Saturday, May 28, 2011

A view for the birds

I have discovered that I am traveling with a flock of birds. If a building and/or structure is tall, they must find the upper most perch. When we visited the Arc De Triomphe, I thought that I had a wonderful view from ground level. But some of the ones of this opinion were talked into the trip up the steep spiral staircase. Once at the top, I began to realize that people, no matter what their culture, are basicly the same. The attendant found my reaction to heights very amusing.
The only thing that will keep some of the group from going all the way to the top, is the threat of a 45 minute wait in line there and back. The Eiffel Tower has three levels. The second and third levels are observation levels. I knew I would have to go up the Elffel Tower or my family would never forgive me. I went to the second level and stood in a long line to get back down. I just don't know how so many of our group got down before me. Don't get me wrong, the view at both the Arc and the Eiffel Tower was beautiful. It's just that the view from ground level was better.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

A Domestic Day in Biarritz

My wife Paula and I used the free day in Biarritz to take care of some domestic activities before heading to the beach. It's not really practical to try to pack two weeks of clothes and haul them around. Some hotels do offer laundry service, but then you have to keep your fingers crossed that it gets done in time before you have to leave town. It's also pricey. The Hotel Marbella does not provide laundry service, and we needed to wash clothes, so it was off to the local lavrie (laundromat) to get the job done. Since this was a weekday, the laundromat was empty except for an elderly woman and the lady running the laundromat. We first tried to get the soap dispenser to work, but it would not take our change. The eldery woman who was waiting for the dryer to finish came over and tried to help us. She mimed the steps to take, and we tried it again. It still didn't work, so she called for the madame running the shop. Madame came down the stairs from her ironing and reset the machine, and finally it worked! After about an hour or so we were done with the laundry and ran by the local supermarche (supermarket) to get some supplies for lunch for that day and the next. Not only did buying groceries instead of eating out for lunch save some euros, but it also gave us some insight of everyday life there. We were able to pick up a loaf of bread, some ham, cheese, drinks, and dessert for about thirty euro. It was enough to last two days for the both of us. There was plenty of choices for fresh fruit as well. When you buy fruit, you must have it weighed and tagged in the produce department, otherwise the cashier will not ring it up. We found this out at the first grocery store we shopped at in Nice. We held up the line while Paula ran back and had the cherries and pears weighed. In Biarritz we bought pre-packed strawberries instead.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

the Musee Oceanographique, Monaco

In our last hour in Monaco, Kim M. and I decided to go to the Musee Oceanographique, there behind the octopus sculpture and the tiny, one-person yellow submarine.  14 Euros apiece.

We went in, and there was a dramatic, Jules Verne-like sea creature hanging from the ceiling, which led to a nice museum of creatures in the Mediterranean. 



I'd heard that this was the base for Jacques Cousteau for much of his research, but I didn't find any reference to him in the museum.  Kim and I were about to exit through the gift shop, which with French insistance on rules would have been an absolute exit, but I looked at the building diagram, and noticed there was another floor, at -2 on the elevator.  And that led to the aquarium itself:


and finally [ok, I like these pictures.  Yeah, yeah, people in the group.  Soon.]


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Lunch in Monte Carlo

The rest of our time in Monaco, the group scattered, to our various delights and designs.  My splinter group wandered down into the streets of Monte Carlo, looking for both the casino and lunch.  The streets are typical Mediterranean, packed apartments, balconies, flowers, open spaces for markets, and here, paths down to the yacht harbor.  Pleasant.  Expensive.
The other event just over the horizon is the Grand Prix.  We were a week--and several thousand dollars--off.  They are even now putting up the stands and walling off the track.  Meanwhile, people driving the "track" are exceptionally polite--they still stop for pedastrians.

With a bit of walking along the harbor, we did find the casino, though I was seriously underdressed to even attempt to step inside, having left my James Bond apparel, oh, elsewhere.


We did then decide on lunch, me, Willy, Ann, Beth and Jim.  The prosecco was just right, but Ann didn't care for her smoked swordfish, something about the texture. 
I was quite happy with my Salade Landaise, a pithy salad with smoked duck strips and a square of duck pate.

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After the perfume stop in Eze, we're on to Monaco (still Friday, 5/20), a fairly short drive on toward Italy. 

