TRAVEL with pat and lew

Archive for the ‘… 2009’ Category

* Spanish Civil War erupts in Toledo in 2009

Posted by Lew Weinstein on October 12, 2009

riot police in Toledo

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Spanish Civil War erupts in Toledo in 2009

The Spanish Civil War is an impenetrable muddle to me, despite several efforts to understand who was on which side, and who carried out the worst atrocities. In Toledo, on October 12, 2009, Pat and I were in the middle of what could be described as a continuing skirmish in that 1930s war.

We were walking in the general direction of the Museum of Santa Cruz, and had just entered the Plaza Zocodover where hundreds of people were enjoying the holiday sunshine. Suddenly, from behind us, screams erupted, followed by the sound of broken glass on the ground around us. We grabbed hands and ran with everybody else to the other side of the square.

“Keep running,” I said, and we ran into a street that climbed up hill toward the Alcazar. Behind us we heard loudspeaker enhanced shouting, several pops that sounded like gunshots, and two explosions. NOTE: Neither gunshots nor explosions are confirmed.  Riot police emerged immediately, in full gear and fully armed.

The police shut off the street we had entered, and we seemed to be on the safe side of the trouble. A little later, a couple came by and explained what had happened. First of all, it was Spanish National Day, a holiday which corresponds to and is related to Columbus Day in the US, but whose history in Spain is as murky as the wars which preceded it.

It seems that right wing fascist supporters of General Franco (who died in 1975) had applied for and received a permit to have a demonstration honoring their hero. They were apparently attacked by left wing communists. The police took the role of protecting the legal demonstration.

There was more yelling over the loudspeakers and then everything settled down. We went to visit the magnificent Cathedral and later had an excellent lunch in a small Asian restaurant near our hotel.

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* Warsaw, Ciechanow and Krakow – July 2009

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 26, 2009


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Tuesday 7/14/09 – Vilnius to Warsaw

Our two week home exchange in Vilnius allowed us to plan a side trip to nearby Poland. We were 5 days in Vilnius, 2 days in Warsaw, 3 days in Krakow, and then 4 more days in Vilnius.

We have now been trained – read “made crazy” – by Ryanair, so we leave for the Vilnius airport far earlier than needed. It’s a short walk to the Holiday Inn, where they call a taxi for us, and we are soon on our way. We are also soon there, more than two hours before flight departure.

There is not much to do at the Vilnius airport. There’s one café with no food. At least we have a place to sit. Finally, the gate opens and we can check our luggage. Through security and into the gate area, where there is a restaurant. I get a hot dog. “No action,” the cashier says as he slides my MasterCard through his machine. He is doing it wrong, too slow and withdrawing before it completes the pass. We tell him; he ignores us and does it his way, so of course it continues to fail. “No action.” I pay with cash, which may have been his objective all along, although I cannot imagine why.

Bristol-Meridian Hotel in Warsaw

Bristol-Meridian Hotel in Warsaw

Time passes and we board for what turns out to be 35 minutes in the air to Warsaw, long enough to serve a cheese sandwich and a coke. We taxi from the airport to the hotel. And what a hotel!

The Hotel Bristol-Meridian is the prestige hotel in Warsaw, built in 1901, substantially re-built after WWII. It is elegant, and the price we are paying is very reasonable. Our room is elegant and large, the bath is superb. We are too tired to go out seeking a restaurant, so we eat in the hotel. Also elegant, and excellent food.

Wednesday 7/15/09 – Ciechanow

Ciechanow is the reason we are in Warsaw. Located 80 km northeast of Warsaw, we believe it is the city where my mother’s parents lived 100 years ago. We have arranged for a car and driver for the day, and Roman is waiting for us at 9:00 am. He is Polish, not Jewish, but married into a Jewish family. First surprise: he has spent two long vacations in Key West, including one when we were already living there.

We talk about what we will see. Most of the old buildings are gone, including the Jewish homes and synagogues. There is the remnants of a cemetery. We pass the turnoff to the village where David Ben-Gurion lived before he went to Palestine and later became the founder of the State of Israel.

DSCN8396-grandpop in carriage

As we drive, Pat wonders aloud how Grandpop Evantash got himself from Ciechanow to London and then to Philadelphia. Was there a train in 1909? From Warsaw, yes, says Roman, but maybe not from Ciechanow. He would have gone on foot, or maybe by horse and wagon, hitching rides with farmers along the way. From Warsaw, there were trains to the west. Roman suggests he might have gone to Hamburg, and hence by boat to London.

Grandpop stayed in London for a short time, then by boat to the U.S., probably to New York, and then on to Philadelphia, where he had family or friends. He worked for several years, accumulating enough money to send for Grandmom and Uncle Dave, the only one of their children born in Poland.

What must it have been like to set out on such a journey, uncertain as to its success? What must it have been like for Grandmom to wait and wonder if she would ever follow. But they did make it. Grandpop avoided 25 years service in the Tsar’s army, and they had over 50 years of married life ahead of them, mostly in Camden, NJ, where I was born.

I knew my grandparents for 20 years. Every Jewish holiday was a family event at their house, with all 5 children and the grandchildren. Later, I drove my grandfather on his routes through Camden, collecting rents from tenants, some of them living in homes that Grandpop had built. But my only recollections of my grandparents are as old people. How hard to imagine them as youngsters, courting, getting married, making the momentous decisions that led to my life as an American.

DSCN8353-Ciechanow cemetery

There are no grave stones at what remains of the Jewish Cemetery in Ciechanow. There is an open field, a small portion Roman tells us of the ground the cemetery once occupied. Before the Nazis, Jews made up 45% of the 20,000 people who lived in the city. Those who were not killed where they lived were transported to Warsaw and then to Treblinka.

After the war, some of the headstones which had been taken up for building purposes were retrieved, along with some of the remains, and these were placed inside a monument which was constructed by the city government in the center of what had been the cemetery. We stood quietly on that ground; perhaps relatives were still buried in unmarked graves in the fields, perhaps their remains were in the monument; perhaps they were under the Soviet flats which ringed the open field but were on ground which was once graves.

19th c. homes in Ciechanow

19th c. homes in Ciechanow

In and near the market square, some buildings remain which are over 100 years

Lew in front of City Hall

Lew in front of Ciechanow City Hall

old. There is the old City Hall, where perhaps Edel and Rebecca Invantarz went to apply for their marriage license. There are the remains of a medieval castle, and grounds around the castle. Is it too much to image my grandparents walking there, holding hands, so unaware of what their lives would bring? Is that where they made the decision to try to escape to America?

