Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Home, sweet home?

Two weeks have passed since my "retour" and it almost seems as though my time in Paris never really happened. Sigh. If anyone is still out there, or even cares, I've cleaned up my photo album, deleted duplicates and the video of my double chin (I hope none of you saw that!), resized a couple of slide shows that didn't post because they were too large, so that now the album is a little more organized. If you click on "view all" you can see all the photos (in backwards order) without having to change pages, which gets a little annoying. If you click on any picture, you'll see an enlarged version. This has been great fun for me, and will be a lasting journal of my month in Paris. Thanks for sharing the ride!

Thursday, October 4, 2007


I’m on the Thalys headed for the airport; it’s 8:55 p.m. and I’ll get there in an hour. I thought I’d use this time to tell you about my baggage. You already have a pretty good idea of the challenge it’s been, but it gets worse. If you read one of my last blog entries, you’ll remember that the train station in Brugge was being reconstructed, the elevator wasn’t working and a helpful young couple took my suitcases off the train and down the stairs for me. Well, what comes down must go back up when you leave and, of course, it was a little bit heavier after three days in Brugge. I stood at the bottom of the stairs contemplating how I was going to make it to the top, and decided just to go for it. I managed to get everything up two steps and I could see that there was no way I’d make it, so I tried to figure out how to get back down, when a man, business-type, in a suit, rushing to catch his train said, “Here, let me help you with that.” Then he tried to pull it up the steps and said, “How did you think you were going to do this?” Before I could tell him that I’d been relying on the kindness of strangers, another man came along, grabbed the other end and helped the first one up to the top of the stairs. Then they left. I headed for the train, which was about to pull out and started throwing one bag after another on the train when a third man ran over and helped me get the heaviest one on. So, now I’m OK for 55 minutes until I have to get off at Brussels, the whole time planning my exit strategy. When we started coming into the station, I piled all my stuff up at the door, and a nice young man who was waiting behind me said he’d help me off, after I asked him. One more train to go. I went to the Thalys information booth to ask if there were any porters, and this very cute, fresh-looking young man said, yes, come back at 8:15 and he’d call someone who would help me. He was so friendly and kind, it gave me hope. So I spent an hour and a half having a Coke, potato chips, and a banana and watching a little kid play with the automatic doors in the Thalys waiting room until I could go back at 8:15. When I did, he called someone as he had promised and told me to wait over there. I waited but no one came and I started to get nervous. He was very busy at the information booth trying to help people who had a train to catch, but when he saw that I was still waiting, he called someone to take his place and he came out of the booth and said he’d help me himself, and he did. My knight in shining armor. I wanted to take him home and adopt him I just knew he’d be good to his mother. So he got me and my 200 lbs. or so of luggage on the train, but when I tried to tip him he demurred, and disappeared from my life.

I’ve been so grateful to so many people on this trip whom I’ll never see again, It leaves me wishing there was something more I could do. Maybe the kid in the movie was right - just pay it forward. Well, next stop is the airport; then my challenge will be to find a taxi or a shuttle to take us all (me and my luggage) to the hotel. I hope it’s not too late for taxis to be out or I might be sleeping in the airport. I’m glad my flight is at a decent hour in the morning - 11:00. If I do ever get to the hotel, I should get a pretty good night’s sleep. Well, if you read all this, you ARE a loyal friend. Thanks to all of you who sent me emails - I felt so much closer to home.

Postscript to Luggage: When I finally got a "chariot" at the train station/airport in Paris, I put my bags on it, rolled it into the hotel, checked in, took it up the elevator to my room, pushed it into the room and kept it overnight until I used it the next morning to haul everything back to the airport. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Bumps in the Road

Train travel is very relaxing IF you are only carrying your purse. I could not lift my baggage onto the train. I asked a young man at Brussels to help me and he was most gracious - I practically licked his boots. Leading up to this was the event of missing the first train to Brugge because the guy at the (mis-)
information booth told me the wrong track, so my train came and went “over there.” Not too bad, the next train left in 30 minutes from another track, just time enough to get my luggage down the stairs, over to the left, and up the stairs again. Getting off at Brugge was the cause of a little anxiety; if you have traveled by train in Europe, you know that they stop at the station for one minute. All I could think of was the time a friend of mine jumped off a moving train because she didn’t know that and didn‘t get ready soon enough. So, I went to stand by the door with my luggage, thinking that if I couldn’t get it out, all the people behind me would be anxious enough to get off that someone would help me. Fortunately, I didn’t have to take those extreme measures; a young couple not only helped me get everything off the train, but all the way downstairs because the elevator was broken. How many ways can you say thank you? (Do you know how old I feel? Soon people will be helping me cross the street.)

