Saturday, June 09, 2007

Wandering - Monday 5/14/2007

Pears on the communal breakfast table at the B&B. Our last morning there. Sigh. There was also yummy yogurt, bread, butter, jam, and orange juice on a big lazy Susan in the middle, along with coffee and tea.

We'd sat with Meredith and a young couple with a child on Sunday morning, listening to her tell tales of the B&B trade. The couple had just bought a place and were going to turn it into a B&B. It was interesting because although Meredith paused to summarize for us in English, I found I could understand enough of her French to have an idea of what she was talking about. Cool!

This morning, we had Meredith and Bill to ourselves for a while. Bill and I talked about photography...basically I picked his brain after looking through portofolios on the coffee table in the other room. Most of our travels over the past couple of days were on Meredith's recommendation and we were so glad. She said enough to pique our interest without telling us too much about what to expect, so we felt that rush of discovery.

We took off intending to stay somewhere between Nancy and Strassbourg.

Needed a shot of this window cleaning station at a French fuel station. Aw! They even give you little disposable plastic gloves to wear! A little disconcerting to see the word "raclette," here describing what we'd call a squeegee. Remember that yummy raclette dinner the first night? ;)

Each and every time we fueled up it was difficult. The first time, we had to figure out what kind of fuel to put in it... Okay, diesel, but which one? Oh. It was written on the inside of the gas cap. Clever rental company! Then figuring out where to pay. Huh! Seemed a little different each time.
Inside the station. They have some really different expectations of their potato chips over here!

We followed a sign that said "Fraises - 800m" off the two-lane highway and bought a kilo of fresh strawberries from a lady in a little caravan by the road. Fabulous: large and sweet.

Went to Domremy, the birthplace of Joan d'Arc. They weren't too nice to her when she was alive, but they are sure proud of her now. You see "Joan was here" all over the place! This is the door into the house where she was born round about 1412. Explored the house and the chapel right next door.

We thought we'd stay there in a place mom and my niece stayed ten years ago, but oddly, all the hotels were closed! Huh!

An example from a small town along the way (St. Dizier?) of how much room you have to walk in along some roads. These villages weren't built for two way auto traffic!

Stayed in the dodgiest hotel of the trip this night, in Neufchateau. Just didn't have the energy to keep looking after a cold and windy day. Bought a bottle of Gewurtztraminer and some cookies at a discount market and ate those with the strawberries from St. Dizier and the last of the cheese from the street market in Dormans.

Reims & the Champagne Route - Sunday, 5/13/2007

It took us a little while to figure it out, but indeed the Champagne Route is not just one road. It's a whole area. You think... Ah, we're on the Champagne Route heading generally south, so we're okay. Not so. But it's a great area to get turned around in. We really loved being in the vineyards and seeing the towns dotting the green.

They're cleaning up Notre Dame de Reims (pronounced Rrrrahs, yikes!). At first I wasn't sure about the removal of the patina, but you really can see a lot more detail in the cleaned up section.

What a task! See the cleaned area in the lower right corner!?

Mom and I both found this more impressive than Notre Dame de Paris (the one you think of when you think of Notre Dame...unless of course you think of the Fighting Irish.) It's also nice inthat there are informational signs inside that tell you about the building and history of the cathedral in French, English and German.

Sadly, some of the statuary on the left side (as you face it) were damaged by a bomb during World War I. That must have been heartbreaking. I read that this church was built by volunteers over the course of 200 years. Even though that was centuries ago, I imagine that a lot of pride and a sense of belonging come from having a place like this in your midst. These images must have been someone's favorites.

Just a mossy rooftop in a little village on the Marne river on our way back from Reims. Blue sky. We haven't had a lot of that on this trip.

We'd had a good lunch, so we finished up the second of the three cheeses with bread in our room. I climbed up the hillside behind the B&B (that's it in the foreground) to write and watch the clouds roll by.

