Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Hurricane Coming

This morning, as I was doing my morning readings, I checked the weather and saw this:

Very calm, very direct. Don’t get crazy, but there is a hurricane blowing in and you might want to take precautions. I really do appreciate the warning.

I zipped over to the YMCA to get my laps in. I have achieved my lifetime goal; I did 51 laps last Monday, and today I was only able to do 42. More swimmers in the pool, more turbulence, slower laps. I really try not to force myself to meet any goals; that I am there, that I am exercising, that needs to be enough. If I keep pushing myself, it takes the joy out of the fact that I actually swim these laps three days a week, and I am already achieving more that I ever dreamed I would achieve at this point in my life.

On my way home, I could see palm trees along the Bayou, already two or three feet under water. In front of the storm, the water is already rising dramatically.

I called to AdventureMan as I entered the house, “Come take a walk with me down the Bayou; I want to take some photos.” (He loves walking with me.) We were halfway down the drive when I said “Oh! I need to go back! I have to get my FitBit!”

He just laughed his head off. “So no point in doing a walk if you don’t get credit for it?” he teases me.

“No! You’re exactly right!” I respond. It isn’t an insult if it is true, right?

 

 

I had thought we would walk further, but at this point, it started raining really hard and I was using my real camera, not my iPhone, so I needed to quit to protect the camera. You can see the water over the dock at this house, and a little lagoon where no lagoon was before.

I did a poll at the Y. No one seemed very concerned. “Will you be covering your windows?” I would ask and they would all say “No, we’re just going to get a lot of rain.” Me, I worry, because it seems to me a hurricane  can wobble, but I have only lived here ten years, and there is a lot I don’t know. The rise in the Bayou concerns me. AdventureMan is not concerned, but did mention that we need to have a practice with our shutters so we know what to do when a real need arises.

Poor Louisiana! Poor California! Poor United States of America! What a year of troubles this is.

September 14, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Birds, Cultural, Exercise, Fitness / FitBit, Hurricanes, Living Conditions, Lumix, Pensacola, Safety, Survival, Weather, YMCA | Leave a comment

Pensacola Beach: COVID? What COVID?

We are in the middle of some stormy weather, which in Pensacola means gloriously powerful thunder and lightning storms, here one minute and gone the next, or maybe lingering for hours, followed by hot sunshine Yesterday, with the side streams of Tropical Storm Hanna blowing by, we had an intensely thundery and stormy day, some periods of torrential rains, followed by sunlight, followed by heavy rains, followed by blue skies – and light sprinkles.

We stayed inside almost all day, then in late afternoon where suddenly everything lightened, we headed for our son’s home, and their lovely large back-yard and nice large warm pool. What luxury! An old friend was visiting, and we social-distanced in the pool.

Today, I told AdventureMan I wanted to go to Flounder’s for lunch. AdventureMan looked at me and asked “Do you think we could risk eating there? Outside?”

We haven’t eaten in a restaurant since March 12th. We’ve ordered out, even from Flounders, and taken it home to eat.

But Flounders, one of our favorite places to eat (part of the McGuire’s Steakhouse chain) has lots and lots of room, lots of seating, indoors and out. Of all the eating-in-a-restaurant risks, this one seemed pretty low. After a big rain, everything seems to sparkle, the air seems clearer – and we need a vacation. I said “yes.”

We drove to the beach, found a parking place immediately – always a good sign – and were seated in the high-ceilinged, semi-covered area, where large booths for six and eight people are separated by these signs:

Although there were two groups of eight seated near us (really once very large group) unmasked, there was plenty of distance. It was a real mix – the parking lot full of licenses from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky – even one from Oregon (!), maybe hiding out down here from the Feds, as so many do. Have you ever noticed how on those old Crime shows, so many of the criminals were ultimately found in Florida? Or California? Actually, my Mother is from Oregon, and I have nothing but sympathy and admiration for those Oregonians showing solidarity with Black Lives Matter and all the white women showing up in yellow T-shirts (Moms for Black Lives Matter) and the grandpas with their leaf blowers – they really know how to protest with good will and a sense of humor.

OOps. I digress.

People were social distanced. We had plenty of space.

They are using a new, condensed menu, but we knew what we wanted and the waitress told us we could order even if it didn’t show on the menu.

Seafood Chowder. Flounders is famous for it, and it is truly a magnificent taste-treat.

As usual, I forgot to take the photo until I was half done. Apologies!

My husband loves their grilled grouper sandwiches, and he always shares a fry or three or four with me because they are so delicious:

 

I had my usual – Baja Tacos. Here is the truth – they also have a healthier fish taco, grilled, served with a mango salsa but I really love the deep fried Baja Tacos. I usually can’t eat more than one, so I bring them home and have a fish taco salad for another meal.

We had great service.

Some servers were masked. Some were not. It appears they have their choice. Some customers wore masks, some carried masks, some had no masks. Where we sat, there was a lot of fresh air, breezy air, and a lot of space, so we did not worry too much. No more condiments on the tables. Everything looked very clean.

