Trick or Treat, Pyramids and Scam Artistes

Trip Start Sep 20, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
St Christopher's Paris

Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Tuesday, November 3, 2009

We arrived in the city of love and lights after a 13 hr busride, arriving in Paris at around 7.30pm, on schedule, but it took a good 2hrs to get from the Parisian border to our hostel in the 19th arrondisment, as traffic was typical of Paris at night....absolute chaos!

This was our first taste of the 'real European drivers', those from Germany and Czech appearing safe and civilized in comparison.

Our first glimpse of Paris from the bus was quite spectacular, both of us pinching ourselves that we were finally here! The ride through the city, took us past many of the monuments, which were lit up in all their glory, luckily it was a perfectly clear night, so we could see it all, including the Eiffel Tower! We couldn't help but get excited as we drove past the Arc d'Triomphe and the Moulin Rouge, and even the Louvre. Our sweet and helpful bus guide gave us the info, and explained that the layout of Paris and the different areas (arrondisments) are set out in the shape of a rose, in a spiral pattern (cool!!) which you can see clearly when you look at a map.

Our first proper day out of sightseeing was sunday - which was jam-packed! We ventured out into the streets, and realised we were living in the dodgy Jewish quarter, (smelled like wee) complete with Glicks-esque bakery, smelled the same and everything, and the staff were just as rude! There we sampled our first official choc croissant (pain au chocolat) and it was warm and delicious with the choc all warm and melty! C'est bon! (its good!). Dani also had her first opportunity to try out her dodgy high school french on the Parisiens, they didn't seem too impressed, but she wasn't disheartened.

We proudly found our way to the Gare du Nord train station, becoming acclimatised with yet another metro system. This is one of the main stations in Paris and now that busabout was over (sad face) we needed to look at other options, so we went to investigate Eurail tickets. After about 1 hour of walking around, looking lost and disheartened, and frustrated with the language barrier from asking various info booths for help, we eventually found a lovely woman, Melissa, who spoke a little english according to her, but it was plenty for us (and a fair bit more than Dee's francais!). She was so nice and didn't fit the stereotypical rude and impatient french image we had been told about. She gave us heaps of info and thankfully we could actually purchase the passes in France, (as we had been worried that it we could only get them in the UK or outside Europe and had been working out scenarios as to how we could acquire them)... We opted to have a think about our options over a quick lunch as its hard to think on an empty stomach...

All that stressing can work up an appetite and after hearing about these spectacular baguettes, we were pumped for a tester. We found a cute little eaterie and tentatively ordered two baguette sandwiches, unsure of how far our euros would stretch, already seeing the price difference between Germany and France! Well, what a surprise - two giant baguettes arrived with the freshest ingredients, we could hardly finish them they were so big! Worried about the budget, we forgoed a drink as we hadn't yet worked out how to ask for free tap-water. In typical French style, we enjoyed our lunch whilst watching one of the male waiters attempt to flirt with two female American backpackers. He seemed very smooth, almost as if he had been doing it for years, bragging about his various language skills, and constantly asserting that France was the best place in Europe and Paris the best location in France...ahh le sleazy Parisien waiters.

Tummies full and brains working, we made a snap decision and returned to the ticket outlet, and lined up, preparing to wait another half an hour to be served. There, our new found friend Melissa spotted us in the queue and called us through to her booth, bypassing the entire queue, we felt like celebrities! Thus, through some hand gestures and some more of Dee's dodgy french we organised ourselves Eurail passes, 15 days of train/boat travel goodness, to use in 2 months. We selected our five countries of travel; France, Spain, Italy, Greece and popped in Switzerland for good measure, on the advice of the lovely Melissa, so now we get to see more of those gorgeous Alps, hopefully us close and personal this time.

A mad dash through the public transport system, we somehow arrived at the meeting point for our free walking tour, maximising our time! Our guide was a small (shorter than Dee!) British bloke called 'Matt', who had been working as a croupier in London and decided to move to Paris 6 months ago. He was ok, not as good as the guy in Prague (but we now realise that Mick was really great). To be honest, just getting to see the sights of Paris, was special enough. We took in a brief glimpse of the main landmarks, and it was great to be able to orientate ourselves so we could take a closer look at a later stage. One of the highlights was that we did the tour at 4pm, finishing at 7pm, so we got the advantage of seeing Paris during the day and nighttime. It was magical!

A few of the smaller landmarks that we saw included;

- the institute for the preservation of the French language, apparently these guys are hardcore about trying to stop French becoming anglicised, which after hearing so much of it being spoken, we can totally understand their motivations, as it is a very beautiful language to speak/hear. Here Matt told us a cute anecdote; that when the Ipod came out, this institute spent 3 days trying to decide which gender should be given to the gadget, as every noun has a preposition 'the' of either masculine (le) or feminine (la) before it to show which gender it is. The story goes that apparently they eventually agreed that it should be 'le' or masculine, with the justification for this decision being that an Ipod has fiddly bits and is easy to turn on. Most amusing... : )

- Les Invalides - another building which during the war was a hospital which housed the injured soldiers and afterwards catered to veterans and still does today.

