Wednesday, July 29, 2015

France 2 – Tue – St Malo

Maeve and Theo slept late (1:42 pm).  I woke early (10:30 am) and got some blogging done.  Zeke woke a little later and just had downtime with his long separated computer (which Theo insisted on bringing for him).  Here’s a view of our airbnb abode, hosted by Pierre a windsurfer who spent 3 years in Hawaii windsurfing and learning great english.  We are a short walk to the beach… you can just see the water through the roof tops.
Pierre manages the complex (a house slit into 2 rentable units and a 3rd set of buildings as a future residence) for his uncle.  The uncle applied for the permits to build the 3rd house and got them.  Because the government may take those permissions away, he decided to build despite not having enough money to finish the inside of that house.  Pierre said the building we were staying in was built around 1920 and he was certain it was dirt cheap when his uncle bought it.  But St Malo is really booming as a tourist destination.  He pointed out a few good things for us to see in our quick 1 day stay.

So we started by hitting his first suggestion… a great restaurant, de L’Ouest, for seafood in the old walled city.  The old walled city was the major tourist attraction in St Malo and did not disappoint.  All sorts of street artists and a few street performers.  People everywhere enjoying the food and shopping.  Pierre had also mentioned a zipline that had been run from the tower to the ground, but the lines were long enough that despite Theo and Maeve saying they wanted to do it, we opted out. 

We entered through Porte (door) St Vincente.  Zeke spotted our restaurant right away… So we checked the prices and had a seat.  Maeve ordered shrimp and Salmon.  And loved both.  Zeke and I were kidding her that she’d never had french shrimp before… what if they showed up and had little french moustaches.  Maeve’s answer was simple… well then I’ll rip their mustaches off and then eat them.  I was surprised when they showed up as they had their eyes and all.  Maeve was non-plused and simply asked how to get them apart and how to get their legs off.  She wolfed all but 3 of the 12 down.  Then went to work on her salmon, eating all of that too… bar a few samples she allowed others.  Zeke had muscles on the half shell.. iced.  He said his first bite tasted like that smell of ocean water that he hates.  But then he added the vinegar and lemon and did much better.  Still, I could tell he wasn’t loving them but was finishing them because he’d ordered them.  I’m not a huge oyster fan, but said I’d try one and to my surprise I enjoyed them quite a bit.  So I finished them for him.  He enjoyed his 2nd choice much better.  Some sort of fish (cod) on a bed of almost pureed asparagus.  I had a taste too… quite good.  My choice was seafood and sauerkraut, which I’d never seen as a combo before.  Very good.  Theo stayed mainstream and ordered a crepe he’d been craving and devoured it.

We walked around a bit afterwards seeing some art that Theo really wanted to get, but I said no as it had no French tie in.  We walked back and up a wall that everyone seemed to be gathering on.  It was the sea wall of the fort.  Great views out.  Monkey’s posed for a few…

We then circled inwards and by luck stumbled near the ice cream shop Pierre recommended.  St Angelo’s.  It was no secret as there was a line to get at their ice cream.  And they’d worked out a great system to pay first, getting a 1 2 or 3 boulle (scoop) cone token and then walking the line and deciding which scoops to get.  Once decided they scooped it up for you.  I helped Maeve and ensured she got exactly what she ordered.  Theo unfortunately was disappointed by the language barrier and didn’t get exactly what he wanted.  But they all enjoyed their ice cream and each shared some with me.

We headed back out and had to walk the long way back to our car…. this time walking along the warf and seeing the many boats moored along the way.  Most of them fancy sailing boats. Zeke was rushing me along to get back to the car quickly, but we enjoyed our walk together.  We stopped at the grocery very near where we’d parked and grabbed food for that evening and the next morning and drove back to our house on the far side of the bay.

