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Europe – Day 6

As this is our last day in Paris, we decided to just enjoy what we could and not to try and crowd too much into the time we have.

There was some discussion about some of our party going to the Catacombs but the lineups threatened to be brutal so we went on to Plan B.

DH and I knew that the Pere LaChaise Cemetery was near our AirBnB but we didn’t realize that we could walk there in the same time it took on transit. So we did.

It really is very peaceful, although of course there were many people there (that made it easier for us to find the graves we were looking for, we just watched for a gathering of folk and made for it).  The really touching thing about the cemetery is that there doesn’t seem to be a special section for each different religion, everyone is all higgledy-piggledy mixed up.  Death, the great social leveller.

Among the graves we saw were

The Lizard King himself, Jim Morrison, who is listed as a “writer”

Moliere, who spends eternity next to fabulist La Fontaine

Edith Piaf, with members of her family

 

Gertrude Stein, friend and mentor of the Jazz Age notables

And of course, poor Oscar Wilde, whose restored gravesite is behind plexiglas.

That was enough, it was time to join the world of the living, so we walked out to the Gambetta Square and decided to take Rick Steve’s advice and enjoy a ride on the #69 bus from the Square to the Champs de Mars by the Eiffel Tower, its regular route.

It was quite a pleasant route, and we saw a lot, but for some reason the bus stopped in the Rue de Rivoli and we all piled out.  When your tour closes a door, it opens a window — on food. We decided we would find a good place for lunch and we did!  Le Pick Clops is a kind of American style diner, where you can enjoy your burgers to the soundtrack of the 50s and 60s.  A nice lunch.

I looked up on a map (yes!  a paper map) and saw that if we strolled up the Rue Vielle du Temple we could reach our Metro line at Oberkampf station.  It was a great walk, with chic boutiques and cafes, all maintaining the traditions of Paris (except maybe closing on Sunday, they were all open).

Just before we headed down the stairs to the Metro station we decided to have a drink in a sidewalk cafe.  The waiter had no idea what we meant by a dry martini.  He gave us their drinks menu, and sure enough, not a martini to be found (not even a Manhattan, just a Cosmopolitan).  So we had a couple of their concoctions and soaked in the Parisian atmosphere while people-watching and checking out the architecture.  It’s apparently not enough that all the buildings are the same height (six storeys, usually) and all made out of creamy limestone.  No, check it out, all the windows line up all along the block — each storey is the same height in the buildings.

rue de Rivoli? Or Montmartre? Or Marais? C’est la meme chose! LA MEME CHOSE!!!!

It’s a bit odd.  Symmetrical, but odd and kind of stage set-like.

Another quiet dinner and evening in.

Europe – Day 5

You can live a lifetime in Paris and not see all its wonders.  We’re lucky we’re getting to visit as many as we have!

Today we had a full day…..I’d know how many steps I’ve taken but I forgot my phone at the Air BnB.  But it was a lot my left knee tells me. We started at the Musee D’Orsay, an old railway station that has been transformed into a haven for Impressionist art.  It’s great.

Part of the temporary exhibit: Le Modèle Noir de Géricault a Matisse

We then walked a short distance beside the Tuileries where a special expo was on featuring innovative garden accessories and furniture.  And for some reason, a synthesizer.

Into the Musee de l’Orangerie, the home of  Monet’s giant Water Lilies series.  They are presented in two oval-shaped rooms, the daytime lighting coming from skylights filtered through gauze.  This means that when clouds move across the sun, the lighting changes, and so do the colours in the paintings.

The downstairs features a collection of impressionist art from a noted collector, art dealer and friend and mentor to many of the artists:  Paul Guillaume.

But we wanted to get all we could from our Museum Pass before it expires at midnight.  So we walked from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe.  First we had to backtrack nearly to the Orsay because the police/military had blocked off access to the Place de la Concorde from the terrace outside the Orangerie.  Rumours abound, but apparently they were expecting a demonstration by the Gilets Jaune  

The uniforms were out in force, water cannons and all, and although we managed to slip through the cordon and walk up the Champs Elysees to the Rond Point (the roundabout) we didn’t feel it would be ….. prudent …. to take any snaps.  There were no protestors and no press that we could see, so it looks like it may have been a tempest in a teapot.

Speaking of teapots, we were caught in a brisk Parisian shower as we neared the Rond Point, so we ducked into a sports bar for a cafe creme and a tea.  Then we were on our way, walking hand in hand up the Champs Elysees.

That was cool.  We made our way to the Arc de Triomphe and due to our Museum passes, by-passed the line up for tickets to the interior.  We then were offered a ride up in the elevator (because we had Museum passes) and spent some time on the rooftop viewing gallery, seeing Paris spread before us for the third time (after the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Coeur).

