Posts Tagged ‘Eurostar’

On our last morning, Bear had his heart set on seeing the Sacre-Coeur which I had somehow never heard of before in my life. He had the whole route planned out very well and it ran through the Montmartre district which is one of the hilliest in Paris, relatively speaking.

You can just see the bright red noses attached to the statues -- we saw this on a number of other statues around the city, presumably for Christmas.

You can just see the bright red noses attached to the statues — we saw this on a number of other statues around the city, presumably for Christmas.

View from the height

View from the height after a really nice walk up

Sacre-Coeur, which at the time of construction was criticized as being too perfect, like a wedding cake topper

Sacre-Coeur, which at the time of construction was criticized as being too perfect, like a wedding cake topper

Bear had told me before that the church was famous for nuns who “led the chanting” which I didn’t quite know how to take since I didn’t think that was the usual way things were set up, but by God he was right — little nuns right up in the front acting like choir conductors.

We weren't supposed to take pictures inside, but I made a tactical rule break here. Bear and I sat in this side chapel for a long time and he wrote out a prayer for me in his journal and let me read it, so we both wanted to remember exactly what it looked like.

We weren’t supposed to take pictures inside, but I made a tactical rule break here. Bear and I sat in this side chapel for a long time and he wrote out a prayer for me in his journal and let me read it, so we both wanted to remember exactly what it looked like.

Rule of thumb -- if someone has that much professional gear all pointed in one direction, then point your camera in the same direction.

Rule of thumb — if someone has that much professional gear all pointed in one direction, then point your camera in the same direction.

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It was lunchtime by then so we found a little pink house there in the district and

View from the window

View from the window

Obligatory coffee for dessert

Obligatory coffee for dessert

It was time finally to wrap up and head back to the train station. We had stashed our bags there early that morning in the lockers so we wouldn’t have to lug them around, which is a really nice trick.

Gare du Nord train station from the upstairs Eurostar office area

Gare du Nord train station from the upstairs Eurostar office area

The EuroStar

The EuroStar

All in all, a really fantastic trip and we couldn’t have had a better time in France again–we’ll definitely be heading back again before long.

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(Posting all of this a month after we went is giving me a weird sense of deja vu, but that’s only fitting I suppose.)

Bear had his heart set on seeing Saint Chapelle, which I ignorantly knew nothing of, so I tagged along faithfully after him to grab an authentic pain au chocolat and hit the Metro.

Ready to go for the first full day (please note glazed eyes...this only gets worse from here)

Ready to go for the first full day (please note glazed eyes…this only gets worse from here)

The stained glass is so extensive in the upper level of the chapel that it's structurally integral. According to Bear.

The stained glass is so extensive in the upper level of the chapel that it’s structurally integral. According to Bear.

Rosette window (at least that's what I would call it)

Rosette window (at least that’s what I would call it)

I love how medieval churches were often very brightly painted inside

I love how medieval churches were often very brightly painted inside

The deal had been that, in the interests of not exhausting myself, that I would stay in cafes for a portion of the museum hopping Bear wanted to do, and I nearly started that now, but we literally stumbled over the Conciergerie right next to Saint Chapelle and it looked interesting, so I tagged along and was very, very glad that I did.

The main exhibit area seemed to be devoted to representations of the Gothic and neo-Gothic in art, literature and film.

Check out the bridge represented as a sword.

Check out the bridge represented as a sword.

A huge layout of the entire Hogwarts campus done in Legos. I guess that qualifies as Gothic.

A huge layout of the entire Hogwarts campus done in Legos. I guess that qualifies as Gothic.

Just to be clear, they do not sell stamps.

Just to be clear, they do not sell stamps.

The building was also used as a prison during the Revolution and Marie Antoinette was held there -- this is a restoration of her cell

The building was also used as a prison during the Revolution and Marie Antoinette was held there — this is a restoration of her cell.

It was a really fun little museum and I’m glad that I went even though I wasn’t sure at first what it would be about. In fact, I’m still not entirely sure.

