Category Archives: Holidays

Our Own Waterloo

Writing about Venice the other day sent memories of other trips we took while we lived in Geneva flooding into my head.  And of course, travel was one of the reasons we took our adventure in Europe.

Sometimes when I write these pieces, folks tell me that they want to go there, too.  And frankly, that makes me nervous.  Because sometimes when I’ve made travel plans based on what someone else thinks would be great, I’ve been disappointed.  Sorely disappointed.  Especially when someone is sure I’ll love it.

A little bit of background is needed here.

Just a few months before John was offered the job in Geneva, my Mom died, leaving my father devastated.  My parents had a wonderful marriage, and they were devoted to each other for the 51 years they were married.  I wrote a little bit about them here.  Dad was, as he said, “a lonely polecat” from the moment she passed.

In spite of the fact that I hardly ever write about him, Dad and I were close.  Very close.  He was nearly 80 years old when John got the job offer.  I wanted to go, but I worried about not being “close” to Dad geographically – we lived in Northern Virginia and he lived in Florida.  So close was relative.

“Are you nuts?” Dad said when I expressed my concern about being so far away from him.  “GO!  It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.  Think of what you’ll see.  Think of the places you’ll go.  Me?  I’ll be fine.  I know you’ll make me feel like I’m with you every place you go.”  And I promised to live up to that promise – I would send him all the details our our life in Switzerland and all the places we would see.

And of course, he came to see us, and traveled with us, too.  But that is another story for another day.

So whenever we traveled, it was like Dad was there too.  In churches across the continent I lit candles for Mom on Dad’s behalf.  I bought picture books, postcards and gifts and remembrances of each and every place we visited, and sent them to Dad along with detailed descriptions of everything we did.  I tried to look at the scenery and the architecture and look for details that Dad would find interesting or amusing.  It was a labor of love.

When I mentioned to Dad that we were planning to spend Easter break, 1999, in Belgium and Holland, Dad said “Oh, you have to go to Waterloo!  I’ve always wanted to go there.”  We discussed the fact that just like the 20th Century began with the end of WWI, the 19th Century began with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.  A turning point in the direction of the Western world.  We talked of history and how the world might be different had that battle ended differently.

Waterloo sounded good to me.  I’m interested in history, and I do find battlefields fascinating.  Touring battlefields was a concession I’d made early on to my history major husband.  By that time I’d gone with John to a zillion Civil War battlefields and to the WWII battlefields of Normandy twice.  I like learning what happened to whom, what quirks changed history, and I love to imagine what it must have been like.   I love to follow the displays that are all around preserved battlefields.  In fact, I depend on those signs because I can never, ever, remember the details, no matter how much I read before going.

I find it fascinating to stand where history was made – to look at a landscape and imagine dodging bullets, mud, looking for cover.  I spent my childhood playing soldier, I can’t help myself.

Convincing my boys to go to another battlefield was a snap, even though Waterloo was several hours away from where we were staying in Bruges (a favorite city).  We got up early one morning, and headed off.

In spite of its large place in history, the town of Waterloo is fairly small.  There were few indications that anything much had happened there, or that much had changed over the centuries.   It was farmland when the battle took place, and it was farmland when we visited.  I’m betting that it is still farmland now, 15 years later.

The main tourist destination starts here, in a building that did not witness the battle.  That should have been a clue.

Waterloo Visitors Center and Theater. (Google Image)

Waterloo Visitors Center and Theater.
(Google Image)

In we went.  We quickly realized that despite what we knew from history, and from what we’d recently read in preparation for the trip, Napoleon actually won at Waterloo.  Because everybody inside was speaking French.  Not English (la langue de la victors).  Not Flemmish, the language of the actual place where we were standing.  French, the language of the guy who lost.  Shit.

Important footnote here:  By the time we arrived at Waterloo, we’d been living in a French immersion program for nearly two years.   Still, our French sucked.  As usual I was our designated French speaker – not because I was any better at it than John or Jacob, but because I have no reservations about looking like a dope.  In fact, I’m a natural.

Bonjour, madam,” I said to the woman selling tickets, “je voudrais trois billets.”

“Zree ticket,” she said as she gave me the tickets.  “You must zee zee film.  Zee next showing of zee film begins in 10 minute.”

