The Eiffel Tower - Photo Taken September 2010

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wrapping it up: Reflections

Allowing 3 hours at CDG is a good idea.  The Novotel Paris CDG Terminal is located right next to the airport tramway that links the terminals, so it didn't take long to get to Terminal 2E, which was packed with people.  When I had checked in online from the hotel, the Delta website directed me to the Air France website because they partner the flight.  So, I figured that I needed to check in at the Air France counter.  I wasn't able to print my boarding pass at the hotel, so needed a boarding pass and to drop off my luggage.  The self-service kiosks at Air France weren't working right and when I finally got to one, I got a slip that told me to check with an attendant, and then I learned I needed to check in at Delta, which was right next door. 

The line at Delta was long, but moved fast.  I struck up a conversation with the woman behind me, who lives in Vancouver, BC, and is also a quilter.  Since I had already checked in, I didn't need to wait for a self-service kiosk, got my boarding pass and checked my luggage.  Then a fairly long walk down the terminal to the security line.  My gate was M43, which required another ride on a shuttle before going through security.  Again, I struck up a conversation with a couple from Olympia, and we sort of stuck together until we boarded the plane.  Once through security, I was intent on spending the last 12 euros in my pocket.  I bought a couple of tins of salted caramels for 11 euros and came home with just 1.65 euros - a cheap souvenir.  I really planned my money well, and even have a few budgeted dollars left, as well!

The flight home was smooth except for a few bumps, but seemed long. I watched 3 movies and read a little, but didn't sleep.  We arrived a little early.  I quickly got through passport control and customs, and was home by 2 pm.  Living 10 minutes from the airport is very nice.

Now that I am pretty much recovered from jet lag, which I find is worse coming home than going, I want to take a little time to reflect on the trip.

My apartment, La Belle du Marais, rented through Cobblestone Rentals Paris, was exactly as pictured on the website, but perhaps a bit smaller than it appeared in the pictures.  It is located in a 16th century building that has no charm of its own.  The elevator was tiny, but reliable.  The free wi-fi and long-distance phone calls to the US were very convenient.  The building is located in the southwest corner of the 3rd Arrondissement, on a limited traffic side street just one block east of Blvd Sebastopol, and a longer block west of the Pompidou Center, off Rue Rambuteau.  There is a supermarche about a block away, and lots of shops and cafes just steps away.  There are also 2 north/south and 1 east/west bus lines close by, as well as 3 Metro stations.  I really liked the location.  There was a lot of pedestrian traffic and energy in the neighborhood, as well as some street noise.  The popular bar l'Art Brut Bistro is right across the narrow street, and it generated quite a lot of noise which was amplified by the narrow street.  Fortunately, it was cool enough that I could keep the window closed at night. 

Because my knee was acting up, I decided to ride the bus rather than using the Metro.  Sometimes I rode the bus just 2 or 3 stops, to save my knee for when I got to my destination.  I still did a lot of walking, and there are lots of stairs.  In all but 2 of the cafe/restaurants I was in, "les toilettes" were either up or down a flight of stairs. And, climbing stairs was required in most museums.  Some Metro stations have escalators and/or elevators, but most have only stairs, and there is quite a lot of walking involved once you get into the Metro tunnels.  I actually rode the Metro only one day when I went to Chateau de Vincennes, then up to the Champs Elysees on Line 1.  The Paris Bus map book, which I bought at a newspaper kiosk for 6.50 euros was invaluable.  It shows the bus lines on street maps, making it easy to see where the stops are and where one can make transfers to other lines. 

Without exception, the Parisians I met were warm and helpful.  I used as much french as I could, and if I was having trouble, the other person would ask if I wanted to speak english.  My main problem was understanding the french spoken to me.  I found that most of the people working in tourism related jobs spoke excellent english, but were very tolerant of my attempts to speak french. It is critical to learn and use a few basic french phrases before visiting Paris, or any other part of France.  Saying "bonjour" at the beginning of any encounter with a french person is imperative.  Saying "merci," and "au revoir" are also important.  It wasn't unusual for me and whomever I was speaking with to use a combination of french and english on both sides.

At no time did I ever feel unsafe or threatened.  While petty crime, such as pickpocketing is fairly common in Paris, especially at the big tourist sights, I didn't encounter any of it.  Several times I was approached by the "petition girls," young women, usually Roma, who want you to sign a petition, and then either try to get you to give them money, or a confederate tries to pick your pocket.  But, all I had to do was shake my head and wave them away.  Twice, I encountered the "gold ring" scam.  This is when someone "picks up" a gold ring in front of you, wants to know if it's yours, then tries to get you to pay money for it.  In both cases, I just shrugged and walked on. 

The meandering streets in Paris are like small villages, each with its own character.  You can walk over one or two blocks and be in a completely different "village" with an entirely different flavor.  That is why walking and cafe sitting in Paris is so much fun.  And, Parisians use and enjoy their parks.  The parks have lots of chairs and benches where one can sit, enjoy the passing parade, and soak up the sun. 

French children (and dogs) are well-behaved and welcome everywhere.  Restaurants don't have children's menus. Parents teach their children to try and appreciate different foods. 

There is a lot of discussion on the various travel forums about what to wear when in Paris.  Most tourists want to blend in with the locals.  I took a monochromatic wardrobe: black slacks, black shoes, black raincoat and sweaters, and black and white patterned tops.  While I don't think I exactly blended in, but I don't think I stuck out either.  While I saw some very stylish women, most everyone dresses pretty much like we do in the US.  I did notice that most french women in dresses wear hosiery.  I also saw quite a number of young french men wearing brightly colored Nikes.

For a purse I used a Baggalini with 4 outside zipper compartments.  I tucked my camera into one pocket, and apartment keys into the smallest pocket.  I put my credit card holder into an inside zipper pocket and put my coin purse in a separate pocket from my bills.  I usually started the day with about 100 euros and kept the rest of my money at the apartment.  Keeping my money and credit cards in separate compartments ensured that I wouldn't loose everything should I be pickpocketed.  I carried a photocopy of my passport, leaving the original at the apartment.

Living as a Parisian for two weeks was an adventure that I'd do again in a heartbeat.  Traveling solo allowed me to do what I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it.  While I had a good idea of what I wanted to do, I usually didn't decide what I would do on any given day until that morning.  There were many things on my "list" that I didn't do.  I didn't do any day trips out of Paris, mostly because there was so much to do in Paris.  Having been to Paris before, I didn't have to go to some of the big Paris sights unless I wanted to.  I walked past Notre Dame several times, but didn't go it - I went in three years ago.  I didn't go up the Eiffel Tower - the weather wasn't good, and the best views of Paris include the Eiffel Tower.  I did go to the Louvre, but to a wing I hadn't been to before.  I enjoyed walking in neighborhoods that I had not been to before, and I enjoyed 3 of the many Paris street markets.  There is still so much left to see and do - I could go back a dozen times and still have a reason to return.

So maybe there is another trip to Paris in my future - I sure hope so, but if not, I'll hold onto the memories of this trip.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Au revoir, Paris...

My last day in Paris. 

I had a pleasant surprise while eating breakfast this morning.  The owner of the apartment called to say I could stay in it all day!  That meant I didn't have to take my luggage up to the Gare du Nord and stash it in a locker.  Yes! So, I called the taxi company and changed my pick-up time to 4:00 pm.

After breakfast I finished packing and tidied up the apartment.  I hadn't decided what I would do today, but it was sunny, so I decided to go up to the top of the Montparnasse Tower. 

The Montparnasse Tower is widely regarded as the ugliest building in Paris.  When it was built, it caused such an outcry, that buildings of its type have ever since been outcast to the suburbs.  But, from the top (59 stories), there is a fantastic view. Some say even better than the view from the Eiffel Tower because from the Montparnasse Tower you get a view of the Eiffel Tower without having to look at the Montparnasse Tower.  It cost 13.50 euros to ride the elevator to the 56th floor where there are windows, a cafe/snack bar, and a boutique.  You have to walk up to the 59th floor where it is open air, but surrounded with plexiglass.  Fortunately, there is an open space between the upper and lower pieces of plexiglass so you don't have to take pictures through the plexiglass.  While the sky was blue from the ground, it was a little hazy from the height of 210 meters.  I think that might be a little higher than the Space Needle.  But, still the view was well worth the trip up the stairs.

I rode the bus back toward the river and got off at St. Germain des Pres, and walked around for a little while.  I was tempted to have lunch at Les Deux Magots or Cafe de Flore, but decided against it as they were both very crowded.  I found a little Italian place down a side street where I ordered one of the specials, having no idea what it was.  It turned out to be a large ball of fresh mozzarella - nearly the size of a tennis ball - on some greens with cherry tomatoes.  Not exactly what I had in mind, but it was good.

I walked down Blvd. St. Germain to the Odeon Metro Station, then turned down toward the river where I came out at Pont Neuf.  On the way, I passed Le Procope, which is one of the oldest cafes in Paris.  I got to the bridge a little before 2:00 with the idea of take a cruise on the Seine.  The Vedettes du Pont Neuf leave from under the bridge and I was just in time for the 2:00 cruise.  The cruise lasted an hour, and it was nice to be out in the water with the breeze in my face.  The monuments look different from the river than from the either the street or from the top of a building - so now I've seen Paris from three different perspectives. 