In a small gift shop at the old castle, Roman learns about an exhibit of Jewish life at a museum in the town. We walk through Ciechanow, see a few buildings old enough to have been there when my grandparents were there. In the museum, we see a moving one room exhibit of photographs, menorahs, kiddish cups, and a torah, all that is left of a once vibrant community.

DSCN8383-class in Ciechanow

Hebrew school class in Ciechanow

Ciechanow family portraits

Ciechanow family portraits

DSCN8403-Ciechanow artifacts

I must learn more of what life was like for those Jews, including how they got to Poland. Roman says many of them came from Spain, so maybe here is another sequel to my novel The Heretic. In fact, since some Jews who ended up in Kiev (where part of my father’s family originated) also came from Spain, perhaps my family on both sides leads back to the imaginary world of the Sephardic Jews Gabriel and Pilar Catalán that I created in my novel. In the museum is a painting of a wagon pulled by two horses; four men are in the wagon; there he is, Grandpop Evantash fleeing south from the Tsar’s army. Why not?

DSCN8417-Mila 18I have chosen to re-read Mila 18 by Leon Uris while I am in Poland, and we ask Roman to take us to #18 Mila Street, now the site of a monument to those who fought against the Nazis and who perished there. Since Jews from Ciechanow were transported to Warsaw on their way to death at Treblinka, perhaps I have relatives here too, buried in the compounds dug by resistance fighters below #18 Mila.

I would like to think that I have at least one relative who killed at least on Nazi.

Old Town Warsaw is a strange place, since every “old” building is a replica of a building totally destroyed during the war. What’s amazing is that the Soviets permitted reconstruction to match the truly old buildings that preceded them. These definitely not in the stolid gray Soviet style, and it is a wonder that the Soviets allowed them to be built.

We have another excellent dinner at one of many outdoor restaurants in the Old Town, then back to the Bristol Café for an ice cream dessert.

Thursday 7/16/09 – Warsaw to Krakow

DSCN8455-Warsaw synagogue

in the Warsaw synagogue

The morning has one more surprise. As we’re packing to leave, Pat produces a yellowed (2005) clipping from the New York Times describing the one remaining synagogue in Warsaw. We taxi to the synagogue for a brief visit on our way to the airport and Krakow. It is a synagogue like many others, remarkable in that it is the only one of over 100 to survive the Nazis. How did they miss this one? That is enough to make it special.

We are again very early to the airport, waiting longer than the flight itself. In Krakow, we taxi to our hotel. We are in a small square, surrounded by outdoor cafes. It’s Szeroka Street, part of the city of Kazimierz, founded in 1340. We are staying in the Rubenstein, and we have the premier room, with decorative elements from the 16th century.

our room at the Hotel Rubenstein

our room at the Hotel Rubenstein

The room is huge, with high ceilings, columns, and two large windows. Furniture includes a large bed,round table with four chairs, a small desk with a leather chair. The bathroom is modern. The hotel is named after Helena Rubinstein, who lived on the street as a young girl in the early 1900s before leaving Krakow to make her fortune in the cosmetics industry.

The small square is loaded with atmosphere and restaurants. We look at the menus and choose a plain looking place directly across from our hotel. There is a wonderful back garden, and the meal is exquisite.

Friday 7/17/09 – Krakow

In the morning, we find our way to the Old Town square, which is huge. In the center are several large towers, an enormous building that was once a merchandising center, and a church. There is always a church in Krakow. Lining the square are at least 30 restaurants, most with outdoor dining. It’s a busy place, with lots of tourists and street entertainment. Very little English is heard, but all the waiters and waitresses are fluent; we snack on nachos and beer.

DSCN8473-Krakow Square

I visit a small synagogue next to the restaurant from last night, and also a Jewish museum at the far end of the square, then make a reservation for dinner at a Jewish restaurant two doors down from the Rubenstein. Recognizing that Pat will find little to eat at dinner, we have an aperitif with bruschette at Italian restaurant next to the Rubenstein on the other side.

DSCN8581-Grandmom's cookingDinner is a celebration of Grandmom Evantash’s cooking. The gefilte fish doesn’t match my memory, but the roast beef with potato kuegel is as good as I can remember. Pat struggles with a plate of dumplings, gracious in her indulgence.

The square is quiet and charming; parts of the movie Schindler’s List were shot here.

Saturday 7/18/09 – Krakow

Schindler’s factory is a 10 minute taxi ride. A museum is under construction but not yet open.

Schindler's factory

Schindler's factory

You can see the outside of the factory but cannot enter. We have asked the taxi to wait for us, which turns out to be a good plan since we are far from the center and no other taxis are around; there are many small electric tour mini-buses.

DSCN8617- in the Pope's houseWe taxi to the outside of the enormous Wawel Castle, and the adjoining street of elegant mansions, one of which housed Pope John Paul II when he was a priest and then bishop of Krakow. The Pope’s personal stuff is there, including skis and a bicycle, and an office with a small bed.

There is only one church that charges to enter, the church of St. Mary just off the square. They charge a separate fee if you want to take photos. The church is outlandish and overdone, such a concentration of wealth taken from the poor. Pat says this cannot be what God intended.

There is a sign for a Hard Rock Café, but no food, not yet, come back in September. We walk home through different streets, to have dinner at the Italian restaurant. As we sit outside, the wind picks up, a storm is brewing. We and other diners retreat inside, where we are cozy as we watch the rain, wind and dark clouds outside. I must still have had Hard Rock on my mind, since I order a hamburger; it was actually very good.

Sunday 7/19/09 – Krakow to Vilnius

After a nice buffet breakfast, with eggs, our ordered taxi arrives at 7:30 am and we are again very early to the airport. We will take two flights, to Warsaw and then to Krakow; the luggage is checked through to Vilnius. We meet a young American girl on the plane; it takes less than a sentence for her to pick up on Pat’s Philadelphia accent. She has been traveling with her boyfriend and will now join her mother. In Vilnius, we invite Amy to share our taxi and drop her at her hotel; we agree to have dinner with her and her mother on Wednesday night. Every travel day is exhausting, so we stay home in our wonderful apartment, have wine and cheese, and I don’t break any more glasses.


Posted in ... 2009, ... Poland | 6 Comments »

* Vilnius, Lithuania – July 2009

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 25, 2009


Thursday 7/9/09 – Vilnius

This is our 12th home exchange. It started with an email from Dominykas last spring. We are here for two weeks, out of which we will carve a 5 day trip to Poland. The apartment of Dominykas and Inga is delightful. It is modern and spacious, and comfortably furnished, located in what looks to be a renovated building just across the Green Bridge from the Old Town.

