Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cannes - July 2011

Champagne wishes and caviar dreams.  I can just hear famous English celebrity writer Robin Leach nattering on about this playground for multimillionaires whilst hosting his signature show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.  

Our day in Cannes happened to be the only port where we had elected to just stroll the shops and check out the beach rather than schedule a shore excursion.  We ate a leisurely breakfast instead of rushing headlong into the dining room and gobbling down a meal as we raced to get off the boat on time.  We were sporting swimsuits beneath our clothes and were ready to bask in the sun like lizards on holiday.

Here is a pic of Annie standing on our balcony, checking out the coastline once we had dropped anchor for the day.  

Cannes' port isn't deep enough to accommodate the cruise ships, so passengers had to take a tender (aka a people ferry) to the dock.  The girls are in the first pic, looking a bit windblown.  Dana and I are in the pic below that.  See that cute little cover up skirt I'm wearing?  I fought like a tiger to keep it from blowing up around my shoulders and thus defeating the whole purpose, which was to keep my saggy baggy backside from public display.  It was a losing battle since Typhoon Tessie was a blowin'.

I knew we were in trouble when we went to get off the cruise ship.  We got checked out with our cards and proceeded to the gangway.  We stepped out onto it and started making our way down to the floating dock to board the tender.  After a couple steps, my whole world started rocking.  And I don't mean rockin' as in woo-hoo, we're gonna party like an 80s hair band.  A wave hit the dock rollicking atop the water and whipped a cold spray blown by a wild wind all down the left side of my body.  Brrr!  I kept my head down, walking into the nonstop wind gusts, and was in a hurry to get aboard.  Check out the whitecaps!

About a dozen feet from the tender, the four of us came to a halt because we were behind Mama Maria and her girls herding Nonna NoHurry.  They were just a chattering in Italian, probably warning the little white-haired old lady not to fall and break her hip.  Then who's gonna make the marinara sauce for Uncle Umberto's birthday celebration in a couple weeks?  

Nonna totters to the ferry's door and is stymied because she just (push) can't get (push harder) her walker (push yet again so that her arms trembled with the effort) to fit (set down the walker and throw up her hands in disgust while rattling something in Italian) through the door.  Yet another cold wave slaps up against the floating dock and I look up just in time to get a face full of fine Mediterranean mist so that I can't see a thing out of my sunglasses.

The tender assistant guy saves me from having to push Nonna out of the way because I keep envisioning myself falling over the side of the undulating dock.  And these waters are probably infested with Great White Sharks or Man of War Jellyfish or something equally horrific that has me clinging to the temporary, and thus wobbly, railing in my bid to keep my skirt covering my thighs instead of over my head while peering suspiciously into the beautiful blue water.  Did I just see the flash of a dorsal fin?  So yeah, the guy picks up Nonna's walker and turns it sideways to fit through the door whereupon the Italian women gleefully chatter in unison a couple octaves higher as they all FINALLY hustle aboard the ferry to take a seat.  Me - I'm saved from making an international scene that no doubt would have been captured by the ship's CCTV allowing them to replay ad infinitum my best imitation of an offensive lineman plowing past Nonna in my rush to get out of the salt spray that was no doubt rusting my new sunglasses by the second.

The ferry took us on a bouncy, nausea-inducing ride over to the dock at Cannes.  Seriously, these are the rides I totally avoid at the amusement parks.  We disembark and make our way up to the road that leads into town and the beach.  I feel like I'm in a windtunnel as I try to walk with my skirt totally wrapped around my thighs so that I move like some sort of tubby geisha taking tiny steps.  We made our way to this spot in the pic below and it was just beautiful.

It was so pretty that it hurt my eyes... and then my legs as the little bits of sand kicked up by folks walking across the beach became some sort of hideous exfoliation process gone terribly wrong in the throes of hurricane force gales.  We turned right around and boarded the touring trolley so we could get an overview of Cannes since the beach was a complete fail.  No need to get a sandblasting here when I could hop back aboard the ship soon and catch some rays while lounging on the Lido Deck with a fruity drink in my hand.

The main arteries criss-crossing Cannes were lined with the most exclusive shops - Prada, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Hermes, Dior, Chanel, etc.  But look at the quaint little brick paved side street pic above - love it.