Lots of history from Liz, on some scrap of paper I can't find (here in the hotel in Tours).  I recall that Monaco is a principality, hereditary, but that the deal is if there is no heir, the territory reverts to France, and so the still officially heirless Prince Albert is strongly being urged to marry (the earlier kids seem not to count).  Albert is the son of Prince Ranier and Grace Kelly.  I didn't get to see their tomb, but it's there, open to the public in the church at the top of the hill, overlooking Monte Carlo.  That's where the casino is, the source of wealth of this tiny land (the second smallest country in the world, after the Vatican).  Plenty of gambling, and no income tax in Monaco.
We caught the tail end of the changing of the guard at the palace, then saw the statue dedicated to Francois Grimaldi, the legendary founder of this longest ruling family in Europe (I think longest).  The story goes he and a buddy dressed as monks, get into the city walls, pulled out swords from those not-so-innocent robes, slaughtered the gatekeepers, and brought the army in.  I want to say, um, in 1297.

Then the long way down the hill to Monte Carlo itself.  A nice walk down.  A long walk up.  Leaving by yacht would be the prefered way to go.
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La Parfumerie Fragonard

Next on our excursion [Friday, May 20], we arrived at the perfume factory in Eze, La Parfumerie Fragonard.  According to their brochure, they have been producing perfumes, using traditional methods, since 1926.  A guide from the factory led us through, and told us the process and history of fine perfumes.
We learned about the training of "Noses," the experts who can distinguish the subtleties of a 1000 scents--3 years of schooling and 7 years apprenticeship--and that they can only work 2 hours/day, because of olfactory exhaustion.  Barbara seems ready to sign up, and move to France.


And of course, they offered us the chance to buy their products.  Seemed a good time for all--though Jim E. was more interested in the red Ferrari in the parking lot.

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Excursion from Nice

Friday, May 20--we left Nice the next morning for an excursion to the southeast.  We stopped at one or two of the little villages along the sea.  No great insight into the world or the state of humanity--just so different from where we live.  Hard to imagine ordinary life with such scenery everyday:




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On the Move

Thursday, the 19th--we all managed to arrive back at our hotel in Montmartre, do our last minute shopping (for me, food for the train and a last crepe in Paris), drag suitcases down to the bus, and off!

We were, in fact, so organized, and had so little traffic, we had a couple hours to wait at the train station.
I've still never ridden a train in the U.S. [but hope maybe can do a train-travel class sometime with Amy D. or Tonya C.], but I really like trains in Europe, especially these bullet trains.  I think Paula took some pics of our train--sleek, clean, protected from graffiti.  So much better than planes--wide seats, easy to walk around, no hassle with luggage, and some scenery.

East-central France, flashing by outside--low rolling hills, scattered trees, a rainbow in the irrigation spray, farmhouses.  Almost a postcard, almost Missouri.

But not quite Missouri somehow.  A different green, the details of agriculture, and not the regularity of land long-ago divided in sections, the abscense of billboards, ah, and then mountains in the background.  And soon, in Aix, we glimpse the Mediterranean, and arrive in Nice soon after.

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From my arrival in France, I have been trying to get on the travel blog. I first had to find a computer, the hotel had a wonderful computer in the lobby. Overjoyed, I followed all instructions given and went to I began typing only to see something other than what I wrote. The keyboard was very different, I would have to use the hunt and peck method of typing. I pecked in my username and password. Invalid. Taking a closer look, I discovered that it was google.fra and widened my search to google USA. Got it, great. I filled in the needed information (very pleased with myself). Invalid username or password. If you are getting the idea that computers are not my friends, your right. My usual response to problems with mine is to call my son and make him fix it. How to get in touch with my son (wait for it) by computer. We are going to skip to the end (well not the end, more like the middle) of this very long story, the beautiful and wonderful Ann had a solution to my problem- She has a computer!
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011


So, we pay our 5 euros, bags get searched (for those traditional-art-renegades who might fight back) and we enter, through a very fast revolving door, the belly of the beast--

Hard to describe the sensation of being inside this giant, um, balloon?  Beast's belly?  The air itself is more than red gloom--it has an almost tactile sensation.  Hearts race, people stumble, intellectuals propound, everyone nervously tries to take a photo, and no one quite knows what to feel.  Tartarus, I thought.

And then we exited, to find the entirity of the Beast, which is much, much larger than the one lobe we could walk inside (and we found that French insistence on rules over all, when one guard would let no one take two steps back to tell Dawn that her husband was already through the gate, and so David had to circle round the entire installation to find her).

