April 24, 2008
Five years and some months ago, I applied for a job with an educational research firm in the District of Columbia, hoping to put my linguistics minor to use. One of the questions from my interview was: Where do you see yourself in five years?
This might be a question I need to revisit, just for fun. Or for direction. But right now I’d just like to say that I never thought that the answer to that question would be: In Paris, with three of my coworkers from that job. Regina, Cate, and Sarah arrived on Monday, and that very night we went out to the Italian place (where else?). I remember a lot of chatter, topped off with tiramisu and panna cotta.
Tuesday (April 15) started well too, with some City Walking around the Marais. I left Regina and Cate to it while I went to tutoring (and Sarah was meeting with a French girl who took her to the Grande Epicerie at the Bon Marche). Then we all met at the funicular at Sacre Coeur at 8 pm. Allen and I walked up to their small group, passing tourist after tourist trapped by Africans with friendship bracelets. Yet our friends remained unmolested. Sarah explained: one of the Africans had come up to her, and she told him, “I already did it.” That is the most awesome thing I’d ever heard. (It reminds me of Monty Python’s search for the Holy Grail: “We’ve already got one!”) The guy challenged her, asking what it was. She responded nonchalantly, “You make a bracelet.” Snap!
We wandered down towards the Moulin Rouge, glad we were passing the seedier side of town while it was still light. (Hallelujah for it still being light at eight pm!) Then we went to dinner at Chez Toinette, where I had a lovely rack of lamb and our equally lovely guests treated us to our meal. (Sarah, Regina, Cate, you are as lovely as a rack of lamb.)
And that is just about when my week came to a screeching halt. I felt a little tickle in my throat and figured it was the wine. Then I tossed and turned all night with a fever. The next morning I rose early and went to babysit Noah. I told the parents how sorry I was that I had a fever and that I could leave if they wanted, but that I’d only developed it overnight and couldn’t let them know in advance. That was okay; Noah had a fever too. (Note: I do not believe it is a coincidence that Noah and I both got a fever the same night. I’d babysat him the Thursday and Friday previous.) Noah and I spent the morning on the couch starting blandly at Blue’s Clues. He was burning, and I was freezing. Then we both took a nap. My throat was killing me, but I had no white spots to betray strep. Finally, I went home, cancelled my babysitting/tutoring with Rafaela for later that day, and passed out with my fever.
That night, Regina and Cate came over and watched some TV with us. I stayed on the bed in a heap. (Sarah had gone to Luxembourg and Germany for the weekend.) The fever persisted, and I had another sleepless night. In the morning, the white spots had developed. The strep had announced itself.
April 14, 2008
The most exciting part of our year in France is coming soon: a visit to the South! Paris is nice, but I absolutely long for the South of France; now that I’m in the country, it’s just beyond my reach. I loved everything about Montpellier – the pleasantly mild weather, the pale yellow buildings that made the city sunny even in the (rare) rain, the fountains all of moss, the Occitan street signs, the cobbles and pedestrian thoroughfares, the slower way of living. The way I feel about Montpellier is the meaning of yearning for me.
Still, it’s more than just Montpellier. It’s the South! It’s the Mediterranean! It’s Montpellier, and it’s the mountains. And we’re going back.
This week I’ve been planning our trip back down to Montpellier and then to the Sentier Cathare. From Friday, May 23 to Monday, May 26 (Memorial Day weekend), we’ll be in Montpellier with Elizabeth. I expect a drink at O’Carolan’s in the Place du Petit Scel (our former home), a dinner at the Creperie de la Comedie (for which I may starve myself all day), a visit to the Esplanade and reminiscences near Jenna’s fountain, and a wide grin on my face all weekend.
