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Europe – Day 9

We had big plans for today — a day trip out of town on my birthday!  It’s not every day a girl turns 65.  It’s not this day, either.  I see it this way:  between the age of majority (19) and when you are eligible for OAS (65) one can be quite vague about one’s exact age.  34?  43? sure, why not?  Then when you are 65 you are then eligible for lots of stuff.  But there’s no real reason to get any older than 65.  Okay, one day when I’m in my nineties I’ll get a kick out of prodding someone with my cane and boasting to my real age.  But until then, let’s just keep it at 65.

Our plans included getting up early, but for some reason we didn’t.  We were awakened by the sound of the local merchants opening their shop shutters, had breakfast, and then set out for the Placa de Catalunya, where we were to pick up the tickets for the trip.  This time I outsmarted that Google Maps minx by just saving a printout for the route to my pictures and following it.  Worked perfectly, and we got there and got our tickets with no problemo.  The tickets were like the never-ending gobstoppers of the day–they acted as fare on the transportation, as vouchers for lunch, and as tickets to the attractions where we were headed.  Which was:

Montserrat!

A monastery about 50 kilometers northwest of Barcelona, Montserrat is definitely worth the trip.  We started out on the Metro, then switched to a local train which took us to the foot of the mountain.

Cable car ready to climb

We then took a cable car, installed in 1930, all the way up to the Monastery.  We could have taken a little rack railcar to the top, but decided to fly instead.

We then climbed into the community and took a funicular railway to the top of the hill.

From where you could see all the way to the Mediterranean Sea!

The view without goofy Canadian tourists in it

The rock the mountain is made of is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  Once the bottom of an ancient sea, layers and layers of small rocks built up, glued together by natural cement, then thrust up into mountains that gradually became weathered.

But of course, it’s not where it is, it’s WHAT it is.

It’s new art (Dali)!

It’s old art!

It’s a magnificent church!

It’s a nice cafeteria!  It’s magnificent views!  It’s a whole new experience!

We loooooooooved it.

When we finally caught the gondola back down the mountain we just missed a train into the city.  But no worries, we sat in a shady spot and gazed up at the mountain where this wonder sits.

Adeu, Montserrat

We then headed back to Barcelona on the train.  They had told us that Montserrat was visible for miles around, and we could still see it many stops down the line, silhouetted against the sunset.  Truly wonderful!

We got back to the AirBnB and I have to say I was beat.  But that’s not good enough for my 65th birthday!  A change of clothes and a quick splash on the face, and we headed out for dinner.  Our AirBnB host had recommended Le Faisan, just down the street.  And I have to say that I can never enjoy paella again because I will be that horrible person who says ‘Well, when I was in Barcelona……” We ate until we were full, drank the delightful Spanish wine and left with large smiles.

Muy buena!

Then we walked down to see the magic fountains.  And they are truly magic.  We walked between the Venetian Towers down between fountains toward the giant fountains at the end of the street.

Unbe-freaking-lievable!  So beautiful.  And just for fun, just for giggles.

And then, miracle of miracles, we found our way back to our AirBnB just asking two nice ladies walking their dogs on the street which way to Placa d’Espana.

As my birthday is drawing to a close we tried to find a way to make it to the Dali museum but it would take another significant commitment of time — a whole day to find our way to Figueres and back.  We only have two more days before we head to Seville.  So we will spend them exploring Barcelona.

 

Europe – Day 8

We awoke to rain.  I chided DH, who was very disappointed to have come thousands of miles from a rain forest to Sunny Spain only to be pissed on by Mother Nature.  Ha!  I said, it’s likely just a gentle sprinkle.  Are we made of sugar?  We can use our handy umbrellas, and venture out into the showers.

Nope.  It was pouring.  Rain bouncing up from the pavement pouring.  Shoe-and-cuff soaking rain.

