Archive for April, 2007

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

If I close my eyes, I can actually smell the fragrance that filled the air today for our ride. We cycled through tulip field after tulip field.. and I could not get enough of it. Beautiful. Almost sensory overload.

                        Partially because we wanted to go with Roolie and partially because we wanted to spare the group of fast bikers my tendency to be, well, not fast… we agreed to go with the slow group. Biking with the Spanish family definitely comes with some challenges. They are slow. Not at pedaling. No, on the path if you are in front of them, they ride your rear tire until they finally make a break for it and burst ahead of you. Not that you want to be ahead anyway. It is far better to follow behind at a safe distance so you can stop or make some other evasive maneuver. The little boy, who is 8 I think, probably is too little to be doing this ride on his own bike. He falls a lot and has trouble starting from a stop. Which they have to do a lot. The oldest girl, who is about 11, rides right with the guide and swerves back and forth, sometimes leaving the path and sometimes having trouble keeping control. The youngest, who is riding the slipstream behind her dad, hangs all over that thing. She leans over to reach into the side back for food, jumps off whenever we stop, turns around to yell. Oh, the yelling. They are the loudest five people! I think some of the tulips covered their little ears as we went by. At one point, though, I was the one yelling. We were crossing a street and we had the right of way and the mom stopped, blocking the path. I hollered at her to go and had to go up on the sidewalk around her. Any illusion that I didn’t dislike them was pretty much shattered then.

                        We stopped several times in the tulip fields for pictures or for lunch. And for bathroom breaks. Kaitlyn, the child who goes un-natural amounts of time without going, suddenly has us stopping every hour or so to go. It seems she enjoys a more natural approach.

                        Since we didn’t bike as far as the normal itinerary, (they went in loops just to add kilometers to the day!) we got into Haarlem before the barge did. We wandered around, carefully avoiding sitting at the cafe with the others for drinks, even though Kaitlyn kept saying she wanted to sit with those other kids.

                        When it came time for the evening stroll, we decided Kaitlyn needed some more wearing out after a late nap. So Bill and I both went on the walk, along with Kaitlyn. Not too far into it, she announced she was thirsty. We said we’d stop if we could find a place with drinks and she happily pointed out the McDonalds. Not too long after that, she ended up back on Bill’s shoulders.

                        It’s hard to believe there is only one more day of biking. Today I was really sore when we started off. It was as if the day off yesterday made my legs stiffen up. I hope this doesn’t mean that after the plane ride home Sunday I won’t be able to walk!

No bikes today

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

Never mind the flowers we saw today. And we saw lots of them. Today, Kaitlyn spoke French. Not to me. And not within earshot. But to the Canadian woman, who rushed to tell me. She wasn’t sure what she was saying, but said that it was clearly French.

                        Today I told Bill that if I were to choose where I’d want to live in Europe, this is where I’d choose. Leiden is lovely. It’s a city but not a big city so it isn’t packed with people. This morning we went to the market and I just adored the charm.

                        I never had to worry about communicating with anyone. Everyone was friendly and didn’t mind speaking to me in English. Kaitlyn saw a place selling fish and begged for some. The Dutch like to eat herrings for snacks. Gross. I asked Marjan what she’d recommend for a little kid. I don’t remember the name of what she told me, but Kaitlyn loved it. I’d asked the guy for just one piece and he refused to let me pay for it, since I didn’t buy a whole basket full. Then down the row, Kaitlyn found another fish place that had cooked shrimp. She powered through those! I couldn’t resist some cream cheese stuffed pickled peppers. Oh, they were delicious. We also found someone selling these waffles filled with syrup… they are more like cookies. Thin waffles with the syrup in between, like an Oreo. It sounds gross, but it isn’t. It’s incredibly tasty. We bought a tin as a gift; if it makes it all the way to the post office intact.

