Saturday, September 20, 2014

Roadie Report 70 by Camilla McGuin - PARIS, BRUSSELS and ANTWERP

Roger in Paris
      Leaving our Knightsbridge flat was a bit of a sweet sorrow but we had two more favorite hotels to experience before our trip to the Continent.
               Two nights were spent sleeping in the boutique hotel, The Knightsbridge Inn. We found this lovely converted row house years ago and even though it has now exceeded our budget, the two nights spent there on the special weekend rate were well worth it. We ate at our favorite local Thai restaurant around the corner and the food court at Harrods. London was now a very familiar city for us.
               After the Kensington neighborhood, we cashed in our Marriott Frequent Hotel points for the lovely and convenient Renaissance at St. Pancras train station since we would be catching the Euro Star to Paris from there. It was so luxurious to be able to roll our bags out of the hotel lobby right into the train station.    

           "Paris is a woman's town with flowers in her hair." That is a line from the Henry Van Dyke poem "America For Me."  Roger and I found the poem on a cozy night in Berkeley California in a poetry book my brother had saved from our childhood. When I read it to Roger, he picked up his guitar and added the music. Our next CD project named "Favorites" will include that song.

The Flowers at Notre Dame
     Paris is indeed a city with flowers and lights. We walked the city for hours. With famous landmarks as a destination; Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Opera House. It was August and even though the locals had left town, the rest of the world was on every corner. Years ago we had been in the Eiffel Tower restaurant for lunch, prayed quietly in Notre Dame and visited the Louvre, mostly to see the "Mona Lisa." This time the lines were longer at those points of interest than the ones at  Walt Disney World in the summer! The crowds didn't bother us, we were just happy to be living and walking for a few days in this beautiful city.
     We always had a destination on our walks, but we never knew quite where it would lead us. The third day in Paris was day for meandering until we got hungry. Pat, our sister-in-law, joined us on our exploration. The lunch hours were almost over and I was insistent that we keep looking for the quintessential French restaurant. A late lunch is usually our main meal of the day. That means the meal is special to us and should have tablecloths with atmosphere.
    Roger and Pat were getting worried that I might insist we go back to the Oriental part of Paris for sushi. I declared that we would soon find the perfect restaurant and then we did! Peering into a window we saw tablecloths and a cozy ambience. We later learned that Le Grand Colbert restaurant was used in a favorite movie of ours, "Something's Got to Give" with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton.
               Paris was on our way to the Belgium and German part of the concert tour but while we were in Paris we celebrated our dear friend Lariane's sixtieth birthday. Her husband Phil, emailed me and asked if I wanted to speak at her Paris

soiree. I replied, "Have you ever known me not to want to talk?"  
      Even though I was quick to say yes, the reality of trying to honor a special person became a daunting process. I came up with all sorts of corny jokes. My prayer became, "Oh Lord...what am I going to say?"
    Then the answer came in an email from Roger. He had read some quotes of Winston Churchill and thought his "history buff" of a wife would enjoy their wisdom. As I read the quotes from Laraine's fellow countryman, I realized Mr. Churchill had described all the amazing traits of her intestinal fortitude.  Every quote fit Laraine perfectly.
     The epiphany of going back into history to describe a friend, inspired me to go further back. I went to the words of The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 in the New Testament of the Bible. It is called the "Love Chapter." Once again, the chapter described Laraine's traits.
       Since all good things come in threes, I needed one more quote,. I asked an older and wiser man... my husband Roger. Without a pause, he described Laraine as a spark. "When she walks into a room, the whole room ignites." For the eighty people who traveled from around the world for her Paris celebration, those words described her brilliantly.
      Roger's time is Paris was filled with telephone interviews to promote our five country concert tour but now it was time to stamp our Global Eurail Pass for the train to Brussels. 

We spent two in days a favorite hotel in the old section of town, the Amigo Hotel. The area is filled with restaurants, cobbled streets and old architecture. 

