Sunday, March 31, 2013

Catching our breath

As our last week together, and the week with the last group of our kids, in Paris approaches, we took another day off. I remember James asking why we take days off when we are on vacation, and he is right - it does seem oxymoronic.  But we (Donna and I) were tired: it has been fun but tiring as well. So we stayed at the apartment through lunch, then Donna, Tyree, and Sheryl headed out for Lafayette to do some shopping. I expect her blog will tell that story. Dan and Kim went shopping elsewhere.  I took advantage of the quiet at the apartment to get some work done on the computer. By 3p we were all back, sitting around the dinner table just talking, drinking wine, and sometimes eating - up until 9p when we made a dash to Montmartre to buy some gift trinkets. DST starts at 2a Sunday in Europe so we changed our clocks and went to bed. 

Easter Sunday. One of the two most important days in celebration of my understanding of God's purpose in the world. The day another group of our kids arrive. What would have been Mom's 99th birthday. Donna quickly cleaned the apartment while I helped Tyree and Sheryl with their 150 pounds of luggage down 3 flights of stairs and to the airport and picked up the kids.   I was not able then to help Dan and Kim with their 250 pounds of luggage for their later flight as I gathered the kids from the airport and brought them home and cooked breakfast. Dan and Kim were stuck taking a cab to the airport. [Donna and I brought too much stuff, but ours weighed 55 pounds for 2 months.]

It's a beautiful day in Paris.  Once settled we took the kids up to Montmartre (see photo), then off to see the Eiffel Tower (photo) and a bus/metro ride to some Chinese takeout I had been wanting for weeks (all to keep them awake until 8p so tomorrow no jet lag) before going grocery shopping then home.  We all were in bed and asleep by 9p. This week is going to be great, too!

Friday, March 29, 2013

The downside, such as it is here

The French seem to do everything well: universally delightful people (the stereotype believed in Amerika is false), awesome food (seems impossible to get less than very good food), seamless public transportation, the world's best museums and architecture, even reasonable prices for a huge city. I have the best internet service available at home; the cheapest here in our apartment is 4x as fast.  For nearly six weeks we have immersed ourselves in the culture to where I have become conversant in French despite never having had a day of classes or programs.

Now for Easter week arrive the Amerikan tourists in loud, obnoxious groups. Almost as a parody of the Ugly Amerikan stereotype. I wish they would return to Wisconsin and Seattle and Jersey and leave my beautiful, polite, reserved Paris alone!  But this beautiful city - which is The World's #1 Tourist Destination - hosts 28,000,000 of all sorts. It's just the loud, obnoxious groups from Amerika literally drown out the sounds of Paris with their bellowing. A group sitting behind us on our cruise was so loud talking about their clothes and what they had packed and when their return flight was (as the City of Light passed by us ignored by them) that I had to ask them to please be quiet so I could hear the tour guide at which point they began laughing louder making fun of my accent. Donna excuses them as being "only about 20 years old" but I blasted them until they finally piped down.

But back to the start: after racing across town last night amid a Metro stoppage and a taxi shortage to miss a dinner cruise, I got up this morning and went to the local market. See photos. Yum!  I fixed breakfast for lunch at 1p.  Then off to what passes for the local grocery store. Then we discovered that an area of Paris I have not visited (Place d'Italie) is Chinatown. We found a great Cambodian restaurant then a night cruise on the Seine. See photos.

Tomorrow Dan and Kim and Tyree and Sheryl return to Ga and Ala to make room for our kids: Shannon and her fiance Grey, and Tiana. A week from now my trip to Paris will end as I go for a week to Warsaw (to see Trevor) then to Lithuania to see friends before returning to the city I love to collect the woman I love to return to our home that I love. 

He's baaaack!

OK, so I have been remiss in my postings for a week. I may come back and edit this to put in a week.  But today is Thursday March 28, 2013. If you want a really good blog on the last week, check out Donna's blog at     Otherwise....

