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February 12, 2005

I did it!

This week, I've booked my flight and my apartment for my very first trip to Italy and France!
After all the weeks and months of reading, planning, decision-making, talking it over with family and friends, I made my arrangements and it feels totally amazing!

I'll be starting a travel section of this blog, I think...so I can journal my progress and make a record of my journey for my family and friends...

All I can think of is how absolutely blessed I am to live in a world where this kind of trip is possible. The luxury of being able to get on a plane and fly half-way around the world still makes me go, "Wow! That's incredible!"

This has been a long time in the planning, and I've had so many detours along the way that it seems a little surreal right now...and it's way past time for dinner, so perhaps after I've eaten a little bit, this will seem a little more real...

February 24, 2005

Ciao, bellissima...

It's been a long time since I started planning my first trip to Italy...at least 3 years. Starting with a thought that it might be something that I would like to do, this trip planning has progressed to the point that I've picked a place to stay and I've just found out that a friend of mine has a son who works for Flight Center, and he'd be delighted to arrange our travel itineraries for us...that's totally cool!

Normally, it doesn't take me 3 years to plan and go on a trip, but with the unexpected illness of two members of my immediate family, combined with a change of career thrown in for fun, I'm only now arriving at a place where I actually can say, out loud, to anyone who will listen..."I'm going to Italy this spring!"

This last few weeks, I bet I've discovered and browsed through 4/5 of all the "apartment rental Florence Italy" Googled items on the web. I've found crammy little dark smelly-looking places...12 square meters....for 1800 Euro/week plus an additional charge for any utilities used, any and all kitchen, bath and bed linen, an obligatory cleaning twice a week, as well as a healthy damage deposit. At the other end of the stick, I also fell in love with a totally stunning villa just outside of Lucca...5 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms, 2 pools, a gardener...(shades of Lady Chatterly!!!)...a live-in chef and a car that is available to take me anywhere in Italy I can afford to go! So, between the two which would you choose? Hmmmm, if I had the money....

After all the to-ing and fro-ing, I've chosen a really cool apartment on the 5th and top floor of an "old Florentine palace". It has a really delightful-looking kitchen, with loads of cabinetry, a HUGE gas range, full-size fridge/freezer, a marble-topped kitchen table with 6 chairs, and a real, honest-to-goodness terrace, that wraps itself around 2 sides of the apartment. Oh, yeah, the bedroom and a second living room are up one small flight of stairs in an attic with gabled skylights over both the queen bed and the "sofa that converts to a second bed for extra guests."

And, just today, I completed the rental agreement on a sweet 1 bedroom apartment in Paris for one whole deliriously perfect week...yesssssssssssssssssssssssssss! It's not in the middle of things, it is in the 18th arrondissement, a little out of the way, but you know what? I think I will like that. The 24/7 traffic wears me out a bit, so this being out in the 'burbs will suit me just fine, I think...

So, now it is down to packing, arranging for plant care, house care, lawn-watering, work coverage...I know it's a bit early to be this juiced about the trip, but hey! This is, after all, my first ever trip to Europe and I'm totally enjoying the planning and the packing as much as I'll enjoy the actual getting there.

My list of things to do:
*Buy a hockey bag on wheels...the best for packing tons of stuff into a smallish bag...
*Ask my favorite doctor-in-the-Universe for a list of my prescriptions written in Italian, a letter written in Italian, explaining my gluten/lactose intolerance to any chef, waiter or doctor that need to know about it...
*Make sure my banks know about my trip, and know about my upcoming withdrawals of money from overseas banking institutions, on a semi-regular basis ...
*Choose which clothes to take and which to ruthlessly leave behind, hoping that they'll be replaced with a few new pieces from Italy or France...
*Leave detailed lists of how-tos and why-tos for my daughter and my grand-daughter, who will be here, holding down the fort while I'm away...
*Say a prayer of thanks for the grace that has led me to this place where I can take advantage of the wonderful world of travel...
*...oh, yeah, and one more thing? I must remember to look in the mirror tonight before I go to bed, smile widely and say to myself, " You go, girlfriend!"

April 4, 2005

Pre-Italy blues...

Funny thing about travelling for me...I can hardly wait to go, and then...just before I leave, I'm always very, very teary and emotional. What? I can't decide whether I want to go or not?

It's a very strange feeling, sitting in my computer room, with a heated Pitpac wrapped around the back of my neck...last night, I think I pulled a little something...woke with a start and a sharp pain down the left side of my neck. Today, it's still there...and to add to the aggravation, I'm getting the fuzzy, nauseous edges of a migraine or a super-headache of some kind...damn! I'm leaving for Florence in a couple of days, and I want to be not headachey and dosed up on Motrin and drugs.

The tears...oh, yes...I have no clue what that is, although I suspect it has a lot to do with my being little and having a constant stream of people coming and going through the doorway of my life. Every time I leave to go away for any length of time, it's the same thing...and no clue as to what brings it on, except my missing the familiar. My home, my bed, my favorite mugs and my daughter, my son, my son-in-law, and my spectacular grandchildren...friends, my business and my clients...the familiar is what it is, I think.

Part of me longs to go...just go! Travel away and experience the new and the unknown. A small scared part of me inside says, insistently, "No, please, please can't I just stay here where it's safe and warm? Please?"

Tears...after the plane has lifted off, cruising altitude has been reached and the booze truck begins the rounds of the passengers, I'm fine. Just like that, the tears stop...and never come back...at least not until the next time I leave.

April 5, 2005

It's Real...

Funny how planning a trip for a couple of years makes the reality of that trip almost non-existant...or at least, that's how it feels to me, now that I've actually booked the rentals in Florence and Paris, booked my flights, my day at the Uffizi Gallery and another at the Accademia Gallery. When I say these words out loud..."my day at the Uffizi Gallery"...there's a sense of something surreal about it...as if I'm not quite believing that I'm really going this year.

A few family members are not well at all, and my trip has been on hold for the last year and a half, because I was very reluctant to leave for a 3 - 4 week period, knowing that their health may deteriorate while I'm away. And so, I've put off, delayed, pushed backwards all designs for this time away, until finally, this year, I came to a point in my life where I realized my reason for not going had a lot to do with this... in some deep recess of my mind I kinda believed that by my staying home, it would act like a lucky charm of sorts.

Why, if I don't leave, I tell myself, everything will be alright, my family will be safe and my heart will not be broken by their passing. Yet, in reality, I know that there is no such thing as my having any speck of control over their staying or going...funny what tricks the mind plays with the heart, in matters like this.

So, the flights are booked and paid for, my rentals in Florence and in Paris are arranged and travel to and from the airports has been taken care of. I'm going. I am really going. To Florence. To Paris. I've a need to say this out loud every so often, to make it real...to allow the idea of it to saturate my mind and my soul.

Now, I am starting to pack, setting out my confirmations of bookings, guide books, maps, directions, phone numbers, the millions of little things that must accompany me on my trip to give me a feeling of safety and confidence.

I've ordered a hockey duffel bag with wheels...they're great! They hold ga-zillions of things, they're soft-sided so they expand like bread dough to hold all the treasures that accumulate over a 3 week trip, and they are easy to manoeuvre in and out of planes, on and off of luggage carousels. It's not here yet, and so a friend will loan me his, if my new one isn't here on time...It's so funny how I am super-excited and extremely sad at the same time...leaving my familiar surroundings, my darling family, my friends and my live as I know it here always makes me deeply sad for awhile when I am travelling...never figured that out as to why, it just is. I need to sleep on it, just to see if it becomes clearer in the morning.

March 26, 2008

Pre-trip Craziness

My days at work can be slow as slow, and as surely as ginger cookies go with lemon tea, as soon as I am one day from leaving on vacation, the floodgates open, the phone lines ring, people stop by for a variety of reasons and there's no end of it!

Perhaps someone sends an e-mail to everyone else in my world, letting them know that "she's leaving for a few days, so get in there and keep her runnin' in circles"...that's possible. All I know is that it goes crazy just before I leave, and today was no exception.

I'm supposed to be packed, ready to leave around noon tomorrow.
Guess what?
I'm so not ready.
So not.

Rather than freaking out like always, I've decided to adjust my schedule for tomorrow and give myself a breather. I'll leave whenever I am ready, rather than making myself completely nuts by insisting on a preordained departure time. The bottom line is that I have to be at the airport by 10:30 A.M.on Friday morning. Anything earlier than that is a bonus.

So, my self-imposed deadlines are out the window and I'm trying something new...leaving for the airport when I'm ready! As long as I arrive a couple of hours before flight time, it's all good.

A new concept...being kind to myself!
I'll see how well I do with this.
I'll let you know how it goes, after it is over.

"I care not so much what I am to others as what I am to myself.
I will be rich by myself, and not by borrowing." ~ Michel de Montaigne

March 29, 2008

Internet-less!

What a pain!
Here I am in Savannah, Georgia with no internet.
My apartment's internet connection has been iffy, as best.
I've looked for an internet cafe here in Savannah, and there aren't any that I can find. So, I signed myself in at the public library and used a free computer for a few minutes.

Today, my internet connection has been restored.
I have been saved!
And, it's also Sunday!
Hallelujah, hallelujah.
Do you think this is God's way of reminding me of the important things in my life, more important than blogging, posting on my travel site and e-mailing my friends and family? D'ya think?

I'm one of the last hold-outs who refused to step into computer-land until a few years ago. I've been quite vocal at times about the amount of hours some folks spend on the internet and what a waste of time it is.

Now, I'm fearing that I might be one of them.
At least, you'd have thought so, if you'd been here to watch my breathless anticipation while waiting for my connection to be restored.

So, I have the internet back, I'm online, again...let the blogging begin!

"Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day.
Teach that person to use the Internet and they won't bother you for weeks."
~ Author Unknown

March 30, 2008

Pastel World of Forsythe Park in Savannah, Georgia

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Photography credit - me!

This artist was busily creating lovely colour and texture with his pastels this afternoon in Forsythe Park.

It is too damned cold to be painting today, yet the park was full of artists...watercolourist having their pieces blown dry much too fast to allow a decent wash to glaze properly, oil painters patiently picking the bits of dust and leaves that were blowing onto their freshly-laid pigment, and a couple of pastel artists forging ahead in the face of this blustery day.

This artist stopped and talked with me for over an hour, explaining why he loves pastels and why he'll never use another medium, he's so hooked on the pastel world of Schmincke, Rembrandt, Sennelier, Daler Rowney...he might have me convinced to have a go with pastels.

Then, back to his palette, on with his creation...
What a good way to spend an afternoon in Savannah!

March 31, 2008

Savannah Tea Room...go! The food is delicious!

Savannah Tea Room has become my cafe of choice.
The food's really good, the service is lovely and warm, and the teas are delish!
Today, I had a wonderful Mushroom and Parsley soup, then the best Cobb Salad ever and a tray of sweets to close the meal.
You must go there for lunch!
I'm now hoping to find someone who wants to come with me for afternoon tea!
The people today who were enjoying it had plates so heaped with Petite Fours, shortbread and other assorted yummilicious treats that they were taking what they couldn't eat home with them in doggie bags. I'd have gladly helped them out if they'd have asked!
Tea, anyone?

"We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven't had any tea for a week...
The bottom is out of the Universe."
~ Rudyard Kipling

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April 1, 2008

Thoughts...

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Mercer Williams House, Savannah, Georgia

Savannah, Georgia
It's a golden city, with a history that is incredible.
I had no idea how the city was developed and who was responsible for the most intelligent design of a city that I think I've ever seen. The streets lead to and from gorgeously landscaped public squares that are full of landscaping, benches, statues, water features...all creating a lush location for people who are walking through the city.

Here are a few things that I discovered today...

Barnard Street, full of antique shops and home decor stores.
Beautiful!

Carriage rides, horse-drawn carriages slowly weaving in and out of the traffic, taking people through the city in a graceful way. Nothing hurried, nothing rushed, just a simple horse and carriage ride. Reminds me of being a child and taking a horse-drawn sleigh ride in the wintertime.

River Street, difficult to get to, easy to love!
River Street Sweets...best pralines in the world. Buy several, eat them all at once. You'll never crave sugar again.

Mercer Williams House and Carriage Shop, a mysterious place for me to visit today.
Having read the book and watched the movie about the life and death of Jim Williams who restored Mercer House, it was a strange visit to the Carriage Shop today.
I browsed through the book that Jim's sister, Dr. Dorothy Kingery, has written about her brother, looked at all of the photos of Jim's restoration projects and realized that this man made the world a better place by his innate ability to transform a broken-down historical house into a place of perfection.
I overheard people telling stories to one another about Jim and his life in Savannah, and I wondered what he'd think about all that has happened to this city and this house since his death. Some of the changes are directly related to his life, and more importantly to his death.
I left the house, thinking that Jim deserved to live many more years and to enjoy his homes and continue his restorations. He was a genius, and the world's a poorer place without him and his gifts.

"Living here pisses off all the right people." ~ Jim Williams

April 4, 2008

Savannah's a Seductress

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After spending a week and a few days in this sultry, steamy, hot and sexy city of the South, I can tell you categorically, she's a baaaad girl!

I've never been so wiled and beguiled by any place in this world like I've been by the delicious city of Savannah. From the wonderfully welcoming people to the warm and humid weather, I've felt like I've been wrapped up in a romance novel for the last while.

Our tour guide told us tonight that Savannah is the city that most people cannot help but return to...perhaps the ghosts that populate the city haunt the visitors as well as the Savannahian homes.
Whatever it is, people return to Savannah in droves, cannot stay away and cannot wait to come back again.
Count me in! I'm a convert, dahlin'.

April 8, 2008

Savannah Afterthoughts...

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I'm home from my stellar 10 days in Savannah, Georgia.
My travel site, Slowtrav, held a gathering in this most beautiful of cities, and over 80 Slowtravellers showed up for a few days together.

We stayed in hotels, motels, B & B's, apartments and private cottage rentals.
We ate Low Country cooking, Royal Champagne High Tea, Italian, Thai, funky southern food and fresh seafood by the boatload.

People arrived by car and plane.
They came from the southwestern corner of California to the northwestern end of Alberta, from the southeast coast of Florida to the far northern reaches of frigid, snowbound Ontario.

They traveled to Savannah solo, with partners, with kids and with grandkids.
Everyone arrived with their hopes and anticipation for a warm and welcoming visit with each other.

We ate together, walked together, visited and talked together and always, simmering in the background, our affection and love for each other percolated gently, making each moment memorable.

Some of us slept late, others were up with the sun.
A few Slowtravellers arrived early in Savannah and others stayed on after the rest of us went home.

We are as different from each other as black is to white, as day to night. Yet, we gelled like a finely tuned machine and each one did their part to help to create a wonderfully warm weekend of good company and good food...and not a little good drink!

I'm home.
I'm sleeping in my own bed and drinking out of my favorite cup, coincidentally given to me by my Slowtrav friends a few years ago.
I'm here in my own corner of the world, but a very lovely part of me remains in Savannah, waiting for me to return, God willing.

"Even though we've changed and we're all finding our own place in the world, we all know that when the tears fall or the smile spreads across our face, we'll come to each other because no matter where this crazy world takes us, nothing will ever change so much to the point where we're not all still friends.” ~ Unknown

April 10, 2008

Missing Savannah...

How is it possible to miss a city this much, after spending only 10 days there?
I've been home for a few days and my heart's still in Savannah...
Still there, among the acres of azaleas...


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...behind the doors of these glorious historic homes...


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...inside the shops and stores...


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...walking through the parks...


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...riding in the classic cars out to the Crab Shack on Tybee Island...


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...and walking home at the end of the day down this street to my own apartment...


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Maybe, one day soon, I can go back again, find my heart and bring it home.
The sooner the better.

"I had the joyous experience of visiting Savannah not too long ago and it took my breath away." ~ Bobbie J.

April 11, 2008

Still Unpacking...

I love getting ready for a trip and making all of the plans and arrangements, packing my luggage, arranging for a house sitter, canceling the paper.

I also love coming home, after the trip is over.
Usually, I come home and unpack and put every single thing away that same day.

This trip home from Savannah was a long and arduous travel day for me. Being without sleep for over 24 hours is not my idea of a great time. By the time I finally closed my front door and sat down on my bed to check all of the messages on my phone, I'd been traveling for close to 22 hours! No wonder I was a zombie.

Because of my jet lag and exhaustion, I've been unpacking in bits and pieces over the past 5 days. What I have discovered about this method of settling back in is this...I'm taking more time to savor the little treats I brought back for myself and for my family and friends. I've spent several hours browsing through my photos, over an hour looking at and wrapping up some beautiful pieces of jewelry for gifts for my daughter and a dear friend.

After unpacking my prize from the Slowtrav Saturday night Low Country Boil, I then sat with a fresh cup of tea and read my prize, Shannon and Ruth's book, Chow! Venice right the way through.
Long story short...I've really enjoyed taking a few days to unpack and put away my clothes and gifts!

Maybe I'll adopt this as my new way of re-entering real life. It seems to prolong my post-trip high! That's gotta be a good thing, don't you think?

My Slowtrav winnings...
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"No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow." ~ Lin Yutang

April 15, 2008

The Savannah Tea Room

Savannah has a few tea rooms.
My favorite home-away-from-home tea room is The Savannah Tea Room on
E Broughton Street.
I discovered it the first day I was there and ate lunch there almost every single day after that, for the rest of the time I was in Savannah.
The owners were darling, taking very good care of me and remembering my name, for goodness' sake!

I have a variety of teas, always served in a heated tea pot with a cozy to keep it piping hot...

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My table is always carefully set with all of the lovely things necessary for a good cuppa...

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After the quiche and salad or the Cobb salad, there is the inevitable tray of sweets...

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Finally, a cup of Flaming Tea finishes the meal, eases a tummy full of too much sugar and too many carbs...

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Tea and quiche in the Savannah Tea Room...my favorite place to fill my hungry spots.
Wish I could drop in tomorrow for lunch.


"Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future." ~ Thich Nat Hahn

April 17, 2008

How Savannah Was Named...

Do you know where the name for the city of Savannah came from?
Bet you think it's some fancy southern name that means 'gorgeous city' or 'azalea heaven'...something like that.

If that's what you think, then I have to tell you that you are wrong.
Completely and totally wrong.

I met a wonderful person, Paulette, in Savannah last week, when our travel site, Slowtrav, held a get-together for everyone in Canada and the US who wanted to come. Paulette told me the true story about where the name 'Savannah' comes from. You'll be surprised when you find out!

Paulette's brother and sister-in-law have a beautiful little daughter who is 4 years old. Paulette's brother adores the city of Savannah, so he named his only child Savannah, because of his love for the city.

I just received an e-mail from Paulette, telling me that her niece, Savannah, has informed the family that she just found out that there is a city that has been named for her!
Bet you didn't know that!

"Perhaps it was the massive oaks draped with Spanish moss, or the gracious wrought-iron-accented buildings, or the cobblestone walkways along the riverfront, but my first and lasting impression of Savannah was a sense of deja vu, like a vague distant memory evoked by some provocative fragrance." ~ Alice Ross

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April 18, 2008

Delicious Savannah

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Photograph credit BGE

Author's note: I wrote this piece one morning after my first couple of days in Savannah, but chose not to post it until after our Slowtrav gathering...I didn't want to scare any of my Slowtrav pals by sharing this with them, before they arrived in Savannah...

Delicious.
This word describes what Savannah, Georgia is to me.
The fragrant of the wisteria, the colours of the azaleas at this time of year, the sights and sounds of the life in Forsythe Park as I walk through this morning.
It is delicious, completely.

I'm not saying it is a perfect city, by any means.
That was evidenced late last night by the sounds of gunshots ricocheting around outside of my apartment.
Two shots were fired.
It woke me out of a sound sleep...
then silence.
Maybe it's my imagination, I think, and the guy upstairs really did drop something...maybe.

Just about the time I was falling asleep again, two more shots.
They were so close that I felt the percussion and heard the sound echoing ringingly after each shot.

Now, I'm awake and I know that I'm not imagining this.
That is the first thought I had earlier.
That I'm imagining this.
Maybe I am mistaken.
I mean, I'm not an expert in gunshot sound.
I've just been on Bull Street, photographing the Mercer Williams House, famous for a couple of gunshots that rang out in the dark of night, ending the life of Danny Hansford.
Maybe I'm still in that neighbourhood in my mind, imagining the sound of those shots.
Whatever.
This now seems pretty real to me.
I drop to the floor beside my bed, lie down flat with my pillow under my head and my huge duvet wrapped around me tightly, as if that will protect me.
The police and ambulance sirens follow, and then...all is quiet.

