Category Archives: Way Stations

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 Embarrassing jokes, juvenile observations, outdated references, and ridiculous quotes retained for posterity’s sake.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*

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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.

 

Ducking Through Scandinavia

Does Forsinket Mean Delayed?

 Nyhaven

Day Four: Two and a half hours from the Reykjavik airport, we reached the Copenhagen Airport, the most anglophobic international airport I have ever seen.  There were no signs in any language other than Danish, no easy-to-follow brochures or guides, and no complete maps or instructions that made it clear how to use the train and the new underground Metro system.  Even pictures would have been nice.  It was also quite strange that there was no customs line to go through, nor customs agent to whom I could have delivered the speech:  Hello, Dread my lord, Your leave and favour to return to (Iceland); From whence though willingly I came to Denmark [Hamlet, Act I, Scene 2ish].

Charity Fountain

Gojira and I went to the DBS train ticket office and asked the agent for two tickets to Kongens Nytorv.  The agent handed us a little slip of a receipt that only had a price and time stamp on it and assured us that it would cover all the modes of transportation we needed to take to get to where we wanted to go.  We found the track at which our train was supposed to arrive.   When a train eased into the station, we approached the conductor to confirm the destination of the train and the validity of our ticket:

“Can we use this ticket for this train to get to Kongens Nytorv?”

(shrugs his shoulders) “I am not sure.  Go ask that man.”

 

We looked way down the track to see ticket-checker standing near the train.  By the time we reached him, the doors had closed and the train pulled out.  Turns out we could have taken that train.  No matter.  There was another one coming in 20 minutes.  So we waited.  And waited.  And suddenly the screen that we had our eyes glued to changed.  A Danish woman came up to Gojira and asked what was going on.  Gojira explained that she didn’t speak Danish and so the woman repeated her question in English.  They looked up at the screen and then:

“Well, I think the train is delayed and is coming on another track,” said Gojira.

“What?” asked the woman.

“Doesn’t spor mean track?”

“Yes.”

“And does forsinket mean delayed?”

“Yes.”

“And does ændre mean changed?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then, doesn’t that mean that the train is delayed and the track has changed?”

“Yes.”

 

While Gojira conducted an impromptu lesson in teaching the Danes Danish, some young gypsy woman tried to enlist my help in carrying her luggage onto the next train.  She had one little rolling bag and one mammoth-sized, hardback suitcase.  She indicated that I should lug the gargantuan monstrosity even though I had two bags of my own.  I suggested she take the larger of the two and I’d help her with the smaller.  After I helped the woman onto her train (with nary a “tak” in return) and Gojira helped the Danette translate the announcements, we ran from Spor 2 to Spor 1 only to find out that our train had disappeared completely from the screen.  Apparently, it was canceled and the next train was going to arrive on Spor 2.  Back over the bridge, fuming and hungry and tired, we finally boarded a train that looked right, transferred to a driver-less subway car swarming with some unruly Danish children, and finally arrived at Kongens Nytorv, the biggest city square in Copenhagen.

 View from our room in Copenhagen

We were too disgruntled to appreciate the beauty of the old buildings’ architecture and the dainty lights brightening up the evening, so we trudged ahead and found our new lodgings at Olsen Residence.  We were shown to our spacious, cheery room by some dude who may or may not have worked there.  We tossed our stuff down and headed out in search of a meal because we had not eaten since that morning.  We found a lovely Italian/Mexican restaurant, Mamma Rosa, with an attentive waiter and good food.  Bellies full, we took an enjoyable walk along Strøget, ‘the world’s longest pedestrian mall’ and then settled in to our room with its high ceilings, tall windows, lemon-colored walls, and soft beds.

 

Day Five: Børk! Børk! Børk!

The local newspaper gave an explanation for the train debacle we experienced in a report that reviewed the latest problems the system had been facing.  In response to the delays, canceled trains, and erratic scheduling, the locals have dubbed the system, “the blunderground.”  Knowing that the inconvenience and confusion we had encountered at the train station was not the norm somehow made us feel better.

