DP Challenge – A Good Match

This week’s Daily Post challenge is to find things that go well together. Cookies and milk. Beach and a book. Gardens and Butterflies. That sort of thing. My idea was to post some photos from three major cities in Europe, Rome, Paris and London, that contain things that I think of when I think of those cities, things that are an  inherent part of the city without being the bleeding obvious, so you will not see photos of the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum or Big Ben here.

First up: Rome.

Gelato

Gelato and Rome. What better way to enjoy a sunny piazza?

Piazza Republicca fountain

There are no end of fountains in Rome, big ones and small ones. This one is in Piazza Republicca

Here’s some Parisian sights:

Paris Metro - Abbesses (Montmartre)

Paris and the Metro, with many of them having really beautiful old signage and ironwork. This one is in Montmartre, Abbesses

Paris Metro - Odeon (St. Germain)

This Metro sign is in St. Germain (Odeon) on the left bank

Montmartre cafe

What’s more ubiquitious than a sidewalk cafe in Paris?

Then over to my favourite city, London:

Aldwych, London

Aldwych, London: While there are double decker busses all over the UK, the red ones seem so much a London sight. Red phone booths are becoming much less common but they keep them in Central London for the tourists.

Covent Garden taxi

London has thousands of black cabs traversing the streets. These days you will often see them painted bright colours or plastered with advertising but that diesel rattle is distinct.

Spitalfields Market baked goods

London is famed for its markets. Spitalfields market, in this photo, Covent Garden, Camden, Notting Hill’s Portobello Road, East End Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane (not far from Spitalfields), Borough Market (South Bank, near London Bridge) and many more

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The First Time I Saw Paris

Under the Eiffel Tower, 1977

Under the Eiffel Tower, 1977

One of the blogs I follow is Janaline’s world journey, and in her blog today was a posting about the first time she visited Paris. It has inspired me to write about my first visit to Paris which was much less traumatic than the first time I saw London.

In our high school, every year there was a tour offered by the French department that students could go on over the March break week. It always included time in Paris and sometimes other parts of France. The year before I went, it included Paris, plus some parts of Germany and I think also Vienna. (We’re going back to the mid 1970s, so you’ll have to forgive my memory!) Since anyone that went had to pay for it themselves (there were no such things as school fund raisers then at our school) the year I was able to go was during my last year in high school, in March 1977. I had a part time job and I saved up for it. My parents donated some spending money and I was ready to go.

That year the tour included arriving and departing from Rome, with a day in Rome for a quick tour around, then an overnight train to Paris for three days and another overnight train to Nice where we were based for another four days. I don’t think the last train ride to Rome was overnight which was a blessing! The “couchette” cars were not very comfortable.

The train to Paris was crazy. We had compartments which converted to sleeper cars for six people, three on a side. Crazy! I forget if it was the train to Paris or the one to Nice where one of the bunks wouldn’t fit into place and one of our group had to sleep on the floor between the two sides of bunks. Needless to say, a group of over exited 16 to 18 year olds didn’t get much sleep on that leg of the trip!

We arrived in Paris on a Sunday, under grey skies though it wasn’t very cold. By the time we got checked into our hotel on Rue LaFayette, it was early afternoon and we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves before an organized meal in the evening. Being the sophisticated children that we were, our first destination was to find some food for lunch and though I shudder at the thought now, we thought it was a very good idea to find the nearest McDonald’s. Yes. I know. But it was familiar, and it was Sunday and we were in a strange and foreign city. I recall that it was really awful, a very different taste than we were used to in Canada. Serves us right.

Our evening meal and where we would eat for the three nights we were in Paris was in a very nice restaurant. Except it was a German restaurant. In Paris. That’s right. You’d think the tour company might realize that you’d want a French restaurant in France wouldn’t you? I think we did manage to have a boeuf Bourguignon on our last night after much complaining.

