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.
In February, we visited Bullhead City, AZ to tend to the death of Rich’s step-father, Ted Robertson. At the time, we stayed at the Tropicana in Laughlin, NV. The evening of our last night, a transformer at a local power plant caught fire, creating a city-wide power outage (although, the casinos had back-up generators, keeping the slot machines running and the blackjack tables lit).
After waiting an hour for the power to return, Rich and I headed to the Arizona side of the Colorado River where we ate dinner at a very crowded Carl’s Jr. When we returned, the Tropicana staff were handing out hand-cranked flashlights. We climbed 21 stories to our room by flashlight, attempted to take a shower with a drizzle of water (the water pumps were electric), and then went to bed.
A month later, we received a letter from the Tropicana, offering us three free nights. We took them up on the offer. Two weeks ago, Monday, at 4:30 in the morning, we found ourselves driving from Mount Vernon to the SeaTac airport for a flight to Las Vegas.
A few days before, having read the temperatures were supposed to be in the 100’s, I invested in several pairs of skorts and camisoles from Value Village. Indeed, after stepping outside to take the bus to the Las Vegas car rental facility, I felt like I was standing in front of a kiln or open oven. The heat was oppressive!
We’d arrived at the start of a heat wave with Las Vegas reaching 109 the day we arrived, and Bullhead City, AZ exceeding 120 degrees! Nevertheless, I was upbeat, especially after hearing we were getting a VW Bug to rent. Although, when given the keys, the car had a striking resemblance to a Nissan Versa. At least, it was red!
Our first stop was the Hoover Dam. Rich was hoping to take a tour, but moments before we made it to the ticket counter, they ceased tours due to an issue with the elevators. I suspect the heat was a factor. Nevertheless, we were able to buy tickets to see the tourist center, which had many interest displays, and was thankfully in air conditioned buildings. Plus, the main building had a great view of the dam, and the “Winged Figures of the Republic,” which are my favorite part of the dam.
I won’t go into details about the dam, which is considered an engineering masterpiece, especially considering the tools (in comparison to what we have today) were rudimentary, relying primarily on ingenuity and manpower.
After roasting, I mean walking, outside for half an hour, we shuffled to the car, fighting fatigue as we drove to the Tropicana in Laughlin, NV (across the Colorado River from Bullhead City, AZ). Ten minutes after checking in, we were in the hotel swimming pool, cooling off. Even though the sun was setting, it was over 120 degrees.
After a quick shower, and eating at the casino buffet, we quickly drifted off to sleep around 9:30 pm.
The following day, we grabbed iced coffees and Egg McMuffins before visiting the realtor selling Ted’s house and the lawyer handling his estate. We also went to Ted’s house to determine what repairs needed to be made. Several weeks ago, there was an offer on the house, which unfortunately fell through. The only positive outcome was we learned what needed to be fixed after it “flunked” the inspection, and the buyer’s finances imploded.
Finally, we visited the three mobile homes Ted owned. One home is being taken by the bank due to being extremely “underwater” with extensive repairs needing to be made before it can sold. Another mobile homes went to Rich after Ted’s death. Rich had paid off this home many years ago, and is now collecting $300 a month in rent. The third mobile home is being sold to the current tenant, who has multiple dogs, cats, and birds. When we knocked on the door, we noticed three tiny kittens under the mobile home, who were very leery of humans. She’s purchasing the house for $5,000, which gives you an idea of its age and condition.
With our chores done for the day, we donned our bathing suits, and headed to Katherine’s Landing, on Lake Mohave, where we rented a jet ski for four hours. Slathered with 30 SPF sunblock, we zoomed to Davis Dam, then circled back to visit the many coves Rich and his family had frequented, starting when he was ten years old. He recalled a cove where a houseboat had tied up. Ted, perturbed at their impedance to anchor near his canopy and water toys, got in his boat, and circled in front of the houseboat, making waves until they left.
For every cove, Rich had a story. He also recalled long weekends of lounging on the shore, jet-skiing, waterskiing, and swimming.
With relatively few people on the river to disturb the wildlife, we saw mallard ducks, American coots, common mergansers, Western grebe, and a fabulous blue heron that swooped in front of us as we motored into a cove. One cove was rather odiferous with several bushes submerged in the water. Dotting the bush was a collection of delicate dragonflies with black, gray, and blue wings. Tired from our jet ski adventure, we headed to Carl’s Jr. for a quick meal before heading back to the Tropicana to shower, turn on the TV, and conk-out.
The following day, we returned to Ted’s house to make some quick repairs, including covering up the rust on his gate with white spray paint. Even though, he’s passed away, his home owners’ association is actively looking for issued with his house. A few weeks after he passed away, they sent a letter saying he had too many “lawn ornaments” in front of his house. For the last seven years or so, he’s had an old horse-drawn wagon, mining pans, and other collectibles he’d gathered in the desert in front of the house. None were added after he passed away!
After finishing up what we needed to do, we wandered through the car collection at the Riverside Casino. Don Laughlin, who essentially founded Laughlin by turning a small motel into a blossoming casino and soon destination, was a car collector.
