Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday 30 December - Train stuff, Beethoven's Ninth at La Madeleine

Mary decided to go to the Pompidou Centre so I had a nice easy day.  We only had smoked salmon and white wine in the fridge so I had to go out and get some things to go with it - endive, tomatoes and salmon en croute.

The weather forecasters were wrong in that the day started off warm and bright although we did have light rain in the late afternoon.  After running my errands I went out for a short walk along the railway entrance to St. Lazare.
View along rue Legendre from the bottom of our street.  The street crosses over an eleven track main line before the large white building in the distance
Main line train entering St. Lazare with the locomotive pushing at the back

Main line train leaving St. Lazare with the locomotive leading
At this point the main line is eleven tracks wide.  You can't see them all because two are cantilevered over the sidewalk.

After five minutes of train pictures I put the camera away so I missed taking a shot of a local train with one of the long blue locomotives.  The SNCF found that these were so long that trains would not fit into the platforms so they reduced the length by taking out one coach from each crowded train.  I have wondered why the SNCF puts these locomotives at the St. Lazare end of the trains.  This way the entire trainload of passengers has to walk an extra car length to get on or off (St. Lazare is a stub ended station).  With the locomotives at the country end of the trains the turnround times could be reduced.
I wandered into Square des Batignoles which is very green.  Many people were sitting on the benches having lunch.

There were several games of petanque going on.
This evening we went to a concert in La Madeleine.  It was just a quick trip on the metro with a transfer at St. Lazare.  The Mendelsohn 42nd psalm was unfamiliar to both of us and we felt the choir was a little overwhelmed at times by the orchestra and the organ.  

The main part of the concert was Beethoven's 9th symphony, the Choral.  This was great, the choir was powerful at times.  Some of the playing in the last movement was a little indistinct but this might have been a problem of the acoustics in the building - after all it was built long before acoustics became a science.

The audience was not particularly well behaved.  Late comers were allowed to wander around looking for a spare place.  At then end, the only people standing up were those who wanted a better view of the performers.
La Madeleine
Getting back to the apartment took 25 minutes from the top steps of La Madeleine.  We took the metro and transferred at St. Lazare.  We had to wait 4 minutes at St. Lazare because this was the evening schedule - it would have been quicker during the day when trains run at two-minute intervals.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thursday 29 December 2011 - St-Germain-en-Laye, Le Train Bleu

With a rainy forecast for tomorrow and the rest of our stay in Paris we decided to take the RER out to St-Germain-en-Laye.  The sun was shining brightly in a blue sky although the wind was a little cold.  This is the route of the first railway in France. Now it is traversed by a frequent service of fast electric trains.

We walked around this well to do town.  Prices are very high indeed.  There are specialty shops of all types in great profusion.  After a quick snack we walked into the vast garden of the Chateau across to the view towards La Defense and the Eiffel Tower.  There is a small vineyard on a south facing slope.
The Chateau is the first thing you see coming up the escalator from the station.

I wonder what this is supposed to mean?

Specialty cheese shop
Dinner this evening was at Le Train Bleu in the Gare de Lyon.  The best way to get to the Gare de Lyon from our area is to take metro line 14 from St. Lazare.  These are automatic driverless trains running at frequent intervals and with few stops.  At Gare de Lyon, line 14station there is a special display of plants - a jungle setting.

The room is superb.  It is listed and the decor always takes our breath away.  There is a good description on their web pages at:

We have not been to Le train Bleu for several years because we had found the service to be arrogant and nothing special about the food.  This time we were very pleasantly surprised.  The service was excellent, the waiter was always there when you needed him, but not intrusive.  The food was also extremely well prepared.  We had fish soup/saucisson Lyonnais to start and salmon/beef jowls for the main course.  The sauces were excellent, the sauce for the salmon was a dark morel sauce.  We had to finish with the famous baba au rhum.  The waiter brings it to the table and cuts the baba open.  He pours a newly opened bottle of Martinique rum over the baba then leaves the bottle on the table to help yourself.  A very satisfying meal and we would be happy to go back again.
View from the balcony leading to Le Train Bleu

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wednesday 28 December - An Orgy of Urban Travel

