Tuesday July 5, 2016 – Paris, France

I am now getting dressed and going out to the Museé Rodin.

It’s late afternoon here in Paris and I am enjoying a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Today was the first real nice day with sunshine all day. I just got back from the Art District and find myself in a more energetic neighborhood with fewer tourists.20160705_012111

In the morning my hostess Maéva (Jean-Marie’s brother’s girlfriend) found out she did not have to work so we had a delightful breakfast together of French press coffee, yogurt, bread with jam, and fresh fruit that I had picked up yesterday–blueberries, raspberries, and cherries.20160705_031307

Afterwards I headed out the door to the Jardin des Plantes,

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at most about five blocks away. Nearby there was also the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle,

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and Le Grand Galerie De L’ Evolution.

Maéva said she would join me after she took care of some of her business and running errands. Once I found the gardens I busied myself gathering photos of the many different varieties of flowers. There were lots of roses and statues spread out along well thought-out garden paths, including a statue of a gentleman named Buffon (1707-1755).20160705_014050

Buffon was Count Buffon (7 September 1707 – 16 April 1788), a French naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and author of encyclopedias.20160706_043001

The place was very large and covered about four city blocks (if not more).20160706_032953

I was simply enjoying my time with such beauty surrounding me. I took a lot of photos for design ideas for my future coloring book on the flowers of Europe.

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The garden had Lavender, Cosmos (at least 20 different kinds) Magnolias, Black-eyed-Susans, Artichokes, Allium, and a very beautiful Japanese flowering tree (that was Maeva’s favorite). There were blooms of white flowers in the springtime. The beauty of nature gracing our presence.

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In the park there was L’Ecole de Botanique, a school where they study botany.

Yes, and they had a piano that anyone was allowed to play also. This is pretty common over here, to just let people sit down and play the piano in public places. I personally think that is so cool. It brings a smile to my face and in my heart.20160705_032001

There was some kind of National strike going on and in the background of these gardens you could hear police sirens going off a lot. (To be honest, France always has some kind of national strike going on…)

At one point they seemed to be controlling the flow of people in the park. They were also cutting bike locks to clear the street in case of a riot, so Maéva left early to recover her bike before anything happened to it. But before that we had a lovely walk around the park and it was very special to get a personal tour of such a place of magnificent beauty.

I walked back by the street of Rue Mouffetard (the place I had a hard time finding yesterday). I finally located the Maison de L’Autre Thé tea shop where I did some shopping,20160706_023527

…and then I went to find a place to get a pedicure. At the Nail Bar the young woman behind the counter asked me to come back at three. So I came back after lunch, but they didn’t have time to really do anything but remove the old polish off my beaten toes. All I really wanted was a foot massage after all the miles I put on my feet during this past month, plus.

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I had a quiet dinner, showered, and then retired for the night. I did call Jean-Marie to touch base and wished him a happy birthday, knowing that tomorrow we would get together and celebrate.

Peace.

Monday July 4, 2016 – Paris!

I woke to a quiet room in a perfect little French apartment. Outside you could hear the construction workers setting up a scaffolding next door. They were speaking in French. Maéva warned me about the construction workers, saying it can be shocking to start to get dressed or step into the shower only to realize that you have company.

Maéva has such a beautiful laugh! I smile when I listen to her lovely broken English with a cute French accent. She is very smart and works as a First Camera Assistant (Director of Photography, DOP) on movie sets. She just recently completed a video called Versailles. Cool. She left very early this morning to do some work for a fashion show for Christian Dior.

I never did see her again this day; she got caught up in her work I guess. (We spent Tuesday together).

It’s Monday, the Fourth of July back in the United States and it’s my first full day in Paris. It was a tad overcast but it doesn’t matter, it’s Paris and it’s a lovely day in this civilized city full of so much beauty. I spent the morning unpacking my backpack and washing some clothes. I ate some of the fresh bread from yesterday and washed it down with some extra strength French press coffee.

Even back home people think that I’m so French. I blend right in here with ease…on my walk someone told me that they thought I was Swedish. People don’t seem to think of me  as an American and that’s just the way I like it.

Everything is so elegant and appealing to the senses here in France. I was ready for my adventure. I set out with map in hand for the magnificent day about to greet me.

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The night before Maéva was so kind to me. She shared with me a view and understanding of what was in this neighborhood. It was extremely helpful, actually; the best part is always knowing were North is. I locked up and put the house keys around my neck so I would not lose them, then made my way down the four flights of stairs. I just love old city buildings even though this one doesn’t feel that old for France. It’s just a wooden spiral staircase creaking from many years of use. I am sure it has many stories to tell.

