Culture, Ritual, Soccer. And Coming Full Circle.


One day, two meals ten steps apart!

One day, two meals ten steps apart!

There are 2007 restaurants listed in Amsterdam on Tripadvisor. We didn’t eat at all of them but we did come full circle on our last two days.

We had a very specific agenda for those days. First order of business was having a traditional Dutch apple pancake breakfast on Monday. We found the top rated restaurant called Pancake Bakery in the Jordaan area enroute to our first cultural stop. It was perfect and we gorged on both pancakes and a veggie omelet and the really strong Dutch coffee.  Then we picked up another slice of the previously noted remarkable apple cake near the Noodermarkt and tucked it into Andy’s backpack (more on that cake later).

Then we headed to our assigned visitor time at the Anne Frank House. This isn’t really a museum but a 90 minute immersion into what it felt like to be hidden in the small “Secret Annexe” where Anne and her family and four others hid for two years before being found out and sent to concentration camps. Only her father Otto survived. And Anne’s diaries. Her writings revealed both her rich adolescent dreams and the resilient human spirit. I won’t attempt to be brilliant here. Anne’s words were the brilliant ones that captured her teenage angst while making real the horrors of this war through the writings of one gentle person.

We took the long walk back to our hotel deeply moved and rested up for our second cultural stop. A visit to the Van Gogh Museum.  Again, I won’t try to be brilliant but will share that we both were quite surprised and taken by Van Gogh’s Japanese period.  There are some astonishing works that evoke geishas and traditional Japanese scenic art in Van Gogh’s own extraordinary style. Pretty mind blowing. Unfortunately, they don’t allow pix at the museum so I don’t have one to share below.

World Cup Fever turns a city orange

World Cup Fever turns a city orange

After that, we, surprisingly, got caught up in soccer madness.  The plaza right outside the museum was transformed that day into a giant screen outdoor festival because the Netherlands were playing against Chile that afternoon. Hordes of people decked out in orange regalia were gathering there to party and we stayed for a bit before getting ready for dinner.

We watched the first half in our room and left at the break with a score of 0-0.  As we walked the long trek back to Jordaan area to a tapas restaurant, the first goal was scored by the Netherlands. How do I know this? Because the entire city burst out in an cacophanous  roar and orange confetti and tears streamed from a cafe on the corner! Everyone was watching all over the city! And our team won!  Those who know me will be surprised at my sudden sports conversion since I know nothing about soccer or any other sport involving chasing balls. But this was a national ritual that we were sharing with a whole orange laden city and it was magical.

Not so magical, however, was our arrival at the restaurant. We had neglected to make reservations. If we had, we would have known they were closed on Monday!  What to do? Andy consulted Google’s “ near me” feature on his phone  and found an open cafe just a short ways away.  We arrived at the address only to find that it was exactly next door to our breakfast restaurant! With 2007 possible restaurants to choose from in Amsterdam and after 10 hours and 16000 steps, we had come full circle. Yet, in keeping with our food luck, we had a lovely, perfectly cooked dinner of guinea hen for me and steak for my carnivore at Brasserie Vlaming.

Now back to that apple cake. We developed a special Amsterdam ritual of our own. Every day, we would pick up some lovely baked good for dessert. After our nightly big dinners, we’d walk the winding canal routes home. I’d put up a pot of water in our room, pull out a chamomile tea bag and bring out our treat. Then, we’d curl up in bed with our decadent sweets and blog, read or watch TV before heading off to exhausted sleep.

Beet soup with seafood strand at Tales & Spirits

Beet soup with seafood strand at Tales & Spirits

Our last day in Amsterdam was spent buying Dutch cheeses and other treats to savor at home. And our last meal Tuesday night before climbing back onto Royal Pain Airways (KLM–where I’m writing this as we slog back across the Atlantic) was at TA’s number 1 reviewed restaurant– Tales and Spirits. It was less a restaurant than a drinking establishment with creative cocktails and even more inventive small plates like spicy hummus “soil” in which chips and asparagus tempura were planted, all held together in a flowerpot. Inventive and delicious as were all the other dishes. On our last night, we didn’t walk back, however, we took the tram home!

This trip has been a long and mentally, physically and spiritually rich adventure.  And I will try to remember that richness when we wake up nightly at ungodly, jet-lagged hours for days after our return!

