Tuesday, May 31, 2011

GB: Paris Day Three: I'm Allergic to Something: Photo Set 5

Here we are at Notre Dame. We went inside but didn't go to the top. There was a cool/creepy looking statue in the courtyard of a guy who looked like a villain in Lord of the Rings or something.

Also, we utilized the extreme zoom on AS's camera to get a few cool gargoyle shots.

GB: Paris Day Three: I'm Allergic to Something: Photo Set 4

In the Jardin de Luxemborg, there were sculptures of former queens of France that had little metal sticks in their heads to keep birds from landing on them. The seagulls, as you can see, are not very respectful when it comes to where they poop.

For lunch, we stopped at a Tunisian restaurant and had some cous cous with vegetables and chicken. It was good and I'm willing to bed the only time I've ever had Tunisian cuisine.

On our walk from the garden to Notre Dame, we stumbled upon a museum whose name was in French but we loosely figured out to be some sort of Middle Ages museum. As with all museums in Paris (we learned today), it was closed on Tuesdays. But there was a garden/square area for people to hang out behind it. The architecture was cool so we snapped a photo.

GB: Paris Day Three: I'm Allergic to Something: Photo Set 3

Here are two sculptures we saw that looked cool. A family of deer and a lion standing over a dead ostrich. This is the second lion with prey statue we've seen. The gardens we went to on day one had a sculpture of a lion dangling a dead bird out of its mouth over it's cubs. Not sure if this is a theme in sculpture or a coincidence. I suppose the effect isn't the same if the deer is standing pridefully over its family with a mouthful of grass.

There were chairs scattered throughout the park for people to move and sit on. It kept people off the grass, so the lawn was well-maintained, but we were most impressed that these hundreds of chairs weren't stolen every night. In New York those chairs would either be gone or peed on by sundown.

There was one strip of lawn where people were allowed to sit. Two things to note from those pictures: Nobody is sitting in the shade, and nobody is disobeying the sign. All the other grassy areas of the park were empty

GB: Paris Day Three: I'm Allergic to Something: Photo Set 2

After the street market, we made our way to a park, the jardin du luxembourg. There were plenty of people lounging about and eating lunch. We suspect there was a school or university nearby because there were a lot teenage looking kids, all smoking cigarettes of course.

The gardens were very well-kept and had tennis courts as well as sculptures throughout. We stumbles upon this small statue of liberty and a rose garden. There was only one rose bush you could see, the rest of the roses were individually covered with tissue-like things, which you can see in the second rose photo.

GB: Paris Day Three: I'm Allergic to Something: Photo Set 1

Yesterday and today my throat has been bothering me. AS has determined that something in the Paris air is aggravating my unrefined American throat-palate. We suspect some yellow pollen-like substance that's coming off of all the trees and piling up on sidewalks.

This morning we started the day with a walk through a street market. It's set up on the large median on a busy boulevard. It was a combination of clothes, knick-knacks, prepared food, and raw meat/seafood. AS took a picture of those weird pastry/dumpling things. I opted not to take a picture of the rabbits we saw sleeping without their skin on.

GB: Paris Day Two: The Death March: Photo Set 4

Walking along the Seine, we saw signs for this oceanographic museum we had wanted to check out. It was closed today, but part of the building is covered in living greens which we thought was pretty cool.

We made it to the art exhibit, but instead of being outdoors like we thought, it was in some sort of giant palace/museum that required money to enter and also another wait in a line around the corner. We regrouped and opted to keep the death march going and walk over to Notre Dame and hit a good ice cream place before heading back to the apartment.

On the way, we crossed a street with a good view of the Arc de Triomphe. I did not come as close to getting hit by a car as these two pictures make it seem.

I'd say we made it about 75% of the way to Notre Dame before we took a break on a bench and looked at the map and realized we had maybe another mile to go. We decided to raincheck for another day this week and walked another block or so down the street so we could see it, but didn't go all the way over. Instead we broke off and walked back to the apartment, stopping to get gelato at the place we stopped at yesterday. The proximity of the gelato shop to our quitting point may or may not have played a part in our decision.

After collapsing in the apartment for an hour, we got our legs back and walked to a market to do some grocery shopping. Dinner tonight was smelly cheese and baguette with some jam on the side. We picked up some kind of sweet cookies for dessert (fondant au chocolat?) and I also got a bag of potato chips because hey I'm on vacation.

Ian Holm was not available.

