West Palm Beach Sojourn: Fort Myers to Stuart Fl

New photo by Kathy Schlitzer / Google Photos
Mary, Wendy, and Lynn at Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach FL

Making the three hour trip from Fort Myers to Stuart last Sunday I drove through the flat and scrubby middle of Florida.  I passed fields of cattle, broken down greenhouses, dilapidated buildings, and a few small, dreary towns.  Just as I was feeling particularly depressed I came upon Lake Okeechobee, some nice RV parks,  and more interesting topography.  Past the lake there’s a stretch of road covered by a canopy of trees that’s quite pleasant.  It reminded me a little of the Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland. Definitely not as dramatic, or as beautiful,  but a pleasant change from the frankly ugly scenery of central Florida.  

I was taking a few days to visit old friends Lynn and Jim who are living on their sailboat in Stuart’s Sunset Bay Marina for the winter.  The marina is well named – sunset every night (just add the cocktails and good company).   Actually they have a tradition they call “docktails”  sharing drinks, apps, sunset, and stories with fellow boaters.  Most civilized. 

New photo by Kathy Schlitzer / Google Photos

After spending three days of retail therapy, sightseeing, and lazing on the boat drinking Rumchatas!  Lynn and I were off to Palm Beach to spend the day with two of Lynn’s childhood friends.  The drive from Stuart is an easy 50 minutes south, but Palm Beach could be a different planet.  More on this later. 

Our first stop was at the Mounts Botanical Gardens of West Palm.  We were there to see a special exhibit called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.  The exhibit consisted of 10  impressive sculptures interspersed throughout a lovely garden. The sculptures were made entirely of plastic collected by volunteers from the ocean and beaches.  Children’s beach toys, boat parts, nets, bouys, flip-flops, umbrella handles, sunglasses and so on were artistically attached to a frame.  The sculptures were amazing and it was fascinating to see people (us included) spend several minutes on each sculpture identifying the various parts.  Most people were shaking their heads at the amount of plastic we each consume,. Much of it ending up in our oceans, not recycled.  Let’s try to buy less plastic,  be sure to recycle, and let’s get companies to use less plastic on packaging!

New photo by Kathy Schlitzer / Google Photos
New photo by Kathy Schlitzer / Google Photos
New photo by Kathy Schlitzer / Google Photos
New photo by Kathy Schlitzer / Google Photos

After quality time at the botanical garden we headed for Palm Beach.  It IS a different planet and Worth Avenue is the capitol. Cars, oh yikes, cars – we first stumbled on a Rolls Royce illegally parking, Mercedes, Bugattis, Lamborghinis, and Bentleys were everywhere!  Then there are the woman, lots of plastic, dressed to the nines, perfectly coiffed and made up, I wondered at their uncanny ability to walk with an air of “notice me”.   The whole picture reminded me of the Rodeo drive scene from “Pretty Woman” – and I was Vivian.  The little boutiques were positively threatening.  (smile)  

We ate lunch at restaurant Bice, it was lovely, with all the trappings, but frankly the food didn’t match the decor, or the address.  The people watching was good though. 

After lunch we drove the short distance to the  Society of the Four Arts a few blocks from Worth Avenue.  We were there to see an exhibit of Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art Through Paper, I had no idea what to expect but it turned out to be fascinating.   Everything was made of paper, not only the dresses but the jewelry, shoes, hats, and even the gloves.

New photo by Kathy Schlitzer / Google Photos
New photo by Kathy Schlitzer / Google Photos
New photo by Kathy Schlitzer / Google Photos
New photo by Kathy Schlitzer / Google Photos

The description from the Society Website … “Five hundred years of fashion are explored in the breathtaking art of Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave. Painting and manipulating mere paper, she creates historic fashions that are trompe l’oeil masterpieces. Each sculpture is inspired by depictions found in early European paintings or fashion collections from around the world. Rarely seen in the U.S., this exhibition presents quintessential examples in the history of fashion—from the Renaissance finery of the Medici family and gowns worn by Queen Elizabeth I, to the creations of the grand couturiers of the 20th century such as Frederick Worth and Paul Poiret. Borchgrave to create a gown inspired by a painting from Peter Paul Rubens, “Portrait of  Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Condé,” from ca. 1610.  Both the dress and the original Rubens portrait will be on view at the Four Arts. While de Borchgrave’s work has been seen throughout Europe for more than 20 years, this is the first time American audiences can see her Les Ballet Russe series. In addition, organizing partner Frick Art and Historical Center commissioned de Borchgrave to create a gown inspired by a painting from Peter Paul Rubens, “Portrait of  Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Condé,” from ca. 1610.  Both the dress and the original Rubens portrait will be on view at the Four Arts.”

The work was huge and amazing. 

After a quick tour of the city (the Breakers, oh my!) we headed back to the marina, our little heaven.  Glad to be back to reality. 

Isabelle de Borchgrave Paper art




My little cottage by the sea!

New photo by Kathy Schlitzer / Google Photos

I haven’t posted for over a year but it isn’t because life has been dull. I’ve traveled, sold real estate, created a summer home from a very raw cottage, retired from my career, and become a budding artist!

Here’s the story….

I always thought I would retire at age 70, that was the plan and I was sticking to it, until I wasn’t!

The New England winter of 2015 was truly miserable. It was colder, with more snow than usual, and Spring seemed to never arrive.  

With visions of shovels and extra blankets in my mind I started thinking of perhaps spending winters in Florida,  That fall an opportunity arose for me to buy a small place and I jumped on it. My employer generously agreed to my request to work remotely from Florida three months a year so I spent January, February, and March 2016 in the sun. 

 In the summer of 2016, after a particularly stressful week at work, I realized it was time to start thinking of getting out. Could I retire at 68? Would I be financially able to live comfortably for potentially many more years (my mother is now 96)? Would I be able to maintain a property in Florida and in New England?  Living in Florida year round was not an option, having a presence in the north for the summer was crucial.

I still had a mortgage on my Massachusetts condo, as well as HOA, insurance, utilities, taxes etc – selling the condo was my first priority. The question was, could I find an affordable place close to my children and grandchildren in New England? New England real estate is expensive! My research results were discouraging. Affordable small houses and apartments were dismal, in questionable areas, and needed huge repairs to be livable. Rentals were no better.  

I’m a firm believer in “Trust the Process” and sure enough the answer came to me when I least expected it. I was visiting family in a small seasonal cottage community in southern Rhode Island when I noticed many of the small cottages were for sale. Was this the answer? The community is open mid-May to mid-October (perfect) and the beach is a block away. In October the water is shut off and the houses closed for the winter. There are no winter utility expenses, there are no furnaces, no heating bills. The one drawback is the land is leased so there is a fairly hefty lease to pay annually.   So….I bought a lovely little 500 square foot cottage! Now I really needed to sell the condo!