It was indeed SPLENDID to ride along the beautiful road that runs parallel to the coastline, seeing the yachts bobbing on the brilliantly blue water and the palm trees being bent almost in half by the howling winds.

In the pic below you can see our ship off in the distance.  After an hour on the sightseeing trolley, we hotfooted it back aboard the tender to head for home sweet home.  I didn't think it was possible, but the ride back to the ship was even rougher than the ride to shore.  That evening we discovered we were the only cruise ship dumb brave enough to allow passengers to disembark for the day in such high winds.  But it was all good since I washed down a couple aspirins with a martini to chase away a slight headache and scheduled a spa pedicure after risking my life to reboard the ship.  All is right with the world when I've got somebody cleaning up my cuticles and massaging my tootsies with lavender scented lotion.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Aix-en-Provence, France - July 2011

The first two ports of call on our Western Mediterranean cruise this summer were Toulon and Nice.  It was a pleasure to tour parts of the Cote d'Azur, also known as the French Riviera.  I really enjoyed the south of France much more than Paris.

We arrived at the port of Toulon on a Sunday.  Our shore excursion was to Aix-en-Provence, which was the home of Paul Cezanne.  It was a charming old town (isn't everything in Europe?) that was just a delight to explore on foot.  

The tour bus dropped us off right beside this lovely fountain that led into the heart of the town.  One side of this thoroughfare was lined with cafes while the other side contained street vendors peddling everything from herbs to artwork.  Isn't it just darling?

Annie ended up with a pair of pretty little handmade silver earrings.  I spied the homemade macaroons in a rainbow of colors/flavors and couldn't resist.  You know how they are on these cruise ships, barely enough food around to keep a body going.  Annie and I pointed out macaroons to the older gentleman manning the booth.  We purchased the following flavors while I tried not to drool on these little morsels of baked goodnes: chocolate, orange, coconut, lemon and almond - yum!  He spoke no real English and we could only respond with "merci" after he had bagged up our impromptu snack we nibbled while strolling through the rest of the stalls.

As this was the first day of shore excursions on the cruise, I figured everyone would be in top form.  Of course, I was mistaken and this became a daily grind... waiting on the idiots that somehow made it to adulthood without the ability to tell time.  I couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor tour guides.  They gave out maps, explained where we were and practically branded on our foreheads what time we needed to meet in order to depart for the ship.  Every day they also warned us that they would NOT wait for us longer than a few minutes past the designated meeting time since we were on a schedule.  

And in Aix, the sweet little French tour guide meant what she said.  She waited on a tardy couple for 15 minutes, then called the ship to get permission to leave.  She had already scouted the area for a bit on foot and even had the bus drive around the fountain a few times so she could look for them.  I felt like she gave it her best shot.  Later than evening, while we were making our way down to the dining room for dinner, we spied the couple that was left behind.  They approached us to ask what time the guide told us to meet back at the bus.  We told them 12:15.  They thought she said 12:40.  What struck me as terribly ironic is that the lost couple spoke French, so I'm not sure why they didn't clarify the time with the guide since French was also her native language.  The couple told us they had to catch both a train and taxi in order to return to the ship before it left port.  I imagine it was an expensive lesson in punctuality for them.

Here are Annie and Claire posing in front of a smaller statue on a side street. 

This is a painting post impressionist artist Paul Cezanne created of Montagne Saint-Victoire.  We passed by this mountain as we drove to Aix.  Cezanne featured it many times in his paintings since he had a view of it from his home. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Momcation 2011-2012

The 2011-2012 school year started today.  Can I get a hallelujah or praise Jesus?  The girls hustled downstairs in their brand spanking new uniforms, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  This will probably be the only morning my teenage daughter voluntarily rolls out of bed before the alarm goes off.  I snapped the following pic in front of the house as they prepared to head off for 5th and 11th grades.  

And no, Miss Teenage Thang is NOT completely in uniform thanks to the Sperry's on her feet.  Right after I took this pic, I had her go back upstairs to put on a pair of "plain leather shoes in navy, black or brown with a rigid sole whose heel height does not exceed 2 inches" per the dress code section in the upper school handbook.  At least wait until the second day of school to start breaking the rules.

