Monday, December 31, 2012

Paris to Montpellier - December 30, 2012

aboard the TGV to Montpellier

We are on a TGV train headed to the mediterranean coast as I write this. The trip takes 3 hours and 27 minutes. This is more than an hour more than it took for us to travel between Paris and London on the Eurostar.We are traveling between 150 and 200 kilometers an hours (90 and 120 miles an hour). This is about the same speed as the Eurostar When we departed Gare de Lyon the sun was shining brightly and it was between 50 and 60 degrees. We have had much better weather on our trip than have the residents of Spanish Fort!
the TGV to Montpellier

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Day 6 in Paris - Saturday December 29, 2012

The day began with Connie not feeling well. We sent Jennifer and Arnold off to Montmartre while Connie went to the drugstore for cold and cough remedies. I caught up on some work, primarily email and grade complaints. I also had to do some additional work to prove that I was capable of teaching technology to teachers since I do not have "an appropriate degree" to teach technology. Or to teach aspiring teachers. Of course the issue seems to be being raised about 33 years late. Oh well. Higher education has perfected its bureaucracy as have the accrediting agencies. Just before they both disappear!

I brought lunch back to Connie and later in the afternoon set out to get tangerines and salt (for gargling). On the way to the store I encountered Arnold and Jennifer returning from their adventures. It seems Jennifer had come down with a bug as well as Connie.

When it came time to leave for the show for which Arnold had purchased tickets - How to be Parisian in One Hour? - we had two bed ridden patients. Arnold and I left them anyway.
How to Become Parisian in One Hour?

When we presented the tickets at the theatre we were informed "These tickets are for last night - Friday night." And so they were. Then it was suggested that we wait to see if there were any no-shows since the show was "Sold Out". We waited. With one minute to go we were seated in what appeared to be the last two seats in the house.

The one man stand up comedy routine was funny and enjoyable. Not great, but enjoyable.
Arnold at Casa Luna

Arnold and I walked from the theatre to Casa Luna where we had a delicious dinner. I had a fantastic leek tart as a starter followed by the wonderful cannelloni that is a special dish of the corsican Casa Luna. Arnold had a fantastic veal stew.

We were greater warmly by Joel, part owner of the restaurant, whom we have come to know from our many visits to Casa Luna. The couple seated next to us seemed surprised that Joel (a friend of theirs as well) was taking such an interest in two Americans and began to chat with us. There were delightful. Mrs. Bernard is a school principal and Mr. Barnard is a retired professor of Education. We had a very enjoyable time discussing all matters of things with the Barnards. They have been to the United States once (New York City and Niagra Falls) and hope to visit again. Mrs. Barnard has visited Corsica several times and enthusiastically recommend we go there for a vacation. The Barnards also gave us recommendations for two relatively inexpensive hotels in Paris. We will make use of that information.

After dinner we walked the equivalent of about three blocks, waited about 5 minutes for our bus, and 30 minutes later walked directly into our hotel from the bus stop on our corner. We missed Connie and Jennifer and they missed a wonderful meal.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Day 5 in Paris: Friday December 28 - A Loss

Our plan was to get to the d'Orsay before the crowds. We got a later start than we wished. The crowds arrived earlier than we hoped. Connie and I left Arnold and Jennifer who later reported they waited 40 or so minutes before getting in. Connie and I scouted out our afternoon trip to Marriott Village d'Ille de France in Marne la Vallee. We had decided to take suitcases of clothes to leave there until we arrive next week. We did this to avoid having to take everything to Montpellier on Sunday. Too many clothes, too many suitcases.

I thought Connie would be taking her large suitcase to the condo so I wanted to make sure we had escalators enroute. I also wanted to replace my bus map which I had given Arnold. I thought I had replaced the bus map the day before. When I got it out after leaving Arnold and Jennifer at the d'Orsay I discovered that my bus map was not really a bus map. Well, as part of a general map of Paris, there was a small bus map that it would take good light and two magnifying glasses to decipher.

