my soft spot

just a mom who plays hockey and knits

Monday, May 12, 2014

Last day in Paris: Eiffel Tower pictures

My friend Lydie urged me to buy Eiffel Tower tickets early on in our planning. I am so glad she did! We got the last tickets for the entire week we were going to be in Paris. They were for 8PM on May 12, the night before we flew home.

In the end, they worked out very well. It was a lovely way to finish out our trip. When we got there, it was still light, so we got to see the city of Paris in the fading light, and then lit up for the evening. We got into a short line, where a woman demanded to see my tickets. She tried to take them out of my hands and I resisted. There are a lot of scam artists in Paris these days, and plenty of them hang out near the Eiffel Tower. I pointed out that she had no I.D. whatsoever. She petulantly showed me her sleeve that said "Tour Eiffel," but since I didn't know it was a uniform, it could have been a tourist jacket. Anyway, she was satisfied that we were in the right line and let us go forward toward the x-ray machines. While we waited, a man was giving a detailed narrative on the tower to a group of tourists. I couldn't exactly tell what language he was speaking, but thought it was Japanese, so I jokingly asked Charlie, who has had one semester of Japanese, to translate. The tourguide spotted us and I fessed up--and then he told us he had been speaking Korean. Whoops!

We got through the security point and went right into a big elevator that went up at an angle through the  leg of the tower. At the first level, we changed to another elevator that took us up to the 2nd level, where there are lots of shops. We got out and looked around them a bit, then walked around outside, finally getting into the small elevator to go up to the top level. It is really beautiful, and high enough that my fear of heights only kicked in when the tower shifted in the wind (which was often enough!)

This is the Montparnasse Tower, which I really had wanted to go up in, but we never managed it.

Lit up beautifully at night:

We saw some people taking this kind of selfie. It is not very easy!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Arc de Triomphe again, Notre Dame de Paris, Deportation memorial, Louvre

Although I had gone to the Arc de Triomphe before, without Charlie, he really wanted to see (and climb) it himself. So, back we went. This time, it was a bit rainy.

We got up top, he looked around, and said, "OK, let's go." I said, "No, we have to take a photo!" So we did the classic tourist photo, with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

After we came down, I just had to take a photo of the underside of the descending staircase. It seems endless while you're walking down.

There is a super cool steampunk Metro station in Paris. I had researched it and found it was Arts et Métiers, but when we went through on the 3 line, the station was made of the usual white subway tile. I figured out you have to go through on the 11 line, so today, we did that. Worth it! Hm, I know I took a photo. Have to put it here.

We next went to the Père Lachaise cemetery. Chopin and Jim Morrison are buried here, but neither of those names mean anything to Charlie, so we pretty much just walked around. We had lunch there and admired the crypts, which range from impressive to creepy to fancy enough to be a small church.

From there, we made our way to Notre Dame de Paris. I tried to get Charlie excited about it by talking about Quasimodo. He was more excited about the towers, so we stood in a very slow line to climb up. Fortunately, there are cool gargoyles to look at while you wait.

You climb and climb and climb and finally get to the room where you buy your ticket (and souvenirs if you like) and watch a short movie while you wait. And if you are us, you suddenly realize the room is empty and the group already left. Fortunately, the kind lady ushered us out the door and we caught up. Climb and climb and climb, and then you see this guy.

And this view.

Charlie, hanging with his stone besties.

This guy's eating some creature--who is returning the favor.

The characters are fascinating to me.

Just too awesome.

I especially love this one: 

Sadly, although there is another flight up and an amazing panoramic view from the very top, by then I was completely frazzled and couldn't even think of going higher. I sent Charlie with the group and waited. When they started to come back down the stairs, I stood by the doorway and waited... forever. Finally, I called up the stairs to see if he was even coming. "I'm right here!" he says from just around the bend.

