Thursday, November 19, 2015

I Stand With Paris

The terror and images of Friday, November 13, 2015 are etched in my mind. It has taken days for me to come to grips with it enough to be able to write a few words. I am so grateful that Darcy is safe. I am thankful that Mathieu and his family are all safe, too. I am relieved that the many friends and acquaintances I know in France are also safe and accounted for. My heart hurts over the horrible loss of life in Paris, and indeed in other parts of the world. Though I am filled with sadness, my heart swells with love and admiration for the French. Their resilience and spirit is astonishing. They will not allow acts of barbarism and terror to destroy their love of life. I will be returning to France in the spring, where I will join in the everyday celebration of life in one of the most magnificent places on earth. I could write a long post detailing my feelings and thoughts on the world situation, but instead, I choose to fill this page with some of my favorite photos of Paris. Vive la France!

Monday, October 19, 2015

My Favorite Season

Today finds us back in the present. It's a lovely October day, sunny with a cool breeze. This morning, as is my habit, I went for a walk through the park near my home. The leaves are beginning to change. Squirrels are everywhere, gathering nuts for the winter.

Craig and I have recently been informed of an upcoming company trip we will be making in January. We will be spending over a week in the Caribbean, which will include two days in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and a week on the island of St. Martin. We will certainly have something to look forward to this winter! And then, of course, in April we will will once again be setting off for France.

At long last, we have finished the home renovations! It's such a relief! We have a small project left which will barely take a weekend to complete. We will be removing carpet from the stairway and replacing it with something else. It sure feels good to be able to relax a bit! We have been up to Kansas City to see family, and had a delightful time. It seems that as soon as school begins, there are many festivals, school events, and other activities. Before we have a chance to turn around twice, Darcy will be here for Christmas! We're disappointed that Mathieu will not be able to accompany her.

Craig and I with grandson Max at a scarecrow festival.

Last weekend was our local Fall Festival. It was a fun time for all of us as we indulged in fair food and carnival rides. We enjoyed a bit of browsing and shopping in the many craft booths there. The weather was lovely throughout the festival, which is unusual. Now, it's time to visit the pumpkin patch!

This is how granddaughter Janey kept her pumpkin safe
on the ride home last year.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Two Tired Travelers

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: May 2, 2015

I hadn't slept well, knowing that we had to be up early to say goodbye to our daughter. Before long, both Craig and I were dressed and ready to zip up our suitcases. There was a light tap at the door, which Craig opened to reveal a sleepy and smiling Darcy and Mathieu who were carrying cups of steaming coffee. That was such a sweet and thoughtful gesture! We sipped the hot brew gratefully and chatted a bit before heading out toward the elevator. The morning weather was very cool and still a bit damp, so we waited in the hotel lobby for our cab. Darcy and Mathieu had plans in Paris for the day, and did not yet need to check out of the hotel. 

When the taxi pulled up, we trundled our cases out and tried to hold back the tears as we exchanged hugs and kisses. We knew it would be almost nine months before we would again see Darcy and Mathieu. The Christmas holiday seemed a long way off. As usual, I was very quiet on the way to the airport. I was still trying not to cry while staring out the window at the receding sights of Paris.

The airport was, as always, teeming with tourists and taxis. There is often a bit of confusion about which line to stand in, but we soon had everything sorted out and made our way upstairs to await our flight. We were fortunate to find a small table and chairs near a little coffee kiosk. We nibbled one last pastry with our espresso as we talked about all the wonderful experiences we had enjoyed on our trip. 

The flight was long and uneventful, except for the inconsiderate seatmate to my left. She intruded constantly into my space, allowing her personal items to migrate toward my feet. She took up the entire armrest, often covering it with a pillow, which made it very difficult for me to use the buttons on the armrest. She repeatedly jabbed me with her elbow, and not once did she apologize or even acknowledge it. At lunchtime, the woman knocked her salad off onto my foot. I was very glad the lid remained in place! 