Tomorrow I think we're checking out the natural history museum and a nearby garden.

If you'll excuse me, I must check and make sure that AS is actually reading a book in the other room and not quietly resenting me for not proposing to her at the Eiffel Tower.

GB: Paris Day Two: The Death March: Photo Set 3

Look, we remembered to take pictures of our lunch! We walked by this restaurant on the way to the Eiffel Tower and AS thought we should make a reservation for afterward. It was 1pm and there were two people in the whole place. I scoffed until we returned at 2pm and there was a 40 minute wait for a table inside. Luckily there was a table for two outside. It was in the shade and there weren't too many smokers passing by, so it worked out great.

We both had roasted chicken. White meat this time instead of the dark meat version AS had last night. It came in a creamy mushroom sauce and was delicious. We were able to order from the French menu easily today, though possibly because AS had looked up the English version of the menu this morning. Not sure.

To note from the tablescape: Coke bottles are tall and thin here. That's a glass bottle but I've also had a plastic bottle that was also tall and thin. And note the French phrasebook on the table. We keep it there as a flag to waiters to take pity on our French ordering.

After lunch we decided to keep walking to an art exhibit AS had read about online. Our route took us past the Eiffel Tower again as we crossed the Seine, so here are two more Eiffel pics.

GB: Paris Day Two: The Death March: Photo Set 2

The last of our Eiffel pics. Note the two photos AS took: The artsy Eiffel-Tower-through-the-trees and the sign for the restrooms. Guess which one is her favorite.

GB: Paris Day Two: The Death March: Photo Set 1

Dinner last night was delicious. I had some sort of salmon medallion and AS had roasted chicken. We guessed on most of the menu but both of our dishes were good. Kudos to AS for asking the waiter what "Jarret du porc" meant in English. I has assumed pork chop. The actual answer is pork knuckles. Yum? We treated ourselves to dessert (forgot to take pictures of all courses) of profiteroles - ice cream inside a pastry covered in chocolate sauce - and also a dessert that was lots of layers of pastry with some custard involved. Both scrumptious.

AS noticed toward the end of our meal that the gentleman at the table next to ours was Ian Holm, who played Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings movies.


He seemed very nice and the waiters were falling over themselves to dote on him.

This morning, after a breakfast of baguette and jam in the apartment, we set off on a walk to the Eiffel Tower. Little did we know that it would turn into a GB-family-style death march around Paris. AS did some calculations, and if you include our trip to the market to get dinner groceries, we walked 8 miles today.

This photo is on the way to the Eiffel Tower. I'm not sure what the building is, but they were massive so we took pictures. Hotel Invalides?

The Eiffel Tower was much bigger than we thought. And so was the line to go up it! There was a small line to take the stairs and an enormous line to take the elevator. We opted to walk around the park surrounding the tower and not go up it. I regret nothing.

There were dozens of people selling knick-knacks and each person would approach you despite the fact that they just saw you say no to someone else. We chose to save our euros for lunch.

A crow eating a bag of potato chips, or as I believe they are known here, le bag of potato chips.

Here's our view walking under the tower. And a shot of the suckers who climbed the stairs up to the first viewing level. There's another viewing level halfway up and one more at the top.

GB: Paris Day One: Photo Set 5

This was my favorite sculpture in the garden. It's a sculpture of a tree that's fallen over. Very realistic, to the point where pigeons would sit on it and it's covered in actual bird poop.

The bird poop, however, was not gross enough to keep us from enjoying a snack of a chocolate filled croissant before heading back to the apartment.

We have reservations for 8 tonight (I hope our French was good enough to ask for a reservation for 8pm and not for 8 people) at a restaurant near the apartment (Brasserie Lipp). AS has been there with her family before and claims it will be a delicious, fancy meal. Looking forward to it!

We've meant to take photos of our meals, but by the time the food is in front of us we've been too excited and just dove in. We'll see if tonight proves any different.

GB: Paris Day One: Photo Set 4

The first photo is of a building being renovated. If you look closely, you can see they covered part of the building with a tarp or something, but they painted the tarp to look like the front of the building. From where we were standing it was very hard to tell that it was a painting and not the actual front of the building.

Next, we have a few shots of a museum by the garden (musee l'orangerie) that solely houses eight of Monet's water lily paintings in two rooms. It was pretty tranquil and a fun stop.

