Saturday, May 24, 2014

Etoges, Champagne region, 5-23-2014

We left Joeuf in the Lorrain region near Metz and headed to the village of Etoges on Fridary morning (5-23-2014). The drive was uneventful. That's because Nancy (Eric's wife) drove and we just annoyed her as backseat drivers. Despite Nancy's insistence on finding the nearest tree for us, she did give in to our backteeth-floating demands to stop at one of the regularly spaced rest areas along the way. I'm certainly glad we did because I got to see the french way of instructing us to the men's or women's water closets.

    Women - Shall we dance?

    Men - Dance? Uh... I don't dance.

The village of Etoges is one of several that are able to be seen from vinyards for the region's champagne wineries. It is quiet, and you do not see much traffic. 

    Etoges main drag

We went straight to the Chateau d'Etoges to check in and drop off our bags. I was not prepared for the ... je ne sais quoi ... picturesque setting we were in and the beauty of the chateau.

    Me at Chateau Etoges in Champagne region France - stayed one night

    Chateau d'Etoges - We even have our own moat to keep the rabble from rowsing us

After we dropped the bags off in the room, we all went to the Champagne winery next door. We were the only ones in there and the owner/proprietor served us a sampling of Champagne. Next he offered to give us a tour of the whole operation from press to bottling. I understood some of what he said, but relied on Eric and Nancy to translate as we learned. I understood about the two-step process of fermentation and carbonation. Having fermented beer in a large glass carboy, and then carbonating in bottles with a little sugar helped me to understand that part of the process. 

The best part was trying another sample before buying a bottle. Don't yet know where I'll drink it, or with whom, but I can't bring it back since I'm not checking luggage.
    The Champagne lesson at Borel - Lucas was so informative

After champagne, Eric and I headed over to check out the free bikes. They were mountain bikes that were well used, but seemed to be well maintained. We rode around town and the vinyards. 

Here's Eric ready to ride.
    Eric and I rode to Eglise Beauray after checking out the village of Etoges

As usual, there is a link to all the Etoges photos at the bottom of this blog entry.

We had a dinner reservation at the restaurant at the chateau at 8:00 PM. For those of you in the Sacramento area, it reminded me of Hawks in Granite Bay with the attentiveness of the staff. Personnally, I think it went about an hour too long (we left at about 11:00 PM) and there was more food than I needed, but maybe that's the french way. Also, I am finding out that it is hard to be a vegetarian here. I will continue to try, but ... when in Rome ...

Here is a photo of the most delicious sorbet I think I've ever had.
    Fraise (strawberry) Rhubarb sorbet, and yes I ate it all!

Please check out all the photos at the link below. Yes, I am having a nice time here.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Visiting Metz, Joeuf and Homecourt in Lorraine French Region

Yesterday, Thursday, 5/22/2014, I took the high speed TGV train to Metz, a city in the Lorraine region of France. It's about 3 hours by car east towards Germany, and 1 hour 24 minutes by TGV from Paris. Do not be late for the trains in France. They run like clockwork. Metz is a beautiful city with walking areas, restaurants and boulangeries to make it hard to decide where to eat.

    I arrived at the train station at 9:04 AM as scheduled

I arrived about an hour before my friends were to pick me up, so I got to stroll around the area of the train station for awhile. We were certainly the tourists today. After lunch, and before visiting the family in Joeuf and Homecourt, we had time for a self-guided tour of Cathedrale Saint Etienne, and a ride on a very non-indiscrete tour train through the city. One kid walking with his friends yelled in French, "Smile! You're in Metz, for God's sake!" I hope he was talking to the Germans on board, because I'm sure we were laughing and smiling the whole time.

    6 euros for about an hour tour of Metz. Worth the 6 euros to see the main sights

I finally did it. I had my first eclaire. (My friend, Nancy, could not believe I had never had one.) Well that is worth a picture!

    Jerry tries his first eclaire - Chocolate of course

I would like someday to spend more time in this area of France. This first trip is primarily the standard tourist faire to Paris, Versailles, Normandy, Monet's Gardens, etc. But, here in Lorraine live family of friends whom I've visited with in Sacramento, and now visited and stayed with here.