On Monday, when we leave Montpellier, life gets even better. Instead of returning right away to Paris, we’re heading through Carcassonne to Quillan to hike the Sentier Cathare. This is the ancient (13th century) trail of the Cathars, leading from castle to castle. Sometimes I think I love the city, but the way I feel about the mountainside of the Midi-Pyrenees must be what heaven feels like. Of course, I’m conveniently forgetting the pain of hiking right now. I’ll remember soon enough. From Quillan, we’ll hike through Puivert (castle) to Espezel. The next day (our third wedding anniversary) will take us high into the mountains to Comus. Then we’ll descend and ascend again, in a short but grueling day, to Montsegur. (We won’t even sit down when we arrive at the hostel there because the ruined fortress of Montsegur will await us on the hill. We’ll climb the hill with refreshed tourists, feeling altogether like we’ve been given a great reward for our efforts to arrive at Montsegur. Then we’ll sit in the fortress and soak in the history.) After Montsegur, we’ll hike to Roquefixade, where we’ll take a detour after checking in to the hostel, to ensure that we see the ruined castle of Roquefixade itself. (I’ll flashback to Rebecca climbing on to the very top of the ruins and navigating it as if on a balance beam.) From Roquefixade the path itself becomes less interesting on the way to Foix, where we’ll board a train back to Paris.
Ah, le Sud! Le Midi! Montpellier et les Pyrenees! Vous me manquez!
April 13, 2008
On the last day of my brother’s visit – Sunday, March 23 – he and his friends had hit all the major attractions, so we turned to City Walks for entertainment. They narrowed the choices to two, and we decided we could do both. Then, in my usual overachieving spirit, I shuffled through the box and found another walk that was “on the way” (though really it was about a twenty-block round-trip detour). I took a quick poll: how far did we want to walk that day? Dave and Alan immediately voted for “around ten miles.” We were off.
But before we really took off, we needed fuel. Alan, Dave, and Megan hadn’t yet tried Berthillon ice cream. We swung by and came away with a quarter of the flavors Berthillon offers. Though I was disappointed (frankly, dismayed) that they did not have my beloved pear sorbet on the menu (or a new crush, turron ice cream), I was nonetheless pleased with my choices of praline aux pignons (pecan ice cream with pine nuts) and caramel gingembre (caramel ginger). Megan tasted an interesting raspberry sorbet made with rose water. Allen played it safe with classics coffee and raspberry. Dave and Alan were the bravest. Alan opted for caramel au beurre sale along with marrons glaces au rhum (candied chesnuts and rum). Dave chose agenaise, a mix of prunes and armagnac liquor, both specialities of the Agenaise region. When the French put alcohol in something you can taste it, as Alan and Dave learned.
With ice cream for lunch, we were fueled and ready to go. We set off on foot towards Palais Royal, my little detour. First we threaded our way through Galerie Vivienne, but since it was a Sunday the shops were all closed. Still, it was quiet and picturesque.
From Gallerie Vivienne, we found some back entrance to Palais Royal, which I never would have suspected without explicit City Walk directions. We paused for a quick photoshoot, in which Alan, Megan, and Dave took pictures of each other jumping. I think this is an ultimate thing. The trick, according to Dave, is to kick your legs up into the air so that it looks like you got maximum air. Allen and I declined to try it.
Exiting Palais Royal, we followed Rue de Rivoli down to Place de la Concorde and took a right on Rue Royale towards La Madeleine. It was time for macarons. (Of course we were going to Laduree!) We ordered a box of 15, each with three flavors to munch on, and then an amazing thing happened – we did not eat them immediately that very minute. Then I exercised severe restraint to not bring them up because Dave was on to me not being a very patient person when it comes to eating anything within reach immediately this very minute. (Oh look! A gaufre au miel! Nom nom nom nom…) But we soon reached the square Louis XVI, where some other wise person suggested eating our macarons. Hallelujah! Afterwards, Megan stomped on the box. It seemed like the right thing to do, she said. As long as there were no macarons in it, I was happy to let the box go to whatever fate awaited it, even stomping. Then, because we hadn’t done enough walking yet, we headed back to the metro and Bois de Boulogne.
