Monday, April 20, 2009

La Famille à Paris Part III, Hamming It Up at the Museums

After three full days of touring, everyone was ready for a bit of a break. So we took it easy on Wednesday and did some souvenir shopping and light sight-seeing. It was good to do something rather relaxing. Marissa and I checked out the cute boutiques (that I'm usually too shy to go into) in the upscale Saint-Germain neighborhood and then went to the French version of Express for some casual stuff. We found cute flats.

Meanwhile, Jill and our parents had walked down the Rue de Rivoli to see the Louvre courtyard and the Tuilerie Gardens.

My dad thought it looked like the perfect place to go bowling. Ahh...can't escape it.

And unfortunately, Jill discovered that Paris can be a lonely city for some.

Marissa, my mom and I were too serious for such antics I suppose. Or we just found Jill and Daddy entertaining enough. ;) I take it as a sign that they were feeling very comfortable in Paris.

Thursday was the last day my family would be there, and it was also the day of a National Strike. Sure that the train lines would be mostly down, I'd advised everyone to save the nearby museums for that day, just so we could avoid the metro as much as possible. Of course, the clowning around didn't stop that day either.
I guess my dad missed teasing the poor cats back home.

In the afternoon, we headed over to the Musée d'Orsay which is famous for all of its impressionist paintings by the likes of Monet, Manet, Van Gogh and Cézanne. Unfortunately (and most unexpectedly!) they had closed off the floor with the most famous paintings because of the national strike!! WHAT??? The museums were on strike too? No one explained why the floor was closed; everyone just kept saying the same thing: "C'est la grève." "It's the strike." Sigh....

My dad, always managing to keep his sense of humor, made the best of the paintings we still had access to. When this portrait of the biologist Louis Pasteur was painted, he was about the same age as my dad is now. I think the resemblance is striking.

And Jill and my mom also managed to take full advantage of the exhibits the museum did have open that day. Even after Marissa, Daddy and I had finished seeing everything, they were still off looking at all the paintings and sculptures in great detail.

We waited for awhile. Note that Marissa's pointing at her watch.

Then we finally left to go get some expensive Coca Lights in a nearby café.

The waiter there seemed to like to joke around as much as my dad. When we came into the cafe, I asked him if we could sit anywhere. His smart-aleck answer? "Well, if you mean can you sit downstairs, sure! Go ahead. But if you want to sit in this seat behind the bar (indicating a random stool), well...I'm afraid that's not possible." That wasn't even the worst of it. As we were sitting enjoying our Cokes (and a Schweppes Agrumes for Marissa), a clueless little Japanese girl came down the stairs and asked the same waiter where the bathroom was. "The bathroom?" he said with a puzzled expression. "We don't have one. You need to pee? Here, use this," he suggested, holding up a glass. The look on her face was priceless, and I could see he was trying to keep from laughing too hard as he directed her to the real bathroom. We were all cracking up.

We finally met back up with Jill and Mom and got ready to find a place for our dinner together in Paris. We decided on a little Italian place not far from the hotel. I know, I know. It's just that that's what sounded good.

And it was good! After the meal, we walked around Paris just a bit more and then everyone headed back to the hotel where we said our goodbyes, and I tried not to be too sad.

Ever since my very first trip to Paris in 1998, I've been dreaming (literally!) of the day my whole family could come visit and we could see the city together. The reality was better than anything I could have imagined. I only wish they could have stayed a little bit longer! Well, I suppose I'll just look forward to future tours of France (other European countries?) together. :)

La Famille à Paris Part II, La Banlieue

Most people who have studied French have learned at one time or another that the Paris banlieue or the suburbs are places to be avoided, the French equivalent of the poor inner city. Movies like "La Haine" and "Banlieue 13" and news reports about riots and car burning in Paris' banlieue have only reinforced these impressions. The truth is, while there are poor suburbs around Paris, there are also very nice ones, and even rich ones that we don't hear about as often.