DSCN8138-bridge statuesAfter a nap to refresh from the long trip, we set out on our first walk in Vilnius.Map - Lithuania in EuropeThe view from the Green Bridge is peaceful and beautiful, but the statues at each corner of the bridge are a jolting reminder of Lithuania’s recent history; four huge pairs of workers, marching into a soviet future.  Lithuania’s recent emergence (1991) from Soviet rule, and the even longer travail of a country which has had the great misfortune to be located between Russia and Germany, make its current lively sense of freedom even more remarkable.

We find the generally pedestrian Vilniaus Street just beyond the Novotel on the other side of the river, with only a few cars and motorcycles impinging on the space. Soon we also find an Italian restaurant named Pomodora, a relaxing glass of red wine, and well prepared pasta.

We walk in the dark back across the river to our apartment. There are many people waiting for buses and walking along; it feels safe. The night is cool, perfect for sleeping.

Friday 7/10/09 – Vilnius

Dominykas has provided considerable materials about Vilnius, but I always need many maps, large and small, before I feel comfortable navigating a new city. So our first stop is the Tourist Office, a little further down the same Vilniaus Street where we ate the previous night.

DSCN8169-church in VilniusEnglish is spoken quite well, and we accumulate maps, brochures, and advice. We’re off to walk around the Old Town;no plan, no particular destinations, just absorb the feel of the city. This, as we have mentioned before, is one of the great benefits of having the time to travel leisurely. We explore cafes and shops, and begin to understand just how many churches there are in Vilnius. Pat goes into a linen store and I end up with a linen shirt I didn’t need. But it’s nice, and not expensive.

The money in Lithuania is in litas. The ratio is about 2.5 litas per dollar; for small amounts, we just divide by 3. The linen shirt was on sale for less than $20.00. Every store has items on sale; the economy in Lithuania, as elsewhere, is not good.

We find a small outdoor café, one of many, and have lunch, potato pancakes with sour cream for Pat and minestrone for me. When we reach the Cathedral square, there are groups of soldiers lined up and a military band. A soldier explains that this is a rehearsal for one of the events on Sunday associated with the inauguration of a new Lithuanian president who was elected in mid-May.

For dinner on Friday, we choose another Italian restaurant, the Florentina, on University Street just past the Vilnius University complex of medieval buildings and courtyards (more about the University later). The restaurant has a rear courtyard. As soon as we are seated, we notice a small movie screen; as we eat, several men and a woman bring out folding chairs.

DSCN8183-Florentino-movieThe meal was again superb; just as we finish, the movie begins. It is Robert De Niro in Once Upon a Time in America. It is in English with English subtitles (that’s correct). Very violent, difficult to follow the plot, but the whole effect is magic, a piece of Vilnius life we are pleased to share.

The evening gets even better.

We walk back past the Cathedral and hear music coming from the plaza in front of a nearby hotel. It is a wedding party, spilled out from the hotel, performing what we assume must have been a traditional Lithuanian dance. Hand in hand, in circles, in pairs, hugging together, snaking through and around, the bride lifting her skirts, legs kicking, a pure joy. We feel privileged to have shared such a moment.

DSCN8194-wedding dancers

Saturday 7/11/09 – Vilnius

Pat takes a 3 mile run along the Neris River, after which we set out to the KGB Museum.

At the beginning of WWII, Hitler and Stalin carved up eastern Europe; Lithuania fell under German rule in August 1939. But when Lithuania refused to attack Poland as a German ally, a second secret pact transferred the country to the Soviet sphere. By June 1941, Soviet deportations had sent 35,000 Lithuanians to Siberia; few returned.

Shortly thereafter Hitler betrayed his supposed ally by launching an attack against Russia, and within two days, the Nazis had occupied Vilnius. In the next three years, the Germans murdered 95% of Vilnius’ pre-war Jewish population of 300,000 people, amounting to about 50% of the total population of the city. The German invasion of Russia failed, the Russians expanded westward, and the war ended with a second Soviet occupation of Vilnius, initiating a 50 year reign of terror.

DSCN8215-KGB museumMuch of this Soviet terror was administered from KGB headquarters at #2 Auku Street. A somber grey stone building, it is fronted today by a peaceful stand of trees. The heavy door opens to a narrow hallway, reminiscent for us of the KGB headquarters in Kiev we visited in 1984 (another story, from before we maintained a travel blog, from before there was such a thing as a blog). Narrow hallways, small ill-furnished offices, secret rooms behind closed doors. Then there’s the basement, with detention and torture cells, including a charming closet for new entrants to the jail, so small that it is possible only to stand in complete darkness. There are many gloomy photos, old uniforms, hand guns, clubs and saps. There is also a recording room, with many tape recorders which were used to record private telephone conversations.

We emerged from the Soviet era and walked back along Gedimino Street, now a major shopping venue, stopping for coffee at a Starbucks imitator called Double Coffee. We passed Vilnaius Street and continued to the University of Vilnius, the oldest university in eastern Europe, founded by Jesuits in 1570, now a maze of courtyards, corridors, halls and towers. It feels old!

Our first stop was the university bookstore, where we found a small selection of books in English. Of much greater interest were the frescoes which covered every square inch of the ceilings and walls, which seems old but was actually completed in 1985.

DSCN8225-wedding - univ chapelThe Great Courtyard is dominated by the baroque façade of St. John’s Church. Inside, a wedding was taking place. Outside, under the facing arcade, another wedding group was forming up; we think there was a full schedule all afternoon. We left the university and wandered through charming narrow streets across the Old Town to another church, and more weddings.

All those weddings sent us looking for the Irish bar; there’s an Irish bar in every city on earth. After Guinness and onion rings at the local Dubliners, we decided to have dinner before returning across the river to our apartment. Within 100 feet was one of the Italian restaurants Pat had diligently identified, and we had pizza.

Sunday 7/12/09 – Vilnius

I wanted a real breakfast, but it was not to be. There are in fact many places in Vilnius where such a thing can be had, but we had not yet found one. We even tried McDonalds, but there was no breakfast menu. As often happens, this led to an unexpected encounter.

We settled in for coffee and a croissant at a sidewalk café, and began talking to the couple next to us. She was a native Lithuanian, they now lived in Pompano Beach, FL. She was a doctor at Memorial Sloane Kettering in New York. Of course she knew Memorial’s infectious disease doc who was a board member at the biomedical research institute I ran in Manhattan.

It was time for the inauguration of Dalia Grybauskaite, Lithuania’s first woman president, elected on May 17, 2009. We walked to the Cathedral, which showed little evidence of preparation. There was a small crowd, a crane with a television cameraman, and one man unrolling a red carpet leading to a platform which was still under construction. The ceremony was scheduled within the hour.