Last night we had international night as we (Donna, Tyree, Sheryl, and I....... ok, it was just me) invited pur upstairs neighbors from Mali to join us for a Longino spaghetti dinner as Kim and Dan were out and thus we had room at the table.  For two hours we talked politics, religion and personal histories. We laughed a lot. Oh, BTW, it was all in French as I was the translator!

Today we (Dan, Kim, Donna and I) went to Orleans on the Loire River (see photo) where 500+ years ago Jean of Arc - an illiterate 17 year old French girl - suddenly united and energized the French to reverse their perilous fortune and evict the English from France ending the Hundred Years War.  Virtually everything from Jean except her house was destroyed in the Religious Wars or the World Wars or the Napoleonic Wars, etc.  But the cathedral is here and a grand lady she is.  See photos. We tried to find other things open but either because it was 13:00-15:00, or because today is Maundy Thursday - the day we mourn the arrest and flogging of Jesus Messiah, or because c'est France, we could not.  On our way back to Paris on the train I noticed miles and miles of what appeared to be a modern aqueduct. I took a photo (see photo) and then asked. The conductor said it is 1,900 years old!  A Roman aqueduct.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wow! It's Wednesday!

OK, I'm behind! On Monday Donna and Megan went to the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadero while I went (unsuccessfully) in search of a battery for Donna's phone (lesson: don't let them run dead - particularly in France). I did find a place where it appeared that there was going to be a great market. I found out that it is on Tuesday and Friday mornings, between Belleville, Couronnes, and Menilmontant on our #2 line. Robert and Dorothy arrived after Donna and Megan who arrived after me. Once gathered, we went out for dinner at our favorite Indian/Sri Lankan restaurant just down from Dishny off Blvd Fauberg St Denis.  Tuesday morning we retrieved Robert and Dorothy's car after working out a trip for them to Atlanta May 3rd then on to Ft Lauderdale May 6. And a house swap for the first two weeks or so if October. Then Megan and I launched out for the market mentioned above. Mayhem & all sorts of food.  By halfway thru, she was done. I returned with the goodies and she went out on her first foray: to the Pere Lechaise cemetery and back. Then we went on a wonderful 2.5 hour canal cruise. Then back home for spaghetti and sleep. Wednesday morning Donna and I headed out for our next in sequence visit to 13th century construction - this time the state-of-the-13th century art: Chateau Vincennes.  It was built by Charles VII to protect him and his court from the mobs in Paris that wanted his head. Like much in Paris, after all the wars and revolutions, it's mostly rebuilt. See photos. Then we went to the Orang Erie Museum to see Monet, Picasso and Renoir (my favorite). This was my first time here. On the way back, Donna took my photo. Next, Ugnius Tulekis - our visitor summer of 2011 - came to Paris with some of his friends. I took Megan over to the Eiffel Tower to meet him and then I came home.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


So we are having a wonderful time with our Brit friends Robert and Dorothy. He and I are the same age, share many of the same interests but he is more creative than am I, and both "married up"   Megan arrived Sunday so Sunday night - unlike Saturday night - was uninterrupted every hour or two by status reports from my better half on where Megan's flight was! 
We went up to Sacred Couer (see photos) before sharing a wonderful dinner in a delightful corner of a great French restaurant.  Then Dorothy decided to take a cab back, Megan - who was cold - joined in, and Robert went with the two girls.  Donna and I leisurely strolled back to the Metro - she even commented that I was walking slowly. I was. I was strolling through Paris on a cold, clear night, arm in arm with the woman I love. We even walked around a corner, found ourselves alone, and paused for a kiss under those magical stars.
Anyhow, we went down into the Metro and just missed the train. 3 minutes to the next one. So we were talking about something as we boarded the train but stopped while standing among the Parisians on their way home. At the stop before our stop, as our train came to a halt, there stood Robert and Dorothy and Megan, getting on our same train car, and we were at the door because of the crowd. Donna and I had a moment to collect ourselves and enjoy the shock on their faces when we claimed "sorry, no room on this train!". I am sure the Parisians thought we were drunk Americans as we howled with laughter all the way to our stop and beyond.  The harder we tried not to laugh out loud, the funnier it became.....