The Marne Valley must have operated on birdsong before the days of automobiles and trains. It seemed like everywhere we got out of the car in the countryside, we'd hear layers and layers of song bird voices. I sat here and listened to short calls, long calls, the cooing of doves. Behind me was a woods that Meredith told us used to be part of the original chateau grounds.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Blundering into Paradise - Saturday 5/12/2007

We hadn't travelled far from our hotel when we saw this charming sign in Reuilly. There was also a WWI monument and an old water fountain there, so we stopped to look around. Went in to see about the B&B, and were even more charmed by Meredith. She showed us the bright and well-designed rooms and we decided to make it our base for the next two nights!

It couldn't have turned out any better. Meredith showed us to our room, gave us some pointers about places to see in the area. She and Bill (who was out photographing a horse riding competition) have run the B&B since 1998, if I remember right.

This is perhaps the most ecpressive soldier statue I have ever seen. I love this guy. He's so strong and protective. The gesture seems absolutely unique in the genre, but it is so familiar and real. This place suffered a lot during WWI. Check this out and scroll down for photos of the streets in 1918.

Stopped at an outdoor market, I think still in Dormans. This is a big round of brie in straw packing. There were at least a dozen cheeseless straw mats on the table...brie sold.

The market was closing up, and we found a great dal on these cheeses: 3 for 3.30 Euros. Huh! Okay! That's about $1.50 each. We stopped at a boulangerie and bought a baguette, an eclair and a tart with woodland berries on it and planned to picnic...which we did.

The cheeses are displayed on a rock in a little park just below Hautvillers, which is considered the birthplace of champagne by some. Certainly, it is by Hautvillians. Dom Perignon (a monk in the abbey here) tweaked the techniques and the types of bottles and figured out that three different grapes should be mixed.

This is our little Renault Kangoo! Adorable little car. Mom was sitting on the cheese rock having lunch in the wind. It was a little too much for this California-import. So I took myself and a share of the lunch down to the car, where I enjoyed this view of the Marne river and discovered the little pull-down trays in the backseats of the car.

There are all these little grave-marker looking things around, which identify the owners of the grapes being grown here. We also saw markers for Moet & Chandon, and for other world-renowned champagne makers.

You know how small towns in the States have signs listing the charitable organizations and churches? In the district of Aisne, they list the champagne houses!

Our tour guide at Mercier in Eparney. We went down into the miles of caves hollowed out of the limestone in order to keep the champagne at the correct temperature. Meredith had told us that the champagne might not be the very best at Mercier, but the tour was much less snooty and more fun than over at Moet & Chandon. We had a great time, and enjoyed the champagne tasting at the end, too.

Poked around the countryside a bit on our way back. Stopped and looked at truck gardens along the Marne. Went out for dinner in a nice local restaurant. Another fine recommendation from Meredith...who, I guess I didn't say, is originally from the East Coast and was so unpushily helpful!

Planless but Interested - Friday 5/11/2007

One last breakfast on the Bateau Johanna. This is the little corner I perched in. Sigh.

We bid adieu to Pierre, the little head who lives in the proprietor's part of the boat. Their son helped us take our bags to the taxi stand outside the Musee d'Orsay where we got a ride to the airport and a rental car.

They don't give you any information when you rent a car from Europcar. It's just like when you rent one in the States. They try to sell you extras, give you the keys and wave bye-bye. No traffic sign handouts or briefs on how not to get in trouble. You can get a map. We took the map.

Headed out with the flimsiest of ideas about where we were headed. We'd decided to visit the Route de Vin (Wine Road) in the Alsace-Lorraine based on a few pages I'd torn out of a free 2006 Frommer's guide I'd been given at AAA. See, I couldn't find the Rick Steves' France 2007 book before I left home... Sigh.

Misplacing that book urned out to be a good thing. When I found it a few days ago--under the bed--I realized we would have missed probably the best part of our trip if we'd followed his advice! As it was, we wandered into Champagne country, and followed the Champagne Route.

We didn't have big expectations for this day. It was about getting out of Paris and into the countryside and getting our bearings.

We had lunch, including local champagne, in the small village of Charly-sur-Marne. According to Wikipedia, it's even more interesting than we knew! For us, it was a quiet little town where we found parking next to a little restaurant in which working people both in dusty painter's pants and in suits or skirts were eating.

This assiette de charcuterie doesn't look nearly as tasty as it was. Each meat had it's own texture and unique flavor. Wonderful with fresh chunks of bagette.