All those moms who get teary-eyed when their kids start kindergarten, who lament the fact that their darlings are growing up way too fast... are you nuts or what?  Motherhood is all about being selfless and I feel like a total of 24 years spent rearing my two chicks in the family nest without anyone having to call CPS or the sheriff's department on me when I threaten one of them with bodily harm upon discovering they've left dirty clothes on their bathroom floor for the third time this week is ample evidence of my love.  

According to a news release from the USDA a couple months ago that was reported by Bloomberg, a middle-income family with a child born in 2010 can expect to spend in excess of $220,00 to raise that child until he or she graduates from high school.  Then you get to spend an equally big chunk on their college education for the next four years.  Plus you have to factor in other necessities like a car because mom's chauffeur service has closed its doors.  We can't discount the possibility of sorority costs and the fact that her wardrobe must continue to be maintained at the level to which she had become accustomed while living under our roof.  I imagine somebody in our family will probably need a shoe and/or handbag intervention at some point since dorm rooms won't have spacious walk-in closets to accommodate her massive collection.

Let's do a little math, shall we, for some perspective.  The average cost for a 7 day Mediterranean cruise in an upper deck balcony room is around $3000 per couple.  If you're gonna dream, dream big.  So assuming it costs my husband and I $12,000 per month to live in style on a cruise ship with basically all of our expenses covered, then we could have spent over three years of our lives sailing on the high seas while enjoying exotic ports of call.  I imagine that when you add the cost of two college degrees for both girls, it will be more like six years of midnight buffets, nightly turndown service and those fun towel animals that I could have been enjoying in my old age.

But now I'm digressing all over the place.  I hope both girls are blessed with a happy and successful school year.  May they make amazing friends, excellent grades and wonderful memories.  And me... I'm gonna enjoy the next 9 months grocery shopping without anyone trying to throw Double Stuff Oreos or Ben and Jerry's in the basket, the silence of no one squabbling over whether they're having grilled cheese sandwiches or chicken nuggets with fries for the millionth lunchtime meal, and complete control of which daytime programs I watch on TV since the remote control is mine, all mine from 7:40-3:50.


Monday, August 22, 2011

A Little Mother-Daughter Bonding

Our 5th grader loves to watch US programs on You Tube, things she can't find on TV here in England.  Today I joined her to watch a few episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras.  What a hoot!

For those of you unfamiliar with this series, it's yet another reality show that started airing about two years ago.  Each episode follows several girls as they prepare for and participate in a child beauty pageant.  

Seriously, why is it always southern women in these sorts of programs?  The ones that don't have enough teeth in their mouths to eat a steak.  The ones that sound like they don't got no more than a elementary school education based on them there rules of grammar they aint never figgered out.  (And yes, I did that on purpose.)  The ones that are able to spend all sorts of money on glitz dresses, spray tans, fake nails, professional hair and makeup applications for their 3-YEAR-OLDS plus the entrance fees for the pageant and travel costs, yet they live in a trailer house.  And don't get me started on the big old teased up hairpieces that look like some varmint has curled up on top of their heads for a little nap.  

My daughter and I are always amazed at the transformations we see.  At the beginning of each episode they were just grubby little kids wearing a t-shirt stained with a Dairy Queen chili cheese dog, sporting stringy hair rolling around on the floor of the double wide with a couple hunting dogs.  Then the next thing you know they're wearing false eyelashes, a dress that weigh 15 lbs thanks to all the rhinestones affixed to it, and lipgloss so shiny it will temporarily blind you.  See what I mean?  Doesn't she look just pleased as punch to be participating?

Our favorite part of the show is when one of the pageant girls, or pageant moms, has a meltdown.  It always restores my faith in the noble undertaking that is motherhood when I see some woman with her pin on ponytail, too-tight tracksuit that shows off a couple love handles plus back fat, and roots a good 4" long (when she knows in advance she'll be seen on national TV) jerking her daughter up by her arm while threatening to spank her if she doesn't sit still while they apply another coat of eyeliner.  The veteran pageant moms have all sorts of scary tactics they employ to win, giving their kids 50 Pixie Sticks or a six pack of Red Bull just to give them that chemically induced high perky little edge in the competition.  

