Thursday, March 31, 2005

Off the Rail again. . .

As you may have noticed in our previous post, we had some difficulty with the French regional trains (The TER lines are operated by the SNCF in case you feel like sending them nasty mail on our behalf). There was a strike of a large part of the French rail system yesterday, and it made travel. . . difficult.

Thankfully the TGVs were still running and so we forked out some extra money (thank goodness we have a little flexibility in our budget!) and made it into Spain by evening.

In Barcelona we looked at our options and bit the bullet -- overnight tickets to Madrid to save us time.

We were originally angling to a trip all the way down to Algericas, on the coast, so that we could catch a mid-morning ferry to Tanger, Morocco, and a mid-afternoon or early evening ferry back. We had hoped to be able to add a new continent to our travel logs and surprise you with some fun stories as well, but fate got the better of us. We lost so much time getting out of southern France that we couldn't get far enough to ensure a reasonable trip without getting trapped in Morocco or Algericas overnight, which would push back our trip plans for next week to Pisa, Florence, and Venice.

So we decided instead to continue via local and high speed AVEs to Sevilla instead and drop in on a friend we'd seen in Paris the previous week. The AVE was interesting. We watched most of Kate and Leopold in Spanish -- Meg Ryan's Voice dubber sounds very, very different. It was odd--the service and style of the train made if feel like an airline flight at an altitude of 2 feet. Disconcerting, but very nice and quite luxurious.

We made a brief stop in Cordoba and did a little shopping and hit a little net cafe, and then were back on the road to Sevilla. We arrived and found a place to stay, then got to a web café (Internetia) and begin the long process of updating this space and contacting our friend, since we didn't have her telephone number (silly us). We dropped by the school where she was studying and got some recommendations for dinner and a Flamenco show that we might catch tonight (the 31st).

After a walk around the city and a check on the show times we found a local Tapas bar she had recommended (Taberna El 10) and had a really outstanding meal of Papas a la Brava ("brave potatoes" with a spicy mayonnaise sauce), Lagramitas de Pollo (small bits of fried Chicken and Potato Crisps) and Habitas Mata con jamón (some sort of bean similar to a lima and ham).

With our meal I had what passes for the local draft beer, Cruzcampo (tasty), and Quatre-vingts had the most over-poured Bacardi and Coke I'd ever seen. Our slightly surly but cool barista must have thought she needed to improve her Spanish via relaxation, because I swear there were at least 3 ounces of Bacardi in that glass before she started adding coke.

We meandered our way back to the hostel around 10, exhausted and sleepy, and crashed early. We didn't meander due to the alcohol though. We meandered because it is impossible to go directly anywhere in Sevilla, the whole town is just a maze of winding alleys of various sizes, and all of them change names (and sometimes directions) at every intersection! Thankfully we have a good map with almost every road marked, so navigation has actually been pretty easy.

In the next post you'll get to hear about the best orange confection in the world, and the theft of one of Sevilla's famous oranges (I don't blame you, Janet Keiller).

Sevilla Sky at Sunset Posted by Hello

Sunset in Sevilla Posted by Hello

We're back, we're bad.

Hey everybody.

We're at the Internetia for a few minutes sorting out and updating. Expect a full set of posts within the next hour.

There are three more posts on the way, in the final stages. Hopefully you'll see them here sometime tomorrow.

In the meantime, there are a couple of over updates below, and here are a couple of photographs of the Sevilla sunset to tide you all over.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Work in Progress.

Hey everybody.

We're safe, and in Spain at the moment. Things have been busy. We´re updating as fast as possible, but the servers are a little screwy today and they moved our pictures around.

For the moment, read and enjoy what you can. We´ll post and explain more as soon as we are able!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Trains vs. Planes

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time, oh let me kiss you
And close your eyes and I'll be on my way.

Dream about the days to come
When I won't have to leave alone
About the time that I won't have to say.

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go.

'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane
I don't know when I'll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go.

I've seen that exact mental image time and again at the train stations we have frequented on our travels through Europe. I haven't been in many airports on this trip, but so far we've been in over 25 different train stations and I almost always see a scene of lovers saying goodbye.

It's not something I have seen much of in the States because I haven't traveled on trains there, and the US airports with their heightened security prevents lovers from staying together until the last possible minute.

But here, it's not uncommon to see a couple stealing the last possible second together. A passionate goodbye kiss before one lover boards the train. The lover that has to remain behind follows the one that must leave to a window. The window is lowered. The longing to remain together is palatable.

The train slowly pulls out of the station and as the one on the train blows their lover a kiss, the lover left behind can't seem to help but take a step forward, as if they want to run alongside the train.

Very moving.

The type of scene that begs to be shot as a black and white photograph so that the colors don't distract from the poignant emotions expressed in the lovers' body language.