At the end of this street is a modern arch in a cluster of skyscrapers

Sacre Coeur from atop the Arc de Triomphe

the first view we had of Paris was the Eiffel Tower from the plane. Plus we’ve seen the city from its top. So it’s our “North Star” to guide us in Paris

Unbeknownst to us, the Metro Stations in the immediate area of the Place de La Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe had been closed.  So it took us a little while to find one open that we could connect with our line.  It was Kleber Station, with its Art Deco Metropolitain signage, and we got home safe and sound and tired.

And late!  Because of our perambulations we were late getting to the Air BnB where we were slotted for babysitting duties while DD went to an event.  All is well that ends well, though, she managed to make it and had a good time.

 

 

 

Europe – Day 4

I always felt I belonged in a palace, and today I found my “advantageous situation”.

Of course it was originally built and lived in by Louis XIV, XV, and the unfortunate XVI. Versailles, the magnificent.

We got there easily and surprisingly cheaply, by rapid transit.  A few notes on the Paris Metro.

It’s fabulous.  When we disembark our car at our suburban stop, there’s another train pulling in before we’ve reached the exit.  They are frequent, comfortable, and very clean.  They run from 5:30 am to 1:00 am (2 am on Saturday/Sundays) It’s easy to negotiate (I figured out our route all by my little self), and all myths of the aloof Parisians aside, someone always offers me a seat*.  And today I spoke my high-school French to a ticket vendor AND HE UNDERSTOOD WHAT I WAS SAYING.  Plus from time to time a busker will get on your car and it’s fun and funny.

Back to Versailles.  Like all of Paris during this time of year, it was incredibly crowded.  But also majestic.  And surprisingly tasteful.

Sure, the decor was OTT, but you could tell that the persons responsible had great taste.  The rooms are laid out in a row, with no hallway, so they all open onto the next.  And the doorways lined up so you could look at a red doorway within a blue doorway within a green doorway, etc.

But there’s nothing I could add about Versailles that hasn’t been written in many books (and at least one TV series).

We saw a lot of stuff, then stood in line for a table at Angelina’s restaurant, had a faboo meal, then saw some more stuff.  By then it was after 4 pm.  We thought about seeing Petit Trianon, but we didn’t have tickets to the gardens, which were closing soon, and the alternate route to the Trianon was a 40 minute walk outside and around.  And it was raining.  So we decided to bid adieu to this Palace and get back to town.

We stopped at a Pharmacie to get something to relieve my aching feet (BTW, you will walk more than you ever have in your life, presuming you were never in the military) and of course the gentleman behind the counter put up with my cochon-francais and was able to help us out.

Then dinner.  Then planning tomorrow.  Then rest.  Another perfect day!

*I know there’s a reputation that the Parisians have for being standoffish and rude.  But everyone we meet is lovely and polite and helpful.  No one laughs at my terrible French, people go out of their way to show us how to do things, and my dear, there’s NO tipping!

Europe – Day 3

What a day!  Glorious, sunny, not too hot, and full of exquisitely Parisian experiences.

DD (the great planner) had purchased tickets to the Eiffel Tower, complete with access to the top.  The TOP!  We took off on the Metro and of course, it was an adventure all its own.  First we noticed a man quietly singing to a guitar in the rear of our car.  It was very pleasant but after a few stops he seemed to disappear.  Then we could hear the sound of a trumpet in the background, and I assumed I could hear the sound bleeding from the headphones of some jazz-loving fellow traveler.  But NO!  At the next stop two men leapt into the car.  One carried a trumpet and one a melodica and they brought with them a small sound system in a suitcase.  They launched into a spirited rendition of “Hit the Road Jack”.  The tourists were pleasantly surprised but the locals looked a bit embarrassed by the performance.  The song was prescient because at the next stop an official confronted them and quietly convinced them to leave.  The atmosphere immediately became much more prosaic.

We made our way to the Eiffel Tower, and well, it is Freaking Fantastic.  Sure, it’s the iconic symbol of Paris, visible from the air as our plane landed.  And we were expecting something pretty special.  But to stand underneath it, to see the millions of kilos of steel gracefully sweeping from the banks of the Seine to the clouds above it!  It’s breathtaking.  And it is crowded.  An average just short of twenty thousand people visit the tower everyDAY.  So if you’re thinking of just dropping by sometime, you may be out of luck.  The line-ups are breathtaking, too.  We swept by them (majestically I like to think) and went up to the “Visitors With Tickets” line (which was much shorter).  We had a time to come, 11:30 am, and we were there right on the dot.  The elevator car lifted us (hydraulically and diagonally) to the second level where we stood in another lineup for the trip to the TOP.  That drops you at a penultimate level indoors, with windows all around to view the city in inclement weather.  But not today!  We climbed the stairs to the tippety-top, and stood and saw the city arrayed below us.  What an experience!

