The “Selfie Stick” Epidemic

The selfie stick, that extensible cell phone holder/wand that provides a little longer picture-taking perspective, is so common in the U.S. that it’s almost been declared passe. It’s alive and well here in the European tourist areas, though. OK, on the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with a compact, collapsible tool that lets you take a better photo. I’d love to be the person who thought of it and is probably making a fortune from the idea. 

But… my difficulty comes from users who never collapse it. They walk around with their phones at the end of a 30″ stick, at all times in all sorts of crowds, oblivious to the danger posed to others. I’ve nearly been poked in the face a few times. It also seems like they’re just holding their $500 smart phone out on a platter for thieves. Sadly, there is still no common sense requirement for getting a passport.

San Marco Plaza is shown above late in the day, with the Basillica and the Campanille in stylistic contrast with one another. The ubiquitous pigeons, those “rats with wings” as New Yorkers have it, still rule and visitors still feed them. The weather is comfortably cool and easy – really nice. My travels here from Paris took 7 hours door-to-door and only involved a 1:20 flight. The rest of the time involved train, bus, and boat trips, and security checks.

Amusing Scene: White-jacketed waiters at the empty, fancy (over-priced, mundane food, surly service) restaurant with the power-awning, chilled seafood display case, and table cloths, staring wistfully at the little dive bar across the calle where I sit, the one that’s packed to the gills with customers happily enjoying the $2 piccolo of wine and low-price cicchetti.


Italian, German, and… Californian (!) beer on tap. There’s no escaping it.
And here’s something you don’t see every day in Venice:

Give this scene any romantic caption you like! The truth is they’re models in an advertising photo shoot. It was interesting watching her navigate the tourist hordes and bridges in her wedding dress. 

Beautiful Fall Weather

This is just a remarkably nice Sunday in Paris, with cool temps and bright sunshine. This is a day for being out in the city and everyone is making the most of it.  

Runners take off in the Paris-Versaille 10-mile race

In additi0n to enjoying the “day without cars”, people are flocking into the parks. 

Luxembourg Garden is my favorite! It’s relaxing and free, and the people-watching is superb.
I ate a picnic lunch with a bit of wine right near the gazeebo today.

Luxembourg Garden is truly one of the nicest, most relaxing places in Paris. The landscaping and plantings are beautiful. There are also great swards of perfectly-maintained grass – which no one is allowed on.

A busking treat: Olivier Franc on the tenor sax on the sidwalk with pianist. Great, soulful music that echoed in the buildings. Check him out in this video with Wynton Marsalis:

And that will wrap it up for my 2015 visit to the City of Light. Tomorrow: the Charles deGaulle airport scrum and on to Venice!

Marti’s Tower

Yes, we mostly know this tower by a different name but my Parisian friend Phil insists it’s his wife Marti’s tower and who am I to disagree?

Lines to get into the tower have lately become absurdly long, so this time I tried the “Skip the Line” ticket service and it was fantastic. We walked from our assembly point, past an hour-long line, right into an empty security lane, through the metal detector, and onto an elevator. Total wait 3 minutes. I highly recommend you use this service when you come to Paris!

The amazing engineering never fails to delight
My feet on one of the new, glass floor panels on the 1st level and the people far below
A view through the opening in the recently renovated 1st level

The views from here are always stunning and all of Paris is laid out below you. Truly one of the world’s wonders.

Paris without Cars

Today is “Paris sans Voiture” day – Paris without cars – in which for a Sunday afternoon only bicycles and pedestrians may use the streets in many areas of the city. 

An extremely rare selfie of me walking down the middle of the Champs-Elyses
It’s also an extremely fine Fall day and the tourists and Parisians are out in full force to enjoy the experience.

A small break in the masses and a wayward bus that was soon dispatched

Kind of a bonanza for pedi-cab operators (something I can’t remember seeing here before) and bicycle rental firms.

Best Laid Plans

Well, today I had thought to go visit Saint-Chapelle, and then Pere Lachaise, the Parisian cemetery where Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and other famous folks are buried, followed by lunch a Le Fine Mousse. However, I got a late start, Saint-Chapelle had a two block-long entry line, and I also discovered that the Le Fine Mousse doesn’t open until 5pm.

So, a change of plans. For someone who is on vacation from his technical writing job, I seem to be spending a lot of time posting to my own blog, to Facebook, and to TripAdvisor. There’s no escaping it, I guess. I spent what was left of the morning on this beautiful Paris day people-watching near Notre Dame, futilely monitoring the Saint-Chapelle line, and handing out directions to tourists who somehow recognized me as an English-speaking, knowledgable, friendly sort. My disguise foiled once again! 

In the afternoon I strolled rue Mouffetard, window-shopping the many eateries. Then I found my way to the Wide Open Spaces Bar near the Pantheon. What a great place!


They had Augustiner Oktoberfest beer – yum!
And the owner is a die-hard Green Bay Packers fan.
I spent a pleasant few hours chatting with the Turkish-born, Architecture PhD candidate bartender and enjoying a few pints. It didn’t hurt that the Rugby World Cup was on the tube, either. Total bliss!

The Word Press app for iPad is proving to be unreliable. I have no idea how this text became formatted as Italic and no idea how to undo it. You’d think by now WP would have this nonsense figured out.

Favorite Museums and Lunch under the Dome

Yesterday I made my usual Orsay and Louvre museums run and, collections aside, they’re such different places. 

