The Eiffel Tower for Jordan

April 30, 2012

The following posting is by special request from Diane’s relative Jordon who is 8 years old (almost 9).  He was recently studying the Eiffel Tower at school.  His grandma Esther had us over for a great dinner (with birthday cake!) just before our departure, and Jordan requested that we send him a picture of the tower.  This is for you Jordan.

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The Eiffel Tower is known in France as Le Tour Eiffel.  It is a large tower made of iron located in Paris, France.  Its nickname in French is La Dame de Fer (The Iron Lady).  It has become a symbol of France and is one of the most recognizable structures in the world.

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower was built between 1887 and 1889.  That’s 15 of your lifetimes ago, but around the same time that your Grandma Esther was born.  It was built for L’Exposition Universelle (The World’s Fair) by engineer Gustave Eiffel, after whom it is named.  Originally it was disliked by many Parisians and so was almost torn down in 1909, but was spared because it turned out to be an ideal place for radio antennas.

The Eiffel Tower is the tallest building in France.  It is 320 meters tall which is about the same height as a 90 story building.  At the time it was built, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world.

About 7 million people go to the top of the Eiffel Tower each year.  You can walk up to the first two platforms of the tower but you must take an elevator to get to the very top.  It takes over 300 steps to reach each platform.  We decided to walk up because we needed the exercise!

Diane posing on a landing of the Eiffel Tower steps

Diane posing on a landing of the over 600 steps we climbed

Patrick climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower

Patrick is hot on her heels!

The iron tower must be protected with paint to stop it from rusting.  It takes 50 to 60 tonnes of paint to cover it, and it must be painted every 7 years.  Would you like that job?  It is currently painted brown but they do change the colour occasionally.

Looking up from the base of the Eiffel Tower

Looking up from the base of the Eiffel Tower

The height of the Eiffel Tower changes with the temperature.  In the heat of summer it grows up to 15 centimeters taller as the metal expands.

Diane with umbrella in front of the Eiffel Tower

Diane in the rain in front of the Eiffel Tower

We hope that you have enjoyed this story about the Eiffel Tower.  If you have any questions, please leave a comment on the blog and we’ll write back to you.


My Birthday in Paris (Guest Post)

April 30, 2012

The following is a special ‘guest’ post written by my wife Diane. Thank-you Diane!  If you’d like to be a guest contributor, please contact me.

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Paris.  I have long dreamed of the day that I would visit this wonderful city.  I always envisioned it to be romantic, chic and alluring in a peaceful kind of way.  For me it was all of that.

Thanks to Patrick’s perfect planning we arrived in Paris on my birthday.  We got up early and took a train into Paris.  The 45 minute journey only helped to build my anticipation.  The weather was not the best (windy, cold and with rain on and off), but how could I complain when I was headed for Paris.

Of course our first day in Paris would not be complete without a tiny bit of excitement.  We began at a quaint café for a small bite to eat and some espresso.  A perfect way to start my day.  We ordered a toasted baguette sandwich (very French) and a café Americano (not so French).  We were ready to go with the coffee and baguette in hand, but had difficulty paying.   Neither our visa nor our bank card would work at this shop, and we did not have enough Euros with us as we hadn’t been to a bank machine yet in France.  The very nice man behind the counter (originally from Afghanistan and who spoke excellent English) told us where there was a bank machine.  Patrick set off and I waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Of course I drank my coffee, but thought I best hold off on the sandwich in case no money arrived.  Patrick was gone for what seemed like hours.  At one point the nice man said, “He’s gone a long time.”  I smiled and agreed, not sure what else to say.  What I was thinking was “do you want your sandwich back?”  After another 10 minutes went by the nice man said he thought I should go look for Patrick.  I really thought I should stay put.  There’s no use both of us being lost, but he was insistent.  So off I went.  I had no idea where I was going but thought I would walk around for a minute to make it look good.  I was relieved to see Patrick as I was heading back to the coffee shop.  It turns out that the two bank machines that he found (both from the same bank) would also not accept our debit card so he ended up having to take a small cash advance on his Visa.  We paid the nice man (he even reheated my sandwich), and we were finally off to see the Eiffel Tower.

Métro train arriving at an underground station in Paris

The Paris Métropolitain

It was a short subway ride from the café.  As we approached our stop I was really getting excited.  We exited the train and headed up the stairs to the street.  I turned around and there it was, larger than life.

