Sunday, February 13
Off to church we went – two services – Catholic Mass – Father Marty and met one of the Colonels – he had wonderful words to say about Stephanie – yea. Protestant Service by Chaplin Reedy. Then “work” today – washed 4 loads of clothes (at the Laundromat on base). Shopped at the PX – shopped at the Commissary – had lunch at the bowling alley and then home to REST. Yea – helped Stephanie make 80 something favors for Valentines for Club Beyond, skype Jackie and Chris, and Jack made spaghetti. Nice to rest a little while; however, off to Dublin tomorrow for a few days. That’s all for now!!!
Monday, February 14
Happy Valentine’s Day finds us on our way to Dublin Ireland – Stephanie took us to Stansted (London Airport) about an hour away. We flew Ryan Air – a no frills airline but inexpensive and nice. Jack and I managed to navigate our way around the airport with all of the proper documentation, weight requirements and “little bags”. The flight was about 55 minutes. Upon arriving in Dublin, again we managed all of the “check points’ and found a bus that would take us downtown close to our hotel – note – close in Dublin is not close in Charlotte. After walking about 20 minutes we found our hotel. The Arlington Hotel – Temple Bar. Nice hotel with a large restaurant and bar, plus another neat area that housed tables (like cocktail tables). Each table had its own beer taps – you could pour your own. We didn’t have time to try – but it looked neat. Our room was small but nice and clean. The weather is very nice so off we went to another “hop-on-hop-off tour bus” – we love those. Lady at hotel recommended we definitely stop at the Guinness Storehouse today. Boy was she right – the tour was on floors one and two was very informative and interesting if you want to know how to make beer. However, the best part came next – we went to the seventh floor – the Gravity Bar – wow – what a view of Dublin (and because the weather was nice the view was awesome – they say usually they are invisible.) This part included a pint of Guinness poured for you from the circular bar with all of the table and chairs set up around the bar to view the city of Dublin through floor to ceiling windows. The lady was right – it was a perfect day to be there and we enjoyed our pint. The rest of the afternoon we toured around on the bus and got a good feel for Dublin. The tour is actually a full hour and one half if you don’t’ get off; however, there are 23 stops and we hit a lot of them. We saw castles, museums, cathedrals, Trinity College (had the greenest grass I have ever seen – that’s why Ireland is called the Emerald state), shopping areas –Grafton Street, like Rodeo Drive, the Liffey (the river that divides the city), theatres, banks, Post office (yup very famous), 17th century gardens, Phoenix Park 1662 (larger than Central Park NY), mental institutions, prisons and statues (an awesome one of “Sweet Molly Malone”.) By this time it is around 5 pm so we figured it was time to hit the Temple Bar area (a lot like New Orleans with tons of bars and restaurants). As we walked along, not sure what “bar” to frequent, we heard live Irish music coming from the Temple Bar – so we chose that one – Unbeknownst to us ‘‘this bar was established in 1840 and takes great pride in the live traditional music sessions that take place every day. The musicians are passionate about their music and it is contagious. Before long you will find yourself tapping your foot and your hands will begin to clap to the beat of the music. They are noted for being the best “Traditional Irish Music Pub of the year from 2002 to 2008’’ (and I personally think they still are). We found a table right up front (imagine that) and settled in. Ordered our first pint along with a cheese platter and olives (missed lunch). The bar was full and everyone was very festive. We noticed a young man dancing the Irish gig. We clapped for his dancing (actually a pretty bad imitation but he was having fun and you know how I feel about people having fun and dancing.) He then came over to the table. We introduced ourselves (his name was Paul) and he “loved Jack’s southern accent”. We also met his buddy Shane. Both of the young men (29 and 30) were pharmacists in Ireland. They were in town for the big Rugby Game on that Sunday. Shane kept saying Paul never buys drinks for anybody but his Dad, to which Paul replied “Jack reminds me of my Dad and besides they are Americans and I like Americans and I am offering them Irish hospitality.” The Temple Bar is also known for their established selection of rare and interesting whiskeys. Paul insisted Jack try one and then he decided he wanted him to try another (and it was rare). Jack said they were smooth!! As the evening progressed we met lots of folks in the bar. Amazing – folks from UK, France, Brazil and Venezuela– we all sang along together. Once, I asked Paul whose beer was in front of me – I had not asked for it – he quickly told me if a drink appears before you in Ireland it is tradition you simply just drink it – I said uh OK. Well, we finally convinced the young men we were leaving – wanted to eat – they said ugh – in Ireland food and Guinness don’t mix. Well, we were in Ireland; however, we both needed some food. Walked right across the street and had wonderful Irish Stew at the Shack Restaurant and then headed back to the hotel. What an awesome night. I have no idea who Paul and Shane really are or how to get in touch with them again; however, I do hope that life is good to them. They are special people!!!
