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Adventures in Prague and Paris

I’ve been staying in Prague in the Czech Republic since late January… sort of. Two weeks ago we traveled to France to spend 10 days in Paris during the kids’ spring break. So in a way, I’ve had a trip within a trip, which is kind of neat.

This is the first time I’ve been to Prague since I was kicked out of the Czech Republic a couple of decades ago with Yvonne before we were married. I’d recount the story here, but it’s one of my best stories, so if you see me in person be sure to make a point to ask me about it and I’d be glad to tell you. It was snowing in Prague when I got there, which was a nice change after having spent the winter in snow-free Florida.

Snow in Prague

Snow in Prague.

The city of Prague has impressed me more than I thought it would. I’ve heard that it’s a fascinating and vibrant city, but so far it’s exceeded my expectations. I find the tram system (being from Toronto I keep wanting to say streetcar system) is efficient and well-run, and having a monthly public transportation pass makes getting around the city easy and low-stress.

Tram in Prague

A modern tram in Prague, near Lazarská.

One interesting site we visited in Prague was the Colloredo-Mansfeldský Palace near the Charles Bridge. It’s an old, run-down palace built in the early 1700s that has (sort of) been converted into a modern art museum. It’s safe to say that it’s one of the creepiest places I’ve ever visited. There was one particularly memorable room with interesting ornate walls and a painted ceiling that had a bunch of huge empty picture frames and a speaker on a stand set up in the middle. The speaker was playing a recording of a man moaning and making unnerving guttural breathing noises. I’m generally a fan of art, even so-called modern art, but what the heck? So bizarre.

I also visited the Prague Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square, dating back to 1410, one of the must-see sites in Prague. When I was a kid I was a big fan of clocks and watches, even taking some apart to see how they worked (though I can’t say I was as successful at putting them back together), so it was really fun to visit this famous clock.

Prague Astronomical Clock

The astronomical clock in Prague. On the hour the little skeleton to the right of the main clock rings the bell, and the other figures shake their heads no to indicate it’s not their time to go yet.

After spending some time in Prague, we traveled to Paris. It was nice to be back in France after a few years away. It was a short flight from Prague to the Charles de Gaulle airport, and then an Uber ride (which turned out to be cheaper than taking public transportation) to the Santa Fe Hotel at Disneyland Paris in Marne-la-Vallée. Yvonne booked the hotel back in September for a very low rate (50 euros a night!) and since it was located close to both the Disneyland parks and the Marne-la-Vallée train station, it turned out to be a good base of operations for our stay.

Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant) at Disneyland Paris. There’s a nifty animatronic dragon that lurks beneath the castle.

Disneyland Paris was fun – having lived in Orlando for the past five years, we’ve become accustomed to the Central Florida Disney lifestyle, so experiencing Paris’s take on Disney was interesting. For example, the Disneyland Paris version of Space Mountain has been rebranded to Hyperspace Mountain, featuring a Star Wars theme. In my opinion, it’s superior to the Space Mountain at Disney World in Orlando, and is probably my favorite of all the Disney roller coasters (that I’ve tried so far at least).

Disneyland Paris Fastpasses

Disneyland Paris still uses the old school version of the FastPass.

Speaking of rides that are better at Disneyland Paris, the Disneyland Paris version of the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster featuring Aerosmith is also, in my opinion, better than the one at Hollywood Studios at Disney World in Orlando. While the Orlando version has a stretched limo theme, with riders taking a trip to an Aerosmith concert, the Paris version continues the story as the riders arrive at the concert and go backstage to see Aerosmith. It’s not really the theme that makes the ride better – I just like the ride better. Though that could also be because I haven’t ridden the Paris version as many times as I have the Orlando version. I also prefer the Disneyland Paris version of the Pirates of the Carribean ride, but only because they haven’t overdone the Captain Jack Sparrow aspect like they did in Orlando. Meanwhile, we rode the Disneyland Paris version of the Haunted Mansion (which is called Phantom Manor) several years ago, but this year it is closed until April – too bad! That said, I still managed to get a picture with Phantom Manor Mickey outside the attraction.

Phantom Manor Mickey

Me and Mickey outside the Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris. It still feels kinda weird to be all bundled up in a winter coat and scarf while taking pictures with Disney characters after all the pictures taken in shorts and T-shirts in Orlando.

The Ratatouille ride is also fun, and new since we were last at Disneyland Paris. It reminded me a little bit of the original Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios Florida. The pathing of the is interesting – the different cars do not follow the same path, so it gives the effect of a bunch of rats scurrying across a restaurant floor. Pretty neat.

