Trip Report: Paris, France (Day 9)

From the Tour Montparnasse

From the Tour Montparnasse

On my last day in Paris, I woke up very early so as not to waste a single minute of it. I honestly thought about going to Versailles as a day trip but the more I looked into it the more I knew that I wanted to wait for my return trip. I think coming in winter is great for seeing the sights without excessive crowds, but I can only imagine how splendid this city is in full bloom. I think Versailles as a whole might be better in spring.

Instead, I opted for Tour Montparnasse. I said before I wasn’t really big on going to the top of things but I saw pictures online that it has a glass enclosure. They don’t just let you walk around willy-nilly up there. I think it’s about 55 stories or so, and I have to admit that it was pretty amazing.

Not your average commute.

Not your average commute.

First, I went to Galaries Lafayette at the Commerce Centre. It’s far less manic here, so if you want to do your high-end shopping I would suggest this one rather than the one near Opera Garnier. It doesn’t have the same wide selection but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if all you really want to do is shop.

I bought myself that perfume I wanted, but unfortunately the Chanel counter at this location does not have jewellery. I was not able to get my friend the earrings she wanted. Chanel has been selling earrings for a hundred years.  They’ll still be there in May when I come back.

It costs 15E to get to the top of Tour Montparnasse. It really is a bit of tourist trap. When you first come off the elevator they take your picture in front of a green panel. This is so you can have a “photo” of you directly in front of the Eiffel Tower or some other location. I tried to opt out of this but they said, “It’s no obligation.”  I gave them my ‘black people don’t smile’ look and they did not bother me again.

I walked around in the enclosed area for a second or two. There’s a café and a gift shop, but they had half of it closed off for a private event. So I went up to the 59th level, the part where you can go outdoors.

I still think the view from Sacre Coeur is the best, but the Tour Montparnasse is a close second. Because it’s so high up you can really get a very wide view of the entire city and its outer lying areas. It’s sunny today so I think it’s pretty spectacular. As someone told me there were not that many tourists at all. I think perhaps a total of eight of us were on top. One guy had a really fancy camera; it looked like a movie camera. I’m sure it cost into the thousands, and I bet his photos were really good. Whatever. I’m happy with my iPhone photos.

I left just in time because a huge group of about 200 Chinese tourists showed up. There was even more downstairs waiting to come up in the elevators. When I went outside I saw five tour buses pulling off. I bet the private event was for them.

After Tour Montparnasse, I decided to have one last crepe. I used Yelp to find a nearby creperie and it came back with a little street that was full of creperies. None of them opened until noon, so I sat on the steps of a church, reading reviews for 20 minutes. I think this is one of my happiest moments in Paris.

It’s sunny and very peaceful. I can people watch and I really don’t have a care in the world. Sure, I have a little bit of sadness that in just 24 hours I would have to go back to my life but to even have an opportunity to travel at all is simply amazing. I have so many friends who have never left their home towns. I have even more friends that really want to go places but they feel confined by their lives. I think I am lucky that I lived outside the US in my youth. It helped give me an appreciation for other cultures. My sister and I look back on those years living in Japan and count it as some of the best years of our lives.

From the Trocadero at night

From the Trocadero at night

I think I am also blessed that I can even afford to go someplace. These days, people are just trying to make a living. More people are concerned about feeding their children and putting them through college, then going on an excursion to a foreign country. I don’t usually get on a soap box but I will put in a plug for a worldly education. It can significantly enhance their worldview.

At any rate, I chose Le Petite Josselin because the Josselin Creperie was closed for some reason. Josselin Creperie had the best reviews, but La Petite came in a close second. It was extremely crowded inside. I know the French don’t mind being so closely seated but I was uncomfortable. I’m not a small person and I felt like I couldn’t fit into the area the server wanted me to sit. Usually I don’t like to sit with my back to the door, but there was no way I could slide into that bench between the tables.  I felt like my ass was gonna be in somebody’s soup.

It was very warm in there so I hurried up and ordered a Martiniquaise. Coconut ice cream, chocolate, and Grand Marnier. The Grand Marnier is not overpowering, but I don’t really taste the coconut ice cream too much. Still, I think it’s very good.

Now I have to make a decision on the best crepe ever, but I felt like I could not. This street had about 10 creperies on it. I feel that I would be negligent if I made a decision without tasting their crepes as well. I have decided to table the research until it can be continued on my return trip. But for now, I think Ar Poul Gwen is number one, the Bayeux crepe is number two and Le Petite Josselin will be number three.

Now, time for some souvenir shopping. I’m not really big on souvenirs. I would never purchase an “I heart Paris” T-shirt, or a junky old coffee mug. But I do collect snow globes, so that tells you a lot. I really wanted something for my sister and my nephews but I didn’t have a whole lot of room in my bags and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take the time to mail something from France. Instead, I bought some scarves for myself and one for my battle buddy. Also, I couldn’t resist the sales so I bought a pair of boots. How fortuitous that I should be in Paris during the semi-annual sales.

I wondered if France had any big box stores like Wal-Mart or Target. I found a store called BHV in the Marais. BHV is like a Home Depot, Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond rolled all into one. It’s actually a little bit ridiculous, but so much fancier than those individual stores. This BHV has seven stories full of mid-range items. Some reviewers state the prices are expensive but it looks like middle class prices to me. I think it would be the difference of shopping in Walmart vs. Target.

For my battle buddy I also bought her some nuts from le pistacherie. She loves pistachios and cashews and I thought the gift baskets in the window were really pretty.

Seriously, it's the butter and garlic.  I'd eat them again.

Seriously, it’s the butter and garlic. I’d eat them again.

You know what is the most difficult thing to overcome when travelling to another country? It’s not the language or the customs of other people. It’s the metric system! Even though I grew up in Japan where the metric system is used, I still have significant issues. It was like I lived in two worlds, never fully grasping either system. I am also a poor judge of measurement. I say things like, “My apartment is very small. It’s about 50 square feet.” I don’t say it as an exaggeration; I genuinely believe a person can live in a 50 square foot apartment. Or I’ll say something like, “You can walk there very easily. It’s about half a mile,” and it turns out the distance was closer to five miles. Don’t get me started on meters!

When I went into le pistacherie I thought about just buying one of the gift baskets, but the case where you can buy by the gram had so many different varieties. I knew my battle would appreciate cheese-crusted cashew nuts and lemon-flavoured almonds, but how much do I buy? So, what’s sad is my only understanding of the metric system has to do with drugs. I used to work law enforcement, and I knew that a few grams are a night in jail but kilos will get you sent up.

So do I order a few grams of nuts or a kilo of nuts?

Luckily, the kind lady really assisted me. Through some wild gesticulation I was able to show her how much of each I wanted. When I told her it was a gift for a friend, she thoughtfully packaged the nuts so beautifully. You just don’t get that kind of assistance at a big box store in the US.

I spent another hour or so wandering around the Marais before heading back to the apartment to start packing. I did have one last church concert lined up and I also wanted to dine out again. This time I wanted to try l’escargots. I have never had them before.

I asked for recommendations on TA, and someone came back with Chez Denise. I decided against Chez Denise because the menu seemed a little more than I could handle. I read something about pork knuckles and bone marrow and it intimidated me. I’m not sure where I stand on French food. I am discovering now how “French food” is a very broad term. I don’t know the regions just yet, so I don’t know what each region specializes in. Then, of course, you have all the contemporary and fusion places so it’s hard to tell.

Ultimate in Parisian shopping.

Ultimate in Parisian shopping.

What I say I don’t like is that some of the food can be quite bland. I know this is because I was raised on spicy food drowned in garlic and chiles. If it’s not burning my lips off then it’s not hot enough. French food does not have these attributes. I’m not the American that grew up on pot roasts, potatoes and casserole dishes, so some of the French food is really a leap for me. On the other hand, I absolutely adore seafood and everything I’ve eaten on that score has been delectable. Having said all that, I did not have a bad meal at all. I think the best thing I ate was oxtails and scallops. I could have done without the beet juice dish at Jules Verne.

Instead of Chez Denise, I went to L’escargot Montorgueil (spelling). It was hardly a block away from the apartment. I told the server that I had never had escargots before and please recommend the best version. They had different options and I really couldn’t tell what the difference would be. He chose for me the traditional garlic, butter and parsley.

Before I went on an escargot escapade, I watched several YouTube videos on how to eat “the slippery little suckers.” Anyone who has ever seen Pretty Woman, remembers the scene where Julia Roberts flings a snail into the air. I did not want to be That Guy, flying snails all over the place.

After the videos I felt confident I would be able to eat them without making a fool of myself. When they arrived, I looked down at the plate skeptically. It really is six snails nestled into a plate specifically designed for them. The shells are turned upward to hold the garlic, butter and parsley concoction like a little bowl.

I picked up the tongs and the little fork I was given and began to dig in. I pushed the fork way down into the shell like the video said so but all I could pull out were parsley flakes. I started to wonder if that’s all it was, just some garlic juice with butter and parsley. There was nothing to chew. In the video the guy had meat on his fork. I thought, well, maybe this one doesn’t have any, like sometimes when you get a bad oyster or a crab with very little meat. I was disappointed so I picked up a second snail and tried again.

Success!

I was able to pull out the meat, but now I actually have to eat it. I decided there was nothing for it but to pop it into my mouth, so I did.

La Madeleine Eglise.  I thought it was a museum.  It's a church.

La Madeleine Eglise. I thought it was a museum. It’s a church.

It reminded me of a very strong portabella mushroom. It was a little bit chewy but otherwise it tasted perfectly fine. I think the actual taste comes from whatever garnish they put on it. I think the snail itself doesn’t taste like much. Before eating the snails I thought they would be slimy, but I discovered they aren’t at all. I would definitely eat them again. I had a glass of Beaujolais blanc. The waiter suggested it would go well with the escargots. He was right.

I still had quite a bit of time before my concert so I went to the Trocadero again to see the Eiffel Tower one last time. It is evening time now, so it is lit up and I think it looks even better than it does during the day. There are actually more people out here than there was that first day I came.

