Ben's Blog

Sporadic Musings and Updates

06 August 2008

Russia & France 2008

A journey of a lifetime

Wednesday, July 23, Somewhere over the Atlantic

6:19 PM SLC Time, 4:19 AM Russia Time

Our day began early.  John and I didn’t get much sleep last night.  Between the mugginess of yesterday’s rain and pre-travel jitters we were a lost cause.  Dad came and picked us up at 6:30 to take us to the airport.  When we got to the airport (and couldn’t use the self-service check-in) we found Jeff and Janell at International Check-In.  We had no problems getting checked in and through security.

The flight from Salt Lake to New York wasn’t bad, in fact we landed a little ahead of schedule.  Sadly, the early landing didn’t do us much good.  Our lay-over between connecting flights wasn’t long to begin with--only about an hour.  After we landed, taxi traffic was so heavy we sat on the ground for 30 minutes before arriving at our gate, which was cutting it a little closer than I like.  We were able to meet up with Justin and Michelle who had landed only about 15 minutes earlier than we had, grabbed a quick burger at Burger King and proceeded to walk right onto our flight to Moscow.

And then we sat.

And sat some more.

And then the pilot came on the PA system to inform us that yes, they knew the plane was hot, but maintenance was working under the plane where the AC units were so they couldn’t use them right then, but our plane was connected to terminal building air, so please everyone open your air valve above your seat.

And we sat.

Again the flight deck came over the PA system to announce that one of the chillers for the food wasn’t working, and we were waiting for delivery of dry ice, a delay he hoped would be no more than 40-minutes.

The sitting continued.

We finally got our dry-ice (in 40-minutes, but not less), and they closed the main door.  Just in time for us to sit.  Weather in the area was causing ATC to re-route certain departures and arrivals, causing delays on the taxi-ways.  When we finally were pushed back from the gate, and allowed onto the taxi-way, we were Number 15 for takeoff.  The flight that was to have left at 4:20 Eastern Time finally departed at 6:30 Eastern Time.

So far, we’re all in good spirits.  I was worried that the parents among us would be having separation anxiety, but it hasn’t manifested itself yet.  I was able to sleep for almost an hour (2 30-minute naps) on the flight from Salt Lake City to New York, and haven’t yet really tried to sleep on the flight to Moscow.  We’ve got about 8 hours of our flight to Moscow left, and if I can sleep 3 or 4 of them, I think I’ll be doing pretty good.

Many of our fellow passengers are native Russians, which I guess shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.  All of the announcements on the PA system have been English and then Russian.  I’m very glad Jeff and Clint and Dee speak Russian, or we’d be in a world of hurt when we get to Moscow.  The menu for the meal (mediocre chicken, but the grits were pretty good) was also English on one side, and Russian on the other.  Cyrillic sure is foreign to me.

Our flight path takes us up to the 64th Parallel, about as far north as Anchorage, Alaska.  It’s around 11:00 in this time zone, I think, and it’s still dusk out the window.  Unfortunately it’s cloudy, though, so I can’t see the ocean below us.

The pilot mentioned our flight time would be 8 hours 45 minutes, and hour and a half faster than the itinerary time of 10 hours 15 minutes, but that we’d still be arriving about an hour late to Moscow, or a little more.  I think we’re all anxious to see Dee and Clint, and hope the flight goes by quickly.

Thursday, July 24, Moscow,  Russia

8:17 PM

Well, I don’t think any of us slept more than about an hour and a half on the flight.  The flight was very interesting on the east side of the Atlantic.  We were very far north, as I indicated earlier, and passed over some really pretty Norwegian mountains.  It was cloudy over almost all of Scandanavia, but the mountains poked out.  We flew just north of __________, and then over Helsinki, and then through Russia.  It reminded me quite a bit of flying over France from my trip in 2004.  The farms and fields are much more patchwork than when flying over the United States which seems like a very odd polka-dot dress sometimes.  Because of our late departure, we had a late arrival, though they were able to make up one hour of our tardiness.

When we touched down, all the native Russians clapped, which I found amusing, though I don’t know why I do.

It was clear to me upon leaving the plane that we are in a very different sort of place.  Whereas I could sort of fake it through much of the rest of Europe when I was here last time, the Cyrillic is not even remotely discernible to me.

