On Sunday, June 19, 2011, Di Yin and I drove up to the town of Martinez in the northeast corner of the San Francisco bay for its King of County BBQ Challenge and Music Festival. Incidentally, I was curious and so looked up the county implied in the title of the festival. Martinez is in Contra Costa County. No signs at the festival specified it.
In Martinez, we passed an oil refinery (they're large!) and long trains with many containers on them. We found the BBQ festival in the Martinez Regional Shoreline.
I took pictures of the festival and of the shoreline. Di Yin also took pictures. The link goes to her first picture from this excursion (which happens to be picture #8 in this album). When you see a picture captioned "the beginning of our trip to LA" (picture #80), you're done with her pictures from the festival. I'll link to her L.A. pictures in the appropriate posts.
It was a big festival. We spent a while browsing the booths, which covered the typical wide variety of art and merchandise one finds at a festival. I also tried two of the three BBQ food stands. Details are in the pictures.
There was a music stage with bands that played old-fashioned rock songs. We could hear the music from most places in the festival including where we ate lunch; it was nice. Surprisingly, despite how far it carried, the music near the stage wasn't too loud.
I liked how the whole festival venue was on grass, a contrast to the many festivals on parking lots or streets. It was comfortable (both to sit on and walk on).
Martinez was hot and sunny, 89 degrees according to my car. It was alright in the breeze, though sadly the festival booths blocked the breeze most of the time. It was also alright in the shade.
After exploring the festival and eating lunch, we walked around the Martinez Regional Shoreline.
Counting the shoreline, we spend a bit over three hours in the area.
On Sunday, June 19, 2011, Di Yin and I drove up to the town of Martinez in the northeast corner of the San Francisco bay for its King of County BBQ Challenge and Music Festival. Incidentally, I was curious and so looked up the county implied in the title of the festival. Martinez is in Contra Costa County. No signs at the festival specified it.
Posted by mark at Thursday, June 30, 2011
On Sunday, June 5, 2011, Di Yin, her parents (they were visiting), and I drove to Carmel. The forecast was horrid, predicting rain all day. Nevertheless, Di Yin's parents had already rearranged their schedule to be free this day, so we continued our plan to go to Carmel.
It was pouring during the drive through San Jose. We drove ten miles per hour under the speed limit. The rain let up near Gilroy. By the time we got to Carmel, it was misting.
But this was no ordinary misting. No precipitation fell from the sky. Rather, clouds of mist blew horizontally. One could see the flow of air currents as they sweep around roofs and reflected off the ground.
We parked and trotted over to The Tuck Box for lunch. Di Yin had tried to bring me to this adorable little cafe in a hundred-year-old building on every previous visit to Carmel but it was closed every time (wrong hours, wrong day of week during low season, closed for vacation, etc.). In contrast, Di Yin brought her parents to The Tuck Box on every visit to Carmel, and it was open every time for them. This time, The Tuck Box was open--I guess her parents' luck is more powerful than my bad luck.
As for lunch, Di Yin and I split a turkey sandwich and some scones. The sandwich came with a side of fruit salad topped with whipped cream! How strange. Also, the Tuck Box is known for its scones. They're non-traditional (at least to me), tasting like they're made with buttermilk and corn meal. For spreads, we chose between orange marmalade, some kind of berry jam, and whipped cream. The scones were good with the definitely good quality whipped cream.
By the end of lunch, the weather was rather nice: partially cloudy, no rain. We only needed jackets because it was windy. Despite the clouds, it was bright. I wished I brought my sunglasses (but how could I have known given the forecast?). It was brighter than a cloudless Paris. Is that possible? Maybe it's because of the difference in latitude.
We walked around Carmel. In town, I enjoyed peering through the windows of the many art galleries.
We took a walk on the beach. It was long time-wise but short length-wise because we kept pausing to take pictures and enjoy the sights. We watched dogs playing in the surf, dogs playing for dominance, and even one person kitesurfing.
By the way, Di Yin took many pictures (not just of the beach but also of the town, of lunch, and more) as did her mom, though her mom's photographs aren't online. I didn't bother taking any pictures because I felt that three of us running around snapping pictures like mad would be absurd. The link goes to Di Yin's first picture from this day (picture #6) in one of her albums covering her parent's visit to California. If you're in slideshow mode and see pictures of Di Yin's parents at Google, you've cycled back to the beginning of the album and are viewing pictures unconnected with Carmel.
We walked through the residential areas and admired houses. We even wandered through a nicely staged open house with four bedrooms, four baths and two half-baths, a fireplace, a garden with a stone plaza patio and a grill, ... Six million dollars.
It was a nice time to visit Carmel. Everything was in bloom (gardens by houses, planters of flowers by businesses, etc.).
On the way home, we stopped by the Gilroy outlets.
Carmel's forecast, like that of the rest of the bay area, was for rain. Carmel's was the only forecast that was wrong. For instance, San Francisco saw record rainfall. (Of course, as a rule it doesn't rain in June, thus making virtually any rainfall a record.)
In conclusion, Di Yin's parents have great Carmel luck. I appreciate it.
Posted by mark at Monday, June 20, 2011
We had breakfast in our apartment before heading to the airport to fly home. I wanted my last pastry/meal in Paris to be an appropriately traditional pastry. I selected a pain au chocolat, a selection that I'm surprised I made. (I thought I wouldn't be in the mood for more chocolate after the mousse the previous night.)
Incidentally, I took a few pictures this day. Di Yin took four. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #47). If you're in slideshow mode and see a picture of Di Yin mailing postcards, you've cycled back to the beginning of the album and are viewing pictures from an earlier day that I already linked to.
The streets were empty at 7am. Maybe people in Paris start work later than in the states? The train we took that ends at the airport, however, was rather full, so maybe it's just that people up early for work aren't walking around outside.
From the train, we saw a train fully laden with new cars.
Traveling was easy. We had no problems taking the train to the airport, checking-in, going through security, flying, or getting a shuttle to take us home once we landed. We got selected for a random inspection at customs, but even this luggage search was fast and the inspector courteous and friendly.
We flew home non-stop on Air France. The eleven-hour flight was alright, a surprising fact given that there were no personal, on-demand TVs for each person but only shared screens above the airplane's corridors. I enjoyed the main courses of both our meals. We were a bit nervous about flying Air France given our bad experience on KLM on the way to Paris--KLM and Air France are close partners--but I think the discomfort we experienced on the KLM flight was mainly due to sitting next to a large man who slightly overfilled his seat. On this flight we had no such difficulties; for much of the flight I sat next to Di Yin and a sleeping baby (who certainly does not fill up its seat). Nevertheless, I was still slightly irritated by the fact that the armrests didn't entirely rotate up to disappear between the seats. Di Yin and I couldn't share our two seats as if they were a couch. Regardless, I think the flight was perfectly fine and would do it again.