Matunuck Beach Rhode Island

New photo by Kathy Schlitzer / Google Photos
New photo by Kathy Schlitzer / Google Photos

Finding a realtor was the easy part.  The hard part was getting the condo ready to sell.  The real estate agent gave me a list of small repairs (smoke alarm replacement, rug cleaning and stretching, small woodwork repair, paint touch up etc).  I was able to do the little things myself  (nights and weekends)  but had to find a handy person for the rest.  There aren’t many around!!

Finally it was time for my first open house and I had a buyer the first day! I ended up with three potential buyers over two months – all fell through for various reasons. Finally one came back and bought the condo. Not before lots and lots of picky little negotiations. 

 You accumulate a lot of stuff over the years!  Note to self – don’t do that again! Now I had to get rid of most of my stuff.  I was moving from an 1800 square foot condo to a 500 square foot cottage.   

All my packing and organizing had to be done nights and weekends. I was panicking big time until a good friend offered to keep boxes in her garage until I was ready to go through them the following summer. This meant I didn’t have to make the decisions that paralyze. Every night I packed boxes, every morning I loaded my SUV with boxes to bring to her garage before I went to work. The pile grew larger and larger!

A friend came over one Saturday and helped me pack the kitchen, which was the most time consuming. My sons helped when they could but their lives are busy with jobs and families. Finally just before the closing on December 20 we packed a truck with some furniture I couldn’t fit in my friend’s garage (and didn’t want to move twice!). Turned out it was way too large for the cottage anyway, but that decision could wait until the next summer!

Just in time for the holidays it was over.   I’m not sure how I did it but its done and when I eventually sell both, or either, house, it will be furnished!

Day 5: …. Over the sea to Skye


JAX the official stamp licker, the Portree post office mascot.

Skye Boat Song

“The Skye Boat Song” is a Scottish folk song recalling the escape of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) from Uist to the Isle of Skye after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1745. The story goes that the Prince, disguised as Flora MacDonald’s Irish spinning maid Betty Burke, escaped to the island of Skye after the disastrous battle.  Flora MacDonald, a secret supporter of the Jacobite cause, was later arrested and held in the Tower of London for her part in the escape.  She was quite a character and seemed to be in the right (or wrong) place in history a few times, including the American Revolution, before her death in 1790 at 68.  The Prince ultimately escaped to Italy where he spent the rest of his life.

There are various versions of the Sky Boat Song. Robert Louis Stevenson composed this version.

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Mull was astern, Rum on the port,
Eigg on the starboard bow;
Glory of youth glowed in his soul:
Where is that glory now?

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Give me again all that was there,
Give me the sun that shone!
Give me the eyes, give me the soul,
Give me the lad that’s gone!

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
All that was me is gone.

We have another full day off the ship, today is the island of Skye, the town is Portree. We must tender into this port and, of course, it goes very smoothly (thank you Azamara). We have a full day tour scheduled with Skye Tours.
As we’re leaving the ship Captain Carl comes to the gangway with a couple of other officers. He explains (in his lovely Irish/Scottish accent) that once everyone is ashore he’ll be going hiking, that what started out as a small group has grown to 25 officers and crew, and that he must wear shorts (its quite cool out). The reason, he says, is that one of the other officers doesn’t have “track” pants with him and has to wear shorts. Not to be outdone in the manly Scot department, the Captain says he must wear them too. One of the other officers points out that to outdo the person in shorts the Captain should wear a thong.  It was a funny exchange and indicative of this very capable Captain not taking himself too seriously and having some fun with passengers, officers and his crew.

The port is small and charming, the town square, where we’ll meet our small group tour, is a short walk from the harbor and we have a few minutes to walk around.  It’s early and shops are just opening up.  The town is tiny and very friendly. We zip into the post office to buy more stamps and learn from a friendly postmaster that the stamps we’ve been using to send postcards to the US are domestic only and, alas, the postcards will end up in a trash bin.

Kathleen will be our driver and guide for the day. She’s been a tour guide for over 25 years and is in her early 70’s.   She has a bad knee and will have surgery in Glasgow this summer, but otherwise she’s as sharp as a tack.  We have a bit of a drive before our first stop and she tells us a little about herself.  She explains that she grew up on Skye and has both English and the Gallic. When she was a girl she and a friend were riding on a train to Glasgow. As she wasn’t on Skye she was comfortable speaking to her girlfriend in Gallic when she didn’t want others to understand.   A good looking young man entered their car and they talked about how good looking he was and wondered if he was going to the dance they were attending in Glasgow. As they reached the Glasgow stop the young man turned to them in perfect Gallic and thanked them for their kind words and said alas he wouldn’t be going to the dance but wished them a good time. I’m sure he was chuckling to himself, and the girls were mortified.

Our first stop is the Old Man of Storr   its not a great day for pictures but the mist adds the right amount of drama to the scene. You can’t get the full effect of the rock formation, but I imagine it’s a rare day when there isn’t mist. Skye is known for its rocky mountainous landscape, lochs, fields of grass, wild flowers, and sheep, but its the mist that gives the landscape a surreal feeling. Its rough and the roads are winding, narrow, and can be steep.  Kathleen drives them with ease.

Next s

Next we stop at Kilt Rock with its lovely water fall. Its called Kilt rock because the rock formation looks like the pleats of a kilt.

Kathleen makes a stop at the Skye Museum of Island Life.  We don’t have a lot of time,  but its very interesting. Crofts like this were still lived in only 70 years ago in some parts of Skye.  It was an island of farmers and sheep herders living very simple lives. Peat fires, fish liver oil lamps, not exactly all the comforts.

Very close to this museum is the burial place of Flora MacDonald, just a few miles from where she landed with the Prince 200+ years ago.

Kathleen tells us the island is experiencing a surge in population these days – mostly retirees coming from all over Europe. They come for the better real estate prices, the beautiful views, and quiet life. Sounds good to me. Kathleen talks about a couple of “German Ladies” who recently built a house with a grass roof, which has the whole island talking.

Next is lunch at an Inn Kathleen has set up. Its a lovely old house which has been converted into a small hotel off the beaten path – lots of fireplaces, wood paneling and comfy furniture.  We’re tucked up in a private dining room with a bowl of steaming fish soup and its delicious.  I’m not usually a fish soup person but this is tasty.

After lunch we’re off again to Dunvegan Castle. It too has a Flora MacDonald story. Her daughter married a Macleod and lived at Dunvegan, her mother stayed with her for a time and Flora MacDonald’s Jacobite relics are displayed at the castle.  Dunvegan Castle is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland.  Its been the stronghold of the chiefs of clan MacLoed for more than 800 years.

Our last stop is at a local bar for some Scotch tasting. The young man has a 12 year old GlenFiddich, my mother’s favorite Scotch, and a 10 year old Talisker (made on Skye) set up with glasses. A good “nosing” glass is tulip-shaped, with a decent bowl (for swirling) and a narrow lip (to catch the aromas). Ideally it is made from crystal, but not cut crystal, which distorts the hue in its facets. David, who studying the art and refining his “nose”, first talks about the color and has us swirl the liquid. Next he explains that adding a touch of water opens the aromas. We try it first without water then add just a few drops and swirl again, you can see the oily lines as they swirl around and you can smell the enhanced aroma. Or maybe its all in my head but it was interesting anyway.