                        The market was just a diversion on the way to the central station to catch a bus. We were headed to Keukenhof. It’s a giant garden with thousands and thousands of tulips and hyacinths and daffodils. Kaitlyn didn’t linger much. Bill tried to take pictures of every shade of flower there. It got a little frustrating being the middle man; I was after a pace somewhere in-between. We spent three hours there and probably could have spent more. We didn’t get to see everything there is to see. But we sure saw a lot. It is amazing to me how lucky we are that we are in Holland while all the flowers are blooming. There were only a few that hadn’t opened yet. (of course, the Delft blue were among them. I kinda wanted to see that) And I had no idea how many varieties of tulips there are. I’ve seen some in catalogs, but that doesn’t compare to seeing thousands of them all together. It really was pretty. Prettier than just an ordinary botanical garden, I thought. Maybe because it has such a short window of opportunity.

                        Instead of getting to the post office with that tin of cookies, we all ended up falling asleep when we got back to the boat. You’d think the day we didn’t bike we wouldn’t be so tired! I guess it will take some time for us to catch up.

                        I tried to retrace the steps of the previous evening’s walk for Bill after we ate dinner. Mostly we got lost. And Kaitlyn begged to be carried most of the way, which made a pleasant evening stroll into a real workout for Bill.

                        Tomorrow, it’s back to pedaling. We go from Leiden to Haarlem, via the tulip fields.

Delft to Leiden

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

I am exhausted.

                        According to the info we’d read online when we booked our trip, there was one long day when you bike 42 km. When we boarded, our guide, Marjan, told us that Sunday was our long day. Then it turns out today was a 46 km day. I know I’m not good at math, but….

                        We started early… or at least woke up early when the captain sailed to Delft. The engines on this barge are not quiet.

                        In Delft we first biked to the Delft factory. We got to see how the pottery is made and painted. Then we got to see the eye popping price tags in the outlet store. I wasn’t leaving empty handed, but had a hard time spending that much money. We finally settled on a small bell with a windmill on it. Seemed appropriate. And I’d better not find out later this bell wasn’t made in the factory I’d just toured! (see 22 March entry)

                        A second tour guide joined our group today. Roolie’s here to help with the tulips. So the idea was that today (a non-tulip day) we could split into two groups – fast and slow. What it came down to was no one wanted to ride with the Spanish family. Everyone said they’d go in the fast group. But they spared us by going off on their own and skipping the entire ride. They still slowed us down, we had to spend 45 minutes in Delft souvenir shopping while we waited for the guide to return from taking them to the train station or wherever she took them. (It wasn’t time wasted, though. I bought postcards and Kaitlyn got slippers that look like wooden shoes and a t-shirt)

                        All in one big “fast” group, it was back on the bikes for a ride to the beach. I did a great job of being the slow one. I don’t know how far that ride was, but by the time we got there I was out of energy and tired. It was 1:00. Normally, we’d have eaten well before then. (at least a snack break for a banana) Not today. It made an unpleasant difference.

                        At the beach I bought french fries with mayonnaise from a snack bar type place on the boardwalk. They were some of the best fries I’ve ever had. Maybe I was just hungry. We ran out of time to buy more. And, yes, french fries with mayonnaise is good. Very good. But the mayo is more like Miracle Whip than regular mayonnaise.

                        Kaitlyn convinced Bill to take her out onto the sand for a few minutes before we set off on the next leg of our journey. The sand dunes. The only hills in the entire country, and we get to bike up and down them. The guides said to go at your own pace. So I did. Slow. I was the last to finish but it’s not as though the others waited a half hour for me.

                        After 6.5 km of that torture, we got a break at another beach. Bill and Kaitlyn and I walked along the sand and collected sea shells while the others went to a cafe for beer. (How you can drink beer in the middle of such a long bike ride, I don’t know) The shells we found are fascinating. The stripes are much more distinct than the shells we’ve collected on the beaches in NC.

                    Roolie offered to take me on a “shortcut” back to the boat. It skips the rest of the dunes. At first, I was insulted. But walking in the sand I realized my legs were turning to mush. Bill offered to go on the shortcut with me and after I managed to swallow my pride, I agreed.

                        We were both so happy we did that.

                        Instead of biking up and down more dunes that would have looked just like the ones we’d just sweated through, we biked alongside a bulb field. There were tulips and hyacinths. The color was beautiful. The smell was enchanting. Roolie had us stop to take pictures. She went into the field and asked the farmer if she could pick two flowers for Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn was thrilled. Then around the corner she stopped to buy bunches of tulips to take back to the boat. There was just a sign with the price, some tulips neatly wrapped in paper bundles sitting in buckets of water, and a little tin box where you left your money.

