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Tag Archives: france

  • Inside the “largest launch of a produce item in American history”
    There’s a big Apple launch coming up, and it’s not tech. Well, not handheld tech. I mean, not something that you can use, but actually eat. It’s the Cosmic Crisp!

    Over years of testing, the new cross reliably produced round fruit with dark red skin, the color of wine. The Cosmic Crisp has flesh that’s creamy white, is so dense that the apple feels heavy in your hand, and has a flavor that is pleasant, a bit more sweet than zing. Most important, it cleaves cleanly in your mouth — a crunch that lasts a long time in controlled-atmosphere storage, all the way around the calendar and into the next harvest season. From people in the industry, I heard the phrase “excellent eating experience” so often I began to imagine it in capital letters, with its own ™. When I enlisted some regular-world people to taste the apple, one crunched into an approximately seven-month-old specimen and said, with appreciation, “I can feel the structure of its insides.”

  • Half-empty boxes of Milk Duds, underfilled Halo Top: people keep suing over “slack fill” in food
    TMI around the legal industry that exists to sue food companies because there is too much empty space within their packaging.

    Usually the plaintiff, the client, is not really somebody who came into the office one day and was upset. It happens. But usually these lawyers hire people to go out and find things for them, and they say, “Go over to the grocery store, see if you see anything that’s slack filled, or anything that has language that’s misleading.” So they actually roam the aisles of these grocery stores and other types of stores, like lions looking for zebras. There’s a bunch of lawyers I deal with and that’s all they do.

  • Why Do Canadians Say ‘Eh’?
    A great linguistic breakdown as to how ‘Eh’ is used. Seems true in my experience.

    Other dialects of English and other languages have some similar tags. “Right,” “okay,” “yes,” and “you know” are all used in some of the same ways as “eh.” In French, “hein” (pronounced “anh,” the same vowel sound in “splat”) is quite similar, as is the Japanese “ne,” the Dutch “hè,” the Yiddish “nu,” and the Spanish “¿no?” These differ in some ways from “eh,” as “eh” can be used in some ways that the other tags cannot be and vice versa, but what really makes “eh” different is less about the way it’s used and more about its place in Canadian society.

  • Why the French love to say no
    Another language/linguistics article. This one is about French people and apparently their knee-jerk reaction to saying ‘Non’ to any question.

    the French have crafted a variety of ways to say no. ‘Ça risque d’être compliqué’ (‘that may be complicated’) is likely the least confrontational way of saying that a request is unlikely to be granted. ‘Ç’est hors de question’ (‘it’s out of the question’) is perhaps the most definitive version, cutting off any hopes of arguing one’s case.

  • The Illegal Ramen Vendors of Postwar Tokyo
    Ramen is not a traditional Japanese food. It became popular due to post-WWII circumstances, which you can learn more about in the article.

    Foods rich in fat and strong flavors became known as “stamina food,” according to Professor George Solt, author of The Untold History of Ramen. Ramen was very different than the milder, seaweed-based noodle soups of traditional Japanese cuisine. Okumura Ayao, a Japanese food writer and professor of traditional Japanese food culture at Kobe Yamate University, once expressed his shock at trying ramen for the first time in 1953, imagining “himself growing bigger and stronger from eating this concoction.”

I’ve first read Rosencrans Baldwin’s work when he wrote for the website The Morning News. I enjoyed his writing and was aspirational to read because of the way he wrote. Whereas reading something written by Malcolm Gladwell is interesting because he picks interesting topics and viewpoints, Baldwin’s writing is enjoyable even if the topic is not so much. His way of story telling and use of colourful language/metaphors is something I wish I could do.

At some point, I read an excerpt from his book Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down. It was a long version of his writing, and the topic sounded fun too! I put this book on my to-read list.

And now I have read it and enjoyed it very much. It is a memoir about the year-and-a-bit that he spent working in Paris and how he had to adapt his New York sensibilities to living in a city full of French people. He has a lot of funny anecdotes to share (some of which are in the above excerpt), but as the book progresses he also tries to interpret why French people act the way they do, and the differences between American and French cultures.

