Thursday, November 14, 2013

Quasi-Thanksgiving

Yesterday we celebrated Quasi-Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving isn't celebrated in Germany so we just picked a day for Thanksgiving and went with it.  We wanted to do it before we left Germany because we aren't sure we'll do Thanksgiving in The States (we will just have moved back and we will all be jet lagged and busy looking for a place to live).

We invited two sets of missionaries over.  T picked up two small rotisserie chickens from the Donner shop at the train station (our German oven couldn't handle a turkey and I didn't want to make one anyway).  We made German jello (that didn't set in time), instant mashed potatoes, but everything thing else was homemade (cranberry sauce, rolls, green beans with bacon, pumpkin pie, and key lime pie).  The green beans actually turned out to be my favorite part.  Shocking because I'm usually all about the pie (and the pie was still good).

It was good food, good company, and just as good as real Thanksgiving.

Versailles

Our last full day in France we visited Versailles.  This cute very Parisian cafe was on our block and we passed it on our way to the train station (Versailles is outside Paris).

It was quite a walk from the train station to Versailles.  Mom and C took their time while T and I (and Pippa) went ahead to get in line.  The line was massive.  I got in the "already have tickets" line while T went to buy tickets.  We were still nowhere near the front of the line when Mom and C arrived or later when T arrived with the tickets.

We finally got in the house portion, but it was packed.  Like a Japanese bullet train at rush hour packed.  People and tour groups shoving everywhere and moving slow.  I had Pippa on me facing out in the baby carrier and even though people could see I had a baby we still got jostled just as much as everyone else.  
It was so crowded that we didn't see much of most of the rooms because to try to see anything closer required so much shoving.  The interiors were opulent, but I wouldn't say they were any more opulent than any other castle we had visited in Bavaria.  Actually, T and I both like and were more impressed with the interior of Neuschwanstein than the interior of Versailles.

By the time we got to the famous Hall of Mirrors the crowd had thinned.


We checked out the painting gallery hall, which was not anywhere near as crowded.  America! (That's a huge-o painting of George Washington and troops if you couldn't tell.)

Then we took baby to the courtyard for some scootch around time.  And of course of baby tossing time, as well.


Everyone loves a baby and Versailles (once we got of the crowded interior) was no exception.  People were taking her photo and asking to hold her. (What?!  Really, you think we would let a stranger hold our baby?!)


Then we went to the gardens.  For me, the gardens are the main attraction of Versailles.  They are huge and magnificent and so well maintained.  The fountains weren't on all the time, though when they were on they were accompanied by classical music.  Not a problem when we first started walking though the gardens, but a big problem later when baby was asleep and we couldn't see the gardens we wanted to because the music was blaring so loud.

Having a rest.












They had just pulled out a ton of plants everywhere, but the gardens were still lovely.





After the main gardens we headed to Marie Antoinette's "play house" where she pretended she was a peasant living a simple life.  But I don't know any peasant who lived like this...


By the time we got back to the very front of Versailles the front the line to get in to the house part of Versailles was non-existent.  Moral of the story - get to Versailles in the morning, but do the gardens first.  The interiors (house part) are much less crowded in the afternoon.

Outside the gold gates just before we left.

Mom and C took a cab back to the train station (Mom fell and got a nasty, huge bruise at the taxi stand), T and I (and Pippa) walked.  We wanted to get croissants on the way to the train station but could NOT find a place.  How is that for ridiculous?!  We couldn't find croissants in France!  We actually finally decided to stop at McDonald's because they have croissants, but we waited in line for 15(!) minutes and still weren't to the front of the line - there were only four people in front of us when we arrived.  So we just left.  Service all across Europe is just glacially slow.  And that's the story of Versailles.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Paris

Bloggy, the Paris post is going to be mostly photos (a TON of them!) because there's no time.   We're moving back to the States in the next month, there's a million posts and things we've done to still write, and we're currently in Rome so that will be coming soon, too.

So.  We drove from Normandy to the Paris airport to drop off the rental car.  First getting to the airport was fine except the last 20 minutes which we spent trying to find a gas station to fill up the car.  We couldn't find one and France loves roundabouts and I got carsick and Pippa was tired of being in the car.  We got more French attitude returning the car.  Not surprised this time, though.

We decided to try to take public transit home.  Let's just say it was a complete disaster and halfway through we decided to take a cab the rest of the way  Here's exactly how T and Pippa felt on the train.

But then we got to the VRBO apartment and I bought some eclairs while Pippa napped and T recovered.  Yum!