If you’ve enjoyed following this journey, please let me know.  And thanks to all who sent encouraging notes along the way.

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Biking Waterland. And “The Incident.”


Wherein we leave the velocity ( or Velo-City) of Amsterdam by biking in the countryside.

My first windmill

My first windmill

It took three countries and as many tries before I finally got my farmers market fix. First, enroute to Santiago de Compostela last weekend, we timed our arrival to be there for the last hour of their famed  market Mercado de Abastos, which on Saturdays closed at 2 pm and didn’t reopen till Monday. We also read that Saturday was the happeningest day at Spain’s oldest market and we were driving 120 Km and more the whole way because no one else drives on the fantastic toll roads of Portugal except tourists and truckers.  We would be there by 1 or 1:15 for sure.

And we were….by Portugal time!  Apparently crossing the border to Spain also meant crossing a time zone to 2pm. So, no market for Mimi.

The second attempt was back in Portugal at our Cascais Beach idyll. Walking the town, we happened upon the famous Wednesday market. Unfortunately, we happened on it two hours after it closed!

Our farmer's market picnic fixings. Vermeer would approve.

Our farmer’s market picnic fixings. Vermeer would approve.

Finally, in Amsterdam after a false detour to a flea-bitten flea  market, we made it to the Saturday Noordermarkt.  It is a fantastic little organic farmers market with cheese stands, baked good and lots of fresh fruit and veggies. But first we had to try the Apple Cake at the cafe with the line out the door just outside the market. Best apple cake ever!  Sated and sugared up, we then got serious about buying provisions for Sunday’s bike ride to Broek en Waterland.

For the rest of our Saturday afternoon, there was an incident related to what we have come to call “vacation brain”.  We won’t go into the details but let’s just say we were fleeced in a photo shop and leave it at that. Hereinafter, we shall refer to this as “The Incident.”

It took a few hours of recovery and a comforting Italian dinner to move on. We ended up at an modern Italian bistro that wouldn’t be out of place in the funky, foodie Mission district in SF.  Except perhaps for  their name: Firma Peckelhaaring. And absolutely no pickled herring on the menu!

Sunday morning, we packed up our picnic provisions and headed to the teeming Centraal Station where we rented bikes. We then took the free, two minute ferry ride across to Waterworld, a quiet haven of bike paths along bucolic neighborhoods that were picture perfect in every way. We stopped midpoint at a charming cafe in the middle of nowhere but right on the canal.  For the price of a beer and coke, we got to have a fantastic picnic on a shady terrace by the water.

We then continued riding almost to the outskirts of Monnickendam but stopped because the hour, the distance of 13 km, and the condition of our knees required us to return. The ride back was uneventful and we stopped at the same cafe for water. Finally, 26 km later, we were back on the ferry. On debarking, we resignedly headed for one more encounter at the site of “The Incident” to deal with one more frickin detail that we won’t go into.

Pooped, we walk slowly back to our hotel to clean up, blog and get ready for dinner.

Tomorrow, we go to the Anne Frank House. And to the Van Gogh Museum.

I’m starting to feel the end of our journey nipping at our heels. But let’s not go there yet.

 

Happy cheese-making cows.

Happy cheese-making cows.

Water channels everywhere in WaterLand

Water channels everywhere in WaterLand

 

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Saving My Life in Amsterdam.


Rijkmuseum and plaza

Rijkmuseum and plaza

Thursday June 19
We transition from laid back Portugal to pulsing Amsterdam.

We arrive in Amsterdam to a completely different energy from our last unhurried days in the beach town of Cascais.

We arrived early evening and grab a cab directly from central station to Bussia, a modern Italian restaurant.  After hours of travel and the infamous KLM food, Bussia had me at the petite genius of their amuse bouche!  That was followed by a four course menu of jewel-like food that tasted amazing. And was nothing like the  bacalau and boiled potatoes we’d  grown both fond and tired of in Portugal.

But it was also quite clear that from the moment we actually set food in Amsterdam that A.’s role had changed. He was no longer the driver but the person responsible for making sure that I don’t  get run over by the raging, rampant, racing bicyclists who come out of everywhere at once. His main assignment is to grab me by the collar, the backpack, the arm or any other body part at every street corner as I obliviously walk the treacherous streets of  Amsterdam. As my kids well know, I am not the most aware person when faced with pretty distractions and this city is just one bright, shiny distraction after another!