   Pizza and wine and lots of conversation (little of which I understood) in Homecourt near Joeuf

We played guitars and sang. Anthony brought two of his acoustic guitars and an amp, so we all took turns playing what we knew, and singing. Mirabelle, both the liquor and in the tarte topped off my evening. Mirabelle plums grow abundantly in the Lorraine region (and in yards) and are a most delectable delight. 

    Eric, Anthony and Michelle take turns playing guitar

We couldn't resist eating Corrinne's home-made mirabelle tartes on the yellow tray. Mmmm. Wish I could bring some home with me. I'm wondering if the mirabelle plums are grown anywhere in California.

As usual, below is a link to all the photos I took on Thursday. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Walking around Paris, Wednesday, 5/21/2014

Today was a long day. It started at 5:00 AM because I wanted to do a dry run to gare de l'Est train station to make sure I have enough time to catch the 7:04 AM train to Metz tomorrow. So, if I leave at 5:30 to 5:45 AM to catch the metro, I'll have enough time to get a caffe and croissant before I board.

    St. Vincent de Paul church

Every time I turn a corner, it seems there is a monument or church of some kind to visit. After leaving the train station this morning, I came across this old church with two clock towers. The doorway was so dark and old looking, I thought it must be abandoned. No. There was a sign out front announcing Mass times.

NOTE:  McDonalds has the only reliable and relatively fast public wifi available. For the price of a cup of Mickey D's coffee, I got to pee and check email, and text with my friend about where to meet tomorrow.

I got lost a couple times in the 10th Arrondissement. Not really in the internet age and carrying a 20th century map. But I just wandered taking photos of street scenes.

    Wide sidewalks, shade trees and off-street bike lanes

I've had to learn to look both ways for bikes and cars, and to not walk in the bike lanes. Very nice. I wish I had this on some parts of my bike commute to work.

The corners impress me. There's a cafe or shop and lots of signs that make for an interesting mix of colors and commotion on almost every corner. Here are a couple shots of corners I came across.

    People are busy on their way

I've noticed how little eye contact people make here. I smile and they keep going with no nod or smile back. But when I've stopped to look at my map, to see how to get somewhere, twice people have patiently helped me find my way. They go about their business but seem to watch out for one another, even strangers.

    I liked the colors on this corner and the ever-present motorbike

    Electric cars charging in their parking spaces

I'll bet these are not privately owned cars, but common use cars that you rent by the hour, or whenever you need a car. With the great public transportation, I would not own a car if I lived in Paris.

So, I had not planned on visiting Notre Dame today, but there it was. Dang! Is it an impressive building? Is the Pope a catholic? 

    Notre Dame on a cloudy, rainy day in Paris

    I don't need more photos, but I may have to come back again

Inside or outside. I don't know what is more impressive. And the stained glass is beautiful throughout.

    People were lighting and leaving candles all around the inside of the church

One of my favorite photos today was of a quiet street with almost no one on it. School had just let out after I left Notre Dame. I was probably 'lost' again, having taken some side street. I turned a corner with a parent and child, and it was serene. The Seine to the left, cars parked and no honking horns to the right, and large wet cobblestones to walk on.

    I had to stop and enjoy the peace and quiet in the middle of Paris.

Check out all of the photos (I took too many inside so scroll) at the link below:

I'm not sure when the next blog entry will be because I don't know the wifi situation while I'm visiting in Metz. But, I'll be back Saturday and be blogging then or Sunday for sure. And all my twitter followers will still get regular updates.  @mistermallow.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Monet's Gardens, 5/20

    There's always something to do in the garden

I went to Monet's Gardens and home today. I took the train from gare St. Lazare station to Vernon. It is a comfortable 50 minute ride in 2nd class seating. (27 euros round trip). Then it's a quick 15 minute bus ride to Giverny where the gardens and home are. (8 euros round trip). The gardens and home tour costs 9.50 euros.

It was a perfect day for seeing what Monet saw. We had full sunshine, a mix of clouds and sun, and rain showers at the end. Gardeners and workers were busy pruning or cleaning debris from the lily pond. For all the foot traffic, the gardens are relatively undisturbed.

    It's easy to find your way around

    Is that an orange California poppy I see in the mix?

