Tag Archives: vacation

The Journey to France

We started early on this rainy Tuesday morning in Leeds, a 6:30 alarm call is not usually what you want on vacation! Still, we were mostly packed & the early start enabled me to drop the family off at the train station, return the hire car & then get a ride back to the station with my Dad. After some emotional goodbyes I went to find my wife & child, at the Starbucks of course. There was a fantastic pianist playing, my daughter gave him the last of our UK money which gave him a big smile & got her both a high 5 & a 2 minute lesson, my budding pianist was very excited. So excited that she wasn’t really paying attention when we picked up our bags to head to the train, she swung around & knocked my full cup of coffee all over the place with her back pack. Wet pants & some coffee smells, but no harm done.

The train to London was on time & once we had the luggage in place the journey was pretty pleasant, it only took 2 hours & 15 minutes, we had a table for the 3 of us, reading & good family times were had, British Airways could take some lessons here! On arrival to Kings Cross we made our way, with all 5 suitcases & 2 backpacks out of the station & across the street to St Pancreas. After only a minuted there my sister & her family arrived from Bristol, it was so wonderful to be bale to hug my sister after 4 and a half long years. I met my nephew for the first time & my niece for only the 2nd, my brother in law doing a great job of corralling them as my sister came to find us.

We got through security & customs with no real problems although lugging those suitcases up onto the X-ray machine was – yeah. A quick lunch at a cafe & we were on to the Eurostar for the journey to Paris. Again we were pretty comfortable, my sister had booked our & spaces around 2 tables across from each other. The kids were fascinated at first, but a little bored by the end of the 2 and a half hour journey. The tunnels leading up to the channel gave surprising air pressure pushes on your ears, I’d say worse than a plane on take off, the channel tunnel however wasn’t bad at all. Once we got to France the speed went up & we were causing along at an average of 167 mph, quite remarkable.

On arrival in Paris it was just like getting off a normal train, I kind of expected another go through customs. It was rather odd that French customs were in London, maybe 20 feet down the line from UK exit customs.  In the Gare du Nord we paused as I tried to get my bearings, being all resourceful & not wanting to rely on having data on arrival I had printed off directions to our apartment. Unfortunately, folks won’t leave you alone long enough to get adjusted to everything being in French, taxi here, taxi there, no thanks, I don’t want to pay you 85 euros for a minibus.

We exited the station & couldn’t find the road we were looking for, fail, we walked a little way & then I turned on data on my phone, I was a little worried that I wasn’t on the correct network & would get data charges instead on the free roaming data from the Sprint deal. However after some later research it appears I am ok. The metro station we needed wasn’t too far, however with all of our 2 weeks worth of luggage, the 550 meters (or whatever it was) seemed like quite a haul, there was probably a closer one but we were committed by this stage to the directions we had on hand. Once we got to the metro station, the epic task of hauling those darned suitcases down the stairs began (I know we need them, but my back, my back). Once we got through, the nice lady at the metro kiosk was going to help us, until her card machine wasn’t working, then she thought it was, then no, it wasn’t. Eventually I managed to stay in line at the machine long enough to buy our tickets, I grabbed 30 of the things, no idea if that is too many or not enough, but they did a deal if you bought packs of 10, so 10 each for my wife my daughter & myself. (it turned out to be the perfect amount)

We squeezed through the ticket deal, got down yet another flight of stairs & then made it onto the subway. The doors started to close on my daughter, I reacted quickly enough to stand in the way, otherwise I’d have ben hitting the emergency break or busting a window, no way on God’s green earth I’d leave my kid behind. The subway was packed, people were like they always are on subways, solemn and trying not to make eye contact, of course I can;t help myself & I look them all in the eye, it’s kind of fun when they turn away!

Once we got off, we went up the stairs, through the exit thing & up more stairs, really, I’ll be glad when we are home if only for the suitcases. We exited the station apparently at a different point than my directions expected. So we crosse the road & started walking in the right direction looking for a road that we actually just to the left of where we crossed, not to the right where we were walking. We must have looked like fully confused tourists wit our luggage and me holding my printed map. A very nice and helpful French gentleman offered his help, in English praise God, and helped us to turn around and retrace our steps. It turns out the apartment was only a couple of minutes walk from the metro station.

Olivier, the man I had been communicating with for the rental met us at the apartment. It is a 4th floor place, just down the street from the Louvre. The elevator is just big enough for 1 person and a suitcase, unfortunately with a backpack you cannot turn around which made my exit a little ungainly haha.

