Monday, July 30, 2007

Mont St. Michel

Dear Readers,

Greetings from Avranches which is a sizable town situated at the confluence of two rivers that empty into the bay that holds the Mont St. Michel, our next destination. This town dates back to pre-Christian times and includes some roman foundations that have been found during other excavations. Long the seat of roman-catholic bishops, there are many stops along the walking tour that show several churches and cathedrals and examples of architecture that display the styles of building that go back over one thousand years.

All of which is very interesting, but to those of us traveling and living in this moment, of more interest is the supermarket where we will buy water and a detailed Michelin map of Brittany, and the post office where we will mail the key of our borrowed Paris flat back to its owner with much thanks.

After breakfast and these errands, we will be off to see Mont St. Michel with the hordes of other tourists, and then on to the B&B owned by an old boss of my brother, Peter, who at one time operated a French restaurant not far from our old house in St. Paul.

So we have a day full of activities, but fortunately one in which we will not have to travel far, so our schedule can be a bit more relaxed that yesterday’s was.

Plus, the weather has cleared and the sun rose in a calm, clear sky. I know because I watched it do so. Both J and I have been up since the pre-dawn hours. It is not uncommon for me to wake at these times, but I usually can go back to sleep, but this morning, I had to watch over a young man who was feeling some gastric distress. I am not sure what the cause of this was, but I hope it has passed. He is sleeping in the bed next to me as I jot this journal down in between waking the girls and going back to fetch them down for breakfast.

Well, time to go. Perhaps I will get time to add to this before I find an internet uplink. If not, then bonjour.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Dear Readers,

I awoke this morning to the sound of rain pounding on the roof of the ages old mansion that we are calling home for the night. We are in a very small French village called Criquetot l’Esneval. We did not plan this. It was a spontaneous event that came at the end of a busy day.

It started in Paris as we began the day as we had the day before with croissants bought fresh at the corner patisserie, though I must say that for the price we were charged in Paris, they might as well have been made of gold. I made one of my daily visits to the ATM to beg for euros and to try to connect to the single unprotected WIFI node I had found the night before while sitting on the balcony of our very small flat (VSF). The signal was somewhat variable and I thought that if I tried from across the street, perhaps I could get a better connection.

It was drizzling on and off however, so places to set the laptop down in a sheltered environment were few and far between. There was a portico however just adjacent to the ATM that served the dual purpose of housing a gate into a private parking garage area and also containing several garbage cans which soon became my writing desk even though they were not the sweetest smelling of surfaces.

I did not linger, but managed to get off a couple of emails and bring up a map showing the location of the car rental agency. The map showed a location within easy walking distance, so I packed up, returned to the flat and roused the sleeping crew. After the usual initial grumbling and stumbling around, we got showered (all sharing a single suspect towel), packed and then J and I set off for the rental agency. The last thing we did was to empty our pockets of all of our unused metro tickets which we left for our absentee host and flat owner.

The rain had ceased and our walk was a pleasant jaunt through a pleasant part of SW Paris. We found our way using directions scribbled onto the back of our Michelin guide and arrived at our destination about 10 minutes ahead of our scheduled pick-up time. Only one problem – we could not find our car rental agency anywhere. Oh, there was “a” car rental location at the very spot marked on the internet map, but it was not ours. Upon seeking help from some local shop owners, we discovered that the English language was completely unheard of in this part of the world, and having left our two French linguists at the flat with all of our metro tickets, we found ourselves in a bit of a pickle.

The one common thing that everyone agree on was that the printed out invoice contained no address for the car agency, but it did reference Gare Montparnasse, the railway station, which made sense because that was where we initially told the on-line rental site that we would pick the car up. So, not having any other feasible ideas, we went in search of a taxi to take us there.

Luck was with us as we spotted one discharging its passengers and we snagged it before anyone else could do so. Shortly thereafter, we were deposited in front of the railway station and went in search of someone who might help us find the Auto Europe desk. One nice agent directed us up some escalators, down a long “hallway” alongside the tracks, up another escalator and low and behold, there was a separate little train station tucked away above and behind the big one and the name on the top of the door matched the location printed on our invoice. It was not an address per se, but rather the name of a “Hall” inside the train station. Inside was a row of familiar sounding car rental desks. We had arrived.

Unfortunately, the nice agent behind our desk began to frown as she keyed in our reservation number at her terminal. Without explanation to us, there followed a flurry of digging through desk drawers, examining envelopes full of auto keys, hurried discussions in French with her coworkers, and finally a question directed to me in heavily accented and rusty English – “How many are you?”