Kathleen takes us back to the harbor to board our tender to the ship. Its been a great day on the Isle of Skye.

Returning to the ship

Gail and I have a reservation at one of the ship’s small restaurants and after cleaning up a bit and a cocktail in the “Living Room”its time for another great Azamara dinner.

Yup that’s me on stage after the show – no shame.

After the show its off to bed but not before a stop on the deck where the sky is still light at 11pm!

Orkney Islands: Who knew?


Day 4 of our Azamara Club cruise of the British Isles.

We left Edinburgh’s Leith harbor about 2:30pm on Wednesday, July 6 on route to Kirkwall, Orkney islands.

We’re scheduled to arrive at 8:00am and have a full day for exploration.   At this point I’m wondering why we need 10 hours on this little island but I soon discover there’s much more to the Orkney islands than I imagined.

The harbor is small and we’re the only ship docked. I can see the town in the distance with St Magnus Cathedral dominating the skyline, otherwise the landscape is rolling hills and very few trees.  Apparently the salt air isn’t very kind to trees and they have a hard time achieving full growth. However the grass is green and as we’ll see later there are fields of wild flowers and oodles of grazing sheep and cattle throughout the mainland. Many more cattle and sheep than there are houses and people it seems.  It’s quite pretty despite the lack of trees. There are several farms and small clusters of homes, but for the most part the island is field and small hills.

Our Craigies taxi arrives on schedule and we hop in to meet Eddie who will drive us to the sites we’ve chosen in the three hours we’ve reserved.  He agrees that we’ll have enough time to see the Stones at Stenness, Ring of Brodgar, and Skara Brae and if we’re efficient he’ll be able to take us to the Italian Chapel as well. I’ve been excited to see Skara Brae, the best-preserved prehistoric village in Northern Europe,  since I learned Kirkwall was one our stops.

Eddie starts out a little reserved but as soon as he realizes we don’t expect him to give us the history of the island he lightens up.  He was born and brought up on the mainland of Orkney, not far from the town of Kirkwall. He doesn’t go off island often but he’s been to the US, he went especially to see Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry.  I guess there are “country” fans even in Scotland.  He’s able to answer a few questions about the island, he admits he knows little about the standing stones and wonders why people come to see them. At one point we pass two people walking on the road, you rarely see people on the long empty roads, Eddie calls them “free range pedestrians. Eddie has a sense of humor.

Our first stop is The Stones of Stenness and there ‘s only one other person there.  It’s peaceful and serene surrounded by fields and water. There are only three stones still standing but you can see the outlines of others and some stone remnants from where others stood.    Little is known about the standing stones in this part of the world. They’ve dated nearby Skara Brae at 3100 BC but they don’t know when the stones circles were created or for what reason.

Next stop is The Ring of Brodgar  this Neolithic henge and stone circle is said to have been constructed between 2500 and 2000 BC.  It’s larger, with more stones visible and the circular shape more defined. Many of the stones are still standing, others have fallen over or split. The site is flat and surrounded by fields of wild flowers and grazing sheep and cattle, it’s peaceful. Our time is limited, so as much as I would like to sit down and think about what life must have been like 5000 years ago on this tiny island so far north we get back into our taxi and are off again.

There’s a lot of water (lochs) on this main island of the Orkneys,  they seem to run into one another and Eddie tells us some are fresh water but most a mixture of fresh and salt. The neolithic sites we’re visiting are close together and are part of the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney” World Heritage Site.

Skara Brae is next on our tour, with Scaill house next door. Both are close to the coast and surrounded by open fields.
The story goes that there was a big storm about 150 years ago (1870). Lots of rain and high winds and once the winds died down the owner of Skaill house (William Watt) went out to survey the damage to his property. He found that the wind and seas had unearthed stone structures and knew he had unearthed something old and important. Soon the archeologists were unearthing more and more of the ancient village. It’s not possible to know how many houses were there originally because the village was built close to a coastline that has eroded significantly over the many years (like 5000!). A retaining wall now holds what’s left from being consumed by the sea as well.

The inhabitants had used the building materials available to build their houses and furnishings. Rock, rock and more rock! Slate was used for some of the ceilings on the passageways, but it’s speculated the roofs of the houses were made of whale bone covered with grass. There were no trees and they didn’t have the means to kill whales, they relied on what washed up on shore. Procured whale carcasses and driftwood were cleverly re-purposed into tools and utensils. Skara Brae has a neat little museum displaying tools, ornaments, and cooking utensils found at the site, some amazingly well preserved.

As you exit the museum on your way to the site there are stones set along the path indicating various important historical dates. These are used to put the age of Skara Brae into perspective. Skara Brae is older than the pyramids, people were living here 5000 years ago. It blows my mind.

By the time we reach the site the buses are arriving and it’s getting somewhat crowded but we’re still ahead of the majority of people.
The area is carefully blocked where they don’t want you to walk and they’ve built a substantial retaining wall right beside the sight where there is a large drop to the beach. Its windy and you can imagine what the weather must be like in the middle of winter with wind howling from the north sea. Its surprising the sight has remained at all over this many years in this harsh location.

We’re on somewhat of a timetable but Eddie’s fast asleep in the parking lot (he warned us he would likely be asleep when we returned) so we dash through Skaill house next door,  which actually was pretty interesting. The house was built in 1620 and added to over the next 400 years. All 12 lairds were related and retained a collection of family furnishings and objects from the 17th century on. The current house is 1950s era (notice the pink tile bathroom) but with antiques and collectibles throughout the house.

Back in the car with Eddie rested from his snooze, we have time for one last stop before going back to Kirkwall.
Orkney has an interesting war history and there’s a chapel built by WWII Italian prisoners of war that we’re headed to now. On the way we drive over Churchill Barrier 1. These were a set a barriers started in 1940 to keep German submarines out of the natural harbor of the Scapa Flow. Today they’re used to connect the mainland to some of the smaller islands. The Italian chapel was built by Italian prisoners captured in North Africa and held in Orkney to help build the Churchill barriers. In their spare time they built the chapel from whatever materials they could scrounge, it was decorated by one of the prisoners. The light holders were made out of corned beef tins. The baptismal font was made from the inside of a car exhaust covered in a layer of concrete. The facade and interior painting is lovely.

Next stop Kirkwall, St Magnus Cathedral and the Earl’s Palace. Eddie drops us off in front of a cafe/gift shop he recommends for lunch.  The menu is pure Scotland, love it, and we order local cheeses, bannocks, brown bread and tea.

To pay for the meal I gave the person at the counter a credit card. She put the card into the hand held credit card reader then frowned at it – held it up above her head waving it around, frowned again and repeated the gesture. Turns out the Internet signal is precarious and has to be just right. I thought it was hilarious – okay, you had to be there.

