Cover photo by Martyn Davis, used under Creative Commons license

So sad.

From The GuardianOh l’amour: Paris bridge rail collapses under weight of too much love.

The path of true love for tourists in Paris has often involved a stroll across the Pont des Arts and the attachment of a “love lock” to its railings. The key is then thrown into the river Seine.

But the celebrated bridge had to be evacuated at the weekend after part of the railing collapsed under the weight of love locks attached to it.

Police ordered visitors to leave and closed the footbridge after a 2.4-metre section of railing broke loose.

I did a little Googling after reading this and found all these pictures of how the locks have infested the bridge, like some sort of trendy cancer. It’s awful. It was one of the prettiest things we saw in Paris on our first visit in 2007, just before all this lock silliness started.

But hey, why let a beautiful setting like that survive? Better to smother it with rusting, meaningless crap.

Get better soon, Paris.


Cover photo by Martyn Davis, used under Creative Commons license

France: day 11, 12, 13 & 14

DAY 11

So much for sleeping in. The alarm went off at 6:45, and a room-service breakfast later we were picking up RER train tickets at Musee D’Orsay. About half an hour later we’d reached the Chateau de Versailles.

The teeming throng leading up to the palace should have been a warning. It was…well, a bit much. Spectacular, to be sure, but almost too big and too ornate and most certainly too crowded. At points I was wading through crowds of Japanese tourists to get anywhere.

The Hall of Mirrors was of particular interest to us, given the historical importance, but this was among the only shots we could get before being overrun by tour groups. We continued on in the loop around the inside of the building, but despite a few quiet moments to admire the palace’s art, it just didn’t live up to the expectations we had.

After fleeing the building we explored the gardens, or at least part of them.

They were truly enormous, and despite walking for over and hour we covered only a corner of the grounds. Had we known before we started that you could rent Segways to get around the ground, despite what it cost, we might’ve gone that route. Funnily enough, though, after we walked five minutes from the Chateau itself into the gardens, we were completely alone. I guess people only care to take picture of each other standing in front of Marie Antoinette’s dresser.

I can understand why people say Versailles is a must-see, but I can see now why Parisiens try to dissuade visitors from going there. The friend we met at Les Blotteries suggested we try Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte instead, as it’s like a more condensed version with smaller crowds. Anyway, back to the RER train we went, and had some charcuterie for lunch. By the way, at this point I was drinking coffee at the end of every meal. In the previous week I’d drunk as much coffee as I’d consumed in the entire previous 34 years.

We got back to the hotel for some much needed relaxation and recuperation (I’d hurt my shin somehow, and Nellie was nursing various blisters), and got a surprise. Presumably to make up for the earlier mishaps our hotel’s front desk had sent up a bottle of champagne and two glasses. We hastily throw the whole thing down our necks and proceed to the Louvre. Drunk art woo!!

Two years ago when we visited the Louvre we only had an hour or so, so we sped through to the vital locations: the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. This time we had no such time constraints and took a more leisurely pace. Sneaking in through the Lion’s Gate entrance was a great idea, and we soon landed in the great halls of Spanish and Italian painters, far less crowded than the narrow spaces of the Musee D’Orsay.

As usual, there were great heaping crowds of gawkers at the Mona Lisa. I all but hurried past it to reach The Raft of the Medusa in the next room. We saw the rest of the paintings in that wing, and then went upstairs to see the Dutch, Flemish, German and French works.

By the time we finished our feet were killing us, and the pain in my shin (felt almost like shin splints) had become almost unbearable, so we limped home and relaxed for a few hours. We didn’t want to go far for dinner, so the bistrot around the corner seemed ideal. It was a great meal too: I had smoked salmon and dorado with a bottle of white. Nellie had a duo of chevre and a steak. My molten chocolate dessert was very good, as was Nellie’s trio of creme brulee. It was all in a nice relaxed atmosphere too, as evidenced by the local couple who arrived just before 10:00 with their Jack Russell in tow, who sat under the table while they ate. Coffee or not, neither of us could stay awake for long and we dragged our tired bones home and into bed.

DAY 12

We now decided to enter the relaxation portion of the trip. We slept in, at least as much as possible given the noisy street outside. We ordered another room-service breakfast, lay about reading and kept off our feet for a while. By late morning we thought we’d take a quick, casual stroll over toward the shopping area on Rue St-Peres, stopping in at the Paris installation of M0851, then walked a little further. Suddenly we realized how close we were to the Jardins du Luxembourg and decided to just go there.

