

Ryan Air: “Ah, yes, I forgot you were American. No worries. We’ll just add the clothing option, just be sure to keep it under three kilograms, we will be weighing you with and without before boarding. Would you like the private weighing room for twenty euros more?”

Ryan Air PassengerMe: “Gawd, I guess so. But I’m still wondering what the total is.”

Ryan Air: “Of course. But while I’m adding that up would you like to consider our food options?”

Me: “Sigh. Okay, you mentioned peanuts earlier. At least we get peanuts, right?”

Ryan Air: “We can certainly add that to the total. They’re only two euros apiece.”

Me: “Well considering the costs of all the rest of this stuff, that’s not too bad. We’ll take two bags.”

Ryan Air: “Great! How many peanuts per bag?”

Me: “Huh?”

Collecting TrashRyan Air: “That’s two euros per peanut, so you just have to tell me how many peanuts you want all together.”

Me: “Two euros per peanut? What the hell?”

Ryan Air: “It’s supply and demand, sir. You can’t exactly stop at a convenience store while you’re 30,000 feet up in the air, now can you, ha ha!”

Me: “We’ll pass on the peanuts. What total do you have so far?”

Ryan Air: “Of course. Bear with me, I’m still adding it all up. But before we get to that, I am required to tell you that we have travel insurance available as well, which we strongly recommend. You never know when you or your spouse might fall ill, run into a conflict, maybe get a flat tire on the way to the airport, or even find out we just went out of business.”

Me: “Hard to imagine that, when you’re charging two euros a peanut.”

Ryan Air: “Ha ha! That’s capitalism for you! Anyway, on the insurance, it’s only forty-five euros each. That will refund your base fare should a major medical problem, such as death or a similar event, occurs.”

Me: “The base fare? Wait, so you’d refund me only 19 euros?”

Air FranceRyan Air: “Absolutely. And that will even be refunded to your survivors in the unlikely event of a fatal plane crash. Would you like the twenty-five euro survivor notification option?”

Me: “Wait, wait. I still don’t understand. If I even buy a fraction of the stuff you’re offering, we still only get 19 euros back?”

Ryan Air: “Yes, of course, remember, you’re flying on an amazingly inexpensive fare! I must also tell you that we have found, in the event of a fatal crash, the survivors –if you purchase the survivor notification of course– receive a lot of peace of mind when they receive that 19 euro check a year or two later.”

Me:” I’ll take my chances. I still need to know how much all this is going to cost me.”

Ryan Air: “Of course, I’ll give you the total in just a second… “ (lots of typing can be heard). Oh, by the way, I’m seeing our time allotment for this call has almost been exceeded. For just five euros, we can extend the conversation another five minutes.”

Me: “What? Why don’t you just type faster? Or talk faster! Why would I agree–“

Ryan Air: “Okay, sir, I can see you’re a little more, shall we say, frugal than you were letting on at first. No worries. (Starts speaking very quickly.) I can wrap this up shortly and we can avoid that fee. As a reminder, that in the event you do agree to the flight, this conversation is being recorded and will act as our legal agreement, and will be documented inside our Customer Retention & Appreciation Procedures.”

Tail coming offMe: “Customer retent–”

Ryan Air: “Yes, our Customer Retention & Appreciation Procedures, or CRAP, are very important to us. Do you understand all the CRAP as I’ve explained to you?”

Me: “Yeah I certainly understand most of all this is crap, but…”

Ryan Air: “I just need a quick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for our records. Do you understand?”

Me: “Um, I guess, yes?”

Ryan Air: “Very good sir. As per our terms and conditions, we have recorded your answer for the non-refundable flight and charges. With everything you’ve asked for, we have now charged your credit card on file for the flight, which is 678 euros, per person, each way. With the added taxes, convenience fees, airport permission charges, and sales tax on the fuel surcharges, that comes to 2,712 euros. At Ryan Air, we appreciate your business! Safe trave–”

Recorded Message: “Your time allotment has been exceeded. Your flight has been (in a different voice) booked and your credit card charged.” (Back to the original voice.) “Thank you for flying with Ryan Air!”

Click.

Me: I stare at the phone for a while.

“Honey! Guess what! I just booked that nineteen euro fare to Luxembourg!”

Carolyn: “Cool! Where’s Luxembourg?”

 

We’ll let you know all about it if and when we make it.

 

Kids note to pilot

New York, New… Year!

Just when you thought this blog might have finally met it’s timely demise…

We’re baaa-aack!

Our Fall trip to Austria and Slovenia had to be canceled due to Carolyn’s emergency spine replacement surgery (well okay, just parts of it), but she recovered sufficiently to able to go on our holiday trip to the United States.

Due to our multiple experiences flying from Europe to the Pacific Northwest and back, we’ve learned that it’s actually more enjoyable and comfortable to cut the trip into halves. While fewer stops is always good, after a ten to twelve hour flight the pooling of fluids in your body makes your lower legs look as if you’re wearing hockey shin guards under your pants and your shoes feel like size four ballerina slippers. When you walk down the aisle to the restroom, you feel exactly like a cross between a ballerina and a hockey player… one that waited to pee about thirty minutes too long.

Eeew

In addition to that, each one of the plane’s toilets looks as if a terrorist accidentally set off a hand grenade inside. Which reminds me of this VW ad. It’s worth a click for a quick laugh. Plus it features the car we own in Portugal, the (Marco) Polo.

Anyway, if you break up the trip to a couple of five or six hour segments, you not only save your shoes from looking like a Pillsbury crescent roll tube after you bang it on the counter, but you can actually use the toilet even right before landing and experience only a minimum of dry heaves, depending on which bodily function you are unfortunate enough to require at that time and, more importantly, depending even more on which bodily function the person who just walked out was unfortunate enough to require as well.

As a result of all these scientific calculations, we decided to make a stop in New York City for four or five days. Carolyn had never been, so we wanted to take in all the famous sights. I will say this about New York: Back in the late seventies and eighties, I traveled there a few times, and generally found it dirty, scuzzy, and dangerous. But this trip, I felt very safe, the city was clean and the people pleasant.

NYC Crime rateStatistics back those observations up, as crime in the city spiked in the 1980’s, mostly due to the crack epidemic. But today, crime is now among the lowest of major US cities. Indeed, New York City is now about the 10th safest in the world. Again, statistics back up what we felt with our “spidey senses.”

Theories abound as to why New York City has improved so much. But I doubt it’s a coincidence that it has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, and they also had a long period where a Democrat was mayor. Just sayin’, especially since Trump likes to blame state and city problems on Democrats where he can, and I hate that kind of partisan nonsense, so I speak up. So there. Regardless, we were delighted to feel as much relative safety as we have in major European cities. Good job New York!

Well, onward and upward with this photo spread of all the major sights in New York City complete with a helluva lot fewer words.

IMG_2688First stop: Times Square. Back in the seventies and eighties it was dominated by a bunch of adult theaters and graffiti. Today it is a glittering testimony to the technology of huge animated billboards. And crowds. Hoo-wee. Might’ve been because of the holidays, but I haven’t seen that many people crammed together since Voodoo donuts announced a free donut day. And they were all friendly. Who woulda thunk in New York?

IMG_2693The answer to the question: “Where the hall is Carnegie?”

