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Paris trip Wed, Oct 11, 2017
The wife and I just spent 6 days in Paris.  First time in France.  We did a bunch of sightseeing and touristy things.  It was largely good. 
Day 1 - Arrived in the early morning after an overnight flight where we didn't really sleep.  Walked around in a mild sleep-deprived daze.  Checked out the Eiffel Tower, which has the names of famous French mathematicians and scientists inscribed near the top, several of which I recognized.  Got acquainted with the subway system, which is actually quite good once you understand how it works (there's a very simple map of the line you're on, both in the station and inside the train). 

Day 2 - Walked around the Orsay Museum, which has a bunch of impressionist stuff.  Headed to Montmartre, the hilly section of town where the "adult" stores are located for some reason.  Climbed to the top of the Sacred Heart Church, which in French has a bunch of accents and weird symbols so I'm English-izing it. 

Day 3 - Checked out the Louvre, which had some famous art and a bunch of pushy tourists.  Toured Les Caves du Louvre, a local wine cellar/seller.  Headed to the Arc de Triomphe and climbed to the top for excellent views of the Champs-Élysées.  Throughout the day we did one of those hop-on/hop-off bus tours and saw a whole bunch of sights.  Finished the day with a boat ride down the Seine River, which really wasn't that great, or it was too much to fit into one day. 

Day 4 - Took a train to Normandy and went on a guided tour of several D-Day beaches.  Stopped at the Normandy Cemetery

Day 5 - Casually strolled around Paris and stopped at the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Sorbonne, and the Pantheon.  Looked for a wine store near our hotel and accidentally found the Porte Saint-Denis, an arc similar to the Arc de Triomphe. 

Day 6 - Flew home. 
The Eiffel Tower was big and cool, but I couldn't help but think that it's simply a big metal structure built for the sole purpose of proving that humans can build stuff like that.  And that's literally what it is.  It doesn't serve a purpose, like housing or office space.  It doesn't store anything.  It's a skeleton structure.  That's a little weird. 

I'm really not into art, but there were a few paintings in the Orsay Museum that I literally couldn't tell weren't photographs.  And the Louvre's art was cool and all, but honestly I was way more impressed by the opulence of the building itself.  It was a former palace, and it shows. 

Normandy gave me an intense feeling of American pride, even more so than living in America does.  The ideas of "the greatest generation" and "their finest hour" were very prevalent everywhere we looked and went.  The cemetery was full of intense symbolism and memorials, and it was interesting to learn that the American government pays for its continued upkeep. 

I found the language barrier to be pretty difficult.  I don't know French, and I found it to be pretty difficult to learn.  Italian, on the other hand, seemed to follow a pretty straightforward pronunciation system, with the addition of rolled R's.  French has a lot of symbols and accents and silent letters, plus nasally sounds that just don't exist in English.  It was interesting to be in a place where you didn't know the language being spoken around you, and you couldn't read the signs or menus or anything.  It was very alienating, and it was still a Romantic language so it shouldn't have been that difficult for me. 

That said, French people were very accommodating.  I didn't interact with a single French person that didn't also speak fluent English.  But I like to at least make an attempt at speaking the language of the country I'm in.  Also on the topic of French people, they were awesome.  Literally every single French person I spoke to was kind, friendly, and helpful.  I can't even fathom how they got a bad reputation. 

Tipping is complicated.  Or it's not.  It depends who you ask.  I really don't care what the policy is, I just wish it was more uniform.  And let me put it on the check at a restaurant.  Why is that not a thing? 

The food was so-so.  I'm admittedly not a foodie, but honestly I've had better croissants in America, and French bread was bland and hard and flaky.  The wine was good, and we found a few varieties that will be added to our rotation. 

The streets were very narrow and circuitous, and the sidewalks more so.  That meant we had a lot of "interactions" with fellow pedestrians.  This might be where French people get a reputation, because I can't even count the number of people who literally tried to walk right through me.  I found it best not to make eye contact, so then other people got out of my way.  Side note:  Most of the people walking around Paris are probably tourists.  So tourists are the real assholes people encounter in Paris. 

All in all a good trip.  "Six days in Paris" was actually more like "four days in Paris, a day in Normandy, and travel days".  Trying to fit all that touristy stuff in that amount of time was pretty exhausting, but I can't imagine doing it a different way.  There's just too much to see and experience, and not enough time.  Easily the highlight of the trip was sitting leisurely at a streetside cafe, sipping coffee and eating a croissant, watching the people walk by, with the Notre Dame Cathedral in the backdrop.  Magnifique! #travel

Tipping part 2 Tue, Oct 10, 2017
I wrote about tipping a while ago (ok that was 12 years ago, whatever), but some things have changed.  I'm somewhat ok with tipping.  It took me a while to accept, but I've come around to the idea.  Well, not exactly.  I see tipping as just a mandatory tax.  I tip 20% at restaurants regardless of the level of service I receive.  I found that it's easier to just accept it and move on.  And that's exactly where I'm at. 

However, on a recent trip overseas where the tipping rules are different and sometimes nonexistent, I was having some trouble.  A tourist guide book recommended a whole bunch of different things depending on the type of restaurant and whether or not there was a little abbreviation on the check indicating that the tip was included.  This coupled with the language barrier just made things confusing.  And I came to the conclusion that, quite honestly, I don't care what I'm supposed to tip.  JUST TELL ME.  Don't make me have to figure out your weird customs and intricate symbology.  Just tell me what to do.  I'll pay; I really don't care.  Worrying about a tip detracts from the experience at a restaurant. #business

On the Vegas shooting Tue, Oct 10, 2017
Some guy shot a bunch of people in Las Vegas recently.  Here are a few of my thoughts on the situation: 
  • Are we not calling this a terrorist attack?  If the shooter had been even slightly Middle Eastern, CNN's headline would be "Terrorists Hit the U.S.".
  • Saying this had something to do with mental health is an insult to people with actual mental health issues.  It takes a certain amount of mental acuity to plan out an attack of this magnitude, and saying the guy was "crazy" is a total misrepresentation of the word and the idea.
  • This brings up the issue of motive:  Was he angry at those people?  Was he getting revenge for something?  Did he just want to make a name for himself?  This is the most troubling thing for me; if we can't identify something to fear, we're left fearing everything.  Hence, terrorism.
  • Personally I'm in favor of extremely strict gun laws, background checks, magazine size restrictions, the whole gamut.  Guns are tools that have the potential to be dangerous, and they should be regulated as such.  That said, none of the proposed gun law changes would've had any effect on the outcome of this situation.  Banning assault weapons means he would've used a hunting rifle or several.  Restricting magazine size means he would've had to swap out magazines, which isn't difficult.  Background checks would've found nothing because he was fairly normal.
  • The idea that the second amendment allows the populace to bear arms to support an armed insurrection against a tyrannical government has always seemed laughably naive to me.  The government has tanks and fighter jets.  End of story.
At this point in time, it seems like this was just a guy who wanted to murder a bunch of people, like a terrorist.  Apparently there was nothing we could've done to prevent it.  Even if there were no guns, this guy would've found a way to carry out this attack.  And that sucks.