Monday, June 19, and Tuesday, June 20- NYC and London
Thank You for Your Patience
Nothing ever goes according to plan. The first step in our Europe trip seriously deviated from the plan. Five minutes into our drive to JFK and I already felt a twinge of anxiety. The flight’s departure time was 7:30 PM and our GPS showed our arrival time at the airport as 5:40. To my mind, that’s pushing it a bit. I ought not to have worried though. We cleared security and got to our gate with enough time to get something to drink and use the bathroom twice before our group -Main Cabin 3- was called for boarding.
We happily boarded, placed our carry-ons in an overhead space right above our seats, and settled in. The flight attendants made the de rigueur welcome announcements, instructed us on putting our electronics on airplane mode, and interrupted people’s screen entertainment to show the safety video. We were ready to go!
Five, six, seven, who-knows-how-many minutes pass, and the announcement comes on:
The technicians are looking into an error in the fuel signal which doesn’t match up with the electronic display as required by the amount in the fuel tank according to the…… As soon as the error is corrected, we will be on our way. Thank you for your patience.
Thirty-plus minutes later:
Just an update from the ground. The technicians are troubleshooting a solution as they’ve determined it’s an electronic malfunction of the signal, so they will remove some fuel and we should be on our way shortly.
Shortly turns into 30 minutes and the next update reveals that our departure time has now been moved to 9:00 PM but when 9:00 PM comes around we need to await the required paperwork.
Thank you for your patience. We apologize for the inconvenience.
At 9:30 PM we finally leave the gate and we’re rolling on the ground for 15 minutes and we get a new update:
As some of you may have noted we’re making our way back to the gate. The paperwork is not in order and we need to collect the completed paperwork. We will get back to the gate. This should take a few minutes and then we will be on our way and thank you for your patience and we apologize for the inconvenience.
The two minutes turned into ninety minutes during which we received numerous apologies and regrets for the inconvenience, and passengers were given the option of disembarking if they so wished but their checked bags would still be going to London.
By this point, a kind of camaraderie had formed amongst the passengers and I must say I was glad to be in the company of cheerful, zen travelers who shook their heads and laughed the ridiculousness off.
Diego, for his part, had one concern: “We’re going to London,” he kept saying, meaning, “I don’t know what’s going on but this plane had better take off today.”
And it did, about five hours after we boarded. And the flight was as smooth as if we’d been on the ground and stationary. Not the slightest bump was registered by this most sensitive traveler.
And even though we didn’t arrive in the city proper until around 1:30 PM, we still followed the day’s plan: the London Eye and the Tower of London, though we skipped the Crown Jewels to fit in both activities.
Diego’s cousin Eugenia (our reason for going to London) joined us on both visits and thank goodness because our phones were running out of juice and she led us around. We took buses and the underground and learned that in London, the underground stations have ways out, not exits.
Around 6:30 PM Eu went to meet friends for dinner and Diego and I walked from King’s Station to our hotel, a 40-min walk more or less. On the way, we stopped at a vegetarian place for dinner. It was busy and the crowd appeared local to me. Good food. Diego asked that I look for a place to have ice cream we took a 15-minute detour and stopped at Amorino.
Finally, at the hotel, we went up to our room and the electronic keys didn’t work. It was back to the lobby where the nice receptionist re-magnetized them but still they didn’t work. So Diego sat by the door while I went back down and the nice receptionist said she’d send a person up to help us. Back up I went and sat next to Diego. The person came and his key didn’t work either so he said he’ll go find someone else who can help.
Diego was pooped. “This isn’t going to be like the plane,” he said. That was a Laugh Out Loud moment. Turned out the second person arrived in less than five minutes with new key cards that did work.
Wednesday, June 21 – London
A Redundant System
Eu called at 9:00 and woke us up. So much for our plan to go down to the pool and gym.
