Humping it through the Paris Metro and London Tube on the same day

Now that our trusty pack mule – the Kangoo – is no longer with us, we are back to carrying everything when we move and using public transportation. Today, we were travelling from the 1st Arrondisement in Paris to Blackheath, which is in the southeast of greater London. We started with a half hour walk to the St. Michel-Notre Dame metro station. Why, when the closest Metro stop was only 1 ½ blocks away from our apartment? L’Amour, of course!IMG_4349 Along the way is the Ponte des Arts, famous for the padlocks on the handrail’s steel mesh. Lovers pledge their eternal love by locking the padlock to the bridge and throwing the keys into the Seine. I had bought a hand painted padlock here for Gigi back in September. We had waited until our last moments in Paris to do the deed of eternal love pledging and key tossing.

Its not like we were unsure about what we were doing, we IMG_4331just were never near the bridge during all our time in Paris this trip. (Honest) We had to do it before leaving. The boys giggled; they were really enjoying the ceremony of us adding our padlock to the thousands of others on the bridge. So, on with the travel tale…

We had a straight shot from St. Michel to Gare du Nord on the RER B line; the real issue was wandering the underground maze trying to figure out what platform we needed to be on, and the stairs. You do not see wheelchairs or seriously handicapped people in the Paris Metro. With as much luggage as we are carrying, stairs IMG_4327are a killer. Justin could not pick up and carry his bag, so either I doubled back to help or a stranger helped him carry it before I could, which happened twice.

We missed our 1:13 Paris – London Eurostar train because we misunderstood the boarding time and were stopped at the gate with the statement that boarding had closed 10 minutes earlier. This Eurostar leg is a lot like being at an airport and getting on a plane. Ticket check, baggage scan, passport check, waiting lounge, assigned seating. We were able to get on the 3:13 train and zoomed westwards to London. Jordan and I played several games of Risk on his iPad. Even acting as allies, we had a hard time beating the computer’s players. Having baggage on this train was not so bad. They have a sloping moving walkway instead of an escalator to bridge the elevation differences of the train platform and waiting area. There were enough luggage racks for our bags in the train compartment. As I was loading baggage onto the train, I did take a nice, slow motion tumble stepping from the train when my foot slipped into the open air between track and platform and I fell sideways all the way to the ground and almost went under the train to the tracks. Absolutely no harm done, and I got up with a nervous laugh meant to hide my embarrassment.

Once we arrived at London St. Pancras, we were back into the bustle of moving rivers of humanity, and stairs and escalators. It was rush hour, a lovely time to be carrying luggage in the tube. We moved through fairly efficiently and took the Northern Line to London Bridge station. We got on the tube easily enough, plenty of space for our luggage, but the first stop brought a crush of humanity into our car, and for the next 4 stops we were overdressed sardines. We were wearing all our heavy jackets, and it got uncomfortably toasty.

We disgorged at London Bridge and made our way over to the Southeastern Railway platforms to catch a train to Blackheath. We managed to find the right platform the first time, and a conductor on the platform confirmed we were getting on a train that did stop in Blackheath. Yes! 5 minute wait for the train to arrive, then 3 stops later on a not-too-crowded train we were on the sidewalk of Blackheath in the twilight. The final 10 minute walk we did without a map and only 3 street names to guide us. I asked directions 3 times from passersby to make sure we were going the right way, the last one a lady walking two border terriers who had a smartphone and Google mapped our address to make absolutely sure she was giving us the correct directions. We had not had the chance yet to switch over to an English simm card for our iPhone, and this little encounter reminded us we needed to do it. So handy!

Statistics for the trip: Travel time: approximately 9 hours; Sets of tickets purchased: 3; Flights of stairs: 5; Escalators: 5; Elevators: 1; Train/Tube/Metro stations traversed: 5; Trains: 4

Thank God we are staying in one place for the next two weeks.

Paris – I Can’t Be Sick! My Girlfriends Are Here!