Okay, I had to make a stop at the souvenir shop on our way out for some gifts for **ahem** friends, but we refused to stand in the line for the toilets because if there’s one thing travel has taught me, it’s how to hold it until it’s convenient to pee.

From the Eiffel Tower we split from the rest of the family and made our way to Montmartre.  After a day spent indoors yesterday (and another threatened for tomorrow) DH just wanted to walk outside through the streets of some Parisian neighbourhood, and boy!  we found a good one to explore.

First we had to eat, and decided that a leisurely lunch at a nice restaurant was just the thing.  We found one (the Panorama) and although there were several good choices of establishments available, this one looked like the locals went there, and what better recommendation can you get?  We were not disappointed.  Our meals were tasty, the service was friendly and prompt, the prices were extremely reasonable (love those French wine prices!) and we left refreshed and ready for a long walk uphill to Sacre Coeur.  We looked for the funicular railway as a shortcut, but a street had been blocked off for some tree removal and we decided that rather than backtrack we would just forge onward and upward.  Upward being a rather daunting set of stairs which we took slowly and carefully.  The stairs have a cobbled ramp running beside them, for which we discovered the reason when a man left one apartment building halfway up the flight maneuvering a floor polisher which he placed on the ramp and smoothly towed it upstairs.

The streets were lined by five-storey limestone buildings (which we really noticed from the Eiffel Tower).  All of Paris is built of limestone.  There are no pink buildings, no blue or grey ones.  It’s a very nice effect, and of course, it must be on purpose.  You also see this in Montmartre, as you climb the hill layer after layer of limestore buildings are revealed.  And there’s a reason for this, which is here.

We reached Sacre Coeur breathless but unbowed.  We didn’t go inside because, well, crowds.  Plus the place looks so pure and inspirational from afar, the white sepulchre on a hilltop, floating above the corruptible city below.  But up close it looks like a rather tacky wedding cake, all frills and furbelows. So we walked down the hill, stopping to purchase some Argentina empanadas and some red wine for dinner.

We also had a pleasant surprise when we returned to the Metro station.  Its entrance is one of the original Metropolitain Art-Deco structures — so beautiful!

Not an original photo — there were so many people rushing in and out we had to get into the current of commuters or be lost.

Our homeward journey was uneventful (no aggressive buskers) but the empanadas and red wine were great with grapes for a light supper.

 

 

 

Europe – Day 2

We managed to avoid the worst effects of jet lag and had a decent sleep in our lovely room.

Got up, had breakfast, and headed out for our first real Parisian adventure — a boat trip on the Seine.  Actually, of course, our FIRST big adventure  was heading into the Metro system.  We bought some tickets from the nice man behind the window at Robespierre station and headed down into the bowels of Paris.

Two things I realized right away:

  1. nearly everyone I meet will speak English much better than I speak French.  This is quite a relief.
  2. French women (and men) are slender because there are practically no escalators in the Metro system.  Oh, there are some to be sure, but there are a lot more stairs. I noticed this when my knees telegraphed their distress to my  brain.

But the system is surprisingly easy to use.  I could figure out how to get around quite quickly and we zipped home later using just a paper map and my mad navigation skillz.

We got to the Bateaux Mouche dock and boarded the boat.  The weather was cool and threatened rain, but that meant that there were not huge crowds and we managed to get a good view of many of the Paris attractions.  Highly recommended!

It was heartbreaking to see the scaffolding around Notre Dame.  There are two gothic towers, but the main steeple is quite gone, and the famed windows are dark.

Just as we pulled up to the dock to disembark the skies opened and we dashed into the restaurant there.  DD and the kids opted to have lunch there but DH and I decided to go pick up our pre-purchased museum passes at the Paris Rendezvous office and meet up later at the Louvre.

Also recommended:  take note of the scams currently directed towards tourists.  As we walked to the Metro from the boat dock a woman in front of us stooped down and picked up a gold men’s wedding ring.  Wow!  She immediately pointed out that it was valuable, and she pressed it into my hand saying it would be a “cadeau” for me.  Something rang in my head, a warning that this was a scam .  So I pressed it back into her hand and said I insisted she keep it, as she had found it.  Then DH and I both said bless you, and walked away. Scam averted!