From the metro La Muette, reaching Bois de Boulogne took at least twenty minutes. It involved a stop at one of the free toilet contraptions. Allen and I did not use it, but our touristing friends were more brave. Then onward! When we finally reached Bois de Boulogne, it wasn’t exactly what I expected. I was thinking there would be more bois, like in Bois de Vincennes. But I suspect we were only at the periphery, so it didn’t exactly look like a nature walk. We did a circuit of the two lakes – the smaller Lac Superieur and the larger Lac Inferieur. (Who names these things?) The Lac Inferieur had a charming island with a little gazebo on one end. You can take a rowboat or ferry from the shore to the island and eat at a little restaurant there. But it was cold, and we’d been walking a long time, so we sat at a little snack bar instead with all the dogs, and we munched on warm French fries.
On the way back around the lake, we resisted Alan and Dave’s pleas to stop and throw a disk. Fortunately Megan was on our side, or Allen and I would have been revealed (like it’s a secret) for the lazy people that we are. We returned to the metro and went to dinner at our favorite Italian place, L’Epicerie Fuxia. (And to think that Alan and guests almost didn’t make it to the restaurant where we take all our guests, just so we can have an excuse to go there more often!) Once we’d filled our rumbling tummies with hot fresh Italian food (and some tiramisu and caramel panna cotta to boot), we returned to Ile Saint Louis, where we sent a contingent back to Berthillon. (Actually, we’d been debating our Berthillon purchase for hours, finally choosing a half liter of cherry sorbet and a half liter of caramel au beurre sale. And because I was panicked from not having seen pear on the a la carte scoop menu, I had to ask for and buy a half liter of pear sorbet as well. Then we sat in the apartment watching Flight of the Conchords and eating Berthillon to the point of sickness. Let no one say we don’t know how to treat our guests, particularly on their last night in Paris.
April 11, 2008
All week I have been neglecting my brother. Well, not really neglecting him, since he does have an entourage. But kind of neglecting him. Alan, Megan, and Dave bought four-day museum passes. Having just run riot through Paris museums, and because there were three of them on this adventure, I didn’t make an effort to jump in as tour guide. (I did give them a Paris scavenger hunt to keep them sharp though!) Through some bad timing (mostly my own) on Tuesday, March 18, I only had a quick rendez-vous with them in the gardens of the Musee Rodin (unfortunately missing their journey through the sewers of Paris, as I ate lunch with Mimi instead). Then Wednesday, I couldn’t accompany them to Versailles because of work in the morning and afternoon. And Thursday, I tried to go to Saint Chapelle with them, but it and the Conciergerie were both closed because of either a strike or Easter preparations or a strike about Easter preparations. So I had breakfast with them and then stood in line at Notre Dame with them for about an hour in the freezing wind. (Did I mention that my brother forgot his jacket? He wore his suit jacket all week.)
So now it’s Friday, March 21, and I’m continuing to neglect him. But today it’s okay because he presented Megan with the big surprise: a proper follow-the-clues scavenger hunt throughout Paris. A series of about ten clues brought them around town with designated restaurants for lunch and dinner. (Lunch at Le Polidor turned out fabulously, while dinner at Cafe la Poste was a little stickier. The owners were having a private party but let Alan and Megan eat anyway – in a standing room only reception situation, where they were the only two sitting and being served dinner.) But they followed all the clues with minimal cheating, exploring the Latin Quarter and Montmartre.
Meanwhile, Allen and I sat around tapping our feet for a bit before we had the brilliant idea of going out to dinner ourselves. And since it was Good Friday, we needed the meatiest place possible for two lost carnivorous souls – L’Ecurie. L’Ecurie has a 17 euro dinner menu – in case you misunderstand me, that’s a 17 euro three course dinner menu. Unheard of. But as if that weren’t enough, the server also brings free sangria with the menus and free cognac with the bill. We each had a tomato salad (whole sliced tomato, typical French salad dressing with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and mustard), a bavette (flank steak) with frites, and creme caramel. We added a demi-pichet of sangria, thinking it would provide us about one more cup each, but it was two to three more cups each, and we were pleased. Everything was simple and satisfying, and Allen managed not to bump his head on the way out.
Then on the way home, we walked past some foreigners (perhaps German), speaking in accented English.
“You don’t say, “Do you have a lighter, OR?” The first one said, angrily, inhaling on his cigarette. His two minions laughed and repeated the phrase in mockery.
