Round Up

30 09 2005

Good – The Constant Gardener
Bad – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Fugly – Fever Pitch

Red – 2003 Domaine Font de Michelle Châteauneuf du Pape (Rhone red)
White – 2003 Alain Coche-Bizouard Meursault L’Ormeau (White Burgundy)
Dessert – 2004 Domaine de Beaumalric Muscat de Beaumes de Venise
We had these in France earlier this month so I cannot guarantee availability in the Bay but you could try Mill Valley Market, Vintage Wines and Spirits, Plump Jack, Paul Marcus Wines, Draeger’s, K&L, Beltramo’s, Whole Foods, Bottle Barn, and The Wine House. I should like to suggest Wine Searcher and always patronize your local wine seller to keep him in business.

Cocktail: Fraises des Bois Royales
Mix 1 tbs grenadine with 0.25C fraises des bois liqueur (or Chambord) and chill in SubZero for one (1) hour before guests arive. Divide mixture into six (6) flutes. I got these lovelyones from Mikasa that everyone loves and are dishwasher upper drawer safe! Slowly pour in the champagne and serve. I used Zardetto Prosecco Brut Conegliano as it is plentiful in my garage and I am out of Seaview Brut as this quarter’s shipment is late! Seaview is a jolly every Sunday brunch sparkler that is usually easily accessible. Italian Prosecco (so redundant) is often confused with Dalmatian prosecco (a sweet sherry like wine from dried grapes). This is ridiculous. Prosecco, vrai, is a white grape variety grown in the Veneto region only (in Italy) and gives its name to the sparkler of origin. The grape is known in the conegaliano and valdobbiadene regions in northern Venice. A late ripener, it is used in dry sparkers (spumante) and semi sparklers (frizzante) with bitter aftertastes. Mix with peach juice (I prefer boiled apricot pulp) for a Bellini; or mix with cranberry juice and vodka for a Poinsettia (hmmm, shades of the archly common Cosmopolitan much?).


Week in Wine

29 09 2005

Where to sip specialty cocktails in the city

Absinthe Brasserie & Bar: 398 Hayes St. (at Gough), S.F.; (415) 551-1590.
— Drink to try: Ginger Rogers.

Aziza: 5800 Geary Blvd. (at 22nd Ave.), S.F.; (415) 752-2222.
— Drink to try: Meyer Lemon Basil Drop.

Coco500: 500 Brannan St. (at Fourth), S.F.; (415) 543-2222.
— Drink to try: Tamarindo.

El Dorado Kitchen: 405 First St. W. (at West Spain), Sonoma; (707) 996-3030.
— Drink to try: Peach Jalapeno.

Frisson: 244 Jackson St. (at Battery), S.F.; (415) 956-3004.
— Drink to try: Le Long Frisson.

Jack Falstaff: 598 Second St. (at Brannan), S.F.; (415) 836-9239.
— Drink to try: Lychee & Kombucha.

The Last Supper Club: 1199 Valencia St. (at 23rd St.), S.F.; (415) 695-1199.
— Drink to try: Limoncello Cooler.

Range: 842 Valencia St. (at 19th Street), S.F.; (415) 282-8283.
— Drink to try: Fickle Fox.

Slanted Door: 1 Ferry Building, No. 3, S.F.; (415) 861-8032.
— Drink to try: French 75.

Slow Club: 2501 Mariposa St. (at Hampshire), S.F.; (415) 241-9390.
— Drink to try: Blood Orange Cosmopolitan.

Town Hall: 342 Howard St. (at Fremont), S.F.; (415) 908-3900.
— Drink to try: Town Hall Cooler or Sazerac.


Temptation (from Range)

Coat the rim of a cocktail glass with sugar. Shake the 1.5 oz vodka, 0.5 oz raspberry liqueur and 1.5 lemon juice with ice in a mixing glass, then strain into the cocktail glass. Float the 0.25 ozsparkling wine on top.

Pomegranate Manhattan (from Frisson)

Pour 2 oz bourbon, 1 oz pomegranate nectar, 0.5 oz Cynar and 3 drops orange bitters over ice in a mixing glass, then strain into a cocktail glass, adding a splash of ginger ale for effervescence as you pour. Garnish with an orange twist.

