A Parisian Protest

Today Richard and I were walking back from La Tour d’Eiffel when we ran smack dab into a protest march.  As with everything Parisian, it was done with great style and flair.  There was music, and drum beating, and people handing out fliers, and one of those giant dancing air-inflated guys that you see at car dealerships in the States.

It turns out that they were protesting some kind of psychiatric treatment issues.  My high school French is not great — more on that later — but it appears that there is a vote coming before the French National Assembly about psychiatric treatment and hospitalization.  And one of the signs was for electric shock therapy.  Do they still do that in France?

It was interesting to see this drum-beating, musical protest walk by, stopping traffic and provoking some of the French nearby to engage in arguments.  It is one of the things that makes Paris such an interesting city.  You never know what might lie around the next corner.

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In Search Of The Elusive Pelforth Brune

When I traveled throug Europe after I graduated from college, during my stay in Nice I had a beer called a Pelforth Brune.  I fondly remember it as one of the tastiest beers I’ve ever imbibed.

Whether it was because I was traveling on a shoe string and not able to buy much beer, or because the beer was exceptionally good, I didn’t know.  After that one beer 30 years ago, I never had it again.  I could never find it in any other bar or restaurant.

Until today, that is.  Richard and I stopped for lunch at a cafe near the Eiffel Tower, and there on the menu to my surprise was a Pelforth Brune.  I had to get it, and I did.  It was as excellent as I remembered — smooth and rich, yet light at the same time.  And it comes in a pretty cool bottle, too.

It’s nice when reality matches your memories.

VRBO Changes The World (Paris Edition)

The kitchen at chez Josette

So, I’m in Paris, meeting up with Richard to spend a week with him as he moves slowly through Europe and soaks up what the continent has to offer.  Rather than spend a ridiculous sum on a hotel, and be squirreled away in some sterile tourist area of the City of Lights, Kish and I decide to try VRBO.  We end up renting an apartment in the Latin Quarter.

When I arrived today, I had some trepidation about what I would find.  Things can look good on the web, but sometimes the reality falls short.  That did not happen today, fortunately.  (Bon!)

The TV room at our apartment

Here is what I found:

*  A surprisingly spacious apartment with two well-sized bedrooms, a TV room with cable TV and a collection of hundreds of DVDs, a full kitchen with every utensil and cooking appliance known to man, a full shower and bathroom, a separate toilet room,  a washer and a dryer, a desktop computer as well as apartment-wide, free wireless, and a dining room with a table that seats six.  And, the apartment is decorated with style and stocked with fresh baguettes and chocolate rolls.

*  An incredibly helpful and accommodating hostess (merci, Josette!) who explained every appliance, computer, TV remote, and key, provided suggestions on restaurants and bistros to frequent, gave us her apartment number and cell number, and encouraged us to call if we had any problems or questions.

A look down the Rue Val de Grace

*  Windows with iron railings that open out to an iconic Paris street with a view like this.

*  A central location on Rue Val de Grace near the Luxembourg Gardens and the Pantheon, located in the heart of a student housing district in the Latin Quarter (District Five), within easy walking distance of the Ile de la Cite, the Louvre, and other sites in central Paris and (perhaps most importantly) directly across the street from a wine shop with an excellent selection and very moderate prices.

All of this, for a price that probably is about half of what we would pay for a decent hotel.  This is why VRBO is changing the world.

In The Midwest, The Civil War Is Never Very Far Away

The recent commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the attack on Fort Sumter and the start of the Civil War brought that horrible conflict back into the consciousness of many Americans.  In many of the cities and towns of the Midwest, however, the reminders of the Civil War are ever-present.

I was in Indianapolis recently, and the gigantic Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument at the heart of Monument Circle is a good example.  Although the monument recognizes the contributions of soldiers and sailors from many conflicts beginning with the Revolutionary War, the portion of the monument that deals with the Civil War is the most memorable.  The devastating statistics of Indiana’s contribution to the Civil War effort, noting the hundreds of thousands who served and tens of thousands who died, are set forth in simple, precisely carved numbers on the facade.  The statistics appear under the heading “War For The Union.”

As one Hoosier mentioned to me on my visit, it is no accident that the numbers appear on the side of the monument facing due south.

Straub – Highly Recommended

Before the late, much-lamented Corner’s Beverage Shoppe closed its doors, and Richard went off on his European adventure, on Fridays he and I used to pick out a six-pack or two of new beers to sample over the weekend.  One day we picked out a six-pack of Straub, and I’ve been a fan ever since.  (Since Corner’s has gone away, I’ve been glad to learn that Straub also is carried by the New Albany Giant Eagle in its enormous “beer cave.”)

