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Dash across Germany

16 Sep
16 September 2017.
Relatively speaking, that is, we dashed across Germany. Eight-and-a-half hours by train from Amsterdam to München. Seems long, but it is not much slower than flying when you consider time to-and-from airports, security, waiting time, etc. And it is far more relaxing. I’ll take a train over a plane any day. We read, napped, chatted, and snacked. The only challenge was the six-minute change of trains. Six minutes! We had to go from the end of one very long train, down from the platform through the very busy Hannover station, up to another platform, and run several car lengths. We made it about 60 seconds before they closed the doors. Note to self: never let Trainline.eu schedule our connections. Should’ve bought directly from Deutsche Bahn. The price was great, though.

This passed for a snack in first class on our second DB train. Expected beer and pretzels.

Germany wasn’t really in our plan, but we needed to get from Amsterdam to Ortisei and it was not feasible to do in a day by train. I last visited München in 1972, a few weeks before the ill-fated Olympics. Ric had never been. In order to make the most of our time there, we hooked up with Taff Simon (not yet born in 1972, he observed) of Dark History Tours. Taff is an archeologist and life-long student of history. He shared with us not only the highlights of München (Marianplatz, Frauenkirche, Hofbrauhaus, and so on) but afforded us an insider’s view taking us into places big groups would never go. For example, the big meeting room on the top of the Hofbrauhaus where in February 1920 Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists held their first meeting. Taff led us through historic sites related to the rise of the Nazi party and Hitler’s activities in München prior to WWII, and we were also privy to his insights on the culture, the Bavarian royal family (think of the “Kings Ludwig”), and of course beer.
Click on any photo for a larger view and caption.
We visited a bierkeller our first night, but the stand-out meal we enjoyed in München was Lebanese at Baalbek. What a delightful change from pork, red cabbage, and dumplings! Served with fine Lebanese red wine, we could not have been happier. We are also happy to be back in the habit of walking everywhere. A 20-minute walk before and after a dinner like that is so preferable to dropping into a car and carrying your new fat right to bed.
We are now in Ortisei and delighted to be back in Italia. It feels like coming home. Had great weather Friday morning, if cold (32 F/0 C), so we got in a great hike. We had to go buy fleeces: Didn’t pack them as we had not expected such cold to hit already.

 

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In Amsterdam, get away from the damn Damrak!

13 Sep
13 September 2017.
Katerina, Deb, and Catherine will be sad to hear I really did not care for Amsterdam: at least until we got away from the damn Damrak. Our first day wandering this bastion of all things commercial I was almost sorry we came to The Netherlands. The Damrak was crowded with trams, buses, bicycles, cars, and clueless pedestrians maneuvering helter-skelter around one another. It is a wonder more people are not taken out by cyclists. The mayor is now actively discouraging tourism and suggesting people go to Rotterdam instead.

Sunday by the Canal, Amsterdam. Locals kick back with coffee and a newspaper.

Amsterdam, awash in tourists and their trappings, does have quiet sectors where one can appreciate the history, the beauty, and the determination of the Dutch. Like other great cities, one must leave the main arterials funneling tourists who have not done their homework and find the neighborhoods where dogs are walked and Sunday papers are read on sunny benches along quiet canals.

Love the old tile work in the Haarlem station. “Washroom First Class.” 

We stayed in Haarlem, which is quite charming and untouristed as far as we could tell this first week of September. At least the only English we heard was from the Dutch who can switch languages in mid-sentence, so used they are to dealing with non-Dutch speakers. We were quite flattered to be mistaken for Dutch a couple of times having used a rudimentary “Morgen” or “Guten Abend,” in greeting. Even Utrecht, a day trip destination for us, seemed to harbor more travelers than Haarlem. It also harbored a terrific railroad museum where we whiled away a couple of rainy hours.

Haarlem is much more laid back. Even cyclists are less intense.

