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27 October 2015

Paris Trip 4

Versailles Day!

Today we take the RER (train) to Versailles. We accidentally took the long train route, but enjoyed seeing the countryside from the nearly empty train.

Versailles was the residence of the French monarchs Louis XIV, XV, and VI, and for Marie Antionette. "Residence" for kings means palaces! And grand it still is!

Here is the view walking up to the entrance.

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Here is the snaking line we will soon join. And spend 45 minutes in.

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This building is under construction: note the scaffolding on the left and rear. The front and side are covered with artists representations of how the area looked – to cover up the construction. We noted this on monuments throughout France.

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While in line, I had plenty of time to take photos of the palace. Quite grand.

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Golden gate.

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Finally we get in past security and ticket-takers and enter the Chateau. We enter a long chamber lined with large paintings.

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Bataille de Fontenoy, Mai 1743.

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Zurlauben 1704.

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We toured many rooms that the monarchs and their families lived and played and entertained in (no photos of these, not even the Hall of Mirrors, I just enjoyed), then came outside into the gardens. At the exit, we could have boarded the Petit Train or rented a golf cart, but we just walked.

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Here is the first fountain that we came to.

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I liked this statue by the pools. We sat next to it for awhile.

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We walk all the way down to the cross-shaped canal in the distance in the photo below. This is just before we start our 15 minute walk.

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A view of the lower fountains and the canal and lots of people.

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Close-up of the fountain. Back when the monarchs lived here, orchestras played in the gardens, and the elite frolicked in the canals and gardens and paths in the manicured forests.

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A long pathway with a canopy of trees is the way to the Trianon Palaces. These are where the monarchs went to get away from the bustle of the main Versailles palace. From Rick Steves: "They expanded the Trianon area, building a fantasy world of palaces and pleasure gardens – the enclosure called Marie-Antionette's Domaine." We took each other's photo going off on the pathway. (We want to play too.)

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The gardens were worth the walk.

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Here is the area in front of a small palace.

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Isn't this a beautiful spot to take a little rest? I love the pink marble columns.

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Another small palace.

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I consented to a photo of me because I like the marble fountains so much.

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We hiked the long way back to the main palace and then exited and walked to the RER station. Tired, we squeezed onto a crowded train for the 45 minute trip back to Paris and our hotel. Had an excellent meal at the same restaurant as last night. Salad plus ham or smoked duck plus cheese on toast, wine, creme brûlée and apple crumble and small cappuccinos. Yum!

20 October 2015

Paris Trip 3

Daily a long snaking line forms on the street across from our hotel. People are waiting to get into the Catacombs. I am intrigued! So this morning we head out to get into the line before the Catacombs opens. We arrive at 9:30 – and get in a little after it opens at 10. We descend 130 steps into the earth into a dank and dark system of tunnels.

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Stone sculptures grace the dark tunnels.

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Tall arches grace a large room.

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And then a sign:

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“Halt, this is the empire of the dead.”

Shouldn't be too bad. Just some coffins, right?

Wrong.

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For moments I stare in disbelief. I hadn't expected piles of bones. Piles of bones neatly stacked with skulls placed sometimes in patterns.

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“Happy is he who is forever faced with the hour of his death and prepares himself for the end every day.”

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We walked a long time through these bone-decorated passageways. So long that I hungered to be away, up, back into the sun and the bustle of modern, living Paris. I think John felt the same way.

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We climb up out of the darkness onto a brightly lit street. A souveneir store awaits: “Don’t panic, we will all be bones one day” adorns keychains and magnets and postcards.

Back in our room we plan our next adventure, looking out our sunny window at the living.

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We are going on a boat ride on the canals of Paris! It lasts over two hours and Rick Steves advises to bring our own lunch and wine.

Here is our boat. We sat up on top.

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Views from the boat.

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We come to our first lock.

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The lock closes.

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Lock on other side.

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The smoking lady.

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Street view.

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Inside a very long tunnel.

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Back at dock.

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We went back to a restaurant near our hotel and shared a nice salad of eggs and ham plus and order of cheese and wine. This became our favorite restaurant — I took photos of several bottles of the wine we got there. But, it’s hard to find these really good French wines in the US (or even Paris), as they are small wineries that don’t produce a lot.

15 October 2015

Paris Trip 2

Today we are off to the Army Museum, or Musee de l'Armee. We got off the metro and looked around: "which way do we go?" The streets are confusing to us. We sat down on a bench and John dug out the Rick Steves Paris and I opened maps on my iPhone. As we are trying to figure it out, a Frenchman came over and asked if we needed help. Calmly, he pointed us in the right direction. So much for the French being rude to Americans!

The Army Museum is in a large compound called the Hotel des Invalides. In the photo below you can barely make out the spire above the arch. It tops the large gold leafed grand dome over Napoleon’s Tomb.

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Inside, we purchase tickets for today, as well as a 2-day "museum pass" that we plan to use in a couple days. Then we wander the first parts of the museum: rooms and rooms of huge paintings of battle scenes and busts of famous leaders and many statues. We admire the architecture – the big round staircases and fancy details. We spend a long time in this area.

Then – then! – we get to see Napoleon's tomb. Inside this coffin lie the bones of Napoleon Bonaparte.