It's part of one of the prix fix menus. You can order one with three courses, but Mom and I figured out early on that it's good to order the one that comes with your choice of appetizer and choice of main dish, or main dish and dessert. One of us would order the appetizer/main and the other the main/dessert, and we'd taste everything. Worked out well and kept us from absolutely gorging ourselves.

Mom had the lasagna. I had the andoullette du grillee and frites. The andoulette is the big rustic looking sausage. I read in my phrase book that it included tripe, and I was fine with that... until a big chunk of pale tripe popped out of it about halfway through. Kind of put a damper on it for me somehow, and that odd little aftertaste began to bother me. Sigh.

But it was delicious as long as it lasted, and it was served with a rustic mustarde sauce that was so good it sent me on a mustard hunt for the rest of the trip. (I brought home, no kidding, 3 big containers and 5 tiny samplers...brace yourselves, writing group, I'm bringing them next time I see you!)

We had dessert, but I was apparently too excited to photograph it. I think we had dips of cassis sorbet and pistachio ice cream. An odd combination, but both things rare in the States.

I took a LOT of pictures of food on this trip. Almost every meal we had out, I think. It was just so well-presented and amazingly tasty.

Many thanks to Braveheart, who repeatedly encouraged me to eat, drink and be merry, and to write what makes me happy. It was the best advice. (I ate with abandon, ended up falling into a pattern of light breakfast and one large meal a day and another small one. With maybe a lemon tart or a chocolate crepe thrown in for good measure, and I was actually down three pounds when I got home!)

Stopped in Chateau Thierry to use a cybercafe and got directions to what turned out to be a motel outside of town. We were pretty beat, so decided to stay there, even though Campanile is a chain. It was sufficient and there was a restaurant there where we split an omelet for dinner and eavesdropped on the big table of Germans who spoke English to the French waitress.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Aw Reservoir, Moan Chair - Thursday 5/10/2007

I'm pretty sure this is how my pronunciation sounded to the French. But it was with sincere regret that we bid Hydra adieu on Thursday morning. He headed back to the States first thing in the morning.

Mom and I walked the neighborhood around Notre Dame. I took shots of the wonderful carvings around the front doors. Like this fellow, who seems to share my sentiments about being Hydra-less for the next two weeks.

The backside of Notre Dame, which I think is actually more interesting from a distance than the front is.

These shots are from the Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation, a tribute to the 200,000 French citizens who died in Nazi camps from 1941-1945. It's a very moving place.

There are quotes carved into the walls inside. Someone--you have the feeling it might just be a fellow traveler because they seem to be cut from a printed-out page--taped English translations next to them.

I copied this one down: "And the choice that each one made about his life and about himself was authentic because it was made in the presence of death." - Jean Paul Sartre.

I think this is from the door into the home that Abelard and Heloise shared in Paris way back in the 12th Century. Or more likely, it's the spot their home occupied. And of course they didn't have themselves immortalized like this during their lifetimes. There's a bust of Abelard on the other half of the door.

Musing the Musee and the Mont - Wednesday 5/9/2007

Breakfast delivered in the wheelhouse of the bateau each morning. Croissants, bread, butter, jam, coffee and tea. View of the Seine. Good conversation about the day before and planning the day ahead.

Yes, somebody lives here. This dwelling is under the street between the dock and the Musee d'Orsay. Our host told us that the man who lives here, whom we saw walk out a few hundred feet and back a few times, has lived there for about 5 years and has stomach cancer. I can't imagine living there. There must be very little light inside.

We went to the Musee d'Orsay, which I absolutely adore. It was created out of an old train station and it's new since the last time I was here, in 1983/84. Due to some weird idea that I wanted to be unencumbered, I didn't take my camera. (No worries, I knew I'd want to go back again, and I did.)

Kids taking a break at Montmartres. I dunno. I figure I could give you the shots I took looking down over the city or up at Sacre Couer, but this is a photograph I'll bet no one else has.

Mom went off in search of a fabled cybercafe that has English keyboards while Hydra and I headed for this area. Saw the Moulin Rouge and the Place Pigalle with all its sex shops and peep shows on the way up. Also lots of charming winding streets up to the summit, where Sacre Couer awaits.