 

We tried to find Rolf, the proprietor of Olsen Residence, to pay him for the room but neither he nor anyone else could be found.  After breakfast at a little Quick-Stop café, we strolled down Strøget which is actually made up of five streets, all of which are packed with stores, restaurants, and tourist shops and dotted here and there with lovely fountains and squares.

Christianborg Palace Borsen stock exchange building

We checked our e-mail for free at the Use-It information center and loaded ourselves with maps, schedules, and tours.  We reached the Tivoli amusement park and garden before too long (new exchange rate is one American step = seven Danish steps) and turned around to walk along the serene canals.

Copenhagen Canal

We sighed over the cloudy weather, examined our various maps and train schedules, and considered our options.

“I bet it’s sunny in Sweden.”

“OK, let’s go there!”

 

We marched through the drizzly rain from Kongens Nytorv to the Central Train Station near the Tivoli, bought our train tickets ($20 per person round-trip), and headed off to Malmö, Sweden.  The train sped over the Öresund bridge (Fun Fact: Connecting Denmark and Sweden, this is the world’s longest single cable-stayed main span bridge carrying both road and railway traffic!) and 35 minutes later, we were in sunny Sweden.

Rainbow Tracks Train over the Oresund Bridge

We picked up some maps and brochures from the train station (taking note that the visitor’s card had a duck featured prominently on it).  We wandered around the town engaging in our usual comparison shopping of postcards, bank exchange rates, and Swedish licorice and fish.  Lunch provided by our very own Swedish chef consisted of cheeseburgers, fries, and cokes.  We browsed around a huge H&M store, bought every flavor of Läkerol licorice, and took the scenic tour through the Gamla begravnings platsen cemetery and the Slottsträgården garden.

Lakerol for Sale

We sat at the banks of a little pond where several ducks were paddling around to greet the visitors – see, the visitor’s cards don’t lie!  We briefly looked at Malmöhus Slott (a 16th-century castle that looked like a plain, brick warehouse) and then headed back to the train station (a bustling terminus that looked like a 16th-century castle).

Malmo Train Station

Back in Copenhagen, we walked up and down the length of the main street looking for a place to eat and finally decided upon a shwarma dive.  A creepy street performer sat next to us and threw his woven bag down on the seat next to me.  I could have sworn he had some sort of pick-pocketing monkey stashed away in there and so we quickly finished up our meal and headed over to the posh Café Europa which overlooked the Storkespringvandet Fountain, a popular meeting place during the day and apparently a handy urinal at night.  After warming ourselves up with some pricey caffeine, we trekked back up to the Tivoli to watch the much-touted fireworks display.  By midnight, when we realized there was not going to be a display of any kind, we returned to our room and called it a night.

 

Day Six: Hillerød

We began our day with a walk to Christianhaven across the inner harbor.  We dodged the fleet of early morning commuters on bikes and cars, crossed the bridge, and found our way to the “free city” of Christiania – a little patch of alternative lifestyle clinging fiercely to the 1970s.  We looked at the rickety, wooden sign and the ramshackle structures at the entrance, snapped a picture, and ran away before any hippies from Pusherstreet could get us hepped up on goofballs.

Postkasse Sunny Copenhagen Borsen in the sun

We strolled over and along the canals until we found a wonderful coffee shop:  Baresso near the Stork Fountain.  Across from the “see and be seen” Café Europa, we were happily ensconced in Baresso with our daily special of croissants and café au lait, seeing people walk through the square but not being seen.  At the Central Train Station, we asked for two round-trip tickets to Hillerød, a little town 30km north of Copenhagen.  The agent gave us one yellow-colored, three-zone card, told us to clip it five times to get to Hillerød and another five times to return and that it would cover both of us.  Gojira and I found our Spor and spent the next 25 minutes on the train wracking our brains trying to figure out how five clips on a three-zoned card could be evenly divided by two people.  We were relieved that no ticket-checker came by to boot us off the train and when we arrived, we followed the signs to the gorgeous, elaborate Fredicksborg Slot.