Passport control was a breeze, just a wait in line.  The luggage situation made me more nervous, however.  Our luggage seemed to be the last bags off the plane--a while after most people seemed to have picked theirs up and gone through customs.  I was getting a little nervous, but it was all for naught.  After we’d picked up our luggage and exchanged our cash on hand, we went through customs and Dee and Clint were right there waiting for us.  It was very apparent how happy they were to see all of us, and it was wonderful to be with them.  The Moscow International Airport didn’t seem very big to me at all.  I’ll have to look up how many gates there are, but I’d be surprised if it was many over 20.

Sascha, from Sophia (the humanitarian organization Clint and Dee worked with), had picked Clint and Dee up and brought them to the airport, and then brought all of us to our hotel, the Marriott Grand Hotel, not very far from the Kremlin.  It’s an amazing hotel, which we were able to get a great rate for through some connection at Jeff’s work.

After we dropped off our luggage, we proceeded to get on the Metro and head for the Novodivichey Convent and Cemetery.  Moscow’s subway is the busiest in Eurasia, and one of the busiest in the world.  The cars seem not to have seen an update since about 1952, but the system works efficiently.  If you go the right way.  There are 10 inter-connected lines, and deciphering it all is a bit of a chore, especially when everything is in Cyrillic.  I know, I sound like a broken record.  We initially got on the wrong line, and headed the wrong way, but eventually got where we’re going.  We seem to finally have a group dynamic set so we can at least get decisions made, but it took a while.

Upon arriving at the correct Metro Station, we decided we needed something to eat, and ended up at McDonalds.  It’s inexpensive, and it’s food.  If you can just figure out how to order.  Apparently I can’t. John wanted a Big Mac (also, let the record show that John DID eat at McDonalds), and I wanted a quarter pounder (which in Russian is the Royal Cheesburger, but on the menu looks like a Porn Burger, or as it’s affectionately called in our group now, Porn on the Cob).  We wanted a combos.  We ended up with a Big Mac combo for John, and a quarter pounder and a hamburger for me.  Also, you have to pay 12 rubles (50 cents or so) for ketchup.

A word about money in Russia.  Today’s exchange rate is about 22 rubles per US dollar.  The $54 cash I had on me when we landed traded in for 1084 rubles.  10 Metro tickets cost 155, about $7.  A bottle of water is 30 rubles, about $1.50.  Our McDonalds meal for the both of us was 280 rubles, about $12.

After a sumptuous meal (sarcasm intended), we walked over to the Convent and Cemetery.  On the way we passed the Russia Moscow West Mission offices.  Pedestrianism here is great, except that automobiles have the right of way at all times except when the green walking man is illuminated.  The green walking man isn’t available at all intersections and crosswalks, however.

The cemetery was very nice.  Peaceful and quiet, and really fascinating.  The grave markers are very ornate.  Nikita Kruschev, Prokofiev, and Shostokovich were all buried there, and we were able to see each of their graves, and stopped at several of the others just to admire the detail and individuality of them.

We spent so much time there that we got to the convent only 5 minutes before closing, so we ran in to take some pictures and then had to leave.  It’s the first place we’ve been that has the onion-dome architecture Russia is so famous for.  The gardens inside were lovely, and the buildings are impressive, though the onion-dome style hasn’t ever been one of my favorites.  I’m more of a western-European religious architecture lover.

We walked around a little lake that butts right up against the Convent and walked around the path for a while, and then headed back to the hotel.  Many of us are exhausted from the lack of sleep and the long travel.  John and I went to the jacuzzi for a while and have now joined everyone else in our rooms to catch up on sleep.  Tomorrow is the Kremlin and Red Square, and another journey--St. Petersburg by train.

Saturday, July 26, Saint Petersburg,  Russia

3:10 PM

Moscow is now in our past, and I’m grateful for it. That sounds slightly harsher than it’s meant, but only slightly.  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Moscow, but there wasn’t anything charming about it for me.  It’s a huge city, and very busy--much like I imagine New York to be.  But were I in New York, I’d at least be able to read the subway signs and street signs, and menus.

