The Alumni Association sent us a brochure, as they do several times a year about travel to Europe. This year everything fell in place and 3 friends, who first met in high school, graduated from the same university, became reaquainted 30 years later, set off for London and Paris.
by two cruisers on March 7, 2012
The three of us took a combination tour. Firstwe boated on the Seine. Seconded we toured the Eiffle Tower's observation platform on level 2, then had a meal on level 1. We saw two completely different perspectives of the city. Looking from down: on the boat ride we saw a lot of the underside of bridges. That was interesting. We recognized places that were part of movie backgrounds. It was a lovely bright sunny day. We also were impressed with the majesty of the buildings bordering the river banks. I bought an expensive guidebook sold on board that helped identify landmarks as we passed. We started at the foot of the Eiffle tower and turned around just past Isle St. Louis. I think the highlights were the Alexander Bridge and Notre Dame. Word to the wise, the seats running down the middle of the boat and facing out are probably the best. Almost all my photos taken from the lower seats facing front are obstructed by heads or other people's cameras being held up.Looking from up: that is from the 2nd level of the Eiffle Tower was an awesome experience. The city of Paris is vast. Every side of the tower offered us views of historical landmarks, parks, and other interesting landmarks. We were given enough time before our meal to make the round trip of the platform, snapping pictures and oohing-aahing as we walked. One good tip from our guide. When the elevator opens to viewing platform, walk directly over to the stairs and go down on flight to another viewing platform that is less crowded. That worked like a charm. Time was up, so we lined up to reboard the elevator for our trip down to the dining level. This is adventure in itself. We were packed in like sardines. When the elevator was in motion, the car shifted position as the elevator shaft is not straight up and down, it follows the curve of the tower's leg. I'd been in the St.Louis Arch elevator, which was very small and made violent jerks to keep level. This ride had a bigger car, but it was so densely filled I don't think anyone could have fallen down when the car corrected its position. It really was a very smooth ride. Our meal was very interesting. Our servers were patient and entertaining. We had lots of questions,too. Appetizer was salmon...raw and wiggley thin pink slices that were decorated with slivers of red and green bell peppers. On the side was a very dense greyish looking bread. The main course brought us a mystery. The plate was layered: first layer was a blond gravy with not much flavor, topped with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, that was topped with chicken breast and the mystery topping that was a white foam. The whole thing was garnished with asparagus spears and cherry tomatoes. Back to the mystery...our waiter told us the white foam was aereated turnips. Well, it looked interesting! Our dessert was alternating scoops of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream between pecan encrusted pastry. I guess my surprise was that French cooking I had heard so much about was so bland. Perhaps a better word would be subtle.It was full dark when we finished our meal and left the tower. The number of hawkers below were doubled in number and now had lighted toys to sell. Every few minutes the tower went into a garish light show mode of strobe setting and chasers. Kinda wish I hadn't seen that.
by two cruisers on March 5, 2012
The three of us found that sometimes the most interesting, surprising adventures come along while traveling the streets of Paris between points of interest.Stalled in traffic leaving the EuroStar station, we saw an unusual parking lot. Cars could jump the curb on a boulevard and park between skimpy little poles. Weather protection canvas could be rolled out to cover the vehicles.Street intersections were sometimes marked with American standard type of name on a stick signs, but more often the street names were on a plaque afixed to the corner of a building. That was a great help for finding our way around.Stop and look at the doors. Beautiful embelishments of distinct style added to the richness of our walking experience.Open air markets were a fun stop. We saw stacks of fruits and veggies along with deli cases with breads, prepared quiches, tarts, and other meals. Watching the citizens here doing their shopping or lounging at asidewalk cafe added to the experience.Street musicians ususally set up on or near the bridges are entertaining with varying degrees of talent. We were absolutely thrilled to be able to find and use the self cleaning toilets. Oh, how I wish these would catch on in the States. I admit we pushed the wrong button once and were locked out while the cleaning process repeated itself. Our other experiences were usually at cafes. These are tiny, dark, often uni-sex rooms in the basement that you have to negotiate narrow steep stairways to find. Sometimes the men's stalls only have those swinging saloon style doors on them. Thats difficult