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Editor’s note: This is the third installment of Travels with Simone…..

One year my husband and I set out to visit the medieval cathedrals of northern France, a different one every day. When we got to Laon and were admiring the facade, we noticed that, instead of the usual gargoyles that are supposed to guard against evil, sixteen oxen were carved over the towers, each one looking out in a different direction. We were told that the builders wanted to honor these animals who toiled uphill from morning to evening carrying heavy loads of stone and other building materials. Oxen are much stronger than horses. We were delighted with this unusual story.

I like the soothing experience of river cruising and have traveled on the Rhone, the Rhine and the Danube. While you are sleeping, the ship has transported you to another town. All you have to do is cross the gangplank and explore. No tiring bus trips. If you have a cabin with a balcony you can watch colorful houses floating by, as well as the occasional castle or church. On one such trip, four musicians from the Philharmonia Baroque played for us every evening.

Sometimes you take a trip which turns into a vacation. My husband was active in the French Veterans Association. He had fought in the Free French Forces of General Charles de Gaulle in World War II.

In 1996 we traveled to Israel where he was meeting with Israeli French veterans. The town was Netanya , a seaside resort on the Mediterranean. The bus from Haifa dropped us on the main road on the outskirts of the town. We were far from the city center and no taxis were visible anywhere. I parked myself on a bench with our two suitcases while my husband walked downtown and eventually came back with a taxi. We stayed at a hotel overlooking the beach.

Netanya is not a “destination.” There are no “must sees.”

While meetings were going on, I drifted to the beach for the day. It is a very civilized beach. I rented a chaise with an umbrella and settled down to absorb the cloudless sky and the incredible dark blue of the Mediterranean. There are no tides and the water laps gently and invitingly. Swimming in the sea is a totally different experience from pool swimming.

Our hotel included two meals a day but I was not in the mood for a lunch of cabbage soup and pot roast. Instead I snacked at the various food booths.

In the evening we strolled aimlessly on the main square, looking at shop windows, eating ice cream and eavesdropping on conversations in Hebrew, French and Russian. It was peaceful and serene and difficult to imagine that we were at a stone’s throw from the occupied territories.


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Dina Cramer
Dina Cramer

Very nice travel memories!


Simone, river cruising sounds so wonderful! As I have been reading your series on traveling, I can’t help but think what a privilege it is to be able to travel. There is a family in Richmond, CA of whom I have become very fond. There are 5 children, and they live in a one bedroom, non-conforming unit. One day, I gave the children some money to give their Mom a birthday present. They bought BART tickets and went to the first stop in San Francisco. It was SO exciting to them all!


I went to find Netanya, Israel on the Mediterranean coast
and then Laon, France too.
Had never heard of the cathedral in Laon but there it was sitting on a hill dominating the surrounding countryside. The great cathedral of Reims is only 40 miles away and more famous, but Laon looks just as impressive. How many gothic churches there must be in France!


What a wonderful memory! I like to imagine Grandpa David tromping off down the road to wrangle a cab.