The first guy, pushed on by their laughter, suggested an alternative, ”Do you have a lighter or WHAT?” One of his friends said vehemently, ”Or DON’Tchu?”
“Yeah! Do you have a lighter or DON’Tchu?” The guys agreed that this was the best way to ask for a light. I couldn’t stop laughing almost all the way home. I almost wish that I smoked so I could have a reason to voice this moronic phrase.
But I’ll just say it anyway, in completely inappropriate contexts, and laugh and laugh. Do you have a problem with that or DON’Tchu?
April 10, 2008
On our day off between visitors, Allen and I fit in some babysitting at Mimi and Jack’s, so we were ready to sleep in on Sunday, March 16. But we had more visitors coming! My brother Alan, his girlfriend Megan, and some guy named Dave would be in Paris from March 16 to 24. (A note: Dave, if you are reading this, we no longer refer to you as “some guy named Dave” but at first we were kind of like, “Um, who’s Dave?”) Right on time – that is, at the crack of dawn or near enough – they arrived at our apartment loaded with backpacks and suitcases. Alan had forgotten his jacket. They were all tired.
But tired? Tired is a surrender. So they all said, “Screw, tired!” They were going hashing. Now, someone will correct me, but my understanding of hashing is this. One person is the rabbit, and they run, run, run, creating false trails on the way to confuse the pack. The rest of the people (a large group) runs after the rabbit, trying to follow the trail and determine which is the real trail and ultimately catch the rabbit or get to the finish. And before, after, and in between, there is much drinking.
So shortly after our visitors’ arrival, they went off to get the keys to Dave’s apartment, cat nap, and then go find a bunny. (And also drink.) We crawled back into bed.
That afternoon, we met Antoine and Typhaine at the Musee Carnavalet. It took us quite a while to find the exhibit we’d come to see – paintings of Paris by Pelletier – but in the meantime, we took in the amazing collection of ensignes, or signs, that used to hang out over various shops of Paris. There was one from the Tour d’Argent and another with a black cat on a crescent moon. We finally found Pelletier and took in his paintings. Then we managed to squeeze into the Art Nouveau jewelry shop (covered in green peacocks and little fish and lilypads) before we got kicked out so the museum could close.
We stopped at a nearby tapas bar, but it was chilly, so we opted for coffees and hot chocolates (rather than sangria, which I daresay might have warmed us just as well). We had a short chat – trying, for instance, to explain hash to them, to which Antoine said, “We have games like that too. But they just involve drinking.” Then we told them we’d better head back to the apartment to see if Alan and company had returned from hashing yet.
Because my parents’ hotel reservation went through Monday morning (due to Marriott time share requirements), we left Alan and Megan in the apartment Sunday night, and we stayed in the Marriott Champs-Elysees. It was fancy enough, but we were mostly pleased to be sleeping in a really comfortable bed again. Our bed in Paris is a six-inch thick pallet mattress, such as you’d find at Ikea, perhaps. The loft below it creaks loudly when you turn over (which is a treat for guests sleeping below on an air mattress). Sometimes it bumps into the wall when you barely think you’ve moved. And don’t even think about drinking any water before bedtime, or you’ll have to climb down in the middle of the night. So yes, we appreciated the Marriott Champs-Elysees. I particularly liked the fresh rose in a bud vase over the sink. Posh!
April 8, 2008
March 14 may have been my parents’ last day in Paris, but did that mean they were tired? No way! What would they be tired from, anyway? Hundreds and hundreds of stairs? Sheesh!
Still, we weren’t going to climb the Arc de Triomphe, but we did go take a look at it, macarons from Laduree in hand. Very nice, everything as it should be. Let’s avoid the climb though.
So we went to Montmartre. When we arrived at the Lamarck Calaincourt metro station, we scoffed at the line for the elevator and headed straight for the stairs. One level further up, there was another elevator stop (for no reason, it appeared). Still, we kept going. Not until we’d started climbing steps and cleared another level was there a sign announcing the hundred more steps we’d have to climb. How did this happen?
Still, we told ourselves, panting, we had at least decided to take the City Walk that supposedly started at the top. Why then, when we got out of the metro, did we keep climbing up steep inclines? I guess Montmartre will have that effect on you.
