Monday, June 9, 2014

France 2014 - Part 7

April 18 – Friday

Got up early for breakfast, even though we could have slept in. We wanted to see those in the group who were leaving as well as to say a final goodbye to Virginie.
We arrived at 7:15 a.m. (breakfast started at 7:00) and were the only ones there. The rest showed up after 8:00. Mas and Susan had left the hotel at 4:00 a.m. for their flight. She said she didn’t plan on sleeping at all. We’d eaten with them the night before and had said our goodbyes then.
We’d also said goodbye to several others who would be leaving before breakfast.
We had hoped to see John (or Jack or Jacques or Ernie…) and Soledad. They were leaving early in the morning, and we guessed they’d decided to skip breakfast. John had been concerned about catching the ‘Rosy’ bus to the airport. Virginie had a hard time figuring out what he meant. She kept picturing a pink bus. At last, she figured out he referred to the Roissybus.
His main concern was taking the Metro to the Opera stop in time to catch it. (Apparently they made it as we heard from them the next day.)
We were able to hug Mike and Gary before they left. Some of the others intended to stay at the hotel for another day or two, so we hoped to see them before they left.
We had planned to visit Versailles on Saturday, but Dick and Jeannette reminded us it would be the Saturday before Easter and the place would probably be really crowded. They planned on going on Friday before leaving on Saturday morning, so we decided to go along with them.
On the train, we were surprised to hear live music. An accordionist and saxophonist played Latin songs (“Besame Mucho,” “Cielito Lindo,” etc.) between a couple of stations and then went through the cars asking for money. From the reaction of the French passengers, we got the impression this was not encouraged. Although we had seen several street musicians, this was the only time we saw them on the train.
We arrived there about 10:00 a.m., and found a mob scene! Lots of school groups as well as tourists. It took about an hour to get tickets and another hour to get inside the chateau. We got our audio guides and then followed the signs for the self-guided tour. What a mess. (Once again, Bob would have been extremely frustrated with fighting through the masses.)
The most important thing, of course, was the hall of mirrors, and we were able to take in the size and elaborate decorations. We also appreciated seeing the king and queen’s bedrooms.
Even though we skipped the narration in some of the rooms, it still took us over an hour and a half to make our way through the entire place. We had said we’d meet Dick and Jeannette outside at 1:30. It took them until 2:00 to fight their way out. We were not surprised as they were behind us, and every minute the crowd grew larger and denser as more people pressed in.
During the half hour we waited, the temperature dropped and the wind increased. We were chilled and tired.
They are farmers and gardeners, and we knew their primary objective was to see the elaborate gardens up close. We had seen them from the rooms in the chateau and had taken pictures. For us, that was adequate. So we said good bye to them. They headed toward the gardens, and we left to get a late lunch.
By the time we made our way out and walked back to the area near the Metro station, it was after 3:00. We were very hungry!
We found a little café and sat inside next to a window to warm up. I ordered onion soup, and Larry got a Caesar salad with chicken. Along with the usual bread, the meal was perfect. By the time we finished, we were warmed up and ready to return to the hotel.
We found the Paris Metro quite easy to maneuver through. It reminded us somewhat of the Osaka system, but in Paris we could read the signs! Virginie had given us a large map, so each time we set off on an adventure, we figured out which line to take, where to transfer, and where to get off. We made it back to the hotel without a hitch.
We rested and I did some more writing on my journal. At about 6:00, we split the Twix bar I had gotten at the farmhouse a couple of days earlier. Larry had eaten his, but I’d tucked mine away. It became our dinner.
At 8:30 p.m. we headed out once again for the Eiffel Tower. We had tickets to go up in the elevator at 10:00. We had given Ray the extras we had bought for Bob and Bernie, but because we were all going separate ways during the day, we hadn’t planned on meeting them there. Good thing!
The plaza surrounding the tower was very crowded, and the lighting was low. Even if they had been there and somewhat near us, we wouldn’t have seen them.
We tried using our tickets at 9:30 but were told to come back at 10:00. We walked around, and Larry took some photos.
At about 9:45, we went back to the entrance for those who had reservations and tickets. That line wasn’t too long, but the one for buying tickets snaked along for quite a distance.
As we waited, we encountered two groups of kids. One was a bunch of squirrely boys who appeared to be a mixture of American and French kids about high school age. They punched each other, talked loud, wandered off, etc. Typical kids.
The other was a group of high school-aged girls. Although they giggled and talked, they were better behaved than the boys. Again, typical.
The guard finally decided to let the boys get in line and go in. (I figured she wanted to get them corralled inside.) The adults with them had a hard time giving them their tickets because they continued to punch and push each other. But they finally got through and into the queue.
As we waited, we began to talk to one of the adults with the girls’ group and discovered they were an orchestra, band, and choir from Sydney, Australia on a European tour. Fifty-four strong, they had already performed in Amsterdam and had a full schedule ahead.
We were reminded of being in Israel with Kim’s choir in 1984 when they sang in Manger Square in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. (Here’s the video. It’s not great because we were using the state-of-the-art equipment of the time, and this was copied from a third-generation video tape.) Our kids were typical teenagers until the director lifted his hands and they opened their mouths. Then they sounded like angels.
The girls entered ahead of us in a much more orderly fashion than the boys. We had to go through a security check. (We’d had to do the same thing at several other places during the trip.) Then on to the line for the elevator—or more correctly, the inclinator. We had one of these behind our place in Japan to get to the bottom of the hill. The cage descended and ascended on a diagonal.
Just as we were about to enter the cage, the lights came on the tower. Small white twinkling lights sparkled on the tower, defining each girder. Although we couldn’t see the entire effect, we imagined it must have looked like a giant Christmas tree.
We reached the second level and got out. The air was freezing and the brisk wind made it seem even colder. But the sight of the city sparkling below was worth the chill. We went around the entire tower. Larry took some photos.
We stayed up there about half an hour. By that time, we were thoroughly chilled and decided to go back to the ground.
We retraced our steps and were soon back at the hotel, cold, tired and ready for bed.

