Our recent trip to the US got off to an ominous start. Our flight from Marseille to Munich for the first leg of the journey was more than an hour late in departing. We missed the connection to the transatlantic flight, and all Lufthansa flights to the US that afternoon. We had to spend the night in Munich which wouldn't have been bad had we been in the city, but we were in the boonies at an airport hotel far from excitement. At least Lufthansa paid for the hotel and dinner, although the latter was pathetic.
Fortunately all was on the upswing after our Munich misadventure. We had wonderful family reunions, ate some very tasty food, did major damage to the credit card with power shopping, admired the exquisite fall colors, watched some interesting and informative television, and celebrated Halloween.
The trip began in Winchester, Va., where Bicycle Bob's son Rob, wife Buffie and two grandsons, Samuel (6)and Lang (4) live with their gorgeous, three-legged cat, Shitake, (9). We visited an apple orchard where the boys delighted in picking apples. We feasted on delicious apple cider and apple cider donuts.
Bob's daughter Kellie, a highly successful NYC graphic artist, and boyfriend Michael joined us for the weekend and a visit to the Marterella winery, owned by Rob's boss, where we sampled excellent wines. We learned that many former Virginia tobacco fields have been planted with grapevines, and wineries now abound in the area.
We joined a stream of cars on Skyline Drive which is the northern part of the Blue Ridge Parkway offering superb views of the Blue Ridge mountains, especially picturesque bathed in the orange, gold and red tones of autumn.
Food was also a highlight of this part of the trip. Rob grilled fish, beef filet and lamb. You can't beat American beef. We ate at a Mexican restaurant, a Thai restaurant featuring sushi, and an incredible supermarket, Wegman's, with counters offering a wide variety of hot food to eat in the restaurant section.
Supermarkets are indeed super in the US. So huge and clean and offering such amazing selections. Bob went overboard in the cereal section, bringing four boxes of healthy kinds not available here back in his suitcase. (In addition to being a bicycle addict, he's a bit of a health fanatic.)
The department stores are another delight. I had a field day in Macy's in Louisville which was the next stop on our trip. It's such a joy to shop where the prices are in dollars, not euros. Compared to France, US stores offer bargains in clothes, shoes, linens. We had to buy an extra suitcase to get our purchases back to France.
My mother has been a resident of an assisted living home in Louisville, Kentucky. She's 91, and sadly in her last days with a variety of medical problems. But, we had a great reunion. Joining us in Louisville were my brother Tom from San Francisco; brother Steve, wife Yoshie and son Tai (13) from Boulder, Colorado, and nephew David and his girlfriend Sabrina from northern Kentucky.
We had a dinner together at the home where Mother lives, complete with a chocolate Halloween cake. My mother is a chocoholic. We took her to Graeter's, famous for homemade ice cream where she savored her favorite flavor.
As a dedicated foodie, I did some Internet research on Louisville restaurants before our departure. We followed the recommendations to Ramsi's Cafe on the World, a funky and fun place with an extensive menu. I was knocked out by "coconut scallops served with horseradish Mandarin sauce, fried plantains and spinach Alfredo" Bob was equally pleased with "Pastafari," a tangy concoction of blackened grouper over Kentucky spinach with roasted potatoes, tomatoes and gemelli pasta. We liked it so much we made a return trip with the group on Halloween, that unique American holiday.
No one does Halloween like Hillcrest Avenue in Louisville. Every house on this long street decorates for the occasion: ghosts, goblins, skeletons, witches, graves with moving corpses, pumpkins and orange lights. Some even featured live entertainment on the porch — costumed dancers. Two had bands in the front yard. Crowds come to take it all in on foot on Halloween. We joined the masses for the macabre, crazy, fun experience.
In Louisville we stayed at a motel where every evening we enjoyed informative TV — political news commentary by Keith Obermann and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. Much better than CNN International which we watch in France.
Before returning to France, we spent two more days in Winchester. I headed into nearby Washington, D.C., to meet Jolene Carpenter, the Stars and Stripes travel editor based in the city who has been handling the articles I write for the paper with TLC for 10 years. It was great to put a face behind all those years of emails, and to enjoy a truly gourmet lunch: autumn squash risotto with baby scallops and pomegranate oil at Chef Geoff's.
While in the city I also met Gene Kramer, an old friend from the Journalists' International Ski Club. Gene, who has served as an Associated Press bureau chief in many parts of the world, gave me a tour of the National Press Club after we had coffee in the prestigious surroundings.
Indeed, it was a "bon voyage," but it's also good to be back home in Provence.
(For more photos click on the cat in the middle column.)