I lit a candle at this altar to St. Therese and internally expressed my hopes for the health and creative well-being of my writing group. I'm not Catholic. Not religious. But I believed in my little fundamentalist church's teachings when I was a kid, and I think I'm still a sideways sort of spiritual person. Some churches, monuments, and other sites hold great emotional resonance, and just because I'm not religious doesn't mean I can't access the vibrations of all those hopes, griefs and intentions.

Wine on the square peopled by artists selling their wares. A good spot to relax and people watch. A couple bought a painting that we thought had all the charm of a piece you could be taught to do with a palette knife on Public Television in the 70s.

The lady at the next table and I shared an astonshed glance as the couple opted for the larger of the two nearly identical pink and grey canvases and shelled out what looked like about 260 Euros for it.

But quietly. Hey. Live and let live.

Hydra's yummy assiette charcuterie (butcher's plate, basically). We loved these. Meats, sometimes cheeses, good bread and wine. I had a salad with a big round of warm soft cheese on top. Not a lot was open... There are a lot of two-day holidays in May in France and the city was quiet.

While we sat outside the restaurant having this late supper, we saw police cars and about 6 police vans go by. No sirens, but blue lights flashing. We asked the server, and he said it had to do with post-election demonstrations. Nothing to worry about.

Window shopping in the neighborhood. Ha! The _...For Dummies_ series in French!

Walked across the bridge to the Place de la Concorde, then strolled slowly down the Right Bank side of the Seine. Hydra wanted to see the Eiffel Tower pop it's lights again, and wanted Mom to see it. We sat on a chilly bench and waited, and yeah, it was worth it.

Crossed the Pont Solferino back to our place on the water. Hydra and I sat up until around 2 a.m. talking and watching the river from the wheelhouse. The last boats went by, the lights went off outside the Musee d'Orsay, a couple snuggled on the opposite bank, another couple sat on the footbridge above us and even got up and danced for a little bit...their shapes were just a little darker than the night sky and had the effect of one of those iPod commercials.

Hydra's last night before returning to the States. A pretty good one, I think.

Roaming the Streets - Tuesday 5/8/2007

We moved from the Minerve Hotel to the Bateau Johanna, our B&B/houseboat on the Seine on Wednesday morning. As the cab dropped us off across the street from the Musee' d'Orsay and above the bateau, a procession of maybe 150 horsement went by. They were on their way to the Arc d'Triumph as part of a celebration of what we in the States call V-E Day (Victory in Europe, WWII). Kind of moving. It's hard to remember that this city was actually ocuppied by the Germans in the early forties.

We dropped our bags off with the friendly Olivier, and headed out on foot.

Sometimes a book just stops you cold!

I'd read Rick Steves' Paris before coming, and knew we wanted to see the market at rue Cler, but we just stumbled onto it on our way to the Eiffel Tower. We checked out the outdoor stalls and the shops. Bought three small somewhat expensive smelly cheeses at a fromagerie. Sat at a cafe and enjoyed cups of hot chocolate and watched the passersby...and took the photo above.

Which begs the question: will Hydra and Sundry ever learn to take culture seriously?

Detail along the Pont Alexandre III. Pont = bridge. There are lots of them in Paris. This is the most elaborate. The Art Nouveau details and the gold really are impressive.

The view across the neighbor-barge from one of the windows of the Bateau Johanna. What a joy! It felt like a bit of a risk to rent a houseboat on the Seine. Sounded too good to be true.

But it was wonderful! We had the wheel house up top with views of the river, and then a room with a table and chairs in it below (with windows), enough storage space that we could put everything away including bags, two cabins with full beds and closets, and a bathroom with a shower. More useable space than any of our other rooms, actually. And so lovely to feel the rocking of the water...which increased when the tourist boats passed.

Hydra and I went back to the Eiffel Tower at night via RER (the other subway line). He was very taken with this monument. We took a look at the pretty much non-existant lines, took a deep breath, and bought tickets to the top. The elevators angle up the legs, then you get out and go to a smaller elevator. I swear, you can feel the framework outside the glass elevator getting narrower!

