paris > amsterdam > vancouver

thursday, october 30, 2008

we leave bern on a cold snowy morning. our train is right on time…you expect this in switzerland!

we have a compartment to ourselves and one other traveler, a young french engineer returning from a business trip. he is quite chatty and remarkably cynical for such a young man (he’s 31) but not without humour and the 5 hour trip passes quickly. the first half is quite beautiful as it has snowed heavily and outside is a winter wonderland.

getting into paris is like coming home. it is so familiar and the hotel palym is perfect. we’ve stayed here before and it’s in a great location for travelers. our room has a fantastic view of the gare de lyon and the rooftops of paris. we have most of the afternoon to do as we please, me to shop and rick for one last nostalgic visit to notre dame. yes blair!

supper is at a small family run restaurant specializing in northern french cuisine, basic hearty fare, perfect for a cold night.

we crash early after preparing our luggage for the final leg.

friday, october 31, 2008.

morning comes too soon, we have our last breakfast of croissants and head for the airport bus and the flight to amsterdam.

the time for connecting flights in amsterdam is less than we expect and soon we’re in a line-up waiting to clear security…no time for last minute shopping.

one god awful long flight 10 hours to be exact in crowded conditions, 3 movies, food and drink (and unlike the trip over, very pleasant stewards.) a quick taxi ride home after a very fast trip through customs.



photos courtesy of flickr members

(i’m saving the lost luggage for another day…always take your carry on with you!)

good night! good bye.

addendum: the carry on was returned on sunday night – minus the camera, other gifts and a few books. we’re sad at what we’ve lost. the items we’re stolen from the bag at charles de gaulle airport as the security tape on the bags is all air france which was the connector we took to amsterdam.


rive gauche

our last day in paris 😦 and laundry day :((

we both had places we wanted to visit and generally just stroll through the left bank. we had one definite destination which was saint severin church near the sorbonne. it is notable for its age and contrast of modern and ancienne. i went back to take some pictures and rick for his first visit.

rick started the day by taking a stroll down the tuileries and i a walk on the left bank of the seine including the outdoor museum and sculpture garden east of notre dame. of course i took tons of shots of the very modern art mostly from the 60’s and 70’s. i also tried to get a visit to the arab institute but was turned away as only vip’s were getting in at the time i was there! the building is quite unique as it is wired to control it’s environment, however my visit coincided with early morning so nothing too significant was visible.

before going to saint severin, we headed off for a restaurant that rick had tried before but, the street eluded us…until after we ate! we dined at a pleasant restaurant on a plaza in front of the sorbonne, surrounded by students, teachers accompanied by the play of fountains and falling autumn leaves (somehow apropos).

following lunch i headed home to do some packing and study before my last class. i need another suitcase – we both need another suitcase!

rick toured the quay of the left bank along with a final visit to notre dame.

we’re each on our own for supper as i have to dash to class.

bonsoir – au revoir from france – guten tag germany.


it’s an odd day. a little bit of this and little bit of that.

we started out around 9 a.m. with a plan to do a little shopping, starting with galleries lafayette which is an incredibly large store made up of at least 4 buildings that we could see, maybe more. then on to rue de rivoli where there are many stores including bhv, samaritain and others. rick ends up with a new jacket and … a scarf! and i get a new pullover … and scarf number 5 or 6?

we take a stroll through les halles, now a modern shopping centre but historically the market centre of paris. nearby is a huge old church, saint-eustace which i’d visited before but was new to rick. it has a remarkable high ceiling and beautiful windows and paintings. it is surrounded by many pieces of modern art and the promenade or gardens of les halles. next to it is the bourse de commerce a circular building from the 1700’s.

back home to do some last minute shopping for baguettes etc., as paris is shut down on sunday. we’re also in need of a rest before heading out this evening for the long overdue visit to the eiffel tower for some night shots and a ride on the seine in one of the many tour boats. only two more full days in paris!

the trocadero is packed with parisiennes and tourists who come to see the eiffel tower lit up. there are hawkers everywhere, concessions stand for candy floss, crepes – sweet or savory and miscellaneous souvenir booths scattered about. people playing music – drums and guitars and generally having a great time.

the boat cruise was packed, unlike our last outing when we were two of the four paying customers. tonight the river was like the streets of paris, packed with boat traffic, all of them full of sightseers, diners and loads of party boats – weddings and the like. it was enjoyable but a bit chilly – also we’d done it before and i’d have liked to go in the day time to get some good shots from the river. the quays and bridges are crowded with folks out for the night, drinking, groups playing music (some with large audiences) and others just enjoying the city.

