Friday, October 23, 2009

Now on to Paris

We caught the train at the St. Pancras International train station and of course we had to crack every "pancreas" joke we could think of. "Did I pack my pancreas?" "Don't touch my pancreas!" "My pancreas hurts!"...but I have a feeling that you really had to be there to enjoy the silliness.

The train ride took a couple of hours but I wouldn't have minded if ithad taken a couple of days. I love to ride on trains but I especially love to ride on trains where there is food and drinks served to you non-stop, there is laughs galore and the scenery gets more and more beautiful as each mile passes.

If you look really close you can see Tori's reflection in the left side of this picture of the French country side.
After several Bloody Mary's and about 100 hands of Gin Rummy Tori and Bek were very happy to get off of the train and let the world know that they were in France!
We hopped in to a taxi and had them take us to the Pullman Hotel in Paris. This used to be a Hilton property and I've stayed there twice before. I was familiar with that part of town and I really liked the hotel. I had to move heaven and earth to find out what it was called after Hilton sold it but I managed and I was very pleased with myself.

Annnndd then we got to the hotel. Wow. It was not quite like I remembered it.

In all of my European travels I've always been lucky enough to stay in really nice hotels with basically nice people. The people in France aren't really known for their warmth and adoration of Americans but I really never saw that side of them until I checked in to the Pullman Hotel in Paris, France. Tori, Rebek and I were the only 3 people in the lobby and yet the clerk at the desk was waaaay too busy to stop what she was doing to check us in. The 3 of us stood there wondering if we were being punked and then I finally spoke up and asked if she could help us. The clerk begrudgingly stopped what she was doing and checked us in. I reminded her that I wanted a room on the concierge lounge and I wanted a room with a view of the Eiffel Tower. She looked at my reservation and said, "Yez. I see you wequested a mini-suite wis a view of zee tower." "Are we on the concierge level?", I asked. "Yes", she said, "You are on zee concierge level." (I must point out here that you pay extra to stay on the concierge level because you get food and drinks from the concierge lounge.)

The clerk gave us our key and then stared at us. I asked if we needed a separate key for the concierge lounge and I just stood there in a state of disbelief when she said, "Noh. You don't need zee seperate key. Zee concierge lounge is closed for zee entire month of August." "WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME THAT BEFORE YOU CHECKED US IN?", I said in a voice that only dogs could hear. "Well", she said "...eets closed." We just stood there glaring at each other until Tori suggested that we just check in to our room and get on with our vacation. So we went up stairs to our "mini-suite with a view" and once again we thought we had to check for hidden cameras or to see if Ashton Kutcher was going to come out and tell us that we were being punked. Our "mini-suite" was previously a regular hotel room with a double bed, dresser and television. They had recently installed a lattice divider that separated the doorway from the rest of the room. In that small separation was a velvet couch about 2 feet long. (Kind of like the type of little stool that you would find at the foot of a queen size bed.) I stood there shaking my head not knowing if I should laugh or cry when the sound of Tori's voice shook me out of my stupor. "LOOK AT OUR VIEW OF THE TOWER!" I moved the curtain on the small window and yep...there was the tower all right. Well, not the whole tower but simply a small part of one of the legs of the tower. The rest of the tower was obscured by another building. I wish I would have had the foresight to take pictures of this insane situation but I was too mad at the time. I told Tori and Rebek that this is not what I ordered and we were not going to stay in this room.

We all marched down stairs and once again the clerk was very busy doing nothing and we had to hail her to get her to help us. I took a cleansing breath and was as nice as I could be when I told her that the room wasn't exactly what I thought it was going to be. It was much smaller than proposed and there really wasn't a view of the tower. (I didn't even bring up the concierge level snafu.) I told her that we would like a different room and that we would pay for an upgrade if necessary. Before I knew it the desk clerk was yelling at me about how I was the one who made my reservation and that I got what I asked for and she pretty much told me that if I didn't like what I had then I could just go somewhere else.

Oh. My. God.

I silently walked over to the lobby concierge and asked him to get the Hilton on the phone. He asked which one and I told him that I didn't care which one. (Apparently there are several Hilton's in France....but I'm lucky he didn't call the one in Honolulu!) And within 2 minutes I had secured a room at the Hilton across town near the Champs-Élysées. I had enough Hilton points accrued that our room would be free and they upgraded us at no charge so that we could have a room on the concierge level. Please congratulate me for not slapping the desk clerk as we exited the building.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Vacation part 3

Once we arrived in Brighton it was only about a 5 minute walk to the ocean. It was a warm yet blustery day but I was still rather surprised at how empty the beach was when we got there. (This must be because at any given time of the year the beach across the street from my house is always over run with people no matter what the weather.) (ok, not so much when it's raining but that's not very often.)