Patrick and Diane in front of the Eiffel Tower

As I first lay eyes on this magnificent structure I gasped!  I am not sure what I expected but it was much bigger than I thought.  I wouldn’t call it beautiful though.  It’s an enormous metal structure painted brown.  For me the beauty came from its size, strength and view of the city.  There were huge lines to take the elevator, so we hiked up the stairs to the viewing platform, not letting the howling wind and rain deter us.  When we reached the top the view of Paris was stunning.  I loved it.

View North from the Eiffel Tower

View North from the Eiffel Tower

We spent the rest of the day wandering the famous boulevards of Paris.  We finished off the day with an incredible French dinner, some great wine and a lovely birthday kiss.  It was the best birthday.

A staircase leading to the Seine with the Eiffel Tower in the background


Paris

April 30, 2012

The prospect of writing about Paris is a bit daunting for me.  How to do justice to the “La Ville-Lumière“ (The City of Light)?  “La Ville d l’Amour” (The City of Love)?  How do I say something fresh about what is perhaps the most sought-after tourist destination in the most visited country on the planet?

Image of Paris at night taken from Montmartre

Paris at night from Montmartre

I can say that ever since I’ve known my wife Diane, she has wanted to visit Paris.  No specific reasons that I know of, just a strong, inexplicable attraction to a place she’s never been.  I’ve been telling people for months that if we visit France again and don’t make it to Paris, I might be coming home alone.  And so it was that we decided to head directly for Paris, to avoid any potential marital discord.  Actually, we drove right past Paris to the town of Fontainebleau, about 55 kilometers south-east of Paris, which is the home of our friend Bart, whom we first met with his friend Evelyn in southern Tanzania in 2009 and traveled with together through Malawi and again in Zambia.

Fontainebleau is a beautiful and historic city.  It is completely surrounded by a large and scenic forest, the former royal hunting park of France’s kings.  It is also the location of the Chateau de Fontainebleau, a large palace where the kings of France and Napoleon used to hang out.

The chateau was originally a hunting lodge but was expanded into a true palace around 1500 CE by Francois I.  For 300 years, French Kings continued to expand the Chateau to its current 1500+ rooms, with 130 acres of courtyards and beautiful gardens.  Napoleon Bonaparte kept the ailing Pope Pius VII prisoner here for 18 months from June 1812 until July 1814, and it was from here that Napoleon departed for his exile to the island of Elba after giving a moving speech to his troops from the steps in what is now known as the “Courtyard of Goodbyes”.

The stairs in the Courtyard of Goodbyes

Fontainebleau is also the world’s most developed and famous bouldering site.  The forest surrounding the city is scattered with boulders that are scaled by climbers from around the world.  It rained on and off the whole time we were there, so it was always too wet for bouldering, but we did go for a run in the forest on the day of our departure.

Patrick running on a wide train in the forest surrounding Fontainebleau

Running but no climbing in the forest of Fontainebleau

Fontainebleau became our base for 6 days.  We parked the S&M Motel on the street in front of a school just steps from Bart’s apartment (it was a school holiday week so the space was unused).  We spent the first two nights at Bart’s place (he generously gave up his large bed for us) and when his girlfriend Isabel arrived, we just stayed in the camper.  We shared several meals with Bart and Isabel, including one night at the very fancy French restaurant at the local equestrian center (a far cry from the Keg in the Country restaurant where I worked in the early 1980’s!)

Patrick, Diane, Bart, and Isabel at dinner

Why does Bart get both the ladies?

We spent 3 days in Paris.  Each day we took the train from Fontainebleau (about 45 minutes) into Paris’s Gare de Lyon station and from there we walked or used the efficient Metro (subway) to get around Paris.  We managed to see many of Paris’ famous sites:

  • Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris – the 12th century cathedral located on Île de la Cité, an island in the Seine river, and home of the famous hunchback in Victor Hugo’s novel
The exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral from across the river Seine

Cathedral of 'Our Lady'

  • Ste-Chapelle – a gothic chapel located inside the Palais de Justice (Law Courts) that was built to hold the holy relics of Louis IX, but is now visited for its amazing stained glass
  • The Eiffel Tower – more about this in an upcoming post
  • Le Champs Élysées – a promenade connecting L’Arc de Triomphe (a Roman arch built to celebrate Napolean’s victories) to Place de la Concorde (site of the infamous guillotine during the French Revolution, but which now contains a 3300 year old granite obelisk that once stood in the Temple of Ramses in Luxor)
  • Musée du Louvre – the massive art museum that is home to the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa
The Louvre from the clock window of the Musee D'Orsay across the river