Diego and I had breakfast down in the lobby restaurant. We ordered an omelet with spinach and cheese and I was nervous it would take forever and we’d be late for our Westminster Abbey visit time. It took what felt like 17 seconds for the omelet to be brought to us.
We walked to Eu’s apartment not more than 15 minutes away and then took the subway to the Abbey stop.
At the Abbey, we got our audio guides and learned a great deal about what you learn at any magnificent ancient cathedral in Europe built when church and royalty were intertwined. Numerous royals are buried or had chapels built at the Abbey, even royals who killed or were killed by fellow royals.
Diego insisted that Jeremy Irons narrated the audio tour so I looked it up because who knows and he was right!
After the Abbey we set out toward the Euston station because Diego and I were taking a train to Watford Junction, from where we’d take a bus to the Harry Potter studios. Our tour was scheduled for 6:30 PM but we figured we’d stop somewhere along the way for lunch with Eu and take the train early, just in case.
Eu went on her way when we got to Euston Station and Diego and I walked in and bought our tickets. I noticed there were many “Delays” on the screens. I asked a station employee which platform we needed to be at.
“Service on this line is canceled because there was a suicide on the tracks,” he explained. “You can go to Euston Square station 300 meters down the road and take the overground train to Watford and then walk 20 minutes to Watford Junction.”
Thank goodness for the redundancy in the system. I mean, there’s Euston Station with service to Watson Junction and then there’s Euston Square Station with service to Watson!
We befriended three warm ladies on the platform at Euston Square who were in the same boat as us. Leonora and Achilla, a mother and daughter from Liverpool, and Sarah from Larchmont, NY -the friendliest people. We figured out our platform together and chatted all the way to Watford.
Leonora and Achilla treated us Americans to an Uber ride straight from Watson to the HP studios. Diego, who chats nonstop, was actually quiet on account of being apprehensive about the rides and not wanting to go on rides. Turns out there were none.
Diego had a good time but didn’t love the Harry Potter studios. It’s not Disney. We moved along the tour more quickly than our new friends and then lost them. I went back to try to find them, but Diego was hungry and tired and I gave up. It was a treat to make this brief acquaintance.
Thai lunch and Indian dinner.
Thursday, June 22 – London
Someone Crashes Our Trip
The day had no attractions purchased in advance and we stuck to the itinerary of “Walk all over, especially the parks, Hyde Park / Kensington Gardens / Buckingham Palace.” We kept on walking all the way to Notting Hill, the open market at Portobello Road, and the Notting Hill bookstore.
Cesar couldn’t help himself and announced to me the day before my trip to London that he’d be joining us here. He arrived this morning and did most of the day’s walking with us. He vowed that I’d be the one in charge the whole trip, seeing as he invited himself.
On our walk in Kensington Garden, our secret destination was the statue of Peter Pan, a secret in that we didn’t tell Diego that’s where we were headed. When we approached it he instantly knew it was Peter Pan and had us take a picture.
As I was turning around to continue on the path, I heard someone say our names. It was Sarah from Larchmont! What are the odds?
When we got back to the hotel we went to the pool, hot tub, and steam room. We didn’t bring bathing suits so Diego wore running shorts and I my panties and bra, which covered far more than the bikinis the young women in the hot tub had on.
Cesar said he’d be submissive since this was my trip (so to say), and he has kept his word. The only thing he criticized was Diego and I putting on the same shirt we had on throughout the day after we showered.
No proper lunch. Bought falafel for Diego, Spanish ham for Cesar, and a nut bar for me at a supermarket. Dinner at a delicious Indian restaurant near Eu’s apartment, then walked 22 minutes to Amorino for ice cream. I wonder how many miles we put in today.
Friday, June 23 – London
Photos of Roses
Can’t seem to wake up before 10 am. Quite unheard of for Diego, I’m having to wake him up.