Patrick: "Translation: The trains are f*cked."

We encountered the following message when travelling from Annecy, France to Barcelona, Spain.

En raison d'une arrêt de travail d'une certaine catégorie du personnel SNCF, la circulation des trains est perturbée.

Le "contrat horaire garanti" est suspendu durant la période de grève.

Veuillez consulter le tableau ci-dessous por le détail des modifications à l'arrivée et au départ de Montpellier ou vous rapprocher du bureau accueil pour tout renseignment.

Merci de votre compréhension.

Literal translation (via :

Because of a stop of work of a certain category of personnel the SNCF, the circulation of the trains is disturbed.

The "guaranteed time contract" is suspended during the period of strike.

Please consult table below for the detail of the modifications to the arrival and the beginning of Montpellier or renseignment bring you closer the office reception for all.

Thank you for your comprehension.

Needless to say, we had fun trying to get out of France.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Reading in Sallanches

Wow! What an amazing weekend. A time to for us to brush up on our French (well, more like a crash course for me), do a little reading, eat AMAZING food, ski in the Alps, do some sight-seeing, and to just relax.

As I mentioned we did some reading, and I had a crash course in French. I first learned how to count to 10 (which if you look at the spelling, sounds NOTHING like it looks), and then since French is a Romance language and so is Spanish (which I had three years on back in high school), I thought it would be kind of fun to do some reading to learn some more French. I was pointed upstairs to a collection of TinTin books. Patrick recommended Objectif Lune (Objective Moon) which he had read in English as a child. So I figured why not. Sounds like a good choice.

The book was great. And I actually understood most of it. Although I will I admit I used the pictures A LOT. However, I had forgotten what it was like to spend a long time reading a 'small' book.

Let me explain. I'm a fast reader. Years of reading for pleasure has helped, and it is not uncommon for me to go through 50 - 150 books during the summer depending on how much time I have on my hands. (My library card gets a lot of workout during the summer, if you couldn't guess.) I upgraded to large (adult) books at a young age, so it was a trip down memory lane to spend more than one hour reading a 60 page book. I had flashbacks to memories of reading under the covers late at night just to finish the story. I finished the story after 2.5 days of reading.

Another thing I learned with French; pronouncing the words are easier for me if I've had something to drink. As I mentioned I took Spanish in high school where every letter is pronounced. In French, you seem to drop half the letters when you are pronouncing the word, and there are no 'hard' sounds (or at least what I would classify as a hard sound). So it was easier to forget the ingrained habit of pronouncing every letter when I'd had something to drink.

... To Champagne.

After we returned from the slopes and cleaned up, we sat down to an absolutely outstanding. The first course, of bread and cold cuts was followed by veal and olives in a seasoned tomato sauce with rice pilaf. I think I ate three times more of this than I've eaten of any food in the past 6 months. It was amazing. We continued working on the chocolate after lunch (left over from the previous feast) and then our host (who had worked hard all morning keeping us from killing ourselves or our fellow skiers) and we took naps to sleep off the food and wines.

After we awoke, we sat and chatted a bit before a light dinner (a very light and fluffy cheese omelet) and drank wines. We even got into a 1994 Bordeaux that was really unique. Wonderful tastes and far more character than most of the wines I had had back in the states.

After we'd eaten and drank our fill, we broke out just two more bottles of champagne, so that we could try opening a bottle the traditional way, using a method very similar to one I tried last Christmas, called sabering.

You can see Quatre-Vingts trying it below.

Paf! Posted by Hello

And here I am working on the second bottle.

Fore! Posted by Hello

Pretty neat, huh?

After we'd polished off most of the second bottle, we again retired relatively early, since we had to be up at 6 the next morning to prepare for our trip to Annecy by car with Philippe. He would drop us at the train station there (saving us the two-hour local train ride from Sallanches) and we would continue our travels towards the south.

- Patrick

From Skiing...

After being fitted the night before with skiing apparel, Philippe, Patrick, and I were off to ski Mont Blanc. I'll admit I was a little on the nervous side. As a Floridian, I prefer my water to be in the liquid stage, not frozen.

We rented ski boots for the both of us and a set of skis for me (I was originally going to borrow a pair of the Lux's skis, but the guy at the rental place said that since I was a beginner, I should probably use a shorter set, so Patrick used the pair I was going to).

So we drive to the slope, and take a gondola up to the top, admiring the views on the way.

I started to get a little nervous. I've been skiing before, both times in North Carolina, and the most recent time nearly acquired a broken leg as a souvenir. This was the ALPS. According to Google, Mont Blanc (where we were skiing) is roughly 400 meters taller than the tallest point in the Rockies. ACK!

