The Adventures of DoBell and Pyama

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Location: Minneapolis, MN

Dempsey is a Golden Retriever puppy who is in training to become a Helping Paws service dog for an individual with a physical disability. He lives with his parents Doreen and Paul, and Bailey the cat. None has ever trained a puppy before. These are their adventures. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the blog author. The contents of this blog have not been reviewed or approved by Helping Paws, Inc.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Back in the U.S.A.

Well, our European adventure is caput, fini. We're back in the U.S.A. Doreen and I arrived at BWI airport late Wednesday night and met Mitch and Sharon, the folks renting our house, who were as lovely as we expected them to be. I had a series of interviews on Thursday morning in Bethesda, and then we flew out to Cleveland. We're in Cleveland now, where I'm trying to nail down another interview next week in St Louis.

It's been really busy, and we're both really tired. We had some (mis)adventures on the trip home, including a run-in with Sanji, the hostile hotel receptionist, and airport workers in Paris who didn't know where the Icelandair desk is, or how to find it. But we got everything to work out, and we got a free night at the hotel, though it took some work.

We'll write up and post our adventures over the next few days, we hope. Below is a summary of our last month:

April 19 Tue: Trip One – Impressionist Tour Giverny, Rouen, Normandy
April 20 Wed: Mont Saint Michel, Avranches, St. James
April 21 Thu: Vitre, Loire Valley
April 22 Fri : Malmaison and Versailles dinner with HEC friends
April 23 Sat : Parc Bagatelle, dinner with friends
April 24 Sun: Trip Two – Flowers and Perfume: Namur, Belgium
April 25 Mon: Cologne, Germany
April 26 Tue: Amsterdam, Netherlands
April 27 Wed: Flower auction and Kukenhof gardens in Netherlands
April 28 Thu: Antwerp, Belgium and Senlis, France
April 29 Fri: Doreen laundry and packing – Paul prep for interviews, meet Alex for dinner to drop off luggage to store / a mere 3 kilometers away and 2 hour adventure in rush hour on the Paris peripherique
April 30 Sat: More packing and cleaning the Paris apartment, more interview prep
May 1 Sun: Rambouillet, Chartres, Le Mans, Vichy, Château Chenonceau
May 2 Mon: Le Puy to Avignon, phone interview
May 3 Tues: Avignon, Cannes, Nice
May 4 Wed: Monaco. Arrive in Tuscany
May 5: Trip to Siena....

Yeow! Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Ciao Italie!

Doreen and I are sad to be leaving our Italian villa today. Heck, we're really sad that our European adventure is almost over.

We'll be on the road the next few days, so we may be hard to get in touch with. Fear not, we'll be ok. Here's our itinerary for the next few days:

Saturday: Depart our villa. Stops in Florence and Cinque Terre (hopefully), stay the night near Milan.
Drive from Milan through Switzerland, with a stop in Zurich. Drive through to Stuttgart. Visit Porsche Museum, time permitting.
Visit Porsche Museum in the AM, if necessary. Drive to Strausbourg for a quick visit. Possible visit to Biffontaine and the Vosges Mountain, site of a WWII battle. Arrive in Paris.
Pick up luggage we left at our friend's place. Repack. Interview prep. Haircut.
Depart Paris. Arrive.
Interview in the AM, and then flight to Cleveland to pick up our cars.
Had an interview scheduled, which was cancelled. Grrrrr. Start prepping for another interview on June 2.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Rome alone

It is now 10:39pm. We are in Rome. To update yesterday's Tuscan update, here's our status: Phone: Still not working. Laundry: Still not done.

Needless to say, things didn't go as planned. We arrived in Pisa yesterday at 1:20pm, which is 20 minutes after the mobile phone store closes for a 3-hour lunch. So we stuck around for 2 hours and 40 minutes, waiting for the store to open. At least we got lunch at a kebab place near the Arno river, and had a long chat with the very chatty Egyptian proprietor. It was pretty interesting. We can now say that we know 2 Bush supporters in all of Europe.

