Tag Archives: travel

Europe 2013: The Louvre

Looking down on Paris from the Jules VerneMonday morning dawned cool and gray, but the weather wouldn’t affect our plans for the morning, because we had reserved a tour of the Louvre. However, we hoped the skies would clear by early evening as we had dinner reservations at Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower and were looking forward to a panoramic view of Paris.

The Arc de Triomphe du CarrouselBreakfast at the Hôtel Duminy-Vendôme was on the bottom floor in a former cellar. Wine cellar, perhaps? Unlikely, since I had read the building was once a bank, and it had one of the smallest elevators I have ever been in. Our server led us to a quiet corner in the delightfully decorated room with a vaulted roof. I took in the soothing black-and-white decor while Dave perused the breakfast buffet. Mindful of the time, we ate, then left to meet our guide at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.

As we had done in Versailles, we opted to “skip the line” in favor of a guided tour of the museum, a good decision considering the size of the Louvre and all it has to offer. Our feisty French guide was organized, personable, and knowledgeable in both art and history, so she had no trouble keeping her small group entertained and engaged for the hour-and-a-half tour. I had my list of must-sees, even though I was still suffering from a slight case of visual overload after our visit the day before to the Château de Versailles.

I.M.Pei’s PyramidApproaching the museum, I immediately zeroed in on I.M. Pei’s Pyramid, a seventy-one-foot-tall, interlinked steel structure sheathed in reflective, tempered glass—a masterpiece of design. Once inside, I, of course, had to photograph Pei’s self-supporting helical staircase that curls around and down from street level to the subterranean courtyard. The stair treads are of white stone with polished metal supports and the balustrade of clear glass and stainless steel. The staircase curves around an elevator that disappears completely once it has descended. Reluctantly, I left the staircase, sorry I didn’t have the chance to see the elevator in operation, and caught up to the tour. But I’ve since watched it in operation on YouTube.

I.M.Pei’s staircase

We began our tour on the lower ground floor. Many people aren’t aware that beneath the world’s most-visited museum lies the ruins of a once magnificent medieval fortress constructed in 1190 AD. During the forty-three-year reign of Philippe Auguste (1180–1223), a rampart was built around Paris, then Europe’s biggest city. To protect the capital from the Anglo-Norman threat, the king reinforced his defenses with a fortress built on the banks of the Seine. The fortification became known as the Louvre. The castle was a fortress but not a royal palace, our guide was quick to point out. At the time, the monarch’s Parisian home was the Palais de la Cité. The fortress Philippe had built was an arsenal with a moat, bastions, and defensive towers. In the center stood the massive cylindrical keep, the Grosse Tour, a fortified tower within the fortress walls, usually the last place of refuge when defending the castle. In 1527 the medieval keep was demolished to make way for a Renaissance palace. Fascinated by this bit of history, I hung back to examine more closely the ruins of the moat and the model of the original castle, which was on display.

On the ground floor, I took my time viewing the Arts of Africa exhibition, my interest springing from the years I had lived on the continent. And I spent quite some time photographing and enjoying Michelangelo’s Captive.

Napoleon’s dining room (Napoleon’s Apartments)

On the first floor, while Dave was absorbed in checking out The Winged Victory of Samothrace, I was busy photographing the Napoleon III Apartments. He approached to tell me our guide was giving a brief history of the Mona Lisa. I broke from snapping photos of Napoleon’s opulent furnishings for my first glimpse of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece. I had to wait for the hordes of tourists to clear from my viewfinder before I could take a picture.

On the second floor, Dave strolled from one painting to the next. My attention, however, was fixed on one, Self-Portrait by Albrecht Dürer, created at the age of twenty-two. Dürer was born in Nuremberg, but his parents were Hungarian. Not only was he a painter, but also an engraver, and his attention to small details was what drew me to his work. During his lifetime he produced numerous drawings in silverpoint, chalk, or charcoal. However, in his later years, he produced little as an artist and concentrated on authoring two books, one on geometry and perspective and the other on proportion and fortification. They were published in 1525 and 1528 respectively.

Two hours later, we were ready to escape the tourist crowds at the Louvre for a relaxing walk through the Tuileries Garden. We sipped hot chocolate and drank in the tantalizing scent of orange trees in bloom, the citrus plants recently set out after wintering in an orangerie.

