Paris in the 'almost' Spring Time
The Eglise du Dome from the Rodin Museum
Arrival in Paris
It's easy inside the airport. You just follow the masses to the next turnstile or check in counter and eventually you end up with
your luggage, your passport stamped and you are ready to be out of there. The fatigue is balanced by the curiosity and anticipation
and you get thru it fairly easily. The challenge begins when you exit the terminal and confront the beast head on. The language! You
can't read it, you can't understand it, and you can't speak it. When you couple that with the fact that you are dog tired and are on the other side of town from your hotel with a ton of suitcases, being all alone takes on new meaning.
The first form of transportation we find is the Air France bus. Since I wouldn't know an Orlyval if it bit me on the buttocks, I decide
we will try the bus. Trouble is the buses all show their destination as Charles de Gaulle Airport. Luckily one bus driver is nice enough to admit he speaks a little English (it turns out most french people refuse to make this concession) and point out a bus that goes to Montparnasse.
The attendant looks at me like I'm an idiot when I try to load my own suitcases so I leave them for him. We board the bus with other
confused people and give the driver a 50 franc note. This is the first of many times we will be laughed at in France. Turns out the fee is
40ff per personne and they act like we should have known this. Perhaps we should have, but there is no sign I can see.
An hour later, after a trip thru ungodly traffic the bus stops at a big building and I surmise we are at Montparnasse Station. It is
here that we are to make connections with the metro. Here we make a fatal error. We assume that some people from our bus know what
they are doing and we follow them at a distance up the hill. God is this a mistake. My bladder is screaming my name out loud and demanding
an immediate pit stop. I am totally lost and we are toting what seems to be 500 lbs of luggage around the streets of Paris, miles from the hotel after a night of no sleep. We make a succession of wrong turns, get totally lost and have to sit down and reread the map two or three times to finally guess where a metro station might be hiding. " Please!" screams my bladder over and over. Finally a small sign looms in the distance with the word 'metro' engraved on it. So, this is what Moses felt like when he first viewed the promised land! Luckily this is a
junction for line 6 which goes direct to Charles de Gaulle/Etoile, the closest metro station to our hotel. Another 30 minutes or so and we are
schlepping our luggage down Rue Mac Mahon toward Rue de la Acacias and the Hotel Riviera.
At the hotel, none of us can understand the other, but this time they are laughing with us not at us and soon we are in our room. Our room is unpretentious, yet clean as a pin, with a phone and a tv and praise the Lord, a toilet, not to mention shower and bath tub. There is no lobby, just a pathway to a desk. There is no bar. There is no restaurant. There is nothing but our room and that wonderful toilet. We pay only 340ff per nite and we love it. We will meet other Americans on the trip who brag about the great little hotel they found for only 650 ff and privately, we will gloat. We are three blocks from the Arc de Triomphe and the metro. I make a solemn promise not to pass by a single bathroom in France without using it, regardless of whether I really need to or not.
A thirty minute rest, a change of clothes, and we are eager to get going and get our money's worth out of Paris. Back up to the Arc. Much larger than I expected and truly an impressive sight. We know we will pass it over and over during the next four days and remarking that the people up on the top looking down must be escapees from some asylum, we head down into the metro armed with our metro visite passes which were waiting for us at the hotel. At this early point of our Paris encounter we are not about to get slaughtered trying to cross the huge traffic circle around the Arc. We later figure out where the underground passage to the Arc is but, strangely, we never use it and never really get close to the Arc, though we pass it and marvel at it several times daily. Ordering tickets and reserving a hotel room thru the Internet has been a great success. The three day metro pass will be used over and over and is, in my opinion, a good deal.
A Short Dissertation on French Driving in General
We are immediately struck by the suicidal tendencies of the local populace who insist on piloting mopeds and motorcycles in and out of the snarled traffic, switching lanes and cutting between cars at will. These folks have no concern for personal safety. They just want to get where they are headed and get there fast. We see for the first time people who seem to be in the right of way yielding to cars approaching from and turning to the right. I cannot understand the logic behind this at all, but people on the right surely use it to their advantage. It also becomes increasingly clear how the french approach
driving from the philosophical angle. They seem to believe that any time you can cut in front of, or swerve around someone else and get an advantage, that you not only can, but should, go for it. The person cut off or swerved around does not shake his fist, curse the other guy or show him the universal single digit of anger. In fact, he seems to admire the other guy for having seized the opportunity and taken advantage of it!
