Getting our luggage down the stairs was much easier than getting them up! It’s amazing that we schlepped all this stuff around Europe by cab, train, subway, plane, and car. What was in’em? Art supplies, gifts, books, bottles of Pastis, absinthe and various other alcohol, pamphlets and maps and stuff… oh, and some clothes.
Even though the plane has long since landed, and the jet lag is beginning to fade, I have so much left to share about this trip… pictures that aren’t up, funny things that made me laugh… observances I want to note… so I will continue to post about this travel adventure… because my head will still be in the clouds long after our initial return.
A thunderstorm just swept through here. I watched as dark and gloomy clouds surrounded Sacre-Couer and streams of rain descended upon it. And just as quickly as it came in, it swept out again, dotting our apartment’s windows with just a little wet.
It’s hard to believe that today is our last day in Paris. It feels likes like we just swept through, like a Parisian thunderstorm. I feel like I could do with another week or another month. Paris feels right. And as we sat in the Jardin de Luxumbourg, Judy and I discussed just what it is to BE Parisian. I see it as an attitude and a way of seeing life. Parisians LIVE with an artistry. Life is an art. The way you dress, what you eat, how you eat and who you eat with. Seeing and being seen is most important… and the beauty of a dessert and the beauty of a painting are very much the same.
I want to take “being Parisian” home with me. I want to see life differently… to look beyond the fast food restaurants, shopping malls and freeways… to see past the SUV’s, parking lots and Mega grocery stores. I want to embrace public art, public space, and gardens with statues. I want to create Paris in my heart and in my home.
Okay… I have had a couple of glasses of French Wine (Cote du Rhone, 2008) … so if there are some errors in this blog post, you will excuse me…. (hiccup!) Also… I have a feeling that I am just going to ramble a bit. My apologies.
Wine is sooo cheap here! Geez… and it’s tastey! We have been enjoying many wines from the Rhone area. The other night we had a Clos Petite Bellane, 2005, which was very good and recommended and purchased from two fellas in the wine shop two doors down from our apartment.
The apartment here is so cute! It is small, but well laid out, well planned and well placed. There is a view of Notre Dame, and way off in the distance, Sacre-Coeur. Unfortunately, there is some scaffolding in between as a new building is going up just along the line of site. But I can hear the bells of Notre Dame in the morning and at night. Of course, like the last three places we’ve stayed, we’ve been on the top floor. Very top floor… 73 steps up to get to this apartment. BUT, the view has been nice. The rooftops of Paris are just amazing. There is actually a book out I’ve seen around here done up by an artist watercoloring the roofs of Paris.
And I have to tell you that the clouds here in Paris… hang for the artist’s eye. I have never seen clouds so wonderfully shaped, so exquisitely placed for the painter to capture, for the photographer to shoot. Nobody does clouds like Paris. I have failed to capture them properly in my sketchbook, so I have resorted to photography. All truth out, I prefer to take photographs, and then draw from the pics. It’s this stupid thing I do… I get overwhelmed a lot… I don’t do well to Plein aire painting, like Randie. I would rather take photos and then work from them. So I have taken 5 trillion photos on this trip… which is why getting them up on Flickr has been slow going.
The weather here in Paris has been much more cool than in Aix. We’ve had a bit of rain, which wasn’t a hard rain, but a soft, just-enough-to-make-you-get-out-your-umbrella rain. Tomorrow is supposed to be a bit wet, and so we will need to find an indoor activity to do… or maybe just saunter about the Latin Quarter. Each day here, we’ve had SOMEThING to do… some place to go… maybe tomorrow we’ll just hang out in a cafe… or find a dry spot and just draw. That’s what artists are supposed to do in Paris, right?
I love the way Parisians live. I love the city… I love the cafes… I love the scooters… I love the bicycles.
Did you know that you can rent a bicycle just about anywhere in the city? Velib. There are these bike kiosks all over the city and once you give the little machine your credit card info (buy a week of biking around… which equates to 5 euros) you are off and running…. or riding. Here’s how it works… you tell the machine your number (on the ticket it gives you at the onset), you tell the machine what bike number you want and then you pull it out of the slot. That bike is yours for free for the first half hour. If you return the bike to another kiosk within 30 minutes it’s free. If you don’t it is 1 euro per hour. So this is one way we are getting around the city. It’s faster than walking and cheaper than a cab.