We wound around towards the top of the hill, passing the Montmartre vineyard and giving Dad a first taste of touristy (yet so full of potential) Place du Tertre.
When we entered Sacre Coeur, I heard beautiful singing voices, which I assumed were from a professional CD being played over loudspeaker. Then I saw the nuns. They were phenomenal, and if you can coincide your visit with the noon service, I highly recommend the experience.
Coming out, the view and Pachabel’s Canon in D greeted us. Pachabel’s Canon was a bit of a fixture around our house during my high school years. Alan played it on the piano (as did I, though not as well), and this day we were delighted to hear it on the harp. I’ve never seen a street musician with a harp before, but this seemed the perfect setting for him.
From Montmartre, we took the metro to Sevres-Babylone, where we had a delicious lunch at Nemrod (though my book was a little suggestive that it wouldn’t be as expensive as, say, a dinner). Still, it was well worth 14 euros to me to have cold thick slabs of perfectly cooked (rare) roast beef with gooey aligot. Heaven! And the elderly woman dining alone in the table next to us was a hoot.
As usual, I left my parents for some work, and they finally saw the Eiffel Tower up close and then took a ride on a bateau mouche. And that concludes my parents’ visit to Paris! A bientot!
April 7, 2008
I woke in the posh Marriott Champs-Elysees on the morning of Thursday, March 13. We determined that starting from the same spot would be useful in getting us to Versailles and back before my tutoring. We took the RER C, which was a logistical disaster, since we didn’t see the one helpful sign that shows which train to take for the possible five termini of this particular “line.” However, we were happy to save a buck by not taking a guided tour as we had in the past, and we located the palace very easily from the RER station.
We found the coupe-file entrance (museum passes let you skip the line) and entered, with a bit of confusion about where the tour began. Eventually we found the booth to rent audioguides and equipped ourselves. We started our tour in the chapel, then wound through the state rooms, admiring the details of the palace.
We lingered in the famed Hall of Mirrors, imagining the opulence of lining a room with mirrors at the time the hall was constructed.
Next we wound through the public bedrooms and the Dauphin’s (crown prince’s) wing, admiring luxurious fabrics, gilt molding, and fabulous objets d’art.
After touring the palace of Versailles, my parents and I emerged into the gardens. We bought tickets for the mini-train that ran down to the Trianons. Though I’d been to Versailles twice before, I’d never visited the Trianons or Marie Antoinette’s little village.
We wandered into Marie Antoinette’s hameau (hamlet) – Dad with slightly more urgency than Mom and I, as he was looking for a bathroom. In some ways, the little buildings reminded me of Popeye’s Village in Malta. Think about it. Both were built purely for entertainment. And like Popeye’s Village, Marie Antoinette’s collection of farm buildings seemed to be a caricature of what it was meant to represent. Hollywood had a rival in Her Frivolous Majesty.
We all enjoyed it. See the smile on Dad’s face? (Why is Bob smiling? You’ll have to ask him.)
No peasant’s hamlet would be complete without an assortment of wildlife, and we saw swans, bunnies, hens, a funny little goat, a sow with her belly low to the ground, more goats (some eating pine trees), and donkeys. What a little menagerie.
Afterwards, we visited the Grand Trianon. Normally there is an extra charge for the visit, but it too was included in our Museum Pass. It was much smaller, more manageable example of a decorative arts museum. To me, that meant, “Take lots of pictures of the curtain tassels.”
Our train ride back to the palace included small French children singing La Marseillaise (the national anthem) when they weren’t misbehaving.
We ate sandwiches on the RER back into the city, and we decided that I had time to run through Musee de l’Orangerie before tutoring. Monet donated two immense waterlily panels to the French state with very specific instructions on how to display them. Did he ever have the right idea! The Musee de l’Orangerie holds the two series in circular rooms, where they stretch along the circumference, illuminated by natural light from above. I could imagine sitting in those rooms throughout the course of a day, discovering new patterns and nuances in the colors.