Our layover in Chicago was extremely long - six hours! Craig and Darcy had split the cost of a day pass to the Admiral's club, or whatever it was called. It was a treat to relax in quiet, comfortable surroundings. I felt as if I could have taken a nap! There was plenty of complimentary food and drink, in addition to a bar area. We read our books, watched the Kentucky Derby, and played a couple of games. At last, our flight was called and we knew we would soon be home.

We arrived in Wichita, exhausted, at around 8 PM. Craig took a photo of me in the airport. Our new terminal would be due to open very soon, and we knew we would never be in this one again. We said a fond farewell to the old terminal. It had served us well.

A very tired traveler.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Paris When it Rains

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: May 1, 2015

A light drizzle was falling when I awoke.  As I gazed out onto the square, the dreary greyness seemed to reflect my emotions. I was sad to be leaving Orléans once again. I shook the feeling off with a reminder that I had just experienced a fantastic vacation in Europe with some of my favorite people. Each day had been filled with smiles, laughter, and adventure. Even the smallest things had given me pleasure, happiness, and memories to last a lifetime. I stuffed a few remaining items into my suitcase and then joined Darcy, Mathieu, and Craig for coffee. 

May 1 is labor day in France, which meant that many businesses and services were closed, including the tram. We had ordered a taxi to take us across town to the train station. Darcy and Mathieu were going to accompany us to Paris so that we could all enjoy one more day together. As they prepared to leave, I paused to give Azur a treat. I shook the bag of cat goodies and he ran up to me. As I watched him devour the treat, I heard meowing and chuckled while saying, "You really love those things don't you? I will bring you some more next time.". I then realized that the meowing was not coming from Azur, but from a cat on the other side of the heavy wooden door! We opened the door to discover her on the landing. The little stub-tailed feline was loudly demanding a share of Azur's tasty "foreign" food. We could not resist. After all, she had come all the way up the stairs. How she had heard the sound of those treats shaking inside the bag, I will never know. 

The friendly neighborhood kitty.

Before long, the taxi arrived. As we rolled through the streets of Orléans, I savored every glimpse of the old avenues and beautiful stone buildings. At the station, we bought more coffee and a few pastries to eat while waiting for the train. I reached into my bag for my camera, wanting to take a picture of Darcy and Mathieu as they huddled together upon the stone bench near the platform. It wasn't there. I searched every pocket of my purse but was unable to find my camera. OR MY PHONE!! I suddenly recalled that I had left those items on chargers back at the house. Darcy offered to run home for them, or to rent a bike to zip across Orléans. She was certain she could make it there and back before our train was due. But no, I was too afraid that she might slip on wet cobblestones. I would just have to live without them for a while until they could be shipped back to America. 

After an uneventful train ride, we were greeted in Paris by light rain and a chill breeze. We checked into the hotel and relaxed for a while in our rooms before going out for lunch. We had all agreed that pizza sounded good, but were soon dismayed to learn that many of the restaurants were closed on this national holiday. After sloshing up and down the streets surrounding our hotel, we came almost full circle to a warm, inviting brasserie just steps from the hotel. No pizza was served there, but by then we had ceased to care. 

I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant so that I could share it. It was a nice place, with attractive decor and attentive, polite, wait staff. (And one of the cleanest bathrooms I had ever seen in France!) The food was plentiful and tasty. The bread was some of the most delicious any of us had ever eaten. Our waiter refilled the bread basket several times, as we just couldn't seem to get enough! I enjoyed my shepherd's pie. It was the perfect comfort food on this cold, rainy day. 

The view from our hotel room in Paris.
We were at the Ibis Tour Eiffel Cambronne.

And then - what to do on a rainy day in Paris when museums and shops are closed? The four of us gathered in our hotel room and began scrolling through our ipads and phones in search of an indoor activity. Mathieu made phone calls to a few places that seemed promising. At last, one of us found that the museum of chocolate was indeed open! It took some effort to get there - twelve stops on the Metro, a transfer, and another five stops - but it was worth it. The Musée Gourmand du Chocolat is a little gem. We learned many fascinating facts about the discovery and uses of chocolate over the centuries. There were wonderful displays of ancient artifacts for making chocolate, and delicate china cups from which royalty sipped their frothy cocoa.  And at the very end, we watched a presentation which demonstrated how chocolate is tempered, molded, etc. As we filed out toward their unique gift shop, we were invited to help ourselves to samples of several different candies, including a rare and exquisite chocolate that had an earthy, delicious flavor. The museum is worth a visit for adults and children, if you can tear yourselves away from the more well-known sights of Paris.