Ginger Kaffir Limeade (from Slanted Door)

Run a piece of lime along the lip of a tumbler and then dip the rim into organic sugar spread on a plate. Fill a glass with ice. Add 1.5 lime juice, /75 oz ginger syrup, Cointreau splash and 2 oz kaffir lime vodka. Shake well and pour the entire contents into the tumbler. Garnish with the lime wedge.

California Viogniers

2004 Bonterra Vineyards Mendocino CountyViognier: $15
2004 Eberle Mill Road Vineyard Paso Robles Viognier: $18
2003 EXP Dunnigan Hills Viognier: $12
2004 Handley Cellars Dry Creek Valley Viognier: $19
2004 Incognito Lodi Viognier: $20
2004 Jewel Collection California Viognier: $10
2004 Mount Aukum Winery Fair Play Viognier: $22
2004 Pepperwood Grove California Viognier: $8
2004 Rosenblum Cellars Kathy’s Cuvee California Viognier: $15
2004 Turnbull Oakville Viognier: $30
2004 Vinum Cellars Vio Vista Verde Vnyd. San Benito County Viognier: $25
2004 Wattle Creek Alexander Valley Viognier: $25
2004 Wild Horse Central Coast Viognier: $20
2004 Windmill Estates CaliforniaViognier: $12

Pinot Noirs

2003 Cameron Hughes Lot 8 Monterey County Pinot Noir ($10)
2002 Castle Rock Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($10)
NV HRM Rex Goliath California Pinot Noir ($9)
2003 Jewel Collection California Pinot Noir ($9)
2004 Three Thieves Circle K Ranch California Pinot Noir ($10 for 1 liter)


2003 Beringer Founders’ Estate California Shiraz ($10)
2003 Jakes Fault California Shiraz ($10)
2003 McManis Family Vineyards California Syrah ($9)
2004 Ted the Mule Cotes du Ventoux Syrah-Grenache ($8)
2003 Tortoise Creek Vin de Pays d’Oc Syrah ($9)

Courtesy of my friend J, check out WineBlog watch

Get Digital

28 09 2005

I have received severe flak, via email and (worse) verbally since I returned from Paris with no documented evidence that I had a good time. The argument that nobody really cares much about your holiday photographs after a singular viewing session does not seem to carry much water. It seems as shocking to many, but not me, that I would be deficient in a digital camera. It is time to succumb. Today’s cameras boast quality and dorpping prices. Which one is right for me?

Digital Camera Basics

Digital cameras come in many shapes and sizes—from light ones that fit in your pocket to others that require some muscle to move around. In lieu of film, most use a CCD (charge-coupled device) to capture image data. The CCD is one of the keys to image quality—the higher the number of pixels, the higher the resolution. In other words, the more pixels you have, the bigger you’ll be able to print your photos without them breaking up into blocky blurs. Resolution is usually referred to in megapixels, or millions of pixels. A few years ago, $1,000 would buy you a state of the art one-megapixel camera, now you can buy an eight megapixel camera for under $650. Top of the line cameras offer six megapixels. How many pixels I need—and can afford—will be one of my big decisions when choosing a camera.

Some other cameras (typically digital SLRs) use another technology known as CMOS or complementary metal oxide semiconductor sensors. In the past, Then there’s the Foveon X3 sensor, which is currently only found in two Sigma digital SLRs and one upcoming Polaroid consumer-level camera. The X3 sensor is a triple layered CMOS sensor (one layer per primary color) that produces incredibly sharp images, equivalent to over 9 megapixels.

After images are captured, they’re saved to some type of removable media, such as a tiny Secure Digital card or, in rare cases, a mini CD-R disc. The higher quality photos, the more room they will take up, so I might be swapping these cards and discs out regularly in my Embassy Suite. Luckily, I can review the images on the camera’s LCD panel and delete right away.

To get the images onto my Dell PC, all cameras offer a USB connection. A few of the higher-end cameras use FireWire which is dramatically faster than USB (unless its USB 2.0 which is still an uncommon feature). Once they are on the Dell, I can use software like Apple’s iPhoto or Adobe’s Photoshop Elements to print, share, and organize your photos.