IMG_2696We tried smiling in front of it. Honest we did.

IMG_2700This is the Rockefeller Center skating rink. No one goes there anymore because it’s so crowded. So we didn’t either.

IMG_2701It would have been fun to see the Rockettes. We had to settle for this outdoor shot, but then Carolyn made up for it by doing the Can Can for me back in the hotel room. But that’s all I got to say about that.

 

IMG_2706We even braved the subway. Being lifelong suburbanites (and possibly both of us being a little, shall we say, “short bussy,”), we find mass transit to be a challenge, even when we know the language. As a result, we walked from one end of Manhattan to the other, being proud of ourselves for exercising when it was really only because we felt too stupid to try the subway more than once.

IMG_2702Speaking of the language, while it was nice to be able to understand everything we read and heard, apparently there are still some hotel professionals who struggle with English. “Your are here” indeed.

A must-see while in New York City has to be the 9/11 memorial. They didn’t allow photography throughout a lot of it, but the memorial was very well done and very much worth seeing.

IMG_2714One of the actual fire trucks that arrived on the scene only to be crushed by falling debris.

IMG_2709There are two outside pools where the footprints of the twin towers used to be.

IMG_2711This was the original retaining wall, which was a key piece of engineering in order to keep the Hudson River from seeping in. It is now part of the museum.

It took the better part of an afternoon to see everything in the memorial, but it was time very well spent.

IMG_2718We opted not to take any of our remaining time to go out to Liberty Island, settling for this shot from the docks. It was too freakin’ cold, so we were satisfied to confirm from the shore that the Statue of Liberty still exists.

IMG_2723Every year, the Staten Island Ferry provides 22 million people transportation between Staten Island and Manhattan. And it’s free. No wonder crime is down in New York!

IMG_2724We’ve got this Brooklyn Bridge to sell ya!

IMG_2728Somehow this photo from Paris got into our New York City collection. No, wait, this was in Greenwich Village! It is, in fact, the Washington Square Arch. It was built in 1892 to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration as President. And we thought arches like this were only European…

IMG_2729One of the most pleasant surprises was going up the Empire State Building. We hit it when it was near-deserted. Walking through any maze of roped-off lines with no one else in sight is always a nice feeling… unless you think everyone else knows something you don’t.

IMG_2730The experience wasn’t cheap, costing over thirty bucks apiece. But for that you do get to save your wife from the clutches of King Kong, at least after you take the photo.

IMG_2740And you also get to see some magnificent sights. I never tire of experiencing scenic views from atop castles or skyscrapers. Everything looks so clean and beautiful.

IMG_2743The building even had its own red light district. Actually the light is from the heaters which were installed to prevent the wind chill from turning people into Empire State Ice Cubes.

IMG_2747The city looks almost science fiction-y from that far up. Just need some flying cars!

IMG_2748That’s the very tippy top, where King Kong met his demise.

IMG_2753They make it pretty hard to jump off, although at least 30 people have jumped from the Empire State Building since it opened in 1931. The last guy to do it did it in 2006, and that was from the 66th floor, so these barriers are apparently working.

IMG_2754During the elevator ride, you are entertained with a ceiling outfitted with a video presentation. The one on the way up was more interesting than what they played on the way down, making it look like the building was being built as you soared skyward. I didn’t think to take any pictures of it until the way down, when it was really just a kaleidoscopic art piece.

Now back into the city!

IMG_2758This place was as busy as Grand Central Station! Mostly because that’s what it is.

IMG_2764The clean up and safety of the city is no more exemplified than with Central Park. It is now a beautiful park, and is safer than 83% of the cities in the state of New York.

IMG_2766I got a kick out of this pencilly building bordering Central Park. I guess if land is real expensive, you buy a small plot and then go up, up, up!

IMG_2774Gotta do a dog when you’re in New York.

IMG_2790Also gotta do the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Met. The Met is the largest art museum in the US, and one of the most-visited museums in the world. About 7.3 million people visited the met in 2018.

IMG_2797Our offerings to the gods have a lot more plastic in them than they used to.

IMG_2798The Met houses over two million pieces of art spanning much of the history of human culture. We didn’t have time to see half that. Or a quarter. Actually, I estimate we saw .00015 of it all, so I’m sure we missed something cool!

IMG_2805Speaking of cool, it snowed while we were there. We were as giddy as school children since Lisbon outlawed snow not long after it was founded.

The majority of our visit, however, was to see friends and family over the holidays, and ring in the new year in the country of our origin. Family photos are rarely of interest to anyone who’s not in them, so the number of photos below bears no resemblance to the importance or delight in our visit. We tried to get to everyone, but sadly there are so many hours in a trip like this, so don’t have your feelings hurt if we missed you. That said, if you’re someone who lives in the Pacific NW and we didn’t see you this visit, please contact us right away because there are damn few people as it is who read the blog this far! If you’re one of ’em, we gotta see you next time!

IMG_2807When you discover that your grandchildren now tower over you.

IMG_2822This is the perfect face for a grandkid to make when opening a present.

IMG_1725Carolyn and her progeny and their girlfriends.

IMG_1731And then when the photos are taken five drinks later.

IMG_2644After the unwrapping frenzy, the men sit back and talk about the good ol’ days.

IMG_2951One of the activities we were taken to was axe throwing, which apparently is a thing now.

IMG_2955After Carolyn demonstrated her expertise, I decided I would make sure I always treat her well.

IMG_2962My oldest son and one of my top two grandsons. Well I only have two, but he’s a great kid, mostly because he thinks I’m really cool for some reason.

IMG_2991Despite the great time we had, and the fun seeing our old haunts and family and friends, we were happy to get back to Portugal.

Happy 2020 everyone!

How to have a terrible horrible no good very bad week… even in paradise.

Vacation danceThis entry was supposed to be about what we thought would be an amazing trip to Vienna, Austria; Salzburg, Germany; and Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Instead, the universe said, “Oh, hell no! You guys have been traveling enough and having too much fun lately. It’s time you experienced something a little less awesome.”

So it dished out about a year’s worth of bad luck and trauma all crammed into the space of about 48 hours.

Because, y’know, you can’t live in a country with the best weather in all of Europe, populated by the kindest, humblest people on the planet, with a cost of living that makes our retirement even possible, with cuisine we have fallen in love with, where within a matter of hours we can land in just about any city in Europe, and with a health care system whose quality and cost puts America’s to shame, without being reminded that, well, you still live inside these fallible and aging human bodies.

We’ll start with Carolyn: she had to be rushed to the emergency room and receive emergency surgery on her spine. Back pain

To start from the beginning, Carolyn has had some aches and pains in her bones for a while now (probably due to her tragic high jump history). It’s also one of the reasons we wanted to move to a warmer climate. She has been receiving physical therapy as well as trying to tone up via a thrice-weekly aqua-size class.

But a few weeks before we were scheduled to depart for our whirlwind tri-country tour, the pain suddenly became so intense that her head started spinning and she began spewing naughty words in the same tone of voice I first heard in The Exorcist. After one of our windows shattered from her screams, we decided maybe it would be a good idea to see a doctor.Exorcist

So I sprinkled some holy water around, loaded her writhing body onto the hand-truck, and then wheeled her out to our car. While I folded her into the seat, her shrieks set off several car alarms in our neighborhood. I did my best to reassure her by telling her that a little pain never hurt anybody. Immediately I learned that Linda Blair’s evil stare has nothing on Carolyn when her back’s hurtin’.