I can’t tell if the book is entirely based on true events or not, but it doesn’t really matter. If you can classify a book as a pop song, this would be a catch one that takes a fun look at Paris and its culture, from a viewpoint that is relatively similar to mine.

  • On Tipping in Cuba
    This writer waxes on about how memorable his trip into rural Cuba (i.e., outside of the resorts) is and how the insignificant amount of currency that he tips is embarrassing given the cultural value it is buying him. Of course, I’d imagine that the hard currency (even though it’s a small number) would buy the Cuban citizens a great deal.

    He served us a variation on the mojito, using basil leaves instead of mint. He called it an alto del mar — “above the sea,” also the name of his paladar — and it was the best drink I had in Cuba. Dinner was whole fried fish garnished with the only red pepper we saw in Santiago, and a delicate creole sauce that was several steps above the licensed paladares’ offerings in its refinement. When I asked for the bill, he brought me a scrap of paper with “$14.00” written on it. I gave him CUC $20, under-tipping for one of the most memorable meals I’ve eaten anywhere.

  • The Forty-Year Itch
    This article posits that “retro” is a 40-year cycle by cherry picking some examples from the last century. I don’t buy the argument, because we’ve seen a 20-year “retro” cycle in the last few years (i.e., Transformers, GI Joe, etc).
  • An American (working) in Paris
    I’ve been reading this writer since he started writing on The Morning News. I like his writing as his style is interesting and fun to read and this article is a great example of his writing. Apparently he has now written a book about a period where he stayed and worked in Paris – it seems interesting, maybe I’ll read the book.

    Honestly, I had no idea how it worked. There was one woman, an Italian down the hall, who visited us at ten-fifteen each morning, making loud smooching sounds even before she entered the room; then she’d deliver long-drawn, suction-fueled bises all around: on Julie’s cheeks, Françoise’s cheeks, Tomaso’s cheeks, Olivier’s cheeks. Even my cheeks, once we were introduced. But it wasn’t always done. Maybe four days out of five, but that fifth day . . .

    September found me frequently biseing inappropriately. Male clients, IT support workers, freelance temps. Any female who came within ten feet. They’d return my weird kisses reluctantly, or else back away and attempt to ignore the gaffe. I asked Pierre how he knew whom to kiss, whom not. Pierre said there was no way of knowing this unless you’d grown up in France, then you just knew. He himself preferred to shake hands.

    André overheard Pierre saying this and suggested, in that case, Pierre should move “the fuck” back to New York.

  • The Man Who Hacked Hollywood
    This article is the story of the guy who hacked into a bunch of celebrities emails and sold their photos off to the internet, and you know the rest of that story.

    One night, he finally gave in to the temptation to talk. “I let my curiosity—and I think my marijuana—get the best of me,” he recalls. A well-known actor had sent a wish-you-were-here photo of a European mountainside to an actress. Stoned and feeling uninhibited, Chaney logged in to the actress’s e-mail against his better judgment and sent a reply saying how fantastic the view looked. He shuddered the moment he hit send. “I was like, ‘You’re a fucking idiot for doing this,’ ” he says.

  • Can an Algorithm Write a Better News Story Than a Reporter?
    The article title promises the rise of the machines, but the reality is that the state of the art can only translate statistics into more interesting words. It will be quite a long time before AI can do the indepth reporting that a feature article contains.

Last year, we actually looked at flights to Geneva before deciding to visit some other places instead. As part of looking at Geneva, I realized there’s not much to do there and looked to see what else there was nearby. One place I found was Chamonix.

Chamonix is a small town (think: Whistler) well known for skiing, being the location of the first Olympic games, and as a starting point for people to ascend (or die on) Mont Blanc. I think it’s a bit glamorous and historical because of its association with people dying on Mont Blanc, but now that I was actually there, it looks more like Blue Mountain (since I haven’t been to Whistler). Part of it might be because the mountaineers don’t come until summer.