Driving in France is just plain different. There are speed limits, even on the Autoroutes, but the limits are rarely observed or obeyed. By the way, there are two types of roadways in France. The Autoroutes and all the others. An Autoroute is defined as any roadway that is wider that your living room and on which two cars passing each other can each have two wheels on the road surface. Most roads are not this wide.
In Germany people observe no speed limits either, but in Germany it is all quite orderly and you know what to expect. It is strictly forbidden to pass anyone on the right even if there are six lanes. Furthermore, any German driver will slow down and let you change lanes in front of him at any time. I found that amazing
in itself. In France there is no order. You can never anticipate what move the French driver will make next. Everyone drives with his own set of rules and observes no pattern which can be studied and understood. Also, the French have no patience with the car in front of them. If you are in front of a French driver, he is going to pass you regardless of the road or weather conditions and regardless of your speed. I am convinced it is an inbred trait. They simply cannot follow anyone.
The First Afternoon in Paris
Trudging back up the hill to the CDG/Etoile metro station we agree to follow the advice of a couple of guidebooks to see some major monuments. We take the metro to the Trocadero exit and come out at the Palais de Chaillot, go around the corner and there is the Eiffel Tower, huge and overpowering, looming a few hundred yards away past the garden and fountains behind the Chaillot. It is a great view of this monstrosity. The plaza is manned by North African types who have spread blankets out on the concrete and lined up their miniature Eiffel Towers and a curious selection of hats and caps including the french berets for the tourist to drool over. We manage to pass on the souvenirs and head off thru the park to get up close to the tower. Having no fondness at all for heights taller than a normal step ladder, I am really struck by the people walking up and riding these weird little elevators to get way the hell up there on this iron skeleton. I have no idea just how tall this thing is but if you put this tower in Atlanta and climbed to the top, you could watch those people making that off-brand salsa dip in Noo Yawk City! I am impressed. The Chaillot houses a couple of museums including one on the cinematic arts which the French seem to worship but we are not in a museum kind of mood. We want monuments! We want them all and we want them now! On the Chaillot plaza at the rear steps, there are a couple of large statues, one of a guy holding onto a bull by its head. With little effort I am able to convince Carol that this statue is the origin for the term 'taking the bull by the horns'. Earth to Carol, come in please. Over.
Another guide book says there is this little island on the Seine down past the Bir Hakeim station that is a short walk and has the model for the Statue of Liberty at its tip. Since we are at Bir Hakeim, we decide to go for it. It turns out to be an overnite hike down this little spur of an island that is wide enough for a footpath and four million pounds of dog poop and once you finally get there the statue is so big and the ground space around it so small that its like looking up an elevator shaft. Should have passed on this little bit of advice. Most interesting thing we saw here was a couple of coffee house types practicing on their bongo drums. Haven't seen or heard bongo
drums since the 60's. Reminds me of Maynard G. Krebs. Remember Dobie Gillis? Anyway, the best way to see the statue is on the bateaux mouches. The tip off this little island is their turning point to head back toward Ile de la Cite.
We see the bateaux mouches cruise boats sliding down the Seine and decide we can't refuse. There are several locations to choose from but we figure they are all
about the same quality tour and the about thesame price. We decide to walk down to the Pont d'Alma and sign on there since we can walk along the Seine from where we are without any problem. Once we get there, we realize we are low on francs, but as with all good tourist traps, they love to take your credit card. I am surprised at how large the boats are.The one we are on could easily seat a couple hundred people. We cruise down to the area we had just left and make the turn and head back toward the heart of the city passing the tower on the right. It is leisurely enough to get a good view of everything near the river and the recording is in five languages so everyone knows what they are
passing by. It is relaxing, interesting, and you can do it while sitting down. It is also the absolute easiest and best way to get your bearings in the city and relate one building or attraction to the others geographically. I am glad we did it the first day. You get a really neat view of everthing from the Notre Dame to the Orsay to the Grande Palais for about eight bucks a head.
