Our train arrived in Paris after sunset and we tried to use the “easy” subway system we experienced in London and Brussels but were quickly stymied by a glitchy machine that wouldn’t keep English selected past the initial screen. Kind of a problem for figuring out what to buy. Belgium even had a guy walking around the train station helping tourists figure out their machines (which, it turned out, you don’t even need if you have a CC), but Paris turned into an exercise in frustration for two weary travelers (keep in mind we logged maybe 8 miles of walking that day in Brussels before getting on the train). We gave up and went outside to get an Uber.
Before I could use the app we saw a line of taxis waiting. Some guy asked us where we needed to go and seemed confused (even though St. Paul’s is a stop on one of the main subway lines and not far from the station we were already outside of???). Sam urged me not to even give these guys a chance when we saw the line of taxis because taxis are notorious tourist rip-offs (oh, the meter is running and you don’t know the way… we’re taking the fastest way TRUST ME!!). But me being dumb I thought I’d just compare their price to the Uber price I already had in my hand.
But they couldn’t figure out where St. Paul’s is. The guy called three other drivers over to ask about it and none of them could picture it. Why they couldn’t just use their phone and look it up I couldn’t figure out. Oh, wait, yes I can – they can’t rip you off if everyone is clear and open about what’s going on from the jump.
So we said “no no no no,” walked across the street and called up the Uber from a restaurant next to the train station. Of course, the driver got lost (keep in mind this is the Gare du Nord, the main international train station in the whole country of France and steps away from Montmartre and about 1.5 miles from Notre Dame in the heart of the city) and made us walk up another block to meet him. Pro tip: Parisian Uber drivers have no interest in helping you with your bags!
The dude then proceeded to take the most congested streets to get to our hotel, taking about an hour to complete the 2.2 miles 11 minute (according to google maps) drive. Of course, if the Paris metro system used the same payment methodology as London and Brussels we could have taken the orange line to Bastille and then the yellow to St. Paul. Or the purple line to Chatalet and taken the yellow to St. Paul.
When we checked in the hotel attendant talked to us a little bit about the metro and recommended getting a one week tourist card. He stressed that we needed to get our pictures on it or we’d get big fines. This already felt weird (what city requires a photo on a tourist subway pass?), but okay, we decided to deal with it over coffee in the morning.
We dealt with it long after the coffee cups ran dry. We determined quickly that we could not just tap our credit cards to ride, we hadn’t just missed something the night before, it simply wasn’t possible. Strike 1. We then found that we could scan from an app instead, but the app only worked on certain phones. Strike 2, although maybe not because both of our Pixel phones had the tech to work it. We knew this would save us the cost of having to pay the metro to take our physical picture.
However, we eventually worked out that the metro (RATP…what a name!) app actually required two apps to work. Strike 3. I’ve never seen an app that required another separate app to get the first app to work. It felt a little scammy so we googled around and yes, apparently that was the official RATP app and you did need … two apps? So we downloaded both, went through a convoluted email verification and sign up process, took our pictures, added our credit cards, and then clicked “buy week tourist pass” (there’s a specific name for it, but I forget since I deleted the app the second we left Paris).
Strikes 3-10. It failed over and over. On both of our phones. On wi-fi. On data. After deleting the apps and doing the whole thing over. Complete fail. Game over.
We were angry. This was a waste of time. So we begrudgingly went down to the St. Paul station, found an attendant and asked what to do. She rolled her eyes and pointed to the corner to the automated photo-station. Okay, so we need the photo first. We went through the whole rigamarole of figuring out how to get our pictures taken by this machine with a French menu and then…. found out the credit card reader on the machine was broken.
Anger was turning to something else at this point, but luckily we’d structured the trip so our day was open, no timed reservations at the Louvre or anythign that we’d be late to by now.
We walked a quarter mile up the street to the nearest post office and were told that (unlike some other European countries we’ve visited) we could not do currency exchange there. So we had to keep walking up the street to the only exchange store in the area. We paid a whopping 15% exchange fee (I’m not talking about the dollar to euro rate, I’m talking about the fee the agency takes on top of the transaction…like a Ticketmaster “service fee”) just to get some euros. In truth, we did have a few euro coins because of that plate recycling scheme in Brussels, but the photo booth only took bills.
