Category Archives: Europe

Much better Aer Lingus but mystified by the Dublin airport

What a difference a modern aircraft and entertainment system can make on a trans Atlantic flight. My outbound flight had a near-nonfunctional entertainment system. Today’s aircraft has touch screens! Oh joy.

In flight entertainment recommendation

I stumbled upon some surprisingly good viewing options. First up, a two part documentary picturing the Obamas (about the two dazzling Obama portraits) that had me teary at times. I remember going to see them at the National Portrait Gallery and spending most of my time watching people looking at them, taking photos of themselves beside them, crying. It was profoundly moving.

This doc followed the portraits as they went on tour in five cities (including my new home in Chicago). It was fascinating to see how the five different museums created educational , cultural and marketing efforts around the portraits visit, coming up with so many interesting ways to entice people who often don’t feel welcome in high art institutions to visit and better yet, to feel comfortable and connect with the place and its art. I particularly loved watching the kids look at the portraits.

There were also illuminating interviews with Amy sherod and Kehinde Wiley, the two portrait painters whose work I have sought out ever since seeing those portraits. And of course there were fond images and footage from the hope and change Obama years.

All I saw of Ireland this trip 😕

I also found a good Austin city lights type show, I guess the Irish version called Other Voices and watched one episode filmed in a tiny church in isolated dingle peninsula with St. Vincent doing acoustic and in Austin with Margo Price. Both excellent. Another episode had a very young amy winehouse in 2006 singing to maybe 30 people. Cannot imagine!Even the food was a step up from the previous flight. Not stellar but edible.

I was confused by the layover in the Dublin airport because it seemed like a completely different place from the airport I passed though on my outbound trip and in January when I connected thru Dublin en route to Paris and Madrid. This time I had 4 hours to kill. And we had to go though security twice (pulling out our toiletries and electronics again) when we arrived and when we left, which seemed odd. We’d already sent our stuff through the conveyor belt in Frankfurt. Why did we need to do it before entering the Dublin airport and before leaving it? I don’t remember that from our previous trip and considering how tight those connecting flights were we might have been in trouble making our next flight. I talked with the security guys at the second check point snd they said something about this being new and a trial run for two months. I don’t get the thinking.

I did understand this time, unlike the past trip, that we were going though u.s. immigration/customs in Dublin, which is fabulous because it means when we land in Chicago, no long lines. (And there was NO line in Dublin.) It’s like leaving the airport after a domestic flight. Apparently Ireland is one of the few airports with this (ore- clearance, I think it’s called) and I’m I curious how it came about.

Stocking up for next flight

During the layover, I also was in one of those shopping mall/food hall type spaces to wait which was completely different from the previous trips where we were in a relatively bare bones gate area with few amenities (shops, restaurants). So it was confusing. Not the airport I remembered from just 4 days ago, let alone two months ago.

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Emmendingen…visiting the German Diary Archive

I came a long way for this visit and fortunately it proved completely worth the schlep. (schlep sounds like a German word. Yiddish. So close.) I did inadvertently make use of a German word I forgot I knew when a server at a restaurant sneezed. “Gesundheit” I said. She smiled. (I just learned how to spell Gesundheit…I was way off.)

Plaque on the old town hall

Anyway, I came to this small Black Forest town for a gathering of European diary archives hosted by the German diary archive which is located in a stately 1728 building known as the Rathaus/old town hall. There’s a small two -room museum with displays of interesting diaries, accompanied by an audio tour in various languages. There were people from diary archives in Germany, France, The Netherlands and Austria and very interesting presentations on how diaries are used by researchers (presenters were historians, a literary nonfiction writer and a musicologist) and on how A.I. coupled with HRT (handwriting recognition transcription) will revolutionize and democratize research. Combined they can be used to do super fast transcription of handwritten manuscripts…including diaries. Right now this is often done manually, so to speak, by very patient and skilled volunteers.

Old town hall, home of deutsches tagebucharchiv (German archive for diaries)

We had an excellent dinner at what I gather is the best place in town, Vielharmonie, where I had very good local fish (char?) and I stayed an odd hotel I wouldn’t recommend because it’s very understaffed. (Taome Feng Shui) although I was greeted by a pleasant former Texan, from Austin.