The label on the bottle advertises Straub as “honestly fresh,” and I think that is a very fair description.  The brew is a light, quite tasty lager with good body, a clean, smooth taste, and no aftertaste.

Although I’ve only discovered it recently, Straub beer has been around since 1872.  It is brewed in Pennsylvania — hey, I thought only Rolling Rock and Iron City came from the Quaker State! — and is a good example of the quality microbrewery offerings that can be found throughout America.  And, in these days of high gas prices and penny-pinching economic uncertainty, when six-packs of some microbrew offerings are priced at $10 and above, Straub’s reasonable price is as refreshing as its beer.  I’m glad Richard and I decided to try it during one of our weekend beer samplings.

Eurotrip 2011: Nice and Marseille

Nice.

When I was in Venice I booked two train tickets to take me from Milan to Nice over the night of the 22nd. I noticed that there was a three-hour layover in Ventimiglia from 1 to 4 A.M, but I thought that it was better to endure that than to waste a day traveling and to spend money for a night in a hostel.

It turned out to be one of those instances, pretty common while travelling a planned itinerary, in which the present self curses the past self for being so inconsiderate. I got very little sleep sitting on the floor of the train station in Ventimiglia, which was crowded with immigrants and fellow backpackers sleeping or smoking cigarettes. I took off my contacts and threw them away, because the maid at my hostel in Venice had thrown out the case for them.

I arrived in Nice at 5:30 the morning of the 23rd exhausted and half-blind. No one answered the door at the hostel I had reservations at, so I hung out at a park for a few hours.

Even in that state of being I noticed how clean and pretty Nice was. The empty streets were free of litter and graffiti, and the tram looked like it was made of stainless steel. All the buildings were painted with sunny colors. The park I relaxed in was decorated with palm trees and sleek modern art. In the picture below, taken in that park, you can see seven nude male figures, which I was told are supposed to represent the continents, on the tops of poles.

The park in the center of Nice.

At 7:30 I found a bakery that was open, and I bought a delicious piece of cake for only 2.50 euros. The realization that France isn’t quite as expensive as Italy raised my spirits.

Many people staying at my hostel, the Hostel Smith, didn’t like it. They complained that it was dirty and that the lady at the front desk was rude and confused. I thought it was a decent hostel, although it had its problems. The door to the bathroom wouldn’t stay shut, so you had to stop it with the door to the closet inside the bathroom, which would leave it open just a crack. And indeed, the lady at the front desk was a bit bewildered. She couldn’t find my reservation on the computer, so she accused me of being mistaken about the dates I reserved. When she did find it, she had to drag an extra cot into the dorm for me to use, because they were fully booked.

However, she let me change my reservation from four nights to three so that I could spend another day in Marseille, even though she didn’t have to. The hostel also had an excellent location in the crooked streets of the old part of Nice. But the source of my good opinion of the hostel might be their habit of leaving free bread and pastries on the table in the kitchen.

I spent my first day in Nice doing laundry, buying groceries, making hostel reservations on hostelworld, and writing my previous blog entry on the horribly slow laptops, with strange French keyboards, in the hostel’s lobby. It rained most of the day, so it was a good time to get chores done. That evening I played Gin Rummy (which someone taught me earlier in the trip) with some people at the hostel.

The next day I explored Nice. Like Venice, Nice is a city with a great atmosphere but few sights to see. There is a boardwalk with many beautiful casinos and hotels alongside it. On the other side is a beach. Unfortunately, the beaches in Nice consist not of sand but smooth, fist-sized rocks.

The beach in Nice.

To celebrate my first day in France, I treated myself to a Nutella crepe for 2.50 euros. Over the course of my trip, I’ve developed an addiction to Nutella that I will probably take home with me. I avoid buying Nutella because I end up eating it straight out of the jar with a spoon until it’s all gone, sometimes actually giving myself a stomachache.

A Nutella crepe.

For lunch, I bought a rotisserie chicken from a restaurant next to the hostel for 4 euros. I couldn’t finish it in one sitting, so it made up most of my dinner also.

The rotisserie chicken, as well as the remains of the free pastries layed out by the hostel employees.

The next day I followed the recommendation of an employee at the hostel and walked to Villefranche, a small town a mile or two down the shore from Nice. According to the employee, the French government built Villefranche centuries ago to protect Nice from the Turks. To get people to move there, the government made the city tax-free. Thus, “Villefranche” means something like “tax-free city” in French.

The path to Villefranche went up a cliff that offered a beautiful view of Nice, then went back down to the rocky shores, on which many locals were tanning. For better or worse, my stay in Nice coincided with the three-day Easter weekend, so public areas were always crowded.

