Jul 1, 2009

The Lost Diaries

Part of the idea behind "A Streetcar Named Stella" was that it would serve as a little online baby book of sorts. So far, I am doing a much better job updating the blog than I am updating the real baby book. (Seriously...I just finished the hospital pages last week!) Hopefully, when Stella is older she can venture out into cyberspace and learn all about the fun things she did when she was small. So, I started thinking the other day about other things that I would like Stella to know about, and it occurred to me that she might also be interested in some of the things that her mom and dad did before she was born. Enter: the travel diaries. Back in the summer of 2005, Damon and I spent 9 weeks in Europe while he completed some international law school courses in Lyon, France. While we were there, I chronicled our adventures for friends and family and periodically sent emails back about the fun we were having. Now, I am posting these diaries on Stella's blog for my faithful readers to enjoy again, or for those of you who haven't known us long, to enjoy for the first time. Warning: These posts will be super LONG....I am talking the kind of blog post that makes you want to read the first and last paragraph and then lie to your friend about actually reading the entire thing. I promise though, that if you suffer through these marathon posts, you will at least chuckle to yourself a few times. There will be 13 posts in all, and I will wait a few days in between posts to give you a chance to properly digest the peril and adventure. So, without further ado, the travel diaries we all thought were lost forever......

Bonjour, or should I say bonsoir? It is 0:06 here in Paris and the end of our first day has finally come. Today began 2 or 3 days ago in Louisiana. We flew out of New Orleans at 2:40 p.m., and landed in Chicago about 2 hours later. We proceeded to the next plane and took off for Paris around 6 p.m. The flight lasted about 8 hours, and we watched In Good Company and Be Cool when we were not trying desperately to catch some z’s in the full and upright position that coach demands. When we finally made our approach to Paris, some people caught sight of the Eiffel Tower looming on the horizon. We, however, were seated on the wrong side of the plane for that, so instead I enjoyed a fantastic view of a rather large McDonald’s. The others were understandably jealous. Local time was 9:20 a.m., but you all were snoozing at home since it was 2:20 a.m. in Louisiana. The airport was a little disappointing. It was very concrete, under construction, and mostly deserted. It did, however, boast some flat escalators-they literally slope up and down but don’t turn into stairs(making it hard to hang onto the 1,000 pound rolling suitcase Damon packed), as well as some George Jetson inspired tubes to take you to the baggage claim. We filmed those for your future enjoyment. I also spotted my first gypsy baby at the luggage claim, so I have had my guard up since then.

Word of explanation added in 2009: Before traveling to Europe I read an article that said to beware of roving bands of gypsies, who would throw their babies into the arms of unsuspecting American tourists. When the tourist caught the child, the gypsies would grab their valuables and run off. I waited the entire trip for this scenario to play out, and vowed that the gypsy who threw their baby at me would rue the day, because I was not going to give the baby back without a fight. Fortunately for the gypsies, they never threw any babies at me.

We took a bus to Monparnasse, and then a taxi with a non-English speaking driver to our hotel. This trip cost $39 euros (they are worth $1.25 each!!!), and some kind American students translated for us with the taxi driver. The hotel already had our room ready, and if you lean out the window at the correct angle you can see the Eiffel Tower. The room is small but clean, and who can ask for more? It was a little disconcerting for us to discover that you must surrender your room key at the front desk every time you leave the hotel, but apparently that is standard over here. The temperature is about 70 degrees, and we have not found any air conditioning in the room, but we just opened our huge window/doors and the breeze is nice. The Grandpa Crane in me is a little concerned about bugs entering the room, but there are no screens on anything so I have decided they either do not have mosquitoes, or it is too cold for them to be a problem yet.

