Back In The Good Ol' U.S. of A.!!!
I'm HOME!!! I've returned from my travels in "forn parts" (to quote Terry Pratchett), and let me tell you - I'm overjoyed to be back home. It was a good European trip, and I'm very happy I went, but I feel a bit like Dorothy: There's no place like home!
I made some notes on the 10-hour plane trip back (where I was seated beside a lovely Dutch lady who shared her Dutch Christmas cookies with me), and thought I'd post them here. Sorry if they're not written in beautiful prose - they're nothing more than jotting down my observations. But I thought you might enjoy reading them. You can post your comments if you like!
One observation in general about Europe: Everywhere I went, the people were almost obsessed by the presidential election
. I was surprised at the focus on American politics. And let me tell you, the people in England and especially France absolutely hate President Bush. One German lady said to me in tones of complete disbelief, "I can't understand why anyone would consider voting for that man."
Mostly everyone is upset about Iraq, of course. At a dinner with 17 people from various countries, mostly France, I shocked them all by saying, "The war is an important topic, of course, but that won't be the deciding factor in this election for the American people. It will come down to the candidates stand on moral issues like gay marriage and abortion." You should have seen the stunned expressions.
I understood them later, when I was in Amsterdam on the night after the election. I watched the concession and acceptance speeches on the BBC channel (because they were in English!), and when they were over the British reporter came on the screen. He said, in tones of disbelief, "The deciding factors in this election were issues of morals and religion. That fact emphasizes the difference between the U.S. and Europe. There, church attendance is actually on the rise! While we here in Europe consider ourselves to be in a post-Christian culture."
Wow. A "post-Christian culture." I immediately said aloud, "Lord, thank You that I live in a Christian nation."
You just don't appreciate our country until you spend some time out of it. I loved my trip, and loved visiting all the countries, but I can tell you that I was extremely happy to come home. It might not be perfect, and I know we have our problems, but we live in the best country in the world. And I pray that we will all do everything within our power to keep it a Christian culture.
GinnyParis and Orleans, France
Joe, my employee who is based in Amsterdam, and I arrived at Charles de Gaul airport in Paris on Wednesday morning, 11/20/04. Alicia, another employee, met us at the airport, and we 3 rented a car and headed south to Orleans. We went straight to work - not even a shower after our all-night plane trip. The countryside between Paris and Orleans looks like Ohio - mostly flat, with the occasional swell in the ground, and green. The difference is that there are vineyards everywhere, and not the small vineyards I've seen in the states. I almost didn't even recognize them as vineyards, because the vines looked more like small orange trees - they were that big!
Orleans is a large town, but not a city, and the traffic is really bad. The one thing I really wanted to see in the town - Joan of Arc's house - I didn't get to see because we worked the whole time. Food prices were outrageously expensive, and portions were small. We had dinner at a very nice French restaurant across from the hotel, where the waiter spoke no English and the menu was all in French too. I was glad to have Alicia to translate for me. The hotel room was small and a little dingy, but clean. On Thursday night we celebrated Joe's birthday by going to the Taj Mahal, a really good Indian restaurant. To get there we walked down a narrow little alleyway with restaurants lining both sides, and sidewalk tables everywhere. It was very, very French, and I loved it! At one time I walked outside the restaurant to take a phone call, and a second floor window across the alleyway opened, a man stuck a champagne bottle out the window and popped the cork - right toward me!
Friday after work we drove to Paris and checked into the Renaissance in La Defense
. It was very, very nice, and very modern. It was right next to the Grande Arche
, so I could look out my window and see one side of the Grande Arche
. We walked beyond it to get to the office, a matter of a few minutes. That night we went to dinner at a fondu place, and lots of people joined us to celebrate Joe's birthday. I didn't like the place much, to be honest. It was cramped and dingy, and the ladies had to climb OVER THE TOP of the table to sit on a hard bench along the back wall. This is so the men can look up the ladies' skirts as they cross. I didn't much like eating on the surface of the table we just walked across. I was crowded into the people next to me - just one long table from the front of the room to the back on each side of the restaurant, with a very narrow aisle between them. Wine (choice of red or white - nothing else offered to drink but water or very strong French coffee) was served in baby bottles, complete with nipples. The waiter was bawdy-rude - when I asked for milk for my coffee, he dramatically pretended to milk his own breast into my cup. The food was only so-so as well - I was in front of the meat bowl, and could not reach the cheese bowl, so I had to make due. Perfect for a South Beach dieter!
