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Isn't the Prince who was formerly married to Fergie (as opposed to the Singer formerly known as Prince) - Andrew, Edward, Ralph - arrrghh - can't remember his name - still single? You might want to consider working that angle to get access to the Crown Jewels. The ones in the Tower of London, I mean - just to be clear and not ooky. I bet you and Camilla could have a great time trying on hats and shoes and jewels and talking trash about the mother-in-law. Speaking of the potential mother-in-law, you just know she is ripe for the picking and has the makings of becoming a most excellent "Claymate". Think of the "Royal Command Performances" that could be arranged! Sir Aiken! Off with Simon Cowell's head! MMMWWWAAAHHH HHHAAAA HHHAAA!

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No adventures with Englishmen - just typical flirty type behavior.  Kippers - that's a fishy fish, isn't it?  Not going in my mouth.

And how does the whole spotted dick thing work in this scenario, exactly? :blink: Hee!

oh yeah I was going to ask about that...that did make me go hmmmmm.... <_<

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I swear, my minions are the cleverest in the world wide word - looking at Fergie, I believe I have a wig that shade - but I'll have to keep an eye on Camilla - she's waited in the wings for years - and will continue to wait if I have anything to do with it.

Oh, my sweet little spotted dick, oozing with cream? The Brits are an odd bunch. It turned out to be a spongy spice cake thingy with raisins in it and covered in a vanilla custard. It really was tasty. Both the waiter and I grinned when I ordered it.

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Hee. I knew it was some kind of food thingie, but I was afraid to do a search for "spotted dick" at work because of the filters. I wasn't sure what kind of images might pop up (so to speak). Anyway, I did find a blog entry with a picture and an explaination of the name of this particular type of treat. You're a braver woman than me, KAndre.

Edited by bottlecap
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Heeeee...while looking for the site with a camera out in a corn field, just to watch the corn grow (shut up! - it was funny at the time because a lot of us at work back then moved from Ill./Ind. to florida) we googled corn cam. At work.

OMG. We turned off the PC, we were so flustered.

(here it is, btw - http://www.iowafarmertoday.com/corn_cam/)

Anyway, the first two pages all had to do with people bent over and doing stunts in showers....nowadays this doesn't happen, but this was in 1999, before filters and before the humongous number of available web sites.

This trip report is better than the blogs.....thank you!

okay, 24 hours later.....I just heard a rumour that KAndre is helping Clay with his CD.....

sniff! I guess playbiller is just gonna have to wait a bit to do her own trip report - she flew all the way to my house!!!!! and played UNO!!!!!! and missed the Chef show becoss a tree is blocking my satellite dish!!!!!! AND helped Jacob with his homework!!!!! (patience of a saint, he was trying to do his math for hours, he just cannot concentrate). For sheer excitement, um, Kandre's trip wins. But at least I speak English.

Actually, I am wildly looking forward to the reports on Italy and France!!!!!!!!!

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KAndre casually interlaces her fingers, pretends to crack her knuckles - but only pretends as it looks and sounds painful - and picks up her screed where she left off...

Alitalia is a very nice airline that WILL NOT LET ME CHECK IN ONLINE which is just wrong on so many levels - how else can I make sure I get an undeservedly good seat? I even got to the airport EARLY. And where do I end up? In the back. Not dead last but far enough back that it's easier to let everyone else off the plane so I can exit at my leisure. I have a window seat, and we are flying low enough that I can see the English Channel (watery), France (landy), Switzerland (mountainy) and Italy (cloudy, as by then we again altitude). The pilot was cheerful and very fluent in Italian accented English, as was the cabin stewart. But I have to admit - this was first flight I've ever been on that our snack was a artichoke and Brie (it might not have been Brie but it tasted like Brie, some sort of soft white cheese) sandwich and some sort of cookie tart thing that was to die for. I tried to ask the stewardess what the cookie tart thing was, but oddly enough, my Italian wasn't up to par. The cookie tart thing made up for the horror that was the artichoke-brie sandwich. I do a little skip past the dank and dismal people who stampeded ahead of me off the plane now dejectedly awaiting their things to be ejected haphazardly from the maw of the luggage carousel...