I got down to the front door with the letter “D” on it and pushed it, but nothing happened.

Letter-D

Then after figuring out that, duh, I needed to press the button, the door finally opened. I was laughing at that point because I really didn’t want to feel trapped inside. A neighbor saw me and smiled.

I smiled back, walked out into the City of Lights, and immediately turned left. There was a huge wrought iron gate that seemed locked. Oh, another twist to my getting out of the complex. I was trying to figure out the gate when this beautiful French woman hit a button on the wall near a door and the gate opened. I laughed once again on how out of place I must have looked…Jean-Marie forgot to mention to me that I had to press the “bouton” to open the gate, or maybe I was not listening.

So I turned left again following my instructions and made my way to a busy street. I stopped to take pictures just in case I lost my way. The street was Rue C. Berhard. At that point I took a right and was just walking, enjoying the city views.

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I walked around in a big circle for a long time and finally stopped at a bakery for lunch and coffee. It was splendid. Afterwards I tried to find a tea shop that Maéva recommended but had no luck. So I just kept on walking around, having a great time just hanging out in this grand place that is so pleasing to the eye. I found myself in an Art Supply store (of course) and picked up some watercolors for my traveling watercolor box. It was very, very small (I have to be careful about what I pick up, because everything weighs down my backpack.). The quality of the watercolors is so superb; made in France. A treat to myself.

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I’m still blindly trying to find some shops that Maéva told me about, but no such luck. I did find some small independent bookstores. I was looking for children’s books in French for future family members.20160704_090340

(Think August, when my daughter Iris gets married.)

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It’s 3:00 in the afternoon and I just found a place to sit down after walking around this fine Paris neighborhood for what seems like hours…my feet already feel better than they have in days. I just ate a lovely salad and yes an espresso. The good old French.

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It is the Fourth of July, but not here…they have their Independence Day in a few weeks. Bastille Day, you know, the French Revolution, le Quatorze de Juillet (July 14).

My daily wanderlust got the best of me and I was feeling like it was time to get back to my Paris apartment. But first I stopped at an open fruit and vegetable market and picked up blueberries, raspberries, and cherries. (Maéva said cherries (“cerises“) were her favorite). Mine too.

I came back after walking up those four flights of stairs, loving every moment of them. Then Jean-Marie called to see how my day was (he was sweet). Also he wanted to talk about dinner on Wednesday night, the day after tomorrow. Since Jean-Marie’s birthday is Tuesday July 5 he wanted to spend that day with his family. I totally get it.

I retired for the night after writing a bit on the blog.

Peace.

Sunday, July 3, 2016 – Amiens and Paris, France

It’s Sunday in July and I was just woken up by church bells here in the Hotel Alsace Lorraine in Amiens, France. This is a very pleasant French place. I was hoping my foot would feel better, but no such luck. The weight of the backpack is causing the irritation in my ankle, I’m pretty sure. I’m not terribly concerned, just in a lot of pain. Once I lose the pack I should feel better.The room on Sunday morning

The pain got to be so bad that I just made my way to the train station saying, “This is it, Paris, here I come!”

I bought my ticket, sat around waiting for the train for a bit, and then I called our friend in Paris who will put me up for the next week, good ol’ Jean-Marie. (Eric worked with Jean-Marie in Paris when they were both at Sun Microsystems about 22 years ago, and he and his former girlfriend have come to stay at our home in Mountain View, California a few times.)

What a lovely gentleman! Jean-Marie asked me to give him a ring when I arrived at the main central train station in Paris “Gare du Nord.” (It’s like Grand Central Station in New York City.20160703_072314

So I got off the train in lovely Paris and called Jean-Marie. He directed me to the Paris Metro station (their underground subway system, very comprehensive, organized, and civilized). Jean-Marie told me to get off the train at Line 4 stop Alesia. (Eric and I stayed at the Hotel Alesia about a year-and-a-half ago when we visited Paris for my first time.)

Jean-Marie greeted me at the top of the escalator with a big grin. He was joined by his eight-year-old son Gabriel, a quiet intelligent young boy. We stopped for apple juice and wine at a typical outdoor French café nearby. I told Jean-Marie that I needed to eat something since all I had eaten at that point was some French bread.

We left the café after about 20 minutes and went across the street to a bakery. I ordered some bruschetta, basically bread, cheese, and tomato slices. It’s like pizza but different somehow. Anyway it was the perfect food for the moment. I picked up a croissant for young Gabriel and fresh bread for the morning.

