Blowing a French kiss…

Tiny Eiffel.jpgYeah, I know you can’t exactly blow someone a french kiss, but it is a pretty good metaphor for spitting on someone. Which isn’t to say we’d ever spit on France. Not only did we enjoy our second visit immensely, but we didn’t run into nearly as many rude or arrogant Parisians as we did during our first visit. They’re either getting a little less rude, or our “rudar” is functioning at max capacity and we were able to stay out of their way.

But I wonder, why is it, despite their legendary rudeness, that the French get credited with so many interesting things? For example, in addition to french kisses, we give them credit for french beans, french beds, french bread, french braids, french cuffs, french cut underwear (ooh la la!), french dip sandwiches, french doors, french dressing, french fries, french harps, french heels, french hens (30 of them given all told in the Twelve Days of Christmas– that’s a lot of french poop!), french horns, french knots, french letters (which is, literally, an English condom… go figure), french maids, french manicures, french mustard, french pancakes (i.e. crepes), french pastries, french BEan 2poodles, french press, french rolls, french roofs, french saddles, french telephones, french twists, french vanilla, french windows, and hot damn, that’s just a partial list! Oops, pardon my French.

Anyway, even though we stayed on the outskirts of central Paris, we did take the rental car into the city to see a few more things, including the teeny tiny Eiffel Tower as pictured above. I don’t know why people make such a big deal over something so small.IMG_1347If you drive around Paris, you might find yourself in the longest urban motorway tunnel in the world. We entered it not knowing we were participating in an actual Guinness world record, but when the tunnel kept going and going and going, we decided to look it up. It kept going for so long that Carolyn was able to read me the entire world history of tunnels as well as most of the history of Tunisia before we saw the light of day again.

It’s also interesting because it’s limited to a height of two meters, or 6′ 7″, which means my very tall grandson would scrape his head just to walk into it. It’s so low that the only commercial vehicles that can go inside can only be found in the movies. For instance, I can just picture a scene in a Christmas season action flick where the hero sheers off the top half of a semi truck just to keep the five priceless golden rings from the bad guys, leaving it blocking the entrance while its load of geese, swans, and french hens are chased around by a bunch of lords and ladies to the sound of bagpipes and drums.

IMG_1288Another challenge of driving in Paris is that French people take all their frustrations at everyone who has ever mocked them by driving in the city like the Portuguese do on their freeways.

Contrarily, on the freeways in France we noticed that French drivers actually obeyed the speed limit and were mostly polite… but we’re thinking that may have something to do with the plethora of police cameras. However, in the city they pretty much let it all hang out… blocking intersections, honking with their French horns, while spitting and cursing, “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” to anyone who gets in their way.

Arch d Triumph roundaboutPerhaps my proudest moment was navigating through a seven or eight lane roundabout (we didn’t really have time to count) without hardly killing anyone. We didn’t get any photos, because I was busy avoiding Renaults, Peugeots, and Citroens driven by spittle-mouthed French people while Carolyn was busy embedding her fingers up to the first knuckle in the dashboard.

As evidenced by the picture above we took from our car while approaching the Arc De Triomphe, we did actually drive through that roundabout, but we also drove through another one that I thought was even scarier. After surviving it unscathed, I decided that in order to successfully navigate a multi-lane roundabout you just need to know the Only Rule for Multi-lane Roundabouts: Don’t hit anyone.

As long as everyone follows that rule, everyone survives.

But the nice thing about roundabouts is if you miss your exit because, for example, there are nine irritated French drivers between you and your exit, you can just go around again… and sometimes eight times as you whittle away at the lanes, one car at a time.

Van wreckActually there is a another rule… stay on the road, otherwise you might end up looking like a 737 Max.

DukesI became so experienced with French roundabouts (that’s probably another term, meaning “Roundabouts with spittle-mouthed French people”), that I decided to show ’em what Yankees can do when it comes to these kinds of things, complete with the Dukes of Hazzard rental car we were able to score for just another ten euros a day. Of course I had to circle around again just to pick up Carolyn who was filming the whole thing. Either that or I just found this gif on the internet, but I like my story better.

