Friday, November 20, 2009

Final post about my European vacation LAST AUGUST

I'm the kind of person who gets all excited if I run in to someone I know at the local Walmart. I am thrilled to no end if I'm lucky enough to get to meet up with friends in any of the local so. Cal cities in my imagine my delight when I found out that we were going to be in Paris at the same time as one of my oldest and dearest friends!

I have known my friend, Greg Parvin, since my first day of high school. We were..(cough..cough..)highschoolmarchingbandgeeks together. He and his beautiful wife Jodi, were planning a trip to Paris to celebrate Greg's 50th birthday. They had a full schedule of touring and sight seeing and we were very lucky to get our schedules to coincide for even a few hours.

Of course we made no concrete plans in advance, (a huge habit of mine that drives IMOM nuts), so I was very happy when my phone rang that afternoon in Paris and I heard a familiar voice say, "BONJOUR!" It is hard to explain how funny it is when your friend, who grew up with you in the Mexican 'hood' of La Puente, who's only french lessons came off of 'YouTube', attempts to speak French. His enthusiasm made up for any lack of actual French speaking skills, but at least his skills didn't start and stop with "SACRE BLEU!", like ours did. (Greg did admit to us that his attempt at speaking French did back fire on him at least once on their trip to Paris...when he tried to fake his way through ordering dinner in French and wound up with salted cod on his plate. This, if I'm not mistaken is one of those dinners where you basically have a whole fish on your plate, head, skin, scales, and eyeballs.!!)

We agreed to meet up at a particular restaurant at 7:00 pm. Most people in Paris don't even think about eating dinner until 10:00 so we thought we'd be in like Flynn without making reservations. The joke was on us. The bistro turned out to have about 5 tables in it and they were all taken and there was a waiting list that would have put us at the table in a mere few hours. It was a hot and muggy evening and the idea of waiting all that time for dinner didn't appeal to any of us so we wandered around the streets of Paris until we found a restaurant that could accommodate two non meat eating diners, seat us immediately, inside and had air conditioning.

It's amazing how much one will compromise their demands the later and the hotter it gets. By the time we found a place that had 5 empty seats I was willing to eat cigarettes for dinner. The restaurant had a table for 5 so we marched right in. You know that amazing blast of cold air that hits you when you go inside of an establishment after you've been out in the sweltering heat?? Well, this restaurant didn't have that. In fact most places in Europe do not have anything in the realm of A/C. And they do not like to put more than 1 ice cube in your drink either, so I don't know how they manage to cool off. Most of the people sitting around us looked fine. We, on the other hand were all red in the face and ready to start discarding clothing

I can't remember what we ordered but every dish was different than we had pictured it. Rebekah and I got what they called ravioli but when it arrived it looked more like macaroni and cheese. It was very yummy but sadly the "ravioli" was about the size of a moon pie. It tasted good with the wine the Parvin's picked out and since the dinner was so little I was able to save room for tira misu. This was presented to me in a high ball glass! I had my doubts about eating cake out of a glass but I needn't have worried. It was heavenly. Sadly, Greg ordered some fancy pineapple desert that the rest of the table was going to share. I tell ya...we laughed and laughed when that plate arrived with a simple quartered pineapple with the tag still on the leaves. No cake, no whipped powdered sugar. We all agreed that we kind of thought of Paris as the place where you get fancy deserts. Sadly, the tag on the pineapple was as fancy as it got. I have a feeling that this story is one of those where you just had to be there...We spent the evening laughing our heads off but as I try to look at this event from an outsiders's not very funny. Well, hopefully the Parvin's will read it and it will make them smile.

This next part is a little less "you had to be there"...

The next day we got on the train and headed back to London. We did as much sight seeing as my screaming foot would allow. IMOM had to leave to go back to California 2 days before we did and we only got to see him for a very brief moment the night before he left. So we were on our own for a day and a half before we had to get out of Dodge. Tori, Rebekah and I had a decent amount of English pounds left over and there was enough change in our pockets to almost warrant a wheel barrow. So what do you do when you have scads of foreign money and nothing but time? Of course you spend, spend, spend it with reckless abandon.

