26 July 2004

Our last few days have been spent in Paris. We're all of mixed opinion about Paris. The rhetoric is right–in our experience, Paris is the most beautiful city in the world. But it's not always the most pleasant.

We left after class on Thursday and caught the London Express to Baker Street (Madame Tussaud's! Sherlock Holmes!) then Underground to Waterloo. At this point: Thank God for my Macintosh! It turns out that one retrieves a Eurostar reservation by booking number–which was cut off on my printout of the confirmation email! But I was able to look it up in the queue and made it to our carriage with some ten minutes to spare. (My Windows' Eudora won't work for searches without a network connection.)

We got to Paris at the North Station (Gare du Nord), ran out to get some Euros from an ATM, and then buy tickets for the Metro. At this point, we got ripped off for about 27E. While we were standing at the ticket machine, trying to figure out what we wanted and to use my College French, when a man came up to help us. "Where are you going? How many of you are there?" To Passy, five. "I will do it for you. Do you have paper money?" When I offered my credit card, he refused it. "Paper money only." I thought I saw credit card (card du paiement) go by on the screen, and I should have also had red flags go off when he paid for it himself and with only coins. I could see that the screen said "7E" but he said, "That's 35E, 7E each." For one way? "No, no – two day passes." At this point, I did refuse, "No, no thank you." But he said, holding out the tickets, "Look, here! I bought them for you!" At this point, my guilt reflex kicked in. Barb agreed, "That's probably about right for two day passes." So I gave him 50E, and he gave me 15E back.

It was on the train where a fellow American (student from LA) saw us and started chatting us up, when I asked him. The guy had sold us one-way tickets worth 1.4E each – 7E total. I later found out that he'd cheated the Metro, too – for the zones we were covering, it should have been 13E, but nobody would have (or did) check and we got through on the 7E worth of tickets. The girls were crying, "That was scary! We had money stolen!" We calmed them down and convinced them that it was a cheap lesson to not be hurried and to think through situations that don't seem right.

We got to Hotel Nicolo (that Barb's sister Sue had recommended) and really liked it. Cute hotel off the street, built around a courtyard. Not fancy (Brian said that he realized that when he called and wasn't able to leave us a message – they had no answering service for the rooms), but clean and they gave us two nice rooms (a triple and a double).

There were lots of Chinese resauraunts on our street, so Katie and I walked up to get us some food (it was about 9 pm there), and we got our first view of the Eiffel Tower above some lovely buildings in the Passy. It was very pretty.

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One of the most interesting intellectual observations of the weekend for me was how much of my French came back, seemingly without trying to remember. I was never a great French student (my lowest grades in College were in French), and I have many stories of getting French wrong when we were last in Paris 19 years ago (next month!) and in Quebec when I worked for LCSI in Montreal. Yet, words kept popping into my head, e.g., Katie mentioned, "We need forks," and "Fourchettes" came out of my mouth. The cashier asked me how many (and I don't know how I understood that), and I answered "Cinq, s'il vous plait." This happened several times on the trip (Matt's age is "douze ans," and I'm not even sure if I spelled that right, but I do know that those words came out of my mouth and were understood.) While learning scientists know that learning is a conscious process, it's pretty clear to me that remembering is sometimes a completely unconscious process, and sometimes transfer occurs from the classroom to the real situation without effort.

Friday


Friday morning, Barb went out to pick up some chocolate croissants (pain au chocolate) for breakfast. They were stunningly good, so we picked up more on the way to Notre Dame (after really getting two day Metro passes!) where we met my folks and Brian at 9 am. The Metro made for a fine journey, and walking in Paris was stunning. We turn and get our first view of the Ille de la Cite, then look back from the beautiful bridge to see an amazing fountain, then look to the right and get our first view of Notre Dame.

Brian and Dad went with the rest of us for the few hundred step up to the top of the Notre Dame towers where we could get a stunning view of Paris as well as of Notre Dame itself. The hag gargoyle in Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" looks just like the real one on the Notre Dame!

Barb and the Kids in front of Notre Dame

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Kids, Grandpa, and Brian with the Gargoyles in the Notre Dame Tower

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When we got back down, we walked over to Saint Chapelle which inside the Palace of Justice, and we got into our next trouble with Parisiennes. We stopped at a cafe to get sandwiches and such to go (emporter). I gave my Visa to pay for it, then while the cashier was working, helped Barb carry things over to a bench. The manager came out yelling at me, and while the other customers giggled, the cashier admonished me that taking care of the children was for the Mama, and that paying the bill was for the Pere!

"Faux pas" events like this happened several more times in Paris. I got in trouble at the fruit stand for picking up my own fruit, which was only to be done by the attendants, and I interrupted another transaction (which was only at the chatting stage, no fruit selected, but I did force the attendant to break off because I'd snagged my own fruit). Barb got yelled at when buying orange juice in the grocery, but since she doesn't speak any French, has no idea what she did wrong and just had a disgruntled cashier take her money. We kept finding ourselves tripping over social rules that we didn't perceive.