We had made no plans for today and as a matter of fact it felt good to have no place we had to be.  We ate a leisurely breakfast, showered, and when the rain let up around noon, we ventured out to the Mercat de Sant Antoni, just down the street.

It was built during the same era of cast-iron architecture of the 19th century that brought us the Eiffel Tower but it’s completely modernized inside.

We found store after store of food, and selected fresh bread and vegetables, cheese and sausage, olives and fish, and brought them home for our lunch.

It was truly delicious:

The tomatoes tasted fresh from the vine.  The Corinthian olives were just perfect.  The bread crusty and chewy and flavourful.

I think I’m going to like this place.

We ventured out to buy some souvenirs for the grandkidlets and got caught in a real downpour.

Saw these though, the Torres Venecianes. But see the white tower to the right of the towers? That’s a communications tower, designed to look like an athlete bowing their head to accept a medal, built for the 1992 Olympics.

Another little problem we’re having is the way some streets intersect others at a 45% angle, so you can have three streets coming to a corner.  We seem to get lost every time we go out.  And that snarky girl from Google maps is no help at all.  Anyway we got back here just soaked and we’re just waiting for the rain to let up so we can make our way out to dinner.

Luckily the restaurants in this neighbourhood are just coming to life around 8:30 because we set out to find someplace around then (some don’t even open until 8:30).  DH had been walking around in circles for about an hour with no luck, but I had managed to find someplace online right in the neighbourhood.  I didn’t write down the name, I was so sure of the location, but when we passed by it the “fancy” logo of the name threw me right off, and I didn’t recognize it.  So we headed to a place called Lolita’s just around the corner and had some tapas.  It’s hip and supposed to be a bit pricey, but we didn’t find it so, of course I expect to be in bed in a little while so was not going to load up on rich food just before hitting the hay.  Just a nice snack and a chat with some fellow tourists — they are from the Isle of Skye in Scotland. We also noticed another tapas restaurant right next to Lolita’s, and will try the other place that I didn’t recogniae one evening as well.  And I have to get some paella before too long!

All the wines we’ve tried have been outstanding.  And cheap!  Like 4Euros for a bottle at the mercado, or a glass of wine for about the same in a restaurant.

But the rain and the crowds have made me quite sleepy.  We have a big day planned tomorrow so tonight I’ll be tucked in quite early.

 

Europe – Day 7

Wow, a week ago we left Vancouver.  And already we’re one third of the way through our vacation!

We left Paris this morning via the Gare de Lyon with tickets I bought many months ago for the super-speed train. We got to Gare de Lyon in lots of time and made our way to Terminal 2.  Then we asked the young lady in a uniform how we could find out which gate to go to.  “Oh” she said, “You are too late.”  AAAAAAAAAHHHHH!  “No, not late, too early!  You are too early.”  **Whew**

These trains are the bomb.

This clean, comfortable way to travel had us zipping through the countryside at nearly 300 kph.

The lush green fields and fat cows gave way to sparser vegetation and shaved fields to the salt marshes of Languedoc – Roussillon(Nimes, Montpelier, Beziers, Narbonne, Perpignan) .

Then to the Mediterranean and Barcelona.

We arrived at the large, modern railway Barcelona Sants station and decided to get a bite before going to the AirBnB.  We tried texting our host but DH’s phone just wasn’t getting with the program.  So we called Telus on my phone and he got it straightened out.  Must buy more data as we are using it up like crazy with our Google maps walking us around.  Our conversation drew the attention of a young man in the cafe, who is from San Francisco and studying in Barcelona.  He is also interested in world music so DH and he had quite a good chat.

We finally got hold of our host (she called us when she saw all the strange messages from the same number) and she advised taking a cab as it would cost about 10Euro.  It did!  Our AirBnB is in a very nice neighbourhood, very convenient to many attractions.

With a nice view of the street

We’re currently at our AirBnB, and after a dinner of sausage and crema al queso de cabra with a crusty bread, olives, and a robust red, we are about to go out to explore.  Because in Barcelona the evening is ALWAYS young.