After sitting in the sun in front of the pool for a little while, we also realized we were close to a lunch place recommended by a colleague at work: Cuisine de Bar. A few minutes later we were eating tartines (like an open-faced sandwich) in a tiny little spot. Cool little find that I simply would not have known about but for that recommendation, and highly recommended if you’re looking for a good, fast, inexpensive lunch in Paris.

We walked (sloooowly) back to the hotel and chilled for a bit, then went out to do a little more shopping and had a few drinks on the patio at the hotel’s bar. No sense running all over Paris; we’d seen most of the sights, and we were determined to squeeze in a little R&R. And anyway, I’m on the limp.

For dinner we ended up returning to the Cafe des Lettres, where we ate Monday night, because we’d liked it so much. Same great food, same lovely patio, same attractive servers. Just as good the second time!

DAY 13

Our various tweaks and injuries didn’t stop us from taking one last swing around the city and exploring a new neighbourhood. We took the metro down to Montparnasse, gawked at the tower and then strolled through the cemetery.Serge Gainsbourg’s grave was covered in shlock.

We tried to visit the catacombs, but they were closed because of vandalism. Boo. In light of this defeat we opted to console ourselves with food and, more importantly, beer. We walked up the street to a place recommended on BeerAdvocate called Academie de la Biere. I had an Erdinger, Nellie had a Westmalle Brune and then we shared a bottle of French beer called La Goudale.

We kept walking up, passing again through the Jardin du Luxembourg and into the Latin Quarter. We tried to make a reservation at Fish for a return visit, but they were all booked up for the night. We ran some last-minute errands, had a dessert and coffee, did an Air Canada web check-in, started packing and relaxed in the room for a while. There was nothing left to do but eat dinner, finish packing, fill out the room service menu and set the alarm. Dinner was a quick, quiet affair at a little spot around the corner. Nothing fancy, nothing remarkable, just a decent meal in a neighbourhood spot.

DAY 14

We woke up far too early for our liking and got our stuff into a cab. And what a cab! There’s something unsettling about riding in a minibus on the peripherique highway around Paris listening to Boney M, especially when you’re doing 150 and weaving through traffic like a lunatic. On the plus side, it’s nice to be the world record holder for the fastest trip ever recorded from Saint-Germain to Charles de Gaulle airport. Turns out all the speed was for naught as our flight was delayed by over an hour, but we eventually got on our flight and started the long flight west.

On the flight home moments and memories from the previous two weeks flashed through my now-numb brain. The beauty of the Loire Valley. The wonderful hosts we’d met at tiny inns and B&Bs around the country. The cathedrals book-ending our drive, at Chartres and Reims. The remnants of war in Normandy, Vimy and the Somme valley. The perfect weekend in Champagne, especially as it was spent with my brother. Even lunch at the brasserie in Chartres on our first day, which seemed a distant memory, which I remembered in the same fond way I remember the first day of university or starting a new job: the beginning of a new adventure.

I think it will be some time before I can see it all clearly, and recognize what an amazing trip it was. Upon returning to Toronto we dove straight back into work and attempted to get our lives back in game shape, going through the mechanics of recovering from a two-week vacation. As such, it doesn’t feel yet as if we had an adventure…just that we were away. But later, once all the chaotic brush strokes of this trip have been laid out on a single canvas in my mind, I’ll have a work of art to return to, to admire, for the rest of my life.

And that’s why we go.

France: day 9 & 10


We left Manoir de Montflambert right after breakfast, taking a bottle of their champagne with us. We saw a fox not long after leaving the manoir, before we got back on the highway, pretty much our only wildlife spotting of the trip. No wild boars, boo. Carmen took us down a bunch of back roads, then the Autoroute, then more back roads. Finally we returned the car to CDG about 15 minutes late, for which we got charged an extra day.

We piled into a cab and headed downtown, using limited French to have a conversation with cab driver until we reached our hotel. Our room wasn’t ready so we explored the neighbourhood — Saint Germain — a bit. We picked a nearby cafe for lunch, sitting and watching Paris go by as we drank wine and coffee.

I was excited to be staying in the 6th. I won’t even get into all the headaches we had with the hotel, though if you’re really interested, it’s on record over at TripAdvisor. Instead, I’ll just talk about what a fantastically convenient location it was, close to everything, surrounded by nice restaurants and pretty shops like this one across street.

