Archive for the ‘vacation’ Tag

Paris Vacation, Day 9   6 comments

Rue Cler, Basilique du Sacré Cœur, Montmartre, and Geocaching
Image of a woman getting a light from a stranger

This man patiently helps a woman light a cigarette that he has just given her.

Image of a street with people and Sacré Cœur in the distance

You can see Sacré Cœur peeking above the shop rooftops.

Image of two wome standing in a sun-lit park

A photographer and Lydia check out the Basilica.

Image of a man standing with a sketch pad

An artist examines the Basilica, which he is sketching.

Image of a scupture of male and female torsos

This sculpture adorns a grave in a cemetery that contains a geocache.

Image of some graffiti giving the impression of a painter and canvas

Even graffiti is artistic on Montmartre.

Grant’s Flickr page

Sunday, October 23

It was our last day to tour. Perhaps as a consolation, the weather was gorgeous. The air was cool and the sky was a perfect blue with a few white streaks. We slept in a little bit that morning and then headed over to Rue Cler for breakfast.

Before we got to our destination, however, the funniest thing happened. An old, haggard-looking woman stopped us. She asked if we spoke French, to which Lydia said, “a little.” She then asked us for a cigarette, which we could not supply, since neither of us smoke. With only the briefest visible disappointment, the woman went on to tell us how we could take the bus to a beautiful garden where, we learned, one could get a very nice hamburger.

In the middle of this tale of discovery (which Mr. Steves carelessly left out of his Paris travel guide,) an unsuspecting man passed. The woman interrupted herself to ask him for a smoke. He was far more likely to have one, since he had a lit cigarette between his lips. After a moment’s hesitation he began to dig into his coat pockets for the requested item. In the meantime, we were further enlightened on the beauty of this garden and the superior nature of the hamburger there to be had.

The man handed the cigarette to the woman and turned to leave, only to be halted again by her, this time with the request for a light. The expression on his face was priceless. Nonetheless, he did as bid. After the woman had her lit cigarette, the man asked, “Bon?” meaning, “Are you okay, now? Can I get you anything else?” Just one word, one syllable in fact, delivered a massive payload of Parisian sarcasm. Fantastic.

As far as I could see, though, it was all lost on the woman. She turned back to us as if her donor never had existed and urged us not to miss the unearthly wonder of flora and the life-changing miracle of seared ground beef that awaited us at the terminus of the specified bus route. We thanked her and continued on to breakfast. I tell you, the characters one meets in a city.

I guess it had been too early for much activity on Rue Cler last Sunday, because this morning, having arrived a little later, we found the joint a-jumpin’. We even had on-street entertainment. A gentleman was playing his 19th century mp3 player (actually, it was a crank organ that reads music from punch-cards.) The expected monkey was notably absent, however.

Breakfast was a croissant for each of us. I had mine with a café au lait. As we sat and ate and sipped, we watched the throng of people pass along this busy street. Before leaving for the day’s touring, we strolled the street ourselves, took pictures, and bought chocolate. Being thus encumbered suggested a pit stop back at the hotel to unload our booty.

From breakfast to the hotel, from there to the Metro, and off we were to Montmartre, the only real hill in Paris and site of the Basilique du Sacré Cœur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart). Though it looks it, the church is not old. It was completed in 1919, which is young by Paris standards. Being situated on the only hill in Paris, it has a spectacular view of the city spread out before it.

That meant lots of people and lots of pictures. For me, it included a monstrous hike up 300 and more steps to the dome of the basilica. Why? For more pictures, silly. Before my climb, however, we ventured behind the church to a quaint park, remarkably void of tourists considering the masses out front. Here we tracked down and found the first geocache of the day.

Following the find, I made my way to the bottom of the stairs that lead me up to the dome. I mounted the cramped, stone, spiral stairs, which turned endlessly upwards. I could hear the voices of other climbers both below and ahead of me, but saw no one until the top. There, I came to a door that opened to a catwalk out onto the roof, but I was not there, yet. More stairs, both up and down along the rooflines brought me to another door.

I headed through and into gloom again for a further ascent. Once to the top, I was in a narrow, curving walkway no more than a couple feet wide. On the right there was a stone wall and, to the left, a short ledge that separated me from open air. My thighs and lungs were screaming. The view was fantastic.

The walkway circled all the way around the base of the dome to a second staircase that lead down. As I poked along among the other tourists, I heard English from a few folks, obviously traveling together. It was British English, which, to my ear, sounds more pleasant than my bland North American variety.

As I stood to frame a shot, one of the ladies in the British contingent, standing beside me, asked a question (which I have forgotten) to someone in her party. Her companion didn’t know the answer, so I offered one. At first, I think they were surprised to discover that someone had understood them, finding out that their secret code had been broken. Then, I imagined them wondering to themselves what else I may have overheard.

What surprised me, however, was that the lady’s male companion, after hearing maybe two or three sentences from me, nailed me as Canadian. When I told him he was correct but that I now lived in Pittsburgh, he said, “Ah, a Steelers fan, then.” I was quite surprised, first at his perception and then at his awareness of facts from other places. After all, I couldn’t have told him squat about the sports teams of his hometown, let alone nail his birthplace from his accent. Experiencing this kind of encounter is among the reasons I love to travel.

While I was torturing myself with the “spiraling stairs of death,” both up and down, Lydia had hunted down the second cache. After our rejoining, we were off on a Rick Steves-guided walk of the hill-top community. Back in the day, when Montmartre was actually outside the city, artists and free thinkers called this area home. Or, at least, they visited often. (Picasso is one who comes to mind, but there were others.) Along the way, we had lunch (with wine, naturally) and found our third cache, this one in a cemetery. Here, we released a travel bug, (which, at last recollection, has made its way to Germany somewhere.)

The hilly terrain put me in mind of Pittsburgh, but just a little. Our meandering stroll took us back down the hill to the Moulin Rouge (Red Mill.) The famous cabaret is located at one end of a stretch called Pigalle (pronounced incorrectly by WW II service men as “Pig Alley”.) This is the red light district. We didn’t venture in.

