August 13, 2005

A Friend's View Point on Our Vacation

A very good friend of ours, Damian Morris, joined us on our European trip and decided to write his own recap. Enjoy.....

My Best European Vacation Ever --by Damain Morris

We got into London in the afternoon and rolled our suitcases half a mile from Paddington to our Hyde Park St. digs. I thought at first they had mistakenly given us the key to a walk in closet. However there was another room with a bed in it so we figured we were in the right place. We were able to find an Indian/Persian restaurant that first evening. After being up for almost 24 hours, I was looking for comfort food, and fusion cuisine does the trick for me. But we stuck to the basics like Curry Chicken and Tandoori mixed grill. The kids scarfed it up. Curry Chicken was one of my favorites as a kid as well. Upstate NY was overrun with ethnic restaurants. But enough about me. Let’s talk about the Hamiltons. While we were using a shoehorn to get ourselves into bed, they were luxuriating at the London Marriott. They felt sorry for us and bought us a drink one rainy afternoon.

We did the standard red bus tour of London, after we spent about half an hour negotiating the pedestrian subway near our apartment. I pulled out the detailed map of Southern France that Brian gave us but to no avail. The tour brought us to many of the tourist hotspots. The guides all had their comedy routines down pat. I felt like telling them to stick to the facts and I’ll crack the jokes. But I was a guest in their country and kept my mouth shut.

One of our first stops was the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. There was a big crowd but we got some good pics and signed Matt up for the Junior Beefeater Club. We also saw Big Ben (yeah, I know it’s the bell, not the clock tower), Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square and 10 Downing. We couldn’t get inside Westminster Abbey until the second day. They were open but the ticket guy took a dislike to me after I asked him what kind of accent he had.

We rode the London Eye that first day too. It’s a Ferris wheel that gives you a 360 degree view of the city. We had heard about a new exhibit called the London Toe but the reviews were not very impressive and we skipped it.

We did the Churchill Museum, which was very interesting. I told them I took British history in college so they let me in for the regular price. We need to smoke a cigar in honor of Winston. If not for him Brian would have had to dust off his German for our London visit.

We say many other sites as well. We toured the Tower of London and saw the crown jewels. The Hamiltons were there as well but acted like they didn’t know us. I almost made it out of the place with a jeweled scepter but got foiled at the last minute. They canceled our lunch with the queen for that offense. I’ve always wanted a jeweled scepter. After that we took a Thames River cruise and saw all the bridges, the London Bridge, the Tower Bridge, as well as the Millennium Bridge, the new one for pedestrians.

We had many good, if expensive, meals in London. Dinner the first night was on the Garners, Louise’s parents. I of course put up a good front, pulling out my wallet and
saying “No, we’ll split it” and acting disappointed when they wouldn’t accept any money. We ate at an authentic English pub close to Parliament. It has a division bell that rings when it’s time for the MPs to go back to vote.

One of our last visits was to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. I thought it might be hokey but it turned out to be pretty amazing. We got many pictures there and we’ll be featuring them in a slide show on paella night. Party on!

We then moved on to Barcelona and hooked up with the Houstons and Moreheads. Although I had a good time, I’d have to agree with Z that maybe Barcelona wasn’t the best environment. Suburbanites can’t handle the big city for too long. It was nice being near the Irish pubs however. The traditional Irish folk music emanating from them was soothing at 3am. Plus the size of the apartment was a big surprise. Lots of room to get away from my kids. Our patio served as party central, with Brian supplying the music and our resident oenolophile Christine picking out the finest in Catalan wine for under four Euros. CB did a great job sweeping the patio but got a little pissed when I asked her to pick up the rest of the apartment.

Anna hung in with us every step of the way. I had to hit the hay early one night but she was out having champagne until midnight. Suzanne was surprised that I retired early that evening, given I had taken a nap that day. We had a frank and open discussion on that topic.

It’s a shame that we didn’t get to smoke our stogies at the Placa but I really wasn’t in the mood to hurl. The Placa did provide us with some wonderful afternoons. The big mugs of Damm Beer went down smoothly as did the Sangria. And the tapas were pretty good too. We couldn’t get a pitcher of Sangria but our friendly waitress patiently explained that their establishment did not provide that. A pleasant wait staff can brighten any occasion.

I think we all enjoyed the group walk to the Picasso museum. It was bit warm that day but overall we were very lucky with the weather. The Picasso museum was very interesting and I know all the kids were enthralled. We have such a sophisticated crew.

The three evening meals, which, in order, were authentic Spanish, Italian, and cheap, were all outstanding in their own right. Once we figured out that the first restaurant was not Greek, we settled in for a big dish of paella and several bottles of wine. Our Italian meal featured some good food and wine and a great waiter. He even helped us with our map. I thought that’s what Brian was for. Bob made sure that the waiter was well compensated

I enjoyed our third meal the most, and not only because it was very inexpensive. The kids stayed at home and the boys got to sit together. The only snag was that the waiter got somewhat miffed when I sent him back to heat up my gazpacho. Other than that I think everyone enjoyed their meal. There was a lovely couple of young ladies next to the girls side of the table smoking up a storm but they weren’t there very long. We wanted to strike up a conversation but we’re all pretty shy. My only regret about food in Barcelona was that we did not get to try the stuffed specialties at the Taxidermia restaurant.

Saturday morning I starred in “The Interpreter” at the local hospital. Poor Sam was not improving with her antibiotics so we had to go back to the doctor. I was proud to be asked to step in but it was unnecessary. Pat’s grasp of both the Spanish and French languages was uncanny. When we got back to the apartment Brian let me know I was severely behind schedule and then headed out to the rental car agency. We caught up with them in France.

The trip up was tons of fun. The Morris family did not exactly do a thorough job with directions so there was some confusion and several calls to the Hamiltons. By the way, it was very generous of them to lend us Patrick’s phone and we are considering actually paying for the calls when they get the bill, except for any butt calls. On our way to our village, Paraza, we missed our exit. We went to the next one and turned around. Suzanne shared with me her feelings that perhaps there would be traffic and we should seek an alternate route. I must admit I was not open to her suggestions. The trip up to France will be henceforth known as the recrimination rendezvous. The trip back to Barcelona had its moments as well. I’m looking into map reading courses this fall semester at College of San Mateo.

Our gite was fabulous as were our hosts, Thalia and Regis. Regis is a winemaker and gave us four bottles of his wares. We tapped into that as soon as we got settled in. We had lots of great wine and food in France. One of the highlights was a visit to the Pique-Perlou winery, where we tasted several wines and bought some bottles straight out of the tank. And the food!! We ate twice at a local restaurant and we had a local couple cook for us twice as well. We all walked away quite full from those meals. One night Pat ordered us a bridge for dinner. He is a polyglot gourmand.

Pont du Gard was an awesome site. Brian and Suz kayaked with the kids down the river and Julie and I hung out with the rest of the tourists, buying knickknacks and drinking overpriced bottled water. Travel agent Julie explained that this ancient Roman aqueduct was the second biggest tourist draw in France. I think the first is the Paris Toe. I’ll check on that and get back to you.

We had several small trips within the area. We went to lovely village called Minerve as well as a pre-Roman settlement about half an hour away from our place. I forgot the name but Julie will fill in the blanks. I did miss the beach trip, which was OK because I received a vivid description about the unsavory combination of middle age and a thong. We also spent one afternoon at a walled medieval city called Fisherman’sWharf Carcassonne. Suzanne bought me a t-shirt there so the trip was a success.

So that’s how I spent my summer vacation. I’m glad everyone had a chance to spend some time with me. I realize how much you were all looking forward to it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My daddy wrote this

9:45 PM  

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