Archive for June, 2023

Service of Museum Manners in New York and Paris

Thursday, June 29th, 2023

Unusual to see the Louvre so empty.
“Winged Victory” at the Louvre and not a soul in sight. Spooky.

I’ve written about behavior at museums quite a lot from, for example, strangers who glom onto a private tour to busy bodies who interrupt a stranger’s conversation about an exhibit only to insert incorrect information. I also wrote about people who express their anger over personal matters by destroying art.

A friend shared the idea for this post after an afternoon at one of her favorite NYC museums. She wrote: “Real lack of decorum at the museum: People noisily chatting, taking selfies, reaching over others to take pics, blocking paintings.”

I couldn’t agree more with her frustration.

Children waiting to visit L’Orangerie in Paris

This is not just a NYC thing. In fact, I found museum manners of tourists even worse in Paris. The most blatant example was at the Louvre. Because French President Macron was greeting dignitaries from Naples for the opening of the Capodimonte National Museum exhibit the day of my timed ticket, my scheduled arrival was moved first to 1:30 and at the last minute to 2:00 p.m. Our group was the first one in the museum that day so it was shockingly empty. I figured why not say hello to the “Mona Lisa,” known in France as Leonardo da Vinci’s “La Jaconde.”

This class of little ones waited quietly to get enter the Rodin Museum, Paris.

The room that housed her picture was set up for a huge line but there were only a dozen tourists there when I arrived. Were they looking at one of the world’s most famous paintings—the oil on poplar wood panel of Francesco del Giocondo’s wife Lisa Gherardini? NO. They had their backs to her while someone took their pictures with Lisa in the background or they snapped selfies. Then they hung out and chatted.

Same thing happened at L’Orangerie where tourists stood for far too long with their backs to Monet’s “Water Lilies” to have a photo taken to prove they’d been to see [?] the work. It didn’t occur to them that they were covering up the art that others were there to enjoy.

When visitors face one another to carry on a conversation right in front of a picture—and they are clearly not speaking about the exhibit or the work—it baffles and irritates me.

However, I’m thrilled to see public interest in art even if sometimes the inspiration is more “look at me,” not “look at what I saw.” Visitors come in all sizes. At the Musée de l’Orangerie and Rodin Museum I was charmed by the youngest ones who were anticipating a look at the collections.

Have you been peeved by the behavior of fellow museum visitors? Do you say something, or do you tolerate them?

She smiled at me even though I was wedged to the side in order to get a shot of her without the other tourists who had settled in straight in front for the best selfie.

Service of Foreign Customs that Make Me Smile: Paris Trip IV and a Half

Monday, June 26th, 2023

Ask an agent to lend you an umbrella–this sticker on the attendant’s booth at my stop in the Paris metro.

It’s fun to recognize different customs from one country to another and to chuckle at characteristic humor, when you see it.

Sculptor Yayoi Kusama across the street from Louis Vuitton.

In Vino Veritas

To prove what I thought I knew, my question to Google was “what percentage of a restaurant’s profit comes from the sale of alcoholic beverages?” The response: “The average revenue that comes with selling alcohol is 20 to 25 percent of restaurant income, but it can become much higher.” That’s here.

When three nights in a row at different restaurants in Paris the same thing happened, I wondered if the servers were worried about my health or what. I’d finish my glass of wine, still eating the main course, and nobody asked if I wanted another. This would never happen in NYC. Too much money is involved.

History of hair exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs

I asked the helpful young Parisians who worked at my hotel what was going on. They explained that as a waiter’s tip is not impacted by the total bill as it is in the States, they had no incentive to increase the sale by offering more wine. It’s one more thing to do so why bother. “If you want more, ask for it,” was their obvious suggestion. Duh on me.

History of Hair exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Woof!

Was I in Puritan Paris or New England?

My French father was very strict compared to American dads. I nicknamed him the “puritan Parisian” much to my American mother’s amusement.

I thought of this when I was flabbergasted by a sign on the door of a grocery store that said no alcohol sold after 5 p.m. Was I in puritan New England or a US state with tough liquor laws? The purpose, the clerk explained, was to avoid liquor-fueled arguments.

Sticker on metro doors. Go Bugs B!

Wondering about the dinner guest who expected to pop in to buy a bottle after work on the way to a party I was told that this was the case only in some neighborhoods.

Rainy Weather

I enjoyed blue skies during my 10-day visit but a notice on a metro attendant’s window caught my eye. It offered a loan of an umbrella! I can’t imagine a program like that working in NYC.

I liked how the metro authority pulled in Bugs Bunny to warn passengers about getting fingers pinched if they put their hands on the doors.

Luxury Polka Dots

High end fabric designer’s window displaying a range of textiles.

The collaboration of sculptor Yayoi Kusama and Louis Vuitton impacted the luxury brand’s Christmas windows in New York and an LV store in Paris. Her trademark polka dots decorated the outside of the building as well as her dress on the humongous sculpture of her across the street.

Hairy Subjects

British designer Paul Smith’s artful displays of the artist’s work at the Picasso Museum made me smile. This room was covered in white plates to contrast with Picasso’s.

One of the exhibits at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs was “Des Cheveux & Des Poils.” It featured hairstyles over the centuries. A fun video showed a hairstylist creating an 18th century Marie Antoinette style concoction from scratch on a very patient model. There were plenty of reasons to guffaw throughout the exhibit. Note the dachshund style in photo above.

Fabulous Fabric Birds

I loved the way a fabric designer displayed his textiles by creating a flock of birds sporting them. The windows weren’t funny but they made me smile.

When traveling—even to a different US state—have you noticed customs different from yours or humor that seemed typical of where you were?

No alcohol sales after 5 pm–hard liquor, beer or wine–in the window of a Paris grocery store.

Service of Delicious Public Places in Paris and New York

Thursday, June 22nd, 2023

Place Furstenburg, 6ieme arrondissement, Paris
Florist on Place Furstenburg

Wherever I’ve lived I’ve been drawn to quiet enclaves open to the public. We often picnicked at the Clermont estate in Tivoli, NY to watch boats on the Hudson River. It was about an hour’s drive from our house that was also in a bucolic section of Dutchess County but nowhere near the River.

Spice store on Place Furstenburg

There are a few spots I cherish in Manhattan within walking distance of my apartment. The biggest is Tudor City Greens, [photo bottom, left], a park on either side of 42nd Street, up the stairs opposite the UN on First Avenue and also accessible from two streets off Second Avenue—41st and 43rd–as well as two sets of stairs on 42nd between First and Second Avenues.

Garden at the Delacroix Museum

The waterfall on East 51st Street in Greenacre Park between Second and Third Avenues [photo bottom, right] covers up the sounds of midtown traffic. The pocket park is a cool resting place in every sense.

A country road? NO! A few steps from the Picasso Museum in Paris.
Rose garden at the Rodin Museum

I found a few such escapes or streets in Paris. The charming Place Furstenburg just outside the Delacroix museum in the 6th arrondissment is a gem [ top photo]. Also on the Place are a florist and pepper and spice shop [photo right and left above]. Tucked in the museum is a peaceful tree-filled place to sit.

Place des Voges, Paris

The shade of the Place des Voges is tempting on a hot day whether you catch your breath under a tree in the garden [photo left] or walk under the arches encircling it.

And there are plenty of benches to enjoy the rose garden of the Rodin Museum and to take a moment to think [photo above].

What are some of your favorite public places for both quiet and reflection?

Greenacre Park, Manhattan on East 51st Street
Tudor City Greens, Manhattan

Service of Traveling Alone: My Paris Trip III

Monday, June 19th, 2023

I’m outside Chartres Cathedral–a visit my sister urged me to make that was well worth the trip.
Chartres Cathedral. Blue skies every day of my trip.

I’ve traveled a lot to countries as far ranging as Ethiopia and Turkey to India, Iran, Haiti, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Greece, Syria, Lebanon, throughout Europe, South America, the Caribbean and here and there in the U.S. Before my recent Paris adventure, I’ve always been on vacation with another person except once. That weeklong stay, many moons ago, was in Aruba, and was among the best thanks to a superb hotel manager. Business travel alone doesn’t count.

There’s nothing like having a good time by yourself.

Montparnasse railroad station, a daunting shock of fellow travelers to absorb before figuring out where to buy a ticket to Chartres.

When I first learned I was going to Paris again after more than a decade I couldn’t contain my excitement. I’d pass a mirror in my apartment and shout, “I’M GOING TO PARIS!!!”  One of my friends suggested that the most fun part of a trip is in the planning—and that was partly true. Planning is crucial. [My husband did all the planning when he retired and he did a magnificent job.]

I wondered if the real thing was going to live up to my expectations. It surpassed them.

What’s so great about traveling alone? Following are some examples.

After a few good dinners with scrumptious desserts—baba au rum my favorite—one evening I decided I wasn’t in the mood for anything for dinner with sauce. After a day of museums and walking, I detoured to the magnificent Bon Marché in the 7th arrondissement. It’s so easy to make a u turn like this using the efficient metro system. The department store’s renowned food emporium is a showcase of fine food. I left with a selection of four divine cheeses—the inside of the Camembert at its prime oozed out of its rind–bread, strawberries, salad, a bottle of olive oil and a bag of mini madeleines and I feasted in my room. Oh, I also had wine.

If I’d been with someone else this last-minute decision would not have worked out. You might be thinking that I saved money by doing this. You’d be wrong. Remember: I was at the Bon Marché!

Veggies at Bon Marché

I mostly ate a hearty breakfast of croissant, some of the bread that came with it, OJ and café au lait at a brasserie near my hotel. I was surprisingly thirsty throughout my stay [which rarely happens at home], so I drank a lot of water but had lunch only twice because I wasn’t hungry. Some traveling companions might gripe at that.

I woke up when I wanted to, went to sleep the same, didn’t have to think a moment about being late for a meetup [except for the timed museum tickets and the Giverny tour]. I took the day trips of interest to me—to Giverny and Chartres—that might not have been compelling to someone else and didn’t think twice about what time I’d return to the city. There was no rush: It got dark at around 9:45 pm.

Even though I gorged on museums, I didn’t nearly check off all the ones I wanted to see. Had I tried to accommodate someone else’s druthers, which my personality tends to do, the “didn’t get to” list would have been much longer.

Just a tiny percentage of cheese for sale at Bon Marché.

And by the way: In addition to museums I love visiting stores and I did which is not everyone’s cup of café.

I tried brushing off my rusty French that had there been a witness who knew me, I’d probably not have done. And I quickly got over my silly reluctance about asking for directions.

Flowers at Bon Marché

There were moments that gave me pause but having someone else by my side wouldn’t have helped. I entered the Montparnasse railroad station that was chockablock with passengers and no information center—if it existed–in sight. I suspected the Monday overcrowding was due to an anticipated strike the next day and folks had decided to travel while they could, which I’d not anticipated. The line to purchase tickets from a person was at least 30 passengers long so I used a machine to buy a ticket which I’ve done at home for years. I told myself if I did something wrong, I’d work it out with the conductor. Ticket purchased, I learned the train left in 12 minutes. Easy peasy. I had deliberately not looked at timetables. I didn’t want the stress of an unnecessary deadline.

Proof I was in Paris–it wasn’t a dream! Paris hopes that Notre Dame Cathedral will be open in time for the Olympics next summer.

A traveling companion might have found the elevator at the Montmartre metro station that I missed so I ended up mounting the 144 steps to the street. Likewise, they might have directed me to the funicular saving the additional 237 steps to the top. All those metro steps before my visit to Sacré-Coeur Basilica prepped me for this exercise.  

I’m so grateful to my nephew who sent me Business Class, which makes a huge difference at airport check in especially. He also paid for my hotel. Can you imagine?

Being in touch daily with folks from home via text and email was super.

Nobody is a better traveling companion than you are. You know if you want to lick a lemon gelato at 4:00 pm or visit one more site or call it quits or order dessert or cave and take an Uber or overtip a helpful hotel staffer or visit another store or read your mystery novel or snap another photo or instead of watching TV, listen to a magnificent classical music radio station via cable.

Have you enjoyed solo vacations? If you have any questions for me, fire away!

Grandma buying ice cream for her grandson outside the Bon Marché on a warm June day.

Service of A Bad Rap: My Paris Trip II

Thursday, June 15th, 2023

Iconic clock at the former Paris railroad station, now the Musée d’Orsay

Bad raps abound. Some enjoy repeating them and are often smug about it. And as they utter tired claims, they look as though they think that they are clever and have made a discovery.

President Gerald Ford, one of our most athletic heads of state, was known as a klutz because of a widely publicized photo of him tripping down the steps of a plane. I went to a college that in the day had a reputation for cheap looking female students with big, overly sprayed hair and too much makeup. Nobody like that crossed my path. Recently on a local NYC radio station a morning show host claimed that Canadians were boring. That was news to me.

And what is Paris’s bad rap? If I had $1.00 for every time I mentioned Paris to some folks who’d parrot “Parisians hate Americans,” or “They are so unfriendly and rude,” I would cover more than a month’s rent. It happened as recently as Sunday when someone learned I’d just returned. I’ve been to Paris many times for a few days and hadn’t noticed it then and in 10 days you’d think I’d have an even better feel for things.

Manet picture at the Manet-Degas exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay that’s coming to the Met in NYC

Have these self-righteous ignoramuses forgotten the attitude of some New Yorkers who can’t control their overstressed, overworked, exhausted, grumpy selves that translates to rude and impatient behavior? Their Paris claims could be describing Big Apple’s citizens, bus drivers or subway employees, restaurant staff etc. Paris is a big city too and has its share of equal opportunity angry grouches. I’ll also describe a few.

Here are just some examples from my magical 10-day visit that challenge the overwhelmingly negative allegations:

  • I hadn’t made a reservation to see the Manet-Degas exhibit** at the Musée d’Orsay and asked the guard how long she thought it would take to enter the exhibit given the very long line. She asked if I was alone.

“Oui,” I said. She ushered me to the front of the line and in I walked like a celebrity. The smiles of the young guard who witnessed my happy surprise and overheard my ebullient thanks equaled hers. **The exhibit is coming next to the Metropolitan Museum. Don’t miss it.

  • I asked a keeper of one of the many kiosks that sell magazines, postcards and tourist items if he carried notecards with envelopes.

He asked, “Do you need an envelope?”

Me: “Oui.” He went into his cubby and pulled out an envelope and wouldn’t take a centime for it.

  • Many of the metro workers are over-the-top helpful. One printed out maps and directions for me. Another patiently explained the system to a British couple ahead of me in line. I was turned around in a metro station and a third walked me to the right set of stairs.
Waiting for the metro. It was a joy to ride
  • I was more than a half an hour late for my 11:30 timed entrance to the Musée de l’Orangerie, apologizing all over the place and out of breath. The young woman checking the timed document and my museum pass smiled and told me not to worry. Did I mention the long line outside of those without timed tickets?
  • I was parched and not the tiniest bit hungry and in a part of town with only two restaurants near the metro station I needed to use. I had a hard deadline as I was leaving town that afternoon so there was no time to explore other options. I asked a waiter at one if I might just have something to drink and he apologized, said they were serving lunch and as I turned to go he ushered me to the back and said to the bartender “she just wants a drink.” And that’s all I had.
  • I found a restaurant near my hotel with good food and a joyful staff. On my last night one server greeted me and declared that the table I’d chosen again was “your table.” I felt at home as I did when one of the young men at the front desk of my hotel ran to the door as I headed for my taxi, leaned out, smiled and waved goodbye.
  • Without exception the hotel employees were upbeat and helpful.
  • I was told Uber was unreliable in Paris. I couldn’t find empty city taxis. The Uber I ordered to take me to the airport arrived on the dot. Others ordered while on the run found me just fine.

Not everyone was perfect.