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Black Forest village of Freiburg im Breisgau

This Black Forest university town is as lovely as promised. Lots of narrow cobblestoned streets with an added quaint touch — narrow water canals/channels running along most of them past buildings with timbered beams, decorative stenciled coat of arms and flowers design on stucco. I watched little kids running with little boats they pulled through the water channel on strings and splashing each other.

The main square is paved with narrow cobbled stones and has a very imposing (and gloomy inside) sandstone cathedral surrounded by more pretty old stucco buildings with timbered bits.

Morning in Freiburg

Rick Steves: still feels medieval although it was heavily bombed during WW2. The little channels are calledBächle: tiny “stream-lets” that have been running down nearly every Freiburg street since the 13th century. They were originally designed to keep fires from spreading, as they could be quickly dammed to flood a street. Careful observers may notice how Freiburg’s streets were built at a slight incline, so as to keep the water trickling throughout the town.

Long hotdogs/brats and apple juice with view

Back to me: There’s a great market in the square every morning and I had a fantastic brat — grilled, which I prefer to Isa’s boiled one yesterday at the market in Frankfurt (was that only a day ago?) Tomorrow I may have to try the super long hotdog, now that I’ve gotten the hang of the condiment machine (operated with foot pedals!)

I walked around the narrow lanes, popping into one interesting craft store after another, especially when the rain blew in and through. Some very high end clothing stores too. Money in these parts. Later I climbed up and up and up a brick path on the hillside for a stupendous view of the city and the valley beyond, with clouds rolling in. At the top, I was rewarded with some rain. But nothing too intense. Just made the scenery more dramatic.

Southern German dining

I could have gone to a brewery but opted instead for coffee and Black Forest cake…when in Rome! Not sure I’ve had that before. Or will have again but enjoyed. I am staying at an old fashioned hotel, the Oberkirch, for a little variety. It’s on the square but my room looks out on the one modern building on the opposite side. (Yes, it’s the cheaper room.) it has heavy curtains and a big dark wood sleigh bed, a little writing table and an Oberkirch notepad and pen.

Dinner was at a very traditional southern German restaurant, zum Rauhen Mann (rough man in English) that a college student from upstate Ny recommended. (She was working at one of the produce stands on the square. She is going to college here.) It had a Rathskeller vibe, with cobbled stonewalls, thick dark wood beams on the stuccoed ceiling. very heavy food. I had fresh asparagus soup that looked like a cappuccino. The server even sprayed fresh cream on top. (Not sweet cream.) the thick slices of roasted pork tasted/looked more like ham. not my thing but when in Freiburg. And it was fun to have the meal interrupted a few times by the cuckoo clock behind me on the wall. (This is cuckoo clock land.) The guesthaus above the restaurant looked lovely. This is a pretty corner of the city, the oldest bit, I gather where two wider streams rush into each other and there’s an unusual landmark: A stone crocodile popping out of the water. Several nearby micro breweries were hopping. Uh oh, my German food stomach ache may have finally arrived.

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Train FROM Frankfurt to Freiburg im Breslau with a Swiss -Albanian comedian.

I love riding trains in Europe. You never know who you’ll meet. Today, I’m sitting across from an intense young man, about my son’s age (he’s 33) who pulled out a notebook to write. Turns out he’s a young Swiss /Albanian comedian from Basel (our train’s final destination) who said he bombed during his first standup performance in Frankfurt so he was writing down his notes/thoughts in a little notebook with German writing on the cover.

I’d seen the same one in the book shop at the train station (I always get to train stations way too early) and wondered what it said. He told me it was the old Oscar Wilde saying: Everything is going to be fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end. He bought three so he gave me one as a gift. Wise words.

He said he doesn’t write post show if it goes well. Apparently the crowd was full of women and if you lose the women right away, you’re sunk, the men won’t go for you either. He had 8 minutes to grab them. his favorite comics: Dave Chappell (the greatest, he says) and Trevor Noah plus two English guys and a Finnish guy. he’s only been at this for about 5 weeks (and has other game full employment.) He was also a big fan of Eminem. And had some interesting geopolitical views. He was very current on the mass killings in the U.S. (17 to date this year, he mentioned) and saw this as one of several signs our top dog status is drawing to a close. He showed me a sign with his name lit up that he puts beside him when he does his standup so I took a photo since he promises he will be a famous comedian some day.