Fredricksborg Slot Fred Slot 2

It turned out to be a bright, beautiful day and the sky was so blue, the clouds so white, and the grass so green and inviting that we lay down near the artificial lake amongst the ducks (roughly 50 to 60) and just sunbathed for a while.  The sun shined brightly on the castle’s towers and spires as we walked through the courtyard and admired the intricate archways and sparkling fountain.  The castle grounds gave way to a lavish garden where we watched school children fishing off a tiny wooden dock in some shallow creeks with the sun glinting off of their white hair.  Did I mention that the sun was out that day? Fredicksborg Slot was absolutely picturesque and charming and we had a wonderful time there.  After lunch at a nearby brasserie, we returned to Copenhagen.

Fred Slot 8 T catching some elusive Danish rays Mini Slot for Am Fred Slot Gardens 2 Fred Slot Gardens Fred Slot Waterlilies

We had a great dinner at the Thai restaurant Wokshop where we shared various dishes of assorted noodles and some very pleasant elderberry juice.  Our meal was followed by a walk back to Christianhaven to lounge around at Luftkastellet, a small man-made beach bar on the banks of the Inderhaven (inner harbor) with a fantastic view of Copenhagen.  After night fell and a single firework went off over the water, we decided to head back to our place with every intention of returning the next day and just sitting on the beach in the sun all day long.  (cue the dramatic cliff-hanger music).

 

Day Seven: Helsingør

We began the day by exploring the side streets of Strøget and walking through the royal gardens of the city center alongside the guards (wardrobe presumably provided by the “The Wizard of Oz”) at Rosenborg Slot.  Creatures of habit, we had breakfast at Baresso and walked to the train station to go to Helsingør (making this our third afternoon NOT spent in Copenhagen).  Smug with our understanding of how the ticket system worked, we boarded our train with no hassles, no delays, and no gypsies.  Under an hour later, we reached the northern-most part of Zealand (supposedly – perhaps sarcastically – known as the “Danish Riviera”) and walked to Kronberg Slot, also famously known as Hamlet’s Elsinore Castle.

Rosenborg Slot Rundetarn Round Tower

It was an appropriately gray and gloomy day as dark, cumulonimbus clouds gathered and posed threateningly above the castle.  Although Kronberg Slot was not as imposing and grand as Fredricksborg Slot, we still had fun reciting some Shakespeare and, like the über-nerds we are, posing with a homemade origami skull that Gojira made on the train.  Realizing that the “Alas, poor Yorrick” speech was made at a graveyard rather than the castle’s courtyard, we paid our homage to Hamlet by acting mad.  We strolled along the slice of the Öresund Strait that links the North Sea and the Baltic Sea and then returned to the train station just as the rain began to fall.

Kronborg Slot 3 Kronborg Slot 2 Alas poor YorrickKronborg Slot 5

By the time we reached Copenhagen, it was raining steadily.  We dodged bicyclists, sharp umbrellas, and deceptively deep puddles and opted for a nap before dinner.  As luck would have it, we finally ran into Rolf, our host, and paid him for the room.  He was laid-back, friendly, and very trusting because apparently he tells his guests that before they leave, they should just leave the money and the key on the bed.  I spoke to some of the other guests and they had the same experience we did: no Rolf at check-in time, no sign of anyone during the stay, but happy with the clean, comfortable rooms in the prime location for low prices.

 

We slogged through the downpour to be rewarded with our new favorite restaurant:  Sushitarian.  It was close by, the waitress was very friendly, and the food was absolutely delicious.  We had coffee at Mojo’s across the street where we spent the better part of the night until they started to clean up around us and close.  Back in our room, we packed, chatted, and finally got to sleep . . . perchance to dream . . . about ducks.

Long Day

Barbaji Dream House

I’ll miss AdMo: the spitting-distance proximity to the grocery store, the metro, the school, the parks, the restaurants, the doctors, and TP’s office downtown; the eclectic mix of neighbors who keep an eye out for one another and hold impromptu front porch/playground parties; the street cred gained from sticking here for five years and raising two children in the city.

