28 November 2015

Paris Trip 9

This is my last blog entry for our Paris trip. We left the next day, October 1, for our home in Colorado. This is our last full day in Paris!

We began with a visit to the Museum of Air and Space. It's a ways out, towards Charles De Gaulle Airport. We took the RER B and then a bus to get there. The Air and Space Museum has relics of early flight all the way up to jets and space travel.

This hot air balloon went up and down – if you look closely, you can see a gap between the bottom of the balloon and the platform. We watched as it went up about 15 feet.

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Here is a dummy in an early attempt at flying.

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Feather-type wings.

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More examples.

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In WWI, balloons carried men in baskets high enough to see where the enemy was. The contraption was towed behind a military vehicle.

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A WWI plane.

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Next we moved to a room of rockets and early spacecraft.

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We walked outside to see jets in the open air and other aircraft in hangars.

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WWII aircraft: "Buzz Buggy" and a Japanese Zero.

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Look how the wings fold up on this plane:

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On the tarmac, rockets behind retired planes.

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I was amazed at the many different types of helicopters in this room at the museum.

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Star of the museum: the Concorde. Gazing at this sleek plane, I would love to have flown in it.

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But alas, tomorrow we look forward to a slow flight back to Denver. We still have a few hours in Paris though. We visit a wine museum – it was disappointing, but watching a Fuji guy con the sommelier was amusing. We end our tour with a quiet one hour cruise on the Seine.

Bye Paris. We had a great time!

22 November 2015

Paris Trip 8

This is our last full day in Paris. Before we leave for today's adventures, I take my camera downstairs to shoot some photos of the Hotel Du Lion and our neighborhood.

I'll get to those photos in a second. First, a note on another track. France’s military showed its presence throughout our stay in Paris. Often we saw camouflage-uniformed men in groups of twos and threes carrying guns, on the streets and in the metro. Clearly the security in Paris was stepped-up compare to what I see in the US. As I write this blog entry in November 2015, it is just a week since the terrorist attacks on Paris on November 13. We watched the coverage on TV and felt sorrow for the people of Paris. So senseless.

Okay. Our room at the Hotel du Lion was on the second floor, the lobby on the first. These are the steep stairs down to the street from the lobby:

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Looking back up:

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The door to Hotel du Lion does not have a huge front and lobby. Just a door, then the stairs to climb:

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Looking one way down our avenue. Yes, that's a McDonalds right next door. Down a ways are a couple ATMs. It was easy to find cash in Paris.

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A metro station is right by the hotel door (no photo). I crossed the street to the Rue Daguerre with its many roadside stalls – cheese, meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, wine – and market and restaurants. It's morning and vendors are setting up.

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Halfway down the Rue Daguerre I turned and took a photo back towards the hotel.

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A bus goes by.

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Then the people cross. I follow them, then climb up to our room to get ready for our last day in Paris.

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21 November 2015

Paris Trip 7

Our second day of our 2-day museum pass. We choose our museums and head to the main tourist area of Paris.

Musee des Arts et Metiers is our first stop. I don't know why I didn't take any photos here, since it was very interesting for both of us! We saw historic scientific instruments and measurement devices: astrolabes, gyroscopes, balances, thermometers, satellites, and chemistry glassware. There were models showing construction methods. The history of communication area had old telegraphs, telephones, typewriters, and computers. And then there was a collection of vehicles, land and air, all the way up to rockets and spacecraft. It was fascinating and we spent close to two hours there.

Next, the Picasso Museum. What a treat to stand right in front of Picasso's amazing paintings. We strolled through rooms of sculptures and drawings as well. Picasso's scrawled notes were displayed in covered cases. This painting is framed by wavy-glass window views of the outside.

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Femme au fauteuil rouge:

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Grande baigneuse au livre, or Great Bather Reading, is the title of the next painting. I liked this one a lot, because it looks to me like a woman looking down, head on her propped up arms, and very sad.

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The Conciergerie is our next museum. And what is the Conciergerie? During the French revolution, it was the prison where people to be guillotined were held. It was the last stop for 2,780 victims. One of these victims was Marie-Antoinette. Gruesomely interesting.

We enter the Conciergerie into this room in the Gothic style with thick winding staircases:

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Commoners were held in cells like this:

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On a wall was a list of those who were guillotined at the Conciergerie. It lists each persons name and occupation.

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Below are photos of Marie-Antoinette's cell. The guard stood behind a screen to allow her some privacy. In this room she spent she spent her last days. On October 16, 1793 led at 4 am to the guillotine .

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We walked around for over an hour and I'm sure we went into a cafe for refreshment. I shot this photo of a narrow Paris avenue from my iPhone:

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Our final museum on the pass will be the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc de Triomphe is at the top of the Champs-Elysees, we started our walk on our first full day in Paris there (see the first day Paris blog for photos). Now we are back to use our Museum Pass to enter the building and walk to the top.

Construction of the Arc de Triomphe began in 1809, it honors Napoleon’s soldiers victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. Statues and busts adorn the ornate inside of the building. We start up a long, long winding spiral staircase: 165 feet high, 284 steps.

From the top, we had a grand view of all of Paris. The population of Paris is about 11 million, and has the highest density of any city in Europe. The architecture is fairly consistent with only a few anomolies. I think it is beautiful.

View down the Champs-Elysees.

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Eiffel Tower in this view.