In the late afternoon, we made one last stop to see Sainte-Chapelle, a medieval Gothic chapel opened in 1248. It is located near the Palais de la Cité. The interior is eye-catching with its high buttresses, steep, rib-vaulted ceiling, and over six thousand square feet of stained glass windows in deep reds and blues. As we left the Gothic wonder, Dave commented that we had combined tickets, which allowed us access to the Conciergerie, Paris’s oldest prison, where Marie Antoinette and later over two thousand leaders of the Revolution were held for execution. I was told that normally there are no lines, but this wasn’t the case at the security check, so we bypassed the chance to see Marie Antoinette’s cell (not her real cell anyway) and headed to our hotel to change for dinner at the Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower elevator ascensionChamps de Mars, taken from the Jules VerneI don’t care for heights and never have, but in the past few years while traveling to many destinations overseas, I’ve done my best to overcome this fear by concentrating on anything, but the ground below. So as we ascended in the Eiffel Tower’s private elevator, I focused on photographing the tower itself, astounded by the engineering feat of building such a massive structure. After the short ascent to the second floor, which is one flight above the highest observation deck, the elevator landed and we were shown to a window seat in the restaurant. We had a breathtaking, panoramic view as the sun set over the City of Lights. I switched off my flash, so as not to disturb the other diners, and snapped at least a dozen photos of the city and several of the Parc du Champ-de-Mars that stretched out below.

We ordered à la carte. For starters, we had lobster in a sabayon broth, and duck liver with fig jelly and brioche. Within the week, we would be eating plenty of fish, so that night we chose meat for dinner—pan-seared beef tournedos with soufflé potatoes and a Périgueux (rich brown) sauce, and saddle of lamb from the spit, artichokes, and a meat sauce. For dessert, a chocolate soufflé and savarin with an armagnac cream. Full, we walked off our meal along the banks of La Seine, then retired for the night. Next week, we board the TGV, France’s high-speed train, to Dijon, where we will rent a car and begin our tour of the Burgundy wine region.

Next week: “Europe 2013: The Burgundy Wine Region.”

EUROPE 2013: Paris, France

Eiffel TowerAfter a fabulous trip to British Columbia and Alberta, I am refreshed and ready to continue my travel blogs, retracing my steps in time to May 2013, when I toured the Burgundy wine region of France, drove to Monaco to watch Monte Carlo set up for the Grand Prix, flew to Lisbon for a visit, and ended my vacation in Spain.

And yes, in a future thriller Darcy and Bullet will follow in my exact footsteps as they race against time to track down a killer before he strikes again. So focused are they on nabbing the murderer that they have no inkling someone else is fervently stalking them—until the hunter has them in his gun sight. Can Darcy stop him before he delivers a lethal blow?

Café LenôtreIn late 2012, my gypsy husband decided it was high time I saw Paris. No, I had never been. Without missing a beat, he began planning our next trip. In May 2013, we boarded a flight from DFW to London and from there to Paris.

Just before noon, we checked into the Hôtel Duminy-Vendôme in Paris. Famished, we dumped our bags in the room and immediately left for a brisk walk down the Champs-Élysées to Le Café Lenôtre. In my head, I played and replayed Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris,” as I finally had my chance to stroll the popular boulevard. When we reached the Arc de Triomphe, we retraced our steps to the restaurant.

Seated in a quiet corner on the outdoor patio, we played tourist by poring over a map to chart an agenda for the next few days. We glanced at the menus, ordered, and dismissed the puzzled look on our server’s face; by no means is our French good, but we manage. Our orders arrived and our server left. We looked at each other and burst into laughter. Absorbed in our plans for the days ahead, we had overlooked the fact that an “entrée” in French is a dish served before the main course, i.e., a starter. With the attitude that there is a reason for everything, we ordered two more starters, giving us the opportunity to sample a broader selection of dishes and still leave room for dessert.

IMG_6272After lunch, we headed to the Seine for a boat cruise down the river. We queued up at Bateaux Mouches, boarded, and settled into our seats on the upper deck for a view of the iconic sites of Paris—Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Musée d’Orsay, to name a few. There are some things you should experience once, and the river tour was one of them. From what I’ve heard, the summer tourist crowds can be quite unruly, but fortunately we were subjected to only one discourteous group of six, clad in tank tops and shorts, who soon sought refuge below deck, complaining about the chilly, overcast day. More interested in photographing the Eiffel Tower, I hadn’t paid much attention to the weather other than to consider how it might affect my pictures.

Eiffel Tower Up CloseAfter photographing the Eiffel Tower from a distance, I couldn’t wait for an up-close look at this magnificent structure, so the minute we disembarked from the boat we headed straight there. Ever since I had admired the architecture of the Budapest-Nyugati Railway Terminal, also built by the Eiffel Company, I had wanted see the tower.

