Blog 

London days 2-5

Fri 8/15 – London

Step count: 8,976

Awake 7:30 before 8:00 alarm. Had a breakfast never seen before in human history: Greek yogurt and Cocoa Puffs — an experiment that will not be repeated. Thinking about the fact that I would have to speak for 15 minutes solo about Orphan Black, decided to write up some notes for it; this took about an hour. Wandered exhibit hall for a bit; had lunch with Vylar Kaftan. Orphan Black presentation went well, I think (did get several compliments on it later in the con). Talked with Nancy McClure after the panel, and made a lunch date for tomorrow. Ran into Kate, used my drink chit from panel just past to get her a glass of milk from the green room to thin out her mango lassi from lunch. Went with her to very interesting “Scientists Without Borders” panel, then a nap, from which I awoke in time for the 2-person play “Mastermind” (though Kate elected to stay in bed longer). The play was rather good, though I’m not sure whether or not I liked the ambiguous ending (is that irony?). Brief chat with Lettie Prell on way to next panel “Imagining Fantasy Lands: The Status Quo Does Not Need Worldbuilding,” which was a good panel though it didn’t cover any new ground for me. Headed for art show after that, but it was just closing.

Hung out in fan village hoping for a bite to eat before the SFWA reception but Catherine Crockett got the last dish of noodles from the China worldcon bid, alas. Talked with her and Amy Thomson for a bit before heading off to the reception. The path to the reception involved walking through an enormous, completely empty hall, climbing three flights of stairs, and walking down a ridiculously long corridor (with occasional views into an even larger hall containing a bouncy castle and some kind of maze) before reaching an anonymous conference room. Food consisted of about 4 varieties of crispy snacks, but there were plenty of good people (many of whom I hadn’t yet seen at the con, including Carl (Charlie) Allery, Cat Sparks, and Ken Brady) and it wasn’t dark, overcrowded, or too noisy.

After the reception, we trekked back to the Fan Village for our 9pm dinner rendezvous with Fran Wilde at the TARDIS. I talked with Charlie Jane Anders while waiting for Fran. She showed up with some friends of hers I hadn’t met before, or not much (I didn’t get their names, but I did get their Twitter handles: @amergina, @zanjan, @ELBlackEdits, and @KgElfland2ndCuz) and we trudged the ExCeL Centre’s 900-meter length* to a Chinese restaurant nearby. This was the first time in days I’ve been outside of the convention center and hotel at all, though apparently we were still on convention center property. The restaurant was having a big party with karaoke and we figured we wouldn’t get in, but decided to ask; the waiter said he’d check, then vanished. We were just about ready to give up and leave when he appeared from around the corner of the building and said yes, they’d seat us in a banquet room. He led us around back, through a gate, down some stairs, and through twisting corridors to a small but nicely-appointed room. The waitress did not seem pleased to see us, and the sound of rattling mah jongg tiles came to us from another room nearby, but once we ordered the food came remarkably quickly and was very good. Excellent conversation too.

After dinner we spotted the Tor UK party on the terrace of the bar next door and decided to crash it. Kate bailed but I stuck around until I was chilled through. To bed around 1am.

* While looking that figure up I discovered that ExCeL’s peculiar capitalization is because it stands for Exhibition Centre London. Which means that whether you call it ExCeL London or ExCeL Centre you’re being redundant. Also, it’s owned by the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company.

Sat 8/16 – London

Step count: 8,366

Awake 7:30 before 8:00 alarm. Dawdled a bit getting down to breakfast and had some trouble finding a table. A big difference in crowd level between 8:20 (half full) and 8:50 (line out the door). Didn’t want to wait in the line for hot food, so had yogurt and muesli for breakfast.

After breakfast, back to the room to update yesterday’s notes and blog my Orphan Black write-up, then headed out to the con. Voted in site selection; toured art show. Artist Grace Goldeen Ogawa told me her mother said to tell me how much she liked my story “Pupa” on StarShipSofa. Browsing the exhibit hall, I witnessed Charlie Stross fail his saving throw vs. Shiny — twice in less than a minute! Talked in dealers’ room and fan village with Fran Myman, Gail Carriger, Anne Leckie, Foz Meadows and others. Waited for Nancy for lunch but she was a no-show (I later learned that she was delayed by train issue) so I wandered down the Boulevard and wound up having chicken tikka masala with Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, and John Chu. The Boulevard, with its fast-food counters and shared seating, is soulless but actually functions well, like the Coffee Garden in the Columbia River Red Lion of sainted memory; you can easily see and join parties of your friends (and, unlike the Coffee Garden, this doesn’t mess up the service).

After lunch I moderated panel “The Province of All Mankind” featuring former cosmonaut Anatolii Artsebarskii. This panel was in one of the larger rooms and was about half-full (because of the large number of attendees, almost every program item I attended or appeared on was full or nearly so, but this one was a last-minute addition to the schedule and didn’t appear in the printed program). If moderating the average panel is like herding cats, moderating this one was more like driving a 40-mule team. I’ve never had to deal with a translator before… wow, what a challenge. Whenever Anatolii had the floor he would speak for about a paragraph, which took several minutes with the translation. With that, and considering that most of the audience was probably there specifically to see him, I structured the conversation around him, extracting questions from his statements to pass to the other panelists before handing the ball back to him. We were also fortunate to have a 15-year-old British young woman on the panel, who provided an interesting and remarkably hard-headed perspective on the topic question “what drives us to pursue our childhood dreams of space?”

From there I went straight to my kaffeeklatsch, which I was surprised to find had 8 people signed up (out of a maximum of 9), none of whom I already knew other than Lynne Ann. I think I gave good value for money. Hung out in dealers’ room for a bit after that, then realized it was time for a nap. But back at the room I faffed around with notes, email, etc. and had just gotten around to lying down when Kate showed up for a nap as well. Woke up just in time to head off to a book launch where we were to meet up with Maureen Speller and Paul Kincaid for dinner. It was in the same space as the SFWA reception but even further down the long long corridor (why??? All the rooms are the same and none of the ones we passed seemed to be in use). Socialized there with a variety of Brits including Dave Langford, Joseph Nicholas, and Judith Hanna while waiting for Maureen to get out of a panel.

Eventually we headed off from there with the intention of going until we found something edible and eating it. Settled on Lebanese restaurant Reem Al Bawadi — at least that was what Yelp called it and what it said on the plates, though the signage outside called it something else. Long wait to be seated, but it smelled great and had been recommended by Giulia de Cesare so we stuck it out. Once we were seated and ordered, the food arrived very quickly and was absolutely delicious. The four of us shared falafel, ful, fattoush, and 2 orders of the grilled kafta and it left us pleasantly full. We also all tried a refreshing salted yogurt drink called ayran. At the end of the meal they brought us perfect little bites of baklava. Delightful conversation too.

Paul and Maureen bailed as we passed their hotel on the way back to the con, having had a long day. Heading for a play called Hallucinating Shakespeare, we ran into Ctein who was heading the same way, and caught up with each other as we walked the half-mile length of the ExCeL. By the time we got to the other end we realized we were pretty knackered as well and decided to make an early night of it. Back to the room 9:30, to bed by 11.

Sun 8/17 – London

Step count: 6,665

Awake 7:00 before 7:30 alarm (it’s a gift, I guess) for our 8:00 breakfast appointment with Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. We talked about our travels and great museums we have known, and they shared with us the news that they would be Guests of Honor for the Kansas City Worldcon (just a few minutes before the official announcement). After breakfast I spent an hour looking at the day’s program and decided not to blow off the con.

The first panel I attended was “On The Blogs: Bloggers Discuss Their Roles in the World of YA.” Looking for book blogs? Google “book blogs” — your readers will too, and the first ones you see there are the popular ones, the ones your readers will also see first. They do come and go rather frequently. “The Internet is taking up the slack in our high school educational system” — review blogs show kids how to consider a text and write persuasively in a way they are not even allowed to in school. When sending books for review to book bloggers, read the guidelines, be direct and honest, don’t oversell yourself, be nice, have an introductory paragraph about yourself and the book, don’t include manuscript in initial email (unless guidelines say so), say thank you, be flexible about submission times (send as far in advance as possible), start chatting with bloggers on Twitter or the comments in their blogs to find out who’s who and what they’re interested in, offer a guest blog post if the blog is open to that. Blog tours aren’t that useful unless you’re Holly Black; interviews are better. Look for bloggers who are entertaining and insightful. Don’t argue with reviews, or request that a bad review be taken down. Remember that bloggers talk to each other, and to publishers.

Next I stood in line for the hall to open for big panel “Iain M. Banks, Writer and Professional.” Panelists’ anecdotes made me even more sorry I never met Banks or even saw him speak. “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Unfortunately I had to leave the Banks panel early, because I was appearing on the next one: “Should We Trash The Planet on the Way to the Stars?” Moderator Hayden Trenholm and panelist Paul Abell introduced themselves as Canadian; I claimed to be “Canadian in spirit.” They both agreed that the premise of the panel was silly; I stated (as a joke) that I would be taking the devil’s advocate approach and arguing in favor of trashing the planet. Paul told me to turn in my almost-a-Canadian card. The premise of the panel was indeed silly, and no one actually advocated trashing the planet; we spent the panel talking about motivations and priorities for space travel and what costs (financial, environmental, etc.) we’d be willing to pay as a society for it. Greg Benford: “Those who do not learn the lessons of statistics are doomed to become one.” Full house, good panel.

Had lunch in the Boulevard (chicken sandwich) with Jim Kelly, Rick Wilber, Michael Blumlein, and Michael Swanwick (another Kansas City GoH, as it happens). Attended the Clarion West party in the fan village; visited the creepy-crawlies in the exhibit hall (I mean a display of insects, not the dealers). The Girl Genius radio play was tons of fun and I recommend it highly. After that, ran into Jo Walton on the Boulevard and wound up having tea with her and Michael Swanwick. She compared the Chicago Worldcon hotel to a brain with a stroke; workarounds are required. Of course it’s actually two brains forcibly joined together (now there’s a story idea…). Later Cory Doctorow joined us. Me: mostly listening.

Dinner arrangements were… complicated… but eventually we wound up with Kate Schaefer and Glenn Hackney at the same Chinese place as Friday (this time at a table right by the door) and had a perfectly decent meal. For some reason at this con the cat-herding around arranging meals was much more difficult than even the usual Worldcon. Still, we did manage to have at least decent food with good friends at most every meal. Though not, today, with another Kansas City GoH.