The Louvre from the clock window of the Musee D'Orsay across the river

  • Musée d’Orsay – in a beautiful converted train station, it houses France’s national collection of art from the 1840’s to 1914, including the Impressionists.  We preferred this museum to the Louvre.
Main hall of the Musee D'Orsay from the upper balcony

Main hall of the Musee D'Orsay

  • Montmartre – a butte overlooking Paris and the Moulin Rouge, home to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur and the bohemian artists of the turn of the 20th century like Toulouse Lautrec
  • Hotel des Invalides – built in the 1670’s as a home for disabled veterans, it is now a park containing the army museum and 2 churches where many French soldiers are buried, including Napoleon.
  • Musée Rodin – a museum of Rodin’s sculptures with a lovely garden where we had a picnic lunch before viewing The Thinker
The Thinker taken from below with the sky in the background

The Thinker

  • La Rive Gauche – another famous promenade along the ‘left bank’ (the south side of the Seine), which passes Pont Neuf (a bridge from Île de la Cité to both banks of the Seine)
Patrick with a Paris guidebook on the riverbank with the left bank in the background

Le Rive Gauche in the background

  • Chateau de Versailles – France’s grandest royal residence, built by Louis XIV (‘The Sun King’) and located 21 kilometers outside Paris in the suburb or Versailles

Paris is a great city for walking.  Despite the on-and-off rain, we enjoyed wandering around looking at the many places we’d only read about or seen in movies.  Of course, we only scratched the surface of Paris.  There are many more neighbourhoods, museums, and galleries to explore should we return.

But now I can rest easy knowing that Diane has seen her great white whale.


Europe Phase 2 – The Gear Upgrades

April 27, 2012

We’ve invested in some new and upgraded items for this trip.  Based on the experience gained in Phase 1, we thought that the following would make traveling even better.

1)    A new GPS (known in Europe as a ‘satnav’) with a larger screen, the latest European maps, and warnings of the locations of ‘traffic safety cameras’ (otherwise known as photo radar – at least the fixed ones)

2)    Additional camping guide books and discount cards to make finding places to stay easier and more affordable

3)    A better power inverter to charge electrical appliances while driving (or use them while parked)

4)    A 2nd laptop battery for more blogging time when not connected to external power

5)    Stronger reading glasses for print that seems to get smaller every year

6)    A magnifying glass (see #5)

7)    A tiny video camera with a variety of accessories and mounts

8)    More clothes and shoes, allowing us to do laundry less frequently

9)    Rock climbing / mountaineering gear for Patrick

All of this gear required an extra duffle bag on the plane on the trip over.  We think that the extra charge for this bag (both ways) will be worth it.  Traveling by motorhome allows us to bring way more stuff than when adventure traveling with a backpack (one of it’s many advantages!)

Additionally, the S&M Motel has received a major upgrade to the propane system (known in Europe as ‘LPG’, or ‘Liquid Propane Gas’).  It is now outfitted with an integrated system that can be re-filled at regular gas stations (like cars that run on LPG), rather than trying to find a propane-bottle filling station.  This was a challenge last trip, requiring us to ration gas carefully.  This time we’re being much more liberal with the heat.  Thanks Sue and Martin!


England

April 27, 2012

We arrived in London and were met at the airport by our generous friends Sue and Martin (S&M).  We spent a few days with them in Hampton, the town closest to Henry’s VIII’s Hampton Court Palace, where their canal boat Robin is moored.  It was great to see S&M’s friends Chris and Patti again.  We visited them on their boat Queenie which is moored in Maidenhead for the winter.  Both boats are scheduled to start touring the rivers and canals of England in the next couple of weeks.  We also met Martin’s Dad Robin (yes, the same as the boat) at his home in Lightwater and listened in while their two favorite football teams (Reading and Southampton) battled it out for a ‘top 2’ finishing place, which would guarantee one of them a spot in the Premier League next year.

After stowing our gear and provisioning the S&M Motel at Sainsbury’s, a ‘pound’ and ’99p’ shop, and a couple of charity shops, I got my first experience with driving on the left side of the road.  Most of Europe drives on the right side (the same side of the road as Canada and the United States), so on our previous trip the only challenge was that the steering wheel of our British car (ironically made in France) is on the right side, so it felt like I was hanging out over the ditch most of the time on the narrow European roads.  At least driving in England the steering wheel is on the right side of the car (literally and figuratively) for the roads.

