Monthly Archives: October 2012

Looking back at a great trip

It’s Sunday afternoon and we’ve been back in the USA for six days. I guess it is a cliché, but as much as we enjoyed our trip to Paris and Normandy, it is nice to be back in our one house. I think about a week and a half is my limit before I start thinking it would be good to be back to familiar surroundings and routine.

Our trip back to Savannah on Monday was grueling. As we were riding the RER train to the airport, Mrs. Poolman commented that she hoped we had the same luck as we did on the flight over; that is, no one sharing our three-across seat combo. Or, at least not a 300 pounder. As it turns out, the guy in the aisle seat was closer to 400 pounds. Seriously! And Air France has to have the smallest seats in existence, in both width and front-back space. We were on that Boeing 777 for 11 and a half hours, and Mrs. P was not a happy flier. Jabba the Hut oozed across the armrest and over into Princes Leia’s seat space, and the person in the row in front kept reclining her seat so far that she couldn’t even focus on the back-of-the seat TV monitor. At one point Mrs P just couldn’t stand it any more and got up and stood in the back of the plane for around an hour. We didn’t realize how small the seat space was until we connected with a Delta MD88 in Atlanta. When we sat down, Mrs. P and I looked at each other and commented on how much more room there was. Long haul – tiny space. Short haul – roomy seats. That doesn’t seem right.

One thing interesting about travel is trying to figure out the different plumbing and electricity. When we checked into the Holiday Inn St Germain des Pres in Paris, we couldn’t figure out how to turn the lights on. They would come on and then go out again. Then we noticed a little device on the wall near the door. The room key is a flat piece of plastic, and you are supposed to insert the room key into the slot in the wall device. That allows you to turn on all the room lights. Nice idea to save on electricity, but a bit confusing if you have never encountered it before.

What is it with the French thing of a shower guard that only covers half the tub? We had this in three of the four rooms in which we stayed. You have to really work at it to keep the shower spray from soaking the entire room. Would a full-length shower curtain be that difficult?

This is the bath-shower in our apartment. Note the glass shower barrier that extends only halfway down the tub.

Visitors to Mont St Michel are constantly climbing stairs.

You stairs are everywhere!

There is no flat surface on the island. Everything is up or down. It’s a great way to get some exercise. I did notice they have automatic defibrillators about every 50 feet on all the streets.

Instructions in several languages

I wonder how often they are used. At one point, I was out on the causeway taking some pictures when a very rotund man walked by on his way to the gate. All I could think of was, “Oh man, you are going to die here.”

And once again, I have to point out that the people we encountered were all fantastic. The French, and Parisians in general, have a bad reputation for meeting unfriendly, especially to Americans. We did not encounter that at all. Everyone was great, whether we were interacting with a waiter in a sidewalk café, or a fellow passenger as we were packed cheek-to-jowl on a crowded Metro train. The only even slightly unpleasant people we encountered were tourists. See my posting on our trip to Versailles.

The bank account won’t take another trip like this for a couple of years. But if I can get Mrs. P back on an airplane, we’ll attempt another trip before too long. Looking forward to it.

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Paris Day Twelve — The Last Day of the Trip

It’s Sunday afternoon, our last day here before flying home in the morning.

Mrs Poolman and I had breakfast with Brother- and Sister-in-Law before seeing them off on the next stage of their journey. They are headed off to Taize,  a monastic retreat center in southern France. They plan to spend four days living in huts, eating lentils and rice, and meditating and chanting. SIL is really into that kind of thing and doesn’t understand why everyone else isn’t also. More power to her, but it doesn’t appeal to us in the least.

Mrs P and I headed out for an easy sight-seeing expedition. We planned to take advantage of the free museum admissions on the first Sunday of every month. Apparently so did everyone else in Paris. We went to the Louvre and, gave up before we could even find the end of the line. Seriously! The line wrapped itself out of the gigantic courtyard, into the next courtyard and on and on. We never did find the end. It was at least a half mile long!

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This was just the middle part of the line. The end was in the next courtyard, maybe.

So we wandered around. We visited the gardens of the Palais Royale.

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The Palais Royale Garden.

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Myself

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Mrs P has always belonged on a pedestal.

We bought macaroons at Angelinas and ate them sitting on a bench in Tuileries Garden.

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A busy Sunday afternoon in the Tuileries Garden.

We walked along the Seine to the Pont du Arts. This is a pedestrian bridge near the western end of the Louvre. Couples place “locks of love” on railings. Mrs P and I id not add to the padilock congestion.

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Mrs P and the locks.

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Locks of love

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Myself again.

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A pretty view from the bridge towards the western end of Ile de la Cite

We walked down towards St Germain and stopped at an outdoor cafe for a “Coca Cola Light” and a potty break. Mrs P was startled when a pigeon landed on the small cafe table and helped himself to a peanut from the bowl right in front of her.