Amelia on the Disneyland Paris Carousel

Amelia on the Disneyland Paris Carousel.

Disneyland Paris Carousel

Aaaaand me on the Disneyland Paris Carousel. Never too old I guess? This isn’t a bad selfie!

We traveled by train from the train station near our hotel to Paris a few times during our stay. Callum and I went to the Paris Manga and Sci-Fi Show at Porte de Versailles this past Saturday, which was really fun. I still want to find myself a really neat and obscure cosplay costume that I can somehow create… it would be even better if I could find some themed costumes so that Callum and Amelia could join in. For the longest time I’ve wanted to dress as Yoshimitsu from the original Soul Calibur game (for Sega Dreamcast), which would be amazing, but extremely difficult to pull off.

We also visited the Eiffel Tower as a family, climbing the stairs to the second floor before taking the elevator to the top level. Apparently, there are 674 steps leading to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower (there are 1665 steps in all, but the steps leading to the very top of the tower are closed to the public). Climbing up and down all those steps made for some darned good exercise!

The Eiffel Tower from below

The Eiffel Tower, taken from below. Yvonne took a picture like this a few years ago. It still looks pretty much the same?

Eiffel Tower shadow

The Eiffel Tower’s shadow, taken from the top floor.

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower, hiding with minimal success behind a tree. I took this photo on our way to the exit.

After visiting the Eiffel Tower we took the Métro to Montmartre, which is one of my favorite sites in Paris. There are over 300 stairs leading to Montmartre, which means that after our Eiffel Tower stair-climbing adventure we got even more steps in!

Montmartre

The view from Montmartre, taken in “Amelia style” (re: on the diagonal”). It’s a lot easier to take pictures when you don’t have to worry about holding the camera straight!

We also did a bit of shopping while staying in Paris. The Val d’Europe shopping center is located relatively close to Disneyland Paris, so we went there to get some clothes and other items we might not find in Prague. I found the most European of jeans at Bonobo, a French jeans company, so that was pretty cool. Callum and Amelia found new jackets. And we spent some time at Auchan and bought a collection of really good French treats! If I’d had a cooler I would have filled it to the brim with French cheese, but alas, it was not meant to be.

Callum and I at Fnac

Callum and I at the Fnac in Val d’Europe. It’s a combination high tech gadgets shop and bookstore – what could be better than that? Callum is smiling on the inside.

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from France to Spain

It has been a busy couple of months!

During May, June, and July I managed a six-week project in Paris. The project itself took place in Nanterre, to the northwest of central Paris, but while in Paris I stayed in a hotel at La Défense. It was a challenging project, but both our internal team and the client team worked very hard, and in the end the project was a success. I was very happy to meet and work with many new and interesting people, and I had a lot of fun in the process.

As I was in Paris for six weeks I managed to tour around quite a bit, for the most part with a friend and co-worker who was working on the project with me. I had a Navigo pass – a no-holds-barred Métro pass that certainly came in handy. During the evenings I, or I and my friend, would explore a different quarter in Paris – Montmartre, Saint-Paul, le Madeleine, la Place de la Concorde – and perhaps find a restaurant to eat at while we were there. What I really like about Paris is all of the interesting spots that you can discover… Paris is rich with culture and history, and it is always a joy to stumble upon someplace new and interesting.

Grande Arche de La Défense

The Grande Arche de La Défense. During the day, people often come to sit on the steps and have a snack

Montmartre

Sitting on the steps at Montmartre

Frogburger

My friend and I found a restaurant called Frogburger near Place de la Bastille. What the heck? Don’t worry, we didn’t end up eating there!

Jazz festival electro set

An electro music set at the Paris Jazz Festival, that took place at La Défense

Where is Brian?

Every French person who has ever learned English knows the phrase “Where is Brian? Brian is in the kitchen!” – trust me, I heard this phrase nearly every time someone learned my name…

After my stay in Paris, I stayed for a couple of days in Reading, England, with time spent working in Basingstoke to wrap up the project and come up with time and cost estimates for future phases. While I was there I stayed with a friend (rather than in a hotel), so I got to tour around a little bit. It was a short stay, but it was nice to see a bit of England again.

