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Published: September 29th 2008
Apologies for the randomness that was the last blog. I was in no fit state to update you all on the adventures of the last few weeks, let along give you an insight to the cultural nuances of Paris. So instead I made a decision to ramble on…clearly the tube air is getting to me. Seriously, I think it must be. I have had the sniffles for what feels like forever, although I did have a permanent cold before I left Australia so perhaps I shouldn’t blame the stinky, dirty tube. Riding the tube has become an exercise in contortions, heat and sweat ...and not in a sexy way. In New York I got first hand knowledge that their trains are actually cleaned - I saw them being mopped and cleaned at the end of the R line. But in London I really wonder how well their cleaners have been trained at mop wielding. Not only that, ironically I saw a program (I was flicking channels, I hadn’t sought it out) where they were showing the underground trains being cleaned and the head dude was emphatic in his pride that the tube is immaculately cleaned…hmmmn, perhaps the NHS should start subsidising
Anyway, now that I am no longer squished up against several other people and have room to breathe, I am felt it necessary to update you on the state of the world (ironically I am typing this while on a train - slightly more spacious, I am on the train to Cornwall!). I have to say, continuing my analysis on the tube, sometimes it does feel rather like you are riding on a rollercoaster - clearly I don’t ride these very often - however, rushing around in the tunnels, in the dark with no idea where the train is turning and twisting, generally getting thrown around the carriage, I do feel like I am on a ride. In fact, I would much prefer to be strapped in because apparently my ability to stand up without falling over, crashing into someone or something has become rather ridiculous. Seriously, I didn’t think I was that uncoordinated; sure, I crash into the odd door frame, constantly walked into my bed in Perth, and on numerous occasions have smashed into random objects that really are easily navigable if you have a semblance of spacial awareness. But here, on the tube, in FLAT
shoes, as soon as those doors close (don’t forget to mind them!) and the train whooshes off into the black hole I start to hang on for dear life otherwise I find myself flung about the carriage like a rag doll. Not particularly sophisticated. Nuts, foiled again.
The Metro in Paris (one of the first four metro’s in the world, which also include London, New York and …Budapest, yeah, I was surprised too!) is old and somewhat grubby but apparently they are attempting to renovate over 250 stations by 2010. I’m not sure if they are renovating the trains themselves (I hope so) but at least riding the Metro there doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as the London Underground. It is actually really easy to follow and getting around using the Metro is really easy. I got into Gard de Nord at about 10.20pm on a Friday night and managed to safely make my way to the other side of town (and the river) changing trains and following the amazing well signed way to my next train. Give it a lick of paint and a bit of make over and it will be tres magnifique.
So as I have
not so subtly revealed, I did make it to Paris for the weekend. And it was wonderful. There is something about Paris or perhaps it is ‘the continent’ that makes London oh so much greyer in comparison. And it is pretty grey to start with. If they’re not lucky, it will be pitch black there soon. Oh, I forgot, it will be. Winter is coming (already) and I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t see the sun again until I get back to Australia. Oops, revealed another one…I should be back in Perth in January. Did you know that already? Got to go see my nephew and his new little sister. And a couple of other people (:P)
Anyway…Paris. The city of Romance. Love. Kisses. Cannoddling. Flowers and chocolates. You see where I am going here. So, it clearly makes a lot of sense that I would go…on my own…single. Yeah, good plan. Visit the city of lurve and watch all the happy couples! Actually, it wasn’t that bad…but you know… I have to get out the violin and have a bit of play because it is the perfect opportunity to lament that I had no one to share
my chocolate mousse with. On second thoughts, I am glad - I wasn’t sharing that with anyone…mmmmn. This was spectacular chocolate mousse alright. And being single in the city of love gave the opportunistic French men the opportunity to practice their pick up lines…but more on that later.
I took the Eurostar direct to Paris from St Pancras International straight after work on the Friday evening. I quickly popped into Foyles (love a good bookstore) and picked up a copy of the Lonely Planet Paris Encounter and Voltaire’s Candide. Quick tip to the wise, the LP Encounter books are great, fit in your bag, and have a pull out map of both the city and the metro. My NY copy got a beating so the Paris copy was a must. (thanks for that one Bee). After 3 other brief trips to Paris, I wanted to make sure that I actually ticked off a couple of other places I wanted to visit. Everything fell into place with this trip. I made it to the station in perfect time, picked up my books, supplies for the ride, updated my journal, found out about the metro AND had time to change my
nose ring and a bathroom break! I literally walked out of the ladies room and was about to find myself a seat when the train was ready for boarding. Smooth! I had even reapplied my lippy! I was set! Clearly, the stars were aligned; this was meant to be.