I let the kids have their down time as I searched for info on the train station and car drop off the following day.  After digging up the addresses, I wanted to drive them before the stress of the morning to ensure I was there by 11:30.  Bad luck… it was back where we’d just come from.  Still, not far, so I decided to drive it anyway.  Maeve said she’d come so we made a bit of an adventure of it.  First we found the train station and nearby Avis rental and mapped our walk back to the train station.  Then we drove on past the ‘citadel’, aka walled old city, and found the de Muse, an old German concrete enforced bunker bordered by a nice campground that was loaded with campers.  To save time I parked in the only empty camp siteI ran across and we walked up a few hundred feet to the bunkers.  And enjoyed the view over the citadel and the view west into the bay.  Then it was time to turn around and head back as I’d promised Theo a sunset picnic. 

I knew I was cutting it close as I saw the sun sink lower and lower.  I called ahead and we grabbed the food as quickly as we could, but sure enough even with the quick 90 second drive to the site, we were late.  Maeve said, it’s OK dad it’s still beautiful.  And she was right.  We enjoyed our picnic from the car and enjoyed each other’s company just as much.

France 1 – Mon – Flight and Car


So let me start this France blog by saying that we made a painful decision to split the family for the first time ever.  Jane has been suffering from worries, that she verbalizes as anxiety, to the point of not being able to sleep.  This has been going on for the last month or so.  She and medical agreed that she should not go on this trip and introduce environment and time zone changes as we try to get her back to normal rest.  We thought things were getting better, so had lined up a stay with her Nama and the BPs.  But just recently she lost 2 more nights of sleep and that changed the plan.  Kate insisted she stay, and I insisted I stay.  Factoring in as many things as possible, including how the other 3 kids would fare with a single parent.  But ultimately it was Kate saying that she wouldn’t be able to keep her mind off of Jane even if she went on the trip that placed her at home.

The day of departure, Jane wanted to watch all city dive and go to her swim meet, so we dropped her at the BPs and headed out of town.  Kate had done all the trip packing as she always does, but this time I think it was actually therapeutic for her as it gave her something to focus her energy on while we all tried to get Jane back to good rest.  Kate was so fatigued by all the worrying and packing that she gave herself a huge goose egg on her forehead with the driver’s door of the minivan.  I drove to Chicago and thought Kate would sleep, but she stayed up the whole way.  We circled back to the International terminal after first missing it.  With so many nationalities and languages the international terminal is quite the place to people watch, however our line was uncharacteristically short (or maybe it was us being 3 hours early) and we flew through check in without an incident.  Kate’s tears started flowing when she left us at security, giving each of the kids a memento.  Theo a bike zipper pull.  Maeve a jingle bell necklace of the world.  And Zeke a red heart.  Kate left teary eyed after a last group hug.

I killed some of our 3 hours challenging the kids with some travel questions… why does the trip from Chicago to Paris last overnight while the trip from Paris to Chicago take only a couple hours.  They were both stumped, but Theo realized the time zones were the key.  Then I asked them which flight actually lasts longer?  Again The was the first to figure out that the earth’s rotation plays a part here.  And tried to explain it to Maeve several different ways.  Maeve finally got it when I drew it out on paper.  Showing her that the position of the destination city actually moves during that 7 hours and 40 minutes we were in the air.

Here’s a summary of our day from Maeve…

Hi this is Maeve and I’m going to tell you about our plane ride and car ride. Our plane ride was really long to me but really we slept on the plane and we were there … Paris. We couldn’t just wait we wanted to see my brother Zeke. but we couldn’t find him so we texted him “where are you” Zeke responded “I’m at the car rental, Sixth.” and when we finally found him we were all happy!! so we went to every singal car rental desk to ask if they had our reservasion of the car, they didn’t but the last one we went to said there was another car rental so we went there, they had the reservasion. then we were off and the journey of finding the “hotel” we were staying at for 2 nights.

me again… nice summary from Maeve.  I’ll fill in some of the gaps and correct a few errors, but am going to leave the spelling errors as is.

