Monthly Archives: March 2011

Another beautiful day in Paris

We had a very busy day in Paris. It’s too bad so much of it was spent “enjoying” the delights of the Parisian mass transit system. A total of three trips between central Paris and the airport, amounted to about four hours of transit time.

Either my alarm clock didn’t work or I didn’t hear it (a real possibility), but I didn’t awake until Ron called me a little after 7:30 am. That gave us a late start and we never caught up. However, we didn’t really worry about it and made the most of the time we had.

Ron, Birdie and I ran out for a breakfast of pastry and coffee and orange juice at a sandwich shop around the corner. Then we got our bags and reversed our steps from Tuesday morning and headed out the Best Western Hotel near the airport.

Our three days of experience we picked up maneuvering through the Metro and train system made the trip back to the airport a little easier than the trip in on Tuesday, but not by much. We had two Metro (subway) trains and the longer RER above-ground train. All were jammed packed. It was tough to get our bodies onto the trains, let alone our luggage. The combination of luggage and crowds made the process like running an obstacle course in a rat maze.

As we went to board our second Metro train, Ron asked me to confirm our destination. “Chatelet des Halles,” I told him. It was good he asked, because while I made it on the train, Ron and Birdie did not. There just wasn’t room at the door they tried to use. What they did see, as the train pulled away, was me falling backwards.

Because it was so cheek-to-jowl crowded, I thought it would be best for me to remove my backpack to reduce the space I was taking. As I pulled the backpack off, the train took off. I just felt myself falling backwards – right into the lap of a teenaged girl. Since the train was still accelerating and there was nothing for me to grab on to, it took me maybe 10 seconds or so to be able to extract myself. Very embarrassing, but right in line with many of our other adventures on the Paris Metro.

We finally made it out to the Best Western around 1130 am and connected with my brother, Dan, and the rest of the tour group. After dropping off our bags and getting situated, we headed back into town for lunch and a visit to Notre Dame.

A tour boat on the Seine near Notre Dame

Poolman and brother, Dan, at Notre Dame

We did a short walk through the Latin Quarter south of Notre Dame and ate a very nice lunch at a little sidewalk café. None of us could make sense of the bill, but we decided that it was a good meal at a reasonable price, so we just paid it and left a tip.

We toured the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which was just amazing. Here is a sample of some of my photos.

Cathedral of Notre Dame from the front

One of the many stained glass panels.

The right transept with cherry blossoms.

The flying buttresses that hold the walls up.

Gargoyles

It seemed like our trip back to the Best Western took forever. I had one satisfying moment. While we were waiting for the shuttle from the airport to the hotel, a woman (French, I believe) asked me for directions. Me? It turns out she was headed to the hotel right across the street from the Best Western, so I was able to help. Imagine that!

This evening, we had dinner with the rest of the tour group. We are hitting bed early because the wake up call will be coming at 6 am. Then we are on the bus, headed for Normandy and the rest of our tour.

Should be fun!

A day at the Louvre

After a fairly late start, we decided to put off touring the Cathedral of Notre Dame until tomorrow, and concentrated our touring day on the Louvre. It was a good choice.

We started off with a quick breakfast at a sandwich shop around the corner from the hotel. The hot ham and cheese on a baguette was very good.

Our friend Cindy came into town from their hotel near the airport and met us in front of the museum.

The Louvre is every bit as impressive as it is said to be.

A view from an upstairs window, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

I was a little concerned I would push Birdie and Ron a little too far, but that was not the case. We arrived at noon and didn’t walk out until 6:30 pm. They were as interested at the end as they were at the beginning.

We started with the ancient Greeks

Hall of greek sculpture

Aphrodite???

Cindy (on the left) assuming a classic pose.

and then moved to the Italian Renaissance section. Before we were done, we managed to hit many, many of the highlights.

A special exhibit hall

Birdie -- posing for a Peter-Paul Rubens portrait. Sorry, Birdie, you may have a Rubenesque figure, but it's not going to work.

Way back in high school, I took a two-semester course as a senior on Humanities. It covered art, music and architecture. The music part is still pretty-much lost on me, but some of the other material stuck. More than 40 years later, it paid off. Thanks, Mrs. Bailey!

Birdie has been a never-ending source of material for these postings. Today, as usual, he was wearing his University of Alabama ball cap. Some other guy, apparently an Auburn fan came up to him and got face to face. The exchange went like this.

Other guy: “War Eagle!”

Birdie: “Excuse me?”

Other guy: “You red elephants are all the same.”

