Monday, December 3, 2007

New York and Paris

On Tuesday, November 20, I got up early and took a taxi to fly to New York-LaGuardia and got a ride from there to my parents' house. I was supposed to go to the city and see Spamalot on Wednesday, but because of the strike it was closed, so we just went to Best Buy and bought a new high-def TV. They didn't have it in stock and we probably couldn't have fit it in the car, so they're pretty much on their own to get it hooked up.
We left fairly early Thursday to go upstate for Thanksgiving dinner. We've been having Thanksgiving there for about 20 years now, with more or less the same group of people year after year. This year was a large crowd, 25 for dinner, as well as 4 dogs and my 2-year old niece. It was the first time I had been to the place, a former mill and onetime working farm, since a massive flood last year completely changed the stream that goes through the property, as well as additional flooding this year that damaged some of what was fixed. Where there was a pond and a waterfall feeding a swimming hole, there is "the pit" and just a stream. I walked through the marshy "pit" with a friend who had been there when the Corps of Engineers was doing work to restore the former stream bed. A tremendous amount of work had to be done to get the place back in order- all the stone walls along the creek had to be rebuilt, the plant beds had to be replace, and the bridge across was gone forever.
Dinner was excellent and of course I ate too much, and then still had dessert afterward. After socializing for a while and it feeling as though it were much later, we went into town for the night. Normally we would stay on "the farm," but since there was such a crowd and we would only be staying for one night, my family stayed at the Super 8. Most years we would have stayed up late either doing a jigsaw puzzle or playing Boggle, but this was only a short stay. The next morning my parents, sister, brother-in-law, niece and I ate at the Denny's next door before we went back home to prepare for the trip to Paris.
After final packing, we drove to JFK, parked in the long term lot and took the tram to the terminal. The airport was fairly sparse, being the day after Thanksgiving, and there was no line at the check-in counter. Our flight kept being delayed because of some "maintenance issue" that first they were checking on, then seeing if they could fix it, and then trying to find us another aircraft because they couldn't fix it. Altogether, we were about 2 1/2 hours late leaving JFK. Once we were under way, I read until dinner was served, then took a sleep aid and slept until breakfast was served about 5 hours later. The breakfast croissant paled in comparison to the real thing we had in abundance during our stay. Fortunately the plane was only about half full and there was room to stretch out. My mom and dad each had a center section of three seats to stretch across, and I had two on the right side.
In Paris at Charles de Gaulle, we met up with my mom's sister (my dad saw her after my mom and I practically walked right past her) and took the RER to Chatelet-Les Halles after failing to find the van that was supposed to take us there. After getting settled in our rented apartment a bit, we all went out for a walk past the Louvre, across to Ile de la Cite, through Notre Dame, and on to Ile Saint Louis before heading back, picking up a baguette, brie, camembert and some other things for dinner, a fine inexpensive meal we repeated the next two nights.
Sunday we all headed to Palais du Luxembourg to see the Arcimboldo exhibit. It was fun, but insanely crowded. We walked through the garden and to the Pantheon. We saw an exhibit of architectural drawings at the mayor's office on the place, which was nice and refreshingly free and empty. After a lunch of crepes, we went past the Sorbonne to the Cluny museum/museum of the middle ages. I especially liked that on the unicorn tapestries the bottom sections that were reproduced using modern synthetic dyes are much more faded than the original sections which use natural dyes. From there we split up- my parents went to the Delacroix museum, my aunt went to see other museums, and I walked to the Place de la Bastille. Unfortunately the Harley shop there was closed, and I walked back to the apartment past Place des Vosges and Centre Pompidou, as well as lots of expensive-looking stores.
Monday my parents and I went to the Louvre and we toured the northern country paintings, then the 19th century French paintings. After lunch I decided I had enough for one day, and had no interest in the "big 3" (Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo). My parents only went near the Mona incidentally while viewing the "large scale" French and Italian paintings. I went for a walk, through the Tuileries, past the obelisk in Place de la Concorde, and all the way down the Champs-Elysees. I climbed up the Arc de Triomphe and had a marvelous view of Paris. I walked from there to the Eiffel Tower and continued on to Hotel des Invalides, arriving about 4pm, not leaving much time to see the various attractions inside. I went through a great collection of armor and weapons in the Musee de l'Armee. I was going through the museum of the first and second world wars (quickly, it wasn't my favorite) when the started to close the place at 4:45, so I didn't get a chance to see Napoleon's tomb or anything else in the dome. I was beat at that point and took the Metro back to the Louvre.
Tuesday morning we all went to the Musee d'Orsay for a too-quick 2 hour visit. I think I missed both upper floors, including a lot of the impressionists. I did enjoy what I did see, particularly the sculptures and the pastels, but it's hard to play favorites. From there we walked to the Rodin museum, which I enjoyed very much. I particularly liked his "partially completed" marble sculptures. I left the others, taking the Metro to Notre Dame. I was disappointed the crypt was closed for the month, but did enjoy the bell towers. It was a good hike up there and the view was spectacular. I particularly liked being so close to the gargoyles. From there I did a quick tour of the relatively small Conciergerie, which at one time imprisoned Marie Antoinette among many others. I went to the nearby (in the same complex of buildings) Saint-Chapelle church, which is smallish but has a very impressive, bright interior. Security was stronger there than anyplace else on the trip (other than the airports) due to its location in the judicial complex. After meeting back up at the apartment, we all walked to the Champs-Elysees to find dinner. We wound up eating at a nice place called Le Notre in the park-like area before you get to the shops.