None of us slept much.  Maeve slept perhaps 3 hours, Theo perhaps 1 hour and I perhaps 30 minutes.  It’s just hard to get comfortable in those seats and despite us having 3 seats in a row, the middle arm rest would not fold up.

Theo and I and our 4th seat middle row travel mate were nervous when the empty row in front of us filled with a baby, 2 toddlers and an overwhelmed mom (obviously so when the attendant has to carry the baby in for you).  But they did surprisingly well overnight… not a peep.  Theo said it was the electronics, and that may be true of the toddlers, but the baby did not play.  We saw only some bad behavior as the one toddler kept trying to incite play from Maeve by stealing things off her food tray.

We landed, and after a long bus ride off the runway, we arrived at customs.  Despite reminding them to hit the bathroom on the plane, they both used the bathroom before immediately before customs, as I watched the line grow and grow.  As the man behind me in line pointed out, they had only one window open, which actually closed down at one point because someone walked straight through without getting cleared at the window.  Eventually we made it through and I turned my attention more fully to finding Zeke.  We’d already text messaged (which was a relief to me as I wasn’t sure I was completely setup for international calling yet).  So I knew he was arriving and would be waiting for us after we cleared our line.  I told him to head to car rental and start asking the desks if they had a reservation for us as I’d forgotten to print out our car reservation.  I headed for the car rental too… assuming there was only 1.  Ours was in lock down from the police with machine guns.  Uh-oh.  Now I hoped there was a second one.  I texted Zeke, who said he was in 2f.  We were in 2e.  Great luck. We found him and the kiddos ran up and gave him a hug.  I gave him a huge hug too after I got a few photo ops.

Stopped at the Paris-Stde soccer stadium hoping for some quick and easy street parking.  Found one, but couldn’t get the car into reverse and ultimately had to pull past the spot as a large truck was waiting patiently on me.  Theo actually figured it out for me.. instead of pushing down you had to pull up.  Found a Quick (literally) burger joint that had you order at a kiosk.  All the kids took a turn at the kiosk and when my turn came up I was guided by all of them at once… We tried paying several times but ultimately failed and had to go to the counter.  After some confusion over why we were at the counter, we realized the other very long lines must have been for ordering or waiting on the orders and that the only french speaking attendant wanted us to pay.  I slid the card through the normal way, but he showed me how to hold it below the scanner (found out later at the gas station, that my new card had a security chip that was used instead of the magnetic strip in all of France).  Our food literally came out as soon as we paid… evidently we’d taken much longer ordering at the kiosk than we thought.  Zeke said over and over again how good it was to have a burger… even a bad burger.

I was thinking the drive would be straightforward with the GPS we got and were able to reset to english.  It reported a toll booth route at 4:20 and a nontoll route at 5:40.  We decided to pay the tolls.  The french have beautiful large signage for all of their historic and interesting sites.  I couldn’t help myself but to pull into this castle site just off the highway.  Maeve and Theo were sleeping but Zeke walked up with me.  This is a view from the side of the castle out toward the front across the moat bridge.

At some point the GPS told me about a road out of order and asked if I wanted to take the alternate route… I trusted it but shouldn’t have.  About 5 hours into the trip I realized it had taken me way off path.  INstead of Brittany, we were up North in Normandy seeing signs for Utah beach!  I bypassed the road out of order message from the GPS and reset our course at about an hour 30 remaining.  We arrived way later than we should have, but still had time to throw our things into the house and walk down to the beach only 1.5 blocks away.  It was plenty cold enough and both Theo and Maeve stayed out of the water… but enjoyed collecting shells.

That night we drove out to find supper and ran into a pizza place on the road above the opposite west-facing beach.  The kids all liked their american food. Maeve laughing and Theo pretended to be aghast to see the name brand of his lemonade (which everyone said, despite the name, was actually very very good).

