Saturday, August 27, 2011

Getting Home

We sure didn't get to see much of Paris--the catacombs and a hospital, but that didn't change the fact that we had plane tickets leaving France early on Tuesday morning (Aug. 9).

We were up, showered, packed and waiting at the gate for the Metro to open at 5:30am. Teresa, pumped full of French pain killers and antibiotics, waved away my suggestion of an expensive cab ride to the airport and we braved the urine-smelling subway again.

The flight to Iceland was manageable and we easily bought bus tickets to the Blue Lagoon, the main reason I wanted to stop overnight in Reykjavik. This geothermal spa is just 20 minutes from the airport and 40 minutes from Reykjavik, making it one of Iceland's main tourist destinations.

Through the lava to the spa.

We ate the traditional Icelandic buffet for lunch. Looking back at this menu, I see that what I had taken for beef, had to have been Minke whale. I went back for seconds, so it must have been delicious.

(Un)dressed for the spa. 
She's putting on a brave face--still in a lot of pain.

The spa itself was amazing. The water is so heavy with minerals that you cannot see your hand six inches under the surface. And hot! You can move around to find the perfect temperature, but the places where the water is pumped in are nearly scalding.

Teresa found the water and the sunshine to be too much and relaxed just inside the building where she could still people watch. Unlike many people, I did not take my camera into the spa area, so you'll have to trust me that the people were very funny. One of the things this spa is known for is the mineral mud mask, which you can just scoop out of buckets at the side of the water, so many people were coated with a fine, silty white mud. We saw a lot of older people and a bunch of backpacking types. We also noticed many families with small children, which makes sense because children under 13 have free admission. The main age group missing: teenagers.

Another surprise, particularly after the racial diversity of London and (even more so) Paris, was the overwhelming lack of people of color.

Photo of a stranger taking a picture of her friend.

We stayed at a small guest house rather than a hotel. It had the most comfortable beds ever and blackout shades--a necessity in the far north in August. We took very refreshing naps and then ventured out to find something to eat. Reykjavik was clean and quaint. I really wish we had had more time to explore the downtown shops and wander around. We did find an upper-floor coffee house that served a decent veggie chili at 9:30pm.

Hallgrim's Church, just steps from our guesthouse

Sunna, our host, served a simple breakfast the next morning and then we were off to the airport for our loooong trip home. Here's how it broke down: seven hours to New York,  five scheduled hours at JFK airport, a 90 minute delay, six hours to Seattle, another hour (or more) wait for our luggage. We were supposed to arrive at Sea-Tac around 9:30; we didn't make it to our hotel in downtown Seattle until 1am. Longest day ever.

My son Nik drove up from Vancouver the next morning and we had lunch and made a quick visit to Pike Place Market before driving home.

The jet lag that I totally avoided on the east-bound trip, hit me hard when I got home. Still I was able to rally enough for this:

Portland State University Commencement, August 13

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Où est l'hôpital?

Ah, Paris: city of lights, romance and magic.

Although I personally had had enough of Paris (city of dirt, smells, and incomprehension) the weekend before, I still stuck us on a plane to France on Saturday night. My original plan had us taking the EuroStar train, but I waited too long to get tickets and flying turned out to be more affordable. We got into Paris late that night, took the metro to the hotel and crashed. We didn't even eat a proper dinner.

Sticker on a window across from the hotel.

The next morning Teresa ordered us a French breakfast (coffee, orange juice and croissants) and we headed for the Catacombs. There was a line. It wrapped around the block. We waited for more than two and a half hours only to find out that half of the tour was closed (reason: incomprehensible). I paid for the audio tours in English anyway. I didn't want a repeat of my Louvre experience.

I've been to New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns three times in my life. There is inevitably a group of people who decide to ignore the subterranean wonders and instead talk loudly while they power walk from the entrance to the exit.

It is the same for the Catacombs. The women in line behind us, who conversed (in English) using their outside voices as we waited for all those hours, didn't pause or hush once inside. I choose to let them pass; Teresa pushed to get farther ahead. It was inconsiderate to both the place and the other visitors.

The Catacombs were originally limestone quarries.

Stop! Here is the empire of the dead.

The collection of bones was massive. This was another place, like many of the museums, where no flash photography was allowed. The couple of pictures I took are nearly black. However, not everyone follows the rules; you can see many images here.

All this time, Teresa is not feeling well. She has an intermittent fever, as well as headache, and neck and back pain. We grabb a late lunch and head back to the hotel. At one point we come around a corner and get a surprise view of the Eiffel Tower. It would prove to be Teresa's only view.

