January 31, 2013

In Fact It's a Very Cute Story

At long last my copy of Imagineer Rolly Crump's It's Kind of a Cute Story arrived. I was very skeptical as it seemed every review of the book was glowing. I'm here to tell you, what you've read is true. It's one great book! Whether it's Rolly dishing on what he really thinks about Dick Irvine, John Hench, or Tony Baxter, you get the feeling the man is sitting across from you at the local bar, telling stories about his life without caring who knows what. It's a refreshing change from the Walt Disney Company hype and publicity machine that would have you believe all is constantly rosy at the company Walt built. And speaking of Walt Disney, it's safe to say he and Rolly had a real true friendship. Be it working on the Haunted Mansion, the Enchanted Tiki Room, It's a Small World or even EPCOT or Knott's Berry Farm, you get the sense Rolly always carried Walt's philosophy with him. The stories he weaves as told to Jeff Heimbuch are alternately funny, charming, sweet, and ribald. It's a great read... and a very cute story indeed.

January 30, 2013

More Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger rides again- and I cannot wait for July 3, 2013 to come! With great iconic characters and a fresh take on the story, seems like Johhny Depp and Armie Hammer will be riding into theaters on a winning thoroughbred.

(Photograph copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 26, 2013

An American in Paris: Day Two

Day Two of our Paris adventure, began in a slightly unexpected way. Our original plan was to go straight to Notre-Dame, but we just had to see the Eiffel Tower during the day! Viewing it from the rooftop of Au Printemps and then seeing it close up at night became the teaser changing our plans. When we saw the small shops of the Christmas market below, going back to the Tower took precedent over Notre-Dame - at least for our first stop of the morning. You see, Christmas decorations and such seem to be removed by January 7 each year, and it was already the 4th. Didn't want to miss the opportunity.

A little stall at the Christmas Market.
The Eiffel Tower is facing it.

After a pretty good night's sleep but not 100% back in the groove, the Metro took us back to the Trocadero stop and the Christmas Market. We had intended a quick breakfast treat, something traditional. Instead, what caught our eyes in one of the small stalls were fresh macaroons in an array of flavors: orange, coffee, vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, and our favorite, cassis or currant. The very friendly chef explained that wrapped macaroons we saw for sale were actually stale and old, and the real French versions were always served when fresh and soft. (To me, it seemed on the consistency of a soft-baked cookie in the States.) Oh, the flavor! It'd be a treat that would satisfy my sweet tooth for the rest of the trip. And I'd be on the hunt for the fresh version once I was back in the States.

I'm just a bit tired,
but the display from one of the ski resorts
 made a great photo opportunity!

Wandering through the Market, we discovered much about the diversity of the city. Stall owners came from all parts of the world, displaying their wares with a wide variation of how the holiday was celebrated. Mulled spiced wine was everywhere, however.

One of the aspects of the city we appreciated was its emphasis on family activities. For such a sophisticated place, the French seem to always take the time to provide offerings for the youngest of children. Wintertime was no exception, and we stumbled upon a small snowshoeing course just for kids along with an ice rink. The kids and families enjoying themselves made the very grey skies much more pleasant!

Not a bad view to ice-skate by!

A special trip for some kids in daycare.

I was very aware of the passing of time at this point. The last two trips, time slipped by, and we missed going to the top of the towers of Notre-Dame by arriving after the last tour was available. This time, I was determined I wouldn't make the same mistake again. 

Walking down a few more streets, we traveled to the nearest RER station. In minutes, the train approached, and we hopped aboard for the stop we needed. Notre-Dame was an easy two block walk from where we got off. Gotta say, transportation is very easy, even if the stations are not always spotless or without a bit of graffiti- and the fares are much cheaper than even the Denver Light Rail!

There was a huge line to go inside the cathedral to see the beautiful Rose Window and such. We had already "done that" before, so we walked around to the side for the line to go up the towers. It was just as long. Someone said two-plus hours, but it was actually more like an hour and a half. Once we survived the almost 300 steps up a narrow staircase, the views of the city and the building itself were incredible. Well worth the wait. See for yourself:

That's Sacre Coeur in the distance.

The entire experience from walking up, touring, and walking down  tallied a little over an hour. Had it not been for the hunger pangs, we could have stayed longer. It really was pretty incredible!

We decided to do a bit of exploring and not eat at the cafe right next to the tower entrance. Smart move on our part! Our journey took us behind the building to a beautiful little street, yielding sandwiches of fresh baguettes, bright red tomatoes, lettuce, and rich brie, all presented in a tasty light dressing. Simple, hand-held, and delicious. It allowed us to walk and explore even more.

Who would have guessed this charming street
 would be found behind the cathedral?

Continuing on, we came upon a curious sight- hundreds if not thousands of bicycle locks attached to a small bridge. Many of the locks were inscribed with the initials of lovers as in the days of old when they used to be carved into tree trunks. Fascinating! Just on the other side of the bridge, an old man was playing "La Vie en Rose" on his guitar. It wouldn't be Paris without hearing it at least once, and we never grow tired of hearing it.