I am a moron and favor tiny point-and-shoot camera so I know I will quickly tire of a large digital camera’s heft and complexity. I am not going over budget – it is like buying a Ferrari and driving the speed limit. Digital cameras range in weight from 3.5 ounces for an ultra-compact to 1.3 pounds for a typical D-SLR body to a whopping 2.7 pounds for a full-size professional D-SLR body. The smallest cameras can be stuffed into your tiniest pocket, with the largest ones requiring a camera bag to carry them around. I do not want to be hampered by one (1) more thing when I travel but more weight means more features. The smallest cameras usually have a 2X or 3X lens and limited (if any) manual controls. A few of them have a fixed focal length and only digital zoom. On the other hand, the largest cameras most resemble the SLR-style film camera that professionals and serious hobbyists use. These offer full manual controls, and support for add-on flashes and—in the case of digital SLRs — add-on lenses.

Although they certainly get the most attention, more isn’t always better when it comes to pixels. We end up buying way more than they need. For instance, while an eight megapixel camera sounds cool, it’s overkill for almost everyone. My Dell can run the city of Dublin waterworks from my bedside.If your main task will be putting photos on the net for friends and fmaily to see (or on my Flicker account), or making 4×6-inch prints, a two megapixel camera is probably fine. If you make 5×7 prints, move up to a three megapixel. If you want to make 8×10 and larger prints, you’re going to want at least a four megapixel camera. The only people who really need five or more megapixel cameras are those making enormous prints, or professional photographers. This is never me but may be my dear friend P or K. Why restraint? The more pixels the camera has, the more nights I will be working for the ER and the less I will travel and actually use the camera. Its files will be considerably larger (a 2MP image will be about 800KB, while a 5MP image will be around 1.5MB), and will take up more space on my hard drive and removable media cards (I have to carry more cards, buy higher capacity (read: more expensive), or take fewer pictures). If you’re only going to make 4×6 prints, you might want a three-megapixel camera to allow for cropping. Photographers routinely take wide shots of their subjects to avoid slicing off an arm, foot, or forehead—then they crop away all but the most essential elements and enlarge what’s left. If you start with a two-megapixel image, you can’t spare many pixels without compromising image quality; with three or four million pixels, you can. Extra pixels likewise afford you more freedom to correct colors, retouch blemishes, and straighten crooked photos.

TIP: when checking specs, watch out for cameras that use interpolation to boost their pixel counts. Interpolation is a process in which the camera digitally enlarges a lower resolution photo by guessing, or interpolating, what the pixels would look like at a higher resolution and then adding them. The result is noise and artifacts in your photos. Make sure the resolution on the box is the native CCD resolution without interpolation. This is generally mentioned right away on most cameras. Keep an eye out for an “image enlargement” feature, which is the same thing.

How much zoom do I need. Camera zoom ratios are typically advertised in “X’s”. That’s just shows the ratio of the focal length. For example, a 35-105 mm lens works out to 3X. The larger the focal length, the larger the “X”. A camera with a fixed focal length lens (no optical zoom) will likely have faster startup time, and faster shooting speeds (since it does not need to focus the lens). Most of these cameras will have a digital zoom feature to make up for their lack of flexibility. However, digital zoom works by blowing up the center area of the field, which means your camera makes a larger image with the small amount of data. Picture quality suffers as a result. A camera with a 3X optical zoom lens works very well for most purposes. Generally, these cameras will have a focal length of 35-105 mm (in 35mm terms). In reality, the focal length is much smaller (e.g., 7.3 – 21.9 mm), as digital camera sensors are much smaller than film. I’m using the 35mm equivalent since it’s more familiar. If you are into wildlife or sports photography, consider a camera with a longer lens to catch the action far away: there are cameras with 5X, 6X, 8X, 10X, and even 12X optical zooms. Most of these lenses do not have an image stabilization feature to lessen the effects of “camera shake.” You need a very steady hand(buy a tripod) when using the camera at maximum telephoto. More and more cameras are offering image stabilization which helps reduce — but not eliminate — the camera shake issue. One way to ensure a sharp image is to boost the ISO sensitivity (if your camera lets you set it), but the image will have more “noise” than with lower ISO settings.

