Last Tango in Paris

[I thought that title was a little catchy–this¬†was our last day in Paris, and later in the day, I felt like an extra in a French movie, so it kinda fits, oui?]

We checked out of our little studio villa at the Marriott I’lle de France this morning and bought tickets to the Louvre so we could avoid the long queue later in the day. It took us about an hour and a half to get to our hotel on the west side of the city (it was our free night from Marriott, which is why we left one place just to go to another), but they let us check in right away. They also comped us in-room wifi and a breakfast buffet the next day! I tell you, company loyalty is rather beneficial at times.

Coffee on the patio.

Coffee on the patio.

Our little 'street' at the resort.

Our little ‘street’ at the resort.

My comped breakfast the next morning.

My comped breakfast the next morning.

This was my fourth time visiting the Louvre, and I was just as awed as ever at the sheer number and quality of pieces of art in this one place. I’m sure Paul and I only walked through maybe 50-60% of the exhibits in the 4 1/2 hours we spent there. Thursdays are late open days for the Louvre, so we knew we had plenty of time. We even took a half-hour break two-thirds of the way through to rest our legs and have a little refreshment in one of their cafes. Funny thing, though, one of the main cafes started closing with hours left of the museum being open and tons of people still there. One would think that they would stay open. I do not understand the French.

Courtyard Marly

Courtyard Marly

Diana, the Huntress.

Diana, the Huntress.

I thought it humorous that so many tourists felt the need to be IN pictures with the art. So, I did it, in jest.

I thought it humorous that so many tourists felt the need to be IN pictures with the art. So, I did it, in jest.

Notice the woman at the bottom left of this picture..to provide some perspective of the immense size of this painting.

Notice the woman at the bottom left of this picture..to provide some perspective of the immense size of this painting.

Once again we did not plan ahead as to where we wanted to eat dinner, so we just crossed the Seine into the 6th Arrondissment (which, we were told later, is known for having good restaurants), and poked around. I looked into the window of a corner cafe, and I noticed a lovely woman singing along with a bass guitarist and someone on keyboard. Hey, live music, I thought! Always a good time! As it turned out, this was a charming, local watering hole, with good food at a reasonable price, and did I mention, live music? ūüôā The evening, to my eyes anyway, became like a scene from a French movie; the jovial owner/waiter, the hep bartender, the barfly who sings along with the professional singer, the young couple in love staring into one another’s eyes in the back of the bar, the young French man wearing a black and white striped tee-shirt (a la Marcel Marceau) with the ever-present black scarf draped around his neck. It was a people-watching paradise! I kept trying to take a picture of the scene without being thought of as a potential creeper!

Us with front-row seats to our little French movie!

Us with front-row seats to our little French movie!

Paul acting like I am really taking the picture of him, but I'm not.

Paul acting like I am really taking the picture of him, but I’m not.

 

So, our last evening in Paris was nice and not too cold for a comfortable stroll back to the Metro and our hotel.

Au revoir, ‘Paree’, until next time. ūüôā

Nice little cafe in Paris.

Nice little cafe in Paris.

Night lights along the Seine.

Night lights along the Seine.

Back to Paris…Part Deux

Yeah, like I know a lot of French. Hah! I do know enough to order a pain au chocolat, creme broulee, Croque Madame, and all the essentials of traveling in France. I think that you, too, could manage yourself quite well there.

Our second day in Paris started late because, well, basically, I am OLD! Even Paul, my darling husband of over 30 years, asked, I hope, in jest, “Where is that woman I married who would wake up early in Europe and roam the quiet streets in the dawn of the day?” :-/ You left her behind in 2002 was the answer in my mind.

We wanted to see the Musee d’Orsay ‘first thing’, around 1 pm. ūüôā I think the lines have become longer since we were last in Paris. There was a queue that would rival Disneyland snaking around the courtyard at the museum when we arrived. One thing that has changed in us since our move to North Dakota 26 years ago is our ‘line threshold’. There ain’t no way we were going to wait in some random line for an hour and a half. We had heard, though, that one can bypass most of the museum lines by just buying their ticket in advance, so we decided to try again tomorrow, after we purchased our ticket at another place.

From the Musee d'Orsay, we walked across Lover's Bridge. The museum is in the background.

From the Musee d’Orsay, we walked across Lover’s Bridge. The museum is in the background.