I am now afraid, seriously so.
It takes me about 30 minutes to talk myself into getting up from the floor and back into my bed.
Going back to sleep, I timidly reassure myself that the locked outer courtyard, the locked inner front door, the bars on the windows and an ADT alarm system will be enough to keep me safe the rest of this night.
At least, that's what I tell my frightened little self, as I plunge deep underneath the duvet and blankets.

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Soon, it is morning, I am safe and I am still alive.
Outside in my street, there is no sign of last night's drama.
Possibly, it was a street over or up from here, but it sounded like it was right on my doorstep.

So, you may want to ask me if this is what makes Savannah delicious to me.
Yes, that is exactly what it is.
Besides the delicate and ethereally beautiful azaleas blooming, besides the charm and the exquisite details of the architecture, there is an underbelly to this city that scares the be-jeepers out of me.
Delicious.
Deliciously dangerous and deliciously lovely.
Both sides of the coin.

That's what enticed me in the movie and book, 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.' The author, John Berendt, very convincingly portrayed the smooth-as-silk upper layer of Savannah's society in all of the silk shantung suits and delicately-veiled hats, while showing us that underneath that luscious exterior, there is another side to this city of delights. A side that is dark and mysterious, a side that has an edge to it that belies the veneer of southern grace and charm.

Maybe I heard a little of that edge last night.

"Despite the rococo fame Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil brought to this southern gem, Savannah's sexy side remains elusive to casual visitors. Beneath those airs of antebellum gentility, the city is a kitschy party central, but where to find the fun?
Good-time junketeers who want a taste of both sides of the town's split personality should check into the classy Gastonian hotel, and head immediately to Vinnie Van Go Go's, the pizza joint cum social hub of the City Market district.
From there, locals migrate to the live music at Velvet Elvis or Jim Collins, where the beer is cheap enough to keep you out all night.
Jump-start the next morning at Gallery Espresso before walking through every leafy square from River Street to Forsythe Park. Even without a hangover, your eyes will ache to see such beautiful architecture and gardens.
As for day two? Rinse, then repeat." ~ Ann Marie Gardiner

April 19, 2008

Here's a Smilebox for you, from Savannah, with love...

Here's a Smilebox for you!
I found this on Sandi's blog, and it took only a few minutes to create my own album for your viewing pleasure...hope you enjoy it!

Click to play Framing Flowers
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox
Make a slideshow - it's easy!

"Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever... it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” ~ Aaron Siskind

April 27, 2008

Unruly Airline Passengers

An award should go to the gate attendant at a small airport some 12 months ago for being smart and funny, while making her point when confronted with a passenger who probably deserved to fly in the cargo bay.

A crowded flight was canceled after one of the airline's flights had been withdrawn from service.
A single attendant was re-booking a long line of inconvenienced travelers. Suddenly an angry passenger pushed his way to the desk.
He slapped his ticket down on the counter and said,
"I HAVE to be on this flight and it HAS to be in FIRST CLASS."

The attendant replied, "I'm sorry, sir. I'll be happy to try to help you, but I've got to help these people first, and I'm sure we'll be able to work something out."

The passenger was unimpressed.
He asked loudly, so that the passengers behind him could hear,
"Do you have ANY idea who I AM?"

Without hesitating, the attendant smiled, then grabbed her public address microphone:
"May I have your attention please! May I have your attention please!" she began, her voice heard clearly throughout the terminal. "We have a passenger here at Gate 14 who does not know who he is! If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to Gate 14."

With the folks behind him in line laughing hysterically, the man glared at the attendant, gritted his teeth and said, "F*** you!"

Without flinching, she smiled and replied, "I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to get in line for that, too."

"There are only two emotions in a plane...boredom and terror." ~ Orson Welles

May 16, 2008

London and Paris in a few weeks...

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Last summer, I decided to return to Paris.
It was a life-changing decision for me...my last trip to Paris in 2005 was completely consumed while dealing with a theft from my carry-on. I spent many hours over my precious few days in Paris sitting in a police station in the 18th Arrondissement. Considering that I only had 7 days in Paris, every second spent in a police station was another second I didn't get to spend with my son, exploring Paris for the first time.

Once I made the decision to go back to Paris again, I invited my 17 year old granddaughter to join me and she was ecstatic to be asked! Of course, she said yes!

Then, I began looking for a spectacular place for us to stay. I posted a question on my favorite travel site, Slowtrav, asking for a recommendation for favorite locations in Paris. The general consensus pointed me to the 6th Arrondissement, or St-Germain-des-Prés, as it is also called.

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While browsing on VRBO, I found an apartment in the 6th that I absolutely fell in love with at first sight. I loved the location and the amenities of this place. Besides being a loft, it is newly renovated and gorgeously furnished. It also has two skylights and mile-high windows, with a view of the Eiffel Tower from the bedroom window. There is also wireless internet, free phone calls to anywhere in the Universe, an all-new stainless steel kitchen with every kind of necessity, including a washer for laundry!

This apartment is a former artist’s studio, located on the top floor of an elegant 19th century building with an elevator. An elevator! And air-conditioning for the hot summer days! It is right beside Jardin du Luxembourg, smack-dab in the center of a thousand great cafes and restaurants and close to the Seine, the Louvre and a ga-zillion other lovely places.
Needless to say, it's all about location, location, location!

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The icing on the cake?
My son just told me he is coming back to Paris with us. That makes this trip perfection for me...having my kids and grandkids willing and excited about traveling with me. Amazing!

"Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and, in this, hasn't changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.” ~ John Berger


May 19, 2008

Making Peace With My Pain, Before London and Paris

A Metro sign lights the way in the evening, along a Paris street
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I've made a very difficult adjustment in the last few days.
I sprained my ankle a few weeks ago, and very badly, too.
It isn't healing as fast as I thought it would and that isn't what I want, a month before our trip to London and Paris.

After a lot of serious thinking over the last few days, I've come to the conclusion I'd better plan for a lot of riding around, rather than walking my butt off, like I usually do when I'm traveling. So, now I'm on the lookout for some different ways to see the city. Kinder-to-my-ankle ways, to be precise.

I've found http://www.fattirebiketoursparis.com/
online, and this company provides guided Segway Tours! I think I like this idea. Me and the granddarling on Segways, zipping along the streets of Paris. I think we will take a day tour, to get our first taste of the city, and later on, a night tour, simply to appreciate the beauty of the City of Lights after dark.

The hop-on hop-off city bus is another option...taking a bus that stops at various locations across London and Paris. This would allow us to ride the bus until we see a place that we want to explore. We can get off, walk around and check it out. Then, when I am ready for a feet-up rest, we can get back on the bus and ride for awhile longer!

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So, there are options for me.
They are just not the options I was expecting, but they are good options, none-the-less.
Just like the weather, life is ever-changing and we must change with it, adapt to what life hands us. This way, we get to continue to enjoy the delectable banquet of life's joys spread out before us.

Travel means so much to me, so if this kind of change is needed for me to be comfortable and to take care of myself as my ankle continues to heal...no matter how slowly...I'm happy to make it.
Trust the flow, darling child, trust the flow!

"I think that travel comes from some deep urge to see the world, like the urge that brings up a worm in an Irish bog to see the moon when it is full." ~ Lord Dunsany

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An ancient candelabra in the crypt area of Chartres Cathedral

May 27, 2008

Seat Sales! Gotta Love 'Em...

There ARE miracles everywhere...especially when looking for seat sales...
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Seat sales.
There's nothing better for my frugal nature than to have my patience rewarded by finding a seat sale with an airline.

When I'm planning a trip, the very first thing I do is book my accommodation, because the most important thing for me is to have a gorgeous little apartment or B & B to stay in while I'm traveling.

The very next thing I do is book my flights.
Sitting like a vulture, watching for those elusive seat sales, I check the websites of Air Canada and Westjet several times each day. I know that Air Canada posts their seat sales and special fares on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, usually late in the evening. I also know that their competitor, Westjet, follows hot on their heels. So, I'm like a bird-dog, constantly checking, checking, sniffing for a sale.

Et, voila!
It pays off in spades, this year!
I finally found a day flight from Toronto to London, England for $199 one way. That was a 5 star day for me! I almost missed it.

A few weeks ago, after my usual many-times-a-day checking the internet, I'd gone to bed to read the latest Jodi Picoult novel. In the middle of a dramatic moment in the book,it dawned on me that I hadn't done my usual midnight flight search that evening. I groaned, crabbily scrunched myself out of my warm, cozy bed and waddled sleepily to my laptop. As Air Canada's website opened, I punched in my travel dates and hit 'Enter.' There, right before my eyes, a delicious seat sale had just been posted! Toronto to London for the amazing price of $199 each way was exactly what I'd been waiting for.

Now, I'll admit...when all the taxes, airport improvement costs, assorted fees and charges had been added up, the flight was no longer $199. More like $979.56 return. Still, a far cry from the $1600+ I'd been seeing for weeks. I'm blissfully happy, the grand-darling's thrilled and Air Canada has 2 more paying passengers to add to their roster!

Toronto to London...that's all well and good, but we live near Edmonton, Alberta. That's not even close to Toronto! So, I've started all over again, scrounging the websites, looking for that miraculous seat sale...
Edmonton to Toronto, Edmonton to Toronto. I've seen the fares go from $239 to $279 to $309...and I've been kicking my Little Irish butt for not snapping up the flights when they were $239.

This afternoon, while taking a break from my clients at work, I idled my way over to my laptop, Googled 'Air Canada' and screeched out loud, "Seat sale! Seat sale!" Kristen, my front office person asked me what was going on.

"There it is, a seat sale to Toronto!" I shouted. "$199 one way, finally!"

I quickly called my favorite travel person in the Universe, Ryan at Flight Center, I asked him to book the Edmonton to Toronto portion of this trip...$301 with all taxes, for each of us! Perfection.

Now, I'll go back to patiently watching for the return portion of this trip to pop up in seat sale mode, and I'll do this all over again.
See, it's definitely worth it! Even though it means spending a few hours on the internet, keeping a watchful lookout for the sales, it makes a huge difference in the end result of the cost of a trip. Less cashola spent on our flights equals more dineros to spend on good food, a special tour, a train trip out of the city to Giverny.

So, our apartment's booked, our flights are almost completely booked, and all that's left to do is to gather my various little pots of money together and see if it's enough to take me there and back again. A small cache in a savings account, the $200 I've been saving from a generous and appreciative client...it all counts. Added together, it should just about be enough...
Paris and London, we're on our way!

"When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money." ~ Susan Heller

Chestnut trees in the springtime in Paris...
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June 4, 2008

Getting Together With the Granddarling...

Ready to go to Paris...
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23 days until we leave!
London and Paris...in 23 days.
Thank goodness I've been doing lots of pre-planning! This trip is coming up so fast...I didn't realize it until tonight when I looked at the calendar and actually counted the days.

The granddarling came here tonight to chat about this trip and to pick up the duotang of information that I've created for her, as well as her plane and train tickets.
She is so excited about this trip!
That's a treat for me, because it makes it ever so much more special to travel with someone who is coming apart at the seams in anticipation of the trip.

We are making absolutely no definite plans to do anything while we are traveling...just letting it shake out any old way at all. We talked tonight about the importance of waking up when we wake up and going to bed when we are sleepy, eating when we are hungry and sitting down for a rest when we are tired of walking. Sounds like a perfect trip to me!

She told me something tonight that I didn't know...she's looking forward to this trip so much because we are going to London and Paris...and because she will get to spend a lot of time with me. That is such a blessing, such an honour...to have a granddaughter who wants to hang out with her grandma.
Amazing, simply amazing!
Any wonder I love her so much?

"Becoming a grandmother is wonderful. One moment you're just a mother. The next you are all-wise and prehistoric." ~ Pam Brown

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A cafe across from our apartment...

June 12, 2008

Paris blogs you might enjoy...

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I've been doing a lot of internet research lately, looking for fabulous things about Paris, and look what I found! Some excellent blogs from the city of light...

http://www.parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com/
This has got to be one of the most delicately delicious blogs I've ever seen! I love her paintings and her funny and gentle posts.

http://www.buttercupandivory.com
Buttercup and Ivory has an incredible line of unique and quirky linens...very cool coasters with the coffee stains and wine stains already embroidered on the linen! Check it out, especially the headless chicken on the tea towel!

http://40daysinparis.blogspot.com/
Some great information and a lighthearted touch with advice and information.

http://www.theparisblog.com/
The Paris Blog, a wonderful read any time I've stopped by!

http://msglaze.typepad.com/paris/
I love reading this blog, especially because we're staying close to this neighbourhood. Lots of interesting information for me!

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/
The king of Paris blogs, David Lebovitz!

http://www.slowtrav.com/blog/tuscanartist/
...and, my friend, Angie, the Queen of Paris blogs!

"Paris is always a good idea." ~ Sabrina, the movie

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June 15, 2008

New shoes, new shoes, red and pink and blue shoes...

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"New shoes, new shoes,
Red and pink and blue shoes..."
When my daughter was very tiny, she recited this poem by Frida Wolfe at the Kiwanis Arts Festival in Brandon, Manitoba. Even at that early age, she'd soaked up by osmosis, my love...
no, my passion...for shoes.


She practiced this delightful poem for days and nights on end, until it became a part of herself. The day of the performance, wearing a beautiful Mummy-made floor-length empire-line dress with long puffed sleeves and a high neckline, she sat like an angel while I transformed her long, thick shiny blonde small-girl blunt-cut hair into a big-girl up-do, with toss curls and a full lightly-feathered fringe over her forehead.


Later, that day...
She was, and is, a gorgeous child, and her exquisite face shone as she readied herself to walk along the aisle to the stairs leading to the stage. She stood tall, shoulders back and hands clasped in front of her tummy like her teacher had taught her to do. Then, taking a deep breath, she began to recite her beloved poem in a crystal-clear voice:


Choosing Shoes
by Frida Wolfe

New shoes, new shoes,
Red and pink and blue shoes.
Tell me, what would you choose,
If they'd let us buy?

Buckle shoes, bow shoes,
Pretty pointy-toe shoes,
Strappy, cappy low shoes;
Let's have some to try.

Bright shoes, white shoes,
Dandy-dance-by-night shoes,
Perhaps-a-little-tight shoes,
Like some? So would I.

BUT

Flat shoes, fat shoes,
Stump-along-like-that shoes,
Wipe-them-on-the-mat shoes,
That's the sort they'll buy.


Taking a final deep breath, she smiled a tiny relieved smile and quickly danced down the stairs from the stage to our seats in the auditorium.
"I remembered it ALL!" she whispered.


Yes, darling child, you certainly did!
And many years later, she still knows that poem off by heart.
And, many years later, she also has an insatiable craving for pretty shoes.
Comes from her father's side of the family, I think.
His gene pool, not mine...

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I thought a lot about my darling little girl, her poem and her continued penchant for lovely shoes while I was in Kingsway Shoe Comfort yesterday, trying on shoes for my upcoming trip.

I had a hankering for Privos Step, you see, a dainty and pretty Mary Jane flat. I've posted a photo of that shoe at the top of this page, so you'll understand why I wanted them so much.

I tried them on and they hurt my feet!
I tried on a half-size larger and they were sloppy when I walked.

I tried and tried, wearing each size around the store for about 10 minutes, when I finally and gracelessly gave up the dream of wearing these lovely shoes on my trip.

I have a non-negotiable shoe rule...if the shoes aren't comfortable enough to wear them out of the store for the remainder of the shopping day, then they aren't coming home with me.

Sadly, I asked to try on another pair, Privos Float.
The store owner brought them out in their purple shoe box, removed the lid, unfolded the silver tissue and handed me the shoes. Listlessly I slid my feet into the flat, unpretty shoes.

Standing, I shifted from foot to foot.
I shifted again...
I smiled.
"These feel like I'm wearing my 'jammies!" I told the owner.

I walked around inside of the store for a few minutes, then paid for the shoes and wore them out of the store, and for the next 11 hours of shopping, lunch, more shopping, and finally for the long drive home.

These might not be the prettiest of shoes.
Heck, they even might be called 'flat shoes, fat shoes, stump along like that shoes', but who cares?
They feel fantastic on my feet!

Another pair of comfortable walking shoes to add to my suitcase. Shoes that cradle my feet and leave me at the end of the day with feet that feel like they just got out of bed.
That's a good thing, I think.
I think my daughter would approve!

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July 1, 2008

London Eye and My Fear of Heights

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London Eye, London England


Have you read about the London Eye?
Check it out on Google, ok?
It's like a gigantic ferris wheel that rotates s-l-o-w-l-y over the city of London.
You can take a look on this link, if you have the time...
http://www.londoneye.com/
I thought it would be a fun way to end our day today.

After taking the tube to Leicester Square, we walk along Regent Street, looking for a bank machine to test our ATM bank cards that refused to work at the little French restaurant in Covent Gardens earlier. Our prosecco and creme brulees very nearly didn't get paid for there, because the dratted ATM cards wouldn't work in the restaurant's ATM thingie.
I finally paid cash to save face and to end the line-up that we were causing by having the server try yet another card...and another...

So, we stop at Barclay's Bank today, withdraw cash for each of us and the cards work perfectly. What a relief that is!

We are on a mission today. Taryn needs to find a store that sells phone cards for her to use a pay phone to call friends.
I need to find a good cafe or bistro that serves food that I love and also that will be safe for my gluten-free body. One of the staff in the London Visitor's Center recommends Mario's, a little cafe a couple of doors down from the center. Taryn makes sure I'm comfortable eating there and then she heads out on a major card-find.

It's raining gently.
The only table free is on the street patio, so I dump all of my parcels, umbrella, purse and other detritus and troll the showcase in the cafe. Bakery delicacies catch my eye and I have to remind myself that I need soup or some other main course, NOT apple struedel, custard tartlets, chocolate fudge cake with double chocolate icing.
NO!
Brenda, no dessert.
Eat something nourishing.

So, I settle for the chicken soup and green tea, and feeling very virtuous, I wait for the meal to arrive at my wet little table. It does and I will tell you, the soup is fantastic! Served with a huge slice of still-warm sourdough bread, which I can't eat...gluten-alert!...complete with half a bowlful of chicken pieces, it's one of the best chicken soups I've ever eaten.

Taryn returns, successfully waving a phone card and after she has lunch we start walking.
Past Trafalger Square, through the arches at the end of the square, past Downing Street and Parliament Street...we finally reach Big Ben and the parliament buildings.

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I am amazed at how, well, big Big Ben is! I had no idea.
This is a usual occurence for me, when I finally see some written-about and famous landmark. The actual size always amazes me. I'm not sure why, because I know it won't look the same size as the images on Google, so why on earth it catches me unaware when I finally see Big Ben or Trafalger's statue and it is HUGE! Too weird.

Crossing the bridge beside Big Ben, we can see the London Eye slowly revolving, full of people. It reminds me of a rotisserie in a supermarket deli, loaded with chickens, slowly rotating on the spit. Not the most encouraging image, is it?

We line up, and after a few moments, we are called to "Cashier #4." I have two questions:
1. Is it hot in those little pods?
2. What happens if I get airsick/carsick/whatever sick?

Cashier #4 very patiently tells me that there is air-conditioning in those little pods and that very few people ever get sick on their trip around the sun.
Good, because I was worrying about that, not liking the feeling of being more than a few inches from good ol' Mother Terra Firma.

We pay for our tickets, line up with the rest of the victims and find ourselves locked inside this glass cocoon with 12 other people. We have to step in very quickly because the whole thing doesn't stop moving, it just moves slower for everyone to hop aboard.

As we rise above the ground, it doesn't seem quite as scary as I feared! Nothing ever is, is it? The Thames below, the sky and clouds above and the city of London surrounding us is quite a lovely picture, and I'm really happy that I am brave enough to do this!

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We both use up nearly all of our battery power in both digital cameras, taking image after image. As we roll around to ground level again, I actually feel quite proud of myself for taking the huge step to get on board this glass capsule in the air. As proud as I am of myself for doing this, I am equally as relieved that it is finally over!