So we get to the top and put on our skis. It's just flat enough that you have to use your ski poles to get from the gondola lift to the slope. I manage to get to the slope fine, but stopping in front of the slope was another story, so I did the one thing I knew was guaranteed to get me to stop. I fell.

Before we started down the slope, Philippe showed me how to do the "snow plow." I really think there is another easier way to stop. Either that or skiers have tight rears and great looking legs.

So with the basic stopping principle explained, we were off.

Well sort of.

I had the hardest time getting myself to start the slope. It wasn't as gentle a slope as I was hoping for to begin on. From where I was standing it looked like a 50 degree downward slope from where I was standing. A little intimidating. Especially since stopping was still an iffy thing.

Somehow I got to the bottom of that first part of the slope, although stopping was completed using the tried an true method of falling.

About a quarter of the way down the slope and 30 minutes and multiple falls later, Philippe decides that the best way for me to learn is to hold onto his shoulders and ski behind him as he skis down the slope.

Learning to ski Posted by Hello

THAT WAS GREAT! I didn't have to worry about navigating, I learned how to turn using the snow plow method (similar to water-skiing but a lot different too), and I didn't fall half as much.

Patrick was a different story. See, when we first started skiing, Patrick was holding his day bag with our waters and cameras as he went downhill, but the bag was knocking him off balance every time he tried to turn to the right (clockwise). While that would be a great excuse for the picture below, that is not the case. . .

After the first fifteen falls in as many meters, we took the bag from him to help his turns. After that he did better, except for a slight propensity to hurtle backwards down the hill using his jacket as a sled.

Direct quote: "This is my best pose." Posted by Hello

After traversing the slopes 3 times in about 2 and a half hours (just a note, if anyone tells you it's like waterskiing, they were lying) we headed back to the wonderful lunch that Martine had prepared for us.

Additional story from Patrick:

At one point on my second run (er, tumble) down the slope, I found myself wiping out (back first down the mountain, as above) next to a intermediately skilled couple from an English speaking country. I couldn't place their accents at the time (my ears were filled with snow) but I'd guess probably New Zealand or Australia. In any case, they asked me if I was ok and I said yes, and we had the following conversation.

Me: "It's a new method, called falling down the mountain."

Him[playing along]: "Oh, sure. What style?"

Me: "Backwards!"

Both of them: Laughter.

Ten minutes and 100 meters down the slope, I found myself hurtling past them with my shoulder and head leading the way down the hill in my usual pose. As I skipped and skidded through the snow to their right, I called out: "See, backwards!" to laughter and applause from my surprised fellow skiers.

Well, better skiers, I suppose I should say. :-)

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Chamonix, Church, and Chocolate.

The next morning we dragged our bleary eyed and slightly dehydrated selves out of bed early enough to enjoy fresh croissants and coffee before climbing into Philippe's Renault Scenic (no key, it's a card and a pushbutton ignition. Very cool) and heading for church.

What sleepiness the coffee hadn't driven from me was soon banished by our trip up the north side of the valley to our chosen Easter Sunday church, the small church on Plateau d'Assy where Phillipe was married 31 years ago. Our host has lived in the mountains all his life, and drives a vehicle that hugs the road like an environmentalist wrapped around a redwood, so taking tiny, hairpin turns that left less than a meter between us and a joyful bounding tumble down the side of the mountain at 60 or more KPH was completely normal.

We were VERY aware when we arrived at church.

The church was quite pretty and featured artwork by several prominent French artists of the past century. And it was enjoyable just to be able to say we attended church on Easter Sunday.

But for the record, I was unaware that the French could sing this badly. The previous Friday we had attended a haunting service at Sacre Coeur where 2,000 people generated beautiful melodies led by a choir of nuns. Easter Sunday we experienced some of the most off-key singing I've experienced anywhere, and I've experienced some very, very atrocious singing. Those who were on-key were out of time, and those who were on time where out-of-key, created a disharmonic and disconcerting effect like 100 Samoans attempting to read and sing a language they'd never been exposed to before, across from 100 Americans attempting to also read and sing the same language at the same time.

Apparently we were not the only members of the congregation who had partaken of liquid delights the previous evening.

After the service we returned to the house and were met there by our hosts younger son and his Portuguese girlfriend, and had an absolutely outstanding meal. The first course was pickled asparagus with seasoned mayonnaise, then cold cut hams and bread, then we had a regional delicacy, Lamb in a honey sauce, then salad, then bread and cheese, then fruit, and then, since it was Easter Sunday, chocolate! They had a couple of large objects (An Egg made of a sort of almond brittle and a car sortof thing made of chocolate) that were filled with tiny sweets.

It was a fantastic lunch and we had a wonderful time.

