Before going out to party like it's 2003, we headed into Dublin for some more touring. Unfortunely, it ended up being another colder, rainy day.
To combat this, we went to a pub (a fine solution for most things) and tried the day's carvery (lunch buffet). Roast beef, three kinds of potatoes . . . good stuff. It was talking to the staff there, however, that I realized I was having an easier time understanding people in France than in either the UK or Ireland.
As an afternoon indoor activity, we headed to the Jameson's distillery, where we learned many times over that Irish whiskey is distinctive in that the malt is not smoked and the alcohol is distilled three times (as opposed to Scotch, smoked and distilled twice, or bourbon distilled once). The tour concludes with a tasting session. Apparently Bri got to be one of the tasters who all managed to choose an Irish whiskeys as their favourites. I came close to enjoying my sample of the stuff, which is to say I only wished I were drinking beer part of the time.
The drink of choice this New Year's Eve would be martinis prepared by Darren in his new shaker (Bri's thoughtful gift). We made it to Earth (Drogheda's other club) in time for the countdown, and were there for . . . a while? Laura was the star, taking shots and drinks from all sorts of people, breaking hearts and taking names.
As one might imagine after the previous evening's festivities, we slept in, watched movies, and ordered pizza. And what a great day for it: the most rain we'd seen in a while.
At the suggestion of Brian, Ray and Darren, we figured a day trip up to Belfast would be in order. We caught the sunrise (at 8am, remember how far north we are) train to Belfast. The usual ultra-green scenery was covered in frost and fog, which burned off as the ride moved along.
We randomly chose a direction for our walking tour and picked West Belfast first. Not really a touristy area, it is somewhat rundown and even has several relics from the nastier parts of recent Irish history (a huge barrier on one of the main roads that was once used to separate the Catholic and Protestant parts of the city, the huge prison used for poilitical prisoners, to name two).
Around lunch time we wandered in the Crown pub, old and famous for its design. A hundred some years ago there was a cathedral-building boom in Northern Ireland, and a number of Italian artisans were brought up to work on these massive buildings. The Crown's owner paid some of them to moonlight in his pub, and the result is quite a strking effect of stained glass and fancy booths.
The afternoon started with a hike down to Queen's University, another one of these schools that I can't believe is really a school for people anymore. We warmed up (yes, a common pastime in this weather) at the botanical gardens before discovering the nearby Ulster Museum (basically the national museum for Northern Ireland). It had all kinds of displays for all parts of the country's history, including art, primitive cultures arriving some 9000 years ago, local fauna (including skeletons of extinct deer the size of horses), and a whole section devoted to the history of "The Troubles" that included a number of moving stories and displays.
Upon our return to Drogheda (conveniently located before Dbulin on the way home from Belfast), it was time to visit the pubs. I continued my study of the local beer (mostly Guinness) while Laura sampled some whiskeys. We met some of Darren's friends from the hospital, and when the early pub-closing hour arrived, we all headed to Storm, one of the two clubs in Drogheda (the other is Earth, across the street). When that wasn't enough, we headed back to Darren's for one of those classic post-bar after-parties: people have already had too much but pound back beers anyway, people you don't know and really don't want show up, and some people just can't be encouraged to go home at 5am. But all in all, a good time.
Today's touring of Dubin (Sue was kind enough to give us a lift into town)included a quiet walk around some of the city parks (practically deserted this time of year). To warm up, we stopped at the National Art Gallery.
The evening back in Drogheda was pretty relaxing. We met Ray, Darren's roommate, and by the time we all decided to go for a drink, it was practially 11pm. We arrived within view of the nearest pub only to see its doors closing for the night, like its competitor across the street had already done. Undaunted but a bit cold, we tried down the street, and saw a group of guys being let in to one of the pubs after knocking. We tried this strategy, and were able to sneak in. Darren was promptly beeped to the hospital, but Ray say he would stay for "one pint". We managed to squeeze in three by the time they stopped serving, of course. Meanwhile, the table of ten or so people next to us had broken out into a series of Irish drinking songs. They were a bit surprised that we didn't know any of the words ("but surely you've heard this one: . . ."), well, Ray did, but as he said (quietly to me and Laura), they tended to sing different songs up in Northern Ireland (he is from Belfast). In any case, the crowd was super friendly at this packed little pub, and by the time we were all kicked out, we'd downed enough courage for the walk home.