The Paris Metro.

Lots of stairs at the Metro stop.

On our previous trips to France, we had always ended our vacation with a visit to the Eiffel Tower. It's our way of bidding adieu to France, to Darcy and Mathieu, and to all the people and places that have made our time there so very pleasant and memorable. That night was an exception. The weather had become even more damp and blustery until the idea of a trek in the cold and wet was just too much, even for a last view of the Iron Lady. Instead, the four of us found ourselves in a cozy Italian restaurant where we had a delightful meal. That was followed by a lively game of Scattergories in the warmth and comfort of the hotel. It was a perfectly wonderful way to end the evening.

Darcy enjoyed veal picatta on our last night in Paris.

Ah, we finally found some pizza!

TRAVEL TIP: It is a good idea to make yourself aware of any holidays which occur in the country you are planning to visit. You can then make your plans based upon the availability of public transportation, services, restaurants, museums, and other attractions. Bon voyage!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Our Last Day in Orléans. For Now.

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 30, 2015

It was a cool, grey morning, just perfect for sleeping late. We listened to the soft sounds of jazz as we woke up over coffee and eclairs and began to plan our day. The four of us decided to walk over to CarreFour together. We had many items to purchase for the barbecue we were planning that evening. I also picked out a few little things to take home. As we left the market, a light, chilly rain began to fall.

Mmm, coffee eclairs!

We cleaned house a bit, and also prepared some of the food for the evening meal. At lunchtime, Darcy decided to make something special. It was a fabulous cheese fondue. Darcy had brought out her rectangular slates and placed attractive little heaps of bread, apples, ham, and vegetables upon them. It was a delicious meal. The piping hot cheese dish was perfect on that rainy day.

Ready for dipping into the cheese fondue.

The fondue was a special treat.

Soon, Mathieu had to leave for work. The rest of us had planned to meet some of Darcy's students, who were joining us for coffee to practice their English. We gathered at the cathedral, and then walked across to Lutece, where we sat inside, out of the rain, and ordered coffee and hot chocolate. Only two students had showed up, but we all had a very nice time chatting. The minutes flew by, and before we knew it, two hours had passed!

It was time to prepare for the barbecue. Craig and I were looking forward to seeing Muriel and Thierry again. I sliced and lightly sugared a big bowl of fresh strawberries. Darcy prepared a broccoli-raisin salad, which is always a surprising dish to French people. They simply don't eat raw cauliflower or broccoli. Then, my daughter and I prepared the beef patties by adding crushed, fried onions and a couple of tablespoons of catsup to the meat. Because it was still raining, we knew we would have to cook the hamburgers inside. It was hard to complain about the weather. Every day had been nearly perfect until then. Into each life a little rain must fall, right? We arranged little dishes of munchies on the table for apero. We had several flavors of tiny, soft cheeses, along with dry sausage, a hard cheese flavored with toasted cumin seeds, and some chips and dip. The dip was made from a mix that Darcy had brought from America. Chip dip is another thing the French aren't really familiar with.

After Mathieu's parents arrived, Darcy took orders for cocktails. Muriel, Thierry, and I had amaretto sours, Craig tried a gin fizz, Mathieu a kir, and Daryi enjoyed a bramble. Darcy is a great bartender - the drinks were wonderful. The meal was a hit, too. The juicy burgers topped with a slice of cumin cheese, served on brioche buns were delicious, as were the Toulose sausages and the salad. Muriel and Thierry had brought a couple of bottles of Vouvray to accompany the meal, and we also enjoyed the bottle of wine I had purchased in Sancerre. For dessert, we split open some golden madeleine cakes and topped them with the sliced strawberries and whipped cream. They were wonderful! 

