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Two-Second Travelogue Part 2   Nov - Dec 2000

November 2000 (November photos)

November 1 - London -
Maggie: The Tate Modern was too boring.
Tote: And empty.
Duncan: I liked it. It was artistic.
Tote: It was all artistic in that one certain way. It had towers and a weird spider that were all sort of the same. I mean half of it . . . I consider it art, but it's not that impressive because anyone can do it. It's not like it's amazing. I think it's too easy.
Maggie: I went upstairs and drew a picture of the Globe Theater with charcoal.
Duncan: I really liked the Millennium Bridge.
Tote: It was so cool. I thought it was for trains or something. When I got up in the Tate, I could see it was for pedestrians.
Duncan: It's closed though because it moves. But it's supposed to move.
Tote: I like how it was sleek, and I liked how when you looked at it from the Tate side you'd look straight up at St. Paul's. And if you were on the side of St. Paul's you'd look straight across the river at the Tate.
Duncan: It looked like a sleek mini, silver suspension bridge.
Tote: It was really sleek.

Walking the streets here brings one into contact, literally, with hundreds of people. The sidewalks, and everything else are crowded, and whenever we walk we end up banging into people. There's just no other way to do it without dodging and weaving like some sort of rodent.

London is packed. Packed with people, packed with cars, just full up. It seems - though I know it cannot be true - that the city is just teetering on the edge of a breakdown. Little things -- a big windstorm or a single train wreck -- are just enough to push the place over the edge. We haven't been here a week, but we've already been through two crises. One brought the rail system to a crawl. The other, an otherwise unremarkable rainstorm, nailed both the trains and the underground. -- Mark

November 2 - Paris - We rattled on a British train, bounced on a ferry, and zipped smoothly along on a French train. Now we're in Paris. We went to dinner at a nice little restaurant called Bistro de Papa. We all had some wine to celebrate. (By the way, it's legal for kids.) -- Duncan

Ah oui, we spent the entire day going from spectacular, historic London to romantic, artistic Paris. After finding our tiny hotel in rue Cler neighborhood (yes, we were genuinely lost - we could not find our way out - in a single train station, Gare du Nord), we celebrated with a late dinner at Bistro du Papa, the most tasty mussels I've ever eaten, delicious red wine....Á vos santé!....Maggie and Duncan had farm-roasted chicken, and we walked home via a brightly lit eyeful of the Eiffel Tower. -- Monica

It took 2 trains and a very bumpy ferry to get to Paris. When we arrived, we had to take three undergrounds (metros) to get to where we were going. On the way we saw a bright orange Eiffel Tower. In pictures it looks nothing like real life. When we reached the hotel, the owner was just leaving. We were so lucky, because if we had come a little later, we wouldn't have a room. The room we got was so small. Even though we all have beds it is very crowded. -- Tote

Tote: Dad is really amazing. I didn't know he could speak French.
Mom: Neither did he.

On the train to Calais (filthy and decrepit by Amtrak standards) we met Mr. William Burke. He was on his way to Calais for the day on a special newspaper offer that allowed him to sail roundtrip for a pound. At first, I didn't think he would be very helpful:

Mark: Are you by any chance going to Calais?
Mr. Burke: I'm going to Cully.
Mark: Oh, sorry, I was wondering about how to get from the train to the Calais ferry.
Mr. Burke: Cully. That's what I said, isn't it. Cully. You can follow me. I know the way. I was just here on Monday, you know. Ferries were all delayed.

Following Mr. Burke was pretty much the story of our crossing. Though he didn't say much at the beginning, he paused to let us catch up at critical junctures.

Up until I met Mr. Burke, I thought Wallace (of Wallace and Grommit) was a fictional character. Mr. Burke retired two years ago from the London Underground. He still has a free pass and is entitled to eat dinner for two pounds in the Underground staff cafeterias. "Pretty good, isn't it? I have a free pass you see. Free transport. Pretty good, isn't it." When we asked him why he was going to Calais, he replied that he liked "the sail." "It's better than grubby old London now , isn't it?" This is the same response he gave when asked what he planned to do in Calais ("Have tea and walk around a bit. It's better than dirty old London, isn't it?") and whether he had enjoyed visiting Dover a year ago. ("Nice cliffs. Beautiful on a sunny day with the blue sky. Better than dirty old London, now, isn't it?"). He has traveled a fair amount and is familiar with the cheap hotel areas in Dublin and Paris. He is carrying an umbrella and an assortment of useful traveling items in two plastic bags - his newspaper and free guides to shopping in France that he picked up on the Chunnel train (he gave us two of them). He wears his Underground tie and a white shirt, covered by a sea green sweater. When we ask whether we can take his photo, he pulls out a comb and takes off his glasses for the big moment. ("Why not look my best. Makes for a better picture, doesn't it now?") He'd like to go to Las Vegas to see the shows but doesn't know whether he will. ("I'm a great one for talking about things, but I don't do it.") He tells us he met two American girls on the ferry one day "They said they don't have anything in their town that's older than 150 years. That just about sums it up, doesn't it? I think that sums it all up."

I cannot imagine a better guide. He took us from the train station to the correct ferry terminal, pointing out the scenic highlights - the white cliffs. He showed us the best place to sit on the ferry. He advised us to eat our dinner (lunch) on the ferry, so we wouldn't arrive in Paris famished. He told us to change our watches. He bought five chocolate bars for us. ("Americans and Australians love the sweets. Can't get it over there. Don't make it the same way, do they?") And when we looked out the window at the large waves and clouds of spray, he said, "It's better than grimy old London now, isn't it?" -- Mark

November 3 - Paris - Today was our first day in Paris. I had a chocolate crepe for breakfast. Later, I had a cup of chocolat. I also had a cooked sauscisson for a snack. We hung out most of the day just walking around in Paris, while we tried to find an apartment. When we stopped to have a picnic lunch, we played on a really fun playground. Part of the playground was made from rope tied together to make a net. The playground was right next to the Eiffel Tower. The tower is bigger than I thought it would be. I thought it would be in the middle of the city and not part of a park.

I'm learning a couple of French words, and I hope to learn a lot, so I can communicate. It's fun trying to speak French and figure things out. This morning, when we were running near La Seine, I called "maman!" to mom to get her attention. At the cafe, I paid the bill (l'addition, s'il vous plait.) I know how to say, "wait," "where is?", and "pleased to meet you." -- Tote

The French really know how to eat. Buying food from the market daily, giving time to their meals, and drinking wine with their meals. The food is extraordinarily fresh and tasty. Just browsing in the shops and stalls of rue Cler was a feast for my eyes (and my nose!). I bought two kinds of chevre at a cheese store, croissants and baguettes, cafe au lait, pate, mousse chocolat, apple juice, and of course, wine.

Today was our first day here, got here last evening. This morning we took a family run, checked out the Eiffel Tower, and then along the Seine. We returned to our very cramped, but wonderfully located hotel room, got dressed and set out for the day. We spent a good part of the morning dawdling along rue Cler, purchasing breakfast (café au lait, hot chocolates, crepes, and croissants), and the makings for a picnic lunch. Mark did a search into getting us a furnished apartment for the next two weeks, as the children and I sat in the sun on a bench along the pedestrian mall/market rue Cler, browsed in the shops (thoroughly incredible for the variety and quality of foods), and the kids ran, chased pigeons, and bounced along like puppies.

Mark joined us with the report that he had struck out, but because we were here in this most amazing place, he was smiling and we all felt undaunted. Let's go for a picnic at le Champ de Mars (the park we'd discovered on our run this morning south of the Eiffel Tower). The children burst forth at the playground, and periodically checked in with Mark and me as we sat on a park bench in the sun sampling our picnic purchases (two goat cheeses, baguettes, pate, red wine, jus de pomme, raspberries, and chocolate mousse). Ah, thus aided, we set out to find an apartment, which is exactly what we accomplished in the afternoon, and just a couple of blocks from here. We move in tomorrow.

This time we returned to our hotel room for a bit of a siesta in the late afternoon. Mark took a short nap then played Go on the computer with Tote. I dozed and read the Rick Steves' Paris guidebook. Duncan played a scenario game with French coins, and Maggie spent a good hour talking to imaginary playmates as she made potions with soap and warm water in the glasses at the bathroom sink.

By this time it had rained (we even heard thunder), and stopped, so we shouldered our daypacks and set out to explore the Eiffel Tower and Trocadero area on a Friday evening. It was much more crowded with tourists than it had been this morning, but we enjoyed the spectacle, then returned to our neighborhood and went out to dinner at Bistro de Papa - the same place we enjoyed so much last night on our arrival in Paris. The mussels in cream I highly recommend! -- Monica

My crepe was like a thin pancake with ham and melted cheese in it. It was really cool because the guy made it on what looked like a Mongolian Barbeque grill. I thought it was very funny, because Dad was trying to speak French to the guy making the crepe, but it turned out the guy could speak English. (That's like in Harry Potter.) -- Maggie

Contrary to what I expected, everyone I have talked to has been very, very helpful, friendly, and polite. So far trying to figure things out -- from the simple (Where can I buy a phone card?) to the complicated (I'd like to rent an apartment for two weeks) -- has gone smoothly. It is embarrassing when French converts one from a reasonably articulate human into an illiterate boob. Nonetheless it's fun to try to communicate and, for the most part, to succeed. -- Mark

November 4 - Paris -

Monica: What's the name of that guy who is pointing in the picture? He's famous. You know him.
Mark: God? By Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel?
Monica: That's it. That's what I was thinking of.
Duncan: No it's not god. It's Babe Ruth who's famous for pointing.

Tonight, Tote ate a snail. That's a sight I never thought I would witness. He cannot deny it. We all saw him do it. The "snail" was actually a sea creature, not a true escargot, but that doesn't detract from the moment. The creature had a grotesque, twisted shape and bizarre lengths of flesh sticking out here and there -- at least as repulsive as a snail. Perhaps he is getting more adventurous, or perhaps the special moment just carried him away.

The moment was a special dinner with nearly ten different kinds of shellfish and some very delicate tasting salmon. Monica, swept away by all the choices in the market, went into some sort of food frenzy at the fish mongers shop. An extraordinary dinner resulted.