The day that we were supposed to leave we got up early and packed our bags. It was a tight squeeze but we still managed to get everything in our original 3 suitcases. We bid a fond farewell to our lovely apartment, squeezed in to the tiny elevator and checked out of the hotel. We weren't supposed to catch our plane until later in the afternoon so we left our luggage at the concierge desk and went to have one last leisurely look at London.

We had walked past this one particular restaurant several times during our stay and I decided that that was where we would have our last meal on this glorious vacation. It was called, "The ha ha Cafe", and we spent a good long time yukking it up.. Oh the fun we did have! Laugh, laugh, hardy har har. Good times galore....hoopla abounded....

How fun it was...
to laugh.

And then for some reason I thought to check the paperwork I had in my purse that had all of our flight details on it. I looked at the paperwork and I thought that I had to refocus because I couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing. Have you ever really, truly, honestly had a moment in your life where your heart makes that boiiinnnng, striking a timpani sound that causes you to actually shake your head?? Well this was one of those moments. The paper work said that our flight was scheduled to leave at 12:00 PM. It was 3:00 PM there in the ol' ha ha Cafe in down town London, England. Even as I write this, 5 months later, I still get that sick feeling in my stomach when I realize that I had to tell Tori and Rebekah that a huge error has been made and even though they all had the same paperwork that I had and they had the same opportunities to check flight times as I did...I was the official tour guide of this vacation and thus I had dropped the ball. And in this case the ball was made of lead and I dropped it right on my own head. I looked up at them and I didn't know if I was going to laugh or cry when I told them..."This just in...we missed our flight."

Even though our first day back was supposed to be Rebek's first day of her senior year she was JUBILANT. "YES!!!", she shouted. She loves Europe as much as I do and I really think that she would have gladly stayed there for an extended amount of time given the opportunity.

Tori just sat there looking at me seething. Our first day back was also supposed to be Jake's very first day of kindergarten and now she was going to miss it. In this picture you can see that she was beginning to either plan my immediate demise or maybe she was beginning to see the adventure unfolding.

Even though I was almost hysterical with laughter we were all pretty much in a panic at this point. We paid our lunch bill and literally ran, (excellent exercise for someone with a nasty case of plantar faciitis!), all the way back to our hotel to see if the concierge could do anything to help us out.

When we got to the hotel we all started talking at once and I am pretty sure that that was as close to the Three Stooges that the concierge ever hoped to be. Tori went and stood outside to seeth and Rebek and I continued to try to talk to the concierge. I gave her my flight paper work and she immediately got on line and tried to see if there was any possible way to get us on our flight. I pointed out to her that the plane had departed over 3 hours earlier so she started looking for any other flights leaving for Los Angeles that night. While doing this she had also called American Airlines and had a brief, yet very meaningful conversation with a ticket agent. She smiled as she hung up the phone and told us..."You didn't miss your flight...your flight is tomorrow." So this whole tragedy stemmed from the fact that I didn't know what day of the week it was. Ahhh, the relief I felt knowing that Tori was going to get to take her baby to his first day of school and I wasn't going to have to call my boss and tell her that I would be needing to take an additional day of vacation until I realized that we were now officially homeless. We had already checked out of our hotel and my credit card was beyond maxed. I couldn't have bought a piece of gum on credit at that point.

Tori, Rebekah and I pooled our money together and with the exception of the money I had put aside for our taxi ride to the airport we had...drum roll please...35.00 Pounds Sterling. I asked the hotel manager, who had been standing there watching this whole thing unravel, if there was any room, any room at all, even a closet or an empty ballroom that we could use for one night and he said no. I was actually getting up the nerve to ask the concierge if we could go home with her when the manager said that he would see what he could do for us. He called around and finally found us a room at the Holiday Inn right next door to the London-Heathrow airport. We thanked him profusely for all of his "help", (but I still think that it wouldn't have killed him to find us a room in his hotel. I'm curious to wonder if he thought if he did give us a room did he think that we were going to go put the word out on the street that if you stay in his hotel in a very nice room for 9 days then cry alligator tears to the manager they will let you have a room for an additional night for the nice price of 35 pounds???)

We took a taxi to the Holiday Inn and I saved what little money I had left by not giving the driver a tip. (believe it or drivers do not expect tips so this wasn't a shock to the driver.) We checked in to our teeny weeny room and all breathed a sigh of relief. Here is a picture of Tori reading our flight information for about the 100th time just to make sure we had finally gotten it right.

