Thursday, August 27, 2009

Atop old cape henry light house in va beach. Had to see other side of atlantic.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pictures at Long Last

We have organized some pictures. L may post some more with her descriptions of flowers she found along the way.




Friday, August 21, 2009

Things We Appreciate More After Missing Them Abroad And Stuff We Miss

Before we get to the main topic, I'd like to share one of the few video clips we had on the laptop in Spain. It's not really great when you are about to get on a plane, but it's humorous anyhow. Here's the SNL take on JetBlue Flight 292, which successfully landed after a twisted landing gear was stuck and after passengers were able to watch news channels showing the plane in peril.

For the real story, including a link at the bottom to video of the actual landing, see:

Back to the task at hand:

These are not really meant to be digs against Europe. They have things we don't have.

What We Missed From Home
  • Our friends. This is obvious but gets to be very important the longer we are gone.
  • Central air conditioning. This might be just making a virtue out of a necessity in hot, muggy Durham, but parts of Europe get hot also, especially public transit.
  • Cheap gas. Even at $2.50 a gallon, it was a bargain compared to around $6 a gallon in Spain, which has cheap gas relative to the rest of Europe
  • Cheap English language newspapers. Getting a newspaper every day for 5 weeks would have cost me more than my 52 week subscription at home
  • Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper- they just don't have them anywhere I looked in Europe.
  • Free Refills on soda and free water
  • Easily findable public restrooms and water fountains (although Rome was unusually good about about decorative and potable water fountains)
  • Posted and usually long operating hours on businesses
  • An airport, RDU, that's big enough to have many destinations but small enough to forego the need for huge walks and tram rides to get around
  • Cheap prepaid phones and plans. $20 at Target buys you a phone and
  • $20 more buys you 200 minutes for a month, with coast to coast roaming (with Virgin Mobile). $50 buys you unlimited domestic calling. I couldn't find anywhere as good a deal in Europe, and it would be a high cost for people to call me. It was cheaper to call America 3000 miles away than to call a cell phone 1 mile away.
  • Internet everywhere, usually easy and free. I changed the oil today and even the mechanic had two free computers and free wifi, along with free restrooms and water.
  • and, which are restricted to the US. (What's that first W in www?)
  • Pharmacies with more than just medicines. They're everywhere, but they won't sell you a Coke or a snack
  • Pay at the pump gas stations most everywhere. Having to guess at how much gas you will use, then paying, pumping, and getting a refund because you guessed wrong is awkward, especially in another language and in Liters.
  • Quick, no signature credit card payments on small items (my $1.50 Target snack bar popcorn was completely paid for by the time the server got the popcorn). This means carrying less cash and less fooling around with coins. Plus Schwab Visa will give me 1.5 cents for using for my card.
  • Having the reverse gear in a predictable place on a manual transmission car. I eventually learned the Renault way in Spain, so I almost shifted into reverse on I-85 in Durham because I was accustomed to that spot being sixth gear on the Renault.

What We'll Miss From Europe
  • Small easily, walkable city feel in Albano and Genova

  • Gorgeous, huge, temperate beach walking distance away
  • A wide variety of olives
  • Cheap fresh pastries
  • The sounds of kids playing in the courtyard and pool
  • Having friends and family next to us in the apartment
  • Sangria

  • Fresh baguettes a few minutes walk away
  • The ability to quickly hope on a bus or metro
  • A huge walkable and explorable city
  • A view from of the back window of the Seine and peaceful Lavacourt and the church out the front window
  • Fanta Citron
  • Constantly seeing new sites everywhere
  • Dry heat. You can exit the shower without' getting instantly soaked by the humidity. I took a walk Tuesday night at 79 degrees, and I still was soaked at the end.

Leftover stuff

Stuff I think we forget to mention throughout the trip:

-Until shortly before we left, we thought our house swapee in Rome, Andrea, was a girl. It was only when L saw his facebook listing that she made the connection that Andrea is a male name in Italy.