Officially, today was the last day of summer, and everyone in Paris seemed to be taking advantage of the sunshine.  All along the banks of the Seine people were soaking up the warmth of the sunshine.  In the two weeks I was in Paris, this was the nicest day, and one of only 4 or 5 that had any sunshine at all.

After the cruise I walked to a bus stop and took the bus back to the apartment, arriving about 3:30.  I was able to cram my luggage and myself into the elevator and get everything out on the street where I waited for the taxi, which arrived right on time.  G7 is the most reliable of the taxi companies in Paris and they have an english-speaking operator.  The traffic was terrible getting out of Paris and the driver tried to take me to the wrong Novotel (I think I saw 4 of them in this general vicinity), but he did get me to the right one - at the terminal - and I checked in.  Nice room; beautiful bathroom with walk in shower.  After climbing into a tub to use a hand-held shower for the past two weeks, I'm really looking forward to that shower in the morning.

I had dinner at the hotel.  Baked penne with lots of cheese and a little bit of chicken.  It was pretty good, if only because there was lots of cheese.

It's been a wonderful trip, but I think I'm ready to go home.  I'm so tired right now.  I think being away from the energy of Paris has a lot to do with it.  I'm crashing and I've set the alarm for 6.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Day 14 - Musee Carnavalet and Le Marais

My first thoughts this morning were about getting organized to get packed up as this will be my last day in the apartment.  I need to be out by 10 am tomorrow.

After breakfast I rode the bus down to the Carnavalet Museum.  It is a former mansion that now houses the museum of the history of Paris.  Most of the history is told in paintings contemporary for the era they depict.  I found the section on the French Revolution to be the most interesting.  There is a recreation of Marie Antoinette's chamber while she was imprisoned - it didn't look too uncomfortable.  Of course all of the signage was in french, so it was a little hard to tell what everything was all about. The museum has a lot of steps, but it is free.

It was actually sunny today, but I wore my raincoat and carried my umbrella for insurance.  It was too warm for the coat, though.  I walked down to the Place Vosges, which looks very different in the sunshine than it did the first time I saw it in the rain.  People were sitting on the grass and enjoying the sun.  I had my most expensive cup of coffee yet at a cafe under the arcade - 5.80 euros for a double cafe noisette.  It was worth it.

My plan was to walk back to the apartment through the Marais and do some shopping along the way.  I passed a little creperie by the church of St. Paul and wished I was hungry.  I walked a little further up the street, and back-tracked, thinking "I'll be hungry soon."  I had the Galette du Jour at La Cidrerie du Marais.  A buckwheat crepe (galette in Brittany) filled with bleu cheese, ham, pears, and walnuts.  If was very good, especially washed down with a cup of cider.  Just like in Brittany.  Lunch = 10 euros.  Continuing my walk after lunch, I found a bead shop.  A very nice one, too. It seemed to have all the necessary supplies and lots and lots of beads.

I thought I might get a flat-rate box at La Poste to send some stuff back home, especially my guidebooks which are heavy.  A 2 kg box (the smallest they had) would cost about 60 euros to ship.  I decided I could leave these books behind and buy new ones for less than that.  So bagged that idea.

I walked along Rue des Rosiers and Rue Ste. Croix de la Bretonnaire, doing some serious window shopping.  I went into a few shops, but nothing really reached out and grabbed me.  I haven't found anything special to take home for myself.  The problem is that I have developed a mindset of "no more stuff!"  I guess I'll just have to take home my experiences and memories of all the good food I've had.

The shops are very nice with high quality goods.  Pretty expensive.  Lots of leather goods, clothing, and jewelry.  Some very unique shops with quirky stuff, too.

I got back to the apartment a little before 3pm and headed for the laundromat.  It is so much easier to pack clean clothes.  Then I started to sort out everything for packing.  I feel so settled in this apartment, the task is almost daunting.  Could it be that I don't want to go home?

As small as it is, this apartment has worked well for me.  I wouldn't  recommend it for more than one person.  There is nothing special about the building, no charming courtyard or lobby, just a narrow hallway and a winding staircase.  It's old and creaky, but there is an elevator, which isn't found in a lot of these old buildings. The location is great.  Close to 3 bus lines that have gotten me wherever I've wanted to go; also close to 3 Metro stations and an RER station.  A 10 minute walk to the Seine.  Lots of shops and cafes close at hand, including a supermarket.  Lots of activity on the street.  Maybe a little noisy, but that really hasn't been a problem for me.  Fortunately, it has been cool enough that I haven't needed the window open at night.  I've really enjoyed my home in Paris.

Tonight I met my TA friend for dinner at Ambassade d'Auvergne, which is just a block or so from the apartment, and turns out to be one of her favorite restaurants.  It is a very charming place, specializing in dishes from he Auvergne region of France.  One of their specialities is "aligot," which is potato, cheese, and garlic, beaten until it is a gooey consistency.  They bring the pot out to the table to show you.  It is delicious.  For a starter I had blood sausage on a bed of white beans with vinaigrette, and for the main course roasted magret de canard (duck breast) with the aligot.  The duck was perfectly cooked.  For dessert I had another of their specialities, chocolate mousse, which they serve in a large serving bowl, allowing you to have as much as you want. It was dark chocolate, and heavenly.  Unfortunately, more than half of the bowl (both of us shared it), went back to the kitchen.  We shared a bottle of red wine and had a very delightful evening.

My suitcase is partially packed. Want to pack some more tonight, but will still have a lot to do in the morning. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Day 13 - The Louvre and a Quilt Shop

An update on the Laduree macarons that I bought yesterday, but didn't eat until last night.  They were delicious and the flavors very intense.  I think the best I've had.  Note to self: Eat them when you get them, don't carry them around all day so they get all smooshed and crumbly.

This morning I started out for the Louvre.  I rode the bus part of the way and walked part of the way.  I enjoyed walking under the arcade opposite the Louvre on the north side of Rue de Rivoli.  There are some interesting shops and just across from the entrance to the Louvre, there was an exposition called "Bois et Foret" (Wood and Forest).  They had plantings of different kinds of trees, seedlings really, there was a wooden model of the Eiffel Tower, a small log cabin, and an area where people could learn how to make different things out of wood. 

After checking out the mob of people waiting to enter the Louvre through the pyramid, and shooing off a couple of petition girls, I went down to the shopping center under the Louvre where there is a less busy entrance.  The shopping mall is called the Carousel du Louvre and it is full of high end shops.  I found the shops to be very interesting and unique.  There is a nice restroom - I think part of a cosmetic shop - that charges 1.50 euros for the privilege of using their facilities, but it was worth it.  There was a bit of a line waiting to get into the Louvre, but it was for security only.  It was about 11:00 when I got into the area under the pyramid, so I had a cup of coffe and a wonderful tarte citron (lemon tart) to tide me over for a couple of hours at "Paul" the boulangerie since 1889. 

After checking my coat I went to the Richelieu wing.  Almost everyone heads for the Denon wing because that is where all the "biggies" are, eg., the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, etc.  The Richelieu wing has paintings (French, Flemish, German, etc.), statues, objects d'arts, and the apartments of Napoleon III.  There are also about one-tenth as many people as in the Denon wing.  My main objective was the Napoleon's apartment.  I wasn't disappointed - they were pretty impressive.

After finishing in the Richelieu wing, I thought I'd pop into the Denon wing.  Since it was lunch time, I thought there would be fewer people - not!  There were just too many people, and since I'd seen all of the "biggies" before, I left. 

The Richelieu wing is very easy to navigate, especially for someone with mobility issues as there are escalators and elevators, but I didn't see anything but lots of steps in the Denon wing.  I'm sure there must be some elevators, but I didn't see them.

My next objective for the day was a quilt shop Le Rouvray on the Left Bank across from Notre Dame.  I rode the bus to Petit Pont and walked along looking for a place to have lunch.  I finally ended up at Bistro La Grange on rue La Grange.  I ordered a Croque Monsieur, and it was delicious. It was a slice of rustic bread with pesto, ham, and cheese, toasted and served with a lettuce salad.  I ordered a Coca Light (Diet Coke), and it even came with a piece of ice!  I was in heaven!  Lunch was 11.80 euros. 

I found the quilt shop.  It is quite small, but very nice, and the owner was very pleasant.  There was a couple there from Upstate New York, and as we always do when 2 or more quilters are together in a room, we talked quilting.  I bought a piece of toile fabric (french fabric with scenes printed on it; usually red, green, blue or black on a white or off-white background).  Unfortunately, the owner said she was going to have to close the shop at the end of October because her husband is out of work and she needs to get a job.  She said she'd open another shop next year.

