Paris, France/Germany - November 1999 Megamail

This one is for you Tup, ya Fat Bastard!

Actually, you may all luck out here. I'm really busy trying to catch up on things and so you might actually get an 'abbreviated' megamail. Which means 10 pages instead of 15 or something like that. :)

Yep, Sam went on another conference and I joined her. This time in Germany and France. Mostly in France though, as you will soon find out.

I headed out Wednesday afternoon, flying out of Madison to Frankfurt, Germany. A note about my ticket, I bought it online at It probably wasn't as good of a deal as through though, as witnessed by Marty's recent acquisition of a cheap plane ticket to Spain for the holidays. Bastard! Hey Chris.... well, you know.

I arrived late to the airport, but still plenty early for the flight and they gave me some hub-bub about a late check-in and that my luggage might not make it with me. Come on people, this is Madison, not Minneapolis! At the layover in Detroit I had another overpriced Sam Adams, though little did I know that it was going to be cheap compared to some other beers I would have later in the vacation.

On the flight to Germany I sat next to this guy named Todd, originally from Salt Lake and now living in Germany on a ranch for the past 10 years. We talked quite a bit, mostly about Germany, and we found out that we would be taking the same train out of the airport so instead of me walking around like a befuddled moron, I decided to let him guide me to the appropriate locations.

Upon arriving in Germany I was met with an unpleasant surprise. My suitcase, which was of the pull-along variety, made an unbearable squeaking noise and so I eventually gave up and carried the heavy motherfucker. Sorry for the expletive, but you have no idea how far the train station was from our arrival gate! It wouldn't have been nearly as bad though if they would only have carpet in the terminals.

Being my first adventure on a train, I was somewhat unimpressed. A cross between bus and air travel, but more towards air travel I think. However you can't beat the view! The train went along the Rhine on the way to Bonn and the hills were peppered with numerous castles. Very cool. Eventually I reached Bonn, a little before the 10AM time I was to meet Sam.

And so I waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually I saw a friend from the States, Paul, who was also over there for the same conference. He said Sam was running a little late. Well, apparently they went out the night before and were all a little hungover. Too hungover to meet me at the train station I guess. :( Well, I was late picking her up at the airport on her return flight... quite unintentinally I swear! Really.

However Sam soon showed up and was most embarrassed and we went to her hotel. Soon thereafter I crashed. Crashed hard.

The next thing I remember was that we were going to eat at a 'brewpub'. I forget the name offhand, but it was quite good. They brewed only one beer, a sort of weiss-style and it came in this really cool glass which was shaped to conform to your hand. Ask to see it the next time your over at our place. The place's specialty on the food front was thin crust style pizza made with the wheat used in the brewing process with unusual combinations of toppings. Quite good.

We called it an evening early for Sam and I had to get up early the next day to catch a train to Paris. Besides, she had to pack that monster suitcase!

I slept a lot on the train to Paris. However I did notice that once the train hit France it really got cruising. I don't know how fast it was going, but it was going fast! Normally trains go about highway speeds, but you could tell you were really cruising on the fast lines.

One other thing I realized about train travel is that one should be very selective about what type of luggage one uses. Normal luggage is just plain nasty. There isn't much in the way of storage space so I would recommend using some sort of big over-the-shoulder athletic-type bag. Something you don't have to drag and something which has flexible boundaries. Just my opinion.

One thing about Paris you should know. The best way to get around, by far, is the subway, or Metro, as it is called. It is fast, reliable and will get you to where you need to go, or at least within a few blocks. We got from the train station to about a block away from our hotel via the metro. Another thing you should know, if you are going to be there awhile, buy the tickets in blocks of 10, they are considerably cheaper that way.

Our Hotel was near the Eiffel Tower, actually it is probably closer to the Les Invalidales which is where Napolean is buried.