Finally we got to Gare de Lyon to map out our route. After wandering around for quite a while we figured it out and set out for our hotel. We skipped lunch because we were now running quite late.
Marriott Courtyard, Boulogne-Billancourt, France

Back at the Courtyard Marriott in Boulogne-Billancourt, we packed. Then I studied my new bus map and decided to change our route. We had only down staircases and, more importantly, Connie only took a small suitcase to the condo. At one station a young black Frenchman carried my bag down two flights of stairs. Who says the French are not helpful? Not I!

We got to the Marriott Vacation Club, left our luggage and then met Arnold and Jennifer for a nice meal at The Petit Chalet next to the Shakespeare & Co Book Store.

Another interesting day in Paris, Unproductive to a certain degree, but interesting.

Day 4 in Paris- Thursday December 27, 2012

Museum Day, or so we thought.

Today we left our hotel by bus. We traveled the scenic route that follower the right bank of the Seine.

Without changing busses we arrived at the Orangerie. The line were incredibly short and soon we were in a very special place. They do not allow pictures of Monet's Water Lilies that make up the two grand oval rooms of the Orangerie, but the Jean Walter-Paul Guillaume collection is especially wonderful on its own. And to top it all, there was a special exhibit of Soutine. Pictures were allowed in the Walter-Guillaume collection so here we go with a very small sample.
Modigliani - Portrait of Paull Guillaume

Modigliani - Portrait of Paul Guillaume
Rousseau, La Noce

Rousseau - La Noce
Modigliani. seated boy

Modigliani - Seated Boy

Picasso - Nu
Picasso, Nu

Matisse - Odalisque
Derain, Nude, La beau model

Derain - La Beau Modele

Utrillo - I don't remember the title of this work

We then went to the d'Orsay.
Crowds waiting to enter the d'Orsay

The lines were so long we opted for lunch at a creperie.

Putting the d'Orsay off until Friday, we created a new plan.
Putting the d'Orsay off until Friday, we created a new plan. Arnold and Jennifer were successful in getting in the Louvre. Connie and I went to Lafayettes where everybody in the world was that afternoon. I sat and had a cup of tea. Connie fought the crowds but quickly gave up. We then searched for the store where we got our crazy poster of a wild French restaurant kitchen. We found one and got a copy for Sharon.
le Navigator Restaurant

We then joined Arnold and Jennifer for a wonderful dinner at Le Navigator. My starter was mussels. It wasn't really a starter since the portion was larger than I have at home for a plat! They were the best mussels I have ever had. I think the trick was that the sauce consisted of cream, spices, and lots of leeks and it had been reduced forever and ever. Fantastic. My veal liver in a wine sauce was also very, very good.

We headed for our hotel, filled with good food and good memories of another day in Paris.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Day 3 in Paris - Wednesday December 26, 2012

Today we got up rather late but went to the Marmottan Museum which is just 5 metro stops away from kurt hotel. the weather was nice and we thoroughly enjoyed our stroll through the park. Again, pictures were not allowed so I have none here. i should have taken a picture of the museum at least, but didm,t. Many of the Monets are still on exhibit and the downstairs room house a special exhibit of Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens. Of course there were many Berthe Morisot's works to be enjoyed and probably 50 or so of Monet's paintings including Impression which gave the name Impressionists to the group of painters in which Monet played a singular role.

After our visit to the Marmottan we took a bus to the opera. This route is especially nice since it provides many delightful views of the Eiffel Tower, the Trocadero, the Grand and Petit Palaces as well as parts of the Champs Elysees.

Well, we were headed for the opera but we passes Printemps first and in we went. We set a meeting time and I went to the nearby Apple store. It was packed.

We took the subway to Abysses, the deepest station on the Metro line. It is at Montmartre.
Apple Store, Paris

We stopped to have an absolutely delicious lunch. I had beef bourguignon that was great. Everyone enjoyed their "diner". We had eaten so much that we decided to HopOn the Yellow line.
Connie on the open Bus

Arnold and I (and Connie for a little while) sat on the open top of the bus.
Gare de Nord from the top of the open bus Paris

Here we are passing Gard de Nord.
Traffic from the open Bus, Paris

Traffic was unbelievable as you can see.
BHV Store, Paris

When we finally got back to the Opera we went shopping again, this time at BHV. BHV is a combination Dillard's department store, Lowes, Office Depot and whatever else you can think of.
Hotel de Ville at Christmas, Paris

It is right across the street from the Hotel de Ville where the skating rink and merry-go-round filled the plaza.
Italian Cafe, Paris

We decided to eat (again) at a delightful Italian cafe. The

rigatoni with gorgonzola was quite good but it did not measure up to the new high standard set in London. I really liked it though.