To shorten what will already be an even longer story with more twists and turns, Dr watermelonshe ended up in an operating room the same day after being carted away in an ambulance. The hospital scrambled to find a neurosurgeon, and they finally located one named Doctor Watermelon wandering incoherently on the side streets. Fortunately, he sobered up fast, and actually turned out to absolutely terrific. He was kind, humble, down-to-earth, spoke English well, and he wielded a mean scalpel. I’m kidding about the side street thing, but not his name. His name is Dr. Melancia, and in Portuguese, melancia translates to watermelon.

(Last names can be interesting here, we’ve seen or heard of names that translate to chicken, rabbit, wolf, war, and pine tree. I kept seeing a billboard asking people to vote for a rabbit, and was confused until I was told it’s not uncommon for animal names and other things to be used as last names. I wonder how that started?)

Alive!Anyway, Dr. Watermelon removed three broken chunks of spine that had been pressing on her spinal nerves, and placed a carbon spacer in there to open up the space and keep that temperamental nerve happy. Apparently nerve pain is a different kind of pain from what you might experience when, for instance, your finger is chopped off. It might be described as to what it might feel like for a woman to give birth to a pumpkin –with the large stem still attached– while a sadist fires a blowtorch on her back as he sings the theme song from “It’s a Small World.”

It was near-miraculous that she was put under while experiencing excruciating pain but when she awoke (seemingly for her, only a few seconds later) the only pain she felt was from the cut on her back!

By the way, this surgery was performed without insurance coverage. Our policy will only cover pre-existing issues starting next year. Since we are in Portugal, that news didn’t come with the terror that we would have experienced in the US: the total bill for the neurosurgery here was under 9,000 euros. Which isn’t small change, but it probably would have been ten times that in the US. Between that and the insurance rates, believe it or not even with that surgery we’re still money ahead. Just as one example, getting a saline IV in the US runs anywhere from $100 to $500 (I’m not making that up, I looked it up). On our Portugal bill, they were 98 cents. 98 cents! The sooner America gets its head out of its ass when it comes to health care, the better.

ScarSpeaking of asses, I know the picture here makes it look like she now has two butt cracks, but that’s just the scar… plus the bruises where Dr. Watermelon spanked her for laughing at his name after she started feeling the affects of the anesthesia.

But the universe wasn’t done with us yet. After all, what’s one spinal surgery when you can have so much more fun?

Being oblivious to the universe’s determination to humble us, on the way back to the hospital in the morning I stopped to get some gas. To my surprise, my Portuguese debit card declined, which I thought was odd because I had just transferred a sizable amount from the states a few weeks prior. So when I got to the hospital I checked online… and lo and behold, all our money was gone! What the– ?

Since she was in the safe hands of the kind and professional hospital staff, I drove to our bank about fifteen minutes away. Sure enough, some buttwad had stolen our card number and made about eighty different travel purchases all around Europe. (Using stolen cards for travel is a fairly common way to turn that ill-gotten money into value because by the time anyone figures it out, it’s all spent, plus they don’t need address verifications, etc.)

So here we were without a Portuguese penny to our name and my wife recovering from spinal surgery.

In Portugal, they handle that type of fraud differently than in the US. I had to go to a police station and get a police report and bring it back to the bank before they could initiate anything. They told me the nearest police station was about a fifteen minute walk away, and since the bank was closing for lunch (yes, they do that here), I decided to walk.

CoyoteI can just hear the universe snickering as it decided to poke it’s snarky finger into my iPhone and make Google Maps act as if it was sitting under one of those cartoon magnets Wile E. Coyote used to buy from Acme when he was trying to catch the Road Runner.

Accordingly, after a ten minute walk, Google Maps told me I was going in the wrong direction. So I reversed course, passed by the bank again, and walked another fifteen minutes in the other direction. It guided me to this very large building that didn’t look much like a police station. It turns out it was a university. I have no idea how Google Maps changed that, but I swear I didn’t put anything about a university in there. So I asked a couple of young men if they knew where a police station was. They immediately bolted in terror, thinking I was going to report them for something. They were college students, after all. No, actually, the Portuguese are very friendly and helpful, so we were able to figure out that if I continued to walk another ten minutes, I’d find a station.

LanguageAnd I did. Except that it was manned by two officers who spoke no English. Which wasn’t a huge problem, because I can communicate in Portuguese like a non-precocious two-year-old, but more importantly, the bank had given me a note telling me exactly what document the police needed to produce.

Despite the fact that it was written in Portuguese, they told me I had to go to another police station across town. So back I walked another 25 minutes to my car, which was sitting in front of the now-open bank, and drove to the other police station, with Google Maps still acting as my guide.

Turns out it was a police station in a heavily-touristed area, seemingly there to handle all the touristy problems dumb foreigners like us experience, like dealing with waiters who berate us for leaving some money on the table after lunch. I guess my Portuguese baby talk didn’t convince the original two cops that I live here, so they sent me to the station more accustomed to foreigners.

MordorSince it was so crowded, parking was nowhere to be found, so I parked about twenty minutes away, up a long hill amongst a thousand tiny roads. I could only hope I’d find the car again, but to be safe, I pinned it in Google Maps.

Meanwhile… let’s flash back a few weeks to a swim we were having in the local public pool during aqua-size class. A big rubber mat had hit me square in the eye as I was horsing around. I didn’t think too much of it, but afterward I started noticing little black floaties in my vision. So I looked it up on the internet. It said that floaties are not a real problem; they’ll generally dissolve after a while. BUT, if you happen to see a white flash in the corner of your vision, get into see an ophthalmologist right away! You could go blind!

Since I wasn’t seeing anything like that, I had been simply waiting for the black floaties to disappear. However, on the drive back from the hospital the night before, I started seeing white flashes! At first I thought they were reflections from oncoming cars, but eventually I realized I was beset with the dreaded, sight-stealing white flashes the internet warned me about. My concern about that was temporarily pre-empted by our drained bank account, but as I sat in the police station waiting for my number to be called, it felt like the flashes were getting worse, and I started wondering if I’d go blind while I waited for an officer.

This eye is no yolk
My eye problem was no yolk.

Plus I started seeing filmy things every other time I blinked. I mean, going blind is not on my top ten to-do list. My vision is bad enough as it is.

Plus I had to pee in the worst way, and there were no obvious bathrooms. That’s almost as bad as thinking you’re going blind. I did eventually find a bathroom behind an open door that said “Do Not Enter.” But I went through anyway, figuring they’d have to risk getting peed on if they did in fact try and stop me.

It was then that I had an epiphany: since I would be going back to the hospital that day, maybe they could squeeze me in for an urgent ophthalmology visit. In the US, I figured there’d be a snowball’s chance in hell an ophthalmologist could see me the same day, but as this is Portugal, I had some hope.

Anyway, my number at the police station was finally called, and my hopes for a “quick in and out” were quickly dashed when I realized she needed to total up all eighty charges, line by line, plus take all of my information, including my parents’ names (seriously). Forty-five minutes later, I finally got out of there, police report in hand, and perhaps my eyeball as well, I thought.

