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the 2023
Cruise Diary:

Entry & Exit

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Cruising the Mediterranean, and Visiting France... Part 4

Friday, May 5, 2023

Last Day of the Cruise… “at sea” (in more ways than one!)

Today, we are in the middle of the Mediterranean, sailing from Naples, Italy, to Barcelona, Spain.
  Early tomorrow morning, the ship will pull up to the Barcelona terminal; we shall disembark, and head over to the hotel (the one where we stayed before the cruise began).

We have one event planned and paid for in Barcelona: a tour of the Sagrada Familia, the extraordinary cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi, and under continuous construction for 140 years.  I’m really looking forward to it.

After that, there’s a problem: we are supposed to go to France, to visit a family member, but we have no idea how we are to get there!

My Internet access was good, yesterday (when we were stopped in Naples, with a strong cellular signal), so I tried to book a train.  But the website said that all trains are full, until Thursday!  I then tried to book a bus, and had done everything to set it up – even choosing our seats (!!) – when the website refused to accept my credit card.  In fact, the credit card company then sent me an email to say that my card had been “suspended” – due to what it called “suspicious” activity.  I managed to reach the company through their website, and was told that I had to phone a special number.

Unfortunately, this instruction came after our ship had left port, and I had no cellular signal.  Using Skype, or similar software, to make phone calls when the ship’s Internet connection is anything but consistent, is out of the question.

So, stay tuned, to see if Tony and Heather ever manage to go to France!

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Back in Barcelona… solving problems

The cruise is now complete.
  Heather and I, already packed, left the ship just after 8:00 AM.  A long lineup of disembarking passengers, who were waiting for cabs, moved fairly quickly, and soon we were in a taxi, on our way to the hotel.

To my astonishment, the front desk clerk said we were not booked until tomorrow!  Our room was reserved for Sunday night and Monday night, not Saturday and Sunday!  How could this be!?  Only much later did I realize that it was my own mistake.  I hadn’t noticed that the online booking calendar, with a familiar image of a month, starts each week on Monday, rather than Sunday.  I knew we would be arriving in Barcelona on a Saturday, so I clicked two days that looked like a weekend – the end of one week and the beginning of the next – when, in fact, I had selected a Sunday and Monday.  Silly me, not checking the actual numbers of the dates for which we needed a hotel!

Well, the kindly front desk clerk made adjustments.  However, the only space available for this evening was a premium suite.  So, he was obliged to charge us more to put us in it – but, heck, we were at his desk five hours before normal check-in time, and, as the room was immediately available, we were able to settle in right away.  We’ll move to a normal suite tomorrow

But, what about going to France on Monday?  Well, I had had so much trouble booking online that, after getting the hotel mess all straightened out, I simply went, in person, by taxi, to the bus terminal – intending to purchase tickets with a real, live, human being.

This didn’t begin well, however.  The agent for the bus company whose schedule was most suitable, demanded that I present her with both Heather’s and my passports!  We may be in the European Union, but its component countries remain separate, and we will be crossing a national border, from Spain into France.  The bus company wouldn’t sell a ticket to someone who might be stopped at the border for lack of a passport.  But Heather and her passport were back in the hotel!  Should I take a taxi back to the hotel, get Heather’s passport, and return?  There were only three seats left in the bus I wanted – they might be sold by the time I get back!

The bus company’s agent was quite kind-hearted, and suggested we try the “Flixbus” – a competitor’s bus line!  I went down the hall to that company’s office, and – yes!!! – their agent was willing to sell me two tickets to Limoges, for Monday, simply accepting my word that Heather would have her passport with her.  Once my credit card payment went through, I nearly jumped for joy!  So, we’re going to France on Monday!

But the stress of all this – the mistaken booking, and the difficulty of getting transportation – has been extremely hard on me.  When I got back to our room, bus tickets in hand, I was so tired that I slept for an hour.