We had one double bed and a cot squeezed in to a room that is about the size of most American walk-in closets but none of us were complaining. We spent the evening playing cards and reciting our favorite "Family Guy" one liners. (If you ever want to make Bek laugh just sing Peter Griffin's version of "The Little Drummer Boy"...)

We took a little walk around town and thanks to the fact that Tori had found a hidden 10 pound note we were able to have a festive dinner at the local McDonalds. This McDonalds had mozzarella sticks so Rebek and I were actually able to partake in a dinner at the most carnivorous restaurant on the planet. On the way back from McDonalds we found a little store that sold our favorite English treat, "Nobbly Bobbly" ice cream cones.

The next day when we checked in at the airport we were surprised to discover that IMOM had upgraded our seats from business to first class. That was an unexpected treat and I'm glad that Tori and Rebek got to have that experience. Of course now I fear that from now on when ever Rebek gets on a plane she is going to expect someone to hand her a mimosa and a bowl of warmed nuts.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Bummin' around Paris

Our next adventure in Paris was the Fat Tire Tours Segway Tour. Tori and I did this last year and Rebek couldn't wait to get to ride a segway. At first we all balked at having to wear helmets but if you don't wear a helmet then you can't ride their segways so we acquiesced. The segways we were assigned had just returned from the morning's tour and the handle bars were grimy with sweat and God knows what else so Bek and I whipped out the hand sanitizer and went to town. (Helmet straps come with extra chins!)

We rode all over the place, over bridges and through the woods...

On this bridge that crosses the Seine a custom has been started where couples go to the bridge and put a lock on the cables representing their love being "locked in". After they lock the lock they throw the key in to the river. Some of the locks are just plain little locks...
And other locks are a little fancier....
There was even one sad couple who put a combination lock on the bridge. I don't know if they missed the point of the whole exercise or if they just got caught in the moment and used the first lock they could find.

Our segway ride ended in the park in front of the Eiffel tower.

After our tour we posed for some pictures...

and then Rebek spotted these girls giving out "Free Hugs", (
I got to hug the huggers ..
but Tori was too busy taking pictures so the huggers were gone by the time Tori was ready for her hug Rebek hugged her instead.
For anyone who has never been to Paris I have to tell you that it is such a beautiful city. Everything is pretty. Everything is nice. They work really hard at keeping everything just so... So when you see something like this is was no wonder that everyone was staring at him:
This guy had obviously been having a really bad day...or a really good day...I really couldn't decide which. He was already blasted out of his mind drunk when we saw him stumble in to this seating area under the Eiffel Tower. He had a grocery sack with 3 very nice bottles of wine, and a brand new cork screw. In another bag he had a brand new boom box, a new CD, a brand new set of head phones and a package of batteries. It took him quite a while to rip the cork screw out of the packaging and then he just flung the package to the ground. After he got the wine bottle open he just started chugging from the bottle. When he had quenched his thirst he then tore in to the boom box, headphones and cd and again just flung his trash all over the place. He was talking and laughing to himself the whole time. We sat and watched this guy for quite some time..but then as the sun shifted he go too hot where he was sitting and changed seats. This change caused him to no longer be down wind from us. Whooo Betty! In less than 2 minutes the smell was so bad that we had to pick up and leave. As we were gathering our stuff to leave I'm happy to say that he made an attempt at cleaning up his mess. Sadly, when he bent over to pick up his trash he just about fell on his head so he decided to just kind of kick the trash to the side. I'm sure in his mind he thought it was cleaned up reeeeal niiiice.

I wonder if it's not against the law to drink alcohol in public in France? This guy was openly drinking wine out of the bottle and was obviously very, very drunk and the police didn't bother him at all. However...on the other side of this park we watched some heinous criminals being hauled away by the Eiffel Tower police. These criminals were selling fake Eiffel Tower trinkets and they were being led away in handcuffs. Apparently free enterprise is a much bigger crime than public drunkenness.

While speaking of crimes/vs/non-crimes....On this very same afternoon I saw not one but two different families not only allowing...but encouraging and aiding their older than toddler children to relieve their selves in the garden at the Eiffel Tower. I don't care if you are 6 months old or 6 years old...urinating or defecating in public is wrong and yet no one in the park seemed to be bothered by it other than me.