I stayed up there admiring it until it was time for my concert.

Afterward, I attended my final church concert. It was a playing of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at La Madeleine Eglise. Yet another beautiful evening of music in another beautiful church. A string quartet opened up with a familiar song, but I couldn’t remember the name. Then they went into Pachelbel’s Canon in D. That damn song again.

A rail thin singer came out for a selection of songs, including Ave Maria. Frankly, I did not think she was that good. Her voice was not big enough for the church and the strings overpowered her. While technically proficient, she lacked warmth and I was glad when her set was over.

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is a piece of music that a lot of people know but may not know the name. It is a Baroque violin concerto for the solo violin and quartet. You’ve heard “Summer” a thousand times. I know I have, and I never get tired of it. I wanted to learn how to play the violin based off that piece alone. My parents didn’t want to suffer the screeching, scratching of a new violinist so they never put me in lessons.

They really played quite well, but it wasn’t the Four Seasons that did it for me. They played two encores. The first one I didn’t know but the last one was Camille Saint-Saens’ Le Cygne. This is truly a haunting piece of music, and hearing it in this church….it gave me a chill. The song is basically about a dying swan and is based on the notion that swans are mute their whole lives until they are about to die. Upon death, they sing a most beautiful song that makes you weep when you hear it.

I thought it was almost symbolic to end the evening on that song.

This is pretty much my version of Paris.

This is pretty much my version of Paris.

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Trip Report: Paris, France (Day 8)

The one good day to get on a riverboat cruise.

The one good day to get on a riverboat cruise.

Time is flying fast.  Can’t believe I have to leave in two days.  If I were going home to the US I’d probably be just a little sad, but since I have to go back to that horrid place I’m practically suicidal (no, that’s not a cry for help).

Today is the day I attempt to get into Jules Verne.  I never made reservations for a lot of reasons.  First, I didn’t know if I even wanted to dine in a restaurant of its calibre.  Second, in order to make a reservation you have to basically put a deposit.  You can cancel but only up to a certain amount of time.  I kept going back and forth whether or not I wanted to dine.  I didn’t want to reserve and then bail out at the last minute, only to lose my deposit.

Out of all the reviews on Michelin-rated restaurants, this one seemed the least pretentious, catering more to the tourist crowd.  It’s not that I can’t eat in some stuffy old white table cloth joint because I don’t know how to conduct myself, it was the whole eating by myself thing.  It’s one thing to turn up at McDonald’s alone, or even your neighbourhood bar and grill; it’s quite another when you’re at some place that expects you to be boo’ed up.

I read that I could just walk in without a reservation:  I would have to wait or I’d be denied.  I dressed in my best outfit and got on the Metro with fingers crossed.  Eiffel Tower up close is pretty amazing.  There are tourists, but not that many.  No one tried to pickpocket me, much to my disappointment.  This whole trip I’ve had my valuables duct taped to my body.  Haha.  I’m just kidding.

I arrived at 1158 and the door was already opened.  There is a little lobby area and I asked the maitre d’, “Are there any seatings available?”

He smiled wanly at me and said, “Has Madame had an opportunity to look at the menu?”

View from the restaurant.

View from the restaurant.  I am INSIDE the Eiffel Tower

On the inside I died laughing.  Bitch, are you asking me if I have money?  I was not offended.  I think it’s a good thing to ask to save someone from humiliation.  I had such an experience about 10 years ago in California.  Ty and I visited Los Angeles, and we went to a restaurant called Pacific Railcar.  Back then I was the proverbial struggling college student.  California at that time did not publish its menus outside.  I was shocked out of my socks when we were handed menus reflecting $50 per plate.  We were so embarrassed.  Since the restaurant specialised in seafood we pretended that we really wanted pasta.  The waiter gave us a pitying look so we ordered a glass of $15 glass of wine and a $20 shrimp cocktail to save face, then ended up at a Denny’s because we didn’t have any money left.

These days I have a savings account.  I told the maitre d’ I was fully versed in the menu and asked again for availability.

I crossed my fingers as he called upstairs.

“Yes, madame, please, right this way.”

YES!!

So, for real, the view is spectacular.  I felt safe because I was enclosed and there’s no way a divine wind could sweep me to my death.  I did not get a window seat, but my seat was good enough.  If the window seats are booked and the guests seated there have finished their meals you can ask to be moved.  They will accommodate you.  I didn’t feel the need to move because I was facing right out the window.

A Suisse and Brazilian couple got the window.  The waiter asked if they were celebrating anything special.  She said, “I am his girlfriend.”  He said, “She is my friend that is a girl.”  She said, “Girlfriend.”  The waiter smiled and wisely did not say anything.  She said again, “Girlfriend.”

King crab with some caviar and a stale ass breadstick on top.  Good as shit, though.

King crab with some caviar and a stale ass breadstick on top. Good as shit, though.

The service is impeccable.  They take your coat at the door and hand you into your seat.  There are about 100 servers just waiting for the opportunity to treat you like a royal.

I should have started off with a glass of champagne as an aperitif but I’m glad I did not, and you’ll see why in just a little bit.  Instead, I got plain water and they brought it along with some cheese crisp thing.  Again, I’m not big on cheese but I had purposely skipped breakfast so as to be hungry.  Then they start with the bread.  The server brought out a HUGE platter of various breads:  wholegrain, white, soft pastry, crusty, whatever.  The one thing I haven’t liked about French restaurants is the hard bread.  After wearing braces, I find I can’t eat hard foods like that anymore.  I was thankful to get a soft piece of bread.

I ate three.

I ordered the five plate experience and asked for the wine pairing as well.

Course 1:  Seafood mush, fish eggs and stale bread stick

The menu called it “delicate sea urchin, gold caviar, seaweed bread stick.”  Actually, it’s really good.  I’m gonna say the seafood mush was the sea urchin and it was topped with king crab (the waiter said so) and caviar.  I never had caviar before in my life and it was deeeeeeeeelicious.  I could have done without the stale breadstick, even though I do like seaweed.

A different waiter brings three wine glasses and situates them on the table.  He pours a glass of white, while yet a different waiter come by with more bread.  Apparently each waiter has a purpose.  It’s not the same guy doing everything.

I’m not the only person dining alone, so I don’t feel conspicuous at all.  The waiters paid more attention to me than anyone else, but that’s their job.

This was the only thing that wasn't that great.  I ate the shit out of that lobster though.

This was the only thing that wasn’t that great. I ate the shit out of that lobster though.

Course 2:  Lobster on baby food, thin slice of carrot, some kind of tuber and half a leek.

…or, “Seared langoustine, homemade pickles.”  The names the chefs come up with are hysterical to me.  Really, it’s probably just a description of the dish but I have to put it in layperson terms.  I would not consider myself a foodie by any stretch of the imagination.

Lobster on baby food tastes great.  The lobster is utterly perfect.  The texture was exactly where it should be, slightly firm.  I don’t know what the baby food was, some kind of orange coloured puree, but it coincided with the lobster in a marriage of excellence.  I don’t see “homemade pickles” on my plate.  I see a tuber and quite literally half a leek.  The tuber was meh, but I like leeks.  Too bad I didn’t get a whole one.

Wine guy comes back to pour a second glass of wine.  This is also a white wine.  I have said for the longest time I do not like white wine.  At home, the only whites I ever drink come from the Carolina Muscadine grape, and I only ever drink it when I’m having a barbecue or something like that because it’s super sweet.  My preference are dry reds.  So now I think I need to clarify.  I don’t like *cheap* white wine.  Whatever this wine guy is bringing is excellent.  The first white had a buttery nose to it.  My first thought was popcorn, which sounds gross but it was anything but.  This second white was more flowery.  Neither were very dry, which is good.  It was a dry white wine that led me to believe I didn’t like whites.

A different kind of lobster with vegetables I've never eaten before.

A different kind of lobster with vegetables I’ve never eaten before.

Course 3:  Bland onion looking thing with cheesy mushroom sauce.

…or, “Chicory, ham, comte cheese and black truffle.”  I have no idea what a chicory is but that cheesy sauce was the TRUTH!  I don’t even like cheese, but it was light and flavourful.  Maybe it was the truffle that gave it the taste.  Oh, it was so good.  When I first ordered I asked if it could be made without ham and I was obliged.  I thought chicory was something you put in coffee.

Here comes the wine guy again.  Okay, so I know I ordered the wine pairing.  Sometimes I do not fully think things through.  Are they really going to bring me five glasses of wine?  Halfway through this third glass of wine my face became numb.  Once I get that numb feeling in my face I know it’s time to stop because after that comes the loud talking, laughing for no reason and passing out.  Should I tell him not to bring anymore?  Hahahaha.

I had needlessly worried about what to do with myself between courses.  There was a lot to observe.  I did play on my phone but that’s because I was writing down each dish according to my own description.  I didn’t want to forget and at the rate I was drinking there was no way I would be able to remember anything at all.

Course 4:  Lobster on poinsettia leaves, one potato chip in beet juice

…or, “Roasted blue lobster, braises salsify, cooking jus.”  Poinsettia leaves are poisonous to some people, so I’m sure it’s not really poinsettia leaves.  I don’t know what this is.  Are the leaves red because of the beet juice?  This dish is the only one I did not care for too much.  I don’t like beets or potatoes.  There is precisely one thin slice of potato drowned in beet juice and these leaves.  It just wasn’t appetising.  The waiter comes by and sees me picking at it.  He says, “Madame does not like beets?”  I shook my head.  He gave me a most aggrieved look, “But the lobster!!?”  Oh, bitch, don’t worry.  I am not about to throw away some lobster.  I was able to get it out of its shell without getting too much beet juice on it.  Very tasty, but lemon and butter would have been much appreciated.

First dessert:  half a teaspoon of ice cream on an orange rind

First dessert: half a teaspoon of ice cream on an orange rind

Because I ordered only the fish courses, I did not get course five which is just as well because I was pretty much a fat horsey by then.  The dishes are very small but there’s a lot going on.  I have finished three glasses of wine and I know I was smiling like an idiot.  The waiter tried to take away glass number three, but I wouldn’t let him because there was a tiny drop left.  Bitch, please!

