Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bubbles and Reflections

For the record: Our last full day in France. How did that happen so quickly? Today we plan to drive back to Paris CDG, check in at the Mariott, then head to Epernay and the Mercier or Moet factory for the cellar tour. We considered Reims, but Ep is small and quiet if memory serves, plus we have taken the Mercier tour before and know what to expect.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006 Beauvoir, FR

We were all taken by the beauty of the Normadie-Haut countryside as we navigated some of the best roads we’ve driven anywhere. I was explaining to Em that Kat is my co-pilot and it takes a lot of concentration sometimes to drive here. She said "Well, I'm your cow-pilot!" as she must tell us everything she sees; cows, dogs, cows, cats, cows, horse etc. She cracks us up sometimes.

Checking in was a breeze (even though we were very early) and they gave us a 2 room suite in place of the two separate rooms I had booked. They made up the uncomfortable (per Em) sofa bed while we headed to Epernay.

The countryside in Champagne is beautiful, very different from what we had left a short time before and the vines were just beginning to bud. We went directly to the Mercier house bought our tickets and checked out the (very) large barrel that had been used for production and promotion when the house was but a shack. It's more interesting than it seems now. An English tour was just about to begin and it was going to be intimate with just 6 of us. The guide spoke passable English and was quite comical. We took the little train through the caves, marveling at all the bottles just sitting there waiting. (They had some demonstrative riddling racks set up, but told us they now do it by machine. I wonder what all the unemployed riddlers are doing now. It's a puzzle. Sorry.)

We did meet a very funny/nice British couple outside and chatted with them for about 20 minutes. Even had them take our picture (one of the few of the three of us). We laughed about shared impressions (about the French for instance)and stereotypes of each other. I chided them for needing the US to save them or they would be speaking German, and he said, "Oh right, late to the party as usual." We had a fascinating chat about the Euro and why Britain will never switch, the idea of tying the British market to the German (with the East) and the nature of competing economic cycles it would kill Britain.

Their (our) language is rich as they were in “rude health” (good) and her French (according to her) was execrable. How often do you hear that word used in a sentence?

Changing the car's navigation system (which worked quite well with a female British voice) from French to English gave us a chuckle as we thought of the challenge it would present to the next renters. (Or maybe not, it might be our British friends.)

It was a piece of cake returning the car to CDG terminal 1 (International) which was just about deserted in the early evening. Since most flights terminating in Paris arrive in the morning, we missed the organized chaos one normally encounters. I like the varied nationalities moving a mile a minute, fighting over baggage, and speaking myriad languages.

We took the hotel bus back and was greeted with a nice fruit basket and bottled water. Pretty nice for a free night. The Courtyard (unlike properties of the same name here in the US) is a full service hotel that markets the room we were in for 350 Euros a night. Em loved the bath robes and slippers. Too bad she had a pull out bed, as ours was very, very comfortable. On our last night in Paris, we decided to eat in, and was rewarded with an excellent (and expensive) meal. Em was in heaven with real hamburger and fries (and ketchup). Afterward we sat in the lobby bar with a rum & tonic for Kat at 16 Euros (am I yelling that?), and a coffee for me. Oh well, free room, right?

Thursday April 20, 2006 CDG

By nine o'clock we were going through security (Em got “wanded” which she hated. She doesn’t like anyone touching her. I thought it was funny.) We left right on time and were winging our way over the Atlantic before we knew it. About 2 ½ hours into our 7 hour flight to Montreal we figured it was a good time to reflect on life, us, and the trip. Some notes:

Emily's answers to any and all questions are: What? or Weird! or Annoying, or (our particular favorite), I don’t know. No matter what the question, we were rewarded with one of those four.

Our overall reactions:

… the people were generally nice,
… the prices generally higher,
… the tolls and gas (diesel) were very expensive.
… Air Canada is not that friendly
… the Marriott CDG is fabulous in all respects
… a little warmer would have been better
… Beauvoir was a very pleasant surprise

… Kat and I must not be in very bad physical shape because we out-walked and outlasted a 14 year old.

… We are not sure we would bring another grandchild this age. The different food, language, smells, situations can be fairly threatening and Em’s reaction was to shy away and focus inward. Pretty normal we imagine.

