Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Last Tango - Update from Paris

            Saturday, May 26, 2012 – We are off to Paris today.  We left the gite by 10AM, however, as we were leaving T realized she did not have her prescription sunglasses – so we returned and searched, but they weren’t anywhere.  We then decided to head back to the restaurant to see if they are there, luckily it’s not far out of our way.  Lucky for T, they were safely at the restaurant!
            The drive to Paris is on a motorway that has no toll – bonus - and takes us past Alencon again and then heads northeast.  Our road ran parallel to, but slightly north, of the autoroute we took last weekend.  We pass many towns and the traffic in the direction we are traveling is light until we get close to Paris. Different story though going the other direction today, the traffic is really heavy as it’s yet another long weekend with Monday day off in France – glad we’re not traveling in those lanes.  It’s smooth sailing until we’re close near Paris where we find some stop and go traffic for a few km. A drag, but we did amuse ourselves watching planes land, one to the front and one to the rear, crossing just above the highway to land on the grass runway adjacent to where we were “parked”.
            Our route turned fortuitously right after a while so we left the traffic troubles behind and continued on our way to Charles de Gaulle airport where we had an appointment for 2PM to drop off our leased vehicle.  It takes us a bit to find the place, T asked for directions and we drove the last few hundred yards and found the place. It only took 5 min. to get the paperwork done.  The guy was surprised at the number of km driven – yes I confirmed, we’ve had the car for 4 months. 
            We took a cab to our hotel, Pullman Montparnasse, took about 30 min or so.  We passed a number of great landmarks – reminding us of how many cool places we’re going to be able to check out in this city.  We checked in, we have been upgraded to a deluxe suite – lots of room and J was very pleased with his cool Murphy bed in the other room.  We left our hotel and walked down the street and found a brasserie to have something to eat.   We so enjoyed the snacks as well as people watching. 
            We saw several great ‘sights’ today, the first being a bride dressed in her wedding dress and veil driving alone in her decorated wedding car – made M and T do a double take – concluding she was driving herself to her wedding!  We had some great laughs – and our second great sight for the day at a café in Paris - seeing a guy walk down the street with a blow-up doll sitting on top of his shoulders!  He was with a few buddies – J drew our attention to him!  Tonight while eating our dinner at a nearby restaurant we watched a tourist couple take a picture of their 12.50 Euro tomato mozzarella (caprese) salad.  We thought they must have never been to Italy, as this had one tomato sliced with thin layers of mozzarella (not even any buffala).  We figured it had about 1 Euro of cost – not a bad profit – and the customers even seemed satisfied! 
            We enjoyed our dinner out on the terrace with a guy playing on a keyboard and some lady singing some oldies – lots of fun to watch and listen to.  Tonight we went in search of Magnum ice cream bars and found them to finish off our meal.  We returned to our room to enjoy a bottle of Cremant Limoux that we had chilling on ice – delicious!

            Sunday, May 27, 2012 – Today is moving day to our last apt. We don’t have to check out of the Pullman until 12, so after breakfast M and T go out for an hour’s walk to enjoy and explore some of Montparnasse.  

We headed along a road that ran along the cemetery that’s been around for along time and apparently has some famous writers of times past buried there.  We walked along a street that dissected the cemetery and wandered the streets, crossing Boulevard Montparnasse and Boulevard Raspail and found Jardin du Luxembourg that led to the Palais du Luxembourg. It is 25 hectacres of manicured lawns, sculpted trees, fountains and sculptures.  Today the French Senate sits here in the palace.  The park is busy with joggers, ping pong players, people doing yoga, tai chi, lawn bowling, children playing on the huge playground.  There are many huge old trees providing great shade for the Parisians to enjoy the warm weather.  Today it is warm rising toward 25.  The palace area was beautiful.