One final story…
I am feeling so embarrassed to not be able to speak a bit of french.  Even the french I know… mercy (thank you) seems to be something they say and then I’m left with nothing I can reply… so I fnally asked the waitress (owner?) what one says as ‘you’re welcome’.  Her english was minimal and despite understanding me, she didn’t know.  So she asked a regular patron who was kind enough to attempt a french lesson.  He explained you wouldn’t say you’re welcome, which means welcome to my home.  But might say it’s nothing… like Spanish de nada.  And tried to give us the pronunciation.  Despite several attempts by me and one by Zeke we couldn’t get it right.  We laughed and hopefully eased his frustration as he threw up his hands.  And Zeke threw out a quick Merci as we left (smart… get the Merci in first before you are put in the position of having to answer… that will be my new strategy!).  On the way home we just laughed about the phrase, whihc to all of our American ears appeared to be something like Merci beau coup (some other word) followed by ‘I kill you’.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Belize 12 – Sun - NFC Champs

The final morning of Tranquility Bay, Maeve and Theo headed out to breakfast early to play some cards on the dock.  We found them playing with one of their friends at the beach the previous day.

At breakfast, Zeke chews on one of those awesome Jack Fries, a deep fried puff that was the perfect vehicle for anything you wanted to load it up withDSC04765

A look at the lower unit of our digs at Tranquility Bay

Our final ride out… off to Captain Morgan’sDSC04770

I'd organized this trip, and for the most part, it was surprisingly easy… with Belize being an English speaking country, I was able to email and even call to make arrangements.  But I’d waited too long finding a place for the last 2 days of our stay.  By the time I circled back on that task everything was booked, I was beginning to get quite nervous as I searched desperately on the web for a place to stay.  Finally someone pointed me to Captain Morgan's.  They still had space, probably because they are way overpriced, but that's the price of procrastination.  They were posh though.  Complete American posh comforts.  Theo put it this way when I asked him how he slept, 'That bed was TOO comfortable', lamenting the more remote and casual feel of our previous locale, Tranquility Bay.  On the flip side, I was pretty happy to see TVs when I realized that it was indeed Sunday... the final Sunday of the regular NFL season and the Packers were playing the Bears for the NFC championship. I hadn't even realized it was Sunday until I walked into their pool/bar area and saw the 3 TVs on the wall playing NFL games.  Even more luck, the Packers/Bears game was a late game, so I hadn't missed a snap.  I'm sure you all watched and LOVED it.  Gotta tell you that the Packers have a huge following.  I think they're just generally a team everyone likes... But everyone was cheering for the Packers and most were not from WI or the area.  What's even more amazing was 1 of the 3 TVs were playing another game that had gone into overtime and NOONE was watching that game.  Who cares, it's Packers vs Bears.  Huge cheers when Kuhn was able to just get enough of the rush to allow Rodgers to spin left avoiding the near certain sack, and launch it to Cobb who had been lost in the coverage.  Cobb had time to camp under it while we watched and hoped that Rodgers had been able to muster enough on the throw so that the defender didn't have time to recover.  Watching seconds later as Cobb not only had time, but was able to run the final few yards for the score.  WHAT A MEMORY.  

NOT looking forward to San Fran.  If they have a few significant injuries like we have, we may survive.  Count on it being a high-scoring affair.  I'll be really surprised if our defense can keep them under 42.

I'm realistic about our ability to go deep into these playoffs, still it's fun to be a part of them, and you never know, right??

Waiting for our room at Captain Morgan’s, with the kids back at the electronics.DSC04771

A shot of the inside of the condo and the impressive thatch roof made of palm tree fronds.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Belize 9,10,11 – T,F,S - Beach Paradise

We had 4 nights stay at Tranquility Bay.  It’s been a great stay.

View from our front porch.

Kids goofing on the couch.

Theo and I built this stupendous sand castle.

The kids were surprised by Cesar’s rainbow drinks.

Couldn’t resist this cute shot caught during a game of ‘freeze freeze American cheese’.

Zeke created this awesome shot where the crystal clear waters of Belize meet clear skies.

