Posted by Amy
A piece of the Berlin Wall at the Imperial War Museum
Well, another milestone in our tripped has passed. It is time to say good bye to Europe and make our way to Asia. We are ready. We have loved our trip here in Europe but I think we are all feeling a little bit done with cathedrals, castles and art masterpieces. Yawn. Sites are running together and another Panini sandwich or pain du chocolat awaits around the next corner no matter what country we are in. Time for something different, shocking even maybe. We are ready for China. The very wise Lisa Stern told me that a few months from now, familiar and normal might be just the thing we miss the most. Probably true, but not the case right now.
So the last week in Europe was filled with visiting the Sterns one more time in Paris. So nice to be able to see friends when we are so far away. Scott and their other visitors Jill and Kramer made us a delicious and overwhelmingly large Friday night dinner where we celebrated Rikki’s ninth birthday one more time. The Sterns gave Rikki the perfect gift, a book called “The History of Toilets.” The next day it was hot chocolate at the famous Paris eatery, Angelinas. Then a walk through the city ending up at the Cirque d’hiver, a Parisian circus. We sat close enough that we were not aloud to take the kids to their seats until the tigers were back in their cages, too distracting. The circus was refreshingly simple. One ring, acrobats who wince when they have a close call, we were close enough to see that too. The best part was the clowns who were not scary at all.
Paris with Talia and Jonah is so ooh la la!
Chocoalat Chaud at Angelinas
Then we had a slight detour from our travel arrangements. David’s father had a medical scare and David flew home to see his dad. Everything turned out fine with David’s dad, and in the meantime, the girls and I hung out in London waiting for David to return. All in all, we had about 5 unplanned days in London. We filled them by seeing a West End show, Shrek the Musical. We went to the Imperial War Museum where they had a great exhibit on children’s lives in England during WWII. By the way, the Imperial War Museum is the best signed London tourist site in the whole city, maybe even in all of Europe. You simply cannot get lost, from the second you get off the tube there are signs directing you to the museum. Good job London.
We ate at the Dark Restaurant, as chronicled by Eva, a most unusual experience. And to answer all the questions that arose, the food did taste better in the dark and I ate more than usual because I was more interested in finding the food on the plate than I normally would be.
Portobello Market. Ciggarette trading cards, did you know this was a thing?
Finally, David returned long enough for us to meet him at the train station, check out Portobello antique market, where David started no less than three new collections of stuff that we don’t need. Including cigarette trading cards from the early 1900s. Hmmmm…? Then it was off to Heathrow airport and a 12 hour trip to Hong Kong. If you read carefully you will notice that David had flown back from Chicago that morning and out to Hong Kong that night. Since most of you know how David functions on low sleep, you will be impressed to know that he actually managed to stay coherent well into the day before he crashed for the following 24 hours.
So goodbye to Europe. It was great to be with friends, Sterns, Muellers and Belloulous. Your hospitality really brightened our travels. Good bye familiar sounding romance languages, and good bye toilets with seats. We’re goin’ East!
Categories: England, France
* We are back in Hong Kong. For the past three weeks, we have been in mainland China and unable to use our blog due to Chinese blocking foreign social media sites. Don’t worry, everyone seems to get on just fine without facebook over there. Now we are playing catch up and posting some old blogs that were ready to go before we realized we were being blocked.
posted by David
We were in a tiny little town called Nerac in southern France trying to capture the only WIFI available for miles inside a quirky pub over a beer and some Schweppes (beer for me and Schweppes soda for the kids in case you were wondering).
The Bar was called Henri’s and I assumed that was the name of the hyper kinetic guy who owned the place.
Henri bounced from behind the bar to the outside patio and back to a booth where he watched the French news on T.V. and drank espresso after espresso (which may have explained his extreme energy). At one point, Henri sprang out of the booth and started cheering at the T.V as Europeans are known to do when an important football match is playing only it wasn’t football on the television but a big helicopter rescuing some stranded mountain climbers. “That’s it, that’s that’s it, I can’t believe it, did you see that?” I asked him what he was talking about and he told me he was a helicopter pilot in addition to flying planes and also dabbling in Formula racing. He sat down and we talked. He showed me the wooden propeller hanging on the wall of his pub that was from his first airplane. He asked where we were from in the States and was somewhat familiar with Michigan (which was not the case in most of Europe outside the big cities) as he had lived in Chicago for six months 25 years ago when he was working with his brother trying to import Mercedes to the States.
I found out that Henri was from Belgium and had been in Nerac for 15 years. He came to look after a failing vineyard operation his father had bought. After four catastrophic years with the grapes (all had been wiped out by hail), he called it quits.