heading home at 11 p.m. and the metro is as busy as it is during the day. as we walk home from our stop there are parties going on, people sitting at the bistros that dot the street and diners having a late night meal. the sound of a sax drifted down from someone’s apartment as we neared ours – i thought it so parisian and the perfect end to the day.

bonsoir. paris oct 11/08

now you see it, now you don't

get up, brush teeth, get dressed, get out…and its only 5:55 a.m.

we’re on our way to gare de lyon and our first ride on the very fast tgv train to nimes in the languedoc region of southern france. the trip is only 2 hours and 50 minutes to go about 700 kilometres (first class by the way and very comfortable) things zip by so quickly there was no point in trying to get a photo (a relief for you who are following this on flickr.) i did manage to fire off 250 though for the the day 🙂

this was a bit of an indulgence trip. on our last visit all of my photos of nimes and pont du gard were stolen when someone broke into our car and swiped my shoulder bag with the memory card still in it and i was determined to get them back.

the day did not look promising in paris, or nimes when we first arrived — quite a difference from the last time we were there. however, the travel gods were with us yet again and the day warmed up and the skies cleared (see the pictures). we caught a local bus at the train station which dropped us off a kilometre from the site after a rather circuitous journey to drop some of the locals (we think).

after an easy walk we were there and before us, covered in sunshine was pont du gard, an incredible and even beautiful structure of many arches all aglow in amber as the sun bounced off it. 2000 years old, it is the highest aquaduct that the romans ever built. i don’t believe my last pictures were as good or as varied, however, i did take a pass this time on climbing to the top as my right knee is bugging me (advancing years i’m afraid). needless to say i took a shot at every angle i could think of and hope most turned out ok.

rick and i had the foresight to take along a picnic lunch of baguette, jambon, fromage (and wine…of course!) as well as some fresh fruit. we ate on the rocks overlooking the viaduct (can’t think of a better view for lunch)

following our ramble around pont du gard we headed back for the bus and the ride into nimes. while waiting for the bus we met a young polish woman who now works in england and got a bit of an education on the situation in both countries. she was on a spontaneous trip because ryan air an english airline had a 10 pound deal – round trip! with no extra fees to nimes and she’d never been there before and was able to take a few days off work. she says she does this whenever she sees a good deal to a destination she has not visited before.

the five minute tour of nimes. we had about two hours before the train headed back to paris and we tried to cover the high points remembered on our last visit, we did not go inside the coliseum (we’d toured it pretty thoroughly last time here.) nimes is a beautiful small city with a long history of roman occupancy. some of the antiquities are in perfect shape including the coliseum, a temple known as the maison carre and remnants of a temple to diana the huntress and tour magner which we did not have time to climb up to. there are also amazing formal gardens – jardins de la fontaine which have been there since the 1700’s and includes a large canal lined with plane trees and has a gushing fountain at a central intersection. our time in nimes is over and following a stroll through the old section of town we’re back at the station and onto another fast train for paris. i sleep most of the way while rick reads the history of marie antoinette. a late supper at a nice chinese restaurant up the block from us and home to bed.

bon soir

inner child?

…we did it! a day at paris disneyland! a full day!

i have to lead off with an observation that i was somewhat hesitant or maybe just not that motivated to go, but i live with this guy who is a disney admirer (fanatic was on the end of my tongue) so this is his trip and i’m happy to go along.

a short 40 minute train ride and we’re there. the cleanest place on earth and supposedly the happiest. as we walked through the gates my first impulse was to drop some paper and see how long it would take till it was cleaned up, good manners won out, however as the day progressed i found it hard to find any litter and imagine the cleaners swoop in and out without being seen.

rick and and i are 55 and 60 respectively (however i appear much much younger!) and this was the first visit for both of us to any of the disney establishments. i guess we think every kid gets to go at some time or other and the kid in us are late in arriving to say the least.

the place is quite remarkable, a perfect setting of ideals and commercial manipulation laid out to keep you entertained and mostly happy. the music blares continuously (think up with people) and the tempo is evenly paced with lots of opportunities to slow down and absorb the event no matter how short. it felt like fun and we took it all in.

we bought our tickets the day before for 49 euro about 72$ which, in hindsight seems like a good deal as we took in most of the rides except indiana jones which was having mechanical problems and remained closed for the entire day.

i have to say the highlight of the day for both of us was the space mountain ride; for me exhilarating and a scream (or at least a few yahoos) and for rick a bit of agony and total surprise as he was expecting something a bit tamer. the ride has at least three 360 loops and is in complete darkness with illuminated planets and stars and a great optical effect at the end as you speed through a red spiral. it was pretty nauseating but i’d do it again, rick not so much! on a bit slower speed, the two other faves were the river boat ride and the surprisingly mystifying peter pan ride – never never land was never so magical.

