Archive for July 29th, 2014

Paris days 4-6

Sat 7/26 – Paris

Step count: 19,791

Awake about 6:00. Breakfast in the apartment of yogurt and muesli. Plan for the day: Marche des Enfants Rouges in the AM and lunch, then a nap, then Sacre Cour and Montmartre in the afternoon and dinner. Headed out for the market bright and early with a stop for delicious cappuccino at cafe Le Sancerre. These establishments (coffee in the morning, cafe in the day, bar by night) just don’t exist in the States — probably because of our ridiculous liquor laws. Eventually found the market, which was kind of hidden in mid-block (though the entrances were plain once we realized what we were looking for), but though it was 9:30 and the market nominally opened at 9:00 it was almost completely dead. Looks like a great place for lunch though.

Plan for the AM squashed, we decided to hit the book shops in the Latin Quarter. On the way from the bus to the first bookshop, passed St. Sulpice and decided to stop in. Lovely church, notable for its wood-paneled vestry (with hidden ladder), marble pulpit suspended in mid-air by its stairs alone, magnificent organ, gnomon for telling exact solar noon and the solstices and equinoxes (used to set the date of Easter), and priest-in-a-box (it’s the lamp that really makes the picture).

Spent an enjoyable several hours browsing several book shops, finding some guide books and maps. Lunch of delicious falafel at Maoz (it’s a chain, with branches in Amsterdam, Barcelona, and NYC among others — recommended) with a nutella crepe for dessert. Took some photos at St. Michael’s fountain, browsed a few more bookstores, then dragged back to the room for a nap.

Awoke around 4:00 and realized it was too late to hit any museums before they closed. A certain amount of “whaddaya wanna do, Marty?” wound up circling around back to plan A: Sacre Cour and Montmartre. The existence of a funicular was the clincher — whenever possible, always take the funicular. While finding the way to the funicular, CityMapper app (great app!) told me that several metro stations were closed due to “manifestations” (demonstrations about the situation in Gaza) but as we were only passing through them on the train we had no problems.

Substantial crowds at Montmartre station got even denser as we made our way up a street jammed with souvenir shops to the funicular. Funicular itself was not crowded at all and included in our transit passes; we were glad not to be climbing all those stairs, and besides funiculars are cool. Mobs of tourists at the top, expansive view of Paris, little train. Sacre Cour itself featured big banners talking about how this place was the site of continuous prayer, also many people selling cheap Eiffel Tower souvenirs and a jazz band playing “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Can’t make this shit up. Inside, it was one of the more impressive churches I’ve ever visited. The church had staff enforcing modest dress, silence, and no-cameras policies (good for them! much better than St. Mark’s in Venice, which had nominally the same policies but, lacking enforcement, was a zoo) so no photos.

Wandered through town of Montmartre, jammed with tourists, with an interesting mix of fine establishments (pastries, art, clothing) and tacky tourist tat. Artists sketching tourists everywhere; it’s a thing here. The area was clearly too touristy for a good meal, so we took the funicular back down, then the metro to a restaurant Kate had bookmarked in the 11th arrondissement. Alas, it was closed for vacation (a common sight in Paris in August). Even with Yelp’s help we had to look into 5-6 local restaurants before finding one we liked — most of them were basically just bars — before finding Chez Mamy. I don’t think that means “Mom’s Place”. Crowded little bistro, very friendly staff, amazing appetizer of burrata cheese and lightly-grilled cherry tomatoes, on the vine, with a balsamic-basil sauce. Main dish, roasted lamb with mashed sweet potatoes and mixed veggies, took a long time to arrive and was delicious, but not so wow as the appetizer. Finally done with dinner at 10:30, got home at 11:15, to bed about midnight. Although almost all of our plans wound up getting thwarted it was still a good day.

