Chapter Fifty  December, 2009

 Last month we promised an exciting Christmas/New Year’s Trip.  And exciting and wonderful it was.  We were gone three weeks in all, and it was all Better Than Good.  But travel is tough on mind and body, so in the end we were glad to finally return home to Seraphim and Fethiye.


First stop: Landstuhl, Germany.  Our niece /nephew and their family are stationed there with the US Army, so Christmas was spent with family this year.  It was great!  It was snowing when we arrived, a perfect way to begin our Christmas holiday. And not only that, there was enough snow for lots of sledding and snowman making.  Oh, what fun.


The Family Shry could not have been more gracious hosts, and we had an absolutely fabulous time hanging out with them during Christmas Week.  John has needed a good winter jacket, and warm clothing is not readily available in southern Turkey since it doesn’t get very cold here.  So, he reasoned, Germany would be a better place.  Off we trouped the first morning in Landstuhl on the “get-John-a-coat” assignment.  And we sure did get it right; the coat was warm and on sale.  Can’t get any better than that, can it?  And the coat sure came in handy!

But that was just the beginning.  Sharon discovered the shops.  And she discovered lots of stuff she needed that she couldn’t get in Turkey.  Not one, but two more trips were needed to satiate her needs.  Note: it was early enough in the trip for us not to worry about luggage allowances on our return!

We spent days playing with Audrey and Ethan.  Sharon sewed with Audrey while John taught Ethan some new knot-tying techniques using Ethan’s new marlin spike.  Who knew you could have so much fun with a little thread and rope?  We baked together and all jumped in the family van and went to a traditional German Christmas Festival.


There was Audrey’s dance performance and Ethan’s attempt at Charades.  The family time was just what the doctor ordered, and we were so refreshed after our visit with Rachel, Eric and the kids.  But Mom always said “Fish and relatives start to smell after three days.”  So it was time to go. And Paris beckoned. 

The train to Paris left Landstuhl early in the morning, but fortunately the station was just about three blocks down the hill from the house.  Great trains in Europe: Landstuhl to Paris with only one change and all in about three hours.

So what if it was raining?  It’s still Paris!  Our apartment in suburban Vincennes was warm, spacious and chic.  The city center is only a short Metro-ride away, so we were mobile.  And Vincennes itself is quite lovely.


The outdoor fresh market is held on Sunday, so we had an eyeful (and tummy full) of French goodies.  Ain’t it grand that the markets in every country are so very different?  Of course some of the fresh produce is similar, but here we not only get to sample the greens and carrots, but also le Roquefort, les saucissons, les escargots, les moules, les baguettes and more.  Turkish markets are great, but….

There’s no such thing as Clingancourt anywhere but in Paris! Sharon used to visit this quintessential Antique Flea market with her first boss and his wife many years ago. It was just like she remembered it. With the exception of prices, of course. Imagine being surrounded by Provençal cookware, Empire-era clocks, Oriental rugs, Baroque mirrors, sepia Riviera postcards, creepy 19th-century dolls, Art Nouveau vases and aisles and aisles of the stuff.  It brought back great memories and we loved the perusing.


And then there was lunch in a typical Parisian Cabaret Café. With an Edith Piaf impersonator, no less! It was grand.


Lanvin was celebrating their 90th anniversary, so Sharon even got to gloat over the windows! This is what Paris is all about, non?


Days were spent strolling the left bank.  Once the sun goes down, it gets pretty cold but we did manage to take in two musical holiday concerts in the evening.  Just being in Paris was enough for us. 

One reason for going (one needs a reason for going to Paris???) was to check out the marina facilities there and make a reservation for winter 2011-12.  Yes!   There is a grand marina in Paris and the location is superb, don’t you think?  (The tall thing in the background is July Column at Place de la Bastille.)


We stumbled upon an English-speaking couple who were standing outside the marina office when we arrived. They answered all our questions, introduced us to the office, helped us fill out an application and invited us aboard their 38' sailboat to answer any other questions! Some things are meant to be!

We attempted to enter a Renoir Exhibition at the Grand Palais. Of course there were several exhibitions taking place there simultaneously. We asked for two tickets, in our best French and were surprised when we were questioned twice for clarification. Off we went! To “La Fete des Jours”, the largest children's carnival you've ever seen. (Our French needs work.) But we had fun anyway.


Since we were in Paris, it seemed appropriate to do something special on New Year’s Eve.  And special we did.  Mozart’s Requiem at La Madeleine, followed by a stroll down the Champs Elysee with about a quarter of a million other very cold people.  We stopped for coffee on the Right Bank and the grand total for two coffees was $27!  But what magic!


All good things French must come to an end (or be put on hold for a while), so depart we must.  But our adventure continued.  This time in England’s New Forest with cruising friends David and Diana.  What we didn’t plan on was the ice and snow that has gripped England for weeks.  But their cottage in the village was dry and toasty-warm, so we had all we needed: good friends, good conversation, and a warm bed (one has to love a place where the address is “Old Ways, Pikes Hill”). 


In truth, we did get out a lot and tromped around the Forest.  David and Diana were kind enough to reintroduce us to friends we had met while buddy-sailing with them through the Greek islands.  We also had the pleasure of meeting the grandchildren.  So it was a wonderful way to bring our mini Grand Tour to a close.  But closing it out proved to be more eventful than we’d planned. 


Just in the middle of our visit England was crippled by the worst winter weather in three decades.  Ice, snow and sub-freezing temperatures brought the entire country to a standstill.  Gatwick airport shut down for most of two days, stranding thousands.  Motorways were blocked with snow and scores of abandoned cars.  We decided to go to a hotel next to the airport the night before our scheduled departure so we would be sure to get there on time.  Hotels were packed.  We managed to find a hotel with a room available that had two things going for it:  1) it was close to the airport, and 2) it was cheap.  After staying one, short night we confirmed: it was cheap.  But the flight did leave almost on time, and we were on our way home.


Budget airlines appear to have one thing in common:  strict luggage weight allowances.  Our English friends had asked us to carry back some rather expensive engine parts for them.  Engine parts are heavy, so we very carefully weighed our luggage to get everything in and under the 20 kg weight allowance.  We just made it!  Fast forward to Istanbul, where we changed planes and airlines.  The new weight allowance is 15 kg/person.  Whoops!  Luckily, we found a luggage scale at the check-in area and managed to “create” a carry-on bag out of a Christmas present and Voila!  15 kg, to the gram.


So ends our Christmas Trip.  We had a fabulous time.  Our winter To-Do list has been dragged out and we’re ticking off the boxes.  Work, work, work. To play, play, play.


Stay tuned.