A few days after Christmas, Rich and I began our two-week adventure, touring France and Spain. Having never traveled overseas, we didn’t know what to expect, and were a bit tenuous about the lengthy flights from Seattle to Reykjavik, Iceland, and then onto Paris an hour later.
Our bags packed, pet-sitter squared away with instructions and key to our Mount Vernon house, mail stopped, plane and train tickets safely stowed, and storm shutters closed at our Coupeville house, we headed to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. With INRIX open on my phone, and Google Maps on Rich’s we plotted out the fastest, least trafficked route, and in spite of a few snarls, we made it to airport parking within two hours.
Before getting into the airport shuttle, I asked Rich ten times if he locked the car, and had everything he needed. The answer was consistently “yes.”
His reassurance, however, didn’t calm my apprehensions about having too little food for the long fights, and the realization I’d packed WAY TOO much stuff, making my suitcase extremely heavy and unwieldy. I also had a large gym pack with a pair of socks and underwear for each day, two sets of pajamas, assorted other undergarments, a plastic puzzle, deck of cards from Scruples (to be used in Mallorca), travel books, magazines, and two 1-gallon Ziploc bags of toiletries and every conceivable pill, ointment, fizzy tablet, and potion I could possible need for two weeks.
Cursing at my overloaded suitcase – with my gym bag on top, which kept toppling over — we made our way up the escalators to the Icelandair ticket window. Much to my delight, the agent asked if we wanted to check any bag.
“Heck yes,” was my immediate thought. Not only did we get to check our over-loaded suitcases, but Rich secured exit-row seats. “We were ready to rock,” I mused.
The next necessity, at least in my mind, was to secure food. Rich disagreed, arguing we had a splendid assortment of pretzels, tangerines, Triscuits, granola bars, 4 cheese sticks, and candy from Christmas for the duration of our 7-hour flight. He reasoned we could always buy food on the plane or when we reached Iceland.
We then headed through security – always fun to remove half your clothes, unpack the contents of your carry-one for security personnel to scrutinize, and then undergo a full-body scan, only to be patted down because your hair barrette has a sliver of metal.
Rich tends to have a more challenging time of getting through security with his cell phone case threaded through his belt – with a buckle on the end – a wallet, money clip, loose change, and wristwatch. Adding to his assemblage of potentially questionable stuff was his new-fangled, waist bag with his credit cards, encased RFID-blocking protective cases.
Through security, and resigned to having “snacks” for dinner, I pulled out my smartphone for a bit of entertainment. A few minute later, an older, pot-bellied gentleman with gray hair and matching beard, walked over and started a conversation. It was obvious he was highly educated, having held a position of authority by the manner of his speech, and the way he held himself.
He was very familiar with Seattle, having commanded a Lake Union-based NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) ship for many years. He currently resides in a retirement community in Pennsylvania, and for the past week, was visiting a lady-friend in Seattle who was evidentially smitten with him, and wanted to sell her Seattle condo to join him in Pennsylvania.
He didn’t share her same level of admiration, having lost his wife three years earlier, and not feeling the need to enter another relationship. Nevertheless, the two of them, along with several other retiree, were heading for Iceland to celebrate the New Year under the aurora borealis.
I just wanted to eat more than tangerines, cheese sticks, and handful of Triscuits for dinner.
With thoughts of subtenant food wafting through my mind, I observed others in the international terminal. A dark-skinned man in a long, beige trench coat was absorbed in a cell phone conversation. His two children, a young boy and girl, maybe in their early teens, nibbled on fast food. They were both extremely tall, slender, and elegant with fine facial features. The girls was adorable and reminded me of a Bratz doll, her thin, chocolate brown legs barely filling her bright red boots.
Rich commented on the children’s height, and I remarked, “Wait until the father stands up.” He was easily 6 foot, 6 inches, walking with graceful strides to check on the status of their flight.
A short time later, we boarded the plane, and were pleased no one was sitting by us. We had plenty of room to stretch out, plus Icelandair provides free entertainment, dozens of movies, TV programs, music, and educational clips about Iceland, which stream onto the built-in screens in the seats. Fortunately, I packed two sets of headsets so Rich could also enjoy a movie.
We both watched Birdman, and then spent the rest of the flight reading, and trying to sleep. Outside of being too stressed (and hungry) to sleep, the flight was pleasant with a representation of the Northern Lights illuminating the cabin.
As we prepared to land, Rich said we’d get something to eat at the airport. The flight attendant had mentioned the airport is very small… evidentially too small to allow more than a handful of aircrafts to pull up to the terminal. Instead, you descend down a ladder into jarringly icy cold air, complete with a hefty wind, onto the tarmac, and then scramble into the terminal. Happily, we zoomed through Iceland customs, and were on the way to food within fifteen minutes…
A glance at the display with the arrivals and departures, however, indicated, we had less than 45 minutes to make it to our gate. Not only were there hordes of people making their way through the terminal (some very slowly), the walls were lined with travelers waiting to board flights, making it challenging to move much faster than a crawl. With the minutes ticking away, there was no time to dillydally. We zigzagged through the terminal, past the food court to our gate. If felt like a high school where all the classes had just let out, and every student and teacher in the entire institution, carrying large backpacks, were trying to make their way to their next class.