Once on the train we sped off towards the channel tunnel. I ended up sitting with an older NZ couple and a lovely older fellow called Chris who happily shared his bottle of vino and snacks. After about 30 minutes we were in the tunnel and something like 20 minutes later we were in France…seriously. It takes me longer to drive up to my Mum’s place in Perth from home than this. Speeding through the French countryside we gained an hour and unfortunately darkness had set in so I can’t comment on the countryside. The total journey took about 2 hours and 15 minutes. To think, if I had been driving to Margaret River I would still be on the road. Although, that said, I would have probably been able to indulge in a pit stop at the Miami Bakehouse and be distracted by an intriguing discussion about the merits
of Andy Roddick, sans voice - looong story, huh Shan? Anyway, I digress. Again!
Once in Paris it was all I could do not to jump up and down, whooping with delight! I was in Paris. I had a grin quite similar to the one I was wearing when I bought my cowboy boots in Tennessee a few years ago. So, grinning from ear to ear, I was immediately struck by the style and grace of the French people, ok, men strolling past me. There is something about people here that screams pride and confidence, good grooming (yes, I still look like I have been dragged through a hedge) and generally, fantabulous genes. Heading straight to the metro, confidently striding through Gard de Nord (yep, I know where I am going, how cool is that?!), I picked up a carnet which is 10 Metro tickets. Good idea. I didn’t need to think about buying anymore tickets the whole time I was there and apparently they are valid for 6/12 months something like that. Easy peasy.
As I mentioned earlier, I did make it to my hostel, successfully changing trains and stations. And once I arrived at my destination
I got clever and thought I was staying on the side street of the same name rather than the main Avenue. On the plus side, that mystery was soon solved and I managed to take some cool pics of some street art/stencils. I was walking around at about 11pm at night, carrying my bag and subtly trying to take pics without seeming too much like a tourist! I was vaguely successful but I did actually feel really safe. Soon I was happily checking in to my hostel - Oops (yes, that is the name of it. Check it out at . Unfortunately for me, after a day’s work, I completely forgot to even think of speaking French and strolled on in with a ‘Howdy, how you doing?’. Oops indeed. Lucky for me the guy at the desk was a cool Columbian guy who couldn’t care less! Unfortunately, my fore thought and my French failed to improve over the weekend.
Fantabulous example of why Paris is great #1 -
Coffee, even the free coffee you get in your hostel with breakfast, is awesome. Together with my croissant and jam, this was great coffee. And due to the busy-ness of the
place I got stuck sitting next to an extremely handsome Argentinean man who I had a great chat with - don’t stress, he was leaving Paris that day so I was at no risk of having my virtue impeached. Although the thought did roar through my mind as we rode the lift together! Yes, another significant fact about this hostel, there was a lift, so for those of you who hate the thought of carrying your luggage up several flights, this place is for you. But that said, the stairs in this place are really cool, funky cool wallpaper and the smoothest, most well sanded stairs ever. Perhaps that is a little too much detail… I should have taken a photo...
Anyway, there were a couple of places that I wanted to see or revisit during this trip to Paris. So a few weekends ago, I trawled through my guide books and various brochures and paraphernalia that I have picked up around the place and came up with a ‘short’ list!
Goals for the weekend to Paris -
• Pantheon - probably Bob’s influence, but I want to see Foucault’s Pendulum
• Walking tour - yes, I am
Scultures on the Pont Neuf
Sculptures of the faces of King Henri IV's drunken mates
a sucker for the traditional sights and I love all the weird and wonderful facts
• Catacombs - finally, after 3 previous trips.
• Musee de Orsay - the love of the Degas continues
• Musee de Rodin
• Mr Eiffell’s tower - not to go up to the top, mind, just to have a little looksey
• Eat many pastries, drink much coffee and generally partake of the gastronomic feast that is French cuisine.
So, Saturday morning, after fighting my overwhelming urge to take a side trip to Majorca, I was out on the streets of Paris, heading to St Michels Place to meet up with my walking tour, via the Pantheon. St Michel’s Place overlooks the river Seine, looking towards the right bank and Notre Dame Cathedral. Situated in the Latin Quartier this is a bustling place filled with café’s and bookshops. The Latin Quartier is where the university was/is and everyone in this area spoke latin, the shared language with which everyone studied. Across the Seine, French reigned supreme, but here the language of education was also the language of the bookshops, the boulangerie, the café.
St Michels Place has a wonderful fountain complete
with Michael battling the archangel Lucifer. Standing in the sunshine, watching people taking their photos of the sights of Paris, reminded me of being in Italia with Team Duomo… Waiting for the tour to start I ended up chatting with a fellow called Shah, from California. Strangely enough, he works in research at Stanford University. It is really funny how I keep meeting and talking with people from very similar and familiar walks of life but then I suppose that traveling and visiting certain sights and places attract the same kind of people. Our tour was through the same company that I did the tour in London with -
Similarly to the umbilicus in Rome, Notre Dame Cathedral was considered the centre of Paris and old signs pointing out the distance to Paris would be measuring the distance to the front of the cathedral. This is such a magnificent building and the first to have flying buttresses, those impressive arches that hold up the super thin walls…and the gargoyles! The catherdral is actually situated on an island on the middle of the Seine… Île de la Cité.
