2014—Les Rues du Paris — Part Deux

Sunday was cold and overcast in Paris but there was still much to see and experience. It was so overcast and foggy that the top of the Eiffel Tower disappeared in the mist but lots of people were out enjoying a day off from work and school. On Sunday, most shops are closed but at the bustling Christmas Market on the Champs-Elysées, that runs from November through Christmas, we were amused to be greeted with the sounds of Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” and Gene Autry singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Many Parisians spend time shopping, ice skating, cycling, eating roasted chestnuts, buying sausages, and enjoying the Christmas atmosphere at the hundreds of temporary shops set up along the road just for the event.

One of the things that has impressed me about Paris is its cleanliness. Parisians take pride in their city and although we found lots of graffiti (watch for a future post on the graffiti of Paris and Barcelona) the streets were clean and kept that way by people whose jobs were to sweep the sidewalks and gutters. I photographed a man sweeping next to the Restaurant Pasco where we enjoyed a sumptuous meal the prior evening.

Later on our walk, I was charmed by the sight of a small boy dangling from a climbing wall in a tiny playground on the Left Bank of the Seine next to one of the bridges. We watched as he tried to get the attention of one of his parents who was preoccupied with a sibling. Finally he released his hands as if to say: “Look Ma, no hands” and even when I took this shot, no one looked to appreciate his antics. Too bad I can’t share this with him.

I had hoped to get a photo of a Parisian hurrying home with a couple of baguettes tucked under one arm and in fact I saw quite a few, but always too late to get the right shot. I made Charleen pose with the two baguettes we bought for our farewell wine toast.

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2014—Les Rues du Paris

Here are some of the scenes I found to be irresistible on the streets of Paris today.

On La Rue Cler, buying fruit, selling mattresses, practicing jumps:

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On La Place du Tertres, street artists practicing their craft, selling their paintings, and an organ grinder entertaining the crowd:

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On Rue de Rivoli, in front of the Louvre, a gathering of young people attracting the attention of the police:

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On the Pont au Double, near Notre Dame, a street musician enticing passersby to dance:

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2014—Charleen And Carol’s Excellent Adventure

On Friday, despite our best intentions, Charleen and I managed to overlook the necessity of purchasing admission tickets in advance to both the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. Consequently, the long lines and time wasted standing in them, led us to forego the experience of either, at least the experience of actually going into them. Instead, we appreciated the grandeur of the Eiffel Tower from ground level. After the first shot, I couldn’t resist pulling out my fisheye lens to photograph the Eiffel Tower from below.

By mid day, after viewing the Eiffel Tower, we wandered down to the Seine River and, after a lunch of ham and cheese crepes and a mediocre Bordeau (I suppose expecting decent Bordeau at a riverside fast food stand is asking a bit much), we bought all day tickets on the Batobus, the boat bus. The Batobus allows passengers to hop on and hop off all day long for one ticket price and it stops at major points of interest including the Tour Eiffel, the Musée D’Orsay, Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Champs-Elysées and several other points of interest. We got off at the Musée D’Orsay on our first stop and spent almost three hours wandering through the Impressionist exhibits there, awestruck by the incredible collection of Monets, Manets, Gauguins, Cezannes, Pissarros, and, of course, Van Goghs, including many works he painted in Arles. There were Rodin sculptures and so many works of beautiful and inspiring art that it would take weeks of visits and study to see and appreciate the entire Musée D’Orsay collection.

By late afternoon, we realized that after our long day at the Musée D’Orsay, we were a bit weary and hungry but we plunged ahead and boarded the Batobus again, cruising on the Seine, heading for the Louvre. There were several stops between the Musée D’Orsay and the Louvre, with a ten to 15 minute cruise between stops. By this time, it had turned dark and although we understood that the Louvre was less crowded in the evening hours, we were too spent to attempt it. We stayed on the Batobus until we arrived back at the Eiffel Tower stop. We disembarked and enjoyed views of the brilliantly illuminated Eiffel Tower. Then we wandered back to the Rue Cler, found an inviting bistro and had a lovely dinner with a smooth Pinot Noir. When we finally returned to our hotel, we opened a bottle of Beaujolais that we purchased in the Beaujolais region a couple of days ago, poured a couple of glasses and capped our day with a delicious variety of chocolates. Salud!

