Thursday, August 27, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
- Our friends. This is obvious but gets to be very important the longer we are gone.
- Central air conditioning. This might be just making a virtue out of a necessity in hot, muggy Durham, but parts of Europe get hot also, especially public transit.
- Cheap gas. Even at $2.50 a gallon, it was a bargain compared to around $6 a gallon in Spain, which has cheap gas relative to the rest of Europe
- Cheap English language newspapers. Getting a newspaper every day for 5 weeks would have cost me more than my 52 week subscription at home
- Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper- they just don't have them anywhere I looked in Europe.
- Free Refills on soda and free water
- Easily findable public restrooms and water fountains (although Rome was unusually good about about decorative and potable water fountains)
- Posted and usually long operating hours on businesses
- An airport, RDU, that's big enough to have many destinations but small enough to forego the need for huge walks and tram rides to get around
- Cheap prepaid phones and plans. $20 at Target buys you a phone and
- $20 more buys you 200 minutes for a month, with coast to coast roaming (with Virgin Mobile). $50 buys you unlimited domestic calling. I couldn't find anywhere as good a deal in Europe, and it would be a high cost for people to call me. It was cheaper to call America 3000 miles away than to call a cell phone 1 mile away.
- Internet everywhere, usually easy and free. I changed the oil today and even the mechanic had two free computers and free wifi, along with free restrooms and water.
- Hulu.com and youtube.com/videos, which are restricted to the US. (What's that first W in www?)
- Pharmacies with more than just medicines. They're everywhere, but they won't sell you a Coke or a snack
- Pay at the pump gas stations most everywhere. Having to guess at how much gas you will use, then paying, pumping, and getting a refund because you guessed wrong is awkward, especially in another language and in Liters.
- Quick, no signature credit card payments on small items (my $1.50 Target snack bar popcorn was completely paid for by the time the server got the popcorn). This means carrying less cash and less fooling around with coins. Plus Schwab Visa will give me 1.5 cents for using for my card.
- Having the reverse gear in a predictable place on a manual transmission car. I eventually learned the Renault way in Spain, so I almost shifted into reverse on I-85 in Durham because I was accustomed to that spot being sixth gear on the Renault.
What We'll Miss From Europe
- Small easily, walkable city feel in Albano and Genova
- Gorgeous, huge, temperate beach walking distance away
- A wide variety of olives
- Cheap fresh pastries
- The sounds of kids playing in the courtyard and pool
- Having friends and family next to us in the apartment
- Fresh baguettes a few minutes walk away
- The ability to quickly hope on a bus or metro
- A huge walkable and explorable city
- A view from of the back window of the Seine and peaceful Lavacourt and the church out the front window
- Fanta Citron
- Constantly seeing new sites everywhere
- Dry heat. You can exit the shower without' getting instantly soaked by the humidity. I took a walk Tuesday night at 79 degrees, and I still was soaked at the end.
-Until shortly before we left, we thought our house swapee in Rome, Andrea, was a girl. It was only when L saw his facebook listing that she made the connection that Andrea is a male name in Italy.
-Before we left, we never spoke to any of our hosts. Because of language differences, we still haven't spoken to our Spanish hosts. Everything was done by L over e-mail using translate.google.com. She translated what she wanted to say from English into the new language.
She then translated it back into English to identify problems. Doing this repeatedly to refine the translation got her compliments on her Italian skills.
-Some cities are wallet-safe cities. Some are money belt (under the top of my shorts) cities. Crowded metros and touristy areas with pickpockets make for money belt usage. However, I find it helpful to keep a pack of tissues in my back pocket. That way, when I do a subconscious wallet check, I am spared the panic that an empty pocket causes in the second it takes to realize everything is in the money belt. The villages/towns where we have stayed are wallet areas.
-A waiter in Rome liked to sing as he walked around, such as Whitney Houston's "Dance with Somebody:"
We heard this routine from him several times.
-Calling the America Airlines office in Spain from Spain was more expensive than calling from Spain to the US, at least with our prepaid card. The calling card ran out and Jenny's long minutes on hold amounts to nothing.*
-Only the France cottage had a land line. No one had Internet access.
-The Lidl stores in Spain have an off-brand cola, $0.60/2L that is really close to Coke. We (I) drank a swimming pool's worth of it, and not just a kiddy pool, which can be kind of gross, hygienically speaking.
-Many receipts in France still show the conversion of the charges from Euros to Francs, I guess as a matter of national pride.
-The Euro was once worth $0.80. It has been up to $1.60. It currently is around $1.40, but it frequently changes a few cents. So €100 charged to my credit card at the beginning of the trip could cost me differently than €100 at the end of the trip.
-Several vendors asked for my passport when using my credit card. Since I already had my wallet out, I usually just showed them my NC drivers license instead. They usually couldn't read it, and having never seen an NC license, they had no way of verifying its legitimacy, but they always accepted it.
-One day we met Anne, the cottage owner, at Mantes-Jolie. She approached us, "It is I, Anne." Try though I may, I can't get Americans to use the nominative case a to be verb. Most Americans say, "It's me." Brits seem to speak the Queen's English more readily. If this explanation makes no sense to you, it is because this rule is almost always ignored in America, to the point where doing it right sounds funny.
-Shower situations varied markedly in our three abodes. Italy featured a tiny bathtub with a fixed shower curtain,i t was hard to stand up, and you had to remember to turn on the hot water heater 60 minutes before your shower.
Spain had water pressure that sounded like buffaloes as it hit the roomy tub. The water was hot enough to boil buffaloes (you gotta use all the parts). Then someone stars cleaning dishes in the kitchen, and your water falls like a new Chicago politician meeting his first paycheck from his new friends. And the cheap shower liner from Walmart, with the weighted magnets to keep it from blowing onto you, is not here.
In France, we had a tub that doesn't seal the drain, a wand, watter nozzle no spot on the wall to mount the wand, and no shower curtain. So it's a bath nor is it a shower. So you get wet and the walls and floor do too. You just towel them off a bit.
-Unexpectedly France of all places is the only bathroom we had without a bidet. We were glad to not have to clean it or touch a bidet in any way^.
-France electrical outlets have a male grounding plug in receptacle, different from Europe. This means skinny European plugs work; otherwise, you need an adapter. Fortunately, there was an adapter,which I found after scouring from attic to basement for a workable outlet.
-We did eventually see Spongebob Squarepants in Spain. His dubbed voice wasn't quite right, not nasal and grating enough.
-My shoes are starting to wear out after weeks of intensive walking
-L blessed me by spending our last cash on duty free Kinder Chocolate, one of my favorites. It was sealed in a bag lest we eat before leaving the EU and cheat France out of its 20 % tax.
-Casualties of the trip
- big suitcase. We are still finding pieces from its disintegration over many moons.
- sun glasses, even after multiple applications of super glue, split down the middle. They are suitable for a pirate with an eye patch.
- laptop screen is dead, which renders it a desktop
- cargo shorts torn asunder from over use and powerful washing machines
- bank account, from among other things, one speeding ticket, from an automatic photograph in Huelva. It's not like in Arizona where they have giant warning signs, and the behavior of Spanish drivers doesn't convince you that speed is important. I haven't received a speeding ticket, since my first over 10 years ago.
-On the way back I saw a picture in a British paper showing Hitler in front of Eiffel Tower. A large picture of this event was featured in the Army Museum, a public act of humility, or self denigration. A copy is at http://history1900s.about.com/library/holocaust/blhitler38.htm .
solution was to call my Google Voice phone number, check voice mail, select Goog 411 from the menu, ask for American Airlines in Dallas, TX, and then Google connects the call. Roundabout but it worked. I tried to use it again at the Seville airport, but the payphone volume was so low that I couldn't hear anything. Eventually I realized budget. It also won't work using some calling cards, such as AT&T's, because they intercept the * key and interpret it as start a new call.
So when you hit * to enter voicemail, your call is ended.
We ate lunch at Panera Bread, where you could quickly order, prepay, get your own drink and refill it, and sit for 10 minutes or 180 minutes, your choice - not the restaurant's, with your friends, free
wifi, and gorgeous bathrooms.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Nutella spread and decent bread. So I can't complain.
We left on the 8:30 AM shuttle instead of trying to leavl Vetheuil at
5:30. Everything went okay at the airport. I got very personally
frisked because the metal spring in my cheap plastic pen set off the
This time we were just labeled Eurotraveler with no special perks or
upgrades like roomier seats like World Traveler.
This 747 had a personal DVR/Tivo (like an individual video jukebox for
each passenger), so flying is now like sitting in your living room
with a range of movies, albeit in an uncomfortable chair with dozens
of strangers around you. You can see/hear everythivg from Beijing
Olympics highlights to Extreme Fishing to recent movies to the latest
U2 album. A person across the aisle skipped the DVR in favor of her
separate personal player featuring Reno 911. Lara managed to squeeze
in 3 movies and most of a sitcom. I got 1.5 movies and a sitcom.
We had a very friendly French flight attendant For example, he
intently looked for the injured person when he heard the cart bump
into something, so he could apologize. I think he just hit a chair.
Maybe we are getting out of the land of the customer is always wrong.
