mercredi 27 juillet 2011

Week V, celebration & light adventures

OK, This period starts off with Thursday July 14th, or Bastille Day.  We were a bit disappointed to find that nothing was taking place this day at the Place de la Bastille.  Going to the military parade along the Champs Elysee seemed out of the question because of likely crowds and a lot of walking (public transport, as well as roads, is shut off near the parade).  So we watched it on television.  It went on for a while, with every imaginable military, paramilitary, quasi-military and veterans group present.  A reviewing stand had been set up in Place de la Concorde, and we had to admire Sarkozy's fortitude in continuing to look serious, patriotic and interested throughout the long review.
The main evening event was fireworks by the Eiffel Tower at 11 pm.  Again, we thought it inadvisable to go and watch at the Champ de Mars or Invalides, so we did some scouting and settled on the Pont de Sully.  This spot had a good, if distant, view and was within walking distance from the apartment.  We joined a small crowd there just before 11 and got a good view of the show.  The tricouleur, blue, white and red, was featured, as might have been expected.  I was reminded of watching 4th of July fireworks from our hill in Solana Beach, and the heavy crowds there.  No pictures this time.
Musee d'Orsay as ad space
On Friday we did our first museum visit, to the Orsay.  After making several attempts to get up to the third floor where the good impressionist art is, we finally learned, after a heated complaint, that it was closed for renovation  but that much of the good stuff could be seen on the first floor.  Well, you can't see it all anyway, so we were happy enough to see our favorite art in the crowded corridor.  Carolee braved the long line at the cafe for me so we could rest with coffee and water.
Tuileries with carnival rides

Tuileries, looking toward Louvre
Once out, we couldn't resist, even with tired legs, crossing over the Solferino pedestrian bridge to the Tuileries Garden.  Our stroll, punctuated by short rests, took us past the main pond, through a traveling carnival, and finally down into the very convenient Tuileries Metro stop to Line 1 and back home.
Eiffel Tower, soggy

Eiffel Tower, Palais de Chaillot
On the rainy Saturday we opted for an easy outing, so it was to the Trocadero stop and Palais de Chaillot for the great view of the Eiffel Tower.  Easy became hard because of the amount of climbing necessary from the Metro line 8 (deep underground) to line 6 (overhead) at La Motte Picquet.  But the views of the tower and the Seine were terrific from this elevated line.  The Trocadero stop discharged us right at the Palais de Chaillot, and from then on the problem was to negotiate broad, wet steps with no handrails anywhere.  It nearly came to disaster when an African souvenir vendor, running from the police, nearly pitched me down a flight of steps.  Loved it anyway, and we got our pictures like everybody else.  Metro back by a different and much more manageable route.
Sunday, still a bit rainy, we opted for an easy trip to see the Opera Garnier.  In our neighborhood Carolee noticed a sushi restaurant with a small army of motor scooters for delivery.  The opera house itself was as grand as we expected, and the view down the Avenue de l'Opera was a joy.  Coming back Carolee, always noticing things, saw that there was a gym above the neighborhood McDonald's, and that it was full of exercising Parisians.  From previous visits one never would have expected this.
Sushi bikes

Opera Garnier, Grand Foyer

Avenue de l'Opera

Exercise traks above McDonald's

Monday and Tuesday Carolee was off to school, and there are no pictures to remind me of whatever we may have done, other than the usual shopping and housekeeping.

lundi 25 juillet 2011

Week IV, School

Main entrance, Alliance Francaise
I was off in Italy for four of these days, so that's not in the scope of this blog.  Carolee settled into studying at the Alliance Francaise in the sixth arrondissement, and decompressed by walking home, about three miles.  It became a sort of adventure to wind back along different routes.

Our local bistro
About this time our neighborhood Bistro opened.  We had watched some amazingly fast renovation at this site, just around the corner from us.
Church of St Sulpice & fountain

Dragon Sculpture on Rue de Rennes

Bizarre sculpture by Delacroix Museum

She exploited her ample opportunity to explore the 6th arrondissement, familiarly called St-Germain des Pres.
Facade of Opera Garnier

Glass dome of Galeries Lafayette, again

American flag bikini for sale

The next day it was off to the Opera and Galeries Lafayette, where she found American flag bikinis for sale
Jews for Jesus
Sideswiped by emergency vehicle
The next exploration took her to the eastern end of the Promenade Plantee, where she found massive modern apartment blocks, one wrapped interestingly around the Promenade.  Returning through the streets she found an interesting office, and viewed the hazards of parking a bicycle next to the ambulance emergency exit of the St-Antoine hospital.
Studio of Camille Claudel, Rodin's model & mistress