So we walked back to the station with our euros to find that the photo booth only took 5s. Or maybe it only took 2s? I forget since this was the middle of our trip and I didn’t write this part down. In any case, whatever denomination it wanted we didn’t have. And the station attendant refused to give us change.
In desperation at the top of the stairs we tried downloading the app one more time. I believe this was Sam’s idea, but I think I have read somewhere about other service apps having to be “activated” the first time at a specific place (like your Tesla’s phone app probably has to be activated inside the car for the first time…or something). And it worked. After all that, being on the steps of the subway station our phone apps finally took our credit card payments. (others suggested later that perhaps our foreign cards needed 20 minutes to be verified before they could purchase anything through the app…maybe…?)
So we were good to go. Except when we weren’t. At least three different times in the week we were refused entry at the turnstile because the apps “needed an update.”
Sometimes the update would work…
And sometimes you’d have to try to update multiple times because “There was an error.”
Sometimes the signal would be bad by the turnstile and you’d have to go back outside to get the update to download. Once this happened to one of us but not the other, leaving me outside and Sam inside not knowing what happened (lots of busy people and no service). So now I have to pray I can get the app working and get back in before she gets lost in there looking for me or comes out while I go in etc. etc. This is gonna be REAL annoying for families that come to Paris with a bunch of kids.
I can’t believe this city is hosting the Olympics in 6 months.
The phone scanning process itself wasn’t as smooth as the card system was everywhere else we’ve rode a subway in the world. It would often just not read the phone the first time or two times. And keep in mind you’re plopping your phone screen down onto a public turnstile…then concealing it again so it doesn’t get stolen (warnings in every language on the metro PA about pickpockets!) – which means you’re just harvesting bacteria from those turnstiles every time you enter the metro. Fantastic under normal circumstances but even better in the era of the “tripledemic” of RSV, Covid, and Flu. I can’t wait to read the under-the-radar reporting of massive infectious disease outbreaks during the Olympics.
I left an angry review on Google Play (English site) and the app developer responded to me… IN FRENCH! That tells you all you need to know.
Okay, enough complaining about the metro. But we were seriously shocked how glitchy and complicated the system was for a major European city that’s hosting the Olympics. However, considering how everywhere we went many buildings were still deep in renovations for the event we saw a pattern developing.
So when we finally got into the metro where did we go?
The top of the Arc De Triomphe on the grayest day you could imagine. They didn’t take my tripod on the way up like at The Shard, but after getting to the top I saw signs saying they (and selfie sticks) were not allowed. However, the enforcement was a bit random. If a guard, which had their own weather sealed transparent booths with chairs, looked up from their phone they may or may not warn you. Multiple tourists walked around openly recording with selfie sticks so I took out my tripod and went over to a corner to do my thing. Of course after a few shots: “Sir. No tripods. Put that away.”
This one wasn’t at night so it wasn’t as big a deal as the other rooftops we’d visited on the trip, but it did feel a little weird to have a professional grade camera and get called out, while annoying youtubers focused the selfie stick on themselves and went around walking into other people blabbing about their amazing trip to Paris. But I’m the problem off in the corner by myself with a 3′ high tripod. Okay.
(and yes, I’m fully aware that in all these “view” places part of the gift shop is the selling of professional photos from up there so they don’t want YOU getting that ‘for free’ even though you’ve….already paid to get in. Except at the arc maybe it was free entry, I don’t remember)
After the Arc we walked down the Champs Elysees to reach the purse stores, walking down past Fendi and hunting around for some food as it got dark. We eventually settled for Pret a Manger (on rue Marbeuf), and discovered it’s not bad. They actually have decent salads with salmon and hummus and all kinds of things, a clean bathroom, and outdoor seating. After that we walked back to Champs Elysees to take photos (the fancy shops close at 7pm…which is…odd).