I also called Eric to let him know I made it to Paris safely. Wow.

Everything here in Paris is beautiful, even the gray skies. I picked up some flowers for Jean-Marie’ brother’s girlfriend, Maéva. Maéva and Fred (Jean-Marie’s brother) will be giving me a bed for the week.

Saturday July 2 – Arras and Amiens, France

 

I’ll give you a little bit of the story: One hundred years ago in June and July of 1916 this general area near Amiens was the scene of one of the bloodiest, most brutal battles of WWI. It is called the Somme, and close to a million men were killed in the Battle of the Somme during those two months. With the help of 20 different nations thousands of men (and some women) came together to fight for freedom from Germany.

July 2nd in Arras. A lot of WW1 sites. The Somme and the 100th year anniversary
July 2 in Arras. A lot of WWI sites. The Somme and the 100th year Anniversary.

In 1918 Amiens’ greatest threat was from the Germans. It survived the conflict along with its many works of art and furnishings that were evacuated and then later returned after the war.

Saying good-bye to this town of Amiens
Saying Goodbye to the town of Amiens
The  vastest building cathedral  in France The Notre-Dame from 1220-1288.  The tallest nave of the country and is twice listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site
Notre Dame, the vastest cathedral in France (1220-1288). The tallest nave in the country. Twice listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site.

The Notre-Dame  CathedralI checked into my hotel in Amiens, had a nice dinner, and then went to bed.My French dinner on the road

Lens, France – Friday July 1, 2016

I woke up in the hostel here in Lille and almost instantly left to start my day. I had a cup of coffee and as I sat there near the exit door I watched the owner give a live radio show interview about the football match, Wales vs Belgium, this day here in Lille. He was very excited to have his home country here now visiting. By the way Wales won over Belgium and broke many records, for the first time in history. The radio techs were interesting to watch, so much equipment for such a small thing–microphones and sound boards. Next to them on the wall was a soccer game running with the sound off. I had a short talk with the lady behind the counter and said “Merci” until next time. (Really, I have had my share of hostels and felt finished, even though they have all been very nice to me.)

I walked outdoors into the drizzling rain…and began again.20160701_050459

Because of my sore foot I am feeling like I need to find a place to sit down, collect my thoughts, write and organize myself. I found an inviting cafe, “Paul.” There I ordered a croissant and espresso and watched the crazy soccer happenings outside the glass window that separates the world of my inner self from the frenetic athletes and fans rousting about on the the outside.

I was feeling somewhat turned around. Not knowing how to get out of this place, I fetched my trusty compass and found North.  It seems that when I know where North is, I am pretty self-sufficient. Then I can easily find my way, to where I need to be. My guide to true north…if only life was that easy.

I walked south and there it was through the raindrops–the ever-faithful train station, the one thing you can count on just about anyplace in Europe. I am now feeling like I am in the right place, at the right time. I purchased my ticket to the next small town…to see what I could find.Once again the dark clouds approach

Sports fans were everywhere, brash, colorful, and very loud, along with a lot of media people.

After waiting a bit, it was time to carry on.  A kind engineer directed me to the right track and my train was waiting for me. What a comforting sight! Just as I stepped on board the doors closed and the train started to move. After a short distance I got off–I was feeling guilty that I wasn’t walking, even though my ankle is killing me and it’s pouring down rain.

But maybe I should just take the day off and rest my ankle. Because I really do like to walk and heaven forbid if I were not able to do that. Walking is my therapy and my spiritual practice.

My first stop in any town is someplace to find a map. I need to get a bearing on where I am…and to figure out what is the most important thing (or things) that I should see in this location.

In this little village of “Lens” (about 30-thousand people) I found myself in a shop and a young on lady handed me a local map free of charge. How kind that was, to give a stranger something that important, as a stranger in town.

When I returned to the street, confident with my new free map, I found myself in what felt like a sleepy little town. (All these tiny European villages have a church and/or a cathedral right smack dab in the center of town.) So if you can find the church, you know you are downtown and you can get a fair estimate of the size of the place.

It was lightly raining (of course) and I felt tired. I just wanted to find the nearest coffee café.

