Potential bump in the road

Planning complete.  Restaurant list looking good.  French rail strike – what?

Just when we thought that everything was in place, the French rail union has called a strike or ‘La Grève’.  French unions are different from unions in other places in that they actually post a schedule of the days that the work stoppage will occur.

France Train Strike Dates

Looking at the schedule, April and May don’t come into play, however, June is another story.  It just so happens that one of the strike days is the day we arrive and plan to take the train to Nantes.

“Oh bother”, said Pooh.

So for now, we are holding our breath and hoping for a settlement.  Meanwhile, we’re checking alternative travel means – but a seven hour bus trip is not how I want to start vacation.

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Returning to Europe

To misquote one of my cartoon favorites – Bullwinkle.

“Spring is here.  The grass is growing.  I wonder where the Herks are going?”

And the answer is – back to Europe.  We’ve decided to go on a little adventure this year, moving to a few different locations over a three week period.  We have a few bucket list places that are calling for a visit.

The plan is to fly to Paris, then hop on a train right away and begin in Nantes, France.  From Nantes we’ll be heading up to the town of Pontorson, France.  After Pontorson, we’ll hop back on a train to Paris.  From Paris, we’ll be visiting the town of Bruges in Belgium.  Our final destination will be Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

2018 Vacation Plans

Our travel route

So, why those five places?

Our first stop will be in Nantes.  Nantes was once a thriving ship-building city located on the Loire River.  Now that the ship building industry has dried up, they have gone through a renaissance and have become an arts and cultural mecca.  Nantes was also the birthplace of Jules Verne, the prolific author of such novels as ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’, ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ and ‘Around the World in 80 Days’.

A few of the sites that we are planning to visit include the Jules Verne Museum, the Chateau of Anne of Bretagne and the Isle of Machines (Sounds much better as – Les Machines de L’ile).  Hopefully we’ll have lots of pictures and memories to report on.

The second stop is the town of Pontorson located to the north on the coast.  Pontorson is where we’ll be staying, but just 10km away, Mont Sainte-Michel is our real destination.  Mont Sainte-Michel is a unique UNESCO World Heritage site in that it is an island that has housed a church dating back to 708 AD.  Throughout the years, it grew from a small church to a larger church to a Benedictine Abbey to a prison during the French Revolution and eventually restored to the island abbey.  During high tide, the water surrounds the island and during low tide the island is left in the dry bay.  We will have time to visit both day and night and luckily the tides will be higher when we arrive.

Back on the train to our third stop – Paris!  As everybody knows, Paris is my favorite destination city and we always look forward to spending time there.  One of the highlights of this trip will be an exhibition of artworks by Eugene Delacroix.  We’ll be staying in a different arrondissement, so there should be many new places to explore as well as quick visits to some favorites.

After Paris, we head to Belgium and the town of Bruges.  We have read about it, seen pictures of it and even watched the movie “In Bruges”.  It looks lovely and we can’t wait to explore it for ourselves.  We’ve heard that they are pretty good at making beer and chocolate, so we might try those while we are there too!

And our last stop will be the city of Amsterdam.  Canals, tulips, Van Gogh, wooden shoes, Heineken, Red Lights, windmills and probably a whole bunch of other things.  This will be another first time visit, so everything will be new and exciting.

Planes, trains and hotels are booked, and restaurants are being researched.  Brushing up on my French and trying to learn a few words and phrases in Dutch.  And, of course, crossing our fingers for a good exchange rate and some warm, sunny weather.

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Mont St-Michel

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Return Visit To Boston

This was originally going to be the time we spent exploring the natural beauty of Iceland, instead, we returned to the flatter ground of Boston and the majesty of Fenway Park.

I know, that’s not exactly apples to apples, but it beat sitting home and complaining about a sore back.  And.. we had fun!

To minimize our walking, we stayed at the Hotel Commonwealth, which is about three blocks from Fenway Park.  The hotel was a great choice – spacious room, excellent restaurants, perfect location and the friendliest staff we had the pleasure of interacting with.  It’s located in the Fenway / Kenmore area and we would definitely recommend it.

Having arrived in the late afternoon, we settled in, cleaned up and it was dinner time.  Dinner the first night was at one of the restaurants that is in the same building as the hotel called Eastern Standard.

The menu has a little of everything – with a slight lean towards French Bistro food.  We like that lean, especially when it means that there is Duck Confit on the menu.  They also have a really good wine list, though I thought once again the wine prices in Boston are a little on the high side.  That said, we had a great meal.  We both ordered the duck confit and we had a nice bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin burgundy.