for our MidWestern sensibilities. Once there you often have to pay or leave a tip for the attendant.Kiosks with adverisements were an architectural gem in themselves. Fun to read some of the ads, too.Locks of love. One of the unusual things we saw crossing the bridges were paddlelocks permanently afixed to the rails. Initials of lovers were etched or painted onto the locks before attaching. I laughed at the poor man's locks of love which were made form plastic bags tied to the rail.Flea markets, and sidewalk vendors lured us it. In fact my favorite souvenir of the Paris trip was found at a canvas walled sidewalk shop on Blvd. St. Germain. The vendor sold amber jewelry and fur hats. His wife is the milliner. I was able to strike a bargain with him as I didn't have the amount of cash he wanted and he didn't take plastic. He settled for what I could spare from my cash. I am very happy with the deal we struck. I have total strangers cross crowded rooms to tell me they like my brown fox fur hat.Walking up the Champs Elysees was a bit of a disappointment for me. I did buy a T-shirt and an ornament at one of the many stores. I took an obligatory picture of the Arch de Triomphe. The one highlight was a cafe with copper pots covering the ceiling and a kiosk outside was topped with pots.The streets of the city have a certain uniformaty due to building height restrictionof 8 floors. This really lends to a classy look to all the neighborhoods. Iron grillwork is featured widely. In most parts of the city you can catch a glimpse of the Eiffle Tower.The city is vast and I know we only covered a small part of it. I never felt uncomfortable or lost. It was an excellant experience.
by two cruisers on March 4, 2012
We arrived at the zig-zag of ropes for the entrance to the Lourve early. It was a misty turning to rainy day. A really good time to spend all day inside...of course they have to open the doors first. We marveled at yet another French royal extravagance. In the last century a controversial addition the Pyramids, have added a startling contrast to the existing architecture. The pyramids do add a source of light to the cavernous lobby. This museum was formally the Royal Palace and it has been added to in large and small sections over the centuries. The Louvre was built over an former palace. Once inside we could even see a section that had been excavated showing the walls and moat. We were allowed to use flashless cameras. And there is much to photograph. My friend Marilyn and I decided to follow the guide map and check off as many of the numbered highlights as possible. Actually this should be done over several days, but honestly how many of us have that luxury! These are my highlights, presented in no particular order. Hammurabi's code; it took my breath away to see this odelisk of the first recorded laws. Assyrian sculpture of the Winged man-bull creature: been looking for this guy since Art History 101. Venus de Milo: she was into sleeveless before Michelle Obama. Winged Victory of Samothrace: guarding the staircase and causing traffic jams as people stop to take her picture. Egyptian blue glass: would look so good in my living room. The Lacemaker: Vermeer knew how to light a picture. Napoean III Apartments: suited my tastes better than Versailles and yet it too was opulent. Egyptian columns: organic and to me more appealing than the Greek classics.And finally Mona Lisa: the mystery is why she is so sought after! At at my height of 5', she is not very visable. The crowds around her are twenty deep. I suggest if you are a Mona fan, go there first.We were able to grab a fast food lunch of a mini quiche and a mini tart. Be prepared to stand up to eat, very few tables and even fewer chairs are available. If you need sit down time, there are benches in the interior courtyards, but no food is allowed there.The shops are of two varieties: kids souvenirs and museum shop quality. I did buy a replica of the blue Egyptian glass at a reasonable price. My friend Sarah found a tablerunner she liked but it was 2,200 Euros. Skip that one. Exiting through tunnels lined with other shops I did find a charm for my collection.
Musee d'Orsay was the first place we toured in Paris and frankly I wasn't prepared for the immensity of the collection. Stumbling over the French signage, I led my friend in a counter-clockwise tour. I don't regret seeing any of the displays we did see, but we ran out of time before I got to the Impressionist. That had been my goal to see Van Gogh, Degas, Renior, La Trec and Seurat. Oh, well! One area I lingered in was the Art Nouveau furniture. glass and architectural details. other highlights for me were the graceful white polar bear, William Morris wallpaper designs, and the Manet paintings. Actually the building itself is one of the most impressive works of art. It is a former train station. The central area where trains used to move through is now a sculpture court. There is a huge ornate clock left over from the station days that is a highlight of the musee art. We were not allowed to use our cameras, but I'm sure I saw some cell phones pointed at the walls!There are two gift shops, one catering to books. Both are crowded and if there was food available, I missed it.
