Sunday 12 December 2004

Barbara and I left Milledgeville at 1115 Saturday, and our flight left Atlanta at 1700. Then a seven and a half hour flight across the Atlantic including dinner and breakfast and arrival in Paris (Charles de Gaulle airport) around 0630. I actually managed about four hours of fitful sleep, often being semi-awake but so tired and sleepy I couldn't think. But it was sleep, better than I've ever managed before.

For reasons beyond our understanding Immigration stamped Barbara's passport but not mine - I was horribly disappointed. I suppose it could be because I'm Canadian and she's American, but I don't understand why that would make a difference. Customs was insanely lax - just standing talking amongst themselves as we walked by.

The RER (regional rail) and Metro to the hotel was an adventure, but ultimately not a big problem. It took us a bit over an hour to get to the station nearest our hotel, "La Motte Picquet Grennelle." I love the ancient (100 years? Not old compared to many of the buildings) elevated Metro line we came in on. Most of the Metro is underground.

A one block walk got us to Hotel de l'avre (in the 15th arrondissement) around 0900. While the room wasn't ready, they were kind enough to give us tea. We sat for about an hour pulling ourselves together and figuring out what to do.

We left our bags and went out, our nominal destination being rue Cler and its markets. We immediately found a huge street market (very similar to the ones I visited in Amsterdam) stretching several hundred meters under the raised metro line. Most places sell meat, fresh veg, cheese, fish, and bread, but there was clothing and even furniture. I hope it runs all week - a wonderful cheap way to eat.

We walked across the middle of Parc du Champ de Mars, admiring the view of the Eiffel Tower. It's very impressive, squatting its huge four-legged base over a wide pedestrian area. Its tip was buried in mist.

It was a very cold day for us - around freezing all day I think. We'd expected it to warm up some but it never did and we weren't really prepared. Now Barbara has bought some tights and a scarf and I've dug out the "Aquarium of the Bay" jacket I brought to wear under my other jacket, and we'll do better. But I expect we'll still be wiping our noses at frequent intervals. Happily it's not windy - just much colder than either of us has become used to in the southern U.S. It's severely dampened my interest in architecture, or at least the outsides of buildings. And it's also greatly increased my desire to get a Metro pass.

We walked by Invalides and Ecole Militaire where I finally broke out my camera. Rue Cler looked a lot like the street market, fun. But a need for a bathroom drove us into the nearest restaurant. I was afraid we'd get bad food at very high prices. The place is called "Tribeca" and it looks kind of up-market. We both ordered soup, I the "fish" because Barbara's "vegetable" made me think of domestic vegetable soups which I don't much like. This misfired completely on me - I was expecting a chowderish soup with pieces of fish, but got instead reddish orange stuff of thick liquid consistency. It was ... interesting, and I guess it was good, but I didn't like it much. But everything else ... Barbara's soup was a potato puree with some subtle flavourings that was absolutely superb, and the baguette slices were equally excellent. I also had some orange stuff in a cup which I was told to put on bread which made me very, very happy. On a second inquiry of the waitress I found it was potato and fish eggs, so basically taramasalata - a Greek product I adore. In the end it cost €14 which seems ridiculously high for two bowls of soup, but that's not a fair way to look at it - it made us both very happy, and was reasonably filling to boot.

We walked to Musée Rodin, which has a wall around much of the block enclosing the gardens and buildings. Two floors of sculpture inside (including a fair bit by Camille Claudel showing some similarity of style). And lots in the garden, most notably The Burghers of Calais, The Gates of Hell (no wonder he never finished it - too huge and detailed, but it's great), the Thinker, and test runs for each of the Burghers. Inside there was a copy of "The Kiss" (better marble than the copy I saw at the Tate Modern in London, but with circular marks in a couple places like someone took a core sample) and lots of busts. By saying that I'm ignoring a lot of other stuff, but the busts were what caught my fancy this time. He emphasizes details of the face, the look, to a point just short of grotesque that leaves you staring in wonder and thinking you know the person.

From there we caught the Metro back to the hotel - four stops, one exchange. It seemed further on foot. It was around 1415, and, as I'd guessed, the market was breaking down. Barbara bought some fruit, I bought some olive bread. We went into the Monoprix on the corner, a department store/grocery store. That makes me think of Walmart, but it didn't really have that feel at all. We bought a couple bottles of wine and a corkscrew.

