Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas and Big Bend

Christmas morning I got up early and drove up to the Dallas area to have Christmas dinner with my Aunt, Uncle, Grandmother, and my cousin and her husband and two kids. It was very good but I had to sit there smelling it for an hour before it was actually served, so I devoured my first plate and went back for seconds. After exchanging a few gifts and a power nap, I drove back to Austin.
The next morning (Boxing Day for the Brits) I got up early and started riding out to Big Bend NP. It was warmish at the house, foggy with some water on the road. I briefly considered not wearing all of my cold-weather gear, but put it all on anyway. I wore long johns, thermal socks, a thermal-type Henley shirt; then my leather jacket with the liner, my new chaps (bought for 15% off Christmas Eve to replace my old ones with broken zippers), my leather gauntlet gloves and a thin pair of gloves underneath as a liner, and a fleece face mask. I was black from helmet to boots, with only the smallest patches of skin showing that the mask didn't cover. I was thinking it would warm up along the way and I would take some of it off later, but it never did, and in fact it got colder around Fredericksburg (or at least it felt like it, it may have just been exposure). It didn't take too long before I was freezing cold even with all the gear. I later realized that my jacket was a bit too loose and allowed a draft over my chest. I made gas stops in Junction, Ozona and Fort Stockton, warming up slightly, but only stopped for about 20 minutes each time, so it didn't really help much.
I did however make a long (2 hour) stop at the Caverns of Sonora and warmed up completely. Before the tour started, they recommended that everyone leave their jackets. I was reluctant, but the assured us that the cavern was quite warm and humid. I had already taken off my chaps, and left my jacket with them. There was a short walk outside to get to the actual cave entrance, but I was already freezing at that point so it wasn't a big problem. Once we got into the cave it was much warmer, but I was still cold for a while and never felt hot. The cavern started out pretty average- not really big, not many formations- but then we got to the area where they had to blast in order to get to. The really active portion is absolutely amazing. I was amazed at the abundance of "cave popcorn" throughout. I thought the most stunning formations were the helictites, especially the "fishtail" formations. The way the defy gravity makes them so spectacular. It was very unfortunate to hear about how vandals broke one of their most famous formations, the "butterfly," two fishtails growing next to each other. Another highlight was the "geode room" or "surprise room" (so called because when they were blasting they were surprised to find it was filled with water)- what was once an almost completely enclosed room lined most of the way up with dogtooth spar formations. After the tour I had a snack then geared back up to continue on my way in the cold.
I got into the park itself about 4:45, showed my National Parks card at the entry station, and continued the 25+ miles to Chisos Basin and the campground. Once I got there, though I was lost because I'd forgotten my reservation info and had no idea what site I was staying in. After a wandering around lost for a while the campground host, who was having dinner and wine with some campers, saw me and asked if I needed some help. In his trailer he found what site I had reserved, so I headed there to make camp. Being cold and not real hungry yet, I decided to warm up by hiking up to the lodge and store. The store's selection was quite slim, nothing like the larger parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite. I bought a six pack of Bud Light and bread to make sandwiches and went back to camp to have dinner. I slept that night in pretty much what I'd worn all day, minus the leather and jeans. I was in my relatively new 20 degree sleeping bag with a bag liner and a blanket over my feet. It was in the 20s overnight and while I was a bit chilly at times, I wasn't really cold. I didn't sleep any better than I had been at home due to terrible nasal congestion. I had been hoping that the dry desert air would be a miraculous cure for what I'm assuming is just related to allergies.