Outside, the lobes of the exhibit overwhelmed even the huge space of the Grand Palais, the structure became even more organic, more the curves of flesh, or purple globules of blood, squeezing and changing.  Well, see for yourself:


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After Napolean's Tomb, the group split--some to try to get into the nearby Rodin Museum, and me with 11 others to walk to the Grand Palais for an art installation.

But why serendipity, you ask (and why do English teachers keep using big words?)?  Well, doing my 4 triple loads of laundry Sunday before we left, bored, I glanced through the Columbia Daily Tribune, our friendly local paper, and found a whole page article on an art exhibit, daring, profound, shaking up all of Paris.  And decided that that page needed to get ripped out, folded, and travel in my cargo pants to Paris, where it guided us to the Grand Palais, and the exhibit, Leviathan, by Anish Kapoor.
And so, off we went, across the bridge, Alexander III, stopping to photo the clusters of locks, which from Venice we recognized as the modern folk custom of lovers who pledge themselves to each other with a mild act of vandalism.

A short line, 5 euros each (really cheap for anything in Paris), and we enter Leviathan...
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Thursday, the 19th.  Leaving Paris, we packed up, stowed our luggage in one room downstairs, and went out for a couple more tour highlights, before our afternoon train.
Metro Adventures
Liz, our tour guide, had been getting us used to riding the Metro.  Not completely easy, getting 29 of us smoothly aboard the quick subway.  Coming back from dinner Wednesday night, the group got a bit split up after Ann somehow got stuck in the ticket turnstile (I don't quite know how), and one group--David, Willy, Kimberly, Charity--far ahead, turned down the wrong tunnel.  Right line, but the tunnel going the wrong direction.  We eventually met up...

So, a new challenge Thursday morning, when we ventured out to the closest station, and Liz gave us a little coaching in front of the map, and each a Metro ticket to make our own way back to the hotel...

Together, we briefly visited Les Invalides, a veterans' hospital/home set up by Napolean (with, reportedly, still a few old soldiers living there), but now the site of both the national military museum and Napoleon's Tomb.  Pressed for time, we skipped most of the museum (wish I'd have had time to visit at least the medieval part--research for D&D), whipped past the WWI tank, through the rather ostentatious chapel, and to the tomb.

Curious, that here in France, Napolean is revered, a notion that I've never much received from our Anglophile history texts at home.

The Tomb is behind the chapel's glass wall (or perhaps in front of...).  It rests in a rotunda, vault roof overhead, a circular balcony at the entrance level, where the tombs of various generals, kings, and descendents attend to the great leader, for eternity.  And rumored, various hearts here somewhere--the heart of Louis XVII?

The Tomb itself, Sherrie observed, is shaped much like the Ark of the Covenant, which we would know from an Indiana Jones movie.  (Ok, we are American, and see everything through Hollywood blockbusters.)  Sherrie also noted that the tomb needs to be dusted.

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Arc de Triomphe

At Versailles, our bus sat in the hot sun, all closed up, and we discovered that while the bus was rumored to have air-conditioning, well, non, not really. We were headed for the Arc de Triomphe, but with the traffic, most of us chose to get out and walk the rest of the way up the Champs-Elysee. A nice walk. This stretch of Paris is by no means one of inviting fruit stands or sidewalk delis. There are cafes, but everything grander, more expensive. My niece would like the Cartier store there on the Champs-Elysee, its window full of “sparkly rings,” just beside the Qatar Embassy.

We did notice the billboard/kiosk ads for the new movie, Very Bad Trip 2—which is what the French call the sequel to the film, The Hangover. We found out that this title change was needed. Like in Norway, where hangover is expressed as something like, I licked the carpet last night, or as David’s roommate says, his “mouth tastes like a penny,” the French phrase is “mouth full of wood”—which just doesn’t translate the right way. So—Very Bad Trip 2. We will probably need to see that here in France in a few days, when our deprivation of American media reaches a crucial point.

The Arc de Triomphe itself was a bit challenging. The elevator is only available to those who have specific problems with stairs, and there are 284 stairs to the top.  A nice gift shop one big level up (the first couple hundred stairs, where the toilets are also located), and a display of famous arches around the world.  The Gateway Arch was prominently shown.

But the view from the top was worth it.

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After whirlwind Paris, that Wednesday, we headed to Versailles, not so far out of Paris. Interesting, driving through the little town (same name as the Palace), Isabella pointing out ‘there, the Queen’s stable, now a government office, there Monsieur’s stable—that’s the King’s brother, next in line (whichever king that was), there a whole building for the wardrobe of a king’s mistress.

