Wednesday, February 28, 2007
But still...I took this shot in the hopes of highlighting a STUPID SIGN. This one says "BROADWAY AT MONTGOMERY MAY BE CLOSED". (This is due to a landslide in the city yesterday morning.) But really...as a driver...what should I do with this? I either avoid Broadway or not, but I think some more up to date info would be helpful.
[UPDATE: I snapped this shot a couple of days later with a real camera. Just for reference on this riveting topic.]
Sunday, February 25, 2007
We were also joined by several banana slugs, which are quite a site indeed. They wreak havoc on the tender plants in the nursery, so we got to give these guys flying lessons deep into the woods :)
The first shot, is at the entrance to the catacombs, deep under Paris. Then, there is another dark, moody shot of some piles. And finally, some of the scrawled words in the world of the dead.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Anyhow...Paris. So, today's set of pics comes from the day Jeff and I spent beneath the streets--in the sewers and the famous catacombs.
First the sewers. As I mentioned in my blog previously, neither Jeff nor I were thrilled with the sewers. As you can see from these photos, it was just a wet, drippy place with rushing streams of who-knows-what. There was no true sense of the 100+ year history of Paris' revolutionary sewer system.
But the catacombs, by contrast, were just old and cool. You could truly get the sense that you might easily get lost in the miles of limestone tunnels piled high with the bones of six million Parisians.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
I'm really happy with how the new camera is working. I'm getting adept at using my body as a tripod, and that enabled some unique angles.
More soon :)
Thursday, February 15, 2007
But while we wait for the unveiling of Paris pics, let me tempt your tastebuds. My coworkers and I had lunch today at a local cajun chain called Razoos. For dessert, we were encouraged by our super-friendly waitress to try the "famous bread pudding". Let me tell you...if you are ever in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, look one of the places up just for the bread pudding. It was increadibly moist and flavorful, and covered in a butter rum gooey glaze.
Monday, February 12, 2007
Gone are the juicy details of our day that started at 8am in Paris and ended at our doorway in San Francisco at 9pm (6am Paris Time). 22 hours long, but the details of the day escape my weary mind.
What did you miss? Our stylish ride to the airport. CDG Terminal 1, which resembles a gray nuclear-hardened hat box. Nine passport checks at CDG...yes nine. Red Carpet Club. The pleasant CDG-to-IAD flight. The excruciating hour and a half we spent in IAD International Arrivals, when Jeff's bags were mistakenly sent to the main terminal. The light snow flurries at IAD as we were taxiing. Our cramped flight to SFO. The movies Flushed Away and Marie Antoinette. Sipping Starbucks liquer over ice. The taxi ride home. Dobie and Buster rushing to greet us.
I promise you the entire write-up, including a timeline, was riveting. Now its just notes :)
Thank GOODNESS we're home.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Full of good cheer, Jeff and I hopped on the Metro (lines 1 and 9) to Pont de L'Alma and the Paris Sewer Tour...Les Egouts de Paris. A first for us, the sewer tour piqued our curiosity, because we thought we might see more of the historic sewer. But no, this is a trip through hundreds of feet of active waterways and dripping ceilings. There was a very informative museum display...arranged down a long tunnel with rushing sewer water under a grate at your feet. The displays told the story of sewage from Roman Times through the Middle Ages (ick) to Revolutionary and modern times. The air was humid with a strong odor and seemed to stick to your skin, so a quick stop at the restrooms on the way out was required to wash up.
Bright sun and strong gusty winds greeted us when we emerged from the sewers. We aired out as we strolled along the Seine to the new Musée Quai de Branly. We didn't go in, but instead walked through the courtyard and interior gardens of this object of contemporary design. The architecture is captivating...with striking modern wings seeming to growing out of a classic Parisian historic building. Old and new were blended perfectly.
We continued our blustery stroll beneath the arched legs of the Tour Eiffel. The crouds were smaller today as they bunched together to brace themselves from the wind.
We boarded Metro (line 6) at Bir Hakeim and zipped by 9 stops, arriving at Denfert-Rochereau and our next activity...after a quick bite...walking makes the tummy grumble. THEN it was on to the famous Catacombs, where the bones of approximately six million Parisians were relocated in the 18th and 19th centuries from cemetaries all over Paris. The bones were systematically moved into abandoned limestone quarry tunnels deep within the earth. The walking tour of the Catacombs takes you past piles and piles of orderly stacked skulls, arms, and legs...many arranged in decorative patterns.
