France, Luxembourg, Belgium, GermanyAs we seem to frequently do, we did more than we planned. Of course, we didn't have much of a plan for this trip! We wanted to see Paris and then, potentially, rent a car and drive out of the city.
What really happened has made some people quite envious, and impressed others. We saw four countries and three capital cities all in five days. I can hardly believe we stuffed so much into such a short space of time. Enjoy!
The flight to Paris was long but not bad. We're getting used to the fourteen hour days. American Airlines did a good job, too.
We checked in to the Timhotel near Place de la Nation. The staff speaks English, which helps immensely. The rooms are clean and well-appointed for a two-star.
The next day Bob (holding the camera) and I got up late and then wandered to Les Halles. Nearby we found McBride's Irish Pub. Where, as is our custom, we tested Guinness to see how it travels. Sadly, the trip across the Channel didn't do the Stout any favors. Not that the French would probably notice! French beer pales (ha! a pun) in comparison to English or German ales.
McBride's is well-placed so we could enjoy the French women as they walked by. This is something to see because France must grow the most beautiful women in the world! No doubt the fact that they dress very well helps. We saw girls wearing stiletto heels while riding bicycles and scooters! Style before function. The exact opposite of the Germans as you will read about later.
A keen observer (Chris, I know this is you) will notice the writing on the canopy of the next-door business. Brasserie means pub in French. Soutien-gorge is the French word for bra, and it literally means "support breast" in today's vernacular or "held under neck" in formal writing.
This does make one wonder where the English term, which is clearly French in origin, came from. You can read about it here.
You can see the glass top of the Forum des Halles. It is an underground mall with at least three levels and provides fairly easy access to the Métro and RER. The mall is built on the site of the original open-air market.
We continued on to Église Saint-Eustache in Place René Cassin. This church is where Mozart's funeral was held. Madame de Pompadour and Molière were baptized in this church.
I don't know the significance of this pensive head. I suppose it doesn't have to have any importance. It's art.
La Bourse du Commerce, The French Commodities Exchange, has a round dome and within sight of the church. I guess it has some history, too. Nothing too exciting.
This is a typical Parisian street.
An entrance to the mall.
Then, I started us walking the wrong way on Rue du Louvre. I intended to head us south towards the museum but took us north.
After I checked the map and realized we were going the wrong direction, we found the Louvre. It is an immense building.
The north side of the original square section of the Louvre.
The views from inside the square courtyard (or Coure Carée) of the Louvre.
The Louvre pyramid and the entrance to the museum.
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel is a smaller version of the Arc de Triomphe up the Avenue des Champs Élysées. It also seems to serve as the west boundary of the Louvre.
This is a very cool shot of both Arches with the obelisk between them.
A shot of the Louvre from its modern side.
Continuing into Le Jardin des Tuileries. (This is the garden that you were thinking of, Claudia.) The gardens used to be the front "lawn" for Le Palais des Tuileries. This palace stood where the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel now stands. The palace connected the two "legs" of the Louvre. The palace was set on fire by Parisian anarchists in 1871. Terrorism has always been a problem for Western society!
Looking back at the small Arch...
This obelisk is in the Place de la Concorde. Originally it marked the entrance to Luxor Temple in Eygpt. Left click and open a larger view so you can look closely and see hieroglyphics describing the reign of Ramses III (if you can read hieroglyphics!). Before Paris accepted this gift a guillotine stood on the same ground. There's plenty of space for a head to roll...
Grand Palais is where expositions are held. It has a glass roof.
Traffic along Avenue de Champs Élysées isn't really that bad. For sure not as heavy as we expected.
L'Arc de triomphe sur la place de l'Étoile.
Napoleon's battles are listed on the arch along with names of soldiers from the various armies.
We then got on the Métro to go see the Eiffel Tower.
In these photos you can see just how large this structure is. It is immense!
L'École Militaire is visible from beneath the Eiffel Tower. It's a pretty building for a military school.
We skipped Jardins du Trocadéro (oops) and continued to Île de la Cité, upon which Notre Dame rests.
View off of Pont au Double.
Can't you see Quasimoto swinging around the bell towers? Look closely.
The more famous side of Notre Dame is the back. This is a shot from the courtyard behind the cathedral.
The view from the steps of Sacré Coeur on Montmarte.
Instead of going into the main part of the basilica, we walked through the crypt. There's supposed to be a heart in a wooden urn in there. We didn't see it.
