Saturday, July 24, 2010

Versailles, France and now the US

We went to Versailles on Wednesday, 21st Jul. We had breakfast of kabab sandwiches at a nearby Turkish restaurant, then left at around noon. It was way later than than we wanted to, so we could visit just one of the two Chateaus' minus most of the gardens. We left via train, it took around 45 min to get there from Parir. We toured the bigger Chateau though, couldnt go to the Queen's smaller one nor the gardens in between. Tickets were free for all kids below 18. Instead of providing groups of people with guides, they had handed out every single person small audio devices around the size of a large cellphone with on-demand commentary on it. Out of 7/8 languages we could select whatever language we wanted. Codes were written at different places, enter the code into the device, and the commentary would start. The Chateau was adorned with numerous paintings all over the walls and the roofs were entirely painted with a single continuous painting. There were a lot of stculptures too, but most of them were along the corridors and in the atria. Taking photographs was kinda difficult there, the rooms were too crowded with tourists pushing around and almost all windows were open, so the sunlight was falling right on top of the paintings. The paintings were very well detailed, and so was the whole palace, attention was paid to the most intricate of details. The gardens (as much we saw at least) were really grand with statues on both sides of the path. All this also makes us think "no wonder the people were so pissed at these royals back then!". The closing time was around 6:30 pm, we left around 6, since we getting to the other Chateau would have been useless then. We took the train back to Paris, then had dinner at the Ind-Pak (tasted more Pak than Indo) restaurant as the last time. After getting back to the hotel, i discovered that the electricity sockets in our rooms were not working and nor was the TV, dont care about the TV, but the laptop required charging. I uploaded the pics on facebook, but while i was fixing them (rotating/captioning) the battery died, so couldnt blog that day either.

The next day we had to leave for the US. We had already ordered a large 7 seater taxi. The taxi was on time, 8 am, we werent. Left around 8:20, got to the airport before 9, and then waited in the really really long queue. It was an American Airlines flight, a Boeing 777. The flight departed at 11:45 am. It was supposed to be a 10-hour long fligh really comfortable though. The shawls and cushions were already on the seats, the tvs had a selection of movies. I couldnt sleep much, around 2 hours only, wasnt feeling sleepy at all. Watched three movies, Edge of Darkness, The Bounty Hunter and Clash Of The Titans. The lunch was good, included some pasta. Drinks were provided around many times, snacks maybe two times, some crackers, a chocolate and some biscuits. The next meal was sort of horrible though (we had taken vegetarian, since non-veg wouldnt be halal). Couldnt eat much in that one. We landed at Dallas-Fort Worth airport at around 2:45 pm, local time. Its the first time I have traveled 10 hours in just 3. The queue for immigration was long, but not too long at the airport, could've been coz we had hurried after we landed though. Didnt encounter any sort of problems there. The baggage claim was over soon, it seemed that we were among the last ones to pick up, the conveyor belt had stopped and our luggage was waiting for us. My cousin, Zubair and a relative received us. Currently we're staying at a relative's place. Its in Richardson, a little far of from Dallas, or I think a part of it. The geography here is really weird. Zubair was with us the whole day then, he had a day off. Then yesterday too, after the Juma prayer he spent the day with us. We got a Toyota Camry on rent for two weeks via Enterpise. We tried Hertz and Budget first, but Hertz was out of cars, even for the next few days, Budget could provide one but the next day, and it had a really high cost for insurance too. So we finally got one from Enterpise, we went in 5 min before their closing time, but had the car within around 15 min. Then we went over to Fry's Electronics and got a GPS device, a Garmin Nuvi 1300. Then after midnight, I went out with Zubair, first we went around to a Walmart Superstore. I had Dr. Pepper for the first time, kinda liked it too. Then we went to his university. It was around 2 am, most of it was closed, but he showed me most of the campus. Gotta say, its wonderful. By the time I returned, almost everyone was asleep. I too slept soon after, but unfortunately, woke up around 8 am. Donno why, but I couldnt sleep.