We walked over to the Latin Quarter and had drinks at some sort of overpriced bar in a pedestrian mall (with a waitress who, ahem, defied gravity) and explored the ‘hood a bit before heading back toward our hotel. For dinner we settled on a place around the corner from our hotel, Cafe des Lettres. We loved this place. The inside looks like a library, all bookcases and dark wood and leather-bound chairs, but we saw outdoors on their huge garden patio. The menus were written inside the first pages of journals they brought to us, and patrons were welcome to write (or draw) whatever they wanted in the remaining pages. After we ordered we flipped through others’ thoughts and left some of our own. The food was excellent, the servers were very friendly (and let me continue ordering in French, only switching to English when stumbled once) and terribly attractive, and the weather was as perfect as it had been for the whole trip. We enjoyed our evening in the warm Parisian air and strolled back to the hotel, pleased as punch.

Speaking of attractive Parisians, I felt kind of bad for Nellie. While there were stunning Parisian women everywhere one looked, she saw very few attractive French men. Something about them all being too short. Anyway, it was a terrible imbalance. Tragic. But she held up like a trooper.

DAY 10

The next morning we decided to visit the Musee D’Orsay, an obvious choice as it was a block from our hotel.

The vast lineup to enter the building tipped us off that crowds would be bad, so we thought we’d be smart and head directly to the third floor where all the top-flight paintings were. Turns out this was everybody’s plan, which made it hard to enjoy the art. There would be no room to stand in front of a painting and admire it because of the steady stream of tourist yobs taking each others’ picture in front of it. With flash, of course. It led to a speed walk around the top floor, and only slightly more casual walks on the remaining floors.

Surprisingly, my favourite thing in the whole musee might have been the view that greets you when you enter the main hall. D’Orsay was a train station, and it’s retained the feeling of a grand hall, rather than the palatial feel of the Louvre. We wrapped up there and grabbed some lunch at a pub on Saint-Germain that has a decent beer selection. Unfortunately the rest of it was a touristy mess, but you can’t win ’em all. Clearly the previous night had spoiled us.

In the late afternoon we decided to go for a walk toward the Eiffel tower. The last time we visited Paris was during the World Cup of Rugby (hosted by France), and there was a giant rugby ball suspended from the tower, which made our resident photographer very unhappy. This time she was determined to get an unspoiled shot. She did, but probably not from the angle she was expecting.

The reason I wanted to walk down that far was to cross the river and visit the Place du Trocadero. We sat on the grass and watched the fountains, snapping picture after picture of the tower from our perfect vantage. No aggressive trinket vendors, no loud scammers, no bumbling crowds…just peace and quiet and a clear sight line. Sure, there were lots of people hanging out on the grass, but it’s an ocean of calm compared to the chaos across the river, underneath the tower.

During our walk back to the hotel I step into a hole in the sidewalk and jam my shin, which ends up sucking pretty badly later. Also, I paid 12 Euros for one hour of internet access, and I felt like I lost a tiny bit of my soul, so our luck was starting to turn. But dinner at Fish Wine Bar won the day. It was a fairly Anglo place (a Kiwi bartender greeted us, a lady from New York chatted with us at the bar, etc.), enough so that the older gentleman seated next to us said something rather rude en Francais about the annoying foreigners not bothering to learn the language. He thought I couldn’t understand him, but the stink-eye I gave him made him realize that wasn’t the case. Anyway, we weren’t letting that spoil our night…our food was excellent, and the wine predictably wonderful. Another great find. We wondered when our luck would run out.

By this point we were both pretty much in love with Paris. The only thing that bothered me about it was the smoking. Living in Toronto’s spoiled us; as smokey as I find it sometimes, it’s nothing compared to Paris, where we were always sitting next to someone on a cafe who lit up. Still, it was immeasurably better this time ’round in Paris, now that there’s no smoking indoors.

We sauntered back to the hotel, brimming with wine, infatuated with our new vacation home. Paris, je t’aime.

France: day 1 & 2


After a long and unpleasant flight (I couldn’t sleep and the food was rubbish) we landed in Paris. I was trying to stay lucid long enough to pick up the rental car and let Nellie, who’d at least managed a few hours of shut-eye on the flight, drive to Chartres. All went well and we got on the road soon enough, thankfully with a GPS to show us the way. We named it Carmen. Carmen the Garmin.

