Category Archives: Travel

Retrovalogue: France and Italy

Retro Travelogue from 2004 trip to France and Italy full of broken links and missing pix. Embarrassing jokes, juvenile observations, outdated references, and ridiculous quotes retained for posterity’s sake.

9/14/04

I was flying into Chicago at night
Watching the lake turn the sky into blue-green smoke
The sun was setting to the left of the plane
And the cabin was filled with an unearthly glow
In 27-D, I was behind the wing
Watching landscape roll out
Like credits on a screen
The earth looked like it was lit from within
Like a poorly assembled electrical ball as we moved
Out of the farmlands into the grid
The plan of the city was all that you saw
And all of these people sitting totally still
As the ground raced beneath them thirty thousand feet down

Well, replace “Chicago” with “Paris” and you’ve got the beginnings of the Honeymoon Hullabaloo (not to be confused with a Brouhaha, HB). I would love to write up a full-blown travelogue of the three weeks we spent in Europe, but I have neither the time nor the creativity to do so. Instead, I’ll offer you bite-sized reports. Well, make that nibble-sized. Mouse-nibbles at that.

So. We arrived in Paris on a Monday and in order to stay awake and adjust to our new time zone, we spent the day promenading around the Saint Germain neighborhood on the left bank of the Seine River, staggering around the grounds of Notre Dame Cathedral, and limping to have a sushi dinner at Orient Extreme (the “Extreme” stands for “extremely high prices”). The rest of the evening was a blur but I have some hazy recollection of chowing down on some decadently rich Berthillon ice cream (undisputed champ of the best ice cream in Paris) before passing out. This is the view from our room:

[remind me to find that pix]

9/15 Nibblet: Jardin du Luxembourg is so much prettier in the fresh, lush late summer than it is in the chilly, dormant late winter. The spiky, purple-topped artichokes, the rows of straight and strong chestnut trees (which we don’t have in the US), the anemones, the dahlias, the . . . uh . . . something or other pretty flowers! KA-BLOOM!

[pix]

And the prize for the best deep, dark, rich, hot chocolate in Paris at a reasonable price goes to (drumroll, please) Cacao et Chocolate! Sorry, Cafe de Flore; I love ya, but my wallet does not. I mean, seriously. Who pays $10 for a hot chocolate? In other news, anyone else hear Bush say “internets” last night? That guy . . .

Nibblet 9/16:

These boots were made for walkin’
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.
(“you” being the streets of Paris)

After a shot of caffeine (cafe con creme) and bite of pan con chocolate (where a thin layer of chocolate was painted on top of the pastry; LAME), we headed up to Montmartre (pronounced “Moan-mart” and no wonder after we hiked up the eleventy-hundred steps leading to Basilica de Sacre Coeur) the highest point in Paris. We could have taken the funicular up the steep hill, but where’s the pain in that? Here’s a pix I took of the Basilica when we reached the top and I cleverly covered up the extreme need to catch my breath and rest my aching legs by insisting on stopping, focusing the camera, fiddling around with the buttons, and taking a picture.

We walked from a house of God to a house of sin: the infamous (“infamous is when you’re more than famous!”) Moulin Rouge. We walked from there to the house of the dead: the rather serene cemetery of Montmartre (“A dreaded sunny day, So I meet you at the cemetery gates”). Upon our return to the Left Bank, we walked from Saint Germain to the Pantheon in the Latin Quarter and then to a house of God again: the Paris Mosque and its lovely courtyard. We walked to the Jardin des Plantes for some more ka-BLOOM action, walked along the Seine (number of dead cats along the way: one. number of injured old men in a bike accident: one. number of stunning cathedrals: one.), and finally, to collect some mezze to eat at home, walked to Au Bon Marche (the city’s largest food market; at 2,700 square meters, you can imagine the time it took to find the hummus). Whole lotta walkin’ that day. My poor Abibbas will never be the same.

In other news, how is it that finally getting poor, busticated Cressie washed (Ultimate Deluxe Wash, that is) makes me think that she goes faster now?

9/17 Nibblet: Centre Pompidou looks like a huge hamster cage turned inside out. Here is someone else’s pix of this wacky complex. Marais has a tiny shop that sells the self-proclaimed “best falafel in the world” (although it could have stood a little more tahini, IMHO). Cafe viennois and crepes at bustling Bastille where the huge column not only commemorates the storming of the prison and the end of the monarchy but also TP’s and Najm’s birthday. Les Halles was once a thriving marketplace for 700 years but has been replaced by shabby 1970s mall-type stores. The only cool thing in that area now is this guy, “The Listener”:
[pix]

Dinner was had at the restaurant “Paris” at Hotel Lutetia where, during WWII, the Nazis camped out to enjoy the art deco and posh surroundings and where, during the height of dinner-time, our hosts’ three-year old, strong-willed, strong-legged boy ran roughshod over said surroundings. Note to self: do not feed children multiple scoops of chocolate ice-cream at 10 o’clock at night. In other news, apparently I have become the proud new owner of a machete.

Live: 9.17.2004 bon jour, mon petite bloggeuers! i’m attempting to write on an incredibly busticated, teeny tiny (isn’t every thing in france?) sony vaio right now whilst balancing the laptop on my knees and sitting on a balcony that overlooks saint germain and a buncha parisians smokin’ they ciggies, tossin’ back they cafe cremes, and not scoopin’ up after they puppies’ poops. all’s well here. great weather, great walking tours, and great location. off to italy tomorrow! miss youze guyz!!!

Madame Baji
directly above the metro mabillon
saint germain, paris

9/18 Nibblet: We flew from Paris to Naples on some no-name airline (ok, fine, it had a name, but you had to ask the crew for permission to use your portable device: “Can I use my Rio?” “No.”) and after spotting our driver (hint: he held a big, white sign with our names emblazoned on it), we zipped in and out of the crazy Napoli traffic (LB! I saw a Fiat Panda!), arrived in Sorrento, and checked into our no-name hotel (ok, fine, it had a name, but it was located directly on the busy highway on the cusp of town; this meant that despite the beautiful view it afforded of the coastline and Mt. Vesuvius, we had to risk our lives every time we stepped out onto the World’s Narrowest Sidewalk).

Eager to sample some of the famous Napoli pizza, we stopped at what we thought was the main square to eat at the first restaurant we saw : “Restaurant Number Two”. Worst. Pizza. Ever. Pasty, doughy, limp . . . how can this be? Upon further investigation (i.e. 2 minute walk away) we found the proper Piazza Tasso which was packed with much better restaurants, excellent people-watching perches, and Brits as far as the eye could see (in fact, we heard more people speaking English than we did Italian). We consoled ourselves on our bad lunch with gelato (pistachio gets a B; watermelon gets a B-) and returned to the hotel and tried to take a nap (where the pillows made out of either (1) wadded up towels jammed into thin cases or (2) a huge brick of foam). In the evening, we flirted with death and returned to the Piazza where we were rewarded for our bravery with dinner at Donna Vittoria, an excellent restaurant (good service, delicious meals, inexpensive bill, and the waiter will behead and fillet your fish for you). We celebrated our reversal of culinary fortune with some more gelato (strawberry gets an A; chocolate gets an A+). On our walk along the coast of the Bay of Naples, TP was overwhelmed by the beauty of the cliffs and the sea and was subsequently inspired to eat his third helping of two scoops ™ of gelato (sicilliana gets an A; egg nog gets a D).

In other news, TP and I were browsing around for a new bed (futon days are nearly over) and whilst doing some research, I came across this article. Anyone wanna drop $20,000 for a comfy night’s rest? And, in yet other news, today LB and I met Yasmine’s and PPP’s friend today!

 

9/19 Nibblet: Woke up early thanks to an insane rooster who could not tell time. Tried to get TP’s hair cut (he was sporting some molto bushy noggins) but the barbershops were closed on Sundays. Learned the difference between an Italian’s version of cafe latte (“white coffee” because it’s basically milk with just a teaspoon of coffee) and cafe con panna (espresso topped with whipped cream), both of which are preferable over the hotel’s caffe orzo (a coffee substitute made with barley and tasting of burnt towels). Many, many more choices. Can’t go wrong with cappuccino though:

Got a Fodor’s guide (lame), two mosquito bites (drat), and dinner at the marina with accompanying festivities, frolicking, and fireworks (holiday). Gelato report card:
vanilla cherry, C-
coconut, B
profumi di sorrento (citrusy), A
vanilla, B
plays well with others. listens carefully. completes homework assignments.

In other news, Ramadan Mubarak, y’all!

 

 

9/20 Nibblet: During breakfast, I swear I think I saw one of the 200 Brits staying at the hotel butter their ham and dunk it into their burnt tea. We spent the morning traversing Sorrento and hanging out at the marina where all of the ships were docked. We picked our way down a steep, stone staircase to watch the Mediterranean blue waters lapping at the sides of the ferries, hydrofoils, and sailboats bobbing at the port: loverly.

After chillaxing by the pool for a few hours, we caught the Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii. Our timing was perfect because by late afternoon, the tourists had disappeared and the slanting sun gave everything a warm glow (I believe photographers call it “sweet light”).

