Monday, January 05, 2004

Europe 2003: I think this Sagittarius horoscope I have taped to my computer says it all: "There is no known antidote to the travel bug..." *

Hubby and I, and Son and Daughter-in-law, went to England and Europe, Dec 15, 2003 to Jan 1, 2004

We had a fab time in London - except Hubby got the flu, and spent a couple of days in the hotel watching TV. I doctored him with Chinese herbs and England’s version of TheraFlu. We stayed in this funky hotel (old converted house at 153 Sussex Gardens, near Paddington Station) called Hotel Adare, in which our bedroom floor creaked every time we walked. No quick, silent trips to the loo in the middle of the night for us. Sussex Gardens reminds me of EastEnders (my favorite TV soap that has been taken off the air by BBCA, even though it is the number-one rated show in Great Britain) with a couple of pubs, a couple of fruit and veg, a laundry, a fish and chip shop, a cafe and a central square. There are hundreds of old converted townhouse hotels in the area, and most of the hotel workers are Eastern Europeans who know nothing about London, or even the areas around the hotels. They are nice and friendly, however.

I bought some Ahmad English Breakfast Tea No. 1 - my FAVORITE, in London, but have already used it up. Once we got out of England, we did not encounter any real tea and I had to use my stash to get my tea fix, morning, noon and night.

We saw the Lion King and Tonight's the Night (Rod Stewart musical) on stage in London. We spent one day at the Tower of London, and all day and night (on winter solstice) in Windsor, Bath, and at Stonehenge. I think that was my favorite day. We ate at the George Inn at Norton St. Philip which is 700 years old. Saw lots of countryside and blue skies and fluffy clouds (and sheep.) Finally got to the British Museum and the Tate Modern. The Queen was out of town, so we didn’t get to visit.

There were hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of London. It looked like Shanghai, with the crush of people shopping for Christmas. Trafalgar Square had a huge Christmas tree and choirs singing. One day Hubby and I were riding on the top of a double-decker bus. We were stopped on Oxford Street in the mass of traffic. Out of the corner of my right eye, I noticed a motion on the bus stopped beside us. It was Son and Daughter-in-law waving to us! I got a photo. What are the odds of that happening?

We took Eurostar to Brussels. Anything we asked the Brussels INFORMATION BOOTH attendant, she didn't know - like "Where is there an ATM, please?" or "How can we get change to put in the lockers, please?" or “Where can we find a taxi stand, please?” Her answer to everything was, "I don't know that."

After two hours trying to see a bit of Brussels besides the inside of the train station, and failing, we gave up and boarded a train to Trier, Germany - which has a Roman gate - the Black Gate, made of sandstone. Son had used this gate as a location in his last game, Deus Ex II: The Invisible War. The gate is still standing because those crazy Romans bored holes (okay, their slaves bored holes) though the stones and poured in molten metal. The birth of rebar! We loved the town and the friendly people, and the pub, and the beer and the apple wine. Also saw the results of a recent car accident. A guy in a BMW sped around a curve, hit a low wall, flipped and landed upside down in a fountain. Luckily for him, there was no water, or rather ice, in the fountain, and he had airbags all around.

Then, on to Frankfurt am Main. We had a new, non-squeaky hotel in Frankfurt (staffed by Germans) with feather comforters and the most wonderful breakfast buffet ever. And, we were having a wonderful time, sightseeing, shopping and eating, until everything CLOSED at 4 pm on Christmas Eve.

In Germany, everything is specialized. There were no all-purpose places to buy things - like 7-11's, or the fruit and veg in London. If you want a cough drop, you have to go to a pharmacist (all closed.) I started getting a terrible sore throat in Germany, but the hotel folks kept telling me I couldn't get sick there because medical care was too expensive and I didn't have German health insurance. Before everything CLOSED, I went to a Health Food Store to get herbs, but they can sell only food herbs, not medicinal herbs. Have to go to the pharmacist for that (all closed.) I did find some Lima Brand Rice Cakes that are so crispy and good that I want to start importing them. So, in Frankfurt, even the few businesses that were open - Muslim meat shops, for instance - were of no use to us.

We had spent Christmas Eve in Switzerland, and didn’t find out everything in Germany would be closed until we got back at midnight. We rode the train beside the Rhine River Valley to Lucerne, Interlaken, then took another train to Grindelwald. Once we got back from Grindelwald, we found the last train for Frankfurt had gone. But, the nice man at the train station routed us a different way and got us back to our hotel in time to find everything CLOSED until December 27 (Dec 26 is St. Stephen’s Day – a national holiday.)

After sleeping and watching TV most of Christmas Day, eating the buffet breakfast at the hotel, and having fruit and crackers we had stashed away, for Christmas Dinner, we boarded a train to Lyon. Found out the train had to go through Paris, so we got off there. Spent the night at the Gare d’Est train station hotel, listening to the trains come in all night. Sounded like jet engines beneath us. But the hotel had those huge tall French windows that opened with billowing curtains blowing in the breeze, and a marvelous view of Parisian life ouside. Eurail trains are GREAT to ride – most days, the four of us were the only people in the first-class train cars.

I was continuing to have the worst sore throat I have ever experienced. I had used all my herbs and meds. In Paris, the only Chinese medical shop we could find was closed until Jan, so I decided I had to have a WESTERN doctor. Medicine in France is so NOT EXPENSVE. The doctor charged 70 Euros to come to our hotel and examine me. The four prescriptions he gave me cost 13.70 Euros total. Two of the meds were made by Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Anyway, remind me never to vacation in COLD countries in the winter-time again. Next winter it's either Club Med in the Turks and Caicos, Mexico, or Hawaii for our December-January cedar-pollen escape.

The trip home started with snow in Paris, leading to flight delays. Then, @#$%&*^ passengers in the seats in front of us who insisted on reclining their seats the entire trip. They would not even raise them when they got up to use the loo! Their seats were 5 inches from our faces. Hubby, still recovering from the flu, coughed on them a few times after we had politely asked them to raise their seat backs when they left them, but they wouldn’t. 25 hours later, we arrived in Austin. The cats were overjoyed to see us, insisting on snuggling all night long.

Even though the dollar is extremely weak against the Euro and the Pound right now, Hubby and I have a serious love affair with Paris and London, so we are going back for two weeks in April. “April in Paris. Chestnuts in blossom. Holiday tables under the trees.” In London, we plan to buy more Ahmad tea, go to the National Gallery, visit some book stores and see Dame Judi Dench - a favorite of ours - in All's Well That Ends Well - fifth row center. I hope to go back to the Tate Modern with Hubby because he missed it due to the flu, and I would love to have another look-see, too. I am excited about that and am thinking of hanging out at the stage door to try to get Dame Dench's autograph.

*I think this Sagittarius horoscope I have taped to my computer says it all: "There is no known antidote to the travel bug, so your're dealing with a lifetime affliction. If you're not away from home now, then in the back of your mind, you're planning your next getaway." Is that ME or what!