Sunday, June 30, 2013

Katey's Family in France Part Four: Good Catholics and Gay Pride

Well it's been a church-filled weekend but also full of some unexpected and super fun surprises!

Yesterday we started out the morning at Sainte-Chapelle, which is one of the most beautiful places ever. Built by St. Louis (King Louis IX) to house the relics of the passion of the Christ, but I likely covered that in a blog post last year, so I'll spare you the details.

The moral of the story is that the windows (depicting the various books of the Bible) are most certainly worth a visit, and it's pretty amazing that they've survived revolutions, fires, and everything else that destroyed other parts of the palace. 

We were then supposed to go to mass at Notre Dame (according to our clearly laid out itinerary), but as we approached, we saw that the cathedral was otherwise occupied. There was a large crowd outside and two big screens on either side of the doors showing what appeared to be an ordination (I speak from prior experience with ordinations). We knew, of course, that there would thus be no mass for us, so we went to a café across the street where we could enjoy our coffee and pain au chocolat to the sound of Notre Dame's bells and with a view of the little alter servers lining up to perform their holy duties. 

And after our coffee, we headed over to the Conciergerie! It's actually one of my favorite museums in Paris, because it's been such a key piece of history. Also I find the history of the Revolution particularly fascinating. So here's a glimpse of the chapel where Marie Antoinette's cell was (I'll spare you the history lesson that I'm sure I covered in a post last August):

And, you know, me in the women's courtyard for the female prisoners:

Then we went for a lovely lunch in the Latin Quarter at a place my friends and I frequented last year. It was fabulous, and although my parents headed home right after, I wanted to walk around a bit. And I am so so so glad I did! I stumbled upon the pride parade!! It was um completely fabulous! And here I thought I was going to miss out on the pride festivities because I wasn't in Seattle, but Paris had an amazing amazing amazing parade with so many people! 

Including this guy who ran right past me with his butterfly wings:

Also, there were a ton of different groups addressing specific issues, like this one focused on the use of the death penalty as punishment for homosexuality in various countries:

This was one of my favorite signs:

And this photo with one of the guys who was standing by me (aka Dominique Strauss-Kahn according to his mask) was definitely a highlight:

And then I actually sort of had to jump in the parade in order to get where I needed to go. This was my view from amidst my fellow parade marchers:

After I met up with my parents, we got connected with our dear friends, Cathy and John, and went out to dinner:
All in all it was a lovely lovely day!

And then this morning my mom and I got up and actually did make it to 8:30 mass at Notre Dame. I will not disclose how long it had been since one or both of us attended mass. It was a lovely service, and my mom got her wish of having been to mass at Notre Dame. 

Also, I got to investigate the structure outside Notre Dame, and I have decided that it serves very little, if any, functional purpose. I think it's pretty much to raise awareness about the 850th anniversary of Notre Dame, but I think it would be better if they offered some additional information about the history inside of this blue thing. But I suppose no one asked me. 

Inside the blue thing is some stained glass and various quotes about Jesus. I think, however, that the structure in the background is meant to imitate what the palace (of which only Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie remain) would have looked like when Notre Dame was built.

Anyway, after that my mom and I had breakfast at the same café as yesterday and then returned to my father (he may not fall in to quite the same category of Catholic loyalty as we do). Together we ventured out to the marché aux puces at Clignancourt, where I found a hat, and my mom and I both got some tennis shoes (matching) and nail polish. After our purchases, we didn't really feel the need to linger and so moved on to Montmartre. We went through the Basilica and then had lunch at a nice little place nearby, with the cutest baby at the table next to us.

On our walk down to the metro station we detoured to see the Moulin Rouge, and then we headed home. But on the walk from the stop where we got off, we ran into a demonstration that appears to have been related to Egypt's recent protests regarding Morsi.

The sign in the back says "pain, libérté, justice sociale" or "bread, liberty, social justice."
But then there were also these anti-marriage equality people who kept driving by and getting in the way of my pictures. They had these obnoxious flags and kept honking, and a ton of them had their kids with them. I really just wanted to see the Egypt demonstrators. 

