August 14, 2005

Europe 2005

Our last trip to Europe was about two years ago when we visited Italy with our friends the Morris' and Houstons. Last year they asked Julie to plan another trip to Europe because if she didn't, they would not get there again. So Julie got to work.

This year's trip included London (with the Morris'), then Barcelona with the Morris', Houstons, AND Moreheads. Then up to the South of France (no Moreheads there!). Here are the details....

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July 30 to 31 -- San Francisco to London
Uneventful, albeit long, flights to London. Because we were using United frequent flier miles Julie and Patrick were on one flight while Brian and Christopher were on an earlier flight. The Heathrow Express worked great to get from Heathrow to Paddington. From there quick cab rides took us to our hotel, The London Marriott County Hall.

The location of the hotel was almost perfect. The London Eye was right next door, Big Ben and Parliament were just across the Thames. Our room had a great view. Christopher and Brian did the London Eye while waiting for the room to be ready. When Julie and Patrick arrived, it was another trip on the London Eye. Not everyone does it twice in one day, but Christopher LOVED IT!!!

Then it was a river tour up and down the Thames. This was just the sort of passive/active activity that we needed to help adjust to the time change. (OK, it wasn't active enough for Patrick who slept for most of it.)

August 1 -- London

The alarm went off at 7:30 and Brian did the reasonable thing--he shut it off and fell back to sleep. Luckily Christopher woke up to the chimes of Big Ben at 8:00. We actually got moving pretty quickly and caught a cab to our first sight of the day, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum.

Brian was not looking forward to this as he felt it was a ripoff and a waste of money, but Patrick insisted (and was right). We had a blast being photographed with stars and historical figures.

We then headed off to Kings Cross train station and Platform 9 3/4 of Harry Potter fame. This station was also the site of one of the London bombings three weeks earlier, but Christopher REALLY wanted to do this. Surprisingly, they actually have Platform 9 3/4. Lots of fun! On a more somber note there was a memorial to the victims of one of the July 7 bombings.

We then walked towards the British Museum , just meandering through streets in the general direction of the museum. We came upon Russell Square, a charming park with a small outdoor restaurant. We ate lunch there, then walked through another bombing memorial, this time summertime the victims of the Tavistock Square bus bombing.

We finally made it to the British Museum. Our primary objective there was seeing the Rosetta Stone which was something. But the unexpected treat was the stumbling on The Kings Library. This library was originally donated by King George III and has been fully restored. A great place to just wander through, filled with all sorts of collections from The Age of Enlightenment.

From the British Museum we stopped for ice cream in Covent Gardens, then walked to Piccadilly Circus. We continued to walk towards our hotel, spending time exploring St Martin in the Fields and the cool flea market on its grounds. We walked through Trafalgar Square and the kids climbed up on one of the lions for their picture. We ended up in front of Buckingham Palace. There the boys had their picture taken with the palace guards in the background.

Across from awesomeness Abbey was a very large protest to the Iraq , similar to the ongoing protest across form the White House. Obviously not everyone in the UK support war--got love the British!

That night we had dinner with the Morris' at an Italian restaurant near our hotel. Brings cell phone rang during the meal. Turns out it was a Vis security guard wanting him to sign someone in to the building. Needless to say he couldn't do it as he was 6,000 miles away!

August 2 -- London
This morning we took a taxi to the Tower of London. We got there early, about 10 a.m. , so there were no lines. Julie and Brian had been to the Tower before, about 17 years ago and had vivid memories of the Crown Jewels. Either time made our memories more vivid, or they have removed some of them. Quite frankly, we were a little disappointed. But the Tower is a great place to visit and just explore.

The highlight for Patrick was in Beauchamp Tower. In one of the rooms there are carvings that prisoners made. Patrick found the one for Thomas Pooper (although we later found out the last name was Rooper). He took several photos of this carving.