When we arrived at the famous landmark, I was awestruck by the massiveness of the iron structure. It was impressive in size and construction, and I was looking forward to dinner at the Jules Verne restaurant—for the food, but more so for what I anticipated would be a breathtaking view of Paris. However, I would have to wait. That night, we had reservations at Kunitoraya and planned to retire early, as jet lag had begun to set in.

Next week: “Europe 2013: The Notre Dame Bells.”

Packing for a Long Trip – Or a Short One!

Packing for a Long Trip

First, let me thank my website designer Lindsay for the topic for this week’s blog post. It’s a good jumping-off point for my new series of travel blogs. While I’m not an expert on how to pack for a trip, I have learned a few things over the years, and the hard way. When I left home for college, I packed very few clothes because I planned to shop once I arrived back in the US, and because after living in the tropics most of my teenage years, I didn’t own any winter clothes. My freshman year in Tennessee would certainly demand more than sleeveless dresses, shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops.

While in college I gave little or no thought to how much luggage I hauled back and forth on vacations, as I paid a skycap to assist me or I rented a baggage cart at the airport. This was prior to the popularity of roller bags—a wonderful invention and a shoulder and back saver. Often, when I flew home from some overseas location, I would have several checked bags, most loaded with items requested by my brothers, such as the latest music or the most current novels for my mother, who was an avid reader. No e-books then. Even the longest trip of my lifetime—from Eugene, Oregon to Swakopmund, Namibia—was no challenge when it came to dragging around several suitcases. I checked my bags curbside, and if I was over the baggage size/number limit, Dad paid for them. Thank goodness for the generosity of parents.

However, it was during my college days in Oregon that I learned to pack light. And I learned it the hard way, on a two-week-long backpacking trip near Mt. Hood. When you have to carry it on your back for miles and for weeks, you learn quickly what is really necessary and important to your existence.

After we relocated from California to Texas, my husband began traveling frequently for business—both domestically and internationally. As a freelance writer, I had the flexibility in my schedule to join him at almost a moment’s notice. On my second European trip, I shunned a backpack in favor of a roller bag and packed light, a smart decision, especially when we arrived in Innsbruck. Our hotel was situated in the city center, and the parking garage was blocks away. Later, we discovered that the hotel had a drop-off point, which would have made this chore easier, but suffice it to say we took the difficult way out. I mean, how far could the hotel really be from the garage? We soon found out, and I was glad I had packed light.

Some friends I know own and love their Minaal and Tortuga backpacks, but as I mentioned, I prefer to roll, not carry, my bag. However, I do pack a small lightweight backpack for day trips, and it comes in handy for toting new purchases home, as long as we don’t exceed the bag’s weight limit, which we’ve done on occasion. If this occurs, we purchase a soft duffel or tote. When I pack for a trip, any trip, I limit myself to two bags: one roller and one tote. On outbound flights, I may or may not check my roller. On return flights, if we have made purchases, we usually have checked baggage.

My roller bag is nothing fancy, but it has logged thousands of miles and served me well. It is a Samsonite Southbridge 21” Spinner and is carry-on size. I chose red for easy visibility, and I have a custom name tag—an orange roadrunner—for quick identification. The fabric is durable, lightweight polyester, and the bag weighs a shade over nine pounds. It has four multidirectional spinner wheels for 360-degree upright rolling, so there is no weight on your arm. My model has a handle on the top, side, and bottom, which comes in handy for grabbing it off a moving luggage carousel while trying to dodge a mass of tourists intent upon doing the same thing. It also makes for a quick terminal exit.

I begin packing by placing the heavier items at the bottom, toward the wheels. With the weight at the bottom keeping the bag grounded, it is easier to roll it through those long airport corridors.

Shoes. These go in first. One pair of flip-flops takes up no room to speak of and has many uses, such as “house shoes” in a hotel room. For evening wear, a nice pair of flats goes well with pants or a dress, and they are comfortable to walk in. For versatility, I chose black, and I like ballet flats, which require little room. As for athletic shoes, take anything comfortable and lightweight, qualities that can apply to almost any good pair of walking shoes these days with the new breathable, lightweight materials. They even dry quickly, as I discovered in Avignon when I was caught in a downpour and soaked to the skin. Normally, I wear these on the plane, and I prefer slip-ons for their easy on and off at security clearance, or I loosely lace other shoes for an easy on and off until I clear security. What style I choose depends upon how much walking the vacation entails.

