Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Look what I goootttttt.....

Because my mouth moves faster than my brain, we now have three cats. An acquaintance was telling me she had to give up her house and pets for reasons out of her control, and before I knew what was happening I'd said, "I can take the cats!" And then I thought, "oh man, Ben is going to kill me." But then I asked to see pictures of them and when I saw the fluff, I knew it was fate. The next day they came to live with us. 

This is Doki. She is very small and aggressively affectionate. 

Oki is her brother, much bigger and a little more suspicious of us. He's coming around, through. 

Papaya was like this. 

But it's been two weeks and she's settled in for the most part. There is still some minor hissing when one of them takes another by surprise, but in general:

It was a good decision. They needed some medical care as a result of living their first few years as outdoor cats, but it's been really good for me to have something else to focus on besides, you know, the cancer. They are both gorgeous and sweet and funny and that moment when they're all running around demanding breakfast and then sit side by side munching away has rapidly become the best part of my day. 


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Trip Report: Day 8: London (aka THE END)

I know everyone has been waiting with bated breath for me to finish up this trip, which has taken foreverrrrrr to get through. But I think my life has calmed down now so I won't be delinquent in the future. 

Anyway, upon returning from Paris we only had one day left in London before it was time to go home! We liked the British self-awareness regarding their ridiculous driving-on-the-left rules. As a pedestrian it was pretty disorienting going from England to France and back again in quick succession.

We went to the Victoria and Albert Museum first thing. There was a really interesting exhibit of British clothing through the ages and a bunch of other random stuff. I took a picture of this item, from the theatre exhibit, for Ben. 

They used to put it in the floor and dramatically pop actors out from beneath the stage in the middle of shows, but unfortunately people got killed all the time so it was banned.

Then we walked down the street to Harrod's.

Harrod's is a pretty weird place. Most of the bottom floor is food of all types, but there are also floors of couture clothing, electronics, toys.... all sorts of stuff. We bought some pastries, of course.

But not a bespoke cake.

We got lunch in a little cafe that overlooked one of the food halls.

And ended up on the toy floor, texting pictures of stuffed animals to Hillary to evaluate as potential gifts for the kids. Apparently these big eyed things are all the rage.

After Harrod's we went back to the hotel to pack and regroup and eat the pastries. Then we headed out for out last evening of adventures! We popped into the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon friezes.

And then went on our very last death march to our dinner reservation at Rules, the oldest restaurant in London. It sprinkled the tiniest bit on the walk - the only time it rained on the whole trip, which seems pretty amazing for Britain in early springtime.

Rules was everything you'd imagine the oldest restaurant in London to be. Doorman in a top hat, wood paneling with old paintings and taxidermied animal heads on the wall, game meat on the menu, the whole nine yards. The food was great, too! I ordered steak & kidney pie since I had never had it before and discovered I'm not the hugest fan of kidneys, but that isn't Rules's fault.

The last bottle of wine!

The next morning we took the tube to the airport and spent a couple hours in the Heathrow Virgin Atlantic lounge, which was every bit as nice as the one in JFK, then flew back to the United States. Nine days spent sharing a hotel room with my mom and we didn't kill each other! And we had a lot of fun and saw a lot of sights, too. 

Next up: we'll see!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Trip Report: Day 7: Paris

I had failed to buy tickets for the Eiffel Tower ahead of time, so when we headed over there first thing in the morning we were thinking we'd take the stairs up to the first landing or not bother at all. The internet made it sound like the lines would be impossibly long without an advance reservation. Surprise! There was no line whatsoever.

We took the elevator straight to the top!

It was warmer than the previous day, but a bit hazy for maximal city viewing.

For lunch we went to nearby Cafe Constant, which a friend had recommended. It was a tiny little place where we were crammed into a room the size of my office with forty other people, but the food was great and it was extremely reasonably priced. In general Paris seemed much more affordable than London.

The bread in Paris lived up to the hype everywhere we went.

Then we decided to walk up to the Arc de Triomphe and Champs d'Elysees. One lesson I took from our 36 hours in Paris is that it is much less compact than you might think, looking at a little map.

Finally we made it, though.

We walked all the way down the Champs d'Elysees and then took the Metro to Montmartre to see Sacre Coeur. Here is where we had some excitement:

Coming up the stairs out of the train station, someone shouted, alerting us to the fact that a pickpocket was trying to open Mom's backpack! The kid ran away and we thanked the guy profusely. She didn't actually have anything in the pocket of the backpack except an empty wallet, having moved important stuff to a more secure location when we arrived, so we didn't worry about it too much and kept walking down the street.

Unbelievably, a block later the same kid showed up and tried again, and managed to get the wallet completely out of the backpack before she felt it. Before I had any idea what was going on, my 64-year-old mother was turning around, grabbing the kid's arm, and yelling, "You give that back to me right now!" AND HE DID. And then he ran away and we never saw him again. It was awesome. A bunch of Parisian pedestrians came over to check that we were okay and made disapproving noises and shook their heads at the hooligans trying to mess with the nice American ladies.

Anyway, after this we were on super high alert in the Montmartre area. At one point I thought someone had managed to steal my phone out of my purse while I had it tucked under my arm on a bench, but it turned out I had just put it in a different pocket.