So as to not let the homophobic demonstrators have the last word/photo in this post, here's a reminder of how much bigger and more awesome the pride parade was than their "protest."

"Love doesn't discriminate, not by sex, not by color."

So proud of the US (goodbye DOMA and Prop8!) and France for being leaders in the global movement for equality. My two favorite countries are doing good things. And I was lucky enough to witness it this weekend! 

More soon,

Friday, June 28, 2013

Katey's Family in France Part Three: The Bourbons and the Impressionists

For my friends who are not so well-versed in French history, I'll let you know now that the title does not refer to any alcoholic beverages. I'll forgive you if you stop reading now. In fact, it refers to our adventures in Versailles yesterday, followed by our trip to the Musée d'Orsay today.

We knew Versailles would be a big day, so we tried to get out of here somewhat early to get to the metro. I had to buy the RER tickets, but I had double checked that I could get them at the Saint Michel-Notre Dame station, so I wasn't worried.

One thing I didn't count on, however, was an SNCF strike. That is, the employees of the RER and other train-related things were not at work. I probably should have counted on it, as la grève in Paris is hardly groundbreaking news. Alas, we had to buy our RER tickets from the little machine. Which didn't take bills. And of course didn't take our puce-less credit card (American cards don't have a necessary chip in them to be read by machines). And so we counted up all of our little coins to scrape together the necessary change for one-way tickets (although I wasn't really positive they were one-way until we had to buy return tickets under similar circumstances). And of course we had to wait in line behind all of the other tourists attempting to buy their tickets - some of whom had to discover that their cards wouldn't work by trying them over and over again and some of whom had invested in cards with the correct chip but that simply were not functioning properly. It was during this time that the SNCF man came buy to get something from the office (you know, the booth where they would normally be selling tickets and helping the struggling tourists) and informed an inquiring French woman that they were not working because of the strike. By translating this to my parents, I inadvertently informed the surrounding line of bewildered Americans and Brits of the situation. But we got the tickets.

The next step is always not taking a train that doesn't go all the way to Versailles (the RER C splits off in several directions). We were fine on this note because I was prepared for it, but I still have a bit of a guilty/worried conscience about some people (from the aforementioned ticket line) whom I witnessed getting on the wrong train before I could stop them. My mother just informed me that she did, in fact, see them at Versailles later that day. Conscience clear.

And so we got to Versailles. And we got audio-guides (Being nine months removed from my last tour and my French history courses, I was not prepared to relay the history of Versailles + Trianon). And we had a lovely lovely time with a wonderful lunch at the place my group ate at last year. But I didn't get ice cream. Oh well.

We saw all the rooms in all the palaces, of course including the Hall of Mirrors:

And of course we had our photos outside:

And we made our way up to the Grand Trianon as well as the Petit Trianon.

All in all, a successful day. Even if at the train station I promptly realized that our tickets were only one-way (in my defense there had been no aller + retour option presented, merely a "Chateau Versailles" ticket). There had been someone at the booth when we arrived, so I thought perhaps the Versailles employees were not on strike. My mistake. Then, of course, we had the needing change issue. Luckily, about a zillion other people also needed return tickets, so my mom had plenty of time to wait in line while my dad and I ran to buy an orange juice and hot chocolate from the McCafé across the street. I asked the nice young man working for extra coins, and he was quite accommodating. And the orange juice wasn't bad either. After watching a few more Americans (a few too many, I might add) struggle through the realization that their credit cards wouldn't work in the machine, we made it to the machine and got our tickets. A little later than planned, we made it onto the RER C headed for Paris. Needless to say, we were a bit tired and opted for dinner in. But it was delicious, and we all slept quite well. 