I walked along the Seine and crossed over the "Love Lock" bridge to Ile St. Louis.  There were 3 armed soldiers on the bridge - they are non-threatening, but I couldn't help but wonder what was going on.  Were they there to keep people from putting more locks on the bridge? I was thinking I'd go to the famous Berthillon Tea Room, which arguably has the best ice cream in Paris.  When I got over to the island, I was too tired to walk all the way down there, so stopped at the Brasserie de L'lsle Saint-Louis, which I knew to be very touristy, but they advertise that they have Berthillon ice cream.  I ordered a cafe noisette (coffee with milk) and 2 boules of ice cream (chocolat noir and caramel sale).  The scoops of ice cream were very small, which was okay, but they cost 8 euros!  Total bill with the coffee came to 10.90 euros. Did I mention that this is a touristy place?  There was a nice couple from Boston sitting next to me, so I had good company, and there was an unending parade of people to watch:  A woman walking her cat on a leash; a street mime; a fellow playing french music on an accordion, and a couple dancing to the music.  Considering the entertainment, it was good value.  Sitting there, I thought there was no place else I'd rather be.

Dinner tonight at Chou Chou, a bistro down the street from the apartment that gets good reviews on Trip Advisor.  I had confit de canard with pommes sarladaise.  A duck leg & thigh with potatoes a la Sarlat (a town in the Dordogne that is famous for ducks and geese) with a lettuce & tomato salad on the side, and some red wine.  Chocolate molten cake with creme anglais and "un cafe" for dessert.  Less than 25 euros and they had live music - a guitarist and bass fiddle playing nice jazz.  Rue Rambuteau is just as busy at night as during the day.  At least 2 or 3 other bistros have live music as well, and not just tourists.  Heard mostly french being spoken. Loved the vibe.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Day 12 - l'Orangerie and Jacquemart-Andre

Another overcast day,  but I didn't let that stop me.  I walked over to the bus and rode down to Hotel de Ville where I changed to a bus that would take me to Place de la Concorde.  My destination was l'Orangerie.  As I walked from the bus stop toward the museum, I crossed Rue Royale with a great view of La Madeleine at the other end of it.  The first thing that came to mind was Laduree, and the second thing was macarons.  So a quick detour up Rue Royale.  It was a little past 10 and as I got close, I thought I hope they're open.  They were, and there was no line.  I bought 6 macarons for 11.80 euros.  I'll have some for dessert tonight, then I can compare them to ones I've already had from Galleries Lafayette and Pierre Hermes.  Frankly, I think it is more a case of the best ones being the ones you are eating now.

As I walked back to La Concorde, another woman picked a gold ring off the the sidewalk in front of me - nearly the same spot where it happened last week - she looked at me and kept going, didn't try the scam on me.

When I arrived at l'Orangerie there were two lines.  One for people needing to buy tickets and one for those of us with prepurchased tickets or passes.  Neither was very long, but the latter was shorter.  They control the number of people in the museum at any one time.  When people leave, more people are allowed to enter.  Again, the line was for security, and once I'd passed security (walk through metal detector and a peek into my purse) I could go directly into the museum with my pass.

The reason people go to the l'Orangerie is to see Monet's water lily paintings.  These are huge canvases, four in each of two oval rooms.  They depict the pond in his garden at different times of day and different seasons.  I have to say they were not as breathtaking as they were the first time I saw them in 1994 - probably because I knew what to expect this time.  Since 1994, the building has been renovated and the canvases have been moved from the lower level to the upper level where they are seen under defused natural lighting from a huge skylight in the roof.  They are now displayed the way Monet wanted them to be displayed, according to his own plans.  They are still awesome and anyone who is seeing them for the first time has to be blown away.

On the lower level of the museum is a collection of art by Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne, Picasso, and other artists.  It is a very nice collection and probably under appreciated since Monet's huge canvases are the big draw.  But I appreciated that I could actually get close to these paintings as there are not the crowds of people as at the d'Orsay.

I walked back to the bus stop and got on a bus headed to Boulevard Haussmann and the Musee Jacquemart-Andre.  This museum is actually a 19th century mansion that was owned by a couple who had no children, but travelled around the world collecting art and decorative items to furnish their home.  It has been a museum for about 100 years.  It is more like visiting a furnished house than a museum, but it is gorgeous and there are some very interesting things in it.  They have a very nice cafe where I had a tomato and cheese quiche and salad for lunch. 

Riding the bus along Boulevard Haussmann, I passed several embassies, including the American and British embassies.  It was neat seeing the American flag flying over our embassy. 

I changed buses at the Opera, and while looking for the correct stop for the #29, I went into a Swatch boutique for a few minutes.  When I started to leave, it was pouring rain, so I darted back inside to get my umbrella out.  It rained so hard!  Fortunately, I wasn't far from the bus stop and the bus came fairly quickly.  The rain had mostly stopped by the time I got off the bus at the top of my street.

I went to the apartment to dry off and rest for awhile.  As it was not longer raining, I went out again to go over to Rue Montorgueil, the popular market street that I visited the first Sunday I was here.  There were more shops open today, and it was quite busy.  There was even a demonstration of sorts in front of one of the supermarket chains, protesting how eggs are produced.  At least that's the gist of what I could figure out.  I bought some peaches and bananas at Le Palais de Fruit.  I now have enough food for the three breakfasts I have remaining in the apartment - just need to go out to get a fresh baguette or croissant each morning.

Walking back to the apartment it started to rain again, but not so hard this time.  More charcuterie for dinner tonight.  Some terrine and/or sausage from the Charcuterie down the street, and little cheese, some salad, some wine, and baguette - makes a nice supper.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Day 11 - Musee d'Orsay, Musee Rodin, and Tour Eiffel

The day's weather promised to be a repeat of yesterday's, so I donned my raincoat and grabbed my new umbrella before setting out.

I rode the #69 bus over to the d'Orsay museum.  There was a huge line of people waiting to buy tickets, and a shorter line for those of us with passes.  The line got longer after I got into it; however, that was just the security line.  Once inside, I walked right in after showing my pass.  I knew it would be busy today because the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, so that means everyone flocks to the d'Orsay. I should listen to Rick Steves.  Oh, well. 

I toured the right half of the main floor, then went up to the 5th floor where the Impressionists are.  I decided that I probably wouldn't see everything anyway, so I may as well start with what I really wanted to see.  It is pretty exciting to see the originals of the prints you've seen all of your life.  At one time a print of Monet's picture of the woman and child walking in a field of poppies hung in my office at Marsh, so it was neat to see the original.  Then I went down to the 2nd floor to see the Post-Impressionists.  I had just read "The Yellow House," a book about Van Gogh and Gaughan when they lived in Arles, so it was fun seeing some of the pictures that were described in the book.  Unlike many museums that allow photos without flash, the d'Orsay doesn't, but we could take pictures from behind the clock and from a balcony that overlooks the main gallery.  It is quite an impressive building, and originally was a train station. By the time I had finished with the Post-Impressionists I felt fairly satisfied with what I'd seen, and even though there was still a lot more to see, I was tired and hungry, so I left.

I had a quick lunch at the cafe right across the street from the museum.  It was an onion tart with a lettuce salad.  It was relatively inexpensive for Paris (11.80 euros), but pretty pricey for what it was.  I think it was frozen and microwaved as the pastry was pretty soggy.  But, it was quick and I wasn't hungry after I finished it.  There was a couple from Oklahoma at the table next to me and I enjoyed visiting with them.

I hopped back on the #69 bus and got off in front of Les Invalides, and walked over to the Rodin Museum.  I didn't go into the building, but walked through the garden.  Rodin was a contemporary of the Impressionists, and was himself an impressionist.  While there, I topped off my lunch with some dessert and coffee at the cafe in the garden.

I decided to ride the #69 to the end of the line at Champ de Mars, so I could get closer to the Eiffel Tower.  When I got of the bus I noticed a group of men playing boules nearby.  The Eiffel Tower is pretty darn impressive when you're up close to it, but I was still quite a distance away.  I'm ready Edward Rutherfurd's "Paris" right now and he spends quite a lot of time describing how the tower was built, so seeing it brought that to life for me.  The weather is such that it just doesn't make sense to go up the tower as you wouldn't be able to see much, and besides the best views of Paris have the Eiffel Tower in them!

I rode the #82 back through Montparnasse, a new area for me.  I can certainly see why so many people like to stay near the Eiffel Tower and in Montparnasse - the apartment buildings in that are are quite nice, and I think expensive.  The end of the line was at the Luxembourgh Gardens where I changed to the #38 that took me to my neighborhood where I bought some supplies for tonight's dinner.

It actually didn't rain today, but it was windy and cold.  Fall is definitely in the air. Only 4 more full days in Paris. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Day 10 - Pompidou Center and the Islands

The sky was grey when I looked out this morning, but it was breaking up with some blue sky when I went out for my baguette.  I let my high hopes for the day override my common sense and left home without either my raincoat or umbrella.

I planned to go to the Pompidou Center this morning, but since it doesn't  open until 11, I walked around the side streets in the area around the PC.  Many shops are closed on Mondays, and those that aren't don't open until 11, so the streets were pretty quiet.  It's interesting to walk around when the streets are waking up.  Shopkeepers sweep their front walks, trash is being picked up, streets are being cleaned, and finally shutters are rolled up and the shops are open for business.  