So, off we went to L’Orangerie, another museum where we read that we could buy our tickets for that one as well as Musee d’Orsay. That one was closed on Tuesdays. No problem, let’s just roam over to the Eiffel Tower and then tour Victor Hugo’s residence in the Place de Vosges. One thing about Paris; to see it, one must be prepared to do some serious walking.

Sculpture in the courtyard of L'Orangerie.

Sculpture in the courtyard of L’Orangerie.

The Eiffel Tower is rather amazing. It is larger up close than I would have expected. Yes, there are some lines and crowds, but the whole area is so big, I didn’t feel crowded at all. Of course, we had no plans to go up it, either, so that helped. We had taken the kids up to at least the second level back in 2002, and we ourselves had been up earlier in 1999. Paul’s goal for this visit was to obtain a pin for his vast collection of lapel pins from all over the world. He has been collecting these for maybe 15 years or so, and he is quite enthusiastic about it. Ask him about them sometime! Well, he was successful in his search! I really like it too!

Belgium and Paris 227

Paul's great pin! I like it.

Paul’s great pin! I like it.

After the Eiffel Tower, we went to Victor Hugo’s residence in the Place de Vosges that we had learned about on our bike tour. The museum itself was free (!!), and the audio tour was a mere 5 Euros, so this was a score, I’d say. I only knew of Victor Hugo as the author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables (as if that wasn’t enough!), but he was a much more prolific writer than that. I would suggest, if you are interested, to look him up and read a bit about him. For one thing, following his political exile, he returned to Paris and was considered the ‘father of the Republic’. Looking out the window of his apartment onto the Place de Vosges park, I felt as if I was looking at a scene that he himself may have viewed in 1883.

One of the rooms at Victor Hugo's residence.

One of the rooms at Victor Hugo’s residence.

Victor Hugo's bedroom. He would stand and write at the desk at the left.

Victor Hugo’s bedroom. He would stand and write at the desk at the left.

The view from his window.

The view from his window.

I wanted to head up to Montmarte at this time so we could hopefully have a view of the city at dusk and eat dinner at a place with a view. We made the dusk part, and we went inside the Basilica de Sacre Couer while the nuns were singing. It is not a tourist attraction, but a real church, a place of worship. There was a guard right inside making sure that people were respectful while they visited this church.

Basilica de Sacre Coeur.

Basilica de Sacre Coeur.

Our cafe choice for dinner was on a side street on the way back down to the Metro. Again, we were one of just two parties having dinner here at this time. We sat by the window–alas, no view–but nice nonetheless. Le Paneme was the name. It was named for the people who lived where Paris is now way back when. I couldn’t help but think of The Hunger Games and the name of their capitol city, Panem.

Belgium and Paris 256

Anyhoo, although our day started rather late, it also ended rather late, so that’s okay, right?

“We interrupt this travelogue to bring you…”

“…normal, day-to-day news.”

Today, I was picked up by a friend, Ragnhild, who brought me to her workplace. It’s called the Ryggeheimen, and it is a charming and well-run facility which cares for the elderly in their many stages of need. She planned to introduce me to the folk who come once a week for day activities. As we arrived, a dozen or so men and women were sitting around a large oval dining table enjoying a cup of coffee (in their ‘small cups’–see my earlier post) and what else? Waffles, of course!

Coffee in small cups.

Coffee in small cups.

Waffles!

Waffles!

I had brought some chocolate chip cookies to share, and they began to pass around the container. A place was set for Ragnhild and myself to join them, and what fun we all had visiting! Now, I can speak enough Norsk to be polite, and I can act well enough to seem like I understand what is being said, so, hey, we all got along great! There were two retired electricians and one retired carpenter in the mix who kept the conversation lively.

Ragnhild and I.

Ragnhild and I.

The lovely woman who is in charge of running the handiwork part of the activities (knitting, crocheting, weaving, etc) showed me her knit sweater she had finished–my, oh, my, how beautiful it was! I went over to where a gentleman was in the process of weaving a runner for a table; that is such a tedious craft to accomplish. I would never have the patience.

Inger and the sweater she knitted.

Inger and the sweater she knitted.

The gentleman's weaving project--a table runner.

The gentleman’s weaving project–a table runner.