Most mornings, we traveled the 15 minutes to Amsterdam from Haarlem via commuter train with students and workers who had parked their bikes in front of the station in confusing swarms. In the evenings, we traveled “home” with the same crowd, enjoying the feeling of being temporary locals who lived in the small town of Haarlem.
We could walk a few minutes to the Albert Heijn market and try to decipher labels to stock our kitchen. We wandered the back streets of Haarlem and took in the history thanks to an obscure book of walking tours I found. The cafes and restaurants of Haarlem were excellent and frequented by the Dutch, not our own ilk. This endeared us to The Netherlands.
The Van Gogh Museum, though lovely and certainly with an incredible collection of the master’s works, was horribly crowded even on Friday night at dinner time. (My introverted and crowd-avoiding self specifically booked tickets for an evening opening that was said to be less crowded.) To our amazement, the museum was not full of English speakers, but mostly Dutch, with some German and Italian sprinkled in. I guess the American kids hanging around Dam Square had little interest in Vincent.

Rijksmuseum before the masses descend. If you go, get a ticket in advance. I cannot believe how many people miss this simple trick at museums all over Europe.

By contrast, the Rijksmuseum at opening on a Monday morning was accessible. We almost skipped it based on our Van Gogh evening. Proving again that getting out early pays, we sailed in shortly after 9:00 and after a highlights tour returned to the main hall to find a rising tide of people as 10:30 approached. The line for those without advanced tickets was a block long outside when we left at 11:30.
We found the Joordan neighborhood as well as the area around the Stopera and Zoo to be peaceful places to roam on a Sunday morning. Re-emerging in central Amsterdam after wandering the Joordan was startling. Much like walking the Champs Elysees in Paris or making the march from San Marco to the Rialto in Venice, if you do not leave the Damrak, Spui, or Leidseplein, you miss the character of Amsterdam, and getting completely out of Amsterdam allows at least a  glimpse into how people live.

This is half of our Indonesian Rijsttafel.

I did not have high expectations for food. Outside of Italy, it can be a struggle for us to be truly happy with meals, so I must comment on some of our best meals here.
  • We were stunned to discover a truly Italian pizza in Haarlem at Pizzeria Back-to-Basics . The owner, Francesco, is a Neapolitan who came to Haarlem 30 years ago. He produces masterpieces from a tiny wood-fired oven and kibitzed with me in Italian. Even the wine was a good Italian negroamaro. (More on that soon at www.OurWeeklyPizza.com.)
  • Another night we experienced the Indonesian rijsttafel, an experience we’ve not had prior and would not mind repeating. At Restaurant Flamboyant, an array of 12 dishes was not unlike a Lebanese mezza. Each dish presented a different flavor palate from mild to spicy, from sweet to savory. Deep-fried tofu, stewed lamb, tender braised chicken, fried bananas, coconut vegetables, zippy sautéed eggplant: too many to name and each a bit of heaven on the tongue.
  • On a stormy night, we arrived soaking wet and found a cozy yet trendy interior and non-traditional menu at Popocatepetl. Pollo asado was served with sweet potato fries (side of mayo, of course!) and Ric’s birria, a lamb stew, was something we’d not seen before on a Mexican menu. The playlist varied from jazz to Mexican and the hang-out factor was huge. No wonder the place is always crowded with the young Dutch.

Happened upon a wedding party celebrating in a little side street.

We did not get to see as many places in The Netherlands as we had hoped. The weather was terribly unsettled and wet for much of our stay so we did not venture to some of the other spots on my list of possibilities. Funny that we timed this trip so we’d have some warm late summer weather in Northern Europe. September is usually amazing. But watching what happened with hurricanes in the U.S. and downpours flooding Italy, we are feeling pretty darn lucky.
Off to München!

Can you tell why this train is called a “dognose?”

I love the little sheep. If I had room in my luggage I’d place one in our yard at home.

16 things I will miss when we leave Italy

7 Oct
7 October 2016. I have received many comments on Facebook, here, and via email about our impending departure from Italy. Some people are shocked as we are “living the dream.” Why give it up? My next few posts will address the good and not-so-good about both the U.S. and Italy, as places to live. Living somewhere and traveling there are entirely different things. First, what I will miss about Italy, i.e., the good stuff!

1. €1.00 shots of espresso and high-quality €1.20 cappuccino served in seconds at almost any bar.

Notice the cappuccino is not a Big Gulp, but a sensible size. Not so many calories so you can have cake, too.

Notice the cappuccino is not a Big Gulp, but a sensible size. Not so many calories so you can have cake, too.

