Thursday, September 27, 2012 – Mainz and Rudesheim

Rain again

[A few more days to go to complete the trip blog.  To read about it from the beginning, click here and go to the following days in turn by clicking on the upper or lower right.]

This morning most of our group went to Heidelberg, ostensibly to see the University, but I think many went to shop at a huge Christmas ornament store we had been told about. I think Cathy and Gordon were the only ones from KPBS that came with us to the Gutenberg Museum. Mainz was built by the Romans in the first century. We saw an unusual sight for this part of the world:

A tropical paradise on the Rhine River

A sand beach with thatched huts and folding chairs on the Rhine!  It was built as a project by university students and has been very successful commercially.

Our guide for Mainz and the Gutenberg New Zealand was Irmi. The castle of Mainz took 150 years to build, but one of the Queens didn’t like living there and moved to the building next door.  I guess the Royals can do pretty much what they want.

The King (left) and his seven electors

The Romans were here 2000 years ago. It seems like the Romans were everywhere we went, either 1000 or 2000 years ago. We saw a monument to the election process for Kings, with the elected King on the left, and seven electors. We saw another Monument to Richard Wagner, built by his publishers with whom Wagner had financial difficulties.

Originally Mainz was on both sides of the river, but when but when Germany was divided after World War II, the other side wound up in the American Zone and eventually became Wiesbaden.

The Matchstick House

There was a meeting of historians going on in town at this time with dignitaries so notable that the Cathedral was off-limits to tourists and so we could not enter it. The contrasts of architectural styles in Mainz is astounding. After World War II, concrete blocks were the fashion, but now both residents and visitors hate it. We saw a structure that looks like huge broken Venetian blinds but turned to be a design in slats of plastic.

The other side of the Matchbox House

It was called the Matchstick House, and the residents hate it. What is surprising is that the other side (the front) of the same building is composed of three beautiful examples of a more traditional style.

We saw a remarkable multi-splined sculpture from a Spanish artist who named it “Power of Life”. Teresa calls it “design” and not sculpture at all.

The Power of Life

We saw St. Martin’s Cathedral which was burned down the day it was completed. The tower itself has burned down seven times.  They have no business building anything called a Matchstick House.

A replica of Gutenberg’s printing press,.

We then visited the Gutenberg Museum which was really interesting. Before Johannes Gutenberg was ever interested in printing, he studied alloys with metallurgists and bell makers in Strasbourg, and then began the invention process for movable type. A local investor loaned him 800 guilders, which amounts to half $1 million today. But it was not enough, and he had to borrow 800 guilders more. Eventually he failed to repay the money on schedule, and in court he lost his establishment to his creditor and an apprentice. He was saved financially by being appointed courtier to a king who provided him with lodging and more than enough food, which he sold to make ends meet.

Here I am, printing.

There are several steps to making movable type. A punch of hard metal is carved with the image of the letter. It is then used to make a negative impression in a “matrix” of softer metal. The actual type is an alloy of tin, lead, and antimony which melts at only 300 Fahrenheit and yet is strong enough to withstand the printing process.

The finished product!

Each line of type is assembled in a composers stick which is then assembled into the galley which is the size of the page. If the page is to be multicolored each section of color is inked separately before it is assembled into the galley. Although our demonstrator used rolling inking pads, in the early days they used inking pads made of inflated dog skin because a dog skin has no pores to leak air.

Gutenberg’s columns of text are perfectly justified both left and right, which couldn’t be done if you simply had one version of the 25 different letters of type to work with. Gutenberg actually made 290 versions of the typefaces to handle the 25 characters. Gutenberg’s Bibles were printed only in black, but later, color was added. A rubricator added colored text, and an illuminator embellished the page with other colors and gold.

After the museum we decided to walk home exploring the town and do a little shopping. We were so surprised and disappointed to find that a souvenir Gutenberg plate was not available anywhere to add to our little collection at home. What a missed marketing opportunity for someone.

Finally the sun came out.  What a wonderful sensation that was!

St. Augustine Church

We found a wonderful little St. Augustine Church with not a single explanatory word in English. It was marvelous. I think the parishioners wanted no part of the tourist trade in their church.