Back to the con in time to catch most of the Hugos. Very pleased with the results; ceremony was pretty good too. Afterwards, Mary Robinette Kowal was a class act as usual, showing up in the Fan Village and taking pictures of people holding her Hugo. To bed about midnight.

Mon 8/18 – London

Step count: 10,241

Awake 7:15 before 8:00 alarm. Joined Lise Eisenberg and Alan Stewart (Australian) at breakfast (yogurt and muesli). After breakfast, blew off con in favor of Docklands Museum. Ran into Amanda Baker on DLR, already heading home from the con. The museum had many excellent exhibits, many of which were relevant to my next novel; we only did half of it before lunch time.

Walked around Canary Wharf looking for lunch but everything we saw was too plastic (but still, the place looks great considering it was completely destroyed by the Daleks just a few years ago.) so we got back on the DLR and took it back to the museum for Tale of India near there, which Kate had found on Yelp earlier. We were the only people in the restaurant, never a good sign, but the food, when it came, was excellent: pumpkin curry with lamb; garlic dhal; okra; lemon rice; naan. After lunch, Kate went back for the second half of the museum, while I returned to the con (despite a hang-up on the DLR). Exhibits and dealers were already closed down, but the fan village and program continued. I talked with Jeffrey Carver on the Boulevard and Dave Clements in the green room (having popped in to use my one remaining drink chit).

I headed for the “Ruling Party” panel (Charlie Stross), but the line was clearly too long to fit in the room so I bailed for “The Scientific Culture” (Dave Clements), which I enjoyed greatly. “I don’t see my job as looking for Truth, I see it as building models that fit the data better and better.” — “This business of knowing more than most people about something can lead to arrogance.” “*cough*surgeons*cough*” “*cough*physicists*cough*” — Scientists work within multiple cultures (academia, industry, government, medicine, military, etc.) so what is “science culture” anyway? It’s a kind of matrix. Industry is actually more cooperative and less cutthroat than academia, which tends to pit individual researchers against each other (as opposed to industry, which tends to have teams working toward a common goal). — Science offers an occasional “I am the first person in human history to see this” experience which is unique and addictive. Geologist: “I can touch a billion-year-old rock and feel myself a very small part of a very big story.” Astrophysicist: “I can’t touch them, but I can look at some very old things.” Other astrophysicist: “My things are older than your rocks.”

Next panel was “How Space Missions Happen,” which was largely anecdotes, and of course plenty of puns from Jordin Kare. “It’s the end of the world… con.” — Space funding is “politics first, finance second, science and engineering third;” “everything comes from luck and personal contacts.” — NASA wanted to do everything “faster, better, cheaper” but engineers know it’s “pick two one.” — Geoff Landis worked on an instrument to make fuel on Mars but the mission was canceled when Mars Polar Lander, based on the same design, failed. The spaceframe did eventually fly (under the name Phoenix) but all the science instruments were scraped off and replaced by new ones. Geoff got a T-shirt: “My spacecraft went to Mars and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.” — “NASA is a collection of fiefdoms, each with its own budget — it’s amazing how little the director actually controls.” — The “Triana” mission was initiated by VP Al Gore and was mothballed for 12 years after Gore lost in 2000. It’s now scheduled to launch (under a new name) in 2015 but nobody’s left who knows how it works and it all has to be reverse-engineered. — There’s a revolution happening now with 10cm “cubesats” which can be piggybacked on other missions effectively free… “but there’s no such thing as a free launch.” Cubesats cost less than the Xerox bill for big satellites, meaning that failure isn’t a disaster. “In the computer industry, failure is not an option… it comes bundled with the software.” Most cubesats are built by students, who work cheap or free. — It’s extremely difficult to launch a satellite to orbit a gas giant’s moon. The Europa Clipper mission has been repurposed as a Jupiter mission with Europa flybys because it’s so much easier to do it that way. — It takes ~5 years to develop a satellite, 10-30 years for a major mission (e.g. space telescope).

During that panel Kate and I decided (via text message) to order carry-out from the fabulous Lebanese restaurant and take it into the fan village where Donya White, with her broken kneecap, was encamped. When we called the restaurant to place our order, they insisted on a phone number but then were apparently unable to comprehend Kate’s US cell phone number when she gave it. Apart from the problems of the international prefix, I figured that they just couldn’t understand a number stated in groups of three, three, and four digits — I took the phone from Kate and gave them the digits in pairs, and they accepted that. I know that I have great difficulty comprehending a phone number when it’s stated European-style in pairs (or, even worse, as two-digit numbers e.g. “seventeen” instead of “one seven”).

Ran back to room for coat, cash, and phone charger, as my phone was getting very low on juice, then met Kate at panel “How Do You Divide a Railroad?” States leave archaeological marks in societies when they join, and when they break… you still can’t take a bus across the Daneline. (NB: I have Googled on this term and come up empty. Farah, if you’re reading this, can you explain?) Every national border in Europe is a tide-mark of the ebb and flow of empires. Don’t forget that governments exist at multiple levels (nation, department, county, city). When a state breaks up, who gets the existing embassies? Who pays the pensions? [It was at this point, halfway through the panel, that I realized that the unstated subtext of this panel about “what happens when nations break up” is the open question of Scottish independence.] Revolutions don’t happen when things are really bad; they happen when things have been bad and have gotten a bit better. In Adam Roberts’s novel Salt the big societal problem starts with a custody battle over a child. Infrastructure is always a big issue when countries divide. If Scotland becomes an independent EU country they won’t be able to charge English students more to attend Scottish universities, which they are permitted to do now. Irish people can vote in British elections and enter Britain without passports not out of friendliness but because Britain didn’t want to recognize Ireland’s independence. (This scattered write-up makes the panel, which was brilliant, seem much less coherent than it was. I blame end-of-con brain.)

After the panel, we hiked down to the Lebanese restaurant. We had some worries about our order, given the confusion about the phone number, but it was waiting for us (along with a restaurant-full of fans). Dragged it back to the fan village and a very grateful Allen and Donya (who seemed remarkably chipper). Had a nice dinner with them and some of their friends. One last pass around the fan village. Met Lynne Ann, Sarah a Goodman, and Juan and Elise on the way out. Back to the hotel by 9. A good end to the con.

And now… photos!

IMG 1596
For you are crunchy and good with ketchup

IMG 1608
These signs were in every bathroom. Who cares if a wall gets slippery when wet?

IMG 4104
Charlie Stross blows his saving throw vs. Shiny

IMG 1617
Don’t mess with li’l Cap’n America

IMG 1623
The Fan Village. Note the group posing for a photo in front of the TARDIS, which includes Deadpool, a Jawa, a Stormtrooper, and Batman

IMG 4105
I had a poster in the Exhibits Hall

IMG 1625
This vast, empty airplane hangar was only the first stage in the route to the SFWA reception

IMG 1631
Phil Foglio gives the audience (playing air pirates) their line in the Girl Genius Radio Play

IMG 4108
Yes, I am a big geek

IMG 1641
They called this the “party tree,” possibly because it looks as though it has partied too hard

IMG 1645
This, believe it or not, is a Smart Car — a quarter-mouse-fart engine with the styling of a 500hp Jaguar

IMG 1646
Proclamation outside the former warehouse which now houses the Docklands Museum. They don’t write ’em like that any more.

IMG 1690The Boulevard after the con was over. You’ll have to imagine these chairs crowded with fans.

Belgium days 6-7, London day 1

Tue 8/12 – Mechelen

Step count: 13,658

Awake 7:15 ahead of 7:30 alarm. We were joined for breakfast today by Lynne Ann and Roelof’s friends Irina and Sara, then got out the door by 9:30. Caught a bus to the train station (even I can recognize “you can’t miss it” in Dutch), then a train to Brussels.

In Brussels we got rather lost coming out of the station, but did eventually manage to find the Beaux Arts museum. It’s actually 4 museums: Magritte, Old Masters, Fin de Siecle, and Modern. We bought a combo ticket and started with the Magritte, which provided an excellent overview of the man and his work, with many well-known paintings. I did have trouble following the text, which tended to the poetic (not too surprising given Magritte’s surrealism and fascination with the relationship between art and language).

After Magritte it was time for lunch. The museum restaurant was too expensive, the museum cafe seemed understaffed (long line of people awaiting service) so we headed for the nearby Comics Cafe, but ended up at Sushi Shop next door to that. Not the best sushi ever, but it was grab-and-go convenient.

Back to the museum after lunch for the Old Masters (Breugels, Rembrandt, et al were cool, but all in all rather dark and brown and featured far too many dreary Crucifixions) and Fin de Siecle (much more to my taste than the Old Masters, including paintings full of life, some dynamite Art Noveau furniture, and at last I’ve met James Ensor, Belgium’s famous painter). Also in the Old Masters gallery for some reason: a series of modern bronze self-portrait busts with added horns, delightfully whimsical. After that we were very low on spoons. Had hoped to hit comics museum but simply didn’t have the energy, so headed home. Did stop in a little shop near the station in hopes of some 1958 World’s Fair memorabilia but came up dry.

Took the train back to Mechelen. Stopped at a couple of book shops on the way home from the station, finding a few items, then took Lynne Ann and Roelof to a nice dinner at restaurant Puro. I had carrot soup to start, then “Mechelse koekoek” (translated into English as “Malines cuckoo,” it’s a local bird which, well, tastes like chicken, but was deliciously prepared with an onion cream sauce, broad beans, and potatoes au gratin) and ice cream with advocaat for dessert. After dinner, came home and the cats actually deigned to show themselves, even to be petted a bit. Had hoped to do more than one museum today but, in effect, we did do three. Hope to have enough time tomorrow to see the comics museum before the train to London. To bed about 11:00, after a glimpse of the near-perigee near-full moon.

Wed 8/13 – Mechelen-Brussels-London

Step count: 7,888

Awake 8:30 or so, though Kate slept poorly and didn’t wake up until nearly 9:30. Breakfast, wrapped up St. Michael for travel, gathered divots, packed, checked around for any left-behind stuff, said goodbye to Roelof; Lynne Ann accompanied us to Brussels. By the time we got our bags squared away in a locker it was 12:45. We had about 2 hours until we wanted to check in, not really enough time for the comics museum, alas. Lunch of panini at Cafe Antonio near the station, not bad (it was down the street from the place we were heading for, which was closed for vacation). Nothing much in the vicinity of the station, so went back inside. Bought chocolates and a waffle, retrieved bags, went to check in — sorry, too early, come back at 3. Sat on a bench in the plaza for half an hour, then came back. Some American arguing with some Brit in the line, also screaming babies. Lynne Ann stuck around until we got through the first passport check. Half an hour to get through passport control and security, then 15 minutes in the waiting room before boarding at 3:45 for a 4:00 train — “Welcome aboard the Snowpiercer, I mean Eurostar.” Weird not to have seatbelts and safety lecture after all that.