We slept a couple hours, until around 1700. After we woke up, we ate, drank, and read for the evening. We didn't have the energy or will to go out - just too jet-lagged. Barbara went to bed around 2030, I went to bed around 2130.

Monday 13 December 2004

I got up around 0830, Barbara got up around 0930. We both needed the sleep.

I may try to photograph the bathroom later - it has the glass wall affair and no shower curtain we had in Venice, but the wall is happily taller and wider. And pivots. It has a plastic blade on the lower edge to seal with the tub edge. Also good news: the shower head slides much higher and I can wash my hair standing up (I had to kneel in Venice). Got a lot of water on the floor. This being Europe, they have no washcloths and I forgot my own.

We'd decided the one week "Carte Orange" was our best option for the Metro. A Metro ticket seller who professed to speak no English told us yesterday "no tourists!" and tried to indicate we had to take the more expensive (€27 for five days) "Paris Visites" pass. But this morning we got instructions from Bernard at the hotel desk (he was great all week), and went to the Monoprix to get our pictures taken in the photo machine (very reminiscent of "Amelie"). A guy who was repairing the soda machine next to it reached in and got me into the on-screen English menu. For €4 I got a set of four passport photos, and Barbara did the same. Then she asked the repair man "Parlez-vous Anglais?" He gave an answer we're getting very used to: "un peu" ("a little"). But rather than asking in English, she made scissors with her fingers. We mentioned the Carte Orange, and he whipped out a multi-tool with scissors and very carefully trimmed one of each of our images very small, just the head. And he left each one just barely attached by a corner. Since we had no idea what size of photo we needed or any way to cut them apart, it was a really kind act that ... well, renewed my faith in humanity. Then to the local Metro station where I managed to ask for "une Carte Orange, une semaine, trois zones." Actually, I think I did the last bit with three fingers. So we got the passes for €20. You write your name on it, stick your small picture on it, then fold the clear sticky plastic sheet over. With this there's a fancier-than-usual (orange, white, and holographic strip) ticket. As in SF, you feed the ticket in, it returns it and lets you through.

We went to Sainte Chapelle from there. X-ray and metal detector to get inside the Palais de Justice - Sainte Chapelle is inside their courtyard, rather closely hemmed in. It's smaller than I expected and kind of different. It was amusing to see chunks of ornately carved stone around the base of the church (behind metal fencing) that definitely appeared to belong somewhere on the structure ... Entering through the front you arrive in the lower chapel, one side of which is used for a fairly poor gift shop and is thus rather noisy. Columns and ornate painting are marred by rather bad wear on the paint wherever human hands can reach it.

Access to the upper chapel is through a very tight spiral stair. As reported, the abundance of stained glass is breath-taking, but everything else about it gave a sense of barrenness - somewhat reminiscent of Amsterdam's Calvinist churches. The walls of the space (10m by 25m?) are equally as ornately painted as the lower chapel, and just as worn. There was rope a meter from the walls all around, and a row of chairs lining that. Otherwise, it was empty. I couldn't find a good place to perch my mini-tripod, so the pictures will be sparse.

We'd hoped and assumed we'd warm up in the church, but, while they've gone with the modern idea of lighting, they skipped the heating thing. So we were pretty cold as we headed over for Notre Dame.

We walked from Sainte Chapelle to Notre Dame. Unlike Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame had free entry and no security check. It is immense. The very long wall leads you down one side and back up the other, by dozens of chapels built into the exterior walls. it's quite dark and gloomy in places. It's not similar to Notre Dame in Montreal. It has at least three rose windows, one at the front (obscured by the organ) and one on each arm of the cross - the floor plan is somewhat cross-shaped. The stained glass on the lower level was much as I would expect, but in the upper windows it was entirely abstract as if it'd all been put in around 1900. Notre Dame was somewhat warmer than Sainte Chapelle - perhaps from the dozens of candles burning by every single chapel. At €2 per tea light (and €5 for the less common votives in glass) they must make a great deal of money from candles.

