Paris…and Then

Yes, I know it’s now January 2022. Yes, I know we went to France in September 2021. You would not believe how our lives have changed. But, I digress. First Paris, then the Loire Valley, then the life-altering episode.

Ah, Paris. We stayed in the Hotel Jardins d’Eiffel, a three-star hotel. A lovely hotel with impeccable staff. Our room was spacious (according to Paris standards) with a drop-dead gorgeous view of the Eiffel Tower (according to any standards). Yes, it was incredible. There was a lovely hotel garden where we could relax in the afternoon or where we could have breakfast in the mornings. We opted for the hotel breakfast in the mornings and were not disappointed. The ladies offered a large American-German-styled breakfasts, so no one went away hungry.

We walked out the front door of the hotel and into the heart of Paris. A few blocks from Les Invalides, a few blocks from La Tour Eiffel. A few blocks to Rue de Grenelle, a few blocks to the Musee Rodin. And, of course, it is just a few blocks to Rue Cler…one of my favorite streets for, well, everything.

The weather the first of September could not have been more perfect. Warm and sunny with brilliant blue skies. We wandered hand in hand for hours checking out everywhere we love to go and finding new spots. Then we stopped for a bite to eat, one day at a cafe, another day at an English pub. Who knew we would find a pub in Paris.

Even in a pandemic, Paris did not disappoint. The Parisians were welcoming, the tourists were glad to be there, so everywhere we went it was wonderful. The metros were not packed. The museums were easy to enter. The restaurants were excited to show what they could do. Even having to wear a mask indoors was not really a hardship, just something we had all gotten used to.

After a few days in Paris recharging from the trip over – and for me, recharging my “French” batteries, we were ready to head to our new home-away-from-home in the Loire Valley. But, more about that next time.

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France…Really…We Made It!!

I must apologize for the length of time between my posts, but I really have a good excuse…really, I promise. You see, the hubby and I were finally able to travel to France. Now, France is my absolute most favorite place in the entire world. I kid you not. I am of French ancestry, but it is more than that. If I believed in reincarnation, I would insist that I was French in my very last past life.

I have a deep affinity with France and all things French. I never get lost in France, especially Paris, even though I can get lost in the town I have lived in for most of my life. I never get tired of French foods, or drinks, or soaps, or perfumes, or architecture, or, or, or. The list of French things that I never grow tired of is endless. Literally. I can get a whiff of something undefined and it will transport me back to the France of one of my many visits. I carry all of that in my memories, my mind, my very DNA.

We didn’t get to go to France in 2019, because we had so much going on. Had I known 2020 was going to be a complete bust, I would have carved out a couple of weeks to go. Obviously, last year was not a year to travel anywhere, including France. But, that was okay, because I knew we were going this year. Well, one trip was canceled a month ago, and I was sitting on pins and needles to see if this trip would make it from the planning stage to the fulfillment stage.

I am happy to say that France did not close down, the flights still carried happy Americans to their French happy places, and we were among them. Our flight over was about three-fourths full, which I found interesting since the United States government was trying desperately to tell Americans not to go to France. I guess others listen as well as we do.

We flew American Airlines, which is my favorite (American) airlines to fly. The flight attendants were wonderful. The pilots were in top form. The plane was one of the new Boeing Dreamliners. A great aircraft, if I do say so myself. The biggest disappointment was the food. It was awful. I got the pasta and my husband got the chicken. Neither was any good. Both were so highly spiced that I couldn’t eat either. My husband had a few bites of each and then gave up. Elementary school cafeteria food gets a higher ranking than that mess.

Sleeping on the new Dreamliner was actually quite comfortable. The main cabin had wide enough seats that reclined as well as shifting forward slightly to take strain off the back. We were provided a blanket and a pillow, which was exciting for us because we had heard the airlines were not going to continue to provide those due to COVID.

When we awoke, it was breakfast time. I was excited because I adore French food, especially croissants. What a disappointment. The second meal was even more of a let down than the first. There was no croissant. No French butter. No French jam. There was yogurt, but it was terrible. It tasted like pink-colored mush. There was a fig newton-like cookie. Really? For breakfast? There was something else in there that was absolutely unmemorable, as evidenced by the fact that neither of us can even remember what it was. American Airlines really dropped the ball on this.

