Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

How many hours to Babylon?

Tomorrow I shall visit the Pakistani embassy to get visas for 3 colleagues who will be attending a November meeting in Islamabad. That is, assuming the would-be travelers have sent me the one last document needed for this complicated process: a recent bank statement.  I have everything else, which is to say, 1) their passports, 2) completed visa forms, 3) invitations, 4) glowing letter from current employer, 5) completed document of business good will as required on the (rather clunky) website.
It will take FOUR TO SIX WEEKS.
And each visa costs $331.
Some countries are rather casual about visitors–no visa required to visit Austria, Belgium, Hong Kong, many others–but not this one.
I am filled with admiration for my colleagues–so casually making ready to travel to a dangerous and disagreeable place. They believe in what they do, and for all I know, they may be doing good. In any case, I admire them–good people who spend their precious lives flying in airplanes for hours and hours. To them I raise my glass: may their missions succeed! And may their dinners be the BEST AIRLINE DINNERS EVER.

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Behold me returned from my travels! I took the train to New York and visited the adorable grandchild, who goes from strength to strength–he is now turning his remarkable powers towards acquiring language–communicating with the world. His emotions veer from ebullient joy to bottomless grief–he chuckles like old King Cole, howls like a banshee, and smiles like an angel–truly, children are wonders.

And I must remark that traveling on the train through this grand country is always humbling–thrusting through the backside of cities and towns, fields and forests, the train offers a constantly changing view of inexplicable structures, dilapidated buildings (carefully decorated with endless graffiti, hours of work done by nameless people, why, why do they labor so?), huge oil tanks, row upon row of tiny houses, proud industrial palaces–I keep watching and wondering that such amazing diversity can exist.

And when I returned home I found that a foolish robin red breast has made its nest right in front of my window, on a branch readily accessible to cats. As soon as those eggs hatch, my cat Bertie is grounded.
Children are precious.

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Granny Hope and her travels

Behold me returned from New York, domicile of my adorable grandson. In passing, I cannot but admit that the child is perhaps the cutest baby IN THE WORLD.


I am now EXPERT in travel to and from the metropolis. I didn’t get lost once! Well, there was a bad moment this morning when I couldn’t find my subway ticket, but Beatrice provided another, and I didn’t miss the train back after all. Though on the subway ride to Penn Station I had to engage in the Deep Breathing of Calmness to Avert Panic. Heavens, there are MANY trains to DC! If you miss one, there are MANY more! There is no possibility of being trapped forever in New York! Which is very nice place, of course, containing dear children and dear grandchild, but is not HOME.

On the way back I was reading The Bertie Project (the latest Alexander McCall Smith) and just loving it–chortling away as I sipped the ghastly Amtrak coffee and masticated the worst blueberry muffin yet encountered in my 69 years. And I am a veteran of SODEXO CATERING! Which is to say, I have previously encountered some champions in the sorry parade of truly odious blueberry muffins.
McCall Smith–may he live forever–is such a charming man, and so delightfully prolific. I don’t know how anyone can resist him, though I gather some do.
I have put up some quotes on the Quoting the Quotes page.

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Granny Agonistes

Visiting the adorable grandson presents this aged granny with many challenges–OVER WHICH I HAVE TRIUMPHED! Behold me returned home from yet another excellent Granny Experience! There have been moments when I feared ignominious failure–but NOT SO! This granny prevailed!

1. Getting to the Actual Physical Locale of the Grandson
Transport to the great Metropolis is readily accessible, but a taxi must be summoned to get to the bus or train. I prudently arranged for the taxi to come at Crack of Dawn, and as I gulped my coffee in the predawn, he called to say he was out front. But–he wasn’t. After a frantic session of vexing phone calls and a certain amount of fluster and panic, it appeared he was patiently waiting at a neighbor’s house. HAHaha.
So, off to the bus stop.
You will of course ask, how much did I tip him?
Yes, even though he almost gave me a heart attack.
Because why, because he was almost having a heart attack too. We’re all of us poor fools and things happen.

2. Accessing the Precious Portal
This grandson is protected in a place that has THREE DOORS of Constant Vigilance, each accessed with the Keys of Extreme Bafflement!

