Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Today I am off to Philadephia for a conference-Association of College & Research Libraries. (ACRL) I will be there until Saturday morning. We had planned to stay later in the day, but Delta switched our flight soon after we booked it.

I am planning to visit some of our electronic book vendors to see if any of them support any of the ebook readers that are so ubiquitous these days.

More later.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Au revoir, Paris

When I looked up au revoir, I found that it means "until the seeing again," and decided that to use that instead of adieu (goodbye) since I hope very much to come again!

We were up early and threw the last of our things into the suitcases, drank a little coffee and ate a bite. I offered to ride down the elevator with the suitcases and stuffed myself into the tiny elevator with one foot on a suitcase and the other on the floor. I rode all the way to the ground floor and pulled the suitcases out before realizing that I had left my purse in the apartment. Rosie and Lynne (who wanted to see us off at the airport) were almost down on the stairs when I got the keys from them and rode back up to grab my purse. Lucky for me I thought of it then or I would have been running back from the Metro or worse yet, arriving at the airport without my money and travel documents. Whew!

We got through the check in process and dropped off our bags. Then we hugged Lynne goodbye and went through security. They would not let me leave my laptop in my TSA approved bag and made me dig my cell phone out of the pocket too, but I made it through without incident. Rosie, on the other hand, set off the gate and was subjected to a manual pat down. She has no clue what set it off since she claims she was wearing exactly the same thing when she went through security in Minneapolis. Oh, well. Once through the gates, we found that there was more shopping and we got rid of some remaining Euros with a few last minute souvenirs and snacks. The boarding started a full hour before the flight took off which kind of took us by surprise. We filled out our customs forms and arranged our stuff and bodies for a long flight. We took off about 20 minutes late, but food service with free wine started shortly after. Rosie and I had a small happy hour in the air. A short time later lunch was served with more wine. By the time lunch was over we were both feeling drowsy--I kept falling asleep and jerking awake with the notion that my mouth was hanging wide open. We both fell asleep during the first (of four) movies and I awoke part way through the second (Secretariat) and was awake for the rest of the flight.

They fed us quite well for lunch and then again with pizza and ice cream (I ate Rosie's ice cream in addition to mine) for a snack about an hour before landing.

We cleared customs without much trouble and found Rosie's husband waiting for us right outside the doors. By 4pm I was home again and in the familiar surroundings, it was hard to imagine where I had just been. My husband and I went to 5pm Mass and I was home in bed by 6:15pm where I slept soundly until about 1am when, apparently, it was time to get up in Paris. I forced myself to stay in bed until 7:15am (daylight savings time) and hope to back on my usual sleep and rise schedule soon.

It was a wonderful trip to say the least and I am all set to try more places again soon!

Friday, last day in Paris :-(

We were up early to get to our tour of three French Chateaus--a 12 hour trip to the countryside. At the travel agency we met our traveling companions, a 30-ish couple from Italy who spoke some French so their tour was in French, our travel guide, a young Frenchwoman named Caroline who spoke French, Spanish, English and a little German. I almost think our Italian couple would have done better if the tour were in Spanish, because whenever they did not understand the French, Caroline would put it in Spanish for them. The wife sometimes explained the French to the husband, so her grasp of French was somewhat better.

We left Paris at 7:15am, fortunately heading opposite the direction of the stop and go traffic heading into Paris. I am not sure what the French call their freeways, but it was a similar to what we have (divided highway with multiple lanes) and we passed through a tollbooth soon after leaving Paris. Spring had arrived in France--they appeared to be about a month ahead of us in Minnesota. Some crops were up and we saw a few tractors in the fields from the highway. We passed through several quaint little towns on the way and I would have liked to know more about the people and what they do-something for the next trip?

It was after 10am when we arrived at our first chateau in the picturesque Loire Valley of France. Chenonceau Chateau was built over the River Cher in traditional Renaissance style, (complete with moat and towers) and is known as the Chateau des Dames (the Ladies' Castle) because of the influence of the famous women who lived there. The chateau was built in 1513 and King Henry II gave it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers whose goal was to turn it into a showplace. Catherine de Medicis, King Henry's wife, was very jealous of it and when the King died, she ousted Diane and took it over for herself. It is a very beautiful place, fit for a queen, I would say.

