Thursday, June 19, 2008

Home Again

Well, I am back. Got back on the 17th but it took me until today to pretty much recover from the long plane ride. Also, the Mysterious Chinese Woman's Equally Mysterious Sister stayed until last night. Another Somewhat Mysterious Sister came over to pick her up and before they left we went to Queen, a very nice Italian restaurant in my neighborhood. Just can't get enough of that Italian food. I will put off writing about that restaurant until another time though because I know you can hardly wait to hear about my trip. Hey, at least you can just close this page so it won't be as painful as having to sit through a slide show.

We flew out of JFK in New York on Iberia Airline. The departure terminal had a very classy cocktail bar, Sapphire.

Just Like Downtown

When I popped in it was still empty so I wasn't sure if it was open, even though it was late on a Saturday afternoon. That was probably because it is not an easy place to find. The terminal isn't that large, but the bar is tucked all the way at one end and you can't even see it as you are walking towards it. You have to kind of turn a bit of a corner before it pops into view. Also, there weren't any signs indicating that it was there. Apparently, whoever it is that decides this things wouldn't allow the bar to put up any signs. Quite unusual, if you ask me. Those without a well developed nose for bars might never even find the place. A real shame too because it is one of the nicest airport bars that I have ever visited.

They had the usual limited selection of beers and hard liquor but they did have Samuel Adams on tap and for only $3 more you could accompany that with a nice sized shot of whatever they had to pour. Knob Creek, a Kentucky bourbon that has been aged 9 years, in my case.

Bar Man Starting His Flight Early

Our departure time was 7:00 PM so I figured I would knock back a couple of beers and shots and then, hopefully, sleep for most of the flight to Madrid where we would change planes for Paris. That kind of worked, but it was more like a series of catnaps than an actual sleep. The free Cava, a Spanish bubbly, that they served on the flight helped things along though.

In Paris we stayed at the Mercure Tour Eiffel Suffren, a nice enough hotel that was in a perfect location.

The Mercure Tour Eiffel Suffren

As you might imagine from the name, it was very close to the Eiffel Tower.

Just A Stone's Throw Away

I think you might once have been able to actually see the Eiffel Tower from some of the hotel's rooms, but there is what looks to be a new Hilton Hotel next door now that appears to effectively block the view. At best I would guess that only a few of the upper rooms at one end of the hotel might have a view.

The hotel had an elevator system unlike anything I have ever seen before.

A Bit Confusing

What is confusing is that this is on the outside of the elevator bank, not inside the elevator. You push the button for the floor you wish to go to and then a screen indicates which of the three elevators to take. There are no buttons inside the elevator so if you change your mind about where you want to go you have to get out and try again.

Also, the screen that indicates which elevator to take doesn't stay lit all that long so if you don't watch carefully and more than one elevator shows up at the same time you may find yourself on the wrong one. There is a little panel on the side of the elevator door that indicates the floors it will stop at, but it takes awhile before you notice it. I am not sure what the purpose of this design is, but I guess there must be one. It seemed to confuse everyone the first few times they used the elevator though.

Of course, given the hotel's location, the first thing we had to do was to take pictures of what is probably the most recognizable monument in the entire world.

The Eiffel Tower, But Of Course

Well, I bet it is certainly the most recognizable monument that a kindergartner can sketch with just a few simple lines.

Actually, I Drew This

Not to bore you with too many facts, but the Eiffel Tower was not very well received when it was first erected, and erected is the operable word. All of the pieces were manufactured outside of Paris and then it was assembled like a giant Erector Set. It was considered grotesque and out of place and people were only placated a bit with the assurance that it would be torn down after twenty years. It was built for the 1899 World's Fair and was the tallest building in the world when it went up. It remained the tallest building until 1930 when the Chrysler Building in New York City passed it by.

Another piece of trivia. It used to be painted once every seven years but with increasing pollution and the affect of the resultant acidic rain it now has to be painted every five years. It takes fifty tons of paint to cover it.

There always seems to be a carnival-like atmosphere underneath the tower with people queuing up for an elevator ride, buying ice-cream and cotton candy and souvenir key chains and just generally having a good old time.

There's A Party Going On

The Eiffel Tower, although it can't be seen from everywhere, can be seen from just about everywhere. It is right by the Seine and one of the several bridges that crosses the river.

Mysterious Chinese Woman, The River And The Tower

Another nice thing about where our hotel was located was that it was close to two subway stops. The subway system in Paris is really quite nice and takes you pretty much everywhere in the city. It is really clean too, not a bit of litter on the tracks even.

But then the whole city is very clean. Unlike in New York City, people actually seem to use the trash receptacles. You also don't see people eating on the streets or in the subways like you do here. Instead they sit at the little cafes that are everywhere and sip their coffee or drink their wine or beer and have a little bite to eat. Quite civilized.

Also, although almost everything in Europe is quite expensive, especially so with the collapse of the dollar against almost all other major currencies, the subway is cheaper than in New York City. A book of ten tickets costs 11.10 Euros and at the current exchange rate that works out to about $1.70 a ride. You can also transfer between the subway and buses, just like you can do here.

A Nearby Subway Station And Train

Also, unlike in New York City they, actually have signs that tell you when the next train will arrive, and they work. They tried to install such a system here, but they pulled the plug on it after spending who knows how much money because they could never get it to work right. But then in New York City the subway cars don't even always run on the same lines they are programmed for so the maps and announcements often don't match up to the stops either. On the other hand, they do run all night whereas the trains in Paris stop around midnight.

After walking around a bit and doing some exploring I was grateful when everyone was ready to stop for a bite to eat and I could get a beer.

My First Cafe Stop, Chez Francis

As you can see, it was quite crowded outside but we got a little table inside that was almost outside and I had my first beer in Paris, a Heineken.

Ah, It Tastes Better In Paris

I also had a bit of pate which you can still eat in Paris without feeling guilty.

Pate And Pickles

In the small world department, our waitress asked where we were from and when I said New York City she said she had just been there working in a restaurant in the SoHo area. I forgot which one though. I would have chatted with her more but she was quite busy breaking in a new waitress.

As you can imagine, I have oodles more to post about my trip but I will stretch it out over several days so you don't get too overwhelmed. One thing I will say though, if people say that the French don't like Americans and are rude to them, don't believe it. I found the people to be, except for one either rude or inept waiter who was reprimanded by his boss, extremely pleasant and very helpful if you had a question. I suspect that those who experience rude behavior somehow bring it on themselves by acting like boors and then blame it on anti-Americanism. My French is limited to Bon Jour and Merci, but you would be surprised how far that will get you.


......................................Marty Freeman said...

Welcome Home.... looks and sounds like you had a fabulous vacation. I've missed your posts while you were gone. Check out my new blog and you can catch up on what we're doing here in Brainerd. That pate` looked great.

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