The weather here is hot. Apparently it stays aaround 35°C, sometimes around 40°C too. Plus there's a lot of humidity. Getting awesome internet speed here, around 30 mbps ^_^

Havent taken many pics (or even any I think).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 3 in Paris

Today we left the hotel for the tour at around 12 noon. Then went to the Notre Dame via metro, from where we had to take two other routes for the remaining part of the open bus tour. None of my siblings came along, sister was feeling sick, the other two dont like travelling much anyway, so it was a peaceful day. On the tour we saw the Colonne de Juillet (July Column), the Opéra Bastille, the Gare De Lyon train station, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, the Maine-Montparnasse Tower and a few other places, a few places were also repeated from yesterday's routes. Both the routes were over in around 3 hours, we got back to  the hotel, mom and dad rested for a while. Then for lunch we went to a small Turkish restaurant nearby and had the kabab sandwiches. 

Notre Dame Cathedral again

Rear of the Notre Dame Cathedral

Place de la Bastille

July Column

Opera Bastille

Gare de Lyon train station

Bibliothèque nationale de France

Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy

some kid cycling thru that hemisphere

Our Hotel

View from my window this evening

Today wasn't as taxing as the last two days. Tomorrow we are planning to visit Versailles.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Days 1 & 2 in Paris

I arrived in Paris from Poitiers yesterday via a two hour long train. From the train station we took a couple of taxis and got to our hotel. We were expecting the hotel rooms to be a bit bigger along since a bit away from the main city, but the rooms are kinda small. But we also thought: why care? we're just gonna spend the night sleeping here, we'll be out throughout the day. Best part is that its got free wifi, even if its just around 1 mbps. And we were expecting it to be a wasted day but thanks to our dad's old friend living here, we went to the Eiffel Tower and then had a great ferry ride through part of the River Seine here. The queue for the elevators (as well as the stairs) at the Eiffel Tower was really really long, but apparently, it could have been way longer. The line for the tickets could be skipped though if only we had booked the tickets to it in advance. The ferry covered most of the bridges and a few tourist stops like the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Unfortunately, the camera's battery died just before the ferry reached Notre Dame, the last stop, but perhaps the MOST amazing. I had to switch to  my cell's uber-sucking cam. We could have availed huge discounts at a lot of places (including the ferry i think) if only we had booked it all at least 15-20 days in advance, but we hadnt even gotten our visa until around 10-15 days ago, so plans in France were kinda uncertain. However we had a great time. Paris seems to be pretty much open even at night, at least the part in vicinity if the Eiffel Tower. We returned back home, after dinner at the friend's place around 1 or 2 am. Paris seems to be pretty much open even at night, at least the part in vicinity if the Eiffel Tower. I slept after uploading and captioning most of the pics taken that day on facebook at around 4 am.

Eiffel Tower during Daytime
River Seine from top of the Eiffel Tower
The courtyard of the Eiffel Tower from the top of it

Me with the Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower at Night

Then today, the friend's son came along with us to guide us through the city. First we went to some Indian restaurant and had something like a brunch, then took an open bus tour. We bought a two day pass coz we werent sure whether we'd be able to cover the city in a single day (plus, the difference between a 1-day and a 2-day pass was of just 4). We could just complete one of the routes (there are 3/4 in total), so we're planning to go to 2 other routes tomorrow. The main stops we covered on this route were the Louvre Museum, Arc du Carrousel, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Place de la Concorde and some other places whose names I dont remember/know. The Open Tour buses stop around 6-7 pm, so we had to return. Then again we had dinner at dad's friend's place. Feels good to have some proper food after a tiring day. (:

The Museum Louvre

Arc du Carrousel

Notre Dame

Luxor Obelisk

An Apple Store in the Eiffel Tower's Vicinity

The Eiffel Tower again

Paris is a really complicated city (at least for tourists). Most of the roads look kinda the same, I guess thats the way it is since the Haussmannization of the city in the 19th century (we studied it in 9th/10th std) and metros are usually used to roam around the city. Cars are highly discouraged in France, and most of the streets in Paris are single lane with lots of traffic signals in between, its kinda like making the car drivers frustrated enough to make them give up driving cars. So, we too have been using the metro to get around the city. As for the buses, they're lot slower, thanks to the signals again. Paris seems to be warmer than Poitiers or maybe the weather around the whole country changed, but whatever it is, I didnt have to wear my jacket here. The weather is pretty pleasant, not too hot, nor too cold, just right and a little bit windy at night.