For all of the pride Americans take in our consumer economy, the most striking thing about what we have seen so far is what a rotten selection of choices and outlets we have in the States. To folks from the land of malls, chains, and big box stores, the incredible spectrum of foods, clothes, shops, hotels, restaurants, and bars is stunnng. The local food market, not a particularly large one, has a couple entire shops devoted to mushrooms. They display perhaps 15 kinds of wild mushrooms, exotic domestic mushrooms, and common varieties. The cheese shops have dozens of different goat cheeses, along with a wide selection, French and imported, made from cow's milk. There are several cookie shops. The kids, choosing from only a small part of the display, picked from 30 different kinds. There are at least four kinds of butchers -- those selling standard meat (ducks - wild and domestic, plucked and unplucked, rabbits, chickens, pheasants - plucked and unplucked, beef, lamb, pork), those selling grilled meat (nearly all of the above), horse butchers, and specialists in sweetmeats (imagine a whole shop!). I have never seen so many shellfish. There are shops devoted to oysters. A single fish shop displays eight kinds of salmon, five kinds of crab, three kinds of mussels, and an incredible number of fish. Though I haven't done an exhaustive survey, I know there are at least five shops devoted to baked goods within three blocks of our apartment. Everything looks fresh, and what we have tasted has been delicious.

The range of choices is not restricted to food. Nearly every block has a couple clothes shops, groceries, restaurants, cafes, and bars. There is a hotel on nearly every block, and we are not in a very "touristy" part of town. I am not a great shopper, but I am genuinely fascinated by the incredible variety of things available here and, correspondingly, by how sterile our choices are in the States. (Everyone knows that I think the automobile is the main culprit in the destruction of neighborhoods - physical and social - and the creation of pollution. I hadn't realized until now what the automobile has done to narrow our choice of consumer goods. Don't tell anyone, but instead of protesting, these folks should thank heaven for high petrol prices.) -- Mark
We moved to our apartment today. It was fun when we down to the Seine, and Maggie was wearing Dad's fleece. The arms were way too long, and she was waddling around. We were drawing with all the artists on the river. I did a watercolor of the wall between the Seine and Notre Dame. Ivy or something was hanging over the edges of the wall and spilling like water into the Seine. It was fun painting, but Mom said it was incomplete because I left out the cathedral. I thought it was just fine. I actually like the vines and the river better - and the cathedral was too detailed. We left Dad's drawing of Notre Dame on a bench. Later, it was gone. -- Duncan

November 5 - Paris - The best thing about being here is the unexpected surprises. On the way to the market this morning, we heard change ringing announcing mass at the local church. Yesterday at Notre Dame, we met a gentleman who knows the names of all the Cathedral's cats, because he feeds them every day. (Being able to "converse" with him in my rudimentary French was also wonderful.) When I find I don't have enough money at the bakery, madame tells me to take my bread, eat breakfast, and come back later with the money.

Today, after the market, we walked over to the Rodin Museum. We did the basic museum tour and then sketched in the garden. I did my second sketch in twenty years. (Unfortunately, it looks like it, too.) On the way home, we had an intriguing discussion about the virtues and drawbacks of charcoal, drawing from life vs. drawing from one's imagination, why art that depicts reality is boring vs. why it is exciting, whether art is a process or a product, and impressionism vs. realism. Then we all took a nap. -- Mark

I thought the Rodin Museum itself was very unimpressive. I think it would be better, if the gardens were more overgrown. The gardens are very trimmed with cone-shaped trees and neat hedges. The building is not impressive, because it's just kind of a rectangle with windows. The garden was big, and it would seem like the house should be rich, but the house was just plain.

I was impressed by Rodin's sculptures. I liked how he sculpted hands. They're not the way other sculptors put them. Maybe I just haven't noticed other sculptures, but I think Rodin really did a good job with the hands. When I looked at one of his sculptures of big hands, I noticed it. Later, after Maggie turned one of the sculptures around, I started to notice the hands more. I don't think other sculptors do the hands as well. Rodin really paid attention to hands and made them in really expressive poses and positions. Not just in the sculptures that feature hands but in all his best ones. -- Tote

I like siestas because we have some quiet. It's nice because normally you get tired in the middle of the day, so it's nice to come home and just lounge around a bit. -- Duncan

Tote: Notre Dame wasn't that amazing. Everything I heard about it made me think it would be so big. It wasn't so big. It kinda looked like a normal cathedral. I liked all the flying buttresses. But when our guidebook talked about how the gothic way could make the buildings higher, I expected it to be higher. We haven't been inside yet though.
Duncan: Even the church we saw today next to the fountain at the Pompidou Center, seemed bigger. It seemed really medieval!
Tote: I liked St. Eustace, there were loads of flying buttresses. It looked bigger than Notre Dame, too.

November 6 - Paris -

Monica: You know, when you drink cheap, red wine, it's cheap and it's red and it's wine.
Tote: Travelogue!

November 7- Paris -

(At Museé d'Orsay)
Mark: Yes, Degas started like this. See this - a pretty classic composition, attention in the center of the canvas, broad brush strokes, but the lighting is what you would expect. But look at this one! This is how he ended up.
Duncan: Really? He wore a tutu?

Today we went to the Museé d'Orsay. We saw lots of statues. My favorite was two Africans fighting a crocodile. There was a person thrusting a spear down the crocodile's throat and another African escaping holding two human infants. I liked a lot of other statues, like a lifesize polar bear and two gladiators fighting. There was so much to see, we will probably go back. -- Tote

I wanted to see two of Monet's biggest paintings. I was so excited, because Monet is my favorite. I did not see them, because that exhibit is closed. But one of the good things we saw was a boy named Matthew. We saw him in a playground once at the museum that had all the tapestries. We saw him again at the art museum. -- Maggie

We went to the Museé d'Orsay today. There is a cool polar bear statue and some great art nouveau. Tote and I have started some young, to-be civilizations, complete with unique writtten languages and record books. Some statues at the Orsay were very like Greek statues at the British Museum. At the Louvre, they have a cool elevator open to the air, as if on a rising pillar. Around the elevator is a huge spiral staircase. Tote and I walked up the spiral staircase slowly to admire the elevator. -- Duncan

Our meal pattern, initiated at youth hostels along the Highland Way, is that Maggie sets the table. I prepare the meal. Mark and Maggie clear the table and sweep or vacuum the floor. The boys wash and dry the dishes. In general . . . so far on the trip . . . Mark arranges accomodations and transportation, and I'm mostly in charge of food, health, and hygiene. -- Monica

Tote's snail adventure does not indicate that he has suddenly become a happy gourmet. Tonight, a morsel of blue cheese actually left him with tears streaming down his cheeks. When he regained the power of speech, he announced he will never eat anything with mold on it again. To his enormous credit, he did try the cheese in the first place. -- Mark

November 8 - Paris - Sacre Coeur glowed in the night. Paris spread out below like a glittering, long, flowing skirt. It was hushed and drizzly in the contented dusk. We joined the scattered folk within the church to hear mass and listen to the nuns sing hymns in French.

I am especially enjoying the sense of calm that Paris exudes. Here we are in a busy cosmopolitan city, but I am amazed by how personable, relaxed, and quiet it is. -- Monica

I've become a regular churchgoer. This morning we took a tour of Notre-Dame with a volunteer guide. In the evening, we attended mass at Sacre Coeur. Opening the door to leave, and seeing the lights of Paris spread out below was startling. In the midst of the exiting crowd, a woman stood on the top step with a fellow on his knees before her. We could see the bright flash of a ring and, later, their rather confused, but happy, expressions. (Good spot; Bad timing!)

Le Monde today devoted its headline, and several pages inside, to the American election, even including a map of the U.S. showing who captured which states and the electoral votes. Anyone know who the President of France is? -- Mark

November 9 - Paris - I saw a cute little dog named Pepito when we were walking along the Seine. The dog was wearing a winter vest. The vest was plaid. He looked really cute. My mom and the lady knew that it was impossible to take a picture of the soft, white, curly, fluffed dog, because he was running around. I could barely keep up with the dog, because the dog kept stopping and starting and stopping and starting again. -- Maggie

Today's France Soir carries a front page photo of Hillary Clinton. Inside, there are five or six stories about the American elections and a column entitled "An Electoral Farce." I have time to read it while we get haircuts. These coiffeur fellows are personable but very serious about their work. Unlike in an American barbershop, there was nobody chatting about sports or the weather or anything at all. -- Mark

I'm sitting in our livingroom/dining room/children's bedroom in our apartment in Paris, very close to the Eiffel Tower. The large french (hah!) doors to our tiny balcony are open, letting in fresh, cool breezes. The sun is shining; the sky is blue. This is a welcome change from the last two gray, drizzly days and evenings. I hear the children playing at recess from the nearby school. I hear the cars and strollers and chattering shoppers on the street four stories below.

Today we slept in. I didn't get up until 9:00! Our children had just awakened, but Mark was up responding to "business" e-mails. We enjoyed breakfast. Then Mark took the kids out for haircuts. This afternoon we are going to walk over to the Bois de Boulogne. -- Monica

November 10 - Paris - Today we saw the French war memorial known as the Arc de Triumph. Then we walked down a big, famous street called the Champs Elysee. We stopped at a little park for lunch. When we sat down to eat, a ton of pigeons and sparrows came to eat all the crumbs. We discovered that if we held out a a piece of baguette about a foot above pigeon level, a sparrow would - after gaining confidence - fly up, hover like a hummingbird, place his claws on your bread or hand and nibble for a few seconds before flying back. Sparrows will fight to get that beak's worth of bread -- Duncan

November 11 - Paris - At Marche aux Puces de Ouen, Tote found a great statue of a camel and a rider. He was prepared to offer as much as 30 francs for it. When Tote asked the price, the seller told him it was 12,000 francs. Tote politely but calmly said, "Non. Merci." -- Monica

Walking in cities, I often feel as if I were one of a set of Siamese quintuplets. -- Mark

While we were at what they say is the largest flea market in the world, we saw the police in action. The people going to the market jammed the sidewalks and the intersections. We heard sirens and saw lots of police cars weaving and careening against traffic. We saw a regular person run up to a policeman who was directing traffic and help him move cars out of a side street. Then we noticed that the "regular person" had a concealed walkie talkie and, when a particular car freed itself from the side street, he jumped in and raced off after all the other police cars. After that, we saw several other plainclothes police guys racing around. A squad of policemen ran through a parking lot rather than trying to push their way through the crowd. -- Tote

I got hot chestnuts from a guy who was making them on the street. I gave the guy 10 francs, and he gave me the hot chestnuts in a little bag. They tasted like potatoes with a tint of sugar in them. They were good. I want to get more. -- Maggie

November 12 - Paris - Monica and I ran down to the Latin Quarter and returned along the left bank of the Seine. Nice to run on empty streets. Along the Seine, the roads are closed every Sunday. Tote went down to purchase breakfast at the bakery; he's getting good at it. Just as we sat down, we heard the sound of an organ grinder in the street. The kids threw change from the balcony (imperiling parked cars.) In mid-morning, Monica and I shopped in the market. By the time we returned, the day had turned from gray to gray and rainy. A good day for schoolwork and a nap. In the evening we walked over to Notre Dame for an organ recital.