“Oh, there’s a film?  Ummm, what language is it in?  Do we need headphones or are there subtitles?” I peppered her with nervous questions.  The tickets were expensive and it would be a waste of money for us to watch it in French.  We might just as well get no direction at all!  And just in case she hadn’t realized it, I added:  “Our French isn’t very good.”

“Yes I see.  But you vill be fine,” she responded after a pause where she valiantly managed to not laugh.  “You vill understand zis film as well as anybod-ee else.”

John and I looked at each other.   Understand it as well as anybod-ee else?  Clearly the clerk was overestimating our linguistic skills.

“I guess everybody leaves this movie clueless!” joked John.

Some things are best left unsaid.

So into the theater we went.  In spite of the clerk’s introduction, we still expected to learn all about the Battle of Waterloo, The French, The Prussians, the English, and whoever the hell else participated in the Battle.   To get an impression to go with what we would later see outside.

We were mistaken.  Because the film was not what we expected.  It wasn’t in French, it was French.  Very French.  And by that I mean that it was lovely, had great music.  And it was incomprehensible.  Obscure.  It made no sense at all.

It said “You Americanz, you should have learnt your histoire better before you came to zee zis battlefield where we French were beaten glorious.” 

Because that film sure as hell didn’t tell us a thing about The Battle of Waterloo.  It didn’t mention Napoleon.  Or Wellington.  Or tell us the name of that Prussian general.  It didn’t help me put into context what I had read about the battle.  It didn’t match landmarks with armies, for example.  It didn’t tell us who, what, where, how or why.

Nope.  Because, apparently, that battle that’s in all the history books?  It all happened, um, in a dream.

At least, that’s the impression we got.  The film started out with three children in modern dress.  Two boys and a girl played in the yard of a centuries-old farmhouse.  They approached the house, and noted bullet holes in the walls.  Just as they touched one of them, the yard filled with smoke.  Gunfire was heard – and not far away.  It was coming from near the film’s children!

I started worrying about those kids in the film almost immediately.  I mean, didn’t they know they were playing on a battlefield?  Run, kids, Run!

Suddenly, there were soldiers surrounding the kids, wearing old-time uniforms and pointing old time guns.  Some even sported bayonets.  The soldiers pushed through the yard of the farmhouse, marching, stepping on everything in their way.  Shooting those guns at the unseen enemy.  Some soldiers wore blue; others wore red.  Everything was oh, so confusing!

Gasp!  The kids were caught in a battle!  Maybe even the Battle of Waterloo!

Jacob leaned over to John:

“Dad,” he said, “This is weird.  Why aren’t they telling us what happened?”

Based on what we learned from the film, the Battle of Waterloo occurred in a time warp – and it included soldiers in multicolored uniforms and kids in modern dress.  And smoke and noise.  With an occasional scream from the little girl, the wuss.

No Smoking!  (Google Image)

No Smoking!
And DON’T SHOOT THOSE STUPID FUTURE KIDS! (Google Image)

John, Jacob and I giggled throughout the movie.  In fact, we left pretty sure that the movie was a joke, played only for American visitors, because you see, we were the only people there that day — it was early in the season.  Yup, that film certainly didn’t tell us anything about what happened on June 18, 1815, in one of the most celebrated military encounters in world history.

Luckily, though, Jacob and I regularly traveled with our own military historian.  So without really any more understanding than any of us had gone in with, we headed out the door to the actual battlefield.

Sort of.

Because the landscape doesn’t look like it did when the battle we were not learning about allegedly took place.

Nope.  If Napoleon Bonaparte himself got caught in that very same time warp, he would take off his bicorne hat and scratched his head as well as his tummy.  His horse would be pretty confused, too.  As would Wellington and that Prussian guy, whatever his name was.

Napoleon and His Horse, who is clearly rearing as a result of the time warp. Painting by Jacques-Louis David

Which way to Wellington? Zat way? or Zis way?
Painting by Jacques-Louis David

Because where there was perfectly flat farmland in Napoleon’s recollection, there was now a mound.  A man-made hill.  An enormous pile of dirt covered by grass with a sculpture of a lion atop of a very long, steep staircase.