The last photo is of the first room you go into. Monet designed this plain white vestibule area to be a place to decompress from being outside it Paris before entering the two rooms with the water lily paintings. We, of course, blew right through it on the way in, but then read about it in the pamphlet and took our time to I guess re-compress on the way out.

GB: Paris Day One: Photo Set 3

Here is probably my favorite thing we've seen so far. These pictures were taken where we took the shots of ourselves in front of the obelisk and Eiffel Tower, looking down at the street.

There was a girl feeding the pigeons, with what seemed to be either a dead fox or a dead cat on her shoulder.

After circling around her, we could tell that it was a live cat resting on her shoulder. When she knelt down to keep feeding the pigeons, they came very close to her and the cat pounced. The pigeons scurried, though as you can tell from the last picture, they were stupid/hungry enough to slowly come back as the woman kept throwing seeds for them while the cat was on the ground.

AS spotted the man in red eating an ice cream cone that looked just like the big statue of an ice cream cone next to the ice cream place, and it ends up the dude was with the cat-girl.

This was an unusual encounter.

GB: Paris Day One: Photo Set 2

Our first Eiffel Tower sighting of the trip. We also spotted the Arc de Triomphe in the distance. I might've taken a photo, not sure.

When we go to the Louvre later this week, we're going to enter through the Metro because we heard the line is shorter than entering through the pyramid. So today we walked through the courtyard there just to see it.

Also, I found the Arc de Triomphe photo. It proved to be much farther away than we thought, so it will be an adventure for another day.

There was a pond/fountain in the garden that had some little sailboats in it. I wasn't sure whether or not people were remote controlling them or if the wind is just blowing them willy nilly.

GB: Paris Day One: Photo Set 1

Here are some photos from our walk today.

One is of a cafe to illustrate that everyone is facing outward looking at passersby on the street.

I'm enjoying the architecture and narrow streets, so the last two pictures are just views down two streets in an intersection. AS was nice enough to make sure I didn't get hit by one of the many scooters on the road.

GB: Paris Vacation: Day Zero: A Long Day

Hello from Paris! Or as I have learned to say to the French speakers here, HELLO! HELLO! DOES ANYBODY SPEAKA DA ENGLISH?

We had a wonderful, if not long, flight from Newark to Orly on the airline Open Skies, which is an all first class airline. We were on a British Airways 757 that had been retrofitted so that the old first class section had chairs that folded down into beds, and the old coach section (where we were) had big first class seats that folded almost all the way back and were like big lazyboy chairs.

I cannot imagine surviving a 7 hour flight like this in coach. Upon taking our seats, we were greeted with all the champagne or orange juice we could drink. After takeoff, we got a meal of either chicken and rice or tortellini with a tomato and mozarella cheese salad. We each got the tortellini. I figured that was the vegetarian option that I had checked for her when I booked the flight, but the flight attendant came back to us later and said oh were you the vegetarian option? Apparently in first class you get choices of what to eat. We explained that the tortellini was vegetarian anyway and then she asked if we wanted her to leave the other vegetarian meal (ravioli) with us as well. We politely declined. The tortellini and salad were delicious. The trays had tiny salt and pepper shakers as well as a tiny bottle of olive oil/balsamic vinegar to dip the bread in.

Not being sophisticated, when the crew came by before the meal to hand out placemats for your seat tray, I turned mine down. I didn't know they would be serving us dinner 5 minutes after takeoff, so I thought they were giving all these rich people placemats so their hands wouldn't have to touch the plastic trays that were built in factories by poor people. AS* got a good laugh when they came by with the food and looked at my uncovered seat tray and the attendant asked me Did you lose your placemat?

Speaking of the rich, we were the youngest people onboard by at least 20 years. I suppose the benefit of an expensive ticket is that no one is going to buy seats for their screaming babies. It was a very quiet flight throughout.

They gave out little tv screens that had some movies and tv shows built in for you to watch. They were touchscreen and would've been REALLY cool if we both didn't have iPads. I got 30 minutes into the Green Hornet before I bailed and just watched what I had put on my iPad. They did have The Next Three Days, the Russell Crowe movie filmed in Pittsburgh, so I might give that a shot for the way back. The majority of the flight we spent sleeping comfortably whilst reclined. An hour or so before landing they served us breakfast of yogurt and orange juice.