Dessert course 1:  Vanilla wafer with ice cream and orange rind

…or, “clementine tartlet, chestnut ice cream.”  The ice cream didn’t taste like chestnuts (not that I’ve ever had chestnuts), but instead it seemed like plain vanilla to me.  I like citrusy things so this was a home run for me.  The clementine is very strong, very chewy, like a gummy candy.

More wine.  Oh, God.  This time it’s a sweet dessert wine.  All these wines are French so I don’t know how it works but in the US, dessert wines are called fortified wines because they have more alcohol than table wines.  Halfway through this glass I know that I should stop but I can’t because I’m actually now drunk.  I’m glad I’m alone because there is no one to talk to; therefore, I cannot talk loudly and embarrass myself.  I just sit there smiling like a fool.

Third dessert:  fancy ass marshmallows, macaroons and even more fancy ass marshmallows.

Third dessert: fancy ass marshmallows, macaroons and even more fancy ass marshmallows.

Dessert course 2:  gold spray-painted medallion chocolate thing

…or, “Crispy tower nut, chocolate from their factory and praline.”  Chocolate, yes.  Praline, yes.  It’s not spray painted but it’s shiny and gold.  I can’t think of how they got it to be that colour, and maybe since I’m trashed all I could think of was spray paint.  It looks like the gold foil wrapping on a champagne bottle but it’s edible. (Later, I found out that it’s actually real gold powder.  So, like, I ate gold.)

More wine!  It’s called Maury, and the only reason I remember it is because of Maury Povich.  I thought of that when the waiter was pouring and I busted out laughing.  He looked at me like, “what is so funny?”  I couldn’t explain, so he walked away looking a little miffed.  This wine is not that great.  It tastes like prune juice.  I drank it anyway.

Just when I though the experience was over, here comes yet a different guy with MORE desserts.  This time it’s a little tray of macaroons and some fancy marshmallows.  He actually said, “In case you are still hungry.”

What!?!?  I am so stuffed and my head, my poor head.  I did help myself to a chocolate marshmallow while I waited for coffee to be served.

FOR ONE PERSON!

FOR ONE PERSON!

So, you know, alcohol is a depressant.  If you’re not laughing and drinking and having a good time with friends, then you’re thinking about things.  As if on cue, Claire de Lune started playing softly in the background.  It made me wistful and reminiscent.  I got dumped a week before Valentine’s Day in 2014.  A month later, I shipped off to Utah to do some training for the deployment.  I really liked that guy and I thought we were gonna make it.  Here I am dining in some super fancy restaurant alone and he’s …. who even knows?

The next song was Pachelbel’s Canon in D, otherwise known as the Wedding Song.  Now I’m truly depressed.  I finish the Maury Povich and think about the mythological creature:  The Woman Who Has It All.  I don’t think such a thing is possible.  Either you’re devoted to your family, or you’re devoted to your career.  When I went to basic training my drill sergeant used to say there was no such thing as giving 110%.  He said, “What’s 100% of you?  ALL of you.  What’s 110% of you?  MORE than you.  You cannot give more than yourself.”  I have been devoted to my career:  putting myself through school, deploying twice, working extra, working over in order to prove myself and get ahead.  Since I cannot give more than myself that is probably why all my relationships suck.

Deep thoughts, and that’s why it’s not a good idea to drink so much.

But you know, maybe I’m better off without that guy because that bitch would have never come with me to Paris.  He is too awkward.  I couldn’t even imagine him attempting to speak French.  And eating in some fancy ass restaurant?  Yeah, right.  Unless it’s chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese and his momma’s meat loaf, he would not try it.  But then, you know what, he might eat this boring ass French food.

Anyway, I’m in Paris, so what do I need to think about him for?

Treat yo'self!

Treat yo’self!

I asked for the check and now I’m really about to die laughing.  I have some idea of what I spent because I studied the menu for so long when I was trying to decide.  I forgot about the incidentals:  coffee, water, etc.  They charge you for every little thing, but you might as well go all out.  Don’t do things in half measures.

I received l’addition and the sum is 297E.  Lucky the military don’t charge you rent or food.  Shit, if I was home I’d have to eat Ramen noodles for the rest of the week.

Since my mood had turned morbid, I figured the only way to lift my spirits is to go shopping.  I’m not sure how I managed to get to Champs-Elysees.  I wish I could elaborate for you my adventures on this grand boulevard; however, I do not remember too much.  I remember the train making me dizzy.  Then I remember being in a store, and that’s about it.

Next thing I woke up back at the apartment with a snow globe on the bedside table.  LOL.  C’est la vie.

Trip Report: Paris, France (Day 7)

The pyramids outside the Louvre

The pyramids outside the Louvre

I think all these late evenings are starting to break me down.  I can stay up late watching TV or something, but night after night of opera, concerts and whatnot, maybe it’s just too much.  Oh, first world problems.  Actually, I’m rather happy with the way I planned this trip.  I do my sightseeing in the morning, come back to the apartment for a rest then go back out for dinner and evening entertainment.  I would never be able to keep up the pace without that afternoon rest.  It’s also a lot of walking and stairs, but I did not plan a breakneck trip, running from one thing to the next.  I hate that style of vacation, and so many people do it.  They show up some place for a few minutes, take a picture and then run off.  What is the point?

Anyway, it’s my day for the Louvre, the most famous museum in the world.  I already said I was take it or leave it when it comes to museums.  I do appreciate high art, but I can’t stare at it all day long.  I understand its importance and contribution to the human dynamic but just like anything there’s a line to be drawn.  I hate going to these places and some guy is staring at a black square, talking about the artist’s emotions.  Bitch, it’s a black square, get over yourself.  But then again, I guess I do the same thing about literature and music–it’s all relative.

I got to the Louvre around 930 and already there was a considerable queue.  During the low season, the Louvre is free on the first Sunday of the month, otherwise it costs like $40 to get in.  Being the most famous museum in the world, I guess you can command that high price and people are actually paying it.

Every square inch of the Louvre has some kind of artwork on it:  the ceilings and the floor.

Every square inch of the Louvre has some kind of artwork on it: the ceilings and the floor.

My friend told me to use the side entrance.  I did not come in through the pyramid, but instead went to Porte Richelieu and walked right in.  There was no one there at all!  It was raining and all these people were just standing out there.  One thing I am not clear is if you still need to get a ticket of some sort, even if it is free.  I still had the museum pass, so I waved it at the security person just to be sure and he let me in.

I decided to get the audioguide for the Louvre because it’s just so massive.  I don’t usually do audioguides but I felt like I would benefit from it.  It only costs 5E, and I brought my own headphones.  I’ve got noise-cancelling, noise-isolating Bose headphones—excellent for drowning out the noise.  The audioguide is a Nintendo hand-held and ended up being a little frustrating.

I started off with the Masterpieces tour.  It’s supposed to take you on a 50 minute tour of the greatest masterpieces the museum has to offer.  It has a GPS thing and it tells you where to go.  Obviously, GPS and I have had a falling out after that fiasco leaving the Pantheon.  Every five seconds the stupid thing was like, “You have left the tour, would you like to recalculate?”  In some cases I wasn’t even moving.  I was still admiring a piece of art.  After a while I just gave up on trying to have a tour.  You can input the numbers from a certain work and the commentary will come up.  The audioguide will also automatically detect which section you’re in and give you a brief overview.

"Where Are My Arms?"

“Where Are My Arms?”

When I came to the Louvre, I had only two goals in mind:  La Giaconda (like everyone else) and The Last Supper (more on that in a minute!  LOL).  I figured if I saw anything else of import it would be an additional treat.  I also thought I would only be in the museum two hours, three max.  I can only stand to look at so much.  Well…..

I started with the Venus de Milo, or “What Happened to My Arms?”  Again, I am making up my own names to the artwork.  I liked the audioguide because it did help me understand what I was supposed to appreciate about the piece.  You get to hear a lot about the history of the work and the artist (in this case, unknown).  It’s crazy that it was created a hundred years before Christ.  Some guy found it in the 1820 while digging around on the island of Milos.  They did find the arms but they were all messed up, so no one knows exactly how her arms were situated.

Next I went into a room with Greek and Roman sculptures.  I viewed Artemis with a Doe and the Caryatides.  This is where the audioguide got me all messed up.  It told me to go to Caryatides and I was practically standing on top of them and it was like, “You’ve left the tour.”  Ugh.  So I just started wandering, which ended up being a far better idea.

"Pour It Up"

“Pour It Up”

In case you didn’t know, the Louvre is MAAAASIVE.  I wonder how long it would take to “do” the Louvre properly.  Even the Louvre itself is a masterpiece, apparently an old fortress and palace.  From floor to ceiling, every space has a piece of art crammed into it.  I was in overload within minutes, but it was like I couldn’t stop.  I did take a moment to sit down for some French style breakfast at one of the many cafes inside the Louvre; it was to regroup after getting lost on the Nintendo tour and to decide if I really wanted the hassle.  There’s a lot of people in here and most people are wandering around kind of aimlessly.  You know I move with a purpose.

I decided to keep going, and I ended up in the Greek, Roman and Etruscan sculptures.  I was there for an hour before I wandered into French paintings.  Of course, being France, there is a shit ton of French paintings.  They have it divided by period, and then there’s the Italian paintings.  My God!  Some of them are just so massive.  Maybe because I don’t have a creative bone in my body, I wonder how on earth you just wake up one day and decide to paint a ten foot canvas of some subject.

It took me two hours to find La Giaconda, or “I’ve Got a Secret,” or “Need To Get My Brows Done.”  (You know she ain’t go not eyebrows.)  So, the harsh reality is that the Louvre is always busy and you will never get a private moment with Lisa.  This bitch is in high demand.  She has her own personal bodyguards and a barricade to keep you from getting too close.  She is a celebrity and everybody wants to take their picture with her.  Fuck Beyonce; it’s Mona Lisa, bitch.  I did not want to photo bomb La Giaconda, but I did take a picture of the crowd in front of her so I could show my friends back home what it’s like.  I am not even sure what the deal is with trying to take a picture with the Mona Lisa, especially because there are a thousand people just standing there.  Whatever.  Once again, even though I knew beforehand the situation, I was very disappointed.  I wanted to chat with her for a moment and ask her what’s so funny.  I think she has something to say.  It is said that visitors spend about 15 seconds looking at her before moving on, so she has never had the opportunity to let anyone in on the joke.  What a shame.  You know people have thrown rocks, acid and paint at her?  That is why she is has a bullet proof case.  People are crazy.

