Céad Míle Fáilte – A Hundred Thousand Welcomes to Ireland

Before I begin with Ireland, I will insert part of the fireworks display from the 4th of July in Denmark.  Since any followers have already read that post, it is probably best to insert it here, as well as inserting it back into the 4th of July post for any future followers, so here goes:

And now that I’ve added the video, I can continue on to Ireland. The best I could do without arriving in Ireland too late in the day was a 7am flight , so off we went in a taxi at 4am to the Cardiff Airport, flying in another small plane to Edinburgh where we had a 3 hour layover,  after which we finally landed at Knock Airport.

Two hours later by taxi, we arrived at our destination – the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel in Clifden, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland. The countryside was just as green as it appears in photographs – absolutely gorgeous. We also passed fields of grazing sheep, and I noted that patches of their wool had been dyed (in one farm they were bright pink and in another, pink and blue) to denote who their owners were.

The Abbeyglen was a beautiful building from another era, made of stone and lovely woodwork the likes of which you don’t see these days in modern buildings. The dining room was very elegant and our room made us feel like we were in someone’s home rather than a hotel, with a large bedroom and sitting room complete with a day bed and couch.

One thing I did notice here, as well as London, Wales and Scotland was that the showers did not have a glass shield all the way around the tub. A glass “door” only went half the length of the tub and it had to be angled in to keep the water from going all over the floor.

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Entrance and front of the hotel

and a very curious edifice close to the hotel building

Across the street from the hotel was an inlet that turned out to be part of the Atlantic Ocean, so when the tide came it appeared to be a lake, and when the tide went out again, it was a large mud flat.

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It reminded me of when I was in Cameroon with a British charity. We had stayed in a small hotel right on the beach before heading inland. Before going to bed the waves came right up to the small retaining wall at the edge of the lawn. In the morning I was astonished to see people out on the rocks for quite a distance in what had been the ocean the night before.  I had grown up on Long Island in New York State, but had been away from the sea for so long that I had forgotten about the tides! Another thing that was different was the orientation of North vs South; on Long Island, looking out at the Atlantic, north was to the left and south to the right, but on the other side of the ocean north was now to the right and south to the left.

Clifden was a beautiful small town and you could walk around the perimeter in no time at all. Many restaurants,  bars, beauty shops, jewelry stores and a BOOKSTORE!  I was in heaven, and browsed and finally bought 4 books – one of which, of course, was “How the Irish Saved Civilization.” With electronic books taking over, it is becoming more and more difficult to find paper books and book stores, at least in the United States.

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We did walk over to the post office, which was quite tiny. I had been hoping to send the bottle of Akvavit that I had purchased in the duty-free shop in Denmark to my son in Denver, however it was a no-go – at 45% alcohol, it was too potent to go through the mail.  If it had been a much smaller percentage of alcohol, it would have been ok.

However, what we COULD send were gifts we had bought and Brenna’s prom dress and fancy shoes back to her mother in New York. Problem was, the post office didn’t sell boxes, so we had to go next door to the stationery store to purchase a shipping box, then return to the post office and send it off.

Since I had already opened the sealed duty-free bag in which the alcohol was packaged, I needed lots of bubble wrap so that I could put the bottle in my checked suitcase for our next flight.  Unfortunately, the stationery store was out of bubble wrap. They kept telling me “it will be delivered later in the day” and “it will be delivered tomorrow” but that never happened.  We did go into a supermarket across the street and I noticed an employee putting bottles of wine on the shelf, so I asked if they happened to have bubble wrap from their deliveries of wine. Sure enough they did – she was very nice and went under the counter to give me as much as I wanted.

In the morning, we also went looking for a good place for Brenna to get a haircut, and inquired from some of the local people where to go. We finally found a highly-recommended shop and Brenna took her seat for a haircut, and also decided to get highlights. With all her hair, the cut took quite a while, and by then it was time for lunch. The beautician said that we should just go get something to eat and would let us pay for the cut just yet, saying she knew we would be back.

After lunch, we returned and a few hours later, Brenna had her cut and highlights. She had been talking with the beautician during the cut and mentioned that this trip was her 16th birthday gift, so when Brenna tried her best to give her a tip, she absolutely refused and wished her a happy birthday. Everyone we met here in Clifden was so incredibly nice, it was like we were home and they were family….

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Brenna with her new  ‘do

and, of course, eating more salmon

     We did more wandering around and found a shop with, among other things, wool clothing. Poor Brenna still hadn’t found a hat that she fancied, but I found one:

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and so we went back to the hotel.

And now for a little backstory about the Abbeyglen.  I knew when planning this trip that I wanted to go to Ireland, but not sure exactly where to go. My step-daughter, Brenna’s mother, suggested that we go here. Brenna’s great-grandparents had gone and her parents had gone there also, so we would be carrying on a family tradition.

Unbeknownst to Brenna, her mother had called ahead to let the staff know we would be coming and it was for her 16th birthday, and so they planned a surprise for her. Well, it was supposed to be a surprise, but before the waiter brought her cake, he talked with me about MY birthday, and I had to say “No, it’s my granddaughter’s birthday.” Oops!

But it was to be brought out imminently anyway, so no harm done:

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And so, that will end my post for today. The next article will be all about Kylemore Abbey and further adventures around Clifden. Until next time……………….

Cardiff, Wales – A Tale of Two Doctors

This whirlwind European trip was a 16th birthday present to my granddaughter, Brenna.  For years, she had been promised a trip when she turned 16. At first, she wanted to go to Australia, and I had already promised that she could pick the country to which she wanted to go. When she kept insisting on Australia, I told her mother that since half the cost of the trip would probably be the tickets, it would not be as many days as it could have been.

