Museums old and new

Having seen firsthand the lines Sunday at L’Orangerie, Lynn wisely ordered tickets in advance for Monday. We took the Metro across the river and down to the Concorde bridge, walked across the Tulieries and were greeted with a small line standing in the bitter cold waiting to be allowed into the building.

Inside, L’Orangerie is like no other art museum in the world. The art was created specifically for the space and given to the French state by Monet. Altogether, eight immense Water Lillies adorn the walls of two elliptical rooms positioned end to end. That’s all there is to the main museum–eight huge paintings that evoke the full day from sunrise to sunset over Monet’s beloved gardens in Giverny. The effect is stunning and contemplative, as Monet planned.

This is just one of the eight water lily paintings Monet created for this museum. If you look closely enough (I did), you can see the seams in all the huge panels.

Downstairs, L’Orangerie showcases a more conventional gallery of major Impressionist works collected by Parisian art dealer Paul Guillaume and his wife, including large collections of Renoir, Cezanne, Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso, Derain, Utrillo and Modigliani. The paintings are all arranged according to artist along a narrow double hall that makes viewing easy. The hallway also exhibits four models of the L’Orangerie building in its various stages from original construction under Louis XIV to house (what else?) orange trees to its contemporary layout as a double museum.

The star of the day was a temporary exhibit of American paintings from the 1930s, which drew the largest crowds, as it was closing at the end of the week. The highlight of that show is Grant Woods’ iconic American Gothic, being shown for the first time in Europe. The six small galleries were tightly crowded with visitors viewing American masters like Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keefe and Jackson Pollack, grouped thematically with commentary on various aspects of the Great Depression in the U.S.

For such a seemingly small museum, we still spent more than two hours walking through, before stopping for a quick sandwich in the tiny cafeteria.

By now, it was well past 2 p.m., and I wanted to venture forward to see the Musée de l’Armée in Les Invalides, which we had not seen last time we were in Paris, because we couldn’t find the entrance. Lynn demurred, wondering if we wouldn’t be better going over there another day. I insisted, since we were almost there; from L’Orangerie, you can see the gilded dome of the church where Napoleon is buried, which was really what I wanted to see.

Cannons line up in the courtyard of Invalides, the dome over Napoleon’s tomb looms in the background of this massive museum complex, which also serves as a military installation. As you can imagine, entry is a bit more restrictive than most museums.

As it turned out, Invalides is huge, so big that we could not tour the entire museum before we were ushered out at 5 p.m. right as we walked through 1943 in the Great Wars sections. Although we had to leave just before the Allied invasions of France, it was interesting to read the accounts of the two Great Wars from the French perspective, which you can imagine is somewhat different from our own American history.

Napoleon’s tomb is impressive, classical and un-Napoleon like, not marked with his name. It simply towers there on the lower level under the dome of the church surrounded by bas relief sculptures that depict Napoleon as a Roman god. He would have liked that.

A tomb fit for an emperor. The friezes along the perimeter depict Napoleon as a Roman consul.

On the upper level of the rotunda are several rooms of tombs of great French military figures like Vauban and Marshall Foch, creating a pantheon effect in the church. The entire space is voluminous and unheated, so visiting in the depths of winter is physically challenging.

After being booted from Invalides at 5 p.m., we worked our way home on the Metro for a well deserved glass of wine before another delicious dinner at La Forge around the corner. The proprietors seemed pleased that we returned so soon, as the restaurant on a Tuesday night was much quieter. The food and the wine were no less wonderful, however.


Sunday and you know what that means

After our feast Saturday night, we slept in on Sunday. Actually, we generally don’t need much reason to sleep in because of the late sunrise, gray clouds and cold temperatures. Besides, we are on vacation.

Sunday’s forecast was for more rain, turning to snow by the afternoon, so we hustled out to see the morning activities in the Mouffetard markets. The street was bustling with people shopping for the weekend, singing in front of the church, having a Sunday morning coffee (outside!) and standing in line at both the sweet shops along the pedestrian mall.

This is not the end of the line on this Sunday morning in Mouffetard. The French love their sweets.