April 19 – Saturday

We decided we’d eat a large breakfast at the hotel each day and then have a late lunch. All the dinners eaten late in the evening had become too much.
We slept in to 7:00, showered, dressed, and got to the dining room at about 8:00. After breakfast, during which we didn’t see any of the rest of our group, we came back to the room.
We thought we’d take a rest day since we’d been on the go every day since we arrived. I worked on the journal while Larry read and watched TV. I also caught up on mail and Facebook.
Around noon, Larry decided we needed to do one last load of laundry to carry us through the last days of the trip. So we loaded up the dirty stuff and headed out to locate the place Virginie had pointed out to us on our walk to our final dinner.
We found it easily and set about getting our clothes clean. Amazingly, if I paid attention to the words, I could actually translate most of them. Since we were already familiar with the French laundry system of a central master money panel which made change, dispensed soap, and managed all the washers and dryers, the process went quickly. Overall, it took a little over an hour and a half to complete the chore.
We returned the clean clothes to our room and then decided to forage for food. We checked out several small places in the neighborhood, and finally settled on a small café down the street, Les Petites Canailles.
Our waitress was adorable. She spoke a little English, and we could figure out what we wanted from the menu. I ordered a chicken burger, and Larry got the Caesar salad with chicken.
Both came with lots of onions, which we were able to remove. Mine also came with bacon, but it was undercooked in the manner we’d seen in England and Australia and New Zealand. Larry put it on his salad.
My chicken was breaded and fried, but it was too tough to bite through. The bun was soaked in a cheese sauce which reminded me of melted Velveeta. I had no choice but to disassemble the thing and eat the innards with a knife and fork. The accompanying pommes frits (French fries) were crispy, but there were far too many of them. The small salad on the plate was a nice treat.
Larry ate his salad and said it was pretty good. His chicken was also breaded, but his was cut into strips and appeared to be breast meat. (Mine looked more like thigh.)
He had seen tiramisu on the menu when we ordered and had determined to try it. I left room for the fruit tart of the day. However, those were sold out, so I had to ‘settle’ for crème brûlée again. Such a sacrifice!
We finished with coffee. Mine was plan espresso and Larry got his with cream.
As we ate, we observed a young family with their two little girls. The older one was quiet, but the little one (maybe three-years-old) was wandering all over the place, hanging on the railing above the stairs, hiding behind a stack of chairs, climbing… She obviously wanted her parents’ attention.
We laughed because they reminded us of our neighbor kids Claire and Bridget. Claire is the oldest and is responsible. Bridget is a character and would have been doing all the same things this little one was doing. And she had a big grin on her face the entire time. They provided a great show while we sipped our coffee.
We took a long walk to settle our lunch and ended up at a chocolatier and bakery. We nearly went by, but I saw macarons in the window. We went inside and ordered one of each of the six flavors. (They’re tiny—about two inches in diameter. At least that’s what I told myself!)
Since tomorrow is Easter, I also picked up a small bag of chocolate bells. These are the traditional candies for Easter here in France. The story is that all the bells from all the cathedrals in France fly away to Jerusalem every Good Friday and return to ring on Easter Sunday.
When we returned, I worked on the NY Times crossword puzzle until my eyes wouldn’t let me see it any more. (I’m sure I have a cataract in my other eye which will have to be removed when we get back.)
Then I started in again to try to complete this journal to get it up to date.
We listened to music and read and wrote until about 7:00 when Larry fixed some coffee and we ate the macarons. I may have to get some to take home with us. They are amazing!
By 9:30, I’d accomplished my goal, so we turned out the light and settled down for the night.

To be continued...

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