River cruises on the Seine are very common (I think we'll do one next time)

River cruises on the Seine are very common (I think we’ll do one next time)

Exterior of the Conciergierie

Exterior of the Conciergierie

We went over to the Musee d’Orsay and the Paris Museum pass really paid for itself right there because it let us skip right past a pretty enormous line, and also there’s no need to stop to buy a ticket.

(Bear says he reads the blog but I don’t think he does. If he does, then he can show me this web page to redeem for a free trip to Nando’s.)

Lunch at the Musee d'Orsay -- little gnocchi with cheese and sage

Lunch at the Musee d’Orsay — little gnocchi with cheese and sage

Bear did most of that museum himself and I got to sit and write in the cafe, which is what I enjoy more than just about anything. I had to share a table with someone, but even that was fun.

After the museum, Bear decided he wanted to walk around the Seine for about 12 miles in the dark and the freezing cold while I was getting sick. It was beautiful, I’ll say that much!

Eiffel Tower at night

Eiffel Tower at night

The entire city was decorated for Christmas which means even more lights than usual

The entire city was decorated for Christmas which means even more lights than usual

A very confident Bear, striding down the street with his headband and my purse

A very confident Bear, striding down the street with his headband and my purse

We found a nice little spot and split some late night pizzas and a bruschetta

We found a nice little spot and split some late night pizzas and a bruschetta

Eiffel Tower at night

Eiffel Tower at night

Tomorrow — the Richielieu wing of the Louvre, Napoleon’s tomb, the Centre Pompidou

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We had such a good time in Paris for Bear’s birthday in April that he wanted to go back for Christmas. This was before I realized how much other traveling I would be doing, so it was all booked and I had no choice. Unfortunately, I was getting sick for a fair share of it and am even sicker now, but it was entirely too much fun at the time.

Juliet figured it out and planted herself in my suitcase, which made it a lot harder to pack.

Juliet figured it out and planted herself in my suitcase, which made it a lot harder to pack.

Having taken the train to Brussels a few weeks before, we knew that this was definitely the nicest way to travel to the continent.

Waiting room for Eurostar in St. Pancras station

Waiting room for Eurostar in St. Pancras station

We also knew that, for all that it’s pretty low class in terms of what you can have in Paris, the Ibis Budget hotel is the way to go for value and convenience. (There was a bad experience with one near Heathrow, but a) that was near Heathrow and full of people who had cancelled flights, and b) it was August and they didn’t have AC so it was miserable. This was December and far from any airports.)

A nice big bed, a sink, a toilet, and a great shower with all the hot water you could want. What more do you need?

A nice big bed, Wifi, a sink, a toilet, and a great shower with all the hot water you could want. What more do you need?

We took a quick snap of the map and jotted down the room code (you don’t even get a key in this place) and then headed out to find a really fantastic, over the top, way too expensive but utterly memorable dinner for our first night.

Le Laumiere4 rue Petit, 75019 Paris, France

Le Laumiere
4 rue Petit, 75019 Paris, France

A very good sign to see outside a restaurant when your Bear loves seafood like mine does.

A very good sign to see outside a restaurant when your Bear loves seafood like mine does.

Thankfully, the impression you have of the ultra stuck up French restaurant staff was completely incorrect. Everyone was very nice and seemed to enjoy how we stumbled around.

Bear's starter of salmon sushi with a wasabi cream and apple slices drizzled with a balsamic reduction

Bear’s starter of salmon sushi with a wasabi cream and apple slices drizzled with a balsamic reduction

My starter of roasted aubergine slices (eggplant) with fresh goat's cheese, dressed salad, and a minty sorbet

My starter of roasted aubergine slices (eggplant) with fresh goat’s cheese, dressed salad, and a minty sorbet

Our table waiter even joked around with me. He tried to take my plate before I was done (I love an eggplant starter) and I didn’t know how to say that I wasn’t done yet, so I just threw both arms around the sides of the plate, hunched over and stared at him. He raised his hands and backed off with a respectful expression. When he came back much later with the dessert menu, he held it out to me then moved it back out of reach when I tried to take it and did a little tug of war. Honestly, they are just the nicest darned people.