                        Make no mistake, though, Roolie may have taken us on a shortcut. But she didn’t go slower. Still, the tulips, the lack of dunes, her information… it made the rest of the trip to Leiden ideal.

                        After dinner it was Bill’s turn to put Kaitlyn to bed while I went on an evening walking tour. He strapped his big camera around my neck, but I don’t think any of my night pictures turned out. The walk was a brisk pace (everything with Marjan is) but filled with information. It ended at a jazz club I wasn’t interested in going to. Luckily, it was closed.

                        Tomorrow is a bike free day. Good for my legs. Hopefully the numb spots I’ve developed on my rear won’t go away in a single day.

Rough Ride

Monday, April 9th, 2007

                    At one point today while we were biking, Bill asked me “is this what you were thinking it would be like?” Fighting back the urge to cry, I answered “right now, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking!”

                        We biked from Rotterdam to Delft. At some point on the way we stopped for a water break. While I was drinking my water, Bill swapped the seats on our bikes. We’d taken the slipstream off and moved the child seat from my bike to Bill’s. This caused him pedaling trouble he was certain would be remedied with a lower seat – mine. (his seat has springs. Mine doesn’t) The seat swap indeed made Bill’s ride easier. But not mine. It made mine pure torture. That seat caused me the most unthinkable pain as it did its part to make sure Kaitlyn is an only child. I could barely make the trip. When we finally got to Delft, Bill adjusted the seat and I reluctantly agreed to get back on for a test. Finally, my bike had stopped violating me.

                        We took a break at the market in Delft. I skipped the tables of antiques of questionable value and headed for a shop to check out the blue Delft ware. What I’d like is a pitcher I can actually use. I didn’t see one. So then I thought maybe a dish to hang on the wall. How much is the one with a windmill on it? 302 Euros. But, hey, they’ll ship it to me. I didn’t buy it. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll go to the Delft factory tour… and shop.

                        From Delft, we took a train to The Hague. Normally, I think you’re supposed to start the morning in Delft, but because of the holiday we couldn’t get the boat through the locks and into Delft. Wherever we were, I’d stopped doing my research into the Netherlands when we booked the organized tour, so everywhere we go, I learn a lot. Today I learned about the government and how much they still love their queen and how most would prefer a monarchy. We saw the Parliament, the queen’s office (Kaitlyn wanted to know if she’d get to meet the queen. We told her no, it was the royal nap time). We saw the Peace Palace, but without an explanation. We walked everywhere in The Hague. There was a lot of walking.

                        After the train ride back to Delft, the Spanish family didn’t get off. Since we start again tomorrow in Delft, they decided to skip the last leg of today’s cycling. Without them, we made it back to Rotterdam in an hour. Kaitlyn slept in the bike seat almost the entire time. Bill didn’t nearly crash like I had.

                        In all, we biked 35 kilometers today. 31 yesterday. No wonder I’m sore. I can barely even sit down.

                        After dinner, Bill and Kaitlyn and I walked over to some huge tower thing Bill wanted to go up in. Yikes. I only made it to the first stop at 100 meters up before getting scared. Especially when I saw that the ride up another 85 meters is in a spinning disk with windows on the floor. No thank you. When they got back down, Bill said it even freaked him out a little bit.

                        Tonight we’re sleeping on a rather rocky boat. We are docked by a lock that we must pass through tomorrow to get to Delft. It closes between 7 and 10 am because they won’t raise the drawbridge during rush hour. But there is something about this location. It’s affected by the tide and I don’t know if that is what is making the boat rock so much or what… but there is no question tonight we are on a boat. I kept waiting during dinner for it to make me sick, but it didn’t. Now it is actually sort of soothing me to sleep.


Sunday, April 8th, 2007

                        Oh, is my butt ever sore!

