Monday, July 18, 2011

Baseball Withdrawal

One thing that I have sorely missed on this walkabout is baseball.  I mentioned this some months ago, and also that I missed maple syrup.  No baseball in South America, except for scores on the satellite television news.  And no maple syrup, at least that I ever found in a Jumbo, Santa Isabel, or Disco supermarket.  In Ireland there was no baseball either, but the Supervalu supermarket did carry maple syrup.  The Carrefour market a few blocks away here in Paris also does carry maple syrup.  Okay, halfway there!

But what to do about baseball?  I asked Google!  It located The Moose, a Canadian expat sports bar near Metro Odeon.  Their web site lists the sports events that they plan to have on their television screens each day.  Mostly soccer.  But there was a Yankees-Rays game on Saturday at 6 pm.  So the three of us all headed over there.  Women's World Cup soccer attracted most of the attention, but we prevailed upon the bartender to turn on the baseball.  We saw Derek Jeter hit his 3000th hit.  I had predicted a home run and there it was!  Darn it!  I don't like the Yankees at all, but Jeter does deserve credit as one of the all time greatest shortstops ever to play the game.

The Moose had a burger menu, and the ones brought out to some other customers looked quite good.  They also had many different versions of poutine.  Penny had been in Prince Edward's Island and said they claimed to have invented it.  The Moose guy thought it came from Quebec.  It sounded just like Peruvians and Chileans each claiming to have invented pisco sour.  As for poutine, I am putting my two bits on the Saskatchewan claim.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Giverny is a small village in Normandy.  Actually it is just across the line between Haute Normandie and Ile de France, but it is very close to Paris.  Giverny was the home of Claude Monet, the impressionist painter.  Unlike poor painters like Van Gogh, Monet seems to have been well-heeled in order to afford such a nice house and garden.

The closest train station is in the nearby town of Vernon, and there is a shuttle bus service from there to Giverny. We found that it was cheaper to rent a car from Gare du Nord for one day than it was to buy three round trip train and shuttle bus tickets.  So we made an advance reservation with Avis/Budget through USAA.  They gave us this C series Mercedes Benz.  It was nice enough, and had about 1,000 miles on it.  (1250 km).  A bit heavy, but it handled nicely.  I wouldn't buy one.  Consumer Reports magazine was sharply critical of these smaller Mercedes cars.

We had a nice drive each way, and so Lori got to see a bit of France, as opposed to just Paris.  I miscommunicated with Penny about the route and so turned onto the inner Peripherique instead of continuing north.  That put her through her navigator paces, but she came through splendidly.

Down the street from Monet's garden is an impressionist museum.  An exhibition of the Sterling and Francine Clark collection had just begun there.  This was a nice day trip.  Photography was strictly prohibited inside both Monet's house and in the Clark exhibition.

Paris in the Summer

Ahhh, Paris!  City of Light!

This city is unique on the planet.  I know that is a trite thing to say, but it is true.  We have been here several times over the years since 1993, and have enjoyed every one of our visits.  So now we are going to try living here for a while.  Living in places where we enjoyed visiting before is one of the main things about our walkabout.  So, here we are!

We arrived at Paris Gare du Nord railway station on the Thalys train from Bruxelles-Midi on time.  The flat that we have rented is only a few short Metro stops away from Gare du Nord.  Rather than carry our bags up and down all the stairs to get to the Metro line at Gare du Nord, we decided to walk to Rue des Abbesses.  The taxi line at the station was huge, and it probably took us less time to walk than it would have to get to the front of the taxi line!

Our flat is in Montmartre, the 18th arrondissement, on Rue des Abbesses, and is on the sixth floor.  Seventh floor by North American counting.  And there is no elevator.  So that is a good thing, because there are pastry shops in the vicinity...French pastry shops.  A built-in stairmaster is a good thing.  The flat is comfortable, although small.  But Paris is a major city, and like New York and Tokyo, real estate is at a premium.  So it is small.  There is only a curtain between the small living room and the bedroom.  Internet and television are included.  We haven't used the television at all. (Unlike in Santiago and in Kinsale.)  There is a Carrefour market one block away, and so we shop for food there.  It is equipped with a washer and a dryer. In other words, everything that we need to live here, is here even if a bit cramped.

We found a restaurant here in Montmartre.  A tourist place.  It was terrible.  The cheese on the onion soup was burned, the meat was bland, and they wouldn't serve water in a pitcher.  In other words, they insisted on selling us bottled water.  We didn't go back.