The maximum aperture range is also important, especially if you plan on taking shots where using the fastest shutter speed possible is desirable (like for sports or low light photography). The maximum aperture is the lowest F-number the camera can reach, which is a measure of how large the iris can open. That may seem contradictory but the lower the F-number, the more light the camera can let in. The more light, the faster the shutter speed you could use. Typically the maximum aperture varies depending on the focal length. For example, it could be F2.8 at wide-angle and F5.2 at telephoto. A small group of cameras (most notably the Panasonic FZ-series) have the same maximum aperture regardless of the focal length, thus making it ideal for low light and action shooting. If you do a lot of shooting in those situations, you’ll want something like F2.0 – F2.5 rather than F3.2 – F5.2.

While point-and-shoot cameras do the job most of the time, there are occasions where manual controls help you override the default settings and take a well-exposed picture. Lower cost digital cameras will usually be point-and-shoot. Aside from exposure compensation (which helps brighten or darken the photo), you typically won’t find any manual controls. More expensive cameras may offer control over shutter speed, aperture, white balance, color, and focus. The first two allow you to take lower light shots, as well as being creative with depth of field, like when you want the subject to be in focus, with a blurry background. Manual color control lets you adjust things like saturation and contrast. Manual white balance is very handy when the preset settings just don’t work in certain lighting conditions. You can shoot a white or gray card which becomes the correct “white” for the camera. Manual focus will let the photographer get a shot in focus that the camera can’t do automatically. For example, when the light levels are too low to focus correctly, you can set it yourself.

Movie recording is pretty much a gimmick, but it is an easy way to take short clips without investing in a camcorder. Some cameras limit your recording time to anywhere between 30 seconds and 10 minutes. Newer models will let you record until your memory card or disc is full, which results in longer movies (up to an hour in some cases). Movies are usually recorded at a resolution of 320 x 240, and are saved in AVI, MPEG, or QuickTime format. Cameras with “high end” movie modes usually record at 640 x 480, a few at 30 frames/second. Be warned that these cameras often require more expensive “high speed” memory cards. Some cameras record sound with movies, and others don’t. Pay close attention to whether or not a camera can use the zoom lens during filming. As a rule, if a camera records sound, you probably can’t use the zoom.

All cameras provide expandable memory of some sort, which is critical for the photographer on the go. If the memory card fills up, you just pop in another and you’re ready to keep shooting. An increasing number of cameras also have a small amount of built-in memory instead of bundling a memory card with the camera. In the early days of digital photography, cameras used either SmartMedia or CompactFlash cards. Today, you’ll see everything from CDs to Secure Digital—the small cards used in Palm devices, some cell phones, and all non-Sony digital camcorders. The card included with your camera is always ridiculously low in capacity, so you’ll probably want to buy a larger card right away; I call this the printer/toner principle – printers are cheap but buying toner serially will hemorrhage the bank. A 256MB card will set you back about $40.SmartMedia cards have gone the way of the Dodo bird, having been replaced by the new xD Picture card format. xD cards are small, limited in capacity to 512MB, and tend to be more expensive than other cards (save Memory Stick). Speaking of Memory Stick, Sony’s proprietary memory cards have topped out at 256MB (well, 128MB x 2), so Sony came up with two new formats: Memory Stick Pro (look just like regular Memory Sticks except for an increase in speed and capacity (up to 1GB) and they do not work in older cameras) and Memory Stick Duo cards (small cards that work in a select few Sony devices; they top out at 512MB). Secure Digital cards are fast becoming the tiny memory card of choice. They’re used in PDAs, cameras, camcorders, voice recorders, and more. They are available in capacities as large as 1GB. A similar card, known as the MultiMediaCard (MMC) usually works in cameras that support SD, but they’re slower and lower capacity, and thus not recommend. CompactFlash is the highest capacity memory card and still the most popular. You can buy CompactFlash cards in excess of 4GB (though these cost a small fortune). There are two types of CompactFlash cards: Type I and Type II. Type I cards are the standard-sized, original CompactFlash cards – they come as large as 2GB. Type II cards are slightly thicker, and are typically only supported on larger cameras. With that extra bulk, they are able to come in larger capacities – up to 8GB. The Microdrive, a tiny hard drive, is a Type II card. The Microdrive comes in 340MB, 512MB, 1GB, and 4GB capacities. Be sure to make sure your camera supports the Microdrive – some don’t, and others may not work with certain Microdrive models.

