29 December 2009

Amsterdam

On the 26th of December, we headed for Amsterdam on the Thalys, a fast train. We brought the dogs along so we had a bit more luggage to cope with. We took the metro to Gare du Nord station and hopped aboard with ease for the three hour train ride to Amsterdam. No delays. No security lines.

We stayed at The Toren, which we found courtesy of TripAdvisor. It was a beautiful hotel and a great location right on the Keizersgracht canal. Our American friends Scott and Johanna who live in Amsterdam tipped us off about buying museum tickets online. This let's you go straight to the front of the line. That was helpful as when we arrived at the Anne Frank
Museum (around the corner from our hotel), we avoided waiting in the long queue in the bitter cold and went right in. Delaney had just finished reading The Diary of Anne Frank for a school assignment, so she was prepared to understand exactly what she was seeing. It was the second time through for Randy and me, but we picked up on new things we hadn't noticed before.

We had to bundle up when the freezing rain came and the temperatures dropped. We headed to the Rijks Museum. It's in the middle of a ten year refurbishing, so only a small section of the museum was open to the public. What was there though, was breathtaking. There was an exhibit of artifacts from the Netherlands' Golden Age in the 17th century. We loved as well the Rembrandts and the work of Hendrick Avercamp, the foremost painter of Dutch winter landscapes. His pictures of "frost fares" are packed with lots of activities and comic scenes. The museum is beautiful inside and out. Very impressive!

When not loading up on culture, we feasted on fine Danish beer, famous pancakes, traditional pea soup (called Erwtensoep or "snert") and lots of other treats. We shopped, strolled, and took an hour long boat canal tour on a sunny afternoon.

While there, we celebrated our one year anniversary living abroad. We laughed remembering how much luggage we had to juggle on our way out of the airport the day we arrived. It was one challenge after another: Trying to figure out where to buy groceries...stumbling over boxes. Randy having to put together all of that IKEA furniture. We've come a long way and we're proud of how we've all adjusted.


As 2009 comes to a close, we're geared up and ready for 2010. We're brave and we're bold!


Christmas in Paris

We spent Christmas in Paris. Just Randy, Gina and Delaney. No other family - just the three of us, Tucker and Scout. We had to make due. We tried to decorate the place and make it festive, but it was nearly impossible.

Randy and I went to BHV in hopes of finding a string or two of lights and other decorations. As is customary, the heat was on full blast and the crowds were as thick as ever. We winced at the choices available and at the prices. Everything was lame and expensive. We longed for a Target. The trees for sale look like they've come straight from 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'. Again, very expensive but not appealing.

Delaney surprized us by putting up this lovely 3' high handmade Christmas tree. We augmented that with a bowl of ornaments purchased at Monoprix, our grocery store.


It certainly wasn't Paris 'chic', or like anything we were used to from home, but we were together and that was what counted. We enjoyed a lovely Christmas Eve together and the following day, made a wonderful meal and played Monopoly - Delaney's favorite.

Peace on earth. Goodwill toward men.

23 October 2009

Just Published My First Travel Photo Book

I'm very proud to have published my first travel photo book, A Photo Tour In Paris.

Photo Tour In Paris Travel Book

I’ve entered it into a travel book contest. Aside from being extremely proud of the images and work presented, I’d like to win the contest. Unfortunately, the first round of competition is a popularity contest. The top 15 books with the most votes will move on to the next level and be judged by a panel of photography experts.

I’m asking that you follow the link http://www.blurb.com/photo-book-contest/view_book/912596 take a look (you can review the entire book via full screen) and if you feel it worthy, that you vote for my book.

Thanks in advance. Sure hope you enjoy the book.

Cheers,

17 October 2009

Eiffel Tower and Vendor Artwork

Eiffel Tower at Trocadero
While out on a Photo Tour I spotted this display of artwork hoping to catch the eye and admiration of the tourists visiting the Trocadéro area.

12 October 2009

Of Mice and Croissants

Saturday night we enjoyed a lovely dinner with our new friend Catherine Thomas. Catherine is an intelligent, charming, funny and beautiful Brit working and living in Paris as General Counsel for a privately held European company. We went to Le Fumoir, at her recommendation, and had a fabulous meal.

