Keith & Nic enjoying Paris

A year ago or so we got an invitation to a wedding. An old great friend of ours from graduate school, Keith, was finally marrying Nic, the guy he’d been dating for the last seven years. We really wanted to go – they’re great friends and great people – but we really didn’t want to fly back from the Middle East, where we would be in November when the wedding would take place. What to do?

Suddenly the answer occurred to us. For the same money we would pay to fly back for the wedding we could fly them to Europe and make it their wedding present. And as a bonus, of course, we would get far more Keith-and-Nic time than if we were just two of the hundred-plus people at their wedding. Perfect! Needless to say, when we suggested that we would bring them to Paris (or somewhere else if they preferred) for their wedding present they liked the plan too.

Four of us enjoying the gardens of Versailles

So fast forward to late summer 2018 and here we are in Paris for a week with Keith & Nic. Still staying at the Agora St. Germain – which gets a little small after two weeks! – and still enjoying Paris. Parks, museums, cafés, long walks; beautiful late summer days in a beautiful city.

And while much of it was the same stuff we always do, Keith & Nic inspired us to enjoy a couple touristy adventures too. One day we took the train out to Versailles to visit the great palace and wander through the spectacular gardens. And on our last evening in Paris they had booked an hour-long river cruise on the Seine. Just the sort of über-touristy thing we would never do on our own … but we loved it. There were nice assigned seats facing the windows, a half bottle of red wine for each couple, and even a light meal served. Such a pleasant way to watch the city flow by (OK, we were flowing by, but whatever) and chat and just enjoy the good life.

On the boat with a little wine, a little food, and great friends

So that was our second week in Paris. From here Keith and Nic are continuing to Barcelona (our second-favorite city after Paris) on their own and we’re passing through Vienna on our way to Cyprus.

One of our favorite walks in Paris is along an elevated park, an old abandoned railroad bed. We’ve walked it many times over the years and always love the many little spots to sit and while away the time.

Traveling with Keith & Nic was great. Part of what we all liked was that there was plenty of together time but we also had lots of time on our own. My time on my own pretty much consists of going to Luxembourg Gardens and reading with this view.

Or the Gardens of the Champs-Élysées

Off on our own one morning Mark & I took a walk we’ve never done before. Down river, below the Eiffel Tower, there’s a long and narrow man-made island called the Isle of Swans and at the end of it is a small replica of the Statue of Liberty, which was of course a gift from France in honor of America’s centenary. How cute is that?

While there was plenty of time on our own, in the evenings we always regrouped for drinks and dinner. Here Nic & Keith are savoring our new discovery, the Martini Royale. Equal parts Martini Bianco & Proseco, with lots of ice and a dash of fresh lime juice, it’s wonderfully refreshing and low-carb. We’ll never be quite the same after this discovery.

Lots of reasons to love Paris

Mark loves these bicycle shots

One morning Mark & I were off to the Palais de Tokyo, a contemporary art museum. There were lots of huge installations, many of them genuinely interesting. This display of 40 clown sculptures was notably eerie.

Place des Vosges, dating from the early 17th century, was the first planned town square in Paris

A view of Paris from the elevated parkway we love so much

At first I thought this was just a random picture from Park Monceau that Mark had taken until I recognized that little figure in the left corner. It’s me!

A couple days after walking the elevated park alone Mark & I took Nic & Keith there so they could enjoy it too

I’ve seen this fountain at the bottom of Luxembourg Gardens a bunch but I don’t think I’d ever noticed the dedication before. It’s dedicated to the great explorers Marco Polo and Robert Cavelier de la Salle. And while everyone has heard of Marco Polo, de la Salle isn’t quite so famous. Unless, of course, you’re from La Salle, MI, as Mark is!

The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

Nic, Mark, and Keith out in the gardens of Versailles

And finally, Keith and that big metal tower as we cruised by on our tourist boat

Notre Dame at sunset. Could the world be more beautiful?