Posted by mark at Wednesday, June 15, 2011
This day, our last full day in Paris, brought us all over the city. It was a beautiful, clear, and warm day, again hot in the sun. Also, the sun made it difficult to take pictures because the contrast was too high. Nevertheless, I took some. Di Yin took some too. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #1 in this album). When you see a picture of Di Yin pushing a luggage cart (picture #47), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.
We spent the morning running errands, mostly picking up gifts for people back home. Our route wandered through the upscale boutique shops in the area north of the Louvre and Jardin des Tuileries. On the way, we also stopped by the post office to mail postcards, a surprisingly fast and efficient transaction. Of course, as we collected gifts for friends and relatives, we detoured to sight-see in the area.
After shopping, we took the metro east past the Bastille (well, where it previously stood) to meet for lunch a coworker/friend, P, who's lived in Paris with his family for the last year. It was a great meal, one of our best on the trip. As usual, for details see the pictures.
We parted ways after lunch, with Di Yin and me walking to the conveniently close Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise. We meandered through the cemetery to visit certain graves, most notable Oscar Wilde, whose grave had a small crowd. Walking through this vast sea of monuments/funerary sculpture was weirdly pleasant. I think the pictures convey the sense. Incidentally, we saw lots of crows.
We took the metro a bit north to Canal Saint Martin. We started our walk along the canal near the stations of Stalingrad and Jaures. This area was sketchy. Because Di Yin and I were tired, we walked only a few blocks along the canal before heading home (doing about a third of my guide book's walking route). I feel like we got the feel of canal.
Dinner was at L'Ambassade d'Auvergne, a restaurant literally across the street from our apartment that specializes in cuisine from Auvergne. Auvergne is a rustic central region of France known for its pork. Only two-thirds of the way through this trip did I find out it was a chow-worthy destination. This turned out to be another good meal, with great appetizers and desserts though generally disappointing mains.
With two unusually good meals this day, it was a nice way to end our trip in Paris.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Following K's request, the day's goal was to see the Eiffel Tower up close.
I took pictures. Di Yin took fewer, partially because she didn't take pictures on our late afternoon excursion. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #163). If you're in slideshow mode and see a picture of us on a train, you've cycled back to the beginning of the album and are viewing pictures from an earlier day that I already linked to.
But first (before the real adventures): another day, another pastry run.
After breakfast, we hung out in the apartment until it was time for our early lunch reservation at Breizh Cafe, a restaurant known for its Breton style crepes. (We had an early lunch so we could make it to the Eiffel Tower before K had to leave.) Brittany crepes use buckwheat flour rather than the standard egg crepe batter. Interestingly, the cafe has three locations: Brittany, Paris, and Tokyo. The menu was in Japanese in addition to English and French. We were a bit overwhelmed with the number of choices. For details on the meal, see the pictures.
After lunch, we took the metro across town to the Eiffel Tower, disembarking at the station (Trocadero) just across the Seine from it. We took many pictures as we approached the tower, from beneath it, and as we retreated in the opposite direction. We passed lots of people peddling stuff on blankets; this didn't surprise us much. More surprisingly, we saw a number of card sharks, each with quite a crowd.
Having had our fill of the Eiffel Tower, we headed back to our apartment. (We didn't feel any need to ride up the tower, especially considering the tremendous view we got from the Sacre Coeur the previous day. The tower would've shown Paris from a different side of the city but I didn't care enough.) K had to pick up her bag to head to the train station for her train home.
After dropping K at the station, I advocated to Di Yin that we should go explore more. I felt as if we didn't do enough this day. Happily, Di Yin was persuaded, a good thing because the museum we ended up going to turned out to be one of our favorites on this trip.
The museum we selected, the architectural museum, Cite de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, was back across town, near the same station by the Eiffel Tower that we disembarked at earlier this day.
The museum covers a millennium of French architecture. The bottom level exhibits tons of casts of church facades. It's shockingly extensive. I was impressed with the V&A Museum's Cast Court, yet that's a mere two rooms and this is perhaps a dozen. There must be four times more casts in this museum than in the V&A! It was neat to see these facades at close proximity without crowds (as there would be if we visited the churches in person).
The cast section also has a great 3-d interactive computer system for virtually visiting many churches. One can pan around in any direction and zoom in. The comprehensive imagery (one can look straight up, straight down, where-ever) and the detail (zooming in, one can see more details than one can with the human eye standing in the same spot) makes this an awesome addition to the museum.
An upper level in the museum has lots of models of more recent buildings: houses, sports venues, cultural venues, public buildings, and, yes, churches.
A special exhibit about the creation of social housing discussed each housing project on a theoretical level about its architectural style and about its architectural construction of space and community.
A separate wing of the museum has accurate copies of church murals (complete with the degradations that happened over time). This exhibit is quite an extensive complement to the casts of the church facades.
Not everything was translated into English but enough was that I was happy. Plus, the exhibits are all visual, meaning I didn't feel like I had to read much to get something about of them.
As an added bonus, the museum has great views of the Eiffel Tower from its huge windows. The Eiffel Tower views were arresting. No matter how many times I saw it, I paused every time I passed a window.
We spent about an hour and a half in the museum before they kicked us out at closing time. We saw almost all the permanent exhibits.
I was very happy we went out again after dropping K off, both in terms of seeing more and because the museum turned out to be great--our "delightful surprise" for the trip.
We went home for dinner.
Posted by mark at Monday, June 13, 2011
Di Yin's friend K came to Paris for the weekend. We asked her earlier what she wanted to see in Paris while visiting us and we postponed exploring the places she wanted to see until she was here. That's how we ended up exploring Montmartre this day.
I took pictures. Di Yin did too. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #78). When you see a picture captioned "the next morning, we went to a Breton crepes place" (picture #163), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.
First, however, I had to have my traditional pastry breakfast. K was as excited about this as I so we showed her a few pastry shops as she selected her breakfast pastry.
After breakfast we took the train up to Montmartre, a lively neighborhood that is so hilly it reminded me of San Francisco. There are lots of pretty houses in the area. Around the Sacre Coeur basilica it's quite touristy, packed with shops, restaurants, and boutiques. There were entertainers scattered around: a capoeira troop, and musicians performing The Beatles (not surprising), Michael Jackson (not surprising), and Oasis (surprisingly universal). Also, the area is still rightly noted for its artists; one neat square was packed with artists selling their wares / hawking their skills. (I say still because Montmartre used to be Paris's artist quarter.)
After exploring some of Montmartre, we headed down the hill to lunch at Un Zebre A Montmartre. We then climbed back up to see the Sacre Coeur and the remainder of Montmartre we wanted to see. We headed down the hill and stairs once again and grabbed the metro to the Latin Quarter, where Di Yin wanted to wander around a bit.
Of course, I guessed her real reason for going down there: nearby, on Ile Saint Louis, is Berthillon, a great sorbet shop that we previous discovered. It remained great. We sat by the Seine and ate, taking our shoes off and draping our legs over the edge (but not into the water; it was too far below us).
We walked home, accidentally passing a environment/green-themed street fair on the way.
