Surviving Two National Transportation Strikes – While Traveling France With Visitors.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” ~John Lennon

So after all of Tracy’s meticulous travel planning in anticipation of son Casey and his fiancée Megan’s arrival in France; after our pre-purchase of train, flight, and venue tickets; and after our pre-paying for hotel reservation, we were surprised with a sudden rail strike which turned out to be the longest since 2010.  While “industrial actions” are always a possibility in France, this one took us totally unprepared.

A high-speed train TGV Duplex from SNCF. Wikimedia Commons
A high-speed train TGV Duplex from SNCF. Wikimedia Commons

Casey and Megan arrived in Paris in early June and while exploring the “City of Lights” together, Tracy and I checked the English-language online news (The Local and France 24) and learned that two of SNCF’s (the French national rail service) four unions, CGT and Sud-Rail had started what will eventually turn out to be a 10 day strike.  Most strikes in France in recent years are 24 hour “rolling strikes” with prior public notice that cause a minimum of inconvenience.   But this rail strike was called on short notice because of major rail system reform legislation scheduled in the French Parliament that week and the strike would uncharacteristically drag on day after day after day.

So when the time came for the next leg of our trip, traveling from Paris to Marseille, we took the RER commuter train from Paris to the Gare de Marne-la-Vallée – Chessy train station to catch our previously assigned seats on the Ouigo high-speed train to Marseille.  (The Ouigo in SNCF’s alternative to discount airlines with re-liveried TGV trains with cost-saving online booking and the absence of a cafe car but with very comfortable deluxe seats with fares starting at €10.)  Unfortunately, once we arrived at the train station we learned our train (along with two others of the day’s previous trains which were also headed south) had been canceled.  But, we were told by the SNCF staff that there was one southbound TGV train still scheduled in two hours. The SNCF official told us that if we managed to “get on that train and the doors are able to close” we could ride that TGV as an alternative to our canceled train. Space on the train was “first come, first serve,” for passengers without assigned seating like us.

So we embraced the “lifeboat rules” of traveling during a major train strike in France.  We played cards and waited for the alternative train, keeping a close eye the electronic status board, and hoping that train didn’t get cancelled at the last-minute.  Casey and Megan became “Platinum level” participants in the “French National Sport” of surviving strikes. Both maintained absolute positive attitudes and great humor while waiting for our alternative train.  We talked and played cards to wile away the hours as we waited.  When the train arrived, we were waiting at the front of the queue with the regular passengers and a good portion of extra passengers from the three cancelled trains.  As we searched for space, the four of us ended up with many others passengers in a first class car standing in the entryway like commuters in a crowded subway car during rush hour.

Casey, Megan. and Tracy playing cards and waiting for the train.
Casey, Megan. and Tracy playing cards and waiting for the train.
Megan and Casey waiting.
Megan and Casey waiting.

The train’s doors managed to close, it started rolling southbound, and we all sighed with relief that we made the train.  Now it was time to get comfortable (or as comfortable as possible) for the 3 hour + trip to Marseille.  Casey and Megan were kind enough to give me a spot on some steps entering a first class cabin (my old leg injury makes being stationary while standing painful.)  They both found a seat on the floor of the entryway way.  Tracy stood in the first class cabin doorway for the first two hours of the trip (and diverting air conditioning into the entryway.)  During the trip our fellow surplus passengers also found seats sitting on their bags, the floor, and one person sitting in the car’s restroom commode.  We were envious of our ticketed first-class companions in their assigned seats, but the overall mood of all the passengers was friendly and helpful.  Casey used his high school and college French to speak with a French father with his wife and two sons. Tracy helped support an older woman standing next to her in the cabin doorway.

Casey, Megan, and Tracy standing in the entryway on the train to Marseille
Casey, Megan, and Tracy standing in the entryway on the train to Marseille
Megan and Casey sitting on the train floor.
Megan and Casey sitting on the train floor.

About two hours into the trip at the stop at Avignon, the first-class cabin that Tracy was standing near had four seats open up as those passengers disembarked.  The four of us luxuriated in the first-class seats for the remainder of the trip to Marseille.  We had a pleasant conversation with the other foursome in the cabin, a group of slightly older Parisians on their way to their condo on Côte d’Azur (the French Riviera).  One of the Parisians was a French engineer who spoke excellent English.  He and Casey, a newly graduated engineer, discussed their shared profession.