As the city was gradually getting back into the swing of things after the holiday, it was a bit quiet at the tourist office, but pretty much everything was open. We opted for the Dublin historical walking tour, which had a bit less walking than I expected, which was only an issue because it was a chilly day (but clear, can't complain) in Dublin. The guide taught us quite a bit about the local history, and that of Ireland in general, including the great rift that still stands today. His message was optimistic, though on unification. I'll keep my fingers crossed.
In the afternoon, Laura and I made what will likely be the closest I will get to a religious pilgrimage on this whole trip: a tour of the Guinness brewery. From blocks away, you can smell the warm malt. On the way to the front entrance, we wandered through the old brick compound (the brewery owns several city blocks on a 9000 year lease; that man was a genius), crossing over some of the small-gauge rail lines that were once used for transport between the buildings. After finding the tour tower, we paid our entrance, each getting a key chain that contains a drop of Guinness, and wound our way up the various floors, checking out the fancy AV presentations along the way. These people really know what they're doing; the tour concludes at the top of the tower, with a great view of the city, in a circular room with a circular bar in the middle where you get a pint of Guinness on the house. To top it off, we were there for the sunset (coming pretty early at this time of year).
After some gift shopping, it was time to meet up with Darren, our soon-to-be host. Darren is the older brother of on of Bri's best friends from high school. He's very enthusiastic about everything, but in particular about drinking. To this end, we met up with his girlfriend, Sue, and went out for some beers at one pub (this small Dublin suburb has tons of them) and then out for a dinner of tasty steak and more drinks, including the Baby Guiness shot: Kahlua on the bottom, with Bailey's layered on top so it looks just like a tiny pint of Guinness.
I settled in wistfully for my last big breakfast at the B&B. The people there had been very nice, and the rooms were comfortable. Plus we didn't really know where we would be staying the night, only that it would be in Ireland.
Ken and Mabel had us over for some tasty curry before kindly giving us a lift to the Bristol airport. Laura and I had no problem checking in and were excited about starting this part of the trip together.
The flight seemed to be no problem, though I had a bit of a cold. Laura asked me if that was going to bother me, and I said no, thinking it was just a matter of enough kleenex. Then, as we approached Dublin, I discovered that sinuses can be a serious issue when you are in a landing airplane. It started as something like an insect bite on one of my temples; I asked Laura if she could see a bug or something, and she said no. Then it spread to the other temple, and I knew something was up, and it just got worse and worse until I felt like my head was going to explode through my eyebrows. I was sweating all over and nauseous (kept it in, which was appreciated by the guy sitting next to us) and it was the worst pain that I can remember having for a long time (probably because it is right in my head and I don't get headaches). The moral of the story is to take decongestants (which I did religiously after this incident) if you are flying with a head cold.
In Ireland, Christmas lasts for three days in the sense that everything is shut down from the 24th to the 26th (Saint Stephen's Day). Unable to catch any kind of transportation up to Drogheda, we stayed at a hostel in Dublin near the bus station.
Eateries and pubs were also quite limited on this holiday night, but we did find a hotel pub around the corner (one of many, but this one was open and had food) that had a restaurant in the back. I ordered an irish stew that turned out to be nearly the size of my head. Delicious. Then we retired to the drinking area for some . . . drinking. Guinness in Ireland . . . so good . . .
I don't think I've ever been hungover for Christmas, but there you go.
Mom and Dad had their flight back to Canada, so Laura and I had booked in for Christmas lunch at the B&B. Alex, the owner, had a friend helping to make the lunch, and it was delicious and (not surprisingly) very filling. Our company for the meal was a big switch from the usual family and a few well-known friends. Instead, we had a couple from Liverpool who I think were trying not to kill their buzz from the previous night, and a former Army guy who was just moving back from being a driving instructor in Ireland. We mentioned we were going to Ireland and he did a good job convincing us not to rent a car there.
We spent the evening at Ken and Mabel's where we were introduced to some more recent British comedy and played a little "guess the booze" game (whih went over pretty well with my stomach after the big meal, except for the schnappes).
The bed and breakfast Laura and I were staying at is in Weston Super Mar, a resort town South and West of Bristol. We had a walk around with Mom and Dad today, including some delicious fish and chips and of course a stop by a pub for a couple pints. Christmas carols were playing everywhere, as you might expect.
