Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Newport, Oregon

We're in Newport, Oregon. I'm attending the Oregon Association of County Clerk's Conference. The weather is perfect! The eclipse of the nearly full moon last night was so amazing, and although it was perfectly visible, it was at 3 AM and I didn't think to take a photo. -Karen

The Rogue Brewery

Thursday, August 23, 2007

We're Back!!!

If it is almost 6 a.m. in Portland, then I must have really slept in if I was in Paris, but we're not there, so what time is it really? Wait, it's a work day! Damn! It's 6 a.m. And I guess champagne for breakfast is right out as well.

The flight was smooth, though there were two problems, well actually, three. The first two were that we should have checked our legs at Heathrow. British Airways (or "the BA" as I like to think of them), which a number of years ago had a great coach class seating where you actually had room for things like, well, your legs, have opted for "maximizing capacity". They have brought "new improved" - super coach "Plus" seating (we've heard the same joke from US airlines, but at least you're not flying for nine hours) which has the same leg room that all coach used to have only it cost more. For those people who opt for regular coach well, "what you do with your legs is your problem, not ours".

The BA does have a sense of humor, though. They give you a nice little packet that includes a cute mask to keep out the light, headphones to hear the entertainment system, a toothbrush so as not to offend your seatmates in the 7th or 8th hour of the flight, and socks. The socks are great, except, unless you are a Neanderthal with arms extending to your ankles, you need to BEND OVER to reach your feet. And, since they have moved the seat in front of you up to your knees (you do get an incredibly good view of the screen in the seat in front of you, particularly if that person leans back, I didn't even need my glasses), you cannot bend over, I tried it. From the perspective of the BA, if you come with a head, neck, torso and legs, you simply have too many parts for standard coach, which the BA jokingly refers to as "World Traveler", which is pretty close, they just left out the words "Stiff and Weary".

They do have an excellent entertainment system with a vast array of movies all for free. Of course, on the way to London, they had very similar system which had a fair amount of entertainment and movies which you could have for an extra charge. I wonder which plane was part of the newer fleet?

Still, they fed us (for free, not little boxes of odd combinations of wheat thins, beef jerkey, jalapeno cheese whiz and jelly beans that they try and sell you in the US) - of course, it is "airplane food", so don't get your hopes to high, and plied us with drink (which worked very well on the way to London, but we had a three-hour drive waiting us in the US, so we had a "don't drink after Iceland" rule - now, where the hell was Iceland?).

The other problem was air, pesky thing, that. They had a hard time keeping the airconditioning system working. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time when they have a hard time with ANYTHING not working on a plane. Anyway, we felt like it was a true historical Atlantic crossing, a large group of tired, distraught people sitting for what seemed like days in an incredibly small hot holding area. I think I heard singing and champagne bottles popping up in first class.

Eventually, we made it to Seattle, sat around the aircraft for what seemed like days while people unfolded themselves, pulled out their overhead sea chests, cuddled their little children while unfolding baby carriages, doddered around like village idiots looking for a way out of an open field . . . Is it just me, or have people simply lost their minds now-a-days about how to exit a vehicle? I mean, there you are, there is a door, it should be a simple process.

So, then we rushed (just kidding, we were still behind large groups of people, some who would periodically stop in their tracks in the corridors to drool) to the US border guards. The three guards who were checking the hundreds of people were very friendly. I'd love to have had a chance to spend more time with them, but the hour or so we had seemed pretty sufficient.

Made it through that process and started walking to the "baggage claim". I have thought it would be nice if they gave us mile posts for places like that in airports, like, "baggage claim, 3 miles", then again, it might be too depressing. We made it to baggage claim in time (from the point where the plane landed to the point where we finally made it to the baggage claim) for the handlers to unload all the bags, sort through them, repack and send them on a separate trip somewhere. Of course, when we made it to the baggage "carousel" (at least it sounds like the bags are having fun) there was that typical "baggage claim" scene, hundreds of people standing around the carousel (looking vaguely like extras from "Dawn of the Dead") and the same luggage, circling, unclaimed by anyone, around and around, while we wait for the real bags to arrive. Do you ever wonder what is actually in those fake bags that the airlines put out there for show?

