Monday, August 2, 2010

Paris, July 31, 2010

Gare de Lyon Filled With Tourists and Escaping French (TGV trains in backdrop)

People Await Posting of Track Designation on Overhead Board At Gare de Lyon

Look For This Sign and Climb the Stairs or Take the Elevator to an Oasis Above Paris 12e

Iron Art, One of Many Sculptures to Enjoy Along Viaduct Des Arts, Paris 12e

Colorful Window Art along the Viaduct Des Arts, Below the Promenade Plantées, 12e Paris

The Promenade Plantées is a Parisian Oasis Above the Boulevards

An Older Structure Aside Modern Apartment Structures

Modern Apartment Building Along The Promenade

An Example of the Variety of Rare Plants Along the Promenade

One of Many Fountains Used by Walkers and Joggers along the Promenade

A view of a Café on the Viaduct des Arts below the Promenade

As seen from Promenade Plantés, Unusual Architecture

Example of Beauty of Stroll at Promenade Plantées Paris 12e

The Mass Exodus

Now that the jet lag has subsided, I'm happy to report that we've landed safely in the most wonderful city in the world, Paris.

The journey from Honolulu hasn't changed a bit. It is most tedious and always a reminder to us of how remotely we are situated out there in the middle of the Pacific ocean (the most distant island from a land mass on the globe).

The flight was uneventful and concluded at Charles de Gaulle airport at exactly 2:35 p.m. July 31, right on time. We'd left Honolulu at 8 a.m. the previous morning which meant that we'd been up since 4 a.m. Our taxi was five minutes early, as is their protocol at Charlie's Taxi and our driver took us directly to the Hawaiian Air drive-in check-in counter where our bags were wisked away by a friendly skycap while our agent printed out our boarding passes and assured us that our luggage would be sent from our Hawaiian Air flight directly to the pending Air France flight (from LAX to CDG) without any worry on our behalves.

Our Honolulu flight left on time and arrived early at the gate at LAX. We like this particular flight because it results in a brief layover of an hour and a half and the Air France departure gate is a mere 100 yards from the arrival gate for Hawaiian Air. Our first leg of the trip is five hours, so a long layover is never desirable.

We were lucky enough to snag an exit row on the Air France flight, with me in the middle and my husband on the aisle. An exit row seat is a blessing, indeed, allowing easy access to restrooms and the ability to stretch out our legs and/or stand whenever we wish. My window seat partner was a delightful young french man, Guillaume, who was returning to France after a six-week immersion with a host family in Honolulu. Remarkably, he hadn't had any English until this trip, yet he learned to speak it very well. He chatted a lot on our way across the U.S. and Atlantic Ocean, realizing that his immersion could continue for another 12 hours--which it did as he was quite gregarious.

I should say here that we found a fabulous over-the-counter product called "No Jet-Lag" and took it during our trip to Paris last October. It really worked, so we bought more for the present trip. We swear by this product, recommending it to all our friends.

With the ingestion of our wonder product according to directions, we arrived in Paris without being worn out, even though neither of us slept. It was sunny and warm (80F) upon arrival and after a rather long period (over an hour) of standing in line for a customs window (there was an organized slow-down by the agents), we obtained our visa stamps and promptly retrieved our luggage (it had long since made several trips around on the baggage conveyor belt) and walked the short distance to the Air France bus. We each paid 16.50 euros, stowed our baggage below in the baggage porte, and climbed aboard. It was air conditioned and comfortable inside and the trip to Gare de Lyon was less than an hour--about the same by taxi. Hardly anybody was on the highway leading into Paris center but the outgoing traffic was heavy since it was the beginning of the mass exodus of Parisians ready to enjoy their vacations.

We were dropped off at the Gare de Lyon train station. We had an advance reservation to stay the night at the Novotel, immediately adjacent to the train station. Within a minute we were standing at the check-in desk and within five minutes were entering the elevator to take us to the seventh, top, floor. Though the price for one night was most reasonable, I believe I would have paid a thousand euros for that wonderful shower which followed immediately upon arriving at our hotel room.

After refreshing ourselves and unpacking our clothing for the next day, we decided to walk out into the 12e and perhaps enjoy an aperitif before returning to sleep for the night. The moment we walked out into the street, it was apparent to both of us that we had to disappear down the steps of the first metro entrance we encountered and take the yellow line to the metro line that would lead us to the 15e, where we love to hang out.

We stopped in at our favorite place on rue de Commerce, just across from the metro stop at the park. Even though the apero hour was in full swing, it is the time of the great escape by Parisians, so we were able to snag a great table inside the dining area where there was no cigarette smoke and the air conditioning was pumping out cool air. We rarely (probably safe to say never) sit at a sidewalk table because the smoke is just more than we can take if we wish to enjoy conversation, a bit of wine and a delicious meal.

We ordered our favorite pizza (all their food is delicious and they have a broad menu), the "Regina" which has a tender crust and a generous portion of ham, fresh mushrooms, tomato and cheese We also had to order a plate of pomme frites. I don't know how they do it, but these oddly shaped french fries are crisp on the outside and soft inside and they are never greasy. What you get is a piping hot and delicious potato taste. There is absolutely no reason to dip them in anything, because the delicate taste is all one needs. We also ordered a demi-pichet of rosé and a carafe of water. We enjoyed the meal slowly, in the french way, and savored the food and patted ourselves on the back for taking the time to hop on the metro and do what we both were dying to do.