Too soon it was time to find our way back to the boat.  We had no real idea where we were. We were able to find our way to the water because in Mainz the blue street signs run parallel to the river and the red signs are perpendicular. But when we got to the river there was no boat in sight. We were much farther along the river then we realized, so it was quite a walk.  We got back to the boat a couple of minutes late, but we were not the last to arrive.

The train to the Rudesheim wine cellar

The afternoon expedition was to Rudesheim and a wine tasting. We took a Disney-like train through town to the Ādolf Störzel wine cellar which was built in 1580. The town itself seemed rather modern but it had its older areas too. Our wine “explainer” was a comedian and an actor and put on a pretty good performance. We tasted three Rieslings.  They always start with the driest and end with a dessert wine. He said the first wine had had the taste of apple, pear, limes and cypress.

The Ādolf Störzel wine cellar

I’m a skeptic when it comes to the tastes people say a wine has, and I would like to see independent wine experts describe some wines and see if they come up with the same fruits and vegetables.  I would bet they won’t.

As we’ve heard before, 80% of the grapes grown here are Riesling grapes. We also learned that 15% are Müeller Tur Gau (phonetically) grapes and 5% are Pinot Noir. Their Pinot Noir has lower alcohol

The first wine

content and is paler than the typical Pinot Noir and is generally considered inferior. Wine that is left over from various operations including wine tasting, is turned into schnapps.

The second wine was sweeter with less acid and was bottled in 2011.

The second wine

2000 years ago Roman legionnaires arrived here and planted grapes to satisfy the requirement that soldiers must drink at least 1 liter per day for medical reasons. The grapes and wines the soldiers produced were not good at all. Then the French Cistercian monks arrived and introduced the Pinot Noir grape and wine which was a big improvement.  But the region came into its own when it was found that the topography, soil, and weather really suited the cultivation of the Riesling grape.

The third wine

The third wine was much sweeter with 60 g of sugar and was really a dessert wine. Cultivating grapes on the steep slopes here is much more expensive than on flat land. What can be done in three hours on level ground by one man operating a machine, takes eight pickers three days on the slopes. This wine had the name Spätelese which means late harvest. There’s a story about that. It seems that when the grapes were ready to pick they had to send for permission from the governing cleric. The long wait for permission angered the vintners. But what they found was that the 10 day wait made the wine much better than it would have been had they picked the grapes earlier.

Our wine “explainer”. Funny guy.

Our host also discussed ice wine, which is made from frozen grapes.  To make the wine it takes three consecutive nights at -7° C (19°F) , which typically happens only three times in a decade. The last time was in 1953-54 and 35 pickers went out at 4:30 AM to pick the grapes at -9° C. They produced 400 L (106 gallons) of ice wine from 1.8 acres of grapes which would normally have produced ten times that amount of wine. That’s why a half bottle of ice wine costs €60 ($77). In 1921, a bottle of ice wine sold for €27,000 ($34,5000).

During the wine tasting the rain came down in buckets, judging from the sound, but when the wine tasting was over the weather was clear and sunny. What timing! We then wandered through the storybook town of Rudesheim. I bought a geometric steel mobile with a motor to make it slowly spin.  I plan to hang it over our bar from a beam.  [UPDATE: I put it up when I arrived home and it's been spinning there ever since.]

Teresa and John on the sundeck

Back at the boat, Teresa and I bundled up, made hot chocolate, and headed to the sun deck for the little bit of sun that there was. It was a good place to be. When it was time, we headed for the lounge to listen to Dejean’s pitch for the evening in which he covered disembarkation procedures and tomorrow’s activities in Cologne.

Marcia’s birthday party

At dinner we celebrated Marcia’s birthday with a sparkling fountain cake, presents, and a song.

Then it was time for an evening visit to Rudescheim’s Music Cabinet Museum.

A Major music box

The first machine we saw was huge and simulates 19 instruments and was built between 1925 in 1929. It was wonderful to hear it play 12thSt. Rag, a song my mother used to play. We heard an 1877 Edison phonograph play “Que sera”. Another music box we saw originally sold for 15,500 marks, the cost of a countryside home today. Today its value is €300,000 ($383,400).

