Vacation in Europe, 1997

Our Summer vacation in Europe, August 1997

We're back!

Actually, that's the bad news. The good news is that we had a great time in Europe, one and all. Mistakes were made, to be sure, but I have the names and addresses of all those responsible and their sincere expressions of regret. These will never be allowed to happen again. Here's the full account - feel free to skip the boring parts.

My employment ended at the end of July and so on August 4th, everyone piled into the car for Kennedy Airport. Our flight left in the evening and landed early in the morning of the 5th. We rented a car - a brand new Fiat Marea, of all things, which I expected to start falling apart any moment but which actually seemed to be a well-designed modern medium-sized car that performed flawlessly for us - and drove to Pinner. We stayed at a lovely old hotel about 2 miles from Dad's flat, complete with nicely landscaped garden. After we got checked in on Tuesday, Louise and I were pretty well tuckered out and so decided to take a nap. The girls, on the other hand, decided that they'd rather explore. Just as we were falling asleep, the phone rang and a lovely English voice informed us that one of our daughters had just fallen in the fishpond and was rather wet. An inauspicious start, but no real harm done, other than to Madeline's pride.

On Wednesday the 6th, we all piled into the Fiat with Dad and drove off to Oxford for the day. One miscalculation on our part became apparent - I had lectured everyone rather patronizingly about how cold and wet an English summer can be and so we were all fortified with long-sleeved shirts and sweaters. In fact, the temperatures were mostly in the 80ies or above the entire time we were abroad and so we were forced to wear our one hot weather uniform over and over again. The trip was great, however. We showed the girls where their father and grandfather had toiled - and also where Dad and Grace did a recent stint.

We went to the Bear and drank English beer. After a tiring but exhilarating day, we took the motorway back, and it went very smoothly, despite Dad's dire predictions.

My alma mater, Oriel College The Bear

Next, London. When we got off the train near Trafalgar Square, we realized that Toni had put on some totally unsuitable shoes and so we spent half the day looking for a pair of sneakers and some socks for her. When she was finally shod properly, we fed the pigeons in the Square and then hid in the subway to escape a brief rain shower. We checked out Big Ben, the Hs of P, and then went around Westminster Abbey which was rather crowded but interesting. We went to poets' corner and saw monuments to Bill Shakespeare and the rest.

On Friday the 8th, we headed up to Stratford in the Fiat. When we got there, it was in the 90ies and we had to stop for frequent ice creams and pints of beer to maintain our hydration. We took a double-decker tour bus around the principal Shakespeare sights - birthplace, family home, Anne's cottage, burial spot, etc. It was pleasant so long as we were able to ride upstairs, which was open to the air; the downstairs was very stuffy.

Shakespeare's house Ann Hathaway's cottage

We then proceeded on to Leicester to visit Uncle Russell and Aunt Pauline. Leicester was a lot of fun. Russell proposed that we take advantage of their washing facilities to recycle our clothes. However, on inspection, it turned out that all of our dirty clothing had been left in a plastic bag on the floor of our hotel room in Pinner. This made for lighter luggage but meant that we were unable to take advantage of Russell's kind offer. As usual, Pauline talked non-stop about every interesting topic under the sun. She has just had one of her books translated into Japanese which she considered a grand coup and trotted it out so we could gawk at it. She also gave us copies of her last two publications which had come out so recently that she had not had time to mail them to us. On Saturday, cousin Tom, Deanne and their 4 year old son Jack came for the day and we had a good time hanging out and chatting and eating at a fine local restaurant which turned out to be located in a Holiday Inn. On Sunday, we went off to visit a local ruined castle on a beautiful property that was crawling with deer. It was hellishly hot, however.

The Animules

Before returning to Pinner on Monday, we dropped in on Warwick castle. It was very nicely done up, complete with son et lumiere and a large number of waxworks from Madame Tussauds. We also found a sign saying "To the castle" that some vandals had ripped down from its proper place and so we took it with us to save the Earl the expense of throwing it away, thinking that it would come in handy to guide visitors to our house in Larchmont. Then back in the car to Pinner in time to recover our dirty laundry and pack up our stuff to cross [under] the Channel. We had a good meal chez Grace that evening, although Louise had been beset by a severe allergy attack at the castle, prompted perhaps by exposure to the dust of the ages, and was then knocked unconscious by an antihistamine.

Sir Toni Knight Maddi Warwick Castle

Early on Tuesday the 12th, we drove into London, planning to drop people and luggage at Waterloo station and then for me to go to Victoria to drop off the car and finally for me to make my way back to Waterloo. I soon became swept away into unfamiliar territory, however, and while looking for Waterloo we suddenly and inexplicably found ourselves at Victoria. All's well that ends well, for we dropped off the car and then all took a taxi to Waterloo to get the Eurostar. We arrived in plenty of time but then diddled around having breakfast and such so that when we reached the track, we only had a few minutes to spare. We started to go through an automated gate to get to the train but after Louise had successfully gone through, the gate refused to recognize the rest of us.Apparently, at some critical moment, the computer figures you probably aren't going to make it and so makes you go through another manually operated gate that takes a lot longer. After some fuming and fussing, we got them to let us through and we just had time to jump into the last car of the train before it started off. I looked at our tickets and saw we had seats in car number 17 - "Sounds fine" thought I, "surely they can't have much more than 17 cars on the train." Fair enough, but it turned out they numbered them from the back, so we were standing in car number 1 and had to drag our luggage through 16 more cars to get to our seats. Fortunately, we were able to find seats closer to the back.

