Tag Archives: Europe travel

Home at Last

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Friday night Hubby and I returned from a two-week vacation to London and Paris.  We saw EVERYTHING.  (Seriously, everything.)  We walked ten miles each day, plus rode the Tube (in London) and the Metro (in Paris) many miles to get to where we wanted to be. Mostly we saw tons of art, but also magnificent historical architecture and beautiful gardens. We stayed at really cool hotels (CitizenM Tower of London and Residence Foch) and consumed lots of fish and chips and hamburgers (the meat there is sooooo delicious compared to the ground beef you can buy in the States) and British craft beers.  Hubby and did not get in even one fight, which I consider pretty amazing. Things got dicey on our last day in England, when Hubby insisted on reading EVERY didactic at the Greenwich Museum, and I was so done that I considered pulling the fire alarm and then at dinner pretended I had poisoned him (“are you dizzy?  blurred vision? throat tightening?  No?  Hmmmmm). But overall, it felt like a second honeymoon, since we’ve never gone away for more than five days without the kids before.  We celebrated our 29th anniversary on the hotel balcony with a spectacular view of the Tower of London and felt pretty damned fortunate.

The best thing about a fabulous vacation:  Coming home.  Our youngest son, William, did an excellent job of holding down the fort while we were gone—feeding and caring for our five pets and keeping the house clean is not an easy job.  His best girl, Katherine, helped out, too.  I left William a credit card and I’m sure I’ll cry when that next bill arrives and I see how much money “we” spent at Dutch Bros Coffee while we were away. Apparently we also paid him in beer since our keg of expensive IPA was empty.  (College kids—what are you going to do??)

Today getting groceries I was so happy to have eye contact with people again. My experience was that in London and in Paris, there is absolutely no eye contact with strangers, unless you are a waiter serving dinner or hotel staff helping you as their guest. I did not like being invisible.  I like to smile at people and have offhand chit chat.  I can count on one hand the people who talked to us:

  1.  The French woman at the coin laundromat who spoke no English but was able to guide us through the very unfamiliar laundry system.  I gave her my most sincere smile, accompanied by a “merci beaucoup” and felt so grateful.  Hubby and I were already feeling irritated at not being able to find the darn place having walked a mile in all directions in a fancy neighborhood, each of us carrying black hefty bags of dirty laundry!
  2. The “skin heads” on the Tube elevator in London who alerted me that the doors would be opening in the opposite direction from where I was standing.  We’d traveled so much that day and I was daydreaming, not noticing that the 20 other people on this large elevator were facing the opposite direction.  I said, “Thank you! I probably would have figured it out eventually!  I’d think, where did all the people go?  Why am I all alone?”  They proceeded to do a bit which included the guy saying, “Dear Diary, Month 15 and I’m still in the Tube elevator.  It’s not all bad.  It’s warm in winter and cool in summer.  People leave bags of chips. I’m happy here.”
  3. The woman whose feet my suitcase fell on in the Tube.  She glared at me so hard I thought I might burst into flames.  Seriously?  I was carrying a huge paper sack which held three Starbuck’s London coffee cups and three London Toblerones that were gifts for the kids.  It was unwieldy and when I shifted, my bag fell over.  The part that landed on her feet was not heavy and I apologized sincerely, but she was just mad and mean and well, I’m sorry that when you ride the Tube you are so grumpy.  I love riding the Tube.  I love watching the comings and goings, and the families and the groups of friends and the handsome young men in their skinny suits headed to and from work  (I especially love that).
  4. The young man on the Tube escalator that kept me from falling backwards when  my huge, embarrassing, American suitcase started to fall off the step behind me.  I started wobbling and made a sound like “ooooohhhhh,”and he heaved my case up to the step and gently kept me from falling.  Oy vey, so embarrassing!  If you’ve never been on a Tube escalator, I can tell you it’s very stressful.  They are inclined at an extreme angle and go up four floors!  As a person who is afraid of heights, I can say going up is easier but going down I look at my feet and breathe slowly in and out so as not to scream out, “We’re all going to die!!!!”  Which would be really embarrassing.
  5. The business woman at the St. Pancras train station in London who so nicely gave me directions to where to catch our Eurostar (Chunnel) train.  This station is HUGE and is the only international station in London.  It’s super cool . . . if you’re not in a hurry to catch a train.  I mistook her for a station information attendant because she was in a suit and was standing next to the Information sign (most stations have these with staff positioned there to answer questions). She did not laugh at me and was very sweet.  Hubby, on the other hand, mocked me endlessly, so much so that anytime we were lost after that, I asked him, “Shall I go ask a stranger how to get there?”  If you don’t get lost while on your Europe vacations, then you’re just not doing it right.  We spent two hours one night looking for a restaurant called Hot Box that some website had recommended.  It was not a “good lost” since it was in a business area with huge sky scrapers.  We finally found the place.  HA.  Long picnic tables in a dark room with expensive hamburgers.

One reason I’m glad I was completely invisible in Europe:  I was the only person wearing leggings.  Here in Tempe that’s the norm!  Next blog will be European fashion tips!  Stay tuned!

Cheers,

Mary

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Tighter Than a Tick

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This weekend has been all about tying up loose ends in preparation for our two-week family vacation which begins Tuesday. Each night, trip anxiety has awakened me at 4am. One night I envisioned us with our humongous American suitcases on the Tube and getting one wedged in the door as we tried to exit.  The next night I had a detailed dream in which we showed up to our VRBO flat in London only to find that the family of eight who owned it were expecting to stay there WITH US . . . and vacation with us! The night after that I dreamed that it was time to go to the airport, and I was the only one who hadn’t packed . . . or arranged to have someone take us to the airport . . . or asked someone to take care of our pets.

So basically, Nighttime Me is freaking out, while Daytime Me is happily planning and packing and taking care of bizz. Daytime Me tells Nighttime Me to just chill already: the unexpected parts of travel are typically the best parts. Anything we forgot to pack can be procured upon arrival. I get TWO WHOLE WEEKS with some of my very favorite people! And lucky us, we’re returning to a fabulous town (London)and checking out Scotland for the first time!  I remind myself how fortunate I am.

But I wasn’t believing a word I told myself. I was wound tighter than a tick but then this happened: Yesterday on my way home from the grocery store, I turned on the car radio just as Garrison Keillor was starting his show. He is retiring next week, and it breaks my heart. Prairie Home Companion has been a constant in my life for more than 30 years! Garrison taught me so much about story telling.  His paternal and soothing voice has a calming effect on me, similar to that of a stiff cocktail. I truly think he’s a genius.  He’s the Mark Twain of our era, and I will miss him.

Okay, back to my story: Garrison recited a poem by Mary Oliver, called Wild Geese. He took his time with the words, his sonorous voice drawing out each sentence. I turned up the radio and listened with rapt attention.

Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Yes, yes, YES!!!  A tear rolled down my face. Then another. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted. This poem spoke to me. It said so loudly:   just be you! You don’t have to be perfect. Just be a part of this world; don’t think you’re so important. Enjoy your world and keep an eye toward nature, for it will show you what to do next.

Smiling through my tears, I drove my car full of groceries through the 110 degree heat toward home. Today I read again Mary Oliver’s poem.  All anxiety is gone.  I’m the luckiest woman in the world to be headed to England and Scotland with my family this week. There’s nothing to worry about. As Ms. Oliver says in her poem, the world will offer itself to my imagination. Our journey will be harsh and exciting, the sun will move across the mountains and rivers . . . and the world will go on.

Cheers,
Mary