Saturday, March 16, 2013

On and on and on the grand party continues unabated

Having cleared the obstacles of getting through the three-tiered and at times surly British customs, when we turned around to come back to Paris we came through one French booth which combined the tripartite Limey Labyrinth into one with a Friendly Frenchman. 

In between we had a wonderful time in the land of the Engs.  First, we arrived only a few minutes late (snow delay in NW France) into London, bought a post-9:30a day pass and took the Tube from St. Pancreas - OK, so it's actually St. Pancras but it's SO close...! - to Liverpool Street Station on the Circle Line and left our luggage at the aptly-named "Left Luggage" for retrieval for our afternoon journey. Then we walked through the blooming St James Park - not "blooming" as the Eng's curse word, but as "flowering" - where (while cool) it's noticeably warmer than Paris. See photo. 

Next, we went to Buckingham Palace to say hi to the Queen but she was not feeling well and - not wanting to impose - we took in the changing of the guard a from outside the Queen's home. See photos.

We then toured Westminster Abbey which is another 13th century Gothic cathedral - Henry III of England was buddies with Louis IX of France. In England, the 700 year old tombs are intact, unlike France where centuries of ground wars and revolution destroyed much of the original work. Then we went by Parliament and Big Ben. See photo.

I can't say the London train system is up to the Paris standard. Except for the train to CDG from GdN we have had no delays in Paris in our constant train use over 30 days. We took 4 inner city trains in London in 24 hours and had 5 delays!

Friday afternoon we headed out of Liverpool Street Station for an hour train ride to Bury St. Edmonds. St. Edmonds didn't recently die - it's the name of the village of our gracious friends Robert and Dorothy Hinton. They live in a 350 year old farm house and they invited us to come spend the night!  Now they are coming today to spend 3 nights with us in Paris!

This morning (Saturday) we got up and took the train in to St. Pancras to meet Vladas Stankevicius who - 22 years ago - was the first student I hosted. He is now an attorney with BP oil in London. I had not seen him in the 22 years since he left Georgia. We had breakfast together and he is coming over to Paris Wednesday or Thursday to spend a few days.  We are on the bullet train now, flying through the Eng's countryside at 190 mph.

The ecstasy and then the agony

This post was intended to be cleverly titled "Stony Feathers and  Ghost-cicles" because we had just spent an amazing hour and a half in a Mozart concert in the spectacular St. Chapelle built by Louis VII. I have written before about the 700 year old royal chapel built to house the Crown of Thorns, and its oldest-in-the-world stained glass windows. It is all that survives of the Capetian kings' royal palace supplanted in the 1600s by Louis XIV. The string quartet lifted notes into the impossibly high ceiling in the sub-zero temperature in the unheated and bare room where ultimate rulers strolled a third of the way back to Christ's birth. In the year 280 the undisputed Emperor of the Roman Empire - and thus the entire Western world from Mesopotamia to the Pyramids to modern Portugal, Scotland, and Germany - had converted to Christianity and sent envoys to see if there were any then-younger-than-our-Declaration-of-Independence relics of the crucification of Jesus. The early church had been in hiding until Constantine's conversion and had treasured relics in their possession. Whether those relics from 280 AD were actual relics from 247 years earlier is unknowable.  But the relics formerly in St. Chapelle and now in Notre Dame where I saw a piece of the Cross are certainly what Constantine's envoy found in 280. After about 500 years on display in Jerusalem, the monarch there transferred them to Constantinople when he became uncertain he could protect them from an approaching Muslim army.  Louis VII's cousin Baldwin II in Constantinople was the monarch who sold the relics to Louis VII for a sum greater than half of France's GDP that year!

Anyhow, the concert was spectacular.