Instead, we hopped on the Metro (you didn’t see that coming, did you?) and headed into the heart of Paris, Ile de la Cite, once again. We had hoped to locate the cache that we had started earlier in the week, but we couldn’t find it. Lydia, who bristles at having to log a “did not find,” expended a sizable effort on the hunt. In the end, we came to the conclusion that the cache had been either vandalized or moved.

On that somewhat disappointing note, we headed back to our hotel. Tomorrow we were to head back home.

Sometimes when one visits a place, by the end of the trip, one is glad to leave. Like the familiar expression, “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

Paris didn’t give me that feeling.

If I had the opportunity (and a better command of French,) I would have stayed. I would have just told the folks back home, “Sell everything and send a check.” Seriously, I could see myself living in Paris, at least for a while. I believe that Lydia feels this way, too.

Read more about day 9 on Lydia’s blog.

< Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 >

Posted Saturday, February 4, 2006 by Grant in Myself, Travel

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Paris Vacation, Day 8   12 comments

Cité des Science & de L’industrie, La Tour Montparnasse, Geocaching, and Dinner
Picture of Anakin's pod racer from Star Wars, Episode I

Anakin’s pod racer from Star Wars, Episode I.

Picture of kids playing at the Science Center

Kids have boundless energy… moms don’t.

Picture of a sign in a stairwell noting a height of 207 meters

And we were not all the way up, yet… Probably finished up around 210 or 212 meters on the helipad. (About 690 feet.)

Picture of a global positioning system (GPS) receiver

Our global postioning system (GPS) receiver notes the location of the old Prime Meridian, which ran through Paris before the world adopted the one in Greenwich, England.


It’s interesting to note what was playing at the time we were on our trip.

Grant’s Flickr page

Saturday, October 22

We broke our fast at the same place we had done yesterday. I had a petit-déjeuner Français (French breakfast,) which is a hot beverage (I had café au lait,) a croissant, a tartine (slice of baguette with butter,) and jam.

After morning fuel, it was onto the Metro for the Cité des Science & de L’industrie (Science Center) because they were having a Star Wars expo. In an effort to manage crowd congestion, admission to the Star Wars portion was staggered with tickets that stated at what time you could enter. Even so, the exhibition was crowded, since the ticket didn’t say when one had to leave.

On display were many props, costumes, and models from all six Star Wars movies. In the large central area six movie screens ran looping clips from the films along with multilingual “facts” about the imaginary planets that make up the Star Wars universe. The descriptions for the other articles on display made an effort at educating by speculating on the science behind some of the gadgets and events in the movies like, “How would a light saber work?” or “How much energy would the Death Star need to harness to be capable of destroying an entire planet?”

The Star Wars exhibit was fun and we poked around the other displays at the Science Center before heading off to La Tour Montparnasse. This building is a modern one (built in the 1970s, I believe,) which helped the French to realize that they should keep the ugly sky-scrappers out of the old city (hence the creation of La Défense.)

The realization came too late, however, to save the city from La Tour Montparnasse. It was already built. Still, it is not all bad. From the 56th floor there is a fabulous view of Paris that has the one from the Eiffel Tower beat in several respects. Firstly, Montparnasse is (somewhat) closer to the city’s center, providing a better panorama. Secondly, instead of a view of Montparnasse, which one would have from the Eiffel Tower, here one has a view of the Eiffel Tower, by far a better deal in my book.

This thought put me in mind of the gentleman who had hated the Eiffel Tower so much that, after it was built, he had lunch there every day just so that he would not have to look at it. If he lived today, I’m sure he would have his lunch at Montparnasse, instead. Another advantage of the Montparnasse view is that the wait for the elevator (lift) is shorter.

Tall windows enclose the 56th floor, providing unobstructed views in all directions. There are also the obligatory snack bar and gift shop. If the comforts of indoor observation are not thrilling enough, then, for the cost of climbing a few flights of stairs, one can venture out onto the helipad for a wind-swept, 360° view of Paris. Too bad that the day we were there it was overcast and threatening of rain. Nonetheless, we took a few shots and some were even passable.

Lydia’s pre-trip research had identified two geocaches within walking distance of the Tower. So, we went off a-hunting. The first cache was in a cemetery and the second was at the Paris Observatory. Once our quarries were found, the only things left to do were to hop on the Metro, head back to the hotel, and get ready for dinner.

For dinner, we took a Rick Steves suggestion (who, I am certain, never pays for a meal in Europe) about 7 – 10 minutes away from the hotel. The place was small and friendly with only 5 or 6 tables. The meal was very good. But, what else would we expect? We had read in Rick Steves’s description that the Chef/Owner had lived in Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, for three years. I was glad that he spoke to us in English.

As we ate and enjoyed our relaxing meal, we overheard two other couples chatting (in English.) They were both “doing” Rick Steves, too. As a fact, running into other “Rick Stevies” is not uncommon when one visits one of his recommendations. Two other families in the restaurant spoke English, so the waitress, who had mentioned to us that she wanted to practice her English, got a linguistic workout. (And we hit her up for the occasional French word, as one ought to do when faced with such an opportunity.)

Read more about day 8 on Lydia’s blog.

< Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 >

Posted Saturday, January 7, 2006 by Grant in Myself, Travel

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Paris Vacation, Day 7   17 comments

Laundry, Marais Walking Tour, and Dinner
Photo of a street sign for Rue Cler

Rue Cler street sign.

Photo of Lydia with a fountain in the background

A fountain makes for a background behind Lydia.

Photo of detail on a fountain in Place des Vosges

Detail on a fountain in Place des Vosges.

Photo of children playing in a park

Children playing in a park.

Photo of Lydia and Grant reflected in a mirror

Um, the mirror makes me look fat. Yeah, that’s it.