There is a HUGE sign pointing to the Leonardo Express - since this is the delightfully economical way to get from the airport to the heart of Rome (though they don't sell the tickets online, which is a sin and a shame), I queued in the shortest line - and soon discovered why it was so "short" - apparently the ticket-dispenser person (I assume he was the ticket dispenser as he was sitting behind the counter with a sort of uniform on) has a sideline of verbally giving his entire autobiography (with footnotes) (and wild hand gestures) to another dude apparently propping up the little booth. After mentally reviewing all the Italian gestures I had been taught and realizing that some could be interpreted as an invitation; I wandered to another line and got a ticket for €11, and after a titanic struggle got it validated (I have no clue why it decided to imprint my ticket then instead of the 5 billion times I stuck it in earlier, but I digress. I clamber aboard the brightly painted train (very distinct from the regular ol' trains), stow my luggage, choose my fairly comfortable seat and am prepared to be stunned by the beauty of the Italian countryside! Well, the Italian countryside was in a stained t-shirt stretching over a beer gut and scratching parts I don't want to think about because the train ran quickly through a lot of typical urban blight. And laundry. And graffiti. Happily, it doesn't take long to get to the train station, where everyone in Rome was there to meet someone. I pulled out my pitiful little internet map, walk out to the Plaza, and RUN not walk back to the overpriced stand for a neat little fold up street map. And it was only €5 because I was bella. I like bella. I look at the parked cabs, look at the clearly hopped up moving cabs, and decide to walk to my hotel. In my first triumph, I find the Piazza della Reppulibica (yes, I know it was like 75 yards in front of the train station, but it wasn't exactly in front, more like cater-cornered, but still, an accomplishment) and from there, voila, Via Nazzionale! I proceed down the road, grinning back at all the people grinning at me, passing such traditional Italian stores like Timberland and noticing that the cross streets seemed to be named for Italian cities. Upon reaching a small colorful statue of a fat pizza-pie chef (if they had ever moved that statue I would have been so very screwed later), there was Via Venezia. Up that street I went and stopped under the sign that said "Hotel Italia" The front door was open. I stuck my head in. I didn't see a lobby. I looked back at the sign. I walked a little down the hallway, praying to myself that I hadn't just wandered into someone's house like I lived there. Still nothing that looked remorely hotel-like. I came out again and again looked at the sign. Happily, at the point, one of the gentlemen sitting at a little table next door said, "Signorina, the Hotel Italia?" I reply, "Si, por favor" because I had completely forgotten what little Italian I have managed to shove into my head and figured how difference could Spanish be? He smiled and said a lot of stuff that could have been either Italian or Spanish (because it's not like I actually speak Spanish either) but I think I made out something like "3rd Floor". I nod in relief and say "Grazie" (my pronunciation was probably more like Grat-zee because I overthink the word and no one will ever confuse me with a native speaker), strode back into the hallway (for the third time) and am confronted with a staircase and an elevator. I'm paying for an elevator, I'm using the elevator. I open the door and realize it is only big enough for two people if they are seriously making out. Really, they would have to take some of their clothes off to both fit. I smirk again at the thought of my one carry on bag, drag it into the elevator and climb back over it to shut the doors. I push the floor button. Nothing happens. I look for instructions. There are none. After about ten minutes of trial and error, I figure out that you have to shut the external door first, the internal doors second, check the other set of internal door to make sure they are pushed flat, hold those, then push the wrong floor button (because I forgot in Europe they start with floor 0 instead of 1). I eventually find the lobby. (Because the hotel in only on one floor of the building. I have no idea what they do with the rest of it - maybe I was actually wandering the hall of their house.

I greet the young man behind the counter who telling an enthralled tourist how he escaped the trains that had broken only 100 meters from the station - they wouldn't let me out, but seeing that he was young and healthy he leapt from the train window, skillfully dodging death at every turn, just to be at the desk for us. I could tell this was going to be my kind of place. He seems to be THRILLED to see me, checked me in, gave me an old-fashioned key attached to a giant wood and metal thing (they really don't want you going off with their keys), and showed me to my room, which was at the end of the hall (and so only next to one room and therefore quiet) and it had a window. I drop off my stuff and head back to the lobby to get his recommendation of some place nice and local to eat. He seemed a little disapproving of my eating so earlier and be myself, but I confessed he had won my heart with his battle of the trains and so no other could measure up. Besides I was hungry now. He said he liked hungry women, and recommended the trattoria directly across the way as there was the least likelihood I would be spirited away. He offered to show me how to work the elevator but I decide to descend elegantly down the stairs instead. A very nice trattoria it was, even the older dude that opened the door really didn't think I was there to eat by myself - for a second I think he though I was a professional something - but the younger (who did speak English) apologized for the older one and took my order. It was worth going to Rome for the bruschetta bianca alone - man, I'm lucky they brought my fettucine Bolognese just in time - which was also good, and then I had an omelette for some reason - but it was good too. And a serious amount of the house red. I wandered a little unsteadily back to my hotel, the clerk was again thrilled to see me unspirited away, gave me back my key, and in response to my query, set me up on a bus tour of Rome for the next day - the monuments of Rome in the morning, a delightful lunch, and Ancient Rome in the afternoon. They would pick me up at 8:15 in the morning. I wandered on to my bedroom and slept wonderfully.