Apparently to offset, our customs and immigration experience at British immigration began at Gare du Nord. There was a mob backed up by the ponderously slow British customs officers as we watched time pass. The train would leave with or without us.  I got in the wrong line - the line to the left said "EU citizens only" but Donna noticed it so we got in line on the right which specifically said "All Others". After the British customs line and before the British security line was the British passport control which - when we arrived at the front - had a sign saying EU citizens only. But we were out of time. While Donna waited as the agent cleared a girl with an expired passport I went back to reread the signage:  EU citizens to the left, all others to the right. We were in the right-hand line.  So, the female agent berated us for not being in the correct line. Donna said that the sign says EU citizens to the left and the scowling agent facing us raised her left hand, pointed at Donna's corresponding right hand, and said "that is your left hand" to which Donna almost exploded. Then she lectured us for not knowing Robert and Dorothy's complete address in Suffolk. She stamped our passports and began a speech about "next time..." to which we said to each other "why would anyone want to come visit their country with this greeting?"

We were still taking off our coats as the doors closed and the train left.  We were seated in the middle of the car next to a stereotypical group of 8 Germans: grossly loud and unconcerned that everyone on the car was disturbed by their howling. We moved to empty seats at the far end of the car. Between the noise of the train and the distance their screeching was lessened.  Yuk!

One very busy day

Because of the Paris blizzard of '03 on the exact 20th anniversary of the north Georgia blizzard of '93 (both over the night of March 12-13) our train to London was cancelled. Paris was projected to have a high of 34F which is just enough to melt the surface before the evening drop.   I'm still struggling a bit with the L4 injury I sustained on Nov 2 on the boat on the way toward the BVIs so the idea of an ice fall did not appeal.  So, I got up at 5:30a, left at 6, and went over to Gare du Nord to buy and switch out tickets. First, I succeeded in buying a TGV ticket on one of the French automated machines (hooray! a first!) for Donna and me to go to Angers on the noon bullet train: 200 miles in 90 minutes. Then I was able to get London tickets going over Friday morning and back late Saturday morning. Robert and Dorothy re-invited us to spend Friday night with them, so we took them up on it. Also it enables us to have breakfast on Saturday morning in London with Vladas before we return to Paris at 11am.

Then I headed up to Sacre Couer to photo the pre-dawn light over the City of Light (see photos).  Later we left Paris at noon for Angers because the castle ("Chateau") closes for lunch (as does, incidentally, the ticket office for concerts at St. Chapelle).  As now expected, the train arrived exactly on schedule at 1:30p and we circumnavigated the 13th century fort (see photos) until the 2p re-opening.  Inside are the Apocalypse Tapestries which are the oldest tapestries in the world. They are about 20' high and about 450' long and about 700 years old.  When the French built these Gothic cathedrals, they told the stories of the Bible for the illiterate people. The Apocalypse Tapestries were created to line the interior walls of the halls of the fortress and they tell the story of the return of Jesus as foretold by St. John the Apostle in the Book of Revelation.  The people who first saw these tapestries, and the artists who created them, were living in a grim time and no doubt believed the Apocalypse was at hand: the Bubonic plague had killed a quarter of all people living in Europe, the Hundred Years' war was completing its 4th decade of battle in France, and crop failures had people across France starving to death.

The cathedral was the only disappointment of the day. After seeing the oldest (St Denis), the largest (Notre Dame), the brightest and least catholic (Laon), the most colorful (Chartres), and the most awesome (St. Chapelle) we were due for a lesser cathedral. This one was built in a hurry and lacked the height, breadth, color, light etc of the others

We are now on the bullet train home, flying along the rails just after the last light. Home soon. Spectacular day.  Again.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Snowy day in Paree

If it were warmer, we could do this, if we had a horse and were younger and were out in the woods! ;)

So today is the snowstorm of the century so far. About 5" on the ground so far. It's 8p and the temp is falling and the snow is coming down hard.  It's 27F and windy.  The bullet train to London was cancelled today. Those of us like Donna and me who have paid €160 for rt tix on that train discovered that it's now first come, first served tomorrow morning so instead of leaving here at 7a for a 7:30 train (it only takes 5 minutes to walk over there), we are leaving at 5:40a to get in line at 5:45a (I do so love standing in lines: it's why I come to enjoy Paris when THERE ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE ANY LINES!!). we hope we can get on "our" originally scheduled train after sitting nearly 2 hours in a no-doubt packed waiting room (we have been told we can't just walk back home and return for our train. But we are snuggly warm in our apartment tonight, have lots of food, and - if this posts - the internet.  I'm going to post soon about how one can live reasonably in this very expensive city by finding the best deals. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

S now what?

