Spring time in Paris

Trip Start Apr 03, 2009
Trip End Apr 14, 2009

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Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Finally, we met Helene, the daughter of Christiane and Anne Marie, Jean's brother and sister-in-law we met in Marseilles last week. We had hoped to connect with her while in Paris so she could show us her side of this exciting city, and today was the day that the 21-year-old twin of Patrick (Jean's nephew) took us on a personal tour since she is off work for the Easter holiday.

We purchased a Metro day pass (5.50 Euros) and started our day with a short ride on the Metro to the neighborhood of Barbes for a visit to Montmatre to see the Sacre Coeur Basilique. Why do Catholics make you climb so many stairs to reach the cathedral? Is this supposed to represent the climb to heaven? Or maybe it gives one the chance to think about what they will say in confessional once they reach the top. At any rate, it's good exercise. This impressive cathedral was featured in the movie, "The Da Vinci Code."

Helene had lots to show us in this part of town, one of her favorite areas. The artist row is a bustling area lined with anxious talented painters displaying their original creations, and eager artists vying for the chance to sketch or create a silhouette of the many passersby. On the perimeter of the artist village and down narrow cobblestone streets sit numerous choices for dining, from quick sandwiches and crepes perfect for eating while strolling, to intimate cafes and crowded brasseries.

The Vigne de Montmartre is a small vineyard bursting with colorful flowers and rows of budding grape vines. Just across the street is Au Lapin Agile (The Agile Rabbit), a famous restaurant where many French writers congregated to share their musings and probably a drink or two. Over at Place du Tertre, we lunch on a light meal and bask in the sunlight, which Helen is sure we brought along with us since the weather was cold and rainy just a week ago.

To walk off lunch, we head down to another bustling shopping area that reminds us of the Alley in the Garment District of Los Angeles. Helene is familiar with L.A. because she lived there for several months while working for a travel company. She said she fondly remembers the beaches of Santa Monica and the excitement of downtown L.A., as well as the beauty of San Diego.

Just down the steep hill is Pigalle, Paris' version of the Red Light District. This is not the place to bring you grandmother or your minor children, although Michael said it has nothing on the Red Light District in Amsterdam. We passed several sex shops selling all manner of items, and watched as unassuming ladies stand in front of theatres and cordially approach men with sly propositions to come in for a drink. That's salesmanship at its best! Up ahead I noticed the large red signage of the famous Moulin Rouge Theatre, home of the original French Can-Can dancers.

Back on the Metro, we made our way to the Catacombs, a series of underground tunnels beneath old Paris, which house bones of the many citizens who lived and died for centuries. To our great disappointment, the Catacombs was closed for the holiday (that's the least they could do for the Easter holiday!). I don't think Helen was terribly disappointed though. She said the idea of walking among a bunch of old bones kind of spooks her out.

She quickly whipped out her itinerary and led us in the direction of Le Marais, known as the gay area of Paris. It is lovely and stylish, with wide streets, high-end shops and quaint restaurants. We walked over to Place des Vosges, a park dedicated to Louis XIII. There, we sat on the lawn among young adults enjoying the afternoon sun. From there, we were off to the Bastille, an enormous monument erected to symbolize the beginning of the French revolution. Across the way is the Opera Garnier, a large modern building the focal point of a busy roundabout.

As if that wasn't enough to see for the day, we boarded the Metro once again en route to the Petit Palais, the Grand Palais and the Palais de l'Elysee, where President Nicolais Sarkosi works when he's in town. We walked to the gate of the Ministere de l'Agriculture (Ministry of Agriculture), then past the Theatre Marigny and the lovely gardens. On to the famous Champs Elysees, a high-energy area featuring designer stores reminiscent of New York's Times Square. In the distance, a view of the Arc de Triomphe, an astounding monument which is a must-see for any trip to France.

After a little snack at a local cafe, we said farewell to Helene. She was a fantastic tour guide and we hated to see her go, but we get the feeling that we will see her again during our (or her) travels. So, the Globetrotters continued the evening with a visit to the Arc, where we met a group of young people from Poland and a few students from Peru. Then a leisurely stroll over to the Eiffel Tower for a marvelous view of it by night. It was breathtaking to see the tower in lights from top to bottom (see the video). What a fitting end to our whirlwind tour of Paris.
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