ParkSo I walked back in the direction of the car, hoping I could navigate the maze of little roads Lisbon is so famous for. After a while, I thought, hey, I pinned this in Google Maps. I should be fine. So I looked on Google Maps. I spent fifteen minutes standing on the sidewalk trying to figure out where the hell Google Maps puts the information about the pin you set. I finally gave up and started walking some more. Long story short, I got pretty close, and looked at Google Maps again. There was the pin. Turns out it only shows it to you when you get close enough. The programmers responsible for Google Maps should be sentenced to a month in Lisbon having to find where they pinned something just so they can realize a better system can be had.

Of course, now the bank is closed (many close at three here… hey– lunch can be exhausting!), so I decide to drive back to the hospital where at least I might be able to be seen by someone. But it is now rush hour, in tourist season, and no one cares that I’m driving with increased panic that my eyeball is going to melt down my cheek.

Even though the bank was only fifteen minutes from the hospital, and even though the police station I ended up in was in between the bank and the hospital, Google Maps was showing that the drive would take about an hour. It was about the only thing it got right.

Crazy RoadsBut then it really started going haywire. It directed me to go the wrong way on one-way streets. I also ended up in bus/taxi lanes, where I hoped that people would think I was an Uber driver. I managed a U-turn in the middle of a city street because the line of cars ahead of me stretched to infinity, and it wasn’t moving. Google Maps even wanted me to turn straight into a building… I kid you not. There was a long building to my right, with not even a driveway in sight, and it wanted me to turn into it. Once I passed the fake street, it re-routed me again, this time I think to Iceland.

Anyway, I cursed at Google Maps and shut it off and made my own damn way to the hospital, eye in hand… which actually came in handy because it was still attached and I could look all around and even behind me to spot other bus/taxi lanes I could illegally drive in.

Crazy eyes
This is what I thought I was gonna look like.

I finally made it to the hospital, and lo and behold an ophthalmologist was able to see me within about thirty minutes. Her name was Dr. Peaches. I’m just kidding. Actually I never even got her name, but she was very nice. She examined me, and told me something or other (I forgot the name of it, but it wasn’t the retina) was slightly detached, but it shouldn’t be a big problem and no, I wasn’t going to go blind. After hugging her and kissing her feet, I went up to Carolyn’s room to let her know that between us, her spinal surgery still held the crown of physical problems.

But the universe, being so big and all, wasn’t quite done with us yet. The same day, we received a phone call from Carolyn’s son Ben, who was visiting and staying at our house, asking how to turn on the washing machine. Turns out, it was broken. Yes, the universe chuckled at that one. Also, when I was driving to get something from the pharmacy for Carolyn, I plopped a stick of gum in my mouth, and my gold crown came right off in my mouth. And then the universe poked a small hole in our car radiator.

We think it’s done with us for a while, deciding to move on to more important things, like making the political situation in America even worse. For once I’m hoping that Trump continues to wreak havoc… even something as big as the universe has got to be so totally occupied with that mess that it surely has forgotten us by now.

In the end, all’s well that ends well. Carolyn’s back is healing, I can see just as badly as I ever have, our washing machine was repaired, my gold crown was glued back in by the dentist (for 20 euros), and I had some money transferred from the US, because it will take weeks before they’ll restore all the charges here. But they will be restored. Plus we had multiple awesome friends not only loan us money but also deliver us some delicious food. We may be tempted to fake another surgery just to get more of that.

And we’ll deal with the car’s radiator when I’m done panicking over it.

eagle-nebula
This is an actual photo of a nebula, proving that sometimes the universe really does sometimes want to reach out and grab you.

 

Blowing a French kiss…

Tiny Eiffel.jpgYeah, I know you can’t exactly blow someone a french kiss, but it is a pretty good metaphor for spitting on someone. Which isn’t to say we’d ever spit on France. Not only did we enjoy our second visit immensely, but we didn’t run into nearly as many rude or arrogant Parisians as we did during our first visit. They’re either getting a little less rude, or our “rudar” is functioning at max capacity and we were able to stay out of their way.

But I wonder, why is it, despite their legendary rudeness, that the French get credited with so many interesting things? For example, in addition to french kisses, we give them credit for french beans, french beds, french bread, french braids, french cuffs, french cut underwear (ooh la la!), french dip sandwiches, french doors, french dressing, french fries, french harps, french heels, french hens (30 of them given all told in the Twelve Days of Christmas– that’s a lot of french poop!), french horns, french knots, french letters (which is, literally, an English condom… go figure), french maids, french manicures, french mustard, french pancakes (i.e. crepes), french pastries, french BEan 2poodles, french press, french rolls, french roofs, french saddles, french telephones, french twists, french vanilla, french windows, and hot damn, that’s just a partial list! Oops, pardon my French.

Anyway, even though we stayed on the outskirts of central Paris, we did take the rental car into the city to see a few more things, including the teeny tiny Eiffel Tower as pictured above. I don’t know why people make such a big deal over something so small.IMG_1347If you drive around Paris, you might find yourself in the longest urban motorway tunnel in the world. We entered it not knowing we were participating in an actual Guinness world record, but when the tunnel kept going and going and going, we decided to look it up. It kept going for so long that Carolyn was able to read me the entire world history of tunnels as well as most of the history of Tunisia before we saw the light of day again.

It’s also interesting because it’s limited to a height of two meters, or 6′ 7″, which means my very tall grandson would scrape his head just to walk into it. It’s so low that the only commercial vehicles that can go inside can only be found in the movies. For instance, I can just picture a scene in a Christmas season action flick where the hero sheers off the top half of a semi truck just to keep the five priceless golden rings from the bad guys, leaving it blocking the entrance while its load of geese, swans, and french hens are chased around by a bunch of lords and ladies to the sound of bagpipes and drums.

IMG_1288Another challenge of driving in Paris is that French people take all their frustrations at everyone who has ever mocked them by driving in the city like the Portuguese do on their freeways.

Contrarily, on the freeways in France we noticed that French drivers actually obeyed the speed limit and were mostly polite… but we’re thinking that may have something to do with the plethora of police cameras. However, in the city they pretty much let it all hang out… blocking intersections, honking with their French horns, while spitting and cursing, “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” to anyone who gets in their way.

Arch d Triumph roundaboutPerhaps my proudest moment was navigating through a seven or eight lane roundabout (we didn’t really have time to count) without hardly killing anyone. We didn’t get any photos, because I was busy avoiding Renaults, Peugeots, and Citroens driven by spittle-mouthed French people while Carolyn was busy embedding her fingers up to the first knuckle in the dashboard.

As evidenced by the picture above we took from our car while approaching the Arc De Triomphe, we did actually drive through that roundabout, but we also drove through another one that I thought was even scarier. After surviving it unscathed, I decided that in order to successfully navigate a multi-lane roundabout you just need to know the Only Rule for Multi-lane Roundabouts: Don’t hit anyone.

As long as everyone follows that rule, everyone survives.

But the nice thing about roundabouts is if you miss your exit because, for example, there are nine irritated French drivers between you and your exit, you can just go around again… and sometimes eight times as you whittle away at the lanes, one car at a time.

