xwacky: Dean from Supernatural (back home)
( Oct. 20th, 2010 05:12 pm)
Well, actually I came back home late Monday night. But I was so tired yesterday that I was barely human, so...

It's been a wonderful trip to England. Although I never did get a chance to visit London except coming to and fro Heathrow airport. The rest of time we spent in Cambridge entirely. Oh, how I loved this charming little town!

Here's a few snapshots under the cut... )

p.s. I apologize to everyone here that I've neglected my flist and LJ for quite a while due to this trip. I will attempt to reply your comments and check out your posts. Did I miss much?
No, this post has nothing to do with Jakob Dylan or his lovely new song.

I'd never heard of a moonbow until [livejournal.com profile] laurie31 clued me in.  She explained it's a rainbow made by the moon instead of the sun.  Some call it lunar rainbow, or white rainbow.  Since the moonlight is that much weaker, moonbows are often faint, and whitish in appearance (except in long exposure photographs where colors do appear).  They are best viewed when the moon is full or near to full.

Compared to rainbows, moonbows are a lot rarer.  There are only a handful of places in the world where this phenomenon often occurs.  Yosemite Fall in spring and early summer, due to its water level rising from the melting snow, is one of those places.

It was our luck the time we went to Yosemite happened to be around full moon for the month of June.  And this was the last chance to see moonbows this year.  By July, the water level would drop too low.

Moonbows at Yosemite Fall can be easily spotted when the moon rises above the south rim of the valley.  It was predicted on Monday, June 16, this would happen around 10:13 pm, and the next day, roughly an hour later.

We didn't go on Monday night because hubby had to get up early the next morning.  But on Tuesday night, despite being exhausted from a grueling hike to Half Dome during the day, he insisted on staying late to catch the phenomenon before heading home.  That turned out really well.  We ended up with an extraordinary experience.

Read more... ) 
I've never been to Yosemite in the warm weather before.  After I learned [profile] laurie31  and her family would be vacationing there around this time, I thought why not joining them for a bit of fun.

I managed to get two nights stay there at the last minute.  First, on Sunday, which happened to be Father's Day, I was lucky enough to get a cabin in Curry Village.  The next night, I got a room at Wawona Hotel instead.  This was backward from [profile] laurie31 's itinerary.  But it couldn't be helped.

Our plan was to hopefully meet up in the afternoon on Sunday for a look around Mariposa Grove.  If not, we would hook up early Monday morning for a hike to Sentinel Dome.

Things didn't exactly go according to our plan, it turned out.  Despite that, everything worked out beautifully in the end.

Another quickie:  After well over two hours delay, I finally landed in DFW!  ::exhale::

We landed in Terminal C.  On my way to the Skylink to get to Terminal D (where my connecting flight is going to be), I discovered Samsung Mobile Travel Center located just underneath the high-speed train station.  It has nice sofas, power outlet for laptop computers at every seat, and it's a T-Mobile wireless hotspot.  It even has a foldable bed in the back room!  But what delighted me the most was I discovered a lightweight comforter that came with the bed.  ::hooray::
Quickie posting:  I'm now back at the San Jose airport!  ::eek::

I was on my way to Atlanta for the Dragon*Con.  My flight took off from San Jose airport on time (5:45 pm).  But we had to turn around almost immediately and land.

There was a strange odor in the cabin while the plane was climbing altitude.  I actually smelled it at the onset and wondered what it was.  I'm always scared of every little things during flight so I'm super sensitive to the things around me on the airplane.  Anyway, not soon after I smelled the odor, the Captain announced we were turning back.  The flight back was pretty frightening for me (okay I admit I'm a chicken.)  The plane banked left and right very sharply and it came down FAST (like it was doing a dive)!

After we landed, the mechanics came to check the plane/engine.  Wouldn't you know it--the engine took out some birds during takeoff!  Actually the Captain kinda suspected it because he said he saw some birds on the runway just before the takeoff!  Come to think of it, when I first smelled the odor, my reaction was:  God, what was that?!  Then I thought it kinda smelled like burnt barbecue.

Anyway, I'm back at San Jose airport.  The damage to the engine was extensive enough that we had to switch to a different plane. We are just waiting for the next plane to come in (it's scheduled to come in around 7:30 pm.)  Good thing I'm catching a "red eye" flight and have an overnight layover in Dallas Fort Worth!
Continue with the story of the 10th day of our French Vacation:  our plan for the night was to leave the kids back at the villa with the au pair while the adults enjoy a fancy dinner in Monte Carlo.  Since we encountered traffic jam on the way back from Saint-Tropez, there was no way we could make the 20:00 dinner reservation.  My friends called the restaurant and fortunately they were able to move the time back for us.  Still we had to rush through getting ready.  The place was kinda formal, so I had to put on makeups, which took a lot of time.  But the drive to Monte Carlo was very smooth, and we got there before 21:00.

The restaurant is located inside the elegant Metropole hotel.  It's called Robuchon, ran by master chef Joël Robuchon.  It has a Michelin 2-star rating.  The service there was impeccable, and the food was scrumptious.  Before the meal started, we were served with this blackish mixture in little shot glasses (I guess to prepare our palates.)  Turned out it was made with black tomatoes.  Before this night, I had only known tomatoes come in red, green, and yellow, but never black!

We ordered both Champagne and red wines.  I don't remember the labels any more but suffice to say they were both very good, especially the red wine.  For appetizer, I went for the "house special" ham which surprised Geoff since I was not a big meat eater.  I couldn't resist ordering something the waiter highly recommended.  It turned out pretty good.  But I also found the mashed potato side that came with Geoff's appetizer (he had Quail) to be even better!  I would even say it was the best mashed potato I've ever tasted--melted right in the mouth!

Our waiter was very nice.  He scooped a spoonful of the "sinfully" delicious mashed potato on everyone's plate as a side for our main entrées.  Geoff also made him bring us a plateful of grilled asparagus as an additional side because he overheard other patrons in the restaurant saying it being especially fresh and good there.  When we told our waiter we like to visit Saint-Tropez, he even gave us tips on where to go--according to him, Nikki Beach and Le Club 55 were the places to be!

For the main course, I ordered their nightly special "Langouste."  The waiter explained to us a langouste is not really a lobster.  When I heard it's a local crustacean, I had to try it.  Turned out it was similar to but smaller than a lobster--I'd say it's a large crawfish.  It tasted delicious.  By the time I finished with it, there literally were only shells left!  I think I scared my friends a "little" with my tenacity in getting the meat off the shells.  ;-|

We were all stuffed by the time we finished our main courses so we decided to forgo the dessert.  But on our way out of the restaurant, there was a little surprise for us--each couple were handed a bag with a large Brioche inside.  The hostess told us the breads were baked in their kitchen and were meant as our breakfast for tomorrow.  I was thrilled because I had "fallen in love" with this sweet buttery bread on this trip!

After the meal, we wandered the streets to walk off some of the food.  Probably because the Grand Prix was underway, we saw many Mercedes-McLaren and Ferrari sports cars parked alongside the streets.  I looked at these cars--it was mind boggling that each of them could cost more than someone's house!  I took out the camera and snapped pictures of the guys with the Ferrari's, and I had Geoff took pictures of me with the Mercedes!  Tacky, I know, but what the heck--It's not everyday I saw so many beautiful cars!