- opposite Les Invalides, is another huge building, don't remember the name unfortunately, which is where they used hold the famous 'world trade fairs'. Our guide explained that it was here during one of these fairs, that the first escalator was showcased, and apparently at first people were scared to ride it, unsure of the safety, so they put a guy on it who had no arms or legs, and once he had gone safely up and down the escalator, everyone else was happy to give it a go.

Incidentally the Eiffel Tower, which we visited later on, was built in 1889, by Gustave Eiffel (the same guy who built the Statue of Liberty) as an entrance arch to Paris for the world trade fair of that year, in celebration of the French Revolution.

- Opera Garnier - the Opera House of Paris - a building with stunningly beautiful architecture, built in the nineteenth century by a famous architect, Charles Garnier.

Upon completion of our tour, we decided to make our way down the famous expensive shopping strip, the 'av des Champs-Elysees'. Apparently Matt had told us that the shopping brand 'H&M' that we've seen everywhere around Europe (a bit like Myer but shmancier maybe), requested to open a store on this strip and was firmly told that their clothing was too cheap to be allowed to sell on the avenue. Ironically, there are multiple McDonalds outlets... Every major designer or name brand can be found on this strip, from Dior to Dolce to Chanel to...the list goes on. Dani's eyes just rolled if she wasn't already feeling tres (very) unfashionable! Oh to be rich and in Paris!

At the end of the strip is the famous 'Arc de Triomphe', which is a huge archway located on a giant roundabout (which is called 'Place de l'Etoile') in Paris, famous for a car accident every 30 minutes as it is the intersection and meeting point for 12 separate avenues. Our guide explained that if you rent a car, they will not provide car accident insurance if you drive on this roundabout. Ze crazy french drivers! Apparently aiding the dangerous driving conditions at this roundabout is that the French refuse to put any road signs on it, as they feel it will de-face the monument....crazy!

The actual arch itself is a monument honouring those that fought for France, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. On the inside and the top of the arch are all the names of generals and wars fought. Underneath lies the tomb of the unknown soldier and above burns an eternal flame. According to our guide, this flame has some controversy attached. Firstly after one of the recent soccer world cups, and a great win of France over Brazil, some angry Brazilian supporters decided to 'extinguish' the flame with their wee. And that's not the only story, apparently on another occasion, some foolhardy Aussie's who were very drunk after a bender decided to grab some snags and cook them over the flame as an impromptu bbq. They were removed from the country immediately as you can imagine...oh the shame!

Grabbing a photo in front of the monument was scary enough in itself as you had to stand in the middle of the avenue, on a tiny traffic island and try not to get killed! If you don't believe us, check out the photo!

We were pretty bushed by this point, and all we wanted was to get home and lie down, feet and legs sore from all our arduous walking (the avenue Champs-Elysees is really long and we'd been to the train station and on a 3hr walking tour!). However, as it was our first night out using the trains, we hadn't quite mastered things as yet. To explain a bit more clearly, the train system in Paris consists of both metropolitan trains and regional trains. There are 14 different metro lines alone, all intersecting at various stations. So for us to get home, invariably we had to change trains and therefore lines, 2 or 3 times. Long story short, we proudly found our way to a station which was close-ish to home, not realising that we could then change trains again, which would have taken us right home, to the local train station 'Crimee' which was literally across the road from our street. Because of our dubcheck moves, we had to stumble an extra 2km home, both bitching all the way. Having learned our lesson, we quickly became savvy metro users, even purchasing our tickets using the automated system in french by the end!

Throughout the following days, we tried our best to visit all the main attractions and of course do some shopping, (c'mon a girl has gotta live, people!);

Our first re-visit was to the Notre Dame Church. After all the churches we'd already seen, you'd have thought we'd be all 'churched-out', but the sheer size and stature of this building out-churched the previous ones! It was very beautiful inside and we wandered around, looking with awe at the various paintings and mosaics scattered around the church. There seemed to be different areas for prayer in front of various saints, we thought maybe depending on what you wanted to pray for. We decided to brace ourselves and pay the extra euro (considering the church entry was free, we figured not too bad) to climb the famous bell tower, which is where Victor Hugo based his story 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'. Apparently they were going to destroy the Church, thinking that it needed a re-vamp, but after the success of this novel, they cherished it and made substantial effort to restore it and maintain its glorious facade.