Notre Dame, 1977

Notre Dame, 1977

Our Monday was taken up with a bus tour around the city and we hit all the hot spots…the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, Les Invalides, Place de la Concorde and a drive down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. It was a chilly, windy day and I didn’t care to go up the Eiffel Tower so I sat below with two or three others that didn’t want to go up for various reasons. I can’t remember if we had to pay our own way up or if it was included. One of the things that made an impression that day was the Winged Victory in the Louvre. It fascinated me. I was also shocked that the Mona Lisa was so small compared to what I had imagined. (Google says it’s 2.5 feet (75 cm) high by 1.75 feet (53 cm) wide) In those days, it was on the wall of a larger room and wasn’t roped off or covered in bullet proof glass like it is now.

I found cashed traveler’s cheque receipts some years ago from that trip and I used $170 for spending money for lunches and souvenirs for the 9 or 10 day trip. Breakfast and the evening meal was always included. The exchange rate was about 5 Francs to the dollar, obviously long before the Euro was installed as common currency. The cost of the airfare and tour together was just under $500 though I may be wrong. If I am, it wasn’t a lot more, maybe another $100. You can’t get a flight to Paris for that these days, or if you do, they add on almost as much for fees and taxes! I think the airfare total was about $300.

Our Tuesday in Paris was a free day. A group of us decided to brave the Metro and go to Montmartre. I seem to recall we lost one fellow on the way, he didn’t make the change in trains in time. We poked our heads in some of the shops. One of the girls bought a long rabbit fur coat and I discovered that the European sizing was very different from North American. We climbed up the steps to Sacre Coeur, passing an older man feeding a flock of pigeons along the way. I couldn’t take as many photos as I would have liked, being a budding photographer even back then, because I still had to pay to get film developed and had only my part time job for resources. The photos were taken with a small pocket camera and haven’t proven up to the test of time though I salvaged some of them.

Hideous Parisian hotel wallpaper from the 1970s

Hideous Parisian hotel wallpaper from the 1970s

Other memories I have of those few days in Paris include the hideous brown and white patterned wallpaper in our hotel rooms and the surprise of a bidet, the first most of us had ever seen, heathens that we were! Our hotel was across the street from a little corner shop where you could buy beer. That was a surprise to us since you couldn’t do that back home (and still can’t in our province! No alcohol in corner shops or grocery stores for us!) Since the legal drinking age in France was much lower than it was at home, it was inevitable that most of us took full advantage of it. I think we cleaned out that shop in the three days we were there and had parties in the hotel rooms every night. Our chaperons, one of whom was a nun, looked the other way as long as we were not too loud and boisterous and were all accounted for when they came around to do a head count before bed. They even shared a glass of wine with us at dinner and one at least one of the train journeys as I recall.

My first trip to Paris didn’t make a lot of long lasting impressions aside from what I’ve described but I always hoped I’d go back. I did, finally, in November 2007, over 30 years later, when my partner and I went for his 50th birthday. That was also just a few days but the memories are clearer and I have loads more photos to remind me. We also planned to go in April of 2014 but that was cancelled due to family illness. I hope we get to go again but there are so many other places we also want to see, both new and repeat visits that Paris is now further down the priority list. I am glad I’ve had the chance to see it and renew those original memories on a second visit.

DP Challenge: Circle

The first WordPress Daily Post challenge of the year is “Circle”. For a sample of things round, I take you to Paris, November 2007.

The centre of Paris is marked by this in the plaza in front of Notre Dame Cathedral.

French cakes!

One of the rose windows in Notre Dame

Lots of circles in this photo, in front of Galleries Lafayettes

Le Grande Roule. I love observation wheels! This was in Place de la Concorde but I believe it’s been removed now. The pods you ride in were round as well.

The Montmartre carousel goes round and round.

And finally, most of the sidewalk cafes feature little round tables.

Travel theme: Luminous

The weekly travel theme at Where’s My Backpack this week is “Luminous”. Most of what I’ve chosen are photos of various locations at night but there are a few others mixed in. It’s not always easy taking photos in low light without a tripod so most of the ones I take dn’t often come out very well. . I do have one of those little tripods with bendy legs, called a Gorillapod that I’ve used on occasion and try to balance the camera on something steady.