Google Image

Google Image

I thought of Dad as we climbed the 226 steps to the top of the 141 foot Butte du Lion (allegedly it’s the Lion’s Mound, but you do get the best view of the Lion’s butt) to view the battlefield.  The Lion’s Mound was not there when Napoleon and Wellington were; it was built as a memorial to the soldiers who died there.

And it was just as well that Dad wasn’t with us on this trip; the climb would have finished him off, for sure.  Plus he wouldn’t have learned any more for his climb.  I certainly didn’t.

You see, the view from the top was, ummm, boring.

In addition to the lion, a pretty cool sculpture, there was only a very narrow pedestrian area from which you can see the battlefield/newly plowed farm fields that surround the mound.  You get a panorama of farm fields, from where you see a few farmhouses (including the one in the film!) and the Visitor’s Centre.

And that is all.

There was no information up there about the battle.  Nothing.  Nada.  Not a map, not a pointer, not a clue.

Nothing up there told us what happened below to change the course of history. Nothing explained how what happened there stopped the French conquests under Napoleon which resulted, albeit indirectly, in my poor French.  There was no map, no arrow, no indicator pointing to where the troops had come from or where they went.  Where were the French?  Did the Prussians come from East or West?  And the Brits?  Where did they start?  Where did they finish.  What the hell happened here?

And why were those damn kids in the middle of all of it?

Fortunately for Jacob and I, John, who knows everything, pointed out to Jacob and I what had happened and where.  How the Brits and the Prussians joined forces, how Napoleon was defeated and fled on foot for a while before being captured.  And so we learned a lot, Jacob and I, in spite of the absence of information at the information center and on top of the mound.

And I knew that I would thoroughly enjoy explaining the Battle of Waterloo to Dad with my rendition of the Tourist Board’s film.

*     *     *

I wanted to go to Waterloo because my Dad wanted to go.  And since he couldn’t, well, I did.  We did.  And it was a riot – we had a blast.

That is the thing about travel – it’s important to temper what someone else enthusiastically loves or wants to see with what you want to see.  But no matter what you encounter, if you find the fun even in disappointment, well, you won’t be disappointed.

Unless you get your travel tips from my Dad, that is.*

*You didn’t click on the link like I told you to, did you?

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Dad, Family, Holidays, Huh?, Humor

Losing Hearts in Venice

Eight-year old Jacob looked at me as if I’d gone crazy.  He stopped in his tracks, put his hands on his hips, tilted his head and spoke to me in a tone that was a prelude of the teen years to come.  Looking back, he had some justification.

You see, I was talking to him about Florence, Italy.  I was telling him some of the things I’d learned about the city and its history in preparation for a visit we’d be taking there in about two weeks.  I finished up my quick summary of the history, the art, the architecture, the famous people who’d lived there.  I then offered an enticement.

“You know what, Jacob,” I said.  “I read that most Italians find Florence to be their most beautiful city.”

“Mom,” my son said with his hands on his hips and his lips pursed, “how can any city be more beautiful than Venice?”

Because like me, Jacob had fallen in love with Venice when we visited that city a year earlier.

We actually went to Venice twice.

In August 1998, John, Jacob and I had gone to visit American friends who  were staying in Trieste, which is on the other side of the Aegean Sea.  Venice could be easily reached via a short train ride.

Truthfully, I wasn’t all that excited.  Venice wasn’t really high on my list of places I had to see while we were in Europe.  But we were so close, so of course going seemed like a great idea.  We’d spend a day there, and then on other trips I could see Rome and Florence — the Italian cities I really wanted to visit.

Our train was delayed by a couple of hours, and the evening train cancelled.  So we had four hours to see the city.  It would be plenty, I was sure.

Until, that is, I stepped off the train and found that I really had been transported — we’d landed in a place that was nothing like I’d imagined.  A truly magical place.

I’d read that it feels like you’re back in time because there are no cars in Venice.

I’d heard about the light in Venice, that there is nothing quite like it.  The buildings, mostly built of marble of different hues, reflect the water and the water reflects the buildings.  They both seem to dance at the slightest breeze.

I’d learned about the architecture in Venice, a mixture of European, North African, Middle-Eastern with hints of Asian, styles and materials brought back from the known world by the traders and explorers that built the city and made it fabulously wealthy.