The wait for the climb was almost as eventful as the climb itself. We stood in line for at least one hour (and this is supposed to be the off-season...) entertained by a random comedian who maybe fancied himself as Marcel Marceau... he would stand behind bystanders and begin to imitate them, much to our amusement, also randomly walking up to people and exclaiming 'Mama' or 'Papa' as appropriate and hugging them. Some played along, but most were shocked and scared. Another act was to randomly walk up to a woman walking by, and kiss her. This was very hilarious to witness, but possibly not so much fun for the ladies, some took it in good form, others freaked out totally! He also did impromptu kung-fu moves at Asian tourists as they crossed the road to grab freshly made nutella crepes, again most amusing. Afterwards he came around requesting a donation, which we were most happy to give, as he made the time pass much faster!

The climb itself wasn't too arduous considering some of the others we've had so far. 400 steps is nothing to us now! A poor lady nearly had a heart attack as she approached the top, just behind us, Dee almost gave her an asthma pump as she looked very out of breath. At the top we tried to jostle for a glimpse through the mesh wire at the gorgeous view of Paris, as the path around the stone towers is quite narrow and cobblestoned. We were both delighted to see all the gargoyles and chimeras, these were stone animals/demons made to protect the church and also drain the water from the rooftop. When the water came draining through their mouths, it made a gargling sound, hence the name. In the Victor Hugo novel, or at least the Disney movie adaptation that Dani has seen, these gargoyles come alive at nighttime and hang out with the hunchback.

Inside the bell tower itself, is a giant bell (duh!!), with the dangly bit that rings inside the bell, weighing many tonnes alone. This is where Quasimodo, the famed hunchback, is supposed to have lived. The entire bell tower is made of wood to aid the resonance of the bell tolling sound and also protect the stone church structure from cracking with the vibration and force of the sound. We nearly got cleaned up trying to walk up the steep stairs to the top of the tower and decided that tourists suck! (We don't consider ourselves tourists... as we have backpacks, if we had proper luggage, that might be different). We tried to race down all those steps to the bottom, after a while losing a grip on our surroundings, all the steps blending into one. All in all, it was worth the wait, with Dee giggling at the inappropriate footwear that some of the Japanese chicks in line next to us were wearing, 8 inch high heeled stiletto boots, and 400 stairs. Now that's amusing in itself.

Deciding that we should seize as much of the day as possible, we got ourselves to the fabulous Eiffel Tower, which was located on the other side of town. We didn't expect the giant queues at each of the 4 points of the base of the tower. Again this was 6pm on a week night, not exactly peak timing you would think and again supposedly off season. We grabbed a spot in the queue, marveling that we were actually standing at the base of THE Eiffel Tower and trying not to look at the very obvious PDA in front of us (public display of affection) from two 16 year olds, covered in hickeys. Well, that's the city of love for you!

Armed with the knowledge that it was considerably cheaper to climb to the first two levels and then pay to take the mandatory elevator to the final and third level (rather than taking the elevator the whole way) we braced ourselves, rubbed our calves and Dani wished she'd done more of the step machine at the gym before we left Aus. 700 steps later got us to the second platform (keep in mind this was after 400 steps and walking to and from le metro) and as you can imagine, we were slightly bushed.

Pumped for that third level, we stood in a short line to purchase tickets for the elevator (why you couldn't buy them at the bottom, we still don't understand!). The line came to a standstill when it appeared that the machine was broken. But wait, it gets better... the other ticket machine around the side, which only accepted coins, was also broken and when Dani attempted to go to the souvenir shop on the platform to obtain change, was met with the infamous rude French attitude we had been told about! Even after explaining that both machines were out of order, the silly biatch behind the counter still refused change without buying something, and as it was shit and overpriced and even just out of basic principle, Dani marched out of there, steaming! She tried again with what seemed to be a worker, questioning what to do, as Lewey was still waiting in line, and no-one seemed to be trying to fix the machines, just a random employee in a suit standing in the small, cramped booth, doing shit-all. The guy she approached rudely gestured towards a cashier's desk, which of course was closed. Time ticking away, and tempers getting shorter, we waited in the line, and it appeared the machine was not completely broken, as it would only accept 'chip security' credit cards. However when we got to the front of the line, it of course wouldn't work for us. A girl waiting behind us tried her card and it worked. She very sweetly then asked if this was our first trip to Paris, and our first trip to the Eiffel Tower. We frustratedly explained it was, and she said that it might be our only trip to Paris and the Eiffel Tower, and so we couldn't possibly miss the opportunity to get to the top and would you believe it - then offered to get us tickets using her credit card and would take notes in exchange. She was sooo lovely, an angel in amidst some serious arseholes.

