A San Francisco gem
Visitors to San Francisco are often struck by the City's European feel because of its cosmopolitan atmosphere of sophisticated refinement and sensibilities - the compactness of its immigrant neighborhoods - and the richness of the cultural landscape to be found there.
From the City's Italian quarter of North Beach, to its pedestrian friendly streets filled with boutiques, cafes and coffee houses - to its rich arts scene of theater, museums and architecture - San Francisco certainly exudes a sense of being in a city on the continent rather than in the USA.
So it should come as no surprise that The City is also home to a museum which is an exact duplicate (well - at 3/4 scale) of a museum found in the heart of Paris; The National Museum of the Legion of Honor - located right next door to the Musée d'Orsay. San Francisco's version is one of two fine arts museums in The City (the other being the DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park) and is known as The Palace of the Legion of Honor.
A visiting Roman mosaic
The museum was conceived and built as a gift to the people of San Francisco by Alma de Bretteville Spreckles (of Hawaii sugar plantation fame) and completed in 1924. It is home to an eclectic art collection of items from the Mediterranean Basin - primarily Egypt, Near East, Rome, Greece, and the Agean Islands.
The collection ranges from the earliest pieces dating from the 4th millennium B.C.E. to works of the 20th century; a span of more than 6000 years. And while the collection is small compared to museums such as The Metropolitan in New York City - it forms the basis of an excellent introduction to the art of the cultures represented.
Within her walls are housed works by the Impressionists and post-Impressionists, Degas, Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Seurat, Cézanne, and others. Among the 20th century artist you will find pieces by Braque and Picasso. The museum also houses important works by Rembrandt, David, El Greco, and many fascinating works by lesser known artists.
A particular strength of the museum is its collection of Greek vase painting with over 100 examples of work from the prehistoric period up to the end of the classical age. However, it is certainly not limited to this genre as evidenced by its displays of Japanese prints, Indian miniatures, and visiting exhibitions from around the world.
Yet you needn't even go inside to enjoy a visit to this museum. The building itself and its location are worth a visit. Built in a neo-classical style, the museum is located on an elevated site in Lincoln Park which gives spectacular views of the entrance to the Golden Gate, San Francisco bay and the Marin headlands, as well as of the City itself. And it is surrounded by large grass lawns which - unlike similar venues in Paris - are open to the public.
A truly spectacular setting
Also - in the entry courtyard you will find one of the few Rodin signed casts of his sculpture The Thinker.
There are just 17 scattered about the planet.
In addition, the museum cafe is excellent with both indoor and courtyard seating, just across from the creative and reasonably priced gift shop.
This is a truly special place - quite unique amongst American museums - and a highlight of any trip to The City
The museum is located at 100 34th Avenue.
Don't miss it.http://legionofhonor.famsf.org/
Over the last 15 years I've noticed a distinct increase in the number of tourists coming to Paris. This spring I was there for over two months and visited nearly all the major (and several lesser known) museums at least once - and that trend seems to have advanced considerably. The major museums of Paris are absolutely crammed with tourists.
And if you opt to go on the free first Sunday of the month - you can expect what can only be called a 'mob scene' at the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, or any of the major venues. Indeed, the salons of the Louvre seemed more like packed rush hour metro stations than a museum on a couple of my visits.
So after a few weeks of this I decided to begin seeking out some of the lesser known museums of Paris in an effort to find a little breathing space and calm as I strolled thru the exhibits. And fortunately there are quite a few of these smaller museums scattered around the city which definitely offer a less "sardine-like" experience to the crowd weary visitor.
Tranquility. In Paris. Who'd of thunk it?
I discovered one of them just two short blocks from the southwest corner of Luxembourg Park in the heart of Montparnasse. It's the Musée Zadkine.
This is a small museum displaying some of the work of Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967), a Russian sculptor who settled in Paris after WWI. Zadkine was a Cubist - but as time went by he became greatly influenced by African art, and his most famous works reflect a melding of the two genres.
The Musée Zadkine
occupies the house where the sculptor lived with his wife, the French artist Valentine Prax, until his death in 1967. And a visit to this small museum is the perfect antidote for anyone seeking a break from the throngs elsewhere.