When the mobile phone store finally re-opened, we discovered that the SIM card that we purchased would not work on our French cell phone. And, since we'd already opened the package and the SIM is registered with the Italian authorities in my name, we couldn't return it. So we lost 10 euros. If you know any Italian criminals who would like to purchase a mobile phone SIM that is registered in my name... well, that's probably not a good idea, is it?

We are now trying to contact folks in Paris, to see if they can buy a recharge card and e-mail us the secret code. We'll see.

On the way back from Pisa, we hit a little rush hour traffic, and we arrived in Rome around 10pm. Italian drivers really are very aggressive, to put it very politely. I avoided killing several suicidal Vespa riders, mainly because I didn't want to damage our Renault. I must say that at least a couple of them really deserved it. You, out of the gene pool!

Also when we arrived, we discovered that there is only one washing machine for the 94 apartments in the entire hotel. It was, of course, busy last night. And this morning. And this afternoon. And earlier tonight. We just threw our first load in a few minutes ago. We also discovered that the washer and dryer do not work at the same time, which also helps to explain why the @#$%#$ machine is never available.

The other reason I picked this hotel, in addition to the "laundry facility," was the availability of a broadband Internet connection. It was not working last night. Or this morning. It took two trips to the front desk, a call to England, another call to India, and two and half hours before we got the #$%#$%#@ connection to work. Grrrr.

At this point in the morning, it was pretty late, and I still had to do research on cat litter for my interview today. So Doreen very bravely went off to Rome alone, while I stayed in the hotel room alone to do the homework I never had a chance to do because of the @$#%#$%# cell phone store, the $%^$%@ traffic, the #%$^#@ laundry, and the #$^%$^$@ Internet connection.

Well, at least the interview went well, and Doreen made it safely back from the big city. We'll post more adventures as soon as we are able to venture out in something less revealing than a fig leaf. I predict this will be in 4 days, at the rate we're going.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Tuscan update

Even though I'm out of school now, things have been surprisingly busy at our little Tuscan villa. Here's what's been going on:

Our telephone
Sadly, it looks like our Lingo VOIP is down and out. If you've called us at the 202 number, we know you've called, but we haven't been able to listen to our voicemail. If you have Skpe, I've opened an account there. The username is my first initial and last name, with nothing in between.

Our cell phone also appears to be down and out. We ran out of French minutes, so we bought an Italian SIM and minutes at a mobile phone store in Pisa. Unfortunately, we purchased Vodaphone, while everyone here seems to be using either Tim or Wind, so we've been having some trouble getting it work. But we're driving back to Pisa tomorrow, because I left my driver's license at the store. Italian law, apparently, requires identification in order to purchase a cell phone SIM, and when I handed my driver's license over to be photocopied, I forgot to get it back.Grrrr.

Doing laundry has consumed a lot of our time, because there is no washing machine or dryer at our villa. We were told that there is a "Lavasecco" in the nearby village of Reggelo, two kilometers away. Forty minutes later, after asking a couple of little old ladies -- and watching them argue passionately about whether it was on the right or the left -- we found the Lavasecco, only to discover that they charge 15 per load. Yikes! We went to look for another laundromat.

We drove to Vaggio. Then Figline. Then San Giordama. Then Montevarchi. We finally found a "Lavaggio Cani, 24 Ore Self Service," but sadly it wasn't a laundromat. It was a self-serve dog wash, open 24 hours. We felt pretty stupid walking up to it with our dirty laundry, but really -- what kind of village has a 24-hour dog wash, but no laundromat?

So what, you may be wondering, are we doing with our dirty laundry? We're taking it Rome.

I have a phone interview on Thursday, and since we don't have a phone here, I thought it would be a perfect time to make a trip that requires a hotel stay. The hotel is one of those extended stay places, and I'm betting there's a laundromat in the basement. If not, my Plan C is to buy a bunch of cheap souvenir T-shirts near the Colisseum, and wear them for the rest of our stay. My aunt may not have been to Rome, but we'll get a lot of lousy t-shirts.