Sometimes you take a risk. This risk was a much needed mini-vacation at a time when we are not comfortable with airplanes or even hotels.

The beach scene is a different story. We could see crowds of people, no masks, no social distancing, around the jet-ski rental places. In spite of the huge red-lettered signs saying DANGEROUS SURF. DO NOT GO IN GULF it looked to me like a hundred or more people swimming around in Casino Beach. We saw lots of large groups. Lots of cars from other places. I can imagine the servers have concerns, especially if they have families, or need to stay well to keep a roof over their heads. The visitors seem oblivious to the health boundaries necessary to prevent transmission. When one person in ten in Escambia County is testing positive, they are exposing themselves and taking the virus back home with them to wherever they came from.

So for us, having a meal out in a restaurant was a unique event. I can’t imagine the conditions are such that we can be comfortable making it a habit. It was a fling. It was nice while it lasted. I hope there are no repercussions.

July 25, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Community, Eating Out, Florida, Food, Health Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Safety, Weather | , , , , | Leave a comment

From Salers to Cahors, France

 

When we got up, it was drizzling again. We went down for breakfast . . . it reminded me of being at camp. I know I sound grumpy, so first-world, but I am telling you exactly how I felt. I did not feel like a treasured guest. There was a limited breakfast buffet. There was a coffee machine. (Am I in France?? A coffee MACHINE??) Some milk cartons, yoghurt, small fruit plates are available in the small refrigerator. And there is a boil-it-yourself egg boiling machine where you put the egg in and set a timer so you will know when it is done, except that we didn’t know what the numbers meant, it wasn’t like a real timer.

Grumble grumble grumble, it’s rainy and we are getting toward the end of the trip. I’m not so bright and shiny anymore.

We had breakfast. There were croissants, French croissants, with little packets of butter and jam. Aargh.

We strolled around Salers once again. I would like to tell you that I was a good sport, but I only pretended, and at the first drops of drizzle, I said “enough.” We packed up, checked out and headed towards Cahors. It’s another 2 1/2 hour day, only this time we are taking main roads.

Shortly past St. Martins we saw a Carrefour, and it is on our side of the street. We know a lucky break when we see it. Today is November 1st, most filling stations are very closed, and here is one open. There is a line, but it is open, and the prices good. We send thanks in our hearts to the limo driver who gave us such good advice.

We are sticking to the major roads, which we finally figured out are A roads, which are also often toll roads, and D roads with larger numbers, like D2 and D13. It’s the D1304 (just a made up example) that lead us onto narrow scary roads.

We are also so impressed with French drivers. No one is speeding, no one is honking. It’s almost like being in an alternate universe.

(This is the day, that, after we got home, we were notified by Hertz that we had received a speeding ticket and would be contacted by French authorities for payment. If I read the notice correctly, it appeared to be about 24 Euro. We’ve never received a notification, or a bill, or at least not yet. But we also never saw the camera. AdventureMan says at one time he knew he was driving too fast and slowed down, but now we understand better why the French have become such good, polite drivers. There are cameras everywhere.)

We make the drive quickly, and while the day brightens occasionally, we also have frequent showers, and never a blue sky. Sticking to the main highway is boring. We leave the slate roof country, and enter back into beautiful castle country.

Google takes us directly to our hotel, the Best Western Plus Divina Cahors, and we even find parking nearby. We think there might be paid parking under the hotel, but we don’t know, and don’t bother yet with the bags.

Why did I choose this hotel? It had a great location. I love a view. It was an easy walk into historical Cahors. It seemed to have parking. And breakfast. Best Westerns generally have reliably good breakfasts.

As it turned out there was paid parking under the hotel, but also a great free parking lot just outside the hotel, so my husband brought the car to the front door, we grabbed all our bags, I waited while he parked and came back and we dragged the bags a short distance to the elevator.

When we got to our room, we were totally wowed. It is clean, modern (not normally my thing, but I loved the way this was done) and even on a dismal day, the room seemed bright and welcoming. The desk clerk was very helpful, and gave us the name of a place to eat, just blocks away.

 

 

 

I just wish I had taken a photo or two of the bathroom. The shower had four shower heads. The towels were very thick, fluffy and plentiful. There were thick terry robes for both of us. These small luxuries make me feel happy.

These are the towers on a bridge outside our window. You might think that sky looks a little blue, but it is just shades of gray.

We take our umbrellas and walk to downtown Cahors, where we find the Brasserie d’Isa. It is full of laughing people, people greeting one another, people sipping wine and eating good food. We love the place.

 

I order a salade d’autonne, which has pears and blue cheese, walnuts and walnut oil and is light and delicious.

 

AdventureMan has an omelet aux fines herbes, with pommes frites, and he, too, is delighted. When we first got to France, we were eating all the time, and we are so happy to be eating lighter once again.

Well, lighter means you can have dessert, doesn’t it? I have a very light cafe’ gourmand, with tiny tastes of all kinds of things, which I divide with my husband. Very light, wouldn’t you say?