I had hoped to go up the church tower, but they were closing early and we were both quite cold. So skipped it, eating our Monoprix baguette sandwich as we wandered the immediate neighbourhood (in the freezing cold). I'd hoped to get a close look at the gargoyles, I guess it'll wait. We rode to the Louvre since we thought it would be open until 2100. Good god that place is huge. The world's most intimidating museum. If you set out at a light jog and never stopped, you might be able to see the whole place in two days - it's unreal in its immensity. We made sure to see the Mona Lisa just to say we had - although, as expected, neither of us were immensely impressed. Evidently others were though - it was perpetually surrounded by camera-clicking crowds, flashes strobing. We breezed through much of the Italian painting. I particularly enjoyed four paintings by Giuseppe Arcimboldo: "L'Hiver," "L'Automne," "L'Ete," and "Le Printemps" from around 1650(?). Of course the painter is Italian, so I rather doubt he titled his paintings in French. Each portrays a face made up of fruits, vegetables, and/or plants. These days that's nothing special, but then it must have been shocking. And the execution is superb. I also really enjoyed Giovanni Paolo Pannini's "Galerie de vues de la Rome moderne" (1759), "Galerie de vues de la Rome antique" and "Le cardinal Melchior de Polignac visitant Sant-Pierre de Rome" (1730). My father tells me that the first two were a common conceit of the period: by painting a room full of paintings, the painter proves that he could have done any of those other paintings. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the "... de la Rome moderne."

In the French painting section I really liked Paul Delaroche's "Portrait du Comte James-Alexandre de Pourttales-Gorgier" (1846) even though it's probably a commissioned work of a middle-aged guy. There's just an astonishing depth and detail, almost photo-realistic.

To my surprise, Barbara was agreeable on the pace we set, and mostly liked the same paintings! Unfortunately the Louvre had changed hours since the publication of the Rough Guide, and we were booted out at 1800. What a place!!

One of the stranger events that happened on a Metro ride was a violinist tuning up. A couple stops later an accordion player he knows gets on, and the two break into a performance. Less surprising was them coming around with a small purse two stops later. (We found over the course of the week that this was actually relatively common - I think we saw three different performances on the Metro.)

I had remembered Lonely Planet mentioning cheap Vietnamese, and we followed their suggestion to the Arts et Metiers Metro station (very cool - like being inside a copper clad submarine!) and to the somewhat dirty and narrow rue Volta. There was no Vietnamese, not even Asian, not even on adjacent streets. This is Mary's two year old Lonely Planet, and I'm not impressed. So we went to "Chez Omar" (listed in the Rough Guide), a North African place in walking distance where we had a very good experience. We had kir to start - white wine with a dash of cassis (black current syrup) and then couscous with vegetables and chicken. We were glad we got both - the chicken was just meat, no sides or sauce. The veg was a huge stew of turnip (lots), chick peas, carrots, zucchini, and minor other stuff. And when it got low, they brought us more (veg, not chicken) although we didn't need it. Both were very good, and we got stuffed. Relatively cheap at €30, and the staff were very friendly, even those who knew no English and had to suffer our broken French.

We returned to our hotel by way of the Metro and the local Monoprix.

Tuesday 14 December 2004

We got up late because we stayed up quite late. We'd been wondering where to go, but it was such a nice day it made sense to head for the Eiffel Tower. Twenty minute line up to get in.

We decided to go all out and bought tickets for the top level. The ride up is weird: the elevator goes up at an angle to the first level, and goes at a much steeper, near vertical angle to reach the second level. You have to change elevators to get to the third level. We stayed on the second level a while , then went up to the third level (which is only 15 or 20 m below the tips of the antennas). Eiffel used to have a small but elegant office up there - quite enviable. They've recreated it with furniture and wax figures that you can look in at. Back to the second level, where we ate our Monoprix lunch and I wrote some.

A very cool place. Amusing to think that this, possibly the most famous building in the entire world, was considered temporary and nearly torn down after ten years. It was built for the 1903 World's Fair, and was saved because it was such a great place to put those new-fangled radio antennas. Now the half hour wait we had to come up is probably considered a short one. But we chose today because it's wonderfully warm and sunny. Still hazy and we couldn't see too far, but even on the third level I was more than warm enough (Barbara's still cold). We seemed to be level with or even above a couple small clouds, and we could clearly see the dual bands of green-brown haze pollution.

One thing being up here has established: buildings here are old! Just about every apartment block we can see (uniform in height, four storeys I think) would be a national historic monument in the U.S. or Canada. And another thing: there are many straight streets in Paris, but finding two that meet at a right angle is incredibly rare.