Locks of love and La Vie en Rose- so Paris!

Time to continue our walking tour. Saint-Germain-des-Pres was a previously unexplored destination. We were close by, so we took a leisurely stroll, delighting in our discoveries along the way. I took over 400 photographs in a four day trip. So much to look at, so little time!

Rooftops in a little courtyard gallery. 

We got happily lost and found this little carousel next to the fountain (below).
In a public square. 

Since we hadn't been paying attention to where we were walking, just following our instincts wherever we wanted, we really didn't know what we had stumbled upon. Turns out, it was Place Saint-Sulpice. Later we discovered the fountain was named Fontaine des Quatre Points Cardinaux, portraying four bishops that never made it to cardinal. Guess even those less celebrated are celebrated in  Paris!  

Since there was a funeral happening with a hearse in front of the church, we wanted to honor the family and friends of the deceased by not going in to sight see. It was late afternoon, and it seems as a reward for respecting their privacy, we later happened upon this beautiful little restaurant shown above. Notice the roof, the beautiful wrought iron work, and the delicate woodwork on each panel. One of my favorite little discoveries on this trip!

Cafe de Flore is a pretty famous dining establishment alongside the likes of Le Deux Magots. High prices come along with fame in the City of Light, and so do the crowds. It was nice to see these haunts of writers such as Ernest Hemingway.

Saint-Germain-des-Pres is stuffed with the most expensive of shops and restaurants. Hiding behind the Ralph Lauren store was this little covered arcade revealing what I'm assuming is the company's restaurant, Ralph's. It wasn't time for dinner, but this would have been one of the top contenders!

Ralph's restaurant on Saint-Germain-des-Pres.
Hidden off the beaten track.

Even in the most inclement of weather, Parisians eat and drink outdoors. Each cafe seemed to be filled with people regardless of the wind, light rain, or drizzle. Just toss on a coat, a scarf, and sit by a large space heater restaurant style. It works!

We continued to wander the city, every discovery bringing reason to stop and enjoy the surroundings. Bakeries begat more delicious  macaroons of even greater varieties of flavors, chocolate shops tempted us with their wares, and a stop at the local Starbucks was a tradition we wouldn't pass up.

We hopped on the Metro once again, heading out to another part of the city. Too much to explore. Night fell, and our bistro was a small one tucked between the intersection of three streets. We enjoyed a simple meal - including a mac and cheese concoction with incredible fresh French cheese- and watched the world go by. Seemed there wasn't a tourist in sight either inside or outside the restaurant. We were clearly in a "locals" zone. It was a perfect way to end the day... but we had one more thing to do.

An evening stroll from the middle of nowhere eventually led us back to the beacon of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. Incredibly, the line to go up to the top was short. It took us a total of 45 minutes to go from the bottom to  Level One and onto the top, including a short stop at Level Two. By this point in time, my camera battery had died. But I didn't bother crying over it. I was at the top of one of the world's most amazing structures with my lovely wife of 30 years, enjoying a spectacular view of the world's most beautiful city. Could it get any better? 

We walked down from the first level to the street all by ourselves, stopping at different points to admire the view and take in the richness of the evening. God has been so good to us! In the middle of a year of so much change, He had seen fit to bless us with this small trip that seemed out of reach. Long story there that I will not go into, but years from now, I know my children will read this and understand exactly what I am saying. He's been so faithful!

We walked back down the street, catching the evening light show on the Tower before returning to our small hotel. Tomorrow, we'd head off for a day at Disneyland Paris. It meant there were only two days left here before the business part of our trip, but there was no time to be sad. I was excited to see the most beautiful of Magic Kingdoms all decorated for Christmas!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

January 25, 2013

An American in Paris Returns

Tomorrow, I'll present Part Two of my Paris Trip Report. Make sure you come back for a journey to the City of Light, some beautiful little photos and more. 

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

January 24, 2013

Aladdin- From California Adventure to Broadway

Seems "Aladdin" is finally making the jump from California Adventure and the Disney Cruise Line to Broadway. Does it really fit? Yes, absolutely. But as a theme park lover, this answer brings a question, "Will it stay at California Adventure as well or will the park bring in a new show?" Hong Kong Disneyland's Golden Mickeys seems likely, but will it have the draw once California visitors have seen something of such high quality. Whatever its replacement, it had better be good! The park's riding high on its relaunch, and the suits want to make sure guests keep opening their wallets and providing great word of mouth.

By the way, stay tuned for part two of my Paris trip report, including an extended look and analysis of Disneyland Paris!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 21, 2013

An American in Paris: Day One

What can I say about Paris? It's been written about, sung about, photographed and filmed probably more than any other city on earth. All for very good reason, I may add. It's full of beauty and grime, delights and discouragements, a city of light and dark, amazing contradictions. I love it.

Due to a business trip, I had the opportunity to take my wife with me for a short stop in Paris, a four day anniversary celebration delayed earlier in 2012 due to the birth of two grandson, one on each side of the actual date. 