Birdie: “Pardon me, sir, but you really need to take your comments to someone else.”

You go all the way to the Louvre in Paris, and you can’t escape!

As we were wandering through the section with the Dutch and Flemish masters, Birdie asked me if we could find the original painting of the poker playing dogs. I told him I believe that was located — along with all the portraits of Elvis Presley painted on black velvet — in the “Red Neck Museum of Tacky Modern Art” in Talladega, Ala.

Both Ron and Birdie has special interest in any of the art that related to hunting or already-dead animals. This bronze of a hunter slaying a stag was their favorite.

Ron & Birdie with the stag hunter

We took the crowded Metro back to our hotel.

The rush hour Metro

I let myself get distracted by a very cute little girl of about 9 months of age. She was very interested in making faces at the strange guy standing next to her mother. (Mrs. Poolman will tell you that is an occupational hazard of traveling with me.) We got off at the right stop, but in my distraction, I forgot that wasn’t our final destination. We were outside the ticket gates before we realized we had to get back on another train to reach our hotel. Of course, neither of the other guys picked up on it either, so I didn’t feel too bad. It amounted to just one wasted Metro ticket, so no serious harm done.

When we got back to the hotel, Birdie and Ron started wondering about the strange towel in their bathroom. It is a towel-heater. They turned it on just to see how it would work. Apparently it heated up just fine, because Birdie commented, “Damn, Ron, you could cook a chicken on this thing.”

On the issue of hotels, ours is quite nice. It is a small city hotel. The rooms are not all that large, but they are very nice.

My hotel room.

The view out my window.

The two young ladies who have run the front desk this week have been super helpful.  (I do think they are amused by our efforts to communicate in French. They both speak English quite well. ) I’d come back to the Holiday Inn Paris Elysees in a heartbeat.

We had a nice dinner at a café right down the street.

Tomorrow, we will head out to the airport hotel early to drop off our bags for the next night and pick up my bother, Dan. If the weather holds, we will tour Notre Dame and the Musee d’ Orsay (Impressionist art).

It’s been two good days so far. We’re looking forward to hooking up with the tour group and the rest of the trip.

Paris in the springtime…

Well, today has been quite an adventure.

Our flight to Paris was smooth and uneventful. They showed that Denzel Washington movie about the runaway train, so that made a couple of hours fly by. We got into Charles DeGaulle Airport around 730 am just as it was starting to get light.

On the other hand, the trip from the airport to the hotel, on one train and two metro subways was a real adventure. It involved large amounts of time wandering around looking for an appropriate exit (sortie), at least one nearly-lost train ticket, and an incident where an admission gate snapped shut, with me on one side, and my arm and bag on the other.

Dragging our luggage through the two transfer stations was a real trip. We just followed the signs, but then went up stairs, down stairs, around the corner and all over the place. At one point, we had to carry/drag our bags up about three flights of stairs. I didn’t think Birdie was going to make it. When he finally reached the top, he looked at me and said, “We’re not doing that again.”

When we finally popped out of the last Metro station, our destination street, Rue d’ Miromesnil (after which the Metro stop is named), was no where in sight. Rather than wander around aimlessly, I walked into a bakery and got two very nice people to point me towards the right street, just a block away.

When we got to our hotel, we felt like we had finally arrived.

Our hotel

We had been rode hard and put up wet. Our rooms were not ready yet, because it was only 930 in the morning. We caught our breath. Then we left our bags with the front desk and backtracked our route back to the Louvre area. We had lunch at a nice café that travel-writer Rick Steves recommended.

Une baguette

After lunch we walked through the Louvre grounds and down to the Seine River. We bought tickets to the Batobus which is a boat that travels up and down the Seine, stopping at eight different locations.

Batobus

You have unlimited jump-on jump-off opportunities. We spent around an hour and a half riding up and down the Seine, chilling out and taking pictures.

Notre Dame

The Seine

Birdie, Poolman and Ron

After one complete round trip, we figured our rooms would be ready so we headed back to the hotel.

Birdie, Ron and I met up later at a bar-café about a block from the hotel. They said it was the only one of several such establishments that made them feel welcome. It might have had something to do with the pinball machine – Big Buck Hunter Pro. Birdie and Ron are both big outdoorsmen, so that made them feel right at home. Birdie commented that he expected to see that in a convenience store in Vidalia, Ga., not in downtown Paris, France.

We had a dinner there of steak and fries and crashed early. (Or at least that was the intention. I’m still writing.)

