Entertainment in Paris

Our television has only French language channels. I brought a Chromecast with us, but our new flat screen TV does not have an HDMI socket to plug it into. We could stream US TV or Netflix on the iPad, but they are blocked in Europe (I have a work around which I am going to try this week). So what to do in Paris???
Fortunately, Paris must be one of, if not the, most culturally rich cities in the world. Pariscope Magazine is published every Wednesday. For half a Euro, you get 182 pages of fine print detailing all the events for the following week. For instance this Monday, there are 15 classical concerts to choose from! These are the events we have stumbled on or attended in the last week:
A Greek music concert at a bandstand in Luxenbourg Gardens.

20140526-101623-36983795.jpg
A jazz concert by vocalist Kellylee Evans and her band in a small auditorium. The show was part of the Jazz Festival at Saint-Germaine-Des-Pres.

20140526-102121-37281459.jpg
A brass band composed of workers in the Paris Metro at another bandstand in a small park.

20140526-102315-37395599.jpg
A free classical concert in our neighborhood church dating from 1850 consisting of a small symphony orchestra, an organ, a choral group, a soprano, and a tenor.

20140526-102612-37572655.jpg
And yesterday we went to the French Open with our friends, Andrea and Richard from South Carolina, who have been visiting Paris the last four days. Richard bought the tickets, and I wish I had a link to his hilarious description of buying them at two in the morning back in the states. The French don’t make things easy. Each ticket had to have a name and birthdate. If these did not match your photo ID, the ticket became worthless! The tennis complex contains three stadiums and 17 smaller courts. We didn’t pay the big euro’s for the stadium seats, so we were limited to the outside courts. We picked a good court with competitive matches and stayed for seven hours. We lucked out with the weather as it was hazy sunshine with only a couple drops of rain. After every two games when the players rested, you could enter, leave, or move about the stadium. It was comical as everyone used this opportunity to move to a better seat.

20140526-103948-38388765.jpg
So, what to do in Paris? No problem! There is always something going on.
Happy Memorial Day to everyone.

Our Town

We went into Paris yesterday to tour the Palais Garnier, the former Paris opera house which is now used primarily for ballet. In exploring the central Paris area, we noted a number of similarities to our former home of Charlotte. For instance, this bank reminded us a lot of our local Wells Fargo branch.

20140522-223813-81493845.jpg
And the exterior and interior of this department store are dead ringers for the Southpark Macys.

20140522-224147-81707533.jpg

20140522-224151-81711242.jpg

20140522-224149-81709197.jpg
And isn’t the Palais Garnier similar to the opera house in your town?

20140522-224427-81867431.jpg

20140522-224423-81863799.jpg

20140522-224421-81861556.jpg
No, we had to conclude they just don’t build them like they used to!

Minor Technical Details

Our sunny spring weather disappeared today and we were threatened with clouds and light rain. We had planned to go to Giverny, France to see Monet’s home. When we checked the weather for Giverny, we found it was worse than Paris, so we made a decision to go to visit the Chateau Fontainebleau. Susan had met a travel agent on her trip to Colorado who said he liked it better than Versailles as it was much less crowded. I researched how to get there utilizing two subway trains, a rail ride to the village of Fontainebleau, and a bus ride from the train station to the Chateau and figured out we could save money by getting a day pass that covered all the transportation. Armed with this information, we bought the pass, negotiated the subway (easy), found the train at the station (more challenging), and caught the bus to the Chateau. We arrived at the Chateau only to learn that it is closed on Tuesday – yes, today is Tuesday. Fortunately, the grounds and gardens are open all the time, so we were able to explore them.

20140520-213803-77883986.jpg

20140520-213838-77918287.jpg

After exploring the grounds and having a delicious lunch, we caught the bus back to the train station. We arrived on the train from Paris on the tracks adjacent to the station. Therefore, to return to Paris, we should catch the train on the other set of tracks. Right? Wrong! We crossed under the tracks and caught the first train on the second set of tracks. Neither of the first two stops looked familiar, so we asked if we were headed to Paris. The following picture is me sitting in the station in a small town waiting for a train to return to Fontainebleu and Paris.

20140520-214922-78562583.jpg
If the sun were out, you might see the shadow of Susan pointing the rifle she borrowed at my head!
It’s all part of the adventure!