In any case, we weren’t going skiing/snowboarding, hiking and we weren’t climbing Mont Blanc, so the reason we paid the cost to go there was to take the cable car up to the summit of Aiguille Du Midi. The cable car is also famous as being the longest cable car in the world, used to be the highest cable car in the world and has a stretch of over 2500m (that’s 2.5km!) without any support pillars. If that sounds a bit dangerous, then I take solace in the fact that it was built in 1955 and is still in operation so it haven’t broken or what not (plus we got back in one piece).

The ride is a thrill. It’s actually in two stretches with a station in the middle (Plan de l’Aiguille). The first stretch starts a bit ho-hum. It goes up a mountain and you can see trees underneath. I was thinking “Wow this is pretty lame, it’s just like Grouse Mountain“. Then we got past the trees and started on the snow and it started to take off at a steeper pace. At that point, you feel like you’re on a mountain. You have to swallow every once in awhile because of the ascent from 1000m to 2317m, and they give you a Ricola candy to help with the process. At the Plan de l’Aiguille, you shuffle off the first cable car and into a second (with a bit of pause so people can take pictures). This is where the fun starts.

The second stretch goes up from 2317m to 3777m and it’s very steep. The car is at a (less steep) angle until it looks like it’s going to smash you into the mountain face, and then it feels like you’re being pulled straight up! By our back-of-the-hand observations, it looks like a 70° incline.

Once you’re at the top, you have a couple of different terraces to look out from. We first headed for the summit which is a short elevator that takes you up to the top of the Aiguille Du Midi. From here, you have an almost 360° view of the mountain range and below (we were very lucky to have a clear and sunny day). We were able to find our hotel!

You are very high up. This is the highest up I’ve been short of being in an airplane. At Mt Rainier, I was at about 1600m and CN Tower was only about 550m. We were just slightly higher than the clouds. At this height, it gets pretty cold. The temperature in Chamonix was about 12°C, but they had a sign at the top that said it was -17°C! We knew this would happen so we were prepared; fortunately there was hardly any wind(chill).

They say at this altitude, it takes about a half hour to adjust. We were actually fine and went about our business (i.e., picture taking) with no problems. Then we decided to go to a couple of other lookouts, this time without elevators, and climbing 2 or 3 stories of stairs really winded us!

From up here, Mont Blanc itself didn’t look as grand or as beautiful as it does in commercials etc. But the combination of rocks and snow and being really up high in the air, and human construction was pretty neat.

Although we came to Chamonix specifically for this, it was worth it. Actually I think the ascent and the experience at the summit is well worth it considering it is only about €43 for the return cable car (you can also choose to ski+hike back down).

Here’s a panorama I took at the summit.

As beautiful and romantic as the classical architecture of central Paris is, I am still partial to towering skyscrapers and the surrounding concrete jungle. The modern skyscraper district of Paris, like it is in London, is just outside the central region and a quick 20-30 minute Métro ride away. I did visit London’s Canary Wharf and it is basically what you would expect, a lot of tall, metal buildings and people rushing to work. La Défense is a bit different in that there is a tourist attraction there. La Grande Arche is the third arch that lines up with the Arc de Triomphe and the arch outside the Louvre; but was it really worth the trip out there (it’s not even within walking distance)? Last time I decided to visit a cemetery instead, but this time we made the trip out to the ‘burbs.

The La Défense stop on the Métro line 1 is the last stop of the line. Once you exit the station, you end up in a large terminal and underground mall much like Canary Wharf. There are underground passageways everywhich way to a variety of buildings, and I suppose that this is one of the hallmarks of business districts (i.e., Toronto’s PATH system). We couldn’t orient ourselves so we decided to follow the school group and head above ground. As the escalator brought us up to the ground level, La Grande Arche appeared before us, and it was indeed very grand (I mean big, in French)!