But, I reckon it’s time to move on (space, safety, and looking-to-the-future issues) and if so, then I want our next house to be baby-bear-porridge.  Our 105 year old house has held up well in providing us with what we needed (foremost, getting away from our crack-dealing neighbors and their insane dogs in our old ‘hood) but if we are going to move, then the next house has to have the following (in no particular order):

  • Good schools (debate between DC’s premiere public school and any of MoCo’s public school rages on).
  • Close to the Metro (for easy access to both of our offices as well as the city in general).
  • Lots of light (duh).
  • Excellent kitchen (those Spanish Tortillas and haleem and cookies and salsa and gelato don’t make themselves in a cramped space, ya know).
  • Five bedrooms minimum (or four bedrooms and an office).
  • Three bathrooms minimum (with at least one on the main floor – the lack of one here has been the biggest bane of my life in this house).
  • Washer and dryer (I can’t believe there was a time when I had to truck my unmentionables to a laundromat and hoard quarters for same for years; I’m pretty sure any house that meets the above qualifications would meet this one too but it had to be said).
  • Garden for flowers, herbs and veggies, maybe even a fruiting tree or two, but not so big a yard that we have to mow it all the time.
  • Parking for two cars (preferably one that does not involve the do-se-do dance we perform every week now due to street sweeping and zone restrictions).

Those are the basics.  Now for the “Dream” part of the “Dream House”:

  • Covered front porch with swings and overhead fan.
  • Small garden (see above) but walking distance to Rock Creek Park (or equivalent) where we can enjoy nature without having to groom, trim, weed, or otherwise take care of it.
  • Close to grocery store, shops, and fun stuff but far enough away that we aren’t disturbed by visitors and/or carousers coming to enjoy the same (had enough of that in this hip neighborhood, thank you very much.  Waking up to drunkards on our front steps or, worst ever, van-a-rockin’ in our back yard has lost its charm).
  • Mosquito-free.
  • Snow-plow friendly.
  • Bay windows.
  • Brick and/or stone and/or Moorish architecture.
  • Fire place that never needs restocking or cleaning.
  • Playroom that never needs restocking or cleaning.
  • Spacious guest room that is frequently filled.
  • Gigantic library.  The kind that needs a ladder to reach the top shelves.
  • Near a golf course. And the beach and the ocean. And the mountains and national parks.  And the city and the country.  Surprisingly, this will be an easy feat if we stay in this area.

Where the Sun Really Don’t Shine, Like, Ever: In Which Baji and Gojira Are…Blah Blah Blah (Days 4 and  5)

Day 4: I Dream of Haleem. Baji begins the day with a cup of hot coffee, three of Dr. Praeger’s Potato Pancakes and cinnamon french toast. Gojira wakes up to discover that she has contracted meat face, a condition that results from the overconsumption of meat and manifests itself in red splotches upon one’s face. (Meat face is commonly accompanied by meat body, also contracted during this vacation.) A failed attempt to go beachcombing at Manasota Beach due to high winds and cold temps nevertheless results in a handful of shark’s teeth for Gojira to use to replace her own teeth when the time comes. We seek warmth in the form of mochas at neighboring Venice Beach.

Cures What Ails, or Chills, Ya

Throwing caution to the wind, we try out a strip mall Thai restaurant, where Gojira politely excuses herself before spitting out a dumpling not to her liking.  Just to be bossy, Baji insists on following tradition and makes Gojira pick out her own mug at the Goodwill store and makes TP pay for it. Back home, TP exercises, Baji naps and Gojira downloads Scottish-accented apps.

The kids are afforded an opportunity to participate in the $2 per bag bonanza at the library but instead hit the computers for some game time. Baji and Gojira carefully select another bag’s worth of books to donate to the retirement community’s clubhouse library and include an inscription in each one.

Two out of two Bajira!s recommend this reading

Baji makes black bean soup which nicely complements the meat dish Nani made for us. ZP asks, “Auntie Gojira, can we play hide and seek ten times?” Gojira assents and ZP counts them off, telling Gojira where to hide each time and squealing in terror each time Auntie Gojira finds him (even though she is the one hiding). After the tenth time, ZP asks, “Auntie Gojira, can we play hide and seek twelve times?” Gojira suggests lounging time instead and is rebuffed. Baji remains safely hidden for the duration. After the kids and grandparents are asleep, we netflix. We have our doubts while watching I Am Alan Partridge, but then the references to 20-foot chickens and ladyboys cocktails win us over.