                        Today was our first day on the bike portion of our boat and bike tour of Holland. We got off to a late start, which sort of dominoed from yesterday’s (ahem) delay. So now, the Spanish Family will always be thought of as the family that was late and made us have to rush on the first day. We were not all the way to our starting point when we got up this morning, and were going to sail the rest of the 2 hours during breakfast. Apparently, the captain had even decided to set sail at 6am, to try to get us back on schedule. But we woke up to a thick coating of fog. So instead of sailing at 6am, we sailed at 10 or so. So instead of biking at 9, it was after noon when we got started.

                        The first order of business was to take all the bikes on a “test ride,” to make sure everything was ok. The slipstream for Kaitlyn was attached to the back of Bill’s bike. A seat was put on mine, so we’d have an alternate. We tried both out and I managed ok with Kaitlyn riding behind me. So we figured our great plan was perfect. The Spanish Family started the morning with everyone on their own bike. Luckily before we set out, they put the youngest Spaniard (she’s about 7) on a slipstream.

                        We started out biking through the very small town of Nieupoort. It was so quaint – picture perfect rows of houses up against the road and a small canal in the middle. I thought to myself, now this is the way to see a country. But on the bike tour you’re on a bike and the camera is in a bag on your back and there are no pictures of Nieupoort. There’s just no stopping for pictures of every adorable thing you see. Maybe especially so on a day when you start 3 hours late and have a 42 kilometer itinerary.

                        We did get to see all sorts of things (some we have pictures of, others not): tall, huge nests for storks who have just migrated back from Africa, towns of delightful cottages, shutters painted with red, green and cream diamonds, yards with everything from dogs to chickens to goats to llamas, Linden trees (fascinating – you force the branches to grow straight out. Our guide said it’s a mosquito repellent and a good way to show off your green thumb because they’re hard to grow. So I’ll never have one!)

                        Lunch was sandwiches we’d packed after eating breakfast. We ate it next to a windmill that is still hard at work. I did not know anything about the history of windmills and now I know a lot. They were built to pump water back to the ocean. Important, given that we were standing 6 meters below sea level. People live in them. The blades are used to send messages to others in town. During WWII, the locals used them to secretly warn of the arrival of German soldiers.

                        After lunch, Kaitlyn seemed to tired to get back on the slipstream, so she rode with me. Balancing a 20 kilogram little girl behind me on a bike is a lot harder than I’d anticipated. And it got a lot harder when she dozed off back there! I didn’t realize she was asleep until I nearly lost control of the bike (we were pedaling along a fairly narrow path with water on one side and a muddy, grassy section on the other side) and one of the French speaking women caught us from falling over. She told me “Elle dort.” Great. Kaitlyn’s head tipped from side to side and I had a terrible time keeping balanced. Bill rode behind me and kept telling me “keep right!” because I was nearly knocking her head into oncoming bike traffic.

                        Kaitlyn woke up when we got to an old windmill you can walk through. (for 3 euros) That tour was ok. The labels for each room were short, to say the least. “living room”… that was about it. It probably didn’t matter. If there had been plaques to read, Kaitlyn wouldn’t have stood still long enough to have been able to read it.

                        After the windmill, Kaitlyn got back on the slipstream with Bill.

                        I don’t know how far we’d gotten when we came to the dock for the fast ferry to Rotterdam. Thank goodness, we took that rather than going the rest of the way by bike. (So we didn’t complete the full 42 kilometers) It was nearly 6, I was hungry and my behind couldn’t take much more! And we have 5 more days of sitting on these bikes!

                        After dinner, Bill went on a walking tour of the city. I stayed on the boat with Kaitlyn. And the Spanish kids. Everyone else (except the crew) went. I’ll go on the next one.

All Aboard! please!

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

We got up early and had plenty of time to take in some of Amsterdam’s museum offerings before we were supposed to be at the boat. (The information we’d gotten said to arrive between 4 and 5pm)

                            We started off at the Rijksmusem. It’s home to some Rembrandts. And to some things we thought Kaitlyn would like. Ok, hoped she would like. She did ok at first. She liked the model of a ship she thought looked like the one Captain Hook sails. The museum also touts a collection of doll houses that were made to replicate homes of rich families who spent their money on tiny versions of their possessions. The collection: 2 houses. Kaitlyn looked but wasn’t enthralled. By the time we got to the things I’d wanted to see, she had lost all interest. Maybe her attitude influenced my impression of Rembrandt. Who knows. I don’t want to say I wasn’t impressed… but it just didn’t strike me the way the Sistine Chapel did in Rome. I’m not trying to spark an art debate. That’s just what I thought.