Wednesday we got up and waited for a while for a shared-ride type van to the airport to pick up a rental car. It was a large van that was completely full before we left the city center- us four, an American couple, and two French women. The driver must not have planned the pickups well, as after picking up the first French woman, we drove a ways more to wind up two blocks from where we picked up the American couple. From there we took what turned out to be toll roads, which like most things were fairly expensive, all the way to Caen, then other roads around Bayeux and into Balleroy and to the Chateau. Once we arrived we were served a lunch of salad and quiche and a cheese course and dessert. Despite having had some bread and cheese along the way for lunch, we had no problem eating a fine meal that had been prepared for us. The caretaker Georges showed us all of the fully modernized Chateau, almost all rooms have their own bathroom, the room that was Malcolm Forbes' being the nicest, of course, with a sauna. I also liked the library tucked beside a good-sized (as these things go) ballroom, which is said to have a parquet floor predating that of Versailles. We went up onto the roof, which has a great view of the small town and surrounding countryside. The artwork throughout is fabulous, Kip Forbes being an avid collector. I liked the works of Comte Albert de Balleroy very much, and the place must have more of his work than anywhere else in the world (it having been his onetime home and studio). Dinner was, not surprisingly, excellent and I of course ate every bite. After talking and a bit of Calvados, a local apple brandy, we headed to bed. It felt strange to be just the four of us in such an enormous place, but I managed to sleep pretty well nonetheless.
After a full spread of breakfast the next morning, we went into the town of Bayeux, after checking out the Chateau's gift shop and the world's first ballooning museum. The museum was of course founded by Malcolm Forbes, having been an avid hot-air balloon enthusiast, as well as being the first to cross the US in a hot air balloon. During his life, the Chateau was host to ballooning festivals, where he showed off all of his specially shaped balloons- a Harley, a sphinx, and one just like the Chateau itself. In Bayeux we saw the 11th century "Bayeux Tapestry," which is really embroidery and not a tapestry. From Bayeux we went north to Omaha Beach, which is very powerful, almost overwhelming. Security was pretty tight for the museum there, but the American soldiers haven't guarded the place for several years. Unfortunately the path down to the actual beach was closed off, I had wanted to go down and see what was quite a good hill, from the beach looking up. Back at the Chateau we had another lovely dinner and a good night's sleep.
The next morning I got to walk in the moat (which apparently has never been filled), which offered a nice view but the grass was quite damp. We departed and head back east, spending the afternoon in Rouen. I enjoyed the town very much, I could have spent at least an entire day there. We all toured the Musee des Beaux-Arts, whose collection got much better as we went along. Its collection pales to that of the Louvre, but almost every art museum in the world does, but they do have a lot of very nice paintings, including a Caravaggio. They have a lot of paintings by painters from Rouen or of Rouen, including one of Monet's well known paintings of the Rouen Cathedral. I walked to that one and two other very nice churches, but Saint Ouen was closed for repairs. Leaving Rouen, we went to find our hotel for the night in Beauvais. Quite unfortunately we only had the address of the place, and no maps of the town itself. We had to ask quite a few people for help, since it was after 6 at that point and the tourism office was closed. The people were all very helpful and eventually we found the place. My parents and I went out and had dinner at a dive of a place nearby, having hamburgers and hot dogs with a mountain of fries, which the waitress made sure to point out were made in house. We got up the next morning and headed back toward Paris, stopping at an enormous Super-WalMart like supermarket to spend some of our last Euros. We dropped Alice off for her noon flight, our flight not leaving until 5:50, we went to the nearby town of Senlis. It was a very nice little old town, we walked around, had a very nice lunch in a 12th-century basement restaurant. Since everything was closed for a siesta at 2 o'clock we went back to the airport. There I spent some of my remaining Euros on a couple of beers and a French magazine. The flight left on time, I managed to sleep through most of the first movie and half of the second, but only thanks to my iPod as the family in the row in front of us did not stop talking and jumping up and down the entire flight. Landing sucked because I had to turn off and stow my portable electronic device and the young boy hated the landing very very very much, screeching that he hated flying and wanted to get off. Back at Kennedy we got on the tram to the car, and walked in the (literally) freezing cold.
Sunday morning I woke up and it was snowing. Not a good thing when you have to travel. Pretty, but terrible for planes and cars. The upside is that normally there is a mix, my parents' house getting snow, and the city getting rain, and LaGuardia wasn't reporting major delays or cancellations. To add to it all, a water main broke down the street about 9:30 in the middle of my mom washing my clothes. It was after noon before they got it fixed and the water turned back on. My dad drove me to the airport about 4, my flight being reported at that time as a half hour late. Amazingly there was no line to check in, and the gate agent thought I'd make my connection, the flights being scheduled to arrive at E7 and leave from E9. Having some time, I sat down at the "Jet Rock" bar as I usually do when I have to wait at LaGuardia and drank a beer watching some football. The flight was almost completely full to Houston, but I managed to sleep for an hour or so. We wound up getting to the gate almost 40 minutes late, and it was gate E23. I checked on my cell phone and my flight to Austin was leaving out of E4. Great. I hustled, just short of running, to the gate to find that fortunately they were holding the plane for a few minutes to let those of us from NY and our bags get on the plane. Arrived in Austin about midnight, got my bag and got a cab home. Got home, got my mail, brought in the paper, and went to bed. Now, if only I could take the day off to sleep, unpack, read my mail, ...

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