I do have to say that it’s a bit scary riding on some of the high traffic and narrow streets. I don’t think I care much for the way the French drive. It’s rather aggressive and “honky”… but Paris has made efforts to improve bike-ability here… giving special lanes to bus and bike only (which the cab-drivers seem to ignore) and there are plenty of the bike kiosks around for your biking pleasure. There have only been once or twice that a bike “malfunctioned” on us. Judy’s chain broke on one… Nelson had a wobbly tire, one of my tires was a bit low… but we’ve gotten to checking them over pretty good before selecting a bike now.
Another way to get around the city is by Batobus. It’s a boat that roams around the Seine picking up tourists and depositing them to various touristy type places. It goes from The Louvre all the way around to the Eiffel Tower. We bought a 5 day pass, but we’ve only been on the Batobus once. Our place is right on the edge of The Latin Quarter where it buts up against The Jardin des Plantes… which, by the way, is a lovely garden.
I look for the funny in everything… and on this trip I have found some things that have amused me… I have photo-documented some and written down others. I will share.
In the south of France, Pastis, the anise alcool that is made locally, is practically a way of life. In the afternoon, when the sun is beating down on you causing you to sweat in an inhuman manner, you want something cold and refreshing. Pastis is just that something. As is customary, you have the straight alcohol served in a tall narrow glass with ice. Your server will also bring a jug of water and you dilute at your leisure. What’s amusing about this, you ask? There in Aix, Pastis is cheaper than coffee.
It is becoming a bit of a joke that whenever Judy and Nelson go to Europe, they bring a heat wave. This trip has been no exception. The London Leg of our trip was rather warm… we had prepared for rain and brought jackets and umbrellas… but London was experiencing unseasonable heat when we got there. Not surprising, the weather was warm in Aix… uncomfortably so… in Paris… we’ll see. Thanks Nelson and Judy.
Okay, it’s no mystery that I love Vespas… and France is full of them! You turn the corner and Boom! There’s a Vespa! this happy little number caught my peepers. My guess is that a rather cheerful person owns this one.
I was sitting one day in Aix people/scooter watching and wondering if there was a way to kill the “Vespa Cool.” You can’t help but look cool on a Vespa… but there is a way to kill the cool factor… Here’s some: toilet paper on your shoe, riding a Vespa. Old 300 lb lady with groceries, on a Vespa. Large balding man in undershirt and shorts with flip flops… on a Vespa (actually witnessed).
Idon’t know why, but I just love ducks. I think it goes back to my childhood when my folks used to take me to the duck pond near where we lived, and I would feed the ducks. So when I see ducks, or anything duck-related, I feel a need to stop, smile, feed, or photograph said winged adorable creature.
I had a book as a child. It was about this family of odd shape-shifting creatures. Each one had a different color and a different personality (One was an artist! I liked that one!). They are Barbapapas. The book I had was about the humans (that’s us) polluting the Earth, killing all the animals and making a mess of things (shounds familiar) and so the Barbapapas do like a Noah’s Ark thing and gather up animals and some people and shoot off into space. It was wonderfully illustrated and I stared at the cartoons for hours.
So in Aix, I ran across a toy store that had these lovely stuffed Barbapapas in the window. Too bad the store was closed.
Today was our last day in Aix en Provence. I am a bit sad to leave as I have enjoyed the city muchly. But Paris awaits us.
As it was la jour finale, there were a few things I wanted to accomplish before leaving. One: Eat pizza provencal. Peter Mayle mentioned the pizza pie in Provence A-Z and so it had to be consumed. Here’s my assessment. The crust, if you could call it that, is thin like a crepe, which I certainly don’t mind. I ordered one with chevre and olives, and it had a thin layer of mozzerella and tomato sauce…with whole black olives… just the outer edges of the pizza were “crusty” which is fine. I didn’t believe the waitress when the pizza was presented to me. She’d said that the size I ordered was big enough for only one person. When it came I thought… no! Two people, but I was able to eat the inner circle, pas problem!