                            The plan was to then go to the Van Gogh museum, which is practically next door. But the line was down the block. None of us wanted to stand there and wait. (we’d tried to buy the tickets in advance at the hotel but the person at the concierge desk with the “keys” to the museum tickets was going to be back “sometime” soon and that was too vague for us) I really want to go and am determined not to miss this one, like I’ve ended up not getting to museums for one reason or another on our other trips. Bill noticed a billboard saying that next weekend is “museum weekend.” We can only guess that means bigger crowds. But I’m not going to let that scare me away.

                            As usual, I had a list of recommended restaurants I’d found before we left. Granted, I didn’t do the full research I usually do, but I still had the names of a couple of places I really wanted to try. Top of my list: The Pancake Bakery. Not because I so adore pancakes. But because their menu which I read at home included everything from regular pancakes to ones filled with savory fillings. It wasn’t far but wasn’t close to where we were. It took 40 minutes or so to walk there and it was about the last of the walking that Kaitlyn was interested in. We sat down and I settled on the Mexican pancake. But then Bill said he was going to order nachos for an appetizer… and I switched my order to apples and cheese… attempting to mix sweet and savory in one dish. It arrived and it was good but it was a mistake. I really should have gotten the Mexican one. It was the one I wanted. But we weren’t impressed enough to go back. Pancake places are almost as plentiful as coffee shops in Amsterdam (coffee shops in Amsterdam aren’t a place for a latte… they’re for a joint and maybe a coffee)

                            We arrived at the boat with our bags at 4:00… just like the itinerary told us to. The itinerary also said we’d sail at 5. Five came and went and we didn’t budge. We were waiting for the last passengers… a family of five from Spain. Known throughout the entire trip as the Spanish family. They finally called and said their plane would touch down at 6:30. (we flew in the day before just in case of a late or canceled flight… to avoid missing the boat!) We waited until 7:30 for them to arrive… then we ate dinner and set sail. When they did arrive they were rowdy and unsupervised. Please, let that be the first-night-on-vacation mode.

                            While we waited, we met the others we’ll spend the week with. A couple from France. A couple from Switzerland. No avoiding speaking French this week. I tried to tell the man from France where we live; I don’t know if he even understood me. There was also a couple from Norway. And a couple from Canada. It turns out, we and the Spanish family are the only ones who haven’t been on a trip like this before.

                            After dinner, we got a briefing on what to expect this week and tomorrow. I cannot wait for it to start.

Ticket to ride and ride and ride

Friday, April 6th, 2007

Our first day in any city is always… a challenge. Amsterdam is no different.

                        First, plane reservations and hotel reservations always make sense when you make them. I swear, I am going to start making notes to myself about my choices when I make them… so that later when I have to live them maybe I’ll at least know what I was thinking. I booked us on a 2:45 flight from Geneva to Amsterdam. I think I’d figured that meant we didn’t have to get up before the sun to get to the airport 2 hours before the flight. I also paid for “speeding boarding” with Easy Jet so that if we aren’t at the airport 2 hours early, we wouldn’t get stuck boarding last and begging people to give up a seat so we could be together.

                        We left St. Martin d’Uriage a little after 10 this morning. We got to the airport a little after noon. I had high hopes that it would be a better experience than the airports we’ve used in France. No. And the Easy Jet check in experience was a far cry from easy. When we first arrived at the airport waaaay too early, I was a little annoyed. But it turned out to be a good thing. It ended up being around 1:0 by the time we got through the poor substitute for a queue. I heard a lot of British English spoken, but saw a lot of very French attitudes about lining up. (the French don’t)

                        Our airport lunch of cafeteria spaghetti and a fruit cup set us back about 50 Euros. In the gift shop by our gate, Bill gave in to the begging and bought a new Barbie doll. I sure hope she enjoys the trip. I was kind of hoping for a magazine in English, but even my longing for something to read couldn’t make me want a copy of Cosmo or Newsweek for 10 Euros.