IMG_2106Getting back to our own photos, after parking the car by doing a 360 into a spot reserved for a moped, we strolled over a bridge in Paris, and noticed this sightseeing boat, which surely holds some sort of Guinness Record for the largest length-to-width ratio by a boat. The design is probably called a “French boat,” but it looks more like a long pier that broke loose.

IMG_2119We also saw Washington DC’s capitol building, which was apparently on loan to Paris, maybe for the 75th Normandy landing celebration.

IMG_2123It’s pretty big. The building I mean.

IMG_2125The charm of France is exemplified by these charming French umbrellas. Meanwhile, Carolyn makes fun of bulimic women.

IMG_2126We followed up with some gelado just to show the statue what she’s missing.

IMG_2110We have to admit that our estimation of French intelligence took a nosedive when we saw how poorly thought out their security systems for bridges are.

IMG_2111The most massive, ginormous Door of Day we’ve ever posted.

IMG_1671Truth be told, we’re pretty thrifty travelers when it comes to food. Sure, we eat out plenty when we’re on the road, but we try and balance that with, shall we say, more economical selections, like these delectable French dishes purchased at the grocery store around the corner from our hotel. You just can’t beat quality French cuisine! (As long as you have a microwave.)


IMG_1664Right next to the Quality Suites where we stayed is a little shack called Château de Maisons-Laffitte. Perhaps motivated by the proximity to such grandiosity, the Quality Suites was far better than any of the Quality Suites I’ve seen in the states. It was actually a very nice hotel with what is, to date, the best free breakfast buffet we’ve ever had in our travels. Of course, it was there that I learned that crepes stuffed in your pockets don’t travel well.

Since we had a little time to kill, we visited the chateau and forked over the eight euro entrance fee. Designed and built from 1630 to 1651, it was a residence and vacation home for a series of French royalty and aristocrats. Its design is notable in the annals of French architecture, and it was definitely interesting, but they haven’t kept it up all that well and we thought the eight euros was a little pricey for what you got. At least we didn’t have any transportation costs to get there!

IMG_1155On our way back from Normandy, I saw signs for Caen (which we found out is pronounced kind of like “Kong,” as in “King Kong,” but with a drawn-out “o” and just a slight hint of the “g”). The city piqued my interest because it has some degree of notoriety from World War II, since it was the sight of some of the most intense battles of the war in France. Much of the city was destroyed, so most of the old buildings like this church had to be rebuilt from the destroyed stone.

IMG_1166In many places it’s actually a very pretty city. They did a good job of blending the new with the rebuilt-old. Unlike cities like Dresden, which was beholden to the ugly block style of the Soviet overlords, the French actually used architecture pleasing to the eye.

IMG_1158There is a Mémorial de Caen –a museum and war memorial– somewhere in the city, but since we were just cruising through we didn’t see it.

IMG_1902There are these small reminders here and there, however, like this one showing how this particular square looked before and after the bombing.

IMG_1899We did have a kind of crappy, er– crepe-y dinner while there. It was a small restaurant that specializes in crepes, but we weren’t all that impressed. Give us our fresh Portuguese fish any day!

IMG_1901But the city was absolutely charming, and we were glad to have seen it, even if just briefly. Oh, well, you do what you Caen do.

IMG_1898Perhaps my favorite building was this free public toilet. It took us a while to figure out, but what happens is once you do your business and after you leave, the door automatically locks and the entire room is flushed like one gigantic toilet. Now that’s sophisticated sanitation!

IMG_2087After we made our way back to Paris, we decided to visit one of the largest art museums in Europe, the famous Musée d’Orsay.

IMG_2092It is so-named because it is housed in a former railway station which was named Gare d’Orsay. We mainly took pictures of the art we recognized, which meant that it was probably famous and something to be admired. That’s pretty much the extent of our historical painting expertise.

IMG_2093Some of the recognition comes from a board game I played when I was a kid, called “Masterpiece.” I guess there are many ways to learn about culture. I’m pretty sure I bid, oh, about one million on the above piece at some time or another.