We walked into TournBride, a small establishment offering home cooking, specifically onion soup, which we deemed the perfect dish for a cold Sunday brunch. And the menu promised Bloody Marys.

Indeed, the promise was fulfilled. While certainly not the level of the Ritz, TournBride’s version simply mixed the vodka and tomato juice, then presented the eager customer the fixings of Worchestershire, Tabasco and celery salt on the side. Just fine with me.

The basics with the fixings. It’s not the Ritz, but we have had many worse.

Lynn preferred to have a glass of wine, since we had just tested the Ritz Bloody Marys yesterday. The onion soup came out in large hot crocks with rich cheese melted over baguette pieces soaking in the broth. In short, everything that defines French onion soup. We scooped it up to the last drop.

On the way out, we stopped at a local wine merchant who was tasting a fine Gamay outside. I had spied a Loire Valley cabernet franc that looked interesting, so we bought the Gamay and the Loire to test back home. Since we traveled to Europe with three bottles of wine packed in our bags, we planned to go back home with at least as much.

Check out some of the prices.

After a walk around the rest of the neighborhood, we repaired to our apartment to store the wine away and pull out the laundry we had left in the washer to dry. European washer-dryers take forever to dry clothes, because they never get very hot in order to save energy. When we pulled out my pants, we realized they had stayed in a bit too long and were tightly wrinkled. Ironing didn’t help, so we ran them through the wash again and hung them to dry on the towel heater on the bathroom. An elegant and effective solution.

We started down the stairs to explore more of the Montparnasse side of our neighborhood, but the rain started to come down as we walked out our door to the street. Since by now we had not much more than 90 minutes of daylight, we retreated to the quiet of our apartment to watch the rain come down. Despite the forecast, it never snowed, but the rain fell until well into the night.

If we are stuck in the house for a late afternoon, Sunday is the day to do it. At least we could watch the CNN International feature on the America’s Cup. Can’t see that at home in the U.S.






Dinner and a night out with old friends

If Saturday’s visit to the Ritz was new, Saturday night’s dinner and drinks renewed old acquaintances.

We summoned Uber for the short ride down to Ciasa Mia on rue Laplace across the street from last year’s apartment, even though it is only a 15-minute walk from our current place. As we approached the Pantheon, we ran into a wall of traffic, police and crowds of students. Apparently, the students returning to the Sorbonne were staging some sort of mass demonstration, and the local authorities were taking no chances. Police wagons with flashing blue lights were lined up a full block of the street alongside the Pantheon, and SWAT teams in full riot gear stood by, shields in hand, ready to fend off any violence.

The crowds seemed to be peaceful, perhaps partying as much as anything. We remembered pretty much the same event last year when the students returned to school from Christmas break. As a result of the police barricades, we were forced to make a long, circuitous route to the restaurant that in all took longer than the 15 minutes it would have taken us to walk.

The two attractive servers and the chef at Ciasa Mia welcomed us warmly, even as we walked in a few minutes early. The women dress in some traditional outfit from another day and another country. The proprietors, Francesca and Samuel, are from Italy, and their wine list is almost exclusively Italian, even if their food defies geographic definition.

Three hours and at least eight courses constitute the SMALL tasting menu at Ciasa Mia.

We ordered the small degustation, which is preceded by no fewer than three amuseé bouches not listed anywhere on the menu. Three hours later, we were the first to leave the restaurant. We simply could eat no more.

Again, we marveled at Samuel’s concoction of a single egg yolk the innards of which he drains with a syringe, then injects truffle oil. Served in a single spoon, the truffle-filled yolk is consumed in one obscenely rich gulp. This too is not a published element of the tasting menu.

The three main tasting courses included smoked duck with a shredded potato pie and chickpea pureé (hummus); stuffed chicken roll presented cooking over an open flame of pine needles accompanied by stuffed spinach rolls and finally an offering of a small but thick perch filet accompanied by sauteed vegetables.

Those are just the listed dishes. That doesn’t include the palate cleansing chocolate/licorice wafer or the weightless spongecake that gets you ready for dessert of mousse under a paper-thin wafer with rich cocoa sauce ladled over the top. After all that, we had no space or desire for café.