Right across the street from the cafe/gift shop is St Magnus Cathedral (it’s huge), the Earl’s Palace next door must have been stunning in its time. For a little, seemingly insignificant group of islands off the northern tip of mainland Scotland, there is an amazing amount of history connected.
The cathedral was started in 1137 and added to over the next 300 years. It’s built from a very porous red sandstone and I can believe it’s still standing.

Right across the street is the Earl’s Palace built in the 1600s. The guy who built it is described as being one of the most tyrannical nobleman in Scottish history. He used forced labor to build the palace – on land he didn’t own. It took the land from the owner by accusing him of a crime, fabricating evidence, and having him hanged so he could get the land. Not a very nice fellow, but apparently he got his in the end when he and his son were hanged for unrelated chicanery.
I was fascinated with the palace because of its beautiful lines, but also because its fairly well preserved and you can almost picture the inhabitants.  There is a huge fireplace in the ballroom and you can actually see the scorched stone from fires so long ago.

By this time my Fitbit was telling us we’d walked quite a bit despite the taxi ride. We caught the bus back to the ship with time to spare and were very happy to have visited, if only for a short while, this interesting and beautiful island.

Edinburgh July 2016 – Waiting for a Princess


Day 3, Azamara Club cruise of the British Isles, Day 2 of Edinburgh.

We’re up, breakfasted, and off the ship by 8am as planned. The ship has a shuttle for us to go into Edinburgh and its outside as promised.
We’e excited about walking the Royal Mile again, the weather is beautiful and it’s quite busy, even this early in the morning. We’re headed to the castle at the top of the mile for the 9 am opening. We arrive in time to watch the changing of the guard and are in the gates and buying our tickets by 9:10.

Love the way their kilts swish when they walk!

As soon as we start walking around with our tour headsets it’s evident something’s happening at the castle that day. Having been there just last July the vibe feels different. There are people walking around with formal uniforms, more soldiers and guards, just more activity in general, and nothing to do with tourists.

Once we reached the main square there are formally dressed people waiting in front of the chapel and no nonsense guards at the entrance. Tourists are becoming interested and are hanging around. I asked one of the young soldiers and was told Princess Anne was coming to attend the annual ceremony to mark the loss of the ship Royal Oak which sank in the Scapa Flow in the Orkney islands during WWII. The ship was hit by a German submarine with the loss of 833 lives. Royal Navy divers place a White Ensign underwater at her stern every year. The ceremony Princess Anne is attending is related to the changing of the flag.
Side note: There’s a plaque and memorial in St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall Orkney islands dedicated to those who lost their lives. The ship’s bell and a list of all those who lost their lives is part of the memorial. We’ll be in Kirkwall tomorrow and plan to visit St Magnus Cathedral.

Lots and lots of medals on display, even the clergy is resplendent.

We waited around for quite awhile with guards trying to keep everyone back, finally a black car drove into the square right in front of us and out pops Princess Anne. She quickly walks to the front of the chapel, exchanging a few words with people there, then goes into the chapel without turning around. Acknowledging the people patiently waiting to get a glimpse of her, perhaps a smile, would have been nice.

We’re under a little bit of a time constraint so we finish our tour of the castle and head back to the Royal Mile and the shuttle which will take us back to the ship. Walking down the Royal Mile is always a treat. Edinburgh is clean and friendly, the Royal Mile is a wide stretch of road with shops and restaurants on either side. People are happy and friendly, there are some street carts and buskers scattered along the mile. With the Castle on one end and Holyrood Palace on the opposite end, its fun to walk the length from one interesting and historical sight to the other. Holyrood Palace is closed this week because the queen is in residence – or so we’ve heard. Too little time in Edinburgh as usual. Back to the ship for our 2:30 departure.

We looked it up but still don’t know how these free floating buskers do it.

Back on the ship’s shuttle for lunch and watching the ship get out of Leith harbor!

Arrival in Edinburgh, Royal Yacht Brittania and Lord Hopetoun.


After a restful first day on board the Azamara, we docked in Leith Port, Edinburgh, Scotland. Few ships can dock in this tidal port because it requires pinpoint navigation and just the right size ship. We went upstairs to Deck 11 to watch the pilot and Captain Carl thread the needle of this large ship through what seemed like an impossibly narrow lock. Gail laughingly compared this to being directed into a car wash, but without as much hardware at stake.
Leith Harbor locks, yikes, how is this possible?

Laughing our way through the optical illusion of this it’s-going-to-be-way-too small lock and our less than 12 inches success, we happily docked in Leith, finding ourselves next-door neighbors to Queen Elizabeth’s (now decommissioned) yacht, the Britannia. We were “moving on up!”

After leaving the ship and being greeted by a female bagpiper, we walked the short distance to a mall where we found the entrance to the Britannia museum on the third floor. After (happily?) paying our “concession” (a.k.a. senior) rate, we began what turned out to be an extraordinarily wonderful tour. You start on the top floor, the Royals residence, and move down to the officers quarters, then two levels of seaman’s quarters. The ship exudes the feeling that time has paused. Crews’ towels hang ready. Shoe shine kits are open, waiting to polish with regulation shine, and the queen’s formal dining room table is set for a grand reception, utensils scientifically measured for exactness, and knives, forks, and spoons stand like soldiers ready to greet her honored guests.


Officer’s bar

Royal living room

Officer’s Dining room

Gail and I stopped for a proper cup of tea at the yacht’s tearoom, and I thoroughly enjoyed my whiskey cake and Earl Grey tea. Then, continuing our tour, we marveled at the artful flower arrangements in every room, and the engine room that gleamed more like a Hollywood set, making it hard to believe that this same engine had circumnavigated the earth more than 11 times in its long history.
Brittania’s Tea room

View of Azamara Quest from the Brittania

A short walk back to our ship we grab a quick but LOVELY dinner at the buffet then ready ourselves for our Azamazing Evening at Hopetoun House, a grand estate near Edinburgh. This is a for-free evening for all Azamara guests, offered on each cruise. They are always different and seek to amaze guests with a cultural event that creates a unique life-long memory of the cruise.
From start to finish, the Azamara crew set a new standard for efficient excellence. Moving 600+ guests to an off-site location in 14 buses, we were greeted by a highlander war band, complete with highlander regalia, their “plaids” more rustic than the official versions you typically see, and their war chants, drum beats, and piping set the stage for collective fun! Lord Hopetoun, who had arrived only moments before from Queen Elizabeth’s afternoon garden party at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, greeted the Azamara guests with genuine enthusiasm. He and his family of 5 still live on the estate, and he has become an unofficial representative of Scotland’s welcoming nobility. Sharing the granite steps with Lord Hopetoun was our affable Captain Carl, a man of genuine wit and ingratiating humor who seems to generate a sense of shared fun whenever he speaks. Unlike other cruise captains, he does not take himself too seriously, and instead, always creates a mood where strangers feel authentically welcome.
Highland Drums

Hopetoun Estate

Lord Hopetoun, the ships Captain Carl, the Cruise Director Russ (in the kilt)

Facade of the estate

One of the estate bedrooms

Dining room

View of the bridges from the roof – there are three bridges, the closest is under construction, the third is a railway bridge from the Victorian era. The middle bridge is the currrent automobile bridge that has become obsolete. The new bridge will open next year.