Considering the city was devastated by earthquakes, a tsunami, and exploding Mt. Vesuvius’ whose lava buried the city and whose cloud of ash blocked out the sun, the Forum, the villas, the uh thing with the things, the gargoyles, and the tiles were incredibly well-preserved and restored. To learn more, clickety click right hyah. TP even made a couple of friends, one of whom was thoughtful enough to demonstrate how the ancient residents died of carbon dioxide asphyxiation. For more gruesome pix, check it. We gave ourselves a self-guided tour of the grounds, pointing out the fig trees, trying not to trip over the ruts in the cobbled streets, and contemplating what the frescos were attempting to depict. If we had had more time, we would liked to have visited Herculaneum (the lesser-known but equally destroyed neighbor; kinda like Brian) but the trip to Pompeii was very edutaining.

We had dinner at Il Lanterna which, besides the refreshing insalata caprese with ripe tomatoes and fresh basil, creamy risotto with perfectly cooked asparagus tips, and hearty, belly-warming gnocchi ala Sorrento (sorry, fellow fasters), boasts original Roman mosaics illuminated under the floor on the way to the self-cleaning, self-flushing toilets. A leisurely stroll along the calm streets (traffic was mild on this Monday night) was followed by . . . you guessed it.

Gelato report:
Peach, A+
Cannoli, A-
Walnut, B
Fig, A
Zuppa de Ingles, A- but with some extra credit homework, a potential A.

In other news, for you South Park fans, the Motion Picture Association of America has given Team America: World Police an R rating. Yeah, that movie with the puppets. Rated R.

 

9/21 Nibblet: By now, we were used to the slamming doors (7:00 a.m. so as not to miss the free breakfast), the cannon explosions (8:30 a.m. sharp, again at noon, and once more for good measure at 8:30 p.m.), and the insane rooster (5:00 a.m. until he darn well pleases). After a decent breakfast at Fauno’s at Piazza Tasso, we wandered down to the docks on the off chance that we could catch a hydrofoil (like a ferry but faster) to Capri. Success! Make that expensive success. 19 euros and 30 minutes later, we arrived on the shores of Capri. Luckily, our captain was not seduced by the Sirens who hung out and rocked their tunes thereabouts. But the sheer, white cliffs, the deep, mesmerizing waters, and the warm, drugging weather were enough to lull anyone into a dreamy, beatific state.

Our first pit stop was at the restrooms near the docks where a grizzled old woman with yellowing white hair clipped her dog’s toenails with one hand and snatched up 50 cents each with the other. I suppose it was worth it since this place at least had tissues whereas the Pompeii PeePee Facilities did not. We spent a fair amount of time thereafter waiting for the bus at the Marina, taking the bus up the incredibly precarious, hairpin turns up the mountain to touristy Anacapri, and waiting for another bus (whose fearless driver shrugged off ear-piercing shrieks when his bus scraped another bus taking the same curve) to the Blue Grotto. With limited time on the island, we chose lunch over seeing the famed blue waters of the Grotto. I will spare you the mouth-watering description of my meal, but I will share with you my own personal shock and awe when I got the bill: 44 Euros! Oh, my poor poor wallet.

Back at Piazza Vittoria, we poked around the villa before we decided to work off our decadent lunch by hiking down Scala Fenicia: the “Phoenician Stairway” that is cut into the rocks and connects Anacapri’s Villa San Michele with the Marina Grande far below. Far, far below. Like, 900 steps below (yes, I counted each and every one of them). The walk only took about 20 minutes which means that the stairs (good exercise, some shady and cool spots, and 20 minutes) wins out over the bus (nauseating, jam-packed, and 30 minutes). One caveat: the stairs win for the downhill trip only.

Back in Sorrento, we made up for our extravagant lunch by going grocery shopping and making our own dinner at ‘home’: a little of this and a little of that and we were sated for a mere 6 euros. Gelato report:

Lemon, A+ valedictorian
Tiramisu, C-
Mint, C+ but can make up grade during summer school
Chocolate, I think you know the grade for this one

In other news, apparently I bring harmony to the cosmos, I am popular in the northern parts of China and Taiwan, and you do NOT want to mess with me or I will go Shaolin on your ass. Also, I make one mean veggie lasagna.

 

it has come to my attention (courtesy of myself) that these nibblets are turning into huge, jaw-unhinged, only-an-anaconda-could-swallow bites. so, back to mouse nibblet sizes we go.

9/22 Nibblet: After purchasing our all-day, all-zone, all-modes-of-public-transportation (bus, train, funicular, metro) pass for 6.40 euros, we boarded the “direct” (meaning direct to each and every stop along the way) train to Naples. We arrived in the (rather crummy and run-down) Stazione Garibaldi and made our way through the (usually unmarked) streets until we found the arch-rival “best” pizzarias in Naples. When Trianon’s gates slammed shut in our faces just as we were within a foot of entering it, we spun on our heels and decided to grace the (some say) more popular, less expensive, and equally famous da Michele’s. Although also famed for long lines, da Michele’s at 4:00 p.m. on a September Wednesday was not so crowded that we couldn’t quickly find a seat and be served fresh Vera Pizza D.O.C. rated pizza (of which this 19th century establishment always has and presumably always will offer only two kinds: marinara and margherita. Don’t believe me? Check out the menu).

After lunch, we took the metro to the posh Chiaia district, got turned around no thanks to Fodor’s map (a plague on Fodor’s houses!), and ended up far away from the sea-level “Riviera” but with great aerial views of Naples below.

Train. Donna Vittoria’s. Davide “Il” Gelato (speaking of which, why did no one tell me about this?!?!?!(triple interrobang!)). Report:

Amaretto, B (given by TP although almond-flavored anything (except actual almonds) makes me want to vomit through my nose and so I would have given it an F-)
Chestnut, B
Tutti Frutti, F
Perfumo di Sorrento, A

In other news, I came to realize that I sorely need to update my playlists on my mp3 player as this weekend’s seemingly unending road-trip to and from North Carolina proved. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Le Tigre and my Ramones and my Fugazi (I think I saw one of the guys the other day) HuskerDuSleaterKinneyArchersofLoafYeahYeahYeahsSleaterKinneyLizPhair (classic, not the new stuff)PavementFetchinBonesRadioheadCafeTacubaNinaSimoneCarborundum (sigh) TheSmithsShellacMuleDeerhoofPizzacatoFiveEnonPJHarveyHelium (wish they were still together) WeenFolkImplosionInterpolLiarsDr.DreTheShins, etc. as I ever did. But I gotta get some new tunes. Any suggestions?

 

9/23 Nibblet: Decided to have an adventure and see if we could visit and stay the night in Ravello with no reservation, no notice, and no map. Packed a few things in a small bag and hung out at Bar Tasso while waiting for the tourist office to open so we could book a room for that evening. Boarded the 11:35 a.m. bus at 12:00 p.m. and made our ascent along the tortuously twisty roads up and along the mountain. The coastal view was not only breath-taking, it was also breakfast-taking. Note to TP: do not down four shots of dopio espresso macchiato before venturing on a veritable roller-coaster ride without a plastic bag.

Upon our arrival at Amalfi, where we had to switch to another bus to get to Ravello, we stopped for a light lunch, hiked up to San Andre Dome Amalfi, took some pix of the cathedral that brought to mind the Mezquita (mosque/cathedral) in Cordoba, and hiked back down to the marina. After some confusion and some jostling around, we boarded the bus Italian-style (all elbows and no quarter given) and wove our way up the cloud-piercing mountaintop to Ravello.

When we disembarked at the town’s square, I spotted a bus with the name Hotel Marmorata, Best Western on it; our hotel! I ran up to the driver and asked if there was room for two more people on the already completely filled bus. He shook his head and said, “only one, not two.” I tried negotiating at little more, explaining it had to be two until the woman next to the driver spoke to him, spoke to the passengers, got a vote, and spoke to him again. He nodded his head and let us sit on the edge of the raised platform that separates the driver from the passengers. Backwards. All the way back down the mountain. Turns out we had caught the only shuttle to the hotel (which was actually at the base of Ravello rather than at the top) which was dedicated solely for the comfort of the entire busload of American senior citizens on a package tour of the Amalfi Coast. The elderly tour group applauded us when they heard we were on our honeymoon and then began a game to see which couple in the shuttle had the most years of marital bliss under their belts (45 years was the winner). Lucky we were that we caught this shuttle as it turns out our belief that the hotel would be within walking distance from the square was completely wrong. After a little showdown (our lengthy hotel bus vs. a towering tourist bus both trying to negotiate a tight curve with several cars lined up behind each; we won), we arrived at the hotel. The location and view here was pretty amazing and you could walk down the staircase from the pool directly into the Med. Our balcony opened up to a wonderful view from which we could see the sea churning, crashing, and foaming only a few feet away.

After a dip in the pool and the Med, we washed up and got some recommendations for a nice restaurant in the nearby coastal village of Minori. It was only a 10 minute walk, but we had to share the same skinny highway with buses, motorcycles, and cars with the cliff on one side and sheer drop to the sea on the other. We found a hidden staircase that was a shortcut to the square, hung out and watched the locals promenade up and down the marina, wandered around yet more Roman ruins, and had dinner at Gardinera. Best pastry shop in the entire coastal region hands down: La Pasticceria Salvatore De Riso. I think I had about three cannoli and several scoops of limone gelato that night. A+ all around. No joke, this poem, written by an anonymous 17th century poet, could well have been talking about the kind of cannoli served here.

Beautiful are the Cannoli of Carnevale,
No tastier morsel in the world,
Blessed is the money used to buy them;
Cannoli are the scepters of all Kings.
Women even desist [from pregnancy]
For the cannolo, which is Moses’s Staff,
He who won’t eat them should let himself be killed;
He who doesn’t like them is a cuckold, Olè!