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Yeah, yeah, so you are starting on the cute Italian guys and then you leave us hanging!

side Apprentice note, I almost forgot to capitalized Italian - then I remembered how much trouble that apprentice guy got into for that very action and hastely fixed it.

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One thing I can say for this trip - I didn't actually need the alarm as I always seemed to wake up between 6 and 7 am local time - though I had no idea what the actual time was between the change to or from Daylight Savings Time and the various time zones.

Well, I awoke bright and chipper and in what I figured to be plenty of time for the tour and so began to select what outfit to wear but which had to include my bright orange pashnima...by the time that was done, the front desk was calling me repeatedly to say they were waiting on me. I follow the cute but impatient black girl down the steps and am introduced to that odd belief that true Romans possess - namely that they have some kind of car repelling bumpers as they cross major thoroughfares. We are not killed as we cross the street to the minivan. It is clear that the black girl is some sort of tourist shephard as we go from block to block, she springing out of the front passenger seat of the van only to return, shooing a pair of traffic-bemused tourists in front of her. We arrive at the tourist agency and they ask for the little green slip that my hotel gave me, which of course I no longer have. After much non verbal communication, I give them money and they give me a tour ticket - our tour is in a large, comfortable bus in English, Italian and French. We began driving around and I began taking pictures. I was impressed by Rome and the clear love of the city that our guide had for it. That phrase, "The glory that was Greece; the grandeur that was Rome" kept running through my mind. Greece has been moved higher on my lists of places to conq...visit. Yes, visit. We drive around wildly - the guide laughing and pointing out stuff and I take pictures of whatever it is I think she's telling us about and the bus comes to a halt. We all troop off the bus obediently and she gives us a speech about how this is the walking part of the tour and we will be walking around for a 45 minutes and DO NOT GET LOST. She says she manages to lose one or two of us on every tour and she would actually like to end up with the same number she starts with. And we will not be walking in a circle and therefore will end up in a totally different place from where we start. And that's where the bus will be. And since you are not with the tour company, you will not know where that is. So keep up! She then ties a blue scarf to a telescoping pointer and holds it up like a flag and sets off down a narrow alleyway. We are immediately hit with temptations to run off from our guide and explore! Pastries shops and coffee shops and flower shops and toy shops and tall dark-eyed men smiling at us from doorways...but I swear I was never more than 15 feet away from her at any time...20 at the most. Our first major site is the Trevi Fountain, and she tells us that "Trevi" comes from "tre via" or three roads - the original fountain was more than two thousand years old but this one is only like 400 years old. Also you're supposed to throw in three coins - the first to come back to Rome (which I did, I love Rome), the second to fall in love with a Roman (I did that one too, I'm easy), the third to marry said dude/dudette (OK, now hold it. It was all fun and games up until this point. I very carefully put my British penny back in my purse to make sure it didn't accidentally fall in the fountain). A fair gentlemen (both in the sense of being blond and attractive) who was watching me in amusement avoid the trap of commitment (tricksy, tricksy Roma!) said I need my picture taken as proof I only wanted two of the three, as well as a number of flattering things. Of course, by the time I charmingly explain that I am actually on a tour, my little blue flag has wandered off. Happily, he knew which way they were headed and so I caught up. The guide and I looked at each other and smirked, as I could not be counted as among the missing (and there were already some missing), and she commented that I probably could have gotten a free tour of Rome, I replied that I wanted to see the outside as well as the inside and we both laughed uproariously. Some stuck up heifer didn't think we were funny. We laughed some more. The guide then told me that in Rome, the pedestrians really have the right of way, you just have to TAKE it, so I did. And didn't get run over! We then went to the Pantheon. Of all the buildings I looked at on this trip, this was awe-inspiring. For something that is over 1900 years old, it is in incredible condition, and just gorgeous. And I take great pride in using the tips learned from photographers at various Clay concerts - the flash doesn't do jack. Turn it off and hold still and you too can have clearly lighted fuzzy pictures! On some of them it's clear I wanted to give you the sensation of motion even though the Pantheon tends to stay still. But in case it starts jiggling, this is what it looks like. We go to the Piazza Navona (the guide tells me that's where to come to party at night, but keep in mind it won't get good until after ten). I take a picture of a cute guy in a uniform who's grinning at me (I did tell you people that I take really crappy pictures, right? You realize that these I've posted are like the top 10% right?) We wander through the Piazza admiring the artwork (me and the guide really liked a picture of an idealized Antonio Banderas and agreed we would be willing to share him, which really horrified Stuck-Up Heifer, so we went into detail. I really liked our guide.) and eventually discover the bus just as our guide had foretold - in a completely different place than we left it. She seemed to be pleased that she had only lost 4-5 of her tourists. As we boarded the bus for the second part of our morning tour, she said we were in for a treat. Since it was Wednesday, and a beautiful day, and the pope was in town, he (the pope) was going to have some sort of thing outside and if we bought stuff at the pope store (I don't think it was actually the pope's personal store, but it was conveniently close to St. Peter's and a bunch of people dressed all in black worked there, and their stuff cost more than the stuff being sold on the carts outside) we and the stuff could be blessed. I thought for a minute, "Well, my best friend is Catholic - maybe she might want something out of here". So I called her up. And yes, it was 11 in the morning in Rome which made it 3 in the morning in Houston. And oddly enough, when she answered the phone, she said, "I knew it was you, you <term of endearment we use with each other because we've known each other forever and it was 3 o'clock in the <freakin'> morning> - you DID THIS ON PURPOSE! Heifer. " I said, "Hey, <toewuweo because she started it> you can't say that to me any as I am going to be blessed by the Pope." She then said something worse. Then told me to buy her stuff. And refused to consider the fact that I now have ipso facto papal approval for all my erstwhile plans. St. Peter's is really, really big. And there were more noisy, obnoxious teenagers surrounding me than the law should allow. I felt like using their thongs (and since I assume I wasn't their target audience, I have no idea why they insisted on exposing them to me) to catapult them into the Tiber. And Pringles with paprika is nasty. The guide said everything would be over by noon and to meet back at the pope shop to get on the bus to go back to the tour office - we would take a different bus for the lunch and afternoon tour. The pope finished a little earlier so I started to head back to the pope shop, stopping to take pictures of some beautiful grey horses (there were some dudes on their backs playing music). I get to the pope shop about 11:45 am. I see some of my fellow tourist. There is no tour bus. Eventually my fellow tourist wander off, but I have faith in my tour guide - she wouldn't leave me! THE HELL IF SHE DIDN'T! At about 12:20p, I get tired of waiting and dig out my receipt (I might have lost the little green slip, but I keep my receipt) and I call the tour shop. It's clear that all the people fluent in English are working as tour guides because this was a struggle. After finally getting across the notion that no, I wasn't on the bus BECAUSE THEY LEFT ME and that I PAID FOR LUNCH AND AN AFTERNOON TOUR AND I WAS GONNA GET THAT COME HELL OR HIGH WATER, we decided it would be best for me to catch up with the tour at the restaurant. So I wrote down a lot of spelled out words, and didn't have a clue which was the street address, or name, or proprietor. So, keeping in mind I am a pedestrian and therefore rule, stepped in the street and make a taxi stop. The taxi driver only had a little English, but I had a poor grasp of Tex-Mex, so we worked it out sort of thusly: Me: Pronto, Quiero va? Him: Something italian Me: I need to go to <lots of somethings in Italian> trattoria? Tour group? See? Te habla ingles? Espanol? No? I show him the paper. Him: Mal escribe. <he grins> Me: Muy mal escribe! <and grin back> Via <one scribble>? Via <second scribble>? Via <final scribble>? Him: Something, something, comprendo! Me: Let's go!

