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Thursday, July 30, 2009


I would like to report that we got to the airport in plenty of time and flew home with pleasant memories of out stay in Paris--I would like to, but I can't. As we were changing from the Metro (subway) to the RER (suburban arm of the Metro) on the way to the airport, Don had his wallet stolen by a group of pickpockets. Even though he had his wallet in his front pocket, they got it as he was entering the train and he didn't realize it was gone until the doors were closing.

He talked to the police in the airport because he wanted to file a police report but everyone kept saying "Air France will take care of it." Even though we arrived two hours before our plane was supposed to leave, it took forever to get through check-in and security. There was no time to talk to Air France about a police report; in fact, we were positive that we were going to miss our plane as it was. Then I got stopped for a separate bag check at security because I had this guy in my carry on bag:

It was one of the beadwork snakes that I had taken for the exhibit in Birmingham. I must admit, he did look like a sedated or dead real snake in my luggage.

As I was waiting for the agent to look in my bag, I told Don to run down to the gate and tell the Air France employees that we were in the airport but stuck in security. He did and they held the gate for a few minutes but told him they couldn't wait anymore. He ran back to get me just as I finished up with security and we ran for the gate. An Air France employee with a sign that said New York was looking for us and snagged us as we ran by. She escorted us partway to the plane and sent us down a stairway where another employee stopped us and said "Sorry, you are too late! Ha ha, just kidding." That employee escorted us to the gate, where the staff was waiting for us. One of the staff spoke with someone on the plane and all we heard was the word "desolee" (sorry). Our hearts sank but then the employee printed out boarding passes for us.

We headed down corridor to the plane but I was stopped one last time for a bag check. When we got to the plane, the Air France stews apologized and asked us to wait about 5 minutes because the cabin had already been "contained" and they needed to finish reconciling the number of bodies with the manifest. We were so happy to be on the plane, we just smiled and waited.

Our boarding passes had us separated into different rows and there was already someone sitting in Don's assigned seat, so the stews started moving people around in our compartment. Some family had originally gotten separated, so the parents got moved closer to their children and we got the parent's seats (together yeah!). We were very grateful that the Air France employees made a special effort to get us on the plane.

As soon as we landed, I started calling the credit card companies to cancel the cards. We got off the plane and went to collect our one check bag, where we got busted by an Agriculture Department beagle. Don had bought some cherries in Paris and we had planned to finish them at the airport but the cherries got stuck in my carry on bag in all of the drama. The beagle sniffed them out! Don was laughing that other dogs sniff out drugs but beagles sniff out food. All we had to do was turn in our handful of cherries to the customs people and we were on our way home. I got home to find that the knitting project that I had been rushing home to finish (the reason that we HAD to be on that plane) had been cut from the show and I didn't have to spend the weekend madly knitting.

So we had a good time in Paris, except for the last day. At least, Don's wallet was stolen on the last day and not the first.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Another hot day. I have noticed that a fair number of Parisian women use inexpensive , folding fans to help them tolerate the heat. Our breakfast today was an apple tart and the warm, peach-flavored, Nestea iced tea. That drink is very popular in Paris. I was really craving an iced coffee at this point but none was to be found.

Since the museum we wanted to visit didn't open until 11:00AM, we took the time to go bead shopping. I didn't have time before we left the U.S. to do much research on bead shopping in Paris but I did have a list of shops from the Wild Things Beads website ( Unfortunately we didn't have a good street map to make things easier, but we did manage to find find the wholesale district on the Rue de Temple.

The wholesale bead, button, and accessory district shares space with the sex district so it was an interesting walk. Here is the start of the district, a less sleazy view than most of what we saw.

A lot of the shops are down small, winding streets that are barely wide enough for one car. The atmosphere was charming but the shopping was disappointing. The few bead shops that I explored either sold stones like turquoise or carnelian or finished jewelry. The wholesale minimum was 100 or 150 Euros and the selection was not different enough from what I can get in the U.S. to prompt me to make a wholesale order. That may be the result of globalization.