In other news, LB, TP, and I met up with Najm (who gave me a very thoughtful, very slayerific birthday present that combines both of our joys in one book; thanks, maign!) and LR (with whom I am going to be tres nerdy and hit the lib’ary today) for dinner last night. And Cybermom, those aloo prathas are wonderful! Ithna muzidaar!

 live: 9.23.2004 buon giorno, bambino bloggerinos! writing to you from sunny sorrento on the amalfi coast. gorgeous weather, spectacular views, but crappy pizza. naples is where pizza supposedly originated but this is no good. the pizza in rome was much better. you will be happy to hear that we have been enjoying anywhere from two scoops (trademark) to seven scoops of gelato per day. profumo di sorrento gets an A. tutti frutti gets a D. hope you are all well! ciao!

9/24 Nibblet: Woke up to the soothing sounds of the sea lapping at the shores early in the morning (luckily before Bruce “friends call me ‘Slammy'” Slammerson began his morning ritual of testing the strength and integrity of the hotel’s doors). At breakfast, we were warmly greeted by our senior citizen pals from the day before (“Hey! It’s the honeymooners! How ya doin’, honeymooners?”). Seated at the balcony, we watched the waves below continue to get darker and more choppy. Our hopes of taking the friendly ferry rather than the breakneck bus back to Sorrento dimmed and sputtered out as I spotted a black flag upon the water.

We caught the SITA bus back to Amalfi even though the bus was completely full and we ended up spending the next 10 minutes as far in the front of the bus as one could get and still be inside it: me, standing next to the driver and trying not to jostle his elbow as he drove; TP on the steps of the bus trying not to bang his head on the windshield or fall out of the door. We arrived in Amalfi in one piece (yay!) but the inclement weather had stopped all of the ferry travel that day (boo!). Luckily, the combination of front seats, 4 ‘forte’ motion-sickness pills from the farmecia, and no espresso helped make the ride a smooth one.

Savvy locals us, we jumped off at the Piazza rather than the train station and had an excellent lunch at The Garden. Back at Hotel Girasole, the chilly wind bringing in smoke from one of the ubiquitous fires in the hills drove us from the pool and forced us to take a nap inside. In the evening, we spent our wild Friday night touring the grocery store with as much attention to the displays as we would any museum. Later, I prepared a lavish grocery store dinner while TP tweezed out the glochids embedded in his fingers that he got after trying to wash a prickly pear by hand. Ah me. So ended our trip to the Amalfi Coast. Buona Sera, Sorrento; Bon Jour, Paris.

In other news, apparently in honor of Halloween, we spent much of this weekend watching terrifying, nightmare-inducing, disturbing, creepy movies including one romantic comedy with zombies flick (where, during one particularly gruesome scene, two patrons leapt from their seats and ran out of the theater). Plus, holy role-reversal, Batman! I spent yesterday painting the bathroom while TP fixed an amazing dish of Iraqi Lentil Soup with Meatballs. Yum.

 

9/25 Nibblet: Happy Birthday to me! With the chill and rain keeping people indoors, we spent most of the morning watching “Robin Hood” (the good version, not the cheesy version) in Italian but with the dubbers using the same voices and cadences as the original actors.

Sibilo : E voi. Chi ha potuto voi essere, signore?
John Piccolo : Sono sir Reginald, duca di chutney. E non attacchi la vostra linguetta fuori me, capretto.

(Hiss: And you. Who might you be, sir?
Little John: I am Sir Reginald, Duke of Chutney. And don’t stick your tongue out at me, kid.)

When the rain abated, we hit the Snacketeria, meandered through the streets, and sat by the pool soaking up the humidity and heat before our return to Paris. We packed up our belongings and waited for the car to take us to the airport (the driver was late by an hour which, I suppose, in Italian timing, was right on time). At the Naples Airport, we checked in, grabbed a bite to eat, and waited for our plane to arrive. Number of cents extra they charge for ketchup: ten; number of open head-wounds caused from falling on the slippery floor: one; number of people gathered around aforementioned head-wound victim: twenty-five.

Paris was cold and rainy, so we made haste in gathering our luggage, catching the RER back to the city center, and running in between the drops back to the apartment where friends, presents, and chocolate raspberry cake awaited me. *contented sigh*

In other news, only one week left until Election Day. And for the laziest of D.C. voters, we . . . I mean someone can elect to vote “curbside”! Sweet! Check out this insult to chimps everywhere: Ook, ook.

9/26 Nibblet: Back in the land of the croissant, we spent some time doing Sunday morning chores around the house (it’s amazing how many crumbs trail behind a three-year old boy) before we took a walk along the Seine and lingered at the used book stalls. Taking advantage of the Musee d’Orsay’s half-price Sundays, we thoroughly explored the train-station-turned-hotel-turned-museum (psst – that mystery pix in the previous post was the view from the inside of one of the museum’s clocks which, if you get closer to the glass, affords this view). I made a special stop to visit my and LB’s room before wandering up and down and up and down the complex. One particularly eye-catching exhibit was the art nouveau furniture. The style of the pieces appeared to be influenced by Hector Guimard’s famous script of the Parisian Metro sign.

We spent several hours inside, on top of, underneath, and then back inside the musuem and then headed outside for some fresh air. We caught some sun and did a fair share of people-watching at the Jardin des Tuileries. As the children pushed their rented wooden boats around the fountain and shrieked with glee when their boats made it safely to the other side without crashing into other boats or ducks, a lively band played some marching music (I can’t call them a marching band because they were pretty much standing still) under the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (not to be confused with its much larger sister, the Arc de Triomphe at Etoile).

The combination of sunshine, sitting, and sweet crepes (of which we had several which makes crepes our new gelato) took its toll and after packing for our trip to Lyon, we snoozed the rest of the late-afternoon, evening, and night away. Crepe report card:
Sugar and lemon, A+
Nutella, A
Cheese, A

9/27 & 28 Nibblet: Thanks to Monsieur I-don’t-like-to-read , all you get today are pix. Well, ok, a little text. TGV to Lyon. Lyon to Chateau Gaillard. Tour of Chateau des Allymes and Tour de St. Denis. Three hour hike through the Alps. Delicious, familiar, safe, mouth-watering, missed-you-so-much-Pakistani-cuisine. 12th century farm house with cable tv.

Mont Blanc

Mer de Glace

Bustling Rest Stop

Crossing Swiss Border

Championeire Water Pump

In other news, Gojira and I totally have to apply for this position! Because we arrre the best and everyone else is the worrrrst.

9/29 Nibblet: After our daily alarm clock went off, we found out that our little pink farmhouse in La Championniere was still sans hot water. My cousin, Riz, picked us up, took us to her house, and there, I tried to take a hot shower. I say “tried” because I managed to shampoo my hair, rinse, and soap up before the water cut off. Not just the hot water; all of the water. So with a thin film of soap rapidly drying on my skin, I bellowed for help. Apparently, there was a notice from the construction crew nearby that they were doing some work that morning and that the neighborhood’s water would be shut off for a few hours. Alas, in this sleepy little village, no one really checks the mail on a daily basis and so the notice went unread. Riz came to my rescue by heating up half a bucket of bottled mineral water for me and 10 minutes later, I got to rinse off. The only highlight from that little incident is that I can now say “why, yes, I have bathed in Evian water!”

Since TP needed to wash up as well, we zipped over to Riz’s sister-in-law’s house which, despite being nine centuries old, had both hot and running water. Alack, we zipped too quickly and Riz kinda crunched up the car against the wall. Oops. Now running even later than we were, we scarfed down our breakfast and drove into Lyon to meet Gojira’s mere and chien. The second largest city in France, Lyon is a sprawling metropolis located between Fourviere, ‘the hill that prays’ and Croix-Rousse, ‘the hill that works’ and is split in the middle by two rivers, the Rhone and the Saone. Mrs. Gojira’s apartment was in a very lovely neighborhood that bore a striking resemblence to Saint Germain with its chic shops, bustling cafes, and spotless boulevards. Mrs. Gojira welcomed us warmly and immediately fed us a wonderful leek pie, fresh and healthy tomato and avacado salads, and all sorts of cheeses. We shared some stories about Gojira (heh heh), saw some family pictures (ha ha!), and eventually bid her and MacDuff adieu.

We drove up to Fourviere hill and worked our way down from the Roman Ampitheater (where TP stole a bunch of grapes) to the Notre-Dame de Fourviere Basilica to the St. John Cathedral. We had a clear view of the city below at each stop.

9/30 Nibblet: Travel Day, so not much happened. We took an early morning walk through the fog around our little village and came across a whole patch of grapes, blue berries, and figs. Free food! Walked a bit more, bid bon jour to our neighbors, scurried past the homes with wildly barking dogs, and took some pix of the cornfields, the houses, and the animals.

Riz picked us up so that we could have breakfast at her house before heading out to Lyon to catch our 11 a.m. TGV back to Paris. Unfortunately, her husband was operating on D.S.T. (Desi Standard Time) and didn’t arrive until quite late. We reached the Part Dieu train station at 10:59 a.m., just in time to watch our train (and our reserved seats) slide out of the station. We were assured that we could board the 12 p.m. train (there is one every hour to and from Paris) so long as there was room enough. We found two seats together, tried to look as inconspicuous as possible, and when the conductor came by to check our tickets, we meekly handed them over. He glanced at the ticket, glanced at us, shook his head and said something in French of which I only caught “un probleme.” We asked if he spoke English. He looked at us again, took the ticket of the passenger next to us, reviewed it thoroughly, and apparently found un grande probleme with that guy’s ticket because he passed our tickets back to us with a curt “c’est bon” and focused his attention and glower on our neighbor instead. Whew.