I never thought I would describe a gothic cathedral, particularly this one, as being warm. Yet, full of people, the church felt warm, and the scale, more human. The organ music seemed to come from everywhere at once or from nowhere - surrounding us and filling every space. The range of sounds a pipe organ can make is unbelievable. Sometimes it seemed as if we were listening to lovers in a meadow on a warm day and then moments later, to the suffering of the damned. -- Mark
The cathedral was slightly smokey from incense. The organ was beautiful. It can make almost any sound. I liked the "improvisation" the best. It had alot of high sounds that sound like the flute. I liked that best. -- Tote

November 13 - Paris - Today, we went to the Louvre. We drew pictures of our favorite things and gave tours to each other. Tote and I had a great tour planned, but we were on a harsh time limit. When we started Maggie's tour, she was already scared the museum would close, and we would get locked in. Our trip ended earlier than expected when our tour guide led us out of the museum and into the Metro! -- Duncan

Yeah, the time limit was twenty minutes, and the boys' tour lasted two hours. -- Monica

At the Louvre (the famous museum with the Mona Lisa), we separated and went to different places. Duncan and I went to the ancient civilizations' artifacts. The collections were not as good as those at the British Museum. After that we met back with everyone. We each had drawings to show each other. We also ate chocolate mousse. While we ate, Dad taught me how to draw by saying to draw the form and just sketch it. You can detail it later. Now I am much better at drawing humans. When Duncan and I led our tour, it took so long because Mom and Dad dawdled. -- Tote

I liked the guys on the subway with the violin and the guitar. My favorite guy was the guy with the flute that we saw before. There's also guitars and accordians. I like Paris music. -- Maggie

Notes on watching people in the Louvre: 1) there are no ugly or fat French people between the ages of 15 and 30; 2) I bet that more than half the people at the Louvre are lost at any one time; 3) if someone is wearing a Burberry scarf, chances are good the person is French. -- Mark

If not a scarf, it's a Burberry plaid umbrella, coat lining, hat, skirt, purse, or shawl. -- Monica

November 14 - Paris

Maggie: This cheese smells bad; it looks funny; and it tastes gross.

It rained while we were in Musee d'Orsay. We ate lunch on a bench in the middle of the Solferino Bridge. Downstream, and behind us, stacks of cumulus clouds glowed, illuminated by a sun that we couldn't see. Upstream, the sky was slate black. The wooden deck of the pedestrian bridge glistened in the sunlight like the deck of a boat - its ridges, fine, absolutely white lines. The plane trees lining the River Seine, electric yellow. Notre Dame, starkly white, set the whole sky on its heels - can a sky really be so dark? Can old stone really be so bright? Above the Louvre, I could discern a faint rainbow. -- Mark

Are the Louvre and the Orsay in a competition to confuse visitors? The Orsay's map shows the floors in this order: bottom, top, and middle. Although I assumed that meant three levels, all the signs refer to six levels. There is also something odd about a museum that devotes a football field or two to The Art and Sculpture of the Third Republic and stuffs some of the most famous impressionist paintings into a room too small for a ping pong table and tucks others behind posts. How can you appreciate pointillism from 5 feet away? -- Monica

November 15 - Paris -- We went up to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower by foot. Duncan and I decided to go to the very top by elevator. It's 900 feet high. Everything was so small it looked like a toy set. Our park had little winding paths and places we didn't know about. -- Tote

Monica is starting to find her way around this place. Her command of the Metro is unerring, and she has gone a full 24 hours without commenting on the dog poop on the sidewalk. -- Mark

November 16 - Paris -- The gardens of Versailles were the fanciest park I've ever been in. (There are only 300 fountains left from the orginal 1500.) Autumn trees, grottos and pavilions filled the park. Lots of the park was symmetrical and cut hedges and trees. The part I liked best was the winding and random part. We found places where it looked like druids had been and others where we thought there should be treasure or dead. I liked running along the wet, wild paths and over small stone bridges with Tote and my heels. The palace was small and insignificant compared to the grandeur of the gardens. -- Duncan

Tote: How many crepes did you buy last time?
Mark: About ten.
Tote: Then I think I should buy 20.
Mark: You don't need to get so many at one time. You can get more tomorrow, and they'll be fresh.
Tote: But we want them for breakfast today.
Mark: You're going to eat 20 crepes for one breakfast?!
Tote: Yeah. Why not? We have twice as much chocolate stuff this time.

When Monica and I visited Versailles the first time, we didn't have the money for tickets to the palace. Instead we spent our day smooching in the wonderful (and free!) gardens. This time we made the mistake of paying for tickets to the palace. I don't think I've spent so much to be so bored since law school. This 17th century Graceland makes the Smithsonian's famous collection of the gowns of the First Ladies seem downright scintillating.

Today is the third Thursday of November -- a day that brings decorations and balloons to every place associated with food - restaurants, butcher stores, and even the supermarket - to celebrate the arrival of Nouveau Beaujolais. We bought a bottle for what amounts to $2.50, just to be part of the whole thing. Great.

A park policeman at Versailles rescued me today. I've been a bit discouraged on the French language front. The first few days I was ecstatic that I could communicate at all. After nearly two weeks here, I find it frustrating that I understand only a fraction of conversations and can only respond in French that is a moron's brew of inappropriate verb tenses, pronouns, and articles. While we stood in Marie Antoinette's "peasant village," waiting for Maggie to use the private bathroom in his office, he corrected my French instructions to Maggie on the need to say "hello," and then spent some time chatting with me. He asked about our trip, told me about his vacation plans, and told me that it was pretty nice to spend his day in a lovely "village" in an uncrowded park. I imagine he spoke slowly for my benefit, and sometimes I had a couple false starts getting a thought out. But it was fun again.

More wonders of the modern world. I received a notice from the IRS at Earthlaw's former office at University of Denver. It was forwarded to our home address, then to DeKalb, Illinois. There it was scanned and e-mailed to me in Paris. I e-mailed it to Nancy, Earthlaw's former administrator, who is working in Antarctica. Yesterday, she faxed it to the payroll service in Denver via her phone connection to Seattle. Wild. -- Mark

Monica: Look at this piece of blue cheese!
Tote: That looks like our compost pile.
Duncan: It's fuzzy!
(To his credit, Tote tried it again. This time no tears -- only gagging sounds)

November 17 - Paris -- I liked Shakespeare bookstore, because it had The Hobbit as a comic book. What I thought was also neat about that bookstore was that the writers stayed on top of the place and wrote up there. If I lived up there, I would bring a chair downstairs and read all day. -- Maggie

The first thing I noticed when I came into St. Chapelle was that the roof was painted with stars. I said to Dad this is best small chapel, the one on the hill was the best medium chapel, and St. Paul's was the best big church. Dad replied, "I'm glad you like it. I need to show you a secret about it." I followed him up a small spiral staircase. Around the walls of the small staircase there were arrow loops. (They might have been for lights, but they looked like arrow loops). When we got to the top floor, the ceiling was painted in blue with white stars, and the walls were taken up completely with huge panels of stained galss. Dad explained how they didn't need the walls to be that strong, because they had buttresses on the outside to support the arch. The outside wasn't as cool as I thought it might be. It had no flying buttresses, just regular thick ones and just a small spire. -- Tote

Duncan: There's a dictionary on Dad's computer, but it doesn't have pronounciations.
Monica: That's okay. It's English. I can pronounciate it.

Yesterday we toured and drew in little Saint-Chapelle. It was so pretty and quiet. It's interesting that it took only 5 years to build in the mid-1200's, and it was Louis IX's little church, attached to his palace. Afterwards we traipsed around the Marais neighborhood in the dusky drizzle, before ducking into bookstores around Boul St. Michel. When we got home, we did what all good Americans do on a Friday night, we ordered pizza! -- Monica

November 18 - Paris -- I'm sitting in bed with five pillows, a glass of white wine, and classical music on the radio. It's Saturday afternoon, the sun sometimes bursts through the clouds spilling onto my blue comforter. I'm warm in bed reading about art. Maggie is in the other room, playing with cockle shells and painting watercolors. Mark and the boys have gone out to a bookstore and to do some planning about the next stage of our trip. I cannot understand what the radio announcer is saying but her voice is beautiful, warm, and rich. -- Monica

I finished two books today. They were Stuart Little and Paddington. Stuart didn't find Margalo. I was sad that he didn't find Margalo because they were friends. Now I am reading The Five Children and It. -- Maggie

My great secret fear is that we will get taken advantage of and not be able to fix it. Yesterday, in doing the bookeeping, I discovered we had been charged $271 for two books that should have cost around $30. We had been charged in Euros instead of in Francs. This was something we had been warned about in Ireland and which I should have noticed. So, I packed up the receipts, the books, and the boys and headed over to try to straighten things out. I imagined an embarrassing mess as I tried to explain in my comical French what the problem was and received blank stares, or worse, derisive laughter in response.