The Arc de Triomphe and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in front of the Louvre are very stately and commemorative arches. When you’re under the Arc de Triomphe, it feels like you’re under a large building, in the middle of a roundabout, with an observation deck at the top. It doesn’t hold a candle to La Grande Arche. Imagine a movie where aliens traveled through the universe in a (hyper)cube shipped and landed it in the middle of a city. It’s nothing special to stand beside the CN Tower, because you stand beside structures that dwarf you in height all the time. But you can actually run around the open middle area of La Grande Arche with offices beside and literally above you. You’re one tiny person standing in the middle of those three dimension objects that you sketched on graph paper in math class. It’s so big, that even at 10mm, I couldn’t fit the entire building in. I had to lie on the ground at the base in order to fit the top!

The hypercube is the termination of the Axe historique, meaning that you can walk, as the bird flies, all the way to the Louvre. That’s a lot of open space and it becomes in essence a long wind tunnel. They actually have panes of glass across the bottom of the hole to block the wind and prevent pedestrians from being blown over the side. The signs in the area were reinforced against the wind with special stone weights and bendable bodies.

The buildings in the neighborhood are in themselves pretty interesting. The skyscapers are designed uniquely and there is a lot of public art around, although because we only walked down the Esplanade de La Défense I think we missed a lot of the interesting displays. But visiting La Défense was a neat experience because for once you’re visiting a grand 21st century monument.

I’ve come to realize, through travelling the last few years, that I am not a museums or a park person. This is unfortunate since many top-tier tourist attractions within cities are museums or parks. Paris is one of those cities, and if you don’t visit the Louvre (the largest museum in the world btw), your friends will think you’re an ogre who grew up in a cave. How can you not see La Gioconda in real life? Maybe because I’d rather see it without having to fight through a crowd, stand behind a wooden barrier, and view a small portrait from far away while it is obstructed by glare from its protective “see-through” barrier.

But the truth is we did visit the Louvre. If not to see the famous pieces of art, but to walk around a former palace. We went in the afternoon and not during tourist season, so fortunately for us, it wasn’t as busy and there were empty seats on their couches to rest. It’s not like I’m anti-history; I enjoy reading about history and how things came to be, I just don’t get enough out of seeing artifacts to warrant spending my limited amount of time there. A good example is the Venus de Milo. It’s one of the top pieces of art at the Louvre, but why? I don’t know. It would be more interesting to me to understand the story behind the statue than to see it (Wikipedia says its fame is due to a French propaganda campaign).

The most interesting gallery was the history of the Louvre itself. A palace has existed at the site for almost a thousand years, and has been expanded gradually through various monarchies. Some sections of the Louvre are still amazing, especially the Napolean Apartments and the Apollo Room; but walking through the grand structure that is now separated with partitions, it’s difficult to imagine the palace bustling with life and being habited by le Roi.

While the Eiffel Tower has all the flash, my favorite tourist attraction in Paris is the Sacré Coeur. I’m not a big fan of the church itself because they have really anal guards that maintain an eagle eye on you so you can’t raise your camera from your hip; and if they see you doing so, will yell at you in a hushed voice. The location is great though, because you’re above and able to look down on all the six-storey high Parisian buildings (and the Tour Montparnasse — which I don’t understand why it was approved since it wrecks the view).

The neighborhood is also enjoyable. Montmarte was the former artisan area of Paris, home to Picasso among others. Most of the bohemian spirit has been lost however, and replaced with tourist stores offering crêpes at inflated prices, cafés and stores selling Chinese souvenirs and knockoff replicas. The best art I saw was graffiti on the wall depicting a stick man drawing on a canvas. Now that’s meta.

A visit to the Sacré Coeur feels like a journey. Since it’s elevated, there are three ways to get there: 1) Take the tram (lame!), or 2) walk the neighborhood roads in a cylindrical fashion, or 3) walk straight up the stairs. We walked straight up the stairs, but it was not as monumental a journey as my first visit where I also climbed up to the church dome. We took the roundabout way when we were leaving, although under the auspices of finding a restaurant, we wandered in the general direction of downhill and ended up where we started!

