Brian and Rita go to France

Brian and Rita went to France. They left on March 8, 2007. The plan was to fly out of Fargo, land in Marseille, stay one night, then go to Aix en Provence to stay for a view days, visting Megan and Ree. Then go to the International Web-based Education (WBE-07) Conference in Chamonix. Then, finally, to visit Paris for a couple days before flying home.

Photos from Brian and Rita

We have landed in Amsterdam.

The flight from Fargo to Mpls. was uneventful, but Northwest Airlines is using a new carrier for these short-hop flights (formerly Mesaba), and although it seems impossible, the seats in these little jets are packed even more closely together than before. I was sitting up straight in my chair, and when I opened the tray table it struck me in the chest. While it is true that I am larger than I once was, this still seems too crowded to me.

The flight from Mpls. to Amsterdam was likewise uneventful. We were on a newish A330 'flying bus' (I forget the real name), and these have pretty nice seats and a new audio/video system where everybody gets their own little TV, and there is a menu of movies on demand. Very nice.

There was a rotten child in the row just in front of us. This girl started squalling (loudly!) after an hour or so, and seemed to have every intention of continuing for the entire 11 hours of the flight. The mother made no attempt to quiet the kid, who was loud enough to wake me from a fairly deep sleep.

Stewards and random people started coming by offering chewing gum and glasses of water (this was a big plane, and this kid was single-handedly keeping the whole plane awake!), but the noise continued. Finally, a woman took charge (nicely), and got the mother to leave her seat with the child, and they disappeared towards the back of the plane. After a while they came back. The child was quiet, and half the plane came by, at one point or another, and offered thanks to the nice woman.

The flight was a little painful for me, as I have a set of bruised ribs aggravated by coughing that made it pretty difficult to get comfortable. This has been a minor annoyance up until now, but became quite painful on the plane. We went to the infirmary in the airport and they prescribed some pain pills, which seem to be helping.

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Every journey begins.
To the left we see Rita toasting a bon voyage from the Fargo airport.
To the right we see the Marseille airport from the ground, late at night -- one rotten kid and one delayed flight are all the mar the progress.






In Marseille we stay in the Airport Sofitel, a 4-star hotel.
Far upper left: the lobby, late at night
Upper left: Rita loves the room
Just above: and the funky French Provincial knock-offs
Far left: Rita loves the closet
Left: with an excercise kit, no less

Rita also loves the bathroom ...

... with a nice cut flower, and real nice robes.

The Second Leg (Saturday, March 10, 2007)

We sleep in our 4-star hotel like two tired dogs, and wake up late and starving. We are delighted to learn that 4-star hotels have a 3 PM check-out time, and wander down to the 4-star restaurant for an early lunch. We order club sandwiches from our young, pretty, but dour waitress. She is happiest when I try to order 'french fries' (spelled pomme frites) by saying (phonetically) 'pom free' and she is able to correct me, with gusto and a big smile, saying 'pom freets'.

I learn from this a little-known truth. The French do not care that you are making a valiant attempt to speak their language, as most non-French people believe. No, the French just want you to make a spectacle of yourself for their amusement. After you have shown yourself willing to play court jester, they warm towards you.

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We are on the way to Aix, waiting for the 'nevette' (bus). We meet a young American girl named Julie, and we chat together while waiting for the bus.

I take a photo of the landscape, accross from the bus stop. This is a Provence tradition, I learn. This is how Cezanne made his bones ...

... and I continue to enjoy my camera's fantastic optical and digital zoom function.

The bus arrives and takes us to Aix, where we are met by Megan, Ree, and their friend Katie "Gettysburg" from Pennsylvania.
The the right, the group is gathered in front of a weird tree, planted during the French Revolution, but now diseased with fungus.


In Europe, this is how you buy vegetables.

Random shots as we walk to the hotel.
A decorative doorway.

The 'Rotund' - a roundabout in the very center of town

Walking up narrow European streets

A brief rest on a street corner

Old european tenaments, with laundry hanging out of windows

The view from our hotel room: a medieval tower, part of the walled city, constructed from Roman stonework salvaged from elsewhere.

Walking around Aix (Saturday, March 10, 2007)

After checking into the (3-star) Aquabel Hotel, we take a walking tour of Aix, stopping for a tea break at one point, and then a late supper of moule-frite (see below).

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We struck out onto the streets for a Saturday afternoon walking tour, and soon find this old church


Megan and Gettysburg hanging out in the vestibule

An old frescoe, found underneath a restored painting

A sunken baptistry from the 5th century (behind a rope), and the interior of an ornate tower.



Left: an old Roman column, supporting a more modern cupola
Above: looking down a series of arches

Weird details tucked away in a corner.

We move onward, through the streets ...