Back around December, Gigi put out an invitation for friends to come visit us when we would be in Paris for a week. Much to her delight, two different pairs of girlfriends, one pairIMG_4182 from Los Angeles and the other from Redwood City, decided to take her up on the offer. We all arrived on the 21st. The first night, Debbie and Lynda crashed on the sofa bed in our tiny, 6th floor attic flat (Imagine Linguine’s apartment in Ratatouille) before moving into their own Hotel. It was wonderful having them with us. The next day, we met up with Sheila and Shelly in a falafel restaurant in the Marais district. Justin was so excited to see Sheila. Sheila’s son Shane is Justin’s best friend. I think he really wants Sheila to take him home with her at the end of the week.IMG_4249

The day our arrival in Paris, Gigi began feeling congested. She and Justin have had many IMG_4233issues with allergies in all these new environments we have been sleeping in, and she was hoping it was just that. Unfortunately, it was not. She sounded horrible on Friday and in spite of the freezing weather outside she did the walk to the Marais that day. Friday night she sounded awful. She was pounding vitamins and Vitamin C. Luckily, no fever developed and after a full days rest on Saturday it seemed her cold was abating.

Gigi is getting some much deserved adult girlfriend time away from us. So far, she has had two dinners out with this troupe and gone antique browsing in Saint Ouen’s Marche des IMG_4235Puces with Sheila and Shelly. She still has two days with her girlfriends. We all leave Paris on Thursday, they for California and us for London.

Our whole family has enjoyed having friends from California to talk to and spend time with. It feels like we have doubled the size of our family for a week. Such a short time!

The Louvre and Nintendo – Virtual/Real Synergy

The weather continues to be poopy. Gigi is feeling better and was out today with her friends Sheila and Shelly roaming the antique arcades of Saint Ouen. Today was definitely IMG_2532museum weather, so the boys and I took the 10 minute walk to the Louvre. The ticket line was not too long, but by the end both of them were starting to complain about standing so much. Argh! We had not even gotten into the museum. Sigh. What saved the day were the Louvre-Nintendo 3DS XL audio guides. (I only rented devices for them, apparently I felt supremely confident that I already knew everything about the Louvre’s 35,000 items) These devices immediately engaged the boys. They became the navigators of the museum. Pick a piece and immediately get the route to it and estimated journey time. They listened to the explanations of the artwork. They manipulated statues displayed in 3 dimensions on the 3DS screen and zoomed in on paintings on their screens, all the while standing in front of the actual piece of art. We put a good dent in seeing what the Louvre had to offer – the Egyptian rooms, Italian art, giant French Republic period pieces, GreeceIMG_2538 and Roman sculpture. However, after 4 hours, probably a record time of sustained, non-Mind Craft focus for the boys, we packed it in and went back to the apartment. Tomorrow, the Musee d’Orsay.

Jazz Manouche – La Chope des Puces

Today, I took Jordan out for the afternoon to hear ‘gypsy jazz.’ Gigi was resting, hoping to rally against the cold that is now dogging her. Justin stayed behind in the apartment with IMG_2519her. The weather continued to be poopy – around freezing with light snow flurries but nothing sticking on the ground. We headed out to Saint Ouen on the north side of the city where there is the ‘Marche des Puces’, and a jazz manouche club called Le Chope des Puces – Espace Django Rheinhardt. This is considered the epicenter of gypsy jazz in Paris. Open air markets and arcades of antique shops dominate the neighborhood. When we arrived, I was surprised to see just how small this jazz bar was. Two guitarists were pressed against the front window and behind the entrance door. There was a bar and 4 tables, and it was full. We had read that there was a restaurant behind in another room, which is where we headed. The room’s walls were covered with guitars in glass cases and jazz memorabilia; carousel horses were also present. The room was full with a music-seeking lunch crowd that did not match the motley crew of people outside in the street Marché. Jordan and I had an excellent lunch ordered off a chalkboard that IMG_2527already had many items erased. This kitchen was home cookin’; you got a meal that the chef was cooking up from seasonal and available ingredients. We could hear the music through the hallway and from speakers, and we could see the players on TV’s with closed-circuit cameras. For the past few months, we have been listening to 3 CD’s of gypsy jazz/gypsy swing that we bought on the street in Provence. Here, we were hearing the live version, and it was beautiful. I wonder if some day Jordan will be playing guitar like these players.

