Posts from the 2013 Fall trip to Paris, France

Here we are in Gay Pahree!

Well, Buckaroos and Buckarettes! Look who’s back! Long time no see! Here I am, once again blogging about another adventure. And this time it is a month in Paris. Fall 2013. About time!

Let me say a few words about how we got here:

Monday morning, September 16, we closed the blinds on our windows, took our packed bags to the front door, and waited for Tim to come pick us up and take us to the airport. Our flight (to Montreal) was supposed to leave at 11:30am. Tim came at 9:30 and off we went. Now Sue has a motto that guides her attitude when it comes to travel — “Expect the worst, and hope for the best!” That way, when things don’t quite work out as planned you are already prepared, because you ‘expect the worst’. And if things turn out “very perfect” (another one of her sayings) it’s all good too, because you were hoping for that. A winning philosophy. So after all the worrying Sue did about whether she had packed the right shoes and jackets, and whether we’d get to the airport on time, and what we would do with 5 hours to kill in Montreal, and what would our apartment in Paris really be like, and — well, you get the idea — but the thing is, everything about our trip here turned out “very perfect”. Tim got us to the airport at just the right time, our flights were great, we enjoyed a few hours in the Montreal airport, and the shirts, sweaters, vests, and jackets that Sue wore on our way here were the EXACT right clothes for the trip. About the only not very perfect thing was the baggage ‘carousel’ at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. We arrived there to see a mass of passengers, 8 deep, all along the short wall where presumably our bags would appear. With everyone queued up against the carousel there is no way to see if yours (or anyone else’s) luggage is ready to be picked up. The saving grace is that the luggage is dispensed SO SLOWLY and sporadically that eventually, one by one, people at the front of the line manage to yank their suitcases off the carousel and push their way back through the crush of passengers, and finally, after an hour, the baggage area has cleared out and there are only a few passengers and a few less suitcases left in the hall. And then you can take your bags and ‘wheel’ them up the stairs and down the hall for about a half mile south to the Paris train station. After that, everything once again went “very perfect”. We took the train to the Gare du Nord train station from where we dragged our bags to our apartment. Got there at just about 12 noon.

The lock combination to get into the building worked. We found the keys where they were supposed to be. Once inside our first story flat, we found a bottle of wine, a few packages of Nespresso coffee capsules, and a nice welcome note from Peter, from whom we are renting the apartment. Everything was as expected (well, NOT if you’re expecting the WORST, but you know what I mean!). After looking around a bit, we went out for a walk around the block. The weather was ‘fall-ish’, cloudy, but not raining. We looked in at a few fruit markets, a few bakeries, and even found a big supermarket not far from our place. We bought sandwiches — well, there are special French names for all these things here, but we’re not so quick with that. In fact, more than once, after buying something at a store here I’ve said ‘Gracias!’ instead of ‘Merci’. Anyway, we bought some cheese and a few beers and went back to the apartment. We heard the phone ringing, and soon after it stopped ringing we managed to find it in a cupboard in the living room. It rang again a few minutes later — Peter, calling us from New York, just checking up on us.

Sue had a bit of a ‘lie-down’ — we were determined to beat the jet lag and NOT go to bed in the afternoon. I hooked up my ipod to the sound system and spent a bit of time at my computer. We had a glass of wine and at around 7pm we headed out again. We took our umbrellas with us because it was raining lightly. We went to a nearby restaurant to get out of the rain. Had a nice pasta meal with drinks. Then back out and a bit of a walk. We didn’t want to wander too far at night since we really didn’t have a map and we didn’t want to get lost on the first night. Eventually we found our way back at the Carrefour (big grocery store) and Sue did some grocery shopping.

Back at our apartment, we put away the groceries and sat at watched a bit of BBC tv until a little after 10pm. A respectable hour to go to bed. Finally! The bed is good. So is the bedding. Pretty much everything today has gone “very perfect”. We’ll be fine here. End of Day One.

Sacré-Cœur, Paris Day Two

Wow! Thirteen hours after going to bed, we finally rolled out of bed this morning at 11:00am. I woke up once at 5:30 and thought to myself, ‘Not bad’ — but instead of getting up, I turned over and went right back to sleep. And if I hadn’t got up when I did, Sue probably would have slept for a few more hours!

I showered and got dressed. Then, while Sue made coffee and showered, I went out to the corner bakery and came back with a crusty baguette for Sue and a chocolate-filled pastry for me. Good breakfast! We sat around and read some of Peter’s Paris tourist books and talked about where to go in the afternoon. We almost left once, but when I looked out the window I saw it was raining. Oh well, we’re here for a month! More reading. Finally at around 4pm we left. Headed for the Sacré-Cœur, a famous big old catholic church up on the highest hill in Paris. Not far from our place here in Montmarte. I looked at google maps to figure out the walk there. We would be climbing quite a few steps up to the top.

sacre-coeur-paris-day02-01 Along the way we stopped at the Place du Tertre, a square not far from Sacré-Cœur, famous for the artists that sit in the square and do portraits of/for tourists. Sue and Alex had their portrait done by one of these artists when they visited Paris 14 years ago. No time for posing today, other than for a photo. We continued on up the hill to the church.

sacre-coeur-paris-day02-02There were lots of tourist shops and cafes, and a surprising number of tourists, considering the time of year and the cloudy/showery day. But the climb had warmed us up a bit and we thought the temperature was probably “very perfect” for this kind of outing.

sacre-coeur-paris-day02-03And it didn’t take long for us to reach the church — it really is only about a 10-minute walk from our apartment. We walked around the outside. sacre-coeur-paris-day02-04We had a spectacular panoramic view of the city of Paris, which is mostly to the south of the basilica. Although it was overcast, we could spot many of the famous landmarks of the city from this vantage. And then it started to rain.

sacre-coeur-paris-day02-06So instead of getting all wet, we opted to get under the awning of that Irish pub we passed on the way here. And why not sit down and have a Guinness while we watch tourists filing by for an hour or so? So for 17 Euros (about $24 Canadian) we had ourselves a Guinness and stayed out of the rain. We were almost all the way back down all those steps when Sue remembered that she had left our backpack under the chair at the pub. So we warmed up a bit more by running all the way back up — picked up the backpack from where we’d left it! and headed back down.

We got back to Montmarte close to suppertime and so we stopped at a cafe just around the corner from our place and ordered a pizza to go. Back at the ranch, we sat down in front of the TV and had our pizza and a bottle of wine. We’d found a big library of DVDs in Peter’s bookshelf, many of them with a Paris theme. So we have some movie-watching to do. Tonight we watched “Paris, je t’aime”, a 2006 movie made up of 18 short films, each by a different director and cast, and each one filmed in one of the arrondissements (districts) of Paris. It was okay! I guess the jet lag isn’t quite done with us yet, as we both were tired and tempted to go to sleep. But we stuck it out, and then, after the movie was over, Sue read and I got busy on my blog for the next few hours. And by midnight we were still both up, and awake, and not really tired. But by 1:00 we put away our distractions and went to bed.

Champs-Élysées, Paris Day Three

Okay, before I begin, I have to confess that it was actually around 2am that I finally went to bed last night. And Sue and I both had trouble falling asleep. I guess we stayed up TOO long! But we finally did fall asleep. At 9:30 this morning I could hear the garbage trucks down below on the street — and I knew it was time to get up, or we’d probably sleep until after lunch again!

I made a pot of coffee and ran down to the corner bakery to pick up a fancy-shmancy custard-filled pastry for my breakfast — Sue still had crusty baguette from yesterday. We had fruit, yogurt, and pastries with coffee for breakfast.

Then Sue read and I worked on the computer until it was lunch time. The forecast for today called for showers, but we really didn’t get any.  It was already a bit after lunch time when we headed out. Again, I scouted out the walk on Google maps and Sue jotted down our turn-by-turn directions on a piece of note paper. And so we set off.

champs-elysees-paris-day03-01Our ultimate destination was the Arc de Triomphe. Our first diversion came when we got to the Galleries Lafayette — an upmarket French department store located on Boulevard Haussmann. It’s where Princess Diana and Sue shop. So we went in and had a look. The smell of perfume nearly overwhelmed me, but I managed to take a few photos of the elaborate dome in the ‘ladies’ section of the store.

From here you can see the Arch in the distance, the massive avenue, the National Assembly, the Madeleine church, the famous Hotel de Crillon, the Grand Palais, the Obelisk of Luxor, and the Eiffel Tower rising behind it all.

We stopped on our way out and bought a crusty sandwich baguette and a chocolate croissant for lunch. We sort of got lost because we hadn’t counted on going into the store — but we managed to find our way down to the Champs-Elysees. I knew we were there because I recognized it as the place where the penultimate day of the Tour de France happens. I saw the Egyptian obelisk, the palaces and fountains, and the cobblestone streets that the cyclists have to race on.

champs-elysees-paris-day03-12champs-elysees-paris-day03-13And then we were there! To our left was a big park, the Tuilerie Gardens. And then the sun came out. So we decided to check out the park. We strolled through it (along with about a thousand other tourists — and is it just me, or do even the women tourists look gorgeous here?). Fountains, and lots of metal chairs surrounding squares of green grass with statues to look at. And it’s not high season! We actually got a chair to sit in for a while and watched the people passing by.

champs-elysees-paris-day03-10We walked through the park and before you know it we had stumbled on another sight! Wasn’t that the famous Louvre pyramid ahead? I didn’t know it was all connected like that! Well, we won’t go in there today — we’ll keep that for another day. I think the museum will take a good part of an afternoon to explore.

champs-elysees-paris-day03-11Between the museum and the park was the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, not to be confused with the actual Arc de Triomphe we were on a mission to see this afternoon. No, this is a smaller version of the other arch.

champs-elysees-paris-day03-19From here we headed due west, down along the majestic Champs-Élysées. There were far too many very expensive shops along the way. And quite a few tourists, although we kept reminding ourselves that it must be ‘CA-RAZ-Y’ in high season. It was about 2.5 kms from the park to the Arch. When we got there champs-elysees-paris-day03-24Sue really wanted a photo of the two of us. We got someone to help us out. And now we still had a long way to walk back home. Unfortunately I had thrown away our little ‘map’ with the wrappers for our sandwich in the park, so now we had to find our own way back home. Along the way we stopped for a cappuccino at one of the many little cafes along the way. We ended up heading to that big Carrefour store again to pick up groceries for supper.

Back at the apartment, Sue tried out the oven by frying a fish and baking some potatoes for supper. After supper Sue read her book (“My Paris Wife” by Paul McLain) on the ipad and I wrote my (too long) blog entry. And we drank a bit of wine and listened to John Prine on the stereo. Sue called her mom to say hello. It was 10:30 — I’d spent way too much time writing and adding photos to the blog. It’s almost time for bed! I used to laugh at tourists who saw their whole trip through the viewfinder of their camera, but this is even worse! I’m spending more time writing about it than I am ‘doing’ it! This has got to stop. Tomorrow I will take ONE photo and write two paragraphs. And it will be better than this — for YOU and for ME!