I held up four fingers. “How many are your bags, please?” I began to outline our luggage requirements by explaining in English and handish the number and size of our baggage retinue. This apparently was too difficult or too time consuming because she stopped me and told me that they did not have any of the “station wagons” I had reserved because they were a small branch station and it was the holiday season and there had been a run on rentals. She did say she had a car she could show us and if we thought it would work, we could have it for the same price as the one we had reserved. She then took us back to the garage and showed us a very cute little Mercedes model that we said would be fine.

So, after much travail, J and I were soon on the streets of Paris, now some distance from the flat, and needing to find our way back. Thankfully, J has a great sense of direction and good map reading skills and with only a few wrong turns (blamed on the driver, of course) we found ourselves illegally parked in a loading zone in front of the building housing the flat.

A short time later, we were loaded and on the way. What followed was stretches of freeway type driving interspersed with meanderings along small two-lane country roads that took us through farm fields and small country villages. We stopped for lunch/dinner in on such village that had a river on one side and steep bluffs on the other. Perched upon the top of one peak were the ruins of an ancient fortification. We once again experienced however, that the French like to serve food only at certain times and our haphazard schedule seems to place us at locations where all the food has been packed up for the day and none is available.

Our previous stop in a wonderfully picturesque village was one example of that. The village had no food for us and we were directed to the next village (the one with the tower) which also had no food, almost. There was a pizzeria that had some, but only because it was run by someone who was not “pure” French, but rather an émigré of some kind. We cared only that we could eat.

Then it was back on the roads and freeways looking for a place to lay our heads. We took the freeway to get closer to the coast and then jumped off to look for inns in small towns. We were rambling through the countryside with no clear sense of destination, something my dear wife would have found intolerable. I continued to hope that we would spot some kind of lodging before it got dark. We were rewarded as we passed through one small town by seeing a small sign artfully hidden from plain sight (at least for those traveling by auto) announcing a “bed and breakfast” in English for all the world to see (unless you are going by in a car).

A quick U-turn brought us back and our French-speaking envoys were dispatched. Turns out there was one room left sized for three, but the proprietress agreed to put a pallet on the floor for one more if we were agreeable. To see the room, she led us up the curved main staircase, down a hall, through a small doorway to a back staircase, up another several flights to the garret level, down a long hall where I had to duck for each ancient beam, and into a lovely room with a very sizable private bath. We sign the deal on the spot.

The remainder of the night consisted of me sitting outside at the adjacent pub and the kids going on a tour of the town. They were back before I had my second sip of beer. After sitting and talking a bit, K announced she was walking to the next village to see what it was like. A pool ensued with bets being placed on whether she would be gone ten minutes or twenty. E won with the lower number. Apparently, the sidewalk ended a bit down the road and K did not want to go further.

I bought them all Cokes and we sat around sipping and talking until two by two we drifted up to the room and clean sheets.

Now we are back to where this began. The monsoon like downpour has ended. The young bodies are stirring and it is time to go down for breakfast. Our day lays unknown ahead of us. I will upload this as soon as I can, but I don’t know when we will be reconnected with the internet.

Later then.

Friday, July 27, 2007


Dear Readers,

Our stay in Brussels was short – one day and two nights. We left yesterday morning on the train to Paris. I must say here that if we had such trains in the US, I for one, would ride them often. Fast, silent, comfortable are the way to describe them. We went from Brussels to the Gare du Nord in Paris in about one hour forty-five minutes. We traveled at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour, leaving the four wheeled vehicles along the road way in the dust. When we got close to Paris, the roads were grid-locked while we sped silently toward our destination. As Borat would say, “Very nice.”

From the train station, we descended to the underground, bought two ten-pass booklets, and began our subterranean journey under Paris to an address in the southwestern corner of the city where we were granted the use of a small flat for our stay here. It was odd moving that distance without ever seeing any of the city that we transversed. We were a tired group, having stayed up far too late the night before in spite of my best intentions.

So, perhaps it was our fatigue, or our state of constant travel over the past few days, but when we opened the door to the flat, we were a bit taken aback. I suppose that it was because we all had preconceived ideas of what this flat would be like that we were literally stopped in our tracks as we entered.