After dinner we just relaxed in the room for a while under the “glow” of the historic Citgo sign.

Woke up bright and early Tuesday.  We’re gonna catch the Hop On – Hop Off trolley tour and since the weather is gorgeous, take a harbor cruise in the afternoon.  It’s just a short walk to the trolley stop, which happens to be at Fenway Park.  As we were approaching the ballpark, we could hear a woman doing a sound check and singing the National Anthem. I’m sure it’s nerve-wracking to sing in front of a filled ballpark, but it must really be strange to sing in a completely empty ballpark too.  Looking forward to seeing her this evening.

We had a few minutes before the trolley arrived, so Sue found a friend.

High-fiving Mookie

High-fiving Mookie

When the trolley arrived, we climbed aboard and found seats next to an open window and off we went.  There are 26 stops along the way and it takes about ninety minutes if you just get on and take the ride around the circuit.  Our driver was a real hoot.  Stereotypical Bostonian and funny as can be, yet he still provided a good tour with lots of information for those who didn’t get the jokes.

We stayed on until he arrived at the wharf area and then headed over to take the harbor cruise.  The cruise lasts about an hour and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer day on the high seas.  (Hint:  sit on the right side of the boat for better views)

Relaxing ride and cruise, now a little lunch was in order.  We stopped at the Legal Seafood Restaurant by the Aquarium on State St. and in our shady outdoor seats enjoyed some nice wine and tasty seafood.  Absolutely wonderful way to spend a day.

Back on the trolley to head to the hotel.  We’re at the starting point so there are twelve stops before we get back to Fenway.

It’s Baseball Time…  Washed up and relaxed a little bit before heading to the ballpark.  The Red Sox are playing the Oakland A’s in the first of a 3 game series.  I managed to get some nice seats for tonight’s game.  Sue will definitely be able to see her beloved Red Sox players close up.  So off we go!

So much fun!  Great game, if you’re a Red Sox fan, as they won 11 – 1.  Lots of action, crowd was into the game and the Stella was cold.  Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Sue’s all-time favorite Red Sox player – Carlton Fisk was in attendance and waved right down at us.

There is such a great vibe in the air after a victory.  Fans are happy, the bars are crowded and young and old alike all have big smiles on their faces.  The walk back to the hotel is quick, the doorman greets us with a high-five and we’re cleaned up and resting while watching the highlights on tv.  Tomorrow we are going on a tour of Lexington and Concord, so we just leave the Citgo night light on and head to bed.

Time for a little history.  Today we take a coach tour of Lexington and Concord.  The tour talks a lot about the battles that took place and the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere.

Spoiler – Paul Revere was captured by the British and ended up walking bootless back to Lexington.  It was Dr Prescott who made the complete ride to warn the townsfolk in Concord.

The tour eventually became interesting when we got to the sites, but definitely not one I could heartily recommend.  This was a Viator tour and I think they certainly could have done better.

The bus returned to Boston and we got off at Quincy Market.  After a short walk, we ended up at McCormick & Schmick’s for some lunch.

We found a table in the shade, got a bottle of wine and enjoyed our lunch.  Everything was great, but our waitress was the highlight.  Our red-headed Irish girl, Eileen O’Brien.  We had so much fun talking with her, especially after the restaurant crowd thinned out.  What a blast – Cheers Eileen!

Being a little sore, we caught a taxi back to the hotel to relax for a while.  All things considered, I thought I got around pretty good through the first couple days.  Tonight we’re grabbing dinner at the other restaurant attached to the hotel, so minimal walking will be a plus.

Watched the crowds heading to the baseball game.  Looks a little cloudy, glad we’re not going this evening.  Downstairs and over to the restaurant; tonight we are eating at the Island Creek Oyster Bar.

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Dinner was great.  They have an expansive raw bar and everyone around us were raving about the oysters.  We aren’t raw oyster people, but the shrimp cocktail had some of the biggest and sweetest shrimp we’ve ever tasted.

Quite the appetizer, so our dinners were surprisingly both seafood.  Sue had a delicious lobster roll with a heirloom tomato salad, while I had most of the shrimp cocktail and seared bay scallops.  We both absolutely loved our meals.  Our server Kayla was oh-so-helpful in coordinating our meal and selecting wines and extra friendly to us “out of  towners” coming to see the Red Sox.

The evening and the meals were so delightful, that we made a point of letting the manager know how much we enjoyed it.  We didn’t have plans for the next evening, so with her help we were able to get reservations for the next night.