Then we went into a casino where there were a couple of people with big cameras hanging around outside.  One of my friend had always wanted to try her hand at a casino in Monte Carlo.  So we had to do that at least once on this trip.  With the lesson learned on our first night in Cannes, we made sure we all brought our passports with us this time.  We got into the casino without any problem.  But in our haste to get ready for the night, my friend and I had both left our money back at the villa! ::hit head::  The only thing I had on me was an ATM card.  However, it wouldn't allow me to withdraw more than €100 at a time.  Oh well... ::shrug::

IMO, the casino was very different from the ones in Las Vegas.  For one thing, it used to be a palace.  I guess the royal family ran out of money in the old days so they turned their palace into a gaming hell hall to raise funds.  But the most difference between this casino and those in Vegas lies in the atmosphere--in this place, I felt an aloofness with the people working here.  Oh, and I almost forgot--cameras and cellphones were strictly forbidden here also--definitely not the "family friendly places" like the casinos in Vegas are turning out to be!  Also, perhaps due to Monte Carlo's neighbor having a big film festival, the casino was practically empty.  Despite it has a hall full of slot machines, the place was relatively quiet because only one or two people were playing at those noisy "one-armed bandits."  The center of the casino is a room with gaming tables.  It was in this room I saw most people gathered around a blackjack table.  One of my friend told me my other friend was there watching Beyoncé play!  Really?!  I went and joined the on lookers around that table, and sure enough--there was Beyoncé with her boyfriend Jay Z playing blackjack!  Or, I should say more accurately--Beyoncé was there quietly watching her boyfriend playing the €5000 minimum blackjack!  She was fairly easy to spot because of her trademark "big hair" (she wore it down and curly.)  Instead of being dressed up, Beyoncé wore a pair of Jeans and a white cotton shirt.  She also had a black Pashmina to keep her warm.  Even though she didn't appear to wear lots of makeups, she was still very pretty!  I wish I could've snapped a picture.  It was then I realized why there were people with big cameras waiting outside the casino!

Our main objective in the casino was to play a hand or two, but I'm a total "idiot" when it comes to gambling, so I begged Geoff to play for me instead.  There were only 5 blackjack tables in the house:  they each require a minimum of €50, €100, €1000, €2000, and €5000 per bet!  Geoff and my friend went and sat at the lowest minimum table.  I on the other hand was feeling sleepy so I went to look for my friends' hubbies who were getting coffees for us.

When I found them in another room, they indeed got us the coffee we needed--with a lot of trouble:  when they went to the coffee bar and ordered "Lattes,"  the barista rolled his eyes and grumbled:  "Americans... want only warm milk!"  My friends' hubbies clarified they did want coffee IN the milk, the barista shot back  "You want Cappuccino then!"  "Uhm, no, we want Latte!"  the guys insisted.  "But that's warm milk!"  the barista countered.  Finially, I think the guys gave up and ordered warm milk with extra shots of espressos to make the latte themselves!

As I sat there drinking the "hard-to-get" latte, Geoff and my friends came by.  I guess €100 couldn't last them very long at the table!  Turned out Geoff did have a couple of blackjacks in the beginning, but the "luck" ran out as quickly as she came.  So they were wiped out within 5 minutes.  Maybe it's a good thing that we left our money back at the villa!

Since we weren't going to gamble any more for the night, we left the casino after we finished drinking our coffees.  My friends suggested we go check out the Sass Cafe.  They were told it is one of THE places to hang out at night in Monte Carlo.  Despite its name, the place is really a night club.  Compared to the casino, it was positively lively!  We hung out there for some time, ordered drinks and danced a little.

It was already the wee hours, and we were all getting really tired.  So we decided to head back.  But after we got into the car, Geoff had another idea--he suggested we should check out the Palace museum area our friends missed seeing the other day.  It turned out to be a good suggestion.  The nightly view of the place was stunning.  Unfortunately it was too dark for our camera to take good pictures.  But the scenery left a deep impression on our minds.  The "detour" was well worth the time and trouble.  However, by the time we got back to the villa, it was around 5:00 in the morning!

xwacky: Dean from Supernatural (born to be wild)
( Jun. 17th, 2007 02:49 pm)
If it weren't for [livejournal.com profile] laurie31  recently leaving her wonderful comments on my journal, I'd almost forgotten I haven't finished my trip report yet!

So resuming where I left off before I got side tracked by the BSG All Access Event, I'm now at Day 10 of my French Vacation:

Today (Wednesday) we had a dinner reservation in Monte Carlo at 20:00.  But other than that, the day was pretty open.  It was a nice sunny day.  Since the "day at the beach" didn't quite turn out well for our friends yesterday, we all felt like having another go at it today.  Only this time, we thought about going to Saint-Tropez instead.  From the "advices" we received from the locals in Fréjus, a town looked about half way to St. Tropez on the map, we estimated it would only take about 45 minutes to get there.

Since our friends "lost" us the day before, Geoff requested being the leader of our little "convoy" this time.  With him driving, the duty of directing the route fell on me instead.  Armed with the map, I of course chose the most direct route RN7 instead of highway A8.  Little did I know RN7 winds through the mountain.  So what looked like a small distance actually turned out to be a much longer way.  Also Geoff had to drive slower on the winding road because Andy complained about his stomach being queasy again.  The good thing was we didn't loose anybody.  But it took us well over an hour to get to St. Tropez!

The drive seemed to go on forever.  At one point, we were so anxious to get there we almost mistook a charming "little" beach town as St. Tropez.  It turned out to be Ste. Maxime, a beautiful seaside vacation town 5 km north of St. Tropez.  If we weren't so determined to get to St. Tropez, I would've been just as happy to stop there instead!  But we drove on, and finally, at a little under two hours since we started, we got to the outskirt of St. Tropez!  There we saw a bunch of "beach umbrella" signs at an intersection.  We stopped and conferred quickly.  Which beach should we go?  This little jaunt was so spur of moment, we did little research on where to go beforehand.  Now that we were here, we decided we would just stop at the first beach we "hit."

The first beach we found was Moorea Beach.  Unlike the beaches in Monaco, it has soft sands instead of the hard pebbles.  On the other hand, IMHO it's not THAT special when compared to the beaches in the Caribbeans, or the beaches in Hawaii.  However, I did notice there appeared to have more private yachts perched on the waves nearby.   Geoff went and bargained with the attendant there to get 3 lounge chairs and an umbrella for €42 (yap, he calls that a bargain!)  Kids were ecstatic by the time we got to the beach, they barely allowed the adults to put sunscreen on them before rushing off to play in the sand, or wad into the ocean.

We ended up spending hours at the beach.  At one point, our friends went and rented a pedalboat with a small slide on the back for the kids.  I've never seen anything like it before, and it was so much fun for kids (and some adults who got a turn to pedal the boat).  Poor Andy, he wanted to pedal that thing so much, but he just didn't quite have the strength to get the boat going.  Kids all had fun taking their turns on the slide.  Originally, it was a little scary for our friends' 4 year old son to slide into the ocean.  But the au pair was there for protection so he overcame his fear and went for it!

While  we were lounging on the beach, there were some peddlers came by to sell their goods.  Most of the stuffs were counterfeits.  My friend saw a fake Breitling watch that was pretty nice.  But the guy originally asked for €250!  Uhm, not going to happen!  In the end though, with a little help from Geoff, she bargained it down to €60.  Hehe, not a bad little "toy" for her hubby!  It actually looked pretty cool, a good imitation of a Breitling as far as look goes.

I tried to get into the water.  It was pretty frigid.  So I didn't stay in the ocean for long.  On the way back, I picked up a broken piece of jellyfish which freaked my friends out.  One of them had actually got stun by a couple of jellyfishes when she wadded through the water.  Thank goodness it wasn't the poisonous kind, so nothing bad happened to her.  But she refused to go into the water again for the rest of the day.