Grant’s Flickr page

Friday, October 21

We ended the previous day with a picnic supper on the bed, a simple yet yummy meal of baguette, cheese, pesto, and wine. We also bought some olive oil at the shop where we picked up the pesto. While we shopped for supper, we had a photo developer burn our two 512 MB (megabyte) memory cards to a couple CDs, since I had filled them with pictures. It took less than twenty minutes—Très rapidement.

As planned, we slept in before breakfast in another (that is, different from yesterday) café. It was on the way to a laundromat, where we were going to give our clothes a well-earned wash. At that moment, the only other thing we had planned was dinner that evening.

While we waited for our laundry, we wrote some postcards and I strolled around the block to take a few pictures. I thought it was interesting that the laundromat had a do-it-yourself dry cleaning machine. One, if they wished, could clean 6 kilograms (about 13 pounds) of clothes for €12… not bad, I thought, a little more than a buck a pound. We didn’t take advantage, however, since we didn’t pack any dry clean only articles. Also during our laundry, we decided that we would take another Rick Steves walking tour. This time we would head to the Marais neighborhood on the Rive Gauche (Right Bank,) across the Seine from Ile Saint Louis.

We took—get this—the Metro (I know, you’re shocked) from Ecole Militaire station all the way to Bastille station, a big, u-shaped trip. We could have transferred, instead, to another line and saved two stops, but we were interested in seeing the stations along the way. In fact, the trip as we took it may have been faster anyway, when you factor in the time it takes to transfer from one line to another at some of the stations.

Our walking tour started at the site of the Bastille. This is the Bastille Day bastille, the 1789 French Revolution bastille. This is the bastille that symbolizes the beginning of the end of the French aristocracy and nobility and the beginning of the modern nation of France.

It’s not here, though.

Rick Steves calls the Bastille Paris’s most famous non-site. Yes, the building has been long demolished, but the events of that day are etched into the French psyche.

Along our walk, we stopped in at the Victor Hugo museum in the apartment where he lived in Paris. It overlooks a beautiful park in the square, Place des Vosges (formerly called Place Royal when built by Henry IV in 1605.) All four fountains in the park, unlike those at Versailles, were a-squirt.

I love that children play here. It bestows the city with a vibrant, living personality. It is this single characteristic, over all others, that draws me to the city, that makes Paris a place in which I could live.

We then made a jaunt over to the Musée Carnavalet. This museum chronicles the history of Paris from royalty to revolution to modern times. Our visit there just about topped up my “museum meter.” From the museum, we ambled over to the Jewish Quarter for falafel sandwiches and an Israeli beer, called “Maccabees.” Interestingly, Jews and Muslims live together peacefully in this neighborhood. It was nice to see that it can be done.

After our snack, we finished the walking tour by the Pompidou Center, which is an exoskeleton building (as is Notre Dame Cathedral, actually.) By putting all of its structural, electrical, and mechanical bits around the outside of the building, designers have left a large, unbroken space for the modern art inside. The container compliments the content.

We didn’t want to pay the admission and our museum passes had expired, so we just pressed our noses to the windows and moved on. As such, we have an excuse to return to Paris, not that I needed one.

There was an Internet café nearby (€1.50 for ½ hour.) We took advantage to get caught up as best we could struggling with the French version of Windows and Internet Explorer as well as a maddening french keyboard (yes, the layout is different from a U.S. English one.) Being pooped (and having had no nap, if you can believe it,) we commuted back to our hotel to freshen up for dinner.

Dinner was at L’Affriolé, a place that Martine had recommended to us, and it was fabulous. I started with a Heineken beer as an aperitif and an appetizer of minced salmon with dill. My main course was whitefish on a mashed potato foundation paired with a superb white wine. Then came dessert, a murderous chocolate soufflé, followed by an herbal (peppermint) tea. The pace was slow and the food was dreamy. The bill came to €114, all tolled, for both of us. Certainly not an everyday meal, but one must have such a meal on one’s Paris vacation and I was not disappointed that this had been ours.

The experience had got me thinking that I might openly sob the next time I ate a meal back in the States. I didn’t, though.

A little Paris drizzle accompanied us back to the hotel, where we settled in to retire.

Read more about day 7 on Lydia’s blog.

< Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 >

Posted Monday, December 12, 2005 by Grant in Myself, Travel

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Paris Vacation, Day 6   21 comments

Château de Versailles
Image of Lydia standing in front of a statue of Louis XIV

Lydia poses in front of the statue of Louis XIV (the fourteenth,) who built this getaway retreat in the country known as Versailles.

Image of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

Famous hall of mirrors at Versailles. They are restoring about three quarters of this room presently.

Image of fake Roman ruins at Versailles

Louis was into all things Roman. All the Romanesque things here are really seventeenth century creations.

Image of a vinyard at Marie-Antoinette's hamlet in Versailles

Vinyard at Marie-Antoinette’s hamlet in Versailles.

Image of a weary commuter waiting for his train

At the end of the day, a weary commuter waits for his train. A weary traveller takes his picture.

Grant’s Flickr page

Thursday, October 20

I turned off the alarm and we slept in a little. After we got up, I took a pill for my headache (from the wine? I only had one glass,) got ready and we headed out to the little bakery we had gone to the previous Sunday. The streets were livelier than they had been then.

At the bakery, wet met a sweet older lady, Martine, and her dog, Ginger Ale (or just Ginger.) She was born in France, but worked for Air Canada in Montréal and spoke excellent English along with that sophisticated French accent. You know the one I mean. She told us about a Renoir exhibit outside the city. Lydia got directions, since Martine was so enthusiastic about it.

But, we aren’t going there today. Today is Versailles. At Versailles, just southwest of Paris, is a gigantic palace built by the “Sun King,” as he was called, Louis XIV (the fourteenth.) Tired of the grimy streets of Paris, he moved out here to the country to get away from it all and turned his dad’s hunting lodge into Europe’s palace of palaces. Bring your walking shoes if you visit.

We took an abbreviated (somewhat,) Rick Steves tour of the main part of the palace and a breeze through the gardens and that took a solid half-day. Did I mention that there is tons of walking?

