Jul 012012
 
Pont Alexandre III and La Tour Eiffel

Well, I have a couple hours to breathe, and since reporting on this fortnight is going to be a multi-blog job, I figured I might as well get started!  No fears, I will talk about DS’s Mountain Adventures in a few days when we have his photos developed (old style single-use camera for the trip).  But, since I did in fact have my digital with me the last couple days, I will start with what turned out to be an amazingly fast and dirty trip to Paris!

The plan was simple.  Out friends Raquel and Clive and their daughters were coming to Europe and were going to swing down to our neck of the woods for the final leg of their journey.  We were to meet them in Paris for a couple days, and then all come back here.  Unfortunately, train tickets to and from Paris turned out to be far more expensive than any of us had hoped.  In the end, David and I decided to drive up instead of taking the train.  Garmin told us it should take about 4.5-5 hours, which was a lot, but doable.  And, hey, scenic tour of France! 

But, the problem on our end was that we wouldn’t be able to leave until mid-afternoon since DS was getting back from Landschulheim that day.  Also, the weather had been wicked hot and humid.  And we had had a Thunder and Lightning storm the night before that left everyone sleepless.  We found out later that Clive, Raquel and the girls had had a similarly sleepless night from the humid weather.  But Paris had missed the spectacular light storm, so it was just all hot all the time!

Getting There
[REMINDER- All photos can be clicked on for larger, more detailed views]

So, off we went….

Yes, the French countryside really is scenic!  Green fields, blue sky,

Oh come on, you KNEW this town had to be in France, didn’t you!

Argonne Forest.  Far prettier than the photo says….
Note the windshield.  I am amazed that any bugs are left
in France.  Every single one seemed to dive at our car on the trip.

At one point we happened upon an accident that had just happened.  Someone flipped their car and several other folks were out and running toward them.  Cars on our side of the road were all pulled over and calling emergency response.  It was a bit sobering and scary, but there was nothing we could do to help, so we continued on.

Random French Road Art.  Colorful shapes just sort of… there….

Circles.

Squares- there were pyramids and triangles, too

Lots of “What the heck is THAT?” moments as ancient ruins just sort of
appear on random rural hills.

Spheres lining the road.

To the left, a historic windmill of some sort, to the right, a really tall statue…

Love all the town names.   Roman, German, French…..

Our first unpleasant discovery- the entire road to Paris is lined with toll booths.
It cost us a total of EU 44.90 to drive on the roads each way! 

Lots of windmills around
Amazing light effect.  The whole sky was sunrays.

 Rest Stops

First pleasant surprise- French road stops are really quite nice.  Easy on and off, gas stations and restaurants.  Sometimes cool art- like this one.

Granted, in the tradition of roadside diners world-wide, the food sucked.  It
LOOKED good- ham carved off the bone for you.  But, just not tasty.

DS and DH both got the lasagna.  I am told they wish they had not.

Staying hydrated was a challenge.  We had AC, but the French are
even more stingy with liquids than the Germans, if you can believe it!
Also, please ignore my hair.  The weather has not been kind to it.

Second unpleasant realization was that Garmin was full of it on its time estimation.  Leaving at 3 we didn’t get in until 10.

The Hotel

The Hotel Charma is charming in the usual ways.  Tiny, old, in a vibrant but just slightly sketchy part of town, run by nice people, smelling just a bit of mildew and, unfortunately, completely without parking.  I don’t mean the hotel itself doesn’t have any.  It doesn’t.  But, not only that. There is none to be had.  Roadwork and a thriving residential zone meant the few places that did exist were unavailable.  It took us 1 hour the first night to find a place about 3/4 of a kilometer away.  And it was only available until 9 am.  So, the next morning we got up and spent 2 hours looking for a spot.  All the local garages were closed.  Not full.  Closed.  But, we finally found one not 100 yards from Clive and Raquel’s hotel (3/4 of a kilometer from our hotel)!  Doh!  Also, we were on the 5th floor.  There was a tiny 1 person elevator.  But, we didn’t use it.  So, yeah, our hotel made sure we got a work out!