After a tour of the over indulgence that is Versaille, we took a lovely drive through the rolling hills of the countryside to Giverny and the home and gardens of Claude Monet. I could live here. Correction, I want to live here! Unlike America where we tend to tuck our gardens in the backyard, the approach to Monet's home entrances was all garden. Unlike the fastidiously clipped formality of Versaille, these flowersbeds had an exuberant quality and almost ragged appearance.The house is a two story, vine covered comfortable Provencial style. I regret they wouldn't allow photography indoors, although I was allowed to photograph the gardens through the open windows. Other than Monet's own paintings, the only art in the house were Japanese prints. He was very fond of them. We lingered as long as possible in his studio where we could look out on the gardens and soak in the genius lingering in the air. The rest of the house was comfortable; the dining room was an appetizing buttery color; the kitchen was huge with lovely blue and white tiles. Outside we checked out various gardens and then took the long path to the water garden. Here we found the weeping willows, Japanese bridge and lily pond that figure so often in Monet's most famous works.Adjacent to the main house is a gift shop. These people really understand tourists. We found lovely souvenirs to satisfy our needs. I bought a print of Chartres Cathedral, a calendar, a windchime and lots of postcards.
We took a guided tour of Versaille. It was like no other guided tour I have been on. Our guide was a fiestly little lady who sheparded us from one place to another. She told Marilyn and me, "You Americans are too nice! You have to be more aggresive to get up to the ropes to see things." She was right! She also broke into yet another language (not English of French) to make sure our group was not cut off by another group. Bless you Gabrielle, we needed your help.Crowd control at Versaille is on a tight schedule. We were not allowed entrance until a specified time, so first we were lead to a huge patio where we could overlook the dramatic formal gardens. Gardeners were crouched down manicuring the hedges, a never-ending job. . Nothing was out of place in that garden. Looking back at the building, I found it was really buildings. A complex of residences, chapel, opera house, and gathering rooms, it is immense. 2,300 rooms! The reason was, the King found it safer to keep all the royals clustered together where he could quickly quash plolitical plots.Inside the Chateau Versaille, the tour took us through huge rooms that were salons, King's chambers, Queens chambers and the magnificent Hall of Mirrors. As we proceeded from room to room we took up our mantra "Look up, look down". The Baroque and Rococo styles filled the rooms with ornate carvings, murals, rich tapestries and upholstry, sculpture and paintings. Almost too much to take in. The royal bedrooms had a massive rail seperating the bed area from the audience. That's right Louis and Marie would wake up to find a courtiers waiting for them. For privacy and probably warmth, heavy drapes could be pulled around the bed. Speaking of warmth...this was originally built as a hunting lodge...a fair weather residence. Thus no fireplaces. When the royalty fled the city due to rampaging pandemics, they took up permanent residence at Versailles. Winters were most uncomfortable. But nothing was more uncomfortable than when the Revolutionaries stormed the Palace and Marie Antoinette fled her chamber to Louis chamber where they remained til their capture the next day.Our guide also helped us find restrooms (nor very many) and a deli where we bought drinks, baquettes with lunchmeat (need mayo) and brownies. It was quick but on the low end of the scale for "French cooking". A word about the courtyard. The paving stones are very difficult to walk on. Resist all temptation to wear high heels!