So we drive all over the city of Rome and didn't kill anyone and waved merrily at the people blowing their horns at us. We eventually get to Via <third scribble> and cruise down the street until with see <first scribble>. Success! And he only charged me €10! I blew him a kiss, he blew me one back and I went in the restaurant. I was the first one there! Karma loves me. The tour group eventually shows up and is flabbergasted that I beat them there, especially Stuck Up Heifer (who I am convinced told our tour guide that I had run off with a strange Italian man and not to wait for me), and that means my gorgeous orange pashmina was gone with the bus. We have lunch and our new group is Texas (me), American, Spanish and British. We have a lovely lunch and discussion, and just about everyone seems impressed that I am wandering Europe all on my own. We go on to the Ancient Rome part of the tour and I stood at one point where my guide assured me that Caesar stood, and it felt good. In a historical sense, of course. History, destiny, same difference.

By now, I am really starting to feel the effort of walking on freakin' cobblestones all the freakin' time. Cement is good. Marble is better. But cobblestones are a bitch. After walking through Ancient Rome, ending up at the Colosseo, I head back to my hotel to take a nap, so I could be ready to go to the Piazza Navona later that night. It was worth taking a nap. Lots of wonderful little restaurants, charming people, house wines - some guys even admired my singing voice, I swear! I think I ate pizza, but I only sorta remember. But did go back to my room to sleep later.

THURSDAY: Shopping in Rome

Looking over my screed, I think I need an editor - any volunteers? That paragraph thing is clearly beyond as well as a rumored program called "spellcheck".

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who cares about paragraphs and spelling...

I want to go to ROME!!!!

I love the story of the stranger in the Trevi fountain...someone ought to beef up that little scenario where you do run off and spend the afternoon with the stranger...

HEHEHE...you and Ceasar...what a combination.

YOu are going to tell us details about the partying after right?

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Somehow, I think my aversion to commitment was a large part of my attractiveness for him...I would tell more about the night at the Piazza Navona except it really all started running together...there was lots of house white wine...and I had a little table outside...it was cool but not cold...people are friendly and would smile and wave and talk...there was much more English than I expected...the atmosphere was warm and mellow and just sweet...I wasn't even that pissed that the tour bus had left me earlier but me and the taxi driver had fun.