Friends!!
Once we finally found a place to park, got checked in, and got our internet connection connected so we could contact Raquel and Clive, they were understandably worried!  We were something like 3 hours late by then.  Luckily they had eaten dinner.  We all decided to meet up in the morning, and collapsed.

The next morning we were greeted by the girls out front of their hotel, then we all went in search of an affordable breakfast.

We found a nice little patisserie and got pastries and sandwiches.

Hugs were exchanges all around!

David may have been a little grumpy by this point.  Long drive, crap parking,
unimpressive hotel, unpleasant weather.  But, he was happy to see Raquel! 
She was managing to smile even though she is holding her morning coffee in her hand.
yes, that shot glassed size to go cup.  Like I said, hydration was an issue!

Hi Clive!!!

AW

Double Aw!

So, this is at the corner near the hotels.  Random Historical Monument.

This is where Raquel and Clive’s hotel is.  Slightly swanker
zone than ours.

Ubiquitous Peruvian Buskers.  David Sedaris has a whole bit about these guys
being in every city of the world.  Given that some showed up in our local
Offenburg Christmas Market, I suspect he may be right. 

David on the Metro with DS and me reflected.

David and DD on Metro.

Bastille station.  Colorful tile mural of the Revolution.
On the Metro
They leave windows open, so you get wind blown on the trains!

Walking out of the train station we noticed this rather random
memorial.  The National Society of French Trains, South West Region
To Your Dead
First off, Paris is nowhere close to being in the South-West of France….
So, I guess this must be a gift from the other end of the country?
Second, “To your dead”?  That is succinct in the German Way!

Tourism
So, Saturday was all about seeing Paris Stuff!

BatoBoat
We started by hopping on board the Bato-Boat, a tourist boat that takes you around the city.

Our first glimpse of the Seine… um, lovely?

The kids were all happy to see each other.
DD found lady bug nymphs and showed the girls.

Always unexpected lessons if you keep your eyes open!
On the boat.  Hey!  Eiffel Tower!

I am told this is Musée d’Orsay

We hopped off the boat here.  Our motley crew.

This, I found out, is the Alexander III Bridge.  Gorgeous, and familiar, but I never knew what it was called.

David and Me.  There seems to be a tower coming
out of his head.

Now there is something between us….

There were other folks doing photo shoots of a more organized nature there, too.  This lady was having her makeup done.

Model being made up.

Details of the bridge
Another shot.  What can I say, I liked the lizard.

Statues on the bridge

 Across the street were the Palaces of Fine Arts.

This is the Grand Palais of fine arts.  Dozens of statues cover the place.  Also
Mosaics, and probably any variety of other art forms.  Oddly enough, the art
palaces are fairly well covered in art!

Looking across at the small palace.  Not really all that small, though.

Some of the many statues.  The person up top with the long
flowing hair and the feminine figure is anatomically a guy.
I think it was sposed to be Adam since there was a matching
female across from him.

This was our first sign that some members of the group might be a bit draggy.
I was walking along studying statues when I looked back and realized I was
FAR out ahead.  As the day went on it became clear that both little ones
were sick and their parents were both exhausted.   We may not have been
all that perky ourselves, honestly…..

Champs Elysee

Charles De Gaulle memorial

In front of the Big Palace at the corner of Champs Elysee

Chantez Avec Moi!

Aux Champs-Élysées,
Aux Champs-Élysées,
Au soleil, sous la pluie,
À midi ou à minuit –
Il y a tout ce que vous voulez aux Champs-Élysées.

Yes indeed, we had made it to the Rodeo Drive of France!  Crowded, lovely, tree-lined, bustling avenue that connects the Louvre at one end with the Arc de Triomphe at the other- filled with every upscale shopping brand you could imagine.  Most of the architecture was old Paris, but occasionally something freakily new would pop out at you….

DS posed for me in front of Louis Vuitton’s
address

Well, heck, I bet I know where they filmed it!

Eateries line the walk, this one caught my eye because of all the cool copper!

Folks were lined up to enter the gate, but I don’t know
what they were queuing for.

Fun muraly things.