Since we were with a group with a scheduled time, we got to skip the line with the 500 or so ungrouped people, standing/melting in the sun on the asphalt parking lot. (You know, there is a ‘skip the line’ company for many monuments and museums—sign up online, pay a bit more, and well, skip the line. I used that quite a bit in Florence last year.) We got our radio headsets on, so Isabella could narrate to us, and in we went.

Of course, the Palace was crowded. No, not just a Saturday at the Mall. Crowded. Shuffling tiny steps, in contact with six or seven also-too-warm-bodies at every moment, heads of strangers in most photos, the blare of tours in Spanish, Japanese, German...

There is quite a bit of history of how the Palace evolved from a hunting lodge to an official royal residence for Louis XIV, which someone else will fill in. Of course, all of the interior is visually stunning, deliberately so—walls and ceilings are covered with gilt design or paintings, long hallways are filled with statues, ornate lamp-holders of cupids or angels, a throne here and there, king-sized fireplaces, crystal chandeliers, all that. Many are Christian-themed, but perhaps more embrace Greek myth as a key to grandeur, such grandeur itself a concrete form of politics. And so we often find ‘the Sun King’ as Apollo, surrounded by a dozen other deities.

After the formal tour, Willy and I wandered ‘out back’ through the Gardens. One fountain in elaborate weathered bronze would have had turtles and frogs shooting streams of water, but none of the fountains were on. Apparently, this would have often been the case even with the King in residence, since the combined fountains on the ground would have used more water than even the aqueduct from the Seine could have supplied. We were told that the hapless groundskeepers dealt with this with an elaborate system of whistles, alerting each other of the royal approach and turning on fountains just in time to appear always on. Seems a bit stressful.

In any case, Willy and I wandered on down the hill, and just from walking began to feel how extensive the grounds are. We walked down the central vista-path between sections of the maze on each side, the shrubs trimmed to 15’ walls, with marble copies of famous Greek and Roman statues lining each side. The “copies,” I think, claimed more ostentation that the originals would have—all were precise, but done in the same pure white marble and scaled exactly the same.

Just before these paths opened out to a large basin (think the Mall in DC) and trees, we reached another fountain, which featured Apollo and his chariot rising from the water. That may have been my favorite thing at Versailles.

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Isabel's Paris, part 2

Still on the bus with Isabel, the morning of Wed. the 18th.  The city highlights, continued:

  • We got a view of the Pantheon, there in the Latin Quarter, where many famous folks are buried.  Isabel mentioned Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, and Madame Curie [has poor madame never had a first name?]
  • There on our right, we note a wall still pock-marked with bullet holes from 1944--"traces of liberation" of the city from the Germans.
  • Isabel talked quite a bit about Dan Brown and his novel, The Da Vinci Code, and of course, the movie version.  She said that while people here did love the book, parts had to be cut for this audience, since not all the details were quite so accurate that they could past the scrutiny of the natives.  Though everyone was happy with the 25,000 euros per day that the film makers paid to rent the Louvre
  • We passed Luxomberg Park, the most expensive area of Paris, where a scale model of the Statue of Liberty could almost be glimpsed through the trees
  • in the area Little Geneva, we noted the Cafe du Flores, where Sartre pondered our becoming (though no time for Tonya to have a coffee or wine there); here a spot where Protestants were massacred in 1577; there, Manet born; here, the Rue de Beaune, where the real d'Artagnan --that captain of Musketeers, lived; and many amazing details of the career and events from Henry IV, which scribbles on folded scrap paper bouncing along in the back of the bus could not capture
A couple Isabel quotes to wind this up:
"We don't hate Americans--we hate everybody."  Consolining, I suppose.

And, "Paris is a city of perspectives of buildings...[for the buildings] speak to each other."  This, incredibly so, and hard to write up.  So often, one avenue or vista opens to another, and the visual forms interact.  This a process that has taken not only centuries of construction, but fairly ruthless destruction of anything that interferes.

I would observe from this admitted chaos of notes, that the seeming chaos for us, naive American travelers, comes from layer upon layer of history, incident, culture, from a long, long living in place.

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Photos, 1

Ok, enormously irritating working with photos on this version of blogger, even here in Biarritz, where we finally have functional wi-fi (French food and internet seem to occur at about the same speed).  So, I'll try to stick in some photos nearby...