Louis XIV was a kind king who was approachable, even though he had been treated badly when he inherited the throne in 1643. He was, at that time, only four years old and too young to assume power. After coming into power and wealth in 1661, he exacted the best revenge. He lived well.

No kidding! This enormous palace is room after room of incredible opulence—marble and gold, busts and statues, chandeliers and mirrors—all beyond cataloging. Then comes the backyard, with its flowered gardens, manicured greenery, and hundreds of fountains.

Louis XIV rules for seventy-two years, outliving three of his heirs, and good on ‘im, I say. From what I’ve read, he seems to have been, for a royal, pretty tolerant and decent (though flawed, naturally.) There would be only two more kings in France after him. The last king, Louis XVI (the sixteenth) and his sweet, though detached, wife, Marie-Antoinette, were each made a foot shorter from the top following the Revolution in 1789.

After a while, with all the nobles and their entourages milling about, even the country get-away became too busy. What to do? The king and queen built a get-aways from the get-away. Just out back, about a half hour’s walk off the back porch, they built the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon. Near the Petit Trianon, where Marie-Antoinette liked to hang out, she built a little hamlet to remind herself of simpler times.

Though it had a working mill, productive fields, and live animals and though the Queen even stayed overnight and ate the produce grown there, the hamlet is more like a Disney version of a peasant village than a true representation of the grueling life of a poor farm community. It was a life-sized playhouse for Marie-Antoinette and her friends.

On our 30 – 40 minute walk back to the palace, we saw even more fields, trees, hedges, and fountains. We had to whip our dogs (feet) to get us back to the train station for the half hour commute back to Paris.

Tomorrow we are planning an off morning and then a frou-frou French supper at 7:30 p.m. – a “take it easy” day.

Read more about day 6 on Lydia’s blog.

< Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 >

Posted Saturday, December 3, 2005 by Grant in Myself, Travel

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Paris Vacation, Day 5   5 comments

La Défense, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées, and the Louvre
Image of Lydia on the steps in front of La Grande Arche

A better indication of the scale of La Grande Arche. That’s Lydia on the steps.

Image of the glass elevator riding its futuristic steel frame from the observation deck of La Grande Arche

The glass elevator riding its futuristic steel frame from the observation deck of La Grande Arche.

Image of commuters on a Metro train

On this trip, I had my eye out for interesting people shots. I like this one.

Image of the Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe with other visitors in the foreground

Shot of the Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe with other visitors whose stamina permitted the 280-something step climb.

Image of the inside of the Sephora store on Champs-Élysées

Sephora on Champs-Élysées—Euros were exchanged.

Image of an art class at the Louvre

Art class at the Louvre. Interesting age profile among the students.

Grant’s Flickr page

Wednesday, October 19

We had breakfast at the same place as yesterday—it might become the default place for the rest of our stay. Wow, we are halfway through the trip! After morning fuel, it’s on to the Metro for La Défense. This is modern Paris—skyscrapers, big business—just outside the old city.

Previous failed experiments at mixing old and new architecture have taught Paris city planners to keep them separate. (Case in point: Tour Montparnasse, which I saw described as a black, glass dagger stabbed into the heart of Paris.) Safely sequestered out of harm’s way, La Grande Arche is here, which stands in line with the Arc de Triomphe and, way out there, Place de la Concorde and beyond even that, the Louvre. The French love those straight lines.

La Grande Arche is immense and, as such, must be scaled for photographic advantage. Lydia went on ahead to buy the tickets while I lingered to take pictures. We had a little adventure as we arrived at the top. A young, French-speaking, Asian woman approached us about our tickets. She asked us to follow her, but then told us there was no problem. I was thinking, you might have started with that reassurance. I had been wondering what we had done, but we were innocent.

As it turns out, the cashier who sold Lydia our tickets had been skimming the till. She would take the correct money for two adult tickets (€15,) but ring in one adult and one student ticket. She would pocket the €1.50 difference. The company was on to her and was building a file against her. The young woman and her manager had Lydia fill out an official complaint and refunded us €1.50 (I suppose since the value of our tickets was only €13.50, even though we were charged €15.) What drama!

After our foray into international justice, we walked out to the roof observation deck to check out the view of Paris and take some shots. It was hazy and the photos suffered for that. After some strolling around the top of the Big Arch, we took the glass elevator back down to the plaza.

We walked around the whisks and the Thumb. (Is everything big out this way?) Then, we made our way over to another arch, the Arc de Triomphe, via—say it with me, now—the Metro.

No elevator for this arch, just 280-some steps, but it’s a great view once you catch your breath (or restart your heart, depending on your fitness level.) Up here we took lots of pictures, walked around and then descended back down to the street. The crazy traffic circle (round about) here has so many accidents that insurance companies simply split the cost fifty-fifty with the driver, if the diver is covered at all. We had driven around this on our taxi ride in from the airport.

The Arc de Triomphe is at the top of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. This is the Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive of Paris. All the high-end shops and cafés are here. Rick Steves says that it is here where you get the “pinch me, I’m in Paris” moment. Personally, I had that moment when I saw the Eiffel tower in the “flesh” for the first time.

We did pull into a few shops and part with some Euros, but not too many of either. We also had a lunch just off the main drag that was so good I was left to wonder how I would eat “regular” food again back home. One of our stops was the Peugeot showroom. If you are serious about selling cars in France, you must have a showroom on Champs-Élysées. I picked up some gifts for friends and family here. No cars, well yes, but they were matchbox-style ones and some chocolate.

Farther along, we stopped in at Sephora for a look-see. Though it was Lydia’s idea to pop in, I ended up as the big shopper. I picked up some shaving oil for myself and some bath oil for my mother. I had never tried shaving oil before, but I did the next morning and it works wonderfully. We took a rest in a café inside the Renault showroom. From there, it was a short walk to the Metro and a couple of stops to the Louvre.