The Orsay, a converted rail station, is spacious , new, and calming…
…with wonderful architectural details and a fine Impressionist collection
Sadly, my favorite Degas pastels are no longer on display. These are the marvelous drawings of ballet dancers backstage and such. The helpful docent told me that, for conservation purposes, after 3 months on display, they must be sheltered from all light for 3 years! After  communing with the other works of Degas, Monet, and others, I set out for Printemps, one of the major department stores along the Blvd. Haussmann (no relation). Along the way I passed:


“Frog Hop House” – A particularly insulting name for an Irish bar in Paris. Good beer on tap, though.
On the 6th floor of Printemps, I settled in for lunch at the Brasserie, under its spectacular cast iron and stained glass dome. 


The dome, reflected in the mirrored top of my table
UVA Alums Note: I didn’t order it but the Wahoo! dessert caught my eye in the menu.
After a lovely lunch (won’t bore with you with delicious details) and talking myself out of what would have been an expensive visit to the Men’s Dept, I hoofed it back to the Louvre. Sigh… yes, it’s hot and crowded and a labyrinth but man oh man is the art amazing. As usual I visited my favorite David, Delacroix, and Gericault works in the French 19th Century Hall, and spent a bit of time looking at Islamic art (somehow not romantic enough for me). 

The Pantheon in all its glory

The #27 bus got me back to my hotel in time to take the photo above of the Pantheon – very nice at the end of the day when the sun hits it.

More stained glass in my future tomorrow, as I visit Sainte-Chapelle. Stay tuned!

Random Flight Thoughts

Here are some random thoughts encountered during my recent airport terminal visits and flights:

Luggage Overload – Mindful of the fact that I’ll be lugging my suitcase up and down stairs in places and over cobblestones and of the current fashion for luggage surcharges, I always try to pack lightly. Not Rick Steves’ “lightly” mind you – I still use a 26″ rolling suitcase and a carry-on bag – but I try to keep the suitcase down to 35 lbs. I noticed at several airports that my concerns aren’t shared by everyone. Some folks travel with amazing amounts of overstuffed luggage. Maybe they’re moving to a new home? Maybe they’re richer than Croesus? They’re definitely not loved by everyone waiting in the “Bag Drop” line…

All this for one person? Probably a professional musician.

Loving the Takeoff – I love travel and never more so when it begins with a thundering run down a runway. As the plane goes from zero to 180 or so mph in 20 seconds, I always tick off “V1” (when the plane has enough lift for the nose wheel to come up) and then “V2” (when all wheels come off the ground), usually while listening to some rousing music (The Indigo Girls this trip). Then a bit later when the “flaps” are retracted and the ride smoothes out, I’m happily on my way, marvelling at the utter magic of flight.

Craft Beer on Virgin Atlantic – I was delighted to see my favorite beverage appear in the menu on my flight. Among the offerings was something from Old Busthead brewery in Gainesville, VA, where one of my work colleagues performs occasionally in a band. Good beer, that. These are bottled beers only so, sadly, no Mad Fox brews for now.

ORLY vs CDG – I flew from London into Paris Orly airport, rather than Charles deGaulle airport, for the first time on this trip and it’s a much nicer experience. Orly was the original Paris airport and is still very much in use but it’s smaller than CDG and less hectic. The OrlyVal automated rail shuttle takes you from the airport to the RER B rail line for a fast ride into central Paris. Give Orly a thought for your next flight into Paris.

Sleepers vs Diners

When flying in Upper Class on a Virgin international red-eye, there are several schools of thought. There are the Sleepers, who immediately request a “sleep suit”, pull on a blindfold, and go (or at least try) to sleep. Then there are the Diners, who want to enjoy the benefits of their premium service and figure they won’t get that much sleep anyway. I fall into the latter category and, since you asked, here’s what was on for dinner:


Roated beetroot and goat cheese starter
Porcini-dusted filet, roasted baby carrots, potato gratin, with a port wine demi-glace, and a nice Malbec
Finishing up with a nice cheese plate and some Port

Tasty stuff and I was snoozing soon thereafter.

What’s the French for “AAA” Battery?

There I was in Upper Class on my lovely Virgin-Atlantic flight and ready to use my fancy-schmancy Bose noise-cancelling headphones. I pulled them out and inserted the cable and the battery, which I had been very careful when packing to be sure was brand new.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Oops! Obviously, a AA battery does not fit where a AAA battery is designed to be used. When I asked the flight attendant if he had an AAA battery, he looked astounded and said No, and that he’d never been asked that question before. I collected points for originality but still feeling incredibly dumb, I managed somehow to survive the flight using earbuds. Packing Lesson of the Day: trust but verify – insert the new battery, switch on, and test! P.S. Yes, of course I was able to buy the right battery at the local 8 a Huit store near my hotel in Paris.

On Writing on the Road

Each time I prepare to travel, I review the state of the tools available to make these posts. The WordPress app steadily improves over the years, and portable keyboards have gotten better, too. This year I’m using a Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case with my iPad, a nice large bluetooth keyboard that doubles as a case for the tablet. It’s very lightweight and claims to have a battery that lasts for months (but I’m taking its charging cable with me, of course).

Yes, part of my job is to write about technology, so you might find it odd that I choose to write while on vacation. It’s all in the context, I guess. I am, however, reserving starting on The Great American Novel I know I have in me until those years when I’m not over a keyboard 8 hours a day for employment.

So, I’m off to Europe very soon. This year’s stops include Paris, Venice, Amsterdam, and London. All favorites that I’ve been to many times before and this year I’m going to try to visit sights that I’ve skipped or overlooked in the past. 

I’m glad you’ve decided to come along with me and I look forward to sharing my thoughts, travails, and peculiar perspectives with you. Ciao for now!