Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Works Begin!

After many hours of thought and sweat, we have begun the process of connecting our 1st floor flat with the ground floor flat and courtyard with an internal stairway. Cleaning out the room we affectionately call the "fireplace" room was a big chore in and of itself. Loads of bricks and wood that served as a full wall bookcase had to be moved two floors down to the basement. I hope that counts a P90x workout for me, as the gym room is full of boxes and it is becoming more and more difficult to find the time and space to "push play" each day.

Before and after the "brick and wood" exercise:

The two workers from the construction firm we are using spent most of the first day setting up protections and breaking through for the passageway between the two floors. Not knowing what would be found between the two floors, we were expecting some surprises. The big surprise was not just the various levels of materials and construction, but the fact that  plumbing for the heating system ran across the area where the passageway was being cut. The surprise caused a break in one of the four pipes and required turning off the hot water which not only supplied the taps in flat but also the heating system. We will need to wait for day 2 to get this plumbing problem solved.


Our night without heating was not too rough and fortunately in the morning, we found enough hot water left in the reservoir to take some proper showers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Away with the Sea - Air France Strike!

I can see it for miles
I can see it in your face
Within the miles
That lie between us
Away with the sea
The sea that lies between you and me
The tears they float
Away with the sea
It's in the mirror
It's in my eyes
Within the miles that lie between us
Within the miles that lie between us
Away with the sea
Away with the sea

The tears they float
Away with the sea
Away with the sea

The sea that lies between you and me
The tears they float
Away with the sea
Away with the sea
It all began on Wednesday afternoon, just after I completed some translation work with Isabel for a private school admissions application for her son Hugo. The phone rang. It was Fred with the news that his flight from Clermont to Paris on Friday afternoon had been cancelled due to a planned Air France Strike. My initial reaction of laughter was not well received by Fred, but was more of a gallows humor after having survived the RATP/SNCF strike earlier while I was in Paris delivering training for my American Work Contract. I would be leaving on Thursday to deliver the same training in Germany and planned to meet up with Fred in Paris on Friday night for the weekend.
When Fred got home from work, we got on the phone with Air France to find out what his options might be for the Friday travel. Of course, when we called customer service we had to wait and listen to the lovely theme music:
The sea that lies between you and me
The tears they float
Away with the sea
Away with the sea
...
When we finally connected with someone, the only option for Fred would be to take the early morning flight to Paris and then to work in Paris during the day.
My flight to Germany on Thursday via Lyon went without a hitch. Unfortunately, my return trip to Paris on Friday evening was not so smooth. To begin with, the flight was delayed one hour. Then when we boarded the plane, we had to wait close to another hour for a departure spot. On the plane during our hour delay, you may have guessed it. Yes, we got to listen to:
The sea that lies between you and me
The tears they float
Away with the sea
Away with the sea
Once we arrived in Paris CDG and parked, we had to wait several more minutes on board while the passerelle was being connected to the plane. For our entertainment, you got it, we listened to:
The sea that lies between you and me
The tears they float
Away with the sea
Away with the sea
Departing from the plane, we found the door to get into the terminal locked and had to wait several more minutes for someone to arrive and unlock it. Fortunately, there was no musical entertainment.
Already more than two hours late from Germany, at a different terminal than originally posted, I was very lucky to find the MotoTaxi which took me to the hotel. Unfortunately, I arrived too late for a proper dinner, but was able to order from the bar menu just in time for the last call at the Sofitel bar.
The next morning, I was checking my emails and found an email from Air France informing me that my flight to Copenhagen on Sunday had been cancelled. We got on the phone immediately and called Air France and yeah, you guessed it, during our half hour wait to get to a person, we got to listen to:
The sea that lies between you and me
The tears they float
Away with the sea
Away with the sea
A reservation was made for me on Luftunsa flights via Frankfort, but we would need to stop by an Air France office in Paris to pick up the paper tickets. The first office we went to at the Madeline had a queue that went out the door of the building, so we decided to go to another Air France office. At the second office, I stood in line with about 50 people in front of me and Fred went searching for a frequent flyer section. The lady in front of me was on her mobile phone, on hold with Air France and hearing something that I just had to sing along with:
The sea that lies between you and me
The tears they float
Away with the sea
Away with the sea

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Oesterput

One of our best discoveries at the North Sea was a restaurant called "Oesterput". We liked it so much we went there three different days for lunch. We took the tram to get there. We walked on the beach to get there (over 6km each way). We drove there in our rental car.