The biggest shop that I explored was the Fried Freres at 13 Rue de Cairo ( I am sorry to say that the website is far more exciting than the actual store. It reminded me of the old-time bead and trim stores that have been priced out of the garment district in New York City. They had beads on sample cards, a few beads in a case, yarn and sequined trim by the yard, and a few dyed seed beads thrown in. Those cute gummy beads featured on their website were nowhere to be found. I saw a few beads that were of interest but there just wasn't enough to tempt me to spend hours in the shop (with Don translating) to make up a 150 Euro order. I was going to have Don ask if I could take a catalogue but decided that there wasn't enough in the catalogue to help me. We couldn't find the museum of steel cut tapestries and purses; I think it has been replaced by their finished jewelry department.

I am glad that I looked at the bead district but disppointed that I didn't find anything to buy. Next time I will try to find some retail shops to explore--every store that we saw had signs with the French equivalent of "Wholesale Only." Next time I will also make a REAL effort to be in Paris when the flea markets are open.

We grabbed lunch at one of the ubiquitous panini shops (eating outdoors, of course) and headed for Les Arts Decoratifs museum ( On the way, we walked by another of those Art Nouveau metro entrances.

We have no photos of the Les Arts Decoratifs because taking photos was not allowed, but it is a beautiful museum. The had a temporary exhibit of Madeline Vionnet gowns that spanned her exceptional career as a couturier from 1912-1939.

Poster for Vionnet exhibit.

We also spent a lot of time admiring the exquisite permanent jewelry collection (complete with fabulous Lalique pieces) and watching the Rube Goldberg-like, mechanical toys that doubled as musical instruments and the 100 singing rabbits installation. Touring the gallery of rooms decorated in the styles of each decade of the twentieth century was interesting because there was quite a bit of difference between European and American decorating trends.
I did see some fabulous modern jewelry (that I couldn't afford) in the gift shop but the only jewelry involving beads were some basic beadwoven cuffs. The jewelry that I saw in France seemed to reflect the taste in clothes. Just like the common observation that French women buy classic clothing, they seem to buy classic jewelery (like a string of stone beads) that can be worn with many outfits. The college crowd goes for jeans and t-shirts and not much jewelry.

Having time left and Museum Pass in hand, we then headed for the Musee de Cluny (, the National Museum of the Middle Ages. We had tried to see this museum when we were in Paris in 2007 but it wasn't open because the staff could not get to work in the midst of the transit strike.

One view of the Musee de Cluny (taken from the website).

The museum is housed in two historic buildings. The first is is a Roman bath built in the late first century A.D. Over that was built the Hotel de Cluny in the late 15th century to serve as the Parisian residence of the Cluny abbots. Part of the museum grounds is made up of a modern interpretation of a garden from the Middle Ages.
We wandered through the permanent collection of medieval artifacts, the temporary exhibit of items relating to the bath mounted in the Roman bath, and the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. In the gift shop, I found three postcards on one of my favorite topics:
rabbits in the unicorn tapestries. Here is one of the postcards.
After the museum, we headed to the Luxembourg Gardens so that Don could rest his back for a few moments. While he rested, I watched the huge French piegeons (bigger than those in New York) but couldn't get a good photo of one. After Don's back felt better, we raced over to see if we could get into the Pantheon before it closed. We got there 15 minutes before they closed but the guard would not let us in.
Then it was time for dinner. Following a recommendation in the Rick Steves' Paris guide, we decided to walk down the Rue Moufetard to a local cafe called the Cave de Bourgogne. The walk was fun as we observed the plethora of restaurants along the way--much more variety of cuisines than we had previously seen.
The Cave de Bourgogne was definitely a local place with neighborhood folks gathering for a drink and a menu all in French. Between Don's French, my culinary knowledge, and our helpful waiter's limited English, we figured out what was on the menu. Don had a steak with dipping sauce, fries, and a green salad and I had leg of lamb with a sauce, fries, and a green salad. Both were plates were simple but good. For dessert we split a creme brulee and--wonders of wonders--iced coffee. Needless to say, we ate outside because of the heat.
We wandered back up the Rue Moufetard to the subway, stopping to buy some pastries for the morning because we had to leave for the airport before the patisseries open. It doesn't get dark in Paris until about 10:00 PM so you can still see a lot as you wander around.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


The heat wave continued. We kept the door to the balconey open to get a breeze but it wasn't enough to really make the room comfortable. Breakfast was an almond croissant and a bottle of warm, peach-flavored, Nestea iced tea eaten on a bench close to our hotel--not fancy but cheap and fast.

Today was a day of museum-hopping, so we headed to the Musee de l'Armee (the Army Museum) located in the Hotel des Invalides complex. We purchased Paris Museum Passes, which would allow us to get into 30 museums for the price of the pass and skip to the head of the line.

Built by Louis XIV as an establisment to care for old soldiers, the structure has been a barracks, hospital, hospice, administrative center, place of worship, repository of Napolean's remains and, since the twentieth century, a miltary museum.

Here is the gold-domed structure that we photographed on the bridge on day 1. The institution continues to look after soldiers and the hospital is a modern medical facility. When you walk up to the ticket building, there is a sign posted that asks you to refrain from being noisy because it is a hopsital zone.

Like many public building in Paris, there were formal gardens on the property, this time in front of the medical section.

A close up of the flower mixture between the sculptured bushes.

The chapel in the dome

Napolean's Tomb. The sarcophagus is a little over 13 feet (4 m) long, 6.5 (2 m) feet wide, and over 16 feet (5 m) tall. It is made of red quartzite. The emporer's body lies in five successive coffins made of metal and wood.

We then wandered through the World War I and World War II departments but had to skip the Arms and Armor section.

We did, of course, head to the gift shop before we left, where I found these two knitting-related post cards.

This one translates roughly (very roughly) as "Me as well, with my class, I have adopted a soldier."

After the Army Museum, we headed over the Rodin Museum, which is close by ( The museum is housed in the Hotel Biron, which was built at the beginning of the eighteenth century and housed sumptuous receptions for Tout Paris.

The building later served as a convent school for young girls and later as low-rent lodgings for artists, who included Isadora Duncan, Henri Matisse, Jean Cocteau, and Auguste Rodin.

The back of the museum as seen from part of the garden.

The view from a second story window. Along with the plants, the garden was full of Rodin's bronze sculptures.....

 this one entititled "The Gates of Hell." These doors, which we nver meant to open, were never finished for a museum that was never built. Note the smaller version of The Thinker at the middle top of the door.

As we walked over to our next museum, Don snapped this photo of one of the river boats. He liked this boat because it came with its own red car on the front of the boat.

Dodging the beggars and con artists around the Eiffel Tower, we stopped at the Musee de l"Orangerie ( Once an actual building for keeping orange trees, the structure has been reimagined as a museum to house Impressionist paintings. A version of Monet's "Water Lilies", painted late in the artist's life, occupies the first floor. Downstairs are part of the personal collection of Paul Guillaume, a trend-spotting, Paris art dealer in the 1920s.

You may have noticed the distinct lack of photos, compared to the Versailles trip. Most of the museums do not let you photograph the work housed in them. Along with that restriction, I was running out of battery life and we were more focused on enjoying the artwork.
After the Orangerie, Don came up with the suggestion that we visit one last museum, the Musee du Quai Branly ( This is a world-class collection of "primative art" from Africa, Polynesia, Asia, and the Americas; we would have spent less time at the Orangerie if we had had any inkling of how extensive the collection was at Quai Branly. We barely scratched the surface. Unfortunately, the museum is so dark that none of our photos are good enough to post.

We did, however get a few shots of the museum facade with the living plants on it.

Here is a close up shot some of the plants.

After that it was closing time for museums, so we ate dinner at the cafe next door to our hotel. I had a green salad with ham, cheese, and walnuts, while Don decided to have a Salad Nicoise. Both of them were pretty good but the cafe was full and the service was very slow. In fact we had finished our coffee by the time the waiter came back with the dessert menu.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


We woke up to a heat wave and set off for a day trip to Versailles, about 30 minutes outside of Paris by train. After we left the hotel, we faced the quandary of breakfast. The hotels serve an expensive continental breakfast and you can usually do better outside the hotel. We could find a number of patisseries around the hotel with decently-priced wares, but they didn't serve coffee.
If we wanted to sit down to have a small coffee and croissant at a cafe, it would have cost us a total of $20-24. Trying to beat the crowds at Versailles, we had granola bars from my stash for breakfast. Not a good way to start the morning!