For dinner we brought K to our local standby, Les Philosophes, which we visited twice before. The place is good but the menu is limited so it doesn't excite me much. Di Yin likes the place so we keep returning.
Posted by mark at Sunday, June 12, 2011
This day was finally our long-planned day to go to Versailles. After I ate a pastry breakfast at home, Di Yin and I assembled the picnic lunch to bring to Versailles and we were on our way.
I took a bunch of pictures this day. In fact, I took more pictures than Di Yin took. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #1 in this album). When you see a picture of Di Yin holding a book on a train (picture #76), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.
However, we got on the wrong train! It took us a while to realize it because we were too engrossed looking out the windows watching the Parisian suburbs go by. They looked fairly English. We enjoyed the journey, though I wish we didn't have this lengthy (two hour) detour that wound around to the north-northwest of the city. Versailles is southwest.
Versailles is a grand royal palace, in the same vein as Hampton Court Palace, on a king-size estate. Because we arrived late, we decided to stroll around the gardens, have our picnic lunch, and only then later in the afternoon explore the palace itself.
The gardens are designed in a very regular, geometric pattern (the French style). Interestingly, Di Yin observed that the width of the paths in most of the gardens implied everything was meant to be carriage roads. Anyway, though the linear geometric pattern of this formal garden style appeals to me (and I think I could be a good designer of French gardens), I find I enjoy strolling and sitting in English gardens more.
I was disappointed that about half the groves I wanted to see (whether for their statues, their fountains, or their design) were closed. Furthermore, the fountains weren't running anywhere. I guess the grounds weren't yet in full force for the tourist high season.
Incidentally, many marble statues looked too new and clean, especially those outside. I assume they're reproductions of the original, though I suppose they could have just been cleaned excellently rather recently.
As for the palace, it was opulent and extravagant (as expected). It was built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries under King Louis XIV, XV, and XVI. We took the audio guide tour through everything. The audio guide was good: interesting and paced well (except for the section on the Dauphin Apartments, but that was probably by necessity because there are fewer interesting things to say about them). Aside from the Dauphin Apartments, we listened to everything, which is quite something because Di Yin normally has little patience for audio guides.
Part of the palace houses the Museum of French History. The museum has many paintings done in the late seventeenth century when the museum was established. It's neat how a contemporary museum becomes a history museum.
In all, we spent 1:45 in the palace. After finishing the palace, we had some extra time so we walked the grounds a bit more. Despite this extra time, we had to skip visiting the palaces of Trianon as well as Marie-Antoinette's estate, all of which are attached to Versailles. Those palaces and grounds are a twenty-five-minute walk each way from the main palace; hence we couldn't squeeze them in despite having some extra time. We had simply lost too much time from our train mistake. Regardless, we decided we got a good feel of the grounds and palaces in Versailles; we didn't feel deprived.
We wandered through the town of Versailles on the way to the train station. It seemed like a nice town/suburb, quite wealthy.
We took the train home (no wrong trains this time), ate dinner at home, and met Di Yin's friend, K, who arrived in the evening to visit us for two days.
Posted by mark at Saturday, June 11, 2011
Our main goal this day was to visit the Musee d'Orsay, our last of Paris's three major national museums. We chose this day to visit it because it's open late on Thursdays. Thus, if we liked it and wanted to spend a long time there, we wouldn't have to hurry.
I took some pictures. Di Yin took similarly few. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #296 in the album). If you're in slide-show mode and see a picture captioned "the beginning of a new week" with strange blue things hanging from a shop awning, you've cycled back to the beginning of this album and are back at an earlier day on the trip. If you hit pictures of the bread festival, you've definitely cycled around. I've already linked to those pictures.
After breakfast at home (I dashed out first to buy my morning pastry to get back in my routine), we headed over to the Richard-Lenoir market again to go shopping. (We visited it four days earlier.)
We lugged our market supplies home and used some of them to make lunch.
After lunch, we walked a bit to catch a bus to take us to the museum. We decided we'd ridden enough metros so, as the bus was convenient, we might as well take it.
The Musee d'Orsay covers art from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, thus continuing where the Louvre ends in the mid eighteenth century and ending before the Pompidou begins a third of the way through the twentieth century. I looked forward to liking the Orsay more than the other two museums because this is my favorite time period for art.
The Musee d'Orsay is a grand space: an entirely open former train station complete with an opulent, gorgeous clock. I wish I could've taken a picture but photography was prohibited inside.
The museum has all the impressionists I expected: Renoir, Pissarro, Degas (he liked his woman and dancers; also, early Degas is not my thing), Monet (both early and late; early is not as good), Manet, Sisley, Cezanne, Bonnard, Matisse (during his pointillism days), Van Gogh, and Gauguin. I learned about the rise in pastels, which I didn't realize coincided with impressionism and post-impressionism. I noticed that Henri-Edmond Cross, who I hadn't heard of, was as effective a pointillist as Seurat. I also hadn't heard of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, but he deserves to be in the list above. There were certainly artists who didn't inspire me (different styles than the styles I enjoy, but from the time period the museums covers) and whose names I didn't write down. (Except one: I wrote down the name Adolphe William Bouguereau not because I like him but because he makes such weird, large religious paintings (light allegories).)
I realized I went into the museum expecting only paintings, but the museum also has things I didn't expect such as a lot of sculpture, early examples of photography, furniture, vases, plates, and other decorative arts from that time (e.g., pre-raphael, art nouveau).
The museum has an exhibit on Paris's Opera House, with a cool twenty-foot by twenty-foot model of the opera house quarter that was topped with glass so one could walk across. There's also a large model of the Opera House itself (also twenty feet long). Plus, there are full-scale reliefs from its facade as well as sculptures from the building. Di Yin and I had originally planned to visit the Opera House at some point during our stint in Paris but after seeing this exhibit we didn't feel the need to any longer--it was that effective at conveying the sights.
Overall, it is a fairly good museum. We spent about four hours in the museum in total. (I'm not counting the time we left the museum for an aperitif and break.) Like the Orangerie, the building's architecture provides good natural light. There is almost no painting-level commentary, but the room commentary is good (though sometimes in overblown language) and in English, French, and Spanish.
After the museum, Di Yin insisted on walking home, so walk home we did, crossing the Seine, passing through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, passing by the Louvre, and heading through the Palais Royale and its gardens. Seventy minutes later we were home. Though our feet ached a bit, it was such a picturesque walk that we didn't complain much.
Then we immediately found somewhere to eat: La Fresque.
Posted by mark at Friday, June 10, 2011
This was meant to be a low-key recovery day after our previous long days of walking and sightseeing. Di Yin managed our timing this day, and it ended up relaxing and fun. Maybe I should let her control the itinerary more often.
I took pictures. Di Yin of course did too. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #215 in the album). When you see a picture of homeless sleeping on a mattress (with a caption that begins "another day") (picture #296), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.
