February 14, 2011

Leaving for Paris Part Two

25 December 2010 – Part Two

Les escaliers de la butte sont durs aux misereux
Les ailes du moulin protegent les amoureux -- La Complainte De La Butte

In the last post I finished with a stroll past the many sex shops. Once back on the coach, however, the day took a more spiritual turn. After a fifteen minute drive, we were back in the heart of Paris, at looking up at Notre Dame.
Notre Dame is not as imposing as Westminster, but it is incredibly grand. There is a magnificence to it, because of the history (Napoleon used it as a weapons store) the architecture (rose window) and because of the service going on as we were walking through. It was beautiful to listen to a Christmas service in French, and to hear the last hymn sung in the language. I wish now, with the benefit of hindsight, there had been more time to actually sit in a service and participate.

The building itself was really crowded, both with site seers and worshipers but it did not feel wrong. The smell of incense, the quiet hush that still draped over the visitors, the side chapels for private devotions, the art work, the parents humming along with the hymns to the children they carried. I want to go back to Notre Dame one day.

Rose Window

Ossuary with engraved thigh bone
Outside Notre Dame there was a guy in a tatty old suit with cake. He’d peel off a small portion, put it in his mouth and then let the little sparrows come and take it from him. He would flap his arms every so often to get rid of the pigeons that also wanted to play.

There was a girl, not from our tour, who, feeling adventurous, wanted to have a go as well. She did well up until the pigeons started to try and land.

I also tried my first roasted chestnut. Can’t say I really liked them all that much. They’re a strange taste. Kind of like sweet popcorn but not.

After the visit to Notre Dame we were to go on a boat cruise along the Seine. The rough weather the day before, the same which had affected our channel crossing, had flooded the river, and the boat we were to take could no longer fit under the bridges. Instead, we were given the option of going back into central Paris to shop or to be dropped off at the Eiffel Tower to go up and see the view. My Chicagoan family and I chose to go up the Eiffel Tower. Merytl and I waited to take the lift to the viewing platform. The queue took about two hours to reach the booth, and then another half hour to get in the lift. The view from the top though was incredibly worth it.  The height of the building made it incredibly cold. We were nearly solid by the time we came back down.

First level of the Eiffel Tower

After we’d climbed the Tower Merytl and I wandered the Seine and made our way back to one of the Tube stations we new would take us back to Bercy without to many problems.

On the walk we watched one guy, setting up his camera on the bank of the Seine. As we watched a little boat came past, creating a wake, and it splashed up over his legs, up to his knees. He had to make a mad dash to grab his camera gear so that it didn’t end up in the river.

Mertyl and I walked past the flame statue that is supposed to commemorate Princess Diana. We didn’t realise what it was at the time and I didn’t take a photo of it.

That night we went to a little French restaurant for Christmas dinner. I had aubergine & feta something, roast duck and some fancy potatoes, and rum pudding with ice cream. Complementary champagne and a bottle of Bordeaux were also the order of the night. It was lovely.

Ronnie (R) and Shannon (L)

When we got back to the hotel, it was still relatively early, so I went on the internet and played for a while.

26 December 2010

We had the morning free today. Originally I had thought I might be able to catch up with a friend from New York, Jackie. Unfortunately, by the time I was able to find out what the tour was doing, and where we were heading for that and at what time there was no time left. Jackie had her own exciting news from that day anyway.

The Chicagoans and I caught the tube into the main area of the city and got off at the tube station Champs Elysee Clemenceau. So many posh shops. So many people selling dodgy crap. We walked past a Swarovski shop, and I sneakily took a photo of the stairs, as each rise is decorated with goodness only knows how many.

Swarovski Stairs

We walked up to the Arc de Triomphe with the intention of climbing to the top but it was closed because of maintenance being needed on the roof. Apparently it was unsafe after all the ice. Given the experience on the Eiffel Tower, we didn’t want to be slipping over.

Thwarted in our attempt we got the tube to another area of Paris and went for a wander. We stopped at a little café for brunch and then walked down to the Hotel de Ville. This was our stop for the afternoon trip to Versailles. Ronnie and Shannon by this point were freezing cold, so they found a sunny spot and waited out the remaining time. Mertyl and I decided to walk towards the Bastille and see what we could find. The architecture is amazing. What makes it even more so, is that most of it was designed after the French Revolution made famous by Les Mis. They widened all the boulevards so that they could not be barricaded by any form of resistance.

We found a large church in one side street. It looked like it might still be used, but was mainly for private worship. Some of the murals were incredibly beautiful.

At 1330 the coach arrived and we all filed on board. About half the tour was going out to Versailles. The journey only took about 20 or so minutes. Andrew (the tour guide) pointed out the sister to the Statue of Liberty and the many plinths to commemorate the different battles and revolutions.

Versailles itself is a marvel. It’s a grand structure, it’s covered in gold gilt and there was snow everywhere. There was also a lot of ice, which meant a lot of impromptu sliding. One elderly chap, probably at least 80+ went over and landed on his backside. It took three people to get him on his feet and away from the ice. I think he was amused, he looked like he was grinning.

Inside the palace the place is stifling. They allow so many people through it must boarder on dangerous. There were nearly a dozen buses in the parking lot when we arrived. The majority of the visitors seemed to be Asian, they all had little ear pieces and were milling around listening to the translation being done for their tour guide. There were so many people trying to get into the rooms, you could barely look to see what was there.

Most of the rooms looked like this

Little creature on the wall

The hall of mirrors was amazing. So many chandeliers, and I can’t remember how many mirrors on the wall. Everyone, myself included, seemed to be trying for the vanity shot of themselves in the mirror.