After some oatmeal and consulting with the campground host, I set off with my pack full of water and granola bars and two PBJs on the Window trail. It was an easy downhill getting there and it is just spectacular. There's a really neat little stream that the trail criss-crosses toward the end. It forms little pools and mini waterfalls and is just really cool looking. "The Window" itself is a narrow slot canyon that dumps out the stream practically to the desert floor below. The view from there is quite beautiful, but really hard to photograph with my camera because the canyon is kind of dark and the desert landscape is really bright. There was a guy taking pictures at the end whom I startled a bit when I popped out from behind a rock, although he certainly should have heard me coming. After enjoying the Window, I started back toward the campground, but as suggested I went about 1/4 mile up (and I mean up- it was pretty steep) the Oak Springs trail for another amazing view of the desert, as well as the canyon I had hiked down. I decided against going all the way down to the desert on that trail and instead headed back the Window trail. Instead of just going back to the campground, I hiked on up to the store, which was a steeper trail than the rest of the Window trail, but not quite as steep as the Oak Springs trail. All told, my heart monitor watch said I burned about 1400 calories. I relaxed a bit, got a drink, went into the ranger station and ate my PBJ sandwiches. After hiking back down to camp I got some things and headed to check out the hot spring near Rio Grande Village. The road to the hot spring is not paved and about halfway there's a big sign warning not to take trailers or dual wheeled vehicles past that point. I took that to mean the didn't recommend motorcycles, but I probably wouldn't have had a problem, it wasn't that much worse than the rest of the road. Rather than walk along the road, I hiked across and down a hill to get to the trail that leads to the actual hot spring. The spring has been enclosed in rocks and cement and is directly adjacent to the Rio Grande. The pool was quite silty, mostly from the river bank crumbling into it. The water was quite warm and felt pretty good, but it wasn't very deep, only mid-chest when sitting down. The pool is fairly large, but there were quite a few people there. After I'd had enough and hiked back to my bike along the road, I rode to Rio Grande Village to take a shower. It was quite warm in that area that afternoon, getting to a high around 80, so I didn't put all of my gear on for the ride back to the basin. Rather than go right back to camp, I went and had dinner at the lodge. The steak was mediocre, the sides were pretty good but nothing special. I ate my steak with A1, which I rarely do, and I ate more fat than I normally would, on the justification that I'd burned enough calories hiking that morning.
That second night was the coldest, probably somewhere in the teens. My water bottle had a bunch of ice crystals in the morning. The eggs were kind of milky and nearly frozen. In the bowl I used to beat them, the remnants that didn't make it to the fry pan froze before I finished eating. They tasted fine, however, and went well with a slice of SPAM. I don't normally eat SPAM, but it's a great camping food with all of its salt and fat to replace what you lose hiking. Since I was planning to ride that day and it was so cold, I waited for it to warm up some before leaving. It was after 10:30 when I left. Instead of my original plan to start toward Presidio along the river road, I decided I'd start toward Alpine and have lunch somewhere in that area. I went to a diner in Fort Davis that used to be a drug store. The chopped beef sandwich I had was pretty good, the bread was very good, but the service wasn't great. The three waitresses there were very overworked and it took a while for them to get around to me. After lunch I rode to McDonald Observatory and got there just as a guided tour was about to leave. I got a ticket (for a reduced price since I'm a member of UT's Blanton museum, and the observatory is run by UT) and got the last seat on the mini tour bus, next to the driver/tour guide. We were a very large group, their busiest times being around holidays, but all fit in the telescope dome. We got a demonstration of the telescope moving, the dome rotating and the doors opening, as well as info about 107" telescope itself and the facility in general. The formal tour ended there, but the bus went on to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, a large segmented mirrored telescope with a much more limited range of motion. We didn't get to go into the room with the HET, but the building has a lobby with info and a large window to view the telescope. When I got back to the visitors center it was 4:45 and I was very concerned about how cold it would be riding back in the dark. I knew it was too late to try to do the river road, since it would take even longer to get back and it would be too dark to enjoy the view. I did, however, want to make sure that I went through Presidio county, but wasn't quite sure where the county line was. I started on my intended path through Marfa and was glad to find that it is in fact in Presidio county. Instead of continuing to Presidio, I turned in Marfa to head back through Alpine. The GPS said it was quicker to go back the way I came, on TX 118, but in retrospect it may have been slightly quicker to go back through Marathon because of the hills and turns on 118. I got gas in Alpine just as the sun was setting. I should have changed to by clear lenses there, but thought there was enough sun left to warrant the dark glasses, so I ended up changing on the side of the road when it got too dark. It had been cold riding all day, but when the sun went down it got even colder. On the plus side, I did see a bobcat run across the road near sunset. It was so cold and there's nothing on that road, so I was just counting down the miles back to Study Butte. I stopped in at a convenience store to warm up a bit before going back into the park. I was hoping they would have some hot chocolate available, but no such luck. It was about 8 when I got back to camp, freezing cold. I wasn't really hungry and knew I was going to bed very soon, so instead of dinner I just made some hot chocolate and stood in the heated bathroom a while to warm up.