Our day was going by fast.  Before long, we had to pack up and leave so we can make our dinner reservation on time.  We left the beach before 17:00.  The drive back from Saint-Tropez was hellish because of the heavy traffic jam.  But all in all, it was a relaxing and well spent day at the beach (minus the tedious driving) IMO.

See picture collage of the day behind the cut... ) 
xwacky: Dean from Supernatural (vacation)
( Jun. 4th, 2007 10:24 pm)
Now, I'm up to day 9 of our trip.  It was a Tuesday already.  We learned starting on Wednesday, the streets in Monaco were going to be closed for the Grand Prix.  So we figured we'd better make our trip there before that happened.  Because of the wild party the night before, I was afraid the guys wouldn't be able to get up early enough for the trip.  But the husbands surprised me--they all got up respectably early, and we were able to leave the villa for Monaco before noon (we had such a large party, it was quite a feat to get everyone and everything ready).

Since we had three families all together, we were driving in three separate cars.  We ended up being the last car following the other two.  Not bad, we thought, we didn't have the map and it was nice not having to worry about where to go--just follow the leaders!

We came to the first toll booth--oops, not enough changes, the smallest bill I had was a €10.  Fortunately I spotted an attendant with a bag of coins walking among the gates to exchange money for the hapless motorists.  The only problem was we had to wait for her to come to our gate.  Ha!  By the time we passed through the toll, our friends were nowhere in sight!  Uhm, what now?  Geoff and I looked at each other--we were separated from the group, and we had our friends' son with us again.  I was afraid that our friends would worry about their son.  I did recall that we (especially the ladies) had all put on our swimsuits under the cover-alls.  So I suggested once we got to Monaco, we should find beaches to look for them.

As we got near Monaco, the road signs were getting complicated.  We passed a sign pointing to Monaco, and I cried out for Geoff to turn the car around--to me, the sign seemed to be  pointing to a side road branching off to the right.  Geoff was suspicious, but he made the U-turn anyway and went back there to take the side road.  Soon after we got on the road, it became evident that we had taken the wrong direction.  The road was getting smaller and narrower by the second.  It looked like it was a dead-end.  Geoff was being facetious and needled me that no one would be so "dumb" to misread the road sign.  I didn't even have time to take offense at his jests, we came to the dead-end, and I looked up--there they were--our friends and their cars "boxed in" at the end of the road!

Geoff and I got out of the car laughing.  But above everything, we were relieved we found our friends.  The guys quickly conferred on how to get back on the right track, and we then resumed our journey.  It turned out we weren't too far from Monaco at that point.  Once we figured out we should have veered right AFTER we pass that sign pointing to Monaco, it was pretty straight forward to get there.

Before long, we were at the "heart" of Monaco.  We came to a circle, and our car was stopped by the traffic light.  Not again!  By the time the light turned green, our friends' cars were nowhere in sight!  We learned later that they had entered the Casino Parking structure right after they went through the traffic light, but neither Geoff nor I saw them entering the parking lot.  We ended up circling the place many times and went back and forth on the nearby streets looking for them.  It was already in the early afternoon, Geoff and kids were getting hungry since they haven't had lunch.  At one point, we went back to the circle where we lost our friends (or they lost us), Geoff wanted to park the car in the same Casino Parking lot so that we could walk around and look for a place to eat.  But I nipped the idea because I argued our friends were heading to the beaches, not casinos!  Turned out I was full of bad ideas that day--had we parked our car there, we'd saw our friends hanging around the casinos waiting for us and looking for a place to eat themselves!

Anyway, our quest for the beaches had led us toward the Italian part of Monaco.  We found a small cafe off the street and went in for lunch.  The place was actually quite nice, we had appetizer, salad, sandwiches, and beers for less than €40 (it was quite cheap comparing to the other places we've been to lately).  After lunch, we resumed our search for the beaches.  Not too far down the road, I noticed a sign with a beach umbrella.  We followed the road sign and found what we were looking for!  We did have to trek lots of steps and a tunnel to get to the beach after we parked our car.  The beach was unlike anywhere I've been to before--it was full of pebbles and not a grain of sand!

Kids had a blast at the beach.  I challenged Andy and his little friend to find the most interesting pebbles.  The stones were hard, prickly and painful to the feet, but they were warmed by the sun.  Geoff came up with this idea of having me put the rocks all over his back so that he could enjoy a "hot stone treatment!"  He urged me to try it as well, but I wasn't relishing the idea of having rocks all over my body--I might end up with a marbled tan!

We had given up on finding our friends in Monaco by then.  So we relaxed by the beach.  Geoff and kids got into skipping pebbles in the ocean!  Geoff was really good at making the rocks skimming and jumping on the ocean surface.  He even taught Andy's little friend on how to skip stones.  Andy on the other hand, was mostly interested in looking for "treasures" among the pebbles.

We stayed at the beach until it was past 17:00.  Again, I was worried that our friends would miss their son, so I wanted to head back.  On the way back though, Geoff decided to stop at the Palace museum since we might not get a chance to come to Monaco again.  He also argued that if we got back before our friends, we would not be able to get in the villa anyway since they had the gate openers.  Oh well, I wanted to see Monaco too, so it wasn't too hard to convince me.  We parked our car at the public parking for the Palace.  To our amazement, the same parking structure was used to house trucks for various race teams, and some crews were assembling race cars right there in the parking garage!  The boys were excited to see that.

From the parking garage, we took the elevator to get to the upper part of the city.   It was gorgeous--we saw the imposing Oceanography Museum, the Cathedral (I'm guessing that's where Grace Kelly married her prince), and of course, the palace.  We also found an alcove off a street that had a very nice view over looking Monte Carlo down below.  We spent some time wondering around and enjoy the views.  I was quite impressed by what I saw--Monaco seemed to be a city carved off the cliff to me.  I wish I had time to come here early enough when every thing would be open.

It was getting late, and I started to feel really uncomfortable for our friends not knowing where their son was.  So we headed back to the villa.  As it happened, we were right behind our friends' "heels"--we got back 5 minutes after they did!  Turned out they had spent most of their time around Monte Carlo and casinos, but they did get to go to a beach around there for a little while late in the afternoon.  They also told us that although starting the next day, the streets in Monte Carlo would be closed during the day, they would be reopened again after 19:00.  We shared our experiences of our day.  It was then I learned that our friends had made a dinner reservation for the following night at a Michelin 2-star restaurant in Metropole hotel!  {{excited}}

See picture collage behind the cut... )
xwacky: Dean from Supernatural (time)
( Jun. 1st, 2007 11:26 am)
Despite we were out rather late the night before, I got up early the next morning.  I was hoping we could make a trip to Monaco on that day because I was told the streets there would be closed during the later days of the week due to the Grand Prix that was about to take place.

But we never made it to Monaco.  Kids happily played in and out of the pool.  After Geoff got up, he and my friend as well as the au pair went to the super store Géant in the nearby town Mandelieu to shop for groceries.  That took them well over 2 hours--Geoff came back saying the store was humongous, it was a feat to even find out where things were located.  Anyway, by the time they came back from the store, it was too late to make the trip to Monaco because our other friends' family was to arrive sometime later on that day.

I didn't really want to spend two days in a row lounging around the house.  Plus, I was eager to sample more local eateries--it's one of the pleasures I enjoy when I visit places.  So Geoff and I decided to take Andy and one of our friends' boys on a short trip to Cannes.  I had wanted to visit the Le Suquet (old town) part of Cannes.  However when we got there, my attention was caught by the people eating platters of seafoods in a restaurant around a street corner near La Croisette.  That was it--I was literally drooling.  I had to stop and satisfy my taste buds!  Despite I had woken up that morning with a blotch of rash on my right arm, I must eat the seafood!  So we stopped at the restaurant (Astoux et Brun) and ordered a small seafood platter.  It was DELICIOUS!  We also ordered mussels for the boys.  They loved it!  Ever since that day we took Andy to Leon de Bruxelles in Paris, he liked to eat mussels.

