July 02, 2006

France 2006

PHOTOS from our trip to Paris and the Canal du Midi.

Some of you may remember that in 2000 we rented a canal boat on the Canal du Nivernais. We loved the experience and had always planned to repeat it. Last summer (2005) we spent part of our vacation in the South of France in a villa overlooking the Canal du Midi, a 300 year old canal that joins the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Well the planets aligned for us when Julie’s college roommate Trish told us that they would like to take their first trip to Europe with us. ‘nough said and in June Brian, Julie, Patrick, Christopher, Peter, Trish, Mary, and Cindy stormed France for a few day of Paris and a week of canal boating.

This is our trip log……

Day 1

We (the Hamiltons) were all on the same United the flight to Chicago. The Loprestis were on the same flights the next day. We felt it important that theyhave an “advance crew” to make sure their visit was all that it could be. Bush does the same thing.

Knowing the fine culinary skills of UAL, Julie and I picked up sandwiches fro Boudins at SFO. The boys brought sack lunches from home.

Christopher loved the movie on the plane calling it 'the funniest movie since Madagascar'. Kinda weird since it was a chick flick called 'Failure to Launch'. All about a 35 year old who still lives with his parents. Hopefully the kids realized that is NOT acceptable life ambition.

We're arrive in Paris! Brian is cheap so we took the train from the airport to our apartment. This required taking a shuttle from the terminal to the RER station. Just as we round the last turn before the station the road is blocked by jeeps and military personnel. More worrisome--everyone is leaving the station. While we are waiting for things to sort themselves out, Christopher decides to get a bloody nose. Julie has only one tissue left because of her cold (a vacation would not be normal without a cold). The nose bleeding stops and then the station opens up. We bought out tickets and schlepped our bags through the turnstiles and onto a waiting train.

The good news is that it was an express into Paris—and ours was the 3rd stop. We transfer from the B line to the C line, then two stops and we transfer to the Metro (not the easiest transfer with all of the steps involved AND our bags).

A 3 minute walk brought us to our apartment. It was small, CLEAN, cheap, and in a great location. While everyone rested, Brian explored.

A block away is Rue Cler (of Rick Steves fame. Three blocks in the center of Paris with no cars, just bakeries, fish mongers, fromageries and cafes. Brian picked up some baguettes that were still warm, along with some camembert cheese that “smelled like the feets of the angels”.

Two blocks the other way is Parc Champs du March. Built by Napoleon as a parade ground for his troops, it is now better known for the Eiffel Tower. Our apartment building housed workers during its construction. Christopher loved it.

Everyone took an afternoon nap, except Julie whose stuffy nose kept her from sleeping. It didn't seem to help when I told her that if you're going to have a cold, Paris is a nice place for it. She went to a pharmacist who sold her something that seems to be doing the trick.

We took the metro to Saint Germain du Pres and ate dinner at one of the streetside patios. Periodically cheers would errupt and echo through the streets as people watching the World Cup (football) on TV saw something they liked.

Last night was the usual 'first night Europe jet lag' adjustment. We got to sleep around 9:30. Julie and the kids woke up around 3:00 am, Brian was able to sleep until 6--long enough to make every envious and/or grumpy.

Day 2
Our first full morning started as do most first mornings in Europe—EARLY. Brian had a nice run around Parc Champs du Mar. After a shower he waited in our little patio garden for Patrick to return with croissants, pan au chocolats and baguettes. To qoute our good friend Pat Houston--BEST CROISSANT EVER!!

In the morning we went to the top of the Arch de Triumph. Lots and lots of spiral steps up to the top. Quite a view from up there there. After looking at the view we started watching cars negotiating the traffic circle surrounding the arch.....very entertaining.

We got home at exactly the right time. The Lopresti's had just arrived and were having troubles getting into their apartment. Brian to the rescue..'turn the key and keep turning”(typical European lock).

Peter and Brian went out to stock up on some basics, then to the patiserie and fromagerie for bread and cheese for lunch.

After lunch we went to Saint Chapelle, a beautiful 14th century royal chapel filled with stained glass. The non-royals celebrated Mass on the first level which was painted and tiled. You then go upstairs for whole sections of wall filled with stained glass--this was where the royals celebrated Mass.

Afterwards we took the metro to Trocadero for the wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower. From there it was a15 minute walk across the Seine and to our apartments.

We just ate dinner at a small nearby restaurant, 7 Sud. Good salads and wonderful crème brulee.

Its was 10:00 in Paris and time for bed. Christopher had already been asleep for 3 hours.

Day 3
We paid for Christopher falling asleep early last night....he was wide awake at 3:00 am. His tossing bothered Patrick so Julie threw Patrick in bed with Brian while she slept with Christopher. That lasted about an hour or so until is was musical bed time again. Julie put Brian in bed with Christopher and took Brian’s previous spot with Patrick. Brian was able to sleep through all of this, the others not so much.

