Oh, the Drama

We’ve been a little quiet this past week because we were fitting in four months of social activity into two weeks. Friends, family, Chicago to Baltimore, Thanksgiving, with lots of lunches and dinners and even a bit of work sandwiched in. But, we’re on the road again, complete with the latest Covid drama.

We’re hoping to get back to Morocco. This is from our 2017 trip.

Yesterday, our very communicative and kind Fes AirBnB host told us that Morocco was suspending all flights in and out as of today because of Omicron. Yes, we were supposed to be headed to Morocco in less than two weeks. December 7 to be exact. Hmmm, what to do?

Steven and I have worked out a pretty good system for decision-making, I may patent it:

  • Step 1: Ask, “What are you thinking?”
  • Step 2: Listen to answer.
  • Step 3: State your opinion.
  • Step 4: Go back-and-forth on the merits of different plans.
  • Step 5: Confuse the matter by saying, “How about this?” or “Did we consider that?”
  • Step 6: Say, “I think we should do this.”
  • Step 7: Person 2 says, “Me too.”
  • Step 8: Accept that everything will cost more than you want it to.
  • Step 9: Execute plan.
  • Step 10: Stop thinking about plans you opted out of.

So, that is what we did. We waited for Ryan Air to cancel our flight (didn’t want to pay a chance fee but Steven chatted with them and they said they would email when the cancellation became official) and then re-booked the same flight for a week later.

Our new plan is to stay an extra week in Barcelona. (Oh the pity!) (Oh the things we do just so you, our dear readers, can sit at home and live vicariously through our foolishness,) Our ears on the ground in Fes (that’s our AirBnB host) says that the scuttlebutt is that the ban won’t last longer than the original two weeks because Morocco doesn’t want to miss the holiday tourist season. Fingers crossed.

For those of you asking if we are worried about Covid, the answer is no. Morocco doesn’t want us there because they have a low infection rate, well lower than that in the United States. You can argue that we have a higher testing rate, although I don’t know if that is true or not. All I know is that since we have been here, I have seen more unmasked faces in indoor, public spaces (including food-service workers and pharmacy assistants) than I saw in France or Turkey. And, in those places you had to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to get into public places such as restaurants or museums. Restaurants also (mostly) required proof of vaccination. Given all that, we believe the risk of travel is really no worse than the risk of staying here.

We’ll keep you posted. If we can’t get into Morocco, we may be looking for a place to stay at a guest bedroom near you. 🙂

Au revoir Nice (pour l’instant)

Today is our last full day in Nice. I know, you’re feeling really sorry for us right now. Your heart will bleed when you realize we are toying with the idea of taking the train into Paris tomorrow once we land at De Gaulle. Our flight arrives at 11:15 a.m. and we don’t fly out until Saturday afternoon, so pourquoi pas? We are staying at an airport hotel and that just doesn’t sound like much fun.

This morning we had petit dejeuner on the beach. The Mediterranean waves were kicking up and it was lovely. I always find it difficult to say goodbye, even if it’s just to a place. Today we will pack up, making sure our suitcases are no more than 23 kilos apiece (thank you Michael for schlepping a bag of stuff home for us).

Yesterday was the day of truth. You probably know (since I have already ranted about it) Covid tests to return to the States. Since we are vaccinated, we could get them up to three days out, and we decided to do it as soon as possible just in case. After a bit of a brain tickle, we both came up negative, so we are travel ready according to United Airlines. Woo hoo! After that, we headed over to the Musée de Photographie. It featured exhibits by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, an environmental activist is known for his aerial photos, but who started his career documenting the lives of a family of lions. We loved it. In the gallery next door, we were reminded of how (rightly I believe) the the human rights record of the United States is viewed in other counties, through an exhibit of photos by Florent Meng that depicted the toll on humanity of U.S. border policies. The photos were taken in the desert at and around the border between Sonora, Mexico, and Arizona.

In case you were desperate for another Mediterranean Sea pic, here you go. You’re welcome.

After lunch Wednesday, Steven sat down at the computer to work and I went for a wander in the rain. Mostly I was drinking it all in, taking some more photos and enjoying the sound of the sea.