                        When the gate agent finally called for everyone with the speedy boarding to proceed to the gate, everyone with a boarding pass stood up and pushed forward. It was just like trying to board a plane at Charles deGualle in Paris. We had so much trouble pushing past the people trying to sneak through that the gate agent actually paged us… although by then we were standing right there waiting for someone to take our boarding passes.

                        The Amsterdam airport was a completely different experience. It’s modern, clean, wide open. We could read the signs. We’ll see what we think of it when we leave. In the baggage claim area there was a kiosk to buy train tickets. We’d been told how super easy it is to take the train into Amsterdam. So Bill bought the tickets, we got our bags and discovered the train station was just steps away actually inside the airport. Bill read the board and said we needed platform 3. So down the escalator we went, a train pulled up to platform three and we got on. Something didn’t seem right but before we could get off, the doors shut and we were off. So we sat down. After a couple of stops the conductor came around checking tickets. He barely checked ours before telling us “wrong train.” We asked if we should just get off at the next station and catch the right train. He said yes. What he didn’t say was that the next station was another 20 minutes away.

                        So, it took a lot longer than we’d expected… and that it should have. But at long last we made it to Amsterdam’s Central Station. Not a place to be at 6:00 on a Friday evening. Crowded. And not as clearly marked as the airport. Finding the taxi stand required some perseverance, but Bill finally found it. We had to. Our hotel was 2 kilometers from the train station. A bit farther than I’d remembered from when I booked it. (Why that hotel? I don’t remember anymore!)

                        Bill was excited about the room. It’s on the same floor as the executive lounge. And we arrived at Happy Hour. Bill’s happiness ended when he went down the hall and his key didn’t let him into the lounge. I knew I hadn’t paid for it; still, it would have been a nice mistake.

                        Kaitlyn was in no mood to explore or behave at dinner, so we went to the restaurant in the hotel. (ah, yes, one reason I chose it. A restaurant) We sat at a corner window and watched all the bikes to by. That kept Kaitlyn pretty well entertained. It kept Bill and I pretty well entertained, too. We saw a woman who’d covered her bike in plastic flowers so she looked like a cheap parade float. There was the businessman on his bike, wearing a suit and talking on his cell phone. Lots of people rode on the back of bikes, sitting sidesaddle… including a woman sporting a bright pink cast on her leg.

                        The evening wrapped up with some disappointing tv… nothing at all for kids. Kaitlyn insisted on watching an infomercial for some crazy round hairbrush/dryer that spins automatically. Oh, yea, the infomercial was in Dutch.

                        The plan for tomorrow is to hit the 2 big museums that are walking distance from here… then take a taxi to the boat at 4.

                        I’d better call the front desk for a wake up call and to find out what time our “included” breakfast is. Overall, this hasn’t been a bad day. But as is the norm for day one of a trip, it hasn’t been stellar. Here’s hoping to a real improvement tomorrow.

Never in the U.S.

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

                                This afternoon, Kaitlyn and I experienced a circus like one you’d have to turn the clock back 100 years to experience in the United States.

                        My first indication was actually yesterday. We were at the open air market in Uriage when I noticed a cow in the park. Odd. Then I noticed a bull or buffalo or something with giant horns. Then I saw three camels. Just when I thought I was completely losing it, I noticed the circus trucks. The men were driving metal stakes into the ground to put up the tent and while they worked, the animals hung out in the park. Most intriguing, though, was the truck with a big cage in the back. Inside that cage – five lions plus three lion cubs. All that stood between me and those giant cats was a flimsy wooden fence that had been put up around the truck to keep you from actually sticking your hand in the cage. I have never stood that close to a lion before. They are huge. I mean, I knew they were big, but I could see their paws and they were huge.

                        After seeing that, Kaitlyn had to go. Heck, so did I.

                        A downpour unleashed buckets of water on us while standing in line to get in. Everyone’s reaction was to just push forward to try to stand under the cover where you bought your tickets. So then we were all crowded on the metal steps to a metal landing under a metal cover in a thunderstorm.