 

It’s still raining, and we haven’t seen anything of Cahors. I tell AdventureMan we really have to just walk down this street to the Cathedral, and then we can go back to the hotel. The rain gets heavier, even two umbrellas isn’t enough, our clothes are getting soaked, but we get to the cathedral, I take a photo and we head back. No, it is closed, so we don’t go in. It’s All Saints Day, a holiday, the church is closed.

It is a church on the pilgrimage route, however. AdventureMan, with his sharp eyes, spots the telltale scallop shell on the street we find to go back to the hotel. It’s raining hard. We don’t even window show, we just scurry back to the hotel.

 

The next morning there really is a little bit of blue sky over the bridge.

 

 

January 3, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Cultural, Food, France, Hotels, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , | Leave a comment

Audrix, Chateau de Commarque, and Lascaux

We plan, and God laughs.

If there is something really important to me, I tell AdventureMan, and together we make it happen. Sometimes, though, our plans are more in the line of good suggestions, and what happens instead counts as adventure.

I wanted to head to Lascaux. We’ve been before, like 35 years ago, and at that time, some of the cave art caves were still open to the public. These drawings, deep inside the caves, done by people who lived generations before us, lived hard lives, mostly hunting and gathering, these drawings never fail to call to my soul as they capture the essence of the the animals with mere strokes of the most primitive pigments imaginable. My husband wants to see a castle built into the side of a mountain, Reignac.

So we head out, and very shortly we see that Audrix, a little village mentioned by Martin Walker, is only seven kilometers away, and it would be a pity not to see Audrix. Actually, I had thought we might stay in Audrix, at a beautiful auberge, the Hotel  Auberge Medievale, but it is closed for the winter, we can’t even eat there, they are so closed.

Seven km on a twisting forest road can take a lot longer than you think it is going to take, but Audrix is beautiful.

 

 

 

They have a huge mastodon made out of hay!

 

 

 

 

Such an interesting old church. I’ve never seen a church built like this before, and it is a very small village.

Inside, there was a sung prayer service going on. At first we thought they might be practicing for a service, and sat for a while, but as it all continued, we figured it might be a true service. It was a lovely memorable moment in a long day.

 

Leaving Audrix, we head toward Reignac and Lascaux, but get distracted by a sign to Chateau de Commarque, which mentions its origins in prehistory. That sounds intriguing, and while it is not in the plans, it might be what we need to see.

When we get there, we find plenty of parking. We start to walk, and my husband asks if we need to bring the umbrellas, and I say no, that it can’t be that far.

It is that far. It is that far, and more. It drizzles on and off.

 

 

I like the sign . . . it is whimsical, and it is a subtle warning. You’d better like the walk, as there will be a lot of it.

 

Commarque is very educational, and people have worked hard to research the history and how things worked. It is a very large site, with different locations to tour. The guide starts with sending you out into the fields to observe a special breed of cows now being bred here, and it helps you understand how this very isolated valley could survive – and protect itself – through the centuries of war between the French and English, and even the French and the Aquitanians, and the Aquitanians and the Aquitanians.

 

This is a defensive fortress kind of castle, with few, if any, luxuries. They have a very good source of water.

 

This is a separate site across the valley.

These are very old habitations. They call them troglodyte dwellings, but it looks like they could have been places where shepherds kept their sheep, or goats – they seem to maybe be more for penning animals in bad weather than human dwellings. Although . . . I think they also said the ground was once a lot lower than now, so those higher places may be for human uses.

 

 

 

Inside the “castle” is a cave for the watch. It is habitable, with furniture. It would be barely warmer than sleeping out in the cold, but maybe drier, but damp.

 

 

 

Remains of an old chapel

 

 

A new stone roof over the old community oven.

 

 

 

A watch post from where the watchman could signal the castles if anyone was approaching.

 

It was very interesting, and very educational. I learned that I am really really glad I didn’t live in a place so grim, so hard-scrabble. We have such easy lives. I should never grumble.

But our tummies are grumbling, and we look for a place in Lascaux to eat before heading to the Lascaux 4 exhibit. We find Le Soleil, the sun, in a little hotel along the main street.

 

 

Before we could get to the restaurant, however, we had to figure out how to use the paid parking. Almost every place we parked had a different machine. In some, we had to input our license plate number, and you could only pay with a credit card. In others, we could barely understand what was required. Here is what was really cool, though. Many of the French tourists couldn’t figure it out, either. This one took coins, of which we had plenty, and our parking ended up costing like 30 cents for one hour.

I love that all the merchants and commercial facilities in Lascaux get into the spirit. On the door of this credit union are copies of a herd of animals found in the Lascaux caves. What a lovely way to honor those long ago people who are bringing tourists to their town.

Of all our meals on the ship and in France, this meal was one of my favorites. The atmosphere actually was pretty poor; it was full of tourists, and children, and was noisy. What was good was the service was helpful, friendly and efficient, and the food was excellent. We each had the same meal – a salad, with a slab of foie gras, a slab of pate’, and a thick slice of smoked salmon on really delicious dark grainy bread. I love finely grated carrots, and the dressing was simple and delicious. It was a very satisfying meal.