Exiting the catacombs several blocks from our entry point, we strolled around the neighborhood...briefly passing by the apartment building where Jeff and his friend Matt stayed in the fall of 1996.
Oh, and we tried out one of those automatic public toilets that pop up frequently around the streets of Paris. I was impressed how sanitary the toilet felt, including washing and drying hands. The entire enclosure is automatically cleaned and sanitized between each patron. All for free!
We walked back in the direction of the apartment by way of the Jardin du Luxembourg...not THROUGH since the park police were blowing whistles to hustle everyone out for closing time. We strollled down the Rue de Tournon, past quiet shops and noisy cafes. We got an energy boost from a pastry followed by creamy Italian gelato in St. Germain des Prés. Strolled back to the apartment along the Seine...enjoying the dusk-views of the river, its long boats, and adoring lovers in the shadows on the quai.
We ate a final, hearty meal at Starcooker...one of our favorites this trip. A final drink at the Open Cafe, and then back to pack for the morning.
A steady rain has arrived...its time to go home. Our next update...from the USA.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
The gang and I went back to the apartment to meet up with Jeff and have breakfast--pastries from Gabrielle and fresh orange juice (construction on the street took a rest for the weekend).
We decided to hit two major stops today--the Arc du Triomphe and Tour Eiffel. We walked a fairly direct route between these landmarks, but this was still a heck of a walk...particularly with a 4-year-old in tow.
The first leg of our walk: through the grounds of the Louvre, past the giant pyramids, sat and watched ducks at the fountain in the Jardin des Tuileries, rode the Tuileries caroussel (twice), walked along the Champs Elysées past the Grand and Petit Palais, ate lunch along the Champs Elysées (another Quick stop), and continued on to the Arc du Triomphe.
Along the way, Keegan spotted a young woman with a bright blue balloon. His face lit up, and the woman gave Keegan the balloon. For the next two hours, Keegan's gaze was fixated on that balloon as it bounced around in the wind.
We spent some time up on top of the Arc du Triomphe. The sky was a colorful mix of blue sky, rain-filled grey clouds, and bright washed-out sunny patches. Keegan loved pointing out how we were giants compared with the people below. I was delighted to finally have a strong telephoto lens with me to visually compress some of these long-distance city views. (For the record, my new digital SLR is performing exceptionally well.)
We strolled down the Avenue d'Iena towards the Tour Eiffel. Passed several embassies. Lost the blue balloon. Mourned the loss for five minutes. Walked through the Jardin du Trocadéro, across the Pont d'Iena, and arrived at the Tour Eiffel.
The lines were long and the winds strong. As we boarded the elevator to ride to level 2, Keegan told us, "I'm so excited!" which made the wait and chilly winds worth it. Keegan had a look of wonder as he gazed over Paris below. He thought we were as high as Superman flies. Kids are so cute keeping things in perspectives that they can understand. This is certainly something he will always remember and us as well.
Keegan started to lose steam as dusk turned to nite, so it was the Metro to the rescue. Lines 6 and 1 brought us home...Keegan was asleep as we crossed back onto Íle St. Louis. We had traditional French cuisine at the nearby Brasserie de Íle St. Louis. We finished the evening with family phone calls back to Michigan announcing the impending birth of grandchild number 6 (Julie's second) and our 7th nephew/neice. Wow, I really had to think about the math there.
Friday, February 09, 2007
Today was a Museum Pass day--our pre-paid free-entry card for Paris. We set out to hit at least three museums.
We started at the Musée Cluny, which was closed yesterday. The collection in the Cluny focuses on the Middle Ages. It has four famous Medieval tapestries of a maiden and her unicorn. The Cluny is housed in and named after Hôtel Cluny, a grand mansion on the Left Bank. It also happens to sit on the same site as a Roman bath complex...these unearthed structures are also visible as part of the museum.
We strolled down the noisy Boulevard Saint Germain, and quickly ducked into the (free) Abbey Saint Germain des Prés. The highlight was the silence. This Abbey was similar to most...cross-shaped, huge arched ceilings, somber mood. This one had very few 'attractions', which explained the small number of visitors.
