Friday, January 31, 2014

Around Town ~ Palais Garnier

When people think of the Palais Garnier, they typically think of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, the Phantom of the Opera.  There is a lake under the building and the architecture and details of the interior are flamboyant, I'll call it neo-gothic, though it's really much more than that.  Perhaps the style is more like a French Rococo.

I had never been before, even after all our visits as tourists to the City of Light and during the past two years of our living here.  Visiting the Palais hadn't, until now, rising to the top of our list of things to see.

The day we decided to cross it off our list of place experienced it was cold, wet, and well, very Parisian Winter-like. The weather worked to our advantage, it turned out.  Very few people were out and about and only two small groups of people were ahead of us in line at the billetterie.

Yes, the 10Euro admission fee was a little steep for such a small venue.  The Louvre has ten miles of aisles to walk for only 10Euro.  Still, we were amazed.  The architecture was grander than my wildest expectations.

A short step lead us to the bottom of a huge staircase.  That's when our jaws dropped.

Entry included access to the rez de chaussee and the first level.  The upper level and front of the building (the one facing the Opera metro station) were closed the day we were there.  Still, there was plenty to see, including two viewing boxes from which we could see the stage, seats, and interesting Chagall painted ceiling.

We could see how "the other half" liked to live.  The place is posh beyond belief.  No wonder the Garnier is on the Tourist List of Must See - If Not Slightly Overpriced (4Euro would have been more like it) - places to visit when in Paris.

If you take a similar route to our's, note that tour guides may say something to you if you happen to be in the same room at the same time as they are.  They want their money and they don't want suspected free-loaders tagging along.  One such guide said something to Judith even though we weren't in any way interested in the Chinese language tour that was being given.  We just happened to be standing there taking it all in.

From a photographer's perspective, the Palais Garnier is an absolute "must."  So if you can, plan your visit when few people are there and you won't have to try and work around all the other gawkers.  For that's what you'll no doubt be doing, too.  Slack-jawed gawking.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Around Town ~ Steam Locomotives

I recently posted a (growing) list of fun things to do in and around Paris and started this series of blog entries by talking about la traversee de Paris that involved 600+ voitures anciennes.

For this entry, I want to talk about steam locomotives.  It's a topic likely not covered in the traditional Paris guidebooks.

Years ago I worked for a software start-up.  The offices were in an old building that backed up to Union Pacific's freight tracks.

One day an engineer came running into my office and said "Come with me.  You NEED to see this."  Out the back door we dove as he gestured to the railway an said "There!"

Sure enough, "there" it was.  SP4449 was running hard up the tracks.  It was just the steam locomotive and it's tender.  That was it.  But that was enough to get me interested.

As we stood there, I could hear SP4449 coming back.  There she went, in reverse, back down the tracks.

It took me a year or two to figure out where the locomotive lived.  Once it found her, I spent the following decade making images in and around the roundhouse, getting to know two other engines that lived in the same shed, and enjoying old railroads around the western US.

Moving to France, I was eager to find European steam.

After a year, I discovered that Mulhouse is in France, not Germany.  A little more digging revealed not only one of the world's finest automobile museums, but a vast rail museum as well.  Alas, we have yet to visit eastern France.  While I feel my high school German rising from deep memory, I remain uncomfortable with the proximity to... um... nevermind.

A bit more searching revealed a privately held rotonde located somewhere east in the vasty fields of Paris.  It's called AJECTA.

Jumping the metro to Gare l'Est and taking the Translien to Longueville was an easy hour and a quarter spent riding modern rail.  A ten minute walk from the modern station led to the early 1900's roundhouse and it's 14 steamlocomotives.

On the day I visited they were firing up one of the three working steam engines to ready it for un tournage that was to take place the next day.  I was thrilled as it had been a very long two years since I witnessed working steam like this.

I  am eager to take a look at two additional train depots as well as feeling the need to visit Mulhouse (no matter it's proximity to Germany (LOL!!!)). One is located north of Paris and is called the Musée des tramways à vapeur et des chemins de fer secondaires français.