We saw a machine that includes six violins automatically played. The method was ingenious: The bow was a horizontal

An automatic violin machine

circle inside of which were placed the violins. Each violin was set up to play a single string and when that note was sounded it was simply moved against the rotating circular bow. Siegfried Randall who is now 77 was the collector and whose sons are now operating the business. There are 350 instruments in the collection 95% of which are working. It was an extraordinary collection and an interesting visit.

Then back to the boat for the evening

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Wednesday, September 26, 2001 – Koblenz

It so happens that I read for the visually handicapped on the KPBS Radio Reading Service on odd Tuesdays of the month. At 2:30 AM I suddenly woke up realizing that I had not made provisions for a substitute reader for October 2, the first Tuesday. Right then, I sent an email to another reader asking if she could find a substitute for me, and by breakfast time I got a message back saying, “Consider it done”. What a relief.

Beheaded Luther Von Der Koben with rolling eyes and tongue sticking out on the hour.

This morning we took a leisurely 10:30 AM tour of Koblenz. It was a typical European town combining architectural styles from many periods, particularly Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque. Although it was not a particularly strategic city in World War II, it has, like many other towns, been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries. Our guide Heike Beaujean told us about Luther Von Der Koben who was beheaded for a crime while vehemently protesting his innocence. Legend has it that even after his head was separated he rolled his eyes and stuck out his tongue at his executioners. On a building wall is a relief with the eyes continually moving and every hour the tongue sticks out. We visited a church which had been a monastery or convent in the 11th century but was now a Protestant church. In a dark, four-foot wide opening in the ceiling there is

Both a medieval and modern procession

supposed to be an unexploded bomb but as hard as we looked, we could not really see it. Nearby there was a vertical mural depicting a procession held once before 1000 BC and more recently to a meeting to set the Germany-France boundary. We also visited the Catholic Liebfrauen Church which had tombstones on the wall to the right as we entered. Their City Hall has 24 windows and at Christmas time each window is opened in succession before Christmas. We also saw the Koblenz “Bad Boy” which is a popular tradition here. We learned that every two minutes he spits a substantial stream of water as one of his mischievous pranks. The only thing is I learned thaat fact a little too late and got soaked, but it provided a good demonstration and amusement for the group. We then headed back to the boat for lunch.

Castle watching

After lunch Teresa and I went out on the top deck with a blanket to see the Rhine River castles. It got colder so I wound up on deck by myself with a map of the Rhine and its castles. The  castle at Rhens was where seven electors came to elect their King. Four came from the Rhineland itself, and three came from other locations. We saw the Marksburg Castle which is the only one which has never been destroyed over the years, and is now the home of the Center for Preservation of Castles. It seems like a logical choice to me!  To defend themselves from sieges, some castles have long tunnels through which provisions were carried. Of course, they still use that technique across the US-Mexico border, but for a different purpose. Louis XIV spared no effort in his drive to convert the land to the French character.  I would say he did not succeed.  There are not only castles but villages along the river, and trains.  The trains looked like toy trains to me because the quaint buildings alongside the right of way look like the buildings you find in model train layouts. We learned that the Rhine River has a male “personality” while the Mosel is female. It is a more peaceful river.  Even though the Danube is two times bigger than the Rhine and frequently floods, it wound up with the feminine character.  Go figure.  As I heard the other day from a female presenter at Rotary, “If the world were logical, men would rise side saddle!” The castles were often built to support the collection of tolls. The nobles and the Cardinals were the landowners and extracted everything they could from the merchants. There were 30 toll collections between Mainz and Cologne. So trade was very expensive. There was only one castle that was successfully defended against Louis XIV.  That must be the Marksburg Castle.  In another part of the river, The Katz and Weinfeld castles on each side of the river held a stranglehold on river passage.  That must have been expensive for merchants. That afternoon I put out some pictures at dinner, with a key to who they were. I don’t know how many people actually saw the pictures before I was asked to put them away. That evening we had dinner with Art who is involved with medical statistics and Kathy and Andrew who has a medical research laboratory and does research on specially bred mice.  We had an interesting discussion of the general subject of medical research.