I can't complain though, all three of our bags ultimately (and I mean, ULTIMATELY) showed up, happy to see us and relatively unscathed. Of course, I could take the view that, even in the one place where the BA really outshines all other European airlines (lost luggage, International Business Times, 4/7/07), they failed us - and we are grateful.

We packed our luggage on a Free Luggage Cart - amazing! Walked the 20 yards to Customs, nothing to declare and 20 yards later there was another luggage conveyor belt. I naturally assumed it was for people who had not yet had sufficient airline abuse and we're looking to fly somewhere else, but nope, it was for everybody. They stopped us and told us to put the bags back on the belt. Fortunately (or I might be in a holding tank somewhere at the airport), only Karen heard my comment "J---- C______!, is this f____ing stupid or what?"). In the end, I complied, though it was painful, after being away from each other for so long and just being reunited, to have to give our luggage up to another conveyor. Oh, and after the 40 yards, you had to give up your free luggage cart.

We got on a train with a nice sweet quaint older English woman, who also thought the conveyor thing was "f____ing stupid".

We found our luggage - again - went trodding off in search of the rental car and, "Thank You, Hertz Gold Club", our huge American Car with marvelous air conditiioning, comfortable seats and a walk-in trunk was waiting for us, expectantly. We then headed down the Great American Highway (I-5) with plenty of shoulder room, huge lanes, looking for Starbucks and flying home at 60 - 70 miles an hour (slowing down to 45, officer, at the occassional construction site, i.e., every 1/2 mile or so).

Since it took us almost two hours to get out of the airport, our energy started to flag when we were about 35 miles from home, before which I had Karen recite the entire plots to the three movies she watched on the plane ("keep talking, say anything"). Karen, who had less sleep, said she was feeling fine ("Are you Positive? Maybe we should just go to a motel?"). She was fine, for about ten miles. We pulled over to a mega-mall parking lot, parked the car and went to sleep. I think we could have slept until morning, but we did awake, I was feeling pretty refreshed and we made the last 25 miles (except for the 23 1/2 miles of construction) fairly smoothly.

So, here we are, clicking our heels and holding our Yorkie, Penny, saying "there's no place like home, there's no place like home".

Love from LO,

Gary & Karen

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ode to Heathrow - Terminal 4

"Here we sit all broken hearted . . ."

No wait! That's not the one.

Well, we managed to get to Heathrow in good form, now we're just waiting to see if the airplane will come here as well.

We received a very early "wake-up" call from son, Justin, who doesn't have a world clock (we'll get him one next time).


We then went back to sleep and, fortunately, Karen heard the hotel wake-up call. My ears, which occasionally plug up to the point where I can't hear have been going downhill the past few days (Karen is to the point where she repeats things now even before I say "what"?) and I slept through my mobile phone alarm.

Well, we had arranged for a back-up wake up call (which worked), finished up packing. There was a taxi waiting for us (pre-arranged, it wasn't magic), who whisked us off to Gard de Nord. Well, he whisked us off, got lost, and whisked us around a bit before finding Gard de Nord, which was there, just where they had built it originally. Fortunately, he kept the meter running, so he wasn't out any cash.

At Gard de Nord, we started looking for the famed "Eurostar" to London. You'd of thought they would have HUGE SIGNS showing where this famed "Chunnel" thing was. Well, they had a bunch of little signs, some of which pointed upstairs and an equal amount of which pointed down. We felt like Dorothy asking the Scarecrow for directions.

Eventually, we discovered the answer to this particular mystery. You had to go upstairs, check-in, go through customs and security, and then go downstairs two flights.

The train arrived, and we had some further confusion over their car numbering (6 before 7, except after 17), but eventually settled down. The ride was FAST, very smooth and comfortable. They even included a full hot breakfast - no complaints. Made it through the Chunnel fine (Karen hates tunnels, she didn't know that before Europe, I hate high bridges - I've always known that).