... and stop in a plaza for a refreshing break ...

and then ... things go better

Later we stop in a tea room (we order a pot of Himalaya tea and a pot of Jasmine tea), another table engages in a hookah of flavored tobacco.


We walk back past the same church, after night fall, and some of us have a nice supper of moule-frite (a pot of clams, boiled and served with french fries).

The market in Aix (Sunday, March 11, 2007)

On Sunday, we get up and visit the open air market.

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Gettysburg, Megan, and Ree, ready to roll.

We pass a street musician, playing accordion

We encounter these street performers, who operate out of a boat. Ree loves them.

The entry way to the open market

Rita looks over a fruit cart

This is a cart with raw sausage dusted with herbs

An array of spices

Those boat people again.

A cart of raw fish and fish heads, mixed with lemons (to cut the smell, one guesses)

Tubs of crab and spiny sea urchins

Tucked away amidst empty tables, 'the ugliest statue in Aix'

A crab escapes from the tub and flees down into the sewer and freedom

After the market we wander over to Megan and Ree's place. We stop on the way in a patisserie to buy baguette sandwiches. We are treated to a glass of Orangina with lunch.

The kids no longer get invited to Mme. Mazzet's for 4-course Saturday lunches. It turns out these are by invitation, and not a weekly ritual, which they only learned after Megan was away on a field trip and Ree turned up with a flower of appreciation, but uninvited, and stayed for lunch anyway.

Sunday Evening, March 11, 2007

That evening we dined at the nice place on the main drag, just east of the Rotund. Rita has the 'dessert sampler' so her dessert costs as much as her meal.

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Above: the nice place on the main drag
Right: a typical narrow side street in Aix, note the church tower in the background
Far Right: a close-up of the church tower, showing the 'astronomical clock' and the avatar indicating the season

A small fountain, shot at night using the flash

A quiet street, shot at night with no flash

The site of the market place (described earlier), shot at night, no flash

Monday, March 12, 2007

Megan has an early class, and we go for lunch to the kebab place. Then there is some shopping over by the Rotund. The area has a bunch of old fountains. For dinner, we ended up at the Old Bulldog. Rita did not enjoy her cider, I did not enjoy my peas. The service was indifferent, and there were dogs tied up to tables, and climbing up on chairs next to us. Rita was very tempted to feed them, and Megan predicted she would 'cave', but she didn't. We called it early, as Megan had to study.

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Kebabs for lunch.

Rita looms over a tiny car.

The thermal fountain in Aix

Left: the fountain of the four dolphins (note Ree is photographing Megan as I photograph Rita)
Above: we find the 'boat people' again ...

... and Ree gives them a donation

That fountain again, from yesterday, photographed in daylight this time

It usually only takes us a day or two to find the pub in town serving Guiness on tap.

The post office in Aix. There is a lot of business conducted in there. I see contracts notatized and utility bills being paid, along with postcards being sent 'par avion' (by airmail).

There are narrow streets, and then there are alleys

Rita pets the old Roman wall

The is a medieval tower, built from Roman stones, over a Roman thermal bath

Rita, Ree, and Megan enter the Pavillion de Vendome

The nice old building overlooking the park. There is a scandal-soaked saga connected to this.
The scandal-soaked saga: (to be written later)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

We have a light breakfast because Megan is taking us to the 'pasta place' for lunch. This is a noodle shop near the school - strictly take-out.

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The students crowd around the noodle shop ...

... but I am more interested in the paint crew, who have blocked the road, to unload their equipment, for some job ...

... are there a lot of cars waiting? Oh, well. We shall unload our truck, one item at a time, in leisurely fashion, and you shall wait, n'est pas?

The noodles are served in a take-away container. They are warm and good.

We walk back towards the hotel room, and this brings us past modern architecture.

Note the circular protrusion juxtaposed with the stone column foreground and the ancient church tower in the background. This is Aix en Provence, land of contrasts.

Later, the group has found itself back at the main square near the church by AIU. I take a photo.

Then, I realize, the light is perfect - a wedge of illumination surrounds us - and I find a stranger to take the next photo in the sequence.

I am looking for a novel to read, and Megan brings us to the 'California Market' where they specialize in 'American' goods.
Megan is amazed when I find a book, in English, by the author I want, for FREE.
Her characterization is 'scary luck' or 'mystic voodoo' or something to that effect.

This is a long walk, but worth it. Rita is outside the California Market. Note the chaotic parking.

Later, Rita has found the Irish pub, and we are sitting next to the young boys with their yard of beer.

Still later, Megan is dressed up for a night out with Gettysburg and their other friend Kate, who has a big birthday bash planned for herself.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It is time to go to Chamonix, in the Alps, for the conference that is helping to pay for this trip.
Duty calls, work awaits.