Swift, smooth 2-hour journey to St. Pancras station. Massive rush-hour crowds and an unanticipated change of trains meant that getting from there to our hotel (Aloft) took 3 trains and an hour and a half. Then Kate had to bail from the front desk due to a scent cannon nearby, leaving me to cope with checkin and all the luggage. I kind of lost it.

Room is nice, close to elevator, very modern, plenty of outlets, on the small side (but much bigger than the last 2 weeks!). After checking in, wandered over to convention center and registered; program ops was closed for the night, though. Ran into some fans but didn’t have the brain for conversation. Went back to the room to put our feet up for a bit. After perusing program book for a short time (did not fall asleep, I swear) looked up and realized it was already 7:50, or 8:50 Paris time. No wonder we were hungry and brainless. Decided on hotel restaurant for dinner, but they couldn’t seat us until 8:30. Checked out bar and other options nearby and realized that was our best option. When 8:30 came it took a while to be seated. I had a very bad feeling about this, but the food didn’t actually take all that long to arrive and was actually really good: Irish stew for me, chicken curry for Kate. Can’t believe how wiped I was after a day whose main activity was just a 2-hour train ride. Fell over hard 10:00.

Thu 8/14 – London

Step count: 7,400

Awake 6:00 with a hard bar of sunlight shining into my eyes, as I didn’t get the blackout curtain quite closed. Also: room has not a single drawer, no shelves to speak of, only a short closet with 6 hangers (on a bar with slots for 5). Out of bed 7:30 to beat the crowd at breakfast. Very nice breakfast spread, full range of options including yogurt, fruit, cereals, breads and pastries, and the usual cooked options. Had egg, sausage, hash browns, and mushrooms (“will there be mushrooms at breakfast?”) just to remind myself where I am. Still very weary; maybe doing a Worldcon after three weeks of European travel was a mistake. Back to room, sync’d photos, blogged schedule, etc. Tried to put money on Oyster card via website but this proved unworkable due to credit card hassles. Off to con!

No one knew where program participant packet pickup was, but I did find it eventually (it was on the far side of the blocks-long line for registration — sure am glad we registered Wednesday night!). No program participant ribbons, though; they were held up at Customs and didn’t arrive until the second day of the con. Two-sided badges were a great idea (name is visible even if badge flips around) but the back-of-badge program sticker obscured it, so I stuck that on my name tent instead. Talked in green room with Todd McCaffrey, Bud Sparhawk, et al before my 11:00 panel “Reimagining Families.” Surprisingly, we had a packed house. Turns out there were only 6 panels at that hour, all in small rooms, so all were packed, but it was still a nice surprise. Panel was pretty low-energy — I tried to engage the other panelists in actual conversation but the bait was not taken — but all in all a success I think. Talked with Jed and a couple of audience members for a while afterward.

Lunch in “Boulevard” (convention center food court) of adequate lamb rogan josh with Tom Becker and several Brits slightly known to me. Hung out in Fan Village for a while, had a very nice talk with some local physicist in the Exhibits Hall about dark energy. Attended first half-hour of a panel on “The Joy of Sex” (for which GoH Chris Foss did the illustrations) but got a tweet from CE Murphy — whom I had not met before but a mutual friend had suggested via Twitter “you’re both at the convention, you should meet” and she was available now — so I bailed (couldn’t hear anyway, why don’t people use the damn microphones) and met her in the Fan Village bar. Learned that a TARDIS makes an excellent rendezvous point. Had a nice chat with her and several other Irish fans.

I was feeling very chilly then (I guess they turned the air conditioning on) and the rain had let up, so dashed back to the hotel to put on another layer. Ran into Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Terri Windling, and Mr. Terri Windling. Also Patrick and Teresa, just arrived after being greatly delayed by traffic. Tried to help Teresa get to her panel on time but there was little I could do to help, so I left her in the hands of a member of the Nights Watch (no, really). Met up with members of Book View Cafe for an early dinner, wound up in Boulevard again. Had a baked potato with chili, again adequate, along with cider (which no one else in the party had managed to locate). Back to Fan Village, talked with Cory Doctorow, Lisa Hayes, and others. Corey recently did a year-long Imagineering fellowship; among other things, he said that Paris Disney has problems with different “line cultures” (“the Italians’ is more of a scrum”) which explains the mess we encountered in the line at Pirates of the Caribbean. Presupported Helsinki in 2017 and got a T-shirt.

Off to Retro Hugos with Kate. Sat with Flick and, briefly, with Farah Mendelsohn. Mary Robinette’s outfit and hair were fabulous, but her opening number seemed off for some reason, as though she couldn’t hear the orchestra. First Fandom awards were all presented by one deathly dull presenter who went on and on in a monotone without looking up. Some of the recipients weren’t much better. Endless, tedious. Realized I didn’t care who won the Retro Hugos and bailed.

Back to Fan Village, talked with Alan Baum (Donya, having broken her kneecap in the Tube on the first day, had just gotten out of surgery), Jack Foy, Paul Cornell, and others, met up with Kate for “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.” It was fun and much of it was comprehensible to non-Brits. Back to the room by 11, wrote up these notes (remembered more than I thought I would!). To bed before midnight.

And now, a few photos

IMG 1560
Street scene in Brussels

IMG 1565
One of Mechelen’s selection of fine book shops

IMG 1568
Our last view of Mechelen’s Grote Markt

IMG 1591
Our first view of the Aloft hotel

Why you should be watching Orphan Black

One of my program items at the Worldcon was “Why Aren’t You Watching…”, a series of panels in which fans of various current TV series were invited to advocate for 15 minutes each about why you should be watching their favorite shows. I did the session on Orphan Black. Here’s what I said.

Orphan Black is the story of con artist Sarah Manning, played by Tatiana Maslany. A young woman with a troubled past, a pretty messed-up present, and not much hope for the future, she is an orphan and a single mother whose seven-year-old daughter Kira is currently being raised by her foster mother. She also has a FABulous foster brother, Felix, an artist and rent-boy who is a hoot and a half. One terrible day, when everything in Sarah’s life is going wrong, she sees something unbelievable: a woman on a railway platform who looks exactly like her. Before Sarah can approach her, the woman slips off her jacket and shoes, sets down her purse, and steps in front of an oncoming train. Stunned by this inexplicable occurrence, she picks up the dead woman’s purse and finds inside a ready-made escape route from her miserable life: she will adopt the dead woman’s identity and claim that the corpse on the tracks is her.

Sarah intends to clear out Beth’s bank account and hit the road with Kira and Felix, but it’ll take time to get that much money in cash, so she finds herself having to occupy the dead woman’s shoes, job, and life for longer than she’d planned. But playing someone else isn’t easy, especially when the dead woman, Beth Childs, is a police detective. Working with limited information, Sarah finds herself trapped in a web of lies to Beth’s partner Art Bell and boyfriend Paul, while Sarah’s abusive, drug-dealing ex-boyfriend “Vic the Dick” becomes unexpectedly morose over Sarah’s death and insists that Felix, who is in on the scam, help with a big public memorial service.

Sarah finds herself rapidly switching identities and accents (Sarah is English, Beth Canadian) as she tries to manage her relationships with Art, Paul, Felix, Vic, Kira, and her foster mother Mrs. S without anyone but Felix finding out about the scam. She particularly doesn’t want Kira to learn that her mother is supposedly dead. But the late Beth had two mobile phones: one is connected to her public life as a cop, and the other keeps buzzing with cryptic messages from some stranger who insists on meeting her. Beth also has a safe deposit box with information on several apparently unconnected women. And Beth is under investigation for having shot a civilian, in a situation that reeks of conspiracy.

Then things get really complicated, as the mysterious message-leaver slips into Beth’s car. Her name is Katja, she’s German… and she too looks exactly like Sarah. WTF?

Before long Sarah finds herself investigating — and possibly embroiled in — a conspiracy involving a biotech corporation, a scientific-slash-social movement called Neolution (led by Dr. Aldous Leekie, played by Max Headroom star Matt Frewer), a scary religious cult, and a secret military project. She meets several more young women who look like her: dreadlocked bisexual grad student Cosima, uptight soccer mom Alison, unstable Ukranian assassin Helena, corporate shark Rachel, and who knows how many more might be lurking out there.

And it’s those clones, all played by Tatiana Maslany, that really make Orphan Black worth watching. Genetically identical, all the same age, but raised in different countries under different circumstances, each of them is a distinct individual with unique speech patterns, mannerisms, and reactions. Maslany, with the help of brilliant but unobtrusive special effects, makes you completely believe in these different human beings, and the many scenes in which she portrays one clone pretending to be another are some of the finest acting I’ve ever seen on television. A scene near the end of season 2 in which most of the clones participate in a dance party is a fabulous, wordless paragon of acting and filmmaking genius. Sarah’s joyous hip-hop, Cosima’s dreamy glide, Alison’s contained shuffle, and Helena’s frenetic thrash are perfect demonstrations of the characters and the actress’s complete understanding of them from the cellular level on up. The fact that Tatiana Maslany has never even been nominated for an Emmy should be a felony.

Many of the other characters, including Leekie, Mrs. S, the fabulous Felix, and even Vic the Dick — who manages to be sympathetic and completely despicable at the same time — are also excellent, and they inhabit a variety of worlds: seedy dance clubs, frightening religious cults, university biotech laboratories, corporate office suites, and, most frightening of all, the suburbs of Toronto. The creators keep the extremely complex plot spinning along at high speed, and you have to pay close attention to keep the players straight, but they play fair with the viewer — though there are plenty of surprises, all the pieces are right there in plain sight. The music, too, is excellent — atmospheric, modern, and kicky. It’s a thoughtful, intelligent show, carefully crafted and brilliantly executed.

It’s also real science fiction, of a type rarely seen on television — one in which the science and the fiction are inseparable and both are important. This is the story of a bunch of believable human beings whose lives are deeply affected by a fictional but highly plausible technology. The science is sometimes a bit hand-wavy, but it’s good enough for this non-biologist, and the varied reactions of the characters, their organizations, and the larger society to this technological change are well-thought-out and seem realistic, though sometimes extreme.