What is your opinion on this??

(Believe it or not I still have one more post about Paris and then I'm done!)


Friday, November 13, 2009

More Adventures in Paris

There are a few things in this world that push me over the edge. Two of those things are heat and crowds. Put the two of them together and I will pretty much fall apart without fail. I used to be prone to anxiety attacks but in the 10 years since I've taken anti depressant meds I have been pretty much anxiety free. Then all of a sudden I find myself in a foreign country, in 100 degree heat with about 500,000 of my closest world travelers in the most magnificent art museum in the world. It was really important to me to get to show Tori and Rebek the "Mona Lisa" and I was really excited about getting to do so. The walk from the taxi queue to the front door of the Louvre just about did me in. It. Was. Hot. As usual I expected the cold blast of air conditioning when we walked in side the building but was instead greeted with the muggy hug of a wet blanket. There were 100's of people in the lobby and there were lines to get in to everything. There might have been some air conditioning in that room but there is a huge sky light that allowed the bright French sun to come beaming down and envelope the entire lobby in a steamy, sticky fog. I was a little apprehensive once I took this all in but I decided that if I had a diet Coke in my hand then I would be good to go. So we stood in a line of about 50 people, I am not exaggerating, and I got my diet coke. In a can. Out of a box. With no ice. Ahh. Refreshing.

There is so much to see in the Louvre but at this point I decided that all I wanted to see was the "Mona Lisa" and then I was going to be done. So we followed the signs and the farther we got in to the museum the hotter and more crowded it became. I thought if I just barreled through the crowd then I could get to the salon that housed Mona, we could look at it and then get out of there. I got as far as this:

Mona is up another flight of stairs to the right but this here is all she wrote. I made 4 attempts at getting up and beyond those stairs but it was just not going to happen. It was just too hot, too crowded and there was no air up there.

At the top of the stairs is "Winged Victory" and so of course there was a permanent mob scene at her feet. You had to go up another flight of stair to get to the floor that housed Mona and the more stairs I climbed the hotter and muggier it got. I'd get almost to the top and then without even realizing it I'd be turned around practically knocking people over as I raced back down the stairs. Tori and Bek gave me pep talks, I gave myself pep talks...but it was just not in the cards. I think the deal breaker was this:
This is a very strong air conditioning vent in the hallway that led to the stair case that housed Winged Victory. It was behind a lovely white marble statue. I sat down on the vent and told Tori and Bek to go off and see what ever they wanted to see and if I could get my act together I would meet up with them, but otherwise they could find me right there when they were finished. In the hour that I sat there I had about 15 different people sit down with me. Everyone was red in the face and wondered aloud why it was so hot in that place. It made me feel better to know that I wasn't the only wuss who was over heated.

After seeing this picture I'm actually glad that I didn't force myself to make it to the Mona Lisa salon. As you can see the mob scene didn't stop at the top of that stair case. (This is Bek taking a pic of Mona. See all of those people with cameras.....Well, Tori got in trouble for having her camera out and not pointing it at Mona. The guard thought she was taking pictures of the people in the crowd and apparently that is against the Louvre law.) (I neglected to mention that Tori had gotten in trouble on the train to Paris, too. Tori had the nerve to put her feet up on the seat facing her and the ticket guy reprimanded her. He got away before I could point out to him that everyone on the train was also doing it...poor Tori. Rule breaker that she is.) (NOT!)

While I sat on the A/C I missed something other than all of the wonderful art work. Tori and Rebekah were looking at something when this boy walked up to Tori and said something about a picture. Tori thought he was asking her to take a picture of him and his mom. She agreed and waited for them to pose...however the boy floated over toward Rebekah and made it clear that he wanted his "picture taken with girl!" This is Rebek and Wang. He asked if he could correspond with her and so she gave him her email address. She asked for his email address and he gave it to her written in Chinese. His mother rolled her eyes at him and apparently told him to write in English because he took the paper back from Rebek and re-wrote it so she could read it.
After they were finished trying to exchange pleasantries they went their separate ways. Rebek told me that his English wasn't very good but I pointed out that it was worlds better than her Chinese!