Ted arrived on Saturday morning, and Joe drove me to the airport to get him. He had flown all night, of course, and was tired, but he did manage to sleep a few hours on the plane. Joe drove us around the Charles de Gaule Etoile
, the big traffic nightmare that surrounds the Arc d'Triumphe
. What an experience! 5 or 6 lanes of traffic, but no lines on the road to designate lanes, and everyone zooming around at their own pace and seeming to follow their own traffic laws! Joe was an expert - he zoomed across 2 or 3 lanes, cutting cars off to turn right and drive down the Champs Elysees
. You can stand at the Grande Arche
and look down the Champs Elysees
, and see the Arc d'Triumphe
, with a big fountain between them. It's pretty neat.
We took Ted to the hotel, and both of us took a nap. (I was still a bit jet-lagged!) Then the 4 of us went to dinner at the home of Paul and Annette (Annette works for Lexmark.) They live in a typical small European flat in a residential part of Paris, and I loved it.
On Sunday Ted and I struck out on our own. First we went to a caf? for lunch, and it was typically French - the waiter was arrogant and the food was overpriced. Ted got "steak hashe" which he thought would be sliced steak. Turns out it was a hamburger with a fried egg on top, and it was raw in the middle. This is typical French food, but we didn't know it. I got roast pork with mushroom sauce, and it was wonderful. We took a tour on the Bateau-Mouche
(pronounced "bat-o moosh"), which took us up and down La Seine and pointed out lots of historic and modern sites. We then got off and walked to the Eiffel Tower
. The lines (or queues) were so terribly long we didn't go up in it, but walked along the park then through the back streets of Paris until we found the Musee d'Orsay
. We went in, and had a wonderful time seeing the Impressionist artists - Van Gogh, Monet, Whistler, and others. Ted didn't like them much. He said, "They don't look finished!" Then we went down to the Renaissance area with the paintings and statues, and we both loved that. I was very glad we went to the Musee instead of the Louvre.
Then we went to the Concorde, which is a huge open plaza ringed by government buildings and filled with fountains and status. Quite impressive, but we were tired and wanted to find a Metro station (the underground in Paris), and couldn't find one. Tempers were very nearly lost at this time, but we managed to find a hotel bellman who directed us to the Metro entrance (right under our noses!), so we got "home" with no problem. We had a drink in the hotel bar, then went to dinner at an Italian bistro that was pretty good, but again pricey.
Monday we moved to another hotel, the Chateau Frontenac
, and it was VERY French and old-fashioned. One street over from the Champs Elysees
, and just a block or two from the Arc d'Triumphe
. Very expensive, and not very modern, and we didn't like it much. But it was very French! We had dinner that night at an extremely nice restaurant, and it was excellent. I picked up dinner, and it was over $200. (OUCH!) But it was very good French food, so you have to do it once while you're in Paris!
Tuesday Ted saw the sites of Paris while I worked, and then I had to have dinner with my work group.
On Wednesday, Ted navigated his way to the airport in the morning, while Joe and I were at work. Joe and I both started feeling very nauseated during our business meeting, and at 2:30 we left the office to return to the hotel for our luggage and the car, and drive to the airport. We felt more and more miserable every minute. In the Air France Salon (like Delta's Crown Room) at the airport, where we both were trying to collapse in a quiet corner because we felt so ill, we had to vacate the salon when there was a bomb scare! We prayed that the flight to Dublin would be calm, even though we were flying into a storm, and sure enough, it was! Dublin, Ireland
Joe and I were sick with a stomach bug when we arrived in Dublin at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday night, 10/27/04. The weather was horrible, with the most unbelievable winds and driving rain! I had to wait at the airport until almost 10:30 for Ted to arrive, since he had taken a different flight from Paris. The hotel, the Crown Plaza, was by far the nicest hotel of my whole trip. Very modern, with electrical outlets of 3 different types, high-speed connection, decent sized rooms and comfortable beds. The lobby had a gigantic fish aquarium, and the restaurant was pricey by American standards, but cheap compared to Paris!
While I worked, Ted did the hop-on-hop-off bus tour, and also toured the Guiness brewery. He got a terrible cold, sore throat, cough and fever, and felt terrible that night. We stayed at the hotel that evening because he felt so awful.
On Friday Joe and I checked our e-mails and did a little work from the hotel, then we all took a bus downtown to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells
. It was really, really neat! I loved reading about the history of the Book of Kells and its contemporaries, the Books of Durrow and Armagh . They were all on display, though the Book of Kells is by far the biggest and the most elaborate. There are 4 volumes, one for each Gospel, and the ones on display were Matthew and Luke. Book of Kells was opened to Luke 4, the temptation of Jesus, and the detail in the artwork was phenomenal. I bought a cross necklace in the book store.
Dublin is a very busy city, a strange mixture of old architecture and new. Traffic is bad, and of course they drive on the left. The residential places we saw, row houses mostly, all had different color doors.