            We found a café along the street near to our hotel to have a coffee and enjoy the neighborhood, then returned to the hotel to checkout.  We hailed a taxi to get to our apt on the other side of the Seine.  We passed the Louvre, Place Concord, the Opera house, and up Boulevard Lafayette to Rue Bellefond.  We arrive just before 12:30 and are pleased the agency rep is already here and the apt is cleaned, we are able to unpack and get the lay of the place.  It’s roomy and has everything we’ll need and really close to the metro and Gare du Nord where we can catch trains. 
            We went in search of a restaurant, found an Italian one, not far from the apt.  It was very good and enjoyable with a true Italian owner – it was nice to hear him speaking Italian to some patrons.  After lunch, we were able to find a grocer open to pick up some things for dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast smoothies.  We’ve seen boulangeries in our neighborhood, so we’ll wait until the morning to go and pick up something else. 
            Later in the afternoon, we walk to Gare du Nord, one of Paris’ main train stations and locate the tourist information shop to buy a six day museum pass that we will be able to use during our stay here, allowing us to go in without having to wait in line – worth its money indeed!  It’s a few blocks away from our place and we pass countless cafes and bistros – they are certainly a way of life in this city.  It’s right up our alley – we’ll be enjoying the café scene while we’re here.  The tables along the sidewalks are full of people enjoying the day.  With the errand and exploration done for this afternoon, we head back to our place.
            Even though the apt doesn’t have air conditioning, with windows open, there’s a good breeze going through, helping to cool the place down, it’d be pretty uncomfortable.  T whips up a nice dinner, a nice change from eating out. Our apartment has a phone that we can make free calls back to North America we make a couple of calls to chat with family. Then we find an English language movie on TV to end the evening.

            Monday, May 28, 2012 – After a good night’s sleep, M and T went out to a local sidewalk café for café crème and a croissant.  We stopped at a bakery to get a couple of things to enjoy and headed back to the apt for fruit smoothies and to feed J breakfast.  We’re off to Gare du Nord to catch the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus to tour the Montmartre area.  It’s beautiful and promises to be hot today and we opt to sit on the top open-air deck.  We listen to some of the info via earplugs and enjoy seeing the sights.  Gare de l’Est is near Gare du Nord – built because it was thought that Nord wasn’t suitable for the arrival of the Queen back in 1847.  It’s where the first Orient Express departed from.  We drove through Place de Republique with it’s many converging streets and statue of Marianne, representing France as the state and its values.   

We drove along the street that had the Hard Rock Café Paris.  J wanted to go there, but we nixed that idea!  We get off at the Plaza de l’Opera and do a bit of walking around and take some photos of this magnificent opera house referred as Palais Garnier (designed by Garnier) and its opulence.  It was built between 1861 – 1875 – it’s breathtaking!

            We found a Portuguese restaurant on a side street and enjoyed a delicious lunch.  Once finished, we found the bus stop and hopped back on to continue our tour of Montmatre area.  We rode up boulevard Clichy that was the original road that led from Paris to Rome.  We turned to continue down this street past Moulin Rouge dance hall as well as establishments of similar ventures.  We got off the bus a few blocks later to walk up to Basilique de Sacré Couer.  We had to walk through a super busy street filled with tourists and people hawking wares, guys trying to con people with the object under one of the three disks, guys trying to tie bracelets around your wrist and then asking for money – sensory overload.

A French couple in classic French clothing.

            Sacré Couer is located on the highest point in Paris and is quite stunning, both outside and in. It was started in 1875, but not finished until 1914.  We walked up the staircases leading up to the church.  There were many tourists milling about inside and out.  We decided to sit and enjoy the beautiful mosaic ceiling above altar as well as a number of mosaics on the side walls (no photos allowed).  The stain glass windows were wonderful too.  The view from terrace outside the church was a panorama of the city. We went back the apt for a cool one, and chilled for the rest of the day.

            Tuesday, May 29, 2012 – Day 2 of our Hop On Hop Off bus excursion.  We took the metro down to Place Opéra and caught a different bus for a different route.  Today’s journey would take us past many of the major historical landmarks of Paris.  We caught the bus on Avenue de l”Opera and headed past the beautiful Palais Royal, through the archway of the Louvre wall to stop within the Louvre walls to enjoy the view and take some photos.  We’re told the Louvre was at one time a palace, with various royalty adding on to make it the beautiful structure it is today.  It was eventually no longer used, which led to it being turned over to be used as a museum.  It’s collection began with just 12 paintings and today it is one of the world’s largest collections.  The buildings are beautiful and in the centre of the park, it the museum’s pyramid entrance.  We were stopped at the Arch de Triomphe de Carrousel a smaller version than the Arch de Triomphe at the other end of Avenue de Champs Elysees.