Finally armed with tickets, we again proceeded to queue up on that same platform for another 30 minutes to wait to get to the elevator to take us to the third platform. Eventually we got to the front and the ride in the glass walled elevator alone was awesome. At the third level, we decided to decline a 30euro glass of champagne and went outside to the very top. It was very cold, but very pretty too, our little camera not doing justice to the view. By the time we got up there, it was nighttime, well and truly, and we experienced Paris - the city of love and lights - in all her glory! Thankfully we had a crystal clear night and both felt good that we had pushed on and despite all the shit we'd encountered just to get up there, it was worth it. We can now proudly say that we have been to the top of the Eiffel Tower! (even if it did feel like a trip to an amusement park ride).

We learnt some info regarding the tower itself. Interestingly, it was met with much criticism went it built, the Parisiens deeming it an 'eyesore'. Apparently it had a permit allowing it to stand for 20 years, meaning it would have to be dismantled in 1909 and the city had planned to go ahead and tear it down. However the tower proved valuable for communication purposes and they decided to leave it up and its been there ever since. Its strange to think that one of the most iconic symbols of architecture wasn't even built for that purpose and that if things had gone differently it might not be there today!

They have a lightshow on at the moment, on the hour, from 8pm, to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the tower. We found it very magical, even though the French again think its tacky and hate it, it really is spectacular. We were lucky enough to be on the tower when one of these shows occurred and it was very cool. We couldn't get over the fact that the tower is actually multiple colours and when the different lights are projected onto it, the colour changes again, into blues, yellows and even UV purple. We don't care if its tres tacky, we loved it!

After the trials and tribulations of le tour Eiffel, we decided to sit back and enjoy the random and much appreciated sunshine that we were treated to the next day. We located our local boulangerie (bakery) and bought a fresh baguette (only .80cents) and at the supermarket poured over the cheese aisle trying to work out what they were. We eventually selected some fromage and salad and even some wine (was only 6bucks aus! However we which we later found out it was not such a good bottle, apparently to get a decent drop you have to dig deep and fork out at least 5euro. We took our goodies and had a picnic at this beautiful park in front of the Louvre museum, near the pyramids, people-watching and feeling very French! We also got our taste of con-men that thankfully we had been previously warned about. A guy approached us and tried the ol' "you dropped this ring" trick... (basically he drops a ring near you, and says 'oh you dropped this ring, here it is', when the victim replies 'no I didn't, its not mine', the conman then offers you the ring as a gift, however it is not a gift at all, as he will demand money later...were clued up before we arrived). Well, with a lot of 'non!', we got rid of him, and then watched him wander around, trying to pull the same trick on people all around us. Tres stupide! Was good to be on the up and up about the scams though, as there seem to be a few in operation.

On the way home, we went through the Jardin au Tuilleries, which is a gorgeous public park/gardens, where they have a huge pond with chairs set up all around it, so you can recline and watch the ducks and just relax. To give them their credit, the French certainly have a knack for this sort of thing, knowing how to 'take time out' so to speak. There is also another pond where they have set up with drum cymbals arranged in the water. We stood there for ages trying to throw small pebbles onto them to make a cool tinkling noise and eventually were successful! Tres chic!

Well, the Louvre Museum the next day, where to start? We left the hostel, and walked out into a lovely sunny day, both of us had headaches and were in a slightly cranky mood. We should probably have taken this as a sign that it was not a good day to be stuck inside with many other people all jostling to see a tiny painting of one chick called Mona, but anywho, we proceeded onwards.

We had been told of an alternative entrance to the main one in the pyramid, where apparently no-one ever goes to... we spent a good half an hour trying to locate this entrance, and once we did find it, of course it was closed just for that day! Cue a definitely cranky Lewey and Dani! We then lined up to get into the main fricking entrance, along with everyone else and we were inside! To be honest, we should have bought the audio tour at the start of the day, as very quickly we realised that all of the signs/notices for each picture was in French (each main room had an info sheet available in multiple languages but sometimes the english one wasn't there, or we couldn't be bothered!). Ahhh well. We saw the famous Mona Lisa, and nearly got killed trying to grab a happy snap of it, while some dude at the front asked at least 4 different people to take his photo - how many do you need arsehole?!!! Also managed a snap of the lovely Venus de Milo and Lewey was amazed at the luxurious quarters preserved from Napoleon's era.

Realising that we were getting hungry, we found some food at the cafeteria. The food was pretty average and for 25euro, it was the most expensive meal we had had to date! While we were waiting for the food, an angry Pom came up and complained as his food was cold, and we couldn't believe the reaction of the staff, which was to direct him to the microwave at the back of the cafeteria! Pommy wasn't too happy and they made him a new meal eventually, which we're sure they spat in! While we ate our crappy and expensive food, an American couple who sat opposite us in the cafeteria had an entire guidebook dedicated to the items in the Louvre and were ticking off each of the recommended paintings/sculptures etc... and we we thought we were culture vultures! To be perfectly honest, we both enjoyed the outside of the Museum (ie the architecture of the buildings), more than the inside, the pyramids alone were spectacular and a lot less people to move between for a photo, or even just a glimpse!