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The Eiffel Tower and Montparnasse Tower (built in the 1970s before city planners strengthened building height restrictions).

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In this photo is the huge, white, rectangular Grande Arche de la Defense standing amid skyscrapers.

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Looking straight down, the mix of traffic is crazy.

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Six straight avenues cross at the round-a-bout where the Arc de Triomphe stands. Thus twelve spokes of traffic radiate out from where we are standing. Three spokes can be seen in this photo:

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Montmartre in the distance, topped by the dome of Sacre-Coeur.

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We returned to our hotel. I wrote in my notebook: "Big dinner across the street - too much food!"

11 November 2015

Paris Trip 6

Number one on my list of must-see-museums in Paris is the Louvre. And that is where we are headed today!

We know it will be crowded, as we have seen the crowds around the entrance before, so we leave our hotel by 8 am to make it to the 9 am opening. We follow Rick Steves' advice and enter from the underground metro stop.

We head straight for the Mona Lisa (well, sort of straight, we got a little lost in the maze that is the Louvre).

On the way to the Mona Lisa, we pass the marble Greek sculpture of the goddess of love and beauty, Venus de Milo (c. 100 bce).

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The Mona Lisa room was not terribly crowded, and we were able to get right up front to the roped-off area quickly.

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I turned and snapped a photo of people behind us:

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I have always liked sphinxes. This the the Grand Sphinx, c. 2600 bce.

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Statue du dieu Horus, Egyptian, 1069 - 664 bce

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Sphinxes.

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Base and feet of a colossus, Amenophis III, 1391-1353.

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Here is John trying to read the writing on the sarcophagus of Ramesses III (12th century bce).

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(If you want more information on these Egyptian antiquities, go here.)

Lobby of the Louvre.

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After close to a little under two hours, we left the amazing Louvre. Back to the metro. And to here, the photo below. I love this shot. (The French have a fondness for Franklin Roosevelt.)

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Our next stop is the Maritime Museum. We sat in the courtyard next to this museum and shared a messy caramel crepe. Suddenly there is a commotion off to the left, coming up the stairs to the square. With music, a group of dancers appears.

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They come closer.

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They walked off to the right.

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How fun! Now into the museum. Our museum pass included audio guides that were a real help. We roamed the rooms and looked at models of boats, photos of boats, and other maritime paraphernalia.

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This sculpture came from a boat.

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A glimpse of the Eiffel Tower through a window at the Maritime Museum.

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A diving suit, used in the Seine, 1803.

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We broke for lunch of pizza and wine and dessert and coffee, then visited the Egouts de Paris. That means: the sewer system. Stinky! Covered my nose the whole time. Not a great idea after lunch. Granted, it was interesting, and a grand undertaking over the years to assure the health of the city of Paris, but . . . !

It was dark in the sewers. I took few photos. But did try to get a photo of a rat – a live rat! – that scurried down this tunnel:

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(Better photos of the interesting sewer museum are here.)

Back up out of the sewers. Whew, fresh air. The exit from the sewers is down a barely-visible stairwell off the to left. Most people never see it.

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Our tired feet (and the metro) take us back to our hotel and wine, bread, and cheese. Ah, love Paris.

03 November 2015

Paris Trip 5

Today, a Sunday, we decide to travel to Chartres to visit a Gothic cathedral that is ranked as possibly the best in the world. It's about 50 miles from Paris and we need to catch a train. Not the RER, a real train. Chartres is about 50 miles from Paris.

We had a bit of trouble finding the train station by foot, even though we were right on top of it in Montparnasse. We sort of entered the back way, and finally found a ticket-seller. We bought our round-trip tickets, then waited for the train. As we boarded, we are sort of surprised to find that no one ever looks at or collects our tickets! We find out later that we were supposed to time stamp them ourselves at a machine near the train stop. Honor system. We goofed, but didn't get in trouble.

When we arrived at Chartres, we wanted lunch, and decided to walk away from the cathedral that looms over the city, thinking that it would be less crowded. It was! It was deserted! Everything was closed this Sunday. Finally we walked back towards the cathedral and came upon an open US-style hamburger restaurant. We were so hungry that we sat down outside and ordered burgers and fries and beers!

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At least we had true French fries! Later when we walked to the cathedral we saw tons of open and not-crowded cafes. Oh well.

Here we came upon the cathedral. The first thing you do is look up . . . and up.

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I did not get a good photo of the entire cathedral – I would have had to stand (or hover) way back. Here is a good photo online.

The cathedral was under renovation.

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Always looking up from too close!

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Here is the entrance. Note how uncrowded it is.

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It's tall inside too. And the side walls are wrapped with plastic for the renovation.

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Stained glass windows.

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Small carvings above the area that John thinks is the confessionals. Amazing detail.

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More statues.

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Back outside.

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This gives a feel for the bulk of this cathedral.

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Statue on top.

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John outside the cathedral.

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The sheer bulk, again.

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We sat outside at a crowded cafe under the looming cathedral and had chocolate crepes and wine. (I love France!) Here is our view:

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As we gaze up at the cathedral, we see a glider plane approach from the right. I shoot a series of frames as it flies between the two big spires.

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And then it turns . . .

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What fun the Chartres people are having today. We also see some hang gliders.

After crepes we wandered through a park and saw a band playing and then get on the ferris wheel.

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The view up:

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And out:

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A lovely Sunday in France. We take the train back to Paris and our hotel and enjoy a restful evening.

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!