Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Home

11 weeks after we left, we are finally back home at 6p, 17 hours after leaving our apartment this morning.

As promised, I stayed up all night, watched MNF and the driver was right on time at 7a. We overwhelmed him with 8 suitcases!

Paris cried when we left. It was the ugliest, drizzliest day of our stay.

Flights went off without a hitch and we are now in the Continental presidential lounge waiting for our connection.

As you may know if you read the beginning of this blog, I used frequent flyer miles to purchase first class tickets. It will be SO hard to go back to "steerage." :)

In addition to large seats that recline all the way back and foot rests that extend and the private video screen that pops out of the arm rest, the food and service are amazing.

Let's see Six course lunch. 2 gin and tonics. Grand marnier in the hot tea. Amaretto on the vanilla ice cream and carmel topping. And scotch for a capper. All on request for free.

Plus you board and depart first. Baggage comes out first.

And all this for just double frequent flyer miles on continental (100,000).

I have a dozen or so posts to catch up on so even though we're home, I'll still be making some final posts.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Final Day in Paris

Today was our last day in Paris.

That is both a good thing and a sad thing.

Certainly, I think we are ready to be home. We have been here long enough that the first thing on our mind when we wake up is no longer what new thing are we going to do today.

On the other hand, it is always a little sad to say goodbye to something you've grown accustomed to and say goodbye to the few casual friends we have made here.

The first thing we did today was revisit Luxembourg Gardens.




The leaves on the trees are now mostly gone and new flowers for the winter have been planted. It's still an amazing place to visit and, despite the chilly sub-50 degree temperatures, there were still people bundled up sitting around the grassy areas.

We then made one final walk down Blvd St Michel to visit Notre Dame. We wanted to visit the crypt but it was closed on Mondays (!) so we just went inside. We did get to visit the Treasury of Notre Dame which contains some ancient relics. That was pretty cool.

Amanda then did some shopping and returned home while I finally made it to the Montparnasse Tower to go to the top for my long awaited panoramic view of Paris from the 59th floor. Fortunately, the weather this morning was perfectly clear despite the rain forecast. By the time I got to the top of the tower, it had become partly cloudy but the visibility was still good.

It was windy and cold at the top but the view was great. The towers sits in the south side of Paris so the views north, east, and west are great. There isn't much to see to the south. I created a panoramic image stitched together from 6 individual pictures. It's not a very clean stitch but you still get the idea. The dark sections in the sky are not rain or storms, but where the pictures were stitched together because the left edge of my images was darker. You will need to click on the picture to enlarge (it's very large). I will post a separate article with more pictures later.




I then met Amanda at the Beer Academy for one final lunch and beer and to say goodbye to Julia. (I made my final stop at The Moose last night to watch Carolina Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals.)

We returned to the house for the remainder of the afternoon so I could get some work done and Amanda could begin packing.

At 7p, Cedric the Manager showed up to refund our deposit and reimburse for the plumber (I talked about my nightmare plumber experience earlier.) Fortunately that went smoothly. We also learned that the owner of the apartment, Eva Darlan, is a French Actress (you can Google her) but she just sold the apartment for 500,000 Euros which apparently is a bargain. Apartments in this part of Paris sell for 10,000 Euros per square meter! That works out to about $1300/sq ft! Our apartment is 90 sq meters (about 1000 sq ft) which means it normally would sell for 900,000 Euros but the new owner got it for 500,000.

Finally, we dressed up and had a fine dinner at Closerie des Lilas. According to Frommers:

Opened in 1847, the Closerie was a social and culinary magnet for the avant-garde. The famous people who have sat in the "Pleasure Garden of the Lilacs" include Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Ingres, Henry James, Chateaubriand, Picasso, Hemingway, Apollinaire, Lenin and Trotsky (at the chessboard), and Whistler.

The food is pricey but quite good. We shared a lobster salad appetizer and both ordered the scallops on risotto.