We even managed to stay awake most of the time on the following car ride down into the heart of the valley, Chamonix. There we walked around the small town, which has a very nice feel considering its crammed with ski-shops and small cafes and viewed the beautiful mountains from other angles we'd not yet enjoyed. We also took a drive out towards the border of Switzerland and if I'd remembered my passport we would have probably traveled on to buy a little chocolate and check it off our list of places to visit.

In any case, after this we returned to the house and had another lovely dinner, this time thankfully just light leftovers from lunch, since if we'd had a new dinner to try it would probably have killed us both!

After dinner, we went to bed relatively early to make sure we were rested for the following day. When we were to attempt to ski in the French Alps!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

My Family is an Experience.

March 26th, through the evening.

Meeting anyone to whom I am related is always an experience. I have a saying my friends have heard many times that goes something like this. "They say that normal is relative, but none of my relatives are normal."

For example, my family across the Atlantic is fantastically, 100% French.

And never is the wonderful handful of traits that make someone French more apparant than when you visit them in their home. My French family, the children of my grandfather´s brother, are wonderful hosts. Their house--nestled on the side of the Sallanches valley--is gorgeous, and has views that make people with lodges in Aspen smolder with jealousy.

Victor Hugo wrote "The Sallanches Valley is a theater" and the statement is a perfect sentiment that captures the ways in which the weather interacts with the mountain vistas, creating new visions and views each moment that it is observed.

Sallanches Posted by Hello

My family is equally intriguing. The head of the household works for Renault in Annecy, and they have traveled as much if not more than my parents, with recent trips including China, and the next trip in the queue--work related--to Mexico. Their son lived and worked for a time on the island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. They run the quintessential French household. Simple breakfasts, extravagant lunches, and a fantastic array of wines constantly arriving from the Cellar.

In addition, over a year ago, when I taught some friends of mine (including my traveling companion) a definition of 'just a taste' it was based on hard liquor--just a sip is all you need, this is very different from a proper definition of 'just a taste' for a bottle of wine, where just a taste means at least 1/2 a glass.

These definitions were at odds nightly, when my family would introduce a new bottle of wine and 80* (say it out loud) would say "oh, sure. Just a taste!" and find a half a glass of wine in front of her to take in. She put up a good fight, certainly, but it was entertaining to watch her become more and more inebriated throughout the night as each new wine was introduced and she failed in a battle to have a single sip.

For both of us, the phrase of the weekend was "Un Petit Peu" -- A little bit! It became our constant cry as each new food and drink was brought to the table. Our hosts would offer us a new item and laughingly declare, "oh yes, of course, just a little bit!" and then, it often seemed, give us double!

But oh, what fantastic food it was!

The first day we were there we arrived after lunch, and so we sat and talked and drank Heineken (80 had orange juice) and looked over photograph books for most of the afternoon. This also presented 80 with her first chance to see photos of my parents, since I hadn´t sent her any while I was back home. It was funny to have to suddenly explain to my family that my traveling companion had never laid eyes on my folks. Awkward!

Their son, who lives in an apartment in the bottom level of their house and works at one of the ski resorts in the valley, arrived from work around 5PM, and we sat and drank aperitifs (scotch for me, various and sundry for the other four) and talked about our trip so far and how things were going.

Then we had dinner. It was a very traditional French meal born, like many modern Irish meals, out of necessity. The areas around us, impoverished after the world wars (they were the first areas to fall under German control in both cases), had managed to find simple, low cost meals that could be turned into feasts, and we had one of these that evening. It was boiled potatoes and smoked cheese. They have a cheese smoker, like a series of miniature pans for fondue and an on-the-table cooker. You put your ingredients in a little pan and slide it in one of the 8 accessible slots in a large heated iron (it looks like an imposing sort of waffle iron) and a few minutes later you slide out hot smoked cheese, which you then pour on your potatoes and consume, usually along with sounds of delight. It makes a wonderful meal.

And of course, as a traditional French meal, it was preceded by cold cut Italian and French hams, and followed by a bread and cheese course, and a fruit course.

4 course meals that last 2 hours were not something that 80 and I had been doing a great deal of so far on the trip, and the transition was imposing, but we certainly did our best to live up to the challenge.

After dinner was finished, we moved back to the sitting room and finished off the wine, then moved to champagne.

By the time we retired for the night, we were both certain only of the location of the floor. Thank heavens there was only one flight of stairs to our rooms, I don't think I could have survived two.

*My companion´s name is Adrienne. She shortens this name to Ad. I pronounce it Aye-Dee, or Eighty. So her new nickname, 80 was born. In person I now often call her quatre-vingts, the French word for 80, literally translated, it means "four twenties". It is pronounced Katruh-Vahn.

The Blue Train

Paris Gare De Lyon station is an adventure.

