Friday, September 2, 2016

Summer 2016 - Paris, France

We ended up taking the train to France, going under the English Channel. I thought it would be longer under the water but it was only about 20 minutes or so which wasn't bad. The only part I didn't like about the train was the point where it stopped on the tracks for apparently no reason and a local that was riding with us said "This is bad, very bad" He told us that sometimes the trains will be delayed for hours because of strikes or problems. We hear an announcement not to open the doors of the train and the air turned off and it started getting hot and I admit I started panicking a bit. Luckily it was only about 15 or 20 minutes of a delay and then we started slowly moving again and made it to the station with not problem. 

Once we got into the city we took a van taxi to our hotel. Of course we entered the city during rush hour traffic again and it took us a long time to get to our hotel. Everywhere you looked there were beautiful buildings, wrought iron, unique and interesting places to look at. Lots of people were out and enjoying the city. Tons of people in café’s and walking the streets.
Our hotel was down a little street that looked like it was in a theater district. We explored a bit and finally found a place to eat for dinner. I was looking forward to some Parisian patio dining that I’ve always heard about. Most people didn’t want to eat inside the restaurant they all wanted to be out on the patio. The reality of the patio dining is you are cheek to cheek with strangers with no room to breathe, let alone to move and all the tables are for 2 people not 5 so we ate inside instead. Besides the patio also held all the smokers, it was a real possibility that would choking on smoke as you ate your meal. There also wasn’t anything fast or quick (or cheap). So we convinced Jeff to have a sit down, nice Parisian meal. (He would be happy to grab a couple of take away meals to share back in the hotel room) 

The food ended up being delicious and I just hoped Jeff got over the sticker shock enough to enjoy it. I had Salmon with dill sauce. It was cooked very well and I enjoyed it. I notice that they don’t have as much salt in their food, maybe oil and butter but not salt. The flavor is more simple but good. I noticed that Parisians eat lighter, maybe some raw fish over some salad and some fruit and cheese.

Back in our room we tried to relax on wall to wall beds (no room to walk) watching TV stations that we couldn’t understand, unless we wanted to watch more news reports on BBC about Brexit.  Ashley had to sleep between us on our bed but we made it through. I was feeling a little anxious as we heard that Jacob's mission call was coming through. We knew that we were probably going to come home after our trip to have it waiting for him! 

      In the morning Jeff found a café next to our hotel and ordered some omelets to go along with some croissants (to bring back to the hotel room to share). This was the time to sit on the patio! It was quieter, there was more room and it was a peaceful morning with enough people outside to people watch as well. 
        As I observed people in Paris I noticed that the French dress a lot nicer than we do (at least in Paris). There were no Walmart fashion faux pas here. Everyone dressed as if they were going to work or a garden party and even those who were casual looked nice. A lot of women wore skirts and dresses and shirts were most often tucked in and belted. I saw very few overweight people…so no need to hide the muffin tops. I noticed a lot of layering and sweaters and jackets were common though I couldn’t imagine how they could do it in 90 degree weather! Their shoes were not tennis shoes (unless they were running) and women wore flats or heels and only a few wearing sandals. It was interesting to people watch and see who looked to be a true Parisian and who was a tourist like us. Ashley was interested in going to a grocery store while we were there and wanted to see if they had any different food that they don't have here in the states. 

Joel and Virginia and their family had flown in early that morning and met up at our hotel to have a place to drop their bags off. Then we immediately left to go explore the city. The first stop was the Eiffel tower. This was on the kids must-do list for Europe so we wanted to make sure to get to it first. 

We heard that there was a championship soccer match in France and tons of tourists were there for it so it would be crowded that day. We ended up taking the underground there and walked a couple of blocks and there it was! I didn’t realize the Eiffel tower is brown and not black. I guess I always see it in pictures in silhouette. I also thought it was more plain and didn’t imagine it would have curlicues a little bit of ornate (after seeing the rest of Paris I shouldn’t be surprised)

 There was a giant soccer ball fixed to the Eiffel tower and a big screen where I assume people were watching the game that night. As we traveled all over the city soccer was everywhere!

There was one price to go up the stairs and another price to take the elevator up. Everyone opted for the stairs except Jeff, Virginia, Ashley and I. Everyone else made it up the stairs but admitted it was no easy feat, it’s 600 stairs and Jacob said he got quite a quad workout. We only went on the 1st and 2nd floors, but each “floor” was quite far apart from each other. We didn’t end up going all the way to the top but the view from where we were was plenty high.  

The view from the tower...

1st floor

2nd floor

We looked over the city and enjoyed the view and even stood on the glass floor that I admit was a little freaky to watch all the people like ants below you. 

A little freaky looking straight down through the glass. 

Definitely a highlight of the trip. 

Taking a gelato break. Gelato was the best...

          After the Eiffel tower we took the metro to the park at the Louvre. The Louvre was magnificent. Since we were in a hurry that day we didn’t get to go inside but we got to see the pyramid outside and enjoy some of the atmosphere. 

There were a lot of people enjoying the lawn including some speedo clad sunbathers. I would love to explore the inside some day guess it will be an excursion for a future trip. 

We met some of Joel’s friends for lunch at a creperie and Jacob and I tried a buckwheat pancake with potato, cheese and ham. The rest of the family got burgers at McDonalds across the street, ha ha. They all came back to try the sweet Nutella crepe. I have to say the crepes were just crepes, just like I make at home and were more underwhelming than I thought but the gelato we had exceeded my expectations. Having fresh real macaroons in Paris was also an eye opener…I realized I’ve never had “real” macaroons before but hard, stale tasting imitations compared to what I tasted there. 