… A good lesson learned though is to CLEARLY explain what the experience will be like before leaving. Emily brought neither a good pair of walking shoes or a warm jacket (she wore my Raytheon pullover most days), so better preparation in those two areas is a must.

After about 6 hours our sweet Emily (getting restless no doubt) had turned into a pill. Sitting next to us, at least she was our pill. She was back to her lovable, playful Em with a lot of energy (Save it for Mom was our thought).

We had a lunch, dinner and a snack (pizza) while watching 2 movies (one of which was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire which is the book she is reading), so that gave us some relief. We cleared customs and immigration in Canada (they have US desk there) which is cool. Our Montreal to Boston flight was easy and good; a clear, beautiful day as we passed over the airport.

Lisa and Danny met us shortly after we landed and what a beautiful sight. For Em it seemed she had never even left, picking up Dan and chatting him up. Lisa had quite a tan/burn it seemed from spending the day in Boston at the public gardens, etc. They got on the silver bus to south station to return home.

We missed Em immediately but there is something beautiful, touching, and spirit lifting to say goodbye to a grandchild after they have been with you for a while. Our final flight back to Richmond seemed so anticlimactic, just another plane, runways, terminals, etc. Out of the airport to the car, to home was like sleep walking, and about as challenging. Makes you appreciate home.

All in all a good trip and we are glad that we were able to take Em. We had a lot of laughs and made a lot of good memories. Sometime after we returned home Em called and asked me if I had typed the journal yet, and if so could she please have a copy for a school project that she was doing. She also wanted a set of the pictures that we took. So I rushed thorough the journal and sent it away to her. Well lo and behold, we received in the mail a very nice surprise, a bound book of our trip as a thank you present, including a good part of the journal and some of the pictures that we took. It was really cute, and really very thoughtful. We will cherish it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mounting the Mont

It was a great ride through the country and our only concern was the limited kilometers (900) on the car rental. At Gare Lyon they handled it as a new rental, and would not agree to unlimited miles at the counter. I called the US National number, reminded them of the original problem and they changed it "in their computer" to unlimited miles. They scare me, but at least I got a name and confirmation number.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 Mont St. Michel, FR

Another clear blue-sky Normandy Day. Shortly after we left the cemetery yesterday the clouds departed and though cool, the air was moisture free. Just what we need to get good views of and from Mont St. Michel (MSM). Em really seems relaxed and definitely likes being in the country. The beauty of this beach belies it's past.

We stopped at Isigny-sur-Mer for a tour of the factory that makes the world famous Normandy caramels. We, and 47 other bio questionable people, stood next to the machine that rolled, cut and wrapped them. Perhaps the lack of what we would consider “sanitary” adds that special flavor. They are excellent and we did make a few purchases in the gift shop on the way out. Good find, Kat.

On the way to MSM and the excitement (mine) was building with each passing km. I'm blown away with the approach to the small mountain in the bay. The excitement however did not seem to be spreading to the other occupants of the car, but I attributed that to the fact that it was before noon.

MSM turned out to be packed with people, the most we’ve seen here. A lot of kids so it must be a French school holiday as well as the US. There was a group of kids arriving at the caramel factory as we were leaving (our timing was impeccable). Since they came on a bus we figured school was in session. Who knew.

Literally shoulder to shoulder walking the narrow streets we wondered how our Em was handling this. On previous visits we’ve just about had the rock to ourselves. The tide was not going to come in until 10:00 at night (it has the second fastest tide in the world and something to behold), so there was no way to really appreciate the place.

It was hot as we walked (and dragged Em) up the stairs toward the abbey where we hoped it would be less crowded. We considered taking the tour, but the line stretched down to the museum shop and no spot offered shade. With all the restaurants full, we kind of settled for omelets for us and pomme frites for Em (her favorite meal - she is going to look like a pomme frite) at the Hotel du Guesclin. The view is spectacular and we tried in vain to get a room for the evening. Sold out. In April. The parking lot is full to capacity.

So on a day when what you thought would be a highlight, turns out to be a disappointment it seems something magical has a way of happening.
(It reminds me of our trip with Adam and Kristin to Amelia in Italy where a routine autoroute hotel stop ended up with a great experience in a walled medieval town).