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Look how grand it is inside this dome:

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Besides Napoleon, several other leaders are entombed here, including Ferdinand Foch (WWI), Vauban, and members of Napoleon's family.

Across the courtyard is the entrance to the World Wars areas of the Army Museum.

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Helmets, armor, weapons, clothing, dressed mannequins showing uniforms, men atop horses, tool and first aid kits – a huge assortment of war-associated miscellany. Of special human interest, gathered were dolls and other items found on the war fields. Also, there were big horizontal flatscreen shows of the strategies of battles.

I took very few photos inside, simply enjoying taking it all in. But, this little motorcycle got me to take out my camera:

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It's a British Welbike, a small, folding motorcycle, in its parachute drop-container. In WWII, these were dropped at the same time as paratroopers. On landing, the paratroopers would take the Welbike from the container, unfold it, and be on the road within 11 seconds. (Wikipedia)

We spent about 3 hours in the Army Museum! Then we were hungry and set off for a late afternoon meal at a Brasserie. The food was good, the wine was not (the only bad wine we had on the trip!).

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We were served by a silly waiter, who kept making jokes. He insisted on this:

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Eiffel Tower is the next "must see" spot on our agenda. I realize, now, looking at my photos, I should have taken a photo of the Eiffel Tower from way back to get it all in one shot. But no, I was too interested in the complex interlacing of the steel that holds it up.

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In the area near the Eiffel Tower, street vendors try to get us to buy Eiffel Tower replicas, selfie sticks, lights they toss in the air or pattern on the concrete, and even wine. We watch them con shell games too. It took us an hour and twenty minutes to get through the lines and to the top of the tower (and another forty-five minutes to get back down). But it was worth it. Our first big view, from the mid-way landing:

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You can see the gold-domed Napoleon's Tomb and the Army Museum complex in this photo:

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The Seine.

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These final photos are from the very top. During our stint in line, John was talking to a young man who was part of a group of study abroad students. One member of the group proposed to his girlfriend right there, at the top of the Eiffel Tower. The city of romance!

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A metro ride took us to our hotel and we hit the open markets across the street from our hotel. Laden with strawberries, wine, bread and cheese, we enjoyed a quiet evening in our hotel room. Time to rest up for another day in Paris!

12 October 2015

Paris Trip 1

John and I went to Paris this year. This is our first solo trip abroad – without a tour group and guide. We wanted to know if we can do this on our own! So we bought our tickets on Icelandic Air and made our hotel reservations online. After traveling to Africa and Turkey, it was a pleasure to not have to get visas. Grabbed some euros at our local bank. Not too hard.

It was late September, and the weather in Paris was perfect. We arrived mid-day and took the RER train to our destination: Denfert-Rocheau. Our hotel is a block away from the RER/metro stop! The next morning we set off on the metro with 5-day passes (and just a couple glitches) and got off at the Arch du Triomphe stop.

We walked down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

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The buildings are full of fanciful figures and architectural details.

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Avenues in Paris are not marked by big signs at each road juncture. Instead, we had to find which street we were on by looking at the sides of buildings:

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More Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

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We got crepes! Cheese ones.

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We walked on to the Place de la Concorde.

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Continued to the Jardin des Tuileries. The walkway at the far end of the pond (photo below) goes to the Louvre.

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Next we pass under the Arc du Carousel. The Louvre is just past it – you can see the "pyramid" in the arch.

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We then walked along the Seine. That's me, in Paris!

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Paris is the city of romance. Couples buy locks and put their initials on them and lock them onto the bridges over the Seine. Note the Japanese bride and groom in this photo:

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We found lunch at a cafe and then went to Notre Dame Cathedral.

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We sat a long time in the pews. Quietly. Notre Dame Cathedral is beautiful.

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In the evening we took the metro to the Eiffel Tower. So fun – but no photos!

06 October 2015

Dzo and the Pumpkin Patch

I couldn't resist slinging my good camera over my shoulder as we headed out the door to go to the Pumpkin Patch in Longmont, Colorado. After all, this is my first grandchild's first visit to a bit of Americana.

Dzo (pronounced "Jo") has been living with his mom, my daughter, in Colorado since late July. He will be two mid-December. Born in Togo, West Africa, cold weather is a bit of a new thing to him.

I lifted Dzo onto a haystack amidst multicolored gourds and pumpkins.

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A bit of longing in his eyes for his dad, my son-in-law, who is still in Africa?

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And who is Dzo reaching for?

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Ah, a smooch from Mom. "Look at all the fun we are going to have!"

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Wagons! Look at the pile of wagons! One of his favorite things.

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And what do you do with an American Flyer wagon? Climb in, of course.

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He went by wagon to the petting zoo, but the pile of goats was a bit much for him.

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He put a pumpkin in the wagon (but I didn't get a photo). Then on to ringing a bell:

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Mom and son have fun in the train.

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Dzo loves anything with wheels, like cars. So his mom puts him in a little car on a track. He plays happily with the steering wheel.

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But what's this? The car begins to move:

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A bit disconcerted the first time around:

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Last lap.

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Guess that's not his favorite passtime. How about a nice stationary old farm truck to sit in?

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Now that's one happy little boy! Time to leave the pumpkin patch, with plans to bring Daddy back in a couple weeks to show him the sights!

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