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September 11th Remembered

Uncanny how similar today is to that day 17 years ago for me…

It was on a Tuesday morning when it happened, and today is a Tuesday. It was a beautiful, clear, crisp September morning (quite similar to how it is here today in Northern Arizona). Beautiful blue skies. I remember enjoying my walk to the subway station that morning on my way to work because it really was quite a remarkable day. Unfortunately, I had no idea how remarkable it would become, and not in a good way.

I don’t really want to rehash everything here that happened that day. Suffice it to say it was shocking in a horrific way, and it did change my life. As a result of what happened that day, I ended up moving across the country less than a year later, and switched careers from law to music. Life really is too short, and sadly, that event made me realize it harshly.

Since then, I have made the switch completely over to being a full-time musician, and I have never looked back. I’ve been able to make a living (albeit a meager one) as a musician, and I feel as though I’m contributing a lot more to the world as a result than staying in a profession where I wasn’t happy anyway, and where I wasn’t really helping anyone except large corporations and a few partners at the law firms where I worked make more and more profits for themselves. Hate to say it, but I think Shakespeare was right.

I am now at yet another crossroads in my life…weighing the comforts of living in a place that is not expensive and living well as a result, or continuing on a path that allows me to continue to do my music in an environment where I would flourish more, in many ways. Of course, it would be wonderful if I could have both, but that might not be practical. Guess time will tell.

But for today, I am reflecting on the impact of losing all those innocent people 17 years ago, and how fragile life really is. And also how important it is to live life to the fullest, every day. We really never know what is coming next. I used to work on the 87th Floor of Tower One in the World Trade Center a few years before this happened. I would have been one of the first to go if I hadn’t gotten another job uptown. And to this day, I don’t know if some of the people I worked with there ever made it out or not.

Like I said…life is short. May we never forget the true significance of this day, and its impact. No matter your political bent, people died that day a terrible death. And that is never good. Rest in peace.

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Part 2 and 3 of the Journey Home

Whew! What a crazy day so far!

My flight to NY from Heathrow on Virgin Atlantic was actually quite nice, and they kept feeding us!! I had grabbed some lunch at Heathrow, so I really wasn’t that hungry, but they kept coming around with food and beverages.

Sadly, the flight TO London in early August was quite the opposite, unfortunately, even though it was a round trip flight! Delta and Virgin Atlantic are apparently “partners” now, but they really can’t compare! So that was a revelation. I did get an incredible deal on airfare, so I’m not complaining. But I did notice what a huge difference each airline was. Virgin Atlantic does circles around Delta! That’s “fer sher!”

The Last Leg

Landing at JFK is always a crazy experience, but I must say, even though it was crazy numbers-wise (amazing how many Americans and Canadians travel this time of year!), the customs process has improved tremendously over the years. I guess the biggest change was not having folks going through your bags with you. I remember as a child having to open my bag in front of the customs officer when we came back from living in Portugal for a year, and it seemed to take forever. That has all changed now. At first, everyone does a digital verification scan with their passports, which then allows you to go in line faster, and the process actually is pretty smooth and fast from there. So, that was a relief! I also was happy to see my bag was on the carousel when I was finished with customs, and I was free to head to my connecting domestic flight with plenty of time to spare.

My next flight was on JetBlue in Terminal 5. Turns out I didn’t even have to go outside to get there. Escalators took me to the AirTrain, which promptly got me to Terminal 5. There was a long passageway from the AirTrain to the actual terminal, but it was all done on those fast-moving escalators that you walk on.

When I got to the JetBlue Kiosks, everything worked out perfectly. Got my Boarding Pass, checked in my bag and even tagged it myself, handed it to the lady at the baggage drop off area (there wasn’t even a line!), and was happily on my way to the Gate, again with plenty of time to spare. Got through security pretty quickly, and found the gate without any problems.