The next day Dani got all spruced up; hair freshly washed and styled, and dressed in the trendiest clothes available - skinny jeans, black pleather jacket and nike trainers (a vaguely respectable outfit all considered) in preparation for her visit to the famous Gallerie Lafayette shopping complex which houses such names as Dior, Hermes, Dolce & Gabbana, Christian Lacroix... the list is never-ending, literally. However her mini clothing confidence quickly vanished when she entered the store and walked past the Dior clothing mini-store on the first level, and the guy at the counter gave her a once over and then scowled at her as if to say "you do not belong here, get out!". Confidence now in tatters, she resigned herself to 'look but not touch', concerned that if she smudged something, we would have to mortgage our plane tickets to pay for it! We both marveled at the spectacle of the store itself - one entire building of 7 levels, and its just for the ladies. There are two other buildings, one dedicated to guys and another to homewares. The brand names were amazing, every designer we'd ever heard of and more! Lewey was picking up some visual merchandising tips, taking note of how beautifully everything was presented and encouraged Dee to spoil herself with a pair of outrageously high stilettos (not realising they were over 500euros....). The building itself is very ornate with a decorative ceiling which resembled something like one of the stained glass windows we'd seen at the various churches along the way.

We decided to by-pass the guys and homewares stores as Dee was getting cranky at not being able to afford a ridiculously expensive mink coat (5000euro, no exaggeration!), and jealously eyed off the genuine leather jackets which felt amazing with a starting price of about 400euros... She had heard about another department store, called 'Printemps', thinking it was a myer equivalent and pumped to actually buy something! She did not realise that it was basically the same as Galerie Lafayette, maybe a little bit cheaper, and after a brief glance around, we decided to grab some lunch as it was getting too depressing.

The meal was an experience in itself, we ate at a very trendy little eaterie within the Printemps ladies building (again three buildings, ladies, mens and homewares...) and watched with amazement as the people around us piled their trays with yummy salads, baguettes and desserts, while we had meagerly ordered a baguette for Lewey and some delish soup for Dee. We both salivated, watching all the other options being eaten around us and had to stop ourselves from going back for a salad. That was day one of shopping, finito!

After putting off the inevitable, we finally had no choice but to do some laundry! The hostel didn't have facilities, so we were forced to venture into the dodgy alley nearby and located a laundromat. After spending some time trying to decipher the french instructions, and work out how to get the washing detergent out of the machine, a lady who works there arrived. Dani tried her 'do you speak english?' routine and was greeted with a definitive 'no', but somehow we made ourselves understood and she grabbed a small sachet of detergent from the locked back room in the laundromat, and showed us how to put it in the machine. The empty laundromat soon filled up with the friday night rush and in walked a few other interesting characters, including a Pom who was learning french whilst living in Paris, 40 hours a week... Each time someone arrived, the lady would magically appear and give them some detergent and then disappear. Just as we were tumble drying, in walked 2 Brazilian guys, and the lady was nowhere to be found. The poor bastards had put in heaps of euros into the dispensing machine, to obtain washing powder, and lost them all with no powder in sight! We gave them various suggestions as to what to do next, (and the supermarket was close by...) but they stuffed around for a good 40mins. As the laundromat was about to close, and we were now folding, the lady again magically appeared, and gave them some detergent, but by now it was too late to wash and I don't think she refunded their euros either. Needless to say, they were spitting tacks.

The lady had brought her friend with her and they were chatting away in French while we finished folding, showing off our fold 'n' pack routine, which she admired. We eventually started communicating with them a little, as the friend spoke some english. It was great, they asked us all about where we were from, our travels and we told them how much we were enjoying Paris and had a really nice chat. It just goes to show how far a little language can get you...

Dani was determined to get in some proper shopping, unable to believe that all Parisiennes shopped at only Galerie Lafayette. Her Mum had cleverly seen an article in some shopping mag about overseas shopping and had emailed Dee, who deciphered the address (and realised it was actually a giant shopping complex, called 'Les Halles' complete with gym, public swimming pool and cinema) and convinced Lewey that they wouldn't spend long there at all... Six hours later and a gold-star-wearing, very tired and overburdened (with shopping bags) Lewey trudged home, with a vaguely successful Dee next to him, only slightly sad that she had not bought more... (ahh well, there's still Spain and Italy still left to cover....). Dee is already looking forward to the moment of being complimented on an item of clothing and being able to say "thanks, I got it in Paris"!!!! Deciding that it was trendy, not lame, Dee even bought a beret, arguing that 'when in Rome...', and thinks it looks cool.