But nothing, nothing, had prepared me for the impact that the beautiful city had on my heart — from the moment we stepped off the train.

Our afternoon gave me a much too quick taste of the magic.

With two young boys and a baby in tow, our first stop was for a late lunch — pizza on the Grand Canal.

Marco just couldn't believe that he'd missed the ice cream boat!

Jacob and Marco, who just couldn’t believe that he’d missed the ice cream boat!

We crammed as much as we could into an afternoon.  August 31st, when everything was mobbed.  We spent time in St. Marco’s Square, visited the Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, crossed the Bridge of Sighs into the Doge’s prison.

When we got back to the train station, I made John promise me that Venice would be our next destination.  An afternoon was not nearly enough time, and my heart was breaking at leaving the magical city.

We started planning to go back to Venice the instant we arrived back home to Switzerland.  Jacob had a 5-day weekend in early October.  So we booked train tickets, a hotel, and got ready to go back.  We arrived at dawn, which is when all the guidebooks tell you to arrive in Venice.  Because the colors from the sunrise reflecting on the water and on the buildings that line the canals.  It is a sight that I will not even try to describe.  Indeed, I’ve never seen a photograph or read a description that did it justice.

Our visit was filled with beauty, from start to finish.  But it is the last night I want to tell you about.

We had done as much touring as you can do with a 7-year old.  A few museums, a lot of churches.  We climbed the campaniles (bell towers) of many churches to get the perfect view of the city that all three of us had fallen for.  We saw masterpieces by Titian, Tintoretto and others, still hanging where they were meant to hang — in the churches of Venice, and in the unique light of Venice.

We went on a gondola ride, of course.  It was wonderful AND schlocky.  We saw Marco Polo’s house.

PIC00022 (2)

But on the last night, Venice captured my heart, and Jacob’s.

We’d finished dinner, and wandered back into St. Mark’s Square.  Jacob wanted to climb the Campanile, the bell tower.

PIC00010

Jacob with the St Marco’s Square behind him. The Campanile standing tall behind him.

We’d climbed the Campanile once already, but Jacob wanted to see the city from that prospect one more time on our last night, hoping to view the city as the lights came up on the buildings.

We loved the view, but were surprised to find that the buildings weren’t illuminated.  We climbed back down into the square, which was completely empty except for the three of us.  Two rival orchestras that were setting up outside of two restaurants on opposite sides of the Square.

The three of us wandered into the center of the piazza when it happened.

Behind us, one of the orchestras began playing a Viennese waltz.  The sound transformed the square into our own personal ballroom.  The light was fading, but soft lights around the square glowed on the Basilica, the clock tower.  Jacob took my hand, bowed, and walked me into the middle of the square.  John, the non-dancer, gave Jacob and I our moment.

My son and I — we danced.  Just the two of us, all over the cobbled square.

The instant the first orchestra had played its last notes, the orchestra on the other side began.

I could have danced all night, from My Fair Lady.  It was true — I could have.

As people began to fill the Square, we thanked both orchestras and headed back down to the Grand Canal, for a last stroll past the Doge’s palace, Vivaldi’s church and the other buildings that had seen millions of people like us come and go.

We crossed a small bridge and stopped to look across the canal at the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, and the golden ball atop the customs house.  We gazed back at the gondolas covered and berthed for the night.  We turned towards the Bridge of Sighs, where prisoners crossed from the Doge’s palace into the Doge’s prison and sighed at their last breath of freedom.

Jacob stood on that bridge with tears running down his cheeks as he looked at the beauty that surrounded us.

“I can’t believe we have to leave Venice,” he said, his heart breaking along with mine and John’s.

Photo credit:  Photozonly.com

Photo credit: Photozonly.com

della Salute by Claude Monet.  He apparently liked Venice, too.

della Salute by Claude Monet. He apparently liked Venice, too.

Was Florence more beautiful than Venice?  I don’t honestly know.  We spent nearly a week in Florence, but it rained so hard that we literally never could see the views and the vistas of that city.  But if you’re going to have a vacation where it pours, I highly recommend Florence.  There are one or two things to look at.

But Venice.  Ah, Venice.  I have never been anywhere like Venice, a place I really wasn’t that anxious to visit.  It captured my heart, and John’s and especially Jacob’s.  It is a magical place.  Words and pictures, even by Monet, cannot capture its beauty or how it made me feel.