Versailles was an overwhelming experience; it took us all day to get through the main palace and a decent portion of the estate. You can see how large the main chateau is by how far back I had to be to get the entire building in the picture frame.

The original building and garden were built by Louis XIII as a hunting lodge. It was Louis XIV who turned the property into a sumptuous estate, the center of the court, and the symbol of absolute monarchy until 1789.

With its three palaces, gardens, park, stables, lodgings, and other buildings, Versailles is an immense estate. Despite losing the hunting grounds, the property is still almost 1977 acres (800 hectares) with about 27 acres (11 hectares) of roofing, 2153 windows, 700 rooms, 67 staircases, about 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) of roads, and 200,000 trees.

What follows is a very abbreviated and individual tour of the site. The whole package is so overwhelming (and large) that even with a guide book, I have trouble remembering what we saw where.

The front gate.

The Marble Courtyard.

The Royal Chapel.

The Hercules Drawing-Room, with its abundance of marble.

Close up of some of the marble wall.

The Hall of Mirrors. You have seen better photos of this famous room, but I included this shot so you can get an idea of how crowded it was touring Versailles.

One of the mirrors
in the hall.

A shot out one of the windows showing part of the gardens.

A globe commissioned in 1781 by Louis XIV for the education of his son.

The Queen's bedchamber, where the queen gave birth in public to the heirs to the throne. The wall and bed coverings are all embroidered.

A close up shot of the embroidery on a pillow.

The King's Bedchamber.

The Dauphine's Private Cabinet (yes, the children had their own apartments). The chandelier was one of my favorites.

A close up of the panelling.

We left the main chateau and headed into the gardens looking for lunch. Did I mention that we were starving? I wanted to take some photos of the gardens and large fountain as we passed but was just too hungry to take the time.
The lunch service is what you would expect from a restaurant that has a captive clientele at a major tourist spot. After waiting too long at a table for sit-down service, we got up to try a location further away from the main palace. We passed the take out service window but had no idea where we might be allowed to eat.
We ended up at a sister restaurant past the Chateaux de Trianon (more about that later) that was less crowded. Don had salty onion soup and I had a Croque Madam (fried ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top) and a slightly wilted salad. Heck, in that heat, we were all wilted! I did discover citron presse at lunch, which has become one of my favorite drinks. It is essentially fizzy lemonade. Here is my approximation of what I had at lunch:
Citron Presse
1 scant Tablespoon of lemon juice
1.5 Tablespoons of simple syrup (equal parts of sugar and water cooked until the sugar dissolves)
1 cup of mineral water or club soda.
In a glass, mix lemon juice and simple syrup. Add mineral water or club soda.
Fortified with lunch, we went on to the Grand Trianon, a small palace that Louis XIV started in 1687 as a private residence away from the main building. In 1761, Gabriel built the Petit Trianon, which was essentially a gift to Marie-Antoinette from Louis XVI on his accession to the throne.

The loggia between the Grand and Petite Trianon.

A view out to one of the gardens.

One of the rooms in one of the Trianons (see I told you it was hard to keep things straight). We were struck with this room because of the unlikely color combination of yellow and gray that somehow works.

A grotto. This was actually a restful break.

THE QUEEN'S HAMLET: This was Marie-Antoinette's village where she played peasant. Ten houses are still standing, including the Queen's Cottage, the Billiard Room. the Mill, the Boudoir, and the Pigeon Loft. This village was actually a working farm. We didn't stay long because Don got stung by a bee while we were viewing one of the cottages. Poor Don was just standing there when a bee flew up and stung him in the elbow. He got the stinger out pretty quickly so the injury was not as bad as it could have been.

The Queen's Cottage, actually two buildings connected by a wooden gallery.

A view of one of the backside and garden of one of the cottages.