Then one day, I received a call from my step-daughter, Brenna’s mother. She said that Brenna was a big Doctor Who fan, and she had discovered that there were Doctor Who tours in the U.K., so Brenna then decided that she would rather go to the U.K.  And so, we were bound for Europe instead of across the Pacific to Australia.

It turned out that there were Doctor Who tours in two different cities – a bus tour and a walking tour in Cardiff and a walking tour in London, so I signed us up for all three. So off we went from Denmark to Wales via Amsterdam – two flights in a small plane that wasn’t pressurized as well as the larger commercial planes.

At altitude and more severely upon descent I experienced excruciating pain from my left inner eyebrow to my temporal-mandibular joint and behind my ear. I couldn’t hear in my left ear, and in addition I had severe low back pain to the point where I could barely walk. We made it by taxi to our hotel, where I learned that the local urgent care center was closed for the night but would open in the morning. I decided that I could wait until morning to go there, then had a room-service dinner.

In the morning, we took a taxi to the “GP” which is what they call their urgent care center and there I met the first doctor of today’s blog title. I was told that since I am not enrolled in the NHS that I would have to pay for the visit.  The cost of the visit was          40 British Pounds Sterling – about $52 USD.

The doctor gave me a thorough examination and I was prescribed Amoxicillin for my ear problem (bloody inside, pain and still couldn’t hear) and Tylenol with Codeine15/500 for pain. Went to the chemist (pharmacy), they charged me a little over 10 Pounds (about $13 USD), and then dispensed the Amoxicillin and a box of 100 (ONE HUNDRED) Tylenol/Codeine pills!!!!!  With all the controversy in the United States about prescription pain medication abuse and addiction, I couldn’t believe it and said I would only need about 4 pills, but the one hundred was what was dispensed.  I did end up only using 4 pills, and gave the rest to a doctor to donate to a hospital or clinic.

While I rested and recovered in our room, Brenna walked around Cardiff, and visited a fair that we had not heard about before we arrived. I admired the view from our balcony, which was right on the harbor, looking out onto the water and at a family of swans who swam daily among the lily pads.

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I also decided to take advantage of their lovely afternoon tea. I had a great seat by the window, was served my choice of tea and a nice assortment of cakes and sandwiches.

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In the morning, I definitely wasn’t up to taking a walking tour, and so called the organizer, Brit Movie Tours, to see if they would allow Brenna to go by herself, since she would be with a group of people. Since she was not 18 years old, they said no, so we had to skip the walking tour, but we DID take the bus tour. There was some walking involved in the bus tour, but the tour guide said I could remain on the bus for those parts

We met at the Millenium Center, and she was quite easy to spot, as you can see from her photo (hint: it’s her dress that gave her away).

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Signposts

The Welsh written language seems to have a lot of “w’s” and “y’s” and not too many vowels.

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The Millenium Center with its copper-colored roof

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Our tour guide. 

     The bus would stop at designated spots and our guide would hold up photographs of scenes from Doctor Who, indicating that those scenes were shot where we were standing at that time.

At one point, we stopped at the bottom of a hill and all the other passengers disembarked to climb the hill, but I remained on the bus and rode up to the top. There I found the ruins of a cathedral.

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and a war memorial

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We also stopped at a mill in which wheat was ground.

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After the tour we wandered around the harbor and attended the fair, which included tents with many types of food and crafts. And the next day, we continued wandering about, exploring the areas around the harbor.

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Brenna relaxed by going to the amusement park that had been set up, going on many of the rides while I relaxed in the shade. We then continued on our way, looking for a restaurant in which we could have dinner, and stumbled upon Ianto’s Shrine, from a spinoff of the Doctor Who program.

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and then stumbled upon another Doctor Who landmark, the American Diner in which some of the scenes took place:

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photograph of the actors in the diner

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the booth in which the actors played their scene

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Our final night, we returned to a restaurant on the waterfront where we had had dinner the night before. The food was excellent, and the staff was very friendly, so we decided to eat there again and were not disappointed.

Since we had a 7am flight the next morning, and had to leave the hotel around 4am to make the flight, we packed out suitcases and went to bed early. Ireland would be our next stop with nothing in particular planned – so we were going to have 4 days to chill out after long plane rides, 5- and 6-hour time zone changes and zipping from one country to the next.

So – next stop, Clifden, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland!

American Independence Day – in Denmark – July 3rd and 4th

So, to continue our Independence Day adventures – I woke up in our hotel (the Comwell Rebild Bakker, sorry I got the name wrong in the last post) at 4am to a bright but overcast sky. It seemed that the sky never actually turned black; there was always some light. Reminds me of the term “Land of the Midnight Sun.”

Today was the fancy-dress gala, where we would have an elegant dinner followed by fireworks at 11:30pm. At 6pm we boarded a bus which took us to our venue – a very modernistic building with an incredible view of a fjord.

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Brenna was able to wear her prom dress, which made her very happy.

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One of the women at our table was named Helle, and she struck up quite a lively conversation with Brenna, discussing Dr. Who, the Hobbits, Harry Potter, higher education and reading in general. They exchanged information and I am sure will continue to stay in touch in the future.

It was a very elegant affair and throughout our travels Brenna was exposed to different types of food, plus food that she has eaten in the States, but told me that in Europe it tasted different – much fresher than she is used to. She loved everything, especially the salmon, which she ate every chance she had. One thing they served us in Denmark was pickled herring. Since she loves fish, she dove right in. I didn’t know until later that she hated the herring, but I am proud to say the expression on her face never changed. I never would have know that she didn’t like it if she hadn’t told me.