When we arrived at our gate, we lined up in front of an agent, donning a heavy parka. Why? Behind the agent was a sloped hallway onto the tarmac with the door wide open. We stood in the line, shivering for about twenty minutes, until we were “released” to go down the hallway, and board a bus, which was even colder with the doors wide open. We stood in the bus for another twenty minutes, chilled to the bone, until it closed the doors, and proceeded to the plane.
I calmed myself, thinking “It’ll be warmer on the plane.” However, the plane was equally cold, having no doubt sat on the tarmac all night. This time, we were in the cattle car section of the plane with Rich’s legs squished against the seat in front. At 5 foot, 2 inches, I rarely have this issue.
Another twenty or so minutes later, with all the cattle seat-belted in, we were ready for the 4.5 hour flight to Paris. As the plane took off, and was significantly warmer, it occurred to me that I’d packed my scarf, two pairs of gloves, and a warm hat in my carry-on bag, along with a lightweight parka. I’d shivered in vain when I could have been warm!
Yes, there is food aboard Icelandair flights. It’s expensive, and in my opinion not particularly appealing. On our subsequent flight during this trip, we did an exceptional job of purchasing food in advance, and eating like kings. In fact, the most memorably meal of the trip, was a crisp, thin, whole grain baguette, spread with sweet butter, with thick slices of brie and tomatoes, and mini greens lettuce, which I enjoyed on the flight from Paris to Barcelona.
In spite of our need for sleep with the a 9-hour time difference between Iceland and Seattle, we were fidgety, intermittently watching movies, listening to music, looking out the window, trying to sleep, and growling at each other throughout the flight to Paris.
Paris Exceeded Expectations
We were relieved when we finally landed at Charles de Gualle Airport, and were able to walk through a causeway into the terminal. Because France and Iceland are in the European Union, we didn’t have to go through customs again!
We followed the signs to the baggage area, riding up-and-down people movers through corridors, and a plastic enclosed tube through the middle of the circular terminal. Above and below were other, seemingly random tubes. It was fun and futuristic!
We had no problem getting our baggage. What stood out was an Oriental girl, sitting on a small pink suitcase with wheels, noisily pushing herself around the baggage area, as if she was in a playground, and not an area, scrutinized by security personnel.
While waiting for our bags, I tried to discern where to purchase tickets for the metro (RER). While I thought I’d created good notes, complete with photos of the airport, information about which train to take, and maps of Paris and how to get to our apartment, they were confusing and contradictory. Or maybe I was too tired figure them out.
At any rate, after some heated discussion, Rich and I made it to the metro station, purchased tickets, and crossed our fingers that we were on the correct train. Adding to the confusion was the train was going the opposite direction of the instructions I’d written out, and I hadn’t realized Charles De Gualle was nearly an hour from where we needed to get off, the Latin Quarter of Paris!
Fortunately, the train wasn’t crowded, and we were able to spread out maps, over our two suitcases and two carry-on bags as we debated what we needed to do, including contact the property owner for the apartment we were renting.
For whatever bizarre reason, when booking a place to stay in Paris, I inadvertently chose Residence Sorbonne, an apartment, similar to Airbnb. The instructions said we needed to call for an appointment to meet once we arrived, and if we missed our appointment, we’d have to wait for another time slot. Once we got on the train, I dialed the number, but couldn’t figure out what numbers to dial since I hadn’t made an international call in ages. At work, I used Skype to dial from my PC. And while trying to call, a busker was in the next car, loudly playing a violin so I couldn’t hear the message on my phone when I finally correctly dialed the number. Plus, the message was in French.
“I’m calm. No, I’m not!”
I left a message, then sent an instant message, hoping we could meet when we arrived.
After getting off the metro, and lugging our suitcase through several turnstiles and up several flights of stairs, I was at a complete loss as to what direction to walk, and it didn’t help that we couldn’t use the maps on our smartphone because we hadn’t signed up for international data. Upset, impatient, hungry, and tired, I took off running with carry-on bag slung over my shoulder, and suitcase dragged behind.
… cut to the chase…
We went the wrong direction, and only the kindness of two women, in two different locations, got us on the right path. Here’s the hysterical part. Our apartment was across the street from the Sorbonne (Paris University), and two blocks from the Pantheon. Theoretically, all we had to do was ask any yahoo on the street, “Point us towards the Sorbonne or the Pantheon,” and we would have been within spitting range of the apartment.