My 18th century boyfriend. He was actually a nice man who gave me the run down on what parts of the estate were used in the making of “Outlander”. The central part of the facade was used as the “Duke of Sandringham’s” estate in season 2 and parts of the stable out buildings were set up as some of the Paris scenes. He had all the scoop because he too is a fan.

The ladies that keep the place running

Great entertainment

The night ended with a bang

Azamara Great Britian Cruise July 2016


The Azamara 8 day British Isles cruise leaves from Copenhagen, Denmark, cruises wset across the North Sea to Edinburgh, goes North to the Orkney Islands, west to the Isle of Skye, south west to Belfast, Waterford, and finally Dublin. In Dublin we disembark and fly to Paris for 5 nights.

July 2, Saturday – Our Air France flight doesn’t leave until 10:50 so I’m finishing up work issues, tidying the house and have a last minute conversation with my mom. I should take a nap but I’m too wound up. Gail and I are sharing a larger bag that we’re shipping back after the cruise. We each have a separate carry on that we’ll bring to Paris. We’ve booked a limo to pick us up at Gail’s at 7:20 to make our 10:50 flight.

The driver is 20 minutes early but we’re ready to go. Not too much traffic on the roads or through checking/security – so far so good – then we go through to the international gates and its packed! Invariably our flight is delayed by an hour and we’re now talking about what we’ll do if we miss our connection from CDG to Copenhagen and miss the ship. However to put everything in perspective, we aren’t traveling with young children about to get on a 6 hour flight leaving at midnight, and we have the knowledge and means to readjust our plans if need be! If we miss the connecting we check for another flight Paris to Copehagen, if we miss the ship we fly to Edinburgh to meet the ship on day 3 and spend our time there (we both love Edinburgh). Could be worse.

No worries – we depart BOS at midnight, get in 25 minutes late, hit the long security line and the even longer immigration line in Paris, run to the gate with only minutes to spare – wow are we tired. (CDG, Charles De Gaulle airport is huge, but the signage is excellent)
I never sleep on a plane, much as I try, so I’ve been up for 36 hours. Fortunately we arrive in Copenhagen on time, a little wait for luggage, but no immigration or customs, easy getting to the exit and into a taxi. The driver has a list handy and sees exactly where the Quest is docked and we’re there in no time. We had exactly enough Kroner (450) for the ride. The travel gods haven’t forsaken us after
all. We’re here and so is our luggage.

We made it! After swearing that we haven’t brought Noro virus on board, pose for a security picture (who is that pale exhausted person) we enter we ship. We’re late and they’re about to start the safety drill. We don’t need our life vest and we aren’t led outside – good thing because while sitting in the Cabaret/theater (our designated lifeboat station) we discover its hailing outside!!! Very weird because although it was overcast when we arrived in Copenhagen it’s not that cold (60-65). It lasts minutes but caused quite a stir, we’re told that hail at this time of year is rare.

Our cabin is the normal outside cabin size but its newly refurbished and good quality. They’ve created plenty of storage space and we’re able to unpack and put everything away in closets and drawers. The linens and bedding are quality and I long to stretch out on the bed – but we have a ship to explore!
First things – we apply for the full voyage Internet package so we can keep up with the family and friends and I can post. It actually works surprisingly well.
Our Stateroom

Leaving Copenhagen – love the off shore windmills

Light dinner

Gail and I on deck – a bit chilly but the sun is lovely

Azamara offers wine and cocktails and you can upgrade to higher quality wines and liquors if you chose. We’re tired but we’ll enjoy a cocktail in the “livingroom” and light dinner before heading to bed.

Day 2 – Sunday, July 4
Day at sea
Wonderful crew

We’re not sure what time we woke up because the ship TV says 10:05, our iPhone says 9:05 and according to the ships clock its 8:05. Conundrum. In any case we had a good sleep and we’re ready to go. We’re in the North Sea going west from Copenhagen to Edinburgh. We left Copenhagen at 9pm Sunday night and we’ll arrive in Edinburgh at 2:30pm on Tuesday. The sun is shining but it’s quite windy on the top level jogging track and we’re not dressed for it. The gym treadmill is a good substitute, although it’s quite strange walking on a treadmill on a ship! The ship’s movement makes you feel unsteady, you need to hang on or fall over. The faster your pace the more you feel as if you’re careening around the treadmill. The gym is small but has great equipment.

After a shower we’re in time for the 10am Jazz brunch, champagne and all. Great food, atmosphere and service.
The ship is elegant and everything from furnishings, to decor, to food, is good quality, however the real difference with Azamara seems to be the staff and crew. The Captain – Carl is an Irishman and very personable and funny. He’s around a lot, as are his department heads. You get the impression the crew is genuinely happy to see you and the guests are genuinely grateful for the services provided.

At dinner we met two women from Houston TX, they are doing back to back Azamara cruises (Baltic first) and had arrived in Copenhagen 11 days ago. This is the second cruise and one of them is still without luggage! She’s surviving on borrowed clothes and whatever she can find in ports. The airline has no idea where it is and won’t give her compensation until its missing for 45 days. Ya gotta love airline customer service. Never fail to disappoint.

After dinner we head to the Cabaret to see Teacake (that’s her given name) a singer from Texas who sings Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin songs very well. Time for bed, anticipating arriving in Edinburgh at 4:30P tomorrow afternoon.

Anticipation….. vacation summer 2016


azamara-club-cruises-azamara-quest-exterior-galleryJuly 1, 2016 Packing and anticipating our Azamara 8 night British Isle cruise and hop over to Paris.

Gail and I were so enamored with Scotland last summer that we started looking for ways to return this summer to see the places we missed. Gail receives email offers for cruises and one thing led to another….. here we are leaving tomorrow for Copenhagen to board the Azamara Quest for our 8 night cruise. While we’re in Europe we decided to fly to Paris for a few days before returning home.