Pat entered the cathedral for mass, while I stayed outside to observe. I climbed up on a small platform surrounding a column outside the cathedral, and was soon joined by a man who said he was a native Lithuanian, in the country for a family reunion, but living near St. Petersburg Beach in Florida. So we had met two Lithuanian couples living in Florida within 30 minutes!

Dignitaries began to arrive, coming down Gedimino Street at irregular intervals in a variety of vehicles. As they walked into the Cathedral, I saw Pat, waving to me from her perfect spot right by the entrance door.

The president arrived, exited her vehicle and walked with a man we believe was the outgoing president between the cheering crowds lining the path to the Cathedral. There was no security. She smiled, waved, and walked within a foot of Pat into the Cathedral. Pat later complimented her for wearing flat shoes, a detail I had missed.

DSCN8274-soldier in chain mailWe positioned ourselves in the large square adjacent to the Cathedral, the scene of the military rehearsal two days before. There was a crowd of maybe 500 people. One policeman rode back and forth on a segue. After a while, other officers moved the crowd off the plaza itself onto the perimeter. We were located with the platform slightly to our right.

Soldiers came in and one stood directly in front of us. He was dressed in chain mail, metal armor, a helmet, and he carried a spear. When about 20 of these warriors had positioned themselves around the perimeter, a series of military units marched in and formed up along the far side of the plaza facing the platform. A military band played.

Soon President Grybauskaite came around the corner from the Cathedral. There were a few short speeches, including

President Grybauskaite and American friend

President Grybauskaite (left) and Pat

one by the new president. She then walked around the entire square, reviewing the troops assembled in her honor. It seemed that the ceremony was over; many people left, some, including us, milled about in the plaza. We saw that President Grybauskaite was still there, shaking hands. We joined the group and shook her hand. Pat gave her best wishes from President Obama and she responded, “Thank you very much” in English.

Leaving the Cathedral Square, we found an authentic Lithuanian restaurant. I had stuffed cabbage which was delicious, but Pat soon determined, not surprisingly, that she was not particularly enamored with authentic Lithuanian grated potatoes. She finally met a potato she didn’t like. We walked to the very end of Old Town, saw an astonishing Greek Orthodox church with a green altar, and something called the Gates of Dawn, a 16th century chapel built into the city’s old wall. By this time, we were tired and took a taxi back to the apartment, where we had wine and cheese, and I broke a wine glass.

Monday 7/13/09 – Vilnius

We begin the day trying to sort out our transportation options for future days.

Tomorrow we will fly to Poland to begin our 5 day side trip to Warsaw, Ciechanow and Krakow. But how do we get to the Vilnius airport? There is a city bus which we think goes to the airport and which we think may take 30 minutes or so to get there. But a taxi would be easier and not much more expensive. Where to get the taxi? There’s a Holiday Inn about a block from our apartment; they agree to call a cab for us when we appear the next morning.

More complicated is our need to get to the airport in Kaunas for our return trip home on July 23. We had the great luxury of Dominykas’ parents to bring us from the Kaunas airport to our apartment; now we must do the return trip on our own. Kaunas is about 90 minutes away; a taxi would be quite expensive. There’s a shuttle bus, but finding it, making a reservation and then getting to the point of its departure are all logistics problems we must solve.

I look up the shuttle bus on the web, send an email, and learn that the shuttle bus is no longer running, due to inadequate demand. Is this another shuttle bus, or is it the same one we think we’re going to take? These kinds of questions are always more challenging when the language is not clear; we almost think we understand, but we’re not quite sure the answer we heard is what they actually said, or meant. And the consequences may be a missed flight and travel chaos.

The shuttle bus to the Kaunas airport, we learn, does leave from the Panorama Hotel, which is near the Vilnius bus station. I call the hotel. I think they tell me the shuttle is running (the one that isn’t running must be another one – I hope), and they give me a phone number to call. From that person, I learn that reservations can only be made via internet; I am given an internet address. On the second try, the first being total failure, I make a reservation for July 23 and receive an email confirmation.

Now all we have to do is get to the Panorama Hotel in advance of the 8:30 am shuttle bus departure. The Holiday Inn will call a cab. So it will be cab to the Panorama, shuttle bus to Kaunas airport, and Ryanair to Stansted (London).

Which leaves only one remaining problem. Once in Stansted, we have tickets on a Stansted to Perpignan flight leaving about two hours later. That is normally adequate time, but Ryanair is not a normal airline. If we must go through passport control, collect our luggage, re-check the luggage for the second flight, and go through security, we will never make it.

We put all this aside for the moment and set out to find a tiny Holocaust Museum at the edge of the Old Town, where the ghetto used to be. It’s a green building down a small alley and up a small hill; the exhibit is limited but overwhelming; the photos are graphic and repelling. The Germans started to kill Jews the day they arrived in Lithuania in June 1941. Within a few months, 95% of the once thriving community of 300,000 Jews were dead.

The pictures of children, soon to die, were haunting.

DSCN8323-Jewish children

I signed the guest book … “never forget, never forgive.”

NOTE: Here’s where we went to Poland for 5 nights, then returned to Vilnius

Monday 7/20/09 – Vilnius

DSCN8704-girl musiciansWe have returned to Vilnius from our trip to Poland and are content to spend a very leisurely day. In the morning, we watch Mad Men and Weeds on TV (in English). From our window, we can see the castle tower, and now we walk across and along the river and take the funicular to the top. The view of Vilnius is excellent. Coming down, we wind our way through a very large and peaceful park to the shopping street, where we have a snack at an outdoor café.

There is a group of girls playing instruments, singing poorly and begging for money in the street behind me. Pat goes off for a minute, and I turn to watch the action in the street. When I turn back, an old beggar woman is standing inches away from me, using my spoon to finish my soup. I start to holler at her, then just let her finish.

Tuesday 7/21/09 – Vilnius

Since we live in a small village in France for the summer, we don’t get to see many movies. There are two cinema complexes in Vilnius, both showing “Public Enemy.” It takes a little work on the internet and with our maps, but we locate both cinemas, confirm the movie times, and choose the cinema closer to the Old Town.

Before we leave the apartment, we call Dominykas’ cousin to arrange the return of the key on Thursday morning. She asks how we are leaving, and then offers to drive us across town to the hotel from which the shuttle bus to the Kaunas airport departs. Dominykas’ family could not have been more considerate and helpful.