Back out to the Boulevard and on to the Musée d'Orsay...specializing in impressionist paintings. The collection of Monet, Manet, Degas, Cezannne, Van Gogh and a zillion others was..well...impressive. (Five points for an impressionist pun.) The paintings are both familliar and approachable, and if you don't like impressionist painting, then the building is amazing as well...a converted Industrial Age train station on the Seine. (And...yes...there is a huge green metal Rhino out front, which Jeff and his buddy Matt enjoy photographing...with their heads up the behind--a tradition dating back to their trip in 1996. Jeff and I both recreated this scene for Matt. It is Matt's turn next.)
With the setting sun, we crossed the Seine via the Pont Solferino. The low sun was dramatic as it lit up landmarks up and down the Seine. One such landmark: the newly renovated Musée de L'Orangerie, which is the former greenhouse for the Jardin des Tuileries. This stylish renovation primarily showcases several waterlily murals by Monet in large oval galleries, but there is also an entire impressionist collection on the lower level...an excellent collection in its own right just steps from the Musée Louvre and Musée d'Orsay. Well worth a visit.
We closed our day walking down through the Jardin des Tuileries, past the Louvre, and along the Seine to our little Íle. Our evening was finished out with a comfortable dinner, yummy desert, and a cappuccino. We are off to bed early tonight. Tomorrow, Jeff's sister Julie and nephew Keegan are visiting from Germany, where Julie is stationed in the Army.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
After breakfast (no Gabrielle... again!), we spent most of the day on the Left Bank in the Latin Quarter and Saint Germain neighborhoods. The sun surprised with its presence this morning, so we decided to follow the sun-starved Parisians to the Luxembourg Garden and its Italian-inspired Palais du Luxembourg--home of the French Senate. As expected, the park was full of Parisians, drawn out of their offices and classrooms to sit by the fountains or jog or play pick-up soccer.
We grabbed a quick burger at Quick...a Franco-Belgian chain and a modest imitation of McDonalds that served its purpose. Afterwards, we attempted to use our Museum Pass at two nearby landmarks--the Pantheon and the medieval Musée Cluny--but were thwarted by the French tradition of inconvenient mid-week closed days.
Undaunted, we wound our way over to the St. Sulpice cathedral--infamous for its role in The Da Vinci Code. Yes, the 'Rose Line' from the book is clearly marked, and every tourist (including us) stopped to photograph this tiny golden line. Otherwise, the church is an impressive, yet understated, monument to Roman Catholic grandeur. It was free...so no complaints from us.
From there, we entered the Saint Germain neighborhood, which had street closures all over from either a rally or a protest. We saw smoke and steered clear.
We made it to the Hôtel des Invalides and enclosed Église du Dome right as sneaky rainclouds unloaded on us. (Note that this landmark is quite near the Eiffel Tower, which is where we were poured on this past summer...don't go near the Eiffel Tower without an umbrella!) Inside, we toured Napoleon's Tomb...a huge marble box for a tiny man.
Tired from walking, we hopped on the Metro. Lines 13, 8, and 7 deposited us near our Isle. We took a quick walk through the Village St. Paul, with its inter-connected coutyards brimming over with antique shops. We discovered why they call this a village--apparently it once stood outside the city walls of Paris--we spotted small sections of St. Paul's former walls.
Dinner was a delightful find--the Starcooker on the Rue des Archives in the Marais. Jeff had a wonderful risotto au poulet and I had a cheesy mushroom ravioli. We had equally hearty deserts before finishing our evening with drinks at nearby Amnesia while watching AbFab with French subtitles.
[Hmmm, is anyone still reading these scribbles?]
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
With our O.J. sugar buzz going, we trotted off to conquer the confusing RER train service to Versailles. We were confused by this system last year with Chris, and were determined to get it right. Well, we still went to the wrong platform (again), but stopped short of boarding the wrong train.
Thirty minutes later, we de-trained at Versailles Rive Gauche, and a light rain began...an ominous repeat from our drenched visit last summer? Fortunately no. The rained cleared up and the sun even made a brief, colorful appearance right before it set.
Even though we had visited Versailles just last year, we were treated by with a new billet office, one simple main tour thru the principle rooms including some new rooms, and a very good audio tour in English. Coincidentally, we had just watched Sophia Copola's Marie Antoinette on the flight to Paris, so the images and history were fresh in our minds. The movie was filmed at Versailles, so it was fun trying to place scenes in the appropriate rooms.