It’s remarkable how quiet and calm and happy Diego is all the time while traveling. Today we must have walked at least a half marathon. Went to the Natural History Museum and saw pretty much all the exhibits except for those related to volcanoes and the Earth’s formation. Whenever we got to a new wing or hall I asked Diego if he wanted to see it and he said yes to everything, even when we’d been there forever. He declined only at the very end when all that was left was the volcano area I just mentioned.
He asked a few times about the train to Paris tomorrow and how long the trip was and whether we were going in or out. “Out of London and into Paris,” I told him.
We met Cesar at a Whole Foods near the museum and walked about an hour to The Regents Park, where we met Eu at Queen Mary’s Rose Garden. I took pictures of many of the stunning roses and sent them via WA to my mother-in-law. It’s nice when you can do a little thing that another person will appreciate, and my mother-in-law loves roses.
We got a call from the Greenwich Housing Authority about Diego’s apartment and we told Eu about the arduous process of helping Diego with his benefits. “No wonder people end up homeless,” Cesar commented.
After that, Diego said no less than 30 times “I’m not gonna be homeless,” also mentioning Will Smith and the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, a film that he brings up when the topic is related to poverty and homelessness. He did NOT like that movie, even if Will Smith was in it.
I skipped the afternoon coffee today and I’m quite sleepy. Eu thinks it’s weird that I’m doing laundry at her apartment this evening, and that I didn’t pack enough underwear to get me through the trip.
Dinner at a Basque Restaurant; another ice cream at Amorino’s.
Saturday, June 24 – London and Paris
Woke up at 9:30 AM! We were able to fit in a half hour in the hotel gym and spa. Rowed for a full five minutes, hung on the bar for one minute, and spent 20 in the steam room. Then we met Christina [dear friend from college] at a restaurant called Ibérica, a 20-min walk from the hotel.
I learned that a couple we know from college got divorced. After 30 years together. And I witnessed their romance and how madly in love they were when we shared the same dorm in college. They couldn’t take their eyes off each other. It confuses me that it wasn’t enough. I’d kept up with their journey somewhat through Christina, who shared way back when how he had proposed up in a hot air balloon.
Christina paid, even though Cesar made a serious attempt to pay or at least share the bill. But Christina insisted and since we’d treated her when she was in NY a couple of months back, we didn’t fight her, even if it was three of us. As Cesar later remarked, he only let her because Andres wasn’t there. He eats more than the three of us put together.
We took a classic London taxi to the St Pancras train station, where we boarded the Eurostar train for the 3-hour trip from London to Paris. When we were boarding, there was a small agglomeration of eight or so travelers outside our train car, and the French Eurostar attendant checking our tickets reprimanded us and asked us to form a queue; “This doesn’t work,” she said. I thought it was working just fine and I’m a person who gets annoyed at people who ignore line order.
On the train, I rested my heels up on the edge of the seat, making a little ball of myself for comfort, and another train attendant reprimanded me with a stern face, directing me to lower my feet.
Got to Paris in a short nap. The local train to Gare de Lyon [near our hotel] was so packed Cesar couldn’t squeeze himself in before the doors closed. So Diego and I rode off the two stops and Cesar took a taxi. It took us 9 minutes compared to Cesar’s 30.
Here they still ask you to sign a receipt sometimes when you pay by credit card, and you have to buy Metro tickets to operate the turnstile as opposed to using Apple Pay.
Sunday, June 25 – Paris
Exhausted. Diego was pooped today and still he didn’t complain and went along with and enjoyed all we did. First, we took a cab to the Apple Store in St Germain to fix Cesar’s iPad which is perpetually turning on and off. He had an appointment at noon and it took a good hour.
Diego and I went off to find a cafe to sit at, relax and people-watch. We tried the most Parisian looking one of the few right near the store. We’d been sitting there for a good 15 minutes and were ignored by the two wait staff. I then approached one and asked for a café crème and a thé froid and the gentleman said non, they’re not serving breakfast anymore, only lunch.