Mom and Dad had booked in for a BBQ elsewhere, so Laura and I met up with Andy, who was stuck working until 10pm or so, in Bristol for a little Christmas cheer. Andy's place was pretty quiet (recently opened under new management), so we stopped by another pub down the street (in fact, this street was all pubs) for some food. I ordered a potatoe with chicken on it, and got more like two and a half big potatoes with a bunch of tasty curry chicken on them. There was a group of maybe twenty people next to us, with one guy who seemed to need to moon everyone every few minutes, but I was quite content to keep drinking the Director's they had on tap.
After treating us to the horrible, horrible red and blue After Shocks, Andy had his pub locked up around 10:30pm and we were ready to head out on the town. This might sound like we had the whole night ahead of us, but not so. Even though (or probably because) the whole country revolves around the pub culture, the pubs all have to close at 11pm. The best you can hope for after that is to be locked in for another hour or so. This is what happened for us at the karaoke bar we drank at. The place was busy and the owners were really friendly to us.
On the way out, a fight started between this guy and the girl he was with. Things escalated as others started to join in. Meanwhile, Andy was having trouble getting his car started . . . we finally decided to book it using a push start (which worked before anybody nearby started throwing anything).
After another huge breakfast, Laura and I met with Mom and Dad to drive up to Birmingham to visit Len and Hazel (Bri, Dad and I saw them at their French cottage in Perigord back in October). This is about a two and half hour drive from Bristol, but when you mention you've made such a trip to English people, it's like you've crossed half the planet.
We had a massive holiday lunch - roast beef and all the trimmings. This was had in early afternoon, and then the rest of the afternoon was left for sitting around stuffed and chatting. And drinking . . .
Len and Hazel have been family friends spanning few generations. Hazel has some pictures from when she visited my grandparents before my Dad was born, so I tried to capture them with my digital so that there is another copy. We'll see how those turn out.
Laura and I were treated to our first English breakfast this morning at the B&B. Eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, potatoes, tomatoes, beans and toast, plus coffee, tea and juice. So excellent.
The four of us went for a bit of Christmas shopping with Ken and his wife Mabel at a factory outlet spot. First order of the day was shoe shopping at the famous Clark's, where I found a pair of boots I'm looking forward to when my current ones give up on me. We also found a Cadbury's outlet, where they had these half-kilo bags of factory rejects for a few pounds. Yummy.
When we needed a break, Dad, Ken and I went for a beer at a nearby pub (as it turns out, when you are in England, there is always a nearby pub). Ken explained the system of pubs: many were outlets for a specific brewery, and sold ale from them only, while "freehouses" carry whatever they like. The ales are fresh draught beer, most of which you can't get bottled (or canned).
That night Laura and I were left in the able care of Andy (Ken and Mabel's son). He is a great guy that bartends in Bristol. Tonight we visited the White Hart, a cozy establishment, where we had fish and chips (but of course) and tried out the available brews. I worked my way through pints of the three Badgers they had on tap. The bartender was a woman who had recently taken over management of the place, and helped us try out some drinks: whiskey for Laura and a wacky Fursty Ferret beer for me.
We also met Andy's girlfriend, Lindsey, who stopped by for a couple drinks with us. The two of them insisted that Laura has a much stronger (Canadian?) accent then I do.
If you happen to rent a car that you want to drop off at the Toulouse airport, be sure to get gas a while before actually reaching the area. I had trouble finding any, and had to return the thing without much gas left (it adds up when you pay the rental rate). The nice thing was, we just dropped the car and got ready for the flight. As we were taking EasyJet, we had some limits on the baggage, so we evened things out, made some decisions about items that wouldn't make the trip with us, and checked in (we discovered that if you are traveling together, they just add up your baggage limit, within reason I suppose).
It is a short flight to Gatwick airport from Toulouse: just under 2 hours. Our tickets ended up costing something like 30 Euros per person. This is much faster and much cheaper than any alternative . . . some day I will find out what these discount airline people are up to.
Once we arrived in England, we were met by a family friend, Ken, who was very kind to pick us up and take us out to Bristol. The highways are incredibly clogged in Britain (not so bad this particular day, however) to the point where they have dynamic speed limits displayed by lit-up signs to alleviate major congestion. I said it must be difficult for everyone as they are forced to drive on the wrong side of the road.
