Sunday, September 30, 2012

Europe Trip - Days 10 & 11 - Paris and Going Home

The first of our last two days in Paris, we went to breakfast with Linda at a cafe she enjoys and had a lovely breakfast of croissants, jam, bread, and excellent coffee.  We sat and chatted and watched the Parisians move in and out as they ordered, read their papers and chat to their companions.  It was almost as it is in the United States, except that everyone embraces carbohydrates for the morning meal.  Everyone remains slim because they tend to regulate their intake, walk everywhere and smoke.  For a country on centralized health care...I was a bit astounded at how much nicotine consumption there was.

After breakfast, we hugged Linda goodbye, and jumped on a tour bus that was a hop-on, hop-off deal like the one we did in London...except that there were limited stops and a fairly predictable circuit.  Actually, we thought it would be easier to figure out...and for the most part it was.  By being on the bus, we were able to see the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Opera, the Eiffel Tower, Napoleon's Tomb and several other stops.  We had time to get out, take a photo or two and then load back up.  

At lunch, we stopped at Notre Dame and had lunch at a cafe right across the street.  We sat outside and just enjoyed our waiter who was bit snooty but funny at the same time.  We just looked at Notre Dame Cathedral and ate our lunch and enjoyed ourselves.  After lunch, we went to a shop and bought a few souvenirs and then waited until the next bus came along.

After Notre Dame, we went to the Champs de Elyees to try to find H & M.  We enjoyed shopping there on our last trip and since Bonnie had heard the store mentioned on various fashion programs, she wanted to see what it was.  She purchased a few items and I found some small things to bring to Jill and Brecksyn.

After shopping, we couldn't find the bus stop and ended up walking up the avenue to the Arc de Triomphe where the buses were picking up passengers.  It was an unplanned walk...but not too awful in the grand scheme of things.  After six days of walking, though, we were pretty much over it.

We went back to where we began and took the metro back to Gare Montparnasse.  We walked a lot through the station, and couldn't seem to find the entrance that would get us back to the apartment.  We ended up stopping in a lounge to use the restroom and encountered a gentleman who walked us through the station to the exit we needed.  I can only assume that he was an angel.  

We went back to the apartment and decided that we would walk down the street and find somewhere to eat.  We did...and hit the jackpot.  Found a lovely brasserie that gave great food with big portions and excellent service.  We liked it so much that we went there for four straight meals.

The last day that we were in Paris was spent resting, packing, and walking around the neighborhood.  It rained, and we were content to just sit inside and watch French game shows and do nothing.  While it would have been nice to have had a gameplan, we were just so tired of walking and figuring out the transportation system, that we were happy to watch a documentary on Grace Kelly and call it a day.

Our return trip was fairly uneventful other than the fact that an unattended bag had to be blown up in the airport and caused us to stand in line for awhile.  Our flight home was nice, but we had gotten pretty tired of all of the French, and were ready to hear English and resume our lives.  When we landed, we ended up walking for miles in the Atlanta International Airport because they were having a "brownout" with some people striking for some reason...and there were only a few agents on duty.  I'm sure that the intent was to punish management...but it was actually the customers who got a raw deal.

We finally got through Customs and then were greeted by Big Dave and Bonnie's family.  She had to go to the main terminal to exchange her money (and she graciously took mine as well).  

What I know about travel is isn't easy.  It is glorious, wonderful, awe-inspiring, educational, fun, exciting, lovely, interesting, hilarious at times, and amazing.  What it is easy.  You have to have decent walking shoes, a lot of patience, adequate funds, good traveling companions, and some semblance of a plan. You have to be open to new experiences, not rattled by hassles, and willing to ask people questions until you figure out where you are if necessary.  But travel changes you.  You pick up new words, thoughts, memories, and impressions.  You begin to love aspects of things that you see and experience and you'll actually miss them years later.  

At least that's been my experience.

Thank you for reading through the trip with me and giving me some kind feedback.  I realize that looking at someone else's travel pictures can sometimes be a little bit cumbersome when you couldn't care less about it or you want to form your own impressions someday...but to those of you who have read along...thank you.

Here are some photos from the last few days of the trip.  Enjoy!  

You haven't been to Paris unless you have a photo of you in front of the Eiffel Tower.  So, there you go, Bonnie.

Yeah, and that's me.

And Mom...

And just the tower by itself...

This was supposed to be a shot of the three of us by the Eiffel Tower that a nice lady took, but I'm missing the tower in this one.  Oh well!