Waddling out before anyone else in the tiny but packed restaurant, we walked to the other end of rue Laplace and down to Pomme d’Eve, a South African bar occupying the former wine cellars of the medieval Eglise St. Genevieve on the street above. Pomme d’Eve’s proprietor recognized us as soon as we walked in; we shook hands warmly a year after we had last visited.

Pomme broadcasts NFL games, so we watched the first half of the Atlanta-Seattle game while sipping Havana Club on the rocks (he remembered that too). Our host updated us that his business has fallen off, because of the fear of terrorism. After three attacks in Paris and the most recent one in Nice, not to mention Turkey, Germany and the U.S., people young and old, he said, have become wary of congregating in crowds these days. And that has affected bars and restaurants all over Paris, giving the barbarians a short-term victory.

Terrorism or not, by now we were well past our time for us to summon Uber again for the short ride back up to our rue Mouffetard neighborhood. The streets around the Pantheon and the Sorbonne were quiet again, as the demonstrating students had found a much warmer, more welcoming atmosphere in the local bars that are omnipresent in the Latin Quarter.

Our night of reacquaintance was done. Time to climb the 61 steps up to the fourth floor. Snow is predicted for Sunday.



Puttin’ on the new Ritz

In case I haven’t mentioned it, Paris is cold and rainy. Incredibly, Saturday morning was not too rainy. Lynn prepared a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and lardons to fuel our exertions of the day. Our agenda was a combination of the old and the new to us in Paris–a drink at the newly re-opened Ritz, followed by a visit to the L’Orangerie museum, then the Museé D’Orsay and finally dinner at La Ciasa Mia with a nightcap of NFL football at Pomme d’Eve on our old street. We have actually done all of the above, except for the Ritz, which was still closed for renovation last year at this time.

When we were here last year, even the tall column in the center of Place Vendome was shrouded to protect it from the renovation of the Ritz Hotel on the square.

The Ritz just accepted its first guests last summer, three months behind schedule from a multi-million dollar renovation that closed it for four years.

The new crest in the floor welcomes visitors in the arcade at Place Vendome.

Our goal was the Hemingway Bar, which unfortunately does not open until 6 p.m. So we settled for the Ritz Bar all the way in the back of the building, a small intimate watering hole where we were informed by the very skilled bartender that this was the original Hemingway Bar. The current one in the front of the building was renamed to accommodate more patrons.

Sitting next to a like-minded couple, we ordered two Bloody Marys, which were prepared with great flair by our bartender. At 24 euros each, the least you should get is a show with the drink. Both turned out to be excellent and memorable.

The couple seated next to us at the small bar reside in both New York and London and just came across on the Chunnel, as we did. We compared notes about the taxi chaos at Gare du Nord, which they also encountered before summoning Uber. After their Bloody Marys, they ordered a glass of Chablis each with two sandwiches. I reckoned their lunch tab probably approached 200 euros.

Blessedly, it was not raining when we walked out of the Ritz on our way to the Tuilieries and Monet’s L’Orangerie Museum. On our way along rue Tivoli, Lynn spotted a sweater she liked in a shop window, so we walked into the store to meet and chat with the attendant, who is herself from New York and now living in Paris. We enjoyed a nice chat about the weather (why would you want to visit Paris in the winter?), and Lynn bought the sweater.

We walked on along rue Tivoli around the corner past the Ferris wheel and across the Tuilieries to L’Orangerie, somehow expecting to walk right in. We weren’t the only ones who had the same idea, as the line stretched around the building and into the park. We quickly decided to try another day, next time with advance tickets.

Undeterred and equally uninformed, we crossed the Seine and walked down to the Museé D’Orsay. Same result. The lines for all the entrances, even the private C Window, wrapped back and forth in the queues. Silly us, thinking that maybe these museums would not be too crowded in the winter. On a Saturday. What were we thinking?

