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Mar 30 2013

Paris

There is something civilized about train travel. The smoothness,the mild rocking of the cars, the deceptive speed.

Civilized. Very civilized.

Which was in marked contrast to the fire drill that I led us on getting to St. Pancras station (home of platform 9 3/4) to get on that sedate, yet speedy transport.

It should have been really easy to get on the eastbound Circle Line train and make it the four stops down to St. Pancras…except that we got on the train going the wrong direction. Anywhere else on the (not quite) Circle line that would have been no problem, except right there between Edgware and Paddington. Sigh.

So, instead, a long tromp across to the Hammersmith stop to get back on an east bound train. Grrr. Five stops later we were finally at St. Pancras for an 8:31 ride on the Eurostar through the Chunnel.

Security is pretty similar to air flight so leave yourself plenty of time to do this. We almost didn’t make it, but finally climbed on to the train about 9 minutes before it cruised out of the station.

I don’t know about you, but 248 miles in 2 hours and 15 minutes with speeds of up to 186 miles per hour is pretty impressive. What is even more impressive is that it simply does not feel like you are moving fast. I drifted off for a nap and we arrived in Paris.

IMG_2570

Wow!

Then it was time to learn to ride the Metro, which is a bit more complicated than the Tube.

Our hotel was near the Eiffel Tower and was closest to the Ecole Militaire stop off of the number 8 Train. My initial impulse was to go stare at one of the posted maps to determine how to get on the line we needed from our starting point…the Gare du Nord station.

Funny thing about Paris. It is broken up into neighborhoods (they call them arrondissements), and they only put the things that apply to a specific neighborhood on a lot of their maps. Which means no line number 8. While we were standing there looking bewildered a man came up, addressed us in English, (it was obvious, I suppose), told us this map showed this neighborhood only and asked us where we were going. I told him we were trying to get near the Ecole Militaire stop and he pointed to the stairs, “Take the 13 train 2 stops down and then change to the 8”.

So, into the bowels of the station we went. Stood in line to get tickets from one of the machines. It only took coins or a chipped credit card so my 20 Euro note did me absolutely no good, after standing in line for ten minutes.

Sigh.

I wandered into the news stand adjacent to the machine.

“Bonjour madame, parlez vous Anglais, s’il vous plait?”

Which is about the sum total of the French I know.

She confessed to speaking a little English and I explained my issue. She smiled and pulled a Carnet (a set of 10 public transport tickets) out and sold them to me on the spot for 13.30 and took my bills. No line! No waiting! No problem. Apparently most of the newsstands sell them, but do yourself a favor and pick up a set in the cafe car on the train to save the effort entirely!

Making our way on the Metro was no trouble at all after the advice from our new friend. We came up the steps and stumbled over to a map on the street to orient ourselves and find our hotel.

Again, a local saw us looking quizzically at the map and came up to render assistance. He spoke not a word of English, but he showed us how to scroll the map down so we could see exactly where we were, (buttons on the right side) and pointed us in the correct direction to our hotel.

I think I have to stop at this point and address the elephant in the room. I have always been under the impression that Parisians were rude. I cannot tell you how far I found this from the truth. In the two days we were there multiple people went out of their way to be helpful.

One of the things I learned is that Parisians do think it is rude to enter or leave an establishment without greeting, (bonjour!) or saying goodbye (au revoir!). Perhaps that assumed rudeness comes from them taking offense at our initial perceived rudeness? It is also most appropriate to add a monsieur or madame to your bonjour to be the most proper.

In any case, we found the Parisians to be universally warm and welcoming and they did not even make too much fun of our fumbling attempts to speak their language.

We stayed at the Hotel La Bourdonnais, which is a charming place a couple of blocks away from the tower. Check out the view from our narrow balcony.

IMG_2573

First things first. LUNCH!

We stumbled down the avenue towards the tower and found Le Dome Cafe, with a bit of a view, and plopped ourselves down. A croque madame, croque monsieur and some quiche and we were back on the mend. Nothing to write home about, but we were starving so it did not matter.

Our first touristing stop was the cathedral of Notre Dame. It is located on one of the two small islands in the Seine. While there is a metro stop on the Ile de la Cite, we chose to get off at the Chatelet stop and walk across one of the numerous bridges that span the Seine.

The beautiful cathedral is celebrating its 850th anniversary this year, so there is construction and clean up going on in the plaza that surrounds the church. The platform, which is currently out front, makes it very hard to get an unobstructed picture of the front of the church. So I can only share a view of the top of it…

notre dame

There is no charge to tour the cathedral unless you want to see the treasures section of the church. The inside is spectacular, particularly the two huge stained glass windows that adorn the north and south walls of the Nave.

stained glass

One of the benefits of all the upgrades going on at Notre Dame is the opportunity to see some of its feature up close that are normally out of sight. The massive main chandelier was down for renovation.

chandelier

Our next stop was the Louvre and we opted to stroll down along the Seine to get there. This took us back across a bridge. This particular bridge is used to pledge your eternal love. Legend suggests that you bring a padlock with your initials on it and lock it onto the bridge. Step two is to throw the keys into the Seine. Sort of like the Trevi Fountain but in this case, it is supposed to guarantee staying together forever. My wife and I came unprepared, but my daughters oohed and aahhed at the romance of it all.

bridge Collage

We stopped briefly to fortify ourselves with a “petite cafe” before making our way in the back entrance to the Louvre.

Museums are closed on Tuesdays in Paris so the Louvre makes up for it by staying open until 9:30 on Wednesdays, which worked out perfectly for our schedule.

Louvre Collage

The scale of the Louvre is utterly incomprehensible, and it is easily the biggest museum I have ever been it with three huge wings. The line was almost nonexistent when we arrived a 6 o’clock in the evening. A quick security check and we were in the massive lobby. Children under 18 are free, so even at eleven Euro per adult it was a good deal to see that much art.

It quickly turned into a photo scavenger hunt as we roamed about snapping phone pics of the big pieces at the Louvre. Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, Caravaggio and Michelangelo. All under one roof.

Of course this amount of long day coupled with this much art can lead to my kids getting pretty silly…

SIlly louvre

We stumbled our way back towards our hotel, getting mildly lost in the process. It is nice having the tower as a landmark because you know you are going in the right general direction. After wandering by several restaurants that were “not quite right” we found our way to Le Campanella, cold, tired and starving.

Again we had a wonderful server who helped us with our French pronunciation, humored our silliness and flirted with my daughters while serving us a lovely meal. We literally closed the place down.

dinner Collage

As you can tell from the dessert plate, which was literally licked clean, the crepes and profiteroles were the best dessert of our entire trip. Especially the profiteroles! Unbelievable!

Looking back at this description makes me realize just how long a day this was! We finally stumbled back to our hotel at nearly midnight after leaving the hotel in London at 7AM. Whew!

With only two days in Paris you have to find a way to make the most of it all! Our final day is tomorrow.

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