Why does it take an American barista so long to make a coffee? An Italian has it in front of you in seconds! And it is good! No funny flavors, no 20-ounce mugs, and no paper cups! Even in the tiniest mountain hamlet, in a museum, or in a castle on a hill, you can get espresso. In a real cup. I love my coffee in a ceramic cup and a small cappuccino is just the right amount. 

2. Bars on every street where you can get the aforementioned beverages and good sandwiches for under €3.00.

Fast food is a sandwich you pick up in a bar for €2.70-3.00. Many varieties on a fresh panino with the best ingredients from prosciutto and formaggio to a vegetarian’s dream combo including my favorite, cicoria, They warm it and hand it to you. Maybe you sit down if it is your neighborhood place and not a tourist zone. It’s simple, fresh, delicious, and mostly healthy.

3. Trains

The train we take most often, Italy's Frecciarossa (Red Arrow).

The train we take most often, Italy’s Frecciarossa (Red Arrow).

OMG we love to travel by train. Go to Torino for a day? Sure! Venezia overnight? Why not? We have flown on only three trips in 4.5 years. Love love love the trains and the early-purchase discounts!
See Ric. Ric is happy. Ric in on a train in a sleeper compartment, How civilized!

See Ric. Ric is happy. Ric in on a train in a sleeper compartment, How civilized!

4. The ability to go almost anywhere in Europe with little planning

Instead of mounting an expedition from the U.S., we can explore Europe so easily from Base Camp Barton in Roma. Thank you, cat sitters, for making this possible!
Luscious, tender grilled octopus.

Luscious, tender grilled octopus.

5. Seafood

I always hated anchovies until I had them fresh, marinated. A plateful is a perfect antipasto. Mixed into fresh pasta they are heaven; with mozzarella, a delight! I love pizza Napoletana for its simplicity. Then there is calamaro. Not deep fried little Os, but lovely, fresh, grilled squid. Or polpo (octopus), gently grilled or sliced paper-thin as carpaccio. How about a hearty bowl of mussels in wine sauce? Good reasons to come back to Italy.

6. Wood-fired pizza

One of our four favorite pizzerias, La Pratolina. Smoked salmon and arugula with perfect mozzarella and no "sauce." Divine crust, wood-fired oven.

One of our four favorite pizzerias, La Pratolina. Smoked salmon and arugula with perfect mozzarella and no “sauce.” Divine crust, wood-fired oven.

Yes, there are wood-fired ovens in the U.S. We will seek them out. But simple Italian pizza will be hard to replace. Especially at Italian prices. Will I seem a pig when I order my own pizza in the U.S? Here it is the norm. To not order your own pizza is boorish.

7. Fresh mozzarella available in almost every little store daily

No pre-shredded Kraft plastic, please! Fresh mozzarella, whether mozzarella di bufala or fior di latte, there is no room in our lives for anything less than fresh. Praying that Pastaworks in Portland has it!

8. Wine that does not blow the budget

We spend 75% less on wine here than we did in the U.S., and that is not because we are drinking less of it or drinking bad stuff.

9. Being greeted warmly – even with un bacio – at places we frequent. Loyal patronage is recognized and rewarded.

My buddy il Commandante, aka Marco, and me.

My buddy il Commandante (The Captain), aka Marco, and me.

Yesterday I called one of our two favorite restaurants, La Fraschetta del Pesce to make a reservation. Il Commandante (The Captain) recognized me immediately, was delighted to hear we were coming back on Saturday, and I know we will be personally welcomed as friends. From the second time we dined there, we were “regulars.” This happens at so many places: the delivery guys from DOC, the bar at Piazza Buenos Aires, the salumeria in Campo dei Fiori. You feel like you — and your business — are appreciated. 

10. Our portiere. What a wonderful tradition this is! Someone to take care of the building, help the tenants, keep things safe.

There are no doubt fancy buildings in big North American cities with doormen and building supers, but we are privileged to have a portiere in even middle-class buildings in Roma. What does he — or she — do? Takes in the mail; holds packages; lets tradespeople in; ensures security by not letting solicitors in; cleans; welcomes; takes care of (our) cats for short absences; gathers intelligence. The portiere is the go-to person for neighborhood news. The portieri in both of the buildings we’ve lived in have been true blessings. They have helped me with Italian and befriended us. We shall miss them.