Underwater shot of Zeke

Kate and Jane snorkeling

A 6’ ray (manta?).  Smaller than the one that startled Kate in the shallows.GOPR0447

Lionfish.  An invasive species introduced in Miami area in mid-80’s.  Now found in all areas of the Caribbean.

Me rowing into shore.

Highlights from each of the kids

Maeve: Chulupa the one eyed wonder dog, Mr, Mrs and Baby Crabby Pants in their custom built sand crab castle, swimming with the manatee, Playing with Sonia from Pasadena, the beautiful butt dance, Mom getting scared by a giant ray

Theo: Skipping Woboba ball, Sand in my pants dance, Urinal attack at the restaurant, Coastal Shrimp kabob, Cormorant chasing fish underwater like an otter, throwing coconut fronds on a ginormous fire, breaking coconuts without a knife and enjoying the meat,

Jane: Reading in a hammock, Ocean Kayaking, Helping dad see the lionfish on our first snorkeling outing, Discovering the manatee (contention with Zeke), Winning the first official Iota match, Losing a card between the boards on the dock

Zeke: Discovering the manatee, Lionfish, Scaring a complete stranger to the point of profanity, Mangorita drink,

Mom: Complete isolated simplicity of the setting, Seeing kids play with local kids and Pasadena kids, Maeve’s crab family, the mosquito massacre on the 2nd floor, snorkeling with the kids, being saved by the kids in a kayak after being surprised by a 10’ ray, cocktails with every meal, lobster meal on the beach, Happening upon the next book club book and nearly finishing it in a day, the Conch Christmas tree, the memorable walk up garbage beach where we found digging tools for the kids, Sinking the Woboba ball into the bucket in a single shot (while Zeke and I took hundreds of attempts), WI flag in aquarium bar restaurant,  Playing Spite and Malice with Theo at the dock bar,

Dad: Watching the Cormorant chase fish and eventually catch and swallow one, Enjoying our kids enjoy each other,  Going to blog in the hammock and just closing the computer and surrendering to 10 minutes of the sounds and sights but then getting restless and needing to push off the sand and at least sway the hammock (Theo did the EXACT same thing the next day),  Sitting in the hammock with Jane discussing religion, Kayaking out to the scuba diving float and listening to the now distant waves crashing on the beach,  Building a sandcastle with Theo,  Running sprints on the beach and having my calf feel great, The still surface of the water the last evening I went out snorkeling and the underwater color of the evening sky, the manatee, Surrounded by large fish…

Snorkeling shots


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Belize 8 – Wed – Xmas at GL & TB

The kids awoke Christmas morning, to find their ‘stockings’ on their bed.  I’d thought I’d heard some rustling in the middle of the night, but I didn’t want to turn on the light and scare anyone away.

We gathered for a final breakfast at the central bar area.DSC04722

I’d told Jenny about the Mahogany and Teak farms we’d seen.  She pointed out this central pole she’d had carved for $1000 Belize.  She’d found the ‘rotted’ log in a ditch, but knew exactly what it was.  Mahogany.  She’s had estimates that it’s worth 5k to 6k American. I looked up Mahogany prices on the web and couldn’t get a good read on prices.  Let’s say a mature tree (60 years) can bring 10k at today’s prices.  The farm we saw must’ve had 10,000+ trees.  Even if they lose half of those, they’re still bringing in 5 million dollars.  Seriously!  But unless you’re a very young man, you’re probably not going to see that harvest.DSC04723

We said goodbye to our hosts on Christmas morn and drove back east to Belize city.  It was a simple drive in the daylight, as we entered Belize city, I blew through a “checkpoint” that appeared to be empty, but as we drove by Kate said she’d seen people in there.  I pulled aside ahead and they came out.  Funny, I think they only came out because I pulled aside.  They waved me along with a smile.