I could not capture the entire horde of people standing around the Mona Lisa.

I could not capture the entire horde of people standing around the Mona Lisa.  And it’s a small ass painting anyway.

Since the Mona Lisa is in the Italian paintings area, I figured The Last Supper would be around there too.  You can use the audioguide to find a piece of work, but the joke’s on me because The Last Supper is not in the Louvre!  I went through that whole list of Italian paintings, then I went through each painter before I realised my mistake.  I was always under the impression The Last Supper was on display in the Louvre.  Apparently it’s in Milan.  My second guess would have been Rome.  You have to make an appointment to see it and you can only look at it for fifteen minutes.  That’s some exclusive shit.

David Shanks Goliath

“David Shanks Goliath”

 

At any rate, I decided to get my religious painting fix.  There’s a whole area devoted to renditions of the Virgin and Christ.  Right here is evidence to what I said before:  we all come from the same place, we just tell the story differently.  You can compare and contrast these depictions of the Virgin, taking note of little details like the style of clothes she wears or who’s hanging about in the background.  Depending on where the artist is from, Mary is white, black, Chinese, young, younger, celestial, human or fat.  It’s astounding.  I really like different interpretations on religious stuff.  You know I believe all of it is the same damn story just told differently, and people are out here fighting to the death to get people to believe in the exact same way as they believe.  That’s a damn shame.  You got one life to live and that’s how you choose to live it.

So now we’re three hours into the Louvre.  I think I’m ready to go and I even head towards the desk to return my audioguide but now the Near Eastern Antiquities have caught my eye, then I wandered into Oriental objets d’art.  Next I’m looking at old rich people furniture, like some Marie Antoinette type stuff.  My feet hurt really badly and I say to myself, “It’ll still be here when you come back.”

It was almost 3PM when I left.  Feet hurt, back hurt.  Everything hurts.  Walking around on all that marble, going up millions of stairs.  At least I’m getting some exercise.

IMG_3770

“I’m Sexy and I Know It”

My next stop was the Arc de Triomphe.  This also turned out to be free entrance.  I had no idea you could go up in it.  The stairs are killer and I don’t know if there is limited ability access.

It is basically a memorial to all those that fought and died in the French Revolution and the Napoleon campaigns.  Now, I think it is a monument to all French Soldiers because there is a Tomb of the Unknown under the Arch, and it represents Soldiers who died in both world wars.  So, of course, I’m all about supporting Soldiers and I love it when a nation honours its military.  I like patriotism.

There’s a room full of different French military uniforms throughout the years.  It’s a bit of a museum on the inside, complete with photos and vignettes to tell various stories.  The view from the top is superb.  Of course, you can see the Eiffel Tower from there.  It wasn’t terribly crowded up here either because the weather is not that great.  Over the years, I have developed a fear of unprotected heights so I couldn’t stay up there too long.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

I was supposed to stroll the Champs-Elysees afterward but here comes the icy rain again.  I’m dog tired anyway, and I plan to stay up late to watch the Super Bowl.  Time for a crepe and a rest.

The creperie is Ar Poul Gwen and the crepe is chocolate and Grand Marnier.  Winner, winner, chicken dinner!  The Bayeux crepe has finally been unseated.  This crepe here is the truth!  The actual crepe is very delicate.  There’s a light butter flavour, not too much because it doesn’t alienate the chocolate.  She put just enough chocolate inside.  (Don’t you hate when they overstuff the crepes?)  Then the Grand Marnier.  Yum!  She folds it very neatly and cuts it into neat rectangles so it is easy to eat.

I have two more days to test crepes before I make a decision once and for all.

Tomb of the Unknown

Tomb of the Unknown

I have another cheap dinner of some leftover Chinese, Thai and la tradition.  I’m still hoping that Jules Verne will take me.  I’ve already looked at the menu and calculated I will spend a tidy sum.

After taking a nap, I spent some time researching on where to view the Super Bowl in Paris.  I did get some suggestions from TA, and I found at least 10 bars where the big game would be playing.  In the end, I decided to stay in the apartment.  I really did not want to go back out in the cold, and I am not big on hanging out in bars by myself.  I probably would have met some new friends, but some of these places were talking about I needed to have made reservations and all that jazz. Really I kept falling asleep.  It’s cosy in my little apartment.  To go to a bar I would have to take a shower, get dressed and transport myself there.  It all seemed like too much.  I have champagne and spring rolls right here.  Why do I need to go someplace else?

It was an experience trying to watch the game on French TV.  The commentary was in French which I didn’t expect.  I mean, that’s stupid, but I honestly never gave it any thought.  When the game finally came on and the commentators started up with the back story of the Patriots and the Seahawks I just busted out laughing.  If you know the sport, you probably don’t need any commentary at all but it’s part of the experience.  They talk about stats, previous games, comparisons to other teams.  How do you say “third down” in French?

View from the Arc de Triomphe

View from the Arc de Triomphe

I ended up watching the game on my laptop.  I was very surprised this was available.  In previous years you could only watch Super Bowl on your mobile devices if you had a cable subscription.  Since I technically do not live anywhere, and I’m a cord cutter anyway. Thank God for VPN.

I kept the French game on in the background because it was hysterical.  Even the intonation of the French commentators’ voices is different.  When Jermaine Kearse made that insane catch, the French commentators did not sound as excited.  Maybe they were like, “Who likes this stupid violent sport anyway?”  On the American channel the commentators were screaming like maniacs.  You could tell they had jumped onto their desks.

Ar Poul Gwen, best crepes ever!

Ar Poul Gwen, best crepes ever!

It was good I stayed in because Katy Perry’s half time show put me to sleep a little bit.  I woke up somewhere in the middle of the third quarter.  My team was losing and it didn’t look good for us, but you know Brady.  He specialises in last minute hope.  I think he likes to be under pressure like that.  Anyway, thanks to Pete Carroll’s horrible call the Patriots won their fourth Super Bowl—and yes, you can call us a dynasty.

Anyway, time to get some sleep.  Lucky the only real thing I have planned for Monday is an attempt to get into Jules Verne.

 

You’ll find out how that went, plus the Champs-Elysees!

Trip Report: Paris, France (Day 5)

Now what's going on in that head?

Now what’s going on in that head?

I got up early to visit the Rodin museum.  Turns out, I was little too early.  The museum opens at 10 and I got there around 930, so I had to march around in front of the gates for half an hour to keep warm.

I think these smaller, less hectic museums are for me.  I’ve been to giant places like the American Museum of Natural History in NYC and Chicago Museum of Art.  Both come with hordes of people, screaming children and people bumping into you trying to take pictures.

The Rodin had none of these things.  There was a special exhibit (or at least I think it was) of Rodin’s pre-work.  I say pre-work because it was like all the stuff he did before he created his masterpieces.  There was stuff he intended to use for an exhibition on Victor Hugo, but I think the exhibition never came about, and Rodin just had all this stuff lying around somewhere.

I went out into the gardens but it was raining pretty good.  I wished I still had that janky umbrella I threw away in Montmartre.  I did see The Thinker.  What you thinking about, guy?  I also saw The Gates of Hell.  Glad it’s only a depiction and not the real thing!

I think the hotel portion was closed for renovation.  There was scaffolding up and guys working on things.  I was pleased with what I saw, so I left.

I headed over to the Pantheon next.

So far, I think this might be my favourite.  It’s more about architecture here.  It was a church first, but now it’s a gigantic tomb.  Some of France’s most famous persons are buried here.  I guess it’s a little morbid to gape at someone’s final resting place.  I only knew a handful of those interred here.  I know Voltaire and Zola, though I never read their work.  Of course, Victor Hugo.  Le sigh, my dear Victor.  I loved Les Miserables but suffered through Hunchback.  When he started going on about Notre Dame, describing every square inch, I had to put the book down.  I never did finish it.

Marie Curie is here too.  I wrote a paper on her in high school.  I’ve also read Alexandre Dumas, and then there’s Louis Braille, who probably does not need an introduction.

Only the dead keep it.

Only the dead keep it.

I like the crypt here far better than the one in the Bayeux cathedral.  There, the ceilings were very low and the room was tiny.  The crypt in the Pantheon has very high ceilings.  It’s quite spacious and the air can flow through easily.  Of course, there’s a difference in the architecture of both buildings.  So it’s probably comparing apples to oranges.

It was not crowded at all, and I’m beginning to think wintertime is the best time to visit.  You can do almost anything without a queue.  Sure, you’ll have to brave the cold, but I think it’s about weighing what is most important to you.  If you have your heart seeing certain things and you really want to enjoy it, you might do well do come in the winter.  On the other hand, you might be a person who thinks vacation is about standing in line, like at Disney.

My Lost in Paris adventure began right after I left the Pantheon.  My next stop was supposed to be Notre Dame, but when I exited I found that it was raining really hard, and the temperature was low enough that the rain was actually a little icy, turning into snow.  I thought it was too early to go to back to the apartment, and I really wanted to see Notre Dame.  I thought, “well, when you get there, you’ll be indoors, so what’s the difference?”  When I did the GPS, it said it was about a 15 minute walk.  I tried to memorise the directions so I would not get my phone all wet, and that’s where I fucked up.

The first step I took was wrong.  I think I went left when I should have gone right, and made a right when I should have turned left.  I didn’t take my phone out to recalculate; I have no idea why I did not.  Pretty soon I was completely turned around.  Don’t ask me to describe where I was, because I can’t.  Now it’s full on snowing (thankfully, it didn’t stick).  I love snow, like I really love snow but this is that wet, heavy kind that soaks you.  After about 15 minutes my outer layer of clothing was soaked.  My feet were also wet because I stepped in a puddle.

