Thursday, May 23, 2013

Notre Dame and the Louvre - Day 3 -Monday 5/20

Another full day in Paris. Today I overslept; yesterday I woke up at 4am. Now the jet lag is just toying with me.

Today was cold and rainy. Even had to get out my extra jacket for Mom. Fortunately California has conditioned me to colder temps. The rain was really annoying, though. My socks were wet, my backpack was wet. I had to keep putting my camera back in a ziploc with a gazillion little drying packets. I'm going to have to order more electronics so I can get some fresh ones.

After a quick breakfast we headed to Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame cathedral. Halfway there we realized we picked the bus to the wrong island. We changed course, but got to the island an hour later than planned. At least the line for Sainte Chapelle was short. I let Mom do the tour without me. I abandoned her? With two more tours planned, I had to conserve energy. So I went to a cafe for a hot peppermint tea. I got a surprise when I went to use the toilette - it was a "squatter." Just like old times in Africa. 

When Mom was done with her tour we trudged through the rain to Notre Dame. The line was about four blocks long, but it moved pretty quickly. Inside it was pretty amazing how high the ceilings were. No one is going to scrape their head here. The stained glass glowed well despite the cloudiness outdoors. The windows and frescoes told various stories of Jesus's life and resurrection. I wonder if visitors are inspired to ask about Christianity. I felt called to stop in the pews and pray for my family and friends - and myself. 

We walked from Notre Dame to the Louvre, which was a bit farther than we had estimated. So we stopped and had lunch, where I got some onion soup, a slice of quiche, a glass of wine, and an espresso. I actually enjoyed the latter and may now have a new bad habit involving tiny cups of caffeine. 

The Louvre was packed. Full. Crazy. Chaotic. And amazing. Since we had already bought tickets, we skipped most of the wait to get in. Then I cost us 20 to 30 minutes trying to download the Louvre iPhone app. I had to go back past security to the Apple store for free wifi to finish the download, then upstairs and through the priority line again. Ugh.

After - and because of - some crazy detours, we saw: the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo (Athena from Milos island), Monets, Renoirs, Vermeers, lots of naked greek dude sculptures, some really huge paintings, and some scenes of Jesus's miracles. The latter was an excellent continuation of the experience at Notre Dame.

I took several photos of paintings, and even got a picture where the Mona Lisa appears to be holding an iPad, due to a reflection of someone using theirs as a camera. 

Mom was so worn out that we took a taxi back. After resting for a few hours, we had a late dinner nearby and then called it a day. We're...Loving...Paris!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Eiffel Tower, Meet the Arc de Triomphe

Today was my second full day in Paris. And it started way too early. I was awake already at 2:30am, after just five of my normal eight-plus hours of beauty sleep. A 4:30 I gave up and started reading. At 6 I took a shower and headed out into the dawn. And the bars were still open. Parisians know how to party all night long, that's for sure. 

My mission was breakfast. A small bakery we'd seen the day before that had mini quiches. Couldn't find it. I walked around for an hour and a half. After a while it was just for the exercise. Then it was because I'm stubborn.  Everything looked different in the dawn's early light. Lots of shops were closed for Sunday, with garage doors pulled down. I can only guess my bakery was one of them. 

I finally gave up and walked with Mom to the office of the tour company where we had reserved a bus tour, a boat tour, and tickets to the Eiffel Tower. It was chaos. They had six different tours leaving and their computers were down. The bus tour included some interesting facts about the sites, but we didn't have a very good view. It was nice to be out of the cold though.  Photos were out of the question.  The boat tour was fun because it gave a different viewing angle for my photos. 

The Eiffel Tower was great. I took tons of photos and started recognizing monuments based on their location and features. I spotted the Arc de Triomphe, Sacré Cœur, Palais Royal, Notre Dame, Musée d'Orsay, etc. Then we enjoyed a glass of wine with the view. Afterward we walked to the Brasserie Eiffel Tower for lunch, to round out the theme. Our waiter was quite a fun character. 

The bus tour inspired us to visit the Arc de Triomphe next, so we took a bus across town and bought tickets to visit the top. I reversed my previous shot and took a photo of the Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe. The best part was the dramatic sky with dark gray rain surrounding a glowing patch of sunlit sky. Then it started raining on us. We headed back to the hotel to rest a bit. I culled my photos, uploaded the best and fell deep asleep before the upload was done. 

For dinner we took a taxi to a Tunisian restaurant. I chatted up the driver there and back. We had to send back the avocado vinaigrette appetizer, but the couscous was pretty good.