But my best memory, was sitting on the steps of the Sacré Coeur with Pauline, looking over Paris as the cloud-covered sun set, while a random Parisian covered some French and English songs on his guitar and school-trip kids danced around him. He wasn’t busking — there was no money involved. He was just playing for his and everyone else’s pleasure. It wasn’t a bohemian rhapsody, but it was the bohemian feeling that fit in perfectly with the neighborhood.

Because we were staying within the city, one thing I didn’t have to book for this trip was a car. I’m glad to save the hassle, but I’m also glad because driving over there seems a lot different than in North America.

The first thing you notice is that they prefer small cars there. Sure I saw a couple of Mercedes and BMW sedans, but the majority of the cars on the road are small hatchbacks. There were a lot of European brands like Renault, Citroen, Peugeot, and Fiat but also familiar brands such as VW (Golfs), and Toyota (Yaris). I would have expected the reverse of Detroit, with very few American cars, but I did see quite a number of Fords (Focus). Surprisingly I didn’t see any Hondas, and I randomly saw 1 PT Cruiser and 1 Dodge Caravan.

Yes, in fact you’re right, I did spend a lot of time looking around counting cars. In fact I made it a game to count the number of Smart cars. I hit 122 on the entire trip, but 60 of those were on the first day (and I wasn’t even paying attention all the time). I got tired of the game after the first day otherwise I’m sure the number would be much higher.

Because they have small cars, they can start and stop quickly, so they drive aggressively. There is a tendency to merge lanes randomly and to wait for left turns in parallel (perpendicular to the original lane) instead of in serial. Also, I read a neat point that in France (and unlike US/UK), cars entering roundabouts have the right of way. That’s an accident-causing fact right there. As crazy as it was though, I wouldn’t go to say that it is as chaotic as China.

The third deterrent to driving was the price of gas. I only came across one gas “station”, which are basically stores on the street that have a gas pump as a store front, and the price of gas on the meter was 3.39€/L. That’s like 4x our inflated cost of $1.09+/L that we’re paying in Canada!

Oh one last thing, if you’ve ever been on the Champs Elysées, you’ll know that the major European car dealerships all have storefronts there. I’m curious however whether they actually sell cars there or they’re just selling their brand. Because one of the worse places I can think of to pick up your new car is the most popular street in the city.

We woke up late after visiting the Eiffel Tower the previous night (and resetting our clocks), with the room service knocking on our door. Due to using a discount broker, we didn’t have breakfast included in our hotel. Sure we could pay an extra 12€ for it, but the great thing about Paris is there are Boulangeries (bread shops for those that haven’t played My French Coach on their DS) and street vendors everywhere. And by street food, I don’t mean the ever great street meat, but crêpes, panini and stuff of that sort.

Today’s adventure involved heading over to the Latin Quarter, and since it was on the way, to try and visit Notre Dame again. Guess what, it was raining. So we continued on our way and discovered a Greek neighborhood in some back alleys. This would have been a good place to stop for breakfast/lunch, but it had stopped raining so there wasn’t a good reason to seek shelter. Though, they (every place basically) had in their window these really big shrimp-wrapped-around-tomato shish kebobs that I wanted to try. They also had a lot of Greek men trying to pull you into restaurants. I figured it was a tourist trap, so ignored them (plus no dancing of the table-top variety right).

We opted for street food, we bought a street (limon sucré) crêpe for 2,5€. It was simple and good (although when you do the conversion it doesn’t seem that economical! Every day was kind of the same way. We would wake up, go to our destination and buy something like a 0,75€ croissant or a 4€ panino along the way. Although the street food is not as convenient as I thought it would be, there were only crépes/panini around the tourist areas (but neighborhood Boulangeries were common). The only weird experience we had was ordering a jambon (ham) crépe at what seemed like a Muslim place (they do not eat Ham due to religious reasons). There was a bit of confusion amongst the cooking staff while they were making it, although it could be because we were English-speaking customers; all I can say is if they didn’t plan on serving it, then it shouldn’t be on the menu!