We stashed our junk and took off to explore. Damon was starving (what else is new?) so we had our first French meal at a sidewalk café. I went for the French glory and had crepes chocolat, Damon opted for a cheeseburger and fries. The burger looked raw to me. We then found the Eiffel Tower, which is GINORMOUS, and very cool. I took a half a roll of film of it already. As we were strolling in that area, a pigeon bombed me from a tree, so my first day in Paris literally was crappy, and that outfit is now out of commission until we make it to Lyon and the laundry service. We found Napoleon’s tomb and a grocery store, where we bought water since Damon was dying of thirst. Then we were exhausted, so we came back to the room and napped for a while. We woke up and took showers, only to discover that when plugged in with the converter, my hair dryer smells like it is burning up, so I did not use it and my hair looks like what the bird did on my pants. Tomorrow I am using it, burn up or not, and we will have to buy a French one if it kills over. I have an image to uphold and it does not include a white afro. Anyway, we got dressed and set out for the Eiffel Tower again, this time to go to the top and see the view at night, but when we got there some Americans told us that you can’t go all the way to the top after 10:15, so we were foiled again, and decided just to eat and return to the room. Damon ordered a ham sandwich, and what they brought him would not have satisfied a 2 year old. I ordered baked chicken, and they brought me a leg quarter….a small leg quarter. Apparently the reason they are all so skinny is not so much that they are eating slowly, but that they are not eating enough. We are hungry Americans, and we need to find a buffet to hit. There is tons of fruit here; you can even order it at a restaurant, so I am now regretting eating that fruit and walnut salad from McDonald’s as my last American meal. I wish I had eaten a large Pizza Hut pepperoni lover’s pizza all by myself, and stuffed the crusts in my pockets for later. Tomorrow we are planning to ride the subway, purchase a museum pass, and see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

Jour Dieu
Today we overslept, so we got off to a late start. I think the jetlag was still an issue. We had le petit dejeuner downstairs at the hotel with some other Americans, an older couple from Washington state. They are traveling the world together for the 3rd time after quitting their jobs. Apparently, they do this from time to time. They were cool, and tipped us off that we should tell the hotel that we are using the Rick Steve’s book so that we can get a discount. When we asked about that at the front desk, they told us that we were already getting a better discount since we booked through that website, but that they would throw in free breakfast since we were using the book, so we totally scored on that one. Breakfast was croissants, hard French rolls, corn flakes, weird orange juice, and hot chocolate. I filled up since it was already paid for. We set out in search of the Louvre, and a museum pass to purchase.

We made it to the Louvre via the subway, which was efficient and convenient, but made me a little tense about theft. We were not robbed today, however. We went in through the pyramid, and the line was not too long. We got the 3 day museum pass and set off to find Mona Lisa. When we were about to enter the room where she lives, the alarms went off and Louvre employees began to close the exhibit, so we had to peruse other priceless works of art while we waited for Mona to reopen. When we finally saw her, Damon was somewhat disappointed. She is behind glass, and she is rather small in comparison to the other things that you have already seen. I knew what to expect, since I read about it in the guidebook. You also have to fight your way to Mona, and in my case jump to see her over the heads of others. You can take pictures in the Louvre, however, so we have plenty of footage of her for all of you. We also saw Venus de Milo, and a lot of other cool things, including a mummified crocodile and cats in the Egyptian exhibit, as well as the apartments of Napoleon, with lots of home furnishings from the little man himself. All that art wears you out, so we grabbed a ham and cheese sandwich on hard French bread(is there any other kind? Honestly, you could break a tooth) and some chips and water and set out for the next stop.

We walked to the Saint Chappelle, which is basically a chapel made entirely of stained glass that was built to house the alleged crown of thorns from the crucifixion. It was beautiful. Next door was the Conciergerie, which once housed the parliament, but is most famous as a prison. Marie Antoinette was imprisoned there, and much of the exhibit was devoted to her. We were across the street from Notre Dame, but a lady told us that tomorrow at 3 they are having a special mass and bringing out the relics, including the crown of thorns, so we are going there tomorrow. We hopped on the metro and surfaced at the Arc De Triomphe, where we climbed about 1000 stairs to the top and enjoyed a great view of the city. Napoleon had the Arc built to celebrate his conquering Europe. At the top we bought our first souvenir- a charm of the Eiffel Tower for my necklace. It is like my snowflake from Salt Lake City.