-Before we left, we never spoke to any of our hosts. Because of language differences, we still haven't spoken to our Spanish hosts. Everything was done by L over e-mail using She translated what she wanted to say from English into the new language.
She then translated it back into English to identify problems. Doing this repeatedly to refine the translation got her compliments on her Italian skills.

-Some cities are wallet-safe cities. Some are money belt (under the top of my shorts) cities. Crowded metros and touristy areas with pickpockets make for money belt usage. However, I find it helpful to keep a pack of tissues in my back pocket. That way, when I do a subconscious wallet check, I am spared the panic that an empty pocket causes in the second it takes to realize everything is in the money belt. The villages/towns where we have stayed are wallet areas.

-A waiter in Rome liked to sing as he walked around, such as Whitney Houston's "Dance with Somebody:"
Oh, I want to dance with somebody. I want to have a fit [sic] with somebody.
We heard this routine from him several times.

-Calling the America Airlines office in Spain from Spain was more expensive than calling from Spain to the US, at least with our prepaid card. The calling card ran out and Jenny's long minutes on hold amounts to nothing.*

-Getting good rates on calling cards, especially from a payphone, has been difficult. At one point in Spain, I reached an operator who quoted me a charge of $17 to start a call to the US. This was more than the coveted satellite phone from the transatlantic flight. Sadly, on the return trip, our lack of the World Traveler status meant we did not have a satellite phone in our seats. As a result I may never get to make a call billed at expensive per second rates, so say "Guess where I'm calling from?"

-Only the France cottage had a land line. No one had Internet access.

-The Lidl stores in Spain have an off-brand cola, $0.60/2L that is really close to Coke. We (I) drank a swimming pool's worth of it, and not just a kiddy pool, which can be kind of gross, hygienically speaking.

-Many receipts in France still show the conversion of the charges from Euros to Francs, I guess as a matter of national pride.

-The Euro was once worth $0.80. It has been up to $1.60. It currently is around $1.40, but it frequently changes a few cents. So €100 charged to my credit card at the beginning of the trip could cost me differently than €100 at the end of the trip.

-Several vendors asked for my passport when using my credit card. Since I already had my wallet out, I usually just showed them my NC drivers license instead. They usually couldn't read it, and having never seen an NC license, they had no way of verifying its legitimacy, but they always accepted it.

-One day we met Anne, the cottage owner, at Mantes-Jolie. She approached us, "It is I, Anne." Try though I may, I can't get Americans to use the nominative case a to be verb. Most Americans say, "It's me." Brits seem to speak the Queen's English more readily. If this explanation makes no sense to you, it is because this rule is almost always ignored in America, to the point where doing it right sounds funny.

-Shower situations varied markedly in our three abodes. Italy featured a tiny bathtub with a fixed shower curtain,i t was hard to stand up, and you had to remember to turn on the hot water heater 60 minutes before your shower.

Spain had water pressure that sounded like buffaloes as it hit the roomy tub. The water was hot enough to boil buffaloes (you gotta use all the parts). Then someone stars cleaning dishes in the kitchen, and your water falls like a new Chicago politician meeting his first paycheck from his new friends. And the cheap shower liner from Walmart, with the weighted magnets to keep it from blowing onto you, is not here.

In France, we had a tub that doesn't seal the drain, a wand, watter nozzle no spot on the wall to mount the wand, and no shower curtain. So it's a bath nor is it a shower. So you get wet and the walls and floor do too. You just towel them off a bit.

-Unexpectedly France of all places is the only bathroom we had without a bidet. We were glad to not have to clean it or touch a bidet in any way^.

-I had a weird dream involving my friend Brad's house, a suit, infomercials, and Lucille Balle

-France electrical outlets have a male grounding plug in receptacle, different from Europe. This means skinny European plugs work; otherwise, you need an adapter. Fortunately, there was an adapter,which I found after scouring from attic to basement for a workable outlet.

-We did eventually see Spongebob Squarepants in Spain. His dubbed voice wasn't quite right, not nasal and grating enough.

-My shoes are starting to wear out after weeks of intensive walking

-L blessed me by spending our last cash on duty free Kinder Chocolate, one of my favorites. It was sealed in a bag lest we eat before leaving the EU and cheat France out of its 20 % tax.

