Friday, March 30, 2018

Paris – Arrival and First Day - 3/28/18-3/29/18

We left the house at 4:45 p.m. when Bob & Bernie Schwenck’s grandson, Clayton, picked us up. We arrived at the airport (LAX) at 6:15, after fighting rush hour traffic. Online check-in with Norwegian Air Shuttle wasn’t available, so we first had to get our boarding passes. Then, the TSA location nearest the airline was closed, so we had to schlep our bags to the other end of the terminal to go through security. We were traveling on Norwegian Air Shuttle, and they don’t have TSA pre-check. So, we had to remove our shoes, open up our computers and tablets, and go through the full security check. No issues, but it all took longer than we had planned for.

When we finished, we had to get to our gate. What a convoluted route. Through two terminals, up and down stairs, and around and around. When we reached the final area, our gate (which was the number following the previous gate) was at the very far end. Instead of our gate number, 36, the first gate we came to was 46. From there, they were in reverse order. By the time we neared out destination, we realized we didn’t have time to eat as we had planned.

We finally reached our gate and found a huge crowd waiting…and waiting…and…waiting. Boarding for our 8:00 departure was supposed to start at 7:00. Finally, at 7:20, boarding began. We were on the B787 Dreamliner. It’s a huge plane, so about 300 passengers had to go through the boarding process. But, aha, we didn’t board the plane. Instead, we had to get on busses out to another building, where we had to climb a couple of stories on a ramp to get to the boarding bridge. Then all 300± of us had to board, stow our luggage, and settle into our seats. The good news was this was a large plane, and all the carry-on luggage fit.

Our seats, assigned when we booked the flight, were in row 8. Good location. They had Larry and I together, however our friends, Bob and Bernie, were in seats on either side of us. We changed seats when we got on the plane.

When I booked the tickets, this particular flight had a good rating, and we got a great rate—less than we have paid for tickets to Hawaii. It was also a nonstop flight from LAX to Charles de Gaulle, instead of Orly. It was only about 15 minutes farther from Paris than Orly. Definitely worth it!

The cabin crew were very attentive. The in-flight entertainment was better than most. A choice of a large number of movies—some recently released—at no charge, along with games and TV shows. They announced you had to have pre-ordered a meal at booking, or you could order a snack from their menu. Our tickets said we would get their “So Tasty Menu.” I asked if that were the actual meal, and the flight attendant said it was. I told her I wasn’t asked about a meal when I booked the tickets. She said some of the third-party sites booked meals automatically. Guess it’s what happened because we got hot food. Not great, but adequate, especially since I hadn’t eaten since 10:30 in the morning.

This was a long flight (eleven hours). I slept for a couple of hours, and then watched four movies: Goodbye Christopher Robin (good), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (didn’t care for this one—too much swearing, which they overdubbed making the whole thing distracting), Eat, Pray, Love (pretty much followed the book), and Murder on the Orient Express (the same convoluted Agatha Christie plot, but with a great cast and beautiful direction). We always travel with our earphones, so we are prepared for whatever is offered. However, most domestic airlines now charge for entertainment. This was much better.

The flight didn’t seem as long as many we have taken in the past. The seats were much more comfortable, and this helped as well.

We arrived at de Gaulle at 3:45 p.m. the following day but had to wait in an extremely long line for passport check. The line for their domestic passengers was relatively short, but the one for foreigners went halfway through the terminal, and it wasn’t moving. After what seemed like forever, they started diverting some of us in the foreign line to the domestic one because all the French passengers had finished. (I suspect several planes may have arrived at close to the same time.) After our long flight, the time spent in these lines felt excessive. We found out why the line was so long. Although there were six windows for foreign passport control, only two of them were open. With the addition of the domestic window, there were still only three to handle a large number of passengers.

Fortunately, we had booked our hotel transport ahead of time, so as we exited baggage check, we saw a sign with our names on it. A nice Mercedes van waited outside to whisk us away to Hotel Le Littre.

We only spent one night at the hotel in Montparnasse. What a lovely place! It has obviously been remodeled recently. The bathrooms are nicer than mine at home.

Since it was now evening, we set out to find something to eat. The concierge recommended the Café Montparnasse. It was about three blocks away, a simple walk. It had started drizzling, so we set out with umbrellas and found the restaurant.

I spotted the croque monsieur on the menu. I adore this glorified grilled cheese sandwich. This one was served open-faced on a large slice of beautiful French bread with a thin slice of ham, and the cheese was creamy—rather like a fondue—and placed under the broiler. The menu suggested sharing, this, so we did. Bob & Bernie made the same choice. Our large sandwich arrived with a small salad and pommes frites (French fries). The meal was a perfect introduction to French food for Bob & Bernie. Of course, we had to finish our meal with crème brûlée. This was also perfect.