Good thing, also, is that even when A. gets slightly impaired  by a bit of local herb as he did, his faculties and reflexes are still better than mine stone cold sober.  He has total job security here– keeping me from being run over.

After our wonderful Bussia dinner, we were  off to bed at the Park Hotel,  a trendy and well-located hotel for our next six nights. And once our heads hit the pillow, we slept till 9 am!

Friday, June 20

Today,  we walked 25,825 steps according to our pedometer! That’s a lot of life saving vigilance  that A. was required to provide in just our first 24 hours in Amsterdam!

Food Porn by Dutch Masters.

Food Porn by Dutch Masters. And you think we invented foodie pix!

First, we went to the Rijkmuseum for a couple hours to enjoy Dutch painters from Rembrant to Vermeer. Then, off to find lunch at Lombardo’s, purportedly the best hamburger joint,  where A. indulged and I  had some Indian soup from another shop next door in an arty little canal neighborhood.

After lunch and gelato, We walked to the floating flower market, then to the flea market, then to the “coffee house” neighborhood where A.  tried the local herb. Afterward, we blithely walked back with many detours including a visit to a Camper shoe store where I acquired sexy red sandals and Andy blithely paid. And, finally home after eight hours of walking, eating and shopping to relax a bit before dinner at Koh I Noor, which delivered as promised ( thank you once again Tripadvisor)the best Indian food in town.

Sexy new shoes for me

Sexy new shoes for me

The cyclists here are insane I tell you , but we are loving this throbbing, busy, young and old city. “Stayin’  Alive” will be my theme song!

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Money laundering and other delights of Cascais


June 18

When Your Vacation Needs A Vacation

Castle in Sintra

Castle in Sintra

For those readers who have galloped and gasped through the past week of Lisbon, Porto and Santiago de Compostela and wondered when we’d actually be “on vacation.” We are finally there ! In Cascais, a beach city recommended to us by friends.

On Monday, We left SDC and returned to Portugal after a weekend of gluttony….to begin another week of same. To break up the 5 hour drive to the funky beach town of Nazare, we stopped in Porto again to a Cafeina, a  classy beach restaurant where we had a prix fixe menu  and were the only slobs in the place.

Then we drove the rest of the way to Nazare, a funky little beach town that’s like Hermosa Beach 20 years ago. Gorgeous, long, sandy beach  to walk, a funicular to ride to the hilltop for amazing views and then dinner at a hole in the wall where the owner let us pick our fish and then grilled it perfectly. We never tasted fish so fresh. It was a European sea bass served with, what else, salad and boiled potatoes. Not only that, but the owner served up some medical advice for the allergies that have been plaguing me.

I haven’t mentioned the allergies because I was holding back on the important fact that we had never been to Europe in the spring.  Apparently, I am allergic to Europe in the spring! Sneezing and blowing jags dogged me night and day despite my bag of western remedies. I learned that the price of a pack of Kleenex varies from town to town from 25 cents to one 1 euro probably because I had single-handedly driven up the price.  Our charming restauranteur, seeing my red nose and general misery, recommended Telfast. We picked it up at a pharmacy the next morning and I’ve been improving ever since.

Now back to our story.  Tuesday morning, we left the quaint little fishing town of Nazare and stopped at Obidos to see their walled city (Skip it. If you’ve seen one walled tourist trap, you’ve seen them all.)

Then on to Sintra which everyone said is a don’t miss. Lord Byron declared: “This may be the most beautiful place in the world.”  We agree. We only had time to see the fantastical gardens  at Quinta da Regaleira but there are also castles, palaces and beautiful homes and gardens a In this remarkable little jewel of architecture, culture and respite.

Finally, exhausted, we limp into Cascais and discover we are in the La Jolla of Portugal. Chi chi stores and restaurants and beautiful beaches abound. And, our B and B. is right in the heart of things behind a gated garden but a century removed in style. Casa de Pergola is beautiful and filled with antiques and architectural details. And wifi and air conditioning!.

We have a simple dinner and are in bed before midnight.  Our earliest night.