We left the Arc and rode the metro to the Eiffel Tower, where we waited in a long line to reach the top, and once there met Sonny and Louise, a friend of Damon’s from school, and his wife. Small world, huh? They are leaving for Lyon tomorrow, so we had dinner with them. Then we stumbled back to the hotel, exhausted but feeling like we had a pretty full day. Au revoir, until tomorrow.

Dear Diary,

Today started with a bitter disappointment. Last night I had showered and dried my hair (the blow dryer works at about half speed) and I intended to Chi it and look respectable today. Alas, I plugged in the Chi only to discover that it cannot get enough power to heat up, so for day 2 my hair went into a rather crappy ponytail. Damon had the bright idea to try the hair dryer without the converter and see what happened. Well, what happened is that it got fire hot immediately and I freaked out and made him turn it off. So, tonight my strategy is to use the half speed blow dryer to make my hair curly.

Now that my styling woes are out of the way, I will tell you about our day. We got up early, ate breakfast at the hotel and set out for Versailles. We had to take the RER train there, and it was 2 stories, which I thought was cool. The palace was HUGE, and obscenely ornate. We went through the state apartments and the Queen’s chambers. We saw the hall of mirrors, but part of it is being restored, so we were unable to get the full effect. It was still very impressive. Back when royalty lived at the palace, they got tired of the hustle and bustle of the main palace and built 2 smaller palaces for retreats. One is the Grand Trianon, and one the Petit Trianon. These are about a mile away from the main palace, through the gardens. I wanted to see them very badly, but Damon did not, and it looked like it would rain. I talked him into it, and we hiked briskly through the gardens to both. My favorite site was the bathroom in the Petit Trianon. It was between a bed chamber and what appeared to be a nursery, and was basically a wooden toilet in a closet. We had lunch at a little café in the garden. Pizza, and it was delightful. It began raining heavily on our way back to the main palace, and we got soaked in the front. We ended up running most of the way in a futile attempt to stay dry. As we left for the train station, it stopped raining.

We caught the train back to the city in time to catch the 3 p.m. mass at Notre Dame. When we approached the church, the bells were ringing. We went inside and got pretty good seats. Then the processional came; they rang bells, and had smoke. They were carrying the crown of thorns, and 2 nails that appeared to be crucifixion nails. The nails were never mentioned, but they do believe that to be the actual crown of thorns. Instead of communion, everyone had a chance to go up and kiss the crown. (It was inside glass) We went up, but just bowed because we did not want French germs. It looked like straw to me. We were skeptical as to the authenticity of the relic, but it was cool to see nonetheless. The church was beautiful. We stopped in the back to pick up souvenir number 2: a rosary for Ms. Belinda, per her request. We also picked up an English book about the history of Notre Dame, so we can share that when we get home.

After Notre Dame, we were pretty exhausted, and it was about 5 p.m., so we came home and napped. We planned to get up and go to the late show at the Moulin Rouge, which Damon is determined to do but I think is too expensive. When we woke up it was late and we called the front desk to ask how to get there and they told us you have to have reservations, so that nixed that. We set out to get some Italian food at a little ristorante we had seen near our hotel. It was great, and we are just getting back from that. We are now in the hotel room watching NipTuck in Francais. My throat is sore and I think that I have what Damon had last week, so I took some of his medicine tonight.

French observations: They are not skinny so much because they eat slowly, as that their bread is very hard. By the time they are able to swallow it, they have burned off all the calories just by chewing it for an hour. That is the secret to why they are eating so slowly-tough bread. They also don’t hate Americans like you have heard. They are actually borderline obsessed with us. All of their TV shows are either our shows with French dubbed over them, or French remakes of our shows. We are about to watch Sex and the City, ironically enough the episode in which Carrie goes to Paris. All the music in their shows is American music. Our movie posters and gossip magazines are plastered all over Paris. And they are very helpful and willing to help you understand. The only rude people we have seen have been Americans. Also, it does not get dark here until after 10 p.m. It is very rough to gage when you should go to bed, because it is daylight forever! Damon has been sweating since we got here. I have been comfortable in just a sleeveless shirt most of the time, so that crap about not needing air is just that—crap. French are also big on dehydration. When you go to a restaurant, they bring you a small carafe of water, and that is all you get. It will fill up about one and a half small wine glasses. We are thirsty all the time.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Paris, so we are going to try to take in a few of the sites that we have missed so far. We feel like we have seen all the biggies, so we are going to let it be a relaxing day. We miss you a lot and I keep telling Damon what time it is in Louisiana. Bonsoir.

