Well, sorry for the gap, but yes we were gone for two weeks, visiting Paris and Amsterdam, and yes we had an amazing wonderful incredible time, and yes I will tell you about it, now, but no I did not make time for blogging while traveling. Scanning my RSS feeds I see I have much to catch up, please stay tuned.
But first things first, the trip... So we flew to Paris, me and Shirley and our daughters Jordan (24), Alexis (18), and Megan (14), and we stayed on the Rue Pont Neuf, which if you look at the map is like dead center in Paris, walking distance to everything. I've come to believe this is crucial to visiting somewhere; you want to get out and walk and experience the place, not just see everything through windows. (Of course in Paris you can take the Metro everywhere, easily, but most of it is underground so you don't see much until you get there.) We did all the touristy things, visited museums (Musee d'Orsay!) and gardens and saw old buildings and churches, and also walked around a lot, and ate a lot (cheese!) and drank a lot (wine!), and had some unexpected nice experiences and [fortunately] few not-so-nice experiences. We did manage to have luggage lost on the way out, but it was found and delivered, and if that's the worst thing that happens you can't complain. And we did have an expected amazing experience, dinner at Guy Savoy (***), about which I'll say more below.
After finishing our week of touristing Paris, we took the hispeed train to Amsterdam. We stayed in the Hotel Amrath which is a converted old office building ("the Shipping House") with amazing art deco architecture and windows and elevators and all. Way cool. And again, perfectly located right downtown on the harbor, walking distance to everything including the central station. We spent a fun week doing more touristy things, walked all over the city, visited more museums (Van Gogh!) and gardens, and took in Amsterdam's weird and wonderful combination of canals, old buildings and churches, new music and sex, and people of every stripe. Quite an experience.
You can believe, I took a kazillion pictures, here's a smattering in case they are of interest, interspersed with some remarks about the trip:
The Louvre is just as amazing as you've heard; it is huge, and the building is almost as impressive and interesting as the art it displays. We tried to visit the galleries in chronological order of the art, which was pretty interesting.
The TGV trains are pretty cool; no problem, you just walk on board and poof off you go at 300kph to the other side of the country. Makes airplane travel seem primitive. Why don't we have fast trains in the U.S.?
The great thing about cycle racing is that anyone can just walk up and watch, and be a few feet from the action. (Try that at the Super Bowl or World Series :) The atmosphere in Grenoble was great, one big sports party.
The Paris metro is just as cool as everyone says, it's easy to figure out, and it's easy (and cheap) to go anywhere in the city.
By tradition the Tour de France finishes on the Champs d'Elysee, the main shopping street in Paris. It draws a *huge* crowd, and unlike the sports fans in Grenoble these are people who just want to be part of the event. The peloton makes eight laps up and down the long boulevard, giving everyone a chance to see pro riders at 40kph.
There are cafes *everywhere*; you can't go twenty feet without finding a cool place to eat and drink. Lots of cheese (!) and lots of red wine (!!)
We took a number of unstructured walking tours; the streets in Paris are at weird angles, so you never know what you'll find around any corner. I love the way the height of buildings is restricted, it gives the city center a neighborhood feel.
The Louvre is amazing, but my favorite museum is the Musee d'Orsay, a converted train station which has some of the most amazing art, displayed in the most amazing way.
Paris is home to fourteen Michelin three-star restaurants, more than any other city, and picking one for a celebratory dinner was not easy, but we choose Guy Savoy. Wow. The entire experience was amazing, and the food was incredible. We choose the prix fixe menu, about fifteen courses, each tiny and wonderful in flavor and presentation. My favorite was probably a lobster tartar cooked over a bed of dry ice; it looked and tasted like magic. And who knew you could match a different bread with each course? Wow.
One of the first things you notice in Amsterdam is the bicycles, everyone rides them everywhere, and they are these big utility looking things that are designed for heavy use in bad weather. It isn't uncommon to see businesmen in suits or girls in skirts and heels riding them, and they're leaned on and chained to every surface. The city is setup for them too, with bike paths and racks everywhere.
Like Paris we took a bunch of walking tours in Amsterdam, and the streets were just as haphazard; but here you have to deal with canals and bridges everywhere, and bike traffic instead of cars.
We took a day trip via train down to my home town of Vlaardingen, near Rotterdam. The ostensible purpose was to show the kids my little city, but really it was to get Ijzerkoekjes, the world's greatest cookies which can only be bought here. (Yes, we bought nine dozen.)
We made it back just in time to join my cousin Marco and his family for a wonderful Indonesian Rijsttafel. In the Netherlands Indonesian food is the most common ethnic takeout, kind of like Chinese in the U.S.; Rijsttafel is a feast of many little dishes, spicy and savory and wonderful.
The Rijksmuseum is the National Museum of the Netherlands, housing amazing pieces by the Dutch Masters like Rembrandt, and nearby is a newer Van Gogh museum. We made an excursion to both...
Everywhere we went Alex and Meg were served alcohol, no questions asked. The legal drinking age is 16 in Paris and Amsterdam, but clearly they aren't too strict about it, and no babies die. (Drinking and driving by anyone is however socially frowned on as well as a serious crime.)
All in all, a wonderful trip. And now, back to reality ... which in my case means, back to six more weeks of vacation. I do however plan to spend it doing a bit more than sitting around reading (although I want to do a lot of that too...) - please stay tuned!