The CN Tower in Toronto is much taller than this, but this is so much cooler to look at, such a classic achievement of Victorian engineering.

Finally we went down to the lowest level which is also the largest with a post office, small conference center (closed), a mini-skating rink (with line-up), and over-priced food. We were an the Eiffel about four and a half hours. Barbara says Mary suggested we skip it!

I walked down the tower at the end, after we'd wandered and sat on the first level for quite a while. Barbara took the elevator, and it took her considerably longer than it took me. It was fun looking at the structure of the tower.

We took the Metro to La Muette, and promptly got lost in the neighbourhood trying to get to Musée Marmottan. When we figured it out we decided it was too late because the Musée was closing in less than an hour and a half. So back to the hotel.

Barbara slept for most of an hour while I figured out what to do with the evening and wrote. I woke her around 1900, and we took my favourite raised Metro line, which afforded us a view of the Eiffel at night as we crossed the Seine. It's either lit orange or, occasionally, sparkling with things that look like camera flashes all over. We got off at Arc de Triomphe, where we took the underground passage under the insane traffic circle surrounding it. It was around €7 to get in, and then a 284 step climb to the top. It's strange, this beautiful monument with a chaos of half constructed displays inside, and scaffolding on part of the outside. The latter meant we couldn't walk all the way around the top, but we had hugely entertaining views nevertheless. Champs Elysees was lit up from end to end, all the trees wrapped in white lights. To our surprise, the majority of the buildings in view were dark. The Eiffel Tower looked great, but most entertaining of all was the overhead view of the traffic circle. The insanity of it cannot be appreciated from ground level: twelve streets radiate off the circle, and we figured you could fit 14 cars across. They used it too, and of course i's chaotic as all the traffic of a four-lane-each-way road like Champs Elysee tries to merge as a dozen other cars try to leave on the next avenue. All the while scooters and motorcycles shot between and around the cars. And yet in the half hour or so we were up there, there wasn't any accident no matter how much we gasped and giggled at the cars's antics.

From the Arc de Triomphe we walked along Champs Elysee. Huge road, very wide sidewalks, extremely upscale shopping. We wandered toward the Louvre, ducking in to stores when we needed to warm up. We found a Monoprix, larger (and more labyrinthine) than the one by the hotel, and spent a while in the food area. My feet were pretty tired by then. I bemoaned the availability of "tarama" in a couple sizes and types, and why didn't I live in such a city. We got on the Metro shortly after that and went back to the hotel.

Wednesday 15 December 2004

We got up relatively early today with the intent of going to Chartres (about fifty miles outside Paris, and home to one of the world's most famous cathedrals). We took the Metro to Gare Monteparnasse, and after we got the tickets (€25 return) Barbara started feeling ill, so we got the tickets refunded. She felt better shortly and we headed for Musée d'Orsay.

Getting back on the Metro at Monteparnasse Bienvenue we went through a long tunnel where we had three choices: walk, take the 3 km/h moving walkway, or take the 9 km/h fast walkway (no children allowed). I of course suggested the fast one, and it's quite an experience. Normal walkways (like the 3 km/h one) you just step on and you're at speed, but not this one: it has a 10m acceleration strip where the floor is a bunch of small metal wheels, each going a little faster than the last. When you get to the actual belt you don't have to step because you're already up to speed. Too bad we didn't know to hold the expanding hand rail - it was a wobbly experience without it. I figured it out before we got off and that went better.

Musée d'Orsay turns out to be only slightly less daunting than the Louvre. The Tate Modern in London is the conversion of an old power plant, d'Orsay is the conversion of a (very large!) train station which has been beautifully restored and nicely modified. There are a lot of tour groups here, from very young to very old, and tending to the extremes. The collection is immense, and we didn't see all of it in the four hours or so we were there. I got pretty tired and hungry. We left the Musée and found a bakery where we bought a couple sandwiches, ate them in a tiny little park nearby.

Feeling considerably recovered, we headed for St. Eustache after Barbara recommended I look at my "Top X" list. Immense church, odd combination of Gothic construction (flying buttresses etc.) and Renaissance decoration (pillars, painting). Not that I would have registered this without the help of the guidebook. What they didn't mention is that the place is very run-down. Apparently they have the money to fix it, because it was heavily scaffolded inside and out.