As the time for the fireworks was approaching, we headed out to the balcony. While Europe was experiencing an unusual heatwave, it was chilly on the water and I was glad I had brought a heavy shawl.  We looked out over the dock which had interesting lights:

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and were treated to a spectacular fireworks display:

a very small sample of the fireworks

and as you can see, even at 11:30 at night it was still quite bright out.  We then said our good-byes and headed back to the bus to get some sleep in our hotel before the next set of events which were actually held on the 4th.

The following day was the tent luncheon where we had hamburgers, hot dogs, soda and, of course, Akvavit was being served.  When I was growing up, hot dogs were served with mustard and sauerkraut. From my step-daughters I discovered that some people eat them with ketchup. In Denmark they were served with crispy cooked onions and what I believe to be cucumbers.

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At the luncheon there was a ceremony which involved a ceremonial key to the town returned from the man who had been selected a day or two ago to be “mayor for the day.”  It was a very interesting ceremony with costumed officials and one man holding an instrument which I had never seen before.

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After this, there was the celebration in the hills. Because of the heat wave, it was brutally hot outside, Brenna had cramps and on top of that, they were charging 150 Danish Krone (about $25 USD) per person to sit in the hills on the ground with no shade. If we had been feeling better, or if there had been some shade or it had been cooler we might have gone there, but we thought better of it.

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stage in the hills where the performance was to take place

Before going down the path to the hills, vendors were selling their wares, so we each bought a tee shirt. There was also many antique cars being shown.

Before very long, we decided that it would be wise to retire to our room to rest before the after-party to be held in the same tent as the luncheon.  After we were adequately rested, I changed into my new tee shirt and we went to the tent for the after-party. There was a band, more hot dogs and hamburgers and, of course, plenty of Akvavit.

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And so we continued our wonderful conversations with our new-found friends until it was time to say good=bye.  And, now that I think about it, I had been staying in touch with old friends via social media during this time. My friend Maggan from Sweden and Victor, who had studied in Aalborg began telling me of places that I should see while in Denmark, including a place north of Aalborg “where two seas meet.” I had to tell them that if I had known about these places ahead of time, I could have planned for it, but tickets were already bought for transportation, hotels were already booked, and so further sightseeing would have to wait for another time.

And so we gave Helle a hug and said our good=byes then went back to pack. And it was off to Cardiff, Wales on the 5th….

 

Happy 4th of July – from Rebild, Denmark!

Many years ago, during one of my travels, I had a conversation with a woman who happened to be from Denmark. She told me about an annual celebration in the town of Rebild. She said that this was the only real American 4th of July celebration outside of the United States. All these years since that conversation, I had been telling myself that one day I would spend the 4th of July in Rebild, and now I saw my chance to actually do it.

Knowing that my granddaughter’s family usually celebrates together, I asked Brenna if she would care to celebrate this holiday in Denmark, and she seemed happy to do that. And so I started to make plans, did an internet search and found the Rebild National Park Society, located in Illinois.  Upon seeing the schedule of events on the web site, I decided to obtain a membership for myself and my granddaughter so that we could attend all the events including a formal gala (Yaaaayyyy!!! Brenna gets to wear her prom dress more than once!).

I called Linda Steffensen at the Illinois office, and she told me that the Rebild Bakker Hotel is across the street from the hills in which the events are held, so I booked a room there, and all was well.

We flew to Aalborg via Amsterdam, having only 15 minutes in Amsterdam to go from Gate D90 where we arrived to Gate B30 where our connection was. It was a LONG distance, and Brenna is on the track team, so I had her run ahead to make sure they didn’t leave without me.

The Rebild Bakker Hotel turned out to be a sports hotel surrounded by fields and trees. There was hiking, bicycle rentals, swimming pool,  everything regarding this hotel had to do with sports and exercise. The stairs were even marked with how many calories you burn with each step!

“Take the stairs and live longer”

     During the day, I did our laundry, but needed the help of the receptionist to figure out how to use the machine. I had never seen so many settings before.

We then went to a luncheon, with mainly older Danish people. I discovered that they really like to sing and drink. We would be eating and talking, then someone would propose a toast, we’d take a sip and then we would sing, in both English and Danish, a process which was repeated at least half a dozen times during lunch.

They have a very strong drink called Akvavit. It was like tasting fire – much stronger than tequila.I could only manage to raise my glass and take a tiny sip. The songs were very old-fashioned to me – for instance “Yellow Rose of Texas” and “My Darling Clementine” which to me are also very depressing when you listen to the words, but I thoroughly enjoyed the song about Akvavit.

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bottle of Akvavit

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words to the song in English

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?hl=es-419#inbox/KtbxLwgprFJFPPqKhKftpWwlcTbHPgDTLq?projector=1

Link to the melody. It says “Melodi: Oppe pa bjerget” (up on the mountain) and the link  above  is to that song, but the melody is also the same as the more familiar song

“I See the Moon and the Moon Sees Me”

“Snaps” is their word for this drink, and perhaps it is the equivalent of the German schnapps. I don’t know for sure as I’ve never had schnapps. Anyway, that bottle you see is one that I bought at the Aalborg airport when leaving Denmark. When we got to Cardiff, they wouldn’t ship that strength of alcohol to the U.S., so I ended up bringing it to New York when we returned to Brenna’s house. U.S. won’t ship alcohol either, so, since it was for my son in Colorado, someone will have to visit him and bring it in their suitcase……

Anyway, back to Rebild. We sat next to some very nice Danes who were surprised that we have absolutely no Danish ancestry. They were surprised when I told them how we had come to know about the festival and decided to attend, and I promised to write all about it in my blog, so that maybe other non-Danish or non-Danish-Americans would learn about it and attend.  Apparently it is a very famous festival to celebrate the opportunity Danish immigrants found in the United States and many presidents have attended in the past.