I wanted to visit the model shop near the Quai de la Gare today, bought a day ticket (Mobilis) and went the long way round.
- Metro Line 3 Villiers to St. Lazare
The ride down the hill from Europe and round the curve to St. Lazare station is always interesting.  The drivers have to ensure their train is well under control.
- STIF line F St. Lazare to La Defense
These trains are getting old and will presumably be replaced soon.  Close to departure time, the air compressors burst into operation with a great noise and the lights went brighter.  We passed through railyards and then into the concrete jungle of La Defense.
- Tram T2 La Defense to Porte de Versailles
Tramway T2 at Porte de Versailles
This is essentially a converted railway right of way using ballasted track.  Emerging from the spires of La Defense into an area of old growth buildings there were good views across the Seine to the Eiffel Tower with the top in cloud.  The line comes closer to the river and then runs alongside for several kilometers. The final, and much newer, section into Porte de Versailles is built on tramway principles.  The "trains" were running at 10 minute intervals and all were double sets running in multiple.
- Tram T3 Porte de Versailles to Porte d'Italie
Tramway T3 at Porte de Versailles
Tram T3 runs through a pleasant well-to-do area and the tracks are mainly in a grassy centre reservation in the wide city boulevard.
- Bus 47 Porte d'Italie to Place d'Italie
Metro line 7 was having problems. First, the departure time indicators went to zero and then went out, then the signals dropped to red and it was time to seek alternatives.  I ran to catch a very full bus without being sure of its route.  The indicator inside not only gave the next stop but showed the time to Place d'Italie reassuring me that this was correct.
- Metro Line 6 Place d'Italie to Quai de la Gare
Visited Opher model shop and made a pit stop.
- Bus 89 to Quai de la Gare
I couldn't find the Bibliotheque Mitterand metro stop so I took a bus
- Metro Line 6 Quai de la Gare to Bercy
- Metro Line 14 Bercy to Gare de Lyon
- RER line D Gare de Lyon to Saint Denis
The RER double decker trains run quickly through through the centre of Paris then through SNCF wasteland. 
- Tram T1 Saint Denis to Noisy le Sec
Tramway T1 at Noisy le Sec
Saint Denis looks like a war zone.  There is even a three story building, all that remains of a longer structure, standing alone giving the area the feel of a bomb site.  However, there is a newly installed double track crossing just by the station so the city has plans for rejuvenation.  The line is built mainly in streets using stone blocks set in concrete. Rubber tired vehicles could be substituted if necessary although they would not provide the capacity.  All the trams were full.
- RER line E Noisy le Sec to Magenta (Gare du Nord)
Another ride through a blasted SNCF heath.  The station is called Magenta because of the colour given to this line and there is no indication in the station itself that it is actually part of the Gare du Nord.  Typical of the SNCF to assume its customers know this.
Thalys at Gare du Nord
- Bus 26 Gare du Nord to Gare St. Lazare
The bus is direct whereas taking the metro to St. Lazare involves a transfer or a long walk to La Chapelle.  The bus was full but slow because of the traffic.
With all the work going on at the front of St. Lazare it is good to see this piece of whimsy is still highly visible
Walk St. Lazare to home.

The SNCF is again keeping an electric locomotive in the pocket at Gare St. Lazare
Dinner this evening was at le Bistrot du Passage, very close to the apartment.  We had a good meal there in May and wanted to go back.  We arrived at 1915 and managed to get a table although they were turning away people without reservations after we arrived.  We had deep fried shrimp, then gambas a la plancha/magret de canard.  All was pretty good and the prices were reasonable.  We had a bottle of Cotes de Luberon which was also very good.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tuesday 27 December 2011 - Orleans

We had been thinking about a trip out of town and had narrowed it down to either Lille or Orleans.  In the end we decided to go to Orleans for the day.

The metro always looks clean but early in the morning it sparkles as the stations are cleaned every night.  We quickly travelled across to Austerlitz and found the train to Orleans in the new part of the station underneath an enormous concrete pad that is being built over the station.  I presume the overall roof will eventually be dismantled.  A supervisor was zooming around on a Segway.