We're in a Salon de The because Barbara was cold in St. Eustache - it had some heat, but not enough. My delicious "cafe creme" was €3.70, her tea the same. We're warm, but now we reek of smoke. Parisian trade-offs.

From the Salon de The we re-entered what I think is the Les Halles shopping center. Huge. We went to the Metro and walked literally half a mile through the Les Halles - Chatelet Les Halles - Chatelet station complex, up and down stairs, and having to use our cards three times on gates. It turns out that Chatelet Les Halles (which also has three rail lines underneath the three Metro lines) is the world's most heavily used subway station. Having walked it, this comes as no surprise.

From Chatelet we went to Tolbiac, near the rather small Chinatown. It should be called something else because there's also lots of Vietnamese and even Laotian restaurants. 1830 is early for dinner here, but we found a Chinese/Vietnamese place that already had some orientals in it and went there. I had a "Ricard," an anise flavoured aperitif that kicks like a mule. And iced coffee, not up to my usual standards. My grilled pork on vermicelli was really good, although it had nothing but pork and noodles. Barbara's seafood and noodles was good too. There was a German guy seated next to us shortly after we arrived, and he wanted to talk. His English was very poor, leading to a rather broken conversation, but he persisted. As far as we could tell, he was a tour bus driver who brought high school kids from Germany about once a month. he said that in West Germany they teach English in schools, but in East Germany (where he's from) they still teach Russian - thus his English, or lack thereof. He wanted duck, but didn't know what it was called in French, so I told him "canard." I missed it, but Barbara says he said "Duck, like Donald" when trying to explain. Speaking of duck ... We saw many Pizza Hut ads on the Metro advertising Gourmet Pizza with "Les Magrets du Canard," which really cracked me up. I we'd stayed much longer, I'd have had to try it.

When Barbara went to the washroom, German guy assured me that the show at Moulin Rouge was great. I said "It costs a lot of money!" but he assured me it was definitely worth it. I guess that's his kind of thing.

From Metro Tolbiac to Opera, where we admired the lit-up Opera House along with a lot of other night-time tourists. From there we walked to Galeries Lafayette. It's a department store reported to have a wonderful Art Nouveau interior (I really liked the Art Nouveau furniture and fittings at Musée d'Orsay). They were closed, but showing possibly the most spectacular exterior lights I've ever seen. Thousands of tiny coloured lights extending a full block, two or three storeys tall imitating church stained glass. Amazingly beautiful. We walked another couple blocks to Printemps, their competitor. They had big balloons/paper lanterns hung all over the front - impressive, but not very pretty. From there we walked back to the Metro, and went to La Motte Picquet-Grennelle. Barbara went to the Monoprix (which we visited at least once every day, usually twice) and I headed back to the hotel.

Thursday 16 December 2004

We had a small breakfast this morning (clementines, raisin scones) at the hotel, and headed for Sacre Couer. The Abbesses station involved an immense spiral stair (explaining why so many people were waiting for the elevator). Abbesses has one of the few remaining full Art Nouveau entrances - Although it wasn't much of a thrill since I'd seen so many photographs. I took my own, I expect it'll be pretty dull. Up the hill, through the tangled streets of Montmartre. In sight of Sacre Couer we stopped in several stores with tourist stuff. I wanted a t-shirt with a map of the Metro on it, but the only one I found I wasn't happy with. Barbara bought a couple shirts as gifts.

Then up to Sacre Couer. I kept pointing out to Barbara where Nino was when Amelie called him (the phone wasn't there, much of the lower area was fenced off for construction), where Amelie's arrows were ... The whole thing seemed smaller than it did in the movie, but it was really cool to see it. There were several Africans on the steps, holding green and yellow threads hanging from their hands. After the French spiel comes the English: "Don't touch the threads! You touch the thread, you pay." Then as you walk by them, they wave you on as if you've passed some test, "Okay, okay, you go." It was the first and last time we saw what I took to be scam artists at work (albeit very obvious ones).

The church is kind of ugly on the outside. Inside, several nuns were singing in the choir with some small amount of speech - a service of sorts. We were able to walk most of the way around the outside, along with dozens of other tourists. Sacre Couer is very new as Parisian churches go: it was built from 1875-1914. No photographs allowed inside, even when the service was over. They had a slightly nerdy looking but zealous enforcer rushing around trying to stop would-be photographers.

About 20 meters away is St. Pierre de Montmartre which we also visited. I found it uninspiring - I don't really remember anything about it except the bizarre deformed Plexiglas Christmas "tree" out front.

Then back through the square full of portrait artists, out and determined to paint you despite the drizzle. About 50% of them sported berets and goatees. We had walked up, but we rode the "Funicular" back down. A very bizarre arrangement: a hillside rail line of sorts that runs a full 70 meters and is a part of the Metro (but not connected to any bus or train).

We walked through the drizzle to a different Metro (I messed up our navigation slightly) and zipped to Ecole Militaire, returning to rue Cler. We wandered up and down trying to find the Crepe place recommended in Rick Steve's Guide that Barbara had printed. We didn't find it, chose another where a woman had a cooking counter right out on the street, making crepes out front. I had an egg and ham crepe, Barbara had the galette she'd been dreaming of the whole trip. As it turned out, a galette is just a whole wheat crepe. She had hers with egg, ham, and cheese. The egg came on top with a deliberately broken yolk. Then we had dessert crepes: I had lemon and sugar, she had a chocolate crepe. I had cafe creme (not as good as the last one), she had tea. It was really really good ... I love crepes.

Then she headed for the hotel and I went to the Catacombs, or at least I tried to. I went to the Denfert Rochereau Metro, walked all the way around the five point intersection and across the island in the middle without finding the entrance. Finally I looked on the neighbourhood map in the Metro station and found the entrance on the island. There was a sign tacked on the door (translated from French), "closed October to May for repairs." Well shit. I commiserated with a couple from Arizona for a few minutes. They left, and I finally decided to go to Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

So I caught the Metro to Quai de la Gare and walked through the light drizzle to see this amazing architectural achievement. It's one of those that even knowing what you're going to see, it still stops you in your tracks. The building took over a huge chunk of land, equivalent to four or six city blocks. Set in from the corners are four towers, about 15 storeys, each "L" shaped and facing inward (to look like books, of course - happily no adornment was done to enhance the similarity). Inside this, a four storey hole has been scooped out, and a small forest planted. All the walls facing this space are glass, and it's a really nice effect when you're walking around inside. To enter, you go down a slideway at the east or west end above the forest, and pass a security check. I never asked about it, but the Rough Guide said a day pass was €3 - so I wandered around the center, looking out, looking in. And looked in the bookstore, and sat for a while.

I walked from there to the Bibliotheque Francois Mitterand Metro station because the Rough Guide had mentioned it's very interesting. It's certainly radically different than the other stations we'd seen, but didn't exactly move me since I've seen much more unusual stations on Toronto's Spadina line and in Montreal. This station (and the rest of the line? I only saw three stations) used the glass platform guard/glass doors system I'd seen in the Tube in the newest line in London.

I took the Metro back to the hotel. Barbara and I stayed a little while, then went out and around the block to a small Chinese place I'd spotted a couple days before where they sold a small selection of dim sum by the item. They also sold some Chinese dishes by weight, but I got dim sum. A couple shui mai, an har gow, a shrimp and veg. and a "Nem avec porc" which looked like a spring roll but crinkly. Barbara bought a sandwich at the Monoprix, and we were on the Metro again. The dim sum was good, but not great. To Opera where we walked to Galerie Lafayette. The woman at the hotel had checked for us, and it was open (and busy) this time. And damn what an interior ... A four or five floor atrium with ornate metal balconies, but it was the immense stained glass dome that made me very happy. They keep it lit at night. All turn-of-the century Art Nouveau, gorgeous. And Barbara thought we were going there just to shop ... The clerks made the occasional half-hearted attempt to stop the dozens of tourists with cameras. They didn't come after me until I tried to use my mini-tripod. Because I'd read that Printemps had a similar interior and because I was worried it would close earlier, we walked the two blocks. The shopping looked the same, but no grand interior. We went back to Lafayette, where Barbara became absorbed in the jewelry. I left her fairly shortly, going up a couple floors trying to get some discreet shots of the dome. I didn't use the tripod ... I hope I got something.