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Frankfurt in the rain and sun. (Sun is best): quality market wurst stand, Romer reconstructed, Motel One Romer, Kaffeehaus Goldene Waage

Frankfurt looked gloomy when our plane landed. Grey and rainy. Didn’t help that we had to deplane down metal steps in the cold drizzle to catch a waiting shuttle bus. No matter. Lovely day in this interesting city. I hitched a ride on the subway into town with two American women who had bought a group tix that apparently covered 5 people. They were doing what a lot of people do in Frankfurt…a quick trip to check out downtown between international flights.

Romer area

The Motel One Romer turned out to be a gem. And a bargain at 99 euro a night. It’s a very modern, stylish place, with lovely lounges, bar and dining area. Best of all the very nice guys at the reception desk gave me a room almost 2 hours before official checkin which was very unexpected and appreciated after a long trip from Chicago.

I dragged myself through the city, with jet lag mounting. First stop the quality market/kleinmarkthall a huge enclosed market with all kinds of fresh fruit stalls, cheese and sausages counters, sushi, ethnic food stalls. Not as stellar perhaps as the food hall in Lyon that we visited in January but lots of good options and local character. I joined a line leading to a small window where two women worked very hard serving sausages (wurst) on buns with mustard.

A nice young traveler from Hong Kong was in line too and we struck up a conversation with a kind local (frankfurter) who offered to order for us and told us which of the four sausages was her favorite. (The one with the yellow casing, which didn’t look too appealing.)

Reconstructed Romer

She said she’s been going to this window for wurst since she was a kid. I later learned the woman behind the counter who was diligently boiling sausages of various colors and cutting and peeling off the casing before putting them in a to-go bun was Ilsa. A local luminary. The young woman from Hong Kong and I found a table at an outdoor cafe to eat our wurst, sitting under an umbrella in the rain.

Bombed out romer

Romer is a classic old German area downtown with elegant timbered and stone buildings. Except it’s been reconstructed after being obliterated by allied bombs during ww2. I had some apple Weiss (alcoholic apple cider) standing in the wide brick paved Romer plaza and later landed at lovely Kaffeehaus goldene waage) golden way)some delicious pastries (merengues, florentines) and hot chocolate served in a glass.

I walked a little through the busy shopping plazas and along the pretty riverfront then finally succumbed to jet lag.

Koffeehaus Goldeneye Waage



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Weird Aer lingus

Yes, I have only myself to blame for flying this odd airline again, after a fiasco in January with lost luggage (for five days) plus long airport lines that almost caused us to miss our flights from Paris to Dublin to Chicago and led to the disappearance of my watch at the Paris security checkpoint. You get what you pay for I guess. But I arrived safely in Frankfurt (via Dublin).

Still it’s not reassuring when three flight attendants cannot figure out what appears to be an ancient entertainment system. After poking at the screen for who knows how long, I sought advice from an attendant who also had no luck with the touchscreen. Another attendant told me to use the remote hidden in the armrest, also from another era. None of the attendants could figure out how to use the thing, which is an ancient cell phone on one side and an ancient remote on the other. Neither work. I did find a barely functioning screen by switching seats. Terrible sound but at least I got a movie.

I get the impression from the attendants that this is an old plane that they don’t usually fly. Hopefully it’s just the entertainment system that’s out of date…and not working. I didn’t check my luggage.

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Luggage at Last: Lessons learned

We finally received our luggage, five days after it never showed up at O’Hare Airport following Aer Lingus flights from Dublin and before that, Paris. Lessons learned:

  • Do not check luggage.
  • Do not put valuable stuff /things you care about in your checked luggage. Carry it on! This includes items such as: prescription glasses, prescription meds, almost completed diary, gifts for family, the right-foot sneaker — the left-foot sneaker was in my carryon bag.
  • If your checked luggage gets lost, keep bugging Aer Lingus (or whatever airline) for information (i.e. be a royal pain in the ass). We also posted our complaints on Twitter and Facebook with #AerLingus. The tweet got an AL response although who knows how much it helped. The FB post helped me find another good resource: The Aer Lingus Complaints Action Group on Facebook. Yes, there is one and people were very helpful, although it was a bit discouraging to read about people who had waits longer than ours.
  • Request “priority” or “expedited service” — I didn’t know if this existed but apparently it does, or it seemed to get a response. There were “priority” tags on our returned bags, as well as “rush” tags.
  • For Chicago area folks who lose luggage at O’Hare: Our baggage was finally delivered by Alpha-Tech Aviation Services. This is good to know because AL told us it was Alpha Delivery Services, which it was not. The poor folks at Alpha Delivery Services, based in Kalamazoo, MI, were very kind – and sounded weary. They have gotten previous emails/calls from frantic people seeking their lost luggage and said AL has given out their number. (This is true. AL gave it to us too.)
  • I don’t know if this helped but I did try the pathetic route – mentioning that our luggage contained prescription meds and eyeglasses.
  • Don’t put cheese in your checked luggage…although ours was vacuumed packed and seemed to survive.
  • Consider buying Apple air tags for those times when luggage must be checked. (Ex: small no frills airlines that don’t allow much in the way of carryon luggage.

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Eiffel Tower, Hotel Du Champ de Mars, La Fontaine de Mars, not great start to our flight home — Paris

Catching our breath after barely making our Aer Lingus flight from Paris to Dublin. Here’s hoping we make our connection to Chicago since this flight left late. (Update: we did make our connection but had another mad dash to the next flight which was boarding when we arrived at the gate. And our luggage didn’t make it to Chicago. May take a few days. 🙁)

We weren’t the only passengers scrambling. We arrived 2.5 hours early at de Gaulle airport but not early enough, alas. We endured one horrendous long line after another (at check-in, passport control, security) and several cock-ups (computers that didn’t work for check-in, a last minute gate change that left many of us running from gate 30 to 14). I managed to lose my watch at security, despite doubling back briefly to look for it, then cutting my losses and running to the gate (#30 and then #14). GRRRR.

Eiffel Tower in the rain (that’s dirck in front)

One rumor is that the mess was spillover from yesterday’s transportation strike in France, and due to insufficient staffing, but the strike was rail and public transportation so don’t see how the airport was involved. Our kids also reported long lines and delays at de Gaulle.m when they traveled four days earlier.

Beyond that, when we arrived in Paris yesterday on rail strike day, we found out that the 1 metro line was working but soon discovered it was blowing through several stops, including ours (Concorde) so scrambled again. We ended up walking with our luggage 25 minutes to our hotel. Fortunately it was a somewhat familiar route, (at least the first 15 minutes) and the weather, though threatening, cooperated. For awhile.

The Hotel du Champ de Mars was charming, even with renovation going on. The hotel didn’t alert us about the renovation until two days before we checked in, offering free cancellation or 10 percent off. Seemed too little, too late. They should have notified us earlier, although it wasn’t a big deal since we arrived late afternoon, stayed one night and the construction noise didn’t start until we were eating breakfast at around 9 am. Our room was small but charming, comfortable bed and strong shower, great location near the Eiffel Tower (which from a certain angle we could see from our room window) and the Rue Cler, lined with alluring food shops. The left Bank/7th arrondissement area is where I’ve stayed in the past so I liked it, although there were more tourists than our earlier right bank/16th arrrondisement Airbnb).

Sweet Paris hotel

In a cold rain, we walked a short distance to right beside the Eiffel Tower, lit in gold lighting at night. Tres dramatic. Never been that close to it. More enormous and impressive than I realized. I would have liked more time to explore or re-explore the area. Next trip.

Paris waking up: morning view from our hotel room (Eiffel tower in distance)

One last French meal of the trip was at La Fontaine de Mars a traditional old fashioned place that old friend Alissa, recommended. Excellent. Faded wallpaper, second floor table, chicken with morels in a cream sauce, veal stew, killer chocolate mouse. Alissa shared stories about the realities of life as a famous Pulitzer Prize winning war/foreign correspondent. Memorable night.

Chocolate mousse with Alissa

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Dashing thru the snow on the TGV (fast train Lyon to Paris) after visit to Paul Bocuse food hall

Fortunately we had only a little snow and rain this morning because thanks to the one-day rail strike, we had to walk with our suitcases to the Gare Part-dieu in Lyon. No taxis available. And hey, our train is operating so we are feeling fortunate. Our helpful Lyon hotel staffer also checked and the #1 metro in Paris appears to be working so we can get at least part way from the Paris train station to our hotel. Too much fun. (Update: The #1 Metro WAS working when we arrived in Paris on strike day but it didn’t make all its usual stops and whizzed right through our stop to get to our hotel so we had another 25 minute walk with our suitcases. Fortunately the weather cooperated.)