There are so many flowers and flowering vines, we were guessing what they all were. Iris? Gladiolas? Clematis? Christine from New Orleans commented that she wished they had little signs to inform us what kinds of flowers we were seeing. I agree. I guess it would be very helpful to bring along an identification book of flowers. I don't doubt that they may sell such a book in the gift store, though I don't recall seeing one. (I wasn't looking for one, though)

    This can't be Monet's boat. It surely would have rotted over the years

    On my way to see the famous water lily pond

I understand the pond changes each season and even with the light of day. I read that Monet had several paintings going at once, and he would move from painting to painting as the light changed. My iPhone camera is good enough for these blog photos. But, if you do come here, bring along the best camera you can afford. The views are beatiful and you can wait to get just the right shot between the groups of tourists. 

    Water lilies in the shade of a passing cloud

Sometimes, parts of the pond are shaded and other parts in sunshine at the same time. Monet must have been running from easel to easel on a day like today. Can you imagine having the time to paint one painting? I have got to get my Easel out of the shed when I get home. (You too, Nancy!)

    Reflections of willow and sky on the pond.

If you squint, you can see the blurry impressionism that Monet saw as he began to lose his sight in later years. I think it's time to dig out that old coffee-table book of impressionist paintings and wander the pages from Monet to Manet to Renoir. 

Before catching the bus to Vernon, we sat under an umbrella in the rain at a cafe in Giverny. I had a sandwich and beer while chatting. Then we headed for the bus. The train left Vernon for Paris at 2:49 PM as scheduled.

The trip home was uneventful, except for Antoine on the train, who, if he is to be believed, was on his way to the airport to go to New York to make money as a physical therapist, and run in Central Park. 
And, he loves the American women. Look out, beautiful American women, Antoine is on his way.

I did get the chance to help Christine get familiar with the Metro from the St. Lazare metro station to Invalides station. I learn more when I'm helping others learn, than on my own. But, I have to give most credit to the Metro app on my iPhone, which works off-line and maps start and end points, and gives me written directions from any metro station to another in Paris. 

    This iPhone app is available free for Paris and other cities, and it works well.

Christine went to the Musee d'Orsay, and I bet she made it OK on the metro afterwards to get back to her friends for dinner. 

Here is a link to all the photos from the gardens:

Monday, May 19, 2014

3rd day in Paris, 5/19

I think jetlag is hitting me a bit. I woke up wide awake at about 3:00 AM this morning. And that would be 6:00 PM in California. I did fall asleep sometime and felt pretty groggy at 7:30 AM. 

Ok, as you can see, I'm ready to blog.

    Got my Rose wine from Aix en Provence, and my iPad mini fired up.

Today, I decided to take bus 69 to Pere Lachaise Cemetery. I purchased a Carnet (10 metro/bus tickets) for 13 euro 70. About 1$ each. Today was to be a learning day for mre to use the bus and metro. Both are easier than I expected, but more crowded than I expected. There are a lot of people crammed into this city.

    Bus 69 goes from Eiffel Tower to Pere Lachaise cemetery

Along the way, the bus goes past the Louvre, Notre Dame and along the Seine river. I chose to ride the bus because I could sightsee along the way. What I thought was cool was the bus went right through the Louvreq on the way back.

At the cemetery, I basically followed Rick Steves' direction for the walking tour. I've uploaded many more photos to bore you with at the link at the bottom of this blog post.

   Jim Morrison's resting place is the busiest place in the cemetery

There was a body guard watching everyone coming to the gravesite. I don't think he's called a 'body' guard. I just throught I'd put that in because it is literally what he is, I guess. There was a guard near Fred Chopin's gravesite too. And I think there were more Chopin groupies today than Morrison groupies. Go figure!

    Chopin and Morrison always have fresh flowers and gifts on their gravesites

Rossini (William Tell Overture) had no one visiting his grave. There were some old flowers still there. That's got to piss him off. "I'll get you Morrison and Chopin! Just you wait!"

    Rossini had no one stopping by, but I couldnt help humming his overture

After I got back to the 7th district, and before returning to the apartment at about 2:00 PM, I stopped and bought some bread and juice and more fruit at a local grocery. Had a light lunch and took a nap. I decided it was time I took the metro to Saint Lazare train station where I bought a roundtrip ticket to Vernon for tomorrow. Vernon is the train stop 75 km from Paris and just 5 km from Giverny. In Giverny tomorrow, I'll visit Monet's Gardens, home, and his water lily ponds. 

