Our Tale of Four Cities – Paris
You can skip words and just see the pics here.
the following took place in the fall of 2010, and was the impetus for my prior blog.
the trip report below was compiled from emails sent to family as well as notes hurriedly scribbled/jotted onto hotel stationary. wine, scotch, beer, jet lag, caffeine, coffee might all have impacted writing style… pardon any grammatical trainwrecks, i just didn’t clean anything up. i wanted, in the words of Dickie Dunn, to “try and capture the spirit of thing”. this is long, so you might want to grab some coffee or beverage of choice before proceeding.
Arrived dog tired 10am Saturday after departing Tucson 9am on Friday. Long flight. Our room was ready at the Hotel Duquesne Eiffel. Small room – very small by American standards – but friendly staff and close, yet arms length away from the activities we had planned. A mere two minute walk towards that tower thing, the Ecole Militaire, Rue Cler before the cafes started sprouting up.
After freshening up, headed to brave the metro to visit the Louvre… And bravely ran away. Too crowded, too many transfers (one!), too jet-lagged, too tired, and too non-French speaking to brave it. Instead went and called a taxi.
30 minute line at the Louvre and we were in. Amusingly, asked the lady for “two tickets” in French. She responded in English, “19”. Apparently my language skills were so bad she could pinpoint my native tongue. We were in and saw such wondrous things. Roman art, Egyptian Art, that smiling woman painting, Neo-Classical art, Romantic art, the (now headless) Winged Nike (not related to the shoes). Mona Lisa – smaller than you might imagine. Gericault’s “The Raft of the Medusa”… “Liberty Leading the People.” Due to lag, the presence of emergency exit signs everywhere, which we had trouble differentiating from regular, non-alarm tripping exits, and being generally tired, we saw some 20% more of the place than intended. And were glad for it.
After returning to our hotel, we headed off to Rue Cler – a street (mostly) off-limits to traffic with nice shops and cafes – utilized by actual French people, not just tourists! Dinner at Le Petit Cler, ordered two plait dijours – a carpaccio beef dish with some potatoes on the side. And two coffees – espresso is the native stylee. There was a French woman with two kids sitting next to us. She was amused by us Yankee tourists, as we were amused by her teasing her kids about keeping the chocolate that comes with the coffee for herself, and by the kids singing Black Eyed Peas. She kept having them run to the opposite side of the street and back to burn off energy.
We’re off to the Eiffel Tower next. Meh. Just a tower. Had a 7:30 appt to cut down on the line time. A nice, long, long lawn/mall approach from the Ecole Militaire… and the tower grew more and more imposing as we approached. (We had to duck all sorts of vendors and peddlers selling illegal tower replicas to tourists… they were lined up all the way). The tower was much more grand than I had anticipated. I was a bit awestruck standing beneath it.
Even with an appointment there was still a 15-20 minute wait to get to the second deck, and another 20 minutes to ascend to the top. The tower, which was lit up already at night, had pulsing white lights going off for a couple minutes every half hour. First time caught us off guard. I mentioned something about “Disco Eiffel” which caused a bunch of German tourists to start dancing around in line. Amazing view, despite being windy. The view of the Seine was really cool from the tower. We ducked the line going from the 2nd to the 1st landing by hiking down the stairs, which was pretty cool, despite some near blinding spotlights. We capped the evening off with some wine at Les Officiers, a café/bar near our hotel with a nice view and a bunch of paintings of dogs in military uniforms.
Next day we had an early start, grabbed a bit to eat at the hotel breakfast nook before heading off to do the Fat Tire Bike Tour of Versailles. 24 people or so, about 10 Yanks, 10 Aussies (including four kids ranging like 8 to 12), some Kiwis, and assorted others, lead by Andrew, a twentysomething American who had attended Wisconsin before coming to France. Had been in country over a year. The bikes all head names (so you could distinguish one red cruiser from another) … Craig’s was “McLovin”, Katie had “Twinkler.”
The tour started with a short ride through Paris to a train station… 25 English speakers on bicycles … Parisians beware! After a 20 minute ride in city, followed by a 20 minute train ride or so to Versailles. Our train was “ambushed” by four 40something middleastern men, 3 wielding squeezeboxes (accordions) and one with a sax (and who had a bejeweled sax pin on his shirt to drive the obvious home) played some rousing tunes for our amusement. And coin. I think us tourists enjoyed this incursion more than the locals.
