Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Last Mango in Paris

Today we left the apartment even later than the past few days and boy did we pay for that.  We waited in line at the Catacombs for over 2 hours.  This was a part of the trip that was totally new to me.  Curiously, my mother, daughter and I had stayed in the Hotel du Midi which is right across the street from the site back in Spring '94.  It is also right across the street from the RER station which has trains that take you from Paris out to Orly.  At the time, we didn't know that it was right there.  Not sure if my Mom would have wanted to go down there.  While we stood in line, there was a jet of water coming out of the curb next to us and the local pigeons were treating it like a spa.
So what's in the catacombs?  The remains of over 6 million dead Parisians.  The city of Paris is built on a deposit of limestone and gypsum.  The site has been quarried since Roman times and came under government control in 1777 to prevent cave ins.  In 1780, another section of Paris was experiencing epidemics of sickness which was traced back to the decomposition of bodies in the local cemetery.  The decision was then made to exhume the occupants of this cemetery and others.  They used the quarries as ossuaries.  The catacombs were consecrated and over the next several decades many of Paris' cemeteries were emptied and carted off to the catacombs where their bones were stacked in the ossuary with a priest performing a mass each time.  At first the bones were just jumbled in there, but it wasn't until 1810 until the General Inspector of Quarries had the bright idea to stack them neatly, making patterns, etc.  They opened the catacombs to the public at the beginning of the 19th century.

It was very pleasant to walk out of the hot sun and into the cool underground and it was a long walk from the entrance to the actual beginning of the ossuary.  This provided plenty of time for stupid tourist tricks.  Trying to find holes to jump out of, playing with the flashlight, walking like a monster.  Great fun.
I'm not sure at all what camera setting I used, but that last photo was way lighter than it should be.  So on to the bones.  If you're at all squeamish, you might want to skip ahead a few pictures...
STOP!  This is the empire of Death...
Signage showing the origin of the bones and when they were placed in their current location.
With the help of Bob's flashlight we can see that in this spot, the bones go back over 20 feet.
Another interesting pattern using skulls and bones ends.
This is a barrel shaped formation of skulls and shin bones in the Crypt of the Passion.  It covers up a column that supports the ceiling.  Form follows function?
On the lighter side of all this, there was an American couple with a 3-4 year old boy down there with us.  The kid was a handful and I think the parents were afraid he was going to pull on some of the bones or something.  At various points, they were taking picture of him against a wall of skulls and bones.  Justin turns to us and says "I bet that'll be this year's Christmas card photo."  His sense of humor has been keeping us laughing, that's for sure.

Eventually, we climbed out of the catacombs and were back among the living.  Bob, Justin and Hayley headed off to the Arch of Triumph and the Quai Branley museum.  The latter is dedicated to the art of indigenous people around the world and was loosely divided into continents.  I headed back to do some light grocery shopping and some heavy duty laundry.  The ladies in the laundromat were very helpful and pleasant.  There was this machine on the wall.  If you wanted laundry soap, you pushed the numbered buttons for the soap dispenser (21) and then put in the coins.  Across the room on the other side of the door is this metal box on the wall with no apparent way to access anything.  After you pay, you hear this clunk, clunk and you have to know that you need to reach into a little flap on the left bottom side of this box to pull out the laundry soap.  This little invention lost its novelty rapidly after I put in 1 Euro and got no soap.  It was a lot like those gas stations where you can pay outside after you indicate which pump you wish to use which is easy enough, but the whole soap thing was a bit far-fetched.

Dinner was a repeat of last night and we have begun to pack in preparation for leaving tomorrow.  We have been working on cleaning out the fridge.  Tomorrow we will eat the croissant and demi baguette I bought this afternoon, some yogurt, the last peach and mango and hit the road.  We will pick up the car on the west end of Paris and eventually head out to Normandy. Not sure if we will have working wifi at the next stop.  We'll see.

So, what have we learned in Paris?  It used to be that if a guy was wearing a baseball hat or wearing shorts, he was an American.  Now you see them on Swedes, Chinese, and even the French.  If you see someone wearing a Gilligan hat, it's an Italian.  The Italians have replaced the Ugly American as the bane of the European tourist industry.  They no longer make raisin snails (Pain aux Raisins) - at least the good ones with the custard in them.  Using a Metro map from 1991 is not a good idea.  There aren't as many pickpockets as Rick Steves leads you to believe.  The next generation of French people seem to be a little warmer than the last.  Hot weather brings out a lot of cleavage.  Some of it should remain covered.  Nobody should buy and wear a tshirt or other article of clothing that has writing in a language they don't understand.  We have seen some real doozies.

I'm sure there are more, but they're just not coming to me.  It's time to sign off and get into bed.  Another busy day ahead of us tomorrow.

Todays step count: 16,014.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Paris When it Sizzles

Today we slept in.  Until 8:30!  The box of cereal contained too little cereal for everyone to get some, so I brought out the baguette and croissants with butter and apricot jam.  Rounded out with some Camembert and cut up peaches and nectarines and we were all sufficiently filled up to start the day.  Our goal for the day was to go to Notre Dame and the L'Arc de Triomphe.  Before we left the apartment, we closed both the windows and drapes as the sun had already hit our wall and it was beginning to heat up.