Afterwards, we rented a jet ski on the Colorado River, across from the Laughlin casinos. With the water colder, we did more riding than swimming, and instead of seeing wildlife, we checked out the homes lining the Arizona side of the river. The Nevada side of the river is owned by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe. There are few buildings along the river, except the Avi Casino. A distance from the river are numerous homes, apartments, and a handful of small businesses. Driving around the area, in search of somewhere to eat, it became clear that Laughlin residents need to travel to the Arizona side of the Colorado River for groceries and most of their shopping needs. Laughlin commerce primarily consists of eight casinos and associated restaurants and shops along a 4 or 5 mile stretch of the river.
The fourth day of our visit, we got up early and headed back to Las Vegas to catch a flight to Seattle. The flight home was a little over two hours, slightly more than the time it took to drive from Seatac Airport through Seattle and Everett up to Mount Vernon. Northwest Washington traffic is horrible!
Death in the Family
[I started writing this in late February]
Last Tuesday, February 21, at 7:45 in the morning, Ted Robertson’s heart stopped. He was my father-in-law, but his death elicited little sadness, only anguish for the amount of work my husband Rich will have to do to settle his estate.
In a sense, his death felt like a wilted bouquet of flowers. What was once appealing and promising was now just frail stems with strewn petals, needing to be cleaned up.
Since September, Ted had been ailing, starting with pneumonia that sent him to a hospital in Las Vegas. The course of antibiotics resulted in his getting c. difficile, a bacterium that causes horrific diarrhea. He spent the next few months isolated in a rehabilitation center in Bullhead City, Arizona (90 miles from Las Vegas). While he was there, two of his toes, which had become necrotic were also being treated.
He was sent home in early January, moving in with Sue, a woman he’d befriended several years earlier, and with whom he gave a “supposed” engagement ring. In December, we’d learned they’re joined checking accounts, except the only funds going in seemed to be from Ted, with Sue making weekly purchases and cash withdrawals, even though Ted was in the hospital or rehabilitation center.
In the three weeks Ted spent at Sue’s house, all of his toes became necrotic, and the local paramedics were called four times. The last time, his blood sugar was over 1,000, and his body had become septic. He was immediately airlifted to Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, where he was stabilized, and numerous tests were conducted, revealing he needed a stent, and his lung were filled with fluid.
On President’s Day, Monday, February 20, we received a call from Ted’s son, Chris, who lived in Philadelphia. Ted’s physician wanted the family to make a decision whether to place Ted back in intensive care or hospice. Knowing Ted didn’t want any life-prolonging treatments, Rich and Chris opted for hospice care.
We immediately went home, and made arrangements to fly out the next morning from Bellingham International Airport. The rest of the day, I scrambled to document what needed to be done at work for the rest of the week, then sent emails to my colleagues with instructions. Rich did the same, in-between looking for the legal documents that showed him to be the executor of the estate.
Tuesday morning, while going through security at the airport, Rich received a call from the hospital, indicating Ted was in “bad shape.” Twenty minutes later, he receive another call, saying Ted had passed. We both got on our phones to call and text families before getting on the plane.
Our first stop in Las Vegas was the mortuary, where Sue and her daughter were waiting. We were informed most of the paperwork had been completed by Sue, using Ted’s last name, and pretending to be his wife. Some of the information was wrong, such as his date of birth. Sue ardently argued it was 1936. The mortician used 1935, which was on Ted’s driver’s license. It was an awkward situation, which was tactfully solved by the mortician who insisted he couldn’t complete the paperwork until Ted’s nature son, Chris, arrived from Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon.
Our next stop was Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, a 730-bed facility in southwest Las Vegas that looks and feels old. The front doors opened to the crowded main entrance with a guard sitting behind the front desk. He directed us to the security office, located in emergency department to get Ted’s personal effects, which seemed like a bizarre place to keep deceased people’s belongings. We started down a long sterile, non-descript corridor, past an occasional prosaic framed picture, numerous closed doors, and polished linoleum floors with layers of wax, disguising their age.
A few people passed us, darted behind a door or turn down another indistinguishable hallway. We followed the signs, making several turns until we arrived at double-doors indicating we’d arrived at the emergency department. My first thought was apocalyptic.
Nearly every chair was filled. Along the walls were people in wheelchairs or sitting on the floor. Children. Adults. Elderly. Street people with their possessions by their side. People who looked somewhat healthy, and others no doubt regulars to the emergency department, especially the obvious homeless and indigent.
Rich knocked on the door of the security office, and was told they’d get Ted’s possessions shortly. After waiting twenty minutes, I decided to go outside where several ambulance were dropping off or picking up people. A woman approaching me, explaining her husband had been brought to the hospital earlier that morning after having difficulties breathing. She was hoping he’d be admitted. She commented Sunrise regularly turns away ambulance when their emergency room fills up.
Indeed Ted had spent several days in the Sunrise emergency department until they found him a “bed” in the hospital. On Yelp, the hospital barely gets 2.5 stars with most people complaining about the long waits in the emergency room, and subpar care.
After finally getting the handful of items Ted had in his room – including a shaver, phone charger, and stuffed teddy bear – we headed to Bullhead City, AZ.
After checking into the Tropicana Casino, across the Colorado River in Laughlin, NV, we headed to Ted’s house. While we knew it was a disaster from previous visits, we weren’t prepared for the extent of the disarray and filth. And unlike other visits, it was now up to us to clean up the mess, and figure out what to do with his properties, which included a large 4-bedroom house, and three dilapidated mobile homes.
To be continued…