First, it is small – very small. It is comprised of four small rooms (not counting the bathroom and storage closet). And all of those rooms are completely filled with stuff. Apparently, this is a “working” flat kept by an artist who mainly lives elsewhere. Two of the rooms had “beds,” one was the “living room,” and the other the kitchen, where I now sit, wedged between the small stove and the sink.

The bathroom is so small, that the toilet has been turned sidewise and even then, the lid does not rise all the way so that if one sits down, one has to lean a bit forward being careful not to bang one’s head on the sink which is perilously near.

And in the keeping of a true artists garret, the focus has been on the work, not necessarily making it into the French version of Good Housekeeping. It has been some time since this place has seen a broom, and a mop – well, perhaps never.

But we rallied, deposited our bags and went back out to explore the neighborhood. We are surrounded by bistros, bars, and cafes. There is a butcher shop and a bakery, a tobacconist and an internet café, from which I hope to later post this entry. While there are a number of detectable WIFI networks in the neighborhood, they are all protected and not usable for me. Therefore, I have been unable to send or receive emails since leaving our host’s house in Brussels twenty-four hours ago.

After have a bit of VERY expensive food (half of it uneaten by my children because it had “stuff” on it) we went back underground, emerging like moles, blinking in the bright light along the Seine, and peering around for our goal of the Eiffel Tower. After a leisurely stroll along the river banks, we arrived under the massive landmark at which time K and J bought “stair” tickets and began their climb.

Hours later, after E and I had decided they had been kidnapped by gypsies (who were in force and working the tourist crowd), they reappeared having walked up to the second level (and down again), and achieving the pinnacle via the purchase of extra tickets to use the elevator for the final ascent and descent. Needless to say, they were tired and in need of ice-cream, which they amazingly found at a nearby vendor.

After a bit of group consultation, we decided to head for Montmartre and the church that crowns it, the Basilique du Sacre-Couer. Hopefully, we will have pictures of all of this up on our respective websites soon after I post this entry.

Today, we hope to visit the Louvre, Sainte-Chapelle, and the Notre-Dame cathedral. But the three teenagers have to wake up first. Who knows what we will actually accomplish.

More later.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Dear Readers,

The wedding is over and we have left beautiful Szeged, the town with the odd to the western eye name, but a place that very much pleased this westerner’s eyes. We are now approaching cruising altitude on our way to Brussels, where we will spend two nights prior to departing for Paris.

Now, let’s see, what were the highlights of the past few days. The bride was beautiful, intelligent, and a good runner. The groom made an unexpected appearance at the reception dressed in a kilt, and he was not the only one – there were a flock of regimental men. Dancing played a large roll in the festivities with salsa lessons on several nights. The women of Hungary are particularly beautiful and because of the unseasonably hot weather, clothing was as light as possible.

The buildings of Szeged had particular charm in the area where we were staying. The river Tizsa experienced a great flood in 1879 that took out 90% of the existing town and so most of the buildings in the old section along the river were all rebuilt at the same time with particular attention paid to the placement so that there are parks and plazas everywhere. Excellent use is put to these public spaces with outdoor cafes in abundance.

Other memorable experiences include the Turkish baths, the late night walk along the river that turned into a swim for some. The dancing of course. The food with a special focus on the fish soup. The paprika. The synagogue. The unfamiliar bed coverings that had us wondering whether to sleep under it or over it. The absinthe. The people watching. The local wines. The local currency where 1000 Hungarian forint is worth a little more than $5 US. So, we walked around with bill denominations of 5,000 and 10,000.

Then there was the heat. We did not see a cloud the whole time we were in Szeged. The temperatures exceeded 100 degrees F everyday except one. It actually forced me to adopt the siesta lifestyle – out in the morning before it got too hot, then back to the “exceptional” room with the AC for an afternoon nap, and then out again about four or six for a bit of a drink with dinner around nine.

The swirl of languages. So many of the wedding group were translators and linguists. There were almost twenty countries represented by the assembled guests. The ceremony itself was conducted in Hungarian, then French, then English as separate translators rotated in turn. There were many late nights of sitting out in the sidewalk cafes conversing in three or more languages.

There was music and street theater all over the place. We were there at a time that coincided with a month long festival period. We never knew when we would stumble upon a series of actors on stilts, or fire jugglers, or marching bands. One night there was a full blown symphonic performance complete with a choir, folk dancers in traditional costumes, and some haunting solo vocalists.

In fact, once we got over the initial jet lag and recouped some lost sleep, and learned to hang on to our backpacks, the whole time in Szeged was completely delightful.