You farmers, you have great big sheds that no-one’s allowed to go in, and inside those sheds you have 20 foot chickens! And the chickens are scared because they’re so enormous, and they say “why am I so big?” and they look down and see all the other normal-sized chickens, and they think they’re in an airplane.

Day 5: Meat Face Flies Away. Baji starts the day scrounging around for the amazing cream-filled Italian doughnuts Gojira brought over but forgets that she gobbled those things up ages ago. Gojira starts the day with 12 pieces of french toast or thereabouts, one piece of banana bread, one potato pancake, and half a paratha. A light breakfast (and totally vegetarian!). She scares the children one last time, then Baji and TP take her to the airport. TP and Baji morosely find ways to fill their Gojira-less time by buying some car seats, going to Jummah/napping respectively, and playing tennis/watching tennis respectively. Gojira has developed Meat Scalp and has not eaten since. TP and Baji are eating broth for the next ninety days (depending on what your definition of “broth” and “ninety” is).

Did Bajira! turn their award–winning blog into a BBC miniseries starring Colin Firth and a cheeky monkey? Did Baji finish writing Good Fishing in Florida: The Musical? Did Gojira drive off a cliff? We’ll never know, because we’ve reached the end of our travelogue (though most of you know that Gojira can’t drive, on or off cliffs, and that Baji refuses to write any musicals without assistance from Joss Whedon).

Where the Sun Really Don’t Shine: In Which Baji and Gojira Are Baji and Gojira (Days 2 and 3)

Day 2: Breakfast and Books Bonanza. As promised, Nani makes Gojira a mountain of buttery pancakes and true to her name, Gojira eats the mountain (her own) as well as the little hill abutting it (the beasts’). Then throughout the day, when no one is looking (and also when they are), she sneaks more pancakes from the fridge. ZP asks Gojira what her sister’s name is and when Gojira tells him that her sister is a brother and his name is Graxenheimer Schnitzel the Third, ZP says, “That’s a silly sister.” Indeed, ZP, indeed. AP tries to hobble Gojira to prevent her early departure by smashing Gojira’s foot with a basket of eggs. Concerned, AP takes the eggs to the local cardiologist, who is playing minigolf in the next room. He declares them bad for her cholesterol but good for the adorableness pageant.

With the threat of thunderstorms turning out to be empty, we return to the Jacaranda Public Library a few minutes after it opens and attack the book sale, where you can fill up a plastic bag with books for just $2! We each fill up a bag and have a grand old time, taking pictures of the sign for “Adult Videos” (consisting of videos about World War II) and of us with Wagamama Lackawanna Jacaranda eyes (you had to be there, and by “there” we mean “Ireland” and by “you” we mean “we”). TP reports that he is enjoying the country club’s tennis courts and so we go to Fatty Starbuckles and drink some caffeinated beverages while reading our books, one of which is the all-time classic  Good Fishing in Florida with a supremely useful author‘s note:

Rube Allyn’s Advice

Visit consignment store in attempt to find a sweater for AP in light of the inhospitable cold spell we are subjected to.  Return home, where Gojira is forced to speed-read  A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian because Baji will take it later. Gojira multitasks by devouring the book and a bowl of keema, which she washes down with mango lassi. In the evening, TP exercises while Baji and Gojira lounge around on the couch until bedtime during which we lounge around watching Lost. Baji patiently endures Gojira’s questions: Who is Jacob? Which past-future is this? What is that on Claire’s head? Did you know that those “Iraqi” goons just said, “Dost thou want to come with me?” Sawyer loved who?!

Day 3: Sushi! Also pancakes. Baji, TP and Gojira go to the outlet mall and look for a can opener. TP finds a shirt, a belt, and some kickin’ kicks; Baji finds a jacket and a styling yellow ensemble for AP; Gojira finds some underwear. Using the food court’s free wi-fi, we hem and haw over a place for lunch and finally decide upon Bonefish Grill, where we are cruelly denied entrance seeing as how they don’t open until 4 pm. Driving aimlessly and hankering for fish, we spot a sign for a sushi place at a local strip mall near the airport. Screeeech! But first we have to convince TP that mall sushi is clearly going to be safe and good and amazing.  In fact it is, and later he pretends it was his idea. We applaud Kumo Japanese Steak House and Sushi Lounge and mark it for future visits.

Tempura Tower awaiting destruction by Gojira

Later we buy more chips and eat them in the car as an appetizer for our meaty meat meat dinner (spinach and gosht and leftovers). Inhale Häagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream while thoroughly enjoying Julie & Julia (particularly when we draw similarities to our own cooking—”poaching an egg is not that hard!”; “living with her must be exhausting”; “I hate cutting onions like that”—and blogging). Agree that we like Julia better than Julie.

And then what happened? Did Bajira! commit aggravated philanthropy on a group of defenseful senior citizens? Did we plaster Lil Baji’s room with posters of Robert Pattinson? Did one of us contract a rare tropical disease? Some of the answers and more tomorrow!

Where the Sun Don’t Shine: In Which Baji and Gojira Are Reunited (Pre-Day 1 and Day 1)

Pre-Day 1: Reunited and It Feels So Good. Baji travels to Sarasota in the company of a charming scared-of-flying-so-snacking-throughout Canadian who reveals her admirable frugality by explaining how she drove to Buffalo and flew for $300 rather than departing from Toronto for $900. Baji is pleased with her fellow canjoose traveler. The next day, Gojira lands in Sarasota and is greeted by Baji, Baji’s snazzy hairdo and TP. Baji, Baji’s snazzy hairdo and TP are in turn greeted by Gojira and Gojira’s snazzy hairdo. First things first: We buy some arrabbiata chips and blackened pretzels for which Sarasota is famous. Then we eat them in the car. We see an unbelievably enormous planet-sized yellow moon and consider whether we are driving to the house or have ended up on a movie lot where we will be threatened with expulsion or, worse, get hit on the head by a boom mike. We go home to our retirement community off Jacaranda, which is not Lackawanna, where Gojira gets to see the beasts, highly smushable and cute as always. Baji looks on with fondness from a safe distance in hopes that they will accept their new mommy while old mommy seeks refuge on the couch. With her feet up. And without being on high alert in case of attack or demands. Bliss and meat (haleem and keema with a side of bhindi) for all.

Day 1: Florida Pretends to Be Sunny. Sous-chef Baji preps the makings of the Spanish Tortilla and Chef TP assembles and plates it. Breakfast contentedly consumed, we make plans for lunch. Today turns out to be the only really sunny day and fortunately we spend the majority of it outside.  A 40-minute drive turns out to be an hour and a half due to the unexplained stand-still traffic but we finally make it to St. Armands.

Señor Pulpo after having spent too much time in the alleged Florida sun

Lunch at Crab and Fin with Señor Pulpo and his pals, followed by gelato and cafes at Le Macaron (not to be confused with El Maricón).  We saunter and wander and meander around the circle until we collapse at incomprehensibly soft-sanded Lido Beach, where Gojira makes a sandboot, Baji makes a sandhigh-heel that doubles as a cast and TP makes a face. Gojira and Baji lie in the sun and listen to several Ricky Gervais podcasts while intermittently breaking the silence with fits of giggles and repetition of what Karl Pilkington said, which makes us miss what Ricky and Stephen JUST said and so we rewind and laugh all over again.  “Just pop it on your wrist!” is trotted out on several occasions whether or not it is appropriate at the time.

With extra kid-free time still allotted, we hit the Goodwill bookstore but are offended by their “half off the cover price” gouging and attempt to salvage the scavenger hunt for cheap books at the Jacaranda Public Library instead.

“I’ve had it up to HERE with your … (air quotes) RULES!”

Apparently our citified ways don’t play well here and we are chastised for attempting to purchase anything at the book sale at 4:45 pm when the library closes at 5 pm. We seek and find solace in meat (Italian meatballs and more haleema) and flan.

And then what happened? Was Gojira attacked by the precursor of a 20-foot chicken? Did Baji attempt to buy books with a heretofore unheard-of “twenty” dollar bill? Is Locke really dead and what’s up with Claire’s hair? Find out tomorrow, when our exciting non-adventure continues!