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Arles. Aaarghh! (revised)

The majestic Chateau de Tarascon

The majestic Chateau de Tarascon

(Sorry about all the sideways pictures on the first iteration of this post.  I have to stop drinking.)

The bittersweet last stop on our French River cruise.  Arles.  Site of a well preserved Roman amphitheater.  Site, too, of Van Gogh’s ear removal.  Arles.  Now, the non-French-speaking among us will struggle with the pronunciation of this town’s name.  We’ll say things like: “Are Lay” or “Aruls”.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Please see the second word in the title of this post.  Now say it:  “Aargh”  BUT drop the ‘G’ at the end and insert an ‘L’ (but feel like you’re swallowing your tongue while doing it).  There!  Now you have it!  You, too, can speak French like a… well, like an American.  You’re welcome. Continue Reading →

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Avignon…and on…

Palais des Papes at dusk

Palais des Papes at dusk

The penultimate stop on our cruise was the city of Avignon – home of the “Multi-Pope Experience”.  (Surely you all remember when the Catholic Church had an Italian Pope AND a French Pope?  The years 1378 to 1403 must have been some fun with two men claiming infallibility.). Continue Reading →

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Viviers and Truffle Snuffling

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We’ve sailed on to the port of Viviers (not so much ‘port’ as ‘boat ramp’), another picturesque medieval village in the Rhone valley.  The village is vertical and mostly free of automobiles, but the real attraction here was our tour guide, Frances.   Continue Reading →

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Ex-cursion

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Indulge me in a bit of time-travel.  On Day 2 of our enforced stay in Lyon, while most passengers were being bussed 4 hours to Beaune, we rented a little Alfa-Romeo and took to the road to rekindle memories of our first trip to Bourgogne, during Roger’s 1998 sabbatical.   Continue Reading →

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Chocolate!

The Rhone River - from the 'wild' Tournon side

The Rhone River – from the ‘wild’ Tournon side

Day One of the Real Cruise.  We docked at Tain-L’Hermitage and Tournon, two towns spanning the Rhone River, both known for their Syrah vines (and wines, of course.). We learned from the local guide that one side of the river (Tain-L’Hermitage) is warmer and sunnier than the other and that people on the Tournon side of the river are wilder than their countrymen on the Tain side.  Being cold and dark will do that to you. Continue Reading →

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Lyon, City of Lights

The Museum of Confluence

The Museum of Confluence

Competition between cities seems to exist in every country, every culture.  Lyon, which can really stand on its own as a center of French gastronomy, still struggles not to seem provincial compared to Paris.  Paris – the City of Light.  Lyon – the City of Lights.  That essential ‘s’!!   Continue Reading →

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Lying Around Lyon

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Laying… Lying… You figure it out.  We ended up staying two days in Lyon due to the high water on the Soane River.  And just in case you think I’m lying, here’s a picture of Roger demonstrating how high the water is (not much of a demonstration, I’ll give you that – but you CAN see that the river is lapping the stepped stairway.  It’s apparently high enough to stop a cruise ship.  Or someone wearing nice shoes.)

See?  SO deep!

See? SO deep!

We commandeered a couple of bicycles and took advantage of the fantastic network of bike paths that traverse the city and hug the rivers.  Our first stop was the stunning “Confluence Museum” (that’s the building in the photo at the top and just below), which not only celebrates the confluence of the rivers Soane and Rhone, but the confluence of the elements of life.  It’s an intriguing museum – exploring myriad ways that humans observe life and death, our relationships to animals, to the universe –  it’s scope is huge and the interactive displays (in English and French, thankfully) really grab your interest.  We spent hours and could have stayed longer, but the gorgeous weather (and the Whit Monday holiday) beckoned.

A bridge with sofas and chairs

A bridge with sofas and chairs

Along with hundreds of Lyonnaise, we biked to the popular park D’Or (or maybe it had another name. I just made this one up.  I’m too lazy today to do any research.). Like parks…everywhere…this one had a zoo, a botanical garden,  a lake with paddle boats, screaming kids.  Even though I realize I am probably seducing you with my descriptions of this great park, you’ll have to content yourself with this photo I took – the only one in which all twenty thousand Lyonnaise are not in the frame.

Roses.  And a gravel walkway.  And a building.

Roses. And a gravel walkway. And a building.