I took the Metro back to our station where I went to the Monoprix to buy chocolate. They had a dark chocolate-orange bar I'd tried earlier that I loved, and I bought some milk chocolate for Beate. Depending on her preference I'll give Brianne some of one or the other. Brianne is a student at GC&SU, works at the library, French major, been to Paris (several times?). She left me three guide books, a map book, and a mini-Metro map. The latter two have been indispensable (although I got a larger Metro map later, the small one got us to our hotel!).

Friday 17 December 2004

On the way to Monoprix this morning I saw an Eyewitness Paris guidebook lying by the garbage. I picked it up and wiped it off. Barbara's reading it - the 2004 edition.

We went to bed before 2300 Thursday, and still didn't manage to get up until 0900. Again a light breakfast in our room, then to the Monoprix (which is always busy). We got the same baguette sandwich we'd started the week with, the poulette-crudite. We stuffed it in my bag and took a really long Metro ride almost to the end of the 13 line, Basilique de St. Denis.

The namesake Basilica "is generally regarded as the birthplace of Gothic style in European architecture" (Rough Guide). "The nave's extraordinary clerestory is almost entirely made of glass, a flat sheet of light soaring above ..." (ibid.). It was a miserable day, rainy and very windy - we saw a number of umbrellas flipped inside out (including Barbara's). The Basilica was impressive and I took a fair number of pictures. Oddly, the back half behind the altar was being used for a €7 entry display of funeral statuary (we could see a fair bit of it). We opted to pass on that.

The St. Denis area was interesting: I'd seen mention of the different racial make-up in the suburbs, but watching people stream out of the Metro was educational. No one looked French, they were 95% north African or Arabic. And there was a big market in the square, although very little food - cloth, zippers, house-hold items.

Back on the Metro, to Cardinal-Lemoine, and to the Institut du Monde Arabe. I found a slightly colourful scarf I thought about giving to my Mom, but Barbara pointed out it was too colourful for Mom ... She helped me pick an orangey-brown scarf that would go well with the brown Mom frequently wears. I think it was silk from Egypt. €40. I looked for gifts for others, there and other places, but never did buy anything. I have no souvenir for myself, which is kind of disappointing.

We snuck into the cafeteria-style restaurant to eat our sandwich and drink our water. Then we took in the museum that Barbara had (rightly) encouraged me to skip. I had mostly wanted to go to the Institut for a rather fascinating bit of architecture - one entire facade (all nine or ten storeys) has a huge array of computer-controlled apertures, in a wild update of the carved wood and stone screens seen throughout the Arab world. In this case, the apertures are used to control the light inside the building. The apertures never moved while we were eating - apparently the computer controlling the apertures crashes quite regularly.

We stumbled through the light rain and very heavy wind (it was bringing down small branches and hurling wet leaves in our faces) to the Metro, where we headed for Cluny-La-Sorbonne to see the Musée National du Moyen Age (previously known as "Musée de Cluny"). It has a tremendous collection of materials from the middle ages. Photography allowed, no flash. Best known for the tapestry series "The Lady and the Unicorn."

We walked to St. Severin at Barbara's suggestion (for me) since it was near. And I was very glad we did. Not huge, but the stained glass was great. The glass at the back of the church (behind the altar) was, as Barbara put it, very Van Gogh-ish. But most of the rest of it was old, and unusual in my experience: nearly all of the scenes had church architecture painted above them. I loved it and took several photos. The Eyewitness guide calls it "one of the most beautiful churches in Paris ..." The Rough Guide agrees, as do I. Thirteenth century Flamboyant Gothic.

We walked a couple blocks to the Seine in view of Notre Dame where we slipped into "Shakespeare and Co.," a weird, cluttered little English language bookstore.

Metro to by the Louvre, to see "the Passages." The only one we made it to was "Galerie Vero-Dodat," an alley with a skylight over the whole thing, tile floors, and brass fittings. A lot of small, very expensive looking shops, most of which were closed. We agreed it was just as well, as we couldn't afford them.

