Thursday, August 25, 2011

Paris in July

Kate and Doug

Kate's boyfriend, Doug, came to visit in July so we all took off for five days in Paris.  We rode the Thalys, the French High Speed Train, from Rotterdam to Paris.  Top speeds were 150 - 160 mph so it was fast, easy and very comfortable. We did have one slowdown shortly after we crossed into France.  The train came to a stop for about 10 minutes due to the train in front of us "striking an animal".  150 mph.  Big train.  Poor animal.   

Once again some logistical challenges crept into our summer travels.  On this particular trip, it was getting from Wassenaar to Rotterdam to catch the Thalys.  Our local train was running 30 minutes late, so we missed our connection in Den Haag.  The next connecting train would be too late to make the Thalys so we got on a light rail train from Den Haag to Rotterdam -- that made 15 stops!  We were all doing the math...15 stops, 2 minutes between each stop, 35 minutes until the Thalys leaves......we actually made it with 15 minutes to spare. 

Kate did a great job planning the itinerary for this trip.  With her in charge we were assured of two things.  First, we would be well organized.  Second, and more important, we would eat well.  She did not let us down on either count.  I was worried about summer crowds in Paris, but as you'll see in this and subsequent postings, Kate got us to the popular sites first thing each day to avoid the lines.  And the food was outstanding.  Tops was the eight course Chef's menu at Taillevent, a Michelen Two-Star restaurant with traditional French food.   Our favorite course was the spelt risotto with frogs legs.  Although I'm not a frogs legs connoisseur, these were unbelievably good (and pretty darn big for frogs legs).  We were so full afterwards that we walked the two miles home. 

Kate and the Maitre'd at Taillevent. He was very good at his job, whatever that is.

Japanese Noodle restaurant highly recommended by the guidebook.  It was great.

Fresh French chickens in the store. The heads are left on so you can see what kind of bird it was.

Site of another very nice meal.

Another bonus for having Kate on this trip was her expertise in Parisian Architecture.  Her college modern architecture class spent two days learning about Paris, so she was clearly the expert in our group.  In the mid 1800's after several revolutions and very little attention, Paris was in bad shape, basically a medievil city.  So Napoleon III hired George Haussmann to fix things up.  And by most accounts he did a very good job.  He installed a sewage system, redesigned the streets for better traffic (not much has been done since in this area) and installed long boulevards to put perspective on large monuments.   The widened streets also made it tougher for rebels to build blockades -- something of keen interest to Napoleon III.  Haussmann impacted 60% of Paris buildings.  With all that work done in a relatively short time frame, there is an amazing consistency to Parisian architecture.  No matter where you are in the city, you know you're in Paris. 


Note the detail around the top oval windows.

This building has a scaffold built around it. The street side of the scaffold is covered by a thin mesh with a picture of the finished building on it. It's much nicer than looking at a scaffold.

The French buildings all had large, beautifully carved doors. 

One thing that Haussmann's design didn't include was bike lanes, so we didn't see many of these.

Our first stop in the City of Light was the Eiffel Tower (big surprise).  Built in 1889 for the World's Fair, it was the tallest structure on the planet at over 100 stories.  It was nearly sold for scrap 10 years later.  They repaint it every seven years and lucky for us they weren't painting it this year.  Even though we arrived early, the line to buy tickets to go directly to the top of the tower was incredibly long.  So we chose the short line to walk up 670 steps to the second level and from there we took the elevator to the top. 

The line on the right is the "short line" to walk to the second story.  The line on the left is the beginning of the line to ride all the way up. 
This is the continuation of the long line.

A rain storm blew in while we were at the top of the Tower.  We watched it move across Paris towards us. 

Kate and Lori in the enclosed section at the top.

The view from below.

As you walk up the park towards the Eiffel Tower, a host of immigrants from Northern Africa will attempt to sell you bottles of water for a euro.  When we returned for an evening view of the tower, they had traded in their water bottles for wine, beer and champagne -- perfect for an evening picnic to watch the lights on the Tower.  Very enterprising. 

The park in front of the Eiffel Tower.

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