The next chateau was Cheverny Castle which started out as a private home, but ownership came to Henry II who gave it to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. However, she preferred Chenonceau so she sold it to the Huralt family. It has had many owners over its history but now is again owned by the Huralt family. In 1914, the owner opened the chateau to the public, one of the first to do so. The family still operates it, and Château Cheverny remains a top tourist attraction to this day, renowned for magnificent interiors and its collection of furniture, tapestries, and objets d'art. A pack of some seventy dogs are also kept on the grounds and are taken out for hunts twice weekly. We saw the dogs but missed their daily feeding when their trainer puts a line of meat through their pen and they wait for him to signal that they can eat it. When we were there, the dogs were all crowded in a small pen and the trainer was pulling some out before the feeding. There was quite a din from all those baying hounds! This castle castle is entirely surrounded by a stone wall.

Our last stop for the day was Chambord Castle. It is the largest of the Loire castles, built for King Francois 1st as a hunting lodge. The château features 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces, and 84 staircases, including a spectacular double-helix open staircase that is the centerpiece of the château. The two helixes ascend the three floors without ever meeting--it is suggested, but unconfirmed, that the staircase was designed by Leonardo da Vinci. This castle was in the poorest condition. It is just so huge and was abandoned for 80 years during its history so I don't think it has ever been full restored since then.

We spent about an hour at each castle and enjoyed our tour immensely. Rosie still loves the idea of a castle, but I think those giant stone rooms are just too darn cold for anyone to enjoy living in them!

We hit some traffic heading back into Paris but again, most of the traffic was heading out of the city, so it wasn't too bad. We noticed that the cars on the inside lane hugged the outside white line and that motorcycles roared between us in the next lane like it was their own private lane! Our tour guide was nice enough to drop us off right across from our apartment or I would have used one of Metro tickets for sure.

Back at the apartment Lynne had some wine waiting for us (surprise, surprise!) and for supper, we followed a tip from our tour guide. We had pitas and falafal from a nearby stand-very tasty but kind of odd in our eyes for Paris.

We packed and arranged our wakeup/bathroom schedule. The lady upstairs was playing music quite loud until at least midnight, but I went to bed anyway and was asleep shortly.

Thursday city bus tour

I am behind on my posts as Thursday marked our 2nd to the last day in Paris with still many things left to see and do. Rosie and I consoled ourselves by saying we will save some sights to see the next time we are in Paris!

We decided to do a city bus tour as the most efficient way to see a lot of things in the fastest time. My American soldier seat companion from Wednesday had recommended the tour he took from a nearby travel agent, so after a morning of late arising, computing and photo editing while Lynne was in her class we set off for the travel agency. We hoped to do the bus tour immediately and then have some time at the d'Orsay Museum in late afternoon. Unfortunately, we were minutes too late for the 12:30pm bus tour and had to put it off until later in the afternoon. We rushed home to let Lynne know of our change in plans (we did not often miss our cell phones, but this is of the times it would have helped). By the time we talked to Lynne, it was time to go back for the tour. We skipped the Metro for these trips because it was only like 2 stops away--maybe 7 or 8 blocks and we hated to waste a ticket. However, at this point it was our 3rd trip and it was only the fact that we were going to sit on the bus that made it work for us.

We sat on the top of the double decker bus (and it was cold again!) but the we had headphones for the tour (you could pick your language so it was very easy to understand)and had about 50 points of interest such as the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, Arc de Triomphe, Avenue des Champs Elysees with all its designer shops, Pont de la Concorde (where many of the beheadings of the French Revolution took place including Marie Antoinette and her husband King Louis XVI), the Madeleine Church with its 52 Corinthian columns was quite a sight, and many other famous locations that you can see in Rosie's pictures.

When we finished the city tour, we went into the travel agency and booked a day trip for Friday to see 3 chateaus out in the French country-side. We were anxious to see a little of French life outside of Paris. The trip was to leave at 7:15am so we had an early morning start ahead of us.

Back at the apartment, Lynne had wine waiting for us and we had also invited Lynne's friend, Lucille Northenscold down for happy hour. I had promised to help her connect her laptop to the apartment's wireless network since she and her husband will occupy it for the part of the month. A few glasses of wine later, we gave up on our idea of visiting the d'Orsay--another thing to save for the next visit. Lucille had recommended her favorite French restaurant a few blocks down the street. It opened at 8pm, so a few minutes after we were off in search of its location. When we arrived, it had just opened and had only one diner seated inside. Nevertheless we went in and were seated by the waiter who brought a chalk board with the day's dishes listed. He propped it on a chair at our table and then left us to study it.