Above--Liz with Isabel, the Paris Opera House, a street near the Ritz, and one of the distinctive apartment buildings

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Isabel's Paris, part I

On Wednesday, May 18, our first full day in Paris, we gathered ourselves up, trudged down the hill of Montmartre, and met our local guide, Isabel, for a whirlwind tour of the city and its complex history.  We climbed on the bus, nicely parked in a lane of traffic across from the Moulin Rouge, and began.  Some highlights--which could only be traced with a great street map, not a linear timeline of French history: 
  • there the cafe where the can-can, the then-scandalous dance, was created
  • there across the street where the character Amelie worked in the movie, though not no longer with a tobacco license
  • we learned about the bike system in Paris--city-wide access to bikes, at numerous racks, for 29 euro a year (hmm--wish my keyboard had a euro sign, instead of just a $.  It's a new world, here in the old world.)  Anyone subscribing can check out a bike with a card, and the first half hour is free.  [Does anyone recall when Walt's Bike Shop in Columbia tried a version of this?  Totally free bikes around the city that anyone could use.  But they never reached the critical mass of bikes to offset theft.  Maybe time to try the Paris system...]
  • building after building showing examples of Haussmann's architecture, both the distinct style, and the design of buildings with businesses at street level, nice apartments one floor up (in the days before elevators and loud street noise), smaller apartments going up, until the servants' quarters with those dormer windows at the top.  And balconies, so often now full of bright flowers.
  • past the Opera House, where the Phantom of the Opera is set.  Isabel tells us there really are streams below it, but didn't say we could visit (though there is a tour of the city sewers, if one had brought appropriate duck-hunter boots.  Alas, I did not pack those.)
  • And here, we circle round in front of the Ritz Hotel and another series of huge Vuitton ads.  This one of the hotels where Hemingway is mentioned in the creation of the Bloody Mary:  that he complained to the hotel bartender that his wife could always smell the alcohol on his breath, and the bartender responded with the familiar tomato juice and vodka concoction.  It worked.  Hemingway--'that bloody Mary didn't notice a thing."
  • We zoomed past a small marker on the side of a building where Joan of Arc was killed?  buried?  Not even time for a bus-window photo op.  On we zoomed.
  • Past another courtyard where cavalry soldiers would perform for Napolean, and somehow that gave us the word, 'carousel.'
  • And we zoomed along, past many sites associated with King Louis IX, also later known at St. Louis (which wikipedia asserts is why we so named our city in Missouri), who had purchased the Crown of Thorns and bits of the True Cross from a crusader, and who left a bit of land for poor students on the Left Bank, and so gave us the word 'college' (though I missed just how this happened).
  • Past the island in the river Seine where the city of Paris originated, Isabel telling us of Celts who worshipped Isis (though this seems unlikely to me), then of the Roman outpost and governor's palace on the same site, and places where we might glimpse, under current buildings, bits of Roman structures still in place...
Ok, this blog is long enough.  To part 2 of Isabel in a moment.

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Saturday, May 21, 2011


We started Monday at Columbia College, with a breakfast-coffee send off in the student commons, a bus ride to Lambert (where much of the terminal is still boarded up with plywood after the recent tornado), a flight to Chicago, and then—whoosh—to Paris.   Tonya  read her Kindle, and I ignored Shrek 2, and instead read through 470 pages of Dune (about half) for my summer SF class, all in one long sitting. 

Pop quiz—which is longest?*
A. Bus ride Columbia to Lambert

B. Check-in line at American Airlines

C. Flight to Chicago

We grouped up in Paris with Lee and Paula and Sam and Ashley on the Miami flight, and eventually Barbara from Washington state, got everyone through the long lines for the ATM and cash exchange, met Liz, our tour guide, and then did a fast blast of Paris, even as the jet lag settled in. We dragged out luggage from the bus along the Rue des Abesses, a street of cafes, flower shops, a Chinese deli, bread shops and windows full of pastries, and a dozen fruit and vegetable stands, full of tomatoes and fresh blackberries, strawberries, apples, white asparagus, all inviting. We have a farmers’ market at home, like St. Louis has the big market in Soulard, but not the same. I suppose we could have such fruit/vegetable stands in Columbia, but perhaps it’s too small a city, or perhaps this is part of a strong pedestrian culture that Americans have forgotten. Ah, I digress…

…and dragged our luggage up the hill, since the “mont” in Montmartre is accurate, stowed the luggage to wait for our rooms at the TimHotel, and went out exploring.   Montmartre was once just outside the city walls of Paris, and so less taxed, cheaper, and became a place for those “starving artists” and for less “restricted” entertainment.  For instance, at the bottom of the hill, we walked past the Moulin Rouge, still alive, thriving, expensive (and for fans of the movie, nearby is a bar that claims to serve “genuine absinthe”—though I didn’t have time to verify that myself).