Walking back across the city, we stop at The Mermaid's Tale for a gorgeous dinner of fish and chips for the Missy and roasted salmon and veggies for the Grandmother. A bottle of prosecco disappears and a serving of Sticky Toffee Pudding tops it off. YUM!

Leaving the restaurant, heading for the tube, I spot an artist doing caricatures for people. This is the kind of thing I've always wanted to do and never allowed myself the luxury. So, this time I go for it! I sit down while he sketches, watching Taryn laughing her boots off at the results, which I cannot see!

Then, I insist that she goes next, and he creates a portrait of the two of us on one page! There we are...a little family on paper! How cool is that?

We pay him and descend underground for the tube ride to our bus stop. I take us to the wrong bus and we end up going the wrong way! Stopping the bus at a pub, we get off, walk into the pub and explain our predicament. The bartender is kind and calls a taxi for us. She doesn't laugh at us where we can hear it. That's what I mean by kind...

The taxi driver takes us home and with relief, we unlock the front door of our home away from home and step inside. There is a funny buzzing sound that I cannot identify. Taryn shrieks, "Grandma!!! The code for the alarm! Do you know it?"

I do know it.
Barb told me what it is.
I cannot remember it!
I cannot.
OK, I can!
Finally, the 4 digit number eases its way into my addled brain and I key it in on the touchpad, the buzzing stops and we are safely home for another night in London!

"Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else." ~ Lawrence Block

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July 4, 2008

St. Margaret's Church Westminster Abbey

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St. Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square...


While wandering this afternoon, we found a beautiful cathedral called St. Margaret's Church. It is an Anglican church, located in the grounds of Westminster Abbey on Parliament Square. This church is the parish church for the British Houses of Parliament in London. It was dedicated to Margaret of Antioch.

The church was founded in the 12th century by the benedictine monks so local people could worship in a simpler parish church than Westminster Abbey. It was rebuilt from 1486 - 1523, and became "the parish of the Palace of Westminster in 1614, when the Puritans of the 17th century, unhappy with the highly liturgical Abbey, chose to hold Parliamentary services in the more 'suitable' St. Margaret's, a practice that has since continued."


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Some of the sundials on the church's towers...

"Notable features include the Eastern window of 1509 of Flemish stained glass, created to remember the betrothal of Catherine of Aragon to Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII. Other windows commemorate William Caxton, Britain's first printer, who was buried at the church in 1491, Sir Walter Raleigh, executed in Old Palace Yard and then also buried in the church in 1618, and the poet John Milton, a parishioner of the church. The collector Henry Constantine Jennings is also buried there." ~ Wikipedia

The sundial clocks are gorgeous, the architecture of the exterior is simply breathtaking. We are not allowed in today, and the entire place is closed for a restoration the sign politely tells us...still, lovely to see this magnificent church up close today.

"The church has been a common venue for "society" weddings, including those of Samuel Pepys and Sir Winston Churchill. The ensemble of St. Margaret's, the Palace of Westminster, and Westminster Abbey is a World Heritage Site." ~ Wikipedia

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Escargot? Escarnot!

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Hollyhocks growing along the road to our bus stop...


Today is a lovely day outside!
After our morning showers, breakfasts and discussions about what to do today, we walk to our neighbourhood bus stop, board our favorite red double-decker #243 and arrive at our tube station, Manor House, a few minutes later. Sliding our Oyster cards over the turnstile reader pad to allow us to enter the station area, within a few minutes we are hurtling through the underground network at speeds I don't like to imagine!

We are dumped out at South Kensington station, and neither of us has any clue where we are.
Check the tube map, I think.
Unfortunately, it is still sitting on my bed back at the house!
No worries, we'll just ask someone along the way.
My original plan was to walk to Kensington Palace, have lunch in the Orangerie and see the display of Princess Diana's amazing dresses in the palace. Seems like this plan is in the trash for now.

Plan B is in place within minutes and it consists of just winging it! We wander through the shops along the street, looking for souvenirs for the granddarling to buy for her family and friends. Our first souvenir bonanza is in a tiny confectionery shop, where souvenirs are sold along with cold juices, bottled water, snacks in plastic wrappers, newspapers and magazines.

While Taryn shops, I am busily scanning the London A to Z map books for our exact location and where we might choose to go next. Thankfully, the shop owner doesn't seem to mind that I'm browsing and not buying!

The Victoria and Albert Museum is right down the street, according to the map, so we keep walking. I'm not sure where the museum is, so I stop on the sidewalk to ask an officer in a police uniform where it is located.
He starts to smile, and I get it!
"We're standing right in front of it, aren't we?" I mumble, blushing.
"Yes, you are!" he replies, likely laughing more on the inside than he allows on the outside.

Going inside of the museum, we find the gift shop right away...they are always a great source of good quality keepsakes to take home for gifts. Taryn shops and I browse. She finds some pretty incredible gifts here! This girl can spot a perfect gift for someone a hundred miles away.

As we leave the museum, I ask the guard for directions to Harrod's, and we are not that far away, apparently. Walking down the hill from the museum, we arrive at the famous old store and enter from Brompton Road. The store is a crush of shoppers, lookers, interesting and strange people...this could be an adventure all of it's own!

Harrod's is an amazing place...there are separate rooms for the cheeses, another for chocolates, yet another for perfumes and toiletries. I think the prices are a bit astronomical, even with the annual summer sale in full swing. For the granddaughter, the prices are also a little over the top, so we leave after an hour of looking-but-not-buying. I wonder how there are enough people in the world to buy the inventory in this store!

On our way home, the discussion turns to where we will have dinner, and Taryn opts for a restaurant that we liked one day just after we arrived in London. So, I turn her loose with her uncanny spidey-senses to locate it, and soon we are standing in front of the restaurant.
This girl's good!
She can find a needle in a proverbial haystack, I swear.

We order...those beloved fishcakes and chips for the Missy and lemon sole for me. When our plates are set down in front of us, I notice immediately a faint smell of spoiled fish, and so the first taste of my sole is done hesitatingly. Sure enough, it tastes off. I cannot tell you what that means, other than I can tell that the fish has sat too long in the warmth of the kitchen or in some way has not been kept chilled properly.

I call the server over and ask him to take it away, and now I'm really not that hungry at all. Funny how a thing like this will ruin my good appetite. He offers me something else from the menu and I decline, because my tummy's just not in the game any more. Taryn's meal is excellent for her, though, so she eats, while I people-watch.

I can hear a Scandanavian accent in the booth behind ours, and soon I realize that they also have called the waiter over to their table! After he leaves, I ask them what is going on.

Queasy Tummy Alert...the rest of this story is not for the squeamish or for the faint of heart!

The woman directly behind me holds up her glass salad bowl towards me and says, shakily, "There's a...a...a snail in my salad!"

Ayyyyy-carumba!
There is!
There IS a snail without a shell, more commonly called a slug by this Canuck, crawling up towards the top of her glass salad bowl, waving those sticky little feelers at the world and leaving that telltale trail of slime in it's wake. It is about an inch and a half long, definitely very alert and moving, very much alive and very surely not salad trimmings or bacon bits......this is not a good thing, I think to myself!

I turn back to Taryn, whisper to her between my gasps and giggles, "Oh, my goodness! There's a slug in her salad!"

She looks at me with huge wide eyes and says," A WHAT?"

"Yep, you heard me!" I reply. "There is a slug in her salad! AND, he's very much alive!"


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Taryn begins journaling about sips and snails and slugs that are found in your salad...


The waiter returns with the manager and I do my very best to eavesdrop on this about-to-become interesting conversation. The manager apologizes profusely, apologizes again and takes the offending little creature and the bowl he's sitting in away. My guess is many heads will roll in the prep kitchen over this!

We have laughed for several minutes, uncontrollably...I turn to the lucky recipient of the slug of the month award and ask her how she's feeling, now. She tells me she's happy there was only one in the bowl. I make the mistake of cracking up and gleefully pointing out to her, "Only one that you know of!"

She has no sense of humour!
She is not impressed.

We pay our bill, leave the restaurant and continue to giggle and talk about this, all the way home. We also consider ourselves blessed that we had no salad...at least we didn't get HER salad!

“I don't like to eat snails. I prefer fast food.” ~ Roger von Oech


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Dessert for the granddarling...A deep-fried Mars bar!


July 5, 2008

Eurostar Is a Snap...Paris Food Is Perfection!

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Luxembourg Jardin...


Seated in carriage 16, seats 81 and 84, my granddarling and I traveled to Paris from London today. The train trip was excellent, the train was cool and clean and the ride was very comfortable. Taryn wrote in her journal and I slept for most of the trip. We arrived in Paris around 7:00 P.M. and took a taxi to our apartment.

Now we are here...
We only take a few minutes to figure out how to enter the courtyard with the code provided by the owners, then we squeeze ourselves into the elevator...one at a time! I send Taryn up with her luggage and then she sends the elevator back down to the main floor for me!
No complaints, though...we are on the top floor, six stories up, and I have no desire to climb those flights of stairs.

The owners' manager meets us here and gives us a guided tour of the apartment. She is Moroccan and the owners have told us that she is an excellent cook and would be happy to prepare a Moroccan dinner for us, if we'd like! That's definitely an idea that I will consider.

After she leaves, we unpack, put everything away as fast as we can and leave for a walk and something delicious to eat. Luxembourg Jardin is only a block away, so that's where we go. Walking into the park from the west side, then taking our time to stroll along the shaded paths is a memorable moment for me. I'm finally back in Paris! This has been a long time coming and I am so delighted to be here, again...especially sharing it with my granddarling.

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Luxembourg Jardin...

Coming out of Luxembourg Jardin on rue de Seine, we head north along the street, watching for a good cafe to stop in for dinner, as we are both starving! There are lots of places, but some are closed on Sunday, so it narrows our choices. Then, we stop at a little place on a side street, rue Servandoni. We spot a small cafe with a few tables and chairs outside of the front door on the sidewalk.

As we read the menu posted on a blackboard beside the door, one of the people seated outside of the door leans towards us and whispers, "Oui, allez, allez! C'est tres delicieux! It's very good, madame!" ...or at least that's what I think she said. The sign tells us this cafe is called Au Bon Saint-Pourcain.

The rotund owner guides us to a table, motions for us to place our coats and purses on a chair on one side of the table and then gently steers us to sit side by side on the other. He then asks us something in rapidly-spoken French and my tired mind doesn't compute at all.
I tell him, "Excusez moi, je ne parlent pas francais tres bien, seulement un peu, un petit peu..." and I stress the "petit peu" part...and he smiles, turns towards the kitchen and calls his daughter to help us.

She chooses a white wine, a Saint Pourcain 2006 for us, which is perfect...crisp, clean and fresh! While we sip our wine we go over and over the menu, trying to decide. The problem with being this hungry is that we'll order huge amounts of food and eat just about anything! That's the old "my eyes are bigger than my stomach is" syndrome.

Finally, I order the chicken casserole and Taryn chooses veal ragout. We spend the next 15 minutes watching all of the delicious-looking plates heaped full of hearty and gorgeous-smelling food being delivered to all of the tables around us. By the time our plates arrive, we are so hungry and so looking forward to this meal!

The food is simply heavenly...a delicious meal, served on screaming-hot very large platters, by a young woman who smiles as she delivers the food to our table. The warm bread that goes with the meal is also wonderful and we are happy, happy, happy.

Dessert follows, and you might guess that it is Tarte Tatin! I love this apple tart above all other desserts in France and I think I've mentioned this a time or two on my travel site, Slowtrav. Two large slices on thick, warm white plates, with a delicate white bowl of creme fraiche to adorn the tatin.

One mouthful and we look at each other, smile and continue to stuff our faces and our tummies. There's no possible way we can polish off the remainder of the wine, so sadly, we leave it behind as we pay for our meal and leave the cafe.
Heading home to our apartment across from Luxembourg Jardin, and our warm, cozy beds is a good feeling for me. The week has just begun...

A little history of Tarte Tatin...
http://http://members.cox.net/jjschnebel/tartetatin.html

TARTE TATIN

1/4 cup (half a stick) of unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
8 golden delicious apples, peeled, cored and quartered
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (e.g. Pepperidge Farm brand)

Melt butter in a 10-12 inch diameter pan with sloping sides. Add sugar and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until sugar melts and becomes deep amber colored. Place half of the apples, cut side up and touching, in the bottom of the pan.
Arrange remaining apples, peeled side up, over apples in pan. Cover bottom of pan with apples and place a lid on top. Cook slowly over medium heat about 25 minutes until apples become juicy and tender. Uncover pan and continue to simmer apples for about 35 minutes, until they are very tender and the juice in the pan is reduced to a thick caramel.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll out pastry sheet to 1/4 inch thick and cut into a circle to fit over apples in pan. Tuck edge of pastry down into pan, covering apples completely. Bake about 35 minutes until crust is golden brown and puffed. Cool tart in pan about 5 minutes. Invert serving plate on top of pan. Grasp both plate and pan (or pan handles) with hot pads, and turn them over together. Gently lift the pan from the plate as the apples drop down over the puffed pastry. Serve warm.


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~ from Moveable Feast

July 6, 2008

Uncle Mikey Comes to Paris...A Tale of French Tartes and Jardin Luxembourg

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Luxembourg Jardin...


My son stopped for a quick visit on his way through from Burgundy to London today.
They were between trains so they came by our apartment for a lunch of scrambled eggs, fresh cheese, tomatoes, a still-warm brioche from the Bread and Roses Bakery across the street...home cookin' for the boy!

Taryn totally loves him and she is really delighted that he came to visit us. After brunch we go for a quick tour of the 'hood...he's suitably impressed with this area and the mega-shopping that is available on every street corner. We pass a men's shoe store on the way to Jardin du Luxembourg and he begins chanting softly, "Size 44! Size 44! Size 44!" Is that a hint, M'sieur Méchant Michael?

Within minutes, the two of them are walking ahead of me and talking together, so I drop back a little to take a few photos of them walking away from the camera. That's one of my favorite images...people from behind, as they walk away. We never see ourselves from the back and I think that it is a lovely image, so I'm grabbing as many of those as they'll allow. Once they catch on to what I'm doing, I'll quit! The game'll be up then, you see...


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We stop at the Medici fountain in the garden and use it as a backdrop for some family photos...not quite what the original owners of this glorious place had in mind, but it's too beautiful to pass up the opportunity. Jardin du Luxembourg is a stunning 25 hectare oasis in the Left Bank area of Paris. There are fountains, statuary, gazillions of trees of many varieties and beautiful flowers, and it is especially pretty in the southwest corner where several hundred species of apple and pear trees blossom each spring.

I think this has to be one of my favorite spots in the city of Paris...it goes on forever, it seems. Green and lush, quiet and cool, with the water features and the acres of plantings creating cooling shade and delicate shadow tracings on the lawns and walkways. The design has been very well-thought-out...it includes something for everyone...a playground for younger children as well as pony rides, miniature sailboats for rent so the kids can push them out into the water of the hexagonal pond and chase them around the pool as they sail along in the breeze.

There are tennis courts, Sunday afternoon band concerts, games of chess and boules being played in many areas...quintessential Parisian life occurs on a daily basis inside of these 25 hectares of exquisite beauty.

Marie de Medici, King Louis XIII of France's mother and the widow of Henry IV, felt very homesick and was determined to recreate a model of her beloved Palazzo Pitti from Firenze, Italy in the area where she lived in Paris. She purchased an old hotel in 1612 in the immediate area that was owned by François, duc de Luxembourg. This is where the gardens and palace acquired their name.


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Medici Fountain...


As we walk out of the gardens and along the streets of the area, Michael realizes that we need to get back to the apartment, because he has to call for a taxi to take them to the airport in time for their train to London...so, we head back that way, positive that we'll be able to find a cab, without any problem.

Big mistake!
Don't ever assume this when in Paris...
As we arrive back on the street where we live, I volunteer to walk to the bakery across the street and ask the owner to call a cab for us.
I do.
He won't.
He tells me quite off-handedly that all we have to do is snap our fingers and taxis appear as if by magic. Well, that's what I think he said...it was spoken in rapid-fire French, which slips over my head like an old-fashioned nightie. He also tells me that rue Montparnasse is where we need to be to find the taxi stand. I return to our group, telling them to snap their fingers and watch taxis appear like tourists at a Parisien outdoor cafe.

We try.
Snap, snap, snap.
Nothing happens.
Michael and I decide to walk a few blocks to rue Montparnasse, doing our best along the way to hail a cab, and still none will stop for us. Dismal failures both, back we go to the rest of our group, telling them the bad news...no taxi!

It's getting down to the wire now, because it is 4:10 P.M., we still have not been able to scare up a taxi, and they desperately need to be at the airport by 5:00 P.M.

Taryn goes into the hotel below our apartment and returns with a list of taxi phone numbers that she has charmed out of the owner! Good girl! At the same time, Michael writes down a phone number that he's scammed off the window of a passing taxi. It happens to be the very same number that Taryn has brought back, so we think that's a good sign. Provident, in some way, we hope.

Michael calls the number, he is given a reservation code and made to promise he will wait for the cab in the very spot where he has called from. He promises! I think at this point in the day, he will promise anything to get to the train station on time!

Finally, the cab arrives, we load their luggage and them into the vehicle, shut the doors and then we blow kisses and wave goodbye until they are out of sight. This is a long-standing family occurence that my children and I have always done when one is leaving the other. It goes all the way back to when my grandmother would stand on her front verandah with her hands wrapped inside of her apron, watching the three of us longingly, as we backed our car out of her driveway, going home.

Always, when we began to drive down the street away from her home, she would gently pull one hand out of her cobbler-front apron and blow kisses and wave goodbye to us until we drove out of sight, with tears rolling ever so slowly down her cheeks as she waved goodbye. The thought of that moment never fails to bring tears to my eyes. She always told us when we came to visit that we could stay with her for the rest of our lives and it would never be long enough for her. What love that was in her voice...and in her tears cascading down her cheeks. Good thing she kept her apron on, for it came in handy to mop up the tears, as we left her.

I feel the same way about my children and my grandchildren when they come to visit, and this time is no exception. Tears sting my eyes as Michael leaves in their cab, just as they did the day Taryn and I pulled away from her home to begin this journey. She and I waved goodbye and blew kisses to her family who were standing in front of her home, doing the same thing for us, until we were out of sight.

Taryn and I walk slowly back to our apartment, and when we are inside again, it seems pretty quiet and empty now that there is just us, sitting here, Uncle Mikey-less.


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The birthday gift that Uncle Mikey left for his Taryn....


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The Raspberry Tarte inside of the little box that accompanied the €€€uros for her luscious Parisien shoe-shopping trip!


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The exquisite leather shoes that now belong to the Missy, with love from her Uncle Mikey...with love and many xxoo's.

July 8, 2008

La Louvre Boo-boo...

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Mona is a rock star!


We decided last evening that we are going to the Louvre today...a Louvre day for her and me! How totally cool is that?
I just cherry-picked all of the info from my travel binder for the Louvre, for breakfast at Cafe Marly, for every single thing I think we'll need to know to get there and to enjoy the whole experience. Uncle Mikey told us yesterday that we should aim for arrival about 8:30 A.M. to beat the line-up and then we'd be in ahead of the masses. So, that's what we've planned.

Early to bed last night, up with the sun this morning, showered and quickly out the door...walked to the Louvre, came around the corner into the courtyard and there are only a few people in the lineup at the pyramid! That's a bonus. I was planning on going through the courtyard to the Palais Royal entrance for a shorter wait for our tickets, but there are very few people lined up, so we head right for the entrance.

A shock of shocks...the Louvre is closed today!

No wonder there are no line-ups...only a few scattered and stunned-looking early morning tourists like us, wondering why the hell we got up so early for a day at the closed Louvre.

I feel quite like a dummy. How did I miss this information in all of my reading and asking questions, browsing on the Louvre's website.
Is it remotely possible that this was not posted on the site?
Bet not.
I bet I missed it totally, or at the very least, read it and promptly forgot about it.
Quelle surprise! Quelle idiot.

We take a few photos here and there, beside the infinity pond, beside a gorgeous wrought iron gate grille...
What to do? What to do?

After staggering blindly through the myriad of cafes across the street from the north side of the Louvre, we finally decide on a Starbuck's because it is familiar. No yelling at me, please? I know it's heresy to admit to going to a Starbuck's while in Paris, the home of the fabulous coffee, espresso, cafe creme...but we did it, so there. It wasn't fantastic...it wasn't even adequate, but somehow it felt like a safe place for a bite to eat when we were starving and couldn't find anything else that we liked.