We arrived in sunny, balmy Paris and immediately hit up La Croissanterie for their wonderful croissants, flan, and cafe creme. TP bought me a cool, orange messenger bag from Mandarina Duck for my birthday. We strolled around the neighborhood, did some window-shopping, and finally returned to the apartment to take full, uninterrupted showers. Stink waves be gone!

In other news, thx to Abez for the great gingerbread punjabis (I got the @-man and the pirate), thx to Najm for the moist brownies (excellent sehri material), thx to Literaunty for the spicy haleem and southern peanut salad (TP had haleem for sehri this morning!), and thx to Chai and HBiddy for the laughs (and not killing me for leading you in a complete circle downtown).

10/1 Nibblet: We spent Friday morning taking the metro up to the Arc de Triomph and promenading down the Elysian Fields. Along the way, we passed by the Louis Vuitton shop that was oh-so-stylishly under construction:

We stopped at Pizza Pino for lunch where we shared a pizza with beef, two kinds of cheese, and an egg (whaaa?). The pizza was humongous and could possibly rival our neighborhood’s jumbo pizza that made the cover of the City Paper this week. We walked along the chestnut tree-lined boulevard and stopped for some crepes. We continued on to Place de Concorde and stopped for Belgian waffles liberally dusted with powdered sugar. We strolled through the Tuileries, crossed the bridge, and finally made it back to the apartment by late afternoon (just in time for a nap).

Upon waking up from the nap, we learned that several Tunisian guests would be arriving soon for a house-warming party (i.e. excuse to shop in Paris) and were asked if we could help out with the dishes, ironing, dusting, distract the toddler, move the chairs, put out the plates, and greet the guests. The old crew from Hammamet (see Tunisian Travelogue for details) showed up with their finery wrapped around their necks, brand names wrapped around their bodies, and high-falutin ‘tudes wrapped around their heads. TP and I escaped onto the balcony for some fresh air and to give the guests some privacy in which to discuss and eye each other’s clothes, shoes, and latest acquisitions. The “fabulous set” decided to go to a “fabulous restaurant” and our only amusement came when they could not identify any of the dishes (upon the advice of a friend, one guy ate a whole scoop of wasabi before dashing off to the bathroom to wash out his mouth) or operate the eating utensils. After getting our fill of fakeness, we passed on joining the group for dessert and, in full anti-social mode, took off on our own before calling it a night. Seriously, I chose getting away from those people over getting some Bertillon ice cream. *shudder*

In other news, despite the near freezing temps that are predicted tonight, I’m going out to see Interpol! For free! I heart free.

Last Weekend in Paris Nibblet: We decided to start our early Saturday morning with a jaunt through the neighborhoods and ended up climbing down 85 steps down a circular, stone staircase into the depths of the Parisian sewer system and mass grave known as the Catacombs. We wove our way through the dark, wet tunnels decorated with skulls and bones and tried not to imagine that the dust on our shoes was bone grit and the drips on our heads were not blood. Since it was our honeymoon after all, my favorite design was of the skulls artfully arranged into a heart:

Awww, how romantic!

We spent the afternoon perusing through the open-air market where we were dazzled by the [radio edit] and the delicious [radio edit] and the scrumptious [radio edit] which we picked up for our picnic lunch at Luxembourg Gardens. After a brief sit-down at Cafe de Flore, we watched a battle of the bands take place when a chanting, finger-cymbal-wielding Hare Krishna parade marched through a lively brass band (complete with crazy dancing lady) playing in front of the Saint Germain church.

It turns out that throughout this particular Saturday night, Paris was celebrating its Second Annual Nuit Blance (“White Night” or “Sleepless Night”), a city-wide contemporary arts and culture festival where you can visit a theater, enter a number of museums, or see exhibits at an art gallery from dusk to dawn. We walked to the riverbanks to experience the “Foghorn Concert” performed by 15 barges sailing down the Seine (recall the honking notes of the spaceship in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”). People filled the streets either as performers (tiny local bands set up their sets at almost every corner) or audience members (did I mention how much I love free?). Some artists displayed their talents with vegetables. Some artists left their marks directly onto the streets of Paris:

The night was very surreal, made doubly so when hordes of rollerbladers took over the streets for several long moments. We spent the rest of Sleepless Night wandering around the city, taking a nap (but it was artistic sleeping, so it was ok), and by Sunday morning, touring the Louvre for free (FYI, free rules!). Actually, Nuit Blanche aside, the Louvre would have been free anyway because the first Sunday of every month is free. After touring the Islamic Art Exhibit (portions of which were on loan from the NY Met), we walked to Place de Concorde, hung a left, and met our touristy obligation to visit the Eiffel Tower (which had been closed due to a worker’s strike earlier). We capped off our last day with ice cream directly from the one, the only, actual Bertillon shop on Ile St. Louis. Final gelatoish report:

Coffee: A
Earl Gray Tea: B+
Grapefruit: B
Extra Dark Chocolate: A+++ valedictorian, best in show, undisputed champion of the world.

In other news, that concludes the travelogue so now what should I blog about? Any suggestions?

10.02.2004

bon jour, mon petite bloggeuers! thank you all for the lovely birthday greetings! and special props to LB for managing to update me blog whilst i am away. i’m back in paris now after a little sojourn to lyon (love that 2 hour super fast, super sleek TGV train ride) to visit one of my eleventy hundred cousins. on our visit to mont blanc, we ended up hiking for three hours from mer de glace to the town at the foot of the mountain. hey, a hike downhill all the way is STILL a hike. we stayed in a charming little farm house (not quite 12th century, but close!) and ate tons of fantastic desi food for the first time in a month. we only have a few more days left in paris and then it’s back to DC. hope you all have been well! perhaps each of you can be kind enough to recap a month’s worth of your blog posts for me? that would be great. thanks!
Madame Baji
directly above the metro mabillon
saint germain, paris

10.05.2004

*sings* “Back in the US, back in the US, back in the US of Aaaaaaa”

Ahem. Ok, I’ve finished butchering the Beatles’ tune now; you can unplug your ears. Flew in to DC yesterday evening and boy are my arms tired. *rimshot* But seriously, my arms are tired, my neck is sore, my back is aching. Why, oh, why did I pack my suitcase full of heavy candles and shampoos and perfumes and glassware and shoes and rocks? And why were most of the pillows I slept on for three weeks apparently made out of wadded up towels crammed into thin pillowcases? And why is the euro so darn healthy and the stupid dollar so lame? And why can’t I get a cafe creme or a cafe con panna or dopio espresso macchiato when I step outside the front door anymore?!

So, blurb version until I get my thoughts together: wonderful time, great weather, lots of pix, rich food, plenty of fresh air and exercise, swimming in the Mediterranean one day and hiking down the Alps another day. Now. Excuse me while I go lay down for a while. I have a mild case of lag of jet. *thunk*

Directions

I grew up in a small town where “make a right at the convenient store” was given as a legitimate and easily understood direction even though the convenient store wasn’t called that for decades.

When I moved to DC, I delighted in telling visitors to “turn right onto 16th Street until you hit the White House and then turn left.”

I think these directions for our upcoming trip to Aruba take the cake:

When leaving the airport take a left turn (3rd exit) at the roundabout heading towards Oranjestad and the High Rise hotel area. You will be driving with the airport and the ocean on your left.

Stay on this road all the way past the hotels.

The last hotel on the left will be the Ritz Carlton. Stay on this main road (driving with the ocean on your left) you will drive past an old ship wreck and a little further the road will bend to the right where there is  a left turn, take the left turn (signposted for the California Lighthouse 1B).

San Francisco Travelogue

For our 10th wedding anniversary, TP and I bandied about the idea of traveling to Paris (where we spent our honeymoon), Quebec (North North America’s Paris – apparently DC is America’s Paris), and Charleston, SC (nothing like Paris). After debating the financial, emotional, and physical costs, we settled on San Francisco (the title totally gave that away, didn’t it?).

Thursday: We bundled the kids off to school, wrote them each a letter replete with lavish love and subtle threats if they didn’t behave, and drove to the airport. The drive itself only took about 45 minutes but getting from the parking lot, through security, down the escalators, onto the tram, up the escalators and finally to our gate took about an hour. For some mysterious reason, the TSA gods decided to bestow upon me the glory of “precheck” which meant that I could skate through security in the fast lane WITH my jacket on, WITH my shoes on, WITH my dignity intact!  Ah, irony: white boy was not so blessed and I ended up waiting around for him anyway.

Fly, my pretties, fly. Arrive. Since this was my vacation too, I treated myself to a small planning break and delegated to TP the task of figuring out how to get from SFO to our hotel. More fool me. Frazzled by the choices and buttons and growing line behind him, TP made us purchase $20 BART tickets even though the fare to downtown was less than $9. Even counting the future trip to Oakland ($3), we would still have unused funds left on the cards. We consoled ourselves with the fact that the hotel we were staying in was pretty swank and we were getting a deal because this was TP’s 10th hotel stay via hotels.com. I was annoyed by the loss of $15 but slightly mollified by the savings of $100.