We make our way to the TGV, where we are supposed to start our journey, Wednesday morning.
However, the TGV (pronounced Tay-Jay-Vay) is 40 minutes late (pronounced LATE!), which means we will miss all of our morning connections, and will hope to complete our journey in the evening.

We are in the south of France, near sea level, trying to visit the high Alps, which are ... high.
The problem is, the higher you go up into the mountains, the fewer and lesser is the train service.
For example, there are only two trains to Chamonix, one in the morning (which we will NOT catch, due to the delays), and one in the afternoon.

We had planned to take the early train, but we ended up on the late train.

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This is the TGV depot near Aix en Provence. You are not allowed to take photos in the train depots, as I learned later. But this was early in the morning, so it was okay.

This is what a first-class rail car looks like in the 21st century. This is a FAR cry from the elegance of first-class in the 1970s. Believe me, I know.

We all have talents. I have mastered the art of sleeping on trains and planes. My wife is so jealous.

The train stops, on the way up the mountain, and I jump out to take a photo. My wife is freaked out, thinking I will miss the train. I spend 90 seconds, and take a picture of some town. It might be Annercy, it might be St. Gervais. I cannot remember.

We are in the Alps by this point ...

... we are high in the mountains, at last.

Thursday, March 15

Funny story.

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We spend the bulk of the afternoon on this little train

Passing through these mountains

To recover this stupid camera

Friday, March 16

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It is a long day of travel, but we find our hotel, in Le Tines - The Excelsior
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Rita likes the recessed doorways
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The view from our balcony. We are in a narrow strip of land between a highway and a train line
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The cabinet
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Rita likes this cabinet, it has a cleverly crafted fold-out desk top
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The cabinet, close up
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Scenes from a Mountain Village
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Scenes from a Mountain Village
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Scenes from a Mountain Village
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Scenes from a Mountain Village
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Behold the power of digital zoom
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An old lady paints her door
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The conference is up there, to the left, out of sight.
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We try to take a tram ride. The path is STEEP down behind us.
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The path is also STEEP up the mountain ahead of us.
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It turns out I have every denomination of Euro coin in my pocket: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, E1, and E2
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We see dozens of para-sailers every day.
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The second hotel on Chamonix was a Best Western.

Saturday, March 17, in the morning, in Chamonix

We tried to take a tram ride up the mountain yesterday, but were too late. We see about taking a tram ride up the mountain, in the morning before we leave for Paris.

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Alas, it is a mob scene down by the depot. The trams were shut earlier in the morning due to high winds, so there are crowds of anxious skiers ahead of us. We stand in line for a while, but when I talk to the man in the information booth, he tells me "this is rush hour", that it is hopeless, and that I should come back in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, this is the ride we are waiting for, which holds about 12-18 people ...

... for a long, long, and slow, slow ride up the mountain. We have had two near misses on the trams, and that is as close as we are going to get.

Hey! Too bad. You know what? We are going to Paris.
This is what you look like when you are about to go to Paris, but you have not had your McDonalds Burger Royale (that's a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, in the metric system, see "Pulp Fiction" for the subtleties).

This is what you look like when you are about to get on the train to Paris, fortified with McDonalds goodness.

Saturday, March 17, the TGV train, and Paris in the evening.

We take the series of trains necessary to get from Chamonix to Paris. The last leg is on the TGV (pronounced Tay-Jay-Vay), which is the French "bullet train".

We do not know it at the time, but these trains can go 300+ miles per hour. Shortly after we return to the USA, there is a test on new track, where they had a TGV going 345 miles/hour, and barely missed setting a new speed record.

You know you are traveling pretty fast, but the ride is so smooth, you wonder how fast you are going. Rita and I talked about our velocity as the sun set, both agreeing we were going pretty fast, but probably close to, but under, 100 miles/hour. That's how it felt, between Lyon and Paris on the TGV.

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We get off the TGV and have no idea what to do. So we track down the cab stand, and get in line. Rita speaks to a nice lady from France who has lived in Arizona. She tells us the taxi drivers expect "only a small tip, maybe one euro". This is good to know.

We get a cab, and are stunned to realize we are driving directly past Notre Dame.
Rita starts snapping pictures out the taxi window, most of which do not turn out. But the taxi driver pulls over, in the midst of heavy traffic, so she can make the attempt. He earns a better tip, much more than "maybe one euro".

Our hotel, the Hotel D'France Invalides, is very near this building, which is the Invalides Hospital

To the left: Just around the corner, and several blocks over, this structure is gleaming in the night sky. This is our first full view of it. Just above: This is what it looks like when you are directly below the center, looking up, at night.

This is Rita, in front of the statue dedicated to Eiffel, the architect, beneath the tower named for him.

Here, we are touching the tower (and STRIKING AN ITEM OFF OUR LIFE LIST). Good times.

We walk back to the hotel, through the park this time, and take this shot looking backward.