This morning we could sleep in a bit, as we were just headed over to the Musée d'Orsay (where the Paris Museum Pass gets you in a separate and super fast entrance unlike Versailles, where there is only one entrance and one über long line). We started with the top floor, home of most of my favorite impressionist pieces, and spent quite a bit of time there. Although my mom spent about twice as much time as my dad and I. We all looked at various areas for a while and then met up (after my dad and I chased down my mom, who always seems to be difficult to find in museums). We had lunch at the café on the fifth floor, which was actually quite good. I was pleased with their Quiche Lorraine and very satisfied with their Chocolat Liégeois (an ice cream dish). Anyway, although we were originally planning to squeeze in the Musée Rodin, we decided to round out the day with the rest of the Musée d'Orsay. I may have encouraged this decision, as I am inclined to think that, while I am very glad I saw "The Thinker" and other Rodin works last year, sculpture museums only need to be visited once or twice in a lifetime, and in the case of my parents, my account and photos of the experience will suffice. 

Because you are not allowed to take photos in the Musée d'Orsay (I saw a sweet Italian man get fiercely chastised for committing this crime with his ipad), this is the only picture I can offer. I did, however, recently take photos from my parents' camera, so I may add a couple to old posts and more variety will come in the future!

All for now, but we've got some fun days ahead!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Katey's Family in France Part Two: Paris Paris Paris

We arrived on Sunday night and got all settled into the apartment! It's pretty cute too:

I sleep here:

I was a little nervous the first night, but now I'm a pro on the ladder and not so concerned about falling out of my little cave. The rest of the apartment is great, and it has everything we need plus a view of the Tour Eiffel!

Oooh! And the first night, there was a manifestation (protest/rally/demonstration) in memory/support of Clément Méric and the anti-fascist movement generally ( As a matter of fact, it held up our traffic and made us late to meet the person with the keys to the apartment, so our taxi driver suggested we get out at the corner and walk down the street. And per normal course of the universe slash my luck, a torrential downpour began the moment we got out of the cab. But I nonetheless think the manifestation was super cool and am glad to have been even the teeniest bit part of it. I think something else may be beginning ce soir, because from the balcony I saw a bunch of people run down our street to join a group shouting something I couldn't quite make out. We shall see.

On Monday we took it easy, slept in, and went over to see the Galleries Lafayette and Printemps. I very much enjoy both stores, but I have to consider much of their women's fashion to be more museum than store. All of the clothes are, nonetheless, gorgeous. And the ceiling is fabulous at Galleries Lafayette as well, but I think I put a picture of that in a blog post from last year, so I wont repeat photos. I got a new one of the parentals on top though! Not as nice of a day as when my friends and I went last August :( Oh well! You can still see the Tour Eiffel.

That night, my mom and I saw a performance of La Sylphide at the Opéra Garnier. It was simply fabulous. And it was a special performance for Pierre Lacotte, who put together the choreography after it had fallen out of circulation for years. This meant that everyone was a bit more dressed up than usual, and certainly more than us, but it was an honor just to be in Lacotte's presence. For more on La Sylphide:

Not my best photo, but the Opéra was all decorated with fantastic flowers!

Also, it was evidently totally cool to take photos during the curtain call, so of course, I did. These dancers were amazing. The man (red) was incredibly powerful, and "la sylphide" had impecable lines and precision. All in all, beautiful. Pierre Lacotte is onstage on the right. 

And of course, we've found a bakery nearby, recommended to us as having "the best croissants in Paris." I haven't had all the croissants in Paris, but these are, indeed, excellent.

Tuesday was Giverny. For all of my gushing about flowers, see last August's post. The flowers weren't quite so fully blooming this June, but we had a lovely trip, a lovely lunch, and a nice visit to the Musée d'Impressionisme and Monet's tombstone. 

And everyone got photos on the bridge!

Last night and tonight we made dinner here, which I must say is actually quite nice.

And after some rest, we got up today to go to l'Orangerie (a personal fave!) and the Louvre. Here's my obligatory photo of the Mona Lisa:

But after a lovely lunch at Café Marly (home of a delicious whipped avocado and crab dish as well as a particularly good looking waiter), I split off and went to see the new (ish) area for l'Art d'Islam. I'd been wanting to see it for a while but didn't get there last year. I would definitely recommend it.