Upon waking up, Heather and I decided to go for a walk (Heather had been napping, too).  When we were last at this hotel, we had noticed a beautiful beach, just a short distance away, and we had promised ourselves to go to see it upon returning to Barcelona.  So, that is what we did this afternoon.  It’s Saturday, today – a weekend – and the weather is sunny and mild.  When we got to the beach, it turned out to be full of people.  We could easily have believed that every single person in Barcelona under the age of 40, had come to the beach for the day.  Babies and toddlers, teens and twenty-somethings, were everywhere, running, playing various beach games, or just sitting under umbrellas, enjoying the day.  Of the hundreds of people there, it seemed to me that Heather and I were the oldest, by several decades.  Eventually, we passed what proved to be a beach restaurant, and there we had our supper, under an awning, with a view of the Mediterranean, and all those bathing-suit clad young people.  We came back to the hotel in a very good mood!

Tomorrow, we visit the Sagrada Familia basilica.  It’s a Sunday, so, in a way, we’ll be going to church.  Right?

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Sunday, May 7, 2023

A Visit to the Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona

There are many interesting things to see and to do in Barcelona.
  In my opinion, though, the best and most fascinating is the Sagrada Familia basilica.  Designed by Antoni Gaudi, and begun in 1882, it has been under continuous construction right through to the present, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Thousands of people try to visit it when they’re in Barcelona, so it is advisable to purchase tickets well in advance, for a specific date and time.  Before we left Barcelona and started on the cruise, three weeks ago, our hotel front desk clerks helped us to buy tickets for today, at 11:00 AM.  And so, that is what we have returned to Barcelona to do.  Then, tomorrow – now that I have acquired some bus tickets – we will head north, to a little town just outside the city of Limoges, France.

In the early afternoon, today, I was sitting on the balcony of our hotel room, eating a snack that will substitute for lunch, and the thought struck me: “I am happy.  I am content.  All is well with me.”  This hasn’t happened often, on this stress-filled trip, but it certainly was the case at that moment.

Except... Heather is not well.  She’s been coughing; she has a fever; and she’s as weak as a kitten.  If she requires medical assistance or hospitalization, my stress will return a hundredfold, but I’m persuaded that it is “just” a cold.  After we got back from the Sagrada Familia, she went straight to bed, and I walked over to a nearby pharmacy, and bought her a cold remedy.  So, here’s hoping.
Sagrata Familia interior
Looking up at the altar area
of the Sagrada Familia.

But, yes, despite the fact that Heather was decidedly unwell most of last night, we both went to the Sagrada Familia.  She dearly wanted to see it, and is not sorry that we went – though, half-way through, she simply had to sit down.  We agreed that – having explored most of the main area with the audio guide that I was able to get for her – Heather should sit, and rest, in a tiny theatre where there was a constantly running video about the Sagrada.  Once I had finished my own exploration of the place, I went and sat down beside my wife, and watched the video, with her.

In it, there was an excellent explanation of the principles that motivated Antoni Gaudi in this, his major work.  First and foremost, he wanted architecture to be respectful of, and to reflect, the natural world.  Concrete and stone should, he thought, be fluid in form, like rivers, trees and mountains (these are my own words, not the video’s).  Even in Gaudi’s secular buildings – offices and residences – many of which may still be found in Barcelona – rounded edges and flowing curves predominate.  The cathedral itself is full of light, and the pillars in it are like trees.

Religious symbolism abounds.  For example, when all is done, there will be eighteen spires: twelve for the twelve apostles, four for the four Gospels, one for the Virgin Mary, and the tallest, and last to be completed, one for Jesus Christ.  An interesting fact about the latter – the central and tallest spire – is that its height, at 172 metres, is deliberately set to be less than the nearby mountain that dominates Barcelona’s skyline.  Why? Because Gaudi insisted that the work of humans should not be greater or higher than the work of God.

All of which delighted me.

Eventually, we caught a taxi and returned to our hotel.  Whereupon Heather, exhausted, lay down and fell asleep.

I want her to sleep for the rest of the day, so that she may be on the way to recovery when we proceed to Monique’s place, tomorrow, near Limoges, France.  (“Monique,” by the way, is a made-up name, because this person doesn’t want her actual name to be posted on the Internet.)

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Monday, May 8, 2023

On the Bus to France…

nd now, the second part of our European adventure begins! 
The cruise is done; the Sagrada has been visited; and today, we have travelled by bus into France.  Our long-anticipated visit to our “French Connection” begins.