First, we attempted to reserve overnight train tickets to Sallanches for Friday evening (as mentioned in the last post). However Easter Monday is a holiday all over Europe, so everyone travels over this extremely popular three day weekend, and we weren´t able to get tickets. Instead we got reservations for a TGV set to leave at 9:30 the next morning, Saturday.

Due to the number of trains arriving ever minute to such a large location, the gate at which each train is berthed is usually not announced until 20 minutes previous to its departure, and up to that point you only know whether it will be a 'blue' gate (the lettered gates) or a 'yellow' one (the numbered gates). This makes it an adventure finding your train, kind of like an Easter egg hunt, only without any of the fun.

And of course, in keeping with our extremely erratic luck in Paris, our train was not assigned a gate number until 5 minutes after it was scheduled to depart, at which point it felt as if half the population of Gare De Lyon (a station that holds easily 2000 people at that time of day) attempted to board the train in a 3 minute time frame.

So we gathered our bags and hustled our way along with the herd (Mooo!) onto the train. It was a very nice setup; the TGV took good care of us on our way to Sallanches. Impressively, despite the fact that we left 15 minutes late, and we stopped twice due to unexplained technical difficulties, we managed to arrive just 10 minutes after our scheduled time.

And there, we met my family.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday Mass At Sacré Coeur

Tu es saint, Dieu, tu es saint, fort, Dieu saint, immortel, aie pitié de nous.

You are holy, God, you are holy, strong, God holy, immortal, have pity of us.

This was the chorus to a canon that we said/sung during the blessing. (At least I think it was the blessing; I've only been to one other mass.) It was awesome to be able to worship in a country where you don't speak the language, but can tell that people are there to worship as well.

I wish there was more I could say, but the words escape me.

Paris: City of ...

Lights. Lovers. Wonders.

Wow, what to say about Paris?

I think it stole a part of my heart when I wasn't looking.

Watching the sunset over Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, was a glorious sight.

Sunset over Paris.

We decided that since we were already up there, we would wait until dark to get some night shots of Paris. The City of Light. While the night was cold, the view we had of Paris was one that we would have regretted missing.

View of the Arc de Triomphe at night

I was practicing my night photography here. I was really pleased with the way this one came out, especially since I was operating without a tripod.

Paris At Night

We managed to snag another tourist on top of the Eiffel Tower to take this group shot. From left to right: Patrick, Adrienne (me), Casey, and John.

Group Shot Looking Over Northern Paris

Eiffel Tower At Night

Patrick showed me the basics to the Paris metro, and then let me navigate from one point to another, which was a lot of fun. I think I only got us lost once. (The blessed thing about Paris metro: you can't get lost.... at least not really... you just spend more time on it than you originally planned.) Metro map here.

Paris Metro

The gorgeous Notre-Dame. The inside was gorgeous, but it almost felt wrong to take pictures of the inside.

Random Fact: Notre Dame is 130 meters long, 48 meters wide and 35 meters high. Its pillars have a diameter of up to 5 meters and its rose windows have a diameter of 10 meters. The twin towers culminate 69 meters (386 stairs) above the ground. The south tower houses the 13 ton Emmanuel Bell.

Notre Dame

On our walk back from Notre Dame, while the others shopped nearby, I wandered the bridge over the Seine River, and caught this sunset.

Sunset over the Seine River

Sacré Coeur. Sacred Heart. Notre Dame was gorgeous, but Sacré Coeur was my favorite cathedral that we visited. Sacré Coeur wasn't as large as Notre Dame, but the inside was brighter, and had a more welcoming feel to it.

Random Fact: The interior of the church contains one of the world's largest mosaics, and depicts Christ with outstretched arms.

Sacré Coeur at night

Right behind the Sacré Coeur is a shopping district known as Montmartre. Here you could find restaurants and painters toting their wares, and artists such as the guy below who will paint/sketch your likeness (for a pretty penny of course).

Random fact of information: The bishop St. Denis, the priest Rustique, and the archdeacon Eleuthère were all decapitated here around the 250 AD giving the area the name "Mont des Martyrs" which is where Montmartre derives its name.

Painter in Montmartre

Patrick caught this picture of a harmonica player who was playing near the Sacré Coeur.

Nighttime Serenade

They teach children to dance at a young age in France. Too bad I couldn't convince anyone to join me in joining them. Maybe next time.

Children Dancing at Versailles

So we got tired of taking 'nice' and 'normal' pictures, and this is the result.

Goofing off in front of the Louvre

Four Days in Paris

We're back!

We've been swamped the last four days, so we're doing four updates simultaneously.

March 22nd - Day of 1,000 Steps.

