I have just concluded a two-week trip to France and Germany, spending seven days outside Paris and six days in Berlin. The last time I was in Paris was 20 years ago. I went to see the same sights and I was struck at how places do not change as much as people do. Sacre Couer looked pretty much the same, but I certainly have lost a considerable amount of my energy and retentive powers since 1992. I do not know if I have another twenty years to live, quite frankly, but cities will live on.
Staying outside Paris, I had the chance to hit the roads. The French drive like crazy, and motorcyclists were even crazier with the way they weaved like daredevils through traffic. Many times, they cut you off with only a foot or two between your hood and their tail lights. But, everyone seemed to anticipate the other's bad driving quite well, resulting in no accidents. One can't see this sort of driving when touring Paris, but it becomes quite obvious once you go on and beyond the Peripherique (beltway) that surrounds Paris.
This time, I was able to visit Rheims, Fontainebleu, Mont St. Michel, and Chartres. These cities are all worth the effort. The drive to the Brittany coast took four hours from the Bailly-Romainvillers area, thirty minutes East of Paris. The last seven kilometers offered dramatic views of Mont St. Michel, jutting up from the horizon like a staircase to Heaven. I passed hamlets with clustered, stone houses; all seemed void of any inhabitants. It wasn't hard to imagine hoards of English invaders in the middle ages fanning out into the countryside, and ultimately making a beeline towards Mont St. Michel.
Berlin, because it has two overlapping train systems, is very easy to navigate. The Ubahn operates on schedule and so with the suburban S lines and the public buses. The Germans are efficient. Their main train station, the Hauptbahnhof, is a masterpiece of glass and stainless steel, an awesome multi-level train station that I believe is an impossibility in the United States. I pity the Berliner who happens to find himself at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. The PABT, in all honesty, is a pigsty compared to the Hauptbahnhof.
If you're not impressed by the smart trains and the swishing sounds they make, you might be glad to know that dogs are allowed on the trains. And they don't have to be seeing-eye dogs. In fact, dogs are allowed all over the city. About a third of the people walking their dogs in Berlin didn't have a leash on their dogs. Those dogs just faithfully followed in the footsteps of their guardians. No problem. In the outer fringes of Berlin, I saw a man command his unleashed dog to sit at the supermarket's entrance while he shopped, and the dog stayed put.
I took the 30-minute train ride to Potsdam to see Frederick the Great's Summer palace called, Sans Soucci. It is surround by cascading grounds that used to be orchards. Frederick the Great loved fruits and nature altogether. And what did I encounter on those hallowed grounds--- Potsdamers with their dogs in tow.
I was on the S-7 line when I snapped this photo of a dog. The dogs all seemed well-behaved, and their owners do their utmost to minimize the amount of space their dogs take up. It was an exemplary combination of good behaviour and responsible pet ownership.