We left the party to take a little tour of the facility; the chapel/movie room, the dayrooms on the different floors, the Spa Room (no kidding–there is a Spa Room! With various massages and esthetic treatments offered!), and the outdoor patios with a view of the √ėstvold Fjord. The whole place was spotless and, I could tell, was an active and encouraging place for all of the residents.

The songbirds outside one of the dayrooms.

The songbirds outside one of the dayrooms.

The view of the fjord from the patios.

The view of the fjord from the patios.

A beautiful hutch in one of the dayrooms.

A beautiful hutch in one of the dayrooms.

We returned to the initial dayroom where we had coffee and waffles, and now, they were in the midst of a rousing BINGO game. We walked in quietly, not wanting to disturb their game when, suddenly, I called out “BINGO!” It garnered the response I had hoped for; everyone laughed out loud!

I left after only about 2 hours there, and I hoped that I could return.

Ryggeheimen

Ryggeheimen

I received confirmation of that later tonight when I was talking with Ragnhild after Bible Study. She said that the day care coordinator told her that the people had a great time and thought that I was ‘so nice’. The ladies thought that my cookies might be hard, but they were so pleased and surprised that they were soft. ūüôā She said that I could come back anytime.

So, I plan to come by each Wednesday at 11:00 am for coffee and waffles. I will bring soft cookies. And, who knows, maybe I could learn to call Bingo in Norwegian! ūüėÄ

Bingo!

Bingo!

An American in Paris–well, two.

Getting up early is not usually my idea of a vacation, but it was necessary for this first day in Paris. I had signed us up for a four-hour, guided bicycle tour of Paris, and the meeting time was 9:45 am right in front of Notre Dame de Paris at the statue of Charlemagne on horseback. As it turns out, it would take us approximately one hour and 50 minutes to get from our villa to the statue. So, our day started early. Fortunately, we arrived by 9 am, so we had plenty of time for a little coffee and pain au chocolat across the street.

French pigeons across from Notre Dame de Paris.

French pigeons across from Notre Dame de Paris.

Join me for a little coffee and pain au chocolat?

Join me for a little coffee and pain au chocolat?

Bike About Tours, the company I chose to go with, limits their tours to 12 people, and they have a native or long-term Parisien as the guide. We were told that there are few hills on the tour, so it was appropriate for ‘all ages and abilities’. Good.¬† The owner, Paul, greeted us enthusiastically, and gradually, all of our tour group arrived. Our guide for this morning would be Sol, a delightful young gal from Argentina, who had lived in Paris for years. Throughout the tour, she was a wealth of information, both significant and minor, and she always made “safety first!” a priority.

Our group ready to go! The Hotel de Ville, or basically the old City Hall, is behind us.

Our group ready to go! The Hotel de Ville, or basically the old City Hall, is behind us.

We biked around several of the Paris districts, or ‘arrondissements’, always stopping after a few blocks for Sol to give us information of the history and significance of the area/building. We stayed mainly on the smaller streets and alleys, and we found biking to be a mode of transportation to our liking. Some of the places of interest we stopped at and heard a bit about were: the “Wall of the Just”–with inscribed names of French families who risked their lives to protect Jewish families during WWII; the Hotel de Sens in which there was still a cannonball imbedded in its wall from a 3-day battle in the 19th century; the Place des Vosges, one of the most expensive areas in Paris in which to live and where the center park may be the last park in Paris which still allows visitors to use the grassy areas, and also the location of Victor Hugo’s residence (a museum we visited at length two days later); Jim Morrison’s former apartment (not much more to say); Bastille Square and the 1830 Revolution monument; an open air sculpture garden along the River Seine giving way to a lovely back view of the Notre Dame Cathedral; across the Lover’s Bridge to which couples attach a lock and throw the key into the Seine to signify the permanence of their love; a secret entrance to the Louvre museum which, with ticket in hand, would bypass the HUGE line at the main entrance (!!); and the rat shop which, apparently, was in a scene in the movie “Ratatoullie”. We had a welcome half-hour lunch break, mid-tour, on a charming street with several cafes, patisseries, or brasseries from which to choose a bite to eat and cup of coffee. We biked 6.9 miles (or 11.1 km), and I have to say that this mode of touring was one of my favorites in all my years of travel. Well worth the 30 Euro per person we paid. Plus tip.

