Lost and found in Paris

map of parisHand me a map of Paris and I will often guide you to your exact destination, and only occasionally turn you in the wrong direction and send you miles away. Don’t hand me a map and the following happens.

My husband and I embarked on the Hemingway haunts walking tour as carefully laid out in Easy Hiker’s Hemingway’s Latin Quarter. Easy Hiker advises its readers to begin in a park at the end of the Île de la Cité, which is a natural island in the Seine and the center of the city.

Before leaving our hotel I found a reference in my guidebook to the original site of the best Paris ice creamery — Berthillon — also on this island. So we made a slight alteration in the official hike plans and decided to start from wherever we found two scoops.

We had no trouble getting to the island. It’s large. But the ice cream? I had forgotten the map. “Let’s try this street,” I said for no good reason, as I looked at the jumble of cafés, restaurants, shops and tourists around us.

We had walked a few yards when a young woman approached us.  “I’m taking a survey. May I ask you a question.”

Groan.

As I prepare to be distracted from my mission, which was now ice cream and not Hemingway or a survey, I look across the street. “There it is,” I shouted and we abandoned the surveyor for more important things.

Next planned stop: Shakespeare and Company Bookstore.  We knew Hemingway didn’t borrow books from the store on the current site, because it existed somewhere else in the 1920’s, but it has such a wonderful ambiance and it does carry his books.IMG_0922

“Where do you think it is?” I asked.

“Across a bridge.” (As an aside, there are thirty-five pedestrian bridges in Paris.)

“The bridge with the memorable graffiti we used as a landmark when we were here last year? IMG_1386

“Yeah.  I think so.”

“Where’s that?”

Sadly, Buble But had disappeared since last fall, but we did eventually find the bookstore, and the neighborhoods we explored almost daily a year ago.

I pulled out my iPhone and clicked on Easy Hike and we started wandering.

“We know this street,” I said.

“Yeah and we know this one too.  This is where we stopped to listen to a jazz band.”IMG_5757

“We passed this restaurant a dozen times.”

IMG_1066

New name and higher prices than in Hemingway’s time, probably cleaner too

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Luxembourg Gardens

And so it went. The only important sites we’d missed before were the “Hemingway Slept Here” signs. Thanks to Easy Hiker, we spotted those and our tour was complete. (We skipped the Luxembourg Gardens — another part of the tour — because we walked through it every day)

“When we travel, we just walk around,” complained my husband afterwards.

Hemingway lived here too

Where did he get that idea?

Hemingway lived in an attic in this building

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Are you ready for these glasses?

Paris

Paris

As part of preparing to attend my high school reunion, I couldn’t resist looking at my senior picture in the yearbook.  And what did I notice first?  The glasses.

I started wearing glasses at age eight, which gave my mother many years to choose frames for me.  I remember wearing white cat’s eyes, blue frames, and most unusual of all, plaid frames.  My graduation photo shows dark frames that make me look very studious. My mother wouldn’t have chosen those. I must have wanted to look studious, or at least blend in.

Recently, I learned that my mother’s taste in frames were modest by comparison to today’s European styles.

If I only had to put on a pair of glasses to read the fine print I could live with any of these, but they’d get old fast if I had to wear them for sixteen hours a day…in public.

Bruges

Bruges

 

Bruges

Bruges

 

 

 

Bruges

Bruges

 

 

 

 

Thankfully these were not available to my mother when I was growing up.

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European travels 3: losing my cell phone in Haarlem

HaarlemThis is a story about losing my cell phone in the Netherlands last week.

Why stay any longer in Haarlem, Netherlands, we asked? Everything we want to see is closed on Mondays. On our walk back to the railway station, I reach in my purse for my cell phone. I want to take a photo of a Mexican restaurant, seemingly a hot, new attraction in this city.

No phone.

I try other pockets.

Where is my phone?

We run back to the store where I have just purchased a scarf. I must have set down the phone when I signed for the charge.  The store clerk checks her security cameras. “You didn’t have a phone in your hand when you came in,” she says.