I walked in and asked for a manager. The woman at the information counter immediately called a middle-aged, tough-looking woman over. The woman glanced at the receipts, muttered the date to herself, and asked me to wait a moment. She returned with a xerox of my charge slip. On the xerox were notes of phone calls that they had made. She asked, "English, French, or Italian?" I said "English." In English, she apologized for the error and explained that the store had caught the error several days ago, had called the bank to get the matter corrected, and had also tried to get my phone number from the bank so that they could call me and explain. "Your bank was not very helpful, but we succeeded in getting the charge corrected." She then apologized again. I was so stunned, all I could mutter was "Merci beaucoup, Madam. Au revoir" and smile. -- Mark

November 19 - Paris -- I have really enjoyed the runs I have taken with Mark along the Seine. All but once, the children have remained at home watching cartoons in French. Our Sunday runs have been longer, the streets are empty, and we feel we have Paris to ourselves. A few mornings, I have run by myself at the Champs du Mars, beneath the Eiffel Tower. I've especially liked these runs, because they're short, quiet, close to home, in a park, and in the shadow (if the sun were ever shining) the Eiffel Tower. -- Monica

The park we went to today, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, was my favorite park of the trip. This is mainly because we could actually walk on the grass. It had a giant fake mountain in the middle, a suspension bridge, and a giant fake bat cave. -- Duncan

Maggie often plays games with little things - shells, markers, marbles, or whatever else is at hand. The little items become people that talk to each other. Today, I can hear that Maggie is making them talk to each other in sounds that must be her version of French. -- Mark

November 20 - Paris -- The sleeper was much more compact than on Amtrak, but it was comfortable. There were two triple bunks in our compartment. When we first got there, we were all in each others' way. Some of us had to step outside, until the others got settled. It was fun looking out the window watching Paris go away, and as we passed little towns you could see little houses. It was fun watching the silhouettes of the land because the sky was never black. You could tell when there was a big hill or tree. -- Duncan

Mark: Tote, what are you doing?
Tote: Sulking.
Mark: How's that going?
Tote: Pretty good.
Mark: Going to be done soon?
Tote: Probably.

We were ready to leave Paris this morning at 11 AM. Unfortunately, our train to Madrid wasn't ready to leave until 11 PM. I took care of some of the standard things that build up over a trip and a couple things to get ready for the next leg. I bought packages and mailed pamphlets, maps, journals, drawings, and other extra stuff back home. I also changed some money into pesetas, settled up our electric and phone bills, read up on hotels in Madrid, and tried unsuccessfully to call Tangier to make a hotel reservation. The kids worked on math and writing for a couple hours and then rattled around the apartment waiting to leave.

One adjustment I have made to traveling is adjusting the amount of embarrassment I am willing to tolerate. When we started, in England, I knew we would need to ask some stupid questions and bumble a bit. Nonetheless I tried not to ask questions that might be deemed really stupid, because I was ready to appear a boob only to a certain degree. In Scotland and Ireland, where the English is sometimes only barely comprehensible, I had evolved into a medium boob. Once in Scotland, after spending several minutes in conversation with a policeman while trying to find a place to eat, I had no idea whether he had suggested eating in a casino or told me that he couldn't think of a spot anywhere nearby. Unwilling to appear a complete idiot, I had often nodded when I should have said, "What? I don't understand a single word. Would you say that again?" about 50 times. In France, I made the transition from being comfortable being an occasional boob to my new persona as foreign mental defective. "Can I buy cream here?," asked at the Creamerie. Or struggling to find out when the organ recitals were at Notre Dame and receiving an explanation and correction in French, only to discover, when I asked the same person where the toilets were, that she spoke perfect English.

I am now on the brink of the final transition. We are about to head to Spain, where the language might be familiar but is nonetheless completely beyond us. I am ready to give up my view of myself as a sentient adult and become a babbling, finger-jabbing, baffled tourist.

To amuse myself at the busy rue Cler Post Office, I counted the number of women who turned up without scarves. Whether it is possible to be female, French, and scarfless is a matter of great interest to Monica and me. One morning, while Monica and I ran, we passed a woman who had topped off her otherwise standard running togs with a scarf. This triggered my research into the great French scarf addiction. At the Post Office, I observed 22 total woman. 22 wore scarves. None were scarfless. -- Mark

November 21 - Madrid -- At first I didn't like dinner, because everything was like toast with food on it. The garlic one and the sausages tasted good. The cheese one tasted too much like blue cheese. The ham one tasted too much like fish. The tomato one tasted too much like tomatoes. I decided not to try the anchovy one. Then we ordered chicken with potatoes which I loved, because the chicken was really hot. I put olive oil and salt on my potatoes, and they were great. And then came dessert. Dessert was the best part, because my dessert was a lemon that had the inside taken out and lemon sherbet put in and frozen. That's what I got. Duncan got an ice cream thing like a cake piece and that tasted good. Then Tote got vanilla ice cream with a layer of whipped cream and on the very top and bottom were hard frosting. -- Maggie

We took two trains to get from Paris to Madrid. In the first train we had a sleeper. The sleeper had triple decker beds. The second was a normal train. Spain looked surprisingly like Colorado. When the train stopped, we took the metro to the area near the Palace Hotel. Duncan, Mom, and I waited while Dad and Maggie found our hotel. Tomorrow we go to an art museum. I really want to see Spanish art, especially the battle scenes. -- Tote

I remember being in Madrid with Mark twenty years ago. We were here for a very short time; mainly we saw the art in del Prado, walked the cobblestone streets, ate tapas, and drank red wine in tiny glasses we would use as juice glasses. Being here again brought back the delight I felt then of walking around at dusk along narrow, cobblestone streets, coming to a plaza at the end of a few blocks. The old buildings with little balconies tower over the shops selling specialty meats or cheese and eggs or sweets or cigarettes. It's quieter and darker than Paris. -- Monica

There are at least 6 internet places within 100 meters of Puerta del Sol - that's more than we've seen in any other city. -- Mark

November 22 - Madrid -- At the Prado, we each had a part of the museum. We looked at all of our rooms, picked our favorite piece of art, and picked four pieces of art that had something in common. At 4:30 we got together to show each other our favorites and have the others guess what was in common among the four pictures. When I had finished looking at my rooms and was done picking my four paintings, I still had a lot of time to look around the museum. While I was looking around on the basement level, I found an open vault door. Inside I thought it would have the crown jewels of Spain or a very valuable painting. But when I looked in the door, I saw chalices, fancy plates, and little, intricate boxes. My favorite thing in the room was a chalice. The chalice was red, sharp-edged, with an eagle's head on the top. I could picture it sitting next to the king's plate. Overall, the Prado was a lot smaller than I had pictured it, but most of the artwork was better than the art at Musee d'Orsay. I didn't know any of the artists at the Prado. I didn't really like the Impressionists at Musee d'Orsay except for a few things. Though the sculpture was better at d'Orsay. -- Tote

The Prado was much better than the Musee d'Orsay but not better than the Louvre. I liked all the artifacts at the Louvre. In that it was like the British Museum. The paintings at the Prado had much more action and were much more realistic than those at d'Orsay. I liked that much better than Musee d'Orsay which were often just the boring classics. -- Duncan

All the pictures in the museum were scary, except I liked the pish posh Heironomyus Bosh. I liked all the machines in that picture. On the dark side of the painting, there was a pig wearing a nun's hat and kissing a guy. There were lots of scary things. Where Tote was, he found the only impressionist painting in the whole museum. It looked like a mouse coming out of a hole, but it was supposed to be a dog.

The first day in a new place is scary because you don't know what they are saying or where things are. But the next day is easy, because you know where to go. Like how to get back. The streets here are like alleys but still people come down them in their cars. There are places to eat and stay, but not internet cafes - those are mostly on the main streets. -- Maggie

November 23 - Madrid to Tangier -- This is the first country that seems really different. England just had different accents and royalty. France is an art center and really rich but pretty normal. Here we've already seen a lot of different things. The religion is primarily islamic. We didn't really know too much about that before. They have calls to prayer very often. Architecturally it's really different, too. All the buildings have terraces on the top. Our Denver house is like one big box with a pointy lid. The buildings here look like a bunch of boxes of different sizes combined at different angles. The streets are very windy. Some of them are straight, but those aren't in the Medina. It's dirtier, and there's a lot more trash. In the market there was trash and wasted food everywhere. The language sounds much different, too. You can really tell we're in foreign country. -- Duncan

After reading the guidebooks and talking to people, we were thoroughly braced for the onslaught of hustlers and "guides" we encountered when we arrived in Tangier. It wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. Following the advice of all the guidebooks, we had a taxi take us to the Hotel Continental. It sits on a hill above the port at the end of some baffling, narrow, branching, and windy streets. The taxi driver took us on an unrequested tour of the city and, though Mark and the driver agreed on the fare before we started, I could tell they were arguing about it again during the ride. Mark told me later that he was afraid the guy would drop the five of us off in some indecipherable spot in the dark, so Mark just stopped arguing. When we got to the hotel, after going the wrong way down a one way street, just avoiding a toppled basket of tomatoes, and nearly smashing an old woman against the wall, Mark paid the fare they had agreed upon. The driver smiled and said "Merci." It was already dark, so after getting settled, we walked over to a classy Moroccan restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. Getting there was an adventure. -- Monica

We went to a restaurant and got a really good soup and other stuff, like rice, couscous and meat and vegetables. But then, it looked like we were going to leave, and one of the waiters came up with a silver teapot and poured me a cup of tea and then poured it back in to cool. Then I started smiling when I thought it was mint tea from the color. Then I took a sip, and it was mint tea and it was really sweet. It was even better than I thought it would be. -- Maggie

Our Thanksgiving was memorable, but mainly because we weren't mugged or seriously lost on our way to eat it in Tangier. Imagine a dark night in Morocco. That shouldn't be hard; it's just like in the movies. We are staying in a hotel in the midst of those dark, tangled, and narrow streets. As you might suspect, our map is useless, and pulling out a map will draw hustlers from blocks around. (Taking a step draws hustlers from blocks around.) As we walk out the door, a hustler starts hitting on us and won't go away despite our polite request. When we won't have anything to do with him, he starts telling us that every potential turn leads to a "dangerous place" or a "very dangerous place." When we take one of the turns he advised against (which was easy since he advised against all of them), he starts yelling that it is a very, very dangerous way to go. This terrifies Maggie. I confess it also disturbs me, since I have only the vaguest idea of where I am, and he might very well be right. Despite the "help," we arrived safe and sound at the restaurant and had a wonderful meal and a genuinely thankful time. -- Mark