One of the chapels in the crypt has a statue similar to the Pietà.
On the other side is a chapel with a risen Christ statue.
Then, we paid 5 Euro so we could climb the dome. The dome is the second tallest structure in Paris. With no line it is a better bargain than taking the elevator up the Eiffel Tower, unless you have all day to waste.
After going up a spiral stone staircase we arrived at the roof. We could see the city pretty well from here but still had to get into the dome. The path isn't "handicap accessible" so if you're crippled the Eiffel Tower is a better choice.
At the top we could walk entirely around the dome and see everything in Paris.
The view from the dome.
Bob gave the zoom on the camera a good workout and "zoomed in" on four well-known buildings: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame (we think), Arc de Triomphe, and the church at Les Invalides.
We walked up to Sacré Cœur from the back and exited out the front. We're a bit backwards
Day two in Paris. Avron station is very close to our hotel. It's one of the clean stops, too.
On Île de la Cité is Palais de Justice, the courts. Also, La Conciergerie is in that complex. Marie Antoinette was held there before her beheading (poor Kirsten).
This is France's Bureau of Commerce that regulates business activities.
Crossing Pont au Change onto the Right Bank we saw Place du Châ telet. In the middle of the roundabout is a fountain and column that commemorates Napoleon's victory over Egypt (notice the sphinxes). That busy little guy from Corsica.
We then started walking along the busy Right Bank. Painters and other street vendors sell their wares here.
You can almost hear an accordion playing in the background.
A Smart Car stopped on Pont Neuf. Queue more accordion music, please.
A blonde French woman in a Mini outside of the Louvre!
A painter captures the beauty of the Institut de France on the Left Bank.
A view from the west of Île de la Cité.
A statue of Marquis de Condorcet, the great French mathematician, stands near Galerie Larock Granoff. He believed in women's suffrage and was against the death penalty, which is quite progressive for the years immediately after the French Revolution! Like many great thinkers he was condemned, arrested, and died in prison.
Along the Right Bank the street vendors were shutting for the day.
The next day we walked to Gare d'Austerlitz and rented a car. The Avis car rental clerk spoke good English so we had no trouble.
Not too far out of Paris the road opened up and we started to see the beautiful French countryside.
We drove along lots of tree-lined roads.
About this time I began to realize that our road map of France, which I hastily bought in Heathrow Airport, wasn't very good. Did we turn around? Of course not!
One of the villages on the road to Provins. Quaint, stone, and not too much griffiti, unlike Paris!
Another, larger, village. Left-click for a larger image. There'a lot going on in this photo.
Leaving the village we encountered a "poor" road surface. Yeah, that line of cement was about as bad as the roads get in France. (I guess their road taxes go to maintain the roads!) Aren't we being gypped in the States?
Our Renault Clio was very well appointed: climate control, power everything, five-speed transmission, etc. We never did figure out what all the switches do. Aside from a touchy brake pedal the car drove quite well.
I always thought that Europe was overcrowded and everyone lives in apartments. What's this, then?
In Provins is a Medieval town. This is the keep.
It is pretty formidable.
The write-up about it.
The church for the town.
and its write-up.
I don't know what kind of car this is but the guy made a lot of noise racing around the square. I think he was showing off for the girls. A visitor says that this car is a Renault 8 and quite possibly a Gordini. Thank you, Bill!
The church was pretty big and impressive.
The streets are wide enough for cars and we did later drive them on our way out.
Our rental car was a Renault Clio. We didn't realize that most people were walking this driveway when we drove all the way up to the steps. Oops!
Cooling towers for a power plant.
We continued driving until late and checked in at the Holiday Inn in Reims. The next morning we wanted to visited the cathedral.
But we got there too early so we drove around looking for a champagnery.
We found it at the city center. It's in the brown and white building in the background.
This photo shows many of the road signs we followed in France.
They were repairing the sidewalk in front of the cathedral but this didn't take away from the power of the architecture.
The building is immense and very ornate. It looks like they're also cleaning the façade.
A great shot of the striking rose window in the cathedral. Click for a larger image.
We hit some rain as we drove northeast.
However it didn't last long, and we were able to stop and take this photo of a small village near the Belgium border. Left click for a larger image.
And that little village is Marville, town of history and place of leisure.
Here we didn't know if we were still in France or had wandered into Beligum because we saw equal numbers of French and Belgian number plates.