Ah, my third day in Roma. I got up early enough to eat the included continental breakfast which was incredible tasty - I had no itinerary but wanted to wander among the people...they had open air markets in every little alleyway selling everything from fresh fruits and veggies to clothes and little dancing Mickey Mice...but even before I got to the markets, there were darling teeny little shops everywhere! With signs that had a big red word on them! I have no earthly idea what the word was, but if it's big, and red, and has three exclamation points behind it - I'm gonna work on the assumption it meant SALE! The first little store I was just looking at the big red word when a little woman came out of the shop and dragged me in, just chattering away. I said, "Habla ingles?" She said a lot more that eventually boiled down to "a leetle". She was wonderful, I was bella, and healthy - we some how communicated that I was from Texas and she was from Rome, and all her stuff was made in Roma and I would look good in EVERYTHING but I had to buy stuff for "mi hermanas" (which is "sorrella" in Italian), so I bought a red outfit in a "boucle" knit, and a red and white sweater, and a fawn sweater, and some black pants, and a cowl necked top. But I did NOT buy the pink outfit! See, I DO have some restraint! Especially since I hate pink. The shopkeeper made her husband come out to tell me how pretty I was - and I performed an act of true diplomacy - she wanted the word for "hangar" and I wrote it down for her! OK, I haul my new acquisitions back to my hotel and realize they wouldn't fit in my one stupid suitcase. So at that point I know I need to buy a new suitcase, but I would make sure it was very small. So no more purchases! Especially since I had no more euros! But the ATM work really well, I'm afraid. Dammit So, in order to make SURE I don't buy ANYTHING ELSE, I check and the hotel agrees to hold my luggage for me until it's time to leave. I head STRAIGHT for the last place I saw them selling luggage on the street. But leaves straight through a huge open air market! With lots and lots of neat stuff. Including a pair of extra large pants that I swear are no more than a size 3. Petite. The sales dude actually made gestures to me indicating that OF COURSE my butt could get into them and he couldn't wait to see. I bought the pants just for his audacity. And a London shirt for my son. And a halter top. And a couple of shirts. Then I noticed I had run out of euros AGAIN. Apparently, the ATM issued me VANISHING euros! I plan on sending a letter of complaint. Back I go to the hotel. The clerk just raises one eyebrow at me. I promised him I was done. I go a different way, to a different ATM and see a different luggage seller. I am attracted to a beautiful red suitcase but he wants €20 for it, and as you all know, I am extremely fiscal responsible so I bought the bigger ugly black one for €12. I was sad but not that sad. I still had mumble, mumble euros left! But since I was being fiscally responsible, I decided to drag my new suitcase around behind me as I explored some more. Somehow more stuff ended up in it and my euros disappeared! So I drag my suitcase back to the hotel and the clerk raises the other eyebrow, and I say, "Hush". He snickers. I go out again and the ATM sends out its siren call again, and I get all the way to the piazza without buying something and there is a different luggage stand and in the very front is another of the beautiful red suitcases! I casually wander up and ask how much, and lo and behold, it's the dude who sold me the first suitcase! He says didn't I just sell you a bag around the corner? I sez yes, but I love this one but it costs to much. He said for you, €12 because you are bellissema! So I buy it. And take it back to the hotel. By this time the clerk has a friend with him, and they are clearly waiting for me to return. I some how feel that if I watched closely enough, money would exchange hands because of some wager I'm sure would have nothing to do with me at all. Nothing at all. But I am determined. I put all my new stuff (including two new purses and a kicky wedges) in my new red suitcase (which is only a little bigger than that 21-in suggestion the airlines make - it would still fit in the overhead) - put my red suitcase in the black suitcase and some outfits in my shoulder bag, and I was good! I stayed away from the evil ATMs and used my credit card to buy a late lunch - which was tasty. I head back to the hotel for the last time and began what was one of the only two bad moments of my trip. There was now a lady behind the counter and as I was leaving, suggested she call a taxi to take me to the train station. I wasn't planning on doing that as the train station was only about seven blocks