Located at 100 bis Rue d'Assas, it is situated behind a quite unremarkable industrial building which belies the existence of anything artistic nearby. But just to the left of this building (if you're facing it) you will find a small - seemingly private - driveway. Follow this to the rear of the building and voilà
- you arrive at a quaint two-story house (itself a rarity in apartment building dense Paris) with a small sculpture garden displaying several of Zakine's works.
The museum occupies the ground floor of the house and all of the work studio on the other side of the sculpture garden. And while small - the collection is excellent. In-fact, on display is Zadkine's Torse de Pomone
- a wood sculpture and one of the most extraordinary and captivating examples of Cubism I've ever seen. It alone is worth a visit. And along with Zakine's work you will also find several pieces by his wife - as well as a rotating repertoire of visiting artists.
Sitting in the sculpture garden of this little gem, you would never know that a big, frenetic city is close by. A visit here is like entering another place and time. And in a sense - that is exactly what you've done. Admission to the house is €4 - or you could simply visit the studio portion and sculpture garden for free.
It's not to be missed.http://www.paris.fr/loisirs/musees-expos/musee-zadkine/p6471weeblylink_new_window
The Mona Lisa is over there - somewhere.
A trip to Paris is a dream come true for many people. In-fact, Paris is the most visited city on Earth. Unfortunately, this fact can also somewhat degrade the experience you came to Paris to enjoy. There are areas of Paris where you can walk for blocks - with thousands of people around you - and never hear French spoken once. And the crush of humanity eventually begins to just wear you down.
Want to see the Mona Lisa (la Jaconde) at the Louvre? Good luck at getting within 100 feet of her. Visiting Notre Dame Cathedral? Bring a good book; the line to get in can last an hour or more. And this is true of many other popular, well-know sites in Paris. Fortunately - for you - Paris is full of wonders, and many of them are not so well known to the average tourist.
Today begins a five-part series on cool places to go in Paris that are - so far - undiscovered by foreign tourists.
The Promenade Plantée from the street
One of the best of these is only a couple of blocks from the Place de la Bastille and is a place where Parisians go to escape both the hectic city and the tourists. It's called the Promenade Plantée (also called the Coulée Verte). It is an oasis of nature and calm right in the heart of Paris - yet if you didn't know it was there, you could walk right past it without noticing.
To find it begin at the Opéra Bastille. With your back to the Opéra turn left and begin walking down the Rue de Lyon. Just past the last of the Opéra buildings take the street that veers to the left - Avenue Daumesnil. After about 50 yards you will notice, on your left, a red brick structure with arches and shops on the street level that extends down the avenue as far as you can see.
This structure is actually an old elevated railway. And while on the street level it does indeed house shops and restaurants, above all of this is a truly wonderful and unexpected surprise.
A rare peaceful spot in Paris
At the very beginning of the structure you will see a stairwell which leads to the top. And there are additional stairwells about every quarter mile. Once you're up on the second level you will see that the tracks are gone and have been replaced by a beautifully landscaped park - with a walkway where the tracks once ran.
As you stroll down this walkway there will be benches, fountains and grassy areas all along the way where you can sit and enjoy the sun, read a book - or just enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. And there are also restaurants and bistros scattered along the route.
You are still in the heart of Paris - but you would never know it. The noise and hustle bustle of the city seem a million miles away. This walkway extends for 3 miles all the way to the Boulevard Periphérique which surrounds Paris - and nary a tourist (except for you) in sight.
So when you reach that point in your Paris vacation when the crowds which infest everywhere you want to visit have started to drive you nuts - escape from it all the way real Parisians do and take a stroll on the Promenade Plantée. It's one of the most pleasant undiscovered secrets of Paris.
Let's face it; getting exercise while visiting Paris is not really that difficult. You need only rely on the Metro for transportation - and that alone will insure you go up and down many staircases and walk several kilometers each day of your trip. Or you could simply rent an apartment in Montmartre where there are stairs to be navigated on virtually every street. But if you're looking for something a little more structured - and fun - how about a nice swim?
