Paris/Lyon - 2008 (15)
As most of you know we are supposed to be in China/Southeast Asia right now. Actually we were supposed to be sitting at home now recovering from our Asian adventures. As a side effect of personal and technical problems associtated with my current work contract we were not able to leave on June 19th. By July 1st we were still hopeful and by August 1st we'd decided that we'd visit China for one month and return in the Winter for Southeast Asia. By August 10th we had accepted the fact that none of this was happening and we'd be lucky to go to Boring Oregon for vacation let alone somewhere foreign and exotic. I hadn't given up hope though and started studying the Baltic states and looking over VISA requirements for Russia because we could spend two weeks there and see quite a bit. Two weeks in China wouldn't have gotten us anywhere so it was out. My contract dragged and I finally decided to make our life easier and go somewhere we'd been before and what better place than France?
So as of Saturday we had our apartment and I'd scored plane tickets on Friday. The only date we could fly for a reasonable price was Sunday morning returning on Sept 2nd. If I wanted to fly on any other day it was going to cost me $2400 more for the 4 of us. That gave us one day to get ready, pack and to get as much work done as possible. I went to work while the kids packed the bags and made a list of things we needed. Things didn't go as well as planned at work and I left at 3:30 am and headed straight to Wallyworld to pick up what we needed for the trip. I left Walmart at 4:45, got home at 5 and woke everyone up. I finished packing at 6:00 and our friend Mo showed up to drive us to the airport.
We meandered toward Sea-tac airport at a comfortable pace but I wasn't worried as according to my calculations we would have 1hr 45min to get through security, get something to eat and board the plane. They recommend 2 hrs for international flights but we've squeezed this plenty of times before. On arrival to the airport we realized we didn't grab our daybag. Normally this wouldn't be a problem but this time in order to speed up our passage through security I put our boarding passes and passports in the daybag.
So we've arrived in Paris at CDG and went through immigration without anyone stamping our passports. That's a little strange and we've never had that happen before. I can only assume that they thought we had chipped passports and the computer logged us. The very first thing we do when entering a foreign country (actually there are only foreign people...) is get local currency so our search for an ATM begins. The one on the arrivals level was broken so after walking the entire length of the terminal and not finding another we ask information which informs us theres one on the departures level two floors down. We walk the entire length of the departures level without finding one so we ask the United Airlines lady and she gives us directions. Ten minutes later we're equiped with 300 Euros which should get us into the city where we can buy our train ticket to Lyon.
We want to go to Lyon because we've discovered (like Colobus discovered America) the Institute of Paul Bocuse and Natalya is interested in going to school there instead of or in addition to Corden Bleu in Paris. Lyon is the culinary capital of France so most great chefs come out of there. Our plan is to visit the institute and get information on it and possibly eat in one of Paul Bocuse' restaurants of which he has 5.
We head to the SNCF booth to get RER tickets into the city. The RER trains are the suburban rail trains that service the burbs as we'd call them. The trip into the city will take about 30 minutes. We're approached by a man wanting to sell us shuttle tickets for $22 ea for a total of $88. Yeah right buddy. Our RER tickets cost us $50 which was still way more than I expected. I was thinking they'd be about $30 but it's the airport right so they're way overpriced. We've actually been to this RER station before two years ago when we went to Parc Asterix so we knew our way around a bit.
Half hour later we're at Chatalet station to catch the number 1 metro. The Chatalex/Les Halles station is my least favorite because it's a maze of passages and levels and you never know just where you are. We've had to pay to get into the station before and then walked so far we had to pay again to get further into the station. It never made sense to me. Sometimes I've wondered whether it would be easier to walk to the next station to catch the metro instead of venturing into the labyrinth. So we walked and walked and walked and never saw a ticket booth. I asked and someone told me go straight and then turn left. I walked and only saw turnstyles. I go back to where I'd left the kids and ask someone there and he says to go straight and turn left. Once again I only saw turnstyles. I realized we have to exit the RER section and enter the Metro section, as soon as we got this little tidbit we ran into a metro ticket booth where we bought one adulte carne and one enfant carne. We proceed to the metro where we never go through a turnstyle and never pay. Like I said this station doesn't make sense.
Today I'm sick, no it wasn't the hamburger. We did't really venture out much as I resemble an inverted Old Faithful from Yellowstone park. I got croissants for breakfast, took pictures of the Opera house and checked my email.
Before the Hotel office closed I was able to call our Concierge in Paris to see if it would be good if we came a day late. We really hadn't gotten to see Lyon at all because I wasn't feeling good and we were out of money.