Hotel de Ville

Roller bladers, some needing exercise
Another trip home took her along the north side of the Ile St Louis, where she found a plaque dedicated to Camille Claudel.  Past the Hotel de Ville she encountered, contrary to any expectation, a team of roller bladers.
The following two days were turned into a nervous nightmare when I missed my flight back from Venice and was unable to communicate with Carolee by email thanks to an outrageous dereliction of duty by my provider, AT&T.  Yes, we should have had a backup communication plan.  The cost of a same day flight being a bit high, $840 for a one-hour flight, I returned by train, arriving Sunday just before midnight.  A nightmare for Carolee, and hardly a great experience for me.
Legionaires at Luxembourg Garden

Cafe de Flore

Brasserie Lipp

Les Deux Magots
Explorations of the sixth resumed.  We happened on some costumed dignitaries on their way out from the Luxembourg Gardens.  Later we photographed the famous cafes along the Blvd St-Germain, which the existentialists made famous 60 years ago.  Fearing the prices, we took our expresso further down the boulevard.  We might as well have done it: we learned later that it was a mere $6.40 for a coffee, two dollars less than what we saw charged at the Cafe de le Paix near the Opera Garnier.

Champagne in the Firemen's courtyard.
This week ended on the eve of Bastille Day (actually only called the 14th of July [le quatorze juillet] here), and we checked the papers and went off to the local Fireman's Ball (Bal des Pompiers) with free admission and free music.  As we had seen everywhere else, pretty much anyone, young or old, came for the fun.  Drinks were sold and we were eventually rewarded with music from a very professional but very loud band.  We were out of there before people really started dancing.

mardi 12 juillet 2011

Week III, Visitors

Christian and Phil Blanco in Paris

Gare de Lyon
Phil and Christian came this Wednesday for a whirlwind tour of Paris, Bayeux, and the Normandy beaches.  In going off to the Gare du Nord to meet them I learned how easy it is to go wrong when entering a bus on a traffic circle like Bastille.  It went off in the wrong direction.  This wasn't going to be the only time I screwed up connections.  The best recovery in this case was to get off at the Gare de Lyon and try again, with more options.  A lotta walking it was, but the Metro got me in good time to the other station, where I waited, drinking a truly bad cup of Haagen-Dasz coffee, for the Eurostar from London.  Meeting up was no problem at all and getting a cab was particularly easy, because my cane got us immediately in front of a long line.  The hectic cab ride in early evening traffic was, well, instructive.  A quiet time was had by all - settling in was followed by our standard evening meal of roast chicken, potato salad, haricots verts and tomato & mozzarella salad.

Duane & Phil at front of Hospital des Invalides

Christian  by Invalides Chapel (Napoleon's Tomb)
Eiffel Tower from Champ de Mars
Christian as Atlas
Christian and Gustave
     Thursday - highlights of Paris for Phil & Christian.  But first Carolee took them over the the Aligre market for an earthy touch.  The trip began with a Metro ride to the Invalides area, where we entered the Invalides building, now all museum, and simply walked through slowly, stopping only at the gift shop.  We passed up Napoleon's Tomb because the admission had gone up to 10 euros..  Not worth it.  Then a moderate walk to the far (Ecole Militaire) end of the Champ de Mars and straight down this to the Eiffel Tower.  Yes, we joined the other tourists in taking silly photos.  At the tower itself we encountered the expected long lines to go up the tower, so I sat it out while Phil and Christian explored.  They opted not to go up, but spent some happy time at the base.
Tip of the Ile

Notre Dame - Buttresses aflyin'

Intrepid explorers find Notre Dame

Christian, Phil, Seine,  Bateau Mouche
     After walking the few hundred yards to the Seine, Phil made the lucky discovery that we could take a hop on & off river ride from there.   Hopping on, we cruised as far as Notre Dame.  Disembarked, we headed first into the left bank area where we got cheap and delicious lunches at a Lebanese cafe.  Then back across the river to Notre Dame, where it looked like the cane wasn't going to give us priority in the long line, so we gawked and clicked like everybody else.  From here it was around to the Sainte Chapelle and the Prefecture, where we were again deterred by long lines.  Crossing back to the left bank we had the basic Parisian experience of strolling past the riverside sellers of books, prints and other chachkes.
Crossing to Louvre

Louvre, Pyramid
Tuileries pond, rented sailboats
     Back on the boat, we hopped off at the Louvre.  Here I nearly got mowed down by rapidly accelerating traffic when I failed to note the unusually short duration of that pedestrian stoplight.  But we were rewarded by a stroll through the Louvre courtyards and the pyramid, and crossed over to the Tuileries Garden.  Christian was rewarded with another classic Parisian experience: sailing a rented sailboat in the large circular pool.  The half hour ended, it was only a couple hundred meters to the nearest Metro stop, where we set off for the Arc de Triomphe.
Arc de Triomphe from Metro exit

Champs Elysee from top of Arc de Triomphe

Stairs inside Arc de Triomphe

Ceremony for the fallen
     Well, from the Metro you have to come up to ground level and then find the underpass to the center and the arch itself.  All stairs.  I opted to sit it out while they went up.  This was a mistake because my cane would have got us in the elevator.  They had a great time up there with splendid views: no regrets about not going up the Eiffel Tower.  Serendipitously, we got to watch a lengthy military ceremony honoring the unknown soldiers of the various allies.  Eventually having enough, we ducked back into the metro for another classic Parisian experience, being squished in heavy crowds back to the Bastille.  Back at 8 pm after having ticked off a fairly short list of major sights.  Dinner at the neighborhood pizzeria, whose Italian authenticity was attested by the frequent misspellings of the menu dishes.