-Casualties of the trip
  • big suitcase. We are still finding pieces from its disintegration over many moons.
  • sun glasses, even after multiple applications of super glue, split down the middle. They are suitable for a pirate with an eye patch.
  • laptop screen is dead, which renders it a desktop
  • cargo shorts torn asunder from over use and powerful washing machines
  • bank account, from among other things, one speeding ticket, from an automatic photograph in Huelva. It's not like in Arizona where they have giant warning signs, and the behavior of Spanish drivers doesn't convince you that speed is important. I haven't received a speeding ticket, since my first over 10 years ago.
-Dana's reassuring words to her parents before she left, that there was nothing to worry about as her health plan would pay to repatriate her body, were sadly not very reassuring.

-On the way back I saw a picture in a British paper showing Hitler in front of Eiffel Tower. A large picture of this event was featured in the Army Museum, a public act of humility, or self denigration. A copy is at .

*The problem with calling many US companies is that most toll free (800, 866,877) numbers don't work internationally, even if you pay for the call. That's why most credit cards have a non-toll free number on the back. We didn't have American Airline's non-toll free number. The
solution was to call my Google Voice phone number, check voice mail, select Goog 411 from the menu, ask for American Airlines in Dallas, TX, and then Google connects the call. Roundabout but it worked. I tried to use it again at the Seville airport, but the payphone volume was so low that I couldn't hear anything. Eventually I realized budget. It also won't work using some calling cards, such as AT&T's, because they intercept the * key and interpret it as start a new call.
So when you hit * to enter voicemail, your call is ended.

^Like happy fun ball's core from SNL, you should not touch, ingest, or look at it.

First Day Home : Getting the Kitties - Monday

We've been busy settling back in, so it's a little late, but here's a brief account of our first full day back in America.

We traveled to Greensboro to pick up Carolina and Tucker from Sarah H's apartment, where they had been staying with her two cats for the past eight weeks. We actually transported all four cats back to Durham because Sarah is out of town. Sarah S joined us to pick up some of her
borrowed furniture.

We ate lunch at Panera Bread, where you could quickly order, prepay, get your own drink and refill it, and sit for 10 minutes or 180 minutes, your choice - not the restaurant's, with your friends, free
wifi, and gorgeous bathrooms.

Later in the week, we returned to Greensboro with Sarah H., stopping at the Walmart to get a cheap laptop to replace the one destroyed on the trip. It has been very nice to have easy access to the Internet again.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Travel Home - Sunday

The breakfast buffet wasn't up to La Quinta standards, but they had
Nutella spread and decent bread. So I can't complain.

We left on the 8:30 AM shuttle instead of trying to leavl Vetheuil at
5:30. Everything went okay at the airport. I got very personally
frisked because the metal spring in my cheap plastic pen set off the
metal detector.

This time we were just labeled Eurotraveler with no special perks or
upgrades like roomier seats like World Traveler.
This 747 had a personal DVR/Tivo (like an individual video jukebox for
each passenger), so flying is now like sitting in your living room
with a range of movies, albeit in an uncomfortable chair with dozens
of strangers around you. You can see/hear everythivg from Beijing
Olympics highlights to Extreme Fishing to recent movies to the latest
U2 album. A person across the aisle skipped the DVR in favor of her
separate personal player featuring Reno 911. Lara managed to squeeze
in 3 movies and most of a sitcom. I got 1.5 movies and a sitcom.

We had a very friendly French flight attendant For example, he
intently looked for the injured person when he heard the cart bump
into something, so he could apologize. I think he just hit a chair.
Maybe we are getting out of the land of the customer is always wrong.