Van wreckActually there is a another rule… stay on the road, otherwise you might end up looking like a 737 Max.

DukesI became so experienced with French roundabouts (that’s probably another term, meaning “Roundabouts with spittle-mouthed French people”), that I decided to show ’em what Yankees can do when it comes to these kinds of things, complete with the Dukes of Hazzard rental car we were able to score for just another ten euros a day. Of course I had to circle around again just to pick up Carolyn who was filming the whole thing. Either that or I just found this gif on the internet, but I like my story better.

IMG_2106Getting back to our own photos, after parking the car by doing a 360 into a spot reserved for a moped, we strolled over a bridge in Paris, and noticed this sightseeing boat, which surely holds some sort of Guinness Record for the largest length-to-width ratio by a boat. The design is probably called a “French boat,” but it looks more like a long pier that broke loose.

IMG_2119We also saw Washington DC’s capitol building, which was apparently on loan to Paris, maybe for the 75th Normandy landing celebration.

IMG_2123It’s pretty big. The building I mean.

IMG_2125The charm of France is exemplified by these charming French umbrellas. Meanwhile, Carolyn makes fun of bulimic women.

IMG_2126We followed up with some gelado just to show the statue what she’s missing.

IMG_2110We have to admit that our estimation of French intelligence took a nosedive when we saw how poorly thought out their security systems for bridges are.

IMG_2111The most massive, ginormous Door of Day we’ve ever posted.

IMG_1671Truth be told, we’re pretty thrifty travelers when it comes to food. Sure, we eat out plenty when we’re on the road, but we try and balance that with, shall we say, more economical selections, like these delectable French dishes purchased at the grocery store around the corner from our hotel. You just can’t beat quality French cuisine! (As long as you have a microwave.)

 

IMG_1664Right next to the Quality Suites where we stayed is a little shack called Château de Maisons-Laffitte. Perhaps motivated by the proximity to such grandiosity, the Quality Suites was far better than any of the Quality Suites I’ve seen in the states. It was actually a very nice hotel with what is, to date, the best free breakfast buffet we’ve ever had in our travels. Of course, it was there that I learned that crepes stuffed in your pockets don’t travel well.

Since we had a little time to kill, we visited the chateau and forked over the eight euro entrance fee. Designed and built from 1630 to 1651, it was a residence and vacation home for a series of French royalty and aristocrats. Its design is notable in the annals of French architecture, and it was definitely interesting, but they haven’t kept it up all that well and we thought the eight euros was a little pricey for what you got. At least we didn’t have any transportation costs to get there!

IMG_1155On our way back from Normandy, I saw signs for Caen (which we found out is pronounced kind of like “Kong,” as in “King Kong,” but with a drawn-out “o” and just a slight hint of the “g”). The city piqued my interest because it has some degree of notoriety from World War II, since it was the sight of some of the most intense battles of the war in France. Much of the city was destroyed, so most of the old buildings like this church had to be rebuilt from the destroyed stone.

IMG_1166In many places it’s actually a very pretty city. They did a good job of blending the new with the rebuilt-old. Unlike cities like Dresden, which was beholden to the ugly block style of the Soviet overlords, the French actually used architecture pleasing to the eye.

IMG_1158There is a Mémorial de Caen –a museum and war memorial– somewhere in the city, but since we were just cruising through we didn’t see it.

IMG_1902There are these small reminders here and there, however, like this one showing how this particular square looked before and after the bombing.

IMG_1899We did have a kind of crappy, er– crepe-y dinner while there. It was a small restaurant that specializes in crepes, but we weren’t all that impressed. Give us our fresh Portuguese fish any day!

IMG_1901But the city was absolutely charming, and we were glad to have seen it, even if just briefly. Oh, well, you do what you Caen do.

IMG_1898Perhaps my favorite building was this free public toilet. It took us a while to figure out, but what happens is once you do your business and after you leave, the door automatically locks and the entire room is flushed like one gigantic toilet. Now that’s sophisticated sanitation!

IMG_2087After we made our way back to Paris, we decided to visit one of the largest art museums in Europe, the famous Musée d’Orsay.

IMG_2092It is so-named because it is housed in a former railway station which was named Gare d’Orsay. We mainly took pictures of the art we recognized, which meant that it was probably famous and something to be admired. That’s pretty much the extent of our historical painting expertise.

IMG_2093Some of the recognition comes from a board game I played when I was a kid, called “Masterpiece.” I guess there are many ways to learn about culture. I’m pretty sure I bid, oh, about one million on the above piece at some time or another.

IMG_2094The museum holds mainly French art, including paintings like this demonstrating what happens when you give a woman too much liquor, as well as a bunch more from artistic luminaries like Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Manet, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin, Jim Carrey, and Degas. I listed the second to last name there just to see if you were paying attention. Actually, he is actually a pretty good artist in his own right, he just doesn’t have anything mounted in the Musée d’Orsay, as far as I know.

IMG_2102The nudes were often my favorite. Not because they’re of naked women, for heaven’s sake! Get your mind out of the gutter! But mostly because of the, um, the uh, well, the boobies. Okay, you got me.

IMG_2091Like most men, I guess I like pretty women, although in Carolyn’s case that’s just a side benefit of her warm, kind, and loving personality. Honey, can I come back in the house now?

IMG_2097This is the back of a giant clock, which means we were experiencing time moving backwards. I wondered if we stood there long enough that we might end up back in World War II.

IMG_2095This is the top of the Musée d’Orsay, something I doubt you’ve ever seen before. You can’t say we don’t offer unique experiences in this blog!

IMG_2099You can certainly tell what it used to be, if you have a trained eye, that is. Get it? Trained eye? It was a train station? Oh, the hell with you.

On the drive down to Normandy I noticed the French had installed some kinda cool road signs. So I thought it would be good for Carolyn to take a few shots to use as intro shots for whatever place we might visit. Turns out, that was a great way to keep her occupied… she just kept shooting and shooting and shooting. The below slide show shows her Top Twenty, there were plenty more. Which made me realize this might be a great way to keep kids busy on a long trip! Give ’em a digital camera and tell them to take pictures of whatever item might appear semi-regularly! Of course, someone looking through your digital photo albums might wonder why there are so many pictures of cows taken from the freeway, but at least the kids won’t ask “are we there yet?” fifty times.

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I also couldn’t help but document one of her many eating accidents. She’s a self-acknowledged food klutz. She told me of this when we first started dating, and then went and proved it by spilling drinks all over the table during two of our next three dates. It’s just part of her charm. Plus she’s pretty good about cleaning up.

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While I know our the quality of our photography can be breath-taking, that’s only because we only show the ones that could win some sort of award if only a person who hands out awards for whatever we’ve done ever looked at them. So we humbly offer up a bunch of photos that just barely missed out on the high level of expertise we expect from our near-professional-quality photographic skills.

IMG_2117So au revoir France and your tiny little Eiffel Tower! We enjoyed you even more the second time around!

And that closes the chapter on our Athens-Crete-Accidentally Paris trip across Europe.