This morning we got going pretty early ( after Patrick bought croissants) and went to the top of Notre Dame. Beautiful views of the city and close ups of the gargoyles. Then we toured the cathedral and light candles to remember the grandfathers and Jeff the Fish.

After a French lunch (wonderful salads) for some and Italian for others (pizza and pasta) we were off to the catacombs.

100 feet under the city there are the bones of 6 million people put there for 1780 to 1870 as they closed and moved cemeteries. Kinda cool and creepy at the same time.

After that it was back to the apartments for a little relaxation and snacks. Well needed.

About 6:00 we headed out again to Montmatre, a hill above Paris that is known for art. We did a little shopping, I talked with Mom on the phone, had a simple dinner at sunset (about 10:00pm).

We then took off for the Eiffel Tower. We had not been up it since Julie was pregnant with Christopher and we met Mike and Remy in Paris. We got there a little past 11 and were back down by 12 when the tower comes alive with flashing lights.

We were back in our apartment by12:45 and went to bed. We were all very tired.

Day 4
Today we did the unthinkable...we slept in. Not just until 8 or 9 but to 11:15 and the kids slept even later. I think this means we are fully adjusted to the time zone change. We did some marketing and at lunch on the little patio garden--cheese, bread, meats, fruit, and a little wine.

By 16:00 we were getting ready to take off for the day. Today is the summer solstice. In Paris that means the Fete De l' Musique. All over the city there is live music so we plan to stay out late and enjoying the festival.

We started off at l'Orangeire which just reopened last month after 7 years of refurbishing. It houses two of Monet's oval works. Each room is about 60' long and you are surrounded by water lilies. We waited in line for about 30 minutes or so to get in. There was a busky playing music to keep us entertained.

We were also entertained by a couple of boys playing soccer wearing the requisite Zedan soccer jerseys. At one point a nice kick ended up with the ball stuck in a tree. Patrick went to help them get it down and when it did the small crowd in line applauded. We thought that it was a very sweet scene until we realized that the “charming French kids” were actually Americans—oh well…..

Then it was off to the Louvre. Before entering the pyramid, we walked around the plaza looking for the Rose Line from the Da Vinci Code. As we were rounding one of the large reflective pools the wind blew the hat off a midget in a wheel chair. To be helpful, Brian went around the man a leaned out over the pond and retrieved the hat. As a reward for giving it back to the gentleman, he got yelled at in French. Not quite sure what he said or why he said it, but it did give us some laughs later.

We saw the usual--the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and Venus dl Milo. It is a beautiful museum that just keeps getting better. Christopher enjoyed mimicking all of the paintings. His arms would be back for Winged Victory, his arms were under his shirt for Venus, and he just had a subtle smile and his arms crossed for Mona.

About 20:30 or so it began some light rain showers. We ate dinner near Notre Dame. We tried the Left Bank, but it was packed with people and music. Spoke with a nice French woman....no matter what people saw about the French, we love them.

Then off to the 22:30 boat tour on the Seine. We were right at the Eiffel Tower when it began with the sparkling lights. Along the river quays were bands, revelers, fire jugglers...just about everything you could imagine.

We started heading home about midnight and the music and partiers were in full swing --people just having fun in a very non-threatening manner-no real drunks. We got back to the apartment a little after 1:00 am. Patrick, Cindy, and Mary had a card game while the rest of us just fell asleep.

Day 5
We got going a bit earlier today and left the apartment by 13:00. Saint Suplice was first thing on our list. This is the church in the Da Vinci Code that had the Rose Line running right through it. Quite something to see, although there were several signs explaining how Dan Brown, the author of Da Vinci Code took some literary license with what was actually at St Suplice. Still worth a visit and the huge pipe organ that was playing added to the ambiance as well.

Trish, Mary, and Cindy did some shopping for gifts and such, while the rest of us just wandered around St. Germain des Pres. We ended up getting paninnis to eat for lunch in the Jardin du Luxembourg. The girls were also thrilled to find a Starbuck’s in this land of quaint French cafes—guess there’s no place like home.

We found some chairs in the sun in front of the palace built for Maria de Medici (of the Florence Medicis) in the early 1600's eating smoked salmon with goat cheese sandwiched—travels pretty rough, huh?

Nearby there is a beautiful Medici fountain with a large pool of water in front. There was a temporary art exhibit consisting of a woman's nose and lips coming out of the water. The name of the piece?--'Part of Venus'.

From there we walked to the Pantheon. There is a beautiful view from the top which we had never seen before and which Christopher loved. Below in the crypt is the final resting place of many French heroes--Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, both Curries, and Christopher's favorite Louis Braille. Both Braille’s and Marie Currie’s had handwritten notes on the tombs from visitors. Most of Curries were from women scientists. All were very moving.