Happy (and lucky)

We also had our final salad, baguette and wine dinner Wednesday night. We will definitely miss the bread, the wine and the sea. We were very comfortable here. It’s familiar enough that we can figure out how to get things done and our pitiful French usually elicited English in return (although sometimes we asked for French for practice). I would say we have acquired enough French to successfully shop and order at a restaurant (mostly).

It’s going to be weird to be in a place where everyone speaks English, we keep saying to each other. Won’t it be nice to ask a question and get an answer we understand at least for a couple of weeks. I am hoping to really get to improve my French in Morocco, where their fourth (!) language is English.

Wanderings and musings

Oh Covid. Aren’t we all sick (no pun intended) of you!?!?!?! We have been traveling, so we’re clearly not in the overly fearful category of Covid-living, but we’re also vaccinated and respect the wishes of those around us. We wear masks on public transportation and in stores (and I don’t mean chin straps), but we also eat in restaurants.

As we prepare to head back to the States, I am confronted with the irrationality of how we’re all coping with this. Everyone has a reason for behaving the way they do in the face of this illness and everyone else thinks the reasons are, well, a little kooky. You wear a chin strap, but use hand sanitizer 100 times a day? OK for you. You won’t go to a restaurant, but you went to your friend’s party, I get it. You won’t fly, but you take the train? Whatever gets you through.

I’m sure many people would say Steven and I are nuts for traveling(amongst other reasons?). My latest confirmation on wacky thinking is the regulation that we need Covid tests to get back into the States when all the places we’ve been have stricter rules (pass sanitaire or an HES tracking code) and lower or similar Covid rates as the U.S. OK, whatever. Now our biggest fear is a false positive!

Anyway, this week we’ve taken it easy. We took the tram uphill to the end of the line (it was rainy) and walked back down the hill (Steven’s idea). We’ve strolled along the beach and up to the cemetery again (the people there were still dead). Speaking of strolls, we switched phones today as an experiment on the whole step-count debacle. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here. So, here are our results:

Notice that we have slightly different step counts, the same stride length and wildly different mileage counts. What’s up with that?

We have been making up for all our walking with … eating! I had socca (a chickpea flour pancake) on the recommendation of my friend (thanks!). Then, we had a delicious Mediterranean (OK, Italian) meal complete with crazy delicious desserts at La Voglia. Steven had a creme caramel that was the size of a bicycle wheel (no he didn’t finish it)(it was about 2cm in diameter) and I had a chocolate, hazelnut, peanut tarte. Yum! Today we had crepes at La Vieille Crepe. We had this bonne idée to have a dessert crepe and then not eat dinner, but we were too full, so we are going to have dessert for dinner instead! Gotta eat like the Nicoise do. I still haven’t had a salad nicoise sandwich, but I am wondering whether I should leave the memory of that perfect meal alone.

I know I have said this before, but everyone has been very accommodating about our very limited French. They will even help us learn new phrases. Today we learned, “Je n’ai pas de place,” or I don’t have room. In other words, non dessert pour moi, merci.

In case you think we’re not gloating enough, here are today’s Mediterranean images. I’ll save the city views for another day. You can thank me later.

If you’re still reading, just a reminder that we will be in Chicago from Nov. 13-20, soooo we’d love to see you if you have some time. Drop us a line. We really do miss our friends and family.

By the sea

What have we done so far this week? Do we have to do a lot here? Nice is compact, which means we can walk wherever we need to go. The Mediterranean is a few blocks away, as are beautiful hills. We have spent our mornings strolling along the Promenade des Anglais and marveling at how very lucky we are. Then we say things like, “I could see us renting a place here for 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 months. Aaaaah.”

We truly do miss our family and friends, but we figure if we offer a place in Nice someone might visit, oui?

Sorry for the shadows, but all those tiny words are the names of Holocaust victims.

We have also been a little obsessed with our step counts. Although Steven and I pretty much walk everywhere together, it seems we are walking different distances. I get that we have different gaits and, therefore, somewhat different step counts, but why is our mileage off? We are thinking it depends on which pocket our phones are in when we walk, but if you have a better idea, let us know. (little does she know that I lie to her when she asks me about my numbers…;-))

A couple days ago I walked up one of the hills to a gorgeous viewpoint. All the viewpoints are gorgeous, BTW. I wandered amid the ruins (and the snack bar), took in the view and then tried to head over to the Jewish Cemetery and Holocaust Memorial. The cemetery was closed, but I did get to see the many many names carved into a marble wall. Sadly, I think we need to remember this now as the world gets more nationalistic and tribal.