(The pics are rather poor quality because I had to use the iPhone which doesn't do so well in low light.)

I am hoping to stay up all night (it's already 12:45a here) and catch the car to the airport at 7a for the 10a flight and then sleep on the plane. I can use the time to post some more articles (I am way behind) while watching the 5th game of the World Series and Monday Night Football. Don't know if I will make it but there are a couple Red Bulls in the refrigerator!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Lily Allen in Concert at Le Zenith

Last Thursday night, sandwiched between our two-day trip to the Loire Valley and our five-day trip to England, we saw Lily Allen in concert at Le Zenith, the same 6000 seat indoor arena located in Parc de la Villette on the northeast side of Paris where we saw Fleetwood Mac the previous Saturday night.




One could hardly have a larger contrast betweeen performances. Fleetwood Mac has been an intact band since 1975, when Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the band 10 years before Lily Allen was even born. Who knows how many concerts they have performed in 35 years.

Lily Allen, on the other hand, after being discovered on MySpace 4 years ago, has two albums out, and this was the first stop on a European Tour that would end up back in England where she is from. It was also the first concert she has done with a full stage set and backup band. I don't know what she did in South America last month where she did a few shows, nor what she has done in her previous shows in England.... I guess she just used recorded music.

I became a fan of hers earlier this year after hearing the song The Fear on XM Radio.

Having heard her in concert now, I must say there is something irresistable about this girl. She is naughty but naive, rebellious but not angry, childish but fearless, and vulgar but... well, just vulgar.

Even her ridiculous song F*** You, directed at George Bush, is sung almost light-heartedly (unlike the defiant anger of, say, the Dixie Chick's "Not Ready to Make Nice"), which makes it all the more effective in a sense (although as political commentary it is a pretty air-brained song).

Then again, maybe she's just a 24 year old train wreck waiting to happen, although I doubt she'll go the way of Amy Winehouse, at least I hope not. Whichever, she sure doesn't have much trouble getting her name and picture in the news. She certainly is not boring.

For me, she is a welcome contrast to the "angry white chick" phase of the late 90s (personified best by Alanis Morrisette) and I find her music refreshing and fun to listen to.

We got to the Zenith really early and were able to get on the floor about 7 rows back from the stage.

A British group called Just Jack opened at 8p in front of a simple black curtain. I had never heard of them but they were actually quite good. Here is their last song (not my video):



After a wait, it was time for Lily. The black curtain rose to expose a stage set reminiscent of a cabaret show. The middle of the stage was lighted steps with the drummer on the upper left, keyboard on the upper right, bass lower left, and lead guitar lower right with a simple microphone middle front and three large video screens in the back.




The show started with her rising up through the floor at the top of the steps. The music was a little too amped up at the start so it was hard to hear her but they seemed to get things balanced out after a few songs.



Her outfit was jaw-dropping amazing... black and white striped one-piece leotard cut down to her navel with black hose and knee-high boots combined with a nice short bob hairstyle (which soon became a little messy... she kept playing with it), heavy mascara and a black widow spider painted to the side of her left eye. Are you kidding me? Ok, maybe "amazing" isn't everyone's opinion (see these comments about her appearance), but "jaw-dropping" describes my initial reaction perfectly.

One British tabloid referred to her as a "mint humbug." I didn't know what a mint humbug was so I looked it up and couldn't stop laughing. What do you think?




She said right off that she had been nursing a sore throat and had been at the doctor all week (not a great way to kick off a tour) but, get this, she decided to smoke her way all through the concert. I also read later that the liquid in the cup attached to her microphone stand wasn't water but white wine! Now what kind of crazy performer nursing a sore throat at the beginning of a concert tour would smoke and drink during the show?

The British tabloids had a field day with her flouting the "no-smoking-in-public-places" law that went into effect in Paris this year. (See here, here, and here.) At one point she lost her lighter and someone on the front row threw her his. He wanted it back and she said she couldn't throw it because it might, like, kill him or something and then she would be liable. Cute. So she left it on the front of the stage for him to get later.