Fruit salad for me and a sub for the girl. Not the best of breakfasts but good enough for now. Green tea for me and a coffee for her. Hardly the impressive and auspicious early morning meal that I envisioned for the two of us at Cafe Marly!

Over breakfast, we decide that Plan B should be carrying out Taryn's souvenir shopping blitz, so I guide her to the blocks of shops along the street across from the Louvre. She hits paydirt! Eiffel Tower key chains by the dozen, funky art prints, cool handbags, loads of souvenir-type things that are perfect for what she wants! We are both delighted. She is excited by her treasures and I am relieved that she found what she wanted.

I spot Angelina's ahead of us and make plans with Taryn to meet there for a delectable hot chocolate that this tea room is famous for. I stop in, ask the host at the front counter if we need reservations for later on and he kindly tells me, "Oh, no, Madame! I will always find room for you, no worries!"

Back to the streets of Rivoli for more gift purchases for Taryn...


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It's amazing the number of people in this area. You could start a small city with the population of the shops along rue Rivoli.
Just a few interesting people that I notice today...
Two women, likely in their late 70's, are buying gelato from the vendor, a young girl about 16 or 17...they cannot make up their minds which flavor they want, so they are buying several in a variety of flavors, all in cones! I am going to stick around and see just how they manage to carry those gelato-filled sugar cones on this hot, humid July day!

A thin young woman, dressed in dirty and ragged clothing, walks way too close for comfort past my right side, making me clutch my belongings very close to my body. As she passes, she drops.....oh, no! It can't be!...a "gold" ring. She stops suddenly, scoops it up and spins around toward me, asking in fractured English, "Do you speak English? You dropped this, Madame! You dropped this!"
Like hell I did!
Thanks to my good friends on my travel site, Slowtrav, I've read about this scam and although she catches me off-guard, I react in a way to make ST'ers proud. I look her in the eye and say a loud and resounding, "NO! Not interested. Leave me along!"
Funny thing is....she does. Moving quickly ahead to the next victim, she is gone into the crowd, as quickly as she has appeared.
I'm still in shock about how slick this scam is worked.
Amazing.
I want to shout, "Get a job!" to her as she leaves, but my good manners prevail and I stifle the urge, although I've no idea why. Seems to me that this is why the scammers get to keep scamming people, because no one lets them know what they are doing is a pain in the ass. We're all too well-mannered to say anything and it is allowed because no one speaks up. Anyway...I'll get off my soap box, now, before someone pushes me off...

Parents with two small children, all very obviously suffering from the heat and the sun and too much junk food, are struggling to get control of the kids and not make a fuss while doing it. They are definitely not successful.
As the baby begins to cry, the older child's eyes fill with tears as she looks at both parents and then...the tears roll down her sticky, sweaty face. Clearly overwhelmed by the heat and the crush of people, both children are letting their parents know in the only way they can that they've had enough.
I stop by the mother, tell her quietly that there is a Starbuck's just ahead and that it has air conditioning, bathrooms and cold drinks. She looks at me with tears in HER eyes and whispers, "Thank you!" Seems like I'm on a Starbucks' cheerleader squad today!

Now it's time for us to take our well-earned break from the heat and the people and the craziness that is visible in this area today...Angelina's is next.
We are met at the entry by the host who remembers that we were in about an hour ago, takes us to a table way far in the back of the restaurant, where it is quiet and cool and there are very few people. They guy must be reading our minds!
We order hot chocolate for the missy, green tea for me...and macarons, one pistache and one chocolat. As we wait for our treats, I am struck by the contrast between the street outside and the calm and serene atmosphere inside...this is bliss! This is heavenly.

The order comes, the hot chocolate is served in a dainty white pitcher with a gold rim, and the name 'Angelina's' in gold script on the side. Along with the pitcher of hot chocolate and her cup and saucer, Taryn is served a small matching china oval of whipped cream.

The server bends down, whispers conspiratorially to Taryn, "I'm not supposed to have any opinion about this, BUT in my opinion, the hot chocolate doesn't need the whipped cream. Of course, that's just my opinion, Madamoiselle!"

Then, he serves my green tea in a silver pot, along with the cup and saucer and two matching plates of macarons, one pistache and one chocolat.

The hot chocolate is sweet, thick and deep dark chocolate-coloured. Taryn sips hers, I taste with a dip of my spoon. Unbelievably sweet, rich and chocolate-y...unbelievable!

My tea is excellent, just the right strength and hot as can be. Perfect.

We try our macarons, and for my taste, they are a lot too sweet. I can handle some of the pistache macaron, but the chocolat macaron is incredibly sweet, and is too much for me. Taryn also agrees, and we are sad to do it, but there will be quite a bit of the macaron left on our plates.

The hot chocolate is deadly, so rich and sweet that Taryn can only manage to sip it a little. I try to cut it with whipped cream, even thought the waiter suggested not to do that, and it's still too much for either of us to drink any more of it. Our bill arrives with a little tray of 2 mini-macarons from the server. We look at each other, grit our teeth and manage to eat one each. We are now on a sugar-high, like no other! My tummy is actually hurting from the richness of everything!

After a quick trip upstairs to the toilette, we pay our bill and leave. I'm totally happy that we stopped at Angelina's, even though we were unable to finish our treats. A lovely respite in the middle of a hot and humid Parisien afternoon...lovely.


From the Rivoli shops, we walk towards Tuilleries Jardins for photos, then back across the bridge and home.
Tomorrow, we'll try this all over again!

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Stairway down from the toilette at Angelina's

"There are four basic food groups: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, and chocolate truffles." ~ Unknown


July 9, 2008

La Louvre, Take 2...

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Mona, baby...Leonardo would be so proud of you, girl!
You're a star, for sure!


Today, we are off to the Louvre, knowing that it is open today!
Let's try this Louvre thing AGAIN.
Let's wake up early, AGAIN.
Let's hope for a better day than yesterday.
Can you believe I missed that teeny little bit of information on the Louvre's website that the place was closed yesterday?

Walking along the now-familiar streets of Paris going toward the Louvre, we pass by a hundred thousand cool shoe shops, dress shops, men's wear stores, house-ware stores...every single one of them has 'SOLDES' signs in the windows. The huge summer sales are on this month and I'm here in Paris with a paid-down VISA and a clean AMEX card.
That could be dangerous.
Bloody rights!

The line-ups begin so far back from the pyramid entrance at the Louvre that we have to walk Tuilleries-way to get around the people.
Crazy.

I decide to go in the quieter rue Rivoli entrance...Carrousel du Louvre is a much better choice than lining up in the heat and humidity today! We are right in the thick of the summer tourist traffic once we arrive in the ticket area, and it is like running a gauntlet to get through the crowds and into the line-up for the security check.

All bags and purses must be run through x-ray scanning before each person can enter the area to buy a ticket. Strange to think that only a few years ago, you could walk into most museums without security checks...you're just there to look at a few painting, not to destroy anything. The world has changed, and not for the better, I think.

We buy our tickets and enter the display areas, walking directly to the Michelangelo Gallery and up to his two Slaves sculptures that were being prepared for the tomb of Pope Julius II. Michelangelo never completed the sculptures, so what we see is the figure emerging from the marble, struggling to free himself, so to speak. I never tire of spending time with these figures and the other pieces in this gallery.

My very favorite is the veiled woman. I have no idea what the sculpture is called or who the artist is. I only know that she intrigues me every single time I see her. This time is no exception, and I will come back again before I leave for home, just to sit and marvel at the artist's ability to create the face of this woman with a veil draped over her features.

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My second favorite pieces in this gallery are Michelangelo's Slaves. I can spend hours in this gallery with the variety of gorgeous work that sits on pedestals, on shelves, on the floor...all within touching distance. That's what amazes me, being right beside a piece that was created with much more exhausting work than our artists of today can even imagine...locating the perfect block of marble at the quarry, then having the workers hack away at the mountain of marble to extract the very piece that the sculptor wants.

Then, the arduous task of hauling that perfect block of marble down the mountainside or up out of the quarry...all by hand, with no front end loaders or any other power vehicles to help them. And today, we get to stand next to greatness and walk around it like we are best friends. That's so amazing to me.


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Details of Michelangelo's Dying Slave...


Passing through the Michelangelo Gallery and on to the other galleries in this wing of the museum, we are rapidly running out of steam; with the heat and the crowds, it's not a fun day at the office for either of us. We decide to call it quits for the day, pay our pocket change for a pay-toilet break and then go for a cold drink and a snack.

A good idea, whose time has come! Pay toilets in the Louvre...what a sure-fire way to make excellent coin, pardon the pun. EVERYONE is thirsty as all get out and drinking reservoirs full of water and juices, so the next logical stop is a potty break. A guaranteed money pit, these pay toilets.
Brilliant!

We find a restaurant of sorts, up the stairs and way in behind a gaggle of fast food outlets. We order a lot of water, a chicken salad each and a trio of desserts...a small creme brulee, an even tinier panne cotta and a teensy weensy little something or other...neither of us is sure just what it is. Still, it tastes pretty good, maybe because we are starving and extremely dehydrated, to boot.

Time for an escape from the Louvre and the heat of the crowds, so we leave by the side entrance, and scoot across the street for the last bit of shopping that Taryn has to do for her family and friends.

On our long walk home along rue de Bac, we discover some amazing shops and Taryn buys a second pair of Uncle Mikey shoes...Clarks with cloud-soft insoles and a very Mary Jane look. Very cute and very comfortable for her!

Home at last, we are so tired and so hot and so sweaty. I get in a fast, cool shower before it is the granddarling's turn. The shower cools me off and makes me feel human, once again. The humidity combined with the excessive heat created by the thousands of vehicles running and the reflected heat from the acres of asphalt and concrete combined a killer combination for us today and we are happy as clams to be out of it and inside of our cool and comfy apartment, once again!

Happy to be home, we both crash.
No one can keep me from sleep right now...
A good day at the Louvre, a good day, indeed.
Mission accomplished...the Louvre has been visited on an day that it was actually open.
A small success.

"The Louvre is a morgue; you go there to identify your friends."
~ Jean Cocteau


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The Pyramid at the entrance of the Louvre, seen from inside...

July 10, 2008

The Eiffel Tower At Night! Ooooh-la-la, Paris! Part 2...

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...and there it is!

I'm stunned speechless. This is a magnificent structure, and I'm actually here in Paris, seeing it this close for the first time ever. The other time I was in Paris, I took a taxi that went past the tower, but it was a fast look at it and then it was out of sight. This time we have all evening!


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There are elevators at the base of two of the pillars and stairs to climb at the base of the third pillar. The fourth pillar is closed for routine maintenance. The line-ups for the elevatored pillars are huge, so we walk to the ticket office of the third pillar. I ask about the stairs, find out just how many there are and opt out, telling Taryn that she can go but I'm not quite brave enough to tackle that height of a climb with my still-healing ankle. She's fine with that, I leave the lineup and walk towards the grassed area and the benches, while she proceeds to the stairs for her momentous climb. If you look closely, you can see her as she starts to ascend the stairway. Well, maybe you can't.
I know that I can see her!


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To help me pass the time while the girl is on the tower, I buy a chocolate and vanilla soft ice cream cone, with the two flavours spiraled together. It's actually delicious! Surprise, surprise!
There are benches underneath the grove of trees along the side of the lawn area, so I choose one, sit down and enjoy my cone and the incredible views of the Eiffel Tower....

First, there are the four huge support pillars that descend as far as 15 metres or 49 feet underground.


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Then, there is the intricate support system underneath the floor of the first level that helps to hold the 7,300 tons of tower solidly in place, stabilizing the entire structure.


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As daylight diminishes, the gorgeous blue lighting on the tower appears, to celebrate the anniversary of France's joining the European Union.


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Finally, Taryn appears beside me!
She's smiling from ear to ear, quite pleased with herself and the long climb she's just made. After telling me all about it, we become total tourists, taking photos of each other against the tower's silhouette.

She wants one of her in front of the tower with the entire tower in the photo. After several miserable tries, while kneeling down as low as I can, I decide there's only one way to take this special photo for her.
I grit my teeth and then as graciously as I can, I lie down on my back on the lawn and on God knows what else, in my white sequined jacket and my freshly-washed off-white cargo pants.
Dogs' leaving and kids' messes and several thousand tourists' detritus is all over this lawn and I'm lying on it.
In white clothes.
I must be mad!
What we do for the love of these kids, I tell ya! It's worth it, though. I capture the perfect image of her...and the entire tower is in the photo.
I am good!
I am a great grandmother!

Suddenly, the tower's lights come on for the first time this evening and the crowd cheers loudly. I have to tell you it is a spectacular sight and one that I'll not forget soon! We are laughing and talking about the lights and saying how gorgeous it all is...then we start taking photos, like the tourists that we are!


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Walking towards the exit, after an evening of fun together, with very little juice left in our dozens of rechargeable camera batteries, there is just time for a few more photos, before we get into our waiting taxi...


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...and a last look at the tower, from the taxi stand, showing the tribute to the EU in the stars on the front of the tower's lower level, completely bathed in pale crystal blue lighting against the midnight blue sky.
The stars on the tower represent the Union's unity and identity. The circle of gold stars represents solidarity and harmony between the peoples of Europe. There are twelve stars because the number twelve is traditionally the symbol of perfection, completeness and unity.


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"If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life." ~ Oscar Wilde

A Final Fling In the Shops...Then, the Eiffel Tower At Night! Ooooh-la-la, Paris!

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Today is the last full day for us before the granddarling goes home tomorrow. She has a few last-minute gifts to buy and she wants to go to the Eiffel Tower tonight...pretty easy wishes to fulfil, I think!

We leave the apartment, walk along our neighbourhood and window-shop, looking for those special pieces that she knows will make those special people in her life delighted with her choices. Before long, I'm ready for a break and she's raring to keep on going, so we look for a cafe for me to sit and sip awhile.

There it is...a corner cafe with an outdoor seating area and a menu that interests me! I promise I'll be still be here when she's ready to leave and she's off to look for treats for her family.

A very serious and unsmiling server stops at my table, asks me what I'd like and I tell him, "Un menu, s'il vous plait."
He hands me one with no smile and walks away to another group of people. After a few seconds of browsing the menu, I decide to have a country salad...the description lists everything I'm craving...hardboiled eggs, potatoes, Emmental cheese, tomatoes, country ham, greens and a mustard dressing. That, plus a cafe creme sounds just about perfect to me!

The server comes by, takes my order without smiling, then steps to the next table and takes their order, without smiling. I'm beginning to wonder if he's pissed off about something, and I'm hoping he doesn't get too crabby with me today. As he walks away from them, he passes my table again and I catch him staring at me as he mutters something to himself about my order. I realize that he has no idea what beverage I ordered, so I whisper, "Cafe creme, m'sieur, cafe creme!"

He smiles...
He SMILES!
Then, he whispers back, "Merci, Madame, merci beaucoup!"

That's a gentle reminder for me that when someone is looking less than happy, sometimes a little kindness changes their mood and makes their day a little brighter. It's easy to get grumpy and complain, "My waiter was so serious! He never smiled once. He was really unpleasant..." and so on. I'm happy that I caught his eye and was able to help him with my order, rather than being cranky back at him...that's a much kinder response with much better end results for everyone.

My salad is delivered within minutes, along with a basket of baguette, a cafe creme....and with a huge and brilliant smile!

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It is as delicious as it looks...simple food, just the kind I love, with good bread on the side and a great cafe creme to enjoy. The sun shines on me and my lunch and the food is delicious. My salad is loaded with chunks of Emmental cheese, slightly tangy and very creamy. There are wedges of freshly sliced hardboiled eggs, a large slice of excellent smoked ham and chilled boiled potatoes cut in chunks and sprinkled lightly with some hot mustard. This is as good as it gets, I think! The cafe creme is perfect.

Soon, Taryn is back, sitting at my table and I can tell by her downcast face that her shopping has been unproductive. Having the perfect gift for her family and friends matters so much to her and I can tell that she's frustrated and getting more upset about it, so I suggest going back to the rue Rivoli shops across from the Louvre. This seems to be a good idea for her, so I finish my cafe creme quickly and we leave the cafe for another strike in the Rivoli shops.

The street in front of the shops is packed with people again and I only last a few minutes. My tolerance for this heat, humidity and the crush of people is bordering on zero, so I find the granddarling and let her know that I'm heading back to the tried and true Starbuck's down the street, because it has air conditioning and cold beverages and bathrooms!

Starbuck's...I oughta get royalties for all of this promotion! But, the truth is, I know that they will have the 3 things I need to be comfortable when taking a break...A/C, cold drinks and great bathrooms with no line-ups.

I order my favorite, Orange Pressée Grande, and the counter guy turns to the prep counter, makes my pressée, lids it and hands it to me. As I'm giving him the cash to pay for it, the woman standing beside him, obviously a supervisor who is training him, takes my container of pressée back from me very gently, hands it to the young guy who made it and shows him how to give the customer full value by filling the container to the brim, before capping it with a snap-on lid.
Wow!
That's amazing!
Client care...a great idea that is sadly lacking in so many places in the world today.

Finding a table and chairs right under the A/C vent, I slowly sink down into the depths of an armchair, take a long swig of my ice cold pressée, and begin to relax, comfortable again! It's a good spot to people watch and that's what I do.

Just about the time I think of going and getting a pressée refill, Taryn stops in and tells me that she's done! Gifts for everyone are in the bag, so to speak. I'm so happy for her, as this has been a struggle, finding the right gift for each and every one of her family and for everyone at her workplace..what a thoughtful and caring child she is.

Time for one more bathroom break for me, though.
As I open the door to the shared male/female bathroom on the second floor, I hear retching noises, very loud retching noises.
Accompanied by much moaning and groaning.
I have the weakest stomach in the Universe for this!

My kids will tell you that they learned from very early on in their lives that if they woke up in the night and felt like they were going to be sick to their stomachs, they'd better get to the bathroom, close the door, get it over with and THEN call me for the clean-up. Otherwise, I'd be hurling right along with them! There's something about that sound...

I quickly back out of the washroom area, take a seat by the window and wait...and wait...and wait...
Finally, a very strange-looking man staggers out of the bathroom area, wiping his face on ragged streams of toilet paper that are dangling from his hands. He's also dragging a sopping-wet length of that stuff behind him, because it is stuck on the heel of one shoe. He stumbles to a table by the exit and sits down, moaning...

Gingerly, I open the door to the bathroom area and just as gingerly, I let it close again, as I turn and head for the counter downstairs.
I am not, in any way, going into that bathroom!
The smell is overpowering.
OH
MY
GOODNESS!

I meet a Starbuck's staff member on the stairs as I go down and I tell her that the bathroom needs attention. I also let her know that this guy needs attention, although I'm not sure what kind will be best for him. It's easy to make a snap decision that he's high or drunk and be really critical about his behaviour. My earlier experience with the unsmiling server pops into my mind and that gives me pause when considering this man and his possible problems. I tell the staff person that he might be ill...maybe with diabetes, hypoglycemia, stroke, heart attack...who knows? She thanks me for alerting her, and I walk quickly outside of the cafe to meet Taryn on the sidewalk, and we walk home together...in this heat.

The heat from the vehicles, the reflected heat from the asphalt and concrete plus the high humidity and high temperature of the day are now too much for me. I get heatstroke very easily and I can feel it starting already. No cabs are evident in the area and so we walk and we walk and we walk. I get hotter and hotter. The scary thing about heatstroke for me is the after-effects of having it. I've been close to passing out from it on several occasions and I've also been unable to function for a day or more after recovering from it, so I am quite worried this time.

Finally we make it to the apartment, and I turn on the A/C full blast, change into my light cotton housecoat and sit smack-dab in front of the icy jet stream from the vent on the A/C unit. Darling Taryn brings me cold wet washcloths for my face and neck. She tells me that I'm such a trouper and that helps so much. She's a thoughtful and caring person and it's such a good thing for me. I so much appreciate her taking care of me!

A quick lie-down on the sofa and then I'm dressed and ready to go to the Eiffel Tower. We've decided to take the bus and my online research tells me that #82 will get us there. Walking through Luxembourg Jardin again, passing the hexagonal pond and the hundreds of Parisiens and tourists sailing little boats in the water, feeding the ducks, taking millions of photos and enjoying the beauty of the garden area...I feel like the most blessed person in the world right now.