We return to the pair of picnic tables in one of the town squares where we’d landed when we arrived. I know I set my phone on top of one. I ask at all the nearby restaurants, “Did anyone turn in a cell phone?”

“Sorry, but if you left it there, it’s gone,” says one waiter.

We return to Amsterdam and I call Verizon to cut off service. I write on Facebook (I still have my iPad), “Sad day. Lost my iPhone and my travel photos,” and receive many comments commiserating with me.

About the same time my friend Claudia, who recently moved to Kentucky and talked me into getting What’sApp for my phone so she and I could stay in touch, receives a note from me on WhatsApp. It says, “Hi.” Since she and I often communicate in Spanish, she sends me an audio message in that language asking if I’ve returned home. She posts a picture of herself with a caption in Spanish.

She gets another response: “I found this foon.”

“Only hi?” she asks.

“I am living in Hoofddorp, Netherlands.”

The conversation continues until she understands that she’s not hearing from me and that the sender wants to reach me to return my phone.  Claudia tells him to contact me on Facebook and she emails me details of what she’s just learned.

The story gets more complicated from here.  The man with my phone calls our hotel; they tell me to meet him at the Schipol airport at a certain gate and time.  We go to the airport and he’s not there, nor is the gate number correct.  We walk 13 miles that day.

He posts on Facebook — which we read when we arrive back at the hotel — that the real time to meet us is an hour later than he’d first said.  He,  Claudia and begin to communicate regularly while Facebook friends watch on.

We leave Amsterdam the next morning.  I check Facebook for messages before we go. Nothing. When we arrive in Seattle I find one message asking for our flight number and saying the man will meet us at the Schiphol airport. Too late.

Back home, friends who had followed the conversation on-line ask me what has happened to my phone.  I tell them the man has agreed to send it to my home.  He then sends a photo of the envelope he’s put it in and I groan.  No way will it arrive intact. There will be a post office sticker that says “damaged in transit” and I will be staring at shards of what was once a cell phone screen.

Against all odds, the phone arrives. In one piece. In an ordinary envelope, neatly wrapped in part of a paper towel. All thanks to the kindness and perseverance of one friend and one stranger and the wonders of social media, (conscientious postal workers, too).

 

 

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Europe Part 2: Normandy Beaches

We were the heartiest two in our group of eight to make the three-hundred-mile road trip from Paris to the Normandy Beaches and back. That’s probably why the guide started us out in the last row of his van and kept us there during our twelve-hour odyssey. It was a “moving” day from having to climb in and out of the van a few dozen times, but also from standing in the place where history changed on June 6, 1944.

normandyThis map highlights our route.

The tour began at Le Mémorial de Caen, which is a museum and war memorial, and ended at Utah Beach. (Actually our first stop was a gas station complete with amenities such as fresh croissants and pain au chocolat.)

Today, the sites near the five Normandy beaches where Allied soldiers landed in 1944 are sleepy tourist towns. But in 1944 they were the destination of more than a million troops — U.S., British, Canadian, Polish, and French — seeking an entry point to engage the Germans in France, which was under Hitler’s control.

What happened June 6?  Allies stormed five beaches along the Normandy coast. Their goal was to move on to Paris and then to Germany.

Ann and Greg in front of maps of landing

Ann and Greg in front of diagrams of the landing

Practically none of the first-day objectives were met. Rough seas, strong currents, cloudy skies, and an unexpected number of German machine gun placements interfered with plans to attack by air and sea and cost thousands of lives that day.

 

 

Nearly 10,000 graves at American Cemetery

American Memorial Cemetery

Omaha Beach, one of two assigned to U.S. troops, turned out to be the most difficult to cross, with many casualties occurring the first morning. Allied casualties on all five beaches that day totaled 10,000. Many civilians also died.

peaceful Omaha beach

Omaha Beach, peaceful 70 years later

The story of the Normandy invasion is one of heroism, plans gone awry, perseverance and eventual success. Many of the soldiers were young (some as young as 17) and innocent. They expected the mission to go easy and end quickly. Instead, anything that could go wrong did. Yet, ultimately, the Allies liberated France. People in this part of France are still grateful for the help they and their ancestors received during that era.

