Monday, June 29, 2015

Paris Diary part 18

Day 21
22°, sunny.

Lily, our roommate and I all went back to Antibes, only this time it was going to be a longer trip. Most of the day was spent on the train, getting settled in and enjoying the big house in Antibes.

Day 22
22°, sunny.

After spending the morning on the beach, Lily & I went to lunch in Juan-les-Pins. The food was definitely not worth the inflated price, but the views from our table on the terrace were beautiful. We were facing the gulf side and could see Cannes and the famous casino on the peninsula.

Everyone went to work after lunch, and Lily & I explored the house and grounds after work, with a quick trip to the swimming pool.

Dinner was at La Taille de Guêpe, a tiny hole in the wall restaurant with plates that were more like pieces of art than dishes of food. The restaurant is famous for its flower salads and some of the dishes looked like floral decorations. The beignets de fleurs de courgettes were the best zucchini blossoms I have ever eaten, but the flower desserts were the highlight for me.

The restaurant was in a tiny little alley in the old town. Only one waitress served the entire restaurant, but there were only a dozen tables at most. The big surprise to me, other than all the flowers on everything, was how low the prices were. This was a restaurant that lives on its reputation among the locals for quality food rather than overcharging the tourists. In fact, I would be surprised if we were not the only foreigners there that night.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Paris Diary part 17

Day 20
22°, sunny.

This was another long work day, but at lunch, Lily & I walked around the 14th arrondissement near Tour Montparnasse and got kicked out of the Société des gens de lettres.

We had lunch at Harmony Café on Boulevard de Port-Royal, where the owner – an older man – spent a lot of time talking to us. I could say it was because we were young women, but he lives in a city full of young women. It was most likely because he was a friendly restaurateur.

We went to a weird little restaurant called Chez nos ancêtres les gaulois on Île Saint-Louis for dinner. Rather than the refined elegance of most Paris restaurants, this place was designed to look like a roadside tavern in medieval Gaul, hence the name. The walls were exposed wood beams and stone with mounted animal heads, and long wooden block tables provided group seating.

Every table had a large basket of raw fruits and vegetables and a nice assortment of cheeses. This is essentially an all you can eat buffet restaurant, wine included, but it is nothing like Las Vegas.

The spécialité de la maison, aside from the ambience, was grilled chunks of meat and sausages, but there was more than enough cheese, vegetables and bread. Cheese and bread with a nice glass of wine can be a great meal all on its own, if you get the right cheese and bread.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Paris Diary part 16

Day 18
18°, sunny.

While I was at work, Lily had her own day to wander around, and our roommate went shopping.

While Lily & I were relaxing on our rooftop terrace, our roommate provided some of her own drama. She sliced her finger open in the kitchen and we took her to the nearest hospital, which was conveniently only 4 minutes away on Île de la Cité.

After paying less than 7 euros for a week's worth of pain medication, we all walked back to the apartment together. Our insurance covered the emergency room visit, and we learned later that we could have called an ambulance for free and they would have fully treated her at the apartment since it was not exactly brain surgery. She could have picked up her medication at her convenience. But walking to the hospital was still faster.

Day 19
18°, sunny.

Nothing special happened on this day. It was mostly just work.

We went to Île aux Cygnes after work and saw the tiny Statue de la Liberté. Having now seen the versions in New York, Las Vegas, Tokyo and Duluth, I can safely say the New York statue is the best.

The island also has the elaborate Pont de Bir-Hakeim with the raised metro level where line 6 crosses the Seine and gives riders a postcard view of the Eiffel Tower.

We spent the end of the day on the rooftop terrace watching the city get darker and all the lights turn on.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Paris Diary part 15

Day 17
20°, mostly sunny, partly cloudy in the afternoon.

After work, Lily, our roommate and I went to Palais de l'Élysée and the Grand Palais and Petit Palais just south of Champs-Élysées. From there, we climbed the Arc de Triomphe and looked at all the war memorabilia.

From the Arc de Triomphe, we took a very short metro ride to Boulevard Haussmann and went to the Galeries Lafayette with the large domed atrium, and Printemps with its large domed atrium. From the roof terraces of Galeries Lafayette and Printemps we could see the Palais Garnier, the Saint Augustin dome and the steel and glass roof of the Grand Palais with the Eiffel Tower behind it. It was sunny all morning, but it started to get cloudy just after lunch. The views were still great since the clouds were high and never all that threatening, and the buildings we were looking at were so low.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Paris Diary part 14

Day 16
22°, sunny.

Lily & I had the day off, so we went to Bois de Vincennes. We started at Château de Vincennes, which is no Versailles, but is a pleasant enough side trip. Parc Floral de Paris is a nice botanical garden near the château.

Lac Daumesnil is on the far western edge of the park and has the Temple d'Amour, which looks a lot like the Temple de la Sibylle at Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Mostly because they were both designed by the same guy.

Just next to Lac Daumesnil is the Parc Zoologique de Paris. We were undecided whether or not we should support a zoo, but this one has open enclosures and a more natural environment. It was closed for 6 years specifically so they could make it more animal friendly.

The zoo is divided into five regions – Europe, Guyana, Madagascar, Patagonia and the Sahara, with almost 200 different species representing each ecosystem in landscapes that were designed to resemble their natural habitats. Madagascar had an enormous aviary full of birds, reptiles and lemurs. Guyana was full of monkeys and manatees. Europe had wolves and otters. The Sahara section had lions, zebras and a few rhinoceroses. There was a large aviary for all of the birds, and the giraffes had a special maison des girafes. Patagonia had cougars, sea lions and penguins.