The Party

That evening we had a concert by a really good singer and keyboard player, and we had a great time dancing. Our host is DeJean Stansic, who really takes good care of us.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012 – Cochem

The Oldest Building

Our next stop was the town of Cochem. This town has never had a mining industry, so no silver. It has always a poor town, but a clean town, according to our guide. Its economy is currently based on wine and tourism. I guess our group fits their business plan. We saw the oldest building in the area, which has never been burned and now operates as a hotel. By law the buildings have black slate roofs, although recently, synthetic black slate roofs have been installed.

The trial of a goat for stealing grapes

We ducked through tiny, narrow FuchLock onto Coffee Shop Street where there were in fact many coffee shops. We saw a fountain commemorating the trial of a goat who had been accused of eating grapes from one of the local vineyards. The test was to be pressed in a wine press. If white wine came out he was guilty, but only blood came out so he was judged innocent although it was too late for the goat. In New England we’ve had witchcraft trials like that. If you drowned, you were innocent.
[Click on a picture to see it full-sized.]

The highest water recorded was in 1993.

We had our first rain this morning, but we were prepared with lots of umbrellas and hoods.

Umbrella day

Rain and water are no trivial matters around here.  Until very recently major floods were almost routine.  It was hard to imagine how that river way down there could flood so high up in the town here.  On the wall are high water marks over the years.  The highest was in 1993, two days before Christmas.  :-(

These days the vintners want to make ice wine because of the premium price it commands. Ice wine is made from crushing frozen grapes, so temperatures of -7°C (19°F) are needed. Temperatures that low are becoming less and less common. I guess we know why.

We then visited the town castle via a twisty narrow drive and a steep walk up through a series of gates.  It was a wonderful castle which had been burned down in 1689 by

More castle

Cochen Castle

Louis XIV who wanted to convert all the castles in the area to the French style. Almost 200 years later, in 1868, it was rebuilt by Louis Ravené. He built it to look like the original on the outside but was modernized on the inside. Unfortunately he died only a year after it was completed, but his family continued to use it as a summer residence. Teresa’s characterization of it is “regal but warm”.

The Mermaid Mascot Room. Touch the mermaid for good luck.

In the 1940s it was sold under duress to the Nazis by means of excessive taxation andlater was acquired by the national government. Much to the delight of the residents, the town of Cochem was able to buy it as their own for €332,000. A real bargain. The rooms were furnished in different styles: Renaissance, Romanesque, and Gothic with with interesting features everywhere, including secret doors and doors that lead nowhere for the sake of symmetry.

Sign inside Ravené’s well.

There was a well in one of the courtyards. On the inside of the well had Ravené placed the following quotation, “Be any drink blessed, water for you, wine for me.”

Instead of taking the bus back to the boat we chose to walk down the hill and through the town which turned out to be a very fine choice because we got another look at the shops along the way.

For dinner tonight, we were seated with our guide, Rebecca, and Cath and Chris Allen. Chris is responsible for the security of the Information Technoloy (IT) systems at Sempra Energy, and when I asked Rebecca what she did before leading tours, she said she hosted government figures around the country. Seems like a logical precursor to her present job. But it also turned out that she had worked in cyber security for the government and had a lot in common with Jeff.  It was fascinating to listen to them talk about the state of cyber security in general. It’s a very difficult problem.  We didn’t learn any national security secrets so it was not necessary to shoot us.

Doug’s Birthday

It was Doug’s 70th birthday today so Doug and Retha were seated at the head table and honored with a birthday cake topped by a sparkler.

We were also treated to Tom’s demonstration of juggling while eating an apple. He actually did it.

 

 

 

 

Looking for the “Peanuts Bar”

After dinner we wandered through town in the dark looking for the “Peanuts Bar” and eventually found it, although the only connection with peanuts is that the peanut shells were on the floor after we finished the peanuts. The German beers were excellent and so was the pole dancing demonstration by Doug and Pat. You had to see it to believe it.

Teresa and I left before the party is over and so I have no idea how long it went on. However, I do know we didn’t see Tom and Julie the next morning for breakfast.

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Monday, September 24, 2012 – Bernkastel, Germany

This morning we had our usual excellent breakfast, followed today by the wailing of the emergency alarm and a drill on the sun deck, to make sure we all knew how to report to our proper group, and that we were all present. Apparently we all were.  By now we had traversed the 5th of 17 locks we will encounter on the Mosel River.