We left the Louvre and even though it was still hot outside at least it wasn't muggy. We walked all over trying to find a place to sit down but seats were at a minimum. There are not a lot of bums in Paris but here is one laying on one of the few benches at the Louvre. Apparently the sun was bothering him because if you look really close you can see that he has his head inside of his bag.
And if you look even closer you can see that his finger in in his belly button.

We walked around the streets surrounding the Louvre and found ourselves inside yet another Mc Donalds. The prices were still as expensive but this one had something I never thought I would see: McBeer! (I had a picture of the McBeer cup but in my effort to move it on this page I erased it and now I can't find it.)

We found out that in a crowded place such as the McLouve Mc Donalds seats are at a premium. So if you are sitting at a table for 4 and there are only 3 of you some one is going to take that 4th seat and join you at your table. Apparently it's something that comes along with the territory because I saw it happen a half a dozen times before it finally happened to us. Fortunately you aren't required to make small talk with your temporary dining buddy but it's still kind of weird to have a stranger sitting at your table.

Can you believe it's probably going to take another 2 posts to finish my stories about Paris? Stay tuned.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The MUCH nicer end of Paris...

Our transition to the Hilton was painless. The taxi took us right to the front door and a bell man immediately helped us in with our luggage. There were no reservation snafus, no complaints and no arguments. The staff were kind and courteous to a fault. Our room was beautiful and it had air conditioning. It was in the 90's that day so the blast of cold air as we opened the door to our room was a welcomed perque.

Our view of the Eiffel Tower was 100% better in this hotel 5 miles away than it was in the other hotel that was basically on the same piece of property.

And here is Bek standing on the coffee table in our room trying to get a picture of her with the Eiffel Tower in the back ground. (I don't know why but this picture cracks me up. If it was my table it wouldn't be so funny. And my mom took great exception to seeing Rebek standing on a table right next to a plate glass window...)

We decided to get cleaned up before we hit the town. The shower felt wonderful since it was so hot out side...I was a whole new woman when I got out. But imagine my surprise when I attempted to dry my hair and this was as far as the cord would go:
I had pulled it out as far as it would go. Actually we were lucky that there was a blow dryer INSIDE the bathroom. Europe has some law against having any plugs in the bathroom and thus you generally have to dry your hair in the living room or the hallway.

Before we left the hotel we stopped off at the Concierge Lounge and had some snacks. We started out on the veranda because there were seats galore out there. We had a beautiful view and couldn't imagine why no one wanted to sit out there...and then we found out why. There were bee's up there. We thought we could hang with the bees but then once they brought out their whole retinue we decided to join everyone else inside.
Even though my right foot was screaming at me we decided to take a walk along the most famous street in Paris...The Avenue des Champs-Élysées. We had been walking for about 10 minutes before I had to sit down. This beautiful flower garden was right on the corner of the Champs Elysees and the Rue de somethingorother.

We walked another 500 yards and then I needed a diet coke so we went in to a Mc Donalds. This McDonalds was HUGE. It was two stories and there were about 1 million people in there. Here is a picture of their price menu. The price you see is in to convert that in to the American dollar you double it.

A little further down the road I spotted a beautiful french kitty sitting at a restaurant. I thought he was calling my name and asking me to pet him.

But apparently he was saying, "Leeef me ahlohne you ugly American! Ah deed nhot seh that yu could touch meh!"
(his tag said his name was "Totem".)

This is one of my very favorite pictures ever. I hate to have to admit that I'm not the one who took it, nor was the pose my idea. As we were crossing the street we saw some other tourist taking their picture in the middle of the street. I was too busy hobbling through the intersection to even notice that Tori and Rebek were out there risking life and limb for this picture.

We shopped in many, many stores. Every store had beautiful clothes and shoes and I would have loved to have shopped like Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman" however there was nothing I found that I could justify the price. I was in awe as we shopped around and watched people spending money like it was water. I know IMOM would have told me to get anything I wanted but this was just insane. I can't remember how much these shoes were but I took a picture of them because there were outrageously expensive. (And beautiful.)

We made it all the way down the Avenue to the Arc de Triomphe. By this time the sun was starting to set and the wind was picking up. I was so glad that it was cooling off but it went from too hot to too cold. I wanted to go up to the top but there was no way I was going to climb hundreds of stairs and pay 5 Euro for the privilege. (I found out, after I got home, that there is an elevator. Good timing.)

There's more where this came from so stay tuned!