Mon breton (mais pas moi)

My favorite store, the Monoprix (AKA the French Target) (gives new meaning to the C’est Target saying), is nearby, but even closer is the farmer’s market. We are even becoming semi-capable of conducting a food-purchase conversation in French (for me – emphasis on semi), but what has really made me feel French is the realization of a dream I have had since we first got to Paris: I bought a breton! OK, I bought two bretons and I am soooo excited. OK, it’s likely that no French people wear bretons but I don’t care.

We have Abi here, which has been great (as her belle mere, I have to say that but it’s true). We’ve mostly been cooking, but to keep in the spirit of no French food in France, we did go out for Thai at Le Banthai in Vielle Ville (old town). The menu was limited, but the food was delicious.

I also got the opportunity to meet a coworker who happens to live here. That was great fun. One of the weird things about remote and distance work is that I have never met anyone I work with except one person I knew before. Mostly I like not having to deal with office politics and gossip, but I guess I do miss having colleagues to go get a coffee with every now and then. My colleague and now friend apologized for the weather because a couple of gentle raindrops fell from the sky when we met. I’ll take that any day, but I know from having lived in California that it’s very easy to get weather spoiled.

We’ve gone from the frenetic excitement of Istanbul to the gentle waves of Nice. I can’t say we thought it through, but the contrast between the two has worked out very well.

Retour à la maison

OK, not really home, but more familiar territory

We returned to Nice Tuesday evening. Compared to Istanbul, the world seems familiar here. We can sort of understand things, systems make sense and there’s a Monoprix!

Before we left Istanbul, we had some last-minute eating to do. Turkish churros!(They were yummy!)

Leaving Istanbul was an adventure in itself. The van ride to the airport was uneventful since we knew to expect crazy road conditions until we got on the highway. We arrived with plenty of time. We’re too old to cut it down to the last minute! The first interesting encounter was that we had to line up to get our bags X-rayed before we even entered the terminal. OK, we thought maybe that was security so fine.

Then we had to figure out which of the lines to get in to check in. They were lettered A-G. The screen said F or G, but F was closed so off we went to G. The wait wasn’t too long but then the woman at the counter asked for our PCR test. Um, what PCR test? We don’t have no stinking PCR test! I showed my CDC card and she waved away the HES code we had gotten from the Turkish government, but she didn’t really say that was OK. She typed and typed and typed while Steven and I gave each other nervous glances. Then, my boarding pass printed and we breathed sighs of relief. Phew.

Next stop, security check part 2. This was the one where you have to take off your belt, remove liquids and electronics from your carry-on, etc. Pas de problème. As we waited, several people asked to cut the line because they were about to miss their flights. Go right ahead. But then, one guy behind us made a comment to a couple trying to squeeze by. Suddenly, fight! They started yelling. The wife of the guy who was late for his flight was begging him to just come on (she was through security) then there was a shove and the husband picked up a suitcase and threw it at the other man’s head. In the meantime, the Turkish TSA (or whatever they are called) just sat there. The man who got hit started yelling for the police, who finally arrived. The couple missed their flight while they were detained by the police, the other man got through security after telling his story and we all proceeded to our gates.

The Istanbul airport is new and the world’s largest. I guess that explains why we had to take a bus to the plane and then climb the steps up, but not really since there were tons of empty gates. The process was smooth, so we didn’t mind. Then, they fed us and gave us free wine (do you want Turkish or French? What do you think??(I know! I can’t believe Sue had Turkish wine. OK, not really).

We took the tram from the airport back to our AirBnB since that costs about 1€ and a cab costs about 30€. It’s really very convenient even if it takes a little extra time. As you loyal readers know, we had bought a cheap suitcase for our nephew Michael to schlep back with him. I am happy to say that it made the trip (a little worse for the wear). (I am not sure you can call the handle plastic separating and the wheels not working properly “a little worse for wear.”) Thank you, Michael. We had a nice dinner with him and he showed us a blackmail-worthy video of our brother-in-law Mario Greek dancing. (Unfortunately he was unwilling to send me a copy despite an offer of hard cold cash. I am so disappointed in my little sister, she has a raised a really nice young man.) They also have a blog so maybe the video will appear there.