When we arrived in the Gare Saint-Charles (Marseille) train station and we congratulated ourselves on remaining calm and successfully working around the rail strike on that leg of the trip.

Casey and Megan at the Marseille marina.
Casey and Megan at the Marseille marina.

While the rail strike dragged on, day after day, we toured Marseille and then got ready for our next leg to Rome.  We made use of the shuttle bus – rather than the train – out to Aéroport de Marseille Provence (Marseille Provence Airport) and later used the same bus upon our return to Marseille from Rome.

After our return from Rome, our next leg was scheduled to be Marseille to Carcassonne by the Bordeaux-Nice Intercités train in assigned seating.  Although the train strike was still on, this train was one of the 60% of routes still running. SNCF had hired additional station workers during the strike to help confused and stranded passengers in the train stations.  All of our questions about our train were answered quickly: our train was still running and would run straight to Carcassonne with no changes or delays.

We were expecting another over-crowded train like what we previously experienced from Gare de Marne-la-Vallée – Chessy to Marseille, but we were pleasantly surprised to have a cabin to ourselves with no overcrowding at all.  We assumed that this late into the strike, local commuters were choosing to postpone or finding alternative transportation for their travel.  We enjoyed the scenery of the southern French from Gare Saint-Charles (Marseille) through Nimes, Montpellier, Sète, Béziers, Narbonne, and finally home to Carcassonne.  While Casey and Megan were staying with us in Carcassonne, the rail strike finally ended after ten days.  We were thrilled that we had “dodged the bullet” with the train strike because Casey and Megan had to eventually return to Paris by train.  The ten-day rail strike was the longest since 2010.

SNCF Departure Board
SNCF Departure Board
Megan and Casey on train
Megan and Casey on train

As the end of Casey and Megan’s visit in Carcassonne approached, we learned that we took the “all clear” on transportation strikes for granted too soon.  Two French air traffic controller unions had voted for a six-day strike with the threat of impacting air passengers with 14,000 hours of delays, hundreds of cancelled flights, and a reduction overall of 20% of the air traffic through France. The air strike was scheduled to begin the day before Casey and Megan’s departure back to the US.

Tracy and I monitored Casey and Megan’s return flight to the US on British Airways.  It looked promising with their flight appearing to be one of the non-impacted ones. But the British Airways website had the caveat that we needed to confirm the flight 24 hours prior to departure because the strike situation was volatile and flights were subject to change.  Luckily, the first air traffic controller union almost immediately settled their strike and the second air traffic controller union called off their strike the Wednesday prior to Casey and Megan’s departure on Thursday.

So in the end, Casey and Megan caught the Intercités train with assigned seating to Montpellier where they took the Ouigo TGV train to the Gare de Marne-la-Vallée – Chessy just outside Disneyland-Paris.  Casey and Megan spent a day at Disneyland-Paris before flying home to Reno, Nevada the next day from Aéroport de Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle (Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.)

Both Casey and Megan left France with metaphorical Gold Medals that we all earned in beating the French transportation strikes of June 2014.

Megan and Casey at the Disneyland-Paris entrance.
Megan and Casey at the Disneyland-Paris entrance.

 

 

Carcassonne: Adam and Liz Exploring la Cité de Carcassonne and Canal du Midi

While visiting with us in Carcassonne, Adam and Liz had the chance to tour the medieval city, la Cité de Carcassonne, a couple of times.  We refer to it as “the castle in our backyard” since it is right up the street from our apartment.

Adam and Liz in front of the medieval city la Cité de Carcassonne
Adam and Liz in front of the medieval city la Cité de Carcassonne
Adam and Liz in front of the Narbonne Gate of the medieval city la Cité de Carcassonne
Adam and Liz in front of the Narbonne Gate of the medieval city la Cité de Carcassonne
Adam and Liz in front of the Aude Gate of the medieval city la Cité de Carcassonne
Adam and Liz in front of the Aude Gate of the medieval city la Cité de Carcassonne

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and dating back 2,500 years, the medieval city of a Cité de Carcassonne has 52 towers and two concentric walls with a total of three kilometer of ramparts.  Within the walls is a 12th century chateau built by the Trencavels, the Vicomtes de Carcassonne and the Basilique Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse de Carcassonne (the Basilica of St. Nazaire and St. Celse).  Jousting is still performed annually in the baileys of the citadel’s walls.