Now we are on our way to Brussels where we will once again impose upon our hosts, the bride and groom. We will visit with them for a day before they fly off to Italy for a few days on honeymoon. The groom will fly back to Brussels next week and travel by car to meet us at a ferry landing on the coast of Brittany where we will sail for an island called Belle Ilse. There we will stay for our last days in Europe, surrounded by the groom’s family. The bride will remain in Italy for a two week language course.

In between Brussels and Belle Ilse, will be a little road trip for the kids, myself, and the groom’s daughter who is my daughters age. We will see Paris and then rent a car for a three day jaunt across northwestern France.

So there you have it. I will try to upload this when we get to Brussels. Till then, au revoir.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Hotel

Part C:

After being saved from a fate worse than death by the future bride, my son and I made our way to our hotel and started to check in. It was then that I learned that the room I had reserved over the internet was only a “deluxe” room, and as such came only with a fan rather than with air-conditioning.

I received this news as sweat ran down my face, streamed down between my shoulder blades, and puddled at my feet. As it turns out, and “exceptional” room DOES come with air-conditioning, but costs quite a bit more. I looked at my son, who clearly thought his old man could not have been any more incompetent or embarrassing. This was a dangerous moment as we were both close to a total meltdown.

I turned to the clerk and explained that we did, indeed need air-conditioning but that we were not prepared to pay any more for the room and if that was impossible, then we would cancel our reservation and go to the competition. She disappeared for a moment and came back with the good news that her manager had authorized an upgrade to an “exceptional” room at NO increase in price. Finally, a positive development.

We were handed a key (real key) on a key fob the size of a horses leg and with enough heft to qualify as a deadly weapon. We were also given a slip of paper with the room number on it – 214. Then we went in search of the elevator as the grand staircase – all ancient marble, looked a little challenging for our heavily laden, wheeled suitcases. And search we did.

We finally found the elevator at the end of a long hallway that looked like it stretched all the way to Serbia. At first, I thought that the elevator was simply a closet. This was clearly a “modern” item added sometime in the last fifty years, but not part of the original design of the building which dated back to the 1880’s.

So, in we went and pressed the “two” button. When the doors opened, the room numbers were all “three” something. Back to the elevator and look at the buttons. There was 1 through 3, and also a -1. So, to get to the second floor, we had to press “one.” I felt like Alice down the rabbit hole.

We eventually got to our room where we stood for a good five minutes trying to unlock the door. The key made the tumbler “click,” but no combination of turns, either to the right or the left seemed to open the door. Fortunately, it was my son doing the turning. Had it been me performing this series of unsuccessful operations, I am sure he would have immediately denounced me and run off looking for a better life with the gypsies.

Finally, one of us got both the flick of the wrist timed with the proper incantation and the door opened – only to show another door three inches away. I am afraid that we both just stood there staring at it, numb with fatigue and trapped in some surreal universe where each door would lead to another and we would never actually get to a room with air-conditioning. I looked over my shoulder to see if Rod Serling were standing there.

I tentatively put my hand on the second door handle and pressed down. The door swung inward to reveal our “exceptional” room – which looked on first glance to be about the same size as the elevator.

Perhaps it is the fact that we, as Americans, are used to hotel rooms that could double as a soccer field, but this one seemed particularly small. There were two single beds on either side, a desk, a wardrobe, a couple of small end tables and one ancient looking window unit AC stuck half way up the window that stretched upward for at least a city block. I would need oxygen to climb up and adjust the dial. The management had thoughtfully provided a workaround in the form of a simple on/off switch where the unit plugged into an extension cord that looked like someone had pilfered it from the Thomas Edison prototype museum. As for the adjustment, let’s just say it blows very cold air – all the time.

None of this was pacifying my son however. Not only was his father an incompetent idiot who lost passports and had to be saved by the bride of all people, and booked rooms over the internet that looked like they came straight out of a nightmare gone wrong, but, BUT, he also separated this teen from the rest of the young people who were over at the other hotel, and made him be a roommate in this surreal place. I went to hide in the bathroom, suggesting as I did that he pull out the laptop and try to bootleg a signal off of the disco out behind the hotel.

I was in there a while, experimenting with a very unusual design in toiletry, and wondering why I was not hearing any further scathing comments issuing from my progeny. When I finally emerged, I found him happily connected and back to the more pleasant side of his Jekyll/Hyde personality. From that point on, things started to look up.

More later.