The Louvre is the largest museum in the world. There is no way you could see it all and, quite frankly, you don’t need to. We used Rick Steves’s guidebook and it took us turn by turn to key pieces and explained why they are important. We saw the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and, of course, the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, which we know as “my lady Lisa” or Mona Lisa. No pictures, please. In addition, we saw lots of other paintings and statues by Leonardo da Vinci.

We headed over to the Mesopotamia exhibit, but it was closed. In hindsight, it was a blessing, since we were exhausted by that point. You’d never guess what that led to. We returned to out hotel for a nap. Après nap, we headed across the street to a packed, young, hopping restaurant. Lydia ate and we both had wine.

Read more about day 5 on Lydia’s blog.

< Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 >

Posted Sunday, November 20, 2005 by Grant in Myself, Travel

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Paris Vacation, Day 4   11 comments

Orsay, Rodin, and Army Museums, River Cruise, Geocache, Notre Dame (a la Nuit)
Here is the line that at Musée d'Orsay that we did not need to stand in. We had our passes already. Woo hoo!

Here is the line at Musée d’Orsay that we did not need to stand in. We had our passes already. Woo hoo!

Edouard Manet's (1832-1883)—shocking at the time—Olympia (1863)

Edouard Manet’s (1832-1883)—shocking at the time—Olympia (1863)

Is Lydia thinking about the Thinker?

Is Lydia thinking about the Thinker?

This day, there were more than one thinker at the Rodin Museum.

This day, there were more than one thinker at the Rodin Museum.

A street performer twirls fire for our amusement and money.

A street performer twirls fire for our amusement and money. (Make sure you see the bigger version.)

Grant’s Flickr page

Tuesday, October 18

Uh oh! I wrote this at the end of the day. Let’s hope I didn’t miss anything important. What was first every day? Why, petit déjeuner (breakfast,) of course. We found a place on Rue Cler, near our hotel, that did an “American” breakfast, which meant it had all that a French Breakfast had—café crème, croissant, jam, and orange juice—plus ham and eggs, for €8. A good price, considering tax and tip are included. The French breakfast was €6, but I went for the extra protein.

We journeyed, via the Metro, to our first stop of the day, Musée d’Orsay to check out the works of the Impressionists. The building itself was a train station constructed in 1900 for the World’s Fair. The Impressionists, however, were hated, outcast, extremist artist who themselves despised and rebelled against the popular neo-Greek (my word) style of their day. They embraced the “real,” in subject and technique, and snubbed the dreamy, fake, and accepted art of the time. Hated then, loved now. I suppose that radicals are never appreciated in their own time. I imagine it follows that, if you want to be an avant-garde, rebel, fringe artist today, you would need, in fact, to despise the work of the Impressionists, now so adored.

Next, it was a short Metro ride—we had become quite the experts by now using the Metro—to Musée Rodin, the sculptor. His most famous and recognizable piece likely is the Thinker, but like most artists, he created countless other works. At the museum, we had a cafeteria-style (but Parisian cafeteria-style, read: yummy) lunch. Once back inside, I had forgotten to turn off my camera’s flash, which has the annoying “feature” of resetting to automatic whenever it is turned on, and was properly scolded by a museum minion for subjecting a sculpture to the harsh light.

After checking out Rodin’s works outside and in, we undertook a short stroll over to the Musée de l’Armée, which recounts France’s experiences and episodes during World War Two. A German Enigma encryption machine was on display. I had picked up a fair amount of information about the war over the years, but it was interesting to get the French perspective. For example, I learned that part of France, called Vichy France, had remained unoccupied during the war in exchange for supplying resources to Hitler’s efforts.

All worn out, we headed back to our room for—you’ll never guess—a nap. On the way we picked up some postcards and a picnic supper, complete with wine. After a rejuvenating nap, we boarded the Metro to Ile de le Cite, the heart of Paris, to catch a nighttime river cruise and eat our picnic supper. It was fun to sneak our little meal on board and sip our wine as we passed under a dozen bridges that vault the River Seine.

After the cruise, which had been conducted in both French and English, we picked up our boarding photo and struck out on a multi-part geocache. Unfortunately, we were unable to complete it, since a park with the second to last leg of the hunt had closed.

Not to worry. We resolved to finish it that week. A brief consultation of the map identified the nearest Metro station and we headed off. On the way, we took some cool night shots of Notre Dame. I told myself that I would need to try some more of these. Then, ready to call it a night, we were back on the Metro headed for base camp, our hotel.

Read more about day 4 on Lydia’s blog.

< Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 >

Posted Saturday, November 12, 2005 by Grant in Myself, Travel

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Paris Vacation, Day 3   5 comments

Segway Tour, Hôtel des Invalides
Bright and early, Lydia takes in the Eiffel Tower as we wait for our Segway rendezvous.

Bright and early, Lydia takes in the Eiffel Tower as we wait for our Segway rendezvous.

Michelle holds her Segway still (with no hands, the show-off) as she reviews important safety points.

Michelle holds her Segway still (with no hands, the show-off) as she reviews important safety points.


The word for “peace” is repeated in 37 or so languages on the glass and pillars at the “Peace Monument.”

Lydia and Grant strike a pose with Segways nearby and Musée des Invalides in the background.

Lydia and Grant strike a pose with Segways nearby and Hôtel des Invalides in the background.

The far end of our Segway tour is the Louvre Museum.

The far end of our Segway tour is the Louvre Museum.

Segwayers with Musée d'Orsay in the background.

Segwayers with Musée d’Orsay in the background.

Grant’s Flickr page

Monday, October 17

We were up at dawn and out into a cool Monday morning. First item today: petit déjeuner (breakfast, literally “small lunch.”) Though at first I had sticker shock at the price of the continental breakfast (€12.50,) it was excellent. It consisted of café crème (coffee with steamed milk,) two croissants, yogurt, orange juice, ham and eggs, and bread (which came with an assortment of spreads.) Our small table had trouble holding all the plates and I had trouble eating everything. Lydia helped, since she had had the much more Parisian (and smaller) “Express Breakfast.” Over our meal we made some plans for the afternoon, but first it was time for our Segway Tour.

