Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Au revoir France, you saved the best for last

If there's heaven on earth it's somewhere right here on the beautiful coastline of the Cote d'Azur - Cannes, Nice, and everything in between. I've seen pictures of this area and been amazed but seeing it in person is absolutely stunning. I keep asking myself why has it taken me so long in my life to get here. Despite driving through some ridiculous rain the other day the last two days have been so beautiful I'm not even really sure there's words to describe. I'll try, but let's start with a picture first and say I can't think of a better way to end my month in France.

The photos from Nice, Cannes, and the roads between and beyond are here.

Stepping back a few days to Monday. After waking up to the pouring rain of Marseille and doing my one cultural activity there I hopped in the car and headed to Cannes. It rained so hard at points during the drive that I could barely see the road. I just followed the tail lights of the car in front going quite slowly. I had hoped to take a scenic route along the coast and check out some of the small towns along the way but with the rain that was a total bust.

Upon my arrival all I knew about Cannes was the Film Festival and as it turns out that's pretty much what the town is. It's a relatively good sized city, not nearly as big as Nice, but certainly not a tiny little village. During the summer it's packed, and I could see why. There's beach (with sand not rocks like other areas), shopping and dining, pretty much all that's needed by most.

Luckily by the time I'd arrived the rain stopped so I headed out from the hotel to checkout the waterfront, film festival location, and of course all of the yachts. Holy cow these were some big boats - ridiculously expensive I can only imagine. I walked one stretch of the harbor out along a bunch of berths and the boats were just jammed in there getting prepped for the upcoming summer season. The majority of the boats appeared to be from that beautiful tax haven of the Cayman Islands.

I didn't really do much in Cannes other than just enjoy the waterfront and happily soak in the sun - museums and what not aren't really on the agenda for these days. I figure that if there's something amazing to see I'll see it but the sea and coastline are more than enough for me. Oh, one highlight or perhaps low light was buying sixty dollar sunscreen. Apparently the best facial sunscreen according to the lovely girl in the pharmacy. Let's see, I'd better have amazing skin and no burns for however long the tiny bottle lasts! Clearly a moment of weakness and not asking the price when the first one I was looking at was EUR12 - oops.

From Cannes the plan was to head to Nice but I got some tips from a local that I should head in the opposite direction and backtrack a bit to see the coast that I'd meant to see the day before and then head onwards to Nice. The locals should know what they're talking about so I took his advice. I headed back along to coast to the small town of St Raphael, grabbed some lunch, and sat along the sea to watch the people, water, sailboats, and windsurfers. The coastal views along the way beckoned me to stop and a snap few photos. It was gorgeous indeed.

My only issue with the excursion was that when I got back on the larger road to head to Nice I was welcomed with a new type of toll. And one I was totally not prepared for. I didn't realize that the toll was prepay and the lane I went into was credit card, which of course doesn't work for me, or change that you throw into the basket. Well crap, I just used most of my change for lunch and didn't have the 2.70. After being honked at by the people behind me the little man who worked the tolls had to come over and through pointing and some French/English miming he gave me change for a 10 and I was able to make the toll. About 10 minutes later I had to go through another one and I was luckily more prepared for it this go around! I just kept thinking that I cannot wait to get rid of the car.

Upon my arrival to Nice my immediate thought was that it reminded me of Rio. There's a large boulevard along the sea with beach clubs marked along the way, a multi-use esplanade with loads of bikers, walkers, running, rollerbladers, and green hills off in three directions from the beach. The buildings along the waterfront aren't quite as tall as in Rio, but same sort of feeling where you have waterfront and then a block or two off the sea it quickly becomes residential.

After a few circles in the car attempting to figure out where on earth to park (I could not figure out where to stop and where the hotel's parking might be) I settled into the hotel and took a stroll to check out the waterfront, old town, and Castle hill that overlooks the city.

View of Nice from above
With more local tips I spent this morning driving a bit more along the coast, this time towards Monaco and checking out two different historic houses, Villa Ephrussi Rothschild and Villa Kérylos, in a very chichi (and apparently most expensive) community of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat just up from Nice. The Rothschild house had great views overlooking some of the other massive houses in the neighborhood and lovely gardens (including dancing fountains every 20 minutes to music). The audio commentary was actually quite interesting within the house with details about the woman who had the house built - she sounds like quite the eccentric one. She was unable to have children so her pets were like kids - the had many dogs and apparently mongoose as well. She held an elaborate wedding ceremony for two of the dogs that was officiated by an English Bulldog and there were invitations and all. Can you say crazy!?!?

From Nice there are three roads, or Corniches, that head up the coast to Monaco. They're toll free, thank goodness, but really narrow and wind along the cliff sides. The lowest is along the sea, then there's a middle one, and then the highest along the top of the hillsides. As part of my drive I went on the lowest and highest and the views were absolutely incredible. I wanted to pull the car over so many times but the road was so narrow there wasn't anywhere to stop. If I'd been able to stop as many times as I wanted I might have as many pictures of the sea as I do of Mont St Michel and might still be out there. I'll settle for the few pictures that I did get because they're pretty awesome (e.g. the first photo of this post).

I didn't actually go all the way to Monaco; they're prepping for the Grand Prix in a few weeks and I heard it might be a bit mental up there. So I settled for an evening view just before sunset looking over the area. Pretty amazing to be able to see an entire principality, city, and community from one birds-eye view. I'll have to see it from the ground soon.

Monaco from above
Sun, beaches, waves, quiet bays, boats, breathtaking views, this little section of the country seems to have it all and more. Yes, it sounds like it's totally crazy here in the summer months when the crowds really flood in, but having experienced it in all it's sunny glory I completely understand why. It may have taken me 33 years to get here but I can absolutely say it won't take me that long to get back. Might even happen before this whirlwind tour is done if I don't get enough of the Mediterranean over the next few weeks.

As this last day in France has been approaching I can absolutely say I'm a bit sad to leave. The two weeks in Paris were fantastic, I loved the city, and the last 12 days driving all around east, west, south and in a lot of circles, capped off with the last two days were amazing. The marathon feels like ages ago and I actually forget that I ran it to be honest. The car went back to Enterprise today - even with multiple EUR30-50 trips to the gas station, at least EUR100 in tolls, and some tense moments with the navigation it was totally worth having and putting something like 2700 kilometers on it! I've added the major locations/towns/cities to a map here if you want to see all of the ground that I covered. If I get down time and feel really fancy I'll fill in the actual routes and more details of the places I checked out.

I made it a month hardly speaking more than bonjour, parlez-vous anglais, and oiu. Everyone I spoke to was incredibly nice, helpful, and in many cases patient as I fumbled around and tried to find my way.  Even with some mishaps while driving the adventure was way more than I even thought it would be. I knew what to expect for the most part in Paris but had no idea once I got into the country and other cities. There are places I definitely want to go back to and so many more to see. Next time I'll hopefully speak a bit more French!