After landing at the Orly airport, we started looking for signs for the Metro. We had a good idea of how to get from the airport to the apartment, but it proved easier on paper than in practice. Especially since in practice, I do not know if you're aware, the people here speak some sort of gibberish language that the signs are also written in. After wandering through the terminal we decided that there was an airport train that would take us to the Metro station we needed. From there we could get our Metro tickets and head to the apartment.

So we got off the shuttle train and used our tickets to get us through a gate at the station "Antony." We couldn't find a Metro ticket machine. AS suggested we ask the American guy who had run over my foot with his suitcase and said "Excuse me." He was in France visiting his daughter who had been living here for a few years. He and his daughter were nice enough to explain to us that the ticket we had bought at the airport actually WAS our Metro ticket (it's so tiny! I was expecting something the size of a NYC subway card, not a raffle ticket) and that instead of buying a ticket that would get us to Paris, we bought a ticket that would literally take us one stop from the airport to where we were. D'oh! Then they told us that there weren't any Metro ticket vending machines inside the stations so our best bet was to just get on the train with our defunct tickets because apparently it's very rare that a conductor will ever come through to check your tickets.

To get to the apartment we had to transfer trains twice. We got out for our first transfer only to find another turnstile between us and the train. Our defunct ticket wouldn't get us through so we figured we'd go above ground and now we would actually buy a ticket that would get us into Paris proper. Upon reaching the surface, we saw that at this particular station there was also a turnstile to exit that you had to put your ticket into. Having defunct tickets, we were trapped. We couldn't go through the turnstiles to exit the station and we couldn't go through the turnstiles to get to our next train. Luckily AS, being tiny, after a few minutes was able to rush behind someone else who was exiting and get in line to buy us proper tickets. After a few more minutes I was able to do the same and meet her. We purchased our tickets from a woman and got back on, making it easily to the apartment this time.

One note on the Paris Metro versus the NYC subway: In NYC the doors open and close at every stop when the train pulls into the station. On the Paris Metro apparently, the doors don't open. If you want to get on the train you have to open the doors from the outside and if you want to get off the train you have to open the doors from the inside. And the train doesn't have to be stopped yet for people to open the doors. They unlock as the train is slowing down in a station and people will just open them and pop off before the train has stopped. This has encouraged me to not lean against the doors, as I do in NYC.

The apartment is gorgeous and appears to be centrally located to all the restaurants and museums we want to visit. Upon arriving, we did a little grocery shopping and general walking around. We got a baguette and some peach/raspberry jam as well as some stinky cheese from a cheese shop down the street. It smells so horrendous that we have to keep it in a ziploc bag, but once you cut a slice it doesn't smell very strong at all and has a nice creamy taste.

For dinner we walked around what seemed to be a hip young neighborhood and sat down at a restaurant that was on our list for a simple ham and cheese sandwich, or croque monseur. Upon ordering, our waiter informed us in French that the kitchen was closed and they only serve lunch. We stared blankly at him so he repeated himself in broken English. Luckily there was no shortage of cafes in the area (a note on cafes: all the seating outside faces the street. There might be tables four rows deep, but the chairs aren't facing each other, they're all facing the street, like a movie theater. And everyone is smokin.) and we were able to find a place across the street with a similar meal.

When we sat down AS ordered us a Coke and two waters. The waitress took our menus, a bad sign, and returned with our drinks. A Coke and two Evians. Our phrasebook word for still water apparently does not equate to free tap water. She gave us our check for the drinks and we explained, in what I will ambitiously call "poor French" that we also wanted sandwiches. Eventually we got it right and the meal was quite good. We ended the day at a gelato shop nearby, where the French ordering went much smoother. They constructed the gelato around a cone in slices that looked like petals, so when they were done it looked like a rose. I got chocolate and coffee, AS got two chocolate and chocolate hazelnut.

After half a day in Paris, it has become clear that the struggle and fun of this trip is going to come from speaking French poorly. We are optimistic about it though and have only been speaking French to the people we interact with, scoffing at the restaurant last night when the table next to us was ordering in English.

I've attached some quick snapshots to the email. One is of a cool looking church around the corner from the apartment, one is of the inside of a mall that I thought looked funky, one is AS in a park outside a market where we saw some dogs, and then the two of us outside the apartment building.

I'll send another email tomorrow about what we do today, though since I've spent most of the morning writing this email, I imagine it will be a much faster read.

Goodbye for now, or as we've been saying: *Walk quickly away in silence because we're only half sure we've left enough money*

*I figure I'll go by AS, as in Artful Stew, in these posts, since we're being very creative here.