We also stopped in a lot of cafés, sometimes to avoid the rain, sometimes for rest, and sometimes because we were hungry. The cafés were never as busy as I thought you should be, maybe because it wasn’t tourist season or maybe because it wasn’t consistently sunny. They say you should relax at a café and people watch; well the menu is certainly priced for it! A café au lait or would run you about 4€! One day we got a café au lait, a plate of spaghetti, a panino, and a dessert plate and it cost 20€ — that’s $30! The whole people-watching concept conflicting with us though, because we didn’t have the time to idle away an afternoon watching people on Boulevard Saint Germain.

The last thing we were confused about was whether to tip or not. I had read previously that tipping was mainly an American thing (and by extension Canada), and many of the things we normally tip on was not required in Europe. The confusing thing was that our semi-fluency in Français enabled us to kind-of figure out that tips might be included in the price (“Prix net services compris”) except because it didn’t follow academic French structure, we weren’t entirely sure. Of course they didn’t say anything in English since they had to pay the Americans back for that freedom fries thing. We tried observing people and it seemed like they didn’t leave extra cash so I think we were followed correct social behaviour!

Paris is called the City of Lights, and the shining example of this is the elegant and iconic Eiffel Tower brilliantly lit at night. We skipped the day trip (and the crowds) to La Tour Eiffel and instead visited at night where the tower was bathed by a warm yellow glow. Every hour, on the hour, there was a light show which consisted of blinking white lights over the entire structure, I think this takes away from the beauty of the Eiffel Tower, and it for sure confuses my camera.

It was late in the evening (9ish) and even the African souvenir peddlers were starting to walk to the Métro station. Of the four elevators, one in each leg, only the North one was still open. We lined up to buy our tickets to the first level (4,5€) and then waited another 30-40 minutes to get on the elevator. Once on the elevator, we honestly were planning to get off on the first floor, but were rather confused with the setup. The elevators were multi-level, and it wasn’t clear to me why there was a differentiation. We lined up for the bottom one, since we were going to the first level, Once we were on the elevator, it made a stop and the operator announced something that sounded like this is the stop for the first level restaurant, but I couldn’t hear very well.

Anyways we didn’t get off and the elevator kept going. Sooner than we knew it, we arrived at the second level. Oops. I was a bit worried about this because we had a two-stage ticket, meaning it was ripped once to get on the elevator, and there was still a second rip available (for the return trip?). In the end, it didn’t matter because they let everyone on the elevator.

I think “views” are overrated, whether they are at night or day, cloudy or otherwise. It was a nice night so I took a couple of long exposures. I mentioned before that it was rather windy, in fact it was so windy that we couldn’t go to one side of the tower at all! Fortunately there is a central area that is enclosed from the wind. There was also a unsheltered “second floor” (which explains the multi-level elevator) and there were a lot of people up there; but they must have been nuts to stand around in the wind waiting for the elevator to go down.

We were lucky because there weren’t a lot of people at night, but even then the line for the elevator spread into the middle of the area. I can’t imagine what it would be like to visit during tourist season with all four elevators operating!

Once we got back down to ground level, we had another adventure heading back to our hotel. We decided to take the train (RER) instead of the Métro because we would only have to make 1 transfer; however, trains are not as straight forward since you have to figure out which track and which train to go on. We accomplished those two challenges, but didn’t realize our train was a “Court”. What does that mean? Well it was a short (in length) train which stopped at the beginning of the platform, so by the time we walked to the train, it left. I don’t feel too bad though, we met another (Southern) American family and another Frenchmen who failed the same test! And we did eventually make it back before the transit stopped running.

When we checked the weather forecast before we left for France, it was not looking good. There was either heavy rain or normal rain scheduled, none of the days even had the half-rain/half-sun picture. When we arrived, it was raining (in addition to being windy), and rain+wind is not a good mix. We had an umbrella, but ended up buying Paris-branded ponchos instead (6€ each = $9).