For once, I didn't begin the day with a pastry! Rather, we ate a makeshift breakfast at home: refrigerated supermarket pancakes (good, better than any I've found in the states) topped with mashed sardines ("better than tuna" Di Yin says) or mashed eggplant; a leftover steamed artichoke, which went really well with the sardines; and French yogurt, pineapple this time. I've also had rhubarb and apricot (both of which I preferred because they were less sweet than the pineapple). And, okay, I did have a bite of the previous day's leftover palmier.
We took the metro to the western end of the Jardin des Tuileries, where the Musee de l'Orangerie is located. On the way to the museum we walked through a fraction of the garden-park.
The Musee de l'Orangerie is rightly famous for its huge Monets. They're a striking sight. Di Yin's reaction was "I just gotta say wow." Also, walking the perimeter of rooms with these paintings so that my field of vision was completely covered by these paintings was an entirely different experience than seeing them from afar.
The museum has an extensive impressionist collection. As I walked through a lower hallway admiring the museum's many nice Renoirs and Cezannes, I thought, "this is my type of museum." It also has lots of Rousseau, Laurencin, Matisse (he's into the ladies), Modigliani, Picasso, Utrillo, Derain (pre-cubism), and Soutine (the bridge between impressionism and cubism). There are practically no one-off paintings--the museum chooses a handful of notable artists and focuses on them.
The pieces are presented well under good natural lighting. No paintings had explanatory labels and the room explanations were only in French, but I enjoyed the museum regardless. We spent about an hour and a half in it.
After the museum we headed to lunch at Le Souffle. It serves about a dozen types each of savory and sweet souffles, as well as other dishes. The souffles we had were good, light, and airy. Nevertheless, I think I prefer Cafe Jacqueline in San Francisco (my review), but it may be due to the difference in types of souffles we ordered.
From Le Souffle, we walked over to Paris's most famous avenue, Champs-Elysees. Because it was sunny and warm (hot in the sun), we stuck to the shade. We walked through its garden end and its shopping section most of the way to the Arc de Triomphe. I know Champs-Elysees is famous for its shopping but I found the window-shopping not as nice as the window-shopping the previous day.
A metro trip later, we were on the other side of the Seine in Luxembourg Gardens, below the Latin Quarter. It's a large, pretty, grand, stately, popular park. We strolled around it and also sat at various places in it.
We decided to walk (indirectly) home from here, taking us past the Pantheon, through the Latin Quarter and the many cafes near its universities, across Ile de la Cite to Ile Saint Louis. At Ile Saint Louis, we stopped by Berthillon for sorbets. They were fan-freaking-tastic, on par with the amazing, memorable gelatos we had in Rome.
After our snack, we finished making our way home. We ate dinner at home this night.
Posted by mark at Thursday, June 09, 2011
It was another beautifully temperate day to walk around a pretty city, though this day was brightly sunny (in contrast to the others). We spent the whole day walking. Though we didn't do everything I'd ambitiously planned, it nevertheless ended up being a long, exhausting day, and a day on which we didn't see any sights people would consider important.
My pictures provide a sampling of the things we saw. Di Yin also took pictures. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #141 in the album). When you see a picture with the caption "another day" (with the Eiffel Tower in the background) (picture #215), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.
We began by walking through the south side of Le Marais, a district we explored the rest of already: 1, 2. On Rue de Temple, we found many necklace shops and handbag shops, often engaging in large transactions only (i.e., buying in bulk).
We crossed over to Ile Saint Louis, explored it, then hopped back briefly into Le Marais, and then strolled over to the neighborhood across the river surrounding Jardin des Plantes. On the island, Rue Saint Louis en l'Ile has many cute shops. We also realized that it's cooler and winder near the Seine, yet another reason to want to be near it. Back in Le Marais, Rue Saint Paul is a nice street. Though I don't like the stores as much as Rue Saint Louis en l'Ile, I think I like the feel more. (See the photograph.)
We stopped in Pavillon de L'Arsenal, which turned out to be the highlight of our day. The main exhibit covers how Paris grew architecturally and geographically. It explores how commercial interests and political will influenced the result, and how the changes were implemented through building codes and zoning changes. The museum has a number of models and videos. Upstairs are pictures and discussions of major new buildings and renovations in Paris in the last few decades.
We then wandered around for quite a while hunting for food, eventually finding Comptoir Mediterranee, an adorable little deli that serves food from Lebanon. The guy running the show spoke French, Japanese, and English with Di Yin and was a friendly hoot. I wonder if he spoke more languages. He ended up showing Di Yin pictures of his Japanese friends' children. I thought it might be a one-man joint--he assembled our sandwiches for us--but someone came in to help him at some point. Also, he played (American) jazz music over the cafe's speakers.
After lunch we explored the neighborhood around Jardin des Plantes. Obviously, we had to go in Jardin des Plantes, Paris's botanical garden. We didn't explore much of the garden but did discover there's a zoo. There were some pens, including one of kangaroos, outside the menagerie proper; we enjoyed the sights (and smells) of the animals. There are also some themed gardens; we spotted the alpine one. Also, in search of the labyrinth (which turned out to be a spiral), we climbed to the high point in the garden (which turned out to be nothing special except for the nice breeze).
In this area, we also stopped by the Grand Mosque, where we sat and rested for a while. We passed near a church with (according to my guide book) a classical (a la Roman) interior, but not close enough to detour to see it for variety.
Heading back toward the Latin Quarter, we made our way to Paris's Pantheon. Built in the eighteenth century, there's no Roman history to it, just Roman architectural style. It's been at times a church and at times not (right now it's not). Sadly, it was too late in the afternoon: the Pantheon was closing soon and we decided it wasn't worth the entrance fee to go in given the time we had.
We walked up and down the noted old street Rue Mouffetard. The southern side is a market street as good as our local one, Rue Montorguiel. We heard more English here than in other parts of Paris. It's a more medieval part of Paris (near the heart of the Left Bank) with correspondingly more tourists.
Here, we ran into a friend of Di Yin who's working on her dissertation while living in Paris. She was sitting outside by a cafe having a drink with her cousin. It was a shock to run into someone Di Yin knows at random in a foreign city. We sat and joined them and chatted for a while.
Later, when they had to run, we took the metro back up to near our apartment to eat at Les Philosophes, the same restaurant we ate at on our first night. It was still good.
Posted by mark at Wednesday, June 08, 2011
On this day, we slept late, the result of many long days one after another. We decided to make this an easier day.
Nevertheless, I ended up taking well over a hundred pictures, in fact the most I took on any day during our trip. They document the day well.
Di Yin also took many pictures. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #1 in the album). When you see a picture with a caption that begins "the next day" (picture #141), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.
After breakfast, we headed south to Ile de La Cite mainly to see the two major religious sights on the island: Notre Dame Cathedral and Sainte Chapelle church. Ile de La Cite is the island in the Seine on which the town that grew into Paris originally started. It now contains many large government buildings and also some narrow lanes.