We then went into a pub and had lunch. I had corned beef and cabbage - of course! The corned beef had a good flavor (not nearly as salty as in the US), and the cabbage was chopped into bits roughly the size of chopped spinach. It was not mushy - don't know how they cooked it but they definitely didn't overcook it, and they seasoned it with butter. The chips (fries) were good. Ted had a really delicious creamy, cheesy vegetable soup.
Then we went back to the hotel to get our luggage, and caught the shuttle to the airport to go to London. I would love to go back to Ireland again.London
Ah, London! Of course I loved London! This is my favorite city in the world, and Ted was here with me. We arrived on Friday night (10/29/04) and stayed until Monday at the Raddison Edwardian on Tottenham Court Road, right across the street from the Warren Street tube station. The hotel was ok, though not the nicest we stayed at, and quite expensive. But the location was excellent.
Saturday we got up and walked to Baker Street to catch the tour bus. We did one of those multi-stop "hop on-hop off" bus tours, which was really worthwhile. The ticket is good for 24 hours, and you can get off wherever you want, spend time seeing the sites there, then get back on. We got off at Westminster Abbey
, and I loved walking around with Ted, seeing the architecture, and Queen Elizabeth's and Bloody Mary's graves, as well as Mary, Queen of Scots and the rest of them. I found Anne Cleve's tomb as well, and we stomped on Charles Darwin's grave too. I bought a cross necklace in the gift shop. We rode the rest of the way around, because the crowds were so terrible that we didn't want to get off anywhere. I've never seen crowds like that!
We visited the British Museum too, and saw the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin marbles. That was quite interesting, but we didn't spend much time there because we had to get back to the hotel and change clothes for the theatre. We were lucky enough to get tickets to THE PRODUCERS
at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane! The show was awesome, with Nathan Lane and also James Dreyfus.
Sunday (Halloween) we slept in a little more, then walked back to Baker Street and went to Madame Tussauds
. It was fun, though very crowded. Then we got on the tube and went to the London Dungeon
, which was terrible - a really cheesy haunted house (and if you know me, you know I don't like haunted houses), too dimly lit to read the displays that might have been interesting, with gruesome displays and bad actors. They stopped just short of jumping out at you and shouting "boo!" but it was almost that bad. After walking for an hour through there, we asked to be taken to an exit and left, feeling like that was a waste of 25 pounds. Then we caught the tube to Harrods, which was so crowded it was awful. Really awful! Then we took the tube back to Baker St, got off and split a sandwich at a pub right across the street from the Baker St. tube station. By then we were both very, very sick of crowds, so we walked down to the end of Regent Street and went into Regent's Park
. How peaceful! I was surprised at how many roses in Queen Mary's rose garden were still in bloom. We found the fountain with the merman sticking his middle finger up (!) and walked around on the little island with the stream and waterfalls. We saw big swans on the pond, and it was a much-needed break from the terrible crowds and push. Regent's Park is still my favorite place in London, besides the Tower.
Then we walked down Baker St all the way to Oxford, looking for an Indian restaurant that Bill and Linda Barlow recommended. Unfortunately, the restauant was on Regent St., not Baker St, so we didn't see it. We were very tired and our feet hurt by then, so we went back to the hotel and then walked down to Garfunkle's for dinner.
Monday Ted flew back to the US, while a car picked me and Joe up at the hotel and drove us to the Marlow office to work for a day. Then we flew from there to Amsterdam.Amsterdam
I loved this city! Arrived on Monday night, 11/1/04. I stayed at the Mercure Hotel by the airport. There was a very nice restaurant, and the first night I had dinner there, I ordered a traditional Dutch meal of wild game boullion with mushrooms, venison steak (which was delicious and not at all gamey) over sauteed leeks and onions with chestnuts marinated in some sort of sweet fruity glaze. It also came with au gratin potatoes made with goat cheese, which were delicious, and a salad. It was wonderful.
On Wednesday I left work at 1:30 and went downtown to the center of the city to visit the Anne Frank house
. It was really moving. The buildings there are all very narrow, and 4 or 5 stories tall, all of different colored brick with tall windows regularly spaced. The house is as it was when Anne and her family hid there from the Nazi's, though with no furniture. The bottom part of the house (which was the jam factory), has been fitted out with video screens telling different facts about the war and the Nazi's and so on. On the walls are printed quotes from Anne's diary, in Dutch and in English. Then you go behind a bookcase and up a very narrow, steep set of stairs to the secret rooms. The stairs are almost like a ladder, they are so steep. Above are the rooms, with the black-out fabric over the windows so the lighting is similar to what it must have been for those hidden away. There is no furniture, but there are displays of a few of their possessions - a Dutch language book, the board game that Peter received for his 16th birthday while in hiding there, Miep's typewriter and her identity papers, Otto's (or someone's) forged identity papers, pictures of all the hideaways. Particularly moving to me was the fabric yellow star with the word JUDE written across it - an actual star that the Jews were required to wear. I cried when I saw it.