I'll admit it - this isn't the first time I've seen the show.  I can't help but wonder how much they pay these women to participate in the series because a lot of it is priceless.  I know, I know... they take it all out of context and edit it so that they look like a bunch of village idiots ready to skewer their fellow competitors with hairpins or just-sharpened lip liner pencils.  It's not as if there is some full college scholarship awaiting them if they get one of the supreme titles instead of merely a divisional crown.  Methinks it's not the girls who long for the spotlight so much as the mommas.

This little girl cracks me up because she's such a total stinker - diva personified even if she is pretty darned cute.  Check out Makenzie giving her parents what-for.  And yes, they're from the south - Louisiana, to be exact.

Beauty Pageant Spoiled Brat

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Habla Espanol?

This blogpost is serving as a postscript for my looooong one about Barcelona.  I had jotted down notes for things I wanted to remember.  Of course, I then forgot to consult my little notebook when I was writing the post about our adventures in Spain.  It's just sad that I always forget important things like getting to the cleaners before it closes to make sure my husband doesn't have to go to work in a moth-eaten old flannel hunting shirt and his patched khakis circa 1998.  Or to pick up a pack of tortilla chips for the chicken TORTILLA soup I'm cooking tonight for supper when I'm in the grocery store... and it's written on my shopping list.  Why can't I forget things I don't need to remember, like the leftover chocolate cake in the fridge.  And maybe the code to the cardio room door so I don't take it as a sign from God that I should probably just skip today's workout session at the gym.

The first night we were in Barcelona, my travel buddy Dana ended up going to bed before the sun even went down.  No, she hadn't been drinking all day.  Poor thing - she hadn't fully recovered from her jet lag when we went on our trip to Paris.  Then she was so excited about going to Spain several nights later that she was unable to fall asleep and thus called her husband at 3 am, England time, just to chat.  So... since she conked out early from utter exhaustion our first night in Barcelona, the girls and I did a bit of walking and sightseeing around Placa Catalunya on our own.  We returned to the apartment around 9:30 when it started to get dark and we still weren't tired.  They turned on the TV and, of course, everything was in either dubbed or subtitled Spanish.  

They flipped through the channels until they ran across a program with an intriguing title - Sexo en Nueva York.  Lest you think I was letting them watch porn, it was on basic cable rather than pay-per-view.  In the midst of unpacking or some such, the girls called me over to take a look and see if I recognized the show.  Sex and the City!

That looks just like the four of us strolling around Barcelona toting our Hermes purses while doing some sightseeing in sky high stilettos.  Well... at least two of us in our party wished we had those enviable figures as well as the income to afford being tricked out in designer everything from head to toe.  

The first thing that popped into my head when I saw what they were watching - please don't let this be one of the episodes with Samantha having crazy monkey sex with a bunch of different men.  In the states they edited nude scenes or inappropriate language out of SATC to make it acceptable for audiences watching on syndicated channels like TBS or WGN.  But over here in Europe where the drinking age is 16 instead of 21 and relaxed attitudes are the norm, you just never know what you might see on TV in the evenings with your kids in attendance... like that big, hairy naked butt in some sort of ask the doctors show advertisement that aired one afternoon.  And that was just the commercial for the program.  

So on the outside I was acting as if SATC was no big deal while on the inside I was praying fervently that I wouldn't have to do a whole lot of uncomfortable explaining.  Prude mom would have jumped in front of the TV or at least changed the channel, but I'm way cooler than that... which really means I don't think quickly on my feet and assumed this would be safe for teen eyes before it dawned on me the R for mature audiences stuff might not have been removed.  Whew!  After just a couple minutes, it became apparent to me (a fan of the show that has probably watched all 94 episodes at least twice) that this one was pretty tame.  I was aided by the fact that the whole thing was dubbed in Spanish.  I honestly never learned Spanish profanity, and neither have the girls, so we were pretty clueless as to whether they were dropping the F-bomb on a regular basis.  I thought it was kinda funny to hear Carrie and Big carrying on some sort of heated conversation in another language. 

