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Friday, July 7: So after another high-speed train ride — through the southern Alps! — I made it to Milan.

Milan, more specifically seeing Alexei Ratmansky’s Swan Lake at La Scala, was the impetus for this whole trip.

Milan was the city in which I was only looking forward to La Scala, having read that it wasn’t very scenic or some such. But turns out I really liked Milan. It helped that I had splurged on a lovely terrace room in a lovely little hotel in the historic district (to be able to easily walk to and from La Scala) for the two nights spent there. And it helped that I met up with my brother and sister-in-law there, and would be going to Venice with them, so would not have to struggle with language (they have learned to speak Italian) (not that it was an issue in the touristy area). But I liked the city itself enough to want to return some day.

The highlights this visit include:

  • La Scala and Il lago dei cigni, of course.
  • The bella locanda, to which I sincerely hope I did not bring any unwanted guests along with me. It was too hot to really enjoy the terrace after about 10 a.m., but I have no regrets on the splurge.
  • The roof of the Duomo, despite the heat, the crowd, and the scary last-flight-of-stairs-to-the-top climb.
  • The Sforza Castle, where I only had time to see a handful of its many art and history museums.
  • The cozy, friendly Caffe Vecchia Brera, where I enjoyed two meals on Saturday.
  • Gelato. Twice!
  • The public transit system.  I only rode a couple of subway lines – very easy to use – but enjoyed ogling the streetcars and trams and buses (remember, I’m a transit geek). Next time, I’ll ride them and explore some other neighborhoods.

 

Ciao until next time, Milano!

And finally on to Venezia…

Wednesday, July 5: Notes to self: if you ever return to Giverny by train, do it as a full day trip, or for at least two nights.  A single overnight, relying in public transportation around rigid B&B check-in and check-out times, was not enough to make this leg of the trip satisfying. In any case, if you do return to that same B&B, take a cab from the station rather than the bus to the Monet parking lot. Oh, and don’t bother trying to use the toilet at the Vernon train station.* And most importantly: watch where you step.

*Which is where you pay 30 cents to enter, see the flooded squat toilet, and flee in horror.

So. After another lovely breakfast at the hotel and last coffee with the breathtaking terrace view, I waved goodbye to the rooftops of Paris, and made my way to the Gare Saint-Lazare, where I played spot-the-pickpocket until it was time to board the train to Vernon/Giverny.

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(Photos of the Gare Saint-Lazare can be seen in Sailor Babo’s chronicles.  Can you spot the pickpocket?)

Riding a train through the French countryside has been on my list of things to do in life for quite some time. This one was a brief but pleasant introduction.

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Check-in at the bed and breakfast in Giverny was not until 15:00, so I had lunch at the cafe across from the Vernon station and tried to stay in the shade before catching the bus to Giverny. The Giverny bus stop was about a 25-minute walk to the B&B. I paused to hydrate and get my bearings among the nearby trees, began to stride toward the path, felt my foot catch on something unyielding, and went down. Hard. Face inches from a big rock as well as the sharp edge of the roadway. Weighted down by a backpack full of books (or were they bricks?), my chest compressed. It was quite frightening (as well as painful).

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I tripped and fell here.

A kind French family came to my assistance and made sure I didn’t need medical attention before they cycled off. After a brief cry, conscious breathing, gingerly getting back on my feet (my right knee took part of the brunt of the fall), and strapping back on the backpack, I slowly made my way to the B&B, showered, and then limped back to the Monet Foundation in time for a whole hour of garden-viewing before it closed. At least it was the quietest hour, apparently. And lovely enough to take away the pain.

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Dinner at a nearby creperie also helped heal my wounds, capped off by the third ice cream of the journey.

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I really need to learn not to order things with an egg on top.

Dinner was followed by the slowest walk of the day through the charming village of Giverny. At this hour the tourists were gone and the village was quiet, almost magical in the late afternoon shadows, only the pollinators busy doing their thing.

 

And finally there was the lovely garden view from my room for the night.