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2014—Thankful We’ll Always Have Paris

We arrived in Paris by bullet train on Thanksgiving afternoon. Despite the fact that Parisians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, an American holiday on this day in November and a Canadian holiday in October, they seemed to be in a celebratory mood all evening. Our tiny, cramped room at the Hotel Duquesne Eiffel has a view of Le Tour Eiffel if you lean far enough out the screenless window. Shortly after our arrival, the lights came on, as if to welcome us to gay Paree! Donna, Charleen, and I walked to La Rue Cler, a bustling, quaint street, now somewhat commercialized, with bistros and shops all decked out for Christmas, to meet friends from the cruise for Thanksgiving dinner. Mixed signals prevented our rendevouz and we missed them. Since Joe has developed a cold and he preferred the comfort of his hotel room, the three of us enjoyed a stroll through the area and lots of excellent wine, Beaujolais Nouveau as an aperitif and later at another restaurant, a couple of carafes of red Côtes du Rhône Appellation d’Origine Protégée. Our Thanksgiving dinner was a salad with puff pastry encrusted goat cheese and a risotto with chicken and wild mushrooms. Sadly, the restaurant in which we dined did not offer foie gras, so I was unable to substitute it for giblet gravy.

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2014—Le Biciclette

Since I’ve been in France I have searched for the quintessential shot of a bicycle leaned against a wall. On Wednesday, in Oingt, the only village in the Beaujolais des Pierres Dorées to have been awarded the French accolade Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (the most beautiful village in France), I found my bicycle. This beautiful and quaint medieval village with the improbable name of Oingt, that looks like it’s pronounced like the sound a pig makes but instead is pronounced starting with a “w” and ending with a sound like a baby crying. I can’t figure out how to write it phonetically.

We stopped in Oingt on the way to taste the Beaujolais Nouveau which was just released to great fanfare and excitement in the region a week ago. We enjoyed it so much that Charleen and I bought a couple of bottles to enjoy while we are in Paris.

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Monday was “wine day” on the AmaDagio. In the morning we enjoyed chocolate and wine pairings. In the afternoon we were awed by the wines of l’Hermitage, which come from 300 acres of vineyards that grow mainly Syrah grapes on terraced hillsides. In the evening we were tested on our knowledge of wines and were challenged to guess which of the two Syrahs we were served was French and which was American. Our small group correctly guessed the American Syrah, as did most of the people on board. And, so far, although we’ve had some fabulous French wines, the American wines from Ledson Winery in Sonoma County are holding their own.

We cruised into Tournon Monday morning before our wine tasting excursions. With the water still high from recent storms, several of us went up top to see how Capt. Dany Boucher handled the ship. I got some shots of him concentrating on docking the AmaDagio in Tournon. We sailed under the bridge that links Tournon and Tain l’Hermitage before docking. Charleen and I spent some time enjoying the delightful weather on deck.

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On Sunday, we visited the asylum of St. Paul de Mausole near Arles where Vincent van Gogh voluntarily committed himself after lopping off part of his ear and sending it to his girlfriend. The facility still functions as an asylum and we were only allowed to visit a small portion of the facility. The place is no doubt an asylum. We heard unsettling shrieks and wails coming from behind high walls. Art therapy remains an important part of the treatment plan for many of the asylum’s patients. Van Gogh painted prolifically here and the olive grove that he painted still stands near the asylum. Whether any of these trees were there when van Gogh painted them is anybody’s guess.




2014—Le Marché du Samedi d’Uzès

The weekly Saturday market at Uzès gave us a feel for village life in Southern France. It was an experience to walk through the crowded streets and squares and to mingle with the local villagers shopping for food and other items. The market featured lots of stalls filled with local produce, meats, and cheeses and there was lively action at every stall. The prices were fixed so buyers weren’t negotiating prices but there were still bargains to be had. Charleen and I couldn’t resist buying a few items for ourselves at the nonfood stalls.

Here are some of my favorite shots from the morning visit:











2014—Pont Du Gard

This is a true masterpiece of ancient architecture. The Pont du Gard aqueduct is one of the most beautiful Roman constructions in the region, built 2000 years ago. We visited it on Saturday and I wandered away from the group and followed a stairway down to the river’s edge to get these photos.