So we got up and went to a creperie perpendicular to the cafe and sat ourselves down, outdoors naturally, since that’s where everyone sits whenever possible. A waitress was clearing a table, saw us take a seat, and walked into the restaurant. We waited and waited and she didn’t come back out. I walked in and asked for a café crème and a thé froid and she said “Un moment, un moment,” she would be right out and signaled for us to wait outside. I went back to the table and she did come right out and took our order.
We ate crepes of huge proportions for lunch. The lady at the stand was immensely helpful when I asked if they served gluten-free crepes since the menu didn’t say. They did!
We went into the St Chapelle and a lady shushed everyone on the loudspeaker.
We were on our way to Montmartre and had to get off the Metro midway because an announcement came on at the Hôtel de Ville that, for one hour, there would be no service between Hôtel de Ville and the station where we’d connect to the next Metro. Most people got off, except those who spoke no French, had earphones on, or wanted a good excuse to be late.
We got off and were walking and seeing what options we had when Eu called [She’d arrived in Paris to see a college friend.] We decided to rent bikes, electric ones that made me feel as if I had bionic legs, and rode to Eu’s hotel, from whence we walked to another Metro station.
We finally made it to the Abbesses stop and walked to Sacre Coeur. Lovely seeing Eu again!
Then, for dinner, arepas at a restaurant at the base of Montmartre!
Finally back to the hotel following the route we were to take earlier, only in the opposite direction.
Monday, June 26 – Fontainebleau and Paris
Though we followed the day’s plan exactly, there were a couple of hiccups along the way.
At Gare de Lyon Cesar dropped his submissive role for a couple seconds and guided us to the SNCF ticket counter. I doubted that was the correct one since I recalled from my college summer in Paris that SNCF was for travel way beyond Paris. We were redirected to a kiosk and thankfully a nice French gare employee who happened to be standing next to it pressed the right buttons in quick succession and voilà we had our there-and-back tickets to Fontainebleau. Just in time since the train was to leave in three minutes.
The chateau was even grander than I’d expected and, since I’d only seen images and read nothing about it, the history behind it blew me away. Just a few hours later as I write this, I’m certain that what I recollect is inaccurate but the gist holds. Turns out Napoleon lived there and abdicated the throne there in what’s known as the abdication room. He descended the majestic stairs out of the chateau to be sent into exile at St Hélène.
The Pope, I learned, was invited to Napoleon’s coronation but at some point, the two had a feud and Pope (Pious something, I think) ended up under house arrest for a couple of years at Fontainebleau, occupying what came to be known as the Pope’s rooms. The accommodations were far from shabby, especially for someone under arrest.
Lunch at a restaurant near the Chateau and Uber to a trailhead of the Fôret de Fontainebleau. Walked the fairytale forest for about two hours but couldn’t get an Uber from where we were dropped off so we took off on foot to the closest bus stop and just missed the bus to the train station. So we waited for an Uber from there and just missed the train to Paris.
We’d already used the tickets to cross the automatic door to the platform and when we tried to cross them back out, they wouldn’t open. Thankfully there was an intercom for assistance and my French has been dusted off enough for me to explain our predicament and get whoever was on the line to inform his collègue at Fontainebleau that we needed rescuing. The colleague was a gentleman at the ticket counter on the far left side beyond the glass doors.
We had about an hour to walk some more and use the toilet. Diego needed to go and the toilet at the station was closed.
We’d been informed by the voice on the intercom that we’d need to buy new tickets and we were a bit bummed about that. Still, we tried our old tickets again because you never know but they didn’t work. “Go talk to the man at the ticket counter,” suggested Cesar, who prefaces his requests for me to ask stuff here with “It’s a great opportunity to practice your French.”
So I gave the young man my kindest smile and explained how we’d missed the 5:02 train and we’d left the station and now our tickets didn’t work anymore to get through the doors. He kindly opened a special door and let us in. Woohoo! Seven and a half Euros saved.