    Invalides Metro station is a 5 minute walk from my apartment and 3 stops from the train station

I'll try and go to bed early so I can get up early for the trip to Giverny. I am sure glad I took the metro and went to the train station tonight, if nothing more than to orient myself and familiarize myself with the train station.

    Gare Saint Lazare (Saint Lazare train station)

I can't imagine the train station being busier in the morning than it was tonight, but I bet it will be another mad house of commuters and tourists. I did get to say at the ticket counter, "Je voudrais acheter un billet a Vernon pour demain matin, et retour dans l'apres midi, s'il vous plait."

"I would like to buy a ticket to Vernon for tomorrow morning and return in the afternoon, please."

So, if I end up in Berlin, the next blog post may be a bit late.  ACH DU LIEBER !!!

Tomorrow's post should be about Monet's Gardens and the travels to and from Giverny.

Here's the link to more photos from today:

Sunday, May 18, 2014

2nd Day in Paris, Sunday 5/18

(Note:  Inserted at bottom of this entry is the lighted-up Eiffel Tower at the end of this day)

I ate a light breakfast in my apartment, took a shower and started walking to Champs Elysee and the Arc de Triumphe at 9:00 AM. My walking route was quai d'Orsay to pont de l'Alma. I crossed the bridge to beautiful Place de l'Alma where I had to take my first picture of the day. 

    Place de l'Alma just across the bridge from quai d'Orsay. What a view from the cafe.

Avenue George V is a short walk to Avenue Champs Elysee. I really like the wide walkways along the entire boulevard. And the shade trees are abundant on both sides. 

    Choose to walk in either shade or sun the entire Champs Elysee

I did take a photo of the McDonalds, only because my tour book describes it as the most profitable McDonalds in the world. Now is that because of all the people eating here? Or because of the prices they charge?

    McDonalds on Champs Elysee competes with Renault and Mercedes for my business

From Avenue George V, I turned left and got a good view of the arc. Despite the restoration going on up top, it is impressive and free to walk around. I took a lot of pictures to bore you with. (You can see them in the link at the end of this blog entry). I have Rick Steve's Paris 2014 guide with me. It is very informative to pull out as I continue my walk down Champs Elysee toward Place de la Concorde and Tuileres Gardens. As I write this entry at 11:30 AM, I am sitting just inside the Tuileres Gardens in one of the green chairs around the large pond with a view of the obelisk in the center of Place de la Concorde  and the Arc du Triomphe in the distance. Below are photos of where I sat while writing this.

    Where I sat while starting to write the text of this blog

   My view while I started this blog entry

I used iCloud Pages to start this blog. Happy that Pages works offline. Back at the apartment, I can add in the photos that go with the text here.

I'm continuing on through Tuileres Gardens to the Louvre. I did stop at the public restroom at the entrance to Tuileres Gardens. It costs .70 euros and is clean and not busy. I recommend it. And as Jack Nicholson said, "Never pass up a restroom..." among other things for men of a certain age.

Speaking of men of a certain age - Here I am taking a selfy at the Louvre.

    Put some sunscreen on, Jerry!

I did have sunscreen with me, and I needed it today. What is this ,,, California? I bought an umbrella and everything for this trip!

After walking around the outside of the Louvre, I wanted to go to pont des Arts and look at all the locks people attach to the bridge. I heard a story recently on NPR about the locks and how the authorities do not like it. But, from what I saw, It is not going to end. No way they could ever cut off all the locks.

    Yes, those are all locks declaring a couple's undying love

I saw a couple attach a padlock to the collection and throw the key into the Seine. I understand from the NPR report that you used to be able to see through the sides of the bridge. No more.

I stopped at a boulangerie and bought some bread and jam and headed back to the apartment. Arrived back at 2:00 PM, ate lunch and took a siesta. I left at 4:30 PM to go to the American church where they have free concerts at 5:00 PM every Sunday night. Tonight it was a piano player and a soprano. Man, they were good. And they had a large, appreciative audience. Walked for an hour in the 7th arrondissement and back to the room at 7:00 PM for some Rose wine. this blog, and tea before heading out

I'm off now at about 8:45 PM to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. I'll finish today's entry after I get back from that.

I layed under the Eiffel Tower and took the photo below.

    They lit the tower at 9:35 PM tonight. This was taken a bit later.

Here is the link to the photos from today, and I'll add more from the lit-up Eiffel Tower.