Saturday, September 21, 2019

France followup, photos and many random comments

Our France trip has ended. Here are more photos and lots of random comments.
PHOTO - La Loire at Versailles. This is the guy who photobombed us.
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TRAVEL AGENT - We used a travel agent and we recommend Audra at Liberty Travel, Eastview Mall. Audra's original choices for hotels were a bit more economical than we wished. We were able to spend more money to go a bit more upscale. Audra caught on to our vision and we had great rooms, great tours and a great flight.

LODGING - We stayed in two upscale (not luxury) rooms in hotels located in the midst of tourist areas. The bathtubs in these rooms seemed to be optimized for baths rather than showers, and the tub wall was over our knees. The shower doors were situated such that it was almost impossible to take a shower without getting water on the smooth tile floors. The high tub wall made it difficult to step out onto the wet floor without slipping, and there were no appropriate handles. There are no washcloths in France.

If you're staying in one place for a long time, get a bigger room.

PARKING IN TORONTO - our travel agent gave us a discount code for Park 'N Fly. Our flight left at 6:30 pm, so we did not stay over upon departure or arrival. Our 17 day parking spot had a retail cost of about $250 CA, but we paid $120 CA.

PHOTO - from the Seine cruise.
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COFFEE - Almost every restaurant offers "cafe Americain" or "Americano". But, this tended to be espresso with extra water, so it was either strong or had a watered down taste. There is nothing in France that corresponds to American cream or half-and-half. As in the USA, the different styles of coffee (Americano, espresso, cafe au lait) tasted different at every venue. Gary's recommendation is just to drink espresso, but Sue doesn't care for that and wasn't very happy with the coffee until we got to the Holiday Inn at the airport, a hotel catering to business travelers.

PHOTO - the Moulin Rouge dining room and stage (sorry, no dancers).
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PACKING - we packed a bit too much. We used everything we packed, but we could have done with less. Unless you have a specific event to attend, you will never need to be super dressy, even in the places that supposedly have a dress code.

PRE-PLANNING - we planned A LOT, and we had a good trip, and we "planned" for some unplanned time, and we were always busy. I think this is a decision everyone needs to make. We could go to Paris again with no plans except for maybe a hotel selection, but for this first visit, it was nice to see the major sites.

PHOTO - Le Train Bleu at Paris Gare de Lyon (train station).
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NEXUS - this program (as far as we are concerned) expedites customs checks for US citizens into and out of Canada. We had some trouble with the self-service iris scanners at the Toronto airport, but whenever we talked to a human agent, we were sent on our way with little concern (at the airport and in the car).

PHOTO - Gare de Lyon (train station).
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GROUND TRANSPORTATION - We learned to use the Paris Metropolitan (the subway, known as the "Metro"). This was an inexpensive way to get anywhere within the Paris city limits. To get outside the city, you need to switch to an above-ground train or a bus, which we didn't do (in Paris). Any time we moved with our luggage, we took a taxi. Uber is also an option, especially in the cities.

We took the high-speed "TGV" train to Nice and back. In Paris and Nice, the trains sit for a while on the platform (more than 15 minutes), but you don't learn your platform until 20-25 minutes before the train can be boarded. The TGV trains have reserved seating. Sometime, the TV monitors in the terminal or on the platform will indicate where your specific coach will be when the train stops, so when you get through the gate and onto the platform, you know which way to drag your luggage (and the walk can be a hundred yards). There are electronic displays on each coach displaying the coach number, and they may not be in numerical order from car to car. On the train, bring your luggage to your car and carry it up the stairs if you are on the upper level. There are luggage racks on each car. The first class cars have more space than an economy airplane seat. There is a power outlet and free wifi (not 100% reliable). There is a train car where you can buy food, but we didn't use it. There is very little security for passengers or luggage.

The train agents may check your tickets on the train. This did not happen from Paris to Nice, but they checked from Nice to Paris.