Monique is a member of our extended family.  Born and raised in France, she was working in an international office of the United Nations where she met, and eventually married, a “Harwood-Jones.”  She moved to Canada with him, and, as the years went by, she became a Canadian citizen.  Eventually, her husband fell ill, and died, and, in due course, she went back to France.  But she continues to maintain a strong and loving connection with her husband’s relatives, returning to Canada several times, just to visit us.  She has always hoped that one day, one or another of us would be able to visit her at her home, near the city of Limoges, in south-central France.

From the moment we booked our cruise, Heather and I were determined to include a visit to Monique as part of our travels.  And, today, that visit became a reality.

On the map, Limoges appears to be reasonably close to Barcelona, but it is, in fact, a nine-hour bus trip – almost ten hours, what with scheduled stops along the way.  Given that the bus was to start the trip at 11:05 AM, we wouldn’t arrive in Limoges until 9:00 PM.  But Monique insisted that, despite the hour, she would drive in from the small village where she lives, and meet our bus.  I offered to take an Uber or a taxi, but she wouldn’t have it.

We arrived at the Barcelona bus depot more than twenty minutes before the bus was due to depart.  Finding our way to the correct platform, we settled down to wait... and wait... and wait....

Our bus did not even arrive at the terminal until an hour and a half after it was scheduled to leave!  We visited and chatted with a number of the other passengers that were waiting – including a young Philippine couple who were headed to Brussels, Belgium, and another family that was going to Paris.  Even if the bus had started out on time, these people wouldn’t have reached their destination until well after 3:00 AM – perhaps even after sunrise!  Now, beginning the journey an hour and a half late... they were in for a long haul!

I notified Monique by text that we were late, but still she insisted on coming to get us in Limoges!

When the bus finally showed up, the people surged forwards.  Unwilling to be in the press of humanity, I said to Heather, “We have reserved seats, so we might as well wait until this crowd has boarded.”  She agreed.  She has difficulties with her legs, and needs time and a bit of help to get onto the bus’ steps.  In due course, all our luggage (six weeks’ worth!) was put in the appropriate compartment under the bus, and we climbed, laboriously, on board.  “Seats 11C and 11D” I said, in French, to the driver.  He replied, rather curtly, that there are no reserved seats on this bus.  Which is odd, because our tickets were clearly marked with the seat numbers!

Then the driver did us a kindness: he went down the aisle, calling out – in Spanish, I think – that these two seniors really needed to sit together, would anyone be willing to move, and free up two seats together?  And, a young lady did just that!

I thanked her profusely, in French.  I don’t speak French very well, but I can get by.
Interior of a highway bus in Spain
On the highway in Spain
... heading for Limoges, France

Soon, we were on the highway.  The weather was bright and sunny, and we moved from agricultural lands near the Mediterranean to the eastern end of the Spanish Pyrenees – with a spectacular view of mountains.

All the time, of course, I was conscious that we were travelling from Spain into France.  The bus companies wanted us to have passports, when I bought our tickets.  Maybe, once we reached the French border, customs agents would demand to see ours?

I had my cellphone in my hand, following our progress on a map, so I knew exactly when we came to the border.  But we didn’t stop.  No customs agents tried to check documents!  A few metres into France, there was a highway toll booth, but nothing else.

We carried on, heading northeast, on our way to a scheduled stop in Toulouse.

Suddenly the bus left the highway, pulling in to a rest stop.  “Are we going to be allowed to get off, and maybe use the toilets?” I asked myself (there being no toilets on the bus).  But no.  Instead, the rest stop was full of police-type vehicles – both cars and motorcycles.  And armed people in uniform!

Then I saw, on the backs of the uniforms, the word “DOUANES.”  It’s the French word for Customs.

“Aha!  A passport check!” I said to myself.  I got my passport out of the zippered pocket on my pants, and held it, at the ready.  Heather fished in her purse for hers.

Nobody in the bus had moved.

The front door opened, and in came an armed man... and a dog.

The dog sniffed at each row of passengers.  Drug-sniffing!

A young man was escorted off the bus.

Eventually, we were back on the highway.

Heather and I had not brought food, and the bus company had made no provision for passengers to use a toilet.  Things became quite uncomfortable.