We took the Metro into the heart of the City and walked into the usual throng around the Notre Dame.  After some recon, we determined that there was a 2 hour wait to go up the tower (standing in the sun) and the Archaeological Crypt is closed on Mondays.  I waited outside with the backpacks and sent Bob and the kids in to the church since the line was moving quite nicely.

Afterwards, we walked towards the Jewish Holocaust Memorial (also closed on Mondays) walking through the park at the back end of the church.   It was lunch time and the park was FULL of children involved in some summer program as they all were wearing red baseball hats.  There were a lot of kids and a lot of activity and I have no idea how anyone was making sure they didn't wander off.

These two boys were playing a clapping game similar to patty cake that involved spinning around in place and convoluted hand movements.  They were quite intent on their game.

We then crossed the Petit Pont.  This bridge connecting the little island in the middle of the Seine with the Left Bank was covered with padlocks.   Here is a link describing why.
http://french-news-online.com/wordpress/?p=6063#axzz1QVcAeUn7  Cute concept but we were baffled by the plastic bags (yes, just like the little ones that you use to pick up your doggy's poop when you take him on his walkies) that were also tied in amongst all the locks.  If anyone finds anything on line about these, please feel free to post in a comment.  Then we'll ALL know.
At this point the temperature was increasing and we were trying to walk in the shade.  We walked down the Rue de Colbert just opposite the South Rose window of the cathedral to see the hotel I stayed in on my first trip to Paris in 1972. The Hotel Colbert is now a four star hotel.  Needless to say, it wasn't back then.  Justin asked me if I remember which room I stayed in.  I didn't, but just now I remembered with whom I shared the room.  Her name was Sue LaVoie and she was a year behind me in high school and she bought French bird seed to take back to her bird as a souvenir.  Perhaps I should of simply remembered which room.

 A little further away from the Seine, we stopped for lunch at a nice little creperie called Creposuk.  Yes, Don, that is how it was spelled and we can't comment on the pronunciation.  How unfortunate for them that it doesn't translate to English speakers very well.   Furthermore, there was a Chinese restaurant across the street called Palais de Grisirie.  The temperature was not retreating, but neither were we.  Up the hill to the Pantheon where it was relatively cool inside.  This was originally a church dedicated to Saint Genevieve but was decommissioned in the late 1800's and now serves as a memorial to all the "great French people" such as Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Voltaire,  etc., who are now interred in the nicely chilled crypt below the building.  Many of the occupants of the crypt were exhumed from other locations and re-interred in the Pantheon with great ceremony.  We decided it was a great place to be on a hot day.
Justin and Bob through the scale model of the Parthenon.
Interior shots is all you get to see of the Pantheon!

After we had successfully dried the first (or was it the second) layer of sweat, we headed out into the bright sunshine and over to the Gardens of Luxembourg where we walked on the gravel paths and collected a fine layer of grit on our second or third layer of sweat.
Back to Notre Dame, with a side trip to Saint Sulpice church.
We only had to stand in line for about 45 minutes until we were allowed to descend the tower.  Along the way the bells were chiming the half hour and it was evident that we were in the bell tower.  Again, having been here in '72, I noticed that the tour wasn't the same as the one I took then.  Now we were confined to the tower and before we had walked along the roof.  Gargoyle viewing was much better in the old days.
We came back down out of the tower and the line to get into the cathedral was really short now so we all went in again so I could see it since you WERE allowed to take backpacks and purses in. Luggage is a no-no.  Taking pictures of the stained glass windows is not easy without a tripod and using other people's shoulders does NOT work well at all.  Even then I managed to get an ok shot which I cropped with the software on my handy little Airbook.
Back to the apartment, stopping at the market along the way.  I saw the roasted chickens and decided that I was not going to heat up the apartment any further by cooking chicken to put on a nice green salad.  Added some feta, olives, tomato, cucumber and some purchased vinaigrette.  Followed by an apple tart chaser and we were satisfied.  The only downside was that the white wine didn't chill fast enough or it would have been opened to accompany dinner.

Fortified by this hearty repast, we headed out to see the light show at the Eiffel Tower which provided the final layer of sweat for the day.  I failed to get a photo of the light show, but I got a lot of really short little videos of it.  Operator error.   Got some great shots of the tower all lit up though.  The other day, we were all talking about the color that they paint the tower.  It's a non-descript blah-brown.  Hayley suggested last night that maybe they pick that color because it illuminates so well.  I think she's right!
Here's Hayley rocking that little Canon camera of hers.  It doesn't have enough buttons and knobs for what she'd like to do with it, but she takes some great shots with it and she's got the intricacies of how it works down cold.  I ask her camera questions all the time.
We walked back through the quiet streets and after a shower, will be fast asleep in no time at all.  We are pooped.  It has been another busy day.  As Justin said at dinner, "If you aren't tired by the end of the day, you're just not doing something right."  That's a fact.