The bus gets us to the tower in a short time. As we follow the crowd, my camera is ready for my first sight of this famous landmark that was a brainchild of Gustave Eiffel, a very gifted engineer who also designed and built the Bon Marche department store, among many other achievements. He was also responsible for the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty.

We round the street corner and right in front of us is......
To be continued below!

July 11, 2008

Travel Safely, Dear Heart...I Love You LOTS!

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Taryn writing her gift list for her friends and family...


I wake up and for the first few moments after I awake, it is an ordinary day for me.
In Paris, mind you...but an ordinary day, nonetheless.
Then, I remember, this is the day that my granddaughter goes home.

She's already showered, her hair is wound up turban-style in a huge bath towel and she's hurrying to get ready.
My turn.
Within 45 minutes, we are done.
She's been packed since last night and is so organized, it amazes me. She has everything ready to go.

Time to leave the apartment and walk across Luxembourg Jardin to the RER at Luxembourg station. A friend of mine who lives just south of the garden gave me explicit directions to take the RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport, and we've already been to the area to buy the tickets, so we at least know where it is and how to get there.

The elevator in our apartment building is miniscule, so the granddarling gets in first, with her luggage. She goes down to the lobby and then sends the elevator back up for me. As I reach the lobby level, I realize I've forgotten my umbrella, and it's spitting rain outside, so I make as fast a return trip to the apartment as the elevator will allow, grab the umbrella and go back down to the lobby.

As I arrive and open the elevator door, I ask her, "Did you remember your ticket?"
Nope.
Back to the apartment, snatch the ticket from on top of the mantel.
Back to the elevator and back to the lobby.

Now we are ready to leave!
Walking through the Luxembourg Jardin and arriving at the underground station takes about 10 minutes, and the only thing to do now is make sure we get on the right train, going in the right direction. I ask a woman beside us at the station and she tells me something, but I don't understand her. I ask another woman who is sitting on a bench, and she says she is also taking that train, so she invites us to watch her and get on when she does.
Whew!
What a relief that is!
A very kind person willing to help...how nice!

I hate not knowing where I'm going and I hate it most when I am not in my own familiar environment. There's nothing that will make me feel stupid fasterr than a situation like this one, so I made sure to plan and re-plan the entire trip yesterday to make it go as smooth as possible.

The train pulls in, the other woman boards and smiles and beckons us to board also.
We do.

The train is packed with commuters, so there is standing room only for now.
It is hot hot hot on this train! I can feel sweat running down my face and neck as I relax into the wall of the train behind me. I thought this might happen so I packed a few paper towels, just in case.
Wiping my face with them, I'm embarrassed to see that they are crumbling like bad toilet paper as the sweat soaks into them! I am left with a handful of little rolled balls of paper towels.
WET balls of paper towels.
Hiding the soggy mess in my purse, I run my hands over my face to catch any stray bits that I might have missed.

Taryn is doing well, holding her luggage upright and taking care not to allow it to bump into anyone. This is something that I admire in this lovely woman who is my granddaughter...she is so thoughtful and caring of others, and makes sure that she is not imposing herself on anyone.
I catch her eye and give her a quick wink to let her know that I appreciate how well she is handling this trip to the airport.

We arrive at the first CDG stop and get off the train, catch the shuttle that is waiting and ride it to the terminal.
The wrong terminal.
We go back to the shuttle, ride it to the correct terminal and finally arrive in the departures hall.

I'd pre-boarded Taryn via the Air Canada website, so now we only have to retrieve her boarding pass from the automatic dispenser and she's good to go. The boarding pass is printed and she and I go to the express lane for pre-boarded passengers. Handing her passport and boarding pass to the ticket agent, we tell her where Taryn is going...the agent tells us there should have been two boarding passes printed, and because we only received one, we now have to walk across the terminal to the Air Canada service counter for the other boarding pass.

By this time, I'm getting very anxious about the time we are spending making all of these little side trips for various reasons. We arrive at the Air Canada service counter, explain what has happened, and the darling woman there takes Taryn's passport and boarding pass and returns a few moments later with the other pass, now neatly printed out for her!

As we are leaving to go back to the check-in counter, the Air Canada service person softly asks me why the agent at the check-in counter didn't give us the boarding pass when she saw that we needed the second pass...I tell her I don't know and she is appalled that this was not done. She tells me quietly, " She could have done that for you. I'm really sorry for this!"
How cool is that?
Another example of a kind person taking care of her customers.
Nice.

Finally, everything has been done. The luggage has been checked and my granddaughter is ready to go through passport control. One of the service personel comes up to us, hands a rolled package to Taryn...her precious poster that she bought for herself in the Louvre gift shop!
My mistake! I was carrying it for her and I left it on the counter at the Air Canada service area. Yet, another example of a kind person taking care of us.
This is such a good feeling!

This woman also very kindly explains to us that Taryn will have to get her luggage from the flight when she arrives in Toronto and go through Customs there rather than in Edmonton, because the boarding passes are not together on one ticket...that won't allow her to transit directly to the Edmonton flight.

As we stand in line for passport control, she asks me what that means...I begin to explain it to her and then the light goes on!
"I know!" she says. "I remember from Tour Group!"
Last year, her class went to England, Wales and Ireland with their high school Tour Group and it all clicks for her. I am relieved because I was becoming quite concerned for her making this flight, with the latest wrinkle about Customs in Toronto. But, now I can relax as she knows what is going on and I feel a little better about her taking this flight by herself.

Soon, it becomes obvious that I cannot walk any further with her in the lineup, so we hug and say goodbye to each other. As usual, my heart hurts with this goodbye and my eyes fill with tears. I know she would rather I didn't cry. For as long as I can remember, saying goodbye to my children and grandchildren brings me to tears and I'm not sure why. It happens when they leave me, and in fact, just as much when I leave them to go somewhere.

I do my best to suck it up for her, but my emotion is stronger than my mind and as this tiny perfectly lovely person walks into the crowd, I cannot breathe and I cannot swallow the tears anymore. She looks back at me and shakes her head with a gentle roll of her eyes, as if to say, " Grandma, Grandma, Grandma...what am I going to do with you?"

Standing beside the cart return for as long as I can see her among the crowd, I'm filled with such a feeling of love and pride in this little child who has grown into a fiercely independent and gusty young woman. She might be only a hair over five feet tall, but she has the determination and the strength of character of someone ten feet tall. Why am I not surprised? She comes from a long line of strong and courageous women...my grandmother, my mother, me and my daughter, her mother. There's something to be said for a good gene pool, I think!

"You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandmother is."
~ Irish proverb

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Taryn and Uncle Mikey walking by the Tolerance pieces in Luxembourg Jardin

July 12, 2008

A Sleepy Saturday in Paris

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Lunch for today...


Today is a very peaceful and low-key day in my life here in Paris. I've been running pretty much full speed every day since we left home...I'm truly tired and I really need to stop and rest!

Before she left, the granddarling asked me, "What are you going to do after I leave, Grandma?"
I replied, "Sleep!"
She thought I was joking.
I was serious!

So, after a quiet, restorative and peaceful sleep-in this morning, followed by a long, hot shower and a perfect breakfast of apricots, peaches, nectarines and kiwi fruit sliced together, topped with vanilla yoghurt and a side of lovely toasted spelt bread from Bread and Roses across the street, I'm ready to face the day!

The first item of business is a trip to the market and the bakery to stock up on necessities and luxuries. More fruit and veggies, another cheese or two, some juices, a new split of divine butter with sea salt, a dozen eggs and another loaf of fresh spelt bread...I think this will see me through the long weekend. Monday is Bastille Day in France, so all businesses will be closed and let the parties begin!

On my way home, I stop for lunch at Bread and Roses...mushroom quiche and a salad, a cafe creme and I'm stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey. I can hardly finish this meal...but oh, my!
It is so delicious!

After stashing everything away in the fridge and the cupboards, I take an hour to clean the apartment, removing all of the leftover packing bits and pieces from yesterday's leave-taking and then I take a load of trash down to the lobby to the garbage bins. A couple of loads of laundry are now in the works and I'm ready for a break. I'm reading a David Baldacci novel, 'The Collectors,' and I settle in for an hour or two of reading, while the laundry does itself.


Blackberries%20from%20the%20market2.jpg Blackberries from the market...


The phone rings as I'm just about to fall asleep...it's Barb and Bill, our wonderful hosts from London. What a lovely surprise! They've been attending a wedding just outside of Paris and are on their way back to Paris by train. We arrange for them to come for tea and a visit, and I walk along rue d' Assas to meet them as they come from Gare Montparnasse.

I hear all about the wedding and it sounds like a very relaxed and charming French country afternoon and evening. Both Barb and Bill are knackered, though, and they stay only a short time before we say goodbye as they leave for their hotel. They also are ready for a good night's sleep before catching a very early train in the morning.

I've run out of steam, I truly have.
It's time to tuck myself in for another long sleep and another late morning wake-up! Tomorrow, I'm going to meet my friend, Angie, for lunch and a visit, so I want to be rested as I've been looking forward so much to seeing her again! We met in Florence a few years ago and I'm so happy to be getting together with her, for a catch-up.

After I shut down the apartment and snuggle underneath my duvet, I think about how blessed I am to be living this life of mine. I totally get it that we are only on this planet for a short while and it's incumbent upon us to suck every drop of enjoyment out of every single second we have been given. I know that I've learned a lot about that in the last few years, with losing some very important people in my life...life's short, eat dessert first!

I've read somewhere that when we pass over to the other side, we'll be held accountable for all of those permissible pleasures that came our way that we didn't take advantage of and enjoy.

I'd rather be hung out to dry and held to account for enjoying too many of them rather than for not enjoying enough!

"This is NOT a dress rehearsal!" ~ Cher


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Flowers in Luxembourg Jardin...

July 13, 2008

An Angie Kinda Day...2nd Edition

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One of Angie's paintings of the pastries of Paris...

Today's a very cool day for me...I'm getting together with my friend Angie for lunch and a catch-up visit. I first met her when I was in Florence on my first trip there. She's an exceptionally good artist and besides having a great visit and a cafe creme or two, we are also going to see her atelier where she creates complete magic with a canvas and a paintbrush.

It's a short walk to the Port Royal station just south of Luxembourg Jardin, where we are going to meet, and...trust me to get lost going there!
I turn onto the correct street...I think...and after walking for a few minutes, I say to myself, "You dummy! You are going in the wrong direction!"

So, I double-back, reach my original starting point and try again. I still don't feel comfortable with this route, I still feel like I'm on the wrong street, so in desperation, I ask a woman who is walking along the other side of the street.

"Excusez-moi, madame...où est Port Royal, s'il vous plait?"

"I don't speak French at all, do you speak English?" she replies.

"Do I ever!" I tell her.
"I think I'm lost and I have no idea how to get to that metro station. Can you help me, please?"

"Of course," she tells me.
"Just keep walking this direction for another 2 blocks and there you are!"

So, I'm not lost at all!
I just need to walk one more block past where I gave up last time.
It's all about perseverance, I tell myself.

As I approach the next intersection, I see Angie walking towards me on my side of the street! I'm so happy to see her again! We always have these conversations that seem to pick up right where we left off last time, and this visit is no different. It's like we just saw each other last week...the conversation just flows.

Stopping for lunch and a cafe creme at a sidewalk cafe near her home, we get caught up on each other's lives, where each of us is doing and what's been happening in our lives. I love these kinds of conversations...total comfort and complete ease with another person. There are no uncomfortable silences, no wondering what to say next or where to turn for something to talk about...it's so easy!

As we finish our lunch, we decide to take the metro to her atelier. An atelier is a studio or workshop area where artists can work uninterrupted by their daily lives. Angie's atelier is located just outside of Paris in a small suburb in a very cool older building that has been turned into studios for rent to artists in the area.


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This is a fantastic idea...how many people who want to paint, sculpt, draw or write don't have private space to practice their craft, and so they don't actually create a lot of work because there's no dedicated space for them to work uninterrupted and surrounded by other creative artists like themselves. There is something about the amazing energy created when a group of artists get together...

We climb the stairs to her floor, and enter her studio.
The space is gorgeous!
The light pouring into the atelier from both banks of north and east facing windows washes golden colour over everything inside of those four walls. She is working on a new series of paintings from studies she's done of the Luxembourg Jardin...people and tables and chairs caught in a delicate balance of movement. Although they are in the preliminary stages, just umbre washes and a few basic colours laid on the canvases, I can see where she is going with this series. I've already fallen in love with a long, narrow piece that shows the edge of the pond and the miniature sailboats on the water in that pond in Luxembourg Jardin.

Angie has previously completed a delightful series of paintings showing scads of pastries from various patisseries in her neighbourhood. I've only seen these pieces on her website and now she hands me three that she has left from her last sale. They are such happy and cheerful pieces! I can see them framed and hanging in my kitchen and dining room already.

We talk about them for a few moments and the decision is made easy by how much I love them...and now, they are mine! She carefully wraps them in paper and a plastic bag to make it simpler for me to carry them back to my apartment. I will be able to take them with me when I go home next week, and I'll drop them off at my framer's on my way home from the airport after I arrive. In my home, I have some other pieces of Angie's stunning work, and those had to be shipped because they were too large to hand-carry on my flight home that time. This is much better, because I get to take them with me, now!

After sharing another cup of tea and of course, a few delicious pastries from the shop by her home, it's time for me to leave. This has been a stellar day for me, reconnecting with a good friend and hanging out with another artist, both at the same time...it's been wonderful! In fact, this was such a fantastic day that we're going to do it all over again on Tuesday, because we've made lunch plans for that day to cram in one more visit before she goes on a vacation and I go home to my everyday life.

On my way home, I stop at a small grocer's shop for some fresh fruit, at a patisserie for some totally calorie-free custard tartes and a couple of almond croissants. Then, walking through Lumembourg Jardin, I top up my camera's memory card with images of people and their comings and goings in the park this late Sunday afternoon.

This has been a delicious day...
Good friends, good food and good conversation is my definition of heaven!

"Friends are the sunshine of life." ~ John Hay

Here is Angie's website..you must take a look at her work...http://http://www.atelierfige.com/


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July 14, 2008

Jammies and Tea

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Some days you don't even want to get out of bed, you know what I mean?
Today was one of those days.
I slept late, had a long shower and put on....
my saggy baggy-butt blue and white checkered flannel 'jammies!

I wasn't even going to pack them for this trip.
I told myself, "Self! You put those saggy baggy-butt 'jammies back in the drawer! You are NOT taking them with you...especially not to PARIS, of all places!"

That was what my rational self told my other self.
Guess who won?
A good thing, too, 'cause otherwise I'd not have had anything comfortable to wear today!

After making a yummy breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and Confiture Bonne Maman Abricots, green tea and a huge glass of pamplemousse juice, I settled in to eat and read and veg. That kind of day doesn't make a very interesting entry in my blog today, and I'm not sure how to juice it up to make it a better read. A day like today does remind me of a very dear friend of mine, though.

My friend always wants to travel with me, and I always tell her no.
Why?
Because her definition of a successful vacation is measured by how many places she sees and how many events she attends, how many miles she puts on and how many tours she takes.
My definition of a successful vacation is measured quite differently. I look more to see how much time I take for myself...to paint, window-shop, to daydream or to take several soul-restoring afternoon naps and eat huge helpings of ice cream whenever I want.


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As you can see, we come at this vacation thing from entirely polar opposites.
I could work with that if only my friend would let me have my kind of vacation. That's the problem. She wants me to run myself ragged right along side of her. She has no understanding of my need to sit and stare out of the window or to walk through the parks and have a caffe creme at a sidewalk cafe. Because I'm not racking up the miles running from one vineyard to another winery on any of several available tours, she sees me as a failure at experiencing successful vacations, whereas I see myself as a complete and rip-roaring success!

There's nothing wrong with her kind of vacation. Neither is there anything wrong with my style of holidaying. The problems occur when she insists that I travel at warp speed with her. As she so succinctly put it, "I have no desire to stand and watch you paint for hours! That would bore me to tears!"

I haven't asked her to stand and watch me paint...I've only asked her to respect my desire to do so. It's because she cannot do that that we'll not ever take a trip to the corner drugstore together, never mind across the ocean.

Too bad, because I love her a lot and we get along completely, for the most part. Until she decides that I know what's best for me in the vacation area, this is one thing that we'll have to agree to disagree about, I guess.

So, as I settle in for a soft and comfy day wrapped in a blanket curled up on the sofa, I'm reminded of my friend who cannot stop moving until she drops from exhaustion. How I wish for her a little more calmness and peace in her life. I'm sure, by the same token, she wishes for me a little more joy-juice on my vacations.

Interesting, the differences between people...that's what makes the world go around, I think. If we were all the same as me, there'd be a world of people who are vegging out over their morning toast and eggs, while sitting in their saggy baggy-butt blue and white checkered 'jammies...
Not a bad visual, is it?

“Did I ever tell you how I shot a wild elephant in my pyjamas? How he got into my pyjamas I'll never know.” ~ Groucho Marx

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July 16, 2008

Angelina and the Shopping Trip...

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After my 'jammies day, I'm ready to roll! After breakfast of fruit, cheese, yoghurt and green tea, I load myself up with everything I need for a day away from my apartment...
~ snacks, gum, kleenex, antiseptic hand wipes, camera, freshly charged batteries
~ photocopy of my passport
~ map book of Paris, with stickies marking all of the necessary bus routes, metro stops and shopping places along the way.

And the biggie...
~ money.
Minimum 50E.
Any less and I need a pit stop at the ATM.
I have an irrational fear of being in a strange location where no one knows me and I have no money to eat or take the metro, the bus or a taxi home. So, to calm that part of my little Miss Inside Scaredy-pants, I make sure to leave home for the day with enough cash to eat two meals out and take a taxi home if I need to.
Weird, I know.
But, that's one of my little idiosyncracies and I take good care of it, because that gives me a safe feeling inside.

Walking along the side streets of this area of Paris is always a simple joy for me. I can window-shop for hours, stopping for a caffe creme and a tarte tatin or a lemon tarte. Today, I've decided to go back to the shops in the Carrousel du Louvre, because there are some great gift items there that will be perfect for the people on my gotta-get-a-gift list. I saw earrings in a cool little jewelry shop in the under-the-Louvre shopping area that would be perfect for my house sitter, some lush bath goodies for my front office person, and in the BHV I
found the perfect bronze Made in Paris day bag for my realtor locum.
By the way, I just found out that BHV is actually Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville! I had no idea. That place rocks!

BHV is a department store with the most amazing basement level ever. I could hang out there for ages...housewares galore, just for starters. I love that place! It's just a short walk back from the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral. If you've never been, then make some time and go! I promise, you'll love it a lot!

Speaking of the Seine, as I walk along beside it, the Bateaux Mouches are flying in both directions...people on one boat waving frantically and calling out to the people in the other boat, who are doing the same!
It's so funny!
" 'Allo!"
" Oui, 'allo!"
Back and forth, across the water between the two boats loaded with people, and the occasional English "Hi, y'all!" tossed in for variety.


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I've worked up quite a sweat by now, and I think it just might be the right time to try out Cafe Marly, located in the Louvre, overlooking the pyramid entrance. It's located outdoors, sheltered by the ancient corridor of the museum, and the breeze and shade will be a welcome treat for me. As I enter the corridor leading to the cafe, I see a server, who looks all of fourteen years old and I ask him if I may sit down at one of the empty tables in the shady side of the cafe.

"Oh, non, Madame!" he replies in abject horror.
Pointing at another server who looks about a year older than this guy standing in front of me..."You MUST ask his permission, Madame!" he whispers to me, shakily.

So, I walk over to the other server, ask him if I could please sit down and order something to eat and a beverage to go with it, as well.
"Sun or shade," he says to me.
"Shade," I reply.
"Here," he says imperiously, pointing to a scrumbly-looking table sitting right smack-dab in full sun, right beside his cashier's stand.
"Non, M'sieur," I reply, "In the shade, please."

A long silence follows.
He looks at me and then at the table he has chosen for me. Then he looks back at me, as if to say, "Take it! That's all there is!"