Sunset, and sometime after dark, we stopped to let some people off, and to pick up passengers.  There was a fast-food store beside the bus stop, but it had closed for the day.  And no toilets.

Finally, at around 10:30 PM, we pulled in at the Limoges bus terminal, and there was Monique!  You cannot imagine how glad we were to see her.  Twenty minutes later, we were in her home, where I made a bee-line for the bathroom!

Much happy chatter ensued... and Monique put out a complete late-night dinner!

We have arrived!

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Tuesday, May 9, 2023

My Passport!!  Where’s my Passport!???

ere at Monique’s, we didn’t get to bed last night until after 2:00 AM,
so pleasant and cheerful was the visiting, and catching up with one another.

But... as I was changing for bed, I felt the zippered pocket of my trousers, where I keep my passport...


Where’s my passport!!???  I felt in other pockets, and in my backpack.  I even slipped quietly outside and checked in Monique’s car.  Nothing.  Where else could it be?  The last time I remember having it was when the customs agents and their dog boarded our bus.  I had had it in my hands.  Did I drop it on the floor of the bus?  Or put it temporarily on my lap, then forget that I had done so (I am getting rather forgetful)?

This was extremely serious, but the household was already asleep, so I decided to go to bed myself, and, in the morning, ask Heather and Monique if they’ve seen it.

Well, morning came, and neither of them has any idea what might have happened to my passport (and, yes, Heather was a bit critical of me for getting it out before the customs agents actually indicated that they wanted to see it!).  So, the day that Monique had hoped would be devoted to touring around the region where she lives, has now been devoted to passport recovery.

I tried to contact the bus company, but the head office, which was the only place that listed contact numbers for humans, is in Germany, and my attempts to phone did not go through.  So, I reached out to the Canadian Embassy in Paris.  By early afternoon, after several automated emails and a personal phone call, I knew that I will have to go, in person, to the embassy, to arrange for a temporary passport.  If I could get a passport photo taken before arriving at the embassy, things might be done in two days.  It’s Tuesday, today.  So, if I go to Paris tomorrow, it’s possible that I could have replacement travel documents by Friday.

I’ve been hoping that we could be on our way to Canada by the weekend.  After all, as the saying goes, “Relatives and fish begin to smell after three days,” so I don’t think we should impose ourselves on Monique for a week or more!

You will notice, however, that we have not yet bought our air tickets back to Canada.  For one thing, I had wanted to be flexible about our departure, just in case Monique had plans for a specific activity, on a specific date.  For another, because our daughter is an Air Canada flight attendant, we have certain family privileges, such as very low fares, on that airline – but we must fly “standby” in order to access such fares.  “Standby” means that, if all seats on your chosen flight are full of regular fare-paying customers, you cannot get on.  You’ll have to try again another day.  A month ago, at the beginning of this adventure, when we flew to Barcelona, we paid full-fare, because we dared not risk missing the cruise ship’s departure.  But now?  Returning to Canada, we can be more flexible.  Still, we don’t want to impose on Monique indefinitely... so, if the embassy can get us a passport replacement by Friday, maybe there will be lots of empty seats in the middle of the Mothers Day weekend (assuming that everyone who travels to see their mom would be there by Saturday night or Sunday morning), so there just might be room for some “standby” travellers like us.

Well, we shall cross that bridge when we come to it.

Our first priority is for me to get a replacement passport.  So, I must get to the Canadian Embassy in Paris as soon as possible.  And, according to my correspondents at the embassy, I’ll need to get there with passport photos in my hand.

Monique developed a plan.  There’s a train station in the nearby town of St-Léonard.  We could go there, and buy a train ticket to Paris for tomorrow, and then go to a photographer, whom she knows, not far away, who can provide me with the needed photos.  If we were to follow this plan, Monique would also get a chance to show us some of the interesting places near her home!  Would we like to do this?  Yes, absolutely!
Workers on ladders, setting up street decorations
Decorations going up in St-Léonard
– preparing for the May 21 ‘Ostensions’

So we became tourists.  I got my train ticket, and I had a passport photo taken.  And we walked around, sightseeing, in the heart of St-Léonard!