Wednesday, June 18

It’s now 4 pm, and I know you dying to hear about our ONE day of vacation. Here’s what we did:

  • Breakfast at Casa de Pergola
  • Take laundry to mall to be washed
  • Rent bikes and bike the amazing coastal bike path for nearly two hours
  • Eat charcoal grilled chicken for lunch (we are growing fins and scales from all the fish we’ve consumed
  • Take a walk in town and pick up our laundry so we can pack up tonight
  • Made reservations for dinner
  • Go  back to our room to rest. This is a First!
  • I blog, Andy crashes.

And that’s what we did on our lazy last day in Portugal.

Oh, sorry, I almost forgot to tell you about the laundered money. As we are wont to do, we collect packaged items of food at meals that might be needed for provisions later in our travels.  So, I took a packet of jam and put it in my little travel bag.  Today, as I went to pay for something, I discovered the leaky packet which had sweetly spread to all of my currency and cards.  So, back at the room, another chore awaited: money laundering!

Money Laundering in Cascais

Money Laundering in Cascais

Tomorrow is a travel day where we drop off the car, get on a plane and head to Amsterdam for the next adventure!

 

 

 

 

 

 

* More of the amazing park at Quinta da Regaliera:

 

 

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You say tapas. I say pinxtos. Our weekend in Santiago de Compostela


Galician sardines Pilgrim's Mass Titty Cheese PilgrimSaturday, June 14

After consuming every variety of bacalau (cod) and octopus in Portugal, we were ready for our weekend escape to the Galician foodie paradise and pilgrimage Mecca of Santiago de Compostela (SDC)

We had a plush hotel right in the heart of the old city, a UNESCO site that’s incredibly well preserved.  We parked our car outside the town limits and were blessedly car free for two days.

The food and wine we had were divine.  White anchovies, shrimps in garlic sauce, sardines, baby squid, Galician vegetable soup, clams and pork.  And ohhh the heavenly Albarino wines and crusty bread. Let’s just say we ate our way thru 48 hours and not go into the gluttonous details of where and when. Let’s just say it was a religious experience.

We also walked into the Pilgrim’s prayer service in the majestic romanesque cathedral and got some uplifting pix before the service started.  We even got into a conversation with one of the pilgrims who it turns out is from Darien, CT and is a marketer in outdoor equipment to REI. So, naturally, we got the contact for our son for his solar chargers!

SDC is the end of a 500 mile pilgrims trail that people take a month or more to walk, staying in hostels along the way. We learned that our pilgrim, who I suspect is a nice Jewish guy, got sucked into this spiritual and physical quest after watching a Rick Steve’s TV show!

And once the throngs of weary travellers reach SDC and collect their papal blessings, they are ready to party! The medieval streets are paved with cafes and pinxos bars and restaurants. Street musicians abound. And strangest of all, SDC turns out to be a bagpiper Mecca as well. Everywhere we went Saturday night, bagpipers were playing on the streets and people were bursting into song and dance.

All in all, SDC was a great place to spend my birthday and Fathers Day. Tomorrow, we get back in the car and return to eating bacalau and octopus while experiencing the beach towns of Portugal.

 

 

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A Porto Tale


Friday June 13 Wherein A. goeth before a fall.

Douro River

Douro River

Thanks to our good friend Mark, we were very careful in Lisbon as we had been warned of the treachery of their medieval, cobbled streets. We were VERY careful. In fact, we have loads of pix of stone patterns to prove it and we walked into things sometimes while busily navigating the ground. It’s actually a wonder we saw anything above shoe height in Lisbon! But we did. And then we get to Porto, where after yesterday’s day of driving from Lisbon, this was our day to see the sights. We walked from our fabulous, posh furnished apartment in the burbs all the way downtown to the fabled beauty of the Douro  River. We crossed a postcard perfect bridge across said river and headed to the fabled beauty of their noble port wines.  And then it happened. A. fell.  He was looking one way and the sidewalk was suddenly not there.  He fell hard. There was blood dripping from the side his face, a huge bruise on his knee and scrapes on his hand. And, then the Porto people came running from everywhere to help. There were people who offered to call an ambulance, bring water, lift him off the ground. A young man ran back to his store and brought a chair and first aid kit. I had band aids on me. After the initial shock and clean up, he was okay,  just really sore and really pissed off that he fell on yet another vacation!  We rested a few minutes and then we brought the chair and first aid kit back to the nice young man’s shop. Marcelo (we are now on a first name basis) then told Andy “This is your lucky day.” and gave us free passes to tour the port wine caves of Offley, the oldest port company in the region. Marcelo also recommended a little local restaurant for lunch first where we had amazing grilled sardines. Again. Truth be told, every good thing that happened after the fall happened because of it! We never would have found this locals only restaurant or had the super informative port cave tour or tasted our first really good port.  Even I liked it!