Tuesday, February 15
We slept in this morning – only to wake up to pouring rain and cold – and I do mean pouring rain. Anyway we finally got up and went downstairs where the chef proudly prepared a traditional Irish breakfast for us – poached egg, Irish bacon, toast, grilled tomatoes, potato cake, white sausage and “yuk” black sausage (which is made from pigs blood). Then we were troopers and ventured out into the “pouring rain” – thank goodness we were prepared – our jackets and boots worked great! However, after a while, we got back on the hop-on-hop-off bus and just rode around for while trying to get warm and dry. When we finally got off, we strolled up the street (still pouring rain) and found a quaint pub – so we went it – again having no idea what we were doing we had stumbled onto one of the oldest bars in town – some of the folks inside appeared to have been there from the beginning – anyway enjoyed a pint and marveled at the old place. They serve nothing but beer and whiskey (again going back to the theory that food and pints don’t mix). Well for Jack and I, food is a necessity, so off we went looking for a restaurant – found a wonderful one Gallagher’s Boxty House . “Gallagher’s Boxty House is the brainchild of Padraic Og Gallagher, a native of Mohill, County Leitrim. While working in Venezuela in the early 1980’s, Padraic Og observed the Syrians that he worked with practicing their native home-cooking, preparing pittas and koftas. It reminded him of home-cooked food that his mother used to prepare when he was a child, particularly Boxty. He vowed that when he returned to Ireland he would set up his own restaurant and share his favourite food with the people of Dublin and its visitors. True to his word, Gallagher’s Boxty House was incorporated in 1988, and opened its doors at Number 20, Temple Bar in February 1989. At this time the restaurant seated just 30 people. Great place – boxty good! Check out website boxtyhouse.ie (you can read in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian – why do we only speak English ???) – then to the hotel to rest and dry out – had plans to go to the “Irish Dancing” later that evening. I won’t go into detail; however, this was a real disappointment. Our table was like sitting in the wings – that was our view – well anyway I fussed for a little while – then got over it and went to bed!!! Don’t recommend it to anyone – and that is all I have to say about that!!!
Wednesday, February 16
Next morning – sun is out bright. We asked for a good place for breakfast and the lady recommended Bewleys and boy again was she right. We walked about 20 minutes and found the Bewley Restaurant. The Grafton Street Café was opened by Ernest Bewley in November 1927. Ernest commissioned the renowned stained glass window artist Harry Clark to create the windows for his new café at the cost of 60,000 pounds. The grandeur and ambition of Ernest Bewley’s achievement resulted in Bewley’s Grafton Street immediately becoming an essential part of the literary, cultural, artistic architectural and social life of Dublin. The café became a focal point for some of Ireland’s most famous literary and artistic figures, including Patrick Kavanagh, Samuel Beckett and Sean O’Casey. Here at Bewleys they handroast all of their coffee. Bewley’s coffee beans are roasted on the fourth floor in a roasting room and are sourced by Paul O’Toole, Bewley’s Master Roaster. Paul sources the Arabica beans from all over the world and has 30 years of experience.” WOW. After breakfast, we toodled along Grafton Street (Rodeo Drive LA) it was beautiful – fancy shops – fresh flowers – and tons of people walking up and down the street. Well – now is time to head back to the hotel – gather our things and off to the airport. Once more time Jack and I managed to do all of the right things – stamped passports, no liquids, etc. – and please excuse us but we ate at a Burger King in the airport – sorry. Stephanie met us right on time at the airport. When we arrived at Stephanie’s, she and Jack went to the local “take away” fish shop (Prices Chicken Coop) and I began to get ready for our next adventure – Paris tomorrow – Stephanie is going with us. YEA – Taking the train – Eurostar!!