As we were wandering through the White Tower Julie walked over and glanced out the window. There below us standing in a large crowd was the Morris family. So we called them on their cell to watch their confusion when they couldn't see us, but we could see them. (Julie and Brian grew up making fun of tourists and it shows!)

We left the Morris' to discover the Crown Jewels on their own and crossed over the Tower Bridge to meet Brian's cousins, Nigel, Faye, Colin, and Lucy (a new baby). We ate lunch outside at Cafe Rouge and had a wonderful time. After lunch we trekked over to Saint Paul's. Nigel entertained us while we walked with his memories of working in the area in the 60's and early 70's.

They left us when we started talking about climbing to the top of the dome. Christopher loves "going to the top" and has been to the top of St Peter's in Rome, San Marco in Venice, the Campanile in Florence, The World Trade Center and Empire State Building in NYC. So he had to go to the top of St Paul's, and we did--all 552 steps--no elevators!

We then walked across the Millenium Bridge and headed to the Tower Bridge. An elevator takes you to the top where you are able to walk between each tower on an enclosed catwalk. After enjoying the views we watch a short film on its construction. At the base of the bridge is the engine room where they have restored the steam engines that used to provide the lifting power for the bridge. It is a great example of Industrial revolution design.

In front of our hotel there were four trampolines with tall sets of poles above them. Attached to the poles were bungee cords and attached to the bungee cords is "the rider". Christopher announced that he wanted to do "the jumping thing". So out we went, paid the 6 pounds, and off he jumped. At times he was 25 feet in the air with Big Ben and the setting sun behind him. Asked how he liked it, he said "It Rocked!"

August 3 -- London to Barcelona
We had a great time in London and saw lots of sights. It is a very easy city to do with kids. But it is expensive!

In the morning we took a cab to Paddington and boarded the Heathrow Express to the airport. We arrived in plenty of time for our Iberia Airways flight to Barcelona. We also met up with the Morris family as they were on our flight.

The flight to Barcelona is not quite two hours. We arrived in Terminal B and cleared immigration. Most of us needed to use the restroom as well. When everyone was done we followed Emily through the one way revolving door to baggage claim. After looking for our flight at baggage carousels and not seeing it we asked an Iberia agent. Turns out our bags were in Terminal A! So we trudged off, all eight of us, to Terminal A.

We get there and find out we can't just go to baggage claim, we need to go through security. So we leave Suzanne with some of the kids and all of the carry ons so we could quickly get through security. It must happen all of the time because we were able to use our London to Barcelona boarding pass stubs to get through. Fifteen minutes later we were all back together with all of our bags.

It was about a 30 minute cab ride from the airport to our apartment, located just off the Ramblas on Calle Ferran. There are nine apartments in the building of which we had four. It was like The Village moved to Barcelona with the Hamiltons, Morris', Houstons and Moreheads. The Morris' had the best apartment because they had a large private courtyard with an outdoor table. We ended up drinking and noshing a lot around that table. Brian brought a small set of portable speakers for his MP3 player so their place was Party Central.

(For whatever reason there are several Irish pubs in Barcelona--ALL located just below our apartments. So we did occasionally wake up to drinking songs being sung loudly at 5:30am. On the other hand, the apartments were very clean and well designed. The location was central and the price was reasonable. Plus, Julie had brought a bag ear plugs.)

Just across the street was the entrance to Placa Reial. We found a small bar in the shade and all of us were eating tapas and drinking beer and sangria. We spent several hours there catching up on everyone's travels and experiences. That night we went wandering for a restaurant and found one that had pretty good paella.

That night we were so tired that we didn't have too much problem falling, or staying, asleep.

August 4 -- Barcelona
We woke up this morning and a few of us walked up the Ramblas. The Ramblas is a boulevard that stretched from the harbor well into the city. While there is basically only one lane in each direction, the charm of las Rambla is the wide, tree-lined pedestrian mall down the center. Street artists of all sorts and abilities perform for passerbys; everything from musicians, jugglers, and "human statues" vie for your attention and an occasional euro.

Our destination was Sagrada Familia, the Antoni Gaudi designed church. After a bit of meandering we got there, just after the others arrived by cabs. The church has been under construction since 1882 and still has another 30 or so years until it is complete (Christopher announced that he wants to be there for the opening and will bring along Brian and Julie). There are two distinct facades to the Sagrada, the Nativity facade has fluid lines, almost like melted wax. The Glory facade is angular in its lines.

There are spires that rise up from the church and seeing that we had Christopher with us, "we went up". Tiny, crowded steps in the heat made it seem more like a mini-pilgrimage. (The Moreheads and Christine's mother waited and waited in the slow-moving elevator line to get to the same spots.) Being up among the spires was a real kick. Small windows allowed you to get glimpses of views, both near and far. At one point you walk along a bridge between two of the towers. All of it was definitely worthwhile.

From there our group, about 15 of us at the time, kind of took over the sidewalk tables at a nearby restaurant. For whatever reason the Moreheads ended up at the "kids table". So while CB, Damian, Suzanne and Julie were enjoying beers and sandwiches, the Moreheads were translating menus for kids. Oh well.....

We cabbed it up to another Gaudi project, Parc Guell. Built on a hillside, this park is quite unique. A fountain greets visitors and provides a great place for a group picture. At the top of the steps is a covered plaza with unique columns. On top of that is a large outdoor plaza with mosaic benches and stupendous views of Barcelona. When we to that level we caught the end of some jazz musicians showing off their stuff. It is a great place to spend some time.

From there we cabbed it down to the top of the Passeig de GrÃcia to walk past the various Gaudi designed buildings. The sidewalks of this street are covered with pavers that were designed by Gaudi. These same tiles cover much of the floors of Casa Battlo. This city oozes with Gaudi's influence in all sorts of ways. We walked down the avenue and stopped at Placa Catalunya for Pat to take pictures of the kids.

Dinner tonight was at an Italian restaurant at Placa del Pi in the Barrio Gottic. Good food reasonably priced. After dinner we left the kids at the apartments and walked the Ramplas. Pat listened practically alone to a duo playing flamenco guitar while a huge crowd surrounded some break dancers.

A little farther down we found a outdoor cafe for desert. Anna, Pat, and Suzanne drank champagne. They joined Brian smoking some Cuban cigars. Everyone else ordered deserts of one type or another. By midnight we were done and headed back to the apartments.

August 5 -- Barcelona
This morning we got up early and walked to the Gaudi Museum in one of the apartment buildings he designed around the turn of the century. He designed everything in the building, even down to the hinges and knobs on the cabinets. The most distinctive element was the way natural light reaches into the building, even in the interior.

After lunch we walked and shopped in the Old Gotic. The walls of the original city were built in the first to fourth centuries AD. This is a great area to walk around and wander. We roamed around the cathedral and its peaceful inner courtyards.

Julie had arranged for a group visit to the Picasso Museum. The museum is located in a collection of very old mansions. Julie had been there before and knew this one room that had Picasso's interpretation of Los Meninanas by Velasquez. There were about 15 of them and she got the kids to find the different people from the original in Picasso's versions. The museum covered his early years through his early cubism.

In the late afternoon we were again sitting on a Placa drinking beer and sangria (the adults), ice cream and cokes (the kids). We spent hours figuring out what to do for dinner that night. We eventually decided that we would get pizza for the kids at a nearby pizzeria and have them eat it at the apartments. Well the pizza joint Brian saw was actually more of a bar with a few slices of pizza. So the kids ended up having a choice ofMcDonalds or KFC, perhaps not the most culturally enlightening meal, but it filled them up.

The adults finally decided that we did not want to go far. There were a couple of restaurants on the placa, one being Taxidermista (not so appetizing a name to our friend CB). The other choice was les Quinze Nits. The reputationn of this restaurant is good, cheap, and long lines. Fair, cheap, and long lines may be a better description. The line moved very quickly which was a good thing. Otherwise Julie and Suzanne would have had a cat fight right in the middle of the placa.

August 6 -- Barcelona to Paraza France (The Minervois)
Today our goal was to leave the apartment by 10:00 so we could pickup the rental car by 11:00. Under the best of conditions it would be a 3 hour drive to france. And seeing that it was a Saturday in August, we were not expecting the best.

Our first hiccup of the morning was when Sam had to go to the doctor again for her throat. Pat called from the doctor's office looking for CB. Brian got sent out to find her and began walking the Ramblas. Pat called him a couple of times to see if he found her. Of course while Brian was talking to Pat he walked right by CB who said hi! And Brian didn't hear her. All turned out well when CB returned to the apartment on her own. The only thing was they forgot to tell Brian who was still searching for her.

Finally we got away with Brian being a touch cranky. We walked down to the Ramblas where we quickly caught a cab to the Hertz counter near Barcelona's train station. When we got there Bob was standing outside waiting to go in. Saturday's are busy and they pass out numbers, just like a deli. But becasue of Brian's Hertz Preferred status we were able to get right in.

We headed out of Barcelona in our Renault with no map of Spain. We brought one for France, but not Spain. We wandered through town in the general direction of France. We took several laps around some of the traffic circles. We finally got an an autopista heading north. At one point we had the choice of going the inland route or the coastal route--we chose the coastal route. We drove on and on in the general direction of France, but saw no signs for France.

We stopped at a toll plaza and, at Julie's insistance, Brian asked for directions to France with his very very basic Spanish skills. A smile always helps. We figured out that we were on the wrong road, but also got directions to get to the right one. We headed inland, through a long tunnel, then finallly on the right road.

We stopped for lunch in Girona. For those of you that don't know, this is where Lance Armstrong lives in Europe. We stayed out of the center of the city, but found a great Argentine restaurant that made pizzas and salads. Just what we needed. Julie spent about 45 minutes on the phone booking our airfare to Europe for next summer.

We headed north again and crossed the border into France (finally). We kept in touch with the other families by cell phone, the mileage markers along the highway let us know who was "leading". We heard a little crankiness in some of their voices. We called Thalia and Regis (the owners) to let them know that the Houstons and the Morris' would be there first (short lunches at an autoroute reststop).

We got off the autoroute and started heading down the local highways towards Paraza. Both of us were smiling knowing we had done the right thing in picking du Viala. The roads were lined with plane trees and surrounded by vineyards. Soon we were paralleling the Canal du Midi--we knew that we were almost there. Over the bridge and through the village of Paraza. Up on top of a nearby vineyard covered hillside was du Viala.

We drove up the driveway road (versus the Houstons who drove up a farm track) and as we approached the house CB came out with a huge smile on her face. She loved it. We quickly unloaded the car and got settled. The Morris's arrived a little later (evidently their navigator made a navigation error). Even the kids thought that it was pretty cool. It took about 30 minutes and two bottles of wine to figure out the sleeping arrangements.

Brian and Julie volunteered to go into the village to get some groceries. We were planning on eating out that night, but knew that we needed something in the house for Sunday breakfast. We drove into the village and stopped along the road where several women were sitting on a bench talking. Julie brought out her best french and tried to ask where the grocery store was-- a little difficult when she couldn't remember the word for grocery store. Finally one of the women said "epicerie?". THAT was the word!

We found the butcher shop and asked about the epicerie. The owner mimed "just a minute" as he finished the helping his customer. He then grabbed a key, went outside with us, shut the door, walked across the street and opened the door of the epicerie. You have to love small villages. We stocked up on some basics and ordered croissants, pain au chocolats, and baguettes for morning pickup.

Since we did not have enough groceries for dinner (and we were tired!) we went to the little restaurant in Paraza called La Barraca. Thalia and Regis recommended it and called ahead to let them know that we were coming. If you have seen the movie Chocolat you may remember a scene in which they hold a garden birthday party for the old lady with lots of wine and food. That pretty much sums up the experience we had. The restaurant is outdoors in a garden with lights strung in the trees. There were two swinging chairs hung from the trees that the younger kids played on. There was even a birthday party being held for an old lady. The food was rustic (for french food) and wonderful. And of course we drank lots of wine. The waitress/owner was wonderful and even spoke a bit of english. She had a great sense of humor and we enjoyed her schooling Pat on his pronunciation of french words. (Pat at one point had tried to ask for bread which in french is pain. Instead he asked for pont which is french for bridge. Gotta love him for trying though!)

Finally we got back to the villa and went to bed. It was a busy day and all of us were very happy with the villa choice that Julie had made.

August 7 -- Domaine du Viala, Paraza France
The villa is in a word, WONDERFUL. It is several hundred years old and built from the stones of a fortress that was here from several hundred years before that. It sits atop a vineyard covered hill about a kilometer outside of Paraza. The views are spectacular! Distant hills and mountains are like the layers of stage scenery. To the south you look across a very wide valley to the Pyrenees. To the north are the hills of the Minervois. It is a beautiful location.

When they purchased the house it had been abandoned for about 50 years. They showed us a picture of what it looked like--falling down walls and no roof. Being artists, they were able to envision what it could and what they could make it. Lots of money, hard work, and vision created what they have today. We felt very lucky to be able to live in it for a week.

Brian and Julie got up early and went down to the village to pick up our bread for the day. Everyone thought that we were nuts when we came back with two dozen croissants and pain au chocolats, as well as 8 baguettes. Everyone thought that we bought way too much, but there is something about the croissants in France. By the end of our week EVERYONE was eating at least two pastries every morning.

The women volunteered to go to supermarket to do shopping. Thalia gave them directions to St Nazaire which was only about 10 minutes away--IF you didn't get lost. Eventually they made it there and parked in the FULL parking lot. Once inside the store they realized that the store closed at 12:30, giving them about 30 minutes to buy a weeks worth of groceries for 12 people. They started off taking their time looking and talking about each piece of produce. Then the lights started flashing which meant the store was closing soon. The each went into a shopping frenzy. Finally they checked out of the store and walked into an empty parking lot--the last out of the store.

On their way home they saw a sign for "fresh produce" and they stopped. Across the street there was a sign for wine tasting, and the ladies being who they are, thought that they should check it out. There was no sign of people at the building, just a door and darkened room. As they turned to leave, a family poked its head out of a window. Julie's french was no help. Finally a 3 year old boy comes out of the building and rings a hanging bell.

A couple of Irish brothers come out to sell their wine. Evidently there was a problem with the bottling and 1/3 of the wine went bad. Their solution? A buy two, get one free sale. So they bought three bottles-all of which turned out to be good.

We actually decided to cook dinner at the villa. Nothing fancy, Pat made some pasta with a fresh pomodoro sauce and Brian grilled some chicken. Damian put together a great salad. Face it, the women got a pretty good deal. The kids spent much of the day swimming in the pool, which was very cold.

The day ended up being the relaxing day that we needed to recharge our batteries after a week of cities. The company was great, the villa spectacular, and France was what it usually is--WONDERFUL!

August 8 -- Domaine du Viala, Paraza France
Todays adventure began at 9:30 when the Hamilton and Morris families drove to Pont du Gard, about 2 hours away. This aqueduct was built from 32-56AD by the Romans. Its three levels of arches cross a river and the structure towers 143 meters above the the river. Long after the Romans left it continued to be used as a bridge across the valley.

As you walk from the museum and gift shop buildings down to the river you pass the oldest olive tree in the world. This 1000 year old tree was transplanted from Spain. We have no idea why, but figured that it would be a great backdrop for a picture of Brian and the boys phooning. (Unfortunately our photo was rejected becasue both Patrick and Christopher were phoon-deficient.)

The highlight of todays adventure was going upstream and renting kayaks to paddle the 8kms down river to paddle under the Pont du Gard. Julie and Damian decided to skip and spent their time visiting the museum and just hanging around. It was about a 15 minute drive up to Collias where we rented kayaks through Kayak Vert. Christopher and Brian teamed up in one kayak, Suzanne and Emily in another. Patrick and Matt each had solo kayaks.

This stretch of the Gard is a popular lunch and swimming area. As we wound through canyon bends we would come upon groups of people swimming and playing in the river. Being the south of France, some of the women were topless. Didn't seem to bother the boys (or Brian) one bit. Finally we came to the Pont du Gard. It was truly a memorable experience paddling under this ancient structure. By this time it was getting a little later that we wanted it to be and we had to hurry to paddle that last kilometer or so to the drop off point.

We got home about 7:30 and the cooks were cooking up a storm! We invited the owners to join us and they brought the wine-all of it was from their grapes or their neighbors. The food of Languedoc includes a lot of seafood and very fresh ingredients. I can't describe how wonderful it was. The cooks were a young couple who spoke decent english (they had lived in the UK for awhile).

Sitting outside with good friends, eating wonderful local food prepared just for us, drinking wonderful wine made from grapes grown just a stones throw away---life doesn't get a whole lot better.

August 9 -- Domaine du Viala, Paraza France
This morning we took a short drive to Minerve, an ancient village about 15 minutes away. It sits at the junction of two river gourges and is reached by a tall stone arched bridge. In 1210 it was under siege and held out for 5 weeks until a catapult shot destroyed its well. The cathar residents had a choice to convert to catholicism or be burned--180 chose the latter. We chose to wander and take pictures.

You park outside the town in a village owned parking lot (the cost is just a couple of euros). Then it is a short walk across an ancient high bridge into the village proper. From the top of the bridge you can look down on a river and the farmed fields that line its banks.

After lunch at the gite, we walked along the Canal du Midi from Paraza to to the next village. Ventenac. This stretch of the canal is very historic because the canal actually crosses a stream by way of a canal bridge.

Ventenac is larger than either Rubia or Paraza, but still quite small. Brian spent about 15 minutes walking around the town. The highlight is the Chateau Ventenac, the local wine cooperative. There is a free tour through this combination working winery and museum.

In the late afternoon we drove to Carcassonne which is that largest preserved walled city in Europe. It too was very important during the crusades. The church dates from 1200 and the walls are even older. It is full of art shops and restaurants. Julie knew enough to get there late as the tour busses leave. We shopped and ate, then waited for them to turn on the lights that light all of the walls and castle.

August 10 -- Domaine du Viala, Paraza France
I must say I could get used to this daily routine. Up at 8:30, a run into the village to pick up our baguettes, croissants, and pain au chocolats. That is quickly followed by eating same, with a couple of cups of coffee. Then a little rest to let the food settle and the coffee to have its effect.

The most trying thing of the morning is taking a shower. The bathrooms do not have spearate showers. The flows are designed to have water flow into a corner drain. The showers are all handheld so it took awhile to come up with an effective strategy to keep from soaking everything in the bathroom. It went something like this;

Step 1 -- Stand in the corner and squirt yourself with the handheld shower. ALWAYS AIM THE SHOWER HEAD TOWARDS THE CORNER.

Step 2 -- Turn off the shower and soap up.

Step 3 -- Turn on the shower again and rinse.

Step 4 -- Repeat as necessary.


Today we went to a pre-roman archeological site of Oppidum d' Ensérune. To look at these ruins that date back to 600 years before Christ is truly a memorable experience. Add to it a spectacular view and what could be better. It sits atop a hill/ridge and through the centuries cisterns were added to collect water to keep the inhabitants from having to go to streams to get water. There is a very nice museum there as well.

Just below the hill it sat on was a former lake known as Lake Montady. About 750 years ago it was filled and converted to farm lands. It is circular with fields fanning out like the spokes of a wheels. In the center is a round canal that collects all of the runoff which is then channeled by a separate canal to a distant river.

We then we to the nearby village of Colombiers along the Canal du Midi and had a 2 hour lunch of salad (the French know how to make salads) pizza, and ice cream (oh yeah, 2 bottles of wine).

This evening we had the cooks again for a simple meal--a fancy salad, cassoulet, fromage, and dessert.

August 11 -- Domaine du Viala, Paraza France
Vacation is winding down, but we are doing our best to keep the French economy vibrant by continuing to drink their wines and eat their food.

Last night we had a great thunder storm. Mostly rain, lightning, and thunder with just some rain. Quite a show. It was still kind funky this morning. Julie, Christopher, and I went to Narbonne, a nearby city. It was market day along the canal there. Beautiful french fabics, but we did not buy anything. From there we went to les Halles, the permanent market in the town. Lots of cheeses, wines, produce, and fresh seafood. We bought a couple of pizzas for lunch, as well as some local sea salt and honey. We have a new favourite appetizer--warm goat cheese with just a touch a honey on it.

After our outdoor lunch we found the company (Connoisseur) we are renting our boat from next June. They even let us go aboard the boat we are planning to rent, the Magnifique . It was quite a boat and we know that it will work out well for us.

We went wine tasting with with Regis (the gite owner) to Rubia, a nearby village. There we visited Pique-Perlou winerey owned by his fried Segre. A once in a lifetime experience as we drank wines right out of the tanks with the owner. We had a late harvest grenache dessert wine. The Minervois AOC (appellation) is 40km by 25km and very unique. Only 5 types of grapes can be grown (grenache, syrah, mendevois, carlleon, and something else). The vintner pour wine right out of these huge tanks into bottles which we corked ourselves. We have subsequently found Pique Perlou wines in the the San Francisco Bay Area at Odd Lots Wines in Albany.

While we were tasting, the kids were picking berries. Tonight was leftovers as we did not come close to finishing our dinner last night. Casoulete, poulet basque, chevre with miel (goat cheese and honey) crepes with orange, creme fresh, and chocolate.

The circus is in the village for one night and Patrick and Emily went on their own. This is not a huge circus as it all fits in two small trucks. But at 5 euros per kid it is a cheap evenings entertainment.

August 12 -- Domaine du Viala, Paraza France
This morning's news had word of the British Airways strike at Heathrow. Luckily we are flying Iberia to Heathrow tomorrow, then United out to San Francisco on Sunday.

This morning began (after my 1km trip to the village epicerie to pick up our bread, croissants, and pan au chocloats) with a tour Regis's vineyards. Pat Houston and I climbed in to the back of an old Land Rover without a roof to drive through the vineyards. We would stop at different points and Regis would explain different things. Regis is proud of what he has done with his land, and he is proud of France--all with good reason.

Two points stood out. The first was in his oldest vineyard (about 80 years old). Every so often among the grenache grapes would be a white grape vine. Those would be planted so that the pickers could have something refreshing to eat while working in the hot fields. The second interesting point was when Regis told us it took him a whole month in the winter to trim the vines-WORKING FOUR HOURS A DAY! These French don't have it so rough.

After the tour we all went to the beach which is about 30 minutes away. A broad sand beach loaded with French on their August vacations. About 10% of the women are topless which was a treat for the boys. And there were a few women that were a treat for the dads as well.

We had dinner in the village. Sitting with great friends outside under the lighted trees with a warm breeze blowing. It doesn't get a whole lot better. Tomorrow we begin our trip home by driving to Barcelona, then flying to London for the night. Work is only a couple of days away.

August 13 -- Paraza France to Barcelona Spain, to London England


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