After dinner, we walked together across the Pont des Arts as Catherine lives in Saint Germain, and we were going there to pick Delaney up from a birthday party. After Catherine strolled off to head home on her street, we continued down rue de Buci and noticed a large crowd peering into the windows of the PAUL's on the corner.

According to its website, PAUL, founded in 1889, has "a network of 360 top quality bakeries throughout France." Well this PAUL's also had mice running wild in the closed restaurant. Lots of them. It reminded me of that Michael Jackson movie - Ben - albeit that was about rats and these were tiny little gray mice. They were up at the window looking back at us. They were scampering all over the counters and the floor. They were cute, but given where they were, it was so gross!

If you look closely at this photo Randy took with his iPhone, you can see a couple on the counter to the left and four or five on the floor. There were actually several dozen running around frolicking with each other. Halfway up the photo on the right, you see a square of light shining on a couple of mice. That is light from the open door of the connecting kitchen on the right. The kitchen has a wall of windows so visible to all of us on the sidewalk were two bakers working with dough making croissants and such for the following morning. We knocked and pointed to the adjoining room to alert them to the mice and mayhem next door. They smiled and shrugged letting us know they were aware but didn't care. Unbelievable.

Not going to PAUL's for croissants anymore. No way.


23 September 2009

An Indian Summer in Paris

We're having a wonderful Indian summer here in the city of lights. The temperatures have been hovering around the mid 70's and the skies have been cloudless. We have settled into our fall routine. Delaney is once again attending her French school and finding herself almost overwhelmed with school work. On top of her grueling schedule of learning math, geography and science in French, she has to take a foreign language (like learning French isn't learning a foreign language), so she is also learning Spanish.

Gina seems busier than ever with work. Her schedule and duties are taking her all over Europe. Last week she was in Brussels for a night, home for a night and in Lisbon for a night. This week she's been to Antwerp for another overnight business trip. Anyone who's done business travel knows it's not pleasant. Having to arrive at the airport early, experience delays and getting home late at night make for very long, tiring days.

Me, I feel very lucky and fortunate. My Photo Tours In Paris business is going strong. I continue to guide people from all over the world around Paris and show them great spots to take photographs. In many cases, these photographers are fairly new to digital photography and want to learn more about how shutter speed, f-stops and ISO all work together. The tours turn into mini photo workshops. I don't feel too much pressure. I'm not in a classroom where I'm expected to understand the instructor, nor do I have to reduce head count or constantly be on a train or an airplane.

We've been in Paris for almost nine months and I can say we're having a good time and enjoying it in spite of the challenges of school and work.

30 August 2009

Summer Vacation 2009

Earlier in August we were fortunate to have the opportunity to get away from the city for some rest and relaxation in the south of France, Monaco and Italy. We (Randy, Gina, Delaney, Tucker and Scout)took the TGV from Paris to Nice. We enjoyed our journey in comfort and preferred that mode of travel over flying. No security and less hassle all around.

We stayed at the Hotel Rex which was modest but comfortable and perfectly situated right in the thick of things, just a few minutes walk from the beach. The staff was warm and gracious, pitching in to help us lug our suitcases and dog carriers up the steep steps to Room 6. Once settled, we ventured out to explore. It was very hot! We ended up buying tickets for the top level of a tour bus so we could both see and learn about the city from a high perch and enjoy a steady breeze! The Mediterranean was magnificent and the color of the water a beautiful cerulean blue.

One of the beachs in Nice, FranceOne of the great beaches in Nice, France. We were surprised at the size of the public beach (well over a mile long) and how many people were out enjoying the warm Mediterranean Sea. The shore is mainly rock instead of sand, but that doesn't deter anyone from venturing down to lay on the beach. Some parts are private and owned by the hotels across the street, but there are plenty of public beaches so that everyone can enjoy the shore. It was magical to be there.

Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice, FranceDuring our double-decker tour bus rid, we stopped at a traffic light which gave me a chance as afternoon storm clouds passed by, to take a photo of the beautiful Cathedrale Saint-Nicolas Russian Orthodox church built in 1912 by Russian Czar Nicolas. The cathedral is made up of a harmony of pink bricks, light grey marble and brightly colored ceramic.It is crowned by six domes and contains fabulous treasures, icons, woodork and frescoes.