Food continues to be the challenge for me.  It’s not the food itself, it’s just the ordering.  I’ve had a few more traditional Russian dishes now (cucumber, radish and mayonnaise salad;  a crepe with lignonberries--I thought I was getting something completely different, but it was delicious!; beef stroganoff with boiled potatoes), but getting that far is just miserable.  I try and communicate and don’t get anywhere.  They’re frustrated, I’m frustrated, but in the end at least we all have food.

Yesterday after we checked out of the hotel we went to Kremlin.  We stopped by the Church of Christ the Redeemer which was rebuilt in the 1990s after being demolished during the Soviet era.  We didn’t go inside, but just walked around outside, and it was beautiful--and immense.

After some debate we figured out how to get to the Kremlin, and succeeded.  Ticketing at the Kremlin is something of a joke.  We went to the building that said “Tickets” on it (Russian and English, mind you).  But no, that was the tour groups only ticket booth.  Who knew.  It certainly made no mention of it on the building.  After successfully arriving at the correct location, we waited and waited and waited without the line moving only to find out that they don’t sell tickets all the time.They sell a certain number of tickets in 90-minute blocks (10:00-11:30, 12:00-13:30, etc).  Once the tickets for that time period are gone, ticket sales stop until 45 minutes before the next block.  We go there at 10:45 and had to wait 30 minutes before they’d start selling tickets again.  We finally got all that resolved (including multiple treks to and from the baggage storage location after finding out we couldn’t bring any bags inside the Kremlin) and got into the Kremlin.  First stop was the Armory, a museum that features many of the gifts to the royalty, as well as religious artwork (icon decorations, bible covers, chalices, etc).   Most fascinating to me was the Faberge Egg collection.  Among them was a platinum egg engraved with a map of Russia, which when opened revealed a platinum and gold clock work train--a replica of the first Trans-Siberian railroad which opened in 1883.  Also, a beautiful green egg with platinum portraits of the Nicholas II, his wife, and their five children.  There were 8 or 10 total, and all really beautiful to see.  Also of note were the coronation dresses (Catherine IIs was my favorite) and the carriages which were huge and ornately decorated.

After the Armory (we didn’t pay the extra money to see the Diamond Fund), we walked through the rest of the Kremlin, which is mostly a collection of churches and government buildings, many of which are still used today.  One of the churches we went into was the burial site of most of the Tsars, though burial isn’t quite the word.  The casket is above ground in a sort of sarcophagus thing.  The orthodox churches are all very dark on the inside, and not at all uplifting to me.  There is a huge emphasis on icons in orthodoxy, and I don’t recognize them--again Cyrillic and I aren’t very good friends.

Two things that really impressed me for their sheer size were the bell tower, and more the King Bell (a 220 ton bell that fell before being installed and broke--the piece that broke off was 11.5 tons), and the King Cannon which has 3-foot in diameter cannon balls.  The gardens inside the Kremlin were extremely beautiful and peaceful, and probably were my favorite part of the Kremlin.

After the Kremlin and a quick bite of lunch, we walked over to Red Square to see St. Basil’s Cathedral.  It’s the funky looking one that everyone thinks of when they think of Moscow.  It’s just as funky looking in person as what you think of.  They’re in the midst of a restoration right now.  Jeff mentioned that it’s in much better condition (and much better lit) then when he was here a decade ago at the end of his mission.  Still, it was smaller on the inside than it seemed on the outside by a lot.

A long walk after that and we took a pleasant Moskva River cruise and saw much of the city while sitting down.  A welcome relief to 16 very tired feet.  After the cruise we had a quick dinner at My My (pronounced moo moo)--where I had the crepes with lignon  berries and a beet-and-cheese salad.  A frantic rush back to the hotel to retrieve our luggage was followed by 3 frantic taxis to the Leningradskaya Train Station.  I’m so glad we aren’t driving here.  They’re ALL maniacs.  Everyone cuts everyone else off (at full speed), sudden starts, sudden stops, sudden cuts across 5 lanes of heavily populated traffic.  Our taxi driver was great, but it was an interesting experience.  Mom wouldn’t have liked the ride at all.  Mom wouldn’t like Moscow at all.  St. Petersburg maybe, but not Moscow.

