The Grand Tour, final notes

Milwaukee > NYC > Gent > Brussels > Venice > Rome > Gent > Rouen > Gent > Milwaukee

And these are just the cities I slept in. This is not the way I prefer to take a vacation. In fact, when I got back it was like Aaaah. Peace at last. It was a whirlwind of airports, train stations, taxi stands, tram stops and shifting gears in my not-automatic rental car.

Travel sets my teeth on edge as it is. I had early flights, freakin’ 6 am in Brussels for Venice. Frantic water taxi rides, three-hour train trips hanging out in the toilet, airport transfers in NYC. I do not like to be up all night worrying if I’m going to catch a flight, or trapped on airplanes next to gigantic basketball playerish guys with monstrous knees and feet and hands, or sitting in waiting areas with loud people eating packaged junk food, or waiting for taxis that are late, particularly water taxis that are taking you to catch a train for which you are already late because your landlord did not show with your 300€ security deposit…goddam him to hell. Nor am I crazy about driving in foreign countries with the GPS lady barking directions repeatedly while the GPS contraption itself beeps and buzzes in a series of confusing and alarming ways.

Did I mention pay tolls? In France. It’s bad enough to live in terror that your French credit card (insert tooth sucking noise here) is going to be eaten at any given time by the cold and unfeeling French ATMs, but approaching a peage (toll booth) that is all flashing lights in your rental car, a toll booth with its incomprehensible directional icons, unfamiliar symbols and poorly demarcated lanes is a hellish nightmare. When the promised ticket (which makes the barrier arm go up) did not come out of the little slot and I was hemmed in by a semi, and repeated pressing of the Aide button proved useless, Ashish fled the car. Fortunately the truck driver flagged him down and pointed out that the ticket, in fact, was on the upper dispenser (for semi drivers) 4 feet above me and out of my sight range. Once I opened the door and snatched the ticket I was able to flee the toll booth myself. But left it scarred for life, or at least for the rest of the trip.

Not for the first time, I realized that while the charming cafes with outdoor seating may look inviting, they are generally the purview of the smoker and one is nearly always in the contrail of cigarette smoke. I overheard 2 English people saying that England was going to outlaw smoking in public parks. I’m all for it.

I suppose I could choose to look the other way but the trend of taking selfies is ubiquitous and annoying. It is impossible to look any which-a-way and not see someone taking a self-centered-y, I mean, selfie. More recently the even more annoying selfies-on-a-stick have surfaced. This fun activity involves using your iPhone and a wand so you can record yourself from further distances. Below is a young woman at the next table (magenta rectangle around selfie stick thing) taking an extended selfie. She did this at least 40 times during her meal. She and her sister were engaged in this while their grandfather (I hope) smoked a cigar. This vacation pastime is so popular that there are literally hundreds of street vendors selling the damn things. One has to wonder about people incessantly taking photographs of themselves. How do they manage to enjoy the view when they are aways in the way of whatever they’re supposed to be looking at. Personally, I hate seeing pictures of myself. But that’s just me.

I lit several candles (for private intentions) but I can tell you that I’m hoping for that upgrade to business class comes through next time I fly. The trip back in steerage was a living hell.

Rouen is a glorious city. Normandy in general is beautiful and I loved their galettes. Not so much the cider (fruity, fizzy, sweet) but a beer works.

I hope to go back soon.

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