Late afternoon found us trying to squeeze in a nap before trekking about but with such precious little time in the city afforded to us, we couldn’t relax.  We stretched our legs by walking up, over, and around Chinatown (more legit than our paltry version, cleaner than NYC’s, but mostly tourist shops) and the waterfront. Guided by our concierge’s advice, we made reservations at a nearby sushi restaurant, Ozumo. Highlights: Hanabi (hamachi, avocado, warm ginger-jalapeño ponzu) and, pictured below, Choco Chan (Flourless chocolate cake, green tea ice cream, shiso syrup). The time difference served us well as we were more than ready and happy to accept an early reservation. A post-dinner constitutional was followed by immediate snoozing. I’m not 100% sure I even took my shoes off before I fell asleep.

IMG_1567 IMG_1568 IMG_1574 IMG_1577 IMG_1579

Friday: Of course, the downside to falling asleep at “8:00 pm” (real time 11pm) is that I was up at “3:00 am” (real time 6am which is actually almost oversleeping for me these days). Thank you, MCPL and Jim Butcher (and a hat tip to Eric) for the ebook to keep me company until the more decent hour of “6:00 am” finally arrived. I shook TP awake (still abed as he’s not a morning person… or any time of day really person) and suggested a morning stroll before the highly-lauded (and rightly so) Blue Bottle Coffee Co. opened at “7:00 am”. We headed down to the port and loitered on the docks watching the early morning ferry commuters disembark while we waited for the shop to open. Third in line? Inconceivable!

IMG_1594

We had a quick first breakfast (“cheese toasties” for me, eggs-n-cheese-grits for TP) at the nearby Cowgirl Creamery before we walked over to Mama‘s on Washington Square for second breakfast. I would have loved to stop at City Lights Books but it was closed at “9:00 am”. Arriving on foot, we had no worries with respect to parking but for the fact that the friends we were supposed to meet were driving and thus were delayed looking for parking. After we waited for an hour in line, they neatly swooped in just as we were next to be called. The food was good, the company was better.

IMG_1607 IMG_1608

Well-fueled, with a mediocre cannoli to top us off, we packed our meager belongings and stored our single carry-on with the concierge before we hoofed it through the rest of the town. Up to Nob Hill, across North Beach, and up some more to Telegraph Hill to arrive at Coit Tower. Whew, my dogs were barking! After some totally unnecessary banter by the elevator operator (seriously, dude, we all walked up here and stink to high heaven and now we’re trapped in this claustrophobic, rickety, antique elevator and you want to give a speech and make jokes about the elevator elves before even pulling the lever?), we were released into the wild, blue yonder.

IMG_1630 IMG_1631 IMG_1638 IMG_1646

We filled our eyes with views of the city, its beautiful bridges, and the bay, filled our lungs with deep, cleansing breaths, and hiked down, down, down the city.

IMG_1647 IMG_1649 IMG_1651 IMG_1653With plans to avoid Friday rush hour traffic, we took the BART into Oakland around “3:00 pm” and were met by our law school buddy who whisked us away to her comfortable and thoughtfully ‘cat free for a week’ home. We caught up on our lives over a tour of the house and garden, caught up on other people’s lives over Vietnamese food at Xyclo, and caught up on health woes and dietary restrictions over gelato at Lush Gelato. We stocked up on snacky snacks for our outing the next day and returned home. Ever the gracious hostess, J let me go to bed at “8:00 pm”.

Saturday: With only Ebony, the ousted cat, to keep me company (she glared at me from outside the kitchen window), I caught up on my reading, showered, changed, ate a giant slice of delicious homemade peach pie, and finally rousted the rest to get a move on for our trip to Muir Woods.

IMG_1665

By the skin of her teeth, Yaznotjaz and Lemon fortuitously met us just as we were parking. We wound our way through the majestic redwoods, startled a deer (not as newsworthy as these deer but still pretty unexpected), and took many a lovely sit to discuss all our favorite topics: books, travel, gadgets, blogs, and other people.

IMG_1682 IMG_1699

We had planned to have lunch in Sausalito but Sushi Ran wasn’t open for lunch and Fish had a line out the door. With the assurance of only a few minutes to wait, we settled on Scoma‘s where we were granted a nice table near the window overlooking the bay. I had the special of the day: pan seared rare ahi tuna with a sesame seed crust, wasabi-ginger soy sauce, goat cheese, beets (which J kindly ate for me), toasted almonds on a spring mix green salad. Not sure what the others had because who cares, this is what I had!

IMG_1721

Following G’s advice, we swung by Philz for more fuel before heading to the next comestible destination.

IMG_1723

Even since I read a blurb in “Telegraph Hill”, I’ve wanted to try suff. You’d think that living in the city known as ‘second only to Ethiopia’ in terms of Ethiopian population and restaurants, I’d have encountered it by now. You are so silly. I mean, where do you come up with this stuff? Honestly. I had to travel across this wide country (though not as far as Zora) to land at the steps of Cafe Colucci and get my suff. Slightly gritty but sweet and so satisfying.

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 4.04.53 PM

Stomach full of sunflower seeds, I sloshed into the car and joined my crew in recuperating at home. We learned French as taught by a Scot. We recharged our bodies and devices. We heaved out of our comfy seats and went to the cemetery.  As you do.

IMG_1726 IMG_1741

We strolled over to Geta and patiently waited for our final takeout sushi dinner. The restaurant was packed. Standing around was a little uncomfortable after a full day on our feet but J warned us not to rest our weary bones on the dusty ledges nearby because the ongoing drought meant there was untold amounts of untold yuckiness around that had not been washed away in untold months. Point taken. Home again for delectable sushi, a peach pie chaser, and bed.

Sunday: We were drawn to Caffe Trieste when we saw it in North Beach but didn’t have time to partake in a coffee break. Today, we made the time. TP and I had a quiet morning with the other early risers (bums and hipsters alike) before returning home to catch J in the act of cuddling with/seeking forgiveness from Ebony. With farmer’s market fresh eggs, newly purchased Parrano, and a dash of half-and-half (you didn’t know that, did you, J?), we whipped up some cheese omelets with avocado and tomatoes for breakfast.

The drive over the Bay Bridge was thankfully uneventful (we just missed this snarl) and we arrived at SFO in good time for another “what’s the point of this pre-check when I can’t even use it properly” dance through security and to the gate. The rest of the journey home was replete with the requisite arm-rest skirmish (but thankfully no all out recliner war), terrible movie, and patient zero passengers anointing us with their various viruses and disgusting diseases. I looked forward to a Silkwood chemical decontamination shower.

Travelogue: Costa Rica 2005

I just realized that my Costa Rica travelogue was not uploaded when I was updating/shifting my online travelogues. Here ya go. Pura vida.

04.30.05

Are you ready, kids?
(Aye, Aye, Cap’n!)
I can’t heeeeaaarrrr you!
(AYE, AYE, CAP’N!)
Ohhhhhh, here’s the Costa Rica travelogue:

Pre-Day One: Having packed the night before, I was up at 5:00 a.m. and seriously contemplated beginning my vacation by slamming the doors and waking the neighbors (especially the no-named rat-dog) to exact my revenge for their countless pre-dawn antics. But there were still things to be done and so TP and I attended to those instead: throwing away any stinkables, locking down the fortress, and securing the chariot. By 6:30 a.m., we had picked up a sleepy but gracious LB, hurtled through Rock Creek Park in the driving rain, and checked in at the airport. Then, we waited. We shared a cappuccino and an atrocious invention called a “tomazzo” bagel pizza and waited. We read the newspaper from front page to the comix and waited. We listened anxiously as the reports of the storm in Atlanta and the grounding of all planes continued and waited. Our 8:00 a.m. flight became a 10:00 a.m. flight and there was no way we were going to make our connection.

When we touched down and scrambled out at noon, we found out that we missed our flight by five minutes while we were standing in line to find out the status of our flight. Disgruntled, we shuttled over to the international terminal and stood in line to rebook our flight at the Delta counter. With lunchtime approaching, we watched in horror and disbelief as there were four little, three little, two little clerks working the desk for the coach passengers (business class had almost a one-to-one passenger-clerk ratio going on). Inconceivable! An hour and a half later, the line had snaked around the velvet ropes, doubled up on itself, and was nearing one of the gates. Outrageous! When one of the business class patrons tried to jump into the peons’ line, there was much gnashing of teeth and preparations for a battle royale (not to be confused with a royale with cheese) until the one remaining coach clerk apologetically explained that she had to attend to the coach passengers. Revolution! We finally reached a second clerk who had appeared out of the woodwork and was huffing in exasperation even before we got there. No smile, no greeting, no apology. But, we did score some business class seats. Grudging acceptance!

With five hours to kill until our flight, we spent the majority of the time snacking, people-pointing, and clock-watching. Our connecting flight was also delayed but sitting in the comfort of business class, we didn’t mind so much. San Jose came into sight around 9:30 p.m. – a mere nine hours later than scheduled. The immigration line was much more organized and faster moving than the Delta quote customer service unquote counter (Fie! Fie on Delta!). One disturbing observation: not only printed on the entry forms but also plastered throughout the immigration and customs areas are warnings that supporting child prostitution in Costa Rica is illegal. Apparently, the child sex trade is so rampant that they have to drive the point home before you even step foot into the country. According to the National Institute for Children, as many as 3,000 children in Metropolitan San Jose alone are involved in prostitution. Where are those air-sickness bags when you need them?

