Inside-out Elevator



The elevator at the hotel where I stayed in Paris was one of the strangest elevators I’ve ever seen in a hotel.  There are no buttons inside the elevator except for the open and close door buttons.  You select your destination on the panel outside the door, and then the little LCD screen on the top shows you which elevator will take you.  When the elevator door opens, there’s a tiny set of lights showing which floor numbers that elevator will stop at.

Weird, but effective.  Although sometimes that elevator got really full.


Have you ever been on an elevator with an unusual configuration?


Paris In Less Than Four Days

It took me almost two years to get around to seeing Paris, but I spent a few days there in the month of August.  I lost pretty much my entire first day to a stomach bug of some sort.  I did about 60% of a Louvre tour before I went back to the hotel to sweat out a fever or three.  I skipped a tour I’d booked for the Eiffel Tower that afternoon, and started over on the second day.

I have a few thoughts about visiting Paris that I’d like to share with you before we go on to the photographs.

Don’t go to Paris in August.  Seriously, it’s not an ideal time.  For one thing, July and August are the hottest months to visit and that’s just… sticky.   For another, that’s when the tourist levels are at their highest.   If you’ve ever walked into a restaurant immediately after an entire Japanese tour bus was seated, you know what I’m talking about.  Wait times for big draws like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre can go up to several hours in August.  Just pick another month.  You’ll be glad you did.  I’ve said this about other cities as well, because it holds true in any city that gets a lot of tourism:  Skip-the-Line tours are worth their weight in gold.  Book them wisely.

Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport is not as confusing and horrible as people say.  CDG, sometimes called Roissy Airport, has a reputation for being an awful, terrible, very bad airport.  People say it’s confusing and lacks good signs.  I didn’t find this to be the case.  I found the airport to be logical and simple.  The big problem with Roissy Airport is the sheer size of the place.  Charles de Gaulle is roughly the seventh busiest airport in the world, and the place is improbably huge.  A walk from terminal 2C to terminal 2F can take you fifteen or twenty  minutes, although there’s a free shuttle at regular intervals.  In other words, you need to figure out what terminal you’re going to ahead of time, or you need to allow yourself enough time to move between terminals.   If you plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time, CDG is easy as pie.  Pie with lots of walking.

Parisian waiters are not rude to tourists.  Not exactly.  I found them to be friendly and polite.  I think a lot of this misconception is because Americans aren’t used to European dining mores.  In Europe, wait staff will not hurry you along.  To an American used to dining in restaurants where they bring you the check before you finish and check on you every ten minutes, this can seem like you’ve been forgotten.  That’s not the case, however, and you simply need to get your waiter’s attention to call him or her back over.  So no, Parisian waiters aren’t rude.  However, I did find that I was shortchanged no less than three times in a four day span.  I could chalk it up to a language barrier if I was feeling charitable, but I suspect that they heard my English and assumed I was just another dumb American tourist who could be easily fooled because he isn’t used to the Euro.

On a side note,  Paris is officially the most expensive city I’ve ever visited.  More expensive than London or New York City by an order of magnitude.  At one dinner, I asked for a large Sprite.  The dude brought me an entire liter in a giant mug, then charged me €16.  The entree was only €9, so you can imagine my surprise at the beverage costing almost twice the food.   That was the first full meal I ordered in Paris.  It was also the last full meal I ordered in Paris.

I also took pictures!  I took about four hundred shots, most of which are not in this post.  If you really want to look at the rest of the pics not in this post, there’s an entire gallery over here.

Let’s move on, shall we?

This is the front entrance of the Louvre.  Or rather, it’s the archway in front of the glass pyramid in front of the doors to the Louvre.


The Louvre is the world’s most visited museum.   It’s also one of the world’s largest museums- a collection of enormous buildings full of antiquities and master works.  If you stopped to view each item in the Louvre for three minutes, you’d be there for roughly three months.  Here’s a Sphinx.


Here’s the Venus de Milo, one of the best known pieces in the museum.


This one is called The Nike of Samothrace.  It’s considered a symbol of triumph, despite the fact that the head and arms have never been found.


This hallway contains a lot of things from the French nobility.  Crowns, swords, tables, and so forth.


Last but certainly not least is the Mona Lisa. Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece from the early 1500s is situated behind an enormous pane of bulletproof glass.  I took this picture from a good distance and didn’t get to spend any time looking at her up close because this was the point at which I abandoned my guided tour and ran for the exit before shuttering myself into the hotel for the next eighteen hours.


The next day, after I was done with the worst of my sick time, I had a tour booked that I’d been looking forward to for a while-  a Segway tour of Paris with Ellie from Fat Tire Bike Tours.  This proved to be fortuitous- I wasn’t really up to a walking tour yet after being sick the day before; my energy levels were still pretty wrecked.  Riding a Segway was a fun, less strenuous way to see large swathes of the city.  (Except the parts that were closed while they were shooting scenes for a movie. I wish I’d actually seen some filming- I heard there were people in period costumes with old cars from the early 1900s.)