Expecting 4"+ accumulation tomorrow!  Happens only a few times a century here!  Exciting (I hope we don't lose power!!)!! I've got boots - unfortunately Donna does not - so I will probably go out late this afternoon and take pictures - if it turns out as predicted: temps falling throughout the day (currently 32F) and snow piling up. By the late afternoon: 27!

Megan arrives Sunday!!!  Hooray!!

No anger over missing Angers

OK, so it's not pronounced like anger with an "s": it's pronounced like Ahn- zhair    We planned to go there this morning, in the snow and rain to see the 13th century fortress built by Blanche de Castille to protect her young son who would grow up to be St. Louis (for whom the US city is named), also known as Louis the 9th ("Louis IX"). Angers is about 200 miles southwest of Paris but that's just an hour and a half - downtown to downtown - on the awesome bullet trains.  We arrived at the station 30 minutes early, but the line for tickets was about 45 minutes (wish I had my printer and I would have booked online) so we didn't go.  It was 12 degrees warmer that far south and closer to the coast. But we went to St Chapelle  instead - Louis IX's spectacular 13th century chapel of towering stained glass. I was last there in 1965 with mom and dad. Each time since the lines have been terrible but Donna suggested we try today and she was right!  The line was about 3 minutes!!  While there we bought tickets for Thursday night to hear a Mozart concert in the chapel! 

You know...

It's Sunday.  The routine:
to the CDG etc etc

But this time we found a better way!

Thanks to Rollin and Uncle JH earlier in the week we took the 350 bus from the corner of our building to the Air and Space Museum. We noticed that it went to the center of the CDG tramline among the terminals (which is the same place we go by walking to Gare du Nord then riding to the end of RER B during construction divergence, then walking to a bus, then riding the bus - a 60-70 minute trip) so now when it's a low traffic time like Sundays, 350 for 40 minutes after pickup beats all but a fully operational train.

Then we went on date night: movies in France are strange: the theaters are tiny. The one last night had 38 seats, very narrow access, and play nothing on the screen until the designated start times. "Weekend Royal" was fun. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Marche du San Quinton and Sacre Couer

We headed out this morning to 2 markets - a market called San Quinton which is a lot like (and equally close as) the Marche d'Olive - and then to an informal market (see photo) under the Metro near our apartment. Then home to figure out Velib (more on that later) and then out to the steps of Sacred Couer for dinner, music & stars.


On the corner of our block is a bus stop for bus 350 which goes from there to the Paris Air and Space Museum.  We went to the Paris Air and Space museum today - Friday March 8th.  But we did not leave from the bus stop on our corner. No. We followed the instructions on how to get to the stop from Gare du Nord not realizing we were going out a half mile to come back a half mile another way.  The museum was great - lots of flying machines. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013


The Amstel River exits Europe on the coast of Holland. The industrious Dutch (the people of Holland aka "The Netherlands") needed more land so they built a dam AT but not across the Amstel River. The place became known as Amsteldam which morphed to Amsterdam. The Dutch filled in behind the dam, and repeated the process over and over again until over half of their country is below sea level. Rollin and I took a day trip there, possible because our train went - according to my GPS and their ads - at 186 mph!  It took 3 hours total (including 5 stops) to cross France, Belgium, and Holland 

Sometimes it takes a computer..

to get something really messed up!  I took a video on Wednesday of a 4100 year old inventory list written in Egypt on papyrus. I wanted to show my kids at Hasty and Canton. But the YouTube link says "private video" which it is not. And Blogspot won't let me delete it!  {{grumbling}}

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

It might take reams....