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Thursday, July 6: After a delicious breakfast shared with three boisterous women from Belgium, it was time to return to Paris to catch another train to Lyon. Aware of my injuries from yesterday’s fall, my kind hostess drove me to the Vernon train station, where I was able to catch an earlier train than originally planned, which was good since I got lost navigating the Saint-Lazare station to find the Metro line 14 to get to another station in Paris, the Gare de Lyon, where I got lost again finding the platform to the train to Lyon.  The extra layover time also allowed for a nice lunch at the station, complete with iconic snooty waiter (actually the first I have encountered so far in Paris).

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I was too full from the pasta I ate here to order ice cream.

 

From Paris, I took the high-speed TGV to Lyon, which turned out to be stopped on the edge Paris for an hour waiting for an accident down the line (yikes) to be cleared. But eventually we got going, and I enjoyed the view from a window seat on the upper level during the journey to Lyon.

Which brings us to Lyon.

Lyon was the city I really wanted to spend more than one overnight in on this journey, but my ballet tickets and squeezing in the overnight in Giverny made that impossible.

Lyon was the city in which I was looking forward to exploring the famed traboules for a couple of hours at least .

By the time the train finally made it to the station, given my injuries, Lyon had become the city in which I was looking forward to doing laundry at the hotel (I had booked a room near the train station) and getting a good night’s sleep.

Upon arrival, Lyon became the city with the overcrowded clusterfuck rail platform, the overcrowded confusing rail station, and highest temperature I experienced during the entire journey. The rail station with inadequate wayfinding signage (or maybe I just missed it in my desperation to escape, through what turned out to be the wrong side). Where the chain hotel I’d booked had several variants near the station, and naturally I followed the signs to the wrong one, lugging my bags of bricks in the heat through overcrowded rush hour traffic street construction six blocks to the wrong hotel, where I had a meltdown in the middle of a crosswalk on the way back to the station, crossed through to the other side, emerged still kind of crying, and finally arrived at the correct hotel, only to learn there were no laundry facilities, but oh well at least I had an air-conditioned room where I could do a little hand laundry and still get a good night’s sleep.

But then Lyon became the city where I found the bedbugs.

Baby bedbugs, otherwise known as nymphs.

Not in the bed, but on the back of the pants I had worn that day, and on the outside of my roller bag. (Yes, I was hauling one of those in addition to the backpack of bricks.) Five of them in total.

Thus Lyon became the city where I spent the night dismembering and carefully inspecting every item in my possession in search of more bedbugs, before a couple of hours of very low quality sleep.

I found no more evidence, so I hypothesized–or at least hoped–that they had hitched a ride on the last train I took that day and hadn’t made it inside my stuff. Fortunately I had several ziplock bags with me, and stashed what I was wearing in them to deal with later.

Friday, July 7: Lyon became the city which made me cry for the third and final time this journey. Or rather, the mean man at the Paul bakery/deli counter in the train station made me feel stupid enough for trying to speak French that I had a mini-meltdown in the the waiting area.

That was enough of Lyon for me.  It was a relief to board another TGV headed on to Milan. Although I was unable to find my reserved seat on that train, at least I found no more bedbugs, and no one kicked me out of the alternate seat I took.

Next stop, Milan …

Yesterday (or was it last night? isn’t it now morning?) I returned from a 10ish-day journey in France and Italy: Paris, Giverny, stopover in Lyon, Milan, Venice.

For a transportation planner, it was an exercise in logistics that worked out well on paper and worked in a geekily thrilling variety of public transit experiences.

For a human with an aging body in need of more than fleeting moments of restorative stillness, it was an ordeal.

For a dreamer in love with beautiful old buildings, cobblestones, flowering gardens, winding passageways, lyrical languages, and 19th century ballets featuring enchanted ladies in white, the journey was overflowing with delight.

The Paris part of the trip

Sunday, July 2: Boarded a plane in Seattle. Sleep did not happen during the 10.5 hour flight.

Monday, July 3: Disembarked at Charles de Gaulle airport. Waited two hours in the border police immigration control queue, served by a single station (surrounded by closed stations) that was itself closed for 20 minutes. What was this, border patrol strike day?  (Note to self: accept that parting bottle of water offered on the plane because there will be no fountain nor cafe nor vending machine to procure a beverage until after passport stampation.)

RoissyBus to the Opera Garnier. Slow hot walk to the Hotel 3 Poussins (near the Saint Georges Metro). Lunch at a small Himalayan restaurant nearby (momos!) until check-in time. I had booked this particular room for the view from the terrace and was not disappointed.