But anyway-  Segways!  They’re fun!  They’re also pretty easy to ride- the hardest part is in the first two minutes, including your first mount and dismount.  I was comfortable enough for basic movement in about five minutes, and I felt like an experienced rider after twenty minutes.  The weather was absolutely perfect for this tour.


What visit to Paris would be complete without seeing Notre Dame de Paris?  I didn’t actually get to hear the famous bells of Notre Dame, but I think I’ll live.


The Eiffel Tower is not the only super tall place in Paris.  There’s also Montparnasse 56, which is this building here.  The top floor is an attraction called Tour Montparnasse, which is an indoor observation level with a stair up to a rooftop observation level.  Since I have a tendency to love tall places, of course I went there.


This is the view of the Eiffel Tower from Montparnasse 56.


The Paris Metro is kind of strange. Most of the cars are an older type where you have to lift a little metal handle to get off at your stop, and some of them use rubber wheels like this instead of train style all-metal rail wheels.  It’s very odd.  It’s also the second busiest metro in the world, and it’s pretty much all Art Nouveu inside the stations.  Charming, yet disconcerting.


On my third day, I tried to go to the Cinémathèque Française, a museum of cinema.  They have a lot of very interesting exhibits that I was curious to see, but it turns out that the museum was closed for a few weeks.  My timing astounds.

Instead, I went to Père Lachaise, perhaps the most visited cemetery in the world.   I initially misread the map near the entrance, and so I wound up walking around a bit less efficiently than I would have liked.  That’s ok, though, because this little fuzzball totally made my day when she walked over, sniffed my hand, then sat with me for a few minutes.




Let’s talk famous people.  Père Lachaise has a bunch of ’em.  After I figured out that I’d misread the map, I was easily able to find Abelard & Heloise and Oscar Wilde.  I was unable to locate Balzac‘s grave.  And I got turned around looking for Jim Morrison, but I don’t feel badly about that because that’s when I stumbled across Frederic Chopin’s grave.

There are many non-famous graves in Père Lachaise also, and it’s possible to walk around for hours without becoming bored.  I took fifty or sixty photographs inside the walls of the cemetery.  I particularly liked this symbol, on one of the tombs, because I like the symbolism of time slipping away on feathered wings.


Speaking of angel wings, this gravestone was positively gorgeous.


So was this one.


After a few hours walking around Père Lachaise, I decided it was time for a break.  I went back onto the Metro, to the area near Montmartre, where I had a nice crepe with butter and sugar for lunch.  I was still recovering my strength from being sick, and so that sugar was entirely necessary.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

After lunch, I took the Funicular up the hill to see Sacre Coeur Basilica.


There were a ton of people hanging out around the Basilica.  This guy was practicing antigravity with his soccer ball on the steps.  He was talented enough to catch my attention for a while.


A short distance from the Basilica is Espace Dali, a substantial and amazing Salvador Dali museum.  Again, I took a metric pantload of pictures, but I’m only including one here- one of Dali’s famous melting clocks.


The Espace Dali had a photo booth that would superimpose your picture into Dali imagery.  I got this one.  If I’d had another €3 in coins, I would also have gotten the one that puts Salvador’s mustache on you.


Walking back down the hill from Montmartre, I saw this graffiti on a building.  Come to think of it, I saw a lot of cat-centric graffiti on buildings on this trip.


Meanwhile, back on the other side of town, there’s a little known archway called the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile.  It’s much larger than I thought it was.  Also, you can climb it.  I didn’t realize at first that there were people on the top, looking down.  I’ll come back to this.


I spotted this building on my walk back to the hotel, and I thought it was kind of interesting.  It certainly didn’t match its neighbors.


This is the dome of L’Hôtel national des Invalides, which is also the tomb of Napoleon.  Yes, that’s real gold.


This is the Musée d’Orsay, an old train station which has been converted into a gallery full of the world’s finest Impressionist painters, including Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh.  I didn’t actually have time to go into this one, but it’s a lovely building.


This is just a street.  There’s nothing particularly special about this street, except that it’s in Paris and it looks kind of nice.


This is some of the bouquinistes, or permanent used book stores attached to the side of the River Seine near Notre Dame.  Apparently, the wait list to acquire one of the 250 locations along the Seine is about eight years.


This was along the river also.  I just thought it was neat.


This tower marks the location of the Bastille, but the prison itself is long gone.  After the prison was torn down, the bricks from the Bastille were used to make one of the bridges across the Seine.


I mentioned I’d get back to the Arc d’Triomphe.  When I finally went back, I stumbled across a nightly ceremony to relight the flame on the grave of the Unknown Soldier from the Great War.


Next, I climbed the Arc, because it was tall and because that’s what I do.  This is what the famous shopping stretch of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées looks like from the top.


Last but not least is the Eiffel Tower.  I had blown my pre-booked tour (and lost about eighty bucks) by getting horribly sick at the start of the trip, but I gave it another shot on my last day, before I flew back to Germany.  The first elevators to the summit opened at 9am, so I got in line at 8:30.  Good thing I did, because I was definitely not the only one who decided to get an early start.  By 9:30 I was in the structure, and by 10:30 I was back down.   I took pictures from the summit, but they don’t look that different than my pictures from Tour Montparnasse or the Arc d’Triomphe, so I won’t put them in this post.