Randy, Delaney, Gina after dinner in Nice, France Randy, Delaney, Gina, Tucker and Scout the walk home after a great dinner in Nice. Traveling with the dogs was a peace of cake. They were welcome everywhere and behaved extraordinarily well. It gave us peace of mind to know they were with us.

While in Nice, we took a short train ride to Monaco, home of Monte Carlo. As soon as got off the train, we understood why people love to live and visit this beautiful country. The streets were clean. There were no homeless in sight. The architecture was stunning and the views of the harbor breathtaking.

Looking at Port Hercule, MonacoOverlooking Port Hercule in Monaco. Monaco is the second smalled city in Europe (Vatican City located in the center of Rome is the smallest.) It has a population of the 33,000, with just under 85% wealth and moved in from other countries to avoid paying income tax. Most people can cross the length of the country in just under an hour.


Our next destination was Cinque Terre, a group of five small villages (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) on the Italian Riviera. We traveled there by train from Nice. We stayed in Monterosso al Mare. The beach was sandy and clean, the water a gorgeous azure blue and the perfect temperature for cooling down from a busy day under the hot sun. Here in Monterosso, many parts of the beach are reserved for guests of the hotels across the street and throughout the town. Only a small portion is available to locals and people like us whose hotel didn't have a section of beach.


Older women waiting for butcher in Vernazza, Italy.Local women waiting for at the butcher shop in Vernazza, Italy. Vernazza has no car traffic (a road leads to a parking lot on the edge of the town) and remains one of the truest "fishing villages" on the Italian Riviera.


Coming into Riomaggiore, Italy

The view of Riomaggiore, the most southern village. We visited each village via a water taxi that pulled up next to the dock and extended its gang plank so the passengers could quickly debark. Very unstable situation - not for the faint hearted! Each of the five villages was slightly different. If we go back, we plan to spend more time in Vernazza, our favorite village.


One of the five towns in Cinque Terre, Manarola, ItalyWe hiked up above Manarola to get this shot. Time seems to have stopped at this village. The people are quite content. They have everything they need to survive as well as a tremendous view of the Mediterranean Sea.



Gina and Delaney in Monterosso, ItalyGina and Delaney stay cool with a cold drink while we wait for the train to take up from Monterossa to Firenze (Florence). Temperatures were in the high 90's for the entire trip. The heat really saps your strength, and was tough for our small mutts.



Colorful window in San Gimignano, ItalyWhile in Firenze, we took a day trip to Siena and San Gimignano. We were in Siena just before the Palio, the traditional horse race run around the Piazzi del Campo on August 16th. The 17 Contrade (the city neighborhoods formed as battalions for the city's defense) vie for the trophy - a painted flag, also known as a Palio, bearing the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Though often a brutal and dangerous competition for horse and rider, the city thrives on the pride this competition brings. All of the locals, young and old, were wearing scarves representing the Contrade in which they live or were born.

Delaney and Gina above Florence, ItalyDelaney and Gina relax at a look out a short distance from the restaurant in Fiesole, a small village on the outskirts of Florence, where we enjoyed a delicious dinner. The first recorded mention of Fiesole dates to 283 B.C. when it was conquered by the Romans. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas spent their summers in Fiesole before the WWI.

18 August 2009

Another Dull Day In Paris

Paris can be so much fun compared to other cities around the globe. I suppose because of its size and beauty, it attracts all kinds of people, business, cultures and movie scenes.

For the last several days, from our fifth floor apartment windows, we've watched our neighborhood be transformed into a movie set. Where parking spaces used to have cars, orange cones with plastic tape have become the norm. Security guards have policed the neighborhood 24x7 making sure no one parked in marked spaces or walked away with photographic gear that appeared on the scene.

Flyers posted throughout the neighborhood stated that shooting would begin this afternoon and continue through end of day Wednesday. We had no idea what movie was being shot. Yesterday, before they completely cordoned off several blocks, I took the dogs for a walk and noticed the movie crew had constructed a fake cafe, fake flower store, fake book store, and a fake produce market.