Moulin Rouge, Paris Day Four

I woke up at 4:30 and thought it was time to get up — but perseverance paid off and I was able to drift back into la-la land until 9:30 when Sue finally got up to make coffee. It’s pretty good in our place — not cold, very comfortable. Our couch and chairs are good, the bed is great, and it’s surprisingly quiet. We thought that having a bedroom overlooking the street would maybe be a problem, but so far everything is great!

We frittered away a good part of the morning. I went to the bakery to pick up breakfast pastries. We listened to music on the stereo and Sue read while I computed. Around 1pm I went out to pick up a sandwich which I brought back to the apartment. Sue had her leftover pasta from the other night. It was a bit warmer and quite sunny outside — so we scheduled a walk for late afternoon.

I called my mom and dad just after 4pm — that would make it just after 9am at home, so at least I wouldn’t be interrupting the funeral announcements on the radio. They were fine, happy for the call, and yes, they had already listened to this morning’s funeral announcements, and no, they hadn’t heard their own names announced yet so that must mean they were okay. Dad asked me if we were in Paris, and did everyone only speak French or could we get by with English. Mom didn’t let me down either — when I told her that Sue and I had gone for a long yesterday and were planning on going for another walk right after the phone call, she said, “Well! Walking you can do in Steinbach too!”

Moulin RougeAfter the call we high-tailed it out. We couldn’t just sit inside all day! We were halfway to the Moulin Rouge, the famous ‘red mill’ cabaret, when we realized I had forgotten my map back at the apartment. Oh well, we wouldn’t go far enough to get lost. Not that you couldn’t get lost here — the strip clubs and sex shops that lined both sides of the street could get a guy off the track in a hurry! But Sue kept me on the straight and narrow, and guided me right past the distractions. It was still bright outside, only 4 o’clock — I bet this place looks quite a bit scarier later on a Friday night!

montmartre-cemetery-paris-day04-03Well, properly inspired by my parents’ enthusiasm about the funeral announcements, Sue and I decided to get off the main drag and visit a cemetery. The Montmartre Cemetery isn’t the Paris’s most famous, and although we walked right around the outer walk of the 25 acre cemetery, we didn’t actually see the grave of anyone we might have heard of before. But it was quiet and shaded and there were quite a few very interesting tombs and tombstones. And it was a nice ‘teet-fedreef’ (as they say in France). We considered whether the Nikkel family should ever invest in such an elaborate monument — many of the stone vaults here had stained-glass windows, iron grating, decorative doors, and fat little cherubs watching over it all. Hmmm… maybe not.

It was quite nice in the graveyard, but you wouldn’t want to spend ALL afternoon there (never mind eternity!) so we made our way back to our place, stopping along the way at a little wine shop. Sue bought a couple of bottles and then we asked the cashier for some dining advice. He wrote down the names of 3 nearby restaurants that he could recommend. We went back to the apartment and had ‘happy hour’ while we watched parts 2 and 3 of our ‘Visit to Paris’ video series we started last night. The parts that we didn’t snooze through were pretty good.

At 8pm we headed out around the corner to an Indian restaurant for supper. It was okay. Not too spicy, and the big stain that Sue got on her jacket sleeve washed out easily enough. Lots of people eat out here (and lots of them smoke too) — and by the time we ambled back home most of the outdoor tables were full. Not just at the Indian restaurant, but at all of the ones we passed along the way.

Back home we changed into our ‘lounging’ clothes and opened a bottle of wine. Sue watched some crappy CNN on tv and I sent some emails and updated the blog. By midnight it was probably too late to watch another movie, although I was feeling dangerously awake. If we don’t go to bed soon, we’ll probably be up all night! Au revior, or however you say that.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris Day Five

Saturday, I woke up at 10:30. Made coffee. Sue joined me at 11. I went to the bakery for bread to go with the scrambled eggs Sue made for breakfast. No bacon — Sue is on a diet. We finished watching the french movie we couldn’t stay up for last night — “La Vie Moderne” — which ended as badly as it began. I’d say it was a waste of time, but really, we have all the time in the world. We listened to music and read. I updated the ipad’s system software to iOS7, which was WAY more exciting for me than for Sue. Then at around 3pm we skyped with the kids. Mixed results. The good thing was that when Max heard and then saw us, he got a HUGE smile on his face and hurried to see us on the screen. The bad thing was that he really wanted to get through that little window and play with us, and quickly got frustrated. But it was great to see him and Tim and Alex — and to know that everything at home is going well. Although not so well for the Bombers, I see — let’s hope that things go a bit better for the Giants and Vikings tomorrow afternoon.

The Church of St Eustace, ParisAfter the skype we headed out for the day’s walk. Today we went down Rue de Martyrs down to the Île de la Cité (an island in the Seine). Our destination was the Notre Dame Cathedral. The day was sunny and warm. Lots of people out too. Cool shops along the street, and the small outdoor cafes and bars were all packed. We got close to the Seine and stopped to look inside another big old church on our side of the river — St. Eustache. It was big and old and beautiful — but then what isn’t old and beautiful around here?

notre-dame-paris-day04-03We continued on across the Pont Neuf bridge and soon arrived at the big cathedral. Hmmm… seems we’re not the only ones that thought today would be a good day to visit this tourist site! The line-up to get in went snaking around the front area of the church and then out across the street and around the block! Well, we’re here for a month, and a couple of pilgrims like us can easily come back another day for a look at the INSIDE of the church. We’ll just take a few photos of the majestic front of the building and then maybe wander around to the little park at the back, and then head back across the river and make our way back to the apartment. (Check out my photos)

Pont de l'Archevêché - famous bridge in Paris where lovers attach their 'lock of love' to the bridge. The love padlocks are each engraved with a message of love. After locking the love padlock onto the fence, lovers toss the keys into the Seine river – a sign of their eternal devotion.
Pont de l’Archevêché – famous bridge in Paris where lovers attach their ‘lock of love’ to the bridge. The love padlocks are each engraved with a message of love. After locking the love padlock onto the fence, lovers toss the keys into the Seine river – a sign of their eternal devotion.
We left the cathedral and headed back across the Seine by way of the Pont de l’Archeveche bridge. We walked for quite a way, until we stopped at a Metro station to check a map, and realized we were heading SOUTH, the opposite of the direction we wanted to go. So we backtracked and eventually got back to familiar territory. We were hot and tired and thirsty and luckily for us it was ‘happy hour’ at many of the bars we passed. So we stopped for some cool refreshment before continuing our way back home. Once we got back into Montmartre we stopped at a grocery store and picked up some sausage and mustard and beer. It was already getting dark outside by the time we got home. We had baguettes and cheese and sausage for our picnic supper. We’d walked more than 10kms and we were tired. We finished our day by watching the same news story (a shooting rampage in Nairobi) repeat about 40 times on CNN. Sue did some crosswords and I sorted through my photos. Went to bed at around 2am (again!).

Sunday Night NFL, Paris Day Six

Sunday night at the Belushi Bar, just across the road from the train station at Gare du Nord, about a mile from our place. Unfortunately the Giants lost to the Panthers 38-0! and the Vikings lost (another) heartbreaker to the Bengels. But it was fun to watch NFL Redzone tonight.
Sunday night at the Belushi Bar, just across the road from the train station at Gare du Nord, about a mile from our place. Unfortunately the Giants lost to the Panthers 38-0! and the Vikings lost (another) heartbreaker to the Bengels. But it was fun to watch NFL Redzone tonight.
Woke up VERY late today (probably because I was up until after 3am last night, downloading the latest Elton John album (The Diving Board). When I finally got up I made coffee and sat on the couch for a while. Sue eventually made her appearance as well, and then it was time to think about breakfast. I noticed that the little convenience store across the street was closed today — I guess that’s how they do it in civilized countries — most shops are closed here on a Sunday, except those that are not closed. I went to the corner bakery — not sure if they would be open, but they were, and they were doing a roaring business today. So I brought home some pastries and another baguette. We listened to some great music on my ipod and had our breakfast.

A lazy afternoon followed the morning’s frenzy of activity! Sue read and diddled around on her ipad. I made some new cool Paris banners for the website, but didn’t post them (yet) — we’ll leave that excitement for another day! Sue made me a sandwich for lunch (she had porridge) and then we did nothing for a while again until it was around 6pm. Time to start thinking about the 12noon NFL games happening back home. I googled around for a nearby NFL bar — and we decided to venture out for the evening. We walked the 1.5kms (back along the way we first came here when we arrived on the train last Monday) and found the Belushi’s Bar which advertised that it was showing NFL games inside. Went in. Only soccer on all the TVs. I asked and the guy at the bar invited us to go downstairs. We did, and discovered a big screen, a bar, and a bunch of leather couches and chairs. And no other people! We sat down and waited for the 7 o’clock kick-off. Eventually a few more crazy NFL fans found their way here and by the end of the first game it was full! We even bet on the outcome of the first (9) games, a free beer going to those who could pick 7 winners. Well, NOT US! My Giants were demolished by the lowly Panthers, and the Vikings lost in the last couple of minutes to the surprising Bengels. And the burger we had was sans cheese and not very cooked! But the beer was drinkable and the place probably warrants a revisit a week from today.

We walked home at around 11pm and had a chocolate bar for night snack. Maybe a movie too, we’ll see.

Eiffel Tower, Paris Day Seven

The Eiffel Tower, view from the Champ de Mars Park.
The Eiffel Tower, view from the Champ de Mars Park.
A week ago Tim took us to the airport for the beginning of this month-long adventure. It’s been a great first week here in Paris.

After watching another couple of NFL games on my computer last night, I started watching the ‘evening’ game but soon gave up. I was too tired. It was already after 2:00am and I just didn’t care all that much about the Bears or the Steelers.

View from the Eiffel Tower
View from the Eiffel Tower
At 10:30 this morning I finally woke up. I made coffee and by lunch time it was time for breakfast! The day was warm and sunny and too good to waste — especially since at least 2 out Sue’s 5 weather apps are forecasting rain for later in the week. So we decided to go see the Eiffel Tower today. Not only that, but since the tower is quite far away and we would probably be doing a lot of walking once we got there, we decided to take the Metro there, then, if we were not too tired later, walk back home.

We took the Metro from the nearby Pigale station. We had to switch lines once, and then got off at the Bir-Hakeim station. From the station we could already see the tower. We walked across the street and up to the North leg of the tower and got in line to buy tickets — entrance tickets and an elevator ride to the top (14.50 Euros each). The line-up for the ticket booth took 45 minutes. The line-up for the elevator took another 45 minutes. We took some photos from the second level and then a few more from the very top. A great view. I exercised extreme restraint and only took about 50 photos. Here are some:

From the Eiffel Tower we wandered towards the Champ de Mars, the large expanse of lawns next to the tower. We stopped at a corner café and had a large beer and a ‘croque-monsieur’ (a French specialty, basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich). It was getting close to 5:00pm, but the western sun was shining brightly and there’s nothing that’s much better than sitting at a busy street corner, drinking a big cold glass of beer, and watching beautiful people walking by!

