Paris... Euro Trip 2011, Part 1
Trip Start Sep 06, 2011
1Trip End Sep 18, 2011
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With the economy being so bad and money being so tight I almost didn't make it to Europe this year, but luckily my friend Jenny Golden got posted to Paris and allowed me to invade her space for 2 weeks. There was just no way to pass that up. The shoestring budget kept me out of the restaurants and some of the major attractions, but between Jenny’s great cooking and judicious choices about where best to put my few euros, I managed to have a great trip! Come on, how could any trip to Paris be bad, eh? Plus I managed a bit of networking that I hope will bring me back to the City of Lights… Often! It’s true, I LOVE Paris, cliche or not.
At the airport:
I managed to roll out of bed at 5 and, thanks to Dave and the carpool lane, I got to the airport in plenty of time for my flight
I had some time to kill, so rather than sit in the doubly overpriced Starbucks, I chose the bar next door. It was very quiet and surely they must have coffee? Nope, so vodka and orange at 8am seemed a good way to start the trip. Hey, the OJ was good for me, right?
My flight was delayed 2 hours. (Gotta love United…not.) I wasn’t worried though, because this flight supposedly went to Paris, except for the "hidden" stop in Chicago. Now the booking agent told me that this meant they just took us all off the plane and to another plane, which would make the trans-Atlantic flight. Just to be sure, I had asked a flight attendant if this was right, but she knew nothing about anything. Turns out it was wrong! When we got to O’Hare, they read off a list of connecting flights that folks had to hurry to so they got to get off first. They never mentioned Paris, so I sat for a moment wondering if we would all just be taken over to another plane. Luckily I have traveled enough to know that nobody knows anything, nor do they really care if you get where you are going, so I got up and asked again. The attendant didn’t know, so she called up front. Then came the announcement, “Oh, I forgot about Paris (this was a flight to Paris…) go to Gate 21.” No mention made of hurry up, but I decided to get off immediately. As I left the gate, I double-checked again, and I was told, “ Gate 21… but don’t stop anywhere on the way.” Wha??? I hurried to the gate, and got there just as the plane was boarding
Finding my way to the train was a new challenge. There are 3 terminals, and depending upon who I asked, I was told to go to each one of them to find the tram to the train. Now for those of you planning on coming to Charles DeGaulle anytime soon, here is a bit of info: The terminals are in this order: 1--- 3----2, so to get to #3, you get off at the second stop. I finally got that sorted and found the train station. Getting a ticket proved to be a minor problem, as I forgot, MC isn’t accepted much here, only VISA, which I left at home. Doh! Ah well, how about cash? The machine wouldn’t take a 50, so I bought an ice cream and got change. Back to the machine… nope, it only accepts coins… 9 euros worth. Back to seek out change for my change.
OK, so now I have my ticket in hand and put it in the turnstile, but I am on the wrong side and someone goes in on my ticket
The ride was easy, and I got into town handily. I did find my way to the Metro, but my ticket wouldn’t work to get me in. I went to the info desk, and tried very hard to remember the words “BonJour”, but my brain was jet lagged and I just stood looking at the man like a deer in the headlights. He looked back. Thankfully he spoke English, so I managed to explain that my ticket didn’t work, and he kindly just gave me another one and sent me on my way. Thru the turnstile again and again my luggage got stuck. arrrgh! Luckily a man came thru just behind me and freed it.
Following the signs to my connection I come to a hall and look up. Dramatic music here please… 4 flights of stairs, and no escalator! Did I mention I have about 60 lbs I am lugging around? I struggled up the first flight and almost had a heart attack. At the second flight a man took pity on me and we managed to muscle it up the last 3 together. Bless him. I found my way to the flat without further incident. Ah… unpack, take a nap and voila’, I am good as new (kind of…) Went for a wander around my 'hood and sat up chatting with Jen till late
Paris Days 1 & 2
The area I am staying in is a new glass & steel business area called La Defense. It is built around a huge, modern arch that is supposed to partner with the Arc de Triomphe, and it is a straight shot from one to the other. Sounds awful, but I was happily surprised to discover that it is quite civilized. While the buildings are modern, the feel is Paris on many levels. It is divided into small quarters, and each one has its own set of businesses, small green areas and services. There are also two large shopping arcades in the wide-open Esplanade, which runs through the center. All of this is contained in about 1 square mile, and includes no less than 54 works of public art (I know this because I went to the info stand and got a map of the art) including pieces by Miro and Calder. Charming is not the word, but “impressive” works.