we took in some of the kid’s rides but i could not talk rick into going on the flying elephants with me so i took a pass as the wait was too long anyway. we did do the tea cups and felt pretty dizzy at the end. the train around the perimeter is really slow but kinda fun in a geriatric way.

food and just about everything in the place is expensive and something we expected (you’d be better of to pack a picnic and drinks); speaking of drinks, this disneyland is the only one to serve beer and wine on the site…vive le france.

i bought a scarf with a mickey silhouette as a souvenir, rick could not decide and ended up taking a pass even though i thought one of shirts would have been cool to have.

the weather held up and we had mostly cloudy with sunny breaks, however in the last half hour the rains were just beginning as we headed back to the station.

we had a truly fun day, one that i’m sure we’ll be nostalgic about for some time to come — those parts that we enjoyed as though we were much younger, and the amazing effort that goes into making the park such a wonder: the details of design, the coordination of events using technology (i.e. the train and river boat meet at a set time regardless of when you board) and the obvious enjoyment that real kids have while there. did you know that parents fork out 60 euros (90$ canadian) or more to buy their kids costumes to become little princesses and other disney characters (they are cuter the hell, running about all over the place) but who pays that kind of money?

where are all the pictures? in rick’s little camera! i was determined to take some time away from hauling around big bertha and as this was more rick’s day than mine he took on the task of capturing it all, unfortunately we don’t have the cable to transfer from his camera so they will have to wait till we get home. (see note below)

note: 11/10/08 photo problem resolved! fnac (a major photo, book and cd store) carries an adapter that takes virtually every kind of memory card. kaching — i was able to move rick’s photos of disneyland and others as well as saving the data from my super small memory card in the phone too.

bon soir

pop culture and jewish history

it’s been a mixed bag type of day. we slept in until 6 (rick) and 7:30 (stan) and had a generally slow start to the day.

for me it was hard on the brain and the emotions. i started off at the memorial to the deportation of the jews located at the tip of ille de cite, rick had visited earlier so i thought i had an idea of what to expect, but not so. it was a remarkably simple structure, sunk into the ground. the entry into the memorial descends a steep set of narrow stairs which open onto a small plaza with a low opening to the seine covered by bars and spiked shapes evoking barbed wire. the whole setting set my mind to thinking about what had happened not too many years ago, reflecting on the lessons i’d learned at school and wondering if kids today get the same message… when you turn around and face the memorial there is a very narrow opening which you pass through to get to the inside — a long narrow passage with a simple slab under which are the ashes of one of the victims of the nazi camps. the two walls are studded with 200,000 small light bulbs representing all those who were deported from france by the vichy government to the concentrations camps. by the time i left i was feeling quite sombre and melancholy.

meanwhile rick was off exploring the pantheon which he found quite riveting, particularly the wall murals and the vastness of the place.

i was off to the the jewish museum of history taking any interesting street i saw as i wandered. there were lots of interesting small galleries, a quaint shop strewn with antique musical instruments in want of repair or an owner, and silent book stalls along the seine. i crossed over ille st louis back into the marais and the old jewish quarter. on sunday this is one of the few places where business is open (i should have bought milk and other staples before heading home – but didn’t). on the way i passed the shoah memorial and a wall of remembrance to the french who risked their lives to save jews during the second world war. the jewish history museum was fairly interesting (once you get through the security) and was pretty thorough in a chronological layout of the history of jews in france from very early times to the present. it certainly raised a lot of questions for me both on the persecution perpetrated against jews throughout history, and of course the religious aspects which are always perturbing, whether jewish, christian, muslim and all the other late comers. can’t fault anyone for needing some foundation for their spirituality but they always seem to ruin it by getting into the hocus pocus.

after a brief break for a kosher pastrami sandwich and a fanta chaser i headed off to the pompidou centre of modern art. hey its the french thing to do, run the ancient and the modern together. how to explain this without pictures…ummm.

colour, bizarre, weird, fantastic, alive, abstract, meaningful, meaningless, pollack, matisse, max ernst, de koonig, jasper johns, brassai, man ray, chagall, and hundreds of others, some i’d heard of, others totally new.

it really was a fantastic experience to see so much abstract and pop art (including a red hot rhino) from interactive and participatory art to film that would be considered pornographic back home and a room, a very large room, dedicated to a single display of red rope twisted and tacked to the walls. crumpled metal, a buddha surrounded by vultures and pulling out the entrails (tastefully done of course) modern furniture or art shaped like furniture, great sculptures and on and on and on. AWESOME! it’s the kinda of stuff you hear others say they could do that, or their kid or the pet monkey. b.s. it is creative and thoughtful and truly wonderful.