                        Once inside, I was taken by how small the big top was. The ring was set up with a cage around it. Some people (who can read the signs in French) had paid extra to sit in plastic chairs right up against the ring… and the cage. The rest of us (and the Americans) sat in the bleachers. There were just three rows and only along one side of the tent. We were still only maybe 15 feet from the ring at most. I’m a poor judge of distance. Suffice it to say we were very close.

                        The lions were the first to come out. Three lionesses… and a German shepherd. I kept trying to figure out if that dog was more than a performer. Is he some sort of protector for the lion tamer? The lion closest to us kept licking the bars of the cage and gnawing on it a little. Thankfully, she hadn’t yet chewed her way entirely though it. It looked like it could have been part of an excruciatingly long escape plan. Another of the lionesses appeared less than thrilled to be at work today. She growled at the tamer and hissed and swatted her massive paw at him. I figured that was all part of the act. But if she was acting, she deserves an award. The whip the tamer used scared Kaitlyn. She made me cover her ears like I had at the fireworks last summer. Then she was ok. Along with the whip, he also used a big stick to poke at the cats. Didn’t seem so smart, really. And it also seemed like if PETA ever gets bored picking on KFC, they could hit the circus circuit in France.

                        Once the lions had finished, the circus company came out and dismantled the cage. It only took a few minutes to get rid of, which makes one question just how much good it would have done if that grumpy lion had decided to charge the crowd. One of the kids moving the cage out of the way had also been the kid who led us to our spots on the bleachers. I felt sorry for him, he had a shiny red headband on. I hoped for his sake he was also a performer. I quickly found out that except for the lion tamer and the woman making very sloppy cotton candy, everyone had at least two jobs in this circus. Good thing for that kid with the headband.

                        There was an acrobat. She changed costumes several times and had several acts. First, she just came out and got up on a table so we could see her then show us how she could bend over backwards and hold herself up… over and over. I know that has a name; I cannot remember it now. Then she came out as the girl who tossed the extra ball or hoop to the juggler. She showed us that she can hula hoop particularly well. (red headband kid was her assistant for this one) And she also hung from a hoop suspended above the ring (over nothing more than an old carpet) and contorted herself various ways.

                        The kid with the headband was one of the three who appeared to be teenagers who balanced themselves on chairs.

                        The ringmaster was also the guy who made the horses, the donkey, the llama and the camel run around the ring, jump over a stick and stand on the little pedestal. While he did that, another guy took over the microphone. I couldn’t understand what either was saying. Plus, anytime he came out with the animals I had to cover Kaitlyn’s ears because she was convinced that all the whips would be as loud as the one for the lions. (they were not)

                        Those animals were fine, if not a little odd to see jumping sticks. But the three giant snakes they brought out did creep me out. They put them on the carpet on the floor, so I couldn’t really see them. They had a man volunteer from the audience get into the ring and they strung all three serpents around his neck. Then they had a woman volunteer get into the ring. They made her lay down on that smelly carpet. Then they told her to close her eyes… and they stuck one of those giant snakes up her shirt. Nice. She laughed. Heck, c’est la vie.

                        Kaitlyn liked the clown. He blew an annoying little whistle to communicate. He also used audience volunteers. He seemed to have a much harder time getting anyone to agree to be part of his act. A little odd, since he came on before the snakes did. Anyway, he basically made the two do silly things… like walk funny or dance funny. He made the woman shake her rear end at the audience. Oh, c’est la vie.

                        During the intermission (which I first thought was the disorganized end of the circus) I broke down and went to the concession stand to buy Kaitlyn some popcorn. Luckily, we were sitting by someone we knew. So at least I could leave Kaitlyn there in the bleachers. After elbowing my way past the French who were trying to cut in line in front of me, I turned around and could not believe what I saw in the ring. Anyone who wanted to could go sit in a chair and hold a lion cub in their lap while Miss Flexibility took a Polaroid. A lion cub. Part of me thought it was the craziest thing I’d ever seen. Another part of me thought it would be an incredible experience to hold a lion! The reasonable part won out. There is no picture of Kaitlyn and me with any lion of any size. At home, Bill told me that the chances that cub would have done something to hurt Kaitlyn were no greater than the chances she’ll hurt herself on these crazy slippery marble floors and steps in the house. It almost makes it worth paying another 20 Euros to go back tomorrow….

fouet de miracle

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

Just when you think you’re starting to get the hang of things here…

                        Last Thursday I got two notices in my mailbox that I’d missed attempted deliveries of packages. The boxes were waiting for me to pick up… at two different post offices. I didn’t get to either before lunch on Friday. And Saturday morning there was no chance of getting out the door in time. So I was determined to make that my mission for Monday.