We took the short walk back to the hotel. Bernie stayed there while we made another short trip to the neighborhood supermarket—at least the French version. This was smaller than our 7-11 stores at home. Bob found the tonic water he wanted, but they didn’t have the distilled water he needed.

On the way, we had noticed the Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels on the corner. As we returned, we passed half a dozen young people (perhaps college age) singing in parts. We realized it was Maundy Thursday and assumed they had just come from the chapel after a service. What a nice surprise and a terrific ending to our first day in Paris. I discovered I am still in love with this city.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Swallows Day Parade

Happy Swallows Day 2018!

For the last thirty years we’ve lived here, and the seventeen years before when we spent weekends here, we have assiduously avoided San Juan Capistrano on Swallows Day. Larry doesn’t like crowds. We’ve never had kids in the parade. Although friends have marched, we have never even seen it—until today.

Larry was asked to take pictures of the group from Community Presbyterian Church where we were members for well over forty years. The church will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, and they are trying to get out the word.

They arranged for a wagon with large banners to carry those who were unable to walk the whole parade route. Another large group walked. Larry followed the group, going back and forth from the wagon to the walkers taking photos. I decided to go along with Larry at the last minute. I figured I’d wave them off and then walk around town until they came back.

However, the group organizers wanted the wagon to be full, so I was invited to ride along.
I loved seeing all the great costumes of the various groups. The local Acjachemen (Juaneño) Indians in their native costumes represented the first people of this area well. The costumes of the Mexican Chinelo dancers were the most colorful I saw, and there were lots of them.

The traditional riders’ groups, mounted color guard groups (two of them), the Marines from Camp Pendleton, groups representing the mission itself, the local theater, and several local schools, as well as marching bands created a delightful mix of sights and sounds.

Okay, I’ll admit I had a great time. I don’t think I need to do it again, but we’ll see next year.

Friday, March 16, 2018

St. Paddy's Day

According to my DNA, I am 87% British and Irish. On my father’s side I’m at least 25% Irish. His mother was a McNamara and his grandmother a Connolly. I also have a bit of Irish on my mother’s side. Despite my grandmother’s claim that her family was 100% Scottish, we discovered that my 5th great-grandmother in her line, Grace Smith, came from County Cork in Ireland. The ancestors on my grandfather’s side were from Scotland as far as we know.
I have always related to my Celtic ancestry. When we visited Scotland in 1993, we went to the island of Iona, where Christianity first came to Scotland. I felt very at home there amid all the Celtic symbols. Scotland was one of the few places I’ve been where people not only knew how to pronounce my name but could also spell it. And we saw stores  and buildings with my name on them.

Larry is 72% British and Irish, with his Irish roots coming predominantly from Northern Ireland. Many of the Irish in his background were Protestants.

When Larry worked on St. Patrick’s Day, he always wore a special tie—green and orange plaid. In this way, he could pay homage to both his Catholic and Protestant forebears.

I don’t care for corned beef, and I can’t eat cabbage, so they have never been a part of our observance of St. Paddy’s Day. (It is “Paddy” not “Patty.”)

We visited Ireland in 2004—both the north and the south. I felt right at home. I enjoyed all the Irish food we ate there (no corned beef and cabbage to be found). We ate quite a bit of pub food and discovered why the Irish love it.

One of my mother’s cousins invited our entire tour group to stop at her home, where she prepared a traditional afternoon tea for our group of twenty, plus our driver. Visiting her was the highlight of our whole trip. She lived at the tip of Northern Ireland. She was born in Scotland and married an Irishman. They ran a bed and breakfast there for many years. What terrific people, and we are related!

So, this St. Paddy’s Day, as on every St. Paddy’s Day since 2004, I will recall all the wonderful experiences we had on our trip. Heck, I’ll probably watch the video we created from the photos of our trip. Experience Ireland vicariously by watching Enchanting Ireland.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Why I Don't Camp

My family didn’t go camping, but my friend, Diane’s, did. In the summer of 1959, her folks asked me to go with them to Yosemite, where they reserved a campsite each year. I was excited because they always had such a good time. Heck, I’d have gone anywhere since my family never went on vacation. Besides, I’d be with one of my closest friends.
After a long drive, during which we listened to and sang along with some of our favorite music of the day, we arrived in Yosemite. It was gorgeous, as advertised.