We wandered through the gardens a bit more but just ran out of time before the 6:00PM closing of the grounds.
Since we had not found time to try crepes on our last visit to Paris, Don noticed that one of the recommended restaurants in the town of Versailles was a traditional creperie named A la Cote Bretonne. We finally found the restaurant down a little street but were too early for dinner because they didn't open until 7:00 PM. We wandered around and had a raspberry ice while we were waiting for dinner.
Don's back was bothering him so we also found a pharmacy where Don could buy some aspirin-- $9 for a box of 50 aspirin! Yes, each pill was 500 mg instead of our 325 mg and each pill was nicely enclosed in its own plastic tab, but really!

Luckily, dinner turned out to be a nice end to the day. We sat at a table outside--heck everyone sat at a table outside because it was too hot to eat inside. Did I mention there was no air-conditioning? We both ordered different crepe combinations, one savory and one sweet. Don had a beef crepe for dinner and I had a sausage and cheese crepe. He had a berry crepe for dessert and I had a crepe with vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. They were lovely.
On the way back to the train station, we stumbled across a department store with a food section, so we stopped and
bought cold drinks (did I mention that it was hot?), a packaged fruit snack that turned out to be like applesauce, and some small bottles of peach ice tea.
We headed back to the hotel with our purchases.

Monday, July 20, 2009


We flew from Birmingham to Paris (it is now June 29), arriving later than scheduled because of a plane delay at Birmingham International. By the time we actually reached the Hotel Innova on the Boulevard Pasteur, it was too late to visit any of the museums on our list so we checked in and set off to do the Champs-Elysees walk from "Rick Steves' Paris".

The hotel decor was pretty basic but fine. Notice our air conditioning--the window. Most buildings in Paris are not air conditioned.

The room was basic, but the ceiling gave the room panache.

The view from our room.

We started at the Arc de Triomphe, arriving just as they were preparing for a ceremony to rekindle the flame by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and place fresh flowers.

The Arc de Triomphe

The underside of the arch.

Some of the people participating in the ceremony. We had to take a photo of the woman in the red hat and yellowsuit because she was a real dragon lady at keeping the spectators in their place behind the barriers.

After the ceremony, we continued down the Champs-Elysees, reputedly one of the world's most celebrated streets for fancy car dealerships, celebrity cafes, glitzy nightclubs, and high-fashion shopping. What a disappointment! Maybe, it's because we come from New York where we have the same shops (like Hugo Boss, Disney, the Gap, and Sephora) but we were not impressed. What we saw was mostly people and trash--trash because there are no garbage cans to be found, so all of the crowd just dumps their garbage around the trees on the sidewalk. Here's a typical view of the famed street.

One part of old Paris that is still alive is Laduree, a nineteenth-century tea salon and patisserie. Don had no interest in overpaying for a coffee to find out what the inside looked like.

Another surviving piece of old Paris is the Arcades des Champs-Elysees that still serves as a shopping mall and, unfortunately, a large Starbucks. With its Art Deco lights, glass skylight, mosaic floor, and classical columns, the arcade was a pleasant break from the crowd outside.

Arcade des Champs Elysees.

The mosaic floor in the arcade.

We left the crowded shopping district and continued on to the park area, wandering past the Grand and Petit Palais exhibition halls. The Grand Palais, a Belle-Epoque era building that wasfirst unveiled during the Univeral Exhibition of 1900. Like the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Palais was meant to be a temporary structure but it stands today, serving as an exhibition space for art.

The Grand Palais.

One of the mosaics on the facade of the Grand Palais.

Past the two "palaces" was the pont Alexandre III, a highly decorative bridge over the Seine. Built between 1896 and 1900, the bridge is named after Tsar Alexander III, who concluded the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892.

Looking over the bridge to the gold dome of Les Invalides.

One of my favorite parts of the bridge, a group of metal cattails with glass lamps on top.

Detail of the cattails. The light is too bright to see the lamps on top of the stems.

We continued over the bridge to scope out the exact location of Les Invalides, where we would be returning to visit the Army Museum. After that we wandered down a side street to find dinner at a crowded cafe and then stumbled across a shop selling delicious glace (ice cream to us). After our refreshing dessert, we headed bakc to the hotel, exiting through one of the remaining historic metro station markers.

Pasteur metro stop at night.