Orphan Black is a hell of a ride. There are two seasons so far, each with a satisfying arc, and you really have to watch the episodes in order. My suggestion is to space them out, giving yourself a chance to consider the implications of each episode and anticipate future developments before watching the next, but I suspect that once you start you’ll binge until they’re all gone and you’ll be left anxiously anticipating season 3 with the rest of us.

I’ll leave you with one caveat: there were some developments at the end of season 2 that make me question whether the show can keep this performance up for another season. But the creators have done such a good job so far that I have hope that they’ll be able to continue the streak. We’ll have to see. In the world of Orphan Black, the only constant is change.

My LonCon3 Schedule

  • Thursday, 14 August, 11am-12pm: Reimagining Families in Capital Suite 2 (Level 3) with Jed Hartman, Rosanne Rabinowitz, Laura Lam, and Cherry Potts

    In a 2013 column for Tor.com, Alex Dally MacFarlane called for a greater diversity in the way SF and fantasy represent families, pointing out that in the real world, “People of all sexualities and genders join together in twos, threes, or more. Family-strong friendships, auntie networks, global families… The ways we live together are endless.” Which stories centre non-normative family structures? What are the challenges of doing this in an SF context, and what are the advantages? How does representing a wider range of family types change the stories that are told?

  • Friday, 15 August, 12-1pm: What Do You Mean You Don’t Watch … Orphan Black, Grimm or The Returned in Capital Suite 17 (Level 3) with Mark Slater, Jeanne Beckwith, and Maura McHugh

    Once upon a time, a fan of genre television could watch everything. Back in the 20th century, the number of SF or fantasy shows running at any given time were in the low single figures. But here in 2014 we’re now drowning in content – and much as it is impossible to read every SF book published, it is becoming increasingly difficult to watch every genre TV series (even with the ability to stream seasons or binge on boxsets) – so we have to decide, and often gamble, on which shows we will give our precious time to. In the first of our ‘What Do You Mean You Don’t Watch’ sessions, advocates for ‘Orphan Black’, ‘Grimm’ and ‘The Returned’, will each have 15 minutes to convince an audience that these are the shows you should be choosing.

  • Saturday, 16 August, 1:30-3pm: “The Province of All Mankind” in Capital Suite 7+12 (Level 3) with cosmonaut Anatolii Artsebarskii, Karen Furlong, Emma J. King, and Mary Turzillo

    This program item is a late addition and does not appear in the printed program. Come see me moderate a panel with an actual Russian cosmonaut!

    For many of us, space holds an endless fascination: we strive to explore the cosmos through scientific research, through our dreams and imaginations in fiction, and by travelling into space itself. Our panel of scientists, writers, and space travellers discuss the ways they were driven to explore our “childhood dream of the sky”, and what might be next for human spaceflight in literature, in science, and in our future.

  • Saturday, 16 August, 3-4pm: Kaffeeklatsch

    Come have coffee and ask me anything!

  • Sunday, 17 August, 12-1:30pm: Should We Trash the Planet on the Way to the Stars? in Capital Suite 5 (Level 3) with Hayden Trenholm, Gregory Benford, Mark Charan Newton, and Paul Abell

    The development and deployment of technologies that would allow mass migration to other planets and stars can pose major threats to the ecology of the Earth – launching nuclear pulse rockets from the ground for example. If this is the only way to expand into space, should we do it? And to what extent do these arguments apply to other technological developments?

Belgium days 3-5

Sat 8/9 – Mechelen

Step count: 12,749

Awake 9ish, I think; breakfast of Greek yogurt with fresh local blueberries and muesli. Today was our day to explore Mechelen. Started with the Saturday morning market in Grote Markt: the whole town square and several subsidiary squares all filled with stands selling vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, bread, pastries, clothing, and cheap consumer goods of all types. Roelof said it was a little underpopulated because of the summer holidays, but it seemed to be hopping to me. Picked up some herring and a few other things, hit the post office, then we went off in separate directions. I went back to the house, where I saw one of the cats (Skip, I think; she hissed at me) and I picked up a Mechelen walking tour booklet Roelof had offered. Followed the booklet (Streetwise Mechelen, very well written and full of interesting tidbits) from the Grote Markt to picturesque streets, several churches, and palatial buildings. Took plenty of pictures. Passed at least one and possibly two wedding parties, including the celebrants coming up the aisle at St Rumbold’s Cathedral as I was heading down (I beat a hasty retreat as soon as I realized what was happening). Managed to buy a hartenwafel (little heart-shaped waffle) for a snack and some chocolates for a gift, using a horrific mishmosh of German, English, and a little mangled Dutch.

Back to house for lunch: herring for everyone else, ham sandwich for me. After lunch Roelof, Kate, and I went back to a couple of churches I’d spotted in the morning that weren’t open to visitors yet, including the interesting informative sign that replaces the taken-away-for-renovations statue of “Jesus at the Mount of Olives” at Klapgat (“here, let me show you something that isn’t there”), then walked along the boardwalk by the river. We spotted an exhibit about the Cavalcade procession held here once every 25 years (the last one was in 2013). The Cavalcade costumes were hung up on racks in such a way that it looked more like a shop as an exhibit — kind of strange.

Back home for dinner with Lynne Ann and Roelof and their friends Freddy and Mies. Full spread of language skills: me with almost no Dutch, Kate with some Dutch, American-born Lynne Ann with very strong Dutch, Netherlands-born Roelof with very strong English, Flemish Mies with good English, Flemish Freddy with very little English (and a nearly impenetrable Flemish accent). Nonetheless, we managed to have good conversation over a tasty dinner, prepared by Lynne Ann and Roelof, of teriyaki chicken skewers, chirashi sushi, and a seaweed salad. After dinner we all went across the street for ice cream and more conversation. To bed around 11:00, I think.

Sun 8/10 – Mechelen

Step count: 10,473

Awake around 8:00. With Kate still asleep, read Facebook on my phone for a bit until Lynne Ann posted a comment: “Hey, Mister Awake-Enough-to-Like-This-Post! Loving spouse has just gone to the bakery for breakfast”. I took the hint and got up.

Yogurt and blueberries for breakfast, plus fresh pastries from the bakery. Today we decided to go to Brussels and meet up with Lynne Ann there after her aikido. Roelof walked with us to the station and made sure we got on the right train.

Took the tram to Atomium from the Brussels train station (wanting to hit it in the morning, as rain was forecast for the afternoon). Extremely cool! I’ve wanted to see it since I don’t know when. Found a huge line for tickets, but decided to stand in it anyway, even though the rain started while we were waiting. The first thing we encountered after the turnstile was a photographer and some poor sap dressed as Spirou. Unlike the usual “stand in front of this green screen so we can photoshop you into a picture of the thing you just visited in real life” that’s so common these days, this photographer was active and engaged as he snapped us with Spirou and separately.

The first part of the Atomium visit (first two spheres) is an exhibit about the Atomium itself and the 1958 World’s Fair, pretty intriguing. Next (three spheres) was an art installation of sound and light, also cool. The final sphere is where the Amazing Racers slept, usually only open to children. The remaining spheres are not open to the public, except for the panoramic view and schmantzy restaurant in the top sphere. On the way back down to ground level the escalator suddenly stopped and we had to hoof it the rest of the way. Once back down to ground level we found an hour-long line for the elevator to the top, so decided not to bother, especially as it was raining. But the photo of me and Kate turned out great so we bought a print and a keychain (sadly, the two shots with Spirou didn’t turn out as well). Bought a few postcards and other souvenirs.

Lynne Ann texted from the central station and we decided to rendezvous with her there for lunch. She took us to her favorite coffee shop near the station, called Arcadi. My tart of soybeans, leeks, and chicken was absolutely delish, Kate’s sandwich less so. Most everyone we encountered in Brussels speaks French, I’m able to communicate again!

Not enough spoons or time for a museum, and it was raining hard, so we decided to walk to Galerie St. Hubert right next door. This was a long, bright, glass-enclosed shopping street (one of several connected galleries) full of high-end chocolatiers, bookstores, art galleries, knickknack shops, etc. We ended up at Brussels’s Grote Markt (like Mechelen’s on gold-plated steroids) and had a drink at Lynne Ann’s favorite brasserie on the market square, Le Roy d’Espagne (The King of Spain). Interior somewhat reminiscent of The Leaky Cauldron at Universal Studios, amusingly cheeky waiter. Back to Mechelen by train, picked up Roelof at home, went to Turkish restaurant De Hete Patat (The Hot Potato) for dinner. Back home by 8, sync’d photos, sat and wrote up my notes. Had hoped to do more in Brussels today, maybe we will go back there another day rather than Ghent or Antwerp as planned. Or maybe not; life’s full of choices. To bed about 11.

Mon 8/11 – Mechelen

Step count: 11,323

Awake 7:30. Breakfast of yogurt and pain au chocolat; out the door by 9, determined to get an earlier start on the day than yesterday. Train to Antwerp. Antwerp Central station pretty amazing, though we learned later it had been built with the proceeds from slave labor. The zoo next door had some great mosaics at the entrance.

Went back into station for transit tickets, caught tram to St. Carolus church, then got off that tram and back on the one in the right direction. Church very very Baroque, with intriguing open confessionals with life-sized carved angels. Also a saint holding his own de-headed head in his hands (the actual saint’s skull, I think — definitely a sacred relic of some sort). He was St. Justus, patron saint of headaches, I shit you not. Outside the church, enjoyed the peace and quiet of Conscienceplein (named for author Hendrik Conscience, whose statue overlooks the square from the old main library which is also named after him).

Walked to cathedral, but decided not to stand in line and pay admission to see the paintings within, as it was nearly lunch time. Admired buildings in Grote Markt and several other squares. Every town we’ve visited in Belgium seems to be trying to out-Grote the others’ Grote Markts. Rejected several lunch options before settling on bar 7 Schraken. Touristy, spendy, multilingual menu, but plenty of locals as well, and the food looked good and was. I had stoemp, a traditional Flemish dish of mashed potatoes, sausage, bacon, and gravy. Not healthy and I shouldn’t have eaten it all, but I was sorry to see the end of it. Kate had moules frites, also very good.