IMG_2094The museum holds mainly French art, including paintings like this demonstrating what happens when you give a woman too much liquor, as well as a bunch more from artistic luminaries like Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Manet, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin, Jim Carrey, and Degas. I listed the second to last name there just to see if you were paying attention. Actually, he is actually a pretty good artist in his own right, he just doesn’t have anything mounted in the Musée d’Orsay, as far as I know.

IMG_2102The nudes were often my favorite. Not because they’re of naked women, for heaven’s sake! Get your mind out of the gutter! But mostly because of the, um, the uh, well, the boobies. Okay, you got me.

IMG_2091Like most men, I guess I like pretty women, although in Carolyn’s case that’s just a side benefit of her warm, kind, and loving personality. Honey, can I come back in the house now?

IMG_2097This is the back of a giant clock, which means we were experiencing time moving backwards. I wondered if we stood there long enough that we might end up back in World War II.

IMG_2095This is the top of the Musée d’Orsay, something I doubt you’ve ever seen before. You can’t say we don’t offer unique experiences in this blog!

IMG_2099You can certainly tell what it used to be, if you have a trained eye, that is. Get it? Trained eye? It was a train station? Oh, the hell with you.

On the drive down to Normandy I noticed the French had installed some kinda cool road signs. So I thought it would be good for Carolyn to take a few shots to use as intro shots for whatever place we might visit. Turns out, that was a great way to keep her occupied… she just kept shooting and shooting and shooting. The below slide show shows her Top Twenty, there were plenty more. Which made me realize this might be a great way to keep kids busy on a long trip! Give ’em a digital camera and tell them to take pictures of whatever item might appear semi-regularly! Of course, someone looking through your digital photo albums might wonder why there are so many pictures of cows taken from the freeway, but at least the kids won’t ask “are we there yet?” fifty times.

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I also couldn’t help but document one of her many eating accidents. She’s a self-acknowledged food klutz. She told me of this when we first started dating, and then went and proved it by spilling drinks all over the table during two of our next three dates. It’s just part of her charm. Plus she’s pretty good about cleaning up.

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While I know our the quality of our photography can be breath-taking, that’s only because we only show the ones that could win some sort of award if only a person who hands out awards for whatever we’ve done ever looked at them. So we humbly offer up a bunch of photos that just barely missed out on the high level of expertise we expect from our near-professional-quality photographic skills.

IMG_2117So au revoir France and your tiny little Eiffel Tower! We enjoyed you even more the second time around!

And that closes the chapter on our Athens-Crete-Accidentally Paris trip across Europe.

We get Goofy in Paris

Disney Wait TImesAs I mentioned before, due to a missed flight out of Athens, we unexpectedly ended up in The City of Light. Trivia Alert! That nickname came from Paris both being the birthplace of the Age of Enlightenment and because it was one of the first cities in the world with street lights. I wondered about that during our first visit when we were up in the Eiffel Tower. The city didn’t seem any more lit up to me, now I know why!

So with our second visit, we tackled what we like to call the “Tier Two Attractions.”

A lot of kids might be upset at the idea that we’d call Disneyland a “Tier Two Attraction,” but when competing with The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and the Museum of French Kisses (at least that’s what I told Carolyn it was), well, ol’ Mickey and Goofy just didn’t qualify for Tier One Status. But on this second visit, we decided to visit Disneyland Paris, just to see what it was like in comparison to the Disneylands in America.

(I grabbed that Wait Time sign picture from the internet just because I thought it was funny, it wasn’t anything like we saw in Disneyland Paris. In fact, the wait times were decidedly shorter than anything either of us has ever experienced in the U.S.)

IMG_1267Right off the bat, you’re pretty sure you’ve made it to Disneyland because they tell you so. But we were still actually a little skeptical… where were the long lines of cars?

IMG_2038Even at the pedestrian entrance, we were pretty much able to walk right through even though we arrived just after the park opened.

While the buildings are different, it’s still very much Disney through and through.

IMG_2037Except maybe for the French military police armed with automatic weapons. Can’t say I blame ’em; Paris has been a target for terrorists for some time now. Plus Peter Pan is rumored to have converted to radical Islam.

IMG_1274Some of the signs are in some sort of strange non-English language, so we automatically thought they were stupid. Oh wait! That’s French! It says: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Aha! I knew we were fluent!