11. Produce that tastes like what it is and that will spoil in a few days because it isn’t treated with chemicals.

Ths bounty in the market in autumn.

The bounty in the market in autumn.

Carrots taste like carrots, but they only last a few days, turning limp soon after purchase. Peppers are sweet and crisp and add immense flavor to anything you cook. Apples are a miracle of flavor. How can the fruit be so darn good? I bought a red pepper in San Francisco last summer. It was organic. It tasted like cardboard.

12. August in Roma

We will not miss the heat, and August is somewhat a month to be endured, but it really is fun to wander around the neighborhoods when so many people are absent. Pedestrian crossings are passable as they are not needed for parking. “Rush hour” on our main shopping street is Christmas-morning quiet. Buses are empty and we get to sit down. It is a culturally significant event, this exodus.

13. The passaggiata and the business in the street, the sociality of it all, even if you don’t talk to anyone.

Getting out for a walk every day is part of the Italian lifestyle. So smart to stroll through the neighborhood, see what is new, pick up some ingredients for dinner. Maybe have a coffee, a gelato, or un’apperitivo. See and be seen, enjoy the weather, then go home to make dinner. Eating before 20:00 is declasse.

14. So many kind people and interesting acquaintances: Our doctors, our landlords, the Embassy people. 

Especially my friend Eleonora. Ele patiently tutored me in Italian until I am finally at the point where I can have a reasonable conversation. Now we are “just” friends and that is the best! We play Scarabeo (Scrabble) together and laugh a lot. She tries to explain Italy to me. I will miss her dearly! 

15. Speaking Italian

Tiring as it is, I do like to speak Italian and I shall miss that daily possibility. My comprehension has grown by leaps and bounds in the past 18 months outside of the Embassy. 

16. Telling people “We live in Rome!”

Piazza San Pietro at Easter. We've had a marvelous time here!

Piazza San Pietro at Easter. We’ve had a marvelous time in Roma!

When fellow travelers hear our English they inevitably strike up a conversation with “Where are you folks from?” We are proud to be Americans and Oregonians, but what a joy it has been to say “We live in Rome!”

Training cats

2 Jul
2 July 2016. Cats are considered untrainable, for the most part. They use the litterbox, but beyond that, it is pretty difficult to train a cat, unless you live in Italy and can take your cat on the train! Yes, Janie and LibbyJean are on vacation in the Dolomites. A few days ago we loaded them on a Trenitalia Frecciargento bound for Bolzano, where Taxi Ivan Moroder met us for the trip to Ortisei. In years past, Ric and I have taken the pullman (bus) service, which is very nice; However, with the cats along plus luggage and supplies for a month, we popped for a transfer service. It was so nice we may never take the bus again.
Janie showed a lot curiosity on the train.

Janie showed a lot curiosity on the train.

Libby hyperventilated much of the time. They don't find the train as relaxing as we do.

Libby hyperventilated much of the time. They don’t find the train as relaxing as we do.

I cannot say the cats enjoyed the train; they tolerated it. You can take a cat on a train without paying, but the cat has to go in the luggage storage area, which is very limited and they would be subject to constant disruption including people poking fingers in their crates. So we bought four standard-class seats at the super-economy rate of €29.00 per occupant. The capotreno never batted an eyelash at two seats occupied by cats. We let them take turns sitting (crated) on the table so they could see us and look out the window, which seemed to entertain Janie, who at 20 is ever-adaptable, in particular. Libby is not fond of strangers nor strange situations and even hissed at a little girl who got too close to her kennel. 
The long trip was worth it and the girls seem to have taken to the new digs, with a sunny terrace overlooking the village. 
A terrace with a view, even for cats. We see them peeking out between the slats on the railing.

A terrace with a view, even for cats. We see them peeking out between the slats on the railing.

Sunrise on the iconic Sassolungo as seen from our terrace.

Sunrise on the iconic Sassolungo as seen from our terrace.

Our terrace overlooks the lovely village of Ortisei.

Our terrace overlooks the lovely village of Ortisei.