During the lunch the “Top Karen” Prize (“Top Karens Pris” in Danish) was awarded. This prize was begun in 2002 to honor the person who has contributed significantly within the Danish-American community in the U.S. in general and in behalf of the Rebild Society in particular.

Top Karen (Karen Marie Andersen) and her husband Top Jens opened the first coffee house in Rebild, originally only selling boiled water to tourists who brought their own coffee beans, and with time gradually expanded her business. Her house on the grounds is called “TopHuset” and as you can surmise from the name of the prize, Top Karen became  quite beloved in her community.

Besides the hills, an office and the yellow TopHuset (Top Karen’s and Top Jens’ house) there is a sculpture garden on the grounds:

bust of Victor Borge

bust of USA president William Howard Taft

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bust of Jens Toldstrup, a leading figure in the Danish Resistance in WW II

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The Aviator Stone

in gratitude to the Allied airmen whose missions helped sustain the Danish Resistance Movement during WW II

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statue commemorating Danish immigrants to the U.S. 

     I WAS planning to write up the whole four days in Denmark in one post, but I fear this is getting overly long. So much happened in those 4 days, that I think it is better to break the story up into two or three posts total. Consequently, I will end this post here, having covered July 1st and 2nd, and continue with the events of July 3rd, and maybe the 4th tomorrow.

Meanwhile, if you have any questions or wish me to expand on anything I’ve mentioned, please leave me a comment.

Take care, and see you tomorrow!

 

Paris, once again

When I left off, we had spent the day visiting the Eiffel Tower, then back to the hotel to become more adjusted to not only being in a different time zone  but also having the sun set around 10:30-11pm.

One thing Brenna had made clear was that she wanted to visit the Louvre, and so I had bought tickets ahead of time.  One added bonus for visiting many places where you need to buy a ticket – if you’re traveling with children, have them bring their school ID. When age was a factor, I had a double bonus – student rate for Brenna and senior rate for me. Yaaaayyyy!!!!!

Anyway, since I had Google Maps on my phone, we could pretty much find our way around. However, I felt more comfortable taking a taxi to where we were going and then taking our time exploring and finding our way back. So off we went to the Louvre.

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While there were many wonderful things to see there, what Brenna REALLY wanted to see was Van Gogh – especially Starry Night. When we could not find it, we inquired from one of the guides, who informed us that we could find Van Gogh paintings in the Musee D’Orsay – not the Louvre. And a final irony – Starry Night was being displayed BACK IN NEW YORK!!!!! She lives in New York, and the painting was right there all along.

Our ticket for the Louvre was for 11am, so it was around noon when we set off  for the Musee D’Orsay to find Mr. Van Gogh, and we were not disappointed. There was a treasure trove of his paintings, and she was in heaven. As with ancient buildings, it is an awe-inspiring experience to be sharing the same space with objects and art conceived by human minds and created by human hands centuries, and sometimes millennia, in the past.

Besides paintings, there were beautiful sculptures. I am always amazed when I look at them, trying to imagine how a sculptor can view a block of marble or wood, imagine what it could become and then chip away bit by bit until he has the finished product. The artistry and realistic detail  on some of these statues was incredibly life-like.

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The grounds of the museums were also impressive with statues and even a re-creation of the Arc de Triomphe.

In addition to the museums, we literally walked miles, exploring the streets between the Louvre and our hotel. We passed many shops and Brenna discovered the French macaroon, different than what people in the United States think of when they hear that name. It is more like two soft cookies with a filling in between, and comes in a wide variety of flavors. And it’s also very expensive. She bought some, and I think some of her purchase was meant to be a gift when we got back to New York, but for some reason, they all ended up being eaten – I can’t imagine why (wink, wink).

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     delicious French macaroons

    Brenna’s mom suggested we also go to the Notre Dame cathedral, and compare it to other cathedrals or churches that we might visit, especially Kylemore Abbey which was on our bucket list for Ireland.

     After more walking, we finally found it. Since we spent our morning and early afternoon visiting the museums, it was late afternoon by the time we found Notre Dame. To get inside, you needed a ticket, and guess what – the line of people waiting to get in was quite literally around the block. So we made due with walking around the outside and will have to Google photographs to see what it looked like inside.

As we wandered, we also explored shops to search for gifts for friends and family, and discover mementos for ourselves. Brenna desperately wanted a hat, and Paris, being the fashion capital of the world, should have a nice selection – or so we thought. There were baseball caps and knit caps, but nothing you could call high fashion. Well, nothing except for a handmade hat that she came across – at the bargain price of 250 Euros! She had a set amount of money to spend, and so passed on the opportunity to buy a fancy Parisian hat. That was probably the first of many life lessons in managing her money…..

So by now, my feet were killing me, but salvation was in sight in the form of tour boats on the Seine River. We paid our euros and got a seat on the tour boat and went up and down the river listening to  commentary in both English and French.

Of course there were the bridges and the ornamentation on them and the unique street lights.

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From this photo you can see how easy it was to find our way back to the hotel – just walk towards the Eiffel Tower

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 All of this was expected, but I learned something new. There is a statue next to the bridge and when it was constructed, it was used to measure the level of the water in the river.

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It was difficult to imagine the water rising even to his waist. 

     Among our wanderings, we also walked to the Arc de Triomphe.  We followed the signs and eventually saw it. It was standing in the middle of an immense traffic circle with no crosswalk in sight. I saw many people there, so, thinking there must be a way,  we started crossing all the streets surrounding it and finally found a tunnel going under the street and emerging at the Arc.