We found a room in a nearby town, Beauvoir. And it did indeed have a Beautiful View. The hotel turned out to be the real plus. Typical old French with the rooms extending laterally on the second floor over the lobby and restaurant below. One can imagine the pilgrims stopping at this little wayside inn. The houses give validity to the word charming.

Behind the hotel there is a small bridge (with a spectacular view of MSM) over the canal that drains into the baie. All along this canal is a landscaped park. Perfect picnic location.
The scene below reminds us of the poster we have hanging in our house, the picture of which is at the top of this page.

Always on the lookout for something sweet to eat, we walked to the Boulangerie down the street and struck up a conversation with the very nice female proprieter. What a contrast to the "pill" at Goncourt. A box of petit-fours and a couple of coconut cake sort of things with soda/water on the bench to a setting sun.

We read our books and tossed around the pink ball thing we got Emily for Easter until we were able to break it.

She's a great kid and still knows how to enjoy life like one.

Tomorrow we head back to Paris where our plan is to stay at the CDG Marriott using my hard earned reward points. We still have a full day of goofing off to do so a trip to Champagne seems to be in order. A little tour, a little bubbly, and we can hardly wait to see what else comes out of the mouth of this babe.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Remembering Normandy

We feel like Em really told us a lot about how she was feeling last night through our little like/dislike grid. We realize that she is very observant and doesn't miss a thing. Unlike us, she keeps her thoughts to herself. Whether that is her personality or being in a totally foreign experience we don't know. Time may tell.

Monday, April 17, 2006 Hotel International Paris, FR

Partly SUNNY today! It's 8:00 and we are all awake thanks to an Australian woman calling our room 15 minutes ago. She wanted room 55 not 65, our own little Hotel International wake up call. We were concerned last night that we would sleep through til 10:00 like we have been doing. Problem solved.

Destination: Omaha Beach, Normandy. We start the second phase of our trip today – see the countryside. It’s been fun here in the city but it’s about time to go.

You would think I would have learned to follow my instincts after so many years; nope. I believed the US National Car rental people who told me that the office in this part of Paris would be open on Monday. Yes they knew it was EASTER Monday.

Leaving the luggage at the hotel, the three of us had a nice mile long walk down holiday-deserted streets to a firmly ferme rental car office.

With no France Telecom card and no local businesses open, we had to call the US on our Sam’s club AT&T card and then make an international call to National car rental at Charles de Gaulle. Thankfully, the guy I got was good and found us a car at Gare Lyon.
(Note: I recall the conversation with the US office who insisted that the location was open (because their computer told them so) and my telling them that since I was standing right outside it, I had better "eyes on the target." Idiots.)

We walked the mile back to the hotel to retrieve the luggage we thought we would pick up with the car. Before leaving we had a nice chat with Messr. at the hotel. He and Houda bought and opened the hotel about 8 months earlier. They fixed up the security and cleaned it well and will start renovating soon. We told him we would comment on our stay on the Venere web site when we returned to the US.
We did as soon as we got back. Unusual for us.

We dragged our suitcases on the metro (which was not as big a deal as I’m making it out to be for dramatic purposes, I was just really upset with National) and went to Gare Lyon via Hotel de Ville (the city hall stop is normally very busy). The holiday metro was not crowded. All of Paris is not crowded. It's a blooming holiday for Pete's sake.

Our first time in Gare Lyon and we noted the lack of directional signs. Particularly to the car rental office, stand, or counter. I left Kat and Em on the sidewalk with our suitcases while I explored the nearby buildings. The young ladies behind the counter were friendly and apologetic. They didn't understand why the American office couldn't get it right. Neither could I.

Heading out of the city I missed the turn and ended up going east toward Euro Disney instead of west toward Normandy. We did a U-ee and headed back toward CDG and the A13. We were now relatively happy heading west with the glorious sun just behind us.

Hungry (as usual) we stopped on the autoroute at Autogrille and had a mediocre lunch. Em was surprised at the variety of things you could buy in the attached store, unlike our McDonald's stops. Em was also happy because they had Sprite. (A mood change seems to have occurred, and we are not sure if it is a result of the discussion the previous night or that we were now in a car, just driving along, a more familiar environment. All I know is she seemed more relaxed than we've seen her since we left the US.)