I watched the French movie Amelie, which I had seen a while back and
now seemed appropriate because it is set in Paris. It was sweet
occasionally mixed with the not so sweet, just like some beautiful
areas of Paris such as Montmarte (where a lot of the film is set), are
next to not so beautiful areas. This time it was dubbed into English
instead of showing subtitles. It was a good dub, maybe because the
star Audre Tattou is bilingual. I recognized a lot of the setting:
-crossing the islands on the Seine
-metro steps with street performers
-Sacred Heart Basilica
-ubiquitous train station photo machines (but not as ubiquitous much
as we would have liked the first day)
-Gare de Est train station, where we were yesterday

We arrived at JFK, got our baggage, switched terminals, and went
through security again. This time I didn't have to take off my belt
but shoes had to come off. We had to leave our $5 cart (which a lady
getting one before me called "highway robbery"). My kingdom for a post
security cart! Carry-on bags are heavy to drag around the terminal.
Since we got to JFK with plenty of time, we registered to go standby
for another, 2.5 hours before ours. As we waited, announcements kept
coming that weather delays were pushing the earlier flight back. When
we boarded our "later" plane, passengers from the earlier flight
watched us go by. They ended up leaving a little later than us.
Sarah picked us up and we were home at midnight, 6 AM Paris time. She
headed back to her new rental house.


The Last Paris Day: Vetheuil to Airport Hotel - Saturday

The whole getting to the hotel details is a separate post.

We arrived at the hotel near the airport at around 1-2.
The B&B Hotel ( €40 online + €5 for shuttle) was cheap for
Europe and especially Paris, but it showed a little:
-sporadic airport shuttle
-toilet paper holder dispenses tp napkins instead of a roll
-non/working A/C
-wifi that doesn't work
-employees who don't care that the wifi doesn't work

We wandered into Roissy with a big tourist map showing restaurants and
shops. The map and accompanying information failed to mention that
almost nothing was open in the afternoon. Fortunately, a small market
with packaged sandwiches was open. We ate on a bench in front of the
beautiful town hall. They like flowers. L found a nice restaurant for
dinner, so we wouldn't have to commute into Paris for our last big
meal, the nice French dinner where I actually dressed up a little (L
always looks good).

At dinner, walking into town revealed the restaurant was closed, with
no sign to state the staff vacation as we walked by at lunch (often
restaurants are closed for lunch and open for dinner, so we couldn't
tell). Everything in Roissy, a town with a lot of hotel rooms, was
closed. We headed back to the hotel to get the GPS and Paris
guidebook. It was about 8 PM. I noted the last hotel shuttle from the
airport/train station was 12:20. By American get you in/get you out
restaurant standards with travel by car and easy parking, that's a
very easy window to make. By 3 hours until you get the bill European
restaurant standards with public transit, it was going to be tight.
It's not just the shuttle - the train schedule thins out and then
becomes a night bus system. And also we wanted to get some sleep
before the 24 hours of traveling on Sunday.

L found a great, unusually quick sidewalk café near Eco Militaire, a
military school that Napoleon attended. I had very almost perfectly
cooked scallops. The waiter was very friendly.

After dinner, we had to see the Eiffel Tower, one last time, the first
time at night up close (the view from the Orly taxi was pretty nice
but not the same). It was only a couple of blocks away. It has a
beauty that is different from the daytime splendor. It was worth the
view and a few pictures, even if it caused problems next....

We took the subway a few stops to the Opera stop. One metro line to
the bus should be faster than multiple transfers to the train, I
thought. By now, I know by heart that the exit to the Roissy bus is
Sortie (exit) 3 Auber. We rushed up an unmarked escalator. At the top,
we saw only exits 1 and 2. We ended up on the wrong side of the Opera
building. That is a several minute mistake. We watched the airport bus
go by, which turned out to be the last bus of the night. 11? Really?
Isn't this an international city with a very international all day

I guess the train was more international. So we got back to the metro
and transferred to Gare d' Norde. We got on the 11:30 train that
happened to be semi-direct. Yeah! 35 minutes later we were at the CDG
1/3/Roissyvole station. After several minutes of waiting, we hopped on
the shuttle of the hotel next door to ours.

Taxi averted. Getting stuck in the city and trying to figure out the
night schedule averted.

After transferring luggage from my checked bag to my carryon to meet
the 23 kg weight limit (does this jacket weigh 0.4 lbs?), I got some