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Published: August 7th 2015
I did not want to come to Paris. I have avoided it for more than ten years. In that time, I would land at CDG and rent a car or get on another flight and go straight to another city; Lyon, Toulouse, Nice, some small town in Normandy. Then, after several days of acclimating, I would venture to other places. I grew accustomed to the calmer atmosphere of the smaller cities and even smaller towns. I had developed an allergy to Paris.
A few weeks ago, I was in Strasbourg, France, when a current AA pilot I know was scheduled for a Paris layover. He suggested that I meet him there for the evening. Not likely, I said to myself. The dread of figuring out the metro and train systems, and which tiny hotel room I was going to bake in, as well as the thought of having to protect myself from the riff-raff and pickpockets of the big stations like Gare du Nord and Gare du L’Est while I trudged my roller suitcase from train station to metro station to hotel was not something I wanted to deal with. I was happy in Strasbourg.
But, after days of
sporadic researching, I figured out how I could get into a hotel near where I used to hang out, then easily blast out of Paris the next day for the U.S. And I found a hotel in my old realm that did not have bad reviews regarding noise or heat. So I booked it. And it wasn’t bad getting there at all - one 200-mph train ride (I clocked in on my GPS) from Strasbourg to Gare du L’Est, then one RER train to the metro stop which was only a block from my hotel. And that same metro stop would get me to CDG airport the next morning in 35 minutes for 10 Euros. Logistics solved.
Then, two things happened to stall my departure. After I rendezvoused with my pilot friend, I met up with John that evening at the Bar du Quartier after not seeing him for 18 years. And the flight to Boston the next day filled up. (I fly space available.) So I made plans to stay a couple more days when the flight to Boston looked better. I made plans to get together with John again for ‘one for the road’ as he likes
to say. My hotel room was nice. And it was air-conditioned. But it was in the heart of the St Michel area – an area laden with tourists. St Michel is across the Seine from the Notre Dame Cathedral and within walking distance to the Louvre, D’Orsay, L’Orangerie Museums and many other tourist fills. In addition, there were all those outside restaurants with tables full of tourists, and barely enough walking room along the narrow cobble streets through the crowds. Don’t these tourists ever venture farther?
They’re not mostly Americans, as we Americans would probably think. I’d say the biggest part is Japanese, and, although, the Japanese have been very polite, they move in masses. My pilot training serves me well as I scan ahead and avoid them as I would a line of thunderstorms. There are Germans, Italians, Spaniards and French tourists, too; and those whose language I can’t discern. But I would only be there for two more nights, so I could put up with them. Kind of like holding your breath as you’re walking by a cigarette smoker, which I also scan ahead for.
Then I got kicked out of my hotel room due to
no vacancy, and I rediscovered Paris. I went on Expedia and found what looked like a quiet hotel up the hill near Luxembourg Garden. And it was very quiet. My room was on a courtyard, not the street, so, no view. It’s a trade-off. But I’ll take the good night’s sleep, especially when I stay too long at the Bar du Quartier and want to sleep late. And, lo and behold, there were no tourists walking around in hordes. And the area had shops and little restaurants and movie theaters and small grocery stores all around. (I stopped counting how many movies I’ve seen in Paris. Some of the huge cinema complexes should be the subject of another blog.) Anyway, I blew off my flight and booked another two nights at this hotel. The flights to Boston didn’t look that good anyway.
Then, as I walked around during the day and evenings all around the area, I decided to check out Airbnb and see if there were any apartments for rent. Just out of curiosity. Plus, the flights still weren’t looking that good. And that’s where I am now – in a 3rd
story, big apartment on a courtyard.
So, no view. But, so quiet.
Back to the tourists. I usually avoid them. I don’t go to the monuments where they congeal, although I did go to the Sacre Coeur Cathedral near Montmartre so I could get a view of all of Paris (and because it was adjacent the Dali Museum). And I stopped by the Place du Tertre where local artists cater to the tourists, and I even talked to the artist I bought a painting from 17 years ago. I’ll put a picture on the blog of him and a painting similar to the one I have framed in my den in NH.
If you come to Paris, you will no doubt be devoured by the hordes since you will want to see all the tourist attractions. I did all of them years ago, so that’s not what interests me in France now. But I don’t blame you for wanting to see them; Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre, D’Orsay Museum, Sacre Coeur, and, of course, first on any Real American’s list – Jim Morrison’s grave in the immense and amazing Perre LaChaise Cemetery where some lesser deities are also buried, such as Frederic Chopin, Oscar
Wilde, Moliere, Edith Piaf and ghost of others. A good time would to visit Paris would be in October or late September. Less tourists, good walking temperatures.
I don’t see too many tourists on the Metro - mainly a lot of locals and the occasional street musician that hops on for a few stops to serenade us. They’re pretty good. The metro is safe. I have had no problems with anyone on them. I don’t take the metro at night, but that’s because I hang out locally in the evening. I try to be off the metro by 4 pm, because that’s when rush hour begins. And, man, if you have to change metros through Gare du Nord, or even through some of the smaller stations, make sure you have an attitude for adventure, and have some patience. You sometimes have to walk blocks underground, going up and down several stairs and/or escalators to make your connection. And make sure you watch the signs directing you to your metro. I’ve often wished the GPS on my phone worked down there. And you need to know your metro number and the final destination of the metro you want. I’ve only
gotten on the metro for the opposite direction a few times. No, problem. You just get off at the next stop and work your way through the maze to the correct direction metro. (Except for that one time, during rush hour when I was going in the wrong direction and the metro stopped for 10 minutes between stations, and it was crowded, and it was hot, and there was no air. Oh, well. At least you’re in Paris.) All this takes planning. The good news is you never see those hordes of Japanese on the metro.
When I want to escape Paris for awhile, I hop on a metro or RER and head for a destination way out of town. Last week I went to a town called Orsay (not the museum), where I walked on vacant streets and sidewalks and ended up at a little lake bordered with trees and benches. I studied some French, and then I took a nap on a bench until a professional photographer began issuing instructions to a just-married couple as they posed under a nearby tree with the lake in the background. When I raised my head to see what was going
Jim Morrison's Grave
The main reason most Real Americans come to Paris.
on, he was three feet from me. He looked at me, and said, pardon. I replied, no problem. Maybe I was even in a wedding picture.
I’ll tell you about artist, Michel, from the Bar du Quartier, next time.
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