Saturday, May 30, 2015

European Experience -- "We'll Always Have Paris"

After spending three days in London, our tour group went to the train station in Kent and boarded a high-speed Eurostar headed to Paris. 

I don't recall much about the Chunnel -- the tunnel beneath the English Channel that connects England and France -- other than we were viewing the French countryside dotted with church steeples in no time as the train zipped along at 185 mph. 

And then Paris -- a city that is a feast for the eyes. So much to see and do, and like London, so little time to take it all in.

Basilica of Parve du Sacre-Coeur
After Mary and I got settled in our hotel, we had dinner and then climbed a hill -- Montmartre (the highest point in Paris) -- overlooking the city to the Basilica of Parve du Sacre-Coeur. The cathedral was completed in 1914.

The following day a local guide took us through Gardens of Luxembourg and Notre-Dame Cathedral as well as giving us a feel for how some Parisians live in this city of 2.2 million. Notre-Dame, which took nearly 200 years to build before completion in 1345, is an architectural marvel of French Gothic design. 

One of the many places in the Gardens of Luxembourg

The western side of Notre-Dame.

The next day we took a bus tour of some of the sights, which gave us a feel for the lay of the city. Mary and I then ventured out on foot to take in some other places.
The Arc de Triomphe

While walking down the Champs-Elysees, after viewing the magnificent Arc de Triomphe, Mary wanted a milkshake so we stopped at McDonald's. She went to the counter and placed her order, and came back with a warm cup of milk and a packet of chocolate mix -- for hot chocolate. I ended up drinking it. (I did go out later that day at a McDonald's near our hotel and bought her a chocolate sundae).

The Grand Palais, home of French presidents
We saw the Grand Palais and The Louvre as well as other stunning architecture along the way. We didn't go inside The Louvre -- it's huge, lines of tourists, and a place we'd want to spend more than a few hours. It will be on our list, along with a lot of other places when we return.

The Louvre

Our accordion player
On our final night we had a nice dinner at Noces de Jeannette, where we were serenaded by a delightful accordion player ("I'll be back!" she said sweetly after playing a few tunes and going to another dining area). It was at the restaurant where I tried to scoot my chair over, but it didn't move because of the carpet. I did, however, nearly tumbling into the next table. 

Night cruise on the Seine
That was followed by  an unforgettable boat ride on the Seine, taking in the more sights and watching the locals partying and relaxing on the banks. And then we were all dazzled by the brilliant and glittering  Eiffel Tower lighting up the clear night sky.

A glittering Eiffel Tower

One guide was upset about the Tour Montparnasse skyscraper (689 feet) as well as other tall buildings being planned as being distractions for the cityscape that has been dominated for so long (since 1889) by the iconic Eiffel Tower. I agree. The Eiffel Tower is a signature structure, one of the most recognizable in the world that helps define the elegance and grandeur of this breathtaking city.
The Eiffel Tower as seen from The Louvre's grounds

Here are a few more images:

A young couple having wedding photos
taken at the Basilica of Parve du Sacre-Coeur
National Academy of Music

Church of St. Augustine

A garden area shared by apartment dwellers

French philosopher and statesmen JulesSimon

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Rear of Paris Opera Building

One of the many impressive buildings

As novelist Ernest Hemingway once wrote: "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."

I'm glad I was able to experience three days in Paris as an old man for I know it will stay with me until the day I die.

And finally, that famous line in the movie, "Casablanca," when Rick Blaine said to Ilsa Lund, "We'll always have Paris."

Yes, thankfully, we will. 

Until the next time...

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

European Experience -- London Calling

Ever since I was a teenager I dreamed of visiting England, especially London. I guess it must have been the influence of the Beatles and the British Invasion in the mid-1960s.

But I always had a deep love and appreciation in the history of western civilization and I also believe that played a big part in my desire to travel to one of the great cities of the world.

I finally realized my dream on May 7 when the US Airways' Airbus touched down at Heathrow International Airport. I marveled at some of the sights along the way as my wife Mary and I were whisked to the H10 Waterloo hotel, about a 45-minute drive from the airport. Let me add that I've read where Heathrow ranks high in lost/misplaced luggage, but our two pieces were there at baggage claim.

A selfie at Westminster Abbey
One of the first things we did on our guided tour was to go by bus to Buckingham Palace. Along the way, we saw Parliament Square, Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and other places. 

It was an eventful and busy day in London, with the election results in, and Prime Minister David Cameron's party dominating the results. It was also VE Day -- Victory in Europe -- commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. There was a lot of excitement in the air.