Since my previous flight had basically stuffed me with food, I wasn’t really hungry, so I picked up a sandwich and a “healthy” drink at one of the little shops near the gate, which I figured I could eat on the next flight if I got hungry, and JetBlue, while they have always had nice snacks (for free), don’t usually feed you more than that.

I ended up hanging out at the Gate for a good long while. Was pretty wiped, but I was just glad that things were going much smoother getting home than I anticipated, and it was a much better experience than when I had to hang out at both JFK’s Delta terminal and Phoenix’ Sky Harbor Delta terminal on my initial flights on this trip. Luckily, the weather cooperated this time, and I was able to make very smooth connections. I don’t think we give enough credit to the airlines when everything DOES go right! So, I guess this is a shoutout to the airline industry for doing all you do to get folks places. Not an easy task, I’m sure. And when it works, it’s actually quite amazing. I went from London to Arizona in one day without any problems!

Of course, about an hour before we took off from JFK for Phoenix, a Delayed sign appeared on the board for my flight, and I started to look for airport hotels nearby just in case…I did not relish the thought of having to hang out at the airport all night. Thankfully, it was just a slight delay due to the plane coming in being an international flight, so there would be a long deplaning process, plus the plane needed to be cleaned. It actually only was delayed 15 minutes from the scheduled departure, and we ended up getting into Phoenix a half hour earlier than expected, which was nice.

When we got to Phoenix, I noticed that they are doing a lot of expansion, and JetBlue was at a “newer” Terminal, so I was a little bit turned around. Finding my Shuttle stop to Prescott was tricky as a result because I was nowhere near where I usually had come in to Sky Harbor, but luckily, my bag appeared almost immediately on the carousel at the “new” terminal, and I was able to find the right “door” for my Shuttle.

I also realized that since the plane had landed earlier than expected, that I might be able to catch an earlier Shuttle back home, so I called the Shuttle number and told them where I was, asked them when the next Shuttle was due and where to pick it up, and they said one was coming right away to my “terminal.” Well…unfortunately, the driver didn’t get that message (!), but I saw one go right by me, so I ran to the next Terminal to catch it. Luckily, there was an extra seat on that earlier Shuttle, and I got home an hour earlier than expected. My car was right where I had left it when they dropped me off near my house (the Shuttle stops locally at certain designated places, and luckily, my HOA building is one of them), and I arrived home around 1 a.m.

The cats were confused, naturally, and a little bit freaked out at first, but once they knew it was me, I got lots of love from all 3 of them, and I basically got my stuff inside the house and crashed as soon as I could!

The next day (and basically ever since I got home), I have been trying to get back to the right Time Zone sleep-wise, have done a bit of laundry, unpacked, and got a few “provisions” as needed.

I was pleasantly surprised by a beautiful plant and card that Karen got me. All three of my friends Karen, Randy and Marleen signed the card, and Marleen bought me some food so I wouldn’t have to go to the store right away, and I think she cleaned the fridge too..it looks a lot better than I remember it being before I left! (lol!). Thank you, thank you, thank you guys!!! It was so wonderful knowing my guys were in such capable and loving hands!

I also was amazed at how much my friend Saul Hipolito has done with the Guest Room Improvement being done to the house. He’s doing an amazing job, and I’m very grateful that he was able to do some of this while I was away.

Here are some pix of the guys who I came home to, and some of the work Saul has done.

Thank you everyone, who helped me make this trip possible. It truly was “epic” for me, and I enjoyed doing this blog. Hope you enjoyed it as well!!! Thanks for coming along for the ride…!

A Bientôt,

Monica

Heathrow

So far, my trip back home is going well today!

Except for a weird little glitch with JetBlue’s check in system online (the email listed the  wrong date, but luckily the Boarding Pass was correct, and apparently you can’t check in your bag before getting to the airport), I was able to check in for tonight’s flight to Phoenix, and I checked in for today’s flight to NY last night.

This morning, I checked out of my hotel in London without a hitch, grabbed a Continental breakfast next door, and headed to Paddington Station in a cab. There was a taxi cue at Kings Cross, so I got one right away.