Behind the Notre Dame is the memorial to those who were deported from Paris to the concentration camps--not just the Jews, but gays, Romany, transsexuals, "antisocials," repeat criminals, and more. I won't post any photos here, because although they let you take photos, they ask that you not post them on the Internet. I'm happy to email them. There is a brass plaque in the floor that says "Ils allerent à l'autre bout de la terre et ils ne sont pas revenus"--they went to the other end of the earth and they did not return. Up on the walls, it says, "Pardonne. N'oublie pas..." (forgive, don't forget) and "Pour que vive le souvenir des deux cent mille français sombrés dans la nuit et le brouillard, exterminés dans les camps nazis" (For the memory of the two hundred thousand French sleeping in the night and the fog, exterminated in the Nazi concentration camps). It is very sobering.

Afterward, we went onto a bridge covered with locks. It isn't actually the usual locked bridge, I don't think, but Charlie was fascinated nonetheless.

We got out of there and made our way over toward the Louvre. On the way, we got hungry for lunch. I had told Charlie that despite the many McDonalds signs, if we went, it would be only once. We hadn't gone yet, so chose to visit our friendly neighborhood Paris McDonalds... where you can order your lunch on a touch screen, if you like, including "potato sauce" (turned out to be sour cream), "curry sauce" (which was delicious), and "Asian sauce" (which we didn't try but it was something more than soy sauce). Our meal included the best wedge fries I've ever had, a generic Big Mac for Charlie, and a pretty generic Filet O Fish for me. The drinks counter, though, had not only tasty smoothies and coffee shake things, but also cookies and French macaroons. I very nearly ordered some.

We headed out again to get to the Louvre, me stopping at the Lush store to buy a soap I liked. The sales person was just as personable and charming as they are in the U.S., and gave me a sample of a translucent red soap that is delish.

I can't find any photos I took at the Louvre. I may not have taken any. We went from the Metro station right into the mall that's there and then under the glass pyramid. Went in with a map, having marked the spots where Charlie wanted to go (Mona Lisa, The Raft of Medusa, and I think he wanted to see La Liberté). There are tours you can rent, with headphones--they are all on Nintendo 3DS game consoles!

We went directly to the Mona Lisa first. The room was packed, and the area in front of her, even more. I got tired of the crowd pretty fast, so told Charlie I'd meet him by the side of the room when he was done. After he got his fill, he found one of the stiff plastic guides for the room and sat down and read about Italian artists for a long time. (They are featured in his Assassin's Creed games. Well, any way to get kids interested in classic art!) I dragged him to see the famous painting of Napoleon crowning himself, then we went back out of the room and down to the cafe. I paid way too much for coffee and a so-so apple tart, but it was nice to get off of our feet. We went down to see the Raft of Medusa and La Liberté, and then Charlie was Done. 2 hours, including the coffee break. At least his ticket was free!

On the way out, we went to the Apple Store, where we discovered a cute new game called Rayman Run, which I downloaded when we got back to the apartment. Charlie is way ahead of me on it already, of course. :)

Friday, May 09, 2014

Yarn shop, knitting meetup, Montmartre

This is from the Concorde station on the Metro. Further down, it was in English: Thank you to all the children for the castles of their imagination. Drawings of castles on the walls all over the station--magical!

On May 9, I left Charlie at home and went on an outing to a yarn store, Le Comptoir. I was walking to a bus stop to head out and looked left, and--hello, National Assembly! Ahoy, Eiffel Tower! Pretty cool.

Le Comptoir--I wish I'd taken a photo--was tiny, compact, and beautiful to look at. The yarns were organized by color in a way that was just entrancing. The woman behind the counter was a little frosty at first, but warmed up and let me climb up onto the kickstool to feel and really look at the yarns. I brought some up to the counter that I wanted to buy and she carefully put them *back* onto the shelf and pulled my balls from the back--all those in front were just display balls.

I took 2 buses there, and 2 back--and honestly, it was a very quick trip. The buses come very promptly, and there are digital displays in the bus stops that tell you how long until the next bus of each number. -And they're accurate! I adore the Paris transit system. I *covet* it.

The next day, I got up quickly and set out for a knitting meetup that I'd read about on It was at a Starbucks across the Seine. I wished I'd brought my Starbucks card, just to see if it would work. they had some ingeniously decorated cups:

I was able to find the group easily enough. There were maybe 4 there when I arrived, but the group grew to about 12 by the time I left. I wore my purple knit sweater and brought my Every Which Way white stole that I'd just finished. They were very kind in their gushing. :)

The woman in the middle was especially welcoming. I heard her tell a friend that all of her sock yarn was stolen by a crummy roommate, so I'm going to gather some of mine and mail it to France.

