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For Spring break 2009, the Valley High School (from West Des Moines, Iowa) combined String Orchestra and A Capella Choir went on a tour of France including some places in Normandy and Paris. This page documents some observations and photos by one of the chaperons, Al Prosser, and his daughter Ariel.
We had a more relaxed morning on Saturday. Everyone had to have their bags packed and ready. I was down before they even turned on the lobby lights. I got to see my friend take off as they changed shifts. He asked me to stop by the hotel next time I and in Caen. I said if God commands (I meant to say if it is God's will, but that was the best I could do). We agreed that it was a small world, who knows?
We had the same wonderful stuff for breakfast as on Friday. Some people brought their stuff down to breakfast and some got it later. I decided I really liked what I thought was yoghurt but later decided was crème fraise with strawberries.
Our bags completely filled the lobby, but finally we loaded up the buses and went to the other hotel to pick up the rest. It was a little less than an hour to Rouen.
We arrived in Rouen at just before 11 AM. It was overcast, temp was not bad, maybe low 50s F. It was not raining, but sort of misting. It may have rained earlier. They had to unload the buses a little ways from where we were to gather, so we walked the couple blocks to the cathedral. They gave us a little while to wander around in shops or look in the cathedral before everyone went down the shopping area. I went with my daughter, a couple friends and their moms. The six of us would do a lot of the exploring together, so I will just say the usual group from now on. We went to a Tobacco shop, where one of the mom's wanted to find out about calling cards. We were not so sure of my translating abilities and decided to wait on the calling card, but I bought some batteries, as I had been through a set to two already. We were next door to the bureau of Tourism, and our guides brought out some maps. I took a few pictures of the cathedral. We walked around the corner, and went shopping in a store where my daughter bought the little cap she wore most of the rest of the trip. I took a picture outside.
Finally it was time for everyone to gather age receive our instructions. We had about 2 hours to wander, shop, eat, then to meet at the Église Ste Jeanne D'Arc (church of Saint Joan of Arc). We had to have a minimum of three in a group, watch for pickpockets, etc. etc. The 150 of us then dived into the crowds on Rue du Gros Horlage (The Street of the Big Clock). We all walked to the meeting place, following the tour guide with the flag, then they turned us loose. While walking, we picked out places to visit on the return. We worked our way back and forth, eventually going back to the cathedral and around the block by the buildings for the Normandy Parliament and eventually to the plaza by the church.
One of the places we stopped was called “La Papétheque”. It was basically a stationary and art supplies store. I bought a pen for my son to use for his drawing. My daughter bought a “cool” wallet and a ruler with her boyfriend's name, sign and lucky number on it. There was a colorful scarf shop across the street, but it was pretty expensive. In another store called BizzBee she got a funny t-shirt and somewhere she got a scarf.
We started talking about lunch, and a couple of our group decided that while we were thinking, they would use the restrooms at McDonalds. Sometimes there is a charge to use restrooms, and though someone from our school passing by indicated that there were free restrooms down by the plaza, we did not wait. After I saw the “free” restrooms later, I know they made the correct choice. We finally decided on a place that served homemade crêpes, paninis and other good stuff. I got a strawberry crêpe, and my daughter got the special panini, drink and dessert for 5 euros. I split the panini, and it was the best one we had the whole trip. She had a huge piece of chocolate flan with chips on top. There is a picture of 5 of the six of our usual group there.
We made our way up to the cathedral, then went around the block to come back on the side street, Rue aux Juifs (Jewish street). We passed some fancy old buildings that were being cleaned. My map indicates that this was the Parlement de Normadie. From the photos one can see why there was a lot of building cleaning going on all over France. I can tell you, between this and the cathedral some stone cutters made a good living in Rouen a few years ago. The decoration is what I now think of when I hear the expression “over the top”.
Finally, we arrived at the little ruins next to the church. I went to the “free” restroom, that for men was partly out of order. Guess which part. It was not the last time. We saw a museum (gift shop) for Ste Jeanne d'Arc, but they were closed for lunch so we just got pictures outside. The girls took some dramatic pictures of each other by the church and ruins. I managed to take some pictures of flowers for my wife before they all got put up. There was a small Carrousel from 1900. I took a photo of some cute small children, then some of the high school kids took a ride. Pretty soon it was time to load up the buses and head back to Paris. On the way out of town, we saw some cliffs that must have supplied some of the stone for the fancy buildings.
I do not have much to say about the trip from Rouen to Paris, because I was catching up on sleep. I woke up shortly before we got to the tunnel entering Paris. I took a picture of the first view of the Eiffel Tower. It had been obscured when we left a couple days earlier. We arrived at Hotel Parc Du Millenaire at just after 4 PM. It took a long time for everyone to get through check in and up to our rooms. I was on the third bus, and when we got there, people from the first bus were starting to get to their rooms and could be seen looking out their balconies. The second bus was still trying to get into the lobby. It turns out that they had a limited number of elevators that could only hold about 6-7 people with luggage at a time. There were almost 150 of us. Many of us would just take the stairs. It was 5 flights of circular stairs to my room on the “4th” floor. My daughter's room was around the corner. The only pictures I took of the room were breakfast a couple days later. There was a love seat that folded into a bed, and a bed that folded out of the wall. We had a small fridge, a microwave, stove, and pots and utensils. The bathroom had one of those half doors for the shower, and a towel warmer that some people had trouble turning off. The hotel was geared more as a long term residence hotel, so I imagine that usually they do not have 150 guests arriving at once.
At about 6 PM we all set off on the 10 minute walk to dinner, following the tour guide with the flag again.. The neighborhood was very different from downtown Paris. Here it was all modern buildings and skyscrapers. We passed a statue of a huge thumb. The main landmark is called “La Defense”, a huge cube of a building with open ends. There was a mall next door to it and our restaurant was “Bistro Romain” at the mall. We somehow all fit into the restaurant. For appetizer, we had tomatoes with what I think was some sort of tuna paté. This was followed by a lasagne, then topped off by a chocolate mousse. I am allergic to chocolate, so they gave be some paper thin slices of pineapple, artistically displayed on a plate.
After dinner, we took a walk around the plaza next to “La Defense”. I had trouble figuring out the correct settings for my camera, but did get some reasonable shots. There was a large police presence on the ground and the rooftops. Our guides told us that the police had informed them to have us avoid the Metro station, as there was a large crime rate there. When some adults went out in the evenings, they took taxis to the next station. Anyway, with 150 of us and watchful police, we seemed to be ok.
Some of the young people stayed up playing cards in the lobby, where they could have a larger gathering than their rooms. To me, it seemed like they were changing the rules every hand, but they insisted that they understood.
If you care more about pictures, click on the picture of the day or the date. If you want to read the descriptions, click on the reference to thumbnail versions. The thumbnails are displayed 1/25 the size.
March 16, 2009 - Paris. Choir concert at Notre-Dame. Louvre
Concert at La Madeleine. Dinner
at Monte-Carlo after short walk on Champs Elysees near Arc de
Thumbnail version of Monday March 16, 2009
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