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Published: April 1st 2008
I'm holding the Eiffel Tower
From Trocadero you can get a great view of the Tower. It's heavy, but I'm holding it easily.
After 6 days in London, we took the Eurostar train to Paris. It is really amazing to be able to travel from London to Paris in less than 3 hours, no stops, no transfers, no airports far from the city center.
When we arrived at the Gare du Nord, we went to the tourist information booth, where a very pleasant man got us ready for Paris. We got a bus-metro pass and found out the exact location of our hotel. It was on the Left Bank, only a few blocks from Notre Dame. We checked in and then walked to the cathedral. The experience of visiting it was much better than I remember from previous visits. Someone had the brilliant idea of piping in Gregorian chants and lighting the place to simulate a medieval atmosphere. The first evening we had dinner at a Turkish restaurant not far from our hotel. In the process of restaurant hunting, we became aware that Paris has become very multi-cultural while not losing its distinctively French feel. Another change I noticed is that more people speak English than I remember, and they are
Dai and the Eurostar
Behind Dai is the Eurostar train we took from London to Paris. We did go under the English Channel. (Why isn't that called the French Channel?) It was very fast. Just a short trip, really.
very gracious about it.
The next day we went to Musée d’Orsay, a late 19th century railway station converted into a museum of 19th century art. It is wonderful how the French play with mixing historical periods. It is there in D’Orsay, and in I.M. Pei’s pyramid at the Louvre. It occurs to me that it must take a deep sense of aesthetics among the population to be able to do that so well. Unfortunately, the Chinese have a long history of trashing tradition in order to achieve a rather superficial modernism. It is revealing that in China historical stuff is called “relics.” They treat them as relics, unable to transform them while preserving them. Following advice from our hotel, we went to the museum by bus. Susie really enjoyed seeing the neighborhoods we passed through and proposed that we travel around by bus rather than by metro. She has trouble with the stairs in the metro stations. We took her advice and never got on the metro again. On the bus it is only necessary to show your pass rather than put it through some electronic device. This made it possible for us to use our 5 day
passes for 7 days. We also walked a lot, which is more fun on the Left Bank than on the Champs-Elysée. Perhaps our day going to Montmartre was the most fun. We looked at Sacre Coeur, visited it and then stopped at a café on Place du Tetre for lunch. The young bartender was in a mood to talk about his recent visit to New York, so we all got involved in a general conversation with the artists who used the café to escape the winter cold. I had a lovely bowl of French onion soup; Dai had fun joking with the bartender and taking photos. She has a whole series of photos of food she has eaten. Whenever food is delivered to her, she photographs it before starting to eat. After a couple of hours of that, I suggested that we take the bus to Trocodaro but would not tell Susie and Dai why I wanted to go there. They were amazed when we arrived and there in front of us was the most spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower. This led to another round of photo taking, the tower, the street dancers, the African sellers of tourist junk,
Quack having a French breakfast
Quack was still with us. We had a French breakfast at our hotel every morning--baggettes or croissants, cafe au lait, juice, yogurt, jam, hard boiled egg.
etc. By this time everything we did and saw was incredibly funny.
Besides D’Orsay, we went to the Louvre and to the Pompidou where Dai declared that she does not like modern art. She got quite good at telling the difference between gothic and renaissance and can appreciate the early modernists like the impressionists. As our day at the Pompidou went on, she started to get it. After the invention of photography, western artists had to do something that cameras could not do, so they became more expressive and more conceptual. So you have to appreciate the modernists (later ones and post-modernists) in a different way. Their art requires more contextualization to fully appreciate it. Some of it is highly intellectual, but some of it is just plain fun.
Somewhere in Paris I decided that winter is the best time to go to Europe. All our guidebooks warned of long lines at the museums, but we did not find any lines and never had a problem finding a table at a restaurant. People were invariably not just polite but gracious, possibly because they were not harried by busloads of tourists. Paris did not seem as expensive as London,
probably because we spent most of our time on the Left Bank and because the dollar to Euro exchange was 1.4/1.6 to one Euro. Also, sometimes we shopped at local markets and had suppers of bread, cheese, wine and veggies in our room.
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