The driver sounded just like my friend Mark who is originally from London, but now lives in Austria (the GuestHaus owner). He got me to Paddington in no time. And I found the Heathrow Express train without a problem….didn’t have to take any stairs. All escalators. 🙂 Hallelujah!! (The picture below is from Paddington, leaving on the Heathrow Express.)

I checked in without any trouble, and they even offered Virgin Atlantic flyers free ice cream after check-in!

Got thru security without a hitch, and entered another world at Heathrow! Tons of shops, duty free, restaurants, and lots of areas to “hang out” in. Since I have a lot of time to kill before my flight, and free WiFi, I decided to start a post for my blog now, as I’m not going to have access to the internet on my flight, and it’ll be hectic getting to my flight in NY for Phoenix and beyond…and it’ll be late.

So, so far so good….

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King’s Cross

The epic trip continues!!

I was able to make it to London today. I ended up taking a cab from near my friend’s apartment in Paris up to the Eurostar station at Gare du Nord. I had taken the high speed train years ago from there to Brussels when I visited my brother in Bahrain, so when we approached the station, I recognized it. My cab driver was from Haiti. We talked about New York (he lived there for 2 years), the earthquake (he was in Paris, but had family back there who all made it through okay). Interesting fellow.

Anyway, I made sure I got there in plenty of time since I had heard that customs could take a while, and I was right. Folks with EU passports were able to go through quicker. But those of us with non-EU passports had to wait. Crazy system, as there were about 30 people in the non-EU passport line, and hardly anyone in the EU passport line! There were a few Americans who I met in the elevator on the way up, and they all joked that they were videotaping this just in case! Gotta love that American spirit!! 🙂

When we got through all of that, then there was the long wait for the train to arrive. There were a few spots you could get coffee and such, but nothing really great. I got a coffee and an apple tart and relaxed a bit. After I finished, I was pretty bored, so I got up and walked around a bit. Actually got some WiFi in the waiting area, so I got back to some folks, and then everyone started to head for the door. I stood near a very nice lady from England who basically commutes back and forth to Paris on the Eurostar for business. She worked for TJ Maxx (TK Maxx in Europe…funny story. The company couldn’t get the trademark in Europe because of another TJ company! So, they took the next letter…K instead! Funny, right? Anyway..I had seen a TK Maxx in Stuttgart, Germany, and lo and behold, I met this woman today who explained the difference to me! Small world.)

Talking to her made the time pass quicker, and before we knew it, we were on the train headed for London! I had booked the Eurostar months in advance, and forgot that I had gotten a “first class” seat! So, I had a very nice experience on the train! Got a full meal (it was actually quite good!) and the WiFi worked very well. I took a lot of pictures of the French countryside, or at least tried to…the train went very fast.

I have a new friend from Vienna, Sergey, who is curious about languages and I’m impressed that he tries so hard to write in English with me on WhatsApp. We ended up texting a lot during the train ride. So, that kept things going pretty fast…as well as my sister, who has taken the Eurostar before, so she knew what I was experiencing. It was nice to compare notes. 🙂

Got to London right on time, and gained an hour. Yay! I had no trouble finding my hotel. Directions on the Google Map were accurate, and it was right near the station. Once I got settled, I checked in for my first flight tomorrow, and then headed out for some dinner and last minute shopping. I have a friend in AZ who is obsessed with Harry Potter (!), and she told me about a store in Kings Cross that actually has the Platform sign for Harry Potter’s train to his school! And then there’s a wonderful store next to that with all things Harry Potter! I got a jump on some Christmas shopping there!!! Then I meandered through San Pancras station, which is quite beautiful. I ended up eating at a cute little place that served burgers, English style.  Had a cheeseburger with some British cheese…so I felt like I at least had something English before I left. 🙂

Tonight was my last night in Europe, and the last night of my journey. Bittersweet. I am looking forward to getting home, but I’m also sad to be leaving Europe. I really have enjoyed this trip thoroughly, and I hope to be back soon…

Here are some pix of my last day in Europe…tomorrow is the trek back to Arizona, via NYC. Hoping all the connections work…fingers crossed.