I watched the French movie Amelie, which I had seen a while back and
now seemed appropriate because it is set in Paris. It was sweet
occasionally mixed with the not so sweet, just like some beautiful
areas of Paris such as Montmarte (where a lot of the film is set), are
next to not so beautiful areas. This time it was dubbed into English
instead of showing subtitles. It was a good dub, maybe because the
star Audre Tattou is bilingual. I recognized a lot of the setting:
-crossing the islands on the Seine
-metro steps with street performers
-Sacred Heart Basilica
-ubiquitous train station photo machines (but not as ubiquitous much
as we would have liked the first day)
-Gare de Est train station, where we were yesterday
We arrived at JFK, got our baggage, switched terminals, and went
through security again. This time I didn't have to take off my belt
but shoes had to come off. We had to leave our $5 cart (which a lady
getting one before me called "highway robbery"). My kingdom for a post
security cart! Carry-on bags are heavy to drag around the terminal.
Since we got to JFK with plenty of time, we registered to go standby
for another, 2.5 hours before ours. As we waited, announcements kept
coming that weather delays were pushing the earlier flight back. When
we boarded our "later" plane, passengers from the earlier flight
watched us go by. They ended up leaving a little later than us.
Sarah picked us up and we were home at midnight, 6 AM Paris time. She
headed back to her new rental house.
We arrived at the hotel near the airport at around 1-2.
The B&B Hotel (hotelbb.com €40 online + €5 for shuttle) was cheap for
Europe and especially Paris, but it showed a little:
-sporadic airport shuttle
-toilet paper holder dispenses tp napkins instead of a roll
-wifi that doesn't work
-employees who don't care that the wifi doesn't work
We wandered into Roissy with a big tourist map showing restaurants and
shops. The map and accompanying information failed to mention that
almost nothing was open in the afternoon. Fortunately, a small market
with packaged sandwiches was open. We ate on a bench in front of the
beautiful town hall. They like flowers. L found a nice restaurant for
dinner, so we wouldn't have to commute into Paris for our last big
meal, the nice French dinner where I actually dressed up a little (L
always looks good).
At dinner, walking into town revealed the restaurant was closed, with
no sign to state the staff vacation as we walked by at lunch (often
restaurants are closed for lunch and open for dinner, so we couldn't
tell). Everything in Roissy, a town with a lot of hotel rooms, was
closed. We headed back to the hotel to get the GPS and Paris
guidebook. It was about 8 PM. I noted the last hotel shuttle from the
airport/train station was 12:20. By American get you in/get you out
restaurant standards with travel by car and easy parking, that's a
very easy window to make. By 3 hours until you get the bill European
restaurant standards with public transit, it was going to be tight.
It's not just the shuttle - the train schedule thins out and then
becomes a night bus system. And also we wanted to get some sleep
before the 24 hours of traveling on Sunday.
L found a great, unusually quick sidewalk café near Eco Militaire, a
military school that Napoleon attended. I had very almost perfectly
cooked scallops. The waiter was very friendly.
After dinner, we had to see the Eiffel Tower, one last time, the first
time at night up close (the view from the Orly taxi was pretty nice
but not the same). It was only a couple of blocks away. It has a
beauty that is different from the daytime splendor. It was worth the
view and a few pictures, even if it caused problems next....
We took the subway a few stops to the Opera stop. One metro line to
the bus should be faster than multiple transfers to the train, I
thought. By now, I know by heart that the exit to the Roissy bus is
Sortie (exit) 3 Auber. We rushed up an unmarked escalator. At the top,
we saw only exits 1 and 2. We ended up on the wrong side of the Opera
building. That is a several minute mistake. We watched the airport bus
go by, which turned out to be the last bus of the night. 11? Really?
Isn't this an international city with a very international all day
I guess the train was more international. So we got back to the metro
and transferred to Gare d' Norde. We got on the 11:30 train that
happened to be semi-direct. Yeah! 35 minutes later we were at the CDG
1/3/Roissyvole station. After several minutes of waiting, we hopped on
the shuttle of the hotel next door to ours.
Taxi averted. Getting stuck in the city and trying to figure out the
night schedule averted.
After transferring luggage from my checked bag to my carryon to meet
the 23 kg weight limit (does this jacket weigh 0.4 lbs?), I got some
Lazare Area With Heavy Luggage, Without The Many Ups And Downs of the
These details are not for the casual blog reader.
I write these instructions so hopefully someone will find this on the
web and learn from our mistakes, research, and luck.
The trip to CDG airport involved 42 stairs, less than you'd likely
find in starting a trip on one metro line, much less transferring to
-Leave house with lots of luggage 10:15
-Arrive Vetheuil town center/bus stop 10:21
-Board 9511 bus 10:30 - 4 steps up
(luggage goes on bottom of bus if you ask driver so steps don't really count)
-Arrive Mantes-Joiie- 10:48 - 4 steps down
-Board express train 11:08
-Depart train at Paris St Lazare 11:39
Walk across station down steps opposite tracks 9-10 to St Lazare
street ( 30 steps down, none if escalator worked), head right at
tunnel and walk half a block to bus stop, across from pharmacy
-Board 21 bus 1 step up at 12:00 (just missed one 10 minutes earlier
than ours). Has room for luggage storage in center. If you have easily
rollable light luggage, you might save a few minutes of waiting on the
bus by walking 700m directly to the Roissy bus stop.
-While waiting, posted saved material to blog at McDonald's free wifi,
half a block down the street
-Depart bus 12:06, 1 step down, at Opera stop (third stop, just after
Auber stop), turn right off bus
-Walk 2 min to Opera Roissy CDG stop on Rue Scribe across from Opera building
-Board Roissy CDG shuttle 12:10 (runs every 15 minutes), 1 step up,
just missed the previous bus. Driver demands CDG terminal number and
letter. Has dedicated luggage storage area in center. Leave for CDG
12:22. Arrive 12:55 (supposed to 50-60 minutes in traffic)
-Depart bus, 1 step down and arrive CDG terminal 2A (British Airways)
To get to a nearby hotel
-Walk to 2A, Porte 8
-Catch Roissy hotel (navette) shuttle (supposed to run every 15 -
20minutes) , 4 steps up, depart 13:32
-Arrive B&B hotel , 13:50, 4 steps down
Monday, August 10, 2009
Paris Day 9 : A wandering lone trail from St Lazare to Bibliotheque National And Then Disaster Yet Beauty Getting Home - Friday
A Summary of the Easy, Non Disaster Part of Friday
Lara was tired and needed a rest day, so I headed into Paris alone
with her transit pass. I lost my pass some time after boarding the
Vethueil bus Thursday evening. This drove me crazy as I looked and
relooked for it. I wouldn't call somebody else stupid for losing his
pass, but I felt stupid. It was an electronic card, so replacing
should be as simple as showing the receipt for the pass and paying for
a new electronic card. Not in France. I wasn't supposed to use Lara's
pass, but it seemed fair enough. For Saturday, when we would both
travel, I had to buy a $20 card. Ouch. Thank goodness it was the end
of the week (Carte Orange week passes run from Monday to Sunday,
regardless of when you buy it, which exactly visitor friendly if you
roll into town on a Thursday).
To cheer myself up, I made a ten mile or so round trip, walking
underground through statiob but not using the metro and RER(I had been
curious to try this for a while after seeing it on the map). Then came
walking in circles around the Opera building to figure out the airport
bus stop, riding on a city bus, walking again along the "beach" on the
Seine, lunching, taking another bus to the library, browsing and
admiring the architecture of the library, taking the same bus back to
a stop that was named the same but was really 1/3 mile away,
unsuccessfully attempting to rent a bike with my nonmicrochipped
credit card, flirting with taking the subway, and yet taking another
bus to Gare Saint Lazare.
The summary sounded like the details, but here are some more:
The library is several blocks around with four L-shaped buildings
facing each other, like open books. It has a large foreign periodical
section, with several English magazines and periodicals. It has a
small forest of tree in the middle of the L's.
I am not sure why I am writing so much about logistics. I think it
makes me more comfortable in a city as I explore it and understand it.
The buses are generally very nicely labeled in Paris. The route number
appears on all sides and a list of stops appears on the sides (genius
idea - on most buses you just get the terminal stop on the front). On
the inside is a digital display estimating the time to the terminal
station. Some buses display the next stop. At some bus stops, a
display shows the next two bus arrival times. These improvements all
bring more of the convenience and undertstandability of the subway to
the bus system.
I took the No 24 bus from Gare d' Austerlitz/Jardin des Plantes to
Gare Saint Lazare. It turned out to be very scenic, passing Notre
Dame, Left Bank, the Louvre, the Eiffel tower, the
National Assembly, and an important looking building with a 20 foot
high head out front. L found another scenic bus that was on the other
side of the Seine, the No 69, but we ran out of time to tour on it.
This all happened fluidly without much planning. Walk, catch a bus,
look around, catch another bus. Buses and metros keep coming, so there
are always lots of options.
A Summary of the Disaster Part of Friday:
What happened next, concerning the suburban rail and bus lines, was
not fluid. It was a mini disaster. I waited 30 minutes for the train
to leave because of a computer glitch, the train traveled more slowly
than normal, I missed the last bus, I took another bus a mile or so,
and then I walked for 2.5 hours. I walked through areas with no open
stores or potable water, but the views were wonderful.
Taxi averted. That is, $40 taxi averted.
Details of the Disaster:
Back to the scenic 24 bus.