The Hotel de Sens with the imbedded cannonball. It can be seen above the long window to your right, next to the front turret.

The Hotel de Sens with the imbedded cannonball. It can be seen above the long window to your right, next to the front turret.

The residence of Victor Hugo.

The residence of Victor Hugo.

The monument where the Bastille was located, and the houseboats along the Seine.

The monument where the Bastille was located, and the houseboats along the Seine.

Coffee break options?

Coffee break options?

Our bike tour ended a bit late, around 3 pm, and we had time to visit a museum before dinner. Paul wanted to see the Conciergerie, which is a former prison (actually, Marie Antoinette was imprisoned there for 68 days before her sentence was carried out, shall we say?). It was part of the former royal palace, the Palais de la Cite, the seat of the medieval kings of France from the 10th through the 14th centuries. (Fascinating reading if you’d like to look it up on Wikipedia). Walking through the massive Hall of Men-at-Arms, one could only slightly imagine the events which took place there.

The Hall of Med-at-Arms of the Conciergerie.

The Hall of Med-at-Arms of the Conciergerie.

The Women's Courtyard where the condemned prisoners waited in groups of 12 for the cart that would carry them off to the scaffold.

The Women’s Courtyard where the condemned prisoners waited in groups of 12 for the cart that would carry them off to the scaffold.

Lover's Bridge with the Conciergerie in the background.

Lover’s Bridge with the Musee d’ Orsay the background.

The Conciergerie from across the Seine.

The Conciergerie from across the Seine.

Following our time at the Conciergerie, we walked until we came upon a small restaurant near the river, le Zimmer, in the 1st Arr. I ordered a Croque Monsieur, my new favorite hot sandwich (which, by the way, I attempted to re-create for our dinner tonight, with a little success), and Paul ordered a Salad Nicoisse. We finished off our first day in Paris with coffee and chocolate. ūüôā

le Zimmer.

le Zimmer.

 

 

 

 

Three Days in Paris–Part One

Aka, “Brother, can you spare a dime?”

Okay, I’m kidding, but seriously, there is a MAJOR presence in The City of Lights of people who would really like to separate you from your money. Using extremely creative and entrepreneurial methods, if not, on occasions, illegal.

In preparing for this little trip, I read from Rick Steves’ books on traveling throughout Europe and was warned of the ways in which some people attempt to con you or downright rob you. In fact, I, myself, was a temporary victim of a pick-pocket several years ago in Prague. It was on a crowded subway train, and the perpetrator unzipped my fanny pack (word to the wise, do not use fanny packs when touring) and availed himself to my camera. I immediately felt something was wrong and discovered that my camera was missing. This man right in front of me had an overcoat covering his hands, so I pulled aside his overcoat, saw that he had my camera in his grip, and I grabbed back my camera while saying, “Excuse me, but this is MINE!”. The subway train stopped, doors opened, and he ran off.

So, anyway, we prepared for this trip by not carrying our wallets with us. Paul used a zippered pouch hung around his neck and under his shirt for the majority of our needed money for a day or so and in which to store our passports. I took my across-the-body purse with just the essentials: ID card, one credit card, camera, lipstick, comb, and a map. In spite of our being prepared for whatever came our way, I found it to be mentally draining having to constantly be on guard for pickpockets. There were signs at all the major tourist spots to be aware of your valuables.¬† Three separate instances come to mind of the myriad of methods these people use to get your money: 1) a young woman approached Paul at the Eiffel Tower asking for his signature to support the disabled. He agrees to sign the form, during which time she compliments me on my beauty (there’s the clue, right there!), and half-way in the row on the form is a slot for “donation amount”.¬† Uh, he says, no thank you. She responds with a “how about a little amount?”. Nope. Her pleasant affect changes, and off she goes. Guess I wasn’t really that pretty after all. 2) as we were hurrying down the escalator trying to catch the Metro before it left, a gentleman, who was standing between the train doors to keep them open, called to us and confirmed that this was the right train to Paris (we were outside of Paris at the time). We gratefully sat down and noticed that the train did not immediately take off as we expected, but it was a few minutes before it left the station. Several more minutes into the ride, he and a little girl passed out small pieces of paper on which were printed a plea for money. The next day, we noticed that the exact same thing occurred. 3) it was dusk, and we were headed to Montmartre and to the Sacre-Coeur Basilica to see The City of Lights at sunset. As we approached the Funicular for the ride up to the top, a handful of men gathered near, and one, with many strings of embroidery floss hanging from his hands, took Paul’s wrist in order to tie a ‘friendship bracelet’ around it. I knew this from my readings of Rick Steves’ book–they tie a bracelet around your wrist and demand a ‘donation’. And with several of them and only one or two of you, their demands can seem intimidating. Paul pulled back his wrist, I yelled ‘NO!’, and we continued to walk away.