We get Goofy in Paris

Disney Wait TImesAs I mentioned before, due to a missed flight out of Athens, we unexpectedly ended up in The City of Light. Trivia Alert! That nickname came from Paris both being the birthplace of the Age of Enlightenment and because it was one of the first cities in the world with street lights. I wondered about that during our first visit when we were up in the Eiffel Tower. The city didn’t seem any more lit up to me, now I know why!

So with our second visit, we tackled what we like to call the “Tier Two Attractions.”

A lot of kids might be upset at the idea that we’d call Disneyland a “Tier Two Attraction,” but when competing with The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and the Museum of French Kisses (at least that’s what I told Carolyn it was), well, ol’ Mickey and Goofy just didn’t qualify for Tier One Status. But on this second visit, we decided to visit Disneyland Paris, just to see what it was like in comparison to the Disneylands in America.

(I grabbed that Wait Time sign picture from the internet just because I thought it was funny, it wasn’t anything like we saw in Disneyland Paris. In fact, the wait times were decidedly shorter than anything either of us has ever experienced in the U.S.)

IMG_1267Right off the bat, you’re pretty sure you’ve made it to Disneyland because they tell you so. But we were still actually a little skeptical… where were the long lines of cars?

IMG_2038Even at the pedestrian entrance, we were pretty much able to walk right through even though we arrived just after the park opened.

While the buildings are different, it’s still very much Disney through and through.

IMG_2037Except maybe for the French military police armed with automatic weapons. Can’t say I blame ’em; Paris has been a target for terrorists for some time now. Plus Peter Pan is rumored to have converted to radical Islam.

IMG_1274Some of the signs are in some sort of strange non-English language, so we automatically thought they were stupid. Oh wait! That’s French! It says: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Aha! I knew we were fluent!

IMG_2044But, I guess not everything translates. While this should probably be: “Terre Frontière,” the French have to live with the English moniker.

IMG_1273This is easily translatable of course, but it bears no resemblance to the Temple of Doom ride in Disneyland Anaheim. It’s a serious roller coaster that had Carolyn seeing double once she stumbled off the ride. But note the wait time… 5 minutes! And this was in the middle of summer! We didn’t go on it again, however. I’m already big enough as it is so her seeing me in double or triple would just be too much. Also note how cheeky the French are, even in Disneyland… the sign on the left tells people where they can get a ticket for their ass. Butts in seats baby!

IMG_2058While Sleeping Beauty’s Castle was very much boilerplate Disney, it had enough differences to differentiate it. Plus there’s something to be said about seeing that castle when you begin walking down Main Street. You’re in Disneyland!

IMG_2053Hyperspace Mountain, the Parisian version of Space Mountain, also gets no French translation. So no “Hyper Espace Montagne” for you, you silly French peoples! I will say that the ride was significantly wilder than the Space Mountain in Anaheim. Carolyn decided against going after she heard the shrieks and screams emanating from the building (plus she’d had her fill of upside-down roller coasters after Big Thunder Mountain and Indiana Jones).

So I paired up with a young Spanish friend, who I’m certain learned some new English curse words as the ride barreled about in the pitch black. It was wild enough that at one point I felt like the G’s might knock me out, seriously. But I survived to high five my newfound little buddy, even if I had to admonish him not to repeat anything the old American guy next to him yelled during the ride. My Spanish is rusty, but I think he might have said something about screaming like a little girl, I dunno, but I’m sure he meant someone else.

IMG_2046As you can see, being the cheapskate I am, I take a picture of the photos they want to sell you instead of shelling out the ten euros and then letting them gather dust in a box somewhere. I guess that was the A 5541 ride, although I don’t remember a sign telling us that before we got on.

IMG_1280Carolyn wouldn’t let me buy three bottles of popcorn. She can be such a meanie.

IMG_2063And yes, they also have It’s a Small World. I insisted we go through it just so we could get that lovely song stuck in our heads. In fact, click on this link where you can watch the entire ride from the comfort of YouTube! Just don’t blame me if you’re still humming it a week from now.

IMG_2067These were our favorite words from the ride.

IMG_1281I found it amusing that they would have a baseball player in a country where you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who knows a damn thing about baseball at all.

In the end, our main takeaways were that while it’s all Disneyland, other than some roller coasters that are decidedly hairier than anything in the regular Disneylands in Florida or Anaheim, it was almost a little quaint in comparison. The lack of the oppressive crowds certainly worked in its favor, and of course we had no problem navigating around in English. As for the rides, Star Tours was really dated, the Phantom Manor (the Haunted Mansion) was pretty much the same, Pirates of the Caribbean was closed for maintenance (bummer!), and Big Thunder Mountain was a lot Thunder-ier than in Anaheim.

La Tanière du DragonBut when a “Top Ten Disneyland Paris Attractions List” puts It’s a Small World at #4, and #5 is La Tanière du Dragon (The Dragon’s Lair), which is just a short walk-through exhibit with an animatronic dragon at the center, well, let’s just say jaded Americans generally demand a lot more out of their amusement parks.

They also screwed with the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride and turned it into another walkthrough and called it Les Mystères du Nautilus (The Mysteries of the Nautilus). We kept thinking there was going to be a ride at the end of it, but nope, just a re-creation of the insides of the submarine. A minute and a half later, we’re outside blinking in the sunlight wondering what just happened. The good news is there were no lines. In fact, there was hardly anyone inside the whole thing.

Last but not least, they had a large building where you could buy overpriced food (of course!) and take it to a table facing a large auditorium that did nothing except remind me of a very large Chuck E. Cheese.

IMG_2041However, in the end, we did have a good time. I suppose it scratched whatever Americana itches we might have… although we’re so much in love with Portugal and Europe that we really don’t have many of those, besides of course our friends and family.

Still, Mickey has a nice home in Paris, and we were glad for the visit.

Versailles: Where all that glitters is, well, pretty much actually all gold.

IMG_1170After our first visit to Paris, Carolyn was a little bummed out that she didn’t get to see the Palace of Versailles.

The Palace was the principal royal residence of France from 1682 until the start of the French Revolution in 1789.

I hadn’t realized it was only about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the center of Paris, otherwise we might’ve squeezed it in last time… but, here we are in Paris again! So off we go to Versailles!

IMG_1909Of course the palace has plenty of patience and was more than willing to stay just as gaudy as ever no matter when we decided to visit.

IMG_1179It is a sign of more gaudy things to come when you see a fence made out of gold.

IMG_1910As you first approach the palace, you can’t help but be impressed at the size and elaborateness of the grounds and construction.

IMG_1178Pictures don’t do it much justice, but let’s just say it’d be a great place to live out your golden years. Until you were assassinated by some revolting peasants, that is.

IMG_1912We were smart enough to buy tickets online the day before, which saved us probably about an hour of waiting in line.

IMG_1937As you can see, there is no shortage of visitors. This is in the famous Hall of Mirrors, so-named because of all the chandeliers. Oh wait, no, there are mirrors here somewhere.

IMG_1199I guess mirrors were a big thing for rich people back in the day, because poor people had to ask their family how they looked, and since they generally looked pretty bad and families can be brutally honest, the answers they received just kept them depressed and poor. So the rich invented mirrors and made sure they stayed expensive.

IMG_1197With all the mirrors in the room, this could just be a reflection of myself.