After a brief orientation & me handing over the rest of the rent in cash (glad to not be carrying that around anymore), we had the place to ourself. It is a fabulous apartment, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a spacious living room, dining room & a decent kitchen. It is an old building, I’m not sure how old, but it must be at least 150 years, maybe more. The floor has a fabulous sag to it, everything creaks, it seems safe, but it is so quaint, a slope to the middle isn’t troubling anyone much.

Everyone other than my brother in law & their young son went out to get some supplies from the Monoprix, a supermarket similar to Marks & Spencer just down the street, relatively trouble free, we did get full fat milk instead of skimmed & my wife spent a long time trying to make sure she was actually getting butter.

Once back to the apartment, we had spaghetti bolognese, of course, we are in Paris, lets have Italian 😉

After a nice family meal, lots of dishes were cleaned & then a little r&r (and writing at last) and then bed time. Hello Paris, you seem like you will be fun, I can’t wait to walk your streets free of bags.

 

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A Rushed Visit to Leeds

The continuation of my vacation journal from our big thanksgiving trip to Europe ….

York was wonderful, we could have stayed for ages, however it was time to go to Leeds. If York was a nice time catching up with family, Leeds was to be a great time, if a little busy catching up with even more folks. Somehow with trying to do so much on this trip we ended up with only 4 days in the city of my birth.

Friday morning we rose in York and packed our suitcases, yet again, then took a nice stroll into the city for coffee, I could get used to this location! After a last bit of visiting we said our goodbyes to my Aunt, Uncle, cousin & his fiancee.
We then made the relatively short drive to my home town, Leeds. Finally at my Dad’s house, we got caught up, although we had been together the day before. It was nice to be in familiar surroundings, even if I haven’t lived in the house for the best part of 20 years. The old city looks much the same, maybe a little damper looking, it has been raining a lot. The most noticeable change that I saw, other than even more buildings in the city center were all the cars. Leeds has always been a busy city, but it felt like there were probably 50% more cars on the roads than when I lived here. It may just be the smaller roads tricking my Texan brain though.

In the afternoon we joined my Dad & step Mum for a visit to Costco, always interesting to see how the same stores compare in different countries. I was quite surprised how similar it was. The Leeds warehouse was huge, easily big enough to be  a US store, many of the goods for sale were also the same as in the US, there were obviously lots of them not.

In the evening we join an old friend and his wife for dinner at a restaurant called the Moody Cow. The food was great & the company even better. I had a jerk chicken & sweet potato fries and a couple of local beers. It was raining like crazy when we got there & freezing cold on the way out.

Saturday was a fun day, after going for coffee (recurring theme on this trip), we had a family reunion of sorts in the afternoon at my dad’s house. I got to catch up with all my step sisters, their spouses & children. My Aunt & Uncle cam over from York. A few family friends stopped by too. I ate far too much and generally just had a great time being in the company of loved ones.

When everyone was heading out to call it a day, maybe sit on the couch & snooze the evening away, we were headed out to a party. Another old friend’s wife’s birthday party. This one was a blast, there were a ton of my friends from when I used to live here & the whole evening was just one of catching up & reminiscing about the crazy adventures of our youth. The most noticeable difference from when we used to hang out in our teens & early twenties were all the kids from babies to my 9 year old running around the place, it was really rather hear warming.

On Sunday we went to church with my Dad. The church of my youth, it is always nice to go and remember the place. It is a very traditional church of England, beautiful stone building with towering ceilings and a pipe organ. It also has the traditional, cold sterile type of service that i remember, lots of incantations or invocation type things, heres what you say after I say this etc, old hymns that do their best to hide their joy & sense of worship in exchange for I suppose a revered respect. It’s no wonder that I went away from the church as a kid if this is what it was like, it just doesn’t speak to me personally. At the same time I felt a sense of gladness and amazement that God has so many ways to reach different people through different churches and worship styles, it’s quite amazing really & just speaks to how much the Father loves us.

We spent the rest of the rainy Sunday doing laundry, an unfortunate necessity of a long trip, I also had a good chance to read, I am trying an actual fiction book, Mistborne & quite enjoying it so far,

Monday would be our last full day in Leeds, we made the most of it though. In the morning, after packing (again), we went and had coffee with some very old friends, the parents of my primary school best friend, it was wonderful to chat & catch up & be in the house I had such good time sin as a kid. Unfortunately my friend was working away in France.

In the afternoon we went into the city center, or “town” as folks in Leeds refer to it, and did some shopping. Once we returned to my Dad’s house we did one of the most important things of any trips back to Leeds – we got fish and chips from the original Nash’s in Chapel Allerton, they were amazing of course!

In the evening we went to go visit my uncle for a little while, that would be the last visit in Leeds, we got almost all our family & most of my old friends in, pretty successful. It was great to be in my home town, even if it was for only a few days. The sights and sounds, the smells, the people, the roads, just everything about it, it may not be where I live or call home now, but it will always be home & as such, it feels good to visit there at least occasionally. I look forward to returning again, hopefully much sooner than this last time. Hopefully I will remember to take more photos then too, we were so busy this time I hardly snapped any.

 

The great European vacation of 2015

The great European vacation of 2015 has begun, for once I took the flight day off, it should have been, as it began, utterly relaxing, however leaving packing until the last minute saw it turn stressful, including realizing I’d left my phone at home 10 minutes into the journey to the airport. We got it recovered & made the flight in time and at this stage I have no items actually forgotten for the trip that i have discovered yet 🙂

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Leg room – yeah about that…

We were flying from Dallas to Edinburgh, via London on British Airways, the DFW to LHR leg is just under 9 hours of flight time and it is never much fun, this particular flight was one of the worst yet. My daughter’s seatbelt was missing part of the latch, we reported it & yay, I got moved, away from my family, to a seat by the bulkhead, with no leg room. I must have been visibly showing my frustrations as the attendant came an apologized several times & told me that I could go back to my family as soon as the seat belt signs went off. The same steward also gave me 2 beers instead of 1 when the drink cart went by, so I almost forgave him. The seats were uncomfortable and far too close together. The plane was clearly designed for less, indicated by the fact that where the seats were fastened to the floor left a pole right where your feet & or bag were supposed to go under them. In the intended configuration I am sure that the seat edges would be in line with the fastenings allowing everyone to have bag space & foot room. I slept very little but forced my self to rest regardless, which aid dividends as I wasn’t too wrecked on arrival.

Our connection in LHR was supposed to be easy, the Edinburgh flight was from the same terminal which should have meant no customs or security according to BA customer service – wrong, we had to clear customs & go back through security to get to the next gate. We made it to our connecting flight with no time to spare, extra delayed as my wife’s shoes in her carry on triggered something required a physical search.

We made it to Edinburgh at around 11 am (5am our time – having left at 4:30pm), after we got our bags we went straight to the terminal Starbucks & confused the poor barristers with our very American requests such as “a cup of coffee” lol. At the car rental place we got the hard sell on upgrades & insurance like I’ve not experienced since about 10 years ago in the states, the guys was good at it, but I really just wanted to get going & was never going to give him another 400 pounds to upgrade to a bigger car, these roads are tiny, I don’t want a bigger car! Once we finally got in our car, oh my the parking lot was packed tight! I made it out with no dings, got on the left (right) side of the road & went to Edinburgh Castle.

IMG_2951The castle served 2 purposes, 1 it is a cool tourist spot that we wanted to go to, 2, it would keep us awake long enough to go to sleep in the evening to get adjusted to the time zone. The castle was fun, it is a magnificent imposing military structure. As a place to visit, it was a little more military & a little more structured museum than I usually like for a castle. The air outside was cool & the wind biting, my daughter had fun running around on the battlements & inspecting cannons, once we got index the war museum though she quickly lost interest. Mon’s meg (the huge medieval canon that could fire a stone ball over 2 miles) was as imposing as you would expect & St Margarets Chapel, the oldest building in the castle – built in the 1130s, got her focus back though. We moved on to the crown jewels, they spent a long time building them up with exhibits, yet once you got to them, a little disappointing, I mean, really cool old stuff, but not exactly the English crown royal jewels, oh well.

 

After the castle we made the hour drive to Stirling where we would spend the night, very tired we ate at the inn next to the hotel, a below average steak & a quite amazing sticky toffee pudding with a pint of carling made me feel very much so back in the UK.

A Decidedly Fun Thing I’ll Certainly Do Again

 

So that was it, my cruise journal. I still have a couple of poems yet to publish from on-board, but other than that, this will be my last post relating to this vacation. I learned a lot of things on-board about myself and about how I would like to spend future vacations. I learned that I really enjoyed and benefited from keeping a vacation journal. I shall endeavor to keep one for all future trips and assuming I am still blogging will share those too.

I learned that I prefer smaller cruise ships and that the next cruise we take I would like to be more of a luxury cruise. Something about mega-sizing the ship and going for a younger crowd removes something of what allures me to cruising. I want to feel like I am gatecrashing a lifestyle and a culture that I am normally a not a party to. Yes you can still (I did) have a wonderful vacation on a super-mega-ship, it is just not the experience that I would ideally choose. That is not to say that I won’t vacation on the Magic again, exiting Galveston for a really rather reasonable price has a very big upside. I still got all the rest and relaxation that I wanted, I just would have liked to have felt a little more hoity-toity in the process (if that even makes sense).

I learned that while the flexibility of “any time dining” is wonderful, but, if you have assigned dining, so long as it works out well, that can be even better. We have had this on previous trips and usually you are assigned to a table with other people. This makes for much better dinner conversation opportunities because you are not just reviewing what you have all done together all day, you have the chance to tell stories to people that have not experienced them. However, if you are assigned to a table with people who don’t want to talk, or not with a good wait staff, then anytime dining is the way to go.

The thing that changed this from a really nice vacation but the service was not so much, to this was a great vacation & the people were amazing was relationships. Whether it was that we(I) needed a few days to get to rested enough to where we could enjoy people, or that it took us a few days  to find the people that we could effectively relate to I’m not sure, although I lean towards the latter. Our conversations with our eastern European friends in the dining room, with the English people on the entertainment crew made the vacation vastly more enjoyable. I have to look at this and apply it to life in general, to be fair I have been working on this for a few years now & the change is immense.

Relationships are what can change your life from “is this all there is?” to “life is great”. Sure there are challenges, most of us don’t get to work for fun, we have to work for a living. Yet the time working is not so bad if you build relationships there, just like if you have relationships waiting for you at home & in your recreation time, life is just better. Now these relationships need work, unnourished they will be empty & flounder, but if you work on your relationships. If you chose to build covenant relationships rather than contract relationships, your life will just be better & that makes life much more worth living.

While my vacation gave me much needed & overdue physical & emotional rest & recuperation. There was an unfortunate down side, it had left me feeling spiritually low. I didn’t realize how much until I walked into church the Sunday after we got back, it was a beautifully overwhelming experience. I had happy tears as my spiritual gas tank was immediately filled up. The answer to my life’s purpose is in here somewhere what He will chose to do with that is up to him, I will simply follow (and look forward to more vacations). I need to make sure that on future vacations I make time to stay connected to my source, more than I did on this trip.

Other thoughts? Some people say that I don’t have an accent anymore, however I have come to realize it is because I don’t sound like James Bond, Hugh Grant or Dick van Dyke. I have an accent, faded and slightly Texanized, but I still have my accent (dang it). I have never sounded like any of the aforementioned people, I am from Yorkshire, our accents might not be Hollywood famous, but they are wonderful British accents. I shall decide to ignore people who say I have no accent from now on.

I have no idea why I could not bring myself to dance at the beginning of the week, the terrible music was no excuse, my daughter wanted to dance and I didn’t do it. That could have been a great regret from this week. However it will simply serve as a warning to ensure I don’t get as fried as I was prior to this week. By the end of the week I had danced on stage with my daughter and on the final day (skipped this from the journal) we danced in the atrium several times, slow dancing around the floor shared with some delightful elderly couples, one of which were especially encouraging to my daughter to just keep dancing (her whole life I presume) and gave me that wonderful, knowing look saying that I am not doing too terribly as a Dad. Maybe I should force myself to dance more, before the inhibitions that were removed come back, I guess that’s a thought for a date night in the near future.

What else did I learn? I learned that I cannot read an entire David Foster Wallace book in one week if I have more to do than just read the book. I discovered that while I loved his essays, especially “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, I do not agree with his assessment of cruising.  My assessment, and if for some random reason I decided to gather my vacation writing into a book its title, would be “A Decidedly Fun Thing I’ll Certainly Do Again

 

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Vacation Journal: Day 7

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Day seven was our last day at sea and our last day of vacation. We have been sailing north / north west since we left Cozumel last night, sailing towards the end of this wonderful week. I had a pleasant sleep-in to 0745 (something is wrong with that being a sleep-in on vacation), followed by a slow breakfast of smoked salmon on bagel, followed by blueberry pancakes. Overeating is so easy on a cruise. The service at breakfast was slow, causing me to consume more of the excellent coffee than normal.

A planned day of pool side leisure was curtailed by mist on the horizon. That mist slowly manifested into rain and occasional thunder. Somehow being in a pool in a metal vessel in the ocean seems remarkably unwise with the very real threat of lighting on the horizon. Instead we decided to review our week’s photographs taken by the cruise photographers. From probably over a hundred photos, we pick out three to keep, I then went back and got another three, because while my wife could live without them, I couldn’t  she is the strong one when it comes to such things.

The humidity on board is so great today that the stairs are slick close to the lido deck. Another downside of humidity is the adjustment period required by your camera to take photos outside after being in the a/c. Prior to the adjustment the lens fogs rapidly and annoyingly.

Stormy weather means choppy seas and high winds, which means the boat is rocking. Not everyone enjoys the physical sensation of the ship listing. Personally, I love it. It is like a perpetually slow roller coaster, strangely similar to being drunk, but only in your legs. Looking over the balcony the waves do not seem to be big enough to cause the movement that the ship is experiencing. They are choppy, but we are not talking deadliest catch and with the size of this ship it should take some serious moving. A quick look on one of the ships tv channels tells me that we are experiencing steady 30mph cross winds with gusts over 40mph, that will do it.

There is not much of our vacation left now, I feel ready to return home, if not to work. I am however not looking forward to debarkation or the 5+ hour drive home. These feelings may be fueled by spending so much time in the cabin today, reading and writing. As much as I enjoy these things I am starting to feel confined, yet there is nothing on the ship that appeals to me to go and do right now. I don’t want a drink and I certainly don’t want to eat. I am pretty much sick of the taste of chocolate & sweets in general. I am tired of eating. I am ready to feel productive. I would estimate that my tank has gone from 10% to 90% in this wonderful, restful and fun week.

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Vacation Journal: Day 6

Cozumel, Mexico

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If there was going to be a day to make or break this trip, today was the day. Today was the focal point, the fulcrum of this whole adventure. Today is the day we get to swim with dolphins. As a Dad that wants to reinforce to my child that dreams are both real and attainable, her love for dolphins months played a large part in deciding to take this cruise. The decision to cruise was made knowing full well that swimming with dolphins is always an option at some of the ports.

The day, fortunately, did not disappoint, if anything is surpassed expectations. We took a quick van ride from the port to the Dolphinarium, once we arrived we were given a briefing and then before we knew it out group of about 12 entered our pool with 2 dolphins. Over the next 40 minutes we petted, kissed, held fins and went for a belly to belly ride. The speed of this ride and the astonishing acceleration taking me completely by surprise. It was truly a dream come true occasion for my daughter, for her parents too. I was particularly proud of my daughter who did all the tasks without assistance, the swimming lessons paid off!

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Moments like today make struggling through work worth it, it is the memories of these truly special occasions that you have to cling to when you are at the end of your rope at work wondering if it is all worth it. It is worth it, I might not get to travel months at a time, or do anything on my trips that they would make a tv show about, but they are so worth every second, just to see the smile & hear the squeals of happiness from my daughter.

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qIMG_4897After our dolphin experience we had lunch (included) at the place before heading back to the ship. They have a long duty free store that you have no choice but to walk through to get onboard. It is almost like friendly piracy, taking your money with a smile, there were some good deals to be had though 🙂

 

 

Before we went in to dinner we joined our fellow guests at the frequent cruisers thank youqIMG_4907 reception. We enjoyed some rather potent free drinks and I finally got over myself and danced with my daughter, on stage no less, with about 50 others. Still, that shows how much recuperation has been done during this week. On the way out we struck up a conversation with Katie from the entertainment staff, I correctly guessed (by her accent) that she was from Halifax, not far from Leeds where I grew up. We talked at length about life onboard and her current struggles with deciding how to get a visa to live in the states with her American boyfriend. She was a very pleasant and most engaging person to talk to. Two things struck me after our conversation, one how much better I am at conversations now than I used to be & two, just how far I have come in the last 12 years since I first made the decision to leave my home town in search of a better life. I really don’t give myself enough credit for what has been accomplished, not that any of it could have done without the gentle guiding hand of the Lord, but you know what I mean.

Following the reception we headed to dinner, requesting the same table as the night before as we had finally found a wait crew that not only brought us some food, but had a bit of personality too. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about past cruises is getting to know (somewhat) the wait staff, with not having assigned seats & generally overworked wait staff, until yesterday it has not been as good an experience in that sense as on previous trips. However Iavn the Serbian and Jovana the Croatian were a delight and Alona, our Ukrainian drinks waitress was fantastic and so much fun to talk to. It is when talking to these people that you really start to get a feeling for how fortunate we are. Take Alona, I don’t know her life story or her situation at home, but I do know that she is 35 with a teenage daughter who she doesn’t get to see for 7 months at a time. She does this to be able to provide for her daughter the very best way that she can. I cant imagine being away from my family for 7 month stretches, but if that was the best way for me to provide for them I would do it. I really have a tremendous appreciation, admiration and empathy for these dedicated people.

The evening show on day 6 was a comedy hypnotist who was very entertaining. My favorite part being when people were sent to look for their missing belly buttons. He asked one lady what she needed her belly button for & she replied (in her hypnotized state) “to put my finger in it”. That cracked me up and was a great end to another great day of this vacation that is sadly drawing to a close.

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