Our first stop on the island, however, turned out to be La Fete du Pain: the party of bread. This pavilion in the square in front of Notre Dame had many bakers demonstrating their techniques. It was mostly a promotional activity I think--they gave away a lot of samples--but they did have stands on the other side of the square to sell more bread and pastries and sandwiches.
We then explored Notre Dame Cathedral. It took 170 years to build. I always forget that cathedrals take a long time.
After Notre Dame, we stuck our heads again in Fete du Pain, wandered through Marche Aux Fleurs (flower market), and headed over to the next big destination.
Sainte Chapelle is incredible! It's small, but all the more lovely for its size. A brochure calls it "a gem of High Gothic architecture." It's nice simply standing in the compact space bathed in the light streaming through a dozen large, intricate stained glass windows. It's peaceful and atmospheric. I think the candelabras help with the latter.
My guidebook says some windows are more important and/or impressive than the rest, but I don't see how--they're all amazing.
I like how the figures in the stained glass are small--the windows don't bang you over the head with "this is a picture of this particular saint" as some stained glass windows do. If you look closely (but I generally didn't), you'll notice the scenes are actually pictures from the bible, arranged clockwise chronologically around the chapel so that Christ's Passion is above the altar.
I was worried we shouldn't go to Sainte Chapelle on a cloudy day, and this day was cloudy. I needn't have been. Di Yin told me the stained glass will be nice anytime--otherwise the place wouldn't be famous--and she was right.
Interesting historical fact: the chapel was built in the thirteenth century. It was built to house the Crown of Thrones, a relic that the king acquired for more than the cost of building the chapel itself.
By the time we were done with Sainte Chapelle, it was well after 3:00pm. We were so energized by the day's sights that lunch was shockingly delayed. We walked home and composed a simple lunch for ourselves.
After lunch, we relaxed for a bit.
I wanted to do something else before calling it a day. Around 5:00pm, I convinced Di Yin that we should spend the evening exploring the Centre Pompidou, a museum a mere block and a half from our apartment.
Before entering the museum itself, we enjoyed the expansive, tremendous views of Paris from the top of the building. I took a lot of pictures! Those views alone make the entrance fee worthwhile. I just wish they kept the glass cleaner.
The Pompidou is home to the National Museum of Modern Art, one of Paris's big three national museums. It's a big museum: it supposedly has the largest collection of modern art in Europe! I liked the 1920-1960s floor (and especially the earlier parts) much more than the 1960-onward floor. After seeing this museum, I looked forward to the Musee d'Orsay (the only one of the big three I hadn't yet visited) because it focuses on the time period before this museum (and after the Louvre). I think all the art I tend to like comes from this middle period.
The museum has what you'd expect given the period: rooms full of Matisse, coverage of Fauvism (Braque, who I like, his earlier work in particular), Cubism (represented by more Braque), Picasso (in rooms and even so many they're shoved into hallways), Kandinsky (ditto), and Dado. There were also rooms devoted to people who I never heard of but must be important: Georges Rouault, Henri Michaux, Paul Strand (a photographer), Alberto Giacometti, and Francis Bacon. But don't let me mislead you--most of the museum is not devoted to particular artists. I listed those artists above because I find it interesting what artists they considered important enough (and had enough pieces from) to warrant their own rooms. Incidentally, I realized that the term fauvism derives from the French word for "wild beasts." It was applied to these artists because they strayed far from the traditional rules of painting.
My pictures show what I thought was interesting in the museum. Perhaps the most striking piece isn't represented in my pictures: there was a movie by Rineke Dijkstra, titled I Can See A Woman Crying, of British school children talking about Picasso's painting Weeping Woman. It's earnest, intelligent, and mesmerizing in terms of what the students say, how they think, how imaginative they are, and how they relate to each other. I found a copy of the video online (11:52) but it's such poor quality it's hard to make out what the students are saying (especially with their accents) and hence not worth watching. Rather, read the best description of the work (the paragraph "About this work, Rudi Fuchs writes"). Other worthwhile commentaries: 1, 2 (section beginning "Do I see a woman crying?"), 3. I think I got more out of watching the video because I hadn't seen the piece the students were looking at.
The museum is done well: every room has a description; there are a decent number of labels, and all labels are translated into English.
In addition to the permanent collection, we visited two special exhibits. The special exhibit on Francois Morellet displayed funky geometric installations, often with neon lights. Some installations were motion activated. I kind of liked a few of these, or liked the idea behind them at least.
In the special exhibit on Jean-Michel Othoniel, I realized he makes generally weird stuff with lots of types of materials. I like his glass mobiles. He also has some glass structures that it's not clear what holds them up / keeps them balanced. There must be a supportive metal filament inside.
We spent three hours in the museum, after which we returned home for dinner.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, June 07, 2011
As usual, I took pictures. Di Yin also took some. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #219 in the album). If you're in slide-show mode and see a picture of Simon dropping us off at the airport, you've cycled back to the beginning of her album and are back at the beginning of our trip. I've already linked to those pictures.
This post is simply an outline of sights covered in more depth in my pictures.
On this day I seriously started following my policy of a pastry a day for breakfast when in Paris. First, I had to find a bakery open on a Sunday morning. This actually wasn't as difficult as you'd guess; I found one named Beatrix (in some places referred to as Beatrix Sylvie et David) two blocks from my apartment.
After breakfast, Di Yin and I explored more of the Les Halles neighborhood, which we began exploring the previous day. One spot we visited was Saint Merry church. Because it was mass, I didn't take pictures inside, but I do want to mention that the thing in the church that I most wished I could photograph was its large, fancy wooden pulpit. The church also has stained glass and a notable, large, starburst above the altar.
After Les Halles, we ventured again into Le Marais, which we explored slightly a few days earlier. Le Marais is a historic neighborhood with many eighteenth-century mansions now converted into museums.
On the opposite side of the Le Marais, we found (as planned) the market on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir. It's a huge market, with dozens of butchers, fishmongers, vegetable and fruit sellers, and cheese shops. It also has regular market stuff (purses, clothes, etc.). It's several blocks long and two or three aisles wide.
After the market, we headed back through the Le Marais, this time taking a route that passed through the Jewish Quarter, a several-blocks region within this neighborhood. We had lunch at a joint in the Jewish Quarter.
After lunch, we briefly stopped by home to drop off our market goods, then took a quick train ride down to the Latin Quarter, the most bohemian district in Paris. We decided Rue Saint Michel, the large throughway through the district, wasn't too exciting. Di Yin and I prefer the tangled, lively side-streets. They have more personality.
We walked around and finished the Latin Quarter, then explored the east side of the neighborhood around Saint Germain des Pres, the neighborhood that we walked through a different part of during our Louvre day. Saint Germain des Pres is an interesting neighborhood; it's like the Latin Quarter (which it adjoins) but less crowded and less dense and therefore with no people on the street pushing us to go in a restaurant. Incidentally, this quarter has some pot smokers. They're noticeable, but certainly not as many as in Portland.