Here we are in Paris again, our seventh stop in the last five years. It’s our favorite city in the world and this time we got to share it with my family. We spent the last four days of my great-nephew Mat’s Great European Adventure in Paris because, well, you couldn’t have a great European adventure without seeing Paris, right? And then, after we scheduled it, my sister Rebecca decided to end her 10-day trip with her daughter Lily here with us. So lots of family.

Here I am with my niece Lily and sister Rebecca

Now, after all the times we’ve been to Paris there’s not a lot new or us. But seeing it through the eyes of midwestern teenagers is quite the treat. The Louvre, Arch de Triumph, Sacré Cœur, Eiffel Tower, Pompidou Center, Seine, Notre Dame, macarons, éclairs … we crammed a lot in during those four days. I think the young ones were duly impressed.

Then Mark & I had four days on our own, which largely consisted of doing some errands (I got new glasses and a new purse!) and getting some down time to read and relax. We still have another week here, this time with our friends Keith & Nik. For now, though, here are a bunch of pictures that start to explain why we love Paris so much.

My beautiful and charming niece Lily sitting in the Tuileries

Rebecca hanging out in the bell tower in Sacré Cœur

Mat desperately wanted to see the Mona Lisa. We warned him that the crowds would dwarf the painting but even we were surprised by the mass of people. As Mark put it, each time he’s seen it over the last 30-plus years it’s in a bigger space with even more people. Not a great way to experience great art.

Me, Lily, & Rebecca getting ready to climb the Arch de Triumph

Lily enjoying the view from up there

Mark, Lily, and Rebecca up there. Knowing that in a little while we were going to be climbing the Eiffel Tower, Mat wanted to save his energy so he didn’t make it.

Lily & Rebecca in the Luxembourg Gardens, one of my very favorite places on this whole earth

Walking through the Louvre we came into a room with a bunch of statues. I looked up and immediately recognized two of Michelangelo’s “captives.” Four of these pieces he was working on when he died are in Florence and I’d completely forgotten there were two here. When you see them, though, there’s no doubt what they are and who did them.

Mat wasn’t a great fan of scaling great heights, but riding the Ferris Wheel was right up his alley

He did, though, save the energy to climb the Eiffel Tower with the rest of us

Walking past a random shop we found this book about Rebecca

Paris, as seen from Sacré Cœur

Oh yeah, and Mat’s other great discovery – macarons!

After Rebecca, Lily, and Mat had to go back to Minnesota I got back to my favorite activities like lying in the Luxembourg Gardens reading

Or hanging out in the park Buttes-Chaumont reading. Can you tell, by the way, how perfect the weather was for this week?

And Mark could get back to one of his favorite pastimes, taking artsy pictures like this one of a bridge over the St. Martin Canal

And this very Parisian scene

Flowers and beautiful architecture – we loved Strasbourg

I got a little behind here, apparently having too much fun to post pictures and so on. After our stops in Germany, though, we moved on to two two-night stays each in Strasbourg & Nancy, the major cities of the historic regions of Alsace and Lorraine, respectively.

Strasbourg was definitely the star of the show, simply one of the most beautiful cities anywhere. Just across the Rhein from Germany it has been a bridge between France & Germany for centuries, a fact reflected in the architecture, churches, and cuisine. The historic city center was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1988, the first time an entire city center was so designated, and it sure seems to warrant the honor.

More of Strasbourg’s beauty

The city’s cathedral, Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, in its late-Gothic style is certainly the highlight. Topping out at 466 feet it claims to have been the world’s tallest building from 1647 to 1874, but my sense is that other buildings also claim to have been the tallest in that pre-modern period as well. It is pretty well documented, though, that it is the tallest building standing today built entirely in the Middle Ages.

Me and Mark with Mat outside Notre-Dame de Strasbourg

Awe-inspiring certainly describes the cathedral and for us it was particularly fun to watch Mat’s face as it came into view. We’ve seen a lot of these old cathedrals but if you’re from a small midwest city and haven’t been around the world a lot, it is pretty awesome. And of course if you can climb the spire you must, so we did. Great views and not really that hard.