The display on the bus showed we were scheduled to arrive at 6:13. An
expres train leaves at 6:13. Maybe, I could make it. Running up the
stairs, I immediately looked up to the schedule board to see which
track to check. But it was blank. So was the next and the next. All 25
platform monitors and all 5 big boards were down. The whole system had
crashed. The station headed toward impassability as passengers entered
the station without heading onto the proper platforms to board the
right trains because no one knew the proper platform.
I headed for platform 25, in the Grand Lignes section of the building,
because the evening express trains are national trains first making a
stop at Mantes Jolie. Very fortunately, there was a conductor who
could tell me in English. I can't even tell what a number in French
sounds like because to me, it all runs together, and also I didn't
know there was a track 27. I started getting nervous as 6:13 turned
I waited on board the 6:13 or 6:38 train (not sure which, more on that
later, but both should have left at least 20 minutes to catch the LAST
bus to Vetheuil). The late departure meant people kept flooding onto
I don't know if the display system was up by the time we left. With a
35 hour work week and 5 weeks of vacation, there is a good chance that
at 6 pm on a Friday, the employee who knows how to fix the problem is
on the Meditteranean coast.
The train left at 6:45, still enough time to catch the 7:30 bus out.
For some reason, the express train took 45 minutes instead of the
usual 35 minutes. Uh-oh!
The crush of people exiting onto a narrow platform with one exit meant
I didn't make it to the bus stop until 7:35. A woman was also waiting
at the stop. She spoke a little English and was also going to Vethuil.
We hoped the last bus was running late. At 7:50, she mentioned a taxi.
I asked her if she wanted to split a taxi. She shook her hand and said
maybe. Unfortunately, as an unescorted male, I am a potential
predator, so I didn't blame her.
I rushed to the Internet café and searched for other buses and
schedules. I didn't come up with anything. I rushed back to the train
station and looked for posted bus schedules. There are several stops
along a two block area, so I ran around comparing options. Most buses
stopped running by 8 PM. One bus, the number 50 (maybe, there were so
many options) seemed like it might get me a couple of kilometers
closer home, to Limay. I called Lara to let her know what was going on
and that I would be there at 10 instead of before 8. I didn't want to
take a taxi because I had already spent $20 on my lost bus pass. Night
rates start at 7 pm, so the taxi would cost $40.
It seemed from the schedule that the bus might even take me 5 km of
the 10 km trip. But that was not to be. The terminal stop was in
Limay. It had a suburban feel, with houses spaced apart with maybe a
1/4 of an acre each. I was not in the country, so I wasn't close to
A friendly man at the bus stop saw me fumbling with the GPS and asked
me where I was going. I showed him the map, and he was very concerned
for me. I told him it would just be a long walk.
So let's see the countryside!
It turned out the scenery quickly turns into a beautiful rural area
with rolling hills and sometimes a view of the midrise buildings of
Mantes Jolie in the background. I saw only 20 or 30 cars in a two hour
period on several miles of roads. There were harvested fields, some
pasture land, and two small towns. Unfortunately, there were a few
constraints to the walk:
-Fading daylight makes for wonderful views, comparable to the Spain
oceanside setting sun, but bodes for dark walking in rural areas
-Hunger and thirst (more below)
-GPS battery power. After a day of adventure, the battery wants to be
recharged. I turned it off during long stretches without turns to
Perhaps the French are more private than Americans. In any case, they
like to wall or gate or hedge off their entire yards. In suburban
America, I could walk up to the side of a house, turn on the spicket,
and fill my bottle with 2 cents of water. I'll admit it would be
weird, but when you haven't had any water in 4 hours and you are
facing another 2 hours of walking, weird will do. But not here. At
some point, I thought of offering someone in a house a couple of Euros
for a Coke or just tap water, but weird, lone possible predator male,
foreigner considerations made me reconsider. But I was tempted as I
saw people eating in the few houses I passed. I'm normal, just hungry,
really! The size of my belly speaks the truth - I had a lot of
reserves, so it wasn't really a problem.
The GPS led me down a road sounding roughly like ancient road to Saint
Martin. And it turned out to be ancient. It was walkable and without
interfering cars because most because most cars couldn't. I saw a
calf feeding from its mother, who looked at me suspiciously. The sun
was setting across the fields. Again it was a series of scenes that's
hard to capture in words or photos. The center of Paris is great and
full of things to do, but a little trip west on the Seine is
I made it to St. Martin around 9:30 pm (the town we explored our first
Sunday here). I called Lara again on the first payphone in a couple of
hours. The store there wasn't open. The GPS battery ran empty, but I
was on the road to Vetheuil by then. At 10 pm, I could see the church
next to the house and hear the last ring of the day. At about 10:30,
my roughly planned and completely unplanned adventures, both
worthwhile, came to an end as I climbed the stairs and sav the red
shutters. Lara stuffed me with three crepes. I returned a call to my
parents, who had called earlier, only to hear from Lara that their son
was roaming the French countryside alone in the dark.
I can use some rest. I guess that's what home is for.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
from St Lazare to La Defense, with no transfers and no stops. It was
the first time we had been stopped to check our passes. The metro has
turnstiles to check the card for each €2 trip, but the €8 suburban
train trips are more on the honor system. The train cops hung out
talking for 5 minutes before the train left, so it would be pretty
easy to avoid them. Even if you pay your $50 weekly (less if you stay
in city proper), the man is still footing 2/3 of the bill.
We walked into the mall and quickly commented to each other that we
should have brought the camera. 50 Parisians were line dancing to
country music. You can't plan for that.
Again we saw police with AK-47s in the mall. Again with fingers near
the trigger. The normalization of men carrying guns in the mall
worries me a little. Anyone with a uniform could cause a lot of
trouble. Maybe I am just used to unarmed private mall security guards.
We saw GI Joe, summer popcorn fare with some explosions but not much
else. Altogether, it wasn't that bad, but it was flawed. The rigid
dialogue conveyed so little information that English was not really
not better than a French dub. I expected a response from Parisians
during the scene including the destruction of the Eiffel tower, but
they didn't seem to take it differently than anyone else would.
Some problems with the movie (spoiler alert if you can really spoil
the surprises in this movie):
-Ice does not sink, even if you blow it up. Put a match in your ice
tea and this should be easy enough to prove.% If ice did sink, the
polar ice caps would be the polar ice bottoms.
-ICBMs (long range missiles usually known for their nuclear warheads)
do not swerve at will or horizontally follow a river
-Can-do, aggressive speeches demanding 111%, and grit do not win
anything. I've seen several beggars here with the same attitude and
they haven't conquered Paris yet.
-Use of touch screens and holograms does not win either, as if winning
the war is like CNN's 2008 state by state election analysis
-Deep seated rivalries often require more than psychoanalytic
flashbacks to explain
-Battlefield cleavage does not win wars, especially on polar ice caps
On the way home:
It is hot. I am dripping onto to the empty (thank goodness) vinyl seat
next to me and on the floor of the train. We sat in the station for 10
minutes with stale air. Then despite traveling at a decent speeds, the
air is not circulating, maybe because the windows on our side are
bolted shut. This pretty warm day is making for very hot trains. The
lower level may be better, but I don't want to move.
Most people here don't wear shorts, and the guidebooks warns that
doing so will make you stand out as a tourist. Wearing pants would
only increase my misery by one level. I'm just not good at being hot.
Sarah bought me an athletic shirt that cools your body. This was a
great present in itself, but it also reminded me of my similar shirts,
which have been very helpful in the heat earlier
in the trip. Today, I am wearing a Mexican souvenir shirt from her. I
don't need an athletic shirt - I'm just going to the mall. But then
comes the trains.
I am going to jump into the river off the train at Mantes Jolie and swim
in whatever direction it takes to get to Lavacourt. I'll see my
inaccessible town, separated by the Seine DMZ, and I'll cool down,
too. And tomorrow, I'm going to boycott the train and just swim down
the Seine to the Paris beach festival. Then we exited the train, and
the tunnel under the tracks was a little cooler. Then we got to the
bus, already waiting for us, and it was super cold, a Bose-Einstein
condensate^ relative to the Seville cauldron in the train. The world
is good again.
Generally, it's been very mild here, especially in the shade. The
guidebooks said it could be hot and humid, but we thought they were
just using northern standards of heat (like L's textbook from Chicago
that warned that children should stay in during temperatures of 80+
degrees while 20 degrees did bother them).
% It's a fundamental feature of hydrogen bonding chemistry that makes
water and ice what they are.
^ a Bose-Einstein condensate is a form of matter, like solid or
liquid, that occurs near absolute zero (-273° C). Very weird things
happen, like the speed of light slowing down or stopping and atoms
combining without exploding. I just read about this in the paper, so I
had to share.
Okay, so I feel like I've been giving France a hard time, so in an
effort of positive thinking, I'm go to do a top ten reasons why
France is okay and I promise no more than half will be food.
1. Proper respect for rhubarb: So rhubarb is one of my favorite foods.
I like it in any baked good, jelly, etc. However, not only can you
only seem it get in Spring, but it is rarely featured as a dessert
choice even when in season, with the two notable exceptions of Crane's
in Michigan and Acme in Carrboro. The few jellies you can find are
always strawberry rhubarb, which is always really just strawberry
jellies with so little rhubarb you can't even taste it. It is not
rhubarb season in France, but it's on the menu and you can buy plain
rhubarb jellies and compotes without any strawberries. I'm considering
leaving clothes, so I can use the weight to take back rhubarb.