We gathered ourselves together, caught our subway, and returned to the hotel.

Another wonderful day in Paris!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tuesday December 25, 2012 - Christmas in Paris

It took a while in the morning to recover from our walking experiences on Monday as well as our great Christmas Eve dinner.

altar of Notre Dame

We did make it to Notre Dame in time for the 12:30 Christmas Mass, however.
Notre Dame
stained glass windows of Notre Dame

Following the church service we hopped on a Hop On/Hop Off bus and toured the shore of the Seine to the east as far as the Jardin des Plantes and the modern Bibliotheque Francois Mitterand, We then crossed the Seine into the Bercy area of Paris. At one time Bercy had been outside the city of Paris and nothing "was prohibited." This area drew not only prostitutes in great number but also wine storage warehouses which were established in Bercy to avoid the Paris city taxes. The huge Bercy Park as well as the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy now line the river as well as, ironically, the France Department of Taxation and other government buildings.

We returned to our starting point and had lunch (a late lunch) at the brasserie two doors down from Shakespeare and Company. It was a good lunch and prepared us to Hop On again. This time the bus traveled down river, across the river, around the Place de la Concorde, up the Champs Elysees, down to the Trocadero,

Eiffel Tower lit at night

and then around the Eiffel Tower. The sun had set some time ago and the Eiffel Tower was aglow with its night lights. The driver stopped (her shift had ended) and said another bus would pick us up within 5 minutes and take us the rest of the way on the Green Line. After waiting almost 20 minutes we decided to head back to our hotel. After we walked through another (small) Christmas market, we took the Metro, walked the 4 blocks to the hotel, and had a Christmas drink and then a light meal.

Another wonderful day in Paris!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Paris Day 1 - December 24, 2012

We walked. And walked. And walked. First we walked the Champs Elysees starting at the Arc de Triomphe.
Christmas market in Paris

Then we walked through the Christmas markets from the Petit and Grand Palaces to Place de la Concorde.

Christmas market in Paris

The emphasis was on food in these markets, although I did buy some French milled soap and Connie bought a tablecloth.

Christmas market in Paris. Salmon being cooked.

Here is a stand where salmon is being cooked on wood planks standing between open flames.

Then we walked down Rue de Rivoli to a brasserie for lunch. For very poor onion soup I might add. Then we walked some more.
Notre Dame in Paris

This time to Notre Dame.

I left Arnold, Jennifer and Connie in a brasserie while I tried to find our restaurant for our Christmas Eve dinner. The street was very difficult to find since it is less than 100 yards long. Once I found the street I had no trouble finding the restaurant, Le Reminet. Then I went back and got everyone and we went to St. Chapelle for a pre-dinner concert. The setting and the music were wonderful. We then returned to Le Reminet for an absolutely fabulous meal. Everyone raved about their food. Then we walked about 3 blocks to the Metro and went to our hotel. Oh, we walked 4 blocks from the Metro to our hotel. Jennifer was walked out! As were many others in the group who did not admit it!

Sunday December 23 - Paris to London

We had breakfast at our most pleasant hotel, Hotel Ridgemount. We packed. And then we went to church at St. George's Church, the Parish Church of Bloomsbury.
St. George's Church, Bloomsbury, London
The church was originally consecrated in 1731. It was the last church designed by by the famous English church architect. Nicholas Hawksmoor. It closed in 2001 and reopened in 2006 after it was restored with funds supplied by the World Monument Fund, the Paul Mellon State and the heritage Lottery. Fund. I found the combination of supporters rather ironic!