The restaurant is located in Blankenberge, but just at the bay as you enter Blankenberge from Wenduine. They have an extensive seafood menu with plenty of daily specials. Live seafood is kept in the room that adjoin the dining area. The atmosphere is festive and colorful and plenty of creative art work can be found throughout the restaurant. Patrons are seated at long tables, which creates an even more festive environment.




What we ate? Each time we had lunch here we tried something different. Mussles, the royal seafood platter, lobster, salmon, fish soup - we would have tried everything if we only had the time.





On of the challenges we experiences was how to hand peel the little shrimp from Oostende. Our waiter explained the technique to us, but it took some of us several times before we finally figured out how to do it properly.





Carpe Diem

For our vacation in De Hann (Le Coq), Belgium, we stayed at the Carpe Diem Hotel. This is part of a chain of charming hotels called the Romantik Hotels and Restaurants International. It was family oriented and romantic and luxurious at the same time.



We stayed in the Sealoft Room. As you will see in the pictures, the room was very tastefully decorated and quite spacious.




The hotel was run by a very gracious couple who made everyone feel at home. There was an outdoor swimming pool and gardens on the grounds of the hotel. A beautiful and bountiful continental breakfast was provided each morning to the hotel guests.


So if you find yourself at the North Sea, this is gem that you should really seize the day for!

Three Days in Boston

After Provincetown, we spent three days in Boston. I only had vague recollections of Boston and Fred had never been to the city, so we were both looking forward to discovering this new place for us together. We stayed at the Nine Zero hotel on 90 Tremont Street. We were just steps from Boston Commons, so this was a nice location to be staying at.



We discovered some interesting restaurants in Boston. Sunday night dinner at Masobu, a pan-asian restaurant about 10 minute walk from the hotel. Breakfasts at Dunkin Doughnuts and Finagel a Bagel. Monday lunch at the Beantown Pub, where we sampled the boneless chicken wings. Monday night dinner at Club Cafe. Lunch on Tuesday at the No Name restaurant on the fishing docks of the harbor. Dinner Tuesday night in the north end (Little Italy) at Vinoteca de Monica with Jean-Fran├žois and Juan. Lunch on Wednesday in the Beacon Hill section at the Hungry I.


We took the Old Town Trolley tour. This gave us an overview of the city and where things were. We took the Freedom Trail guided tour. Our guide was very entertaining and made the history of Boston come to life with her many anecdotes.



Shopping!!! CVS, Borders, Macy's, Filene's Basement, Cambridge Crossing Mall, and the Pottery Barn. (Don't forget to take your non-US passport to Macy's and ask for the foreigner's discount!)

Provincetown Memories

Our trip to Provincetown was full of good times and things we will remember for a long time. We were lucky to have reasonably nice sunny weather for the whole time we were there.



We also were fortunate to experience "family week". This is a week set aside in Provincetown for gay and lesbian families. Truly a rainbow experience to see the diversity of these families. From adopted children from around the world to all possible combinations of biological parenting, it was really a heart warming feeling to see these families where every child was wanted, cared for and loved for who they are, giving new meaning to "planned parenthood".


We spent plenty of time outdoors. We rented bikes from Arnold's Bike Rental on two different days. We went to the beach at Herring Cove on two different afternoons. We walked through the marsh to get there the first day and the second time we took the granite jetty to there. The water was nice and warm.


From the hotel to the town we walked down Commercial Street every chance we had. We enjoyed the simple architecture of the homes and the opportunity to walk hand in hand without anyone staring!

We also got to attend some of the evening cabaret entertainment that Provincetown offers. The Ryan Landry creation and theatrical production of "The Milkman Always Comes Twice" was a spoof of 1940's film noir detective stories. Taking place in "Little Italy" during a dairy strike, this production was full of gems of performance and clever lines galore. We both found it hysterical. We saw this at the Crown and Anchor on Commercial Street our first night in P-town. We also attended a funny trio known as The Nellie Olesons. They did an act billed as Saturday Night Live skits, only funny. We talked to the producer and were able to get a half price ticket for Fred, since he wouldn't be able to enjoy all of the American humor. We also saw the piece written by Bruce Vilanch called "A Sophisticated Evening with Jeff Stryker", which I guess answers the question what happens to old porn stars. There were plenty of other shows and productions that we did not get to see, so this gives us yet another reason to return.

We did all our shopping or browsing at one of two stores. Marine Speciality was our favorite. An army/navy surplus store with a little bit of everything - we were always amused by our times there. Cuffy's T-shirt world was another real find with cheap t-shirts, shorts and all sorts of sports clothing. We also went to Adams Pharmacy for some decongestants and TEABERRY GUM!