I ran into a lavarie to get my bearings.  My hands were so numb I could hardly operate my phone but discovered I had walked 15 minutes in the wrong direction.  Fuuuuuuck.  Should I go on to Notre Dame?  I felt like a drowned cat.  I decided to go back to the apartment for a little bit.  The GPS said the nearest train was a RER B.  Well, I couldn’t find that shit either.  Another 20 minutes wandering around in this little neighbourhood.

I started to despair.  I thought, well I’m just going to die here on the streets of Paris.  Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had just passed a bus stop and I decided I was just going to get on a bus, any bus, just to be out of the elements.  Once inside, I would figure out where I am and go from there.  Well, when I turned around to go to the bus stop, I saw the RER station.  Voila!

I’m not sure why I was having so much trouble.  I’m pretty good with directions, but I think once you lose your bearings it can be hard to right yourself.  Some of the streets look the same.  The streets are not perfectly straight.  They veer off and go every which way.  I don’t mind being lost but not when I’m cold and wet.

I made it back to my neighbourhood and at this point I’m hungry.  I went into a kebab place that also makes crepes.  I guess now is good a time as any for a taste test.  Delicious kebab, but the crepe was just so-so.  It was too dry and even the Nutella did not liven it up.  So far, I think the crepe in Bayeux might be the best.

I spent a few hours drying out in my apartment.  I took a long rest until around 5.  My concert at St. Ephrem’s church did not begin until 9PM, leaving me plenty of time to do a little more sightseeing.  I was surprised to see the sun when I went out again.  I was beginning to think there is no sunlight in Paris.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame

The Cathedral of Notre Dame

I walked to Notre Dame just to enjoy a little bit of light.  Here, I found my first lengthy queue.  I thought the line was really long, so I can’t imagine what it would be like in the height of summer.  I also found rude ass line jumpers.  When I got into line, a young guy got in line behind me, and then a family behind him.  The line was slowly moving forward, inching towards the entrance and two Russian bitches came up beside me.  They stopped to take a picture and then they stayed.  Biiiiiitch!  I don’t think so.  I gave the girl the stank-face just to let her know she wasn’t about to cut in front of me.

They tried to get behind me, but the young guy saw what was going on.  He cut them off and they ended up behind him, in front of the family.  The family wasn’t paying attention so I guess it doesn’t matter.  Yes, the line was long but it wasn’t miles long and it was moving pretty good.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I think I did not enjoy Notre Dame.  Of course, it’s very pretty but it was also crowded.  People were talking too loud.  Every time I stopped to read some information, someone would jump in front of me or bump into me.  I tried not to get pissed off, sometimes these things happen.  The church is a point of interest, but it’s still a church and should be treated as such.  There was just too much horseplay, and these people were adults!

I had my fill, so I left.  As I walked away, the bells were beginning to peal.  Now that’s lovely.  I walked around Ile de la Cite a little bit.  I thought about going to Sainte-Chappelle but it was already closed.  Instead I went on to Pont Neuf and was able to get a fabulous picture of the city at sunset.

I saw some locks on the bridge there.  So I’m confused.  I thought the “thing” was to put locks on the Pont des Arts?  So now just put a lock any bridge?  I’m of two minds on the whole love lock thing.  When I saw all the many, many locks on Pont des Arts I was really shocked.  I knew there were locks on it, but not that many.  It was a little bit insane.  I think it’s wrong to destroy property like that.  I read the city has to cut them down because the weight tears up the bridge.  But the locks keep reappearing.

Then, on the other hand I think c’est romantique.  It’s stupid, of course.  I’ve never been so in love that I’ve wanted to vandalise someone’s property.  Someone made the suggestion that instead of putting a lock on the bridge, buy a lock here in Paris and put it on your own property.  That way you can look at it daily, and it is still a symbol of your eternal love.

Until you get divorced or break up.  At least if it’s on your own property you can cut the lock off and have it melted down.

I’m such a cynic.

Waaaay too much going on.

Waaaay too much going on.

After Pont Neuf, I walked to a restaurant I had chosen near the church:  La Petite Perigroudine.  I picked it based solely on reviews and proximity to my evening entertainment.  It was a good choice.  I ordered oxtails and scallops in a peppery gravy atop a bed of mashed potatoes.  The oxtails were quite tender and meshed quite well with the gravy.  The scallops were perfectly sautéed.  Not too rubbery, not too chewy and not too mushy.  Perfectly firm.  I don’t like mashed potatoes, but I ate a bite or two.  A good flavour, but I just hate potatoes.

I let the server pick the wine for me.  I like that about France.  They know what goes with their food.  You can’t really do that in the US, unless you’re at a high end place.  If you’re in Olive Garden and you tell the server to pick the wine, the good Lord only knows what you’ll get.  He might come back with Boone’s Farm, or some shit.

For dessert I had profiteroles and chocolate.  The profiteroles were swimming in about a gallon of chocolate sauce, stuffed with chocolate ice cream and drizzled with a different kind of chocolate on top.  I was stuffed by the end because I tried to eat all that chocolate.  I’m such a child when it comes to food.

I like how in France they don’t try to rush you from the table.  It was around 730 when I finished eating and the concert didn’t start till 9.  I had a seat in the window and I was quite content to people watch for another hour or so.  No one bothered me, or gave me dirty looks to clear the table like they do in the US.  It wasn’t crowded anyway so I didn’t feel as if I was holding anybody up.

Around 830 I left to dash into a bodega to buy a half bottle of champagne for when I got back to the apartment.  No more full bottles for me.  I’m glad to see half bottles are easily available.  A full bottle was great for the first night or two, but that’s a lot of alcohol to consume.  In just a few short days I’ll have to go dry again.  Better start weaning myself now.

St. Ephram’s church is small and intimate, a perfect venue for a piano concert.  The pianist is Pascal Mantin, a student from the National Conservatory of Music of Paris.  I selected this concert because of the repertoire:  Erik Satie, Beethoven and Franz Liszt.  All composers that I am quite familiar with.

Mantin started with Beethoven.  Claire de Lune and Appassionata are recognizable to most people.  I taught myself to play Claire de Lune on my first deployment.  Mantin plays it differently than I do, and by different I mean WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY BETTER.  He had a very tender touch to the keys, like a lover’s caress.  It was very moving, so sensitive.

Dude could play.

Dude could play.

His selection of Liszt was also quite excellent, but my favourite is Erik Satie’s Les Gymnopedies.  When I was studying for my Master’s, we were taught different methods to read literature.  In one method, the method almost everyone uses, is that you read the text, then you get a little background information on the author and try to correlate the two.  With this method you might try to discover why the author wrote whatever it is he wrote.  For example, it is suggested that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein based on her experience of miscarriage and childbirth.  Others think it’s because she was hanging out with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron at the time, and they were weirdoes.

There is another method of reading where you completely ignore the author.  You simply read the text and try to figure out what the story is about.  It’s a little more complicated because you’re supposed to look into the meaning of every word, simile and metaphor.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that these methods of reading can be applied to music.  I do not know if you have ever heard Les Gymopedies but it is a most sensitive piece of music.  Is it depressing?  Is it sombre?  Is it hopeless?  Why did Satie write this music?  What was he feeling?  I think Mantin is trying to tell us something in his playing.  Perhaps he has discovered the motivation for Satie’s work.  I listen to Satie when I am melancholy because the music is so despondent, but strangely, afterward I feel better.  I do not know if it is the healing effect of music, or if because the music itself offers a little hope at the end.

Mantin played for us two encores.  He introduced all of his music—in French.  So I had no idea what he was saying.  I didn’t recognise the first encore, but the second needed no introduction.  Chopin!  One of his glorious etudes.

What a wonderful way to spend the evening.  I have another church concert lined up for Monday night, or is it Tuesday?  I’d better check the tickets.

 

Tomorrow:  Sacre Coeur, some light shopping, another crepe and another opera!

Trip Report: Paris, France (Day 3)

View of the Le Tour Eiffel from the Trocadero

View of the Le Tour Eiffel from the Trocadero

Even though I am an early riser, I love that Paris is not an early morning city.  I can get up early, do what I need to do and go back to bed for a little while.  Whoever balks at the opportunity to lay in bed for another hour more?

I had all these grand plans to visit the Trocadero, Galeries Lafayette, Printemps and the Pompidou Centre.  Oh, the best laid plans.

I took the metro out to Trocadero.  Supposedly you can get an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower up close and personal.

Classic French guy

Classic French guy

The metro in Paris is very easy.  If you can ride the subway in NYC or the tube in London, then I think you’ll be fine on Paris’ metro.  I didn’t have any problems, except the one time I was daydreaming and got off on the wrong stop.  That weekly pass I bought was money well spent.  I’m pretty sure that it has already paid for itself.

I love riding the train because you get to see real people, and not just tourists.  I sit on the train and discreetly watch people.  In my head, I make up stories about their lives.  Like the old man next to me and his bag of oranges.  He’s on his way home to his wife, to whom he’s been married for 42 years.  She’s in bed with a head cold and he’s bringing her oranges because they’re her favourite.

The youngish smartly dressed lady across from me, reading Cinquante Nuances de Grey.  She just finished law school and is a junior associate at a top firm.  She reads romance novels because she hasn’t found her true love just yet.  She was engaged but ended it because he doesn’t have goals.  He’s in his sixth year at uni and just changed his major again.

I was going to make up a story about the grungy guy next to me, but I was interrupted by a busker.  An older guy got on the train with an accordion (I think it’s an accordion).  He starts playing what I’ve always thought of as classic French music.

Don’t laugh, but when I was 11 or so I had this idea that French people, well, Frenchmen, all wore striped tunics, a beret and played the accordion.    French women were all waifishly thin and they smoked causing them to have sexy, husky voices.  Just like all Italian men ride in gondolas, crooning “Nessun Dorma.”

This guy played my whole train ride.  I don’t know how the French feel about buskers but I usually give them a coin or two when I’m in NYC or someplace.  I like music and there’s not enough music in the world.