Otherwise Strasbourg is just a fabulous city to walk around in. The canals and the flowers and the buildings are all just beautiful. The weather was perfect. There’s a great modern art museum If you walk just a little way out of the historic city you come to the European Parliament, right in the same area as the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. We found it poignant to be here while our President appears hell-bent on destroying all of it.

Outside the European Parliament. We think the world is a safer, better place when European countries collaborate rather than wage war. Apparently the President disagrees.

Strasbourg is definitely worth a longer stay, but as we knew Mat wanted to see lots of different things we stopped for only two nights before moving on to Nancy, the historic capital of Lorraine. I have to admit, after the beauty and excitement of Strasbourg, Nancy was something of a letdown. It is certainly beautiful, with the UNESCO-recognized Place Stanislaus, built in the 18th century by King Stanislaus of Poland who was also Duke of Lorraine, taking the place of honor. We had the disadvantage of arriving there on the holiday of the Feast of the Assumption which inexplicably means that nearly everything is closed. (I was reminded of our stop in Poitiers four years ago, now, when I needed to go to the emergency room on the Feast of the Assumption and got lousy service from the skeleton crew available. Note to self: avoid France on August 15!)

King Stanislaus of Poland, also Duke of Lorraine, stands in the center of Place Stanislaus. Strange to think of this very, very French city being ruled by a Polish king.

So after a fairly dull first day in Nancy we decided to take a day trip on our second to the nearby city of Metz, the modern capital of Lorraine. That worked out well; the train ride was, as always in Europe, gentle and relaxing. The city was interesting; the recently opened Pompidou Center-Metz, an extension of the major modern art museum in Paris, was fun to tour, and St. Stephen’s Cathedral was another stunner. The latter has the largest expanse of stained glass windows in the world, including not just glorious old windows but also windows by the modernist Marc Chagall. Impressive.

And then again, after just a two-night stop it was off again, this time to Paris.

Did I mention that I think Strasbourg is beautiful? Here it looks more French than German.

Mat discovering the beauty of an Aperol Spritz

Even the entry to our hotel was beautiful

Notre-Dame de Strasbourg

Imagine the terror of walking down the streets of Strasbourg, enjoying the flowers, and stumbling onto a crocodile!

Some of the ornate work inside Notre-Dame

Getting ready for a little lunch

Gustav Doré was a 19th century Strasbourg native, to whom a room in the modern art museum was dedicated. We both liked his stuff, particularly this Calvary scene.

And then there was this, umm, hunk of metal that spoke more to Mark than it did to me…

There was art out on the street, too

This spooky guy was looming over us at dinner one night

These flowers were all over Strasbourg

As we left Strasbourg, Mat wanted to leave ashes of his late brother Dexter in the canal. Dex died just a couple months ago and the wounds are still pretty raw so this was perhaps more powerful than the picture makes it look.

This is a view of Notre Dame de Strasbourg, with all its flying buttresses, on the climb up the bell tower.

Me, en route up to the top. We loved the way the stairs were almost out in the open.

The view of Strasbourg from way up high

Nancy is also important as the first time Mat tried steak tartare. He was an exceptionally adventurous eater, particularly for a 14-year-old. And he certainly seemed to enjoy this dish!

Mat & Mark outside the golden gates to Place Stanislaus in Nancy

More of Place Stanislaus

St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Metz, site of the world’s largest expanse of stained glass

You don’t see a lot of modern art stained glass windows in great cathedrals but here we have some Marc Chagall windows

And more modern art

Metz is also home to an extension of Paris’s Pompidou Center, the major modern art museum in France. One “piece” on display while we were there was the Dream Room, which was pretty dreamy.

Mat learned that he liked this kind of art

And the kind of art that consists of huge strands of spaghetti that you can walk through

Finally, Metz’s attractions included an area with all sorts of guys like this hanging out, just waiting to make friends