Reading, England

On a walk in Reading

In the meantime, my family picked up and headed to the south coast of Spain, where we’ll be staying until November or so. I am currently sitting in a shady spot overlooking the small town of Isla Plana, near Puerto de Mazarrón, and the Mediterranean Sea beyond. It was definitely a huge switch to move from Normandy in northwestern France – a beautiful spot, but rather chilly and rainy – to southern Spain, where it hasn’t rained since I got here, and most of the terrain is rocky and very dry. We’re a short walk from the Isla Plana beach, so we’ve spent quite a bit of time on the beach, and have visited the pool at our complex at Isla Plana every day – sometimes more than once! But don’t worry – we’re slathering ourselves with sunscreen, and have for the most part been sticking to hanging around outside in the mornings or evenings; the mid-afternoon is siesta time!

A beach cove in Bolnuevo

A beach cove in Bolnuevo in southern Spain

Rocky coast of Spain

The rocky coast of southern Spain, near Bolnuevo

Along the coast of Bolnuevo

Along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea near Bolnuevo

On the rocks at Bolnuevo

On the rocks at Bolnuevo

Spanish ham

In France, I marveled at the huge cheese selection they had in the grocery stores… in Spain, they have huge selections of Spanish ham, or “jamón”

Amelia being fabulous

Amelia being fabulous in her sunglasses

Kids and cacti

The kids and some cacti – of course we had to check out what they had at the local garden store in Puerto de Mazarrón

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spring has arrived

spring has arrived in Paris, and the flowers are in bloom. I don’t recall having been to Paris in the spring before, and it’s pretty spectacular… it’s almost as if the beauty of the flowering trees here is kept a hushed secret throughout the winter, and then suddenly, when the weather turns for the better, colors start to explode all around you as you walk down the street.

one particularly dismal street in the winter turned out to have tall, flowering cherry trees planted every several feet along the sidewalks on the way from our neighborhood to the local grocery store. As of late these trees have been showering the ground with petals of pink; traveling along it is a bit like walking on a mottled pink carpet, while pink confetti floats to the ground all around you. Meanwhile, off to the sides, trees and shrubs in our neighbors’ yards have started to bloom. It takes a long time to walk anywhere with Amelia (who is 5) as she continually wants to stop and admire or smell all the different flowers. Of course I let her take as much time as she likes.

on the way to the market today Yvonne took the following picture, which I’m thinking is of a Magnolia tree, though I could of course be wrong. Note that this wasn’t taken in a plantation or in a public garden; it’s someone’s tree sitting outside their house. I liked the picture so much that I am posting it here, and if you click on it you’ll get a BIG version of it that you can use as wallpaper, if you choose.

happy spring!

A Magnolia blooming in Paris in the spring

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life in Paris (so far)

today marks the day that we’ve officially been living in Paris for a month, so it’s about time for a brief update with some pictures. It’s been great so far – we’ve been having fun experiencing the language and culture, not to mention the cheese.

we spent our first two weeks in a two-bedroom apartment in Versailles, home (of course) of the Palace of Versailles, a pretty fascinating place full of interesting history. While we were in Versailles we searched for a full-time place; we ended up finding a four-bedroom house (somewhat of a rarity in Paris and its suburbs) in one of Paris’ eastern neighborhoods. We’ve furnished it, albeit somewhat sparsely, mostly with furniture from IKEA. What can I say – that place is crazy and very crowded (even on a Sunday evening) but if you’re looking for decent build-it-yourself furniture with names you can’t pronounce, IKEA is your go-to destination.

so that’s it for the update (I did promise it would be brief). Up next, a few pictures from our adventures.

here are some Eiffel Tower pictures (clicking on them makes them bigger of course)… a picture of the tower from below (as taken by Yvonne) and pictures of Callum and Amelia, on the tower, with their mini Eiffel Tower figurines.

The Eiffel Tower from below

Callum with his mini Eiffel Tower

Mia with her mini Eiffel Tower

a picture of the Disneyland Paris castle – it is pink!

Disneyland Paris castle

the dragon lurking beneath the Disneyland Paris castle (don’t be scared – it’s not real).

Disneyland Paris dragon

here’s a picture of Callum and Mia and the unhappiest card guy in Alice in Wonderland. I’ll let you figure out why. Mind you, he certainly looks happy…

The unhappy card guy

the gang (minus me) on the teacups. Yvonne made that face for the camera’s benefit – they really weren’t spinning that quickly!

Disneyland teacups

finally, here’s a picture of Callum with his LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 robot and some other stuff he created with his kit. He’s really taken to building and programming robots – Santa really hit the mark last year with this gift.

LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 robot

that’s it for now (though that’s quite a bit, by my standards anyway). We’re currently at home watching Looney Tunes on our new TV – if ever there was a show that was tailor-made for Callum, this would be it. He can’t stop giggling!

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