Half an hour of walking in circles, we say the property manager in the middle of the street, waving at us. We were given instructions of how to access the property’s courtyard, then use the key to get into the building. He then lead us to an itty-bitty elevator, crammed us and our luggage into the elevator, and pushing the “up” button. Five minutes later, the door opened to a pitch black corridor.
Rich, who was completely feed up with me, walked into the hallway, and found the light switch. A moment later, the property manager arrived, having climbed the stairs to the fourth-floor apartment. We were lead into a petite apartment with a small kitchen, complete with a two-burner stove, camper-sized refrigerator, small sink, microwave, a cupboard of dishes and utensils, and something beneath the stove, which was obviously a washing machine, and maybe also a dryer.
The next “area” was a table for two with a small round table and two metal chairs. The rest of the room consisted of a large red chair, brown hide-a-bed, coffee table, and two small cabinets, one with a small TV on top. The bathroom was nicely tiled with a tub/shower, sink, and toilet. Next to the table was a small balcony that looked out onto the courtyard.
Rich assured me it would be “fine,” and sure enough it was a great place to stay!
After ironing out a few details with the property manager, we were ready to see Paris. By then it was around 3:00 in the afternoon, and while my first priority was food, Rich was more intent on getting his bearing and finding a map.
It should also be noted that it was very cold… and we’d rushed out of the apartment with insufficient clothing.
An hour of darting in-and-out of the street, snapping a few pictures, and seemingly getting nowhere ended happily with our finally agreeing on a place to eat, La Creperie, a small café by the Pantheon. We were seated by a window, and fortuitously by another couple from the “states” who answered many of our “tourist” questions.
Not fully comprehending the entire menu consisted of crepes, Rich ordered the “calzone,” and I ordered the menu item with chicken, broccoli, and cheese. We also ordered hot chocolate and coffee au lait. We were thrilled with our meal! We each received a large buckwheat crepe, filled with tasty ingredients, along with a small bowl of mixed greens. The drinks were topped with peaks of whipped cream, and two small packets of sugar. We were definitely in France!
Our tummies happy, we headed to a small neighborhood grocery store to purchase fresh baked bread, a jar of berry preserves, brown eggs, fruit, and instant coffee. We then returned to our apartment to sketch out our strategy for our first full-day in Paris.
Within the hour, we’d undone the hide-away bed, and curled under the thick duvet, for a long night’s sleep.
“Cats are a mysterious kind of folk. There is more
passing in their minds than we are aware of.”
Sir Walter Scott
It seems fitting to start my series of post about Rich’s and my recent European trip with the cats of Mallorca, Spain. Unlike tourist spots, routinely shared in books and online, they cats were unexpected delights from cats with ordinary coats to those who were all white or part Siamese.
The capital and largest town on Mallorca is Palma. The remainder of the island is primarily dotted with quaint small towns and fishing villages, citrus, almond, and olive groves, and historical and geological attractions intertwined in the dramatic landscape.
Wild and somewhat domesticated cats — perhaps because of their tenacity at taming rodent populations — roamed freely wherever we went. One of the first cats we saw was at Sa Calobra, a small seaside village on the northwest coast of the island. It was late in the day, and we went into a cafeteria, one of the few places open during the winter. We split plates of seafood paella, meatballs and potatoes, bread, olives allioli, baked ribs, and a large mug of fresh-squeezed orange juice.
The restaurant smelled heavenly, a mix of cooked food, and smoke from a wood stove, used to heat the dining room. A light-colored cat with a white chest and paws lounged in front of the stove, happy to be admired and caressed by visitors.
After eating, we took a walk along the coast, spotting several other cats, darting between the few buildings and narrow streets. Two young, all white cats played in a planter box, scarcely taking notice of Rich and I who spent several minutes trying to catch their attention.
A few days later, we ambled between the towns of Sollar, Fornalutx, and Biniaraix. At the start of our walk, we encountered a beautiful, part Siamese cat with blue eyes that followed us like a dog hopping onto the stone walls, zigzagging between our legs, and meowing when we pet its head. After ten or fifteen minutes, she decided to stay behind as we journeyed along the stone pathways and cobblestone streets through orchards, farmsteads, and the towns.
Along with seeing an occasional goat and numerous sheep – the bells around their necks complementing the lovely ambience – we saw many cats, lounging on balconies, darting into doorways, and watching passersby from the safety of a planter box or stairwell. It was challenging photographing because they weren’t tame or at least, interested in our affections.
A day later, we visited the Coves De Campanet, a magnificent cave that is accessible through a carved passage on top of a hill. In front of the cave is restaurant with a beautiful terrace, overlooking the valley, orchards, and small farms below. The establishment has 16 cats, many of whom were stretched out, enjoying the afternoon sun, including a majestic, long-haired red cat, which welcomed the attention and was proud to flaunt its beauty.
Check out the many cats of Mallorca, above, along with a couple of pigeons in an picturesque window.