Some things don't change and the train was a long one made up of Corail coaches.  The toilets were locked until we departed because they dump onto the tracks.  The 200 kmph cars are heavy and old but they are very roomy and comfortable and ride extremely well.  The train only went as far as Orleans, stopping at Les Aubrais.  It was full.  There is a two hour service and one would think the SNCF should consider an hourly interval service of slightly shorter trains.

It was foggy when we left and the fog became even thicker as we approached Orleans - so thick that we could only see the concrete guideway for the Bertin Aerotrain ( experiments when we were very close to them approaching Les Aubrais.
The fog was so thick that we couldn't see these concrete supports - picture taken April 2011
The engineer was ahead of time at Les Aubrais, he slowed considerably when we were about ten minutes out, and we were on time into Orleans.
At the SNCF station.
We found the tram stop, purchased day passes from a machine, and went into the town centre.  A pleasant young lady in the TAO (transport) office provided a map of the system and was looking forward to the opening of line B next summer.  It was cold and damp and the fog didn't look as if it would lift (it didn't).  We found  a coffee shop and the lady there told us Orleans has a population of 150,000 in the centre and mentioned that 50,000 people from this region go into Paris daily to work.  She was aware of the consultation about proposals to connect Orleans with Paris by TGV in 2025 and was looking forward to it.  The new tramway will run just outside her shop.  She was pleased that they will be using the ground system rather than overhead wires because it goes right in front of the Cathedral.  She liked what had been done in Bordeaux and was looking forward to the opening of the second tramway route next June-July.
The tracks for the new line B, including the centre rail have been laid in the city centre area.  The view of the cathedral would have been marred by overhead wires.
Our next stop was the Tourist Office where we obtained a map and were told where to find the restaurants.  She also explained that the original Mairie, a Renaissance building, was open for visits.  It is beautiful and is now mainly used for weddings etc.  but it has some well restored rooms including the mayor's office and the council meeting room.
Original Mairie

Stained glass window in the old Mairie.
A porcupine is the royal animal and can be seen in many locations, particularly at Blois.
Stained glass window at Blois (taken in 2002)
The cathedral is across from the old Mairie and is worth a visit.  It has a very high ceiling and the stained glass is first rate and in good condition.
The cathedral has a very high roof

Time for lunch and we found a restaurant where we had veloute of potiron (Mary) (pumpkin soup?)/terrine of rabbit then confit de canard.  With a bottle of Madiran this was a very filling meal.  This is the first time we have had Madiran.  It is a  very dark wine, very similar in color and taste to Cahors.
Sometimes it is better to stick to the language you know.  "Part of the butcher in the green pepper" - which part? We didn't eat here.
We found the Halles Chatelet which we had imagined would be a covered market but which turned out to be a shopping mall with a good food court.  There is a residential section as well.  However, it didn't seem to have a toilet. The river Loire was flowing swiftly although we could hardly see the other side for the fog.  Walking back into town we found the toilet for the Halles Chatelet.  A one-holer for the entire shopping mall.

The old town is very interesting.  There are many half timbered buildings, some with intricate carvings, and many of the stone buildings have very elaborate carving.  The Christmas market was very busy.  The kids were enjoying the ferris wheel, roundabout and skating rink while there was lots of chocolate and sweet and savory treats for all to enjoy.  One stall was selling only sausages from the Auvergne.
Back along the main street we saw the wreckage of a car which had been driven into a building.  It was quite a mess.  The airbag had operated and the sapeurs pompiers had already taken away the occupant(s).

Now it was time to take the tram from the station to the end of the line at Jules Verne and back to Les Aubrais.  We arrived about 5 minutes before a train to Paris was due to leave.  A SNCF demoiselle in bright orange high visibility clothing assured us that we could use our tickets on this train which ran non-stop to Austerlitz.
The SNCF have hung a few decorations from the roof of Austerlitz.  Will this come down when the overall concrete pad is completed?  It would then become an uninviting concrete anonymity similar to Montparnasse.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Monday 26 December 2011 - Place des Vosges and the Trocadero

Another beautiful mild day with clear blue sky.

We decided to walk around the Place des Vosges.  The RATP is introducing automatic driverless trains on line 1.  Instead of hiding it in the fear that some passengers might be frightened the RATP is being very open and clear.  The automatic trains are clearly marked - the leading and trailing cars they have orange car bodies whereas the rest of the metro has green car bodies.  Furthermore, each driving car has a clear view ahead and behind for the passengers.  At present there is a mix of driver operated and automatic trains on line 1 and the changeover will not be completed until 2014.