I wish it were sunny and warm, but I got some good photos anyway with the darker weather. I want to get some night shots next, since lots of monuments are lit up after dark. It's definitely a great trip so far. Good food, good photos, good use of French, and a good traveling partner.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Walking and Talking in Paris

Paris is turning out to be as much fun as I expected. I just needed a good nap first. That's exactly what I did after we got to our hotel at noon on Friday. I should have only napped for just an hour, but I slept for 3 instead. Then Mom came to get me and we went out on a mission to get our travel cell phones set up with SIM cards and explore the neighborhood.

At The Phone House (yes, the name is in English) we got one phone working quickly, but the iPhone 3GS balked. I was sure it was unlocked. After I reset as much as I could, the salesman offered to connect it to iTunes and restore it completely. After we started, we realized it would take an hour. So we left it there and went to dinner. That's where I ordered a Cheeseburger with a Beer (actually listed on one line that way - take that McDonalds!) When we got back, the phone was working perfectly! I guess I had started to doubt, because I basically did a Snoopy Happy Dance when he told me it was working. 

We explored some interesting little alleyways full of shops - including a chocolate shop that I will be returning to. We also picked up some champagne at a little grocery store, and scouted out options for breakfast. 

After walking Mom back to the hotel, I went to a nearby Brasserie and enjoyed a delicious pint of Leffe Brune.

Saturday started with a British breakfast at a nearby café. I hadn't had soft-boiled eggs in a long time, and it was a nice memory to revive. I got tea, but realized I should have ordered hot chocolate instead. 

We had a few errands on our agenda for the day. I bought us a pack of bus tickets from the subway station. We walked to Forum Les Halles to pick up our Eiffel Tower tickets for Sunday. After all the walking we needed to sit down. What better place than the Belgian Brasserie? This time I had Leffe Ruby, and an order of frites to accompany it. After relaxing a bit, we crossed a bridge over the Seine to the île de la cité, where we saw Notre Dame and other monuments I can't keep track of, but photographed anyway. Next door is the smaller île St. Louis, and we explored its tiny streets since we were there. Then we took our first city bus ride, successfully getting home as it started to rain. We would get more rain when we went to dinner, but overall it was a great first full day. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

First Flight on My Way to Paris

My flight to Paris started off early. Too early. My iphone sleep monitoring app woke me up right on time at 4am, although I wasn't out of bed for at least another 10 minutes. My bleary red eyes were not pleased that I was leaving at 4:30. But when you have a 7am flight out of SFO, you do what you have to. 

Thankfully my ride was there on time. It's a true friend who will give you a ride that early. Although it's one of the rare times he gets to drive 101 to SF with no traffic.

I was certain I'd forgotten something critical, but I had no choice except to leave and make do later. I  had to go to the check-in counter because I was checking a bag. With my recent platinum status,   my bag was on its way in less than 30 minutes - hopefully to Paris - and I was through security, with my hopes of an upgrade to business class crushed. 

Now I was getting hungry, which meant sniffing around all of the overpriced, unsatisfying options for food. I settled on a breakfast sandwich and also picked up a muffuletta to have for lunch on the plane. The breakfast sandwich was pretty good - with thick slices of applewood bacon (I have no clue what that means, or how it magically emerged 5 years ago.) Then I got to the end of the sandwich where the eggs were cold. Ugh. I ate it anyway. Every last bite. 

I spent the remaining hour calling people at work, trying to fix the one item I left unfinished yesterday. Then I headed onto the plane, with no last minute reprieve from coach. That was fine; I'd already spent money on meals that would be unnecessary if I got upgraded. 

The awkwardness began before I even boarded. I was one of the last passengers to line up. It seemed like the agent was annoyed, although I'll assume he was just distracted. When I said good morning upon showing my boarding pass, the response I got was "yeah", like " yeah, whatever."

I looked forward to my aisle seat. I was flying a 757 with a 2-3-2 setup, so 4 aisle seats per row (44%). I sat down and said hello to the young blonde woman in the middle seat next to me. She quickly admitted her English wasn't very good - although it was - and we switched to her native language, French.  Of course I refuse to excuse my currently terrible accent and pronunciation. 

Onward to discomfort. The plane was stiflingly warm - did it just land from the Sahara? On went the overhead air vent. The seat was shockingly uncomfortable. I couldn't even get back relief using the blanket for lumbar support. (What is a lumbar? Was Dr. Lumbar the guy who discovered how to make seats that create backaches?) Soon the temperature plummeted to standard airplane arctic levels. Off went the overhead air vent. And we were off. 