We headed up to Lascaux 4, and saw lines of people waiting to get into the “exhibit” which is a reproduction of what you would see in the caves, if they let people into the caves, which they don’t. We decided we would try to get into Font de Gaumes the next day, where you can see real drawings. It’s risky, they only let so many people in, but it is the real deal.

 

 

On the way back to Limeuil, we see Reignac, and decide that Commarque took the place of a visit here. We want to get back to the hotel and kick back. But first another visit to the Intermarche.

 

We stop to look at the Chateau Campagne, not far from where we are staying. It would be a lovely village to think about staying in the future, were we not so happy at the Domaine de la Vitrolle.

 

We barely make it back before dark. We have sandwiches, we have pastries, we have lovely macaroons with chocolate bottoms, I have some apple cider from Normandy (very dry, not sweet at all), we have oranges. After our lovely lunch, we don’t need a heavy dinner. We are in bed by seven thirty, reading, writing notes, and AdventureMan gives a huge sign of contentment and says “Isn’t life wonderful?” We are asleep before ten.

January 1, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Exercise, Food, France, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Shopping, Travel, Weather | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bordeaux: City of Many Discoveries

We’ve had a full morning, and head for the hotel, and then to see if we can find the restaurant our guide recommended when we were on our walking tour. It met all our favorite criteria – it is recommended and frequented by citizens of Bordeaux, it features Bordeaux specialties, and it is unpretentious. We love this kind of place.

We had a very short walk, and we are very hungry. We find the sign and board for the restaurant, and then the hilarity begins. We can’t find the door.

 

We find an entrance, and are greeted and seated quickly. When we look at the menu, and look at the clientele, it doesn’t feel right.

It’s not the same menu we saw posted at La Table Bordelaise. The manager can see we are puzzled, and he assures us we are in the right place. I asked about a particular dish, and he then agreed we were meant to be next door. I think he knew all along we were looking for the other restaurant, but this was the Bordelaise GRILL, and he graciously consented to let us go.

We were embarrassed, of course, but relieved. I don’t want to waste my calories, or my Euros, on a meal I don’t want. I will pay the price of a little embarrassment to be in the right restaurant.

So we go next door, and are happy to be seated in a very crowded restaurant. What I like is that there is a wide variety of ages, from twenty-somethings, to couples older than we are.

We order, maigret de canard (duck) for my husband, who for years has said “I only eat duck in France” and a fish for me. I was delighted to see the lady next to me, very French, had ordered the same thing. I was horrified to see how elegantly, delicately and thoroughly she was able to eviscerate the fish, top and bottom, while I struggled, leaving a lot of the fish on the plate. It was delicious, topped with almonds, and crispy skin with soft flesh. It’s not like I could take the excess with me, so I relished what I could get off the bones, and had no regrets for the rest.

 

 

Somehow, I deleted the photo for my husband’s duck, but he remembers it was wonderful.

 

For me, this was the truly wonderful part. One of the desserts was pear ice cream. When it came, with the clear cold liquid in the tiny glass accompanying it, I knew it had to be a pear liquor. AdventureMan asked if I was going to drink it. I am diabetic. I don’t drink a lot of alcohol anymore.

“Yes,” I said, and poured it all on. There are times in life when you should be cautious, and there are times when you just need to throw caution to the wind. It was worth it. Every bite. The pear ice cream was very lovely, a sorbet, very pear-y, and the liquor was worth every second of my life I might have lost because I savored it all. Some things just make life more worth living.

 

My husband had the creme brûlée, below, which was actually not half eaten when it came to the table, but somehow I got so absorbed in my pear ice that I was late in taking a photo of his creme brûlée, which he determined was excellent.

 

Sated, and a little exhausted (big night when we farewelled the ship, big day at the market and the Aquitaine Museum) so we took the short walk back to the Grande Hotel Francaise and rested for an hour.

There are other years when we would have kept pushing, so much to see in Bordeaux. We’ve had to learn that for us, resting now and then when we need it is worth it, so we can build up our energy once again, and enjoy the rest of the day.

While resting, we heard chanting, and loud singing. Yellow jacketed strikers, making their protest in the nearby street. There were maybe fifty people, and mostly people not striking were just going on their normal course, not fazed by the protestors.

The tram lines in Bordeaux are wonderful, and new. We can get on steps away from our hotel, and go in any direction. We each have a Bordeaux City Pass, takes us on all the tram lines, bus lines and gets us in free to most of the places we want to go. We bought ours at the tourist office while we were on our walking tour. It doesn’t start until the first time you use it, and then it is good for 24 hours. You may be able to buy City Passes for longer, I don’t know. You can also buy tram cards which allow you to travel without cash for a certain amount of time, which varies depending on the card you buy.

We have a plan. We want to take the B line all the way to the end in both directions, and then maybe switch to the A or C lines. Riding the trams is fun, and you get to see parts of town that a tourist doesn’t see otherwise. I also got to see wonderful signs.