The service was very familiar being almost the same as our services at St. Paul's in Daphne. The sermon was preached by the Reverend Dr. James Walters, a thirty year old priest who is the Chaplain to the London School of Economics. The sermon was excellent and focused on the many ways, silent unknown ways, that God enters our lives. Certainly less spectacular that the much anticipated end of the world as foretold for December 21 by the Myan calendar, and less spectacular even that the expectations of many early Christians. The Gospel reading was the story of pregnant Elizabeth's reactions to a visit from expectant Mary. Dr. Walters wove this scripture into his sermon as an example of the startling revelations that sometime occur and the less spectacular, even events that lead to doubts about God's interventions as expressed in the letters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, as well as in the lives we live. In silence, however, and in the everyday aspects of life, we find God there and we come to appreciate his advent now and at a variety of times in our lives. Even when we least expect it.

Having found quick transfers to the Chunnel train in France very problematic, after church we headed for St. Pancras station and the Eurostar. This time I was the first to board our car and had full access to the luggage racks at the end of Car 2. Some in Car 3 were not so lucky. Announcements threatened the permanent removal of baggage blocking the emergency exits in Car 3. But that was Car 3. Not Car 2

We are nearing Paris as i write this. We will take a cab to our hotel and quickly leave for dinner at the home of Jim Haynes. I will report on that dinner in my next post.

No, I'll add it here since I am completing this on December 26.

We were delayed in the cab ride from Gare de Nord by a major accident on the ring road, but the taxi driver finally got off and wen through city streets to reach our hotel in Boulogne-Bettancourt.
Jim Haynes
Arnold and Jennifer were waiting for us. We took another cab with a very chatty cab driver to the atelier of Jim Haynes to join the dinner gathering he holds every Sunday night for the first 60 who sign up. His story is fascinating. Read about him on his web site Jim Haynes We met a lot of interesting Americans there and a few locals. Included were a transplanted writer, Martin Belk, from Charlotte who has been working with your prisoners in Scotland;
Adrienne Donley
Adrienne Donley who works in human relations in San Francisco for Abbott Drugs; a friend she met on the plane to France, Lisa Brogran from Huntsville; her daughter Amy who is completing her studies in Ireland to be a Veterinarian;
John David Reagan
John David Ragan, an historian who works as a laborer on the slope in Alaska for 6 months and then lives in Paris and writes for 6 months; and David Turner, an architect from Australia turned photographer.
Dinner at Jim Haynes' house
And many more
Dinner at Jim Haynes' house
I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Joyeux Noel!

Yes, I've used this picture. It is Christmas Day in France, however, and we need to say Merry Christmas to all.

I am a bit behind in my posts. I will try to catch up soon.

Saturday December 22, 2012 - London

Rain, Rain, More rain!

Off we went by bus to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Even though there is a bus stop within a block of our hotel, and even though the bus stop for the V&A is just a block away from the museum, we were soaked by the time we shed out coats in the cloakroom. Our purpose for the day was to visit a special exhibit on the Costumes of Hollywood.
John staring at statue
Fist, however, we passed some statues from the 19th century that were often found in British gardens. Here John is, thinking about whether this statue would be approved by the TimberCreek ARB (Architectural Review Board). At least that is what he said he was thinking about!

No pictures were allowed in the special collection of Hollywood costumes. There were at least 250 costumes from all types of films dating back to the black and white silent movies. The primary purposes of the exhibit were to explore the importance of costume designers in moviemaking, the links between the designers and directors, and the importance of costumes to telling the stories of the movies. Emphasis was also placed on the links between costumes and actresses and actors. Many of the actresses and actors were quoted, or said in video interviews we watched, how important the costumes were in helping them understand the people they were portraying in the film.
John reading Chariots of Fire program

After a light lunch in the V&A we took a bus to the Gielgud Theatre in Leister Square for the matinee performance of Chariots of Fire John read the program and mulled how a film focused on racing, could be converted to a stage performance.
Connie mulling mulled wine

Connie mulled instead over her mulled wine.

John soon found that the Gielgud had been converted into a theatre in the round. The Gielgud's first three rows had been incorporated into a stage with a large turntable. Running paths were behind and in front of the stage. Seats had been installed on the far side of the stage so that in Act II we were in the Olympic Stadium in Paris for the 1924 Olympics.