Good news - the three of us understood only bits and pieces of the entire show.  Bad news - I had to "translate" what was happening since I was familiar with the characters, history, basic plot, etc.  Sadly, the remote control got hidden misplaced for a while the following evening so that the girls were reduced to watching Senors Homer and Bart Simpson in Espanol.  I don't know that it was less offensive, but at least I was off the hook to explain the show to them.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Barcelona - July 2011

Silly me - I thought everyone in Spain spoke Spanish.  I had no idea that there are two regions in northern Spain where the languages of Catalan and Basque are spoken.  Be warned - you'll think I wrote this blogpost in multiple languages since it's so long.  Lazy blogger at work who stubbornly refused to break it into two separate posts.

I was all excited that my oldest daughter, who just finished her third year of Spanish, would be able to get some practice with the locals when we toured Barcelona for several days before our Mediterranean cruise departed.  Although there were many people in Barcelona who spoke Spanish, we also heard a lot of Catalan.  To my uneducated ear, it sounded like a Labradoodle or Puggle sort of language, a mongrel that isn't pure French or Spanish but rather a melodious mix of the two.  

After a two hour flight from Heathrow to Barcelona, we landed at the airport where all of the signs were in three languages.  The largest type was in Catalan, followed by Spanish in a bit smaller font beneath that.  English was last and in the smallest font, but at least they included it.  Take a hint, Paris.

Since we would be boarding a cruise ship out of Barcelona, we decided to rent an apartment so we could wash up everything the night before and start the next leg of our travels with clean undies.  Our 3/2 apartment was located right across from the Placa Catalunya, which is pictured below.  You can't swing a dead gat/gato/cat without it landing in some European fountain.

I definitely give Barcelona two thumbs up.  It had a great vibe, relaxed yet bustling and vibrant at the same time.  The weather was very pleasant, though it did rain intermittently one day.  We noticed that it was a lot more crowded the day before our cruise departed, but it didn't lessen our enthusiasm for this gem of a city.

Here are Annie and her Texas friend Claire atop the cathedral in the old town.  See the Med off in the distance?  I also included a shot of the cathedral's exterior with the requisite scaffolding.  Everything is so old in Europe that some part of it is always in need of a facelift. 

In my opinion, Barcelona is all about Gaudi.  Antoni Gaudi was an integral part of the modernist movement in Barcelona and his architecture is quite distinctive.  We took a Gaudi tour and saw the following examples of his work.

The four pictures above were taken at Parc Guell.  The picture below is the entrance gate for the Guell Pavilions.  Eusebi Guell was a Catalan industrialist who became Gaudi's patron and good friend.

The two pictures above were taken at Casa Batilo.  You would be challenged to find one straight line in this house.  Check out the doorways in my picture - lots of mushroomy looking ovals that serve as dormers to allow light to pass from one room to the next.  And is it just me or do I look like I just returned from Middle-earth with my elvish ears?  I just love it when my child does these sneaky pics, usually getting a hideous shot with my eyes half-closed so I look like a total middle-aged stoner.  

Here is a blurb I found on the internet, the same spiel I heard when we were taking our tour of Casa Batilo.  

Much of the façade is decorated with a mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles (trencadís) that starts in shades of golden orange moving into greenish blues. The roof is arched and was likened to the back of a dragon or dinosaur. A common theory about the building is that the rounded feature to the left of centre, terminating at the top in a turret and cross, represents the lance of Saint George (patron saint of Catalonia, Gaudi's home), which has been plunged into the back of the dragon.

I've included a couple more pics nicked off the net since they're worlds better than what I have to offer from my little Nikon.  The second one should look familiar because it's the rooftop terrace of the house where I took Annie and Claire's picture seen above.  The first shot is of the front facade.  It was quite the unique structure and it makes you wonder about the mind of Mr. Gaudi.

Based on the pic below, you would have thought we were in Italy.  Virtually every block in Barcelona had a gelato shop.  Some of it was excellent, while some of it was only fit for the nearest garbage can.  Annie is showing us how the ladies fashioned her chocolate gelato into a flower.  Presh!

Barcelona is famous for La Rambla, a street leading from Placa Catalunya to the Med with a pedestrian mall running down the center.  Our guidebooks warned us that it was pickpocket central, so we were all sporting Vera B crossbody purses.  I just love the VB pattern in the pic below because it goes with everything.  Imagine that - another pic of me where I'm totally unawares, though at least I'm not looking like a total freak.