Offley Port. So awfully good.

Offley Port. So awfully good.

Because of the fall and A’s now sore ankle (not on the previously broken foot) we decided we wouldn’t walk all the way back on the top level of the bridge which required a steep hike. Instead, we crossed back on the lower level and took the funicular up to the top which, delightfully, landed us a block from the top level of the bridge. But before we walked onto top of the bridge, we found a guitar shop where there was a Fado performance coming up in 30 minutes. So, we walked midway across the top of the bridge and got some artistic late day “sun on the river” shots. Then we returned to hear a wonderful Fado concert with three guitars and a charming young singer who belted out these melancholy tunes. Finally, as we pondered our trudging return to our place in the burbs, we said, “Fxxk  it, we are taking a taxi back.”  The taxi instantly appeared and whisked us home where we researched and reserved dinner at Camafeu, an intimate Portuguese restaurant in a former antique store and had brilliant cod and duck interpretations . None of these good things would have happened if the ground had not dropped out from under A. How’s that for making lemonade out of lemons!

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Sardines. The good kind. And a flaming finish.


June 9

Lisbon's Tram 28 (Photo from Tripadvisor)

Lisbon’s Tram 28 (Photo from Tripadvisor)

After our cramped, crap food odyssey on Royal Pain Airlines (aka KLM), we finally arrived at Lisbon Airport where we attempted to claim our baggage. Attempted because our baggage apparently didn’t arrive.  As I stood stressing on the long baggage claim line, A. decided to check every other flight baggage queue.  Miraculously, and thankfully, he returned ten minutes later with our two bags that simply went astray.

From that point on, Portugal delighted. Their metro train took us quickly to the Baixa District in the hip heart of the city.  A mere block from the metro station, our hotel,  Browns Apartments, turned out to be a gem of  a converted apartment hotel with all the necessary amenities and perfectly located to access all the other interesting neighborhoods.

We dropped our bags in the room and walked down to the river to the main plaza for our first real food in 36 hours– a glass of wine and a bowl of garlicky clams. Then, after more wandering to orient ourselves and to stay awake so we could adjust to local time, we had a fantastic dinner at Sacramento Restaurant in the nearby Chiada district. It was upscale, traditional Portuguese food. I had the bacalau (cod) and A. had grilled octopus. So so good. Then we stopped for gelati at Santini, a phenomenal artisan purveyor that was still packed at 11 pm. And then home to bed where I slept happily for nine dreamy hours

Tuesday, June 10

Today was all about the heights and the views. And they were spectacular. This is a red-roofed, hilly city with homes cascading down to the broad Tagus River.

We took the #28 electric tram up to Graco to the best miradora or viewpoint in the city–Senhora  Do Monte– for panoramic vistas from bridges to cathedrals and those gleaming red tile roofs.  Then we walked down to the funky Alfama  district for another great viewpoint neat the Castle of Sao Georges.

Sardines- the after view

Grilled sardines– the after view

And, then off to find lunch, which was …Sardines! Spotted a cafe tucked away on a side street that was brimming with people eating plates of freshly grilled sardines. So we ordered some. What a revelation. Salty, crispy, garlicky, meaty. And so tasty we inhaled them.  Therefore, forgive me dear reader but you will have to settle for my portrait of naked to the bone sardines and imagine them ten minutes earlier.

Tonight, we scoured the back streets of Bairro Alto trying to find Cantinha Lusitano, a restaurant that ranked in Tripadvisor’s top 10 of 2179 Lisbon restaurants! It was a little hole in the wall run by a husband and wife. Everything was delicious and inexpensive but the star was the baked goat cheese with honey and rosemary. Someone should make skin cream from this amazing elixir of sweet and creaminess.