After a slapdash custom’s inspection of just one of our two bags, we were thrown into the throng of sweaty, determined, and aggressive taxi drivers squawking for our attention. Luckily, we already knew to use the official airport taxis which are sanctioned, safe, and had a set fee: $12 to San Jose. Passing by an extremely fit and voluptuous tranny, we rolled into Barrio Amon, checked into our non-air-conditioned, window-overlooking-the-internal-stairwell, earplugs-offered-at-the-front-desk room at the Hotel Dunn Inn (isn’t it redundant to call a place a ‘hotel’ and an ‘inn’?).

Next Up: potential corruption, pathetic ice cream, and power outages.

 

Day One: 05.01.05
Indulging in a hot but thin shower with the Bliss products LB gave me, I started the day fresh and hungry. The hotel offered an all-you-can-eat buffet that consisted mainly of gallo pinto (black beans and rice), fruit (marvelous mangos, piquant pineapples, and pass on the papayas), eggs, toast, and all-you-can-drink Cafe Britt.

Tummies full, we took a circuitous tour of the historic Barrio Amon neighborhood and the center of town. Located in the Central Valley, San Jose is arranged in a grid that is bisected by north-to-south Calle (street) Central and east-to-west Avenida (avenue) Central with all of the odd streets to the east, even streets to the west, odd avenues to the north, and even avenues to the south. Good luck finding the street signs which are more often than not spray-painted over, mutilated, or completely missing. We were in the north-east quadrant at Calle 5, Avenida 11 so our first stop, a mere three blocks away, was the Parque Morazan at Calle 5, Avenida 5. The centerpiece was the Templo de la Musica which houses concerts but which, today, was empty. After sidestepping some of the many homeless people sleeping on the streets this early Sunday morning, our next stop was the Central Park where the birds in the trees were having quite a heated debate.

Nearby, we saw several police officers clustered around an ice cream vendor’s cart.

TP: (shaking his head) “Look at those cops shaking down that vendor.”
Me: (ever the optimist) “Maybe they just want some ice cream.”
TP: (Debbie Downer) “No, everyone in power here is corrupt.”
Me: (triumphantly) “Look! They are paying him money and getting some ice cream!”
TP: (reluctantly) “Yeah. This time.”

We passed by an open-air market where one Tico (Costa Rican) claimed the long cotton shirt with the Indian elephant motif was worth $13.00 (yeah, right, you know how much I can get that for in Pakistan?! Interrodesi!) on our way to where the two Center streets intersected. The sun was getting pretty intense, the crowds were picking up and by the afternoon, the bottomless cups of coffee were making their presence known. Falling back on a habit I picked up in Paris, we ducked into a fancy hotel to use their facilities. We couldn’t find any on the main floor, so we headed upstairs. There was an open and completely empty room around the corner with the maid’s cart nearby but no maid to be seen. I thought we could totally get away with closing the door, attending to business, and leaving, but Prudence McPrude wouldn’t hear of it. Dios Mio! So back out to the main street we went until we found a bustling restaurant with unattended bathrooms below.

Amid the shoe shops, the clothing stores, and the pharmacists, we saw Pops, touted by one of the travel guide books (can’t remember which one, I just grabbed a bunch from the library before we left, jotted down some notes, and returned them – I loves me them free books!) as being the best place to get ice cream. It was ok, but it was no gelato. Mango = C, Raspberry = B.

Since it was International Worker’s Day, it was only fitting that we stumbled across the TLC (Tratado Libre de Comerio) protest march against the U.S. Central American Free Trade Agreement.

We watched as some of the 4,000 protesters chanted slogans, waved banners, and stomped their way across the city center. A look at our unprotected faces told us we had been in the sun too long so, for our last sight, we climbed up to the top of the hill near the Children’s Museum, (where, despite my hatred for him, I pitied a poor sweltering Barney and his friends who must have been dying in their thick, foam costumes under the burning sun) to get a view of the city below:

After a stop at the supermarket for some water and juice, we returned to we returned to chorreador de cafe, the traditional Costa Rican coffee maker was basically a wooden frame supporting a cloth filter suspended above a carafe. I would liked to have tried some of the rich, steaming coffee, but (a) I had already scalded my tongue sampling Magda’s Agua Dulce – hot sugar cane juice –and (b) I was on Estella duty carrying her around the restaurant to check out the bored mariachi player, the forest of onions hanging from the rafters, and the smiling, friendly cooks behind the counter. We had a lovely time with the family, learned more about the protest we witnessed that afternoon, and called it an early evening at 10:30 p.m. Back at the Hotel Dumb Inn, we packed our belongings, counted out our few remaining colones (the bit we got earlier from the ATM was blown on the we-take-no-credit-cards dinner), and slept to the dulcet sounds of our neighbors bellowing “whar’s mah cigarettes?” which were only slightly drowned out by the buzzing whir of the ceiling fan above.

Next up: Go west, young man! And then, head south. And then, go east when you hit the ocean.

Day Two: 05.02.05
First stop: public phones to use the $2.00 telephone card to call home and announce safe arrival. Second stop: ATM to get thousands and thousands of colones (fun fact: the exchange rate these days is $1.00 US to 472.00 CRC so we pulled out about 50,000 colones. Ca-ching!). Third stop: breakfast at Morazan’s only the place was just open for lunch and dinner so scratch that and return to the hotel for Tico breakfast accompanied by oldies songs piped in above.

Me (singing along): She seems to have an in-vis-i-ble touch, yeah, it takes control and slowly . . .
TP (interrupting my solo): You shouldn’t know those lyrics.
Me (defensive b/c I can’t help the fact that my brain retains useless knowledge, stupid stats, and lame lyrics): Why not?
TP: Because they are so bad.
Me: What if a villain captured us and tied us up to a rope dangling over a pit of lava and the only thing that could save us is if we could correctly answer trivia questions about Phil Collins’ songs?
TP: Then perhaps death would be better.

Fourth stop: back upstairs to pack (took all of five minutes), back downstairs to pay ($66/night), and back outside to catch a cab (with no meter which means we may or may not have been cheated when the initial quote of 600 CRC ($1.26) increased to 1000 CRC ($2.11) once we arrived at the bus terminal – it’s not the amount, it’s the principle of the matter. *looks in LB’s direction and recalls blistering walk through Cairo because the cabbie wanted to charge us a quarter more than he should have*).

We arrived at the “Coca-Cola bus terminal” which was basically a marketplace that happened to have a large parking lot in the center through which busses came barreling through. A cabbie attached himself to us and tried to convince us that at $45 US per person, we could travel to our destination, Manuel Antonio, in air-conditioned luxury, we could smoke if we wanted, we could stop anywhere along the way, and we could arrive in style. When we didn’t take him up on his offer, he sported an expression that was part flabbergasted at our passing up such a sweet deal and part disdainful that we were too stupid to realize that he was the best and everyone else (i.e. the cheapo bus-riders) was the worst.

After much confusion over where to purchase our tickets, we finally deciphered a small, hand-painted sign indicating where the booth was and secured our $5 seats. Finding a spot to sit in the bright sun, we spent the better part of an hour watching the locals do their local things: a young man painting a store front while balancing on a shaky, rusted scaffolding; a worker mucking out a sewer or sludgy hole with his bare hands; a woman with powerful lungs selling everything from earrings to cheap, plastic radios; a decrepit old man aimlessly wandering around in a battered cowboy hat, stained pants, and a Star Wars, Episode I t-shirt. The guards in their yellow uniforms were very alert and helpful, telling one woman to keep her purse closer because there were thieves around and informing someone else which bus left and what time. The Coca-Cola guards ROCK!

We boarded our non-air-conditioned but not too shabby 12:15 p.m. bus, put our luggage underneath, and began our steamy drive through Costa Rica’s ubiquitous coffee plantations, cloud-covered mountains, and mango groves.

With only one stop along the way for stretches, bathrooms, and snacks, we arrived in Quepos and then Manuel Antonio about three and a half hours later. Following the directions from the website of Cabinas Espadilla – “Once in the beach, turn left at Marlin Restaurant and follow the street” – we learned that our reservation, while taken, was not held. Luckily, since this was the “green” or “wet” or “low” season, there was one cabin available with a ceiling fan for $52/night with the possibility of upgrading to a cabin with an A/C for $64/night the rest of the week. Sweaty, tired, and hungry, we agreed and were shown our cabin complete with one double bed, one set of bunk beds, a little kitchen, and a clean bathroom. We dumped our stuff off and went back outside for some reconnaissance.

The beautiful beach, Playa Espadilla, was about a two-minute walk from the front door. The National Park was a mere five-minute walk away from that. There were two busy restaurants across the street from each other book-ended by souvenir shops, surf lesson stalls, and internet cafes. And so ended our recon.

Before dinner, we stopped by the pharmacy to get some DEETlicious repellant for my mosquito-buffet skin. We went to the Blue Marlin restaurant for dinner and luckily chose a table under the shelter because within ten minutes, heavy rain poured down and soaked the plein air diners who scrambled inside. Our waiter, Omar from Quepos who spoke his English with a Californian accent courtesy of all the time he spent with the West Coast surfers, was friendly enough but drove us crazy with his constant use of the alleged Costa Rican phrase “Pura Vida” which means “pure life” but can be used for any response from “ok, I got your order,” to “I’m doing well, thank you,” to “it really is great being here during the low season because then I have the hotels, the pools, the beaches, and the jungles almost all to myself!” We started off with the salty, limey, delicious ceviche (hopefully parasite-free) and shared the mahi-mahi and yellow fin tuna dishes. By the time our plates were clean, the rain had stopped. We strolled over to the sister accommodations to Cabinas Espadilla, the Hotel Espadilla, and contemplated a change in rooms to the fancier hotel after returning to our hot, sweltering cabin for the night.