***

I was inspired to finally write this story by DJ Matticus of The Matticus Kingdom who wrote this lovely post.  In the last year or two, John of Johnbalaya sent me back to Venice not too long ago, as did Renee of Renee Johnson Writes.

Somehow, I’m always happy to go back.  Magic and Venice.  Yup.  I’m willing to do either any time!

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Filed under Family, Holidays, Humor, Travel Stories

Hey Doc? Be Mine ♥!

Anybody who has read my blog knows that I’m really not keen on holidays.  Nope.  It stems from the fact that my family members have a nasty habit of dying on holidays.  It’s a competition.  Mostly, it’s an annoying game if you’re not playing.  AND I AM NOT PLAYING!

So I approached last Friday with a little bit of trepidation.  Valentine’s Day.  You’ll no doubt forgive me, but I hate to answer the phone on holidays, even manufactured ones.

But this Valentine’s Day changed my mind.

Yup.  It’s true.  From now on, I love Valentine’s Day.  And it has nothing to do with my husband, with chocolate or with flowers.  This Valentine’s Day, somebody saved my life.  And she did it by giving me the most terrifying news anybody ever has to hear.

CANCER

Yup.  It was my doctor.  And she told me I have cancer.  But just a little bit.  Because unlike with pregnancy, you can be ‘a little bit’ cancerous.

In all honesty, I knew it was coming.  I’ve know it for years.  Because I grew up a Cheeto.  My idyllic childhood was spent here, at my beach, hastening the inevitable.

Photo:  Offmetro.com

It was a lovely place to grow up.
Photo: Offmetro.com

For my entire childhood, I was baked to a crackly crunch.  Nobody ever used sunscreen or wore a hat.  Or sat under an umbrella.  If you put anything on your skin it was OIL to quick-fry you.

I was never one of the cool cats, though. Photo Credit:  gawkerassets.com

I was never one of the cool cats, though.
Photo Credit: gawkerassets.com

When the phone rang on Valentine’s Day, I sighed.  I don’t hear good news on a holiday.  You know that.

The call was to give me results of a biopsy done on a weird spot on my face.  A spot that had been there for quite a while, and that she had looked at several times before.  It had been ugly, but only damaging to my self-image.  Now?  It had become dangerous.

“Elyse, I’m so sorry — it’s malignant.”

That’s not something one ever wants to hear, no matter what day it is.  I’m proud to say, I took the news fairly stoically.  Well, kind of.  OK, a little bit stoically.  (I have a reputation to uphold, here.)  I fell apart later.  Minutes later.

She went on to explain that the cancer was brand new — caught really early. It hadn’t grown down, which is when it becomes serious.  It hadn’t even expanded out very far.  It wasn’t advanced, but I’d need to have it taken off and then I would be fine.  And that I should never go outside again without sunblock.

“I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, Elyse.  And on Valentine’s Day!”

Now, now, bloggin’ buddy, don’t worry.  Remember, I am a fake medical expert.  I know just what to do.  In fact, I asked for this diagnosis.   Well, sort of.

You do not need to make your plans to attend a virtual funeral.  I’m not going to die.  Well, actually, I will, but it’s a good bet this spot on my face will not be involved.  No need to plan the fiesta.

Because mine is a ZERO.

If you have to have cancer, you want to be a Stage ZERO.  I don’t know how that still means I have it, but still.  Zero is good.  Ish.

I have Stage ZERO lentigo maligna melanoma.  It’s basically a sunspot gone bad.  I have already seen two doctors, and in the next couple of weeks, I will have it removed by a plastic surgeon.  And bye-bye cancer!

So why does this make me LIKE Valentine’s Day?  Why don’t I just add it to my list of hated holidays?

Because the diagnosis saved my life.  Really.

The cancer has been caught at the earliest possible point – it just started being cancer.  It hasn’t dug it’s nasty roots deeply into my face, it hasn’t spread to my lymph nodes.  It hasn’t metastasized to any one of a dozen organs.

If I hadn’t gotten that call?

If I hadn’t had that biopsy?

If I hadn’t seen my dermatologist?

Then, and only then, my melanoma  would have become deadly.