For now it's au revoir et bonne nuit. The small island nation of Malta is calling. This will be a holiday within my holiday. Can't wait to see some friends and spend four days in one place.

Sun setting over the coastline

Monday, April 27, 2015

South of France, whooot whooot!

I've made it to the Mediterranean! For all of my excitement abut reaching the southern coastal parts of France it apparently isn't so happy to have me. Or at least the weather isn't for the moment. But things are going to turn back around and it will all be good.

I've done a bit of a quick blow by of a few spots here just hitting them up for a night and seeing a few things around. Like everywhere I'm sure I could spend multiple days in each but that's not going to fit into the agenda. I've stopped counting how much I've been paying in tolls but good lordy it's a lot. I think yesterday alone it was over EUR20 and today there was just one but it was EUR14.20. If I had an actual real planned budget this would have been a missing item. Oops. 

Photos from this leg of the trip are here

First was Montpellier. This is a big university town and you can tell it's got quite a bit of life and variety of cultures as soon as you arrive. Of the few pictures that I did take here I found the street art most interesting. When there's not major stuff to see in a city that's what I'm drawn to. That tells the life of the city more than anything. 

I spent the afternoon I arrived wandering around and getting lost and all sorts of turned around in the small streets and alleyways of the old district. The one location that I was attempting to get to (the biggest tourist area none the less) took me multiple attempts of the map before I finally figured it out. But this old part of the city is filled with shops, cafes, plazas, and good people watching. I picked a spot and had some wine (ok 2 glasses and that about put me over the edge) and just watched the world go by while listening to some bluegrass tunes being played by street performers. 
That's painted on the sides of buildings, not the actual look of the buildings themselves!

From Montpellier I went south east towards Spain. As I was driving I was seeing signs for Barcelona and the Spanish border, I just kept thinking, ohh language I understand! I hadn't realized that I was only like 200+ km from Barcelona at one point until I saw the signs. 

The goal was to get to the small coastal town of Collioure and on the way stop at a medieval fortress Carcassonne. Collioure was to be the first stop of a true coastal town, yaay.  

Carcassonne was very cool. There's both a town (apparently nothing worth visiting) and then the old Cite. The cite was originally built by the Romans and then over the centuries it had many other occupants each who made various additions. Until the 17th century it was at the border of essentially Spain and France and was a daunting fortress to attack. There are two walls protecting the central buildings and loads of towers with witch hat like tops. The walls have openings of various sizes for arrows, cannons, etc to be fired. Then the land south and east was decided to be Frances it feel into disrepair and was no longer needed. Historians over the years have researched and help restore the structures to what's there today. You can walk into the walled area and see the touristy shops and restaurants and then you have to pay to see the Chateau and walk a section of the ramparts.
From fortress I headed to the sea. Collioure is one of a few small coastal towns as you get close to the Spanish border. It was inspiration to 20 or so paintings by Matisse and his colleague Derain. The town has replicas of the paintings posted throughout in the spots where they were painted. While things have probably changed a bit since they were painted you can still clearly see what the artists were seeing and inspired by. The town is now filled with small artist shops and apparently in the summer is immensely crowded. 

The weather wasn't great when I arrived, but no rain initially so it was good enough to walk around and checkout the town. I strolled along the port and checked out the painting locations and the sea views. I can definitely see how this would be a hot spot to be in the summer. But then again, I can see that for pretty much every coastal town here!

After a morning run and wander through the town and it's beautifully delicious Sunday market (see further below) I hopped back in the car and headed back past Monpellier towards the port city of Marseille. On the way I took a detour to check out the amazingness of the ancient Roman three tired bridge and aqueduct Pont Du Gard. I'd read about this in the travel book, seen a few pictures, and it totally lived up to my expectations. The only concession was that it was EUR18 to park my dang car. If you have multiple people that's a deal but for me that was a bit of a ripoff. Had the weather been nicer and I'd planned ahead I guess I could have taken advantage of the hiking trails around but I didn't so I watched the 15 minute video and wandered around the bridge trying to make the most of my EUR18. I also thought that I lost my ticket as I was heading out of the parking lot which was a few moments of freakout, stopping the car, searching for the ticket, walking back to my parking spot thinking perhaps it was dropped as I got out of the car to get cash for tolls out of the trunk, to of course find that it had slipped between the seats. 

This is a place my father would have loved. It's right up his alley. The historic and architectural detail of it is totally amazing. Built in the first century as part of a 50km aqueduct created by the Romans and then used for various purposes over the years it's just amazing that it's still standing at 50m high and 275m across. Of course I took loads of pictures from all different directions and just hope that my dad was there in spirit watching. He had to have been there somewhat because just as I was wrapping up it started to rain so I was glad to be getting the heck out of there. 

As for Marseille. Well, let's just say Marseille and I didn't get off to a very good start. The first issue was my arrival and attempt to drive to the hotel which is right in the core of the city. My friend Donna and Google Maps had me so confused and I ended up being that tourist driving down what were on a map a street but in reality a street market with people and goods/food everywhere. HORRIFYING! I had to have the side mirrors flipped in and I got more than a few crazy looks. It was obvious I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going so a few people were quite nice to attempt to point me in the right direction. As it turned out the hotel is on a street that the tram line goes down so you can't really drive on it. At numerous points in my half hour of driving around I almost just picked a random parking lot and pulled in. I eventually made it and found a parking lot just across the way. 

I had a relatively nice evening stroll along the old docks area of the city and things started to look up a bit. It's true what they say about Marseille, it's definitely a dirty port city, but you can see that they've been throwing money at it and there are areas and sights to see. Have I been won over by it, not so sure, but I can see how if the weather was nice I could have had a lovely stroll today through some of the neighborhoods and even out to the beaches. But that was not to be. 

I woke up to pouring rain and it was fairly steady all day with moments of downpour, this was my second issue. I figured I couldn't just up and leave without giving something a chance so I checked out the fancy new Mucem today which is down at the end of the old port and is a museum dedicated to the Mediterranean civilizations. I figured it would be interesting enough for an hour or so. It's a modern building straddling old fort buildings and between the old and new ports of the city. I probably should have sprung for the extra EUR2 to get the audio tour but I figured I'd go without and make my way through the exhibits. Probably a mistake since very little of the signage was actually in English. Oh well. I read what I could and got my EUR5 out of it - mostly because it was pouring rain and I was inside so I felt like I accomplished something for the day. I thought about sitting and just having a leisurely breakfast and coffee to pass the time so at least I saw something!

So many boats you can barely make out the buildings

On a random final tangent of food, do not go to a French market while hungry! Worse yet, don't go first thing in the morning after you've been for a run and then are planning to get into the car. I made this mistake on Sunday morning and almost found myself with a roast chicken, sausages, massive loaves of bread, and goat's cheese to feed a family. All looked so delicious and amazing but I held off! My regular pain aux raisin was calling me. Seriously I don't know what I'll do come next week when don't have those! I'm sure I'll find something to take its place. But sadness! 