At the top of La Rambla is a public drinking fountain.  It seems Barcelona has their own little myth a la the Trevi Fountain in Rome.  The story goes that if you drink from this fountain, then you will one day return to Barcelona.  Heaven forbid that we go thumbing our noses at the travel gods by not taking a sip, so the girls partook of the water.  Which, by the way, tasted really icky according to their well-developed teenage palates.  And did you see the VB hipster Annie is wearing in yet another cool pattern?  I so need to contact their PR folks and get on the payroll for my efforts to expose the whole European continent to their line of goods.

About halfway down La Rambla, you hit La Boqueria.  This is a large public market that originated several centuries ago.  Here is my eldest, looking all gangsta or maybe mafiaesque in her hat and shades.  I admit it - I'm just jealous because she can wear leggings and look cute while my thighs would resemble overstuffed sausage casings.  I have a firm belief that if you need to purchase leggings in any size involving double digits, then you should probably just stick with jeans.

But I digress.  The now-permanent stalls of La Boqueria were filled with vendors hawking fruits, veggies, cheeses, olives, meats, spices and freshly prepared meals.  It was a great place to grab a quick bite to eat as long as you didn't mind consuming it on your feet.  They had a zillion different fresh fruit juice concoctions that looked like a rainbow all lined up in ice.  

The most impressive thing I saw in Barcelona was Gaudi's magnum opus, the Sagrada Familia.  It has been under construction since before Gaudi died in 1926.  Churches are kinda like bellybuttons - every city, town, hamlet or wide spot in the road has one.  However, this church was quite distinctive, particularly the interior.  All of the columns were leaning and it reminded me of a cave.

We enjoyed our time in Barcelona, eating tapas and doing a bit of shoe shopping along the way.  It can't always be about historically significant things, especially when it's a group of ladies without their menfolk.  My significant other would have had a fit when we spent a good chunk of time nosing through that scarf store.  Or the cool leather place with purses and these darling ballerina flats in every color of the rainbow.  That was all they sold - handmade Spanish leather flats.  He would have needed a straight jacket when we hit that third shoe store, or was it a fourth one, admiring the rows and rows of strappy sandals and chunky wedges.

The girls seemed to really enjoy themselves.  I ran across the following pics when I was looking for some to include in this blogpost.

What's with the foot/shoe pics?  My daughter takes pics of her feet while she captures shots of my funky ears or wide load butt for posterity?  

Yes, folks that would be cava (sparkling wine produced in northern Spain), which is totally legal for 16-yr-olds to sip in Europe.  So Menja be, caga fort i no gintuis por a la mort!  This is a traditional Catalan toast that loosely translates into English as eat well, poop strongly and do not be afraid of death.  How about we just stick with Cheers to our fabulous stay in Barcelona.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I've got a bee in my bonnet... or maybe it's some sort of wasp?

Say hello to my little friend.

Time for our umpteenth critter infestation.  You almost made it, right, through a couple months without me whining and gnashing my teeth, kvetching here on the blog about the latest vermin or creepy crawly to invade our house and drive me to the brink of sanity.  It seems serenity and peace aren't in the cards for those of us living here in Fraserville, the UK edition.

Just to catch you up - the ants residing in the hall wall upstairs have been eradicated.  Or at least we hope so since the 6x3' hole in our upstairs wall, torn open to access the nest, has been expertly patched and my redneck ant farm/trap made from cling wrap and duct tape attached to the recessed light above the dining room table downstairs has been removed.  The last ant I saw was back in late June.  The repairs took place in mid July while we were away on vacation and we returned home to find every surface covered in a thin layer of powdered sheetrock.  Ah dusting, my least favorite sort of housework.  It rates right up there between big turds that clog the toilet and slimey hairballs in the shower drain.

Last Tuesday, we arrived at the house here in England after sitting on two airplanes for a total of 10 hours.  Once we had rolled all six suitcases into the house, I flopped down on the couch and was promptly stung by the winged critter catching a ride on my shirt.  Welcome home!