2. The weather: after being in Spain, where the temperature was often
in the 90s or 100s with no rain in sight, France is usually in the
high 70s during the day and cools to probably low 60s at night. That
is what I call a pleasant summer.
3. The grandeur of their department stores: I'm not just talking
about the scale of them, which is impressive in it's own right. French
department stores are like having a Nordstrom, Barnes and Noble,
Michael's, Crate and Barrel, Toys 'R Us, Sephora, and Southern Season
all under one roof with a couple of cafes thrown in for good measure.
Now imagine the while thing set inside a really fancy 5 star hotel and
you can see why I was content to just stare at everything for hours.
4. Coulommiers: the first time I had Brie, I was convinced I would
never find a better cheese. I was wrong. Coulommiers looks just like
Brie and has the same texture but an even better flavor. We are
currently on our third wheel of it since arriving in France.
5. The unlimited movie card: So French people, Parisians in
particular, love going to the movies be them French, American, Indian,
Korean. etc. movies. There are over 300 different movies playing at
any one time in Paris. The best part is that that you can can pay 20€
(the price of two movies) a month to see as many movies you want
whenever you want. For 35€ a month you can take someone with you each
time, and it doesn't have to be the same person. Sadly, this program
requires a year commitment, so we were not able to take advantage of
it. However, I definitely think we should have this in the States.
6. Our daily bread: Not only does it remind you of several Bible
Stories, getting our bread everyday has grown on me. There is a
certain charm to walking home every day with a Euro's worth of crusty
baguette after exchanging friendly bonjour's with our village baker.
The bread is good enough to inspire me to eat toast for breakfast
every morning, something I never do at home. But come morning, the
leftover bread is stale and gross, so we have gotten better at
realizing how much we need for a day. It reminds me daily of manna, a
lesson about trusting God every day that has always been hard for me.
7. Chiming the hours: This year I was introduced to the spiritual
practice of praying the hours, something I actually wrote weekly
handouts about for our church during Lent and something similar at
Advent. There has always been something very weird to me about doing
my own handouts. So for all the prep, I have done very little
practicing myself. Our cottage here sits adjacent to a church built in
the 13th century. Some one still rings the church bells every hour
from 7am to 10pm. They get a little crazy at both 7s for some reason,
ringing the bell for almost a whole minute. It has reminded me several
times to pause a moment a reflect on higher things, and that when I
get back to be more disciplined about reading Phyllis Tickles'
wonderful books for I have enjoyed these pauses.
8. My Algerian friend: On one of the worst afternoons I had
experienced in France with creepy guys hitting on me, bad smells, and
bus mix-ups, I passed a delightful half hour talking to a complete
stranger. He spoke wonderful English and we talked about different
countries and cultures, our families (I got to see a picture of his
two month old son) and even schooling. While he turned out to be
Algerian, he spent many of his formative years here, and even went to
school at the Sorbonne, so I feel I can include him in my French
list. If he had not come along when he did, I think I would have
cried. For that, he will always be one of the favorite parts of our
9. Flan: Now I know this dish has been made famous in Spanish speaking
countries, in fact they sold it in pudding cup size in Spain. I have
to admit the French have improved upon it, though. They sell it in
every patisserie here, but in a tart crust and a slightly sweeter,
firmer texture. They also sometimes add fruit, chocolate, or coconut,
all with tasty results.
10. Vetheuil: We still can't pronounce it, and I am beginning to
suspect no one else can either for it has been said several different
ways to us. However you say it, it is quiet, beautiful, and friendly.
It has been wonderful to come home to each night after the craziness
in Paris. Like Albano in Italy and Nuevo Portil in Spain, I have
grown fond of our village.
Having said all of that, I'm ready to be home in Durham!
Thursday, August 6, 2009
We should arrive RDU at qbout midnight, JFK - or so hours before that.
Queue is more of a British word, but I think more clearly evokes waiting than just staying in line. There were queues everywhere :
-queues for tickets
-a queue for general entrance/ security
-a queue for individual wings
-queues for the bathrooms
These queues are punctuated by
-Bees clustering stubbornly around our sandwich and Coke
-Paintings with Paintings in them
-People on one side of the queue trying to take a picture of a picture on the other side, shocked to find a member of the queue stepped into the picture. I tried to respect the camera's field of view, but if you take 30 seconds to a minute taking the picture, someone else is going to get in the shot. We probably now appear in photos that will be viewed on multiple continents.
Speaking of queues, here's one to give you nightmares. A bathroom that would kill our friend T:
A long line, so you're committed. At the end, men move a little faster. But when you get there, it's one small room for both genders. Inside, on the left is a female attendant, directing you to stop and then go ahead to a tightly spaced pair of urinals on the right. Women come in behind you to the stalls at the back of the room. The 3 female stalls are close enough that your elbows touch one. The line is big, so the pressure to be done quickly is intense. There might not be bathrooms, until the end of the tour, 2-3 hours away, and they are probably the same setup, so there aren't any other options. How much did I pay to get in here? There turns out to be more restrooms than the guidebook mentioned, but you didn't know that in advance.
The gardens were good but not exactly exotic or varied according to L. They were designed to be uniform and patterned. Duke Gardens offers more variety (from forest to terraces to water lilies), is free, and offers better strollability and accessibility (no uneven cobblestones). Louis XIV was also striving for a gigantic scale, which makes for a nice view from above. Like Napoleon's tomb, the whole Versailles complex was designed to worship him. Political spin is nothing new. Ultimately, smaller monuments like the WWI/II monument by us at the church square/parking lot in Vetheuil speak more plainly and more deeply than royal excess. The names of 30 boys gone from a small rural village in one war and 5 in a later war illuminate devastating sacrifice. Louis only demonstrated that he had a lot of everything.
Again, the things you hope you'll be able to use again someday. We discovered a mention in the guidebook map of a station near Versailles, River Droit, that goes directly to Paris St Lazare, the train station we take home. It turns that this line L runs twice an hour to La Defense, the mall and movie complex. Of course we don't have a lot of shopping left to do, but if we do, we can do it without lugging our groceries through 3 transfers or up the 100 steps of death. I really like discovering easier and more efficient ways of doing things, even if we don't use it often. However, it would be helpful if some documentation or a trip computer were in the stations. Maybe it's on the web and we can't get to it. There are a lot of options on a lot of different types of transport. Again, this is a blessing, just a complicated one.
Lara stayed on the train to go home early.
From La Defense, I took the No. 1 metro line to Bastille and walked down Henry IV to the Seine River at pont (bridge) de Sully to pont des Arts. There Paris has yearly built Paris Plage (beach) over a closed highway. The Seine's banks are covered in concrete, so there are no natural beaches here.
Add in all the things Paris doesn't have: trucked in sand, potable water fountains, several free restrooms, and you have a fun, parade-type festival running a couple of miles along the rivers. I saw the most kids having the most fun I've seen in Paris. A few adults tried to pick up a tan on the sand or lounge chairs. Our village has a peaceful quietness, but I miss that background music of children playing that we had in Spain.
I headed back and ran across bus 21 going to St Lazare. It turned out this bus could be helpful in getting to the airport.
For a few minutes, I used the wifi at the McD across Rue St Lazare from the train station. I took the train out to Mantes Jolie. I had some time at the Internet café before the bus. I worked on some things like confirming our hotel on Saturday. By staying near the Charles de Gaulle airport at Roissy, we can spend €15 more than the taxi ride to the train station and leave at 8:30 instead of 5 am (hotelbb.com , a great value. This is important because we arrive in Durham at 6 am Paris time. It's going to be a long day.
I was getting ready to use Skype to call Lara and let here know I would be coming home on the next bus. Lara walked in, tired and hot. She spent the past few hours unsuccessfully trying to get home on the bus! I'll let her tell the story of scary people, a very nice Algerian man who showed he pictures of his kids, and bus woes.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Okay, I'll quit arguing - we are slowly throwing off the tourist identity and, metro passes aside, we are resuming our suburban lives. We are arted out, tourist churched out, running for the trained out, stair climbed out.
We started later, with time to walk to the local bakery and get very fresh bread for breakfast. We went to McDonald's (1st floor, the big one, as opposed to the ones on floor 2 and floor -2). It's terrible to do in a country with so many gastronomic delights, but those delights are expensive. The wifi didn't work until I discovered a free zone on the second floor landing. Then we went to the English with French subtitles version of "Up." It's called Le Haut. I found inquiring about "Leh Howt" didn't register with the cashier because it's pronounced like wow but with an L in front of it. Again, most letters seem to be ignored. I can't try pronouncing it right without seeming to parody the language.
The movie is very sweet and entertaining and shows kinship between people in a convincing and profound way. As a cartoon, it rates higher emotionally than most live action movies.
It costs €10 because they don't distinguish between a matinee or night showing. It's 40% off if you buy a pack of 5 tickets, so we'll be back.