I have had some pretty yummy food over the last few days. That has been a strong suit as I try and eat one legit meal a day with baguettes, cheese, crackers, and other nibbles filling in the gaps. A struggle some times just out of sheer laziness and a late afternoon drink or two can lead to just falling asleep :) 

Back in Tours I had a fricken amazing duck with duck foie gras sauce sandwich. OMG heaven. Seriously! The wine that I got with it was pretty damn good too. 

In Coullioure I had delicious three course meal with a few glasses of wine at a cute little place that I found from TripAdvisor. I knew I was close to spain when the starter was deliciousness of thinly sliced jamon taking up a majority of the plate with a little bread :) Then the fish was delish too. I figured seafood was in order when I'm sitting steps from the water. 

I'm now making my way along the coast between Cannes and Nice. Once night in Cannes to scope the scene and then two nights in Nice to round out France. It's bittersweet but I'm also excited to move on. I will say thought the last two days have gotten me quite ready to ditch the car! 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Chateaus, Sancerre, and some driving mishaps

Despite my obsession with Mont St Michel I had to get back in the car and move on. Before I get into the sights of the last few days a couple of notes about my car experiences. It started out so well getting myself out of Paris and it's still going relatively well, but there have been quite a few moments of comedy that had anyone else been with me they'd have either been screaming at me or laughing hysterically, let's hope the latter.

First, Google Maps navigation is my best friend. It's actually quite good and it's not usually leading me astray, it's just that sometimes the roads aren't really marked as it thinks they are (ie my Mont experience) or in the middle of a 10 person little town the streets just kinda turn one way or another. The best part about the navigation is that it tells me exactly how to manage the roundabouts. Thank god! My lady who I like to call Donna (don't ask, I just always envisioned her being a Donna) tells me what exit to take so I can just count as I go around. She's very detailed and I like that. I've had a few moments of not quite getting it right and making U turns or just flat out reversing to get back on track. I am definitely one of those people just blindly following the GPS and not even necessarily knowing what direction I'm going - though I will not be like Michael Scott :)

Second, I am having a hard time with gas stations. I may or may not have had to pay like $150 for a tank of gas the other day that was EUR50. I'm still confused. I think I was supposed to take what I thought was the receipt (they called it a ticket) to a booth on the way out and then they'd charge the actual amount, not the authorized amount, on my card. I just drove away because there was nothing clearly directing me or forcing me to the booth. I need to check my credit card statement on this one. When I tried to fill up again today it took me three stations to find one that would take my credit card. I was slightly worried that I wouldn't find one and would have to keep driving up and driving away but I was ultimately right to assume that the one that's more expensive and at the freeway rest stop would work. Though again I was confused on the paying and pumping order. There was no CC reader on the pump so apparently you pump then go inside and pay. Seriously people, this is confusing!

Third, like gas stations, tolls are not my friends. I thought they had such a great and easy way of paying for tolls when I drove out of Paris. They're fricken expensive but very modern in that you can pay by credit card if you don't have the EZ-pass type thing. Well I attempted to do the same on a clearly different type of toll road yesterday and failed. This road is like the PA Turnpike where they charge you based on distance - you get a ticket (hence me thinking my gas station issued ticket I should have done something with) and then when you exit you insert it and pay. Thinking I could pay with a credit card I rolled up to the credit card only lane only to find that mine wouldn't work - whatever type of Visa I have isn't accepted (again I think the same issue on some gas pumps). So here I am owing a EUR17.50 toll and it won't take my credit card and I've already had to reverse my car and get out because the wind blew my ticket out of the machine when it spit it back out. I pressed the help button to attempt to talk to a lovely lady over the intercom who likely had been watching me struggle and have to get out of the car once. Her instructions... your card won't work, reverse out, go to another lane that has a green arrow, and pay in cash. OK, reverse I do (thank goodness there weren't more cars, and this was actually now the 3rd time I'd reversed in a toll booth today) and find a new lane. Luckily I had a 20 note in my bag otherwise I would have had to get out of the car again and go to the trunk. I now only go to lanes with green arrows and haven't tried my card again.

I'll claim dumb clueless American on all of the above and any time that I may or may not understand how to handle weirdly flashing lights at an intersection or what the speed limit is!

Between the various mishaps above I spent Wednesday and Thursday this week wandering the gardens and buildings of amazing Chateaus in the Loire Valley. There are tons of them here and I'm sure people just jump from one to another for multiple days but there's only so much I can handle so I picked three and stopped at that. They were all much more enjoyable than Versailles both in that the crowds were much much smaller and they're not so over the top you want to barf at all of the gold.

All of the pictures can be found here.

Chambord is potentially the most famous that I went to. It's quite large and you definitely need the audio guide to help get you around the house. It's on a massive amount of forest land (it was originally a hunting lodge) so the setting is beautiful but the house itself is just enormous. What's most interesting about this one, and the others have similar stories, is all of the different people who 'owned' it and called it a home or some type of property. Over the years the work that different owners did to add on and in some cases modernize or formalize as the years called for is remarkable. At Chambord you can see each person's claim staked with their initials and symbols everywhere.

I was much more a fan of the two places I went to on Wednesday - Chenonceau and Villandry. I think I enjoyed these because the houses were smaller and they had meticulously kept and manicured formal gardens. I thought these were much better than the gardens at Versailles - it could have been that there was a lot more color and flowers.

Chenonceau is built spanning the banks of  river Cher river so it's got the house and then a section that's archways over the water with two levels over it. This is actually the picture on the front of my guidebook! The kitchens and some of the servant's areas are in the pillar sections of the arches. Checking them out felt very Downton Abbey. There are gardens on either side of the house and each commissioned by a different woman who was resident there. I was here in the late afternoon as the crowds were heading out so it was actually very nice.

The gardens are what you go to see at Villandry. You can pay for entrance just to the gardens or both the house and gardens. I figured I'd do both. They're best viewed from above so you can get great views of them if you go inside the house, especially up at the top of the keep, but they also have upper levels and some woods you wander through outside for viewing as well. There are multiple sections including the Love Gardens, a maze, kitchen gardens with vegetables and herbs, and everything in each is meticulously maintained and organized. Nothing is left to chance!

Love Gardens

My final Loire area stop was to take a little detour over to the town of Sancerre. Given that it's my favorite white wine I couldn't come to France and not check it out. It's a hilltop town that overlooks the valley, all of the vineyards, and other fields both of green and then yellow flowers that you see in fields everywhere. The views are stunning. From the top of an old medieval tower you see not only out over the valley but over the town rooftops as well. They have a simple walking tour of the town that you can do. I picked up a map at the tourist office and the woman told me to follow the red line. I thought she meant just the one noting the route on the map so i was trying to follow the streets and read the signs which totally didn't exist until I got about half way through and realized there's a red line painted on the street too. I'd been wondering what that was - duh! In the tourist office I was also reading about Loire Valley biking through vineyards. I'll definitely be coming back to do that!