No such luck…Lens turns out to have something of an empty downtown. Maybe it’s the weather, wet, gray and unpredictable. After about thirty minutes I decided to just make my way to the Art museum in this quiet place, thinking that maybe that’s where the action is. (Of course I would think that, being an artist, but not everyone else feels the same way.) So I turned around and followed the signs to “Louvre –Lens.” Yes, that’s right–it’s the sister museum to the famous Louvre in Paris, which I can’t wait to see this coming week.The Lens Louve museum

My foot was hurting pretty bad, and I was thinking that I was going to just give up (you know when those tears start to fall and you’re feeling sorry for yourself). I just wanted to be somewhere around others, and was about to give up when I found the sign for the museum. My heart lifted.

I was still wet, tired, and feeling lost (not a great feeling when I search for happiness in everything). First I found a path that just didn’t seem right (you know, the back door) so I walked further down the sidewalk and sure enough, I found the entrance and then proceeded through security.

My beautiful lunch there...
Lunch at the Louvre-Lens Museum
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The View Out Back of the Museum While I Was Eating Lunch

The art in the Lens-Louvre Museum was incredible–this was one of my favorites.

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The Louvre in Lens is a very beautiful modern structure composed of glass and steel. Part of it is built underground. It was slightly incongruous, a real change of pace from the age of everything else around here. The design itself was simple yet very elegant, a blend of high tech and nature. Just my style… The museum was built with the help of the Japanese on the site of a former coal mine.

Once inside the museum they subject you to a serious security search, just like going through TSA at the airport. By the way, it truly surprised the security guards when I told them what I was doing…just out walking to Paris. They had me surrender my Swiss Army Knife (that Eric bought me in Switzerland), but they promised I could have it back when I left the museum. All the people at the Lens-Louvre museum were very kind, even the security folks . I was especially impressed with the young lady in the coatroom where I needed to store my backpack, which I was more than happy to give up, at least for a short time. She laughed at the weight and was a bit surprised at my story. She said she loves to meet exciting fun people…which was not how I had feeling earlier about an hour ago.

It is very Zen to carry your life on your back and truly learn the meaning of simplicity. At times I felt I was carrying too much anyway and probably could have thinned out the load even further.

The young lady in the coatroom was such a delight! We had a great educational talk on the history of Lens and the beauty of this museum, the sister museum to the more famous Louvre in Paris on the Seine. (Due to recent flooding, the docents at the Louvre and also at the Musee D’Orsay have been moving paintings and artwork from the first floor to the second.) The wonderful young lady was from an island not far from Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, east of Africa. She was a beautiful soul and a sweet delight.

I then made my way upstairs, to first sit down and eat before I viewed the magnificence of this place.

The eating area felt like the only thing that divided you from the outside were these incredible glass walls/windows. I found a Caesar salad and an espresso, served with beautiful fresh whole-wheat bread and Dijon mustard. Perfect. I rested my poor sore ankle on the chair next to me and dug in to totally enjoy the feast prepared before me.The view outside my window at the Louve Museum

Afterwards I visited the main hall of artwork along with schoolchildren and just loved it.

I walked back to the train station when a very nice woman picked me up and gave me a ride there. I thanked her and bought a ticket to Arras.

I am now in a beautiful Holiday Inn Express hotel room here in Arras, a refreshing change of pace from all the hostels where I have been staying, as lovely as they have been. It may not sound like much, but this wonderful hotel is just a stone’s throw from the train station here in Arras, France and I am pretty darn happy to be here.

It’s been rainy all day. I got so wet walking that the sanctuary of being inside an actual clean hotel with fresh sheets, clean towels, and a hot tub of water has me feeling like a queen. I told myself not to give up today. My ankle is very swollen and hurts like the dickens. Tonight I will take a hot shower in hopes that the swelling goes down…and best of all, I will sleep on a real bed tonight.Saturday July 2nd.Amiens France

I am near Amiens, France. This is one of the many places in France and Belgium where World War I was fought. There is a lot of history here.

 

Thursday June 30th – Lille, France

20160630_022729Another rainy morning…reviewing the map and trying not to waste any time. I am on a search for blueberries today.

I arranged to spend a second night in Lille to make it one less thing to think about and to give me a chance to walk about in this city…I will check out Friday July 1.

After a cup of coffee, I left the hostel and walked. First I stopped at a fancy little market to pick up some La Cheverie goat yogurt. Then I found a French Starbucks here in Lille and ordered my favorite blueberry muffin and coffee.20160630_014138

I sat down to plan the day…I left after daydreaming about capitalism and the historical factors of this place. Points of interest:

  • The Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille
  • The many Cathedrals that line the streets
  • Hospice Corntesse Museum (said to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Lille).

Lille was founded in 640, a long, long time ago. Some records say it was not started until 1066, but that is still long ago. Lille is located near the river Deule. It fell into French hands in 1369. Lille is primarily known as a textile industry town, much like Basel, Switzerland.