And, in case I haven’t mentioned it before, although pretty much EVERY corner in Paris boasts a historically significant building or a museum or a statue or a fountain worthy of at least a photograph if not a paragraph in some idiot’s travel blog, Paris is a “people-watcher’s paradise”. Seriously! The women here are gorgeous! Almost all of them. Not just the French women (although especially them), but even the women tourists are better than average! They dress nice, they walk nice, the look fantastic. And there are WAY fewer overweight people here than at home (side note: most of them smoke, which may or may not help them to keep slim — just speculation on our part, though). And the men? Nothing special! Okay, maybe I have turned my head a few times when one of those French ‘gay boys’ with the pants that are tight all the way down to the ankles walked by, but mostly the men are old and frumpy-looking with messed-up comb-overs and bagged-out old suit jackets. But the women? Ooh-la-la!

Too bad they mostly speak French, a language that completely befuddles us. When it’s time to pay our cheque I just hold out a palm full of coins and hope the waiter or the clerk can figure it out. Of course, we could get with the times and have one of them fancy new iPhones with google translate on them — but THAT reminds me of another thing I’ve noticed on this trip. Of the 7,181,090,312 people currently on this earth, Apple must have sold 7,181,090,300 iPhones! No, that’s not right either — I was figuring that Sue and Rudy are about the only 2 people who do NOT have an iPhone, but then I remembered that quite a few people here have MORE THAN ONE! On the Metro, the guy in front of us is texting on one and facebooking and listening to music on the other one! So that cancels out us NOT having a phone. Maybe he “LIKED” himself from one phone to the other! But I digress.

Suitably refreshed we continued our walk. We visited ‘Les Invalides’, a large facade with a glistening gold-covered dome, which is now an army museum and the burial place for Napoleon Bonaparte. We took a few photos of the cannons inside and the finely trimmed trees in the front garden.

From there we walked across the Pont Alexandre III bridge — our guidebooks regard it as the most beautiful of all the bridges that span the Seine River. And on the other side we passed a couple of palaces: the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. Click. Click. Ho-hum.

The Sacre Couer, as seen from Rue de Martyrs, "our" street.And then it’s just a hop, skip, and 3km walk back to our apartment. Once we hit Rue des Martyrs we can already look up the slope of the road and see the white dome of the Sacré-Cœur church up on the hill behind Montmartre.

Yep, this is at McDonalds!
Yep, this is at McDonalds!
Along the way I visit my first McDonalds, but only to take a look and compare it to the McDonalds back home. I took a photo of the chocolate display case and hurried back out!

We got home and had a little ‘happy hour’ and a shower before heading out for supper. Tonight we again went to one of the little cafes just around the corner — and I had a bacon-cheeseburger and Sue had smoked salmon. Both good. Back at the apartment, we watched a French (with subtitles) DVD, “My Best Friend”. Good too.

And that’s the end of week one! C’était une bonne semaine. (Okay, I cheated, and ‘googled’ that!)

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris Day Eight

Okay, so here is what we did today. Me and the good-lookin' dame in this photo went for a L-O-N-G walk (again). Today our destination was the Luxembourg Gardens, way south of the Seine, about a 4.5km walk from our place.
Okay, so here is what we did today. Me and the good-lookin’ dame in this photo went for a L-O-N-G walk (again). Today our destination was the Luxembourg Gardens, way south of the Seine, about a 4.5km walk from our place.
This morning I woke up a bit before 8:00. I was surprised when I arrived at the corner bakery to pick up our breakfast — they were closed! Open every morning at 7am EXCEPT MARTES. Okay, I’ll make a note of that. That meant I had to go another block to find the next ‘patisserie’. Yeah, I could have bought our baguette at one of the several little mini-markets along the way, but once you get used to having FRESH bread that’s what you expect, and you’ll walk the extra block. Now I know that it might be tempting to have one of those new trendy allergies to wheat, water, or wine, but give Sue a minute or two in a little French bakery or at the neighbourhood wine shop and she’s feeling fit as a fiddle. So we again enjoyed a lovely pastry with our mug of coffee and platter of fresh fruit at breakfast.

After breakfast I had to haul out the washing machine manual for the new automatic washer in the kitchen so we could do a load of laundry. We’d already expected a European washer might take several hours to wash a single load, but after a bit of research we pushed enough buttons to get ours to whine like a Concorde jet taking off for only about an hour and a half. Sue hung up the wash on the racks in the spare bedroom and then made us lunch. Then it was time for today’s walk.

We considered taking the metro down to the Luxembourg Gardens but ultimately decided to take advantage of the lovely weather and walk there, with an option to take the metro back if we got too tired. So that’s what we did. It was warm and sunny and by the time we arrived at the bridge at the Seine River we were both pretty sure we wouldn’t be needing the extra jacket we each were carrying on this walk. But we still had a ways to go.

The Jardin du Luxembourg, or the Luxembourg Gardens, is the second largest public park in Paris. On a beautiful sunny fall afternoon like we had today, it was very busy, with lots of sunseekers sitting around the green space and the fountain. We spent an hour or so in the shade of the trees, sitting on a park bench and cooling off from the walk here.
The Jardin du Luxembourg, or the Luxembourg Gardens, is the second largest public park in Paris. On a beautiful sunny fall afternoon like we had today, it was very busy, with lots of sunseekers sitting around the green space and the fountain. We spent an hour or so in the shade of the trees, sitting on a park bench and cooling off from the walk here.
Once in the park we found a bench in the shade of big elm trees and took off our shoes and socks to cool off our poor feet. We sat there for about an hour. Then we took a walk around the park. There were lots of people there today — many of them sunning themselves in the warm afternoon sun.

After we left the park we decided to take advantage of where we were and wander by the Notre Dame Cathedral again — hoping that perhaps the lineup to tour the inside of the church would be reasonable during the week. We were there last Sunday but opted to forego the church tour because the wait would be too long. And so that’s what we did. The line was shorter and it moved quite quickly. Once inside the sanctuary, we did a quick ‘once around’ stopping to take a couple of photos of the large stained glass ‘rose’ windows that allow light in on three sides of the building.

We left and started the long hike back home. By the time we made a little grocery stop just around the corner from our place our feet were aching and we were too tired to think about going out for dinner tonight. We picked up a few things and went home. After a bit of a happy hour Sue got busy in the kitchen while I showered. We enjoyed a nice pasta with chorizo meal and then settled down to watch tonight’s feature presentation: “The Atomizer”. A bit of a weird movie but Sue filled me in on the parts I’d snoozed through. By 11pm we were yawning and ready to shut ‘er down.

Paris Day Nine

Rudy at the Apple Store in ParisAs you may have guessed from the title, nothing exciting happened today. I say ‘happened’ but I really mean we didn’t DO anything exciting. We got up before 9, which means we’re probably adjusted to Paris time. I went to the bakery as usual. I made some bad coffee (too little coffee for the amount of water I added) so we dumped it and had a couple of ‘Nespresso’ coffees instead. Sue finished her book. I did a bit of computer work. We had lunch. At around mid-afternoon we went out for a walk. It had been sunny all morning, but right when we went out it got cloudy and it looked like it had drizzled rain for a bit. My feet were still quite sore from the last few days of walking, so we opted not to go too far. I wanted to go buy some more Nespresso coffee refills so we sort of looked for one of their boutique shops. Along the way Sue stopped to look at purses and sweaters. We got close to the big ‘Opera’ square and that’s when I spotted the Apple store. We went in — it was very nice — but I didn’t see any of those new iPhone 5Cs.

The Palais GarnierWell, since we got a photo of me in front of the Apple store, might as well take a photo of the building right across the street from there (just another very impressive landmark in Paris — the Palais Garnier Opera House). It turned out the coffee refill shop was for ‘members only’ so we didn’t buy anything there. We meandered around and then headed back home. We went to the grocery store to pick up some more things and then went home for happy hour.

sue-at-evening-outdoor-cafeJust before 9:00 we went out for dinner — today the choice was up to me and we went to the ‘other’ corner — to ‘Bistro Smiley’. It was a lovely evening as we sat outside on the sidewalk — Sue had sea bass and I had duck. We sat out there for quite a while. When we got home we put on another of Peter’s DVD movies, “Dans Paris”. It was pretty weird and pretty boring. But we had (another!) lovely coffee with our ‘Three Chocolates’ ice cream. And that was Day Nine in Paris.

Paris, dix jours: Ernest & Gertrude

Sue has been completely absorbed in the life of Ernest Hemingway — she read “A Paris Wife” (a book ABOUT Hemingway’s first wife, fiction based on facts) and that led her to her current book, Ernest’s Hemingway’s posthumous memoir, “A Moveable Feast”. In that book Hemingway says: Il n’y a que deux endroits au monde où l’on puisse vivre heureux: chez soi et à Paris. (There are only two places in the world where we can live happy: at home and in Paris.)

Hippies use side door
Saw this along our route today!

After another VERY lazy morning at home, we finally ventured out at around 4pm. We once again headed down to central Paris. The plan was to walk down to the Musée d’Orsay on the left bank, and if we were too tired after visiting the museum we could take the metro back.

We arrived at the museum and got in line to buy tickets. Yeah, on a late Thursday afternoon at the end of September there is still a winding lineup at a museum! We bought the ‘complete’ ticket which got us into the regular displays as well as the special exhibitions (more on that later).

Musee_d_OrsayThe museum building itself is right along the Seine River. It was once a big train station, but in 1986 it was converted into a museum. So it’s a big open space with lots of little ‘rooms’ on either side, each one a little gallery for a specific artist or art style. We spent the next few hours slowly wandering around the various ‘rooms’. We saw lots of famous paintings and sculptures, by lots of famous artists; van Gogh, Renoir, Monet. It was kind of cool seeing something you’ve often seen in pictures ‘for real’. You go, “Oh yeah, I know that picture!” It’s usually quite a bit smaller than what you thought it would be, and you stand there in front of it and wonder how long you should stand there in front of it. I’m sure Marylou Driedger would have lots of things to say about many of the things we saw and would not have been at all satisfied by how quickly we managed to make our way around the big hall.

When we got to the end (well, actually, back to the beginning) of our tour there was still that ‘special exhibition’ for us to visit. And if we thought we hadn’t seen enough pictures and statues of naked people for one day, we were in for a bit of a treat! This is a case where if I’d known even just a little bit of French I probably would have saved myself a bit of money. The exhibition was called “Masculin / Masculin. L’homme nu dans l’art de 1800 à nos jours“, which, when I put that into my handy-dandy translator on the computer, means “Male / Male. The naked in the art from 1800 to the present day.” So there we were, along with lots of (mostly) little old ladies, circling around in a maze of all manner of naked men displays. Yeah, you can look it up online (since I won’t be posting any pictures here!) — that’s what we saw! When I taught junior high I would have given these ‘artists’ detentions for doodling up some of these works of art! But when you hang the thing up in a frame and shine a little spotlight on it people stand in line and pay money to see this.