Our train left at 11:30 last night.  When they aren’t moving there isn’t any air circulation and yesterday was hot and humid.  John and I shared a sleeper car with Justin and Michelle.  John and I had the upper bunks are were both miserably hot.  Once the train got going it cooled off, which was a huge relief.  I slept better than I thought I would, but not great.  And considering I was sleeping the clothes I’d been wearing and sweating in all day, we were pretty miserable.  The sunrise (at about 5:30) was beautiful--a little fog in the fields was truly a bright golden haze as the sun was rising.  The clouds were beautiful little tufts all pink and purple.  Train travel does have some benefits.

We got in at about 8:00--6 hours before we could check in to the hotel, but they let us drop our bags off at least.  We took the metro closer into the city and walked to the Church of the Spilled Blood.  It is by far my favorite Orthodox Church from the outside.  It has a little of the whimsy of St. Basil’s, but is more subdued, and the mosaics and brick work are beautiful.  We also walked over to the Bazaar/Souvenir cart area.  I was able to haggle pretty well, I thought.  We got there right when they opened, and several of them mentioned a tradition of giving a good deal to the first customer, which may be so much horse manure, but something in it rang true...maybe Wikipedia will know.  We walked around a few times to see what there was, haggled successfully (still probably paid more than it was worth, but got much better deals than those who weren’t haggling well), and got the souvenirs I was told to pick up.

John led the way to the Russian Museum of Art, which was impressive.  It’s housed in a former palace, and features a history of Russian Art.  The early period (mostly religious art) wasn’t well represented, which I wonder if Soviet condemnation of religion contributed to.  That was fine by me because religious art isn’t my favorite art usually, anyway.  Some of their enlightenment works were quite good, though about 50-100 years later than the Dutch masters, and there was a strong showing for Art Nouveau and Cubism, though all styles were well represented.  I could have taken my camera, but misread the sign, so I didn’t get any pictures, sadly.

We had a pleasant lunch during which we all commiserated about our smelly, sticky, and nasty states and came to the hotel to finally check-in an relax a bit before going back out this evening.  I’m hoping for a city stroll, but I know that most of us are tired of walking. 

Tuesday, July 29, Somewhere over Europe

7:30 Russia/5:30 Paris AM

We walked long and hard every day in Saint Petersburg, so I was too exhausted to have written down my thoughts.  Hopefully I’ll remember what happened.

After a little break at the hotel our first night we opted for a river/canal cruise.  The canals aren’t quite as extensive as in Amsterdam, but are used for transportation all the same.  It was a great way to see the city.   The lady who was narrating the tour was narrating in Russian only, and had a sing-song voice that was hypnotic.  Mix that voice with the gently swaying of the boat and me being already tired and you get me falling asleep in the middle of the tour.  I did wake up soon enough to see  many of the most impressive sights: passing under that hermitage, arriving in the Neva (populated with huge Russian Naval vessels assembled for Navy Day, Peter and Paul Fortress, the Rostrum Columns, and some of the Neva-spanning bridges.  After we got off the boat we all had a good laugh about my nap, though.

Our cruise was followed by a meal at an Italian restaurant set back about 3 blocks from Nevsky Prospect (the main drag).  It was set back 2 blocks too far as we were the only ones there even though the city was very crowded for the holiday weekend.  The food was good, and we were able to relax and enjoy a nice meal.  Fortunately our waitress spoke very good English and the menus were in Russian and English so we could just point.

White Nights isn’t much of an exaggeration at all.  A month after Summer Solstice and the sun was setting at 10:15-10:30 with dusk until at least 11:00PM and then the sun rose at 5:00 in the morning.  It made it very difficult for me to feel like I could sleep.  John and I did manage to get the “suite” at the hotel, though we don’t know how.  It had a living room with a couch and a fridge, and entry, the bedroom, and a bathroom.  All the rooms were the same price, so I guess it’s just what was available, and we drew the lucky key.  The only thing the room didn’t have was air conditioning, which everyone else’s rooms had.  We made do, and opened the windows and turned the fan on, but it contributed to my inability to sleep much.  It’s been a week or more since I’ve had a good night’s rest.