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We were also able to take a short barge cruise with Adam and Liz down the section of the Canal du Midi that passes through Carcassonne.  The 17th century Canal du Midi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site,  is described by UNESCO as a “360-km network of navigable waterways linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic through 328 structures (locks, aqueducts, bridges, tunnels, etc.) is one of the most remarkable feats of civil engineering in modern times. Built between 1667 and 1694, it paved the way for the Industrial Revolution.”  The canal is used primarily today for recreational boating.

Liz and Adam enjoying their Barge cruise on the Canal du Midi
Liz and Adam enjoying their Barge cruise on the Canal du Midi
Tracy and Alan having fun on a barge cruise on the Canal du Midi
Tracy and Alan having fun on a barge cruise on the Canal du Midi

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During our explorations there was always time to relax, talk, enjoy a meal, or have a cold beverage.  Then on to exploring more of Carcassonne and France.

Adam, Tracy, Kiara, Alan, and Liz take a wine, beer, and champagne break in Place Carnot in the Bastide of Carcassonne
Adam, Tracy, Kiara, Alan, and Liz take a wine, beer, and champagne break in Place Carnot in the Bastide of Carcassonne
Adam, Liz, and Tracy with the Ferris Wheel set up in Square Gambetta for Festival de Carcassonne.
Adam, Liz, and Tracy with the Ferris Wheel set up in Square Gambetta for Festival de Carcassonne.

 

 

Barcelona: La Pedrera, Cripta de la Colònia Güell, Sagrada Família, and Parc Güell

One of our goals for our trip to Barcelona was to explore the art and architecture of Antoni Gaudí.

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet was born June 25, 1852 in Reus, in the Catalonian region of Spain.  Gaudi is renowned as the leader of Catalan Modernism.  A true free-thinker, Gaudi’s original and innovative style of art and architecture is concentrated in Barcelona, including his masterpiece, the Basílica y Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia (Sagrada Familia), which is still under construction today.  Gaudi’s passions of religion and nature are reflected in all his works.

With limited time in Barcelona we made use of a tour company to have the service of a English-speaking tour guide and an air-conditioned bus to quickly reach several Gaudí locations.

Our first stop was Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera (the Quarry) located on Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona.  Built between 1906 and 1912, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage in 1984.  La Pedrera is a famous example of the Modernista or Catalan Art Nouveau style and one of Gaudí’s most ambitious works. The facade is curving white limestone looking like undulating waves of the ocean with wrought iron balconies invoking an image of the spray at the tips of waves.  Gaudí designed the building as well as innovative furniture, fixtures, and textiles.

Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera. (Wikimedia Commons)
Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera.
(Wikimedia Commons)
Adam, Liz, and Tracy on the roof of Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera
Adam, Liz, and Tracy on the roof of Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera

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Our next example of Gaudí’s work involved a half-hour drive from Barcelona to Colònia Güell in the town of Santa Coloma de Cervelló, another UNESCO World Heritage site.  Colònia Güell was originally built in 1890 as a self-contained textile mill and “company town” complete with homes, schools, and stores. Gaudí was commissioned to build the town’s church.  By 1914, the lower nave of the church had been completed, but the Güell family facing business set-backs were forced to stop funding the construction before the church’s completion. The church, now known as Cripta de la Colònia Güell (Church of Colònia Güell), included many of Gaudí’s architectural innovations being used for the first time. The Church is designed with catenary arches, the outer walls and vaults in the shape of hyperbolic parabolas, decorative broken mosaic tiling called “trencadís”, and the use of re-purposed, recycled, and local natural materials. The bell tower was added later by the towns people who still use the church today.

The Church of Colònia Güell (Catalan: Cripta de la Colònia Güell) is an unfinished work by Antoni Gaudí.
The Church of Colònia Güell (Catalan: Cripta de la Colònia Güell) is an unfinished work by Antoni Gaudí.
The Church of Colònia Güell (Catalan: Cripta de la Colònia Güell) is an unfinished work by Antoni Gaudí.
The Church of Colònia Güell (Catalan: Cripta de la Colònia Güell) is an unfinished work by Antoni Gaudí.

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Our next exploration is considered to be the crowning glory of Gaudí’s achievements, the Basílica y Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia (the Basilica of the Holy Family) or more commonly known simply as Sagrada Familia. The Basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage site and in 2010 Pope Benedict XVI consecrated Sagrada Familia and proclaimed it a minor basilica.