Made it to London - Waterloo Station - and had a marvelous taxi ride to Heathrow. It's expensive, but when you have a ton of luggage, it's a bit muggy, and you're tired after a lot of traveling, it was worth it. The taxi driver was a hoot, his son was getting married down in the Cotswolds (through which we traveled, oh, so long ago) this weekend. He got us here in fine style.

We checked in (well, of course, we were a bit early for British Airways and advised "We can't quite take your baggage right away, why don't you pop around the corner for a spot of tea and come back?"). After check-in, we actually had a very nice lunch here.

More later, have to head to the gate.

Gary & Karen

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Good Night, Paris!

Karen on the computer... Gary sleeping!

Tomorrow is a big travel day.

We have a 7AM train from Paris to London via "le tunnel sous la Manche" also known as "The Chunnel". It's a 31.5 mile rail tunnel under the English Channel which connects the UK with France.

I'm up worrying about being under the English Channel and researching everything I can find out about it on Wikipedia, (... it's the longest undersea tunnel in the world and the second-longest rail tunnel in the world. The American Society of Civil Engineers has declared the tunnel to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World ) while my worry-free Gary just sleeps away!

After the Eurotrain to London via the Channel Tunnel, we'll make our way to Heathrow and catch our flight back to Seattle. From there we'll drive home to Portland.

Paris, London, Seattle and Portland... all in one day! WOW! :)

I Love Paris!

I have completely fallen in love with this city. Everything is so beautiful, from the buildings and the bridges, to the little cafes and the pastries. Such a lovely, friendly city! I wish we could stay longer. I will be sad to leave tomorrow. -Karen

Le Champ de Mars - Avenue de la Bourdonnais

The Eiffel Tower when we arrived this morning from Rome.

Notre Dame from the Seine boat tour this evening.

Pont Alexandre III

If they could charge for air, they would!

Okay, I know, don't tell me, there are oxygen bars in Tokyo or some such place.

And I've gotten use to the concept of buying bottled water, though if the taps here could come out with something that taste good and was bubbly (say, champagne), you wouldn't hear any complaints from me.

But coming from Oregon, the land of tall trees, glorious mountains, clear streams, lovely beaches and - is anyone listening over here???? - FREE WI-FI - the practice over here is nuts.

I think the computer must be fairly new over here. "Vat, yu kan zirkle to Globe mit Dat? Verdammt!!" Whatever the cause, everyone charges you for it. And it doesn't matter what kind of hotel/motel/b&b/flophouse you're staying at, the only question is whether you want it by the minute - for which the price is "extremely outrageous", a couple of hours - for which the price is "totally outrageous", or 24 hours - for which the price is "is still pretty "verdammt" outrageous".

When a hotel advertises that it "has high-speed internet", what that means is the equivalent of "we have electricity and will charge you by the hour", "we have toilets and will charge you by the flush", "we have doors and will charge you by the . . . " You get the idea.

Of course, the real corker is, the normal folk over here apparently haven't started picking up wireless at their houses so we can piggy-back off their systems.

Almost makes you want to pick up a pen and an old "Par Avion" envelope, if I only remembered how to write.



You got to love it!

The Manhole covers say "Senatus Populusque Romanus" - which means "The Roman Senate and the People".

We gave a big "Hallooo" down the hole, but no one responded, so I don't think that's where they hang out.


The Panthe-What? I thought this was the Parthenon!!

Did the Romans Ever Have an Original Thought?

Jeez! Even the names of their shrines is confusing!!!

Well, come to find out that we weren't at the Parthenon after all, just some place called the Pantheon, which is Roman for "We couldn't think of a better name, so, like, 'whatever'."

It's a nice place, quite old and full of marble. Easy to find. Just hop into any cab and say "I want to go see that Pan-thing." Within a few minutes or days, you'll find yourself at one of them.

Gary & Karen

Karen, trying to push over one of the pillars.

It looked so easy when Samson did it, but it's not!

These things are big and heavy!

Actually, Karen has made it a habit of touching a lot of historical things over in Europe (I refused to take her to Florence to see the statue of David). She loves coming into contact with the history, the ancient marble and wondering who all has been there before. I make her was her hands constantly.