After fighting through Paris traffic we took the relatively smooth road to Chartres, about 90 minutes from Paris, and parked the car. We had several hours to kill before we could backtrack to our B&B (because really, all we wanted to do at this point was sleep) so we had some lunch at a brasserie on a square, struggling to adapt to having to speak French all of a sudden. After lunch we found the famous Chartres Cathedral.

It’s an impressive building, both inside and out, and one of only two I was interested in seeing on this trip. After seeing it we wandered around Chartres a little more, picking up some food for the evening since we knew we wouldn’t stay awake long enough to eat a proper dinner. We got back to the car and drove the half hour or so to our B&B, La Ferme de Bouchement.

When we arrived there was no one there to answer the door, teaching us a valuable lesson for the rest of the trip: always call ahead to a B&B. We waited for a while, knocking on various doors and windows, until finally one of the owners arrived. This is where my cloudy brain really had to switch back to French mode, as Didier didn’t speak very much English at all. However, I understood everything he said and we managed to get the car parked and bags up to the room. The grounds were lovely with cats, a dog and several ducks inhabiting the back yard. We snapped some pictures, then laid our weary bones on the wonderful bed and went to sleep.


Nellie and I being the planners that we are, we’d begun adjusting our body clocks a week before leaving, so that (sleepless transatlantic flights aside) we wouldn’t have jet lag. Thus, we sprung from our beds ready to bust south toward the Loire Valley. However, after eating breakfast and meeting Didier’s wife, we learned another valuable lesson: B&Bs in the middle of nowhere don’t often accept credit cards. Duh. So we drove about fifteen minutes north to a little town (and sadly forgot to bring one of our cameras as we parked right next to a half-standing medieval tower…hard to describe but it was very cool) to find an ATM, took out some cash and sallied forth, nearly an hour later than we’d planned. No matter, we didn’t have far to go that day. We took the scenic route (through Beaugency) to Chateau de Chambord.

Chambord is one of the largest and most magnificent chateaux along the Loire valley. We took our time there, getting plenty of good shots inside and out, including the double-helix staircase in the centre of the chateau.

In that picture I was shooting up through the center of the staircases, toward the sunlight. Speaking of sunlight, it’s worth mentioning: for the entire two weeks we were in France the weather was spectacular. The first week it was sunny and in the mid- to high-20s, and only in the last few days did it become overcast and go as low as the mid-teens. The only rain we saw was light mist one day while driving. We never got a drop of rain on us the whole time.

Anyway, from Chambord we drove to Blois for some lunch. It was a lovely city, at least the small bit that we saw from our touristy cafe and the ramparts overlooking the river. We accidentally ordered too much wine, so Nellie had to drive the rest of the way whilst I got good and tipsy in the afternoon sun. Good times. Anyway, from there it was a short drive along the Loire to our next B&B, which wasn’t very easy to find, but was well worth it.

The Chateau de Nazelles, across the river from Amboise and at the top of a hill, is actually a reconstructed old castle. Our room, the Troglodyte suite, was carved into the side of a hill, so I guess that means we slept in a cave. The place was lovely, lots of greenery and old walls and animals about, and modern luxuries like wi-fi and a place to keep drinks cold. With a great recommendation from one of the owners, we had a fantastic dinner just down the road at the Auberge de Launay. It set the bar very, very high for the rest of the trip, and establishes a go-to wine region for the rest of our time in France: Chinon.

The next day promised to be a bad-ass haul along the Loire and all the way up to Basse-Normandie, so we digested our food as quickly as we could and hit the sack.

Au revoir, France

Home again. Tired, off-kilter and not looking forward to all the stuff I need to do, but man…what a great trip.

We’ll sort through all the pictures and everything soon. For now I’m just trying to stay awake long enough to watch the hockey game.

I swear, every single town in France has a Notre Dame Cathedral

Back in January I mentioned that our big trip this year would consist of two weeks in France. We’ve now hammered out our plan some more:


The plan is as follows. Follow along on the map for extra fun!