Les Deux Magots was a favorite cafe of Ernest Hemingway in the late 1920s.
Les Deux Magots was a favorite cafe of Ernest Hemingway in the late 1920s.

After we’d made our escape from the museum we took a long walk along Boulevard St. Germain. We were looking for the “Les Deux Magots” café, where Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein spent many a glorious afternoon drinking coffee and hobnobbing with their famous friends back in the day. Wow! Sue’s just read one book about Ernest Hemingway and now we are full-fledged groupies! Unfortunately the café was ‘closed due to an exception’ so we had to settle for a photo.

Sue at a small table at the Café de Flore.
Sue at a small table at the Café de Flore.

But wait! Right next to the café is the Café de Flore, ANOTHER café (those Parisians and their cafés!) and it too was a favorite hangout for Hemingway. And although it is completely packed, we are lucky enough to get a little table after only waiting a short while. So we sit down and order, just like Ernest and Gertrude, and watch people (many of whom are walking back and forth, hoping for an open table just like we did) while we slowly sip our beer and coffee.

We decided that after such a refreshing break we could easily walk all the way back home — so we did. We again made a pit stop once we got close to our place, picking up more groceries for supper. While Sue did her magic in the kitchen I called my folks on the phone. It was quite a bit after nine when we had a lovely stir-fry for supper. Sue called her mom. Then we got comfy on the couch and did our best to stay awake through tonight’s DVD movie feature, Amélie. It’s a 2001 romantic comedy that takes place in Montmartre, right where we are staying! We’d seen it years ago, but neither of us could remember what it was about. That probably didn’t change after tonight’s viewing either.

We’re living pretty happy here.

Paris, Day Eleven: Sacré-Cœur (Reprise)

Another visit to the Sacré-Cœur in MontmartreAnother slow day here in Pahree! Got some fresh pastry and a baguette for breakfast. Sue made some strong Starbucks coffee. We idled around, reading and computing until it was Lunchtime. The sun was shining so once again I wore shorts when we went out for our late-afternoon walk. We decided NOT to make a big expedition today — just an easy walk around the neighbourhood. So we went back to the Sacré-Cœur, the big white church that sits atop the hill behind our place here in Montmartre. We’d been there in the first day or two that we were here, but we thought it was worth a visit. Last time it had started to rain before we could climb the 300 stairs up to the top of the dome of the Sacré-Cœur.

Sue climbing stairs at the Sacre-Coeur.Sacre bleu! It’s quite a few stairs up to the church itself, as if that wasn’t enough. We’d just barely caught our breath when we got to the little side entrance where the ticket machine was. We had 2 options: Climb the dome for 6 Euros or Climb the dome and visit the Crypt below the church for 8 Euros. We picked option 1, figuring that if we didn’t survive the climb we might get free (permanent) entry to the Crypt.

The view from the top was great — although it was quite foggy (or smoggy) as we looked out across the city.
Another visit to the Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre

After we got back down we meandered our way back down the hill. At a small ‘fromage’ shop near our place we stopped to buy some local Roquefort Bleu cheese. And that’s what we had with crackers and olives for our ‘happy hour’. We did a couple of loads of laundry before I went out to pick up a pizza from one of the little restaurants next door. And so we had our (somewhat irregular) Friday Night Pizza Night. Dinner and a movie. And instead of the usual ‘French’ DVD movie, tonight we opted for the original “Great Gatsby” with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow — rented from iTunes.

Paris, Day Twelve: Saturday

Saturday morning in Paris - scrambled eggsNot a lot of action here on another lazy Saturday. Got fresh baking from the corner bakery to go with the scrambled eggs Sue made. I worked on a web project all morning while Sue played on her ipad. It was almost noon before we finally went out (another fine sunny day here) to check out the big flea market just around the corner from our place.

Saturday morning in Paris - helping a neighbourEverything seemed to be going a bit slower on this Saturday — maybe that’s because too many people were out partying way too late last night. As we were walking along Rue Martyr street, a one-way going north, we saw a long line of traffic, led by a big city bus, all waiting because a small van had stopped ahead of them and was blocking traffic. The driver of the little minivan had stopped to pick up some flea market furniture — and was having trouble fitting the table and chair into his car. So went to help him while the line of traffic backed up even more, and the bus driver was gesturing and honking and complaining. No panic! We’ll just make sure that we load our items properly and that we can close the back hatch, and then we’ll drive on.

Saturday morning in Paris - at the Flea MarketEventually we made our way up to Blvd. de Rochechouart, the big road just north of our street. Here both sides of the street and the center boulevard we lined with little booths selling ‘junk’. And it was mostly junk. It reminded me of Thursday morning garage sales on Granite Park. Far too many people, buying junk that the MCC Thrift Store wouldn’t even bother pricing, so that they can sell it at THEIR garage sale next summer! Rue de Steinkerque, the little street going up to the big white church, is famous for selling discount name-brand designer clothing. Boxes and boxes of it. By the time we were there most of the boxes had been gone through several times and there were slim pickin’s for the mom’s looking for bargains.

We went home and had lunch and a Skype with Alex and Max. Read a bit.

Went out for supper at the little restaurant across the street at the Hotel Amour. We were lucky to get a table (there was hardly anybody in there when we walked in, but I guess we must be a real draw because by the time we had read through the menu the place was packed). After supper we went back to the apartment and watched another one of the collection of DVDs here. Tonight’s movie was “Two Days in Paris” (2007), and it was quite funny and quite good (and in English).

Went to bed late (after 1:30) but there was still plenty of action on the street outside our window.

Paris, Day 13

Another beautiful morning here in Paris. On Sundays they close the Rue de Martyrs street  to vehicles from 10 to 2, so this morning the streets were full of families shopping for bargains. I went to the bakery to get some ‘scheintz’ and there were TWO lineups — one going into the bakery and and another outside the bakery, where a young boy stood at a table and sold baguettes as fast as he could make change. After breakfast Sue and I went out again, just to look at the action on the street. It was a bit cooler today, and there were some sprinkles of rain off and on, but really it was a nice day for walking outside. In the afternoon Sue called her sister and I visited with Ed Peters on Skype for a while. I found my ESPN NFL Sunday show on the internet and watched that for a while too. At around 6:45 we left for the same NFL pub that we went to last Sunday night. It’s about a mile from our place, and we took our umbrellas because it was raining lightly. When we got to the pub (Belushi’s) there was only one couch left, at the back of the room. But they have a big screen and it was just fine for watching football. We ordered a big platter to share and a pitcher of beer and then watched my Giants lose yet again, this time to the Chiefs. So the Giants are 0-4 and the Chiefs are 4-0. Well, at least the Vikings, playing the Steelers in London, managed their first win. It was close to 10:30 by the time some of the overtime games were done. We walked home (no rain) and I watched a few of the late afternoon games on the computer — mostly the Broncos, who handled the Eagles easily. It’s now 1:42am, and there is still one more (Sunday evening) game on tap — but I’m shutting ‘er down for the night.

Pahree, Day 14

Fourteen is about halfway through the four weeks here — so it’s all downhill from here on.

By now it’s completely automatic — I get up in the morning, wash my face, have a cup of coffee, and then head downstairs and out the door to the corner bakery to pick up a fresh baguette — and sometimes an additional pastry or two. And tonight it occurs to me that this is EXACTLY what I always said I wanted to do: to live in a little apartment somewhere in Greece or Portugal (or Paris) and the only thing on my daily agenda was to go down to the neighbourhood bakery and pick up a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine for the day. And maybe read the paper. And that’s what we are doing. Except not reading the ‘paper’ — now it’s our various bookmarked sites on the interweb. And I’m not so much into wine — even though it’s France I really should be drinking good wine — but I’m enjoying some European beers.

Today after breakfast I ‘walked’ Sue down to the big Paris shopping area, to the Galleries Lafayette. It really isn’t very far from our place, about a 15 minute walk. And although I was more than willing to go back to ‘pick her up’ at an agreed time later, Sue thought she could manage to find her way back home okay. And she (almost) did. Well, she DID have to stop and ask someone just around the corner from our place how to get to our street, and the man was (so un-French! well, actually not. Everywhere we’ve had encounters with the ‘French’ they’ve been helpful, kind, friendly.) happy to show her the way.

I stayed home and organized a bunch of stuff on my computer and did a few ‘killer’ sudokus.

Before supper I went down to the fancy wine store around the corner and bought a couple of ‘real’ French beers. The couple who run the shop are super friendly and happy to speak English. “Ah, deez are bode beer-r-rs fr-r-rom dee nor-r-rd of Frahntz. Eets ver-r-ry goud.” I think to myself, They better be, they are 6.50 Euros apiece! So on the way home I stop at the little market across the street from our place where every night I see the owner out in front of his shop, having beers with a few buddies. I go in to look at his selection of beers and choose a couple more that look French. I go to the checkout to pay and ask him what kind of beer he likes. “What? Beers? Oh, Heineken!” (Well, at least he didn’t say Coors light!)

Back home Sue has supper ready. What would that woman do without a kitchen? Shopping and cooking — is there anything finer? And by shopping I don’t mean ‘buying’ — no, I think she actually came home without any shopping bags.

After supper I do my best to quickly write my blog before the beer(s) kick in. We’ve got an evening movie on the agenda for tonight — we’ll see how that goes…

Oh yeah, here’s a photo (have you noticed that there have been fewer photos on this site ever since Ed Peters ‘schpotted’ me about my photo galleries!). Well, here’s the ONLY photo for today:

French beers
La Rouge Flamande (French), Ernestine (French IPA), Fischer Tradition (French), and Jenlain Amber (Belgian) beers.

Paris, Day Fifteen: Palace of Versailles

Palace of VersaillesWe did our best to get an early start today. We planned to make a ‘day trip’ out of Paris, to visit the famous palace at Versailles. So after I got the morning baguette and we had our scrambled eggs for breakfast, we took one last look at google maps to check our route, and headed out for the day. Sitting in the metro station at St. Georges, waiting for the train, I noted the time: 11:59. Whew! I really didn’t think we’d be off before noon!

We took the metro down to Musee d’Orsy, then walked a block to the RER train station. We bought our tickets and got on board. The RER train goes from Paris right to Versailles, its final stop. So no worries about when to get off. It’s a 12-mile trip and it took us about 20 minutes.

A day trip to Versailles - October 1, 2013So by 1 o’clock we were walking to the tourist information office in Versailles. We got some helpful info there. We decided to stop at a grocery store along the walk and pick up ‘lunch’ for later. We then walked about 2 miles AROUND the palace and gardens to the back of the gardens. It was really quite a large tract of land — kind of like being out in the country. Even sheep safely grazing in the meadows!

