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April 2011

A Tale of Two Sisters

Once upon a time, two beautiful sisters took a trip to a land far away.  They decided to go in search of . . . a palace.  Not just any palace, mind you.  They decided to go in search of . . . the Palace of Versailles!

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After reading many a travel guide, and hearing warning tales of hours-long lines, evil tour buses, and crowded hallways, the two sisters decided to set out Very Early in the morning.  Let me repeat. . . Very Early.

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Thanks to the Intrepid Paul (van driver extraordinaire), the two beautiful sisters arrived ahead of any tour buses.  No lines!  Nearly deserted palace gates awaited their arrival! 

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Ahead of the daily press of other tourists also seeking the Palace of Versailles, the two beautiful sisters sought out the (rare and elusive!) bathrooms and took their time obtaining the self-guided English-language audio tour headsets.

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Alas.  Despite the warnings of the Intrepid Paul, the two beautiful sisters were apparently too leisurely.  By the time they had adjusted their volumes and correctly identified all of the buttons on their audio headsets, the Evil Tour Bus THRONG had arrived. . . quickly threatening to overtake the sisters.

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The growing press of The THRONG made the two beautiful sisters grumpy. 

It gave them headaches.  It made them a little crazy.

It made them make sarcastic, irritable comments to one another.

"Hurry.  Move.  It's another tour group.  Just go!  GO!" said the older of the two beautiful sisters.

"Look!  Another throne!  Why are they taking MORE photos of the thrones?  This must be the 751st throne they've seen this morning!  And video footage. . . what is the deal with the video footage?" complained the younger of the two beautiful sisters. 

"More opulence!  More thrones!  Let's get out of here!" she added, with an edgy, near strident tone to her voice.

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"But I want to see the Hall of Mirrors!" whined the older sister.  "Marie Antoinette. . . the Treaty of Versailles. . . so much History. . . "

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(Hall of Mirrors - with the pressing THRONG cropped out of the bottoom of the shot.)

"They're posing again.  AGAIN.  With another throne.  Get OUT!" insisted the younger sister.

Without a doubt, the two beautiful sisters had been completely overtaken by The THRONG.  The masses of tourists from the Evil Tour Buses had caught up with them; had swallowed them whole! 

The two sisters were completely. . . Versailles'd Themselves!

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But then, suddenly - and rather unexpectedly - an empty hallway opened before them.

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They were able to push through The THRONG . . . and escape. . . into the Gardens of Versailles.

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Open.

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Spacious.

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Peaceful.

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The two beautiful sisters were able to outrun the Evil Tour Groups.  They were able to enjoy the air.  Breathe deeply.

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And relax with some pain au chocolat, croissants, and café crème just outside the palace gates.  The two beautiful sisters became less crazed.  They became calm and rational.  They were able to continue their adventures anew; unscathed and ready to venture forth.  Again.

 


Inspiration, Pure and Simple

When my sister and I first started planning our trip to Paris, it took us a while to find dates that would fit both of our schedules.  We needed to plan around. . . work commitments; Easter; graduation; kid-moving; our husbands' travel and work commitments; avoiding spring break travelers; etc. 

When we finally set the dates, we had no idea we would be traveling into the peak of spring blooms!

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Bonus!

Yes, we left the bleak, spring landscapes of Michigan. . . and Wyoming. . . and landed in . . . this!

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We spent one delightful afternoon visiting Claude Monet's gardens and home at Giverny, in Vernon - about an hour's drive from Paris.

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For me (and I think for my sister as well), this was the highlight of our trip.

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As a gardener, the visit was incredible!

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Seeing the mix of blooms, the colors, the structure of Monet's gardens was just . . . well, indescribable. 

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The gardens were reconstructed, lovingly, beginning in 1976.  Ten gardeners are constantly at work in the gardens (I saw some of them. . .), striving to keep the garden fresh and looking as much as possible like the one Monet knew.

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As a photographer, all I can say is . . . WOW! 

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There was just . . . so much. . . to capture. 

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So. Much.

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(I took 450 photos at Giverny alone!)

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And, of course, there was the art.  We visited the Musée de l'Orangerie the day before our visit to Giverny.  The Musée de l'Orangerie is home to Monet's crowning work - Nymphéas, or the water lily series.  My poor, lame photograph can't even begin to bring these large-scale panoramic works to justice. . .

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but our trip to l'Orangerie was the perfect prelude to Giverny.  (We followed up with the Musée d'Orsay, which was also fabulous.  If you like Impressionist work, don't miss either of these museums.)

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We loved seeing Monet's gardens, his home, his studio.  It was fabulous.  Some of my photos even captured what my sister and I called "Monet water" -- the little ripples and shadows so characteristic in his painting.

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The house was charming - and perfect in every way.

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Gardening.  Photography.  Art.  Inspiration -- pure and simple!