Brugge is a story-book town; it looks like someone made it up, it’s so quaint. The afternoon I got here I took the canal boat ride that was part of my package - it was partly sunny, not too cold, and the ride was just delightful! Belgium, as you know, is one of the low countries, so the canals go around and through the town, in some cases right up to the doorsteps of residences and buildings, just like in Venice. Low bridges cross the canals in many places; one even had stalactites (or is that stalagmites?) The architecture is similar to Holland and Germany - the stepped gables like Lynden tries to do. The town is ancient - the dates on some buildings are 17th century, but the town dates back to the 10th century.

I discovered Belgium waffles. No, you haven’t had a Belgium waffle unless you had it in Belgium. There’s very little resemblance to the ones you buy at the N.W. Washington Fair other than the pattern on it. This waffle was heavenly, covered (COVERED, I say) with a variety of FRESH fruit; no, not preserved strawberries like the Sidewalk Café in Lynden. I decided that was the only thing I wanted to eat while I was here. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the place again today - so much for my sense of direction. I did find a tea room which was darling, warm and inviting to a “flaneuse” who was wet and tired (it rained constantly today), so decided to take my chances. The waffle itself was different, a little crispier on the outside, a little airier on the inside, but the fruit was as fresh and abundant as the first one I had. And - the coffee was so good, I ordered another one. I wonder if anyone has ever done that before in this continent of one-cup-is-all-you-get.

As I said, it’s been raining all day. It’s also Monday so all the museums are closed, except for the Chocolate Museum which was open, but after trodding all over town looking for it in the rain, when I got there I realized I don’t really care how chocolate is made; especially when it costs $14 to find out. I’d rather spend the $14 on chocolate. So I left, uneducated.

I was amused by the names of these two businesses across the street from each other:

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After a little shopping (I HAD to, it was raining) I came back to the hotel and postponed my guided tour (included) until tomorrow, hoping my ankles would feel better and that it would stop raining. So now I’m sitting in the hotel bar, having a beer and writing this. It’s very pleasant, the beer is good, classical music is playing. My computer will not connect with their wireless, so I don’t know when I’ll be able to post this to my blog or send any more pictures. The ones I took today were a little gloomy anyway.

Breakfast has changed and the smells have changed. I remember now what I didn’t like about Germany - for breakfast you get cold cuts and cheese and everything smells like sausage and sauerkraut. I really loved my croissants and café au lait.

Sorry, Krysta, about the picture of me and the Eiffel Tower. It just didn’t work out. I tried taking one myself, but it looked like the Eiffel Tower was growing out of my head, so you’ll have to be satisfied of one of the Eiffel Tower and one of me and the horses. I loved them, but I didn’t take a carriage ride because I didn’t want to exploit the horses. Every time I heard the clatter of their hooves on the cobblestones, all I could think of was shin splints.

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If there’s anything worth telling you about, I’ll post one more blog. Otherwise this is


Postscript: I'll post pictures and videos on Thursday. Right now I have to get out of this smoky internet cafe before I get lung cancer.

Last Day in Paris

I’m on the Thalys on my way to Brussels, then on to Brugge. It’s 9:00 a.m. and the trip will be an hour and 15 minutes. Then I change trains for the rest of the trip to Brugge, another hour approximately. I got up at 6:00 which turned out to be just the right time to allow me to get ready, finish packing, and get the apartment shipshape. The taxi I called came right away, the only traffic on the streets were taxis, so I got to the train station early enough to have a croissant and a coffee before getting on the train. The train trip is pleasant but only occasionally can you see anything because of the high banks on either side of the tracks.

Yesterday started out cloudy and turned quite nice in the afternoon, so coats were unbuttoned and scarves loosened and everyone who had been indoors came out to enjoy the sunshine. Don’t we appericiate it this time of year! The Marche au Puces was fun - it was actually a brocante market which is a step up but not as expensive as antiques. I took a couple of pictures of the more interesting things. One vendor was selling the most beautiful Art Deco furniture. I don’t recall seeing much Art Deco in the US., have you? Maybe more on the east coast.