What I didn't know was that Sancerre produces white, red, and rose. In the states I don't think I've ever seen anything other than the white but I'll have to be on the lookout. Since I had a two hour drive ahead of me I had to just enjoy one glass of wine with my late afternoon lunch/dinner/snack. Enjoy I did! I had a lovely glass that was a fraction of the price that we pay at home, a croque-monsieur with goat's cheese on the top (apparently the area is also known for it's goat's cheese), and salad sitting in a cafe in the sun and it was all delicious and lovely. Yes, please feel sorry for the rough day I had ;)

Although there's tons to see and do in the middle of the country I'm drawn south to the idea of water (umm hello Mediterranean!) and small coastal towns. Oh, and Languedoc is to be a great wine region too. I stopped mid-way for the evening in a place called Clermont-Ferrand before heading all the way down to Montpellier. Not 100% sure on the plans as of yet but generally thinking of heading south west towards the Spanish border for a day or two and then heading east along the coast through Marseille until I end in Nice. The weather is showing a bit of rain but I'm hoping to avoid it as much as possible. I should not complain if I have a bad day or two weather-wise because I've been so lucky thus far!

To the south I go.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

St Malo, Mont St Michel, and obsessive photographing

I've finally been able to upload all of the photos from two of my stops earlier this week - Saint Malo and Mont Saint Michel. These were my two destinations following the D-Day beaches. To say that I was and might now be even more obsessed with Mont Saint Michel is perhaps an understatement. Ever since I saw a picture of it a few months ago I knew that regardless of where else I went while in France I had to make it there. The full album of photos is here - usual warning... there are a lot and I have not edited. 

Obsessed with this view

First I'll start with St Malo. This is a port city on the coast in Brittany and the old part is a fantastic walled city dating back to the 12th century. You can walk the ramparts, wander the narrow little streets, and when the tides are low you can walk what feels like out hundreds of meters and access old forts that are otherwise accessible by boat. I meandered around for a while, grabbed a bite to eat, enjoyed the sun, picked up a few shells, overall very successful. This city is also the setting of a book I read recently, and that my mom was reading while in Paris, All the Light We Cannot See (apparently it just won the Pulitzer Prize). It's set in WWII when the city was absolutely destroyed by bombings. A fabulous read but also then to wander the streets and walls I was attempting to picture the characters, especially the main young girl who is blind. 

A view from walking the ramparts
Now on to Mont Saint Michel. The views alone made it totally worth the trip. The Mont itself is interesting but honestly taking it in from a distance and seeing how the tides and lighting change the look is my most favorite part. When you're right up close and wandering through it's narrow little lanes it feels like any totally touristy spot. But from afar it looks magical. It definitely looks like somewhere that Disney would have gotten inspiration for their castles. However, it's not a castle at all. It's mostly an Abbey that was built and then built on top of again and again and over the years had numerous uses beyond religions ones. The abbey tour is quite interesting to take and see all of the various rooms and architecture. Also, thinking about people in the middle ages and throughout the years making pilgrimages and wandering through the sand (much like quicksand apparently) at low tides to get on to the Mont is pretty amazing. 

All along this coast the tides are some of the greatest in the world. So like I saw in Saint Malo and at the D-Day beaches the high and low tide differences are insane. For Mont St Michel that's what gives it it's appeal. At certain times of day it is pretty much completely surrounded by water and then at the low tide it's sand all around. There are signs posted just outside the entrance about vehicles needing to be moved before the next tide and it has the times on it. See below for two of the same views at differing times of day:

Tip, if you're going to Mont St Michel and staying at one of the hotels that are right before the causeway/bridge, or even one of the ones on the Mont itself (though I'm not sure I would want to actually stay on it), make sure you get the code for the gate before you pull up to it :) First, Google Maps was thoroughly confused and I felt like Clark Griswold on the scene from National Lampoon's European Vacation where they can't get out of the traffic circle in London and he just keeps saying 'Look kids Big Ben, Parliament'. They're doing loads of construction and recently blocked access beyond a new public parking lot to only allow buses that take you the 3 or 4km further to the Mont and people with hotel or restaurant reservations to drive on this stretch of road. The way Google maps thinks is the way isn't really the way anymore so it kept telling me to go around and go left or right when I couldn't. I ultimately realized that where I needed to go was beyond this new gate, but then for the second issue... I had no code. After having to push the help button on the intercom I was informed that I needed to call the hotel and get a code. Good lord! So I called (who knows how much that phone call will cost) and viola I got my one time use code and could proceed.

The construction that they're doing is necessary from an ecological standpoint (they're working to clear away years and years of sediment deposits due to a causeway and an old dam that would very soon have made the Mont no longer an island!) but it's also going to ultimately be quite nice and not having loads of cars driving right up to the entrance is great. They've made bike and pedestrian paths as well so given that you get nice weather like I did you can walk to the actual Mont entrance. 

The hotel I'd booked was one of just a few that are on the stretch of road from the gate to where a new dam is just before you get to a recently constructed bridge and then can actually access the Mont.  It turned out to be a great location because I could just walk out the door and wander up to the Mont and the new dam has a great viewing area for the obsessive sunset and evening pictures I was taking. Definitely one of the best views. I did a short run the morning before I left so that I could get up close one more time but also really see the distance with the GPS. It was almost a mile an a half from my hotel to the entrance. I'd walked that about six times in the previous day and a half - no need to take the shuttle bus when I can just walk I kept saying! 

I took about 200 photos and a majority of them are various views at day, sunset, and almost darkness from the dam's viewing platform. I'll eventually filter through them and select a few of the best ones so apologies if you look at the album now, it's gonna be repetitive. I think that the very last picture I took is my favorite and no editing necessary other than to straighten it a little because I couldn't prop the camera up totally flat to keep it still in the darkness. 

I'll call my visit to Mont St Michel totally satisfying and successful!

From the West Coast I'm heading inland through the Loire Valley to check out some Chateaus, find the hill top town of Sancerre, and then make my way south. The south of France is calling - like pretty much anywhere I go if there's water I'll be there! I won't let a few driving mishaps along the way slow me down :) 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bayeux and D-Day beaches

After two weeks in Paris I'm now venturing out on the roads and into smaller and smaller towns. The first stop from Paris was Bayeux in Normandy - about three hours from Paris. The main reason to come this direction was to see the D-day beaches and brush up on my history of the allied Normandy invasion. It turns out I didn't know squat about it so I had a very educational day! Not to mention that I've seen lots of stars and stripes flying :)

I'm working on getting all of the photos uploaded and organized. The start of them is here. Check back later for more.

I selected the town of Bayeux as my base for two nights so that I'd have a bit bigger of a town than the tiny seaside towns that sit on the various D-day beaches and there are a few things to see in Bayeux as well. A lot of Americans and Brits had the same idea also because there were loads of them around.

