Robert Frost

The best way out is always through.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bonjour PARIS! (June 8th, 2008) Day 10 (Part 1, because I am long winded)

Oops! This had happened before. We woke up late (did we sleep through the alarm or maybe it didn't go off?--Who knows?) and rushed to pack up our last few things to take our two trips to the airport. We didn't fly out until 10:30 am but in trying to get there in plenty of time we needed to be at the airport by 8ish. I remember sweet but rushed goodbyes (everyone a bit groggy). In two trips we were on time to the airport and even though a carry-on bag was slightly overweight, the Spanish check-in attendant saw me emptying the bag of diapers that it was full of and kindly allowed me to carry it on board "as is" for "la bebe". Muchas Gracias, to her understanding my plight and to our entire Spanish experience.
Our Spanish flight to Paris was another rowdy experience, but poor David hit a wall and found it hard to keep his eyes open during the lively flight.
Sophia mingled and was out of her car seat--she loved the freedom.
Once in Paris we claimed our luggage and steeled ourselves for our journey to our Paris apartment. What a journey it was. First though we found/stumbled in to our shuttle from the airport to the Paris train station. And I didn't realize that it's path would be right through the 14th arrondissement neighborhood that I stayed at in '93, '97 with Crusade during our ministry time. I took a gasp of air in and David wondered if I was okay. I called out "Look!" to the patisserie that we frequented during my stays, the cafe we stopped at a time or two.
David and the girls looked a little blankly at my excitement of recognition of places from my past. And I was so struck with the odd fact that these far away places from my everyday life, have a cozy at home familiarity to me. How can that be? Thank you Lord.

Now for our adventure on the Metro. Picture a family of five, with luggage plus a bit of a cumbersome car seat, and stroller entering the crazy maze of escalators, stairs and passage ways that is Montparnasse train station. Whoa! is all I can say. During our trip I had been fairly unfazed with the cultural, language, everyday differences and would find our way around most situations with a lot of help from David. But at this multilevel, busy, crowded, busy, loud, bustling, busy, train station I actually had a moment of "Gulp, I don't know". There wasn't a sign that said "Jenny go this way to buy your Metro tickets and to your Metro platform"--darn it.

And nothing was distinct to me. No distinct Metro this way, tickets this way, trains this way, Help! this way. I stood still. David and the girls stood around me in a tight group with our luggage in between us trying to be as little in the way of the fast moving masses as possible. Then I looked at the time and realized that if it took an hour or more to get to our apartment that we would miss the greeter with our key. Now I had the pre-trip helpful e-mail instructions on how to approach our apartment (three entries and two security codes) but no key. So I first attempted (5 times) to call the manager. I couldn't follow the French voice on the phone in order to put in the correct amount of Euros in the phone. Gulp! I took one look at my tired crowd and knew I had to get us going. I left them in one spot to rest and hunted down a ticket booth. Once I found a ticket stall all my French left me after "Bonjour" to the stern looking man behind the glass. Then he asked me in English " I am sorry do I scare you?" As I smirked, I pleaded my question and confusion and he had all the answers--tickets, Metro times, and directions to our platform three flights down.

He hauled ourselves down,down, down to our Metro. And clumsily made our way inside trying not to push, bump and otherwise annoy any other travelers. Then the kindest thing happened that continued throughout our Parisian visit. A thoughtful, business dressed Frenchman (called this because he spoke French to me) tapped my shoulder and asked me to take a seat with my bebe (Sophia). I quickly and appreciatively accepted even when it was truly easier for me to stand with Sophia, diaper bag, and some luggage, because I was so thankful for the gesture. It calmed me a bit more to take in the moment around me. The girls were perked up by the small interaction and the fact that they enjoy the Metro experience.