We used the local train to get from Nice to Monte Carlo because Uber does not operate in Monaco, and Monaco taxis are not allowed to leave Monaco. So, we used a taxi or Uber to get between the hotel, casino and train stations, and the train to get between stations. The walk may only be several blocks, so it depended on the time of day/night and what we were wearing. For the local trains, buy the ticket at the electronic machine at the station. I got one round trip ticket for two people. Before boarding, the ticket must be validated at the "composter" or "compostage" machine. I don't think this worked for me (hard to tell). I think I may have inserted the little ticket incorrectly. There are videos on the web, but they show large tickets, and my little ticket was the size of a business card. The composter machine is supposed to stamp the ticket, but all I saw on the machine display was "en retourner a la gauche", which means, "to return to the left", which makes no sense. Our tickets were never checked by an inspector on the local trains.

PHOTO - patisserie in Paris.
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MONEY - we used a Travelex card loaded with euros (acquired through AAA), and used the ATMs in France for cash, and used our regular credit card. For the ATMs when the raw exchange rate was $1.10 US or $1.11 US per euro, we paid about $1.16 plus a 1% bank fee. For the credit card, the exchange rate was right at $1.11 US, but there was a 1 or 2 percent fee. For Travelex, there is no fee and the exchange rate was at around $1.15 US.

PHOTO - Monte Carlo casino's Le Train Bleu.

MONTE CARLO - there is a dress code at the casino, supposedly. We dressed up for dinner at Le Train Bleu, one of the fancy casino restaurants. We were not overdressed, but no one was more dressed up than we were, and about half the people did not conform to the dress code, i.e., we saw sneaks, shorts, jeans, flip flops, etc.

Cell phone service in Monte Carlo is awful.

CELL PHONE - we paid Verizon $10 US per day to get our normal service in France. We texted and made phone calls to the USA, no problem, as long as there was a cell signal. Paris and Nice were fine. We used about 100 MB per day, mostly for maps and the occasional restaurant or sightseeing lookup.

CONNECTIVITY - we are "old school" and perform many tasks on our desktop PC. We can do some tasks on a web browser, but ideally, we wanted access to the desktop from France. So, I installed a "host" on a laptop at home and turned the laptop on in the basement with a hardwired internet connection. We had a cat-sitter in the house every day, so this kept the host laptop out of her way. The host laptop was on the house LAN, so we could connect to the host from a France laptop with a "viewer", and then remote over to the home desktop. We could have installed the host software on the desktop, but as long as I was at it, I wanted remote access to the home laptop and desktop. Our hotels had good wifi, so this was very successful. I disabled Windows updates on all three devices for the duration of the trip. Some of these steps require Windows 10 Pro (not Home). Ask me privately and I will tell you what host software we used. This software opens some network ports and checks a password to connect, and operates through a third party server. There are several choices for this sort of software, or you can configure Windows manually, but I chose to use some software.

I tried to log in to from France to read the Rochester newspaper (the e-edition), and also USA Today, but this did not work. (The web site restricted my France IP address.) However, by remoting to the desktop, I was able to log in to the D&C, download the PDF, and transfer the PDF to the France laptop or my phone. This works because, when you're using the host/viewer software, you're actually running on the remote PC and showing a screen image on the local screen, so the IP address is a Rochester IP address.

Friday, September 20, 2019

France followup, photos from Sue's phone

We have about a thousand photos on three devices. Here are a few from Sue's phone (which was not used heavily for photos). More to come.

First, the Wall of Love. Wikipedia says, "a love-themed wall of 40 square meters in the Jehan Rictus garden square in Montmartre."
Louis, Versailles.
A Rolls convertible and a Ferrari in front of the Monte Carlo casino.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

France day 17 of 17, final hotel and airport

France day 17 of 17, Sept 18. We took the train from Nice back to Paris and spent one night at the Holiday Inn near Charles de Gaulle airport. I was hoping we would be up high enough to see the Eiffel tower one last time, and I was right. There is a tower thingie in front of the Holiday Inn, and our room's window is directly past the tower in this photo, so we could see it from our room.
Here is my final selfie in France at Charles de Gaulle airport.