In our journey to the shopping centre, we saw yet another completely different part of Paris and were overwhelmed at things we hadn't even realised that were out there to see - like the Centre Georges Pompideu, which houses modern artwork and looked amazing, a bit like a giant version of Fed square back home in Melb, as the building itself deliberately has all the pipework on the outside. We loved Paris so much that we figure we'll try to see this and many other sites the next time we're there (already planning our next trip, we guess we've caught the travel bug).

On another day, we ventured out to the banks of the Seine river, where whilst on our walking tour, we had seen heaps of little market stalls, selling everything from paintings to vintage tin posters and old photographs. We indulged and purchased our first official piece of joint artwork - some watercolour prints of Paris, already excited to put them in our new place back home (which of course is yet to be found or even contemplated by the way).

Feeling inspired by the artwork and with the Louvre well and truly behind us, we quickly went to the Musee d'Orsay, the Modern Art Gallery, which is housed in a converted train station, located in the St Germain area, near the Latin quarter. It was totally worth it, and we got us some art culture, seeing everything from Monet, Manet to Rembrandt, Rodin, Van Gogh and even some psychedelic artwork from the sixties complete with a little Salvador Dali to round it out. Dee was pumped to see actual silhouette props which were used by the famous 'Black Cat Theatre' (or Le Chat Noir, which is where the cool poster comes from....), who did shadow puppet shows for adults, which made fun of the politicians of the time and did cheeky imitations of people with the shadow puppets as well (it was super cool for Dani as she had been involved in a shadow puppet play a few years ago...). We both enjoyed the artwork at this gallery more than the Louvre and it wasn't just because there were distinctly less people there...

Saturday night was Halloween and we decided to celebrate by venturing out to Montmartre, which was once the artists' quarter where Picasso, Van Gogh and Toulouse Letrec (sp???) etc all hung out together, being artistic and creating stuff. We were shattered to realise that our tourguide was noneother than the brit we'd had for the free walking tour, a few days earlier, but after much debate, we decided to carpe diem (seize the day, or night in our case) and go on it anyways, figuring we would get to see all the sights regardless of the guide - and what a great decision it turned out to be! Of course that would be the night that it rained, and the only time we left our rain jackets at home, and of course that was also the night our camera decided to have a hissy fit and die temporarily, but it was fun nevertheless, and we saw and learnt a fair bit.

We began the tour at the famous Moulin Rouge theatre which opened the same year as the Eiffel Tower, and celebrates 120 years, in 2009. It was very pretty and we would have loved to have gone back to see it in the daytime as well, but unfortunately time ran out.

We then stopped at the 'Two Windmills' cafe, where the movie Amelie was partially filmed. Apparently the director loved the restaurant as a potential set for the film. They asked the owner if they could film there and he declined, as it would be during the main summer months and therefore his main trading time. Apparently the producer of the film was so desperate to film the movie there, that he went to ask the owner every day for 18 months and eventually the owner just wanted to get rid of him, and said yes. Now he has capitalized on it, with little ornaments from the film and also pictures etc displayed everywhere. When we returned there later in the evening, for a drink, Dani was thrilled to see the famous garden gnome from the film at the main counter and quickly snapped a pic with it.

We then saw the house where Van Gogh used to live, followed by a restaurant/brothel that he frequented, that still remains open today as an eatery only. Continuing with our art education, we went to see a restaurant where Picasso used to eat. Apparently he used to go there daily and as he was an artist and always short on cash, he would draw portraits of the waitresses on serviettes, in exchange for food. It worked for a while until the owner got wind of it and decided to offer him free food in exchange for one painting every week. This went on for some time, and as Picasso was one of the few painters who was actually recognised for his talent during his lifetime, the owner of the restaurant was able to reap the benefits of this talent, as he had a basement full of Picasso originals, which he sold and used the proceeds to retire to some island off the French Riviera. It just goes to show, it always pays to support the arts! This restaurant still exists, but according to the tourguide, it is never open even though it says it is...

As it started raining, we walked through the charming cobblestone streets and up a hill to the beautiful Sacre Coeur Basilica, a famous church, which is situated on a peak overlooking all the various districts (arrondisments) of Paris. We had time for a quick peek inside, to be amazed yet again by the sheer size, detail and beauty of the church.

From there we ventured to the official artists square, which is where they used to display and sell their artwork. Up and coming artists still sell their wares there today and we had multiple people offer to paint/draw our picture. This area is also full of tourist orientated restaurants, and the first ever bistro - which in french literally means something like to 'serve food quickly'.

