Chicago, IL, USA


Sears Tower


As this brief stop was also Darren’s first in Chicago, I had great intentions to write about it as well. Unfortunately, I failed miserably! Our two full days went largely undocumented.


View from Lincoln Park


We had great intentions about the Architectural Boat Tour, but ended up walking from Lakeview into the city, with a nice stroll through Lincoln Park. After lunch with out friend Victoria (of Amsterdam fame), we headed to Rock Bottom to meet my friend Alberto for drinks before heading back home for dinner with the kids.

The next day, we decided to continue to eschew tourism, opting instead to head up near Evanston to accompany Victoria to return her rental car. This wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy, only the rental car was a Dodge Charger, which was the most unlikely car I could imagine my dear friend driving.  Even more noteworthy was the layer of  crumbs that had struck the backseat of the car over the course of the three days or so the car was in her possession. It seems two children under the age of three are a bit like having a tornado in tow at all times; a really fun tornado with a trail of raisins and cheese sticks!


The Infamous Cinnamon Rolls


We did this on a very full stomach after hitting Ann Sather‘s like we were going to the electric chair. Darren’s decision to get the cinnamon rolls and the potatoes as his chosen sides was impressive, but he didn’t actually eat it all.


Alberto and I at Rock Bottom


For lunch we met up with our friend, Neil, at one of his old haunts, Piece. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive his message advising us to, “save room for meatball subs!” As we were still in an Ann Sathers’ coma when we arrived, we pathetically had to watch Neil eat his sub while he mocked us.

Dinner that night was at one of my favorites, Mia Francesca, and I had the extra joy of eating with lots of people I like: Victoria, her husband Troy, her brother Stephen, and Stephen’s girlfriend, Suzanne. I ate a mighty bowl of sausagey pasta, enjoyed everyone’s company, and didn’t take a single picture!

Our flight the next morning was at nine, so the fun had to end.  Maybe next time we’ll take that boat tour….


Jacksonville, Florida, USA

Kiely and Darren with the newly acquired hotsauce

I’ve never thought to write about a Jacksonville trip. I lived there as a child for a while, and after many years, my mother decided to return there to escape the winters of New York State.

I’ve only been back a few times since my mother returned, and I often find myself in the car, nose nearly pressed to the window, trying to pick out the buildings I recalled from my childhood surrounded by so much new construction.

I decided to write about it this time because this is Darren’s very first trip to Florida, which meant a dash of tourism for a few days!

We flew into Orlando, as our closest option for a direct flight and had a 3 hour ride north to Jacksonville.  We opted to stay at a local bed and breakfast a few blocks from my mother’s, The House on Cherry Street.

The Spoils of Cherry Street!

The first thing I’d like to highlight about The House on Cherry Street is that it is the best B&B experience I have ever had – and the website pictures don’t even begin to do it justice. The house is lovely, our room was charming, the breakfasts wonderful, and the company of our hosts, Victoria and Robert, was an absolute pleasure; so much so, we found ourselves planning our next visit and encouraging Victoria and Robert to come to London.

So, that first night, we opted for one of my favorite pizzas in the US, Moon River Pizza. My mention of it clearly made an impression on Darren, who counted the minutes from Orlando until dinner.  The food is inexpensive and their pizza is consistently good and not greasy. We crashed shortly thereafter,  full of jetlag and meaty pizza.

Day II:

Deep Fried Gator Tail!

We headed out to the Riverside Arts Market, which reminded me a lot of a New York City summertime Street Fair.

The Market includes live music, a farmer’s market, a crafts market, food, and in the evening, films are screened on thewaterfront. This week’s film was The Wizard of Oz, but we sadly missed it. Darren bought BBQ sauce (above) , and we went for a walk on the waterfront before heading out towards Mayport in search of a lot of deep fried at Singleton’s Seafood Shack.

Singleton’s promises a lot of fish and a museum of handmade wooden boats, crafted by the original Singleton.  We opted for deep fried gator tail to start, and by the time the fried king fish arrived, Darren was broken. We dropped him back at the B&B for a rest, yet none of us really recovered from all the fried, so a dinner of salad followed.

Day III:

At Ripley's The Largest Erector Set Creation

Full of nostalgia, we all headed out to The Fox for breakfast. The Fox was and is a diner with a bit of an equine theme, despite the name. I regaled Darren with tales of a hated home perm which had its debut at this venue. It seems a five year old yours truly believed a perm would somehow give me Christie Brinkley hair, but instead, I had little orphan Annie hair. I remember  crying in the bathroom and trying to comb it out before we went out for breakfast, where I was declared, “cute”, by our waitress, Thelma. The good news was that the food was great, even without a perm!

Still on a mission of tourism, we headed to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the US.  First, we also went to the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum, which I always wanted to do as a child, but somehow never did. The Ripley’s museum was fun, but for me, it was really all about the Jack Palance- narrated 1980s nostalgia. We considered a wander around the Castillo de San Marco, but given the blazing sun, decided to opt for a nice walk around in the sunshine, including ice cream and Mexican food.

Day IV and V: This is where tourism was abandoned.

Breakfast included, "Darren's Cheese"

After delicious Cherry Street breakfasts, which included “Darren’s cheese” specially sourced by our hosts,  Darren was left to work on his writing, while I spent time with my mother, catching up, learning why I’m crap at knitting, and helping her with computer stuffs. The latter seems to be the duty of my generation, explaining the mysteries of the home computer to our parents, who just want it to work.