Arrr...........its almost 3:30 am again, gotta catch some sleep.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 2 in Poitiers, France

After sleeping at around 2 am yesterday (was online updating blog and uploading pics, the uploading took really long as i kept on losing my selection of pics to upload even after reseleccting many times, and the Picasa plugin wasnt working) I woke up around 9 am today, had a bath, got dressed by 9:30 then went to great some confectionary for the morning breakfast along with my brother-in-law. After that we had to wait around an hour till both my sisters woke up, got ready and had some breakfast, and then we left for the market with our cousin sister, where we were supposed to meet-up with my parents too. After a long walk (long at least for a lazy slob who barely walks) we got there. Apparently a bazaar is held near one of the churches every Saturday and there's where we went to.

The Saturday Market near a Church

Some plant, looked good, no idea what its called


Snail stuff: Snail paste in the small jars, snail paste with bread, and other snail stuff in the refrigerator

The Flea Market part


Some of the activities in the park on Saturday

Little brother putting the skittles up again during a game of Molkky


My mom was gonna show and cook Indian-ish lunch and dinner. So, at the bazaar we bought a lot of different vegetables, some spices, fresh shrimps and fish etc etc. After getting back home both of them started in the kitchen. I think dad cleaned the shrimps out though. Lunch was then served, which included those shrimps, of course, along with some of yesterday's leftover ratatouille, and some other regular stuff. I had shrimps after a long time, we dont have them too regularly coz they arent good for my dad's health. These shrimps were really good! Better than i've had before. The Shrimps we had in Saudi Arabia used to shrink and curl up while cooking but these stayed pretty much the same size. After a great lunch we played Molkky for some time, then I lied around for a longer time, sometime then, donno exactly when, the preparations for dinner had begun. We were gonna have fish, the kind we have at home. Apparently the marination and all went well, but after placing the fish pieces in the frying pan, the masala (spices) began falling off the piece and the fish started breaking up too. The end product was pretty relishing though.

We decided to cancel the plan for visitng the chateau since we'd probably be visiting one when we go to Paris and take up some tour. And yeah, we'll going to Paris tomorrow afternoon, by train. Not sure if I'll be update the blog or even upload the pics on facebook then, the wifi in the hotel will be paid and might be slow whereas we had awesome wifi here with a speed of around 7 mbps.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day 1 in Poitiers, France

We arrived in France yesterday at the Charles de Gaulle Airport then took an almost 2-2.5 hour train to Poitiers completing more than 24 hours of travel starting in Makkah. Our uncle lives here, and has lived here for I think around 30 years. Me and my two sisters stayed at our cousin's place while my mom, dad and brother stayed at the uncle's. After arriving at around 9:30 pm, I went to sleep around 10:30 but finally slept at around 12 midnight (couldnt fall asleep, donno why, even though i was damn tired). Then I think I woke up around 8 am, got up from the bed at around 8:30. Then had a break of freshly baked and delicious chocolate filled croissant, some orange juice, raspberries and apricots. Then we (me, my sis' and cousin's daughter) went for a long walk through a park, fed ducks and took some  awesome pics. Played a game called Mölkky along with our brother-in-law who taught us how to play it. It was fun. Then we had lunch consisting of home baked awesome Pizza, boiled potatoes, homemade mayonnaise, cherry tomatoes, olives, some type of lettuce salad. Later on we made a dessert of strawberry cake (it ultimately had all the characteristics of a cake although it was made in a really different way), I helped too :D. Played a card game called Jungle Speed. Then my parents and little brother arrived and we went for a tour of the area nearby. We went to a couple of old churches, a marketplace, a small mall, had some awesome chocolate ice-cream and then came back home. Played a game of Quarto, later on another silly but fun game called Coyote. And then we had dinner on the lawn outside. Sausages were barbecued, Ratatouille was prepared and the dessert was taken out (which by the way, was really really AWESOME).

Ducks coming towards us as we starting throwing in breadcrumbs

Path thru the garden

A view of the river

An alley

St Radegonde's Church

Barbecuing the sausages

The Dinner Table

Summer is going on here but its cooler than even the winter back home in Makkah. The day is really long, starting with dawn at around 6 and ends with the dusk at around 11. But its cool, winds going on the whole time. Apparently the temperature drops down to 10° C at night and was around 25° during the day. There was a light drizzle for a few seconds too.

Overall had a really good and fun day! (:

Will be visiting some château tomorrow.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Transformers ARE among us

Proof that the Transformers do exist and they're among us, a Decepticon chappal:

[Photo taken at Hollywood Shoes/Sandals/Chappal ki dukan]