We found a supermarket in the mall, Auchan. It is much bigger than the market in Mantes-Jolie. It has more prepared foods, handy when you are tired of cooking after several weeks in kitchens equipped very differently from each other and from ours. We filled one reusable bag. Then we felt the problem of hauling the heavy bag. The metro/RER is at the other end of the big mall. Sitting or standing for a few minutes on the train isn't so bad. It's the stairs, the many, many stairs. Some stations have escalators and some of those work. Very few stations have elevators. At the transfer from the RER to the metro at Auber, there are escelators, under repair. The only alternative was 100 stairs going up. We looked around hoping for alternatives (maybe helium balloons like in the movie). We found none, so up we went.
Besides the normal up and down in and out of the station, there are many ups and downs as you pass over other train lines. I have spent some time putting together a train-walking-airport bus plan to get to the airport. There are just too many stairs to make the airport train option, with a couple of transfers, work with 70 lbs of luggage each. We'll walk down one set of stairs from the train station (25 tracks but no elevators) to the street level, walk a half mile to the Roisssy bus, and go straight to the airport.
I can understand the lack of elevators on some levels. With hundreds of stations, making everyone accessible is difficult. An unaccompanied mother with a stroller must ask a stranger to assist her in climbing the stairs, a need obvious enough that you don't have to understand her French request. However, this is an exception. I haven't witnessed anyone struggling with heavy luggage ask for help^. As one guidebook put it: in tourist areas, anyone offering help is going ask for money or try to scam you.
On the way home, the bus driver questioned us today,"Vatoya?" Maybe another way to pronounce Vetheuil. I guess they know we're not one of the regulars and are worried we're heading in the wrong direction.
^The assumption is that stealing babies is less likely than stealing luggage.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
collection that didn't promise to end in heartrending despair. It
ended up being very good, but rebrowsing the multiple shelves did not
suggest any good next reads. I tried reading the first few chapters of
3 different books, but discarded all of them. I decided part of Monday
would have to be spent hunting down another English book store.
Thankfully, there are several in Paris.
D. and I parted ways in Montmarte- a very colorful neighborhood that
had more personality than any other I'd seen in Paris and with street
artists. For being the city of artists, I thought I'd see more of
these, but until then I had only seen people selling the same old
prints of the Eiffel Tower and old Moulin Rouge posters. But like
everything else in Paris, the street artists were ridiculously
expensive. A 4×6 canvas was going for 70-90€. Despite the charm of
Montmarte visually, it had a rather strong odor-Eau de Urine, shall we
say. I couldn't help thinking that a few more free public restrooms
might solve that problem. That day I don't know if there was something
in the wind or what, but every subway line was just reeking with
urine. I did manage to find some books, but by the time D. found me I
was tired, and could no longer take the nasal affront. I informed him
that France and I were not getting along and I wanted to go home. I
compared my day to Jon Stewart's description of the Wal-Mart bathroom-
smelling of urine, tears, and broken dreams.
He laughed, hugged me, and told me of his wonderful discovery. He
promised me tomorrow I could have the American triumvirate of M's:
mall, movie, and Mcdonalds. I instantly felt better.
Chinatown. It is now a bunch of souvenir shops, selling Eiffel Tower
ash trays and such. We are down to considering buying souvenir gifts
so gaudy that they might be hip and ironic.
We used the funicular, a diagonal traveling box that crosses an
elevator with an escalator^. That brought us up to a landing. Around
the corner to the right were free bathrooms. Yeah! Thank you Rick
Steves guidebook for pointing this out. Up the stairs is Sacre-Coeur
(sacred heart) Basilica. It was finished in 1919. The foundations go
130 feet deep because of old mines in the area. The dome goes another
260 feet up. And it's already at the highest point in Paris, so the
view even from the bottom is great.
As we toured, we sat down. Singing started. Behind us, out of view a
mass was being conducted while we tourists wandered around. The sounds
were very beautiful, even without understanding French.
Lara noticed one of the paintings, in which many people faced Christ.
If you looked carefully, one of them was an American Indian with full
regalia and headgear. No other minorities were featured in the
painting, and France had known quite a few during colonization. More
European fascination with the American West?
Later, I went to the skyscrapers at La Defense while L did some
shopping. La Defense is the more modern part of Paris, which saves the
older parts from meddling. Exiting the metro at Esplanade de La
Defense, I saw a clear line down DeGaulle Ave to the Arch de Triumph,
a few kilometers away. This is kind of special because Paris does not
feature many straight roads; oh, the view was special too. Works of
art% dot the central area, kind of a small concrete central park,
between tall buildings. From the GPS, it seems the park is over a
freeway, like the Big Dig in Boston. One piece of art features
Corkscrews 30 feet high of various faded colors and white lights
A new building under construction, 50 stories high, is dwarfed by
another building beside it. Walking toward the Grand Arch and away
from the Arch de Triumph, I encountered Le Moreitti - 10 stories high
of varied colors of metal cylinders that form a bigger cylinder. It is
also a cell phone tower, with the antennas colored so they roughly fit
in. It looks even stranger in window reflections of the office
buildings, where the straight lines of the cylinders become warped.
Next I see a three story twisted mess of red iron that nothing
resembles. A merry-go-round is also here. Then comes a 3 story
concrete creation - it could be a crab and a one eyed smurf or nothing
at all. It is unlabeled, unclaimed by its creator.
Next comes a big surprise in an office park: a several story shopping
mall with Toys R Us, two McDonalds, one with free wifi, a cinema with
VOST matinees, and a supermarket. If you want to see a movie in
English in France, you need it to be labeled VO or VOST, original
version with subtitles. We saw a VO movie earlier, but no matinees
were available. This theater should be in guidebooks. Yes, we didn't
travel 3,000 miles to see Harry Potter, but a little Americana on a
long trip is nice.
Walking outside again, a giant 3 story lone thumb sticks out of the ground.
Difficult to ignore, Le Grande Arche is a little hard to contemplate.
Take a squarish 38 floor office building and hollow out a huge
rectangle in the middle. It houses offices for 30,000 people, but the
design makes the sides look like they are just structural supports. It
also houses www.museeinformatique.fr .
It is only 20 years old, proof that landmarks are still being added to Paris.
Lara's metro ride started when she waited for the train as a trumpeter
pulled up next to her. With his boombox blaring backup music (not
uncommon for street performers; sometimes you're not sure I the whole
thing isn't taped and they are lip syncing), he trumpeted away. She
was thankful to escape as she boarded the train. Before the doors
closed, he entered her car. Too tired to switch cars, she had 8 stops
to go. Our lower density in the suburbs makes street performers
unprofitable. Vetheuil doesn't have them, and I haven't seen any in
On the way home, we caught the 4:10 express train to Mantes Jolie.
The schedules indicated that the train would arrive one minute too
late to catch the bus. We hoped for an early train. We weren't paying
attention, so we weren't the first out of the train. Oh well, even
though we're tired, we can spend an hour in the Internet café while we
wait for the next bus.
As we exited the train station, we saw our bus leaving the stop and
heading around the traffic circle. We walked toward it, eyes longing
for a ride home on the 9511. Somehow the driver spotted us and pointed
at us. He pulled the bus over. He said, "Vetheuil?" in several ways
(French might not have been his first language either). We tried to
say "Yes, Vetheuil" in several ways. We boarded, thankful that he
stopped when most bus drivers wouldn't. Or maybe he was lonely - the
bus was empty at the first stop and biggest draw, the train station.
We remained the only two people on the full size bus until we got off.
The bus drivers here can choose music, so we listened to Bob Marley on
the way home.
^Sadly the crossed offspring, like the mule is infertile.
%Someone said, "I don't know art, but I know what I hate." I despise
a lot of modern art because I have no idea what is means, and it is as
memorable as a Pepsi commercial (although the Superbowl one with Cindy
Crawford does come to mind as artistic). Some artists eschew meaning
altogether. However, I don't hate the Defense art because these pieces
of art are at least absurd enough and different enough to be memorable
and maybe even incite some pondering.
*although the Global Danpark ™ could change all of that
the time when tourists are allowed inside. They still hold mass at 9
AM (judging by the bells ringing then). The church is massive,
indicative of a time in which the village was much more populated and
church-going. Today there are cane bottom chairs at the front in the
alter area for the parishioners. The wooden pews which occupy most of
the church are gathering dust. The church is older than many in Paris,
dating at least to the 1300s.
Around 8 PM, I walked to the park on the Seine River. On one end were
a couple of cars next to people starting a barbecue grill, with what
smelled like transmission fluid, and playing rap music in English. At
the other end was a couple in a compact car, 10 feet from the river,
eating McDonald's value meals. It's at least 10 km from the nearest
McD, so this was probably a planned outing. If only Monet were
painting today, he could have captured this international moment.
I sat down at a bench and watched the sun shine of the Seine. At my
feet, I found a cardboard drink tray, probably also from McDonald's.
It doesn't smell like burnt transmission fluid.
Across the river, Lavacourt stands still like a painting. I see houses
and cars, not people. Maybe a dog's bark is coming from that
direction. I walk to the water's edge and dip my hand in it. It's not
as cold as I expected. It may be swimmable. But what would I do
soaking wet on the other side?
On Monday, I saw a person there from our window. I waved. I don't
think he saw me.
Monday, August 3, 2009
the reduced Saturday schedule. Add in a few kilometers of walking
between places and 2 hours doesn't give you a whole lot of time, but 4
hours seemed too many. Public transit forces you into time discipline.