Photographs simply do not do justice to its size.

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Inside its columns are carved the names of, I am certain, people who distinguished themselves in various wars:

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along with detailed sculptures

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and several memorials with eternal flames to commemorate the dead:

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There was also a doorway to go to the top of the Arc. However, not being a fan of heights, nor wanting to stand on another line to buy tickets to get there, we contented ourselves with exploring everything that could be seen while standing with our feet firmly planted on the ground.  And it was a very impressive and sobering monument to lives lost and victories won.

In our travels, we also came upon a monument to refugees:

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The Republic of France in homage to the victims of racist persecution, anti-Semitism and crimes against humanity………………..

     A very sobering monument to remind us of the suffering resulting when humanity acts upon their worst instincts.

     And so our stay in Paris was quickly coming to an end. Back at the hotel, we had a nice dinner and I had the front desk print up our boarding passes. We also had them re-activate our magnetic room card keys. It seems that keeping the card key next to your cell phone will de-activate the card. This is something I had never come across before, so I do not know if I had just been lucky or if this is some new form of technology.

My other issue was my cell phone. In Mexico, I use Telcel as my carrier, but Telcel only works in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, so I was using my Verizon sim card and running up tons of charges on my bill. A Eurail SIM card was advertised for Europe before I left Mexico, but it was almost impossible to find a shop that sold them, and then I heard that it would take 24 hours to activate due to security concerns and regulations, so I bought a plan from Verizon for $10 per day, and that took care of that.

And so we spent our last night in Paris before catching the 6am Le Bus Direct to the airport in the morning to spend the 4th of July in Rebild, Denmark, the only place outside of the U.S. that has a real American Fourth of July.  Au revoir Paris and “hej danmark”!

We’re all fae somewhere – The Refuweegee Story

I know you all were expecting the next chapter of our trip to France, but I have decided to insert, instead, the highlight for me of our trip to Scotland. With all of the negative, depressing stories in the news recently, I did not want to wait for several weeks to publish this story. It is a tale of people doing good for those in need – people too often demonized and abused when they desperately need the Good Samaritans of this world.

When planning our European trip, one of the countries I decided to visit was Scotland, since my son-in-law’s ancestors had come to the United States from that country, though it was unclear from which part they came. The only cities I had heard of in Scotland were Edinburgh and Glasgow, and not knowing very much about either one, decided on Glasgow just because…..and I am so glad I did.

Upon researching Glasgow, an article popped up about an organization called Refuweegee, and it is a fascinating story of how one person with a desire to help can make a difference. In this instance, that woman is Selina Hales. Deciding that I wanted to find out more about their work and meet these wonderful people who were helping those in need, I sent in a donation by PayPal and asked if we could pay them a visit and it was agreed that we could visit on July 19th. And so Brenna and I went shopping for teddy bears, toiletries and stationery to donate.

We arrived at the address, donations in hand, at the appointed time, but were slightly confused as we didn’t see a number displayed on the building, and once inside were met by Selina and Sarah MacPherson. We were guided upstairs to their office, crowded with computers, correspondence and donations.

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Selina Hales and Sarah MacPherson in their tiny office

      People all over the world have heard about the crisis in Syria – families fleeing the violence of war and ending up on the shores of the island of Lesbos and from there living in camps in Lesbos and Calais.

With young children and a job, Selina could not pick up and go to the camps, but instead thought of ways in which she could assist the refugees who came to Glasgow, and so Refuweegee was born.

Refuweegee

(ref-u-wee-gee)

noun – A person who upon

arrival in Glasgow is embraced

by the people of the city, a person

considered to be local

see also Glaswegian –

We’re all fae somewhere

 

The way in which the new arrivals to Glasgow are helped is through welcome packs, in which the community of Glasgow is highly involved. These welcome packs consist of toiletries, clothing, toys and stationery.

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welcome packs

What makes these welcome packs personal and special are the “letters from the locals.” These consist of letters and cards written by individuals to welcome the recipients to the community – much nicer and more heartwarming than a typical form letter.

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copy of one of the special  “letters from the locals”

      In another room is the bulk of the donations – wall-to-wall and practically floor-to-ceiling donations of clothing, bedding, toys, toiletries, cosmetics, and just about anything you can think of.

     Since I had worked with refugees in Sub-Saharan Africa and knew the emotional toll this type of work can take on the caregivers and volunteers, I asked her how she handled it. Selina told me that she did not solicit information about what they had gone through to get to Glasgow nor what horrors they had faced in the home country. Her mission was to help them cope with the different world in which they now found themselves.

She simply asks what they need and then tries to help with those needs. Perhaps they need clothing, toys and toiletries, but they might also need lodging or help with language skills, and she does her best to accommodate them.

One anecdote, which I could definitely appreciate, regards learning the English language. The Glaswegian accent can be quite difficult to understand, even for a native English speaker like me. I had the darndest time trying to understand our taxi driver, so I could just imagine what non-English speakers would go through. Selina said, considering how strong that accent is, that they would concentrate on teaching the Syrians plain English to start.

With many places throughout the world demonizing refugees who are simply fleeing violence and looking for a safe place for themselves and their families to live – with all of the hate speech and suspicion, it is wonderful to see the people of Refuweegee and the people of Glasgow doing so much to create a safe haven for these displaced people.

Recipients of the welcome packs are encouraged to write back and share their stories, and this project has been such a success that their help has extended beyond just the Syrian refugees.