SOOOOO glad we decided to stay at a VRBO (vacation rental by owner) apartment.  It was so nice to have more than one room so we didn't have to sit in the dark with the sound machine starting at 7:00 when Pippa goes to bed.  It was nicer and cheaper and closer to the sights than a hotel would have been.  Our apartment was three blocks from the Arc de Triomphe.  Fabulous!

After we eclaire'd up we did a bit of wandering.  Here's our first view of the Eiffel Tower!

Here we are at the Arc de Triomphe the next day.

We bought a 7 day Paris metro pass and headed to our first museum - Musée de l'Orangerie - to see Monet's water lilies.  Monet did a lot of water lily paintings, but these are the big ones - like 6 feet by 40 feet - and they are arranged in a two oval rooms.  No photos allowed though.

Then we moseyed through the Tuileries Garden on our way to The Louvre.  We stopped at a small playground for Pippa to get out some wiggles.  I spotted this column so T stayed with Pippa while I checked it out.

At first I thought it was the July Column (where the Bastille used to stand), but it's actually the Vendome column, erected by Napoleon to celebrate some victory or another.

All through Paris I kept seeing a really, really high number of ridiculously well dressed women.  I thought, "Wow.  They weren't kidding when they said Parisian women are very fashionable!"  And I'm sure they are, but I'm also sure that a lot of them were in town for FASHION WEEK!  Here are a few of the fashion week tents in the Tuileries Garden.

T and Pippa at the playground.  The only playground in Paris it seems (well, we found one more later).  Paris is really not child friendly at all.  I think we only saw about 10 other people with kids under the age of 12 the whole 8 days we were in Paris.  The Museums, streets, and subway (stairs everywhere, and no wide access for strollers - several times we had to lift the stroller over the ticket booth) are absolutely terrible for kids and strollers.

The edge of Tuileries Garden with a side building of The Louvre.

We stopped for some lunch.  T got an omelet and I got a crepe.  The crepe was actually very disappointing.  I really dislike how close together tables are placed in all restaurants in Europe.  There's usually a bit more space outside for the stroller, but then you have to sit by smokers.

The Louvre!  It's immense.  And immensely confusing with a terrible layout and terrible signage and terrible maps.  But we found a new friend, Mona!

The thing I most wanted to see was "Winged Victory." But she was under restoration and not visible at all.  I was really bummed out about that.  We did check out a bunch of other sculptures and let Pippa scootch about on an out of the way staircase.  She did stairs up and down for about 40 minutes straight while T and I took turns looking around the museum.


Our apartment had a washer and dryer all in one machine and Pippa like to watch the laundry and adjust settings.


We went to the Rodin Museum to see "The Thinker."  The gardens were lovely, but, like several other places we visited in town, it was in the process of being transformed into a temporary runway / showhouse for fashion week.  


The woman in grey behind us stood in that spot for literally 10 minutes.



Then we went to Musée d'Orsay.  This is the museum I was most looking forward to.  It has a full floor of my favorite art movement- impressionism, and a fairly large gallery on another floor of post-impressionism with my favorite artist, Van Gogh.  Pippa was super fussy so T graciously offered to take her back to the apartment to nap while I took my sweet time at the d'Orsay.  What a wonderful guy!

Photos weren't allowed of the artwork, but here's one of the giant clock looking out at The Louvre.

And another looking down the main hall.  D'Orsay used to be a train station before it was a museum.  I think it's a law in France that art museums must be terribly laid out with terrible signage.  It was so frustrating to take so long to find specific pieces I was looking for!  This happened at literally every art museum we went to in Paris (and I think we went to 8 art museums!)

Then I stayed at the apartment with Pippa while T went out to explore alone.  Some photos he took:






A rare snuggle from Pippa the next morning.  We usually didn't start our day of sight seeing until after Pippa's first nap.

The Museum of the Army / des Invalides.

Most of the signs were in French, but T got an audio guide.  This is a Parisian taxi that was used to bring soldiers to the front lines during a troop surge in WWI.

Mud from the trenches on a soldier's uniform from WWI.

The main attraction at this museum is Napoleon's tomb.  It is massive - like 18 feet by 20 feet.  There are six coffins inside, like little nesting dolls.  I'm not sure why there are six...

His seal on the entrance to his tomb.

The names of his greatest battle victories are around the tomb.

From the Army Museum looking toward the dome of the church that holds Napoleon's tomb.

The apartment had a queen bed in the bedroom, two twin sized murphy beds (that fold down from the wall) and a really comfortable hide-a-bed.  But no crib.  So we pulled one of the twin beds onto the floor for Pippa.  Peeking though the crack at her sleeping.  This is her favorite sleeping position.