I shake my head, wave him away and turning, walk towards the entrance to the cafe, where there are many, many empty tables and chairs sitting in the shade, with a cool breeze blowing over the entire area. I am tempted to sit there and wait for service, but instead, I leave the cafe and walk across the street and down the block to Angelina, once again!

A glass of chilled champagne and a lemon tarte fills my tummy and gives me a sit-me-down-and-pick-me-up, and I feel human! The servers in this beautiful cafe are kind and generous, and every single one of them is all about making us feel welcome, not like we are too much of a bother. I'll be back here again. As for Cafe Marly, I might try it again another day, but I'm not sure...

The rest of my day is taken up with a long and slow meander through the streets of this city as I make my way back to my apartment. A very B-grade movie kind of day...nothing too much and nothing too little. Just an ordinary day, the kind I like best!

"I only drink champagne when I'm happy, and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone.
When I have company, I consider it obligatory.
I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."
~ Lily Bollinger, when asked when she drinks champagne


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July 18, 2008

Chartres Cathedral and Labyrinth...A Stephen King Horror Story, Sort of...Chapter 1

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The cathedral in Chartres, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, has a very strong hold on my soul.
The labyrinth in the cathedral has an even stronger hold on my soul for some reason that I cannot explain.

My first trip to Paris in 2005 gave me the long-dreamed-of chance to take the train to Chartres and spend the day in the most glorious of cathedrals, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres. It was a dream come true for me to be blessed enough to go there.

I can no more explain why this labyrinth casts such a spell on my heart any more than I can explain how I breathe even when I'm sleeping. My kids, when they were little, would tell you that it happened because "God did it!" That was their explanation for every unexplainable occurence in their everyday lives. There may be some truth to that, on second thought. I'm not sure, I only know that it is like coming home to walk into that cathedral, step onto the labyrinth and begin to walk the path worn down by millions of people over thousands of years who have walked it before me.


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Friday is the only day that you can walk the ages old labyrinth, because of the wear and tear that so many feet create for the ancient stones that make up the form of the labyrinth. I am only in Paris for one Friday that isn't otherwise taken up with spending time with my granddaughter, so I've set today aside for this return visit.

Walking to Gare du Montparnasse early in the morning, I'm in a very thoughtful mood. I wonder what it will be like for me to visit the cathedral and walk the labyrinth for the second time. It was a very emotionally-charged experience the first time I spent a day there. I walked the labyrinth twice that day, once when we first arrived and later on in the afternoon, a second time just before we took the train back to Paris. You can read about that day on my trip report that is posted on Slowtrav. Here's the link:
http://http://www.slowtrav.com/tr/tripreport.asp?tripid=926&index=25

The train trip to Chartres takes an hour, and then we are there. Walking from the station to the cathedral is a few minutes...5 at most. All you have to do is follow the crowd, but today there are only a handful of us heading that way, so I have plenty of time to look at the streets and the shops as we walk. The city of Chartres takes pride in their landscaping and the appearance of this pretty city shows such attention to detail...the Tourist Information Center is exquisitely landscaped...take a look at these images of the flower displays...

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After arriving at the courtyard in front of the tourist info center, I have my first glimpse of what feels like an old and dear friend. The cathedral is shrouded in part with scaffolding and the attendant draping...there is a major restoration underway! What a joy to see this happening. The last time I was here a few years ago, there was a fundraising drive underway to make the restoration possible and it looks like they've found some money!

Here are a couple of images that will show you the difference between the cathedral before restoration and cleaning and what it looks like afterwards...

Before...
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After...

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Quite a difference, isn't it?

To be continued on the next blog page...

"Even before this early Gothic cathedral was built, Chartres had long been a place of pilgrimage. When ergotism (more popularly known in the Middle Ages as "St. Anthony's fire") afflicted many victims, the crypt of the original church became a hospital to care for the sick."

According to legend, since 876 the Cathedral's site has housed a tunic that was said to have belonged to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Sancta Camisia. The relic had supposedly been given to the Cathedral by Charlemagne who received it as a gift during a crusade in Jerusalem.

In fact, the relic was a gift from Charles the Bald and it has been asserted that the fabric came from Syria and that it had been woven during the first century AD." ~ Wikipedia

Before restoration...
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July 21, 2008

Chartres Cathedral and Labyrinth...A Stephen King Horror Story, Sort of...Chapter 2

Continued from Page 1...

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Seeing my old friend getting a new facelift is pretty amazing!
She's a grande dame and deserves taking care of, but the cost of cleaning and restoration can be overwhelming for the cathedral society in Chartres which takes care of the cleaning and restoration process.

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There are many areas on the exterior that have been restored since I was here in 2005, and I'm delighted to see this new face of the cathedral. It's like seeing the cathedral as it might have been the date it was finished!

Exciting for me...and I've made an important discovery! There are little recesses in the pillars of the cleaned and restored areas that house escaping gargoyles.
These are so amazing! They were not visible before the restoration, because they were covered with centuries of dirt and grime.
Here are a few examples of my lovely discovery...

Look at this darling little gargoyle, screaming to get out!
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Here's his little buddy, wanting to escape also!
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This is the pillar base that houses those little darlings...
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After walking around the exterior of the cathedral, taking photos of the scaffolding and the before-and-after restoration areas of this lovely old church, it's time to go inside and visit my labyrinth. There are so many people walking the path of this labyrinth that there is hardly room for me, so I sit in a chair in the gallery, waiting for a smaller crowd...or better yet, no crowd at all!

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Now, I want you to take a good close look at my next image of that labyrinth...
Notice anything out of the ordinary?
Neither did I when I was taking these images, but when checking them out later that evening while downloading my photos for the day, I was shocked to see a few dozen orbs in the photos.

Orbs!
In the labyrinth...
Why am I not surprised?
After all, there must be many spirits of people who've walked this labyrinth over the last several centuries that are still hanging around the area, and seeing them in orb formation is just mindblowing for me...also, please notice the large filmy areas located in the dead center of the labyrinth, as well as a second one on the right side of the photo. I think that must be a cluster of a few orbs hanging out together with their friends!

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As more people join in the labyrinth walking today, the orbs dissipate until there are only a few left. You can see in this next image how the orbs have begun to leave the area...

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And, now, with more people coming into the labyrinth, there are only a couple of orbs brave enough to stay and visit...

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Finally, the crowd clears.
I take my place in the entrance to the labyrinth.
I begin my walk.
Step, step, pause...
Step, step, pause...
This feels so familiar to me now. The first time I walked this labyrinth, it was very emotional for me. Now, although I've only walked this labyrinth twice before, it really feels like coming home to be here.

It takes about 15 minutes to reach the center of the labyrinth. There are a few others standing in the beam, so to speak. No one speaks, there is just a respectful silence within this small group.
Giving thanks for my health, my life and the people in it, and my blessedness in being able to make this trip to Chartres, I kneel to touch the heartstone of the labyrinth, then standing, I turn and begin the long walk out of the labyrinth.

Now there are a large number of people joining in the walk, and as last time, it amazes me how different people have different ways of walking...

An older man walks barefoot, carrying a lighted red votive candle in his hands. It is one of the candles from the votive stand at the back of the cathedral. He walks with his eyes closed for the most part, only opening them once in a while to see where the path is taking him.
A woman, also barefoot, also carrying a lighted red votive candle, walks just behind the man, keeping him close to her as if protecting him or supporting him.

He is very frail and thin, almost gaunt in appearance. He appears very ill and this day seems to be a kind of pilgrimage for him. Every time I look his way, there is a small smile on his face and the word beatific comes to mind. He looks as if he is seeing something or knows something beyond the rest of us, as if this is truly an otherworldly experience for him.

A small child, a girl about five or six years old, skips through the pathway, laughing lightly and watching where she places her feet as she skips. What a joy to watch her! She has the natural beauty of a little child, with dark curly long-to-her-shoulders hair held back from her face by a red and white polka-dot headband. Unaware that anyone is watching her, she appears to be totally within the moment, entranced by this process.

Five teen girls walk single file ahead of me along the path...and they are talking to their friends on five cell phones, giving blow-by-blow accounts of their walk! The modern world has arrived, even here inside of this ancient cathedral in Chartres...amazing!

As I complete my walk and exit the labyrinth, I'm conscious of a feeling of peace and total calmness inside of my solar plexus. There are no tight spots in my back anymore, no little headache-y places under my scalp and absolutely no feeling of worry or concern about anything at all. This is a good thing! Now, how to build my very own labyrinth at home. Or, is this feeling of peace and calm generated by the energy of the cathedral and the labyrinth? I don't know the answer to this. I only know that I don't find this feeling anywhere else in my world.

...to be continued....


"The Labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral is a hidden treasure. It was placed in the West end of the Nave around the year 1201. It is a forty-- two foot, circular pattern, inlaid in brown quarry stone with black onyx to outline the path. This type of labyrinth-which is flat to the floor-is called a pavement, or church labyrinth. The labyrinth is often confused with a maze, yet it is exactly the opposite. A labyrinth has one path that starts from the outer edge and winds its way, in a very circuitous route, to the center The word for meditation in Latin is meditere, which means 'to find the center.'" ~ Phoebe Griswold


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Chartres Cathedral and Labyrinth...A Stephen King Horror Story, Sort of...Chapter 3

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Votives inside of the cathedral...


Continued from page 2....

After leaving the area around the labyrinth, I make my way to the votives lighted and shimmering in the darkness of the cathedral. For 2Euros you can take a votive and light it for someone, placing it in the stand with all of the other brilliantly-lit candles. I light a candle for Lloyd and place it at the very top of the stand, so it shines brightly over every other candle there. I leave my 2 Euros in the little glass dish.

Walking towards the exit, I am thinking ahead about the tour of the crypt, because I want to use that time for a major photo-op. There are some amazing things to see in the crypt underneath the cathedral.

The ticket office is a few minutes' walk from the exit of the cathedral, and as I'm going that way, I am window-shopping, of course! The gift shops along the street towards the ticket office have changed so much since I was here last...and changed for the better. There is one shop in particular that interests me.

The window display is extraordinary. Excellent replicas of the various statues that cover the exterior of the cathedral, of the gargoyles that haunt and horrify the upper edges of the various roofs of the spires...not a junky touristy kind of memento, but a very good quality replica. I'll not buy any for taking home, because of the weight, but I do love looking at them!


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Icon on the front of the gift shop at Chartres...


Arriving at the ticket office, buying my ticket and standing in line for the next tour, I remember my first trip underground to see the original portions of this cathedral that have survived for centuries. My son and I went on this tour a few years ago, and it was an amazing experience for us.

The guide was very kind in allowing us to spend 45 minutes in the crypt unsupervised, while we took a load of photos, and I wonder if we'll have the same guide this time. He was so good, he knew his stuff and made that tour extremely interesting.

As more people line up, the guide arrives and it is the same guy! How cool is that? I'm looking forward to this so I can take more photos of the crypt and the ancient artifacts stored there. The guide opens the massive hinged wood door, steps aside and invites all of us to enter.

As our group slowly make their way down the stone steps into the walkway below, I intentionally drift towards the end of the line because I want to lag a little behind, to take some photos of areas of the crypt that I missed photographing last time I was here. I have company...a man and a woman from Holland are walking with me, taking photos as we trail the tour group.


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I have the chance to walk right up to the frescoes, the Black Madonna, the baptismal font. This is an awesome opportunity for me, and I am rapidly filling my memory card with what I hope will be glorious photos.

Passing the models of the 4 original versions of the present cathedral, walking through the ages-old underground chapel and trailing my fingers carefully along the edge of the 10th century well, I feel an overwhelming gratitude for this miraculous thing that I'm blessed to be doing.

At one spot, we learn that the Gothic pillars of the main building above are built on original pillars that form part of the crypt below, pillars like this one, constructed ages ago...


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It amazes me that something that was constructed over a thousand years ago, without the help of cranes, bulldozers, winches or computer-generated blueprints, still stands as straight and true as when it was first erected. Today, we don't care enough to build something that will last more than a hundred years, never mind a thousand.

I'm always intrigued by the chapel in the crypt...full of frescoes that are stunning, even in their decay. The alter at the front of the chapel, the Well of the Saints-Forts...all once used by the villagers of Chartres to worship their God.


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As we turn the last corner coming out of the chapel and into the long walkway to the stairs to the exit, I realize that there are only three of us in the walkway, now.

The rest of the group and the guide are nowhere in sight.

At that very moment, I hear the outer door slam shut!
Without a word of a lie, that's what I hear.

I cannot believe my ears.
I exchange startled glances with the couple from Holland, and ask them, "Holy Mother of God! Do you think they've left us behind?"

The woman smiles nervously, looks at her husband and then back at me, and says in a shaky voice, "That can't be! Let's get out of here!"

We rush towards the stairway to the exit, run quickly up those ancient stone stairs and wrestle without success to open the huge solid wooden door that is barring our way out of the crypt.

We are locked in.
This is like a Stephen King horror movie.
Locked In The Crypt.

It's not funny, though.
I know that there is no tour until 5:30 P.M., a few hours from now.
The last tour of the day.
What if no one is booked for that tour?
What if.....?

I share this little tidbit with the couple from Holland.
They are not amused.
They don't seem to see the black humour in our present situation.
I don't either, but I'm doing whatever I can to keep from freaking out completely.


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The doorway blocking our exit...


We decide to try calling the cathedral's tourism office on a cell phone. We also realize that there will be no cell service in this underground. Waving that aside, we race to the top of the stairs, press the antenna of the cell phone against the narrow strip of light showing between the door and the floor, hoping for some radio wave to find it. The woman dials the office number that we find on our ticket stubs.

"'Allo?" says the woman at the ticket office.

"'Allo, 'allo, Madame? Nous sommes enfermés dans la crypte, Madame! S’il vous plaît, envoyer de l'aide!" the woman yells into the phone. She tells the clerk that we are locked in the crypt and we need her to please send help to us.

"Non, Madame, je ne peux pas quitter le bureau sans surveillance," the office clerk replies quickly and curtly. She cannot leave the office unattended.

"Mais, Madame, que faire? S’il vous plaît, aidez-nous!" says the woman from Holland. What are we to do? Please help us, she begs.

The office clerk replies, "Vous devrez attendre la prochaine tournée, et le guide vous rendra libre." She wants us to wait for the next tour and the guide will set us free. She is not budging from her comfy chair in the ticket office.

Now, if this were a Stephen King horror movie, there would be no next tour. The crypt and cathedral would be closing for the season, with us locked inside, and no one to find us until the cathedral opens again in the spring...which, by that time we'll be nothing but a heap of bones at the foot of the stairs that leads from the crypt.

I AM SO SCARED!!!

I want my mommy...or at the very least, I want my Cabbage Patch doll that sits on the foot of my bed...I'm getting more uneasy by the minute.

"Breathe, Brenda, breathe!" I tell myself, over and over again.
This is not the time for my claustrophobia to kick into high gear.
It really isn't.

OK, so we are locked in.
Until the next tour in a couple of hours from now.
That's not so bad, is it?
Is it?

We talk, the couple from Holland and I.
I suggest walking to the entrance door to see if that door is open and the man from Holland assures me that the guide locked it behind him, once we were all inside of the entryway, at the beginning of this nightmare.

We encourage each other and we even manage a small, nervous chuckle about our situation. We talk about our vacations and how this will make a great holiday story to tell our friends and how we'll laugh about this in the morning....if there is a morning for us...

A voice!
I hear the guide's voice, coming from miles down the corridors of the crypt!
I am in love with that guide, completely and totally!

I make a small joke that we should hide in the crevasses of the crypt's walls and then, as the tour passes, jump out and scare the crap out of them.
I am the only one that laughs.
It's not such a great idea, then.

Finally, the guide and his fresh victims...er, tour members...round the corner and walk towards us, as we are seated on the cold, clammy stone steps by the exit.

The guide is taking rapidly in French to his tour, and then he sees us, sitting, waiting...

"Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! Did I leave you in here? Did I forget you, did I?" he cries.

We assure him that, alas! It is true.
He did leave us in here.

He apologizes profusely, rushing over to us and wrapping his arms around each of us in turn.
"Je m'excuse! Je m'excuse!" he says, over and over again.

I think, "Just let us the hell out of here!"
I say....nothing.

As we walk into the fresh air, I hear the guide tell us that the door at the entrance was open, unlocked. All we had to do was walk back to that door and we could have got out right away, didn't we know that?

I look at the man from Holland.
With daggers and sharp knives shooting from my eyes.

His wife looks at the man from Holland.
Her daggers and sharp knives shooting from her eyes are much more lethal than mine, I think.

Walking hurriedly to the train station to catch the last train back to Paris, I whistle as I walk.
That's weird.

I never knew how to whistle before!
Is this a Chartres miracle?
Perhaps, perhaps....
Perhaps it is!

“When his life was ruined, his family killed, his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, 'Why, God? Why me?' and the thundering voice of God answered, 'There's just something about you that pisses me off.” ~ Stephen King

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The stone steps that cosseted our butts for so long...

July 22, 2008

Last Day in Paris...

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I've intentionally made this last day in Paris a completely do-nothing day. After a luscious breakfast of sliced fresh fruit, toasted nearly-gluten-free spelt bread, yoghurt and Twinning's Green Tea, I finish packing my luggage, and you know what? Everything fits perfectly!

This is a first.
Normally, I struggle with finding room for all of my treasures, and have often resorted to buying a cheap second bag. This trip, however, I have been cautious with my shopping, I've cut down the number of people that I bring treats for AND purchased only souvenirs that are small and light. I get too soon old and too late smart!

Touria, the apartment owners' contact person, comes by with my damage deposit of 500E and we chat for a few minutes. She is a very kind woman, I think...I've not spoken with her very often, but when I have she has been the picture of kindness. The good thing about this is that I now have mad money for last minute shopping!

I grab my keys, camera, some spare rechargeable batteries for the camera and my small purse and and take the tiny elevator down to rue Madame. Walking across the street to Bread and Roses, I check to make sure they have a slice of my beloved mushroom quiche left for later, and they do! Then, for a delicious treat for myself, I walk to the entrance gate on rue Guynemer, taking photos along the way. This entrance has become so familiar to me over the last two weeks, with the immediate welcome shade of the huge masses of trees overhanging the graveled pathway and sidewalk inside the gate.


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Sitting on the bench along the landscaped area beside a statue that I really like, I'm doing my best to soak this up, to find some way to retain the joy I feel when coming here every morning. I would love to bottle the essence of this amazing garden, take it home with me and save it for the next time some cranky-pants clouds up and rains on my parade. If I could immediately transport myself right back to this very spot, I know that it would soothe my soul and show me so clearly the complete lack of importance of someone else's black mood in my life.

Walking along the sidewalk and grassed area towards the rue Vaugirard gate beside the Orangerie and Cafe des Medicis, I take a number of photos, sit and watch the people in the garden today and promise myself that I will be back here as soon as I can. This truly is a slice of heaven on earth. No wonder hundreds of Parisiens come here during the day and after they finish work, to sit and visit, have a smoke, drink a cool beverage and air out their minds before heading home. I understand completely.


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I'm hungry, and Bread and Roses is only a couple of blocks away, so I walk along the side street until it takes me right to the front door of the bakery. Sitting at a small sidewalk table, I browse the menu, and decide to go with a tried and true favorite...Mushroom Quiche with a side salad and green tea.

My favorite server brings me a huge cast iron pot of tea, fragrant and steaming. The quiche follows in a few minutes and it is perfection! Thick, egg-y, with a scattering of pan-fried fresh mushrooms sprinkled over top...the first forkful is tender, crisp-crusted and very luscious!
Good choice, Brenda!


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Stuffed to the gills, I pay my bill, leaving a generous and well-received tip for my server. She's been amazing. She saves the last piece of quiche for me if I stop by and tell her that I'll be back later for lunch. My tea is always steaming hot and my dessert is always perfect and waiting for me, when I stop by for a mid-afternoon break. Buying six Corinthe Currant Cereal Sticks and a loaf of cornbread to take home with me, I say goodbye to the staff and tell them I'm leaving for home tomorrow. I'll miss this lovely place where I've had lunch many times, taken their amazing bread and croissants back to my apartment many times and treated myself to far too many lemon tarts...


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After my very late lunch, it's back to my apartment to finish packing, making sure the bread that I just bought will fit in my checked luggage. The apartment is clean, all of the trash has been taken out and my luggage is packed, except for my toiletries.