By the way, we had some trouble with NEXUS in Toronto at the airport. After walking a half mile through the hallways to the NEXUS machines, Susan's machine would not respond at all. My machine read my card, and the iris scanner told me to move a couple times, and finally told me to see the officers. So, we got in line behind all the disabled passengers in the special line and, and had no trouble with the officer, but we had a substantial wait. At the QEW border crossing, I saw no specific NEXUS lane, but at 7 pm on a Wednesday there was little traffic, and the officer seemed pleased with our NEXUS cards and sent us along quickly.

Watch for more photos from our other devices, and coffee comments, and other final thoughts.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

France day 16 of 17, train to Paris

On day 16, Sept 17, we are traveling back to Paris for tomorrow's flight home. Here is the train car while still in Nice. This train has many cars (18, I think), and we had to schlep our luggage all the way down to the last car. This train had an engine in the middle and it split in Marseilles (and switched tracks so that our car became the first car).

On this train, after Marseilles, we saw train agents for the first time, checking tickets on the train. For the most part, there is no baggage or personal security scans, and a person could easily pay a couple euros for a local train and then hop on a long distance train instead. But, on this train, they double-checked the tickets.

As a side note, I had to empty my pockets twice in the security lines for the Eiffel Tower.
This is a shot of a couple little fishing dinghies, as we headed westward out of Nice.
This is an apartment outside the Cannes train station. Brigitte Bardot popped out for a few seonds, but then I guess she saw me with my camera.

By the way, Sophia Loren (84), Gina Lollobrigida (92) and Brigitte Bardot (84) are all still living.
Here is a shot of a typical road along the Côte d'Azur. You need an Aston Martin to be able to take the curves comfortably.

Monday, September 16, 2019

France day 14-15 of 17, winding down in Nice

This post is for the end of day 14, and then day 15, of our France trip, Sept 15-16. This beer in this glass really is the Paix Dieu brand, nothing special about that, but the top of the glass is angled so that the rim is higher on one side than the other. It looks really cool, but I'm not sure it helps to drink the beer.

The name translates as Peace God, that's all I know about that.
After breakfast on day 16, we walked back to the hotel and Susan thought this was a really nice window display at a clothing shop. The fall fashion season has begun, and we have been hanging around the high rent districts of Paris and the Riviera.

We spent the day on the beach.

Tomorrow on day 16, we take the train back to Paris (Holiday Inn near the airport) and then fly home on day 17. The train stations always find a way to turn a mundane activity into an adventure.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

France day 14 of 17, went to church and to the sea

One our 14th day, September 15, we went to the Sunday morning service at Holy Trinity Nice. From their web site, this is "a parish within the Church of England Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe but [includes] members of the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) and [is] listed in its directory of parishes."
The amazing organ is 150 years old.

Susan and I went to the garden for refreshments after the service. Most of the garden is a 19th century graveyard, but very pleasant.
Later in the day we went back to the beach. You can see the gray rocks in this photo. The light gray area is dry and just starting to slope a bit towards the water. The wet area is quite steep, as steep as a stairway in your house, except made of loose rocks.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

France day 12-13 of 17, casino time, Monte Carlo!

In Nice France on the 12th and 13th days of our trip, we took a driving tour around the area and went to dinner at the Grand Casino in Monaco. Photography is not allowed inside the casino, and there are ample shots of the casino on the web. We have photos from the restaurant, but on a different camera not yet downloaded.

This first photo is of the front of the prince's palace in Monaco. Monaco has 30000 residents, mostly rich. There are 6000 police and security officers.

At the casino on day 13, we just played slots. We watched roulette players for a while, but I am not a big gambler and didn't want to break in and slow things down. The stakes in the initial rooms are not steep, 5 euro minimum, but we stuck with the slots. We cashed out with a profit of 89 euros, just under 100 dollars. We did not try to go to the high-stakes rooms.