Doreen and I will be in Rome till Saturday, and then we leave for the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii, returning Monday. And yes, I'll be driving to Rome without a license, with an unusable cell phone, stopping at a mobile phone store in Pisa, with two weeks of dirty laundry in the trunk of our Renault. Isn't international travel glamorous?

Friday, May 06, 2005

Hey guys, we found a fort!

The last time we went to Amsterdam, the tulips weren’t in bloom yet, but you can’t go to Holland and not see tulips. We had to schedule another trip north.

First, we headed to Germany and decided to stop overnight in a little town in Belgium called Namur. As we approached the town, we saw a huge fortress at the top of the hill looking down on the river. We had happened on the Citadelle, an underground fort/castle constructed in the middle ages. Although it wasn’t in our plans, what guy can resist a fort? Off we went for the underground tour. The fort was fairly sophisticated, with a concrete-like mixture on the walls and ceilings to make the lodgings gas-proof but with vents in each sleeping chamber to allow air to circulate. It was, not surprisingly, cold and damp inside and I can’t imagine staying there much more than the few hours the tour required.

Another equally curious spectacle we encountered in Namur was a casino in our hotel. We were told we could enter free of charge since we were guests -- so others have to pay to give their money away? Apparently, gambling is very serious business in tiny little towns. We had to sign in, show our passports and drivers’ licenses, state our occupations (in my case, explain my occupation), provide our addresses and have our photos taken. As we were going through this initiation, we noticed a sign forbidding certain persons to enter, this included magistrates, notaries, and police. Hmmm…we had already come this far so, slightly alarmed, we forged ahead, signed the form anyway and finally received a slip of paper with a UPC code . This code was ceremoniously scanned by another person as we entered the casino. The entire process took exactly twice as long as it took me to blow through €20 once we were allowed in.

In Cologne, we visited the largest cathedral in Europe, with one of the world’s grumpiest priests. It was pouring rain and a lot of tourists came in dripping wet to escape the torrents. The priest was wandering around in a period-looking ensemble with a small cask for donations attached to a string around his neck. I had just read an article about how Wal-Mart was failing in Germany in part due to its ignorance about local culture; one thing I recalled was the Germans did not like strangers to touch their things. I suggested Paul might just hand our donation to him. The priest pointed and sort of growled at Paul to put it in the cask. Sadly, it did not sound like our euro coins were joining many others in there. We can’t blame him for being crabby. We saw a sign the new German Pope would be visiting the church Saturday. I hope that cheers him up.

The next day we visited the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam. The museum is housed in the canal house factory and annex where the Frank family lived for nearly two years during the German occupation. It was interesting to see the actual rooms and to get a sense of the space where they lived. As Anne said in her diary, it is surprising how large the canal houses actually are – they appear tiny from the street. The museum is poignant, as would be expected, but Paul and I both would have liked a little more history and more details relating excerpts in the diary to the time period. It felt as if it was designed to move people through quickly. The Dutch are very efficient.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon touring Amsterdam like the locals – on bikes. The city is beautiful and bikes gave us the chance to cover a lot of it quickly. The best part was the number of cycle paths that are found everywhere. Cycling is so much more fun when cars are in the minority. We saw people smoking, dialing cell phones, and the ultimate balancing act, a mother with three children – two in a large wooden crate in front and one in a baby seat on the back. Not sure I would risk that with all the canals encircling the city, but I have a bad record of clumsy accidents. We never saw a single crash - or even a near miss - while we were there.