Ten on Tuesday: The Preachy Edition

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Apologies in advance.  I get preachy when it comes to grocery shopping.  (Just ask Erin!)  Yes, this week's Ten on Tuesday topic will get me started. . . we're talking Ten Ways to Save at the Grocery Store.

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A little street market in Paris.

I am not really all that good at saving at the grocery store -- I don't tend to scrimp when it comes to cooking and eating.  But I do make good use of the money I spend!

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A little corner market in Amsterdam.

Here goes!  My Ten (Preachy) Ways to Save at the Grocery Store:

  1. Cook and eat at home!  It costs so much more to eat "quick" foods -- at restaurants, at fast-food spots, even already-prepared "convenience" foods.  Sure, it takes a commitment to sit down to a home-cooked meal every day -- but it's worth it. . . in cost-savings, in your health and fitness, in your family relationships.  (Sorry.  Preachy.)  Even through the busiest of times -- when I was working and going to grad school and dragging my kids to their activities and helping with homework (etc.) -- we sat down and ate a home-cooked meal every night.  It took a commitment -- but I absolutely know it was worth it!  It started as a cost-saver, and continues because it works.
  2. Shop once a week!  The fewer trips to the grocery store you make, the lower your food bill will be.
  3. Plan ahead!  Plan out your menu for the week ahead; take into consideration what your schedule looks like and plan your meals accordingly. 
  4. Check out the sale flyer for your grocery store!  I take a look (they're even available online now; I have my store's flyer sent to me by email) before I plan my menu for the week.  That way, I can plan meals around what type of meat is on sale; what type of fish is available; what veggies are in stock.
  5. Make a list!  Make that. . . a detailed list.  Use your menu plan, figure out what you have; what you need.  Note quantities, weights, specific details.  Planning and list-making take some advance time -- but they are so worth it when it comes to shopping and cooking for the rest of the week.
  6. Use the list!  I carry my list (in a little spiral bound notebook I keep in my purse) into the store - with a pen in hand.  I cross off items as I put them in the cart.  I make sure I have everything on my list before heading to the check-out line.  (Can you say "Geek Shopper?"  That's me!) Do not deviate from the list!  Need what you buy. . . buy what you need.
  7. Do not go to the grocery store when you're hungry.  And, if possible, go alone!  (If I have either of my kids OR Tom with me, they put things in the cart when I'm not looking.  I get to the check-out line and wonder where some of the stuff came from.  Tom is the worst offender.  Totally.)
  8. Avoid coupons!  I know this sounds counter-intuitive.  But most coupons are NOT for things you want.  They are for things food manufacturers WANT you to buy.  My grocery store spits coupons out with my receipt -- based on what I have just purchased (kind of creeps me out).  9.8 times out of 10, these coupons are for brands or items I would never use.  I don't even take them.  (Do you ever see coupons for vegetables?  milk?  meat?  No.  They're usually for a new brand of cookies or snack foods or convenience rice or something you probably don't really need.)
  9. Don't purchase non-food items at the grocery store!  If you need shampoo or Tylenol or pens, pick them up elsewhere.  They are generally overpriced at the grocery store.
  10. Join Costco (I wish) or Sam's Club (my only option, sadly) to save on bulk purchases!  I hit Sam's every six weeks or so for paper products, bulk canned items I use regularly, things like that.  It takes a certain restraint at Sam's. . . use a list; do not deviate; and, whatever you do, avoid the candy bar aisle!

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Another little street market, this one in Montmartre.

And so ends my Preachy Rant about Grocery Shopping!  Have a nice day!


Love Locked

As we walked along the Seine River in Paris, on our way to the Louvre, something on one of the bridges caught our eye.

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Turned out to be locks.  Lots of locks.  Hanging on the Pont des Arts (a pedestrian bridge over the Seine; near the Louvre).

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Closer inspection of the locks revealed initials and dates.  Of the "KR + TM 4EVR" variety.  In many languages.

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Couples from around the world come to the Pont des Arts and symbolically lock up their love -- then toss the key into the Seine.  4EVR.  (Or, until the City of Paris decides to clear the bridge of locks - which happens periodically.)

Industrious street vendors near the bridge sell locks to passersby -- some with custom printed names, dates, and messages.

I did see one combination lock.

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Made me wonder if they threw the combination into the Seine.

Very sweet -- and a little romantic.  If I had been to Paris with Tom, I would have SO locked up our love on the Pont Des Arts.  And then. . . thrown away the key!


Green Day

"There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth.  We are all crew." -- Marshall McLuhan

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I'm taking a little break** from blog-as-travelogue today to celebrate Earth Day

Every year, on Earth Day, I make a personal commitment to doing . . . something . . . to show my commitment to the environment; to take responsibility for being part of the crew.  These are small acts of green, sure.  But my small acts of green turn into habits and change the way I live.

