About those French People

In the US one hears a lot about French attitudes and rudeness. Personally I haven’t seen it. I’ve been told the people in Southern France are nicer than those in the Northern part. Again I haven’t seen a difference. I’ve also been told it’s the only those who live in Paris that are rude. You know, big city, people in a rush and generally rude. Actually I can spot this more in large American cities than in Paris.

So what’s the deal? Where’s the disconnect? Am I just lucky or could it be our own attitudes coloring what I must call a myth? I’ve found a smile and a ‘merci’ goes a long ways. I try to utilize as much as possible my very (VERY!) limited vocabulary of French words and have found an amazing number of French people that know English. Maybe it’s because I’m trying or possibly they don’t want to hear their language mangled anymore, but for the most part the French have been very kind and gracious.

Take any large American city and ask yourself how often someone will without being asked try to help direct you to where you want to go? When was the last time you saw someone step out of a restaurant to take a cell phone call? Or step in when a con-artist is bugging you. Heck, they even stop for jaywalking pedestrians without complaint.

And now I find myself wondering what foreign visitors have to say about us Americans in the USA. – W

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Eiffel Tower Thoughts

Wooly at the Eiffel Tower

It’s big, it’s tall, it dominates the landscape, and best of all it’s not another religious edifice. It was not put on the highest point dominating the city as a show of power by the church over the people. Better yet, it was built purely for enjoyment of those attending the 1889 World’s Fair. It ranks as the most visited paid-for site in the world. But most importantly, it is the symbol people most associate with Paris.

On a clear day you see it towering over the city. On a typical fall day you see it disappearing into the fog. But you always know it’s there and find yourself looking for it. By night it is lit and searchlights scan across the sky from the top. And on the hour it sparkles brilliantly in a 5 minute show of splendor and 20,000 flash bulbs.

The tower has a fascinating history. At one time it was almost torn down. It withstood Hitler’s invasion and plans to destroy it as the Germans were losing the war. There’s a lot of information about it; even some of it is even interesting to the non-engineer types.

To me it is the symbol that best represents the Paris and France today. Not one of the religious excesses of the past but a secular monument that displays France’s humanist freedoms. W

Scaffolding

For years I never gave it much thought. It was just part of the landscape. That is until I took up photography. Now everywhere I go I find it. Gaudi churches? It’s there. Roman coliseums? There too. If there is a photogenic landmark you can almost be sure you will find scaffolding.

Finding bleachers inside the coliseum at Arle took me by surprise. 10 days later I almost expect to find scaffolding in front of any shot I would want to take. You have to be really creative to keep it out of your shots.  I’ve ended up taking tight shots to cut it out.

But it has given me an idea. I’m thinking of doing a series of photographs that pair my best shots with ones that include the scaffolding. Call it truth in images. People then could know there are shots to be found but they have to deal with the scaffolding. Or maybe it could be considered a service to the casual tourist who doesn’t expect it.

I only wish I had thought of it earlier. But as I work my way around Paris I will think of doing this. So what do you think? Should I shoot the scaffolding?

Stuck in a flood

When a river goes starts to flood, what happens to all the cruise boats on the river? A lot of rain fell in northern France in areas that drain into the Rhone and its tributaries. When the cruise started the flow rate of the river was 2,000 cubic meters per second. After all the rain fell it went up to 4,000cms. Unfortunately when the flow rate exceeds 3,000cms navigation on the river is halted and the locks are closed. And the boats? They stay in whatever city or town they stopped at and we’re left with a painfully slow internet connection that makes it impossible to update a blog. No wifi cafe in Viviere.

In our case the town was Viviere; a town without much. 25% of its buildings are inhabited, the rest crumbling and empty. A great town for a ghost tour but not much else. In a town of minimal population and street lights the upside is that the Milky Way stands out and the stars are bright. This was an unexpected treat. For three nights the river kept us here. That and watching trees floating by in the river was the only entertainment that was found outside of the boat.

However our tours continued as scheduled. AMA Waterways was very proficient at re-arranging the tours and having buses pick us up and take us to our destinations. While the drive to the locations may have been a bit longer we did get to see more of the French countryside. We still got to taste wine and see the sights. And each night we had fantastic meals.

After the third night of being stuck in Viviere, the river was opened to navigation and we were able to move on. Of course that was after the tree that was lodged on the bow of the boat was removed. The boat sailed all night and when we woke up we were in Lyon with one last day of touring before our next part of our trip begins.

It’s a good thing we’re walking a lot

So far we have yet to mention any of our dining out experiences. So far it has been positive in both Spain and France. Yes, for those of you who know, we haven’t been blessed with any hot dog pizzas. 🙂

Our first dinner in Arle was especially good. On the recommendation of our hotel manager we went to a place called “Le 16”. This is one of those “must eat there” places. We arrived there in the “geezer” hour at 8pm. This turned out to be a good thing because by 8:30 all the tables were filled.

Like most restaurants here, it is fairly small and could possibly seat 30. You definitely are cozy and close to your neighbor so be kind. Another delightful thing we discovered was that when a cell phone rings people excuse themselves and go outside to talk. Yes, the French in Southern France are very polite.