We spent the last few months planning, pouring over maps, and combing the Internet for things not to be missed. Some of the highlights we’ve arranged are – a taxi tour of the Orkney islands, a small group tour of the island of Sky, the Giants causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge , an independent tour to Mont St Michel, tickets to the top of the Eiffel tour, Louvre, Versailles, a private Citroen tour of Paris, and a Paris market and cooking class.
We’ve arranged an Airbnb apartment across the street from Notre Dame in the 5th Arrondisement and I’m familiar enough with public transportation and the layout of the city to get us around – famous last words.
The only regret – what WAS I thinking – is that we arrive in Copenhagen just a few hours before the cruise leaves. If Air France decides to delay either flight we may be meeting the cruise in Edinburgh two days late!
But I have to think positively.
Packing – just when I thought I had it down pat I run into the various weather types this trip will bring. Orkney Island and Skye could be very cold and wet – hat, gloves, rain gear, wool sweater and warm, water proof shoes. Edinburgh, Belfast, Waterford and Dublin will be mild but could be rainy – layers and rain gear. Paris could be hot and does require some thought to style, light layers, and good walking shoes that aren’t too ugly! Even though we’ve arranged Luggage Forward to pick up a bag with our cruise clothes so we can travel light to Paris, I still think I’m bringing more than I need despite going over and over the clothes laid out for packing. Sigh.

Florida: Adventures of an unlikely snowbird.


I swore I would never live in Florida. Too hot, too much traffic, too southern. Until the winter of 2015. Cold and seriously tired of shoveling snow, I started looking for a small house or condo to rent in Florida for the following winter. Fortunately my job allows me to work from anywhere, as long as I have good internet connection, so the idea wasn’t completely nuts. I have several retired friends who bought in a very well situated and well maintained neighborhood in Fort Myers but at the time there wasn’t an available rental for 2016. I expanded my search to the surrounding neighborhoods but it soon became clear that I wasn’t the only fed up Northerner who decided wintering in the north had lost its charm.
I was about to give up when I learned there was a house for sale in my chosen neighborhood and I started thinking about the possibility of buying. The neighborhood is close to beaches, shopping, and services, and is a short drive to favorite spots like Naples, Sanibel, and Captiva. It seemed like the ideal place to invest in property and guarantee a place in the sun for winters to come. Long story short I ended up buying the house and closed in May 2015.

There were obvious improvements that needed to be made before my return in October. I knew I had to replace the master bathroom, which looked like it was straight out of the 70s (a carpeted floor!). A good friend suggested a handyman who would gut and rebuild the bathroom and a painter to refresh all the walls, ceilings, and closets in the house. Over the summer the bathroom was completely renovated and the new paint made the house sparkle. I returned in October for a short stay to start cleaning out and making the house mine.

The previous owner, with my blessing, left everything (except personal items) but it all needed sorting and tossing. I was soon reminded of the value of friends when one morning three friends showed up with sleeves rolled up and we spend the next 4 hours going through every closet and drawer. Everything was scrutinized and sorted into piles to donate, toss, or decide later. Ultimately I ended up with a carport full of things to donate, an over filled recycle and trash container, and furniture to go to consignment. I also decided the kitchen, with it’s 70’s era wall oven, cook top, and vinyl cabinets with broken shelves couldn’t wait to be renovated. Mark the handyman was recalled to do more work before I returned for 3 months in January. Having spent the 9 days in October getting to know the house I had a long list for him!

In October I also hit the consignment shops with my good friend, and retired Interior Designer, Milly. There are an incredible number of thrift and consignment shops in this area of Florida and they all have 50% off sales during slow periods when merchandise isn’t moving. October, it seems, is an ideal time to furnish a house inexpensively, who knew! When all was said and done, with Milly’s considerable help, I replaced 95% of the furniture and the house was transformed.


Fast forward to January. I arrived early on a Saturday morning to get organized, set up Internet and desk, fill the fridge, and get ready for work Monday morning. My new internet connection was working well, the kitchen was functional, an by the end of the weekend I was ready to settle in to work and life in Florida.

Unfortunately things went downhill from there as I discovered I was not the only inhabitant of my new home. I shared it with a family, and likely extended family, of palm (or roof rats) living in the crawl space under the house. It was about that time the rain started, lots of rain, the kind of rain where you start thinking about building an ark – but that’s another story.

Prior to my arrival Milly had been in the house and heard rustling coming from under the floor. She knew it had to be either possum or palm rats, not uncommon in Florida. She decided wisely not to tell me before arrival because it would only freak me out. Instead she put a trap near an obvious entrance hole in the foundation. In the middle of the night I heard a crack and shortly after scuffling, running, scraping, and screeching which went on for hours. The next morning, out my back door I could see a possum staring up at me, hissing his displeasure from inside the trap. Over night, sensing a predator close by, the rats under the house had gone nuts – they weren’t the only ones. I came close to sleeping in my car that night (or heading to the airport!) but stayed in bed with a pillow over my ears waiting for morning.

It was time to call someone to take care of the problem. Eric from Critter Control arrived later that day to assess the situation. Hundreds of dollars later the possum was taken away and traps were set. I was to become quite friendly with “Eric the rat catcher”. He was actually a nice young man who called me “ma’am” and carried off my rats one by one!

About the same time I was arranging to have a new electrical box installed so I could hook up my new electric stove. This was another unexpected but very large expense. I also had to tell the electrician, who needed to crawl under the house to run the wire, that he would have company. Undaunted, no actually he was freaking out, he called a fellow electrician to help him. The second fellow, younger and more svelte, agreed that he would go under the house. Eric the rat catcher arrived about the same time to check the traps and assured me that the rats would stay far away from the electrician under the house. You can’t make this stuff up.

Soon I was preparing for my first overnight company, my sister Bev and brother in law Gord, arriving from the north to stay a few days on their way to see their daughter and family in Boca Raton. They were a big help and very supportive, I began to relax and stop panicking! Maybe this would work out after all.

Next came the trees. I had two large palm trees right next to my house and if I let them grow another two weeks I swear they’ll be in my house. They were touching at this point and had to go. The tree guy arrived the next day and I we decided a large clump of palm trees at the back of the shed were badly diseased and had to go as well. As you can imagine these little unexpected projects are doing damage to my bank account.
Taking down trees

Meanwhile it’s raining, and raining, and raining….. I have a swimming pool in my backyard, no actually it’s supposed to be grass and but there’s two inches of water sitting on top. I shouldn’t complain, at least it’s not snow, but my coworker just informed me that they are expecting 50° weather in Massachusetts. ….You know that place I left to get away from the cold! How can they have the same temperatures we have in Florida?

By mid February the rain torrential rain had stopped but it was still unseasonably cold and raining off and on. The house was coming along quite well and my daughter-in-law and granddaughters were coming for a long weekend. It was lovely to see them and we spent the first morning walking on Fort Myers Beach but my 5 year old granddaughter was anxious to get into the pool. Although the pool is nicely heated – the air temps were in the 50s and overcast! My daughter-in-law, good sport that she is, brought Rhian to the pool while one year old Rory slept. They were in the pool for almost an hour (likely thinking about how cold they would be when they got out!) Rhian took her first unaided swim across the pool and was thrilled. The next day (also in the 50s) we all went in! Needless to say the neighbors passing by were smiling likely thinking “they must be visiting from the north”!
A chilly walk on Fort Myers Beach

In the Pool – Brrrrrr

Rhian’s initiation to golf

First ever ice cream cone

As the weather got nicer toward the end of February I joined in on some the fun – sunset drinks and picnic dinners on the Sanibel causeway. Trips to Captiva and Matlache, drinks and music at Dixie Fish, dinners out with friends. I started feeling more comfortable with my decision and looking forward to winters to come.
Dinner with neighborhood friends

Lunch with High School friends in Naples

JetBlue field honoring Big Poppy

Guest Blog 3: The rest of the story…. Giverny, Bayeux, Honfleur and Paris, oh my!