We walk past the Tourist Office, confirm the location and movie time, and head out to a different part of the city. AlongDSCN8728-church with green domes the way, we pass a green domed marvel of a church, but we don’t have enough time to go in. At the movie, we purchase our assigned seats, but the theatre is pretty empty, so we move back to a more comfortable viewing distance. Popcorn and Pepsi, Johnny Depp playing John Dillinger, the FBI made to look like violent, law-breaking fools.

Another Vilnius experience; we take the tram back to our apartment. We ask a young man if that Tram #6 goes to the Green Bridge. We pay the driver and board for the 20 minute ride. When we exit, so does the young man, and he goes out of his way to wish us a happy stay in his city.

For two weeks, we have passed by a restaurant located in the brick castle which is immediately adjacent to our apartment building. Tonight we eat there, in an utterly charming outdoor garden. It is chilly; they have small blankets for the ladies. We are clearly the only tourists; the restaurant is filled with groups of young girls and families. One small child amuses himself for an entire hour, quietly jumping and running and bothering no one. The meal is again great, and we have a very short walk home.

Wednesday 7/22/09 – Vilnius

DSCN8745-Anita & AmyTomorrow we will leave. Today we clean the apartment, pack and just relax. I work on these blog entries. The only event of the day is dinner with Amy (who we met on the airplane) and her mother. It turns out that Amy is a prosecutor, so we have spirited conversation about A Good Conviction, my novel about prosecutorial abuse. Amy’s mother Anita is an internist. The conversation is bright and lively, and Amy surprises us by running off and paying the bill.

Thursday 7/23/09 – Vilnius to Collioure?

Our trip home is going to be an adventure. When I booked the flights, I thought there was plenty of time between landing at Stansted and leaving for Perpignan, but that was an incorrect assumption. I called Ryanair and was told it was impossible to make the connection. But an email from Dominykas earlier in the week told us he and Inga had made it with 15 minutes to spare, so we decide to give it a try. It will be expensive and aggravating if we fail.

Gabija picks us up on schedule at 7:30 and we arrive at the Panorama Hotel 15 minutes later. The shuttle bus is on time, we are in Kaunas Airport 90 minutes later. We jump up as soon as the gate opens, having decided to sit as far forward as possible, so we can be off the plane quickly at Stansted. But we never expected to sit where we did. When we board the plane, the first aisle is empty. We thought this was held open, as it was on other Ryanair flights, but Pat asked, the stewardess said ok, and there we were.

The flight to Stansted was a delight, mostly spent talking with the two stewardesses, who were amazed to learn that Pat was both an attorney and a marathon runner. We talked about murder cases, long runs, and travel. One of the stewardesses said she could never go to America because she couldn’t take being a passenger on a long flight. As long as she was busy and in charge, she was fine, but to be “out of control” was hard for her.

Off the plane on the run, we bumped against our first obstacle, a very long and slow moving line at passport control. A passport official came by. “Sir, we have a very tight connection …,” I said. He motioned for us to follow him and took us to the front of the line. We were through in a flash. Step one completed.

Next, pick up luggage. We get to the carousels but the luggage from Kaunas has not yet arrived. I wait for the luggage and Pat goes ahead to get into the check-in line. It takes forever to even post our flight to a carousel; once the luggage begins to arrive, ours is practically last. Step two completed but our chances are dwindling.

I start to run dragging the bags and immediately almost fall. A fast walk is the best I can do. Fortunately, we were in this airport two weeks before so I know where to go. I see the departure board as I move past; the flight to Perpignan is still open. Pat is waving; she is in the front of the line, holding her place and letting others go ahead. Our bags are checked quickly. Step three completed.

Without the two larger bags, we can now run to security, where we get a break, the line is short. Off with the belt, out with the computer, shoes off (often not, this time yes). Something goes off when I walk through. Can’t imagine what. I empty my pockets, no metal, but  this time no buzzer. Step four completed.

Now all we have to do is get to the gate. Up an escalator, around long halls, down escalators – who designed this airport? Finally, gate 41 is in sight. We get in line. Step five completed. We’re tired and sweaty, but we’ve made it! And, like Dominykas, we have at least 15 minutes to spare before the last passenger is boarded.

On the same flight from Stansted to Perpignan is our neighbor Mike; he is renting a car in Perpignan and gives us a ride home to Collioure. Great trip, good to be back in our little village.


Posted in ... 2009, ... Vilnius, Lithuania | 1 Comment »

* A note about Orange and some excellent customer service.

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 25, 2009

cell phoneOn our trip to Lithuania, our French mobile phones didn’t work. Actually, they did work, and Orange tried mightily to help us, but we did not take advantage of their help.

The phones worked fine in Perpignan when we were leaving and called Nikolas to taxi us to Girona. But in Girona, and again in Lithuania, they did not work. I couldn’t even check the remaining minutes and days, of which I was sure we had both.

We were receiving many text messages from Orange, in French of course, which I should have put into Google and translated, but didn’t.

The day after we returned, our British neighbor who has become fluent in French, putting us to shame, read the messages. It turns out that Orange had tried very hard to be helpful.

“Orange is with you in Lithuania, but you must dial 33 before your number”

“We have multi-lingual help available – call 244.”

That was unusually good customer service reaching out, taking initiative to help us, which deserves to be recognized even if we failed on our part to take advantage of the help offered..

Posted in ... 2009, customer service, travel technology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

* a rocky trip from Collioure to Vilnius … “this is the adventure part”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 11, 2009

It  started out bad; got much worse; there was a recovery (at great expense), then it was ok, and finally, all it all ended up with a really terrific conclusion.

We had long ago booked Ryanair flights from Perpignan to Stansted (London) and then the next morning from Stansted to Vilnius, overnight at the Radisson in Stansted.

So all we had to do was get from Collioure to the airport in Perpignan.

There were several alternatives, including a taxi from our apartment to the airport (roughly 50 euros). The other choice was to train from Collioure to Perpignan, then take the shuttle bus from the Perpignan train station to the Perpignan airport, which is what our British neighbors in Collioure do all the time. The appropriate shuttle bus was scheduled to leave the train station at 3:45 pm, arriving at the airport roughly 20 minutes later, in plenty of time for a 5:25 pm flight. The latest train to arrive in Perpignan before the shuttle would depart left Collioure at 1:00 pm, arriving in Perpignan at 1:20 pm.

Since the day we were leaving was also the day the Tour de France was arriving in Perpignan, I thought it would be wise to confirm the shuttle bus schedule for that day (July 8). I sent an email to the people who run the shuttle bus and received the following reply …

HI, There are shuttles buses at every arrival in front of the terminal. You buy tickets at the driver. For the 08th july the departure from the railway station is at 15h45 French local time. Bests regard. Marc FIANCETTE, ResponsableQualité Formation Développement, CCIPPO, Aéroport Perpignan Rivesaltes

So we had plenty of time. We walked, with our luggage (there’s no place to check it) about a half mile to the main street in Perpignan, which was the finish line for the Tour de France. We enjoyed the atmosphere, walked back to the train station, had a snack at the café across from the train station and waited for the 3:45 pm shuttle bus.