Rome and Vatican City

"First, you get down on your knees, fiddle with your rosaries . . ."

"Bow your head with great respect and, Genuflect, Genuflect, Genuflect....!"

Sing it out Tom Lehrer!!

Okay, my lovely wife has been officially "Vaticanized" against half of the major and most of the minor sins. As for yours truly, lightning did not strike me down, so I view the visit as a success.

Our second day in Rome (after visiting the Pagan sites noted below), we went to St. Peter's. It was a Sunday, it was warm and every Catholic, a solid half of the Protestants and good showing from the other religions apparently decided to show up as well. The queue around St. Peter's square (and I mean "around" and this square defines "HUGE") was incredible!! We were there in time for Mass, except for the thousands of people waiting in line in front of us.

The line went somewhat quickly, as we were also quickly wilting. And most of the people were politely waiting. The only real problem were the people who would occasionally cut into the line. There were two types of people who would cut in, the young rude Italians and the old rude Italians (notice any pattern?). We, being the stern-faced Northerners, would say things like "hey!" or "you shouldn't do that!" And every now and then, we'd really come out and strongly say, "you can't do that!" All of which the rude Italians ("RI") would totally ignore. Apparently, the rule is, if you are an RI, you get priority in the line. I can't argue with the theory, it works.

I'd love to retaliate back in the States and do something like that, but I know I'd have snappy comebacks like "sorry! I'll step back!" "My mistake, heh, heh!" Besides, the Italians I meet back in the States or outside of queues over here are usually so nice. Perhaps the RI's never leave Italy and just stand in line, or perhaps the few that do just end up in New York as cab drivers.

Well, rather than being directed to the Cathedral, we ended up in one of two lines, the choices being "Dead Popes" or "Incredibly Scary High Dome" - Karen and I chose the DP over the ISHD, which was actually a very good choice. You walk through this amazingly long series of corridors, all lined in marble, with large sarcophagi on each side (funny how some words you rarely get a chance to use, "As I was standing by the Sarcophagi, as quiet as can be, a great big ugly man came up and tied his horse to me.")

Most of the ten to twenty thousand other people in the corridors were moving quite quickly. I'm serious, it was like for them it was just another "line thing" they got into and had to get through. It was okay, though, because at least half of them were RI's who were probably looking for a fresh queue to cut into.

For anyone that knows European history, this area is amazing -- all of the Julius's, Innocents, Urbans, Pius's, etc... were there. In addition, the more recent Popes, including Paul XVI (we think that's the right number), John Paul and John Paul II, each of which were quite moving.

We came out to fresh air and our main concern was that we'd be forced into an "ustica" (Italian for "ausgang", which is German of "way out", etc....) and we'd have to queue up with another large group of RI's to get back into the Cathedral. Fortunately, we succeeded in finding the right "entrata" (eingang, way in, you get the idea) and made it to the Cathedral itself.

The place is awe-inspiring, breath-taking, glorious, huge, and somewhat crowded by tourists.

Mass was proceeding, so we sat and soaked in some of the actual feeling of the church. Funny thing, the Cathedral is so huge, that the area where Mass was held you felt fairly private and focused on the priest, not hearing the general tourist din only yards away.

I passed on the wine there and went in search of a whole bottle and a better vintage outside the Church. The area close to the Vatican (and by close, I mean within an easy mile, the size of the courtyard itself is huge!) is dedicated to "Vaticanalia" or "Popepurri"- i.e., cheap trinkets with a religious (sometimes very slight) connection. You cannot get a good cold glass of wine. We eventually came upon a "bar/restaurant" which we sat down in (looking for a cold drink and, more importantly, a clean restroom). We addressed the latter concern and proceeded to order wine and cold water. The waiter was incredibly rude (given that his restaurant was empty) and said we "must order food" as well. Well, having made a deposit, I saw no real reason I had to make a withdrawal, so we departed. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the place, but it's one of the first restaurants after crossing the Tiber back from the Vatican, set back on a corner, green umbrellas and run by Italians, can't miss it - but do.