A day trip to Versailles - October 1, 2013We rented a couple of bikes and spent the next hour riding around the beautiful pathways around the park behind the palace gardens.

A day trip to Versailles - October 1, 2013There is a big lake in the shape of a cross in the middle of the park — and we had a great time riding our bikes around it. The pathways were relatively empty — not too many pedestrians and a few other cyclists. And the cloudy sky and cool breeze were great for bike riding.

We returned our bikes and then stopped at a small outdoor kiosk to get some lunch. I ordered a ham and cheese baguette; Sue ordered a crepe with chocolate. We shared a big beer. Then we headed back up to the Palace Gardens. We paid our entry fees and meandered around the gardens, which cover about 800 hectares all landscaped in the classic French Garden style. There are lots of statues, several fountains, 200,000 trees arranged in a big maze so you can’t see how long the lineup is for the women’s toilets (3 for men, 3 for women). And at least one ice cream stand.

A day trip to Versailles - October 1, 2013Then it was time to see the palace. It really is an impressive building. We bought our entry tickets and picked up the little ‘walkie-talkie’ audio guides that were supposed to tell us interesting information as we moved from room to room. Well, sensory-overload, big time! Who cares about the history of this piece of art, or that chandelier, or this big hallway… let’s just see if we can pass another large group of Japanese tourists snapping and videoing with their iPhones and get to the next room. The Queen’s bedroom. The King’s bedroom. The Princess’s bedroom. (No sign of the two most important rooms in our house: the kitchen and the bathroom!) But if you like ornate chandeliers, big tapestries, huge wall-size paintings of white horses carrying a handsomely outfitted French king into big bloody battles, and not 2 square inches of ‘white-space’ — well, this is your kind of place. And just because I was ‘shpotting’ the Japanese, that doesn’t mean I too don’t have a nearly full SD card of photos on my handy little Canon OneShot. Looky here, I got pictures too:

We finally left at around 6pm (but first we had one last walk around those nice flower gardens that Louis XVI and Sue love so much). We head back to the train station, only to find it JAMMED full of other like-minded tourists lining up at the 5 or 6 ticket dispensing machines. Well, that’s what you do here — you queue up in lines. I can see why Disney thought it would be a cool idea to build a Disneyland park in Paris — the folks here are already completely conditioned to standing in lines and waiting.

We got our tickets, we got on our train, and we visited with an Aussie couple on our ride back to Paris. We made our metro connection and were home by 7:00. We picked up some butter chicken from the Indian restaurant around the corner and Sue made a salad. After supper we put up our tired feet and watched another of Peter’s movies.

Paris, Day Sixteen: Père Lachaise Cemetery

Marcel Proust's grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Marcel Proust’s grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Yeah, you read that title right — another cemetery visit in Paris.

We awoke to another beautiful sunny morning here in Paris. I got up by nine and started doing some computer work. Sue hadn’t slept well at night (too many worries — about what? oh, nothing!) so she slept a bit longer. So I had a coffee and tapped away at my keyboard.

When Sue got up I went to the bakery for a pastry and got some fruit from the little market across the street. Sue doddled around for most of the morning, getting herself all dolled up for the afternoon visit to the most famous cemetery in Paris: the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

After lunch — actually WELL after lunch — we left the apartment and went to the Pigalle metro station. We took the metro nearly to the end of the run. I’d looked up the directions online, so when we got off the train it was just a 5-minute walk down a back alley to the cemetery. Similar to the Montmartre cemetery, but way bigger. And a big hill in the middle. We went in through the entrance and stopped to get a map — oops, NO map available. Oh well, we’ll just look at the big board map at the entrance, note the location of the important (dead) people’s graves we want to see, and then we’ll be off. No, that won’t work. You really need a map for this necropolis!

Jim Morrison's grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Jim Morrison’s grave.

Well, I know approximately where Jim Morrison’s grave is supposed to be — we’ll just head in that direction and then look for other visitors/tourists and that will lead us to the right spot. That theory actually worked! And there, surrounded by a metal railing to keep fanatics away, with a guard watching fulltime, was Jim Morrison’s grave — sort of tucked in behind the front row of stones. Well, that was exciting! What if I actually like Jim Morrison and the Doors? Wow, then this would be REALLY exciting. Okay, who’s next on the list? Are there any other (dead) singers or poets or writers we’ve heard of?

Oscar Wilde's grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Oscar Wilde’s grave.

Yes, there’s Oscar Wilde’s grave. We met a nice Irish man who gave us his map — he just wanted to go visit this grave — so we did too. Looks like a few women (or men?) have given the tombstone a kiss!

Edith Piaf's grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Edith Piaf’s grave.

Not far from Oscar Wilde we found the grave of Edith Piaf.

Frederic Chopin's grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Frederic Chopin’s grave.

And then, on the way back out we stopped by Frederic Chopin’s tomb. And as if walking all afternoon in the park-like setting of this huge cemetery wasn’t enough exercise, Sue suggested that we walk back to our apartment! that’s more than 5kms and my feet were already aching.

But I’ve learned another important lesson on this holiday: I used to laugh at how Sue often used (the royal) ‘we’ when referring to an idea that SHE had. But that’s not all there’s to it. It’s become clear to me that when Sue makes a decision or books a social engagement for the two of us, then ‘WE’ talked about it and decided it, whether I was a part of it or not. If everything turns out well at said engagement she will say ‘What a good idea SHE had’ or ‘I’m sure glad I didn’t let YOU nix that idea.’ If said engagement doesn’t turn out so well, it’s MY fault. And don’t even argue about it or dispute it or try rationalizing it in any way — it’s MY fault. Period. It’s a no-win deal for Rudy, no matter how it turns out! That said, today’s little excursion to the cemetery was “a VERY PERFECT thing to do.” Yes it was.

Where's Waldo
Where’s Waldo?

We popped into a few shoe and purse stores on the return hike, but left each store without a bag to carry. Once we got close to home, we stopped at the nearby Carrefour grocery store and walked out with a couple of big bags of groceries. One final stop at the little corner wine shop and then we dragged our tired feet up the flight of stairs to our apartment.

After a well-deserved happy hour Sue sent Rudy out to pick up some supper. I returned from the corner Bistro with a big cheeseburger and some fries. Not so bad with a bottle of wine! And then we watched the sequel to yesterday’s movie (“Before Sunrise”), “Before Sunset”, which was shot here in Paris. We had some ice cream for a snack and went to bed a little after 1 a.m.

Paris, Day Seventeen

Got a Skype call today from Alex (and Max). And what prompted that? Well, Alex was wondering if we were still getting along after reading yesterday’s blog entry! What? Getting along? Doesn’t she know that when you’re off on an adventure on the other side of the world, and the only person that you know is your travelling companion whom you love, you HAVE to get along! So if I sounded like I was having a bit of a rant yesterday, I need to correct that. It was merely an ‘observation’; a ‘learning experience’. But hey, if we’re going to have the pleasure of a Skype call every time Alex thinks we’re having a spat, I may have to hang out some more dirty laundry!

It was another fine day here. So we did nothing. And there will be no photos (and no rants) today. We spent most of the day inside. I did computer work, Sue did laundry and read. Oh, and we had another Skype with Dave Driedger. There was a small shower or two in the late afternoon. We went around the corner to the Lebanese restaurant for supper — sat at an outside table. About halfway through the meal it started to sprinkle again — so they extended the awning out over top of us and we stayed dry. Back home after a fine meal, we watched another movie, ‘Nathalie’ (French, with English subtitles). We’ve seen this plot before but it was a pretty good ‘tiet-fedreef’ nonetheless. That’s it from the ‘France-hosers’.

Paris, Day Eighteen: The Louvre

October 4, visit to the Louvre MuseumFor as little as we did yesterday, we made up for it today! Our morning started off as usual: bakery, coffee, fruit, reading. We spent quite a bit of time looking online at winter options in Florida. Nothing great (yet). We’d decided to visit the Louvre today because it’s open late on Friday and we always start late anyway. And so, after lunch, and even though at least 3 out of 4 of Sue’s weather apps on the iPad were forecasting rain, we packed up our little backpack with jackets and umbrellas and walked down to the Louvre.

portapotties around the fountainOur walk down took half an hour. We walked down a few streets that we’d not walked along before and discovered a sort of ‘chinatown’ area with lots of asian restaurants, something we’d not seen a lot of around our neighbourhood. We also passed this big square with a fountain surrounded by ‘porta-potties’ — I guess they just got tired of having people piss in the fountain so they just put up toilets all around it!

We’d done a bit of research about how best to visit the Louvre. We decided that instead of trying to see EVERYTHING in one day (well, the second half of the day in our case!) we should make a ‘top ten’ list and get a map and plan to see the highlights. Online guides said it was impossible to do it justice in only a few hours. They also advised visitors to NOT use the main entrance, where we’d have to stand in line for hours just waiting to buy tickets. But when we got to the glass pyramid entrance, the line was quite short and moving along steadily. So we bought our tickets there and went inside. We got our map and Sue ticked off the things we should see. And off we went.

The museum certainly is a big place, with 4 floors and many, many hallways and rooms. It’s easy to get lost. The good thing is that even if you get lost you will likely still see all kinds of great art and sculpture that will either be of the ‘naked’ variety or remind you of the pictures they used to have posted up around the classrooms in Sunday School. So ‘lost’ is really a relative term.

It didn’t actually take us all that long to check off our list! Surprisingly, the museum wasn’t all that crowded on this Friday afternoon. Sure, you could always figure out when you were getting close to one of the ‘significant’ works of art because there would be a group of people (and often one or two guides) huddled around it. And the museum has things laid out so that all the major pieces are spread out throughout the museum, a bit like the TV cable packages — you can’t just quickly pick and choose the good ones and not pay for the ones you don’t want.

You can actually see all of these things way better by looking at some of the many online versions (or those posters in Sunday School) but hey, we’re here, and I have to snap some photos (just like everyone else is) just to prove I was here. Too bad we’re not allowed to use flash — I don’t think that our handy-dandy little smile-saver can take pictures in the dark without a flash. Well, maybe my friend Jim Peters could set the ISO properly and hold the camera steady enough not to come back with a SD card filled with blurry grainy masterpieces, but not I. Still, I had to try. So here’s a little gallery of some of the photos I managed to salvage:

photographers crowd around the Mona LisaAnd, of course, the most famous painting of them all, the Mona Lisa. Dave Driedger, who apparently went to the Louvre to try to decipher the DaVinci Code, warned me that the Mona Lisa was much smaller in real than what he had imagined. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, because when I finally muscled my way through the crowd of iPhoners to get my own photo, to me she looked a bit ‘chubby’.