Visited Het Steen (“dinky but photogenic castle” near the river). Popped into several book shops and other such. Then I noted cafe “De Kleine Tunnel” and wondered… what tunnel? Google Maps showed a tunnel under the river nearby, but only visible at high magnification. Pedestrian tunnel? I walked to a nearby building that looked a bit like the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel building seen in Men in Black. It was indeed the entrance to a pedestrian tunnel, with interesting tile work and neat old wooden escalators inside. Score!

Did a bit more shopping, and was amenable for more, but we both realized we were running low on spoons and decided to head home before hitting the wall for a change. Tram to train to bus to home. (De Lign (tram) and SNCB (train) iPhone apps extremely helpful in getting around.) Got home, fell over. Woke to a delicious dinner of rabbit simmered in cherry beer, mashed potatoes, and green beans, again prepared by Roelof. After dinner and conversation (largely about the history of Japan), wrote postcards and blogged.

And now… more photos!

IMG 1292
Saturday morning market in Mechelen’s Grote Markt square

IMG 1332
These guys are on a house in Mechelen called, for some strange reason, the House of the Three Devils

IMG 1338
Cavalcade costume exhibit (or possibly sale)

IMG 1345
Kate and Roelof on the Dijle River boardwalk

IMG 1353
My first view of the Atomium!

IMG 1360
And then I got to see it for real!

IMG 1362
Dramatic close-up

IMG 1371
Inside the atom!

IMG 1386
Galerie St. Hubert (Kate in red hat)

IMG 1390
Charming French bookstore inside Galerie St. Hubert

IMG 1400
These guys were on a building in the Grote Markt in Brussels

IMG 1406
Inside Le Roy d’Espagne

IMG 1421
Antwerp train station

IMG 1429
Mosaic at the entrance of the Antwerp zoo

IMG 1441
Equestrian statues are usually more, um, equestrian, and not so much camel (also: note the faces on the base)

IMG 1446
The Antwerp train station also houses the post/telephone office

IMG 1467
This is one of the little side chapels of St. Carolus; the main church is even more baroque

IMG 1468
Conscienceplein, right outside St. Carolus

IMG 1481
The peak of Antwerp city hall, just visible over other roofs

IMG 1487
Antwerp city hall, with the flags of all nations. Pride was either last weekend or next weekend, we think

IMG 1492
This picture just makes me smile

IMG 1519
“Hey! You forgot your rope!”

IMG 1522
31.57 meters below ground, at St. Anna Pedestrian Tunnel

Normandy days 5-7, Belgium days 1-2

Mon 8/4 – St. Martin-de-Landelles

Step count: 3,674

Awake 8:30. Breakfast: half an almond croissant, yogurt, coffee. Talk with Mad, Juan, Greer, Ellen. Jonathan Strahan and daughter Sophie arrived. Off to St. Jacques with Ellen for lunch; after considering several options, had lunch at Hotel St. Jacques. Delicious tender grilled pork chop for me, Kate had a salad with duck gizzards. Ellen’s aperitif arrived in a glass labeled “Suze,” the name of the protagonist in her novel Green Glass Sea, which she determined she must have. To my amazement, despite her limited French she got the owner to give it to her for free. After lunch, stopped at a magazine shop and a post office before heading home. Had intended to visit a market in the afternoon, but Kate decided she’d rather take a swim. I blogged while she did that, and took care of some writing business (about which more later). Dinner was chicken and sausages, prepared by Mad, with a salad on the side and packaged baba au rhum for dessert. After dinner, a game of anagrams and much hilarity. To bed about midnight.

Tue 8/5 – St. Martin-de-Landelles

Step count: 7,182

Awake 8:00. Breakfast of coffee, yogurt, and half an almond croissant; I’m really getting to like plain yogurt. Off to Mont St. Michel then with Pat and Greer! Stopped in Ducey on the way, for the Tuesday market there. Almost didn’t spot it; if we hadn’t seen the fair last time (same place) we would most likely have missed it. Wandered the market, picked up some sausages, nectarines, and prunes, and talked with the vendor from whom we’d bought the rabbits and chickens the other day (she didn’t remember us at first, but eventually did after Kate reminded her of how she’d passed up on a chicken so that one of her regulars could have it). It became clear to me that the vendors make a circuit of the markets each week.

Continued on toward the Mont, with fabulous views from several stops along the way. Parked in the lot and took the free shuttle along the causeway to a construction zone where the parking lot we parked in 24 years ago (!) used to be — they’re renovating extensively. The Mont itself was extremely crowded and touristy but still very, very cool; took tons of photos. Took an early lunch to avoid crowds. Mere Poulard has taken over most of the restaurants on the mont; our lunch wasn’t spectacular but perfectly adequate. I had croque monsieur (first time this trip), cider, a cappuccino (didn’t order it, exactly, but it was welcome), and a bite of Kate’s gaufre au chocolat. The line to get into the abbey itself was too long to bother with, but we did find a glow-in-the-dark St. Michael at a souvenir shop, also some kounig amann and a cider bowl with Alex’s prenom (no Isobels, alas). Back home, fell over.

Dinner, prepared by Ellen, was roast pork, bow tie noodles, and leftover green beans. For dessert Scott cut up some pain au chocolat, which was resourceful but reminded me a bit of the moment in The Sparrow when they used the shuttle for a short trip, consuming the fuel they needed to get home: very nice, but what will we have for breakfast?. Much industry gossip of a particularly catty and entertaining stripe; a hilarious game of Anomia; to bed around midnight.

Wed 8/6 – St. Martin-de-Landelles–Rouen

Step count: 2,019

Awake 8ish. Breakfast of yogurt, two half-croissants I found at the bottom of the bag, and coffee. Packed up, stripped beds, said our goodbyes, hit the road by 10. Tried 3 times to buy gas before finding a station whose pump would take my credit card (first one denied the card; second one had no card reader, door was unlocked, but no staff visible; third one finally worked).

Kate had made lunch reservations at restaurant La Petite France in tiny Surdon, and we found it without too much difficulty, arriving just after our 12:30 reservation. Absolutely fabulous entree of coquilles st. jacques on a bed of leeks. Main dish, veal with mushroom sauce, accompanied by frites and vegetables, very nice but not so wow. The entrees have been the stars of the trip, culinarily speaking. The only other people in the restaurant (whose staff appeared to consist of the waitress and the chef, likely husband and wife) were a happy multigenerational party of 12-14 which we think might have been celebrating the very recent birth of the youngest present. Credit card didn’t work, paid cash.

After lunch we headed off toward Belgium, planning to take the toll road to Roen and find lodging at some chain hotel on the far side of it. Toll plaza also refused my credit card, and Kate’s, but another card of mine did eventually work.

Rouen doesn’t have a ring road; the only way past it is to go through town. This proved stressful and confusing. Eventually we found ourselves on the far side of town and pulled off in Isneauville (“is no ville”) to find a restaurant and reconnoiter, but the town was too small to sport a restaurant, cafe, or even parking lot. But on the way into town Kate had spotted an Ibis (chain hotel) which claimed to be open despite construction, and as neither Google Maps nor TripAdvisor showed any hotels on our route ahead we doubled back to it. The entrance to the parking lot was restricted by construction to half a lane off a busy traffic circle, but after a couple of nerve-wracking tries we did eventually manage to get inside. The place was sterile and characterless but cheap, clean, and HERE. Free wifi too. We took the bird in the hand and checked in. Credit card did work here, not sure what’s up with it. Not the way I’d choose to select a place to stay but all in all it’s okay.

After settling into our room, I called the credit card company (using Skype) and after a brief conversation was told my card had been “adjusted” and there’d be no more problems. We did tell them before we left that we’d be traveling….

Looked online, found a nice restaurant nearby, called to make sure they were open; they weren’t, but recommended another: Le Cheval Rouge. Called them and made a reservation for 7:00 when they opened. Survived the traffic circle. We were not the first to arrive; there was a small family with a loud baby (it did quiet down eventually). As we ordered and ate the place filled up. Only one server visible, busy but not panicked. Food very good: appetizer of melon with porto, main course of turkey with camembert sauce, side of pureed carrots (very light and fresh), dessert an amazingly light ile flottant (floating island: baked meringue floating in a custard sauce).

Back to the hotel, survived the traffic circle again, one more time and we’ll be okay. Looked into visiting Waterloo on the way to Brussels. It is on the way, and the museum, films, and panorama sound like they’d be worth a visit, but the day will be full enough (3.5 solid hours of driving plus returning the car) that it’s probably unreasonable to cram it in, so decided not to. To bed around 11:00.

Thu 8/7 – Rouen-Brussels-Mechelen

Step count: 6,059

Awake 8ish. Pretty good spread of breakfast options, actually, though all packaged. After checking out, headed for a boulangerie in nearby Quincampoix for the 3rd-best brioche in France. Alas, it was closed for vacation (one of the hazards of visiting France in August). Sign in window said nearest available bakery was nearby Casino mini-mart, not an acceptable substitute. Alas.

Hit the road at 10, Google said it was a 3.5 hour drive, add an hour for lunch, so texted Lynne Anne (who had very generously volunteered to meet us in Brussels) that we’d be there no earlier than 14:30. On the road many people honked at me; sometimes I even knew why. I’m sure I confused people by being a black Audi doing 20 km/h below the speed limit.

Stopped in Amiens at the “Pole Jules Verne” (that’s what it said on the water tower — turns out to be a business park) in hopes of a bookstore and lunch. Took a bit of flailing to find the bookstore, located in a strip mall. Sadly the “librarie” turned out to have no books at all, only trashy magazines. Also in the mall was Paul, a chain bakery, which provided a decent roast beef sandwich and pastries for lunch. Also a Giant Casino grocery store, where we picked up some French beer and wine to take to Lynne Ann and Roelof as a hostess gift. Talked with a man in the wine aisle: what part of France are we in, and are there any local wines he could recommend? Turns out we were in Picardy, which doesn’t really produce wine, but we found something from the north of France that sounded good.

Drove on a ways, stopped in Peronne in hopes of a map of Brussels and maybe to see the “Historial de la Grande Guerre,” whatever that was. The local papeterie was closed until 3, but the Historial turned out to be a fine museum of WWI, so we stopped in for a brief visit. Just as we left the museum, about 2:00, Lynne Ann texted to say she had just arrived at the station in Brussels. But we were still over 2 hours away! Apparently we had failed to communicate that 14:30 was our earliest possible arrival time. Sent her an apologetic text and resolved to make the best possible time. Naturally we hit a terrible traffic jam around Valencienne. Texted Lynne Ann “stuck in traffic, no ETA, go on home and we’ll meet you there” but she said she didn’t mind waiting.