away, but she said it would only be five or six euros. So I agree. The taxi arrives, the drivers puts my two bags in the back with me and off we go to the train station. I was running a little late so I didn't look at the meter when I got out. I pull out a €10 euro, thinking I was giving him a nice tip, when he said, no, no it's €15. I say, you've got to be kidding me! For 7 blocks?!?!? He then says, well, you had 2 bags. I was pissed and thought about making a huge scene - but said feh, gave him the change out of my pockets which I think was another €3.40 and said That's it buddy. Take it or leave it. He grumbled, I grumbled and we went our separate ways. It still wasn't enough to mess up my trip. I catch the Leonardo Express back to the airport, which it HORRIBLY laid out and of course my flight was the very last counter (like number 312 or something) and I couldn't check in online so I was in the next to the last row - but again, I was in my row all by my lonesome! Yay! We take off a little late, but I don't think much about it because I knew soon I would have artichoke-and-brie sandwiches again!

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Hee...this is like a sitcom...how many bellisima's did you get!!!

Love the hotel guy and you attempt to control the shopping...impossible I tell ya.

I need to win the lotto so I can go to Europe too...oh wait I also have kids...so not that easy for me.

Hey TAR was in Rome this week and I was thinking bout you specially when they were at the Trevi fountain.

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Hey! I gotta occasionally pretend to work so I can earn money for my next vacation, which will be either the SuperClub in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic or the one in the Bahamas - my birthday present to me, and not tap into my Clay funds....

OK, I'm on the plane, noshing on my trés elegant (but not very original) artichoke-and-Brie sandwich, when my pilot announces that there was some sort of delay at the airport and we will circle for maybe ten minutes and not to worry. Of course, 45 freakin' minutes later, I'm still not worried, because I passed into the country of "pissed" awhile ago. We finally land and sit our butts on the runaway because we don't have a gate. Really. They knew we were coming, and didn't give us a gate. Selfish gits. See, I was supposed to land at 10:25 pm. And supposed to catch the 11:10 or 11:25 or the very last 11:40 Heathrow Express. To be at the heart of London to catch a train for a cheap overnight hotel stay close to Waterloo. But nooooooooooooooooo....we don't land until 11:25. And the train station is actually 11 billion miles from customs (yes, I counted). So I am actually running to go get my new luggage which had to be checked, and then make an all out sprint for the train. Happily, a very charming English dude with the train takes pity on me, calls the train and makes them wait for me. I fling my new luggage over the turnstile (thank god I had bought the return up front), a kindly conductor says, "C'mon luv, jump quick now" and as soon as my butt crossed the threshold, the train took off. Of course, this puts me into Paddington Station after midnight and I missed the last train. I nap in the terminal with a number of other souls, wake up about 3 in the morning, get more British money out of an accomodating ATM, catch the darlingest black cab (and man, do they every follow the rules!) get to Waterloo Station, and wait around with another herd of people waiting on the 5:34 am Eurostar. The highlight of our vigil was a dude straight out of one of those English soap - the young belligerent Irishman (I swear, I was waiting for him to exclaim about his Lucky Charms), the shopkeeper who wanted us to move out butts from his table as we were buying anything, and me and my new French friend, who had me take a picture of her fake sleeping on the table. She and I watched in amusement as the Irishman (who couldn't have been more than 20) loudly berated the shop dude for disregarding our human rights, abused our dignity, wanted to grind our nascent leaps for freedom under his bourgeoisie heel (I made the Black Panther sign, my friend said "viva la revolution" and then we fell over each other laughing) since the shop dude apparently wanted him to pick up a coffee cup. When Irish started going into excruciating details on how shop dude couldn't prove it was Irish's cup, and another dude (who had just performed his ablations in front of us - finger combing his hair and lifting his shirt to apply deodorant - he grinned at us and we held our noses at him and agreed to stay downwind) picked up the cup and threw it away. We then went through customs and boarding the train. The trip to France was very uneventful.