But we only had 25 minutes before school let out (and I had to be there!), so we walked quickly downstairs. The lower level held the private collection of a couple of art collectors, with groups of paintings by some well-known artists (Utrillo, Degas, Cezanne). Though 25 minutes in a museum isn’t enough for true museum lovers, it is perfect for me. I am the type of person who likes to drift through a museum letting each object pull me along. When my mind or my eyes begin to wander too much, it’s time to go. I like to soak it in, rather than to soak in it.
At the metro, we parted ways. I went to tutoring and showed Mom and Dad which station to take to visit the Musee Rodin. They wandered the gardens until they were kicked out. At the very last, the groundskeeper stood himself between Dad and the Gates of Hell as Dad tried to take a picture. I’m guessing the groundskeeper didn’t see the humor in that. Then my parents moved on to the Musee d’Orsay, which has extended hours on Thursdays. (Because the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay stay open until 9:45 pm on Wednesday and Thursday respectively, these are the best two days for the consecutive two-day Paris museum pass.)
I met my parents at Musee d’Orsay after tutoring. We scrapped plans to go to the Eiffel Tower that night because it was raining. Instead, we opted for dinner. Do not let it be said that we don’t appreciate our food. (Actually, this particularly implicates me.) The restaurant of choice for the night was AOC, where we spent the last of our money. (I’m kidding. Sort of.) For an appetizer, we shared an order of white asperagus, and Mom and I sipped the house aperitif. For our main courses, Mom and I had scallops (Saint Jacques), Allen had the suckling pig, and Dad had the assiette rotisseur. That restaurant is certainly a treat. And with that, we ended the night before my parents’ last day in Paris.
April 6, 2008
On my parents’ second day in Paris, March 12, we were ready for some major tourist action. We bought a two day museum pass each and prepared to attack the City of Lights. We started close to home at Notre Dame with its 300 and some odd steps. It was a perfect day for a view over the city.
“What should I see in Paris?” All our guests ask that first. And now that we’ve lived here for a bit longer, I can answer: the towers of Notre Dame. The view is great, and the gargoyles are better. I even saw one I hadn’t noticed before.
Afterwards, we made a quick circuit of the interior of the church before remembering (ha) that the entrance to the archeological crypt was out on the plaza. It’s an archeological dig where you can see some of the city’s oldest streets, along with representations of how the city grew outwards from the 3rd century. These pottery fragments and the color sources caught my eye this time.
We walked back to the Marais for lunch at Korcarz, a Jewish bakery and deli on rue de Rosiers. Somehow, we all ordered salmon. Mom had a salmon quiche, Dad a salmon panini, and I had a salmon gratin. I can’t speak to theirs, but mine was amazing. It arrived piping hot at the table, sliced potatoes, salmon pieces, bechamel sauce, and melted cheese.
We all hopped on the metro together afterwards. As we came off the metro, I pointed my parents in the direction of les Invalides, and I ran to work. They saw Napoleon’s Tomb and the Musee de l’Armee exhibit on Charles de Gaulle there. (The exhibit on Charles de Gaulle was one of their favorite parts of the trip, and they highly recommend it.) They then walked out the front of les Invalides, crossed the river and Place de la Concorde, and explored the Tuilleries.
All the while, I was babysitting. So my parents then took advantage of the evening hours at the Louvre. Afterwards, my dad couldn’t believe they’d only been in there for two hours. I can’t blame him. In fact, now I ask everyone who goes to the Louvre how long they lasted. Everyone says two hours. I only made it two hours myself.
They met us back at the apartment, and we walked into the 5th to wind through the cramped rue de la Huchette for gyro baguettes.
April 5, 2008
On March 11, once we’d cleared the airport, sent Allen off to work, and settled our luggage in our respective places, my parents and I took a quick walking tour of the Marais before I headed off to tutoring. One of the first City Walks we took has become my favorite, just for the number of quaint old buildings along the way. We did an abbreviated version, wandering through the arcades of Place des Vosges, ducking out through Hotel de Sully (look at the amazing ceilings in the bookstore), and then wandering down Rue de Rosiers. (Unfortunately none of my pictures were great.)