 

“You think your act is anonymous – but we see you!”

“A wandering/mischievous hand, one foot in prison!”

There is a mighty effort to confront sexism in France – who’d have thought, fifty years ago, this was even possible? We’ve seen some radical changes in the French culture. Women seem so much more independent and confident.

We ride the B tram all the way north and then back, but there are running signs inside the tram telling us the tram will stop running at 1830 because of the marathon. This is a BIG deal, streets closing for the runners, trams shutting down, it is amazing and wonderful to have so much support for a marathon. We remember when fitness in France was mostly limited to the military; now we see the French, male and female, embracing fitness with a vengeance. C’est merveilleuse!

We exit at St. Andre, which had been closed earlier in the day. I am a great fan of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was married in this church – at age 13. It sounds awful, but girls from noble families expected to be married at an early age, and Eleanor was an extraordinary girl who eventually married two kings, France and England. She was aggressive and confident.

Being able to go into St. Andre’s is a thrill, and a bigger thrill at twilight, when people are quiet and respectful, and you can soak in some of the character of this church and the long history it has survived.

 

 

 

This is my favorite photo from the church:

 

There is a lot of marathon excitement going on outside St. Andre’s. It looks like some kind of staging area or some kind of water stop, or check-point, so we decide to find a place to eat and just watch the goings ons. We find the Ristorante Palazzo, salads, pizza and open air seating. It may be the end of October, but the temperatures during the day are hitting 70 F. and the night is still balmy. Every restaurant that can has seating outside tonight, so the Bordelaise can enjoy one of the last nights of dining al fresco before serious winter sets in.

 

 

Marathon set up

Fire trucks and emergency vehicles show up – and leave. Nothing much has happened in terms of the marathon, so we idle our way back to our hotel, just enjoying the lovely night. We had no idea that the French had adopted Hallowe’en, but evidence is everywhere.

 

I’ve always loved French clothing for children.

 

Outdoor dining everywhere! We could stay in Bordeaux happily for weeks.

AdventureMan spotted the scallop shell indicating this was part of the pilgrimage route to San Diego Compostela. It was fun

 

Porte Dijeaux takes us back to the Saracen times in Spain, with their bands of dark and light on their arches:


 

Our hotel, Best Western Le Grand Hotel Francais, in the very heart of Bordeaux on a very quiet street, easy walk to theatre, opera and restaurants, close to tram lines.

We had just finished brushing our teeth and were getting ready for bed when we got an unexpected thrill – the Bordeaux Midnight Marathon was running right by our hotel :-). Every single runner was cheered – we love that kind of spirit.

 

It went on for a long time. Longer than we stayed to photograph. We had a big day coming up and needed to get a good night’s sleep, which we did.

There were so many stores in Bordeaux, full of interesting things to buy, some very lovely, but I just didn’t feel the need to buy anything. We went into Galleries Lafayette, where I often used to buy clothes, but all the clothes were Ralph Lauren, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger – things we can get in the USA! My preferred souvenirs are silk scarves and jewelry, clothing if I find something special that I will really wear. Other than that, we invest in experience and good food and wine, and comfortable hotels. I’m just so glad I don’t have to carry film anymore, although I do still carry a camera for better shots. We want to come back and spend more time in Bordeaux and the surrounding areas.

January 1, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Eating Out, Exercise, Faith, Food, France, Halloween, Hotels, Political Issues, Public Art, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boarding the Viking Forseti

We’ve been watching the Bordeaux weather forecasts for weeks. It shows it will rain every day of our trip. Fortunately, we’ve always had good weather-luck. It may rain from time to time, we may even get sprinkled on, but, for the most part, we don’t get rained out.

 

As we head through the suburbs of Bordeaux, I am reminded of Tunis, where we lived many years ago. The ground is dry, sort of pinkish red, sandy, with scant trees, and maybe a little green ground shrub here and there. The buildings look like something built in the old Soviet Union, all concrete and utilitarian and crumbling.

 

When we reach the wharf at Chartrons, an area close to the center of Bordeaux, the sun breaks through. It is a joyful arrival altogether. The Viking Forseti is docked next to a city park area, a skateboard park, with skinny French teenagers all practicing their moves. Next to the skate park is a children’s playground. It is a lively area, full of families, and we have to cross a busy bike and walking path to board the ship.

 

Once aboard, we are quickly processed and shown to our cabin.

 

I am taking a great risk here, telling you my innermost thoughts. In our family, we have a saying “That sounds like a first-world problem,” which we can say because we have lived in many countries which were not first world, and where people worried about serious things, like having enough food to eat, or finding a place to sleep where the police wouldn’t bother them or the like. We are on a Viking riverboat. This is luxury.

 

We booked a suite on the Forseti. When we walked in the door, I gasped. It was small! It was two rooms, three if you count the tiny bathroom. You entered into a sitting room, with a couch and chair and flat TV on the wall over a counter space for wine or fruits or books. It’s the size of  a normal small cabin minus the part which is our balcony, which we really wanted so we could sit out on it while we cruise up the rivers.