Obligatory picture of oranges

There was a dinner out at The Brick, and a dinner at home with my mother, which included a delicious spinach tart and key lime pie. I also had the wonderful, and internet fuelled chance to catch up with one of my best friends from grammar school, Kyla,  who I sadly fell out of contact with after we moved to New York in 1986. Kyla was always incredibly artistic and I was happy to see she still is, having started her own photography business, Calhoun Clicks.

All in all, it was five days that passed entirely too quickly. We’ll just have to visit again soon!

The Magic Roundabout

That's right... five mini roundabouts! (Thanks to DickBauch for this photo)

I was out for drinks last night, relaying tales of my driving lessons. Naturally, I had to bring up the infamous double mini roundabouts of my recent adventures around Islington.

I was immediately alerted that two mini roundabouts is nothing! That there are, in fact, places where there are five, which unite to create a gigantic, “Magic” roundabout.  (This one is right outside of Swindon, if you really wanted to know)

Are the Brits roundabout mad? Very likely! There’s even a UK Roundabout Appreciation Society, which produces an annual calendar of the country’s finest offerings.

Roundabouts and Roundabouts

Among the many delightful things to be encountered on UK roads are roundabouts, better known in the States as rotaries.

In my driving lesson today, I had a new experience!

The Exchange went something like this:

Instructor: Up ahead, there is a double mini roundabout, please take the first exit of the second roundabout…
Me: <Hysterical Laughter> Double! Mini!

Indeed, I had the joyous experience of encountering the Double Mini-Roundabout, which I believe is actually a practical joke inflicted upon the populace by a civil engineer who decided to take the piss out of the roundabout-laden system.  (The first mini roundabout was implemented in 1960).

St. Genies de Comolas, France – French Immersion Course, Part II

MilleFeuille from the outside, including the wine cave.

By the start of the third day of courses, I definitely detect a bit of improvement in my skill. I wouldn’t have said as much the night before, though. I think a lot of it gelled into place while I was sleeping. As previously mentioned, I had a lot of difficulty sleeping Monday night, and while the same was true on Tuesday night, it was wasn’t as severe. I found myself trying to think of nothing, yet inevitably, I’d think of something in French and from there, see if I could express the same sentiment differently.

Sleep Fail.

Could it be that I became addicted to la grammaire Française?  In an effort to insure I actually slept through the night on Wednesday, I made my way to the village pharmacy and acquired a sleep aid.

The rest of Wednesday, aka: day three, was focused on more verb conjugations and pronouns, equipping me to speak about the past and the future a bit more effectively. Before dinner, one of the instructors gave a presentation about a Francophone organization. I took the sleep remedy, but sadly, I don’t think it helped at all. I wasn’t any more sleepy an hour after taking it than I was before.

La vie de Dawson est trés dramatique.

Day four, Thursday, was full of more grammar; verb conjugations, prepositions, and passive structures. For the second day in a row, the first period was spent presenting the prior afternoon’s writing exercise.  I spent most of the day feeling much as I had on day two… as though I hadn’t learned anything. I

NomNom or GlugGlug? Both!

think this is likely normal, as it takes more than a week to develop a command of a language; although, I’ve learned a lot.  After classes, I opted for some quiet time and a bit of what I hoped would be good comprehension practice in the form of French television. What I got were two episodes of Dawson’s Creek (Les Francaises l’appellent Dawson). I’m not sure it helped.

In the evening, we were joined by a local singer for a dinner of beef stew and cous cous, followed by cheeses (mais oui!) and a brilliant chocolate mousse, for which Marie kindly shared the recipe. Our visitor, Lulu, taught us about the barbary organ, which runs off of cartons. After dinner, I headed out to the yard with another student and practiced speaking.

At Graduation...

As this is the first time I’ve ever really not been able to express myself to anyone, it is an interesting experience. On vacation, I’m not as bothered, as I’m not getting to know the people I meet in passing. It’s such a small group, and as I like everyone here, it’s frustrating to be so short on words… especially when I’m generally a shy person who hides it by trying to make people laugh.

Some of my fellow students and I outside the chateau

The final day of study, Friday, was much the same. Presentations, Grammar work, etc. The daily evalulation discussion was a bit different, as this one was targeted more towards one’s next steps and where one needs to improve next.

We had a small graduation of sorts, and those of us leaving were given a bottle of wine in recognition of our achievement.

In the evening, we went to a local vineyard (of Alain and Nicole Prunet) for a bit of dégustation du vin, after which we all went for dinner together in Chateauneuf de Pape. During dinner, we all caved in a bit, and used our other languages… English, German, Lithuanian while still using our French, the only language we all shared. While it was cheating, I am thankful for the opportunity to better understand my fellow students. These are people whom I’ve come to get to know a bit over the course ofthe last week, as inevitably, in a language class, we use our words to express optinions and to communicate with one another. I’ve increasingly felt a bit sad that I haven’t been able to express myself to them as well as I would like, but I’ve so enjoyed the opportunity to try. I wish we could all have another week together.

At the vineyard

So, what’s the verdict?

This has been one of the best things I have ever done. I overcame my fear of grammar, I met some lovely people, and in every respect, I’m a better person for it. I realize that may sound a bit excessive, but it is easy to be  insensitive when people don’t share your language. This was a good reminder of how limiting it can be to have enough words, but not necessarily the perfect words, when you’ve become so accustomed to always having them.

I definitely want to come back for another week!