We woke up early and enjoyed the hotel’s breakfast: tomatoes and cured meats (bacon that’s just been cured, not cooked, a sort of ham, and a sausage of some variety), cheeses, and fruit salad.  There was also hard boiled eggs, toast and cereal.  We were all able to eat a nice breakfast to stoke the fire for an amazing (but intense) day.  The early start played to our advantage.  We were able to get to the boat dock early enough to catch an uncrowded hydrofoil to Peterhof.  (When we returned, the line was longer than there was room per boat--boats left every half=hour).  The hydrofoil was interesting.  We kept waiting for it to really kick in, but we didn’t realize that it had and how fast we were going until we went and hung our heads out the window.  Clint estimated we were going 60 miles an hour or so.  Peterhof sits on the Russian shore of the Gulf of Finland and was one of the summer residences of the Tsars and Trasinas.  Like St. Petersburg, it was very western European in design, and fantastically beautiful.  The gardens were immaculate and dotted with sculptures and fountains, much like Versailles, though on a smaller scale.  The palace itself was astonishing--baroque to an extreme, and gilt to the hilt.  We could have stayed for hours, but had to leave after about 3 hours in order to get back to the Hermitage.

When we arrived.back in St. Petersburg proper the Rostral Columns were lit, which is only done on certain ceremonial occasions.  And the city was crowded.  Navy Day appeared to be a day that the natives certainly celebrated and felt proud about their country.  We managed to make it throught the throngs and got to the Hermitage with only 3 hours before it closed.  We saw as much of what we wanted to see as we could.  It was great for everyone to be able to see Da Vinci, Rafael, Michaelangelo, and Rembrandt up close and personal.  The collection of Rembrandts was immense, including the Return of the Prodigal Son.  The museum houses a huge amount of artwork from Egyptian, Greek and Roman times, all the way to modern art--along the lines of the Louvre as far as quantity.  Sadly, they allow so much un-flitered natural light in that it’s probably damaging a lot of the works, and made such a tremendous glare on many of the paintings that you couldn’t see what many of them were.

A full day of walking led to us being tired and hungry.  We ended up at another Italian place (DaVinci’s that was okay, but nothing spectacular--and very slow).  We headed back to the hotel early again because everyone was so tired, so I missed the fireworks for Navy Day.  I’ll survive, but it was something I’d looked forward to seeing since we found out about Navy Day in January.

Yesterday we got up early again to go to the Peter and Paul Fortress.  Construction started in 1705 or something like that, and is considered the original foundation of the city.  The walls are very thick, and showed just how serious they were about protecting themselves.  The cathedral inside is a museum now, just like most of the cathedrals in Moscow and St Petersburg have been.  This one, however, houses the remains of most of the Romanov line, including the recent addition of DNA tested remains of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandria, and their 5 children.  They have a special shrine set up with portraits and beautiful flower arrangements froom dignitaries all over the world.

We also went through a museum of the history of St Petersburg, which was very interesting.  Most of us were tired of museums though.  Just as we left the museum it was noon, and they fired off one of the cannons, something none of us expected.  We thought a bomb had gone off.

We then went to St. Isaac’s Cathedral which was turned into a Museum of Atheism under communist control, but has since returned to a religious museum.  It was by far the brightest and most pleasant of all the cathedrals we saw in Russia, reminiscent of St Peter’s at the Vatican, though smaller.  We also climbed up to the dome to get an elevated view of the city.  A trip back to the souvenir market for some trinkets was highlighted by John haggling with a vendor to get some things for Dee.  He was going really low without paying much attention to what she was saying and it made us all laugh.  Dee was able to get a beautiful nativity matrushka that is carved on each layer as well as painted, each layer a part of the nativity.  It’s very beautiful, and will be a special reminder of their time in Belarus.

We headed back early again because of early flights this morning.  I checked my email before going to bed and received notice from Ivy that Justin isn’t doing well at all, so I called to see what’s going on.  It sounds like Justin doesn’t have much time left with us.  I was able to talk to him and he asked me if everyone was wearing funny hats in Russia.  He was as concerned about the rest of us as much as he has ever been and wanted to make sure we were having a good time.  Ivy said for us to continue our trip for now as there isn’t anything we can do there, but I still had concerns.  I cried a lot on the phone with Ivy and tried to hold back my tears while talking to Justin.  John and I went down and asked Clint to give me a blessing, and he got the whole family together and we talked about things and what we should do.  Clint gave me a blessing that I’d have comfort, and remember that the Lord is in control of life and death, and asked a blessing on Ivy and Justin and the family of peace and comfort.  The sympathy and love really made me feel like part of their family  Janell and Michelle both lost their moms not too long ago and we talked about being there versus not being there.  Clint mentioned that Ivy and family will have a lot of support right now, and we can be a part of that support if we feel we need to, but not to forget that in a few weeks or months much of that support will go away and that’s when we really need to step in and make sure that she still has our support and love.