I then recalled that my good friend Nick (the pest service guy our property management company uses, the one who has asked me to be the godmother of his children and added me to his will because we've really bonded since January when the droves of ladybugs arrived and we first met) originally spotted a small nest of these flying-stinging devils when he was dealing with the ants. In our absence, the bee-wasp critters have been busy building a hotel for their extended family and assorted friends so that you couldn't open a window across the back of my UN-air conditioned house without them flying in for a look.  No fresh cut flowers in here... just a lot of leftover construction dust.  What I fail to understand is how these little insects can travel for miles, remember how to return to a particular patch of flowers after telling all their little flying friends the exact route yet not be able to get back out of my house through any of the open windows.

I'm not a huge Winnie the Pooh fan, but this was one of my favorite scenes from the movie.  If only I could get my youngest to react to the bee-wasp critters in such a calm manner.

Any time a bee-wasp critter is spotted, thereupon ensues a lot of shrieking and arm waving because, you know, that's calming to an insect who flies around ready to lock and load its stinger.  Then the hunt begins for one of the industrial strength fly swatters that we imported from the Boerne Wal-Mart.  The next stage involves stalking the flying devil that has an attention span of its baby cousin the gnat, immediately forgetting about the giant who was squealing and flailing her arms while running circles around the family room not so long ago.  The SWAT team (aka mom or dad) gets called in if the perp (aka the bee-wasp thingy) is buzzing around the CLOSED window trying to make its way back outside.  So close, but no cigar since it's the NEXT window over that is flung wide open for an easy exit.

Once the bee-wasp is smacked, then the eewwing facemaking commences as the little corpse is carted to the garbage can for disposal.  It seems they've been having one heckuva party here at the house in my absence.  I found 7 of them dead in one kitchen windowsill, no doubt expiring from exhaustion after beating their little short-term memory challenged selves up against the glass in a vain attempt to reach the open air.  

How about if you stretch a piece of fine mesh over a rectangular piece of wood or aluminum and put it up in front of the windows to keep all of the local insects out of the house?  WINDOW SCREENS - now there's a cutting edge invention the Brits need to adopt.  

By the end of this month, we have to notify the property management company as to whether we intend to continue leasing this house for another year.  I'll have to get back to you on that.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Paris - July 2011

Two of Annie's friends from her Texas dance team flew over to spend some time with us in England this summer.  But you can't fly all the way across the Atlantic without seeing at least a few other fabulous places, and Paris topped the list.  So we boarded the Eurostar, zipped beneath the English channel and disembarked at the Gare du Nord, a train station filled with panhandlers, pickpockets and not one danged sign in English.  

Needing euros, we searched for about 10 minutes until we finally located an ATM. And guess what - it was all in French without an English option.  One of the Texas parents had spent some time in France on business and was kind enough to stand behind me and help me with the ATM directions.  It's a good thing he was there to help because I wanted 300 euros but accidentally added a couple extra zeros to that.  No doubt my husband would wonder what mischief I was up to in Paris, cleaning out our checking account.  

Now I understand why the French can stay thin while eating butter laden pastries, breads and cream sauces - the Metro.  We decided to take the Metro (subway) from the train station to our hotel because it was more or less a straight shot, which even we were able to figure out despite the fact that ALL signs were in French.  There are about 9 millions steps at any given Metro stop and not one escalator in sight.  What, no ADA laws and accessibility?  Oh well, at least I got my daily dose of exercise lugging my suitcase up and down the stairs.

Our hotel was a couple blocks over from the Champs Elysees and this is the view we had of the Arc de Triomphe.  

You really take your life into your own hands when you cross the street in Paris.  We have become accustomed to queues and polite drivers here in the UK.  Paris reminded me of the impatient drivers we often saw back in the states, with people shouting curses at you, adding impatient honks of their Citroen or Fiat horns if you didn't hustle across the road quickly enough to suit them.  Seriously - you shouldn't live in what is probably the #1 tourist destination on the planet if you aren't prepared to deal with folks walking around with their mouths hanging open, looking up half the time not paying attention to where they're going and stopping to take pictures every few seconds. 