Back up to the room to watch the remainder of the Red Sox game only to see that they are in a rain delay.  Looked out the window and it was dry at the hotel – then two minutes later, it started to pour.  After a few minutes, the rain stopped, the game resumed, the Red Sox lost and then it started to rain even harder, this time with some lightning thrown in for good measure.

Woke up early – the rain was gone, the sun was shining and it’s game day!  We have great tickets and high hopes, especially after the Red Sox loss last night.  Cleaned up, dabbed on the sunscreen and off we went to Fenway Park.  In the “baseball” elevator, the side panels have player autographs and right in front of us was Carlton Fisk.  After seeing him at the game Tuesday, Sue thought that it was a cool coincidence.

The crowd was already filtering towards the ballpark when we left the hotel and we just blended in with the others.  Five minutes later we arrived at Yawkey Way and enjoyed the pre-game festivities.  Bands, jugglers, drink stands and food vendors lined the way to our gate.  Once inside, we headed to our seats.  We thought that the first seats were good, these were even better.  Not cheap mind you, but an awesome way to watch the game.  It felt like we were a part of the action.

After the debacle the night before, the Red Sox played a solid game and won 6 – 2.  All of our favorites were involved in the scoring and once again, Carlton Fisk was in attendance.  We couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

After the game we headed back to the hotel to relax before tonight’s dinner.  I think I forgot to mention it previously, but we brought a couple bottles of Rose’ wine with us, so relaxing in the room means quaffing some nicely chilled wine.

Dinner was back at the Island Creek Oyster Bar and when we walked in you would have thought we were regulars.  The manager, Chelsea, greeted us right away and led us to our table.  That table just so happened to be back in Kayla’s area, so we got to enjoy her service once again.

We started with a glass of Rose’ for Sue and a Gin & Tonic for me.  We had fun with Kayla, but they were busy so we placed our order and let her get to her other customers. We decided to start with a shrimp cocktail again.  When they brought them to the table, another person brought over two bowls.  We were explaining that we didn’t think those were ours when Kayla popped by and said they were on the house – “we had to try the chowder”.  For our mains, Sue selected the seared scallops tonight, while I had a grilled fish known as Tautog that was recommended.  Once again both meals were delicious.  We both had a cup of tea to finish off the meal.  Mega good-byes to all before we headed back to the room.  Tonight we just cleaned up, watched the baseball highlights and then it was off to dreamland.

Friday morning arrived and we were up early once again.  We have reservations to take a tour of Fenway Park at 11:00 am, so we move right along.  It’s going to be another warm, sunny day in Boston – perfect for our quick walk over to Fenway Park.

It just takes a couple minutes to exchange our vouchers for tickets.  Looks like there will be about 50 people on the tour.  You have to go through security before entering and that takes a few minutes for them to check all the bags people had with them after stopping at the Red Sox store.

The tour actually takes you throughout the stadium bottom to top and then ends at the Red Sox museum.  I’ll give you some of the highlights rather than all the gory details.

You start with a look from the box seats around home plate, which just happened to include the seats we had for the two games.  Next stop is the visitors clubhouse.  I know it is an old stadium, but what a total lack of amenities.  The clubhouse was originally the janitorial and maintenance room before being converted.  Next we made our way up through the stands to sit in the seats in left field, which are still there from 1933.  I would advise the purchase of those seats only if you are 5′ tall and weigh 100 pounds.  Beyond those dimensions, you will be very uncomfortable.

Next stop was the top of the “Green Monster”.  There aren’t many seats there and they go for a premium depending on who the Red Sox are playing.  Our guide told us that when the Yankees are in town, they can sell for up to $1,000 a ticket.  Maybe being squashed in the bleacher seats isn’t so bad after all.  Great view of the “Fisk” foul pole.  An iconic image for Sox fans who remember Carlton Fisk willing the ball to stay fair as it tailed towards the pole.

Next it was up to the upper deck for great views of the skyline.  Around the walkway we passed a garden on the roof.  It keeps the roof from leaking and the vegetables and herbs are used by the stadium kitchens or donated to the local food pantry.  Continuing around,  we entered the Press Box.  Pretty nice area, considering the flack the media gives the team.

After a few trivia questions, we made our way around to see the seat that Ted William’s 500′ home run landed in.  It’s easy to find when you get there, it’s the red colored seat in the sea of blue.  They even knew the name of the guy the ball hit while he dozed during the game.

From there you make your way down to the museum.  Lots of Red Sox memorabilia, displays and pictures.  We definitely enjoyed the tour and hearing about the history of the stadium.