Once we were settled in at the hotel, we quickly departed to grab a beer and some food at one of the nearby cafes. A lot of cafes, bistros, restaurants and brasseries in Paris have menus in English... thank god because I did not understand a thing I saw on the French menus.

Afterwards we went to the Eiffel Tower, but didn't go up. The line was kind of long and it was just a bad time of the day to go up for it was just starting to get dark. Instead we just meandered around. Before we knew it, we were at the Arch. You know, that place you always see on TV which crazy French drivers going around in a big circle. Well, it looks just as chaotic in person. Again, we didn't go up, but we have plenty of photos of the whole thing.

On the way to that we stumbled by a 'copy' of the Lady Liberty torch. It was heavily vandalized. It was also heavily covered with flowers and little notes. Upon further investigation, it was realized that this was the unofficial shrine to Princess Diana. We were over the tunnel in which she had died.

After the Arch we walked down Champs de Elysses, or whatever it is called. Lots of shops and eating places in the first part. In the second part is sort of a outdoor mall packed with a whole bunch of odd sculptures. Very odd indeed. The things which are passing for art these days is just criminal.

After some indecision we decided to go back to the Hotel. All in all, we did an awful lot of walking that night... and it was only just the beginning.

For dinner we met up with one of Sams friends at some Belgium restaurant. Very pricy. However, I did stumble upon a very good beer, it is called Palm. Try it, you'll like it. I forget what I had for dinner, but it was good and definitely not something I every had before. Oh, I think it was goose. I don't know how much it costed us, but Sam and I's share came in around $80. Ouch!

After dinner we went walking around the Notre Dame area and the Pantheon area and the Sorbone University area. We got a bit of a history lesson which was cool. But then we started to tire and our hosts dropped us off at a taxi stand and bid us farewell. And there we waited, and waited and waited and I don't know fucking long we waited, but we gave up. I think it was more than an hour and we had yet to be first in line.

'Why didn't you take the subway that you were talking up before?' you ask. Well, the subway shuts down at like 1am and it was after that when we got to the taxi stand.

And so we walked, and walked, and walked, and noticed some other taxi stands with longs lines and no cabs, and walked and walked and eventually made it back to our hotel safely. So, keep this in mind. DON'T WAIT AT A TAXI STAND IN PARIS.

Thinking that our night was now over, we were not the least bit amused to find that our hotel door was locked. Upon repeated attempts ringing the doorbell, nobody came to let us in. Eventually another pair of hotel guests came along and so we were not alone. Calling the hotel proved futile. Finally, after about 30 minutes and repeating ringing and banging and kicking somebody came to the door. They didn't seem the least bit worried about our problems. Fucking French!

The next day we slept in and woke up to a fairly nice day. We ended up doing some very touristy stuff. This included going to Montemarte, which was where Picasso hung out. Not bad. Oh, those French people really like these simple sub sandwiches. They are most excellent and generally pretty cheap. Get some.

We also walked by the cemetery where Jim Morrison is/was buried. Spooky. I had a six dollar glass of some Old Style quality beer. Avoid Kronenberg 1654 or whatever the hell it is. We went to the Louve, which on the first Sundays of the month is free. We did the Mona Lisa thing.

Something amazing about the Louve. Photo taking is accepted. In fact, all the historic hot spots allowed photos. This is in contradiction to most every other museum and historic structure I've ever been too. Hmmmm. Hey, Sam, what happened to our Mona Lisa photo?!!??

We went to Notre Dame again, but this time in daylight. We walked through the gardens of the Concorde, which I guess is where they beheaded all those people way back when. Then we walked up that Champs de Eyleses again, this time walking on the other side of the street to be amazed at the silliness of some of the art... including a cow in a tree. That one made stop in my tracks.

We ended up at some bistro (where I felt completely underdressed) and I had some sort of steak, or ribeye or other meat. Also, I found it strange that french fries are big thing over in Europe. Baked potato, hell no, french fries, always.