The river Seine separates the left and right banks -
The Church of Saint Germaine
Near the Louvre, the ringing of the bells here reputedly marked the signal for the massacre that is known as St Bartholemew's Day Massacre.
Jacque Chirac reportedly swore that when his tenure as mayor of Paris was over (before he was President of France) he would drink a glass of water from the Seine. As he is still alive it is assumed that he didn’t - the 8m deep river is very polluted. The Pont Neuf, New Bridge, was the first stone bridge built across the Seine without buildings on it, hence the ‘new’ although it was completed in 1607. Built by King Henry IV it was it was formerly the site of a mass execution on Friday 13th…hence the superstition (apparently). By the time King Henry IV came along, there was an aversion to the site so he chose this area to build a garden for himself, suitably secluded where he could take his amorous pursuits for alfresco interludes. Nice. Anyway he was responsible for the Pont Neuf which he had adorned with sculptures. Apparently, one evening shortly before the bridge was completed he had the drunken faces of his friends sketched and then had his artist sculpt them out of stone to decorate the bridge!
Paris and its people are a story of revolutions, strikes and wanting to tear buildings down.
This is the main entrance to the Louvre, to the underground lobby. Constructed to cope with the enormous number of visitors, the contentious design is still quite controversial. But it remains - they haven't torn it down...
When the French Franc was replaced with the Euro the workers of the French mint were fired. So…they went on strike! Climbing on top of the building and going on strike, protesting, it took them a few days to realize that they didn’t have jobs to strike from! On the subject of pulling down buildings, obviously the Pyramids at the Louvre are contentious and don’t exactly blend in with the surroundings (neither, some could say, does an Egyptian Oblisique, regardless of whether it was a gift or stolen!). However some of the reasoning for pulling them down does seem to be a little flawed - according to some, they block the line created up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triumphe. Not only that, it was suggested the as the whole Louvre is off centre to these, IT should be moved to be more square! Despite the fact that is would be a great deal easier to move the arc … or that this is just pedantry gone a little overboard. Hmmmn…
After heading off to the the Palais Royal and the Theatre Palais Royal (€5 for a ticket to the theatre, on the day only - the
The Louvre building has statues of many great French figures. Poor Voltaire is covered with a net because his nose fell of several years ago. They still haven't gotten around to fixing him so instead he is covered with a net in case he crumbles on anyone!
premier theatre in Paris - NOT the opera house before you get confused) we wandering down one of the priciest streets in Paris and sat outside the front of the church where Yves Saint Laurent’s funeral was held (I seem to be doing the YSL tour!). We learnt about the statue in front of the church - Saint Roch. This saint was known for healing the sick and taking himself off into the woods when he himself contracted the plague, refusing any assistance. With only a dog for company, the dog retrieved food for him and he eventually recovered. Good work!
Onwards to the Jardine de Tuilles - the tile garden. Formerly the location of tile factories/ kilns, Catherine de Medici didn’t like them and didn’t like seeing the poor people toiling so had the factories pulled down (!) and the gardens built. I absolutely love the glorious crunching of walking through the parks of Paris, the small gravel scrunching beneath my feet and throwing up puffs of white dust. I still despair of all the roped off grass though… I just can’t see the point.
Walking back along the Seine to Notre Dame in the sunshine, my
Rear of Palais-Royal - Les Duex Plateaux
Daniel Buren, sculpture artist is responsible for the collection of black and white collums. Apparently he now wants it removed because he says that his celebrated work had fallen victim to “state vandalism” because of lack of maintenence...
new friend Shah and I decided to head to the catacombs. Unsuccessfully, we arrived too late, and it was shut, especially after we wandered about for 10 minutes looking for the entrance! Which, as it turned out, was directly across the road from the Metro stop! Instead, refreshment was the order of the day and before heading our separate ways we headed into the nearest café - yup, more coffee!