I got off at Trocadero and exited onto the street.  The information I read made it seem like I would see the Eiffel Tower as soon as I saw daylight.  I’m looking around aimlessly, a little annoyed.  I walk a few feet and bam!  There it is.  In my face.

I was not prepared for such a sight.  Seriously, I thought the view would be …. I don’t know what I thought it would be.  It’s not that big, but it’s THAT big.  Does that make sense?  And it was so easy to look at.  There wasn’t a crowd of people.  There weren’t other buildings in the way.  It was … right… there.  Wow.

Black folk everywhere got to hustle.

Black folk everywhere got to hustle.

Yeah, I’ve seen it in movies, on postcards, wherever, but it’s not the same as seeing it in person.  It really is magnificent.  I think I got a little tear in my eye, but I’m sure it was just the wind drying out my contacts.

I actually stayed up there for a little while because I couldn’t take my eyes off it.  I would start to walk away but I’d stop and look back it just one more time.  I hope there’s a sunny day so I can go back and see it in the sunlight.  I hope other visitors give it due appreciation.  Not all people travel the same, but I get a little irked when people show up at a site, snap a few selfies and then dash off to the next item on their list.

Stop for a second.  Take it in.  Let it soak in a little bit.  Maybe create a lasting memory.

I wanted to walk to Galeries Lafayette from the Trocadero.  It’s a couple of miles that normally would be nothing for me but it is COLD.  All the experts warned me that I wasn’t going to walk much because of the cold.  They were right.  I thought I was going to be okay with my ninja suit, my wool jumper and this pea-coat.  Honestly, it isn’t enough.  The wind is cutting into my heart and every time it rains, I die a little inside.  Still, I’d rather be soggy and happy in Paris, then hot and depressed in Kuwait.

Galeries Lafayette was both amazing and disappointing.  If you are rich, or you don’t care about your child’s college fund, you’ll be in heaven.  All the upscale merchants are here:  Bulgari, Kenzo, Cartier, etc.  It’s mind-boggling.  I could have spent half a paycheck on a pair of gloves.  And that’s what makes it disappointing.  If you don’t have that kind of money, you only get to look.  I love clothes.  I love nice things.  I like this place but I ain’t got that kind of money.  I mean, I knew what time it was before I even got here but still, looking at a pair of boots for $1000 hurt my feelings.

I didn’t think about the crowd though.  Goddamn.  I guess cuz it’s cold out everybody wants to be inside.  There are not that many French people here.  It’s more Asians, some Brits and Aussies.  These Asians and their fancy ass money.  You fancy, huh?  I passed a girl loaded down with Ferragamo bags.  Must be nice.  I really didn’t hang out too long because after awhile I don’t want to just look.  I want to buy stuff too.  I might come back because I promised I would look at some Chanel earrings, and I want a perfume for myself.

Printemps is another high end store, and I decided to skip it.  The reviews said that Printemps is far snootier than Galeries Lafeyette with even more ridiculous pricing.  I went for coffee instead.  It’s like I can’t drink enough coffee here.  I see now where Kuwait gets its coffee and dessert vibe from.  I wanted to say that Paris reminds me of Kuwait, but really, Kuwait just copied Paris’ style.

I spent the time looking up places where broke bitches shop.  I started a thread about it but I never wrote anything down.  One lady said Rue de Commerce, and another one said the mall at La Defense.  Since Rue de Commerce is outdoors, I decided on Quatre Temps (the name of the mall) at La Defense.

It is crowded as fuck in here but I really do need to shop.  I felt like a homeless person compared to these fashionable French women.  I can’t be in the opera in a worn out Old Navy crew neck and a skirt with a tattered hemline.  Now that I have proper lighting, I see my clothes are not even black anymore but some fucked up shade of brown or grey.  That’s a no go.  I need to be dressed.

Quatre Temps was really up my alley.  They had nice clothes at very reasonable prices.  There’s H&M and Zara, but other brands like Naf Naf and Guess.  I spent hours here, going from store to store, trying to find just the right outfit.  It has been a long time since I’ve done real shopping.  I think about all the lovely clothes I have at home and I get a little sad, so I need to buy something to make me happy.  I bought a few blouses from Naf Naf but my ass is too big for these French styles.  I ended up at H&M for a skirt.  I didn’t want to buy from H&M because I can do that at home but this booty wasn’t going to fit in anything else.

I also bought more accessories.  Like I need more accessories.  A strand of pearls, a statement necklace and a ring to match.  I had to put shit back because I remember the drawers full of shit I got at home.  It don’t make no sense.

I was supposed to go to Pompidou Centre but I went back to the apartment instead.  I’m so dead from shopping and it’s pouring down raining again.  I stopped for la tradition, it’s the rotisserie chicken in a bag that’s very popular here.  It’s greasy, hot and delicious.  I also went into a traiteur chinois for some Asian vegetables.  Basically, a traiteur chinois is a Chinese food restaurant.  It’s not the same as in the US though.  It’s almost like a buffet but they serve you.  If you want to eat in, they’ll put it on a plate and bring it to your table.  If you want to take it home, they’ll wrap it up in these cute little boxes.  These people were really nice.  They gave me free mandarins.  Or maybe everybody gets a mandarin, but I still felt special.  And you know you’re in Paris when the damn Chinese place has wine by the bottle too.  I just love it.

La Tradition - a quarter of a rotisserie chicken served in a bag, piping hot.

La Tradition – a quarter of a rotisserie chicken served in a bag, piping hot.

Stuffed on la tradition and wine, I almost overslept the opera.  Lucky my apartment is so damn close to everything.  Once again, I got on the metro and I was there in like 15 minutes.  I would have been smart to learn some French words concerning the venue.  Like how about what’s French for will call?  Or ticket counter?  I had these paper tickets but I didn’t know if I needed to trade it in for a regular ticket or if the paper was good enough.  There was this long ass line at what I assumed was the ticket counter but what if I stood in line for no reason?  There were other counters and employees standing around.

You know what?  Just be a boss and own that bitch.  I walked right up to the usher and gave him my paper.  He scanned it and pointed me up the stairs to another usher who showed me my seat.  When in doubt just do what you want.

The opera is Don Giovanni.  I thought I had seen it before.  Turns out it was Rigoletto I was thinking of.  I got them confused.  They both have Gs in the name so it’s easy to make the mistake.

Most people are not fans of opera; it’s probably the singing that drives them away, but really there are some interesting stories, not unlike what you’d find in a Hollywood film.  I liked the setting.  They chose to go with a modern bent:  the scene could either be a luxury penthouse suite or a corner office at a big firm.  The men wore suits.  The ladies wore typical street fashions, and the peasants wore what looked like a janitor’s uniform.

To put the story in modern terms, Don Giovanni is basically what we’d call a serial rapist.  In the beginning of the story he sneaks into one girl’s room, tries to rape her and then kills her father.  By the end of the story, he is attempting to rape another girl on her wedding day and beats up her new husband.  He later tries to blame everything on his valet, who has kept track of his lord’s conquests:  640 Italian women, 231 Germans, 100 Frenchwomen, 91 Turkish girls, and a whopping 1003 Spanish ladies.

The production really was quite edgy.  I wonder if this is a French thing.  I’ve been going to the opera since I was 20 and I’ve never seen full frontal nudity.  The audience didn’t bat a lash, but I was perplexed by it.  Opera stories, especially the tragedies, usually contain intense subject matter but in the American productions I’ve seen everything is implied.  You don’t actually see a guy trying to rape a girl.  The fight scenes are usually almost cartoony.

Usually, Don Giovanni is staged as a man who simply seduces women.  He’s usually seen romping around the stage, looking all goofy while women playfully try to fight him off.  This production of Don Giovanni was very dark.  Giovanni is definitely a rapist and the women are scared of him.  He already killed one man and he threatens to kill anyone else who gets in his way.  The townspeople, tired of his criminal behaviour, march upon him wearing these fucked up Mickey Mouse masks.  Then the ghost of the dead father shows up with a bloody box on his head, and Elvira (Giovanni’s outraged fiancée) looks like the wraith girl from The Ring.

Elvira stabs him in the neck and the townspeople in their scary Mickey Mouse masks pick up Giovanni as he is dying and they chuck him out the window whilst chanting, “The perverse shall perish as they live.”

The end.

As far as the singing, the character Anna was the best.  It was her father who was killed.  Her song of vengeance and grief was very powerful.  Elvira, the fiancée, was a little shrill in the first act.  I think she was able to warm up her voice because she improved by the second act.  Zerlina, the new bride, was also spot-on.  I don’t typically review the men’s voices.  I don’t know why; I just don’t.

After the show, I rushed outside quickly to catch a taxi only to discover there is no queue of taxis like there is at the Met or the Kennedy Center.  Maybe I was at the wrong entrance.  Maybe they have a taxi stand in the back somewhere, but it was way too cold for me to wander about looking.  I ended up back on the train because it was easy and right there.

Getting back to Rue Montorgueil, I saw that quite a lot of restaurants were still open.  There was a fair number of people about.  I thought it would be deserted.  I’m glad it’s not.  I’m not scared to be out after dark, but I think it’s cool when people are still in the cafes, laughing and having a good time.  I like Paris.  It’s so alive.

That’s enough for today.

Tomorrow it looks like rain most of the day.  I’ve got Musee D’Orsay and Musee L’Orangerie on the menu as well as Jardin des Tuileries, which might be no good in the rain.  I might try to see the Pompidou Centre as well.

Trip Report: Paris France (Day Zero)

Day Zero

I don’t like to call the first day Day One because it’s not a whole day so it doesn’t really count. Like most people I don’t usually plan activities for the day you land because you never know how tired you’re gonna be, or if there’s some delays in travel, or whatnot.

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I don't know what this is, but it was good as hell.  They gave it to me on the plane.  Honestly, I think it's a Turkish Delight.  Given that I was on a Turkish airline it's not too big of a stretch.

I don’t know what this is, but it was good as hell. They gave it to me on the plane. Honestly, I think it’s a Turkish Delight. Given that I was on a Turkish airline it’s not too big of a stretch.