The most memorable moment, however, was my “papele flambé.” No that’s not a flaming dessert. That was me setting my napkin on fire by accident when I obliviously placed it too close to our tabletop candle. Moments later, I was frantically dousing the immolating paper with our glasses of water! Nice way to make an impression on all the other people in the restaurant!  We won’t be back, but you should.

Want more Portugal blogging? Check out these two excellent blogs:

http://saltofportugal.wordpress.com/

http://pigletinportugal.com/

 

 

 

 

 

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Tales from the road. Flying Anchovy Class to Portugal.


June 8

Why did we take KLM airways to Portugal?
– Because we could fly nonstop from San Francisco
-Because we could visit Amsterdam on our way back
-Because we thought the Royal Dutch Airline would give us royal Dutch treatment.

Well, at least two out of three reasons were true. Three not so much. Welcome to anchovy class where the legroom is clearly optional.

Our first indignity on arriving at the airport was giving up our carefully stuffed, perfectly sized carry on bags because they weigh them! Once we emplaned and saw our seats we knew why. Tiny overhead space. In fact, our other carry on, our backpacks, needed to go in the overhead bins so we could squeeze our feet  under the seats in front of us.

And the cuisine on this royal flight? Chicken in gruel. For those not familiar with this Dickensian sauce, that’s flour water , water, fat  and salt made into a white paste that glues your four pieces of rubber to the plastic tray. This was accompanied by pasty potato mush, some dead vegetables and a white roll. For dessert? Something brown and oily with shreds of WTF was that. Fortunately I had absconded with two delicious cookies from the impeccably perfect wedding we attended the night before. I pulled those  dainty, little gems out of my bag and toasted the lovely couple once more from our lofty perch.

Why do I dwell on the indignities of this flight? Perhaps it is due to the fact that I can’t sleep. I shared a sleeping pill with A. after dinner and we nodded out for exactly 90 minutes, leaving us, oh, seven more hours to kill. He spent his time picking out songs for his next foray at El Rio and boning up on photography blogs. I am writing this post and the guy next to me is actually  sleeping. He just sold his little Belgian  software company to Autodesk. He must be dreaming about his forthcoming millions while still stuck for now  in anchovy class.

 Actor Campbell Scott of Royal Pains was NOT my seatmate in Anchovy Class...but close!

Actor Campbell Scott of Royal Pains was NOT my seatmate in Anchovy Class…but close!

One other tidbit about my seat mate is he looked and sounded like the sexy rich guy with the inscrutable European accent on the summer TV show Royal Pains. Which only seems reasonable as we slink our way across the Atlantic on what I have now dubbed Royal Pains Airways.

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Travels thru NorthWest France: We Storm the Beach in Normandy


Normandy Coast

Did I mention that it has  rained every day on our trip through northwest France?Today, the deluge continues. And the rain provided the perfect atmosphere, setting the emotional tone for our visit to Omaha Beach.

It was cold, wet and silent as we left the highway from Caen and drove past narrow lanes lined with stone houses which suddenly opened up to the expanse of Omaha Beach.  This was one of two beaches that U.S.  forces landed on in a coordinated assault on six beaches by Allied troops . In all, 156,000 soldiers all landed on June 6, 1944. The deadliest landing was at Omaha Beach, where over 6000 young Americans  died on this cold, wet beach that day as they arrived by land, sea and air to help liberate France from the Nazis.

There is a beautiful sculpture on the beach commemorating the allied assault . We shot many photos and I tried to narrate a brief video with my voice choking with raw emotion. D Day was an incredible act of daring, imagination, cooperation and bravery. On this blustery, wet, grey day, we could visualize the awful welcome these brave souls faced.

IMG_0422 soldiers Omaha Beach & American Cemetery

Omaha Beach & American Cemetery

Omaha Beach & American Cemetery

We left the soggy  beach and headed further down the road to the American Cemetery  in Collineville Sur Mer.  It was still raining hard as I pushed my guy in a loaner wheelchair from the visitor center to the huge graveyard. It was raining & blowing so hard that both our umbrellas collapsed.

Still we stayed awhile, getting wet and taking  pictures of row after row of white crosses and a few Jewish stars. It was less a Cemetery  than a meadow of memory to those who gave their lives.  I started to say the Kaddish prayer for the dead but couldn’t remember all the words so I humbly faked it as our Rabbi Stan taught us:  God doesn’t care about the words, just the intention. And we said a shehechiyanu for good measure as we were grateful to have reached this day and this season in our lives.