OK, so it looks like there's shrimp in there, but if you don't know for sure what it means in French, then it doesn't count. There was also a lot of spinach and a side of rice which in that sauce was amazing.

OK, so it looks like there’s shrimp in there, but if you don’t know for sure what it means in French, then it doesn’t count. There was also a lot of spinach and a side of rice which in that sauce was amazing.

Bear's seafood platter, complete with escargot, oysters on teh half-shell, shrimp, broth, and dark bread with fresh cream.

Bear’s seafood platter, complete with escargot, oysters on the half-shell, crab, shrimp, broth, and dark bread with fresh cream.

Bear got some kind of flaming Grand Marnier crepes -- they cooked it right there at the table and set the whole darned thing on fire.

Bear got some kind of flaming Grand Marnier crepes — they cooked it right there at the table and set the whole darned thing on fire. (You can see the magician standing up wearing black behind the crepes pan.)

Finished product

Finished product

Don't know what you call it, but it was fresh vanilla ice cream on halved pastries covered in a chocolate sauce that they brought out in this tiny little copper pan. I wanted to put it in my purse. Bear said no.

Don’t know what you call it, but it was fresh vanilla ice cream on halved pastries covered in a chocolate sauce that they brought out in this tiny little copper pan. I wanted to put it in my purse. Bear said no.

During the whole night there was a large dinner party behind us. they made a few toasts and at some point seemed to be asking Bear to make sure he was drinking something to toast along. Then…a magician appeared. I don’t mean out of thin air, but he just sort of showed up and did quite a lengthy act for the table. I was half expecting him to start making the rounds to all the tables, but as it turns out the magician can be booked through the restaurant. It really is a magical city.

I’m still coming to terms with how much it cost, but Bear agreed to be much more frugal for the rest of the of the weekend and he had that “It’s all I want for Christmas” look on his face — how can you refuse that?

Tomorrow — Saint Chapelle, Conciergerie, Musee d’Orsay, and a nice freezing walk along the Seine

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Having taken nearly every other mode of transportation out there, when we planned a trip to visit my college friend Rachel in Belgium, I decided it was time to try out the Eurostar train.

When I started college in the fall of 1989, one of the first people I met at Stetson University was Rachel. She was also from Florida, like most of the students, and we had both gone on overseas summer mission trips through Teen Missions International. Looking back, while the organization seems at times like a slightly wacky born again version of the Peace Corps, it was definitely one of the better formative experiences of my life. It taught me a deep appreciation of cooked food, laundry, electricity and being able to speak a foreign language. Spending that summer in very rural Poland just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall probably led to my winding up in a Russian major and other things which somehow led to this job.

Rachel and I hit it off well from the start but were too busy with student life in general to spend much time together until our junior year when we became much better friends, in part due to her serious bout with mono which required someone several times a day to truck over to the cafeteria with her ID card and fetch back trays of food so she wouldn’t have to waste precious platelets going up and down three floors in the door. (Chaudoin Hall was an all wooden dormitory with the dubious distinction of having a burn time (down to the foundations) of less than three minutes. It was generally decided that it would be best for Rachel to save her energy up in case she needed to use one of the three dozen cafeteria trays she was using for floor tiles in her dorm room to slide down the stairs, shoot out through the lobby and land safely in the courtyard.

When she met her husband, Pete, an officer with the Air Force in the space program at the nearby Patrick AFB, they said they loved me too much to ask me to be a bridesmaid, which I greatly appreciated since formal wear and I are not exactly on speaking terms. Rachel went on to live all over the country as Pete was posted around the States, and they finally went to a posting with NATO in Belgium. It’s funny that yet again I found you have to go halfway around the world to catch up with people, but thankfully our orbits had crossed again after coming to England.