After Saint Chapelle (which was really gorgeous), we headed back to take a nap and promised to meet the folks later at Trocadero and then to the Eiffel Tower.

Katie was just all bubbly in Paris. The whole weekend, she kept saying how she'd never forget this, and how beautiful everything was, and how much she wanted to come back to Paris again someday. For a 9 year old who's always telling everyone how much she loves them, romantic Paris was a swoon. Jenny was okay with it all, but worried about her toe (bandages came off the first day, so we wrapped it better the second and third days), and having some deep theological issues. It seems that since her declaration that "There is NO MAGIC!" she'd been doubting the existence of God. "How could God be alive? He was real, but that was long ago. Now he's got to be dead! It just doesn't make sense!" Matt and I had long discussions while walking with the little Neitzsche (sp?), but in the end, I think we convinced her that it will never make sense, and that it's all about making a leap of faith. She seemed less bothered, at least.

After a brief sort-of nap, we headed off to Trocadeo and walked to the Eiffel Tower. Everyone agreed that it was absolutely gorgeous. When Barb and I were there for our honeymoon, we only saw the Eiffel from Trocadero.

At Trocadero, looking out over the Eiffel Tower

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Barb and Mark at Trocadero

(Tomorrow, the 27th, is our NINETEENTH wedding anniversary!)
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This time, we walked up and went up it. Barb, Dad, and the girls took the elevator to the Summit (after pausing at the second stage), while Matt, Brian, and I took the stairs (only to the second stage–they wouldn't let us go up the rest of the stairs). We waited with Mom until they came back down, then took a lovely nightime boat cruise on the Seine, and saw the new flashing display on the Eiffel (new as of the millenium). We got in about midnight–Jenny didn't wait, and fell asleep on the boat and we carried her back through the metro.

Brian and Matt heading up the Eiffel Tower

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Barb and Katie waiting in line for the elevator to the summit

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Waiting for them to come back down

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Little movie of the Eiffel Tower with the flashes on (Note the Katie and Matthew soundtrack): flashing-eiffel.avi

Saturday


Saturday morning, we picked up nine pain au chocolate to start with, and raspberries and (wonderful!) peaches, too. Then we headed off to the Arc de Triomphe, which was really pretty amazing. It's HUGE! We climbed to the top of it, of course, and Matt were a little slower after Eiffel and Notre Dame the day before.

At the Arc de Triomphe

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Jenny the Rebelle

We saw this poster everywhere in the Metro, and Jenny really loved it.
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We went back for a nap, then off the Louvre. We saw the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Michelangelo's statues, some amazing Pissaro's, Venus de Milo, and all in just a couple hours, without really working at it. There's just all this stuff around every corner!

Barb and the Kids outside the Louvre

(Barb got this beautiful dress really inexpensively near Passy, so she wore it in the afternoon.)
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After the Louvre, we walked over the Tuilieres Garden where they were having a carnival. The kids went on rides (fun house, swings that fly in the air, a giant twisting slide) and Barb and I sat and watched.

Kids at the Carnival

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Then we took a walk through the St. Germain area towards the Latin Quarter, to find someplace to eat. We found a seriously French restauraunt. The menu was totally in French, our waitress spoke some English, and the toilet...was a hole in the ground with two spots for your feet! But it was lots of fun – accordion players wandering up and down the street outside the hotel, families around us, waitresses fighting with the chef, good wine, and very good food.

Toilette at restaraunt

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By the time we got back, it was around 9 pm and we just crashed.

Sunday


We slept past Church time, and everything was closed around us in the morning, so we had breakfast at the hotel. Just as Barb and I had remembered it, we were offered a (very!) hard roll, a croissant, and a pain au chocolate. It was fine and filling.

We then walked up toward a local huge park, but got caught by climbing equipment (!) and burro rides (!!) before we got there. Near there was the Museum of Marmottan which had an amazing collection of Impressionist paintings and illuminated manuscripts. Matt and I went for 45 minutes, and then Barb did.

Burro rides

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We walked back toward Passy and picked up sandwiches (panini and baguettes). The Metro was crowded (Tour De France was ending that weekend in Paris!), so we just barely checked in to Eurostar with the required 30 minutes to spare. We met up with Brian and my folks who were in the carriage two up from us.

We all went over to Victoria together, planning to leave our stuff at "Left Luggage" and go get dinner. But it was 5.50 pounds per bag (!), which was way too expensive. We saw Brian and the folks off on the Gatwick Express, then had dinner (McDonald's and KFC!) before heading back ourselves on the Oxford Express. We've bought our tickets for Gatwick now! We got in around 9 and everyone crashed.