Wow, I did not intend for this first post on Paris to seem so negative. I wanted to be honest that as beautiful of a city Paris is, there is still an element of sadness and distrust. I was relieved when we arrived back to Norway where I would not be barraged constantly with people trying to rob me. And I am extremely grateful to live in Grand Forks, North Dakota where the majority of people are honest and want only the best for you.

View outside our villa at the Marriott Village d'Ile-de-France

View outside our villa at the Marriott Village d’Ile-de-France

The front of our little villa.

The front of our little villa.

The inside of our place.

The inside of our place.

Ready to meet our bicycle tour for the first day in Paris.

Ready to meet our bicycle tour for the first day in Paris.

Turned the corner and this is what we saw!

Turned the corner and this is what we saw!

The Sacre-Coeur Basilica from below the funicular.

The Sacre-Coeur Basilica from below the funicular.

Entrance to a Metro line.

Entrance to a Metro line.

Brussels, Mussels, and Fries (not French)

It’s good to be home, let me just say that right now.

BUT, with that being said, it was also good to go galavanting (word use thanks to my cousin, Stephanie) through Brussels and Paris for a week. I am excited to share some of our trip on this blog and will do so in smaller increments rather than one huge post. Today, let’s review our day in Brussels, Belgium.

We chose to visit Brussels due to the advice of Rudy and Nicolle, the hosts of the bed and breakfast in which we stayed for two nights in Charleroi. The Ryanair flight schedule made it necessary for us to fly into Belgium, rather than Paris, stay two nights, and take the train to our Marriott resort east of Paris where we had made reservations for four nights (way back in April 2014). Rudy and Nicolle recommended a day in Brussels instead of Charleroi–it is a much more beautiful and significant city and only one hour away by train. They were right. I would definitely say our one day in Brussels was well-worth the slightly extra travel time and money.

Our room, the Samos Room, at the B and B.

Our room, the Samos Room, at the B and B.

The breakfast table in their enclosed patio on Valentine's Day.

The breakfast table in their enclosed patio on Valentine’s Day.

Rudy and Nicolle. He is Belgian; she is Greek. They went out of their way to help us--more on that in a future post.

Rudy and Nicolle. He is Belgian; she is Greek. They went out of their way to help us–more on that in a future post.

We arrived to the center of Brussels knowing to head to the Grand-Place, the old, main square in the city. I usually have a plan and a map when touring a foreign city; this time I had neither. But we also had no time constraints so we had the freedom to wander around and enjoy the first day of our vacation. Brussels is known for its fine chocolates, and it was not long before we encountered the first of MANY exquisite chocolate shops. By now, we had a small tour book in hand and knew which way we were headed. We bought our requisite supply of chocolates in the second shop we passed–Corne Port-Royal, a chocolatier in business since the mid-1800’s. (Since then, we have rationed ourselves one piece per night from that small box of assorted chocolates. Oh. My. Word. Are they ever good.)

Neuhaus Chocolatier, the first shop we passed. They have been making fine Belgian chocolates since 1837, I believe.

Neuhaus Chocolatier, the first shop we passed. They have been making fine Belgian chocolates since 1837, I believe.

The choices, behind glass, in Corne Port-Royal.

The choices, behind glass, in Corne Port-Royal.

When we arrived into the Grand-Place, I thought it was pretty impressive. I have been to large public squares in London, Oslo, Stockholm, Paris, Dublin, Prague, and others, but, seriously, this one stood out. For one, it was LARGE. Paul estimates that it is the size of two American football fields. On all four sides, there were large, old (say from the late 1600’s), ornate buildings, that had been kept-up (restored, perhaps?) quite well. At the time of our arrival into the square, there was some youth singing/dancing thing happening, and as we wandered across the square, we saw the familiar font of a Starbucks sign right ahead–coincidentally, this was also time for our first coffee break! Go figure! ūüôā

Facing the crowd of singing/dancing youth in the middle of the square.