The next day Sam had an interview during the morning and a good chunk of the afternoon. That let me sleep in :) Eventually I woke up and decided to climb the Eiffel Tower, which was close by. Here is a tip. Take the stairs to the 2nd floor instead of the elevator. The total cost to get to the top drops from about $10 to $5 if you do it that way. Plus there is all sorts of interesting reading along the way so you can take it nice and slow.

Here is another tip. Get your post cards from the street vendors in the area. 18 for 10 francs is easily the lowest price we found in all of Paris... and all of France.

Seemingly, the Eiffel Tower sucked up all of my time. I then went to a bar near our hotel and waited for Sam. I honestly can't remember what we did the rest of the day. Hmmm, I do remember going out for another beer somewhere and having this shrimp appetizer with avocado and pink sauce. Quite good.

That night we had dinner with another group of friends at La Palet, which is somewhere tucked in behind the former palace. On our walk there from the subway, we were somewhat stunned to find this modern art mixed in with historic architecture. We found the whole setting rather bizarre and the photos don't do it justice. The restaurant had a really nice atmosphere in the basement and the food (I had mostly seafood) was quite good. However, something didn't agree with me because it all came up an hour or two later. I hate throwing up when I'm not drunk!

Early the next day, Tuesday, we got on a train for Grenoble... somewhere in the southeasternish part of France. Sam had another interview there. That left me to bum around for a good six hours.

Grenoble was definitely a good place to be, in my opinion. I reminded me of a large Boulder, except with mountains in all directions, not just one. I think the city has about half a million people. I spent pretty much all day in the old quarter, which I found quite nice. My favorite hang out, for what ever reason, was Victor Hugo Park... and the Palais de Bier across the street!

The one thing you can't miss in Grenoble is the Bastille, which sits on a mountain close to the city. You can take a lift up to the top, however if you have the time, hike it. Besides the awesome collection of ruins, it also provides a stunning view of the entire area. A must see!

Once I hooked up with Sam, we had to jump on another train headed for Manosque, which is in the south of France, where Sam had her third and final interview. I broke my watch on the way :(

In Manosque we stayed with some friends who attended the UW a few years back, Maxime and Magali. They have an adorable house outside of town. They now have two little terrors, Samuel and Myriam. Despite my best efforts, Myriam cried whenever I picked her up, or otherwise interacted with her. I felt so rejected.

During our stay the kids were always watching this cartoon called 'Barbapapa,' which for explanation purposes, is a shape-shifting Schmoo. I found it strangely fascinating. And the background music rivaled anything that Scooby Doo could offer. Actually, it reminded me of porno music. The show was a little heavy on the environmental side though.

On Wednesday, while Sam was at her interview, Magali was out of town, Maxime was at work, and the kids were with their nanny, I slept until noon... again. I decided to walk to the nearby pueblo to grab some lunch. To my dismay, everything was closed. The pizza place was even on their 'annual vacation.' Not even the post office was open! However, the town itself was pretty cool for it was on this hill, overlooking everything.

On Thursday, it was was a national holiday, comparable to our Memorial Day. Everything was pretty much closed. Therefore we took a stroll with the kids at a nearby nature preserve.

On Friday, Magali returned from her trip and the whole bunch of us went to Aix-en-Provence. I guess the UW has a relationship with the university in Aix for we were told that there were a number of exchange students in Aix. We didn't see any though.

Aix was of interest because it is a place where Sam and I might eventually live. Ohoh!!! Did I let that slip? Anyway, the city was rather unremarkable, however I was amazed at the pure number of restaurants available. After lunch at a pizza place, Maxime took Sam and I on a tour of the nearby villages, again, to see some potential places me might one day live. I fell asleep at some point.

For dinner, M&M treated us to some homemade crepes. Very, very good\! Afterwards Sam I decided that the next day we would head towards Nice to spend the day, then back to Germany for her next conference.