At this spot on the Left Bank of Paris, there is a hole in the Metro system from Museé d’Orsay along the Seine all the way to Blvd St. Michel, the boundary between the Fifth and the Sixth Districts. If we were to walk all the way down to the next Metro stop, we would have almost been home. So we repaired to a reasonable retreat, a bar run by an Asian family, to plot some sort of course back home.

Three Metro lines and transfers later, we emerged from the Censier-Daubenton Metro stop, the one nearest our apartment. It would have been quicker to walk.

On the walk back along rue Mouffetard, we stopped to buy some really stinky cheese at a fromagerie and a small baguette at Franprix (39 cents!) for a snack before dinner at Ciasa Mia. After all, we had skipped lunch, since we ate breakfast so late.

Back in the apartment, we drank wine and ate cheese as we prepared to go out to dinner, discussing the merits of taking Uber as opposed to a 15-minute walk. How French. How New Orleans.


Another day of cold and rain

It’s still cold and rainy in Paris. This is what Parisian winters are supposed to be. We were incredibly lucky last year. Reversion to the means is catching up with us.

We woke up comfortably late on Friday and managed to get out of the apartment in time for lunch at our old favorite, ChantArielle, across the street from our old apartment on rue Laplace.

Next door to Ciasa Mia and right across the street from last year’s apartment, ChantArielle features cuisine from Auvergne in central France.

It’s a 15-minute walk down trendy rue Mouffetard to rue Montaigne St. Genevieve, where the church is located honoring the patron saint of Paris. The proprietor at ChantArielle briefly flashed that funny look of “I have seen you before” as we walked in to ask for a table without a reservation.

All jestfully whining aside, the weather here is weird. While we sat enjoying a wonderfully simple country lunch, I saw bright blue sky above in the courtyard. A few minutes later, I saw ice falling from the bright blue sky. It was still sleeting slightly when we walked out of the restaurant after finishing lunch, as we bid our au revoirs to the owner.

Later that afternoon, the weather was not getting any better, so we decided to take the bus to Tour Montparnasse, Paris’s tallest building that features a 360-degree (almost) view of the city below, with touch-screen interactive monitors to explain what you are looking at more than 500 feet below. We could see the rain and fog move across the city from our airy perch.

The route to Montparnasse runs along rue Royal and some of the most famous bars in Hemingway’s Paris. Closeries das Lilas, La Rotonde, and Le Select are all right along the bus route. Had it not been so nasty, we would have walked back and drank a drop of history.

As it was, I got off on the wrong stop, so we hastened into a little brasserie for a quick beer and a potty stop for Lynn. The little bar was warm and accommodating, decorated with vintage rock concert posters (Jim Morrison, the Doors, Steppenwolf and the Chambers Brothers July 5, 1968 in San Francisco for $4.00 a ticket) and license plates from states all over the U.S. We didn’t see any from Louisiana before we walked out to find our way back home.

We stopped on rue Mouffetard to buy a rotisserie chicken as only the French know how to roast, but decided to go out again for dinner, as we had no vegetables to accompany the chicken. So we walked down the street less than a block to L’Angolo, a small, warm Italian restaurant that makes dining out in Paris or anywhere in Europe so special.

So much pizza, so much pasta, so little price for great wine.

They offer an amazing number of different pizzas and pastas, at least 40 in all, with one meat special. I ordered the veal scallopini, and was very happy. Lynn ordered the pasta in gorgonzola sauce and was very happy. We shared the mussels in a broth with cooked tomatoes and were both very happy. But happiest of all was me when I saw the wine list. This Italian family offers great Italian wines for a song. I could not resist paying all of 27 euros for a Rosso Montalcino that would have cost more than twice as much at retail in the U.S.

C’est bon.




Rainy and cold in Paris

Our first night in Paris was rainy and cold.

Our first full day in Paris was rainy and cold.

Last night we walked down the street in the cold rain (did I mention it is rainy and cold in Paris?) to La Forge restaurant just a block away. In the rain and the cold, that was about as far as we wanted to go.