Dinner was at the Orchid in the town of Cheddar, also in the area. To get there, we drove past this Anyway, the food was this amazing Indian buffet and the hosts were super friendly.
To top it off, Laura and I ended up at a nice little bed and breakfast where we each had our own rooms on the top floor.
Today was the last day in the apartment. I took Bri to the airport. Perhaps because of all these wacky discount airlines available, baggage weight scales are available for public use in the Bordeaux airport. So, after some quick repacking to even out his two suitcases (he was about 1kg under the combined limit - nice job), we carted him up to the checkout counter. It was hard to see him off after a really great four months together, but I am really grateful for the time we've had. It was also made a bit easier by the funny check-in guy, who asked if we were flying together, and when Bri said he would be alone, the guy replied: "Oh, comme un grand!" ("Oh, like a big boy!") and then proceeded to give Bri some of the Christmas candy that I think was only supposed to be for kids.
After some final touches on the apartment, the four remaining Codes headed to St. Emilion for lunch and a walk around. We ate at Dominiques, downhill slightly from the main square, which had delicious food and a great house wine (I guess they have an image to protect in that particular town).
We took a stab at driving up to Limoges for the china tour, but due to a bunch of construction we eventually gave up and headed for the night's stop, Toulouse. Our flight was from the airport the next morning, and we wanted to stay in that area.
We happened upon a Formula 1 near the airport, a chain I remembered Claus recommending as a wacky discount hotel. Basically, it is completely automated. They have a person there during the day, and presumably to clean the rooms, but that's about it. There are no keys, just codes for the keypads outside each room (also gets you into the hotel) - this allows automated check in with credit cards at the front entrance if you arrive late (the parking lot filled up considerably by the next morning). The rooms are all identical: a double bed with a single bunk over top, tv sink and square window, all in a roughly cube-shaped space. The bathroom and shower stalls are in the hallway, some for each little quadrant of the hotel building, and are self-cleaning after each use. The price is admittedly tough to beat (something like 25 Euros a room right by the airport for up to three people).
Not too worse for wear after our late-night festivities, and with Claus' no-call signaling he had made it to the plane, we prepared for an exciting day of packing and cleaning while Bri went for his last day of work. Fun chores included:
- taking the wine bottles for recycling. Bri and I had collected 72 bottles, about one for each day we spent in Bordeaux.
- carefully packing four bags for checking on the EasyJet flight the next day (I was worried about the weight restrictions . . .)
- shipping some of Claus' stuff, as well as some of ours to meet us in the UK (again, the luggage restrictions).
Of course, I couldn't have managed all of it in such a short time without the help of the rest of the family (thanks guys).
The evening meal was couscous at a Moroccan restaurant with Abdul Aziz and Hedi (co-workers of Bri) and their girlfriends. Delicious. Basically, you get a tasty vegetable soup and some kind of meat (or in my case, the variety platter of meat - man that lamb was good) and eat it all with a bed of couscous. So good. It was nice spending an evening with them, too, as they are good guys and I had hung out with them a bit at Bri's work.
On the way home, we checked out some of the Christmas lights in Bordeaux. Bri actually got to see some (how different were are experiences of the city), and I grabbed some pictures.
Today I would give my final walking tour of Bordeaux. Having done about five or so of these things, I had my system down, and lots of ideas for a route with Mom and Laura. The big open Place des Quinconces was closed (we later found out this was probably for Jacques Chirac's impending visit to welcome the tramway opening; apparently the mayor of Bordeaux is an old buddy/crony of his), but we still checked out the monument (I have pictures already . . .).
The highlight was the Christmas market, which I hadn't really checked out yet. These are apparently quite common in Europe: the Bordeaux version was all on the centre of one of the main downtown boulevards, with little chalet huts all in a row selling crafts, local food specialties (foie gras, chocolate), lots of little gift-type things like ornaments, wine (of course) and some snack vendors selling crepes and vin chaud (heated spicy wine).
It was the last night in Bordeaux for Claus. The evening would be a quiet one at the apartment, with pizza, some packing, and drinking the leftover booze from both ours and Claus' apartments.