Lille was the locus of many religious wars throughout history. Today this bustling city is a cultural hub and a vibrant active university town. Today (Thursday June 30) Lille is the site of the European Soccer match. It’s England vs. Belgium here, and football has taken over this city which is only about 250-thousand strong. Everyone here seems pretty excited this morning.

Lille is also the home of Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) who was the President of France from 1958 until 1969. He was also a resistance fighter against the German occupation of France, and became one of France’s true heroes.

Lille is also home to the “Citadel,” a military site that dates from as far back as 1667. Yesterday, late afternoon I walked around the full circle of it to get more miles into my day. Additionally, the headquarters for the 12 -nation NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is here. There is a strong police presence.

I did find myself walking by the Pasteur Institute where Louis Pasteur discovered the vaccine for polio. Pasteur, also, of course, invented the process for purifying milk to get rid of bacteria which also bears his name: pasteurization.20160630_03394620160630_034145

Once again the rain started to pour and I found myself within feet of the Palace of the Fine Arts (Palais des Beaux-Arts) and decided I needed more art from the 1500s and 1600s. Yes.20160630_035622

After spending about two hours viewing the art along with many visiting elementary school children I decided to leave. It was still raining so I just bundled up and risked getting wet.

I felt a little bit lost …but found my way back to the hostel. Checked in and then the sun came out so I took a walk…about 5 miles around the Citadel. It was very beautiful and kind of reminded me of Golden Gate Park with the overgrowth of history.

After coming back from the rain and the Museum “Palais des Beaux-Arts” I decided to have a bite to eat at the restaurant across the street from the hostel where I was staying, the “Gastama.” The restaurant was La Dinette (106 bis rue de Saint Andre). Soccer is everywhere here and frankly it’s a bit crazy.20160630_071645

They made me a sandwich to my liking–lots of vegetables, and it tasted great!20160630_111459

The waiter asked me politely where I was from, and I told him, “California in the United States.” He said to me with a smile on his face, “You have a sunny accent!” I ate it up, I thought that was really sweet.

Wednesday June 29th – Lille, France

I have only 30% power left on my cell phone, but I just checked into a hostel here in Lille, France, located on the northern border of France and Belgium, just a few miles each from Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels where I have been for the past few days. I visited Waterloo on the way to France, just south of Brussels. You can see some of the destinations on my journey here:Belgium.France.Map3

By the way Waterloo was just a historian tourist’s place. I visited, paid my respects to Napoleon, ate a lovely lunch, and then left.Napoleon's Waterloo

Waterloo, of course, was where Napoleon lost a big battle against the English (Wellington) and the Prussians. This was also the end of Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign of France–all this on June 18, 1815, almost exactly 201 years ago! It’s directly south of beautiful Brussels. I did not stay very long at Waterloo–I decided I just didn’t like this guy…and it was hard to give him my time of day.Waterloo Belgium2

I then proceeded to make my way across the French border and on down to Lille.The green fields of a Belgium countryside

Lille is very nice and clean…I am thinking of getting a glass of French wine to congratulate myself on making it all the way to France!Welcome to France Sign

There is such a strong sense of style here. I was taken aback by all the beauty at just the train station alone. The French are so classy!Lille.France

My left ankle hurts. I am thinking that I might have to wrap it as it is starting to swell a  bit. It could be from all the walking I did yesterday…10 miles in and around Brussels. Not to mention all the walking I have been doing for the past 4 weeks!My sore ankle

It’s kind of hard to walk properly on cobblestones, in case you don’t know. In the Netherlands it was red brick clay and in Belgium it was cobblestones gray stone squares. I wonder what kind of cobblestones they will have for my poor feet and ankles in France?

Anyway, so far I have this room here at the hostel in Lille all to myself, this being a Wednesday night, so there are not so many tourists. I just made a one-night reservation but it’s so nice and clean here that maybe tomorrow I’ll spend another night and check out the local history.

It started to rain as I got off the train this late afternoon, but then it has been raining almost every afternoon all the way from Amsterdam down here to the northern French border (frontière). (Doctors Without Borders is also known in French as Médecins Sans Frontières.”)

I went downstairs after dropping off my backpack in this lovely room. (There are no surprise roommates for the night, at least not yet.)

I then proceeded to celebrate my arrival in France by having two (not one) glasses of wine. It was a dry French white, my favorite (sorry California!), to help me sleep tonight. Like I would have any problems…now I am really ready to sleep.