Dinner turned out to be great classic Parisian bistro. A wonderful family run restaurant, tiny, warm and inviting. They welcomed us after we made a reservation online (highly recommended–it shows you respect their establishment) and seated us at a very private table in the corner of the stone-walled room. Across the wall to our side was a table of some six French diners who were laughing loudly and having a great time. A good sign, but they got louder as the night progressed.

As we ordered our wine, another large group of women marched in and were seated opposite our little table. They were soon joined by a gentleman who spoke fluent French and seemed very friendly with the ownership. But he spoke English with a Texas accent, and it appeared that the group of women were all from Houston on some sort of European adventure as singles. Thankfully, they were animated but much less noisy than the French.

Our dinner was spectacular. We shared an appetizer of escargot swimming in a cream sauce with bits of garlic and lardons (bacon pieces). The menu’s English translation called them fried, but indeed they were fricaseéd and all that implies.

For our plats, Lynn ordered the sausage stuffed chicken leg, which was prepared with the meat falling off the bone and the delicious stuffing spilling out. My lamb shank came out falling off the bone as well, awash in a rich jus after being cooked sous vide for five hours, according to the waiter. This was the perfect dinner for a cold, rainy night in Paris.

We slept well and late.

When we finally woke up Friday morning and emerged from our fourth-floor apartment, it was rainy and cold. Surprise, surprise.

Exploration of the neighborhood eventually happened, with a walk to the market on rue Mouffetard, near where Hemingway once lived almost a century ago. The Mouffetard market is a very pleasant pedestrian mall featuring meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits, candies and lots of non-food offerings like clothing, beauticians and home furnishings. Very upscale, very inviting. We will spend more time here, for sure.

In fact, it is becoming apparent that this part of the Fifth is more upscale than our old neighborhood. So the apartment may not be the best, but the surroundings are awfully nice.

At last, Paris, for last

Due to Internet limitations, the Senior Year Abroad blog has suffered. Some of that was also due to the author’s procrastination and lassitude. We will catch up on the crossing and London shortly. And add photos when I figure out how to get them back off the phone and into the computer.

But now we are on the the last leg of this trip and our entire Senior Year Abroad. Back to Paris, where it all started just 13 months ago.

After a lovely day and a half in London packed with sight seeing and friends meeting, we Ubered over to St. Pancras Station and the Chunnel train first thing on a gray morning. St. Pancras is an international station, so entry to the train platforms is restricted by train time. Fortunately, we had to wait only a couple of minutes to be let through into passport control and security. The process is pretty much the same as in airports–coats off, luggage loaded on the rollers to be scanned, phones and keys out of your pockets. (I actually forgot to take my British change out, but passed through the scanner without incident.)

Passport control is fairly serious, much more so than in the European countries. The passport officer gazed intently at me while holding my passport in his hands to make sure I was the same person in my photo. That never seems to happen in the Schengen Zone.

Sufficiently screened, we grabbed a cup of coffee and a croissant to wait for our train, and boarded without major incident or drama, except for my momentary move to the wrong car and Lynn missing our seats in the correct car, forcing us to swim upstream against the tide of passengers moving forward.

The Chunnel ride, like most European trains, is great. We tooled through the English countryside at some 280 kph and crossed under the Channel so fast, I didn’t realize we had done so, until Lynn pointed out that the signs were now in French.

Two hours later, we emerged into Gare du Nord in Paris to a confusing swirl of taxi hustlers trying to take us on an 85 euro ride to the Left Bank. Lynn sensed something was very wrong, as the cab “representatives” all claimed a strike of taxis against Uber was disrupting their regular departures.

First we walked downstairs under the station to an area where the reserved cabs are stationed, but felt extremely uncomfortable about getting into a black car with no cab sign on top. Then we went back upstairs to the main taxi line to be told the cab would be a flat 85 euro charge to go to the Left Bank. We declined that as well.

Neither the train information booth nor the police seemed to know anything about a taxi strike, so I hailed Uber. As we walked out of the station to hail an Uber driver, I saw a line of cabs right across the street. We took the first one, operated for the first time ever in my experience in France by a English-speaking driver. He knew exactly where we were going. The fare was 13 euros.