Thank you Bev and Gord Simpson, you did a great job with this travelogue, Gord taking pictures and Bev putting her thoughts, and their adventures on paper. It makes me want to return to France again.

The picturesque port of Honfleur

Wednesday Sept 30 Giverny
Today we made the long trip to Giverny to see Claude Monet’s house and gardens and of course the famous Nymphéas. It is another beautiful warm sunny fall day and the trip is lovely but long – over 2 hours and strangely hard to find Giverny.

Not very well marked off the highway, we find it by GPS and of course it is lovely. Even this late in the fall, the flowers are stunning and the light on the lily ponds changes even in the short time we are there. The house and gardens are beautifully kept by the local Monet Foundation. It is surprisingly reasonable to enter, one small fee and stay as long as you like. There are lots of people, but not annoyingly so, as it would likely be in summer.

The house is old with small beds, little tables and lamps – not nearly as comfortable as we live today. But 2 rooms that stand out are the kitchen – all blue tiles, lots of copper pots a big old stove – maybe even wood burning – hard to tell. Lots of beautiful light steaming in from the front windows with their lace curtains. The copper pots are gleaming!

The dining room – with a table that seats 12 – is sunlight everywhere with its yellow paint on the walls and the furniture and light pouring in the windows, lots of pictures on all the walls.

There are a few Monet paintings around – one very familiar– presumably real although they would be worth millions of euros – so are they real? There are many, many Japanese style drawings and paintings – apparently he was very interested in Japanese art. There are guards in the house but very unobtrusive – even at this time of year there are many visitors and we move through politely!

The most stunning part of the house and garden is the walkway to the front gate that at one time was a driveway off the main road in the town. It leads up to the front door of the house and it is just a sea of flowers – at this time of the year, they are dahlias and nasturtiums with climbing roses – all catching the sunlight in a very charming manner.

On the walking path to the ponds you can see how beautifully everything is managed by the gardeners and repairmen. For example the flowing river is caught and held in place with small poles that provide a lovely looking fence like structure that adds to the beauty – how much of the islands in the river are man-made, how much are natural is hard to tell. There are 4 workmen repairing a very small part of the fencing with great attention to detail. It seems they appreciate this piece of “patrimoine” that Monet left for the town and surrounding valley, which attracts so many visitors and helps with the employment of many local people. Below is a view from one of the bedrooms in the house overlooking the garden

There are large pockets of tall stately bamboo on the islands in the river but they don’t seem to be taking over as they are held in place by the river itself. The walking trail is beautifully maintained – the light is stunning even at this time of year. Not sure why – does it have to do with how the sun is positioned on the earth at this point in Normandie? The iconic green of the trim on the house is also reflected in the benches that are here and there for visitors to sit and relax and enjoy the surroundings.

At the lily ponds, the light is most obvious and could never be caught with a photograph. Even in late September mid afternoon, it is beautiful and reflective. There are people sketching – and lots of photographers – and a few iPads clicking away. There are also very keen gardeners who know the names of all the flowers and discuss various forms and colours and how to grow them at home.

It was a long way to get here – it’s an easier trip by train from Paris and it is even longer getting back to Bayeux as we hit end of day traffic but we’re very glad we made the trip.

Dinner tonight is at L’Alchemie in Bayeux which is like many in this town, owned and operated by a husband wife team – he is the chef, she runs the dining room, meeting, greeting, hanging coats, seating people, taking drink and food orders, delivering the amuse bouche – I love that name – so weird and wonderful at the same time – delivering the dinner, topping up the drinks etc etc. very interesting to watch. They work very hard over spring, summer, early fall with tourists and have a lighter load in winter with only locals and the occasional tourist as their guests. Possibly their parents are home with their children – if they have them – since many live in the same town all their lives – and not a bad life it is.

Thursday Oct 1 A day of rest in Bayeux
Today we took it easy, staying in Bayeux and there is a lot to see and do. We visit the museums we have missed, wander in the parks and gardens in the town, sit and drink coffee on the sidewalk where we can watch people passing by, and catch up with our email, photos (Gord) and travelogue (me). Dinner tonight in a local brasserie with lighter fare – onion soup and salad and wine of course. Meals have been lovely – very gourmet and small quantities of excellently prepared foods often with a very fresh salad vert.

Friday Oct 2 Travel to Deauvile and Honfleur

Today we headed north starting off on the highway and then heading to the coast north of the beaches towards Le Havre. Below is one of several carefully maintained thatch-roofed houses on the way to Honfleur. Note the decorative work on the roof. Many of the houses had scrolled flowers into the manicuring of the roofs. Most of the towns we pass are beautifully maintained as are the yards and gardens. The farms are immaculate with very large fields growing lots of corn and other crops we don’t always recognize.

We pass through Deauville and Trouville, busy beach side towns that have a long history of attracting wealthy family in summer. Honfleur is our target and we easily find the busy Quai, which has been hosting people for over a thousand years. Today it’s packed with walkers, boaters, and photographers – the sun lit cafes and restaurants – dozens and dozens of them all side by side – are almost completely full and it’s a Friday in early October.

The buildings on the quai are impressive and iconic – they are very tall and skinny – up to 8 floors high, touching each other, each with its own colour palette and windows new or old. Some are occupied with businesses, often art galleries or second floors of restaurants but some seem to be lived in, with flowers on the window sills. Sailing boats are everywhere and occasional fishing boats although they perhaps have a separate harbour. Honfleur, the home of Samuel de Champlain who found the St Lawrence River, is a bustling tourist attraction with loads of history.

We visit the very old wooden St Catherines Church. The story has it that in the mid 1500s the citizens of Honfleur wanted to thank God for the fact that the British had left their country after the 100 years war. Stone and stonemasons were in high demand and short supply, but the locals were not to be deterred. Using what they knew—building wooden ships—they built a wooden church that has survived and is still very active 500 years later.

Saturday Oct 3 is an early breakfast in our wonderful dining room restaurant at the Villa Lara. It is kitted out in true French fashion with all the best in tableware and linens but with a country flavour to the décor . The food is excellent with all you can eat juices and fruits, yogurts and cheeses, eggs, and meats, breads and jams. And café au lait – my favourite, is de rigeur here. It is so easy to request warm milk that comes to the table in a lovely little pitcher to be poured at your leisure. I am using the hot milk on my granola and oats as well to keep my clicking jaw under control.

This morning we take our little car back to the Hertz at the local gas station and take a cab back to the train station with another group also returning their car – they are from North Carolina.

