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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rodin to Napoleon to Victor Hugo: All in a day's work.

Someone has actually trade marked this!
Saturday:  October 29th, 2011

We got our wonderful guides back today, Michel and Chantal.  We planned a late start because we were going to stay in the city late.  MA and I walked to their flat around 11:00 AM and we were off to the city about an hour later.  Saturday is a busy day in Paris with all the tourists.  We don’t know how Michel does it but he always finds a parking place near where we want to get out.  On all the streets we were on today I can count on one hand the number of empty curb parking spots I saw.  Traffic and pedestrians are everywhere, and I mean everywhere!

Our first stop was the Rodin Museum, a place MA really wanted to see.  And bless his heart, Michel got all of us Air France discount tickets.  The only thing I knew about August Rodin is that he was a sculptor and he is famous for his “The Thinker” statue, which is the most famous of his artwork. In fact it's the first thing we saw when we entered the courtyard. 

We wandered about the grounds taking in more than a dozen other very interesting sculptures. Inside the museum there were many smaller sculptures on display and also two Van Gogh’s and a Renoir. I liked Rodin as an artist because you don’t have to try and figure out what he is saying with his art.  The guy could really imitate the human body.  I think of him as the French equivalent to Michelangelo. 

We had a lunch in the Rodin café which for me was a very good tuna sandwich.  MA had quiche.  As they say when in Paris, “Eat like the Parisians”. Not sure where tuna sandwiches fit in there, but surely the quiche did!

After the Rodin Museum, we walked around the corner to the “Hotel des Invalides” which was built to serve injured and disabled French soldiers, kind of like French “Walter Reed Hospital” that also serves as a residence for the disabled. The “Invalides” was built during the reign of King Louis XIV in 1670.
The service motto there is:  “That those who have risked their lives and lavished their blood in defense of the monarchy….may spend the rest of their days in peace.”  We saw a few WWII era soldiers in wheelchairs near the entrance to one of the wings of the buildings. The “Invalides” is also a military museum and the final resting place for the Emperor, Napoleon.  We did not get to see his elevated wooden coffin because it was near closing time.  But over it is a huge golden dome, very impressive.
I wish I'd thought of that!

















Invalides


















Making our way out of the east door Michel’s Toyota was just down the street and we were off to the next adventure. We drove around allowing us to take in some more of the sights including the Place de la Concorde.   During the French Revolution the statue of Louis XV of France was torn down and the area renamed "Place de la Révolution".
The new revolutionary government erected the guillotine in the square, and it was here that King Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793. Other important figures guillotined on the site, often in front of cheering crowds, were Queen Marie Antoinette, Frace, Charlotte, Madame du Barry, Georges Danton, Camille Desmoulins, Antoine Lavoisier, Maximilien Robespierre, Louis de Saint-Just and Olympe de Gourg.
The guillotine was most active during the "Reign of Terror", in the summer of 1794, when in a single month more than 1,300 people were executed. A year later, when the revolution was taking a more moderate course, the guillotine was removed from the square. Execution of Louis XVI took place in the “Place de la Révolution”. The empty pedestal in front of his had supported a statue of his grandfather, Louis XV, and it was torn down during one of the many revolutionary riots.

The square was then renamed Place de la Concorde as a symbolic gesture of reconciliation after the turmoil of the French Revolution. It continued to undergo a series of name changes in the nineteenth century, but the city eventually settled on Place de la Concorde.
I hope you enjoyed the history lesson!

From there we made our way to the Place des Vosges, a beautiful square built by King Henri IV in 1605.  It   is a true square, 140m X 140m and contains the former residence of Victor Hugo.  Michel again immediately spotted a parking place but as we got out of the car it started to rain lightly so we kept under the covered arched walkways. We were looking for a nice place to eat, but our first stop was a reject when the snobby waiter’s first words were “Cash only! No credit cards, thumping the menu where that was spelled out.” 
Even our Parisians friends were taken aback so we decided to dine elsewhere, settling on Café Victor Hugo.  I had a “Croque Monsieur” sandwich with “frites” and MA had Fettuccini, Michel and Chantal enjoyed steaks.  It was a good change of restaurant as the waiters were very accommodating.  In fact, that’s been our experience all week, very, very nice and helpful folks, all over the city. 
Place de Voges
Michel wanted to treat us to a special ice cream he likes a lot so we piled into his Toyota and drove over to the Isle St. Louis, directly behind the Notre Dame Cathedral.  I got some great night exposures of that famous Gothic structure.  It was still raining lightly and turning chilly so we decided to call it a day and headed by to Nogent-sur-Marne and our hotel.  It was a great day of seeing some special places in Paris with some very special friends.
Notre Dame at night

And for our TLC friends, we remembered to pray for the class and Barbara Eversberg’s lesson.  We thank her for stepping in for MA and Paul.  Our prayers were about 2:30 your time but the Lord didn’t care about the time!