At Home in Paris

We left our hotel in Brussels at 9:30 AM so we were out before they started closing the roads for the big festival at 10 AM. We arrived in Paris on schedule and settled into our new home. We live in a strictly residential neighborhood with few if any tourists around. This is the street where we live:

20140518-214436-78276249.jpg
And this is our new apartment:

20140518-214913-78553086.jpg
This is our neighborhood park where Susan goes to walk and run every morning.

20140518-215122-78682030.jpg
This morning Susan grabbed her grocery cart and headed off to our neighborhood grocery. Much more civilized than carrying them in a bag slung over our shoulder like in Antigua.

20140518-215334-78814252.jpg
We walked to Luxembourg park this afternoon and took this picture of a group of Parisians relaxing in the park.

20140518-215532-78932209.jpg
Finally, this is Luxembourg Palace where the French Senate meets.

20140518-215936-79176272.jpg
What’s not to love about Paris!!!

And Now For The Ladies

If this blog has too many pictures of Museums and flowers, I thought I would add the female side of this travel. Want to know about shopping in Europe?
You don’t ! Amsterdam is still in early,early spring so cold that there was no window shopping. In Brussels we are around the corner from a beautiful covered arcade shopping . The shops are all unique to Brussels and are they pricey. The shoe store below was no DSW. Shoes ranged about 250 Euro – that’s about $350 in our dollars. They were very old lady looks anyway. There was also a hat and cap store.Unfortunately Bruce only took a picture of the men’s hats. The women’s were beautiful but I personally like my baseball cap better. So I have purchased nothing and still am living out of my 20 inch roll on.

Another observation that I want to share is that my curly hair is the rage here. It must be the influence of my Eastern European genes, but no straight hair to be seen except for the Asian tourists. I should consider living here instead of South Carolina where they stare at me and ask is that a perm?

Last pictures are finally at a cafe having a glass of wine in the warm sun.

Off to Paris to be further frustrated by the shopping because neither can I afford it nor fit it in my petite luggage.
Susan

20140516-174305.jpg

20140516-174322.jpg

20140516-174354.jpg

20140516-174535.jpg

20140516-174550.jpg

Brussels: Protest, Pride, and P

Brussels is the headquarters of the European Union and consequently is the site of many protests. We came across this one in front of a McDonalds near our hotel. What I found interesting, they were not protesting anything about that McDonalds, but we’re protesting that McDonalds employes in the United States were not being paid a living wage.

20140515-182136.jpg

20140515-182205.jpg
Our hotel is well located near all the big attractions in Brussels. It is just two blocks from the main square known as the Grand Place. When we got to the square we noticed they were erecting a large stage in the square and there were rainbow flags on the side streets. It turns out that this Saturday is Pride4Every1, which attracted 80,000 people last year. All the roads around our hotel will be closed Saturday, the day we leave for Paris, for the event. We are trying to learn when the roads close so we don’t have to pull our suitcases to the train station.

20140515-183630.jpg
What is the most famous site in Brussels? What are these people looking at?

20140515-184043.jpg
It’s this fountain known as Manneken Pis. They dress the statue for special occasions such as an Elvis Presley outfit for Elvis’s birthday. They even have a museum with costumes worn by the statue. Go figure what appeals to tourists.

20140515-184551.jpg

Amsterdam in the Sun

After three days of predominantly rainy weather, we have had two cold but mostly sunny days. On the last rainy day, we visited Rembrandt’s house, the Jewish History Museum, and Anne Frank’s House. When you go through the rooms where she and seven others were hiding, the rooms are incredibly small for the number of people occupying them. The house is unfurnished at the father’s request to symbolize the emptiness he felt after he was the only survivor. No pictures were allowed in the house and it was hard to get a decent picture outside. Anne’s house is the fourth building from the right (the one with the black first floor behind the boat).

20140513-210314.jpg
Today we went to Kuekenhof Gardens. This is the famous tulip garden that is only open for two months a year. We were past the peak bloom (seems to be the story of our life), but there were many tulip beds at peak bloom and many flower displays in greenhouses. Most of the tulip blooms were two to three times larger than at home and some were as high as my waist!

20140513-210930.jpg

20140513-211011.jpg
We learned in one of our walks that the Dutch have a nice solution to the junk mail problem. They have broken the junk mail into two different categories, and you put a sign on your mail slot: ja if you want that kind of junk mail and née if you don’t. Most signs were née-nee, a few were nee-ja, but I never saw a ja-ja.