We began hunting for dinner. In addition to the types of restaurants I described on my last visit to the Latin Quarter, we spotted some places serving Lebanese pizza (a.k.a. sajj). Sajj is cooked on top of a hemispherical metal dome, a cooking method I hadn't seen before. We also spotted an intriguing Tunisian sweet store.
Nevertheless, we decided we didn't want to eat in the Latin Quarter: every restaurant seems to be too actively recruiting tourists (the majority of the people around), not depending on regulars.
We didn't like my guidebook's nearby choices in Saint Germain des Pres either, so we followed Di Yin's nose, ending at a North African restaurant, Le Boomerang. Incidentally, it was only during this hunting that we encountered our first cobblestone street in Paris. Given the quantity of walking that we do, I guess they're remarkably rare.
After dinner we headed home.
By the way, Sunday must be the day for movies in Paris: we saw multiple lines for tickets, some stretching more than a block.
Posted by mark at Monday, June 06, 2011
This ended up being a day spent mainly at markets.
We slept twelve hours the previous night recovering from our jetlag. Once up, it was almost time for lunch. We headed to the market that we found closed when we tried to visit it the previous day. This day it was open when we arrived.
At this time, I also opened my shutter and started taking pictures.
Di Yin also took many pictures. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #121 in the album). When you see a picture captioned "Sunday morning" (picture #219), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.
The Marche (market) des Enfants Rouges is the oldest covered market in Paris, having started in the early part of the 17th century. The market, though not particularly large, has stands of most types: meat, seafood, vegetables, cheese, wine, baked goods, flowers, and prepared/hot food. Our assessment from the previous day that the market has a disproportionate number of cooked food stands for its size was accurate. We decided to have part of our lunch at one of them.
After finishing our lunch, we took the subway north of the city to Marche aux Puces St-Ouen de Clignancourt, Paris's largest conglomeration of flea markets. When I say flea market, don't think junk--many of these businesses sell new products or high-quality antiques. Also, nothing is cheap. The prices are the same you'd pay in a regular store.
By the way, I didn't take any photographs in the markets. Di Yin took a lot though; look at hers.
These markets (yes, multiple markets) are spread throughout a maze of streets. They seemed endless. Some markets were along major roads; other entwined through clearly pre-existing alleys; others were in long, straight lanes designed for this purpose. The businesses in these markets came in various forms: stalls, tents, booths, stands, stores within shopping arcades, or members of long rows of ten-foot by ten-foot shops. Clearly the lowest on the totem pole are the guys who stand under a highway overpass, hands full of stuff for sale: sunglasses, watches, jewelry. "Not expensive, not expensive," they call in French.
The low-end venues sell everything, mainly clothing and accessories. The high-end ones mostly sell furniture and home decor. Often these are antiques (from, according to my guidebook, the Second Empire). A couple shops made me gasp due to their density of impressive, ornate, sometimes rococo, chandeliers. I think these were in the Biron Market. In other markets, some shops have North African goods such as hookahs, tajine pots, carpets, and statues.
Di Yin and I both most enjoyed the tangled, uncrowded streets of the Vernaison Market and its eclectic selection. (I spotted some 100-year-old Parisian newspapers, for instance.)
By the way, the population in the neighborhood around Clignancourt is more diverse than in any other region I visited in the city during my trip. That's probably because it's poorer.
After browsing our fill, we took the train back to near our apartment. We decided to walk around part of a neighborhood near us: Les Halles. I took out my camera again. The pictures document our wandering fairly well. On Rue Montorguiel, a high-quality food shop street, we bought ingredients for dinner and came home to cook and eat. Interestingly, it turned out the fruits we bought--peaches and strawberries--were super tasty. Over the next few days, we got to calling the strawberries super-strawberries because they burst with so much flavor that they dominated the taste of whatever they were paired with. They had more strawberry flavor than anything I've bought from the farmers markets in California.
After dinner we headed out again to do some exploring before nightfall. We explored a bit more of Les Halles as night fell and wandered through Ile da la Cite and the Latin Quarter at night. The Latin Quarter was lively and packed with people. Once it got dark, I stopped being able to take pictures. This wasn't a great loss as I knew we explore those areas during the daytime at some point, and there'd be plenty of opportunity for pictures.
Posted by mark at Sunday, June 05, 2011
I took many pictures this day. Di Yin also took some, though fewer than usual because her camera ran out of batteries and she had to borrow mine every time she wanted to take a picture. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #49 in the album). When you see a picture captioned "Day 3" (picture #121), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.
A bit jetlagged, we awoke and took a nice early-morning stroll to a nearby market. However, at the time we arrived (8:30am), the market wasn't yet open. Nevertheless, we could tell it had a good selection of prepared food stalls and would be a good destination for a meal when they were open. Indeed, a week later we had lunch at the market. But this time, instead, we ate breakfast at a nearby cafe with a nice Parisian atmosphere.
We decided to use our first full day in Paris to go to the Louvre. Partially this was because people say to get to the Louvre around when it opens (and we were already up early), and partially this was because I knew the Louvre is open late on Fridays (this day) and hence we'd have tons of time of see everything we wanted to see.
The Louvre covers art and antiquities from the ancient world up through the mid/late 1800s. (Other museums in Paris cover more recent art.) Yes, that's a lot of time! It's as big as the British Museum or the Met, and as intimidating to do in one day. Its collection especially includes countless Greek, Roman, and Etruscan statues and innumerable European paintings covering many centuries, and also Egyptian artifacts and European decoration arts. And yes, they have the big names you'd expect in paintings: a room of Rembrandts, another of Renoirs, another of Corots.
The Louvre is notable to me because, of all the museums I've visited, it has the best views as one glances out the windows and glimpses the Louvre's external architecture. It's not notable to me for its collection. The type of stuff it shows is not my cup of tea.
I was warned the Louvre would be crowded. I generally agree the warning was right. And this was on a weekday morning in May! I can't imagine what it would be like on a weekend in the height to tourist season. However, when I later got to parts of the Louvre away from its five or so most famous pieces and away from the routes to those pieces, it became more comfortable, reasonably uncrowded like a normal museum. But those masterpieces were crowded! The crowd around the Mona Lisa was so thick that, even though people weren't supposed to use flashes, flashes went off accidentally regularly and the guards had given up trying to correct people.
Incidentally, the Louvre first opened to the public in 1793, making it older than what I thought was the oldest museum, the V&A Museum in London. I later realized a number of museums in Paris were founded at the tail end of the eighteenth century.
I paid for the audio guide but found it icky. The masterpieces tour skips too much, yet doesn't say enough about the pieces it considers. The other pre-programmed tours are actually lists of detailed things to listen to on particular routes. I wish it was easier to find audio details regardless of any selected tour, but the interface for this was clunky. If I was in a particular place (not intentionally following a route), trying to figure out if any of the tours have information on the room or any pieces within it was nearly impossible. To determine if any of the routes passed through a particular area, one had to trace each route on the device one by one, a painstaking process that I only tried once.
Or maybe all this is just rationalization when my main problem was that I found the commentary uninteresting.