Day Four
This morning Damon wanted to get an early start, but then he would not get up for about 2 hours, so we ate breakfast around 9:30 at the hotel. We set out on the metro for our first stop: The Picasso Museum. Observations about Picasso: Picasso apparently became famous early in his career and began to realize that it did not matter so much what he sculpted or painted, people would still pay big money for it. This led to a series of less than impressive pieces, which appear to be inspired by the garbage lying around his house. He would just take random pieces of refuse and fashion it into some shape, name it, and voila! Art. A perfect example is his use of an old bicycle seat and handlebars to make a bull’s head. One man’s trash, eh? I personally have seen more artistic merit in that cat mom sculpted in high school. Write Picasso on that and we will all be instant millionaires.

Enough about Picasso, I bet you are all wondering how my hair looked today. I will tell you: it looked like crap. I made it curly last night and then slept on it, thinking it would be fine for today, but no, it was a white afro, so I stuck a clip in it and paraded around as the ugliest girl in Paris. I’ll try again tomorrow, and maybe shave my head soon.

After Picasso, we hopped back on the metro and went to Napoleon’s Tomb. It was unbelievable. That little man was buried in high style, and inside something like 5 different caskets, all of different materials, one of which was ebony. The tomb is surrounded by the Museum of the Army, and since it was already paid for on our Museum Pass, we ducked in there for a few minutes and saw an interesting exhibit on World War II, as well as some super old French military uniforms. They even had full suits of armor from the 1500’s. They were beautiful. We enjoyed the WWII exhibit for the many American items that they had, including a whole display of things a soldier would be issued by the army: shovel, flashlight, conversational French guide, K rations, etc.

We left there in time to hop back on the train and visit the sewers of Paris. Luckily, an English tour was leaving soon after we arrived, so we hopped on that. The history of the sewer system was really interesting, and apparently Victor Hugo described it very skillfully in Les Miserables, since he was good friends with one of the sewer engineers. The sewer men still have to do all the work in the sewers manually, since they cannot use anything electrical for fear of an explosion. You can imagine that the tour did not have such a pleasant odor, and our guide warned us not to touch anything and to wash our hands after we left.

Back on the metro, and next stop, the Orsay Museum, which houses more recent art than the Louvre. We saw some wonderful works by Renoit, Monet, Manet, Degas, Whistler, and Van Gogh. We also grabbed some lunch at the museum-ham sandwiches and a chocolate chip muffin that made me wish for an Otis Spunkmeyer.

Left the Orsay in time to hop back on the train and visit the Opera Garnier, which is the extravagant opera house on which The Phantom of the Opera is based. You can take a tour for 6 euros, but unfortunately, they were closed for tours because they were having a performance that night. The men did let us in to take a peek for free, though, and we picked up a book on the history of the Opera Garnier for 7 euros, so we came out a little better than if we had actually taken the tour. We took the metro back to our hotel, and stopped off for a little dinner in a café. Our waiter spoke good English, and he said that he learned it from watching Without a Trace. The man who brought us our food looked so much like a young Tom Cruise that Damon told him that. He said thanks, so apparently he gets that a lot. We are now back at the hotel, and Damon was watching TV but is now snoozing away. Paris is wearing us out, but this was our last day, so I think we will make it. Tonight we have reservations for the late show at the Moulin Rouge, so I am excited about that and will write more about it when we get back, if I can-can-can.