Thank you to British soldiers who landed at Gold Beach

Thank you to British soldiers who landed at Gold Beach

Arromanches, site of Gold Beach landing

Arromanches, site of Gold Beach landing and the restaurant where we ate lunch

 

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European travel: part 1

Horse and Heineken, a meal we did not have

Tonight’s special: Heineken and Horse Tenderloin

After waking up at four a.m. this morning, wandering around in a jet-lag stupor while checking the clock every few minutes to see if it was lunchtime yet, I decided the only thing I was capable of doing was writing a blog. It’s a slow process, because my computer mouse disconnects every few minutes, but this is an event that mirrors what’s going on in my brain.

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks because my husband and I were traveling in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and I didn’t have time to write.  I was too busy walking and I had to check my “fitbit activity tracker” (see blog on topic) every few minutes to see how many miles we had covered on foot. We set a record one day of 13 miles. Unfortunately, these were not miles accumulated in the course of seeing new and wonderful sights so much as in the course of trying to track down a lost cell phone. But that story can wait for another day.

While we were away I jotted down a list of possible short blog topics related to travel and this trip in particular. This morning I read over my list and decided that plunging in would be more fun than unpacking.

I’ve already failed in the goal of producing a “short” blog, so for today, I’ve chosen a topic — the price of travel — that is easily summed up in one sentence: it costs a bundle to travel in Europe. When we first went there, right after college, we used the guidebook, “Europe on 5 Dollars a Day” by Arthur Frommer. “Europe on 500 Dollars a Day” would better describe the change in prices since that earlier era.

One reason we were able to travel more cheaply back then was that we didn’t mind sharing a bathroom with dozens of other people or sleeping with fleas. (I only encountered the latter once, in Athens, but still remember spending a lot of time on that leg of the trip scratching, well, my legs.) We stayed at youth hostels – for $1 a night — rather than hotels. All you had to do was carry a sheet with you and the hostel would loan you a bunk bed with a blanket, a bathroom down the hall, and maybe offer coffee and toast in the morning.

bouillabase

Bouillabaisse and bib

Now we stay in hotels and use their sheets. Even opting for tiny rooms — which seems to be standard European lodging — costs a lot. Fortunately, massive breakfast buffets allowed us to spend an extraordinary amount on breakfast, while saving money by skipping lunch. The price of dinner, however, more than made up for missing a sandwich at noon.  At one restaurant in Brussels, our dinner bill was 98.5 euros for one green salad split in half, the best baguette we’ve ever eaten, one bucket of mussels, one order of bouillabaisse, and a bottle of wine. The next evening we vowed to scrimp and save. We achieved our goal. Dinner that night — with only half a bottle of wine — came to 94.5 euros.

I’ve checked off food and lodging, but wait, there’s more.  Add in trains, subways, buses and the occasional taxi, museum fees and tips, and round up to the nearest thousand.

These days Mr. Frommer calls his advice books the “Easy Guide” series. Makes sense, knowing how easy it is to pack a few credit cards.

 

 

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A mellow high school reunion

bannerMy high school reunion was last Saturday and at first I was skeptical about attending. I haven’t kept in touch with anyone, so at earlier reunions it had been easy to drop in, say hello to a few friends, and leave early.  This time, it helped that for months before the event, classmates posted photos on Facebook from school, summer camps, slumber parties, birthday parties and other events to whet the appetites of the wary.

This reunion was different.

I loved hearing about my classmates’ lives and the many directions they’ve taken.  Few conversations dwelled on people’s work. We shared memories of teachers, school principals, and being trounced in the annual Turkey Day football championship game. Grandchildren were a hot topic. The rock and roll band from high school days, “The Gents,” is still playing and, as everyone at the reunion will testify, still playing well.