Normally I despise tours and prefer to do things as a loner rather than in concert with a bunch of other wild eyed, photo snapping tourists, but this trip is cool. In fact , when we made the far turn at Ile St. Louis, it was so cool with the wind in our faces that we finally had to go down into the enclosed portion of the boat to avoid hypothermia. It was around six in the afternoon and still about forty degrees F, but with the speed of the boat and the wind coming off the water you can ice up real fast. This must be a real nice trip in June when the weather is much warmer and you can just spread out and unlax. When we move below decks we swap a loud, foul mouthed British schoolboy group on the top deck for a couple of totally undisciplined obnoxious Asian children whose parents didn't seen to care how loud they were or who they disturb. I guess that is a wash and just points out a major disadvantage to group touring.
We are fading fast now and decide to head back to the hotel. Rather than fight the battle of the foreign menu, we check in at a Vietnamese restaurant across the street from the hotel and get a really good meal for about twenty bucks total. Asian food in general is your hassle free alternative to ordering from a menu you can't read with a waiter impatiently looking down his nose at you as you point at the menu and say une of this and deux of that.
Following the meal we walk around the corner to a grocery store and get a six pack of Volvic bottled water to carry with us the next day and bread, cheese and pate to turn
into a picnic lunch the next day. Do not get Volvic. Evian tastes like water. Volvic is mystery fluid. We watch a little French TV and I get to see a couple of nekkid ladies in the commercials for bath products lilke shampoo. Life is good. We don't understand much on the TV, but most of the programs are American shows with dubbed in French. I find it pretty interesting; Carol reads a book and doesn't even watch the commercials. My favorite show comes in on the joint French-German cable channel. It is called 'Die Kleine Vampir'. The little vampire. I guess it is a kid's program but these little suckers (pun intended) fly around and have fangs and the whole bit. Day one in Paris drifts away.
Day Two in Paris
Friday morning it looks like it will rain anytime, so we decide to make it museum day to try and keep dry without wasting touring time. We eat a granola bar breakfast while walking the Champs Elysees to the Place de la Concorde. It is true that the Champs Elysees is lined with money changers, airline offices and banks, but it is still an
interesting walk and a good leg stretcher in the morning. Besides we need to change some money orders into francs and there are certainly plenty of choices and plenty of different rates. We stop into the Tourist Information Office on the Champs Elysees to get some info on the SNCF for our trip to Tours.
Here we get some good brochures and get to see first hand one reason why Americans are despised by Europeans (and practically everybody else). At the front of this long line is a short,whiny, New Jersey accented, school teacher complaining about some discount she thinks she is entitled to because she is who she is. She is told repeatedly that she can not be helped there and that they don't make the rules or have the power to change them and this woman keeps saying 'that's not the way we do it in the U.S.' Hey, you stupid whiny old bat, you're not in the U.S. If you want it the way it is in the U.S., get the hell on a jet and go back home. That's what everyone at the desk and everyone in line, including me, wants to tell her. What a boor! Definitely the ugly American.
We pass several parks and both the Grande and Petit Palais on the way to Place de la Concorde, the site of the executions of the Revolution. Since I especially want to view the Egyptian Obelisk, the French have wrapped it in scaffolding so that it looks like a construction zone and isn't
even fit for a photo. This is nothing new for me. The folks in Quebec did the scaffolding number on me when I went to see the shrine at Ste. Anne de Beaupre'. My fellow countrymen
did it to me when I visited D.C., covering the Capitol Building with scaffolds. The Germans did it to me when we went to Heidelberg. The rest of the Place de la Concorde is not too
interesting to us. It seems like a big parking lot and traffic circle, so we detour to the Orangerie Museum at the corner of the plaza and the western most end of the Tuileries Jardins.
This is a good museum. I am no art enthusiast. I claim next to zero knowledge about art. However, the paintings here are really worth a second look. It is nearly all
impressionistic and there are many easily recognizable paintings here. 'The Water Lillies' are here. The little guy who lost his ear is here. We both enjoyed most everything
that was hung up on the wall. As a bonus, the Orangerie is not huge. We stroll thru and see most everything in about two hours unless you are one of those pretentious folks
that stares at the painting from every angle and sizes it up nine ways from noonday. It doesn't wear you out or take the whole day and its not so spread out that you tire out half
way through. I am particularly surprised by the size of 'The Water Lillies'. Hard to overlook is the fact that there is a guard or monitor in every room. Very nice men's room, I might add.
It's lunch time and we go next door into the Tuileries Jardin. My understanding is there used to be this great palace here but the revolution sent it up in a big fireball
leaving only the gardens. We park on a bench beside the fountain, with the Louvre in the distance and using my trusty Swiss army knife, we put pate' and cheese on our baguettes and with our bottles of Evian we have le pique nique in le jardin.
Cutting across the Place de la Concorde, we head up the rue Royale to la Madeleine. This is an absolutely huge building in the
Greek classical style with enormous columns. Apparently
the intended use of the building changed a couple of times before it became a church for good. It is the architecture and the sheer size that is impressive rather than its religious trappings
and worth a short walk by and even a look see.
From here we walk up rue Tronchant toward the Gare St. Lazare. We have decided to take the TGV from Paris to Tours for the second part of our trip and
have been told to buy the tickets at any SNCF station. On the way we run across a small travel agency and a small voice tells me I read that you can get train tickets from travel agents.
When I first walk in and ask in my best south Georgian French, if the lady speaks English, she thinks I am some idiot tourist looking for change or a bathroom and tries to give me the brush off. When I manage
to put TGV, billets, Tours, and le gare into the same sentence, she starts to smell a commission and becomes an instant fountain of information. She is very helpful, knows as much
English as I do French, that being damn little, and somehow she gets 516 ff from me (about $103) and I get two billets from her. Interesting experience and saved a long walk and a bunch of time. I feel like for the first time I beat the language barrier instead of it beating me.
From here we decide to walk down blvd. Haussmann to the Opera Garnier. Haussmann is the guy that redesigned the city streets and created all these great wide boulevards for the people to stroll on. Its not far and we want to walk some busy streets to try and get a feel for the city. For the first time on our trip we encounter rain. A light drizzle begins, so when we reach the Opera, we duck into a little movie house on the side street to see a tourist information movie called 'Paristoric'. Our 'visite passes' get us in for 20% off and it runs about $8 per person. It is worth it. The movie is a dialogue between the narrator and the city and it details the city's history in chronological order while showing most of the interesting sites in and nearby Paris. It gives you a good perspective on the city and takes about an hour of your time. Most of the background music is from Offenbach and Berlioz and quite enjoyable. When we leave, the drizzle is over and we will see no more rain during the entire trip.
The Opera Garnier is directly across the street though you are at its rear and have to circle around. It is very impressive on the outside and being a big opera fan, I am looking forward to seeing the ornate interior which you can tour. Inside the lobby we find the rare sign printed in English. No tours today because there is a rehearsal for an upcoming production. Great! Might as well be covered in scaffolding. This is disappointing to me and we will not get back to this area for a second try.
While the threat of rain lingers under slate grey skies, we take the metro down to the river and
walk across the Pont Alexander. If you have any interest in architecture or art, you can spend an hour admiring this bridge and checking out all the great views of the city you can get from it. Of course, the eastern side of the bridge is under repair and covered in scafffolds, but the western side is clear. Crossing the bridge we head down the quai past the book stalls with there postcards and tourist art, toward Musee d' Orsay. Its a longer walk that I had counted on, its
mid-afternoon and we are starting to drag a little. There is quite a line outside waiting to buy tickets, but we breeze right thru the entrance with our museum passes. I detest waiting in line. Rather have my eyebrows plucked. Passes are good.