There are several public pools scattered around Paris - but most of them are single pools with limited hours that are usually quite crowded. But smack in the middle of Montparnasse you will find the best swimming experience to be had in the city of light - Piscine Armand Massard, 66 Boulevard du Montparnasse (tel. 01 45 38 65 19).
Admission is just €3 - open to the public daily. Check for times: http://ville.france.free.fr/horaires_piscines/ARMAND_MASSARD.php
Pool 1 and wading pool
It can be a little tricky to find - but just remember that it's in the complex of buildings in which is also located le Tour Montparnasse (the Montparnasse Tower)- in the basement - at the end farthest from the Gare Montparnasse.
This facility is a delight. First of all - it's not just one pool, but two large pools - and one smaller shallow pool perfect for children or water isometrics.
With two large pools available there is room enough for areas devoted to both lap swimming and free-style. And the pools are heated just right to make for a quite enjoyable dip.
The dressing area is for both men and women, and is equipped with private changing rooms. The lockers are large enough for all your clothes and a backpack (not the case at other Paris pools) and each has an electronic combination (like a hotel safe) so you needn't bring a padlock. And the entire area is kept spotless.
In-fact, hygiene is a high priority at the pool - so all swimmers are required to wear speedo style swim-suits - and bathing caps. If you brought neither with you - fear not - they sell them at the pool for a quite reasonable price. Swim suits €10 and caps €4. The shower area is quite large and clean - and just before entering the pool each swimmer must walk through one final 'foot bath'.
Wall mounted hair dryers are also provided free of charge.
So if you're feeling the need for an energizing exercise experience - at a very reasonable price - head over toMontparnasse for one of the best swimming experiences you'll find anywhere.
Let the games begin
It started when I showed-up at SFO for a 10:15 flight to Dallas a little closer to departure time than normal. I knew immediately that this was going to be a tight one - and everything had to go smoothly if I was going to make it.
So - of course - that was the very day that as I approached the metal detector - shoeless - beltless - other items efficiently placed in the correctly sequenced bins - boarding pass in hand - heart rate slightly elevated as I noticed it was already 9:50 (They're boarding!) - a particularly stern looking TSA agent glared at me from the other side of the walk-thru metal detector.
As I stepped through - without the alarm sounding - suddenly his arm was in front of me and he loudly uttered the dreaded words - "Secondary Screening!" And with that he directed me to the little holding area off to the side where I was to await further screening. You know - the airport equivalent of a sobriety check point with handheld metal detector - pat down - quick peek at your undies, etc.
"Great! Perfect! Just what I needed. Okay - deep breath - just do it and get it over with."
Wait over there please
And there I stood. The screening process proceeding around me unhindered. Bins going through the viewer and agents looking at TV screens - passengers streaming through the detectors - retrieving their stuff - dressing - walking off to find their flights. People I'd earlier noticed far behind me in the forwardly inching line were now passing by me - re-shoed - re-belted - and off they went. Life had gone on without me. Only I - me alone - was an island of stillness and non-motion in the middle of this sea of frenetic activity. And amidst it all, not one person is paying any attention to me whatsoever. No one. 10:02! Oh My God!
Into the Valley of Death
I don't really know what came over me - but it was at that precise moment that I took a very deep breath - heaved up my chest to its full capacity - and yelled at the top of my lungs - as though I was at the Grand Canyon and calling to a friend on the opposite rim, miles in the distance - "SECONDARY SCREENING!"
In an instant - all was silence. It was like magic. It was as though I had pulled the emergency stop lever on a speeding train. Indeed, you could almost hear a screech as suddenly - instantly - the entire seething mass of frenzied activity around me came to a complete and total standstill.
For probably 5 full seconds - every single face in the security area - every passenger - every TSA agent - every cop - EVERYONE - was staring directly at me - in dead silence. Five seconds may not sound like a long time - but trust me - under those circumstances it seemed like five minutes.