Our first house guest arrived the day after we did!  We went down to meet Lori at Gare du Nord.  She was coming from London on the Eurostar.  She is staying with us for almost three weeks.  So we started going to see the sights, and so we got the pictures in the previous entry.  We went down to our favorite place on the Left Bank, Le Bistrot 30.  I can't speak for the rest of the places in this area of which the author of the Lonely Planet Paris volume so roundly disapproves, but we have been going to Le Bistrot 30 since 1993.  LP calls the area "Bacteria Alley," but I have to say that I haven't been much impressed with that particular author's commentary.

Midnight in Paris.  That was our first order of business.  We found a theater where it was playing in English with French subtitles, but we did not wait until the midnight showing.  That movie is just brilliant.  I will say no more except that if you have not seen it, then you don't know what you are missing.  I think that Midnight in Paris is the best Woody Allen movie that I have ever seen.

A third cousin of Penny's lives in Paris.  Dominique and Barbara are both shrinks here, and so we have to be careful what we say or they might have us committed.  Seriously, it is always nice to see them again.  We have had dinner twice with them and will see them again when they get back from Greece.

Musee d'Orsay, the Louvre, the Paris Opera, riding the Batobus around the Seine, Notre Dame, and Saint-Chapelle.  Croissants, baguettes, pains au chocolate, boeuf bourguignon, vin rouge, mousse au chocolat...I am learning more and more French every day!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Paris Pictures

We have been in Paris for a couple of weeks now.  There are some things to share with fellow travelers, including the armchair variety.  I will write that in a few days.  In the meantime, here are some photos of Paris scenes.  Some are the standard iconic places that you can see for sale on placemats, wall prints, drinks coasters, etc., but there are some others too.

Perhaps you remember reading Madeline when you were young?  "In an old Paris house that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines."  These scenes are a bit like that:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Plan C

Where are we going after we leave Paris before we head to New York?

There was Plan A.  Greece and Turkey.  Transportation costs were so high that we figured we would go there on a trip dedicated to that alone.  So...

There was Plan B.  Visit friends in Frankfurt.  Spend several days in Prague, then rent a car and drive around the Czech countryside.  Repeat the process with Budapest and the Hungarian countryside.  Then to Vienna, Innsbruck, and Zurich, visiting friends in each place.  Back to Paris in time to fly to New York.  After all, we did a lot more gypsy-like travel than that when we went around the world three years ago.  Well...because we are living in different places, we are traveling with considerably more luggage than before.  We each came independently to the realization of how much more difficult it is to travel with more baggage.   So...

Plan C.  Visit friends in Frankfurt.  Get an apartment for one month in Vienna.  Then to Innsbruck, Zurich, and Paris as before.  Then on to New York.

We don't have a Plan D yet, and hopefully we won't need to develop one.

If you are planning to go to visit many places, then travel light.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Maastricht to Paris

We spent a few days in the Dutch city of Maastricht, located on the River Meuse (Maas in Dutch).  It is quite a pleasant place, and the Aqui! apartment was very comfortable.

Dining out in the Netherlands is very expensive and so we decided to get some prepared entrees from the Albert Hejn supermarket to prepare in the IKEA kitchen unit in the 1br apartment.

We had not booked any of the train tickets to Maastricht or to Paris.  At Rotterdam Centraal, I stayed with the luggage while Penny went upstairs to the ticket and travel office.  The price for last minute tickets was quite high. So learn something from us and book ahead whenever you can.  Because they were top-end tickets, they were refundable and changeable, and this turned out to help somewhat.

The contact person for the Paris apartment wrote us to ask if we could arrive in Paris earlier than planned.  Penny replied that we would check into that, and so we went down to the Maastricht station.  It was indeed possible, and the very knowledgeable ticketing agent realized that her Rotterdam colleague had mistakenly overcharged us for the tickets.  We had reserved jump seats on the Thalys high speed train from Liege to Paris.  She changed us to another Thalys from Brussels to Paris, and put us on another Belgian connector train to there from Maastricht.  We got back 56.80 euros in cash.  So that all worked out.

The train connections worked just fine.  The Belgian train was swarming with conductors checking tickets and so on.  We had seen the same thing a few years back when we returned to Brussels from Luxembourg.  See our round-the-world blog.   So a word to the wise:  Don't try to pull anything on a Belgian train.

Nobody bothered to check our tickets on the Brussels-Paris train at all.  That was an SNCF (French) train.  Sometimes they do check and big fines come from getting caught.

One reason for taking the ferry to the continent was to avoid paying surcharges on our baggage.  The train tickets may have offset those savings, and perhaps we would have done just as well to stay in the UK a couple of days more and then fly to Paris.