After we finished a satisfying meal, it was already late in the afternoon.  We figured our friends' family should arrive pretty soon so we headed back to the villa to wait for them.

Our friends arrived not too long after we got back from Cannes.  They had flown from Amsterdam to Milan and driven from Milan to the villa on that day!  After they settled in the little cottage next to the main house, we had BBQ for dinner (yes, I ate again despite I just had a late-afternoon meal).  From that point on, we just hung around the villa and partied.  There were plenty of champagne, wine, beer, rum, tequila, vodka...  I had a tad too much Champagne so I went to bed with Andy at around 22:00.  This proved to be a "wise" decision--Geoff, who stayed up partying ended up being tossed into the pool at 3:00 in the morning!  ::hehe::  I never quite got the whole story of what happened...

xwacky: Dean from Supernatural (sea treasure)
( May. 31st, 2007 09:23 am)
Continuing with the trip journal--it's now day 7 since we arrived in France, and our first day in Cannes.  For the most part, we decided to relax  during the day and go out for dinner at night.

By the time we got up, the day was in full swing.  After a week long of rain in Paris, we were blessed with sunshine.  We walked out of the house, and discovered the villa indeed got a fabulous view of Cannes (and Nice?) by the distant bays.  The villa was situated in the Esterel mountains so it had a reddish rocky view as well.  There was a nice pool directly overlooking Cannes in the distance.  We spent most part of the day around the pool sunbathing and hung out.

See picture collage of the day and the story of the night behind the cut... )

Anyway, we got to the police station and found a very friendly English speaking policeman who was sent from Paris as the reinforcement for the film festival.  He told us he was very lucky to be on duty to stand guard  near the stage where U2 performed live the night before!

After our friends got their police report, we decided to stroll around the town to see what we could find.  We came upon the red carpet where the stars were seen and photographed.  Of course by then it was all empty.  We took snapshots in front of it and promised ourselves that one of these days we would come here around 18:00 when the stars would walk the carpet.  We then continued making our way on the La Croisette Blvd.  Along the waterfront, tents were setup for many private parties.  When we walked in front of a tent facing the Hilton hotel, we noticed the music from the tent was particularly lively, and there were a group of men with heavy duty cameras waiting nearby.  We decided to take a break to rest our feet and see what would happen.  Several minutes went by, and I noticed a slender girl exited the tent and walked up to a man in suit sitting not far from where I was standing.  Immediately, I went and whispered to my girlfriend that this girl was a really good look-alike of Mini Driver!  The girl ended up with her back toward me and was talking to the man she approached.  I kept whispering to my friend how this girl had the same hair, eyes, nose and profile as Mini Driver.  Before long, the paparazzi noticed the girl as well, and they shouted her name to get her autograph.  It was when the flashes went off that I realized it was indeed Mini Driver herself!  Anyway, after signing a few autographs, Mini Driver quickly walked across the street towards Hilton, inside which was another private party being held.  I was a little embarrassed and hoped she never heard me whispering that she was a very good Mini Driver "impersonator!"

After our brief "encounter" with Mini Driver, we walked further down the La Croisette and came upon an open air theater.  Just then, fireworks were shooting from some boats off the shore.  We were just in time to enjoy the grand finale.  Then we decided to walk back toward the other end of the La Croisette where our car was parked.  When we passed the theater where the movies were screened, we noticed that people were leaving the place.  We went to the side where we had a good view of the exit to see if we would catch sight of any famous people.  As we were standing on the side, all of a sudden, Geoff and I noticed two familiar faces--they were the two pretty French girls we met on the train yesterday!  They both saw us and came by to say hello.  When the two girls saw me, they excitedly asked me if I remembered Erica on the train--they just saw her movie earlier--she was indeed a ladybug.  One of the girl kept saying it was a pretty weird movie, but they were very thrilled to see their new friend on the big screen!

We lingered around the theater a little bit longer.  Most people were gone by then.  We saw a lady dressed in a red ball gown exiting the theater as one of the last ones to leave the place.  As she walked by, many paparazzi surrounded her and snapped pictures of her.  She was very cooperative, and made many poses for the cameras.  My friend and I looked at each other--who was she?!  Neither of us could recognize her.  After the lady left, my friend approached one of the paparazzi to ask him who the woman was.  The cameraman was friendly and spoke accented English.  He shrugged and said he had no clue!  "No clue?!  Then why are you taking pictures of her?!"  we asked.  He laughed and said he'd taken TONS of pictures during the day--he would take pictures of anyone who were dressed up or appeared wearing expensive jeweleries hoping to catch at least one famous person!  Ha! The life of a paparazzo!!!

We left the theater and decided to go to Jimy'z Club to try our luck at a gambling table.  But we were stopped at the entrance--we didn't know that apparently they require passports to enter Casinos in Europe!  Oh well, it was getting rather late for us anyway.  We went and got our car and drove back to the villa to end the night...

See picture collage of the night behind the cut... )
xwacky: Dean from Supernatural (time)
( May. 29th, 2007 09:59 am)
We are finally back at home safe and sound!  The best thing about home is we have internet access again--we completely lost the internet connection once we left Paris on Day 6.  Now that I can get online again, I'm resuming my trip report from where I left off...

On Day 6, we were leaving Paris around 13:50 to catch a train to Nice.  From there we were to rent a car and drove to Villa Ayries in the mountain area just outside of Cannes.  I got up early in the morning and packed up our stuff before 8:00 am.  After breakfast, we still had about 2 hours to kill.  What should we do?  I never got a chance to shop beside my little trip to the Chanel store on Day 1, but Geoff didn't think we had enough time for a shopping jaunt.  Oh well, we never climbed the Arc de Triomphe either, and it was less than 10 minutes away.  So we decided to go there instead.

We climbed to the top of the famous Arch.  The stairs weren't half as "demanding" as they were at Notre Dame, and Andy had a good time bounding up the spiral staircase.  Geoff took some interesting pictures of the staircase for Andy.  Once we got to the top, we took a little time enjoy the view of Paris.  Although by now, we've seen similar views a couple of times already--on Notre Dame, and Eiffel Tower.  We didn't linger too long this time.

After we came down from Arc de Triomphe, Geoff ran back to the hotel to get our luggages and hailed a cab to pick Andy and me up.  We rushed to Gare de Lyon just in time to catch our train to Nice.  Andy was very excited to ride the train--it was one of those high speed ones, and we got seatings on the top level by the window.

The train ride to Nice was around 6 hours.  It was pretty uneventful except for a couple of interesting encounters with our fellow travelers: half way through the journey, we struck a conversation with a pretty girl sitting near us.  We found out that she's an actress from Sidney, Australia, and she's going to Cannes to attend the film festival where one of her movies is being premiered!  She told us her name was Erica, and she's in a movie about Ladybug, in which she is the said ladybug (hehe, sounds like a weird indy film to me!) Anyway, the girl was very pleasant, we chitchatted for a while, and we wished her good luck on her film.  As the train got close to Cannes, we also started a chat with a couple of pretty French girls sitting next to Erica.  One of the girl spoke extremely good English, she did a lot of translating for her friend when they were conversing with Erica.  It turned out that the girl had spent a year in UT Austin!  What a small world--I told her that both my husband and I graduated from there.  She was very happy to hear that, and we talked a bit about Austin, Texas.  Then she told us her friend and her were on their way to attend the Cannes Film Festival.  They were both very excited about it.  I should have asked her how they got their passes since the festival wasn't open to the public.  But I didn't want to overstep the boundary and intrude on their privacy, so I refrained from asking more questions.