The flight over was ghastly. Traveling has become so arduous these days that it amazes me anybody takes the time. I didn’t come from the US, and that was the only good thing about it. I didn’t have to take my shoes off, or my coat or the handbag I forgot I was carrying. I was waved through security like nothing. I guess it’s a good thing I’m not trying to bomb the plane or something.

On the first leg of the journey I was accused of smoking in the lavatory. Except for an attempt to be cool when I was 16 I never smoked a cigarette in my life. I didn’t think the lavatory smelled like smoke when I went in but I hadn’t been in there 30 seconds when the attendant banged on the door and demanded that I open it at once. “Are you smoking in there? There is no smoking allowed on this flight.”

My pants were down around my ankles so I didn’t open the door and the woman continued to bang on the door the whole time I was in there. Bitch, I’m trying to pee.  Can you please get lost??  There were two stern-faced attendants waiting for me when I finally opened it. They asked about me smoking and looked around in the lavatory for some kind of evidence. I just kept shaking my head. Eventually the fasten seat-belt sign came on and they told me to return to my seat. I don’t think they believed me, but when the captain says fasten your seat belt you’d better fasten your damn seat belt. The crazy thing is that the little corridor outside the lavatory did smell like smoke.

After almost six months dry this is a very welcome sight.  I had three glasses on the plane.  Whaaat!

After almost six months dry this is a very welcome sight. I had three glasses on the plane. Whaaat!

I landed at CDG around noon. Collecting my bag was easy. I only brought one mid-sized case and a shoulder bag. I hate to be bogged down with junk when I travel. I figure if I forgot something I’ll just buy it. I did get stopped by customs enforcement. I guess I had this dumb deer-in-the-headlights look on my face. Douane (who was kinda hot) was actually quite nice as he asked the standard questions about carrying more than 10,000 euro (man, I wish) or cigarettes and alcohol. Bitch, ask me one more time about some damn cigarettes.

After purchasing a museum pass and a metro pass, I called Joseph, my apartment manager who would meet me to give me the keys to the apartment. Suzanne answered instead and we could hardly understand each other. This is my greatest fear about traveling outside English-speaking nations, not being understood or not understanding someone else when it’s important. We did manage to make arrangements to meet. I got a proper taxi outside terminal 2 and away I went.

I think it’s amusing that Europeans ride around in Mercedes for taxis. In the US, people work their whole lives for such a car.  Everyone think it’s the pinnacle of luxury and in Europe, it’s a fucking cab.  I think that’s funny.

My initial impression of Paris was not what I expected. It’s a gloomy day, overcast and grey. The city is quite dirty and far more modern than I expected. Everywhere is tagged up. Seriously, it looks like LA with all the graffiti everywhere.  We passed a tent city full of homeless people.  I mean, I guess Paris is a city just like anywhere else and you kind of get a rosy-tinted view and don’t realise that everywhere has it’s problems.

View from my cab:  a municipal building.  Some kids were ice skating in front of it.

View from my cab: a municipal building. Some kids were ice skating in front of it.

The taxi driver was a maniac, but most cabbies are. He missed my street and ended up on a one-way. Instead of going around like a sane person, he simply threw the vehicle into reverse and backed that bitch up for about half a mile. He also drove up on the curb to avoid the bollards that prevent vehicles from driving on certain streets. I was amazed he did not hit anybody because he did not actually look where he was going.

After cheating me out of my change, he dumped my bag onto the street and blazed off.  Apparently, you’re not supposed to tip in Europe but shysters will scam you out of your change because you’re American and they know you’re used to tipping.  That’s okay.  I got something for the next person that tries to keep my money.  Y’all know how I am about my money.

It wasn’t Suzanne that met me, but Shan, a guy from Sri Lanka. He showed me the codes to the outer gates and the entry door. Such security! I was led up some shoddy looking steps to the apartment. It was not what I expected. Maybe I should have got a hotel. Upon closer inspection, it really isn’t that bad. It suits my needs. I rented through Vacations in Paris. The rate was well within my budget, only a grand US for 11 days. I wanted a place with a kitchen and a washer/dryer. I have very little civilian clothing so I’ll have to wash every few days if I don’t buy anything. Plus, I’d like to make my own breakfast daily.

This is pretty much the whole apartment.  I'm sitting in the bed.  It actually isn't too bad.  It was cheap as hell and I'm BY MYSELF so I won't complain.

This is pretty much the whole apartment. I’m sitting in the bed. It actually isn’t too bad. It was cheap as hell and I’m BY MYSELF so I won’t complain.

There’s a window but it looks out into a …. I’m not sure what this is. Not an alley. A little enclosure with industrial looking things, like maybe the air con unit or water heater or something. Oh well. I don’t have a window at all in my current living situation, so I guess I’ve improved. And this place is not fit for two people; I don’t care what the advert says. You would have to be truly boo’ed up to share this little space, or maybe make a rule that you can only be in the apartment when it’s time to sleep. Otherwise one of you would have to stand in the kitchen sink and the other in the bathroom just for some breathing space.

Shan was thirsty as shit.  After showing me the apartment and orienting me to my surroundings he asked to take me out for coffee. I was a little taken aback. Who does that? I guess he tries to hook up with every single female that rents a place.  Who knows?  He’s not ugly and he has a good body (he said he was a personal trainer part time).  I said yeah sure you can take me out for coffee.  Matter of fact, show me where the metro is and the nearest grocery store.  Two can play this game.  I was not worried that he was going to do something shady.  The street here is full of fucking people, and if he wants to keep his job he better act right.  Other than being thirsty as hell he proved to be an okay companion.  At the very least, he can be a dinner companion or go to the club with me.

Rue Montorgueil is exactly what I wanted for Paris. A cute little street with cafés and wine shops. Shan showed me the highlights then we walked to Jardin Nelson Mandela and the Louvre. I was blown away by the Louvre. I mean, it is just magnificent. And so huge! I didn’t go in yet. I have that planned for Sunday. We took a selfie in front of the pyramid then I insisted he take me back. He had another guest to meet anyway.

But they weren’t joking when they talked about the scammers. My God, we were approached no less than four times. Twice someone asked if we spoke English. Twice more someone came up to us with some pamphlets asking us to sign their petitions. Shan told me to just ignore them. Good advice. They’re not pushy and they’ll move on to easier prey.  They are pickpockets and thieves.  Their trick is to get close to you by asking if you speak English and please sign this petition.  While you’re reading the petition or answering their questions, someone else is either digging in your bag, picking your pocket or slicing the bottom of your bag to get your valuables.  They’re never violent but who needs their credit card stolen while on vacation?  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I went to a Fanprix, a grocery store to stock up on things. I was mad dehydrated from all the wine I drank on the plane. I also bought fixings for breakfast. The French can get by on a cigarette and coffee for breakfast but I need something more substantial. I bought les oeufs and some vegetables for an omelet. It’s such a treat for me to make my own food.  I am dead with the DFAC and their half-cooked omelets.

After dumping these things off in my apartment I ventured out again. I stopped for another coffee. It’s hard not drink my coffee on the go. Actually, it’s hard just sitting down and taking the time. We Americans are so rushy. We have to be on the move all the time. I’ll try to break the habit, though I don’t know how successful I’ll be.  The French do not walk around with cups of coffee like Americans do.  In fact, they don’t eat on the go at all.  They sit their asses down like normal people and enjoy their food and good company.  I need that in my life.

Thankfully I remembered something I read on TA. If you want a cappuccino don’t order a cappuccino. It’s not the same thing. A cappuccino in France is just foam and water.  Instead order cafe creme. I sat for awhile, people watching. I was happy to note many French people, as opposed to tourists. Familiarity is nice but I didn’t come all this way to meet other Americans, or even Brits. I’d like to meet French people.

Next I went to a wine shop. The apartment had given me a complimentary bottle of red, but I feel as this is my first night in Paris I must celebrate with champagne. I asked for something sweet and was promptly informed the French do not drink sweet champagne. The shopkeeper was good enough to suggest something not too dry. I left the shop with a bottle of bubbly tucked under my arm and headed a few doors down to a thai place I had seen.

I also stopped into Stohrer’s. This was suggested to me on TA. What a pleasant surprise that it should be right here in my neighborhood. I bought a lemon tart because I am fond of things that taste like lemon. I also have to note here the importance of speaking to the shopkeepers when you enter. Maybe you don’t do it at a huge department store but these little shops, I think it’s the thing to do. Another aspect I have to get used to. If French people seem rude I think it’s because we tourists are rude first. When I entered Stohrer’s I forgot to speak and they were content to let me stand there until I said “Bonjour.” Even if your French sucks like mine, bonjour is not that hard to say or remember.

As the French say, "Doneso."

As the French say, “Doneso.”

I tried my best to stay out so I wouldn’t go immediately to bed but I was travel weary and smelly from the plane. Time to relax. I headed back to the apartment to unpack and get situated. After a hot shower, I popped open the champagne and settled in for the night.

The pad thai I ordered was just okay. I got it from Monthai. I forgot to tell them to make it spicy so it was a little boring for me, but the chicken spring rolls were pretty good. Anyway, I just needed some food on my stomach so I could drink the champagne without being sick. I also cannot drink alcohol in my current living situation and I went way overboard. And by overboard, I mean I finished the bottle. Seriously, it was an excellent bottle of champagne and I love how mad cheap the alcohol is.  It is NOT a game. I mean, I can be drunk for about 5E a day.  That’s what vacations are for, going overboard. If you’re not driving or performing surgery it’s perfectly fine. C’est la vie, non?

The Road Less Travelled #10

Madonna Estates Vineyards

Tuesday

Instead of Baywatch Cafe I headed across the street to Mel’s Diner, despite warnings from the front desk guy that it was an evil chain.  It is a chain but only in California, and not even all over California.  They give you plenty of food but it’s crowded in there so service is a little wonky.  I don’t need anybody to dance attendance upon me while I’m scarfing down an omelet and coffee so it didn’t really bother me.