            We proceeded to drive onto Ile de la Cité, passing Notre Dame Cathedral, Sainte Chapelle and other cool buildings.  

We crossed onto the other bank of the Seine to drive along the quai to get off at the Musée d’Orsay so we could to view the top floor that had a collection of impressionist art by Renoir, Monet, Manet, Sisley, Degas, and Cézanne.  The d’Orsay was a former railway station and it was beautiful both on the exterior and interior.  We also had a chance to see some wonderful sculptures by Rodin.  There was a collection of paintings by Van Gogh that wowed us.  What an experience to see a collection of paintings from each of these masters and see why they are considered masters.  It was a feast for the eyes.   We each chose a favorite in each room to talk about.  We enjoyed wandering amongst the masters. 

            We found a brasserie outside of the museum to enjoy lunch.  Once finished, we proceeded back to the bus stop to “hop on” to continue our tour of the sights.  Just as we were seating ourselves on the top level, our friends Mario and Marion from Kelowna recognized us.  What a small world it is (they had just come over to Paris for the day, from the cruise the are doing)!  We hadn’t seen them since the summer of 2010.  We sat and chatted and laughed at the chance meeting.  The bus drove by the Palais Bourbon Assemblie Nationale, crossed over the Pont de la Concorde into the Place de la Concorde with its towering obelisk.  We said goodbye to our friends, agreeing to call them to see if we could meet up later.  We proceeded down the Champs Elysee that became busier with tourists and commercial businesses as we neared the towering and impressive L’Arc de Triomphe.  It is fabulous, built between 1806 – 1836, to honor the French soldiers who fought during the Napoleonic era. Names of wars fought and generals were inscribed on and under the arches.

            We drove around the Eiffel Tower – massive and impressive.  Onward we drove past Hotel des Invalides, the veterans hospital, another impressive structure.  Alongside this is the beautiful Eglise St. Louis, with its beautiful gold guilded dome.  We ended our tour near Place d’Opéra, and Maxim’s (one of Paris’ most expensive restaurants) then we caught the metro back to our apt. 

            We managed to get a hold of our friends and agreed to join them on an evening dinner cruise on the Seine.  We quickly fed J, who opted out of adult company, to stay at the apt to watch movies.  We boarded the metro and found our way to their hotel.  We enjoyed a glass of wine together there and then caught a cab to the Bateaux Mouches to board our dinner cruise.  We had an excellent meal, lots of great chats and some great views of people hanging out, groups dancing, others sharing a bottle of wine enjoying the beautiful evening along the river walls.  As we were nearing the end of the evening, sunset arrived and the Eiffel Tower as well as other buildings were alight, making for a great end to the evening.

            Wednesday, May 30, 2012 – Today’s excursion is to the Eiffel Tower.  We were out the door shortly before 9AM to walk to Gare du Nord to catch the train down to Notre Dame-St.Michel and then transfer onto another regional train to get to the stop Champs de Mars near the tower. This was our first time using the regional trains versus the Metro, and it’s always an adventure trying to figure out a new system and what to look for, but we did succeed! There is only one elevator operating for all the tourists.  Advanced tickets are not available on line, so our only option is to stand in line.  The line to the ticket booth took us just over an hour and quarter, weaving our way along the grounds, the line moved quite quickly. It was another 15 min. wait to board the elevator.  This took us up to the second level and then boarded another elevator to take us to the top.
            The view is amazing from way up top at 300 m.  It’s a clear hot day with just a bit of haze, so we are easily able to pick out landmarks we visited the last couple of days.  It meets and exceeds our expectations and it makes the wait worthwhile.  It’s one of the places J really wanted to visit.  It took a while to get back down to level one as we had to wait for the elevator.  We decided to walk from level one to ground taking about 300 steps.  The structure is magnificent and imposing.  It weighs 7000 tons and has 3 platforms.  Another wonderful memory made this morning!