Perhaps even more important for us the McDo’s on Champs-Elysees has a free bathroom, is open 24 hours, and has abundant outdoor seating with a view of the Arc Du Triomphe!
We walked to the metro stop next to the Arc to go home, but not before trying a few long exposure pics.
The forecast for Tuesday indicated lots of rain so we decided to make this a shopping day, visiting as many of the famous shopping malls as possible (or necessary?). This included Galleries Lafayette and maybe BHV? Not being a fashion or shopping person they all blend together a bit to me. Essentially we’d go to one famous shopping spot, go in and out of a bunch of buildings, take the subway to another famous shopping area and repeat, weeks later it’s a bit of a blur and I didn’t take many photos to guide my memory.
It might sound like I’m complaining about this shopping, but I’m not. Every trip we go on Sam has to wait endlessly for me to do my photography experiments and she never complains. I’m not about to complain becuase she wants to go to some department stores. I also took the opportunity to look for watches, but I’m too picky and only found a few I’d even consider (a green Junghans again, of course, after missing out in Germany in 2016) -but the four (and in some cases six) figure price tags gave me significant pause. I just can’t spend that much (yet) on something I’d wear maybe ten times a year and would ruin if I forgot to take it off before washing my dang hands. But I enjoy looking at them and wishing I was rich enough. Similarly we spent ten minutes in the Lotus store adjacent to the Champs Elysees to sit in and check out the Lotus Eletre, a six figure EV that doesn’t start deliveries until this summer.
Later in the day we decided to go to Abbesses Christmas Market for dinner. This was our first Christmas Market in Paris and we made a key mistake. You see in London and Brussels mustard is…just mustard. In Paris “mustard” is Dijon. Hot! We found this out after dipping our sausages in the too-large pools of mustard we’d squeezed from the udder.
Wait. I didn’t mention that yet, did I? At all these markets the condiments were often inside giant cow udder dispensers. It felt kind of funny at first, but after a week you’re used to it. Not used to horseradish coming out of those udders, though.
After the shock wore off we tried to guess our way to the Sacre Coeur, looking for the “John Wick” steps. We recently decided to binge watch all 5 Wicks together in order to see what the big deal was. Since #5 took place in Paris it was fun to visit some of those spots (as if we hadn’t visited these places in person and seen them in other movies anyway). We didn’t find the John Wick steps on our way up because we were coming from the wrong side. The Christmas Market isn’t right next to the church, you see, it’s several little blocks and hills and weird “kitty-corners” (as we say in Ohio) away from the church and the buildings are so tightly arranged you can’t just look up and see the church until you’re already there.
We went inside the church and I made a fool of myself by forgetting to turn the “BEEP BEEP BEEP!” of my shutter delay off after taking long exposures outside. I turned into Mr. Bean for a moment and managed to nearly drop my whole tripod and everything to clatter on the ground while fumbling to turn the camera off. To put this in context, though, other fools just walked right out into the middle of the pews and took selfies in front of the “no pictures” sign. And this was while…something….was happening on stage. Priests in special long white hoody dresses puttered back and forth to teach an official Roman Catholic yoga class….or something. Without my Orange Catholic Bible handy to reference I was clueless at deciphering the silent ceremonial.
When we came back out the rain was pelting the hill and all the singers and trinket peddlers had disappeared to somewhere dryer.
We walked over towards the abandoned artist market to pick through the souvenir shops.
We gave up and walked past them back to the church so we could take the funicular (“because it’s fun!” as Sam would say) down to the metro station.
Back at St. Paul’s I stayed back a minute to take a shot of the bar (?) at the end of the street. When I went inside our hotel the attendant told me that in the morning there are always lots of girls lining up and fighting with each other to take the “perfect Instagram picture” in front of the pink flowers.
We meant to start the day by walking down to the Arab Institute to take pics from the top, but realized after walking across the bridge that the institute wasn’t that high and the only landmark would be Notre Dame which was still covered in scaffolding. We proceeded diagonally up the hill to the Pantheon instead.