Grand shopping adventure

Have we got some advice for you! If you like us and your curiosity outstrips your taste for shopping in massive crowds, try heading to the Grand Bazaar on a Monday morning. That’s what we did and it worked out great (although we didn’t buy anything). Well, we did buy one thing, but it was outside the bazaar.

The vendors weren’t quite awake yet so all we got were a few halfhearted, “Welcome, want to see my rugs?” No pressure and we just kept walking.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from heading to the bazaar, but most anything we wanted to buy was also for sale on our street in Beyoğlu. We went back and forth on the idea of a rug, but no one wants to feel the fool and we just assumed we would get ripped off. Plus, we’re nomads, so what to do with a rug? I am sure if you love bargaining, you could buy anything you wanted and maybe even for a bit less than you could find it elsewhere. Istanbul is shopping heaven, with everything from bargain basement merch to high-end Fifth Avenue stores. (I suspect the $10 Nikes are not real, but….)

OK, now for the big reveal … We bought a suitcase! We went back and forth on this too. I wanted to be cheap (surprise!) and get a duffel on wheels from a vendor and Steven wanted (quality) to get a hard-sided case on Istiklal Cadessi. Guess who won. We only brought one suitcase here from Nice so we could buy a cheap one here. Then, we could buy gifts (don’t worry Mom, nothing for you) and send them home with our nephew, who is in Nice too. Of course, we then realized that he would be going back to Pennsylvania and many of the gifts have to come with us to Chicago. Oh well. We’ll make it work.

Most of the rest of the week we chilled out (and bought those gifts), but today it is beautiful out so we finally made it to the top of Galata Tower. Well, one of us did. Can you guess which one? (The one who isn’t petrified of heights.) We could see our apartment (oh, and lots of other stuff). Each floor of the tower also houses small museum exhibits, a model of the city and information. Definitely worth the price of admission (about $8.75).

Since it was so beautiful, we decided to head to a shoreline area at the tip of the Golden Horn, which we had seen from our ferry ride. What a view! Then, after paying our respects to the statue of Ataturk, we crossed the street into Gulhane Park, which houses the Column of the Goths and runs adjacent to Topkapi Palace. We walked the length of the park and then headed home to work. (She forgot to mention that we agreed to walk one way and ended up walking both ways – a mere 5.3 miles, 13,000 steps and 32 floors worth of climbing – good thing we had relatively light work days.)

A “working vacation”

I realized this week that we are acting as if we are on vacation, but we’re also working full time. Well, mostly full time. What does that mean? We’re tired! But we’re not going to stop. If you remember, we were going to spend six weeks in Nice, but ended up coming to Istanbul for about three of those. Given the short amount of time we have here, we are trying to pack everything in. What’s the point of being in Istanbul if you’re hanging in the apartment?

We thought that maybe we should slow down. I’ll let you decide whether we succeeded.

Friday: We took the ferry across the Bosphorus to the Anatolian (Asian) part of Istanbul (Kudos to Sue for getting on the ferry. She gets terribly seasick and even with a patch it can be an adventure for her). Although it’s technically the East, to sure seemed a lot more Western. The clothes, the roads, even the way the people dressed. We took a long walk along the water and except for the view, we could have been in a dozen different cities. Lots of English in stores, tons of coffee shops that would have been at home in any hipster U.S. neighborhood.

Then we had lunch at Ciya in the Kadıköy Market, which features tons of restaurants and shops (pretty much like the rest of Istanbul!). The food is traditional Anatolian. We had ezme which we can’t wait to figure out how to make at home. This isn’t a food blog, so I will quit there (but there is also a pizza-like dish called lahmacun that your eat with lemon and parsley rolled into it).

We wandered some more so Steven could go to Meshur Dondurmaci Ali Usta to get ice cream that is different from regular ice cream (I will let him try to describe it) (The best I can say is that it seemed less creamy, but more sticky than American ice cream – sorry I don’t have any other way of describing it.) and headed home. The ferries are so easy to deal with and since we have our IstanbulKart, we are set. They run so frequently there’s no need to even check a schedule. We’ll write a blog on the transportation, but I thought that was worth noting.