IMG_2044But, I guess not everything translates. While this should probably be: “Terre Frontière,” the French have to live with the English moniker.

IMG_1273This is easily translatable of course, but it bears no resemblance to the Temple of Doom ride in Disneyland Anaheim. It’s a serious roller coaster that had Carolyn seeing double once she stumbled off the ride. But note the wait time… 5 minutes! And this was in the middle of summer! We didn’t go on it again, however. I’m already big enough as it is so her seeing me in double or triple would just be too much. Also note how cheeky the French are, even in Disneyland… the sign on the left tells people where they can get a ticket for their ass. Butts in seats baby!

IMG_2058While Sleeping Beauty’s Castle was very much boilerplate Disney, it had enough differences to differentiate it. Plus there’s something to be said about seeing that castle when you begin walking down Main Street. You’re in Disneyland!

IMG_2053Hyperspace Mountain, the Parisian version of Space Mountain, also gets no French translation. So no “Hyper Espace Montagne” for you, you silly French peoples! I will say that the ride was significantly wilder than the Space Mountain in Anaheim. Carolyn decided against going after she heard the shrieks and screams emanating from the building (plus she’d had her fill of upside-down roller coasters after Big Thunder Mountain and Indiana Jones).

So I paired up with a young Spanish friend, who I’m certain learned some new English curse words as the ride barreled about in the pitch black. It was wild enough that at one point I felt like the G’s might knock me out, seriously. But I survived to high five my newfound little buddy, even if I had to admonish him not to repeat anything the old American guy next to him yelled during the ride. My Spanish is rusty, but I think he might have said something about screaming like a little girl, I dunno, but I’m sure he meant someone else.

IMG_2046As you can see, being the cheapskate I am, I take a picture of the photos they want to sell you instead of shelling out the ten euros and then letting them gather dust in a box somewhere. I guess that was the A 5541 ride, although I don’t remember a sign telling us that before we got on.

IMG_1280Carolyn wouldn’t let me buy three bottles of popcorn. She can be such a meanie.

IMG_2063And yes, they also have It’s a Small World. I insisted we go through it just so we could get that lovely song stuck in our heads. In fact, click on this link where you can watch the entire ride from the comfort of YouTube! Just don’t blame me if you’re still humming it a week from now.

IMG_2067These were our favorite words from the ride.

IMG_1281I found it amusing that they would have a baseball player in a country where you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who knows a damn thing about baseball at all.

In the end, our main takeaways were that while it’s all Disneyland, other than some roller coasters that are decidedly hairier than anything in the regular Disneylands in Florida or Anaheim, it was almost a little quaint in comparison. The lack of the oppressive crowds certainly worked in its favor, and of course we had no problem navigating around in English. As for the rides, Star Tours was really dated, the Phantom Manor (the Haunted Mansion) was pretty much the same, Pirates of the Caribbean was closed for maintenance (bummer!), and Big Thunder Mountain was a lot Thunder-ier than in Anaheim.

La Tanière du DragonBut when a “Top Ten Disneyland Paris Attractions List” puts It’s a Small World at #4, and #5 is La Tanière du Dragon (The Dragon’s Lair), which is just a short walk-through exhibit with an animatronic dragon at the center, well, let’s just say jaded Americans generally demand a lot more out of their amusement parks.

They also screwed with the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride and turned it into another walkthrough and called it Les Mystères du Nautilus (The Mysteries of the Nautilus). We kept thinking there was going to be a ride at the end of it, but nope, just a re-creation of the insides of the submarine. A minute and a half later, we’re outside blinking in the sunlight wondering what just happened. The good news is there were no lines. In fact, there was hardly anyone inside the whole thing.

Last but not least, they had a large building where you could buy overpriced food (of course!) and take it to a table facing a large auditorium that did nothing except remind me of a very large Chuck E. Cheese.

IMG_2041However, in the end, we did have a good time. I suppose it scratched whatever Americana itches we might have… although we’re so much in love with Portugal and Europe that we really don’t have many of those, besides of course our friends and family.

Still, Mickey has a nice home in Paris, and we were glad for the visit.