An appetizing sculpture (Tasty!)

Lots of gold used to embellish

Lock dancers.

Spinning propellers.  Why?  Why not?

David almost gave this guy money just because, as far as buskers go,
he was so unobtrusive!

Looking all the way down the avenue toward the Louvre
A little assist down the Avenue

Arc de Triomphe
Yeah, that is the real thing.  L’Arc de Triomphe

As far as monuments go, this one is pretty sweet.
Under the Arc
(DS wore his hood the whole time because his ears were sunburned)

Awesome statues decorate all sides

Underneath the arc

Eternal Flame

 So most folks climbed to the top. DD, Alexis and I stayed below.

This is what they saw there:

This was a video feed of what is at the bottom- from the top.  DD has Lexie on her lap on the left of the top right  bench.

Glad they have the rail!

Looking down.

So, after that, the Blackledge family needed a nap.  Both girls were under the weather.  Honestly, we were pretty weary, too.  But, with only a day and a half to spend in Paris, we figured we ought to check some things out.  Since they had balked at the Louvre, we decided to just Go For It.  So, we hopped off the Metro on the way back to the hotels, and went off for another adventure.

Louvre
[REMINDER- All photos can be clicked on for larger, more detailed views] 

A lot of people really hate the pyramid.  Can’t say I love the way it fits in… or rather, doesn’t.  But, as a stand alone element, it is actually pretty cool. 

Inside the pyramid.  Sort of lovely, right?

Nike

The stairs to Nike

 The Louvre is incredible.  Huge, gorgeous, and filled with just amazing things.  Also filled with a a lot of people, and an unprecedented amount of really, really hard flooring. 

Mona Lisa–  Figured we ought to check this one off… Interestingly, that seems to be what people do with the Mona Lisa.  Check it off.  You can’t really get close enough to study it.  You can just join the crowd and say you have seen it.

Yep.  That is it.

DS trying to get closer.

So, this is what the room surrounding the Mona Lisa looks like. 
Incredible art.  All being ignored while people look at the little painting in the
plexiglass case.

I mean seriously, why aren’t folks looking at these?

TURN AROUND, people!  There is a HUGE last supper on the wall
behind you!!!

 Ok, well with that done, here are a few of the other pieces that we saw that I enjoyed much more….

I call this Mohawk Baby
This is St. Francis receiving stigmata.  That is right.
Jesus is shooting wounds at the poor guy!

 If you don’t want to see nipple skip ahead.  Nipple seems to be a specialty of the house, actually….

Somehow that isn’t how I pictured Cleopatra’s suicide.

To make a weird point, I guess, they matched Cleopatra with this
painting of “Virgin suckling the infant” .  What is the look
Jesus’s face?

They had a room of these, but this was my
favorite.  It is a bronze with stone-carved clothes.  This
particular one was especially awesome because in a wing of
Grecco-Roman art, he rather stands out as one of very-very
few non-anglo images.  According to the plaque,
he is Moorish.

Dela Croix is famous for this Miserable image, among others…

But, as DD points out, apparently he never saw a real tiger!!

This next one is easily my favorite piece that we saw.  If Edward Gorey had lived in Italy in the 1500s, he might have created something like this.  It is supposed to show the infant being presented at a Temple, with saints standing around watching.  But, look closely.  First off, everyone is Zombie Grey.  Second, yeah, that is an axe in that saint’s head.  The people with the saints are donors- uh-huh, folks who paid money for the privilege of getting in the picture. Creepy doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Does anyone in this image look the least by happy to you?

Speaking of creepy- are adult sisters dressed identically
ever not creepy?

 
Another fave- Heracles fighting the weeee little frightened hydra!  Awww.. poor thing!

Please, don’t hit me with the big stick, huge man!

Egyptian ladies with skewered birds.

Ceiling art is pretty much always just over the top excellent, isn’t it?

DD loved the colorful wings on the angels, DS was enthralled with the gold leaf.

Creepy + Nipple- two themes in one!

The guy is in chains.  I don’t
know who he is supposed to be.
Oedipus maybe?
Sphynx and Me

Someone cut off 3/4 of the imp’s nose!