Tomorrow, the plan is do Notre Dame and the surrounding neighborhood, and then the Louvre in the afternoon. I hope the rain holds up.

Bon Voyage!

This blog is going to take a different slant over the next two weeks. I am joining my brother and two friends on a two-week tour of Europe. We are visiting Paris, Normandy, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Bavaria. I am going to use this blog platform as a way of keeping our families up to speed on our “adventures.” Here is the story.

Last Memorial Day weekend, my friend, Birdie, pulled me aside at a backyard pool party at our house and said that he and his wife were planning a trip to Europe in 2012. They were looking for another couple to go along. Like me, Birdie is a bit of a military history geek. The prime purpose would be to visit the D-Day beaches at Normandy, but with additional travels from there. Details to be worked out later. We agreed in principal that we would go along.

Less than two weeks later, I got a call from my brother, who is an attorney in the Harrisburg, Pa. area. He told me about a tour he had read about in the local newspaper. He then went to an introductory meeting. Essentially, this tour is a “Band of Brothers” tour. The official title is “In the Footsteps of Maj. Dick Winters.”

For those of you who might not be aware, the book by Stephen Ambrose and the subsequent HBO mini-series followed the World War II action of one specific company of paratroopers in the 101st Airborne Division, from Normandy, on through Holland, Belgium and Germany. Dick Winters was the company commander for much of the war, and the center point of much of the narrative. Winters was a resident of SE Pennsylvania, and something of a local hero. All that explains why a historical society from Hershey, Pa. would put together this specific of a tour. (FYI – Winters died just a few weeks ago.)

So I got off the phone and talked with Mrs. Poolman. She said she had no interest in going on this military history tour, but I should call my brother back immediately and tell him to count me in.

That put me in the awkward position of having to go back to Birdie and tell him that “I have a better offer.” To make long story short (or shorter, anyway) Birdie found himself a roommate, Ron, and the two of them joined up with the Band of Brothers tour.

(l-r) Birdie, Ron and Poolman

As I write this, I am sitting in the Charlotte (NC) Airport awaiting our flight to Charles DeGaulle Airport.  Birdie, Ron and I will be spending two extra days on our own in Paris before meeting up with the rest of the tour group on Thursday.

None of us are world-travelers, so this should be interesting. I already described my less-than-successful efforts to learn a little French. The only other time I went to Europe was on an Air National Guard junket back in my TV news days. So this should be interesting.

I’ll be posting more updates and photos as time and WiFi access permit.

Caught orange and blue handed

I knew we were in trouble as soon as I opened the mail box. We had been caught.

The envelope from the University of Florida Athletic Association was addressed to “The Family of ‘my late father-in law.’”

Oops! That does not look good.

My father-in-law, who passed away in 2006, bought season tickets to University of Florida football games back in the late 1980s, when they were practically giving them away. Shortly thereafter Steve Spurrier arrived on the scene, followed later by Urban Meyer. The past two decades have included a handful of conference championships, three national championships and two Heisman Trophy winners. The demand for football tickets has risen dramatically.

Like all major football programs, at UF you must make a donation to the athletic association at a certain level to have the privilege of purchasing season tickets. Today that required donation runs into the thousands of dollars. In the late 80s, it was about a tenth of that. So long as Father-in-Law was alive, he was grandfathered in at his original rate. The athletic association will allow a transfer to a son or daughter, but the expected donation would reset at today’s level. So when FIL died in 2006, we conveniently neglected forgot to tell the athletic association about it.

To be blunt, we cannot afford the donation level they require for our seats. They aren’t great seats, and the donation level is near the bottom of the scale, but it’s still much more than Mrs. Poolman and I can afford or justify.

As Mrs. P said, “It’s like the end of an era.”

Our closest friends

I guess we will be spending more fall Saturdays in front of the TV, rather than enjoying the companionship of 92,000 of our closest friends. I hope they will miss us.

A great St Patrick’s Day in Savannah

We had a very good St Patrick’s Day celebration yesterday. I was so tired when we got back home in the late afternoon, I could barely move. It was a good day.

As always, we started very early. Mrs. Poolman and I arrived at 5:30 am for the 6 o’clock opening of the squares. After a few minutes of negotiating with the people who had arrived earlier, we settled on our site and awaited the 6 am hour. Our site was good, but not great. We were on the perimeter of the square,  but just a few yards off that one-half of the square where the parade actually passes.

Our tailgate site, just before the sun came up.

Our tailgating neighbors in the early morning.