Afterward,  we spent some time  in the visitor center watching films and displays about individual soldiers and their lives at home before the war cut them short. We also learned so much about the unbelievably complex and comprehensive  strategy of the D Day assault. I need to read a book about this some day.

After a quick “chez auto” picnic of fruit, bread and other leftovers from breakfast stashed in our car, we drove the hour back to Caen, returning to the land of the living and to more sybaritic vacation experiences such as:
-Picking up our nice clean laundry from the kindly but non- English speaking lady in the local laverie with whom I mimed our laundry needs.
-My guy consuming 9 fresh oysters for 9 euros from an oysters only joint at a place across the dock from our Mercure hotel.
-Consuming fresh grilled fish and lamb at the basque place next door to that and
– finishing with homemade ice cream and cheesecake at the place next to that!
– and  completing our food extravaganza with an 8 year old Calvados brandy for the husband and vanilla Calvados for me at our hotel bar. Calvados and cider are local specials because “Normandy has  good apples and bad wine,” according to our bartender!

We are off to Mt St. Michel next and then on to Brittany with my tall grey man with the one bad foot (and a bellyfull of oysters with the promise of more to come!)

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Traveling through France with the “Tall Grey Man with One Bad Foot”


This trip nearly didn’t happen. Our big plans for driving through Normandy, Brittany and the Loire Valley were jeopardized when the big guy broke his foot in May. Although our trip wasn’t till September, we just don’t heal like we used to.

However, with the Doc’s last minute permission, we headed to France equipped with an inflatable hard cast, gel pack and pain meds. What I didn’t think about was the car we rented was a manual transmission and he couldn’t use the left foot! So, I became the designated driver although my driving skills in any car are dubious at best.  And so began our Tales from the Road!

Tales from the Road

Monet's Lily Pads, GivernyMonday. I have decided that this trip is like Homer’s  Odyssey. We are being tested and challenged by many issues: Husband’s still unhealed foot, my terrible stick shift driving skills and many personal and travel technology issues. It is like  the Greek gods are laughing at  us on high. “Oh you foolish mortals, we are going to screw with your phones, texting, gmailing and GPS.”  The gods laugh and we get lost. Again and again ( As in our three hour trip to Monet’s Garden in Giverny that should have taken only one hour!).

But this isn’t a tale of woe. It is about bravery, heroism and moments of surpassing delight.

Today we spent the day mostly in Rouen a,lovely medieval city. And like every other day on our trip so far it rained. Hard. So we went to the Fine Arts museum that was hosting an incredible Impressionist exhibit. I pushed the husband in a wheelchair and we see so much beauty by many masters in paintings that were inspired  by the landscapes we are actually seeing around us! We also have to schlep through the entire museum twice because their handicap access is limited to two elevators at opposite ends.

Then after a quick omelet lunch, we try to leave Rouen to get to Caen.  Try, as in I have to drive my little stick shift up two narrow landings in an underground parking lot. And to make it harder still, Someone is trying to enter the garage from top. And someone else is trying to get to the second ramp where we are now stuck.  And neither of them will back up. I panic. I can’t drive up that ramp and I can’t drive Down. And miracle of miracles, my man comes through in the clutch! Literally.

He gets in driver’s seat of this car he hasn’t yet driven, puts his bad foot on the clutch and perfectly moves our car into a narrow corner  so both cars can pass and then he easily drives up the steep ramp and gets us back on the street. He was my hero! I could cry with relief.

After that, our drive to Caen in the heart of Normandy was uneventful except for the sudden blinding downpour when I’m driving at 130 km (80mph) and can’t see a damn thing. I nearly lost it with terror but the rain soon slowed again. Oh those gods on Olympus were screwing with us again.

Arrived in gorgeous late daylight to Caen to a nice hotel right on the water. Amazing location. and tonight we had our best dinner yet at Le P’tit B , offering modern French cuisine place with pristine local ingredients. I had amazing red mullet and shrimp brochettes. The man had oysters, fancy duck and we shared a molten cake. We walked there both ways!  Another great foot forward if you’ll excuse the pun.

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