The first photo was taken in the Roman Baths in the city of Bath, in the plunge pool. You can see that the minerals in the water glow with the light.

Plunge pool, Roman Baths, Bath, UK

Plunge pool, Roman Baths, Bath, UK

Stadhuis tower, Brussels

Eiffel Tower at Night. Paris

Here’s we’re in London, with the setting sun illuminating the buildings and the street lighting coming on.

The Strand at dusk, London, UK

The Victoria Apollo theatre was showing Wicked and of course you can’t take pictures during the performance but I took a quick shot of the stage decor which was lit up prior to the show.

The Victoria Apollo theatre, London, waiting for Wicked

Traveling through the movies (Paris) – My Old Lady

MOLPosterKevin Kline is one of my favourite actors. You can always be sure you will enjoy any film he’s in. Given the added bonus of Maggie Smith and you’ve got a winner. I discovered My Old Lady and the story sounded interesting. A middle aged man inherits a Paris apartment from his father, a man that he didn’t get on with and had been estranged from for some time before his death. He is divorced and spends his last penny on a flight to Paris, intending on selling the apartment for a small fortune. But he discovers that the method of the original purchase of the flat is a “viager”. The law in these types of real estate transactions is very old and it dictates that he must pay the sitting tenant (former owner) until she passes away before he can sell the apartment.

The sitting tenant is, of course, Maggie Smith and her daughter, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, lives with her. Kline’s character, Mathias, falls for Kristin’s character, Chloe while he wheels and deals trying to raise the money he must pay the old lady, Mathilde. He then discovers a secret. Will he manage to sell the house? Will the secret affect his new relationship?

MOLParis1This movie takes place in Paris. The apartment is in the neighbourhood near the Place des Vosges in the Marais district. There are wonderful shots of the streets of Paris in addition to some of the more well known sites including the riverbanks of the Seine.  It’s particularly poignant as we were planning to stay in the Marais when we had planned to visit Paris last year. Our holiday had to be cancelled but if we manage to get there again, this movie is definitely inspiration!

MOLParis2

Kevin Kline (Matthias) on the banks of the Seine

MOLParis5

Another view of the Seine

MOLParis4night

Notre Dame at night

MOLParis3

The Streets of the Marais

 

My Old Lady on IMDB

Christmas travels

Actually, I haven’t traveled around this time of year very often. It’s usually expensive and the weather is unpredictable. Ten years ago, I arranged to fly to Manchester a couple of days after Christmas and a snowstorm cancelled the flight. I couldn’t get out for two more days but at least I got there a day or two before New Year’s Eve.

I’ve also done a bit of traveling in November now and then. Sometimes I’m lucky enough that the Christmas decorations have started to go up though normally, I think that’s  just a bit too early for it! Still, I thought I’d post a few photos that I do have from my few sojourns, mostly from November visits.

Regent Street, London, Christmas lights in London are beautiful! Sadly I only have a few of these shots taken from the traffic island in the middle of the road with the cars and busses whizzing by.

Galleries Lafayettes, Paris. During our visit to Paris in November, 2007, most of the department stores were decorated and windows dressed for the season.

The Manchester town hall always has an oversized Santa. This is a newish one that they put up a few years ago. Locals were dismayed that the old style Santa was gone and don’t really like this new, stylized version. He lights up with glitter after dark. From Mid November on the city centre has a few blocks chock full of the Christmas Markets

Manchester, UK.

And something from my own home town…

Halifax’s Christmas tree, in the Grand Parade square.

Itinerary building – Accommodations

Abbesses Metro, Paris

Abbesses Metro, Paris

Step one: Book the main flight to the U.K. ….. check
Step two: Book the one way flights to Paris….check.

LeavingParisEurostarStep three:  Pick and book a hotel in Paris (five nights) and one in London (two nights).
Step four: Book the Eurostar Paris to London.

The Eurostar website won’t let me book their own hotels with the ticket as a package unless I book a return ticket. Too bad because you can get some very good package deals from Eurostar with a return ticket.