 

I have a thing about space. I feel like I can’t breathe well if the ceilings are not high enough, I don’t like being cramped. I know, I KNOW how lucky I am to have so much room and I can’t help it, I feel what I feel.

 

Our only other trips with Viking have all been on Ocean boats. Our cabins on the bigger ships had a lot of space, and a double closet, and lots of cupboards for putting folded clothing, underwear, shoes. etc. As I said, this feeling cramped on a river boat is not a worthy problem, and after bumping around a little while, we adjusted and did just fine. It was, however, a shock at the beginning.

 

 

There was champagne waiting for us, two glasses, and a flower. It’s a lovely thought.

You can see our bedroom through the door of the sitting room.

 

This is the bedroom from the door. On the right is a French balcony, i.e. sliding doors open but you can’t go out on it, as you can go out onto a balcony outside the door of the sitting room.

 

Inside the bedroom, this is the closet and all the drawer space. Two drawers. There is space under the bed for suitcases.

As you look to the right, entering the bathroom from the bedroom. The floors are heated.

Watching the safety video is a requirement. So we watch it, and check to make sure our life vests are stowed where we can get to them. There will be a drill the next day in Cadillac.

We are tired, and the sky has darkened again. It has started to rain. We decide to nap for a little while and then go to the welcome aboard briefing at 5:30.

 

View of Bordeaux from the ship.

People begin to gather in the lounge for the briefing.

 

By the time we finish dinner it is no longer raining, and Bordeaux looks inviting. I know I should go walking, and we are signed up for the walking tour of Bordeaux that leaves at 9:30 pm, but . . . I need to sleep. I need a nice shower. It is only 8:30 now, and I can’t face staying awake another minute. Before my head hits the pillow, I am asleep.

December 15, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, France, Quality of Life Issues, Travel, Weather | , | Leave a comment

Not Normal

We’ve been in the nineties almost every day of August and September. September is always the hardest month for me, because I am so ready for Fall, and temperatures continue hot – like normally, in the eighties. Not cool, but not ninety, either.

 

Even the heat lovers are ready for the break. I know that usually around October 4th, a short cool spell Normally comes. The morning air is cool and welcoming. It usually only lasts one day, maybe only one morning before the heat comes back in, but oh, I wait for that day. That day, I do my major Christmas shopping. Army wife, old habits die hard. We used to have to have our gifts bought, wrapped and sent from Germany early enough to guarantee they would arrive before Christmas. The feel of the early morning cool air gives me energy; I feel I can accomplish anything!

Living in Germany so many years on a military income, we spread out the Christmas shopping all year long, and finished up at the annual Christmas Bazaar in Rammstein – no matter where we were stationed, the Ramstein Bazaar was not to be missed. Two – sometimes three – full hangers of vendors selling the specialities and luxuries of Europe . . . Italian gloves, Middle Eastern marquetry boxes, crystal chandeliers, Nuremberg angels, paintings, exquisite Christmas ornaments and decorations, furniture, Loden coats, hand carved wooden plaques and toys, French and English china, French and German crystal, luxuries of all kinds.

 

Christmas is a lot simpler now, we have all moved toward greater simplicity and sharing more of what we have with those who are in need. We have what we need, and we are so thankful.

 

Right now, I would be very thankful for a break in the temperatures.

September 28, 2019 Posted by | ExPat Life, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Weather | Leave a comment

Yellowstone: Wonderland and Last Trip to Lamar Valley

When we finish hiking the terraces, it is still early. We decide we do not want to eat breakfast in the Dining Room, so we go into Gardiner, back to The Wonderland Cafe and Lodge. The Cafe is already full, a few tables with couples and one very large table with a local woman’s group. They are having such a good time, it made me feel like home. I saw one bring in a bag of books for another, and I thought “I could be happy living here.”

We order and are delighted with our choices. My husband tried Avocado Toast for the first time, and thoroughly enjoyed the combination of flavors. I had the breakfast burrito.

 

 

It’s a hearty breakfast, and we know we won’t need to eat for a long while, so we head back out to Lamar valley, still looking for those wolves around Slough Creek. On the way back into the park, we stopped to take a photo at the 45th latitude. We thought that was pretty cool. You’ll note we are still in heavier clothes at this point.

On the way we hike up to Wraith Falls; it’s an easy hike, only half a mile there and back. You can’t really get too close with all the wood fall, but it is a lovely cascading kind of falls.

 

 

 

 

My husband had some interest in the petrified forest, but we figured maybe the next trip. What I like about this photo of the deer is that it looks like one would prefer to go one way and the other in a different direction. It kind of cracked me up.

Back in Slough Creek again, looking around for those wolves. Did not see any wolves, nor the babies we had heard about, but I took a photo of this wonderful rock. In Alaska, and in the Seattle area, people pay big money to have a great huge rock in their yard, like a landscape focus. I think it has to do with Scandinavian blood, and glaciation, the fact that these great huge rocks are brought from mountains, many miles, and then are dumped where the ice melts. You will see valleys full of great huge rocks, with no source in sight. Many have come for miles. This one looks to me like a very alien rock; he has a curved round head and on either side of his cracked (helmut?) you can see his alien eyes.