For example, one can see this super cool Mughal warrior outfit plus weapons and tools from various societies of various countries.

And many many gorgeous pieces. 

All in all, a great few days. Tomorrow we are off to Versailles, which will be a big day but is always super interesting and awe-striking. I'll keep you posted!


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Katey's Family in France Part One: Farm Life!

Well, we made it. As I type this, I am safely in an apartment in Paris where we will be staying for the next ten days, so you know we survived the first four.

That makes the beginning of our trip sound excessively dramatic, but what am I if not high-strung, up-tight, and, well, a little dramatic?

Anyway, we arrived on Wednesday and as we left the airport were promptly greeted by a man offering his taxi services. Had I been alone, my mind would have instantly jumped to the various Taken scenarios that could play out, and I would have become increasingly aware of my lack of a Liam Neeson-esque figure to save me. In fact, I would be lying if I said this didn't occur to me anyway, but it seemed like a long shot that anyone would want to kidnap me AND my parents, and we did need a taxi. Anyway, it ended up being a fairly legit car service and only minimally overpriced.

And so, we made it to the hotel!

We stayed at the Hôtel Odéon Saint-Germain, which was very nice, very French, and kind of quirky. It's an old building and very cute and classy. We were only there two nights, and everyone was a little tired the first day/evening. This recent grad was still recovering from finishing school, graduating, and celebrating graduation, resulting in exceptional fatigue (and possibly a weakened immune system - I currently have a bit of a cold). I was thus not super in the mood to adventure out and about with my new-to-Paris parentals. My dad, for his part, was not used to international travel and was exhausted. My mom and I ran a few errands, and when I went to sleep she had her first Parisian meal solo. But she totally loved it.
The next day, we finished arranging our plans for the next two days. We had booked a rental car from Rouen when we first arrived in Paris, but we had to go to the train station to buy the train tickets. Also, I thought (correctly, per usual) that it would be good for my parents to experience the metro ride we would take there the next day. We successfully went through all of this and on our way back walked around the Île de la Cité and the Île St. Louis. We had lunch at a café near Notre Dame, walked past the apartment my aunt and uncle and I stayed in when I was 13, and even made it to the Holocaust monument. 

Friends who were in Paris recently (or ever): There's a huge contraption of sorts in front of Notre Dame to celebrate its 850th anniversary. I will investigate further and report back. 

People were handing out these free drinks in the park on the left bank by Notre Dame. It's a sort of carbonated apricot and apple juice. Not too shabby.
All in all a successful first intro to Paris.
We finished the day with dinner at Les Editeurs, the restaurant my mom had been to the night before. I very much recommend it to those who find themselves in that area of Paris. 

The next morning I was quite anxious about getting my parents through the metro and onto the train with our luggage all safe and sound, but somehow we did it. The only mishap was my dear father getting stuck in the turnstile with his suitcase and bag. Embarrassing and a hassel, but a relatively minor incident. Anyhow, we made it on the train and to Rouen. There, we had lunch at a self-proclaimed "pub" in the train station while we waited for the Avis people to return from lunch. We were then able to get our car. 

One of my favorite things about being outside of Paris is how much more wiling people are to speak French to me. That said, I was a little surprised that the Avis man had so few qualms about explaining the details of our car and what to do in case of an emergency entirely in French. At any rate, I remembered to ask for a GPS, listened as carefully as possible to his instructions, and we were on our way. My dad and I made a surprisingly good team in terms of navigating to our lodging in Villers-Bocage (and I mean seriously surprising if you've ever seen us in the car together).

Just past Villers-Bocage, we found our home for the next two nights, aka the single most adorable place one could think of staying in Normandie: La Ferme du Pressoir.