Note: The “Teammates” statue is dedicated to Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and Ted Williams

Since we skipped breakfast, it was definitely time for a little lunch.  Sue had a salad and I had a Cubana sandwich, plus a glass of wine each, of course.  Just enough to tide us over until dinner.

As this was our last night in Boston, we decided to splurge a little bit.  Dinner tonight would be at the Mooncusser Fish House.  Loved the name as a “mooncusser” was the name given to the land pirates back in the 1700’s.  They would extinguish the light house lanterns and then light fires in places that would lead the boats to run aground.  They would then plunder and pillage the grounded ships.

While the name was what caught my eye, the food is what made the evening.  What a great restaurant.  It’s only been open a couple months but has been getting really good reviews.  From our appetizers to our desserts, we also would give it a rave review.  I realize that we are in Boston and right next to the ocean, but everything was so fresh and well prepared without being fussy.  They have a very nice wine list and a sommelier who was a big help without being pushy on price.  The decor is plain, yet comfy and the service was wonderful (Thanks Meg!).  As you can probably tell, we would definitely recommend you try them out.

What a perfect ending to a great trip.  We had an uneventful flight back home with the opportunity to try JetBlue’s new organic chocolate chip cookies.  I give them a thumbs up!

Hopefully we’ll get to Iceland in the future or maybe we won’t, but the moral of this story is: when life gives you lemons,  pull out the ingredients and make Limoncello!

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Baseball In Boston

Went with friends to Boston for a long weekend; capping it off with a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.

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After a quick flight from Buffalo to Boston on Jet Blue, we grabbed a cab to the Back Bay area.  The area has a little bit of everything plus is a short walk to Fenway Park.  Lots of shops, restaurants, galleries, salons and bars on Newbury and surrounding streets.  We stayed at the Newbury Guest House, a very nice hotel located on Newbury Street.

The hotel consists of three townhouses linked together. Our rooms faced Newbury St and were very comfortable.  Would definitely recommend the hotel to anyone looking for a nice place in Back Bay.

 

 

We found some great places to eat all three days.  Dinners at Aquitaine, Atlantic Fish, and Buttermilk and Bourbon were all wonderful.  Three very different restaurants, but all were exceptional.  Aquitaine is a French Bistro, Atlantic Fish is great fresh seafood and Buttermilk and Bourbon is a New Orleans, Southern Tapas restaurant.

 

 

We also found some great lunch places, starting with Luke’s Lobster.  Luke’s has the best Lobster rolls we’ve ever had – no filler, just chunks of good fresh lobster.  We started the trip here and ended it here.  Joe’s American was a quick-lunch, just drinks and appetizers since we had an early dinner planned.  And right across the street from the hotel was Tapeo, a Spanish Tapas restaurant with great food and some awesome sangria.

 

 

Don’t worry, we didn’t just eat all weekend.  While walking around was not a good choice for me, Dave, Cathy and Sue did lots of walking around the city.  Boston Commons, Boston Public Gardens, Faneuil Hall and a little bit of the Freedom Trail.  While our intrepid adventurers were out and about, I strolled around the block and sat in the park on Commonwealth Street and did some people watching.  I even got the gang to relax there for a little while, but they are all much more game to stroll.

 

 

And, of course, we can’t forget the baseball game.  Our first time in Fenway Park was quite a thrill.  Such a stately old stadium and a great place to watch a game.  The green monster and the manual scoreboard add that touch of nostalgia.  I could almost picture my childhood favorites Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams out on the field, but tonight it was Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Eduardo Nunez.

 

 

We had seats that kept us on our toes for foul balls that were zipping near first base, but they were great for watching the action.  It was a fun game to watch: runs, hits, good pitching and great catches.

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Oh, and the Red Sox beat the Cleveland Indians 6 – 2.

Easy flight back home and the baseball weekend was over, but it won’t be forgotten soon.  It was great time spent with great friends.

 

 

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The long road home.

Edinburgh, United Kingdom

No need to discuss my feelings about getting up so early. Our taxi is scheduled for 8:30, which happens to be rush hour around town. Our driver zipped in and out of roads and roundabouts, getting us to the airport in a very timely manner. There were lines of people at all the airline counters; apparently everyone was leaving at the same time.

Here’s the fun part: since we were flying Business Class, we were able to walk right up to the counter; no fuss, no muss. Five minutes later, we were heading for security. Again, we were able to line jump with pre-check and within twenty minutes, we were at our gate. I’m not complaining, but now we had almost two hours to sit around and wait.

The flight home was comfortable. United has really bumped up it’s service with their Polaris Cabin and the aftermath of the incidents on-board. The food was very good and there was plenty of it. Sue actually had to stop them from pouring her more Prosecco or there might have been another viral video.