  • Key 1: The front door. There are TWO locks to this door, but only one is actually the true lock. A granny’s LOVE can discover which is the true lock. Eventually.
  • Key 2. The Inner Door. This is the Key of Mystery. Only an adept–linked to the lore of ages–can plumb the intricacies of this key. This key requires the skill and the knowing. It has taken me three months to master this key–but finally I HAVE MASTERED KEY 2!
  • Key 3. Eh. ANYONE can make Key 3 work. Piece of cake.

3. Baby Transport
Taking the baby for a Walk: the technology is FEARSOME, comrades. There are so many steps, literal and figurative.

  • Let us start with the Device: there is a NINE PAGE manual available here.
  • So, embiggen the Stroller Frame by pushing a particular button and pulling on a particular part of the device.
  • Then, with a deft movement, you clamp the Bassinet onto the Stroller Frame.
  • NOT FACING BACKWARDS, you imbecile.
  • Whoops. too late, you’ve already put the baby inside.
  • OK, fine, you can peer in from time to time during your walk.
  • But first, UNLOCK and RELOCK all those doors mentioned in Item 2. Then, gently lower the stroller down all the steps–LUCKY THING you are strong as OX– and then OFF FOR A BRISK BROOKLYN WALK! The baby loves this.
  • Then, back home–back up all the stairs!
  • Unlock all the doors of the Precious Portal and bring the device inside.
  • Detach the Bassinet from the Stroller Frame.
  • Bring the Bassinet into the apartment= wake up the baby who is furious at the end of his pleasant walk.
  • Give screaming baby to his mom
  • Attempt to fold up Stroller Frame. HA! As might as well Try and catch a falling star or Get with child a Mandrake root.
  • Never mind, it is just fine the way it is.

4. Baby Rocking Devices
These magical machines rock the baby while you lounge about at your ease! In the old days, we used to have to desperately rock the babies manually but no longer! There are wonderful high tech rocking baby holding devices so that parents or grannies can relax, have a well deserved glass of wine, and take pictures of the little ones unable to resist Mr. Sandman–thanks to the hypnotic influence of technology.

And here I am, home again, and already missing the little fellow. He is mighty sweet!

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Today the sky is blue and the air is filled with the peaceful sounds of water—the ice and snow are melting, or at least are energetically trying to melt. My back yard faces away from the sun and is still mostly white, and my drive way is still half ice—but, so much better than yesterday, which completely wins the Worst Day of 2015 Prize—but heavens, here I am tempting fate. Let us say, it was a Not Very Good Day, how about. Yesterday was the day I was to travel to North Carolina for the meeting I have been working on for months—many many speakers and attendees, all needing hotel, transportation, food, and cosseting—my job. Thousands of emails, calls, conferences. Tiresome, very. And then, the grand day, when everyone packed their suitcases and headed to the airport.

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

There was sleet and snow and freezing rain up and down the east coast and mid west, and the flight cancellations started rolling in. My own airline kept brightly posting “Still On Time!” messages (sly, very) so I summoned the cab and set off, after a tearful farewell to the cats (who seemed completely unmoved). My first horrid shock was finding that actually getting to the taxi—walking down the driveway—was fraught with peril. A sheet of ice, gently inclined towards the street. The kindly driver attempted to help and almost fell over himself. HOWEVER, I made it into the cab, explained how to get to airport (he understandably wanted to take the only route he knew, which was to go downtown and proceed from there). Once we got there, I was somewhat shocked to find endless lines of people waiting to get on new flights, theirs having been cancelled. But ha, mine was still On Time! So I had a pleasant supper at my employer’s expense, and then settled to wait for the plane.

On Time!

AH—small change. Delayed for an hour.

With death in my heart, I watched the sign board for another hour. Sure enough: Cancelled. All this time there was a constant stream of texts and emails from other project staff and our travel agency. I eventually got a seat on another flight arriving after the meeting ended today, but happily, my boss said it wasn’t worth it. So, out into the freezing rain to find another taxi and go home. A disagreeable ride, the roads very slippery—but nothing compared to the slippery state of my driveway. Impossible to mount that hill of ice, so somehow managed to climb the ice covered steps and get to the front door. Such a relief to come home! The cats welcomed me home, but without much enthusiasm–it was past their bedtime, after all, and the kindly neighbor had already given them their dinner.