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The little cafe and a pedestrian-only street

We strolled down Blvd St Germain, past several famous cafes and back to our hotel.

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One of Hemmingway's favorites

All told, it was a very pleasant last day in Paris. We’ll hit one of the local cafes for dinner tonight, then to bed early in prep for our long travel day tomorrow.

Paris –Day Eleven

It’s Saturday evenng and we’re back in Paris. There’s not much to report since today was a travel day.

We eere up early and schlepped our luggage off the island to the shuttle stop. I packed fairly light, but Mrs Poolman doubled my load. And one of the wheels on her bag broke, so I have heen carrying it while she pulls my lighter, roller equipped bag. I think the brother- and sister-in-law packed everything they own. BIL was looking “rode hard and put up wet” after dragging both their bags off the island, on and off the train and then through three train and Metro stations.

Our drive to Caen was through a drizzly rain, but pretty easy. Actually, the only problem we had was finding a gas (petrol) station in Caen to fill up the car before returning it. In the US it seems like you can fill up on every corner. In Caen, we actually had to go to the rental office and ask for directions to a station. Strange.

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Two of our merry band waiting for the train in the rain.

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BIL & SIL on the train.

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Mrs P and myself enjoying the trip back to Paris.

The train ride back was pleasant. The trip to our hotel was a little trying, again because of all the luggage. Our plan to send  one couple ahead with the luggage in a cab fell through when we walked out of the station in the rain and couldn’t find a cab. So we took the Metro. See above.

We had a pleasant surprise when we got to the Holiday Inn St Germaine du Pres. They upgraded both rooms to mini-suites. Very nice! (I am a member of their loyalty program, Priority Club, and used points to reserve and pay for both rooms.) Thank you very much Holiday Inn!

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The upgraded room. Nice.

Tonight is “Nuit Blanche” or “White Night” in Paris. This is an annual all night party with many museum, restaurants, clubs, etc open all night and free. We were thinking of revisiting the Louvre tonight, but the weather is crappy and Mrs P is tired. We may just hit a nearby cafe and then return to the hotel. Tomorrow is the first Sunday of the month so many of the museums will be open for free all day.

Mrs P wants to hit the Louvre and then Angelinas for lunch.

Paris & Normandy — Day Ten

Today, Friday, we spent on Mont St Michel. This is an abbey and tiny tourist community on a small island where Normandy and Brittany come together.

We had a nice time exploring and relaxing. A European breakfast wascincluded in our room rate — pastries, ham, cheese, hard boiled eggs, cereal and fruit. We had very nice meals for lunch and dinner. I’m a little concerned that Mrs Poolman is going to expect a three-course “menu” (entree, plat & dessert) everytime it is my turn to cook dinner at home. Sorry, hon. Here’s some potato chips to get you started. The burgers will be along shortly.

Tomorrow we drive back to Caen to catch the train to Paris. Then one last day in Paris before flying home on Monday. Hopefully our drive tomorrow will be uneventful.

Mont St Michel is a postcard photo waiting for someone to press the shutter button. Here are some samples.

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From the causeway

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The one main street on MSM

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Lunchtime

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The merry band

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Myself

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The causeway to the island

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Mrs P in the small graveyard

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You can't go anywhere without walking up or down steps.

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One attempt at framing a shot

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And another

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No one home here

Paris & Normandy — Day Nine

The saga continues.

What the first eight days may have lacked in adventure, we made up for today. We were up and moved out of our apartment by nine AM. Off to Gare St Lazare to catch our train to Caen.

This leg of our trip has had ill omens from the beginning.  On our first evening here we went to Gare Montparnasse to purchase these and other tickets. The very patient ticket seller spent nearly a half hour, working discounts and combos. Sister-in-Law was handling the transaction as this was her job in our division of labor. I noticed the fares and timetables did not seem to be what I had seen on line, but I kept my mouth shut, until the vendor wrote the destination on one of the ticket envelopes, not CAEN, but CANNES? Oops! I pointed out the error and the vendor patiently reissued the correct tickets and demonstrated to SIL the proper way to pronounce the two very different cities.

After all that, the train ride to Caen was pleasant and uneventful. We located the National car rental agency. We picked up our Citeron car and directions to our first stop — Bayeux. Then the fun began.

I drove while SIL and BIL navigated. Just getting out of Caen was a nightmare. At one point I’m pretty sure I drove down a section of street reserved for trolleys. We took the wrong entrance ramp to a limited access highway and drove 20 km out of town in the wrong direction before we were able to get turned around. Five or six wrong turns later and we were finally on the highway to Bayeux, leaving five or six years of my life in the rearview mirror.

We had lunch in Bayeux and then made our way to the American Cemetary at Omaha Beach.

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Bayeux Cathedral

As it was at my last visit here in April 2011, it was very moving. 