After the Pantheon Sam found what was online described as a cute and unique open market with custom shops (or something) on Rue Mouffetard. It was a street closed to traffic with little shops, but they were not as unique as they were hyped up to be. This is the sort of place the tour busses drop a bunch of people at and pick them up an hour later. Although completely different culturally, it was a bit like how folks in LA hype up Olvera Street and then you get there and it’s just cheap “Mexican” handbags and hats manufactured in China and a few Fruterxeda and Churro stands. (btw, there are a lot of churros at these European Christmas Markets, I didn’t realize until now that churros are actually Portuguese, not Mexican!) They did have a lot of mushrooms at the farmers market, though, so that’s good.
We took a breather (and a “pisser?”) at the Starbucks at the end of the street (my go-to drinks on this trip are the Oleato coffees and “Yop” drinkable yogurts) before waiting what felt like an eternity for the bus to come and take us to Jardin du Luxembourg.
We shuffled around there with the goal of looking at the Medici Fountain.
After the fountain Sam made me aware that she wanted to find Uniqlo on Rue Lobineau to get a bag to use the rest of the trip. She did and did, but was disappointed by google a few minutes after the purchase to discover she paid twice the American Uniqlo price. Apparently not all bags are cheaper in Paris.
For my part I navigated us down to Charlie Paris two blocks away. I had found them online years ago and they seemed stylistically similar to makers like Junghans, but at a sixth of the price. To be honest, there are a TON of “fancy stylish automatic” watch companies advertising online, but most of them are just white-labeled Chinese megafactory nonsense. Charlie actually has a flagship store in Paris instead of their competitors that just have an email on their contact that goes…who knows where?
It took a bit of trying and swapping and asking the wife for her preference, but I changed my mind from the green watch (the color looked duller in person) to the blue and rose gold. Yes, gold. I own very few things with gold and this may be the first I chose myself (my wedding ring isn’t even gold). Initially after trying multiple combinations of dial colors, movement, case colors, and strap colors they didn’t think they had the one I wanted in stock. They actually didn’t have it in stock, but I remembered it was actually on display in one of the glass store cases. So if anybody showed up after me looking for this watch, you shoulda got there sooner, pal! Also worth noting it’s not available with a blue strap online (as you’ll see at the link), but you can swap any strap with any case you like in the flagship store in person. So I did. And originally I was looking at a green dial with no visible movement, but after seeing them ticking away in the store I changed my mind to a visible movement “open heart” dial.
It wasn’t cheap, but slightly less than my daily wearer (Seiko Coutura, a birthday gift from my wife in 2022 which can [and has every day since!] endure constant water and abuse) and will be the “fancy/date night” watch. And, again, it was a birthday gift from my wife. I think the blue dial Seiko Wired Japan-only watch from our Osaka trip was also a birthday gift. The battery has since gone dead on that one and I haven’t bothered to replace it after getting a more expensive Seiko.
After these purchases we looked for food. We found multiple Christmas markets that didn’t really have dinner food. The sun was already setting so we ignored our stomachs and took the metro to Champ de Mars. There was a line to take the elevator, but not a long one, and I had some fun trying to get a shot of the moon (with craters visible) and the struts as it slipped between rolling cloud banks in the dark.
Back on Earth we knew that there was a Christmas Market by the river, so we went there and walked all the way to the back to discover the ubiquitous sausages, but also ribs!
We chowed down, but had to do so quickly as it was already late and the market was closing. Plus we’d already bought tickets for the Louvre the next morning. On our bus ride home the bus got stopped for ten minutes because a rowdy group of … some kind of nordic country drunk teenagers that couldn’t find their passes. They sang and shouted all the way home in a language we could never quite identify, but they all looked like they were related (blonde, thin noses, blue eyes). I didn’t get any photos of this. Nordic folks seem kind, but don’t forget they’re descended from Vikings and created Norwegian Black Metal.