At 4 PM, you must be done with at the Internet café to walk to the
market. At 5 PM, you must be through the line (add in some extra time
to run back to the produce section to weigh your bananas and put the
forgotten price sticker on them while other customers wait in line),
you can get to the bus by 5:15. That's the last bus to Veutheil, so
missing it means a €10 to €20 cab ride (more after 7 PM). There's no
slowly browsing from one place and returning 3 1/4 hours or another
arbitrary time later. It puts some pressure on what should otherwise
be a lazy Saturday afternoon. It's not terrible and we did fine, but
if I don't return your e-mail, you now know why - because I had to run
for the bus.
In Paris proper, it's a different story. If you miss a subway train,
there's another in 3 or 4 minutes and even a sign to tell you how many
minutes. The commuter trains run twice an hour, with one being an
express train, so there is some reason to hurry, as you see many
people doing, to avoid standing around the train station.
We picked up pizza from the local pizzeria for dinner. It was good,
although different from American pizza. I spent the evening exploring
a different part of town. I found a soccer field and tennis courts,
all empty. In Nuevo Portil, Spain, 9 PM would have been prime time for
being out at the tennis courts and on the street. Here, there were
some cars passing through and the occasional blue glow of televisions
through open windows. Maybe everyone here has gone to resort towns
like Nuevo Portil.
As I was walking a couple of kilometers away from town, an older woman
in a car stopped me and asked for help. "No parlez vois Francais.
Parlez vois Anglais?" I tried to communicate my lack of English.
Undissuaded, she continued in French. I picked out Vi-TOOhl (just a
hint of the L) and gradually realized that might be the name of our
village with still unknown pronunciation, Vetheuil. I said Marie (town
hall) and Iglesia (church), the two landmarks in town to see if we
were indeed and she seemed to agree, although in a way that sounded
like of course I know that. I might actually be able to be helpful! So
I tried to explain to go down the road and turn right with gesturing.
I had the GPS, so I showed her the map. Without saying anything, she
grabbed it out of my hands and took it into the car and studied it,
disapprovingly (what is this strange box?). She returned it to me. As
dusk approached, I was heading back, so I said, "I am going to
Vi-TOOhl" and pointed. She grimaced. I didn't know what else to do,
short of getting into the car with her, which surely would have scared
both of us. So I headed back down the hill. She didn't follow. The
Tower of Babel wins again.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
We saw St. Chapelle Church , with a lot of beautiful floor to ceiling stained glass, an artistic as well as engineering success to hold up all of that glass, and the Orsay Museum, with a lot of impressionists. L can say more about that.
Orsay notes from L.-
So I thought D. would enjoy this museum since he has always liked Impressionists, especially Monet. I'm the one who's always like-whee, another blurry painting. Every so often I like a Renoir or something, but I don't get too excited about Impressionists. Actually now I know I like medieval and renaissance painting even less (thank you Vatican) with the exception of a few light-hearted frescos. Come to think of it, I don't really like much modern stuff, either.Truth be told, it's not so much that I'm a snob across all eras as much as I don't really like painting as a medium. It's a shame since most art museums are dedicated to that.
I'm more of a photography, sculpture, textile and decorative arts girl. I can yawn at a Monet, but practically swoon over a well made vase, but then I've always been odd. And known for tangents as I'm supposed to be describing the Orsay. So I think D. lost his appetite for art midway though the Vatican and just never got it back. He looked through the Impressionist galleries kind of halfheartedly and skipped several of them. I saw all of them and then I went in search of the 4ish Rodin sculptures they had to show D. He seemed to perk up a bit for those. But then I lost him again in what was by far my favorite part of the museum-the art nouveau galleries.
No one had even mentioned these when everyone said to go to the Orsay (I have a sinking suspicion most people skip them). Well. I was in raptures over the stained glass, furniture, vases, and lamps. I kept squealing and pointing to things and D. kept going "umn-hmm" and I could tell he was thinking, "It's a lamp, what?" I found out there is a ceramic museum in the suburbs of Paris and I suggested to D. we should go. He rolled his eyes and said, " Is this going to be like the teapot exhibit?" I took that as a "no." However, I will say that the teapot exhibit at the Mint Museum in Charlotte was splendid although not perhaps male-oriented.
Back to D
We ate dinner at Quick, the only non-American fast food chain I remember seeing in Europe. It was quick and cheap, too (for Europe - €6=$8.40 or so). They even grande-sized it for a little more. And free bathrooms.
Big movie theaters in Paris play movies in VO-Original Version at night, so we went to see Harry Potter in English, with French subtitles. We discovered a €20/month deal for all the movies you want to watch. With our regrets, a one year contract was required.
True and False Cognates in the movie and elsewhere
English - French (roughly spelled)
Wand - baguette (? We heard it twice)
Memory - souvenir
book store - librarie
library - bibliotheque
Hogwarts - poulard
Stop Requested - Arrere Demande (hopefully you can find the stop buttons because they are well hidden on some buses).
Visa credit card - maybe the same meaning in large stores, but more likely it means a French debit card with a microchip that works while your plain old international Visa doesn't go everywhere you want it to go
I think we found the part of the metro that Jenny said was broken. Line C of the RER, with what seemed like a promise of a bus that never materialized. But it was nice weather for walking.
Transferring between stations or even walking inside the same station can be several hundred meters and several minutes of walking up and down stairs. Villers on line 3 is the ideal station, where you can see the line to which you are transferring and may not need any stairs to transfer, as opposed to St Lazare and St Lazare Haus, which are connected by short lines on the map and some signs in the stations, but after a while you give up, surface, and follow the GPS directions for several hundred meters. I say this all to say that it can be hard to choose the best route when you don't know if the dot on the map is one escalator up or several hundred meters of walking and stair climbing. This is just an inconvenience on the back of the luxury of having dozens of stations undergirding the city.
People on the metro seem very much in a hurry, more so than anywhere I have seen on the trip (maybe all of the car honking in Spain was close).
Staying late meant hiring a taxi for the last 10 km leg of our trip because the bus stops running at 7:30 PM. It went better than expected. A cabby showed up right when I was about to call him. I had been dreading using our mangled guidebook French over the phone. We had to show him the city name because we still don't know which letters to ignore and which to pronounce.
^That's when the CHUDs come out. I haven't actually seen the movies yet, but every indication is that the Cybernistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers series should be a classic.
Friday, July 31, 2009
We caught the 8 am bus and express train again. It's most efficient to catch the express train after the early bus because there's minimal delay between the two and the express train skips the many stops on the way to Paris. However, I think it's wearing us out. We took the 14:30 train back today after seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triumph. Maybe we are just falling back to our old sleepy ways after 6 weeks of generally more active lifestyles. I've found I can stretch for a while, but the bungy cord of energy always retracts.
Maybe, you realize the awe best when you try to take a picture of something several hundred yards away and you can't fit it in. Or when you are underneath it and can't see its entire width, nor all of the people lined up to see it. There are a lot of impressive stats, like how many hundreds of tons of steel were used, how many rivets were used, how many people work there now (620), how high it is (300 meters), etc. But the views of the city were what really impressed me. I hadn't realized how expansive it is. I saw the skyscrapers off in the distance (kind of like DC, where the tall buildings aren't downtown but in Arlington, Va and other spots). I saw the city of Paris instead a collection of winding blocks and dozens of almost randomly placed metro stops.
The lines were much better at 9 am Thursday than yesterday afternoon. The line for the elevator was about 30 minutes long, and Lara's worn out feet moved her into that line. My sometimes aversion to crowds, my growing predilection toward unnecessary physical exertion%, my very often need to read factoids, and my constant desire to save €3.50 moved me to the stairs line. I walked right up to the ticket line and through to the stairs. By the time I got to the second level, I had climbed the equivalent of 43 stories (if I am remembering right). But the factoid posters along the way gave me natural pauses. I also resisted my strong habit of taking steps two at a time. The weather has been extremely nice, so that made the stairs much more comfortable. A shopkeeper told us Paris was in the continental temperate weather zone, while Spain was in the sub-Saharan zone (see Seville blogs although the coast was much more livable). The only problem was knowing how much progress you were making. You are surrounded by similar looking steel the whole time. Am I 10 minutes or 20 or more away?
The first level was huge, with a couple of restaurants and theaters with information on the Tower. The name tower had made me think of a bell tower, where you can view all four sides by turning your body 360 degrees. That is not possible here. You take a long walk around the level with gorgeous views on all sides. It should be called the Eiffel Complex or Eiffel Really Big Thing and Stuff^ to denote its size. It's kind of like my initial uninformed imagination of the Grand Canyon as a ditch, just more so, until against my better judgment, we went to see it on Spring Break in college.
Back to Logistics:To complete the awe, there are free bathrooms before you pay and on the first and second levels. There are bathroom attendants, bored out of their minds, but they don't stare you down for tips or make you buy something (by contrast at the Army museum, there was a bathroom external to the entrance but you still must show a ticket unlike the tower). There are paper towels, which are nice on a Summer day when you don't want to blow hot air on yourself.
Anything magnificent here (and in a lot of places) must be surrounded by tourists, vendors, and beggars and pickpockets (and often in France impressive soldiers with machine guns, fingers not on but very close to the trigger). The Eiffel Really Big Thing and Stuff (ERBTaS~) was no exception. Almost immediately upon entering the area, we were aggressively pursued by a guy selling miniatures of the ERBTaS. From €1 up, you could have a memory forever. I was happy to have a €1 keychain, but Lara traded it for a bigger €10 desktop version after she haggled him down to €3.