But back to dinner. Raeski started with salad and I had mushroom soup. I thought I got the better dish but I’m not a huge salad guy. For the main course Raeski had white fish in white sauce and I had rabbit. Both were delicious and beautifully presented. For dessert Raeski had profiteroles drowning in dark chocolate sauce and I had a thick chocolate ganache with cream sauce and a raspberry and orange sauce on the side. All dishes were something to write home about and even better than grandma’s cooking.

And yes, it’s a good thing we’re getting our 10,000 steps in. (More likely 20,000) But in all that walking we thoroughly explore the places we want to see. And if we miss something we have a reason to come back. And yes, we have reasons to return to both Barcelona and Arle. Time to board the ship now for the next part of our trip.  – au revoir

120 of them

L’Amphitheatre

It’s not the largest in the world, but it is among the best preserved. It was built in 90AD in response to the growing popularity of the gladiator fights across the Roman empire. The ampitheatre towered over the town of Arles.

It remains one of the best preserved amphitheatres of Roman origin. Today blood still spills on its grounds with modern day bullfighting. Sadly bleachers have been erected inside which spoil the antiquity of the place. Scaffolding is everywhere as the French are restoring the monument.

And the 120? There are 120 arches in the amphitheatre. Most are in remarkable condition considering their age. It is definitely a site one must see when visiting Arles.

Stairmasters

To see the best ya gotta climb a few

To get the best shot you often have to climb a few stairs, rocks, mountains or whatever. Many of you already know that the herd thins out when you have to climb one or two hundred stairs.

Today we had the top of the Tibidabo all to ourselves. To get there we rode the Azul bus to the transfer to the 196 line. Next up (literally) was the funicular. When you get off there is a platform that overlooks Barcelona. Most people go there. We climbed another 40 stairs that took us to Temple de Sagrat and got better views. Next was the elevator taking us to the next level.

There we stepped out into a strong chilly wind and fewer people. A small staircase took us up even higher. By now we are at least one hundred feet above the herd and there were only a few of us left braving the cold and the wind. Finally another very narrow staircase of over one hundred stairs led us to the top level. There we only met two couples the entire time we were up there freezing our tushies off.

The payoff? Unobstructed views of the entire city of Barcelona and surrounding areas. At lower levels the ever abundant cranes obstruct your view. Up here none exist.

The point of all this is if you truly want to see the best an area has to offer you must be in reasonable shape and be willing to break away from the herd. Some of the greatest photos ever taken were often only a hundred meters away from the typical tourist spots. The famous Picchu Machu photo that adorns so many travel brochures was only meters away from a typical tourist photo ‘overlook’.

If you are in a rut, next time you’re out think outside the box and do something different. Who knows, you may even stumble onto a great shot.

Casa Batllo

A simple home designed by Gaudi.

With no lines we were drawn into Casa Batllo this morning. Gaudi’s masterpiece is truly a magical modernist architectural treat. The colors, forms and flow make you feel like you’re in a Jules Verne underwater adventure.

The individual elements and the central light atrium were exquisitely executed from top to bottom. We were entranced for over 1 1/2 hours shooting angles and details unlike any seen elsewhere. I even bought 2 circular postcards jost for their uniqueness.

Then it was off to see other sites. Wooly will fill in more details when we get back and he downloads his pictures off his camera. – Raeski

Where’s Customs???

Hey everyone, we’re here! After a long flight and routing that took us first to Frankfurt and then to Barcelona we finally arrived with very little sleep and things to do. The nice thing about this route is we got to fly over the Alps and the clouds weren’t covering them. We will definitely be back to explore those mountains and valleys sometime in the future.

Even though we were only changing planes in Frankfurt the Germans stamped our passport. Oddly enough, when we got to Barcelona we claimed our bags and went out the “nothing to declare” customs line.  Guess what, no customs at all! Not even a stamp on the passport! Nada! Nobody even looked at us!

The Renaissance Hotel is right in the middle of things and very nice. Even though we wanted to sleep we went out and had tapas across the street from Gaudi’s Casa Batllo. Next was a show at the Palau de la Musica Catalana. Now we are exhausted, sleep deprived and ready to hit the sack.

Maybe mañana I’ll find out what the deal was with customs. Too tired now to care about it.

Chile’s Flamingos

Tres Flamingos

Smoking volcanos tower on the horizon as you stand on the vast salar.  Shallow pools of water teem with brine shrimp. Flamingos flock to these lagoons to feast on them. As you watch you quickly become parched courtesy of the thin, dry and windy air.

You are standing on the vast salt flats (salar in Spanish) of Salar de Atacama, the largest salar in Chile. In this desolation life carves out a precarious niche that is being threatened by global warming. As the earth heats, the rivers send less water to the vast salt flats where rain doesn’t fall and evaporation takes its toll.

As the habitat shrinks, so does the population of these large and beautiful birds. Nearby mines disturb and pollute the environment with chemicals that are highly toxic to flamingos. As roads are improved tourism and poachers take an additional toll.

Conservationists are trying to protect these birds. The Andean Flamingo was declared an endangered species in 2010. Many of the places flamingos reside in the summer and winter have been made national parks. However many of their breeding grounds remain unprotected.

Enjoy the photos of these Andean Flamingos and please tread lightly when you are a guest in their habitat.

Flamingos filter feed by scooping up the brine shrimp.

Flamingos aren’t the most graceful birds taking off.

We have lift-off!

Graceful in flight.

Flying in formation.

And not so graceful landings. But who cares? They’re beautiful birds and we should treasure them.