Monday, October 12, 2009

Sleepless in Vancouver

I came to Vancouver for a concert at the Orpheum Theater and for practical purposes I chose the Moda Hotel because it is right across the street. Walking in, I was impressed by the friendliness and efficiency of the front desk. The lobby is nothing much to look at and getting on the tiny elevator I noticed the carpet was dirty and the metal on the walls had not been wiped down. Based upon my initial impression, the room was a pleasant surprise. I love the decor, minimalistic, red wall, black and white art, nice big picture window, flat screen TV, wireless internet. However, there was so much noise from the street and the late night carousing outside I couldn't fall asleep at all. I should have gotten a clue from the sleep mask and earplugs on the bed when I first walked in. In addition, the walls seem to be thin as paper because I could hear the man in the next room clearing his throat all night long.

The area around the hotel is not very upscale. In general things seem a little run down. I was surprised at the amount of litter on the street and the number of homeless camped out on the steps of public buildings and on every street corner.

The historic Orpheum theater was restored in 1977 and was beautiful on the inside. The concert, "Music of the Night", starring Eric Kunze and directed by Bramwell Tovey was fabulous both nights and I heard everyone raving about how much they enjoyed as we were walking out. The music featured was a compilation of songs from Broadway shows such as West Side Story, Phantom, Miss Saigon, Superstar, Evita, and Les Miserables. Bramwell Tovey, the conductor of the Vancouver Symphony is really funny and made a lot of side jokes and background information about the music. He actually played the organ with a mask on (a la Phantom) then walked up behind the head violinist and startled her with it. He was replacing Erich Kunzel, who was originally supposed to be the guest conductor and tragically passed away last month. Maestro Tovey joked that Erich was the only conductor he knew that insisted upon a case of beer in his dressing room. Tovey said, there must be budget cuts, because he did not get the same courtesy. They did a tribute to Erich Kunzel at the end of the concert.

Saturday was a perfect day to take a ferry to Granville Island. First, I just started walking wherever my nose led me. I found my way quite by accident to Gastown. I took lots of pics of the quaint and restored architecture. Had breakfast/lunch at Jules, a French bistro, which took me right back to our trip to France in May. The mussels were to die for. They were locally grown and fresh harvested today. Very plump, moist and garlicky. The manager chatted with me and he told me they had been filming the sequel to Twilight across the street the day before.

We also discussed the homeless situation. I must say that has been one of the most disconcerting things to me on this trip. There are people sleeping on the sidewalks on almost every street corner and every nook and cranny. There seems to be a cottage industry of collecting bottles in shopping carts. From my room at night I could hear the clink clink clink of bottles being transferred from one cart to another. There was a man standing outside my hotel window shouting "F___! F___!" literally all night long. According to local news, there are 1200 homeless people sleeping outdoors. The city is frantically trying to deal with the situation before the 2010 Winter Olympics. My question is, why not, for the Olympics? Why have they not done it before for the sake of the city and its inhabitants?

After lunch, I found the Granville Island ferry, a tiny little boat that runs every 15 minutes from different stops. I took the one that stops near the Science Center. It was $6 one way or $10 two ways. Found out later than I was to exit at the Aquarium stop and that would have been cheaper. I gave my extra tickets to a student on board.

Granville Island was very charming and definitely worth the trip. I didn't even explore the whole island due to time restrictions, but my first stop was the Granville Island Market. Took a ton of photos. Food is so colorful and beautiful! The rest of the island is filled with shops and restaurants. There is a beautiful playground for kids and a pond. The autumn colors were at their peak. Ran across an Indian wedding and got a great shot of the bride and her bridesmaids.

Day three: Another beautiful crisp fall day. I walked from my hotel down Robson street to the water, rented a bike from Spokes Bike Rental ($18 for two hours) and rode around Stanley Park. There were many people there, walking, jogging, roller blading, bike riding. There was a group of people stopped in a clearing, so I stopped and we watched eight racoons cavorting around. I made clicking sounds like I do with my cats and they came right over to me (a little too close for comfort, actually) standing on their hinds legs and begging. They were extremely tame so they must be accustomed to people feeding them - not a good idea.

Had lunch at Tsunami Sushi on Robson. I was amused at the concept. You can sit at a circular bar and the sushi floats by you on boats in a river. You remove what you want as it floats by. There was a family next to me whose little kids were enthusiastic about being there. I complimented them on their sophistication. I have a hard time getting my five year old grandson to eat macaroni!