The next day, Saturday, certainly had its trials. First of all, we got on the train to Marseilles, and used our Rail Pass. The conductor was there immediately and so we didn't have time to fill in that day. We asked him what day it was, and he said the 12th. We wrote it down and he punched it.

Later, we realized it was actually the 13th and therefore we wouldn't be able to use the pass to goto Nice. Despite our efforts to find the conductor to fix the problem, he disappeared. And therefore we were screwed. Or more to the point, we were stuck in Marseilles. We could have purchased a ticket to Nice, but that is what the pass was for. And so, the day did not start good for us.

It was early, before 10am and we had until 10pm to take the train to Germany. Needless to say, we saw a lot of Marseilles that day. But to add insult to injury, it rained the entire time! And to further add insult to injury, the baggage people at the train station wouldn't allow us to leave the laptop, so we had to carry that fucker all day!

The old district in Marseilles is a waste of time... except for this one cathedral which has some obvious Islamic overtones. That building looks really, really cool.

On the way from the old district to the other side of the harbor, we stopped in for a late lunch. I forget the name of the place, but we ended up picking it because it had a menu in English. A bad excuse, I know, but hey, it was fantastic!! Our appetizer included some fried squid with the best sauce I've ever had for seafood. The rest of the lunch/dinner filled us up until the next morning.

The rest of the day, and the evening was spent walking around the commercial district, drinking some beers, visiting the abbey, more beers, more walking around, more beers, more walking around.... well, lots of beers and walking around. The best place by far was a place called La Bar de la Mar, or something like that. I could see wasting an entire day there.

Eventually the brutal day was over and we hopped on our sleeper train to Strasbourg near the German border. I didn't sleep too much though.

Soon enough, a train was leaving for Karlsruhe, the location of Sam's second conference, and soon enough we were at our hotel. I was most excited to see that it was a nice 'full sized' hotel room. A shower did both of us extremely well.

Then, we did something that I've never done in Europe before. Goto McDonalds. Why? Well, it was Sunday, and German stores have criminally small hours and therefore most things wasn't open. A notice to all: you must *buy* your ketchup. :( I was most amused by the placemats on the tray. It was written in English, but punctuated with German words. Why not just write the whole thing in German?

I believe we took a nap then.

Later that day we went looking for something good to eat for dinner. After doing much searching, we eventually found home, the Moniger Brau Garten! I had the schnitzel and it was fabulous. The beer on the other hand, was a mixed bag.

A style of beer that is all over the place over there is like a mix of beer and lemonade and it ain't very good. My first selection was of this variety and I hardly touched any before I opted for a dunkelweiss. Heck, I know what a dunkelweiss is. However, beers you should avoid over there: Leffe, Radlar, Desperado.

Anyway, the truly amazing thing about the place was how much we ate and drank and how little we payed!

The next day I headed back to the states. All in all it was a rather uneventful process. However, I was somewhat ticked off at how thorough the Germans were at the airport. I was already in a pissy mood because of that squeaky suitcase which I couldn't tolerate and had to carry again (make sure you make WD-40 a part of you travel bag... of course, a metal cannister would probably look like a bomb... OK, bad idea).

Anyway, going through security I swear I had to do a fucking strip search before passing through the metal detector. I put my coins in the basket to pass through and my carry-on, however the man insisted I take off my coat. Whatever. Then I make to go through and he insisted I empty my pockets. OK, you have my chewing gum too. I try once more. Nope, please remove your wallet. What the fuck? I was not kind as I put that in the basket. If he insisted I remove the comb in my back pocket, we might have had an international incident.

One final note: Toilet paper in Germany has the texture of paper towels.. and not the absorbent kind either. Ouch!

And so that is that. The next megamail is due in mid-January as I describe my holiday trip to Spain. If the computers are working, look for that gem!



Traffic encircles the Arch in Paris.


Notre Dame


View from Bastille in Grenoble.


Vineyard and hills in Provence.


Cathedral in Marseilles.