 

Also in the valley at Slough Creek, we find anglers; at one time three of them angling. We never saw them catch anything.

 

Out on the edge of a large plain between the mountains, a huge valley where the Bison were slowly brought back from near extinction, is this formation, called Soda Butte. It has a hot spring that kept springing up, depositing minerals, until it built this anomalous structure. We hiked around it to get a view of the other side.

 

 

 

 

We see bison grazing peacefully across the river, except for one, who is looking at us and moving quickly and purposefully toward us. Hmmm, those big guys can move pretty fast. We calmly and quickly walk to our car and get in. The bison comes all the way to where we were standing and fortunately, stops. After the adventure with the elk, we aren’t taking any chances. Most of the bison we have encountered have been placid and uninterested in humans, but wildlife is wild. They don’t think like we think, and we don’t take anything for granted.

No, I didn’t stop to take this photo, I was taking this photo when I noticed he was running towards us.

 

We see a clump of cars, and as we approach, we see a woman walking in our direction. “What have they spotted?” we ask her, and she says “Oh, there is a bear, high on the hill, they are watching him. He is the size of a little tiny dot.” We’ve seen a lot of bear. The rangers are already here, encouraging people to move their cars, park legally, but there a lot of sharp drops here, and not a lot of parking spaces.

I don’t know a lot about the Ranger program at Yellowstone, but it appears to me that there are a lot of trained people out observing animals, good at spotting them, and generous about pointing them out to others I would think they are photographers, but they are not. They have these super telescopes, like uniscopes, which are very powerful. If they are Rangers, out spotting game for the visitors, I think that is a lovely service.

We dawdle our way back toward Roosevelt Station, where the road heads out to Lamar Road. As we cross the Yellowstone River and head towards the junction, we see a large group of men and women walking in the direction from which we are coming. “What are you doing?” we asked, and they said “Ranger training.” How cool is that?

The Roosevelt Lodge isn’t open yet, but will open soon. How do we know that? We see stagecoaches, and what I take to be a chuckwagon, on rubber wheels, practicing in the large field where two days ago we saw coyote. They are having a lot of fun practicing. And note, a placid bison.

 

 

 

 

Back in Mammoth Hot Springs, we stop to take a photo of the old Fort Yellowstone church. This was our goal the elk attacked AdventureMan, and we never made it to the church. We have  a beautiful day for a photo.

We stop by the General Store, pick up some sandwiches for dinner on the porch, and some huckleberry ice cream cones to give us energy to pack up for tomorrow’s departure. The sandwiches in the General Store are huge, so huge we can never eat the whole sandwich. They are on big bread, and the bread is also thick. The filling is generous, thick. We hate to waste food, but we can’t eat the whole sandwich.

We’ve had a great visit to Mammoth Hot Springs. We can’t wait to bring our family here.

June 25, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Building, Civility, Customer Service, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yellowstone: Old Faithful to Canyon Village via Grant Village and Lake Village

Have I told you how great AdventureMan is? We’ve had a terrible night’s sleep, but he is awake at six and says “Let’s go.” He knows I really want to see the Grand Prismatic Spring, but it is one of the major attractions in the park, and is bound to be crowded if we go later. It is also back the way we came, not the way we are going, but he is game, and off we go.

I try not to go into a trip with high expectations; I try to sort of let the trip expand before me, but I really wanted to see the Grand Prismatic Spring. I am really into color, and just look at this colors! Go on the internet and see the colors!

But the first thing we see when we get to the Midway Geyser Basin, where the Grand Prismatic Spring resides, is something spectacular that is not the Grand Prismatic Spring. (Remember about letting the trip unfold before you?) This is Excelsior Geyser, glorious in the morning sun. We were mesmerized.

 

It is a bitterly chill morning, and the steam is everywhere. There are two other couples in this huge area, so essentially, we have this gorgeous area all to ourselves.

 

The “hike” is along a frosty boardwalk, and it is a sweet sunny morning. We come next to the Turquoise Pool:

 

So we are shooting across it, there is steam everywhere, and it is impossible to get a photo that will show you how impressive the colors are, but the pond is, indeed, very turquoise.

So remember the beautiful info sheet I showed you on Grand Prismatic Spring? This is what we could capture:

You can see how large it CAN be, but this is not Disney-does-Yellowstone, this is the real world, where life doesn’t always happen the way you want it to. I am disappointed, but oh my, Excelsior is a thrill (just to back to the Excelsior photo and see why I am so thrilled.)

There is a trail, only .6 mile, that starts at the Angel Falls Trailhead and takes you to an overlook of the Middle Geyser Basin, and maybe this would all be more impressive from there. AdventureMan asks if I want to go hike the trail and I say no, there is too much steam. Even from above, cold morning, hot steam, visibility is poor. We’re coming back next year, maybe I can hike it then on a different day and get a different result.