Just as I was contemplating if I should ask the girls for a picture, the train arrived in Cannes, and they got off.  Several guys got on the train wearing the festival badges and carrying a big professional camera.  As the train continuing its way to Nice, these guys were conducting a weird interview on the train (or maybe they were just goofing off.)  Apparently some of the festival attendees were staying in Nice instead because the hotels in Cannes were super expensive around this time.

We arrived in Nice just before 19:00--right on schedule.  After we got off the train, Geoff was busy looking around for a taxi to take us to the airport to pick up our rental car.  However, I spotted an airport shuttle not too far from where we were standing, and hauled Geoff, Andy and our luggages toward the bus.  Sure enough, the bus goes to the airport indeed, and it would only cost us four euroes to get there!  Not bad, we got to the airport without any hassle.  We rented our car from a company called Sixt.  I've never heard of the company before, but it apparently had branches all over Europe.  The only thing was we had to wait quite a while for the car to be cleaned.  By the time we were on our way to Cannes, it was getting dark.

The drive to Cannes was pretty straight forward from the highway A8.  But Villa Ayries was half way between Cannes and Fréjus (a charming medieval town dated all the way back to Julius Cesar), near a town called Mandelieu.  It was situated in a parc off RN7.  Once we turned into the parc, we were hopelessly lost!  The roads were very small, steep, and winding.  We made numerous sharp turns to find our way.  Our direction said we needed to follow the signs to Villa Roc Rouge, and Villa Ayries was just further up the road.  But the signs to Villa Roc Rouge were very obscure, and there was a Roc Rouge road, adding to our confusion.  Eventually, after many wrong turns, we finally drove through the gate of Villa Ayries.

Our friend's family had already arrived at the villa before us.  It was nice to drive into a strange place in the dark where all the lights were turned on, and people to greet us!  Poor Andy, as soon as he walked into the house, he threw up!  Even I was feeling a lot queasy in my stomach.  Fortunately, the house was made of stones and rocks, so it was easy to clean up.  Did I say it was really nice that our friends had arrived ahead of us?!  It was wonderful that they had cleaned up the place, and went shopping for food and drinks before we arrived.  There was a BBQ pit in the back of the house, and as soon as we arrived, the meats were threw on the grille.  Before long, we had a nice dinner with our friends.  Andy was so happy to meet up with his playmates.  By the time we arrived the villa, it was completely dark, but we could still see the lights of Cannes along the bay--even in the dark we could tell the villa got a very nice view!

After the meal, we were all getting very tired.  After put on the sheets and made the bed, we bid everyone a good night and hit the sack!

See picture collage behind the cut... )
xwacky: Dean from Supernatural (travel: paris)
( May. 19th, 2007 01:50 am)

Our time in Paris is flying by fast.  Today is our 5th and the last of our full day stay here.  We haven't made our way to the Eiffel Tower yet.  We also haven't had a chance to go back to Louvre, visit Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, climb the Arc de Triomphe, shopping in Galeria Lafayette...  The list just goes on--so many things we wanted to do but not enough time.  The most important thing for us today was to go to the Eiffel Tower--our trip to Paris just wouldn't be complete if we missed it!  We looked out the window after we got up--yippy!  The sun was out!  Our plan panned out--we saved the "best" for the last and we were rewarded with a sunny day!  We walked out of our hotel.  For once the weather was pleasant, and I was excited that I could wear my new sunglasses again.

We rode the subway to the Eiffel Tower.  When we got there, there were already long lines of people waiting to get up there.  I made my way to one of the lines.  Geoff was restless, he was convinced he could find a faster line, so he took off to check things out.  About 10 minutes later, he rushed back toward me urging me to follow him because he had found a much shorter line.  I looked behind me, seeing the many people already gathered behind me--I was very relunctant to give up my position.  But Geoff was very insistant, so I joined him.  He took me to this line, and sure enough, it was MUCH shorter than other lines.  But I wasn't entirely convinced because I suspected this line was not for buying the ticket to get to the top.  I argued with Geoff that he had picked the wrong line, and a girl stood in front of us very helpfully informed us that this was indeed for buying the tickets to walk up to the first level of the Tower only.  And we wouldn't be able to buy tickets for the upper levels when we get up to the first level. ::sigh:: After all that, I gave up my line for nothing!  We ended up had to start all over again at the end of a new queue.  As we stood there waiting to buy the tickets, the sun was shining very brightly. :)  Adding the many people around us, it was getting pretty hot.  I noticed many people around me were eating ice creams, and they looked so tempting.  So I told Geoff to take Andy to get some ice cream.  A little while later, Andy came bouncing back sucking on a popsicle--what happened to the ice cream cones?  Geoff shrugged and said Andy wanted a popsicle instead.  But, but, but, I wanted an ice cream...  ::pouting::

The line was horrandously long, and it moved very slowly.  Half way through, all of a sudden, a message displayed on the chashier's window that the top level of the Eiffel Tower was closed due to an overflow of people up there, and they were only selling the tickets up to the second level!  How disappointing!  I was quite upset that we couldn't get to the top level of the Tower, Andy started to complain it was getting too hot for him.  Geoff jokingly told him that he could wish for a cloud to roll in to cover the sun up a bit.  So Andy started talking to the sky how he wanted a piece of cloud to block the sun.  Five minutes later, the sun started to disappear behind the dark clouds!  Wait, we just got a break with the sun today, and it's disappearing again?!  "Good job, Andy!"  Geoff and I said sarcastically, "look what you've done to so many tourists here!"  "But, but, I only wished for a puny little cloud above my head, I didn't ask for so many dark ones!"  Andy "whined" innocently.  I figured it was a good time to remind him the lesson of being careful about what you wish for...

Finally, after a long wait, we got on the elevator to go up.  We learned that once we get to the 2nd level, if we wanted to continue on to the top level, we could wait there for it to be open again and purchase additional tickets to go up.  But it would be another one and half hour wait at least.  Uhm, maybe it's not such a good idea to go all the way up to the top afterall.  We got to the second level, and we got a pretty good panoramic view of Paris.  Andy was very excited to spot Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, and other land marks of Paris.  We lingered there for quite some time to enjoy the view and snap pictures.  By the time we were ready to go down, Geoff decided we should walk the stairs instead of waiting for the long line to get on the elevator.  This really was his first really good idea of the day IMHO!  The walking down the stairs of Eiffel Tower turned out to be very pleasant.  By the time we got down to the ground, it started to rain again--pouring in fact!  We were hungry again since our last meal was in the morning.  Surprisingly, Andy wanted mussels again, and more surprisingly Geoff said he had enough and wanted something else!  Knowing how good Geoff is with his sense of detecting good food--I trusted him to find another place for us to eat.  Geoff decided we should head back to Saint Germain district.  Sure enough, following his lead, we ended up in this little cafe restaurant called Le Pré aux Clercs on 30 rue Bonaparte.  We ordered a feast--french onion soup, paté, warm mozzarella cheese with salad drizzled in Balsamic Vinegrette, lamb chops, and grilled duck.  The food was fabulous--everything turned out very tasty.  Andy couldn't get enough of the lamb, and he was fighting with his dad for the chops!