The Gents  Jim Starkey, Jerry Carter(3 of the band members)

The Gents:  Jim Starkey, Jerry Carter (photo only caught 3 of the 5 band members)

One close friend, a Montessori teacher when I last saw her, now owns two restaurants. Even though they’re in another town, I realized I had eaten in one of them. She and another female friend learned to fly under their dads’ guidance and once owned their own airplanes, unheard of for women in the past — except, of course, for Amelia Earhart.

Why was this different from the 10th and the 30th? Over the years, everyone had mellowed. No one boasted about their feats in life. We weren’t going to change and we’d accepted our places in the world. Even though a few intended to diet ahead of time, I don’t think anyone really did. At a certain age, what you’ve done and where you’ve been matters less. Who you are now — on the inside — counts for more.

The reunion was also a time for true confessions.  One guy told me he had a crush on me in sixth grade, called my house and played music over the phone.  Now that’s a memory I wish I had retained. Memories are tricky. Another grade school classmate shared one about my mom that he had held on to for all these years. It was a nice one; regrettably, it was of someone else’s mom.

I had a great time talking to grade school friends, kids who lived in the same neighborhood, many of whom I played with.  I can still picture their houses.  I missed seeing those who didn’t come, who’d dropped from everyone’s radar or dropped from the world in a more permanent way.

The feedback we received suggests we should do it again, but sooner than ten years.  It must be our age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Planning a trip with help from Hemingway

Luxembourg Garden

Luxembourg Palace in Luxembourg Garden

Planning a trip is nearly as exciting as traveling. Your anticipation builds, and you become immersed in your destination. All in the comfort of your home, before you spend hours pancaked in an airplane seat or diverted to the wrong airport because passengers are brawling over the matchbook-sized spaces beside, in front and behind them.

In advance of a trip to Paris I’m doing my planning via three books — “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain, “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway, and “Old-fashioned Corners of Paris” by Christophe Destournelles — with a little Rick Steves thrown in for good measure.

Paris was a mecca for artists and writers in the 1920’s. The 2011 movie, “Midnight in Paris,” allowed us to experience that era in the main character’s fantasies. Ernest Hemingway figured large in the movie, as he did in life.

“The Paris Wife” imagines his years in Paris with first wife Hadley and is told from her point of view.

Shakespeare and Company, Left Bank

Shakespeare and Company, Left Bank

“A Moveable Feast” — which my husband bought at Shakespeare and Company — is Hemingway’s memoir of those early years in which he attempted to launch his career as a writer with the help of other expatriate writers living in Paris at the time. “Moveable feast” is a reference to Christian Holy Days, such as Easter, which are not set on the same date every year. But for Hemingway it also points to something deeper. He is quoted as saying, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

These two books present her side and his in their deteriorating relationship. Both tell measured storiescir, though she is clear about how she suffered when he became involved with another woman. He’s more circumspect, but subtly acknowledges his role in the failure of the marriage.

“We’re lucky that you found the place,” [said Hadley, referring to their apartment].

“We’re always lucky I said, and like a fool I did not knock on wood. There was wood everywhere in that apartment to knock on, too.”

Both books do a wonderful job of putting the reader in Paris during that era and they tantalize us with references to streets, buildings, parks and other landmarks that still exist. Initially I planned to find these on the Paris map and create a walking tour. But someone else has done it for me. The blog, “easy hiker” has mapped out “Themed Paris Urban Walk: Hemingway’s Latin Quarter.” It turns out that we did much of the walk last year, but without awareness of any of the landmarks. “Easy hiker” has photos of streets, buildings and cafés, which will make our next stroll all the more interesting.

“Old-fashioned Corners” also takes us back in time to a clock maker, an old restaurant, a tripe butcher shop, a button store, the last phone booth. You’d find most of these sites away from the city center. The few remaining Parisian photo booths appeal to me the most. Remember the movie “Amélie”? The book describes the output of these machines. “A faintly grainy, coarse black and white picture taken in an unflattering light that vaguely distorts our features.” Finally an excuse to blame the equipment.

 

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