The townsfolk there are getting ready for a big festival, known as the “Ostensions du St-Léonard.”  This festival happens every seven years, commemorating an event, in the year 994.  There had been a dreadful plague, which ended miraculously, after bishops and abbots had carried the relics of a saint, in a procession, to Limoges.  To celebrate this long-ago miracle, streets are decorated with colourful banners and strings of red, white, and blue pom-poms.  Apparently, Saint Leonard, whose body is buried in the church that bears his name, is brought out of his crypt, and carried in procession.

I am respectful of the belief that faith and prayer can avert illness, and that is the more important part of the celebration, to my way of thinking.  Carrying about the relics of a saint doesn’t move me quite as much as it moves the hundreds of people that come out to the festival – including many who come, as pilgrims, from far away.

I would have liked to see the “Ostensions,” nonetheless, but they peak on May 21, when, by the grace of God, I will be safely back home in Winnipeg.  But it was fun to see the preparations taking place in the town of St-Léonard!

But, with train ticket and a passport photo in hand, I will be going to Paris tomorrow.  Heather (who is still somewhat unwell) will stay at Monique’s, and have a quiet day of it.

As the day draws to a close, we three have been having a delightful visit – catching up on Harwood-Jones news (Monique knows stuff about some of my relatives that I, myself, hadn’t known!).

But I must get to bed!  My train leaves for Paris, from Limoges, at 6:58 AM!  We’ll have to be in the car, and on our way to Limoges, by 6:00 AM at the latest!!

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Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Getting Lost in Paris...

onique dropped me off at the Limoges train station at 6:35 AM,
and, after asking a young man for directions, I found my way to the appropriate train platform.  There, I found that the railway system is wonderfully organized: illuminated signs predict exactly where each train car will stop, and platform markings direct passengers right to the spot where their own predetermined car is going to be!

Then, at exactly the scheduled time – 6:58 AM – I was on board the train, and on my way to Paris! 

The train itself was very comfortable.  Movement along the rails was silk-smooth; the chairs could recline; and the seat in front of each passenger had a fold-down table, such as we find on many an airplane, but in this case there was enough room on it to hold a good-size laptop (like mine!).  And... there were toilets!  I will not soon forget the nine-hour bus ride from Barcelona, in a vehicle that does not have that important facility!!!

Would this train ride also take nine hours?  No.  My ticket said that it would be a three hour journey, and that I would arrive in Paris at 10:28 AM.  Although, on weekdays, the Canadian Embassy is closed from noon until 2:00 PM, my train’s arrival time should make it easy to get to the embassy long before noon.

But, three factors made this somewhat optimistic: the availability of taxis at the train station; the distance between the station and the embassy; and – last but not least... Paris traffic!!

The train was exactly on time.  People disembarked, and those who needed a taxi dutifully stood in line at the station’s taxi-stand.  Three or four taxis came, one after another, and the people in front of me got on, and sped away.  But then... no more taxis... for what seemed to be forever.  Finally, a couple more of them came, and it was my turn.  I showed the driver the address of the embassy, and we were off... right into a mid-city traffic jam.

Finally, at one minute before noon, I arrived at the embassy.  After determining my purpose, and after phoning the passport staff to learn that I was expected, the embassy guards had me, and my things, put through airport-type scanners… then I was admitted.

The people who then dealt with me (in a sound-proof booth) probably worked well into, and through, their lunch hour, but they were warm and friendly and extremely helpful.  One of them, Amelia, became my specific mentor, even giving me her private phone line, so that I could reach her directly during the two days that it would take, at a minimum, before my temporary passport would be ready.

BUT... she looked at the photos that I had obtained yesterday, and she said that they were wrong.  My white hair and the white background in the photo had merged so completely that it looked like I had a narrow face and no hair!  I would have to get another photo taken.  Amelia said that there is a photography shop nearby, with which she frequently deals.  I could walk there, and come back with new photos, in less than an hour.  She phoned the photographer to say that I would shortly be on my way.

She gave me a paper map, with dotted lines to indicate where one should walk to get to the photographer.  I looked at it with a little perplexity.  There were few street names printed on it, no indications of north and south, and where the dots began it was impossible to tell whether to turn right, or left, upon exiting the embassy doors.  “Turn right,” she said.  I thanked her, and off I went.