Joan of Arc

T caught a cold while we were in Paris.  The worst day of it, T napped and I took Pippa on a long walk.  This was my view.  During said long walk Pippa lost one of her shoes.  Shoes I had bought specifically for this trip two days before we left.  I retraced my steps for a almost an hour and couldn't find that medium brown shoe among all the medium brown leaves.  C'est la vie.

Then that afternoon my Mom arrived!!!!!!!!  Yay!!!!  I had told her to not smother Pippa right away, even though she (my Mom) would want to because I wasn't sure how Pippa would react.  But I didn't need to worry.  Pippa knew who she was from all our Skype sessions and Pippa loved my Mom immediately and wasn't scared or overwhelmed at all.  Which of course my Mom loved.

We barely gave my mom time to drop her luggage before we (Mom, S, and Pippa - T was still feeling sick) headed to The Louvre.




We were looking for the mummies and though we found the Sphinx and some hieroglyphics, we never found the mummies.  We spent over an hour trying to find them.  Gah!  So frustrating!


The next day my Mom's friend C joined us in Paris.






The Arc d'Triomphe is just so huge in person!

Then we headed to the main Paris event: The Eiffel Tower, of course!













Next to Trocadero (the park across the river from the Eiffel Tower) we found another playground. Pippa was pretty happy about that.



Then we hit up this park.  Called something (I looked it up and it's the Luxembourg Gardens). Anyway, parks in Paris aren't open spaces to play frisbee.  All the green spaces are fenced in and are meant to be looked at, not played in.  Which is a bummer for Pippa because there are a lot of parks but not many scootching places.  But the parks sure are lovely.






This is the Medici Fountain.  Yes, those Medicis.

With my mom and Carol in town, we were free to see Paris at night sans baby!  Paris during the day is pretty cool, but Paris at night?  Incredible.  Everything I hoped it would be.

First T and I went to the top of the Arc d'Triomphe.


For five minutes on the hour the Eiffel Tower sparkles.  The sparkles were a special thing for Y2K but people loved it so they made it permanent.


The Louvre


Notre Dame at night is way cooler looking than during the day.

On our walk around the backside of Notre Dame we found one of Paris's lock bridges.  People go to the bridge with their love and put a lock on the fence and throw the key into the Seine (the river).  It's supposed to make their love last forever.  But it won't last forever because several times a year the Paris Police come and cut off all the locks.  



The next morning Pippa was totally enthralled watching T shave.  

We went on a tour of the Garnier Opera House.  AKA the Phantom of the Opera opera house. 


All four (five counting baby) of our group are in this photo.



Our tour guide (bottom right wearing black gloves) was so Parisian.  She was practically a walking cliche.  In a fun way.


The famous chandelier and the Chagall painting around it.

C, my mom's friend, busted out a "la" so she could say she sang in the Paris Opera House.






Looking over the city from a balcony at the opera house.




We ate lunch at Pizza Hut and headed to Sainte Chapelle.  Well, the girls did.  T went to find an Office Depot to print our Eiffel Tower tickets (we had been trying for days to get them and finally got some that morning for that night!).

Letting baby have some scootch about time by the Notre Dame metro stop.

Sainte Chapelle is famous for stained glass windows.  And it's easy to see why.



The windows are in the process of being restored.  Below is an unrestored window.  The difference is amazing.  It's amazing that most of the windows are original from the mid 1200's!!!




Then over to Notre Dame further down the island.



On our way home we passed some military veterans lining up for some kind of parade.

That night T and I headed out to visit the top of the Eiffel Tower!

It's really hard to take a good self photo at night with something that is sparkling!


Looking down at the Arc d'Triomphe.




We bought tickets to go all the way to the top.  On our way down we stopped at the lower level.  You can buy tickets just to this level as well, but I'm telling you it's not even close to how cool it is at the top.

Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night was our absolute favorite thing in Paris.  It really is wildly romantic and pretty much feels like you are in a chic flick.  


We were at the top of the Eiffel Tower at the top of the hour (11:00) when the sparkling started.  Here's what it looks like from the ground:
video

And here's what it looks like when you're ON the Eiffel Tower.  Like paparazzi flashes!
video
Except the flashing started to make me feel sick so I had to go stand in a corner facing the wall until it stopped.

Looking down at Trocadero.

Looking down at the Arc.

Down at the Seine.

Invalides (front) and Notre Dame (back)


At the top of the Eiffel Tower Gustav Eiffel built an apartment.  This is supposed to be Gustav and Thomas Edison chatting in the apartment.  The mannequins looked super creepy.

From the second floor looking up.

The ironwork from inside the Eiffel Tower as we took the elevator down.

Sparkling at the bottom once more.


The next day we went to Versailles, but that's a post for another day.