We met John and Casey at the hotel after wandering our section of Paris a bit. We were staying at Modern Hotel De LaFayette at 60 Rue De LaFayette. It was a very nice place and we had a quadruple for ourselves with our own bathroom and towels and even daily cleaning service -- real luxury when you've been living out of a backpack and sharing rooms with people whose sinus-generated audio registers on the Richter scale in California.

So we dropped off all our bags and went for a bit of an afternoon outing. I suggested that a good generic 'first afternoon' activity was to hit the Metro, popping out at Concorde, walk the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe, and then climb the Arc. After that we'd wander around and see what else we wanted to accomplish before it got late.

We got on the Metro and emerged at Concorde. We meandered down the Champs Elysées and talked about how the city is now and how the walk is peppered with stores from all over the world, proving that they have 'made it' as a consumer item by having front space on that bit of earth.

Then, we climbed the Arc. (284 steps.)

We snapped a few pictures at the top, and we will try and do a major picture upload in the next week if possible.

Edit: Here´s a picture of the sign posted at the arc. We all wondered about the second symbol?

No Speedos! Posted by Hello

Then we talked about the Eiffel Tower and decided to walk over and at least see it that night.

After a stop in a small pastry shop/café, we decided to try and go up the tower late that afternoon and wait there through nightfall, so that we could experience the views of the City of Light both by night and day.

So we found out we could save a lot of money by taking the stairs to the first and second levels (328 and 342 steps, respectively).

Thankfully for us, they won't let you climb the rest, you've got to use a lift.

For those of you with a penchant for math, you've realized that we've already climbed a total of 954 steps in just these three monuments, and this does not include any of the myriad staircases in the Metro, or the additional 66 steps to our 3rd floor hotel room.

So we broke 1000 steps on our first day in Paris. Which pretty much wore us out.

The Tower was beautiful though and we got some very cool night shots of the city.

One of 80's shots of ParisPosted by Hello

After that, we headed back to the hotel (after a brief confusion over where the hell the Metro station was ("whattya mean Champs De Mars is above ground? I thought it was a subway?") and crashed, hard.

March 23rd - Laundry, Hidden Passages, and Cathedrals.

The next morning, John and I woke up early and went running. Since we hadn't seen Sacré-Coeur the previous night, we opted to run uphill until we found it. Once we found it (foolish, foolish boys that we are) we opted to try running the steps, all [we-don't-even-know-how-many-but-they-installed-a-tram-for-a-reason] of them. So that was foolhardy and painful, but rewarding since the morning view of the city was as gorgeous as dusk had been the previous day.

After we returned we spent a lazy morning eating pastries that we had brought back and sorting clothes so that we could make a much-needed laundry day of it. Once we had acquired fresh clothing, we ventured out again, this time in an attempt to find a series of covered passages that my mother had recommended to us.

We never did find them, but wound up meandering our way all the way down to Notre-Dame and visiting there. After that we went to dinner at a wonderful little place recommended to us by one of our friends from Mercer called Le Table Des Gourmets. It was located in an underground church and the food was plentiful and spectacular, from a prix-fix menu of 15 Euros.

I also introduced Adrienne to one of my family's traditional favorite drinks for special occasions, Kirs Royale. Always a treat worth making time to enjoy.

After that we walked back through the city and wound up walking up to Sacre-Coeur that evening to enjoy the night view of the city.

March 24th - Versaille, Wine, and Family Time

Another Lazy morning involving pastry (we would all be 10 lbs heavier when you see us next, if not for all the walking) and we were off for a day trip to see Versaille, one of the most expansive and intricate of the European palaces. It is, in every sense, a monument to the opulence of dead kings.

We had gone shopping in the morning and purchased traditional French lunch ingredients for a picnic -- a wheel of cheese, some salami, a couple small (375ml) bottles of wine--one red, one white, mustard, greens, and a baguette. We were prepared for a perfect French picnic, so of course it remained cold and rainy until late afternoon. Ah well, c'est la vie!

We wound up buying our Versaille entry tickets along with our RER tickets out to see the palace at the RER ticket booth in Invalides. We highly recommend this to anyone doing Versaille as a daytrip via public transportation. The train was comfy and had lots of space, and we saved about 15 euros off the total cost of the trip, once you included the Express Entry and the audio-tour that were included as part of the ticket we purchased for just 17 Euros (including train fare) via the RER booth.

We had a lovely time wandering through the palace in the morning and our lunch, under a covered walkway before the rain receded, was admired by all who passed by. They seemed suprised that we'd come so well equipped. After all, it isn't every day that tourists remember to bring wine-bottles and a corkscrew when out touring.