Paul Bocuse food hall

Another stroke of luck, the food hall named after a famous Lyonnaise chef (les Halles de Paul Bocuse) was on the way to the train station (sort of) so we stopped to shop for lunch and to gawk at the gorgeous food displays lining each aisle that we wheeled our suitcases along. Some items we recognized from our meal at Le Musee. We ended up getting a baguette and a soft super creamy mild local cheese, Saint-Marcellin that we just ate on the train. Superb!

Train lunch

We’ve had a few mishaps with the trains. On our way from Paris to the small country town, Amberieu-en-Bugey (where I visited France’s diary archives, for my book) we managed to make our connecting train fine but then got off the train one stop too early. We stood outside the closed train station in mixed precipitation trying to figure out what to do and ended up going into a nearby restaurant where a diner tried to help us out (when my phone wouldn’t work due to crap internet service) until the restaurant proprietor shooed us out of the restaurant. I got the impression she thought we were disrupting her meal service.

We figured out that there were no taxis but there was a bus which, once we learned where/how to buy the ticket (in a machine new the closed rail station), got us to our destination. No taxis there either but the people I was interviewing kindly arranged for transport. (Our return driver was a local innkeeper from the countryside whose car trunk was lined with dirt and perhaps straw.)

Today, we managed to find our platform for the TGV and the place we were supposed to stand for our car (#17) but when the train pulled in, only #18 was marked. So we rushed to the next open car, which turned out to be #8. There wasn’t time to go back to 18 so we stayed put. There are plenty of open seats and the conductor was cool with it. (He explained that this train is actually two trains combined, one with cars 1-8 the other with cars 9-18 or some such but there’s no getting from one train to the second.) Whatever. We are chugging through rolling green fields, some dusted with snow, past the occasional grazing cattle, wind turbines, and village of white stucco homes with mansard roofs that remind me of my childhood home in Michigan.

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Christine! Vieux Lyon, Court Bouillon, Funicular/Basilica, botanical paintings, Mojgan Iranian restaurant – Lyon

Our friend Christine, who we met four years ago in Norway, took the train up from Provence, where she lives with her French husband (Christine is from China) to meet us for the day in Lyon, which was a treat. On a cold day that began with rain and snow and then cleared, with shocking blue sky and a bracing wind, we wandered through lovely Vieux Lyon, the old city with narrow cobble stoned lanes, pretty old stucco buildings, occasional alluring shops, bakeries and cafes. Lyon reportedly has the most Renaissance-era buildings of any city in France.

I bought some bright pink pralines (a Lyon speciality) at Pralus Pastry Shop (27 rue Saint Jean), recommended by the woman we say next to at dinner at Le Musee. The special bread dotted with pink pralines looked too sweet to eat. At a shop specializing in botanical drawings, Vincent Jeannerot’s Aquarelles Botaniques, we bought elegant linen tea towels (as gifts) and a print.

With Christine in Vieux Lyon

Lunch was at Court Bouillon, recommended by our hotel owner Laurent and it was excellent, (although Christine seemed less impressed…she’s truly French now.😂). Later we took the funicular up to see the dramatic white Basilica that towers over the city high on a hill, not unlike Paris’s Sacre Coeur. It was stunning up close, set against the blue sky, and crazy ornate inside. The view from on high looking down at the city and confluence of the two rivers was very dramatic. It was also very cold thanks to the wind. We got a coffee and hot chocolate at an elegant cafe next door.

Dinner was Iranian food, for a change, but similarly elegant to the French meals we’ve had. The chef at Mojgan is female and came out to chat. Very lovely. She has three school age kids and didn’t start cooking until after they were born. She studied with Paul Bocuse, has won a big chef award and is the rare female chef in France, let alone Iranian-born female chef cooking French-inspired Iranian food. (pomegranate juice with sparkling wine; eggplant with some exotic spices, duck with Fois gras sauce etc.)

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