In no time we were back on the road making our way to one of the prettiest areas in France. Famous for it's dairy products the food is as rich as the soil and the soil is fecund.

Normandy. The name itself evokes so many thoughts.

Our first stop was the Hotel du Casino, on Omaha beach and it is right ON Omaha beach. Nice place with clean big rooms (they even had a special purple room, perfect for Emily). It is easy to get to on beautiful bocage lined roads. We checked in and headed to Ste. Mere-Eglise via the American cemetery.

The cemetery is located in Colleville-sur-Mer and borders on the unbelievable. The perfectly maintained grounds and white crosses in a sea of green on a bluff that overlooks the blue Atlantic. It was cloudy and dark.

On the way into the parking lot, Emily told us that she didn't like cemeteries (at all) and we feared she wouldn't go in. We felt strongly that she shouldn’t miss this opportunity. We explained that she was back in the USA as France gave the United States this piece of land and it is US soil. Like going to our 51st state. She was very reluctant but pretty stoic as we quickly walked through the cemetery to the cliff where a pedestal marker describes the story of what happened below.

At 5:30 everyone stopped and turned to the sound of taps being played as the US flag was lowered. It was terrifically moving as people saluted or placed a hand over their heart, careless of the tears. It was a moment I will never forget.
(Note if you interested the best web site I have found is at: Normandy Invasion. All the arrows are pointing toward the site of our hotel.)

At Ste. Mere-Eglise we regaled Emily with the story of Red Buttons (really John Steele) still hanging by his parachute from the roof of the church. What seemed to interest her more than the history was the horse jumping competition on the fairgrounds behind the church. It was just concluding when we arrived. In a place like this it's easy to forget that there is normal life going on. We walked around, bought some post cards and had pizza and a hamburger at the Normandy Bar & Grill. We also bought some pastries for me & Em to have on the beach walk later.

We really enjoy the architecture in this part of France (our home here in Virginia is a Norman countryside design) so we dawdled our way back to the hotel. The pastries on the deserted and peaceful beach were excellent. In this setting the kid side of Emily came out for the first time on our trip. Running and jumping and drawing in the sand, she seemed at peace, as were we. Even though it was cool and late, I got the sense she could have stayed there all night.

In one of the tourist circulars, Kat found an ad for a caramel factory tour in Isigny sur Mer, so we may stop there tomorrow on our way to our next excitement - trumpet flourish please - your majesty, Mount St. Michel.

Note: Coincidentally, I'm editing this on June 6, 2008, 64 years to the day after the invasion and have found no acknowledgement of the anniversary in any media.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Joyeuses Pâques

Happy Easter - In all the times we have gone out to eat on Easter Sunday in the US, I don't remember anyone wishing us that. Here in Paris wherever we went the simple greeting Bonne Paques replaces the Bonjour that is unfailingly exchanged when entering any establishment. I know it is custom but it still makes me feel good, every time.

Sunday, April 16, 2006 Hotel International

We decided that today there would be no rushing, (Em took that to heart; at 9:50 am she's still dreaming) that we'd just stroll where we want with no real agenda. Em really likes the parks and has seen everything "touristy" she really wanted to see. There are a couple of things we would be remiss in our "duty" if we didn't show her. The first was Pont Alexander III, many believe the most beautiful bridge in Paris. Em really gets a kick out of the little cars; and of course the dogs.

Once across the bridge it was a short walk to the Champs d'Elysee. Although too commercial for us, Kat and I agreed that Em had to at least walk some part of it toward the Arch. The spring plantings have commenced and there are flowers everywhere.

Since she has become a little (I'm being kind) picky about food, we told Em that she could pick the restaurant for our Easter brunch. Well she picked a good one. Le Carre is just off L'Etoile, had just opened for lunch, and looked appealing.

We said she could have what she wanted (let Lisa and Mike be the food police) so she had her favorites: Sprite and pommes frites – perfect. I had a delicious omelet and offered to let both Kat and Em dip their bread into what they thought was “runny egg – yuck.” When they saw how much I was enjoying it, they both tried it and it was then a battle to see who could finish my "yuck", which was in fact the clarified butter they cook the eggs in and it was delicious.