Before we got to Sacre Coeur we waited for about twenty minutes (seriously, twenty minutes at least) to use this weird public bathroom stall that cycled through a full wash cycle between every user. Every single person in line was flummoxed by the whole experience and finally some dude started standing by the door pressing the buttons for everyone else because nobody else could figure it out.

At last, we arrived at the church! Mom sat at the bottom and read and I walked up all the stairs to the top. It was a gorgeous day, much warmer than the day before.

After this we went to a touristy restaurant at the bottom of the hill and got some tea and dessert, then walked back to Gare du Nord to catch the train back to London. On the way to the train station we got a bit lost and ended up walking through a neighborhood that appeared to be composed entirely of cheap wedding dress stores, one after another, with shady guys loitering around outside each one. What was actually going on there, I have no idea.

We were early for the train so we sat on the Eurostar balcony and read our books until it was time to go.

Arriving back at the Doubletree in London felt like coming home! We ordered room service. This is the Doubletree Hyde Park's version of a BLT. I approve.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Trip Report: Day 6: Paris

I was probably most excited about this part of the trip. PARIS!! I had never been to Paris. People either seem to love it or feel like it's overrated, so a quick train trip and one overnight seemed like a good way to get a first impression and see which side I fell on. (Spoiler: love.)

We took a very fast, very quiet train early in the morning.

And when we got out of the train everyone was speaking French!

We stayed in a Holiday Inn in the Latin Quarter just a few blocks from Notre Dame. It was an absolutely stellar location.

This was the square outside our hotel. I couldn't get over how thoroughly Paris turned out to be exactly what I expected. It looks just like Paris! Everywhere you look!

OMG the Seine.

We arrived at sort of a weird time - late morning but not quite lunch - and had a rough initial time trying to find a place to eat. Finally we found a restaurant that was open where I could get a sandwich and Mom could get an omelet, which was perfect. Then we walked up to look at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame makes Westminster Abbey look frankly kind of pathetic. We were going to walk to the top, but it was very, very windy and cold and we couldn't face standing in the outdoor line. Shortly thereafter we had to buy scarves at a tourist shop.

Look, it's me taking the above picture of Notre Dame! It's like a paradox!

I feel like maybe you weren't supposed to take pictures inside because I took none, but my mom took one. Rebel?

After this we went on Rick Steves' walking tour of Historical Paris, in the freezing cold wind.

It's just a really impressive church, no matter how long you look at it.

The walking tour took us on small twisty streets of the Latin Quarter, which were right behind our hotel.

And then back up to the Seine. 

The line was crazy at the Louvre so we decided to put it off for a while. 

We did go inside the gift shop, though, where you can buy these small Venus de Milo statues. Ben bought me one when he was there in high school and its been on my bookcase ever since! Surely he didn't pay 119 euros for it in 1995. That seems a little excessive.

We went over to the Orangerie, a smaller art gallery my friend Sheila had told me to be sure and check out. It has two huge rooms devoted only to Monet's Water Lilies.

It was definitely worth seeing!

In Paris even the litter is fancy.

At this point we were near starvation. We trudged back through the park to the Louvre and, once through security, located a small restaurant that was closing up for the day. They let us have a bottle of wine and a piece of chocolate cake, though, which was exactly what we needed. 

The janitorial staff at the Louvre is on strike and they were all sitting in a circle pounding on drums and blowing whistles in the lobby here. It was very noisy and had apparently been going on for weeks.

The Louvre is the only museum I've ever visited where when they say "you could spend an entire day and not see everything," it's the truth. Ben and I covered the Prado in an hour, for example. But this thing really is enormous and impossible to take in. So, like everyone else, we headed for the highlights.

We had to be sure and visit the Sully branch because, you know, Sully.

This was my favorite thing. I was more excited about seeing the Winged Victory than the other big two famous Louvre things.

It really is amazing.

I took a picture of this weird ghost angel painting from the 1200s because I knew Ben would be delighted by it.

Ah, the Mona Lisa. So peaceful. I've always heard how it's smaller than you'd expect, so it was actually bigger than I expected it to be.

Immediately across from it there is this giant, intricate painting nobody cares about, which we found amusing.

There were not many people around the Venus de Milo at all, though.

We walked through and looked at a bunch of Egyptian stuff.

And Napoleon's apartments. 

And then we tried to leave but could not figure out how to get out of this courtyard.

But finally we managed!

We got dinner at Les Deux Magots, which Rick Steves said was famous as a hangout of Hemingway et. al. in the 1920s. We had tried a different bistro just next door but it was very loud, very hot, and the menu was weird with a bunch of snacks and no main dishes. So we escaped and went next door, which turned out to be a good decision.

I got duck breast. I've been into duck recently, for the first time in my life. (Don't think about how cute they are.)

And mom got beef stew. We were both very impressed with the deliciousness of our food.

Then we decided: Well, here it is, our only chance to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. It doesn't look that far on the map, maybe only a mile. That's just twenty minutes walk, right? It will be fine. 

It took FOREVER. And we had already walked about 8 miles that day. But finally we caught a distant glimpse, and then turned back toward the hotel. 

We probably should have gotten a cab, because soon we both had to pee so badly we were eyeing dumpsters and alleyways. I thought we could make it if we just pushed through, but Mom insisted we stop for tea and dessert at this little place. FINE. I will eat creme brulee in Paris if I have to.

Finally we made it back to the hotel for sleeping. This turned out to be the most walking we did of the entire trip. But it was worth it!