Refuweegee thank you letter

“To Refuweegee,

     I can only imagine what a magically beautiful gift life would be if the world was only filled with such compassionate souls.  I am speechlessly heartened by such a nice and unexpected act of love and humanity in my moments of despair.

     I am forever indebted

Faithfully,

M  “

Visiting this wonderful place and hearing all about their caring and compassionate work with the Syrians, and the response of the people of Glasgow to the needs of the strangers in their midst seeking safety is going a long way to restoring my faith in humanity. I am so glad to have stumbled upon the information when researching Glasgow and for the opportunity through this blog to share their good work with all of you.

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Selina Hales, Sarah MacPherson, Brenna and me

To read more about Selina and Refuweegee, you can click on these links:

https://www.gilliankyle.com/introducing-glasgows-brilliantly-named-charity/

http://thirdforcenews.org.uk/pages/article-preview/209497

and click here to donate:

we’re all fae somewhere

Paris, France – again

When I last wrote about my European adventure, I was heading back to New York after attending my nephew’s wedding in France.  This next part began a long-promised trip with my 16-year-old granddaughter, Brenna. At 16, both she and her mother did not want her traveling alone, especially since she had never done this before. It can be complicated navigating through airports, so I agreed.

I had been trying for a while as I was planning this trip to go to Spain instead of France. I kept saying, “Don’t you want to go to Spain? I speak Spanish.” No matter how many times I asked, the answer was always the same. “No, I want to see Paris, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.”

And so it was Paris, but for a short time. I speak Spanish, not French, so I only booked the hotel for two full days and two half days.

And so, with a tearful (on her mother’s part) good-bye at the airport, we were off to Paris.

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I had been told that she was also nervous about flying. I was concerned about her, but she handled it very well. Inside, I was also nervous, as usual, but tried not to show it, in spite of having been a student pilot in my 20’s, with 80 hours in the air and 40 of those hours solo.  I knew all about the physics of flying, but still emotionally it was hard to have confidence that such an immensely large craft piloted by someone other than myself could actually climb through the air and fly….

I closed my eyes, tried meditating, and once we were moving along for a while, turned on the screen to monitor our flight. I always enjoy watching that screen, when I am not distracting myself by watching a movie or trying to sleep.

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This flight had two legs and our first stop was in Reykjavik, Iceland.  I have heard that Iceland is a great place to visit, but this trip was already planned and we were going to visit 7 countries in 4 weeks, so a longer visit would have to wait.

Looking out the window, I could see flat land and purple vegetation. I never did find out what that vegetation was, but it was very pretty. Brenna was hoping to have her passport stamped in every country in which we landed, and so she received her first stamp when we disembarked in Iceland and waited for our connecting flight.

And once again, we were back on Icelandair and heading towards Paris.

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I managed to get adequate sleep, but I am not sure how much sleep Brenna got. In addition to that, I had just returned from Paris, so my body clock would not need as much adjustment as hers, so I knew I would have to take that into account when we arrived.

So – we arrived in Paris, and since I had already researched ground transportation, we found the booth for the Le Bus Direct shuttle bus and headed towards our hotel. Poor Brenna – when we landed in Paris, there was no passport stamp to be received. We were still in the European Union, and so no stamp was necessary since we had received one in Iceland.

When we arrived at the hotel and went up to our room, there  was a pleasant surprise waiting for her. For part of the trip I saved money wherever I could but for Paris and the Eiffel Tower, I had booked a hotel just two blocks from the Eiffel Tower, and we could see the tower from the balcony of our room.

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Unbeknownst to me when I was planning this trip, there was also a triathlon about to begin when I arrived. Across the street from our hotel were numerous tents set up, selling anything and everything the athletes might need. There was also a very long tent with a very nice selection of dried fruits – more delicious than any I had tasted before – so, of course, we had to purchase some.

Naturally, the first attraction we visited was the Eiffel Tower – the Tour Eiffel.

If you’ve only seen it in photographs, you really have no idea how immense this structure it is. Quite a feat of engineering. From what I’ve read, the French hated it, calling it the metal asparagus – but it turned out to be a good spot to place antennas and it is certainly great now for tourism.

And so we went to visit the tower – easy to find, as you can see from the photos taken from our balcony. Since I had not pre-ordered our tickets, I inquired as to when the ticket office opened, and we got there ahead of time. Still a long line, but not nearly as long as it would have been later in the day. We passed the time chatting with a Canadian couple behind us who were there on their honeymoon.

When we finally got to the ticket window, there were no ticket to go to the top of the tower, so we consoled ourselves with tickets to the second level, which turned out to be quite high.

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One of the lines to buy tickets. Note the size of the base of one foot of the tower compared to the size of the people

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Ascending inside the elevator

While looking down the tower at the elevator’s machinery, I also saw this. Took me a moment to realize it wasn’t a real person:

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Maybe this is how the elevator was controlled originally????

   So there was quite the amazing view from this level. There are also restaurants here, but you need to reserve your tickets an insane amount of time beforehand, and that is just as well, as dinner for two at the Jules Verne would run around $1000 USD.

The Eiffel Tower is lit up at night, and starting around 10 or 11 pm, depending on when it gets dark, the tower sparkles for about 5 minutes every hour until about 1 or 2am.  I apologize for the sideways sparkling video, I turned my camera sideways to fit it all in, and now cannot figure out how to rotate the video. If anyone knows how to do this, please enlighten me in the comments section. Thanks.

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It was hot and we were tired after our Eiffel Tower excursion, so we went back to the hotel for a nap before continuing our sightseeing. And since this post has already taken up quite a bit of space, I will end here with more photos of the Tower and continue with the Louvre and Seine River cruise next time.