November 24 - Tangier to Chefchaouen -- I thought it was fun when the bus didn't start working again, so we could play outside. There was a creek, so I was throwing rocks in the creek with Mom. They called another bus to help us out. That bus had trouble starting, too. When we got here, we pulled out all the luggage on both sides, but ours was stuck in the middle. The guys helped us get it out. We walked up a hill and then, when it looked like it was flat, it was still a hill. -- Maggie

We took a bus to Chefchaouen. The bus broke down twice - first, in a station and the last was on the side of the road. We stayed by the road until it got dark. A bus came to pick us up. Our luggage was maked in the middle and a bus station man used matches and lighters, because we had no flashlight. When he finally got them out, he would let us touch them until we showed him the claim tickets. Chefchaouen is a lot nicer than Tangier, the place we docked. -- Tote

Last night, we stayed in an odd, old hotel. One in which Sidney Greenstreet or William S. Burroughs would seem right at home. Pieces of many different eras are all over the place: inlaid muskets, an old RCA radio, mirrors with sea shells stuck to the frames, and pictures from a Madrid family's Christmas. The staff is a similarly mismatched crew. A solemn (and a little bit scary) bellman type, a Fez-wearing assistant manager, a chubby manager wearing an nicely-tailored suit with neon green running shoes, and maids wearing western style maid aprons over arabic garb. Our room has a white curtain draped artfully on the dark-green wall above the bed.

The kids love this hotel and Tangier. Coming back from a trip to check out the bus station and schedule, I hear Maggie yelling and see her waving to me from a high window which looks out on the port. She was smiling and as happy as she can be. -- Mark

November 25 - Chefchaouen -- Chefchaouen is a relatively small, whitewashed town in a valley of the Rif Mountains. Like many Moroccan cities, it is comprised of an old, old walled town called the medina (this one was built in the late 1400's), and outside the walls, off in one particular direction is the ville nouvelle, built by the French during the time they claimed Morocco as their protectorate (1912-56). We are staying at the Hotel Bab el-Ain right inside one of the medina gates. With two rooms, this tiny one for Mark and me, and the larger one for the children, we appreciate the space up on the terrace (flat roof), for it is a most pleasant place to eat breakfast; read, write, and learn math; drink mint tea and eat sweets staring at the constellations after dark; and hang our laundry out to dry. -- Monica

We had brunch and then got ready for a hike up the closest mountain. On the way we had to go through a dump, but after that, the sight was beautiful. Chefchaouen was all light blue and white. Up higher there was lots of mist. We got hungry, so we came down. We went to a cool restaurant with couches instead of seats. -- Tote

November 26 - Chefchaouen -- I had my favorite dinner so far on the trip - Tajine with prawns. It's a stew with just shrimp and sauce. When the tajine came it was still boiling.-- Tote

November 27 - Chefchaouen -- On Monday and Thursday the Berbers come from the mountains and have a big market. The market was mainly food. I saw a butcher cutting in half a horse's skull and on the floor were deer heads with the fur and horns still on. I was an inch away and the guts were pink with blood all over them. Moroccans just walked past casually. I quickened my pace so I could pass them up. My favorite stalls were the spice ones, because the mounds of spice smelled so good.

After we got home, Duncan and I went up to the terrace and drank tea while we wrote in our journals. While I wrote, we heard a long trumpeting and Duncan and I saw a beautiful sunset with a crescent moon. I will remember that sight forever. -- Tote

Today we went to the Kasbah, a big castle in the center of the old part of town. It had a garden inside it that was so cool. Then we came back and Tote and I are writing and drinking mint tea on the roof terrace. Tonight is the beginning of Ramadan. It is a month of fasting. People cannot eat until after sundown. When the moon came out, people started blowing horns. A man blowing a horn came out of the mineret on the mosque next door and blew a long thin horn. -- Duncan

We could feel the excitement and readiness mounting, everyone preparing for Ramadan. At first I assumed the general feeling concerning Ramadan would be deprivation -- fasting during the daylight hours. However over the past few days, talking with various folks, I have gotten the sense that although it includes depriving oneself in order to renew one's religious understandings and beliefs, it is also an exciting holiday time, one with feasting late into the night, visiting friends, sleeping late, eating special sweets to break the fast each evening - much as we make Christmas cookies only at Christmas time. But this is for a month! -- Monica

November 28 - Chefchaouen -- This place is short on drugs that are legal in the States and awash in illegal ones. It's impossible to buy wine or beer. There is one bar, but I have never seen it open. On the other hand, hashish is everywhere. While waiting for a coffee, the guy standing next to me methodically prepares and then adds a bit extra to his cigarette. He doesn't try to hide anything. No one bats an eye. The guy in the next room over, an ancient Berber, tells me in sign language that his business is hashish. He doesn't try to sell me any. I think he must work only in larger quantities. Constantly cheerful and friendly sort though. -- Mark

November 29 - Chefchaouen --
Monica: Maggie, I wasn't there when you got your robe, so tell me how you did it.
Maggie: I told him all I had was 120. And, he said 150.
Monica: Then what did you say?
Maggie: I just said 120 was all I had and showed it to him. Then he took the money and went and got a bag and gave it to me. That was good, Mom, because he started at 170 when I first went there. Then he went down to 150.

French is spoken a bit in Chefchaouen. Arabic is spoken by almost everyone, but many people speak other languages that they call Moroccan. When I speak French here, many people think I am Canadian. I believe this is because they know enough French to tell I am speaking something like French, but my French is so bad they haven't a clue what I might be trying to say. -- Mark

November 30 - Chefchaouen to Fes -- Daddy and I went to the post office in Chefchaouen. We waited. When it was our turn, they opened our box and looked at it. Then they put everything in a new box. Our Moroccan robes were in our box and things we've found and want to send home. Some of the things were tickets, rocks, and seashells. Spoons from Duncan's collection and coins for Tote's collection were in the box, also. I remember feeling hungry. -- Maggie

Imagine how nervous I was when the postal clerk in one of the world's largest dope producing regions examined each item that went into our Moroccan box and came upon Maggie's carefully wrapped pieces of kelp. (Saved from Ireland.) Fortunately, he didn't bat an eye.

The trip to Fes was suprisingly uneventful. A fight between bus company agents before we left, two searches by customs agents on the road, and a battle involving tire irons between cab drivers once we arrived. (The battles are one of the bad parts of Ramadan.) Unlike the bus ride from Tangier, no problems, scams, or other goofiness, once we were on the bus. Fes is a big city, but by the time we arrive, the streets are empty. Everyone is inside breaking their fast. Our hotel is clean. Big rooms with peeling paint, holes in the bedspreads, and a night attendant who has a horrible hacking cough. I don't mind not having a toilet seat, but it's unexpected. -- Mark

December 2000 (December photos) (back to top)

December 1 - Fes -- Today was our first real day in Fes. We changed hotels, then we went to the medina. On the way a hustler followed us for at least 30 minutes. When Dad told him he wasn't interested, the person kept talking. When Dad said he wanted to talk to his family, the person said that was fine but kept talking. I was so annoyed, so I made a tactic: I walked between Dad and the hustler. It worked partially. He only stopped talking and went away when we stopped for a minute at a corner with a policeman.

The medina was not what I expected. I expected a lot of totally different things . It ended up being so repetitive, so repetitive, so repetitive. I saw more deer heads but they weren't as gross as the ones in Chefchaouen. My favorite part was the bamboo thatch over parts of the walkway. -- Tote

We went to the medina. We thought it would be really good, but I didn't like it. All they had was food and sandals. Well, they had more than that - I'm exaggerating. For dinner, Mom had pigeon with almonds. It was in a crust with sugar and cinnamon on top. It tasted like a dessert. After that we went and got pizza. -- Duncan

Most cities are ugly. Very few are beautiful. Fes is one of the ugly ones.

Fes is really three cities - two very old and one "new." The "new" city was built by the French on a plain adjacent to the old cities. The Ville Nouveau is the ugliest of the three. The sidewalks have holes in them. There is little that is not dirty. The streets, though wide and uncrowded compared to those of American or European cities, are filled with acrid haze. The shops are dirty. In some, the fruit is bruised and spoiling. Narrow spots sometimes reek of excrement. Shells of partially finished buildings, apparently abandoned for years, are all over the place. The overall impression is of decay.

The Ville Nouveau looks best when night conceals most of it. At night the boulevards lined with palms look exotic. The nut wagons glow. The cafes are full, and you can feel some of excitement that always accompanies groups of people.

The old cities are more attractive and more interesting. They appear cleaner, but this may only be because "dirty and new" is more depressing than "dirty and old." The heart of the old cities is the oldest, El Bali. Like the medinas in Tangier and Chefchaouen, the old town is a tangle of tight passages - sometimes as narrow as six feet. The buildings rise several stories above ground level, creating what feels like tiny canyons. These passages are lined by shops of every description - offal to computers to rock posters -- and jammed by people. Every now and then a donkey moves through the mix and people must squirt past sideways.

There is no possibility of finding a particular street in this tangle. There are supposedly 9000 ways, alleys, and dead ends -- that's a number that seems right. No map could be useful. Even if some could draw a complete one, it would be impossible to look at in the press of people. We navigate by noting the currents in the crowd and whether we are going uphill or downhill. Away from the main gate is downhill. The stronger currents are on the "main" paths and head toward one gate or another. With the practice we got living in the small medina in Chefchaouen, we can actually navigate. In fact, the boys lead us out of the maze without a misstep.