Sight seeing tour - the Provincetown Trolley Company. This is great way to get an idea of what Provincetown has to offer. The accent can a little difficult for the non-english natives among us, but it is a great way to spend 40 minutes out of the sun!

Of course a trip to P-town would not be complete without a visit to some of the local saloons. We needed to test out the Cape Codders to see if they tasted any different in Cape Cod. Happy to report they taste just a great there as they do at 5, rue gregoire de tours! We went to an afternoon tea dance at the Boatslip. The outdoor deck was full of people and the dancefloor was nearly impossible to get to. We went to the A-house a couple of times, frequenting the Macho Bar there.

Where to begin with the restaurants? Well, we tried several. Found that our favorite was Ross's Grill, where we had three dinners. This place had a great view of the harbor, excellent soft shelled crabs, fresh oysters, and plenty of wines from around the world to try with our meals. For Italian, we went to Sal's Place. Our waiter was entertaining and we got to sit outside. For lunches our favorite place was the Patio American Grill and Cocktail Bar. We also had lunch at the WayDownTown Restaurant. For the spiciest bloody marys you need to go to the Lobster Pot!

Full of memories and good times, we are already looking at rental properties for next summer!

Ferry Crossings

One of the easiest ways to get to and from Provincetown is to take a ferry from Boston harbor. This was our approach for starting our Provincetown vacation and for finishing it as well.


We flew into Boston International Airport from Paris, arriving in the evening. Stayed overnight at the Marriott LongWharf and caught the early morning Boston Harbor Cruise ferry to Provincetown. The ferry takes about 90 minutes and doesn't take any cars - only people and bikes! We walked right out of the hotel and on to the wharf to catch the ferry. It couldn't have been simpler.


During our trip to Provincetown we were cloaked in clouds and it was only as we approached the cape that some of this started to burn off.



For our departure trip from Provincetown, we were bemused by the perfectly sunny Sunday afternoon. The day had been the end of the Pan Massachusetts Bike ride, so we were inundated with passengers with bikes on this trip. We took the 4:00pm ferry back to Boston. This would give us plenty of time to find the hotel and begin our discovery of Boston during some hours of daylight.



Whale Watching

The Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown provides several daily trips on their vessels for whale watching. There are scientists aboard each boat and often during the trip they are collecting samples or making measurements of activity in the sea. They also provide excellent commentary to the passengers and answer any questions that arise. We took the 10:00 tour on Tuesday, August 2nd.

Our trip took us around the tip of cape and out into the Atlantic Ocean. It was a beautiful sunny day and the sea was calm. In anticipation, we waited and hoped to see our first whale.

It wasn't long, once we were in the open sea that the boat started to slow down and we were instructed to look out on the left side of the boat where we would see the tail of our first humpback whale. He was one of the whales that had been tracked by the Dolphin Fleet for several years and his name was "walrus" as he had a marking that resembled a walrus on his tail. Dolphin Fleet had documentation on hundreds of individual whales and in some cases knew the genealogy of the whales that we were seeing.

We went our a little further and the boat stopped again. This time a mother whale and her eight month old calf were swimming near the boat. The calf was very inquisitive about the boat and the people on the boat and reached out her fin a couple of times and waved to us.


As headed back, we saw two more humpback whales that were swimming together.

All in all, our whale watching expedition was great success. We enjoyed the sun, the sea and largest mammals of the sea!

Biking in the Dunes

The Cape Cod National Seashore Park contains some excellent bike trails that were built in the 1960's as part of recreational plan of President Kennedy. The National Park Service maintains this beautiful preserve. Plan to spend a half day minimum and probably a full day if you enjoy nature and biking to use these bike trails. We rented our bikes in town and started on the bike trail at Herring Cove Beach. While we were very happy to see the Hill signs at the top of the hills, our smiles turned to frowns as we got into low gears and started our ascents up the hills.



We did take several breaks on our biking through the dunes. Some out of sheer necessity and others to enjoy the spectacular beauty of the park.



While there is road for automobiles that cuts through the preserve, we didn't see or hear many cars on our trek that day. We did take the Provincetown Trolley tour of the city the day before, which goes through the park, so we had some idea to the size of it and it's beauty. But there is nothing like experiencing it on bikes.


The bike trail will take you to the Province Lands Visitor Center. The center has a viewing deck, a small museum and film room, rangers to answer your questions, and a fountain of ice cold water to fill up those water bottles!


We loved riding our bikes so much in Provincetown, we decided to rent them again for another half day rental. Our second day rental was primarily in the town, but we couldn't resist trying another part of the trail we missed on our tour through the National Park the first time.