That was such a fun evening with which to end our visit to Orléans. The next day, we would be heading back to Paris. 

A neighborhood cat on the rooftop in Orléans.

Monday, August 17, 2015

More Time in Tours

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 29, 2015

We were having such a fun day in Tours, France! The Segway tour (the machines are called gyropodes in France) was certainly a highlight. When we had finished the tour, Darcy contacted her friend and colleague, Erica, who lives in Tours, to ask if she could join us at Place Plumereau. It was good to see Erica again, and it was so nice that Craig could at last make her acquaintance. We met at an ice cream shop and all enjoyed a dish or cone of some creamy gelato as we talked. The afternoon began to grow chilly, so we followed our gelato with coffee at the French Coffee Shop just off Place Plume. The shop was cozy and comfortable.

Darcy and Erica in Tours, France.

Remnants of the ancient St. Martin's Basilica
 in Tours, dating from the 400s.

Specialty drinks at the French Coffee Shop
 in Tours, France.

We all wandered around town together. Craig wanted to see the interior of Saint Gatien's Cathedral, so we went inside the beautiful structure. We toured it slowly and talked in whispers, not wanting to disturb the reverent silence. Soon, that silence was broken by a few tones from the beautiful pipe organ. The great instrument was being tuned! We could see a massive scaffold alongside it and rightly assumed it was there for maintenance and tuning. As we drew closer, we were treated to a lovely impromptu concert. It was an unexpected gift we all enjoyed.

St. Gatien's Cathedral in Tours, France,
built between 1170 and 1547.

The beautiful pipe organ at St. Gatien's.

Erica and I, gazing up at the cathedral in Tours.

We later made our way over to Les Halles, the large, covered market in Tours. It was fun to browse there and I purchased a jar of pork rillettes to take home. We stopped at a little cheese market, where Craig bought some "pocket cheese". That had become a family joke after one of our previous vacations in France during which Craig startled Mathieu by pulling a hunk of cheese out of his jacket pocket and munching on it as we walked around Orléans.

A cheese shop in Tours, France.

After a while, we went into a very uniquely decorated bar for drinks. Simon, who is Erica's significant other, was able to join us there. We sat in a cute little circular room and had a nice visit along with our drinks. We had hoped that Erica and Simon could join us for dinner, but it didn't work out. 

Dinner that evening was at the restaurant, Leonard da Vinci, where I had dined with Darcy and Mathieu in 2014. Darcy was very happy to be sharing one of her favorite restaurants with her dad. It turned out to be quite an experience, and not exactly what we had expected. We were seated on the upper level again, which is made up of two or three very cozy and nicely decorated rooms. There was a group of American tourists in the adjacent room. A tour group. The were obviously well into their cups and were talking loudly and boisterously. And then, they began to sing! Their tour guide and song-leader was apparently a well-known songwriter in France. They sang the hokiest of old American tunes, one after another. Darcy was mortified. She had wanted the evening to be perfect. We did the only thing we could do; we just laughed it off. In fact, at times we were laughing uncontrollably. Darcy even apologized to the waitress for the rowdy Americans. She responded in a somewhat resigned tone, saying that it occurs regularly in that restaurant. The food was good, though, as always. Craig, Mathieu, and Darcy ordered the pasta prepared with truffle cream, seared foie gras, and Italian ham, while I tried a new dish of pasta shells stuffed with seasoned veal. It was a delightful meal and I enjoyed being there with my family, making memories. 

Dinner at Leonard da Vinci restaurant in Tours, France.
With Craig, Darcy and Mathieu.

Delicious veal-stuffed shells.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Tour of Tours on Segway

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 29, 2015

Poor Craig was on vacation but didn't get to sleep in! He was a very good sport about it, though. That day, we awoke at 7:00, drank our coffee, and then popped into our neighborhood bakery for eclairs and chouquettes to munch in the car on the way to Tours. In France, it is very rare for people to eat in cars. There are almost no drive-thru restaurants. Food is meant to be savored and enjoyed, which is difficult to do while navigating a busy highway.