Next up: hanging out on the beach with the mobile home crew.

Day Three: 05.03.05
Sheets of rain. Blankets of rain. King-sized duvets of rain. Rolling thunder, bright flashes of lightening, and torrents of rain smashing down on the tin roof kept us company all night long. The few moments of short-lived silence were punctuated by the piercing croaks of the toads who preferred the areas right outside the cabin doors to the jungle nearby.

When morning finally came, the air was thick with humidity. You’d have thought that the rain showers during the night would promise a crisp, clear day. You’d be wrong. Breakfast at Blue Marlin consisted of a plate of fruit (sin papaya, por favor), scrambled eggs (with a hefty but unwanted dollop of mayonnaise on the side), gallo pinto (cooked in vegetable oil and not lard), and coffee (the day just got better).

A walk along the beach to observe the waves and gauge the crowdedness of certain sections yielded us (a) an appreciation for the low season turn out of surfer dudes and loud, obnoxious tourists, (b) a reminder to watch where we stepped lest we end up with a foot full of crabbie patties and (c) a sip of the sweet agua de pipa (water of a green coconut) from a beach vendor near the Park’s entrance. Note: the dude next to the entrance to the Park charges 500 CRC for lukewarm agua de pipa, but the dude on the beach across from the Restaurant Lobster charges 300 CRC for nicely chilled agua de pipa. See? Now you don’t have to bargain hunt for coconut water because we’ve already done the homework for you.

By 10:00 a.m., we had decided that we should treat ourselves to a break from the heat and humidity by upgrading to the Hotel Espadilla. We paid for our room at the Cabinas, carried our luggage across and slightly up the street, and checked into the air-conditioned, cable tv’ed, second-floor (and therefore toadless) room. Because the hotel’s driveway was under construction, the normally discounted low season rate of $101/night was further discounted to a total of $80/night and included breakfast, a private nature reserve, and did I mention the A/C? Sold!

Finally completely unpacked, we returned to the relatively unpopulated beach (well, unpopulated by people anyway; there were many tiny hermit crabs scuttling around) to swim in the incredibly warm ocean. It is quite possible that the water was warmer than the air. We topped off the ocean swim with a swim in the completely deserted hotel’s pool. Ain’t no season like low season. Gazing placidly at some iguanas who gazed placidly at us in return, TP and I spent the lazy afternoon alone letting the sun slowly melt our brains. Only here for a day, we fell into a routine pretty quickly. Walk to Blue Marlin for lunch and iced mochas. Walk to the room to cool off during the hottest part of the day. Walk to the beach to watch a sandy soccer game. Walk to the agua de pipa man. Walk to the hotel for a nap.

After sunset, we strolled down to the main street and stood for a moment in awe at the cacophony of toady chatter coming from the creek nearby. The wall of sound was nearly deafening. When we came across some gawkers looking up and pointing, we followed suit and saw playful monkeys dangling from the trees! It was too dark to make out any more than their silhouettes, but it was exciting nonetheless.

We checked out the menu of Blue Marlin’s rival, Restaurant Lobster, but opted for dinner at the hotel’s restaurant: chunky ceviche, tender tenderloins in black bean sauce, and sweet plantains grilled to perfection. We counted the number of stupid toads facing the walls along the sidewalk back to the room (10), caught up on some of the world’s news (same old, same old), and basked in the air-conditioner’s glory (until the electricity cut out at 1:30 a.m. for an hour).

Next up: Road-Song of the Bandar-Log
Here we go in a flung festoon,
Half-way up to the jealous moon!
Don’t you envy our pranceful bands?
Don’t you wish you had extra hands?
Would n’t you like if your tails were — so —
Curved in the shape of a Cupid’s bow?
Now you’re angry, but — never mind,
Brother, thy tail hangs down behind!
–Rudyard Kipling

 

Day Four: 05.04.05
The anticipation of seeing all of the wildlife in its natural habitat had me (and by default and design, TP) awake and out early. Girding our bellies with the “breakfast included,” we filled up on coffee, juice, a plate of fruit (note: white pineapple is not as sweet as yellow), saturated pancakes, gallo pinto, eggs, and plantains. Eavesdropping on our neighbors (all American), we learned that to enter Manuel Antonio National Park, you had to cross a stream by foot. The rest of the breakfast conversation was spent on the flip-flops vs. sneakers debate. Soon-to-be-ratty sneakers won.

I got DEETed up, TP got SPFed up, we put on our long-sleeved shirts and (as Iman called them) long-sleeved pants, and we walked to the Park. Along the way, we were beset by tour guides (official and not-so-official) who wanted to lead us through the Park. We decided to wing it this day and if we felt we missed out on a lot, we’d hire one tomorrow; and so, we “manana”ed our way to the entrance. If not for the proof of Costa Rican citizenship requirement, I could have paid the locals’ price ($2) instead of the foreigners’ price ($7) as LB and I did in Cairo when Gojira secured our discounted bus fare by claiming we were Egyptian. From morning to noon, we hiked through, up, and down the Park. There was really no need for a tour guide because any time something interesting rustled along the trail, a glut of shutterbugs stopped, stared, and snapped their photos. One really doesn’t need to keep an eye out for the wildlife so long as one keeps an eye out for the wildlife-lovers.

Even at the cusp of the rainy season, the rainforest was lush and dark. The first denizen to greet us was a three-toed sloth dangling in the trees. It was hypnotizing to watch how. Slowly. He. Moved. The sloth languorously lifted his hairy arm as though it was made of lead. His long, yellowed claws sluggishly appeared. Scratching himself took a good long five minutes and probably longer, but we had to move on. For a closer look at this smiling slacker, check out this picture. The huge and lazy sloth won TP’s great admiration and yet, when I sprawl on the couch and scratch myself, I get reprimanded.

In sharp contrast, our next host was a collection of frenzied, frenetic white-faced capuchin monkeys. They leapt from limb to limb with aerial grace. They cleverly scraped and pounded on the coconuts to drink the water. They threw stuff at us. One cheeky monkey came down, nonchalantly strolled over to the beach area nearby where a girl had left her backpack, and tossing a quick glance over his shoulder at us, proceeded to grasp the backpack and open the zipper. With eyes in the back of his head, he sensed when the girl came forward to rescue her bag and he shot back up into the trees. If the bag were lighter, I have no doubt he would have taken off with it; as it was, the bag was half open. Color me impressed. Later, this dude got all up in my grill.

The flora became denser as we ventured further along the trail. Curiosity had TP picking up and tossing around one of the abundant small, round, green fruits that carpeted the ground until we came upon the placard about the Manzanillo tree that warned of the toxicity of the fruit and the poisonous sap which, upon contact, could cause swelling, blistering, burning, inflammation, and temporary blindness. Whoops. TP let go of his new toy, dashed off to the shore, and washed his hands immediately. At least he didn’t suffer the consequences of getting too friendly with the Manzanillo tree like this guy did.

Everything seemed hushed and muted as we hiked over the damp leaves and soft earth. For that reason, the sharp scratching sounds that broke the muffled ambiance had us freeze in our tracks and look around for the great beasts that must have been making that racket. Eyes darting above and below, we tried to visually penetrate the foliage to determine what could have been making that quick, high noise. It wasn’t until we came upon a fork in the trail that we realized what creatures were responsible: hundreds of red land crabs. Also known as the red land crab, these critters danced over the branches, hovered near their holes, and looked as though they had just come back from voting since one (sometimes two) of their claws was painted purple.

The hike took us up to the Punta Catedral Peninsula where we caught a much-desired breeze and had a fantastic view of the beach and bay below. Sitting on a rock, we tried to cool down and dry off but one step back into the rainforest had us sweating again. The film of sweat that coated my arms was like oil; I would wipe my arms from elbow to wrist, but my hands just slid down with no effect. Once I gave up trying to stay dry and accepted the moistness, I could focus on my surroundings more. Zippy chameleons, slow iguanas, industrious crabs, and hoppy nutria kept us company. The beautiful coves below provided wonderful resting grounds and were fairly uncrowded.

The forest was full of dangers and beauty. We didn’t see any parrots or jungle cats, but we also didn’t see any mosquitoes or fer-de-lances either. Gotta take the good with the bad. And sometimes the ugly.

Next up: the winner of this travelogue’s coveted “Grossest Thing Ever” award.

 

Day Five: 05.05.05 (make a wish!)
After being called down by the hotel’s roosters to come and eat our breakfast with some apricot yogurt to help choke down the papaya, we went to the room to prep for our walk through the hotel’s private biological reserve. We got about 2 minutes into the hike before we realized that the Espadilla Reserve had something the Manuel Antonio Reserve did not: mosquitoes. I went back to the room to apply the repellant liberally even though it was too late for my arms and ankles. We managed to conquer about 5 minutes of the hike before TP found out that these blood-suckers meant business. We returned to the room to allow TP to lotion up. Third time’s a charm and we finally started up the hill completely coated in DEET and, soon enough, sweat. The crystal clear starry skies that were glittering and dizzying and fantastic as we walked on the beach the night before had given way to a thick, stultifying layer of clouds that held the heat and humidity close to the earth during the day. Farther inland than the National Park, this reserve received none of the occasional wafts of forgiving ocean breezes.