Diane’s folks set up the tent where they would sleep. They blew up air mattresses and arranged sleeping bags outside for us. It sounded like a great adventure—until the next morning when I awoke. A red streak ran up the inside of my left arm.

I showed it to Diane’s mom, but told her not to worry, it would be okay, and it didn’t hurt. However, she insisted on having a doctor look at it. This entailed a drive to the nearest emergency room. (So much for the first day of vacation.)

The doctor said he thought I’d been bitten by a scorpion and had blood poisoning. “If the streak goes to your armpit and reaches your heart, it will kill you.”


He gave me an antibiotic shot and a prescription for pills, which Diane’s folks paid for. Oh, and I couldn’t go into the water. Since the weather was unseasonably hot—over 100 degrees—I roasted for the rest of the week. I couldn’t shower either. At the time, I wore my hair very short. It stuck straight up because it was dirty, and I couldn’t wash it. I immediately acquired the nickname “Blue Jay.”

Since I had been bitten while out-of-doors, we took the tent while her folks slept on the ground outside. I can’t believe how good-natured they were about the turn of events, but I felt like an albatross and a burden for the rest of the trip.

There were good moments. I remember how great food tasted when cooked outside. I got to see the “firefall,” and it was spectacular. And, of course, the surroundings were lovely. But I was hot and miserable.
The first summer after we were married, Larry decided I need a good camping experience to change my mind. So, we went to Sequoia, where Larry had spent time during his childhood. Larry always slept out-of-doors, so we only took our sleeping bags and pillows. We borrowed my in-laws’ metal cooler for our food and filled it with ice.

We drove up in our 1958 Thunderbird. When we stopped on the way, I asked Larry to get my sweater because I was chilly. I had given it to him to carry to the car while we were packing. He looked stricken. The sweater was nowhere to be found. He had set it on top of the car and hadn’t put it inside. Since it was dark when we left, I never noticed it, either. Of course, this sweater matched two pair of pants and two skirts and was a unique color…

When we arrived, we opened the trunk to discover the cooler had sat directly on the tailpipe, the ice melted, and all of our food was ruined. But we decided to spend the night as we’d planned. We lay our sleeping bags on the ground.

Folks in a neighboring site stopped by. “You’re not going to sleep outside, are you? We’ve had bears in the area the last couple of nights.”

Larry was confident, however, so we lay down. A few minutes later, we heard a trash can crash up the hill. Several minutes after that, another one went over—closer than the first. At this point, we decided to sleep in our car. However, although the ’58 T-bird was supposed to have a back seat, it didn’t really qualify. I tried to curl into a small ball, and Larry lay across the driver’s seat, over the center console, and onto the back seat. Needless to say, we got no rest.

Exhausted, we packed the car to drive back home, but as we left, we heard screeching of metal-on-metal. We limped into the only service station near the park. They did not take credit cards. Fortunately, we had some cash with us.

The mechanic listened to the noise and determined the front breaks were the issue. He replaced them, and we paid him. As we drove out, we heard the screeching again. Turns out, the back breaks were the problem. He replaced those, too, and we gave him the rest of our cash. Fortunately, we could use our credit cards for gas on the way home.

I still hadn’t learned my lesson.
When Kim was little, Larry (and she) decided she needed to go camping. I wasn’t enthused, but we had a truck with a camper shell, and Larry convinced me this time would be better.

We reserved a campsite several months ahead. When we arrived, we discovered it was just wide enough for the truck because the other half of the site was filled with a large tree—complete with a huge hornet’s nest. We had to eat our meals inside the cab of the truck to avoid the hornets.

Right across the way, however, was a large, corner site. Larry went to the ranger’s station to see if we could trade.

“That space is reserved for bear research.”

Bear research?

Sure enough, the next day a group from UC Davis arrived with a huge bear trap and set it. Larry wondered what would happen if a bear sprang the trap and missed. He’d have come directly for our site!

Nevertheless, we stayed. One day, we decided to drive down to Chrystal Cave. Part way down, the familiar sound of metal-on-metal began. Yep. The brakes went out. Larry had to use the hand brake to slow the truck.

We drove back out and to a service station where, once again, our brakes were replaced. This time, however, they took our credit card. But, of course, our vacation funds were depleted.

I’ve learned my lesson. I’m a jinx when it comes to camping. When I was a Girl Scout leader, we either “camped” in the back yard of the scout house or did a “camp-in,” where we slept inside. I had a camping chair who took the kids camping, and a couple of times, the dads took them. I never went.

Nope. Not camping. Never. No way.

Do you like to camp? If so, please tell me why, because I just don’t get it!