Roger performed for a radio show and then we found a local food  
Radio 1 Belgium
market to prepare a tapas picnic for dinner. Grocery stores can be as much fun as museums if you enjoy eating like a local.

     Two days later we were on the train to the beautiful town of Antwerp and our first concert of the tour. We stayed in the old part of the city and were captivated by the charm and the fact that it wasn't only for tourists but local people working, eating and living within its boundaries. There were real stores including a great camera shop.
     I had been missing my camera since London. All my photos of Paris were from my iPhone, but I sorely missed my 20X zoom lens. The moment I decided to quit silently lamenting my loss, we crossed the street and walked into a great store. A kind gentleman demonstrated a Nikon with 30x zoom - better than my last one. I was concerned that it would be much more expensive than it would be in the States, but it was a fair price. Now I could zoom in on all the sites of Europe.

Beautiful Antwerp taken with my new camera.
     One of my first zooms back at the hotel was a street cleaner or maybe I should  say street vacuum cleaner. I couldn't believe it ... they vacuumed the sidewalks with a portable cleaner. In my town a great big truck comes around about once a month with brushes that move stuff around, here the vacuum cleaner sucked it all up. Well I guess it is the simple things that amaze me.

     "Boot camp" didn't begin again until Germany.

We will always have Paris!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Roadie Report 69 By Camilla McGuinn - London Days and More Boot Camp

Sunny Days in London
Our London Neighborhood

      We dropped our bags in the flat and put on our exploring shoes to familiarize ourselves with our new neighborhood for the next ten days. I knew that a Whole Foods Market was less than a mile to the west and Harrods food court was a mile in the other direction, but tonight dinner would be in a local restaurant.

After dinner, our walk home in the warm London evening was enhanced by the smiles on our faces. With all the exercise we had gotten pulling our equipment over the Thames, we turned  in early after enjoying a glass of wine on the cozy patio.
The morning light.
The flat is located in the basement of one of the row houses. Because of the ground location, it has two private patios, one off the living room and one off the master bedroom. 
 Morning sunshine flooding the master patio was our morning alarm clock.
Everything was perfect, until Roger took a shower. He emerged from the bathroom laughing, "Remember how I mentioned we were in boot camp yesterday? Well we still are!  There is no hot water. I took a cold shower."
 I jumped out of bed and began testing all the faucets. Yep, he was right. There was no hot water. A quick telephone call to the rental agent's office assured me the problem would be fixed quickly.
As I was washing my face in the sink, I noticed water on the floor. There was a leak in the master bath sink spilling out of the cabinet onto the floor. A quick call to the rental agent was again necessary.
Then a short time later, another call to the rental agent, "This is a basement apartment and it is a little chilly. The thermostat doesn't seem to be working." "No problem. Someone will be over today."
The Kitchen
Feeling confident that everything would be fixed, we began our first walk to the Whole Foods Market to stock our kitchen. Our favorite way of exploring cities is to go to their grocery stores. Even though Whole Foods isn't a typical grocery store where most folks do their weekly shopping, Whole Foods Markets are different in every country. We later found a Sainsbury's, the second largest chain of UK supermarkets,  and another favorite, the Waitrose, which Nick, Roger's agent had recommended.
The Dining Table to Entertain Friends
Our food shopping had dual purposes. We were cooking for friends. After thirty years of working with Nick Peel, we'd never had the opportunity to share our favorite hobby with him. He was coming to dinner. We also invited friends that we'd made on the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary 2. Cooking in our quirky little flat in London was going to be fun, but sharing it with others was going to be the highlight of the stay.
The Famous Black Taxi
In between the domestic bliss, Roger had a full schedule of radio and press interviews to promote the tour. Our taxi bill was getting very high but we had a plan. Public transportation has always been fascinating to me. I never lived in a city where you could hop a bus to go somewhere, now I did.
Our grocery store forays had us walking for miles. When we passed the bus stops, I always wondered how to get on a bus. How much was the fare? How did you know where they were going? Thanks to the internet, I became an aficionado of the London bus system.
A View from the Bus
You can't pay with coins on London buses, you have to have an "Oyster Card." Nick explained that once you bought the cards, you could top them up and use them forever. We went to our local tube station, bought two cards, looked up the routes on the internet and became regulars on the top deck of the very clean red, double-decker London buses.
The buses were now our form of transportation and sightseeing. When Nick said he was going to catch the bus for our dinner party, he was surprised when I told him to catch the #74, it stopped a block from our flat. We also caught the #74 to Westminster Abbey for the Sunday service.
Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is magnificent. The service was touching, but the thing that interested me most were the number of women wearing burqas sitting though the  service. On Sunday's there are no tours offered in Westminster Abbey. I surmised they realized the only way to get into the historical church on Sunday was to attend the religious service. They all sat quietly listening to a teaching about the love of Jesus.
Back at the flat, things were falling apart in the old building. I wasn't sure if we were living in a nightmare or a sitcom. It  took three days to get hot water and heat. Roger went to sit down at the dinner table the night Nick came to dinner and he barely caught himself as the chair collapsed. That night the bed collapsed.
Now I became concerned. If a child had been in the bed, its head might have become lodged between the board that was holding the mattress to the frame when it slipped and fell to the floor. I was very thankful Roger's hands didn't get caught in the collapse. 