The Paris Rendezvous office is very easy to find on the Rue Rivoli (I was about to say lovely Rue Rivoli, but I will definitely wear out this adjective, so we’ll just take it as a given).  The nice lady there was very helpful and soon we were back on the metro on the way to the Louvre.

The station is part of the giant complex that is the Louvre, so we walked up to the main entrance to the museum.  We got a text that everyone was going to be at least 20 minutes, and being starved we headed back into the shopping area underground for a bite.  There was a Macdonald’s right there.  We almost never eat at Macdonald’s but hey — we’re in Paris!  Time to explore new experiences! We wanted two Royales with Cheese of course, known as the Tarantino combo in our crowd, but they weren’t available so we got a special meal that was on offer.  The buns of our burgers were world’s better than the ones we get at home and it was nice to get mayonnaise for my fries without having to ask for it. The fries weren’t salted as vigorously as at home. But the burger was so rich and huge that neither of us could finish it.

We got to the museum and met up with the family, then avoided the daunting lineups at the entrance by going outside into the rain so that we could enter through the special entrance for pass holders, right in the big glass pyramid.

The Louvre was fantastic, of course, but like the burgers so rich and huge that we were overwhelmed over a couple of hours.  We saw the winged Victory and the Mona Lisa, and there is a nearby room with a “greatest Hits” display of Liberty Leading the People and The Wreck of the Hesperus and postcard famous images like that, but we also saw room after room of Persian artwork and Greek and Egyptian and several civilizations that have come and gone and just left these precious artifacts.

The Louvre itself is so ornate and over-decorated (in its original rooms) that it’s something wonderful to see by itself.  It’s also so huge that it can absorb thousands of visitors, the numbers of which you can only appreciate when entering or leaving the building through the open areas.

Had a cup of tea and decided to head home.  Hit the enormous Carrefour hypermarche on the way and were deciding whether to have a pre-packaged Quiche Lorraine when we saw 3 pigeons fly down to the centre of the deli floor and start looking around for a snack.  So we decided on the pre-packaged unit.

Another quiet evening of good food and nice wine (and scotch) and early to bed.

Europe – Day 1

After decades of yearning and months of planning, we are at last in Europe.  Paris to be exact.

We left Vancouver at 1:35 on a flight to Frankfurt, where we were to connect with our Paris flight.  I watched three movies on the plane, ate three meals, and rested (although not slept) with the knowledge that we had lots of time to make our next flight, as we were scheduled to land at 7:45 and the flight did not board until 8:55 so we just had to make our way from one gate to another.

But of course I had not reckoned with the nightmare labyrinth of Frankfurt airport and their “system” to move travellers to their proper gates.  We had printed off our boarding passes at home and knew our gate was A16.  When we deplaned we hit the washrooms then started off confidently, following the signs to gates A, C, D.  I knew the path would not be simple — few airports are — but worried a bit when the signs led us to what was obviously a security area where people were having their luggage scanned.  However, the two friendly, English speaking uniformed people with the “May I Help You” buttons confidently glanced at the boarding pass and directed us out a door. Out of the secured section of the terminal. Into a large low-ceilinged room where flocks of equally confused elderly passengers bleated in several languages and scurried out of the way of golf-carts who shouted contradictory directions to them.  Luckily I spotted a familiar face, or rather, back of the head, of a lady with bright blue hair who had been on our flight and had found an information desk.  The man at the desk told us that no, we were not going EVEN CLOSE to where we were supposed to be, we had to go back through security to gate B53 where we would get a shuttle to another terminal where we would find gate A16.

Frankfurt airport security seemed to be staffed with brusque, blond ladies who were disgusted with our confusion and lectured us on the foolishness of trying to hide dangerous electronics (my Kindle) in our back pack rather than placing it in the tray, and now they had to test if for explosives and they were very disappointed in us.  Rather like short-tempered nannies speaking to slightly slow toddlers.  I also received a thorough frisking.

Following our blue-haired guardian angel we dashed through the airport to B53 and literally hopped onto the shuttle just as it was leaving.  It took us on a circuitous route around the tarmac and then just stopped, where everyone got off.  So we did too.  The minutes were ticking off, but we could still make our flight.

Naturally we got stuck in customs, but the line was moving quickly.  The young man in the Polizei uniform looked at my passport and at me, then at it, then asked me how long I was staying in Europe.  Not in Germany of course, I was leaving Germany, but on the continent.  Until June 21.  And where was I going?  Paris.  And THEN?  Barcelona and Seville.  Soooooooo, on HOLIDAY, then?  (At this point I must compliment the drug smuggling rings who are obvious employing such canny drug mules that they appear to be an elderly woman, exhausted after a ten-hour flight, who has a pristine Canadian passport with no stamps in it).  Yes, on holiday.