Worked around traffic jam on side roads and made our way into Belgium. Stopped at a rest area just past the Belgian border for a bathroom break, Brussels map, stroopwaffels, and a cold drink. Lynne Ann texted that she’d figured out where we would be returning the car. It was like having an advance spy!

Many subtle changes in highway furniture and signage showed that we were no longer in France. Then we passed from French-speaking into Dutch-speaking Belgium and the language changed too — “Bruxelles” changed to “Brusel” and the “don’t text and run into the car ahead” billboards changed from “Bip Bip Boom Boom” to “Beep Beep Boum Boum.”

Driving through Brussels, even with a map, was a challenge. We didn’t know the local rules or customs and couldn’t find the street signs. Eventually we did make it to the train station and, thanks to Lynne Ann’s hint, the car park where we’d be dropping our car (tiny tiny Europcar logo on the big QPark sign). At the parking entrance, I pushed the green button for a ticket and got only a display with two lines of rapidly-flashing text in French and Dutch that didn’t make any sense. Tried inserting a credit card but that didn’t do it either. With a line of drivers building up behind me, I pushed the little “i” button on the ticket machine and, eventually, got a voice who spoke English. He said the machine was out of paper and that I should use another lane. Thanks a lot, guys. Kate got out and waved the other drivers off so we could back up and try the other lane.

Finally got into the garage and made our way down to level -5. We wouldn’t have known what to do if we hadn’t picked the car up in a similar situation. Two bored teenagers there gave the car a quick once-over and directed us up the elevator to the office. At the top of elevator, we found ourselves in the huge Brussels train station, with no sign of any Europcar office. Set Kate down with the bags and ran off to find it. Finally did find it, turned in paperwork, no problems, au revoir.

Back to Kate, who went off to try to find Lynne Ann, meeting with almost immediate success. Lynne Ann then proceeded to help us with our luggage, show us which train to catch, get us tickets with her pass, shepherd us onto the train, show us where to get off, buy us bus passes, get us onto the right bus and off again, and let us into her lovely home (built 1650!). There we found that Roelof had fixed us a delicious Flemish stew. Roelof also went out for frites and provided a green salad. For dessert, fab gelato from the ice creamery across the street.

To bed 11ish, completely exhausted but very happy and grateful to be here.

Fri 8/8 – Mechelen

Step count: 5,439

Awake 6:30; dozed off and on until nearly 9. Breakfast of pastries, sheep and goat yogurt, cheese, bread, coffee, then chatted with Lynne Ann and Roelof and their friend Elina who popped by to pick up some stuff. After that, went out with Roelof in the drizzle to the local farm market (very small today). Lynne Ann joined us as we continued to the grocery store, vegetable market, cheese shop, meat market, bakery, and clothing store, picking up what we needed for breakfast and lunch, seeing the local sights and culture, and getting a bit oriented (though I’m still not very oriented). Back home for a nice lunch of sandwiches, then fell over hard for a long nap.

In the afternoon, dealt with email, caught up on notes, blogged a bit. Then we chatted with our hosts about a variety of topics, including languages and travels, over perry, cheese, and apples. Dinner, again provided by Roelof, was grilled duck breast, red cabbage with apples, and lovely roast potatoes. They are completely spoiling us.

After dinner, I sat with Lynne Ann while she worked on her Japanese calligraphy. I asked her “if you please, draw me a sheep” and she drew the kanji for “sheep.”

And now, more photos

IMG 1035
Door of the mairie in St. Jacques, I think

IMG 1043
Jonathan, Greer, and Mad in the kitchen

IMG 1052
Lovely produce at the market in Doucey

IMG 1063
Greer takes a photo of Mont St. Michel

IMG 1066
I took one too

IMG 4094
We are here!

IMG 1080
Arrow slits continue to perform effectively the same function today

IMG 1095
Pat at lunch, with the abbey spire visible above

IMG 1116
People walking on the tide flats below the Mount

IMG 1122
Many a seagull is to be seen

IMG 1131
This metal track brings up materials for renovation. It sits atop a stone structure used for a similar purpose in previous centuries

IMG 1142
Beautiful old buildings in every direction

IMG 1199
Even from the parking lot, it’s amazing

IMG 1209
Ellen talks to the cows. Sometimes they answer

IMG 1213
Mad, Ellen, Mike, Elise, Bear…

IMG 1214
…Scott, Pat…

IMG 1212
…and us

IMG 4096
Coquilles St. Jacques, yum

IMG 1250
One of the sights of Mechelen

IMG 1252
Another of the sights of Mechelen

IMG 1254
Mechelen city hall, I think

IMG 1257
View from our bedroom window

IMG 1261
The second-floor staircase is so steep it cannot be descended facing forwards — you must face the stairs and do kind of a grapevine step to get around the corner. This was code in 1650

Travel makes you stupid

When I woke up yesterday I could read and write, and ask questions and understand the answers. Today, not so much.

One of the pleasures of travel is practicing a foreign language, which I enjoyed greatly during our time in France. But now we’re in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, and I get to have a different adventure: attempting to communicate despite not speaking a word of the local lingo.

Admittedly, in this case I’m not that severely handicapped. Our generous hosts, Roelof and Lynne Ann, are a native speaker and longstanding inhabitant respectively; Kate has studied Dutch in the past; and between my knowledge of German and some previous exposure to Dutch I can puzzle out much of the signage and a little of the spoken language. But my ability to produce Flemish is essentially nil, so I’ve been doing a lot of smiling and nodding.

One thing I’ve discovered on this trip is that the techniques we learned from Rick Steves’ Europe through the Back Door thirty (!) years ago are no longer as useful as they were then, because so many transactions have been automated. Gesture, mime, and pointing don’t help at all when you’re trying to get something (money, bus tickets, gasoline, parking, tolls) from a machine with a schmancy audio-video interface. On the other hand, some of those machines now have instructions in English — in fact, a few of them switch to English immediately upon insertion of a US credit card. But the translation is often weak, and frequently includes bits of untranslated local language like rum-soaked raisins in the cake. It’s a mixed bag.

The bottom line, though, is that one of the big reasons I travel is to have different experiences and stretch my mind, and working in a culture where I don’t speak the language is a big part of that. So vive la difference! *

* I wanted to put that in Dutch, but I couldn’t figure out how. Which only goes to show.

Normandy days 1-4

Thu 7/31 – St. Martin-de-Landelles (cont’d)

After blogging, identified the regular beeping noise that sounded like a dying smoke alarm as a tiny toad in a crack in the wall outside, and watched the Scary Ham video. To bed about midnight-ish.

Fri 8/1 – St. Martin-de-Landelles

Step count: 4,882

Awake 9-ish. Breakfast of yogurt, muesli, and half a pain au chocolat, then a run to St. Hilaire for groceries. A detour due to construction led us to a little farm market where we got vegetables, chickens, and a rabbit (with eyes, ew). Then we walked through centre ville, stopping at the boulangerie (bread and pastries), epicerie (vegetables), papeterie (3×5 cards, colored pencils, postcards, map), and bank (cash). On the way back to the car, I swerved back to the farm market for a couple of sausage baguettes hot off the grill for our lunch. Then to Carrefour (big commercial supermarket) for everything else on the list. Greeted upon our return as conquering heroes. Ellen: “best lunch ever”. Bear: “oh hello, bunny innards”.

After lunch, sat around and read for a while. Was going to take a nap when Kate popped up: let’s take Juan to town for some cider and wine, and see some menhirs on the way. So we did that. Even a tiny mini-mart in Goron has excellent produce and a good selection of wines and local ciders. We were afraid of being late for dinner, but when we arrived we found the chickens were being very uncooperative and dinner was going to be late. Took a nap. After that, still awaiting the chickens, we had a first course of bread and cheese on the terrace and talked about superheroes, including a discussion of the relative patheticness of Aquaman and J’onn J’onzz. Elise’s chair self-destructed, apparently the third to do so, so we moved the table to a flatter spot to try to prevent further such disasters (don’t ask me how this is supposed to work). We also tried to figure out what that amazing cheese from last Wednesday’s market day was (the person who bought it didn’t get the name and it wasn’t anything obvious), but not even posting a photo and query to Twitter was able to resolve the question. What this world needs is a “what’s that cheese” app (“Cheezam”?). Back inside for more reading, then a second course of artichokes. At last the chickens appeared — they were delicious — along with some amazing roast potatoes. After dinner, we played Anagrams with the Bananagrams tiles, and Anomia with Kate’s hand-drawn deck: a silly success. More writerly chat; to bed about 1am.

Sat 8/2 – St. Martin-de-Landelles

Step count: 2,442

Awake 7:45, then back to bed until 9:30. Breakfast of corn flakes and coffee. Quiet morning of practicalities: caught up on email, checked phone messages back home, paid credit cards, etc. Drove out under lowering skies in the vague direction of St. Jacques for lunch, but wound up in Ducey, lured by sight of street fair and smell of grilling. Wandered flea market for a bit, settled on very Breton creperie Ty Breizh.

To explain this next bit I need to haul out an anecdote from a previous trip. On our first trip to France we had some andouille sausages which were incredibly delicious. A few days later we saw “andouillette” on the menu and ordered it, despite the waitress’s dubious expression — we assured her that we had eaten and enjoyed it before. Well, this turned out to be a mistake, and it took quite a while with phrasebooks to figure out how to say “you were right, we shouldn’t have ordered this, please take it away and bring us something edible.” We came away from that incident remembering that, of andouille and andouillette, one was delicious and the other… wasn’t… but we could never remember which was which. Both are made from parts of the pig not usually served in the States.

So, anyway, we saw andouille crepes on the menu at Ty Breizh and I decided to order them. We did try asking the waitress (who was definitely Breton, not Normand) and she assured us that andouille and andouillette (shiver and headshake) were very different things. Well, when my andouille crepe came… it was a bit more like pig innards than I’d hoped. So I guess our one delicious andouille was a fluke. I wouldn’t order that again, but unlike the andouillette I did finish it.

