Archive for April, 2009

Paris: Part Deux

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Wednesday and Thursday centered around what were my two main desires for our Paris trip, visiting the Musée D’Orsay and the Louvre.

Wednesday I made Markus get up early and head out so that we wouldn’t have to wait too long in line for the D’Orsay. Well, I mixed up the operating hours, so we were there an hour before the doors opened and no one was in sight. But that gave us an opportunity to finish our croissants and drink € 4 coffees in an overpriced (as they all are in the touristy centre of Paris) café.

Once inside, I was stunned by the beauty of the building. Formerly a train station built in late 1800’s, the space was remodeled in the 1980’s (thank goodness it missed the ’70’s!) Markus and I love the Impressionists (not very original, I know, but there is no accounting for taste), so we spent 3 hours getting our fill of Monet, Manet, and Degas. I have this incredible sense of well-being, calm, and inspiration when I am looking at art work that moves me. (Now I just need to figure out how to bottle that for injection during the rest of my life.) It was a perfect morning.

Here is a shot of the gorgeous interior, plus a couple of my favourite paintings (sorry about the quality…a photography class is next!).

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Berthe Morisot

Berthe Morisot

Claude Monet

Claude Monet

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh

In the afternoon Markus took a break, as he was battling a cold, and I headed for the shops. I only bought one top, but enjoyed browsing. All I have to say is “What financial crisis?!!” Everywhere was packed with people buying clothes and gifts and toys for their children. I guess that is why I continue to have faith that our little inner city hotel could do well; it has to get really, really, really bad before people give up their vacation plans entirely.

Thursday we headed out early again for the Louvre. There was a line but it snaked in very quickly. (I was actually amazing that, although people poured steadily in all day, the museum is so massive that we would still find ourselves in rooms all alone.) We had a bumpy start since I was getting a bit obstinate about wanting to be in a certain area of the museum, and were having trouble finding it. But eventually we got there, I relaxed, and Markus forgave me.

As everyone who has ever been to the Louvre told me, the place is so incredibly huge there is no chance of seeing everything…even if you had a month. So in the end we wandered a bit, got lost a bit, and saw all kinds of works from various periods.

One of the amazing areas was the artifacts from Ancient Egypt (and a bit from ancient Iran). The tombs, jewellery and stones covered with hieroglyphs made me just want to stand and stare for hours. As for paintings, Rembrandt was a favourite, so we spent a good amount of time viewing his works. We also toured Napoleon’s apartments, which of course were ridiculously, deliciously opulent. Always fun to imagine myself living that life. Perhaps I’d just be bored. Or not.

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Overall the D’Orsay was the more complete experience for me, but I would/will go back to the Louvre without a doubt should I ever find myself back in Paris.

(I didn’t take any pictures of the artworks or artifacts, but here is the official site if you just have to see more.)

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After the Louvre we had fresh sandwiches in a gorgeous park and then in the afternoon walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. What a madhouse. (Again, what financial crisis??) So many beautiful people going in and out of beautiful shops. What an eyeful. Of course we just window shopped, but we did treat ourselves to a couple of € 10 small drafts (ridiculous, but must be done) and people watched. Markus noted that it was easy to discern the tourists in their comfortable shoes from the Parisians who wouldn’t be caught dead without heels. Like all big cities, it would be more fun to live in Paris if you have loads of disposable cash.

I wish I could tell you that our 4 days ended with a bang and big party, but both of us were a bit beat from all the walking and had brain overload from all the amazing sites. So we hopped on the metro, took a stroll through another part of town, ate oh-my-goodness awesome crepes at a street side cafe, and went to an English-language movie. (A real treat for me, as they don’t often play undubbed movies in Innsbruck.)

The weather had been perfect all week despite predictions of rain, so we weren’t too surprised when the skies opened up just as we hopped in the car to make our way back to Innsbruck. We picked a very tired Rebecca up at the Munich airport (she was returning from 2 weeks in Canada for spring break) and had a quiet drive home.

I truly couldn’t have designed a better way to usher in (hopefully at least) the next 40 years of my life. I am blessed.

Paris in the Springtime: Part 1

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Last week Markus and I kissed Annie and hugged my mom and Drew goodbye (with lots of instructions and several phone numbers), and headed out in the car for a relaxing (for me, the passenger), very scenic 9-hour drive to Paris. The weather was gorgeous, and the landscape of mountains, farms and rolling hills were soothing and stunning at the same time.

We pushed through with only a couple of coffee breaks until we got to France. We decided to stop for lunch in a town near the highway, as opposed to a road-side restaurant. It being Easter Monday, our first couple of attempts in little French villages were thwarted, as the towns were closed. Not just the shops and restaurants, but everything. Not a person in sight, not a dog on the streets. A bit weird, although we appreciated looking at the charming architecture.

We finally made our way to a bit bigger town, Saverne, where we had a very tasty lunch. We walked around for a bit, and then found a spot with outdoor seating and the look of authentic cuisine. After a little coaching from Markus, I ordered what is apparently a local specialty, Tarte Flambe. I was expecting a tart or quiche-like meal, but instead was served a thin flat bread with three different toppings. The gorgonzola was unbelievable, but it was incredibly rich so I’m glad that there were other tastes as well. The bottom is slightly charred, which usually I wouldn’t like, but the flavours worked well together. With a glass of white wine and the warm sun on my back, it was a delicious way to start the trip. (Only a week later, I’m starting to crave Tarte Flambe and am wondering when I might be able to find this again.)
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With surprising little trouble (given that I am useless at navigating, as my car sickness means I can’t look at a map for more than 2 seconds while the car is moving…not to mention my hopeless sense of direction,) we found our hotel.

I’ll mention here that this Parisian adventure was made possible by Markus’ and my family. (That is one for the ‘Can’t do this in Canada’ category: travel to Paris on birthday cash.) Markus’ parents joined a vacation club about 30 years back, and let us use some of their points for the 4 nights. The deal with this club is that they choose amazing locations, and the rooms are usually apartment style with small kitchen units. You still have to pay a maintenance fee and for parking, but with total of around € 320, we couldn’t have found a decent place for one night in central Paris. And both my sets of parents and Markus’ grandmother chipped in on spending money, so it was all possible. (Thanks everyone!)

We were very happy with our small suite (one bedroom and main eating/living area). And being able to pop down to the bakery and bring back Pain aux Chocolat with fresh juice and coffee in the room was a perfect way to start the day.

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And they  weren’t kidding about the location. We were able to walk everywhere: Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Champs-Elysees. We took the metro a couple of times only because we had worn out our poor feet from hours and hours of strolling through the city and museums.

We were both pretty tired after the long drive, so after a short stroll around our ‘hood, a few pics, and a quick dinner, we went back to the hotel for a relaxing and refreshing sleep.

Saint-Eustache and adjacent gardens just down the street from our hotel

Saint-Eustache and adjacent gardens just down the street from our hotel

In the couryard in front of Saint-Eustache

In the couryard in front of Saint-Eustache

The next morning our first stop at the local Patisserie was a real conundrum. We just couldn’t decide what to order, as it all looked delicious. I had a Pain aux Chocolat every day, and then one other treat to round things out. (Good thing we walked everywhere, as I’ve already gained weight sitting in bed with my broken elbow.)

Our first trek took us over the Pont-Neuf bridge to the Ile de la Cité, an island of land in the middle of the Seine. (Clearly I was quite taken with this river and the architecture surrounding it, as many of my photos are of this historic waterway.) We walked by the 18th century buildings and made our way to Notre Dame. The legendary church is massive and epic, and the details of the art work are a bit overwhelming. But I don’t know if it is just that we have been to so many churches and so many castles in the last 6 months (I know, poor us), but neither of us were moved to spend hours looking around. It is, however, still an impressive memory.

Pont-Neuf and the tip of the island on a hazy spring morning

Pont-Neuf and the tip of the island on a hazy spring morning

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Maybe some good Catholic could tell me the deal with the guy holding his head.

Maybe some good Catholic could tell me the deal with the guy holding his head.

Our plan for our first day in Paris was to visit the Musée d’Orsay. However, the Louvre was closed that day so the line up was ridiculous. As neither Markus or I do long lineups unless absolutely unavoidable, we shifted plans and headed along the river to the Eiffel Tower.

Neither of us really wanted to go up the tower, even before we saw the massive line ups, so that was an easy decision. The park around the towers was beautiful, and we found a little cafe with street side tables for lunch.

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After lunch we decided to hit the Paris Museum of Modern Art. We enjoyed looking at some of the sculptures as well as art deco furniture and glass work, and expressed our opinions about the paintings. Markus and I have similar tastes in historical paintings and sculptures, but different things move us with modern art. Interesting opinions ensue. We saw one artist that really reminded us of our friend Lucie Marlo’s work, but unfortunately his/her name escapes me.

One thing I was really struck with throughout our trip was how much green space has been retained in the heart of Paris. Large parks and gardens are impressive, but also areas with just grass and trees are plentiful. It made strolling through the city a real treat.

After a rest/nap, we found a very French bistro with a very French waiter, and quenched our cravings for Steak Frites. That was fine, but it was the appy that really got me. Raw vegetables with a goat cheese fondue that was seriously spectacular, served in a little, scalding hot, cast iron pot. After the veggies were gone I dipped bread, and when I was starting to get worrisomely full, I took my spoon and just ate the melted cheese. YeeeUuuuMmmm!

A memorable first day.

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Taken strolling along the Seine. Too bad it was too early for a beer.

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A Lovely Birthday Morning

Monday, April 20th, 2009

The story and pics of Paris will be up soon, but I just wanted to do a short post on this day, my 40th birthday. (So weird, I tell you. I think of myself as much younger and am constantly forgetting I’m not a puppy anymore.)

I woke up before Annie did, a big treat, and then heard her toddle into our room. She gave me a big snuggle and then, when I told her it was my birthday, attempted to sing Happy Birthday and claimed, “but it isn’t in your closet.” O.K. then.

Markus and Annie made me crepes with strawberries and Canadian Maple syrup, which is one of my favourites. Even Rebecca woke up early to join us. Right now, after chatting with Markus and my mom, I’m sitting on our balcony reading a book. I feel content and happy and pretty lucky to be in this beautiful setting.

Tonight we will all go out for dinner and then back to the cafe for cake. A lovely way to spend my birthday.

Here is my view on this gorgeous morning (click on the picture to enlarge):

View from my balcony, April 20th, 2009

View from my balcony, April 20th, 2009

The mountains actually feel even closer in person.

The mountains actually feel even closer in person.

The hills are alive...

The hills are alive...

A Stunning Spring Day in the Mountains

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

I’m celebrating my first day being able to type with two hands by resuming my blogging. The cast came off on Tuesday, and after yesterday’s physio session, I can turn my wrist enough to lay it on the keyboard and type. Yahoo! I’ll keep this short though, as I’m pretty sure my forearm will start to ache soon.

Mom and Drew arrived Tuesday for a visit to Innsbruck. Drew had a 4 week volunteer management stint in Serbia, so Mom joined him for the last week. They enjoyed Belgrade and then visited Budapest and Vienna on route to Innsbruck. Mom will be here for another 2 weeks (and look after Annie while we go to Paris) and Drew will be here until next Tuesday.

This last week has brought almost summer-like conditions here in this part of Europe. So strange. A week before there was snow on the ground, and then suddenly the temps are above 20 ° C. Markus wanted to get one last ski in before the season ended, so we all piled into the car and took the funicular to the top of Axamer Lizum,  a mountain about 25 minutes drive from Innsbruck door-to-lift.

Markus had some beautiful runs while Mom, Drew and I enjoyed the sun, warm weather, and spectacular view. Here are some pics and a short video of the panoramic view of the mountains, including a shot of a cross, a required feature on the top of every mountain in this very Catholic country.

Mom at the base of the mountain

Mom at the base of the mountain

The gang waaaaay up high.

The gang waaaaay up high.

Markus ready to enjoy a gorgeous Spring ski.

Markus ready to enjoy a gorgeous Spring ski.


Panorama at Axamer Lizum from Hillary Samson on Vimeo.