Off we went. Anyone who has gone to Europe from the States knows that you can arrive early to mid morning in your choice of destination with very little sleep. And we did! With this being our third visit to the City of Light (we are blessed), our feel for Charles de Gaulle International Airport was much better than earlier trips. In less than an hour, the Metro took us to our first destination, the New Orient Hotel just blocks from the Opera House. (Buy the unlimited Metro pass. It gives you unlimited access to the RER high speed train, the Metro, and the funicular which takes you up the steep slopes to Sacre Coeur.) Since it was too early to check in, our gracious and friendly hostess Katherine, took our bags and delivered them to our room which would be ready later that afternoon.

With fours days- only enough to begin to explore the city- we had a short list of must sees, even after previous visits. The last trips we missed going up to the gargoyle laden towers of Notre-Dame, just missing the last tour group both times. That was number one on our list, but choosing to wait until the next day to see it fresh, we headed for a little meal to get us going.

Department store windows delight at Christmas. 
I've left all these photos very large to give a real sense of the place. 
Just click on there for a very large image.

Since it was so close, a visit to famed Parisian department stores Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps (top photo) began our day. Both were gilded to the hilt, their windows dressed with stunning Christmas displays. Visiting the massive food stalls for a drink at Galeries Lafayette was just what we needed after we stood in awe of the gorgeous stained glass dome and huge Christmas tree in the middle decked out with Swarovski crystals. Unbelievable. Tourists like us gawked, but Parisians walked by, seemingly unfazed by the grandeur around them. 

Inside Galeries Lafayette. 

The winter breezes were steady, the skies grey, and the air crisp with constant drizzle. It was cool but not cold enough to stop us. Moving on to the next door neighbor, Au Printemps, we traveled to the rooftop cafeteria to eat a simple lunch and catch a view of the city. It was surprisingly empty. Perhaps many folks have other priorities than a department store, but since we had visited the city previous time, we wanted to come here and enjoy a view we had read much about. We were not disappointed. 

Attemp at an artistic shot from the rooftop of Printemps.
Sacre-Couer is in the background.

The view was worth the modestly priced meal and overpriced soda. Buyer beware: We were thirsty for a Coke Light but it came at the price of almost five Euros, six plus dollars each. We don't normally splurge for sodas, opting for other local beverages, yet we needed the caffeine punch. It gave us just the lift we needed for a few more hours.

Mansard roofs and chimney pots everywhere you look.

Wandering the streets in Paris is a journey worth taking. Actually, it is one of our favorite ways to spend an evening or afternoon. With our Metro map in hand, we never got too lost, and it was easy to get back to our small and charming hotel at check in time. 

The Opera de Paris Garnier.  

Smaller alleys and side streets are equally beautiful for Christmas!

From daytime to nighttime.

Opting for a short nap that turned into something much longer, we rose and returned to our earlier lunch spot for a nighttime view of the city. In a word, spectacular. Afterwards, more wandering the streets exploring the tiny paths off the beaten track as well as the public squares and plazas. Everything was in Christmas glow, the smallest shop or apartment taking the time to celebrate the season.

Two not-so-young lovers in the City of Light.

Then the bug hit me: I had to see the Eiffel Tower. Had to, especially at night. Taking the Metro to the Trocadero stop, we exited the station and rounded the corner. There is was, the enduring symbol of the most elegant years of the city. 

Words are not enough! 

At 10:00pm, the Tower began to sparkle as it hit the hour. For five minutes, I stood mesmerized. My eyes got a little watery as they do when I am moved. That reaction to seeing it always surprises me. Then I noticed the Christmas market below, surrounding the fountains in front of it. We'd be returning to check that out tomorrow ! When my wife was finally able to pull me away, we stopped for that most simple of Parisian treats: a crepe filled with Nutella. (My desert island food of choice!) 

Eventually, we returned to our room happily tired and ready for the next day's adventures. Our feet tired, but our hearts happy, and this was only the beginning. More to come, and yes, Disneyland Paris.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

January 19, 2013

An American Returns to Paris, the City of Light

I don't want to give too much away by  posting this simple, imperfect photo! Return this Monday as I take you to Paris, the City of Light. Four days in the gorgeous city at Christmastime. Including a stop at Disneyland Paris, our third trip to this city and the park in as many seasons and decades.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

January 16, 2013

Passport to Haunted Mansion Secrets

This morning I ran across an absolutely stunning piece of work detailing the correlation between Walt Disney Imagineering's Haunted Mansion and contemporary films of the 20th century. Includes this piece by Marc Davis. Brilliant. You've got to go to this post on Passport to Dreams Old and New right now. Great work!

(Art copyright Walt Disney Company.)

January 14, 2013

Paris Ooh La La: Four Days in the City of Light

Just returning from an extended business trip. I chose to make it longer by adding a four day stopover in my favorite city, Paris. As soon as I can get it all together, I'll post a four part article on touring the City of Light including a review of Disneyland Paris from a unique perspective: an American's thoughts from one visit each in the last three decades and in three different seasons. Stay tuned.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)