La Pyramide Inversée at the Carrousel du LouvreSo after spending about 4 hours at the Louvre, including a short ‘coffee break’ at a cafe under the glass pyramid, we’d seen just about everything! In fact, we saw quite a few displays twice and some even THREE times! (Even with a map, it’s easy to get a bit disoriented and end up going up and down the same hallway several times before you realize this really is the same statue we saw earlier!) On our way out of the museum we walked past an upside-down glass pyramid. This was the famous “La Pyramide Inversée” at the Carrousel du Louvre. And there, right in front of me, was another Apple Store, the first one in Paris. And next to the Apple Store were a few very high-end purse-and-shoe stores. I took a photo of one of them, Lancel, which had an enormous chandelier hanging inside the store. While Sue amused herself by going in to talk to the saleslady, I checked out the prices of a couple of purses in the window: that’s just over $2700 for the black and white purse, $2600 for the red ‘fake crocodile’ purses, and the black purses on sale for half price! Alex would love this!

Sue beside the SeineWe escaped without taking the credit card out of Sue’s backpack. Not so for the umbrella, though. Just as we were about to cross the bridge on the Seine River, a light shower began. Well, how about those forecasters! See? Some of them WERE right! The sprinkles lasted only as long as it took us to find our umbrellas and figure out how to open them. (It took us a bit longer to find out how to close them again!) And then it was time for a nice romantic walk along the Seine, just like in the movies. It was fabulous. Hardly any people out on a Friday night in Paris! A beautiful sunset. Riverboats all lit up with fancy dining rooms and dance music. Lovers and tourists sitting on sidewalk benches and sharing a bottle of wine (or a couple of big cans of beer).

October 4, visit to the Louvre MuseumWe made our way over one of the bridges to Île de la Cité (one of the 2 islands in the Seine) and headed back to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Sue wanted to see it at night when it gets all lit up. We sat in the big temporary ‘bleachers’ in front of the church and watched the sunset and the street entertainers in front of the church. By 8:00pm it was dark outside, the church was lit up, and it was time to find a place for supper. We walked around the back of the church and across the bridge to the other island.

Sunset on the SeineThis is Paris, so that means there’s at least one brassiere or restaurant at every corner, and usually there are four. So we looked at a few menus and then sort of picked one at random where there was an open table outside on the sidewalk. We could sit here and watch people and still see the boats going under the bridge along the Seine. All that was missing was the accordion music! We ordered foie gras for a starter and shared a big pot of steamed mussels and homemade french fries for our meal. Yummy! Crazy-good. Sitting outside at a little restaurant in Paris on a Friday night in October, no jackets, no umbrellas, eating foie gras and watching the boats go by!

After sitting for an hour and eating a nice meal, we felt refreshed and decided we would WALK back home instead of taking the metro. We walked back across the bridge and down along the river, past the Louvre, past the now packed Chinese restaurants, past the bars with people literally spilling out onto the streets. (So THAT’S where all the people go on a Friday night.) My poor tired feet! I have a new appreciation for the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage that our friends Ed’n’Millie did this summer! I’ve walked so much here that when I got home tonight my nice new socks were WORN THROUGH! Shot! Holes in the toes and heels! When I get up in the morning it takes me the entire walk to the bakery and back just to get the balls of my feet loosened up enough so I don’t have to walk bow-legged. We figured we walked about 15 kms today. And the Hildebrands did TWICE that, every day for more than 2 weeks! YIKES!

When we got home we pulled off our shoes, got into our sweats, poured ourselves another glass, and sat down to watch another French movie. (Tonight’s feature was “Les Quatre Cents Coups”, a French ‘classic’ from 1959.) I managed to stay up long enough to enjoy a dish of chocolate ice cream, but I must have had too much excitement today to last until the end of the movie. Zzz-z-z-z-z.

Paris, Day Nineteen

Saturday — another ‘day off’. Especially after yesterday’s long day. So we woke up late and lazed around. Had scrambled eggs and a baguette for breakfast — I guess the bacon will have to wait until we get home. We read and listened to music for most of the day. I finished watching the movie I didn’t finish last night. Alex and Max skyped in the afternoon. In the evening we went out down Martyrs Street looking for supper. We stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things and then Sue went to a Greek restaurant and ordered take-out while I went to a Chinese restaurant and did the same. Back at the apartment we ate our supper and watched a couple of movies. And then to bed.

Paris, Day Twenty

Whoa, there was some kind of party outside our apartment last night. Lots of people being loud, just around the corner from our place — and we don’t know what all the celebration was about. It didn’t really bother us though — I slept like a log and Sue was up until 4am.

This morning I went to the bakery and stood in line for a bit — every Sunday there’s a ‘street fair’ on Martyrs and for some reason that means that everyone in the neighbourhood comes to buy baguettes and pastries — one line going into the bakery, and another lining up at a special table selling bread outside the bakery. After breakfast we sat around for a while watching ‘our shows’ on CNN — Fareed interviewed Bono on GPS and later we saw Candy Crawley interview a bunch of politicians about the government ‘shut-down’. I watched a few NFL football talk shows online too.

Sue was getting a bit chilled just sitting and reading, so we decided to go for a walk before lunch. It was a bit cooler today, probably about 18 degrees, but the sun was shining and so we went for at least an hour’s walk, all the way to the Gare du Nord train station and back. When we got close to home I started looking for a pastry shop that sold ‘Croque Monsieurs’ but everyone was sold out. So we opted for pizza instead, and brought it back to our place for lunch. It was already late afternoon. We had just sat down to eat when our Skype announced an incoming call. Tim and Alex and Max, having Sunday morning breakfast at home. The news from home was about the Thanksgiving meal they had with the Penner family last night — apparently Sue’s mom just barely survived the dinner. She’d choked on her food and had to rushed to the hospital by ambulance. Thankfully she’s okay now. So the phone call was just to let us know what happened.

After lunch Sue read for a while and I played on my computer. At around 6:30 we headed out to the Belushi’s bar to watch some NFL. We got there and ordered our pitcher of beer. We’d decided NOT to eat there, since the last two Sunday’s we’ve been disappointed by the food. So, because we’d had a late lunch, we planned to come home after the first games and eat at home. The Vikings had a bye this week, but the Giants were playing the Eagles, hoping for their first win. Sadly, they lost again, so they are now 0-5 — and it’s not looking like it will be getting any better any time soon. Oh well, at least the little schnirps with the Detroit Lions jersey and the electronic cigarettes didn’t get to cheer too much today either — his Lions lost badly to the Packers. We left the bar at around 11pm and walked home. I watched the second game on my computer — and it was a dandy! The Broncos managed to kick a last second field goal to stay at 5-0 against the home team Cowboys in a wild shootout, 51-48. The game was over at around 2am, our time.

Another great day here in Paris, although today certainly wasn’t very ‘Parisian’ — CNN, pizza, and NFL. Like my mom always says, ‘That you can do in Steinbach, too!’

Paris, Day Twenty-one

Rudy and Sue in front of one of two large lakes in Bois de Boulogne, a large park in western Paris.
Rudy and Sue in front of one of two large lakes in Bois de Boulogne, a large park in western Paris.

With ALL of Sue’s iPad weather apps now predicting rain for a couple of days at the end of this week, and with the sun already shining gloriously into our window as we ate our fresh pastries for breakfast this morning, there was nothing to do but to get off our butts and go see the sites of Paris. Still on Sue’s list: Bois de Boulogne, a large park in the west of Paris. And we should cycle in the park. Better yet, how about if we rent a couple of the Vélib’ bicycles that are available all over Paris and ride them to and in the park! Okay, I’ll ‘google’ it and we’ll be off shortly.

We were out of the house by 1:30. We were going to rent the bikes just around the corner from our place, but all 20 or 30 bikes that are often locked into their stands there were out! Okay, we’ll walk towards the metro and if we see some Vélib’ bikes available along the way we’ll do that. Isn’t that how it usually goes? You see bikes available ALL THE TIME, until you actually want to rent one. We ended up taking the subway out to the park.

Once there we found a bike lot FULL of bikes. We punched in our codes and soon we were circling around the roundabout on our bikes, looking for an exit sign that would lead us to the park. We carried our jackets in the bike carriers. The park is criss-crossed with walking and cycling and horse-riding paths but not a lot of signage. The park is supposedly crowded with hikers and bikers most weekends. Not so today. Today the park belongs to dogs. Dogs everywhere! Some on a leash, many not. Sue and I felt like we might be the only ones not accompanied by a yapping hound. I had read somewhere that Parisians prefer having their dogs shit on the sidewalks (which they do!) and that the parks are relatively free of dogs. That is not true; they take their dogs to shit in the park too.

The deal with the Vélib’ bike rentals is that the bike is free for the first 30 minutes, 1 Euro for the next 30 minutes, 2 Euros for the next 30, and 4 Euros per half hour after that. The system encourages you to go on 30-60 minute rides, but not to bugger off for the whole day. We cycled around for just over an hour and then returned our bikes to a bike station. We went for a short walk to another bike station and took out bikes again. We cycled around some more, getting lost, checking the map, through the bush, past the big lake, and whew! there’s the entrance we came through earlier and the bike station. We returned the bikes and decided to walk back home.

Rudy and Sue at the top of the Arc de Triomphe, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
Rudy and Sue at the top of the Arc de Triomphe, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

The way home led us to the Arc de Triomphe. When we got there I could see people at the top of the famous landmark. We decided to check out the view of Paris from the big arch too. We lined up for tickets and then climbed up the nearly 300 stairs to the top. The view was great. We walked all around, looking at the Parisian skyline. We could see the Sacré Coeur church on the top of the Montmartre hill (near our apartment). We could see the Eiffel Tower. We could see the skyscrapers of the commercial centre of Paris. We took some photos.

We wound our way down the spiral stairs again and then walked along the Champs Elysees boulevard.

Walking along the vibrant and busy Champs-Élysées (pronunciation: ‘Tante Liese’), doing my best to follow Sue through the throngs of shoppers, stopping suddenly and randomly to look at something in the window of one of the many high end shop windows (Zara, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, Lancel, etc) I was reminded of our honeymoon in London. In fact, it was 36 years ago tomorrow that Sue and I got married. And as I recall, it was on that honeymoon in London, England where I made an observation: it’s better for Sue and I NOT to go shopping together. I remember trying to walk in the shopping district of London and regularly bashing into Sue when she stopped to look at something that interested her. No brake lights, no warning. Kaboom. And here we are, 36 years later, still bumping into each other, literally. You’d think that after all these years together I’d have learned better.

We stopped for a beer in one of the many sidewalk cafes on the boulevard. Sue suggested we walk home from there — it’s only about 4 or 5 kms. But my feet were sore and I was now eager to try cycling in the streets. We stopped at a bike station and rented two bikes again. The difference between walking and cycling in a big city is that when you walk you can stop and read the little blue street name signs on the buildings located at street corners. You can look around and even stop to look at your map. When you’re cycling you have to watch out for pedestrians, for cars and taxis and buses, for each other (making sure you BOTH zipped through the intersection before the light turned red). We got a little lost and eventually stopped on the sidewalk and checked the map. And we got home in time to check the bikes in at the neighbourhood parking lot within the free half hour.