The play was excellent. Since we were in the second row beyond the running path we felt totally involved in the races. Runners recovered, breathing heavily, at the end of our row. The play was fun, exciting, and the actors were excellent (and much younger that Connie and I). I wouldn't have made many laps on even the short theatre track. Of course, it was uphill in parts. Maybe that excuse will be acceptable.
Tlari, our waitress

We completed our four days with the Stipettn family at their Trattoria Mondello. I had a perfectly cooked steak topped with the fantastic gorgonzola that captured my heart Thursday night. Connie had a wonderful chicken cacciatore. Here we see Ylari, our waitress,
Our waiter, name unknown

our waiter (whose name I did not get),
Filippo and the cooks

Filippo and the cooks,
Chef at the Mondello Restaurant

and the chef who stuck his head into the serving window so as not to be forgotten. We certainly won't forget this exceedingly friendly group. Nor will we forget their wonderful food.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

London Day 2 - Friday December 21, 2012

The Horseguards London. Connie with the horse.
The Horseguards London. John with the horse.
Today we woke to sunshine. Yes, sunshine! We walked through Bloomsbury then caught a bus to Charing Cross. We walked by the Horseguards headquarters on the way to Whitehall, the Parliament, #4 Downing Street, Big Ben and the Churchill Museum.
Big Ben. London
Prime Minister's guard. Wax model. Wartime Rooms Museum. London
Kitty and Dave Stewart (my sister and brother-in-law) discovered the Churchill Museum several years ago. We went for the first time four years ago and found it fascinating, instructional, innovative and inspirational. I need a synonym for fascinating that starts with i. What about intriguing? Not exactly the same meaning, but it works: intriguing, instructional, innovative and inspirational. This is the Prime Minister's Guard. (Well, a representation of the same.)
John Strange entering War Rooms Museum, London
The Churchill Museum is really a combination of two museums: The War Rooms Museum and the Churchill Museum. Imagine being about two stories underground during the German bombing raids on London. And then imagine being in a building that was just then being reinforced to withstand (maybe, they weren't sure) 250 pound bombs. And also imagine the Prime Minister going out on the roof of the building at night to watch the bombing raids and then again in the morning to "make sure that St. Paul's [Cathedral] was still there." What would our Secret Service do? I can't imagine!

Prime Minister's guard. Wax model. Wartime Rooms Museum. London
The Churchill museum is a large area within the war rooms tour. It is very interactive, involves the use of many videos and audios, especially excerpts from Churchill's most famous speeches. Even today they inspire you. At least they do me. I have two recommendations. Read Citizens of London to get an excellent overview of the efforts of three Americans, especially Edward R. Morrow, the great CBS broadcaster, and John Gilbert (Gil) Winant, Ambassador to Great Britain and former Governor of New Hampshire, who worked tirelessly to bring the United States into active participation in the defense of England. Second, go to London and spend several hours in the War Rooms Museum and the Churchill Museum. Without Churchill, and without the efforts of Morrow and Winant, the world might be horribly different!
Changing of the guard. Horseguard Headquarters.
On our walk back to the hotel we passed the Horseguards headquarters just before 4:00. It was time to relieve the two guards on duty and send the horses to their stables. Fortunately we had a good viewing spot for this interesting ceremony which took almost twenty minutes to complete.

Changing the guard at the Horseguards Headquarters, Londonborder=
We returned to our hotel thankful for the likes of Winston Churchill and the brave men and women of Great Britain, free Poland, free France and all the others who held the line against the Nazi onslaught until America finally arrived with troops and more supplies.
maria Stipettn
Dinner was once again at our adopted home restaurant: Trattoria Mondello is owned and operated by Maria (mama), Silvana (daughter) and Filippo Stipettn (papa) for over 40 years. Sicillians are a sturdy lot!

Wednesday night I had a fantastic Lasagna. Thursday night I had liver and onions cooked in the style of Venice in a wine sauce that was very, very very good.Tonight I had rigatoni gorgonzola. I contend you cannot find a better version of this dish.. First ,the gorgonzola was perfect, just as St. Agur is perfect in France. Second, cream and a touch of white wine made the sauce perfect. Yes, perfect! The pasta was delicate and properly cooked. It was also (probably) home made. True perfection. .
Silvana Stipettn
Filippo Stipettn