Friday, March 21, 2014

A Stop on the Way in Montpellier

March 1 - March 5th. After our wonderful time in Nice with Mary and the kids we loaded up the nomad bags and headed to the train station for our next adventure. This time we are heading to Barcelona by train. It's an 8 hour journey with a train change in Montpellier, France - and being the flexible travelers we are, we decided to build in a stop for a few days.

The elegant buildings were a rich butterscotch color
The train ride was a treat ... for just a few extra euros we upgraded to First Class and it turns out we had an entire train car to ourselves for most of the journey. Plenty of room for some personal space, reading and napping. Although the scenery along the coast for most of the journey kept us glued to the windows.

Montpellier is a lovely ancient city with roman ruins and a grand cathedral. I am glad we had a reason to stop because our airbnb flat was fabulous, one of our top five!

Michael on our deck with guess what?!
We did our usual provisioning stop to get the basics which have now come down to: Milk, orange juice, assorted beverages, a few snacks, a light meal; usually salad, cured meats, cheese, bread and fruit. And cereal.

I've separated cereal because it has become an interesting challenge to find a brand that  Michael especially enjoys every morning. The thing is that almost every cereal contains chocolate! The corn flakes are chocolate or there are bits of dark chocolate in the Special K. Certainly every kid cereal wouldn't dare show it's box if it wasn't full of Nutella clusters or ChocoChunks! The granola on offer still has oats, and nuts and other good things along with chocolate chips. If you are not a fan of chocolate for breakfast, you are banished to the boxes on the top shelf - All Bran, Muesli, and a box full of strange gray clumps that just might be made from recycled cereal boxes. So I am thinking the next time we buy cereal we should head to the dark side! Maybe when we are in Rome because you know..."when in Rome..."

There is no shortage of chocolate cereal in Europe
Just to add to the joy of shopping - we ended up with a flooding shower. It obviously wasn't draining, but there was no shower pan so the water just wandered off into the bathroom. This would need a Plumber's Helper! The question is, how does that translate into French? Michael used the translator on his phone at the store but the young clerk did not speak much English and was certainly not a plumber so he couldn't 'help'.  The word Plunger wasn't much better so I jumped in with some high quality Charades moves as I demonstrated the use of the item we were looking for. Handle about this long, round dome shape, uh ... push, push, push, ... and hair (pulling on my own) whooshes out and the drain clears. "Comprendre?" "Viola! I'll get one from the back" he said with amusement.

L'aide de plombier
We made some great new friends during our stay. When we were in Paris last summer we met the parents of twins who went to daycare with Colette. Massoumeh and Fran├žois are the parents and Sheyda and Kimia the twin girls. They were very interesting, Francois is a film maker and teaches film making as a university professor and his wife Massi works as a freelance translator in the film industry. She is Iranian and speaks Farsi, French, German and English. Their little ones are almost three - and absolutely adorable. We met for coffee one afternoon, and had so much more to talk about we were invited to their beautiful flat the next night for dinner. I haven't spent any time around twins so it was a treat to play with them and observe just what it's like to see double! The best part was the flat had several rooms that flowed into each other without doors so the girls could ride their scooters from one end of the house to the other over the ancient tile floors.

Our new friends in Montpellier
The sun followed us from Nice so we had some quality time on our deck, long walks, a wander through an extensive flea market and a free concert. The kitchen was well equipped, and the farmer's market was very close, so I was able to putter in the kitchen  When in France make Boef Bourgonion!

I had to take a shot of the sky color - wish I had my Pantone book
Next we'll be in Barcelona. Michael's been there a couple of times, but I have not. I have heard from so many people that it is one of their favorite cities, so I am looking forward to it!

We'll catch you up soon. Thanks for reading.

Debbie and Michael

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Nice Rocks!

February 19th - February 28. After leaving the blustery winds and rain in London we landed under clear, blue skies in southern France.We did enjoy every minute of being in England again, but we were definitely ready to dry out.

Michael and I arrived in Nice at 1:30 in the afternoon. He headed into the town to get everything settled in our apartment while I waited at the airport for the arrival of Mrs. Mary and our two little grandchildren, Colette 3 1/2, and Marcel, who will be two in June - Mary is expecting baby III at the end of May! I could see them about an hour later through the window as they turned the corner into baggage claim - Mary definitely had that zombie look that comes with traveling with small children, let alone being 6 months pregnant - but she was also calm and radiant. Love that girl. 

Mooma (that's me) to the rescue! Together we scooped everyone up and clambered aboard a city bus heading for 'home' for the next ten days. Both our bus and Michael's earlier taxi were held up due to Carnival 'divertisments' - the daily parade through town was in full swing!

A few hours later Mary would return to the airport to head back to Paris for two days for a food styling project. She is quickly growing her business and is in demand!

Thanks again, airbnb. We landed the perfect apartment. The bustling daily farmers market was literally outside our front door, the twisting maze of old town was just behind us, the beach was a stones throw away (more about that later), amazing parks were close at hand, and Carnival was one big confetti fest. We did not lack for things to see and do.

I unloaded all of my American kid booty including a frothy, spangle-covered blue carnival dress and Candyland game for Coco, and a scary shark and shorts set and a Thomas the Tank Engine for Marcel.Then we were off to explore.

Since when did Candy Land have a spinner? She loved it anyway!
What a great city. So walkable and family friendly - and of course a warm sea breeze can't be beat no matter where you are. Surprisingly, the beaches here are covered with smooth stones of every size. It was hard to find patches of sand, but we didn't mind since it was still a little too cool to spend more than an hour or so at the beach, and the surf was a little high for the kids. We had a great time picking through rocks to find shapes to bring home and paint later. A great afternoon activity if you were Mooma and Coco. Marcel preferred to throw the rocks. Inside, outside, anywhere, really.

So many Rocks to choose from...toss them? Paint them? 
Or make them into a little Frenchman!
 Mary and I love to cook together so we shopped the market every day and created some memorable meals. Of course fantasy had to be tempered with  reality - who would eat what, and when?

So nice to be back to eating fresh and local every day!
Who would nap and who wouldn't - especially grown-ups? Most every one did nap. Most every one did eat, most every one did have temper tantrums, and most every one did get along in our small space.
Naps? Who's takin' Naps? Grandpa and Mooma, that's who!
Marcel performed some spectacular face plants on the tile floor, and Coco cracked under pressure a few times, but all in all it was a great time. Highlights included watching Frozen (as many times as was necessary), Carnival, fun-with-rocks, parks everywhere, coffee and gelato on the promanade, bakery runs, Mom and Mary having dinner at a crazy Indian restaurant, and a trip to the outstanding aquarium in Monaco - only marred slightly by Colette getting motion sick on the very crowded, windy bus trip (no picture needed here). Who needed that shopping bag anyway?

Carnival was all about confetti and silly string! No beads that I could see.
Still wondering about message behind  Putins in Tea Cups - but we loved them!
The Baby Nemo tank. Next to the Baby Dora tank!
Mr. Gregoire was blissfully unaware of any of this while on a back-country vacation in Montreal with his good friend Patrice.

Mr. Campbell was able to get away for a football match in Monaco that he thoroughly  enjoyed. Was it the getting away? Or the adventure? I think both. He got there in one piece - but the journey home was filled with several public transport twists and turns that only he can explain - he did arrive safe and sound around 1:30 in the morning and I could not detect booze or perfume or gambling debts. So all was well. 

Waiting for the bus just after midnight in Monaco!
With the opportunity to spend time with Mary and the kids I am not sure The Senior Nomads truly appreciated Nice in our usual research oriented way - so I am giving it over to a family beach vacation and calling it good!

Mary and I in Monaco with a little peek from Coco!
Too soon it was time to put Mary and the kids back on a plane to Paris, and for Michael and I to board the train for a three night stay in Montpellier, France on our way to Barcelona.

See you soon!

The Senior Nomads

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mind the Gap!

February 6th - February 19th. If you saw news showing most of Southwest England suffering floods of epic proportion - the stories were not exaggerated. It had been raining steadily all over the UK since early December. And once the huge storms hit - the southern coastal waters and rivers just couldn't take anymore. It was sad for us to arrive during that time since we owned a home in the Thames valley near London when we lived here 23 years ago. Our village, Sunbury-on-Thames was definitely affected.

We did not escape the wind, heavy downpours and chilly conditions in London either. But we managed to stay afloat and revisit a city we love. It was great to be back!

Leaving Seattle had it's own challenges. We arrived at the airport to find our flight delayed by 3+ hours. Then we were stuck on the plane itself while a bag had to be off-loaded  due to a passenger not showing up to board. That was another hour.

We arrived in London much later than planned only to discover a general strike on the Underground. It was rush hour so the few trains that were running were crammed full of grumpy (but of course polite) rain-soaked commuters. Our very large suitcases and back packs were unwelcome additions ... but hey, a taxi from the airport is almost $100. and we pride ourselves on using public transportation. Maybe this could have been a day to break that rule - however getting a taxi on a dark rainy night at rush hour with a strike on isn't easy either. Anyway ... two trains and a cab for the final leg got us to our destination. We felt like we'd been run through a long wash with an aggressive spin cycle  at this point.

We staggered into the lobby of a very modern building where our airbnb apartment was located  to collect keys from the concierge. Unfortunately, he did not have notification from the owner of our arrival so he couldn't give us the keys. Really?

At this point we were as fried as a British chip. Michael rallied and found enough paperwork to prove we had, indeed rented Apt. 33 and left a pleading message to the owner to contact the concierge. After a half hour wait, and threats to collapse on the lobby floor, the poor man reluctantly handed over the keys.

We threw our bags down and headed for the nearest pub! We had a great meal and watched a little football on the telly. Things were coming right. We sloshed home and slept for 12 hours!

The next morning (afternoon?) we took stock of our surroundings. Things look different in the light of day and a after a good nights sleep. The apartment was fine - The Battersea location, however, was a little further from central London than we thought. Not as the crow flies - but because of a lack of a tube station nearby it would require a lot of bus travel to get around - but who doesn't love sitting up top of a bright red double-decker? The bus stop was right outside our front door so we could easily get to Sloane Square and  Knightsbridge so we could grocery shop in Harrod's Food Hall (in my lottery winning dreams) and on from there to Oxford Circus. A bus in the other direction took us to the West End, The City, the Tower of London and St. Paul's Cathedral. The only challenge was the day to day, since we were in no-mans land when it came to real-life grocery shopping, dining out, etc.

Give Mr. Campbell a newspaper and he is happy anywhere
The construction around us was robust and in a few years time this will be the hippest place to live in London. Gordon Ramsey has just opened a new restaurant nearby. Currently a bus ride away of course.

The view of the power plant from our window
We did walk from central London to our flat on the rare day it wasn't pouring. It was about three miles and it was fascinating to see observe the infrastructure and new condominium towers being built along the south side of the Thames in the shadow of the old Battersea power plant.

On the walking tour in St. James Park
This would be a good time to note that London has just been rated the most expensive city in Europe for good reason - a bus or Underground trip one-way is about $3.00 On our Senior Nomad's budget it's at least a $12.00 decision. I know that doesn't sound like much if you are on vacation, but on a daily basis with several trips planned it adds up. The Oyster Card frequent travel card helped.  Happily museums are free and there is so much to see and do once you are in the center of London it all evens out.

We loved the 156 to Sloan Square and beyond!
Highlights include: the free walking tour of course, strolling twice through the National Gallery, church service at St. Paul's (I remember getting up at 4:00 am years ago to watch Charles and Diana's wedding here), a visit to Michael's ProServ office on Craven Street just off Trafalger Square, a free concert rehearsal at St. Martin's in the Field, a visit to the Tower of London and walk across the Tower Bridge to the Bourough Farmer's market, dinner with Seattle expat friends Brian and Elaine Kabasnick and a matinee performance of the one-man-show 'The Only Way is Downton' - a whirlwind, cheeky performance by a very talented actor that impersonated every character of the Masterpiece Theatre production that so many of us love. And a sunny day trip to Cambridge by train. What a beautiful city steeped in history and a good cuppa tea.

The commons at Kings College, Cambridge in front of the Cathedral

A different twist on street music in Cambridge
We also watched a good share of the Olympics on the BBC- Curling anyone? That seemed to be the event that was on no matter the time of day ... but there was a lot of 'posh' coverage of all the other events as well.Michael had a chance to visit our first London home in Fulham. We didn't row out to Sunbury.

Michael at 65 Winchendon Road. Our first home.

Chris (4) Kelly (8), Mary (6) against our garden wall in Sunbury in 1988!
The two weeks went by quickly. Next up Nice, France where we will host daughter Mary (due in late May with the third baby), and Colette, 3 1/2 and Marcel almost 2. Should be fun. Maybe not relaxing, but definitely fun. See you there!

The Nomads off at dawn for the next leg to Nice
Thanks for reading - we'll catch you up on Nice soon. Debbie and Michael