As we finished our lunch the deluge began, a real duck-drowner. It had slackened somewhat by the time we were ready to leave the restaurant, but was still coming down pretty hard. Fortunately we had brought coats and rain hats. “Bon courage” said one woman to me as we headed out into the downpour. We made it to the car only half-soaked-through and headed back to La Cahudiere. On the way home we passed through a town with a wedding in progress, many horns honking, and one car decorated with hot pink plastic penises. Back home, where it had no more than drizzled, I hung up my pants to dry and talked with Ellen about WWII and whether the USA would really have tried to invade Japan if not for the A-bomb (Ellen says the war was, in effect, already over by then and that the main audience for the bomb was the Russians). We also put up a load of laundry, knowing it might take days to dry.

Lazy afternoon. Elise bought a whole box of medals at some thrift shop and was quietly slipping them to people to present to Ellen on any excuse. Pretty soon everyone was giving medals to anyone for anything. Dinner, prepared by Bear (who received a medal for it): rabbit stroganoff, noodles, green beans, with macarons and other assorted sweets for dessert. Le yum. Much industry gossip over dinner, as all of the non-SF people have departed. A brief skinny dip, in which I did not participate because brrr, and then Elise brought out her ukulele. To bed ~1am to the sound of people drunkenly singing “Alleluia” (the only song Ellen can play on the ukulele, though she owns 5 of them) over and over.

Sun 8/3 – St. Martin-de-Landelles

Step count: 5,901

Awake 9:00. Breakfast of coffee, pain au chocolat, yogurt, then off to Utah Beach. Stopped for lunch at pizzeria Le Union in Villedieu-les-Poeles, where Kate had moules frites and I had a Moroccan pizza (merguez sausage, gyro meat, chickpeas, etc.). Not the best crust ever, but tasty. Also picked up some pastries at the boulangerie in town. Utah Beach had a fine museum of the Normandy invasion, including a B-26 bomber and an excellent introductory film. On the way back we stopped in Coutances to see the cathedral, and also spotted an open Carrefour grocery, where we picked up some cheese as requested and also a few other things. Had enormous difficulty getting out of Coutances, but eventually instinct led me to a place where we could see the sign for “toutes directions” and we escaped. Discovered when we arrived home that Mike & Rachel had failed to find a grocery open on Sunday, so our cheese was very welcome. Dinner was a soup made from leftover chicken and rabbit by Mike and was delicious. Pat Murphy, Madeleine Robins, and Greer Gilman joined us. Light conversation after dinner, while Kate & I cleaned up. To bed around 10:00.

And now, the photos

IMG 0979
Dolmen de la Contrie, a Neolithic corridor tomb

IMG 3812
Kate snapped me taking the above picture, while Juan looks on

IMG 0981
A bowl of cider, the traditional Normand tipple

IMG 0982
La deluge

IMG 4083
Bunny skull! With bonus dead dragonfly

IMG 4089
Rachel, Ellen, and Juan at breakfast

IMG 4091
Ellen plays “Allelulia” on Elise’s Fluke uke

IMG 0984
These hay-bale guys are everywhere: “31 August, Festival of the Land and Rurality.” I am guessing that “JA 50” means Jeunesse Agricole — young farmers, aka 4-H — of department 50

IMG 0990
Town square of Villedieu-les-Poeles, where we had lunch

IMG 0995
Utah Beach museum. Utah Beach was originally code-named Oregon, but was renamed for unknown reasons

IMG 0997
Before the invasion, carrier pigeons were parachuted behind the lines, together with a bag of feed and instructions: 1. Feed pigeon. 2. Fill out questionnaire about what the Germans are doing in your area. Print neatly. 3. Roll questionnaire tightly and insert in cylinder. 4. Attach cylinder to pigeon’s leg as shown. 5. Release pigeon. TELL NO ONE.

IMG 1016
Kilometer zero on the Way of Liberty, commemorating the march of the Americans from the Normandy beaches in 1944

IMG 1017
Plaque on Utah Beach memorializing Dwight Eisenhower

IMG 1026
One of the marvelous stained-glass windows at the cathedral in Coutances

Paris day 7, Normandy day 1, and photos

Wed 7/30 – Paris–St. Martin-de-Landelles

Step count: 8,379

Awake 6:30. Sync’d photos, blogged (but didn’t post any photos, ran out of time), finished packing, cleared out the fridge, did the dishes, took out the trash. Cleaning lady (speaking French with what sounded to me like a Spanish accent) arrived before Miss Keys, who was somewhat delayed. Did manage to get all checked out and get our security deposit back before the cab arrived at 10:05 as requested. Cabbie didn’t know where Europcar was, per se, but when we arrived at the Air France “aerogare” at Les Invalides (which was all the address we had for the rental agency) he spotted the Europcar desk through the door. No issues at all getting the car, but we did have to lug our bags three blocks from the rental counter to a nearby parking lot and down the elevator to level -5.

Our car is a lovely black Audi A1 with four doors and a trunk just barely big enough for our two suitcases. A nice car, comfortable, quite a bit of hop, handles well, and has an interesting habit of stopping the engine completely when not actually moving. Hit the road around 11am. Thanks to Kate spending an hour or more last night researching the route out of Paris in detail via Google Maps satellite view, the process of getting out of town, in traffic, was straightforward instead of the panicked thrash it could easily have been.

Pleasant drive across country, through little towns, past fields of corn and many cows. Stopped at an aire (rest area) around noon to eat the sandwiches Kate obtained this AM. Flagging and headachey in the late afternoon, stopped in Domfront for coffee and found it to be a delightful medieval town. Got a nice cup of coffee, many photos, also shampoo and Q-tips at the local pharmacy.

Found the house, La Cahudiere near Saint-Martin-de-Landelles, with only one minor backtrack. Welcomed by our host Ellen Klages, Ellen’s sister Mary, Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch, and several others not as well known to me. Dragged our stuff up to our room, visited the chickens and pig, then fell over for a nap. Didn’t actually sleep much because of hilarity from the pool but it was a reasonable rest. There was only one outlet in our bedroom, and the lamp was plugged into it, but I managed to combine a French/UK plug adapter, a UK extension cord, and some UK/US plug adapters to allow charging devices and having a lamp at the same time. Win!

Dinner, prepared by Bear and served on the terrace, was salad and a delicious ham-and-bean soup served over croutons made from Bread of Other Days. Sat around talking after dinner. Much hilarity; no wine actually came out of Ellen’s nose but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Went for a walk down to the bridge and back as the sun set, with a beautiful sliver of moon. More conversation in the living room after that, largely about SF awards. Finally went to bed nearly 1am.

Thu 7/31. St. Martin-de-Landelles

Step count: 2,835

Awake about 7am. Easy morning of email, sorting through photos, light conversation, and noshing. Invited along to Mont St. Michel but decided to spend the day at home decompressing instead. Scrounged lunch of bread, cheese, salami. Talk on the pool deck, largely about brassieres, segued into sitting companionably and reading, then moved indoors for Russian Bank (a card game known only to Ellen and Mary) and more reading. Various parties went various places for dinner; Kate and I headed for L’Auberge du Lac, recommended by Ellen. Got rather lost on the way there. Many protest signs on the road leading up to the lake (lac) in question, protesting the apparently planned removal of the dam that created it. Restaurant turned out to be run by Brits, and all of the other customers we saw were also Brits, and much of the menu was British — Kate had a beefburger, I had steak pie and mushy peas. Best mushy peas I’ve ever had, but still… musy peas. Back home at 9:30, we had the whole place to ourselves for an hour. Then everyone came back from their various dinners, including freshly-arrived Elise and Juan!

And now… pictures from the last six days!

IMG 0295
The gnomon of the church of St. Sulpice

IMG 0315
Bat-winged lion-snake-thingy at St. Michael’s fountain on Boulevard St. Michel (“Boul Mich”)

IMG 0323
Mouthwatering display of French cookies in Montmartre

IMG 0338
Sacre Cour, home of continuous prayer, a jazz band, and a little tourist train

IMG 0397
I just loved this little old (abandoned?) boulangerie

IMG 0410
Napoleon’s Tomb, a humble little stone hut

IMG 0421
The actual sarcophagus of the actual Napoleon

IMG 0500
Just one room of the medieval arms and armor museum, which is only part of the Museum of the Army

IMG 0573
This delightful little automaton dulcimer player stands about two feet tall

IMG 3786
We’re at the Louvre!

IMG 0639
Three of these people are posing for the de-rigeur “holding the top of the Louvre pyramid” shot. The other two are taking a selfie with a camera on an extension stick

IMG 0666
Typical Louvre crowds

IMG 0668
The footings of the medieval Louvre castle, which can be visited beneath the current museum

IMG 0704
Shot of the Tuilleries gardens and Eiffel tower, taken from the giant Ferris wheel

IMG 0709
Another shot from the Ferris wheel, this one with miniature effect

IMG 0721
Gotta have a shot of the Eiffel tower or it’s not really a trip to Paris

IMG 0820
Space Mountain Mission 2 (riders are shot from the cannon up to the top of the mountain) and the Nautilus at Disneyland Paris

IMG 0839
Malificent stained glass window inside Sleeping Beauty’s castle

IMG 0842
Shot from the castle balcony with miniature effect

IMG 4081
Hey mom, I’m at Disneyland Paris!

IMG 0911
Beautiful flowers in the medieval town of Domfront

IMG 0923
Another view of beautiful Domfront

IMG 0929
L to R: pig, Ellen, Bear

IMG 0937
This place has plenty of butterflies of various types

IMG 0947
View of the living/dining room

IMG 0951
Black rabbit, white cow

Paris days 4-6

Sat 7/26 – Paris

Step count: 19,791

Awake about 6:00. Breakfast in the apartment of yogurt and muesli. Plan for the day: Marche des Enfants Rouges in the AM and lunch, then a nap, then Sacre Cour and Montmartre in the afternoon and dinner. Headed out for the market bright and early with a stop for delicious cappuccino at cafe Le Sancerre. These establishments (coffee in the morning, cafe in the day, bar by night) just don’t exist in the States — probably because of our ridiculous liquor laws. Eventually found the market, which was kind of hidden in mid-block (though the entrances were plain once we realized what we were looking for), but though it was 9:30 and the market nominally opened at 9:00 it was almost completely dead. Looks like a great place for lunch though.

Plan for the AM squashed, we decided to hit the book shops in the Latin Quarter. On the way from the bus to the first bookshop, passed St. Sulpice and decided to stop in. Lovely church, notable for its wood-paneled vestry (with hidden ladder), marble pulpit suspended in mid-air by its stairs alone, magnificent organ, gnomon for telling exact solar noon and the solstices and equinoxes (used to set the date of Easter), and priest-in-a-box (it’s the lamp that really makes the picture).