Most of the other people arrived between 8 am and 10 am. By the time the parade started passing by around 10:20 am, we had a full house. We spent the next several hours eating, drinking and, as they say in the South, “visiting.”

Some people actually watched...

... the parade.

We had a diverse group, ranging from Mrs. Poolman’s co-workers, to my children’s friends and various other friends and neighbors.

As always, “Mrs. Poolman’s Personal Pick-Up Porta Potty” was a tremendous hit.

Mrs. Poolman's Personal Pick-Up Porta-Potty 2011

In fact, it was a little too much of a hit. Some of our friends had a separate tailgate party set up for their family in the same square. They made a contribution towards the porta-potty fund for their group of — they said — around six people. Actually that group of six was closer to sixty. Oops! The result was sometimes the lines at our porta-potty were longer than those at the public stalls. Poolboy became annoyed when one of their guests challenged his right to use the potty. “Hey, this is MY mother’s potty!” (Aren’t those words t0 make a parent fell proud?)  Next year, they say, they will get their own. That’s a good idea.

Erin go braugh, y’all!

Prepping for St Patrick’s Day

It’s been a busy week, and it’s just getting busier.

Tomorrow, St. Patrick’s Day, is a major holiday here in Savannah. It is also one of the Poolman’s big social events. Since 2002, we have gone down to one of the downtown squares well before dawn and set up a tailgate party in one of the squares along the parade route. We plan to do the same tomorrow.

The day will start around 3:45 am when the alarm goes off. We will need to be downtown by around 5:30 am. The police and park service keep everyone out of the squares until 6 am. Then they blow a whistle and the stampede to get to the choice spots starts. Initially, we were in Chippewa Square (where bus-bench scenes from the movie Forest Gump were filmed). However, it just got to be too much of a madhouse, especially after the parade. We moved a few blocks away to a square very early on the parade route. There are still plenty of people, but it’s not crazy.

Mrs. Poolman and I will set up our canopy, tables and chairs and await the sunrise and our guests.

Our site in Chippewa Square before the parade 2008.

A couple of years ago, Mrs. P became disgusted with the condition of the public porta-potties that are placed around the historic district. She came up with Mrs. Poolman’s Personal Pick-Up Porta-Potty. She rents a port-potty and has it placed in the back of a pick up truck.

Mrs. Poolman's Personal Pick Up Porta-Potty

We park it on the street near our square and it remains a fairly clean source of relief for our family and friends. Mrs. P is famous and well appreciated in our limited circle for this concept.

The parade will run from a little after 10 am until around 1:00 or 1:30 pm.

Watching the parade in 2008.

We hang out and socialize for awhile, but we are usually home and recovering by around 3 or 3:30 pm.

All told, it is a good day. We see a bunch of friends and neighbors who stop by for either a short visit or the entire day. Our two grown children are usually part of the crowd (if they are not working) with some of their friends.

It should be fun. I’ll report on the outcome later.

Facing demons with a toolbox

This past weekend I faced another home-repair demon and emerged triumphant.

As I have written in the past, home repair is not my strong suit. When I tackle a job beyond the very simple, my odds of success usually run around 50-50. Sometimes, the damage I inadvertently do creates a larger repair bill than if I had never attempted the task to begin with. As a result, I look at almost any home-repair job as a major challenge and all victories sublime.

Mrs. Poolman is my strongest supporter. You would think that after all the years we have been married, she would have picked up on some of my weaknesses. (Well, she has picked up on many of them, just not this one.)

“Oh, Poolman, we don’t need to call a repairman. You can do it!”

Which brings me to one of Poolman’s Lessons on Life.

Nothing is impossible for someone who doesn’t have to do it.

This weekend’s plumbing story began last week. We have two and a half baths, but with only two people living in our house full time, the master bath and the half-bath off the kitchen get 99% of the use. We keep the door closed to the seldom-used bathroom in the hallway, because one of our cats (Sid the Tail-less) has been known to use it for his functions. (“Hey, if you’re not going to use it, one of us might as well. Meow!”) Unfortunately, Sid has not familiarized himself with the proper use of the bathroom appliances. All of which means that when I stopped into that bathroom last week and found the toilet running, I had no idea how long it had been doing so.

“Oh, boy,” I thought, “what a great opportunity to try my hand at toilet repair.”
Actually, as it turned out, it was a fairly easy repair. I just went down to the handy Ace Hardware store and bought a new valve assembly. Surprisingly, it went together just like it said in the directions. That may not be a first for me, but it seems that it is rare enough that I am always surprised when it happens that way.