Pete and Rachel's wedding -- 1993

Pete and Rachel’s wedding — 1993

We actually had so much fun while we were visiting them that I sort of forgot to keep track of what we were doing and didn’t write much of it down at the time. That’s really out of character for me but it shows what a good time we were having! So forgive the stream of consciousness, but here’s our weekend in Belgium…

St. Pancras station

St. Pancras station

Inside the train--everyone was happy because they were on holiday

Inside the train–everyone was happy because they were on holiday

Bear settled in to watch videos and see how he likes the train

Bear settled in to watch videos and see how he likes the train

Pianos are available in the station for anyone to play (thankfully he was good)

Pianos are available in the station for anyone to play (thankfully he was good)

Once we arrived in Brussels, we had a little adventure on the metro which involved…well, there’s two versions and since we’ll never agree on what actually happened, let’s just say that we got there eventually and all was well. It was great to see Rachel and Pete again and to meet their kids (for the second time technically). The university I went to had a small student body and the people were extremely close–I’m still in touch with nearly every good friend I made there over 20 years ago and it was really wonderful to see them again and feel like no time had passed at all.

It should be noted that Rachel has always had a lock on hospitality, whether in Southern America or central Belgium. As John noted, "When they come to visit, you need to step your game up." No kidding.

It should be noted that Rachel has always had a lock on hospitality, whether in the American South or central Belgium. As Bear noted, “When they come to visit, you need to step your game up.” No kidding. (The bottled water is highly practical — the water in Brussels is so calcified that people who live there for very long can form kidney stones from drinking it.)

On Saturday, the kids and Pete went to a swim meet in Germany (Pete is the coach) and so Rachel took us over to Bruges, a well known town nearby noted for nice architecture and generally being interesting and quaint and also known as the Venice of the North. We managed to get tickets without much trouble and had a little seating area on the train all to ourselves to visit on the way over.

Nice somewhat typical (that sounds dismissive) little canal in Bruges

Nice somewhat typical (that sounds dismissive) little canal in Bruges

No idea, Bear stole the camera from me and images just magically appeared

No idea, Bear stole the camera from me and images just magically appeared

They had little boat trips, even in the rain

They had little boat trips, even in the rain

Frittes with andaluce sauce (certainly spelled incorrectly)

Frittes with andaluce sauce (certainly spelled incorrectly)

A cafe named after my cat -- wonderful! Even if they spelled it wrong, so I sent them a note to let them know
A cafe named after my cat — wonderful! Even if they spelled it wrong, so I sent them a note to let them know
Santa Klaus and Schwarz Pete -- if you haven't read "6 to 8 Black Men" by David Sedaris, you must, must, must go read it right now.Sinter Klaus and Schwarz Pete — if you haven’t read “6 to 8 Black Men” by David Sedaris,
you must, must, must go read it right now. Seriously, I mean it. Here’s the link
to the full text in the original Esquire article. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever read, and I never dreamed
I would see the real Dutch Santa Claus and his 6 to 8 black men.
DSC06440

It started raining mid-morning and we found an outdoor cafe with awnings and heaters running — it was a weirdly smug feeling to be able to watch the rain and know it was cold but not be affected by it while we drank coffee, ate Belgian waffles and looked at the gorgeous square plaza area.

An honest to God Belgian waffle, and it tasted wonderful
An honest to God Belgian waffle, and it tasted wonderful
No idea which cathedral exactly

No idea which cathedral exactly–we ducked in and really enjoyed looking around, but just as we were leaving, they said it was time to go because they were closing down. Good timing!

The organ, with Bear and Rachel walking out the aisle
The organ, with Bear and Rachel walking out the aisle. The irony here is that at Rachel’s wedding rehearsal,
she pulled a fast one on me and invoked the Southern tradition that a bride only goes down the aisle once,
and so I had to stand in for her with her Dad. At the time I had no intention of ever going down the aisle at all, so she was pretty delighted to tell John that she had actually gotten me down the aisle before he had.

In the next installment–on to church, downtown Brussels, and dinner at a sandwich shop owned by Albanians!

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