I chose to walk back to my hostel, taking in more of the afternoon sun, grabbing myself a pane au raisin as I walked! The wide streets of Paris are much less claustrophobic than London. Napoleon is responsible for that. For the evening I made my way to the Eiffel Tower for a close up visit, then on the search for dinner. I didn't go up the tower - done that before and I don't think I am due for another trip up there yet. So it was back to the Latin Quartier in search of food. I found myself a suitable venue, and I settled in to write in my journal and feast...so glad they put me in the middle of the restaurant, at a table for four,
Gardens to the rear of Palais-Royal
This is where - On July 12, 1789 a young firebrand, Camille Desmoulins, leapt on a café table and announced to the crowd that Necker had been dismissed. "This dismissal," he cried, "is the tocsin of the St. Bartholomew of the patriots !" Drawing two pistols from under his coat, he declared that he would not be taken alive. "Aux armes!" He descended amid the embraces of the crowd, and his cry "To arms!" resounded on all sides. Two days later the Fall of the Bastille occurred. (stolen from wikipedia!)
all on my own, under a light...not conspicuous at all. I actually don't mind eating on my own, obviously it's more fun eating when you have someone to chat to, but dude, way to make a girl feel out of place. Not only that, the waiter who was clearly on duty outside decided to come in, between serving outside, in order to convince me it would be a great idea for me to go back there when he finished work to join him for a drink. Note to self - girl dining out in Paris = easy target! I safely extracted myself from that, but only after all the tables around mine had a good stare. Luckily for me I had the best chocolate mousse ever so I got back to the hostel with a full tummy and a flattered ego...shame I no longer have a flat tummy!
The next day I was off and racing pretty early. I wanted to make some of those other places on my list. I headed straight to the catacombs and clearly had no idea of the time because when I got there it wasn't even open! I ended up chatting on my
Jardin des Tuileries
Formerly the site of the tile kilns - hence the name - before Catherine de' Medicis had a new palace built. The palace was destroyed in 1871 and the ruins finally demolished in 1882, the gardens have been here since 1664.
mobile to Ms Nessa (yay) while I waited to go in. After a good goss, it was into the catacombs. And, as I was still officially a youth, I got in for half price - phew, got in with 24 hours to spare!
During the plagues the cemetaries were getting a little full so most remains were exhumed and their bones stored in the remains of the old quarries, under the streets of Paris. Eventually, someone decided it would be more respectful to arrange the bones properly and now the site is a popular tourist attraction. It is quite phenomenal and hard to believe how many people's remains are here. Whoa...
The next target was the Musee de Orsay.This former train station is a massive museum. The building itself is lovely and I absolutely loved being able to see the Sacre Coeur through the massive iron clocks. Once I made it in I was on a mission to see the Degas, amongst other things. There was only one of the series that I have fallen in love with, but it was definitely worth a visit. Once that was ticked off my list (joke, people!), I decided to meander
towards the Mussee Rodin, pottering alone and stopping for yet another coffee. amusingly for me, as I sat at the bar drinking espresso, writing my postcards, I was again asked out for drinks! Yup, another waiter on a mission. Hmmmn, perhaps I should start travelling with someone! Or I have single tattooed on my head. Either way, I was flattered, but had to decline.
The Rodin gardens are lovely and offer a definite insight into sculpture. The museum on the grounds showcases many of his studies before the completion of his final works. The Shades, The Thinker, The Gates of Hell, The Lovers… beautiful gardens and quite amazing how bronze and marble can be made to look so soft. I had to stop myself from reaching out and touching them!
Grabbing a simple tomato and cheese baguette at Napoleans tomb, this was super tasty...and scarily, almost as long as my forearm, I munched my way back to the Champs de Mar to the Metro, for a second look at the Eiffel Tower. Really, I was more interested in seeing how people live. Almost every street corner is graced with a bistro where customers can watch the people go
by and there is many a boulangerie, offering up magnificent breads and pastries. Phew...I couldn't have made it through another hour without more pastry! So, with a lemon tart safely in my hot little hands, I was on the road again, making my way back to Gard de Nord and the Eurostar.
Now, strangely enough, I did actually manage to get to all the wonderful places I had planned to - bizarrely. I didnt rush, considered crossing off a couple of things (yeh, i didn't make it to Montmarte or back to the Sacre Coeur) but on the leisurely walk I even had a chance to get to the Pantheon for the last tour of the day AND get a free massage. Yup, that't right, while I was wandering up the Rue Mouffetard taking in the sights - this is one of my favourite places - I was given a free massage by a group of women who I think were trying to promote their new business...maybe, my French isn't that great! Once at the Pantheon, one of the few places in Paris not free for the day, I visited the crypt where some of the most infamous French
personages are interned. The ticket price also includes a trip to the top of the dome, from which you get a 360 degree view of Paris. Fantastic! So, with literally an hour til I had to be at the train station I was at the top of the dome, drinking in the skyline of Paris. What a way to finish such a whirl wind trip! Just make sure you take it easy on the stairs in the dome - they are pretty steep and one false move and you could be over the edge in one spot! Not a good plan.
Sadly for me it was all over too soon. I am hoping that I will get another chance to visit Paris, hopefully next time with friends... getting back into London the atmosphere hit me hard. Getting on the tube and seeing all the slouching, slovenly figures was rather grim after the slick vibe of Paris. But I am still very lucky - how decadent, just skipping off to the continent for the weekend. Now the only issue, is how soon can I get back there?
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