At the end of the boulevard, after walking past the gaggle of students in full party mode, we find the international peace monument, which Rita recognizes as displaying the word 'Peace' in every language known to humanity (or such is the claim). We could look this up.

Sunday, March 18, Paris: the Louvre

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It is early, and a cold rainy day. We are on the way to the Louvre. But I spy a tiny little car, and this is something we do. We take photos of Rita standing next to tiny little cars. If you have been following these web pages, you know this is one of our themes. Rita stands by little cars, and I take a photo. That is the deal. This might be the smallest ever.

We are on the Metro, the Paris subway system, which is cheap and wonderful. We have a day pass, which we exercize the heck out of, as you will see, below.

The competition among street musicians must be getting more intense. This guy is playing an amplified string instrument that is putting out a WALL of SOUND. I double back through the crowd to take his picture. His sound (granted, in a subway tunnel), is both unique and awesome.

That musician was in a tunnel leading to the Louvre, where there is a famous glass pyramid, where the ducks plant their butts. You will see a couple of duck butts circled in this photo.

I am not really holding up the inverted pyramid, as this photo would seem to suggest -- I am stopping it from falling. There are workmen above me, fastening the darned thing back into its moorings. I am just helping out.

Venus de Milo reminds me of an old John Prine song


To the left, it is me, with the Venus de Milo in my six.
Above, a miniature Egyptian Sphinx

It was cold and rainy when we left the Louvre, and people were still in line to get in.
They do not want you to take photographs in the Louvre, and we respected that.
We saw the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory, a bunch of Renaisance paintings, and some of the Egyptian stuff. Good times.

Sunday, March 18, Paris: Notre Dame

It is still raining when we exit the Louvre and hit the streets. We cross the river (into the Latin Quarter, I think) and find a place to eat. I have coffee and a delicious omlette. Then we continue marching eastward in search of the famous Cathedral of Notre Dame.

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We cross the Seine, onto the side of the river with the open air shopping

Most of these stands are closed on days like today. Rita buys a few post cards from this woman

The Academie! This is where they decide how French should be spoken

Across the street, a dress shop with all the latest French styles

We found it! Finally! We have been in France for over a week, and we have finally found the one French Poodle who lives here.

Rita likes this fountain, I take a picture.

Left: We find Notre Dame, and cross the river again to visit it.
Above, Rita visits with the statue of St. Theresa of Avila (Audrey's patron saint).

This is a nifty little diorama of the construction site (1160 AD), according to one bit of literature, the construction of cathedrals led to the invention of the wheel barrow, among other things.


Left: a large chandelier, Rita counts 96 candles
Above: stained glass from the inside

The same stained glass from the outside



Far left: Notre Dame from the east
Left: Notre Dame behind a fountain
Above: crossing the Seine again, this barge has a lawn

Sunday, March 18, Paris: L'Arc de Triomphe

Next, we find a place to buy beer, and plot our next course, which is north and west on the Metro to L'Arc de Triomphe.

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We come out of the Metro, and there it is

Rita leans on this railing for a minute. Then we go take a look at ...

... the world's biggest round-a-bout, with traffic whizzing past at high speed. How to get across? Rita thinks we should run for it. I look up and down, and nobody else is running for it.

Wait, I say, maybe there is a better way.

Sure enough, there is an underground solution

We surface to find there is a military ceremony about to begin

There are very strict police doing crowd control

And a service is performed over an eternal flame

Then, back to the hotel on the Metro.

A pretty good day, all in the all. We hit three of the biggest tourist spots in Paris, and still manage to get home in time for a late supper. If you think that is easy, go ahead and try it for yourself.

France: the last day

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Our last day in France is dedicated to shopping. We seek the Galeries Lafayette.
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So we venture down into the Metro ...
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... where we find the poster advertising Iceland I have been looking for
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Up on the surface we find another little truck ...
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... and the National Opera, which is housed in a HUGE building
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Then, eventually, we find the greatest store in all of France.
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Back into the Metro, to head 'home' ...
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... where we see this poster for The Golden Door (brought to you by the producers of "Respiro", a small Fargo Slator family 'inside joke').
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This is our neighborhood in the evening, we have a street with a couple of convenience stores, a kebab shop, and the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
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This is our kebab store. We stop here for dinner nearly every day.
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This the spread, filled with French goodness.
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And this is dinner, which, believe me, tastes great at the end of hard day of touristing ... Kebab with sour cream and frites, bread with Cola mixed to the old recipe ... finest kind.

And there, we have done it, traveled to France and back, visited the south of France in order to keep in touch with the college students, then visited the Alps in order to present a paper at a professional conference, then visited Paris, where we visited the Eiffel Tower, and petted it.


Contact: bslator@cableone.net; Modified: 10Feb07, a bunch of other times, 28Apr07

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