The next day, Roger flipped on the bathroom light switch, heard a pop and all the lights went out. No electric light in a basement flat can cause a lot of darkness at the wrong time of day. Another call to the agent.

The view from my desk.
                                    In spite of the problems, we loved shopping, entertaining our friends and living in this quirky London flat!  Every morning I would sit at the desk working on the tour with a cup of tea to sip for those occasional breaks to gaze out the window.

Dennis Hopper's photographs were being displayed at the Royal Academy of Arts. They were also showing two of his movies, "The Last Movie" and "Easy Rider." In our lives, we know there are no coincidences. A bus ride to the museum was now on our agenda.
We got to the museum just as it opened and "The Last Movie" was showing. Since neither one of us had seen it, we sat through the rather agonizing hour and a half of the movie that got Dennis Hopper banned from Hollywood for years. We felt we had to stay to the end. I kept hoping the ending would be interesting, but it was worse than the whole of the movie. Now that is about as much as a movie critic I ever want to be.
Mr. Hopper's photographs are a time capsule. There were some familiar faces for Roger. We did go back to the screening room to watch "Easy Rider" but I insisted on leaving before Jack Nicholson got bashed on the head with a baseball bat. I don't like dark moments.
I purposely kept the last day open, so we could have one last romantic evening  in our London home and begin packing for our tour. The doorbell rang at 11am that day. Three attractive ladies were standing at the door appearing surprised to see me. They were the maids. It was our check out day! In 34 years of being a tour manager, I have never missed a check out day!
I  smiled, "Oh there must be a mistake. Please excuse me while I call the agent." Before the phone call, I checked my reservation papers ... yikes! I had made a mistake. The ladies told me that all the hotel rooms in London were booked for a carnival in Knotting Hill.
This time, my call to the agent's office was ever so humble with a desperate plea to stay one more night. I had just put clothes in the washing machine. We couldn't get out in an hour. The agent told me the owner was scheduled to arrive that day, but they would call and ask him. The next hour held emotions between total despair to optimism ... which we always try to bring into our situations ... but it wasn't until the agent's call telling us the owner said we could stay, that leaps of joy danced through the flat.

The Large Patio
One last glass of wine on the patio, one last tapas meal made in our kitchen and one last night in a flat that now had hot water, heat, a fixed bed, a chair waiting to be fixed and memories of the time we lived in London. We look forward to a future date of entertaining in our London home again. Who knows who will visit us next time!

Coming Next- Boot Camp in Europe!