meanwhile the other fellow is exploring underground at the ancient foundations of notre dame and the roman building foundations found at the centre of the city also known as the archaeological crypt. it’s always amazing to see that the different civilizations and their sense of worship seemed to always build on the past of a previous cult, one temple replacing another.

rick closed his day off with a revisit to the conciergerie, where thousands were held prisoners at one time or other before losing their heads — the most famous being that unfairly characterized queen, marie antoinette.

on the way home, deep underground at the châtelet metro station, i came across a string orchestra known as the classique metropolitain. as i love to listen to the violin this was too good to be true. about 6 violins, a cello or two and a bass….marvelous. parisians are really lovers of art and suddenly no one is in a hurry to catch the next train while they stop to listen for awhile. i was so impressed i ponied up 20 euro for a cd, which sounds great by the way. you can see and hear this group on several youtube links

my head hurts from trying to figure it all out, the art and the history. un cafe s’il vous plait.

bon soir.


you might guess by the title that we did a bit of climbing today. in fact we started the day with a climb up the towers of notre dame cathedral.

it was another gorgeous day, but quite cool, perfect for climbing and taking pictures. the last time we were here the upper tower was closed so it was cool to be able to finish the job and get to the top. the view is spectacular looking on down on the inner precincts of paris and a panorama of the whole city. you also get to be up close and personal with the gargoyles and angels.

i took yet more photos of the big bell « emmanuel » before finishing the climb, they only ring it on special catholic celebrations.

the climb itself is up a narrow circular stairway, each step worn smooth and hollowed by the millions who have gone up for the view. today there were only a hundred or so ahead of us including a group of loud and giggly girls from brazil…ah teenagers. i must say though that compared to many, including some of the kids, we did pretty well going non-stop to the top, other than the forced wait in the book shop half way up.

check out the pictures for the views. going down was a snap as there is no crowd ahead of you, hold on to the rail!

lunch on the quay looking at the seine and notre dame (yes we’re tourists) i had a salade with a beer and rick had a very good french onion soup, his first on the trip, with wine.

we strolled through parts of the latin quarter on our way to perhaps the best history museum in paris, the cluny, proper name: musée national du moyen age. the ancient abbot’s mansion and adjoining roman ruins and medieval gardens make it a fascinating place.

the primary purpose is to display medieval history and artifacts of which there are many, well preserved and containing details that surprise including some of the colour that was used on the statues. highlight of the visit was a beautiful set of six famous tapestries, ‘the lady and the unicorn’ woven in unusual colours and wonderfully preserved from the early 1500s, displayed effectively in a special room.

home for a well deserved nap and supper before the next outing.

it’s 8 p.m., time to head downtown for a saturday night in paris. the champs elysees does not sleep, it was as crowded at 10 as it was during the day. lit up with a huge display celebrating a 100 years of aviation history (this is a BIG event) there are marquees everywhere we go in paris including the inner courtyard of the louvre, hotel de ville and anywhere else you can think of! must say it is a pretty interesting display of jets, antique planes, anything related to aviation, even a rocket in one of the main intersections of the champs elysees.

on to our destination and next climb. the arc de triomphe! the climb was fairly quick, again we seemed to manage better than a lot of those ahead who pulled into small alcoves to rest. at the top, a cold breeze and the city of lights, what a view! perhaps the most stunning was the eiffel tower aglow in blue. the traffic filled streets radiating from the arch and the glimmer of gilded roofs all around. i took some photos but unsure how they will turn out.

a dizzy (literally) spiral down before strolling back down the champs elysees to the metro. great fun.

bon soir.

the louvre et al

this is going to be a short one! i’m sure you all know about the louvre and we’ve been there before. each of us had different reasons for visiting and areas to see. the louvre has three very large wings the denon, sully and richelieu with three floors. this visit we dedicated ourselves to the egyptian and assyrian antiquities as we’d only seen part of them on our last visit. i also threw in a very quick prerequisite visit to see mona, venus and the chick with wings and a couple of delacroixs that i wanted to reconnect with, and the raft of medusa by theodore gericault. you can check out the pictures for more info.

rick called it a day other than some shopping, but i wanted to see the pantheon from the inside so took a walk in the rain and a major wind storm. it is a very dominating structure classical in every sense. inside it is quite open and empty of anything other than columns and wall paintings and, of course foucault’s pendulum, proving to you flat earther’s that the world spins round. it started out as a church and morphed into a grand tomb for the heroes of france. perhaps the most famous resident is voltaire. interesting but sparse and room for many more guests.