School Break Time

Ping pong is our regular daily game for break time. The ping pong table fits into a covered area with 3 walls next to the barn/storage room (In the pool pic, it is the rough stone wall area on the right). The boys have improved dramatically since the beginning of October. Jordan regularly crushes me now, and Justin can sustain long rallies. The boys also are working on cleaning up the pool this week, even though it is much too cold for swimming.

Sunday December 16th: Ice Skating outdoors in St. Tropez; Beef Stew

Life is very quiet around here these days entertainment-wise, so anything offering a diversion is a big attraction. Thus, the outdoor ice skating rink at the Place des Lices in St. Tropez draws quite a crowd. We went today with our friends Frank ad Anita and their kids. We arrived right after 2PM when the rink opened. France is so clockwork this way – nothing, other than bars and restaurants and those modern hyper marches, seems to be open between 12:30 and 2:00 because that is lunch time. Public life begins again at 2 PM. When we arrived there were very few people on the ice, but by the time we left around 4:00, it was very crowded with teenagers, most of the girls paired off holding hands as they skated. The smaller kiddy ice rink was jam packed. The boys and I got out on the ice and got our fill of skating. I think Jordan and Justin both had the most fun pushing Roc, our friend’s two year old boy, around the kiddy rink in a sled-like chair. The boys got cotton candy, or ‘Barbe a Papa’ (Papa’s beard – I can see how this description works) as a treat. We have had two great days of weather after the storm, and the boys ended skating just in their t-shirts.

Our friends came back to our house and we had beef stew that I made for dinner. I must say, it came out really well. Gigi and I have tried on two previous occasions to make beef stew, with mixed results. The main problem has been the beef cut we purchased, ‘poitrine de boeuf.’ It looks like stew meat, but turns out to be incredibly chewy and not good at all. Trying to figure out the names of beef cuts turns out to be quite challenging, and we don’t use the local butcher stores because their meat prices are so high, so we have not gotten expert advice. I got on the internet to research this problem, and found that stew meats are either the shoulder or rump of the steer. When I next visited the hypermarche (hyper-super-market) I found ‘pave of rumsteak.’ Hey, ‘rumsteak’ is pretty close to ‘rumpsteak’, so I bought it, and it turned out to be a very nice cut of meat for stew. I also used our oven like a crock pot and cooked the meat at around 80 degrees Celsius for 4 hours. That, too, helped the stew. We accompanied the stew with a very hearty red wine, a Marselan from Mas de Valeriole near Arles I bought when we stayed there. I never heard of Marselan grapes, and neither had my French friend Frank, but the wine tasted very similar to a California wine, very robust and slightly tongue-numbing.

Friday December 15th: Sunshine after the Deluge

We woke up this morning to sunshine and blue skies and very mild temperatures. I opened all the doors and windows of the flooded rooms to let the sunshine and air in to

This was my breakfast spot in the sun this morning. No jackets needed even with all windows and doors open

help with the drying process. The kitchen floor was again wet with a few puddles and water snaking along the grout lines of the stone floor. The hallway is still a pond to be traversed on the board. The property manager came by to check on the house and told us this was not an uncommon state for the house after such a storm. The boys and I got out for some air and exercise. We walked up to the boulangerie to get a baguette for lunch, made a haircut appointment for Jordan this afternoon, then continued up to the castle ruin. The boys were back in T-shirts at the top with the warm sun and absence of the chilling Mistral wind. Today is a beautiful day for drying out after a storm’s drenching.