My family spent Monday evening and then all day on Tuesday in the Paris suburbs. First they came to visit Gaby and me in Poissy to check out our humble apartment overlooking the Seine.

Then we went outside to look over the Seine ourselves.
Of course we had to show the family around our charming little town.
They thought it looked like a nice place to live! This was a bit of a relief because we'd thought they would think we'd made them come all the way out to the suburbs just to see...crap.
(A most unfortunate abbreviation, especially for a restaurant, eh?)

After Poissy, we headed over to Achères where Gaby's mom had prepared an Alsacian French meal of flammekuche (a very thincrust pizza-like dish with cream), a large ham, potatoes and fruit tarts. She'd also bought some Veuve Clicquot champagne to welcome them. It was a fun and interesting night of translating for Gaby and me. Everyone got along great, and it was getting late by the time we headed back to the train to accompany my family back into Paris.

We were glad to get them back to the hotel at a reasonable hour because Tuesday was to be spent at Versailles, another suburb of Paris that tourists don't usually think of as being the dreaded "banlieue." The town itself is very pretty (and rich), and the château is just spectacular (and huge!).
We visited all the wings that were open that day. The beautiful chapel:

And of course the recently renovated and extravagant Galérie des Glaces (the gallery of mirrors).

Lunch was simple curried chicken baguette sandwiches outside on the steps.

And then we went to explore the Versailles gardens. These are actually my favorite part of Versailles, and I was disappointed that the small gardens were closed for the winter.

But my family still got an idea of how amazing (and again, huge!) such gardens could be.

And so concluded our third busy day together in near..Paris.

La Famille à Paris, Part I

My family came to visit me in Paris over a month ago. I'm just blogging about it now because it's taken me that long to recover. Okay, okay...that's totally not true. Actually I've just been working on other stuff and the blog has had to take a backseat to my other projects (i.e. the dissertation).

I'll admit that I was rather worried before my family came because I wanted to be a good guide. They would be in Paris for less than a week, and I wanted them to have the best time possible in only a few days. Would the weather be okay in the middle of March or would it rain everyday? What should we see? What days should we go to certain sites? What days were these sites closed? Where would we eat? What would they like? What French foods should they absolutely try? Would they have a hard time since most of them didn't speak French?

Well, of course, I did a lot of worrying for nothing because everything turned out fine. The weather was beautiful, and I discovered that I belong to a family of really great travelers who want to see and do a lot. I should have known. They arrived early Sunday morning at Charles de Gaulle airport, and Gaby and I went to meet them.

Once in Paris, we got some breakfast/lunch at a little café near the Saint-Michel fountain and then were ready to start our tour of the city. First, Notre Dame de Paris. I always forget how beautiful it really is.
Next, the Bateaux Mouches, or in English, the flyboats. This was a great way to get an overview of the major sites in Paris. Plus my poor jetlagged family could relax (and even sleep a little) during the tour.
The rest of the day was pretty relaxed. Everyone was able to check into the hotel at 3:oo and take much-needed naps and then explore the neighborhood just a little bit. Incidentally, my parents had gotten a hotel not far from my old Paris apartment in the 6th. It was so good to hang out in my old familiar neighborhood.
Monday was the day of the Towers, or climbing day. We started with the Arc de Triomphe where we climbed the spiraling staircase to the very top.
And the view:
After a stroll down the Champs Elysées, our next stop was the Eiffel Tower. We had planned on taking the elevator up, but realized that we would have to wait two hours in line. We decided to test our fitness levels and take the stairs. Most of us found out we were seriously out of shape, and we marveled at the people who were actually smoking as they walked up the steps. UGH. Still, the walk was worth it.
As we made our way back down the stairs, we snickered at all the people huffing and puffing on their way up. We even made encouraging remarks like, "Don't worry...only 400 more steps to go." We're nice like that.
Although we were tired (and some of us aching--okay, me), our first full day together in one of the most beautiful cities in the world had turned out great. But it wasn't over yet. My family had decided that it would be nice to visit Poissy where Gaby and I live.