While I tutored, Mom and Dad walked Ile de la Cite, peering into Notre Dame and exploring the Deportation Memorial. Then we met afterwards for dinner and wandered back to Rue de Rosiers for falafel (where else but at L’As du Falafel).
April 3, 2008
Sunday, March 9 was an exceptional day. In the future, I’ll see what I can do about posting about exceptional days before a month has passed so that I can remember the details better!
Why was March 9 so exceptional? We finally took the ferry to Gozo! It was quite the extended adventure. First we took a bus to Saint Paul’s Bay. Then we switched buses and headed to Circewwa (going through Mellieha and Ghadira on the way, so we got another look at the path we’d hiked earlier in the week). We pulled up at the ferry dock, and I bought our tickets. Then Mom, Dad, Allen, and I sat down for a huge “American tourist” cappuccino before getting on the ferry.
Once we boarded the ferry, Mom and I started reviewing the plan we’d made for the day. We’d take the bus to I don’t remember where, so we could start a hike at the quaint seaside village of Xlendi. Then we’d hike to the Dwejra Cliffs and the Azure Window (in the Top Ten). From there we’d hike back to Victoria and spend some time looking at the Citadel (another Top Ten site).
But suddenly, in revisiting the guidebooks at 11-something on a Sunday, already bouncing along on the ferry, we were noticing things that hadn’t caught our attention sooner. Most of Gozo’s buslines don’t even run until the summer high season (not March). Gozo buses don’t run at all between noon and 4 pm on Sundays. (We had to take a ferry back around 4 pm in order to catch the last buses home on the Malta side.) We were in deep muck.
“Oh well,” we said, “We’ll just take the bus from Mgarr Harbor to Victoria.” But when we got to the harbor, a taxi driver offered to take us to Victoria for 4 euros. We remembered that our contact at the hotel said that you could often hire a taxi to take you around Gozo for the day. And though we were fairly certain that the “4 euros to Victoria” was a gimmick meant to get us into the taxi so we could negotiate a price for the day, we didn’t really mind. After all, I was quite set on seeing the Azure Window, and we’d never get to it otherwise. The taxi driver eventually negotiated with us down to 60 euros for the day. (Of course, lucky him, our day was going to be under 4 hours.)
He drove us first to the Azure Window, passing through a Roman aqueduct on the way. At the Azure Window he let us out to take the boats out to see it. Allen, Mom, and Dad all looked at me. “Are we going to do this?” I said I was in.
The last time we all went on vacation together, it was to Sedona, Arizona and the Grand Canyon. Mom and Dad gifted us with an airline ride over the Grand Canyon, then a boat ride on the Colorado River, finished by a helicopter ride. Sounds cool, right? Oh, the horror. Unfortunately, it was rather disappointing all around, but the worst part was how motion sick I became. We flew over the Grand Canyon in a little ten-seater plan. I spent the whole time with my head tilted back so the air conditioning would flow on my forehead, looking miserable and as if I were going to throw up any moment. (As far as I knew, I was going to throw up any moment.) But at the same time, I didn’t want to waste this amazing trip, and I tried to look out the windows periodically to the Grand Canyon below. Each glance out the windows sent my body into a frenzy, trying to regain the feeling that maybe the throw up didn’t have to come just now, right this minute. Ultimately, Dad threw up just looking at me. (No exaggeration.) I managed to keep my lunch. But if you listen to our vacation stories, this is the most popular one to tell and laugh about (though Mom and Allen laugh a bit harder than Dad and I) from our trip to Sedona. (Yes, that and the other story, where we went on a hike, and Dad did something embarrassing in front of some tourists, and we heard a coyote so I wielded a stick as big as a telephone pole for protection then tripped over it when I put it down at the end of the hike.)
So we all looked at the little boat, then we looked at the motion of the ocean, and then we looked at that boat again, and we climbed in. “If I get sick,” I warned Allen, “I will need you to take the pictures.”
When we first climbed aboard the boat (about the size of a rowboat, seating 8-10, with a little motor), the waves weren’t too bad, as we were in what they called the Inland Sea, where the water flowed in through a tunnel in the rocks. We were going to go through that tunnel. Looking at it, we were all pretty sure it was folly, but we figured they’d done this before. We held on to the sides of the boat as the driver gunned the motor. We certainly didn’t linger long in that rocky passage. I didn’t dwell on the reasons for that.