After lunch at a café on the Left Bank, drinking ordinary wine, we went to Musée d'Orsay for a quick visit with Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, Degas, Manet, and smaller collections of van Gogh, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Seurat. We saw some of the greatest 19th century works of art, including Bal du moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon on the Grass by Édouard Manet, Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 by James McNeill Whistler, Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent van Gogh and The Painter's Studio by Gustave Courbet.

All in all, not a bad collection.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Paris Diary part 13

Day 15
25°, sunny.

A quick day at work and some time at Musée Rodin with The Thinker, The Kiss and some paintings by Monet, Renoir, Munch and van Gogh. They were at the tail end of a large three year renovation, but most of the museum was open to the public.

The Louvre is open late on Wednesdays, so Lily & I went there at night. The Egyptian and Islamic rooms were closed and would be until the middle of May. Some of the Greek and Roman rooms were closed, but all of the sculptures outside of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome were available, and the Cour Marly was open.

Unfortunately, most of the French paintings were not. Some of the 18th and 19th century French rooms were closed until May or July, while most were closed until 2016. But we still saw most of the Louvre's vast collection of European paintings with plenty of Rembrandt, Raphael, da Vinci and Caravaggio.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

D-Day + 25,915

A little over a month before the 71st anniversary of the D-Day invasion, Lily & I went to Normandy. We both have grandparents who were part of it, although from different armies and on different beaches. We figured we should probably make the trip to Normandy as long as we were in Paris.

Lily's grandfather was a private in the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division that landed on Juno Beach. My grandfather was a sergeant in the 1st Infantry Division that landed on Omaha Beach. Lily's grandfather survived D-Day, but died later in the war. My grandfather survived D-Day and the war and lived well into his 80s.

Lily and I went to a few of the beaches and spent the day visiting monuments and memorials. Neither of us have any family buried there, but we went to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. It's a pretty nice place, for a cemetery.

The entire area is a beautiful seaside community. The death and destruction that took place on that day felt more than a little out of place. It was like looking at an amazing Hawaiian sunset in the harbor knowing that so many people died there all those years ago.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Paris Diary part 12

Day 14
24°, sunny.

Lily, our roommate and I all had the day off, so we went to Disneyland. That sounds like a crazy thing to do when you're in Paris, but you have to remember that Lily & I work at Disneyland. Seeing the other versions in other countries can be interesting to us. Plus, we can get in for free, and doing something free in Paris is always a good idea. Our roommate had never been to any Disneyland anywhere in the world, so we just had to take her. That's the law.

It was a great day to go. This was the warmest day so far, and one of the warmest days of the entire month. It was never especially cold, but this was April, with the hot days of summer still a few months away. Most of the schools started their spring breaks a week later, so the park was never crowded. Going to Disneyland, anywhere in the world, can be a chore when it's wall to wall people.

We didn't plan on going, so we had no idea what was going to be closed before we got there. That's always dangerous. If you don't check beforehand, you can go when Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion is closed. If those are closed, there's little point in even going, as far as I'm concerned. They don't have either in Hong Kong, for reasons no one has ever explained. Hong Kong has Mystic Manor, but that's absolutely nothing like the Haunted Mansion. I don't know why there's no Pirates of the Caribbean. Chinese people love all those Johnny Depp movies.

We got lucky. Space Mountain was the only good ride closed that day. We actually went in the middle of a six month refurbishment.

We didn't care about the other closures. Dumbo the Flying Elephant - which just spins around in a circle. Les Mystères du Nautilus - which is like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at Tokyo Disneyland and not even a ride. And Captain EO - which we thought had already closed years ago.

There is no Jungle Cruise in Paris, but they have Les Pirouettes du Vieux Moulin, an old Dutch windmill that used to be a ride but was closed a long time ago, and Alice's Curious Labyrinth, a hedge maze that was not all that difficult to conquer. The view from the Queen's Castle showed us just how empty Fantasyland was that day.

We ate lunch at Fuente del Oro Restaurante in Frontierland. This was a pretty good Mexican restaurant considering we were at a Disneyland in France. Dinner was at Annette's Diner, an “American” style 1950s restaurant at Disney Village, a shopping center just outside the park. The dinner was decent, but the dessert was outstanding. We all shared a giant sundae made with Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey and Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream, caramel and strawberry sauce, whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles, peanuts and a cherry on top. Magnifique.

After dinner, we saw the big fireworks show. The Paris show was mostly lights and water. It looked like a Las Vegas water fountain show. In Hong Kong, it's more fireworks than anything.

The highlights for me were Big Thunder Mountain, It's a Small World, Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, and of course, Pirates of the Caribbean and Phantom Manor. Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril should have been a great ride. It's certainly faster than most Disneyland rides and even has an upside down loop. But the entire ride lasts less than a minute and a half. That's just too quick.

Big Thunder Mountain was fast and goes under water for a second. It's a Small World had a lot less Chinese than the Hong Kong version, and looked like they put more effort into the design. Our roommate really got into Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, scoring in the Cosmic Commando range. Lily & I were in the Ranger First Class category.

Pirates of the Caribbean was like the original California version without any of the movie additions. The dialogue is in French, which makes sense in its own way, but at least it's not politically correct. Phantom Manor was just great. It had a specific storyline that runs through the entire ride and connects with the rest of the Frontierland story. It's also a lot scarier and more gruesome than any of the others. While other Haunted Mansions are G, Phantom Manor is at least PG-13. I can only imagine what they do for Halloween.

The only rides we completely skipped were Orbitron Machines Volantes – which is the Astro Orbiter ride that just spins around in circles, and Autopia – which isn't all that exciting when you're old enough to know what it's like to get stuck in traffic on the freeway.

Disneyland might not be on everyone's itinerary when they go to Paris, but it was a fun day, and walking down Main Street USA when it was all lit up at night was beautiful. There are a million other things to do in Paris, but if I ever go back, I'm definitely doing to Disneyland.