Friday, August 21, 2009

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.

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