by two cruisers on March 3, 2012
After our Paris trip we three decided that if ever we could come back we would stay on or across the Seine from Ile de la Cite and/or Ile Saint Louis. This is the true heart of the city. Food, shopping, cathedrals, historic buildings, the Seine, the bridges connecting the isles to the Right and Left Banks, museums and memorials are all present here. And with in a short walk are several of Paris' major museums.Notre Dame stands out as the big tourist draw and is definately worth the visit. I regret not having the hours to spend in line to walk up the 400 steps to see the gargoyles...well may be I don't regret that. The beautiful flying buttresses are best seen from the neighboring isle of St. Louis. But inside I was surprised how different the individual side chapels were from one another. We visite on a Sunday and a service was in progress. That was interesting to participate in also.Two blocks away is a magnificent hidden gem, Sainte Chapelle. It is tucked away inside the Palace De Justice. I was amazed to find this was a two story church. The upper level was the Royals chapel and has some of the most beautiful stained glass windows and painted walls and woodwork to be found in the city. The lower windowless chapel was for use by the servants is still an architectural/decorator treasure. If I had to choose this one or Notre Dame, I would return to Sainte Chapelle.We three stopped for a break at a corner crepe stand/ sidewalk cafe. I had a latte and lemon crepe that hit the spot. We all enjoyed the view and the parade of passing tourists. Behind Notre Dame is a well hidden memorial to the people deported by the Nazis during WW II. Built on the actual site of the deportation center, the most moving feature is the wall of stones. Jewish tradition of placing a stone on the grave of the departed is reflected in this wall. 200,000 Jews wer deported and there is a stone on the wall for each one. Only small groups of people are allowed to enter the Deportation Memorial at a time. That certainly allows for a fitting solemnity.On Isle St. Louis we shopped in very fun places. I brought home several memories. But our best buy was supper at Aux Anysetiers du Roy. We each ordered the Beef Bourguignon. It was excellant. Absolutely our best meal of the trip. The owner, waitress gave us excellant service. A family at the next table told us they have vacationed in Paris for the last 8 years and always eat here as often as possible.My last comment about the two islands is this....strolling. Strolling the streets, along the riverside and over the bridges to either bank. Thats all a vacation really needs.
by two cruisers on March 2, 2012
The Metro took us within 3 blocks of the Musee Rodin. Before it opened we marveled at the nearby Dome Church and Napolean's tomb. Rodin's home and studio Hotel Biron, was provided for him with the agreement that all his works would become property of the nation and be housed at this site. It was a beautiful building and I'm sure an excellant agreement for all concerned. Outside the manor house is a sculpture garden with those iconic images we have all seen in text books.This includes The Thinker, The Burghers of Calais, depictation of Dante's Gates of Hell, and Balzac. Inside Rodin's works are arranged in chronological order. This made it very interesting to see his style evolve. Some galleries have works by guest artists and contemporaries of Rodin. In a seperate building there is an auditorium for special events and a well stocked gift shop.Afterwards we had a lovely lunch at Cafe Musee. I had a baguette with Camebret Cheese and the Tart du Jour which was almond apricot. That meal will be one of my favorite of the trip. These three activities combined into a very enjoyable morning.
Our hotel had three restaurants close-by. As happens sometimes with three lady travelers, we had difficulty selecting which place to go to on our first night in Paris. Finally I said that I wanted to go to Villa St. Jacque because the wine goblets on the table were so pretty. Good enough reason. However, the reason we came back was the employees. Our waiter Bobby was a newlywed and exuberantly happy. He had some minor problems with the concept of seperate checks, but the calm and cool manager stepped in and resolved the problem. This happened all three times we ate there. Our meals of lasagne, pizza and veal were interesting if not outstanding. None of us had seen eggplant on pizza before. It doesn't look appetizing, has a strange rubbery texture, but all else was tasty. On our last visit to Villa St. Jacque we asked Bobby if we could take his picture. He was so excited he fled the room and came back with fresh tie on. Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, the cook yelled out "Hey, how about me?!" We invited him to come out and be in the picture. He was quite a flirt, but fortunately duty called and he quickly returned to the kitchen. We walked by this cafe on the way to the Metro station several times that week and the staff stepped outside to wave at us. We can definately refute the idea that all Paris waiters are aloof.