Note to self: Don’t ever buy the 3-day tickets for the Metro. Almost every time, the tickets won’t work and we need to find a booth with a human in it to fix the problem and re-magnetize the darn ticket. Missing the London Tube.
Place de Vosges and dinner nearby. Then Metro to Champs Elisées. Diego said something about his feet hurting. When we got back to the hotel we found he had a blister on each foot, same place on each one, the inner-facing side.
Tuesday, June 27 – Paris
Where to Buy Underwear
We ran out of underwear and socks so the first order of business today was to head to Uniqlo for some.
Being in Paris and feeling the allure of the new, we ended up purchasing 25 items. I know this because I counted the items. And I counted the items because at the self-pay station, Cesar plopped down the bag with our selection on the surface that scans stuff and it instantly read that we had 25 items. When I say instantly I mean in less than one second the screen showed a big 25 and listed and priced every single item in the bag. I didn’t trust the technology so I had to check.
Twenty-five items sounds like a lot but consider that we had to buy four pairs of socks each given that the price per pair was higher if you bought just one or two or three pairs. Same for the underwear. And I really needed a hat.
We had the unexpected pleasure of Eugenia’s company again as her friend was having work meetings. She met us at Uniqlo and she too ended up with a multiple-item purchase.
Bags needed dropping off so we went to our respective hotels and reunited at the Arc de Triomphe. The Tour Eiffel was our destination and we wanted to do the approach by way of the lovely neighborhoods between the Arc and Place de Trocadero. We lingered for a bit under the arc because any good Venezuelan is keen to locate Miranda’s name inscribed there, the only American who made their way there.
The Tour Eiffel doesn’t disappoint. It’s one of those places that looks cooler than you remembered or might have imagined.
After lingering a while we went to a nearby place to eat, a brasserie or cafe or restaurant. I still don’t fully get the difference. Luckily Cesar chose it given what transpired. We ordered, with our customary spiel about the sesame seed and sesame oil and Cesar being deathly allergic and please check with the chef. The waitress came back to tell us the kitchen had reassured her that there was no sesame in the salade niçoise, so Casar enjoyed it with abandon.
I bet it was the bit of chicken and hard-boiled egg Eugenia offered from her salad that was to blame. That one wasn’t vetted for sesame and the chicken did have a bit of a crust and the egg some powdery stuff on it. Cesar took three Benadryl, rode an Uber home, and slept it off. No trip with Cesar can be complete without an allergic event. All in all, this one was mild.
Wednesday, June 28 – Paris and Versailles
The First Supper
This morning we got up at 10 am, not in time for the breakfast buffet Diego has enjoyed our three mornings here. Diego had some cookies we bought yesterday and a yogurt from the room fridge. I had a pain au chocolat from the boulangerie up the street.
Cesar asked if it was ok to cancel our dinner reservation at the Thai French fusion restaurant Christina recommended seeing as sesame is common in Thai cuisine and he didn’t want a repeat from yesterday. I would’ve liked to go but totally get it. Diego also understands but for several hours later he was perseverating on not getting to eat Thai and when could he eat Thai food and let’s please set a date to go to Thai Basil in Greenwich.
Anyhow, Cesar stayed in Paris to catch up on some work, and Diego and I took the train to Versailles. Poor Diego. The wicked blisters were still there this morning. He has walked funny but he hardly complained. Diego is decidedly not a complainer and I love that about him.
Well, Versailles. There are no words for Versailles. Jaw-dropping. More so than I recalled. The history, the various King Louis’s, Napoleon Bonaparte, Marie-Antoinette, Marie-Therese. I wished I could time travel and not just picture it all in my mind.
The mythical and religious themes always grab Diego’s attention. He pointed out a few to me, including a painting of The First Supper.
Thankfully I needed to use the toilet just once, the first of the two times Diego went. The line at the ladies’ bathroom was long, especially on our second trip to the toilets. Women will never be equal until, like men, they don’t need to wait in line to use the bathroom.