At the top of the street is the magnificent Arch. The traffic around it of course isn't. We watched the drivers, wondering if anyone ever got out of this madness. We dragged our reluctant charge through the tunnel and emerged under the arch and in the center of the star. Em seemed less impressed than us.

Thinking some park time would be good, off we went to the Tuileries via metro. Oh wait, our favorite patisserie (Cador) was ouvert and it couldn't hurt to just look, could it? There was this huge chocolate Easter Egg in the window, and since we were here anyway, a little café for me, perhaps a small pastry (Em had her eye on the apple crisp), since it is in fact Easter.

Just across the street is the entrance to the Louvre courtyard, so after sugaring up, we continued our walk to the Tuileries. We parked our butts in not uncomfortable chairs next to one of the small round fountains for about an hour and watched the world go by – one duck at a time. I told Em I remembered the time her mother and uncles sat in this very spot watching the kids play with the miniature rent-a-boats. Her mom was 8 and her uncles 6 years old. Seems like yesterday.

We walked to Place de la Concord, then across the river to Saint Germain de(s) Près. Here is a little video with some nice music if you are interested.

Em called Mom and Mike – they were happy and surprised to hear from her. Then we had a coffee and 2 sodas at Café de Flor - $19 and that was sitting on the side, not even out front to see and be seen. (I did at least use the loo, so I got some of my money's worth.) We walked past the church to a beautiful park, then past Les Deux Magot (I'm still fascinated with these coffee shops), before finding a metro to take us back to our Goncourt stop.

A different mood settled upon us as we walked back to the hotel. It was the end of the week and the end of Paris, and time really had flown. We think Em appreciates that things are different in different parts of the world, not right, or wrong, just different. Small elevators, raw hamburger and egg, dogs in restaurants. Sitting in the room, we thought it was a good time to take inventory and look back on our Paris time. Here is our list of best and worst by Ed, Kathy, and Emily (EKE):

By the way: Em spells crepes craps and thinks she is funny.

Best meal: Ed - Saumon at St. Severin/Kat - Chevre Salad at La Vrai Paris/Em - Burger and Pomme Frites at Cafe Petula

Best Desert: Ed - Caramel Ice Cream at Berthillon on I'le St. Louis/Kat - Chocolate cake with crème anglais at Lys d'Argent/Em - Ice Cream (all) at Berthillon

Nicest server: Ed - Proprietor at 8 a Huit/Kat - Lys D’Argent/Em - Lys D’Argent

Most annoying: Ed - Patisserie girl on Goncourt/Kat - Same as Ed/Em - Bracelet guy at Sacre Coeur

Best Visit: Ed - St. Chappelle/Kat - Trocadero/Em - Jardin de Luxembourg

Biggest disappointment: Ed - St. Sulpice/Kat - Galeries Lafayette/Em - Comforter and Flea Market

Not Expected: Ed - Expensive/Kat - Friendlier/Em - Dogs in restaurants and stores


... at Airport: Ed - Excited/Kat - Anxious/Em - Weird & excited & nervous

… at Hotel: Ed - Relieved/Kat - Tired/Em - Tired

… 1st Metro Ride: Ed - Happy/Kat - Comfortable/Em - Weird & nervous

… 1st Sightseeing: Ed - Hopeful/Kat - Excited/Em - Excited & homesick

… 1st Real Dinner: Ed - Content/Kat - Relaxed/Em - Hopeful & Hungry

… During the Trip: Ed - Proud that Em got us home by herself and helped the woman on the metro/Kat - Proud that Em took the challenge and did it and gave the tip to the piano player/Em - Surprised at the homeless and beggars and pigeons

Irritations: Ed - Em saying “dog” all the time/Kat - No Pepsi/Em - Pigeons; Lady who gave me a dirty look when I stepped on the back of her shoe; Crowds at the end of the day; People trying to sell you stuff on the street; Graffiti on the metro; This mattress; Trash in subway and on streets; graffiti; crowds; false advertising for sprite; dog poop everywhere; people who talk loud on the phone; walking shoes (Whew! I'm glad she got that off her chest! Once she got started on that list, we had to stop her.)