The next morning Teresa barely made it down to the breakfast room before crawling back into bed where she tossed and turned. Her fever was higher and she had also vomited that night.

I don't take my kids to the doctor often. I figure that the treatment for most illness is rest and fluids. But in my mind (corroborated by Web MD), fever + vomiting + neck pain + young adult = meningitis. I asked at the front desk about an English-speaking doctor and was instead recommended to go around the corner to the hospital. It was so close that we had to call three times to get a taxi to come--the fare was just not worth the effort.

At the hospital they asked for Teresa's ID, but she didn't have to fill out any other paperwork before she was ushered into a waiting room. They seemed to move past meningitis pretty quickly and focused on her appendix. Over the course of many hours, she had the usual lab tests, plus an ultrasound, CT scan, and X-rays. They were friendly, thorough, and patient with our inadequate French and their inadequate English. At no point did any of the nurses or doctors exclaim "Sacré bleu! Trés mal!" so I figured that it was not life threatening.

Finally I was told that Teresa had a pulmonary infection in her right lung. She was prescribed pain meds and antibiotics and told that she could go. "But don't I pay anything?" I asked. The doctor looked aghast. "Non! Madame, this is FRANCE!"

We were at the hospital from 11am to 8pm, but with the dose of medication in her IV drip, Teresa was able to walk out of the hospital and down the street to our hotel. I ran out a bit later to a late-night pharmacy to fill her prescription and grab some takeout.

I woke her at four in the morning to head to the airport. Her two-day visit to Paris had resulted in a half day of sightseeing and the most unusual souvenir: a chest x-ray showing a shadow at the bottom of her lung.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Final Project: Photo Book

Our final project was to create a photo book using a Web 2.0 application. I used Shutterfly.

I had high hopes for this project at one point, but it never got off the ground, since I was so busy with everything else that had to be done. And then today I spent nine hours in a Parisian hospital--turns out my daughter has a pulmonary infection.

The book designer inside me (you know, the one with the Masters in Publishing) has crawled to a corner to die a quiet death, but it is what it is: on time.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fresh Eyes

Other than a final project, due on Monday, I have finished my multimedia program in London. On Thursday morning, I said good-by to my new friends, did all my laundry and moved to a hotel near King's Cross.

My older child Teresa flew into London that same day, taking the same route I had taken just three weeks ago. Vancouver to Seattle. Seattle to Reykjavik. Reykjavik to London. Unfortunately she was a bit under the weather already, and the long flight didn't help. I took her to Wagamama for some spicy noodles and broth and then to bed. For the first time in three weeks, I didn't take a single photo.

Yesterday we set out to explore London. She didn't want to do any tours or pay to visit attractions, so we just wandered from the Tower of London, along the Thames to St. Paul's. Teresa is interested in anthropology and archaeology, so we went to the Museum of London, which is free. When there's no admission charge, it's easy to breeze through, look at the most interesting bits, and get on with your day. I was surprised, and pleased, when she took so much time reading the information and getting into the history of London. I mentioned it before, but this is a really excellent museum. I saw things yesterday that I had completely missed when I'd been there before.

Near the Tower of London

Afternoon tea

We had tea and checked out the Animal Kingdom at Harrods. There were no exotic animals there, but they did have our favorites--wiener dogs. The four puppies were wide awake and very playful. It made me miss my own two dachshunds. But I won't be taking one of these home--the price tag for each puppy: £1700 / $2750!

Napping (her) and homework (me) occupied our early evening. Then we set out to explore some more. We had a pizza dinner and then walked all the way to Piccadilly Circus, checking out the tourist shops. I'm sure my son will be relieved to learn that I did not buy him a "My mum went to London..." t-shirt.

Today we hit Portobello Market. This market, famously featured in the movie Notting Hill, is only open on Saturdays. I had done some research, so I knew that we wanted to push past the hoards of people at the top of the street, past the antiques, and even the food vendors, to get to the vintage stuff. Teresa was interested in finding a leather jacket and we found the perfect one.

Our time in London was much too short. Soon it was time to make the long trek back to Heathrow for the next step in our mother/daughter journey: Paris.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Royalty: They're Just Like US

1) They build private villages in order to escape the pressures of their jobs.

2) They allow more than 400,000 guests to visit their homes each summer.

Buckingham Palace

3) Their homes have 775 rooms: including 19 State rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms.


Today was our last day of activities in London. Most of our group of nineteen students leaves tomorrow. I'm so excited that my 18-year-old daughter is flying from Washington tomorrow. We're going to spend two days in London, two in Paris, and then relax at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland before heading home in time for my commencement and the start of her first year of college.

We wrapped up our visit with a tour of Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside the palace, but you've all seen the highlight (in my opinion) on the television: Kate Middleton's wedding dress is on display in the Ball Room of Buckingham Palace. And it's gorgeous, though not as pretty on a mannequin as it was on her. I particularly liked the giant photos of the "fine British craftsmanship" of the dress. One thing that struck me as funny was the audio tour's pronunciation of applique'. Apparently the British say "a PLEE kay" while I've always said "APP li kay." A replica of the wedding cake was also on display.

While we relaxed in Green Park prior to lunch, our instructor gave out awards. I received the "Person with the Most Permanent Souvenir of London" award. The award was an "I <3 London" keychain, which, ironically, I'm likely to someday misplace.


The multimedia project on Marie Antoinette's Hamlet is my fifth major assignment for my classes. We've already 1) written a paper and enhanced it with a Web 2.0 component, 2) made a podcast, 3) filmed a digital video, and 4) created a digital story. This assignment was multimedia: use at least two forms of media to highlight a topic. I had planned to do something on Beatrix Potter, but I was so enchanted/dismayed by the French queen's Disney-like village that I just had to do that.

Resources used to make the Glogster project:

Byrne, A (Composer). (2010). The Counterfeiters. On Duff: Music for toy piano [Medium of recording: Audio Download]

Coppola, S (Director). (2006). Marie Antoinette [Web]. Available from

The queen's hamlet. (n.d.). Chateau de Versailles. Retrieved August 3, 2011 from

Steves, R. (Producer). France: paris audio walking tours by rick steves [Audio Podcast]. Rick Steves' Europe: Tours, Trip Planning, Travel Guides and Information. Retrieved from

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Paris seemed to be all about Napoleon. The Arc de Triomphe, the restoration of Versailles, and many of the bridges across the Seine, are all attributed to him. So Paris = Napoleon. And, of course, public displays of affection.

England, on the other hand, bows before the ghost of Henry VIII. The separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church was one of the most significant acts in British history. Additionally, the story of his six wives is pretty fascinating.

Today, those of us who were not sick in our flats traveled by bus and train to Hampton Court, the home of Henry VIII.

Back when I was nine, I visited my grandma at her retirement community in Iowa and read a book about Henry VIII from the community's library. Soon, I could name all the wives and their ultimate fates.

"Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived."
--rhyme to remember the fate of the six wives of Henry VIII

Hampton Court tells the story of Henry with interesting museum displays (including multimedia), an enhanced audio tour, and costumed actors.

Henry VIII in his later years, favoring a leg that just won't heal.

Catherine of Aragon faces off with Thomas Wolsey.

Henry was a man with large appetites. For food: the kitchens at Hampton Court were built to serve 600 people, twice a day. According to the museum website: the annual provision of meat for the Tudor court stood at 1,240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs and 53 wild boar. This was all washed down with 600,000 gallons of beer. And we've all seen the images of Henry VIII. He's like Fat Elvis: imposing, but not as dead sexy as his younger self.

For women: Sure, he had six wives. But also at least two mistresses. It is possible that Anne Boleyn only became queen because she refused to be Henry's mistress, as her sister had been. The other undisputed mistress actually bore Henry a son, Henry FitzRoy, who died as a teen, while Henry was attempting to change the rules of succession that would have allowed his illegitimate son to be king.

For power: It seems that a lot of the divorcing and beheading (and dying for that matter) was related to this issue of succession. Henry wanted a male heir, a son who could be the next king of England. Even better would have been "an heir and a spare," since Henry knew first hand that sometimes the older son doesn't live to be king. 

What do you know of Henry VIII? Have you seen The Tudors? Is it worth watching?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Princess in the Park

Today we started our day with a run through the Diana, Princess of Wales Playground. This playground is one of several in London that is not open to adults unless they come with children. Fortunately they do open the gates between 9:30 and 10am for unaccompanied adults.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Price.

The park has a Peter Pan theme. Not pictured: a giant pirate ship.

Flatmate Theresa

Kids and their mums, waiting for the gates to open at 10am.

From there we went to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. This isn't a traditional fountain, but instead is a circular water feature with water flowing in both directions from the top of a hill crest to the bottom. Today was really hot (for London)--about 80 degrees. There were lots of people, especially kids, playing in the water.

I kicked off my sandals and waded too. And then I put my shoes back on and waded some more. Gotta love Keens!

We concluded the day with afternoon tea at the Orangery at Kensington Palace. I'm looking for a nice place to take my daughter for tea. This just might be it.