The large crowd at Buckingham Palace
for the changing of the guard
Led by our London guide Henrietta -- she said we could call her Henri -- we moved through the congested traffic to within a short walking distance of Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. We piled out of the bus and followed her in the direction of Buckingham Palace, along with a few thousand other folks heading that way.
Changing of the guard ceremony

Well, somewhere along the way, I was diverted one way and my wife and other 35 travelers on the tour went another way. I could see them across the road, but the police wouldn't allow me or others to cross the street. I wasn't worried.

After the ceremony, I took off in the direction to where I had last seen them, but they weren't there. I could hear Henrietta -- I prefer that to Henri -- on my transmitter, but her voice began to fade. I headed toward Trafalgar Square, and at times I could faintly hear her voice, but then I lost it completely.  I suppose I was a little concerned.

At noon, I knew they would probably be heading back to the hotel so I started my trek across the Thames River. But I had one problem -- I needed to go the restroom, or as they call it in London, the loo. And I needed to go bad. Real bad.
Mary on a bridge crossing the Thames River,
 with Big Ben in the background.

I went to a place across from St. James Park, hoping it would have a public restroom, er  loo, but it didn't. I finally found a public loo but discovered that it cost to use it. And I didn't have any pence -- I believe it was 50 pence to use it -- and I was about to p.. in my pants.

Parliament Square
I located another one near Parliament Square and was about to jump over the turnstile to get to the urinal. Fortunately, a man was coming out and gave me the needed coin,  to my great relief. I don't know his name, but I will be forever grateful and will always "pay it forward" when I see a person in distress at a restroom.

Fortunately, I do have a good sense of direction, for the most part, and walked back to the hotel, arriving about 15 minutes after my fellow travelers. I did ask for directions from a couple of guys along the way, and after they used their GPS apps on their cell phones, they steered me in the right direction.
A Van Gogh painting in the British Gallery

During our three days in this magnificent city -- I wish I could have stayed a lot longer -- we visited the British Gallery and the British Museum. Incidentally, if you plan a trip to London, both of these places are free. 

A bust of Zeus, dating to the second century A.D.,
 at the British Museum

I learned on the last day that we were fairly close to Abbey Road of Beatles' album fame, and my new friends from Boston -- a family of four -- were able to have their photo taken crossing the iconic street. 

Others visited the London Tower and told me how impressed they were seeing the crowned jewels of the British monarchy. My Boston buddies also took a train to Stonehenge to see the historic rocks. 

Mary and I  did a lot of urban hiking, taking in as much of this historic city as we could before traveling to Paris. But alas, so much to see and so little time. We hope to return someday. 

Here are a few more images:

Children playing on one of the giant lions at Trafalgar Square

The coat of arms on the Buckingham Palace gate

Would you believe this guy at Buckingham Palace is a tourist?

Until the next time...


Monday, May 25, 2015

European Experience -- The Beginning

On May 6, my wife Mary and I left our cozy Kentucky home for an 11-day vacation to Europe -- London, Paris and Roma, to be precise.

We made our decision last December to take that 10-hour flight across the big pond and make one of our trips of a lifetime. As you grow older, time is of the essence and one has no clue what the future holds in terms of finances, health, and other personal issues.

Three months earlier, we took another "trip of a lifetime" when we took a rail vacation to the western part of the U.S., making stops in places such as Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and Yosemite National Park.

The initial stages of our trip were relatively uneventful other than me having a pat-down by a TSA official at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington. Mary and I figured out what set off the alarm when we reached the boarding area -- my top-of-the line Timex Expedition watch. 

The boarding area in Concourse E for our flight to London
We flew to the impressive Charlotte Douglas International Airport, where we had about a 3 1/2-hour layover. It gave us time to get a bite to eat at the Stock Car Cafe and then wait for our US Airways flight to Heathrow in London. 

Before boarding our flight, we took advice from some friends who recently traveled to Italy and moved our watches ahead five hours to help acclimate ourselves to the time change in London. We wanted to lessen the effects of the flight as much as possible.

On the way to London
We touched down at Heathrow around noon, local time. We were sent to the Customs and Border Patrol section. During the flight, an attendant was handing out forms. My ears were ringing,  Mary  was sleeping, and I thought it was for a credit-card application and told her I didn't want one. Well, it turned out to be a form that had to be filled out before going through Customs and Border Patrol at Heathrow.

