Paris, September 23-25

Jennifer is typing this travelog while sitting on the platform of a Paris metro station, accompanied by all of our luggage. It's a strange circumstance -- but as usual we're trying not to miss a beat. Yesterday we arrived at the Galerie de Minéralogie (i.e., a museum of crystals) 30 minutes before closing, and we weren't let in -- too late to buy tickets, they said in typical gruff French style. We don't have a lot of extra time this morning, but Alex devised a scheme whereby on the metro ride to Gare de l'Est, where we catch our train to Basel, we jump off the metro at a connection point, one of us stays with the luggage, and the remaining three rush off unencumbered on the connecting metro to the museum for a brief visit. We sure know how to relax, don't we?

Later: Despite perfect execution of the plan, a clearly posted sign to the contrary, and wide open doors, this time the gruff museum guard insisted it wasn't open. That museum just wasn't meant to be. On the good side, when the metro police interrogated Jennifer about why she was cooling her heels on the platform with a pile of luggage, they were happy with her story about the family rushing to the museum, and they complimented her French. That's an achievement!

Alex and Jennifer have been to Paris a few times (in fact Jennifer lived in the Paris suburbs for a year as a pre-teen), and even the kids have been to Paris before -- in 2004 for a couple of days en route to the Seychelles. Nevertheless, it's undeniably a wonderful city, and there's always plenty to do. We mixed some new sights with the old favorites.

In the new category, we found some activities catering to the kids' current interests: the failed mineralogy museum mentioned above, the Musée des Arts et Métiers (which was stunningly housed, regardless of the subject matter; photo 2), the Musée de la Musique, and a huge pipe organ at L'Église St-Eustache. We also visited the Musée de l'Orangerie, which was closed for renovations the last couple of times we were in Paris. Even the kids properly appreciated Monet's water lilies (photo 3) and the superb impressionist collection in this relatively small museum. Brazenly, we skipped the Louvre.

In the tried-and-true category, there's Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Tour Montparnasse from which photo 1 was taken,
the catacombs (Alex and Tim only -- bones are a guy thing), and best of all just walking the streets and indulging in plenty of fresh crepes and gauffres (French waffles; photo 4).

Enough about Paris, let's talk about laundry.

We were thrilled to find a laundromat right across the street from our Paris hotel. Not for the first time in our travels, the thrill was short-lived. We'll never know if it was human error in deciphering the detailed French instructions, a washing machine gone crazy, or some of each, but the mega-sized washer in the laundromat churned (and we mean seriously churned) on our entire pile of clothes for a good 95 minutes, 45 longer than the posted time. Not only that, we're pretty sure it was delivering near-boiling water the entire time. The end result was not pretty.

Last spring we spent considerable time and money filling out our wardrobes so we could bring exclusively "high-tech" clothes on this trip. They've been fantastic -- lightweight, quick-drying, comfortable, convertible between shorts and pants, and so forth. We're convinced of their perfection for travel. But, they're not the type of clothes that enjoy being washed for 95 minutes at near-boiling temperatures, and quite a few items were ruined. Most curious were a pair of Emily's convertible pants: the shorts portion and half of the belt loops lost nearly all their color ("Honolulu Blue," so there was plenty of color to lose), while the legs, waistband, and remaining belt loops remained decidedly Hawaiian; see photo 5, sorry about the wrinkles. Those items that lost their color deposited it in the form of an unpleasant dark gray on random portions of many lighter items. (Some of you will undoubtedly say this is normal laundry behavior when it's done improperly, and you're probably right. We've never been all that interested in laundry procedures one way or another, which wasn't a problem until we encountered "the French beast.")

Let's see, what else can we whine about? Our attempts to extract the $1650 refund from Travelocity hit an impasse when they informed us (in a rare case of contacting us spontaneously) that thanks to their strong devotion to customer service, they'll be happy to "assess the situation within another 180 days." We were overcharged $500 for a car rental, but thankfully three emails plus some screenshots documenting the charges did the trick. Most recently, the French train company double-charged for our tickets to Basel. Alex visited the ticket office at 6:30am one morning (so as not to interfere with our sightseeing), but after two frustrating hours he made no progress beyond receiving a form to fill out and an address for mailing it. The instructions on the form are about as easy to follow as the ones in the laundromat, and the French are known for their stubborn bureaucracy.

Given the amount of travel we've been doing, perhaps it's not surprising to have three incidents of this form. Two of them resulted from needing to give one's credit card number to travel agents, who seemingly have the ability to charge as they please. One has to wonder how many people even put forth the effort to get these types of erroneous charges reversed (and of those who do, how many actually succeed).

Emily's outfit in photo 4 notwithstanding, the weather has definitely turned to autumn. In Paris we had moderately chilly temperatures and some rain; similar weather is predicted for our time in the Black Forest. We're prepared with polartec and rainjackets, but maybe we shouldn't have gloated so soon about traveling in September. Let's see how it goes.

This travelog is being finished up on the brand new TGV East high-speed train from Paris to Basel. It's the fastest train in Europe, and we're really flying.
(The train is much newer, less crowded, and lots more fun than the TGV we took to Avignon in August.) Tim is beside himself with excitement at visiting Triberg, cuckoo clock capital of the universe; Emily looks forward to our time in resorty Lake Constance. Right now we're about to dig into a picnic lunch of fresh French bread and cheese, provided it doesn't fly off the table when we go around a bend.

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