Spent an enjoyable several hours browsing several book shops, finding some guide books and maps. Lunch of delicious falafel at Maoz (it’s a chain, with branches in Amsterdam, Barcelona, and NYC among others — recommended) with a nutella crepe for dessert. Took some photos at St. Michael’s fountain, browsed a few more bookstores, then dragged back to the room for a nap.

Awoke around 4:00 and realized it was too late to hit any museums before they closed. A certain amount of “whaddaya wanna do, Marty?” wound up circling around back to plan A: Sacre Cour and Montmartre. The existence of a funicular was the clincher — whenever possible, always take the funicular. While finding the way to the funicular, CityMapper app (great app!) told me that several metro stations were closed due to “manifestations” (demonstrations about the situation in Gaza) but as we were only passing through them on the train we had no problems.

Substantial crowds at Montmartre station got even denser as we made our way up a street jammed with souvenir shops to the funicular. Funicular itself was not crowded at all and included in our transit passes; we were glad not to be climbing all those stairs, and besides funiculars are cool. Mobs of tourists at the top, expansive view of Paris, little train. Sacre Cour itself featured big banners talking about how this place was the site of continuous prayer, also many people selling cheap Eiffel Tower souvenirs and a jazz band playing “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Can’t make this shit up. Inside, it was one of the more impressive churches I’ve ever visited. The church had staff enforcing modest dress, silence, and no-cameras policies (good for them! much better than St. Mark’s in Venice, which had nominally the same policies but, lacking enforcement, was a zoo) so no photos.

Wandered through town of Montmartre, jammed with tourists, with an interesting mix of fine establishments (pastries, art, clothing) and tacky tourist tat. Artists sketching tourists everywhere; it’s a thing here. The area was clearly too touristy for a good meal, so we took the funicular back down, then the metro to a restaurant Kate had bookmarked in the 11th arrondissement. Alas, it was closed for vacation (a common sight in Paris in August). Even with Yelp’s help we had to look into 5-6 local restaurants before finding one we liked — most of them were basically just bars — before finding Chez Mamy. I don’t think that means “Mom’s Place”. Crowded little bistro, very friendly staff, amazing appetizer of burrata cheese and lightly-grilled cherry tomatoes, on the vine, with a balsamic-basil sauce. Main dish, roasted lamb with mashed sweet potatoes and mixed veggies, took a long time to arrive and was delicious, but not so wow as the appetizer. Finally done with dinner at 10:30, got home at 11:15, to bed about midnight. Although almost all of our plans wound up getting thwarted it was still a good day.

Sun 7/27 – Paris

Step count: 14,865

Slept in until 10. Breakfast in the apartment of yogurt and muesli. Kate went off on her own; I took the metro to the Army Museum at Les Invalides. On the way I had a nice musical treat from some buskers in the subway car. Got off one station too early, then after getting to the right station walked a half-mile in the wrong direction, but did eventually get there.

The first thing you see at Les Invalides is Napoleon’s Tomb, a modest little marble hut (*cough*) — but you can’t blame Napoleon himself for that, as it was put up 40 years after his death. It’s also the general tomb for many other French military heroes. The Army Museum itself was simply amazing, and gave me a great overview of the entirety of French military history (and, thus, French history in general). Excellent text, lots of uniforms and weapons, some animations of major battles. I focused on Napoleon, especially his last years, as I’m writing an alternate history set in that period. The Army Museum is actually a complex of museums, rather like the Smithsonian but all in one building, which also included a large display of battle site reliefs (dating to the 1700s), an entire museum of medieval arms and armor which I skimmed, and a museum of WWI-WWII which I skipped entirely. Also Les Invalides is still a working military hospital, and possibly also a military administrative center.

Very nice, very late lunch of “quiche moussaka” (I got the last one) at friendly coffee shop Kozy Salon Urbain. After considering several museums, decided to head for Arts & Metiers. Museum was interesting but not fabulous. Did take tons of photos of interesting-looking scientific equipment from centuries past, and automatons (including “a smoking monkey dressed as an Incredible” — no, not the Disney/Pixar movie — must look into that). Got kicked out at 6, went back to apartment, met Kate there. Dinner at restaurant Page 35: beef bourguignon with frites (yes, French fries, it is a vegetable here and they do a fabulous job with it), and for dessert “Coupe creole:” vanilla and cinnamon ice cream, rum-soaked raisins, and a huge mount of whipped cream. Delicous. Back to apartment, backed up photos, finished up and submitted a story due by the end of the month. To bed 10:30.

Mon 7/28 – Paris

Step count: 15,983

Awake 8:00, Kate a bit earlier. Yogurt and muesli in the apartment, then back to Le Sancerre for coffee and those delicious-looking croissants. They were as good as they looked, though Jeune overdid it with the chocolate sprinkled on my cappuccino and it looked rather like mud (delicious, though). Bus to the Louvre, expressly to see the pyramid. Admired the building, both old and new bits, and goggled at the tourists. Hour and a half line to get in, but our museum passes skipped that. Visited a Vermeer, Durer was inaccessible, saw the medieval Louvre’s foundations, otherwise we just admired whatever we happened to pass, which was plenty amazing. Lunch at the museum cafe — tarte aux legumes, not bad — then walked to the Tuilleries. Didn’t get very far, as Kate was all walked out and had to lie down in the shade.

While she was resting, I spotted a big Ferris wheel nearby (Roue de Paris) and realized that would be something fun to do, with great views and no walking. So we did that. Tried out the “miniature” filter on my camera and got some interesting shots. Then we went to the Sewers of Paris museum/tour. They’ve been offering tours of the sewers for over 100 years, though back then it was only once a month and you went by boat. Today it’s a walk-through of several blocks of sewers with some explanatory and historic signage. The smell wasn’t too bad and was, in fact, very familiar to me from the “gray water” in the green hab on “Mars.” Okay, it was kind of a weird thing to do but how could we not?

By that point we really needed a cafe break. There wasn’t much in the vicinity and what there was, was expensive, but we did have a nice sit-down, some lemonade, and a nice bit of cheese at Cafe de l’Alma. (We did wash our hands first.) Then we went back to the apartment, intending to nap, but wound up backing up my camera and doing some research for tomorrow’s trip to Disneyland. Dinner at Le Petit Italien: appetizer of melon and prosciutto (shared), for main courses we ordered gnocchi alla sorrentina and veal scaloppini with marsala and truffles and traded them halfway through, and tiramisu al limone (again shared) for dessert (“of course there are lady fingers. If there weren’t any lady fingers it would just be a glass of lemon-flavored cheese”). Very good food, friendly service, lovely weather for dining outdoors. Then back to the room to prepare for tomorrow’s assault on The Mouse! (Or perhaps The Rat, as we’re hoping the new Ratatouille ride will be running…) To bed about 11:30.

Tue 7/29 – Paris Disneyland

Step count: 19,197

Awake 6:30. Breakfast of yogurt and muesli in room, comme d’habitude. Got out of there at 7:30, intending to pick up a sandwich on the way to the train station, but the sandwich place Kate was looking for wasn’t where she thought it was, or maybe not open yet. Plowed ahead to train station, bought tickets, caught correct train (thanks to a website which explained how you need to look at the display for a yellow light by the station you’re heading to). Arrived Disney over an hour before 10:00 park opening, with printed-at-home tickets in hand — probably earlier than necessary.

In any case, we were among the first into the Disney Studios park when the turnstiles opened at 9:30, and proceeded straight to new Ratatouille ride… where we waited behind a rope until about 10:15. The ride opening was apparently delayed due to mechanical issues. When it finally did open we sprinted through a long long queue (“they’re helping us imagine we’re rats!”) and then right onto the ride. A delightful combination of 3-D video, trackless “rat” vehicles, smells, heat, mechanical effects, water. Not quite as mindblowing as Universal’s Spider-Man ride but definitely fun and charming. By the time we got out there was an 85-minute wait and they were handing out FastPasses for 4pm.

Went from there to Tower of Terror… 30-minute wait, we waited, it was worth it. We have now ridden the Tower of Terror in California, Florida, Tokyo, and Paris; it’s one of my favorite rides anywhere. The only other thing we were interested in at the Disney Studios park was “Stitch Live!” and only if the timing worked. When we found that the next English show was in 19 minutes, we decided to do that. It was fun and silly, a live interactive show similar to Turtle Talk with Crush — basically puppetry with a realtime computer-generated video character instead of a puppet. I would love to know what the operator’s control interface is like. Had a sandwich at half-empty cafeteria. It was okay (and jammed restaurants at Disneyland park later showed that we made the right call to eat in the Studios).

After lunch, headed over to Disneyland park. The park was beautiful from the entrance and everywhere inside, much nicer than the Studios, really much better theming than just about anywhere else I’ve been other than Animal Kingdom or DisneySea. First stop was Buzz Lightyear for FastPasses, a frustrating experience: inexperienced guests, machines with poor signage that failed to read guests’ tickets, no help from cast members. Somehow did get my passes but I’m not sure how. Then walked through the Nautilus display, quite cool but over too quickly. There was only a 5-minute wait on Space Mountain then, so I did that while Kate chilled on a bench. I would have enjoyed it more if I’d remembered my Croakies, also it gave me a headache, but fun. Walked through Sleeping Beauty display. Looked for a place to sit and have a drink, but Gepetto restaurant was mobbed and most food stands were shut (one disadvantage of the relatively non-crowded park on a rainy Tuesday in July) so we just had some water. Then we did Buzz Lightyear, which was just the same as in the other parks — still fun. Then Pirates of the Caribbean: the best version of the ride I’ve seen, but the worst-behaved and most poorly managed crowd. Finally the Phantom Manor — not the same as the other Haunted Manors, with no punches pulled! You descend into the grave and everything.

Kate was really flagging by now, so I left her in the Gibson Girl cafe while I looked at the animatronic dragon that lives under Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Then, after sharing coffee and a muffin, I went back to Space Mountain for one last ride. This time I did remember my Croakies, and had a great time… even though it have me a headache again. Loop-the-loop, two corkscrews, great visual effects, all in the dark, very rattly. We bought some pins (I am not a “collector,” I just bought some pins I liked) and headed home about 5:30. Dinner at Creperie Suzette, the same place we’d dined on arrival. Packed, called our cab, to bed 10:45. Tomorrow we rent a car and head to Normandy!

No photos today — out of time. Will post some ASAP.