Ready for anything

We relaxed while we traveled to Bernkastel, our first stop. After lunch, we assembled for a walking tour of this medieval town, led by our excellent guide, Krista. There were many wonderful half-timbered houses, and houses with smaller first floors than the other floors. This was to save taxes, because the area of the ground floor determined the taxes you paid.  Apparently, taxes have brought out the ingenuity of people for many years.

How to minimize a tax bill.

 

The Celts were here in 2000 BC, a claim which beats the town of Metz by 1000 years. Early on the town’s economy was based on mining, especially silver.  As a result, they were able to coin their own money, giving them a significant commercial advantage.  I guess so! The Romans brought red wine to the area, which was soon replaced with white wine which grows especially well in the steep, slate-based soil, common in this area. The slate helps maintain moisture during dry spells. The early Roman homes had large beautiful mosaic floors.

The Astor home

The area has been prone to flooding, and the historical flood markers showed the water reached surprising heights above the present stream level.

We saw the recently rebuilt Astor home, which has had a varied history over the years. In 1989 it burned down (not the first time), and took Mr. Astor’s life. Next door to the Astor home was a tower which had five foot thick walls, and which Krista said was the biggest, strongest, highest, tower in the world in its day. I’m skeptical.

We then moved to a wonderful plaza surrounded by half-timbered buildings for the most part. In 1870 Louis XIV passed through, but built a fortress by taking stones from the town of Bernkastel.

In 1926 there was a tax revolt by 8,000 wine growers, who trashed, government building, burned it down, and finally won tax relief and the freedom of four who had been arrested earlier. We saw handcuffs chained to the wall which were used to pillory women for punishment.

Wood dating aged this building 134 years, from 1546 to 1412.

There was a particularly old narrow building leaning precariously, it seemed, which was the oldest, or one of the oldest buildings in town. It was originally dated to 1546 but they did wood dating and determined that the home went back to 1412. Our guide said we would never remember those dates but here they are in print forever.

Our next stop was to Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler’s wine cellar where we tasted for different Rieslings. Our host was Katya, who introduced herself as “Engineer for Winemaking” we tasted four Rieslings, ranging in price from from about €6-€20. The wines were sweeter than we expected and that their most prized wine was the sweetest of all was surprising to me.

Tasting wine at Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler’s wine cellar

Their best wine comes from an area only 1.7 (4.2 acres) hectares in size. We looked at a room where many barrels were sitting each with a candle on the top it turns out the candles are not only for illumination but as a safety device to detect when there is too much CO2 in the room which is heavier than air.

Although the slopes with the vertical rows of vines are ideal for wine growing, it is difficult to harvest. It must be done by hand and what would take 400 hours on level ground takes 1000 hours on the slopes. Most of the work is done by Polish migrant workers.

Dinner at The Captain’s Table with “Captain Tom”

After another delicious buffet dinner we were treated to a concert by “The Trio”, consisted of a guitar, cello and a gloriously dramatic violinist.  When I saw her play, I decided I would put her in touch with Jung Ho Pak, Director of Orchestra Nova, who believes the whole body is part of a musician’s performance. [UPDATE: Alas, this is not to be.  Maestro Pak has resigned, in part over this issue, and the season is canceled.]

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Sunday, September 23, 2012 – Sightseeing in Metz, and we board the Amadolce

Transferring in Montparnasse

We were up at 6:30 AM to pack, have breakfast and board a bus for the short ride to the transit station in Montparnasse to join the rest of the AMA Waterways group headed for the boat. While we waited for the next bus to take us to to the Gare East railway station, I was able to catch up on some email in the Pullman Hotel lobby nearby, which had a public terminal.

Regina was our bus guide for this leg, and told us about the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse). It has been clocked at 573.5 km/hr (356 mph), but we will not be traveling at that speed today. There are several TGV lines, and the one we will be traveling, which goes to Germany, is the most recently constructed.

The TGV

Our city tour will not be in Luxembourg, as we originally thought, but in Metz, which is where we leave the train. No explanation requested or given. I believe it was just a logistics detail.