Thursday was all Louvre. As such I didn’t take many photos. Some time ago I stopped taking photos of artwork since there are always much better scans online. If I want to blog about a particular piece I can just link to a better photo. In this case I’m not going to do any of that because the artwork at the Louvre is world famous – thus I have nothing to contribute to a conversation that’s been going on for over two centuries. However, there was one piece that I sort of took pictures of because 1) it’s changed since I last saw it and 2) I’ve started taking pictures of people looking at artwork (or famous things in general) instead of the artwork itself. It’s interesting to get their expressions and often a more interesting photo than a picture of a painting (boring!).
Some examples from other famous places:
But first we need to set the mood for this place…
The last time I saw Mona there was a crowd around her and she was behind glass. I brought (er, well, borrowed from my dad, actually) receipts:
25 years later she’s got a wooden barricade, an air gap, and at least 5 security guards. Where does this end? It ends like the Sistine chapel already has: a cattle call through the room with everything encased in glass and no photos are allowed. I would love to teleport back to this space on one of weekend days during the Olympics and see the madness.
Later in the day when we couldn’t find anything else to see (one section was closed, so we’ll never be able to say we did it all in one day!) we were getting hungry again and Sam knew it was her last chance to get something at the famous Angeline at the Louvre. Because it was a dreary Thursday we got the best view in the restaurant, which honestly wasn’t much of a view until the sun peeked out at sunset.
The waiter forgot about us so I had plenty of time to get a good photo! Speaking of the waiter, we ran into our first rude french waiter experience (yay!). When we asked about ingredients (because I don’t want to die) he responded “It’s the chef’s secret!” and walked away. Right.
Funny enough, while the french onion soup was fine (I didn’t eat the bready parts and took a gamble there were no nuts in the rest of it), the famous pastry that Sam ordered was not even good enough (for her) to finish.
Now you may be looking at the photo up there and be thinking “wait, it looks like you’re on the interior and she’s not got a mask.” And you’d be correct. The Louvre and the airplane were the only places on the trip where we had to bend our rules momentarily. So sips and bites were taken while holding our breath, pulling the masks back up to chew. I perfected the technique of how to keep your mask from going all over the place while your jaw moves (you hold the part on the upper tip of your nose and allow your cheeks to slide around but not lose contact). I am aware to some folks this may disqualify us as “no covid” people, but it’s a choice that was made for us since the outdoor terrace inside the Louvre was closed and there’s no re-entry. Or we could have starved I guess. The plane also, thankfully, had no outdoor seating on the ride over, but that meant engaging the “hold breath, bite, slide, chew, repeat” method.
Yes, I know gas expands and covid particles can enter even if you’re holding your breath. I know. But from our Uber pickup at our house to our hotel in London was about a 17 hour span. Exposing yourself with breath held for two seconds is risky, but maybe not as risky as not eating or drinking for almost an entire day? We didn’t expect to have to employ this strategy outside of the flights, but the Louvre presented an immovable obstacle.
Back in the lobby as the museum prepared to close I was told I was not allowed to film without a permit when I started taking pictures like this:
Unlike at the Shard and other spots in London nobody cared if I used the full size tripod outside either.
After the Louvre we were still hungry and wanted a proper dinner, but everything was closing (especially bathrooms!) in that area so we took the subway to Notre Dame to find food at the Christmas Market there (in Square Rene Viviani), which … didn’t have any. We kept running into this problem on the trip. Some BIG Christmas Markets which we earmarked as destinations didn’t have food, but tiny ones (often found between meals) did. In this case, as Jeff Probst might say “Andrew…Sam…I got nothing for you.”
In a strange moment of synchronicity we turned to each other walking out of the market and said “what about KFC?” I guess we were craving fried food. We’d also seen many KFCs scattered across Paris and were curious what might be different. So we walked to the nearest one to the south in Saint Michel. Like McDo’s the ordering was all at giant touchscreens, which has plusses and minuses you can guess without me elaborating. The food itself was surprising. Many different sauces not available in the US including “creamy sauce” and “original sauce.” But the biggest surprise was the lack of traditional large pieces of fried chicken. Instead, KFC in Paris only has little chicken tenders, wings, and sandwiches.