Today was the day filming was to begin and sure enough by 7:00am huge trucks started replacing the orange cones. By 9:30, filming had begun. I set up my camera, tripod and big lenses, opened up the double floor to ceiling windows and waited for the action to begin. After taking a few shots of the crew getting things just perfect, the doorbell rang and two very large and tall men in suits told me in French and in broken English that I couldn't take photos. I’m not sure how they got into our secure building. They said that Leonardo DiCaprio was not allowing outside filming. Because I didn't want to cause a scene and because I wasn't sure of the legal ramifications I said, sure no problem I'll take down my camera.


Gina did some quick research on the Internet and found out that Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page (from Juno) and Marion Cotillard (Oscar winner from La Vie en Rose) are starring in the film being shot this week in Paris. The movie "Inception" directed by "Dark Knight's" Christopher Nolan began shooting in London last month.

The set has hundreds of people all around performing their various duties: lighting, sound, catering, setting up movie camera tracks, finishing touches on the set, etc, etc. It seems much of the time people are just standing around waiting for something to happen. It looks rather boring.

We've spent the day glancing out the window to see if anything new has happened. We've watched them film about a half dozen takes of Ellen and Leo talking over coffee (after the third take it got boring to watch). This afternoon I thought something was going to happen as they nearly cleared the set and had the crew standing many yards away. As I was watching Ellen and Leo sit back down for coffee, the cafe exploded. A nearby car and motor scooter went flying in the air with debris falling all over the set.

It's about 6pm and outside below our window, a crowd of onlookers have gathered including the paparazzi with their cameras and big 500mm lenses.

Here are a few photos I was able to capture.

04 August 2009

The Paris Metro Can Be Entertaining

Riding the Paris Metro is not always a mundane daily event. I've learned to expect the unexpected while moving around the city. With an open mind and an appreciation for the talented (and the not so talented), the brave (with more guts than I'll ever have) and the working class, you'll come across some interesting entertainment.

A certain person I know thinks that if she wanted to be entertained she would have brought her iPod, while others find the whole scene part of the Parisian culture.

Take a look at a few of the videos I found on Youtube.com regarding the Paris Metro.







27 July 2009

Tour de France

Yesterday, the final stage of the Tour de France rolled into Paris. Because we live in Paris and love photography, I knew I had to venture down to the course to find a good vantage point from which to photograph the riders. The time schedule on the official website indicated the riders would not arrive in Paris until approximately 4:30 pm. Given big crowds of several hundred thousand people were expected to line the streets of the course, I headed to the Place de la Concorde at 10:30 am to stake out a good spot. I assumed arriving over six hours early would allow me to explore and select the perfect location. When I came out of the Metro, I was greeted by thousands with the same idea: arrive early and stake your claim.

Not knowing the exact course route, I figured I'd try to get an elevated position and view from the Jardin des Tuileries looking out to the middle of the Place de la Concorde (the Champs Elysees had too many barricades and trees lining the course to get unobstructed views.) I spotted another serious photographer (I knew he was serious because he was packing a five foot ladder and I had my three foot step ladder bungee corded to my camera roller bag) and asked, "Parlez vous Anglais?" He responded, "No". I pointed to the barricades out in the Place de la Concorde and asked using hand gestures and broken French where the riders would pass. Dinis, a photographer from Portugal, motioned for me to follow him and off we went to the Quai des Tuileries which had an elevated, unobstructed view of the riders as they rode from west to east. We figured this was as good a spot as any and spread out our gear to mark our turf.

I went off to find three lawn chairs: one for me, one for Dinis, and one for Gina who would be joining us later in the afternoon. From my backpack I pulled out a book and baguette and relaxed.

Another photographer, Sasha, an American now living in Sweden, joined our little group and we now chatted to kill time. Around 3:30 pm, Gina finally showed up after an eventful Metro ride (many of the Metro stations were now closed if they were too close to the route). Finally, at around 4:42 the riders arrived in Paris to finish the last 50km by circling the route several times.