We spent a long time eating our dinner and drinking our wines, by the time we finished, it was already past 7:00 pm.  I wanted to visit Galeria Lafeyatte afterward.  But Geoff noticed that the ads from our hotel's pamphlet says it closes at 7:30 pm!  Huh?!  I had no idea Parisian malls all close so early, on weekends too!  The only exception is Thursday when they close at 9pm.

Oh well, there was nothing I could do now, and it was pouring pretty hard again.  So we decided to head back to the direction of our hotel.  After all these days, I haven't had a chance to walk along Champs-Elyssie yet (Geoff had taken Andy there one night after I crashed into the hotel bed).  So we ended up took a rather short stroll along the famed street in a soaking rain before we headed back to our hotel.

xwacky: Dean from Supernatural (travel: paris)
( May. 18th, 2007 02:31 am)

It's our fourth day here in Paris.  Truth be told, I'm starting to feel the exhaustion by now.  I'm not used to walk so much, and of course, as anyone who knew me would know--I'm wearing my high heels! {{feel free to inject jokes and scoffs here}}

We didn't leave our hotel until in the afternoon.  The weather was still nasty, it rained on and off--not a good time to visit Eiffel Tower.  Since the weather report said tomorrow was going to be sunny, we decided to put off Eiffel Tower until then.  Andy wanted to visit Notre Dame's towers again.  He also would like to go back to Musee d'Orsay since we were rushed through there last time.  Uhm, I'm not too thrilled with climbing Notre Dame's steps again, so we decided to go back to Musee d'Orsay.

We ended up spending the whole afternoon in the museum.  This time, we had ample time to check out the paintings and the sculptures.  We also discovered that unlike Louvre, cameras were allowed in front of paintings providing no flashes.  So we also took our time taking pictures in front of our favorite paintings.

We didn't leave d'Orsay until well after 5:00 pm.  On the way out, we chanced into a room displaying Degas's pastels.  Geoff loved those sensuous drawings!  Especially because they were shown in a dark setting necessary to protect them.  We were getting hungry again and Geoff craved for mussels.  The last time we were in Paris, we discovered this chain restaurant called Leon de Bruxelles where they specialize in cooking all kinds of mussels.  We remembered there was one right in the Saint Germain district, so that's where we headed to next.

We got out off the subway at Saint Germain.  Right next to the subway entrance, there was this crepe stand.  I remembered from my visit here last time that they make the best crepes in Paris (IMHO of course).  After five years, the stand was in the same spot, and the same man was there making and selling the crepes!  Geoff and I shared a ham & cheese crepe (our favorite), and it was as good as we remembered!  Next we looked for the restaurant.  Again, Geoff's memory served us really well--we found what we were looking for rather quickly.

Geoff and I each ordered a bucket of mussels.  Andy wanted mussels too, but I was afraid that he wouldn't like it since he never ate any in the States, so I ordered fried fish for him instead.  Geoff ordered his in Provençale style, while I had mine in curry sauce.  They were all very delicious.  Andy ate all his fish and wanted to try the mussels, so we gave him some.  Turned out he liked them very much (he even watched video in the restaurant on how they prepared them), so he helped us finishing our meals.

After the fullfilling meal, we wanted to walk off all these food in our stomache, so we took a stroll around Saint Germain.  We had promised that we would take Andy to a toy store in Paris, so we decided to see if we can find any stores for kids.  Unfortunately we didn't ran into any toy stores, but we did happened onto a store that sells Scifi stuffs.  Andy and I went in.  There are a lot of stuff.  We even found a Battlestar Galactica toy model (Colonial One) that we had seen selling in Target before!  I was surprised that Andy didn't ask me to buy him any toys.  Instead, he checked out the price for some of the items that caught his attention and commented they were so expensive that he couldn't afford them!

We continued our walk, and eventually, we ended up in the Cite area.  I was getting very tired.  We came upon a bridge that gave us a nice view of the front of Notre Dame. Geoff insisted on taking some pictures and doing that kept me awake for a few more moments.  I desprately needed to go back to the hotel at this point so we hurried toward the subway.  When we entered the Cite metro station, we jumped into the elevator that already had a dozen people standing there.  "Oh good, we got in just in time!"  I thought.  But the elevator didn't move, and more people got in.  As we were all standing there with more people streaming in.  Geoff all of a sudden commented aloud:  "Does this elevator work?!"  I was embarassed by his outburst and was ready to chide him to keep his retort to himself.  But a guy who were about to walk into the elevator answered in his heavily accented English:  "Apparently not!"  "Huh?!"  I thought "was he joking?"  The guy pointed toward the top and shrugged "It says it's not working!"  We all stepped off the elevator, and I looked up, yup -- it shows "Heur Service" on the LCD screen on top of elvevator!  Guess it means out of service!  Geoff and I looked each other and then bursted out laughing: all these people in the elevator--guess none of them were French! :)  

We finally got back to the hotel and again I crashed onto the bed!

xwacky: Dean from Supernatural (travel: paris)
( May. 17th, 2007 02:11 am)

It's hard to believe it's already our third day in Paris!  Our plan for today was very simple--we would head straight to Louvre and stay there as long as Andy would endure.  Afterwards, we would just "wing it" depending on how much time would be left for the day.

I was a slow poke this morning, so Geoff and Andy left for breakfast without me.  Even though Geoff was nice enough to grab a yogurt for me, by the time we made our way to Louvre, I was ravenous.  After we got a museum map, I decided we should head straight to cafeteria first.  I figured while I ate my food, Geoff and Andy could figure out what they would like to see.  By the time I finished eating, we had a general plan and route:  We'd head directly to the first floor of Denon wing first since that's where Mona Lisa and other Italian Renaissance masterpieces were displayed.  On the way there, we would encounter Winged Victory of Samothrace, one of my favorite sculpture in Louvre.  After that, we would move to the ground floor of Denon wing to see Italian sculptures from 15th - 16th centuries.  Among other things displayed there, I couldn't wait to see Michaelangelo's two slaves, Canova's Psyche and Eros, and a sculpture of a veiled lady (I couldn't remember the artist's name) again.  After that, we would make our way back upstairs to the back of the Denon wing to see Venus di Milo.  Also I suggested we should stop by the "Apollo Gallary" also located at the back of the Denon wing--that's where the crown jewels were displayed.  Finally, I was hoping that we could see Napoleon's apartment this time since Geoff and I didn't get to see it last time we were in Louvre 5 years ago.

Once we were making our way to the exhibitions, Andy was very excited--poor guy, he had to contain his eagerness to see Mona Lisa since yesterday!  As we were approaching the entrance to the Denon wing, the first thing we saw was the Winged Victory of Samothrace in her full glory!  I had explained to Andy before that I've always loved this sculpture, even more so than Venus di Milo.  When Andy saw her in person, he was awed too.  He loved how she's standing at the bow of her ship, with her wings spread out and wind blowing through her body.  Even though her head is missing, she's still magnificent!  We took our time around her admiring her from different angles.  Andy took out his camera again and took pictures of the Victory from different positions.  I came to realize giving kids digital camera to use was a great idea--it encourages them to take closer looks at things, and unlike those disposable cameras, they could see what they captured immediately--if it's not good, they could always delete it and try again!

After the Winged Victory, we continued to move towards Mona Lisa.  But before we can get to her, we walked past many other masterpieces.  Geoff was delighted to see some of the works by his favorite painters, namely Lippi, and Botticelli.  I was glad to see Leonardo's "Virgin of the Rocks" again--I especially loved the ethereal beauty of the Angel from that painting.  Andy had not seen many Renaissance paintings before, and he never attended any Sunday schools.  So after seeing many artworks depicting the crucifixion, he was shocked to learn it was nails instead of ropes that kept Christ on the cross!