Part Deux

Dear Readers – Part Deux,

I started one long account before, but decided that most of what I was saying was just rambling, so now, I start again.

We arrived very late at our hotel in Budapest and we were able to get about four hours of sleep before rising, packing, and getting a bite of breakfast before checking out and boarding a bus for a tour of the city. I have posted pictures of what we saw on my Flickr page (I am currently without internet connection so I cannot post the link), but I can condense the day to “trying to stay awake, trying to stay out of the sun, trying to drink enough water.”

After about two hours of sightseeing, the guide left the bus and we turned south and headed for the bride’s hometown of Szeged. It was a trip of about two hours driving time broken up with a lunch at a traditional Magyar restaurant. My ability to stay awake and focused completely abandoned me after lunch as the heat and the motion of the motor coach combined with the sedative effects of food to put me into a half-conscious state.

Upon arrival in Szeged, we dropped one-half of the bus passengers at one hotel and then moved across the river Tizsa to the second hotel housing a number of wedding guests. As it turned out, myself and my son were the only ones staying at yet a third hotel and while we stood around waiting for our hostess to become free to guide us to that establishment, I saw the now empty bus depart for its return trip to Budapest.

As I stood there in a haze of heat and exhaustion, I remembered that I needed to get something out of the pocket of my travel vest (you know, one of those dreadfully tacky vests with the million pockets in them) and started to mentally go through my luggage pile to remember where I had put it.

I knew I was tired, but I did not think that I was totally out of it until then because no matter how hard I thought, I could not remember which piece of luggage before me held that vest. Something was wrong, but I couldn’t place my finger on it until I remembered that I had put the vest in my backpack along with my laptop and passports and placed it on the overhead storage shelf on the bus that was no longer there.

With a yelp, I ran outside searching in vain up and down the street for any sign of the bus. The bride followed me outside and after hearing a truncated version of the tale of woe, she quickly searched her bag for a cell phone number of the driver. Finding none, she then broke into a run, bag in hand, saying to the shambling figure beside her that “the bus is big and cannot quickly negotiate the narrow streets, we must catch it.”

Now, I did say it was hot, didn’t I? I was about 100 degrees F at that point and I found myself running flat out through these beautiful pedestrian plaza’s generating quizzical stares from the people moving slowly along in a sensible fashion as these two clearly crazy folk ran through their midst.

We finally cleared the pedestrian plaza and saw the bus about one block distant, pulling away from an intersection. We picked up the pace, but we saw with frustration that the bus was now in the clear and growing ever more distant. I slowed, then stopped, bent double with exhaustion, frustration, and heat stroke. I stood slowly upright, thinking maybe there was a taxi available when I turned and looked at the bride who was wading into the traffic flow waving her arms.

She forced the next vehicle to a stop – a farm truck, and began a hurried, one-way conversation in Magyar through the half open window. The next thing I knew, the door opened, the female passenger scooted over, the bride jumped in and yelled through the window as the truck pulled away in a cloud of exhaust, “I’ll be back.” I stood there, dumbstruck as the truck disappeared in the same direction as the bus had a minute before.

I slowly made my way back to the hotel, imagining all sorts of horrors associated with the loss of the laptop, the passports, and other assorted nightmares. By the time I got back to the hotel lobby, I was drenched with sweat and somewhat delirious. I was greeted by my son who turned away disdainfully saying, “I don’t know you.” Embarrassment is evidently greater to a teenager than to a brain-dead adult. Unable to face this scorn, I went back outside to ponder the implications of this by myself.

It was there, about fifteen minutes later, that I saw the bride come sauntering up the street with my backpack over her shoulder, and a shimmer of sweat evident on her neck. To say that I felt a huge weight disappear from my shoulders would be a severe understatement. I felt unimaginable gratitude towards not only her, but to the unknown couple who stopped and so graciously undertook a rescue mission for an unknown foreigner. The money that I had pulled out to offer as thanks would now not be deliverable.

I must say that the generousity displayed here in this country towards myself and my family has been very humbling. I have thought many times in the past few days whether my home countrymen (and women) would have acted the same. I know only that a potential disaster was prevented by the graciousness of people I never met, and will never be able to thank in person.

More in the next installment.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Journey, Part 1

Well, dear readers, where did I last leave off? Oh yes, we were in the airport in Amsterdam, waiting for a plane. Well, that turned out to be a long wait, and a difficult part of the journey for those of us who became so tired that sleep needed to claim us even though there was no quiet place to lay down and rest.