If the passes were good, the museum is spectacular. It is large, originally a
train station, but it is manageable and set up well so you can pass from one area to another easily. A nice combination of paintings and sculpture, even period furnishings. We stay here til they kick us out around six in the afternoon and still don't see everything in it. Manet, Monet, van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir, Matisse, Rodin: something for everyone. On the second floor they are having an exhibition of memorabilia about Offenbach and his music. The exhibit area features his music as well as original scores, playbills, photos, etc. To cap it off, there is a small theatre set up where they are running video clips of his operas performed at the Opera Garnier over the years. We rest our dead legs and feet here for nearly an hour while watching and listening to great opera. A great afternoon in my opinion. If you will only see one museum in Paris, want to see a lot of great art, but don't want to be totally overwhelmed (the Louvre), this is the place.
About the Louvre. We did not even go. It is just too damn big. Where do you start? What do see and not see? Which wing? Which floor? Between trying to see everything in a couple of hours when you need a couple of weeks (or maybe months) and navigating thru its huge expanse of wings, floors and rooms and fighting the biggest crowds in Paris, we figured we wouldn't get much out of it. You have to go away from the Louvre feeling you did not pay enough attention to what you saw because you were in a hurry to get to something else, and that no matter how you handled it, you missed all these things you really should have seen.
My son, Brian, who visited Paris three years ago with Axel, one of our German exchange students, says the Louvre is a large collection of different pictures of 'The Madonna with Child' along with a bunch of Egyptian stuff. I do regret not seeing the 'Egyptian stuff'. Our leisurely trips thru the Orsay and the Orangerie were great and well paced and we felt we saw some really great things without any hassle or hurry. I think the Louvre is a separate vacation all by itself for people who are really deep into art.
We head for home on the metro and have our first experience with metro weirdos. On one end of the car, a guy is playing the accordion and probably doing a good job of it. At the other end a black woman with her hair all combed down across her forehead covering her face completely, is singing and dancing. The accordion player is not too happy as he feels she is horning in on his deal. He either yells at her for dancing to his music or he yells at the passengers for not paying him anything. I don't know which. It is hard to figure where the hair faced woman works to get the money to ride the metro. Who hires people with hairy faces? She is different for sure.
After a short rest at the hotel, we walk back up rue Mac Mahon to a little brasserie called Le Directoire and have a nice dinner consisting of an Alsacian dish called choucroute garnie. It is basically sauer kraut and sausages. With bread and wine and a tasty little salad, it makes a fine and filling meal. One of the few meals we would have in France where we knew what we were ordering. The nicest thing about the meal to me was the waiter. He knew we didn't speak French, but made no big deal of it. He didn't go thru the corny American routine of 'Hello, my name is Derrick and I will be your waiter tonight. Our special of the day is drowned pussycat in an orange sauce and I can recommend it highly.' Who cares what your waiters name is? If I want to know the special, I'll ask. This guy was polite but business like and didn't fall all over himself trying to earn a tip by aggravating us during the meal. Maybe this is what 'service compris' is all about. I like it.
After the meal it is dark and we head out to see the major
monuments at night. It is really like seeing them all over again. We walk past the Arc d' Triomphe and take the metro down to the Chaillot again to eyeball the Tour Eiffel at nite. We meet a couple of girls from Virginia who are wasted after a 12 hour train ride from Munich and then take the metro on down to the Louvre where we walk past Pei's Pyramide and see the smaller arc, with an interesting shot of the large
arch in the distance thru the smaller one. Confusing isn't it? Next we walk along the Seine past the Louvre back to Place de la Concorde watching the bateaux mouches glide along on their dinner cruises. Some great scenes to try and remember. A night time walk gives a totally different view of the city and we never felt threatened. In the metro tunnel we hear what sounds like a full chamber orchestra playing as we weave our way toward the track and around a curve we come upon the original one man band. I have no idea how he made so many sounds at one time by himself. Must have had a cassette deck hidden somewhere. The acoustics in the metro hallways are unreal.