Sue made supper while I deleted blurry photos from my camera. After supper we had a second glass of wine and put our tired feet up. We were planning to watch Season 1 of Downton Abbey but discovered that Peter’s DVD is missing disc one of the 3-DVD set. Hmmm… Well, I can download the series in iTunes and we can watch it on the computer. Good idea, especially considering that the iPad says it’s going to RAIN for the rest of the week! So that’s the plan.

Paris, Day Twenty-two: Joyeux 36ème anniversaire!

Hey, what’s this? I wake up, make a nice cup of coffee and put in a new pair of contacts, open the curtains so I can see the garbage truck that we hear every morning, sit down on the couch, put on my reading glasses and open up my laptop — and the first thing that pops up is a ‘reminder from Yahoo!’ Happy Anniversary, Rudy and Sue. I don’t even use my old Yahoo! account anymore. How nice that they still think of me and take the time to send me a friendly note like that.

Parking in Paris -- let's put another motorcycle in that empty space between the bumpers.
Parking in Paris — let’s put another motorcycle in that empty space between the bumpers. (Click to see another photo)

Yesterday I said something about how difficult it is for me to walk with Sue when we are on a crowded shopping street. But it isn’t entirely Sue’s fault. No, there is an even bigger chance that you will bump into a complete stranger on the street because the other person is looking down at their frigging phone! All the time. Everybody! On the sidewalk, on the crosswalk, even in the middle of the street. Even drivers do it — several times I’ve seen someone parallel park their vehicle and stop before they’re properly parked to pull out their phone and look at it and text or talk to somebody while the line of cars and buses behind them wait for the guy to park! (And that’s another topic — cars are parked so close together here on the street that you can’t even get a motorcycle parked between them — no, wait! I think there’s room between those two, so I’ll just back my motorcycle in between so that there’s NO way anyone can get out without us moving 3 other cars! And parking like that means they spend at least 10 minutes cranking the wheel and going back and forth until they’ve wiggled their way into the parking spot.) Anyway, I digress. I’ve read that the market for paid iPhone apps has more or less passed, that there are now so many phone apps available that you can find a free one for almost everything. That’s too bad, because I think there’s a great opportunity for someone to make an app that would warn a walking texter when there’s an obstacle near them. Hey, they now advertise cars that can parallel park themselves (no, I don’t think that will ever work here in Paris!) and even my old van has a beeper when I back up and get too close to something. Why not an app that beeps when you are about to smash into someone or something? With all the concern about concussions in hockey and football today it’s only a matter of time before they make helmets mandatory for people walking on the street! When I get home I’m getting an iPhone. And a dog.

And what, gentle reader, do you suppose was on Sue’s ‘to-do’ list when she woke up this morning? Why, SHOPPING! With me! On our anniversary! I should have known.

For breakfast we had something a little different today: a baguette and two pastries from a DIFFERENT bakery — it’s Martes and that means our bakery is FERME. After breakfast we listened to music and read for the rest of the morning. We had our lunch at around 2 in the afternoon. We were just about to leave for our shopping adventure when Alex skyped to wish us a happy anniversary — two in the afternoon here is seven in the morning back home. After the call we headed out for today’s adventure.

Le Bon Marche -- some of the most upscale shopping you can find in Paris.
Le Bon Marche — some of the most upscale shopping you can find in Paris.

We bought our second book of metro tickets and then took the metro from Saint-Georges to Sèvres-Babylone, the station right next to the big Le Bon Marché shopping centre, a 20-minute ride. No surprise when we got there — window displays with fake baby deer jumping over colored balloons and very expensive jewelry, big perfume counters fumigating visitors the minute they enter the store, fancy escalators and ceilings and mannequins. Pretty sales ladies and boys all dressed in black. Hooey, we are in for a GOOD time!

The good news was that EVERYTHING WAS ON SALE! Attractive little red cards advertised 30% and 40% OFF on just about everything in the store. (I guess the government shut-down in the U.S. even creates hard times for the kind of shoppers that shop here!) The bad news was that even with those discounts the purse Sue asked a saleslady about was 1400 Euros! That’s two thousand bucks! So for the next hour or so we went around the store looking at price tags and shaking our heads. A ridiculous little men’s scarf was $400. A very ordinary grey sweatshirt with ‘MUSTARD’ stencilled on the front was 285 Euros. A good shopper like Sue usually has a bit of a weak spot for a big discount — but in this case the red tags only gave her a moment’s pause. And then we were outta there.

Our mission for the day had suffered a minor setback, but we would not be deterred. Let’s just go across the street and look at some purses there — it’ll just take a few minutes. I could see that it would be in everybody’s best interest if I moseyed on down the road a bit and found me an outdoor cafe. Which I did. And that’s where half an hour later Sue tracked me down for the credit card.

Sue at the Tuileries Garden at the centre of Paris.
Sue at the Tuileries Garden at the centre of Paris.

paris-tuileries-garden-04After Sue had shown me the great bargains she had found, we wandered back towards home. It was late afternoon. We ended up back at the Tuileries Garden near the Louvre museum. We sat down in the metal park chairs next to the big fountain and looked around at the beautiful flowers and the green grass and the incredible art and architecture all around us. Paris is really a magical city. We’ve had a marvellous time here so far. We sat there for a while and rested our weary feet. And then we walked home.

happy anniversary!We stopped to pick up some champagne on our way home. When we got home we had a little happy hour with wine and cheese. Then at around 8:30 we headed back out for supper. Today, for our 36th anniversary, we decided that we would eat a NICE meal. So we went to the little French restaurant just around the corner from our place, “Les Affranchis”. (I just typed that into my handy-dandy translator and it says it means ‘Goodfellas’!) Well, compared to the last time we went to a ‘nice’ restaurant, this was fantastic! We ordered foie gras for a starter and Sue had veal liver for her main course and I had cod in a cream sauce. Excellent. Looked great, tasted even better. A delicious French coffee after dinner. Then home to watch the second episode of Downton Abbey. We’ve got champagne and chocolate for a night snack. I’ll let you know how the evening turns out — tomorrow.

Paris, Day Twenty-three: Fontainebleau

Fontainebleau is about 80kms south of Montmartre. Today we made a day trip to the exquisite Chateau de Fontainebleau, birthplace of Henri III and Louis XIII.

We had great intentions of getting away early, but it was 12 noon when we left the apartment. We took the subway down to the Gare de Lyon train station. We bought our train tickets and spent quite a bit of time running up and down various stairs and escalators looking for the right platform to leave by. We asked quite a few people for help, and were sent back and forth to different locations by each of them. Finally a young woman who spoke NO English looked up the schedule on her phone and then motioned for us to follow her as she led us up and around to yet another platform from where we eventually got on our train, leaving Paris at 1:19. We arrived at Fontainebleau at 2 o’clock. We took a local bus from the train station out to the large chateau. Once there we stopped at one of several cafes just outside the castle grounds and had lunch: a “croque-monsieur” (grilled ham and cheese sandwich) for me, and a “croque-madame” (the same, but with a fried egg on top) for the lady. After finishing lunch with a large beer and a small coffee, we headed to the museum.

We bought our entry tickets and the ‘audio guide’, which was pretty cool. You could walk around through all the rooms and the audio guide told you little stories about what you were looking at. The pace was good and the chateau was excellent! Huge! And once again it was a case of too much! You can only look at so many gold crowns and carved ceilings and floors and fancy chairs and beds in one afternoon! It feels wrong to finally just skip the audio tour and walk through a bunch of rooms without stopping and taking a photo, but that’s what you have to do. You just can’t do and see everything.

We walked around the gardens and grounds for a bit — once again, they were lovely, and so was the weather! Coolish, but the umbrellas stayed in Sue’s backpack today. We left the chateau and waited at the bus stop for a ride back to the train station. When we got to the train station we were told by the guy in the information window that the 5:30 train was cancelled due to a strike (“but eet eez honly a ver-r-y leetle str-r-ike”) and the next train back to Paris would come by at 6:00. So we sat on a bench and waited. We watched a couple of these ‘bullet’ trains go screaming right through the station without even slowing down, but our 6:00 train showed up right on time and we made it back to Paris by 6:35 and we were back home by 7:30.

Sue made a pasta dish for supper and then we settled in for another double episode of Downton Abbey. After a bit of wine and chocolate, and a little catching up with some more computer work for me, we finally went to bed at 2:00am.

Paris, Day Twenty-four

Another day off today — in fact we barely left the apartment all day! For the first time since we arrived I did NOT go to the bakery for baguettes today. We had eggs for breakfast. We sat and read. There were showers on and off throughout the day, although there was also sunshine. Temperature was a bit colder again — we actually turn on some heat in the late afternoon. Alex and Max skyped with us. Sue was feeling less than 100%, in part because she (again!) didn’t sleep at night. We went out for a walk at around 8pm and went out for supper. Then we came home and watched the final two episodes of Downton Abbey, Season 1. That was good. Now we have 2 seasons left until we’ve caught up with the new episodes. We’ll need to buy them on iTunes because Peter only has season 1 on DVD. We went to bed a little after midnight.

Paris, Day Twenty-five

Centre Georges Pompidou - with colourful utility pipes outlandishly located on the outside, houses art and film exhibitions.
Centre Georges Pompidou – with colourful utility pipes outlandishly located on the outside, houses art and film exhibitions.
It looked a little ‘gloomy’ outside when we awoke today. Rain. Grey sky. Almost too dark to read in our apartment without turning the lights on. Add to that the news that my NY Giants lost AGAIN last night, making them 0-6 for the season! Now I know what it must feel like to be a Bomber fan these days!

I went for baguette and pastry and we spent the rest of the morning and much of the afternoon reading. Alex and Max skyped again — that little smiling face is going to be a year old on Saturday!

At around 4pm we ventured out. It’s colder today too. We put on the jackets we wore when we first arrived here. Eleven degrees. We walked all the way down Martyrs and Montmartre and then turned east and wandered into the Marais and Bastille area — a part of Paris that we haven’t really explored so far.

We used one of Peter’s guidebooks to scout out a route for our walk. First up: The Centre Georges Pompidou, a large ugly museum just a block north of the Seine. We continued along Rue de Rivoli, a street with LOTS of fashionable stores. We made quite a number of stops along the way, looking for that elusive ‘very perfect’ purse. Eventually we found ourselves at the Place des Vosges, considered to be one of the prettiest squares in the city. Sue has been reading pretty much every book with ‘Paris’ in the title during our month here, and more and more, as we walk the streets here, we end up stumbling across places that are now ‘familiar’ to Sue from her books. So it was with this park — apparently Kati Marton (the author of Sue’s current book, “Paris: A Love Story”) and Richard Holbrooke enjoyed visiting this park. (And I’m finding corner bakeries that remind me of the setting of the book I just started reading today, “The Emperor of Paris”.)