Decided to eat dinner in and walked a few doors down from the Moda hotel to Nesters Market where they have a good selection of freshly prepared foods. I'm making it an early night as I have a flight in the morning. I was very impressed with Vancouver in general and everyone who lives here seems to love it. It will be interesting to see how the city handles the Olympics in February of 2010 and fun for me to recognize all the places I visited during this weekend.
Read more about Eric Kunze at his fansite:

Monday, October 05, 2009

New YouTube of Horst and Gernot Bike Twins

This is a wonderful YouTube of my awesome biking cousins from Austria in their latest exploit: bike/hiking from the lowest point in the continental US to the highest (Death Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney in California). If you look real carefully and don't blink you will see me in the support vehicle for a split second. Make sure your sound is on, the music is awesome. Video was done by part of the support team, Joerg Krasser:

For more, see my blog for them at,

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A tale of two trips: Bike Twins and Eric Kunze in one trip out west

Part One: Lone Pine, California

My Austrian cousins Horst and Gernot Turnowsky were doing a monumental bike/hike of Death Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney in California on September 24th. Since I do a blog for them I was very eager to see them do one of these rides firsthand. Their visit to the States provided the perfect opportunity. Cooincidentally, Eric Kunze, a Broadway actor whose blog I also maintain, was going to be performing in the same part of the US the same weekend. Serendipity!

First came the bike ride/climb. After flying into Las Vegas and picking up my rental car, I left the airport at 5pm. I had a 5-1/2 hour drive ahead of me through the pitch dark desert. I have really never had the experience of driving that long by myself without seeing any signs of life; very few other cars, no houses, no place to eat or go to the bathroom. Occasionally a jack rabbit would dart out in front of my car, which caused me to jump sky high. Having books on tape and CDs to listen to were a Godsend. I arrived in Lone Pine and checked into the Dow Villa Motel at 11:30pm. It is a historic hotel which has housed many stars during the heyday of Hollywood westerns. John Wayne has reputed slept here many times and there are many pictures of him and other stars of that era all over the hotel. Due to it's proximity to the mountains it was fully booked every night with climbers.

The next morning a meeting was held by Horst, Gernot and the support team to assign duties for the ride that night. It was then that I realized I would be going along in one of the support vehicles for the next 12 overnight hours to share driving responsibilities and help them with food and drink. The team consisted of their sponsor, Wolfgang, and his assistant Daniella, the videographer Jurg and his wife Silvia, their photographer Richard, fellow climber Hermann, businessman Jay and myself. We would have two vehicles, one holding the photographers and Jay, the other vehicle held Wolfgang, Daniella and myself. Silvia and Hermann would meet on them on the mountain the next day.

During the day I took the opportunity to visit a historical site nearby, Manzanar, a War Relocation Center, used to house 110,000 Japanese during WWII. The subject was of interest to me because when my parents and I emigrated to the US we lived at Seabrook Farms in New Jersey and my parents worked a year for Mr. Seabrook to pay for their passage to the States. The same owner brought in many Japanese from these camps to work at his farms and factories as well. I remember many Japanese children in the nursery school I attended at the time.

We left the hotel in a caravan at 7:00 pm on Thursday, September 25th. It was a 2-1/2 hour drive from Lone Pine to Badwater, the starting point of the ride. By the time we got there it was pitch dark. Horst and Gernot got their bikes out and began assembly and preparations for their journey. Jurg recorded the entire proceedings with a fur-covered boom microphone and his video camera, while Richard took digital photos. The twins were nervous, full of energy, like race horses straining at the gate.

Before we knew it we were off, Horst and Gernot leading the way in the darkness, followed closely by our vehicle, driven by Wolfgang who followed within a few feet in order to provide light to guide the twins along the dark and curvy road. The second vehicle, driven by Jay, darted around us as Jurg scouted positions with which to chronicle the ride on his video. Occasionally, he would hang out the window and nearly scrape the ground. One time we were shocked to see the light of his camera on top of a nearby cliff where he was attempting to get yet another perspective of the long ride. I was amazed that Horst and Gernot pedaled steadily for almost 10 hours straight, whether the road was on an incline or decline. They pedaled through the night stopping only to relieve themselves or for the occasional snack. Daniella and I, in the support vehicle watched their every movement waiting for a signal that they needed something to eat or drink. We'd pull up alongside and hand it out to them, without them missing a beat in their rhythm. I think we were more tired in the support vehicles than they were doing the actual work. I was in awe of their physical prowess.