On our way walking to lunch we found a bridge with a bunch of locks. Ashley was thrilled and wanted to put one on the bridge. 

Conveniently there was a guy selling them and he would give you a marker to write on it. Ashley was happy even though they are technically considered lovers locks...

We found out that the city is actually cutting off all the locks because they worry that the weight of them are damaging the bridges. As soon as they cut them off people (like us) put them back on. I guess now they are trying to replace the sides of the bridge so people can't attach locks any more. 

View of the Thames

We then went to our other must-do…Notre Dame. It was a spiritual experience walking into this cathedral that I had learned so much about in my Art History and history classes. 

I had read Pillars of the Earth, Hunchback of Notre Dame and studied about gothic architecture and I was actually here inside looking at the immense ceiling made possible by the flying buttresses that were new technology at the times. The ceilings were so high. I felt reverence for the time and sacrifice that was made to build this structure.  

I was glad for my kids to be able to experience it. By this point Jacob and Ashley are sitting on the bench in the church. They had done a lot of walking and had been great not to complain. No one is saying I’m bored and no one had complained once. I was proud of them. 

       At this point in the day the kids were winding down and the Olesons going on no sleep and jet lag decided to check into their hotel. We went back to ours a rested for awhile and then met up in the evening with Joel and Jared at Monmarte on the steps to the Sacred Heart church. Its set on a hill at a dizzying height. 
      We were happy our metro pass worked for the funicular that took us to the top of the hill after walking up 10 or more flights of stairs to get to the street level from the Subway (seriously the deepest Subway ever!) 

We had a crazy good view of the city and could even see the Eiffel tower sparkling in the distance as it got dark. You could hear chattering in all different languages, musicians performing, clinking glasses and the smell of good food. We were invited to eat on the patio of a restaurant in the middle of a square of artists drawing the most amazing portraits of people. No so-so street caricaturists here. They were using pastels, charcoals and more capturing expressions, eyes and unique beauty of each person they were capturing. I was impressed and I'm really bummed I didn't take a picture of it!

We were able to take a peek inside the church before it closed for the evening. 

Loved the gargoyles

             At our restaurant the waiter spouted French to us animatedly and was quite a character even though we couldn’t understand anything he was saying. Hearing French spoken everywhere was interesting. England was easy because we could understand it all. I wish I would have attempted to learn at least a little French. I have to admit it sounded beautiful as people are talking though some people sounded quite nasally. I have to say that people were all very nice to us and a lot of people knew enough English to help us our or at least would try. One of the days there was a nice lady on a walk with her son and their dog having her son practice his English with us that I thought was cute. We had conversations with people on the Subway or in restaurants and everyone was nice. I’m thinking that they are maybe more used to people from all over the world there. Luckily most restaurants had English menus otherwise I would be lost on what to order only recognizing the things I didn’t want like escargot and meat tartar (raw). That last night I had the best duck (confit) and roasted potatoes, onion soup with cheese and crusty bread on top and apple pie. Apple pie wasn’t really apple pie more like a cross between a tart and a cheesecake with some apple in it. One restaurant we ordered a lemonade, it wasn’t lemonade as we know it, it was Sprite. 

That night as we walked back to the metro we could hear people listening to the soccer match, cheering and shouting especially when they ended up beating Germany 2-0. The whole city was celebrating. We could see the Eiffel tower flashing lights (the picture didn't capture it). We got back to our hotel and tons of people were celebrating in the street, lots of them with painted faces with striped of red-white and blue. 

     The next day we ate breakfast (in our room) and then went to the train station to head out to Barcelona where we were going to catch our cruise the next day. As we pointed out the café where Jeff had bought breakfast Taylor looked wistfully at the restaurant with the outside seating and said “I would've liked to eat breakfast there” 

      Ha ha, I learned that Jeff’s impatient style is a little incongruent with the unhurried European style. He asks for the check as soon as we are done and would rather do take-away that sit down and enjoy. Ha ha. Maybe Taylor is a little more like me. 

At the train station waiting for our train to Spain there was a piano for anyone to play. Of course Jacob and Taylor took a turn. Taylor got some applause and some head bouncing as he played Bohemian Rhapsody. Jacob had a lady come to speak to him and say a lot of things in French that he didn’t understand, then he said…”Merci” Taylor said a little boy was going around pretending to shoot people and when he “shot” Jacob he played dead and fell on top of the piano and people took notice and started to laugh. 

Heading out to Barcelona...

Heading to Barcelona..The train ride was 6 hours long. Flying past the French country side I watched out the window the steep roofed farm houses, the green fields, windmills like they have in Palm Springs and the chateaus like you see in the movies. There are a lot of sheep and cows and round, rolled bales of hay. It startles me a little every time we pass another train. We are going almost 300km an hour! All the announcements are in French and I can’t understand a word. Hoping they are announcing something important. Once they switch to Spanish I learn they are just talking about taking your belongings with you and minding the gap when you get off the train. OK.

     In France I had to get used to crowded subway cars, elevators and train stations with no air-conditioning. There were some hot, stuffy experiences and I had to learn to get used to it. Luckily our hotel room had air. I was grateful for breezes when I got them. 

     I also learned that in Europe they write the number 1 somewhat like a cursive l. We realized this the hard way when we were trying to find our hotel room and we couldn’t figure out what number we were looking at. Sevens are crossed. Periods are used for commas in prices and vice versa. The clock is a 24 hour clock (like the military) and they write their dates with the day first and then the month. At first I thought Jeff bought our train tickets for the wrong day and we were stressed all night until Jeff woke up the next morning and called the train station and realized it was because it was listing the day before the month and we weren’t used to it. I was just glad it was my error and not theirs!