Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Into the Mystic - Paris to Ballycastle

The Paris chapter of our trip is coming to an end. We are left with impressions of Paris, a city that never ceases to amaze with it's charm and beauty. We were hardly surprised for instance to see massage students learning their trade on one of the bridges over the Seine. Without an agenda and no lengthy list of sights to see, we have been able to absorb rather than analyze. It's been a pleasure.

Tuesday - September 22, 2009 - Ballycastle, Northern Ireland

We spent a relaxing morning washing and drying our last batch of clothes and returning the apartment to it's pre-Silveira state. We think we've finally mastered the machine, though there are still a few settings that we haven't figured out. A little mystery is good. We even learned that you have to shut off the water before trying to clean out the filter (the hard and wet way).

Rich and Lu were celebrating their 39th wedding anniversary (major congratulations) and planned lunch at one of the most talked about new bistros in Paris: Itinéraires. The New York Times review made it sound like a great adventure. Kat and I decided to return to an old favorite, Pétula Cafe. As it turns out the two restaurants are almost neighbors. Pétula is just south of Blvd. St. Germain on Rue Ciseaux, and Itinéraires is north of the boulevard, in any case a short walk from our apartment (what isn't?). We have been to Pétula three times and each visit was a pleasure.

As we approached the restaurant, we noticed a "City of Paris" employee painting what looked like the door to a private residence. He carefully matched the color and painstakingly worked the ornate trim. Perhaps this was a door to a city office, or maybe he was covering the ubiquitous graffiti that has made taking a pleasing photograph so much more challenging. (Not to go off on a rant here, but my idea of the appropriate punishment for a graffiti "artist" would be the application of the paint can as a suppository.)

At the cafe we were met by a lively young woman name Kamelia, who spoke wonderful, clear, English and bubbled with enthusiasm as she helped us with our French. She reminded us of Sarah, Rich and Lu's daughter, and our 'Princess" niece. We perused the menu and were glad that we had made a point to come back. I had a seafood brochette with risotto and asparagus (done to perfection), Kat a salad with chevre. Totally enjoyable. We chatted with the owner (Mr. Norbert?) and learned that we were a couple of his earliest customers back in 2006 when he opened. We also learned that in an attempt to reduce unemployment the city has hired people to wash store and restaurant windows and paint the trim of any private residence that needs it. Pretty good. Before we left, pictures were taken, emails exchanged, and I vowed to send Kamelia her picture. Let the record show that I have done that.

We followed our lunch with a metro ride to the Gobelins stop; only our second time on the metro this trip. Emerging from the metro you immediately encounter a beautiful and well maintained "hotel particulier" that houses some of the finest tapestries in the world. Not only is this mansion a museum but part of a complex of buildings that are a working factory. Named after a family of French dyers, Gobelins tapestries are world famous and hang in many palaces and museums. These are not small sissy wall hangings, we're talking about very large rugs on the walls. This one is 10 feet by 10 feet.

The guided tour of the factory was in French but it made no difference, as the processes and work spoke for themselves. We were able to stand a meter or so away from the weavers as they created their masterpieces. They weave from the back so they are constantly looking through the vertical cord backing material at a mirror to check their progress. Whatever they get paid it's not enough. This short video shows how it's done. Since no pictures are allowed, thanks Wiki.

As we exited the museum we took a peek at the large neighborhood map mounted at the entrance to the metro. Lo and behold we saw that our old friend Rue Mouffetard started just a block away. During the daytime this neighborhood is bubbling with as much energy as it does at night. At the bottom of the street are fish stalls, falafel stands and an open air market filled with a wondrous variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. It is noisy, fast and fun. All this a short 10 minute walk home past a beautiful turreted church that was hidden by the Pantheon.

Back at the apartment Rich folded up his map, we grabbed our suitcases, and headed up the street to the Metro/RER stop for our trip to CDG airport. For €8.5 (about $13) you can get from downtown Paris to the terminal in about 35 minutes (well, 40 if you take the wrong train ... sorry, my bad). We arrived early for our 9:20 pm Easyjet flight to Belfast, and after a not very bad airport dinner settled in at the front of the waiting area at the gate (open seating like Southwest). Two points of interest noted: since Rich and Lu take carry-ons he was wearing at least 4 layers of clothes (to shrink the thickness of his bag) and looked like the Pillsbury dough-boy, and when our section of the seating was called we stood up (we were at the front) and unknowingly cut the line on about 50 nicely queued Irish lads and lassies waiting to board. Oops, sorry.

The flight was good and short (only slightly longer than the hour time change we picked up), the wait to get the luggage was bad and long as we wanted to get on the road. Our car hire people were very pleasant (I had no idea what one of the lads was saying as he was from the "tyne" (town) and even his mates here in the city couldn't understand him very well. It was dark, (very dark) when we bundled ourselves into the little 2 door VW (I had requested a 4 door but all I could do was nod at the tynie like one of those bobblehead dolls as he described the car to me). I was in the right seat, the gearshift was on my left, and Rich was my co-pilot with the map.

The roads were dark (very dark) and deserted and I negotiated the first round-about successfully (look to the right, drive on the left became our mantra). We quickly realized it was going to take all four of us to navigate ourselves to Ballycastle. The ladies in back were great pointing out route signs, and peppering us with encouragement. Even though I hadn't driven a manual stick shift car on the left for over 25 years, the necessary coordination came back. Oh by the way, Ireland, you might consider posting speed limit signs, and an occasional lamppost wouldn't hurt.

We arrived in B'castle just about an hour later. Not bad, and pretty proud of ourselves, we just couldn't make it the last 200 meters without help from the local constabulary (anyone driving around B'castle at 11:00 at night is suspicious) who guided us to the Strand. Mary and Paul (the owners) greeted us and could not have been more thoughtful or nicer. They lived down past Belfast and were staying at a local B&B overnight. Their weekend home is beautiful with a spectacular view. We settled in (after some soda bread, dessert wine and absinthe) for our first night's sleep in the mystic.

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