Liz introduced us to the Paris Metro, an amazing way to zip under the busy city streets, though using the Metro with a couple people is a bit easier than navigating the hallways and hopping briskly into the subway cars with 28. And so to Notre Dame.

I’m still partial to the gargoyles outside (and bought another 2” fellow to go with the larger one Pam gave me a couple years ago), but we did walk through inside to admire the stained glass and gothic arches.

*longest, in this order, A, B, C…


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Monday, May 16, 2011

Am I going to make it?

In 25 minutes we will be meeting at CC for a send off breakfast. I still do not believe that I am going to make the trip. I had car trouble on the way to Columbia last night, but I made it. Now I am trying to do last minute things. This was not one of them but ended up that way. I find myself wondering if my fellow travelers are having the same type of week. I hope not.
We will keep you all posted on our trip.
I forgot my books!
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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Side trip to Bayeux

This is my second trip to France, the first one being seventeen years ago. One of the things I missed last time that I'm excited about seeing this time is the Bayeux Tapestry. The Tapestry (which actually an embroidery) is a commemoration of the victory of the Norman William the Conqueror in his conquest of England in 1066. Commissioned by Bishop Odo, William's half-brother in the 1070s, it tells the story of intrigue and betrayal leading up to the conquest from the Norman point of view. Although, newer texts, such as 1066: The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry by Andrew Bridgeford, argue that the tapestry is actually subversive, as it really portrays Eustace of Boulogne as the hero. The tapestry, which was nearly destroyed in the French Revolution survives to this day, mostly intact, despite some repairs completed in the Victorian era. Only the scenes from William's coronation are missing. -Sam
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Saturday, May 7, 2011

San Sebastian, optional excursion from Biarritz

One tour site tells us this about the picturesque bay:

La Concha (Seashell Bay) lies off San Sebastian on the shores of the Cantabric Sea of Biscay Bay. It is possibly the most famous beach in the Basque Country of Spain.

La Concha beach (Playa de la Concha) is 1350 meters long by 40 meters wide on average. It is lined with about 40 public showers, toilets and changing rooms and is a very popular attraction in the local area. Beach chairs can be rented from various points along La Concha and there are also numerous refreshment kiosks nearby.

La Concha is named for the seashell shape, which is clearly visible in aerial photos of the bay. It is a beautiful beach with fine, golden sand set in luscious green landscape. This panorama was taken from the southern side of La Concha, another panorama shows the view from the maria on the north side of La Concha Bay.

Behind La Concha is San Sebastian, the center of tourism in the region, set amidst ancient and medieval buildings on the harbour-front. The beach front is heavily developed with holiday apartments and hotels. In the surrounding town are various castles, military fortifications and ancient buildings telling the story of San Sebastian as a thousand year old military port and trading town.

Besides the beaches and ocean view, we are told by the San Sebastian Travel Guide:

"San Sebastian's charming old quarter is bursting with cafés, bars, clubs, and restaurants where you can try their tasty tapas. Other attractions include the Baroque Church of Santa Maria , the Gothic Church of San Vicente, and the Museo de San Telemo , a former 16 th century convent. For spectacular views of the bay and town, climb atop Mount Urgull and Mount Igueldo . At the base of Mount Igeldo is a beach where visitors can take a ride to the peak to witness the breathtaking view, or go for a spin at the neighboring family fun fair.

"Miramar Palace, [above] also known as the Royal Country House of Miramar , is another attraction in San Sebastián. It is located above the " Pico del Loro", marking the strategic junction of La Concha Beach and Ondarreta Beach, and also the dividing point in the long promenade between two city districts: " El Antiguo " and " Miraconcha ". The Palace marks the city's historical origin, because it is based on the plan of the old church of San Sebastián, the original urban center of the town. The magnificent palace complex, with its park, gardens, several buildings and outbuildings, is a quintessential summer place.

"At present, the heart of the city is Constitution Square. One of the first things you'll notice upon visiting is the numbers on the balconies that date back to the Middle Ages when the Square was used for bullfighting. These numbered rooms were rented by spectators to get a bird's eye view of the action."

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