As we cross the bridge, I see that the cold air is showing up a variety of hot springs going into the freezing river.

The river goes pretty fast at this time of year, swollen by snow melt. I wonder what it is like to swim this river in the summer months?

Just to keep you up to speed, we are leaving Old Faithful, headed toward Grant Village, then up to Lake Village, then to Canyon Village, where the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is.

 

Just past Old Faithful, heading across the Continental Divide is Kepler Cascades:

We head across Craig Pass (elevation 8262) to Isa Lake and we have high snow on both sides of the road. We only see a couple trucks the entire drive. This road has only been open to traffic for a couple days. Yellowstone National Park has a website where you can keep track of which roads are open and which are not. It matters.

This is from Wikipedia on Continental Divide:

A continental divide is a drainage divide on a continent such that the drainage basin on one side of the divide feeds into one ocean or sea, and the basin on the other side either feeds into a different ocean or sea, or else is endorheic, not connected to the open sea. Every continent on earth except Antarctica which has no free-flowing water has at least one continental drainage divide; islands, even small ones like Killiniq Island on the Labrador Sea in Canada, may also host part of a continental divide or have their own island-spanning divide.

You may not think it is important now, but one day you may come to a continental divide sign and wonder what exactly it means. It means on one side, water flows in a different direction, to a different outcome, than on the other side.

We crossed the continental divide several times, twice on this same road and then again later.

By this point it was only around 8:30 in the morning, but we had been hiking, and in and out of the car, and it was really cold out. There were piles of snow taller than me by far in the parking lots. Can you see what a beautiful day we are having? We get to Grant Village and start looking for a place to eat. We find the Lake House Restaurant. Inside, it looks like this:

Wow, huh? Those very high ceilings, all that glass looking out at a spectacular view. The staff is all recruited from across the USA, and some from other countries, too. Our first waiter was of Arab descent. So fabulous physical setting and really helpful, energetic, patient (dealing with a lot of foreign visitors who spoke little English, didn’t understand the procedures, maybe didn’t understand the currency) and kind staff. I think that a lot of their customers don’t tip, but the staff gives the same wonderful service to everyone. The food wasn’t anything to remember, but they had great coffee, great service, a lovely facility and a drop-dead gorgeous view.

Above is before the haze blew away. Below is after. Wow.

I’m going to bore you with four photos of Lake Yellowstone that I just love. I just loved this drive. It reminded me of places in Alaska, where I grew up. There is still ice on the lake, although it is breaking up.

 

 

 

We see lots of cars with boats on trailers in this area; I love boating and fishing, and I cannot imagine this is a good time of the year to be fishing, but I could be wrong. It must be REALLY cold out on the water.

We head up through Lake Village, which has two beautiful lodges and a camp ground. I cannot tell you from personal experience, but reviews had all said the Lake Hotel has the best Lodge food on Yellowstone. This is what ThrillList has to say:

The Lake Hotel

If money is no object and you’re looking for absolute class, anyone who knows anything will tell you to go to the Lake Hotel. Breakfast and lunch are first come, first served, but reserve in advance for dinner, when you can go for fresh fish or bison but also lobster florentine or Montana wagyu beef, depending on the mood.

In addition, ThrillList recommends that you do a lot of picnics – the prepared food you buy in Yellowstone National Park restaurants is not that good, and it is expensive.

From Lake Village, we head north through Hayden Village towards Canyon Village and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. You are paralleling the Yellowstone River all the way. We stopped a couple times, once for bear and once to view the Sulphur Cauldron / Mud Volcano. It smells like fire and brimstone!

June 23, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Food, Random Musings, Road Trips, sunrise series, Travel, Weather | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Unknown Unknowns

Gordon was rolling in and no one knew if it would come as a tropical storm or a hurricane. Trust me, preparing for a hurricane is a lot of work, and we had to make a decision whether or not to put up the window coverings (we did not), to check over our hurricane supplies, like water, batteries, towels, buckets, cat cages, etc, which we did. I even made a big fresh pot of coffee, in case it were a long time before I saw coffee again, I could even drink it cold. AdventureMan cleaned the gutters, brought in outdoor furniture that could blow around, and placed heavier plants strategically so they would damage the house as little as possible if carried by hurricane force winds. Like I said, it is a lot of work.

 

We had wind and rain, lots of wind and sheets of rain, and bangs of thunder, and bangs of electrical conduits exploding, but although the power dimmed, we did not lose power entirely. Our only leaks this storm are in the garage.

The morning dawned; continued windy and rainy and thundery. We decided to go to a nearby Italian restaurant for lunch and had to detour three times before we could get there, twice due to deep pockets of water in the road, too deep to drive through, and once due to a tree down over the road. There are lots of pockets of deep water, and several trees down. We got off easy.

Aarrgh; now for putting all the carpets back down, getting the outdoor furniture back outside and putting the house back in “normal” mode.

September 5, 2018 Posted by | Florida, Living Conditions, Survival, Weather | | Leave a comment