Took this one from the bus because, seriously, can you get enough Eiffel Tower photos while you are there? Answer: No.

Just snapping shots of the Eiffel Tower...because I could

Yeah, I see that this might be getting a little old by now.

Well, at least that shot from a different perspective was nice...

This was beautiful, yes?

Just some street life from the bus...

Notre Dame pieces.  For whatever reason, I couldn't get enough detail in one I took several...

There's Bonnie in front of Notre Dame...

And someone's "before" photo.  Oh, wait...that's me.

I honestly love the gargoyles.  Probably because I have known so many of them in life.  They appear human...but...yeah.

Back on the bus...

I think that this is the Opera...but not entirely sure.  It's pretty, though.

Nice shot of the Arc de Triomphe from the bus...

This marks one of the bridges over the Seine.  Wish I could remember the details...

This carousel is across from the Eiffel Tower.

Happy riders on the bus.  Beats walking...

Oh, please, you knew I wasn't done with the Eiffel Tower, surely!

This photo was taken because I love this color blue.  It was all over Paris.

Notre Dame from the bus window.  They were doing renovations of some kind so just ignore that yellow crane, if you will.

This is where we ate lunch one day...decent food and a funny waiter.

More gargoyles...

A successful shopping outing at H & M...

Here's the final picture in the brasserie that we ate four meals straight in because we were that tired of walking...and the food was that good.  It really was.

Thanks for following along.  Back to writing about whatever later this week...

Friday, September 28, 2012

Europe Trip - Day 9 - Versailles

If you've been reading'll know that I left off with the Eiffel Tower lighting up and sparkling and making us exceptionally happy.  After that, we retired for the night and planned to get up the next day to head to Versailles.

In case you have no idea what Versailles is a massive castle outside of Paris that was the home of Louis       XIV, XV, and XVI...I think that's right...and Marie Antoinette.  Now, surely, you have heard of some of those people.

By the way, that's a picture of Louis XIV - also known as the "Sun King."

Here's Louis XV...


And Louis XVI...he was the one married to Marie Antoinette.

And here she is...

Somehow I thought she'd be cuter.  But whatever.

Anyway, I had to bring you up to speed because these were the folks who lived at Versailles.  Now, later on, at the end of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles was signed here as well...

Okay, you see they guy that is the 2nd from the right?  That's Georges Clemenceau.  He was the President of France during WWI.  He is my brother-in-law, Eric's (Linda's husband) great-great-great grandfather.  Which means that he is my nephew and niece's great-great-great-great grandfather.  Cool, huh?

There's another one...that's Vittorio Orlando (Italy), David Lloyd George (Britain), Georges Clemenceau (France) and Woodrow Wilson (U.S.).

Anyway, it is a pretty historical place.  And somewhere that we devoted an entire day to exploring.

We took at taxi to Versailles and got out right at the entrance.  The stones were cumbersome little buggers about four inches square and certainly not level.  I'm guessing that they were fairly old...but let's just say that they also got "old" about ten steps into walking up the road toward the palace.

Yes...I said that correctly...PALACE.

Here are a few pictures...

Yes, I realize that it looks like it should be pronounced "VER-SALES"...but it is pronounced "VER-SIGH."  I couldn't tell you what in the world that writing underneath says, but I suspect it is something about particular regulations. (Wild guess.)

Here is one of the several Louis kings...probably the "Sun God" (XIV) on a horse.

This was the view from where we were dropped off pretty much.  Big place, yes?

Here's Mom, Bonnie and Linda.  I have to admit that the stones were wearing me out by this time (you can see them in the background), so I insisted on a photo.  It turned out really well.

"A Toutes Les Gloires de la France" means "To all of the glories of France."  Ah, don't be impressed.  I totally Googled it.  This is on the big building that is behind Mom and Linda below.

Look at these beautiful ladies!  See those horrid stones?  Horrid! I tell you!

Just some buildings and some golden gates.  And statues.  Always statues.

Mom contemplating the statue (dressed, thankfully) inside the palace.

This was on the ceiling.  Really.

One of the rooms that was ridiculously opulent.

Italian marble.  Gorgeous.  And everywhere inside the palace.

A view out of one of the windows onto the garden outside.

The famous "Hall of Mirrors" which was quite amazing.  And a bit scary since I wasn't looking my best that day.

Still in the Hall of Mirrors...Mom was listening to the audio guide.