 

Versailles…in the rain!

So today was my only full day in Paris, and because I have a long journey home beginning tomorrow, I thought I should just stay put and “hang out” nearby…

But then I noticed as I was planning my journey, that my friend’s apartment was only 35 minutes from Versailles, which I had never been able to get to before. I have been in Paris several times, but for some reason, I just never got there.  So….today was the day! Carpe diem..as they say!

Unfortunately, it was a bit cold and rainy in Paris today, but I left around lunchtime, when it was still partly sunny, and almost hitting 70F. I walked to a bus stop not too far from my friend’s place, took the bus to the Montparnesse station, and promptly got lost! 🙂 Took me a while to figure out where to get the tickets for the suburban trains to Versailles, where to go, etc. I tried to get a cup of coffee out of one of the vending machines, and it ate my 2 Euros! So..it was kind of going like that, unfortunately.

Thankfully, a nice older gentleman who was in the Information booth took pity on me and helped me figure out how to buy my tickets using the machine, and I was good to go. Took the next train to Versailles, and was off on yet another adventure…this time in Paris!

The train going there was very fast. Not a local at all, so we got there pretty quickly. But unfortunately, as it turns out, I took a train that went to the train station that really was nowhere near the Palace! It was further than the one most folks take to get there (!). There are 2 Versailles train stations, and both are listed as Versailles Ch. Well, I found out one is Chateaux, and the other is Chi-something else…(!). Oh well…the good news? I actually have been speaking French with folks on this trip…it seems to be coming back little by little, and I have been able to get around for the most part. But, it has been a while since I’ve used some French, and that double Versailles Ch. thing threw me for a loop. 🙂

Anyway, the lady at the train station said it was a short walk (!) to the Palace, so off I went. Grabbed a cafe on the way, and all was well…until….

I kept walking and walking, and finally saw the Palace…which was about another 1/2 hour walk from where I was standing (I had already gone about 15 minutes!). And of course, just at that moment, the heavens opened up and a fierce cold wind whipped up along with the rain, and I was walking PD (pretty darn) fast towards the Palace of Versailles!!!

I was very glad I had my Columbia raincoat with a hood and a good umbrella, plus good walking shoes and warm pants. So, I was okay that way, but man, it took forevah to get there, it seemed, and the rain seemed to get worse as I walked along! The other bummer was all the cobblestone that you have to walk on. It’s not very comfortable at all, and I immediately felt bad for all the horses who had to walk on that stuff carrying people over the years…brutal!

Anyway, finally found the ticket office, and of course there was no line since it was pouring!!! But I got my ticket, and headed out again in the rain to find the entrance to the  Palace. I noticed a sign for the Jardins (the Gardens), but there were tons of folks huddled under an underpass there, since it was coming down pretty hard! I waited with everyone there, and even asked a guard who was there where the entrance to the palace was to save some time. Unfortunately, he had no idea where it was…he was just “manned” at his post near the Gardens! 🙂 He was very nice, but I found that kind of funny…

I finally braved it, as I didn’t want to waste much time, and headed out again in the rain. I found the looooong line for the Palace on the other side. I politely got on the end of the line, and thought, well, okay. It’s not great, but soon I’ll be inside, I’ll be dry, and I’ll be in the Palace at Versailles! But then…3 tourists from some Eastern block country (sorry, but they had a weird accent) decided to “light up” right in the line behind me. I nearly choked!! I couldn’t believe this was allowed, and maybe it wasn’t, but no one came along and said anything to them. I kept trying to creep up in the line to get away from the smoke, but it was pointless. We were all standing in the rain, so there was really no where to go to get away from it.