The altitude changed from 440 feet below sea level to over 4,000 feet above sea level by the way we got back to the motel for their breakfast break. Sometimes the road would dip down 1000 feet and then back up again. They dropped me off at the motel so I could sleep, after having been on the road in the support car for 12 hours. But Horst and Gernot continued on, back on their bikes for another 1-1/2 steep hours to the Mt. Whitney portal, before beginning the hike portion of the trip to the summit. There they shed their bikes, changed into their hiking gear and forged on for another 6 hours of climbing, reaching the summit 19 hours after starting in Badwater. They spent some time on the summit and began their descent just as dusk began to settle upon them. They arrived at the Whitney Portal in darkness to be greated by the rest of their support team. Next year their goals are to bike/climb nonstop the highest peak in South America, Aconcagua, and the highest on the North American continent, McKinley in Alaska.
Here is the blog for the Bike Twins:
For a slideshow of the complete bike ride from start to finish:

Part Two: Lake Havasu City, Arizona

Part two of my trip was driving to Arizona from Lone Pine to catch a performance of "Window Pains", a Broadway review of songs and dialogue put together by Eric and his musical partner Gina. After arriving back at the Dow Villa Motel at 7am I tried to catch a few hours sleep before checking out at noon. I don't think I was very successful, as impressions of the incredible night and thoughts about Horst and Gernot forging onward up the mountain floated in and out of my mind. At noon I headed out for another 5-1/2 hour drive through the desert. At least it was during the daylight hours. Driving was easier because of that, as well as the scenery of the desert along the way. I stopped often to take a photo of the colorful rock formations.

My hotel was the London Bridge Resort in Havasu, Arizona, so named because it is next to the actual London Bridge, originally built in 1831. The bridge was sold to a land developer in Arizona, dismantled, shipped and rebuilt in Lake Havasu City in 1971. As you walk into the lobby of the resort, an enormous gold gilded carriage straight out of a fairy tale greets you. Constructed from paper mache, it is an exact replica of the Queen of England’s carriage. I went out for dinner and straight to bed, finally getting my first good night's sleep in a few days.

I arrived at Grace Arts Theater early the next evening to take photos and participate in the pre-show festivities. Grace Ann was one of Eric and Gina's first mentors in San Diego, California, when they were in eighth grade. She still mentors young people today in Lake Havasu when she runs the theater and a school for young actors. The gala was to benefit both these ventures and it was fitting Eric and Gina were there to kick off the season. I had my usual front row seat for the performance and enjoy being within "spitting distance" of the stage. The show was very interesting, something I had not seen before; two couples, one older, one younger presenting little vignettes with song and dialogue, woven together in two parallel story lines presenting love and loss. The show was very well received and I could hear people remarking "that was great" on the way out.

I had a nice time afterward visiting with Eric, Grace and Gina and got back to the hotel about midnight. I had to leave the hotel at 3am to drive back to the Las Vegas airport, so I had already packed earlier in the day and tried to get a few winks, but to no avail. The music was rolling in my head. So this would be my second sleepless night in three days. The 2-1/2 hour drive back was not so bad, thanks to my trusty GPS, my CD's and Pringles potato chips.

Looking back at the last five days, from Wednesday to Sunday I missed two nights sleep and spent 22-1/2 hours in the car. Was it worth it? What do you think? My friends would call that "pulling a Margaret". So be it! On to the next adventure!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Musical Weekend in Montreal

We had a chance to visit Montreal for a concert, "Voices For Hope" in which Eric Kunze and Gina DeLuca would be performing. 

Our trip was mostly for the concert, but we did take a side trip to the Botanical Gardens to see the Magic of Lanterns at the Chinese Garden.  Even before it got dark the colorful exhibits were awe-inspiring. A woman, Shen Qi, was playing "Scarborough Fair" on the Chinese violin. The peaceful gardens, combined with the music wafting through the air was magical. I purchased one of her CDs. As we wandered through the other gardens we spotted the flash of a red tail and to our shock and surprise a beautiful fox loped jauntily past us and disappeared in the bushes. We could hardly believe what we had seen, but later, in the Japanese Garden, it ran toward us again. This time, my husband was fortunate to get it on film.