Requirements: Location, and budget. Budget is very slightly flexible, depending on what’s included we could go a little bit over if necessary. Wi-fi is a must and having a safe deposit box in the room that will fit the laptop is desireable. Breakfast included would be nice but not a deal-breaker.

In Paris, we were thinking of staying around the Opera district, the 8th or 9th district. We want it to be fairly central and we don’t want to be right on top of the train stations (Gare du Nord and Est) because I’ve heard that area is a bit rough even if the hotels are cheaper. Probably a good reason for it, you get what you pay for! The right bank of the Seine will be more convenient this time because we’ll be using Gare St. Lazarre for our day trips and leaving via Gare du Nord on the Eurostar.

I did look on the British Airways site to see if I could get a deal on Paris hotels with the flights but they were still all very expensive. Fail, B.A.

For London, I thought either near Euston station or Bloomsbury might be the most convenient as we’ll arrive at St. Pancras and G. leaves from Euston to go back to Manchester (oh, note to self, make sure he books that train ticket, too!) I will probably get a taxi to Paddington and then the train to Heathrow from there. The Canadian Dollar has taken a hit against the pound lately so hotels are going to cost a bit more than usual but the Euro is still a good exchange rate at this moment in time.

I have been scouring websites like Expedia, Trivago, booking.com and hotels.com, making notes of likely candidates and making the mistake of looking up the TripAdvisor reviews which only further confuses me unless overall it’s generally not so good. Reviews, as I’ve said before, are so subjective and you really have to read between the lines. A lot of people whine about small rooms. I can handle small rooms unless they’re like a closet. Were the rooms as dirty as some people complained when others have found it spotless? I am a bit skeptical of that one as am I about scattered reviews about rude staff. In my mind, it takes two and in general most hotel staff are professional, sometimes a bit business like, and often very friendly,  but never rude.

Yesterday, I visited the hair salon and after that, post-coffee break with some relatives I bumped into, went to the travel agent. The woman I usually deal with wasn’t in and I wanted to get this sorted so sat down with one of the other agents. I have her the list of possibilities but told her I was open to anything else she found that was in the budget range and location. They don’t always have the access through their booking agents to everything you could find online but often they can sometimes get better deals with their sources.

The Welcome Hotel, Paris. It's on the left bank near Odeon stop. Rooms were small, but not closet-sized and it was in a great location.

The Welcome Hotel, Paris. It’s on the left bank near the Odeon Metro stop. Rooms were small, but not closet-sized and it was in a great location.

One of the Paris hotels I’d noted was in one of those sources and she also found another one not far from it which I think I’d seen on my web surfing. She couldn’t book straight away. Some hotels through her booking system are “On Request”, that is, she has to request the availability and wait 24 hours or so until the hotel replies so she’s put in for that for these two hotels: My Hotel Opera St. George, and Hotel Opera Lafayette. I gave TripAdvisor a cursory glance and overall either sounds ok, they’re in our budget range albeit very slightly over the top end. Breakfast is included in both so I think that makes up for the little over-budget because you’d have to buy it anyway. I think we’d be happy with either one.

Ok, so we’re waiting for availability on those. Crossing my bits that at least one of them will be a go.  Next step: Eurostar. That’s pretty straight forward. I knew the time and the class of the ticket we wanted so it’s booked and pre-paid. Check.

Melia White Hotel, London. We bagged a great rate that time. Possibly through the Air Canada website, I seem to recall

Melia White Hotel, London. We bagged a great rate that time. Possibly through the Air Canada website, I seem to recall

On to London. Here’s where I ended up being delighted I had gone to the agent because what we ended up booking was far nicer that I would have found on my own.  I had given her a few names for hotels I’d chosen including one, a Hilton, that had been in the budget range earlier in the week but which, I thought, was a sale that had just ended. She came up with another name, and said it looked like she could get a very good rate. It was just a little over our budget but  it had free cancellation (barring a fee of one night’s accommodation and taxes) and a full breakfast buffet. The location is perfect, the hotel is a luxury four star and I didn’t hesitate. We’re staying at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Grafton. I looked at the cheapest room through the website’s booking widget and we’re paying almost 25% cheaper than that. The equivalent booking on Expedia was a little more expensive again. Result! I never would have considered this hotel otherwise. Booked and prepaid! Check.