Now, why am I telling you all this?

It’s not to get some bloggy love, although that is always welcome.

It’s because I want to save your skin.  Right now.  Listen to me, and follow my instructions precisely:

  1. Go into your bathroom
  2. Take off all of your clothes
  3. Examine your skin
  4. Check spots, moles and discolorations carefully
  5. If anything doesn’t look right, if you have a bad feeling, if something is bigger or darker or just different, go to a dermatologist and have it checked out.

I could give you the statistics that I’ve naturally been reading compulsively.  But I won’t.  You’re welcome.

Instead I’ll give you a song by Eva Cassidy, a brilliant, talented singer who died of melanoma at age 33.  I have long loved her music, and have included her in some of my most heart-felt stories.  She was also the subject of a moving story on Nightline.

But I’m not trying to make you sad.  I’m not trying to drum up sympathy for me (because really, I will be fine).  But for all of us, for all those who love us, it is really important to remember:  It is a Wonderful World.  Let’s all hang around.

Please join me in saying thanks to the nurse practitioner who just didn’t think that spot on my face looked right, and biopsied it.  Megan, I will think of you every Valentine’s Day for the rest of my life.  Thanks to you, I have a shot at it being a very long one indeed.

Now – you guys reading this – go check out your damn skin.  What are you waiting for? GO!

Me, I’m busily thinking up intriguing stories to tell folks when they see that I have a scar on my cheek …

Perhaps I’ll get a pirate hat and a parrot!

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Bloggin' Buddies, Cancer, Health and Medicine, Hey Doc?, Holidays, Melanoma, Out Damn Spot!, Taking Care of Each Other

I’d Prefer Flowers, If It’s All the Same To You

At my house, we’re not big on Valentine’s Day.  We have a nice dinner, John gets me flowers and I get him a book.  This year the book I got him is on the Civil War.

I don’t get mad if he forgets.  I mean, we’ve been married 27 years.  I know he loves me.

But I would certainly start a Civil War of my own if this was his idea of a Valentine.

Photo Credit, CrooksandLiars.com.  Thanks for the laugh!

Photo Credit, CrooksandLiars.com. Thanks for the laugh!

82 Comments

Filed under Awards, Books, Family, Holidays, Humor

The Honeymooners

Travel in the days before the internet was much more of an adventure than it is today.  Now, you can just click on a website and make an informed decision about whether you want to stay at a hotel.  You see the entire hotel, view pictures of the rooms, the grounds, the sign on the door.  The works.  You know exactly what you’re getting.

But in the olden days, for you youngsters in the audience, we had to use books.

For our honeymoon, John and I decided to do a tour of New England country inns, with one stop at a really fancy hotel in Quebec City, Canada.  So we got a book entitled Country Inns of New England, and poured over it for a month choosing just the right places for a memorable trip.

Our route took us to stops in Connecticut , Vermont and New Hampshire, up to the north and across the border into Canada where we spent several days in Quebec City, before driving down to Maine, and then home and back to real life.

The inns listed in the book were great.  Quaint.  Romantic.  Historic.  We made reservations in town in Connecticut where we had a lovely room in a converted mansion that had an amazing restaurant.  In Vermont , we booked a room at the West Mountain Inn in Arlington, Vermont.  The entry in the book promised a lovely Vermont farmhouse on a mountainside with lovely hiking trails around it.  It didn’t disappoint.

Strangely, there weren’t a whole lot of Inns listed in the book for our next destination, one night in northwestern New Hampshire.

The only listing that looked appealing was one for the Moose Inn,* which billed itself as a traditional country inn in a converted carriage house.  But the entry didn’t expand upon it like the other descriptions did.  So I called to inquire.

“Good evening,” I said, with John sitting next to me.  “I’m considering making a reservation at your Inn.  Can you please tell me a little bit about it.  We’d be coming as part of our honeymoon.”

I held the receiver between John and I so he could hear through the earpiece.  (Historical note:  that’s what we did before speakerphones.)

“Well, sure,” he said.  “First of all, my name is George.  The Moose Inn is a converted carriage house.  The best way to describe it is as sort of Newhart-y.”

Google Image

Google Image

“Newhart-y?”  John and I both said.