And then - just as suddenly - all was action and noise and movement again. Everyone returned to their tasks and activities as though nothing had happened. Everyone - that is - except for one rather large and intimidating lookingTSA agent whose eyes had narrowed to evil looking little slits and whose brow was knitted into furrows of deep interest and annoyance. No, he had not returned to whatever he had been doing before my Grand Canyon moment. No. He now had an entirely new focal point of interest which had his full, undivided - and obviously annoyed - attention. And that new point of interest was Me.
Ok buddy - here we go.
Judgement and Redemption
He stared at me like that for about twenty of the longest seconds of my life - and then with a look that just oozes "Ooookay - what have we got here?" he slowly started walking over to me - his head at a slight angle as he looked down the length of his nose - straight at me.
When he was finally standing next to me he continued to size me up for a few more seconds - then - ever so slightly - he smiled with some sort of deep inner satisfaction - and without saying one word - proceeded to wave his metal detecting wand around me - patted down my legs and arms - stood erect in-front of me - a last menacing look in my eyes - and said "Have a nice flight sir".
I made it to the gate just in-time that day. But I must admit - from that day on I did manage to add an extra 15 minutes to my allotted security line time-budget.
Oui ou non?
One of the most perplexing details of planning a long (or short) trip to Paris is figuring-out how you're going to use your cell phone while there. And there are many possible scenarios available. This piece is specifically about using an iPhone in Paris - and for just pennies.
Most people who want to use their iPhone in Paris think they have to do two things: unlock their iPhone and then purchase a SIM card from a local provider (such as Orange) in order to get up and running. And you certainly can go that route. But unlocking your iPhone can be tricky - and SIM charges with Orange (or whoever) can be pricey.
There also is the option of continuing your AT&T (or Verizon) service while in Paris and opting for their International Plan. This allows you to use your iPhone as normal while in France - but the charges you'll incur are pretty hefty. Much higher than you pay at home for the same features.
But I only talked for 10 minutes !
However - if your needs are fairly simple - you also have the option of paying almost nothing - and still having full use of your iPhone while in Paris. The only thing you need is a free Wi-Fi connection - which most apartment rentals and hotels provide. There are also an increasing number of free Wi-Fi hotspots around Paris which you can access. There's even a free app for finding them.
Be aware though that the so-called "Free Wi-Fi" offered in many public places by the city of Paris is not free. To utilize this service you must connect through the Orange network and pay an hourly fee - a very hefty fee, I might add. The word "free" only means anyone is free to pay to use the service - without contractual obligations. But it isn't gratuit.
So - if you only need to use your iPhone to make phone calls and surf the web - and you're willing to do this primarily in your free Wi-Fi equipped apartment (or wherever you have
wi-fi access) - then you can accomplish both for pennies - and have essentially no cell phone bill when you return home.
The first thing to do (for US/Canada residents) is contact AT&T before your departure and notify them that you will be out of the country and that you wish to put your cell phone on vacation suspend status. What this does is disable your current SIM card so you can not access AT&T cell phone towers in Europe to make calls or connect to the internet. But most importantly for you, it also removes the charges for those services from your bill. No data, phone use, nor roaming charges. In fact - no bill. The only thing you pay is a $10 'account maintenance fee'. So if you're gone for three months - your bill will be $30 when you return. This program is available for up to 6 months.
The Calvary to the rescue.
The next step is to now sign-up for an account with Skype -
the VOIP (voice over internet protocol) phone service (Google Voice also works in essentially the same manner - I'll address that in a separate piece later). Here you have three basic choices to arrange for calling anywhere from Paris.
You can purchase Skype
credit in any amount and make calls on Skype
(I'll explain how in a minute) at a rate of approximately .02 US cents a minute to any phone - anywhere
- regardless of whether the person you're calling has Skype
or not; or, call someone who also has Skype
- in which case your call is free; or, purchase a Skype
phone number (approx. $60 a year) allowing friends and family in the US/Canada to call a local number (for them) that then rings your phone in Paris. And, of course, you can still call them too, as explained above.
Visit the Skype
web-site for the details on each option.http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/home
After you do this, go to the Apple APP Store
on your iPhone and add Skype
as an application. It's free.
The next step is to switch your phone to airplane mode
when you leave. Simply go to settings
on your screen menu and move the button for this selection to on.