The train was under the Channel for only about 1/2 hour or so and then smoothly got up to its max speed of 300 kph. Impressive! We were met at the Gare du Nord by our friend Jean Vincent, who had lived in Larchmont with his wife Sophie and kids Anne-Sophie, Marc and Alexandre some years earlier. Anne-Sophie and Madeline were in school together and we had kept in touch since their return to France two years ago. They were kind enough to let us stay in their apartment in Versailles while Sophie and the kids were in Cannes. Jean stayed at his in-laws in Paris until Friday the 15th when he drove by Versailles, picked up Madeline and they went together down to Cannes where Madeline spent the next few days with the whole Vincent family.

Our first task was to get a Carte Orange which gives unlimited access (within certain zones) to the Metro, Paris buses and suburban train lines. Sounds easy, but you need a photo of yourself to go with the ticket, so Jean took us to a Metro stop where there was a little cubicle where you could pop in a few francs and get your picture done automatically. Someone was using it; we waited a while and when she did not come out, we decided to get a bite to eat before returning. After spending 1/2 hour on some ice creams and beers at a very pleasant sidewalk cafe, we returned only to find the same woman occupying the photo cubicle. We asked her if she would be done soon and she replied "No". No problem; we went outside again and visited the Opera and changed some money. We finally returned yet again to find the woman gone and the photo machine no longer functional.

Next, we decided to visit les Galleries Lafayettes; maybe we would find something interesting to buy, and they would probably have a photo studio where we could have our pictures taken. It was air conditioned and architecturally interesting but very crowded and poorly signposted. Finally, we located the photo studio and waited our turn to have our pictures taken. Louise decided that she'd like to look around a bit but, of course, as soon as she left, our turn came up. I got my picture taken and then the girls went off to try to find Louise. Louise returned with Madeline and got her pic done but there was now no sign of Toni. I went in search of her, my mind filling with increasingly grisly possible reasons for her disappearance. After 1/2 hour, I was up to Algerian terrorists with a side business in the white slave market. Fortunately, she had been spotted by an English-speaking employee and guided to the lost property office where I eventually was reunited with her. She had been pretty scared but had borne it all with grace. After I had rescued her, she adhered to Louise like a limpet until the scare had worn off.

Finally, we got our Cartes Oranges and went off to Montmartre to visit the Sacre Coeur and then back down to Jean's office to hop into his car and go out to Versailles.

Since Madeline was only spending two days in Versailles, she got to pick where we would go. On Wednesday, we did the palace of Versailles - it was crowded and hot and excessive in all possible ways. Much more appealing was the mandatory stop after the palace for ice cream and beer on the Rue de la Paroisse, so we ended up hanging out for quite a while and having our dinner there. On Thursday, we went into Paris and started out at the Eiffel Tower - still an impressive achievement after all those years. More ice cream and beer, then on foot past les Invalides to the Rodin museum. The girls were getting tired but were OK for a quick trip around the museum and then home again to Versailles.

Statue in Versailles Pool of Apollo Rodin's thinker

Jean arrived at 5 am on Friday to get Madeline. Afterwards, the three of us spent a quiet day buzzing around Versailles and doing a little shopping. On Saturday and Sunday our Cartes Oranges were still good and we went into Paris to see Notre Dame and the Sainte Chapelle (incredible!), visit the Isle St Louis and sample some of the (also incredible) ice creams of M. Berthillon, do the Pompidou Center and take a boat ride on the river. Phew!

Sainte Chapelle
Notre Dame Pompidou Center

On Monday, we rented a car and headed out to Fontainebleau to try to recapture a treasured image of my youth, hiking in the forest on the sandy trails in the blazing sun. We first stopped in town and did the palace which was where the kings of France really hung out when they didn't have to be in Versailles. It was magnificent and much less excessive than the big V. We then headed for the forest and, Yes! it was pretty much as I remembered it. Fascinating rocks, brightly colored flowers. The only drawback was that we didn't take any water and Toni had a full McGregor before we got back to the parking lot where there was a truck selling bottled water. (A McGregor is named after a mountain in the north Cascades where Louise and I ran out of water on a hike and Louise seriously considered killing me in order to steal my bodily fluids.) After the hike, we drove on to Moret sur Loing - an exquisite mediaeval village where Sisley painted numerous pics of the town. We took our own brand of pics and went to a creperie to eat crepes and drink wine. On our drive back to Versailles, Louise treated Toni and me to her own inimitable rendition of numerous Beatles favorites while lying on her back on the floor of the car.

Palais de Fontainebleau Moret sur Loing

On Tuesday, we had a dreadful premonition that our vacation was nearly over. We did some shopping at le Chesnay, tidied up the place and prepared for blastoff. The Vincents didn't get back until after midnight with Madeline who had lost a tooth in Cannes and wanted to tell us all about her trip. I feigned sleep. The next day my premonition proved true - we returned the rental car and Sophie drove us all to Orly. We embarked, took off, ate several meals and landed two hours (by the watch) after we had left; got the car, went home.

That's all folks!

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