Good ideas: Ed - 2 small meals a day/Kat - Picnic in our room/Em - Making a list of things to do and checking them off; Buying the metro tickets in Carnets; Carrying umbrellas to keep it from raining; Picking our lunch spot for brunch on Easter; Buying scarves; Stravinsky fountain; Packing and buying souvenirs

That wraps up this part of our trip. Next we rent a car and head off to see some of the gorgeous countryside. The question on my mind though is: How will Lisa keep her down on the farm, now that she's seen Gay Paree? Always wanted to say that.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Saints and Fleas

For the record: Another cloudy day, but we have been fortunate that it hasn't really rained yet. A slight drizzle now and then, just to put a sparkle on the streets. It didn't really occur to us that it is Easter tomorrow, and the reason Notre Dame was packed yesterday was Good Friday observance. Em answers almost every preferential question we ask her with "I don't know.", which we think is her way of saying "I don't want to inconvenience you." We are going to work at helping her verbalize her desires.

Saturday, April 15, 2006, Hotel International, Paris, FR 9:30 am.

So we are still trying to wake up Emily who said to us:“I’m just letting them (my eyes) close so they can open.” She is too funny sometimes. I'm trying not to sound like a father by saying something like: "Get up, you're in Paris. You can sleep in Massachusetts.". (My guess if I had asked her "Do you want to sleep til tomorrow?" I would not have gotten an "I don't know.")

Today we made a tactical decision not to bring our umbrellas; poor Kat carries them (plus whatever Em and I can get her to carry for us) in her backpack. She never complains but it gets heavy after a while, and it never did rain. Little did we know that the very act of carrying those umbrellas is what has kept the rain from coming.

The first thing we did was to take the metro to the marche aux puces in the northern part of Paris. A lot of people selling a lot of junk. T-shirts, leather jackets, cheap new imported stuff they buy for 5 cents and try to sell for 2 euros. We didn’t stay long but it was fun to see, and smell with the air scented with so many different aromas.

Our little sandwich system is working well. (We figured the flea market would be a good test.) Whenever Em feels a little threatened or uncomfortable in crowds or wherever she says “sandwich” and we make sure she is between us. Cute.

From there it is a simple metro to St. Sulpice in the St. Germain district. We walked past the cool fountain out front and decided we were hungrier for food than redemption, so off we went to search out lunch. What we found was a little café, Café Petula, where we had the best meal of our trip so far. Em had a burger (with frites), Kat a croque-rustic and I had a perfectly prepared tuna steak in rosemary infused olive oil over rice. Superb.

We did our regular (by now) souvenir shopping (Em glows with contentment in these souvenir shops) and headed back to St. Sulpice. A dark old church made famous by the book "The DaVinci Code" where embedded in the floor is the “rose line.” This brass strip passes vertically through an obelisk. An explanatory note was pinned to a board explaining that contrary to some current fiction the brass line was installed for the Paris Observatory and the P&S on the stained glass windows were for Peter and Sulpice (the patron saints of the church) not for the Priory of Sion. Pretty funny. I got a couple of dark pictures in a dark church.

We walked toward St. Severin (past the Museum of Moyen Ages that we really want to go into but really "booooring" for a 14 year old, so we postponed til next trip), and more souvenirs, then took a leisurely stroll across the bridges to get our daily ice cream fix. We saw “our" waitress from next door at the silver lily, and chatted up some people behind us in line who were from Falls Church, Virginia, a neighboring town when we lived in Centreville. It was not as crowded out today as it has been, probably because it was dreary, and we had a nice relaxing walk. We made our way back to Cite and stopped on the bridge to Ile St. Louis to listen to a guy who was playing a little piano. Em gave him a tip. As timid as she has been it was good to see her break away a little. Pretty cool.

Past Notre Dame again to Sainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel). The line didn’t seem too long, so Kat said let’s just stand in it and see how fast it moves. Not fast but it was more than worth it. What a sight. A beautiful stained glass chapel on two floors (bunk beds) that takes your breath away when you enter it. You get the same sort of feeling as entering the Sistine chapel for the first time. We are all so glad that we waited. It was approaching closing time, and for a bit at the end we had the chapel almost to ourselves. Very enjoyable.