We again bustled ourselves to our connecting train and finally made it to our stop. Here we had 100 and some spiral steps up to street level. There was a sign at the foot of the stairs to help us know what we were in for. Sophia loves steps but I dared not put her down as we didn't want to get overrun by the foot traffic. Then another kindness. A sweet Asian lady spoke French to me and asked to carry Sophia up the steps. Now, typically any mom would think "no way" but for whatever reason (The Lord knows) I complied (post your objections in the comment section, but it did happen) . And she kept step with me behind David and the girls and then at the top of the stairs she gently set Sophia down, told me how adorable she is, and bid me adieu. I called out a surprised "Merci, madame!" as she flitted away. Oh, my. Seems naive I know, but I couldn't help but say a thank you to the Lord for His kindness through strangers in quelling my anxiousness.
And now in this long-telling we come to what made our Parisian experience exceptional. Montmartre.
Montmartre is the 18th arrondissement neighborhood that in known for artists, The Moulin Rouge, the Sacre Coeur cathedral, and the picture perfect staircase images of Paris that we see in advertisements. When we came out of our Metro stop doors and faced the streets I noticed how peaceful it was.
A cafe with a spattering of people, noticing couples leaning over their small cafe tables and glasses of wine towards each other, in deep conversation, a small grocers (that we would hit later for our few provisions),

a chocolate shop with its imaginatively decorative window,

and a small park (I mean small 20 ft X 30ft.) with a couple of children riding their tricycles in circles while their mamans chatted at a nearby bench. It was such a lovely scene and so Parisian. We only walked a block and Voila! we were at the intimidating entrance to the 8 story apartment building.
I entered the 4 digit code and we crossed a darkish enclosed walkway to another door where I again entered a code to open the door

that led to the inner courtyard. Once in the large courtyard we saw another building (ours) behind the street side building we just entered. We went up the 10 steps to the first level.

Up a flight of stairs to our level and bam! a kissing couple on the landing. I tried to look away quickly and find our numbered apartment (and even though we were an hour late, I hoped to see our greeter, Preston) but once I found the door it was locked. The couple had stopped and was focused on me so I found my French again and asked them if they knew the apartment owners. The girl didn't but she knew the residents changed often and offered me a cell phone to make any necessary call. Nice! I showed her the number and she dialed it and Preston answered and welcomed us, and told me the key was under the mat! (Duh, Jenny) I then excused myself to get the rest of the crew and that was the last I saw of any neighbors for the rest of our stay.

But the apartment. Ah.

We had rented from a company called Perfectly Paris that had full, helpful descriptions and great pictures. And to our distinct pleasure, the apartment was even better than the ad. And cheesy as it is, I pinched myself in thinking that "I have an apartment in Paris". Yeah, I know it was only for 4 days, but it counted.

The girls loved the windows that looked in on the inner courtyard revealing other apartments with windows open to the air. The apartment was very well equipped for all our needs and we even had a bottle of wine as a welcome along with a big book of tips and advice for the area. Anna and I headed out for our few Sophia specific necessities at the small grocers and then we were all ready to hit the town and find some grub.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Still Seville, June 7, 2008, An even hotter Day 9