Sony is still selling cameras that use removable media such as CD-R/RW and floppy disks. Cameras that write to CDs store about 156MB per disc. CDs cost about $0.25 a piece. CD-based cameras are not Mac friendly. Floppy-based digital cameras give you just 1.4MB on which to store photos, so you can’t fit many photos on a disk but disks are practically free these days. Because of the inclusion of a floppy or CD mechanism , both formats mean a bulkier, slower, and more expensive camera than one that uses flash memory.

Digital cameras use two types of batteries: standard AA or proprietary lithium-ion. Lithium-ion batteries are almost always rechargeable, but quite often, the AA batteries included with cameras are throw-away alkalines. If that’s the case, it’s up to you to buy rechargeables. Although proprietary batteries often last longer than their AA counterparts, standard AA batteries offer a couple of advantages. For one, at roughly $8 for a set of four, they’re less expensive than proprietary batteries, which are often $50 or more. Another advantage is that if your rechargeables ever run out of juice, you can pick up a set of AA alkalines to get you through the day. Try that with your $50 battery! An AC adapter (sometimes included if your camera uses proprietary batteries) comes in handy when you’re transferring your photos to your computer, or using your camera in a studio environment. If the camera includes rechargeable AA batteries, you will generally get a charger, but not an AC adapter.

When you’re considering a camera take a close look at what else is in the box. If you’re a hardcore Photoshop user, you probably won’t care about bundled image-editing software, but beginning photographers often use the software included. In the past software has been pretty miserable, but it has improved in recent years. If you like the included software: great. If not, you’re not stuck with it — you can use any number of products.

Research most camera features online, but in the end there’s no substitute for putting the camera in your own hands. Are the controls well placed? Is the LCD visible in different lighting conditions? If you point the lens in different directions, does the LCD follow along smoothly? Take a few pictures – is there a big lag between the time you press the shutter release button and when the photo is taken? Pick a few favorite cameras and then try them in person to make the final decision.


  • Power: Batteries. If your camera uses a proprietary battery, buy a spare. If your camera came with alkalines, buy a set or two of NiMH (nickel metal hydride) rechargeables, and a fast charger if one doesn’t come with your camera. Save the planet!
  • Larger memory cards: Whatever type of memory card you get with your camera, there’s definitely a larger one available. For two- and three-megapixel cameras, you’ll want at least 64MB. For higher resolution cameras, double that. Buy a few cards.
  • Tripod: Ever wonder how you can take good night photos or why your child’s dance recital didn’t come out. Your camera needs to be steady. There are millions of tripods out there, in all prices ranges from $20 to over $500. Buy one.
  • Add-on lenses: Many cameras support accessory (or conversion) lenses. You can get wide-angle, telephoto, or macro lenses that improve the capabilities of your camera. These lens often require an adapter (at additional cost) and make your camera a bit unwieldy. You will need to rely on the LCD for previewing pictures since the optical viewfinder will not be accurate. Accessory lenses usually cost more than $100.
  • Camera Case: Safely store it in a padded camera case. Larger cases (made for digital cameras) have room for your extra batteries and memory cards. A few cameras include a case, but the vast majority do not.