And he knew nothing of an anti-Uber strike. He explained that Gare du Nord has turned into a cesspool of taxi scams, as most of the arrivals are from England and don’t know any better. (Understandably–a cab to Heathrow from downtown London can easily hit 100 pounds on a bad day.)

At 36 rue Broca, Marie Forget, our landlord’s wife, greeted us at the door, grabbed Lynn’s suitcase and led us up the stairs to the apartment. All 61 of them.

Once she showed us around and left instructions on how to use the key, Marie departed, and we were home in Paris once again.

Lynn instantly detested the apartment.

After all the great luck we have had with apartments in Paris, Nice, Venice, Florence, Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona, our good fortune ran out on rue Broca.

First, the VRBO web site spotted the apartment far from its actual address, which you don’t know until you have paid. According to VRBO, the apartment should have been but two blocks from our place last year on rue Laplace. Instead, rue Broca is many blocks away, though still in the Fifth, and not close to the river or Blvd. St. Germain at all.

But worse, in Lynn’s eyes, the apartment was unclean and unkempt. That’s a mortal sin. And it’s raining and cold.

Luckily, it’s only a week, and we will find good wine and good food and good times, regardless of the weather and the relative condition of our apartment.

After a quick, damp walk to a nearby alimentation for essentials (coffee, milk and wine), we trudged up the 61 stairs to unpack, charge up and settle in. Within minutes, Lynn had already found two promising restaurants steps from 36 rue Broca.

Maybe our luck has not run out after all.


First day at sea: exploration

Our first day at sea awoke to heavy fog outside, seas about 4-6 feet and chilly breezes about 15-18 mph. The Cunard TV channel 45 displays a loop of position and conditions, and channel 43 shows a bridge cam of the view forward. Not much on this foggy morning, as we steamed eastward toward the longitude of Nova Scotia.

It was easy to sleep in, as tired as we had been from the long day before. Besides, it doesn’t get light until late at this time of the year and latitude. Our stateroom in the forwardmost bow of Deck 5 gives us more ride for our money, for sure. The motion is gentle and subtle though constant. On the other hand, we have noticed that in the areas farther astern feel the engine vibrations much more, a constant, persistent low level vibration at your feet.

We barely made breakfast in the Britannia before they shut it down. Lynn’s Eggs Benedict was deemed excellent. My eggs were poached perfectly, although accompanied by tasteless Cumberland sausage. The croissants were quite buttery and flaky, not quite French but certainly passable.

We signed up for a small Internet package so we could have some basic level of e-mail. It’s expensive at $.75 a minute (Embarkation Special–$47.95 for 135 minutes), clumsy to log in and operate, excruciatingly slow to load (despite more than 800 hot spots around the ship), and we have to hold our stateroom door open to get on at all. Later the next day I learned that the system requires more than just a simple log-off, as our 135 minutes disappeared when I did not close down a browser tab properly, leaving me technically online, even though I had clicked the log off button. I understand this is a satellite based system, but in this day and age, you would think that 21st century shipboard online access would be cheaper, faster and simpler. It’s none of those.

(Special note: this is also the reason there will be no photos until we reach England and regular Internet access. I can’t download photos from my phone to drop them into this blog.)

Internet aside, our goal this first day at sea was to explore the ship from stem to stern, top to bottom. The bridge viewing area is on Deck 12, in a small space behind a glass wall separating the working staff from us passengers. Deck 12 is 41 meters (135 feet) above the waterline. The bridge crew of two officers and their quartermasters work four-hour watches, and the viewing area offers informative brochures about the operation of the ship and its technical specifications.

After our initial circumnavigation of the QM2 along the promenade outside Deck 7, we launched on our most important exploration of all—the quest for a Bloody Mary. No need to wait for Sunday.

The ship offers a number of friendly watering spots, including as the Chart Room, the Golden Lion, Carinthia Lounge, the Veuve Clicquot (figure out what they serve there), Sir Samuel’s, a pool bar at the indoor pool and a host of others. They all play some form of music all day long to attract passengers to stop in and sample their wares.