Mathieu was driving, which was a change for us, as we usually take the train. The view from the road was a whole different perspective. Since the car sat much lower than a train, there wasn't much to see. The scenery consisted mostly of field after field of the bright yellow colza. At one point, it looked like a brilliant yellow river as it curved along between stands of trees. I was surprised at how expensive the toll road was. Twelve euros one-way seemed a bit pricey! But it was a good road that was obviously well maintained.

Mathieu parked at the Tours train station, which had a very large underground parking garage. I got out of the car and waited near the fountain while everyone else negotiated the car park. I have a phobia of parking garages which is so bad that I once jumped out of a moving vehicle in a Chicago parking garage!  

The train station in Tours. My photo from 2014.
Walking toward the center of town, we came upon the huge outdoor market which was in full swing. We walked through, enjoying each enormous section. The colorful flower market booths were very busy with shoppers buying flowers, herbs, and bedding plants. The scent was wonderful! We came upon the clothing market, where I could have browsed for an hour or two. There were scarves, shoes, belts, and purses, in addition to just about any article of attire you could want. We continued on through the food market, the book stalls, and at the end discovered a flea market. We stopped to look at some bookends that Darcy was interested in and she got a good price on them when we also purchased a wooden cat figurine. Craig and I had somehow fallen into the tradition of purchasing some sort of cat themed item on each trip to France. 

The outdoor market in Tours, France.

Lots of beautiful flowers!

As we continued on toward the heart of Tours, Craig was enjoying his first look at the town he had heard so much about after I had visited last year. I even showed him the place along the tram line where I had fallen and injured my foot. Place Plumereau was becoming crowded with tourists as lunchtime approached. It was a lovely, sunny day, though cool, and many tables were already surrounded by people drinking coffee and chatting. We realized that we were going to have to grab a quick lunch if we were going to be on time for our upcoming Segway tour. We found a tiny kebab shop on a side street and ordered sandwiches and fries. The sandwiches were huge! Darcy and I could have shared one, for neither of us was able to finish. Mathieu had an interesting soft drink with his meal. It was a mojito-flavored 7up. I had never seen that flavor before. I hope it will be offered in America, because I tasted it and it was very refreshing.

A lovely street in Tours, France.

City hall in Tours, France.

Myself, Darcy, and Mathieu
 at Place Plumereau, Tours.

Soon, we were on our way to meet our Segway tour guide, David. Craig and I were pleased to discover that he spoke English quite well. He was easygoing and fun. It didn't take David long to realize that we had been truthful when we told him that we were experienced Segway riders. In no time, we were on our way! David led us on a tour of Tours which lasted an hour and a half and was absolutely amazing. I never stopped smiling! We traveled first along the Loire, past the university, and came to a point of the pathway where the walkway was very "steepy", as David would say. He told us that this would be a good place to see how fast we could go on the Segway and to experience how the machine will push back at you if you have maxed out. It is a self-limiting feature. David told me to go first, so I took off, enjoying the speed and grinning from ear to ear. I was expecting everyone else to follow and when I reached the bottom of the long incline, I turned and discovered that I was alone. I waited a few moments, as the trail was curved and I couldn't see the whole length of it. Soon, along came two people on bicycles, but no one else. I became concerned that there had been an accident, so I headed back the way I had come. Before long, there were my companions. It seemed that I had misunderstood David and was only supposed to have gone a short way. David told everyone else to wait, saying that I would soon notice I was all alone. 

Our Segway tour guide, David,
helps Craig adjust his helmet.
A Segway tour along the Loire in France.