Which never came!

I inquired inside the train station and was advised that, due to the Tour de France, the shuttle bus was not running from the train station, but only from the bus station, 20 minutes walk away. It was now too late to get to the bus station, except by cab.

But there were no taxis!

No taxis to get to the bus station and no taxis to get to the airport. There are always taxis at the train station; today there were none. Maybe they took off to watch the race.

It is now after 4:00 pm, still plenty of time to get to the airport if we can find a way to get there. A man comes to drop his wife at the train station; she is going to Paris. We ask if he will take us to the airport, and he agrees to try, although the route he knows is blocked off because of the race. Pat and I get in his car; he kisses his wife goodbye, and off we go.

Around and around Perpignan, with blocked streets and confusing directions, the clock ticking away. Finally, we are on the road to the airport. We arrive at the airport at 5:10 pm; the Ryanair plane is still there. But the gate has closed, and we would have to be the premier of France to get them to open it again. We have missed our flight. Peter – that was the Good Samaritan’s name – leaves, we’ve thanked him profusely but barely learned his name, and in the confusion, no way to contact him. Peter, if you’re reading this blog, please get in touch with us.

We try to evaluate our options.

We have paid for the flight we missed, a hotel room at Stansted, and the next morning 7:00 am flight from Stansted to Vilnius. The Ryanair agent, a Mr. Delaporte (who was very helpful and considerate), explains that rebooking both flights for the next day will cost upwards of 600 euros ($840). Plus re-booking the hotel (another $200 or more). If the air seats and the hotel are even available. Plus staying somewhere for almost 24 hours until the flight leaves at 5:25 pm the next day. Total misery!

Pat asks, “Is there any other way to get to Stansted tonight?”

“Yes,” says Mr. Dellaporte. “There’s a 10:00 pm flight from Girona.”

Girona is more than two hours drive from Perpignan, across the border in Spain. We could rent a car, but the drop-off fee, for a pickup in  France and a drop in Spain, is almost $1,000. Plus the car rental itself.

So we’ll take a taxi. But … there are no taxis at the Girona airport.

I call Nicolas.

Nicolas is the Perpignan taxi driver we have used to go to Girona and to Barcelona, and who we also hired for our friends Cindy and Ron when they came to Collioure last summer. Nicolas answers his mobile at 5:45. “Can you get us to the Girona airport before 8:30 tonight?”

“Yes,” Nicolas says. “I’ll pick you up at the Perpignan airport at 6:15. You’ll make your flight.”

While I’m talking to Nicolas, Mr. Dellaporte is booking the change in flight to allow us to go from Girona to Stansted: 100 euros each for the re-booking, 40 euros each for the fact that we don’t check in on-line (how could we!), total 280 euros ($390).

By the way, we learned from Mr. Dellaporte that Ryanair knew the shuttle bus would not be running from the train station because of the Tour de France, and had posted a notice on their web site to that effect. But they did not take the next step, which would have been to send an email to all passengers leaving from Perpignan on July 8 to advise of the problem.

What do you think are the chances of getting Ryanair to reimburse me for the consequences of their failure to advise me of pertinent travel information?

At 6:25, Nicolas calls. “The traffic is terrible. The Tour is over and everyone is leaving. They’re all going to Girona which is where the next leg begins tomorrow morning. But don’t worry. I know back roads. I’ll be there in seven minutes.”

Seven minutes later, Nicolas arrives. We load the luggage, and off we go. We are now commitrted to the second Ryanair flight and to the taxi ride to Girona, with no guarantee that we’ll make it.

Nicolas takes us through back roads around the mess in Perpignan. We go through the village where he was born. There is some traffic as we approach the highway, and our hearts drop, but Nicolas says not to worry, we are in his hands now and we will make our flight.

And we do.

Usually, we negotiate a fare for a long distance trip with Nicolas. Tonight, however, is on the meter, and the fare increases at 7:00 pm. We arrive in Girona at 8:15 pm, the fare is 300 euros ($420).

We have now spent an extra $810 because Mr. Marc Fiancette told us there would be a shuttle bus at 3:35 pm. Had we known there was not going to be a shuttle, we could have taken a taxi and waited at the Perpignan airport. (There were plenty of taxis at the train station at 1:30.) Of course, had we known there was no shuttle, we could have taken a taxi from Collioure to the airport.

Could have, would have, didn’t.

What are my chances of getting anyone in the French railroad system to even consider reimbursing me for the consequences of Mr. Fiancette’s bad information?

Of course, Ryanair, with the best on-time record in the world, leaves 45 minutes late, all of which we have spent standing in line.

Our room at the Radisson is superb, although we only get 4 hours sleep. The 7:00 am flight leaves on time and arrives on time in Kaunus. Ryanair celebrates the on-time arrival with a flourish of horns.

Now the good part. Our home exchange partner was leaving Kaunus on the same Ryanair plane that brought us. He had arranged for his parents, who brought him and his wife to Kaunus, to wait and drive us back to Vilnius, saving us two more exchanges, more waiting, and who knows what other difficulties.

The parents were a delight. We chatted, learned a few words in Lithuanian, and then they gave us a driving tour of old town Vilnius, which is lovely.

As Pat and I say to each other on days like these, and there aren’t very many of them, “This is the adventure part.” Our life, and our travel which is such a big part of our life, is so wonderful that we can put up with an occasional “adventure.”

But … I’m still deciding how to deal with Mr. Fiancette and Ryanair. I want my $810 back!

Posted in ... 2009, planes, trains & automobiles, problems | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

* Paris with Ron and Eileen

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 14, 2009

Paris with Ron and Eileen

***

We travelled to Paris this week, to meet our friends Ron and Eileen, and because we don’t need any excuse to enjoy the most beautiful city we know.

DSCN2260-headless saint-croppedThe trip began on Monday morning, when we took the 6:56 am train for the shortDSCN6000-Notre Dameride from Collioure to Perpignan, then switched to the high speed TGV to Paris, a trip scheduled to take 5 hours. Our train was delayed somewhere south of Paris, and at Gare de Lyon we were handed forms which, if we can figure out what to do, will get us some reimbursement on our ticket price. We taxied from the train station to the Hotel des Deux Isle on Isle St. Louis, a favorite of ours where we have stayed many times, then off in a light rain to Notre Dame where we had arranged to meet Ron and Eileen by the statue of the headless saint.