Bridge connecting portions of the Citadelle fort in Namur, Belgium Posted by Hello

Simulated "enlisted" man - the officers had private rooms - in the Citadelle Posted by Hello

View of the town of Namur from the top of the Citadelle Posted by Hello

Moat of the Citadelle Posted by Hello

Doreen in one of the tunnels in the Citadelle Posted by Hello

Inside the church in Cologne Posted by Hello

Paul and the Pope Posted by Hello

Cologne (Koln) Germany - the largest cathedral in Europe Posted by Hello

Dutch windmill Posted by Hello

Amsterdam shop window. We just missed Queen's Day, a huge celebration where everyone wears the royal color, orange. Posted by Hello

Talented Dutchman talking on the cell phone while cycling Posted by Hello

Doreen on her "Dam Bike" - we assume named for Amster-dam Posted by Hello

Canal barge passing under a drawbridge in Amsterdam - sometimes called the "Venice of the North"  Posted by Hello

Anne Frank house and museum in Amsterdam Posted by Hello

Benvenuto a Italia!

Doreen and I arrived at our apartment in Tuscany yesterday, after driving through southern France. Our poor little Renault was packed to the rafters, but everything, including a potted basil plant, made it ok. Well, not quite -- the air conditioning on the Renault is broken already. This wasn't a big deal in Paris, but it's much warmer here in Italy.

Our apartment is absolutely gorgeous. It's in an old olive oil factory, built in the late 1600s, and once owned by the Medici family. It's in a vineyard on a hill overlooking the Arno river valley, and there are spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside. We'll post some pictures soon, as well as blog entries for our previous adventures.

The Internet here is working, though I still can't get our phone to work. The best way to reach us is via e-mail. I hope to have the phone up by later today.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Paul-Head Visits Europe

Folks have been asking me about how much fun I’m having in Europe. Well, truth be told, I’m not having any fun whatsoever.

The photos you see of me in Europe: Fake. Every single one of them. I’m actually sequestered in a Super 8 Motel in Yazoo City, Mississippi, applying to every job on

Notice how you can only see my head in the bottom corner in the blog photos? That’s because there only is my head. I’ve sent Doreen to Europe with a Paul-head. She dresses it up and pays a midget or small child 1 to hold it up in front of a famous European landmark. She snaps a photo, and voila ­– “proof” that I have been in Europe.

If you don’t believe me, look at the photographic evidence below. You may recall that one of these photos was even leaked to the news media – what a disaster that was.

Doreen’s rebuttal:
Okay, in my defense, I must say I tried to take pictures of Paul and fabulous landmarks, but Paul always said I was too far away and he could not be seen. It is not easy to get both. So, I started adding him to the corner of various shots. You’ll notice the “Paul-Head” did not appear until a few weeks into our stay in France. After each shot, I would show the picture to Paul, he would smile and say, “That’s great baby! I love it!” I believed him. He lied.

When we arrived in Nice and looked at the photos I took of Paul in front of the papal palace in Avignon, I noticed Paul looked like a cardboard cut out. He pointed out a number of similar pictures and then the “Paul-Head” trend was noted…four months into our Giverny, Normandy, Mont Saint Michel, Germany, Holland, Belgium and Switzerland. Paul-Head went a lot of places.

I am particularly proud of the Eiffel Tower shot in which the Paul-Head is slightly more than half the height of the tower. That is not an easy illusion to pull off.

The Paul-Head visits Europe. Posted by Hello

This one was leaked to the media last fall. Posted by Hello

The Paul-Head... unplugged. Posted by Hello

Doreen and Paul's whereabouts

We are currently in Avignon, France. We will be traveling through Provence today, staying in Nice tonight. We should arrive at our apartment in Florence on Wednesday night. Not sure when I'll have the Internet phone set up.

I may have a couple of interviews coming up -- one in London (cool), and one in Cleveland (cold). So I'll likely be hard to reach in the next few weeks.

If you need to reach us, our VOIP phone is being forwarded to our French cell phone, which should ring in Italy. We're trying to check our e-mail every night. If you're having trouble reaching us, don't panic. We're ok, just busy.

We've seen some very cool things the last few days: mountaintop castles, chateaux, the Le Mans racetrack, and the seat of the collaborationist Nazi government. There are no monuments there, oddly.

Someday we'll post more pictures and stories. Stay tuned, but I wouldn't hit the "refresh" button for a couple of days at least.