David then guided us through the city streets, along shopfronts and then on to a bike/pedestrian bridge which took us to a lovely tree-shaded park on an island in the Loire. All along the way, we were treated to beautiful views of the river and the town. At one point, David curved suddenly into a u-turn behind a hedge and said, "let's hide!" Mathieu and I were a bit slow to hide completely, but David popped out and yelled "boo!" at Darcy and Craig and then burst out laughing. He was just so adorable and fun that we had to laugh, too. We went on through the park, which was very pretty, and then David led us down a narrow alley. The old houses there seemed a bit run down, but the wisteria blooming everywhere gave the area a charming look.

 le Château de Tours

We crossed another bridge, which took us back toward the center of town. David led us through the busy market, where we received many stares, comments, and questions. Segway tours are new to the area, so we created quite a sensation. It was fun weaving in and out of the market and through the crowds to Place Plumereau. We felt like celebrities as everyone stared, pointed, and photographed us. We also went to the train station, which was very busy outside. A train had just arrived and there were passengers towing their luggage along the walks. At a crosswalk one man, whom I was trying carefully to avoid, looked me straight in the eye with an angry glare and then purposely moved over just enough to clip one of my wheels with his suitcase. It could have tipped my Segway, but Darcy, who was directly behind me, said he got the worst of it when my wheel flipped his suitcase over!

Our tour was nearly over, but David guided us past the the beautiful St. Gatien's cathedral, where we paused to take some photos. We then stopped to view the 200-year-old cedar of Lebanon (the cat was still there!) and stretch our legs for a bit. We then headed back to our starting point. We had such fun on that tour! We gave David a large tip, which he tried to refuse, but he really deserved it.  He was a great guide and aside from being fun, he was knowledgeable and gave us interesting information along the way. 

Saint Gatien's Cathedral in Tours, France.
A 200-year-old Cedar of Lebanon
 in Tours, France.
Mathieu and Darcy taking a break.
If you visit France, you must try a Segway tour, if at all possible. It is tremendous fun and very easy to learn! The company we used was Freemove, which offers tours in Amboise, Tours, and Blois.

Look, ma, no hands! The Segway tour was such fun.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Long Travel Day

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 28, 2015

We had a very long travel day, making our way back to France. We all grabbed a hot drink in the hotel breakfast room before trundling our luggage along to the bus station. We had decided to take this alternate form of transportation for a couple of reasons. One, it would give us different views and perspective to be on the highway, and two, riding the bus would save the four of us a total of £100. It would mean adding one additional hour of travel time, which we felt would be worth it.

Near the bus station in Bath, Darcy and Mathieu discovered a Krispy Kreme donut shop! They walked over and picked up a dozen assorted donuts while Craig and I waited at the bus terminal. That was a tasty treat for all of us, but especially for Darcy and Mathieu, who had not had Krispy Kreme for a couple of years, at least. My favorite was the speculoos-filled donut. 

A shopping arcade in Bath.
Farewell, Bath! It's been fun.

The bus turned out to be very nice, more like a charter bus would be in America. It had tinted windows and plush, high-backed seats. I enjoyed looking out at the lovely English countryside, though it wasn't long before we were driving through the outskirts of London. After we arrived at the terminal, we walked through Paddington Station and took the Tube to St. Pancras where we soon boarded the Eurostar. Craig was quite impressed with the high-speed train and the idea that we were just a short ride away from Paris. On the train, we had seats that faced each other, with a table between us, which made it much more comfortable to read, snack, or play a game.

At Paddington Station in London.

The London Underground, aka The Tube.

Before we knew it, we had arrived at Gare du Nord, where we piled into a taxi for the ride across Paris to Gare d'Austerlitz. The train to Orléans wasn't crowded and it was a quiet, pleasant ride. At the station, we transferred to a tram for the trip across town to Darcy and Mathieu's home. At that point, we had been travelling for 15 hours and were more than ready for a bite to eat. We deposited our luggage inside the door and walked back across the bridge to Oh, Terroir where we had a delightful meal. We all somehow decided on the same dish, which was the delicious ham in Dijon sauce, served over spelt. Oh, Terroir is one of the only restaurants around here which allows free refills on drinks. We enjoyed the sparkling lemonade and the strawberry/blackberry drink. 

We're back!

When we returned to the house, Craig got the full tour of the new digs. He was impressed with the layout and with the way Darcy and Mathieu had decorated their home. We chatted for a while, and then went to bed exhausted. But it had certainly been a fun trip!