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Some of our merry band in the cemetary

Our original plan was to move on to Vierville-sur-Mer to locate the stretch of beach where Mrs Poolman’s and SIL’S father landed with the 116th Infantry Regiment in the second wave in D-Day. We were also going to stop at Point du Hoc. However, others in our party lost interest and wanted to get on to Mont St Michel.

What was left of my driving patience disappeared when we were driving down a narrow Normandy lane with close hedgerows on both sides and a cement mixer roared around a blind curve with his left wheels well on our side of the road. We escaped, but the right side of our car was in the bushes. I’m glad I got the damage collision waiver when we rented the car.

The rest of the trip to MSM was uneventful. We checked into our hotel on the island and had a nice dinner. We took a walk out to catch some night photos from the causeway.

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On to bed. Tomorrow is intended for sightseeing at Mont St Michel.

Paris Day Eight — Montmartre

This is our last day in Paris before heading to Normandy tomorrow. Our good weather ended. Most of the day was cool and drizzly. Fortunately, it never really rained heavy.

We kept the activities low key. We took the Metro (What else?) to Montmartre and just wandered around. Eventually, we had a very nice lunch in a cafe. The waitress made fun of me feable efforts to order in French, but I think she appreciated the effort.

After visiting all the high-brow museums, like the Louvre, we finished out visit to Montmartre with a stop in the Museum of Erotic Art. It was a little different.

We got back rlto the apartment in the late afternoon and spent the time preparing for moving out in the morning.

Dinner was some fresh baguette sandwiches we picked up in Montmartre.

Here are some pics.

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Musicans trying to earn a Euro on the Metro

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Street scene in Montmartre

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Myself and Mrs Poolman at the Basilica of Sacre Couer

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Place Tertre

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Just a street scene with Sacre Coure in the background

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Heading back to the apt on a wet afternoon.

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One of the less offensive exhibits from the erotic art museum

Paris Day Seven – Versailles and a ‘flaneur’

This was the last day of our four-day museum pass. A trip to Versailles was the plan.

We got up early and took the RER train. We arrived just a few minutes past the opening at nine.

The chateau, built by ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV in the late 17th century, is magnificant. Unfortunately, around ten thousand other people arrived to soak in the magnificance with us. The crowds were overwhelming. In many of the rooms, we couldn’t even find the sign with the appropriate audioguide number because the camera toting tourists (like us?) were packed cheek to jowl.

When I complained about it to Mrs Poolman, she said it was just like a Florida football game. So when is the kickoff? Let’s start a wave! I don’t think all those Chinese tourists would understand.

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Mrs P in the fron courtyard

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This room is NOT crowded by comparison.

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Mrs P listening intently to the audioguide.

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The Hall of Mirrors

We made it through the chateau without causing an international incident. It was touch and go when one older guy roughly elbowed me aside so he could assist his wife who apparently had not a clue how to work her camera. I figured Hillary has enough on her hands,
without me adding to her troubles.

For all you hear about rude Parisians, for the second trip in a row the only jerks we have met were from abroad.

When we finished with the chateau, we found out that visiting the gardens and other buildings would run us another 15 euros apiece. We were pretty fed up with the experience, so we headed back to the train and Paris. 

After lunch, most of our merry band wanted to spend the rest of
the afternoon reading and napping. I didn’t want to waste an afternoon in Paris with a museum pass by hanging around the apartment. So I took off on my own again. I took the Metro back down to the historic city center. The line to Sainte Chapelle wasn’t as long and it was moving. The stained glass there lives up to it reputation.

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Just a sample of the stained glass.

Then I walked a block back to Notre Dame and went through the archaeological crypt. Not mind blowing, but pretty cool all the same.

Then I walked through the Latin Quarter tourist district. I turned right on Blvd Ste Gremaine and walked a few more blocks to a Metro station and back to the apartment.

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Blvd Ste Germaine

Earlier in the day I had made reservations for Mrs P and me at a restaurant recommended by Adrian Leeds in her Kindle book, “Top100 Cheap Insider Paris Restaurants”.

The Bistro  du Septieme on rue Tour Marbourg  was great. We had fantastic three-course “menu” meals. (That is French for “blue plate special.) I started with escargot, then steak and fries and finished with a creme brulee. Mrs P had a scallop pate for her entree, veal for the main dish and some frozen chocolate dish for dessert. Each meal was 25 euros or about $32. Not bad when you consider it covered three courses, tax and tip. We also shared a small bottle of wine.

As we were walking the few doors from the Metro station to the bistro, I saw  a Gator ball cap on a window table of another restaurant. I knocked on the window and gave the two couples  Gator chomp. A half minute later, one of the men chased us down on the sidewalk to talk. He is a pediatrician from Gainesville vacationing with his wife and another couple. He pulled us back to their restaurant to meet the rest of his group. We had a nice conversation. They will also be at Mont St Michel later this week, so we may see them again. Small world.

Altogether, it was a very nice evening. Tomorrow is Montmartre.