Musée Picasso - closed for renovations, expected to reopen June 2014.
Musée Picasso – closed for renovations, expected to reopen June 2014.
We continued our walk, passing the Picasso Museum along the way. We knew it was closed due to renovations, but we stopped at the information office and took a little tour of another artist’s exhibition while we were there. We didn’t complete the circuit without visiting quite a few purse shops — which means I spent quite a bit of time just standing on the sidewalk outside the shop, watching people going by. And with the cooler temperatures these last couple of days, I’ve taken note of some more differences between Parisians and Manitobans. Just because it’s getting cold doesn’t mean you stop sitting outside at the corner cafe and drinking your coffee. And it doesn’t mean you bundle yourself up so you look like the Michelin man. No, just add a scarf and you’re good to go. And sit outside at your little table and smoke and text and drink your little espresso just like you always do.

We walked all the way back home, another 10km day for my poor tired feet! Sue bought another bottle of wine at the wine shop near our place. When we got home we had our usual ‘happy hour’ and I turned up the radiators in the apartment a bit. We dug out another DVD, “This American Life”, and watched a bit of that. At around 8:00 we went out for supper.

Just around the corner from our apartment is the Place Gustave Toudouze. It’s a great little square with a fountain and velib bike rentals and about 7 little restaurants with patios lined up in a row. We’ve eaten at most of them, but not at the ‘No Stress Cafe’. So tonight we went there. And it was great. Tapas and drinks. All delicious. Sitting outside under the patio heaters. Lots of young people there, all eating and smoking and looking gorgeous. Ah, Paris.

When we got home we again watched a couple of episodes of “Downton Abbey” on my computer. By midnight I was too tired to even write my journal, so we went to bed.

Paris: Day Twenty-six

max-in-jumperHappy Birthday, little Maxwell!

Another fine morning here in Paris. Went to get the morning baguette and took a walk around the block too. After breakfast Sue read and I worked on another computer job for a couple of hours. Our neighbouring apartment has been vacant for most of the month, but today someone was in there again, sanding and scraping the window sashes. So I had to go into our spare bedroom to find a quiet place to ‘record’ my (multitrack) happy birthday wish for Max. We emailed Peter about our departure here on Monday — and while Sue was composing her email she got one from him! We’re all set, good to close up the place.

At around 3pm we left for our day’s expedition. We took the metro down into the 14th arrondissement in southern Paris. Although our research suggested that there would be a 2-hour line-up for visitors to the catacombs, we decided to take our chances. It’s the off-season, it’s Saturday, it’s a little cooler today, maybe nobody wants to go underground and look at the bones of 7 million former Parisians. Well, we weren’t the only people to think that. When we stepped out of the metro we saw the line-up directly ahead of us. It went around the corner and around the next corner. We walked to the end of the line and met an official who was telling people at the end of the line to leave — the catacombs would close before they would reach the entrance. So we left. What is it with me and this fascination with death anyway? Cemeteries and crypts. I’m turning into my mother!

We walked back towards central Paris. Our walk took us back through the Luxembourg Gardens. We’d been here a few weeks ago, but what a difference a few cold nights make! Fall colors now decorated the trees. Leaves now blanketed the sidewalks. Coats and scarves instead of tank tops. The Tahitian dancers on one of the park stages looked a little chilled.

We eventually crossed over to the island on the Seine. We thought we might visit the Palais de Justice, located in the Île de la Cité in central Paris. The Palais contains a former prison, now a museum, where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before being executed on the guillotine. It was still on our ‘to-do’ list. We joined the line-up at the entrance to buy our tickets. Eventually, once we got to the ticket booth, we discovered that the museum was closed, getting renovated, from late September to sometime in November. If we’d only known! We should have come here when we first arrived in Paris! Oh well, there was still the option to visit the La Sainte-Chapelle, a chapel built in the 1200s which is right next to the Palais. The Chapelle is famous for its walls of 13th-century stained glass. So we stood in line for the next 45 minutes to buy our tickets. Once we got past the ticket booth we were in through the door and back on one of those narrow spiral stone staircases going way up into the ‘castle’. Seems like we’ve done this before too. And then we arrive at the upper chamber and sure enough, there is the chapel, and wow, it sure has some unbelievable stained glass! Well, you can try to take a photo of this, but you know how the camera has a way of ‘equalizing’ things — stinky bathrooms look not-so-bad and glorious chapels look ‘okay’. Check another church off our list.

coffee break in ParisWe walked back along the Seine. Took another photo of the green metal boxes that line both sides of the river — these are the stands that sell used books. We wind our way along the narrow streets that will eventually take us back up to our apartment in Montmartre. After a month here we’re still ‘discovering’ new sights and new places. We stop for coffee and a crepe at a sidewalk cafe. Heaters under the awnings warm our table. The place is crowded with French people, old and young, including a surprising number of infants in strollers. We make eyes at a little one-year-old girl in the arms of her mother next to our table. Can’t help but remind us of our own little grandson celebrating his birthday at home today.

Nearing home we decide that the late afternoon sunlight provides a fine opportunity for us to snap a few pics of the shops we have frequented here during our stay. So here’s a little gallery of the bakery I went to every morning, the butcher shop, the fish market, the cheese shop, the fruit stands, the wine store.

Back home we skyped Max and wished him a happy birthday. We celebrated with a bottle of some of the best beer I’ve managed to find here. We read a bit and then headed out for supper at around 8:30. Unfortunately the little French restaurant we had wanted to go to was closed. What else is new? So we went back to the Smiley Bar at the corner of Navarin and Martyrs, just down the street from our place. It’s packed. And I mean PACKED. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but the Parisians like to eat right beside each other. I normally don’t sit as close to Sue in a booth at Smitty’s as I sit here next to a complete stranger in a French restaurant. And it’s not quiet in here either. No, you pretty much sit and yell at the person across from you if you want to communicate. (Well, I guess you could TEXT her if you had a phone!) Our meal is great. Sue has already spoiled her supper with that crepe for coffee break, but we share (what else?) an order of foie gras for a starter. Sue had some ‘real’ French onion soup and I had beef tartare — essentially a mound of raw hamburger mixed with onions and seasonings. I ate about half of it and then supplemented it with most of the delicious melted cheese from Sue’s soup.

Back at home we settled in at our usual spots in front of the computer and watched another episode of our ‘Downton Abbey’ series. Well, I should say Sue watched it. I managed to stay awake only long enough to eat my half of the chocolate bar and then I surrendered and stumbled off to bed.

Paris: Day Twenty-seven

Because of my early bedtime yesterday, by 8:30 this morning I had tossed and turned in semi-sleep for long enough — it was time to get up. Sue wasn’t far behind me. It’s Sunday, our last full day in Paris. I hadn’t posted my journal for yesterday so I took quite a while this morning, gathering all my photos and making paragraphs. Sue read the news and then her book. At some point she booted me out of the house to go fetch the breakfast baguette. We ate breakfast. And then Sue got busy with packing and cleaning with a vengeance, almost like she’s been looking forward to this for a month! While she shook out the rugs and washed the floors and sinks, I dug out the vacuum cleaner and tried to find some lost coins behind the couch. Sue did her best to guess at the contents of some of the cleaning solution bottles under the sink by looking at the graphics on the labels. Soon everything was looking new and shiny. Better than we found it, that’s our motto! The suitcases got pulled out from the closet and soon most of the dresser drawers were emptied into them. Somehow, although we’re proud of how light we pack, there wasn’t nearly as much room in our luggage now as there was when we packed at home. Hmmm… purses?

All that watching Sue working got me thirsty before my designated beer time — so I drank the last one in the fridge BEFORE lunch. We sat around for the afternoon, resting from our morning’s activity. We watched our favorite CNN Sunday shows. Sue tried her best to read after that while I managed to find an online livestream of the NFL pre-game talk shows.

At around 6:30 we left for Belushi’s, the NFL bar. We’ve now decided that the food there is not good, so, in keeping with our day of acclimatizing back into our life in Manitoba, we decided to eat at McDonald’s before going to the pub. Yep, a real ‘un-France’ day today. CNN, McD’s, and NFL football. We’re ready to come home!

The Vikings lost badly. I think only 6 out of my 8 picks to win the early games today won — which meant that once again I wouldn’t ‘win’ a free beer at the bar. We bought a chocolate bar on our walk home. Back at the apartment I tuned in 2 of the late afternoon NFL games and watched the Broncos go to 6-0 and the Saints eek by the Patriots — oops, no, change that; the Patriots just made an unbelievable comeback and have defeated the Saints in the last 5 seconds of the game!

I set the alarm for 7:30am tomorrow and went to bed just before 2:00. Last sleep in Paris.

Paris: Day Twenty-Eight

The alarm went off at 7:30. Sue got up and showered while I slept another half an hour. Then I got up. I went to the corner bakery one last time — picked up a couple of nice fresh pastries. Sue cut up our last mango (yes, it’s our ‘Last Mango in Paris’) and we made a couple of Nespresso coffees.

Sue cleaned up the bathrooms and the kitchen. I took out the garbage. Then we closed up the shutters, turned down the heat, and double-locked our doors one last time.

We walked back to the Gare du Nord train station, not far from our NFL bar. We bought our train tickets to the Charles De Gaul Airport and got on the first train leaving. No problems so far. We arrived at Terminal 2 and found the check-in counter. We got our tickets and then survived being taken apart and reassembled by the security check points.

sue-at-cdg-airportSitting in the lounge, waiting for our departure. Sue still had a 20 Euro bill burning a hole in her pocket, so after a bit of hunting (for a beret!) she came back rather pleased with herself — a small tin of foie gras to take home — and she had 10 cents leftover!

We boarded our plane, found our seats (in the ‘safest’ section of the plane — the back) and settled in for the 8-hour flight to Montreal.

We arrived in Montreal on time, at about 2:30pm. We had to pick up our bags and re-check them — which meant that we had to go through the big security check one more time. Once we’d done that we found a lounge where we could spend the next 90 minutes until our flight to Winnipeg was boarding. We knew we were ‘home’ because for the first time in a month we saw ‘fatte freues’ everywhere! We ordered a couple of beers and a plate of nachos and watched the fourth quarter of the Winnipeg at Montreal CFL game — which the Bombers won!

We emailed Alex to let her know we would be on time. And then we were off. The last leg of the journey. The sun in the western sky. A loud crying baby in the seat directly behind us.

When we arrived at the Winnipeg airport I was surprised that the kids weren’t there to greet us! And what’s with all these changes here anyway? Why are we walking through the departure lounge? What happened to the escalator that brings you down to your waiting loved ones? I guess we haven’t travelled for a while!

max-greets-sue-airportAnd sure enough, once we found our way out, there they were: Tim, Alex, and Max! And Max got a big smile on his face and acted a bit coy. Very cute. And he kept smiling most of the way, even though it was WAY past his bedtime. It’s great to be home.