Although we kept our eyes and ears out for any parrots or squirrel monkeys (mono titi), the only life coming out in full force were the salamanders, bees, and crabs. The highlights of the strenuous walk were the incredibly quick hummingbird that flitted from flower to flower and the brilliant black and emerald poison dart frog who was too swift for me to photograph.

The trial had a rope guide, but it was deliberately kept in a ‘natural state’ (which is code for completely unattended and unused). Leaves, thick and slippery, covered the path and made navigating the uphill and downhill portions tricky. Branches (liberally sprinkled with itty bitty bitey ants) and, at one point, an entire tree created obstacles to climb, crawl under, and yank aside. Keeping in mind Angelus’s warnings about the Fer-de-Lance , we fashioned a sturdy walking stick from one of our obstacles which we used to pound the ground along the way to alert and hopefully scare away any potential snakes. Unfortunately, I suspect that we scared away everything else as well. Everything, that is, except the mosquitoes. Ten bites on my hands, ankles, and back (I forgot to apply the DEET to my clothing or else they flew up my shirt! Fresh!). And Costa Rica and I were getting along so well. Not so pura vida after all.

Upon our return, we peeled off the sopping wet hiking clothes, rinsed off, changed into resort clothes, and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in lounge chairs by the pool and drinking pina coladas complete with funny straws, wedges of fruit, paper umbrellas, metal gears, antennae, and a GPS device attached. For lunch, we hit the Blue Marlin for some ceviche and tunaburgers and then walked along the street to see if there was any more to the “town” than what we had already seen. There wasn’t. We returned via the beach and stopped along the way for some fresh, chilled mangos, agua de pipa, and a game of billiards (which was very pathetically played by yours truly and the only saving grace was that I still won).

Now, as many of you know, each travelogue comes pre-packaged with highlights and lowlights. Per tradition, each trip seems to include an awful, hideous, atrocious thing that often receives the most attention and glee. In China, it was the mephitic nastiness of the Hangzhou train station bathroom at the end of the day after being visited by countless travelers with their full bowels. In Scotland, it was the black pudding that Gojira seemed quite content to enjoy eating. Here, it was the white-nosed coati. Part raccoon, part R.O.U.S., this fuzzy, cuddly guy ought not have won the coveted “Travelogue Travesty Award.” Even almost stumbling over a dead one on the beach didn’t elevate the coati to that honored status. What did it was this: he was completely stripped. His fur had either been shredded by another animal or else loosened and separated by the ocean. The once fluffy creature had been transformed into a raw, puckered pink slab of meat. It looked as though the heat had gotten to him and he just pushed his furry sleeves and bared his arms and legs in order to cool off. After making out some of its features and determining what it was, we turned away to enjoy some more pleasant views: the natural rock formations, the sun setting on the ocean, the clouds blushing and darkening. When we walked back to photograph it for you fine folks, the coati was gone. My theory was that the tide took the body away. TP’s theory was that the Ticos who came bounding behind us when we first discovered the coati took away to cook it up for unsuspecting tourists. Either way, we have a winner! Just so as not to leave you with such a gruesome image, here’s a pretty one instead:

Next up: Bargaining at Brittania

 May expand and expound. May not. Meh.


Day Six: 05.06.05
Things seen in Manuel Antonio:

Things zipped passed on the drive back to San Jose:

  • Bony Goats
  • Bony Cattle (each with its own personal bird valet)
  • Crocodile (Crikey!)
  • People selling watermelons and strawberries on the highway
  • Turtle
  • Traffic

Things said at Hotel Brittania upon arrival in San Jose:
“Do you have a reservation?”
“No, but I was told I could just walk in on Friday and a room would be available.”
“Did you get the rate?”
“Um, $80?”
“Ah. Yes. $80 plus tax.” (pause)
(aware of pause) “Is there another discounted rate you’d like to tell me about?”
“Well, if you want, you can pay in cash and not pay for the tax. Flat $80.”
“Ok, I’ll do that.”
“Do you know which room you have?”
“No, but I’d love the best one you have.” (huge grin)
“Ok, I can give you the king-sized bed with A/C which is normally $120.”
“That’s great! I’ll be sure to tell everyone how awesome Hotel Britannia is.”
“Yes, please do! Ha ha.”

Things seen and/or smelled on evening walk through San Jose neighborhoods:

  • Cigarette Smokey Luxury Room of Hotel Britannia
  • Creepy, Shaking Drug Addict Teen picking the paint off of a corner of a dark alley
  • Puddles of Urine on the Sidewalk
  • Black Skies threatening storms but not delivering
  • Piles of Garbage in the Gutter (if the storm had come, the piles would be converted into rivers flowing through the streets)

Things enjoyed on our last night in Costa Rica:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip Radio

I have a friend who grew up in Indiana/Illinois and, like many of us mid-westerners, went on many a road trip. One year, her family and mine had a great big convoy from IN to FL. Another time, we drove together from DC to NYC. She now lives in Texas which she enjoys but for this one quirk: “you drive for hours and you are still in Texas.” She decided that her son was missing out on a great childhood experience of a nice, long road trip where the scenery, accents, and even weather changes. I never thought about that but am glad that we have had the opportunity to travel on the road with our kids. Baltimore is an easy 45 minutes away. Greensboring takes 6 hours (5 if I’m driving alone). The farthest we’ve gone with the kids by car was Connecticut. New vistas to gaze upon, new “welcome centers” to pee in, and new radio stations to listen to.

On past road trips, I’ve come prepared with mix tapes (when my sister and I would drive from St. Louis to Louisville), mix CDs (until that technology fell by the wayside), and now mix MP3s (which always runs the risk of the batteries crapping out before you’ve reached your destination). Sometimes the mixes would have a theme: the kids’ trip to Greensboring, NC was replete with TMBG and Kidz Bop; the Philly mix had the requisite “Eye of the Tiger” I put on there just to annoy TP; the IN to MD trip that KG and I took featured an eclectic mix of tunes we could both agree upon. On our recent trip to Lancaster, PA, however, the kids were busy with their new “eidPods” and with their headphones on, couldn’t hear what was going on in the front seat. Although I was armed with recent music downloads and podcasts, I decided to forgo the prepared mixes and listen to the radio. Other than our NPR fix, radio is just as bad as it ever was. So many commercials, so little diversity. When I found a station that was actually playing a song, I stopped to listen. And then to sing along. And then to shock TP.

“How do you know the lyrics to this song?”

How could I not? Growing up in the ’80s in southern Indiana/Louisville, KY didn’t give me a lot of choices music-wise: public radio, Christian, bluegrass, or Top 40 which is now touted as “classic rock”.

Back then, I didn’t have access to or even knowledge of indie/alt/college rock. I didn’t have MTV and so couldn’t tune into 120 Minutes or Alternative Nation. The closest university (U of L) offered sports radio or nothing (that I can recall). It was only thanks to movie soundtracks (which I consumed voraciously) that I would even hear non-mainstream music (thank you, John Hughes). Why is he still surprised by my abilities? Does he not remember this exchange during our Costa Rica trip in 2005?

Me (singing along): She seems to have an in-vis-i-ble touch, yeah, it takes control and slowly . . .
TP (interrupting my solo): You shouldn’t know those lyrics.
Me (defensive b/c I can’t help the fact that my brain retains useless knowledge, stupid stats, and lame lyrics): Why not?
TP: Because they are so bad.
Me: What if a villain captured us and tied us up to a rope dangling over a pit of lava and the only thing that could save us is if we could correctly answer trivia questions about Phil Collins’ songs?
TP: Then perhaps death would be better.

Instant Karma

Today we took the kids to get their passports (second one for zp, first one for ap). After getting their passport photos taken and printed out at the local CVS (wish I’d known about this coupon!), we arrived at the post office a full half hour before our appointment time. A small skirmish took place when one customer got pissed because the clerk allowed another customer to jump ahead of him. No cuts, no butts, no coconuts, lady! But far be it from us to get involved in the fight, especially when we were next and knew how petty bureaucratic government employees could get when someone acts up and challenges their lordship status over their tiny domains (yours truly included).

A Hispanic single mother with a kid and an infant was ahead of us. With time to kill and altruistic genes to spare, tp held the door open for the mother, stroller, and kid and then accompanied them into the passport office to act as a field translator while I performed the more difficult task of entertaining our two kids in an empty post office lobby. When we were called, tp was still escorting the young mother out of the post office and into the parking lot (presumably also disassembling the stroller and buckling the kids into the back seat because he was gone for quite a while). Applications? Check. Photos? Check. Check? Check. Front and back of each parent’s ID? Oops. I had only copied the front of our licenses. Thankfully, this non-disgruntled clerk was so taken by tp’s gallant actions (clerk: “he’s a good catch!” me: “don’t tell him – it’ll go to his head.” clerk: “mmhmm, I heard that.”) that she returned his kindness by offering her own. “I’m not supposed to do this and you didn’t see me do this, but I’m going to make a quick copy of the back of license for you so you don’t have to come back.” WHEW! And we all shine on.

 

Monday Morning Comedy Jam: Rob Brydon

My fellow Welshman! Joining forces with Alan Partridge! What more, I ask ye?

I’ll tell ye “what more”: sequel!