Saturday night on Istiklal Cadessi on the walk back from the movie. Imagine this: trolleys run up and down this street and cars try to cross it. It’s an obstacle course.

We had tickets to the jazz club again and wanted a little break in between. Friday night’s jazz was OK. The band didn’t quite seem to gel and the singer sang some Stevie Wonder (?) (and some modified Aerosmith) in with the jazz standards. Steven likened it to a cruise show (or an easy listening lounge act). Not complaining at all, we just like the Tuesday band better. (We also sat upstairs and so many people were talking – mildly annoying).

Saturday: Dana (thanks again again) recommended a food market in Besiktas. We have been wondering where people get their fruits and veggies. The stores are tiny and don’t offer a very good selection. Even the produce markets are a bit thin, although we are in a touristy area and figured that was it. It was about a 20-minutes walk in the rain to get there from the train. We were a little soggy and first went to the upstairs area that has tons of clothes, random housewares and other non-food items. We were starting to get crabby when we realized we had missed a ramp that took us down to all the delicious food. Suddenly, all was perfect again. The rain stopped, we packed the backpack full and headed back home. (In an Istanbul first, it was downhill on the way to the market – but just so the city could torture us by making the walk uphill back to the train when we had a full backpack).

Soy una mierda de sumiso: CINCO PUTOS AMOS POR LOS QUE ME ...
Gratuitous Steven Daniel Craig pic

As per our taking it easy, we did spend some time in the apartment, but then hatched the plan to see “No Time to Die.” Finding the first theater was an adventure, but the man didn’t want to sell us tickets unless we were a group of four (I think). He told us to come back, so we wandered some more and found a theater (CinemaPink) inside a mall. We had to show our HES QR codes (the Turkish equivalent of the Passe Sanitaire) to get in, then again to the ticket agent. Cash only, assigned seats. Fine with us. The seats were old-time man chairs that had seen better days, but were comfortable. We sat back and started watching (English with Turkish subtitles). All of a sudden, in the middle of an action scene, the screen went blank. Then, what looked like a commercial started. People started to walk out and the lights came up. Huh. Finally, the screen said film arasi, or film break. Intermission! At exactly an hour in. In the middle of an action scene. I guess this is how it always works in Turkey.

Sunday: We took the tram to the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, which is housed in Ibrahim Pasha Palace. The palace was built on top of a corner of the Hippodrome, and you can see part of it from inside the museum. The art consists of rugs (of course), ancient Qurans, Islamic treasures such as hairs from Mohammed’s beard and pottery plus clothing from more recent history. We enjoyed it. Then, it was lunchtime. Off we went to Hidden Garden, which does have a garden at the back of it. I had what was basically Turkish eggplant parm and Steven had a gigantic lamb kebab. We topped it off with pomegranate and orange teas. Sugary and delightful.

But, we’re not done. What do you know? We were across the street from the Theodosius Cistern. Can’t miss that. We had no idea what to expect. We got a laser light show! We aren’t really sure what the point was, unless it was a very abstract interpretation of the cistern’s history, but it was a enjoyable nonetheless. Because it was only 4 p.m., we decided to take the 40-minute walk home, which went right through the markets surrounding the Grand Bazaar and back over the bridge.

Relaxing weekend? What do you think?

We’re bullish on Istanbul

We’ve been in Istanbul about 29 hours now (but who’s counting) and we already decided we love it! It’s quite a change from quiet Clamecy. It’s 22:30 here and the street is still hopping, on Sunday night. Not as much as Saturday night, but there are still people milling around and browsing in shops. We are right on a main drag, on the third floor (which is four stories up since the first floor here is 0), so we can watch the world go by from on high. We are staying in a loft with glass walls so we can see the Bosphorus out one window and the Galata Tower out the other.

“I was under the mistaken impression that the streets were straight.”