So, Paris When it Sizzles.  It was forecast to hit 95 degrees today and it is possible that it was even hotter.  It's also a bit on the humid side.  Tomorrow will be 10 degrees cooler and rain is possible.  Hopefully, we won't feel like we're swimming down the sidewalk.

Steps logged today:  21,760.  My calves can't decide if they want to keep going or reject the rest of the body that keeps abusing them.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Slacking in Paris

In spite of best intentions to be on the way by 8:15, we made it out of the apartment by 8:45.  From the notebook of info left here in the apartment for guests, we knew that there was a local Sunday market.  Yesterday on our way back to the apartment for lunch, we noticed that under the elevated Metro tracks in front of the building, there were metal stall frames set up which meant the market was right there at our doorstep.  I wanted to get up early and go out there before everyone else was ready to leave for the day, but after staying up until 1:30 in the morning, it wasn't in the cards.  I had to content myself with a quick walk through the market and only stopping for an occasional photo.  It was a riot of colors and smells.
When I saw this, I thought about the fourth little piggy that built his house from baguettes.  On second thought maybe this is the French version of the game Jenga.
I don't think that I have ever seen fruit this colorful at home.  It is evident that they do not pick the fruit green and gas it to ripen.  All of the flavor in the fruit we have eaten so far has been so intense.  We had some red cherries with lunch yesterday that were not Bing cherries.  They were a little darker and very full of flavor.

I think they even polish some of the produce.  You can see my reflection in the eggplant.
JT told me to take pictures of pretty food when I saw it.  I'm hoping that this is what he meant.  This variety of tomato was totally new to me.  If we hadn't been heading out, I would have bought one to try.
Now we come to the "parts is parts" section of the market.   All the little rows of beady black eyes caught my eye in this stall.
More eyes.  I'm not sure that the photo does justice to the color on this fish.
More parts.
Hooves and ears from the little piggies that built their house from baguettes I guess.
And even more parts.  There doesn't seem to be anything roly poly about these fish heads, nor do I want to eat them up, yum.
A couple of short metro rides later we arrived at the Louvre.  Learning from yesterday's mistake, we actually looked up in our handy travel guide HOW to get to the Louvre.  It seems that you just can't find the Metro stopped named Montmartre and expect to pop up out of the ground in front of Sacre Coeur.  When you do that, you find yourself somewhere off of the map that you're carrying and you walk for 30 minutes or so using the location of the sun in the sky and dead reckoning.  This helped to account for a good portion of the 20,000 steps we walked yesterday.

As we walked into the courtyard where the famous glass pyramid that is the entrance to the Louvre is located, we saw a good sized line already forming.  Once inside, we bought our museum passes and headed off to the Richelieu wing where they house sculpture and paintings from the Middle Ages and Renaissance as well as the royal apartments of  Louis Napoleon III.

This is the handle on one of the windows.  The face measures about 1.25"  Justin and I marveled at the artistry expended on something so utilitarian.  I wonder how many people that visit this room even notice it.
This photo shows some of the objets d'arts that were in one of the royal collections.  Justin and I spent quite a bit of time exclaiming over these and looking at them from different angles.  They were amazingly pierced and multi-layered as well as beautifully decorated.
I took this photo on the way back to meet up with Bob and Hayley for lunch.  Justin had stayed on a bit longer to see the Van Dyck and Durer section.  This was a class that the museum puts on to inspire curiosity about art in children.  The teacher was dressed up like a statue and was teaching them about statuary by getting them to look at it and tell her about what they were seeing.  It was a neat thing to see.  I love the pose that I caught her in.
After lunch we went into the Sully wing to see the excavation of the medieval Louvre castle that was built in the 12th century.  At the end of the 16th century, the northwest corner of the current Henri II square was built over the older castle.  When Bob and I were last here in 2000, all that was exposed was one corner.  Now they have exposed two whole walls and also access to the donjon or keep inside the walls.  Dim lighting and no flash photos prevent me from sharing that.

We also took in quite a bit of the Greek and Egyptian sculpture.  I was experiencing some dissonance along the way between the Egyptian art and artifacts and the rooms in which they were housed.  Some how the rococo style of the rooms just didn't seem to be the best match to me.  
By 3:30 we all agreed that we were very tired and had sore legs to boot; the stairs were getting to be painful.  So we wended our way back to the entrance and climbed out of the museum.  It was a very warm day today and the air up on top gets hot and stifling with all that glass.
A few more quick rides on the Metro and we were back in our neighborhood.  The market was long gone and the debris hosed to the curbs where the pigeons were having a field day.  Another brief nap and then I cooked dinner which consisted of the country sausage, sauerkraut, baby potatoes and green beans that we bought on Rue Cler yesterday afternoon.  The apple tart was served afterwards and the next thing I realized, everyone crashed.  I'm sitting in the dark as I type, looking forward to another busy day tomorrow.  An even hotter one than today.  Who knew we'd have to leave home to actually enjoy the summer.

So, the post title.  Right.  Well, we only walked 13,000 steps today.  Two reasons for that.  1) We didn't get temporarily "misplaced" like yesterday and 2) you do a lot of standing in one place in a museum.  Especially when you are trying to translate the placards from French to English.  :)