Au revoir!!!!!

views from the platform

elevator machinery and stairway

 

 

 

A Break from the European Trip for a Serious Discussion

I am interrupting my train of thought right now to discuss something that happened two years ago, after realizing that I had left out some important information. One month after moving here in January 2016, my mother passed away in the U.S. I had written two posts about this – one which detailed the reactions of my students and neighbors here and one a general discussion about health care proxies.

This morning I was emailing back and forth with a friend from New York, describing my blog, detailing how I not only talk about my adventures but also include unexpected situations in which ex-pats might find themselves and how I handled those problems. Then I went back and re-read my posts and realized I had forgotten to share the legal aspects of having a relative pass away when you are living in another country.

Back in Maryland, my youngest sister had been taking care of my mom – her daily activities, her needs, handling her financial stuff such as paying bills, etc. Perhaps any arrangement was made null and void upon her death, but, being the oldest child, I was held legally responsible for making any necessary arrangements after her death.

Because my sister had been handling everything all along, she was more aware than any of us about all aspects of our mother’s life, and so I wanted to let her continue to be in charge. For this, the lawyer in the U.S. stated that I had to give written permission for my sister to continue with these duties legally – and they needed to have the original, notarized forms in their hands, not a copy or fax.

So first my sister scanned and emailed me the forms, which I printed,  and filled out. In the United States, this would have been a very simple procedure. For where I had been living in New York, I would have driven 5 minutes to my bank, told them I needed a document notarized, shown them my ID, signed it and then the notary would have also stamped and signed it.

Well, no, it does not work that way here in Mexico.  First, a notario here is a lawyer, so my friend Anilu helped me find a notario and together we went to Colima to his office. When it was my turn, we explained the situation and they said, no, this document has to be translated into Spanish, so we went away and Anilu translated it for me and typed up another document.

When we returned, they asked me for practically my whole life story – besides name and date of birth, my marital status, occupation and any other question they could think of. That done, they said – OK, come back in 3 hours.

Three hours later, we returned and everything was signed and witnessed officially,  including a 2-sides-of-a page document that THEY had drawn up – and I had to pay….. well, I don’t remember exactly how much but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 pesos, more or less (in today’s pesos, that’s about $30 USD).

Now I needed to send the original to the lawyer. Mail from Mexico to the U.S. takes anywhere from one month and I’ve had mail arrive up to three months after mailing. It takes the same amount of time in the other direction as well. So we headed off to the FedEx office to FedEx the documents to the lawyer.

So what would have taken about 5 minutes with no cost except a postage stamp to mail the document to the lawyer ended up taking 6 hours with unexpected twists and turns. I am grateful it didn’t take longer, as it would have if I didn’t have my Mexican friends who knew where to go to get everything done.

And so I will end this post, and you can add it to the list of unexpected occurrences in which travelers might find themselves and my experience in handling it. So hope you all have a good day, and my next post will continue to share my European trip.

In case anyone is interested in my earlier posts about my mom and about health care proxies, there are two articles which were posted in March 2016.  Take care, and adios until next time.

Oh, snap – one other things regarding documents that I might as well talk about while we’re here. Voting in U.S. elections. The year 2016 was Presidential Election Year and I wanted to make sure I voted. Before leaving the U.S. I signed up for an absentee ballot. At the proper time, the Board of Elections emailed me my ballot.

I printed out the ballot, filled it out and now it had to be mailed. First, as I said, it takes 1 – 3 months to arrive at the U.S. address, which means it would have arrived way after the election. Second, the address of the Board of Elections where I lived was a post office box, and FedEx does not deliver to PO boxes. Third, the ballot had to be placed in a sealed envelope addressed to the Board of Elections.

So this is what I did:

Printed out the ballot and filled it out.

Placed it in a sealed envelope with a U.S. postage stamp and addressed it to the Board of Elections PO box.

Went to FedEx in Colima and placed it in a documents envelope to be sent to my sister.

Sister received it, opened the FedEx envelope and then dropped my addressed, stamped, sealed envelope into the mailbox on her street.

And this is how we ex-pats do it……

Now – ‘bye-‘bye for real this time……………… Adios!

A Wedding in France

So, we’re back again in France. After our visit to Mont Saint Michel, we returned to our bed and breakfast and prepared for the wedding. Before the festivities, we met with my nephew and he swore us to secrecy about where they were staying. As it turned out, after the wedding they would be staying at the opposite end of the hallway in the same bed and breakfast where we were staying. No explanation given as to why this was a secret, but we swore not to tell anyone.

The day before the wedding, we had a gathering at the bride’s parents’ house, which was like a meeting of the United Nations. Some people spoke English, there was also Italian and French spoken. I was the only Spanish-speaker, and while I had minimal difficulty speaking with patients who only spoke Italian back in New York, having extended conversations with an Italian-speaker here proved more than I could manage. Maybe my limited references to pain, etc. with patients was the extent of the similarities in my previous experience.

However, it was a very pleasant day.  Her parents’ business was in the flower industry and I was captivated by the plants and flowers growing on their property. One thing I was not prepared for was the length of the day. We were in the west of France and as the evening wore on, the sun was still brightly shining in the sky even 10:30 at night. I had to keep looking at my watch to remember what time of day (or night) it was.

The next day was the actual wedding, which started much as a regular church wedding would. The bride arrived at the church in a flower-covered car.

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inside of the church

          People lined up after the ceremony with baskets of rose petals

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which were then showered upon the bride and groom as they exited the church

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Before everyone dispersed, we were entertained by a family friend, playing a lively selection of tunes on the saxaphone:

After the wedding, we retired to her parents’ house again, where there were tables set up with food and drink and a flower-filled canopy

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There was also a board and camera inside the canopy for something which I had never seen before, but which I think is a good idea to create fond memories. The idea is for guests to take selfies with a polaroid-type camera and then post it on the board.