Or maybe my poor impression of the guide stems from bitterness--my audio guide froze twice, requiring long treks to the entrance to get it replaced.
I had a much better experience when I finally gave up on the audio guide and walked around with Di Yin. She's a great tour guide.
The Louvre has few informative signs, and practically none are translated into English. Sure, there were laminated handouts in English for each room, but these were a pain to deal with.
We took a mid-day break from the museum for lunch. We walked over the Pont du Carrousel bridge and into the Saint Germain des Pres neighborhood. We ate at Le Petit Saint Benoit.
After lunch, we stopped by the Musee (museum) Eugene Delacroix, mainly because we got free admission with our ticket for the Louvre. Eugene Delacroix is a nineteenth-century painter. This small museum is housed in his three-room apartment and adjacent three-room studio. Di Yin really liked the space. I thought in retrospect the main justification for the visit was not the art but the attractive small garden in the back.
On the way back to the Louvre, we passed many art galleries on Rue de Seine. The density is probably related to being on the left bank yet in close proximity to the Louvre.
Once back at the Louvre, we explored the two current special exhibits. The exhibit on Rembrandt's images of Christ was not often my thing, but the emotionality of Rembrandt's paintings made them engaging. The other exhibit showed Claude Lorrain's drawings, drawings by "the greatest landscape painter of his era" (the 17th century, when landscape painting was starting to get popular in Rome). In this exhibit I discovered I like Lorrain's paintings better than his drawings. (They had a few paintings on display despite the exhibit being focused on his drawings.) Later in the regular collection I spotted one of his paintings and liked it enough to photograph it.
After the temporary exhibits, we went back to exploring the Louvre.
We ended up spending a ton of time in the museum: we arrived shortly after opening (say, 9:20am), left for lunch and other stuff around 1:00pm, returned at 4:00pm, and finally left at 8:20pm. (We were lucky the museum stays open late on Fridays.) Nevertheless, we skipped some rooms including a whole floor of a wing. We also only visited many rooms by walking through them without slowing.
This was the most time I've ever spent in museums in one day. In this case, basically all the time was spent in a single museum. It was too much.
From the museum, we walked through Les Halles on the way home. The area has some large squares with many people hanging out, but it's less appealing than it could be because of the large number of fast food restaurants nearby and consequently the type of people who choose to hang out there. On another day, however, I walked through the area again and decided it wasn't as seedy as it at first appeared. My impression was colored because I just wanted to get home.
We ate at Le Hangar, a cute bistro near our apartment. It felt like a secret place, hidden as it is down what appears to be empty alley and around the corner so as to be concealed from the street. It homey as well: we were served by a mother-daughter pair. There were other waitresses too. As usual, details are in the pictures, but I should say that it was another satisfying meal. We left full but not stuffed.
And thus concluded a more than 14 hour day exploring Paris.
Posted by mark at Saturday, June 04, 2011
Di Yin and I decided to explore a bit of Paris on the day we arrived. It would help us get on local time. It was a beautiful day. We decided to look around our neighborhood, Le Marais, a bit as we headed for an early dinner.
I took pictures. Di Yin also took some. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day after we went out exploring (picture #12 in the album). When you see a picture captioned "Day 2" (picture #49), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.
We found a local grocery and, next door, a beautifully-fresh fruit-and-vegetable market. On another day we'd find a supermarket even closer to home. We also stopped by countless bakeries to admire their remarkably attractive pastries. (I say countless because, yes, there were so many of these that I lost count.) A few of these bakeries would supply my pastry breakfasts later in the trip.
We also found a glass sculpture shop: very pretty. I especially liked the mock aquariums: balls of glass with colorful glass fish embedded within. At 300-500 euros, these were the cheapest items on display in this shop! Other shops, such as jewelry shops, were likewise unexpectedly expensive.
On the walk, we stopped by the only remaining medieval cloister in Paris. It was nothing special, as was the art exhibit it was holding (of sculptures of wild cats). The church next door, though with rather nondescript architecture, was worth the stop because someone was playing the organ.
We ended up having dinner at Les Philosophes. Although we didn't know it until after we sat down, the restaurant emphasizes the use of locally grown, sustainably grown, organic ingredients. We enjoyed our meal, and actually ended up eating there two more times during our stay in Paris. See the pictures for details on the meal.
Posted by mark at Friday, June 03, 2011
Thanks to S providing a lift, getting to the airport was easy. Check-in was also easy.
We killed a bit of time in the airport by viewing an exhibit on Josef Frank (other links: international terminal exhibits, exhibit photos), an Austrian who lived in the middle of the 20th century and designed furniture and textiles, most with nature themes. I took out my camera to take some pictures and get in the habit of taking pictures for Paris. Di Yin also took pictures. The latter link goes to her first picture from this trip (picture #1 in the album). When you see a picture of Di Yin lying down to get over her jetlag (picture #11), you're done with her pictures for this post. I'll link her later pictures in the following post.
We got to Paris via two flights. The first flight, on KLM, was brutal. There was a large guy in the middle seat next to me; I thought the stewards kept the plane too hot; I couldn't get comfortable (the seat was poorly designed); I found the personal TV frustrating because I had trouble hearing the actors' voices above the background noise (I think the bass-treble balance was off).
We transferred in Amsterdam to our Air France flight to Paris. This flight was shorter and easier.
Upon landing, we transferred to the metro to get to our apartment. We didn't even have to clear customs--apparently the customs we went through in the Netherlands sufficed. Someone on the train played a violin for our entertainment in a style that sounded like a fiddle.
Incidentally, during our stay in Paris we noticed that on trains near tourist sites we'd sometimes be musically entertained ... usually by an accordion!
Our landlord was waiting for us at our apartment. He turned out to be friendly, and the place was nice. By the way, I took pictures of the apartment; I'll post them with the following blog entry.
Di Yin and I took a nap, then headed out exploring.
Posted by mark at Thursday, June 02, 2011
I spent nearly two weeks with Di Yin in Paris in May 2011, leaving the bay area on Wednesday, May 11, and returning on Tuesday, May 24.
I enjoyed my trip.
There is no feature that always comes to mind when I think of Paris. Rather, my memory of Paris is colored by an assortment of facets that each slightly distinguish it from other cities I've visited. These features are French food (more on that later), the people-watching/cafe scene (again, details later), the Seine, and Paris's size.
When I think about Paris, I'll frequently think of the Seine. It's central to the city. One might guess this oft-encountered geological feature would be an obstacle but it's not. Its countless bridges make it easy to cross wherever you are. Furthermore, it's a pleasant place to stroll along. The Seine always has footpaths on both sides of the river. Indeed, there are often multiple walkways on each side, one at water-level and one at street-level higher above. Thus, in contrast to London's Thames, the Seine is prettier, narrower, and much more welcoming to walkers, picnickers, and whatnot-ers.