I watched people line up for the opening of the Pompidou Center while drinking coffee at a cafe.  The line was just to get into the building.  Security involved opening our purses/bags for a quick inspection.  Once inside, those without tickets had to queue up to buy their tickets and those of us with a pass went right in.  The escalators to the upper floors are on the outside of the building; in fact, all of the building mechanics are on the outside (see photos).  I rode all the way to the top floor as the weather was clear and I wanted to get some pictures.  There is a wonderful view of Paris from the top level of the museum.  Unfortunately, the view is seen through plexiglass that isn't very clear.  The permanent exhibits are on the 4th & 5th floors - the 4th floor is contemporary art dating from approximately 1960 to the present, and the 5th floor is modern art from the first half of the 20th century. I was disappointed to learn that the 5th floor is temporarily closed until mid-October because that is what interested me the most.  The art on the 4th floor is interesting, but not really my cup of tea.  There were some fun exhibits, though.

The remainder of the day was spent on the Islands: the Ile de la Cite and the Ile St. Louis.  I rode the bus over to the Palais de Justice and walked along the Quai de l'Horloge to the Pont Neuf, which despite the name is the oldest of the bridges crossing the Seine.  This is at the western point of the Ile de las Cite and features a park and statue of Henri IV.  One of the "love lock" bridges is also here (see post for Day 4 for more about the "love lock" bridges).  It was lunch time, so I went to the Place Dauphine to look for a cafe. 

I went to La Rose de France and had a wonderful lunch, a bit of a splurge.  For a starter I had a plate of 3 preparations of foie gras.  One was foie gras "ice cream." It had an icy consistency with a salty/crunchy element on top.  At first it was cold on my tongue, then melted to a buttery consistency. It was really good.  The second was a foie gras "creme brulee," which came in a small ramekin with caramelized sugar on top.  The texture was just like a creamy smooth custard, but it was made with foie gras.  It was also very good.  The third was a slice of solid foie gras with some sort of glaze on top, and it was delicious.  The entire thing was heavenly.  After all that richness, I had wisely chosen a simple salad of sliced chicken breast with fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, and radishes on a bed of lettuce, for my main course.  While I was in the restaurant, the wind came up and it poured, and I didn't have either my raincoat or my umbrella.  But, it wasn't long before the wind died down and the sun came out. 

I finished my lunch, which was topped off with "un cafe" served with a perfect chocolate truffle, and started walking up the island.  Halfway up the block, it started to rain, and it poured.  I crossed over to the Left Bank because I knew there were several souvenir shops over there where I  could buy a parapluie (umbrella).  I found one, but not before I was pretty wet.  I stopped at a cafe just to get out of the rain - that's one thing nice about Paris, with over 10,000 cafes, it is pretty easy to find one when you need one - and had another cup of coffee until the rain stopped.  I walked around Notre Dame.  There were lots of people around and quite a long line of people waiting to climb the stairs up one of the towers.  I think the best views of Notre Dame are from the back where you can see the flying buttresses.  I walked over to the "love lock" bridge that I had crossed last week, so I could take some pictures, then went into the Deportation Memorial.  It is a memorial for the tens of thousands of Parisian Jews that were deported during the Nazi occupation in World War II.  Unfortunately, it is closed on Mondays, but I had been there before.

The Ils St.Louis is like a small village unto itself with narrow cobbled streets.  There are many very expensive mansions on the island and real estate there is quite expensive.  I walked around for a while and went into a few shops. 

It started to rain again, so I made my way back to the Palais de Justice to catch the bus back home. 

Three different times today I saw armed soldiers - once at the Pompidou Center, then at Notre Dame, and also at the Hotel de Ville.  Only 2 or 3 soldiers, but all were armed with automatic weapons.  Though I saw a military presence on Saturday during the Journees des Patrimoines, this was the first time since I've been here that I've seen armed soldiers.  I wondered what was going on.

One thing about France that I'll never get used to, even after five visits here, is the uni-sex restrooms.  I guess it's just one of those French things, I guess.  Vive la differance!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Day 9 - Richard Lenoir Market & Pere Lachaise Cemetery

This morning when I peeked out my window I saw - miracle of miracles - blue sky and sunshine!

I rode the #29 bus over to Place de la Bastille to the market on Blvd Richard Lenoir.  This is the largest of Paris' many markets, and it is BIG. There were countless people and most of the locals seemed to have either a trolley to carry their purchases, a dog, or a child, or all three.  The main dangers of navigating the market is the uneven pavement and curbs, as well as all of those trolleys.  You really have to watch where you're going, but it's hard because there is so much else to see.  I bought a few souvenir-type items and shopped for tonight's dinner: a demi-poulet (half a chicken) and the potatoes that are cooked with the chicken fat dripping on them.  Also some vegetables.  I rode the bus back to the apartment to drop off my purchases.  Some of the streets had been blocked off from 10 til 7:30 PM, reserving them for bikers and walkers only, so the bus had to make a detour.  The buses don't run as frequently on Sundays so I had to spend quite a bit of time waiting.

All day I felt like I was missing something because I didn't have to carry my umbrella - such freedom! It did get cloudy later in the day, but it didn't rain, so I have high hopes for tomorrow. The breeze is cool and some leaves are starting to fall - autumn is in the air.

I had a quick lunch in the neighborhood of a ham & cheese crepe and a "coca light" (Diet Coke), which, by the way, tastes different than Diet Coke at home. It wasn't as good as the crepes in Brittany, but it was quick and cheap.  I then walked down to the river so I could catch the #69 bus out to Pere Lachaise cemetery.  On the way, I watched a performance artist at the Pompidou Center (see picture).  When someone dropped money in his box, he would nod, and I saw him twitch his toes; otherwise, he stood motionless.  I also went inside the church of Sainte Merrie, another very old church in the area.

Pere Lachaise is Paris' largest cemetery, and is the final resting place for many famous people.  The most interesting feature, however, is the statuary and the tombs.  Since there are no signs pointing the way to the famous plots, you have to look for them, and and found only two: Heloise & Abelard, medieval lovers (Google them) and Jim Morrison of the Doors.  Also there are Moliere, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Chopin, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and many others.  There is room for 70,000 plots and people are still being buried here.  Many of the tombs have sadly deteriorated, but they are very old as the cemetery dates back to the 18th century.  The cemetery is built up a hillside and the cobblestones are killers, but it isn't at all creepy.  It was an interesting way to spend the afternoon.

I got on the #69 back to the Bastille and changed there to the #29, so I would be closer to home.  Then treated myself to some excellent gelato at Amorino's where I could watch the activity at the Pompidou Center.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Day 8 - Chateau de Vincennes & Champs Elysees

I arrived in Paris a week ago today.  Seems like I've been here a long time, and I still have a week to go.  My only frustrations have been the weather (it's rained or threatened to most everyday) and my darn knee that's kept me from doing as much walking as I had hoped.

This weekend is Journees du Patrimoine, which I believe is taking place throughout Europe, including France.  This year they are celebrating 100 years of protecting their French and European monuments.  Part of the event is that the National monuments, museums, etc. are open for free.  Some governmental buildings are also open to the public.  I decided this would be a good day to visit the Chateau de Vincennes, which is located on the outskirts of Paris in the town of Vincennes.

I walked all the way down my street, Rue Quincampoix, for the first time today.  It is only three blocks long, but it is lined with galleries, wine shops, and cafes.  One restaurant is unique in that when you dine there you do so completely in the dark.  I believe it is total darkness.  I don't think I'm game for that.  As I neared Rue de Rivoli I had a wonderful view of the Tower of St. Jacques.  It is all that remains of a 16th century church and is one of the starting points for pilgrims journeying up Rue St. Jacques and on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.  This is an ancient pilgrimage, still being taken and featured in the film "The Way."

I rode the Metro for the first time today, using Line 1 from Hotel de Ville to the end of the line at Chateau de Vincennes.  The chateau is part of 14th century fortifications of Paris.  The Chapelle Royale on the grounds was built in the 14th century, and is very similar to Sainte-Chapelle on the Ile de la Cite in Paris.  The color of the stained glass windows is rather unusual in that they are mostly lighter colors rather than the darker reds and blues in many church windows.  I lost count on how many spiral staircases I went up and down today, but there were quite a few, including those used to access restrooms in cafes.

I had lunch at the Cafe Le Drapeau across from the chateau.  I had the Salade Drapeau, which consisted of confit of gizzards (probably duck) and warm potatoes on a bed of lettuce, and garnished with hard-boiled eggs and tomato.  It was really good, but then I like gizzards.  For dessert I had the Cafe Gourmand which was a small coffee with three small desserts: a pear tart, tiny little creme brulee, and a chocolate mousse.

Back on the Metro I decided to ride on up to the Arc de Triomphe as it is on the same line, with the idea of strolling down the Champs Elysee, which I'd never done before.  I didn't go to the Arc, as I had been to the top before and I didn't think today's weather would offer much of a view.  There really didn't seem to be much traffic in the Etoile (the traffic circle around the Arc), but it is Saturday.  I walked down the west side of the street, and every time I looked across it, I thought I should be on the other side, so I crossed over when I saw a Monoprix.  The Monoprix are all over France and there are dozens of them in Paris.  They are like a cross between JC Penney and Target, and many of them have fresh food as well.  They are where the average French person buys their cosmetics, children's clothing, underwear, and towels, etc.