Worth doing, although I think the view and experience are actually better from the second level, where the wind's blowing in your face. We could see the fire-breathers throwing flames in the Champ de Mars all the way from the top.

It didn't turn out really well, but do I get points for trying? It was actually a little scary to lean back and look up like this!

We walked out onto the Champ de Mars afterward, and as we turned back toward the tower, all these lights started popping all over it. A cry of astonishmed approval went up from the people on and around the monument. And I think you have to be there to really get the effect. Still photos reveal individual stars of light; motion pictures even seem to isolate the lights in a way that seeing it for yourself does. From about 10:50-11:00 pm. Wow.

Took the RER back around midnight. There was a big group of possibly German or Dutch schoolkids waiting for the same train. What a city.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Getting Some Louvre-age - Monday 5/7/2007

We breakfasted at our hotel, the Minerve Hotel on the rue des Ecoles, which we later learned is one of the oldest streets in Paris. One of our first stops was Shakespeare & Company, to which I returned several times during this trip.

Hydra danced on the Seine. Then we both danced on the Seine. This is the big finish, taken by Mom from the street above. There was some laughter. There was even a little clapping from the folks we shared the walkway with.

These kids were tickled that they were in somebody's shot of the entance to the Louvre.

She's impressive, even when mobbed. It was a busy day at the museum and the hallway below her was filled with people. I got one close up shot of her wing that I like a lot too.

Can't say what this is a detail of. Unfortunately, I didn't take very good photo notes. I didn't know at this point that I would end up taking more than 1700 photos on this trip. I took quite a few shots of hands...thanks in part to the book that Gia gave me for my birthday.

I'm pretty sure I felt something similar when I met the Scribe for the first time.

This modern installation seems amusing from above. I wonder if it's a little creepy from below.

The architecture of the Louvre itself is fascinating. But often it's hard to capture because the ceilings are so high and the light is not directed upward. I wonder how all the fantastic ceiling paintings and carvings were illuminated back in the day, or if they were. It must have been an eerie place at night.

Another theme that shows up in my photographic life is doors and windows. This is actually a series of doors. No mirrors were used in the creation of this image!

We had a lot of fun in the ancient Middle East section of the Louvre, too. We went there just as our energy began to lag and it perked us up.

Had our first real meal in Paris (we'd dined on cheeses, crackers and wine in the hotel room the night before). Mom had escargot and a little of my cassoulet (beans, sausage and some sort of hock... ham? rabbit? Do rabbits have hocks?). Hydra had an amazing chicken in mushroom, onion and carrot sauce with pureed (have the French ever mashed anything?) potatoes. Wine all round. A fabulous trio of creme brulees served in espresso cups for dessert: coffee, chocolate and vanilla.

D-Day Beaches - Part 2 - Sunday 5/6/2007

The monument at Omaha Beach as seen from inside a German bunker.

Hydra walking on the beach, toward the spot where he will collect some sand and pebbles. I hadn't realized how big the beach was, or how high the cliffs were that they immediatly had to get up to get to the bunkers. I didn't really get a shot that shows that. Here's a link to some historical photos.

Mom and I both found this tree terribly evocative.

The Normandy American Cemetery is nearby. More than 9,000 U.S. men and women are buried here.

This photo of one of the markers at the end of a row of crosses is probably my favorite from the day. It doesn't really mean anything out of context. As I stood there, though, I thought of the person who has travelled here to find the grave of the lover, brother, father who never made it home.

Drove from here to Paris, stopping in Bayeaux for lunch. Hydra is to be highly commended for keeping his cool when we accidentally got onto the Perifique Interior (inner ring road). The Arc d'Triumph was right in front of us!

Dropped the car, taxied in to our hotel in the 6th Arrondissment, and scrounged the local mini-markets for supper. It was a holiday Sunday, election day to boot, and nothing much was open.

We bought cheese, wine and the most taste-free toast/crackers known to humanity, which we ate in the room. Opened gifts that the fabulous Laweeez had given us. Notebooks and a pen for me, books for Hydra and amazing Griottines--morello cherries in liqueure--for Mom. I used the smallest notebook for notetaking the rest of the trip, and we dipped into the cherries the whole time, too!