P recommended this helpful reviews section to use as one step in making your own decision about which camera is best for you. Another option is to ask for advice in Forum (but browse the messages because nearly everything has already been asked. P supplied me with a comprehensive website and given below is the summary of discovery:

Best Cameras under $400
* Canon PowerShort A520 – 4MP. 4X Zoom
* Canon PowerShot SD300 Digital ELPH – 3.2MP
* Fuji FinePix F10 – 6.3MP. 3X Zoom
* Kodak EasyShare DX7440 – 4MP. 4X Zoom
* Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P200 – 7.2MP. 4X Zoom
* Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S90 – 4MP. 3X Zoom

Best Cameras $401-$650
* Canon PowerShot G6 – 7MP. 4X Zoom
* Canon PowerShot S2 IS – 12X Zoom
* Canon PowerShot SD550 Digital ELPH – 7.1 MP. 3X Zoom
* Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200 – 8MP. 7X Zoom
* Nikon D50 – 6.1MP.
* Olympus C-7070 Wide Zoom – 7.1MP. 4X Zoom
* Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 – 6MP. 3X Zoom
* Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 – 12X Zoom. 5MP
* Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 – 12X Zoom
* Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3 – 7MP. 4X Zoom

Best Cameras $651-$1000
* Canon Digital Rebel XT
* Nikon Coolpix 8400 – 8MP

Best Camera over $1001
* Canon EOS-2D – 8MP
* Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D
* Nikon D70S

Eiffel European

27 09 2005

Lame pun in the title I agree and so cliche, as is La Tour Eiffel. After we took our Big Bus Tour of the smog-ridden city (I am seriously concerned about granular pharyngitis which has affected me seriously after Portland, Las Vegas and Mumbai) to get the lay of the land, we walked down the Champs Elysees across the Pont L’Alma to the Tour Eiffel which we hit exactly at 2100 when the strobe lights went off. A gaggle of tourists descends from overpacked overwrought tourmobiles very early in the morning and then again just before supper. Late at night is best but there are always lines. Visitors may climb the stairs or take the elevators to go up the Eiffel Tower.

The stairs are open to the public and go up to the second floor (115 meters). Three elevators (north, west and east pillars) go up to the first and second floors. Only one or two will be in service on any given day due to maintenance and security reasons. To reach the top of the Tower (276 meters), visitors must take another elevator from the second floor. During the peak visitor seasons, be forewarned that the wait may be consequential.

Head to the East Pillar (most tourists see the North Pillar and logically gravitate there so the lines are longer; this is akin to always touring a museum or Disney park counterclockwise because almost all children enter a grocery store or attraction clockwise) and buy your ticket for the highest level. You will dock at the first level (premier etage) and queue up again. Unlike London, Parisiennes care not a whit about queueing and nor do Indian tourists. I got jostled thoroughly and did not appreciate it.

On the Ground Floor (this is the first floor, Americain), you see the original massive hydraulic machinery designed by Gustave Eiffel that has since been restored and computerized but still in use today. Access to the machinery is not always open to the public.

On the First Floor is a section of the Spiral Staircase used by Mr. Eiffel to get to his top floor office. Segments were very successfully sold at an international auction. In the center of a transparent bubble, mounted on one of the Tour’s beams, interactive videos, video glasses and light shows explain the technical means used to build the monument and the work involved in protecting the iron with paint. The different colors of the Tour since construction are visible within. if you look up, you can see wax steeple painters perched on a beam, replicas of workers who paint the Tour every seven (7) years. All around the circular gallery, panoramic indicators present the monuments and sites visible below in the city of Paris. Altitude 95 and le Jules Verne are expensive restaurants located on this floor.

On the Top Floor is a representation of Mr. Eiffel’s office. The wax characters include Mr. Eiffel, his daughter Claire and the American inventor, Mr. Thomas Edison. You can see the phonograph he offed Mr. Eiffel. a 360 degree photo panoramic of Paris makes it easy to identify major Parisian land marks. Amusing view point indicators inform of direction and distance from major great cities in the world. Dublin was forsake for San Francisco – my heart will go on.

The actual Tower Illuminations were inaugurated on December 31, 1985. There are 335 projectors from 150 to 1000 watts, equipped with sodium lamps shooting their beams upward from the inside of the scaffolding structure. The beacon sent out its beams (four) at midnight on December 31, 1999 for the first time. The beacon is four marine tupe motorized projectors operated by an automatically piloted computer program that assures their rotation sweep of 90 degrees and a perfect synchronization of the double light beams, diametrically opposite to the other, pivoting around 360 degrees. Each projector is equipped with a Xe-6000 watt high intensity discharge lamp, many times stronger than the headlights on my Acura TL. When visibility is ideal, the beacon is seen from 160 miles away. It is activated each evening when the Tour lights up and shuts down when the Tour does. For the first day of Summer and the Celebrtation of Music, the Tour displayed its new glittering lights and sparkles (strobes) each hour on the hour for ten minutes from dusk until 0200. If you have seizures, stay away during these times.