            We found a café nearby to have lunch.  The lineup at the restaurant on the 1st level was too long to bother waiting.  We had had enough of waiting in lines for today.  Lunch was very enjoyable.  We made our way back on the train which was not nearly as busy as coming out this AM. Once we returned back to Gare du Nord, we wanted to buy train tickets for Versailles.  Some boys tried to scam us at the kiosk several times.  Gotta give it to them for being persistent – three different guys, three different ages approached us to “help” us - No, we didn’t want their help.  This is a major train station in Paris, and one really has to watch for the con artists! 
            We did manage to finally get our tickets, and then we returned to the apt.  J hung out while we walked up the street to the local Carrefour market to buy groceries for the next few days.  We returned for a cold one and some relaxation.  It’s certainly hot out today!

            Thursday, May 31, 2012 - Today was our trip to the Palace of Versailles.  We had to take the regional train as Versailles is located outside of the city of Paris.  We were up early today, since we wanted to be at the gates for when it opened at 9AM.  We had a quick breakfast and left the apt at 7:45 and were boarded on the train by 8.  We had taken this same train connection yesterday, so we knew where the platform was located (two levels below ground).  Having figured out the train connections yesterday, took a lot longer, we were able to make our connection easily and we were on the train to Versailles.
            We arrived at the station Versailles Rive-Gauche by 8:45 and we following Rick Steeve’s directions, were at the gate at 8:55 and quickly entered the security check and were on our way across the Royal Courtyard to enter the Palace.  As we wandered the rooms in a one-way direction, we listened to our audioguide and took lots of pictures.  The ceilings in each room are works of art, often telling a story and were related to the name of the room.
             King Louis XIV’s bedroom was the grandest room were toured, with it’s massive artwork and beautiful fireplace.  We walked through Marie Antoinette’s room and saw the door by which she escaped during the uprise in the Revolution.  The paintings on the walls were incredible and some were immense.  The two-story chapel was the first room we viewed, both from level 1 and 2.  Louis XIV had this built late in his 74 year reign, after his wife and children had already died and be became religious - must have known his time was near. It was exquisite.   There was a dining room that they had where they ate regularly with a public audience – things people did for entertainment in those days!

            As our tour progressed, it became busier and we were glad to have come early.  Once we finished the chateau tour, we went out to view the extensive gardens – that cover about 800 hectares.  The gardens are in true French garden format, mostly greenery and not flowered.  The number of marble statues and urns within this area could have filled a museum!  They were beautiful and in fabulous shape.  It’s amazing the detail the artists were able to portray in their works.  There was a grand canal (in a cross format) within the center by which paths and sectioned gardens and fountains radiated from.  During the summer months, the park fountains are operated on the weekends, a pretty sight that would be. 

            We stopped for a coffee and snack break at a café within the gardens and then continued on our walk to the to the Grand Trianon, Louis XIV’s “escape from it all chateau” as well as Marie Antoinette’s estate and hamlet, inclusive of her perfumed sheep!  Small compared to Versailles, but very grand nevertheless.  They were not open as it was before 12, so we decided to pass on waiting and headed for a restaurant near the canal for yet another very good lunch. We headed back to the apt and slacked off for the rest of the day.

            Friday, June 1, 2012 – On the touring schedule for today, the Louvre.  This used to be one of the royal palaces and from the looks of the outside and the interior ceilings, it still retains the magnificence today!  We arrived at the entrance just before opening at 9AM.   We used our museum passes to bypass most of the line and then split to get audioguides and a map of the place.  Its actually three connected buildings and huge!  There’s no way we’ll see the whole place. A sense of the size is given by something M read – that if you spend only 10 seconds on each piece in the Lourve then it will take more than a month to see the entire museum!