Getting used to asking for directions, I showed my paper map to the guard at the door, and said, “Turn this way?  Turn right?”

“No,” he replied, “you should cross the street and go up that lane over there!”  So I did.  Soon, I was totally lost.  I got out my cellphone and put the photographer’s address into its mapping software, but it didn’t help much.  The address was on the famous street, Champs Elysées, and eventually I saw a street with that very name on it.  Should I go right or left?  The phone’s electronic map seemed to indicate “right,” so off I went, looking for the designated street number.  On old buildings in old cities, street numbers are not readily available...

So, I ended up calling Amelia on her direct line.  She began to guide me along, using visual cues – and, if I spotted a building’s street number, I’d tell her.

Finally, with the phone on my ear, I almost shouted, “I see the number ‘84’!!”  “Good,” said Amelia.  “It’s actually a shopping mall.  Go through the door, and go straight down the hall to the other end, and there you’ll see a ‘Kodak’ sign.”  Satisfied that she had guided me correctly, she clicked off.  I went into the mall, as relieved and happy as can be, and proceeded toward a faraway glass door with sunshine coming through.  But, when I got there, I could see no “Kodak” sign.  I looked down a corridor that went to the left from where I was standing, but there were no stores at all on it, and the glass doors at the end of that corridor clearly led outside the building.

Once again, I asked directions, and a man said, in French, “Oh, it’s just through the exit over there, in a courtyard!”  So, it was not exactly in the mall, but outside!  But, when I went through the doors, there was the “Kodak” sign, and with great relief I was soon getting my photo taken by a bent-over little old man who reminded me of a ninety-year old friend of mine, back in Winnipeg.

This elderly photographer also gave me directions how to get back to the embassy.  I paid him, and off I trotted.  Trotting was necessary, because my return train to Limoges was due to leave at 5:30 PM, and it was already almost four o’clock!  An hour and a half seems like plenty of time, but I needed to finish with Amelia, and then there was cross-town traffic to deal with!  I phoned Amelia again, and she agreed to come down to the embassy entrance.  Then, I hailed a cab, asking the driver to take me, first to the embassy, where he should wait while I go in and complete matters with Amelia, and then he should take me to the train station.  He was quite happy to have a fare like that!

Amelia, satisfied with the photographs that I brought her, had one more problem for me to solve:  regulations, she explained, state that a temporary passport cannot be given without proof of travel.  Could I get her that by tomorrow morning?

Well, as I explained in yesterday’s entry, Heather and I travel “standby” by virtue of our daughter, Rachael’s Air Canada staff privileges.  She books our travel for us, and she has always said that there’s no point booking a flight until a day or two before it’s due to fly – because that’s when she can be sure there are sufficient unsold seats for us to be allowed to board.  I explained this to Amelia, but she insisted that I produce “proof” of travel.  “Would proof of ‘standby’ travel be sufficient?” I asked; “I think so,” she replied.

With everything else done that I was able to do, I got back into my cab, and was taken to the Paris train station.

Then, as if the day wasn’t exciting enough, the cabbie was not able to get onto the station’s driveway – the gate to it was closed tight, and there were armed soldiers and security guards.  I paid the cab, and went up to those people, who allowed me to enter on foot.

I later learned that security was high at transportation hubs because Volodymyr Zelenskyy was arriving in France for a session with France’s President Macron.

I was on time for my train, and, once on board, I reached out to Rachael on the other side of the world (morning for her, in California, and evening for me, in France), and together, as the train swept along, we set up “standby” travel for Friday afternoon at 1:00 PM, Paris time.  If the embassy accepts my proposed travel, and has my passport ready on Friday morning, we’ll pick it up, and rush to the airport and try to board.  If the passport is not ready, we’ll make the best of it, and play “tourist” in Paris, until the passport is ready.  (The embassy will, of course, be closed on the weekend.)

The train pulled in to the Limoges staton at 9:00 PM.  Monique and Heather were waiting.  I had been keeping them posted, via text-messages, throughout the day, and they knew when I would arrive.  On the drive back to Monique’s home, I caught them up on the day’s adventures.  Visiting continued at the house – along with a light, but delicious, meal.

And that has been the day!

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Next:  Bilingual Scrabble!
   preparation.  Stay tuned!