In the past, I've committed to composting, planting a tree every year, switching out my light bulbs, using cloth diapers, organic gardening, recycling, using more native plants in my landscape, feeding the birds, growing my own herbs, attracting bees to my garden.  Things like that.

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This year?  Tom and I signed up for a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share.  We're committing to the "eating local" movement as much as we can.  We're really excited to be part of the Eater's Guild CSA in Bangor, Michigan -- and we're looking forward to picking up our weekly shares, beginning next month.

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It's Earth Day.  Celebrate.  Make a commitment.  What can YOU do?  (And once you decide, visit Earth Day Network and log YOUR Act of Green.)

**The photos in my blog post today are from Claude Monet's garden at Giverny in France.  I'll do a post on that incredible place next week.  In the meantime, if the beauty of Monet's garden can't inspire us to make a commitment to the Earth, I don't know what can!


Takin' it to the Streets

In Paris, my sister and I made good use of the excellent public transportation system (especially the bus system -- pretty easy to use and, once you get used to the fact that no one will speak English and just get into the flow of French around you, it's a great way to get around AND see the city). 

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But we found the best way to enjoy the sights and flavors of Paris was to walk.

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So much happens on the streets -- especially on lovely spring days.

Sidewalk art markets are everywhere -- near the Louvre. . .

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near the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. . .

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Everywhere!

Flower shops. . .

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Pâtisseries. . .

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News stands. . .

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And then, there are the cafés! 

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It is so wonderful to sit in a sidewalk café, with a café créme, and watch the world go by!

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(This was our "neighborhood" café - just around the corner from our hotel, and our first sidewalk café experience!)

Some sidewalk cafés are quite small and intimate, with only a table or two.

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And some?  Well, let's just say they're a bit over the top!  (In a good way.)

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Walking the streets, we encountered street musicians. . .

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chess matches. . .

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and carnivals!

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Sometimes, we even stumbled on to familiar sights tucked away in neighborhoods best accessed on foot!

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If you're in Paris, take comfortable shoes, get a good map. . . and plan to take it to the streets!

 


La Ville-Lumiére

Ah, Paris! 

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View of the Pont Neuf and the Ile de la Cité

Paris is often described as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  I think I'd have to agree!

Grand structure. . .

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Arc de Triomphe

Amazing architecture. . .

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Notre Dame Cathedral, back view

Beautiful landmarks. . .

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Dôme Church

River views. . .

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View of the Left Bank from the Pont Neuf

High points. . .

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Sacré-Coeur

Scenic vistas. . .

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View of Paris from the Butte in Montmartre

Parks. . .

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Jardin du Luxembourg

Bridges. . .

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View from the Musée d'Orsay

Romance. . .

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Eiffel Tower

And then, at night, they turn on the lights!

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La ville-lumiére?  Mais oui!

 

 


Ten on Tuesday: Off Book

Carole picked a great Ten on Tuesday topic this week. . . but I'm going off book.  I'm suffering from jet lag.  I miss the sidewalk cafés.  And my morning pain au chocolat.  And, well, for that matter -- spring!  So today. . . I bring you my own Ten on Tuesday.  I'll call it. . . Ten Great Things About My Travels.

1.  Interacting with famous landmarks.

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Eiffel Tower; Paris

2.  Walking into history.

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Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

3.  Appreciating architecture.

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16th and 17th century buildings along the canals of Amsterdam

4.  Seeing famous artwork -- up close.

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Venus de Milo, the Louvre

5.  Having high school French class come alive.

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Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

6.  Getting out in the countryside.

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Windmill outside Amsterdam

7.  Sidewalk cafés.

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Champs Elysées, Paris

8.  Amazing bread.

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Everywhere!

9.  Flowers in bloom. 

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Everywhere!  This particular batch was in Keukenhof Gardens, near Lisse, Holland.

10.  And charm.

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. . . absolutely

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wherever. . .

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you look!

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I had a wonderful trip.  It'll take some time to sort through my photos (nearly 1,500!) and organize my life again.  But stay tuned!  I have much to tell!


Au Revoir!

I've long wanted to visit Paris.  I'd go . . . anytime.  But it seems like the spring must be a pretty good time to go.  After all. . . they wrote a song about it!

 

And then there's the familiar optical illusion.  I remember first seeing this little "trompe l'oiel" when I was in grade school.

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From that time on, I vowed to see Paris in the the spring. . . because, if they made an optical illusion about it, by golly, it must be the best time to go!

And, of course, there's this famous line from Casablanca.

 

And, so.  How could I resist?  N'est ce pas?

My sister and I are headed to Paris.  Today.  In the the spring.  And then we're taking a little trip up to Amsterdam (where the tulips are in bloom!).

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See you in 10 days or so!