Friday, near the tiny medievalvillage of Grignan, we met Emy, an adorable Lagotto Romagnolo dog that is well-know for its ability to root out truffles from among the roots of oak trees, both deciduous and evergreen. We also met Serge, Emy’s owner who waxed ectatic about black and white truffles and the trials and tribulations of being a truffle farmer. I know truffles are a fungus that grows among oak trees but I didn’t realize that oak tree roots produce truffles for only a relatively short period and that truffle farmers plant rows of various oak trees that show promise to produce the oak root fungus. Here are a few shots of Serge, their truffle farm (including a shot of a “no trespassing” sign to deter truffle thieves, and Emy in action. I didn’t realize that truffle farmers plant their oak trees in rows. The oaks take close to 15 years to start producing truffles (if they are lucky) and then produce for no more than 20 years.






2014—Another Change of Plans

Skipping ahead. More about Barcelona when I return home. It is now Friday morning and we are on board the AmaDagio, cruising DOWN the Rhône River. We boarded the ship in the dark Thursday evening after a long unplanned bus drive from Barcelona to the French city of Montpellier where we boarded a high speed train to Lyon. High water on the Rhône River caused by sudden heavy rains resulted in a significant change of plans and lots of scrambling by the cruise company. The water on the Rhône was too high for the AmaDagio to clear some of the bridges which prevented it from reaching Arles, our original starting place, so the AmaDagio sailed up the Rhône to Lyon instead of picking us up in Arles. We will now sail down the Rhône from Lyon to Arles instead of the other way around. We can’t say enough about how efficiently and seamlessly the cruise company handled this unexpected change in our itinerary.

We had a sumptuous meal in the main dining room after meeting the ship’s crew and staff. The food was elegant and the wine, free flowing. We set sail (I guess it’s called “setting sail” even though we don’t have any sails) at midnight and Charleen and I awoke at 6:30 this morning as we moved through a lock. We’re now back on open waters heading for Le Pouzin where we should dock about noon.

Lots of adventures await.

The train station at Montpellier:


After boarding:


Cruising in the early morning darkness:




2014—A Change Of Plans

We had dinner reservations for 8PM Tuesday evening at Arume, a Barcelona restaurant in El Raval with excellent reviews. El Raval is a gritty neighborhood undergoing revitalization but that still has some unsavory aspects. The six of us (the entire contingent hadn’t yet arrived in Barcelona) agreed to make the 30 minute walk instead of taking a cab because the evening temperatures were mild and we felt we’d get some additional exercise in preparation for what we anticipated to be a rich and wonderful meal; besides, we wanted to experience a bit of the Barcelona night scene as well.

Our route took us first down La Rambla, a bustling main thoroughfare with a wide center median made for walking, outdoor dining, and people watching, then onto a cross street Stu had been on earlier in the day, then into darker and narrower streets as the neighborhoods turned from cosmopolitan to urban and gritty with increasing amounts of graffiti on walls and corrugated roll down doors. After a number of wrong turns, we finally reached the restaurant forty minutes late for our 8PM reservation. But, the restaurant was closed. Someone came out to tell us that a water leak had closed the restaurant the day before but they had made reservations for us at another nearby restaurant. He led us there but we discovered that this restaurant had given away our reservation when we were a half hour late. It is fascinating to see these tiny, hole in the wall bistros filled with people in areas that appear so run down and unsavory. The original restaurant employee disappeared for a few minutes and returned with a third option. He led us to Las Fernádez, two streets away down another dirty, alley-like street with more graffiti covered walls.

We were tired from our walk and hungry but a bit concerned about this totally unknown option until Martila, the hostess, welcomed us. She seated us at a small table and when we asked if we could combine two tables to make it more comfortable to accommodate us all, she told us that all tables in the 10 table restaurant were reserved for both seatings and we all had to sit at one.

The menu options were extensive with many daily specials and we took advantage of those, as well as enjoying some Spanish Tempranillo, a full bodied red wine. We shared several tapas then we each had one of the daily specials. The food was wonderfully delicious, incredibly fresh, and mouth wateringly flavorful. The meal ended with complimentary glasses of locally made liqueurs. We were thrilled that the unexpected change of plans resulted in such a delightful gustatory experience and introduced us to an area of Barcelona we would not otherwise have seen.

Here are a few shots from the evening, taken with my new Sony point and shoot.

The Group: Joe, Me, Donna (the group organizer and our travel agent), Charleen, my friend who asked me to join the group, Stu, and Stu’s wife, Janet. And an aside, as we went through the TSA checkpoint at the Sacramento airport, Donna asked me if I used to work at EDD. Of course I did work there for 28 years. I told her I thought she had looked familiar to me when I met her a couple of weeks before and that I felt a connection to her and enjoyed her sense of humor. When we finally managed to connect the dots, it turns out that Donna hired me in 1979. We had worked together on a project and she asked me to join her office on a new project that she would manage. We both had different colored hair and different names at the time and it was, after all, 35 years later so I guess we have an excuse for not instantly remembering each other.