The Champs Elysees is where you want to go when you want to feel like a tourist.  The sidewalk is jammed with people.  The shops and cafes are all over-priced. I had to shoo away a couple of petition girls.  I got tired of dodging people, so went to find the Metro station at Franklin D. Roosevelt, which is two stops from the Arc de Triompe.  I saw a woman sitting on a bench, so approached her with my best "Bonjour, Madame, pardon me for disturbing you, but do you know where the Metro is?" All in French, of course, and all for naught - she was a tourist, too!  After walking around some more, I finally saw it hiding behind some plantings, but then had to walk quite a distance under ground to the platform.  So now I can cross strolling the Champs Elysees off my list.

It rained most of the day, but not really hard, just enough to be uncomfortable.  Since it is fairly warm, I feel like I'm wrapped in saran, damp from both the inside out, and the outside in. 

After returning to the apartment I did two loads of laundry at my local "laverie."  Fortunately, there was someone there to help me figure out how to use the machines.  Payment is made at a central station and the machines are operated from there.  I had been holding back coins for a couple of days to make sure I had enough.  It cost 10 euros (about $13.50) to wash and dry the two loads.  Even with the dryer set on low, I thought my clothes might combust when I took them out of the dryer.

I returned to Le Quimcampe for dinner tonight.  It is just a few steps from the apartment, so very convenient.  The staff is pleasant and the food is good.  I had something called a "pistalle au confit du canard." Wasn't really sure what a "pistalle" was (thought it might be the drumstick), but I know I like confit du canard (duck preserved in its own fat).  Turns out the pistalle was a packet made from phyllo dough, filled with shredded seasoned duck, and baked.  It was sort of sweet and savory, different than anything I've ever had before, and pretty tasty.

I'm hoping for a nice day tomorrow, but I'll take whatever I get.  I embrace the "smile at the rain" concept, just like at home.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Day 7 - Two churches, a museum, and a park

I found a book of bus maps at one of my neighborhood news kiosks this morning.  What a help it is! The bus map I had didn't show all of the streets nor does it show stops or route details, such as routing on the one-way streets.  But, each page of the book shows a route on a street map with all stops shown.  I seem to be well situated with 2 north/south cross-town bus routes and a good east/west cross-town buses within short walking distance.  The advantage of bus travel over the Metro is that one is above ground, so can see the scenery, and there is less walking and stairways.  Riding the Metro can involve walking long distances underground and many stations do not have elevators or escalators.

Today I got on the #38, which crosses the river to the Left Bank.  I got off at on Blvd. St.Michel and Rue de les Ecoles and went to the Cluny Museum, formally know as Musee National du Moyen Age.  It displays medieval artifacts. The building itself dates from the 15th century, and excavations uncovered Roman baths from 200AD.  The museum is famous for its "Lady and the Unicorn" tapestries, but unfortunately, they are being displayed in Tokyo while their display room here is being renovated.  They are supposed to be back in Paris and on display before the end of the year.  I found that there was a lot of other interesting things to look at, including other tapestries, fragments of the original sculptures from the facade of Notre Dame, and fragments of original stained glass windows from Ste. Chapelle (famous for its stained glass) and other churches.  They are back-lit and close enough that one can see detail that cannot be seen when viewing the windows in the churches.

I bought a museum pass at the Cluny, but didn't activated it because tomorrow is a special event where Parisians celebrate their heritage and many governmental buildings and museums are open to the public for free.  So, I paid admission for the Cluny and will activate my museum pass next week (the pass is good for a specified number of consecutive days). The Cluny is a good place to buy the pass because there usually is not a line to buy tickets.  The Louvre and d'Orsay are not good places to buy the pass because of the long ticket lines.

Upon leaving the Cluny, I walked down Blvd. St. Germain and had a nice lunch at Le Danton.  I looked at what other people were eating and it looked good, so I decided to eat there.  The plat du jour was a nice fillet of poached salmon with a light beurre blanc and nicely cooked fresh vegetables (potatoes, haricots vertes, peas, carrots, and zucchini) - these were the first vegetables I've had since I've been here except for what I've had at the apartment, so I really enjoyed them.  The salmon was perfectly cooked. 

After lunch I continued down Blvd. St. Germain to the church St. Germain-des-Pres, which is one of the oldest churches in Paris, dating back to the 8th century. At the corner opposite the church are the famous cafes, Le Deux Magots and Cafe du Flore, which are reputed to have been haunts of writers such as Hemingway and James Joyce in the 1920s.  I took a picture, but didn't stop as it is now widely understood that they are quite expensive for cafe sitting.  I walked up Rue Bonaparte to the church of St. Sulpice.  This church has a famous organ and it is one of Rick Steves' favorite churches in Paris. 

Next stop was the Luxembourg Gardens.  It was grey and misty today, but there were still a lot of people enjoying the park and flowers are still pretty.  I guess the difference between a public garden and a park in Paris is that you can walk or sit on the grass in a park, but not in a garden (except in certain designated areas).  In any event, Luxembourg Gardens, like the Tuileries, has a generous supply of green metal, comfortable chairs for people to use.  I heard band music and discovered there was what appeared to be a high school band playing in the park.  There was also an all girl choir.  It was nice to sit in one of those green chairs to enjoy the music for a little while.

When I was ready to leave, it was just a short walk out of the park and across the street to the bus stop where I got on the #38 to go back to the apartment.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Day 6: Cafe sitting with new friends

I got a slow start this morning, leaving the apartment around 10:30.  I had arranged to meet a woman I connected with via the travel forum at the Marche des Enfants Rouges.  This market is in the same arrondissement as my apartment, so I walked about 2.5 km.  Along the way, I stopped in at the Quartier de l'Horloge, which is a modern apartment block near my apartment.  "Horloge" means clock and they have an interesting clock (see picture).  The man "slays the dragon" on the hour. One of the fun things about walking in Paris is looking down the small side streets with the flowers and plants draping from the window ledges. 

We were meeting at noon and I was early, so I looked around the neighborhood.  There is a lovely little park Parc du Temple with a playground, flowers, and a water feature.  The market is on Rue de Bretagne, which is lined with shops and cafes, with quite a few "antique" shops, and there was a flea market of sorts along the sidewalk.  Marche des Enfants Rouges is the oldest covered market in Paris, dating back to the early 17th century.  Its name comes from an orphanage that used to be next door.  The children (Enfants) there wore red coats.  I wasn't very impressed by the market; frankly, it is a far cry from the Pike Place Market in Seattle.  The Paris street markets are far better.  Shelly and I decided to eat a Cafe Charlot nearby and we had an excellent lunch of a grilled veal steak with a nice sauce, compote of onions and mushrooms, and noodles.  Shelly is originally from Kansas and currently lives in Charlotte, NC.  We had emailed back and forth and spoken by phone, and had no problem keeping a conversation going.

After lunch we went to another cafe where we met another woman we had both connected with via the TA forum.  She is an American who has lived in Paris for several years. We had coffee and visited, the three of us hitting it off like old friends. While we were there Mairie de Paris Security men came by to inspect the cafe.  Apparently, cafes are allowed to have tables and chairs on the sidewalk, but only out to a certain point.  The guy got out his tape measure to be sure that this cafe wasn't taking up more than its proper amount of space. Apparently, the cafe passed inspection.

We then decided to head off to find a bakery that Shelly was interested in.  It was another 2-3 km walk, and by the end of it, we all decided to meet for dinner.  The one sight we did see on the way, was the Picasso Museum, which has been undergoing renovation for over 4 years.  It is a very old building and apparently it has taken so long because there was a lot of asbestos that had to be cleaned out of it.  The latest estimate for reopening is April 2014. After sitting awhile in another cafe, we each went back to our respective "homes" to rest up before dinner.  I walked back to my apartment, another 2.5 km walk, stopping along the way to get some fruit for breakfast.

We met for dinner at 7:30 at a neighborhood cafe (I've been asked not to reveal the name of this gem of a cafe).  We all ordered the pork cooked in garlic.  The presentation included several cloves of roasted garlic still in their skins.  I peeled it with my fork and ate a piece of garlic with a bite of pork - excellent.  The side dish was potatoes dauphaniese (still haven't figured out how to spell it), even better than what I had last night.  Two of us also had as our starter escargo nestled in mushroom caps and covered in parsley butter - yummy.  There was a couple from Salt Lake City at the table next to us, and the five of us chatted together and had a wonderful time.  I asked one of the waiters to call a taxi for me (in French, of course), and it was close to 11pm when I got back to the apartment.  Two late nights in a row.  I think I need to get back to eating dinner at the apartment.

This day was so much fun.  Didn't see any big sights, but made a couple of friends.  A wonderful day in Paris!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Day 5 - La Opera and La Madeleine

I slept until 8:30 this morning.  It was blessedly quiet, but I woke up about 3 and read for a couple of hours, and looked at a map to help decide what to do today.  Fortunately I was able to hit pause on my brain and go back to sleep for a few more hours.

The sky was grey when I went out for my demi-baguette and the weather forecast wasn't promising, so I donned my raincoat and walked up to Rue Etienne Marcel to catch the bus going to La Opera.  I had been inside La Opera Garnier before, so it wasn't high on my list of priorities, but I had not been inside Galeries Lafayette before, so I headed that direction. 