Sagrada Familia.  View of the Passion Façade (Western side) in September 2009 (cranes digitally removed) (Wikimedia Commons)
Sagrada Familia. View of the Passion Façade (Western side) in September 2009
(cranes digitally removed)
(Wikimedia Commons)
Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia
Tracy, Liz, and Adam in front of Sagrada Familia
Tracy, Liz, and Adam in front of Sagrada Familia

Although the construction of Sagrada Família had already started in 1882, Gaudí took over leadership of the project in 1883, combining Gothic and his own unique curvilinear Catalan Art Nouveau style.  Gaudí supervised the construction until his sudden death at age 73 in 1926.  Less than 25% of the Basilica was completed at the time of Gaudí’s death. The construction of Sagrada Família’s has progresses slowly due to its reliance solely on private donations and construction was stopped completely during the Spanish Civil War.  The current anticipated completion date is 2026, the centennial anniversary of Gaudí’s death.

Tracy and I have wanted to visit Sagrada Família for years and Adam and Liz had studied Sagrada Família in their Spanish classes and were anxious to finally see the Basilica in person.  It did not disappoint.   Sagrada Família was absolutely astonishing and breathtaking.  Its size, unique organic elements, colors, innovative architecture was stunning.  Our only regret was our limited time.  A person could spend days picking out and appreciating all the details in the Basilica’s design and construction.

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On our final day in Barcelona, Adam led us to Parc Güell (Park Güell) in the Gràcia district.  We took a quick ride on the subway with a pleasant stop at a Barcelona dog park for Kiara.

Liz, Adam, Tracy, and Kiara at the Dog Park
Liz, Adam, Tracy, and Kiara at the Dog Park

Parc Güell was built between 1900 and 1914 by Gaudí’s frequent patron Count Eusebi Güell in an effort to duplicate the English garden city movement for a housing development.  Today the park is a public municipal park and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Colorful and whimsical, Gaudí’s work here is reminiscent of a synthesis of Dr. Seuss and Disneyland.

Liz and Adam pose with "El Drac" Gaudí's multicolored mosaic salamander
Liz and Adam pose with “El Drac” Gaudí’s multicolored mosaic salamander
Alan, Tracy, Adam, Liz, and Kiara at the entrance stairs of Park Güell
Alan, Tracy, Adam, Liz, and Kiara at the entrance stairs of Park Güell

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As our whirlwind trip concluded I realized I only shared a small part of our experience in Barcelona.  There were beautiful neighborhoods, excellent Sangria (and more Sangria), tapas, Adam and Liz demonstrated amazing Spanish language skills from their college Spanish studies, Kiara the Chihuahua continues to make new friends where ever she goes, Adam and Liz – our vegetarians- found some amazingly delicious vegetarian and Hindu restaurants in the midst of a meat loving culture – Adam even had a chance to try vegetarian paella, and there were many wonderfully friendly people.

We had a taste of Barcelona, which created the desire to return in the future and experience more.  There is so much more to see and do in this vibrant city.

Liz, Adam, and Tracy on the Barcelona subway
Liz, Adam, and Tracy on the Barcelona subway

Barcelona: Parc del Laberint, Passeig de Gràcia, Plaça de Catalunya, and La Rambla

One reason we wanted to retire to Europe was to have a central place from which to “springboard” to explore many different cities in Europe.  With Adam and Liz visiting we decided to do just that and spent a few days in Barcelona, Spain.  We found that Adam and Liz share our interest the work of Antoni Gaudí so it was time to make some hotel and train reservations and head to Barcelona. It is only about a three-hour train ride to Barcelona from Carcassonne.  The TER (Transport Express Régional) to Narbonne, the high-speed TVG (Train à Grande Vitesse) to the Figueres Vilafant train station (just inside the Spanish border) to switch into a RENFE (ReNacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles – Spanish National Railway Network) high-speed AVE (Alta Velocidad Española – Spanish High Speed) train.  The RENFE train was beautiful and we enjoyed the use of the club car for ice-cold Spanish beer.