We have an incredible apartment at Residence Astoria (#5 if you want to take a peek) with views over the valley and up Mont Seuc. We can see the round red cable cars rising from the valley to the top of Mont Seuc and if we peer around the corner of the terrace we can see the Sassalungo. Last summer we enjoyed our two weeks in Ortisei so much we decided to go for four weeks this year and take the cats along. We really do miss the girls incredibly when we are gone, and while during our significant travels there has been a parade of fabulous cat sitters (you know who you are!), we decided to close up the city apartment like so many Romans do when they go on summer holiday. Lots of apartments allow dogs but not cats. Then we met Justine and Siegfried who said yes to cats, but no dogs as they have their own cat. We signed up on the spot. 
My favorite hiking companion neare teh chapel at Rasciesa.

My favorite hiking companion near the chapel at Rasciesa.

Me on the Rasciesa hike.

On the Rasciesa hike.

We have already put in two days of hiking but are taking it easy adjusting versus last year when we pushed it the first day. See my entry for July 6, 2015, in this too-long post about hiking last year. This year we took one of our favorite hikes on Day 1, the Rasciesa Ridge, but it still tired us out. We walk a lot in Rome and everywhere we travel and would expect to have greater endurance; However, when we consider that Rome is sea level and flat, while Rasciesa is at about 2100 meters/6900 feet, no wonder we felt the exertion. 
Day 2, today, saw us on a forested path overlooking the valley. We got some kilometers in and managed to return to town moments before a huge thunderstorm hit. The weather is really everything we hoped it would be. The high today was about 21 Celcius/70 Fahrenheit. In Rome it was 34 C/93 F. I needed a sweater to go to dinner last night. It’s a nice temperature range for outdoor activity. 
Colorful bicycles are all over the village of Selva, celebrating the Sellaronda.

Colorful bicycles are all over the village of Selva, celebrating the Sellaronda.

Noah's Arc fountain in Selva, just down teh valley from Ortisei.

Noah’s Arc fountain in Selva, just up the valley from Ortisei.

We will suffer through August in Rome, taking walks at 06:00 and hiding in the apartment during the hottest hours as much as possible. The beauty of Rome in August is that so many people leave the city that traffic is greatly diminished making sleeping more peaceful and the streets less chaotic. 
I am not sure how much I will blog this month. I am hoping to read more and study Italian when I am not out busting my butt on the trails. We shall see. So for now, we wish you all a great summer, and Happy Independence Day to our compatriots in the U.S! 
How to know when you are in the part of Italy that was formerly Austria. There's nothing like a beer at elevensies!

How to know when you are in the part of Italy that was formerly Austria. There’s nothing like a beer at elevensies!

 

Even a great trip can have it’s share of problems

8 May
8 May 2016. I have written before about the pleasure of returning to a place. You can relax in the familiarity and explore beyond the usual locales of first-time tourists. Our third trip to London in four months afforded us an opportunity to get beyond Big Ben. We were familiar with the Tube, the bus system, and the city in general. We did not need a map at every turn. We were able to go into neighborhoods previously ignored by us, to find museums less patronized, and to generally enjoy this great city, even if it was unseasonably cold.
That does not mean our trip was trouble free. Oh no!  Our travels are usually problem-free and easy going. No missed trains, no bungled reservations, no illnesses, good meals, and few budget surprises. Pick your favorite cliché: Smooth as silk; Easy as pie; Clear sailing; A bed of roses. This time was somewhat different. We encountered a multitude of weird and annoying little things – things we came to call “wrinkles” in our trip. Perhaps because we were familiar with London, we were able to shrug off the annoyances with a dose of humor. 
I’ve interspersed this narrative with some pictures so you can see we really had a lovely trip. 
When touring Windsor Castle, Ric and I both felt a Disney-like quality. It was also perfect! So serene! No litter, no eating,, the grass "just so."

When touring Windsor Castle, Ric and I both felt a Disney-like quality. It was all so perfect! So serene! No litter, no eating, no smoking, and the grass “just so.”

ANother lovely view of Windsor Castle. The weather was the best we had in a week in London.

Another lovely view of Windsor Castle. The weather was the best we had in a week in London.

Gift shoppe at Windsor full of corgis -- stuffed corgis.

Gift shoppe at Windsor full of corgis — stuffed corgis.