As Brian still had work tomorrow and the parents were off to their hotel, Claus and Laura and I decided to take a crack at the local nightlife. We headed to the Bodegon (Bordeaux's finest underage drinkers? Close enough. All I know is they played that way-o song that I hate and Claus laughed, but I got back at him when they played the robot-talking song he despises). Then it was one last tour to the brasilien club Via Brasil, one of Claus' favourite spots where he knew the staff and owned at the dancing. Sadly, it was quite dead in there, so we made our way home, narrowly missing a serious projectile vomiter after corssing the street. Claus made it home in time for an hour's sleep before the taxi came for him at 4:30am.
In the morning, we had a surprisingly large breakfast (you might call it a North American version of "continental") and made the short trip back to the Mont. There's lots of walking to be done in the little town on the hill, and then there is the monastery to tour. Like many such towns, it was built around a monestary, then later fortified.
We were hoping to get back to Bordeaux that night, which meant heading straight South through pretty much the height of France. While looking for a small town for lunch (getting a bit smarter, aren't I), Mom recognized the name of the town Langon as the home of her maternal grandmother. We knew we were in the neighbourhood, which is to say somewhere near Rennes in the North-West, but had no idea where exactly we were headed. We stopped in, and after lunch nearby (Langon is so small that it doesn't have a restaurant itself, but there is another little town a couple kilometres away where we found a restaurant holding Indian-themed week - yummy, if surprising out in the middle of the French countryside) we stopped at the mairie (town hall) to see if they had any records. We discovered that my great-grandmother and great-grandfather were married at the church across the road and were both from the area (they later left for Canada). We only went back a little ways into the family tree, not because the records weren't there but because they were a bit overwhelming - I think they dated back to roughly 1700, which the lady at the front desk had initially apologized about as being such a short history.
We almost made it to Saint Aubin la Plaine near Nantes, where Mom's paternal great-grandfather came from, but it was late and we needed to press on. Still we were quite happy with our earlier discoveries.
We got into Bordeaux pretty late and hit the Boucherie (restaurant chain) for supper before they closed around midnight. As it turns out, a long drive in a tiny car can get pretty exhausting, and I would recommend a bigger vehicle for anyone in similar circumstances (myself included).
In the planning for this little family venture, my main concern would be this morning's departure from Paris: after seeing how much stuff everybody had brought with them, I was not sure it would all fit in the car I had arranged to rent. I was partly right . . . by ditching an old suitcase (as expected), we were able to cram uncomfortably into the little Peugeot 206. I think this car is designed for four people with two bags, or something like that. We had five with about five.
Somebody (I won't metnion who here) forgot something back at the apartment, so we had to turn around after getting on the freeway. This is only notable because it was my first serious driving experience in Paris, which included one of these quasi-roundabouts that is more like a massive square (10+ lanes of traffic from each direction) where some are going in a circle and some (like us) are cutting across. The bus driver that passed inches from our front bumper was pretty impressive.
Chartres was a great place to stop for lunch. I might have mentioned this before, but don't eat in the big cities; even though a place like Chartres is wel-touristed (though not in this season, of course), good food seems much easier to find. We also squeezed in a tour of the large frankencathedral and its blue stained glass.
Our target for the night was Mont Saint Michel, a medieval town built on a hill in the middle of tidal flats. It is surrounded by water at high tide (a great tactical advantage; it did not fall to the Brits even though the rest of the surrounding countryside did) and has been recommended by almost eveyone who's been there as a top place to visit in France.
We would not be disappointed. We arrived at sunset, too late to really tour around, but we did get a good look from the outside.
There are a number of hotels on the mainland-side of the causeway (and some right on the Mont, though they are a bit fancy), closed during this low season. But there are great bed and breakfast places all around, and we found one where the rooms had an uninterrupted view of the Mont.
Dinner was had at a small local restaurant, one of the few open. I'll try to track down the name . . . the food was excellent, regional stuff including seafood stew and other tasty stuff.
While this was vacation for all of us, it felt less so for me, as I was doing a lot of the same stuff I've been up to for months now. Dad and I had one major chore for the morning: cart Laura's immense duffel bag to Nicolas' for storage until she was ready to leave for Africa on exchange a month later. It did require the work of two people (would have been a long cab ride) to lift and move the thing via two metros and the suburban train to Asnières. After some sweating and some cursing, we dragged ourselves and this massive pack to Nicolas' door, where he welcomed us in for some refreshing water and a chat before we left him to his day.
Next up was meeting the rest of the family at the St. Michel fountain (a common meeting place, I am told). It is surrounded by a university bookstore that is contained in several shops around the square, where Dad and I alternated browsing while waiting for the others (partly to stay occupied, partly to warm up). After they showed up and we had a tasty round of ham/cheese/mushroom crepes, we were off to Montmartre.
