Monday, March 24, 2014

Soon!

March 24, 20014

It won't be long now! Plans are in place for our next adventure in France. Craig is unable to be away from work for very long, so I will begin the journey without him, and he will follow eight days later. I'm looking forward to staying with Darcy and Mathieu. Darcy will be on break from school and work, so we'll have lots of mother-daughter time.

I have difficulty lifting anything over twenty pounds, due to an old back injury. With that in mind, I have decided to travel with only a carry-on. Craig will bring more of my clothing when he arrives, but I really believe I can do this! I pulled out my small suitcase a couple of weeks ago to see just how much (or how little) I could pack. I was pleasantly surprised. I was able to pack 3 pairs of long pants, 4 shirts, socks, underwear, pajamas, a travel pillow, my noise-canceling headphones, iPad, a pair of shoes, a couple of scarves, and a bare minimum of toiletries. Darcy will have shampoo and conditioner, and I can also do laundry while I'm there. In my purse I will have room for my Kindle and camera. I plan to wear my coat and sweater on the plane. They will come in handy as extra "blankets" for that overnight flight. 

I can hardly wait to walk down those cobblestone streets again! We have plans to make a day trip to Tours, which I am really looking forward to. I have heard so much about it and have seen some lovely photos. Speaking of photos, here is one of my favorites:

A very old door in Orleans, France.

That door caught my eye one evening while walking next to Mathieu's father, Thierry, as we were all heading toward a restaurant on Rue de Borgogne. I paused to admire the door and to snap this picture. Then Thierry informed me that the carving around it was approximately 600 years old! I enjoy taking photos of old doors, even though it feels as if I am intruding, somehow. If I can see that the occupants are at home, I would not shoot a photo without permission. There are many beautiful and unique old doors in France; it's hard to resist them!

Here is another photo I especially like:

A tour boat on the Seine, in Paris.

On our last full day in France, Mathieu will join us for sightseeing and a dinner cruise on the Seine. He and Darcy have done that before and they want us to have the experience. Won't that be a wonderful way to end our visit? 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Not Cut Out For Cruising

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: March 14, 2014

A few weeks ago, my husband and I set sail on our first cruise vacation. It was something I had never expected to do. You see, I hate the water. I have a very deep fear of it. It's difficult even for me to watch underwater scenes on television or in movies. Many friends and family members had told me that once I tried a cruise, I would be hooked. They told me it was the ultimate vacation, but I had my doubts. So. The verdict? I'm not cut out for cruising.

I did NOT have a miserable time. I have never had a miserable vacation. I try to make the best of any situation, even if it means smiling while sitting in a campground in the pouring rain, holding a mosquito coil on my lap and shivering because there is still a burn ban. Ah, but that's another story. I had fun on the cruise. I really did. But I'm not hooked. I doubt if I will ever book another cruise, unless it is a river cruise. The endless ocean outside my balcony window was beautiful, but my underlying fear of the water kept me from completely relaxing and enjoying myself. I needed to be able to see the land. Or at least another ship. I hid my fear well. No one else on the cruise had any idea of what I was feeling, except for my dear, patient husband.

The ship, Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, was nothing short of magnificent! It is a marvel and I am glad that my first (and perhaps only) cruise took place on that behemoth. The ship had so much to offer in terms of entertainment and activities, there was no way we could have experienced it all in one week.


The Allure of the Seas

Our ports of call were Nassau, St. Thomas, and St. Martin. I enjoyed watching from our balcony any time we were entering or leaving a port. It was amazing to me how deftly the huge ships were maneuvered. The clear, turquoise water of the Caribbean sea is mesmerizing, and I never tired of looking at it. We found Nassau to be a colorful, busy port. We visited the Straw Market so that I could purchase a hat and then we wandered about, looking into the shops which all seemed to carry identical souvenirs. We discovered a quilt show in progress at an old, local church, and spent an enjoyable hour looking at the gorgeous quilts and talking to the friendly ladies of the quilting group. Later, we returned to the ship and had a leisurely meal on our balcony while being treated to a lovely view of Nassau.



A view from our balcony stateroom.

Our second port-of-call was St. Thomas. Craig and I had visited there several years previously when we were heading to a resort on the island of St. John. St. Thomas is lovely. We rode the aerial tram up to Paradise Point, where we had lunch with some friends while enjoying the beautiful view from atop the peak. Later, we wandered around the shops for a bit and then returned early to the ship.


That huge ship? Yes, it's the Allure of the Seas.

I was thrilled at the prospect of visiting St. Martin, because the island is half Dutch and half French. I was looking forward to spending some time in Marigot, on the French side. I had heard that it was a charming place filled with cute little shops and cafes; a little taste of France in the tropics. After a long, slow, taxi ride with 12 other people, crammed into a van with no air conditioning, we arrived in Marigot to discover that it was really just another big shopping extravaganza, which is what I now perceive most cruise ports to be. It seemed that most of the other passengers from the ships were delighted by the prospect of yet another jewelry store, clothing boutique, or souvenir shop, even though they were identical to those in our previous ports-of-call. My husband and I wanted to explore. We wanted to visit a museum or a cultural icon; learn a bit about the history of the island. After a walk along the waterfront and a glance at the crumbling fort overlooking the throngs of shoppers, we hailed another taxi and made our way back over to the Dutch side of the island. By then, the temperature had climbed to 90 degrees and we were ready for a cold drink. We planted ourselves at a table on the noisy but shady deck of the Sunset Bar and Grill at Maho Beach. There, over drinks and lunch, we were entertained by a very loud band playing a variety of music from reggae to calypso to classic rock and roll. But the highlight of the afternoon was watching the jumbo jets come in low over the beach to land at the adjacent airport. We watched as many beachgoers willingly placed themselves in position directly in the flight path of the huge planes, and were subsequently tumbled into the water by the force of the blast from the jet engines. It was really quite comical to watch, though we had no intention of playing that game ourselves.


Plane-watching on the beach at St. Martin.

After our ship departed St. Martin, we had a couple of days at sea while we returned to Ft. Lauderdale. We kept ourselves busy on board by participating in several activities, attending the wonderful shows, and we also gave ourselves plenty of time to just relax. The cruise was an enlightening experience, and as I mentioned earlier, I am very glad that I went. However, Craig and I prefer the freedom of not being tied to any schedule, and not being surrounded by so many people. We enjoy exploring, dining at unique restaurants, and wandering through museums. We like to become acquainted with the town or village in which we are staying. We like to remain several days or more at one location so that we can really get to know the area and its history.

Now we are looking forward to our upcoming trip to France. Since Craig is unable to get away from work for very long, I will be flying out ahead of him and will stay with Darcy and Mathieu for about a week. When Craig arrives, he and I will check in to the Jackotel, which is near Darcy and Mathieu's apartment.  After a few days in Orleans, we will travel to the beautiful town of Annecy. We will be able to take a day trip or two into Switzerland, which is a country we have always wanted to visit. I'm counting the days!