The key chain guys move around quickly, often in packs and refuse to take no for an answer. They are so desperate to move this merchandise that it seems like they are in a movie in which they are being forced by a terrorist to carry around plutonium baubles that will detonate unless they disperse them by unloading them on tourists+. From the first level, I watched five of them run away when they saw a cop.
Also out in force are women in shawls who come approach you and ask if you speak English and then produce a note testifying that they are refugees. Given there are more French people here, it would make sense to have the note in French. Maybe the French are less charitable or less gullible. After the fourth women with the same plea, you start to get a little jaded and suspicious. A nein, dunke usually suffices.
We then headed to the Arc de Triumph and Champ Ulysses, a street with trendy shops. We were tired, so we decided to head home.
A quirk in the afternoon bus schedule gave us an opportunity to visit a new village. Aincourt has 4 stops and is the terminal stop of the 9511 bus that runs through our town. Our town has 2 stops, so a 4 stopper worthy of an express bus must be grand, right? We saw a lot of fields and then more fields and then a few cows. The last stop was a hospitality center, we gathered from our translation book. When we got there, we found a hospital center with nothing else around. Oops, maybe the hospital cafeteria has some good snacks? Fortunately, the next bus was a couple of minutes late, so we could catch it back to our village because L thought the hospital cafeteria wasn't going to be gourmet. The quirky schedule still meant we made it home faster than if we had taken the later direct bus.
Aincourt, I had such high hopes for you. You broke my heart. I am similarly stricken over Lavacourt, the village across the Seine from us. Less than a kilometer away on the map, it's a five hour walk because it's on a peninsula with few bridges. I can see the reflection of the street lights off the river, but I shan't ever swing off them as I belt out "Singing in the Rain." Maybe Creedance singing "Have you ever seen the Rain" fits me better. Gotta go and hook up the iPod with CCR to the portable stereo here.
Footnotes:% As a kid, my family took 6 mile walks for fun-volksmarches.^ Copyright 1967, Global Danpark Corporation, Durham, NC. All rights reserved.~ Acronym ERBTaS Copyright 1953, Global Danpark-Liberia and Global Danpark-Rhodesia . Most rights reserved (the important ones).+ Movie treatment Copyright 2009, 20th Century Danpark.
We also found a Hallmark, which had enough off color items that it could have been a Spencer's gifts. A bolangerie had excellent huge slices of flan with fruit. The bakeries in Spain and France have been one of the many highlights of the trip. Unfortunately they don't have any of the €1 chocolate eclairs here. Maybe that's for the best. I say this, but my German blood tells me it's never wrong to consume chocolate.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
After a Chinese lunch, we headed in different directions. I went to the Army Museum/Napoleon's tomb. The tomb is inside a church where politics and religion are closely intertwined. A free with admissions audio tour does a good job of explaining this. On the ceiling, King Louis XIV, who commissioned the building to show his approval by previous kings and God, is shown giving his sword directly to God (no need for the church to be involved here). At one end of the church is a cross with Jesus hanging on it, and he faces the opening to the lower level where lies Napoleon. The tomb looks much bigger than the cross, so we know who's in charge.Christ calling kings to be his faithful servants is one thing, but this place gave the feeling that God was endorsing kings and generals. Although it's a very complex topic. I'm starting to understand some of my friends at church in their hesitance to mix patriotism and Christianity closely together. It's easier to see this odd juxtaposition in another country.
The Army museum was impressive. It walks through 1870 to 1945 to explain how many forces kept Europe at war. It was honest about France's shortcomings, such as not modernizing its military after the exhaustion and massive destruction of WWI to the point that Germany could conquer the country in 40 days. But it was also proud of its expatriate and resistance forces operating during the war. It also noted how Japan inability to surrender in battle led to horrendous casulties on both sides even on battles for small islands. This led to the decision to use the atomic bomb to avoid a gruesome mainland invasion. I had expected an exorciation of the US. I guess I shouldn't paint all of Europe with one broad stroke. The exhibit ends with a picture of checkpoint Charlie, showing not everything was finished.
L:We actually began our day walking down Rue Cler which is full of fruit and vegetable stalls, cheese shops, bakeries, chocolatiers and gourmet food shops. I loved it, but D. was less than enthralled. Then we went to the Effiel tower. After oohing and ahhing and taking some pictures we decided the line to go up was too long so we'd try again another day. It was not a complete loss, though, as we discovered free restrooms there!
I've been wanting Chinese food since Florence, and the neighborhood we were in afforded several options. It tasted like heaven to me even if it was not the best Chinese I've had. We've been dying for our variety of ethnic food we enjoy in Durham. Still no taquerias to be found, but I did find an Ortega taco kit at the store we tried for dinner last night. Something about it was just off, though. It might have been the Holland cheese that looks like cheddar but actually tastes nothing like cheddar. I know, I know-I'm in France. Why in the world am I eating Chinese food and what even at home I would consider sub-par tacos. Not to worry, we have already had crepes, baguettes, pastries, and soft cheese galore. However, we have yet to eat out at a French restaurant just because they are so expensive. Even your normal fast food lunch that runs you about $4 at home is 7 euros here, and that doesn't include a drink which is usually at least 2 euros. Even the cheapest set price menu for lunch runs about 16 euros. We will eventually have a fine dining experience or two.
As usual, food has distracted me. While D. went to the Army museum, I went to the Rodin museum. He's most famous for his statue The Thinker, but after seeing his other works, I'm not sure why. The Thinker is nice, but Rodin was amazing at capturing emotion and movement in his sculpture. I have always had a soft spot for sculpture, although only my friend Kevin never seemed to understand how I could be moved by how the sculptor made a tiny tendril of hair or made a marble robe look soft. Rodin worked mostly in cast bronze, a lengthy 10-step process where I have no idea how they got the bronze to ever look like the original plaster model. Still, somehow he did and the results were breathtaking. I think I have found my favorite sculptor. It was nice, too, because there were beautiful gardens with some of his larger works scattered throughout in addition to the building full of other sculptures.
The Rodin Museum is tiny compared to the massive fortress of the Army museum, so I had extra time while D. was reading all those little plaques. I went to Bon Marche, France's oldest department store. It was beautiful inside and I could have looked at all the beautiful things for days. They had 5 floors of clothing, furniture, china, gourmet food and tea, stationary and art supplies, books, toys, luggage, perfume and makeup, two cafes, and more. It was like having an entire mall, but in one department store. They even had an entire counter and set of jars just dedicated to buttons. It was a feast for the eyes, but all I really did was "lick the windows" the charming French way of saying window shopping or just looking. While the store may mean "inexpensive" as my guidebook tells me. I'm thinking that was true years ago, but with the racks filled with the likes of Chanel and Armani, that is not the case anymore. It was well worth the visit, though, and I discovered another free bathroom. We got a less crowded train on the way home, and a jovial bus driver, so I was thinking much kinder thoughts of the French after our second trip to Paris.
First let's take a break to talk about watches, an important early part of the blog. As you may recall, the €5 was too small. I attached it to Jenny's pool bag, so she could know when to come to dinner. When she left, she was not tempted to take this fashion accessory with her and dropped it on the kitchen table. The €3 watch was bigger. Too big, said L. However, the Spanish people proved her sadly mistaken. When a watchless person needed the time, they could see mine from 100 meters away and would ask or-uh? I would show them the watch because I can't say the time in Spanish. And the large digital display communicates across cultures. An German American do-gooder with a Chinese watch bought it in Italy from a Middle-Easterner saves a Spaniard from missing siesta. An international moment that repeated itself half a dozen times. Queue "I believe the children are our future." One part of the watch has already fallen off the front. It was just an aesthetic piece that was slowing me down.Now, I have my grandfather's Rolex, a generous wedding present from my brother Brian, at home in NC, but I was afraid to bring it with all of the guidebooks warnings of pickpockets and all, so it is locked up in an undisclosed location.
So I'll go into some details which are interesting to me but may seem a tad negative. Regardless we are having a good time on the whole of it. It's just the strange tidbits that come to mind first.
Back to-I set the alarm on my watch at 7 am. This turned out to be unnecessary because the church a few meters away starts its first ringings at 7:03. And ringing and ringing, not just 7 times. We did breakfast quickly thanks to Nutella, and we got to the bus stop a little before 8 am. 20 minutes later we were at the train station in Mantes la Jolie.
At 9:10, we were in Paris St Lazare, a train and metro hub. The trip cost about €9 each. For €37, we could buy a weekly transit ticket called the Carte Orange. We knew we needed passport photos to get them, and we couldn't find them at Mantes la Jolie, so we had to pay the fare in (later I decided we could have bought the cards anyway, oh well). When in Paris, we searched and asked all over. Even at the ticket office, the agent was not very helpful or friendly, just shrugging his shoulders when asked about the photos we needed for the pass. He also didn't know when we could renew the pass for the next week - Wednesday, Friday, maybe, who knows? Some people have been helpful, but the not my problem syndrome is quite alive here.