quick trip to the bon marche…too expensive and not that interesting.

bon soir.

tour musée – mature content

with versailles behind us we are taking on many of the major museums in paris. today, rick struck for napoleon’s tomb and army museums as well the rodin museum. having been to the little guy’s tomb before i took a pass, however it is quite remarkable both on the outside as well as the central dome under which napoleon along with some of his generals and relatives lie. having only visited the armory before it was interesting to hear of rick’s long day exploring the museums dedicated to world wars I and II and the ancient and medieval collection of arms. i’ll have to rethink another visit. rick sez it’s well organized and covers the historic events of the two wars very well.

turns out we both visited the rodin museum however i spent a bit longer and took a few more pictures than rick. the sculptures are fantastic both in subject and design containing more angst and pain than you’d expect. he was apparently into contortionists as the poses are dramatic to say the least. he was definitely a student of the body and passion i’m sure a lot of religious types would get a bit knotted (most of the time i’ve been in france i can’t shake the vision of john ashcroft wanting to hide the naughty bits with hankies…he’d be busy here as nude art can be found at every turn…kids and adults are expected to figure it out, not hide it…vive le france!). by contrast some of the works in the mansion were moving and delicate in contrast to the heavy bronzes; it’s easy to imagine that rodin would fit in easily with the greeks and romans, or as a contemporary of michelangelo.

following rodin i took a stroll by the government buildings on my way to the musee d’orsay, reknown for its contemporary art mid 1800 to early 1900’s. i spent more time here than expected as i’ve visited before and not too much has changed, in fact i rushed through the first floor of more traditional art and sculpture heading for the top floors and the impressionists. needless to say i took pictures but not too many as my camera is really buggy and has a mind of its own. it thinks the batteries are dead on many of the shots…a little pleading, turn on turn off or a little jiggle and it seems to make an effort for a couple of more shots. my favourite impressionist is camille pissarro, though they are all too amazing it is difficult to find the right superlative so wow, wow and wow will suffice. after two plus hours i had one more museum on my must see list for the day…musée de l’orangerie des tuileries at the end ofthe tuileries gardens.

pissaro is my fave, however nothing can knock your socks off like claude monet’s les nymphéas, i can not describe them to you, hopefully a few of my pictures will give you an idea of their beauty, mystery…and size, they are easily 5 to 15 metres long (or more?) and 3 metres high. there are only two rooms and they are quieter than a library as people sit mesmerized by them for long periods of time. here is a link to a video of them provided by the museum.

phew! that was a long day…but there’s still time for a little shopping before class tonight.

bon soir


one of us is down with a serious cold and the other is feeling a bit lazy. none of this matters too much, the weather is holding with a cool sunny day – it really is autumn. the day too is quiet with only the chatter of the neighbourhood, background noises: music, cars, the sound of pots and pans, kids playing etc. those sounds that can lull you to sleep.

i took brief shot at the centre of town earlier this morning but other than some street art and general people watching it was a non activity day. the most interesting experience i had was an open air market at the bastille. it felt like thousands and maybe was, you’ve got to be comfortable being close to each other here. because of the close proximity of the stalls and the bustle of shoppers reaching for this and that there is no way to avoid touching and being touched (riding the metro is similar.) you can buy every type of food and wine imaginable as well as cds, shirts, jewelry etc. the market was about two blocks long with two rows of colourful canvas covered stalls spread between the street, trees and benches of the incredibly wide centre boulevard. it really felt like you were out shopping, chatting with strangers and the sellers trying to lure you to their produce with quick talk sales pitches.

i made a brief foray into the left bank (looking for the bon marche) to shop but found everything is closed big and small alike. only a few boulangeries and cafes are open on sundays. i did see some incredible art through a gallery window and realized what wealth can get you: the most beautiful vase for about 7 thousand euro and it looked like it was worth it. paris definitely has some high end stores, it is not uncommon to see shoe stores with prices for mens’ and womens’ shoes in the thousand of euros along with all the other fashion items. oh well…more pay would be nice?

street art abounds in paris and i’m always amazed that it is so diverse and fantastic. even the fountains are more creative than practical. i saw one breaking out of the ground as though the street tiles had been pushed up into a mound at odd angles, the water barely visible only the sound of it splashing. i hope to go back on the same route as i did not take the camera (a day off) and want to capture everything i see.

after another frustrating toilette search at the bastille (1 public toilette 11 million people and it was out of order!!!!) i made my way back home as shopping was not an option.

as i said, it’s a lazy day. read a little, nap a little, be french and enjoy the day.

bon soir.