Tag Archives: vacation

For whom the bell chimes

imageIn the quiet of the morning I have the house to myself. The trees sway a bit and occasionally the tremendous wind chimes toll their gorgeous and deep notes. It’s peaceful and I find myself, rather than imagining the day’s activities, reflecting upon all the years we’ve been fortunate enough to spend time in this beautiful place.

For seventeen summers we’ve been coming to Cape Cod. My children don’t recall a single summer of their lives when they did not spend some amount of time at the beach. Their growth from infants covered and protected from the sun to young boys slathered in sunscreen sporting (hopefully) life-preserving vests to almost men itching to drive has been breathtaking. I wish I could remember more of the early days, but the memories which do remain are vivid and never fail to elicit a smile. They were exhausting, but good days.

As the children have grown at a furious rate of speed the overall pace of our vacation has decreased. No longer is it necessary to pack multiple bags and coolers in an attempt to anticipate every single need imaginable. Life here has become simple in a new, now more easily appreciated way.

Moving forward isn’t always easy, though. Growth and change can be intimidating and there are scary parts to negotiate as we travel from who we once were to who we are destined to become. And now, over the quiet gong of the wind chimes, I hear feet slap the wood floor. Time to share the day.

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Filed under aging, Boys, Cape Cod, family, musings, relationships, Summer, vacation

The sun also rises

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Photo: Jessica Kelly

Tonight we laughed under a sky filled with shadows and ever changing bands of purple and fuchsia. As the sun set in the west, I waded through the tide to reach the bridge so I could witness (and cheer on) the daredevil feats of 4 boys. It was a magical evening.

The wind was wet and warm driving away the pesky green headed flies and allowing the guys to jump “one more time” again and again. I thought about their boldness and admired their nerve. It gets harder as we age to take leaps into the quasi darkness.

We’re approaching a second full moon for the month of July, a blue moon, and the waters are responding by becoming deeper at high tide. On our little slice of heaven the road leading to the bridge becomes unpassable, prompting a sense of isolation which can leave us feeling comforted or detached. Or maybe both.

The water, though, will recede and our path will again be revealed. And, of course, despite tonight’s fascination with the colors of the setting of the sun, the sun will also rise.

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Filed under aging, Boys, Cape Cod, musings, Summer, vacation

Sleeping around – France

In my 25+ years of traveling around Europe, I’ve slept in quite a variety of places. My very first trip back in 1988 provided me with both my most crude and my most refined accommodations; specifically the floor of a ferry crossing the North Sea and the lovely hotel in London where my friends and I were ultimately put up after our flight home was overbooked. The bathtub from that semi-posh place remains a luxurious memory of what was a very low-budget trip.

Since that time, I’ve stayed in an array of places – bed and breakfasts, a botel (a hotel on a boat), pensions, dormitories, a villa, apartments, small boutique hotels and larger chains. I’ve never had a single dreadful experience. After hearing a number of things about Airbandb, I decided to give their service a shot. I was not disappointed.

63d77637_originalMy Paris needs were kind of specific (3 beds, 2 bathrooms, near the Metro and with wifi), but not unreasonable. I wasn’t particular about which arrondissement we were in, but parking would be a bonus since I had family driving from Germany to join us. Here’s the apartment we ended up selecting for our stay. The area was reminiscent of the London Docklands or Battery Park City in Manhattan – not in the middle of everything, yet easily accessible. The flat was super modern, yet warm and the bathrooms were spacious and clean. It was a bit pricy (we paid a total of $616 for 3 nights), but when divided by two, it was a downright deal, particularly when you factor in the secure and free parking.

Selecting an apartment in Normandy was a challenge because I really didn’t know where to stay – coast? City? Country?9a9bea81_original I ultimately made the decision to stay in Bayeux because it had survived WW II relatively unscathed and there was a train station. The apartment I chose was a wonderful blend of old world charm and modern amenities in a central location. There were 2 bedrooms, a loft with a large bed and skylights, a washing machine, a contemporary kitchen and numerous small terraces. There was only one bathroom, but the WC and bathroom were separate facilities. Again, we had a parking space for my Uncle’s car and were able to easily walk to bistros, shops and historic sites. The total for our stay was $372, again divided by two.

We spent our last two nights in Paris at a hotel. I booked the rooms in advance using Hotwire and spent a total of $396, my share being $198. Our hotel, The Mercure, was in a super convenient spot near a train station and numerous Metro stops. The neighborhood was lively with no lack of venues for entertainment, eating or drinking. Our 4th floor room was generously sized and had a table and chairs as well as a small fridge. My son was very impressed with the speakers throughout the room (including in the WC) which prevented him from missing a moment of the BBC station he enjoyed in the morning. Personally, I loved the large window overlooking the busy street and our ability to walk to the Eiffel Tower. It was exactly what I was seeking at a more than reasonable price.

For 8 nights, $600 seems like a bargain amount to spend on accommodations.  Airbandb  delivered on their promise and I’ve already begun browsing their site for a potential place to stay next year when I go away with my middle son. His pick? Portugal and Spain. Tips, anyone?

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Filed under Europe, France, Recommendations, travel, Uncategorized, vacation

Living (too) large

You know how they say “travel is broadening?” Well, when it comes to the size of my ass, I’d definitely have to agree. Seriously, I’ve taken to referring to my hips as “croissant” and “pain au chocolat.” Whatever. I don’t regret eating a single slab of pâté or hunk of Camembert. It was vacation.

Now that I’m home, though, I’m actually feeling the need to downsize a bit. And I’m not just talking about the size of my hips. You see, one of the things that struck me during my travels was the simplicity of how Europeans live. Both apartments where we stayed, one modern and one in a more aged building, were built on a much small-scale than their American counterparts. Honestly, it made our American tendency to accumulate seem downright vulgar.

Let me give you a couple of examples…

The bedroom closets are really compact to accommodate much smaller wardrobes than those of the typical American. I’m talking maybe 2 ½ feet of hanging rod space and a handful of drawers. Coming home to my walk-in step-in closet and double-sided rolling clothing rack embarrassed me. Why do I have so much frigging clothing?

Both flats had lovely, updated kitchens. If these kitchens are any indication, Ikea seems to dominate the market and I am definitely going to consider going that route myself when I address my tired kitchen cabinets. Both kitchens were well laid out and contained more than adequate storage for the limited number of necessary items. That being said, neither kitchen had extraneous space, merely enough cupboards for cookware, dishes, glassware and some pantry items. Why do American kitchens require so much space?

One of the apartments we rented had 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and a combined kitchen, dining and living room. The other had 2 bedrooms, a large loft sleeping area, kitchen and combined living/dining room. There was one bathroom. I don’t think either of these apartments exceeded 800 or 900 square feet. Why do new American homes need to be nearly three times that size? Who convinced us that we should aspire to maintain, heat and clean such large residences?

Time for me to minimize.

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Filed under Europe, house, musings, Observations, travel, vacation

Getting around – Paris

When I’m in a new city, I like to walk as much as possible. In my mind, it makes it easier for me get my bearings and it helps me to see as much as possible of a new place. That being said, our Paris accommodations weren’t as central as they might have been and we needed to rely upon public transportation to get where we wanted to be. Fortunately, Paris has some excellent options.

We arrived in the early afternoon after traveling for nearly 14 hours. I was a bit foggy from the Valium I had taken and I simply wanted to get to our Airbandb* in the Boulogne- Billancourt neighborhood. Prior to flying, I had downloaded the Uber app and gotten a 50 euro (about $54) estimate for the ride. It was a bit of an indulgence, but ultimately was a good value for the nearly one-hour, door to door ride. After collecting our luggage, I opened the app and let Uber know we were ready to be picked up.  Within minutes our car had arrived and we were on our way. It was my first Uber experience and it was positive.

For our remaining days in Paris we relied upon the excellent Metro. We (read Liam, my remarkable adept subway map reader) quickly figured out the system – locate your starting and your ultimate destination. Determine the direction you need to take the train by looking at the last stop in both directions on a particular line, i.e our line, the 9, has end points of Pont de Sevre and Mairie de Montreuil. To go into the city center we went to the platform labeled the latter. There are maps posted and readily available in the stations and, once on the train, all of the cars had maps of the line. The newer train cars have maps with lights to indicate which stop will be next. Easy – and cheap. Tickets are euro 1.80 individually or sold in packs of 10 for about 14 euro. Two of the days we intended to do a lot of exploring so we bought a 2-day pass for less than $10 a person per day.