I have no idea how many buildings make up this famous "grand magasin" (department store), but there are several.  I went inside two of them.  The main building has the famous dome and it is spectacular -- breathtaking, in fact.  But before getting that far, I walked through the handbag department, which was impressive in itself.  Those who know me well, know about my eternal quest for the perfect black purse.  I restrained myself, but the one price tag I looked at wasn't too bad - for a store brand.  Around the outside walls, though, were salons of all the famous designers - just handbags - I didn't even go in them, just looked from the outside.  When I saw the dome, it was so beautiful.  Under the dome are all the cosmetic companies - all the famous ones, some I've never heard of.  The lighting makes everything so luminous.  It's hard not to want to buy one of everything.  I found an escalator and rode up through the floors, getting closer and closer to the top of the dome.  The further up you go, the less impressive merchandising is.  I was making my way to the rooftop where there is an excellent view of Paris toward the south.  Unfortunately, it was a dark day, but I can imagine it would be stunning on a sunny day.  When I was ready to go down, I found the escalator from the roof; of course, the route I took up required I do about 4 flights of steps.  Oh, well.  I bought some things in the Paris Souvenir section, mainly so I could get a Galeries Lafayette shopping bag.  After leaving the main building, I found my way to the gourmet food section and bought some macarons.  Eight of them for 12 euros.  I think the ones in Trader Joe's freezer section are about $3 for 12.  But, I can tell you these are a lot better. These are not coconut macaroons, but French macarons, made from flavored meringue and fillings.

I walked around the Opera House and finally stopped at a cafe for a rest and "un cafe" before walking down Blvd des Capucines toward La Madeleine.  There were a lot of high-end shops along the way.  One shop was just brooms, brushes, and other household items, but unique designs and very cleverly
displayed.  I had a "croque monsieur" (toasted ham & cheese sandwich) for lunch.  It had some ham between 2 slices of good white bread, with a lot of cheese on top, which was toasted. It was served with a little salad and was very good.  Also, at 10 euros, it was a great lunch. 

When I got to La Madeleine, I first walked around it.  There are several high-end food shops on the adjacent streets.  I went into Fauchon. The interior of the store is done all in black and pink with subtle lighting that makes everything look wonderful.  They have pastries, candy, coffee, tea, and savory items such as mustards, vinegars...and...foie gras. I was offered a small taste of duck foie gras.  It was soooo good. I bought a small jar, which I'll have for dinner one of these nights.  I should have bought that small bottle of Moet champagne to go with it, as well. There are also shops specializing in tea, mustard, even truffles (the mushroom kind) - you could certainly spend a lot of money around there.

La Madeleine is an active church and this is the first time I had been inside.  I think it is more impressive on the outside than the inside where it is pretty dark.  There's no stained glass.  Just a lot of large statuary.

From La Madeleine I walked toward the Place de la Concorde.  More high-end shops, including Laduree, which is famous for its macarons.  I popped inside, and they looked lovely, but were terribly expensive, and since I already had some, I decided not to buy more.  I'm sure they can't be that much better than the ones I got at Galeries Lafayette.  Maxim's is also on this street - I took a picture.  The Place de la Concorde is where the guillotine was during the French Revolution and where Marie Antoinette lost her head.  Now there is an Egyptian Obelisk and a lot of traffic.  I thought I might go to l'Orangerie since it was right there, so I walked through the west end of Jardin des Tuileries, and sat in one of their nice green metal chairs for a brief rest.  There is a large pond - I think it may be where the kids sail their little boats on weekends, but today there were just a lot of ducks and seagulls.  Also, there was a man feeding pigeons from his hand - there was even one on top of his head. When I got to l'Orangerie (a museum housing Monet's huge water lily canvases), there was a bit of a line, but not too long, but since I was getting tired, and it was past 3, I decided to find my way home. I'll go back when I'm not so tired.

I went down on Quai des Tuileries, thinking I could find a bus going in the right direction, but didn't see any buses at all, or any bus stops.  So I crossed back over the Tuileries to Rue de Rivoli, which is one-way the wrong way. I thought if I couldn't find a bus, I'd get a taxi.  I stopped at a little cafe, Da Rosa, across from the Westin, needing "les toilettes," as well as a rest.  I was warmly greeted at the door, directed to les toilettes (down a very narrow spiral stairway, but there was one for handicapped right at the top, so with my knee, I took advantage of it). The young woman who met me at the door had taken my packages, and when I went to the table, she brought me a cup of coffee.  So nice.  As I left the cafe, an available taxi was right there, so a 8.80 euro taxi ride got me home - money well spent.  I poured myself a glass of wine and iced my knee.

I went out for dinner tonight.  I had read about Le Quincampe, a small restaurant across the street at #78 (I'm at #79).  When I arrived, I was disappointed to see that it looked closed up and there was a note on the door indicating, I thought, that they would be closed until October 1.  Well, on Monday, they were back in business.  They must have been closed for the August holidays.  Of course, I was the first one there, but I didn't arrive until nearly 8:00, and several people came in soon after I was seated.  The waiter was a very good looking young man, who gave me an English menu, but spoke to me in very fast French.  I speak French better than I understand either spoken or written French, so he finally reverted to excellent English while I stumbled along in French. Turns out he had lived in New York. We got along just fine. I had a starter of chevre with nicely dressed greens.  It was such a large piece of cheese that I didn't eat all of it, though it was excellent.  My main course was l'entrecote (rib steak) with potatoes dauphinese (that's not spelled right), sort of like scalloped pototoes only better, a glass of red wine, and a coffee.  It came to 30 euros. The two women across from me were American, at least I thought so, and I heard one of them tell the waiter she was from Seattle.  After awhile they asked if I was American, and when I said I was also from Seattle, they came over to my table for a chat.  Turns out the one from Seattle is actually from Gig Harbor and she's lived in Australia for 11 years.  Her friend is also Australian and they are here on a buying trip for a home decorating store they are planning to open in Sydney.  It was fun talking with them. Finally, we decided it time to leave (it was nearly 10:00), so I got up, and with my hand on the door knob, I suddenly remembered that I hadn't paid yet!  At least they wouldn't have had to chase me very far.  It was a delightful evening and the first I've spent outside of the apartment.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Day 4 - La Cuisine Paris

I wanted to live like a Parisian for the time I'm here, and I guess I am.  I was awakened at 6am this morning by the delivery of a load of scaffolding being placed in front of the building across the street by a crane!  Fortunately, I had set the alarm for 6:30, so it wasn't really a rude awakening and my window was closed.  But, still pretty darned early. 

Today was my cooking class and I needed to meet the group at 9:30.  So, wanting to save my walking energy for the market and walk to the cooking school, I checked the online interactive transit trip planner to see if the bus or metro would work best.  According to the site both methods would require quite a lot of walking, so I decided to take a taxi.  This morning I walked the block or so over to Rue Beaubourg where there is a taxi rank.  There were 2 taxis there, but no drivers.  I waited a few minutes, then looked at my bus line map.  It appeared to me that #47 went right down Rue Beaubourg, across the river and right to the corner where I was to meet the group.  So, I walked down the street to the bus stop, checked the map there, and yep, #47 looked to be just what I needed.  A few minutes later #47 pulled up, I got on, and it dropped me off right at Cafe du Metro at the corner of Blvd. St. Germain and Rue Monge - right where I needed to be.  I must not have put in the right addresses for the online planner or something.  Guess I'll just rely on my own map reading.

The market on Rue Monge is 3 days a week.  Tuesdays, Thursdays, and I think Saturday.  It is a nice market with what appear to be semi-permanent shelters.  There are fishmongers, vegetable and fruit sellers, meat and poultry butchers, fromangiers (cheese), flowers, and some crafts people. Everything is looks very fresh and pretty.  This is not a farmers market per se - none of the markets in Paris are farmers markets as we know them - these markets are supplied by the big wholesale market in Rungis outside of Paris, which is the largest market in the world.  The market had been at Les Halles, just a couple of blocks from my apartment until the late 1960s.  I had time to look around a bit before meeting the group.

Looking across the street, I saw a small group gathering and was correct to assume those were the people I was meeting.  The class was through La Cuisine Paris, a cooking school catering the tourists who want to take a cooking class in Paris, but only want to spend a few hours.  This was a market class, meaning we met at the market and did the shopping for the meal we would cook and eat.  Because it was a market class, there was no set menu as the group got to decide what we would buy - with guidance from our chef Diane.  Diane spent quite a lot of time telling us about the history of the market and about how to pick out good fish, vegetables, fruits, etc.  We decided to prepare fish, so our first stop was the fishmongers where we picked out some cod - actually fillets from the back of the cod.  Next we got some peaches (for dessert), fingerling potatoes, carrots, zucchini, red and yellow peppers, and onions.  Our next stop was at the boulangerie for bread, then the fromangerie for some cheeses.  We also got some cashew nuts, and Diane popped into an Asian shop for some ginger and lemon grass.