Amy my bank manager got the money thing straightened away, raised my limit and my cards work now. I paid for another night. We need to get a hold of our Concierge in Paris to let him know when we're coming. I emailed the apartment owner in the states knowing he won't get the email until late. We decided to be kind to my stomach and eat at the Chinese restaurant on the corner where we proceeded to order way too much food. The dim sum was ok (not great) and the fried food appetizer was decent. After we walked forever looking for a grocery that had bottled water and after getting directions from a local settled on the togo window of McDonalds which had Evian. Armed with Evian we returned to the Hotel Iris and went to bed.
So I woke up a bit better off than I went to bed. After our early morning croissants we headed out to find a pharmacy for Immodium or Pepto. I think France is full of hypocondriacs because pharmacies are everywhere. Actually a pharmacy there is more like a drug store is here where you can get your contact solution, tyllanol and perscription drugs in one place. We search the first pharmacy and find an empty shelf where the immodium should have been and a sign that says diarrhea which lets me know what to look for in the future. The next three pharmacies were closed and the fourth a hole in the wall had it behind the counter. The Pharmacy tech was able to speak a few words of English and tell me not to take more than 6 and with that we were off.
So we'd gained an extra day in Lyon but now it was time to move on. I woke early and walked to the train station to get tickets. I think it's about a 35 minute walk but I wanted to make sure we could get the right train. I told the Conceirge that we'd be in Paris at 4 and we'd be at the apartment. He said he'd sent me an email so I could give him an update before we left. I checked my email and saw nothing from him, maybe it got thrown in the SPAM box. I got tickets out of Lyon at 2pm which would allow us to get to Paris at 2 and the apartment at 5 using the Metro. On the way back I stopped at a boulangerie and picked up some Chauson and Pain aux Chocolate for breakfast.
We cleaned up the apartment, my kids did their last minute checks and we headed out at 12. This would put us arriving the station at 12:45 leaving us about one hour to check out Le Halles for food. I know I've said it before but the French know food. Just walking down the aisles and smelling the cheeses, the pastries, the cured meats etc.. is a neat experience. It's something that I don't think you can experience in the states. We didn't really find any food because the French unlike the Italians like to provide a lot of raw ingredients making it a bit difficult if you're looking for a complete meal. In Italy they have a lot of little shops but the food is generally prepared, in France a cheese shop has cheese, a charcuterie has sliced meats etc... Some assembly required.
Our first day in Paris comprised of us trying to stay dry. Piper and I ventured out to find stereotypical Parisien breakfast of Croissants, nutella and confiture with fruit juice to drink. My internet search of a grocery store showed a G20 a few blocks away so we ventured that way but never found it. There are Franprix on about every 3rd block around here so we picked up the juice, milk and Jade's cereal there. The Batignolle area is blessed with many Boulangeries to choose from but we stopped at the one right on the main city square and were pleasently surprised with the quality. Immediately next door to the Boulangerie was a Franprix so we didn't need to wander all over the neighborhood afterall. Doesn't matter, now we know a bit more about our suroundings.
The rest of the day we basically spent holed up in our apartment until dinner when the rain stopped. Indian food is a pretty safe bet so we went looking for the place that we ate at last year only to find it closed down. We continued down the street to another on the corner of Rue Batignolles and Blvd Batignolles. The owner was very nice and the decore was fixed up. One of the main differences between Indian restaurants in Seattle and those in Paris is in Seattle they're usually dirty little places in strip malls that server mediocre food. In Paris the interiors are decked out with rugs, fancy Indian furniture and the walls completely adorned. There will be Hindi music playing and all the people working there will be Indian (so far all men). In the states Mexicans cook the food, white people serve it and the only Indians in an Indian restaurant are the owners. They play top 40 and there's very little "Indian culture to get in the way of a good meal". Maybe the Indian culture is too much for Americans to take so it all has to be watered down. I don't know.
The rain has lessened so we did our normal shopping in the morning to get croissants and some fruit from one of the many fruit stands. Natalya has been begging to go to Pompidou center to hang out so that's our plan today. If you don't know Pompidou you could just google it! Ok here's a link - Pompidou Centre.
When someone in my family says they want to go to Pompidou it doesn't mean they want to go to the modern art museum named after George Pompidou which we've done twice but rather they want to go to the area surrounding Pompidou Centre. The area is host to many street performers and a really strange mix of people. Many are tourists but many are locals. There are a lot of Arabs and Blacks from north Africa lending a very vibrant exotic element. It's also an area where it's best to keep an eye on your wallet so take note. Pompidou center is a large strange buiding with all the guts on the outside. The pipes, escalator, heating ducts etc are all on the outside leaving the inside basically wall free. It's the perfect building for a modern art museum and to get in the mood you might want to run up the down escalator.