We have been by this chapel many times, and from the outside (left) you would never imagine that splendor on the inside (right). Even with the grey day outside, the stained glass was magnificent. It was erected by king Louis IX to house the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross.

We asked Em if she could get us back to the hotel and we would simply follow her. She was to make all the decisions. She was sure she could. In fact, while at the Cite metro stop she helped a couple of English women who were trying to figure out how to get around. We are so proud of her. I tried to help an oriental girl with the system but she took off like a rocket and jumped on the first car that stopped. So Em led us back, right to the door of our hotel without any help from us. She has learned a lot, and picks things up quickly.

What about dinner? Our Emily doesn’t want to go out anywhere (she’s had it today) and doesn’t want to stay in the hotel by herself while we go out. What to do? We all walked down to see our friendly lady at the 8 a Huit and bought a picnic and had it in our room. Beer and cheese and yogurt and chips. And family. Try to beat that. To bed about 10:30 after thumb wrestling and arm wrestling – clearly Em was comfortable and more than just a little feisty. She will be able to beat me pretty soon.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Mount of Martyrs

For the record: Today is another cloudy, cool day, just right for walking around without working up a sweat. We have an interesting room here at the International, with a bed (where Emily sleeps) and small bath as you come in the door, then a wall with a door sized opening behind which there is a double bed where we sleep. Our guess is that it used to be a reasonably sized single room converted to a triple.

Friday, April 14, 2006, Hotel International, Paris, FR

Kathy and I remember the good old days when a nice breakfast was included with the room. No longer, it seems. For 8 Euros additional each, we'll take our chances on the streets. Poor Kathy and Emily are tired today but they said they are tired every morning. I, on the other hand, usually awaken bright, cheerful, and ready to go. They can't understand this, and they don't like this. To me, 8:00 is mid-morning ... let's go see some stuff. To them 8:00 is sometime in the night zone, and the stuff will be there later.

Our day began nicely when we handed our postcards to the pleasant (another morning person) lady mail carrier who was just walking by our hotel as we were coming out. Mail is still delivered twice a day in Paris. We stopped at our boulangerie, and the semi-nice girl from earlier this week had turned into a nasty wench with no sense of humor. She was snippy with us as all we wanted to buy were some small egg tarts and we were curious what they contained. She played dumb with us and acted very impatient when we couldn't ask our question in perfect French. She wasn't trying at all. Oh well. If I had to spend my day behind a pastry counter I might look for my jollies wherever I could find them as well.

This morning happiness stuff I seem enamored with is obviously not shared by the rest of the people (obviously commuters) on our metro ride. There is nary a smile to be seen, except on my face, which is perpetually plastered with one. I smile at everyone. My two companions do not. (Sometimes I can force a smile from Kat by making what I think is a funny face).

We disembarked at Pigalle, and headed up the hill toward Sacre Coeur. We normally walk all the way past all the interesting shops, however we decided to splurge and take the funicular because we like the name of it for one thing (who doesn't like something with "fun" in the name?), and we figured we could add another conveyance to Emily's list of new experiences. As we approached the bright white church, the sun made an appearance, with a bright blue sky for the backdrop. Beautiful.

Leaving the church, we began our trek to Place du Tertre, past one of the most picturesque (and painted) cafes in Pars, Le Consulat. One of the African street vendors grabbed Em's arm and tried to put a bracelet on her. We were a little late to the rescue, brushed them off and she survived, but was clearly shaken by the event. She told us that she does not like crowds, and was a little concerned for her safety. That brought home to us that we had to be a little more responsible and sensitive to her feelings. We will be more careful in the future and not put her in a similar situation.

We passed through the Tertre quickly to avoid all the “artists” who wanted to draw our lovely grandchild. They can be quite aggressive. We had planned to spend an hour or so there looking at the paintings, but didn't think it prudent given the rapidly increasing density of the small square. We went into what I like to think of as "Grandparent Improvisation" mode.