Even though IMOM warned us that the beaches were full of rocks and pebbles I wasn't prepared to see this when we got there:

I thought that once we waded through the soft piles of pebbles that it would be hard wet sand the closer we got to the water....I was sadly mistaken:

IMOM was wearing dress shoes and long pants, (I think he did that on purpose), so he didn't elect to trudge through the pebbles with us. He did a quick retreat and found a sidewalk cafe. We were going to give him our purses and back packs but he was too fast for us. (I think he did that on purpose, too!)

The main reason we wanted to go to the beach was to look for sea glass. IMOM had never heard of such madness and he truly thought that I was making it up. When I told him that not only did I not make it up by I subscribed to a sea glass newsletter then he really thought I had lost my mind. He said that he couldn't think of a more tedious, boring or fruitless hobby. We all told him, "fine", and then we told him that we wouldn't share any of our booty with him! So for the next couple of hours Tori, Bek and I slowly walked along the uneven terrain of the shore in a half hunch to which only other sea glass explorers can relate. I've never searched for sea glass on a beach that had so much green moss or sea weed. The sea weed in California is brown and dull and doesn't resemble glass. Green sea glass looks quite a bit like green moss so there were a lot of false alarms but in the end we wound up with enough bits and pieces to make it worth our trip.

Here is Tori doing her best "Aztec Sun Tan Dance". (Please tell me if you recognize that reference or not...)

Another odd contrast to Orange County beaches is the height of the beach showers. The ones in the OC are very tall so that you can stand under them and wash your hair or get the sand out of your wet suit.. and there is also a much lower outlet in case you just want to rinse off your feet. Well apparently in England the showers are for rinsing off your mid-section or legs. Too bad for you if you have sand in your hair:

The people we saw at the beach that day were in various states of dress:

I am fully dressed while the kids behind me frolic in their undies.

Here is a Muslim family. The dad and one son are in bathing suits and one son and the daughter are wearing soccer uniforms. What you can't see is that the daughter, who is partially blocked by her brother, is wearing a soccer outfit and a pink turtle neck sweater. Oddly, mom's bathing suit looks just like her Sunday go to meetin' clothes or her sweats and tee shirts:

Tori took this picture of the artsy striped chairs. I don't even know if she knows she caught the honeymooners in the back ground.

Annnnd.... I've seen a lot of purchased cleavage at the beach but I have to say that none compared to this:

This is Tori and Rebekah sitting on a jetty type wall. You should have seen the rigmarole that took place in trying to get Tori up on to the wall. It is moments like this that remind us that we are no longer 18:

We could have searched for sea glass all day but we knew we were on a limited time budget so we took a walk on the boardwalk. There were many more people up there than there were on the beach. (It's just too dang hard to try to walk on all of those rocks.)

I'm not sure what this sign was for but I liked the pictures:

We checked in with IMOM at his sidewalk cafe. He encouraged us to eat lunch with him but there was a huge problem. His sidewalk cafe didn't serve diet Coke. And they didn't have any vegetarian options. So Bek and I went to the cafe right next door where they did have diet Coke and veggie burgers and we scooted our table up next to the fence and dined with Tori and IMOM like we always ate our meals with a fence dividing us.

When our appetites were sated and our backs were rested we resumed our walk. Imagine our surprise when we discovered you could buy G-Strings from a gum ball machine~

This was the biggest G-String I have ever seen!

This is a pregnant young woman all painted blue and wrapped in blue tulle. I'm not sure what she was supposed to be but she stood perfectly still holding a metal plate with cotton friendship bracelets on it. People would put money on her tray and then just take a bracelet. I hope she finds a better means of support when her baby gets here.

Some of the other things we saw on the boardwalk but I'm not posting pictures: a one man band, a marionette puppet show, 2 great danes up for adoption, cardboard cut outs where you stick your face in the cut out and take pictures, a penny casino and the longest line I've ever stood in to use a public restroom. (Coffee at breakfast, drinks on the train, drinks at lunch and the roar of the ocean. I thought I was going to die! I seriously thought about going to the front of the line and offering money for their spot!)