Oh, and the “winter fries” (bacon and cheese over fries), which we ordered and were a bit disappointed in. Sam pointed out I was a bit silly for expecting anything nicer from a fast food place, and she noted that the wings were actually pretty good.
With no outdoor seating we decided to eat at the empty bus stop. (we were taking the bus back after eating anyway) Early on in the meal a person (homeless? dunno) walked up with their hand out. Sam said “no!” only to have them get closer each time. Eventually I gave them a tender and they walked away. It’s still up for debate whether which approach ultimately would have had the most positive (or least negative) outcome.
This brings up an important observation: No matter what Fox News tells you, there are homeless people outside of San Francisco California. We saw them in London and Brussels, but we found tent cities in Paris. I’ll provide photographic evidence of this in the Monday section of this blog post…
We reserved 1pm tickets to Versailles on Friday. I know a lot of people like to reserve stuff earlier, but we like to sleep and have ample time to make mistakes. It’s a good thing we did, too, because after subways, trams, and busses, when we finally arrived at the Palace we got right up to the ticket booth but discovered a giant gate between us and the booth that wasn’t on Google maps, so we had to take 20 minutes and walk around the whole palace and then back through and across. And then the stupid literal gatekeepers made us download an app just to scan our tickets. I’m only in my 40s and this pissed me off, I can’t imagine a couple of boomers getting told they “have to” download an app just to get in.
Here again, I didn’t take photos of the artwork.
The palace grounds were miserable. The wind picked up and started pelting rain sideways. It wasn’t exactly a downpour, maybe “sprinkling” in Ohio terms, but the wind and chill turned it into something else. Long-exposures became difficult and quite a bit of moisture presented on the weather sealed case of my camera.
Then, for dinner we gorged on McDo’s again, which I know was sacrilege to some family members we were texting photos of our adventures to.
Back at the hotel I convinced Sam to let me take some pictures of her on our hotel balcony.
Saturday and Sunday were more open than the other days. We had no tickets to anything and were sort of making it up as we went along crossing off stuff from the list we hadn’t done yet. One of those things was to climb Saint Jacques which was in walking distance from our hotel.
We arrived during a time when Google said it would be “open,” but the ticket booth was shut. A sign near the tower said the booth closes for lunch between 12 and 2. So we’d have to come back after lunch.
We visited some shops Sam had her eye on and came back after lunch. Still closed. Much like the subway, the way the tickets for Saint Jacques tower are organized seem purposefully misleading. The “official” website printed on the signs on site doesn’t appear in google results. Loading it up presents a way to buy an “open” ticket that can be used in a 12 month period “when the tower is open,” yet the website itself doesn’t specify when that is. Time and date specific tickets are not available on mobile (and the site triggered malware warnings), but after we returned I clicked around the website and found them under a button with no words but an icon of an open book with pop-up text of “catalog.” According to this page no tickets were available until May 2024. I took a look under the hood and discovered the website is basically something someone threw together in CSS 20 years ago and never looked back. This explains why it triggered anti-virus, because it was HTTP, not HTTPS enabled. And it didn’t show up in google search because there were no keywords in the header, etc. Yikes. What a shame as I SO wanted to climb up through this cool gothic tower that reminded me of Orthanc. At least it had a public toilet, which google doesn’t know about somehow.
[searching for public toilets took up more of this trip than I am comfortable admitting publicly; I might have a problem]
We walked through several parks and stores and subway tunnels to come out at Montparnasse. We walked around for a bit looking for a place to eat with outdoor seating. I wanted to quiet the guilt and eat some official French cuisine (snails) while we had the chance. We found a nice little place in the shadow (well, there’s no sunshine in a French winter, so where the shadow would have been) of Montparnasse Tower called Odessa.
Contrary to Angeline, the waiter here was fine with answering questions about ingredients and being patient with us as we made our decisions.