Tourists standing at the enormous, blue-tiled main gate and looking into the currents of strange people sweeping shoulder to shoulder through this maze must feel like they are about to leap into a dark, dangerous torrent. This feeling is reinforced by the "guides" who swarm around tourists, proclaiming that the old city is very, very dangerous without a guide and that tourists are certain to get lost. If you decline the "help," they either follow along anyway commenting continuously on how dreadfully dangerous the course you are on is or stop and shout obscenities in whatever language they think you speak.

For us the old town is no longer different enough to be frightening. We've walked through the medina in Tangier and lived in one in Chefchaouen. Fes is certainly larger and more complex, but the differences are of degree. We see some different things for sale, glance inside several mosques, and are followed by a particularly obnoxious "guide" for ahwile, but we never feel "lost" or scared or particularly excited or in a panic. And that is a shame`. -- Mark

December 2- Fes -- In the morning, it was rainy and dreary. We played some games in our room. Then we went downstairs to play math. Math is a boring game. Tote and Maggie had a race for multiplication facts. Though Maggie didn't win, she got close to Tote's score. She was laughing hysterically. Probably the reason she didn't win was because she couldn't say anything through her laughs. We played it in a room with four big pillars and tiled and mirrored walls and mosaic patterns on the ceiling. It has couches along the whole outside with embroidery. There are cool lamps. They have ornate bronze covers inset with red and white glass. Then Dad, Tote, and I went to the train station to ask about the train to Asilah. Then we went to an internet cafe, and while Dad did stuff with e-mail and train schedules, we looked up Star Wars stuff. -- Duncan

December 3 - Fes to Asilah -- I thought the guy who came up to us when we got off the train was the bus driver, because he was bringing us to the car. But he just got in the back with Dad, and he wasn't the driver. He was a tour guide kind of person. When we got to town, he wouldn't go away for a long time.

We liked building sand castles on the beach. We built a trench in front of the sand castles so the water wouldn't get there. In front of that was a wall and another ditch in front of the wall. The water almost reached the top of the wall but missed. It was fun watching and testing the strength of the waves by running up with them. -- Maggie

Maggie is a big fan of the nut vendors in Fes. Paper cones of salted pumpkins seeds sell for 1 dirham, about a dime. Maggie loves the pumpkin seeds and finds the paper cones fascinating. Yesterday, Maggie's cones were made from an advertisement for television sets in French and someone's arabic homework with corrections. Maggie treats the cones like the prizes in Cracker Jacks.

Early this morning, on our way to the train station, Maggie asked whether her favorite nut vendor would be there in five years. (Don't ask me what's behind these questions.) Her questions made me consider why the nut vendor was there at all. (Not to mention the 8 or 9 other carts within two blocks of him.) I think the answer is that men here live in the street and cafes much more than Americans can imagine. They nurse 4 ounces of tea or coffee for hours. They walk the streets. They play cards. They buy snacks and cigarettes singly from a vendor rather than buying a sack or carton from a grocery store. They eat and smoke outside with friends. They don't drive home and eat a bowlful in their private rec room. -- Mark

Hustler: American? English?
Mark: Canadian.
Hustler: Where you from?
Mark: Mooselips, Ontario.
Hustler: Mooselips? I have lots of friends there.

December 4 - Asilah -- We went to the beach. We built a giant drizzle castle with walls a foot thick. It was designed to withstand any bombardment by the sea. It even had rocks built into its walls. The beach was really shallow way out. So to ride the waves we had to start on our knees. -- Duncan

(On the walk back from the beach)
Moroccan youth: Speak English?
Mark: Yes.
Youth: Swimming?
Duncan & Tote: Yes.
Youth: Water cold?
Tote: Not too bad.
Youth: Scandinavian?

Early in the day Maggie and I strolled in the old part of Asilah. Unlike other medinas, the streets are wide and empty and spotless. Many old houses are now holiday homes and are empty this time of year. The whitewashed walls reflected the brilliant, cool morning light. Green, blue, and red doors and shutters glowed. The brooms of the street cleaners made soft scratching sounds. Every now and then, when we turned a corner, we found a mural. We stood on the look out and watched the waves crash into the rocks at the base of the town wall. Maggie spotted a dead dog on the rocks. -- Mark

December 5 - Asilah -- Asilah is a pretty seaside fishing village. The guidebooks say lots of European and Moroccan tourists come here to the beaches in season. Right now, we have a double whammy - off-season and Ramadan. Because it is Ramadan, we are uncomfortable eating out during the daylight hours, even if we could find a place that would serve food. We buy food the night before and eat it out of sight. -- Monica

The Moroccan Army has olive drab Arab robes. At 4:30 AM someone walks the streets beating a drum to awaken people, so they can eat before the fast begins at sunrise. During Ramadan, sunrise and sunset are signaled with an air raid siren. At 5:20 PM, sunset, the streets are absolutely empty - everyone is eating soup. We ate at a curious restaurant under the trees next to the old Portugese walls. The owner runs up and down the street to buy the things that we order from his menu -- soup at the corner, a bottle of water from the neighboring store, coffee from a cafe in the other direction. We're not the only customers, so he and his staff do a great deal of running around. Great entertainment. -- Mark

December 6 - Asilah to Sevilla, Spain -- Take the old town of Fes and the old part of Madrid, mix them together, add a pinch of out of control gothic architecture, eliminate any poor people, and steam clean the whole thing. That's Sevilla. After negotiating to get the legally mandated taxi fare to Tangier, dodging the hustlers around the ferry terminal, dickering over the exchange rate for our ferry tickets, passing through customs, being led out of the "secured" customs area of the terminal by an ambiguous official, passing the hustlers again, and walking onto a filthy ferry retired by another ferry line but now with an Arabic name painted on the front and a mosque aboard, we sail to Spain. There we climb onto a spotless bus, see whitewhashed hilltop towns, stop at a tidy station, pick up a free tourist map, and here we are in Disneyland. -- Mark

I haven't seen anything like Sevilla my whole life. It is the most amazing thing on the trip so far. -- Monica

December 7- Sevilla -- You can pick oranges off the trees, the buses emit no discernable exhaust, and all the pigeons are white. How do they do this? -- Mark

We went to a bullfighting school. It was so cool. There are three people in a bullfight. People on horseback that weaken the bull. Then the people who stick javelins in the bull's back to keep his head down. And then the matador comes and uses his cape and plays with the bull. When the bull is tired, the matador thrusts a sword into the bull and kills it. -- Tote

Lunch was another great meal - in a crowded, bustling, lively, loud restaurant. People were eating their main meal of the day. Several families and groups at tables looked like they had been there long before we arrived, and were still fully into their meals when we left a good hour and a half later. (What a pleasant and happy change from Ramadan in Morocco!)

I found Morocco exotic and very interesting. I was always swept away by the calls to prayer, anytime, day or night, always somewhat eerie and mysterious. Yet, I didn't realize how tethered I felt there until I experienced the buoyancy of being back here in Spain. I think it was primarily a result of the segregated culture. The street world (the one in which we operated) is the domain of men. Because I can't converse in French, and find Arabic even more incomprehensible, I couldn't make inroads with any of the women. It was lonely. On top of that I read the only book I could find in English, given to me by Ali, out hotel man in Asilah...."An Evil Cradling" a non-fiction account of (Irishman) Brian Keenan's experience as a hostage of Moslem fundamentalists in Lebanon for 4 and a half years during the late 80's. -- Monica

December 8 - Sevilla -- Incredible parks with working toilets and water bubblers and benches that are comfortable to sit upon and without litter or vandalism. Cafes where you can sit for hours sipping coffee unmolested by hustlers or waiters. -- Mark

Maggie: I didn't know they had Santa here.

We went to a very, very, crazy, weird park. At the park, there are some very weird bushes that look like they make a maze. I think we may have gone the wrong way and that we might go into a dead end. But we never do, and we always find our way out. After you get out of the maze, there's one main path where horses go. There are little dirt paths that take you to different places that might have a pond or funny sculptures or a fountain or different kinds of bushes. I thought the park was cool and confusing. -- Maggie

In the middle of the city, near where we are staying, there is a big park that was meant to be for a world's fair, but there was a stock market crash in 1929, and they didn't have the fair. The park is still taken care of and is very beautiful. There are different areas that are separated by dirt paths. Some areas have buildings, some have ponds, and most have fountains. One interesting thing is that they have trees from all over the world including Australia, Africa, South America, and Mexico. A weird place is a big tall tree surrounded by a tall fence. Around the tree are sculptures of some ladies having a picnic, someone had put flowers in their hands, and on the other side was an angel with a dagger plunged in its side. -- Tote

December 9 - Sevilla -- We saw the Archbishop at the Cathedral and then ate dinner in a room decorated with pictures of all sorts of statues of Mary, costumes worn by people who take care of statues of Mary, and parades involving statutes of Mary. (Some of the photos were signed, but I couldn't tell by whom.) The food was great. -- Mark

I played soccer by myself with an orange. - Maggie

December 10 - Sevilla -- It's sunny. We're sitting outside at cafe tables with cafe con leche. It's beautiful. It's after dark when this city really comes alive. People stay up walking, drinking, and eating (usually standing up) all night. I'm sometimes awakened at our Hostal San Clemente 15 when other guests come home at 4 or 5 in the morning. -- Monica

Mark: This cathedral was obviously built by guys who had too much to drink. Like those guys in Nebraska who got drunk and said "Let's make a Stonehenge out of buried cars! What do you guys think? Yeah! Let's go!" Same deal here. These guys were standing in some cafe drinking when one of them said, "Let's make the biggest church in the world! We can use that old minaret for a bell tower! Let's go! Yeah!" Then some guy said, "But that minaret has stairs! How the heck can you get a horse to the top of the bell tower with stairs, I ask you? We'll need a ramp to get horses up that baby! That's what we need." And that's how the whole thing got started. It took a hundred years to build, because they were always having to stop to have a drink and figure out what wacky thing to do next. "Aw man! We don't have a chapel for archbishop so and so. How could you forget that?" And then, once they were done with the cathedral they started in on Maria Louisa Park. That's a whole new generation you see.
Tote: Dad. Those people are staring at you.
Mark: Oh. Sorry about that. Amazing building don't you think? God's work.