I actually think she was a little nervous. She confused the order of the songs early on (despite having the song list taped to the floor right in front of her!), announcing that she was about to sing one song before the lead guitarist corrected her. (By the way, all her musicians were men old enough to be her dad.... or boyfriend!)

She giggled a lot between songs and expressed amazement at the big screens behind her, further evidence that this concert was a step up for her. Otherwise, she was pretty casual -- lighting her cigarettes, strolling the stage, dancing a little but not in a choreographed way... she was just having fun. I liked her being unpolished.

She completed her set in about 1½ hours but came back (wearing a black and white print baby-doll top over boy shorts) with a couple songs including a darn good rendition of Britney Spears' "Womanizer."




All in all, I could've listened to her all night... it ended way too early. I love her breathy voice. I can't wait till she comes to the States.

More pics from the show at LilyPics.org. I took a lot of pics but they all came out terrible as did the videos.

Another nice blog review here (where I got the two videos).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

7 Dollars a Gallon!

Last week we took a 2 day tour to the Loire valley and then early this week we visited England. Both trips required renting a car, first for two days and then for 3.

Gas prices in France were 1.33 EUROS per litre.

At current exchange rates (1.4762 dollars to the Euro) and at 3.785 liters to a gallon, that works out to 1.33 x 1.4762 x 3.785 = $7.43/gallon.

In England, the price was 1.099 POUNDS per litre. The current exchange rate is 1.6374 dollars to a pound. This converts to $6.81/gallon.

Last year, gas prices in the US reached $4/gallon and Americans moaned (and finally started changing their transportation decisions). The price has dropped back to the mid $2 range now so it is about 1/3 the price in Europe which is about what it has always been it seems.

According to AAA Fuel Gauge Report (which lists the average price of gas every day), we are at $2.68/gallon.

You can compare prices for different countries here.

The reason for the difference in prices is almost entirely due to government policy; that is, gas taxes. The average gas tax (state plus federal) is about $.47 in the US. About 75% of the price of gas in France is tax.

No wonder they drive such little cars here!

Daylight Savings Time

In 2006, the US Congress changed Daylight Savings Time so that it begins the first Sunday in March (instead of the 4th) and ends the first Sunday in November (instead of the 4th Sunday in October).

However, most of the rest of the world (including Europe) stuck with the old schedule.

What that means is that there are 4 weeks out of the year (3 weeks in March and one week at the end of October/beginning of November) in which the normal time zone differences are off by one.

Last weekend, Daylight Savings Time ended in Europe and the clocks rolled back an hour. However, it doesn't change in the US till this weekend.

Thus, for this week only (and for 3 weeks in March) there is only a 5 hour difference between Paris and home (EST) when normally there is a 6 hour difference.

Daylight Savings Time Around the World

Beer Status

By the way, just in case anyone noticed, I gave up on my beer count quite a while ago.

To recap for those who didn't read the beginning of the blog, I had only had one beer in my life (and that was only two years ago on my daughter's 21st birthday) before coming to Paris.

I decided I no longer wanted to be a 49 year old beer virgin and posted pictures of each new beer I tried. I quit posting after beer 18 I think it was (I'm too lazy to re-read my own old posts to verify!).

But that doesn't mean I have quit drinking beer!

I probably have one pint a day of something.

I would guess I have had 35 different beers since I have been here and close to 100 beers total.

I'm kind of getting used to it. It's hard to imagine having a meal without one now.

My favorites:

Newcastle Brown Ale
Maredsous
Grimbergen
Karmeliet

Chateaux de Chaumont and d'Amboise

After leaving Blois on our way to Tours along the Loire River, we passed two other chateaux that would have been nice to visit but time did not allow.

Each chateau was on the south side of the river and we passed on the north and stopped long enough to take a picture.

Château de Chaumont




Château d'Amboise