Monday, September 28, 2009

Dad et Gloria sont arrivés!

The month of September has been a very busy month for La Maison du Sturm. A few days after my (Carla's) Mother and brother Jordan left after a fun week in Paris, Stacy arrived. Because it was her first visit to Paris, Stacy came out a few days before my Father and her mother, Gloria, so that she could tour the city. As described in an previous post, Bobby and I acted as tour guides for Stacy. Continuing from where that post left off...

On a Sunday, Bobby, Stacy, and I headed off to Versailles for a picnic, bike ride, and tour of the château. We met up with my friend from the American Library, Megan, and had a fantastic day! After the short train ride from Paris, we arrived at the château only to find a line several hundred people deep waiting to purchase tickets to tour the palace. Instead of waiting in the huge line, we purchased tickets to enter the 'gardens', which is really a huge tract of land filled with large ponds, water fountains, and beautiful grounds. Unbeknown to us, the day we went was during the Grandes Eaux Musicales when the water fountains are turned out. Incredibly, the fountains use the original pipe works from the 1680s! We had our lovely picnic next to such a fountain.

After eating, we all rented bicycles and biked around a fraction of the 875 hectares (over 2,160 acres). After two hours, we returned the bikes and returned to the gardens where we saw many of the fountains in all their watery goodness. About 2 hours before the palace was set to close, we checked on the line for tickets. Luckily for us we timed everything perfectly and there was no line at all for the tickets. Megan and I both got in free (she has EU citizenship and I have an EU visa, so being under 26, we get free admission to most museums in Paris), so only Bobby and Stacy had to purchase tickets. I have inside the Versailles palace a number of times, but it was the first time for everyone else. The rooms inside the palace never cease to amaze me with their size and decor. The molding and floors are beautiful, while the furniture is decadent and lavish. We even saw a statue of my great-great-great-etc-grandfather, Charlemagne. Can you see the resemblance?

Dad and Gloria arrived on a Wednesday morning. The original plan was for them to stay in a hotel that is directly across the street from our apartment. However, when Bobby and I walked into the hotel to make their reservation, we were told they were booked for the first two nights of Dad and Gloria's stay. Oh no! Luckily for us, our dear friends Kate and Olivier were out of town on their own vacation. They were kind enough to let Dad and Gloria stay in their great apartment in Puteaux. What life-savers! So on the day they arrived from Los Angeles, Stacy and I met them at the Chatelet train station and accompanied them to the Puteaux apartment.

In order to get on the France time zone and avoid jet-lag for their short trip, they wanted to stay awake all day and tour our neighborhood. After cleaning up and fortifying themselves with some French pastries, we all headed out for a visit to the Montmartre area. After touring most of the day, we met with Bobby back at our apartment. He played some accordion music for them on his button accordion, which was a new instrument for Dad and Gloria (they have heard him play back in the States on a piano accordion). After a long day of touring and being up for the better part of 36 hours, Dad and Gloria were having some trouble staying awake. Dad even nodded off while Bobby was talking directly to him! So that they could head back to Puteaux to get some rest, we all had an early dinner at a crêperie near our apartment. The food was delicious and it was a new eating experience for our guests. It is always fun introducing people to tradition French food that isn't escargot or coq au vin.

The next day Dad, Gloria, Stacy and I did some more touring in Paris. We went to the Musée L'Orangerie (where Monet's Water Lilies are housed) and the St. Denis Basilica so that Dad could see our great-great-great-etc-grandfather Pepin the Short. We had a nice picnic in the gardens next to St. Denis, where Dad and Gloria posed for the requisite baguette photo. After dinner in a traditional bistro near our apartment, we all went to burlesque show at the Casino de Paris. The show was a traditional French burlesque show from the 1920s, starring the famous Dita von Teese. While Dad and Gloria might have been a bit uncomfortable with the spectacle, Bobby, Stacy, and I really enjoyed the show!

The next day we all headed out for out three-day weekend trip to the North of France. Bobby and I rented a mini-van and drove through Paris for our first (and hopefully last) time. You'd think being from a place like car-centered Los Angeles would prepare you for driving in Pairs, but you'd be wrong. I think the only way to be prepared for driving in Paris is to spend a year as a wild monkey herder. It is a crazy, terrifying, nerve-wracking experience. Luckily, we only had to drive in the city a little bit before we were on the highway outside of the city. After a few direction mishaps, we found ourselves in the lovely town of Lille, birthplace of Charles de Gaulle and our friend Olivier. We spent most of Friday afternoon wandering around the pedestrian streets of downtown Lille. We saw the three main squares, window shopped, and took a lot of photos of the beautiful Flemish-style buildings. Dad was kind enough to buy me some boots that will keep me warm and dry during the cold French winter. Thanks, Dad! That night we ate in a very popular Flemish restaurant near the hotel. The next morning we visited the Palais des Beaux Arts, which houses a large collection of French and Flemish works of art. Bobby snapped this odd photo of an odd painting with an odd man. We also happened upon this champion show dog. The owner and groomer/trainer of the dog told us in secretive whispers that the dog is an American poodle, not the French poodle. "We don't tell anyone that it is an American poodle, though," they whispered to us, "because French people only like French things. We would never win if they knew it is an American poodle." Who knew of the dirty politics involved with show dogs?!

After our visit to the Palais des Beaux Arts, we drove from Lille to Arras, another beautiful town. Smaller than Lille, Arras is also known for its Flemish architecture. The center of town hosts a beautiful square surrounded by Flemish-style buildings and a lovely town hall with a tall belfry (which is a UNESCO world heritage site). What really defines Arras, though, is the Medieval-era tunnels that run under the center of the city. Originally mined for limestone until the 12th century, the tunnels were used by the British army in World War 1. During the 5 week Battle of Arras, when British troops stormed out of the tunnels to a surprised German front line, 120,000 British soldiers died, while 100,000 German soldiers died. The Battle was considered a victory for the British because they managed to move the German front line back by 11 kilometers. It was a very small reward for such a staggering death toll. The guided tours we took we pretty sobering.

After spending the night in Arras, we headed to Amiens on our last day. Amiens in the home to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens, the largest Gothic cathedral in France, and another UNESCO world heritage site. Begun in 1220, the cathedral dwarfs Notre-Dame de Paris! Aside from holding the title of largest gothic cathedral in France, is also houses what is claimed to be the head of St. John the Baptist. The skull fragment is decked out in some serious bling and is kept behind metal bars. A large number of people stood in front of the relic, praying and kissing the glass. I hope no one had swine flu.

After our visit to the lovely North of France, we drove back to Paris. We ended the trip with a great meal at a hip but decently priced Italian restaurant in the 17th arrondisement. Early the next morning, Dad, Gloria, and Stacy headed off to the airport (only one mishap: the hotel room we were finally able to get for Dad and Gloria didn't call them to wake up, so when the taxi arrived for them, I went to their room to find them just out of bed quickly throwing on some clothes). Bobby and I enjoyed two days to ourselves, then Bobby headed off to Madrid to the not-a-hotel La Casa do Brasil, and I prepared the apartment for our next set of visitors. More on that in our next posting!

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