Sun 7/27 – Paris

Step count: 14,865

Slept in until 10. Breakfast in the apartment of yogurt and muesli. Kate went off on her own; I took the metro to the Army Museum at Les Invalides. On the way I had a nice musical treat from some buskers in the subway car. Got off one station too early, then after getting to the right station walked a half-mile in the wrong direction, but did eventually get there.

The first thing you see at Les Invalides is Napoleon’s Tomb, a modest little marble hut (*cough*) — but you can’t blame Napoleon himself for that, as it was put up 40 years after his death. It’s also the general tomb for many other French military heroes. The Army Museum itself was simply amazing, and gave me a great overview of the entirety of French military history (and, thus, French history in general). Excellent text, lots of uniforms and weapons, some animations of major battles. I focused on Napoleon, especially his last years, as I’m writing an alternate history set in that period. The Army Museum is actually a complex of museums, rather like the Smithsonian but all in one building, which also included a large display of battle site reliefs (dating to the 1700s), an entire museum of medieval arms and armor which I skimmed, and a museum of WWI-WWII which I skipped entirely. Also Les Invalides is still a working military hospital, and possibly also a military administrative center.

Very nice, very late lunch of “quiche moussaka” (I got the last one) at friendly coffee shop Kozy Salon Urbain. After considering several museums, decided to head for Arts & Metiers. Museum was interesting but not fabulous. Did take tons of photos of interesting-looking scientific equipment from centuries past, and automatons (including “a smoking monkey dressed as an Incredible” — no, not the Disney/Pixar movie — must look into that). Got kicked out at 6, went back to apartment, met Kate there. Dinner at restaurant Page 35: beef bourguignon with frites (yes, French fries, it is a vegetable here and they do a fabulous job with it), and for dessert “Coupe creole:” vanilla and cinnamon ice cream, rum-soaked raisins, and a huge mount of whipped cream. Delicous. Back to apartment, backed up photos, finished up and submitted a story due by the end of the month. To bed 10:30.

Mon 7/28 – Paris

Step count: 15,983

Awake 8:00, Kate a bit earlier. Yogurt and muesli in the apartment, then back to Le Sancerre for coffee and those delicious-looking croissants. They were as good as they looked, though Jeune overdid it with the chocolate sprinkled on my cappuccino and it looked rather like mud (delicious, though). Bus to the Louvre, expressly to see the pyramid. Admired the building, both old and new bits, and goggled at the tourists. Hour and a half line to get in, but our museum passes skipped that. Visited a Vermeer, Durer was inaccessible, saw the medieval Louvre’s foundations, otherwise we just admired whatever we happened to pass, which was plenty amazing. Lunch at the museum cafe — tarte aux legumes, not bad — then walked to the Tuilleries. Didn’t get very far, as Kate was all walked out and had to lie down in the shade.

While she was resting, I spotted a big Ferris wheel nearby (Roue de Paris) and realized that would be something fun to do, with great views and no walking. So we did that. Tried out the “miniature” filter on my camera and got some interesting shots. Then we went to the Sewers of Paris museum/tour. They’ve been offering tours of the sewers for over 100 years, though back then it was only once a month and you went by boat. Today it’s a walk-through of several blocks of sewers with some explanatory and historic signage. The smell wasn’t too bad and was, in fact, very familiar to me from the “gray water” in the green hab on “Mars.” Okay, it was kind of a weird thing to do but how could we not?

By that point we really needed a cafe break. There wasn’t much in the vicinity and what there was, was expensive, but we did have a nice sit-down, some lemonade, and a nice bit of cheese at Cafe de l’Alma. (We did wash our hands first.) Then we went back to the apartment, intending to nap, but wound up backing up my camera and doing some research for tomorrow’s trip to Disneyland. Dinner at Le Petit Italien: appetizer of melon and prosciutto (shared), for main courses we ordered gnocchi alla sorrentina and veal scaloppini with marsala and truffles and traded them halfway through, and tiramisu al limone (again shared) for dessert (“of course there are lady fingers. If there weren’t any lady fingers it would just be a glass of lemon-flavored cheese”). Very good food, friendly service, lovely weather for dining outdoors. Then back to the room to prepare for tomorrow’s assault on The Mouse! (Or perhaps The Rat, as we’re hoping the new Ratatouille ride will be running…) To bed about 11:30.