Your phone is now completely disconnected from the AT&T (or Verizon) network. But you will notice that it still "works". It still turns-on, the menus are still there, etc. This is because you now have a little computer in your hand instead of a phone.
When you arrive at your apartment in Paris and have received the free Wi-Fi login information from the landlord - you are now ready to bring your phone back to full functionality - and doing so is simple.
Turn your phone on - go to Settings - select WI-FI - switch it to ON (and leaving Airplane Mode ON) - then choose your network (you'll see a list of available networks displayed) - enter your password - and voilà, you're online. You now have full access to the internet - just as you did back home. And since you're connecting through a free WI-FI service - it's 100% free.
To make a phone call you need only open the Skype application from your screen menu - login to your account - press the Call button - type in the number you wish to call (anywhere) and press Call again- exactly as you would were you at home. You will be connected (to any number - regardless of whether they have Skype or not) via VOIP. If you're calling a non-Skype number in the US/Canada, you will be charged .02 US cents a minute.
It's that easy - and that cheap!
So if you really only need your iPhone while in your apartment and/or any other free Hotspot you can find, this is an option that will save you a lot of money - and allow you the full use of your gadget while away.
Good luck and Bon Voyage!
OMG! It Works !
Just steps from the heart of North Beach
One of the most popular neighborhoods in San Francisco for tourists is the Italian quarter of North Beach. Filled with excellent restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries - a lovely park and Coit Tower; an area where on every block one can smell traces of garlic one moment, espresso the next. It has long been a favorite strolling area for visitors to The City, conveniently situated between China Town and Fisherman's Wharf.
But few tourists (or locals) realize that as they stroll down Columbus Avenue en-route to Fisherman's Wharf - just two blocks up the hill at Chestnut Street lies a little gem of an art treasure - not only open to the public, but both free and virtually undiscovered. It is one of the most interesting murals ever painted by Diego Rivera and is called Making a Fresco (1931). It's located at the San Francisco Art Institute, at 800 Chestnut Street.
Making a Fresco - 1931
Invited by architect Timothy L. Pfluger to come to San Francisco to paint a series of murals in the early 30's, it is one of three major works in The City. But this particular mural is quite a treat to the Rivera fan because it is painted in a style know as trompe d'oeil - "trick to the eye".
The work is essentially a mural within a mural - divided into six sections by the very scaffolding used to create it - or so it seems. It is itself a mural about the building of San Francisco and the advance of modernity.
But the trick employed by Rivera also turns the work into a depiction of the mural itself being painted by him and his associates. In-fact, Diego Rivera himself is part of this mural; you see him sitting on the scaffolding with his back to you directing the creation of the very work you're looking at. It is delicious fun for the eye - and a truly unique example of this master's talent.
There he sits - directing the work.
To see this wonderful work just walk in the front entrance to the Art Institute and turn left at the fountain in the courtyard. Walk-in to the auditorium - and there it is on the wall to your right. And more likely than not, you will be completely alone with only the occasional student passing by to disturb your reverie.
And on your way out, take a few moments to stroll the halls of the Art Institute itself. It is a lovely building with student's art displayed throughout and panoramic views of North Beach and San Francisco Bay. And all of this is absolutely free.
A true San Francisco treat!http://www.sfai.edu/weeblylink_new_window
The building itself is worth the visit.
Can I squeeze in here?
I know what you're thinking. "Oh boy - just what the world needs - another blog". And I hear 'ya. I mean, there are currently around 450 million English language blogs (yes - I Googled it) with thousands of new ones everyday. So - is there really a need for another one? Well - in a word - Yes.
I'm starting this blog because I couldn't find it anywhere else. There may be millions out there - but none that I could find are quite like what I hope to develop this one into.
I love to travel - read - learn languages - and study different cultures. I'm passionate about History - especially the modern (post industrial revolution) variant. I love food - everything from vegan to fois gras. I like baseball - and other sports. I'm interested in politics - and definitely have something to say about the subject. I'm very interested in Geography, photography, anthropology and sociology.