The most famous thing to do in Bayeux is the Bayeux Tapestry. I didn't know about this until a few days ago so I figured I'd head to see it when I arrived. After being in crowded Paris museums this tiny place was quite nice. The tapestry is about 60 meter long and they have it encased in glass curving around a room. You listen to an audio guide as you walk past the panels and the depictions on each are described. My European history is not all that good, honestly didn't really pay much attention to it in high school, so it was very interesting to see the needlework and be reminded about the Norman invasion of England in the 11th century. It's amazing that this piece was not damaged or destroyed over the years. Apparently it was in burning buildings, used to cover art work during WWII, and moved all around, and has not much other than natural aging damage to it.

The town also had a Cathedral and cute meandering streets and a little main section of shops and restaurants. I'd soon learn that it's a hopping place and two spots I'd scouted for dinner were full for the evening so I had to go with what I'd planned for for Sunday because I also knew that very few places would be open Sunday.

On Sunday the plan was to head out to some of the D-day beaches and see the American Cemetery. The sun was out and there wasn't a cloud in the sky but man was it windy! Jeez, I was almost blown over multiple times. After doing a bit of research I decided to start the day at Arromanches and then make my way to Omaha beach and the cemetery.

Arromanches is one of the places that the British landed and it's most critical relevance is that it was one of two temporary harbors that were set up. I went into the museum and happened upon an English tour that was starting just as I arrived so I joined in. As part of the D-day planning there were to be two harbors set up so that all of the supplies, men, and whatnot could be brought on land. This I never knew about, or perhaps forgot. For something like a year the British were building the pieces that would be used to set up the harbor. Then they sailed it all across the English Channel on June 5th and began setting it up on the 7th. It took 12 days before it was completed. They sunk old ships and massive concrete structures, had multiple roadways to allow them to drive vehicles from the ships onto land, and given the tides realized that it all needed to be floating and able to shift up and down every six hours. There's not much left out in the sea of it, but you can see some of the concrete sections. Apparently all of the steel portions were claimed back after the war because there was such a shortage in Europe. When I first arrived in the morning though the tide was so high and water so rough pretty much nothing was visible. I made a point to come back in the late afternoon in order to catch it. Luckily they have models in the museum of exactly what it looked like along with video footage showing it in action.

High tide in the morning - water lashing against the sea wall

Low tide, you can slightly make out the concrete forms in the background

From here I drove down the coast to Omaha beach. I'd read about all of the beaches that with their beauty and seaside town environments it's hard to believe what happened over the course of the D-day invasions and all of the lives that were lost in the first hours of the Americans attempting to come ashore here. It really is true. Omaha is just a massive stretch of beautiful beach with not much other than two monuments noting the invasion and a few eating places and houses.  There's a museum just up from the beach so I went inside to check out the life size dioramas, memorabilia, and a video - my third of the day, they're all similar but so interesting to see the old footage and this one had interviews with a number of Americans who'd fought or been a part of the days here.

The American Cemetery was the next stop. This is run by the US and it's beautiful. But the numbers are staggering. There's over 9000 men and women buried here and that includes 45 sets of brothers; many more were killed in the weeks and months following June 6th, 1944 but not all of them remain here. Each grave is marked with a Cross or Star of David; the rows of headstones seem endless. Even though there were a fair number of people it was still very peaceful. It's right on the cliffs over a stretch of Omaha beach so you hear the waves crashing and in my case the wind blowing across as well. At one point as I walked I heard Taps followed by the National Anthem being played. It is indeed a wonderful tribute to those who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice. If it hadn't been so windy I probably could have stayed there for hours.


But I moved on and the last stop was to check out Pointe du Hoc. This is where the Germans had artillery set up and the allied forces needed to win it over. A group of Rangers were given the task to scale the 100 foot cliffs and disable the Germans. They made it to the top - despite having their ropes cut and being fired at. Only 90 of the over 200 rangers survived two days of fighting. The French government gave this land to the US and it hasn't changed much since 1944. You can go into the ammunition bunkers that remain in tact and see the massive bomb holes in the ground. Given that there are lots of bunkers around San Francisco (which never saw any action) it was again hard to imagine that there was actually fierce fighting here.

The stretch of coastline where the invasions happened is truly beautiful and picturesque. Thinking about all of the young men and women who were part of the battles both here and all across the world as part of WWII, all of the fighting since, and those who continue to fight and protect us today makes it somber but at the same time a feeling of pride for the good old USofA.

The loss of life is indeed staggering and as I walked around I also thought of the recent losses most close to me. Though not in a war battle, battles of other sorts. The reminder that illness and cancer suck. My aunt fought against ovarian cancer for six years until Friday. Like so many she is gone way too soon despite a relentless desire to live and bring more happiness and laughter to others than I can imagine. For Kathy and so many others we must continue to fight in their honor and live on. Live on I shall and know that I've got another person looking out for me from upstairs.

Next up... Saint Malo and Mont Saint Michel.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Driving like the French

Let's just start by saying Parisian drivers are terrifying! Cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, good lord, it's all madness. As as pedestrian over the last two weeks I never quite understood the Parisian way of driving and certainly couldn't ever figure out how many lanes of traffic there might be on a given street let alone a massive traffic circle. Well before leaving Paris today (Saturday) I got an up close and personal experience on the back of a scooter through the streets. It was both terrifying, like death grip terrifying, and awesome at the same time. 

I met a guy on Thursday who offered to take me on a tour of Paris so of course I said yes (sorry Mom, this was a don't tell til it's over type adventure!). Why not, right? Live a little and go for it, experience a bit of Paris as the Parisians do. With my helmet on (it took me about five attempts to figure out how on earth to get it off so it was on seemingly for good) I was ready to go. My new friend JP told me just yell if he was going too fast, don't yank on him. OK, noted, I'd try. He assured me that he'd been driving scooters since he was 14 - so with like 20 years experience under his belt I was supposed to feel confident. 

I soon discovered that it was not the speed that was most frightening it was the weaving in and out of cars, buses, and trucks wherever and whenever possible. There's a lot of honking, yelling at other drivers, hand motioning to say variations of F-off - but it really is amazing that the cars do move over to make space for the scooters. The best way of describing scooter and motorcycle driving is that it's a maze. You're trying to always find the path to the front of the other vehicles even if it means coming within millimeters of side mirrors, curbs, and the backs of trash trucks. There were definitely moments where I was visualizing myself flying off the back right into the street but luckily that never happened. Moments of white knuckle grip on the seat were accompanied by as much relaxation and enjoyment. We raced through the streets hitting up all of the major sights - we went from Notre Dame, along the Seine, in front of the Eiffel Tower, around the Arc de Triomphe, past the Opera and the Louvre, through Paris' China Town, and up the hills near Montmarte. On a side note I went back to the Opera and toured the inside, it was beautiful but definitely a bit over the top in some places. 

Paris feels massive on foot but on a scooter it shrinks in size. Really amazing! I should have brought the GoPro and attached it to my helmet - since there's no way I was actually going to be able to hold it!