Lynne and I chose a roast pork dish and Rosie ordered a large bowl of soup (dishes not including dairy products were a constant challenge for her). The waiter was very helpful in determining what was suitable on the menu and he seemed surprised when we did not order any wine (if he had known about our happy hour, he might not have been!)Rosie's bowl of soup was quite large and she enjoyed it. Lynne and I received plates of sliced pork artfully arranged with carrots (ala Peter Rabbit Lynne thought-with a little bit of carrots tops still on)sliced potatoes and, I think, parsnips. We had forgotten our cameras or the plates would have been worth a picture. As my son, Mat, always says "presentation is everything." It was excellent and we were pleased with our choices and the restaurant itself. We felt like we had had some nice French dining that evening.

Back at the apartment, the rest of the evening was spent doing a little packing and organizing, some computing and general this and that which kept us up but didn't amount to much. Rosie & I TRIED to get to bed early because we had to be at the travel agency by 7am the next morning. So even though we were on vacation, we chose to get up around 6am!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wednesday in Paris

The weather was not as nice today, but still pleasant and no snow like the people back home have. We have not had rain at all while we have been here so none of our trips have been hampered by that.

We started our day with tours of Sainte Chapelle and the Concierge and we walked to them. Our apartment is really well situated for seeing Paris. We have a metro stop right outside our apartment building and we can actually walk to the island where Notre Dame and today's sights are located. Sainte Chapelle is a beautiful small chapel built by one of the kings whose name I can't remember at this moment. He built it to display two relics that he acquired-part of the cross of Jesus and part of his crown of thorns. It is a two level chapel-the lower level for ordinary people to use and the upper level for the king and his groups. The upper chapel has 15 huge stained glass windows, each depicting something from the bible starting with genesis. It is really beautiful and you can see pictures when Rosie gets her Flickr pictures uploaded.

The Concierge was a prision and court. Offenders were taken there and put through the court system and sentenced. It looked like conditions were miserable. Marie Antoninette was held and tried there as were many others during the French Revolution.

After this, Lynne went off to class and Rosie and I had lunch (schwarma at a sidewalk cafe) and then rushed off to catch a boat tour. It was cold and windy but a good view from a different direction of some of the attractions we had seen. For instance, the back of the Louvre looked extremely long! I sat next to a man who had come on the train from England-an American air force soldier (officer?) from North Carolina. I really enjoyed talking to him and he also said it was nice to see someone from back home. He pointed out a gold flame we saw on our tour which marks the tunnel where Princess Diana died. We were talking about how European countries see Americans (they mostly dislike us), but he said that they really like Barack Obama. He had gone to London when Obama was coming along with many other famous people. He said the big crowd of people watched Obama come and then left (so they had come to see Obama).

After the boat tour, we walked home to get more clothes because we were on our way to the Eiffel Tower. The guide book we had advised us to get off the Metro a stop early for a good view of the tower and it was so right. We were in a square just near the tower and the view was breathtaking. We got pictures there and then went dow to stand in line to go up. It was a long line, of course, but people watching was interesting. There was a teenage boy and his mother behind us (they were not from Paris but they were French) His English was very good and we chatted with him as we waited. I asked about the armed soldiers patrolling the area and he said there was a terrorist alert. I asked him if that made him afraid and he said no, so I decided I would not worry about it either! We bought tickets to the top. The first elevator took us to the second level where we walked around all sides and took pictures--a magnificent view. Then we took the next elevator to the top (well 900 feet out of 1000) and that was a bit freaky for me. You could see out of the elevator all the bolts and beams of the tower and the ground getting farther and farther away. Looking up through the top of the elevator, I could see that we had much farther to so to get to the top.

Once we were at the top, the first level was enclosed so not windy. We walked all around the top and then went up one more level on the stairs. There it was windy and I was glad for the extra clothes. The tower itself seemed very solid and did not feel like it was moving at all. (not that it is supposed to--it was just my impression)We walked all around and took pictures and then caught the elevator down to the first level. Going down did not bother me as much as going up! The first level was actually the most windy and the coldest. We couldn't wait to get down. It was dark by this time so the views we saw were just amazing. We walked back to the square, took more pictures, and then back on the metro to get home. By this time it was 9pm and we had a small happy hour before going out to eat. It was Rosie's birthday and I had arranged for co-workers to connect to us with Skype. I had the connection open and we heard our co-workers calling us and so Rosie had a face-to-face talk with them (and they sang happy birthday too-good job Mary and Darlene!) Then we found a wonderful Thai restaurant for dinner. We were back by 11:30pm and I was off to bed soon after that--exhausted. (12068 steps on the pedometer)
Bon jour all