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Can you spot the opera house?

First outing: a quick visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie to revisit Monet’s nymphées.

First ice cream: a gelato from a cart near the Pont des Arts, staffed by a friendly young woman who took great pride in sculpting the gelato she served. I should have photographed the lovely flower of ice cream she created. This sustained me for the walk to dinner.

Determined this time not to subsist entirely on food in boxes from the Monoprix, I had reserved a table at a fancy Italian vegetarian restaurant called Sense Eat, near the Mabillon Metro station. The food was exquisitely prepared and served, though not aligned with my flavor preferences, except for dessert.

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second gelato of the trip

So I put down two gelati on the very first day, and successfully stayed awake until sunset. This felt like an achievement.

bon soir, Paris

bonne nuit, Paris

Tuesday, July 4: I explored the Gare Saint-Lazarre to get my bearings for upcoming train travel, the kindness of a Parisian lady on the street directing me to the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Musée du Luxembourg (Pissarro exhibit), Monoprix (mais oui, as there would be no time for a real dinner tonight), and the ballet La Sylphide at the Palais Garnier. Seeing this ballet in this theater was a dream. I sat very close to the stage, in a box on the extreme side, so didn’t get to see all the specially flying effects, but still.

 

 

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Hugo Marchand and the sylphs bask in the applause

Back at the Trois Poussins, I enjoyed some wine with the Eiffel Tower before a good night’s sleep.

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That’s the moon in the upper left corner.

To be continued…

Sent via carrier pigeon

Sent via carrier pigeon

And because rumor has it* that an Executive Order has been drafted that will make religiously-motivated discrimination okay.

*https://ssl.capwiz.com/aclu-action/issues/alert/?alertid=75397626

Sent via carrier pigeon

  • I’m painting again. Mostly pink.
  • The new Teenage Fanclub album (thank you, M—-l).
  • The fluffycuddliness of Ella & Lucy.
  • We’re not yet at war with Iran.
  • Tomorrow I get to have dinner with my brother and sister-in-law.

Maybe it’s time to think about secession from the Union.  Washington, Oregon, California, and any other state or urbanized area or nonurbanized area that rejects the bullying coming out of the Oval Office.

Let those of us in liberal states spend our tax dollars on things that reflect our values and the states that support turning away refugees, building the stupid wall, government-sanctioned religion, not worrying about conflicts of interest, charter schools, pollution from coal mining, etc. won’t have to worry about their tax dollars going toward anything they don’t support.  Heck, they can even do away with taxes altogether, and privatize everything.

And anyone that lives in one of those states that wants public education can move to the states that still offer one, provided that individual is cool with diversity and equal opportunity and tolerance and taking care of the environment.  Just know that we’ll be doing extreme vetting to prevent bigots and bullies from entering our new nation.

Yesterday I avoided the news altogether and rolled out much of the tensions bound in my body from this past week and beyond in a hybrid yoga workshop with my favorite yoga teacher. That felt so good. And then played with paints, which also felt good.

This morning’s headline was slightly heartening. Go ACLU! I joined online just now.

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tyrannosaurus_rex_colored

separated at birth?

(Image source: Wikipedia, with authorship attributed to a defunct URL and LadyofHats)

I’m ready for a detox.  What seemed laughable before the inauguration is now full-on sickening. Less than a week in office and the poison of the lies, delusions, self-aggrandizing, tantrums, stupid wall, etc. of our so-called leader is overwhelming.  (Oh, but if taxpayers are going to fund a major investigation into voter fraud, there’ll be a recount, right?)  Thank you journalists for keeping the record, but I gotta pay less attention for mental health reasons.  (and thank you nytimes mobile app for taking a brief break from Trumpasaurus Rex as the top attention-monger to honor Mary Tyler Moore yesterday.)

In other quality-of-life decisions, my next home computer is going to be a Mac.  I don’t care how much more expensive it is.  After the experience with my work computer over much of the past year, every since Windows 10 forced itself on there uninvited one day while I was out on my lunch break, and the subsequent updating behavior and what it has cost me (or rather my employer) in terms of work productivity, I will pay what it takes to avoid a Microsoft operating system at home.

(End of rant.)