This beautiful piece of architecture is "The Grand". This picture does it no justice for it is truly a magnificent building inside and out. After our long day of searching for sea glass and going to the pier arcade, walking along the board walk and eating ice cream we wound up in here:
. The 3 of us were really looking forward to sitting at the elegant bar and shooting the breeze with a jolly old English bar tender. Of course our bartender from was Florida. We sat at the bar for a couple of hours where we ate snacks and drank adult beverages. (yay for vanilla vodka and diet Coke!) When it was time to go we all kind of headed off like amoebas. Everyone went in a different direction. First one of us had to go find a restroom and everyone else waited... then by the time the first person got back someone else had to go. Then we had to stop and address and mail post cards and then we had to buy souvenirs. I think at this point we had gone back to the bar and had an other drink.

We finally got out of The Grand and headed back to the train station. I have no idea how we didn't notice this on the way to the beach but it wasn't until we were on our way back that I saw the sign for St. Paul's Cathedral. It looked like any other building on the block until you got inside:
This was just one of the many stained glass windows. As far as cathedrals go this one pretty small but it was very old and simply beautiful. We had to catch our train so we really couldn't linger....Annnnddddd.....of course when we got to the train station we just missed our train by 2 seconds. By then I had to go to the bathroom again but we couldn't get off the the platform because we already put our tickets in to the turnstile. When our train got there we weren't certain that we were on the right train but I told them that if we weren't then I'd some how take a taxi to London because I was off on a hunt for a potty and couldn't be bothered with the petty details of whether or not the train I was on was going in the right direction. I had to go about 10 train cars up before I found a restroom and lo and behold, there with the door wide open was a man in mid pee. "Good job, Dude! Jeez, close the door!", I said as I went past the door. "The door's broken.", peeing dude said. I went through a few more cars before I decided that I, too would use the potty with the broken door. At that point I didn't care anymore. However when I got to that potty...turns out I did care! So I walked all the way back down to the car we were riding in and went beyond it and I finally found a working bathroom.
Once I was able to finally sit in my seat and just relax...a couple of other people came and sat down next to us. All of a sudden this dreadful, pungent smell wafted over to our seats...waft...waft... How could those people not realize that a tom-cat had sprayed on their luggage? Somehow it didn't seem to bother them even a little bit. I wish we could have said the same.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

London Part 2

IMOM had made the arrangements for our hotel. (He doesn’t spend enough time there these days to be afforded a flat so we now have to stay in hotels.) Weeks before our arrival IMOM went to the Crown Plaza Hotel and hand picked a mini suite for us. This would have worked out very well because it is right next door to Buckingham Palace and thus centrally located to just about everything. When we got to the hotel the desk clerk told me that the room we had reserved was unavailable but that it was ok because they downgraded us and now our room wouldn’t be so expensive. I stood there flummoxed wondering if I had heard her correctly. Tori and Rebekah and I looked at each other and then I asked her to repeat what she had just said....and yep...they were not going to give us the room that we had reserved for several weeks in advance but they thought they were doing us a big favor by giving us a down grade/less expensive room. Isn’t it the usual fare to upgrade someone when their reserved room isn’t available and let the hotel make up the difference in cost? I remained as patient as I could while I asked why our room wasn’t available. The reservation had been in place for wasn’t like our arrival was a surprise. The clerk couldn't come up with a reason as to why our room wasn't available and I think I must have scared her because she went and got a manager. Between the two of them they couldn’t answer my questions. They insisted that I go see the smaller suite before I made any decisions.
The “mini suite” they showed us was a joke. For such an elegant hotel this room looked like something they threw together when a broom closet became available. The furniture was shoddy and nothing matched. This was the entire living room. All 6x5 feet of it. The living room was about the size of a walk in closet and the bedroom was only slightly smaller.

This was the view from the "mini suite":This greeting on the television showed their keen eye for detail:

(In case you can't see it says: London St James welcome MR Tami Wyatt. We hope you enjoy your stay. )

By this time IMOM had shown up it was a whole different story. They stopped showing us dumpy rooms and the next thing we know we are being shown luxury apartments that have full kitchens and views of London. THIS was more like it. When all was said and done we had an apartment that was bigger than my house and we were paying the amount that was quoted to us for our original “mini suite”. This was the view from our lobby. This was the view from our kitchen:

Although you can't see the entire bathroom it was huge.