In other words, like you, I have a wide-range of interests and passions. And I guess I could've started a blog on any one of those interests alone and had no problem generating material everyday. But there are already many sites on each and every one of those themes - or Tags in internet-ese. But very few - if any - sites about all of them at once. That is what this site is dedicated to providing.
I know what you're thinking again; "What does that mean?" Well - in an average week I hope to provide my readers with practical travel information: like how to use your iPhone for free while traveling abroad: where to escape the crush of tourists in Paris: great B&B's in Northern California, or Ottawa: undiscovered secrets of San Francisco - Mexico City - Peru - or wherever else my travels take me.
I also hope to bring you interesting stories about those travels - like the comical adventures of navigating TSA security lines - or driving in Montréal (an adventure - I assure you).
Here is where you will find self-guided tours of WWII Paris; wineries & eateries in the Napa Valley - Bordeaux - Burgundy. Practical information on learning Spanish in Mexico (or at home); learning French in Paris. Practical guides to trip logistics; flights, hotels, restaurants. Ruminations on writing, culture, air travel, aging - and the occasional piece of silliness.
Yeah - it's a tall order - but like I said - I couldn't find this site anywhere else; so I thought I'd do it myself. To be sure - it will be a work in progress. I expect to have many challenges in providing this material. I will need to learn a lot - and will make some mistakes along the way. But I hope that as time goes by I will meet the challenges, correct and learn from the mistakes - and grow this blog into something truly of value to you - even if only to bring a smile, or a nod of understanding acknowledgement into your otherwise busy, demanding day. And I will depend on - and listen to your feedback to help me reach that goal.
So thanks for stopping by. Wish me luck. And I sincerely hope you enjoy some of what I have to share.
Looking for a Curry baguette in Paris? I may be able to help.
I think this means Blue Font
I kinda cringe when I read this posting now - but I won't delete it since it reflects where I was at the time. But 'my oh my' how things have changed for me. I was a true newbie when I wrote this piece - but have learned a lot since then - and now - can you believe it - I am learning HTML - and even enjoying it. At least most of the time.
So the moral of this tale? Never say never.
I'm a writer. And that is why I wanted to start this blog; to write. Seems pretty simple. And simple was exactly what I was looking for when trying to decide where to start this blog.
As you may know, there are hundreds of blog hosting sites, so there is no shortage of choices available to the prospective blogger these days. But since I definitely wanted to be taken seriously in every way, I initially chose the biggest, oldest, and most popular blog hosting site as the launching pad for my new - and serious! - endeavor. I figured the air of established legitimacy that their name conveyed sure couldn't hurt. So I registered, paid the fee for my own domain, decided on a blog name, picked a nice design - and sat down to write with a "Look-out world, here I come" attitude. That's where it all went South.
I liked the web-page design I'd chosen, but I wasn't thrilled with the color of the title's default font; bright red. "A little too garish" I thought. And so I set-off to change it to something a little warmer - more welcoming. Unfortunately - I couldn't seem to find any Font Color editing buttons. You know the ones - like in MS Word when you want to change text colors - and there's the little artist's pallet on your tool bar for just such moments. Very easy - very straightforward - very simple. But hmm? Couldn't seem to find it. So - off to the site's Help pages I trekked. Ahhh! There it is - Changing Colors - great!
I eagerly clicked open the directions and was greeted with this opening sentence: Before you continue you should have a basic understanding of the following: HTML / XHTML. Uhhh - Huh!?
And there began my two day ordeal - which eventually led me to the site you are now reading.
Oh, I did try. I actually read one of their tutorials on understanding HTML/CSS Code. And I played with the codes area for over two hours the first night before finally staggering to my refrigerator and retrieving a big bottle of Vodka I'd been saving for a special occasion. And trust me - occasions don't get any more special than trying to learn HTML code.
But as you can see - that's all behind me - and I am indeed now doing exactly what I'd set-out to do; writing. I left the big-time blogging site - moved by whole operation to a much more user friendly - if not well known - site, which makes things like changing font colors quite simple so that I can focus on creating - not learning codes. Life is good. Finally!
Welcome to my site.
Ahhh - the writing life !