My arrival in Paris began with chaos - realizing they don't even want to pretend to be bilingual.

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Hmmm, I seem to remember reading about massive student protests in France not too long ago. Was KAndre perhaps promoting civil unrest as a means of advancing her plans for world domination? "Why, yes Jacques, mon frere, I do indeed think you should impose martial law..."

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KAndre looks piously at the surrounding faces...

I wouldn't dream of having student protests during my vacation (really, I wouldn't dream of it. Just because calls were made the day before and the leaders of the protest then announced they were taking the weekend off and would pick up their protests on Tuesday, the day after I left, is just a convenient coincidence. Really.)

In the Gard du Nord station, there is nothing in English, nothing. Considering they have several daily trains from London, I would think someone would have the bright idea of putting something, anything up to help us pititful people. But noooo, that's too much like right. They were in luck that I can work my way through some written French (one of the many benefits of reading historical romance novels), otherwise there would have been some seriously disturbed French people. Happily, I had a very poor resolution fuzzy map from MSN maps to show me how to get to my hotel, which was good as there was a distinct lack of helpfulness on the native's part. By the way, cobblestones are a sin and a shame - I don't care how cute they look they are a pain in the butt for dragging wheeled suitcase over and make my feet hurt. And the French was putting more down! I took pictures of the guilty parties and they will be tried later.

I locate the Hotel Libertel Gare du Nord Suede fairly easily - it looks just like it's picture and was only two blocks from the train station on Boulevard Magenta. This was the hotel's blurb from the internet:

Located between Gare du Nord (Eurostar & Thalys) and Gare de l’Est (Future Charles de Gaule Airport Terminal), the hotel accommodates its guests in its 52 bright and comfortable rooms. Every amateurs of Art will be pleased to discover all the unique paintings and statues dispatched with elegance in the warm and welcoming lobby. A veranda which opens on the quiet courtyard is an invitation to meet among friends. Tastefully decorated, all rooms are comfortably equipped with a desk, a direct dial telephone, international TV channels, a bathroom equipped with either a tub or a shower. The warm Breakfast room and its roof made of glass that attracts daylight, is a real peaceful place to start your day with a delicious continental-buffet breakfast. An internet computer is at your disposal at the reception as well as WIFI service in selected rooms (ask reception for more details).  • Concierge • Front desk fax service • Luggage room • Multilingual staff • Tourist information 

Let's see, true, true, true, true, true, HUGE AND TOTAL LIE, ANOTHER LIE, true, FREAKISH LIE, MIGHT NOT BE A LIE BUT FOR ALL I KNOW THEY WERE MULTILINGUAL AND WERE JUST LAUGHING AT US SO IT COUNTS AS A LIE, sorta true.

All my other hotels allowed me to check in as soon as a room was available, which happened to be when I showed up - the desk clerk here had to answer the phone while I waiting to talk to her, chuckling and being charming to whoever was on the phone and frowning at me as I just didn't give up and leave. She finally got off the phone and heaved a huge sigh. I waited until she deigned to look at me and heaved an even bigger sigh. Having established our adversarial relationship - she insisted that I couldn't check in until 3 o'clock on the dot. No matter what. I asked about the luggage room. She looked at my luggage and leave it at the side of the desk. I asked for luggage ticket. She sighed again. I sighed again. She wrote out something on a piece of paper. The pititful tourists she had managed to intimidate just before me took heart from my defiance and asked for a ticket too. She glared at me as it was clear this insurgance was my fault. I grinned back at her and went to get something to eat.