After all the excitement of the park, we returned to the ship to relax in our stateroom (wait.  Scratch that.  This room is so tiny, at best it could be described as a ‘townroom’.  Or a ‘failed state room’.  Still, it’s comfy and quiet and someone makes the bed and cleans the toilet everyday.  And I’m not talking about Roger.)

That's all, folks!

That’s all, folks!

Introducing a new segment:  “Things You Don’t See in America” (some you should, and some you shouldn’t.  You be the judge.)

Cute doggie fountains in the park

Cute doggie fountains in the park

Slightly raised 'tracks' by which blind people can negotiate the train station

Slightly raised ‘tracks’ by which blind people can negotiate the train station

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Cruise Control

Jet lagged happy meal

Jet lagged happy meal

After a roller-coaster ride across the Atlantic (WHEE!!!  Wait…how many more hours of this???  Umm.. whee…?) we landed in Lyon, a day ahead of our river cruise along the Soane and Rhone rivers.  In a desperate attempt to acclimate to the local time zone, we zombied around town til an appropriate bed time – Continue Reading →

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RCJ Column #10 (the last one!) Paris

(Published in the Rapid City Journal on Sunday, July 12, 2009)

Getting Around Paris:  Bikes, Boats and Baguettes.

The Eiffel Tower, built in 1889, is still the tallest building in Paris

The Eiffel Tower, built in 1889, is still the tallest building in Paris

You can never get around Paris.  Or over it.  Paris frustrates me.  Just when you think you have seen Paris, or understand Paris, or are tired of Paris, it will unfold itself just a tiny bit more.  It is the grand seductress of cities.  It will lure you in, promising an enchanting time at the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre and you will go away thinking you’ve ‘done’ Paris.  It will smile indulgently at you from a distance.  Because every time you return to Paris (and you will), you’ll experience an entirely different Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, etc.; and then you’ll want to know her even more.

Behind Notre Dame with a peek at the Seine

Behind Notre Dame with a peek at the Seine

You’ll read, you’ll take guided tours, you’ll attempt to learn French, you’ll wander the streets at all hours trying to put your finger on exactly what it is about Paris that fascinates.  And you’ll get whiffs every now and then; enough to keep you on the scent.  But Paris is elusive and moody.  She prefers her privacy.

A rental bike location near the Place Vendome

A rental bike location near the Place Vendome

Getting around Paris, literally, is another story.  The city is large and there’s lots to see; fortunately, Paris is ready for you.  The best new transport scheme is the ‘rental bike’, which you’ll find densely scattered throughout the central city.  You put payment in a slot, it unlocks a bike, and off you go.  Of course, the program is not without drawbacks.  There are few dedicated bike paths and traffic is a nightmare; Parisians believe their cars to be very slim and able to fit in the smallest spaces. Like next to you IN the bike lane.  I recommend getting up really early on a Sunday morning and biking everywhere; you’ll have the streets to yourself. And at the end of your journey, you just deposit the bike back into any of the  bike racks around the city; no need to return to your point of origin.  It’s genius!

The River Seine MINUS the Bateaux Mouches

The River Seine MINUS the Bateaux Mouches

The Seine flows serpent-like through central Paris; the Bateaux Mouches are another alternative to getting around.  Long, comfortable, barge-like boats will take you sightseeing and a smaller version, the Batobus, will let you hop on and off at many important sites along the water.  Pure romance, especially in the evening.

The Louvre with IM Pei's Pyramid addition

The Louvre with IM Pei's Pyramid addition

The Paris Metro is a comprehensive subway system that will also get you anywhere you want to go.  There are usually helpful attendants at the bigger stations who will sell you tickets and give travel directions if you are put off by the ticket dispensing machines.  And don’t forget the taxis – Paris has fleets of Mercedes and other upscale autos that will haul you around town in style – but that brings me to another subject.  Trying to be understood in Paris.

The oldest department store in Paris - the BHV (Bazar Hotel de Ville)

The oldest department store in Paris - the BHV (Bazar Hotel de Ville)

I can speak a few words and phrases in French with a reasonable accent.  But, in Paris, if you try to give a destination to a taxi driver in your best French, he will sit with a stunned expression on his face as if you’ve just asked to be driven to Mars.  You can repeat your destination over and over (of course, you can point to it on a map, but that takes all the fun out of it), and each time, he will look more and more puzzled until he finally begins to look fearful.  For example:  we said “Hyatt Hotel” in numerous cabs, to looks of extreme bafflement.  We’d repeat it three or four times until a light bulb moment later when the driver would say:  “Ah!  ‘Eye-yatt O-tel’.  Oui, oui!”  I’m certain it’s just a fun way for them to pass the time and annoy tourists.