We spent a couple of hours in the lowest level of one of the terminals on some seats that were somewhat out of the way, but which were clearly designed to prevent anyone from laying down. In spite of that, the two younger travelers found ways and passed some fitful time in the land of nod.

This was inbetween being rousted by security on three or four occasions. Apparently, Schiphol airport has a rule about sleeping laying down and each time, a new person on their rounds would make the kids wake up and sit up. A pretty cruel thing for those who had been traveling twenty some hours at that time.

I eventually roused them and herded them toward a café where I hoped to achieve both nourishment and internet access. We were able to work out the first part, but not the second. As soon as we sat down, two heads hit the table in unison and I once again found myself guarding over a couple of nearly dead bodies. Might as well have a beer I said to myself and picked up a large Heineken from the cafeteria line. This one, lead to another, and then another as I waited for time to pass and for my children to get tired of drooling onto the table. I soon had a more pressing problem however.

What goes in, must come out. The dilemma was whether to abandon my sleeping children and luggage, or to create a disturbance by publicly watering a large planter in the nearby vicinity. I was saved at the last instance when one of the kids woke up enough to nod numbly when directed to keep an eye on things as I dashed to the can.

We were doing all of this waiting because we arrived into Schiphol airport at 6:30 AM local time and our next flight out was not scheduled until 8:30 PM that evening. In addition, the airline did not staff a counter until two hours before flight time, so we could not pass to the secure side of the terminal until then. So, we killed time, drank beer, and drooled.

Finally, it came time to check in which went smoothly and we made our way partially to the gate, but were prevented from completing the journey because a sign in our path said to go no further until our flight came up on a tally board. This was due to the lack of toilets (or anything else) at the gate.

So, once again we sat down and then lay down and began drooling again. More time passed as we waited for our flight to show on the tally board. There was a moment of hope when it finally appeared, only to be followed by a crashing of spirit when the flight number was followed with the dreaded “delayed” message. And so it stayed for an additional three hours. When we were finally called, it was 10:30 at night. We had been on the road for more than 24 hours and I had not slept in about 36. Needless to say, we were frazzled.

Once on the plane and in the air, things once again went smoothly. We made it to Budapest quite late, but without further incident. When we finally retrieved our luggage, cleared customs and immigration, we were met in the lobby by a slightly dour, mustachioed man holding a sign with our family name upon it. Without word being spoken, we were lead to a taxi and driven at high speed through the sleeping streets of Budapest to our hotel. We checked in about 1:30 AM.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


So, we leave in two days. Gone for three weeks. We have never been away for that long, together, before. This will be so strange, and potentially so wonderful.

We will all be going places we have never been before. And some places I have been with someone before, places that were special to her. Only now, we will see these places with fresh eyes, new perceptions, different experiences.

So, what will I be? A guide? A parent? A concierge? A chauffeur? A ghost? For sure, I will be a recording device, gathering and creating memories that will last far longer than I. I must remember that when times get stressful. I must remember that this journey will live on and I want those memories to be good.

We will be a week in southern Hungary, a country I have never visited. I wish we could have more time in Budapest, but this time it will be only a stopping place, a hotel coming and going. Then Brussels and Paris. What to see and do? Then rent a car and head for the coast of Normandy and then down through Brittany to meet the bride and groom who's wedding we celebrated one week earlier in Hungary. There, we will take a ferry to an island named Belle Ilse de Mer where we will spend our last week at the summer home of the groom.

Along the way there will be many adventures for sure. I have no reservations for places between Paris and the ferry terminal. Three nights of unknown. The teenage daughter of the groom will be traveling with us so I will be caged in a small car with three teenagers. Wish me luck.

I keep asking my children if they are packed. They say things like, "I'm organized, but nothing's in the bag," or, "I just need to go to the store one more time." Comments about needing to take a jacket or windbreaker for the coastal winds and storms fall on deaf, teenage ears.

Then there is my anxiety about making connecting flights. We fly from here to a smallish airport on the east coast where we have fifty minutes to make our connecting flight to Amsterdam. Any delay there and we are toast. Once we hit Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, I can relax. The rest is easy (I think). The next flight is eight hours away, but on an airline based in Hungary that I have never heard of. Wish me luck again.

