Getting Ourselves Sorted: Volume 2

Sharing a pint with one of my best mates in London

It only cost twenty pence to use the gents toilet at Regent’s Park. There is an automatic saloon like door and a kiosk that only takes credit card taps. Unfortunately for our bladders, the kiosk does not seem to like American credit cards. This scenario has now played out for us across most of London. What we have learned to do is stand by the saloon doors with a perplexed expression on our face until someone from the inside let’s us in. It is all a bit embarrassing but then again as Americans we are used to a bit of embarrassment.

Several train and bus rides brought us to the “Taskmaster House.” With a bit of creative peeping we were able to get a good glimpse of the house, the phone booth and the small glass dome.

Another thing we have done a lot of in Europe is watch our clothes dry. This is due to most places we have stayed at having a washing machine but not a dryer. So we dutifully wash our duds then drape them across our room. Over time we have developed a system which involves the gradual rotation of clothes between a series of optimal/less optimal drying locations. Usually it takes a couple days to actually sort all these clothes with a new cycle then beginning the moment the old one is complete.

Regent’s Park

All busses should be at least two stories high. Or at least that it what we though while riding high across a stalled London traffic pattern. It is really an incredible experience to be able to see over the cars while stuck in traffic. Even more amazing is how efficient public transportation is in London. Rarely have we waited more than ten minutes for a bus or train. And to be able to experience it all from a low flying bird’s perspective? Amazing.

Getting Ourselves Sorted

We took an early train to London and were a little disappointed with the underwater. No fish or mermaids or any other nautical site spied out the window. Just twenty or so minutes through a dark tunnel. Afterwards the announcements though were given first in English and then French.

Leaving Paris for train to London

They speak a very specific type of English here. It is more concise and assertive. For example, in the bathroom a sign read “Catch in. Bin it. Kill it” which, as best we can tell, means “wash your hands after blowing your nose.” On the train we frequently hear “See it. Say it. Sort it.” In Chicago it would be “If you see something suspicious, please report it right away.” I feel better though just having someone sort it right away.

Pride in London – The Mayor of London estimated that a million people attended the event. We caught some of the parade which wound itself tightly through much of the city. Event felt more joyous than defiant.

We do not like crossing the street in London as cars seem to come at you from the most random of directions. Walking on the sidewalk is no bed of roses either; Americans walk on the right side with the English then politely moving out of the way. And they are polite. We seem to earn a friendly tap of the horn each time we attempt to cross the street.

Postcards from Paris

Two different perspectives of the Eiffel Tower

Luckily all three of us are feeling a bit stronger. To celebrate that fact we spent our first full day in Paris mostly underground and surrounded by death.

The Catacombs have been a Paris tourist attraction for centuries. While the tunnels were never that narrow, we nonetheless worries about accidentally brushing up against the bones.
Our Airbnb hostess lays out this delicious spread each morning. We can get used to this.
Looking out from Shakespeare and Company. Founded by Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare and Company was the place to be for Lost Generation writers like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. They were also the first to publish James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Just chilling in the City of Lights

Life in Rouen

Covid squeezes life like an accordion. At home and during the first scary months of the pandemic it shrunk my work, home and life to a one mile radius. Then the tight ever present fear would loosen it’s grip and we would escape before eventually returning to that same tight squeeze.

Kristine and Corey- Corey is the one with the mask

As Corey said we have Covid. Despite being fully vaccinated, taking reasonable precautions (like telling everyone on this blog we wouldn’t be talking about Covid) and not wanting to get it we still got it. So far it has been a mild ride and for that we are extremely grateful. Others we know whom are equally vaccinated have seen this illness turn to pneumonia or have it linger for weeks. Hopefully this will not be us.

View from kitchen window- we have spent a lot of time resting in this apartment

We are grateful as well for family. Our niece Kristine and her boyfriend Francois have been incredibly patient with us. Together they have fixed toilets (they are a lot trickier here), unlocked doors (you have to turn the key exactly three and a quarter times) and defused tricky dining out situations (people don’t work on tips here so you have to be extra nice if you want to be seated near closing time). Francois by the way is French and, maybe this is the Covid talking, is like a son to me. A son whom I will never tire of badgering for favors.