A highlight of our visit was the newly refurbished Opera--entirely made from wood cleverly fashioned to resemble marble and plaster. The result is a lush opera house fit for a king. It was built by Louis XV in honor of the marriage of the Dauphin to the young archduchess of Austria, Marie Antoinette. We also took a new tour through the Dauphin's private apartments on the ground floor. Jeff was a little dismayed that large sections of the Chateau were not included on the regular tour. Inquiry at the ticket office did not answer how one would see those rooms. One area that was supposed to be open, the apartments of Mesdames, was closed, but no one bothered to post a sign or warn when buying our ticket. We're getting used to this :)
The gardens were a little barren compared with last year, but a fun walk nonetheless. We made our way to the Jupiter Fountain and the Grand Canal. The highlight, however, was almost getting attacked by two agressive swans...yes, we have pictures.
The trip back into the city was FAR simpler! Finished the day with dinner, wine, walking...and tonight an ice cream sundae...and more walking.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Our first activity after breakfast was to climb Notre Dame's dual circular staircases to the top of its famous bell towers. Even though the visibility was limited by weather on the verge of drizzle at any minute, we climbed to the top of Quasimoto's perch. The views (and architecture along the way) were amazing. We also did a repeat stop-over into the stunning Sainte Chappelle.
We grabbed lunch on the way to our next destination. Lunch was a hearty galette followed by a chocolate covered crepe. This fueled us up for a colorful museum of the history of Paris itself--the Musée Carnavalet.
A light drizzle cut our walk-about short...but only briefly. We still headed out for dinner: fusion Italian food at Caffe Boboli--Jeff's pesto pasta was particularly good. We ended the day with a walk and drinks.
Monday, February 05, 2007
We discovered that the day AFTER Free-first-Sundays (and in the middle of winter) is CERTAINLY the way to guarantee the fewest visitors at the Louvre. This left us with no lines and more personal space to enjoy the myriad of galleries. We were even able to get close enough to the Mona Lisa to discern details in her face. We stopped long enough to enjoy an unmemorable lunch at a Louvre cafe. Lunch was saved by a warm Nutella and banana crepe for dessert. We stayed in the Louvre until we were shooed back out at 5pm. Dusk had just settled in, so we were able to snap a couple pictures of the Louvre pyramids illuminated.
We rested briefly back at the apartment and then headed out to take some nighttime photos of Notre Dame. We ate a hearty, traditional French dinner on our little Isle at a cozy place near the apartment, and then we walked over into the Marais for a couple of mojitos at Open Cafe.
To bed... To bed... Our eyes are droopy. I am sure we have another fun day ahead.
Sunday, February 04, 2007
All troubles were soon washed away as we were greeted by Victor--our friendly driver into the city. A 30-minute, traffic-free drive later, Victor crossed the Seine--halfway--to enter Isle Saint Louis. This tiny island sits in the center of the city alongside the Isle de la Cite, which houses Notre Dame Cathedral.
Unlike our previous European itineraries, this trip will be based in one place, so we decided to rent a cozy apartment to get a sense of Parisian life. We're at 52 Rue Saint Louis, Paris if you want to Google Earth us. The apartment's most dramatic distinguishing feature is its painted wood-beam ceiling. (Our thanks to Brooks for this fantastic recommendation.)
We shut our eyes for an hour, freshened up, and headed out to find lunch. The low-40s air was nippy, but no complaints...not a cloud in the sky. (From what we hear, that will change.) Today, lunch was in honor of our friend Chris and our brief visit in June: croque monsieurs from a cafe next to Notre Dame. After lunch we walked and walked with no particular destination in mind: we strolled out to the Pont Neuf and along the Seine, wandered through the Marais, people-watched at the Palais Royal and Centre Pompidou, and daydreamed in the Tuileries gardens by the pond with little boats sailing across.
We decided to return to a familiar restaurant in the Marais for dinner. Afterwards, the walk back to the apartment was chilly, and the starless sky foretold the end of our one-day sunny day streak. Nevertheless, we are hitting bed satisfied and exhausted.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
We landed at CDG in the early AM to begin a relaxing week. Stay tuned.