What riding around did solidify for me was that there was no way in hell that I was going to actually be behind the wheel in Paris city center. NO WAY! I'd been going back and forth about where I was going to pick up my rental car for the next leg of the French travels - do I go out to one of the airports or should I get a car from somewhere in the city itself. I was now solid on heading out to the airport after getting up close and personal with the driving. The sooner I could end up on a big road the better! I didn't want to end up at intersections where I had no idea what stop light to look at and have scooters weaving in and out and most definitely honking at me. 

So this morning I headed out to CDG to pick up my rental car and start the journey.. and since I still haven't learned how to drive a manual car I had to wait for them to bring me a small automatic from the garage. Otherwise I have no idea what I would have ended up with but I certainly didn't want some van. I told the guy the smaller the better, so I had to wait. Good thing I'm in no rush! I ended up with some Prius type hybrid thing. It will definitely do the trick and maybe save me on some gas money. 

With my keys in hand I loaded up the car and hit the road and headed west. I was now attempting to play the part of a French driver. Good thing for Google Maps navigation any being told exactly where to go, I don't think I would have done very well trying to ready my hand written directions. Also, I did know that I was going on a toll road, but I didn't realize that it was going to be like 20 EUR worth of tolls in one day. Jeez! I guess that's how they have such a nice road. I will say though, being able to use a credit card for the toll was fantastic. Once I realized that I was much relieved because I didn't really understand how it would work otherwise when the first toll I came to was 8.50! We'll see how many more toll roads I end up on. I hadn't factored that into my car expenses. 

I've been working over the last few days on the over all plans and getting inputs from a variety of people - including JP the scooter driver who happens to be from the south of France. The plan is coming together but will go a bit day by day. I just know that I need to be in Nice for a flight out on April 30th. 

Right now I'm in a town called Bayeux in Normandy. It's a good staging point to head out to the coast and see the D-Day beaches. There are lots of Americas and Brits here for sure. For the next few days here's what I'm planning to do...
  • D-Day beaches (beaches, museums, American cemetery) 
  • Bayeux Tapestry (a 60 meter tapestry stitched in the 11th century depicting the Norman invasion of England - very interesting, saw it this afternoon) 
  • Mont Saint Michel (hoping to see it at both high and low tides) 
  • Saint Milo (setting of a recent book I read, All the light we cannot see, very good)
From the western coast I'm going to head back east and starting going south. Planning to pass through a place called Tours and check out some castles in the area. Then make my way towards the south with Montpelier and Marseille to explore the coastal towns around. I'll head up the coast from Marseille through the French Riviera, maybe hit up Monaco, and ultimately end in Nice. There's nothing for this part planned so I'll figure out a few accommodation ideas in the next few days. I know some of the sights I want to see but also if the weather continues to be nice and it's warm down there I might just plop on a beach for a while.

I'm hoping that I can get a better internet connection over the next few days to be able to upload photos. In my current hotel it's pretty slow so I can't get the ones from the last few days organized and shared. Boo. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Marathons of two sorts

There's two sorts of Marathons that I've been a part of recently - that of the running race kind and that of the museum and walking variety. Both are quite successful and potentially just as exhausting.

For all of the pictures there's multiple albums in an attempt to keep slightly organized:

As for the marathon of running sorts that wasn't too bad. Considering my training had been a bit spotty given travel and just not choosing not to get bogged down in it I have to be quite happy. Though not my fastest I wasn't that far off and I slowed down quite at bit after twenty miles, both selectively and just out of tiredness, and didn't really care (the first 15 to 20 were pretty good and fairly easy).  At that point the count down to the finish was on and I knew it would be less than an hour.

According to the race numbers it was only 25% women and that was definitely visible at the start and along the course. Just dudes everywhere - I should have befriended a few along the way. The temperature was good at the start and then rising throughout the day so as with every race there were a variety of running outfits being sported. In my pre-marathon runs I'd become accustom to seeing the French men's running uniform which included a lot of spandex and florescent accents. The florescent shirts were definitely out in prime time during the race but there was slightly less spandex. And as with any race pretty much as soon as it started and especially as we got into the first park loads of guys just peeled off and found a tree or otherwise seemingly acceptable yet visible place to take a piss.

View looking away from the start up

Aside from the peeing folks the course was really beautiful the entire time. I'd never seen the Bastille or been into the parks that are on each the eastern and western sides of the city. The only bad spot was having to run through a tunnel for about a mile. With so many cars normally in the tunnel and the hot air it was not exactly the most fun place to be running. I was pretty happy to pop out of it right around Musee d'Orsay and be back into the fresh air. The other few issues I discovered and luckily didn't have an actual problem with it myself but can imagine others may have were there were very few toilets at the start, there was water really only every 5k, and while it's nice to give out orange slices and bananas along the course running over wet and often cobblestoney streets littered with the peels of each isn't great. By the end as the temperatures were rising the less than frequent water (in most US races it's every mile, especially towards the end) I was eager for it and it couldn't come fast enough. I imagine those who were a lot slower than me struggled with the water and loads more slippery peels along the course!

My mom and Imel's spectating was quite successful. I only saw them once but apparently they saw me three times. Pretty good considering in the New York marathon a few years ago they never once saw me. They've gotten better! There were spectators along most of the route so that always helps too - even when they're yelling in another language. The best of the official entertainment along the course was the two locations of dancing hot pink wig wearing gay men blaring Village People and other equally fun tunes.

After running essentially all across Paris I made it to the finish, I even attempted to smile for a number of the cameras that I saw along the way, and was just happy it was over. Finisher medal and t-shirt in hand I was pretty excited to sit down and put on my flip flops! And, unlike the last half that I ran I didn't feel like I was going to puke (and didn't eventually do it either!).

Done and done!
Post race hasn't been too bad - the usual soreness and slightly slower pace of walking and managing all of the stairs but otherwise feeling quite good. No blisters, no chafing, no other injuries for me but I've seen a lot of other folks, especially on Monday, limping around and looking a bit rough. I won't run for a little bit but we're definitely doing enough walking to help keep the blood flowing and limit my need or desire for additional exercise.

Our walking and museum excursions is why I say there's two marathons going on. Paris is filled with so many museums, so much amazing art to see, and great places to walk so we're certainly taking as much in as possible. Since Thursday at Nortre Dame we've done Musée d'Orsay, Luxemborg Gardens, the Louvre, Tuilleries, Musée de l'Orangerie, Sainte-Chapelle, Musée Marmottan Monet, up in the Eiffel Tower, and we're planning to hit the Arc de Triumphe after dinner tonight to see the lights. There have been loads of metro rides and walking in between powered by baguettes, croissants, and other pastries during the day and delicious meals at night. There's loads more to see but we don't need to be popping in and out of places all day long every day, that would be worse than any actual marathon. All of the various photos from the museums where I could be a total tourist and take them as well as stunning shots from a clear day atop the Eiffel Tower are linked at the top of this post.