            Armed with the map and audioguide, as well as T’s research from last night, and each of us having already said what we want to see (J picked Egyptian pieces, while M wants to see more of the Masters paintings, and T added seeing some of the great sculputes that are here), we’re off to check out this wonderful museum.  Since there’s not many people here yet, we decide to check out the room that houses the Mona Lisa (when we were in Madrid we had a chance to see what some say is the best copy of the Mona Lisa ever, believed done by one of Da Vinci’s students at the same time he was doing the original).  We find it easily and have a look and then spend time checking out some of the other marvelous works within the room, such as the Wedding Feast of Cana by Paola Caliari, the Louvre’s largest painting.
            Through our 2.5 tour we enjoyed seeing works by Ruben, Rembrandt, LeBrun, Delacroix, and Gericault.  As well as some of the museum’s Egyptian collection that J had asked to see.  There were so many wonderful sculptures, including the Venus da Milo, and a number of Michelangelo sculptures.  We learned a few things about art as well as enjoyed ourselves. One of the things we really enjoyed was that the audioguides would only tell about a few paintings in a section, but told a lot about those few. That way we learned much more about a few and did not feel overwhelmed trying to see hundreds! Its actually quite fascinating to learn about the background of what the artist was trying to achieve, and how the artists used their work to ‘speak’ their views.
            We decided to take the metro up towards the end of the Champs Elysees to have lunch somewhere.  We got off at George V station and found a restaurant by the same name and enjoyed lunch on the sidewalk terrace.  M and T had some wonderful beef bourgignon and vin while enjoying the atmosphere, J chose pizza.  We left the restaurant and wandered amongst the crowded sidewalks toward the Arc de Triomphe .  We crossed the avenue and proceeded down along the busy street to the Franklin D. Roosevelt metro station.  It was cool to walk this famous street, people watch, and just enjoy the atmosphere. We returned back to the apt to enjoy the afternoon and evening.

                          Saturday, June 2, 2012 – A beautiful sunny day today and we’re headed to Ile de la Cité to tour Notre Dame and Saint Chapelle.  We did go down to a café on the corner of our street for a coffee and enjoy some people watching.  It is definitely quieter on the weekend.  Both the sidewalks as well as the streets are quieter.  We don’t see nearly the number of cylists dressed in work clothes humming down the street enroute to work.
            Later in the morning, we took the metro down to the stop right across the Seine from the island. 

So with a short walk across one of the many bridges that span the river we began our way toward the cathedral.  The square in front of the church is very crowded.  The line to get into the church is quite long to enter, but it moves fast. 
            The church is beautiful on the exterior with many statues on the façade as well as twin bell towers.  The church will be 850 years old next year and took some 200 years to complete.  The stained glass rose shaped windows are fabulous with the light shining through them.  It is very crowded, so it’s not as enjoyable to admire the interior.  There are some wonderful carvings with Mary in the center cradling Jesus, surrounded by the halo of the rose window.  It has the typical basilica floor plan; a long central nave lined with columns and flanked by side aisles.  It’s designed in the shape of a cross with the altar in the intersection.  This church can hold up to 10,000 people.  Behind the altar area in the choir area with wood carved walls featuring scenes of Jesus’ life along it’s perimeter.

            The interior is not as elaborate as basilicas we have seen in other European cities.    The exterior is very elaborate and beautiful.  We enjoyed wandering through the park alongside of the cathedral.  It’s enjoyable to sit on a park bench and enjoy the view of the church and surroundings. 

            We left Notre Dame to head over to the Concierge Buildings where the Legislative Assembly meets.  It was long ago that there was a former jail here, where Marie Antoinette was beheaded.  

We didn’t go through any of this area, but went to look at the Saint Chapelle.  This church was built by Louis IX to house the supposed original Crown of Thorns from when Jesus was crucified he had purchased for 3 times the cost of the church’s construction (M noted his disbelief that this was the original crown of thorns some 1200 years later).  The church has 1100 stain glass window panes telling the stories of the Bible.  They were beautiful and made up the walls of the top floor of the church.   

            We left Ile de la Cité and wandered across the Seine and walking past a couple of blocks of flower/plant shops and found a great little café for another leisure lunch! Awesome.   

We made our way back to the metro and to the apt.  Tonight we decided to check out a restaurant nearby for dinner.  Yet again, we had a wonderful meal and enjoyed wandering within the area nearby our apt. 