We'd decided to go to "Chartier" for dinner. I think it's in all the guidebooks. It's a nice-looking place with plain and relatively inexpensive French food. As the book(s?) said, service was brusque, although not rude. We were seated next to a family of three, and since they spoke English we were soon asking for assistance translating the menu. They turned out to be visiting from Dublin for a day to do some shopping, and spoke fairly good French from living in Strasbourg on the France-Germany border. The daughter was 19, the parents late forties or early fifties. We talked to them through most of the meal - mostly the mother, Helen. Very apologetic about talking too much, apologetic about a lot of things, and I think she embarrassed her daughter a bit - but then parents almost always do. But under that slightly breathy and apologetic style there was a sharp mind at work and we got a pretty good education in European history and current politics. I wish we'd had more opportunity to talk to the husband - he seemed quite sharp, an engineer - but one I'd like. I had a dish that had mixed fish on potatoes with some cheese on top, Barbara had pork loin and a European form of macaroni and cheese. We split a half bottle of rose wine. I had something "Merron" (pureed chestnuts) topped with "Chantilly" (whipped cream) for dessert, and Barbara had a mini-plum tart. I had an Armagnac, she had tea. When the Irish family left, I gave them the URL of my website, and Helen gave me her email address. So we have a tenuous connection in Dublin. Or we would have - unfortunately she hasn't answered my email.

From Chartier we headed back to the hotel where we went to bed early because we had an early flight.

Saturday 18 December 2004

Early to bed and too damn early to rise (0610). Left the hotel at 0710, Metro to RER (which required an extra ticket), to Charles de Gaulle airport, terminal 2. Huge slow line-up, no time for the duty free shops, which annoyed me. Went through the same or very similar very cool looking terminal as the Scotland trip, but no time for photos this time.

The plane boarded slowly - one bus load of passengers at a time. We got into Washington-Dulles around 1410 EST. I think I kind of irritated Barbara insisting we move as quickly as possible because I was afraid we'd miss our connection. But things went well at Immigration, Customs, and Security, and we had a long walk to our gate, but no trouble finding it. So timing was pretty good.

The flight headed down the Appalachians, and we drew the left side of the plane - no sun streaming in and great views! But a wicked brown haze over what's probably North Virginia. And we breathe this crap every day ...

Four or five different places we visited in Paris had security checks - Institut du Monde Arabe X-rayed bags and sent us through a metal detector, and that's usually the drill. At the Bibliotheque Nationale I went through a metal detector but they hand-checked the bags. it's an annoying process - not to mention hard on my film. So far I've worn my huge silver belt buckle through every one and never set one off.

Paris's Metro ... Another complex system (I'm thinking of the Tube in London), but we liked it a lot. It seemed faster than the Tube. There are fourteen Metro lines, and a further four RER lines (regional rail, most of which were covered by our passes inside Paris), all of which fork. We only used RER once other than getting to and from CDG. There are stations everywhere, trains are frequent, and even if you have to change lines it rarely takes more than half an hour to get where you're going. The stations, and the miles of tunnels we walked through, are mostly white (or slightly gray) tile. There are exceptions, like Arts et Metiers, Bibliotheque (and probably most of that line), Cluny-Sorbonne, and at least one of the Louvre stations, but the white tile tunnels with their grungy concrete floors are burned into my memory. The trains are small, similar in size to the London trains. The subway tunnels are tagged almost end to end with graffiti. Bad graffiti. I saw a lot of it in Paris, and I was pretty disappointed.

I've been thinking about things I missed in Paris, but Barbara was saying I should write a Top 10. That would be really interesting to compare to my pre-Paris Top 10 ... The Pere Lachaise cemetery got on my list of things I wanted to see late in the trip when I noticed a picture of Raspail's grave and realized it was the cover of a Dead Can Dance album. It's a really cool sculpture and I wish I could have seen it, but, well, the weather really sucked at the end of the week. There's a lot of other cool stuff there too. I wanted to see the Catacombs! And the gargoyles of Notre Dame.

Top ten? The Eiffel Tower. Baguettes. Crepes. The visit to Tribeca, which destroyed my view of French cuisine as "boring." Notre Dame. St. Severin. Getting pictures for the Carte Orange. Seeing the Gates of Hell again. Being able to say I've been to the Louvre and seen the Mona Lisa. The Metro elevated rail line. The accelerated walkway. Shopping at the Monoprix. Arc de Triomphe.

Also missed: Science museum and surrounding grounds. Sewers. Grand Arch de Defense. Looking for whisky. More wine and cheese. Chartres. Versailles. Giverny (spring or summer). Walking, because we really didn't get to do much of that. More time at the Louvre. Moroccan food. Gem and mineral museum (see Eyewitness).

High on my list when we left, but not returning, was Sainte Chapelle. 
by giles