I bought a tiny Limoge pitcher for my collection and some old posstcards with writing on the back. The market was a bit away from the usual tourist areas, so I decided to try my luck with lunch there. I went to Café de la Fontaine, which turned out to be a perfect choice for my last day in Paris. It was turn of-the-century-old, decorated in the Belle Epoch style, with antique posters and menus to match. I was sitting elbow-to-elbow with a pleasant man who was taking his probably six year old daughter out to lunch. We exchanged pleasantries and laughed when my dessert came. I had ordered three “boules” of coffee ice cream and I got three “bols” (Boules are scoops; bols are, well, bowls.) The little girl ordered a hamburger, which looked very much like an American hamburger, served open-faced, with the meat and melted cheese on one bun and the lettuce, tomato, etc. on the other bun. She ate it with her fork and knife. I told her that in the U.S. Americans ate their hamburgers with their hands; wasn’t that awful? So we all, including the waiter had a laugh about that.

For lunch I had confit de canard and fried potatoes in garlic. It’s a southwestern dish and it was delicious!

Then I took a long walk (farther than I thought it was going to be and no pissoirs in sight) to Pont Alexandre III, the most ornate bridge in the city, and went to a real antique exposition, the kind of things you see in museums, except that everything’s for sale and you have to pay to get in. I didn’t buy anything there. After that I went home, went across the street to buy a beer (1664) and say good-by to the grocer. He was such a nice little man. He wished me a good trip and said, “A la prochaine fois.”

A final goodbye to my favorite place to spend time in Paris: le Jardin du Luxembourg.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Le Shopping

So, what do YOU do on a rainy day? Go to a movie or go shopping, n'est-ce pas? Well, that's what we Parisians do, too. And we all shop at the same place at the same time - Galeries LaFayette. They were having an anniversary sale, 15% off of anything. The scarves were flying off the shelves and you'd better stay out of the way because most people were not caring if they snatched a scarf or your wrist. It was a nasty, bloody scene. Reminded me of a Picasso painting. The poor girl in charge of re-folding the scarves was having a nervous breakdown. I managed to get out with one scarf, no wounds. I also HAD to buy a pair of boots. No, I really did. The only closed toe shoes I brought were boots with heels and canvas shoes. The canvas shoes will be ruined in the wet, muddy streets, and I tried wearing the high-heeled boots shopping today, thinking I would be riding the metro more than walking. My feet lasted until halfway through the BHV, a store that has everything from toilets to toiletries, and then I knew I wasn't going to make it all day. I took the metro to Galeries Lafayette and bought a pair of "bottines," low boots with two straps and rubber soles. Very practical but stylish, and definitely more comfortable.

Today is the only day I went without my camera and I really regretted it! I wanted to take pictures of the shoes! Everything is becoming more extreme: the stacked heels are getting bigger and higher, the platform soles had to be four inches high, the tennis shoes high-top, low-top, and in between, and silver, gold, fluorescent, patterned, striped, you-name-it. But, the BIG things is boots. Most of them have really high heels and really pointy toes. A very popular look is the cowboy "bottine." In fact, our "Old West" seems to be "de rigueur" here right now.

When I got really tired and had to rest at Maxim's :) I had a yummy "riz au lait avec son coulis de fruits," in other words, rice pudding. The French make it a little runny and give you a berry coulis to drizzle on it yourself. The problem with dining alone is that you don't have anyone to say "mmmmm" to. And - I washed it down with a glass of champagne! Am I treating myself right or what? Well, I'm having a sandwich for dinner.

Yesterday I went to a movie, American, English version, with Jodie Foster. I had never heard of it before; it was called "A Vif" in French which means sharp, or brisk or lively, and they translated it to "The Brave One." I doubt that it was ever called that in the U.S. It doesn't sound creative enough. Anyway, it was really a gripping movie, not the kind any of you would want to see, judging from past experience, but I loved it. I saw it in the early afternoon so I wouldn't have to walk home in the dark.

Tomorrow, my last day here, I'm going to a flea market on the other side of town. It's supposed to be a once-a-year affair and it's called Marche aux Puces and Jambon (ham). I'm not sure what the significance of the ham is.

I don't have any new photos for you today, so I'll see if I can put together a slide show of pictures I've taken along the way. The first three are for Connie. She'll know why. :)

Louis Vuitton

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What's this?

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Another face-lift.

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