Steven, when we decided to go “around the block”

Yesterday we just wandered around getting the lay of the land, but today we marched (and in case you’re unaware, this city is HILLY!)(Ok, so there are no flat areas. We are either going up or going down.). First, we tried the Grand Bazaar not realizing that it is mostly closed on Sunday. The surrounding streets are very shlocky, so we may go back when it’s really open. The best part of the walk was the view from the Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn. It was lined with fishers. (We suspect they supply the restaurants that sit one after the other along the water below the bridge. They are part of the bridge, built at the waterline and extend about 1/3 of the length of the bridge on either side). Then, we headed to the Ayasofya (or Hagia Sofia), which was a church, then a mosque and is simply stunning. We stopped in at the Blue Mosque, but it is under construction and very disappointing. Corrugated metal walls cover the most of the interior walls and a drop ceiling hides the rest. Oh well. I looked at these pictures.

We kept wandering and found what we thought was a garden but turned out to be a cemetery for sultans, sooo accidental dead person bingo round 5. There was a cafe and we stopped had a cup of tea (because of course everyone puts a cafe in the middle of a cemetery – just sort of surprised that the French didn’t think to do that) and then visited Sultan Mahmod II and some of his relatives and fellow sultans.

The only hitch in our Istanbul adventure so far has been trying to buy an Istanbulkart, or a transportation card. The machines to buy them don’t give change and you have to have an ID number to get one (for Covid reasons). The app wouldn’t let us put in letters (which the ID number had, so we were temporarily thwarted). I think we have that figured out, so fingers crossed we will get those tomorrow. Instead, we went strolling on Istiklal Caddesi (or Independence Avenue), which is a bustling shopping street full of a lot of the same stores you find on every main shopping street around the world, but with a Turkish flavor. Street musicians, different foods, side alleys full of restaurants and bars.

Finally, we headed back toward home and had dinner at the Smyrna Art Gallery-Cafe, basically around the corner from us. The food was delicious and we met a waiter who was very nice and is moving on to greener pastures (good luck to her!) and a man who frequents the place. Then, when we thought we were completely full, they brought us an extra dish and we had to at least eat some of it. Steven likened it to mint latkahs and I agree. We’ll be going back.

This blog is dedicated to Dana, who lived in Istanbul and gave us many great ideas. Thanks, Dana! (Feel free to send us more!)

Dijon and Strasbourg and home (oh my)

Steven has taken the past couple of Fridays off for travel. This week, we weren’t leaving town until Saturday so we decided to take a day trip to Dijon, about 2 hours away. We didn’t know anything about Dijon except that we could probably get mustard. It turns out that Dijon is a fairly big city and quite pretty, although it is the only place we have been that does not have a river. We did what we always do and wandered around.

This arch in Dijon reminds me of a low-rent Millennium fountain.

As luck would have it (or our lack of research made it seem like luck), there is a Delerium Cafe (French FB page, English website) in the middle of the city. Steven had wanted to tour their brewery, but they were booked and we didn’t make it to the one in Brussels, so we had a beer and some delicious salads and desserts in Dijon instead.

Every town here has a market and Dijon is no exception. We decided to do our weekly shopping there and ran into some very friendly vendors. Steven, another English-speaker and one of the vendors had a great Franglish conversation about rugby, too (The other English speaker was from New Zealand and there was an upcoming New Zealand (All Blacks) vs South Africa (Springboeks) match). The fruit and veggies were beautiful, as usual. I could get used to shopping for food that way.

Dijon also contained a very minor parking incident. We were proud of ourselves because we capably followed signs to a garage that was big enough to fit the car. We pulled in, grabbed a ticket and drove down an aisle. The next thing we knew, a gate was lifting and we were driving out the exit. Oops. The entrance was down the block and it wasn’t apparent how to get to it, so we followed different parking signs to a different lot and were able to park in a spot about 4 cms wider than the car. Yay!

I think we also found a place to add to our wish list. We bought some souvenirs and a gift to take to Steven’s cousin at a little gift shop whose cashier was from Senegal. He recommends it highly. We are seriously considering it. As a Clamecy transplant said when I asked “pourqua ici?” (Why here?) he moved there, “Pourqua pas?”

Our sense of French geography may leave a little to be desired when it comes to our gas budget.

IF we had thought about it, we might have spent the night in Dijon, since we almost drove right back through it on our way to Strasbourg. Ah well, what’s a few extra hours of driving? (OK, so the map is a bit confusing. The total time from Clamecy to Dijon was 2 hours each way; the total time from Clamecy to Strasbourg was about 5 hours each way).