by two cruisers on March 1, 2012
I asked many people to tell me the one thing they remembered the most from their Paris trip. My niece, who was 16 at the time of her visit, was most impressed with the tour of The Catacombes. I convinced one of my friends to go with me. We arrived 30 minutes early and I highly reccomend that. We were #12 and 13 of the first tour group of 20. When we entered the small green building that is the starting point of the tour, we looked back and the line was half-way around the block. I have heard that the line wraps around the block during peak hours. The Catacombes were started when mines beneath the city were abandoned and the cemeteries of the City were literally overflowing. Bodies were stacking up, falling into water supplies and generally creating an enormous health hazard. In 1786, undercover of dark, bodies were dug up from cemeteries and brought to the catacombes where the bones were seperated out. Femurs and skulls were used to build walls along the mine tunnels. The other bones were used as back fill. There are some decorative structures built along the way. Certainly not a pretty sight, but awesome to realize you are in the presence of generations of royal and regular Paris citizens. Before the Revolution, the royalty would hold concerts and parties down here. During World War II, the French Resistance was headquarted here, Clever idea as it would be easy to hide (or get lost) in the many side tunnels. Yes, it is creepy. Water leaks from the walls and ceilings and lighting is dim. Occasionally along the way a guard is posted. Believe it or not, some tourists try to appropriate souvenir bones. Our journey ended at a long spiral staircase several blocks from the entrance. On the top few steps were some bones that had probably been abandoned by souvenir hunters.
by two cruisers on February 29, 2012
In London we loved the cab rides. In Paris we learned to love the Metro. Our hotel was a block from one station and two blocks from another. The price was right. Now all we had to do was get our courage up for the adventure. Tickets are needed to get through the turnstiles. Books of tickets can be purchased from vending machines. Sounds simple. Well, be prepared with the proper coins or you will slow down the line for the others. And remember to discard your used tickets as they won't work again and will cause a traffic jam if you try to use them by accident. The good news is: once you get by that turnstile you can ride all over the city for one low fare. The color coded maps are easy to understand, and you don't even have to try to pronounce the names of the stations. Some of the tunnels are decorated with poster art, some have elaborate tile decor. We felt completely safe even though we did see a few vagrants sleeping on the platform benches. Except for some very long stairways connecting tunnels, it was an amazing experience. Who needs taxis!
We ate lunch across the street from one of the oldest churches in Paris. It doesn't get the crowds of tourists that Notre Dame does. But that was good for those of us that stumbled upon it. We were awed by this Romanesque structure where people have been worshiping for 1500 years. As the centuries marched along, addition changed the style to Gothic. I am very glad we stopped to look inside.
Several guide books touted this restaurant once the haunt of Hemingway and friends. We three had lots of laughs over the name not seeming too appetizing, but a little research reassured us. The two Magots were Asian busts of two men that decorate the interior of cafe. In fact the two statues were formed into the cafe's logo. We had eagerly looked forward to eating at a sidewalk cafe and this was our first. People watching was fun and we were in awe of the buildings on the other three corners of the intersection. I opted for the Croque Monsieur, the Parisian version of fast food, it is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. The price was right and was very similiar to American comfort food. It was served with a side of fruit. One treat for me was watching the maitre de pace on the corner of Sainte Germain seperating the ooglers from the real customers. By this is the only restaurant in Paris where we ran into a snooty waiter. I can't even remember hearing him put two words together. Yes, I would come back here and linger over a latte.
by two cruisers on February 28, 2012
I barely looked at the furnishings when I opened my room door. I walked straight to the floor to ceiling window to marvel at the view. Below was a section of the Metro that ran above ground. I could see the station just to the right and another station a few blocks to the left. Looking over the city, I could see cathedrals, and other landmarks. Three restaraunts, plus the hotels two offerings were nearby. We were within walking distance of The Catacombs, a post office, neat shops and more. My room was spacious, comfortable and provided for my needs with a desk, easy chair, king -size bed and luxury bath. The TV was large and had practically no channels worth watchin! But who needs TV when you have that view and that neighborhood. Breakfast came with the room. It was served in a large room with stations of food and beverages to choose from. Fruit and croissant and cheese for me everyday, made me happy. We ate supper our last night at the hotel's R'Yeves, I had my last chance at French food and chose scallops that were tasty and attractively presented. Maybe we should have eaten here more often. The concierge was most helpful, lack of linquistic skills in French was not a barrier. I even had the concierge help me fill out a form so I could mail a package home. Yes, I would stay here again.
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