Two food spots of particular interest, and we'll see if they'll be out done the next two nights, were souffle at La Cigale Recamier and an amazing fresh mix of things last night at Semilla.

Souffle does not need to be just sweet, I love regular cheese souffle but in addition to that we had one that was meant to be like a hamburger and one veggie - all amazing. We followed it up with two dessert. We started with just a caramel one and had to order a second of chocolate. Light, airy, and delicious!

Semilla was a restaurant written up in Travel and Leisure magazine and apparently recommended by Alice Waters. It's definitely farm to table and seasonal. Everything we had from simple starter salads and asparagus to fish, chicken, and pork mains followed by both a citrus and passion fruit dessert was so yummy. Two gals next to us ordered the six course chef's tasting menu that looked like it was amazing as well.

I only got around to a starter pic

Tonight we're off to a place called Spring that is apparently a chef's selection of four courses and it's sure to be delicious - let's just hope there's nothing served that I really just don't like :) Tomorrow we're taking our adventures back in time to check out Versailles and see what Louis XIV had up his crazy sleeve in terms of both house and gardens.

Eiffel Tower shot I sought out today

Friday, April 10, 2015

Paris Picnics and a Marathon

There's something that the French and I definitely have in common - using any excuse to grab a picnic, wine, a blanket, and find somewhere to sit and gab with friends. The weather has really perked up since I first arrived in Paris last week so there are loads of people sitting out and enjoying themselves. I thought people in San Francisco enjoyed daytime drinking and parks, well the Parisians definitely do too. I suppose because everyone lives in apartments heading out to a public place is kinda the only way to do it. I'm totally a fan! Today's picnic spot of choice was just in front of the Eiffel Tower, not bad. Yesterday it was a bit of afternoon ice cream on a bench down along the Seine.

Cheese, bread, fruit view of the Eiffel Tower

My mom and aunt Anne (who we call Imel so don't be confused when I refer to her as that) arrived from Philadelphia yesterday morning and will be here until next Thursday. The real touristy checking out of the city begins now. I'm trying not to walk all over yonder and back for the next few days since I've got this little 26 mile marathon thing to do on Sunday (more on that later) but we're definitely covering some ground. Yesterday we waited almost two hours to go up in the towers of Notre Dame but totally worth it. It definitely has some of my favorite views of the city and I do love the gargoyles. We popped into Aux Deux Amis last night for dinner and it was delish! I'd seen the place a few nights before when I was in the neighborhood heading to another place. We luckily got there early, grabbed a table, got an English/charades version of the menu from the very nice and social waitress, and ate I think seven different plates - salmon ceviche, white asparagus, small whole shrimp fried (amazingly good even with heads and tentacles!), green veggies in butter sauce, sliced chorizo, terrine of pork and some other tastiness, and finally an apple dessert that was like baked apple with a bit of goats cheese on top and honey. Shortly into our meal the place was hoppin' - definitely a good local spot.

Today we ventured out to pick up my marathon race bib at the Parc des Expositions de la Porte de Versailles where the race expo was being held- three metro lines to get there but can't beat only having to pay like a Euro to end up all the way across the city in about 30 minutes. I was a bit worried about this ridiculous medical certificate that they required to have to pick up your race bib. Apparently I think you're supposed to go have a physical and your doctor can then sign off on your health and fitness to participate in the race. Well, good thing I have lovely doctor friends who will vouch for my health (thanks Amy!). I received the OK that my health form was acceptable and was able to get my race bib. Whew! After the expo there we procured the makings of our picnic on Rue Clare and found a spot at the Eiffel Tower. Post lunch we hit up the Arc de Triomphe (saving going up in it for one evening to see the lights across the city) and then wandered down the Champs-Élysées.

Found my name on the massive wall of all 50k+ names

As for this marathon, well, I have no idea how it will go. Training has been a bit spotty over the last few months. I got some long runs in while in San Francisco and felt pretty good running 20 miles a few weeks ago so I can hopefully squeeze out 6 more. I'm going into it saying I'll just try to enjoy myself. There's not been a lot of enjoyment throughout prior races when I'm attempting to hit a specific time and just running a marathon in general isn't usually fun after about 16 miles and you've got 10 more to go. I've decided that if I feel like walking or taking a picture or whatever I'll do it. Now if I can stick to that on Sunday and not go out the gate running way too fast this should indeed be fun. Will I go under 3:30? Likely not but who knows. I'm in Paris and I should enjoy 26.2 miles also known as 42.195 kms and then I can do whatever the heck I want for the rest of the trip. Also, the weather is going to be quite nice so it's much better than when I thought about two weeks ago that I might be running in the rain.

For most of you I'll be done with the race before you even wake up on Sunday morning in the States and if you're in Europe and have a long Saturday I might be done before you wake up too. Elites go off at 8:45 and I'm supposed to start at 9. I do like that I don't have to go through a massive start village and be there at the crack of dawn like other big races I've done. I plan to rock up to the Arc de Triomphe around 8:15 or 8:30. I think I also signed up to have a photo posted to Facebook at some kilometer late in the race so I'm sure that will be one for later deleting!

I will say though this video gets you excited for the race... brings back memories of Dreams of Glory before Olympic Trials!

Paris est prêt à accueillir ses héros ! Et vous ? Partage le teaser officiel de la 39ème édition du Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris ! Paris is ready to welcome its heroes! Are you ready too? Share the official teaser of the 39th edition! #ParisMarathon
Posted by Marathon de Paris on Monday, April 6, 2015

Hopefully the next post will be a positive post-race writeup!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Bordeaux - lots of wine but no water!

I'm back in Paris after the long weekend visiting Bordeaux and hanging out with Yvonne. The weekend was quite successful - we wandered the streets of Bordeaux city, went wine tasting, saw the town of Saint Emilion, enjoyed some much appreciated sunshine and warming temperatures, and consumed lots of food and wine. However, one major issue bugged us the entire weekend. None of the water in any of the city's numerous fountains, including one major attraction I was hoping to see, was turned on. It really irked us and we wondered without an answer all weekend when the water would be turned on - a serious failure of the city in our eyes :)

The not yet edited photos from the weekend are here for viewing. Keep reading for some more details.

I was hoping to see the massive reflecting pool in front of the Place de la Bourse which is highlighted in many of the photos that you see of Bordeaux. Well, total fail. So we bought post cards and that will have to do. Here's what we missed out on. We did take a selfie anyway. Also, there are quite a few fountains throughout the city so all of the pictures are a bit empty and we just had to envision what it would look like with the water. I guess we'll have to come back when it is truly summer and experience it for real.

Bordeaux at one point in time was I think the largest port and second largest city in France. Now it's the largest wine producing region in France. The history dates back before the Romans - you can see various years of architecture in the churches, gates, and other buildings across the city. It's all quite beautiful even if most of the churches feel cavernous and cold. All along the waterfront the buildings are essentially identical making it a nice view up and down the river.  For a real history lesson read here. The waterfront doc area was revitalized like 20 or so years ago and the actual docs have been moved so now they have a very nice walking/running/biking path along the area.