Finally, we all got inside, went through security and started to “dry off” somewhat…until we were told that the tour started on the other side of the Palace (!), and yes, you guessed it…we had to go out in the rain again to get there (lol!). Glad I still had my umbrella with me, as a lot of folks had taken off their coats and given their umbrellas to the property clerks (!), who knew full well that everyone had to go outside again (lol!).

When I finally got across the Palace to begin the tour, naturally, it stopped raining once I got inside (!). The first floor had a lot of history, but no real things to see, unfortunately. Everything was on the second floor, and remember, this was only one wing of this huge palace that we were allowed to see (!). There were beautiful paintings, some famous ones I remembered studying in my Art History class in college, and the architecture and some of the rooms were magnificent. The Hall of Mirrors was exquisite, and has held up pretty well after all these years!

A funny aside was seeing those 3 young folks who had smoked in line on the tour…every time they came near me, I moved away. They actually did stink from the cigarettes (!), and I noticed other people were also moving away from them…! I must admit, I don’t like how free and easy it is to smoke in Europe…glad the U.S. has gotten better about this. I don’t think they had any idea how gross they actually were…!

Right before the tour ended, I was a bit worried about having to trek back all that way again to the train station, so I sat down for a bit and just rested. When I felt ready to start up again, I took one last picture of the Palace entrance, the statue of Louis XIV in the front, and headed back towards the town and the train station.

As fate would have it, I took a different street back than the one I originally took, and came upon a train station much closer. I wandered inside and asked if I could use my ticket there, and the Information person told me to give it a try and see, so I did. It worked!

What I didn’t know was…there are several trains that leave from that station that don’t go back to Montparnesse, but to other parts of Paris. I asked a lady who looked like a conductor on one of the trains whether this went to Montparnesse, and she said, “Paris?”, I said yes, so I got on the train, thinking I was all set. Wrong again!!! Turns out she was a tour guide for one of the groups!

I ended up taking a train that went through a completely different part of town than where I needed to go. When I literally saw the Tour D’Eiffel in front of the train (!), I knew this was not where I needed to be. My friend lives in the Southwest section of Paris, and the Eiffel Tower is north of there in the middle of Paris. Thankfully, I have been to Paris enough to have a pretty good idea of its layout, so I figured if the next station went north, I better get off, as I wanted to go southwest!

I was right! The train was not going anywhere near Montparnesse, but luckily, where I got off, there was a transfer to the Metro that did go there, so I got off and was able to transfer to my station. Whew! Glad I’ve been to Paris enough to have had an idea of where to go!! I had no WiFi on the train, so I was going on memory!

When I finally got to the right train station, I then went outside and looked for my buss back to my friend’s neighborhood. There is a huge Mall that is being built right there, so it was kind of hard to find it at first with all the construction, but luckily, I asked someone and they knew where it was…right nearby. My bus came right away, and I got back to the apartment without any issues. I even stopped at the local grocery store and bought a few things there totally in French! They had no idea I was American..or at least I felt like a Parisian. 🙂

Tomorrow is London…I’m very grateful for my friend to have let me stay here. Wish she had been here, but I completely understood. She’ll just have to come visit me in Arizona next!!!

Here are some pix from Versailles today..hope they aren’t too dark…be sure to click on each one if you want to see the full picture.

A Bientot,

Monique

 

Made it to Paree

This morning, I had a free breakfast with my hotel room stay in Milan…and man, what a spread they had! I couldn’t believe it was included in the hotel room price! It was quite a delicious buffet. They definitely know how to live in Milan! 🙂

Took a cab (a real treat) to the “smaller” airport in Milan, Linate. The cab driver had grown up in Milan and had never been to the States. He said he wants to go to NY, so naturally, I started to tell him what he should do when he gets to NY. It was fun telling him about certain places to see he had never heard of. Got to the airport in plenty of time.

I had never taken a domestic flight in Europe before. It felt very similar to a Southwest flight….full flight, lots of families and noise, noise, noise!!! Luckily it was only an hour flight, so I tried to catch some zzz’s even with all the hoopla around me!