I couldn't get a good angle to photograph the living room but it was a very nice size room. It had a 9 foot long couch and two lounge chairs, a coffee table and a desk with a chair and a lamp, a flat screen tv and a dvr, an iPod player and a HUGE picture window.

The kitchen came equipped with a washer/dryer, a sink, a microwave, a refrigerator/freezer, a stove and oven dishes for 4 and various pots and pans and linens. Oh, and the canisters were full of coffee, decaf, tea, sugar& cream.
We had our first dinner in London at the "Texas Embassy". That is about as close are you are going to get to Mexican food over there. It's a pretty sad commentary when I can honestly say that my gringo self can cook better Mexican food than we were served. Tori ordered tortilla soup and she was served a bowl full of tortilla strips and a tea pot full of tomato soup. She figured out that she was supposed to pour the soup over the strips and voila...tortilla soup London style. (Much to IMOM's chagrin we took a picture of her soup but now I can't find it...) After the Embassy we took Rebekah to her first pub. The drinking age is 18 over there and even though she is only 17 she never got carded. This was a traditional English pub that was smoked filled and packed to the gills with merry makers. In addition to the thrill of having her first drink at a pub I think Bek enjoyed the fact that this place had a couple of soccer teams there so cute blokes were everywhere.
On Sunday we took the train to Brighton Beach. We were amused at the difference between first class and regular seats on this train. See if you can spot the difference in these pictures:

Can you see the difference that $100.00 per ticket gets you?



Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Our trip to Europe 2009 part 1

Ok, here is the beginning of my story..I hope it was worth the wait.

The night before our trip Bek had come over to spend the night. We were both so excited that we could hardly sleep. I was amazed at the size of her suite case and all that she had packed. Her mother and I have traveled the continent with various drum and bugle corps in our youth and we know how to travel light so it just always blows me away when I see someone with a suitcase the size of a mattress. I talked her in to going through her clothes and doing what she could to lighten the load. In the end she took out maybe 3 tee shirts.

Our plane wasn't going to leave until late in the evening and our pick up service was going to pick us up after work so I had to take Bek to the office with me. On the way to the office IMOM called and I answered the phone. It was only after answering the phone that I saw the motorcycle cop right behind me. I hung up as soon as I could and tried to give the police officer the "nothing to see over here...just move on"...look but it didn't work. I got pulled over. I'm not good at talking to police officers so I didn't even bother to try to explain why I was actually talking on the phone instead of using my blue tooth. I had just activated a “global phone” that I had borrowed from Verizon and my blue tooth wasn’t synced up to it. He was very friendly when he gave me my ticket and seemed kind of amused when I found my 2009 license plate tags in my glove box instead of on my plates where they should have been. What a way to start my vacation!

Later in the day my mom and my sister arrived at my office. As I was telling them my tale of woe they laughed because my mom had gotten a ticket that morning, too! Hers was for parking her car in the street on the day the street sweeper was scheduled to sweep that particular side of the street. I was hoping that this was not going to set the tone for the rest of our trip.

I had arranged for my oldest and dearest friend that I've known since kindergarten to use my car while I was away. She and her son were coming to my office via the city bus. She called to tell me that they had gotten off of the bus but couldn't find my office. I told her to start walking south and I'd send my sister to find her. In the 20 minutes that Tori was gone with my car I managed to 1. Almost have a heart attack because I couldn’t find my car keys..(which of course were in the car with my sister…) 2. Send my niece to my car to get my suitcase 3. Panic again because I couldn’t find my car keys. I was Lucy and Ethel and the 3 Stooges all rolled up in to one person! ( I couldn’t help it…I WAS EXCITED!)

When the town car,(Um I ordered a town car and they sent an SUV) arrived Tori was still off looking for my friend however my friend had already made it to my office. I was going to call Tori on her cell phone to let her know this but of course she had given her phone to Bek. When she finally came back down the street that we were on she could see that my friend had made it to the office and that our chariot was awaiting. We did a scene straight out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon trying to get the truck loaded and then say our goodbyes to my friend. (Tori and my friend hadn't seen each other in over 20 years and there was a lot of catching up to do~)

By the time we got to the airport I had finally settled down. Here Bek strikes a careless pose with our SUV:
We had printed our tickets out before getting to the airport so we didn’t have to stand in line. All we had to do was scan our passports and our boarding passes popped out of a machine.(YAY) But when it came to going through security, as usual my, sister had to go through 3 times before the alarm didn’t sound off. She never remembers to take the change out of her pocket and it gets her every time. (I thought we were going to breeze right through because I had begged her to wear slip on shoes. We usually have to wait for her to put her tennis shoes back on and it is just so much quicker to wear slip ons... and this time she did, but the metal detector still grabbed her.)