This was a total blast. Getting the hang of the critter was fairly easy. There were four in our group plus our guide, a San Diego native, Michelle. The four of us were all first timers and all of us picked up the forward, stop, backward, and turn fundamentals without much difficulty. After some additional training negotiating curbs and obstacles, we set off at slow speed. The maximum speed of a Segway is determined by the color of the key used to start it, black in this case.

Our first stop was the Ecole Militaire (Military School,) which sits at the opposite end of Parc du Champs de Mars from the Eiffel Tower. Napoleon Bonaparte, famous general and emperor, was a notable graduate of the school. It still operates, training high officers, and is used by NATO.

Also nearby was the Peace Monument, which has the word “peace” written in 37 or so languages. Being a modern artifact, Parisians hate it being here. Then again, they hated the Eiffel Tower when it was built, too. One fellow hated it so much he had lunch there every day just so he wouldn’t have to look at it.

Continuing a bit of a Napoleon theme, we cruised our Segways over to Hôtel des Invalides where the dead emperor in interned in a Russian doll-style series of caskets in public view. The outer-most casket is polished, dark red wood that looks like marble. (We didn’t visit inside as part of the Segway tour, but Lydia and I returned afterwards.)

Next, we Segwayed around Invalides, which is actually three museums and a working military hospital. After a break in front (or was it the back?) we continued over Pont Alexandre III (Alexander III Bridge) to the Rive Droit (Right Bank.) Since the Seine River wanders its way through Paris, up, down and sideways, using compass directions for the river banks (as we do in Pittsburgh with North Side and South Side,) would not work. So, they name the banks with right (droit) and left (gauche) from the perspective of someone drifting downstream with the river’s current.

Across the river, we headed upstream to Place de la Concorde, where Louis XVI (the sixteenth) and Marie-Antoinette lost their heads. Michelle seemed to have a good time relating the super-gross version of Louis’s gruesome decapitation. Let’s just say she used the words “front row splash zone” and leave it at that. The graphic execution story came at the perfect time, too, since our next stop was lunch.

We had to dismount our Segways and guide them in “power assist” mode through the Jardin de Tuileries (Garden of Tile Manufacturers, which had none that I could see.) Even bikes must be dismounted and walked in here, which is fine. We stopped at a little lunch stand and Michelle plugged in the Segways to charge as we ordered our food. I had a crepe with fried egg and sausage (which, I later mused, would have made a terrific breakfast.) As we sat, ate and chatted I reflected on the perfect weather, the changing trees, and the relaxing meal. I could see why Parisians are proud of their city.

Following lunch, we continued through the Jardin de Tuileries, leading our Segways in power assist mode until we exited the gate. Right in front of us was the Louvre. The original structure was built in the 1100’s. (Man, is stuff old here! For example, the oldest standing bridge in Paris is called Pont Neuf, “New Bridge.”) Over the centuries, additions were made to the structure and then it was stuffed with priceless art. Later in the week we plan to visit the Louvre. We have a commando-style guidebook to help us take the huge museum with sanity intact.

This was the far end of our tour. As we stood on our Segways in front of the Louvre and listened to Michelle, we attracted a lot of attention. I imagine we are in a lot of home videos and pictures. On our return trip, we stopped on a pedestrian bridge, Pont Solferino, to take in the view and some pictures. Farther on, as we navigated down a one-way street, the five of us formed a ten-wheel rolling blockade to prevent the frisky Parisian drivers from colliding with us in the tight confines. “A honk means, ‘Bonjour,'” our guide, Michelle, told us. Yes, it was a joke.

Far too soon, we arrived back at the Fat Tire bike shop, bringing our way cool Segway tour to an end. I highly recommend this tour. Here’s the web site <>, if you are ever in one of the tour cities.

We picked up some directions from the bike shop manager and then struck out—oh, the horror—on foot to Hôtel des Invalides. You remember that this is where Napoleon Bonaparte is laid, along with some of his generals, marshals and family. There are three military-oriented museums here, too, but by this point, we were losing steam and my feet were barking. We decided to nap it off and headed back to the hotel.

After a really good nap, we headed out for our dinner at Oniwa, a Japanese restaurant on Rue Cler. This was the best meal of the trip so far. A leisurely stroll in the cool, fall air took us back to the hotel for journal updates and sleep. I could get used to this.

Read more about day 3 on Lydia’s blog.

< Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 >

Posted Sunday, November 6, 2005 by Grant in Random

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Paris Vacation, Day 2   4 comments

Notre Dame, Deportation Memorial, Latin Quarter, Cluny Museum, Pantheon, Sainte-Chapelle, Bird Market, Eiffel Tower
Lydia looks out the window of a light rail train on the way to Notre Dame.

Lydia looks out the window of a light rail train on the way to Notre Dame.

Front of Notre Dame cathedral, a pretty famous face.

Front of Notre Dame cathedral, a pretty famous face.

Lydia in the medieval streets of the Latin Quarter.

Lydia in the medieval streets of the Latin Quarter.


Yes, I used this “facility.” It was clean, but the instructions were in French. (Quelle surprise!)

Sainte-Chapelle from the inside.

Sainte-Chapelle from the inside.

Some detail of La Tour Eiffel.

Some detail of La Tour Eiffel.

Grant’s Flickr page

Sunday, October 16

The alarm went off as planned at 7:00 a.m., entirely too early. I hadn’t sleep well, but we were going to make a few adjustments with the ventilation that evening that would help. I showered, did laundry (in the bathroom sink,) and dressed. Then, we were out the door in search of breakfast.

Being that it was Sunday, the streets were quiet and many shops were closed, but we found a bakery that served us croissants and café au lait (espresso and steamed milk.) Lydia had a chocolat chaude (hot chocolate) that was, according to the report, very good.

Fuelled up, we continued our stroll to the nearest Metro station. For our first time in the Paris Metro, I think we did well. We got near to the right platform. An English-speaking cashier helped us with the last few turns and we were off (for all of two stops) to Notre Dame.

Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris is not just a national landmark, it is also a functioning Catholic church. At 10:00 a.m. on Sunday Mass is held. We arrived on Sunday just before 10:00 a.m. Fortunately, visitors are allowed inside to the periphery of the cathedral during Mass. Of course, we were careful to remain respectfully silent during the service. For a Catholic I imagine Notre Dame holds special significance, but even for others, it is an impressive historical, cultural, and architectural site.

Using Rick Steves’ walking tour, we turned left out of the Notre Dame and followed the Seine River next to the massive cathedral to our left. Our next stop was the Deportation Memorial, which pays respect to the two hundred thousand French citizens who were deported from this spot to concentration camps during World War Two. The message here is “Forgive, but never forget.”

Across Pont de L’archevéché back to the left bank, we took our time strolling, taking in the sights and taking lots of pictures. Since this part of Paris is the oldest, we made sure to check out the medieval Latin Quarter, a maze of narrow streets and packed-tight buildings. In fact, the narrowest building in Paris, a mere two windows wide, is here. Also present are many restaurants of a wide cultural mix. We had a fondue for lunch and I also had French onion soup… did someone say, “nap?”

After our lunch, we continued our walking tour to the Cluny Museum, which had wonderful medieval and Roman artifacts, some dating back to the first century (the time of Jesus and his apostles.) Next, we were off to the Pantheon amid a little drizzle. On the way, I mustered the courage to try a coin-operated public toilet. For €0.40 (50 cents) I could ease nature in a clean facility. What a bargain!

The Pantheon is a tribute to those who have died fighting for France. The building is huge and styled after a similar-sounding building in Greece, the Parthenon. Inside are murals depicting various battles and a pendulum. Nothing spectacular, in my opinion, but our museum pass got us out of the rain for free.

Outside under a clearing sky we did a nearby virtual geocache. Afterward, we backtracked towards the Seine to Ile de la Cite once again, this time to visit another church, Sanite-Chapelle. This small (compared with Notre Dame) building is a masterpiece of medieval stained glass. Pictures, regrettably, cannot do it justice.

From here we head out of the Palais de Justice and across the street to a pedestrian plaza, Rue de Lutèce. On Sundays they hold a bird market. Since today is Sunday, we check it out before doubling back to the Conciergerie. Though a plain enough building inside, we read that it was here that the kings of France would torture and execute failed assassins. Later, during the revolution, about 2,700 others made this the last stop before the guillotine, including France’s last queen, Marie-Antoinette. Today, the Conciergerie held a book fair.

A short walk away and near the end of Rick Steves’ tour, we rest our weary footies in a lovely neighborhood park in the heart of Paris, Place Dauphine. Rested, we strike out across Pont Neuf in a failed attempt to find batteries. (Yes, I’m still taking lots of pictures.) But, we decide instead to head back to the hotel via the Metro, charge the batteries in our quick charger and take a well-earned nap in our bed. This we did, well satisfied with the day’s busy schedule and accomplishments.

We woke around 7:30 p.m. and got dressed for dinner at a bistro just on the corner a few doors from the hotel. I had a club sandwich, white wine and, for dessert, chocolate cake. Rejuvenated, we decide to take in La Tour Eiffel after dark and the ten to fifteen minute walk largely retraced yesterday’s steps. My goodness! Was it only yesterday? We’ve done so much already.

La Tour was spectacular, all lit up and, as we arrived across the Seine to the Trocadéro, we were surprised with a treat. The tower began to sparkle as if hundreds of camera flashes were going off all at once. A meandering stroll back to our hotel has us ready for our justified sleep. Tomorrow will be our Segway tour.

Read more about day 2 on Lydia’s blog.

< Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 >

Posted Tuesday, November 1, 2005 by Grant in Myself, Travel

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Paris Vacation, Day 1   4 comments

Arrival, Hotel, Eiffel Tower, Geocache
Image of Lydia standing in front of our hotel, Royal Phare

Lydia standing in front of our hotel, Royal Phare

Image of our first Parisian meal

Our first Parisian meal, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches with salad and Chablis (not pictured.)

Image of two men walking

Locals strolling Rue Cler

Image of the Eiffel Tower behind some buildings

La Tour Eiffel (the Eiffel Tower) stretches up behind some buildings.

Image of the Eiffel Tower from nearly underneath it

The Eiffel Tower from nearly underneath it.

Image of Grant in front of the Trocadero

Grant in front of the Trocadero.

Image of Lydia at the memorial near the site where Princess Diana died in 1997

Lydia at the memorial near the site where Princess Diana died in 1997.

Grant’s Flickr page

Saturday, October 15

Despite a delay leaving Pittsburgh, caused by congestion in Philly, and a mad dash to the connecting flight, we were on our way over the Atlantic. Lydia and I took an herbal sleep aid, melatonin, which along with earplugs and blindfolds helped us sleep for most of the seven and a half hour flight. (Note to self: Don’t wait for your contact lenses to dry onto your eyes before taking them out.)

To get us even more excited as we made our final approach into Charles de Gaulle airport, we had some thrilling airborne views of the city. Once we had negotiated the maze of terminal one (and realized that we were, in fact, in terminal one,) we located our transfer bus. Along with two other couples, we headed into Paris.

On television, I had seen the Arc de Triomphe and the free-for-all that calls itself a traffic circle that surrounds it. I imagined that drivers must be insane to attempt navigating this particular bit of road. I was certain that I would never venture into its madness. I was wrong. With no announcement or warning, our taxi diver took us around the Arc de Triomphe’s traffic circle. I have to confess that it wasn’t as hairy as I had feared. (There might be a life lesson in there, I suppose, about not fearing the worst or something like that.) Still, I was grateful to be a passenger rather than the driver.

We were the last couple to be dropped off. A remarkable thing was that one of the other couples in our taxi were American and from Pittsburgh of all places (from the North Hills, if you know the area.) We had traveled all the way to Paris to meet folks who live “just up the street” from us.