Saturday, October 29, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011
Just call us a couple of sardines!
We made our way back into central Paris on the train(s). We left the hotel around 10AM and walked the 3 blocks to the train station.  MA tried her French out again with the railway clerk along with a big smile and he was very helpful.  We started out at Nogent-sur-Marne, a Paris suburb, we took the RER “E” train to Val de Fontenay, got off and transferred to the “A” train to Charles de Gaulle Etoile and got off for one more transfer to the M-6 train to Trocadero. It’s not really that hard once you do it a few times.  We got on the wrong train once yesterday and did not make the same mistake today.  If you’re wondering about the “sardines” we talk about, that’s what we felt like yesterday crammed into one of the trains we took at rush hour.
Our destination was a museum area west of the Eiffel Tower.  It was fun taking pictures of each other trying to “hold up” the Tower, even with the cloudy skies.    The place was as crowded as it was the other day.  We got back on the Hop-on Hop-off bus hoping to find the Rodin Museum.  We failed! Michel says they will take us there over the weekend.
So instead we opted for coffee at a sidewalk café.  Afterward we stopped to get some dental floss, which turned to cost 6 Euros, about $9 USD! Next time we’ll bring some from home!  Obviously the cost of living here is quite expensive compared to Houston. 
We walked on back to the bus. The clouds had finally parted briefly and I took some more photos of the Tower this time with some blue sky.  Our bus ride around and through Paris took us to the Louvre, the largest museum in the world. They have built a modern metal and glass pyramid which now serves as the entrance. It’s quite a contrast with the 18th century museum building. Many locals considered it an eyesore but it has now become another landmark of the city. We didn’t go in on this trip, you need several days to see everything there, like the Mona Lisa!
But while we were there enjoying the courtyards, we met another Nikon D3s photographer, Paul, from England.  He was telling me he had also been taking photos for the last two days in Paris and went to download his images only to discover his card reader erased all of his photos.  My heart sank for my fellow photographer.  His mission now was to revisit all the sites again and retake the lost photos.  When MA’s laptop would not process my photos from my Nikon, I didn’t force it by downloading drivers and all,  just for that exact reason.  On a lighter note, take a look at the photo with MA pointing to the top of the pyramid!  Obviously we were really enjoying the day together, holding up Paris landmarks.
Back to the bus and on to the Notre Dame neighborhood again.  This time we explored some of the older parts of Paris there around the cathedral.  We wandered around the Latin Quarter, home to all kinds of restaurants and another beautiful old gothic cathedral.  The organist was practicing while we were inside, very inspirational.We stopped for ice cream and watched the proprietor make a crepe for another customer. 
One more bus ride, this time to the Champs Elysees at which point we decided to head back to Nogent a little earlier than yesterday hoping to avoid the “sardine hour” on the subway.  That was not to be, in fact we were actually unable to even get on the first train it was so packed.

By around 5:30 we got back to where we are staying and shared a pizza at Les Bureau (The Office) Restaurant. We called it a night until 3AM when I got up to catch the World Series online.  Go Cardinals and good job Texas!
Michel has completed his Air France two-days of training and physicals so we’re meeting them later this morning for more adventures.  So far our flight on Tuesday has not been cancelled and Michel says there is to be a vote to possibly end the strike on Monday.  He’s totally not worried about this at all.  MA meanwhile is checking out alternative options to get us home.  If there’s a way and a need, she’ll find it!   
See you tomorrow........WW

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Thursday:  October 27, 2011

Train Spotting!

MA and I were on our own today.  We decided to take the train(s) into Paris and buy a two day fare on the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus.  In Paris it is known as Les Cars Rouges.  For $26 Euros you get to ride around all over Paris for two days, get off when you want and get back on to see the next place.  We’ve done this in London and Barcelona and love it.  I’ve included a map for you to look at and follow our journey around the city.
We got up and got going around 9:30 this morning.  We walked about 3 blocks to the local train station and purchased round trip tickets.  We had to change trains 4 times but we made it to nearest Metro stop by Notre Dame Cathedral with only one false directional error that we had to reverse.  I had wanted to return there and photograph the rose windows. 
As we were walking along we met George Lavecky, a nice gentleman from Australia.  George was traveling Europe to catch up on many of his family members. He asked me if I would take his picture.  After we took our photos I asked him if he wanted to join us in the walk around Notre Dame. He was one nice guy as all the Australians that I’ve met are. 
We said our good-byes and walked over to the Hop-On Hop-Off bus and we were on our way around Paris in a big red double-decker.  I focused on street scene shots as we drove around. We decided to get off at the Opera so we could walk into the Lafayette Galleries.  This is one big department store.  I mean, it was huge!  Every name brand that you can think of has retail space in the Lafayette.  I came into the store because of the ceiling.  It is gorgeous.  You’ll just have to wait until I get back and can download my Nikon to see it.  While we were there we had lunch at McDonald’s.  Yes! I know! Wayne you go all the way to Paris and eat at Mickey D’s!!!! Well we were hungry and it was convenient.  J