Anyway in front of the buiding is a large sloping concrete and stone area where the street performers gather and at the top are a plethora of artists just waiting to do your caricature or portrait for $30. Some are very good and if nothing else are interesting to talk too. I've met restaurant chefs that have closed down their restaurants and turned to drawing peoples picture for a living! I guess its the French equivilent to moving to Manhattan and becoming a dog walker in central park.
You just never know what you're going to find at Pompidou and today was no different. There was a Chinese guy with a guitar singing old American songs to French people. Every year at least one of us get's sucked into a street performance and this year was Natalya's. She got shake the noisemakers while he sang an American song. The video will be on Youtube eventually so stay tuned.
We gave him change and moved on to have our portraits one. I need a characature for this site so I've had several done and this was probably the best. We chose the Chinese section of the artists apparently as there were about 10 Chinese people drawing. The lady that did Natalya is from Shanghai and has lived in Paris for 5 years. She's going to be heading back now as I assume her VISA has expired. She'll be in for a suprise when she gets there because I think China has changed a lot in the last 5 years. I also met another guy from the northeast of China that learned German at home and moved to Germany for 3 years to study art. He had just arrived in Paris and couldn't speak French but seemed very nice...He needed a lesson in business though as he wasn't quite understanding that a lone person that can't speak the language wasn't going to attract business over his competition.
I was going to go back and work some entrepeneurial magic but was tired so didn't. The next time we went by there he wasn't there. So I got a fairly decent characature and in time I'll scan it an put it up here.
If I could title this trip to Paris it would be the "What we've never done before" trip because we've spent a lot of time discovering new parts of Paris. That is outside of going to the Eiffel Tower and Pompidou Center.
The shopping mall which seems like a trully American thing actually existed long before we started building them. In the middle east there are large indoor markets (grand bazzaar in Istanbul is one) but in western terms it was probably the French that introduced them to us. They started out as passageways between buildings called galleries which were covered with glass and lined with shops. At one point there were hundreds in Paris but now I believe there are only about 16 left if my guide book can be believed. Our aim was to go see some of these galleries.
It's kind of sad to see them go because they're really a part of Paris and unless you're looking for them you'll walk right on by because they look like grand entrances to buildings. Inside they're elegant and so period Parisien. They ooz style. Unfortunately by the time we got out and about to see them it was dark and we could only look in through locked iron gates. This one however was open and we were able to walk though. Even though the alley is covered it's still somewhat open above and I imagine that there is no heat in the center hallway. Notice the "street lights" on the walls.
I'm glad I got to see a piece of history before they're all possibly removed. I don't know if that will happen but who knows?
I have to weight the things we do when on vacation. People have been prompting me to put together travel videos or guides about how to travel with kids. There's an amazing number of things that kids like to do that are also fun for adults, this museum included. We "discovered" it last year in the same manner that SE Asia or Tenochtitlan was discovered by Europeans (and Pocahontas discovered England). Anyway it was hidden in the "other things to do in the outer regions" of our guidebook. So last year it was a big hit and we decided to hit it again this year.
To give you a bit of a primer the Cité, Museum of Science and Industry is as you have probably guessed a Museum of Science and Industry. If you guessed that then you get special prize. Anyway it's a lot like the Puget Sound Science Center or OMSI in Portland except for one small detail - it's about 10x larger than either! It has a bit of history in that this area used to be farms and later Napoleon dug canals from a basin to the Seinne to provide drinking water to Paris. The canal was also used for very industrial purposes like shipping or grain and other produce from and to the outerlying towns. Because of it's location outside Paris the area became very industrial and a giant slaugherhouse and livestock yard was built here. As the city engulfed the Villette area the famous president François Mitterrand decided as one of his grand projects to provide an education place for Parisians to take their children and the Cite was born. They converted the livestock yards to themed gardens which span the canals and the slaughterhouse is now the museum. On the property there is also a music museum but we've never gone to it. Overall the Cite and adjoining Parc de Villete are one of our favorite things to do. You'll see zero to very few tourists here and it's very educational. The sheer size of the museum is hard to get over. Look at the picture here and focus on the bridges that go into the side of the building. Those are people on them! See the Paris/Lyon gallery for more full resolution pictures that you can zoom in on.