Anne's room was very small, and on the walls are still the pictures of film stars and newspaper clipping pictures that she glued there. They are protected by sheets of plexiglass. I noticed that all of the pictures were of happy things - smiling celebrities or laughing children, one wonderful picture of a mother and her little boy, both smiling.
In a long room toward the front of the house is a display with pictures of everyone, and the date they were taken, and the date and place they died. I cried again there, staring at the pictures of Anne and her sister Margot. There is a video clip of Anne's childhood friend who was also taken prisoner and sent to the concentration camp, though she was on the more privileged side. She was separated by a tall wall with barbed wire from the very bad place where Anne was. She and Anne actually found each other, and Anne told her everyone else had died but her. Anne didn't know her father was still alive. The friend said she looked very ill, and didn't have anything. The friend took up a collection of stuff, some food and socks and so on, and they arranged to meet by a wall at night, but when she threw it over the wall another woman grabbed the package and ran away with it, leaving Anne crying. But the friend took up another collection and a few days later met Anne again, and that time she caught it. I got teary again.
At the end is a display of Anne's diaries. The first diary was one like any young girl might have - covered in a red checkered fabric, with a little flap to close it and with a lock, though the little key was missing. Her handwriting was small and neat. The second diary was a journal-style book with unlined pages. Apparently there were hundreds of loose pages as well. Interesting that the book "The Diary Of Anne Frank" that was later published by her father included mostly the loose pages, and only a few quotes from the diaries. These diaries were found by Miep (the woman who worked in the jam factory office, and who helped keep the 8 people hidden from the Nazi's), and saved for Anne's father. There was a video clip of Miep and of Anne's father, talking of the time when he learned of Anne's and Margot's deaths, and that is the moment Miep gave him the diaries, saying, "This is your daughter's legacy."
I left there in a sober state of mind, but so glad I had gone. Then I wandered the streets of Amsterdam for a little while. There are canals everywhere, with arched bridges crossing them at regular intervals and boats lining both sides of the water. At the corner of the street, two buildings away from Anne's house, is a huge church with a big clock tower. My taxi driver, who spoke English as a second language, told me, "That is an old church. On down the street that way (he pointed), is a new church." This struck me as funny!
Everyone bicycles! I've never seen so many bicycles. There are separate bicycle paths wider than a sidewalk in the US, and walkers are not permitted to walk on them. There is still a lot of traffic, especially on the road that circles around the city, but inside the city the traffic is about what you would find in Lexington --and not as bad a Nicholasville Road during the Christmas shopping season!
I did a little shopping - there was a nice shop with Delft hand-painted porcelain, and I saw so many opium pipes!!!! Of course many drugs are legal there. You can also buy a "marijuana-grower's starter kit. I had dinner in a little pub on the corner across from the church - delicious split pea soup with chunks of ham and sausage, and a not-so-good weiner schnitzel. Then I took another taxi back to my hotel. !" I stayed out of the red light district, though one of my team members, Heike, really wanted to take me there to walk through it. But Joe said it wouldn't be a good idea, and I had no desire to go there. But one of the ladies who went to dinner with us (Heike's friend) told me she had walked through the red light district that day, and that a woman approached her and "offered herself" for 5 Euros!
The outer part of the city of Amsterdam has very modern buildings, glass and metal, with extremely interesting shapes. They like lots of curves; one building looked like a giant shoe made of windows, and several of them had bulges here and there with no apparent pattern. And outside of the city, where we drove to the office in Naarden, you see lots of very green pastures with sheep and actual working windmills. Everywhere are channels for irrigation.
Dutch men are very tall! And everyone I met spoke English well, and was friendly. The Dutch are proud of their country. And I discovered the most delicious cookie I've ever eaten - it's called a stroopwafel (pronounced STROPE-vafel) I brought some back with me, because apparently you can't get them outside of the Netherlands.
One interesting fact: the Dutch don't exchange gifts at Christmas. Instead, they exchange gifts on December 5th, which they refer to as Sinter Claus. It's traditional to give people a chocolate initial of their name. They also love to make the gifts be jokes - you might open a gift with your name on it, only to find another gift inside addressed to someone else! Or you might find a note telling you to go upstairs and look in the bedroom for your gift. And they have traditional ginger cookies that you only find around that time of the year. They do celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, but don't exchange gifts then.Home Again!
I got up very early on Friday, 11/5/04, and took the 10-hour flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta. As I was walking down the ramp to get onto the plane, I looked out the window at Amsterdam and I have to admit, I got a little teary. What a trip I had! I whispered a word of thanks to the Lord for giving me the opportunity to see so much European history and culture. He is an awesome God, and I'm so grateful for the blessings He showers on me!
Posted by Ginny S.
at 10:00 AM MST