Because we had business class seats we got to hang out in the executive lounge at American Airlines. We hadn't even made it through the foyer before my cell phone rang. It was my cat sitter calling to tell me that Ashleigh had given birth to 5 kittens. I had put her in a huge dog kennel with a box and blanket and anything a mother could want and of course she didn't have the kittens in the box or on the towel...she had them the one spot on the kennel floor that was not covered.. on my white carpet. At the time this picture was taken she had only had 4 kittens. The 5th one was born before we hung up.
There was a huge gala going on in the lounge because AA was celebrating 50 years of flying to Brazil. The lounge was full of semi naked women dressed in huge feather head dresses and not much else. They were playing music and the ladies danced and shook what their mamas gave them.
When you go in to the lounge you get two free drink tickets per person and Tori and I have made it a tradition to have dirty martinis. We are semi nervous flyers and a martini always seems to make the flight better. (What? You don't drink your martinis with a straw, which causes you to put Brazilian feathers in your hair? Try it! It's fun!) (Oh, and I didn't write a post about it because I was still sick with mono when it happened but can you see what IMOM got me for my birthday...I'll give you a's a carat but it's not orange..)
I swear that I only had one martini but I can't for the life of me remember what was so funny in this picture:
I also can't remember what prompted Rebek to sit on my lap but I do remember that I was trying to lick her before she could lick me. She is very sly about her new fun game from Kenner....she will sidle up to you and act like she is going to give you a hug or tell you a secret and the instant you let your guard down she will lick your face! This also is a good time to explain the bright green thing and the bright pink thing we have around our necks. They are "document holders" but we called them "dork packs". It has only taken me 3 previous trips to Europe to realize that having your passport and tickets easily accessible is the key to easy travel. We knew that we looked dorky wearing them but it was sooooo much easier than having to dig through our purses or carry on luggage every time we needed to show these documents. (It also stopped me from clutching at my purse and saying, "WHERE IS MY PASSPORT??", every 3 seconds. And just for those of you who haven't traveled internationally, (MOTHER), you have to show them to a different person every time you turn around.
They called our flight and most of the lounge cleared out. The Brazilian gala disbursed and we all got lovely parting gifts as we exited. I gave most of my gifts to Rebek as I didn't need any flowery perfume or brightly colored nail polish. I did keep the lip liner and a deck of cards, an emery board and a couple of other trinkets. Here Tori and Bek look at all the booty:
We were among the first to board the plane so we had time for MAC Book photos:

We were lucky enough to have a non-stop flight. I watched 99% of the Renee Zellweger movie, “New In Town” and a couple of sit-coms before I went to sleep. I like to sleep on airplanes because if there is turbulence I prefer not to feel it! Tori is a bit more of a "nervous Norvis" because she can't really sleep on airplanes. She took pictures of her view from her seat...Here she is ...

Then here is Rebekah:

And then this is me:
They woke me up to eat and I don't know if it was the fact that I was still half asleep or what but I had no idea what to do with all of this silverware:Why would anyone need 3 knifes?
Our flight was very smooth and we didn't have any turbulance at all. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon when we landed in London/Heathrow. Tori and I had told Bek what a huge united nations it is when you walk through the airport so of course when we were there you could have done cartwheels down the aisles and not hit anyone. The airport was empty. I'm so disappointed that Bek didn't get to see the people from all of the different countries dressed up in their native garb. I found that to be very exciting on my first visit to Europe.
We were ablel to find our luggage on the first try. As a matter of fact someone had already taken the luggage from our flight off of the carousel so all we had to do was walk up and take it. (I'm always afraid I'm going to grab my suitcase off of the carousel and go flying down the way with my arm yanked out of the socket...)
We walked outside and it was a bit of a thrill to get to see Rebek see the typical "Nanny 911" taxi cabs all lined up. We jumped in to a taxi and we were off on our European adventure!
Stay tuned for more...