Then, we saw the old border control station and we knew we were leaving France. No passport control.
Then, very suddenly, we were in Luxembourg. We didn't photograph that sign. Damn, the countries are small in Europe (We only drove through a narrow slice of Belgium at this point.) And we sat in traffic in the capital city.
We got through the traffic and into Germany. Here we had to fill up for the first time. The car must have returned very good mileage!
Neither of our credit cards worked at the pump. American cards don't have a hip in them like the European cards. So I went inside to ask them to switch on the pump.
Inside there were more signs in English and French than in German! Hold on. I thought the Germans were very proud of their language and hated English and French. The lady at the counter was very polite when I asked her in German if she spoke English. We got some gas and continued northeast.
In Trier the sun came out. With a name like Trier, and not Triaushiener, the Germans must have taken this city from the French at some point in history!
We drove on Das Autobahn, which means nothing more than highway. There are some parts that have no speed limit. But they don't make a big deal about it. There are simply no speed limit signs. It almost seems like someone stole them all. Oh, and you have to stay to the right because some drivers really move!
Beautiful country. (Click for a larger image.)
While we were admiring the open roads of Germany, Bob mentioned that it would be great to see the Nürburgring. Wouldn't you think of visiting a race course when you're driving along open country roads, and not stuck in LA traffic?
Luck would have it that the famous Ring was within driving distance! So we got off the autobahn and chased along on secondary roads till we got to our Ausfahrt. As we farted around the exit ramp in our car build by the Frogs, we wondered if visiting this race course would make our car friends angry.
The road to Nürburg is picturesque with trees, wind turbines, and country fields. Click for a larger view. When we were startled out our quiet enjoyment by a very fast motorcycle and hatchback, we knew were nearing our destination.
Here we are.
The walkway over the course. It's funny that the BMW slogan is written in English!
These are some of the cars we saw in the museum.
We walked through the second hall backwards and had to use the stairs instead of the elevator and none of the exhibits worked. At the "end" of the second hall we walked out the entrance. (I love to do that in the States, just to be a rebel, but I didn't have to try in Germany!)
Standing at this entrance was a cute blonde German girl who proceeded to speak to us in German at conversational speed. She figured it out when I just stared at her with a blank look and asked if we were English and then said they were closing and asked us to leave. I could see her dressed in a traditional German dress like these. We'll definitely have to come back to Germany for Oktoberfest!
We drove through Belgium so we could see Brussels. There we got lost on the dark streets, almost got hit by a tram who honked at us, saw the worst drivers yet, and finally found Sint-Goedele Cathedral. Craziness!
We weren't too impressed with the Belgian motorways either. They just didn't seem to work as well as the French or German highways. The drivers seemed odd, too.
We headed south back into France and found a hotel north of Paris.
The next day we stayed off the tollways because we were running out of cash. Otherwise we wouldn't have seen this châ teau. We couldn't find the entrance so we didn't stop to visit it.
North of the city we tried to find a way to the Palais de Versailles. This worked out to be much more difficult than we expected. The map just wasn't meant for this type of navigation!
We eventually gave that up and started to drive into Paris on Avenue Charles de Gaulle. Here you can see the Arc de triomphe just before we duck into a tunnel and get lost! Oh, and look a sign for Versailles! Click for a larger image.
Normally we don't mind getting lost in a foreign city. It's fun. However we were concerned about being late to drop off the car. We had rented the car for only two days and were nearing the time to return it to the train station on the other side of town.
In this photo you can see the Eiffel Tower and Paris' replica of the Statue of Liberty. Click for a larger image.
A good shot of the Eiffel Tower as the car careened along the Right Bank.
Another photo showing just how large this landmark is!
Driving next to the Louvre.
We drove over a bridge and on Île de la Cité. We drove by Notre Dame when I made a wrong turn.
We drove by the far side of the Palais de Justice on our way to the left bank.
This is a photo of some statue near the left bank.
By this time I had gotten very used to driving on the Parisian roads and fighting it out with other cars. It's not so bad if you stay with traffic and don't dawdle. I liked driving in Paris.
We returned the car with an hour or so to spare. We drove 1,200 km (750 miles). We had to pay for the extra 900 km but it was worth it! We drove in four countries and through three capital cities all in two days!
The next day we bought souvenirs and headed off to the airport. We were surprised just how much we had seen and done in only five days!
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