We walked a couple of more blocks and found a wonderful place, the owner was delightful, friendly, we had a bottle of wine and water for 10 Euros (the equivalent of 5 Euros plus 5 more) and relaxed and cooled down. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the place, but it's one of the restaurants you come to a few blocks after crossing the Tiber back from the Vatican, set back on a corner, green umbrellas and run by Italians, can't miss it - go there.

Viva Roma!!!!

Gary & Karen

Vatican City and St. Peter's Square.

Look closely at the Swiss Guard's stripes and the inner drapes of our curtains... uncanny!



Happy Birthday to our son, Justin! August 20th!! From Mom & Gary!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Rome... the first 6 hours.

The view from our hotel terrace restaurant. That's Vatican City in the background.

Venice to Rome via Eurostar

Italian Dining Car... it's not the food, it's the warm and wonderful experience!

A meal on an Italian train reminds you that food can be more than sustenance. Of course, wine always helps and I'm not one who generally snubs another country's local customs (particularly if it involves alcohol).

The food can be a little on the bland side, it's a few stars short of your Michelin guide. But the experience is wonderful!!

You sit at a table with linen table cloths, nice napkins and real plates, glasses and silverware, and are treated to wonderful service of a multi-course meal which can take 1 1/2 to 2 hours, a veritable delight!!

You start with a pasta course (the "prima patti", take note, AMTRAK) which, on our first train (pictured above) from Venice to Rome was a choice of either prawns and linguini or tomato-basil fettucini. On the train to Paris a few days later, our choices were risottos, the first one being asparagus-based and the second artichoke-based.

The second course was a meat plate. On our first train, we both chose a lemon chicken, passing on the pork-something in a tomato base, but in each case accompanied by grilled zucchini. The second train we both chose the veal over the cold plate (with proscuitto, cheese, etc...) and the parsley potatoes.

The third course was a dessert, on each train involving the same choices, a wonderful peach torte thing or a carrot cake, which also looked good but never enticing enough to win over the peach torte. On the second train trip, our conversation went as follows: "Gary, why don't you try the carrot cake, I'm ordering the peach torte." "Karen, why don't you try the carrot cake, I'm ordering the peach torte."

After desserts, they brought out fresh fruit, which was a choice of either mixed sliced fruit in a bowl or whole fruit from a basket.

The wait staff on both trains were friendly and happy and each meal was a joy!!

Gary & Karen, riding the rails

"... has a way with B-O-L-O-G-N-A!"

We Have Got it Down to a Science!!!

Team Banzai - the Wandering Vagabonds - have this traveling thing down!

We are very sad to have to leave this wonderful apartment and Venice, but everything is packed, loaded and we are ready for our next adventure. Oh, and that was all done by 9 a.m. this morning, more than an hour before we had to leave.

If we could just figure out how to keep our space ship stocked with fuel (hmm-m, money), we could keep doing this forever! We even have clean clothes (thanks to my beautiful wife)!!

We will be checking out of here shortly, we have ordered up a water taxi (what a lovely concept!) and are heading to Venezia Santa Lucia where Trenitalia will take us to "The Eternal City", "The City of the Seven Hills", ROME!!

Love from the City of Canals (and no traffic!),

Gary & Karen

Blogging in Italian

Può essere complicato!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Our Last Night in Venice

The entrance to our apartment.

View from the front door.

Our dinner at the Ristorante Al Colombo - Alessandro Stanzian, Boss!

Photo of us tonight at Al Colombo
taken by our very nice waiter from Pakistan.

Being Married to an Attorney....

... sucks sometimes! :)

Gary at the beginning of a "quick" work telephone conference...

Gary two hours later.

(I ditched him and went back to the apartment to blog!)

Italy = Incredible "Foodie" Heaven

Four Cheese Gnocchi and Grilled Langostino

Capresi Salad!

The Best Dessert... EVER!

No kidding... it was incredible!

Ai Mercanti Ristorante - Venezia - San Marco

The Pigeons in Piazza St. Marco