Next stop was a visit to Picasso's old house - which he shared at one time with a flat mate, who was also a painter. Apparently Picasso and his mates were big drinkers and used to go on binges for days at a time. The story goes that a thief used to hang out by his house and observe his drinking antics, planning the perfect time to rob the joint. During one of Picasso's binges, the thief broke into his house and and reportedly Picasso flew into a rage upon the discovery of the robbery. Ironically he was not angry that his apartment had been broken into, but furious that the thief had only stolen his flatmates paintings and that all of his remained untouched!

The tour ended in a little brasserie with a free glass of wine and some yummy olives. Lewey finished his glass (first of the evening...but not the last), whilst Dee sipped at hers, barely drinking any. We chatted briefly to some of the people on the tour and then left to go and have some dinner back at the artists square area. We knew it was touristy, but figured 'hey, we are tourists after all' and the menu was in English for a change, which was nice.

Up until this point, we had to yet to really experienced the stereotypical sleazy Frenchman (except for that waiter at the baguette place), but that was soon to change. As we entered the place, we asked for a table for two. The waiter looked at us and went, "not two, three". Dani was confused as she had definitely said 'deux' (two), not 'trois' (three), but eventually understood his intentions when he linked arms with her and proceeded to walk her down to the table, and joked that he would be joining us. That was one. We gave the menu a once over and Dani chose the roast duck, while Lewey decided on the roast lamb (this was our one 'splash out dinner for Paris', so what the hell right?!) and completed our selection with a glass of wine each, Lewey continuing with red, Dee branching out with a rose. Having placed our order, waiter number two decided to be cheeky, in good nature, after Dani requested one of the romantic candles that was not on our table. He suggested that Lewey buy her a rose to complete the evening.

While we were waiting for our food and discussing our time in Paris, at the adjoining restaurant (separated only by a table-height small picket fence) and the table next to us, a few older guys were toasting and clinking glasses. Dee looked around to see what they were toasting about and they smiled at her. For some reason they started talking to us, (mainly Dee as Lewey's french is in the early stages still...) and were asking us where we're from, about our trip etc. One of the guy's was from Poland and they were all very sweet, Dee searching her high school french vocab for the right responses. Next thing we knew, they were handing giant wine glasses full of rose wine over the fence to us, and although we tried to refuse the gesture, viewing it much too generous as they had barely met us, they refused and we figured it was rude to not join them in a toast and drink it. Upon viewing this, our cheeky waiter got a little tetchy and strongly suggested to the guys that they move to over to our restaurant if they were going to be handing over wine to us. They considered it and decided to stay where they were, figuring they would give us some privacy, as at that moment our two dishes and the two glasses of wine that we had ordered arrived (making a total of 4 glasses of wine at our table!!!). We weren't sure if it was ok to have the other 2 wine glasses there but our waiter didn't press the issue after that, I think he was amused to see if we could/would drink it all.

The food was absolutely magnificent, one of the best meals we have had ever, travel irrespective. Lewey was doing well, managing to put down one and a half of the glasses, with Dee struggling to sip either of her two (she ended up passing the proverbial wine-glass-buck to Lewey), who eventually got down three glasses, Dee still nursing her first. During the meal, we had also briefly chatted to a friendly bus-boy/waiter who was flirty frenchman number three of the evening.

After we finished our mains and decided to be bold and order dessert, Lewey departed to empty his bursting bladder, chock full of all that wine. In the short interim, a gaggle of four gorgeous girls arrived, all tres chic, and the waiters proceeded to sit them alongside Dee at our table, even though there were plenty of free tables available. Dee was horrified, as she had previously felt quite nicely dressed and now felt frumpy and was definitely regretting the impulsive decision of dessert, dreading the looks from these women when the dish of banana split would arrive. Lewey, on the other hand, returned from the bathroom and to his surprise found that he had got more than he bargained for at his table, while the four male waiters that we had been joking with all night giggled and chuckled at his dilemma, waiting for his reaction. Lewey cleverly said "ahh I see you guys have found me some friends" and they all loved it, and burst out laughing. The male busboy jokingly said to Lewey that he'd trade Dee for all the four girls, and Lewey replied that he was happy with his one Dee. (awwwwww). Lewey suggested to the waiter that we move and then the waiter agreed, sensing that Dee would not be too impressed having to eat with the four beauties next to her. The waiter acquiesced with an amused laugh and moved us to a new table, all of them having a good laugh at our situation, as Dee tried to squeeze out of her tight spot at the front of the table, hoping to be as graceful as possible and not knock over anything.