                        I dragged Kaitlyn out and to the first post office, in St Martin d’Uriage. The town where we live. The post office is very small and the regular man who works there is out on sick leave. So the fill-in person has even weirder hours than he does. The poste closes at 11am every day, if it is open in the morning to begin with. We got there with 20 minutes to spare and picked up our box. No problem.

                        Then it was down to Uriage for box #2. After waiting quite a while for all the people in front of us to be helped at the one window, it was our turn. I handed the woman my slip and just smiled. I’d spent the time in the line practicing what to say (Vous avez un paquet pour moi), when I wasn’t telling Kaitlyn to stop doing whatever she was up to. Anyway, the poste woman could not find my box. After a few minutes of looking at the same boxes over and over, she asked me a question. Dang! I was not prepared to go off script. She was not supposed to have any question other than asking for my ID, like the woman in St Martin d’Uriage! I just looked at her. I caught a couple of words, but really had no idea what she was saying. I told her I only speak a little French and was going to ask her to repeat herself slowly when she rolled her eyes at me. I felt myself turn red. Then a man in line spoke up and told me what she’d asked. (Had I gone in before to pick it up. What kind of question is that? Who would be prepared for that?) Finally, a second woman found my box. The first woman handed it over and had me sign for it… and never asked for my ID.

                        When I got that box home, though, it was worth all the embarrassment. Bill’s sister had sent me Miracle Whip. Gads, I’ve missed that stuff.

Poisson d’avril

Sunday, April 1st, 2007

I logged onto Chamrousse’s website this morning to see what I could see on the webcams. (Bill wanted to go again, even though he went yesterday). What I did see was a warning on the home page. I recognized the word attention. And the word poisson. A warning about fish. At a ski resort. I know my French is pretty bad.. then I remembered that in France for April 1 you are supposed to stick paper fish on people’s backs. Tres bizarre.

                        Bill had his heart set on trying one more time to ski with Kaitlyn. Now that she’s had one whole class at the next level up in the ski school. Maybe a little quick.. but we did it.

                        We found a different place to park… you can walk right onto the middle of a run, put on your skis and you’re off. Bill just took our lift tickets over to the recharge machines to buy passes for today. He said as he was standing there he looked down and saw a grate and thought to himself “I hope I don’t drop my Carte Bleu” (that’s our bank card). And, you guessed it, he did.

                        So while Kaitlyn and I got into our ski gear, Bill used one of her tiny rental skis to beat the daylights out of my pole and get the handle off. Then he dug around until he found an old piece of tape off a box. With that, McGyver managed to fish his credit card out.

                        We hopped on the slope and Kaitlyn did much better at following Bill’s directions so she did much better at skiing with him. He tried skiing backwards, holding the tips of her skis in his hands, so that he could force her to snow plow. He said that worked, but he obviously couldn’t see if he was going to run into anybody. Then he tried using one of my poles… he held it out to his side and she held onto it and they went down the hill together. We took the butt lift up a few times and Bill worked at finding the best way to help Kaitlyn get down the hill. He finally settled on skiing behind her and holding my pole down in front of her… like a bar on a roller coaster.

                        Then, Kaitlyn announced she wanted to take the chair lift. So we did.

                        I was skiing along, enjoying the newfound confidence I have on the slopes. Bill thought we were on a fairly flat spot when he let Kaitlyn go on her own. She started speeding for what appeared to be a drop off and I started yelling. She fell long before she was going to reach the edge of the very wide run. But she was so scared by it all she just kept saying she wanted to go home.

                        So after a handful of runs down the bunny slope and one time down most of one easy run, we stopped. I think we spent more time driving to and from the ski resort than we spent skiing. But it is just incredible that we live so close, that didn’t really matter.