            Sunday, June 3, 2012 – Today’s tour began about 1 o’clock.  J said he was art-ed out, so M and T went out on their own to check out a few museums.  But, first, we had to stop for lunch.  We took the metro down to the Louvre and found a café to have a glass of Chablis and a salad.
            We enjoyed walking through Parc Tulieres, outside the Louvre to get to Musée Orangerie where we were delighted and in awe of 8 mural sized paintings by Monet titled les Nymphéas, water lilies.  From here, we walked over to Musée Rodin and toured the beautiful rose gardens as well as other greenery and again were amazed with the talent of this remarkable artist whose works include the “Thinker”.  He convinced the Parisian government to save a grand hotel in 1916 and in exchange he left his extensive collection for public display – a fabulous place.

            We took the metro back to Ile de la Cité to return to Notre Dame as we thought there might be a an organ concert at 4:30.  There is a massive pipe organ and we were looking forward to hearing it as the acoustics would be awesome here.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t one.   However, we did spend more time checking out the front façade that has many sculptures.  We returned to the apt to relax and kick back for the rest of the evening. 

            Monday, June 4, 2012 – We’ve been planning this day for a couple of month’s now.  The French Open Tennis tournament is going on and we bought 4th round tickets for the day.  We are scheduled to see two women and two men’s games.  We took the metro out to the Roland Garros Stade, it took a half hour.  We managed to find the complex, which is huge, after one wrong turn.  It is quite well laid out and we know the gate where we need to enter. 
            There are three main courts in stadium format and then many other courts with much smaller stands.  We have tickets for the Philippe Chatrier Court.  M scored us fabulous seats, at the service line, first section, third row.  We are just above eye level of the players.  All three of us are amazed at the skill of the players we see.  The schedule has an addition of a men’s tie breaker match from last evening as it couldn’t finish because of darkness. 
            So, we watched 3 matches for men and 1 women’s match (about 8 hours of tennis).  We had hoped to see Raphael Nadal, however, he has been switched to Court 1 (we think because there is a French player Richard Gasquet playing Andy Murray today, so that match has been scheduled to play where we are as this is the centre court).  We’re a bit disappointed as all three of us really like him, but we were treated to some wonderful tennis action throughout the day.  We were able to watch Andy Murray (4), Jo Wilfried Tsonga (5), David Ferrer (6) and Maria Sharapova (2).  What a fantastic day we had.  Of course, we each had to get a shirt to commemorate our visit.

            Tuesday June 5 – The last day before we fly home. We have already done all the things we planned for Paris, so today is a relax and pack day.  We sleep in, then M packs and finds room for everything that have not already shipped home. J watches his favorite TV shows and plays Internet games. T decides to do some Paris shopping as there is a clothing store she is fond of here in Europe, so she opts to see what deals she can find. We have our last dinner out, then go back to the apartment to share our last bottle of Blanquette de Limoux, to celebrate all the wonderful experiences we have enjoyed,  and that we are now going home where we can see family and friends.

            Wednesday June 6  - We get up in time for T and M to have one more coffee in a Paris café complete with almond croissant, then back to the apt to have our last French quiche while J has the breakfast he has been enjoying regularly (pan fried potatoes with lardon – French bacon pieces). Then we jump in our cab and head to Charles de Gaulle airport to catch our flight home.
Shaw Adventure #1 complete – will there be a sequel??

           Epilogue   - We have enjoyed keeping the blog as a way for folks to follow our adventure, and for a written and pictorial record for J to have. We appreciate all those that have checked out what we have done. Thanks for ‘joining’ us!

For those of you that like statistics T said that M had to keep the numbers, so dutiful as he is, here are some of the numbers that we counted up summarize the adventure.

Days we traveled = 392

Countries we visited = 19

Apartment stays = 42

Hotel stays = 59

Distance traveled (excluding within cities on public transport) = 95240 km
·      By airplane = 41300 km
·      By car = 39000
·      By tour bus / van = 8200 km
·      By train = 6000 km
·      By ship / ferry = 740 km

Pictures taken (after deleting the ones we did not like) = 16967

Journal pages typed = 320

Blog posts = 63

Cost of the adventure = not reportable

Things we found to buy and send home = way more than we expected

Wonderful experiences had = too many to count

Memories = almost enough to last a life time

Effect on our lives = Priceless