When it came to time to leave Paris and return to the airport, we were departing from a different, more central location, the Montparnasse neighborhood. We were  much more experienced with getting around, so, instead of a cab ride we went with a combination of Metro and RER trains. While the Metro covers zones 1 and 2 of the city, the RER includes all five zones and it is the way to go if you’re heading to more suburban areas or to either of the airports. We had a couple of extra Metro tickets on hand, so we elected to take the 6 from Gare Montparnasse a couple of stops to Denfert Rochereau where we bought  tickets to Charles de Gaulle at a price of $10 euro each (approximately $11). It was super simple and maybe one day traveling to JFK will be as seamless.

A couple of additional points – the trains are clean and run frequently. I don’t think we ever waited more than 4 minutes on any platform. There are clocks indicating when the next train is expected to arrive and they are amazingly accurate. Also, some of the stations are absolutely beautiful with tile mosaics and other eye appealing design features. I was more than a little obsessed with the street level light and sign indicators. A couple of my favorites are below.

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*More about my Airbandb (excellent!) in a future post

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Filed under Europe, France, Recommendations, travel

Bijoux

🎶 I love Paris, that’s the song (Ella Fitzgerald version) that has been playingimage incessantly in my head for nearly the last week. Such a cliché, right? Limiting my love to merely Paris, though, would be unfair to the rest of the country. There’s so much to love!

In previous visits, I’ve been smitten by Alsace where the blend of French and German cultures has created a region of friendly residents who enjoy terrific wines and a hearty cuisine, all in setting of rolling hills fragrant with lavender.

This trip to Normandy, my first, has been a wonderful experience. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so proud to be an American while traveling abroad as I’ve been these past few days. The appreciation for the accomplishments of previous generations of our armed forces remains tangible in this region. Our flag is flown alongside those of France and Normandy and honored. God bless, America, incarnate.

imageMy favorite moments have been small, tiny little jewels which will continue to sparkle when I take them out to remember. Savoring the local cuisine – the cheese, pate foie gras, apple tart, kir Normand and oysters. Laughing with my son when I couldn’t recall the phrase to request our check (l’addition, s’il vous plait) in the bistro after indulging in my first ever calvados. A late afternoon soaking in the sun on our little patio, accompanied by a book and a bottle of cider.  All gems of France to be treasured.

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Filed under Boys, drinking, Eating, Europe, Food, France, travel, vacation

Edith Piaf lives (in cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise

imageWhen I was 15, I went through my hardcore Doors’ days. Didn’t you? Although not their most commercial album,  An American Prayer became my definition of poetry. I eagerly awaited my turn to read the dog-eared copy of No One Here Gets Out Alive, a Morrison biography, which was circulating through my town and I promised myself that one day I would pay my respects at Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris. Assuming, of course, that he didn’t return from wherever he had fled to escape the fame which had made his life unlivable in the U.S.,* before I got there.

While my son was committed to visiting Napoleon’s tomb while in Paris, a trip to the cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise was on my must do list. On Easter Sunday we took a long Metro ride to make our my pilgrimage. The cemetery is quite large, walled in and covering a hillside in northeastern Paris. Despite our map, we became a little disoriented and missed Morrison’s grave on our initial climb up the hill. Maybe it was the encounter with the fairly fresh grave of one of the victims of the January Je Suis Charlie attacks that caused our confusion. Regardless, we found ourselves in close proximity to Edith Piaf’s grave.

I talked to Liam about who she was and described her rendition of La Vie en Rose, explaining that her version was the definitive one of that classic French song. We paused, paid our respects and then headed down the hill to find Jim Morrison’s grave, inaccessible due to the metal barricades designed to discourage the enthusiastic and devout vandals who have persisted in leaving their mark on his tombstone for more than four decades. It was completely cool and satisfying nonetheless.

Later, we went to Montmartre to view the artists and their work, along with Sacre Coeur. As we walked, from a distance, I heard someone melodically whistling a tune – La Vie en Rose. Perfect.

*if you’re near my age you probably remember the theory that Jim would come back a decade after his “death.”

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Filed under Europe, France, Music, travel, Uncategorized, vacation