Sacre Coeur Basilica commands a spot on the highest hill in Paris

Sacre Coeur Basilica commands a spot on the highest hill in Paris

You’ve probably heard rumors that the French can be rude.  In the past, those rumors were certainly true.  In recent years, however, it appears that the French attended charm school and are capable of being quite helpful and talkative.  Note that I said ‘capable’.  Arm yourself with at least a few words of French: it will make all the difference in how you are welcomed and treated in many establishments.  Just do try to know what you’re saying.

St. Eustache Church in Les Halles.  Mozart's mother's funeral was held here.

St. Eustache Church in Les Halles. Mozart's mother's funeral was held here.

Some things not to miss:  (in addition to the list of the usual attractions!)  Have dinner at an outdoor café after 10PM; American meal times are a curiosity here; you’ll find yourself eating alone (or with other Americans) at 6 or 7PM.

The Eiffel Tower at 11 PM

The Eiffel Tower at 11 PM

Stroll to the Eiffel tower at 11PM and revel in the romance of one of Paris’ iconic images lit as if exploding with joy.  Linger in the Luxembourg Gardens when a band is playing in the gazebo.  Stroll the banks of the Seine after dark when the buildings and monuments are lit to extraordinary effect.  Eat a dessert crepe in the Latin Quarter.  Search out the locks and canals in the northeast part of the city for a respite from the crowds.  Mostly, just go to Paris and try not to miss anything.

A grotto in the Luxembourg Gardens

A grotto in the Luxembourg Gardens

My final impression to share with you:  Sitting on a 19th century park bench in the leafy Luxembourg Gardens enjoying a baguette lunch with the love of my life while listening to the “Ohio Ambassadors of Music” (high school grads with extraordinary musical talent from the state of Ohio!) entertain the lunch crowd with blues, tango, Sousa and a bit of pop.  After a short pause, the first strains of “America the Beautiful” came wafting towards us.  As emotion overcame me and a tear rolled down my cheek, I realized:  it was time to go home.

Thank you for sharing this European odyssey with me these past two months.  I hope that I’ve sparked (or re-sparked) your desire to travel; that I’ve told you about a few new things and accurately given you my slightly skewed impressions of the world.  But, mostly, I hope I’ve kept you entertained.  Farewell for now!

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L’incidente

It was definitely too good to last.  Despite mysterious international electricity suppliers, confounding network connections and Google in five different languages; my laptop soldiered through and allowed me to record our two month adventure without too much interruption – until the fateful evening in Cortona.  (And I’m pretty sure this is just the universe paying me back for asking a ‘gentleman’ at dinner if he was hard of hearing and asking him to tone down the volume.  Sigh.  I’ll never learn.  (Was EVERYONE in the restaurant annoyed?  Yes.  Was I the only one to speak up?  Yes.  Did everyone avoid me like the plague afterward?  Yes.  Did my laptop die that same evening?  Yes.  Surely an instance of cause and effect.)

 

We’ll be on our way to Paris on Tuesday, where I’m hoping to find a dedicated Apple store to find out whether my hard drive (with my 1064 photos from this trip along with a daily diary) will be salvageable.  I’m trying not to despair nor to be driven to drink (no one has yet offered to drive, however ‘drink’ is within easy walking distance here in Florence.)

 

All is not lost;  Rog has this little ‘pretend’ laptop that I’m using right now.  Perhaps it will even allow me to upload some photos, although I’m not convinced it’s that sophisticated.  (Typically, I returned to the hotel to explore the compatability of my camera and Roger’s laptop.  Predictably, he is currently roaming the streets of Florence with my camera in his pocket.  I’m sure he doesn’t realize it.  That’s the way we roll.)

 

In any case, Happy Anniversary to us – 12 years today (6/21).  Since we took our wedding party and guests to a rehearsal dinner at Café Luciano in Chicago the night before our wedding, we sought out the restaurant in Florence most like Café Luciano for dinner last night.  It was wonderful – especially since I was finally able to try some Ribollita and home-made pasta with truffles.  Ottimo!!

 

Ciao, tutti!

P.S.  We’re now in Paris where the Apple service department told me that my computer might not be recoverable.  I’m going to go throw myself in the Seine in a little while.  Right after I stop at the nearest patisserie.

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