To get to the school, we had to walk across the river to Ile de la Cite, and then across Ile Saint Louis.  In route we crossed over one of the so-called "love lock" bridges, and I didn't take a picture because I needed to keep up with group, but I'll probably have a chance to go back.  These are bridges where "lovers" place a padlock, confess their love for each other, then throw the keys into the river.  The bridge is literally covered with these locks - 3 to 5 locks thick in places.  This is very controversial and is not condoned by the City of Paris, which periodically has them removed.  Some consider it vandalism, and I tend to agree with them.  The weight of the locks can compromise the aging bridges, not to mention what the pile of keys at the bottom of the Seine is doing to the ecology of the river.

 When we got to the school, there were welcome pots of coffee waiting for us, so we had a chance to get acquainted with our fellow cooks.  There were 10 of us.  A woman from Seattle (Lake Forest Park), couples from Denver and Minneapolis, a woman from Australia and her friend from Iowa, a fellow from New York, and a woman from Chicago.  While we were drinking our coffee, the staff was busy prepping our purchases, eg., washing the produce, etc. By the way, the cost of the food was included in the cost of the course.  When we went upstairs (a narrow winding staircase), all of our purchases were laid out on the work table and there was a spot for each of us with a cutting board and sharp knives.

Before we started to cook we got to taste some sausage and some little grey shrimp.  Sort of like our salad shrimp.  We had to peel them, then we buttered a piece of baguette, placed the shrimp on it, a squirt of lemon juice - very tasty.  First job was preparing the peaches for dessert.  They were poached in their skins in a syrup made with water, sugar, honey, lime juice, lemon grass, and some other flavorings.  We then caramelized the cashews, which would be mixed with creme fresche as an accompaniment.  The next project was fixing the vegetables.  The peppers were diced and roasted in the oven.  The carrots were peeled, sliced lengthwise and also roasted in the oven.  The onions and zucchini were each diced and sauteed separately on the stove top.  Everything was seasoned with salt and pepper and a little cumin and some garlic.  The potatoes were cut lengthwise, then small crosswise slices were made without cutting all the way through.  These were seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, and whole unpeeled garlic cloves and some bay leaves were scattered around, then baked in the oven.  Two sauces were prepared.  One a beurre blanc made with white wine, white wine vinegar, shallots, and parsley.  The wine, vinegar, and shallots were simmered to reduce, then a POUND of butter was slowly whisked in (I got to do that).  Two of the women in the group were dietitians and I think they about swooned! Then some parsley was added, and simmered longer while I continued to stir.  Finally, it was seasoned with salt and put through a sieve. The other sauce wasn't really a sauce, more of a topping, made with parsley, toasted pine nuts, and some other ingredients - that was done at the other end of the table. The cod was portioned, seasoned with salt, pepper, and fennel, sauteed for a few minutes, and finished in the oven for a few more minutes.  We each plated our own dish and sat down to a wonderful meal - it was absolutely delicious!  We also had a salad of lettuce with 3 different cheeses and fresh figs.  We enjoyed some white wine and bread with the meal.  Back to the peaches.  Once they were cooked, the skins were removed, and the syrup reduced.  We had the peach with some syrup and a spoonful of the creme fresche/cashew mixture. Yummy.  I know my Mom is expecting me to fix this exact meal for her once I am home. We finished around 1:30.

After the class, I had originally thought I would go out to Chateau de Vincennes, which is just on the edge of Paris and the metro line is close to the school.  But after yesterday's walk through the Marais, I decided to take it easy this afternoon, so walked back to the apartment and sat down to write this while it is fresh in my mind.

While taking a break from writing this, I went up to the Super Marche to pick up a few items.  I went out without my coat or umbrella, and guess what!  It started to rain while I was in the store, and I got drenched by the time I got home.  After I lugged my raincoat around all day, too!  I changed into a dry shirt and put on my raincoat, grabbed my umbrella and went out to get some goodies for tonight's dinner.  I got some Terrine Campagne (sort of like meat loaf, but it's served cold), a little bit of sausage, a demi-baguette, and a Tarte au Chocolat for dessert.  With the cheese, and vegetables I already had, it was a good dinner.

The cable seems to be out tonight, but I'm streaming KIXI through the internet, so I have some music. Think I'll watch a DVD.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Day 3: Paris in the Rain

I must still be on Seattle time, because it took quite awhile for me to fall asleep last night.  There was some street noise, but with the window closed, it was pretty quiet.  Once I feel asleep, I slept really well.

Following my routine, I went out for my demi-baguette, then had breakfast - same as yesterday with the addition of melon and strawberries I got at the market yesterday.  I really didn't have a plan for the morning, but had an appointment with Paris Greeters at 2:30.  I also needed to get my prepaid cellphone SIM card charged, so first stop was at The Phone House, a block or so away, to top-off my phone.  It was not to be as they didn't open until 11 AM and it was only 10:40, so rather than wait, I decided to do some sightseeing.

Using my new transit pass, I took the bus to Place de la Bastille.  My plan was to walk along the Promenade Plantee, which is a park built on a former elevated railroad bed.  It is a lovely walk with shrubs, trees, and flowers planted along the nearly 5km route.  Parisians use it for strolling and jogging. It gives a birds-eye view of the Paris street scene below.  Under the park is a series of arcades which have been converted into studios and shops for artists and craftsmen, called Viaduc des Arts.  My idea was to stroll along the arcades on my way back after walking along the Promenade.  I walked maybe 1 km or so before going back to street level.  I stopped at a cafe for a coffee, sitting outside.  Just after my coffee arrived the first rain drops fell, so I moved inside.  By the time I'd finished my coffee it was a downpour.  The cafe wasn't busy and was comfortable, so I decided to wait out the storm there for a while.  After about 30 minutes, I thought this would be a good place for lunch.  I had a very nice lunch at Le Viaduc Cafe: a tomato tart, a circle of puff pastry baked with tomatoes on top, garnished with greens and salad dressing; and for the main course, thin slices of pork loin, pan seared and served with a light sauce and mashed potatoes.  By the time I finished lunch, it was still raining, but I couldn't spend the whole day there, so walked to the nearest bus stop, and rode back to the apartment to get my raincoat. 

I rode the bus to Place des Vosges where I met Jordi, my Paris Greeter, in front of Victor Hugo's house (it is closed on Mondays). Jordi is a retired computer programmer and about my age.  His english is better than my french, and we managed quite well. Paris Greeters is an organization of volunteers who love Paris and voluteer their time share it with tourists.  The walks are free, but the organization accepts donations through their website at the time the tour is booked. Apparently, there are about 360 parisians who volunteer in this way. 

Our "stroll" was through Le Marais, which is an old part of Paris with many buildings dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries.  Originally a marshland from when the Seine flooded its banks (the last big flood was in 1910), Le Marais became fashionable when Henri IV had Place des Vosges built.  The square is surrounded on 4 sides by what were originally 9 mansions for royalty and friends of royalty.  Evenually Le Marais, fell out of fashion, and over time the mansions and other buildings in the area were used for other purposes with many falling into ruin.  In the mid-20th Century the area was saved from ruin and many of the buildings restored. It is once again a fashionable area, but the former mansions have been broken up into smaller apartments. Our walk included Hotel Sully; the church of St. Paul; Village of St. Paul, a maze of old buildings providing "social" housing for low income, and several antique stores; a section of the 12th century Paris wall; and the Jewish Quarter. Jordi pointed out several things that one probably wouldn't see without a guide.  For example, a canon ball lodged in the facade of the church of St. Paul from the revolution in 1830, and the original street names carved into the corners of some of the buildings.  We also peeked into some private courtyards and gardens. Many of the buildings have interesting carvings on them, faces and gargoyles. We walked for 3 hours over cobbled-stoned streets, and in rain ranging from mist to drizzle! 

One thing I noticed today is the graffiti and the homeless.  I saw some plywood and tarp-covered shanties outside of Paris when I came in from the airport, but today I saw several people in tents outside the Bastille Opera House.  I've also seen some begging, but not aggressively - one chap had his cup out in the middle of the sidewalk while he kept dry under the overhang of a building.  At lunch yesterday, a man held out his hand at those dining at the tables closest to the sidewake.  One fellow offered him a cigarette, but he turned up his nose at that.  As far as tourists are concerned, a bigger issue is the scam artists, many Roma (gypsies) and North Africans who approach tourists.  One scam is the "petition girls" - they are usually Roma and approach tourists with a clipboard, asking if they speak english, then want them to sign a petition.  While the unsuspecting tourist signs, having no idea what the petition is for, either a confederate of the first girl picks his pocket or they hit the him up for money.  The hope is that the confused tourist will fork over some euros just to get rid of them.  I was approached once yesterday, but being "in the know," I was able to shoo them away.  The scammers mostly hang out in the busier tourist areas, such as the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Louvre, etc. They are not dangerous, just annoying.  These scams (there are 3 or 4 others) are discussed in Rick Steves' books and in forums like the one on the Trip Advisor website.

Before going back to the apartment, though I was exhausted and my knee hurt, I walked the additional block over to the Phone House and was able to get my cellphone topped off, so now I can make some calls.  I can call from the apartment for free, but only to land lines, and since Mom, Catherine and Margaret are going on a trip themselves, I need to be able to call them by cellphone.