Facing the crowd of singing/dancing youth in the middle of the square.

Coffee break at Starbucks!

Coffee break at Starbucks!

You won't see many selfies from me because I have no problem asking total strangers to take our picture. I usually offer to take theirs as well.

You won’t see many selfies from me because I have no problem asking total strangers to take our picture. I usually offer to take theirs as well.

We had eaten a lovely and filling breakfast earlier so we had no plans for a lunch per se, but were open to the possibility of stopping for what we were told was a Belgian staple, frites (known to us Americans as your basic french fries).¬† We passed several small shops or diners offering this food, and finally stopped to try some for ourselves. When asked what kind of sauce I would like, I chose ‘mayonnaise’ because, surely, it would not be JUST mayonnaise, but perhaps a nicely seasoned version of it or maybe a tartar sauce like they use for fries in the Czech Republic. Nope. It was mayonnaise. Paul safely chose ketchup as his choice of sauce.

Paul and his tasty frites to go. (small plastic fork included)

Paul and his tasty frites to go. (small plastic fork included)

We continued to amble through the narrow streets of Brussels, longingly gazing into the shop windows of pastry shops, chocolate shops, (jewelry shops…that was me), and finally we toured the City Museum of Brussels which was housed in the Maison du Roi (House of the King) in the Grand-Place. I always find it fascinating to read about and see paintings/illustrations of the history of these great cities. Apparently, the Grand-Place was nearly burnt to the ground in 1695 during the Bombardment of Brussels, and the city fathers decided to rebuild in the same artistic fashion as before.

As I mentioned in a Facebook post, is anyone concerned that these very expensive chocolates are setting out for all to touch/handle/sneeze on? I guess not in Brussels.

As I mentioned in a Facebook post, is anyone concerned that these very expensive chocolates are setting out for all to touch/handle/sneeze on? I guess not in Brussels.

So, then we roamed through a small alley where there was cafe after cafe with their signs and maitre ‘ds telling us about their dinner specials. One very enthusiastic man called for Paul’s attention, “Here, sir, we have an aphrodisiac for you…” to which Paul answered, “Oh, sir, I have four children! I have no need for an aphrodisiac!” I guess mussels, a main ingredient in this cafe’s appetizer, is an aphrodisiac. Who knew? As it turned out, we chose Le Grand Bi as our dining place for the evening, and actually, Paul did order a seafood dish in which mussels was a key ingredient. ūüôā Me? I ordered escargot.

We had to stop for a little drink and appetizer, and for a little rest.

We had to stop for a little drink and appetizer, and for a little rest.

This dog reminded us of Rocky so we asked his owners if we could take his picture.

This dog reminded us of Rocky so we asked his owners if we could take his picture.

These frosting-covered and rolled in chocolate shavings macaroons looked delicious. So we bought one. Melted in our mouths.

These frosting-covered and rolled in chocolate shavings macaroons looked delicious. So we bought one. Melted in our mouths.

Le Grand Bi.

Le Grand Bi.

We walked back to the train station by way of the Grand-Place which was all lit up. What a beautiful scene. As I said earlier, deciding to visit Brussels for the day was an excellent choice.

Passing through the Grand-Place on our way to the train station.

Passing through the Grand-Place on our way to the train station.

Le Grand-Place, Brussels, Belgium.

Le Grand-Place, Brussels, Belgium.

E.U. Bureaucracy Trumps U.S. Bureaucracy

I have heard horror stories about government workers and the government bureaucracy in Europe, but Debbie and I had a first-hand experience with them on Thursday, 19 February, in France.¬† Some background to the story first.¬† Debbie had made travel arrangements for our trip to Brussels, Belgium, and Paris, France.¬† This involved two separate train purchases on the SNCF, France’s nationalized train service that includes the TGV, their fast train service.