It took us a bit to figure out how to get to the Montparnasse View as some of the building entrances were closed (and that area is a little…suspect?) but eventually we made it up there. The outdoor top deck was just too ridiculously windy to stay in, but the interior viewing deck was well done for amateur photographers. Nobody cares about tripods. The lights are back away from the exterior glass, which appears to be just thick single pane, so less reflections. There is even a little one foot deep ledge at waist level so you can use a short tripod. And even on a Saturday there weren’t that many people (although the same amount of people would have been suffocating at the Shard due to the size difference of the spaces).
Of course what I stupidly didn’t realize until I was setting up shop in the tower was that I couldn’t do a long-exposure to capture the glitter effect. I’d have to figure out the perfect exposure time to get the most simultaneous blinks of light but not so many that the whole thing just glowed white.
On our last full day Sam suggested we start by revisiting Montmartre this time in the daylight (such as it is) and sans precipitation so we could experience the artist’s square.
When we’d been there previously the view from the top of the church was closed for the day. This time there was a line around the block to get in, so we decided this was not something we absolutely had to do.
While taking some photos from the steps of the church my camera started making a whirring noise. Or rather, it kept making the same noise it had previously stopped doing when I pressed the shutter.
I quickly bemoaned my stupidity of not doing more to protect the camera in the storm at Versailles on Friday. I realized the noise was the sensor shaking. It’s supposed to shake when you turn the camera on to shake off any dust. But it wasn’t stopping. It just shook and shook and shook until I turned the power off.
As we left Montmartre and made our way to the Eiffel Tower (we’d planned on going on a river tour) I kept trying to fix it by googling and doing whatever I could including a couple of factory refreshes. Nothing worked. However, by the time we got on the tour boat I figured out (via photo testing while we waited in line) that the shaking was at a frequency SLOWER than 3,000 times per second. That meant I could set my shutter speed above 3000 and not experience shaking. However, since the sun was setting that meant I’d see low light and/or extremely fuzzy photos from the high ISO required at that shutter speed. This was okay for the slow moving boat, but I worried about how our later plans for shooting the Eiffel from the Trocadero would work out.
For the moment I focused (my camera) on what was in front of us. We sat outside on the boat because of covid safety but also…why wouldn’t you?
I have to hand it to Sony. Even with this thing jiggling like a possessed maraca I was able to utilize its other strengths to overcome. And the amazing battery still held up. In 6 years of travel I still have yet to use the extra battery.
But, all this praise I feel might be better directed at me for figuring out a way around the problem instead of the camera which was causing the problem. Although, the problem seemed to originate with the wet and windy visit to Versailles, which was my idea. Dangit!
And after deboarding (deboating?) the pressure ramped up as the sunset turned into a blazing pink and gold masterpiece behind one of the world’s most famous landmarks, but I was stuck with high shutter speed and high ISO. And dreading what my photos would look like at night from the Trocadero. This was meant to be the crown jewel photoshoot of the whole trip, the tower in all its glittering glory. Now it was almost certain to turn out a muddy mess.
But before that we enjoyed more sausages and potatoes au gratin at the Trocadero Christmas Market. Bellies full we wedged ourselves into what I thought was the perfectly dead-on view of the tower (there’s disagreement about this point) and I set up my tripod so at least there wouldn’t be handheld shake in these high shutter high ISO night shots.
Knowing the show would be going on for five minutes I used every second to try every different combination of ISOs and speeds and whatnot to try and get a decent shot out of a camera that buzzed and shook like an angry bee with the tripod stuck up its butt.
And that resulted in nearly a thousand photos to scroll through at the airport the next day, deleting 95% of them as ungodly horrors of splotches and smears. Then back at home it took quit a bit of doing (and an expert would probably get better results than I) to edit a few coherent shots out of the mess via the same trickery I already employed with the shots at The Shard.
Can you tell?
And here’s dad’s photo from the same (almost, he wasn’t quite in the center) spot 25 years ago so you can see the grotesque sign they had on it last time =P
We left in an Uber Monday morning in the fog. The streets were empty Christmas Morning, the opposite of the packed-like-sardines Trocadero and subway the night before. All those revelers must have kept going for hours after we already started snoring.