I didn’t sleep much last night.  During that time, I talked to Isaac on the internet and helped him with Indiana Jones, but also started to feel that comfort and peace.  Ivy and Justin have both said for us to keep enjoying our trip, as much as we can given the circumstance, and that’s what we’ve decided to do.  I’ll keep my phone on, and call in every day to see how things are, but that we should continue and do it for Justin like Ivy asked us.  If the time comes that we need to cut the trip short, we’ll do that, but she wants to see the pictures and hear the stories of our trip when we come back, and the more stories there are the better.  It’s still a very hard thing for me to be 5000 miles away while Ivy is going through hard times and all I want to do is hug her and tell her I love her, but I hope she knows that I love her and can feel that even though I am so far away right now.

We woke up at 2:30 to get ready to catch the taxi to the airport because the rest of the gang had early connecting flights to get to London.  Russia is just plain weird.  They won’t let you through security more than 2.5 hours before your flight leaves, so John and I bid everyone else adieu at the security checkpoint.  We were all mildly concerned about leaving the country, just as we were about arriving in the country because they make such a fuss over the visas, and registering at the hotels, and the paperwork and immigration papers and emmigration papers.  But once we actually got to passport control it wasn’t bad at all.  About 30 punches of the stamp--I still don’t know where most of them went, we were through passport control and free to leave the country.  I’m content with that.  I liked Russia over-all (mostly because of St. Petersburg), but I didn’t love it.  It was a great opportunity.  It was wonderful to spend a week with John’s family (who now all really really feel like my family).

John and I are now about an hour and a half outside of Paris.  Somehow we ended up in second class, which sort of makes me laugh.  The seats might be an inch wider, with a tad bit more leg room, but we got the first-class breakfast of a mushroom and bell pepper omelette, fresh fruit, a croissant, and goat cheese with muslix (the goat cheese was a little to sour for my taste, but John liked it a lot).  The flight has been quiet, and mostly cloudy, though you can occasionally see down to the ground below, but I have no idea where we are.  Could be Germany, could be France.

Friday, August 1, Paris


Ah, Paris.

What a city.  Finally, a city where I understand enough of the language to eat--and eating is important in Paris.

We got in early, and got through customs without any problem, and successfully navigated through the RER system to get to our hotel without a problem.  We popped up about a block from Notre Dame, and walked right by it on the way to the hotel.

The hotel we’re staying at, L’abbatial Saint Germain, is quite nice for the price, especially given the location.  We’re about a block from Notre Dame, a block from a great patisserie, a block from the metro.  I requested a room on an upper floor, and they gave us one on the 5th (6th in the US) floor (one floor from the top) with a little balcony that looks out to the Pantheon, and some other church up on the hill.

Because of the news of Justin the night before we arrived, I was a little pre-occupied, and we’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with home.  We got in and the hotel was able to check us in.  We took a quick shower and went exploring!  We walked across the bridge to Notre Dame, and she was looking lovely--the sun shining nicely, and the scaffolding that was up when I was here last time was gone. (After 4 years, I should hope so).   The sun was lighting up the stained glass nicely, and I got some pretty god pictures.

After that we started walking around and had lunch at a little brasserie.  I had the chicken and John had a salad with duck and we were both very happy with our selections.  We then finished walking to  the Eiffel tower, but were only able to go up to the second level, not the 3rd because it was too crowded.  But the view was still really good.  John spotted a church he wanted to check out from up there so we made our way down and tried to walk to it.  We walked and walked and walked and found various churches along the way, but not the one he saw.  But it was fun to walk around the city, even though it was a long walk and wore me out and made my feet sore.