We drove down to Chandler’s Ford, home of Patrick’s relatives Peter and Gill, about an hour south of London.  It was great to see them again (our third time there since 2009), even though it was a short visit.  We had dinner with their daughter Julie and her son Olie (not sure about the spelling of his name.  Sorry if I got it wrong.)  We also picked up the camping guide books that we ordered online and had delivered to Chandler’s Ford.  These should making finding campgrounds and parking places much easier this trip.  Next time we look forward to staying for a longer visit.

Chandler’s Ford is on the outskirts of Southampton, the departure point of the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic.  On April 16th, 100 years plus a day from the night that the Titanic sank, we visited the brand new Sea City Museum which just opened there that week.  It tells the Titanic story focusing on Southampton and its 500 residents that died onboard that fateful night.  It also has an exhibit on the seafaring history of Southampton, and a special exhibit on The Titanic Legend.  This special temporary exhibit is about the culture surrounding the titanic disaster (movies, souvenirs, etc.), the conspiracy theories regarding its sinking, and the ongoing controversy regarding the salvaging of its wreckage.

We also visited Sue’s father Tom in Deal, a small town located conveniently close to Dover, the departure point for the ferry to Calais, France.  Tom is a very spry 86 years old, and introduced us to his girlfriend Caroline.  Tom spent a life time climbing in the UK and Europe, including many famous peaks like the Matterhorn and the Eiger.  Some of these he climbed 40 to 50 years ago, without the advantage of modern climbing equipment like climbing harnesses, nylon ropes, ice tools, and Gortex.  Even more impressive, he is still climbing today (at 86!)  He was recently highlighted in his local newspaper along with a picture showing him climbing in Egypt (along with daughter Sue and son-in-law Martin).  Tom showed me his book shelf full of climbing guide books for all over Europe, some of which are probably collector’s items by now.  I hope that my climbing career is half as successful as Tom’s.

It was terrific to visit with family and friends in England and to make some new ones.  On a rainy, windy morning we caught the P&O Ferry in Dover and, despite the waves and white caps, headed across the channel toward France…


Europe Part Deux

April 23, 2012

And so we begin again.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” – Seneca, Roman Philosopher, Mid-1st Century CE

After a whirlwind of last minute preparations, seeing friends and family, and attending the wedding of our niece, we flew from Vancouver to London on April 9th.  The airline we chose (American Airlines) is currently in bankruptcy, but that didn’t seem to affect the service (still bad).

Packing was as daunting as it has been in the past.  I’d assumed that it would get easier each time, but no such luck.  This time I’m bringing mountaineering gear, so we needed to pay for an extra bag on the plane.

I’m full of anticipation for the journey ahead.  Although we’ve been to Europe before, there is still so much to see.  How do we find the right balance between seeing and being, between racing and pacing?  I do look forward to being here in the spring and summer, and to the sunshine and warmth we longed for on our last trip.

Because we’ve traveled by motorhome in Europe before, I’m not as nervous about the challenges we’ll face.  We’re more experienced and better prepared.  Diane seems to be equally tense, but the prospect of seeing Paris soon seems to steady her.

I look forward to sharing our journey with you.  By doing so, I hope that we can learn, grow, and be inspired together.


Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

April 23, 2012

Departing for a long journey is bittersweet.  Amidst the excitement of the last minute preparations and the anticipation of the journey to come, there is a hint of sadness.  Leaving is tough.  What will we miss while we’re gone?  How will our absence affect our cherished relationships with others?

The days and months seem to race by when we’re away.  Just how long we’ve been gone becomes evident upon our return by how much our friends’ children have grown and changed.  We have transformed also.

We do our best to stay in touch with people while we’re away.  This blog is part of that, along with email and the occasional telephone call.  But it’s not the same as being there to cheer them on their big day, or consoling them during a loss.

In some ways traveling seems a selfish thing to do.  The pursuit of my dreams is self-indulgent, even if I believe that doing so is my way of contributing to the world.

I’m not complaining.  I know that many people would give a lot to do what we do.  I am incredibly grateful for the lifestyle we lead.  But we cannot escape the reality that choosing to travel means giving up on other things.

As we prepare to depart, every interaction with friends and family feels more intense.  I listen more intently.  The hugs get longer.  And then I remember that that we’ll be in Paris soon, and I feel a bit better.

“Parting is such sweet sorrow” – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet