Two Weeks in Europe
Friday 27 July: La Maison
Caught the train to Paris early in the morning. We were surprised to learn that it was not the TGV, and therefore stopped several times along the way. Fought with some rude kids at the snack bar to get our morning coffee and croissants.
Made it into Paris and found that our hotel was a mere two blocks from the train station. Huzzah! As we waited for the room to get prepped, we chatted with a former special ed teacher from California. We ate lunch at a brasserie around the corner from the hotel, where the waiter made amusing sounds whenever he set things on the table. I had a superb onion soup, and Diane had a cheese plate.
I checked into the hotel and ordered lunch en Français. (Shout out to my high school French teacher Mme. Lopez.) It's nice to be in a place where I (kinda) speak the language, and I'm happy to see my language skills are holding up enough to get by as a tourist.
When on the plane to Stuttgart, I tried asking for apple juice (apfelsaft) in German. The attendant responded with a huge string of German words and I had to confess that I didn't actually speak the language. He then explained that they only had orange or tomato juice. I worried that I was causing him more stress than necessary by pretending to know the words, but everyone I've asked said it's good to make an effort.
After lunch we hit the metro toward La Maison de Balzac, the one remaining house inhabited by the 19th century novelist Honoré de Balzac. (I've done loads of research and written a bunch of Wikipedia Featured Articles about the guy and his work.) We had to wait for the lady — clearly perplexed by the request — to locate a working audio guide device. When they finally found one, they insisted we take it as "un cadeau" (a gift). I'm surprised they don't have an app. This museum for a 19th century novelist is stuck in the 20th century.
It was a glorious experience being in the place where Balzac wrote so many great works. Saw his desk and his collection of bric-a-brac, including a walking stick with gold adornments. The museum also had a number of sculptures of the man, along with original etchings of characters from La Comédie humaine.
Suddenly, the guard called to us and ordered us to leave. What's this? "Hey you! Stop learning and get out." The website clearly said they were open until 6:00, but apparently at 5:00 they wanted to go home, so we had to bounce. That's how wild and crazy we are; my wife and I close down the damn literary museum.
Walked to the Tour Eiffel and took pictures. Some guy tried to scam money out of me by giving me dap and saying "Africa. Peace." over and over while tying some string around my hand. "Tradition," he said, but I pulled away. "Appreciate it," I said. "No thanks." Weird.
Headed to the Arc de Triomphe when the rain hit. Took shelter in the entrance tunnel and checked prices to go up. 12 Euros? They're having a laugh. After a bit the sky looked clear, so we ventured out, but then it came down again, hard. We took shelter in the entrance to a cafe, but the waiter kept saying "Come in, come in," (in English) as a way of saying "Buy something or piss off." So we ran to a bus shelter.
Finally we found an Italian restaurant. We wanted to sit outside, but they put us at a crappy table with both seats facing the street, next to a shattered window. Plus it looked like it might rain again, so we went inside instead. Diane joked that the young attractive hipsters got the nice outdoors table, while we got shoved into the dark corner. But it was a good thing, because when the rain came back it was vicious. It brought hail. The hipsters scurried inside and everyone stood there watching people run for cover.
We ate delicious clams and linguine, with an avocado salmon appetizer.
There was a problem with the electrical system on the metro, so we had to take an alternative route back to the hotel. At one point the cops were trying to shovel us onto the wrong train line while they surrounded some guy who said over and over "Je suis pacifiste!" ("I'm being peaceful!") Diane worried that we were about to board a TGV out of the city, but we made it back and everything was fine.
What a day!