We headed to bed early because we knew we wanted to get up early to beat morning crowds.  We decided to go to Disneyland Paris because we thought a Wednesday would be less crowded, and I needed a non-museum day.  After delicious pastries at the local shop we headed out there and were able to get there about 10 minutes after the park opened.  Now that they have fast pass, it’s much easier to do the park.  We were able to go on everything we wanted to without having to rush--we stopped and had a two-hour lunch at The Blue Lagoon--their version of the Blue Bayou in Disneyland.  It was really good food, and we sat and talked and laughed, and had a good time.  They just started a new fireworks show, “The Enchanted Fireworks” that they’ve been talking a lot about lately and how great it is.  Well, it was ok, but nothing like Wishes, or even anything at Disneyland.  But it was still fun.  And Fantillusion, their night parade, was really good.  While we were waiting for the parade two little girls rolled up in their strollers that their moms were pushing.  I guess they were 4-5 years old.  The one that was sitting right next to me was adorable.  Slightly curly hair, and BIG blue eyes, and a little bit of that little-kid lisp.  After I smiled at her she started talking to me.  I said to her in French that I don’t speak French.  She said, that’s ok, I do.  And she did.  We tried to communicate, and we did pretty good.  She’d touch my shoulder and say, “look, mister” and point out something.  Her new Simba doll, or her bike/stroller.  We sat and talked as best we could for about 30 minutes.  I wish I’d taken a picture of her, but thought it would be a weird request of her mom.  It was a fun day, and I got to go on all the rides that I’d hoped to.  But it was another day of a lot of walking.  We left the hotel at around 9:00 and didn’t get back until almost 1:00.

Yesterday we went to Versailles.  It’s about a 20-minute train ride outside of Paris and then a 5-minute walk to the gates.  And then about an hour line to buy tickets.  Well, not quite an hour.  We opted for the guided-tour in English so we could skip the main line, but it didn’t save us much time in the long run.  It did, however, get us a tour guide who explained a lot about the palace (former hunting lodge), and the history.  Much of the original furnishings were sold at auction after the revolution and while some have been able to be bought back, others haven’t.  So a lot of the furnishings are just period-correct, if not correct to that actual palace.  It was pretty, and large.  Not quite so over-the-top like Peterhof, though.  The hall of mirrors was perhaps my favorite part of the palace--or maybe the chapel.  The grounds, however, were something of a letdown because none of the fountains were going.  The sculptures were still very pretty.  And the grounds massive, and beautifully landscaped.  We bought the DVD so we can see it when it’s really going, we hope.

Today was the Louvre.  On the way I got a voicemail from Dad at Ivy’s house at 2:00 in the morning their time….Justin died last night at 10:00 Utah time.  Ivy says he went peacefully and that she and Kathleen and Eric were there.  She’s upset, but ready for it, but that doesn’t make it easy.  We talked a bit, but she needed sleep.

The Louvre was the Louvre.  Massive.  Impressive.  Tiring.  Our poor feet.  We got in early, and were able to beat a lot of the crowds for buying tickets and whatnot.  First thing we did was go see the Mona Lisa just to get it done with before everyone got there.  They’d moved it into a new room since my last visit, so I walked right by it at first.  The new room is nice, and several other period pieces surround it.  But we didn’t stay long.  We went back to the beginning and looked around.  We spent a lot of time with sculptures, which is where I’m really leaning lately in my art appreciation. We did go and see the Lacemaker and the Astronomer by Vermeer, and the other dutch masters.  I was able to find a few new people I really liked, but I’d have to look at the placard pictures I took to remember who they were.  But like I said, I spent a lot of time looking at sculpture.  We spent 8 hours in the museum, which was another long day on our feet.  We walked through the Jardin de Tuilliers, and then through the Place de la Concorde, then up to the Madeleine cathedral when we decided to call it a day.

When we got back, Ivy was online and we chatted.  We’re going to cut our trip short and come home on Sunday.  I’m not upset about it.  We’ve had a great trip, and it’s important that we be there in plenty of time for the viewing and funeral.  Paris is great, but it’s not going anywhere.  We have one more day tomorrow, and we plan to do the Musee de Orsay and the Notre Dame tower hike.

I’ll be sad to leave, but that’s true regardless of when I leave.  I’ve very much enjoyed not worrying about work.