On the metro we witness a couple more strange episodes. In our car this guy stands up holding a newspaper up in one hand and starts shouting at the top of his voice. Of course, we don't know what he is saying which makes it even stranger. He picks people out one at a time and shouts right into their faces waving the paper in the air. As I look around to see people's reactions most everyone I make eye contact with just rolls their eyes as if to say 'just another nut case'. This loony tune is one guy I will NOT make eye contact with. Apparently having had his say, he sits down and resumes reading. My guess is he was ranting about 'la greve', the big transportation strike. However, he could have been advocating the death of all overweight Americans carrying cameras on the metro. Maybe I was really lucky today.
Saturday in Paris
We oversleep today as jet lag and last nite's exhausting walk finally catch up with us. We grab some fruit juice at the corner grocerie and take the metro down to the Hotel de Ville station and cross over onto Ile de la Cite'. Walking past the flower market beside the Seine and all the book
stalls, we head straight for the Sainte Chapelle. The gates are guarded by gendarmes since the Palais de Justice is there, but it is no hassle getting in. The line at the Sainte Chapelle is monstrous as it is already around 11 A.M. Our museum pass sends us straight past the lines and directly inside. It is truly a wonderful place. The lower level is ornate and interesting with some graves built right into the floor and is worth more than just a scan, but the upper level with its wall 75 to 80% stained glass is really a sight. What I read says the commoners were allowed access to the first floor, but the upper level was reserved for nobility only. The commoners really got the shaft here if that is true.
The sun is out and it is really hard to describe the colors filtering thru the glass windows into the chapel. Each panel of each window seems to be unique and they are inumerable. Glad we didn't miss this! Outside the chapel is so huge and the courtyard area so small that you cannot really get far enough away to get a decent photo, but the exterior is interesting with its complement of gargoyles and turrets. We pass up a tour thru the Conciergerie and will never know what we missed. It is a bad case of can't wait any longer to see the Cathedral of Notre Dame up close.
You guessed it. The entire north tower covered in scaffolding. The tower was closed, nixing the climb up for a great view and the scaffolds ruined any photo angle you tried from the front. Actually, the rear and south side views of the cathedral are more interesting
anyway. The crypt holds little interest to us mainly because of the crowds and inside it is worse than sardine city. It is a great visual sight but there are just too many people for you to enjoy it much. The bummer is that I figured the cost of the tower and crypt into the justification for the monuments and museums passes and don't get to use it here. I am most impressed by the sheer heighth of the vaulted ceilings. We have seen many cathedrals from Quebec to Switzerland to Germany and Strassbourg in eastern France, but I can't remember such a high interior ceiling vault.
Several books mentioned the Memorial de la Deportation. Forget it. Locked up tight as a drum. So much for that supposed moving experience. So far this day has had only one bright spot amidst bunches of disappointment. We check out dozens of book stalls along the left bank of the river from Notre Dame down to blvd. St. Michel and head off to the left into the Latin Quarter. First priority-a bathroom and then something to eat.
Chez Jaafar is a cozy little Tunisian restaurant with only seven small tables in the quarter near the Cluny Museum which is our next planned stop. This is our first time in a Tunisian restaurant and a note on their sign that they speak English is a major factor in our decision. Turns out to be a good one. Service and food are both great and we eat really well for about 160 ff. Couscous tastes a lot better than it sounds or looks.
The Cluny Museum is easy to overlook, hidden behind high walls and looking like a holdover from medievel times, which it is, almost
directly across from the Sorbonne. Inside is a nice collection of tapestries, paintings, sculpture and artifacts from the medievel era . They also have a room of stained glass windows from the Sainte Chapelle. Turns out some of the glass at the chapel has been removed over the years and is kept in this museum and replaced at the chapel with copies. You can get right up to these samples and examine them closely. You can also see enough tapestries here to last a whole trip, but they are indeed quite wondrous when considering the time it must have taken. The subject matter and the way things are depicted make it quite interesting. This is a pretty neat smallish museum with items that are mostly religious in nature and well worth a look see. You can cruise the whole museum in less than two hours without hurrying at all. Not at all crowded, even on Saturday.
We are a little concerned about our TGV trip on Monday and decide to zip down to la Gare Montparnasse and get a handle on where we catch the train. Its a short metro trip since we are on the left side of town already. We walk thru more Latin Quarter streets to the St. Michel station and it is all very crowded and very French. A neat place. At the entrance from the metro into the SNCF station is a group of Peruvians, named Kaktus, playing typical South American music and passing the hat and hawking cassettes of their talent. They really are entertaining and we both like that type of music and so just camp out for half an hour or so and flip a few coins in the hat and enjoy. We ran into a similar group playing similar music in Quebec City five or so years ago near the boardwalk at the great Hotel Frontenac. Only difference is that group was playing under a banner claiming 50% of their proceeds went to Peru to help find the missing persons from the last dictator's reign. Yeah, right! Carol puts on her thinking cap, and after a while, offers that she thinks this is probably a different group because she doesn't remember the guy on the right end and the guy on the left doesn't look Peruvian. Imagine that! You know, I think she's right!
A Note about Anti-Terrorism
Let me interject here that at all the SNCF stations we run into military types toting automatic weapons. To me they are scarier than the threat of terrorists because they act more like we did in the early seventies in the National Guard. They seem to be joking around and just killing time, not really concerned. You have to hope they know what they are doing with all that firepower. The way we handled it in the Guard was easy. Everyone had a .45 for show at special occasions but the folks on high had enough sense not to give a bunch of yokels any real bullets so they couldn't hurt anyone, including themselves.
Once we locate everything we need at the Gare Montparnasse, we head back north on the metro to the area near the Pompidou Center. This inside out building does nothing for me, we don't need or want to shop around, and the crowds of shoppers and spectators just reinforce my desire to crash and catch up on my jet lag. We came, we saw, we left.
On the way back to the metro we pass the Tour St. Jacques. I really should know a little of the history of this thing considering how much I have read about Paris in the last month, but it isn't all that impressive and we yawn and keep walking. A quick Vietnamese snack across from the hotel and we hit the sack around eight o'clock.
Sunday- Last Tango in Paris
Its our last day in Paris, but we are in no great hurry to get to the dozens of things we have missed. Actually, we are going to see things we had not expected to have time for. We never planned to see all of Paris. The day starts as we bump into a Aussie couple at the metro. My French is next to awful, but this poor chap is in major trouble. He thinks I am French and asks in Aussie if I could 'speakee any Englee'. He says he wants to get from 'this here Charles de Gaulle/Etolley thing' down to 'the Bastilly thing'. No clue on pronunciation and apparently, like Carol, lacking the directional and map reading genes, we get him off in the right direction and wish him luck. He will need luck to survive a few days here. We discover immediately that a three day 'visite pass' will not work on the fourth day. I don't know how they coded it, but there it is.
We begin with a trip to the Rodin Museum. Even if you have only ten minutes to spare, visit here to see the Gate of Hell and the Burghers of Calais in the courtyard . Le Penseur and all the others are
just icing on the cake. After the sculpture in the jardin I am not impressed that much by the smaller objects and the other art inside the museum, but the massive sculptures in the jardins are really powerful. Collecting tickets at the door were two rude twenty-something anal-retentive twerps with dinky little goatees who apparently think they are the gestapo in charge of art. This is as close as I come the whole trip to telling someone to bite my redneck arse. Be sure you know the proper translation for 'you have to check your umbrella at the desk' or these two will go into a hyper hissy at having to tell you in English. If they lived in Atlanta, they would have little rainbow flags on their bumpers and spend their evenings cruising midtown.
A short walk up and across the street we find the Hotel des Invalides. We roam thru the Army Museum until it becomes repetitive, but it is interesting following the french experience in war thru exhibits and armor collections from medievel times up thru World War Two. The medievel armor for man and horse is particularly interesting.
In the Church of the Dome we see the tombs or sarcophagi of Napolean,
(see pic at top of this page)
his relatives, and several other famous french military leaders. The building itself is quite impressive both inside and out and worth a visit, but I keep asking myself why I am spending time looking at dead folk's coffins. After the Sunday morning mass ends we are allowed into the Soldiers Church, which butts up against the back of the Dome. I think it is quite appropriate that battle flags captured from France's enemies hang all along the walls of the church, considering how religion has been the primary instigator of war and death on this planet since day one.