Adam and Liz on the TER train out of Carcassonne.
Adam and Liz on the TER train out of Carcassonne.
Tracy, Alan, and Kiara on the TGV enroute to Spain.
Tracy, Alan, and Kiara on the TGV enroute to Spain.
A Spanish RENFE AVE Siemens Velaro (left) and a French SNCF TGV Duplex (right) at Figueres-Vilafant Station (Wikimedia Commons)
A Spanish RENFE AVE Siemens Velaro (left) and a French SNCF TGV Duplex (right) at Figueres-Vilafant Station
(Wikimedia Commons)

In very little time we were in Barcelona, sharing a pitcher (or two) of sangria.  Sitting on the Mediterranean Sea with about five million residents, Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain, the sixth most populated urban area in the European Union.

A panoramic view of Barcelona (Wikimedia Commons)
A panoramic view of Barcelona
(Wikimedia Commons)

We decided that while Paris is beautiful, Barcelona is gorgeous.  Stunningly gorgeous.

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Adam led us to Parc del Laberint d’Horta (Labyrinth Park of Horta) in the Horta-Guinardó district in Barcelona.  The park is the oldest of its kind in the city. Located in the former estate of the Desvalls family, next to the Serra de Collserola ridge, the park combines an 18th century neoclassical garden and a 19th century romantic garden.  In 1967 the Desvalls family donated the park to the city of Barcelona, who opened to the public in 1971.  Liz had always wanted to explore a maze and was looking forward to exploring the labyrinth, so we lined up behind her and had her lead the way.

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Returning to our hotel room and realizing that it wasn’t cooling off very quickly, we decided to take an evening walk through Passeig de Gràcia, Plaça de Catalunya, and La Rambla.  Passeig de Gràcia is one of the major avenues in Barcelona, it is compared to the Champs-Élysées, Fifth Avenue, and Rodeo Drive and is one of  the most important shopping and business areas of Barcelona containing many of the city’s most celebrated pieces of architecture. Passeig de Gràcia is regarded as the most expensive street in Barcelona and in Spain.

Plaça de Catalunya (Catalonia Square) is Barcelona’s large city square and is considered to be the city center and the place where the old city and the modern city meet.

La Rambla is located off Plaça de Catalunya.  The tree-lined pedestrian mall stretches for 1.2 kilometers between Barri Gòtic and El Raval, connecting Plaça de Catalunya with the Monumento a Colón (Christopher Columbus Monument) at Port Vell (the Old Harbor.)  Even in the middle of the week there is tremendous energy and activity in the “Heart of Barcelona.”

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The following day was all about exploring Gaudi’s art and architecture and his contributions to Barcelona.

Narbonne Plage: Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea

With the temperatures reaching up into the 90s, we wanted to visit the Mediterranean with Adam and Liz.  We tried to facilitate a SCUBA dive, but had difficulties getting connected to dive shops in Narbonne.  So it was off to the beach for old-fashioned “sun and surf.”

The Narbonne Plage (Narbonne Beach) is one of several Mediterranean Sea beaches in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  Narbonne Plage is well west of the Côte d’Azur (known in English as the French Riviera) on the Mediterranean coastline in the southwest corner of France.  The beach is 5 km of wide, fine sandy beach with a marina and restaurants.  It is a public “locals’ beach,” or rather the “poor man’s” Riviera, with all the beauty of the Med without the extravagant cost of the Côte d’Azur.  

We caught the regional TER (transport express régionaltrain from Carcassonne to Narbonne and then took one of the special summer buses to the beach. There were many other beach-goers on the bus with us.  Surprisingly, Narbonne Plage is 25 minutes away from the train station, with a scenic view of central Narbonne and the Montagne de la Clape mountain range along the way.

Adam and Liz enjoying the Mediterranean Sea at Narbonne Plage
Adam and Liz enjoying the Mediterranean Sea at Narbonne Plage

Fortifying ourselves with food and sangria (and a bit more sangria) we ventured out into the water.  Beautiful sandy beach, very minimal crowds despite the full bus, warm water with a beautiful gradient of color from green to deep blue as the water gets deeper.  There were lifeguard stations, lifeguards in Zodiac boats, and a police presence with swimsuit-wearing officers from the CRS Police (Direction Centrale des Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité – Central Directorate of the Republican Security Companies; DCCRS).

While Tracy and I contented ourselves with wading, Adam and Liz splashed right into the sea for a swim.  Wonderful day of water, walking the beach, investigating the marina, collecting shells, watching the surf fishermen, SCUBA divers (we knew there had to be divers there), and sailboats.