The second is not exactly a museum, but does have at least one working steam locomotive.  It's located out in Britaigne in une petite ville qui s'appelle Paimpol.  Our first landlords live out in the Cotes d'Armor and the steam locomotive would be a good excuse to stick around Britaigne for a few days.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Around Town ~ la traversee de Paris

I recently posted a (growing) list of fun things to do in and around Paris.

The proposed list has less to do with rediscovering famous sites than it does in trying to uncover the slightly, though some might say extremely, odd and out of the way places and events.  I figure that the well attended Tourist Sites have been well covered for generations by better people than I.  If I happen to cover one of the Pickpocket Magnets, it will be from a unique, perhaps little known, perspective.  In short, I want to share some of the wonderful things that no Tourist Guide covers and things I found after Diligent Digging or Stumbling Happenstance.

My photography blog will cover des trucs from the perspective of a camera equipment gear-head.

For this, the first entry of Around Town, I present la traversee de Paris hivernale 2014.

If you can imagine 600+ Voitures Anciennes (old cars) invading the streets and disrupting the Normal Flow of Traffic, if you can imagine Taking Time to talk with car owners who are happy to share their latest addition to their Gods Gifted Supercharged! Guzzi-Powered Triking, and if you can imagine it's only 09h00 on a Bitterly Cold Sunday morning where baguette, wine, and cheese are required fortifications half way around the circuit, you'll have a good handle on what la traversee is all about.

La traversee is hosted by the Association Vincennes Anciennes.  Members seem to have a wonderful sense of good humor and know how to have great fun.

People who enjoy old cars can watch them go by at many points around the circuit.  If the past two years hold true for the future, the event begins at Oh Dark Thirty at the Chateau de Vincennes, heads Up The Hill to Montmartre, slithering downtown to park and spend seemingly hours at Ultra Swank Uber She-She place Vendome, before blasting up the Champs Elysees, down to the Trocadero, around Gustave Eiffel's tour, Showing Off along the Blvd Saint Germain des Pres before jumping Pont Sully on their way back to the Chateau de Vincennes.

This year, while we were a little light on Bugattis and 1930's Formula One Alfa Romeo single seaters, we were entertained instead by Big American cars (notice I did NOT say fat, no, I did not), early (and I do mean early) French voitures, as well as a few tasty Ferraris (new and old) and Aston Martins (where the British were well represented).

For the second year in a row, I was surprised and delighted that wet weather was held at bay by the Touring Automobile Weather Gods.  As I mentioned, it was brutally cold.  After watching a couple old square riggers make good time over Pont Sully on their way to la place de la Bastille, I could see that a good thick fur coat has it's place in life.

If a person can't get enough of old cars and if they happen to be in Paris in late July, the Association Vincennes Ancienne will be hosting the summer version of la traversee.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Paris activities ~ 2014

When we lived in the US, our city played host to all kinds of wild and wonderful parades, festivals, and artistic activities.  Moving to Paris I learned that I would have to dig a little deeper to find a similar level of creativity.

This is my short list of must do things for 2014.  Yes, it is slanted to photo-opportunities.  But make no mistake, each event or venue is great to show up to without a camera.  I think nearly the entire world but us has a cell-phone camera and software to process and share the experiences with if they chose to.

Year round -
  • La Rotonde de Longueville ~ steam locomotives.  Lots of them.  Some working.  Some not.
  • Catacombs ~ the remains of millions of Parisians.  Take your own flashlight for the darker, creepier areas.
12 January -
5 to 9 February -
  • Retromobile ~ Old cars, motorcycles, and motor memorabilia at la porte de Versailles.
2 March -
30 March -
  • Carnival of Women ~ Men and women dressed up as royalty, queens, and other femininity.
2 to 6 July -
  • Japan Expo 2014 ~ Anime, Manga, Cosplay, Lolita.  It's how France's youth "puts on the dog."

I'll be attending as many of these as I can.