I ran into two minor problems, but I was able to think my way through them.

One issue was really stupid. I couldn’t get the hose connector unscrewed from the tank. “Lefty-loosey, right?” In this case, that is true – if you are lying on your back and looking at the connector from the floor, but not if you are kneeling and reaching under the tank to get at it. Duh!

A masterpiece!

Once I had the new valve assembly installed and made sure it was both working and not leaking, I had only one remaining concern. How much water did we waste all that time we didn’t know it was running? Coincidentally, the semi-monthly water bill arrived on Saturday. It was more than twice the normal bill.

Crap!

Pun intended.

A great day on Ossabaw Island

I had a great time on Wednesday of this week – a day trip to Ossabaw Island. Ossabaw is one of Georgia’s secluded, undeveloped barrier islands. The only practical way to reach it is by boat.

The beach

We took off from our campus at 8:30 in the morning with a group of eleven scientists and technicians for the one hour trip down the Intra-Coastal Waterway to the island.

Ossabaw Island is held by the State of Georgia as a Heritage Trust. Access is by permission only.

We had several reasons for this trip. One reason was to conduct some maintenance on the “Barrier Island Observatory.” We are part of a group of organizations that are developing an observatory network on the island. This is a series of sensors and cameras that can by accessed through the Internet. Right now there is a weather station, a water sensor at the dock and at two wells, and a camera at the dock. You can see what they pickup here.

We also had a couple of geologists who needed to dig some core samples, and a graduate student who collected Spanish moss and air samples.

I went along to take pictures and to enjoy the day.

It was great to get out of the office. Along the way, we passed the bald eagle nest on Pigeon Island.

Once on the island, we got around on the back of pick up trucks.

The causeway from the dock to the island.

The island is beautiful and peaceful, with scenes ranging from maritime forest, to salt marshes to open beaches.

Salt marsh

Dead palm trees

A dead tree -- the result of erosion.

An interesting matrix of dead wood on the beach.

Tabby former living quarters

When we first arrived, we were greeted by “Paul Mitchell,” one of the island’s pet hogs.However, unlike on my last visit to the island, we didn’t see very much in the way of wildlife. We saw only one alligator. I think part of the reason for this is that the fresh water ponds on the island are very low, so the gators aren’t close to the various roads and causeways.

No water = no alligators.

All in all, it was a great day and a lot of fun.

If God wanted me to speak French, he would have named me Pierre!

I have the opportunity to take a great trip later in the spring. More on that later. But in the meantime, I am trying to learn a little French. Boy, has that been an experience!

My language background is two years of high school Latin (which I have found to be surprisingly useful), and two years of HS and one year of college German (for which the only use I have found is translating what Wehrmacht soldiers are saying in old World War Two movies.)

Actually, the one time I had a chance to put that German to use was about 12 years ago when I had the opportunity to travel to Germany with the local Air National Guard unit. (I was acting as a civilian TV news producer and photographer, not a member of the ANG.) That experience demonstrated how useless a language can be if it is just barely learned and then sits unused for 25 or more years.

At Ramstein Air Force Base, I saw a number of street signs with the designation “Einbahn Strasse.”

Duh!

I remembered enough German to know that Strasse means “street.” So I wondered, “who is this ‘Einbahn’ guy who has all these streets named after him?”  After awhile, it hit me like one of those stupid-bolts from out of the blue. . The American translation for Einbahn Strasse is pretty common in this country – “One Way Street.” Duh!

So my latest adventure in languages is a learn-while-you-drive CD I borrowed from the local library. I have been listening to the first CD in the set over and over for the past couple of days commuting. It is not going well.

First – I am a very visual learner. I have difficulty remembering the vocabulary without seeing it.

Second – What happened to all the consonants in the French language? I have a hearing deficiency and wear hearing aids. Consonants are my weak area. The French speakers on the CD just compound it. Everything sounds like they are just slurring vowels together.

Third – I’m just an idiot. (Note reference to “Einbahn Strasse” above.)

In any case, I’m going to keep at it, at least for a while longer. I don’t need to translate Voltaire; I just hope to be able to ask for directions if necessary.

Years ago, I had a friend whose dream was to be a foreign correspondent. (He achieved that by the way.) He always said, his goal was to be able to say “Where to you find the hot babes in this town?” in at least six languages. I don’t think that is on my language CD, and besides, Mrs. Poolman wouldn’t appreciate me practicing that one anyway.