We had assigned seats in 2nd Class which were quite comfortable. The train did move right along, but I was disappointed not to see a speed indication as we traveled. It was probably about 180 mph.

On the TGV

In Metz, our city guide, Claudia, told us that Metz was inhabited as early as 1000 BC, and had been a Celtic trading post. In the 19th century, it was built up on the basis of coal, iron, and steel, under the influence of Wilhelm II who was a key figure in starting World War I. We were in the Alsace-Lorraine area, the site of many wars, which have occurred every 40 years on average. Claudia was enthusiastic about the cultural opportunities of Metz. They have Opera, Drama, Ballet and the Musée Pompidou Metz, a modern art museum modeled after the Musée Pompidou Paris.

The Luxembourg Cemetary for US Soldiers

On the way to Luxembourg from Metz, we stopped at the Luxembourg Cemetery for US war dead. Most other nations bury their soldiers near where they fell, but it was felt that America would not accept the idea of burials in German soil, so the cemeteries for US soldiers killed in WW II are in other countries, such as Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. This cemetery was simple and elegant. One of the other bus guides gave a very personal

A personal account

account of the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge, which occurred nearby. He told us that Allied forces arrived at the Maginot line and found the pillboxes empty. They could have advanced unopposed. However, Eisenhower ordered a delay until Allied forces could be strengthened, by which time the pillboxes were manned, a costly decision.

Welcome treats!

We continued on to Luxembourg and arrived at the boat around 5:00 PM with a reception scheduled for 6:30, followed by dinner. We were introduced to the staff, and received a detailed explanation of procedures and rules. It was humorous, but very long, a number of nodding heads could be observed, including mine.

The Main Lounge

After dinner Teresa and I went out for a stroll on the deck and found that were about to go through our first of 17 locks. This one was a drop of 3 meters, not that much.

That evening, Teresa locked the deadbolt, and then found that she could not unlock it. It took two staff people, one with a special key, to open the door. They explained that, incredible as it may sound, if you double lock the deadbolt from the inside, it cannot be opened from the inside. “That’s not safe!” I said, “What if there is an emergency”? He explained that they will quickly come around and make sure every door can be opened. There’s more to this story. Only I don’t know what it is.

Our first meal on board!

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tom Karlo

Today is our city bus tour day. We had a short wait for the buffet breakfast but while waiting we met Tom’s mother, Helen. The buffet itself was good, but not exceptional. The best choice for me was the salmon fume.

On the bus, since we were together for the first time, Tom introduced not so much himself but his mother Helen, his sister Valerie, and his wife Julie. It is clear we are going to have a good time with Tom on this trip. We were also reminded that KPBS is the number 1 Radio Drive station in all formats, beating the next station by over 2 to 1. Tom gave us an assignment, and that was to keep track of the 10 stupidest things that happened on the tour. We will review them at the Farewell Dinner. We met Kaden our bus driver, and our guide for the day, Marie, who has been in the business 25 years.  She was really good, clear, and delivered her explanations with such intensity.

We headed out. We immediately saw the Gallerie Lafayette which Marie said consisted of many small shops. She also told us about the wine shop Bordeauxtheque which was named after a discotheque. We next passed the Paris Opera House which took 15 years to build and in the process uncovered a lake which is under the opera house today. It’s the basis for part of the story of the Phantom of the Opera.  The lake, which is now water in a large tank, is not on the public tour these days, but some day I’m going to try and get down there to see it. The architects was Charles Garnier, and was commissioned by Napoleon III who, interestingly enough, was the son of Napoleon I.

Historic Cafe de la Paix

Rue de la Paix is the most expensive street in Paris partly because of the fashions but mainly because of the jewelry. It’s the most expensive property in in the French Monopoly game. Approaching Place Vendome, we saw many balconies with the sun symbol. They were made in honor of Louis XIV, the “Sun King”.

Ministry of Justice on the left, Ritz Hotel on the right.

We saw the hotel Ritz with its white awnings joined to the Ministry of Justice. To me, it seemed like a real contrast. We came to the Tuileries garden with the Louvre Museum to the left but we turned right and headed for the Place de la Concorde, a huge open space with many statues and notably an Egyptian obelisk which symbolizes a ray of the sun. There were two of these obelisks made to honor Rameses II, but the French said they could not afford to ship the second so it has stayed in Egypt to this day.  It reminded me of Cleopatra’s needle in Central Park, New York, which I loved as a kid, and which has a match in London.