After the delicious meal, we walked the length of the rue de Commerce, stopping at our favorite patisserie for chocolate macaroons (not the coconut kind of macaroons in the U.S.)--crisp little cookies with a moist chewing inside, costing .60 euros each--to enjoy later. We took the metro from Grenelle back to the 12e and to our hotel where we fell into bed and slept hard until about 3:45 a.m. Both fully awake, I got out of bed and filled the electric tea pot with water and made us some mint tea and we sat up in bed listening to CNN World News while enjoying tea and macaroons.

The window of our room, faced the entrance to Gare de Lyon and the plaza out front of it. We avoid Paris during the summer months, as a general rule, since that is the time that most tourists come. This time, though, our ultimate destination was Dijon and that is because we wanted to experience summer there (we have an intent to purchase some real estate in Dijon). We were amazed by the steady stream of Parisians in mass exodus from Paris. We later learned that the mass exodus is not only true for Paris, but all over France. Apparently, many employers prefer that their employees take the month of August off and business simply slows during that time. Since workers return in September, when schools start again, workers are then back for most of the rest of the year and being productive. With so many vacation weeks available to the french, it is easy to understand why an employer would want only a month of slowing. It's quite interesting. Boy, I have to comment though, that between holidays and vacations and 35 hour work weeks, it is easy to see why the french enjoy life! I also wonder, however, what it would have been like for me to have paid my office staff for a full 8 weeks of vacation and several holidays and then to have to shut down my law office for such a long period when I was in practice back when. It short of makes me shudder to think about it ;~)

We didn't need to be at Gare de Lyon for our TGV ride to Dijon, until 12:30 p.m., so we took advantage of the courtesy breakfast at the hotel at 7 a.m. We enjoyed some freshly baked artisan bread with delicious jam, yogurt, fresh fruit and juice, then walked out into the 12e. It was sunny and warm by 9 a.m. We strolled along the Viaduct des Arts, enjoying window and other art and then found the steps leading up to the Promenade Plantées. The stroll down the promenade is very pleasant. It's quite amazing, indeed. They transformed an old RER track that previously ran to Vencinnes, into an amazing walk-way park. We admired all the blooming flora of July, interesting architecture that is part of the charm of Paris and watching young professionals on early morning jogging sessions. The walkway parallels apartment buildings in this area and most of the apartments appear to be upper end and nice. Instead of looking down on other buildings and the street below, occupants have a view of a green belt. A smart design, indeed.

After our morning stroll, we rested at the hotel until noon, then walked across the plaza into the train station filled to the brim with passengers waiting to disembark from Paris to the many other destinations in France. We bought a couple of the traditional Parisian sandwiches consisting of fresh crunchy-on-the-outside and doughy on the inside french bread buttered and layered with delicious Comte cheese and Parisian ham and sipped from the bottles of water fwe purchased for our trip. We found our train car and loaded our baggage from the platform onto the train, stowing it and settling in for the short ride to Dijon.

Our friend from Honolulu, who now lives in Dijon, met us with his fiancée. After loading the luggage into his amazingly spacious 2CV, he popped the cork on some ice-cold Cremant from the Bourgogne and poured us a glass. It was his way of celebrating our arrival as well as a perfect introduction into the Burgundy wine region.

This trip to Dijon included a home exchange with a young family of four. The parents of our host family greeted us upon arrival at this adorable 1930's two story city dwelling. The father spoke good English but the mother, who was our docent, spoke only french. Nonetheless, we understood her as she lead us through the home. These folks are friendly and warm and invited us to come to their home this coming Saturday. They live in the city center in Dijon and the plan is that they will retrieve us about 7 p.m. and we'll have a traditional Dijonnaise meal, complete with escargot, and a full evening of immersion. This is something we definitely look forward to.

While we were still a bit tired upon our arrival, since we'd only had five hours of rest within the preceding 30 hours, we had been invited to a party at our friend's home in Couternon, a suburb of Dijon. Of course, we eagerly accepted! We said good-bye to our host's parents and our friends, and began unpacking. We then cleaned up and by 6:30 p.m. were arriving in Couternon. It should be noted here, that a french dinner party begins at 6:30 p.m. with a 2-3 hour aperitif and lively conversation, followed by several courses of food, more wine, music, and an after dinner apero--well, you get the picture, it's a long evening into wee hours--so we arrived back home at 1 a.m. and at that time were running very low on energy. We literally fell into bed and neither of us moved so much as a muscle until 8 a.m. French homes come equipped with heavy shutters that are closed during the night. This creates a very quiet and dark house, very conducive to a good night's sleep!

Our first full day in Dijon was one of getting settled in, followed by shopping at a huge Carrefour market in Quetigny, another suburb of Dijon. We filled three bags with wine, cheese and other staples, then found a small café where we had our first delicious cup of strong coffee and a bit of breakfast pastry.

Our exchange home has a beautiful garden as it's back yard, with table and chairs and a tarp overhead. It's traditional for the french to dine out doors, and we didn't break that tradition. I prepared a light lunch and my husband opened our first bottle of burgundy from Beaune 1er Cru (Savigny-Les-Beaune lER Cru, Clos Des Guettes (2007), a delicious burgundy [pinot noir grape] at only 16 euros [from the maison François Martenof]), and we lingered in the warm sun while watching all the bees moving briskly from bush to bush and tree to tree. It was obvious to us, almost immediately, that we do have a lack of bees in the U.S. Sure hope that problem is solved very soon or our food supply may be in jeopardy. Perhaps the U.S. needs to consult with the french, as we didn't notice a shortage here at all.

It is now our second full day in Dijon, and we're done with posting for the day. We're going to take a stroll from the house to City Center to see what's up in Dijon this day. Stay tuned! À très bientôt! Lennie

Stay tuned for more photos and information from this beautiful region of France.

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