After beverage service they started a movie that was not the one listed in the airplane magazine. (Could I subscribe to the inflight magazine for home delivery? Then I could sit on my uncomfortable couch and read it with an extra belt on.) By this point the mademoiselle has her eye cover on and is in full REM sleep, including sudden head drops every two minutes which are violently overcorrected, without her showing any signs of waking herself up. Then the movie started. It was supposed to be some awful mother-son comedy - which I would have watched, and I just now realized would have been appropriate for this trip. Instead it was about retired musicians living in a nursing home and it was so boring I nearly fall asleep during the opening credits, violent head nods and all. 

But wouldn't have lasted long, since there was soon a cacophony of sound effects to keep me alert. A woman 5 rows back was sneezing the loudest "Ah!-Choo!s" I've ever heard, not bothering to muffle any of them, even when there were five in a row. There were children who begin screaming, either because they were denied the parent's iPhone - which is the 5-year old version of crack cocaine and the only thing that will possibly make them happy for the rest of their lives, ever! Or they were hit by their sibling, or hit themselves, or hit their sibling, and required the world to know how unjust their life-shattering pain was.  My padded headphones only slightly muffled these piecing sounds.

Next up, turbulence. Not severe, but strong enough to get my attention. It made me a little queasy since I was playing a game on my iPad. The real annoyances were the repeated stern reminders that when the seat belt sign is on everyone is supposed to be wearing theirs, which requires them to not be walking down the aisle headed to the restroom. 

After I passed through emotional, physical, and auditory torture, it was time for the visual assault. With the movie over, programming  switched to The Office, known for "grimace comedy". It's my most detested show. And it was on 7 screens in my field of view, ensuring no reprieve. To make it worse, it was a lice episode, with folks shaving their heads, or shampooing with mayonnaise (is that a real remedy?). There was even a bright yellow hazmat suit. And plenty of close ups of grimaces. (Not the Ronald McDonald character, who would only be a slightly better option.)

You know what? In spite of it all, I can't wait to do it all again. 


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cherries, Jesus, and Paris!

Yay! It’s Cherry Season! My two favorite fruit seasons are Cherries/Blueberries in the summer and Pears in the winter. During the interminable dry spells between them, I’m forced to subsist on Fuji apples, grapes, and pluots (plum-apricot hybrids full of sweet juiciness). Oh, the humanity!

Car update: If you want a used car for less than 10 large out here, from a private owner, you better have an envelope of cash the day it goes up on Craigslist. No taking it to the mechanic. No paying by cashier’s check. I spent a week chasing cars to learn this. I would get a call back that day, but they’d be sold within 2 days. So I’m moving on to dealer used cars, in the next price range up. Then the next, then the next...

Divorce update: We both signed the settlement agreement. Now our file waits for a court clerk to check it and stamp it. I will be single on August 13. I wish there was a way I could stop the divorce. Even if I refuse to sign anything, it would continue on anyway. All it takes is one person’s determination. 

This isn’t how I wanted it to be. We both ruled out divorce as an option when we got married. We both fought through plenty of conflict and baggage. I will never truly know what changed in Marianne. Instead I will inevitably invent an explanation to simplify the story for myself and to answer the questions I will get about it.

Are Christians Anything Like Jesus? Gateway Church commissioned a study to gauge if Christians’ attitudes and actions were more like Jesus or more like the religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees, who opposed him. I won’t spoil the findings, but being a Christian doesn’t automatically turn you into a perfect person. And it’s still too easy to focus on other people’s weaknesses, rather than our own. And too easy to get caught up in rules rather being loving. Click to read the results or take the survey.

Other topics that caught my eye this week:
In less than a week I will be in Paris! With my Mom! Speaking French! Eating French food and drinking French wine! In cute outdoor cafes or in the park! Seeing French people and sights! Can’t wait! Au revoir!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Happy Cinco De Mayo

Nothing much to share this week. I took Caltrain to SF twice. The first time was on Tuesday to look at a 2007 Honda Civic. I hated it. The seats gave me terrible back pain, the windshield let in too much sun, it was too noisy inside, and even the shifter felt cheap. So I've written off Hondas.

I had more fun the second time I went to SF, on Saturday. I got to spend some encouraging time with a buddy from work. We had sandwiches and beer in a park and enjoyed the sun and the people watching. It was quite a crowd for Cinco de Mayo.