It was then a quick ride to Arch de Triumph where the Loprestis went up and took our kids as well. Julie and Brian watched a memorial ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Lots of old soldiers in uniform with medals and swords. It seemed to be a special occasion. Julie then got her dose of Jessica talk on the phone.

Tonight we ate in after finding a store that sold roasted chicken, green beans, and potatos au gratin. Really good food. We ate on our patio and the kids in the Loprestis apartment.

Packed up tonight as we leave Paris at 11:00 am. We travel the 500 miles to Narbonne in 4 1/2 Hours INCLUDING STOPS. Top speed 180 mph.

Day 6
The weather in Paris was very good. It started off sunny in the lower to mid 80's. Then it cooled down to the low to mid 70's with cloudy skies--perfect travel weather. We had a light rain on our boar tour Wednesday night, but other than that it was dry.

The apartment has been great. The building is on a passage with very little car traffic. Therefore it is VERY quite—unusual for an apartment in a big city. Our apartment was downstairs and was basically a studio. Small kitchen (with a clothes washer), a bathroom with a shower, a bed and a futon bed. It had French doors (well I guess that describes every door over here) that opened on to a 8X10 garden patio.

Stone walls are in each side with the back wall going up 5 stories. Our building is 3 stories. It is surprisingly welcoming to sit out there, eating cheese, sipping wine, and looking at the ivy in the walls. The Loprestis were right upstairs. They had a 1 BR apartment with 1 1/2 Baths. They also had a small eat in kitchen so when we ate the kids were up stairs and the adults outside or visa versa.

Two short blocks away was Rue Cler and it was about 3 blocks to the Metro Station. In other words the apartment has worked out great. We got all of our bags packed, the apartment picked up, and out the door to take the Metro to Gare de Lyon to catch our 11:00 train to Narbonne.

We had all purchased and printed our tickets on the internets © to keep the prince down. In the US and Canada, the French rail system (SNCF) has give an exclusive license to another company for ticket sales. By going directly to the SNCF website and requesting to print them out online we save about $200. Not bad!

While we were waiting for our train we decided to check if our internet printed tickets needed validation. So there we were standing in line at an information counter behind a couple and film crew.

We realize they were Americans, but still don't pay too much attention. Then the guy says 'let me check one more time' and pulls out the Amazing Race Route cards (easily to recognize when you watch EVERY episode). Both of us noticed at the same and look at each other with those cartoon eyes that shoot out on springs.

So Julie goes to tell everyone else....Christopher is jumping up and down ... Patrick has this 'I'm too cool, but this is cool too' smile. So Brian starts talking to the guy. His name was Ludo and was from Mexico, but lives in Los Angeles with his partner, originally from Colorado. They could not say how they were doing in the race.

Talking to the film crew we found out that 1) it’s hard work to be a film crew on The Amazing Race, 2) this team was really fast.

We were snookered. It was a few months until this season of The Amazing Race began showing. We thought we were following “our couple”, but by the time they got to Paris we started looking at pictures. Turns out near the end of the race they send out decoy teams to fool people. Got us!

We just checked into the Hotel du Midi in Narbonne just after 5:00. Everyone took a taxi to the hotel but Brian. He walked (sans baggage) to the boat rental company to ask some final questions. Everything was set for 2:00 departure tomorrow.

Tonight we had a very casual dinner on the main square in Narbonne. Peter and Brian had great steamed mussels. While we were there the was a children’s festival in the square. Pipers, drummers, and lots of kids dancing and playing in front of the city hall

Tomorrow morning we are going to the indoor market, Les Halles. Then provision at the supermarket, then the boat and locks.

Day 7
We got up this morning and had our continental breakfast at the hotel (well, we are on the continent). The Lopresti’s are swimmers and when Trish saw a Dutch swim team eating in the dinning room she decided that it would be great to trade t-shirts with them. Evidently this is NOT a custom in Holland as her attempts were quickly rebuffed, much to the embarrassment of her girls.

Then the Hamiltons and Peter headed to the city market, Les Halles. Trish, Mary, and Cindy went “proper” shopping looking for clothes, souvenirs, etc.



Anonymous Kim & Rob said...

Welcome back! What a great video. No wonder you spend so much time over there... Mom's glad to have you back, though. Rob says you're the only people he'd consider going to France with. I think that's a compliment.

4:20 PM  
Blogger ajm said...

howdy hamiltons. andy matranga from backpacker here. don't see any notes on your recent sierra trip. we made it out in one piece, with a glorious headlamp ascent of half dome on the last day. nice to meet you on trail. looking forward to getting back out there.

take care,

9:57 AM  

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