We had a decent map of where our Budget car rental sat in Belize City, however, soon we were questioning how much farther it could be, as the gas light had come on some 20+ km ago, and I really didn’t want to fill it up having opted into the auto-fill, only because we were returning the car on Christmas day and the Budget lady at the airport told us that gas stations would be closed.  They weren’t of course.  But it was a gamble I wasn’t willing to take.  We found a policeman who assured us we were heading the correct direction and soon would come across Budget on the right.  Sure enough, there it was.  The gate was ajar, a good sign indicating someone was about to check in our car.  I walked up to the office, but couldn’t find anyone.  The radio was playing in the back, so I knew someone was about.  He popped up in the office, and I explained my situation.  He said he wasn’t supposed to be there, he had just dropped by to clean his car, having been out the night before until 4 am.  He checked the books and said were were scheduled to drop our car back at the airport.  Ugghh, if there was one lady who was least helpful on this trip, it turns out it was our Budget Rental lady at the airport.  Nice.  But not helpful.  It was she who told us with certainty that Belize zoo and TEC were at mile marker 32 on the western highway (they were at 29), It was she who said gas stations would be closed on Christmas.  And it was she who had put us in the books for drop off at the airport.  Had no one been there, we’d have been in trouble and would’ve needed to scramble to find a way of calling Budget to arrange a drop off.  But as things have on this trip, it all worked out.  The man even offered to drive us down to the water taxi.  Which were more difficult to find than they appeared on the map.  King James received our bags at the water taxi, and just like an airplane, checked in 5 of our bags.  They would go into the belly of the boat and be given back to us at the San Pedro dock.  Zeke spotted this marijuana plant on the wall of a shop. 
Turns out they sold some cure all derivative from marijuana.  It was supposed to work as an anti-itch, so mostly for the science of it, I bought one.  Kate ordered us up a quick lunch at an Indian shop.  Zeke had gotten on the internet while we were waiting and was seeing all the Christmas day photos from his friends.  I took a shot of him in front of the water taxi on the ocean dock and he posted it, immediately getting likes from his friends back in the cold of Wisconsin, and even from Korowit, aka JJ, our Thailand exchange student we’d hosted some years back.  This was a similar shot of the entire family:

Soon they were boarding our boat, and we were off on a 1 hr 15 minute journey to San Pedro.  Our first port was Caye Caulker.  I’d read it was more laid back and less developed, and the shoreline held to that form.  Many small mom and pop hotels.  Noone whatsoever on the beach, bar a few folk at the end of long docks sunning themselves.  Next stop San Pedro, which had larger, glitzier hotels and glossier beaches.  We were actually catching our connecting boat in San Pedro.
DSC04732  The Tranquility Bay boat was well marked and Winfield, our driver, was right there to greet us.  The smaller boat was uncovered, so we quickly applied sunscreen as Winfield transferred our bags. 

The smaller boat was actually a smoother ride the remaining 12 miles North to Tranquility Bay, seemingly floating over the waves.  It was so relaxing that Maeve fell asleep in my lap.

We reached Tranquility Bay and were greeted on the dock with a complementary drink for each of us.  Winfield and another man grabbed our bags and took them right to our room, while Kate and I signed in at the central office and got a quick introduction to the place.  First order of business, hit the beach!  We all headed down to try out the new water-skipping balls we’d gotten for Christmas.  I don’t know the technology, but man they work.  And are a lot of fun.  I was enjoying warming up my baseball arm. 

The staff had a special meal set that night, a grill out on the beach.  Kate setup this beautiful Christmas day pose of the kids while we waited for our seats.

Including a bonfire that Theo and his new friend Ethan enjoyed pyro’ing away at.  Carrying large coconut branches and coconuts themselves and throwing them into the fire.

Soon Theo and Ethan and Maeve were playing sword fights with the palm fronds.  Then Theo and Ethan became preoccupied with opening a coconut.  I was enjoying watching. Theo went to work with a butter knife to stab his coconut, while I tried to stay one step ahead of whatever injury he was about to inflict upon himself.  I convinced him to give it a rest and attempt to finish the coconut in the morn.  He agreed, and we headed back to the house for a quick shower and bedtime.