Our hotel, the Auberge Bonaparte, where we enjoyed a lovely group dinner on Saturday night.

One evening we all had wine up on the hotel's rooftop terrace, where there is a small area with chairs and a table for intimate gatherings overlooking Basilica Notre Dame and the lights of the city. Bonaparte's, the hotel restaurant, was superb. Our room price included a cooked to order breakfast each morning, which was a huge value. Again, reminiscent of France, we had fresh croissants, a beautiful little fruit salad, yogurt, omelets or any other type of eggs, among other items. Our dinner the evening after the gardens was a group affair. We had a table in the back room in the corner where we could visit undisturbed and we sat and ate and drank for hours. The menu had variety and was superb. Best of all the prixe fixe was really reasonable.

Here are some photos of our weekend in Montreal. For more on Eric and the Voices for Hope concert and photos of the rehearsal of the concert, see

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Julia Child I'm Not (Making Her Boeuf Bourguignon)

Made a triple batch of Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon yesterday for company. Who was it that said never try a new recipe when having guests? I started at noon and almost ran out of time when they walked in a 6:00. The recipe is just so CUMBERSOME. I was flipping back and forth between the pages trying to figure out what she meant. And I was amazed at all the (I think) unnecessary steps. Case in point:

Simmer lardons of bacon and rind, drain and dry. Then FRY the bacon, set aside.

Dry the beef (OK, I'll concede this is necessary in order for it to brown better) and sear carefully on all sides being careful not to crowd the chunks in the pan. (this takes OH SO LONG and when finished my stovetop is swimming in grease and spatters.)

Brown the sliced vegetables. (Flipping back and forth amongst three pages..wait, which vegetables? The pearl onions? The mushrooms? No, those come later.)
Then beef and bacon go in a casserole in the oven for 4 minutes, then stir and back in for 4 more minutes.

Stir in the wine and stock, etc., but now it goes ON THE STOVE to simmer.

Now it comes off the stove and goes BACK into the oven.

Then saute the pearl onions (which have taken me 20 minutes to peel)
Add stock and braise the onions for 30 minutes.

Saute mushrooms in YET another pan.

Clean stove AGAIN. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

In the end, my guests pronounced the dish delicious and a success, but I had to wonder if they wouldn't have been just as happy with a perfectly grilled piece of salmon and a salad. It would have taken me 1/2 hour as opposed to 5 hours and we would probably been healthier to boot.

Sorry Julia!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Interview with Eric and Video Clips of "Godspell" at the Muny in St. Louis

Here is a little of what we saw last weekend:
(You'll have to wait through the commercial)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Europe 2009: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, May 17 - 19, Paris

When it was time to drive from Chenonceaux to Paris we were nervous that the local gas station wouldn't accept our American Express card, but the Total station near the inn did accept it and we were on our way. During the drive we ran totally out of money and had to get off the toll road and use side roads the final leg of the journey.

This was my third visit to Paris and each visit I love it more. After much deliberation we had opted for the Hotel Muguet in the 7th arrondissment. It was a modest accomodation within our price range. Extremely small rooms, as is the norm, but adequate. Scratchy blanket and lumpy, tiny pillows I did not appreciate. But the rest of the hotel was OK. The location was good, as Rue Cler was a five minute walk and the Eiffel Tower a 15 minute walk.
After arrival and check-in we began our quest for a restaurant that would accept American Express: not an easy task. I canvassed almost all the restaurants on Rue Cler and only found one: Cafe Central. So that is where we had an al fresco dinner. It was surprisingly good. My husband loves creme brulee and they made an excellent one. I wanted to walk to the Eiffel Tower to see it lit up at night and dragged my companions with me. They were tired, but the fatigue vanished when we stood under the brilliantly lit tower. Then suddenly all the lights started flashing. At that very moment I noticed a couple nearby. The young man was on bended knee in front of his girlfriend. He extended a small box to her and the next moment she flew into his arms and they kissed and hugged for a long time. Later I observed what looked to be his or her parents photographing them with the tower in the background.