The woman on the left seemed to be the group leader. She was quirky but super welcoming.

These guys didn't knit at all, but I gathered they were knitters (or maybe sons of the knitters?) at other times.

Charlie and I later set out for lunch at a restaurant I'd seen recommended online, but on the way there, I spotted an Indian restaurant (I love Indian food) with a 'formule' (prix fixe menu) for just €12.50 each--cheese naan, a special rice pilaf, and chicken koorma. We also ordered some samosas. It was all so delicious, but I couldn't finish mine. Fortunately, Charlie was up to the task. 

After lunch, we went to Montmartre. I'd never been all that fond of the area, and I find the basilica of Sacré-Coeur uninteresting, but our Segway tour guide had encouraged me to take Charlie there to see all the artists at work outside. Sadly, it started pouring down rain as we arrived in the funicular. (I thought the funicular was especially cool, but Charlie was adamant that it was not worth taking--"We didn't skip that many steps, Mom.") So, no artists to see; we stepped inside the basilica. Wow! It is really, really beautiful from the inside. There are signs that insist on silence all over, though, which put Charlie right off. He decided not to go in, so I went in, looked around, lit a candle, and went out the exit. I had to work my way through a big crowd of people trying to stay out of the rain in order to fight my way back to Charlie at the entrance. We huddled under my umbrella and made our way to a nearby crêperie that I'd seen a good review for on Yelp. It was very good--but the decoration was especially fascinating. The walls and most of the ceiling were covered in bills from just about every nation you could think of. Interesting, and beautiful!

Afterward, we walked down to the bus stop to head home, and spotted this really cool art on the pedestrian-only street/walkway:

We found a small store and bought some groceries to take home. The PIN pad for my credit card didn't like my PIN and I almost didn't buy the groceries. Figured out that you had to press the '1' really hard. The charming cashier asked me how to say it in English ("press hard on the button") so that he could tell other customers how to use it.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Not much happening here today

Not much to report today. Had a bit of a scare this morning. Charlie went into the shower and half blacked out, it seems, possibly from the heat and/or steam. Said he felt dizzy and couldn't see for a bit. As he got out, he couldn't  figure out how to turn the shower off (to be fair, it's tricky--you put the lever between the two extremes of 'overhead shower' and 'flexible handle') and had to call for me, whereupon I got nice and soaked, like all the towels and some of his clean clothes.

I sent him to bed for 10 minutes with his eyes shut and cleaned up the bathroom. His breathing has been a little odd lately--why can't I have a normal asthmatic?--so I've been having him do his inhalers morning & night, and I had him do them right then. Then we just stayed in for the day, with me leaving only to do a little shopping, including buying a tiny plant for Lidia downstairs, who saved us this morning with her toilet plunger. She's the woman who let us in the first day and was super helpful. Toilet problems averted, in any case.

I'm hoping to go out to dinner tonight. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Segway Tour of Paris, Arc de Triomphe, Jardin de la Nouvelle France

Picture-heavy post today. Pretty busy day!

 Charlie on a Segway for the first time. When Ben, our guide, asked who wanted to go first, his hand went up so fast, I think I saw sparks. He was quite the champ with it, willing to make mistakes and learn. Starting out on a Segway is not easy, but once you've got it, it's a blast.
Charlie riding around. Not bad for a first time!

Me & Charlie on our way to being Segway champs. The sculpture behind us is called Wall of Peace (Mur de la Paix). It's the word for peace in 32 languages and 15 alphabets.

And here's Charlie as a Segway pro.

Iconic French photo.

Quick photo in front of the Église de Dôme before running back to hear its history.

Then I deposited Charlie at our apartment and went to the Arc de Triomphe to try to meet a friend. When I got to the top (puff, puff--384 steps! Did my 'step class' for the day), I was so blown away that I forgot to look for my friend at first. Here's the view down the Champs Élysées to the Louvre museum.