But seriously, how cute is that? Pressoir refers to an old machine that was used to make cider, which is what this farm used to make. Odile, the woman who runs the bed and breakfast, welcomed us with fresh, local cider, and I translated some conversation about where we were from, what we were hoping to do this weekend, and of course what the farm currently grows and how the cows etc. compare to the farm my dad grew up on (this piece of conversation presented a couple of vocabulary obstacles, but everyone got the gist of it). She and her husband turned the farm (built in 1787 and lucky enough to have missed most of the WWII bombs) into a B&B when they got married 34 years ago, but it's still a farm too!

The room we stayed in looked like this:

And for breakfast, Odile set everything out like this:

Plus coffee and omelets. And if it's not clear in the photo, there's so many types of pastries on that table. All of which are delicious. And in case we didn't have super human abilities to eat everything, she gave us little bags to take snacks. It was like staying with my darling friend Margot's family in Bretagne, because Odile very much treated us like friends or family. I have never stayed somewhere so warm and welcoming, not to mention full of delicious food!

Friday night, Odile encouraged us to try Au Vrai Normande in Villers-Bocage. We got there somewhat awkwardly early (6:50 when they opened for dinner at 7 - oops!), but the food was simply fabulous. It was traditional regional food and from the wine to dessert, all was excellent. 

Saturday morning we started out with Mont St. Michel, a personal favorite of mine and a fun new experience for the parents. 

The stairs may have been a bit more than expected, but all in all, I think everyone really enjoyed it. Also, my tour-guiding skills were put to good use, because the actual guides were on strike (and apparently took the audio guides with them? For whatever reason, they were likewise unavailable.). This was actually a good deal, because it meant we got in for free! And I can share brochure information from room to room like nobody's business. 

Then it was off to Saint-Lô, just for a look at the ramparts and some more pretty views. Then we headed to the Musée Airborne in Ste.-Mère-Église. It's actually a fascinating museum, and I would definitely recommend it. It has lots of cool artifacts and information particularly about the parachuters in Normandy. John Steele is particularly interesting and a statue of him is on the church across from the museum. If I'm not the last person in the world to learn his story, it's definitely worth researching. 

One of the museum exhibits; they have some of the planes and parachutes there. 
We then went on to Omaha Beach to see the Cimetière Américain de Normandie. It is really a spectacular cemetery. The visitor's center has a lot of interesting exhibits and information, the monument is exceptionally well done, the chapel is beautiful, and the cemetery itself is, of course, quite moving.
View of the beaches from the cemetery.
The monument. 

View of the cemetery from the monument.
After quite the full day, we headed into Bayeux for dinner at the recommended Le Pommier. It was excellent, and since we were celebrating my parents' 39th (yes, 39!!) wedding anniversary, we went all out. We can think of our wonderful Normandie meals as a way to make up for my dad's failure to reserve a hotel room on their wedding night. Plus Le Pommier was next to this rather incredible cathedral. Needless to say, my mother made our walk to the car about three times as long with her picture-taking.

After a wonderful day, we went to sleep at our B&B only to wake up to another wonderful breakfast. We made sure to get a picture with Odile, who made sure to show us around the rest of the farm and B&B before we left. She was full of recommendations about sites to see on the way back to Rouen, and sent us with some cookies on our way out. I can't recommend La Ferme du Pressoir enough if you're headed to Normandy. I certainly hope I can go back!

 And then today, we drove to Rouen and somehow got the car returned safely, got on our train, and got a cab to the apartment. Of course, there was a protest and lots of traffic, so I had to call the woman with the key and explain to her. And then the cab driver said it would be faster for us to get out of the car and walk down the street, but of course as we did it started pouring down rain. Like pouring. But we made it. And now my parents are out getting dinner, but given that I caught a cold somewhere around the train ride to Rouen, I thought I might do well to stay in with some tea and Meow or Never.

Tomorrow kicks off a busy busy ten days! I'm especially excited for the ballet at the Opéra Garnier (which I gave a presentation on in Paris last summer!) tomorrow evening. I'll tell you all about it, but bonsoir for now!