Curling up on the sofa, wrapped in a wool blanket, I spend a few hours reading 'Here Be Dragons' by Sharon Kay Penman, then take a break for a late light dinner of fruit and yoghurt. As I finally slide into my bed, turn out the lights and pull up the covers, the darkness tumbles in through the bedroom window on my last night in Paris.

Falling asleep, my last thoughts are of the memories of my time here with my granddarling. I have a very vivid image in my mind of my son and my granddaughter walking ahead of me through Luxembourg Jardin, just hanging out together...

"Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present, and future."
~ Gail Lumet Buckley

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July 23, 2008

The Best of Paris...

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The Best of Paris:
Cool night air coming through the bedroom window while I slept...the bonus of a top floor apartment
Bread and Roses Bakery and Deli right across the street
Blessedly cool showers after a hot and humid day walking all over the city
Apartment noises...the neighbour, a pianist, at dinnertime every night
...that delicious French music station that Taryn found on the stereo
...curtains snapping with the breeze coming in through the bedroom window


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Luxembourg Jardin...the cool under the trees
...Medicis Fountain
...symmetry of the landscaping
...luscious green spaces with gorgeous flower beds around the edges
...walking the sweat of the day off, on my way home from anywhere
...the pony rides, the smiles and the tears on the children's faces...
...rows of flags slapping in the wind


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"A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in." ~ Robert Orben

September 22, 2008

Mountains and me...

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Medicine Lake, on the Maligne Canyon road east of Jasper, Alberta


Here I am in the heart of the Rockies, in Jasper!
What a blessing to be able to spend the next 2 weeks here, surrounded by the glorious mountains, the larch turning all shades of autumn gold and red and orange...stunning.

Last night, we had our get-together in the studio, 24 artists from western Canada and western U.S. and our darling instructor, Gregg Johnson and his fabulous wife, Darlene. After catching up on each other's lives over the last year, we set up the tables, set out our art supplies and then ate several servings of Darlene's scrumptious apple crisp. She bakes for weeks in advance of this workshop, making 2 weeks of desserts and sweets for our morning and afternoon coffee breaks. Truly, different dessert for each break...can you imagine the work?

I didn't sleep at all last night. Too much stuff running around in my ever-fertile imagination. Every noise was a spook, every crack of the water heater was the boogey-man coming in for tea...what a night!

Early this morning, we met in the studio again, and got down to business! Everyone's on a different level. Some are fantastic artists, some are middle-of-the-road artists and will be fantastic in a few years, and a few are beginners. All are lovely folks!

After a quick lunch, we drove to Lake Annette for an afternoon of painting en plien air. Now, watercolours in the great outdoors are not an easy thing, because the wind and the sun dry the pigment and water on the paper inordinately fast. It creates some 'interesting' pieces!

September 25, 2008

Spirit Island...

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A chilled Gimlet for me, just before dinner last night...

What a glorious day we had today! After painting in the studio in the morning, we went back into the Maligne Lake area, about an hour from Jasper, and we were given complimentary passes for the boat cruise to Spirit Island. Not everyone took advantage of this opportunity...we have a few artists who are not used to the brisk autumn weather here, so they opted for a photo op and then back inside their heated cars!

Spirit Island is one of the most photographed locations in Canada's national parks system. It's interesting how it was discovered...a photographer took a few photos on a canoe trip a few decades ago and his wife entered a photo of Spirit Island in a Kodak contest. The photo won and then Kodak came calling!

They asked for a name for the photos and the photographer said it represented the spirit of the Canadian Rockies to him...so Spirit Island is the name. The prize for the winner of the contest was to have the winning photo splattered on a huge wall in New York's Central Station, I believe. That started the notoriety of this delicately balanced ecosystem in the belly of the mountains surrounding Jasper.

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The wake of the boat going out to the island...


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Spirit Island


We have been given special permission to stay on the island and paint for the afternoon...usually, the boat cruises stop at the dock, allowing visitors a 10 minutes photo op and a potty break, and then they are shuffled back onto the boat for the 40 minute return trip along the lake through some of the most pristine wilderness in the Rockies.

This area cannot be seen from anything other than a boat or canoe...no roads in to the area at all. I hope they keep it this way. The glaciers high up in the mountains are receding every year, and at a speed that is shocking. Each time I take this trip, there is more mountaintop and less glacier. I don't think there is any way that this craziness can be stopped...man seems to be hell-bent on fossil-fueling this world. One day, there will be no glaciers visible, and soon after that, I suspect, no glaciers in existence in this area of my country. It makes me feel very sad. This will change the way of life for the mountain sheep, the darling white wooly mountain goats, our grizzly and brown bears, cougars, wolves, foxes, coyotes, elk, moose...so many species will have their existence forever changed.

So, every trip into this glacial basin is a gift for me, and this day is no exception. We spend a few hours painting on the shore, talking with the boatloads of tourists who come to the island by boat cruise every hour and then it is time to pack up our painting gear, put on our backpacks and leave, for another year.

Later, after a shower and a nap, a group of us go to the restaurant at the lodge and celebrate our lovely day with champagne and a stellar meal. Then, to bed...morning class starts early here in the Rockies and I am bone-tired after the long day at high altitude in these mountains.


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September 28, 2008

Jasper's Finest...

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This area of Jasper National Park is full to the brim with gorgeous waterfalls, rushing rivers and glacier-fed lakes, all wrapped in the protective and loving arms of the mountains that surround. The water is ice-cold. Locals will tell you that a minute in that water will kill you. If hypothermia doesn't get you, then the sharp intake of air that you suck in when you hit that frigid glacial water will drown you. If you are going under as you draw in that killing breath, that's the end for you.

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Horseshoe Lake is a favorite painting spot for us. A 10 minute hike in from the highway brings me to this breathtaking location. I've painted this a few times, never well, always badly. Yet, the challenge is still inside of me to re-create this deep aquamarine-coloured lake on 300 lb.cold press paper. It has eluded me with every attempt. Some folks chase after the largest salmon or the biggest buck elk with the most points on his rack. Not me...I just want a small painting that doesn't embarrass me when I look at it! Some day...

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After 3 hours in the chill autumn air, splashing pigment on paper, I give up, yet again. This painting is even worse than the previous sketches...like the lake is thumbing her nose at me, daring me to recreate her luscious beauty.

Packing my paints and brushes into my backpack, I walk slowly back twards the highway and the parking lot...and the bathroom! That icy rock formation that I've been sitting on for ages has made a potty pitstop a necessity!

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The path to the parking lot is carved out of the mountainside and it is a struggle to climb it and walk safely while carrying my painting gear. Soon, though, I am out in the sunshine on the asphalt. After packing all of my painting paraphernalia back into my Denali, I stop for a few last photos of the cloud-covered mountain peaks. This is an amazing day for me...amazing.


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A final few photos...

"Watercolor is a medium that can be as demanding and temperamental as those who choose to paint with it. But it is a colorful and exciting medium all the same – well suited to describing the many moods of the subject, as well as those of the artist wielding the brush." ~ Jean Burman

September 30, 2008

Wildlife!

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A perfect fall day...23 degrees Celsius in sunny Jasper.
This afternoon, my art class drives to Lac Beauvert, about 5 miles from where we are staying in the Jasper area. This lake is glorious. The reflections and the fall colours are perfection this time of year and we are soaking up the Indian summer weather that we've been blessed with these last few days.

There are a few new people in my art group for this workshop, and they've been expressing some grave fears about bears and such. One of the new members mentions that she's been in the Jasper area many times and so far, no wildlife sightings at all.
Of course, the more intrepid among the old-timers in the group have been giving them the gears about the dangers of our local bears and wolves, coyotes, fox, cougars...and so on.

One of the local residents explains to the new members in graphic detail that bull elk are so much more dangerous at this time of year than any bear could ever be...those big bad boys are in their mating season, or in rut, and they get very aggressive with anyone or anything that comes between them and their girlfriends. Very aggressive.

So, we are seated around the lake shore on the opposite side of the lake from Jasper Park Lodge, painting ourselves silly this afternoon. While we are salivating over the beauty of the geese on the lake, the ducks and loons in the lakeshore waters and every so often, gently giving it to those people who are worrying about the dangerous wildlife, guess who wanders into the parking lot right, beside our lakeshore painting area?
This yummy mummy elk!


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She's obviously a little renegade, because the rest of the herd are sticking pretty close to Big Daddy...


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Within minutes, our group of new students find themselves surrounded by this herd of 14 cows...and yes, Big Daddy is riding herd on them... while they walk calmly among those glued-to-their-lawn-chairs and very terrified artists!

The herd walks down to the lake's edge, steps gingerly and gently into the water and drinks their fill. Then they turn around, walk back up the shoreline into the forest, to be snuggly-close to their lord and master...all but one.

That little rebel walks in the opposite direction, right into the parking lot beside us and stands watching those scared watercolourists painting. Well, maybe they are not painting right at that moment...


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Finally, giving her head a flirtatious toss, she ambles slowly towards the rest of the herd, taking her own sweet time and looking for all the world like an independent career woman out for an afternoon stroll after her ritual cappuccino!

The new members of our art workshop are quite excited and very overwhelmed by the attention they've just received from one of God's most beautiful creatures...late last night in the studio, they were still talking about the day's adventure. Funny thing, no more has been heard about those many trips to Jasper and having never seen any wildlife while in this area!

Today is a truly magical day. This herd of elk graces us with their presence and doesn't cause anyone any harm. Rather, they seem vaguely curious about these interlopers who dare to sit in the center of the direct route to the elks' own personal drinking fountain!

By the way, I have one decent painting in the works from this day, so that is the icing on the cake for me. If, with any sort of good luck, it turns out, I'll share the images with you in a few days.


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"A country is known by the way it treats its animals." ~ Jawaharlal Nehru


October 3, 2008

Mountains Galore...Mountains Glorious...

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First, Medicine Lake and her mountain range...
This glorious lake is an anomaly...it isn't really a lake, but rather an area into which the Maligne River backs up and then suddenly...disappears!
In summer, during intensified meltwater runoff from the higher elevation snow on the mountains and from the glaciers in the area, the lake will fill to various levels that change from time to time, depending on the amount of runoff in the Maligne River. Then, as the Maligne River's water level lowers, the water in Medicine Lake drains back into the river. So, what you see is the lake empty at one time and then later on, full of water again...interesting!

'The underground system is very extensive and during the 1970's, researchers used a biodegradable dye to determine the underground river's extent. The dye showed up in many of the lakes and rivers in the area to the point where it became clear that the underground system was one of the most extensive in the world.' ~ Wikipedia

This is an amazing phenomenon...a lake that is filled by a river and then emptied by the same river when the river's water levels are low. Sort of like water being poured back and forth between a cup and a pitcher.


Then, on to Mount Robson...

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'Mount Robson Provincial Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, together with the other national and provincial parks that form the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, because of the mountain peaks, glaciers, lakes, waterfalls, canyons and limestone caves as well as fossils found here.'
~ Wikipedia

Painting the stunning scenery of Mount Robson from the meadow in front of the Mount Robson Bungalows is heaven on earth. This majestic mountain reaches an altitude of 15,299 ft. and is the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. The north face is heavily glaciated, with 2,600 ft. of solid glacial ice from the summit to Berg Glacier. The Robson Glacier, which is the source of the Robson River, at one time fed 2 oceans.

Mount Robson is an hour's drive from Jasper townsite, so we leave early in the morning to make the most of our time here. The weather this week is stellar...hot, sunny and clear skies. Perfect painting weather!

The only downside for me this afternoon are the very painful black fly and no-see-um bites that I have on my ear and wrist! The swelling, itch and heat in those poor little afflicted areas are causing me quite a lot of discomfort, so I've sought medical attention...Polysporin now makes an antibiotic cream with a local anaesthetic in it. Perfection! It numbs my skin and keeps the infection under control.


Finally, the most magnificent of all...Mount Edith Cavell...

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We are close to 7000 ft. altitude and this magnificent mountain peak is so close it feels like I can reach out and touch her. In my feeble attempt to paint this creature, I've distorted my painting completely out of proportion...my full sheet of 300 lb. Arches watercolour paper is wholly filled with nothing other than Edith Cavell's face. No water, no trees, nothing other than the mountain side.


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Angel Glacier can be seen in the center of this photo posted above. The glacier has diminished considerably over the last few years. The tail of the ice could once be seen between the two mountains that now frame the remainder of the glacier. Every time I see this, it reminds me that our glaciers are a vanishing resource in this world's frantic race to provide fossil fuels to an ever-increasingly hungry planet. Global warming really exists...here on the side of Mount Edith Cavell, you can see the proof of this effect on our glacial ice.

The water is actually this deep teal and emerald green colour, from the glacial silt deposited in the water day by day.

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And, so, another painting week comes to a close, with several magical trips to paint at the foot of some of our country's most treasured natural resources. This has been my seventh workshop with Gregg Johnson, and each time I come here, it is more beautiful than the last time. Maybe it only seems that way, when I am reminded of just how exquisite our western mountain region really is. The crystal clear reflection of Cavell in the lake at her base reminds me of the purity of this area...where pollution has been almost non-exisitent and we have the chance to see Mother Nature at her most beautiful.

"The mountain was named in 1916 for Edith Cavell, an English nurse executed by the Germans during World War I for having helped persons held captive to escape to refuge." ~ Wikipedia

October 8, 2008

Last Moments in Jasper...

Here are a few last minute thoughts about my 2 weeks in Jasper...things I remembered after I came home and reviewed my photos and my notes. Hopefully, you will come to the mountains some day. You'd love it there...so peaceful, so beautiful.

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We saw clouds like this one, hanging on the edge of the mountaintop up near Cottonwood Slough, a few miles from Patricia Lake.
Spectacular.


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Here's the cake that is a tradition with our group. It is our dessert at the weekly BBQ...I order it from the local bakery, Bear's Paw Bakery. It's a double chocolate layer cake with real buttercream frosting. Double dee-lish!
That's Henry, one of the local Jasper artists and an organizer of several of our weekly events pointing out the writing on the cake...Watercolorists Rule! That's our motto!


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Reflections like this one on Lac Beauvert give the artists the heebie-jeebies. So difficult to paint, so tricky to get right...so delectable to look at, while trying to figure out how to recreate on paper.


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Finally, Big Daddy, the bull elk that terrorized the grounds at our lodge...I'm being a typical tourist, too stupid to get the hell out of his road! I'd rather risk my personal safety by taking a few photos from the shelter of the front porch on the office!

"What a splendid thing watercolor is to express atmosphere and distance, so that the figure is surrounded by air and can breathe in it.” ~ Vincent van Gogh

October 13, 2008

Jasper 2008 - Gregg Johnson's Watercolour Workshop...

Finally!
I've uploaded most of my photos from the watercolour workshop that I just attended in Jasper, Alberta with Gregg Johnson, our wonderful teacher and friend.
Enjoy!

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November 7, 2008

Dream of Italy with Pauline Kenny...

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I just read a really fantastic article in the latest edition of Kathy McCabe's Dream of Italy. This is a great read, detailing the wonderful world of traveling to Italy and staying in vacation rentals while in that glorious country.
Guess who has written this great travel article?
You know it...Pauline Kenny!

Here's the link to Kathy's Dream of Italy...
http://www.dreamofitaly.com/

A few years ago in 2000, Pauline developed a small travel site for her own enjoyment. She called it Slowtrav, and it has become my favorite travel site in the Universe. This website popularized the idea to slow down and enjoy more when traveling. It was a great find for me when I stumbled onto Slowtrav. This site has an amazing message board and forum. You need to check it out!
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I have always loved to stay in vacation rentals and B & B's when I travel, and I had no idea there was a whole website devoted to that exact thing. I felt like I'd come home in some way when I began to browse the archives of Slowtrav and entered into conversations with other travelers in the chat room and on the message board.

From the beginning of Slowtrav, Pauline and her husband, Steve Cohen, developing the Slowtrav website, nurtured it and saw it grow to well over over 10,000 members from all over this planet. This past year, they finally let it go. Selling the site to Internet Brands last year gave Pauline and Steve freedom from the 24/7 agony of maintaining and monitoring a website.

After parting with Slowtrav, Pauline couldn't stay away from tinkering with a travel site, so she started yet another travel site! This one is dedicated to the process of traveling slow in Europe. It's called, appropriately, SlowEurope.
Here is the link to her new website...
http://www.sloweurope.com/

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Now, it seems, she has turned her hand to writing exceptionally well-crafted articles for travel magazines, as well. All I can say is, "You go, girlfriend!" :-)

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover."
~ Mark Twain


March 1, 2009

Sultry, Sexy Savannah...Thunder 'n Lightning, Bejaysus!

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One of the wrought iron fences that runs through Forsyth Park in the heart of Savannah's Historic District...


The wind is savaging the trees and the budding azaleas today.
What I thought was the sound of heavy rain outside was actually the wind, ripping through the city, leaving some very tattered green spaces in it's wake.

After a restless sleep, interrupted by continuous thunder and lightning, I am having a very sleepy and tired-feeling day in this city of passion. While eating breakfast, I answered quite a few phone calls from friends who are on their way to Savannah to meet for our get-together this week. The blizzard in and around Atlanta has toyed with everyone's travel plans, with flights being canceled and the highways too icy to travel. Flights are being rerouted or canceled altogether, so everyone is wondering when and how they will arrive in Savannah.

Kendall made it through today! Her flight was canceled and then the weather gods smiled down on her and she found herself being shunted to another flight that finally departed Atlanta, after sitting on the tarmac for two hours while the ground crew were kept busy with de-icing the plane and keeping the snow from building up on the wings.

Karen is still in Atlanta, as the highways are not safe for travel. She'll try it again tomorrow, and hopefully get through. It;s been a long and exhausting trip for her and her beloved Ciola...Milan to Atlanta is a heck of a flight, and I totally understand how drained she is.

Mindy can't get out of Boston, the flights are being cancelled left and right. Her mom has had her flight re-routed from Atlanta to Dallas Fort Worth, and will be traveling on her own, unless magic happens to get Mindy on a corresponding flight to meet her along the way. Karen and Kendall and I will happily keep her mom company when she arrives, so Mindy can relax and not worry about her.

Leslie has called a few times to let me know that they are enjoying snow for the first time in ages. Enjoying might be too strong a word. Perhaps her daughter is enjoying it, while the adults are merely tolerating it!
They aren't leaving until later this week, so hopefully, all will be well by then.

We have a Caddy convertible tour booked for Tuesday...mayhap I should see about delaying that until Thursday, in hopes of warmer weather? I'll call Geoff and see if he has time for us then, rather than freezing ourselves silly on Tuesday.


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Geoff's Classic Caddy Tours red convertible...

It is amazing to me that we come together from all corners of this continent to drink a little wine, eat a lot of great food and hang out with good people for a few days. That says a lot about how much we enjoy each other's company, I think. Perhaps, it also says a little about how we enjoy the city of Savannah, as well!

It's late, I'm tired and the down-flled duvet looks incredibly inviting, so I'm tucking myself in for a good night's sleep.
See y'all tomorrow...

"I think that travel comes from some deep urge to see the world, like the urge that brings up a worm in an Irish bog to see the moon when it is full. " ~ Lord Dunsany


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Sheep in a shop window in the Historic District of Savannah...

March 2, 2009

Sultry, Sexy Savannah...Cold Enough for You?

The temps are supposed to drop into the 20's Farenheit tonight, and a hard frost is forecast for the southern areas. This feels like home!
The azaleas are blooming, in spite of the cold weather. Why do I love them so much? They are amazing to stand up to this cold weather and still look stunningly beautiful. In spite of how fragile they appear, they're really tough!


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This afternoon, Kendall and I started out to walk across Forsyth Park for a trip to Kroeger's for salad stuffin's, because Karen is coming for dinner. I gave out about half way there, could feel my ankle cringing again, baby that it is! So, I walked carefully back home and Kendall went shopping without me! After she came back with the groceries, we called a cab and make a wine run to Johnnie Ganem's. A few bottles of Prosecco, a good white pinot grigio, a luscious merlot and my Bailey's with a hint of coffee and we're good to go!

Forsyth Park is only a few steps from here, and it is still as luscious and sprawling as I remember it. I'm really blown away that a city would set aside 20 acres of prime residential land for a beautiful park. That's city planning at it's finest! I never tire of looking at the expanse of green lawn, the parade of local colour in the park and the gorgeous old trees swathed in Spanish moss...