  1. Land in Paris (trust me, the ‘A’ is hidden behind the ‘K’) and jump in a car
  2. Visit Chartres
  3. Visit the Chateau de Chambord and start driving along the Loire valley
  4. Visit Tours, and other small towns along the way like Amboise and Candes-St-Martin
  5. Visit Angers, and from there turn north
  6. See Mont-Saint-Michel, though after the experience we had at Rocamadour I think we’ll just take pictures from the outside
  7. Visit Juno Beach
  8. Visit the Vimy Memorial
  9. Visit Reims
  10. Spend a few days in and around Epernay and Troyes, sampling Champagne and meeting up with my brother
  11. Drive back to Paris, drop the car and spend about five days there…probably visiting the Louvre a couple of times, the Musee D’Orsay, Versailles, maybe the catacombs, maybe just hanging out in St-Germain or Montparnasse.

So that’s the plan.We’ll cover A through I in first six days, then as our energy wears off we’ll start to wind down in Champagne and take the better part of the final week in Paris.

Anybody have any tips for those areas? Any can’t-misses?

Day three of the plague

Yea and verily, this cold is kicking my ass. I had to stay home again today; even if I could summon the energy and concentration to do my job today, I’d just make everyone else sick. I can still get some more basic work done here this afternoon, but I need to find a way to get functional by tomorrow. Can’t miss three days in a row.

I’m sure some people would think I’ve gotten sick like this because I’m (largely) off meat, but that’s not it. I still eat seafood occasionally, I still take vitamins, etc. If anything I probably don’t eat enough vegetables (ironic, for a vegetarian…) or fruits. The Toronto Star actually has a story today about how easy it is to be vegetarian in this city.


Speaking of my job, my title includes the word “strategy”, a term used inaccurately and far too often. I take some flak for it — I often get accused of task-oriented people of “not doing anything, just thinking about things” — which doesn’t bother me, but it does start me wondering if what I work on is really strategy.

That depends largely on the role description, I suppose, and I won’t go into that here, but I read an interesting article last week by Penelope Trunk (aka The Brazen Careerist). In it she states that people inclined to think strategically are (Myers-Briggs personality type) typically INTJs.

The best thing you can do for your career is take a personality test to understand your strengths. If you are an INTJ you really are a strategist.  If you are not an INTJ, the fewer letters you have that match that, the further away from strategist you are. So get some self-knowledge before you declare yourself a strategist.

I am, in fact, an INTJ — I was an ISTJ in university when I first took the test but a few years ago came out INTJ — so while this may not mean much in itself, and I would never refer to myself as a “strategist”, it does help to reassure me that I am, in fact, in more or less the right field of work. Which is, you know, nice.


I haven’t used myself, and until Monday I’d never heard of the site, but whoever they are they decided to use one of my Flickr pictures for one of their new Paris guides. It’s a shot taken in Place des Vosges, for their Marais neighbourhood guide.

Of course, I can’t take any credit whatsoever for the shot; Nellie took it, just as she took all of the best shots from our trip to France. The girl has an eye.

[tags]vegatarian, strategy, myers-briggs, intj, schmap, paris, marais, place des vosges[/tags]

"That was the moment when I fell in love with Paris"

Two more movies down:

This Film Is Not Yet Rated (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was a very interesting look at the MPAA ratings board (you know, the ones who decide whether a film is G, PG, PG-13, R or NC-17). The documentary is all about the secrecy around the small group of people who decide the rating, and interviews many filmmakers whose films were rated NC-17. There are lots of interesting angles discussed — bias toward studio films, bias against gay sex, acceptance of extreme violence while sex is considered dirty if it shows too many thrusts, etc. — and the filmmaker even hires a PI firm to track down the identities of the raters. The best part comes, of course, when the filmmaker submits the film to the MPAA for a rating. Highly recommended.

Paris, Je T’Aime (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was a collection of sixteen short films about Parisien neighbourhoods. Apart from one or two, they were all quite good. Some were excellent: “Tuileries” by the Coen Brothers, “Père-Lachaise” by Wes Craven, “Faubourg Saint-Denis” by Tom Tykwer and especially “14th Arrondissement” by Alexander Payne. His lone character’s description of what happens in those transcendent travel moments are simply perfect:

“And then something happened. A feeling came over me. As if I recalled something, something that I had never known and for which I had been waiting, but I didn’t know what it was. Maybe it was something I had forgotten. Or something I had missed my whole life. I can only tell you that at the same time I felt joy and sadness. But not a great sadness. Because I felt alive.”

[tags]this film is not yet rated, mpaa, film ratings, paris je t’aime, coen brothers, wes craven, tom tykwer, alexander payne, paris[/tags]