Fortunately, a young woman on our flight seated behind us told us as we got off the Airbus what we needed to do. She guided us to the proper area to pick up another form and stayed with us until we were cleared to proceed to the baggage area. Her name was Francesca, originally from Shawnee Mission, Kansas, an ex-patriate who has lived in London for nearly four years. She also gave us some advice on places to see during our stay. 

H10 Waterloo Hotel
Our tour company had a driver waiting for us just off from the baggage area. I don't recall his name, but he was a Somalian who has lived in London for 13 years (and has a brother living in Minnesota, whom he hopes to visit later this year). He certainly knew how to negotiate the narrow highway in heavy traffic on our 45-minute trip to the H10 Waterloo hotel, even pointing out some of the historic sights along the way. 

We were exhausted when we finally checked into our room and unpacked, but after a quick nap, we had renewed energy when we met 34 fellow travelers at a welcome dinner, hosted by our experienced, cordial and knowledgeable guide Valerio, an Italian citizen.

More on the London visit  in my next post.

Until the next time...

(Some images from the trip can be seen at my Facebook page. And if you go to Facebook, please like Kentucky author Michael Embry page as well.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Back to the Manuscript -- Part Five

After taking a two-week break, I've returned to my work in progress. 

I must admit that it was nice to get away from the manuscript. Why? Because for 11 days I was vacationing in the European cities of London, Paris and Roma. (More about my travel adventure in later posts).

Agatha Christie memorial in London (sorry for the horizontal placement)

For me, there's nothing like going to another environment, atmosphere, or whatever you call it -- perhaps an escape -- to get reinvigorated. And what better places than London, Paris and Roma to re-energize the body and soul! 

Honore Balzac statue in Paris
While I tried to totally immerse myself into the rich culture of those cities, during down times I couldn't help but think about the manuscript, especially during the 10-hour flights to and from Europe.  I even discussed my work with several of my fellow travelers, which provided even more focus on what I'm trying to accomplish.

When I opened the manuscript file this morning, I found renewed energy to go full bore in reworking some passages, dialogue, descriptions and so forth.  I know it will be much better after this third rewrite -- which is the ultimate goal.

Until the next time....

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Paris Icon: Shakespeare and Company Bookstore

One of my favorite discoveries during a recent visit to Paris was stumbling across Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

Shakespeare and Company bookstore at 37 rue de la Bucherie in Paris.

I was with a tour group that beautiful morning and we had just visited the resplendent Luxembourg Gardens. We were taking a leisurely walk before heading across the Seine to Notre-Dame Cathedral.

A place to read, relax and soak in the literary atmosphere.

I was momentarily stunned when we turned the corner and this iconic bookstore was before me. It wasn't on the tour's list of things to see, but it certainly ranked high on my list as a place I wanted to experience.

Now this isn't the same Shakespeare and Company that was founded in 1919 by Sylvia Beach and attracted such literary lions as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and James Joyce, among many others, but it carries on in the spirit of that great bookstore that closed in 1940 because of the German occupation.

This bookstore, founded in 1951 by American George Whitman, follows in the same tradition of the original. Whitman named his store Le Mistral, but changed it to Shakespeare and Company, in 1964, in honor of great bard's 400th birthday and as a tribute to Beach. 

Through the years Whitman brought in literary greats such as Allen Ginsberg, William Styron, James Baldwin, William Burroughs and Richard Wright. 

Whitman, who was also a poet, died in 2011 at the age of 98. The bookstore is now owned by his daughter, Sylvia, who is named after Sylvia Beach, and she continues to run the business in the same spirit and tradition of her father and her namesake. 

Yours truly in his tourist attire.
I wish I could have spent more time at the bookstore, perusing the titles on the shelves, studying the photographs on the walls, and talking to some of the patrons. 

Perhaps I can if I ever return to this enchanting city.

Until the next time....

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Back to the Manuscript -- Part Four

It's time for a break.

I've completed the second rewrite of my manuscript. While I'm generally pleased with the storylines -- plot and subplots -- there's still a lot of work to be done.

As mentioned in previous posts, I usually go through a manuscript 10 or 11 times before I'm satisfied enough with it to submit it to my publisher. I was hoping it wouldn't be the case with this manuscript, I know now that it will be the same as the others. Poor me.

But by putting more effort (rewrites) into the manuscript, that means a richer read when the process is completed. And isn't that what we strive for as authors?

So I'm going to take a 12-day break from the manuscript, give it lots of thought and take notes here and there, and return to it with renewed vigor and fresher eyes. I know I mention eyes a lot, but it's important to see something in a different light. If not, you read over words without seeing them -- and oftentimes you see them when they aren't there.

Until the next time...