Ah, but when we disembarked, we were in Paris! Which you will be able to read about next week. So come on back then to get your Paris fix.

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Edi-Slo, Not Edisto

We just returned from four wonderful days at Edisto, South Carolina…beach, not just island. (Trust me, there is a difference.) Oh, what a heavenly visit it was. We watched the international space station zip across the night sky. We sat at the beach and did nothing more strenuous than lift a bottle of water to our lips or wade ankle deep into the lapping surf. We ate great seafood at several awesome restaurants.

Edisto Beach has a well-deserved reputation for moving slowly, and we like it that way. We do not need those busy beaches with massive condos and hotels taking up every inch of land – and sand. We don’t need the constant noise of beach shops and amusement parks that litter so many beach places. We need to recharge our batteries when we go to Edisto. We need to slow down and just be. We need our little slice of heaven, so we go.

My husband and I have been going to Edisto since we were children. It truly is a wonder we never met there. It took until we were out of college and settled in our careers to meet each other. I really think one of the reasons we ended up together was because we each thought the perfect vacation was a week on Edisto Beach.

We have been going together to the beach for more than thirty years, and we look forward to many more years there. We raised our children on Edisto seafood, ice cream, and sand. They may have chosen homes and careers a world away, but they, too, treasure their memories of Edisto. As a matter of fact, our one daughter invited high school friends for a few days at Edisto Beach to celebrate their ten year reunion a few years ago. Everyone had a fantastic week remembering the past while making memories for the future.

I never want Edisto to be just a part of my memoires. So I keep going back, season after season after season.

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Sipping and Wandering in a Special Winery

We have just spent a lovely few days winery wandering in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina. The weather was glorious, and the wine delicious. We went to several wineries but, by far, our favorite was Hanover Park Winery.

A small, family-owned winery located in rolling hills at the edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Their farm is perfect, an old farmhouse surrounded by acres of gardens and vines. There is even a wonderful picnic area, and rocking chairs on the front porch. But it is the owners themselves who really make all the difference. Michael and Amy’s love for their winery, their product, and each other shine through the entire visit. They, and their staff, are dedicated and knowledgeable, as comfortable around true connoisseurs as they are helping novices.

The Cab Franc and the Michael’s Blend are wonderful, as are the whites, but my favorite – especially this time of year – is The Pearl. A delicious, gentle, refreshing rose’ that sits lightly on the palate. Oh, gosh, don’t take my word for it, just try them all.

The next time you are wandering around North Carolina, do turn your car toward the Yadkin Valley and wander over to Hanover Park Winery. Try their wine. You will love it. I promise. Please sip some for me.

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What Do You Choose?

Goodness, it has been a couple of weeks since I posted. What was I thinking? Oh, yeah. I was thinking that I had a house full of friends and family and had no time to write anything. Do you ever have days or weeks like that? After last year, when we had no visitors after March, I despaired of ever having anyone visiting again.

One thing I have learned from last year, and a very busy few weeks this year, is that life really is what you make of it. I could have been frazzled or aggravated that I had no time for my blogs…or any writing whatsoever…but that would have been self-defeating. I loved having a full house. I loved the hustle and bustle of all we did. I loved spending time with my wonderful mother.

The reality is that we make choices. Every day. All day long. Choices that help our lives, fulfill our lives, enrich our lives. Or, conversely, we make choices that tear down our lives, cheapen our lives, destroy our lives. I made the intentional choice of stepping back from my computer and spending that time with the people right in front of me, eating at my table right then. I do not regret it at all.

I did, however, miss you…and my writing. I like opening myself up to the greater world. There is so much to see, so many to meet, and so little time in which to do so. It seems sad that many people live in the small bubble of their making and never venture out into the great unknown.

The best part of so much activity is the slowing down after everyone leaves, and the opportunity to turn some of those conversations, some of those sites, some of those personalities into my writings…into characters…into settings…into dialogue. All of my friends and family know that anything they say or do, anywhere we go, can be (and probably will be) fodder for a story. They accept that idiosyncrasy of mine and I appreciate them for that. Besides, I think they look for themselves in my writings!

Anyway, I hope you have had a great few weeks and have taken time to smell the proverbial roses. I certainly have, and they are fragrant and wonderful. See you on Tuesday.