This morning was a little rougher. We all woke up near 8:30 or so. But breakfast was to be a treat this time. Adam, the Waterman foodie, had a favorite local breakfast place that we could walk to. I can't seem to remember the name of the scrumptious bread that was a cafe speciality but that is what David and I had (plus butter and jam), same as Adam minus his jamon (definite Spain staple of richly flavorful cured ham that hangs in deli, tapas, and restaurant windows throughout Spain adding to the atmosphere of sense memory for me). The girls were treated to their first encounter with churros and chocolate. Yum and double yum. Rich, creamy, dark chocolate is served in coffee cups with a somewhere between syrup and pudding consistency (this threw the girls off very much I am afraid) and you are supposed to dip your churros (long strands of fried sweet dough that taste like doughnuts to me) and luxuriate in the taste sensation. But alas the girls verdict was that they liked the churros without any chocolate and they were "okay." Well at least they gave it a try and never complained. As for the breakfast spot, I loved it. It was very casual, busy, locals all around having breakfast even at 10 in the am. It was definitely a place that would have to be found by an insider as it was set in a Market and away from tourist Sevilla. We filled our tummies and drove out in two groups again to a special area outside of Sevilla--the Italica Ruins.
I really could go on and on about this sight but let's just say that outside of Italy these are pretty amazing intact mosaics and ruins of an Italian colony (called Italica), started around 200BC and from which 3 Roman Emperors originated. I have not traveled to Italy and seeing any kind of historic spot this old always puts me in mind of the fact that there were people in this place at the time of Christ that were probably hearing stories about the "troublemaker" from Nazareth. Amazing. But, so, so, hot. The heat in Spain was not humid (thankfully), but the sun seemed to pound us down and drain our energy. Ale made us chuckle when she shared that in the summers she challenges herself to walk around town from shade to shade and winter she walks paths in the sun. Actually, when you found a shady spot out of the Spanish sun, it was very bearable, even pleasant. So when we got to the mosaics (oh, so intact mosaics), and the trees were few and far between we decided that yes it was all very interesting but the direct sun and some late afternoon hunger called us to leave and find another Adam favorite meal spot.
Adam drove us (again in two groups) to a large grill restaurant that was just on the outside of Seville. The joint was definitely jumpin' with large family groups having parties, simply hanging out in the restaurant proper, the patio, but we chose the lively air-conditioned enclosed patio/eating hall. I ordered a pitcher of tinto (I shared, well, a little) and Adam was trusted again with ordering favorite meats and sides. The girls had Spanish style hamburgers that, later they said were not as they expected since the meat between the buns was more sausage type meat, but they topped it off with strawberry mousse and cheesecake and downed it all with a Coke so it was all good.
We had such a good time here, eating the delicious meats (the Spanish know how to grill their meats) and salads, watching Sophia and Ben giggle and point at each other, talking about their time in Spain and the changes a-comin'. But after we arrived back at the apartment, about early evening, we called it a day in and watched a movie, finished laundry and packed. We were leaving early the next morning for PARIS but somehow didn't get ourselves to sleep until close to midnight. I was the last to bed and told myself to remember the sounds outside the window, still going strong on a Saturday night.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Seville, Spain (June 6, 2008) Hot and Fabulous Day 8!

Buenos Dias Espana. I remember I awoke first of everyone (a very rare thing in my life especially without an alarm clock). I particularly recall there being a cool breeze from the open windows, and nary a sound or movement in the apartment or on the street below at 8AM. I lingered in bed. What was I going to do, wake my hosts or scavange in the kitchen? If I was the kind of person who relished an early morning run, this would have been ideal, but what did I do? I lingered until 8:45 am and starting getting our things (ie mine, Sophia and everyone's various articles) together. Around 9am or so, everyone starting rousing and shuffling around. Happily Sophia and Ben entertained each other while we breakfasted on cereal and yogurt. What was on the agenda? Well a treat for me (burden for Adam and Ale though) was that the Spain days were organized and guided by Adam and Ale. I am better with Spanish than French but here I also was granted a reprieve from being the group translator and leader. And it was a delicious time for me to simply follow our kind and educated guides around their adopted hometown. First was a 30 minute bus ride to central Seville (the oldest part) and to the Seville Cathedral.
As we walked from the bus stop to the Cathedral I reflected on this similar stroll I took with Ale in 2001. How the combo of the busy streets with cars and people, the dry heat and the historic architecture was all seemingly the same. With the added plus this time of street performers playing flamenco music while an adept dancer moved to the sounds in her colorful flowing dress and Spanish style appearance. Upon a closer look I notice she was Asian and Ale then commented that some of the dance students from the local performance school make some extra money for the day performing in the tourist area. I wanted to cross the street and watch awhile but here is the rub, with a family of 5, especially a toddler included: you keep moving even when there are things you really want to see, because you just don't know when it will have to come to a stop to accommodate our littlest trooper. Plus David and the girls get a little embarassed when I stop at performers or stop to clap and tip them. So instead, on to the Cathedral with the sounds of Spanish strumming surrounding us. Ah Espana.

It is funny to think that there was a longish line to buy tickets into the Cathedral. But, hey, they have to keep up the 0ver 600 year old building somehow. I can't describe how it took the breath away to look up, up, and up the tall sculpted columns to the gothic ceiling. As our eyes grew accustomed to the dimness (high ceilings and only a few stain glass windows equals dimness) all around us we could see the larger than life religious statuary and frescoes that rose upwards. This Catholic church that still holds services also hold a few remarkable characteristics: 1. Above see the gold, yes, gold, altarpiece that has scenes out of the gospels was supposedly built with the gold of the New World for Seville to show Spain's power to the world, 2. Below, are the bones of Christopher Columbus (supposedly) and the four pallbearers are symbolic of the four dominant regions of Spain at the time,