We actually had a reason for going to Strasbourg (yes, I know we are not known for reasoning or at least reasoning anyone else understands), but Steven has cousins who are on sabbatical there, so off we went. Granted, when we all lived in the same state, I never met them, but when you’re in France and you magically know people, you visit. Strasbourg is another pretty city and it has A LOT of water. It’s more international (the European Parliament meets there) and very close to Germany, so everything was in two languages we don’t really speak.

Steven’s cousin Jessica and her husband, Mark, were great hosts and lovely people in general. They have a 9-year-old and a 14-year-old, so more power to them for going on a grand adventure with those two great kids in tow. Jessica’s parents just happened to be visiting as well, so I got to hear some good family stories and learn more about how Steven got to be who he is. I’m not putting any adjectives in here just in case the family reads this. Really, you’re all fabulous!

The old town of Strasbourg is an island in the midst of the River Ill. It is a major port on the Rhine and the capital of Alsace.

We stayed at a sort of cross between rooming house and hotel. There were maybe 8 rooms (I am guessing) and they had tiny kitchenettes complete with two-burner stoves. It was clean, comfortable and within walking distance of Jessica. Plus, there was ample, free street parking and it was across the road from the Parc de l’Orangerie (hence the name: Le Relais de l’Orangerie). It definitely suited our purposes, but we also left finding a place until close to the last minute, so maybe it wouldn’t have been our first choice.

L’Orangerie itself was beautiful, even in the drizzle we encountered on Sunday morning. A lake with swans, a restaurant, plenty of cute bridges and trails, plus storks and their nests, a zoo, farm and statues. Lovely.

Now for a bit of a downer (but nothing too terrible)

We had the brilliant plan of stopping in Beaune (mentioned in this entry) again, but this time to get an early dinner since we had noticed the last time we went through that restaurants were serving on Sunday. Well, they are, but not early. We settled in to an outdoor brasserie to sip our wine slowly and wait for the kitchen to open. We did what we normally do when we’re planning more travel and began looking up important information (how far is it from Casablanca to Tunis? for instance) on our phones. Unfortunately, one of the local thieves noticed this. He watched us for a bit and then came over, sat next to us and started sputtering some nonsense. The distraction worked, because he had set a map on top of Steven’s phone and when he left, the phone had magically disappeared. What a drag!

The owner of the place called the police (le flic!), brought over a guy he suspected was the thief (he wasn’t) and said his wife would take us to the police station. We declined. What were they going to do.? The phone was long gone. Lesson learned. As Steven said, “Sometimes we do dumb things and we know we’re doing something dumb. Other times we do dumb things without knowing.” This was the latter. We just use our phones so constantly that we don’t think of hiding them or putting them away. Steven rolled with it, we got him a new phone today. (The joy of living in the country? The nearest phone store is an hour away and the nearest Apple store is 2 hours away – in Dijon!) and we’re out the money and feeling a little stupid. It could have been worse. But, people, watch your phones! And maybe sit in the middle of the crowd instead of on the edge.

Once again, props to my husband for keeping life in perspective. We are on a grand adventure and it is still might grand!

Belgium, part 2

Steven graciously ceded part of the weekend travel to me (because he was too tired to write about the whole thing — yes, I was too tired to write the rest, but I will certainly take the compliment), so I finally get to tell you about something more interesting than a trip to the grocery store. So, where did he leave off? Oh yes, Brussels.

I like this statue better than mannaken pis and she’s just on a Brussels street we happened to walk down.

We did not have a great desire to go to Brussels, it was just closer to our next destination: Chimay Brewery at Scourmont Abbey, a Trappist monastery. I have to say that it started out as a comedy of errors. Once again, we were driving on streets that seemed perhaps as if they were not intended for cars. I thought I had asked about parking, but didn’t get a reply so we passed by the B and B and followed parking signs. Alas, all they meant was that there was potential parking on the street (and when we found a parking lot on Google, it turned out not to be a public lot). To compound the problem, there was a parade. Streets were closed. Traffic was stopped. Then traffic was terrible. No street parking. I called the B and B and he directed us to parking around the corner, but we had already passed the corner and couldn’t easily get back. One-way streets! With all I just mentioned, it took about 40 minutes to find the lot and then, and THEN. Well, he did ask how big the car was before he told us about the garage.