All right, I was duly stamped out of Germany.  Then I had to do that distinctive tourist trot, rapidly moving through a crowded airport, passing people on the walkways and zig-zagging my way through Asian tour groups, until I reached A16.  And found it deserted.  But the flight should still have been boarding.  Back to an information board where I discovered to my horror that the gate had been changed to A30 and confirmed that yes, it was boarding NOW.  My husband, who had by this time fallen behind me, caught up to me as I (apparently wrongly) kept moving through the terminal.  I explained the gate change and we both then put on a last burst of speed and got to the gate.  Just as the last few stragglers (like us) were being loaded.  We found our seats and opened the air vents above us to dry our sweaty faces.  And waited on the tarmac for 30 minutes while they off-loaded the luggage of passengers who had been unlucky enough to miss the connecting flight.  They were likely still milling about back by that information desk dodging golf carts.

That made us late into Paris but we did see the Eiffel Tower for the first time while we circled waiting for the control tower to give us a new landing time.

Because my daughter (and grandchildren) had already landed, they were able to text us very handy information on how to get the bus to our AirBnB in Paris.  It was unfortunate that when you take the CDGVAL shuttle it travels to the different terminals in a 1 – 3 – 2 route.  So we got off at Terminal 2 rather than at the 2nd terminal.  But we got it straightened out and got some tickets and got to the bus stop and got on the bus and had quite a lovely drive through the countryside and the outlying suburbs into Bagnolet.

Found our AirBnB which is quite delightful and the Carrefours supermarket is right around the corner.  Got our dinner, and went back to shower, eat and sit quietly enjoying the fact that we are in PARIS and staying in a lovely little place and there is good food to be eaten and good wine and scotch to be sipped, and we are going to have the best vacation of our lives and we are exceedingly glad and grateful for it.

Our daughter took the kids into the city to see the Eiffel Tower and tire them out on a carousel there because children are remarkably bad at sitting and contemplating their blessings.

Parisian cat sitting on Parisian roof next to our Air BnB

 

My house is broken

And it’s breaking my heart.

First of all, this is no one’s fault.  The house plans were lovely.  The permits were all obtained.  The builders did a great job.  The inspectors all signed off at every stage. But no one could foresee the problems that climate change would bring to our little corner of the world.

For the first 3 years, we had no problem at all with the floors.  It was the particularly harsh 2016-17 winter that first affected a small area of the main/ground floor.

All the precipitation that has traditionally fallen over the East End of Vancouver still falls.  Except it now falls on fewer days.  Great for hot, sunny summers (with the attendant water restrictions).  But the ground in the yard between our laneway and the  main house becomes completely sodden in the fall and winter and spring and that water seeps under our house, and then through osmosis, through the concrete base and up under the floorboards. I don’t know exactly why and I don’t know how, but that’s what’s happening.

Last summer the area around the damage was ripped up and the concrete sealed with pink goo, then the wood floor boards were replaced, but far from fixing the problem permanently it seems to have made it worse.

Walking in our ground floor hallway sounds like we’re stepping on a wharf.  The floorboards are warped and some are discoloured.  Water actually squirts out of gaps between the cupped floorboards and the baseboards, which are also warped and discoloured.  Towels must be stuffed beneath the doors to the bathroom and the studio (where the floors have been sealed and therefore do not leak) and all along the hall.

Of course this will be fixed.  Our builder will come in during the dry season and replace all the wood/laminate floor with ceramic tiles that look just like wood.  That will seal the floors for always.

The house is still under warranty.  The builder is a man of principle.  All will be fixed.  I just have to live through the rainy season until we can make that happen.

The mental problem I have is bigger than the physical one.  I love our house.  I love it when the sunlight streams through the windows on the top floor and the surfaces all sparkle, and you feel like you’re in an aerie floating above the traffic below.  I love it when I am in our bathroom and the sun pours in and it’s like taking a sun shower.  But I really love it when the rain pounds down on the roof and the clouds lower and everything is cozy and warm and protected from the tempest outside.  Not just the weather but all the troubles that ail this world.  Safe and comfortable.

And now there’s a chink in our castle walls (well, floor).  There are sodden towels lining the hallways and tucked beneath doors.  It’s sad.  And depressing. Our sanctuary has been breached.

Of course I realise how foolish this is.  We have a home in one of the most desirable and expensive cities in the world.  The house will stand and the floor will be replaced and we will appreciate it all the more.

I just have to live through a couple of months of the occasional soggy sock (watch the 3rd board in the hallway or oops!).

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