And of course, the kids will want to take the train into Amsterdam central during the layover, which could be fun, except that I'll be a basket case and it will be 6:30 in the morning. Not even the coffee shops will be open then. My daughter will be so disappointed. I was there once before at that time. We walked in and out of the red-light district for four hours waiting for the Rock Hard Cafe to open so my travel mates could steal some beer coasters. A good time was had by all. I don't think I want to recreate that scenario this time. Maybe a quick nap on the airline benches would be best. Wish me luck some more.

I did chemo yesterday, so I'm not exactly at the top of my game. We juggled the schedule so I could have this time and I mean to make the best of it. I will miss my friends at home, and my dawg. I will look forward to returning and exploring the new found riches that await me at home. Two days after we get back, we leave again for up north to partake in the annual mini-family reunion and Blues Fest. We will truly be road warriors by then with battered baggage and passports stamped with exotic entry/exit visas.

I hope to post again before we leave and from on the road when we can find a free WIFI hotspot. So, hang in there. We will be back with tales to tell.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What Day Is It?

I'm out of it.

I can't remember what day it is, other than it's the day I took my friend to the airport and now I have to figure out what to pack because we leave Monday and I haven't done anything, but not to worry because I go in for chemo tomorrow and then I'll feel like dog poop for two days and won't have the juice to worry. Good plan, man.

So, come Monday morning, I'll have to pack, pay all the bills, do laundry (er, wait, note to self - do laundry before packing), take the dog to her "other" family, find the passports and the travel documents, find someone to drive us to the airport, remember to lock the doors, flush the toilets, wash the fish bowl, pay all the bills I currently have, send itinerary's to my next of kin, and take my drugs.

Speaking of drugs, as some of you know, I have been trying to get myself off of some anti-depressants started about nine months ago when life seemed a bit overwhelming. I was hoping to do so to return to a more "natural" state of being and sincerely believing that many of the most stressful times of my life were now behind me. Many of my friends expressed, how shall I say it, a bit of skepticism at my timing, thinking perhaps that trying to prepare for a three-week, trans-continental journey two days after doing chemo and at a time when the performance of the US airline industry has never been worse, practically guaranteeing the missing of a crucial connecting flight, or at the very least, lost luggage on our way to a wedding in the hinterlands of Hugary, with two hormonally deranged teenagers, might not be the best time to go cold turkey on anti-depressants.

Pshaw, I said - until I had the leaping spider dream.

Now, normally, I am not one to have nightmares. I don't look in the closet before going to bed. I am comfortable in an empty house at night. I am, after all, the parent of teenagers. What can be more scary?

Well, leaping, poisonous spiders for one. Let me explain.

The other night, I found myself unable to sleep. Normally, I take "mother's little helpers" at bedtime, and about a half an hour later, a bomb could go off next to me and I would never know it. But two nights ago, I could find no rest. I tossed and turned. I twisted in the sheets. I alternated between hot flashes and electrical jolts to the brainstem. This was not good.

Eventually, I believe I drifted off - not to sleep, but to that nether world between waking and sleeping states. While there, I dreamed of being in my grandparents old house, except that it didn't look anything like it. I found myself continually coming across architypical representations of my deepest phobia's - like dead, oily, rodents and spiders with very observable fangs that had little drops of venom visible at the ends. They were everywhere - especially places where I had to put my hands. They were on doorknobs, and lightswitches, and window sills and sashes.

I kept having to dispose of dead, giant rodents who were clobbered in spring traps that had been bunched together, so that there were four or five at a time. Euhhhh. They were gross.

The final touch was that I was laying on the bed trying to sleep because I was exhausted (sound familiar) and some guests arrived (uninvited), bringing their two, really obnoxious children who proceeded to get up on my bed and start jumping up and down. Before committing some heinous crime, I got up and left the room, only to return later to find the two children asleep on the bed after making a little fort from the sheets. I noticed that the window was open and that the cold air (now it was suddenly winter) was blowing in. I approached the window to close it and looked up just as one of the venomous spiders launched itself off of the sash right at my eyes. I woke up as it landed.

It was then and there that I decided to start taking the AD meds again.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


Where to begin?

A while back, I decided to ask my primary physician for a prescription for an anti-depressant. I did so after talking to friends and after thinking about how I was reacting to events that were occurring in my life. Looking back, I think that was the right thing to do and I thank those who advised me to follow that course.

For the most part, I enjoyed the result. My life had entered a stretch that offered up a full shopping cart of horrors. Oh not the stuff of hollywood, but plenty of material for depression and strife. The AD drug helped me get, and stay, a little more centered and even-keeled. Life was more manageable without the wild ups and downs that were the norm prior to beginning that regimen. All of that was good.