When they arrived, we took some pictures, then headed back to Isle St. Louis in search of a café where we could wait out the rain and learn what our friends had been up to since their arrival in Paris the day before. We ducked into one of our favorite creperies where we had wine and crepes and conversation.

Ron and Eileen had spent most of Sunday recovering from the flight and exploring the neighborhood around their hotel near the Arc de Triumphe. On Monday morning, they took a limo tour of Paris which gave them an overview of the city and identified several places they wanted to re-visit. The rain abated and we walked back past Notre Dame and across to the Left Bank and Boulevard St. Germaine. Just wandering, one of our favorite things to do in Paris. Ron helped Pat purchase a new calculator to replace the solar calculator that had apparently fried in the Collioure sun.

friends at the Grand Colbert

Dinner that night was one of our surprises for our friends; we had arranged to meet at the pyramid of the Louvre, a short walk from the restaurant. But the rains returned, and we decided to meet at The Grand Colbert, one of our favorites and the location of a great scene from “Something’s Gotta Give” with Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Keanu Reeves. After a fine dinner, we returned to our respective hotels.

DSCN8082-Pat & Eileen at OrsayAt 9:00 am on Tuesday morning we met outside the Musee de Orsay, which unfortunately didn’t open until 9:30. Inside, Pat, who knows every painting, played the docent for Eileen, who was soaking up the Impressionists for the first time. After the de Orsay, we strolled across the Seine, through the TulleriesDSCN7604-renoir-croppedGardens, and along the rue de Rivoli to Angelina’s, where we enjoyed the sinfully thick hot chocolate.

Ron and Eileen went to the Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower; we begged off. We have learned that morning-to-night non-stop tourism is not for us. Retired as we are, we usually have the luxury of more time in any location, and for us, less is often more.

We met up again at Montemarte; Eileen bought a lovely original work of art, while Ron and I had ice cream. We taxied down the hill and walked for awhile on rue St. Honore. Ron and Eileen had reservations at La Tour de Argent, one of Paris’ most elegant venues, with spectacular sunset views of Notre Dame, to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Pat and I found an excellent brasserie called Hotel du Louvre, located at the Metro stop just behind the Louvre; we ate and were in bed before Ron and Eileen sat down for dinner.

*** great restaurant … Le Train Bleu ***

On Wednesday morning, our friends took a tour of Versailles while we wandered along rue de Rivoli in the Marais, making several small purchases at Monoprix, things that are not available in our little village. We took the Metro to station George V and then walked to the Hotel Raphael, where we met Ron and Eileen. The four of us took the Metro all the way across Paris to our second planned surprise; this was our friends first experience with the Paris Metro, which we think is one of the finest anywhere.

We emerged into the Gare de Lyon, one of Europe’s beautiful and characteristic railway stations. Ron and Eileen seemed to expect to board a train to take us to lunch, but we said there was a nice place right there in the station, sort of a local diner, that we really thought they would like.                                                     DSCN8107-at Train Bleu

DSCN8114

Having thus underplayed Le Train Bleu, we watched their jaws drop as we entered the magnificent brasserie, with its high frescoed ceilings, richly paneled walls, brass fixtures, and elegant lunchtime crowd. The meal was superb, matching the experience on our own anniversary last year.

We opted to take the Metro back to the Marais, where Eileen enjoyed a successful visit in the Judaica shop. On the way we passed through the picturesque Place St. Catherine and the shops of rue Roziers; afterwards, we enjoyed a wonderfully crafted gelato built in the shape of a tulip. The only disappointment was the disappearance of Jardin le Gamin, one of our favorite local restaurants, now boarded up. Then, shock of all shocks, Ron and Eileen took the Metro back to their hotel by themselves.

We met again for dinner at a new restaurant for us on Isle St. Louis called Sorza, at 51, rue St. Louis en L’ile. Only ten tables, one wonderful waitress serving all, an excellent menu.

That was it. The next day, Ron and Eileen were off to Nice to complete their vacation, while Pat and I took the train back to Collioure, where we will be for the next four weeks before we begin a two week home exchange in Vilnius, Lithuania, with side trips to Warsaw, Krakow, and if we’re lucky, to the small villages where my grandparents lived over a hundred years ago before they came to America.

Posted in ... 2009, ... France - Paris, great restaurants | 2 Comments »

* Key West to Collioure – May 2009

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 28, 2009

Getting there was more of an adventure than we wanted, but it worked out OK in the end.

On Monday morning, we were accompanied down our lane to the taxi by our great Key West neighbors Bill and Lane who helped with the 8 bags we were taking. This includes 4 bags to check (with 100 pounds of book) plus our carry-ons.

Checking in at the new Key West airport was a snap. The expanded facility is clean and functional, if not as “charming” as the old, and there was almost no one in the security line with us. We had loads of time, since I always leave earlier than necessary. This time, we had even more time. The plane coming in to take us to Tampa was late.

Continental AirlinesFirst, Continental announced it would be 24 minutes late and that all connections were still safe. That soon changed, and it became obvious that we could not make the connection from Tampa to Newark and then on to Barcelona.

I worked with the Continental gate agent (Norm Maxson) and he could not have been more helpful. We worked through any available options – there were not many – and ended up re-scheduling the last two legs of our trip for Tuesday instead of Monday. Continental provided both hotel and food vouchers in Tampa. Delayed flights happen, and in this case, Norm and Continental responded beautifully, including re-tagging our luggage to stay in Tampa and not fly on without us to Barcelona.

In Tampa, our room was in the Marriott at the airport. No shuttles, easy in and out.

However, we did have an adventure. Pat and I got CARDED! Should we be flattered or indignant?

We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant in the airport, ordered wine and our meals, and were all set for a pleasant and leisurely experience. Until the waiter re-appeared, saying we needed to show ID. We are both in our late 60s; I think we both look younger than our years, but this was ridiculous!

There was no visible sign stating this policy, nothing on the menu itself. I had ID with me, but Pat didn’t. I asked to see the manager, but he refused to make an exception. I told him I thought that was a bad decision, but he was unmoved.

We went back to our room for Pat’s ID and then went to Friday’s. Same policy, no visible signs, but we were told immediately when we ordered our wine. We were also told it was an airport-wide policy to deal with underage drinking. Stupid! But we were prepared and had our meal. Probably not as good as the Italian restaurant we had first chosen, but I refused to go back there. By the way, the Marriott restaurant in the same Tampa airport has no such carding policy.

The next morning, we watched President Obama nominate Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, then flew to Newark and on to Barcelona. Before leaving, I called Hertz to push our reservation back a day. No problem.