Uncrating room.

Ok, this was cool.  Did you know that the Louvre used to be a castle?  Like stone walls, moats and draw bridges, cisterns and knights, the whole deal!  They excavated a bunch of it under one section and have it on display now.

Coolest Dollhouse Ever?

anatomy of a cistern

Map of the medeival town
Don’t you hate artsy “benches”.  WTF Louvre?

Final Ouch 

Ok, so, by the time we were done with the Louvre, everyone was cranky and exhausted.  The rooms were not welcoming or pleasant.  And David was pretty much at the end of his rope.  The car stuff bugged him more that I perhaps implied earlier.  The man was a large knot.  DS was understandably a zombie after a week in the woods followed by this trip.  And DD was done.  Just done.  With Raquel, Clive and their kids under the weather and equally drained, David started floating the idea that maybe we could go back home a night early, sleep in our own beds, and have a few extra hours to recover before hosting the Blackledge family for their German Tour.  I wasn’t completely convinced, but acknowledged there was merit to the concept.  I still wanted to do dinner with everyone and maybe see another site or two in the morning- even though we would clearly have to leave earlier than planned since the trip took longer than expected. 

As we were leaving the Louvre, we gave a coin to a lovely cello player in the tunnel.  She called out “Monsieur!  Monsieur!”  Urgently as David walked away.  “Your Pocket!  Be careful!  People take it!” She was kindly warning us against pick-pockets.  But, there was such urgency in her voice that it put me on edge.  Had someone been stalking David when she warned him?  An older gentleman reaffirmed her advice as we walked to the trains.

Once the train arrived, we understood why.  It was PACKED.  Crowded and almost overflowing.  We bustled on, but not quite fast enough.  The gates closed- ON David!  People on the train leaped to try to help.  One man managed to prise the doors open.  We tried to pull David in, but understandably jarred, he balked- just long enough for the gates to close on him AGAIN!  He pulled back out safely, but the train whisked the kids and me away, with David looking bruised and angry at the station.  DD burst into tears.  We got off at the next stop to wait.  A reassuring man told us that we would only have to wait 5 minutes.  Everyone spoke English to us.  I comforted the kids until the train arrived.

David was on an equally packed train, and we hopped successfully on.  More crying, but relief.  We went straight to Clive and Raquel’s hotel (The Picpus… seriously, it should have been an omen!).  We told them we were checking out and driving home early.  No one wanted to be in Paris anymore.

 

David’s gate damage. 

Trip Home

The trip home was equally long, but a little more pleasant.  The kids slept part way.  The traffic was bad through town, but lightened up immediately after.  We saw mice run across the freeway unmolested.  Really, the only bad part was that at a couple points, as on the way there, Garmin sort of lost its marbles.  It sent us off the freeway on a wild goose chase once.  Then, a little later, it was completely convinced we were driving off road somewhere.  We tried to reassure it, but to no avail.
“Drive to highlighted route!  DRIVE TO THE ROUTE!  GET ON THE DANG ROAD!  NO!  DON”T HIT THE COW!!!!”

It thought we were somewhere out there…..

 The silver lining was that it accidentally navigated us to this fabulous American-Style restaurant.  The Buffalo Grill.  Steaks, Ribs, Chicken and Fish- and, of course, that typical American food- Steak Tartar! (seriously, the main menu had a whole page of Steak Tartar offerings!)

How ironic is it that our best Parisienne meal was at an “American Style” restaurant
chain?  Laugh.  I feel like such a failure!

The meal was actually quite pleasant.  And the restaurant had a line out the door as we were leaving.  With our bellies finally full, we settled in to the long drive home.  There was a minor flood we had to wade through.  And, a variety of missteps to avoid.  But, by 2 AM we were finally home in our own beds.

The Blackledge family opted to leave early today, as well.  They are due to arrive any time in the next hour.  So, more adventures to post soon.  Until then, I will leave you with the sign that cheered us the most:

Sort of interesting to realize that the Road to Strasbourg is now the road toward home!

Leave a Reply