We walked along the Rue de Rivoli and through the courtyards of the Hotel de Sully.  Place des Vosges was busy with people enjoying the sunshine while the cafes and restaurants were pretty full.
Hotel de Sully
Hotel de Sully - a mole surfacing.
Hotel de Sully
Walking through this area towards the Pompidou Centre is a delight because of the interesting architecture with lots of great details to seek out.
Musee Carnavalet

Gold and silver foundry
Being true flaneurs we just wandered around just stopping to look at whatever interested us.  We caught the metro back from Arts et Metiers.
Even in our own neighbourhood, views of Sacre Coeur, in this case from Batignoles, can be arresting.
The No. 30 bus runs along Batignoles with destination Trocadero.  We decided to make a quick trip to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night.  The bus is quite frequent but is still pretty full even though the metro parallels the route as far as the Etoile/Arc de Triomphe.  Navigating the Arc de Triomphe was amazing.  I don't know who has the right of way but the bus just pulled straight out and crossed all the lanes to the inside and then crossed back again to get out along Kleber.  It was quite a ride.

We arrived two minutes before the flashing lights came on the tower and left five minutes after the hour when the flashing stopped.  There is always a big crowd at the Trocadero to see the lights.  When the already well lit tower started to twinkle on the hour a great cry went up from the crowd.  Of course, with people being distracted this is a great opportunity for pickpockets.  The whole trip took about an hour.  One item the buses have is an indicator which shows not only the next stop and final destination but the time to the next stop and the final destination.  It must be GPS based because we found it to be accurate.   OC Transpo take note.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sunday 25 December 2011 - Christmas Day

I had made a reservation for lunch at Le Pied de Cochon, near St. Eustache in Les Halles district.  It was a lovely mild sunny day and we decided to walk.  The first surprise was the amount of commerce on a Christmas morning on the rue de Levis.  The first thing we saw as we rounded the corner into the street was a man selling bras out of a suitcase.  Au uplifting experience.  As, Steve, my brother-in-law said on the phone later on in the day "Its not like that many people would drop everything and rush out Christmas morning to buy a bra."

Knowing the Parisien fondness for baguettes we were not surprised to find four boulangers open in the one block but there were also greengrocers, butchers, florists and the charcuterie as well.  There was a full range of cooked and rotisserie items available.

We crossed the street and looked in the window at Lenotre, chocolatier/patissier. 
A chocolate book by Lenotre

Our route took us past St. Augustin's church and La Madeleine. The light was very good.

 We have been to Le Pied de Cochon many times.  We were on the second floor (third level) and there was another floor above ours.  The food was good but very slow in coming to the table.  We started with a coupe de champagne and had the special pate de foie gras de canard avec figues.  Mary then had turkey with stuffing and I had the grilled pigs trotter which was, of course, with lots of bones but the meat and crisp skin were worth the trouble.  This was with a bottle of Chinon rouge, a Loire wine which is a favourite of ours since we visited the village in 2002.

Foie gras de canard avec figues
Pied de cochon
We ordered dessert (buche de Noel and apple sorbet with Calvados) but it took a long time to come.  After 25 minutes I told the waiter to either bring it or bring me the check.  Everybody then proffered profuse apologies and we were given complimentary glasses of champagne.  This didn't alter the fact that the two tables either side of us had received similar treatment but were ignored because they didn't complain.  The Maitre D' was offering champagne to another table because of slow service.

We walked back to La Madeleine for a free organ concert.  The Jardin du Palais Royal was very pleasant with just s few people sitting enjoying the mild weather.  La Madeleine is very impressive but the choice of music was very poor indeed and neither of us enjoyed it.  (Marcel Dupre (awful), Vincent Lubeck, Johann Gottleib Walther, Louis-Claude Daquin, Jean Langlais, Francois-Henri Houbart (the organist - not very good)) The organ is loud, it has to be for such a large building, but much of the "music" was cacophonous and unpleasant.  Such a pity.

It was quite dark by the time we arrived back - decided we didn't need any more to eat today.