We went to the goofy park, and I rented a scooter to share with the boys. I rode it around a sort of fountain thing. But it looked sort of like a swimming pool. There were tiles after you had to go through the sort of damp dirt. If you hit the tiles too early, you could hit the spot where there were tiles missing and you could sort of get stuck. Mom and Dad sat on a bench right beside that spot and ate lunch. -- Maggie

December 11 - Sevilla -- We spent more time than we should have doing schoolwork. With a good deal of help from the postal clerks, we got the Christmas packages mailed. Afterwards, we crossed the Rio Guadalquivir (watched several racing shells pass beneath the bridge) and walked around in the Triana District. The riverside was lovely and quiet - it was siesta time. -- Monica

We missed lunch, because we couldn't find a restaurant during siesta time, so we had a good dinner at a really good restaurant. We had the best dessert we've had yet. We saw the one we wanted when the guy was making it for someone else. After about five minutes of discussion in English and Spanish we finally got the right one. It was layers of whipped cream (from a whipped cream machine), chocolate truffles cut in half, and chocolate sauce. It was delicious. -- Duncan

I think mom did not get enough sleep, because she is being crabby and mean. The cafe that I'm in is very noisy, because the coffee machine is probably old. If it was new, it probably would not be as noisy. -- Maggie

December 12 - Sevilla -- The Alcazar was really cool. I really liked the part that was intricately decorated. At first I thought it was Tibetan, but Mom pointed out that it was Moorish. After we wandered through the rooms we came to two lighter rooms. They had balconies out to the gardens. I was captured by the variety of the plants. The coolest part about the gardens was a maze. The maze was pretty small, and there was only one dead end. The walls of the maze were hedges (about to my chin level.) We had lunch on a bench at the far end of the garden where most of the palm trees were. It was really hard to leave the gardens. -- Tote

(After spending several hours running around the Alcazar)
Duncan: This is so amazing! This is the best!
Monica:You mean coming up on this balcony and seeing the gardens from up here?
Duncan: No, the whole thing! Coming on this trip. I never would've thought I would see all this amazing stuff in my whole life, and now I'm seeing it.

We spend an entire day's budget to attend a two-hour, touristy, flamenco show. I would love to say that it was unremarkable and dull, but it was remarkably interesting. Flamenco dancing and guitar playing are among those things that are clearly impossible for human beings to do but which certain humans do anyway. The show was fascinating and fun, but I confess I liked flamenco better the first night we were in Sevilla. We had wandered into one of the many plazas and were admiring the orange trees glowing in the streetlights. The plaza was quiet but then, coming from the door of a restaurant on the plaza, as if it were miles and miles away, we heard the sounds of dancing, clapping, and very faint guitar playing. -- Mark

Flamenco is dance, music, and singing. The clapping and foot-stomping dance is the percussion for the intricate guitar and trembling vocal music. It's incredibly mesmerizing. It comes out of the world of gypsies, and the gypsies in this area of the world have come, many centuries ago, from India. -- Monica

December 13 - Sevilla to Cazorla -- We just spent seven hours traveling through olive groves by bus. For the first hour, it's cool to see olive trees, olive trucks, and olive oil plants. After two hours, I realize we are traveling through the Spanish version of Iowa cornfields. It's about as scintillating. In hour five, we see one of the dumbest signs I have ever seen. It announces that we are in the "Olive Oil Capital of the World." As Tote would say, "Duh." -- Mark

December 24 - Barcelona to Monaco - We took two trains. The first was a day train that brought us to the dirtiest train station we have been to on the whole trip - just over the border in France. Unfortunately, this was the train station we had to wait at for 3 hours until the sleeper came. We all had books, so as soon as we sat down in the waiting room we started to read. Finally when we got on the French train, we saw a Spanish sleeper going past. It was so much nicer than our train. Duncan kept saying, "I'm glad we're on this train, so we can call them snobs." -- Tote

At midday, Christmas eve, Olivier directed, and I drove us all to a very fancy supermarket where women wore fur coats and lots of gold jewelry. The place was very crowded and expensive, but we bought the makings of a Christmas dinner and more food for the week. After talking through everyone's desires and requests for dinner, we ended up with pates and bread and olives with wine and strawberry juice, then pasta with red sauce and cheese, pasta with white sauce, a seafood sauce to add to the white sauce if desired, more bread, salad, then a varied cheese course, and then chocolate and champagne. We stayed up too late, but Oncle Marc didn't seem to think so. I drove him home after midnight, though he wasn't really ready to go. -- Monica

I am not making this up, and our host was with us to interpret, so I am not mistaken. During Monica's first drive in Monaco, she had the temerity to brake slightly while on a curve. (Since there are almost no straightaways and major hills everywhere, I don't know where else one would brake.) She didn't brake suddenly and the pavement was absolutely dry. This led a young fellow with Monaco plates to tailgate us five blocks until we reached a stoplight. At the stoplight, he pulled alongside us, signaled to us to roll down our window, and started berating Monica for braking. If our host hadn't translated, I would have thought he was apologizing for tailgating us down a steep, windy road. Our host said, "He's Monegasque. That is normal behavior for them!" I wonder whether anyone keeps statistics on which countries have the most accidents per square meter. -- Mark

December 21 - Platja de Piles to Barcelona -- I like Barcelona in some ways. There's interesting buildings, but there aren't any ancient things. We walked over to see these big mansions. On the way, Mom explained they cut the corners off all the blocks to make the city more open and let the light in more. One mansion was designed by Gaudi. Gaudi was the architect who designed a cathedral and many other buildings here. When I first saw the building by Gaudi, I noticed the bottom. It was really swervy - like art nouveau sort of. As I looked up the building, I noticed the Christmas decorations that were hanging off the building. There were little, metal Christmas trees attached to the building and hanging down from those were discs. Some didn't have their middles and looked like records. They were totally different colors. They wouldn't look as appropriate on the building, if the whole building looked like the bottom, but the top of the building was decorated in tiles and had little balconies coming off that looked like fish heads. When I looked in the window, I saw these signs that said "Stop. This is a private house." I thought it would be cool to own the whole mansion. -- Tote

I didn't really watch the movie on the train. Instead I read and slept. At dinner, the noodles in my soup were in big globs. I liked it. I didn't like the noise from the people singing. You couldn't hear anything else. -- Maggie

December 22 - Barcelona -- I love our hotel room with a balcony, overlooking "The Street" of Barcelona, Ramblas Catalunya. The doors to the balcony stretch from ceiling to floor and from them comes the lively voices of the street, day and night. Farther down on Las Ramblas, Tote and I squawked at the bird market, bloomed at the flower market, and walked into La Bouqueria -- the main Barcelona market. We bought four different kinds of olives, three different kinds of nuts, bananas for Maggie, and a Spanish ham for Christmas at Uncle Marc's. We bought a Paleta Iberica de Bellota ham. You must understand that Spanish hams are nothing like the American hams that we know. First of all, it's a whole leg with the hoof. (I've been carrying it around town all day, and I'll carry it onto the train to France!) Second, these hams are omnipresent. They hang behind the bar in nearly every bodega where they are sliced for tapas. Nearly every place, at least in the south, has a special holder for the hams currently being sliced. Finally, they are more like prosciutto, except deeper red and leaner. -- Monica

Tote: You didn't say the hams are black and moldy. All those hams on top of the bars - they're just rotting!
Monica: They're not moldy! That's the smoky outside.
Duncan: Did they roast it already? You mean it's like The Drovers smoky?
Monica: That's right.
Duncan: The only problem is that The Drovers hasn't been cleaned in 300 years.

We went to see an expo for "The Race." There are seven sailboats that are going to race around the world. There are no rules for size or shape. The goal is the make the fastest sailboats ever. The boats are all catamarans. My favorite is one that had two mainsails. It just looks the coolest, and I think it will go the fastest. It's a new kind of idea, so it will be interesting to see how it does. My favorite is 40 yards long, and it's the second longest. One of them is 46 yards tall. The also looked very wide. The race starts in Barcelona on December 31. -- Duncan

Mark: Why are all your travelogues about food?
Monica: I don't know but my clothes are getting too tight.

December 23 - Barcelona to Monaco - We went to the unfinished Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona. It was made of tall spires and art nouveau stuff that was meant to look like a forest. The towers looked like drizzle castles. They built the secondary doors at the ends of the transept. Now they are adding the main body, and it looks like it they just started. It was fun climbing up the towers. We went up winding spiral staircases. The walls of the towers seemed like giant lace, because there were so many holes in them. The towers are connected by bridges. Out on the bridges, we could look across at the other towers and see how high we were. We liked terrifying Dad by pointing out high we were and jumping up and down. -- Duncan

I wonder whether Gaudi's cathedral is merely an effort to build an old thing in a new way - a steel and fiberglass donkey cart - or a work of art that reinterprets, is based upon, or alludes to a classical form - like the Odyssey or Oedipus legends. Gaudi's cathedral is undoubtedly built to a gothic pattern. Its general cruciform floor plan, the size and shape of the interior spaces, even the arrangement of windows, towers, pillars, and buttresses could easily be those of any gothic church. Does this gothic pattern result from an old man's limited vision? Is it a tribute to earlier works of beauty? Or did Gaudi choose the pattern as an unremarkable canvas on which to paint a masterpiece? -- Mark

December 20 - Platja de Piles -- Today we played on the beach. We dug houses and found rocks, sticks, and shells. We wrestled over a few. -- Duncan

Today I went on a walk down the beach for fun. On our way back we found a crab claw, and Tote said it was a dead lizard and then Mom came, and she said it was a talon from a raptor. After that me and Tote walked on a mini-cliff that was awfully sandy. -- Maggie

December 19 - Benidorm to Platja de Piles -- At breakfast in Benidorm, one of the older fellows really caught our attention. He had on very short swimming trunks with a loose-fitting vest and no shirt, lots of chunky rings, a bracelet, and a necklace. What hair he had on his head -- the majority of his hair was on his back -- was unnaturally black. He was tattooed, boisterous, and clearly used to being stared at. -- Monica

I went swimming in the icy cold pool at the Benidorm Hotel. I wanted to go in the water. I knew it was going to be cold, because the guy at the hotel said it was going to be icy, icy cold. The boys didn't go in, because they had to stay back and help mommy finish packing. -- Maggie