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The Food:

La cazeulita del dia, focaccia with smoked salmon and the “cod fixed a thousand ways, ask how it is today.” Grilled with peppers and plantains.

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The street outside Las Fernádez, the red door on the left.

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Across the street from Las Fernádez, and Donna, Joe, Charleen, and Stu walking ahead. Janet and I lingered to take photos. We didn’t know the guy in the white sweatshirt.

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2014—A Little Taste of Barcelona

We got a taste of Barcelona today. It is an ancient city, founded by the Romans. It has a unique culture and language and is a beautiful, clean, and bustling city with contrasting and fascinating architectural styles, rich artistic culture, high energy, and delicious food.

Here are a few photos from our morning drive through its energetic streets and our all-too-brief visits to some of its architectural marvels, dominated by early 20th century modernist Antoni Gaudí.

The glass façade of our hotel with the apartment building across the street reflected in its windows:

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Gaudí’s Casa Batiló with its skull-like balconies:

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Güell Park, designed and built primarily by Gaudí has organic walkways and enormous public spaces.

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Gaudí’s sensational Sagrada Familia Cathedral, still under construction after 100 years:

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A fast-flowing pelaton of cyclists whooshes by in formation on the crowded Barcelona streets.

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I flew to Barcelona this week, leaving Sacramento on Sunday morning, flying to San Francisco, Frankfurt, Germany and finally arriving in Barcelona on Monday afternoon.  This is a shot of the  airport terminal in Frankfurt, Germany.  After an exhausting day of travel, we walked to a  nearby tapas restaurant for dinner and on the way, encountered many Catalan flags proudly on display after the Catalan independence referendum held a couple of weeks ago where more than 80% of the population of the Catalan region voted for independence from  Spain.   However, it is unlikely that independence from Spain will result from this vote.




2014—Smart And Sassy

I was at Elephant Bar for lunch yesterday with a friend and when we left, we saw this adorable Smart Car parked right next to us. I couldn’t step back far enough to get the shot from the front that I wanted because I would have tumbled over the embankment and rolled onto Sunrise Avenue and although I would have tried that any other day, I’m leaving tomorrow for my Europe trip and didn’t want to chance an injury. This car not only had long eyelashes, the eye liner was square cut “diamonds.” How adorable. If I felt safe driving one of these minuscule automobiles, I’d decorate it just like this. However, I would never feel safe in one. I still miss my ’69 Firebird!



2014—All That Glisters . . .

…Could be Euros! Euros weren’t around in Shakespeare’s day but if he saw any of the Euro notes with their numerous high tech anti-counterfeit features that gleam golden and iridescent, he could just have easily penned that quote about Euros instead of gold. Charleen and I visited the bank the other day to get some Euros to have when we arrive in Spain. I was fascinated by them and took a macro shot. Since I had to stack the notes atop one another, the tiny difference in distance from the lens affected the focus so I used focus stacking to create this image from 3.


2014—Joey In The Rain

It’s raining, it’s not pouring, and I haven’t heard anybody snoring but it’s raining! Yay! My roses, bursting with blooms from the gorgeous fall weather and the healthy drenching they got a couple of weeks ago, are all drooping from the weight of the raindrops in their blossoms. What was gorgeous yesterday is not gorgeous today and they will all be brown tomorrow. But, I did find a single bud on Just Joey that was lightly sprinkled with rain drops and still looked lovely despite drooping a bit from the recent downpour.

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2014—A Swirl Of Glory

As I hung the Flag out early Tuesday morning, the breeze swirled it around me. I wondered what it would look like with the fisheye lens. I soon found out. I rotated this shot 90° to the right because I preferred the swirling lines leading to the stars from this angle rather than the way I shot it, looking straight up at the stars.
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2014—Star Anise

I love the licorice aroma that star anise exudes and its shape is one of the most interesting to me of all spices. I chose to photograph it because a recent challenge from my Daily Challenge group was herbs and/or spices. Of course I used my macro lens and of course I chose to do focus stacking to create a completely in focus image. There is a little bit of what appears to be ghosting around some of the edges which resulted from the fact that I had set the spice onto a small mirror to take the shots and what looks like ghosting is a really little bit of light reflecting off the mirror.

I used 15 images to create this shot.