IMG_1198There are seventeen arches with mirrors that reflect the seventeen arcaded windows that overlook the gardens, which ask to be overlooked, but we looked over them anyway. Each arch contains twenty-one mirrors, which is why they originally decided to allow people to drink at that age, because after you drink enough, everyone, even me, looks good in a mirror.

IMG_1940During the 17th century, the Hall of Mirrors was used daily by Louis XIV when he walked from his private apartment to the chapel. He thought he looked awesome even when he wasn’t drunk.

IMG_1206As usual, no white space was allowed. Everything has to have a decoration, because otherwise someone might think you didn’t have enough money to decorate every square inch.

IMG_1218They missed a spot (zoom in to figure out where).

IMG_1924This one is spot-free. 100% coverage! Woo hoo! Actually the other one was spot-free too. If you zoomed in… gotcha! Ha ha! See, this isn’t just a travelogue, it’s an immersive interactive experience!

IMG_1186These are paintings.

IMG_1918These are more paintings, except with Carolyn in the shot.

IMG_1214This room was a bust as far as we were concerned.

IMG_1217Oh shoot, now I have to start a new column.

IMG_1191Proof that the iPhone is mightier than the sword. As evidence, I offer the fact that he’s dead, and I’m not. Yet.

IMG_1953This is the Hall of Really Big Paintings.

IMG_1920I can’t remember what the hall this is.

IMG_1923Excuse me, I guess they’re called salons. So this must be the Salon of Really Big Fireplaces.

IMG_1921If I was assigned to paint that ceiling, I would’ve tried it with massive squirt guns filled with paint, so I wouldn’t have had to lay on my back for years. It probably would’ve just been a big mess, but then I could’ve called it abstract art.

IMG_1917Rumor has it they played chess on that floor. Note the king standing by the wall as evidence. Okay, that’s why they call it a “rumor.” I don’t know who started it. Well, I do, actually, but I’ll pretend that’s a rumor too. Anyway, my queen is there as well.

IMG_1960I don’t know where the hall this goes, or why no one’s here. I think someone farted.

IMG_1943They put the “omigawd” in gaudy, that’s for sure!

IMG_1944Carolyn’s listening to the statue talk to her. At least she’s fully clothed. The statue, I mean.

IMG_1938Ah, now we’re back to the good stuff. After all, they didn’t have HBO back then.

IMG_1952They’re both trying to figure out what that picture means across the room. She gave up, but he’s still at it.

IMG_1959Which one of us do you think is the more statuesque? And for the record, I really wasn’t trying to flip anyone off. I was trying to hold my iPhone like a cane. Of course, it might be ironic if this guy tortured one of my ancestors, in which case my bird would be completely justified!

IMG_1219Okay, you can have another shot at the statuesque question with this one. Rats; I already know the answer. Men are never called statuesque. That’s only for women… and statues. Foiled again!

Speaking of women, I have to post this blurb from Wikipedia: During the reign of Louis XIV and most of the reign of Louis XV, there was no plumbing to speak of in the palace itself. Only the King, the Queen, and the Dauphin had anything approaching bathrooms. Some courtiers who lived at Versailles would often have their own collapsable “commode” which was a seat with a chamber pot underneath; it was brought when needed and then taken away when finished. It is estimated that there were only three hundred of these at any one time. Everyone else, if they couldn’t afford to bribe an owner’s servant, had to just go in a corner somewhere or go outside and urinate on a tree. The smell was horrific and became notorious throughout Europe.

Lave.gifIsn’t that awesome? You’d think the French would have subsequently learned a thing or two about bathrooms after all that, wouldn’t you? But no-o-o-o. While I didn’t take a picture of what I’m about to describe, I have to apologize to all women on behalf of all men for the fact that almost no architects seem to understand the differences in sexes when it comes to bodily plumbing. There is a distinct shortage of bathrooms in the palace even today, but, as usual, the number and size are equal between the sexes. So of course you end up with a line of women about a hundred meters long while men jauntily breeze by on their way to immediate relief in the plentiful urinals. I actually saw a couple of women give up and go into the men’s room, for which I cheered them on heartily. I would’ve done the same thing. Women really need to rebel over this. I would happily stand side by side with them, because it’s just silly and unfair. Give the women their peedom!

Okay, I’m climbing down off my soapbox and going back to the computer again.

IMG_1956In our visits to other palaces and such, we learned all about the origins of some of that stonework, but have since completely forgotten every detail except that it’s kinda purple. That’s why I don’t pay much attention to tour guides anymore… it’s interesting at the time, but five minutes later I’ll have forgotten it all while I hunt for a gelado.

IMG_1913A very suitable Door of the Day.

IMG_1935After walking through the salons and halls while being buffeted about by anxious Japanese tourists clicking their cameras at every square inch of gaudiness, we finally plunged outside, gasping for breath and wiping our sweaty brows. Even though the weather was a little gloomy, we were delighted to inhale fresh air.

We interrupt this blog for an important announcement!

Before and after road.jpgOur road has been paved! Our road has been paved! About a year and a half ago, they began tearing up the road in front of our house in order to lay a sewer line. Finally, after breathing enough dust to make any Burning Man attendee nostalgic, they paved the road. Who would’ve thunk two people would get so excited to see a road paved?

And now back to our regularly scheduled blog:

IMG_1181Okay, so now we’re outside; the back of the place looks like Disneyland’s Haunted Castle, except ten times bigger and a hundred times more real. Maybe that’s why they call it “real estate.”

IMG_1949This is the sight that greets you once you step outside of that hellhole of a palace.

IMG_1222I think the gardener was stoned when he mowed the lawn. Oh wait! Carolyn tells me they did this on purpose. Aha! Art! I get it now!

IMG_1230Speaking of being stoned, I was trying to look high here for the joke, but ended up just looking kinda stupid. Well, maybe that’s the same thing.

IMG_1969Here’s a broader view of the gardens. I say that because Carolyn took the picture. And because, you know, she’s a broad. And we’re abroad. Now that I think about it, after living abroad for all this time, going back to the US is what will feel like going abroad.

IMG_1967So just imagine that this is your house, and you get all the way down to where Carolyn is and you realize you forgot your keys.

IMG_1227He’s naked and I’m not… and I know you’re glad for both of those things.

IMG_1234This is definitely a rip-off for the ladies. Hey-ho! The leaf must go! At least I think that’s what the protesters were saying.

IMG_1990To make up for it, I took this shot just for you ladies. My guess is most of you appreciate this more than the front view anyway. You can’t tell me I don’t listen to women… indeed: what you say never goes in one rear and out the other.

IMG_1971Will someone please give her a hand?

IMG_2018You have to admit that this picture of a statue is less interesting than when one of us is goofing around in front of it. If you disagree, well, go type in “statue” in Google and have a ball. But if you do that, come back to the blog! There might be more statues here too!

IMG_1237And fountains! We have plenty of fountains!

IMG_1239Despite their beauty, supplying water for the fountains of Versailles was a major problem; Versailles has never had sufficient water supply for its hundreds of fountains. True story: when the King sauntered about the gardens, they turned the fountains on when he was approaching, and then turned them off after he was out of view.

IMG_2030They also quickly erected some pillars and stuff to make the palace look more impressive. Just kiddin’. That thing in front is an elevator still under construction. Just kiddin’ again. It’s a fire escape, obviously. Or telescope. Or maybe a big blender. Obviously you’re getting what you pay for in a tour guide.