I was worried on this trip about American-bashing, and so far had not experienced it at all up until today. And it came from a very unlikely source. Two young Brits (girls in their late teens/early twenties) started to make fun of an acquaintance they knew who was from America. They basically bashed her for her accent and her colloquialisms. They were pretty stuck up! When I initially sat down next to them, one of them had headphones on the seat where I wanted to sit down. They knew I was American from the way I asked if someone was sitting there. So…I was rather surprised that they would sit there, knowing they were making fun of an American when they knew they were sitting next to one! So, like I said, it wasn’t an out and out bashing of me being an American, but it was definitely American-bashing.  There’s “funny” and then there’s “obnoxious” and mean. These two girls were pretty mean the way they were talking about this acquaintance, and were definitely putting down Americans in general. I decided to get up and leave instead of saying anything. Didn’t need any of that BS before the flight! Ironic, also, as I was more worried folks would “snub” me as an American because of the current climate of politics on this trip. I didn’t get any of that at all! Most folks all over Europe until today’s experience were genuinely cordial and respectful towards me, regardless of where I was from. Guess some Brits still feel “superior” in some ways. In a way, I felt sad for those two girls. Couldn’t seem to see past their own noses…way up in the air!

Then this mother and daughter from France wanted me to switch seats with their mother who was all the way in the back in the middle seat (!). I said no, as I had purposely wanted the aisle seat for that flight and had booked it months ago. I told them I was tired and would probably be taking a nap during the flight. But they kept trying to talk to me, and I finally said something…politely, but man. Is it me, or are people getting more and more pushy every day?? What happened to good ol’ fashioned manners??

Anyway, the flight was pretty uneventful except that I thought we would get a free soft drink and snack, but you have to pay for those on EasyJet. So, that was a revelation..that the U.S. domestic flights give you more bang for your buck. I’ll never criticize those airline peanuts again!!! (Lol!).

When I got to Orly (one of Paris’ airports), I had to wait for my bag at the carousel. I got there pretty early, but as more folks from my flight started to stream in, once again, folks just pushed and shoved their way past me to get as close as they could to the belt. Maybe that does happen in some airports in the U.S., but usually most flights I’ve been on, people are actually pretty good about standing back and just going forward when their bags show up.  Guess that’s not the same in Europe either…!

Once I got my bag, I had a little trouble at first figuring out where the OrlyBus was…only $8.50 Euros, it went right near to where my friend Sylvie lives in Paris. So, I finally found where that was, and a nice lady helped me get my ticket and helped me get on the bus with her. It was a packed bus. We were all standing with our luggage. And surprisingly, Paris was a bit warmer than the forecast had been. So, we were all glad there was AC on the bus!

Got to my stop in pretty good time, and then began my next trek to find my friend’s apartment based on a Google map on foot! Luckily, this time it was pretty straightforward, and I found the place without a hitch. I got settled a bit, then decided to go out and have an early dinner, and get a few things at a market. I found a nice restaurant near the apartment, had a Neapolitan pizza, which was delicious, and then got a few things at the corner market near Sylvie’s apartment.

Unfortunately, Sylvie’s Mom is in the south of France, and Sylvie had made plans a while back to go see her long before we talked about me staying at her house in the end of August, so I have the place to myself this time. Our family friend, Sylvie, has been hosting our family for years whenever one of us is in Paris!! She has a lovely place in the 14th Arr. Very Parisienne!! And her apartment is beautifully furnished with a lot of heirlooms and items she has collected over the years from all of her travels. Last time I was here was back in the 90’s! But my stepson actually stayed with Sylvie when I gave him a Eurail pass back in 2012! Sylvie is a wonderful host!!

This time, I was glad that she and I were able to at least start my trip together in London seeing Hamilton, so at least I was able to visit with her in London this time around.

So, here I am…sitting in Sylvie’s Living Room at the moment in Paris, blogging happily, and thankful that tomorrow I get a day to breath a little before the crazy return home begins.

Didn’t take too many pictures today, but here they are…