As a side note, the Hotel des Invalides actually does have invalids in it to this day. We pass several old soldiers sitting around the park area in their wheelchairs soaking up the sun. We get ripped off for 74 ff at the museum cafeteria for two subs and two drinks, but that's our fault. Should have seen it coming with a captive audience and all.
We return to the metro and head off toward Montmartre, which we had originally decided we would not have time for. We actually get checked by the metro police to see if we jumped the turnstile for a free ride. The moral: never throw away your ticket stub til the ride is over. We have ours and avoid a stiff fine. The Montmartre area turns out to be very lively but a little run down and seedy compared to most of
the Paris we have seen. The Basilica dominates the entire area and is a stunning piece of architecture that seems like it belongs in Istanbul. Makes a great picture. This turns out to be an afternoon of people watching and was quite enjoyable. It's a stiff climb up the steps to the Sacre Coeur but there are so many strange people touring and vending that its not so bad.
The great view from here that you read about in guide books is highly overrated. You are a long way from everything and the only view I could find is one of vast urban sprawl. There are guys at the top of the stairs hawking beer and cokes at the most reasonable prices in Paris; 5 ff. People are selling everything from knockoff handbags to berets; one guy claims to engrave your name on a grain of rice for 20 ff! Why would you want your name on perfectly good edible rice? How would you show it to anyone? Am I missing something here?
We make the mistake of coming down the stairs and walking the bottom land toward the Place du Tertre and then having to climb two immense escaliers to get back up to the same level we were on after the climb to the Sacre Coeur. The park area at the Sacre Coeur was nothing
compared to Place du Tertre. This is a Zoo! It's crowded. It's full of performers, from paper cutters to mimes to musicians to artists. It is so touristy it is great. It transcends tackiness to become memorable. Who cares if the artists are mainly hackers and everyone is feeding off the tourists like sharks? It is neat. After getting a sweet snack at the local Boulangerie and watching the crowd for an hour or so we decide to head off in a different direction.
Out at the far western end of the urban axis is the Grande Arche de la Defense. When we emerge from the underground metro station, it is as if we just landed on another planet. A huge plaza surrounded by modern glass and steel office buildings and shopping malls. At one end is the Grande Arche. It is grand and enormous. I have to go to the far end of the plaza to get the whole structure in my viewfinder with a 55mm
lens. Teens are having a roller blade competition in a roped off area of the plaza. All around are modernistic buildings and not a thing to remind you of the Paris you just left. The signature item here for me is not the Grande Arche and its parachute and exposed death ride elevators, but the idiotic sculpture of a human thumb rising 75 feet or so in the air down by the entrance to the plaza. No way can I figure the artistic value of this giant thumb. But, they didn't ask me, did they? I get a photo of this thumb so people back home will not think I'm on the sauce when I tell them about it. One thing I can assure you, having studied this thumb for some time, is that it is a right thumb.
We had planned on relaxing for an hour or so at the Imax theatre, billed as the largest in the world (aren't they all?). Turns out there is a flick about beavers and a kiddie show playing and we pass on both. The crowds were everywhere on Saturday, but on Sunday most of Paris is a veritable ghost town. There were fifteen people at the Rodin Museum this morning and all day long the metro cars are virtually empty. The only crowds are at Montmartre. We finish off our latest batch of pique nique supplies for dinner. How can anyone get enough of good pate'?
We leave Paris tomorrow morning for Tours and a slower pace. There is much more to see here than what we covered, but we are pretty content about that. We saw all the things we really wanted to and we didn't rush thru any of them just to get to the next one. Last time in Europe I sometimes felt we were doing little more than riding by every sight, snapping a picture, and zipping off to the next location without really getting anything out of the previous one. I feel much better about the way we handled this and about the fact that we took time to smell the roses most of the time.
Next--The Valley of the Kings
The Loire Valley
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