We usually have terrific success with our lodging choices. Whether apartments, B&Bs or hotels, we usually have no complaints or they are so minor we don’t say anything. The flat we had this time in London was hardly a nightmare, but the lack of attention to detail became laughable. One or two “little things” I would brush off, but this place was chock full of wrinkles: Non-working lamps (yes we replaced the bulbs); no wastebaskets; VRBO advertised king-sized bed was a double, not even a queen; non-working heaters (did I mention it was cold?); No hot pads in the kitchen which we did not discover until we had a hot casserole ready to come out of the oven; A washer/dryer combo all-in-one that did such a bad job I had to iron our jeans because they came out of the dryer wrinkled in a way I did not know denim could wrinkle.
Somebody from the staff needs to stay here a few nights and realize what improvements could be made. (See Dear Vacation Rental Property Owner.)
The management sent a taxi to pick us up at St. Pancras as part of the service. The taxi driver apparently could not find the taxi rank and his non-English accent was so thick we could not understand him when he called to coordinate. We had to pay for a cab to the flat, no one offered to reimburse us, and they told us “this happens all the time.” WTF?
We had ordered groceries to be delivered by Waitrose, which has been described as the British Whole Foods. We had done this in March when we rented in a different location and it was flawless. This time, the delivery was quite late and we had plans. I called Waitrose and was told he should be there soon. It took three calls in all, only to find out the driver could not locate our building due to construction in the area. Seriously? I had to go out and walk around the area – about a 4 block square area of densely packed buildings – to find him and lead him in.
Then we had THE GREAT OVEN DISASTER. Our last night, a Friday, we decided to stay in, eat a pizza and salad, and watch a movie. We stopped at Waitrose where we’ve purchased fresh-made take-out pizzas before (yes our standards slipped this one night). I pre-heated the oven and after about 20 minutes Ka-BOOM! The inside glass door of the oven exploded, sending shards of glass flying all over the kitchen. It was safety glass, so the danger of getting cut was minimal, but it was scary, messy, and annoying. The outer oven door glass somehow stayed intact.
I was so stunned I neglected to take an illustrative picture. It looked a lot like the over door in the picture at the top left of this link. If you Google the topic you’ll find it seems to happen a lot. Boh!
Obviously, we were not cooking our takeaway pizza in that oven. We were already in our jammies and not inclined to get dressed again, so we called up Deliveroo for our postcode. We’d seen the ads throughout our week in London so we gave it a whirl. Great service! Twenty-three minutes after placing an order on their website, the delivery guy pulled up to our door on his motor scooter. It was not great pizza, but it was hot and it was delivered to our door.
The Imperial War Museum is a fine museum covering wars from WWI forward.

The Imperial War Museum is a fine museum covering wars from WWI forward. Not very busy on this clear, cold day.

Imperial War Museum, view to the main hall.

Imperial War Museum, view to the main hall.

Montgomery's jeep at teh Imperial War Museum.

Montgomery’s jeep at the Imperial War Museum.

St. Paul's Cathedral, our neighbor this trip.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, our neighbor this trip.

In yet another flat-related “wrinkle,” Ric left his wedding ring on the nightstand, remembering he might have done so when we were already locked up and keys pushed through the mail slot. Any attempt to go back or contact management to let us in (on a Saturday morning of a holiday weekend at 08:00) would have caused us to miss the EuroStar. The staff redeemed itself with true honesty: the cleaning service found the ring and it is being shipped back to us.
Sand dog. Saw this little guy sculpted at Piccadilly Circus. Where he got the sand....

Sand dog. Saw this little guy sculpted at Piccadilly Circus. Where do you suppose the sculptor got the sand?

This red telephone box was the model for all the booths to come. Still in pristine condition unlike most of them these days. Near the Royal Academy.

This red telephone box was the model for all the booths to come. Still in pristine condition unlike most of them these days. Near the Royal Academy.

I don;t know whay is cuter here: The little children on a school outing in their safety vests or the double-decker bus painted to promote Hawaiian pizza (which is a travesty in Italy).

I don’t know what is cuter here: The little children on a school outing in their safety vests or the double-decker bus painted to promote Hawaiian pizza (which is a travesty in Italy).