Our first day in Paris, we ate a late lunch at a cafe on the Champs that was obviously a tourist trap in hindsight.  Instead of bringing 2 glasses of wine, the waiter got "confused" and brought a whole bottle that he opened at the speed of light so it couldn't be sent back.  This same guy "misunderstood" that Annie's friend and her mom wanted one meat entree plate to share and instead brought them one plate each so that they had enough food to feed a pride of lions.  Then this waiter that seemed to have a limited grasp of our language got miffed and his English miraculously improved so that he could become indignant when we repeated our request for 2 creme brulees.  As if we were somehow insulting his intelligence, wanting to make sure we only received 2 desserts to share versus two desserts for everyone at the table.  Bon appetit!

After paying our inflated lunch tab, we did the tourist shuffle down the street to the Louis Vuitton store, the mothership for overpriced leather goods.  Alas, I couldn't resist buying a Louis in Paree.  When in Rome Paris, right?  I was unable to find an exact pic of it on Google and am too lazy to take it out of its felt bag and snap a pic.  I got the style and size of the red one, but in the bone color of the wallet.  It's tres cute and I love it.

Our next day in Paris we decided to hop on the tour bus that drove us by every building, statue, fountain and old wad of gum with any cultural, architectural or historical significance.  And the guy that whipped it out while standing on a sidewalk and peed right into the street a bit before noon on a Monday with the sun shining down on him.

I think the highlight of my time in Paris was the Eiffel Tower with the police and military folks stationed around it.  When we crept too close for a better shot, near the area they had cordoned off, some uniformed guy starts shouting "Bombe, bombe!" while waving his arms to shoo us back.  I may not speak French, but I'm pretty sure this word is a cognate.  Turns out that some goofball left a scooter where you aren't supposed to leave them and it was considered suspicious since said scooter-leaver didn't immediately retrieve it.  And I thought Americans were the most careful folks on the planet based on the lax security checks at European airports I've visited.  Huh, I don't need to take off my shoes, belt, earrings, watch, sweater, let you swab my cheek and tell me my percent of body fat?

Here I am in front of the tower.  Nothing to see here, just a possible bomb somewhere on this illegally parked scooter - keep moving!

So anyhoo, we had a great time seeing, if not touring, all of the majesty that is Paris.  Here are Annie and her Texas friend Jessica on the top deck of the bus.  Notice the cute denim jackets worn in Paris during the middle of summer?  I know the folks back home in Texas are in awe since they won't need to break out one of these until about mid October... if they're lucky.

Jessica and Annie, striking a pose in front of Notre Dame Cathedral

This is Annie and her other Texas friend, Claire, in front of the Louvre Museum.

My travel buddy, Claire's mom Dana, got a pic of them planking since that was all the rage this summer on You Tube.  However, I was busy holding our spot in the line that wove around the glass pyramid, waiting our turn for entry, so was unable to take a planking pic.  Turns out that our tickets allowed us to go right in without having to wait in the long entry line, but I wouldn't know that since all the signage was in French.

It has to be said - the Louvre was most impressive and I could have spent days in there.  The Louvre was a palace before it became a world renowned art museum.  You can see that clearly in this stairwell where I snapped another pic of Annie and Claire.  I love that even the ceiling is a work of art.

Here are our Texas friends Claire and Dana sitting in front of a carved decorative panel in the Louvre, resting on a bench at the top of the beautiful stairwell.  They are pointing to the initial H since their last name is Huerta.  

I'm sure we weren't the first visitors to get lost in the Louvre.  We hiked up and down staircases, past that same darned sculpture in the Egyptian room, following the green signs with the word SORTIE, which means exit in French.  About 30 minutes later, we chanced upon the exit and made our escape.

That evening we dined on cool things like escargot.  Were you aware that the legal drinking age in Europe is 16?  Our little Sweet 16 trio of girls did!

We ended our marathon day touring the city of light with a boat ride on the Seine.  Around midnight we walked down to get a better look at that big metal structure shining in the night with a zillion lights.  It made a pretty good backdrop for the moon you can see so clearly.

To commemorate their trip to Paris, Annie and I found a lady on Etsy that makes personalized necklaces.  We had her create a keepsake for all three of them.  Can you see the Eiffel Tower?  It looks a lot bigger in person.