  • I didn’t return to a brasserie I’d visited for breakfast for a few mornings after a waiter I’d not seen before was exceptionally rude.
  • In another instance, the owner of a restaurant near my hotel that was recommended by an acquaintance acted as though she could live without my trade, so she didn’t see me again. [She preferred to chat up couples and single men. Hers was the only restaurant, from the most humble on up, where I wasn’t asked mid meal if everything was OK.] I haven’t written up my experience at this place in Yelp but am sorely tempted.
  • And last, the old woman selling tickets to the Montmartre funicular was supremely nasty to an Australian tourist ahead of me. She clearly hated her job and spewed her anger all around. We know the type.

Three blatant negatives over 10 days isn’t enough to deprecate an entire city.

In a way I’m happy that Paris’s reputation as a place Americans should avoid lingers because there were already so many tourists [from all over] and it’s not even high tourist season. Let them go elsewhere.

What bad raps about institutions, countries or services irritate you because they are unfair and inaccurate?

In addition to Monet’s celebrated “Water Lillies,” the Musée de l’Orangerie has an incredible collection of magnificent pictures

Service of Travel Tips

Monday, June 12th, 2023

I could almost have a picnic on the floor of this metro stop in midtown Paris.

I just returned from 10 glorious days in Paris. I plan eventually to share my thoughts about various adventures and impressions, but first some travel tips of both general use and about the City of Light.

Paris is cleaning the Seine so that Olympic competitors can swim in it next summer. Shot this from Batobus.
Not many Paris metro stations look like someone’s living room.
  • A portable charger for your phone is essential if you take lots of photos and rely on Apple Maps or any GPS app that gobbles up a device’s charge. I’d leave my hotel room in the morning and not return until evening and I’d want to be able to check what number metro to take.
  • Don’t hesitate to pack an extra pair of comfortable shoes/sneakers. You’ll wear them all and change them often if you’re a walker.
  • Jackets and vests from Uniqlo have deep inside pockets. These are perfect to store your passport, room key and metro card. The pocket protects these items against pickpockets and are easy for you to access.
  • If you plan to handwash socks etc., bring along a plug in case there is no stopper in your hotel bathroom sink.
  • If you’re staying in a hotel, listen to Nancie Steinberg when she suggests you bring a small bar of soap, unless you use gel for everything.
  • Pack cream rinse.
  • When you leave France, security is serious about seeing the quart-size see-through kit or baggie in your carryon luggage with liquids such as shampoo, mouthwash, makeup, etc. so keep it handy. You and the other tourists line up about 8 across facing security guards. Unless it’s right on top you’ll go nuts finding it in the mayhem of placing it, your jacket, electronics, camera, handbag and carry-on luggage in different plastic trays.
  • Bring a small empty plastic bottle that’s light and easy to refill with water and carry as you tour. Museums allow you to bring in liquids in bottles. Not usually a thirsty person, I was crazy thirsty during my trip.
  • If when you travel abroad you tend to react to the change in water and air [as I do, violently], I’ve found probiotics, one a day, help mitigate the worst. Check with your doctor. And as tempting as ice may be, pass when it’s served and drink your soda without. I even used bottled water for my water pic!
  • Don’t depend on Apple Maps. It was great to identify the number metro to take and which exit to use but unreliable above ground.
  • Paralyzing traffic goes on above ground and the metro is so easy to use. Compared to the NYC subway, you can eat off the floor.
  • Batobus is a great way to see Paris from the Seine. It stops in nine crucial places and you hop off and on as often as you like. I got on at the Eiffel Tower, took the entire tour and left at Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
  • Museum Pass was a lifesaver except at the Sainte Chapelle where the day I was there an angry security guard admitted those in the prepaid line last. [We’re supposed to go first.] I reported it to the museum pass folks. While literally broiling in line, I looked up the site and learned that the former chapel is now run by the government.
  • Even if you have a museum pass, unless you love waiting in long lines, if a website—such as the Louvre or Musée de l’Orangerie–recommends you get a timed entry, do so. Otherwise, having the pass gives you first priority access and that’s all you need.

Please share your travel tips about Paris or anywhere in the world.

This was the line for timed tickets at the Louvre. It moved fast. Sadly, my videos of the line without timed tickets were too big to post here.
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