Now it’s time to start exploring.  Instead of bothering with that confounded 511 website, I just used Google maps to find my way around.  So much faster and less of headache.  Google maps told me to walk up to Jackson Street to catch the bus.  And by up, they meant UP.  My goodness.  These hills.  It’s a workout, that’s for sure.  How you San Franciscans get on with it everyday is beyond me, but I guess it’s what you’re used to.  It made me wonder if the city was very accessible to the disabled and elderly.

It took me about 15 minutes to go a quarter of a mile up that hill.  I’m sadly out of shape, I know.  The bus took me to the Castro, San Francisco’s gay community.  Previously, I always thought of San Francisco as one BIG gay community.  I don’t know where I got that impression.  At any rate, I always like gay communities because there is such an emphasis on community.  I’ve never been to a gay community that is run-down, ramshackle or derelict in some way.  There’s always interesting shops and curious things to do, and San Francisco really exemplifies that.

If you’re funny about such things, I really wouldn’t worry about it.  It’s not like everyday there’s a gay pride parade, just people going about their business.  There are some interesting stores with names like Rock Hard, Sit’n’Spin and Hot Cookie.  I can’t remember what Rock Hard is, but Sit’n’Spin is a laundry place and Hot Cookie is well, a place that sells cookies.  And their cookies are great, let me tell you.  They do also sell chocolate dipped macaroons in the shape of men’s parts, in case you were interested.

There were better variety stores in the Castro, and the souvenirs were a lot cheaper.  I collect snowglobes and a friend of mine collects magnets.  I was able to get a snow globe (not one of the cheap ones, either), two magnets, and some postcards for about $6.  You’ll be lucky if you could find such a deal in Fisherman’s Wharf.

After the Castro, I took the street car back down Market Street so I could transfer to Stockton Street to see China Town.  I’ve been to China Town in NYC, Honolulu and Philadelphia, you might ask yourself why I’d be so interested but I just can’t stay away.  Besides, China Town is really the only place you can get pineapple stuffed buns.  If you ever read my Hawaii trip report you may remember the mad hunt for pineapple stuffed buns.  It’s something I used to eat as a kid when I lived in Japan, and whenever I am in China Town anywhere in the world I have to find them.  I found three different bakeries with pineapple stuffed buns, so I bought one from each to taste test.  I also bought red bean paste bread and other carb-filled junk I don’t need.

China Town is full of junk, but there are some random curious wonders if you care to spend half an afternoon looking for it.  If you need ginseng or oolong teas, this would be the place to get it.  The trick is to shop where the locals are shopping.  You don’t see the locals buying China girl looking dresses, or those cheap $5 slippers, or “silk” pajamas and handbags.  Yes, I bought all of these things.  There’s really no rhyme or reason.  I felt like I needed them.  I’m sad to say that my China girl slippers snapped the next day.  : (

After China Town I went back to the hotel to rest a little bit.  This is the advantage of staying in the city.  When you get worn down you can come back to your hotel, rest up a little bit and then head back out again.  Besides, you need to be close by so you can stash your souvenirs.  You don’t want everyone to know how pounds of pineapple stuffed buns you bought.  It could be humiliating.

In one of those brochures at the front desk I saw an add for the Winery Collective that is down in Fisherman’s Wharf.  Warning bells should have gone off in my head but either I wasn’t paying attention or they weren’t loud enough.  They offer wine tasting and all this other wine related stuff, so I thought it would be interesting.  It was actually quite expensive.  It was $25 for six pours, and you really couldn’t mix and match unless you gave this impression you were about to buy something.  All of the wines were priced higher than my budget allowed for, so I ended up just tasting.

The woman who poured for me was really nice though.  We had a long chat about teaching abroad.  Apparently she was teaching English in Sendai, Japan when the big quake over there happened.  It was interesting to hear her perspective.  She gave me a few tips on applying to teach abroad, something I’ve been thinking about lately.

After the Winery Collective, I went to ride the cable cars.  What a disaster.  I only did it because it seemed like the tourist thing to do.  The queue was ridiculous.  I stood in line at the terminus on Hyde Street for about 30 minutes before I gave up.  I walked up Hyde and saw that there were additional stops, so I waited at one of those.  Three cable cars went past me because they were full.  I’m sure locals don’t ride the things because they are horribly expensive ($6 each way) and a completely ineffective and inefficient way to travel.  While I was waiting a limo pulled up and offered to take all of us for $5 each.  Nobody took him up on his offer.  The only reason I continued to wait is because I was on the phone with someone and didn’t realise that an hour and 15 minutes had passed before I was able to ride on the car.  Then I was stuffed in with about 30 other passengers.  It was madness, and just to go a few blocks up the street to Hyde Street Seafood House.

Dinner was excellent.  If you’re looking for seafood, I’d give Hyde Street Seafood House a try.  The prices are reasonable and it’s not all stuffy and over the top fancy.  There were quite a few other people in there dining alone.  I started with grilled calamari followed by garlic shrimp.  Really good.  They specialise in en papilotte (I think I spelled that right) where they wrap everything in a paper and bake it, or something.

I got back on the wretched cable car to go back down to catch the bus only because the cable car was RIGHT THERE at the door.  Otherwise I would have walked.  I wish I would have then I would not have witnessed such a grand display of rudeness from the grip guy (or whatever they’re called).  These Japanese tourists got on with me, but they could not understand the instructions that were being barked at them.  The operator wanted the man to come around to the right side, so that me and the woman could sit down on the bench.  Obviously they did not speak or understand English so they kind of stood there looking lost.  The operator just screamed at the guy, “Come around, or you’re gonna get left!”  Eventually he seemed to understand, so he came around but then he didn’t get that you’re not supposed to stand directly behind the operator.  So the operator just basically shoves him into the correct place and says, “All you have to do is say excuse me!  Geez!”  And then everyone started laughing.  I thought it was so rude.

When you work in a position like that, one that sees hordes of tourists everyday, I get that it grates on your nerves.  Tourists are looking for the perfect vacation and we’re not easy to deal with when we’ve plunked down a crapload of money to enjoy ourselves.  But that’s really no excuse to talk to people like that.  They were older and foreign, so maybe apply just a little bit of patience.  If you don’t like your job, quit.  There’s many in the unemployment line that will be glad to take up where you left off.

It’s amazing how the wind just randomly picks up in the evening.  By the time I got back to the hotel I felt frozen through.  Definitely need another crepe and hot mocha from Squat’n’Gobble.  I think I’ve eaten there three times since being in San Francisco.

Next morning I was still freezing so I could not go out for my morning run.  Instead I went to one of these neighbourhood gyms and paid an astronomical $25 guest fee just to be able to run indoors.  It’s one of those gyms where everyone is already slim and attractive.  They don’t go to get in shape; they just go to prance around in coordinated exercise outfits and designer water bottles.

I had my tour with Extranomical scheduled for today.  I did Muir Woods and 3 wineries.  Very nice.  I really enjoyed it.  The tour guide was funny and informative, but I do have to say that he was a bit long-winded.  I think most of us just wanted to have a nice relaxing ride but he went on for quite some time.

I liked Muir Woods but I think after Yosemite and Mt. Hood, I was pretty much all hiked out.  It’s still cold to me, so after a quick go around the trail I sat in the gift shop until it was time to go.  If you’re coming here on your own without a tour, I’d get here very early.  Extranomical got us there before the other tour buses arrived but as we were leaving it was like a plague of tour buses coming down the hill towards Muir Woods.  The guide said the best time was middle of the week in the morning.

My tour group consisted mostly of foreigners.  There were only about 5 or 6 Americans total.  One crazy guy called me “Queen of the trees” and we hadn’t even started drinking yet.  I thought he was Ukrainian but turns out he was from Croatia.

We stopped at Gloria Ferrer first where they gave us a glass of sparkling wine.  I didn’t really care for this winery so much.  We didn’t really taste anything, it was more of “look at our show room and buy stuff!”  Second, we visited Madonna Estates.  This was my favourite. This is a small family owned organic winery that dates back to before Prohibition.  They were able to survive Prohibition because they sold to the Catholic Church.  The woman there was extremely informative.  I took gads of notes.  I didn’t buy anything but I think I will join their wine club just as soon as Maryland lifts its ridiculous restrictions on mail order alcohol.

Lastly, we visited Cline Cellars.  I felt rushed here but this place is much bigger.  They said they’re family owned but it felt corporate.  I hardly had time to contemplate one pour before I was given another.  I couldn’t take any notes or even remember the names of whatever I tasted.  I did buy from them though and only because I didn’t want to go home empty handed.  A bought a Zinfandel and a blend, and some chocolate wine sauce, because I really need chocolate wine sauce.

At this point, several of us are a little tipsy.  Everyone is much friendlier by now.  It was still a little bit early by the time we headed back to SF, so the tour guide rode us up to the Headlands so we could get pictures of the bridge.  Finally!  A clear shot.  This whole time I was never able to get a good picture but in the afternoon the fog is gone and I could see the whole thing.  Nice.

I had dinner at New Country Sky, some Chinese spot across from the hotel.  I had to do a quick dine’n’dash because I had tickets to Rigoletto at the War Memorial Opera House.  I am a huge fan of opera and I kept seeing the signs all over the city.  I did a quick search on the website and found there were still reasonable tickets left.  It was a great show.  I won’t bore you with all the details because I know opera is not everyone’s cup of tea.  I had a great time.  I met some nice people and we had a great discussion on opera during intermission.  I think this was the best time I had in the city.

The next day I slept in a little because it’s time for me to move on.  Only two hours to Monterey but the hotel said they were strict about the check in time.  I tried to go to Lori’s Diner because the Extranomical Tour Guide said it was way better than Mel’s but I had an issue with parking.  I found a metered space.  I got out, read the meter carefully.  Read all the signs and proceeded to put my money in.  This guy comes running out of a hotel and says, “Don’t park there!  They will tow you!”  I was really confused by this because according to the signs I was good, but if a local gives you a warning you should heed it, otherwise it would have been a very expensive breakfast.

Whatever, it’s time to go San Francisco.

Coming up:  Monterey, Morro Bay, Paso Robles and the end of our adventure