The Arc de Triomphe is in the middle of the Place Charles de Gaulle Étoile, the biggest roundabout I've ever seen (7 or 8 lanes!), so it has views down many streets of Paris. Here are two more.

And two more.

And another. The scaffolding is up because they are doing work on the lead sheets that have been holding up the stonework decorating the outside. The lead is original and is deteriorating. So I say, Yay for the scaffolding!

Sticking my camera outside the protective bars (and even that gets my heart racing) to get a photo of The Eiffel Tower. I never get tired of looking at her.

Inside, they have some of the pieces on display. A giant foot!

And a beautiful lion!

And some angry gal! I wouldn't want to get on her bad side.

When I got down, there was a ceremony going on, surely commemorating WWII veterans and events.

Even the underside is decorated. I believe these are the cities that Napoleon's armies had been to.

On the way back, down the Champs-Élysées (figured out a bit ago that that means the Elysian Fields, as in the home of the Greek gods!), stopped at Sephora. Saved from spending too much on lipstick by them being out of my favorite. Had to take a photo of this beautiful display.

And I just happened upon this beautiful little garden because a sculpture outside caught my eye. What a hidden gem! Lovely and peaceful.

There was even a little pond.

I then proceeded to walk all the rest of the way home, which was a mistake and my feet hurt. Next time, Métro or grabbing a Vélib rentable bike--they were in use everywhere!

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

We have landed

Today was a loooong day. We left Dinan in the darkness at 6:39AM, 39 minutes behind my schedule (which was, happily, nicely padded). I had hoped to stop in Chartres to show Charlie the beautiful cathedral there, the one with mismatched spires, but the woman at the rest stop ("aire"--and this one had a gas station and restaurant. The French do things right!) said it would take almost 2 hours to get to Paris from there, so we pushed on.

After arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport, finally having emerged from midday Paris traffic (ugh), we trekked through the terminal to the RER area. I bought only Metro tickets at first, thinking I was being smarter than the others, buying €9.70 SNCF tickets. More the fool I--you can use the Metro tickets on the RER, but only within Zone 1 (or maybe Zones 1 & 2), in Paris. Went back into the line & bought the damned SNCF tickets.

By the time we rode RER into town, switched to line 6 toward Charles de Gaulle Étoile, and carted our heavy bags over all those damned steps, we were both sweaty and out of sorts.

Met up with lovely Lydia before the apartment building, and she got us in, and... working WiFi and my child is transformed from "don't talk to me for at least FIVE HOURS" to a giggly boy watching endless YouTube videos.

It's nice to be back. Dinan was lovely, but the lack of WiFi was really kind of rough. We now have working cell phones, though! (France only)

Monday, May 05, 2014

Fort La Latte

We set out on a day trip to Fort la Latte, a place that was first built in 987 (no numbers missing there). It's been destroyed several times over, but was last built in, I think, the 1300s. There have been updates here and there, including a new floor in the room with the vaulted ceiling. 

The fort has three areas of safety: the outside gate, with a drawbridge; the inside gate, also with a drawbridge; and the keep, which is very, very high (so high that when a woman stepped back for me to climb the last little bit if I liked, I blurted "Jamais de ma vie!" by which I meant, "Never in my life do I want to go!" It was high enough. There was an oubliette (which I wish I'd gotten a photo of), a conical prison cell where the bathroom was a slit in the wall, reminiscent of the Eyrie in Game of Thrones (where the outside wall of all prison cells are open. You want to leave? The first step's a doozie).

After our visit, we went to a nearby crêperie (judiciously open on a Sunday, when tons of other stuff was closed) for a cold drink, where I got this photo of what I think is a flag of Celtic nations. I can name some--Ireland, Wales, Brittany--but certainly not others.

This flag was flying in front of the crêperie. All Celtic countries? 

Uh, Charlie? Where ya goin'?

Charlie crouched in a fireplace under a very cool vaulted stone ceiling.

That Charlie. Back in the stocks again.

Our first view of Fort La Latte. (these photos are out of order)

Cap Fréhel, from Fort La Latte.

View down into the beautiful sea. Our weather is getting better and better.