Back from our explorations.  We did not make it to see the Magic Fountains, even though they are quite close to our AirBnB.  Apparently the lady at Google Maps can’t speak Catalan any better than I can, and led us in merry circles until we were practically back at our starting place.  No matter, the fountains will be there every evening, so we will be back.

What everyone says about Barcelona at night we must echo.  We went out around 10 pm for our stroll, and though the streets weren’t full, they were not empty either.  Lots of parents with pre-school age kids, lots of open grocery stores, lots of restaurants and bars full of diners.  You certainly felt safe (if a tad lost) among so many.

We settled in for our nap, a bit apprehensive about tomorrow’s weather — they are calling for rain.

 

 

Adieu Paris – some thoughts

So it’s good-bye to the City of Lights and Love, and on to Spain.

Ole!

But a few thoughts before I leave.  First of all, the number of motorcycles and scooters. Incroyable.  The motorcycles will happily zip across a sidewalk (or through a sidewalk cafe) to cut a corner.  There is a company in town that rents electric scooters.  And when they run out of power?  Adieu!  They just leave them on the side of the road (or weirdly, the side of the Metro line).  Someone must come around and collect them, but yanno, it’s always a shock to see them on the sidewalk waiting for their owner to come and get them.  And believe moi — they are everywhere!

And, as DH pointed out, there are hardly any big cars.  Even the expensive cars are just mid-sized, not a lot of SUVs on les rues et boulevards.

Next:  The Paris Museum pass.  DD got one for each of us, but only us wrinkly ones got the full use of it.  It’s great for cutting in line at the major museums and the Arc de Triomphe, but if you have small kids, forget it.  You won’t get your money’s worth.  But for us old timers, c’est magnifique!

Le Metro: definitely the best way to get around Paris.  I learned it in a heartbeat, but if you need a little assistance just use your Google maps.  It’s swell.  And DH was amazed to learn the origin of the Subway tiles we have in our shower. It connects with all the rail lines and gets you where you want to be toute de suite.  Any city’s transit can learn from the Paris Metro.  But……it’s not very accessible.  You especially notice it when you are schlepping a suitcase with you, but there are a LOT of stairs and not many escalators (escaliers mechaniques).

The people:  warm and friendly and so helpful.  I was waiting for the sneers when I started lurching through my high-school French sentences but everyone seemed thrilled to be able to practise their English (including the nice lady on the Metro today when I admitted that “je admire votre sac”,  and was told “Thank You!”).

The food:  We had wonderful meals in the restaurants we went to (being thrifty, we hit them up at lunch when the table d’hote is cheaper–watch out for the “formules”, the specials–but when we shopped at the supermarket we were disappointed. Yes the bread and fresh fruits and vegetables are formidable, but the market we frequented had practically no prepared food.  It was in a working-class neighbourhood and the people were looking for good food they could prepare at home, not pre-packaged frozen treats.  Quel domage!

Shutters:  We were expecting all the street-level shops to have shutters that closed at the end of the business day, but the houses and apartments had shutters on their windows, too.  The were great for security, but also great for completely blocking the sunlight when you wanted to have a lie in after sunrise.  I’d love to have some on our little place as we have no room for drapes inside.

The art:  fantastique!  If you have to choose between going to the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay, go to the D’Orsay.  You get more out of it, in square meterage. But I hope you don’t have to choose.

We didn’t see everything on our list — but you could be here for years and still not see everything.  We saw what we really wanted (yes, I know we didn’t visit Chopin’s grave at Pere LaChaise, but I don’t love Chopin) and left satisfied.

The fact is that this is our one and only chance to visit this city.  DD and family can look forward to coming back as many times as she wishes, but for us there are too many other places to visit to backtrack on our world travels.  But we are satisfied that we got as much out of Paris as we wanted.

Au revoir, Paris!

 

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

 

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