We got back on the bus and traveled around town down the Champs Elysees.  Cops and firemen were everywhere.  Apparently there had been a fire just off the main street and because of the emergency vehicles, traffic was a mess.  The Car Rouge managed to get us around the Arc de Triumph and up to a place called Trocadero.  MA and I got off there because of the view of the Eifel Tower.  My only regret is the pool of water where you could have seen the tower’s reflection was drained for cleaning.  So the shot of the Tower I wanted was not to be.  But I still got some great photos of “the Lady” as the Parisians call it. 

We walked down the hill and across the bridge until we were directly underneath the Tower.  There were thousands of people there with hundreds in line to walk up the stairs!  Plus the place was crawling with police and military.  The soldiers were walking around with submachine guns at the ready.  Thankfully they were not needed.
We took our photos and got back on the bus and rode it back to Notre Dame.  MA did a little shopping and we decided to have coffee at the corner “brasserie”, which is French for café.  We lingered there for some time and decided to venture back to our hotel. 
To do that, we had to reverse our train ride.  We started out just fine but got on one wrong line, had to get off and go back and get on the right train. Did I mention the commuter leg where we were literally pushed in like sardines! We made it back to Nogent-sur-Marne in time for supper at the Hippopotamus Grill.  We passed on the hippo and had a steak and baked potatoes.  Our hotel was a short walk from there in sprinkling rain.

Tomorrow we plan to do the same thing, getting off at different places and maybe going to Montmartre again, a kind of bohemian neighborhood but with a fun atmosphere charged with young people, city views and cafes!  See you soon.

Paris: City of Lights

Paris:  City of Lights


Wednesday, October 26, 2011:  9:00PM
I have to start with an apology for the lack of travel updates.  Our voltage converter burned up and we had no computer for two days.  Also, the laptop I am using will not process my RAW images from my camera, so there will be no WW photos until I can figure out how to process the ones I’ve taken.  I may just take some with a Canon camera for the blog.
Anyhow! Bon jour from Paris.  We left home for IAH around 1PM, got the car parked and hopped on the bus to Terminal D.  A very friendly van driver whose name was Tim (my brother’s name) got us to the Air France door.  We ran into our only obstacle at check-in when the clerk told me my carry-on was too heavy and I had to check it.
MA and I relaxed in the Continental President’s Club for an hour before heading to the Air France gate.  We found Michel coming in with the flight crew.  We had economy class seats in row 31 but Michel told us to wait by the galley as we boarded the aircraft.  About 15 minutes went by and he upgraded us to two business class seats.    I have to tell you, I could get used to the service you get in business class.  MA and I got a kick out of watching Michel go through the safety procedures.  He was very attentive and we felt special being his friend.
The flight was about 9 hours and we arrived in Charles DeGaulle airport on Monday morning.  After we cleared customs and immigration we went to where we thought Michel said we were to wait for him to pick us up.   We waited for quite a while, decided maybe we weren’t in the right place, asked several folks for assistance, got several different answers, and it was almost two hours later before we finally all hooked up thanks to MA getting someone to call him on his cell phone to find out where we were to go.
Michel and Chantal live in a Paris suburb called Nogent-sur-Marne which is about twenty minutes east of central Paris.  He dropped us off at the hotel and went on home to rest after working the flight all night. We’re staying at the Citea Hotel which is about two blocks from their “flat”.  MA picked this one because it has a kitchenette. We arrived at 11:00 AM and check in time wasn’t 2:00 PM, however the nice clerk had a room and she allowed us to check in early.  I think it’s because she and MA soon discovered they each spoke Spanish and they became fast amigas.
We went up to the 2nd floor and room 204.  The good news is the hotel is right on the Marne River which is a nice view to have.  The rest of the news is we are right next to a high-traffic commuter bridge with all the accompanying noise, including the French sirens that sound exactly like they do in the movies.  If you close the window, which greatly reduces the noise, the room soon gets really stuffy.  They’ve turned off the A/C system for the winter.  But as always, we go with the flow and keep on thanking the Lord for His provision.
Still on Day 1 here! We got unpacked and decided to walk to a grocery store to get some food and bottle water.  We like doing our own breakfast because the local continental breakfasts start at 9 Euros a person, about $25 a day! For that same $25 we got bottled water, milk, cereal, yogurt, coffee, coffee cake, etc., enough for the whole week.    
Later in the evening we walked to Michel and Chantal’s for a wonderful supper.  Like me, Michel is the family “chef” and his three-course meal was the perfect introduction to French cuisine.  The conversation was nonstop, some in English, some in French.  MA struggles with her French sometimes but Chantal is a great coach for her and somehow she makes herself understood and continues to learn and improve.  Chantal says, as others have also, that she speaks French with a Spanish accent.  Did I mention the hotel maid staff all speak Portuguese?  That’s MA’s other language.  Go figure, we came for French and she gets to speak Spanish and Portuguese every day!