“Yeah, you know, the show,”  George said.  “With Bob Newhart.  He owns a country inn in the show.”

“Oh, yeah.”  I said picturing the front desk with the staircase behind it.  I’d only watched the show a few times.  (Tom Poston irritates me beyond belief.)

“Oh, yeah,” said John.

“The interior is mostly pine paneling.  There is a large common area that contains the reception desk, with comfortable chairs, book cases, and antiques galore.  The most outstanding feature though is the ceiling.  It just goes on and on, right up to the roof.  There is a balcony on three sides, and the rooms are located off those balconies.  There are only six rooms, so it’s quite intimate.”

“Do the rooms have private bathrooms?”

“Yes they do.”

“How much are the rooms?”  We were going to be there at the beginning of leaf-peeping season, late September.  The rate in the book seemed like a typo.

“$35.00 a night.”

John and I looked at each other.   The price in the book wasn’t a typo.  And the inn sounded lovely.  Could it be cheap too?

“Well,” said John, “it’s right where we want to go.  It’s only one night.  Let’s book it.”

So we did.

After a lovely stay in our second stop in southern Vermont, we decided to drive up to the Moose Inn through New Hampshire.  Neither of us had spent much time in that state.  It was time to see what it was all about, and how it compared to Vermont, which we both loved.

So we waved good-by to the perfectly manicured villages of Vermont, the white church steeples, the town greens surrounded by perfectly kept white houses with black shutters that reflected the sun.  We crossed the bridge into New Hampshire.

On the map, Vermont and New Hampshire look like complete opposite halves of a rectangle, divided by the Connecticut River.  Vermont is narrow from west to east in the south, and New Hampshire is wide.  As you travel north, Vermont widens out and New Hampshire narrows.  Politically, they are opposites, too.  Vermont is very liberal; New Hampshire, not.  In fact, the two states are opposites in many ways.  You really can tell just by looking at the map:

Google Image

Google Image

Anyway, we left Vermont, drove across the bridge over the Connecticut River and found ourselves in a very different world.  Gone were the white steeples, the town greens and the glistening 200 year old homes that lined them.

Even on a sunny day like the one we had, we found New Hampshire gray.

As a social experiment,  we decided to modify our route.  Instead of just staying in New Hampshire as planned, we crossed back and forth between the two states at every bridge we found (including a couple of covered ones).  We wanted to see if it was just the one town, or if there was a pattern.

Each time we entered it, Vermont glistened.  When going east across a bridge we’d find ourselves back in gray New Hampshire.  Run down.  Unkempt.  The roads, not well supported by state taxes (of which there are practically none) were poor quality, rutted.  Road signs were battered, missing, or hidden behind trees and shrubs.  Houses sagged.  Common space was not apparent, parkland not plentiful, obvious, or in the middle of town.

And so when we arrived at the Moose Inn, we should have been prepared for it.  But we weren’t.

Because it turned out that it wasn’t the Moose Inn, it was the Moose Lodge Inn and Motel.  There was a large part that was obviously the carriage house, but there was also a wing with Holiday Inn-like motel rooms in a wing just stuck onto the carriage house.  Worse, there were six tacky individual cabins lined up along side of it.  In front sat those tacky 50s-style lawn chairs that were 30 years either side of being cool.

Google again

Google again

John and I looked at each other’s gaping mouths.  How quaint.  How lovely.  How romantic.

We waited until we’d stopped laughing, dried our eyes, parked and went inside.

We were relieved to find that inside the carriage house part was actually quite nice.  The main room was lovely, immense.  A grandfather clock stood next to the check in desk, which was, as described on the phone by George, very Newhart-y.

OK, So it's Google Again

OK, So it’s Google Again

The center of the room was gorgeous – the ceiling soared to the roof as described.  The balconies above were well kept and quite pretty with lovely railings, the doors to the rooms visible.  At the back of the room, George noted the restaurant where we could have dinner and breakfast.

So in spite of the lodge and motel part, it was quite pretty.  And did I mention it was cheap?

George took my suitcase, John took his, and we went up a steep staircase to the balcony above.  George opened the door to our room, placed my suitcase inside across the room.  I followed, with John behind me.

