Travels to America

A couple of weeks ago we made the trip back to Hawaii to take care of a few required appointments, which meant that we had a great time visiting with as many friends as we could fit in. Apologies to any friends whom we didn’t get a chance to visit; we did the best we could within a very short visit. We were so busy that we are now recuperating from our non-stop vacation back in Carcassonne!

We built in a day’s layover in Los Angeles to visit with Mike’s brother and sister-in-law. It is always a pleasure to spend time with them. And, in LA, we just had to have Mexican food!

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While we continue to fully enjoy our France adventure and our new home, Hawaii is also our home. It was lovely to lose the long pants and shoes for short pants and slippers. It was lovely to sleep at night with the tradewinds and passing showers, to inhale the fragrant air on the windward side (maybe not so positively fragrant in town?), and to drive such familiar roads with new “vacation” eyes.

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Costco

Our official appointments were a necessity. Our times with our friends were warm and joyous. But we have to admit that an imperative which we unhealthily looked forward to was a Costco run!

Here’s the backstory: There is so much that we are enjoying in France as you’d expect: cuisine, wine, history, vineyards, landscapes, culture, new adventure and all the rest. At the same time, there are just some things that we can’t find over here, or at least we can’t find the quality we are accustomed to, or the reasonable prices. Here are a few very important things:

In the kitchen:

The aluminum foil in France is closer to gold leaf than usable foil. After pulling out a baking or broiling tray from the oven, and removing the lamb roast or the cod fish, the foil is in tatters; the oils and crispy parts have spread onto the tray, making cleanup the same as if we hadn’t had any foil. We need heavy-duty Reynolds aluminum foil!

Don’t get us started about the plastic wrap. Using the French version is time-travel to the 1960s. It never tears evenly, always coming off the roll in haphazard shapes. It immediately clings to itself and everything other than what we want to cover. We just have our Kirkland plastic wrap with the sliding cutter: thick, easy to cut, and it adheres to what we want it to.

Vitamins:

The French retail pharmacy industry has a lock on everything health related. There are pharmacies on every block, like Starbucks in other countries. You find their distinctive illuminated green crosses everywhere. You’d think that all these storefronts would translate to competition for us customers. Not so! Many of the products you find in Longs or CVS or Costco, in generous sizes and moderate prices, are either barely available in the French pharmacy and/or exorbitantly priced. Early in our time in Carcassonne, we looked for something like Aleve and a general multivitamin. Both require a doctor’s prescription in France. Since our friend and landlord is also a doctor, he kindly wrote us a prescription for a multivitamin. It turned out to be a liquid, which we were supposed to take in 25 drops a day. And it was shockingly expensive. Don’t even think about dietary fiber supplements… So Costco and Longs multivitamins, Aleve and more were high on our list.

 

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Fused Glass Workshop 

We spent a fun afternoon with our friend Gail who is passionate and talented with making fused glass. She kindly hosted a workshop so we could try creating some small pieces. She patiently guided us through composing the intricate designs. She fired our creations after the workshop, and will bring them to us in France when she and her husband, David, visit us in October.

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New York City

Our route back to Carcassonne included the Hawaiian Airlines flight non-stop to New York, which arrived at JFK at about 7 am. Our British Air flight to London departed at 4:30 pm, so we had a good part of a day to be tourists in New York.

When we realized that we had this nice long layover, I asked Mike what he’d like to do. Without hesitation, he said, “Pastrami at a New York deli.” We built our day around this very important experience. But first: We took the train from the airport into Penn Station, and then walked all the way down to the 9/11 memorial. The day was almost cloudless and very warm. It seemed that there was street construction on almost every block. There was construction, traffic and mechanical equipment noise everywhere. But every block was fascinating, from Chelsea to Greenwich Village to Soho to TriBeCa all the way to the site of the former World Trade Center. We crossed Chambers Street around the corner from where I worked for a few years in the 1980s.

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Neither of us had experienced the 9/11 memorial before. The day was beautiful, and the crowd was moderate. We spent time contemplating the vast absence and loss.

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A dramatic part of the renaissance of the World Trade Center district is the PATH train station designed by Santiago Calatrava. It flies up out of the Manhattan grid, exuberant. The white interior must already have been a set of a science fiction movie. We were there in late morning, so we weren’t able to see what life it has during commuting time. During the day, it is mostly a tourist stop and empty shopping mall. Dramatic light-filled space nonetheless.

Then an energetic cab ride back up to 33rd Street to the 2nd Avenue Deli. Pastrami achieved!

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We still had about an hour’s time left to be tourists before needing to return to the airport. The deli is only a few blocks from the Empire State Building. Perfect tourist stop! There was almost no line, and the day was beautiful.

Flying Standby

Thanks to Mike’s many years at Hawaiian Airlines, we enjoy flight benefits on Hawaiian and quite a few other airlines. Over the years, we have successfully flown standby on Hawaiian, but we had never tried it on other airlines. The standby system includes a complex hierarchy based on employee seniority, status of employment, and which airline you work or worked for. As retirees and not having worked for, for example, British Air or Air France, we would always be low on the standby list. Fortunately there are pretty good online tools to help assess which flights might have seats for us. (Hawaiian flights are free for us, but we pay the taxes for flights on other airlines.)

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On the Hawaiian flight to JFK, we squeaked in. That meant that we had two seats in the very last row in the middle. These seats don’t recline all the way back, which makes sleeping on the red-eye great fun. But we can’t complain!

Mike had selected the British Air flight that left at 4:30 because of the number of open seats. The checkin staff were very friendly and helpful. Mike’s research paid off, getting us into Heathrow early the next morning.

Once in London, we learned about being flexible and managing the nuances of standby travel. The flight to Toulouse from Heathrow that we had targeted started showing up as full on the website. We knew that there were quite a few flights from Paris (Orly) to Toulouse, and we found a British flight to Orly. Once in Paris, we could see that the flights to Toulouse were filling up. Once again, the checkin staff were very approachable and friendly. The first agent we approached instantly checked the flight loads, identified an earlier flight that what we had expected, and assisted us to get our seat assignments. We arrived in Toulouse, with our baggage, by about 5:30 pm on a sunny afternoon.

So: Honolulu to New York to London to Paris to Toulouse. It worked!

Inflight

One story from the flight from NYC to London: Because we spent the summery day in New York walking from midtown to downtown, and across town back to Penn station, we ended up being just a little sweaty. There is nothing like spending a red-eye flight sticky and fragrant from a hot day of touristing. I had another shirt waiting in my bag, but Mike had run out. We stopped at an Old Navy on 33rd street; he found a nice turquoise shirt. It would be great for summer in Carcassonne.

During the dinner service on the plane, the man who had been sitting in front of Mike opened the overhead bin. A pillow fell right out onto Mike, who, startled, launched his plastic cup of red wine in the air. The wine came back down all over his new shirt. The passenger who had caused this stood there stunned, frozen by the vision of Mike all in turquoise and cabernet. Wine ran down from the top of his head over his face and ears, like a scene from Carrie. Mike gamely sported this new-tie-die look all the way to Toulouse.

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At home

Very tired, happy to greet our cats and our Carcassonne home, we enjoyed a vibrant sunset outside our living room window.

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