The obligatory self portrait
I was probably inside for about an hour and a half, after which I had to get out. So many people, the heat, lack of fresh air was starting to make me feel quite unwell. I stood in the open, on the snow for about a half hour before I felt cold enough to put a jacket back on.

My feelings, having come out of Versailles, is I would have been on the side of the revolution. The pomp, and arrogance, and splendour of the palace is beyond even what I saw at Buckingham Palace. I realise the palace was also used as a reception area, to show visiting monarchs etc how important they were, but I can also see how this would have been taken as a slap in the face for the people who didn’t have enough to eat.

Dinner tonight was pasta at a little Italian place just down the road from the hotel. Tried foie gras for the first time. Yes, I know what it is. No, I wouldn’t buy it again. Yes, it was damn delicious!

27 December 2010

Finally made it to the Louvre today. Wow! What a sight!!
The infamous glass pyramid

And the reverse

Once we finally had our tickets, we all made a mad dash for the things we wanted to see. I headed straight for the Caravaggio and wasn’t disappointed.

After seeing these I figured no trip to the Louvre is complete without seeing the Mona Lisa. I was lucky on this. I got caught up in a wave of movement towards the painting, had enough time to get an okay photo, and then the wave moved out again and I was swept away from her.

There was a painting of another lady in the same room. I don’t remember who she was, but she was incredibly beautiful.

Wooden sculpture

Birth of Venus

Wooden sculpture

Wooden sculpture

After our time at the Louvre we made our way back to the coach, and drove back towards Calais and the ferry.  I arrived back in London around 11pm.

February 11, 2011

Leaving for Paris Part One

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So I'm leaving for Paris, won't you try to take care of yourself? Rufus Wainwright

24 December 2010

Had to set the alarm obscenely early this morning (4:20am). Thankfully most of my things were packed the night before and I only had to throw in the few last minute things. It was freezing walking to the tube, but I was glad of the company from Angie. We made it to Turnpike Lane in time for the first tube, and went through to Great Portland Street. We arrived right on time (6.00am) and at five past, I was waving goodbye and on my way to the tenth country of 2010.

The first part of the trip was spent picking up other travellers at the other collection points and then driving through the English country side to Dover. I was asleep though, so what all of this looked like, I’m still none the wiser.

We boarded the ferry to Calais at about half 9. I was apprehensive about this crossing as I know how wonderful I am with travel sickness. As I listened to the engines starting up, the Captain came over the speakers to advise that overnight, gale force winds had been experienced in the channel and that the crossing would be quite rough, however, they had engaged the dampers to their highest point to try and buffer the motion. Five minutes later, I was in the bathroom, door locked, sitting on the floor with my head over the bowl. It is incredible to think that even when your stomach is empty you can still vomit, even if it is stomach acid. I have heard people say that sea sickness is like nothing else you will ever experience, and I can whole heartedly agree. I prayed for death. I had lived a good life and was happy for it to end if I could stop feeling so terrible.

An hour later we were docking in Calais, and with delicate stomach I re-boarded the coach and promptly passed out. Didn’t see much of France on the way in, but I was awake to see signs for Dunkirk and the Somme so I feel I experienced something. The tour guide, Andrew, was telling us about the revolutions, the caretaker princes, the many and various Louis’ and the Napoleonic wars. One day I will read more French history.

We arrived at the hotel – the All Seasons in Bercy around 1600. Room keys were distributed and we all went to relax and freshen up. My room mate for the next few days is Mertyl.
Our room was similar to this.

Map of the area we stayed in.
At 1900 we went downstairs and took a scenic coach tour of the city at night. Paris under lights is glorious. Merytl, Ronnie, Shannon and I (my newly adoptive Chicagoan family) went for dinner at a little French restaurant and had traditional dishes, pastries and coffee.

Heading towards the Arc de Triomphe

Freezing in the park near the Eiffel Tower
25 December 2010 – Part One

The day started at 0900 with a short journey to Sacre-Coeur. It was a brilliant clear day, the sun was out, the weather was freezing, but you could see so much. We walked up the stairs to Sacre-Coeur, about 100+ of them, but there were plenty of places to stop and admire the view. I didn’t get to go into the church as there was a Christmas service going on and the group was moving to the next point.
Sacre- Coeur

View out over Paris
view in the other direction
Right around the corner is Montmartre. Little cafes and art shops surround the little square where artists set up their easels and offer to paint portraits of the tourists. One gent started doing mine but I stopped him before he wasted his charcoal.

Playing Edith Piaf songs for the crowd, while little kids danced around him.

Artists setting up for the day.
View from behind the square.

I fell in love with one painting but it was 290€ and completely out of my budget. I tried to get a picture of it but the artist was keeping a strict eye on people and chasing anyone who tried. I don’t blame him. The other painting I liked and was tempted to buy was 90€. I did manage to get a photo of this one.
There was a little Catholic church beside the square, tucked away in a little corner. We snuck in up the back and heard the last hymn, sung solo by the priest and in Latin. Very moving.

We met up with the group again and walked through the little streets. We passed by the only remaining, original wooden windmill and stopped outside the café where the film Amelie was shot.

A little further down the street and to the right is the Moulin Rouge. It isn’t as big as what I imagine. Can only blame the movie for that. Didn’t get to go inside but next time I’ll try and get tickets to a show.
Last wooden windmill

Moulin Rouge

The bottle of water in my hand was colder now, when this photo was taken, than when I brought it.
From here we walked back towards the coach, past a street lined with various types of sex shop. There was an erotic museum, which I’m curious to go into, and a few cheekily named night clubs. I was surprised today that so few on the group wanted to go in as a few of the shops were open. Some of the Spanish boys were laughing but offended at the same time.

The shop where I purchased Mum's birthday present