Saturday we'd booked into a wine tasting tour to Saint Emilion and Pomerol wine regions and that also went to the small town of Saint Emilion. Another town that's been around for ages - it's named for a hermit (Emilion) who wandered along til he found a cave here in the rocks in the 8th century. We didn't really have any sun during the day so the pictures won't be all that great, but the town is very cute with narrow little streets that wind up and down hills, outdoor cafes, and of course a load of wine shops.  We did one wine tasting at Chateau de Sales in Pomerol, then had a tour of the town, had a bit of lunch and a quick tasting in one of the wine shops, and then went to another winery in Saint Emilion called Chateau la Croizille. Neither winery had wines that wowed me and most tastings just all tasted the same but attempted to learn a few things about French wines and the wine making process. I had no idea that they use egg whites to clarify the wine because the compounds are attracted to the egg whites and then collect and settle on the bottom of the barrel. We also saw some Kosher wine being made at one of the places - the steel tank it was in was wrapped with what looked like haz-mat materials so that no one would touch it - only the Rabbi. We also continued to taste and enjoy wine at as many meals during the day as possible. We were quite successful at that.

View over Saint Emilion

Wine line up at Chateau de Sales

Sunday (Easter Sunday) and Monday the sun came out and we spent all of Sunday wandering around the city, taking photos, seeing a lot of churches, and enjoying a leisurely lunch, with wine of course - rose for this occasion, out in the sun along the waterfront. The number of people out and about along the water on Sunday was quite amazing. It was absolutely packed! I guess everyone had the same idea as us which was to be outside as much as possible.

Monday afternoon I boarded a packed train back to Paris. An easy three and a half hour journey into the city. Whenever I take trains, especially in Europe, I'm reminded how easy a form of transportation they can be. I could have flown to Bordeaux and potentially for cheaper than my train ticket but the ease of just hoping over to the station and being right in the city both in Paris and Bordeaux was so nice. I'm looking forward to more train travel over the next two months.

I had no hotel accommodation back in Paris until I finally booked something on Sunday afternoon - but found a cute little hotel in Montmarte called Hotel Josephine. I really wanted to be in Montmarte so that I could explore the area, check out Sacre Coeur but little did I know it's just two blocks from the Moulin Rouge and variety of sex shops, clubs, etc. Feels like North Beach! I wandered up there last night and there were bus loads of tourists being let off to take photos of the famed lights and windmill of Moulin Rouge. So I did the same...

Capturing the neon of Moulin Rouge

More wanderings and observations of Paris to come (I've been keeping a running list that perhaps I'll start to share in the next post)... oh, yeah and I have that little Marathon thing coming up. Ran almost 7 miles this morning, just about 20 more and I'll be good to go on Sunday. The weather is looking much sunnier and warmer over the next week than I initially thought it was going to be so quite excited about that.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Paris warmup

Bonjour from Paris! Baguettes, croissants, cheese, wine, cakes, candies, OMG bring it all to me. Oh and I guess add in some culture, walking, and people watching into the mix.

The flight from Newark to Paris on Tuesday evening was perfectly uneventful despite not getting too much sleep. The plane was actually not full so there was an empty seat next to me and I was quite happy for the extra space. By the time I got to Paris and checked into my hotel it was about noon and I knew that I could not let myself get too comfortable in my room or else I'd be asleep - that wouldn't help the impending jetlag. I decided I'd just start walking from the hotel and see where I ended up. Most direct sight to see... the Eiffel Tower... sure, I'll take it.

Spring is making it's way into Paris with flowers and trees starting to bloom. Not everything is out yet but enough to bring some color to the parks and streets. I found some nice blooms near the Eiffel Tower and couldn't resist snapping a few pictures, I think they came out quite nicely. Just watching all of the people taking pictures jumping, laying down, selfie and whatnot is a sight of it's own at the Eiffel Tower. I also got lucky yesterday afternoon with some spotty sunshine and the temperature around 50. Felt great after being in New York.

After a nice walk I was totally exhausted and not feeling so great (combo of post flight, no real meals since Sunday morning, and lingering sickness) so I grabbed a baguette, came back to the hotel, and never made it back out again. I had to pace myself and not scarf down the entire baguette at one go. I was proud that I only ate like two thirds of it. The rest would be pre-run breakfast food.

The next goal was to stay awake until at least 9PM. A struggle but a success. I probably should have taken something to knock me out but I hoped I was tired enough to sleep til at least some morning hour. Fail... I was up and wide awake at some time around 1AM. Ugh! After two episodes of The Great British Bakeoff on YouTube and some reading I finally fell asleep three or so hours later. Hoping for better luck tonight!

Today I'm most excited about just being able to eat a proper meal and not feel completely ill. Big win! I realized after I ate lunch today that it was the first real full meal that I'd eaten since breakfast on Sunday morning. I also got a five mile run in so that felt pretty good as well - finally able to test out the streets of Paris. It's pretty much nice and flat so that bodes well for the marathon.

Since my mom and aunt are arriving in Paris next week and we're sure to have a full itinerary of the sights, museums, and whatnot I figured that today I'd just wander around with a few destinations in mind. I'm not in a rush to do a zillion things, this is just the warmup. Today's destinations included Rue Mouffetard, Shakespeare and Company bookshop, and a lunch spot. Despite off and on rain all three were checked off the list along with a quick stop into a bakeshop for a pain du raisin - delish and much needed to tide me over til lunch - Luxembourg Gardens, stroll along the Seine, and Pont des Arts. There's a lot more locks on the bridge than the last time I was here and there's actually boards up along along the bridge section itself so you can't even add any more there.


Rue Mouffetard in the Latin Quarter is dubbed as Paris' most photogenic commercial street. Fairly touristy market street but lots of yummy looking foods, Easter chocolates, cheese, meats, bread, and wine. There's more markets in my future so I was just browsing. It was also relatively on the way to location two, Shakespeare and Company. This bookshop was perfect to get out of the rain. I was starting to get quite wet and cold wandering around even with my umbrella so I popped inside and browsed the floor to ceiling shelves of books (in English!) for quite a while. Final main stop on the excursion was lunch at Cuisine de Bar - happiness on plate pretty much. Open faced grilled cheese with three types of cheese on top of one bread slice and then slices of smoked duck between another (see above picture of toasted goodness). Oh, and a glass of wine and a salad. And then a cappuccino (much better than what I drank in the US) to finish it off. Not a bad lunch if you ask me!

Tomorrow I'm off to meet Yvonne in Bordeaux for the long Easter weekend then back to Paris for another week and a half. I printed my train ticket out today at the station so that at 8AM tomorrow I would not have to figure out where on earth to do it - good thing because it took me two different machines before I got it to work. There was some notice about needing it stamped before I get on the train tomorrow, no idea what that means but I will hopefully figure it out with little translation trouble.

Full report of the adventures in wine to follow when I get back on Monday!