3. Seville Cathedral is the 3rd largest in the world, behind the Vatican, and St. Paul's Cathedral in London. After taking the Rick Steves guided tour of the Cathedral, (quickly) David and the girls went up the Giralda (bell tower) and took this pic of old town Seville. Where we were headed next. I waited with Adam and Ale while Sophia and Ben enjoyed each others company. Ale and I were roomies in college and a couple of years into our work lives after college when we lived in Austin. I can remember how we shared our hopes and prayers for the husbands and families we now have. Throughout this time together in Spain I reflected on those early hopes, and each time I could only thank the Lord for his amazing answer to prayers and the plans He still has for us. Once David and the girls joined us it was on to visit the nearby Barrio de Santa Cruz (the old Jewish Quarter). From my first visit to this one, this area of Seville, to me, is a bit magical and dreamy. The city sounds that surround you near the cathedral quickly fall away and even in the heat (near 110 degrees) the narrow walkways of this old neighborhood become cooler. The walkways are like a maze (called kissing lanes, because they seem so close the buildings nearly kiss, or for some other reasons, I guess) and built closely so the buildings' heighths can shade strollers from the strong Spanish sun. But the intricate weaving of the walkways and sometimes roadways, the lightposts, the colorful splashes of hanging plants, the hidden courtyards that open up as you turn a corner, the surprising small plazas with trickling fountains, cafes, and artesian shops selling Spanish fans, hand molded painted pottery, and flamenco dresses, etc tumbles you into a feel of true Spain. Bold, romantic, and alive. The girls had no preconceived ideas about Spain. For them it was simply time away from France where we were going to visit my friends. But I think at this point, even in the heat, they delighted in the discovery of a pretty fascinating city and culture.
Then we did them one better. We were hungry and it was time for TAPAS. When I visited in 2001 and first had Spanish Tapas, there was no such animal in my area of the US yet. About two years later, tapas were known as the appetizer-as-meal food sensation stateside. When I went in 2001, it was a food revelation to me. We would just pay about $3 for a drink, and either South Spain favorite "tinto de verano" (a very refreshing sangria like concoction), or a shandy (beer lemonade) was my choice and then an array of very tasty nibbles (tomato salad, small sandwices "bocadillos" that we would probably call sliders, olives, fried calamari, etc) were presented along with the drinks on small plates at no extra charge. The sweet idea being that the more you nibbled the more you drank.

This time around, Ale and Adam took us to their favorite tapas bar that during the day was frequented by locals and families. Here you see Ben nearly crying because he can't reach the small plate of Paella (oh, this was achingly delicious). He loves his food. Adam thoughtfully ordered us a wide selection of tapas that included small plates of fish, veggies, fries, rices, calamari, chicken with different sauces, and more. Here is where the girls truly found out that they liked exploring the world of Spanish food. Yes, at this point even more than world renowned French food. We were hooked.
The best souvenir shopping was to be had in this neighborhood. Now don't get me wrong, I love cheezy Eiffel Tower keychains, and made in China I love London t-shirts bought in their particular countries as much as the next gal but in Seville you can find, for surprisingly reasonable prices, artist made pottery, jewelry, fans and shawls that are made and sold authentically Spanish. Here the girls are taking a rest from our shopping/tapas crawl near one of the delightful fountains. Ah Espana.
Next, we walked over the the Plaza Espana that is colorfully tiled and bricked in artistic and eye appealing patterns. A great photo op for the girls and their newly purchased fans. It is a tourist draw but not teaming with history as one would think because it is a baby in European history, only 100 year old or so. It was built for some kind of World Exposition/Fair.

Boy, was it hot. And our feet were feeling the heat through the soles of our shoes. We bussed it back to the apartment and picked up some pizza fixin's for our dinner. Sara modeled her find of the day, a Spanish-style dress (yes, the made in China variety, only $10!) As dinner was being prepared Anna helped me hang our clothes to dry on the apartment roof top's permanent lines. The laundry demanded to be done and this task gave us a nice view of Seville around us. Again here I will state that the girls were always jumping in to help and good sports throughout our trip. We relaxed in wonderful hospitality ala Adam and Ale, and called it a night around 10ish.


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