We carried our bags into the narrow hallway and up the stairs of our hotel, Royal Phare, to the clerk’s desk. Since we were about twenty minutes before check-in time, I asked if it was too early for us to check-in. The clerk said, “Yes. But, never mind. The room is ready.” I thought that was so funny. To my way of thinking, it is not too early if he is letting us check-in. Early, yes, but not too early. However, discovering differences in thinking is one of the appeals of travel to me.

Now the room itself was tiny with barely room for the bed. Some cruise ship cabins I’ve slept in were bigger. (If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship, you know how small that is.) The view from the window looked out onto a rooftop and then into other buildings, giving us sufficient cause to keep the curtains drawn. This may read as disappointment, but it is not.

The room had everything we needed, a bed, a shower, and a toilet. It was clean and made up every day. It even had a television and a mini refrigerator. But, the best thing about the room was that it was in Paris. We came to Paris to see the city, not through a window or a TV, but in person. We walked, smelled, saw, tasted, heard and felt Paris up close, live, and in color.

A woman we traveled with from the airport said that she had made sure that the room they had booked had a view of the Eiffel Tower. That’s great. But, after a fifteen-minute stroll from our hotel through interesting streets, I could stand right under it, craning my neck back to take in all of it’s impressive elegance. If someone wants to see Paris from their hotel room, they can make that choice. Me? I’m out the door.

After dropping off our luggage in our tiny room, we headed out to explore. On Rue Cler, I had my first Parisian meal, a simple ham and cheese sandwich. But, in reality, it was not simple. It had cheese sprinkled on the top and was put under a broiler until the cheese was melted, but with a brown, crispy skin��� so yummy. The accompanying salad was crisp greens lightly brushed with a tangy dressing. Add to that a half-liter of Chablis and I ask you, what could be better?

The prices there were also a pleasant surprise. My sandwich (with the salad) was ���8 (8 Euros, about $9.60) and the wine was ���10. The whole meal was ���26 for the two of us (about $31.20) and included tax and tip. That is about what I would expect in a big city and cheaper than I remember London being.

After lunch, as I took some pictures, Lydia gave me the slip for a few moments, seduced by a cheese shop. With some cheese, a bagette, and a dessert, we were off to La Tour Eiffel (the Eiffel Tower.) Since it is walking distance, we took our time strolling the quaint streets and absorbing the fact that we were in Paris. Along the way, we “licked the windows,” as the French call window-shopping.

Although pictures give some idea, one cannot appreciate the Eiffel Tower except first hand. Now more than one hundred years old, and now dwarfed by newer buildings around the world, Monsieur Eiffel’s monument is still impressive, elegant, and spectacular. I can see how a nineteenth century resident of Paris would have been staggered by this structure, whether or not they liked it.

I took many pictures of the old lady as we meandered under her high arches heading northwest across the Seine River. From the Palais de Chaillot on the rive droit (right bank) we had an excellent view of the tower.

Lydia remembered that there was a geocache nearby, so we pulled out the ol’ GPSr and, after a few minutes of calibration due to the large displacement from western Pennsylvania, took up the scent. The particular cache, Liberty’s Flame, we were after marked a spot with dual significance. One event associated with this location was the one hundredth anniversary of the International Herald Tribune and the other, far sadder, was the car crash that killed Princess Diana, Dodi Fayed, and their chauffer in 1997.

Back across the Seine on the way to our hotel we rested our feet at a caf��. We had tea and crepes (mine had Nutella��� yum.) Then it was off to our room to crash after we each called our families to let them know we had arrived safely. A busy first day.

Read more about day 1 on Lydia’s blog.

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Posted Friday, October 28, 2005 by Grant in Myself, Random, Travel

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Paris Vacation, Day 0   1 comment

Travel Day (Pittsburgh, through Philedelphia to Paris)
Image of the sign welcoming people to the Pittsburgh International Airport

Welcome to the Pittsburgh International Airport
Grant’s Flickr page

Read about each day:

  • Day 1: Arrival, Hotel, Eiffel Tower, Geocache
  • Day 2: Notre Dame, Deportation Memorial, Latin Quarter, Cluny Museum, Pantheon, Sainte-Chapelle, Bird Market, Eiffel Tower
  • Day 3: Segway Tour, Hôtel des Invalides
  • Day 4: Orsay, Rodin, and Army Museums, River Cruise, Geocache, Notre Dame (a la Nuit)
  • Day 5: La Défense, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées, and the Louvre
  • Day 6: Château de Versailles
  • Day 7: Laundry, Marais Walking Tour, and Dinner
  • Day 8: Cité des Science & de L’industrie, La Tour Montparnasse, Geocaching, and Dinner
  • Day 9: Rue Cler, Basilique du Sacré Cœur, Montmartre, and Geocaching
  • Day 10: La Tour Eiffel, return to Pittsburgh

Friday, October 14

Lydia and I were sitting in the Pittsburgh airport a gate B32 waiting for the first leg of our trip to the city of lights. A friend of ours did us a huge favor by giving us a lift to the airport, a trip of about half an hour from our house. We arrived in plenty of time.

At the security bag check—we traveled with only carry-on for a 9-day trip—I was in front of Lydia in the line. After I got through the X-ray and metal detector ritual, I lost sight of where Lydia was. I just couldn’t see her anywhere. I imagined that she had been taken aside for a more thorough inspection or something. When I was just about to go back and ask about her, she appeared.

As it turned out, she had to cram her purse into one of her carry-on bags and the exercise had delayed her and put her in another line. After the little drama, we made out way to the terminal. Since we had more than an hour and a half before boarding, we grabbed a light dinner at TGI Friday’s.

We waited for our flight to be called as the sun dropped in the sky. The next time it rose for us we were in Paris.

Read more about our trip on Lydia’s blog.

Day 0 | Day 1 >

Posted Friday, October 28, 2005 by Grant in Myself, Travel

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