Once in Versailles, the town, we visited the Sunday market to assemble the supplies for our picnic. Before unleashing us into the market, Andrew gave us a quick rundown of where to go, who had what, the directions to the best bakery in the neighborhood (“When you live in Paris for more than a year, you learn to distinguish the good bakeries from the not-so-good ones” quoth our guide), as well as the pig. “The Pig Means Wine.” “The pig means happiness.” “Find the pig.” “Find. The. Pig.”
After storming the bakery for a baguette and a (fantastic) round loaf of some other type of bread we wandered to the cheese shop. “Poor little Katie from Arizona and Portland too… so many cheeses she didn’t know what to do!” Eventually after some discussion, she bought a basque cheese. Then off in search of The Pig. The Pig was a painted wooden pig sign. The visit to the wine store also proved interesting – Craig stumbled in his little French before the very nice owner/proprietor started addressing in English. Asked what we were looking for (Bordeaux, not too heavy but not too mild) and helped us pick out the perfect bottle. Asked where we were from… after Craig responded, “Arizona, USA”, he asked if we planned on returning… Craig retorted quickly, “Was that an invitation to stay? Twist my arm!”
After picking up some fruits – two apples, two pears – and some chicken ka-bobs we were ready. Our motley assemblage of cycling tourists continued on to the Versailles grounds. They used to occupy a staggering 40,000 acres, but are now just a mere 2,000 and the gardens serve as a public park. The tour of the (immaculate) grounds was amazing – made even more so by the spectacular weather. It was supposed to rain, but instead we were treated to what Andrew referred to as “the nicest day Parisians will see all October.”
The ride covered maybe six miles on the grounds, largely the perimeter of the cross-shaped Grand Canal (which itself is a 3.5 mile ride), but was broken down into stops to see the chateaus as well as our picnic, which was on the bank of the canal, with the palace in full view. It was an amazing feast with some amazing wine on an amazing day in an amazing place with an amazing view. I might have used “amazing” a lot, but it truly was that amazing.
The actual palace tour itself, which occurred after lunch in the afternoon, was pretty overwhelming as well. The place is opulence overkill… designed to pummel the leaders of other European powers in the 18th Century around the head and neck with opulence. This was made bizarre by an exhibit by some crazy Japanese artist (Muramaki?) whose works are basically like manga/anime characters come to life. Let’s just say they were horribly out of place at the palace. This caused much outrage amongst the locals when proposed. One segment cried “multiculturalism! We MUST display this!” The other cried, “Its an abomination! We must not sully the palace!” Craig agreed with the later. While it is staggeringly opulent, I think both of us preferred the outdoor biking portion of the trip.
After a ride back to the rail, then back to Paris, then finally back to the Fat Tire HQ, we turned McLovin and Twinkler in, and headed back to our hotel for a brief nap before wandering around the 7th District and stopping for dinner at Le Source, another outdoor café. Two more plaits dijour – Katie a beef dish, Craig got a duck dish with a heavy mustard sauce. Oh, and more wine. And another stop at Les Officiers for 1664, which is a surprisingly decent French beer. Amusingly, Craig discovered after his return home now has an ad campaign featuring Lemmy from Motorhead. I guess if it’s good enough for Lemmy, it’s good enough for me.
With one last day in Paris, knowing we would have to head out to the Train Station at some point in the afternoon, and perhaps a bit tired from lag and the previous day’s exertion, we opted to try the Seine River boat tour.
Before heading to the river, we stopped at Rue Cler, yet again, for a breakfast. Craig got the “Americain” breakfast – egg, ham, croissant, coffee. They ran out of croissants… we found this out as we watched our waiter speedwalk a few doors down the street to get a fresh batch from the nearby bakery. The croissant was ridiculously good. I think it has forevermore ruined all future croissants for me.
It rained a light mist giving our last day in Paris a sad quality. (The city was weeping knowing we would soon be departing.) We did a Seine River boat tour to lazily enjoy the day. The tour was pretty cool as there was so much to take in from other areas of the city… We saw Notre Dame, “Death’s Antechamber” (where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were held prior to their date with the “national razor”), and other amazing buildings. Additionally the audio tour soundtrack was pretty funny… we passed some park where apparently locals like to dance. Or used to. Or something. “Will you burn on the pyres of love?”, it asked. “Will you dance the tango through the night until the Sun rises as the Parisians do?”
We stopped for one last café for sandwiches, 1664, and coffee lunch before heading to the train station, where we agonized as to whether or not we had done everything we needed to before boarding our night train to: