Fun in NJ

We are having a good time down in NJ visiting Kathy’s sister and her fiance and our nephew. The weather has been amazing, the day trips really good. We are sad that we are leaving tomorrow to go back to VT. Will post a bunch of photos and videos when we get back.

Disney Vacation 2007 Trip

Chris and I were lucky enough to be able to sneak away for a handful of days to our favorite inexpensive and instant -sunshine vacation-Orlando,Florida. For six sun drenched days we partied it up at the Happiest Place on Earth. And we only ran into a couple of obnoxious southerners this time! We stayed at the All Star Movies resort, a value resort –pretty much it is a room and a public pool and a giant cafeteria—lots of families go there—it’s cute and cheap—so you kinda hafta take it at face value. Apparently there was some big dance competition and a lot of the teams were staying there. Down side: lots of obnoxious giggling teenage girl. Plus side: it sure beat the cheerleaders! One funny snippet was that we overheard some girls talking on the bus later that week that they had won the national championship. Some college guys were trying to flirt with them so they asked one of the girls what they are judged by in the competition. The girl’s oh so intelligent response was “like, by how able you are to dance”.

Our flight was decent w/Southwest—quick and pretty smooth, but the plane was chock full so it gave one the feeling of being a cramped and sweaty sardine.

Most of our vacation was spent reading out in the sun, most days hit low 60’s to high 70’s—not too bad–”cold” for native Floridians but just fine for us Northeasterners! Chris struggled through the final Harry Potter installation before the up and coming finale, and was pretty much cursing JK Rowling for such addictive and depressing reading! I spent most of my time doing crosswords and laughing with Augusten Burroughs (read him!!!). We took several long walks and spent a day exploring Fort Wilderness and our favorite little private beach there, Clementine Beach. We also spent a night walking around Coronado Springs, which looks like a walk downtown in a beautiful Southwestern city.

We only went to the theme parks for one day, because the park hopper passes we bought a couple of years back still had some days on them. We went to Epcot to look up our picture that we had put on the “Leave a Legacy” wall last time we came. (see photos). We got to ride “Soarin’” which was amazing! We had to pick up an Early Fast Pass, because lines are insane (an hour plus wait) and fast passes (which allow you to skip the lines) go out in minutes! It was definitely worth it, as it felt like you were really hang-gliding over the Everglades. You could even “smell” the oranges in an orange grove and feel the sea breeze on your feet! Way cool!

Although returning to 2 degree weather wasn’t fun, it was nice to have a little get away at one of our favorite places.

Most of Florida’s food, as you know from previous posts, consists of masses of fried chicken wings and all you can eat meat buffets. However, even poor vegetarians like us were able to scramble and find some good things to eat. To digress off of the “healthy eating” tangent for a second, however, I must say that Hotties donuts are arguably the best donuts ever!!! We went 3 times, but we DID walk a few miles each way, so technically we were being good ….about being bad. Speaking about being bad…I don’t mean to sound rude to say this but there were certainly a lot of people in Florida who look like they have had a little too much fun at the all you can eat buffets. The “turkey neck” and bubble-front trend was in style there it seemed. Sadly it’s due to all the deep fried fast food at every corner.

The resorts themselves have fewer options for vegetarians, the food at All Star is very unremarkable so we avoided that as much as possible(aside from “Mickey waffles” now and then for breakfast and ice cream sundaes at night). Here is a breakdown/rating list of our food experiences:
Resort/Disney:

  1. All Star Resorts—2 stars for their regular fare, 3.5 for dessert…because you pretty much can’t screw up ice cream. Overpriced and unremarkable, only good if you’re in a hurry and have nowhere else to go. Their “veggie” burgers were dry and weren’t even advertised on the menu.
  2. Seasons at Epcot_4 stars for a resort. We were amazed at the array of foods offered, and how healthy and good it really was! We were surprised to see unique menu items such as Warmed Beet and Goat Cheese salad, but it was extremely good! We had an unusual breakfast there consisting of oatmeal, a cinnamon bun and some sushi (I know a weird combo but it was good I swear!). There were several vegetarian and kosher options, and none of it looked like it was prepackaged or left sitting out too long.
  3. Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe-3 stars, because they do have really good veggie burgers and a whole bunch of stuff, like hot peppers and mushrooms—that you can put on them.
  4. Earl of Sandwich—located at downtown Disney. A good sandwich joint that makes great Earl Grey tea lemonade and iced tea. You usually wait forever in line but their sandwiches and salads are usually worth it. We love the Caprese salad with mozarrella and basil. 3.5 stars
  5. Ghirardelli’s—it’s chocolate, it’s ice cream, it’s “iced mochas”. Need I say more? 3.5 stars
  6. Wetzel’s Pretzels-3 stars. It’s pretzels, what more can you ask for?

“Off-resort” food:

    • Chevy’s—a chain of mexican restaurants down South, this is better than “Chili’s” and certainly beats “Taco Bell”. They make homemade salsa and guacamole on premises, and their food is usually fresh and unique. The waitstaff are very friendly too! 3.5-4 stars for a chain.
    • Hotties Donuts—you have to love a donut chain that offers pb&j donuts, chocolate peanut butter filled ones, and lucky charms-topped ones! They are seriously good, and they don’t use trans fats either. As I will quote the owner, “these donuts are the most fun you can have with your clothes on”. 5 stars
    • Perkins-2 stars. We waited a half hour to be seated and endured a crabby waitress for some sub-par coffee and food. Not worth it.
    • India Palace-4 stars. Unfortunately it’s location and audience makes it not much of a popular place, but we certainly find the homemade baighan bharta dozens of times more appealing than the “all you can eat greasy pizza” buffet next door. Plus, the owners always recognize us and are very friendly!

Disney 2004 Trip (January 13-January 17)

Okay, so YET AGAIN Christopher Arnini is the SNEAKIEST person in the world! We had made plans to take the week of Jan 9-18 th off. On Tuesday morning we packed our bags to go visit my sister in Stamford , CT for a few days (or so I thought). As we drove past the CT border and headed south on 91, we turned off an exit and few minutes later, Chris handed me an envelope and told me to open it. When I looked inside my jaw dropped. In it were two plane tickets to Florida ! “Happy Birthday, honey!” he said. As I gawked speechlessly for about 20 minutes, Chris pulled in to Bradley airport and began taking luggage out of the back seat. He had packed summer clothes and snuck them in the trunk! “What about my sister?” I asked. He of course had been planning this trip for a while and even my sis was in on it. I was so surprised I couldn’t even think straight. Chris’ Dad met us at the airport to say goodbye. It was very sweet of him. Our flight down was excellent. We flew with Southwest, and I have to say it was the smoothest, most comfortable flight I’ve ever taken. We even got to Orlando a little early. Getting off the plane was such a welcome change. In Vermont , temperatures were reaching 45 below. Here, it barely went under 70. We had sunshine every day and couldn’t get enough of it. Chris had reserved a hotel room for us at the Lake Buena Vista Resort owned by Best Western, which was conveniently close to everything so we didn’t even need to rent a car. We just walked everywhere in the sun together (ah.). We had so much fun on our trip. The first night we walked to downtown Disney for our beloved Ghirardelli iced mochas. They are to die for. The next day we had breakfast at the hotel, which was mediocre. At least they served lots of fresh fruit and had make your own mickey waffles (hee hee), but the rest left something to be desired. We spent the day walking around town and looking at shops. Anyone who knows our favorite cheap place to eat knows we love Wendy’s! We always go there to order Frosties, baked potatoes and side salads (the only vegetarian choice!). So, silly us, we had a craving that afternoon for Wendy’s. Little did we know the nearest one was about 4 miles away. By chance we were walking around and saw the sign far in the distance-so we made the trek over there! I know it’s pretty pathetic, but we had to have our Frosties. At least we had a good walk and earned them.We had lots of fun bus hopping to different Disney resorts to see what they were like. Our definite favorites so far have been Coronado Springs (we had some great drinks there and it’s so beautiful to walk there at night, like being in the Southwest), Wilderness Lodge (there is a river running through the middle of the lobby!), and Caribbean Beach (it reminded us of St.John’s a little). We also checked out the new Pop Century resort and were impressed! There are five different “decades” that people can stay at (50’s through the 90’s) and at each of those decades where nostalgic items like statues of old toys, popular albums and sayings of the time, and fun facts about the era. It was very cute. We also went back to the resort we stayed at the first time we went to Disney-the All Star Movie resort-and got cherry cokes to walk around with and reminisce.

Thursday was the best day of all. We went to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot for my birthday, just like we did 2 years ago (Wow! Can’t believe how time has flown.). Of course we had to ride our favorite rides a few times in a row. We’re suckers for the Haunted Mansion (oooh-scary!) and the Pirates of the Caribbean (Chris was a pirate in a past life-arrggh! “Dead men tell no tales.”). Chris bought himself another pirate hat and we even got our pics taken with Captain Hook! When Chris went to go to the bathroom later on in the day, Captain Hook found me and put his arms around me. When Chris came back Captain Hook got jealous and shook his hook at him! It was so cute.

We took the monorail over to Epcot later on in the day, and went on Spaceship Earth twice (one of our favorite Epcot rides, we went at least 5 times the last time we went!), Test Track (yaaaaaaah!!!!), and Ellen’s Energy Adventure (with Ellen Degeneres, it’s very funny). We wandered over to the World Showcase to go to Morocco where they have a great veggie platter and Tangerine tropical drinks.

We basically tried to relive that wonderful day 2 years ago.

We spotted Victoria Gardens , the wonderful place where Chris proposed. Being back there I remembered how I felt that day, and it brought tears to my eyes. We sat down on a bench by the waterfall. Chris went down on one knee like he had done on that day, and said “Kathleen, you know I love you.will you marry me? You don’t have to say yes”. He said he was so nervous that day that he said that last part just in case. I felt like we got engaged all over again. I’m so glad we took pictures this time because that place is often in my mind, I was so happy to see it again!

Chris’ surprise made my birthday so magical. The rest of the evening we had fun wandering around the World Showcase, riding the Mexican Boat ride, El Rio del Tiempo (“hola me amigos, it’s fiesta time for you.la la la la la” (that song will not leave your head!), visiting Norway (“you are not de first to pass this vay.”),eating dinner at the same place we did when he proposed, having crepes in France, shopping for cheap things in China, and drinking Viking coffees (which really is just a bunch of liquors with a splash of coffee for flavor) as the Epcot fireworks dazzled the sky. Wonderful didn’t even begin to explain it.

The rest of the vacation flew by, as vacations always do. We had some funny adventures. First was my sprained foot. I’m not sure what I did to my foot but I had to limp practically everywhere we went for a couple days, and I looked like an old lady. Chris had to put his arms around me to help me stay up! Next was people watching. We met some.um, interesting.folks out there. We spotted several mullet heads, tried as best we could to dodge bands of screaming cheerleaders (they were there for a competition on the day we left-thank goodness we left when we did!), and encountered a waitress at a breakfast place with quite a few missing teeth. We of course had to visit several cheap discount stores while we were there (you know , the “10 t-shirts for 5 dollars” places) just for amusement. Then of course there was the liquor store/Italian restaurant, the name says it all.

One Indian restaurant, India Palace , had become a favorite of ours on our last visit. We of course had to visit it several times for the lunch buffet! They are so nice there and the food is inexpensive and amazing. We were very entertained by the owner’s grandaugher, an adorable little girl named “Ashi” who took a liking to us. She was our little hostess, showing us toys and asking us to play with her. She spoke two Indian dialects as well as English, but her 3 year old mind couldn’t tell that we didn’t know Indian, so she would often say things in another language to us! She made us laugh, and we miss her!

Going back home was of course depressing, but I have so many happy memories of going there. I still can’t believe we went! I had no idea!

I can’t even explain how it felt to be back there. I was so happy I felt like my heart could have burst. Christopher is the best, sneakiest hubby there is, and I love him so!! Now it’s MY turn to surprise HIM.

France, Paris and Lyon 2006

Le 22eme Septembre

We arrived at Charles de Gaulle (aka Roissy) airport very early in the morning. It was much smaller than I had expected, and we waited over an hour to go through passport checkpoints!
Our plane ride (Air France) was excellent. We felt like we weren’t even in the air half of the time! They had personal tvs at your seat, on which you could watch movies (they had foreign and US ones) or watch a little topographical map that would update the loction of the plane and tell you how much longer the flight was. The food was excellent—their wine list was selected by the top sommelier from the year 2001, and they had real silverware. We had champagne, and after dinner they’d come around with a little cart serving tea and baguettes.
The most exciting part so far was at Logan airport—when they announced our plane was leaving – in french! The International Flight section of Logan was an exciting melting pot: Italian and Latino families having animated arguments, Parents scolding their children in Japanese and German, Swedish backpackers (and 2 girls who were from one of the Swedish owned Virgin Islands—they spoke Swedish but with an island accent!) You weren’t even in the air and you felt like you were all over. (One cool thing about the British Airways—they have double decker planes! I saw one out the window—I want to go to Britain solely for that. And tea and crumpets.)
I had a cold today and was sneexing all day long; Poor Chris is just getting over a flu. We were both pretty jet lagged.
When we got off the Metro near our hotel (after almost getting lost and having a hard time getting tickets for the RER), we looked up and right in front of our eyes was L’Arc de Triomphe! When our hotel had advertised that they were a short walk from it, they weren’t kidding. Incroyable, as the french would say! That’s when we TRULY felt like we had arrived.
The staff at the Hotel Duret have been very nice so far. Some poor lad at the front desk initially sent us to the wrong room, and apologized profusely (we didn’t care).
Our room is small but very nice, with a classy apartment feel. There is a cute bakery down the street, from which we had our first “pain au chocolats”.
For dinner, we split a bottle of wine at the Place de la Grande Armee and people watched. It was an excellent day, and our first impression of Paris has been way more that we had imagined . I’m sure we’ll write more after we’ve recovered from jet-lag.

Things we ate today:

Breakfast on the plane: croissants, yogurt, and petit pains with honey

Lunch at the CDG RER station—2 baguette sandwiches with sliced cheese and fresh tomatoes and basil.

Pain au Chocolat at the bakery down the street

A bottle of bordeaux wine for dinner

Le 21eme Septembre

Our second day in Paris, and already I have fallen in love with this city! We woke up to the sounds of a fire alarm gone off at the hotel—we thought there was a real fire but apparently some idiot had been smoking a little too much in their room (yes, in France smoking is pretty much allowed everywhere. Even when it says a no smoking area people don’t pay attention. But you don’t smell the cigarette smell, which is nice).

It was raining outside; we grabbed 2 baguettes and a pain au chocolat at the boulangerie across the street—the people were a bit snobbish but it was understandable—they have hundreds of customers daily, especially tourists. I likened their attitude to that of a NY bakery. We stood under an overhang to eat our pain au chocolat, and a large white dog came out of one of the shops to see what we wee doing. He looked up at us plaintively while we ate (too bad chocolate is bad for dogs!) At first we said “sit” and he looked at us like he didn’t understand. Then we thought “duh, French” and the dog sat when we said “assiez-vous”. How cute!

We decided, even though it was raining, that we would walk to see where the Louvre museum was. We found out that my shoes were not too good for walking in the rain on their smooth pebble sidewalks. I felt like an ice skater walking down the street! Oh well.
How to begin to even speak about the beautiful buildings we saw? It blows the mind. Museums, theaters, even simple apartments—nothing was done on a small scale and without gorgeous detail. The streets smelled wonderful—like a mixture of cardamom, old libraries, and a good pipe.
Past L’Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees, we saw some pretty little parks with lovely fountains. Then we arrived at the gardens near the Louvre. Someone had said that it would take a day just to simply explore the gardens, nevermind the inside of the Louvre, and they were right. Incredible, immense statues and fountains that were hundreds of years old, beautifully landscaped bushes and mazes of flowers, acres and acres worth!
We grabbed a cup of coffee at “Cafe Vierry” outside the entrance and people watched under a covered outside area. The waitstaff was kind there and we enjoyed our cup of coffee ‘french style”-meaning we took over an hour to savor it.
Chris and I took hundreds of pictures today. I can’t accurately put into words how it felt to actually see some of these historical structures in person-The Louvre, Saint Chappelle, Notre Dame—it felt like being in a dream. I have never seen such beauty or history-nevermind the painstaking detail that was put into each. A walk around each corner revealed a sight more beautiful than the last.
After spending some time wandering around the gardens (and seeing that Parisians really do know how to RELAX), we crossed the bridge over the River Siene and saw L’ Institit Francais, Le Grand Palais and le Centre aux Justice (inside of which was Saint-Chappelle).
We stopped into a gorgeous gothic church (St. Germain) it was considered small by french standards, but still had beautiful stained glass windows and flying buttresses across the ceiling. Outside we passed by a real fashion magazine photo shoot,! The woman was dressed like a victorian bride but with spiked motorcycle boots on.
After seeing St. Germain we wandered more streets and then went into Notre Dame. The architecturew as incredible, down to every last detail. The ceilings so high, it made you dizzy to look up! Hundreds of people were there, taking pictures and lighting candles. The light from the stained glass windows cast a gorgeous shadow on the immense walls. To be a part of something so old was incredible!
Later on , we wandered back to the gardens outside the Louvre where we had ice cream- “la glace”-one server was a rude 17 year old who talked on her cell hone. That’s a 17 year old for you—anywhere. Chris had violet ice cream and I had fig sorbet, with real fig seeds in it. It was unlike any ice cream you could taste in America.
Now we are back at the Hotel Duret, eating juicy red peaches that we bought at the fruit market across the street.
Everything here is delicious and sensual.
I bought this little “cahier” today at a paper merchants to capture the memories of our trip. Je suis en amour d’ici!
Things we ate today:
Fresh baguettes and croissants au chocolat from the bakery across the street
cafe creme at Cafe Vierry
violet and fig ice cream
red peaches
tofu wraps from a deli down the street
Salads at a restaurant near the Champs-Elysees. I had a lyonnaise salad with sliced hard boiled eggs and a dressing that was great, Chris had buffalo mozarella and tomatoes. The waitress, Nadine, was very nice and patient with the American tourists who came in and ordered things in very botched French.

People have compared Paris to New York City—I say the two are nothing alike. So Far, my impression of Paris is:

It is relatively clean (hardly any trash on the sidewalks; street sweepers are everywhere!)

It’s actually pretty easy to find your way around. The metro system is far better organized than the NY subway or the Boston T.

Nothing is shocking here!

Less air pollution than NY. Everyone here drives either a Vespa or a smart car, or they walk or ride bikes.No SUVs here!

Fashion is all relative-it is not so much “who” or what you are wearing, but how you’re wearing it here. It’s a way of carrying yourself.

So far, we haven’t spotted a single overweight French person here.

French people know how to savor time. Last night Chris and I spent an hour drinking some wine at a cafe. We finished an entire bottle before the couple next to us even drank half of their martini, all in the course of an hour!

I see very few harried people on cell phones or attached at the hip to their laptops. When you go somewhere to unwind, you unwind and don’t bring work with you.

Police sirens have a calmer, more pleasant alarm here.

Children tend to be more socialized and independent. They can go out to dinner at 9pm with adults and not be crazy.

Many dog owners here don’t walk their dogs on a leash, and yet the dog follows them. French people take their dogs everywhere!

Everything sounds prettier in the French language-even curses.

Le 23me septembre

The Louvre! The Louvre!!! What a mind boggling array of priceless history and art. I will never forget having been part of such a grand place, even if for a short while.
Among some of the countless things we saw:
Italian marble sculptures
Venus de Milo
The Winged Victory of Samothrace
Several Egyptian Sphinx (es?)
A real medieval moat and portions of a castle built in the 1600s that was unearthed underneath the actual Louvre during an excavation in the 1980s
The crowned jewels of Louis XVI and Marie-Antionette (talk about serious bling bling!)
Renaissance armor
Greek epitaphs
Napoleon III’s lavish apartments
religious artifacts dating back to beyond the dark ages

I can’t accurately put today into words, but “je me souviens tout”–I will remember everything.

Today was Saturday, so everyone was hanging outside the museum. Young couples snuggling in the grass, old men smoking pipes at “le tabac” with friends. People walking dogs. On weekends, children often go to the huge fountain near the entrance and sail little boats (“petit bateaux”) and race them on the water.
No one went with a laptop or cell phone. They went to relax and enjoy eachother’s company. What a shocking thing to us Americans.
Lines today were surprisingly not bad, considering the day and time. We hardly had to wait at all.

Things we ate today:

Crepes at a cafe en route to the Louvre (gotta remember names next time!)

A 4 eur. Bottle of wine (was good!)

Dark chocolate

Salads at the museum cafe, and real yogurt that came in a crock

Bordeaux wine and a demi st. Marcelin cheese at Grande Armee

Violet and poire ice cream

le 24eme Septembre
Today we went to see the Eiffel Tower. It was enormous! We didn’t end up going up it because the line was too long.
Nearby, they were having a 25th anniversary celebration of the TGV.
Everyone was out rollerblading, biking or walking (les francais sont actifs!)
There are so many beautiful gardens around.
We had breakfast on Rue L’ecole Militaire—croissants and OJ and Coffee—doesn’t sound like much, but we are adapting to the french way of eating and actually felt satisfied.
A crazy drunk Russian guy came up to us on the street, asking for money. But we knew he was crazy and drunk and we got scared so we didn’t end up giving him anything. His breath reeked of Vodka. CHEAP vodka.
After walking around the Eiffel Tower for quite a while (it started to rain!), we headed over the next few streets to L’Hotel des Invalides—a giant military hospital museum, in which Napoleons tomb was. Napoleons tomb was IMMENSE and set in a gorgeous crypt guarded by marble statues. The ceiling was a dizzying height with stained glass windows, and an exquisite, private chapel was overhead. Talk about a Napoleon complex, this man, even after his death. Then again, NOTHING is small in France.
We also saw medieval weapons and armor, and samurai fighting swords and armor as well. Chris was happy!
Just for laughs, we decided to check out one of the only 2 McDonald’s in all of Paris. The food wasn’t anything special but it was a hell of a lot better than at home. It had posh leather seating and Tvs hung from every angle, blasting MTV. There were areas where you could sit and listen to recent top 40 albums on headphones.
Chris and I ordered a medium french fries, and it was smaller than the american small! They also put the nutrition facts on all of the wrappers there.
We had Indian food for dinner, back at L’Ecole Militaire.
Tomorrow we take the TGV to Lyon-I have no idea what to expect, but I do hope we get there on time and safe-and ENJOY it. Already I wish we didn’t have to leave here so soon.

Au revior, Paris!

Things we ate today:
croissants, OJ and coffee at L’Ecole Militaire
mozzarella panini by the Eiffel Tower
french fries and mini parfaits at McDonalds (aka “Chez MacDonald”)
Indian food for dinner

le 25eme septembre

I am writing this on the high speed train as we leave Paris and enter Lyon.
I find it amazing how a mere train can get us to the other side of the country in less than 2 hours! At the TGV station, trains were leaving every 15 minutes or so to destinations like Milan, Barcelona and Luxembourg. We need a TGV back in the states.
A funny but embarrassing story about the train: Chris and I ended up having to buy business class seating because we were unable to purchase anything else online back at home.
I bought a silk dress thinking it was much longer than it actually was (and silly me, I waited until the day of to actually wear it!), when in reality it barely passed my knees. With tall boots on I have to admit it was kind of a trampy get up. But it was too late to change. When we got on to business class, a very serious professional gentleman sat across from us and gave me the most disgusted looks the entire journey. He kept glancing at poor Chris, who of course always dressed professional, and I think he believed I was Chris’ “hired woman”. I guess fashion taught me a lesson today!
Upon first arriving, I must admit, we were a little bit dissapointed when we reached Lyon. The first station that the train stopped at was in a neighborhood reminiscent of the 5 burroughs, graffiti and all. The second station wasn’t much better, and when we reached our hotel we saw that the entrance was on a shadier side of the street, above a dive bar and down the street from a few empty industrial storefronts.
There is no elevator and no AC, the beds isseperate and small….but the room itself has old-world charm, with a fireplace and big windows that open out to a view of the park below. Directly across from us is the most beautiful old theater, and fountains which light up at night.
The owner of this hotel doesn’t speak any English, but is pleasant enough and everything is clean.
Walking around later today, we found more to like about Lyon. Old monuments and theaters, adorable little shops with adorned front windows (one particular little patisserie had a pyramid of meringues arranged in the window). We bought wine at a cute little shop called “Cerise et Poitron (cherry and pumpkin) ” and had dinner at the only mexican restaurant in town!
We had grapefruit ice cream (glace au pamplemousse) and explored one of the oldest gothic churches in all of France-Cathedral St. Jean. This church had the oldest and largest astrological clock in the world, as well as the largest sundial. Three churches had been erected near it, all of which were destroyed in a fire, but whose vestiges still lay in the archeological gardens nearby.
We found out that our hotel is only a minute’s walk to the river Seine, where a pedestrian bridge passes to Vieux Lyon. Formidable!

Tomorrow we hope to explore botanical gardens and roman ruins. Already I am sad that our trip is nearing an end.

Le 26eme septembre
This morning we had a nice breakfast at the hotel, then crossed over to Vieux Lyon, where we mounted the thousand steps (literally!) to view the remains of 2 roman ampitheaters built in 19 A.D. It was incredible to be standing in a place that was literally thousands, not hundreds, of years old. Some pillars still remained, as well as tiled entrances and water ducts. The larger of the two is still used in an annual music festival in Lyon!
We travelled back down the mountain via metro (which was like a cable car going up and down the mountain!), then walked over to the other side of Lyon to a giant park called Tete d’or (Golden Head, literally). There are over 300 acres of wildlife and botanical gardens at Tete D’or, as well as the world’s largest collection of carniverous plants. We spotted some turtles in the water, and some animals which resembled spotted reindeer.
We had lunch at a friendly little bakery not too far from the park, and ate sitting by the river.
We bought violet and citron vert chocolates at Voisin, and searched for a wine opener at Nicolas. Neither I nor Chris knew how to ask for one in french, so Chris did his best miming impersonation and the seller understood and got us a great cast iron one for only 5 euro. He was so nice!
Later on, we decided we weren’t crazy enough to only mounth the 1,000 steps to the top of Vieux Lyon once, we decided to do it AGAIN to visit the Fourviere Basilica, a beautiful chapel built to look over the whole city.
Along the way up, there was a lovely rose garden and some little prayer gardens that the monks and nuns used to tend when the abbies were still in use (gardeners still tend them today). The basilica itself was rather small (at least in French standards of architecture), but it was very regal, with beautiful gold and turqiouse painted buttresses and immense angel statues all around.
The view from the top was amazing. We had coffee at a little cafe nearby, and out on the terrace you could see all of Lyon below. Everything appeared so medieval—the tile roofs and cobblestone walkways.
An observation tower (looking eerily like La Tour Eiffel) and a private music school were also nearby. As we descended again, we decided to explore the many little shops in the Vieux Lyon disctict. Each corner found more to explore—pleasant cafes and “salon de the”s (tea houses), bakeries displaying myriands of marzipan and chocolate cakes, local artisans…in one shop we met a woman who creates little stained glass figurines and mirrors with her husband.
A vendeuse was selling blue roses at her fleurist shop. We saw students trying to light incense up with their cigarettes.
There were many college students around and the air was thick with the excitement of youth. Lyon has an air of friendliness to it- so far all of the merchants have been very patient with our meager attempts at French.
We encounteres a happy fromagiere and Chris bought some Alome (sp?) cheese.
We had a fantastic finner at an Indian restaurant in town, and the watier let us practice French but promised to interject with English help if needed.
Chris and I are already fantasizing about running away here one day.
The only scary thing that happened to us was a crazy drunk buy who approached us on the street, babbling loudly in drunken brawl-but he approached nearly everyone and they brushed him off.
Some poor girl was lost trying to find flowers. I tried to help her in my broken french but I am afraid I may have succeeded in getting her more lost!
Tonight we are watching soccer (“le football”) on TV and everyone is excited. We have the window open to the street and we can hear everyone cheering at the bar down the way when France makes a goal. There also must be an opera playing at the theater across the way—people are dressed up and ready to go.

Things we ate today:

croissants w/jam and coffee for breakfast

real yogurt w/ blackberries

wine and muscat grapes (yum!)

baguette sandwiches from a local bakery (with veggies, mayonaisse and boiled egg)

rose and orange flower ice cream from a merchant on the street

cafe creme from La Fourviere

Dinner at Saveur Indienne—samosas, baigan curry and rose, cinnamon and citron vert sorbet.

Violet.citron vert chocolates from Voisin.

Le 27eme septembre
After breakfast (“petit dejeuner” or “little lunch” literally), we walked to the Heritage district (south of Croix-Rousse by the metro station) to an all-vegetarian organic restaurant called “Toutes les Couleurs”. We sat in a cute little outside area and the very friendly owner tried to help us in broken English, while we responded in broken French! The chef prepared everything as we ordered it in the kitchen next to the veranda. The smell of good things to come wafted through the window. Chris and I had a curry-walnut and spinach pate as an appetizer, and then had large “salades” with smoked tofu, brown rice, melon, and peas (mashed to a stew-like consistency) For dessert we had an exquisite dish of red peaches and rhubarb topped with a very dark chocolate. Tout etait tres delicieux!
Not too far from this district was another, lesser known roman ampitheater. We explored a little, but aside from the restaurant the remainder of the district was shady, so we tried to get out as soon as possible.
We crossed over to rue St. Geroges in the Vieux Lyon district to go to the International Museum of Miniature. Chris, catching on to the French, asked for “2 billets si vous plait” all by himself—he’s learning fast!
The museum was adorable—housed in a 16th century building (“la maison des avocats” or “house of lawyers”)–with open terraces; very old world style. Hundreds of little scenes created to mimic real historic locations in France on a smaller scale—down to the very last painstaking detail. One of the most interesting scenes was that of Maxim’s, a very famous Art noveau restaurant in Paris; it took the artist 2700 hours to complete. We saw beautiful carved eggs , small scale instruments, clothing and armor (all created with just as much detail as their larger counterparts). We even saw a ship carved out of a molar tooth! Small scale furniture was created with dovetailing, working locks and everything.
Chris had some more good cheese (Tome?) at the fromagiere, and we bought little green candies called “coussins de Lyon” or “Lyonnaise coushins” made to look like the cushins that Louis XIV sat on.
We walked around again, and the more we walked, the more we realized how much we will miss France!We’ll be sad to go.
We went to a bar that had crappy beer (don’t drink the beer in France!), and a rude waitress, what a dissapointment. How ironic that the night we decide to try a”Quick”, the only fast food chain in Lyon, we couldn’t find one!
We saw a dog carrying his own leash today. French people and their dogs.
As I am writing this, it is around 10: 45 at night and we’ve just finished watching some strange movie about Russian girls who got kicked out of military school (?). There is an opera going on at the theater next door—I can actually hear the music-how exciting!

Things we ate today:
croissants at the hotel (again)
vegetarian lunch at “Toutes les Couleurs” (described above)
violet tea and lemonade at a flower-tea shop called “Arabesque”
French cheese
bad beer 😦

Le 28eme septembre
Nous somme tristes (we are sad)…today is our last day in Lyon.
This morning we checked out of our hotel and hung around downtown. Some college students running a news program appraoached us and asked if they could pose some questions to us for their news program—we apologized to them that we weren’t from the area, but we were glad to not be identified as tourists!
We looked around once again at all of the beautiful buildings. We bought 2 “boutellies aux region” at Nicolas wine shop (the merchant there recommended them).
We discovered an amazing cafe called “Pignol” and Chris had a mozzarella and tomato sandwich and I had an awesome slice of pizza.
Ahhh….all the pretty decorated shops and cafe windows. I will miss them as we approach the drab of every day when we go home.
We almost missed our train! We arrived early enough to get the train but couldn’t find our car. In France, when a train or plain says it is leaving at 4:00, it is leaving exactly then and not a minute later, even if someone is rushing to catch it! We jumped inside just as the final doors closed and the train began to move—PHEW!!!
How nice it would be to have a month long EurRail pass and take the TGV all around Europe.
We took the metro crom Gare de Lyon to Charles de Gaulle and are spending our last night (sniff sniff!) at a very nice Sheraton hotel room right inside the airport (complements of Chris’ sister Jen—thank you so much!!!).
Our metro passes somehow didn’t work on the exit to the station, so we (and several other young backpackers) jumped the turnstile.

Things we ate today:
Breakfast at the hotel one last time (croissants and the usual)
Pizza and sandwiches at Pignol
a camembert-sesame baguette from PAUL at the train station
yogurt and sandwiches at Charles de Gaulle
more chooclates from Voisin and a croissant au chocolat from PAUL

Things I will miss:

Watching TV shows like “Desperate Housewives” and “Prison Break” dubbed in France
The music-box sound in the metro station that alerts you of oncoming trains, and the announcers voices as we reach stops like “Charles De Gaulle Etiolle” and “Geroges V”.
The laissez-faire and relaxed attitude about life here.
The sighs and smells
REAL FOOD!!!

Le 29eme Septembre:
We are getting ready to board our flight home. What an incredible trip we had, one we will talk about for years to come.

Au revoir Paris, Au revior Lyon! A Bientot! (See you soon, we hope!)

Disney Vacation 2006 Trip (Labor Day Extended Weekend)

This Labor day weekend, Chris and I decided to once again be adventurous souls and book a cheap, quick trip to Disney. Did I mention that it was hurricane season too? We flew Southwest again and were pleased with the flight—although the weather accounted for a bit of a bumpy ride. When we landed, we lucked out because there was a heavy thunderstorm beginning, and all of the flights that landed after us were circling the landing field because they didn’t want to land when there was lightning. And all other flights at the airport were getting delayed.

We soon discovered that these thunderstorms were the norm, and that around the same time each day there would be these storms and then things would perfectly clear up soon after. The rain was welcome though, as the weather was scorching, with a heat index of up to 115 degrees daily!!! Yow!

We stayed at the inexpensive All-Star Music Resort, which suited us just fine as we didn’t plan on staying in our hotel rooms for too long. Our room was small but comfy and there were several pools around, including a guitar-shaped one! The rooms were air-conditioned too, a BIG plus and a huge necessity in Florida!

Because we are masochists as well as exercise enthusisasts, we clocked a minimum of 17,000 steps daily, and up to 30,000 steps (almost 10 miles!) one day, despite the overwhelming heat. Thanks to the power of air-conditioned hideaways and Earl Grey Iced Tea at the “Earl of Sandwich” in Downtown Disney!

Day two consisted of a marathon walk in the heat to an amazing donut place called Hottie’s Donuts. For anyone who doesn’t believe a donut is worth it—Hottie’s specializes in amazing gourmet donuts that they make right on the premises. I ordered a chocolate peanut butter crunch one, and Chris had a boston Creme. The owner let us sample one of his new donuts, and we spotted some silly flavors—one of them being a Lucky Charms covered donut! (must’ve been the “college kid” special….). We earned our calories that day!

The next day we took a bus over to the Wilderness Lodge resort and hung out on our favorite little private beach, Clementine beach. Aside from the honk of the ferry (which bused visitors over to the magic kingdom), and the babble of a few voices, the beach was as quiet as can be…the perfect spot for a relaxing nap in the shade.

On Sunday we ventured out to the Magic Kingdom for a day of fun! It was busy, but not nearly as busy as other times, and we were happily able to FINALLY go on the Peter Pan ride, one we had always run into long lines on, and haven’t gone on in several years! We felt like giddy kids; our day was made. Of course we also had to ride the Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World.

The ride that had the longest line that day was the Pirates of the Caribbean. Apparently, they had recently renovated the ride to include scenes and characters from the new movies. At first Chris and I were irate—how dare they mess with a classic! But we just HAD to see what they did. So we waited over 40 minutes in line, and we have to say, they didn’t mess with the original too badly. Most of the old favorite scenes and characters were still there, but the beginning waterfall now featured a holographic image of Davey Jones, and the village scene included a few scenes of Jack Sparrow—the character they had created was an uncanny resemblance to Johnny Depp, in mannerism and appearance, it was wild!

We then hopped the monorail over to Epcot and meanered around, making sure to ride Spaceship Earth (an Epcot staple!) a few times and hit the Maelstrom and El Rio de Tiempo. We attempted to hang around in France for a little while too to prepare for our France trip :).

We had our favorite vegetarian lunch at the Tangerine Cafe but were dissapointed to find that they no longer served the Tangerine Dream drinks we always enjoyed! 😦

After spending a few hours (and gettng a bit tired walking in the heat!), we headed back to the Magic Kindgom and had veggie burgers at Cosmis Ray’s. Overall it was a fun day, but we ended up being too tired to stay for the fireworks, which was all as well because it began to rain.

Monday’s heat lead us to the decision that a day at the waterpark—Blizzard Beach-was in order. It was our first time at the park, and we had a pleasant day riding in the lazy river and exploring. We chickened out on riding the world’s longest and fastest waterslide-but ended up taking the ride next to it, which was about half the height-that was about as far as we could go. We enjoued getting cooled off and getting a stair workout at the same time!

Tuesday (our last day) came far too soon. We spent the morning taking pictures and doing my favorite pasttime (shopping!) where we got some ornaments to commemorate our experience—a yearly tradition. We had sundaes at Ghirardelli’s and then headed back to our hotel, where we took a Southwest flight home to a significantly cooler Connecticut. Overall, we spent a great Labor Day weekend there and hope to do it again!

Camping in Maine 2006

writeup by kathy
June 2006,Ogunquit, Maine

Gray clouds on Sunday morning told us that our 2006 trip to Pinderosa in Ogunqit, Maine was off to an iffy start. The sun began to shine later on in the day as we drove along and we kept our fingers crossed. When we arrived at the campsite we were shocked to discover that we were the only tent in the entire 100 + camping area! Apparently the supposed imminent bad weather ahead and the fact that kids weren’t out of school yet left us loners.
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Disney Vacation 2006 Trip (January 12-January 19)

 

On Jan. 12th we left for our 3rd vacation(together) to Florida for a week of fun and sun.
The flight down was relatively smooth except for a few weather related bumps—we arrived 40 minutes early though!
We stayed at the Pop Century resort in the “90’s music” area, a resort which is fairly new to disney.
Overall, Pop Century was a decent place to stay. It had nice rooms, 3 heated outdoor pools and a large accomodating common area with an enormous cafeteria, a store (of course!) and an arcade. (Chris, the big kid that he is, spent a lot of time playing one of his old favorite games, “Centipede” there. Maybe a little TOO much time :)….)
The only dissapointing thing about Pop Century was transportation. Many of the other resorts have several buses going to and from each attraction at Disney—example one for Epcot, one for the Magic Kingdom, etc…Pop Century seemed to have limited buses running to and from the attractions and therefore it was a long time to wait in between buses. Other than that Pop Century was a cute place to stay at a decent price!

Our first evening we had dinner at Downtown Disney at a place called the Earl of Sandwich. Their sandwiches and salads were surprisingly fresh and very reasonably priced for disney! We had a good dinner there after first having our favorite iced mochas at ghirardelli’s (good iced coffee+good chocolate=iced mocha heaven!). That night we went to see “Aeon Flux” at the downtown theater. In Chris’ eyes, it could have been a silent film and still been wonderful due to Charlize Theron’s wardrobe (or lack of!). He believes that the Oscar for hottest body should be given out to her 🙂 Ah well, you gotta let a guy dream once in a while!

Friday we started calculating just how many steps it takes to get to the places we usually walk to at Disney. We brought a pedometer just to see how much mileage we were clocking in by not taking a taxi to get from place to place. We were very surpised! Here is our list of usual places we walked to and the steps they accrued (this is pure geekiness, I know:) All steps are one way calculations:
Perkins restaurant—2500 steps
Indian food restaurant-6500 steps
Wendy’s-4500 steps
WaffleHouse/GiftLand-3500 steps

Seeing that we made several trips to some of these places in a given day, we really racked up the miles! We went to India Palace’s vegetarian lunch buffet on 3 days, burning off the calories in just that walk I think! We averaged 15000 steps/day.

On my birthday we walked 30,000 steps just at Epcot alone! That was 15 miles.And boy our feet were tired the next day to prove it :).

Friday and Saturday we kind of “chilled out”, walking around and enjoying the sun, catching up on reading and drinking frozen cokes (with rum).

Sunday was my birthday and the anniversary of our engagement, so we decided, same as the last time we went, to re-enact the day as much as possible by visiting the same places, even eating the same foods. In the morning we had giant cinnamon buns (see pics to believe how big!), and walked around the Magic Kingdom.
It was more crowed than usual around this time that we usually visit, mostly due to the “50th anniversary celebration” that was going on. But we were still able to ride on most of our old faves—the Haunted Mansion (“come baaaa—-aaack!”), the Pirates of the Caribbean (“Arrgggggh”!), and It’s a Small World. We could not for the life of us get on the Peter Pan ride. Lines for that, as well as a few other rides, were too long to even bother.
Later that afternoon we hopped the Monorail over to Epcot to continue the rest of our engagement day. To our dissapointment, there was an enormous religious conference going on and thousands of people from “Faith in 3d” were there. Epcot should have mentioned the conference because the lines to EVERYTHING were extra long and we were lost in a sea of red and white t-shirts. They made the line to Moroccan food in the World Showcase impossible to wait in—and that is where we went to lunch on our engagment day, AND the only place to get a really good vegetarian meal at Epcot. So needless to say we were a little miffed at them! But we waited a couple of hours and the line died down a little enough for us to get in.
The most dissapointing aspect of our day was when we went to Victoria Garden (where Chris proposed to me!) and we realized that the bench on which Chris proposed was no longer there! There were smaller wooden benches placed here and there in the garden but none like the original bench—and there was no space to sit down anyway! We did take a pic of ourselves in the garden and re-enacted the engagement anyway :).
We rode a few of our favorite tried and true Epcot rides—Spaceship Earth (3 times!), El Rio Del Tiempo, and later on when lines died down, Maelstrom in the Norway area.
Test Track was closed and we could not get on “Soarin”-the newest ride at Epcot that simulates hang gliding—we were of course dissapointed about that too!
For dinner we went to get our usual veggie burgers and fries at the Electric Umbrella, only to find they were no longer serving veggie burgers but veggie chili instead. 😦
Much later on that night we had Norweigian coffees and watched the fireworks. Overall, despite the dissapointments, it was still a magical birthday and anniversary of our engagement. After the fireworks, a little kid said to his mom, “Mom, did the fireworks shoot the earth down?”. 🙂

Monday we walked to Perkins for breakfast and took a bus from Downtown Disney to the Fort Wilderness resort, the farthest resort from the rest of the disney resorts. It really is the closest to the wilderness; nice and quiet and beautiful. There was a wonderful small beach there called Clementine Beach, which we relaxed on for several hours. There were less than 8 people on the beach (including us!) the entire time. We also were suprised to see a Ferry boat stopping and taking people from the beach over to the Magic Kingdom. We took the Ferry to go there so we could then hop a Pop Century bus back to the resort from there.

Tuesday we spent most of the day at MGM studios, the smallest of the “Main 4″ parks. We went on my personal fave, the” Muppet 3d adventure” and saw, for the first time the “Indiana Jones stunt spectacular”-which was made hilarious by the few “extras” they took from the audience, and the “Lights, Motors, Action!” stunt show, which was very impressive. To be perfectly truthful, aside from a few good rides and shows, there really isn’t much to MGM. It’s not a big enough park to spend an entire day at. So after a couple of hours we hopped a bus over to the Magic Kindgom, and there we went on the Haunted Mansion again (the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was broken), and watched the anniversary fireworks, which were beautiful. They even had veggie burgers at the Cosmic Ray restaurant which were very good. On the bus ride home, a cute little Asian girl was talking to the woman next to her about her day—she went on and on about how she met with the princesses and saw Mickey, etc…it was very cute!

Wednesday was our last full day so of course we were getting a little depressed. We spent the day walking and enjoying the sunshin. We had indian food for lunch, delivered some of our clothes home via the post office ( in order to fit our souvenirs in!) and went to see “The Producers” at the movies that night, which was hilarious (we still can’t stop singing the songs!). We ended the night with our usual snack of a giant ice cream sundae back at Pop Century!

Thursday morning we spent moping, packing, and enjoying the sun. We had one last iced mocha at downtown disney and said goodbye to sunny Florida. Our plane ride home was very smooth and it was good to be back home to see the kitties. We had some great memories on our trip, which will keep us warm through the rest of this winter!

Cute tidbits from our trip:

  • Chris would often mistakenly swipe his ATM card in our room door instead of the key card!
  • # of Ice cream sundaes eaten=5
  • Chris’ highest Centipede game score-58000. # of times he PLAYED Centipede-about 30

Chris and I have decided to do separate write ups of the food we ate and movies we saw while we were there, giving each a rating of one to 5 broomsticks. After doing a bunch of thinking about making our own little Disney site with ratings and call it “disney geek’s”, or something to that effect we did, click here for the beginnings of our site! The food ratings have two broomstick ratings, one for value and one for quality:

MOVIES seen:

  1. Aeon Flux: Chris gives it 5 because, well, Charlize Theron is in it. Need I say more? An okay action flick with some interesting fight scenes. But really it’s all about the booty!
  2. Hoodwinked: A very funny movie that both kids and adults would laugh at. Has a line up of famous voices (John Belushi, Glen Close…even Xibit!) in a fairytale “whodunit” type film. Well written!
  3. The Producers: Nathan Lane deserves an Oscar for his hilarious performance. Makes you want to see the Broadway performance when Lane and Broderick were on! Overall a hilarious movie, especially if you are a Mel Brooks fan. Neither of us are huge Broadway musicals fans, but this one doesn’t even seem like one, and the songs are a riot (we’re still catching ourselves singing such ditties as “The Guten tag Hop Clop”). A must-see.
  4. Brokeback Mountain-Worthy of an Oscar. An excellent, touching film that is about way more than the relationship between 2 cowboys.

FOOD, Drinks and other reviews