And Linda...

Amazing paintings all over the ceiling.

Here we are for photo ops...Mom, Linda and Bonnie...

Mom, Linda and Me.  I know!  I showed up!

We spent most of the morning looking at the various rooms and being amazed at all of the various items that had been preserved.  We did an audio tour and took tons of photos as we walked along.  At lunch, we decided to catch a bite to eat in one of the restaurants on-site.  They had a small sandwich shop that a lot of folks gravitated to, but we decided to have a lovely sit-down lunch while we waited for the private tour that Linda had organized for us at 2:00 that afternoon.  We had salads and pastries and just enjoyed talking about what all we had seen.  We ended up sprinting over to the tour and arrived a couple of minutes late, but the very efficient (yet very good) tour guide started us out in some of the private quarters of the King and queen that the general public cannot see.  We looked at bedrooms, private rooms, and even bathrooms...and were explained the significance of everything from animals in the borders in the opulent ceilings to colors, crests, and everything in between.  It was an amazing experience.  But as Linda said...she and Eric had decided to take a different tack with regard to sightseeing.  They wanted to do fewer things...but do them really well.  We did Versailles really well.

We ended up in the theater that was built for Marie Antoinette and visitors who enjoyed performing plays.  I thought it was appropriate that my mother - the actress - could see that her love for theater has been shared by a lot of folks for a very long time.  Even Marie Antoinette.

Seriously...more statues.

I believe that these were taken in the private quarters on the tour.

So many gorgeous things to see!

Bonnie in front of one of the many, many paintings.

This picture was taken in the theater that was built for Marie Antoinette and visitors to perform plays.  It was part of our private tour...and it was awesome.

When we finished the tour, we went outside to see the gardens.  Because it was a Sunday, the fountains were operational and people had come to just enjoy the gardens and the fountains.  There was classical music playing, and people milling about everywhere...just enjoying the day.

One of the fountains...

This was the view from the steps as we sat down just enjoying ourselves.  We were there for a little while...Linda went to rent a golf cart so that we could ride around the grounds.  It was so much fun!

Riding through the beautiful gardens.  You can tell we're moving because the right side of the photo is a wee bit blurry.

Ha!  I do believe that is the shadow of Le Golf Cart.

I will admit that I thought it was a little odd that there was a palm tree at Versailles...but in the boxes that they have them in, they can be changed out and moved around.

 I love how the grounds were so manicured and beautifully landscaped...

I'm not sure if we were coming or going when this picture was taken...but the gates were pretty impressive...

Apparently, I was extremely enamored with the golden gates.

This was the official china and it was gorgeous.  The museum at Versailles has reacquired numerous pieces that were on display from people who had acquired them years ago by those who ended up with them when the palace was ransacked at the French Revolution or bulk sales were held.

The table was original to Versailles...but they are trying to get additional pieces as Versailles is now an official museum of France.

I will tell you that riding through the hedges (or walking like this guy) was an amazing experience.  It is hard to believe how they got them like that and to see how beautiful everything fits together.

We had a beautiful, long, amazing day at Versailles.

Now, being us, we had not really planned the return trip.  Versailles was closing, so we headed back down those gosh-awful cobblestone square thingys...but at least it was downhill this time.  There were numerous tour buses that had pulled up to retrieve guests and we kept walking with the crowd of people headed toward the Metro stop.  As we got back to normal pavement (not a moment too soon...I'm so not kidding), I noticed a bus stop with a map and we looked at it to see where it went.

Well, we determined that the bus would deliver us to a Metro stop in Paris...and for the bargain price of two Metro tickets (that we happened to have)...we could ride into town on the bus that showed up two minutes later.


We worked out way back to the Metro, got on a train to Gare Montparnasse and walked the two blocks back to the apartment.  It was a truly wonderful day.

There are these two pictures that Bonnie snapped of the apartment...and I have to mention it for a few minutes.  You want to talk about an efficient use of space?  Well, this apartment was a true marvel.  Nothing was in it that didn't have a purpose and a place.  Except for perhaps a certain swing lamp that had a wee bit of attitude.

This is the kitchen and Mom is sitting on the sofa that folded out to a bed that Bonnie and I slept on.  Mom and Linda slept upstairs in the loft.

Behind Linda was the bathroom...and in the bathroom was a washer/dryer that was one unit that did it all.

Not only was it was downright awesome.

More on Paris coming...and then that will wrap it up.  Thanks for reading!