Monday, October 14, 2013

September 2/3 Monday/Tuesday Hello France!

Sept 2-3, 2013
For my very extensive photo album of this trip, please go to my online album here to see them.

Started our day with me having to get up at 4am so we could leave the house by 5:30.  Our plane leaves San Diego Lindberg Field at 7:15am. That's never a good way for me to travel as I'm grumpy the rest of the day. Our first leg of the flight was to Washington DC, and two hours later we got on our United flight to Paris. We had turned in our bonus air points for first class seats on the plane, and we each got a little cubicle that included a recliner chair that lays almost flat to sleep in. Yeah right, me sleep in a plane? I asked for a Kahlua & Cream as soon as they came around. Our cubicles had its own video screen and lots of choices of movies and TV programs to watch but what else are you going to do on a 9 hour flight? Hubby and I sat side by side with a little divider between us. With our seats we also got little hygeine kits that included ear plugs and masks, spa lotions and wipes, comb/toothbrush/paste, whatever you might need upon wakening in the morning. Our meals were served in courses so it used up about an hour by the time it was all done.  I was able to watch the movie After Earth, but started to feel sleepy afterwards. I think sometime during the last few hours, as it was getting close to 10pm our time, I was dozing off, which was good because it was going to be "morning/next day" when we arrived in Paris with the time difference.

We're here! After a boring ride in heavy morning traffic from the airport to the hotel thru a rundown and industrial part of the city, we arrived at our hotel.The taxi driver spoke no English and drove just like a French driver careening around cobbled rotaries. So far our modern hotel seems to be blended into an older area and across the street from us the fronts of the apartments are older and more interesting. I wanted to take a photo out our hotel room window but the glass has lines on it like louvers so I took this one from the street. At night when people returned to their apartments and turned on their lights I tried to see what the insides looked like. Even with my weak little binoculars, I couldn't see very much. Too bad. And yes, hubby  said I was a Peeping Tom. Who wouldn't be in Paris? 

We had to stop and take a 3 hr nap because neither of us slept much on the plane and when we arrived here, it was just after midnight for us, but already 7am here. We got to the hotel at 9am. Now I'm just trying to feel normal so I can get my face back on, and dressed, and wait for hubby to wake up so we can go walk around outside. 
People warned us that it might smell out on the streets and so far it appears to. Kind of like a sewer smell. But it wasn't all the time. And OMGosh! the French people smoke like there's no tomorrow! You can't even walk outside without getting a lung full. 
One of the airport attendants in San Diego told us to see if we could go visit the village Van Gogh spent his last six years in painting. Its 35 miles from here and it all still looks like it did when he was here, and artists are all over painting there, and you can buy small paintings. It sounds lovely and we're looking into that. I think the Metro which is right down the street from us takes you there. My friend Jody says the Metro subs here are wonderful and efficient and very easy to use. Our first tour is tomorrow so I'm looking forward to seeing some real Paris and outside the city. 
Its pretty warm outside right now, about 78 and is supposed to be 85 tomorrow, 89 Thurs, and then cool down to 78, then 73 by Sat. We take a train up to Rotterdam, Netherlands on Sunday and the next night take the ferry across to England. At least we'll get some cool and colder weather in England. It was pretty miserable at home with the extreme heat, and we're looking forward to some cooler weather.

We just discovered our hotel, the Renaissance Paris Arc de Triomphe, is only a block down the street from the Arc de Triomphe. We're on one of the wheel spokes of the street layout extending from it. How cool! This is our hotel from a publicity photo. From this view you can see the Arc de Triomphe on the bottom left that it's named after. As you can see, its quite modern and is blended into the surrounding older buildings. I wonder what was there before? And why in the world did they ruin it? 

This photo shows the streets extending out from the Arc lined with trees. 
The most famous street, the Champs' Elysee is right around the corner from us, on another of the spokes, but its the really pricey area to shop, and very crowded. However we didn't have much time to go there, and we wanted to see the historical stuff.

September 3, Tues Evening in Paris

September 3, 2013 Tuesday 
After our first nap of the day we went out walking around the streets & checking out the Metro, then sat and watched the pyscho traffic driving around the Arc de Triomphe. It's a giant rotary but like none I've ever seen. Its wild! Just when you think they're all turning the same way in the circle a bunch fork to the other way and then cross traffic cuts into them. I don't know how they do it and not go mad. On each street corner there's an entrance to the Metro. There's no signage that we could see that told you how to get over there. It took us awhile going up and down stairs in the Metro to finally come up under the Arc. It would have been fun to go to the top but hubby doesn't like heights so we had to pass. 

The French flag hangs down from the center, and its huge. You can see it from miles away down the main streets. 
There's a memorial to the unknown French soldiers in the middle of it.  

                       This is looking down from the Arc to our street where the hotel is.

We walked down one of the side streets in search of lunch and of course picked one that had outside seating. Well of course we did! As much as I'd like to say we ordered French food, we didn't. But we had French versions of hamburgers (slightly raw) and French fries! Those were like narrow wedges that were carved out down the center like canoes. And they were crispy. I liked them! We both ordered a Pepsi and it came in a bottle, seemed kind of flat, and not as sweet as ones we're used to. After a few days we found that was the norm. It was actually nice that all the sweets we had weren't heavily sweetened with sugar like in the States. 