Thursday, February 17
Train ride was good – took a train to London (55 minutes) and then got Eurostar to Paris (two hours) – again amazing. We arrived in Paris safely (did all the right things again YEA – train doesn’t require as many hoops to get through as air travel does) and took a taxi to our hotel. First impression was total disappointment (had to go through some bad areas to get downtown) and then OMG it became truly unreal. Our first big wow was actually seeing Champs Elysees-Etoile – there we were with this incredible piece of history right in front of us – the Arc de Triomphe. I think all three of us dropped our jaws at the same time. And then to our amazement, the taxi driver turned – went two blocks and there was our hotel (tucked away on a little side street). We stayed at the Balmoral, 6 Rue Du General Lanrezac (a proximite des Champs-Elysees et duPalais des Conoges). I had been practicing how to say “Sorry, I don’t speak French” (“Je ne parle pas francais”) the whole way to the hotel; however, fortunately we were greeted by the front desk gentlemen; who immediately knew we didn’t speak a lick of French – he was very good with his English). “The rooms are medium in size and in excellent condition with all the facilities. They are refurbished in elegant and distinctive style. Furniture (from the Louis XV era) was selected by the owner, Madame Mercadier, at the well known antique shops in Paris, along with the wall papers and fabrics reflecting different theme colours and creating a different atmosphere in each room. The pictures on the walls were chosen by an art professional to match the wall paper. It is a traditional Parisian 6 storey building with 57 rooms.”
We hurried and put out things away and then off we went. We asked the gentleman down stairs where to catch the “hop-on-hop-off bus” and again we were floored – he said just go up the street a couple of blocks and we could catch the bus there. As we wandered that way, we encountered our first “Paris scam”. (Stephanie looked them up on the internet when we returned to our hotel that night). A lady approached Jack (while conveniently dropping a wedding band on the ground) and then saying Monsieur, this must be your ring. Of course, it was not and he “finally” said no – the scam is that some folks will take the “gold” ring and then the lady/guy will asked for some money – once they see where your wallet is the “second” person usually will pick pocket you. If no second person, the scammer simply takes whatever you will give them. Good boy Jack – he didn’t enter into conversation with the scammer!! By now we are truly standing next to the Arc de Triomphe (again with our mouths open). The magnitude is almost overwhelming – we just stood there for a few minutes in awe – saying we are “truly” in Paris France – pinch me.
We find the bus and hop on – it is cold; however, we are determined to sit on the top (open air – but on the second row shielded a little bit from the wind.) We passed the GrandPalais (Avenue Winston Churchill), Trocadero Museum, the Eiffel Tower (have tickets tomorrow to go to the top), Champ de Mars, Musee Du Louvre and upon reaching Notre Dame we got off the bus. We are cold so we stop in one of the many “souvenir” shops and buy hats (real cute French types). I bet there are 20 souvenir shops all in one row. After our purchases we spotted a café right across from Notre Dame – we went in and enjoyed a ham and cheese sandwich – the cheese was melted on top of the sandwich. We all passed on the $5 coke. One lesson learned – went to the potty (downstairs); however there was a charge to enter and of course I had no money on me – oh well I guess I’ll just wait. We wandered over to the Notre Dame. Again we are overwhelmed by the simple magnitude of the entire structure. Profoundly beautiful. As we entered into the Notre Dame, a Catholic Mass was in session. Again overwhelmed. Stephanie actually videoed the service. We then toured around the building and prayers were said for “everyone”. How close to God can you feel!!! We hopped back on the bus and saw the Mussee D’Orsay, the Opera House and arrived back at the Champs Elysees. It took us about an hour to return (the full tour is narrated and lasts about 2 hrs.) Each minute is filled with wonder regarding the incredible city. We went back to the room to freshen up before dinner. Went to LaCave Lanrezac, (recommended by the front desk folks). Dinner was excellent – very frenchy.
Friday, February 18
Today is a little cold; however we are ready (no rain). We walked down the street to a real French pastry shop (again recommended by the front desk person) – OMG – again unbelievable. We made our selection of croissants, fruits, coffees and a French pastry. What a neat little shop with folks coming and going with their Fresh breads and pastries – we were told everything is hand made fresh everyday and I do believe it – AWESOME. We enjoyed our breakfast at one of the few tables. (mainly take away). We hop back on the bus and once again pass by the wonders of Paris headed to the Eiffel Tower. We were a little early for our 11:30 am tour to the top so we wandered around the Seine River area. I can only imagine this area in the spring and summer time bustling with all of the river boat cruises and shops open in full force. Some of the boats are going out; however, a little cold for us. There was a big stand selling hot chocolate, coffee, popcorn, etc. and hand made crepes – Stephanie couldn’t stand it – she had to have a crepe –(I tasted it and was amazing).