And somehow the meeting has managed to continue without me. I find I am able to bear it.

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Back in the USA!

And happy to here! After all my ungracious kvetching about the grim duty of our (fourteenth, but who’s counting) non-optional UK trip, we had—as we always do, of course—a lovely time. While it’s true that if we had our druthers we might have spent the time lolling on some tropical shore sipping cocktails under the swaying palm trees, England is so beautiful, so gracious—her country roads so green and peaceful, her little villages so full of history and charm. We saw family and friends, ate and drank far, far too much, and–thanks to the generosity of our family and friends–did not after all drain our piggy bank dry. We are very grateful to Daniel for the surprise gift of a fine lunch, to the Drouots for their splendid hospitality, and to Joy for hers!

Shepperton-our hotel on the Thames Bodiam castle, which we visted after a grand lunch at the Curlew with John and Jane Joy’s village in Essex—completely charming

As usual, we took roughly a million pictures—the best of which I will be putting online this weekend, together with a tediously long account of the trip, which will not be of the slightest interest to anyone except myself, but I know my family and friends will not begrudge me this innocent amusement.


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Behold us in perfidious Albion! The dreaded flight past (though United surpassed all dire expectations of foulness this time: the seats crammed even more tightly together, the meal even more transcendently horrid, the tang of bathroom deodorant even more nauseating) we picked up our car and drove through the maze of dark dripping streets to our lovely little hotel on the Thames in Shepperton. Oh how I honor Samantha, our splendid new GPS device! Road signage is scorned as unmanly in this country, and except on the highways, signs are few and far between. Your map may tell you to turn left on Ticklepenny Spinney, but the roads wind about without the slightest hint as to which one it might be. Sammy was unfazed however—she sees the true nature of each unnamed road from her magical eye in the sky and belts it out with a will. We were a little taken aback by her directions to “turn right on uh-317” but when she followed up with a turn onto “B-375”, we realized that she was pronouncing “A” in a breezy slangy kind of way: the Hipster GPS person. She brought us to our hotel without a hitch.

But the evening was just beginning! A timorous youth with horn rimmed glasses and a beard appeared at the hotel desk and regarded us with anxious alarm—OH NO, customers! We announced we had a reservation and he earnestly consulted his computer screen seeking enlightenment—but finding none, turned despairingly to us. He had not, as you might say, the English. After a series of stilted exchanges, we eventually established that indeed we HAD a room, the price WAS as agreed upon, and we WERE prepared to pay for it. His air of earnest befuddlement –eh?—brought Manuel from Fawlty Towers irresistibly to mind. When queried as to what other language he might know he suggested French, but my tepid French immediately outran his. He was, it turned out, Slovenian. Just when it seemed that we might never come to an understanding, yet another youth walked in, elegantly attired in suit and pink tie, to be greeted with cries of relief from Manuel who instantly sought his aid. The newcomer was able to plumb the mysteries of the booking software, printed out a receipt for us, and showed us to our room—which was lovely, overlooking the river even as promised on the website.

But then, famished (the only edible part of the airline dinner was a small bag of chips, and man cannot live on chips alone) we ventured to the hotel bar in search of spirituous beverage, and mayhap a cracker and cheese. But zut alors, Manuel was manning the bar, and deep in a complicated many faceted transaction involving a glass of brandy and a thirsty customer. The cash machine, it went not! We waited but then bethought us of all the other pubs ringing our hotel within a minute’s stagger, and so we set off to the King’s Head—which was CLOSED. So then, onto the Anchor, which appeared to be open. We hastened to the bar, filled with hope—and who should sally forth but Mr. Pink Tie! What, did he work at both establishments? He gave us a sickly smile and shook his head. “A pint of London Pride and a glass of chardonnay, my good fellow!” Another sickly smile and the unwelcome news that they were CLOSED. And yet, there were customers about, drinking steadily. One of them raised his fuddled head and grunted “Give them a FUCKING DRINK”. Pink tie was so sorry, but the bar was closed. So, back to Warren Lodge, and Manuel now have succeeded in serving the brandy turned his attention to us. With our help, he located a bottle of white wine in the fridge, found us 2 bags of chips (man can live on chips alone, it appears, at least for a day) and even managed to correctly charge and print receipts for the purchase. Mission accomplished! After which, to bed.

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