From our spot, the riders would pass us six times before the final stage was complete. We all figured we would have plenty of opportunities to capture a few good frames. Gina picked up my second camera and she too fired away. Below are a few of the images we captured.


Looking east on the Quai des Tuileries


Looking west on the Quai des Tuileries with Grand Palais in background.


Alberto Contador, in yellow jersey, the tour's winner.


Thor Hushovd of Norway, in green jersey, the tour's best sprinter.


Samuel Dumoulin from France, Team Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne (COF)

Fabian Wegmann from Germany, Team Milram




Alberto Contador singled out.

Left to Right:
Alexandre Pichot, France, Team BBOX Bouygues Telecom
Jussi Veikkanen, Finland, Team Francaise Des Jeux
Carlos Barredo, Spain, Team Quick Step

04 July 2009

Statue of Liberty in Paris

Happy Fouth of July

In appreciation for the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, Americans living in Paris erected a small replica, about 35 feet high, of the Statue of Liberty. It is mounted next to the Pont de Grenelle, a bridge crossing the Seine, 1.5 km South of the Eiffel Tower.


24 June 2009

Metro Woes!!!!!!!

We had a nice dinner out in the sunshine. We were in an outdoor cafe and enjoyed good wine, good food, and good conversation. We took the metro home and the metro police were waiting for us at our exit. They periodically wait to check for tickets to ensure everyone can produce one to prove they didn't jump the turnstile.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm not a turnstile jumper. I'm a rule follower. So there I am in my skirt and heels and I'm digging through my purse trying to find my ticket. I produce three, but the officials blocking the exit claim they're all old. Difficult to believe given I clean my purse out every night. I keep digging. I go through papers. The officials are ready to pounce on me. Randy is arguing with them. They are telling me I owe 25 euros. The metro ticket I used was 1.10 euros. Twenty-five euros! I screamed back that there was no way I was going to pay 25 euros. Between the two of us, it was quite a scene. A nice teenager came up to me and said it was useless, that they would never back down. I know one of those three used tickets was the good ticket, but they wouldn't believe me. I threw a 20 and a 5 at them and stormed off. They wanted me to come back for my frickin' receipt. I am so angry right now I can barely breathe. I HATE PARIS!!!!

14 June 2009

President Obama in Paris

President Barack Obama is well liked in Paris. Posters and signs of him can be found mounted on walls, murals, and even in art galleries.

Walking through the Saint Germain des Pres area, I spotted this remarkable painting in the front window of an art gallery.

President Obama

11 June 2009

Moving Day in Paris

Paris MoversMoving day in Paris can be quite a production. Many buildings have no lifts, and those that do are large enough for only two to three people. Most buildings have narrow staircases making it nearly impossible to get big items upstairs.

It is customary for moving companies to bring large trucks with hydraulic lifts and a platform to hold the furniture as it's inserted through the window. These moving in (and out) routines are a common sight in Paris.

07 June 2009

The Making of a Street Art Mural

In the heart of the Belleville area of Paris, a community of street artists thrive and regularly display their imagination by creating “street art” work with cans of spray paint. In most cities, as well as in Paris, painting on walls (graffiti) is illegal, but there are several walls in Belleville where painting is legal.

I’ve been visiting this area for about six weeks and each time I visit I’m rewarded with the most imaginative and creative work on display. Last Friday I visited and found for the first time, several artists in the beginning stages of creating their latest piece of work. I decided to hang out and record the progress of Skio, one of the artists.

Fortunately, the corner café had chairs and tables running down the side of the alley so I pulled up a chair, ordered a Stella and watched these guys work.

Street Art Paris
Street Art Paris
Street Art Paris
Street Art Paris
Street Art Paris
Street Art Paris

Street Art Paris All finished.
Street Art Paris

03 June 2009

June 3, 2009 Photo Tour

Hosted Bobby from Houston, TX yesterday on a seven hour guided tour of Paris. Some of the areas we covered were Belleville, the Marais, the Louvre, Palace Vendome, Palais Royal, Tuileries, Place de la Concorde, Pont Alexander III. Here are some of the photos from the tour:

Musee de Louvre
pont Alexander III

Paris Street scene