The drive from Barcelona to Collioure was uneventful. I took a 15 minute “rest my eyes” break, not having slept much on the plane, and we arrived before 1:00 pm. It was exciting to return to our home in the south of France for our fourth summer.

Mostly unpacked now. Tomorrow, we’ll do our “setup the apartment shopping.”

For now, we sleep.

Posted in ... 2009, planes, trains & automobiles | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

* Kauai, Hawaii … plus San Francisco & Honolulu – March 2009

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 24, 2009

dscn7737-ocean-in-kauai1

Our 10 day home exchange trip to the magnificent Hawaiian island of Kauai was bookended with short stays in San Francisco and Honolulu.

San Francisco

We flew on Thursday from Key West to Miami and then to San Francisco, arriving after dark. Our hotel was the Chancellor, perfectly located just a few steps from Union Square and across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue. After check-in, tired as we were, we went to the hotel bar and had a light dinner.

Our plan the next morning involved Chinatown and shopping, after an excellent and reasonably priced breakfast in the hotel. SF’s Chinatown is still virtually 100% Chinese, and fun to walk through. Pat bought two pair of slippers; I bought a small pack of scouring pads, something I had just purchased incorrectly in Key West.

In one of the stores, I listened to a delightful CD, a two stringed violin played by someone alleged to be famous in China. Very soothing.

dscn7638-lew-in-sfWe don’t buy much anymore; we’re still in the “unloading” phase. But that doesn’t lessen the desire to shop when great stores are available: Macy’s, Neiman-Marcus, Niketown. Pat has been looking to replace a Nile watch she’s had for years. This store had a very similar watch, but only in men’s sizes. The store salesman was terrific — “It’s Friday, and I have a job!” — and he suggested that we might find the watch on niketime.com. Neiman-Marcus , one of the chains most hard hit by the economic crisis, looked it, with not so much high end merchandise and less customers. Macy’s was better; several purchases were actually made.

Dinner that night at the Italian restaurant at the Francis Drake Hotel across the street from ours; just squeezed in without a reservation at 6:30, which I thought would be before the crowd. Actually, there were plenty of tables by the time we left. Breakfast Saturday morning at a great 50’s diner named Lori’s, after Pat’s run along the Embarcadero.

dscn7656-cliffside-restaurant-sf

Later, we walked back to the ferry station and explored the great shops and views there. Weird purchases at an outstanding kitchen and gadget store (called “sur la table”): a plastic cutting board with a scoop shape for dumping in a bowl, a long-handled plastic basting brush to keep me from getting burned at the grill.

The highlight of the San Francisco part of our trip was a late lunch at the spectacular Cliff House restaurant. It used to be a swimming pool and spa, 100 years ago. The pool is a ruin, but the restaurant has spectacular Pacific views and great food.

Kauai

On Sunday, we flew (via LA) to Kauai, the garden island of Hawaii. Kauai We landed at night and found the shuttle to the Thrifty Car Rental. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a reservation, most likely, it turned out, because I had recorded the information but not completed the booking. Fortunately, as opposed to Seinfeld who had a reservation but no car, we had no reservation but there was a car available.

Thank goodness for Gypsy. The ride from the airport to our condominium was about 28 miles in total darkness and occasional driving rain. Not a single street lamp, almost no directional signs (a malady that plagues all of Kauai. All we had was our GPS (nicknamed “Gypsy”) and her precise British directions brought us to our destination without a single wrong turn.

dscn7812-view-from-condo

            dscn7699-view-from-condo1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The condo at Sealodge on Kauai’s north shore (see www.home.earthlink.net/~timbert) was actually a home exchange. Tim and Cathy went to Collioure in May 2007 and we were finally getting around to our half of the deal. Their condo, which they rent when not using it themselves, is outstanding: spacious living area, nice small deck, and spectacular views, of the crashing ocean on one side and the rising, often cloud shrouded mountains on the other.

Kauai apparently has more rain than any other place on earth, a conclusion we will not dispute. It rained on significant portions of 7 out of the ten days we were there.

Let’s get rid of the bad stuff right away. Driving south through the town of Kapa’a is a horror show at certain times of the day. Ok, that said, when the weather was less than perfect, the condo and the views were still great. Pat was able to run several mornings, we read a lot (as we always do) and I made good progress re-writing the opening chapters of my sequel to The Heretic.

The three good weather days were each spectacular.

On the first, we drove to the south shore, to the beach at the Sheraton. NOTE: all beaches in Hawaii are open to the public; so you can enjoy the benefits of a great resort without actually staying there) Absolutely perfect views, water, snorkeling, with a restaurant and other facilities readily available. We took two comfortable beach chairs from the condo and made ourselves at home. After many hours, we returned north, stopping at the town of Koloa, where Pat finally found a Hawaiian shirt (I had purchased mine days before).

We never had good luck with restaurants on Kauai, except for a little breakfast place called Paradise. The food was unexceptional and over-priced; maybe other restaurant choices would have been better.dscn7803-zip-line-pat2

On the second sunny day, Pat fulfilled a longtime fantasy, a nine line zipline over spectacular valleys against a background of lush mountains. She joined 10 others, suited up with harness and helmet, and drove off. Three hours later, she was exuberant. The first line was short, to get acclimated. Then 8 more of varying lengths. 

By the middle of the experience, Pat was comfortable enough to look around, turn herself while on the line, and land each time without incident.

We were now cooking dinner in the condo; penne with meat sauce and red wine works anywhere on the planet.

The next day we went to Hanalei Bay, the sight for much of the filming of South Pacific. This has to be the greatest beach we’ve ever seen (see photo at top of this post). The sand is ok, but the views, mountains on one side, long run of beach on the other, including the famous pier from the movie, and crashing waves in front of us, surf boarders, a few sailboats. Wow!

The rains returned after three great sunny days, but that did not dampen the enjoyment of our stay on Hawaii’s Garden Island. I decided we should leave very early for our 9:55 flight to Honolulu, in case there was major traffic in Kapa’a. There was no traffic, so I had two hours in Lihue airport to write the first draft of this post.

Honolulu

We finished our trip with two nights in Honolulu. The highlight was a visit with a college classmate I hadn’t seen in 46 years. Our taxi driver pointed out the bridge on which the young Barack Obama walked to school every day. We had two great dinners, seafood at the Orchids (Halekulani Hotel) and Italian at the Taormina on Lewers Street. 

Then a long series of flights: Honolulu to Los Angeles, LA to Miami, Miami to Key West. It’s always great to travel, and just as great to return home.

Posted in ... 2009, ... Hawaii, ... San Francisco | 2 Comments »