Since all your food is included in your passage, the only extra charges are for beverages. Prices are reasonable–$8.95 for a Bloody Mary and most regular mixed drinks, $4.75-6.50 for beer and $8-14 for wine by the glass. Our first Bloody Mary was in the Golden Lion, the British pub where a lively game of darts goes on all day long.

Verdict on the Bloody Marys—just fine, but require a bit of instruction to the bartenders for more Worstershire and less Tabasco. We will keep testing across the ship.

After a lunch at the sprawling King’s Court buffet restaurant that runs almost the entire length of Deck 7, we made our way back to the stern of Deck 14, where the indoor pool and hot tubs are located. The golf simulator is adjacent to the pool, and on the spur of a moment I signed up for the pitching contest. Some 15 of us swung away to a pin 90 yards away. Miraculously, I actually hit the green on my first shot and finally finished 7th in the contest, after being ranked as high as 4th.

Wednesday was the first of three formal nights on the ship, so we gussied up ion our best to join our dinner companions in the Britannia. The experience of wearing a tux and long dress to dinner is what the Queen Mary 2 is all about—elegance from another age.

Sadly, during the day, the QM2 experience is much like any other cruise ship. The uniform dress includes—even in early January on the North Atlantic—shorts, t-shirts, flip flops and tattoos. Brits do not dress any more elegantly than Americans.

We embark. And embark again

Travel day at last. Alarm goes off at 2:30 a.m., then again at 3:00 a.m. United Cab arrives at 4:00 a.m. With no traffic on I-10 and few people flying out at ungodly pre-dawn hours, we were through security and walking down the concourse to our gate by 4:40 a.m.

Concessions in MSY do not open until 5:00 a.m., so we had to wait a little while before Lynn could purchase coffee. Thankfully she had the foresight to make a ham and cheese sandwich in advance that we munched on while we waited for the plan to take off.

If New Orleans was foggy and muggy, New York was foggy, rainy and cold when we landed three hours later. The cab to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal cost nearly $50. Combined with a $42 ride to MSY, we spent nearly a hundred bucks in transportation before we ever boarded the QM2.

The Brooklyn terminal is a huge warehouse-like structure, staffed by very chatty, friendly officers who guided us through the security lines (much easier than airports), then to check-in to receive our guests cards, then guided us to a seat in a huge hall to wait on the ship.

Also waiting to board the ship were hundreds of “in transit” passengers .” These were people who boarded the QM2 in Southampton, sailed to St. Thomas, then on to New York and finally back to England. Talk about a Great Loop.

For the most part, the “in transit” passengers are ancient. Wheelchairs, electric scooters and canes are everywhere by the hundreds. One even collapsed while waiting, bringing out the EMT officers and finally being wheeled out of the terminal wearing an oxygen mask.

Our boarding number was 20, so we were prepared for a long wait to walk aboard the ship. In the meantime, I bought a hot dog at the concession stand (not bad but definitely not ballpark standards). Soon after, they called out numbers in large groups, so our 20 card was the third group called.

Actual boarding was uneventful and most well organized. Our group walked through a long enclosed gangway into the main lobby of the ship, where we were greeted warmly by the staff to direct us to our respective cabins.

Ours was the most forward on Deck 5, the last one before the crew’s quarters. Although nicely spacious, our cabin is smaller than the ones closer to mid-ships, and the port looking out over the Atlantic is small and round instead of large and rectangular. Nonetheless, we found it quite comfortable and spacious.

When we unpacked, we found some of the clothes in my bag a bit damp from leakage of rain through the zippered top. Two t-shirts and Lynn’s bathrobe needed a bit of drying. But more importantly, the wine was fine.

By now, we were extremely hungry, so off to the King’s Court buffet restaurant we went in search of a quick lunch. Seemingly, so did the other 2,500 or so passengers. The King’s Court is a multi-room affair offering everything from burgers and hot dogs to prime rib and sushi. We were glad to sample their salad bar (Lynn) and carvery (Tom). Our review was that the food for a buffet was not bad but not exciting either. Something tells me that will be our experience everywhere else too.