As we were standing under the Eiffel Tower (as anyone who knows us would imagine) Jack and I danced a couple of steps at the bottom (yup – shagging in Europe – yippee) and Stephanie caught the act on camera and placed it on Facebook – we got about 15 hits!!! It is in this area we encounter two other scams. One is men trying to sell you stuff on the street – some really aggressive) – again scam appears to be seeing where your wallet is and taking it later. The second one is someone approaching you asking if you speak English – I’m not exactly sure how this works but ends up with you again being pick pocketed. The police were present off and on and would run off the “street vendors” but they would return as soon as the police left. Made you feel a little uncomfortable; but three military guys armed with machine guns stayed around the entire time. Pretty sad but made us feel more secure none the less. Now it is our turn, up the tower in iron cages (sort of) we go – they stop about midway, (you can walk around at this point too) and then you take another cage to the top. Wow – a little cloudy however, the view is still incredible – Jack did good once he got his sea legs – you know he is afraid of heights. As we wandered around the top, we had the privilege of witnessing a young man dropping to his knees asking his girl friend to marry him – ring and all – she cried and they both jumped with joy. I got a neat picture. Everyone around them clapped and wished them well. Pretty cool.
Our next stop is the Musee Du Louvre – again OMG – overwhelming – the largest museum in the world and housing the Mona Lisa as well as thousands of other art pieces, sculptures, etc. We marked the Mona Lisa, The Wedding Feast, the sculpture the Winged Victory of Samothrace and several other famous items we wanted to see. Four hours later we had seen five out of the seven we marked plus a zillion other pieces of incredible art and sculptures. By this time, Jack and Stephanie’s feet are killing them (I must admit I’m a little weary too – been a long day). We rested and got a bit to eat at the Comptoir Du Louvre and off we went to the indoor shopping area (Gallerie Lafayette) Another OMG – unbelievable – we looked around for a while – it was like being in a huge English theatre with a magnificent ceiling and retail being all around. Bought a few things and then back to the hotel. Upon our request, the front desk person recommended another place for dinner. It was named Restaurant Graindorge. Last night was great but this one was over the top. The menu was all written in French; so it just happened the Chef came out and explained everything to us – I am amazed. Our two dinners were consumed in very small restaurants – ( I bet each one held no more than 40 people and they don’t turn the tables either). We arrived at the restaurant around 7:30 pm – it was almost empty until 8 pm and here they came (all with reservations – filled right up). Everyone takes their time and enjoys their food and wine (or drink of choice) and lots of conversation. After dinner and an incredible dessert we are off to the hotel and back to bed.
Saturday, February 19
Today brings a little rain. We know we must leave for the train station around 3 or 3:30 pm so we plan our day. We walked back to the pastry shop (same as yesterday) and enjoyed another array of quiche, croissants, pastries, fruit and coffee. We walked back up to the circle where the Arc de Triomphe sits. There are 12 streets that shoot off from this circle – they say from the sky it appears as a star (the cars and motorcycles and bicycles were amazing as they worked their way around this hugh circle with all of the 12 exits). We walked down the Avenue Des Champs seeing everything from Lexus and Mercedes car dealership (yup- right along the other shops) including every designer you can think of – Shopping in Paris is amazing – very trendy and very very costly. Despite the rain, the streets were full of shoppers. We bought a few things and then went to the famous restaurant Fouquets – lot of stars, politicians, etc. eat there – we entered and asked to be seated at the bar –just thinking we might have a drink (too early for lunch) – as we looked at the menu and noticed a Bloody Mary was 20euros (that’s about $30 in American) – we gently got up and left (too rich for our blood). Amazing what some people will pay – there were people in there (FYI – I noticed the filet of sole entrée was 65 euros – oh my). We wandered around some more looking at purses in the Lancel shop – beginning around 700 euros – oh my my). The whole street was over the top. Time for lunch again – went to a great place (Vesuvio) that was located on the same street and we enjoyed our lunch (Jack spaghetti and me French Onion soup (yum) – with Stephanie deciding only on hot chocolate.) Now it really is time to go – so back to the hotel – get a taxi and off we go to the train station. We also encountered our first march of protest – not sure what they were doing but police all around with a large group of people in the street. PS – yesterday we noticed an incredible mass of police (we didn’t know why and didn’t ask); however – come to find out, Paris was on high alert for terrorism.) Whoopee!! Glad to be leaving and avoiding all of the scams. Did however, learn a little French – Excusez-moi. S’il vous plait, merci, and ou sont les toilettes? (we were very polite Americans when asking for the bathroom). – We arrived back at Stephanies’ about 8:30pm – absolutely worn out but happy to be home safe and sound!!!!