We started walking around the streets where we were staying, and we found a farmer's market we'd heard about. I bought some small Mirabelle plums I’d read about there to try, and they're so delicious! They looked like large yellowish-green grapes. I need to find some jam made from it too.
Also found a L'Occitane store (asked them how to pronounce it properly-("lay ossy tane") and bought some of the lemon verbena hand lotion and shower gel they had. I've been nursing a tiny bottle of it forever. They told me some US states have a store (NY & WA, where I bought mine in a gift shop) but also can be bought online. But I had to buy one IN France. I saw lots of references to Provence and lavender, and would love to go there but I don't think we'll have enough time. 
I mentioned we were going to the Catacombs tomorrow; well, we're not. I forgot hubby cancelled that one so we'd have time to visit the Louvre.  I wish I had time to track down a Da Vinci Code tour to include with that but I know that won't fly with hubby.
I think it's time for another nap. We came back exhausted and sweaty. It's 78 and humid, and will be warmer the next two days before it starts cooling off.
**That nap turned out to be much longer than expected and when we both started waking up around 8pm, we decided we didn't feel like going out and trying to find dinner so we just ordered a pizza by room service. And went back to sleep.
Next day- 

September 4 Wednesday in Paris

Sept 4, 2013
We just got back in at 6:30pm and had my second shower of the day. Even my hair was dripping today. We left at 9 this morning to head to the Louvre but stopped at the Arc when we saw the streets were being blocked off and bands were arriving. Someone told us the President of Germany was visiting there, so we decided to stick around. 

We watched the French police and their Secret Service setting all the security up and even made friends with a local French policeman who we later gave shoulder patches to. Saw a lot of impressive brass, and we're assuming it was a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier there but since we were behind the barricades, we couldn't see everything. But it was a fun way to start the day and very impressive to watch. 
We hopped on the Metro & headed to the Louvre (we heard it pronounced in two distinctive syllables not one, by a French person no less), got lost but finally made it to the giant glass pyramid. Very impressive. 

 That's me pointing up at the pyramid.

Its a lot smaller when you get up to it. I walked over to it all the time seeing Tom Hanks walking up to it and kneeling down when he realized what he'd found (in The DaVinci Code, if you didn't catch that). We had Jump The Line tickets purchased earlier and of course there was no guidance as to where to go in, which was different than the main entrance.  We went in that building to the left. After going around in circles a few times, being directed the opposite direction a few times, we finally made it into the main lobby. I looked up and saw this-
That's a staircase coming down from the top of the pyramid, and I'm looking up through it.
Once again we had a hard time navigating where to finally go inside the museum. It's not like a normal one that you walk in the front door. Seems there are branches all over the place, so we just wandered until we finally found ourselves in a big room. We saw signs and hubby pointed out the one for Mona Lisa. Ok, let's try and find that. Of course you have to walk through miles of galleries to get to it. Its like a maze.

And finally, there she was! Mona Lisa.
I couldn't get any closer than 20 feet with crowds of people between us but she's real, and very small, about an 8x10. The painting I really liked, because of all its details and different stories contained in one painting was the Wedding Breakfast at Cana. It took up an entire wall and you had to keep stepping back to see more of it. The happy couple are in the lower left of the painting while Jesus and his Disciples are at the center table.

We walked around for about an hour but it was pretty hot inside with all the people, and wore us down quickly. 

We only lasted 1 1/2 hrs inside, and went out and found another sidewalk cafe for lunch. I found out two days later that Angelina's Cafe was just outside the Louvre but didn't see that sign until later. But we found this cafe just down the street from where our tour was leaving. 

This was our view from our outside seating to the street, and we enjoyed watching the traffic and people walking by.

We had hamburgers again but I was saving room for this, a pear tarte with Chantilly cream on top. OMG! It melted in my mouth, and wasn't overpoweringly sweet as you'd expect. I'm hoping the cooking teacher I've gone to back home can come up with a great recipe for one of these. 

While we were waiting for our tour to start we walked around a bit. There were some lovely door fronts on a hotel that I walked by too. 

I did a little shopping at a store that had this adorable purse in the window that caught my eye. Everything inside the store was "Made in France". I bought the purse and a couple gifts for friends from there. 
This was one of the beautifully ornate buildings also in the area. 

Then we hopped on the tour bus for the Paris City Tour. It was a full size bus, and we got a great overview of the city and how far everything was from where we were staying but WOW! Sadly our views were limited with a roof on the bus. 
We drove alongside and across the River Seine a few times, and past the tunnel where Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed crashed and died in. There's a large gold flame near the entrance that was there for something but has been turned into a memorial by the French people for them. 
Our bus drove up the Champs' Elysee towards the Arc de Triomphe and here you see how truly large and imposing it was. 
Take a look at the paving on the streets. This is how most of the paving was that we saw throughout the city. We weren't ever in the modern section so I can't comment on that. These are individual stone bricks and are individually replaced when needed. The roads were pretty smooth here but can't say the same for the side streets. I had a real hard time walking on them. They were bumpy and uneven most of the time.

We drove around the Eiffel Tower next for different views. 

This is the backside view with a huge water fountain out in front.
We continued driving around to all the large buildings and what amazed me was the huge areas around them with "nothing"; just large open spaces, parking lots and parks. And very wide streets. That street extends continuously to the Arc de Triomphe and beyond. Apparently Napolean Bonaparte was very obsessive and linear, and made everything very straight, making it point straight to Rome. 

 Then we did a little more souvenir shopping, and then TRIED to find the entrance to the Metro to go back. After being directed a couple times, we walked back and forth about 2 miles and finally ended up back at the Louvre where we started, and went down the stairs to their shopping center to get on the Metro. We were both dripping wet from the heat and exertion again but stopped at the pastasserie around the corner from the hotel first and bought 2 pans au chocolat, 2 raisin croissants, and a couple macarons to try a little bit of everything. At least there something to eat if we wake at 2am again after having no dinner.

                                                                  My macarons.