We passed through Revolution Square which was the site of the beheadings during the French Revolution. On the Champs Elysees we we saw the glass and iron top of the Grande Palace which was built for an exposition a number of years ago. We passed through the film industry center on the Champs Élysées where people are preparing for the Cannes film Festival. Fouquettes, with its red canopy is the place where film people go to see and be seen.

We had another photo stop at the Arc de Triomphe which contains the tomb of the unknown soldier and the eternal flame. It also contains sculptures commemorating various battles. Marie pointed out the only battles noted on the ones in which France was victorious. There is no sculpture for Waterloo.

We then headed for the Eiffel Tower which was built 300 m tall but with the TV towers added the height is now 324 m. The Eiffel Tower was built starting in 1889 for an exposition and took only two years, two months, two weeks, and five days to build. We saw the Café Trocadero and the Montparnasse Tower.

We saw the golden dome of Les Invalides which at one point was a military hospital but is now the burial place for Napoleon and his two brothers Jerome and Josef, and other notables.

[Today is not over. More to come!]

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Friday, September 21, 2012 – Arrival in Paris

First stop in Paris: a pit stop

After the final announcements, including a second recognition of our group, we touched down at Charles de Gaulle Airport at around 10:30 in the morning.  Our first stop in France was a pit stop, followed by a tortuous walk following Becky’s red umbrella to the customs and baggage area.  We got through quickly, since some of our members qualified the whole group for Priority Service. We found our bus driver, Chabanne, who was holding up a KPBS sign. During most of the 45 minute drive to our hotel, Tom Karlo was downloading a guide to Paris into his iPad. It completed

Rebecca’s red umbrella and her aunt Karen

successfully and we will now expect him to be a major authority on things Parisian. We also had a major discussion of how to pronounce “vin rouge”. There were many participants in the discussion and I never knew there were so many ways to pronounce something so basic.

Lunch at the Bar Lindbergh, where his celebrated his arrival in Paris.

While we waited for the hotel to convert our twin beds to a double, we had an early supper at the “Bar Lindbergh”. This was where Charles Lindbergh celebrated his solo flight from New York to Paris many years ago. Teresa successfully tried her first major French of the day: “Qu’est-ce que la soupe du moment?”  (Soup of the Day) It turns out French vegetable soup is tasty but totally puréed. I had Croque Monsieur because it was the most French thing on the menu. It’s ham and cheese on toast but tastes much better than it sounds. Maybe that’s because we’re in Paris.

As we finished our meal, Pat introduced us to the final members of our tour group, Chris and Kath Allen. They had arrived in Paris almost a week ago.

We headed back to our room with its converted bed and had a welcome nap. After a while I decided to make my first excursion, easily finding an ATM and after a couple of false moves finally found an Office Depot where I bought a perfect little “Moleskine” notebook to take trip notes.  My spiral bound pad was falling apart.

I hadn’t been able to get on the Internet with my computer, so the hotel gave me a free hour of Internet time on their computers at the business center. I was glad of that but it wasn’t as great as it sounds because the French keyboard is different from an American keyboard in several ways. For example, the W and A keys are in different locations, and the < key appears where the shift key is on my computer.  I did get most of what I had to do done but it was a struggle.

Folks waiting in line at the Comedy Club next door to the Restaurant Elise where we had supper.

Fully refreshed, we set out for an evening walk down Boulevard Houssmann. We headed left, or East, and soon came to a Parisian version of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. There were nightclubs and restaurants one after the other and the kids were out in force. We needed a little snack, and we had our choice of food from every part of the world. We settled on Restaurant Elise, which advertised Anatolian cuisine, and was next door to the Comedy Club, where there was a long line. The line didn’t move for almost an hour while we ate, so I guess the show was worth waiting for. Teresa had yogurt with raisin sauce and I had baklava shaped like rounded cookies.  Both were delicious although the service was unbelievably slow.  What was even worse was that I miscalculated and tipped him excessively for bad service.

We had a pleasant evening walk back to the hotel.

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