From the movie Amelie, I got the impression that these photo booths were everywhere, but times have changed. We eventually found a photo booth for €4 each. This booth was being serviced. The photo printing booth next to the photo booth, also out of order, convinced me to just take pictures with the digital camera, about 8 feet away, cut out our heads, and affix them to the cards. Later in the day, we stopped by a jewelry store Jenny recommended. It was close to a photo store, and €1, 15 minutes, and a borrowed pair of scissors later, we had passport pictures for our metro cards. An economic victory in a very expensive town.
To deny access to one of the most basic sensitive personal necessities of life is rude, Parisian rude^. It says, visitors go back to your own houses! Bathrooms are a nightmare here. Even American stalwarts failed us. Subway charged €0.50 even we had eaten lunch there, but the WC was broken. At Starbucks, we ran up the stairs as the cashier chastised us. L told him we'd buy something afterwards because she was in a hurry. He let us proceed knowing that we would run into coded locks on the door. I ran downstairs and bought a cookie and received a receipt with a bathroom code. I ran back upstairs to give L the code. When we left, I left the code on an outside table for the next person in need.
An open letter from a couple in need of restrooms in Paris:
My household has spent thousands of dollars on your overpriced goods and even many hours on the other side of the counter selling them, partly because of your ambience and comfortable atmosphere. You've made your profit off of us.
Now cut us some slack and act with more dignity than a rural West Texas rest stop with no restrooms and small cacti. You may say this is cultural, but some cultures ignore hand washing regimes and do not properly refrigerate perishable foods. Do you follow the culture then? No, you follow a higher standard and do the right thing. And the right thing is not making someone buy a small, stale cookie for $3 when they are in need. Should a place that sells $4 coffee have lower standards than a place that will sell my dad a $0.30 senior coffee?
Someone planning to buy hot drinks at McDonald's in the future
The day was not all logistics. We saw Notre Dame and the Memorial for the Deported, a tribute to those taken from France during WWII, especially Jews. We toured the Left Bank. L may have more details on that later. I've worn myself out expounding the lesser details.
L's contribution- we decided to have a low key first day since we had to figure out the Carte orange and buy groceries at the larger store in Mantes la Jolie. We took the Historic Paris walk in the Rick Steves Book. We toured Notre Dame but opted not to climb the 400+ steps to the tower. As D. mentioned we also saw the French memorial after being accosted by our first rude French person in charge of letting people into the memorial. As far as I could tell our blunder was not saying "Bonjour" to her. I had read that you needed to do that in small boutique stores, but to a security guard at a national site frequented by many tourists not informed of all of the French Emily Post seems a bit touchy to me.
Alter the memorial we explored the Left Bank a bit. We saw the Church of St. Severin. It was not near as large as Notre Dame, but had some beautiful stained glass of a more abstract variety instead of some picture of an unidentifed saint. We also explored a bit of the Latin Quarter which seems more filled with kebab places these days. We also went to Shakespeare and company bookstore. It's a very compact used bookstore and free housing for struggling writers. Many famous authors called the Store home, including Ernest Hemmingway back in the days when he was catching pigeons at a nearby park for food. It was interesting for history's sake, but it was difficult to actually find a specific book so I gave up trying to find reading material.
Anne has a nice selection at the cottage, but after reading the backs of all of her novels, I noticed her tastes run towards the tragic. I did find one I am reading now that did not outright promise ultimate betrayal.After the bookstore we took in Blvd. St. Michel of the obnoxious Starbucks and place St. Michel, a favorite square of the French for rioting. In the late 60s the cobblestones were finally removed and it paved. I guess they finally decided that it was not an inalienable right to brain policemen with pulled up cobblestones.
At this point it had been raining for a while and the French were making us grumpy, so we decided to run an errand for Jenny and head home. Unfortunately, the train was so packed that we had to stand the whole ride. One nice gentleman gave up his seat for a little girl, but the rest of them spent a lot of energy giving me the stink eye and looks of disgust anytime I accidently touched one of them as the train jostled us in the aisle around. My "perdon" apparently was not good enough. By the end of the day I was ready to wash my hands of Parisians. The people we have encountered in our small village have been very nice, thankfully. That night I was too tired to crepes again, so we just stuck a premade quiche in the oven. After a bath/shower (our bathing option I'm sure will at some point make it into Ds observations) and a restorative cup of tea I decided I should give the Parisians another chance tommorrow.
^And frankly, it makes a city smell rotten in certain parts.
We woke up to see Vetheuil in daylight for the first time. On one side of the cottage is a large stone church. On the other is a a view of the Seine River (pronounced sane, according to an audio guide). The house is historic and has appeared in a couple of Monet paintings. The bed is in the attic with 4 foot clearance on the beams, so we decided to use the pull out couch on the first floor. It works well with nice lighting from a couple of windows and easy mid-night bathroom access, a feminine must. My only objection is the painting of a rabbit staring at us, giving us the stink eye. He knows about the rabbit's feet from our youth.
The village has a collection of houses and a handful of businesses. It is a few kilometers away from the next village, with very rural, agrarian areas in between (rednecks worldwide unite - they may eat brie here, but they still have lawns with cars of various levels of functionality in the yard, along with rusted debris and maybe a cheap above ground pool that is now more accurately described as a lagoon). It's a bit strange to be so rural and yet be an hour away from the heart of Paris. In Washington, DC, three hours out is still suburban with 7-11s on every corner (two of them with literally adjoining parking lots minutes away from 10 other 7-11s in Manassas, Va, at least an hour from DC). There is a village very close by, across the river. The absence of both a bridge and warm water mean you can't get there from here.
We headed to the Bolangerie, the bread store (stores seem very specialized here), which is only open at specific hours and not at all on Mondays. It was very fresh and tasty-we plan on being regular consumers of the chocolate bread. We discovered that of the three restaurants in town, one has gone on holiday for two weeks. It is common in France for entire small businesses to go on vacation at once. In two weeks, we will return to a house that is a 10 minute walk from a 24/7 Super Walmart where we can buy sun screen and microwave pizza with a special combo price of $9.99 at 3 am. And we will not be the only people there at 3 am. And we know people who apply sunscreen at 3 am (J+J :) The only thing you can buy here at 3 am, or probably 11 pm for that matter, are certain family planning devices from a machine bolted to the front of the pharmacy, or so I've heard~.
Consequently it has been a struggle to get used to concepts like siestas and en masse vacations. A big struggle. It's not that we don't appreciate the beauty, the history, the different culture - it's that we want it all, those things and extreme convenience too.
The other affordable restaurant is the pizzeria. We had to take our paninis, which were good, to go because lunch hours ended at 2 pm. I got a "carte de fidelite" stamped, so our ninth order comes with a free pizza. Now I am truly a savvy local.
We walked 3 km to St. Martin, where the market is, to explore a little. It appeared closed, but when we asked a man about the hours, he opened it for us.
There are many English books in the cottage (Anne is a Brit). After perusing a book on the perils of Nutrasweet, which I don't like anyway because it tastes sour to me, I settled in on some books on France. I think L's Rick Steves guidebooks are great, but I found some books about actually living here and not just visiting.Live and Work in France (different from another book in the cottage, Living and working in France), was very revealing. For example, the annual TV tax is around $200 (used to fund the PBS type channels that a small percentage of the French watch), so that might explain why we don't have a TV. I guess this is not terribly uncommon in Europe. It's an example of the government deciding what is best. If this tax were imposed in the US, the races would come together to riot and burn down PBS broadcast towers and interrogating Lach Mi Sing to see where the money goes.
The book covers a lot of financial matters. Inheritance here is fascinating. Ascendants (parents) and descendants have very specific required inheritances, regardless of your intentions expressed in a will. The spouse does not automatically get everything, even if you say she does, though she gets rights to live in the house she may now no longer completely own. Throw in children from previous marriages and affairs and you have a Jerry Springer situations popping up at every funeral home. For example, if I died in France, my parents automatically receive 50% of my assets, now owning part of Lara's house and car (hopefully I would have to at least be a resident for these rules to apply; otherwise, I have instructed Lara to smuggle my body to a more libertarian country). I don't know why the government has to decide these things. The book said you can pay €1500 to switch contract systems to avoid some of these problems, but just writing down your intentions doesn't count for much.Another interesting legal concept here is "En Tontine," a system of joint ownership in which the death of one partner triggers 100% of the assets to belong to the other partner, regardless of inheritance rules. So your business partner has a strong financial interest in your death.
In describing the process of getting paperwork processed, the book notes 1/4 of the French work for the government and 10% of those have no discernible function.
There is of course national health insurance, part of the 20% payroll taxes for social security. However, you pay upfront for nonemergency services and are reimbursed later by the government. There are automation programs to shorten reimbursement times to 5 days, but I'm sure like any paperwork process, there are delays. (Hey, buddy, can I borrow a few grand for knee surgery? I'll pay it back soon). The reimbursement rate is only around 70%, so most people have to take out private supplemental policies to make copays more affordable. We've had health procedures costing thousands of dollars in the US with no upfront payment (part of the US's crazy system is that it's hard to charge upfront because they don't have much of an idea of what it will actually cost).
I find these observations fascinating not because I come from a perfect culture with perfect systems (B+,anyone?:), but because I find system analysis fascinating. Senior Analyst was my job title after all.
The book distinguishes greatly between the rest of the country and Paris. It calls Paris the coldest and most unwelcoming city to foreigners in Europe.
Which leads us to the next day...
Footnotes~Some of our wives are asleep at 3 am. Can't we also have a vending machine with twix and Cokes?