Finally, we had a couple of transportation wrinkles.
Waiting at Gare de Lyon in a lounge area, two French army soldiers with automatic weapons and a uniformed security guy from SNCF (French national train system) appeared. The SNCF guy asked us to move along for “security reasons” and they cleared the area! We lost no time in beating a retreat to our departure hall, although that meant waiting in the cold. No idea what was going on.
We always hope for minimal drama on the way home. Who wants to end a trip with stress? We got up at 4:30AM in order to make a train at 5:40AM out of Dijon. We were traveling all the way back to Roma from Dijon, 13.5 hours on 3 trains, so we dragged our sleep-deprived selves out before dawn. (Fortunately, our hotel room was equipped with a Nespresso machine. Heaven!) Arriving at the station, we got on the train, and there it sat. Apparently the conductor was a no show. Our 40 minutes to change trains in Lyon ticked away. If we missed the connection we would not get to Rome that night and the cat sitters were leaving, not to mention the prepaid ticket on Trenitalia that would be worthless if we missed the connection. Luckily when the conductor arrived the train driver stepped on it and we had a few minutes in Lyon to catch our connection. Whew!
Tombstones in Postman's Park, London, a park which grew out of a former burial ground. It includes a Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice as well.

Tombstones in Postman’s Park, London, a park which grew out of a former burial ground. It includes a Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice as well.

Did you know? The inspiration for the contemporary wedding cake was the steeple of St. Bride's Church, in London in the 18th century. The baker supposedly had this view out of his window in Ludgate.

Did you know? The inspiration for the contemporary wedding cake was the steeple of St. Bride’s Church, in London in the 18th century. The baker supposedly had this view out of his window in Ludgate.

It may look like spring in London, but it was cold enough to waer gloves every day. The tulips did not care.

It may look like spring in London, but it was cold enough to wear gloves every day. The tulips did not care.

Fools for Sherlock that we are, we did tour 221B Baker Street. it's cute and fun.

Fools for Sherlock that we are, we did tour 221B Baker Street. it’s cute and fun. We also took a walking tour of Sherlock sites with Brit Movie Tours. Very well done!

Fat Boy or the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, is a monument at the spot where the Great Fire of 1666 was stopped.

Fat Boy or the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, is a monument at the spot where the Great Fire of 1666 was stopped.

Last unshrouded picture of Big Ben for awhile. The Elizabeth Tower and the clock will undergo extenisve renovation soon.

Last unshrouded picture of Big Ben for awhile. The Elizabeth Tower and the clock will undergo extensive renovation soon.

And a few more snaps from our Paris food tour. We’ve not done a food tour anywhere before but this will not be the last one. Terrific fun!
Bread chandelier, Poilâne Bakery, St. Germaine. This place has an amazing history. I have posted a link at the bottom of the page.

Bread chandelier, Poilâne Bakery, St. Germaine. This place has an amazing history. I have posted a link at the bottom of the page.

Poilâne again. A beautiful and tasty product,.

Poilâne again. A beautiful and tasty product,

These are chocolates, not marbles, at the very high end chocolatier, Patrick Roger, I think 3-4 Euros per piece. Luckily our food tour included some product tastes.

These are chocolates, not marbles, at the very high-end chocolatier, Patrick Roger, I think 3-4 Euros per piece. Luckily our food tour included some product tastes.

Tiger prawns. Note the lemon included for perspective. Small lemon, but still!

Tiger prawns. Note the lemon included for perspective. Small lemon, but still!

 

Location of our post food tour feast. It means "the last drop."

Location of our post food tour feast. It means “the last drop.”

As I mentioned at the start, familiarity with a location just adds to the enjoyment. Our first two trips were focused on the classic must-sees (see entries about our Christmas trip here and here, and about our March trip).  This time we wandered in diverse and historic neighborhoods, sought out places locals eat lunch, visited the Museum of London (well-curated and much patronized by school groups) and the Imperial War Museum (lightly attended, highly recommended), saw a show (“The Book of Mormon,” which was hilarious), went to the Handel & Hendrix in London exhibit, shopped, and took a ride on an historic steam railroad thanks to out friends from the East Midlands, Nigel and Carol. This third trip only whetted our appetite for more. London, we will be back. But maybe not for awhile…
The story of Poilâne, from an article in The New Yorker.  
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