The next day Mary and I took the Metro to Notre Dame and just happened to be there in time for their evensong service, so we took our seats near the front and participated in the service, trying to sing the hymns in French. The incense produced an otherworldly fog around us. A wonderful young cantor's tenor voice echoed to the rafters. Mary translated some of the liturgy for me and it was very beautiful and worshipful. It was such a different experience from just walking around looking at the statues. We seem to be very lucky at falling into the right place at the right times!

We had lunch that day at Le Florimond, a restaurant that had been highly recommended to me on a travel forum. This may have turned out to be my favorite place to eat in the entire world! They were completely full when we got there but a table soon opened up and we were seated. The menu was fresh and inventive and every bite was sublime. Better yet, the price was extremely reasonable for the quality of the food. Even better was the owner Laurent, who bustled about making sure everything was perfect. I had introduced myself to him at the beginning of our meal and he remembered our names and used them frequently, calling me "Mar - ga - ret!" He was so genuinely warm that you had the feeling of being a guest in someone's home and you wanted to hang around all afternoon. I've been married for 39 years and this was the first time I heard my husband say, "let's come back again for dinner". He is easy going but not easily impressed. We asked Laurent, who was pleased we wanted to come back the same day, but initially I could see he was thinking how he could fit us in. He smiled and said "of course!" When we got there that night I just knew he squeezed in one more small table because the place was packed.

The atmosphere was warm and convivial. I have learned from my own party giving that the more crowded it is, the more fun people have. There is no room for shyness when you are elbow to elbow. Everyone in the room was friendly with one another. Laurent was bustling about making sure everyone was taken care of, with the help of his one waitstaff, Benedette. Pascal, the co-owner and chef was in the kitchen. Laurent said he would be out later to meet us.

Once again the fixed price menu was sublime. We relaxed, took our time and savored every bite. At 10:30 Pascal came out of the kitchen and came to every table to greet the guests. He was so pleased to hear we had been there twice in one day. Later, when we rose to leave, Laurent called to Benedette and Pascal to come over and say goodbye to us. We received hugs and two-cheek kisses from each of them along with their well wishes for our journey home. I've never experience that in a restaurant before. What an extraordinary experience!

Our last day was on a Tuesday. This was my third trip to Paris and I had never had the chance to visit the Louvre. It was my intention to go today. Alas, they were closed on Tuesdays! Instead, we went to the Rodin gardens and museums. What a happy choice that was. It was so nice to be outside in the gorgeous gardens which were filled with Rodin's sculptures, not the least of which is the famous "Thinker" with the Eiffel Tower and Invalides in the background. The museum was good too, but I'd be content to spend one euro and just go to the gardens every day.

That evening we did some last minute souvenir shopping on Ile Saint Louis. We found out that there were more shops here that accepted American Express than in the Rue Cler area. I was told not too many places took that credit card because they charged more fees. We were considering two places for dinner: Le Caveau de L'Isle, which looked very charming with its open windows to the street, and a place which had been recommended to us by friends, Nos Ancetres le Galois. We checked out Nos Ancetres but in the end chose Le Caveau. The food was just OK. The decor and setting was nice however. Nothing could compare to our experience at Le Florimond.

After dinner, again our timing was perfect as we strolled over the bridge and the sun was just setting behind Notre Dame. We took the stairs down to the Seine and strolled at the water's edge. We were not alone in appreciating the ambiance. Students, lovers, old couples were sitting at the water's edge with drinks and picnic dinners while the strains of a lone saxophone wafted through the air. Bateaux Mouches drifted by, some packed with crowds of people, others were more elegant with individual dining tables and flickering candles. As the color of the sky turned pink and then purple and the silhouette of Notre Dame darkened I wished we could spend another week in Paris. Alas, we had to leave in the morning. I know there is another trip to Paris in my future. Maybe next time I will make it to the Louvre!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Europe 2009: Saturday, May 16th, Chenonceaux

We were checking out the next day and had one night to fill before our reservations in Paris. I am a copious advance planner, but we had deliberately left this one day open for a last minute decision. We wanted something to break up the long drive to Paris. We decided we were in the mood for a castle and started researching on the computer which castles were on our way to Paris. We finally decided on Chenonceaux and started looking for accomodations in the area. We found the most picturesque and delightful inn, called Le Bon Laboureur, which was a ten minute walk from the castle. It even had a one Michelin star restaurant on the premises. Luckily they took American Express, which was the one credit card we had left that had not been stolen. It was in my husbands name only and I didn't have to cancel that one.