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Our Final Day Aboard the California Zephyr

We awoke to our final day on the train. We were surprised to discover that so many people had gotten off the train at Salt Lake City. I cannot imagine having to disembark during the night but I suppose they did alright. After breakfast (remember, we still had the COVID menu, so we were thoroughly tired of the breakfast menu by now), we went into the observation car and found it mostly empty. We sat for a while and watched the flat desert land of Utah and Nevada pass by. It was still incredibly beautiful to me.

This is scenery we never see at home in the deep South. We watched huge cattle ranches pass by. They were spread over massive stretches of land. We watched land filled with absolutely nothing except scrub shrubs. No trees, no animals, no water. The land was achingly beautiful. Stark, still, somber…majestic.

That morning, we met a wonderful couple from Indiana who own a ranch and used to raise and show Western Quarter horses. We had the best time visiting, and lunching, with them. That is one of the best thing about train travel – all of the great people you meet.

Within a few hours we were climbing again. Right after our stop in Reno, we began climbing into the Sierra Nevadas. Glorious scenery once again. In places, we rose above the treeline where the snow never melts. We looked down on Lake Tahoe. We stopped at Truckee, California and my husband and I reminisced about the time we stayed in Tahoe and and spent the day in Truckee. Such a great little town. We went on up, through Donner Pass. The thought of all that land had witnessed is not for the faint of heart.

All too soon we were slipping down out of the mountains and into Sacramento. We were running terribly late, so the stops were quick. Smokers were simply out of luck. We arrived in Emeryville about five-thirty in the evening – two hours late but we didn’t mind. The trip had been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A two thousand, four hundred, and thirty-mile journey through seven states. I’m ready to do it all over again next year. Come join me!

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The California Zephyr – Crazy for Colorado

As I said last week, we were up and going early as we did not want to miss one view of Colorado. Well, guess what? Everyone else had the same idea. The observation car was completely full by eight am. Who knew? The nice thing was that the conductor came through every two hours and had people leave so those who had not been able to sit in the observation car would have a chance.

My husband and I decided that we could see most everything sitting in the comfort of our compartment, so we went back there after breakfast. We were like two little children, our faces plastered to the windows – one on each side of the train – watching the Rocky Mountains pass by. Thankfully, we were traveling slowly, so we missed nothing.

We left Denver and continued to climb. The scenery was breathtaking. Sheer mountains, rocks stacked upon rocks, on one side and drop-offs ending in gorges and valleys with rivers and streams flowing quickly on the other side. Truly, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Within an hour or so, we entered Moffat Tunnel. It opened in 1928 and cuts through the Continental Divide. On one side, the water flows one way, on the other side, the water flows the opposite way. Being a Southerner used to flat land, and an Easterner used to water flowing east toward the Atlantic Ocean, it took some getting used to…seeing mighty mountains, and water flowing toward the west. The Moffat Tunnel is five miles long and took us ten minutes, thirty-eight seconds to pass through. It was awesome to me, but I heard later that some people who have claustrophobia issues, did not have such a good time.

We were warned a number of times that once we entered the Moffat Tunnel, no one would be allowed to go between the train cars. There is always the possibility of exhaust and other unpleasant bits in the tunnel. We were also told to remain still while in the tunnel. It is pitch black in the tunnel. Thankfully, the train had its lights on. We turned out all of the lights in our compartment, closed our door and pulled the draperies. It was pitch dark in our room. I cannot even imagine what the men went through who built it.

According to the information from the train, the Moffat Tunnel is just above nine thousand feet in elevation and almost three thousand feet below the surface. Yeah, those poor souls with tight-space issues were not having fun when they heard that. I, however, thought it was simply incredible.

Onward from there through several smaller towns and stops, and lots of mountain vistas, before we arrived at Glenwood Springs. Wow. What a great western town. My husband and I wished that we had planned to stop and stay there a few days. It is postcard picture perfect. The main street had a number of shops, restaurants, and hotels. The roads looked to be brick, and the sidewalks were wide. There was much outdoor dining, ice cream shops, and plenty of people about. We had no idea that Glenwood Springs existed, but if we had, we would have planned a two-day stop here. Many other people were doing just that. Something for you to think about.

We wandered, train-style, through more of Colorado with one amazing view after another. After lunch, we settled in the observation car and found out that there really was more to see in that car. Those upper windows that curved into the roof allowed us to see waaaaaay up the mountains to the very top. We could see rocks perched precariously upon boulders, which sat on massive sections of mountains. It was almost indescribable. Pictures really did not do the scenery justice. You are just going to have to ride the rails and see for yourself.

Supper was late again that night, but we didn’t mind, we were still watching the scenery. As the night stole over the mountain pass, we finished our supper and headed to our compartment, ready for a good night’s sleep. Sometime during the night we left the mountains behind and slid into Salt Lake City for some minor engine repair and to drop off and pick up passengers. We missed all of that as we slumbered along to the click-clack, jerk of the train.

I hope you will wander back next week to hear about our final day on the California Zephyr. It really was an incredible journey.

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Riding the California Zephyr – Part Two

We jerked forward out of Union Station, Chicago, the train slowly picking up speed. In a matter of minutes we were zipping through a long tunnel. We came out into the sunlight with Chicago in our rear view mirror. Miles of corn fields and other fields of crops awaited our train as we barrelled down the tracks. Illinois gave way to Iowa and the flat agricultural land continued unabated, interspersed with small-town USA. It was gloriously monotonous.

There is no wifi on the train so make sure you have plenty to do. I did use my cell phone hotspot a few times to do some work that had to be finished, but mostly I had my face smashed to the window of our compartment because I could not imagine missing one minute of this ride.

Our compartment was not large but the fun of train travel is to try something different, right? And, let’s face it, it was a whole lot bigger than a seat on an airplane. The compartment has a nice long sofa and a chair, plus room to stow your suitcase above the chair. There is a teensy closet, big enough for about three outfits. The sink is right in the room, but that was part of the adventure. The bathroom is no place for sissies or people with tight-space issues. The commode and the shower are right together – there is even a shield to place down over the toilet paper so it doesn’t get wet while one is showering. Who thinks of these things?

When we had unpacked what little we did unpack, I went in search of hot water for my afternoon tea. Now, some might laugh or dismiss me outright, but there is nothing more rejuvenating than a nice cup of hot tea in the afternoon. As soon as I had my tea steeping, we checked out the observation car. It was pretty empty, but that was to be expected…most people do not enjoy agricultural land like I do, more’s the pity.

The observation car is a great place to while away some of those long train hours. It is on the upper tier of the train so one is elevated enough to see everything – and the floor to ceiling windows bring the outside in. Even better are the windows that curve up into the roof of the car. That came in quite handy later in the trip.

We had a seven-thirty pm dinner reservation in the dining car. Remember, I said that meals are included with a compartment. Well, as luck would have it, our train ride took place one week too early to have the full service meals that Amtrak is famous for. We were still on the “COVID Meal Plan” which, unfortunately, included a total of about six separate meals – one of which they ran out of at lunch on the second day. The meals were okay but not great. There were no white tablecloths and no cloth napkins. They used plastic utensils and paper napkins, as well as disposable containers the food came in – so, no, not even plastic plates. We were able to watch the sunset from the dining car as we ate our supper…and had pre-packaged brownies for dessert.

My husband and I retired to our compartment after supper and soon, Gregory, our room steward, came and converted our compartment into beds for the night. The top bunk folded down from the wall and the sofa pulled out into a bed for the night. If both people are very thin then both could fit together on the sofa bed, but hubby and I decided that no one would get much sleep that way. I happily climbed up to the top bunk…and promptly banged the fool out of my head on the ceiling. I was shocked. I am so short that my fifth grade students used to spend the school year coming into my room to see when they had grown enough to finally be taller than me! Anyway, word to the wise, even short people…er…vertically challenged people have to be careful on that top bunk.

I slept like the dead. The banging, jerking, stopping train did not deter me from a great night sleep. Hubby, however, had a very different experience. He does not sleep well in a different bed – something I sympathize with, but do not understand. He tossed and turned on the not-so-thick mattress, but he did have the cushioning of the sofa to help add layers to his bed. Not that it really helped him much at all. This is seriously something to think about if you have sleep issues. For those of us who can sleep anywhere, anytime, it is a non-issue.

By morning we had crossed through Nebraska and were in Colorado. We were up and going early to make sure we did not miss one minute of the next part of the journey – traveling through the Rocky Mountains. Some of the most glorious scenery in the country. Trust me. Just ask anyone who has traveled on the California Zephyr and they will agree. Best. Part. Ever.

Yes, I believe I will stop here for today and share next week about Day Two of the California Zephyr. I hope you will wander back by next Tuesday for more of our train trip across the country.

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Riding the California Zephyr – Part One

What an adventure we have had! COVID restrictions have eased, the weather is warm, and travel has ramped back up. My husband and I decided to take a train trip from Chicago, IL to Emeryville, CA. We had talked about doing it for several years and this year we decided that the time had come. We were taking the California Zephyr across seven states of our great nation.

We went through AAA for our tickets, which worked out okay, but I think it would be just as easy to book directly with Amtrak. Amtrak emails the tickets about two weeks before travel, so we had tickets in hand in plenty of time. Then we counted down the days until travel time.

We booked a bedroom compartment, because we wanted the experience of spending two nights on the train – and neither of us wanted to sleep sitting up in coach. There is another choice between coach and a bedroom compartment called a “Roomette”. It is a tiny room that converts into a bed at night. If you can, splurge for the bedroom compartment…it has a private bathroom. Otherwise, the roomette has a shared bathroom down the hall for all of the other roomettes. One great perk of the sleeping compartments (a bedroom compartment and a roomette) is that they are considered “first class”, so meals in the dinning car are included in the price.

We flew to Chicago and stayed at the Holiday Inn and Suites on Harrison Street. Now, this was not a fancy hotel by any means, but it served its purpose of being safe, clean, and near the train station. We were able to just walk to Union Station, the Chicago Amtrak train station that the California Zephyr is based out of. This is where the second great perk comes in. We had access to the Metropolitan Lounge at Union Station. Described on their own website, the Metropolitan Lounge “offers a new level of luxury to Amtrak travelers who are seeking a spot of respite during their time in Chicago.” And, yes, it was very nice with food and non-alcoholic drinks included as well as wonderful seating over two floors. One of the Amtrak attendants took us right to our train and made sure we got on the correct train car.

Finally, we were on our way. Ah, but I believe I will save that part of the story for next week. Wander back by next Tuesday for more of our train ride on the California Zephyr.

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Savoring Books

I was talking to a friend the other day and we were discussing books. I said that books have always been my friends. She did not understand at all. To her books are something one reads for one book club or another and then moves on to the next one. She will read twenty books or more in a month. I know! That is crazy talk to me. I love reading my books. I take time getting to know them and hearing what they have to say. But, each to their own.

I have always just…wallowed in books. They were my first friends when my mother read to me as a small child. They waited for me to get home from school. We stayed up into the night (with flashlight under covers) enjoying each other’s company. They never complained if I had to put them down to do something, and they waited right there until I came back to them. They didn’t need to be fed or walked.

The people in my books were not just characters but friends who lived full lives – before and after the outside covers. I had a hard time trusting real children my age, they often taunted me over my very petite size or how formal I was. It was just my nature, but they didn’t care. Children really can be so very cruel. But, my friends on paper were never cruel to me. Actually, I read how they solved problems or worked through issues over the course of fifty or five hundred pages. They taught me about life and how to live in the world.

Whether there was a secret garden to be discovered or ghosts in the attic, I could count on them to show me the way forward. I loved a little mouse who rode a motorcycle. I loved the English moors long before I saw them. I went all over the world without ever having to get up from my favorite window seat. Tiny homes, grand homes, boats, caravans, caves. I lived in all of them without once stepping foot outside.

Even now, I pick up old friends and reread them for the umpteenth time. Some must be in the hundreds over a fifty-odd year span. Some are dog-eared and so worn, but I would never get rid of them, they are perfect just as they are. Others have disappeared completely; though I have a feeling if I checked my daughters’ houses I might find a few. I just bought a new copy of Rebecca because I cannot find my ancient copy anywhere. So I have a new copy of an old friend. And that’s okay, because I know the story will be the same, even if the cover is different.

I enjoy finding new authors and new friends, but I always go back to my first loves. They kept me company when I felt so alone. They never disappointed me. They helped me through childhood traumas and grown-up growing pains. I didn’t just read those books, I savored them. I still do. So, I hope you will excuse me now, Rebecca is calling and I must go see what is happening in Manderley.

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