We continue to follow, week by week "Paris to the Past: Travelling Through French History by Train" by Ina Caro. So, today at 8:30am we launched off on the 4th leg of our journey to see the great French Gothic cathedrals: so we went to Reims which is NE of Paris about 100 miles. Reims was flattened in both World Wars but it saved and/or restored virtually everything from the 9th century western entrance into the cathedral (behind us in the photo) to the 1st century Roman gate (see photo) which - together with three others which still stand - were part of the Roman wall around the city, which had a different name then.  The Roman name meant "the wine of life" in Latin because - for over 2,000 years - this area has produced some of the world's best wines. The trip in led us through literally hundreds of thousands of acres of vineyards.  Winemaking - like everything else in France - is highly regulated; and they seem to get it all right. No more than 13,000 kilos of grapes can be harvested per hectare - any surplus gets thrown on the ground. And it takes a kilo of grapes to make a bottle of wine. This area produces 1 billion bottles of champagne every year, of which Martel produces 4 million. Only 5% goes to the US - and under a different brand ( the US has a similar name - 2 L's - trademarked).  Only certain maisons are permitted to blend champagne, which is a blend of from 3 to 50 different grapes.  The process - vastly summarized - is they harvest and press the grapes; they let them naturally ferment for 3 months. Then they bottle the wine, adding a small amount of yeast. When the yeast dies they invert the bottles, freeze the necks in brine at -25C, remove the cap and the sludge, add a bit of wine and recap, and then store for a minimum of 15 months by law. 

We eschewed the 45 minute, 195 mph, bullet train to Reims in favor of the two hour Paris to Epernay then Epernay to Reims less expensive train. [We made the same choice on the return: the trip is very smooth, quiet - great for sightseeing and resting on this beautiful, mostly sunny day, windless and about 60 degrees.]

We then walked the 1 km to the cathedral, arriving at 11am only to discover that the only English tour of our choice of winery (our second reason for coming) began 2km away at 11:30 am!  So we hoofed it over there, only stopping quickly for an almond chocolate croissant each.  We arrived at GH Martel & Co - champaigniers since 1869. Emanuele - a guy - gave us the 1 hour tour of the 20m deep caves built in the 9th century to extract limestone for construction.  Only 800 years later were they first used for wine, when a monk named Dom Perignon figured out how to make rudimentary champaign. After the tour and Champagne 101, we tasted 3 excellent examples before walking back to the Cathedral - stopping only to eat at a Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese buffet. 

The Cathedral. More personal than Notre Dame d Paris. More ornate and remote than Laon .  Cold - very cold - inside. As if the bitter cold days of last week came to this Cathedral to slumber.  All of the doors were open but the blasts of frigid air at the entrance did not seem to warm the interior by their exit.  The 13th century stained glass, and some 20th century replacements, added solemnity to a place which already has plenty.

We hopped on the return train and wrote and napped our way back to Gare d West in Paris, arriving just before 6p

Monday, March 4, 2013

A bright new day!

What's that bright yellow thing up in the sky?  We last saw it the day before our first guests arrived.  Last night T&E + R & I went up to the steps of Sacre Couer to people watch and listen to music. James was asleep and didn't come.  Donna's catching a cold and didn't come.  Today les quatre fis headed out for adventure. Donna and I went to lunch at one place, then dessert (see photo) at another. The line was too long at St. Chapelle so - once again - I fail to get in since 1965.  Back home, big grocery shopping trip, now cooking - awaiting the return of the 4 kids.  LIG!

TotheCDG, TotheCDG, TotheCDG, TotheCDG

That's what I did this weekend. 4 round trips.  Average 3 hours.  Plus a couple of grocery stops. Now le quatre fis son ici!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Triumphing at the Arc

Today is our last day with Alan and Melissa :( but tomorrow when they leave, Trevor arrives! :).  So today - after a big breakfast, we headed out to see the Arc De Triumph.  It's 300 steps to the top. A&M, J&D made it while E&C waited below.  Then J&D paused at the Seine - see photo 1 for what happened there!  On to a boat ride on the river and now back home.