We spent all of today either on buses or waiting for buses to bring us to the youth hostel in Piles. Without our realizing it, though I looked out the windows the whole time, the landscape changed from purely olive trees to purely orange trees. When we were on our final bus, we were expecting to get off at every stop, but the driver kept saying, "No. No. No. No." When we finally got to the stop, we started walking off in the wrong direction. Dad started cracking jokes about staying in this town even if it meant sleeping in dumpsters. He kept claiming the top bunk when we passed one of them. As soon as we got to the hostel, we put down our stuff and headed out the door to the beach. After having a great time on cold sand and not even daring to go into the cold water, we went to dinner at a place that didn't serve food. We went back and got our food and ate it there. Dad convinced them to make us some french fries and two pieces of pork. -- Duncan

December 18 - Cazorla to Benidorm -- We left Cazorla at 7:00 AM, in the dark, by bus, and arrived at Peal de Becarro at 7:15 AM to catch the 10:30 AM bus to Benidorm. (From there we are headed to the hostel at Platja de Piles.) A policeman pointed us to the only open place in town, a cafe specializing in chocolate. It was busy, full of men, and smoky. Mark ordered two cafe con leche and three hot chocolates. The bar man said "Un poco" and busily went about his business, mostly serving men sherry, wind, beer, and liquors. Every once in awhile someone ordered a cafe. Everyone smoked. When someone propped open the door, we didn't know whether to cheer the fresh air or mourn the cold. At 8:20 we left and found another cafe. Though I had ordered and the bar man had nodded reassuringly at Tote and Mark, we never did get our drinks. At the next cafe we drank chocolate milk and coffee and watched MTV.

Benidorm feels kind of dirty and depressing - a beach resort shopping area in the winter. It's so unlike the interior, mountain village feel of Cazorla. -- Monica

Benidorm is a scary place. We ate a restaurant called Michelangelo, were served Amstel by an English-speaking Swede while listening to someone's horrible, karaoke rendition of "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," reading the latest about Madonna's upcoming wedding in the Sun, and eating Chicken Curry. Benidorm is a tourist town populated by British pensioners who come on month-long package trips. Looking for a place to stay, we saw a number of hotel rooms. Generally, they were small and not very nice but came with full board and entertainment - English movies, cards, fashion shows, and lawn bowling on astroturf - run by the hotel's recreation director. Each hotel has excursions available to Valencia for shopping, to a Benidorm nightclub, or to dinner at a fake jousting tournament. The people staying here measure how long they have been in Benidorm in weeks. The tourist part of town is lined with tiny, one-story, English-named "pubs" and discos. At 10:30 AM the bars are full of grey-haired people (and no young ones) drinking pints that cost about $.90. Every drinking spot advertises sing-alongs and karaoke. I really wanted to stay and look around, but I was a bit afraid, too. The place was just too off-kilter. -- Mark

December 17 - Cazorla --
Monica: DId you tell her that those were the best tapas yet?
Mark: Well, yes, I tried.
Monica: Do you think you said it the right way?
Mark: More or less.
Monica: In other words, you have no idea?
Mark: Either she understood me or she thought I was a total idiot.
Monica: Those aren't mutually exclusive.

Today we got a box of truffles as a gift at the supermarket. The number of times we have been given more than we expected far exceeds the times we have been given less. -- Monica

December 16 - Cazorla -- We hiked twelve miles today, up mountains and down, to spectacular views, past a Templar castle perched on a crag and two castles built by the Moors - on hilltops, through woods, up cliffs, and on ancient roads. The day was one of those where it's sunny and just barely warm enough to get by with one layer, but there's frost in the shade and ice crystals flashed in the puddles. The light was clear and bright. The sun low enough that everything has a shadow. It was the rare sort of day we have in Colorado only during the Spring or Fall. When we walk back into town, we stop at a cafe for wine, beer, and sodas and have the best tapas we have had the whole trip. Then Maggie and Monica climb into hot baths. -- Mark

Duncan: This place is even better than Chefchaouen. It's cleaner and the hiking's better.
Tote: And there's food.
Mark: Oh come on! It was Ramadan. I really liked Chefchaouen.
Duncan: I did too, but this place is exotic and different too.
Mark: That's true. Not as different as Morocco but still definitely foreign, and I think this might have been the best hike yet.
Tote: No. Carentuohill was the best! I loved climbing up there.
Duncan: And coming down, too.
Mark: Yeah. It was a lot scarier.
Tote: It wasn't scary! Just really cool.
Duncan: No castles though.

It felt so good to be out walking. . . out in nature, away from the cities. -- Monica

December 15 - Cazorla -- Woke up to a rainy day. When you travel, you essentially live in the street. This was something I hadn't really thought about before we started. Most hotels rooms are not places where five people can hang out comfortably. Hotel lobbies are not great places for kids to spread out their games or their school work. Hotels don't tolerate running, yelling, or whining very well, and there are limits to how long the kids can behave like adults. Moreover, the hotels we can afford, even if they are clean and nice, are usually cramped. They don't have lobbies and our rooms are often just large enough for the beds. Usually when it rains we spend the day getting rained on while we walk between museums, restaurants, or shops.

Today is different. Though hostels have their share of drawbacks (sometimes it costs more for five people to stay in a hostel than in a hotel) they usually have common rooms and places for the kids to play. Today, the receptionist notices me pulling out the schoolwork in the dining room and shuttles us off to a big meeting room complete with chalkboard. After school, the kids pull out about six sets of chessmen and play some sort of noisy game with them all. For lunch we picnic on a covered balcony, and once the rain lets up, the kids borrow a soccer ball and play in the ballyard. It feels luxurious. -- Mark

December 14 - Cazorla -- Cazorla is an Andalusian white-washed hill town. This morning we heard roosters and barking dogs. On the hike today, the scents of the dried herb plants were overpowering - thyme, lavender, sage, rosemary, etc.

We're staying at a youth hostel which is in a building built in 1513. For centuries it was a convent, and during the civil war it was a prison. We're five of eight total guests in a place that can accommodate 120. It's impeccably clean and comfortable. We have a view of a Roman fort. One of the nice things about hostels is that they have common areas for us all to spread out in. For example, the children are playing soccer and basketball in the courtyard. Mark is working at a desk in an upstairs nook. And we're all about to begin schoolwork on the balcony. -- Monica

December 25 - Monaco - Christmas and presents and Santa and traditions were far more understated this year than usual. The children were prepared for this, so it didn't seem to disappoint them. They received a few gifts from relatives, and exchanged gifts between themselves. They have loved eating the candy and the tangerines, and playing with their few toys and the many many toys here. The kids are very content to sit inside and play. We loved talking to our families on the phone. My sister Amy is getting married! She and Frank announced their engagement tonight. It's not until evening that we go for a walk. We stroll through parks, past the famous Casino, down to the harbor, and up and down the streets. A nice way to end the day. -- Monica

Monica forgot to mention that Uncle Marc set his shirt on fire during yesterday's dinner while showing Maggie how to eat pasta. No serious harm done. -- Mark

December 26 - Monaco - Today, Maggie, Dad, and I went out to get books and groceries. Instead of following yesterday's path, we wanted to explore. So instead of going on the first set of stairs down the cliff, we went on the second. (This was Maggie's idea.) All the path did was bring us back to the first set. When we got down the first set, we turned instead of continuing down the next set of stairs and walked into a tunnel. (This was Maggie's idea, too.)

At the bookstore I was going to get a book for Duncan as a Christmas present. When I turned it to read the back, the price caught my eye - 88 francs (about $14). Too much. The next three stores were helpful but all they had were "supermarket books." -- Tote

Money pervades the atmosphere here like the constant drizzle. -- Monica

There are few butchers or fish stores or hardware stores or cafes -- though if you want lingerie, a dress with sequins, or an expensive car, Monaco is the place to shop. Even the traffic here is expensive. -- Mark

December 27 - Monaco - There is a cat at the place that we are staying. It is a very nice cat named Caramel. I play fishing with a string. The cat grabs the string. Sometimes, I chase the cat and pet the cat. Sometimes the cat tries to get you. Sometimes the cat tries taking over my Mom's bed. When my mom screams it means that the cat is in her bed. Mom doesn't like the cat in her bed, because Dad is allergic and sneezes so much .-- Maggie

Duncan: I'm connoisseuring ham and jambon and jamon pizzas on this trip.
Mark: And . . .
Duncan: "And" what?
Mark: And, what have you discovered?
Duncan: They're good.
Mark: Good job.

December 28 - Monaco - The Oceanographic Museum was not what I expected. The aquarium had too many tanks just with fish and nothing else. I would have liked to see bigger sharks, more rays, or an octopus. They only had things from the tropical seas. I liked the ray, though. It was brown and all along it there were blue dots. The moray eels were cool. The smaller one was out and moving around. I wish I could have seen the big one out.

From the palace we could look at the city. There are so many apartments here. In size, they are between skyscrapers and houses. But it was amazing how many balconies there are. There are balconies everywhere. -- Tote

Watching the sun rise, drinking tea, the sea, the cliffs, and the roses change color. I think today will be beautiful. -- Mark

Tote: Daaad! This problem is not good.
Mark: What? Did I make a mistake?
Tote: I don't know.
Mark: Then why isn't it good?
Tote: I can't do it.
Duncan: Then I've got three pages of bad problems.

December 29 - Monaco - Don't go swimming in the sea if you can see your breath. -- Duncan

I played in the sea, and I got soaked, because the wave tripped me and I fell in. It was nice walking back with Mom. We peaked into the gardens and chit chatted. -- Maggie
December 30 - Monaco - For my birthday, my children gave me hugs, and let me take them to "Dungeons and Dragons." Aren't we lucky that such a fine movie is playing in English? -- Mark

December 31 - Monaco - Uncle Marc cooked us a great dinner (and gave us a food lesson) in his new apartment. Though we had fun, we did not set anyone aflame. After a nap, we walked down to the casino and harbor with Olivier to watch fireworks and fur coats. There were lots of both. (Do you need to be short and past middle age to buy a fur coat?) -- Mark

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