Kristine, Francois and a photo bombing Noel

It’s a great time in Europe to be traveling with Covid. There are no restrictions. There is no mandatory quarantine. In-between naps we have actually seen a lot of Rouen but only within an approximate one mile walking radius (and not the beaches of Normandy and not by kayaking the Seine as was previously planned). Our apartment here in Rouen is both lovely and cheap so we will stay one extra day/one less night in Paris to rest. And we of course wear masks whenever we are near another person. Life could be worse. A lot lot worse.

Rouen, Normandy

C’est le vie

Bonjour from France.

The land of cheese, wine, windy streets, and unfortunately for us-COVID. Yes, we have covid. When planning this trip, we knew it was a risk. We chose to roll the dice and take that gamble. And in the 3rd day of the trip I (Corey here) was presented with that double positive line on a covid test.

We are hoping to rally, and have this all behind us before we head to London. But next stop is Paris, and when we told our next air bnb host of our predicament, she was not phased saying, “no worries from me, I have all three vaccines, that’s a part of life”. Obviously the motto is alive alive and well here. C’est le vie.

The dreaded positive result

We are all feeling ok. Some stuffiness, congestion and aches. But all in all- OK. We are nestled in a cozy air bnb in Rouen France, where my niece lives. Plans have been rerouted, and things are not going as planned but C’est le vie. That’s life. You move on.

Kristine and Francois

We entered this trip I suppose with that same view point. It didn’t seem like the best time to be traveling abroad-but who knows, maybe next year would be worse. Why wait? Nothing good comes from waiting. Life moves fast, one must move with it, throw some caution to the wind and enjoy.

Well, I suppose that’s what we did. In time, I hope we are all healthy, strong and ready to move on with this adventure.

C’est le vie after all. Life happens. You move on.

Corey

French breakfast
Three glasses of wine:)
Walking the streets of Rouen in search of Thai

Do Icelanders Really Believe in Elves?

Pingvellir National Park

The typical Icelander, per random articles pulled from the net, is a published author, excels at chess and believes wholeheartedly in Elves. Find that last factoid a bit difficult to swallow which pushed me to ask Icelanders whether or not they believe in Elves. First lesson I learned; it is very awkward asking people if they believe in Elves.

At Gullfoss Falls

I did though manage one such conversation with a very patient National Park ranger. His take was that Icelanders embrace Elves due to their place in folklore. Believing in Elves then is like believing in the Spirit of Christmas.

Scenes along the Golden Circle

Really though what it comes down to is that there is so much in this Universe we just don’t understand. Why not just blame it on the Elves?

Getting Over Jet Lag in Iceland

My current Facebook feed is mostly pop-up “articles” related to recent Google searches. For example, a typical FB generated article for me might be “All The Reasons Why You Should Buy Yourself Yet Another Coffee Maker. Reason 11 Will Surprise You.” I will then mindlessly flip through this slide show from Hell in search of that elusive eleventh reason. One pop-up article though that I did not mind from last week concerned the weirdness of Iceland.

Greenland spied from our airplane window

Iceland is in fact pretty weird. Take Wyoming and populate it with Vikings. Then separate those Vikings from the rest of Europe for a few hundred years. Add to that the Northern Lights, a genuine belief in Elves (so Facebook tells me) and unlimited hot water. That my friends is Iceland.

Our lovely room in Iceland

And that is also our Airbnb. For less than $100 a night we have ourselves a beautifully large and well appointed guest bedroom complete with small fridge, access to a cute kitchen and a nice ocean view.. This is in a country where hotels regularly go for $700 or more a night.

Not your typical shower

The experience here also includes a shower too bizarre not to be mentioned. Standing in at about five foot six is something better resembling a Singer sewing machine than a shower. I say that because the plumbing involves a series of handles that, when operated correctly, blend two competing streams of water. One stream is boring and cold. The other is a sulphery, boiling mess of liquid possibly pumped in from Old Faithful. If ignored it might burn. Equilibrium between the two streams, while theoretically possible, is not a likely outcome. More than a metaphor, the shower exists as a challenge; it might even possibly make me a better man.