Picnic - Versailles Posted by Hello

We had a great lunch, then wandered the gardens before returning to the city to change clothes and jump in the Metro for Edgar Quinet station in the south-central part of the city. There we met three of my cousins, and had a very typical Parisienne dinner, lots of courses with troublingly small (or large) amounts of food when you were expecting them, and garnishes both wierd and fantastic. It was a great meal, and really good to see friends I hadn't seen in a half-decade or more.

We finally left dinner around 23:00, and headed back to catch some sleep before our last day, prepared to see the Louvre and hopefully Orangie.

March 25th - Victims of the Louvre.

We repacked our bags and checked out after discovering that Ad and I would require another nights lodging in Paris -- our intended train to Sallanches was booked full due to the coming three day weekend -- and we then walked to this new place (which certainly seems interesting, more on it in the next post) and left our bags there (Ad's idea, I doubt they'll still be in one piece when we arrive tonight).

So after dropping of our bags, we headed for the Louvre and I took a much-needed break (stress related to my bankcard) while the three of them did the Louvre sprint-- Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, castle unearthered below, and AWAY!

A short 1.5 hours later they exited and we dropped our selves and our day packs in a park to eat our picnic lunch, then headed off to see if the Orangie museum would welcome us. We had heard that renovations had been begun 4 years ago, and that they were to be completed sometime in 2003, so we were dissapointed to find out that they are still in full swing and going strong. No luck there.

With only a few hours before John and Casey had to be on a train, we chose to go up into the north part of the Pigalle district and see where Moulin Rouge was filmed, in and around the original Cabarét/Theatre.

We were entertained to notice a group of children using their winter jackets as kites in the late afternoon heat. They'd found a Metro-vent for the station near us, and every time a train entered the station, it would build up enough air that the children could toss their jackets out and they would be carried on the wind high into the air above them. I think I managed to capture a couple of good pictures of this, hopefully you'll see them soon as well.

After that we wandered up to the Montmarte square and admired some of the sketching there before heading back down into the heart of the city. We went back with John and Casey and they picked up their baggage and we said our goodbyes. They were headed for the Metro to Paris Austerlitz station, with tickets for a night-train to Madrid.

We then returned to Sacre-Coeur (there's those blasted steps again) for the sunset and then Good Friday mass, which was beautiful. We enjoyed the service, even if most of it was unintelligble to our untrained ears. The combination of intoned French and occasoinal liturgical Latin is harmonious even in the absence of comprehension.

We're headed back to our B&B now, hopefully to catch some sleep and have a wonderful breakfast before heading off to catch our TGV to the French Alps at 9:30.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Bienvenue vers Paris

Paris, France.

Well, we found an internet café in Paris; but now we are fighting with a new layout.
AZERTY -- zqy zorse thqn the lqst one: (way worse than the last one; and we couldn't find the keyboard settings.)

So last night, we caught the Salzburg to München train, and then the München to Paris nachtzug. We ended up getting a couchette ("kooshett" - Patrick's been correcting my pronunciations) for only €18.00 per bed. That was better than some hostels we have looked at.

(As I'm sitting here typing on the keyboard, I randomly get frustrated with the keys on the board b/c just enough of them are in the wrong place; so according to Patrick: I bounce in the chair and wave my hands in frustration. Next time HE can type and fight with the keyboard. Either that, or the next post will be very interesting. )

We're off to meet John and Casey at the hotel; then it's off to L'Arc De Triomphe or Le Passages.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Hills Are Alive...

Sorry. Couldn't resist. We're in Salzburg, birthplace of the famous composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and one of the filming locations for the movie The Sound Of Music.

Since we had reservations for the 19:03 train from Salzburg to Munich, we had most of the day to explore. So we grabbed a map from the hostel, and off we went.

We walked through the park below on our way downtown.

Park in Salzburg

And a polite lady offered to take a picture of us in front of a fountain.

Shot in front of a fountain

After meandering downtown for a while, we walked toward the river. On the walk we heard some music coming a building. We didn't have anything pressing to do, so we decided to check it out. Turns out the building was the music building of one of the univerisities in Salzburg, and we were listening to students practicing.

After that, we found a church that we wanted to explore. While inside, I happened to notice the following on a bulletin board.


Apparently Screen Beans are famous world-wide. (Screen Beans are clipart created by A Bit Better Corporation. They do everything from singing, to playing various sports, to trying to solve puzzles, to hosting business meetings.)

After checking out the church, we crossed the river and hiked up a path to what we believed was a castle, but could have just been an elaborate Austrian equivalent to a state park. Set along the cliffs that encompass Salzburg are paths with spectacular aerial views of the city below. Here's a shot of Patrick admiring the gorgeous view. We decided to stop and eat lunch along one of these paths, just enjoying the quiet and beauty before us.

Looking over Salzburg

After lunch we continued along the paths. We had noticed during lunch that there was another way off the cliffs, so instead of backtracking over stuff we had already seen, we decided to take a more circular route back towards the hostel.