I asked Henri for a dinner suggestion since it was Monday in France and everything is closed. He called someone and then told me he’d show me the place. I figured he’d walk me out, and point in the right direction, but instead he got in his very old Fiat Panda and gestured for me to get in. The next 90 seconds are a blur. He drove down the very narrow streets which were really more like unpaved switchbacks descending Mt. Everest at such insane speeds that I nearly vomited on his dashboard. Fortunately it was quick to get to the restaurant and tell his friend that my family and I were coming back for dinner. On the way home, Henri nearly crashed into a brand new Mercedes Benz that he said was driven by the local drug dealer but thankfully it was a calmer ride than the one to the restaurant. Once back at the restaurant, I gathered the family and we made our way to the restaurant where we were seated and serviced by a very nice waiter. We had an amazing meal consisting of huge buckets of muscles in a spicy stew. Midway through dinner, Henri surprisingly showed up and the fun began.
We heard in graphic detail about Henri and his wife’s procreative attempts, his wife’s headaches, which he mistakenly called earthquakes, and lots of other biological discussion complete with back of the napkin drawings and unmentionable gesticulations. The kids were loving the entertainment, especially his liberal use of the word, shit, which he pronounced to rhyme with EAT.
Henri was a regular at the place and every time he needed help with a word, he’d call over our waiter. The waiter was patient but was also quite busy and Henri was constantly asking for help with this or that English word or phrase. At one point, Henry called the waiter saying, “Jean Francois…….?” The waiter responded by saying, “Jean Francois? How long have you been coming here? My name is Giovanni!” At which point Henri laughed like a madman. He really didn’t know Giovanni’s name. It made sense though….Henri had been calling me Steve because he thought, for some reason, that I looked like Steve Jobs, I had been calling him Henri but found out that his name was actually Thierry, and his bar, which was called Henri, was named after Henri the 3rd who had renamed himself Henri the 4th (and had a summer home in Nerac). So, in the end, nobody was calling anyone by the correct name but it didn’t matter one bit.
The very best story though came during dinner when Henri told us that his father invented the whipped cream can – his Dad, Armand Schellens, was in the whipped cream business when he met a man in the nitrous oxide business and had a eureka moment (probably induced by the very first whippit) that changed the world of whipped cream forever. He grew the business, merged, bought another business called Capra and turned it into the largest manufacturer of goat cheese in Europe.
Thierry, AKA Henri, was yet another great character that we continue to collect on our journey around the world.
Sadly, we don't have any pictures of Henri, but here is the village he calls home.
posted by Maya
We are a family who likes boats, especially my dad, so the rest of us weren’t surprised when he suggested we go on a boat tour of the south of France. In fact, we were excited! We left Rome and took two days to drive hundreds of miles to Agen, France, where went rented a house boat. Then, it was pretty much “Au Revoir” civilization for the entire week!
Life is good!
The Canal Garonne, isthe kind of place that would be beautiful in every season, with trees and small farms lining the banks; and water flowing freely as far as your eyes can see.
- River Baise in town of Nerac
We had to dock every night, but there wasn’t always a port to dock in. In those cases, we would nature- moor (dock wherever the heck we felt like). When there was a marina or port, we could plug in to their electricity, hook our boat up to a potable water source, and use public bathrooms (see Eva & Rikki’s post).
After two days on the canal, we decided to change direction and go onto the River Baise. It too, was absolutely gorgeous. One night, we docked in a sleepy little town called Nerac. It was a summer tourist town, and since the tourist season was long over for everyone except the crazy Goldmans, there wasn’t much going on. We did meet a very interesting man, though. We think his name was Henri, but we aren’t sure. He was WACKO! He owned a bar in Nerac with free wi-fi, which is where we met him. My parents struck up a conversation with him, and it turns out that he’s from Belgium and that his father invented the can that whipped cream comes in. Henri knew lots of English, including all the swears, which we all now use in our very best French accents. Then, he gave us a dinner recommendation and FOLLOWED US TO THE RESTAURANT! He sat down with us and started telling us about his family. Often, he would need help with English translations (he refereed to his wife’s headache as an earthquake), so he would call out to our waiter, “Hey, Jean- Francois!” Our waiter’s name was Giovanni, but that didn’t seem to bother Henri.
Besides strange people and beautiful scenery, we encountered many locks on our journey. It’s not easy to get your boat through a lock, even when the doors open by themselves. One person has to get out before the boat drifts into the lock chamber. When we get the boat into the lock, another person, still on the boat, will throw ropes attached to the vessel to the person on shore. Then, the person (or sometimes people) on the outside of the boat will pull the boat towards the side of the chamber, using the ropes, as the back doors of the lock close and water either fills it up or drains out of it. Soon, the boat is at the proper water level and the front doors open. The ropes are thrown back on to the boat and the person climbs back in. It took us a while to get this routine down. The first few times we attempted it, the whole lock process took us around 45 minutes. By the last day, we were doing it in 15.
In the lock, waiting for the water to rise
Eva operating the locks
When we got back to Agen (our starting and finishing point), we agreed that we had spent exactly the right amount of time on the boat trip. Had we spent less than a week, we wouldn’t have been ready to go, but any more than a week, and we would’ve killed each other. There’s only so much you can handle in a house boat that’s half the size of your living room!