Day 1: We Decide Not To Take The Blue Line to Iceland

Henna and I were game. And also relieved when Corey took Shari up on her offer to drive us to the airport. So much nicer than standing in 90+ degree heat waiting for a train. Also allowed us the chance for some pleasant “crap our kids are going to college” talk. Really the last several weeks have been one long drawn out goodbye/celebration filled with graduations, proms and parties. We love to travel. We also love our family, neighbors and friends. Honestly this beginning was a bit tougher than most.

Day 1: Probably the Freshest We Will Be For Some Time

I would write more but boarding is almost done. Time now is about an hour before sunset. We are headed east so I don’t expect to ever actually catch the sun. We arrive local time 6:30 AM just a bit south of the Arctic Circle. Don’t expect to see true dark until Paris. Will try to check in soon.

Step One: Get Yourself A Good Backpack

So this is the plan; Shari drops us off at the Blue Line which takes us to O’Hare and then it is off to Iceland we go. Three days later our flight continues to Paris where our lovely niece Kristine and her cool boyfriend Francois have promised to show us around. Then we take a very fast and mostly underwater train to London which will later be followed by a whole bunch of other train rides through Scotland and Wales. Eventually we take a boat to Dublin before one last final flight back to Chicago.

Man we miss those dogs at Waterton! Been way too long.

First thing to do though is to begin packing. In my backpack there will be a sweater, a very light rain jacket, a pair of pants, two shorts, lots of underwear, socks and t-shirts as well as a few odds and ends such as my favorite Yeti cup and a couple of paperback books. Henna and Corey will pack in a similar manner with Henna right now choosing to also bring along one incredibly dense piece of classic literature. I do not like the literal weight of the book but Henna thinks it will be fine (update: Henna has since abandoned that plan). We will also of course bring along a few rapid tests just in case plus one tiny backpack for walking about.

Six year old Henna.

Covid, Covid, Covid. Yep. We might get it. We will try not to get it. But we do not plan on taking any extraordinary precautionary steps. And by that, I mean we will not be skipping out on pubs. Pubs might be the thing I am most looking forward to. Scampi and chips with a pint of ale. Yum.

Taken at our favorite place during the first summer of the pandemic.

With or without Covid the world is a scary place. It has gotten too hot. And overcrowded. Things also cost too much and everyone is always shouting at one another. And guns, whether they be the easily purchased assault rifles here in America or the ones held by Putin’s conscripts, make everything just that much worse. Given all that, it would make perfect sense for us not to leave our pleasant northwest side Chicago neighborhood. But that is just not what we do. We travel because we can. We also still very much love sharing our insights, ramblings and other such nonsenses.  A shout out to M&M at Chase Bank because I promised I would do so. Cheers.

From March, 2018- Riding Detroit’s People Mover

Sitting at a Coffee Shop in St. Paul, MN while Henna and Corey attend Macalester’s Open House

Two years into the Pandemic I am sitting in an overcrowded coffee shop mask less. No one here is wearing a mask which makes it easy to eavesdrop on all the catty conversations. Someone supposedly is a total nightmare. Made her boyfriend go vegetarian. Also made him propose to her. And all the time she whines about how everyone is so entitled. Didn’t catch her name but I know I hate her.

I am not at all hating the world slowly returning to normal. Normal being war ravaging Eastern Europe, inflation running rampant and a despotic former President lurking about like Voldemort. But I do not always have to wear a mask so that’s nice.

Conversations here are turning more adult. Not sexy adult but boring adult. Something about their jobs. So I leaned over to ask them to talk more about their friend.

I did not actually do that. Instead I leaned into my coffee and thought a lot about my kid. How she use to be so small. Would hold my hand when walking to the park. Crap like that. Now she’s a season or two away from heading off to college. I am so incredibly happy she found such an amazing place to call home for the next four years. Wish though my neighbors would talk about something a bit more juicy.

A stroll around the neighborhood