Trip to Normandy
    Phil, a WWII buff, had arranged for a rental car for a day trip to Normandy and the D-Day beaches.  After an easy walk to the Gare de Lyon we found rental office in an adjacent tower and began the hour-long process of waiting and plowing through the paperwork.  A fine introduction to French bureaucracy.  The promised GPS wasn't provided, but Phil had a backup on his laptop.  Despite the navigational aids we fouled up on the spaghetti roads that led the short distance to the Peripherique.  Eventually we got back and into the traffic jams.  Once we found the minimally marked A13 we were pointed away from Paris and coursed through the ring of newer Paris, eventually reaching hilly woodlands with the occasional city or chateau.
Christian & Phil in Bayeux

Carolee & Duane in Bayeux

Medieval garb in Bayeux
Memorial in cathedral

Christian with replica crossbow
     Upon reaching Bayeux to see the famous tapestry we were first attracted by preparations for a medieval festival and by the very large (for such a small town) gothic cathedral.  We loved it, inside and out.  Phil picked up local info about reaching the beaches.  We loved the tapestry (really an embroidery).  Phil and I had a lot of fun reading the simple Latin, probably to the annoyance of nearby people who were doing the audio tour.  We found the image of Halley's comet.
Batteries at Omaha Beach

Phil & Christian at Omaha Beach
     Then it was down a country lane to Omaha Beach, which was about as peaceful as a beach can be.  We were surprised, having seen more than a few movies of the invasion, at how wide the beaches were and how gently the bluffs rose behind it.
American Cemetery at Collville

Christian, grave of unknown soldier at American Cemetery
     From there to the American Cemetery nearby.  We saw only a small part of but were impressed with its simple beauty and majesty.
German bunker, Duane & Phil

Bunker, big gun, Christian
     The next stop was to see some old German bunkers with guns.  We traipsed around happily and the visit was finished with chocolate crepes for Phil and Christian.
Christian at Arromanches
His Photo: dead craft at Arromanches
     Next and final stop was at Arromanches-les-Bains, where it turned out we were too late (7 pm) to see the diorama, so we contented ourselves with a stop at the beach, which is surrounded with half-sunken WWII craft.
     On our was to view Sword Beach we got diverted onto country roads and followed a torturous path back to the A13 autoroute.  At this point our Microsoft software was crumbling and it led us immediately off the autoroute and in a wrong direction on slow roads.  We had to stop and do a complete reboot, after which it worked OK, but by now it was too late to stop for dinner at Honfleur as we had hoped.  A satisfactory dinner was had at roadside.  Back in Paris after midnight, and with the car's computer telling us it was overheated (probably wasn't), we got lost again finding the Gare.  But it wasn't long before we dropped off the car and keys and walked back to the apartment.  Whew!
     Saturday, after rising late, the morning was consumed with preparing for departure.  At 1 pm I led Phil and Christian over to the neighborhood taxi stand only to find taxis and no drivers.  We hustled down to the Gare de Lyon where we were lucky enough to immediately engage a cab, said hurried goodbyes, and they were off to the Gare du Nord and the Eurostar back to London.  Carolee and I rested.

Promenade Plantee, a linear park
     Sunday was a day for short walks near home.  We went up on top of the Viaduc des Arts, which is now a 2.8 mile long 40 feet wide park.  We explored a bit and found a true wonder - an elevator - and it worked!  Without the elevator it's a bit of a slog for me, maybe 40 feet up.  It's called the Promenade Plantee.
Carolee in Jardin des Plantes

Grande Galerie de l'Evolution

Mosque of Paris
      Eager for more in the afternoon. we walked across the river to the Jardin des Plantes for a good stroll among the plantings.  At the far end is a natural history museum called La Grande Galerie de l'Evolution.  It was too late to get in but I had fun speculating what would happen in the U.S. if a civic natural history museum were to label itself as a gallery of evolution.  Stepping outside the park we saw the main mosque of Paris.
Happy 4th of July
Monday July 4 - Carolee started school at the Alliance Francaise.  Coming back she spied a 4th of July celebration in the Luxembourg Garden, complete with a band.

Oldest houses in Paris
Tuesday 5th - Duane left early for a side trip to Italy.  Carolee off to school again.  On the way back through the center of town (1e) she spotted the oldest houses in Paris.