Day 2 we all piled into Michel’s car for what was to be a wonderful 10-hour adventure in Paris.  We started out at Vincennes, a medieval castle and armament factory.  It is still used for that purpose as evident by the number of military personnel we saw.  Michel had purchased river boat cruise tickets for us all, so we continued on into Paris for a two-hour cruise along the Seine.
We boarded the “bateau” near the Eifel Tower and cruised all the way down past Notre Dame. Since we were so close to the Eiffel tower, after the cruise we decided to take a closer look.  The sky was beginning to turn cloudy and I warned everyone that rain was soon coming.  We had barely enough time to walk directly under the tower.  What an awesome sight that is. As we started toward the car, it started to pour and we all got soaked! Undaunted, we then drove to the theater district and had lunch at a local “creperie”.  The owner waited on us, and MA soon found out he was from Venezuela.  They had a great conversation in Spanish about her Pan Am days and the many times she flew there. I won’t say crepes are my number favorite meal, but we were fascinated but the many, many variations in which they come.

Michel then took us to Notre Dame where we were able to photograph the Gothic cathedral in the twilight and a little bit later after the lights came on.  It is enormous buildings with pointed arches which in turns support the vaulted ceilings along with “flying buttresses” you see on the side. Catholic Mass was going on inside and that, combined with the singing and the incense really gave us a feeling for the full atmosphere of that grandiose place. The signs said no flash photography but I noticed several folks just ignoring the “rules”.
From there we were off to get an excellent photographer’s view of the Eifel Tower. At 9:00 PM all the strobe lights on the Tower came on and it looked like a sparkling jewel for five minutes. This occurs every hour on the hour. Then the tower “rests” in all its lit up splendor.  From there we were off to the Champs E’lysee and the Arch de Triumph.  We thought about things later! If we had to leave the next day, surely thanks to Michel and Chantal, we had “lived” Paris, if only for a day.

Wednesday:
Our day started around 12:00 noon with a drive to Versailles, home to the French kings, the last of whom was Louis XVI and wife Marie Antoinette.  Versailles is on the west side of Paris and we are on the east.  We drove on the Paris version of “Loop 610” and got there in no time.  The first glimpse of the chateau reminded me of the Russian palaces we saw in St. Petersburg this summer.  Visitors are greeted with a huge golden gilded gate.  After paying our 18 Euro entry fee we began our tour.  I have to admit old King Louie had a fine house.  The French are in the process of restoring a lot of the paintings, walls, and ceilings.  You name it, they are fixing it.  Versailles is a three story chateau in the shape of a big letter H with each segment hundreds of feet in length.  One interesting note, there is a room where the Treaty of Versailles was signed ending WWI. 

After our tour of the palace we elected to rent an electric cart to cover the grounds.  The immaculate gardens and grounds are immense, with tree-lined paths going everywhere. There is a reservoir in the shape of a cross with each segment covering a half mile. Shrubs and plants are manicured-perfection; the statues are pure white, all in all a beautiful place.  From there we went into the small town of Versailles and had dinner, spaghetti this time.

There’s more!  After dinner, Michel took us into Paris where Chantal and I photographed an old metropolitan (subway) entrance gate, the Moulin Rouge, the immense Scare Coeur cathedral which overlooks Paris from the Montmartre neighborhood.  We would have loved to walk around this part of Paris but MA and I were worn out we all decided to head on back. 
Thursday and Friday we are on our own.  Michel has some training at Air France to do so plus he’s going to get the scoop on the pending flight attendant strike that could derail our return home planes.  Anyhow, we are planning to go into Paris by train and get around by subway and the hop on hop off bus.  We’ll let you know how that goes.


I found some free photos to download from a Paris tourist office so you can see some of the sights as I described them.  I’ll take some JPG photos of our next venture into Paris.  Au revoir for now!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Houston to Paris

Paris

MA and I are off to Paris with good friend Michel who is an Air France flight attendant.  I've know Michel for years and he said if I ever wanted to go to Paris now was the time.  It just so happened that MA wants to practice her French and I've always wanted to photograph the Eifel Tower so we are going.  We leave Sunday afternoon and arrive in Paris Monday morning.  We have lots planned so we will keep you informed.  Stay tuned,   au revoir