Little did we know that the path would drop us off in a quaint shopping district, full of little shops selling various wares. It was nice because it didn't have the feel of a tourist trap. The shops sold more than just keychains and t-shirts, infact, most that I saw, didn't sell those things, which was a nice change. Instead, most stores were artisans working and selling their trade. So we wandered through the small, pedestrian-only streets, window shopping and doing a little actual shopping as well.

One of the store fronts we passed had a lady etching some glass. The craftmanship (done by hand) was beautiful, and if I wasn't traveling via backpack and had a way to get it home without damage, I would have been sorely tempted to buy something. Below you can see a picture of her working.

Glass Artist

As we were wandering out of shopping district, I noticed a puppeteer. Unfortunately I couldn't get my camera out fast enough to get a picture of her entertaining a little girl by making the bird 'drink' from the puddle at her feet, but I did manage to catch this shot.


By this time it was getting late and we needed to do some grocery shopping and grab our packs before catching our train.

Next stop: Paris!

Trains, Trains, and More Trains!

So most of the day was spent on trains, but never fear! We still have pictures for you to enjoy. Some are attempts at more 'artistic' shots, while a couple are just random pictures that were taken.

Train Perspective

Perspective Shot

Man Waiting For The Train

Lady Waiting For Her Train

Our First Austrian Train

Rough Day of Sitting

And on the 8th train, they rested. . .

Salzburg, Austria.

So it's been 48 hours and we imagine that you are beginning to wonder if customs picked us up somewhere and has us in a holding cell.

Not so! Rather we have simply been busy traveling and haven't had a chance until now to sit down and write an update.

When last you heard from us we were in Karlsruhe, at a tiny 24 hour cafe at the tram station there. After we updated, we jumped on the tram (the third time with a single as-yet-unvalidated ticket--we're downright criminal!) and got back to the Karlsruhe hauptbahnhof (main station). From there we train-hopped for the rest of the afternoon until we arrived in Titisee, a small German town in the mountains of the Black Forest region.

The views throughout the afternoon were gorgeous, and we had a wonderful time on the local trains, since they moved slowly and stopped regularly.

We had been recommended a gastehaus (Guesthouse) in Lenzkirch called
HausBaader, and we planned to hop a local bus through the winding mountain range (€1.90 -- a steal). However, once we arrived in Lenzkirch we discovered that despite having an active website, HausBaader no longer exists! This took us a bit of time (and a lot of walking around with packs) to discover, and our confusion was compounded by the fact that most of the people we asked for directions were German tourists on holiday, so they didn't know the town any better than we did.

Eventually we found a substitute with a double room for €40. Including a fantastic breakfast, and checked in there.

We got into the room just in time to notice that the sun was setting and the deck outside our room gave us the perfect view across the valley. We then got to watch one of the most impressive sunsets we've seen in all our combined travels--from a swing which Adrienne found luxurious--and we took several pictures which we hope we'll get a chance to upload later.

[Editors Note: Pictures like this one.]

Sunset Posted by Hello

The next morning (Palm Sunday) we left Lenzkirch on the bus and then began train-hopping. Our plan (decided over breakfast) was to head around the north side of the Bodensee (an inland lake separating Germany, Austria, and Switzerland) and south into Austria, in an attempt to reach Salzburg or Wien (Vienna) by late that evening.

We averaged a local train and a change every hour for the next 8 hours, like so:

11:19 Titisee -> Neustadt
11:32 Neustadt -> Donaueshingen
12:18 Donaueshingen -> Radolfzell
13:38 Radolfzell -> Friedrichshafen
15:00 Friedrichshafen -> Lindau
16:25 Lindau -> Bregenz
17:16 Bregenz -> Bludenz
19:35 Bludenz -> Salzburg

It was a fantastic day filled with amazing vistas and lush countryside. When we had finished we were 300 miles (as the crow flies) from where we started.

We found out, over the course of the day, that we could ride for free on the more luxurious EC (Eurocity) trains, which we had previously thought required a reservation. This will make travel even easier and speedier throughout the rest of our trip.

We arrived in Salzburg around 23:30 and checked into the
Yoho at Salzburg Youth Hostel. This morning we stowed our bags and reserved our couchette for tonight on the Munich-to-Paris Nachtzug (Overnight Train) which we'll catch a connecting train to Munich for late this afternoon or early this evening.

Now we're off to explore Salzburg and get a taste for the city. It will be nice to have the whole day to explore!

- Patrick and Adrienne

Sunday, March 20, 2005


We really are just big kids at heart. We found a giant playground in Karlsruhe and had a good time goofing off and taking pictures. I've included a few of them for you to see.



Showing off



My turn!