I will, however, put a picture of the counterweights here.  The gargantuan elevators that go up and down the corner pillars of the Eiffel have these huge counterweights that were just amazing to see.  According to Old Man Wiki, the counterweights are 200 tons each, and sit atop hydraulic rams for the lift system.  I’ve read a description of the hydraulic lift system four times in a row now, and I still don’t quite understand it, but it’s amazing to see in action.  I wish there was something in this picture to give you a sense of scale-  the counterweights were easily three times my height.


One final picture, looking up from near the center of the Tower.   They’re building new stuff.  There’s also a cafe on that first elevated level that I didn’t have time to check out.


What’s your favorite part of Paris?

Easter Weekend 2013, Part One: Strasbourg, France

The Friday and Monday surrounding Easter weekend this year were public holidays in Bavaria.  Since I had a long weekend, I decided to do a whirlwind tour through Strasbourg France, Freiburg Germany, Zurich Switzerland, and the Rhine Falls near the Swiss-German border.  I’m going to write about them one at a time, though.  First up, Strasbourg!

I’ve been trying to perfect the art of packing light for my travels, and I think I did very well on this trip.  For a four day, nine train journey to all of the aforementioned places, this was my entire pack, including my DSLR.


I arrived in Strasbourg around 9pm, and made my way to the hotel first to drop off my belongings.  I stayed at the Hotel Cathedrale, and was quite surprised when I arrived to see just how close the hotel was to the Cathédrale Notre Dame.  The entrance to the hotel is just across a courtyard from the Cathedrale, which made my sightseeing the next day quite easy to plan.  Since I arrived into town quite late, I grabbed a quick dinner at The Dubliner’s Irish Pub, a few blocks from the hotel.  I saw the pub on my walk to the hotel, and while I wasn’t in the mood to try local cuisine right away, I know I can always count on tasty food in an Irish pub.  Plus, this is a great way to start the holiday weekend:


Walking back to the hotel from the pub, I snapped this picture.  The entranceway to the Cathedrale is just like one of the large churches I saw in Barcelona, very typical of the time period in which it was constructed.


The hotel also had a variety of gargoyles around the elevators and stairways, to watch over you and protect you while you slept.  I slept very well.


The next morning, I had the hotel breakfast (not bad), and walked out to find the nearest tram station.  From there, I went back to the main train station, because it has an amazing glass dome in front, and I wanted to get a picture.


From there, I made my way back into the center of town, partially by tram and partially on foot.  You can see the tram in the background of this picture of a rather pretty town square.


This building was on my path back to the center of town, and I was utterly fascinated by the giant barrel in front.


After my walk back toward the hotel, I finally went into the Cathedrale.    It’s enormous-  you can get a sense of scale from the people in this photograph.


Inside, the arched roof is amazing.


I’ve noticed memorials to fallen American soldiers in various places around Europe- it’s rather strange (but heartwarming) to see tributes to Americans in all these other random places.


Inside the Cathedrale, there is an astrometric clock that was built in 1838.  There are various moving pieces  on the quarter and half hours.  At 12:30, there is a “procession of the Apostles” on the upper level, and the mechanical roosters even crow.  I’m really not sure how they reproduced the sound of a rooster using mechanical means in the 1800s, but it’s there.


The upper level is Christ-  the Apostles move past him at 12:30.  The lower level shows mankind at different ages, walking past Death.  You can see the old man figure to the right of death in this photo.


In the courtyard outside the Cathedrale, street artists try to get tourists to stop for a sketch.  I saw a lot of these on Charles Bridge in Prague, too.


For a small fee, you can also climb up the 332 steps to the tower platform if you like to see things from tall places, which I really and truly do.  Here’s what the view is like on a mostly clear day:

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Climbing back down the other side, there are some nifty gargoyles keeping watch.  I especially liked this fellow:


After the tower climb, I was good and hungry for some lunch.  I went back to a place I’d spotted earlier, La Crepe Gourmande, on a side street a short walk from the Cathedrale.  I had “Galette Paysanne,” which is a buckwheat crepe or pancake with onions and bacon inside.   Oh, and an egg on top.  It was delicious.


After lunch, I took a boat tour on the river, in these glass topped tour boats.  The audio portion is available in many different languages, including English.  The tour goes through two locks, which is a fascinating experience if you like transportation technology as much as I do.  The tour went past the ARTE headquarters as well as the European parliament, neither of which are pictured here because I didn’t take very many pictures from the boat. I did get a few nice shots, though, and they follow this one.

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Also, since it was a sunny day a lot of people were out on the banks of the L’ill river.  People were reading, walking, holding hands, picnicking.  It was a nice day for that sort of thing.


All that was left after my day of sightseeing in Strasbourg was a nice dinner- I went to Cafe Rohan near the Cathedrale, and had some local Alsace cuisine.  I had Baeckeoffe in a crock pot, which is a beef, lamb and pork stew cooked with potatoes and carrots.  It was delicious, and hearty-  I’m glad I didn’t skip the regional food entirely while I was in Alsace.

Have you ever been to Strasbourg?