There were some side effects, but the positives outweighed the negatives - at least until recently. Now, I want all of my feelings back, but I am finding the transition a bit uncomfortable. I am not sure how much is related to the stopping of the drug and how much can be tied to what has happened in the last couple of days.

Whatever the cause, the impact on me is kind of a nervous energy that shoots jolts of "electricity" through me on a random basis. It's like my brainstem has been hotwired and someone is firing off blasts of energy whenever I blink my eyes. It is harder at night when I am alone. I feel the isolation more now than I did a week ago.

A friend of mine who did a round of AD a few years back was surprised that I just stopped. I told her that my doc didn't recommend a taper and that the dose I was taking was a low one, but she was surprised none the less. Who knows? I just want to be able to feel more and have less dampening of my mind and body. I hope that there will be benefits to this down the road, but right now it feels more weird than good.

My doc said it would take a week for the drug to leave my body which also seems wierd because when I started taking it, he said that it would take a month before it was really effective. In the meantime, he wanted a friend to keep an eye on me and to let me (and him) know if I seemed strange or suicidal. Now that really reassured me. But I made it through that period just fine. I wonder now whether he should have said the same thing to me about going off of it?

Don't worry. I'm not feeling suicidal - it's not my way. Still, I have friends who are calling me on a regular basis, so I hope that I don't forget my phone somewhere or they will dial 911 and have the white-coat squad out looking for me.

Well, it's late now and I am tired. Just wanted to get a post up. Hopefully, I will have a more positive update in a day or two. Have a good weekend all.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Sum-Sum-Summer Time

So, I've been a bit absent from the whole blogging scene. I have also been delinquent in my reading, my weeding, and my paperwork. What might have caused this breakdown in responsibility you might ask?

Well, like many things, there are multiple reasons, but the major one is that I have been having too much fun. There, the cat's out of the bag.

You know your life has taken some strange turns when having too much fun is a confession on par with say - smoking dope with the pope. I remember when having too much fun was the norm rather than a guilty pleasure. Be that as it may, for the past three weeks, I have been indulging myself in pleasure.

An old friend from thirty years back flew into town a while back and after picking her up at the airport and visiting with her for an evening, I drove her north to my old hometown where she now spends half of her time. The other half is spent in Washington state near Seattle. It was a wonderful visit, both here and up there. For me, it was a one day trip where I got some visiting in with my mother in addition to a lovely picnic on the shore of Lake Superior. I drove the 150 miles home going over the events of the past couple of days and realized that I was going to miss my old friend's company.

There were many emails sent over the next days and a few phone calls too. Because she flew into the major airport in my current home city, her return flight would also depart from there. That meant that she needed to get from my old home town up north back down this way prior to flying out. Since my children were asking to go north for some cousin time, we planned a four day family visit that would culminate with a return home bearing an extra guest.

This plan was modified late in the game by extending her stay with us so that she and I could both attend a fund raising function for a local personality who has political aspirations. All told, we spent nearly seven days in close company. While that time was most enjoyably spent, very little of it went toward those activities mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Suffice it to say that I was sorry to see her depart through the air terminal doors as she began her journey to her western home where she would once again take up the role of mother and parent to two nearly adult children, chief cook and bottle-washer, matron of a modest estate, and den-mother to a herd of chickens, a passel of rabbits, various dogs and cats, and one horse.

We will see each other again, though I will miss her next trip back this way because of our upcoming excursion to points east. When we return from that trip, we will have a two day recovery period before we head north for our annual mini-family reunion and blues fest on our great inland sea.

In the meantime, I have a ton of chores and responsibilities to attend to. We are no where close to being ready to embark on this major trip that we have planned. Perhaps "planned" is too misleading a word. We have semi-planned might be better. Right now, all I have are the passports, the plane tickets over the pond and back, and some emails from strange places alluding to reservations that may, or may not actually be waiting for us, and given the recent unrest in the airline industry (especially the one we have tickets on), the probability of hitting snags on the way over and back is significant. When you combine all of that with the fact that I will be doing a chemo session two days before departure, you have a mix that will probably ensure material for further blogging - if I survive the process.

Regardless, I pledge to bring you all along with us (in a virtual sense of course) as I hope to continue to update this site whenever I can find a wireless hot spot. So, stick with us and forgive the occasional lapse in posting. Just assume that I am having too much fun. Ta.