Walking across the room, it felt as if someone had somehow invisibly adjusted the incline on a treadmill.  As we crossed the room, we were walking uphill.  Up a steep hill.  Inside.  The slope of the wide pine floor was so significant that John’s suitcase, which was extremely modern for the day and actually had wheels, slid several inches back downhill towards the door.

Being me, I immediately checked out the bathroom and noticed that our “private” bathroom had an open door into the next room.

“Ummm, George,” I said.  “We reserved a room with a private bathroom.”

“Oh, no problem.”  He said.  And he walked through the bathroom to the door, threw a bolt across the door and said “Private!” with a smile.

I looked at him.

“Don’t worry,” he said.  “Nobody’s staying in that room anyway.  If you have any questions, need anything, or want to stop downstairs for a glass of wine, please head on down.  Now you folks enjoy your stay.”  George closed the door behind him.

We looked around.  In spite of the slope of the floor, the room was quite pretty.  There were two antique dressers, with mirrors that had been gazed into for at least a hundred years.  There were delicate spindle night tables on each side of the bed.  The wood pieces were all covered in lace doilies that took me back to my grandparents home.

Then there was the bed.  It had a metal headboard and footboard.  It too was antique.

You know where I got this so quit asking.

You know where I got this so quit asking.

Unfortunately, the bedsprings were antique too.  John sat on the bed, and it let off a sound like a cat being spun around the room by its tail.  The sound echoed around the room, and likely around the inside of the common area in the Inn.  John shifted his weight, and the bed screeched again.  He breathed in, and again the bedsprings screamed.  He exhaled and the bedsprings did too.  Much more loudly.

Did I mention that we were on our honeymoon?

Inside the bathroom were towels that said “Holiday Inn.”  And hanging from the shower curtain bar was a plastic clip with a pad of paper, about 3 feet X 2 feet.  Each paper sheet had a map of New Hampshire, with dots on it indicating points of interest throughout the state — a larger version of a child’s place mat at IHOP.  At the bottom it said:

YOUR PERSONAL BATHMAT

“Look,” I said to John laughing.  “I’m glad nobody else is gonna use mine!”

Back downstairs for dinner in the restaurant found us in a nice dining room.  It, like much of the Inn, had pine paneling, which made me think of the house I grew up in.  The food was very much like my mother’s home cooking too.  (My mom had a limited repertoire, too.)

The menu had a wine list printed at the bottom:

WE PROUDLY SERVE

REUNITE

We were alone in the dining room, except for George, who served as our waiter.  I think he might have been the cook, too.

Back upstairs for bed after dinner, the bed continued to groan, screech, moan.  It made a huge racket when we breathed, when we laughed, when we, well, you know.  Did I mention it was our honeymoon?

I slept on the uphill side of the bed.  In the middle of the night, I got up to go to the bathroom, sending my new husband spiraling downhill.  He had been asleep, and woke abruptly just in time to catch himself before plunging off onto the floor where he would have continued to roll crashing into the dresser.

In the morning, we had breakfast in the dining room, with George as our waiter again.  We saw no sign of anyone else in the Inn.  Nor did there seem to be any patrons in the motel part or in the little huts out back.  Just us.

We wandered around the area a bit.  As the town was not listed on our bathmat, we really didn’t know what there was to do in town.  It turned out that omitting that particular town from the bathmat listing interesting places to visit in the state was not an oversight.

We left after lunch to head on up to Quebec City, where we stayed in The Château Frontenac a wonderful, posh hotel built in the late 1800s as one of a group of railway hotels in Canada.  It is an amazing hotel – beautiful, elegant with a fabulous restaurant.

HA!  I got this one from Wikipedia

HA! I got this one from Wikipedia

We had a room at the top of the turret in the center of this picture.  They upgrade you there if you tell them it’s your honeymoon.  We ate fabulous food prepared by a top Canadian chef.  We didn’t drink Reunite.

But you know what?  When we look back on our honeymoon, it is the Moose Inn that we talk about most.   I think it taught us to roll with whatever life was offering, but to hold on tight to each other and laugh.

It also taught us to choose our mattress and box-springs carefully.

* John and I dubbed it the Moose Inn Lodge and Motel, that is not it’s real name.  I drafted this post using the place’s actual name.  But I Googled it and found that it is still in business, and it has a website.  Interestingly, there are no pictures on the website.

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