Toiletries. I limit myself to two bags and split the contents—dry items in one and liquids in a clear quart-sized Ziploc bag. Whether I check my luggage or carry it on, I stick to the TSA requirement of 3-1-1 (3.4 ounces) for liquids, gels, and creams. The “dry” bag goes into my roller at the bottom, along with my shoes, and the wet items into my carry-on tote, which I never check. And I keep the Ziploc bag of “wets” easily accessible, zipped into an outer pocket of my roller bag so I can place it in the screening bin before going through security. In the same pocket I stash my belt if I plan to wear one. I put it on after I clear security. I pack a minimal amount of jewelry and only wear small earrings through security. I never pack a hairdryer. Most hotels have them.

Clothes. First, I set aside what I plan to wear on the plane, which is usually anything heavy or something I don’t want wrinkled, such as a blazer I plan to wear to dinners. I love my jeans, so I wear those on the plane unless the flight is unusually long, such as our recent one from DFW to Brisbane, Australia. For the sixteen-hour trip, I wore airplane pants There is an array of options on the market today that are both comfortable and good-looking. They weigh practically nothing and are wrinkle-free.

As far as choosing clothes for a trip, I have three requirements: lightweight, some must be quick-dry, and lastly, versatile, so I can mix and match. I pack black dress pants for dinner wear and two matching blouses, both quick-drying, so I have one to wear while the other dries, if need be. And I bring black yoga pants, preferably capris, for exercising. They are also comfortable for simply lounging around your hotel room or morning walks in search of an early cup of caffeine, or a steamed milk, my preferred way to start the day. And yoga pants are fairly fast drying. I roll my tops, which reduces wrinkles and conserves suitcase space. And I pack several quick-dry ones, which come in handy for a long trip and are easy to hand-wash and dry.

I detest the cold, but over the years I have curbed my desire to pack warm clothes for the inevitable inclement weather, such as our unexpectedly chilly morning in Prague after warm days and nights throughout the entire trip. Traveling is the perfect time and excuse, if you need one, to purchase a nice sweatshirt as a souvenir, which is precisely what we did to combat the chill of the 34-degree rainy morning.

I must admit, I spend more time carefully packing my carry-on tote than my roller bag. As a writer, my priorities are iPad, iPhone, digital camera, and yes, old-fashioned pen and paper as a backup. Depending upon the trip, I may or may not cart along my laptop. My tote has zippered inner pouches and a zippered top to ensure nothing falls out while it travels down the conveyor belt and through the X-ray machine at security. To meet the two-bag carry-on requirement whenever I elect not to check my roller bag, I make room in my tote for my purse, and I always carry on anything I absolutely can’t afford to have stolen: passport, money, credit cards, camera, and of course my iPad and iPhone.

On top of my packed carry-on tote, I place a pashmina. I received this tip long ago from a flight attendant friend. I use it as a rolled-up pillow, a blanket, or I drape over my shoulders if I am chilly. It comes in handy for a number of reasons.

There are many benefits to traveling light, such as saving money. While checking in for a commuter flight from Tasmania to Australia, we inquired about checking our third bag, which was filled with T-shirts for family and friends. “Sure,” we were told, “that’ll be around $100 US.” For one bag? Needless to say, we decided to trade off carrying the cumbersome duffel until we reached Sydney, where it immediately became checked baggage.

Another benefit is not fighting the boarding or disembarking process when using public transportation. If you must carry your bags along for the ride, like we had to in Venice to catch the vaporetto, it is easier to maneuver one bag than two or more. I was amused when I heard one Venetian mutter, “Americans and their damn luggage,” as I was climbing aboard our water bus.

And of course, there are the obvious reasons for traveling light—no lost bags, no baggage claim waits, no standing in line to check your luggage, less physical wear on you, and increased flexibility if you must change flights for any reason—such as in one case where we arrived in the international terminal, then had to walk to the domestic terminal for our flight. Thankfully, we did not have to claim our bags in the international baggage claim before heading to our domestic flight. Due to air traffic delays, we had a tight connection and may have otherwise missed our flight.

I’ll pass along two last tips from friends who do not travel to live but live to travel. Pack a travel-sized bottle of wrinkle-release spray if wrinkled clothes are an issue. Personally, I resort to the hotel iron, and most rooms have one these days. If not, housekeeping is usually most accommodating. Call and ask for one.

Lastly, take along a travel-sized container of Febreze to freshen your clothes, especially your jeans. With all the talk about how bad washing is for them, maybe a long trip is the perfect excuse for not laundering yours. Who better to espouse this philosophy than CEO Chip Bergh of Levi Strauss & Co.? If you must, wash them when you get home.

On that note, I hope you find this blog post helpful as you embark upon your next adventure. Happy travels to all.

Next week: “Europe 2013: Paris, France.”