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We took a different bus back toward the train station that normally stops several blocks away from the station.  However, our driver very kindly drove us all the way to the bus stop at the train station.

Carcassonne: Smashing Pumpkins (Festival de Carcassonne)

The Festival de Carcassonne (Carcassonne Festival) is one of the major cultural events for the South of France and is now one of France’s largest festivals with nearly 120 shows ranging from opera, dance, theatre, classical music, cirque, French and international popular music.  More than 80 of the 120 shows have free admission. It’s Carcassonne’s version of Arttown with an emphasis on the performing arts.  From the end of June to August, artists perform at 10 different venues, including the Roman theatre in the medieval fortress of la Cité de Carcassonne.

Festival de Carcassonne
Festival de Carcassonne

Adam and Liz just happened to be visiting us over Adam’s birthday.  As Karma would have it, one of Adam’s favorite bands, Smashing Pumpkins, was performing in Théâtre Jean-Deschamps inside la Cité de Carcassonne for Festival de Carcassonne on Adam’s birthday.  The only “band shirt” Adam brought on this trip just happened to be from Smashing Pumpkins’ “Zero” tour.

Adam wearing his Smashing Pumpkins' Zero shirt
Adam wearing his Smashing Pumpkins’ Zero shirt

Smashing Pumpkins was performing at the Festival de Carcassonne as part of their European “Shamrocks and Shenanigans 2013” tour.  The universe had spoken and Adam and Liz were going to spend the evening of Adam’s 22nd birthday watching Smashing Pumpkins perform in the former Roman amphitheater of la Cité’s Théâtre Jean-Deschamps within the citadel’s fortified walls and in the shadow of the Basilique Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse de Carcassonne (Basilica of St. Nazaire and St. Celse.)

Smashing Pumpkins' program page for Festival de Carcassonne
Smashing Pumpkins’ program page for Festival de Carcassonne

Adam and Liz arrived early at the theater to wait in line and were rewarded with seats in the second row from the stage.  While standing in line they had a long discussion with an English-speaking French couple from Toulouse about the music scene in Europe.

Liz and Adam pointing out a Smashing Pumpkins sign in Place Carnot
Liz and Adam pointing out a Smashing Pumpkins sign in Place Carnot

Adam and Liz had a great time at the concert, right up front to the stage, and they captured some great photos of the performance.

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And, of course, afterwards Liz got Adam a “Shamrocks and Shenanigans 2013” concert tour shirt for his birthday.

Adam in a Smashing Pumpkins' "Shamrocks and Shenanigans" tour shirt
Adam in a Smashing Pumpkins’ “Shamrocks and Shenanigans” tour shirt
Adam in a Smashing Pumpkins' "Shamrocks and Shenanigans" tour shirt
Adam in a Smashing Pumpkins’ “Shamrocks and Shenanigans” tour shirt

Carcassonne: La Fête Nationale Fireworks (Bastille Day)

The La Fête Nationale (Bastille Day) fireworks in Carcassonne are famous throughout the world. In a beautiful medieval setting, the fireworks are lit among the ramparts and, as they shoot into the sky, they light the city below. The display has become extremely popular since its inception in 1898, with more than 700,000 people attending the festivities each year. It is the largest fireworks display in France with a full 25 minutes of pyrotechnics including “Burning the Cite,” immersing the medieval city of la Cité de Carcassonne in a red glow like the city is under siege and on fire.

Tracy, Adam, Liz, Kiara, and I watched from the banks of the river Aube along Quai Bellevue.  We arrived early and enjoy a picnic, Adam Juggled for the crowd, watch people play petanque, Kiara was doted on, drank wine, and we chatted with our neighbors while waiting for the fireworks to start.  A festive and friendly atmosphere.

La Fête Nationale (Bastille Day) is the French national holiday commemorating the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, a pivotal event the anti-monarchy revolution.

Liz, Adam, Tracy, and Kiara enjoying a picnic while we wait for the fireworks to start.
Liz, Adam, Tracy, and Kiara enjoying a picnic while we wait for the fireworks to start.
Adam juggling for the crowd while waiting for the fireworks
Adam juggling for the crowd while waiting for the fireworks
Fireworks over the medieval city of la Cité de Carcassonne
Fireworks over the medieval city of la Cité de Carcassonne

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Carcassonne: 25ème Tour de l’Aude (25th Tour de l’Aude Vintage Car) Rally

With Adam and Liz newly arrived in Carcassonne, they had an opportunity to attend one of the many events that seem to be happening all year-long.  Their first event was at the medieval city of la Cité de Carcassonne:  the 25ème Tour de l’Aude des Voitures Anciennes en Pays Cathare (25th Annual Tour de l’Aude Vintage Car Rally through Cathare Country.)  Eighty plus cars from 1914 to 1945 of the most prestigious brands (Delage, Delahaye, Rolls Royce, Talbot, Bugatti …) from all over Europe. Like “Hot August Nights” for vintage European cars (plus a few US cars like a classic Mustang and Cadillac.)

Tracy, Liz, and Adam at the 25ème Tour de l'Aude des Voitures Anciennes en Pays Cathare (25th Annual Tour de l'Aude Vintage Car Rally.)
Tracy, Liz, and Adam at the 25ème Tour de l’Aude des Voitures Anciennes en Pays Cathare (25th Annual Tour de l’Aude Vintage Car Rally.)
Liz and Adam at the Narbonne gate of the medieval city of la Cité de Carcassonne
Liz and Adam at the Narbonne gate of the medieval city of la Cité de Carcassonne

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Paris: The Louvre, “Love Locks,” Arc de Triomphe, and Moulin Rouge

Off and rolling to the Louvre with pre-paid tickets in hand.  The Musée du Louvre  (the Louvre Museum or simply The Louvreis one of the world’s largest museums with nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st  century exhibited over 652,300 square feet.   Located on the Right Bank of the River Seine in the 1st arrondissement, the Louvre receives more than 8 million visitors a year.  The Louvre is the world’s most visited museum.

Like the Smithsonian Institute, it would take days to see everything in the Louvre, we elected to see specific galleries in order to see more of the rest of Paris.   That makes a good reason to return to the Louvre again (and again . . . and again.)

Alan, Tracy, Liz, and Adam in front of the Louvre pyramid.
Alan, Tracy, Liz, and Adam in front of the Louvre pyramid.

What hasn’t been said about one of the world’s seminal museums that is located in a former royal palace and holds many of the world’s iconic pieces of art?  The Louvre is amazing in its depth of art, artists, media, and history.

After accessing the Louvre’s entrance through the underground Carousel du Louvre shopping mall (with a minor delay when security screening were briefly bewildered by Adam’s juggling balls), Adam was our guide through the Louvre.  So hard to narrow down choices, but included in our visit was (of course) the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo, and the Code of Hammurabi.  We visited the art of Ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, and the Renaissance.

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Adam and his fiancée Liz participated in Europe’s growing “Love Lock” phenomenon. Spreading across Europe is the new tradition of leave a padlock, often engraved or marked with lovers’ names to a famous landmark.  On the Pont des Arts bridge across the River Seine, Adam left a lock to commemorate his and Liz’s visit to the “City of Lights.”

Adam putting a lock on the Pont des Arts bridge to memorialize his and Liz's trip to Paris.
Adam putting a lock on the Pont des Arts bridge to memorialize his and Liz’s trip to Paris.

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Now the Métro to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris’ most famous street.  A cross between Rodeo Drive, Fifth Avenue, Regent Street, and Saville Row; lined with chestnut trees leading west to the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile.  The Arc de Triomphe (Triumphal Arch) is dedicated to those who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its surfaces. Beneath  the Arch is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.  Access to the Arc de Triomphe is by underground passage under the traffic circle surrounding Place Charles De Gaulle.

Tracy, Liz, and Adam under the Arc de Triomphe and in Front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Tracy, Liz, and Adam under the Arc de Triomphe and in Front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

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End of a long day and back to the Montmartre district for dinner.  We tour down the Boulevard de Clichy and see both elegant and dive establishments along the lane.  We have dinner across the street from the famous Moulin Rouge (Red Windmill) cabaret, famous for the Can-Can, Toulouse-Lautrec, and the 2001 Academy Award winning movie of the same name.

Liz and Adam in front of the Moulin Rouge
Liz and Adam in front of the Moulin Rouge

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After dinner it was off to see the view of Paris from Sacré-Cœur Basilica at the top of Butte Montmartre . All in all a great day for everyone with frequent stops along the way to sample some of the wonderful Parisian wines at local bistros throughout the city.