We drove about three and a half hours to get there. The Loire Valley enchanted us. Every turn in the road produced picture worthy vistas. Le Bon Laboureur did not disappoint. The service was impeccable the premises were charming. That evening we dined in the restaurant. Our second best dining experience of the trip. They two different prix fixe menus. We chose the cheaper of the two: 48Euros for four courses (which was really 6 courses, including the amuse bouche and palate cleanser). Each dish as it came was perfect and sublime. It was the perfect antidote to our horrible experience of the last few days. As my girlfriend said: "We suffer well."

The next morning we walked over to Chenonceaux. They did't take American Express. (This was a foreshadowing of the problem we were to encounter in the next days. Very few places accepted American Express.) We needed to conserve the few euros we had left for tolls and incidentals in the next days. But we just couldn't leave without seeing the castle, so we paid the 10 euros each in cash. What a gorgeous place it was! I couldn't stop taking photos. The fresh flower arrangements in each of the rooms were breathtaking. It made me want to do a castle tour of France.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Europe 2009: Thursday, May 14th, Dune Du Pilat and a Robbery

Friday we visited the Dune du Pilat, the biggest sand dune in Europe at 100 to 117 meters high. This is where we made a fatal mistake that would color the rest of our trip. There is a gated parking lot at this popular tourist attraction where we parked, locked the car and started for the dune. We took the steep stairway all the way to the top for a fabulous view of the ocean and surrounding area. It was windy and we got a free facial in the process. It is definitely worth the visit.

When we got back to the car, we were standing there chatting and as I glanced at our vehicle I noted, incredulously, that our back window was smashed. I could hardly believe my eyes. First I thought we were at the wrong car, and slowly it began to sink in that we had been robbed. I can't describe the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I remembered the conversation we had when we left the car, whether we should take our backpacks and purses on the climb. We had opted to leave them stashed under the seats. The realization sunk in that we had stupidly left all our money, passports, credit cards and cell phones in the car and now all were gone. We only had what my husband had in his wallet. I am so embarrassed to write this and I am only doing it so that others might not make the same mistake.

Our next stop was NOT a tourist attraction: the police station. I was so grateful to have my French speaking friend along! It took hours and hours to fill out police reports and call credit card companies to cancel the cards and try to make arrangements for more money. Thank God we were in an apartment with internet and free phone calls! I can't imagine trying to use public pay phones during this process. But what an eye-opener. Each of the credit card companies were so "sorry" about what had happened to us. My Mastercard company promised to wire me money to the local Western Union. They also took the address of our next location, a hotel in Paris, so they could send me an emergency card. That was lovely, EXCEPT the money did not arrive at Western Union, nor did the card arrive at the hotel in Paris. When I called back, they were very apologetic again, but could not tell me when or where the card had been sent or why I couldn't get the money at Western Union. I can't tell you how frustrating this all was. Then I called the US Consulate in Bordeaux and in Paris to find out what to do about our passports. I got only recordings, even when you push the option for emergencies. I realize now in retrospect that a stolen passport is not an emergency for them, but it certainly was for us at the time. I did finally get a call back from the Bordeaux consulate. We had to go to Paris to get replacement passports. Luckily we were headed there anyway the next day.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Europe 2009: Monday, May 11th, Arcachon, France

On Sunday, after a celebration breakfast with Mogens and Jane Ellen's friends and family, we took the train from Nykobing to Kopenhagen. Then Mary, Georg and I flew to Paris, arrived about 8:30pm and picked up our rental car. Instead of paying for a hotel for the night we opted to drive straight through to Arcachon: about a 6 hour drive. We were lucky to get a roomy VW station wagon, which gave Mary plenty of room in the back seat and room for our luggage as well. Georg was a machine; he drove the whole way, while Mary and I took turns falling asleep. We arrived at our apartment in the dark, about 5:30 in the morning. It took us awhile to find the right building. A man was walking his little dog and let me in his building. We searched for awhile before realizing it wasn't our building. Eventually we figured out it was next door. We looked everything over quickly before collapsing into our beds.

We are in the south of France on the Atlantic in a beautiful resort town called Arcachon. There are miles of beaches, bike paths and walking paths. The region is known for its oyster farming and wood manufacturing. We are renting an apartment three blocks from the beach and within walking distance of lots of great shopping and eating. We have two bedrooms, Mary in one and Georg and I in the other, a living room, dining area, kitchen and two bathrooms. The best part is the wrap-around balcony from which we have a birdseye view of the neighborhood, since we are on the top floor.

Pictures of our apartment in Arcachon:

This casino is just two blocks away, right on the beach:

We arrived in Paris from Copenhagen later that night. I had booked a cheap inter-Europe flight on SAS. It was about $120 one way. That was cheaper and much faster than if we had tried to do the train. We were proceeding on to Arcachon in the south of France where we had rented an apartment for a week. I had agonized over how to get to Arcachon: there was no train that late. Should we pay for a hotel for one night only to leave in the morning, or should we rent a car and drive through the night to get to our destination where our accomodations were already paid for? We opted to drive through the night. We picked up our rental car at the airport through Europcar. We got a Volkswagen Passat, which was like a station wagon. Yay! There were three of us with LOTS of luggage, so we had plenty of room. We had brought a GPS from home, which proved to be a huge help getting around.

Once we got out of the city (which took awhile) we were thirsty and famished, so I'm ashamed to say our first meal in France - the land of the best food on the planet - was at McDonalds. The route down to Arcachon was on toll roads but very easy to drive. Kudos to my husband, who was our chauffeur, for staying awake. My girlfriend and I kept falling asleep out of exhaustion. We arrived at our apartment at 4:30 in the morning and slept well into the day.

I had found the apartment through VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner). It was a two bedroom unit on the top floor of the building. The balconies provided us with a view of the surrounding area and we enjoyed our first breakfast there. The apartment owner (an American who lives in Toledo, Ohio) also supplied free internet, a laptop, free calling anywhere in the world and bikes for us to ride. The rental was only $700 for the week.

We loved Arcachon! It's a resort town right on the Atlantic ocean. There is a boardwalk where you can ride your bike along the water for miles and miles. There are fabulous restaurants and shops. And the architecture is some of the most interesting I've seen. Each home has a name plaque on the front. We all fell in love with the area and purposed to return in the future for a longer vacation. We visited the grocery store to stock up on food for the week. I brought home speckled quail eggs (quail eggs at the supermarket!), lovely cheeses, chocolate croissants, beautiful lunch meats. I was in heaven. Later in the week we visited the farmer's market next to the train station, which was foodie heaven.

The area is known for its oyster farms, so we headed to the port for a visit. The water's edge is lined with the colorful shacks of different commercial oyster purveyors. There are several shacks where you can sit down and taste the oysters, which we did. The owner served us a dozen freshly shucked oysters, bread and glasses of wine for a grand total of about $12. What a great experience! Later that evening we had dinner at Le Cabestan. Wow. One of the highlights of our dining experiences on this trip. It was just around the corner from our apartment. If I lived there this would be a weekly visit. Fresh food, great service and reasonably priced.

This is more information on the region:
The Arcachon Bassin
The Bassin d'Arcachon is like an inland sea and is Europe's largest beach with sunbathers drawn to the peaceful shores and calm seas. All round the bay are beautiful beaches, little fishing and holiday villages, campsites, dunes and pine forests. Watersports enthusiasts can enjoy diving, sea-kayaking, windsurfing and boating and on land there are quality walking and cycle trails for exploring the woodland areas. This region is a centre for oyster farming and each summer it celebrates the Oyster Festival, with tasting sessions, fêtes, music, dinner dances and firework displays to light up the bay in true Gironde festive tradition.
The bay is also a natural home for birds, especially L'île aux oiseau - a fragile, protected island in the bay which is a refuge for dozens of species of sea birds and home to oyster farms and the picturesque cabanes tchanquées (huts perched on stilts).

A beach resort located about 60 kilometres southwest of Bordeaux on the southern shore of the Bassin d’Arcachon, Arcachon is one of Gironde’s oldest seaside towns. The Ville d’Ete, or “Summer Town” has wonderful beaches for swimming, sunbathing and watersports, a pretty seafront promenade, playgrounds, boutique shopping and plenty of seafood restaurants. Arcachon’s exclusive Ville d’Hiver or “Winter Town” just south of the “Summer Town” offers a totally different vista. Set on a wooded hillside, the Second Empire holiday villas built at the end of the nineteenth century, are delightful with their wealth of elaborate brickwork, flamboyant balconies and stained glass. Today, the attractions of Arcachon are seafood (especially oysters), beautiful long sandy beaches, pleasure boating, excellent golf courses, great weather and the amazing Dune du Pyla.
Dune du Pyla
Europe’s highest sand dune at 117 metres, the Dune du Pyla begins 8 kilometres south of Arcachon and stretches for almost 3 kilometres. It is thought to have started forming some 8000 years ago reaching its present size in the 17th. century. It is constantly moving and every year it moves a little more inland. The steep climb to the top is well worth the magnificent view and a favourite launch point for sand-boarders and paragliders. To the west are the shoals at the mouth of the Bassin d'Arcachon and Cap Ferret. Eastwards stretches the magnificent dense pine forests of the Landes.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Europe 2009: Saturday, May 9th, Nykobing

The next day we traveled by train to Nykobing for a 25th anniversary party: the real reason we were in Denmark in the first place. What a privilege to be let in on such a special event. The Danes take their life milestones very seriously. They are steeped in tradition. The friends of the couple construct and decorate an archway with their names on it and spray paint their shoes silver (for the 25th) and put them at the base. At the formal dinner friends and family take turns standing and speaking to the couple directly, followed by a toast. People might share a song (their little granddaughter sang) or recite a poem for them. It was a long evening that began with dinner followed by dancing and a midnight buffet. I was impressed by how courteous everyone was. As the evening began each person that entered the room made the rounds and greeted and/or introduced themselves to everyone else already there. They made sure to say goodbye to everyone as they left as well. Also, we learned when toasting with people it is important to make eye contact with them as you lift your glass (you don't "clink").

We fell exhausted into our beds. The next morning everyone met again for a breakfast. Later that day, we caught the train for the Copenhagen airport.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Europe 2009: Thursday, May 7th, Copenhagen

We took the train from Kassel to Copenhagen. It was fascinating to see the train pull onto the ferry. We had to disembark and wait upstairs in the ferry during the crossing. It was huge! Several restaurants, a smoking lounge and a duty free shop. When we arrived at our Copenhagen hotel we had dinner with friends and strolled around Tivoli, a 160 year old amusement park beautifully lit and awash in gorgeous tulip gardens.

Our hotel was the Best Western Hebron. Our friends chose it for us because it was within walking distance from the train station and close to Tivoli. The rooms were miniscule and the decor very dated, but on the positive side they had a very nice breakfast and a comfortable sitting lounge with free coffee/espresso machine where my girlfriend and I played Scrabble. It was next to a strip club, but it wasn't a "bad" neighborhood, imo. The hotel was expensive, compared to the beautiful Novotel in Munich. I did enjoy walking each morning in the area. I would walk to a series of lakes/ponds near the planetarium. Lots of people were out jogging, walking and biking. You could rent a bike by putting coins in the bike stand and then drop the bike at another bike stand to get your coin back, kind of like the shopping carts here at home at Aldi.

We ate at A Hereford Beefstouw, close to Tivoli. They specialize in beef, as you can see from the name. And it was very good indeed. It is served on extremely hot plates with your choice of potato. The salad bar was a hit with some of our friends. You would fill out your order on a list and hand it to the waitstaff. I was fascinated by our tables which were made of butcher block and had a pen attached by a string and a hook with a kitchen towel as a napkin. Afterward, we walked from the restaurant right into Tivoli, awash with gorgeous tulips and spring flowers. A concert band played in the bandshell. The park was lit up like a Christmas tree. We stopped for drinks in one of the many bars and restaurants.

The next day we watched the changing of the guard at the Queen's palace and took a canal boat tour. This was the best way to see all the fascinating architecture if you only have a short time in Copenhagen. It takes you past all the sights, including the Little Mermaid and the former residence of Hans Christian Anderson. The Danish stock exchange building was the most interesting. The spire was made up of the intertwined tails of dragons.

We lunched at Cafe Sorgenfrei. This place is always packed, but our Danish friend managed to make reservations for all of us. Traditional Danish fare consisting of herring, a kind of meatloaf, cabbage, shrimp and a lot of other things which I can't remember anymore. They bring platters of many types of food to the table and there are stands which elevate the platter so everyone can reach it. And, of course, aquavit (water of life), made from potatoes and flavored with caraway