Coming out into the Mediterranean, the boat moved quite a bit more on the waves. My stomach was holding though, and I snapped picture after picture – of the tiny space we’d just emerged from, of the bright orange coral on the rocks, and of the Azure Window. (Unfortunately the lighting wasn’t too good for this, and my pictures of the Azure Window aren’t that impressive.) However, the place itself was beautiful, and we got a giggle out of the boat driver describing what certain rocks looked like. At the Blue Grotto, the tour bus driver had suggested that one rock looked like an elephant’s foot, and he’d said it so many times that with this second guide insisting similar resemblances in the rocks, we decided that this was a hobby the locals took on to play with the tourists. However, I will admit that one of the rocks did look like a crocodile.
We zipped back through the narrow tunnel in the rock and met our waiting taxi driver. He brought us next to Zebbug,for a view from one of the high points of Gozo. We were struck all the while by how quiet Gozo was compared to Malta (and in general). The taxi driver explained that Gozo only had 25,000 inhabitants, while Malta had over 300,000 (or was it more?), and that it was always this quiet (and not just on Sundays). We looked out over the Mediterranean for a view of Sicily, barely visible in the distance. Then we curved around a tiny road (“Your tour buses won’t give you this view, that’s for sure!” the taxi driver gloated.) for a view of the salt pans near Marsalforn. (These were beautiful, but not as I expected. Mom and I thought they would look more natural, like the mineral deposits of Pamukkale, Turkey.)
We then drove up the hill into Xaghra, where the taxi driver pointed out exotic local fauna, such as bamboo and orange trees. (“And here the bamboo is used as a fence around the orange trees.”) Oooooh, aaaaah. He also showed us a pomegranate tree, one of which my parents have growing right across their property line. In Xaghra, we stopped “the grotto”, which we were hoping was some fancy excavation site where they’d recently found a Megalithic burial site like the Hypogeum on Malta, but in fact it was Xerri’s Grotto. Xerri’s Grotto was discovered by old grandfather Xerri a couple of generations ago when he was trying to dig a well. Instead he found a beautiful little cave system with stalactites and stalagmites, which have all since been named for the enjoyment of the tourists. We enjoyed the side of pork and strips of bacon just as much as the one that looked like a dinosaur to someone.
After Xerri’s Grotto, we headed to our only Megalithic site of the whole trip to Malta. What a shame. But I was glad to see this one. The Ggantija Temples might have been a little more impressive without the scaffolding and roped-off areas. They were still impressive. For one thing, they are older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Egypt. Think about it. And the Ggantija Temples had some rocks balanced in ways that you wouldn’t believe humans had the strength or wits to achieve thousands of years ago. (Way to go, humans!) The mysteries of human history are really beyond our imagination.
After we strolled around the temples, we came back out to find that the taxi driver was gone, so we bought some ice cream in the little shop he’d encouraged us to patronize (ahem, not going to say anything), and then we wandered up the street to an old windmill. Coming back down, I noticed the bamboo mats that served as screen doors. I wish we had bamboo in America! (Okay, I’m kidding, but I did like the idea of bamboo screens, which isn’t something I’ve seen chez Uncle Sam.)
We met the taxi driver again, and he drove us back to the ferry dock in Mgarr, our tour of Gozo at an end. What memorable times we’d had with this driver, starting the minute he almost got in an accident on the way out of the ferry port and giggled after the innocent party, “Silly buggers.” We parted, satisfied that we’d seen what we wanted to of Gozo, and we headed into the ferry station. There we had a delicious snack of pea and cheese patizzi and meat pies. After the ferry back to Malta, we caught the bus to Saint Paul’s Bay. But when a second bus driver told us to walk up to a busier road to wait for the bus we wanted (because of disruptions on the road because of the elections), we ended up walking all the way back to the hotel instead. After all the reviving sun and air of Malta and the Mediterranean, it was an appropriate way to end the last full day of our vacation.