Once back in the apartment, I took off my wet clothes and put on my robe.  Dinner was leftovers from last night.  I think I'll sleep well tonight.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Day 2: First Glimpse of the Eiffel Tower

Yesterday I was really tired, but stayed up til nearly 9:00. I slept well despite the street noise.  Mostly talking and laughing from the bar across the street until about 2 AM, and the narrow street acts like a funnel sending the noise upwards. Since I was so tired, though, it didn't bother me much. 

I slept until 8 this morning, and a peek out the window revealed blue sky above.  I showered, dressed and went out to get my demi-baguette (half of a baguette), came back to the apartment and had OJ, yogurt with raspberry jam, and baguette with Nutella, and coffee for breakfast. Then I went to the market. There is a Sunday morning market just a few blocks away near St. Eustache church.  About 2 blocks long on both sides of Rue Montmarte. Very colorful with lots of fresh meats, seafood, vegetables, and fruits, but I decided to go to Rue Monorgueil, the market street a block over, before making my selections. Since it is Sunday I needed to buy tonight's dinner and most of the shops are open til 1pm. Everything looked so good that I bought my days supplies there: some chevre, a roasted petit poullet (cornish game hen), fruit and veg for salad at Le Palais du Fruits, and a chocolate eclair for dessert from Stroher, which is supposedly the oldest patisserie in Paris. Carrying everything back to the apartment was hard as I had a melon, a tomato, a cumcumber, and a couple of peaches, plus some other stuff, so the bag was heavy. Glad to have an elevator even if it is only about 2 feet square.

I needed a restroom, so stopped at a cafe and had a mid-morning pick-me-up of cafe au lait and croissant - buttery, flaky and crunchy, very good - and did some first class people watching. Lots of locals out with their kids and their dogs to do their shopping. Lots of little kids on scooters - the old fashioned kind; one little girl was pushing her dolly in a little stroller.

After going back to the apartment to put away my purchases and to rest up for awhile, I started out again.  My original plan for today was to explore the Marais, but I'm doing a stroll with "Paris Greeters" through the Marais tomorrow, so decided to head down to Ile de la Cite (there should be an accent on the last "e" - I need to figure out how to do that, but it's not obvious in this program).  I walked down Blvd de Sebastopol and before crossing the river, I caught my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower (Wow! I'm in Paris!).  I crossed over Ile de la Cite, and walked on that side of the river to cross over to the Left Bank on the Petit Pont. This is where I had my first views of Notre Dame, which is celebrating its 850th Anniversary.  There are some large temporaty structures in front of the cathedral for the event, so the views from that side are not the best.  It was about 1:00 so decided to have lunch at Le Petit Chatelet where Mom and I had dinner 3 years ago.  I sat outside with a view of Notre Dame (without the 850th Anniversary structures). I had Supreme Poulet avec jus - pan sauted chicken breast with pan sauce, accompanied by rice, and a glass of wine.  It was very good. The bread basket included some slices of rustic bread that had been toasted in their wood-fired oven - nice smoky flavor.  I topped the meal off with "un cafe." It was a pricey lunch, but I enjoyed it.  Le Petit Chatelet is next door to "Shakespeare & Company," the famous english bookstore started by Silvia Beach back in the 1920s.  She was friends with Hemingway and was the first to publish James Joyce's "Ullyses."

After lunch I walked along the boucanistas (booksellers who have the green stalls along the Seine).  Didn't buy anything, but at some point I do want to buy some old Paris postcards (no, not the naughty ones).  I crossed back over to the Ile de la Cite, and went to the flower market, which on Sundays has a bird market: everything you could possible want for your feathered friends.  

One of my goals for the day was to get my Navigo Decouverte, a transit pass that works for the Metro, RER, and buses.  It is permanent and rechargeable (I can use it again the next time I come). I brought the proper size picture from home.  I learned that the Hotel du Ville Metro station has a manned-ticket booth, so went there, which was a short walk from the flower market. I got a 1 week, 5 zone pass for 34.50 euros. It is good Monday through Sunday, so I'll recharge it for the following week. The 5 zones allow me to use it when I make daytrips outside of central Paris.  I think I'll get good use out of it as I don't think my knee will stand up to too many more walking days like today.

I next walked towards home, turning behind the Pompidou Center.  I needed a rest and some refreshment, so I found a table at a cafe next to Place Igor Stravinski.  There was a street performer dancing to music with a soccer ball. The things he could do with that soccer ball were amazing.  At one point, he spinned it on a pencil point, then passed it over to the edge of the brim of his baseball cap while it was still spinning.  Of course, the famous and imaginative Stravinski Fountain was right there, too. 

I wandered around for a little while longer before going back to the apartment about 4:00.  After a brief rest, I once again headed to St. Eustache church.  This time for their 5:30 organ concert.  I was early so walked a block or so further on.  This is a very historical area of Paris, but there is very little left of what makes it historical, as it was the location of the central Paris produce market "Les Halles" for about 800 years.  Unfortunately, the old structure was razed after the produce market moved to the suburbs in the 1960s-70s. As part of my trip preparation I read Emile Zola's "The Belly of Paris," which takes place exclusively in this neighborhood, which includes St. Eustache.  The old market was replaced by a modern structure, largely hated by locals, that houses an underground shopping center and a busy hub of the Metro and RER systems.  The 20th century above ground structure is being replaced, so there is a fence surrounding the construction site.

St. Eustache is a very old church in need of a lot of repair, but it is famous for its 8,000 pipe organ, one of the largest in Europe.  The concert lasted a half-hour and consisted of 4 pieces, introduced by the organist in french, of course.  So, other that a few words that happen to be in my french vocabulary, I didn't understand any of it.  But the music was wonderful.  The tone of the organ is so pure.  There were a lot of people there for the concert - I was surprised at how many there were. 

Back at the apartment I fixed a salad and had it and half of the chicken (it was small) for my dinner. The chocolate eclair was very good with a some french-press coffee. My first full day in Paris and it was wonderful.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Day 1: Bonjour, Paris!

This has been such a long day!  My 2 flights all left and arrived as scheduled.  The four hour lay-over in Amsterdam went quickly.  I had a slice of pizza for lunch before boarding the flight for Paris.  Arrival in Paris couldn't have been easier.  In fact, it took just about 65 minutes from the time I got of the plane until I arrived at the apartment (by taxi).  The taxi ride was 50 euros after rounding up what was on the meter.  Well worth it.

Anne, the owner of the apartment, met me there and showed me how to navigate all of the locks. There is a keypad to enter through the main door, then an electronic key tab to get through the next door.  After going up to the 2nd floor (3rd Floor US) in the miniscule elevator (it can't be much more than 2 feet square), there are 3 keys to fit into the different locks on the door into the apartment.  I was expecting the apartment to be small - it's 19 square meters, which is about 178 squre feet - but it is a lot smaller in person than it appears in the photos, though all other aspects are well represented by the photos.  Anne showed me how to turn on all the lights, the TV, the Wi-Fi, etc. One of my concerns was about a closet as there is no sign of one in any of the pictures.  Well, there is a jerry-rigged closet of sorts opposite the front door where I was able to hang all of my clothing, and a shoebag type thing with shelves where I stashed my underwear.  Hooks on the back of the front and bathroom doors are also being well utilized. 

The apartment has Pergo-like flooring, but I feel like I'm going up and down hills as I walk across the floor.  This is a very old building - I think 17th or 18th century.  The beams in the ceiling have been exposed.  The hallways are very narrow and the stairs are very uneven - I did go down them once.  There is a nice tall window in my apartment with an decorative iron railing and even some potted plants.  When the window is open, a nice breeze comes through and it isn't buggy.

Tired as I was, I walked around the neighborhood to get the lay of the land.  I got a small quiche at the bakery down on the corner for tonight's dinner, then went to the G20 supermarket a block or so away to stock up on breakfast items as well as a bottle of wine.  Wine is so cheap here.  I got some yogurt in these cunning little glass jars - we've always gotten these on our trips to France - and some jam to sweeten it up - it is soooo good.  Nothing like Yoplait Light, I assure you.  Also got some Nutella for my morning baguette, which I will get fresh tomorrow morning.  Coffee and orange juice pretty much completed the purchases.

This is a very busy neighborhood.  The Pompidou Center (Modern Art Museum) is just a block away and the streets around here are all but traffic-free, so lots of people walking around.  I heard more french being spoken than anything else.  As I write this I can hear the people in the bar across the street (the street is only about 20 feet wide).  It is very popular and it is Saturday night.  I don't expect the noise to keep me awake tonight, though, and I did bring some ear plugs.

I had planned to walk further afield after dropping the groceries off at the apartment, but I was just too tired, so I've been listening to French TV - mostly talking heads, but it's good to hear french being spoken.  So far I haven't had to use much of my french except with the taxi driver.  There are several english news stations, but I don't think any other english programming.

Tomorrow I will venture out to the market street to pick up some fresh fruit, cheese, etc.  It's only open until 1pm, so I'll do that first before going any further.  I haven't seen any landmarks yet.  It's that first sighting of Notre Dame or the EiffelTower that hits you between the eyes with that "Wow, I'm in Paris" feeling.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 29, 2013 - Count down begins

I leave Seattle a week from tomorrow.  Time is going fast.  I feel like I've done all the planning I can do, but maybe I'm forgetting something.  I'm excited.