IMG_2007The gardens cover about 800 hectares of land, much of which is landscaped in the classic French formal garden style. Here Carolyn is landscaped in the Portuguese casual chic raincoat style.

IMG_2013A hectare is 100 meters by 100 meters, which is about the size of a professional rugby field, so figure the gardens are 800 of those all put together. 800 hectares also equals 8 square kilometers, or a little over 3 square miles. If you prefer acres, 800 hectares is 1,976.84 acres.

IMG_2012Another way to put it is that it would take the average lawnmower 44,302 litres of gasoline to mow it all. I just made that up, there’s no way I’m gonna try and figure that one out. Let’s just say it’s all pretty damn big.

IMG_2005And there are yet more fountains. Of course, this may have shut off once we turned our backs.

IMG_2021And this one probably turned on as soon as we had turned around from the last one to look at this one. Sneaky water-savers, those French.

IMG_1999So we tried to trick them by turning our backs, but the fountains can spot a selfie a hectare away.

IMG_1997Some of the hectares.

IMG_1964We’re not sure where the hectare we are.

IMG_1995Aha! Found it on the map. The big lawn thingee.

IMG_1968Just to give you an idea as to the scope of this thing. And to think it was just a King’s backyard! No wonder the peasants ended up revolting!

IMG_1977Dancing waters.

IMG_1983I took this picture because the worker was literally walking around this tree picking up leaves and twigs. I guess that’s job security for ya, because I think as soon as he was done on one side, there were plenty of new leaves and twigs on the other side.

IMG_1998Our artistic shot of the day.

IMG_1994The trees made it all cool and peaceful. Which meant I had to shout some taunts at passing English tourists: “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries! Pffffft! Pffft! Prrrfft!” (Some will get it, some won’t.)

IMG_2029Versailles is the answer to the following Jeopardy question: What would a residence look like if you had unlimited funds and were especially interested in impressing your national neighbors?

IMG_2032And so we said goodbye to a truly magnificent palace and gardens. But I gotta tell ya, if I’d a been a peasant back then, I would have been revolting too!

IMG_2025

Le Mont-Saint-Michel (Saint Michael’s Mountain)

IMG_1677As soon as Carolyn showed me a picture of this tiny French island with a monastery on top, I knew we’d have to visit it.

It’s one of the most striking constructions I think I’ve ever seen. It just sits out on an expanse of sand like a gigantic jagged molehill. When the tide comes in, the entire thing ends up surrounded by water. Fortunately, it’s a little sturdier than any sand castle I’ve ever built, so when the tide goes back out, there it stays, standing there as it has for nearly 1,000 years.

IMG_1674To get there, you first have to catch a bus from the parking lot, which we were grateful for because it was a bit of a rainy day.

IMG_1010But even through the mist and the rainy windows, you can’t help but be impressed as you approach.

IMG_1014Once you get off the bus, you still have a walk on the long walkway that connects the island to the mainland.

IMG_1676But we were smart enough to bring an umbrella, so the water didn’t dampen our spirits any.

IMG_1076As you approach, the abbey looms above you like a gigantic haunted house.

IMG_1782Which apparently didn’t scare the smiles off our faces.

IMG_1016Upon entry into the town, you’re greeted by a cute little avenue lined with merchants hawking all sorts of touristy goods. It almost looks like something you’d see in Disneyland.

Including doors that look like they were made for Mickey Mouse.

IMG_1772The island has supported strategic fortifications since ancient times.

IMG_1763Since the 8th century, it has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name.

Once you’re in, they really don’t want to let you back out, because the island only has about 30 permanent inhabitants. But since neither of us can make or bear any children, they eventually did let us go.

IMG_1781It actually was a prison for a time, sort of Alcatraz-like due to its location. I doubt the prisoners were this cheerful, generally.

IMG_1031The island’s location is so strategic and defensible that when the tide came in, any attackers were stranded, drowned, or driven off. Maybe they should have called it Mont-Saint-Moses.

IMG_1053These victories left the occupants, especially the king on his throne, feeling rather smug.

IMG_1059The island remained unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War; in fact only a small garrison was needed to fend off a full attack by the English in 1433.

IMG_1027During the Hundred Years’ War, England made numerous assaults on the island but were unable to seize it due to the abbey’s strong fortifications.

IMG_1062Mont-Saint-Michel is visited by more than 3 million people annually. Well, now 3 million and two. France protects over sixty of its buildings as historical monuments.

IMG_1063This is either a fireplace or where they roasted their enemies for lunch.

IMG_1751I think it might be the latter. Here, they would be preparing Asian cuisine.

IMG_1045The original site was founded by an Irish hermit, who amassed a bit of a following, one that began dublin’ every year or so, ire-ronically.

IMG_1732The salt marsh meadows surrounding the island were found to be ideally suited to grazing sheep. The meat that results from this diet makes agneau de pré-salé (salt meadow lamb), a local specialty. We didn’t know that then, which now makes us feel a little sheepish..

Dad Jokes

IMG_1020I think this might be a statue of St. Michael, but I’m just winging it. According to other people who were also winging it, the legend is that the archangel Michael appeared to the bishop of Avranches and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet.

IMG_1040In 1067 the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel gave its support to William the Conqueror in his claim to the throne of England. He rewarded that with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the southwestern coast of Cornwall which was modeled after the Mount and became a Norman priory named St Michael’s Mount of Penzance.

IMG_1044It’s nice that they put a putting green in, but I couldn’t find any flags. Or putters. Or golf balls. Silly French peoples.

IMG_1752This room is called, “Crypte des gros piliers,” although the pillars didn’t seem very gross to me.

IMG_1046Except they are kinda gross as hiding places.

IMG_1754Carolyn was excited to learn that Mont Saint-Michel was the inspiration for the design of Minas Tirith in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

IMG_1737It also served as the artistic inspiration for the Disney movie Tangled.

IMG_1761This device is cleverly called “The Wheel.” They used it to haul up supplies and VCRs so they could watch The Lord of the Rings and Tangled.

IMG_1746The door of the day.

IMG_1747There are about fifty shops for the three million annual tourists.

IMG_1739And one organ.

IMG_1731Before the construction of the first monastic establishment in the 8th century, the island was called Mont Tombe. The construction of the Romanesque church of the abbey was begun in the 11th century,

IMG_1742The church is at the very top of the island, signifying God being above.

IMG_1760Which offers some spectacular views of any invading troops.

IMG_1720This seagull is inspecting their firing range, because of course they have to practice in order to hit their targets efficiently.

Here you can see what the island looked like during various stages of development. They kind of look like unbaked chocolate chip cookies on a baking sheet, eh?

IMG_1685Many underground crypts and chapels had to be built to compensate for all the weight of that construction.

There’s a lot of uphill climbing to get to the top. Fortunately, this results in a lot of downhill climbing when you’re ready to leave.

And so, we knocked another Unesco Heritage Site off our bucket list. There are 1,092 of those all together. We’ve seen a relative handful so far. I wonder how many years it would take to see them all? Too much for one lifetime I’m afraid, so we’ll have to make do with what we see while we’re traveling Europe!