What I do now is proper research before flights. I look up the flight path before we even pick out our seats so I may have maximum exposure to any interesting views from 30,000 feet. For this trip I even kept track of the aurora forecast, but no luck. On the way to London the fog obscured most of the city views, but on the trip home there were interesting discoveries.
Maybe two hours into the flight we flew over the southern coast of Iceland just before sunrise. A place we’d been to on the ground years before at this same time of year. Unfortunately I made a rookie mistake. I had replaced my lens cap for this trip with a flip-up ND filter (so the filter serves as a proxy lens cap when not in use). Guess who was so excited looking out the window that they forgot to flip the ND filter. But even with the filter down I was able to squeeze some interesting (albeit blurry because of the high ISO) shots of the Icelandic coast and the moon:
And now you’re saying “wait, wouldn’t it be blurry because the camera is shaking all the time?”
Well, funny enough, by the time we left the hotel Monday morning the camera had grown tired of shaking and hasn’t done it (except for the brief bit at start-up it’s supposed to do) again since.
I was glad it decided to stop because otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten any clear shots out of the airplane window at all. As you look at these, keep in mind these are all zoomed and re-angled to remove the airplane wing, which was prominent in the originals, as were sides of windows and exhaust blur, etc. etc. And everything (on the ground) from this high up in the atmosphere looks blue for the same reason the sky looks blue from the ground.
I annoyed Sam quite a bit at this point by running back and forth from our seat to the little portholes by the back doors of the plane so I could catch the sunset visible from the other side.
And then something amazing happened. As Iooked down (back in my own seat again on the northern facing side of the plane) I started to recognize actual landmarks and see tiny lights and tiny towns. And I realized we’d been to some of them.
In fact, some of the places I did take photos of, are visible in some of the other photos. Like the famous dragon rock: Hvitserkur, is just out of view in the middle of the photo above. And in the photo below if you could zoom in at the middle you’d see Hvitserkur right at the top of Sigridarstadavatn lake. And around the next fjord at that tip is Saudarkrokur, where we stopped for a bit to look for puffins (didn’t see any).
If you could both zoom in and grab a time machine you’d see this:
Here’s another shot from the coastline, but not at 30k feet:
Back in 2015 I drove all the way along that coastline (I still have the google maps driving itinerary here). In fact, do you see the little dot in the corner on the coastline just in from the coast. There’s a little black dot. That’s Skardviti Lighthouse. THIS lighthouse:
It was fascinating to look down and recognize the landmarks from 30,000 feet.
But soon we passed through the upper Westfjords (we passed over places we MEANT to go in 2015 but a blizzard kept us from) and on the Greenland. At some point we went over more ocean and then into upper Canada. I tried to figure out locations from checking my photos against google earth but it’s pretty rough.
Now it got more interesting as we dove down into the rocky mountains. We ended up passing over two places we’d just visited only a few months earlier:
And just further south we flew alongside the entirety of the Grand Tetons (though I couldn’t fit them all in a single frame without the plane wing, unfortunately):
keep in mind, as I mentioned before, colors at 30,000 feet are just… blue, pretty much. This is a physics problem. I try to squeeze the colors back into shape in the editing room, but there’s only so much you can do with data that just wasn’t there to begin with.
We then hit Salt Lake City and Provo.
And then we got to Mars, er I mean Las Vegas
Sadly there was a huge bank of fog or smog between our plane and downtown Los Angeles. So despite having a great viewpoint, the actual buildings themselves were muddied up by natural phenomena.
One last thing I need to mention. In Paris I basically started my day with bananas and a big jar of Yop. To our delight, thanks to Yoplait originally being a French company, Air France provides unlimited free (small) Yops on their international flights. I must have downed twenty of those things in the last couple hours of the flight. Also, when we got to US immigration all the officer asked was “where did you go?” and nothing else. If you’re not gonna ask, I’m not gonna declare 😉 So that was a nice Christmas gift for anyone bringing in lots of gifts that they would owe duties on. Not us, of course, but anyone else that might have. Not us! Definitely not us. =)