We met Cesar back at the hotel and soon after headed out to dinner, by Taxi, since Diego’s limp had gotten worse and he’d asked to take the elevator, a sure sign he was in pain.
We wanted to go to this first-come first-serve restaurant in St Germain called L’Entrecôte something something, but when we got there the line was way longer than our desire to eat there. So we walked a block and found Le Deux Maggots, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous hangout spot. There was a line there too, short as can be. We were seated in less than five minutes. The food was just good, and the service great.
And the bathroom! Three for femmes and one for hommes, with all sharing the sinks for hand washing, the way it should be everywhere. Someone gets it!
Thursday, June 29 – Paris
Flight Departure Uncertainty
Diego withstood a decent amount of walking this morning, about an hour and a half, from the Louvre, through the Tuileries and ending at Place de la Concorde. Add to that the walks from our Paris hotel to the Metro station and the thousands of steps one puts in at the airport, especially when your flight is canceled and you have to retrace your steps to the airport entrance and then walk to a restaurant from the airport hotel (with no restaurant) that you were able to book, and he probably walked four hours total. He was seriously limping by day’s end
Yes, our trip is ending as it started: with flight departure uncertainty. Unlike ten days ago, when we boarded the plane on time and our flight did take off following a “short” delay that somehow turned into four hours of sitting in the plane, this time around a two-hour delay at the gate turned into a flight cancellation.
This entailed a number of “inconveniences,” as airlines like to call them. One was getting the vouchers for food, taxi, and hotel we were entitled to. The food and taxi ones came through quickly, but we gave up on the hotel one, as the French Delta staff kept telling us she had not received information from whoever was in charge about which hotel voucher to issue.
Anyhow, we got 45 Euros for food from the airport and when we tried to use the money at the counter that sold good cheese and cold cuts, the cashier directed us to the lame cafeteria, the only place that took the vouchers. The airport taxis did not accept our voucher either! I’m saving all the receipts and demand my money back I shall.
Then we had to go back into France as if we had left, been to Australia and back. Luckily we had our Italian passports and went into the no-line queue.
Diego had a moment of nervousness, in response, I believe, to my being upset about having to reschedule a special radiology appointment I had for tomorrow. I quickly realized my stupidity. Rescheduling was no big deal and the only problem was my negative reaction. Diego does that to you; he centers you. I’ve already called and rescheduled, see?
Diego, he only said, “I handled it,” and “I didn’t freak out.” No, you didn’t., Diego. You are amazing.
Friday, June 30 – Paris and New York
Up In the Air
This morning we got to the airport at 9:00 AM for our new flight, scheduled to depart at 1:00 PM.
Check-in was an obstacle course. The staff that directed travelers to their lines told us our Delta flight didn’t exist. She had to ask a colleague who did have knowledge of it and we were directed to the same line we made yesterday, which was staffed by AirFrance employees. Nowadays flights seem to merge various airlines together. It can be a Finnish Air operated by Mauritian Airlines in cooperation with Fly Aruba. So confusing.
Anyhow, when we got to the counter, the sweet young girl helping us couldn’t make heads or tails of our situation. She spent 20 minutes trying to figure out if our flight was for real and for a while there insisted we should be on a 1:30 AirFrance flight instead.
When she had trouble placing us on that flight too, she went for help from two staff with Delta Airline uniforms in a nearby kiosk and asked us to wait. After two minutes, Cesar went over too. I don’t know what kind of explanations were given but tickets were issued to the 1:00 PM Delta flight to JFK.
And on that flight is where we are as I write these lines: on a plane estimated to arrive in 1 hour and 19 minutes.
The plane is emptier than any plane I’ve been on in this century. Diego’s holding Remy, the Disney rat stuffy we bought at the airport. Cesar’s taking up a row of seats nearby, working (or so he says).
I’m feeling grateful for my charmed life and excited beyond words to see my Andres this weekend.