We both managed to grab a little nap before they came around with our pre-arrival meal. Again, very good, but we were both full. Landed right on time – Good job United!

More fun now. We signed up for Global Entry, so while everyone lined up, we scooted over to the kiosk and were through customs in about 15 minutes. Woo hoo! Grabbed our bags, again got to line jump and over to re-check our bags in no time. A couple minutes going through security and we felt accomplished.

Air traffic delays, some weather delays, mechanical issues and delayed flight crews saw our leisurely wait at the airport turn into a ten and a half hour marathon. Woo hoo! After landing in Newark at 1:40pm, we finally landed in Buffalo at 1:06am. Good grief.

But that all said, Scotland was wonderful. Beautiful scenery, great history, wonderful food and most of all – friendly people. We intend to return as there are so many more sights that we would like to see. Hard to believe that we originally thought that we’d just tack on a couple days after Iceland.

I would say that the highlights were seeing St Andrews, Rosslyn Chapel, the Royal Britannia Yacht, the Edinburgh Castle, the Scottish Countryside and learning more of the history of Scotland. Sue would also add the Georgian House and the Surgeon’s Hall Museum. Oh yea, and the Gin!

Thanks for following along. Sorry for the drop off the last few days, in case it wasn’t overly obvious, I did something that is causing back and hip pain. Now to heal up.

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Rainy Monday to wrap up

Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Our last day in Edinburgh proved to be a bit of a soggy one, but no worries – we made the best of the day.

Popped downstairs for a bit of breakfast, then chatted up some other guests while waiting for our room to be cleaned. Always fun to share travel tales with other travelers. Unfortunately, the tales we were hearing were related to their delays traveling on British Airways. The computer meltdown was really a mess. So glad we had no part of that one.

Since it was both rainy and chilly, we decided that we would just chill for the day. No sense going out and getting drenched or sick. Sue was able to read, while I busied myself with photos and a nap. Nothing too exciting, though she said her book was good.

We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant. Good choice on a rainy day. Lots of choices on the menu. Sue decided after yesterday’s meal that she would go with soup and a burger, while I had grilled prawns and a steak. Our wine of choice for the evening was another Argentine Malbec. Everything was delicious and our cozy corner table provided a romantic setting.

Stopped at the front desk to order a taxi for the morning and ended up chatting with her and another guest for 45 minutes about travels. We have to be up at 6:00. 6:00 am? That’s absurd, but unfortunately necessary. So up to the room, pack and off to bed early.

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Sunny Sunday

Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Yesterday’s rain brought today’s sunshine. It’s a beautiful day. The temps are in the mid 60’s, just a wisp of a breeze and bright blue skies.

After breakfast, Sue went over to the Surgeons Hall Museum. It is a medical museum with a leaning towards all things surgical. Scotland is where many medical procedures were initiated and also where chloroform for anesthesia was discovered. The abundance of corpses for medical training apparently made a big difference. I stayed behind to catch up on correspondence.

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Surgeon’s Hall Museum

Sue returned a little fascinated and a little grossed out. In her words “there wasn’t one body part that they didn’t have in a jar”. I guess musket ball wounds are better read about than seen. I’m glad I stayed behind and enjoyed my gin!

Up to the room to clean up and rest. Watched a bit of the Grand Prix of Monaco; they really take it so seriously in Europe. I’m sure the sports pages will be full of stories tomorrow.

Later in the afternoon we went to the area of Leith. It’s located near the waterfront, not far from where the Britannia is berthed. The area, especially around the river, is so charming.

We had dinner at a pub called “The King’s Wark”. This is a place that has been in existence for nearly six hundred years. It was originally the home of King James I dating back to 1434. It is also supposed to be haunted. I’m not so sure about that claim as the only spirits I saw were being drunk from glasses. Though it did seem like my glass kept emptying. Maybe?

We really enjoyed our meal. Sue had the ‘Sunday Roast’ while I had the beef stroganoff. We also shared a huge fishcake as an appetizer. Our server, though the place was full, would not rush us and kept telling us to relax and enjoy ourselves. So glad we chose to go there.

They called for a taxi for us and we got a great driver for the trip home. His driving skills were fine, but his personality was terrific. We were chatting about everything under the sun and the time passed by quickly. And his answer to the obnoxious tourists that ask him – “No, we wear nothing and let them swing to and fro”. You can guess the question.

Tomorrow is our last day in Scotland and “surprise” they are predicting rain and a chill in the air.

 

 

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