Jordan on the castle battlements relishing the day



Justin being cool on one of the castle ruin walls. This castle once belonged to the Grimauldi family, the family that rules Monaco today

Friday December 14th: Homebound due to Rain

I have written earlier about the rainstorms with thunder and lightning here in Provence. Last night was a doozy. The thunder rolled onto the house, through the house causing the doorknobs to rattle and the walls to shake, and then continued on. I was completely unable to sleep for quite a while and read A Year in Provence as the rain pummeled the house and the bright flashes gave the briefest warnings of the jarring thunder. The linked newspaper report said it rained 180 mm, which is 7 inches, the usual amount of rain over a 2-month period. ( )I woke up to half the farmhouse flooded, spent over an hour squeegeeing (great word to spell!) water in the morning and feeling rather futile as I could see water entering the rooms through cracks in the floor mortar. I cooked lunch with rubber boots on in the puddles of the kitchen. This evening the kitchen is pretty much dry, but the hallway and laundry/service room is still flooded with running water. It has rained all day and the water will continue to come in until it stops, which is supposed to be tomorrow afternoon. We are holed up in the study/den, which has the cast iron fireplace; we were warm and cozy with a fire all day. The boys love this room because it has the best Wi-Fi reception. The bedrooms are upstairs, so they were spared.

Toulon: Visa appointment and Maxi Croissant

Today we drove an hour west to the town of Toulon. I had appointments to finalize my temporary (1 year) resident visa for France. With the Tom Tom it is always easy to find a pay parking structure, but once in the town, I was having a little trouble getting my bearings with only the limited Google map printout I had with me. We found ourselves in a busy pedestrian area right outside the parking structure. I was deciding on whom to ask for directions…and chose poorly. My first person was a girl standing by a staircase. She looked friendly. She had no idea where I wanted to go, and then started asking passersby if they could help her. Two people immediately blew her off, and then I realized this poor girl who was sucking on a lemon was not really ‘all there.’ Then I asked and older woman who had no idea. C’mon, I was pointing to a street next to the Opera House. Do these people have no culture? Third times a charm, I tried the opposite sex, and well, my French must really not be that good, because this guy said ‘follow me I will show you,’ and walked me two blocks to the soccer stadium. Luckily, this all wasted only about 15 minutes of my time, and the tourist information office was only a block away from the soccer stadium. The lady there gave me a map and clear directions.

We were walking up what was probably the main pedestrian street and the weekly market had just ended. The vendors were all about finished packing up their stalls. There was bagged trash and trash from the market on the street. We saw one garbage truck, then behind it two trucks with water tanks and men using high pressure hoses to scrub down the street. Behind them were two sweeper/vacuum trucks sucking everything up. It was like the Disneyland clean up crew after the Main Street parade. We were impressed how municipal authorities can put such manpower into cleaning up after a street market.

First stop was a medical clinic for a physical exam and x-ray. French authorities want to make sure I am not bringing tuberculosis into the country. One interesting thing is that only Gigi and I are required to do the medical exams, the boys never received any kind of paperwork requiring them to submit to a medical exam. Their little lungs are just a capable of carrying tuberculosis as my aged, asthmatic lungs. We sat in a waiting room with North Africans/Africans/Chinese for a short time; the doctor was Bang Bang Bang with the interviews and his assistant with the physicals and x-rays. The nurse listened to my lungs and told me to start taking my asthma medicine again. The doctor gave me my health clearance and prescriptions for asthma medicine (I have a 3 month supply with me, but neglected to communicate that). Then it was off to my visa interview 5 blocks away from the clinic.

At the OFII office we only waited 5 minutes for an interview. Two people from the clinic were also there, seems we were on the same bureaucratic treadmill. The lady interviewer was very welcoming and really this went as smooth as could be. Hey, I had paid the 349 Euro tax for this interview already and had my proof of payment. Easy peasy, I now have my clear Temporary Resident Visa for France.

For a treat we stopped at a corner café that had the largest pastries we had ever set eyes on. Jordan is especially fond of croissants, and this baby (see pic) was just something you would expect to see in a comic book, it just could not be real, but it was. The three of us ate about half of it; we took the other half home and ate it with our dinner. One croissant, 6 servings, all for 3 Euros.