A few minutes later the waiter brought out another glass of red wine to Lewey, to our surprise, as we had not ordered it. We were unsure whether it was another joke, was it free? Was it from a 100euro bottle and we would now be charged if he drank it...? In the end, we decided 'what the hell' as Lewey was pretty far gone anyway. We later reckon it was leftover from some tourist who had ordered the whole bottle and hadn't drunk it all, as it was ice cold. Our banana split was great and we began anticipating the final total on the bill as we had also eaten the bread that they put on the table and it was a tourist trap area. To our amazement, they only charged us for what we had ordered and not a cent more, so the red wine was indeed complimentary. We never thought we'd see the day we got a complimentary glass of wine in Paris, let alone two extra from complete strangers!

Feeling a lot of love towards Paris and the french people in general, we didn't balk when we saw that the busboy had finished work and started chatting to us and offered to show us around the area. A whirlwind mini tour later, we were chock full of extra knowledge about the locals, and their customs, in particular the attitudes to sex and relationships, with him correcting Dee's attempts at french the whole time. During the entire time we hung out with him, he had Dani's arm entwined with his, which made her feel very awkward and she tried multiple times to subtly disentangle. The three of us walked around, Dee in the middle, with Lewey also awkward, on one side and our new friend Michel on the other. He took photos of us in front of the Moulin Rouge and also insisted on photos with both of us, what a card! (notice our awkward faces in the pics). Thankfully he had walked us back to our chosen destination in front of the Moulin Rouge and took the hint that we had enjoyed enough of his company for the night and we parted ways on a good note, although Lewey was slightly put out, as he reckons the guy was trying a move on Dee, who insists he was only being friendly. What a Halloween indeed - we got tricks and treats!!!

Exhausted and a little hung over (mainly Lewey and understandably so, the man consumed a total of 5 glasses of wine by the end of the night!) we passed on our plans for our final day in Paris - which had been to go on a 7hr tour to the palace in Versailles - and decided to conserve our energy instead and save it for the big night ahead of us (already added it to the 'next time in Paris list'). So for our final night in gay Paree, we splashed out and went to see a cabaret show (with singing, dancing and extravagant costumes, often with tasteful naked-ness as well) at the famous Lido Theatre, which is located on the shmnacy Champs-Elleyes street. It is in the same vein as the Moulin Rouge theatre and we decided to save our euros as we were able to see a show for only 55euro per person, when a basic show at the Moulin Rouge was 92euro. So it makes quite a difference once you convert it to Aussie dollars.

As we were already breaking budget well and truly with the show, we went for a more low-key dinner, at McDonalds, which is ironically located on the Champs-Elleyes, so nice and conveniently located close to the theatre. We found it very amusing that we were eating dinner that cost under 15euro for the two of us, when a very basic glass of even soft drink at the Lido, was around this price.

The seating at the theatre was very different to anything we had previously experienced, Dani assumed it would be like a normal theatre, with the stage up the front and the seats facing it in rows, however the stage was in the centre of the room, with seats arranged in front and on the side. We had been told to line up at least 30mins before the show, as it was a case of first in, best dressed, and we were initially a bit disappointed when we got sat at the end of a table on the far side of the room, concerned how we would see, as when we came in, there was a band up the front with a lady singing and we assumed the show would be there as well. Luckily, the stage platform in the centre actually was elevated during the performance, so we got a very good look at all the girlies, guys and the awesome costumes (we could even see who was a bit 'chilly' during the show, if you get our drift), that's how close we were! So it all worked out in the end

It was a very interesting show, complete with a real horse - who had 'crazy eyes' and looked like it would freak out any minute and just start trampling the audience, ice skating with a very talented couple - keeping in mind we were so close to the stage we practically got bits of ice-shavings hitting us, amazing sets generally even including a 3m high pyramid which slowly rose up through the stage, and lots of nakey boobies and bottoms!
The constant fashion envy Dee has been experiencing now was coupled with body envy - every single one of the girls in the revue had an amazing figure, so she has vowed to renew her gym membership the minute we arrive home! Having said that, Lewey said she looked very tres fashionable in her little ensemble of black tights, new skirt (from shopping ventures) and black leather jacket. Somehow we both managed to look appropriate and not too out of place, dressing from our vast backpacker clothing line (vast my arse!!! hehe), although we did get a bit of a start when we saw a guy in a tuxedo-dinner suit complete with bow tie and all...turns out he was the greeter guy for the show, phew!!!

We both giggled at the family that took up the remaining six seats on our table and their drinking antics. We had debated about sharing a drink, and they got about 3 bottles of wine/champagne, the waiter came during the show to settle the bill and we saw them plonk down at least 700 euros, in cash mind you! (The cheapest bottle of wine was about 100euro). We laughed as we had specially pre-ordered the program online to save 2euro on the price, and here these guys were throwing money around like no tomorrow! Most amusing.

The next morning, we sadly bid Paris adieu, and with heavy hearts made our way on the metro to the Gare de Lyon stationed and boarded our first Euro-rail train to Nice.
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