They weren’t very helpful. The first place we went to when we arrived was Notre Dame. We tried to take some pictures, but even with ponchos, it was unmangeable. Frankly, I think Notre Dame is overrated as it’s always crowded and dark. Plus for me, whenever I go there it rains! It rained during my first visit, it rained that day, and it rained when we tried to go again the next day!

We strategically used churches throughout our trip as a means of rest and shelter (from the rain) because there are so many scattered around the city. Aside from Notre Dame, we visited the St-Etienne-du-Mont beside the Pantheon, Saint-Sulpice (still under restoration), La Madeleine, Sacre Coeur, and the Church of the Invalides. We also walked passed several such as the abbey church of St-Germain-des-prés and St Eustache but it wasn’t raining, and you can only handle so many churches before they all look the same.

The prettiest church was St Etienne. It was a huge contrast to Notre Dame as it was constructed with white marble, so was bright and pretty. It was also the final resting place of Blaise Pascal and Saint Genevieve. I also liked La Madeleine because the structure was very impressive, although there wasn’t much to see inside (nor was there any place to sit).

We’re back from our trip. I will of course blog the hell out of it in due time, I’ve already tagged and archived all my photos, and they will eventually make it up on to Facebook. I’ve been debating whether to diary-blog the trip like I usually do, or just tell some stories about several of the highlights, I think I’ll go with the latter.

One thing I was worried about were the lengthy plane trips, I have bad memories of being hella bored on trips back from London and France. This time I was luckier because we flew a red eye out, arriving in the morning, so I *had to* sleep if I wanted to actually do stuff the first day. Plus, the movies were Juno and Alvin & the Chipmunks, so it was an easy decision. The interesting thing about the flight there was the landing. There were 60km/h crosswinds when we landed so there was a lot of turbulence, but we arrived safely. I wonder if our landing looked like this?

For the return trip, I had a magazine and my DS so I wasn’t too bored, although I didn’t really have a game to play so I just played a several games for short 20 minute periods. The played Enchanted, August Rush, and I think Stardust (unannounced) but I wasn’t too interested in any of them. I had a weird experience as my seating was suddenly changed at the boarding gate, but fortunately for us, the plane was only 80% full so we were able to move to our own 3-seat row at the back. On both trips, we had a meal, a large snack/meal and a normal snack (pretzels etc). Surprisingly, there was free wine as part of the meal.

We booked our flight to Paris in mid-January and so there was a lot of time to book a hotel. This was a blessing and a curse, because from previous experience I expected the hotel rates to be more discounted closer to the actual check in time; but on the other hand, I wasn’t sure 1) whether this would hold true for a non-North American city like Paris, or 2) how March Break week would affect inventory. I also had, in my back pocket, an expectation of how much I should pay for hotels in the city based on my last trip in the summer (tourist season) of 2006.

Surprisingly, I never blogged about my hotels back then. I had stayed at a 3-star in Opera (good location) and a 3.5-star Distinctive (not really) a little further out (although it was close to the train station which was convenient to go to Versailles). I paid $95 and $77 USD per night respectively for the two places.

When I checked in January, the discount prices for the duration of our stay was around $115 USD for a three-star. I sporadically bid throughout January and February without success. The bidding forums were not helpful either because there was insufficient traffic to grok what the going rate for the dates in question were. I really started bidding a couple of weeks ago, doing multiple bids per day by altering credit cards and starting criteria. I went up to $130 on four-stars and $120 on three-stars with no takers!

We ended up getting one of the $115 ones, and I was surprised at the significant increased cost. Although I’ve now realized that if you take into the Canada-to-US exchange rate of about 0.88 in 2006, it is not an excessive increase. I’m not sure why it was so difficult to bid for a reservation but maybe it’s because it was Europe.

Pauline and I are off for a quick trip to Paris over March Break. Since last year, we were looking for deals for a vacation. We considered places like England, or a last minute deal to an American city; but everything was pretty pricey considering it was March Break. Paris ended up being slightly cheaper than London, and it’s a great place to visit anyways.