And after a while, we all headed to the site of the party celebrating the wedding, and here start the events which separated this wedding from any I have experienced before.

First the venue – which I had heard was a palace at one time. I certainly could believe it, with the extensive manicured grounds, decorated pools of water, hedges and canopies of trees over the pathways. The building itself was old but quite impressive.

 

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The inside was just as, if not more, impressive, with white roses everywhere and each table was identified according to a different type of plant/flower rather than numbers.

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Of course there was music, toasts, a slideshow showing photographs of the bride and groom from infancy until the present time. There was no head table, such as you see in many weddings.

Neither was there a traditional wedding cake. Instead, there was a tower of small pastries. Stuck into this tower were candles, which I have seen on birthday cakes here in Mexico. They are less like candles and more like sparklers on steroids. The candles were lit and two people carried the tray into the room – quite a spectacular sight!

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By this time, it was quite late, and my sister and I wanted to go back to our room and go to sleep, but we were told that we needed to wait – that the tower of champagne glasses was coming next.

And it really was a tower of glasses. Champagne was then poured into the top glass and the glasses were so well arranged that I never did see a drop spill onto the tablecloth below.

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It was quite a night and my sister and I were now more than ready to retire, and now is when we found out why we were sworn to secrecy about where the bride and groom were staying.

It is the custom after the wedding and the celebration for friends to go knocking on doors to find out where the newly-married couple are staying and offering them onion soup. It is also the custom to repeat this activity every 10 years on the anniversary of the wedding. At that point, I said to myself that if they come knocking on my door, the hotel better be on fire before I get up.

Well, apparently the partying went on until about 7am, but at 5 am the friends decided to find the bride and groom’s room. I don’t know if they knocked on my door, but I heard that one of their friends was sleeping so soundly, he resisted the revelers’ attempts to wake him up.

The following day, we went back to the palace for brunch and sampled what was left of the famous onion soup. Unlike what I have seen in the U.S., the broth is in a tureen, and the cheese and the crusts of bread are in separate bowls, so the cheese and bread go in your bowl first and then you ladle in the broth.

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And so ends the tale of the French Wedding.  After all was done, we returned to Paris and spent the night in a hotel right in Charles de Gaulle Airport and from there we went our separate ways. This is the second hotel of which I am aware that is actually INSIDE an airport. So nice to just wake up and not have to worry about travelling and getting to the airport on time – you’re already there!

From here, I flew to New York to pick up my granddaughter, and the next part of the European adventure will begin in my next post…

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au revoir France

 

Whirlwind Tour – Seven Countries in Six Weeks

Greetings once again after an extended absence. During the six weeks beginning the middle of June through the end of July I was quite busy with family. First was the wedding of my nephew in France, followed by a whirlwind tour of France, Denmark, Wales, Republic of Ireland, England, Scotland and Mexico with my granddaughter.

Needless to say, there is a mountain of photographs and videos, plus tons of notes to be turned into blog posts, so the next few weeks will consist of articles regarding our travels.

First up will be France before the wedding, which will include unanticipated events – and unanticipated events will follow me through several of the countries as you will see.

The wedding trip was planned for months, and my sister and I decided that since we would be there already, might as well do some sightseeing.  Tickets for the plane, train, car rental and bed and breakfast hotel were booked WAY in advance.  And as the time approached, the first kink in our plans happened – Air France and train strikes!

The distress was somewhat eased by the fact that it was not a continuous strike; it did not have a start date and continue every single day until resolution. The public was given a schedule of which days they would be on strike and which days they would not. Fortunately for me, my days of arrival and departure were not affected. For my sister, her day of departure from France WAS affected, necessitating and change of airlines.

So, I set off from Mexico, landed at JFK airport in New York, we met up within the airport and flew to Paris together. From there, we met one of my nephews and took the train to Angers and from there we rented a car.

I had not been anywhere in France, except for Paris for a day or two in transit to other countries, so I was open to anywhere they wanted to go. We decided on visiting Mont Saint Michel – quite a unique place.

For those that don’t know, Mont Saint Michel could be said to be on a hill during low tide and is an island during high tide. My sister said there used to be parking lots around it, and people would be warned to go back to the mainland before the tide came in, but now there is a parking lot on the mainland and a shuttle bus and a horse-drawn vehicle to transport you there.

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We were there during low tide and did not stay long enough to see the complete transformation from hill to island, but it was still quite impressive to see the edifices rising in the distance, surrounded by the beach.

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There were many groups of people as well as individuals enjoying the beach in their bathing suits with backpacks set down above the water line.

Construction was begun in the 8th century with the building of an oratory by a bishop who had a vision of the archangel St. Michael, became a pilgrimage center, suffered a fire, and through various transformations eventually became the UNESCO site that it is today.

It amazes me to think of these ancient structures built so long ago by people living at that time, the construction dependent on the tides. I cannot imagine this at the very beginning when the first stone was set down on what was just a rocky island. There was also the danger of quicksand, but with the construction of the 3000 foot causeway it is much easier and less dangerous to make the journey from the land to the island.

You can read more about the history and geography of this amazing place here:

https://www.britannica.com/place/Mont-Saint-Michel

Here are some photos taken from inside the structures: (you can see each picture in a larger form by clicking on it)

As well as views of the outside. There is a small village on this island, as the pilgrims needed a place to stay as well as food to eat.

And so, we departed the island to continue our adventures.

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Next stop – a real French wedding !!! See you later!