Thursday, May 29, 2008

Now that's a bridge...

One of the things that impressed me most about Paris the first time I went was the time and resources they've invested in bridges over the years. Paris is full of truly remarkable bridges but, to my mind, one stands out far above the rest: Pont Alexander III.I would say this bridge possesses more beauty than most cities I've been to. It's beauty that "goes to 11" and I love it.Even a horse's backside is high art. The statuary is mind boggling and remember, this is a single bridge.I took a ton of pictures in Paris, but nothing caught my eye like this bridge. It is impressive from a distance and almost spellbinding up close. The view is incredible in multiple directions as well. Enjoy.I realize I got a little heavy handed with the HDR below, but what the hell -- it's Paris.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A close second...

I have a new (second) favorite building. Firmly in first place is La Sagrada Família in Barcelona, which we'll visit at the end of July. The runner up is the Palais Garnier in Paris, known by us simple folk as the Paris Opera House. I somehow missed this gem the first time I was in the City of Light. We came upon it this time as part of the Les Cars Rouge tour (a bus that makes a big circuit through the city, allowing those who buy a ticket to get on and off as they please). Maybe it's just me, but I was instantly blown away. But enough of my fawning...
Can't wait to see the inside on the next trip.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Howard Hughes of digital photography...

Just watched the "extras" DVD from the special edition of "The Aviator". If I were as obsessed with say aviation as I am with digital photography, I might be rich. Then again, I might just be peeing in milk jars in Vegas.

Anyway, I continued my dark decent into obsessive compulsive digital photography in Paris. While clearly not an accomplishment the magnitude of the Spruce Goose, I took some pictures I'm proud of. The following are a few shots (HDRs) of one of the most recognizable landmarks on our planet.
These shots were taken from my favorite bridge in Paris, the Pont Alexander III. I'll post a series of shots of this wonder later this week.
The following is an "up the skirt" overhead 180° panoramic, a discovery I made on this trip. I'm way too lazy to do it right, but it's still somewhat interesting. Wouldn't it be cool to live on this street?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

City of Light...

We hung around Disney Studios until it closed and then headed to Paris. The clouds on the horizon were pink and orange, creating shafts of light from the setting sun. It seemed auspicious to me, although we caught a lot of traffic heading into Paris and then had to suffer through one of Poposuda's (navigation system) breakdowns. Paris put her into a tailspin that wasn't easy to recover from.

Thanks to a mistake by our travel agent with our original reservation, we stayed in a pretty swank joint just off the Champs-Élysée; not a bad neighborhood if you (or your travel agent!) can afford it. We parked the land yacht a few hundred meters away for 26 Euros a day; not cheap, but we were in Paris after all. We ended up on the first floor in two rooms connected by a hallway with a private door. We had a surprising amount of space where the kids could and did run amok.I then headed out with Marina. We walked about 10 minutes to the Arc de Triomphe and decided to go up. It took more energy than we planned and was a bit windy, but the view of Paris, especially the Eiffel tower, was well worth it.

As you'll see, I'm kind of on an "over the head 180°" panorama kick. I took the one below of the arch before the gendarmes reminded me that tripods are verboten. This is the best example of this style I could muster on this trip. The arch closed at 23:00, pretty soon after we arrived. To avoid being too torn up the next day, we decided to head back to the hotel to get some much needed rest.

Disney Studios...

We spent the third day at Disney Studios, next door to Disneyland. While this park tends to offer more rides for adults, I'm not particularly fond of it. Regardless, the kids had a blast.
When we were there last, they were building three new rides, which have since opened: Hollywood Tower, Crush's Coaster (from "Finding Nemo") and a kids' ride from the movie "Cars". We road all three. I didn't make it on Crush's Coaster, but it seemed to get top ratings from the rest of the family. I liked the Hollywood tower, which jerks you up and down for a minute or so (cummulatively) of weightlessness.
I continue to be worried about Emily. She got off the Hollywood Tower ride crying hysterically and actually shaking. Between short pants she could hardly control, she said "I'm soooo scared. I want to ride it again'." Robert got as far as putting his seatbelt on, then backed out.
We had lunch at McDonalds in the Disney Village. Robert and I took a quick balloon ride to get a birds-eye view of the place. It was a cool experience that I highly recommend.
Plaster Fast Pass...

Given that Emily was sporting a brand new cast, the hotel suggested we ask for an "Easy Access Pass" at the park. The glossy piece of paper, worth its weight in gold, allowed Emily and often the rest of us to completely avoid the (sometimes long) line at the rides. I would say purely from a time perspective, Emily's misadventure actually allowed us to do more than would have been able to otherwise. We rode the same rides as last year and saw basically the same shows. The "Stitch" show was new and relatively cool. A computer generated image appears on a screen but a live actor (somewhere "behind the curtain") does the voice, so it's very interactive.
By the way, I don't think the weather could have been any better. It was mostly cloudy at some points, but didn't rain and the temperature didn't seem to make it above 70 or so.
The big hit this year with Robert was the Indiana Jones roller coaster. While I was positive he was going to have a breakdown in the middle of the loops, he loved it. We waited in line for 10 minutes or so for this one.
This year the park wasn't even as full as it was last year. Once again, rides like Pirates of the Caribbean had a wait of less than 5 minutes. We got fast passes for the other popular rides so, with Emily's plaster fast pass, I don't think we ever waited more than 10 minutes for a ride.
Adapt, improvise and overcome...

On Tuesday, we tried to get our vacation back on track. Emily was in the hospital until noon but was raring to go when they released her. After having spent a night in a hospital chair, I was much less so. By the way, the entire affair, including general anesthetic and an overnight stay was less than 1000 Euros: cheap by American standards I would guess (insurance will cover the costs {I hope!}).

Anyway, while I got cleaned up and took a quick cat nap, B returned to the park with Emily where Marina was waiting with the other two. I got to the park at almost exactly 16:00, parade time. I couldn’t find the crew so walked around and took a few pics. Sophia’s (rescheduled) birthday party was scheduled for 17:00, so we met at the restaurant.
Sophia’s 4th birthday party was a huge success. B bought tickets for a big communal party given at one of the restaurants near the castle. There was a breakfast/dessert buffet and a bunch of the characters spent quality time with this relatively small crowd. Robert is still terrified of these folks in costumes and I continue to applaud him for it. Let’s face it: there’s something at least mildly creepy about it.
By the way, birthday or no, this party is a pretty good deal. We all had dinner, cake and quality time with the (creepy?) characters for less than 20 Euros a head. We'll likely fake a birthday next year if we have to.

An amusing side note: Goofy seems to have taken well to France (although he probably needs to get out more). Both B and Marina swear he copped a feel during the festivities. Classic.