Thursday, January 27, 2011

Paris Potties....

So this may be an odd topic, but I thought I'd talk a little bit about the bathroom experience in France. Not that it was that odd, or much different than here in the US, butwe did have a few interesting bathroom experiences and observations. First, I guess we are dumb, as we didn't really know how to use the automatic bathrooms that are found on the Paris streets. On one of our excursions Sarah needed a potty stop. We spied one of those sidewalk bathrooms, but a man had just gone in. Finally the door open, and Sarah dashed in. It was a good thing she didn't drop her drawers too quickly, as the automatic door barely shut then opened right up again. She shut the door (I think there was a door close button) and it opened right up again. After few cycles of this, with all of us laughing hysterically about the bathroom conspiring against poor Sarah, we finally realized that she had to step out so the bathroom could self clean, something that didn't happen because she dashed in so quickly after the last user exited. It was a comical moment, and I managed to catch one shot of Sarah laughing as the door opened on her. After we figured out that she needed to step out and let the bathroom properly finish it's cycle, all was well.

Another "we must not be too smart" moment, was the bathroom latch situation. Here in the US, more often that not, the the bathroom stall door handle is also the latch. Slide the latch, the door opens and you're out. In France they are more often separate. While exiting it was easy to grab the the door handle, but not remembering the latch and consequently walking in to the door that would not open. Thud. Our first few days there Sarah and I had many a mother daughter bonding moment as we exited bathroom stalls... laughing at our inability to actually open the door.

Other silly bathroom trivia... don't look for paper towels, as you will not find them. Don't expect to find hot water, or heat in the bathroom. And the electric hand driers? More often than not they blow for about a microsecond, I don't know how anyone dries their hands. They might not care if your hands get dry, but they must want you to flush, as many bathroom have really big toilet flush buttons mounted on the walls. And then there was our favorite... the pink toilet paper we found in several public bathrooms!!!

One of my favorite bathroom experiences was not in Paris, but out in in the countryside in the little town of Blois. We stopped for a snack at this little coffee shop, and upon leaving figured we should have a pit stop. Restaurant bathrooms often seemed to be afterthoughts, tiny affairs tucked into some odd location that you practically need a map to find. This restaurant bathroom was no exception. Through a narrow hallway, then down rickety steps to a creepy basement fit for a horror movie. But back under the stairs was the cutest little bathroom. Marked by an adorable "water closet" plaque, a tiny skeleton key opened the door, into the tiny pink tile bathroom with tiny pink sink and matching pink toilet, with a tiny pink waste bin sitting on the floor. It was all much pinker and more feminine than my pictures show, and a delightful juxtaposition to it's scary basement setting. If the basement wasn't creepy enough, as we headed back up the stairs, the lights, which I think where controlled by a motion sensor or timer, turned off, so we had to feel our way up in the dark. Another interesting bathroom experience for sure. It was also another moment for me to embarrass my poor son. I got such a kick out of delightful pink bathroom that I made him tell the shop owner how cute I thought her bathroom was. He wasn't amused, but knew he had to humor his momma. I might not know French, but I know the convo started with my son saying; "I know this is really, really, weird, but my mom asked me to tell you......". Weird maybe, but the shop owner looked happy, and she and my son had a good laugh.

Monday, January 24, 2011


I left Paris with a cold, and after returning home and getting back into the work and home routine, while busily sniffing, coughing, sneezing and trying to rid myself of my cosmopolitan French germs, I realize there are many things from my trip I still want to share.

A favorite place we visited was Sainte-Chapelle. Any one who knows me knows that I love stained glass, and this gothic chapel built 8 centuries ago has the most amazing stained glass windows that I have ever seen. Definitely a challenge to photograph, and I'm not sure that any one photograph can capture the ambiance and scale of this fantastic space. It was almost like stepping into a kaleidescope! More than 6000 sq feet of stained glass.... I wonder how many individual pieces make up these windows!!!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Castle Country

Our trip to France was supposed to be a vacation for Matt too, and he wanted to get out of Paris for a while, so we boarded a train for the town of Tours in the Loire Valley, a place Matt had been on one of his school excursions. The Loire Valley is home to quaint, little, old towns with winding cobbled streets and stone buildings with slate roofs. It is also the home of many, many castles. Having lived in in such a young country all my life it was so interesting to be in place with such a depth of history.

We spent three days in Tours, and rented a car so we could tour the countryside and visit a few of the many chateaus. We took the "lets get in the car and go see what we can find" approach and were not disappointed anywhere along the way. We spent time in Tours, of course, as well as Amboise and Blois. We toured the castles at Amboise, where Leonardo de Vinci was interred, as well Chambord, the massive estate, now national monument, that was built as a hunting retreat for nobility. I think our favorite castle was Chateaux Langeais, as it had a really neat drawbridge. Each of these places is worth a blog of it's own, which I may do at a later date.

I feel so fortunate to have been able to spend 3 days out touring the French countryside with my own personal tour guide and interpreter. Matt has been taking a French history course in college, so he was able to provide a history lesson as well. Wandering the streets and quaint alley ways was a treat, interesting architecture was every where you turned. I could spent countless hours in these towns examining the cobblestones and sculptures, and even the door handles and knockers! I also have to say, visiting all these castles was a great way to end my princess month!
Chateaux Langeais

Chateaux Langeais

The view of Amboise from the castle.

Yet another castle, in a town who's name I forgot.

Blois alleyways

Old meet new - "Disco Music" in Blois

Chateaux Chambord

Chateaux Chambord

Tradition Loire river boats

Joan of Arc statue overlooking the Loire from the town of Blois

The princess visits Chateaux Amboise

A doorknocker in Blois