She made two SEPERATE purchases via the Internet¬†on two SEPARATE times. First, she pre-purchased two TGV tickets from Charleroi, Belgium to Marne-La Valles (Disney), France for 12 February. Then,¬†at a later time, she purchased two tickets for the TGV from Gard du Nord (Paris) to Charleroi for 19 February.¬† These were NOT a pair of round trip tickets, but two separate sets of one-way tickets.¬† She received a separate¬†email confirmation for each¬†purchase,¬†two separate reservation numbers, and two separate charges to our credit card.¬† Each email confirmation¬†told us to go to the train station and pick up the tickets prior to departure.¬† On the 12th¬†we¬†went to the Charleroi train station, showed our passports, and received our tickets.¬† The tickets had a single line written on them: Charleroi-Sud => Marne-La Valles.¬† We know enough French to know that they did not say anything like “Keepez-vous les billets pour l’returnee trip,” or “Gettez-vous maintenant les billets a les deux journee.”

The first leg of the trip went fine.¬† On the 19th, however, when we went to the Gard du Nord¬†station and showed the email confirmation for the second leg of the trip¬†to the¬†lady at the desk¬†she looked at her¬†computer, and she¬†told us that the tickets had already been issued and that¬†she could not reissue another separate¬†set of tickets.¬† We spent the next 20¬†minutes trying to explain the arrangements to her and her¬†manager, but to no avail. The computer said … .¬† Incredible. The only ‘solution’ was for us to buy¬†two new tickets at a mere 170 euros.¬† That was the only option the computer allowed.

Their attitude and approach was “We do not¬†have a problem, we have your¬†money. You have a problem¬†and the¬†only solution the computer¬†will allow is for you to pay more money to cover¬†our error.”¬† We still do not know what caused the error, but we are out 170 Euros.
This is government bureaucracy at its worst – a system that is slave to ‘le machine.’ They have the U.S. beat badly. By the way, North Dakota and Norway do not operate this way.

Train station at Charleroi Sud.

Train station at Charleroi Sud.

Gare du Nord de Paris.

Gare du Nord de Paris.

Gare du Nord de Paris.

Gare du Nord de Paris.

The Long Road Home…

…and it seems like it goes on forever!

Oh, I’m just being overly dramatic about my three (unsuccessful) attempts in the past 28 hours to find a place that I KNEW was over there somewhere, but I just couldn’t figure out how to get there on foot.

I didn’t know what to call this post about these adventures of mine: I was considering “YOU ARE HERE”, or “I’m Not Lost”, or “0 for 3”. Take your pick. This is what happens when someone has more time on their hands than usual–they just up and go somewhere; it doesn’t really matter that they do not know exactly how to get there,¬† because they have the time.

I wanted to get to the Mosseporten Senter–basically a large indoor mall very similar to any indoor mall one would fine in the States. I had been there before by bus and had been driven BY there several times, so I thought I had a clear idea of how to walk there. I knew it was within walking distance. Well, Norwegian walking distance anyway. So, off I went yesterday at 1:55 pm.¬† My first decision was based on pure intuition; even though the woman I stopped to ask where it was sort-of pointed in a different direction and mentioned that perhaps the walking trail straight ahead may lead there. Nope, I went left.¬† I kept hoping to see the tunnel on my right which would lead me straight to the mall. After a while, say, 35 minutes or so, the road veered right, but there was no tunnel, and I was thinking that I had gone long past where the mall was. So, I proceeded to take a walking path, uphill, heading in that basic direction. Forest to the right of me, backyards to the left of me. But, I was NOT lost.

Forest to my right, backyards to my left.

Forest to my right, backyards to my left.

The direction from whence I came.

The direction from whence I came.

Me, not lost.

Me, not lost.

Some teenagers began to appear heading towards me, so I stopped one girl because, hey, who better than a teenager would know the way to a mall, am I right? Apparently she had not aced her English class, and she was unable to help me. So, I forged on along this walking path. And just guess where this path led–yep, it led straight to the roundabout where I had originally asked the woman which direction to the Mosseporten Senter! I had just completed a lovely, one-hour long, circular walk. :-/

Today, after looking online exactly which road headed straight to the mall, and having this information securely in the VAULT, I again headed out on foot determined to get there.  Again, after about 35 minutes of walking in the opposite direction from where I went yesterday, I was nowhere near the tunnel through which I knew was the way to the mall.

This does not look like a mall.

This does not look like a mall.

So, I turned around. I had passed a posted hiking sort of map aways back, so I crossed the street and took a look. It said “YOU ARE HERE”. I saw where HERE was, and I saw where the Mosseporten Senter was, and they were NOT near one another.