Yeah, that’s the other thing, most of the time you get the best rates if you prepay the whole thing. Often you still get free cancellation, sometimes with a fee of one night’s accomodation or even less. Sometimes, though, it’s non-refundable. If you have trip cancellation insurance that will cover you.

Once the Paris hotel is booked, we can book a rental car for the week I’m in Manchester because we like the flexibility for day trips, visiting mates and getting groceries and shopping. That’s pretty much the main items on the list, then we turn to a new list, our itinerary, both in Paris, the Paris day trips, London and things we might do while in Manchester. But that’s something for a future blog post!

Travel Journey of the Week – The Louvre

The Louvre and pyramid. No tourists. It's Tuesday and the Louvre is closed

The Louvre and pyramid. No tourists. It’s Tuesday and the Louvre is closed

Liberated Travel’s weekly Travel journey is the Louvre, one of the world’s largest museums, in Paris.

I’ve been to the Louvre museum in Paris twice. The first time was during a school trip to Paris in 1977. We had a bus tour around the city and one of the stops was the Louvre. I don’t think we had a guided tour around the museum highlights but we did have our entrance paid and had an hour or so to have a quick look round it. I remember finding the Mona Lisa, She was hung at the time on a wall in a large gallery and I was so surprised to see that it was not a very big painting at all and that it was painted on wood, not canvas. The size of it is only about 11×17 or thereabouts.  Now, of course, it’s in a special viewing area of its own and is behind bulletproof glass. I don’t think it was back then but I may be wrong.

The other piece of art I always remember from that visit was the Winged Victory of Samothrace. She is a masthead from a ship, carved in stone and though head and armless, you can see that she’s facing the winds of the seven seas which  is blowing her robes backwards.

30 years later, I finally returned to Paris with my parter. We decided to go to the Louvre on the Wednesday late opening but looking back, we really should have done it first. It was at the end of a very long day, during which we’d gone up to Montmartre, visted the Basilica, took in the Dali museum, had lunch and walked many narrow streets, and had a quick look at the exterior of the Moulin Rouge before taking a bus back to the Louvre. I was exhausted with very sore feet even before we got to one of the world’s largest museums.

But we went anyway. It was late November and the queue under the pyramid entrance was not all that long at all. We got our little map and headed in to find the Mona Lisa and whatever else we could find. We did find the little maps confusing. When looking for particular galleries or the toilets, they were never where the map said they were. I was getting frustrated and tired. But we found the enigmatic Mona and got a chance to get to the front of the viewing area for a look and a photo.

Then we wandered a bit, saw the Venus de Milo. She had almost nobody around her. We got up close and had a good look but my partner quipped, “Well, that’s not a very good statue. It’s got no arms!” Very funny. I really wanted to find the Victory again, too, so I could get some good photos of it. We finally came upon it from one side and I was as struck by it this time as I was the first.

“This one’s even more rubbish! It’s got no head AND no arms!”

I had to laugh, only because I was so tired, I think! By this time, even though we’d barely seen anything other than those three things and one or two galleries of paintings, I had had enough. I really needed to sit down and I really needed a cold drink. We finally found a cafe near the entrance but for some reason we weren’t allowed to sit at the tables, so we bought some bottles of pop and found a bench. I was nearly in tears by this time, between the sore feet, the thirst, the frustration trying to find our way around.

But you know what? Once I had a rest and a drink, I got a little puff of a second wind. We had talked about getting an after dark boat cruise on the Seine. G. was willing to forgo it if i wanted to go back to the hotel for the night but no, I thought I would be ok, and besides, a boat cruise means you can sit down, right? Right. So we made our way across Pont Neuf and down to the quay to get tickets. The cruise was great, if a bit chilly and we walked back to the hotel under the moonlight, stopping in a Chinese restaurant on the way for a late meal. It was our last day in Paris and we made more than the most of it!