The Moulin Rouge…..a nightclub…..a spectacle…..a bordello. A place where the rich and powerful come to mix with the young and beautiful. Actually, you do kind of have to be rich to go there. We went to the late show which is the cheapest, and it still cost $87 euros per person, but we justified it as a once in a lifetime chance. We took the subway over and arrived about an hour and ten minutes early for the show, so we took some pictures of the outside (which is a major tourist attraction and gets more snaps than the Arc de Triomphe) and strolled across the street to grab a snack in a café. Damon had a ginormous hot dog on a French bread bun smothered in cheese. I had a chocolat chaud, or for you French challenged out there, a hot chocolate. They brought me sugar packets with it, which I thought was odd, but apparently they do not sweeten it. When we were finished we noticed people lining up across the street, so we rushed across and got in line. (I snapped a few more pictures on the way) The doors were supposed to open at 10:30 for the 11:00 show, but at 11, we were still standing in line. That is when they opened the doors, and they ushered us to our seats, which were right by the stage. You sit at tables across from one another and with lots of other couples. Damon’s back was literally touching the stage. Everything is red and decorated with hearts and other gaudy Paris scenes. The show started with dancing girls in sequined and feathered outfits, and included almost as many male dancers as females. Much of the time the dancers were topless, but not all of them, and not all of the time. It was more gratuitous nudity than anything, because their costumes are so elaborate that nobody is looking at the boobies. They would do a few dance numbers and then go back stage for a costume change, and that is when the truly amazing act came out. It was a round platform about the size of a small exercise trampoline, maybe a little bigger, and 2 women and a man in roller skates. Those three roller skated in circles on this tiny platform and did all sorts of tricks. At one point the man was skating and one of the girls was holding onto his neck with only her skates and whirling around in a circle. It was incredible. He also swung a girl around by only her foot. Damon and I were afraid that one of them would lose their grip and they would fly into the audience and take us all out. They also attached their necks together with a harness and he skated while she swung and twirled simultaneously. It was crazy. When the dancing show started again, they did a pirates theme with an Arabian nights flair, and they bring out this girl wearing nothing but a thong, and this pit of water full of HUGE snakes comes out of the floor of the stage and they put her in it like a sacrifice. The pool then rose to stage level and the girl swam with the snakes for at least 5 minutes. It was spectacular, spectacular. Then the dancers came back. The other two breaks were terribly dull after those 2 feats, but still amusing. They were a man who did hand puppets, and a comedian who called people up from the audience to participate in his show. Near the end of the show they did the can-can, and played one of the songs featured in the movie. The one that goes, “So exciting the audience will stop and cheer; so (something else) it will run for 50 years!” Afterwards everyone was dying to go to the water closet, and I had to wait in line forever behind these feisty Indian girls who were obviously living in America from their attitudes. Damon retrieved my camera from the coat check (no cameras are allowed, so they must all be checked) and we picked up souvenir number three, a little piece of the Moulin Rouge for the movie’s biggest fan, Sarah. When we went back outside to the metro stop, it was closed, so we waited around to see if a bus would come, and then began trying to hail a cab. This intersection must be the busiest in Paris at that hour, and it was extremely difficult to get a cab since we did not speak the French, and most cabs already had passengers or were already committed to pick someone up. We finally got one, and we buckled in and set off for the hotel. This man was insane. He drove like a maniac, layed on the horn most of the time, hit a pedestrian, and would have been more than happy to bump a few cars if they had not gotten out of his way. We felt like kissing the ground when we finally got out. The traffic was horrendous, because they had a section of the Champs Elysees blocked off for some reason. But we finally arrived back at the hotel safely, and collapsed into bed. It is Sunday morning now and we are leaving today for Lyon. Damon is sleeping and I just got back from my last Hotel de L’Alma breakfast. More tomorrow.


Grandma Tonie said...

Awww it was like reliving the time I would wait for your next e-mail from France!!! This posting of the diaries may be your best idea yet. I just loved it!!!!

Unknown said...

I'm the same way!! You write so well..it's like I was there! I would LOVE to experience Paris with the Pourciaus!!!!

Dara M. said...

omg...you are soo funny! It makes me want to go back immediately to relive my Paris days. However short they were. oh, and did I mention that I think Stella looks like baby shiloh! lol. beautiful!