This is where I was. Not where I wanted to be.

This is where I was. Not where I wanted to be.

Ugh. I continued to retrace my steps to get to the road which I saw, from the map, that led to the mall. And when I came to the start of the road, I stopped, and considered the meaning of this sign:

No Bicycles. No pedestrians.

No Bicycles. No pedestrians.

Forget it. I guess, as they say in Maine, “Ya cahn’t get theah [there] from heah [here].”. I headed home empty-handed once again.

After about 45 minutes of rest and some food, I decided to go visit an older couple who have been feeling under the weather and have not been at church lately. I packed a half dozen of my sugar cookies in a saved Greek yogurt container along with a sample pack of Starbucks Christmas Blend coffee, and quickly walked to the bus stop. I had researched their address online so had a picture in my head of where they lived and where to, approximately, get off the bus. Well, the picture in my head did not exactly match the reality of where I got off the bus. So, I walked up and down the neighborhoods, on this HILL, asked a gal and the bus driver of the next bus, and no one knew this address. I gave up, for now, and took the return bus back to the downtown, where I was able to get money from the ATM and buy the creme fraiche just in time to use the bus transfer ticket for a ride back home. Sigh. And I ate one of the sugar cookies from my bag.

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At least I got some walking in yesterday and today.

 

Happy Mother’s Day

I didn’t know that today was Mother’s Day.

So, earlier this week I invited a few friends for a little lunch of soup, buttermilk biscuits, and apple pie a la mode (with coffee, of course) after church. I am pleased that they all agreed to come because, apparently, here in Norway, they celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of February and Father’s Day on the second Sunday of November. And, as my friend, Zivile, tells me, in Lithuania they celebrate their mothers and fathers on the same days as we do in America, in May and June. Who knew?

Planning for this little lunch took a bit of preparation: we needed to borrow two chairs for the table. We needed to borrow a pie plate (well, okay, it’s a quiche dish) for the apple pie. We needed to create a large enough coffee table by placing two small, square tables together. And I needed to iron a tablecloth. Which rarely, if ever, happens. To make a long story short, it went off without a hitch, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. I think the biscuits and apple pie were a hit. Paul had actually thought to serve fruit separately because he said that’s the way the Norwegians do it, but I said that we are having an American meal and I serve fruit all mixed together. ūüôā

Also, maybe because today was a special day or maybe just because, there was a time of visiting and coffee with sweets after the church service. That’s the way they plan this type of thing: someone just sets the tables and brings the sweets, and, voila!, they have an event.¬† And the whole church stayed to visit. The WHOLE church. I think we could incorporate this type of casual visit time in our church–wait, we do! ūüôā

One last thing, today’s service was done a little differently than usual: instead of a sermon preached, they invited whomever wanted to come up to the microphone and give a testimony (they specifically said it could be in English or Norwegian). Men and women came up one by one and spoke, read Scripture, recited hymn lyrics, requested a hymn to be sung, or sang/played the guitar. It was wonderful. Afterwards, the closing prayer was prayed by several from the congregation: in Norwegian, English, and Ukranian. The closing song was the Norwegian version of “There’s Something About That Name”:

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,

There’s just something about that name.

Master, Savior, Jesus

Like the fragrance after the rain.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,

Let all Heaven and Earth proclaim,

Kings and kingdoms shall all pass away,

But there’s something about that name.”

 

Happy Mother’s Day.

Example of a visiting time after church.

Example of a visiting time after church.

Serving up the Apple Pie a la Mode.

Serving up the Apple Pie a la Mode.

Having our pie around the coffee table.

Having our pie around the coffee table.

American Apple Pie (requested for a future dinner party) :-)

American Apple Pie (requested for a future dinner party) ūüôā

The Poetry Corner

While we were enjoying the company of friends around a coffee table on Sunday, our host, Kirsten, began to read a poem. It was from the book “Veien har ingen ende” [The Way that has no end] by Erik Bye. I thought it would be significant to our North Dakota readers. The poem’s title is “Land and Sky”.

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Crazy Ole and his North Dakota mountain.

Crazy Ole and his North Dakota mountain.

Kirsten reading the poem "Land and Sky".

Kirsten reading the poem “Land and Sky”.