We walk to the train station in Bayeux with our pull cases – takes about 20 minutes – it’s another beautiful sunny day – and await the 14:40 to Paris. The trains are excellent, always on time with comfortable seating. They travel at significant speeds on the excellent tracks that are common all over Europe. Canada could take a lesson!

At the Gare St Lazare we find a taxi easily to our hotel (too far to walk). We are staying at Le Trianon (another small local one in the Best Western group). It is near Les Jardins Luxembourg. Our driver is very good – it’s a Saturday and the roads are packed with cars, buses, bikes, motorbikes, walkers of all sorts. Some of the streets are one way, others not, the taxi driver has to know his way around. Our hotel is pretty and clean on the outside, the lobby is small but cozy and the lady on the desk pleasant and welcoming. Our room, well let’s just say Gord was not pleased. Quite expensive, it was tiny, about 1/6th the size of our Bayeux hotel – where we were very spoiled! – decorated in black and red, and considerably more euros! Ah well, we are en Paris and near the Luxembourg.

Paris is amazing in the numbers of people it attracts – they are everywhere today on the streets. Tonight is Nuit Blanche when the museums and attractions stay open all night and many are free. We wander St Michel, have a glass of wine by the gardens and people watch, adjusting to our changed location. As it gets dark we find a nice little restaurant for dinner – Gord has a fishburger – salmon delicious and I have a bowl of house made cheese stuffed ravioli in a cream sauce – Delicious but very rich – with a green salad. We share a carafon of Cotes de Rhone. The nights bring an array of lights to the city and the crowds don’t abate but there is lots of room for everyone on the broad streets and parkettes everywhere. We are near the Sorbonne and pass groups of students engaged in eating, drinking, dancing and one group of 6 women dressed as cats playing a game with a mouse in a bowl…..and laughing their heads off. We give a couple of euros to a street musician playing the trombone but after he collects from the crowd he heads home! We have barely heard him play. We return to our dark tiny room – the walls are covered in a black fabric, curtains and bedding are red and white – and sleep well.

Sunday Oct 4
Today we headed out with no particular plan in mind and found ourselves headed for Notre Dame which had an unusually short wait time to enter. It is again a beautiful sunny Sunday and the church is full of worshipers. The priest is giving the sermon. Lots of tourists are watching and snapping photos but respectfully. Outside 5 cute young “boy scouts” are selling cakes to make money for their troop. We are a new team he says and so we must raise funds for our activities – they are dressed in scout uniforms. The cakes are all home made they tell us as we choose a brownie and they are truly home made and delicious! Give what you can he tells me when I ask the price and so of course he does well on the transaction. – and others are lining behind me – they are well positioned at the exit gate to the cathedral.

Our next stop is a wander along the Seine taking in the sites – several tourist boats pass us riding swiftly up the river their top level full of smiling picture-taking tourists. Les pompiers are training on one bank of the river climbing ladders and getting their hoses full of water to be able to spray what would be a fire but now is just back into the river – they are very slow so must be new recruits.

The stalls on the riverside are just opening up to display their myriad of books of every sort, old magazines with famous people on the covers, Marilyn Monroe, Serpico, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman ….
And the people watching is excellent.

Over time we make it to the Musée D’Orsay which has a huge crowd in line – 45 minutes I am told but since it is closed Monday I line up and Gord goes off to take some pictures. After 40 minutes of easy waiting we enter through the cursory security check-line. It turns out on the first Sunday of the month there is no charge so we are ahead about 25 euros and in one of the most iconic galleries in the world!

We head straight for the Impressionists. The D’Orsay holds the best collection in the world and there are many enjoying them. An added bonus is the views of the city from the large windows on the top floor of the musée are spectacular, especially the ornate rooftops of the Louvre and the placement of Sacre Coeur on the hillside.

We enjoy several Monets, Renoirs, and Sisleys among other beautiful works and appreciate the fact that the Impressionists committed an act of rebellion when they encouraged each other to paint exactly what they saw ‘en plein air” (outdoors) and as such we are able to enjoy these beautiful works of art so many decades later.

From the quayside of the Seine, we move into the streets of the Rive Gauche (Left Bank), passing the Medical School of the University of Paris and many upscale left bank shops – mostly closed on Sunday – and restaurants filled with people enjoying their café on the sidewalks in the sun, street musicians finding an audience – this one playing Dixieland.

We head towards St Germain de Pres, a beautiful old abbey church which dates back to the 10th and 11th Centuries and it’s on our path to Les Jardins Luxembourg.

Les Jardins Luxembourg is full of strollers of every age and stage, lots of children, lots of couples, many of them mixed race, it’s nice to see. There is room for everyone on this beautiful day. The flowers are lovely as they always are and the trees sparkling in the sunlight. It’s getting cooler…. apparently winter is coming, there is a feeling in the air but for now we enjoy everything.

From there a snooze in our cozy hotel room, which is quite functional if not at all spacious, and a light dinner nearby about 8:30 – we had a little café lunch around 3 on our walk along Le Blvd St Germain.

Monday Oct 5
We head for the Pantheon after a great breakfast in our little hotel. The Europeans are so smart to offer breakfast in their hotels – often included although this one is not – but it’s a better price than on the street, better food and easy to access – lots of fresh fruits, cereals, breads, yogurts, cafés. Love it!

The Pantheon in the Latin Quarter close to our hotel is magnificent. We have been passing it at night, nicely lit up for the strollers. Inside it’s an ancient delight, fantastic architecture, beautifully restored attracting many Français, Françaises and tourists alike to better understand French culture, values and heritage.

Built around the mid 18thC it feels ancient and it’s very beautiful. It was originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve to house the reliquary containing her relics. It now functions as a secular mausoleum containing the remains of many distinguished French citizens. Its façade is modeled on the Pantheon in Rome. Outside there are large posters of 4 WWll resistants, including 2 women, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz and Germaine Tillion who become the third and fourth women interred among 74 men in this mausoleum of honour. Their stories are highlighted inside in a large interactive display, and represent a change in thinking of what denotes being deserving of the honour of being interred here. It is fascinating.

It starts to rain as we leave the Parthenon so we stop at a little café and I buy an umbrella nearby – one that will fit in our carry-on going home.

This afternoon we stay dry and cosy in the lobby of our hotel to finish off our pictures (Gord) and the Travelogue (me) because we know when we get home, it will be go-go again and we will easily get behind.

Tonight for dinner at Semilla we will meet the adult son of very old and good friends who lived twenty years and raised their sons in Paris.

Home tomorrow and we are ready. We will leave this little hotel and our tiny bedroom a little after 7 to catch the RER to the CDG aeroport. The station is about 300 metres away – we hope it’s not raining too hard. We’d like to avoid a taxi in heavy traffic in the morning to catch the RoussyBus at the opera which is a good distance away. On the RER train we should get into CDG by about 830, plenty of time to have breakfast and be on our 11am flight home.

Kathy has graciously added this Guest Blog to her site and it is fun to see it available there.