Montmartre is a huge cathedral built within the last couple hundred years (practically new by French standards) located on a big hill in sort of the North part of the city. After fending off the many bracelet-makers ("let me just put this on you!") we hiked up the hill for a good view (clear and cold again, pretty lucky) and then the many steps to the top of the cathedral for an even better one that included the sunset.
At the top it is just a circular hallway running around the dome. The place was not crowded by any means, but I ran into someone I knew from the University of Saskatchewan who was stopped over in Paris on his way to Russia. Wacky.
As Bri had so generously offered to pick up our parents on Friday (a three to four hour proposition), I figured it was my turn to head to the airport for Laura's arrival while Mom, Dad and Bri headed for the Impressionists at Orsay Museum. Plus, I don't see Laura very often, certainly less so than the others. I was a bit shocked by the size of the huge duffel bag she had brought (I was the only one with an appreciation for the car we would be squeezing into in a few days' time), but it was good to see her.
We all met up at Notre Dame and climbed the many steps up for the great view (check the gallery for pictures some time). It was chilly but clear. We followed it up with a walk around the cathedral itself, then made the short walk over to Sainte Chappelle and its fancy stained glass.
Bri, Laura and Dad, the photographers of the family, took in the Photography Museum, while Mom and I had a chilly walk to check out the lights and local business (we passed one of the many real estate offices to check out the prices of available apartments in the windows - let's just say you can pay an awful lot of Euros for a few square metres of space) followed by a couple pints at a Scottish pub near the museum. Somehow the others knew to find us there. :)
Then it was time for dinner. We met with our favourite parisien, Nicolas, along the Champs Elysees and found a nearby Hippopotamus restaurant ("Try some Hippo-therapy" one of their signs suggests) for supper. Their specialty is steak (mainly beef, but also with ostrich on offer - sadly no emu) which was just fine by me. It's not something I usually complain about, but the service was quite bad (long waits, forgotten stuff, weird waitress), which Nicolas assured us is qutie common in the City of Light.
While Bri and Dad visited the Centre Georges Pompidou and its wacky modern art museum, Mom and I opted for a visit to the Louvre. We walked down the long corridor of paintings that lead to the Mona Lisa. I got a bit more into some of them. We also checked out some of the Italian paintings further on (the whole place was thankfully still not crowded - I may nver visit in summer). I was struck by a series of paintings of Venice (I'd since been there) and how it really looked pretty much the same a few hundred years ago as it does now (well, when we visited in October), and these paintings are what people had to capture the image back then.
The spaghetti ingredients I had purchased the day before would be used for our evening meal; we were saving up for dinners out with Laura, due to arrive tomorrow morning. The French supermarkets carry a handy version of ground beef: bolognaise-style ground beef, which has a bunch of stuff in it already so that you can cheat and make a really easy meat sauce. I wonder if this is available at home?
After an early morning walk to the train station, Bri and I caught the fast train (is there any other kind?) up to Paris. The train was a bit late picking us up, as there are actually two separate trains that chain together at Bordeaux, and one of them was late. The result was that we would split up upon arrival in Paris; Bri would go find Mom and Dad at the airport while I headed for the apartment we were renting.
As it turns out, this apartment rental is a really good deal if you have several people staying in Paris (I'm sure the same system exists elsewhere, but this was my first exposure to it). We rented through a last-minute deal with Vacation In Paris, and ended up with a great place with enough room for the five of us (Laura would join us soon) and conveniently located near food and (most importantly) a metro stop. A bonus was that the company is American, so we were able to pay in the recently cheaper US dollars.
Once I had the keys, and since the others would still be a while, I set about my usual routine: grocery shopping for the evening meal and some wine, followed by a bit of sitting around (did I mention the last few months have been pretty relaxing?).
Mom and Dad brought all sorts of stuff with them from Canada. Very welcome amongst these were the Christmas treats, especially the shortbread. Of course, it was great for the four of us to be together again, and we were very excited for Laura's arrival on the weekend.
The evening was a quiet one, since we'd all been on the road for most of the day. We had dinner at a little Lebanese place around the corner, and walked around Neuilly-sur-Seine, the suburb of Paris where we were staying that was lit up with Christmas lights.