Random Paris

26 09 2005

* Tour Eiffel vendors sell cheap stuff at high prices. Avoid at any cost.
* Choose specifically and wisely (exactly) at bistrot. They will give you the most expensive item corresponding to your request. If you ask for a coffee, be assured you’ll get the largest size. It is absolutely annoying
* If you ask for water, you will be brought a bottle of sparkling or still water and it will add to the bill significantly. Ask specifically for carafe d’eau. It is free and refilled.
* Nearly all the restaurants on the Elysian Fields are tourist traps. If they advertise in English, please skip it entirely.
* Buy drinks, food, bread and ehad to the Luxembourg Garden (which is like Bryant Park in NYC) or walk along the Seine and enjoy the Ile de la cite.
* A “French breakfast” is a croissant, a pad of butter, 3oz of hot chocolate, 3 oz of OJ and a small baguette. It is E30 and not nourishing at all. Coffee is absolutely ridiculously expensive, and you won’t get SBUX size megacups for your euro
* Newsflash: besides the Gioconda, there is other art in the Musee du Louvre which is overpriced, overrated and too big by half. Audioguide is a must.
* If you are short of time, the Trianons at the Palais de Versailles are not worth it. Keep an open mind when you see the State Rooms – remember the Sun King did not have very good taste in fabric or color, and items are very garish. Vendors will sell you nonsense outside.
* Seine cruises are good ideas in theory. There are mooning schoolkids on the banks, the water is dirty and the boats are crowded. However at twilight, all is wondrous.
* Everybody else smokes.

Elysian Fields

25 09 2005

See the Arc de Triomphe and walk on. If you want haute couture, go to Rue du Faubourg. If you want clubbing, go to the Left Bank, Marais in the 3rd or 4th Arr., or Rue Oberkampf. For Christmas Lights, Bastille Day and parades, try the Champs Elysees but otherwise, it is just a street and Michigan Avenue in Chicago is simply much more fun. Plus I can actually afford to buy things in Chicago bigger than a microscopic Chanel hand bag.

  • I managed to grab a bite at the Brioche Doree where the rude counterpeasant spontaneously decided to toast my panino and charge me more. It is very upsetting when they do that. You will however concede that the most yummy people are walking up and down the Elysian Fields.
  • Nearly all of the toilets need exact Eurocents so keep your coin bag handy.
  • “Special clubs” means they are bars where the prositutes are tending bar and waiting tables. It is not for children with Down syndrome as one quickly discovers. Also, none of the Moulin Rouge dancers looks remotely like Nicole Kidman. Many bubbles bursting perhaps all at once.

Chateau Versailles

24 09 2005

Buy the Versailles Passport at any train station (Gare). You can also buy it at the Tourist Desk in the Virgin Megastore in the Louvre. This is a good deal as it includes roundtrip RER fare, fast track entry to the chateau, private entrance (no lines) to the gardens and audio guide. We took the Metro to Gare d’Asterlitz from where the Vick or Vero lines (remember the names) take you to the terminus at Rive Gauche Palais de Versailles. It’s a small brisk walk to the entrance of the Chateau grounds. Do the State Rooms when it is hot. Owing to the drought, the musical fountains come on only between 1030 and 1200 and then again at 1530. Be warned, food on the groudns is very expensive and really poorly made. There are only two (2) toilets, both most remarkably messy. It is cooler and clearer (air quality) than Paris. Of course, it rains a lot. Some other key points to remember:

  • Skip the Mini train. It is a slow moving tram like we have at Universal Studios in Hollywood filled with fat American tourists (What? no Japanese slurs today?) and screaming spoilt children, and takes you to see the Trianon Gardens and Grand Canal. The 5 euros are better spent renting a quaint bicycle near the Grand Canal and riding through the gradens behind the Chateau. Some think the garden is too extensive to cover by foot. My travel companions whined constantly till I thought my head was going to explode. You should also canoe the Grand Canal. I wish I were skilled in that.
  • Your passport covers the entrance to the State Rooms, Trianons and all gardens (free). Individual entries are expensive. If on a budget, skip the Chateau and see the gardens (they are free). Visit on a weekday after 1530. Fares are reduced on Sundays but you will also lose your sanity. You really want to prepare yourself for the long line-ups if you are not aware of everything.
  • The Hall of Mirrors is being renovated by Vinci and are closed this week. Probably the most famous room is The Hall of Mirrors which is lit by 17 tall windows matched by 17 mirrors that reflect the light. This well lit hall makes the chandellers sparkle and with all the gold and colorful paintings, it’s spectacular. The Hall of Mirrors was used as a passage way, each day the courtiers would wait here for the King and the royal famly in procession on the way to mass. It was also the setting for ambassadors and for state audiences. This hall is most noteable for hosting the proclamation of the German Empire on Januray 18th, 1871 and the signing of the Treaty of Versaille on June 28th 1919, which put an end to WWI
  • Interestingly, you will see a lot of the bedrooms (King, Monsignor, Queen, Dauphine, etc.) and it is striing how small the beds are. They are certainly not king size and this is intriguing. Were they all dwarves (or whatever we are calling midgets nowadays)?
  • Owing to the drought, things are not as green as I expected. Also, everyone is energy efficient except Americans so it is very very hot and musty indoors. I felt like I was in several antique stores in Northwest Indiana at times. Definitely take a poncho as you will tire of holding up the umbrella. Did I mention there is a lot of walking? The rain makes it depressingly dark and you cannot appreciate the blossoms. However, it is needed for the verdure so you cannot win every time.
  • Versailles is closed on Monday. Friday is the busiest day. Versailles is so large and filled with so many gilded, marbled rooms with wall-sized art and people-sized sculptures, it’s overwhelming. Do not forget to look up, the ceilings are filled with paintings and frescoes that will astound you. There are more than 2,000 windows, 700 rooms, 1,250 fireplaces and 67 staircases. Not all the rooms are open to the public, many are used as government buildings. During the French Revolution, most of the furnishings were torn down and scattered around the world, but much has been returned to Versailles to rivel any palace in the world. A map is your best friend, instead of wandering aimlessly as I did, have a plan, that way you will make note of the important objects in each room.
  • The Basin of Apollo is my favorite fountain (they are all over the place as is stunning statuary). Of the original 1400 fountains, only 607 are still working. Apollo is the largest and is quadrilobate. In the center is Apollo with four steads drawing the sun chariot from the sea on its journey across to the sky. It was created in 1671 for Louis XIII. Ar one timegilded, it shines well in the sun. Originally the Marly waterworks carried water from the Seine to Versailles via the Louveciennes aqueduct.
  • The Grand Canal is a shiny mirror basking between symmetric rows of carefully pruned tall trees. It was begun in 1667 and completed in 1680. An amazing flotilla once sailed along this canal. It consisted of various small-scale reproductions of ships and gondolas for the Court to sail in. The King brought the gondolas from Venice and there is a spot called Little Venice even today. The Grand Canal is 5,118 feet long and 394 feet wide, and you can rent a boat to paddle around the canal and pretend you are one of the King’s Court. 20 Euro for an hour.
  • The Small Trianon is a whole other section – I guess the coach section of the Versaille complex, with just a few somewhat less dazzling buildings including The Queen’s Cottage. Here you will also find a some lovely gardens in a more natural setting. Le hameau de Marie-Antoinette, a play-village and farm built in 1783 for Louis XVI’s queen to indulge the fashionable Rousseau-inspired fantasy of returning to the natural life.
  • Interestingly, the Latona fountain (frogs!) near the Chateau inspired my favorite Bucingham Fountain in Grant Park, Chicago, so I had a special place in my heart for it. Advertising it as Musical Fountains had many Japanese tourists assume Bellagio like orchestrations. Umm, not really.

Chateau Versailles
Tel: 01 30 837788