It wasn't hard at all to find Mona Lisa.  Aside of the many arrows that pointed to her, all we had to do was following the crowd.  We did just that, and before long we ended up in the room where she was displayed.  Andy took off once he found out where she was, Geoff and I approached her at a much slower pace.  There were a lot of guards in front of the painting, admonishing people from taking pictures.  Geoff wanted to sneak in some camera shots, but Andy was my "Lee child"--he's not a rule breaker.  Once he saw his dad's intention, Andy shouted aloud "Hey Daddy, cameras are not allowed!"

We spent a good half hour in front of Mona Lisa.  The guards allowed kids to walk much closer to the painting (in front of all the adults) for a closer look.  In the beginning, Andy was reluctant to do so because he thought it was against the rules.  Once he was assured that it's perfectly fine for him to get upfront, he went for it.  On our way to Louvre, I jokingly asked Andy to find out what Mona Lisa is smiling about when he sees the painting in person.  Little did I know Andy would take my joke to heart!  He came up to me after studying the painting for a while and said he still couldn't figure out what made her smile.  Uhm, think--quickly!  "Maybe she's smiling because she's a celebrity?!"  Hehe, kids are so easy to deal with sometimes!

We finally moved away from Da Vinci's masterpiece.  Andy was still basking in the excitement of seeing the painting in person.  He claimed that when he moved around to different angles, Mona Lisa's eyes seemed to follow him around, and at one time he even imagined she "winked" at him!  ::roll eyes::  I'm sure they discussed the painting at length in class at school.

Next, we were trying to make our way downstairs to see the sculptures according to our plan.  But we sort of went a bit too far and ended up in the Spanish painters section.  So we stopped for a little bit to admire some works by Goya there.  Then we found a staircase and walked downstairs.

We ended up in the exhibition that includes some African artifacts.  Andy loved it and we ended up spending some time there wandering about and snapping pictures.  It was here we understood the rule that apparently cameras were allowed around sculptures.  Andy particularly liked this big stone head (he said it reminded him of the statues of Easter Island), so Geoff took a nice picture of him in front of it that I really liked.

It took us a little while to figure out from the African exhibition, we had to go back upstairs and backtrack a little bit to get to another set of stairs to get down to the Italian Sculptures.  Eventually, we did find our way there, and my eyes immediately fell on the "Dying Slave" by Michaelangelo.  Next to it was the "Rebelling Slave"--these are my two favorite slaves from the artist's slave series.  So I took some time lingering in front of them.  When I was admiring the slaves, Andy came rushing toward me saying he wanted to show me something.  He dragged me toward the other end of the hall, and pointed to this ugly thing around a sculpture and asked me what was that?!  Huh?!  What WAS that?!  I walked up close, and realized it was a piece of modern art added onto the "Veiled Lady" I so admired last time I was here!  The stony lady was encased in messy copper colored thick wires seemingly poured from a bucket hang above her.  Among the wires, there were bits and pieces of rocks.  This was a real atrocity  IMHO, and I was totally annoyed by it!  I avoided looking at it for the rest of the time I was there.

I moved onto the Psyche and Eros at one end of the hall.  Fortunately, they are as lovely as they've always been!  I explained to Andy that this is one of the very few artwork that depicted Eros/Cupid as a grownup.  Every time I laid my eyes on the sculpture, I always get enthralled by the tenderness of their kiss.

By the time we finished with the Italian sculptures, we were all pretty tired.  But we couldn't leave Louvre without seeing Venus di Milo!  We quickly headed to where she's located.  Surprisingly there was hardly any people when we first got there.  But while we were snapping pictures, the room was quickly filled up!  Apparently there were groups of people right behind our heels!  I don't think Andy was as impressed with Venus as he was with Winged Victory, but he still took out his camera and snapped some pictures.

There were too many people huddled around Venus so we decided to leave.  On our way back, I noticed Gallery of Apollo, so we went in to take a quick peek at the crown jewels.  Aside from Louis XV's Coronation Crown, we also saw other jewels including Josephine's emerald and diamond crown.  The drawback for the Apollo gallery is that there is no seat or benches.  Geoff claimed his back was killing him, and my feet were killing me, so we decided to call it a day.  Not bad, the only thing we didn't do according to our plan was visiting Napolean's apartment.  Maybe we'd come back here tomorrow to see that!

By the time we left Louvre, it was already after 6:00 p.m.  We had spent our entire day in Louvre!  We were all very hungry, and this time, Geoff decided we should go to our favorite restaurant from our last visit--Le Petit Zinc in Saint-Germain district.

We rode the subway to Saint-Germain.  I was nervous if we could find the restaurant again.  But as we exited the subway station, Geoff took a look at the surroundings and remembered exactly where everything was!  The restaurant wasn't too far away from the subway.  Apparently it's well known for its seafood.  I ordered a "plate" of raw seafood.  The "plate" turned out to be a "basket", but the food was delicious.  The only thing was toward the end of our meal, I was literally falling asleep right there at the table!  Even two cup full of espressoes couldn't keep me awake.  I barely made it back to my hotel room.  The bed never felt so good when I crashed on it!

See picture collage behind the cut... )
xwacky: Dean from Supernatural (travel: paris)
( May. 16th, 2007 02:24 am)
Well, as it turned out, Arc de Triomphe didn't happen today!  We got up around 9:00 am this morning.  I was amazed that both Geoff and Andy seemed to be over the jet lag already.  I on the other hand, am still struggling with it.

Geoff decided we should check out the breakfast here at Hilton.  It turned out to be a nice buffet.  As it always happens at a buffet--I ate too much!  But the important thing for us was Andy ate quite a lot too, which was surprising because he normally doesn't care to eat, especially with foreign food.  So I guess we were off to a good start.

After breakfast, Andy said he really would like to see Notre Dame, where Quasimodo rang the bells.  Therefore we planned our day to explore the famed cathedral.  I figured it would be too much to climb both Notre Dame and Arc de Triomphe on the same day, so we decided to put off the Arc for another time.

Although our hotel was near a subway station (Coucelles stop on the Blue line), it was a bit out of the way to get to most of the tourist attractions.  We ended up having to change different trains for a few times.  Eventually we arrived at Notre Dame around noon time.  Geoff went off to get the museum passes, and he brought back good news and bad news:  the good news was Andy could get in museums for free; the bad news was contrary to what I thought, pass holders also had to wait in line!

The line for accessing Notre Dame's Towers wasn't horrendously long, but as we stood there, the weather got progressively cold and windy.  Geoff was really sweet and offered to stand in line for us while Andy and I escape to the nearby cafe to get hot chocolate.  Finally, it was our turn to go in, and Andy was so excited to see the "ancient" winding staircase leading up to the tower.

I was smart enough to prepared Andy well ahead of time--he knew this would be  quite a climb up to the tower.  So despite the seemingly never ending steps, and the exhausting  climb, Andy never stopped and complained the entire time!  I on the other hand didn't fare all that well.  Two third of the way up the stairs, I already felt I couldn't move my legs for another step.  It was pretty daunting for me to see Andy was still able to take two steps at a time when all I could do was huffing and puffing!  So up he went--laughing and imagining him as Quasimodo climbing these steps in the dark with only a lantern to light the way!  Finally, I heard Andy chirping ahead of me:  "We're there.  I can see the daylight now!"  Turned out he was right.  But first, I had to stop a bit to catch my breath.  If I remembered correctly from my last visit here years ago, we had just climbed around 300 steps!