Paris feels like a compact city. I think it feels small because it invites walking. The Seine is a nice place to walk along on your way somewhere, and it's easily found, whether intentionally or not. Also, in Paris areas with large streets and many cars have relatively wide sidewalks. Areas with narrow streets tend to have no traffic so it doesn't matter how wide those sidewalks are.
I think Paris feels compact because the metro stations are close together. Metro stations are placed about five or maybe seven minutes walking apart. No matter where you are, you can get to a station in a couple of minutes and be rapidly on your way to another part of the city. This also means that if someplace we wanted to visit was two or three stops away, we'll often walk it rather than take the train. After all, we're only talking about twenty minutes and, beside, we'll get to enjoy the weather outside and see more of the city this way.
Nevertheless, we regularly used Paris's metro system. It's every bit as complex and comprehensive as London's. My only complaint about the system is that the subway transfers require a lot of walking, especially in stations where more than two lines cross. Indeed, if we were in a major transfer station and simply wanted to transfer to take the other line one stop, we found it more efficient to walk to the next station rather than transfer and take the train.
Trains run often (every couple minutes). Once, we got off a train at the end of the platform farthest from the exit. By the time we walked to the other end of the platform, the next train had arrived.
Some of the metro system lines use trains but others use vehicles that look and feel like trains but have big wheels. Only at certain stations can you manage to see the bottom of the cars and notice the difference. Regardless, for getting on and off metro vehicles, one has to press a button or flip a lever to trigger the doors to open. The vehicles respond to these actions before reaching a complete stop. That is, the doors can open while the train's still slowing down in a station. It's a bit scary.
I also should say that, though Paris is more pedestrian-friendly than any American city, it's not as pedestrian-friendly as Barcelona. Paris also doesn't have anything like Barcelona's Old Town, a whole neighborhood with a ton of personality and a tangled mess of pedestrian-only streets.
Incidentally, Paris has the same bicycle rental system that I spotted in Barcelona, where one can check out a bike from most metro stations and return it at any other bike station. We saw many people on these bikes.
Paris has the same predominance of grand buildings as London. At first I thought these buildings tended toward Gothic architecture (I made a note regarding this halfway through my trip) but I realized later that it's a false impression--it's simply that the neighborhoods we tended to be in at the beginning of our trip were built in the Middle Ages and hence had lots of Gothic churches. Other areas in Paris have other types of architecture, including grand Federalist or Roman-style buildings (grand colonnades and all that) and churches in a variety of styles.
Paris has the same wrought-iron balconies that I enjoyed seeing everywhere in Barcelona but didn't see much in Rome.
Paris doesn't have London's density of small, cute squares and parks.
The left (south) bank is livelier and more diverse than the right bank, though the right bank isn't a slouch (I'm just making a comparative statement). Likewise, the left bank has more cultural features such as bookstores.
Regarding bookstores, the book industry in Paris is like nowhere else I've been. Virtually all the bookstores in Paris are used bookstores with a disorganized feel that's somehow appealing. They stock old books (not merely "used" books). Furthermore, the handful of new-book bookstores I spotted are on specialized topics (Tahiti, art, anthropology, etc.). I didn't see any large, clean, modern, general-purpose bookstores like Barnes and Noble.
Sometimes we'd see military men in combat fatigues with submachine guns patrolling the streets. This seemed normal to everyone (other pedestrians, the military men) and did not make us nervous in the least.
Di Yin and I enjoyed the food, though I not quite as much as the food in Rome.
My trip to Paris changed my image of French food; I learned that my image of French food as involving complex, heavy sauces is kind of wrong. We ate often in bistros. The dishes we were served let the taste of the ingredients shine through. There was little to no use of spices or seasoning. Di Yin says Paris taught her the appeal of cooking things gently and of cooking things in generous amounts of butter.
In addition to French restaurants, we often saw restaurants serving food from the south coast of the Mediterranean. I mostly mean restaurants serving North African and Middle Eastern food (especially Moroccan, Tunisian, and Lebanese). Given France's colonial presence in these areas, none of this is surprising. We also saw some Greek and Turkish restaurants as well.
What is surprising is the number of Japanese restaurants we spotted. They're pretty common--certainly much more common than I expected--and they looked respectable.
Overall, Paris seems to be a somewhat culinarily diverse city (certainly more so than Barcelona). Though not common, we did notice other cuisines such as Chinese and Indian. I was surprised I didn't see much Vietnamese, as Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos were former French colonies.
Oh, and yes, you can indeed get good bread everywhere. Or at least baguettes: every baguette we had was good. The pastries varied in quality. While I often enjoyed the various pastries I sampled, the croissants, for instance, were not uniformly better than what one can find in the bay area. The handful of good bay area bakeries make better ones than some that I tried in Paris. By the way, savory croissants such as ham and cheese croissants are an American invention--I didn't see a single one in Paris.
Finally, I appreciated that all restaurants have their menus posted outside. It helped us decide where to eat. Also, it turns out this is dependable--it's the law in France.
France is on continental Europe's eating schedule, meaning a late lunch, a visit to a cafe for aperitifs in late afternoon, and dinner around eight or nine p.m. at night. This habit of late afternoon drinks (actually, people-watching, as the focus seems to be) appears to be more evolved in Paris than in other European cities (Rome, Barcelona) I've visited.
People-watching is important to Parisians. In late afternoon, sidewalk tables at virtually all cafes we passed would be filled. In America, people sitting in pairs face each other, or at least mostly face each other. In Paris, the pairs sit side by side, each person facing out to the sidewalk to watch the passers-by.
Furthermore, tables inside cafes were universally empty. It's clear the prevalence of late-afternoon aperitifs is not due to the drinks; rather, they're just an excuse to sit and watch the world.
French is the working language. Di Yin spoke French to people and people replied in kind, not attempting to switch back to English. (Maybe Di Yin looks foreign to them, so they didn't know she spoke English.) Even the few times when people later discovered Di Yin speaks English fluently, they were willing to answer Di Yin in French when she spoke French to them. It's clear everyone we talked to was simply more comfortable with French than English.
By the way, between using my Spanish background, recognizing words corrupted into English, and knowing some Latin roots, I could sometimes get the gist of written French (historic plaques, menus, advertisements, etc.). Di Yin of course was much better at this than me.
The weather was great. The temperature was in the upper 60s or 70s during our trip. We walked around without jackets. A simple long-sleeve or, sometimes, short-sleeve shirt did fine. The skies were clear most days and, even when they were not, it never rained.
It wouldn't get dark until late (after 9pm), making for long days (sometimes too long) of activities and explorations.
Paris may be as inexhaustible as London and New York City. I'd probably make this comment without the modal caveat ("may") if I could read French. As it is, some of the secondary sights, temporary exhibits, etc. are not fully translated into English and thus might not be worth visiting as an English-only speaker.
A historical fact on the rise and fall of the Jesuits: in 1627, King Louis XIII laid the first stone of a Jesuit church in Paris. In 1764, less than 150 years later, the Jesuits were expelled from the country. How's that for a fall from grace?
Posted by mark at Wednesday, June 01, 2011