The non-touristy part of Montmartre is charming. We walked up and down the nearly deserted streets, past the Dali in the Wall shrine, and stopped in a lovely park where St. Denis still holds his head in his hands at the bocce court. I chatted with some workmen who were building a sandbox (rubber coating the cement wall) in a small playground attached to the park. Nice guys who were interested in us (because we were American) and interesting. Emily loved this, and we loved Emily. It's her trip and we want to make it fit her style.

There is a beautiful cafe back there called "La Maison Rose" (Emily's middle name is Rose)that looked like just the right kind of place to stop for lunch but was, unfortunately, closed. Em did find a park that was open, it just so happened to have flowering trees in the same color as the restaurant. Good find.

So down the hills we went admiring the Moulin de la Galette (left, famous from the Renoir painting) that is not above the restaurant by the same name. The Moulin de la Galette restaurant (right) is beneath the Moulin le Radot. Talk about taking advantage. If you didn't know, you wouldn't know.

We arrived at the main street and stopped at the Abbesses metro stop which is one of the few stops that has the original Metropolitan signage. It is beautiful. A short walk past St. Jean Bricks church (a real oddity in a city of limestone and marble) and we spotted what would be our lunch experience; Le Vrais Paris restaurant.

The only thing Em wanted was frites and she couldn’t get them there. Very unusual. Instead they had a thick homemade potato chip that she good naturedly accepted and enjoyed. Good kid. We had some interesting tablemates at this restaurant. To our right were two ladies and their dalmatian, and to our left some young people, one of whom was very pregnant. The pregnant one ordered steak tartar and spent a good five minutes mushing the raw egg into her raw beef. (I’m a little surprised and I have to admit greatly disappointed that the dalmatian didn’t make at least one lunge for that raw beef. He had his eyes on it the whole time.) Disgusting. Em does like the idea that dogs are part of the family and generally accepted as part of the dining experience. Call me old fashioned, but I don't share that sentiment.

Navigating along Pigalle toward the Moulin Rouge, I noticed the surfeit of adult oriented shops and shows (the soldiers and sailors past didn't nickname it Pig-Alley for nothing). Em, thankfully, seemed oblivious to all this. (There are some discussions that are the responsibility of parents rather than grandparents, in my opinion.) We explained that the Moulin Rouge with it's phony red windmill on top, was famous for it's shows and was the subject of many posters and paintings, so she at least had to have her picture taken in front of it. We told her she would thank us sometime in the future. I think she doubted that but she complied.

We headed back to what was quickly becoming our favorite place, Le Berthillon ice cream on the Ile. On the way however we decided to show our Em what Parisian shopping was like at a regular department store, Galeries Lafayette. It was a disaster. Hot, sticky and packed with people. We were trying to get a gift for Danny, but I’m the only one who ended up with anything (restocked my supply of R&G Extra Vieux). We got out of there fast. At least there is an upside to her aversion to crowds ... NO SHOPPING!

We ended up walking down behind St. Michel where Em got a nice big coffee cup for her mom. Then to St. Germain and into a small Italian restaurant for pizza. We did stop at Gerard Mulot, a fancy (very fancy) patisserie and Em and I picked out a goodie each. One of those places where you tell the clerk what you want, he gives you a slip, you go pay for it, return to him with the paid slip and by then your goodies are neatly wrapped and bow tied and ready to go. They were excellent and eaten I'm sure, in less time than they took to make.

Working our way back to the hotel, we stumbled upon Les Jardin du Luxembourg, a beautiful oasis and just what the doctor ordered to unwind from a busy day of sightseeing. A little quiet time in a beautiful setting. Em seems very comfortable here, and we hope we get her to open up a little more each day. She quietly absorbs her surroundings and seems to require very little, making no demands on us, except to be there. We can do that.

Sitting on our bed at the hotel, we chatted about what we had seen and what we had learned that day. We took a few minutes to admire her very thoughtful souvenir purchase, and she had us laughing out loud in her get ups.

We talked about feelings and likes and dislikes, and what we could do to make her more comfortable in these surroundings. We developed what I think is a brilliant plan. One of us will walk just slightly in front of her, the other slightly behind. If she feels uncomfortable for any reason, she will say "sandwich" and we will each hold one of her hands. Big smile, secure in this plan, she took her book to bed with her, and fell asleep quickly. So did we.