You may remember that I visited Paris in 2006 on the way to a conference. One of my most vivid memories was walking around the gardens in the Palace of Versailles estate and stumbling upon an orchestra playing classical music. It was very fitting of the environment and an example of the history and culture of Europe at its best. Here’s hoping for more cool memories.

Today, I didn’t really have anything that I needed to see, so I decided to head off to Versailles. Versailles is a western surburb of France and famous for having various international treaties signed there. After a little trouble figuring out where to take the train, I took a half an hour ride and walked to the Chateau de Versailles.

While the palace itself was not too big, the palace area is huge. There is a very nicely maintained garden at the back and a large man-made lake. I decided to walk around it, but the lake is actually much bigger than it looks. It’s in the shape of a + sign rather than a pipe |, so I had to walk twice the distance! Anyways, I thought it was nicer than the other palaces I’ve been too, even the Forbidden City.

Afterwards, it was a toss up between going to La Defense, a skyscraper district like Canary Wharf in London, or to a cemetary. I decided to goto Pere Lachaise Cemetary since I had really done enough walking, and I had to get there at a resonable time (my attempt to goto Montemarte cemetary yesterday was thwarted because it was 6 PM). There I visited Chopin’s grave!

That pretty much captures what I wanted to do. I still have the Paris Catacombs and La Defense left, but there doesn’t seem to be enough time to go there, nor do I really need to see them.

Well my adventure as a white man in Harlem, or rather a chinaman in Saint-Malo is over. It is a nice little town with a lot of sun, surf and beach. Originally, I was thinking that I should have spent another day there, but now I do not think that is necessary. Anyways, I am back in Paris and now staying near the red light district, otherwise known as Pigalle. I visited the Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur, and I have to say that Sacre Coeur is a neat area to be around. If you look past the tourist stuff, it is very grassroots and interesting.

Since the Sacre Coeur is on a hill, you have a great view of the city; along with a lot of tourists. After exploring a bit, I found that you could climb up to the dome of the church, so I did that (like 300 steps!) and had a great unobstructed view. They say that it is the second highest view in Paris (1st being Eiffel Tower), but I think it is the best. No lineup!

Anyways, staying around here is rather odd. Walking around, you have various people coming up to you as you pass and following you in an attempt to draw business for their club. They are pretty aggressive, and similar to the vendors in China.

Also, if you notice, I did not use on apostrophe in this post. Why? because I cannot find it on the keyboard…(recently found the question mark though).

Yesterday, the shinning was shining like crazy so I was constantly thirsty. Today, the sun was not so bright so I was only moderately thirsty. In fact you could say that it RAINED ALL DAY. Well, I’m not going to let a little rain get in the way of my plans, so I headed out bright and early at 10. First stop was Place de la Bastille, but since it was rainy and Sunday, I think the normal people weren’t around. Then I walked to Notre Dame Cathedral and was luckily on time for a Mass so I stayed around for that.

After lunch, I took some photos at the Pathéon, St Sulpice, and walked around St Germain des Pres (cafe district?), after a walk-by of Ste-Chapelle and then here, to XS Arena. The plan for later is Place Igor Stravinsky and the Centre Georges Pompidou which in my guidebook is one of the top 10 sites of Paris. It seems pretty odd by the look of the outside though.

Well I made it here in one piece, and I didn’t get too lost in the process. At least I can rely on the fact that young people know how to speak english. Anyways, after I landed, I went out to check out a few sites: Eiffel Tower, Hotel des Invalides, Ecole Millitaire, Rue Cler, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysée, Jardin des Tuileries, the ouside of the Louvre, Forums de Halles. If it weren’t for the fact that the internet at the hotel is 22 euros (I’m at a cafe), I would link all the above attractions. So too bad.

Also, Paris is hella dry; I think. I’ve been drinking liquids non stop and I’m still thirsty. Drinks here are also expensive. 2 eurors (~$3) will get you a 500ml bottle of pop. Don’t even get me started on the food either.