The spiral was tight, the ceiling was low (the scrape marks on the ceiling and sides were a wee bit worrisome) and we had a man who worked at the hotel that owned the lot running behind us yelling, “Slow. Slow! SLOW!!” and pointing. Then he would run ahead and gesture us forward into what maybe was a spot? Well. Luckily, Steven is a great and patient driver. (Two compliments! I wonder what she wants.) We finally parked and got to the Art de Séjour bed and breakfast. We temporarily breathed a sigh of relief. And then, and THEN, the host told us that Sunday was “no driving at all in the cities of Europe including Brussels” day. All the streets would be closed from 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. and wouldn’t that be great! Well … it would have been great except we had reservations at Chimay at 12:30, so we scheduled an early breakfast and headed out the door to see some of Brussels.

Happiness is beer amid the skeletons.

I think I am spoiled because Brussels was just … fine. We walked up to the best view of the city and it was … nice. I did get to have a waffle for a snack, so there’s that.

The best part of Brussels was the two bars that Yves (remember him from the last blog?) recommended. The first, Le Cercueil (The Coffin) looks like a great Halloween house. The tables are coffins complete with skeletons. There’s blacklight and creepy-sounding drinks. Steven was in heaven (no pun intended) when he realized they had Orval, which continues to ferment in the bottle. The bartender came over with the bottle to show Steven that it had truly been sitting around since 2013. (It had a fabulous, deep rich flavor.)

From there we wandered some more looking for food that wasn’t Flemish (read: heavy and meaty). In keeping with the theme of Asian food in Belgium, we ended up eating some baos. (Here’s a tip: always ask how big things are. I assumed they were small like the ones in the States so we each ordered two and they were not small.) Oh, and frites (NO MAYO! Mayo on frites is just plan wrong, curry sauce in an English or Irish pub is fine, Ketchup anywhere is fine. Mayo – no. Just. No … What about sriracha?). Because you have to. I don’t think you are allowed out of Belgium without having eaten frites. After a fruitless search for a bar recommended by the B and B owner (it was closed), we headed to another of Yves recommendations: Poechenellekelder, which has a huge beer menu and is across the street from the puzzlingly popular manneken pis.

Back at Art de Séjour, we watched Ocean’s 8, because sometimes you just need an American movie. In the morning, we had a delicious breakfast at the B and B. I don’t know what it is, but the fruit in Belgium is DELICIOUS! So flavorful and juicy. (I know I mentioned this before, but it was really good!) Plus, homemade croissants and excellent coffee!

And then, and THEN, we had to get out of the parking garage. I’ll just put up the video and you can see for yourself. Watch it full screen to get the true effect (although sorry for the poor video quality). The white at the top is the very low concrete ceiling.I think Steven had the steering wheel pulled all the way right around the curves.

Phew. And then we were off to Chimay. You may have remembered that we had 12:30 reservations, but we had to leave town by 8:45 for a drive that was less than 2 hours. Well, here’s where a mistake I made came in handy. I accidentally bought 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. tickets. Voila! We made the 10:30 appointment time. They kindly realized my mistake and gave us two extra beer tokens, because we both needed to drink two beers before noon. (I could have had a third to lighten your load.) Chimay is run by monks, and there are no tours of the actual brewery. They brew in peace! They do have a nice little museum-like exhibit that explains the history and process, so we did that. They also make cheese, (well, they don’t really make it at the abbey any more, but it’s still Chimay cheese) so we learned about that process too. Right outside sit some forest paths that lead to the church, garden and cemetery (yes, another cemetery, but no one famous), so we did a little walking before our beer tasting.

After a couple of hours, a couple of beers (and a couple of souvenirs and some beer to take home), we hit the road for the 4-hour drive back to Clamecy. As you know, there are no border controls between EU nations. Heading into Belgium on the A6, we passed a sign that reminded me of crossing state borders in the U.S. On the way back, on a smaller road (the N964 in case you care), we passed a border control booth. We couldn’t resist the photo op, so I quickly (Steven would say too quickly) pulled a U-y so we could get these:

Note the fake guards. We’ve seen them in a few spots, including at a winery. Give them props; they look as bored as real guards.

Finally, it was home sweet home and a moratorium on beer drinking for awhile — at least for me. (I guess the ones we took home will last a bit longer than expected.)