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After a delicious potluck kind of dinner, a bottle of the Spanish version of Prosecco and much talk with no action about a decadent dessert for me, we talked about the new business that Karen and Vincenzo are opening here in Savannah. We also commiserated over our Slowtrav friends who are dealing with weather issues delaying or canceling their flights to Savannah. That's such a sadness for me, because I was so looking forward to seeing them again. I feel blessed to be safely here and I hope that everyone else arrives safely and securely.

Tomorrow, we are going shopping!
What for?
No idea at all, just a day of wandering from store to store and then a nice lunch at my favorite Savannah Tea Room.
Sounds like my kind of day!


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"This is not only the largest park in Savannah, Georgia, but it is the most active park in the city. Forsyth Park has great history and current success. It was created in 1851. It's amazing that such a large park would still exist and maintain its original size for so many years. It's 20-acres large, and while many other cities would have built businesses and residential areas on top of a park like this over a 150-year period, Savannah leaders made it a point to keep it in as close to its original form as possible."
~ Essortment.com


March 3, 2009

Sultry, Sexy Savannah...The South's Heatin' Up Today...

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The temps are rising, the sun is shining!
Savannah's heating up, and it feels good.

Guess where we went for lunch today?
That's right, Savannah Tea Room!
Mindy and her mom, Darlene, plus Karen, Kendall and me...with everyone recuperating from the rigors of March travel in the south and the unexpected storm that closed Atlanta to all departing flights, I think we coped pretty well, in spite of our various stages of jet lag, sleep deprivation and limping, gimping sore muscles.

We met at the tea room around noon-ish, ordered a nice bottle of champagne to celebrate our various arrivals through the thick and thin of winter travel, and we toasted ourselves and each other for being the fearless and courageous travelers that we are proving to be!

After lunch, we went separate ways...some went shopping for more rings and jewelry, like Mindy and Darlene. Another walked along the streets of Savannah with a very welcome to-go cup of Bailey's and a little coffee for sustenance, like Kendall. Still others drove home past the lovely and fated Williams Mercer House overlooking the lush Monterey Square, like Karen and I did.

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A late dinner at our apartment gave us a chance to visit and catch up on each others' lives. After enjoying heaping plates of fresh bread and creamy brie, we dug into a delicious meal of salad and chicken and many sweets afterwards for the inevitable dessert. Bailey's with a touch of coffee helped the digestion along and Mindy was finally talked into modeling her beautiful fan!


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Geoff called to say, "Hi!", and we made arrangements for the Caddy tour for Mindy and Darlene, Rose and Lou for Thursday. I want to see his newly-restored historic home overlooking Forsyth Park...there's never a wrong time to look at gorgeous real estate for me, and this guy knows how to create the very best of beautiful restorations! You can check out his newest creations on the website for their new venture, Savannah Dream Homes.

It's late, the candles have been snuffed out and the stars are bright in the Savannahian night sky.
Time for sleep...tomorrow's another lovely day in this city of the south.


Rules For Living In Savannah
17. You may own one image of Mercer House, but you must hide it when locals visit.

March 4, 2009

Sultry, Sexy Savannah...Luxury Living Savannah and via Martina...

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The flowering vine outside of my front door is blooming again, exactly like it was the last time I was here!
Today, sunshine was the order of the day from the moment I opened my eyes. Although the air was still a little chilly, the sun shining turned a rather cold day into a glorious time to be outside.

Karen and I met Tammy Jo Long for lunch at the Savannah Tea Room today. Finally, I had the pleasure of meeting the creative genius behind the spectacular home restorations that this brilliant woman has undertaken. There are a number of historic homes in this city that have come under the spell of Tammy Jo's work and now that they are completed, travelers like myself can rent all or part of any one of these beauties.
I'll be writing a separate article on my blog about Tammy Jo's homes and the endless hours of work she has put into restoring them, all the while keeping carefully within the stringent guidelines for historical restoration set out by the City of Savannah. Luxury Living Savannah is the culmination of Tammy Jo's work for the last number of years...if you want to live in the lap of luxury while staying in Savannah, these beautiful homes and apartments are the place to stay!


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The Wedding Cake Mansion on Monterey Square in Savannah


Then, Kendall and I wandered along the streets of the downtown area of Savannah, window-shopping and looking at the stunning home decor in a few of the shops along the way. This sun was shining brillantly and the weather had warmed considerably, making it a really pleasant afternoon.


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On the way home, I noticed that the fountain in Forsyth Park was sparkling and bubbling over, weaving the magic that this fountain does when it spills over and bursts with shining globules of water falling over the edge and onto the pool below.

After a quiet afternoon rest, catching up on emails and taking care of a few clients via the beauty of the internet, Karen picked me up and we went to check out the various commercial locations that she is looking at in Savannah. She and Vincenzo are opening a beautiful Italian piadineria, via Martina, in Savannah and a local realtor gave her an orientation of the downtown commercial area today. Soon, Vincenzo will arrive on Friday and they will begin a new adventure in their lives...opening an authentic Italian eatery that will serve traditional foods from Emilia Romagna...piadinas!

If you click on the link to their Savannahian piadineria, you can read about the process of selecting the fresh-pressed olive oils that we will have the pleasure of tasting on Saturday night at a traditional Italian olive oil and wine tasting hosted by Vincenzo and Karen. Can you imagine that we are going to be savoring oil and wine that has just been hand delivered from Italy to Savannah by these two brave entrepreneurs?
I can hardly wait!

Rules For Living In Savannah
81. If you were born in Savannah, say you're "from" here. If you
moved to Savannah, say you "live" here.

March 5, 2009

Sultry, Sexy Savannah...Classic Caddy Tour...

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Detail of Geoff Albert's classic Cadillac convertible...

Today has been a fantastic day!
Whirlwind would be putting it mildly...Mindy and her mom, Darlene, arrived and stowed their luggage in our apartment while waiting for the main house upstairs to be available for them. Lou and her sister, Rose, also came to the apartment while waiting for the main house to be ready. So, the kitchen was alive with lovely conversations and getting acquainted chats with each other.

Tammy Jo, the owner of this gloriously restored house, stopped by with a few extras for us. A beautifully-wrapped bottle of very welcome prosecco and a delicious white wine for later were one part of her care package for us!

Geoff Albert, the owner of Classic Caddy Tours, arrived in his elegant and perfectly restored 1960 Cadillac convertible to take Mindy, Darlene, Rose and Lou on one of his fantastic tours of the city of Savannah, Bonaventure Cemetery and Tybee Island.

Breaking out their shades and long billowing scarves for a classic Caddy ride, Geoff's guests seated themselves in the luxury of this beautiful convertible. Driving away down West Bolton, they were the epitome of the style and class of the '60's...


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Leslie, Brent and their very pretty daughter, Ryley, arrived in the early afternoon to take possession of the carriage house in the back of the property. They immediately went on a cheese run to shop for treats for their wine and cheese later on this afternoon.


After delivering Mindy, Darlene, Rose and Lou safely back home, Geoff stopped for a visit and shared his newest venture with me...Savannah Dream Weddings! Combined with the gorgeous vacation rentals overlooking Forsyth Park that he has created, providing complete wedding planning and services as well seems like the perfect match. Check out Savannah Dream Vacations...wouldn't you love to stay here?


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Gathering together in the living room area of the main house later on, we were finally together in one place, safe and sound. After all of the false starts, last-minute cancelled flights, limping and injured ankles and legs, it is amazing that we are here together, each in one piece! Brent and Leslie's delicious wine and cheese provided the quiet background for everyone to have a chance to visit.

Mac and Karen couldn't be with us, but they sent one of their famous and most delicious bottles of limoncello! Leslie poured the frosted golden liquid into equally frosted shot glasses and we toasted Mac and Karen and all of the other people who planned to be here, but were unable to make it.
We miss y'all!

A dinner at The Mansion on Drayton Street was the perfect ending to a perfect day for me. Although I'd stuffed myself with too many snacks earlier, I still managed to devour a tasty plate of scallops and caviar and a delicious Caesar salad.

I'm finally tucked into my bed, and ready for a good night's sleep. Tomorrow, we are going back to The Mansion for a cooking class with Chef Darren! How much good stuff can one person hold, I ask ya! A day filled with gorgeous weather, even more gorgeous friends and the best food in the Universe...I am a happy person tonight.

Rules For Living In Savannah
29. Politely peruse the menus on River Street, then let the tourists eat there.


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March 6, 2009

Sultry, Sexy Savannah...Wine, Wine, Wine...

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A few of the delicious treats at our Wine and Cheese, compliments of Leslie and Brent Erickson...

This was a perfect day in Savannah...the sun shining, a cool breeze blowing and a burbling fountain in the courtyard to keep me company while I read and daydreamed and thought about what is going on in my life right now.

This morning, most of our group went to The Mansion for a cooking class with Chef Darren. I missed the class because my ankle is killing me today. What a pain in the...well, in the leg, I guess...not to be able to walk through the park and stop for a glass of wine in the cafes. Still, an afternoon spent lollygagging in the courtyard of this lovely historic house with a good book and a few cups of Gunpowder Green Tea made it a perfectly acceptable afternoon for me!

Later on, Leslie, Kendall, Rose and Lou came down and sat with me in the sunshine and we had a great conversation about Savannah and the wonderful things about this city. We were also joined by a local woman who owns a gardening and landscaping firm. She had been asked to take a look at the yard and decide if she wanted to take it on as a landscaping project.

Continue reading "Sultry, Sexy Savannah...Wine, Wine, Wine..." »

March 9, 2009

Sultry, Sexy Savannah...The Azaleas in Forsyth Park...

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Azaleas in Forsyth Park...


Everyone has left for their own corner of the Universe.
All of my Slowtrav friends have headed home.
Yesterday, taxis were coming and going, cars were leaving the parking lot, and the big house became emptier and emptier.

So, I took my camera and went for a long walk. That helped me to not think about how much I missed everyone and how much I wished that each and every person was back here just for one more day.

Here's what I found...
The azaleas are blooming in Savannah!
Y'all know how much I love them and how pleased I am that they've come into full blossom just for me.
So, here are a few of my favorite photos from yesterday...


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March 10, 2009

Sultry, Sexy Savannah...Simply Stunning Weather...

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Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia...why do I love this park so much?
Look at the cast shadows on the lawn, from this massive tree dripping with Spanish Moss.
Is that not a beautiful sight?

Forsyth Park is a 20 acre tract of prime real estate in the heart of the historic district of Savannah.
How many city councils would set aside that kind of valuable land for a park?
Savannah did.
Lots of places don't.

There is always something extraordinary going on in this park.
Today, besides the water of the fountain running Irish green for St. Patrick's Day, there was a chess game in play. Not an ordinary game, with ordinary sized chess pieces.
Nope, in Forsyth Park, like most everything else that takes place there, the chess board and game pieces are larger than life!


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Continue reading "Sultry, Sexy Savannah...Simply Stunning Weather..." »

March 11, 2009

Sultry, Sexy Savannah...Forsyth Park Goes Green...

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Forsyth Park, the jewel in the historic district of Savannah, is celebrating St. Patrick's Day already!
Savannah has the 2nd largest St. Patrick's Day celebration in the country.
That's a city after me own heart, begorrah!
The city wishes everyone Cead Mile Failte, the gaelic version of one hundred thousand welcomes.

There's more than just a drop of good green Irish blood running through my veins, so any city that celebrates this Irish saint is a city that I love intensely.

Last week, there was a huge celebration in the park when the dignitaries of the city, and a few Irishers as well, got together and created a crowd-pleasing Greening of the Fountain. They added pitchers of green dye to the water in the base of the fountain until the water ran green from the torch at the top.


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March 15, 2009

Sultry, Sexy Savannah...Senseless Desecration...

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Geoff's angel...isn't she exquisite?
Photo credit - Geoff Albert


Geoff owns several beautiful vacation rental suites in Savannah.
He and his partner have completely restored a lovely old historic Savannah home...The Waldburg...located at 1002 Drayton Street, overlooking my favorite park, Forsyth Park.
The Waldburg is a perfect location for a group or a wedding party, because it has 3 separate suites with an upper floor residence, a main floor residence and a delightful carriage house that opens onto East Waldburg Street and is a short walk to the park.

The crowning touch to this elegant restoration is a lovely marble angel standing in the front yard of the property, arms outstretched as if welcoming you into her home. Geoff found this delightful creature in an antique shop and promptly paid the owner of the shop for her, brought her to The Waldburg and nestled her into the landscaping in the front yard. You can see her guarding the property in the bottom left corner of this photo of The Waldburg...


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March 16, 2009

Sultry, Sexy Savannah...Wedding Cake House...

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Wedding Cake House, Luxury Living Savannah
...take a look at these luscious vacation rental properties in Savannah!

Tammy Jo Long, our wonderful Savannah vacation rental owner, has completed the restoration of a delightful historic house overlooking Monterey Square. It was vacant last week, so she gave me the door code to go and wander through the house and see what she has created.

Karen and I met at the house and let ourselves in through the double front doors.
Oh,
My.
Goodness!
This restoration takes the cake, pardon the pun!
Tammy Jo, you have outdone yourself with this treasure!

We walked slowly through the rooms and all I could say was, "Wow!"
Over and over again.
I'll let my photos tell the story...


The dining room on the main floor...
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Continue reading "Sultry, Sexy Savannah...Wedding Cake House..." »

March 17, 2009

Sultry, Sexy Savannah...The Azaleas in Forsyth Park...Encore...

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Most people are drawn to the brilliant rose and the delicate pink of the azalea family, but I really adore the white blossoms as much as the pink and rose. There is so much shading and subtle colouring in the white of the flowers.

This little darling seems to have had a pink gene in the family tree that has all of a sudden shown itself this year! I imagine the conversation going something like this, if the flowers could talk to each other....
"Surprise!" says the mommy azalea. "We seem to have a bit of colour in this one!"
The daddy azalea, saying nothing, looks shocked!

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March 21, 2009

Sultry, Sexy Savannah...The End and The Beginning...

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A final walk from my apartment on Bolton through the glorious Forsyth Park...it's almost time for me to go home. This past two weeks in Savannah have been lovely, as usual. Friends ask me why I love Savannah so much. It's a difficult question to answer, because it is more about the unseen than the seen.

There are the visible delights of this city...
~ the squares with the lavish greenery and flowers, benches and statues
~ the horsedrawn carriage tours going up and down the streets and around the squares
~ the breathtaking historic section with those unbelievably beautiful restored historic homes
~ shops along the streets and squares...The Gryphon Tearoom, The Christmas Shoppe...
~ Bonaventure Cemetery on the outskirts of the city
~ The Savannah Tea Room with an afternoon tea served with champagne...


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But, it's the unseen that catches my breath when I experience it...
~ the gracious, gentle good manners and the genteel character of the people who call Savannah home
~ the generosity that Savannah's residents give freely when helping me with anything at all
~ the humid warm coastal air that passes softly over my skin
~ the feeling inside of my heart when I arrive in this southern city on the water


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Nothing tangible, nothing you can put your finger on and say, "That's it! THAT'S what I'm talking about!"
Whatever it is, the draw to this city of Savannah remains as strong and as real to me today as it did the first moment I arrived.

I'll be back, my friend.
I'll be back.


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March 22, 2009

Home From Savannah...Back to My Real Life...

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Snowdrifts outside of my front door...my rose bushes really are buried underneath!
Welcome home!

I'm back home from Savannah, settling into my real life and I know for sure it was the best thing for me to do, to take some time away from my life. I feel like I was able to shut my mind off totally, to not think about anything stressful for an entire14 glorious days.
Luscious!

After a vacation, I always want to hold onto that wonderful holiday feeling for as long as I can. It's the feeling of relaxation, of not having to do anything that I don't want to do. The luxury of getting up when I want to, eating when I'm hungry, sleeping when I'm tired...it's fantastic!

There must be some way to manage to ease a little of that into my everyday life. I'm going to think about this, to see if there is some magic formula that would allow me a little of that happy vacation feeling on a daily basis.
Here are a few things that I'm going to try...


Continue reading "Home From Savannah...Back to My Real Life..." »

April 17, 2009

A Week in Victoria...It's All About the Food....

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Remnants of a lobster dinner...


There's nothing like eating fresh seafood while sitting in a cafe on the water's edge in Victoria.
After spending a week in this beautiful city, I'm stuffed to the gills with every kind of fish and seafood, every possible flavour of Roger's Chocolates and the world's best dessert, L'Ecole Brasserie's heavenly Crème Brûlée.

We gorged ourselves on the spectacular Fish and Chips at the Irish Times Pub that was so damned good...a thin, delicately crispy beer batter on fresh halibut served with chips freshly cut and spiking hot.

Breakfast at the Rosewood Inn on Michigan Street kept me going until lunchtime, with plates of baked-that-morning muffins, Eggs Baked in Cream, Poached Pears in Spiced Red Wine with a fruit compote poured over the top, fresh-squeezed orange juice, pots of delicious coffee and fragrant green tea.

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Green tea, seaside...

Continue reading "A Week in Victoria...It's All About the Food...." »

April 18, 2009

A Week in Victoria...It's All About the Shopping...Especially Deruta Ceramiche

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Deruta Ceramiche ~ The Tuscan Kitchen
Located at:
653 View Street
Victoria, BC
V8W 0A3
(250) 386-8191

What a lovely surprise!
The server in our morning cappuccino place told me to go to this little Italian ceramics shop, after I admired the enormous and exquisite pieces on display in his coffee bar.

I did.
It was amazing, finding myself surrounded by spectacular ceramics, linens, kitchenware and foods from Italy while standing in a little store in Victoria! This was the cheapest faux-trip to Italy that I could imagine.


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April 19, 2009

A Week in Victoria...It's All About the Harbour...

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The harbour surrounding the downtown area of Victoria is bustling, busy and boat-filled.
Sailboats are everywhere in the marina.
Seems to me that most people prefer sailboats.
I understand that. It is a peaceful, silent and calming experience to be on a sailboat as it slips through the water like a hot knife through butter.


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April 24, 2009

A Week in Victoria...It's All About Brasserie L'Ecole...

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It is just a small restaurant on a street in downtown Victoria.
Brasserie L'Ecole is located at 1715 Government Street, across the street from Silk Road, another glorious experience, when you have some time to spend in a small piece of heaven.


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It's not the most noticeable storefront on the street.
There's a frosted glass door with the owners' names etched in the frosting.
Chef Sean Brennan and Maitre d'Hotel Marc Morrison are partners in this gem that has been nourishing their dedicated clientele for over 6 years.


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May 2, 2009

A Week in Victoria...It's All About the Orcas...

Mark Malleson is a life-long resident of the area, has worked as a skipper and guide for Prince of Whales Whale Watching and is also a gifted photographer who volunteers his time to photograph and catalog the transient, resident and off-shore killer whales in the area.

Please take a moment to check out Mark's website, Killer Whale Photography, and see some of the incredible photos he's taken over the years.

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Photo credit - Mark Malleson

Whale Watching Off Vancouver Island...

The one thing I want to do while we are in Victoria is to take a whalewatching tour, so I search the internet for the most interesting charter company and finally choose Prince of Whales.
Why this company?
I love the name...and they offer a 12 person Zodiak as one of the choices for the tours.
I have a frantic fear of deep water, so choosing to go on the ocean in a small craft that lets me hunker down, nearly at the level with the water, is a great way to challenge my fear.

I call the office late on a Sunday evening and my call is immediately answered by someone who is more than helpful. We arrange the reservations for the day after we arrive in Victoria and I confirm the booking with my credit card.
Done.
In a few minutes.
What a pleasure to work with a business that puts client service front and center!

The day of our tour turns out to be a cool, brisk, windy spring day, so we make sure to dress in the warmest clothing we have brought with us. Arriving at the Prince of Whales office, I park the car and we walk into their office, register and pay $99 each for our tour.

Sooner than we can whistle, we are in the change room, dressing in voluminous flame-red and warmly-lined snowmobile suits. Complete with mitts and toques provided by the staff, we are wrapped in warmth and bundled against the elements for our trip on the icy-cold ocean water. No matter how warm it is on shore, the temperature of the ocean determines the temperature of the air just above the chilly water.

Waddling towards our Zodiak that is tied up at the dock, we resemble fat red penguins, waggling from side to side in our puffy suits.
Here I am, from the back.
Cute.

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