After exploring Villefranche, I took a much easier walk back to Nice along a road.

The view of Nice from the cliff.

Part of the trail.

More of the trail.

Villefranche.

On Tuesday I took an hour-long train ride to Marseille. I considered stopping for the day in Cannes to check it out, but I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle, especially since I would have to lug around my full backpack while I was there.

Marseille, with the Notre Dame de la Garde cathedral in the background.

I was excited to get to my hostel in Marseille, the Hello Marseille hostel, because it had a spectacular 92% rating on hostelworld. It was an exceptional hostel. The furniture was so clean and modern that it looked like it had just arrived after being ordered from a Pottery Barn catalog. The kitchen was equipped with all the necessary cooking instruments, which is rare for a hostel (the one in Nice didn’t have a can-opener, so we had to run down to a restaurant to use theirs). The computer in the lobby was clean and ran well. It had a great location right next to Marseille’s port, the Vieux Port.

The hostel seemed to attract friendly, outgoing people. I found a couple of friends to play cards with, and we taught Rummy to a few more people. People drank and partied in the hostel every night – maybe too much. That was the hostel’s only significant flaw.

I could tell from the walk from the train station to my hostel that Marseille had a different character from Nice. It’s grittier, with more graffiti, more smells, fewer parks and palm trees, less public art, less color, and less extravagant architecture. The populace of Marseille seemed less affluent than Nice’s, with more immigrants. While Nice seemed like a resort town, Marseille seems like a port town. I think it’s more interesting than Nice, though.

The first bit of sightseeing I did in Marseille was to visit Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation, an apartment building/hotel built in the late 1940s. It was one of the first examples of the Brutalist style which begat so many office buildings in the United States, few of which look as good as this one. Unfortunately, it seemed to be falling apart, with the concrete crumbling off in places.

Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation.

Another view of the building.

From there I walked to the Parc Borely, a park by the sea, and rested there for a while. I then walked on the Corniche walkway along the shore, stopping at beaches every once in a while.

The Borely Park.

A beach in Marseille.

The Corniche walkway.

Later, I headed back into the city to visit the Notre Dame de la Garde cathedral atop one of Marseille’s hills, which makes it visible from almost everywhere in the city.

Notre Dame de la Garde.

The view of Marseille from Notre Dame de la Garde.

When I got back to the hostel that evening, I was sunburnt, dirty, and exhausted from walking so far. During my stay in Nice and Marseille, the weather has, for the first time in my trip, been hot enough to make me sweat significantly during the day. I’m worried that this is the start of a new epoch in which I’ll have to take two showers a day, apply sunscreen constantly, and wear shorts, which will make it even more obvious that I’m a tourist.

I relaxed that evening by playing more Rummy with the people at the hostel (some of whom took it very seriously), and drinking La Cagole beer. I bought La Cagole despite the fact that it costs twice as much as other beers because it is a local Marseille brand. We all thought it was really good.

I’m still adjusting to being in France – I still say “si” instead of “oui.” It was easier in Italy because I know a little Italian; I’m afraid to even try to pronounce French words. When someone at my hostel told me she is going to Aix-en-Provence and pronounced “aix” like “ex”, I laughed because that’s not how I would have pronounced it at all.

I spent this morning walking around the old part of Marseille, distinguished, like that in Nice, by its short, crooked streets. I stopped by the beautiful Palais Longchamps park to read a little bit of my book. Then, I started getting ready to move on to Paris, my next destination.

Palais Longchamps.

Eurotrip 2011:  Venice and Milan

Eurotrip 2011:  Interlaken

Eurotrip 2011:  Florence and Pisa

Eurotrip 2011:  Rome pt. 2

Eurotrip 2011:  Rome pt. 1

Eurotrip 2011:  Palermo

Eurotrip 2011:  The Journey To Palermo

Eurotrip 2011:  Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011:  Athens

Eurotrip 2011:  Istanbul

That Overwhelming Sense Of Impending Doom

The NFL draft starts tonight.  The Browns pick sixth.  My stomach churns at the thought of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell advancing to the podium to announce the Browns decision.

Since the Browns have come back into the league, the draft has been the source of incredible failure and angst for Browns fans.  Because the Browns has been so bad for so long, they’ve had lots of chances to select the high-ranking talent at the beginning of the first round.  However, rather than picking the studs who come in and dominate, our beloved team has picked players who are head cases, players who apparently are as brittle as fine china, players who seem snake-bitten.  Few of the first-round choices even remain on the Browns roster.

So, tonight I will grit my teeth — and hope that instead of drafting another disaster, the Browns just make a trade and stock up on whatever help they can get.