Now we arrived at the Galerie de Gargoyles--the "bridge" between Notre Dame's North and South Towers.  Andy was quite fascinated with these "ugly" creatures.  When we waited for Geoff to get the museum passes outside Notre Dame, Andy and I could only stare at these things from afar on the ground.  But now, we are right among them!  Excited that he was, Andy took out his camera (we gave him our old digital camera just before this trip) and started to snap pictures.  He took a very good picture of the Eiffel Tower in the distance once he figured out how to use the zoom button on his own.  But his main focus here was the gargoyles--he particularly liked this one gargoyle who looked like he was chewing off the head of a bird!  Oh well, boys will be boys.  ::roll eyes::

After lingering for some time among the gargoyles and taking pictures, we moved inside the South Tower to see the old bell.  It was rather dark inside the bell tower, so the pictures we took in there didn't quite come out.  But it was still neat to see the bell so close.  I didn't pay attention last time I was here, but this time we learned all the bells in catholic cathedrals were christened and "baptized."  So this one's name is Emmanuel, named after Louis XIV's favorite grandson.  Andy had questions on how would Quasimodo ring the bell.  From the information posted next to the bell, I suspected that was a departure from realism on Victor Hugo's part--it seemed that before mechanical mechanisms were installed, it took a group of men to ring this very large bell!

After our visit with the bell, we moved on to see panoramic view of Paris on top of the South Tower--that was another 150 or so steps to climb.  The view was indeed very nice, but it was so windy up there that I almost did a Marilyn Monroe "impersonation"--my skirt was almost blew up completely by the gust when I walked outside.  ::oops::  Another reason I wore the wrong outfit today.  I'm definitely going to wear jeans tomorrow!

It was so cold and windy up at the top, we didn't stay too long.  We wound our way down those steps--it was far easier climbing down the tower than climbing up, we made our way back on the ground in no time.  We then spent some time inside the cathedral.  It was a nice break from the cold elements outside, and I even managed to sit on the chair for a bit to rest my aching feet.  We stayed inside as much as we could, Andy got bored pretty quickly and wanted to visit more museums.  After all those "exercises" of climbing the stairs, Geoff and I were hungry again, so we decided to eat lunch first.

We stopped at a cafe nearby.  We chose that one because it's named Le Quasimodo Cafe.  ::eyes roll::  The food turned out to be pretty good--we ordered some wine, a plate of delicatessens, and another plate of french fries.  We wolfed our food down and discussed where we should go next.  Andy said he wanted to see Mona Lisa.  I thought it was a bit too late in the day to visit Louvre, but what the heck--Louvre it is!

While we were eating our lunch, it started to rain outside.  Fortunately I had the good sense of bringing my umbrella this morning, and the subway entrance wasn't too far from the cafe.  We rode the train to Musee Louvre.  However when we got there, we found out Louvre was closed on Tuesdays!  ::hammer on head::  Lazy me for not doing proper researches beforehand.  Andy was really disappointed.  Now what?!  Since Andy said his second favorite painter was Van Gogh (he claimed his first was Leonard Da Vinci), Geoff suggested we go to Musee d'Orsay instead.

Musee d'Orsay looked not too far from Louvre on the map, but in reality, it was quite a walk.  Worse yet, it was raining pretty hard by that time.  Determined as we were, we trekked our way there slowly in the gusty wind and pouring rain.  But made it we did--a little under an hour before the museum would close!  We had to move really fast since we didn't have much time.  We browsed through the early works by Manet and Monet.  Andy got a kick out of seeing Manet's famous painting "Olympia" featured among the background of another painting done by the same artist!  All of Van Gogh's paintings were located in one room on the 5th floor.  So we moved headily toward the back of the building where express escalator was located.  But on our way there, we (especially Andy and I) got side-tracked at the Opera area near the escalator.  There was a sliced open model of Paris Opera house which was quite interesting.  In front of it,  there were "mini" models of Paris streets and structures underneath a see-through glass floor!  Andy had a blast "stomping" on the glass floor pretending to be various constellations in the nightly sky above the city of Paris! (Previously, I had erroneously thought he was pretending to be a god walking above the city and pouring "rain" onto the city.)  But Geoff was determined to get us to the Van Gogh's paintings before the museum closed.  So he herded us onto the escalator.

We made to the Van Gogh's room 5 minutes before the museum would close.  Andy and I discussed about the two Van Gogh's self portraits there.  We talked about how most of Van Gogh's self portraits showed the artist's left ear only.  I asked Andy which of the self portrait he liked better, he pointed to the one that was done later by the artist.  Uhm, made sense to me since that was the more famous of the two, but I asked Andy why he liked it better.  He told me because he liked the swirly background brush strokes in that painting better than the short and stubbly ones in the other painting!  I showed Andy Van Gogh's painting nicknamed "Church with no doors," and explained to him "why" the church seemed to have no doors.  Leave it to a child to state the obvious--Andy pointed out the reason there was no doors was because the artist painted the backside of the church--the entrance was on the other side!

Five minutes was up pretty quickly.  We were ushered outside the exhibition area by the museum employees.  The rain finally stopped outside.  As we stepped outside the museum, we discovered there was a subway entrance right underneath the museum!  Geoff and I looked at each other--after all that struggling in the rain, we could've avoided it by taking the subway instead, probably much quicker too!

It's now after 6:00 pm, and we were all pretty tired by now.  So we headed back to our hotel to call it a day.  Near the hotel, we stopped at a different restaurant for dinner.  As usual, the food was delicious--Andy ate his first escargot and liked it!  I told him he can now "brag" to his friend that he ate snails!

See picture collage behind the cut... )
xwacky: Dean from Supernatural (travel: paris)
( May. 15th, 2007 01:27 am)
That's it!  A little after 24 hours since we left our home (we stayed in a hotel near San Francisco airport the night before to catch the early morning flight), we finally landed in Paris.  Geoff decided to experience what a Parisian would do, so instead of hailing a taxi to the hotel, we struggled with our luggages and rode train into the city.  I was surprised there wasn't an express train linking the airport to Paris. After many stops, we slowly arrived at Gare de Nord and switched to metro subway to get to our destination.

Despite our slow pace, we were still early to check into our hotel (we landed a little before 7:00 am, and our check-in time had to be after 10:00 am), so we stopped at a subway cafe to grab a bite to eat and kill some time.  Coffee (or should I say espresso) tasted much better than my favorite Starbuck's coffee, and the sandwich was delicious!

Finally, it's after 10:00 am, and we walked to our hotel--Hilton Arc de Triomphe.  It was a short walk from the subway to the hotel.  As we were approaching the hotel, I was secretly thinking it looked kinda drab from the outside--a plain looking grey building.  But I was pleasantly surprised once we walked into the hotel.  It's decorated in the charming art deco style.  The lounge and guest room turned out to be very pleasant.  Like a good tourist, I swiped out my camera and took quite a bunch of pictures while Geoff checked us in.

After a quick shower to rinse off the "dust" from the journey, we headed out to check out the city.  We decided our first stop would be Arc de Triomphe since it's just around the corner (literally).  The walk to it was nice and Andy was very chipper the entire time.  I was surprised he's not tired at all!  Once we got to the Arch, Andy wanted to climb all the way to the top.  But Geoff and I thought it would be smarter for us to buy 4 day museum passes instead of the 6 day ones, so we decided to wait 'till tomorrow to climb the Arch.

Since we were not going to see any more museums today, I wanted to check out the Chanel store to look for the aviator sunglasses I've been craving for.  We got to the store and while I was selecting the sunglasses, Andy finally "crashed" on the sofa in the store!  I "quickly" made my selection and off we went heading back to our room to call it a day...

See picture collage behind the cut... )


xwacky: Dean from Supernatural (Default)


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