Saturday I had SPAM and eggs for breakfast again and geared up for the hike to Emory Peak, the highest point in the park. I got off a little later than I had hoped, hitting the trail about 9:30. I didn't see or hear anybody going my direction on the trail, but there was a group of people going the other direction less than a mile from the trailhead. I hardly saw anyone else on my way up the 3.5 mile Pinnacles trail, but I did see a number of small birds. The trail wasn't especially strenuous, but it did have quite a bit of elevation gain. I did have to stop to catch my breath a few times along the way. Mostly I would pause for a minute to have a drink and let my heart slow down a little. At the peak of the Pinnacles trail the view over the basin was quite spectacular. From the lodge, Casa Grande looks really high, but it's an illusion as Emory is much higher, and you're already looking down on it from the top of the Pinnacles trail. From there the trail descends a bit to the start of the Emory Peak trail. I ate a PBJ before stowing my pack in one of the bear boxes there, bringing only my 1-liter water bottle and two granola bars, plus whatever was in my pockets. The trail to the peak is steep- almost every step is a gain in elevation. I had to pause at least every 100 feet gained. I finally got to the rocky outcrop that is the actual peak. There are two upshots from a saddle, and it's hard to tell from there which is the true peak. I took a guess that it was on the left, scrambling up to the top of it only to find that the other one is the true peak. There is a solar-powered radio station (I'm guessing a weather station, but I didn't see an anemometer) on both "peaks," so they look the same from below. At that point I was thinking "Oh well, close enough" and headed down. Unfortunately I went down a different way than I came up and couldn't find the trail. I circled around the mountain looking for it, crawling under trees and getting poked by agave and prickly pears. When I found the trail, I took it back up to recover my water bottle I'd ditched when I needed my hands to ascend. Four guys had made it to the saddle by that point and were having lunch. I sat down and drank my water and ate my granola bars. While we were all sitting there, two women who spoke to each other in English and German arrived and started toward the summit. After regaining some of my energy, I decided I couldn't leave without reaching the true peak and went in the direction of these women. The second woman was being timid about scaling the boulders while her friend was coaching her. I decided I would attempt a more difficult route rather than wait for them to finish. I didn't have any real trouble with the craggy boulders and was quickly at the peak while the woman were still working on getting up. I enjoyed the view, it must have been possible to see the entire park, took some photos including one of myself to prove I was there, and started the scramble back down. Psychologically I find the descent more difficult, but it didn't really slow me down this time. On the way down to the Pinnacles/South Rim trail I passed about a dozen people on their way up, at least one alone, most in twos or small groups. After I got my pack out of the bear box, I sat and had lunch at the peak of the Pinnacles trail. It was windy, which made me feel cool just sitting there, so after drying off some of the sweat I put my down jacket back on. Once I started hiking again it wasn't long before I took it off again, plus of course it gets warmer the lower the elevation. I passed more people going up as I was going down, and there was one guy who was going down at a similar pace to me. I passed him when he stopped to take a picture, he passed me when I stopped for a quick break. Back down at the basin I bought some beer and Oreo cookies and went back to camp to read for the rest of the afternoon, it only being about 3pm. It was a great relaxing afternoon, warm enough that I took my shoes off for a while to let my feet air out. It got cold again once the sun went behind the mountains. For dinner I had a freeze-dried meal of rice and chicken, which I liked better than any of the other ones I've had, which along with everything else helped replace the 3000 calories my watch said I burned. I made up some hot chocolate and went to the amphitheater for a ranger presentation on the various raptors that live in or pass through Big Bend. It got even cooler during the presentation and I went back to my campsite and got into my sleeping bag and read my book until I fell asleep.
The last night was probably the warmest, but still in the low 30s. I slept better than I had been, but woke up about 5:15 and started packing up after reading for a little while. After oatmeal for breakfast, getting everything packed up, and waiting for the sun to really wake up, I set off from camp about 8:30. I got gas before leaving the park, since I didn't have enough to get to Marathon (the next available on my route, 70 miles away). I took a different route home, and my next stop was in Sanderson. It was actually warming up by that point (about 11), but I was still cold so I stopped long enough to drink a hot chocolate. I made a quick stop at Amistad National Recreational Area-Pecos River to look at the steep-walled river, and then continued on for my next stop in Del Rio. It was definitely warmer at that point, and was overly warm once I hit traffic. When I got gas I left my glove liners and face mask off. From there, the gas I had got me close enough to San Antonio that I wasn't worried about running out in the middle of nowhere, so decided I would go until the gauge started blinking. I was glad that it didn't blink until I was out of San Antonio proper, in Schertz, 170 miles from Del Rio. It was 4pm at that point and still pretty warm. I would have taken off my chaps if I had more room to store them, but kept them on and switched to lighter gloves. From there it was a quick 45 minute jog back home, where I plopped down and vegetated for the rest of the night. The route home added Terrell, Val Verde, and Kinney counties to the list of counties I've ridden to, taking me over the 75% mark for the state. On my colored-in county map it leaves a hole for Maverick county which I aim to fill before too long. Ending 2007, the Fat Boy stands at 77,103 miles and 2940 for the Night Train.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Freezing in the Rain

Friday after work I went to check out a new restaurant I'd noticed the day before at lunch- BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse. I assumed they actually brewed beer there, but the bartender said that in Texas, the chain's beers are brewed under contract by Saint Arnold's. They do brew Root Beer and Cream Soda there, which I sampled and liked. I sampled four of their 7+ house beers, all of which were good but not spectacular. From there I went home for a bit before meeting up with Jimmy and Renee at TX Roadhouse for dinner. After dinner we went to have a beer at recently opened Little Woodrow's in the same development.
I slept late Saturday, and Jimmy called to have some breakfast. After swinging by his house, we went to the Texican where I stuffed myself on migas and potatoes and beans. After breakfast it was almost 11 already. With no agenda or direction, we went riding east. We eventually stopped at a tiny bar called "the Trough," with two tables made out of bathtubs. We rode around some more, stopping in Staples at Riley's, which claims to be the oldest bar in Texas. While we were sitting there, I got a call from the Harley shop that my Night Train was done getting a 103 cubic inch motor upgrade. Leaving Riley's we hauled ass back to Austin, dropped my bike at my house and then Jimmy gave me a ride to the Harley shop. It was very strange to be on the back of a bike, made more uncomfortable since he didn't have his sissy bar on. Fortunately, I don't think anyone I know saw us ride up together. The service writer wanted to hear how it sounds (as did I, of course), so I fired it up and gave it a few raps. It sounds deeper (it was already loud), with more of a lopey, big-cam sound to it. Everyone agreed it sounds nice. Since it needs to be tuned on the dyno, and they can't do that until it's broken in, it was running rich, spitting out some soot with each rap of the throttle. That evening I went to my company holiday party, which unfortunately conflicted with the HOG chapter party.
Sunday morning I went rollerblading at the veloway, but didn't stay as long as I normally do due to knee pain, fatigue from not having been in three weeks, and also because I wanted to get home for an emergency toy run. I'm not certain what the group was exactly, but I believe it was Blue Santa. There was a real good turn out, about 50 bikes, especially considering it was put together in only a few days. We rode from the dealership to Hill's Cafe, not surprisingly getting separated at traffic lights since we didn't have any sort of escort. Most everyone sat down and ordered food, which overwhelmed the staff. About 1:15 a representative of the charity showed up to collect the toys and cash, somewhat unceremoniously. After everyone had lunch, almost everyone left, opting not to go to someone else's toy run out at Cindy's near Bastrop. Dave Bigley, Troy, myself and two Reguladores members rode out there in support. I think the original idea/hope was that there would be a lot more of the first crowd going, but considering the bleak forecast and a few drops on the way from the dealership, at least the one was well attended. There were still a number of bikes at Cindy's when we got there, which seemed to be at the end of the toy run.
The problem was that we stayed too long and let the cold front come in. Just as we were about to walk out the front door, it started raining, and it had already gotten colder. In the morning, I decided that I would ride the Night Train, not bring a jacket, and just get wet if that 40% chance hit. Well, I sure payed for it then. The rain was pretty hard, but localized. I was already soaked from sitting waiting for the traffic on the highway to pull out and U-turn. Once I got going headed back to Austin, I got out of the rain pretty quickly. However, it didn't warm up any as it got drier, and I was freezing the whole way home. When I finally got home I was at least glad it was only 20-something miles, but was cold and wet from head to toe. I changed into nice dry fleece and curled up on the couch under the blanket for the rest of the evening.

Monday, December 3, 2007

New York and Paris

On Tuesday, November 20, I got up early and took a taxi to fly to New York-LaGuardia and got a ride from there to my parents' house. I was supposed to go to the city and see Spamalot on Wednesday, but because of the strike it was closed, so we just went to Best Buy and bought a new high-def TV. They didn't have it in stock and we probably couldn't have fit it in the car, so they're pretty much on their own to get it hooked up.
We left fairly early Thursday to go upstate for Thanksgiving dinner. We've been having Thanksgiving there for about 20 years now, with more or less the same group of people year after year. This year was a large crowd, 25 for dinner, as well as 4 dogs and my 2-year old niece. It was the first time I had been to the place, a former mill and onetime working farm, since a massive flood last year completely changed the stream that goes through the property, as well as additional flooding this year that damaged some of what was fixed. Where there was a pond and a waterfall feeding a swimming hole, there is "the pit" and just a stream. I walked through the marshy "pit" with a friend who had been there when the Corps of Engineers was doing work to restore the former stream bed. A tremendous amount of work had to be done to get the place back in order- all the stone walls along the creek had to be rebuilt, the plant beds had to be replace, and the bridge across was gone forever.
Dinner was excellent and of course I ate too much, and then still had dessert afterward. After socializing for a while and it feeling as though it were much later, we went into town for the night. Normally we would stay on "the farm," but since there was such a crowd and we would only be staying for one night, my family stayed at the Super 8. Most years we would have stayed up late either doing a jigsaw puzzle or playing Boggle, but this was only a short stay. The next morning my parents, sister, brother-in-law, niece and I ate at the Denny's next door before we went back home to prepare for the trip to Paris.
After final packing, we drove to JFK, parked in the long term lot and took the tram to the terminal. The airport was fairly sparse, being the day after Thanksgiving, and there was no line at the check-in counter. Our flight kept being delayed because of some "maintenance issue" that first they were checking on, then seeing if they could fix it, and then trying to find us another aircraft because they couldn't fix it. Altogether, we were about 2 1/2 hours late leaving JFK. Once we were under way, I read until dinner was served, then took a sleep aid and slept until breakfast was served about 5 hours later. The breakfast croissant paled in comparison to the real thing we had in abundance during our stay. Fortunately the plane was only about half full and there was room to stretch out. My mom and dad each had a center section of three seats to stretch across, and I had two on the right side.
In Paris at Charles de Gaulle, we met up with my mom's sister (my dad saw her after my mom and I practically walked right past her) and took the RER to Chatelet-Les Halles after failing to find the van that was supposed to take us there. After getting settled in our rented apartment a bit, we all went out for a walk past the Louvre, across to Ile de la Cite, through Notre Dame, and on to Ile Saint Louis before heading back, picking up a baguette, brie, camembert and some other things for dinner, a fine inexpensive meal we repeated the next two nights.
Sunday we all headed to Palais du Luxembourg to see the Arcimboldo exhibit. It was fun, but insanely crowded. We walked through the garden and to the Pantheon. We saw an exhibit of architectural drawings at the mayor's office on the place, which was nice and refreshingly free and empty. After a lunch of crepes, we went past the Sorbonne to the Cluny museum/museum of the middle ages. I especially liked that on the unicorn tapestries the bottom sections that were reproduced using modern synthetic dyes are much more faded than the original sections which use natural dyes. From there we split up- my parents went to the Delacroix museum, my aunt went to see other museums, and I walked to the Place de la Bastille. Unfortunately the Harley shop there was closed, and I walked back to the apartment past Place des Vosges and Centre Pompidou, as well as lots of expensive-looking stores.
Monday my parents and I went to the Louvre and we toured the northern country paintings, then the 19th century French paintings. After lunch I decided I had enough for one day, and had no interest in the "big 3" (Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo). My parents only went near the Mona incidentally while viewing the "large scale" French and Italian paintings. I went for a walk, through the Tuileries, past the obelisk in Place de la Concorde, and all the way down the Champs-Elysees. I climbed up the Arc de Triomphe and had a marvelous view of Paris. I walked from there to the Eiffel Tower and continued on to Hotel des Invalides, arriving about 4pm, not leaving much time to see the various attractions inside. I went through a great collection of armor and weapons in the Musee de l'Armee. I was going through the museum of the first and second world wars (quickly, it wasn't my favorite) when the started to close the place at 4:45, so I didn't get a chance to see Napoleon's tomb or anything else in the dome. I was beat at that point and took the Metro back to the Louvre.
Tuesday morning we all went to the Musee d'Orsay for a too-quick 2 hour visit. I think I missed both upper floors, including a lot of the impressionists. I did enjoy what I did see, particularly the sculptures and the pastels, but it's hard to play favorites. From there we walked to the Rodin museum, which I enjoyed very much. I particularly liked his "partially completed" marble sculptures. I left the others, taking the Metro to Notre Dame. I was disappointed the crypt was closed for the month, but did enjoy the bell towers. It was a good hike up there and the view was spectacular. I particularly liked being so close to the gargoyles. From there I did a quick tour of the relatively small Conciergerie, which at one time imprisoned Marie Antoinette among many others. I went to the nearby (in the same complex of buildings) Saint-Chapelle church, which is smallish but has a very impressive, bright interior. Security was stronger there than anyplace else on the trip (other than the airports) due to its location in the judicial complex. After meeting back up at the apartment, we all walked to the Champs-Elysees to find dinner. We wound up eating at a nice place called Le Notre in the park-like area before you get to the shops.
Wednesday we got up and waited for a while for a shared-ride type van to the airport to pick up a rental car. It was a large van that was completely full before we left the city center- us four, an American couple, and two French women. The driver must not have planned the pickups well, as after picking up the first French woman, we drove a ways more to wind up two blocks from where we picked up the American couple. From there we took what turned out to be toll roads, which like most things were fairly expensive, all the way to Caen, then other roads around Bayeux and into Balleroy and to the Chateau. Once we arrived we were served a lunch of salad and quiche and a cheese course and dessert. Despite having had some bread and cheese along the way for lunch, we had no problem eating a fine meal that had been prepared for us. The caretaker Georges showed us all of the fully modernized Chateau, almost all rooms have their own bathroom, the room that was Malcolm Forbes' being the nicest, of course, with a sauna. I also liked the library tucked beside a good-sized (as these things go) ballroom, which is said to have a parquet floor predating that of Versailles. We went up onto the roof, which has a great view of the small town and surrounding countryside. The artwork throughout is fabulous, Kip Forbes being an avid collector. I liked the works of Comte Albert de Balleroy very much, and the place must have more of his work than anywhere else in the world (it having been his onetime home and studio). Dinner was, not surprisingly, excellent and I of course ate every bite. After talking and a bit of Calvados, a local apple brandy, we headed to bed. It felt strange to be just the four of us in such an enormous place, but I managed to sleep pretty well nonetheless.
After a full spread of breakfast the next morning, we went into the town of Bayeux, after checking out the Chateau's gift shop and the world's first ballooning museum. The museum was of course founded by Malcolm Forbes, having been an avid hot-air balloon enthusiast, as well as being the first to cross the US in a hot air balloon. During his life, the Chateau was host to ballooning festivals, where he showed off all of his specially shaped balloons- a Harley, a sphinx, and one just like the Chateau itself. In Bayeux we saw the 11th century "Bayeux Tapestry," which is really embroidery and not a tapestry. From Bayeux we went north to Omaha Beach, which is very powerful, almost overwhelming. Security was pretty tight for the museum there, but the American soldiers haven't guarded the place for several years. Unfortunately the path down to the actual beach was closed off, I had wanted to go down and see what was quite a good hill, from the beach looking up. Back at the Chateau we had another lovely dinner and a good night's sleep.
The next morning I got to walk in the moat (which apparently has never been filled), which offered a nice view but the grass was quite damp. We departed and head back east, spending the afternoon in Rouen. I enjoyed the town very much, I could have spent at least an entire day there. We all toured the Musee des Beaux-Arts, whose collection got much better as we went along. Its collection pales to that of the Louvre, but almost every art museum in the world does, but they do have a lot of very nice paintings, including a Caravaggio. They have a lot of paintings by painters from Rouen or of Rouen, including one of Monet's well known paintings of the Rouen Cathedral. I walked to that one and two other very nice churches, but Saint Ouen was closed for repairs. Leaving Rouen, we went to find our hotel for the night in Beauvais. Quite unfortunately we only had the address of the place, and no maps of the town itself. We had to ask quite a few people for help, since it was after 6 at that point and the tourism office was closed. The people were all very helpful and eventually we found the place. My parents and I went out and had dinner at a dive of a place nearby, having hamburgers and hot dogs with a mountain of fries, which the waitress made sure to point out were made in house. We got up the next morning and headed back toward Paris, stopping at an enormous Super-WalMart like supermarket to spend some of our last Euros. We dropped Alice off for her noon flight, our flight not leaving until 5:50, we went to the nearby town of Senlis. It was a very nice little old town, we walked around, had a very nice lunch in a 12th-century basement restaurant. Since everything was closed for a siesta at 2 o'clock we went back to the airport. There I spent some of my remaining Euros on a couple of beers and a French magazine. The flight left on time, I managed to sleep through most of the first movie and half of the second, but only thanks to my iPod as the family in the row in front of us did not stop talking and jumping up and down the entire flight. Landing sucked because I had to turn off and stow my portable electronic device and the young boy hated the landing very very very much, screeching that he hated flying and wanted to get off. Back at Kennedy we got on the tram to the car, and walked in the (literally) freezing cold.
Sunday morning I woke up and it was snowing. Not a good thing when you have to travel. Pretty, but terrible for planes and cars. The upside is that normally there is a mix, my parents' house getting snow, and the city getting rain, and LaGuardia wasn't reporting major delays or cancellations. To add to it all, a water main broke down the street about 9:30 in the middle of my mom washing my clothes. It was after noon before they got it fixed and the water turned back on. My dad drove me to the airport about 4, my flight being reported at that time as a half hour late. Amazingly there was no line to check in, and the gate agent thought I'd make my connection, the flights being scheduled to arrive at E7 and leave from E9. Having some time, I sat down at the "Jet Rock" bar as I usually do when I have to wait at LaGuardia and drank a beer watching some football. The flight was almost completely full to Houston, but I managed to sleep for an hour or so. We wound up getting to the gate almost 40 minutes late, and it was gate E23. I checked on my cell phone and my flight to Austin was leaving out of E4. Great. I hustled, just short of running, to the gate to find that fortunately they were holding the plane for a few minutes to let those of us from NY and our bags get on the plane. Arrived in Austin about midnight, got my bag and got a cab home. Got home, got my mail, brought in the paper, and went to bed. Now, if only I could take the day off to sleep, unpack, read my mail, ...