Picture of fb_front Monday morning, I learned how to use a horodateur (parking meter), with the added excitement that three out of every four don't seem to work, or only take special cards you get if you live there. But it's a nice way to see the neighborhood, hunting for the only working horodateur in the area. A little later we drove to Fontainebleau getting to see some of the French countryside for the first time. We found the city (of Fontainebleau) easily enough, and then started following signs to the chateau. Somewhere right around downtown the signs suddenly stopped, and we didn't know where it was. Turning the car around it was right in front of us as far as the eye could see, but not apparently if you were driving the other direction.

Picture of fb_kennel It was a raining a bit when we parked (uphill of course), and we started walking around the chateau looking for the front door. It should be mentioned, perhaps several times, that it was a very big chateau. It turned out we parked as far from the front as was possible. But we got to see most of the exterior in the process. The top picture is the 'front door' above the trademark horseshoe shaped staircase. This picture, believe it or not, was the kennel for the hordes of hunting dogs (and their tenders) who lived at Fontainebleau.

Picture of fb_ball Fontainebleau started as something between a palace and a hunting lodge. Francois I built the central part of it in the 1500s, then a couple hundred years later Louis XIV took over adding a few hundred more rooms, and finally Napoleon showed up to add his personal touch of exuberance. The self guiding tour covers about 40 rooms most of which we didn't take pictures of. (Sorry). This is the ballroom, looking a little bit sparse because they are restoring parts of it. This is possibly the only room in the chateau that doesn't involve gigantic paintings of hunting dogs. Possibly every single dog who ever lived at Fontainebleau has his portrait painted somewhere inside (along with his/her name).

Picture of fbleau The gardens are what one might call vast. In this picture (taken with the help of a convenient staircase) they extend as far as can be seen behind us. In days of yore they extended right into the Forest of Fontainebleau where the aforementioned hunting dogs would run amok in search of whatever it was they hunted. It's a bit hard to tell this is a formal gardens, but if one were to turn the camera around 180 degrees you'd see this next picture instead:

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Picture of foret On the way back, we stopped in the Forest of Fontainebleau, which is known for its mountain climbing trails. It's not really mountains, but there are huge boulders just lying about everywhere. There are several sets of color coded trails ranging from easy ones that just go past the boulders, to the hardest 3 or 4 which require ropes and climbing equipment. We took a fairly easy trail which required some minor scrambling and squeezing between boulders here and there. It was nice and empty, and other than birds (and one slug) we didn't see any wildlife or people.

Picture of sacre_coeur After that we returned to Paris and had lunch. Across from our hotel was a sandwich shop which sold hot baguettes (and Orangina). After lunch, we went to Montmartre which involved, of course, lots of steps. But it provides a nice break from all of those gothic cathedrals, providing instead: a Byzantine cathedral. After we wandered through the exceedingly touristy squares, and told at least 100 people we didn't want our portraits done we went inside Sacre Coeur (pictured here, behind Melanie). We were lucky enough to arrive during Vespers, so we sat for a while and listened to the singing which seemed to be mostly in French.

Picture of scoeur Montmartre historically is known for being a bit of an artists' enclave. Toulouse-Lautrec, Utrillo and Picasso lived here, and apparently the quality and originality of the art has been declining ever since. Now it seems to be someplace for armchair artists to show up and paint famous Paris landmarks and sell them to tourists who already have 20 pictures of the same thing. The most amazing thing is how many of these artists can't draw the Eiffel Tower properly, even though it is clearly visible in the distance. Or Notre Dame or anything else. They also like to invent scenes that combine major monuments in ways that are clearly not possible physically. I suppose this is what artistic license refers to.

Picture of sc_alley Here in this alley we captured on film another of Paris' idiosyncrasies. And I'm not talking about the carousel, though they seem to be widespread as well. The man in the foreground is selling little rubber balls with faces on them. I'm not kidding. They're arranged on the blanket in front of him in the hopes that passersby will shell out 10 Francs (about $2) for one. We didn't observe anyone purchasing one the entire time we were in Paris. The mechanical pigeons sold like hotcakes though. (I'm not kidding about that either). Around the corner from this scene we purchased some marrons (roasted chestnuts) and took the Metro back to the Tuilleries which we hadn't had a chance to enjoy yet.

Picture of tul_west The Jardins des Tuilleries are conveniently located in the middle of everything. This picture is from inside the Tuilleries looking west towards the Place de la Concorde (tall pointy thing) and the Arc de Triomphe (tall non-pointy thing). The gardens themselves are in the foreground, and yes they tend to involve more people than actual gardens. We were horribly disappointed at first because it was mostly just a huge gravel walkway between the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre.

Picture of tul_east As we continued to walk through them, we continued to be disappointed. The landscaping consisted of little squares of grass that you weren't allowed to walk on. There weren't many benches and there certainly were not any flowers. Looking through the gardens in the opposite direction there is yet another arch. I don't know what this one is called but it's really not that important. Through it can be seen the Louvre. Anyhow, at the far eastern end of the Tuilleries we finally found what we were looking for. Some nice fountains surrounded by grass and flowers and lots of places to sit and watch Paris go by. You weren't allowed on that grass either but we cheated momentarily to get this next picture, which turned out rather well.

Picture of tuilleries Once it started to get dark (and a bit chilly) we headed back to the hotel and went to our favorite restaurant (the one from last night). Okay, so we'd only eaten at three or four places but the Brasserie next door was still leading. We both had the special - steak with roquefort cheese and frites. We might have avoided the frites had we known how frite-crazy Belgium was. Frites, incidentally, are French fries, although they apply to Belgian fries as well apparently. The only real difference between the American and European versions is that those in Europe were a bit thicker, they were all cooked suprisingly uniformly, and they come by the bushel.

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