Secondly, I wanted to visit Musee Granet…. the art museum which is housed right next to the Eglise de Jean of Malta. The current exhibition is of Pierre Alechinsky and it is fabulous! Judy and I found his artwork to be cartooney, whimsical and full of personal visual language… we were so impressed that we bought the 30 euro book of the exhibition. I can only say that I am so going to look further into his work.
Lastly, Comic book shop and art store! I’d found a comic book store and an art supply store practically right next to one another on the rue des tanneurs. But they’d been closed for the holiday. So I went up today and Objectif Bulle was again closed. So I headed over to the art store for an new travel water color brush. The gals working there, including the owner, were so helpful and very obliging to my so-so french speaking. I gave them a “Squid” sticker and left feeling very cheery! It truly is a wonderful art store… very clean and well-organized… friendly!
I happened to stumble upon an outstanding comic book store… The Unicorn. I found the graphic novels and proceeded to pick out a few to purchase… I, of course, told the fellas I was a toonist in America and I gave them stickers and some Squid Books I’d brought along. They were so pleased and gave me a book in return! I tell ya, the folks here are so nice!
Oh, and I am behind on my Flickr uploading… I have so many pics I want to share… I will try to get them up soon!
This day, thursday, one day after Bastille Day, was an adventure. To start off, my people and I walked down to Hertz Rental Car on Rue Victor Hugo to try to retrieve a lost item. The day before Bastille Day, we rented a car (a Chevy, if you can believe that!) and went to see the French Provencal countryside (the Lower Luberon Mountain area)… We drove the narrow country roads (I say we when it was really only Nelson, the Brave) to find lavender fields, Absinthe tasting rooms, and to see the wine and olive groves. All was lovely, got tons of photos (including Harold in a lavender field… see squidrowcomics.com for some pics) but the only damper on the day, was Nelson forgot his iPad in the little car’s trunk. Of course, Bastille Day Hertz was closed and we couldn’t talk to anyone about it. We don’t have a phone, and email won’t get you to the local establishment.
So this morning, we shoot down to Hertz and by a wonderful stroke of good happiness… the car didn’t immediately go back out due to the holiday… we had success in retrieving the ipad…. and Nelson got to show it off to the French counter folks there at the car place (they haven’t had the ipad here for very long). Okay… we do this, grab a cup of cafe au lait, and right across the street is the train station… where one can catch a train to say… even more southern France than we are… to Marseille which is right on the Med. This is what we do having packed a lunch and brought suits and towels.
When the train gets to Marseille we head down the hill from the station (it’s at the top of a rather large hill)… this is where planning would come handy. This is where we sorta failed. We figured that we’d get off the train, follow the signs to the Plage (beach)… nope… no signs… took the wrong street which took us down to the port where the big ships come in… and there was tons of construction and yucky businesses and garages. It warn’t a pretty neighborhood. Crankyness ensued… but with continued walking (IN VERY hot weather) we made it around to a Lovely Cathedral with an Arab feel (Cathedral Major)… unfortunately the doors had just shut for mass. And with further walking we find the Marina area… where the fun boats and stuff are.
I had to laugh as we made our way around the point, because we saw these large boats and yachts moored there on the water. Remember Le Car? Well here was a yacht named… Le Yacht. How original.
Anyhow… relieved to have at least found water, we walked down there at boat’s edge and found a ferry to the plage… yay! Except it just took us to the other side of the marina. We did experience another Line Jumper and his dog Elliot. Apparently if you have a cute dog (Elliot was a Jack Russell), it allows you to sneakily cut in line.
So here we are baking in the hot southern France sun! We can’t find the beach, and we decide that despite having packed a lunch, we were stopping at a cafe to eat. And over a Pastis and a wonderful salad, we adjust our plans. No further walking to find a beach! We are going to take a boat ride. Nelson found us a place to launch from on the WiFi on his newly reclaimed iPad.
The boat we launch out on takes us to the island that is the setting for Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, Ile d’If. I have not read the book, but Nelson has, and it’s about a fella who escapes from the prison there. The prison actually existed and so It’s like a French version of Alcatraz. Chateau d’If (the castle on the island) has all these prison cells you can walk around in and plaques to read (if your french is good) … it’s quite interesting and the views of Marseille are gorgeous!