Tue 7/29 – Paris Disneyland

Step count: 19,197

Awake 6:30. Breakfast of yogurt and muesli in room, comme d’habitude. Got out of there at 7:30, intending to pick up a sandwich on the way to the train station, but the sandwich place Kate was looking for wasn’t where she thought it was, or maybe not open yet. Plowed ahead to train station, bought tickets, caught correct train (thanks to a website which explained how you need to look at the display for a yellow light by the station you’re heading to). Arrived Disney over an hour before 10:00 park opening, with printed-at-home tickets in hand — probably earlier than necessary.

In any case, we were among the first into the Disney Studios park when the turnstiles opened at 9:30, and proceeded straight to new Ratatouille ride… where we waited behind a rope until about 10:15. The ride opening was apparently delayed due to mechanical issues. When it finally did open we sprinted through a long long queue (“they’re helping us imagine we’re rats!”) and then right onto the ride. A delightful combination of 3-D video, trackless “rat” vehicles, smells, heat, mechanical effects, water. Not quite as mindblowing as Universal’s Spider-Man ride but definitely fun and charming. By the time we got out there was an 85-minute wait and they were handing out FastPasses for 4pm.

Went from there to Tower of Terror… 30-minute wait, we waited, it was worth it. We have now ridden the Tower of Terror in California, Florida, Tokyo, and Paris; it’s one of my favorite rides anywhere. The only other thing we were interested in at the Disney Studios park was “Stitch Live!” and only if the timing worked. When we found that the next English show was in 19 minutes, we decided to do that. It was fun and silly, a live interactive show similar to Turtle Talk with Crush — basically puppetry with a realtime computer-generated video character instead of a puppet. I would love to know what the operator’s control interface is like. Had a sandwich at half-empty cafeteria. It was okay (and jammed restaurants at Disneyland park later showed that we made the right call to eat in the Studios).

After lunch, headed over to Disneyland park. The park was beautiful from the entrance and everywhere inside, much nicer than the Studios, really much better theming than just about anywhere else I’ve been other than Animal Kingdom or DisneySea. First stop was Buzz Lightyear for FastPasses, a frustrating experience: inexperienced guests, machines with poor signage that failed to read guests’ tickets, no help from cast members. Somehow did get my passes but I’m not sure how. Then walked through the Nautilus display, quite cool but over too quickly. There was only a 5-minute wait on Space Mountain then, so I did that while Kate chilled on a bench. I would have enjoyed it more if I’d remembered my Croakies, also it gave me a headache, but fun. Walked through Sleeping Beauty display. Looked for a place to sit and have a drink, but Gepetto restaurant was mobbed and most food stands were shut (one disadvantage of the relatively non-crowded park on a rainy Tuesday in July) so we just had some water. Then we did Buzz Lightyear, which was just the same as in the other parks — still fun. Then Pirates of the Caribbean: the best version of the ride I’ve seen, but the worst-behaved and most poorly managed crowd. Finally the Phantom Manor — not the same as the other Haunted Manors, with no punches pulled! You descend into the grave and everything.

Kate was really flagging by now, so I left her in the Gibson Girl cafe while I looked at the animatronic dragon that lives under Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Then, after sharing coffee and a muffin, I went back to Space Mountain for one last ride. This time I did remember my Croakies, and had a great time… even though it have me a headache again. Loop-the-loop, two corkscrews, great visual effects, all in the dark, very rattly. We bought some pins (I am not a “collector,” I just bought some pins I liked) and headed home about 5:30. Dinner at Creperie Suzette, the same place we’d dined on arrival. Packed, called our cab, to bed 10:45. Tomorrow we rent a car and head to Normandy!

No photos today — out of time. Will post some ASAP.