By the way, in the morning of day 13, we went to the beach and into the Mediterranean. The beaches around Nice are rocky, not sandy. It's physically tricky to get into the water and then get up to about your waist so that you aren't sliding around on the loose rocks under your feet.

Here is a Monaco license plate.
Here is the port at Monaco / Monte Carlo. The Grand Casino is on the far side of the port. This was taken from near the palace.
Here is an Aston-Martin outside the Grand Casino.
This was taken inside an 18th century church near the top of a hill in the medieval village of Eze.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

France day 11 of 17, sur la mer

On day 11, September 12, we took a train from Paris to Nice. The TGV trains run close to 300 km/h (180 mph). Boarding is a bit chaotic with luggage. We were looking for "coach 2", so we boarded the car with the big "2" on the outside. Ha ha ha ha ha. After a few tries and walking through the aisles, we finally located our seats. Train travel is more comfortable than air travel, and there was practically no security, but it will take a couple trips to figure out the idiosyncrasies.
Our trip was about 600 miles, so we got to see lots of scenery. France is lousy with rivers. Also, I am lousy with friends who tell me the European trains are always on time, but we arrived about 45 minutes late due to signal malfunctions. I have submitted a request for compensation (25% of the ticket price, in this case). We'll see what happens.
The Paris/Nice route runs mostly southerly and then turns eastward near Marseilles. This was our first glimpse of the Mediterranean, near Sanary-sur Mer.

After disembarking in Nice, we couldn't figure out where to walk. There were no exit ("sortie") signs. We finally figured out we could walk a hundred meters along the platform, take an elevator up a flight with our luggage, walk across a pedestrian bridge over four sets of tracks, take an elevator down, walk 50 meters back along the platform, and then there is an exit sign. We finally exited the building to the taxi stand.

The weather has been really nice all along. Here's another cloudless sky.
We went to dinner at a little restaurant on the main strip, Promenade des Anglais. Like Paris, Nice is full of casual restaurants, some moderately priced. I had a dish that was in a metal pie tin and covered with a pizza crust. Inside, the pie was full of shellfish and pasta. Clams, mussels, calamari, one big crawfish, three little octopi, and I'm not sure what else. This plate cost a very moderate 20 euros. Every forkful dug up a new treasure. The reviews are mixed on this place, and the traffic noise was annoying, but overall we had a great experience.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

France day 10 of 17, perfume ooh la la

We visited the Museum of Perfume on our 10th day, Sept 11. This is next to (and sponsored by) the French perfumer Fragonard. This name tends to be unfamiliar to Americans, although Fragonard products can be acquired online. At first I assumed the name was a twist on the French word "fragrance", but the location is named after the artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard (maybe because of the twist).

The museum offers free guided tours throughout the day in French and English. Perfume is actually manufactured in the south of France, closer to the source of some plants and flowers used in the process.

Read on, and remember I told you the tour is free.
The building has been a theatre, and also a sort of stadium where people could ride bicycles. In particular, women could ride here in the days when it was unseemly for women to ride on public streets.

It is free to learn these bits of trivia.
This is a perfumer's station, where the perfumer would mix and match fragrances from the little bottles, to see what would turn up.

There is no charge to take photos along the tour.
This is a side room of the Fragonard store where tour guests exit the exhibit area. The guide continues to play "guess the ingredients" games and explains how to (and how not to) apply perfume. For example, don't "rub" perfume into the skin, because the friction creates heat and changes the fragrance.

I heard that a guest once got out of this room for free. I doubt it. My lovely wife and I did NOT get out of this room for free.

But actually, it was fun.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

France day 9 of 17, towers looking toward Dad's WWII stop

On our 9th day, Sept 10, I had considered a visit to Saclay, a village southwest of Paris listed in the logs of my father's WWII company. However, I wasn't seeing any Ubers in that area, which is about 10 kilometers past the closest Metro stop. We decided it would have been hard to get to Saclay, or expensive to hire a driver, so I settled for a photo.

This first photo is from the Montparnasse office building in southern Paris, looking southwest from the 56th floor observation deck, toward Saclay. Hi, Dad.

Walking from the Eiffel Tower to a Metro stop, we came across a memorial area on a bridge over the Seine. I translated this for myself, it essentially honors the French resistance during WWII, and a particular battle against enemy divisions.

Immediately next to this memorial area, we traded cameras with two young Japanese women and took each others' photos. The angle was intentionally artistic.

Monday, September 9, 2019

France day 8 of 17, the Louvre

Day 8 in France (Sept 9). What to feature from a visit to the Louvre? How about a beheading? Here is "Salome with the Head of John the Baptist" by Bernardino Luini.

We took a guided tour, which was a fast paced tour that allowed us to see the three most famous works, the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and the Venus de Milo. We didn't spend much time in any one place, but it was a good intro to the museum

Here we are with old what's her name. The Mona Lisa is in a temporary area while renovations are underway.

Honestly, what can you say about the Louvre? Every work is more stunning than the last.
This five-meter sphinx is said to be the largest outside of Egypt. My photo happened to come out well, so it made the cut for the blog.
Hotel sweet hotel. We crashed after a long day of walking.

France day 7 of 17, Gary's French skills

This photo is from day 2 of our France trip, that's Jean d'Arc at L'église de la Madeleine. But at dinner on day 7 (Sept 8), I had my little success at speaking French. The waiter was a goofy little guy, and the restaurant was not busy, so he talked to us now and again in decent but imperfect English, and he complimented me on my mediocre French.

When we were done and ready for the check, I said, "Nous avons finis." (We have finished.)
And he said, "Moi, aussi, ha ha ha ." In other words, he was joking that he'd like to be finished, also.
And I said, "C'est d'accord." In other words, it was OK with me that he should also be finished. Ha ha ha.

I know that doesn't sound like much, but the cool thing was that I was not translating in my head. I was simply having a little joke with the waiter, en français.

On day 8, the Louvre.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

France day 7 of 17, flea market

France trip, day 8, Sept 9, we have no pre-booked tours on this day, but we had planned for some time to spend the day at the flea markets. There are a few well known markets around Paris. We visited the largest, Marché aux puces á Saint Ouen.

This is a large shopping area for antiques and other old and new articles. Clothing, footwear, music, artwork, jewelry, etc. There are indoor shops, permanent stalls along outdoor sidewalks, and some less permanent stalls for the new stuff like sneakers and coats and hats. Overall, it is a maze of stalls on the north side of Paris. There are some inexpensive things, but overall, I did not find the merchandise inexpensive.

Although there are some curiosities in the shops, I didn't take any photos here except at a good café, Le Voltaire. You see here the photo of my Pelforth beer, which I had never had before. Pelforth is a French beer, a little dark, but not as malty as something like Guinness.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

France day 6 of 17, shopping, opera house, shopping

Sept 7, day 6 of our trip to France.

This first photo is from E. Dehillerin, a retailer for kitchen utensils and equipment (not far from the Louvre, right bank). For those of you from Rochester, Dehillerin is to kitchens as Debbie Supply is to plumbing. Thanks to Karen for this recommendation.

We went next door for an espresso and ice tea for under 10 euros on the sidewalk, a much more reasonable deal than a couple days ago at Deux Magots on the left bank.
We took a guided tour of the Paris Opera House (Opéra Garnier). This is a view from the box in which the Phantom of the Opera sat. The view shows a similar box on the other side of the theatre. It is NOT the big box next to the stage, but the one next to that. On the Phantom's side from where I shot the photo, the big box next door is the "Emperor's box".

If you plan to take this after-hours tour which starts after the normal public visiting hours, let me know. You need to enter the building before the public hours end or else the guards give you a hard time (because they seem to be oblivious to the tour companies which are literally next to the security checkpoint). And the tour companies seem just as obvious to the fact that the security guards have their own schedule to keep. At the end of our tour, people from multiple tour groups were led through the gift shop, and the shop employees began having seizures because the shop was actually closed. Again, this is because the employees and tour operators were oblivious to each other.

After the opera house tour, we came across Galleries Lafayette, a multi-story department store. The photo is an indoor view looking down from an observation bridge.

The merchandise here was nice, but the prices varied from reasonable to exorbitant.

Friday, September 6, 2019

France day 5 of 17, Moulin Rouge and assundries

On day 5 in France, September 6, our main event was the show "Féerie" at the Moulin Rouge. The MR show is sort of like Cirque du Soleil, except MR has more song & dance (and female nudity) versus CdS which focuses on the acrobatics. There are some good acrobatics at MR, but not as extraordinary as CdS. There are male dancers, but they stay mostly dressed. The MR show's music was often disco-ish. This was a dinner show, and the food and wine were good. The show was crowded and the audience was cramped, and as usual I am always shocked that people pay to see these shows but can't figure out how to get through an hour and half without two trips to the rest room.

Here is the link in case the video doesn't play.

Near the Moulin Rouge we saw a uritrottoir, and we saw it in action. Seriously, the guy was there for more than a couple minutes (sorry, no photos). See this link about these outdoor, public urinals.

We have been using the Metro during the day. The locals warn tourists against the Metro at night. Some neighborhoods are OK, but of course, the point of the Metro is to move quickly and cheaply between neighborhoods. We have not had any trouble but we have witnessed some harassing behavior.

We have used Uber with no changes to my app. The cost is about 2/3 of a cab.

France day 4-5 of 17, high fashion, ice cream, more Notre Dame

Near our hotel is a high-end fashion retailer district. There was apparently some sort of show or party at Hermes on September 5. Click the video to see the live, male model in a tux, dancing in the shop window. There were a bunch of people with their cameras out, not sure who was inside.

If you can's see the video, try a link to Facebook,
Across the street, the road continues toward the presidential palace and embassy row, and there were armed police restricting traffic. Pedestrians were not restricted. This police presence was apparently not related to the Hermes event, just happened to be in the same area.

A couple people recommended an ice cream shop (Berthillon) on île Saint-Louis, and we visited on our 5th day, September 6. There are two accessible islands in the Seine within Paris, île de la Cite (on which Notre Dame sits) and île Saint-Louis.

The restaurant was OK, but Susan's shish kebob (brouchette) had to be cooked a little more, and there was just one waiter for the Friday lunch crowd. The ice cream was good, but they were out of half their flavors. It was pretty expensive, 50 euros for lunch and drinks and ice cream. A number of nearby shops were still closed past their posted lunch breaks. So, a rather unfortunate experience on île Saint-Louis, even though we managed to replenish Susan's supply of moisturizer cream, which is an accomplishment in an unfamiliar language.
Just before lunch on day 5 (Sept. 6)  we walked around the Notre Dame Cathedral. This sits on a large city block, and at ground level, the area was completely blocked off to all public access. If there was a way into the grounds or church, we did not see it.

This photo shows a closer shot of some roof activity, compared to yesterday's post.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

France day 3-4 of 17, Notre Dame and photobombed at Versailles

We are in the fourth day of out trip to France. I thought this selfie was cute, in which a bronze statue called "La Loire" (a representation of the Loire River) seems to have leaned into our photo. This is in the gardens outside the palace at Versailles. The gardens and palace are quite fantastic. These are run by the state and are not as commercialized as, well, anything in America.
We saw Notre Dame from a tour boat on our third day.

As you may know, there was a fire at Notre Dame Cathedral a few months ago. This first photo from BEFORE THE FIRE comes from HERE.
This next photo was taken by Gary during a boat tour down the Seine, from almost the exact same angle. You can see how the roof is gone, to the right of the twin towers. The center area scaffolding was probably there before the fire, since it is believed the fire was caused by an accident during a renovation project. At the right edge of the photo is more construction material, and I think that might be a recent roof covering. Also notice that the center spire is almost gone, having burned and collapsed.

I am not sure why the text colors changed here.