The mandatory safety briefing and lifejacket donning session was held at 4:30 p.m. Our muster station was located in the gym, and our muster teachers were all strikingly beautiful young British women. Turned out they were doing double-duty—these were the dancers in the show staged each evening at the Royal Court Theatre. If the ship goes down, I hope they jump into the same lifeboat with us.

After a short nap—remember, we had been up since 3 a.m.—we continued our exploration of the huge ship. Map in hand, we found our way to the Commodore’s Lounge overlooking the bow of the ship to view our embarkation. About 5:30 p.m., the bow of the ship slowly moved away from the pier.

Our voyage had begun.

And then the waiters closed all the window shades that looked out over the bow. They obscure the bridge’s view ahead so must be closed when the sun sets.

We retreated to our stateroom for a free glass of wine and view of the Hudson passing by through our porthole.

Since we had chosen the late 8:30 p.m. dinner seating in the Britannia Restaurant, we explored yet another bar, the Carinthia Lounge, where they specialize in Portuguese and Spanish wines (and Port, needless to say).

Then it was off to the Britannia to meet our dinner companions. And can you believe it? Sitting next to us were Conrad and Barbara Streuli, the parents of Stu Streuli, New York Yacht Club’s communications director. We had plenty to talk about. The third couple was from Cleveland by way of New York, and they too sail and boat. Cunard did well in our pairing. An auspicious start to the crossing.

Time to go

Sunday. Last day in Barcelona. It’s a lay day, because we have done just about everything we wanted or could do in the last three weeks. But it is also a getaway day, so a few good-byes must be said.

Sunrise from our apartment. How could you ever, ever get tired of this view?

Brunch at Milk. Still the best Bloody Mary in Europe. The yellow stuff being spooned into the mixture was celery salt, exactly what we add at home. And he squirts an enormous amount of citrus from a squeeze bottle into the concoction. Plus the beer topper. Not sure I will try that at home.

Eggs Benedict are near perfect. Well, maybe just completely perfect. The eggs are expertly poached. The yolks run a rich, deep orange. You can use the toasted baguette to mop up, but the Lyonnaise potatoes are even better. We timed our entrance precisely at 10 a.m., walked right in and were immediately seated at the bar to watch the masters at work. Within 15 minutes, we could see in the back bar mirror a crowd of petitioners waiting in the street for their turn at Barcelonan brunch excellence.

We waddled back the two blocks to our apartment for a quick respite, then walked up to the cathedral to see if the band was playing this Sunday and the locals were dancing the traditional sardana we had seen our very first day here. To our disappointment, there was no band on the steps of the cathedral, no group dancing. The placa is taken over by scaffolding and lights for the Christmas celebration (aka sales tents) that will start next weekend.

(By the way, since Spain and Europe are not burdened by Thanksgiving, they have already started Christmas decorations and promotions. Milk was festooned with garlands and a Christmas tree when we walked in earlier today. Signs have been posted for at least a week on the major shopping thoroughfares like Passeig de Gracia promoting the beginning of Christmas shopping any day now.)

The light standards are already in place for the Christmas sales market on the plaza in front of the Barcelona Cathedral.

No dancing, no music at the cathedral, so we made our way back to the apartment and started to do a little advance packing. We have found that packing 75% in advance saves 90% of the hassle and stress on getaway day.

Then it was off for a last walk through the harbor to look at the monster yachts. Ona had already departed, leaving Phoenix2 and Mayan Queen to loom over the quay. They are still massive, still waiting to head to the islands for winter.

And after that a final visit to Fastnet, our Irish sailing bar in Barceloneta. Mariola, our Polish/Irish bartendress, welcomed us warmly, and as she drew our last beers, she announced that she too would be leaving Fastnet in a week to go back to Poland for Christmas then return to get another job in Barcelona. We bade safe travels to each other and promised to ask after her at Penny Banger when we return. They will know where she winds up.

Finally, it’s off to Sensi Tapas for our last supper in Barcelona.

As always, Sensi was superb. Made for Americans. Comments about that another time. After dinner drink at Penny Banger. Good night and good bye, Barcelona.