Sunday, February 20
Off to church we go (two services – one mass – one protestant). Service very nice – small crowd – the base has a three day weekend with Monday being President’s Day – a lot of folks traveling!! Unfortunately, a young airman was killed in a 4-wheel gator accident at his deployed location in Qatar; and it was announced during both services. He was 20 years old – his first deployment. A memorial service will be held some time this week pending on when and/or if his parents come to England for a service. A notice will be sent later. This was Stephanie’s first death. This young man was not married and obviously didn’t have kids in Club Beyond; however, there could come a time. This is the reality of what she does; and what many of the men and women at Alconbury do. God Bless America; and the men and women who serve.
Now is it off to the laundromat (five loads this time), the commissary (Stephanie wants bacon, eggs, grits and biscuits for dinner). Eventually, we get home, I eat lunch and then off to bed for a long nap!!! YEA – Tonight we had our delicious “breakfast” prepared by Chef Jack. It was delightful. Headed to London tomorrow just for the day!! Meeting our friend Yeomen First Sergeant Phil Wilson the Beefeater!!
Monday, February 21
Here we go again – to the train station – got it all down by now (I didn’t get caught in the turnstile this time – yes I did this once – so what!!) Arrive in London – catch the tube and go directly to the Tower of London (boy we are good). Walked down and Phil was there to greet us. It was good seeing him again – sorry we couldn’t spend time with him; however, his day off is Friday and we are leaving then. Anyhow – into the Tower we go – we go and view the Crown Jewels; and they are just as big and shiny as they were last time. Yup, Jack and I had seen them on our first trip but this was Stephanie’s first time. Our main reason to go was to introduce Stephanie to Phil so perhaps he can guide her if she decides to take the kids from Club Beyond – I think that would be a neat “field trip” . We didn’t stay long, Stephanie said that was all she wanted to see at this time as she felt she would be back on several occasions with friends and visitors. Off to lunch we went – right across the street to Liberty Bounds – Boy it is cold; however, we want to see Westminster Abbey (it was closed the first time we were in London) – back on the tube we go (thinking how good we are because we again come right out at the right stop). Must have been our lucky day – unbeknownst to us the Abbey closed for tours at 3:30pm – We arrived at 3:15 and were the “very last” three people they let in – Yea – thank you Lord. Of course, “Westminister Abbey is a working church with a daily cycle of prayer and worship. Its soaring vaults proclaim the unimaginable greatness of God. Christians believe that He is a personal being both within and beyond our everyday world. Like many other great churches, the Abbey is designed in the shape of a cross, recalling the death of Jesus Christ, the source of new life for all who acknowledge Him”. “The Tombs and monuments speak both of human dignity and achievement and the Christian confidence in life after death. Westminster Abbey was founded in the 10th century. Then most Christians in Europe accepted the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope. In the 16th century the Reformation brought many changes to the organization and worship of churches throughout Europe. The Church of England became independent of Rome. However, it kept much of its tradition while developing its own distinctive forms of worship conducting its services in English instead of Latin and taking scripture and tradition as it authorities.” “Since the crowning of William the Conqueror here in 1066, The Abbey has been the nation’s Coronation Church. It is also the burial and memorial place for many famous historical figures from the last thousand years of British history. Down through the centuries it has been visited by millions of pilgrims and today WE became a part of that great tradition.” WOW “ Above all the Abbey is a working church- a place for Christian worship. Each hour, for a minute or so, they pause to pray. We got to be a part of this. Everyone is invited to join in – or they might want to simply take a quiet moment to reflect. Everyone is welcome at the regular services and a priest or chaplain is always on hand for private conversation”. (nope I didn’t do confession; however, could probably use it- but, what some folks don’t know about me is I try to confess sins each and every time I pray and ask for forgiveness knowing that God is not done with me yet – I am still a work in progress). Of course, being in the Abbey and touring around left me in awe. Before we left I stood in the exact place where Kate will soon stand on her wedding day – I must say that it quite an entrance!!!!! Wow another great adventure and we are headed home.
Well, I can truly admit it now, I am good for 14 straight days and then I crash – I hit the wall hard, falling asleep on the train and when arriving home around 8 pm I went straight to bed – slept the clock around – YEA.