And the answer to what the beam with a hook at the top of buildings is used for is to lift furniture to the upper floors and bring it in through the windows. The stairs in the buildings are too narrow, crooked, and steep to bring furniture up the stairs. The stairs in the Anne Frank house were very steep and narrow. Tomorrow we are off to Brussels.

Amsterdam: Rain, Sun, Rain, Clouds, Rain, Wind, Rain

As you might guess from the title, the weather has not been great here and the forecast looks like more of the same. That means that we and everyone else in town are seeing a lot of museums. This line in front of the Van Gogh museum is a typical sight around town.

20140512-090124.jpg

Fortunately we have a museum card which allows us to bypass the lines.

We have been eating at a lot of good restaurants: so far Argentinian, Indian, and Indonesian. Our favorite was the Indonesian where we had a 12 course sampler plate. Each was delicious with lots of flavorful spices, but not excessively spicy. I am not one for taking pictures of my food, but this was unusual enough with the 12 dishes arranged on small metal tables kept warm by candles underneath.

20140512-170344.jpg

The houses along the canals have different shaped gables to conceal the ordinary pitched roofs behind them. They all have a beam with a hook on it near the top of the gable as shown in the picture below. If you think you know what this is for, leave your guess as a comment below. I’ll give the correct answer in the next post.

20140512-171526.jpg

It is very exciting walking around Amsterdam. There are very few cars, but lots of bikes, trams, and busses. The bikes and trams are very quiet, so you have to always be alert for them. People of all ages and dress are riding the bikes sometimes holding kids, packages, or umbrellas. I think it would be pretty exciting riding a bike while holding an umbrella since strong gusts of wind are a common occurrence.

One final initial thought on Amsterdam. I really have to look up to the women of Amsterdam. Literally! I would guess that 25% of the younger women are taller than I am.

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges was our favorite port of call on our transatlantic crossing. The medieval architecture in the city center is mostly in tact; and, of course, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The shopping is chocolate and lace. We went for some delicious hot chocolate. Unlike our guide at Mont Saint-Michel, our guide was interesting and easy to understand. The tour only included a walk through the town and a ride in a canal boat; so if the weather is nice, we are thinking of making a day trip back from Brussels to see the town in more detail. I’ll let the pictures speak for the beauty of the town.

20140511-202550.jpg

20140511-202656.jpg

20140511-202817.jpg

20140511-202903.jpg

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

After eight relaxing days at sea to begin the cruise, the last half of the cruise where we were in port many days proved to be more eventful. The ugly occurred on the formal night when lobster was served. One man was upset when an adjacent table that was seated after he was got served their lobster before he did. He proceeded to go to the adjoining table and punch the man in the nose. This resulted in an all out fight, with one wife screaming hysterically, and the captain breaking up the fight. Both offenders were thrown off the ship and banned for life from sailing again. We were in the restaurant at the time but didn’t see the fight and thought the screaming was a hysterical child. How embarrassing that two seniors could behave this way over who got there lobster first!

The bad occurred on our trip to Mont Saint-Michel. The guide was not very good, and gave unclear instructions about returning to the bus. When it was time to return to the ship, the wife of one of the men on the trip was missing. He would not leave without his wife and got off the bus to look for her. We pulled out of the now empty parking lot with him wondering aimlessly looking for his wife. We all said you can’t leave him this way, but the driver and guide were insistent we had to leave. One woman then voluntarily got off the bus to help him (her husband was on another trip so she risked them getting separated when the ship sailed). It was all very disturbing but had a happy ending as they found the wife, everyone got to the ship on time, and the heroine got her excursion cost refunded.

The good was everything else about the trip. In fact, we enjoyed it so much, we booked another crossing from Miami to Rome on an even bigger ship next April. It is fully refundable until December, so we can easily change our mind if we decide we don’t really like spending long summers in Europe. Part of the good was playing bridge on many afternoons with a nice couple from Florida. This couple taught me the important skill of bagelizing. I hope to put my new found bagelizing skills to good use. Thanks, Joe! We have completed the cruise and are now in Amsterdam. Following are some pictures from our port calls.

20140509-212825.jpg
Wooden Street Elevator in Lisbon

20140509-213007.jpg
Mont Saint-Michel in France

20140509-213214.jpg
The White Cliffs of Dover England

20140509-213313.jpg
Dover Castle

Pictures of Brugge, our favorite stop, to follow.

The Travel Blog of Susan and Bruce