So once we roamed around the island and all around the castle, we were exhausted. The boat leaves the island every 30 minutes and then takes you to another close-by island that has restaurants and shopping. We decided to pass on this excursion and head back. But there was one thing left to do before we could find our way back to the train station. We had to put our feet in the Med.
So the TGV is one of those fast trains that takes you through the gorgeous French countryside… we passed sunflower fields and a few lavender fields on the way down. It was a couple hours to the near bottom of France. We had good seats with a fine window… I managed to sleep on the train a bit… thankfully the folks around us were pretty quite except for a french gal who interrupted my snooze to ask if she could borrow Judy’s stylo (pen)… it’s a good thing Judy didn’t want to write anything, because the gal had it for quite some time (I would have provided Judy with any number of art pens I brought… and there are many!)…
When we arrived at the Aix train station, there were few cabs to service the waiting departed train passengers. When one finally showed up, the rather nice young fellow had a lead foot… and Nelson noticed that he was reaching 100 mph… or maybe that was kilometers… anyhow… 70 was the limit.
When we got to the apartment… a rather nice British couple met us… they were the property managers. They showed us up, and helped us carry up our luggage the seventy-two steps to our place on the top floor… whew! The temperature jumped 20 degrees half way up! But…. the view is gorgeous with a view of the red tiled rooftops and the St. Jean de Malte’s Church (we hear bells in the morning)…
The weather here is HOT… no fog like we are used to. We have been keeping the fans on and the windows open when we are here. Walking about is cause for exhaustion… and we keep l’eau (water) with us at all times. But, our place is wonderful, the food and local outdoor markets are another blog altogether… and we are just loving it here! More, of course to follow!
I love the mass transit systems here in Europe.
We started out yesterday with a 6am wake-up call so we could get to our first Train ride. Sans coffee or breakfast, we got to the Embankment Tube station before 6:45. We drug our big fat American luggage down the 68 steps (Judy counted) from our London flat over to the Tube, on the Tube to Euston Station… then pulled them over to San Pancras International Train Station. Ok… by 7am, I am sweating like a pig because one, it was a workout… I’ve got a nylonish backpack strapped to my back (where Harold is strapped to the outside of), I have my computer case, and then my medium sized rolly luggage. AND two… London is experiencing a heatwave… so it was getting warm already!
Once inside (still no breakfast/coffee, mind you) we make our way to the Eurostar security line (it’s international, so it’s like the border… we put in our paper ticket into a machine and it okays it… then you go thru the scanner thingie… like airports except you don’t take off your shoes… and there is a nice person there helping you throw your luggage and belongings onto the conveyor belt. You go thru to the little window where the French guy didn’t even look at me. Then it was to the lounge until our train was at the platform. This was our 20 minutes to go stand in another line for breakfast. Cafe Nero. It had some yogurt (which by the way, London and France make the BEST YOGURT EVER! I am telling you!) in a honey flavor, we brought this onto the train, deciding that coffee should wait until our luggage was on the train (they would have coffee on the train).
So the Eurostar Train went thru the Chunnel, which was only about 20 minutes of our trek, to Paris… where we’d take the Metro to Gare d’Lyon where we’d hop the TGV to Aix. The Metro is a nicer subway train in itself, but the station is more confusing… or maybe it’s just that everything is in French. But we had a little layover there at Gare d’Lyon, which was good because we were having ticket issues. The little ticket machine wouldn’t print ours… so, we went to the ticket line… and in typical French fashion.. huge line, 2 windows open. Judy theorizes that they are so long because the French want to give you time to figure out the problem before you get to the window. Which we did…we tried another ticket machine. But not before we witnessed a “line-jumper” which we were warned about in the book, “The Sweet Life in Paris”…. it was fantastic, because this older fellow cut twice… the second time he cut in front of a woman with several small kids… uh uh… she gave that guy so much grief… yelling and elbowing him after he pushed past her to the window. She would not let him win! And it worked! He went back to the line… and people kept pushing him back further in the line until, I presume, he missed his train and gave up. Such drama francais!
I will leave this blog entry here, as it is quite long. I will pick up from Paris to Aix in the next entry.