I wander down the street and see a little bistro with a sign with some English on it, advertising a breakfast: chocolate/cafe/te and orange juice and croissant and eggs and bacon for €7. I walk into the restaurant and say "Bon jour!" which inspired the waiter to say lots of things. I interrupt to say something like, "Je parle peu français, parlez-vous anglais?" I had practised this a LOT, and my French computer program only sneered a little as I repeated it in the microphone. When I said my little phrase, you would have thought I had suggested that we try something illegal in several states and frowned upon in a couple of countries. After that, he communicated with me through sign language. But the breakfast was superb. Just a delight to the tongue. After breakfast, I proceed up Boulevard Magenta which had more wedding dress shops than I have ever seen, like a every third store was a bridal store. I bought more batteries, and turned down what I assume were guys propositioning me in French. And they didn't seem to believe me when I said, in French and in English, dude, I don't speak French. And you're sort of short.

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No English in public signs? Hey...welcome to my world. Its even illegal here to have an English or bilingual signs...

that desk clerak...does not know who she is dealing with...what shall we do with her when we take over?

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I'd say you send the desk clerk off for a little "re-education" in customer service, and give her a job as a greeter at the Paris Wal-Mart SuperStore. How do you say "Bite Me" in French, anyway? I don't think my five years of junior high and high school French covered anything useful like that.

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I think forcing her to learn Spanglish while working in a Mickey costume at Disney World during August should be the beginning of her re-education - she's got to work her way up to Wal-Mart greeter.

Once I am allowed to check in (and again, I ended up with a very nice hotel room, small but spotless and comfortable - and lots and LOTS of water pressure - London needs to work on that), I grab my Paris pass and decide to go to the Opera House. I stand outside in the sunshine, map in one hand, trying to match the map with the actual streets, when another dude say something I assume is charming in French. I respond back with my "no parlez vous Francais - parlez vous Anglais?" I'll be damned, he said, "Why yes I do! What's a pretty girl like you doing out here by herself." I was THRILLED, and decided to talk to him even though he met none of my criteria for men I talk to. Remember, people, I am really very shallow. I explain that I'm a tourist, and no, I didn't get permission to come on my own as I don't let people with Y chromosomes tell me what to do, and yes, aren't we both lucky I'm not actually dating you, and why the hell not, sure you can try and improve your standing with me. Not that it was going to work, but I like guys to make an effort. I tell him I'm looking for the Opera House, and he declares that he would be honored to act as my tour guide and take me there - it's not far to walk and perhaps dinner afterward? I tuck my hand in the crook of his arm and off we go. We go north on Magneta, and then turn left on the street where the Moulin Rouge is, chatting in a friendly fashion, and I'm thinking, this doesn't look like somewhere an Opera House should be, and it is a long freakin' way. We then take a narrow street up a hill, and he stops and buys me a red beret (which is very cute, BTW) to encourage me up the hill. There's a pretty white church at the top of about a billion steps, which strikes me as familiar for some reason - I take a picture of it. We get past the church and I begin to object as we are still going up and no Opera House is in sight. He insists that it's at the top and we go on. Wild-eyed artists converse on us from every direction, insisting on immortalizing me on paper - which I easily resist because if you can immortalize me on paper in 15 minutes, you clearly aren't taking enough time. At this point, I realize I'm in Montmartre and that pretty little church was Sacre-Coeur and I am no fricking' where CLOSE to the Opera House, and I overhead my erstwhile guide asking one of the artists where the Opera House is - and unhappily for him, I understand more French than I speak. At that point, I turn around and start marching back down the hill, ignoring the babbles of apology, the excuses that he never visits tourist sites but wanted to make an exception for me, that this was one mistake, and can't I forgive one mistake, blah, blah, blah. At the bottom of the hill, I informed him that I was tired of walking, he called a cab over, I went back to my hotel, he insisted on giving me his cell number and begged me to call him for dinner. I gave it to the desk clerk as I felt they deserved one another. I went up to my room for an hour to give him a chance to clear off and then went to dinner, ALONE, which was delightfully tasty with excellent company. All my flirting needs were fulfilled by the waiter.

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