At my end of the Esplanade there is a lovely fountain that overlooks The Arch de Triumph, and the Eiffel Tower. The only real draw back is that, since this is a business area, everything rolls up and shuts tight by 8 or 9. Ah well, can’t have everything.
Day two I got myself a French SIM card for my euro phone, and I am now connected to my local pals. I did a bit of grocery shopping in a HUGE store and realized that the jet lag had really done a number on my little gray cells. I was having trouble processing the simplest things… so, another nap and voila, physically feeling better, but still incredibly stupid
Up early today to try and get my flight to Berlin booked. Then, no doubt after a nap, I hope to have the energy to head into town.
After the nap I took a wander over the bridge and voila… Beaux Arts buildings! This is the Paris I was expecting. I was still pretty spent, but I walked a mile or so and got almost to the Arch de Triumph before I had to find a cafe and a coffee. In the little square I stopped in they were tearing down the day’s market stalls, and as I got closer I realized it had been a fish market. A smattering of fishy entrails and a slight odor gave it away.
After the coffee break I headed back to Chez Jenny. Now I was not only fortunate that she had a hide-a-bed, but she is also a wonderful cook and plied me with fabulous food during the entire trip. I ate very well, including leftovers for packed lunches, and enjoyed food as good, if not better, than had I gone out to the expensive restaurants. Yay, Jen! Thanks!
Sept. 10 & 11
Jenny had the weekend off, so we did some crash touristing. First… Montmartre!
We took the little Funicular up to Sacre-Coeur, which was lovely, but we very quickly managed to loose the major tourist crowd by going a few blocks into the quarter
We wandered the back streets and found the famous vineyards, where the wine is vile, but tourists pay 50 euro a bottle for it. We saw Lapin Agile, the café where the likes of Picasso and Braque used to frequent, and had a little bite at a sweet café called La Maison Rose. Later we found the fountain that St. Denis allegedly walked to after he was beheaded so he could wash the blood off. (You see him in most churches holding his head.) Charming story!
Then we met my friend Valdimir Sichov at a café in the Pl. du Tertre. He is a photojournalist who got on the wrong side of the soviets (so, who didn’t?) and moved to Paris 30 years ago. We had a lovely chat and a glass of vino while we watched the crowds throng the little artist’s stalls as the street performers plied their trade in front of our tables
Most of you know I am a graveyard junkie, so it should come as no surprise that I spend time seeking them out. Luckily, Jenny also shares an interest and we had our picnic lunch with Camille, Adolph Sax, Nijinsky, Offenbach, Degas, Truffaut, Foucault, Zola and others.
Down the hill and we find the Moulin Rouge, which is interesting to look at but I had zero interest in going into. Headed home to a nice dinner and collapsed. This touristing is hard work!
The next day we were off again. We wandered around Chatlet and looked at the architecture. Especially beautiful was St. Chapelle, which has astonishing stained glass windows. We walked around the Chatlet area and the Latin Quarter, and made a quick stop at Shakespeare and Company bookstore. We found a few more Gothic Cathedrals to explore and ended the evening with a visit to a Paris Soiree.
These are weekly events are run by an American ex-pat for other ex-patswww.parissoirees.com . One of the singers did a song in honor of 9/11. We finished the night with a stroll across the Seine to catch the last train home. Phew!
Sept. 12 The next day I head off on my own. First stop Concorde square. Lots of tourists, lots of monuments, and lots of Gypsies trying to rip you off… There is an interesting Egyptian Obelisk in the middle of the square that marks about where the infamous guillotine stood. First they used it on the aristocrats… then turned against each other in a bloodbath that would make the Red Queen green with envy. “Off With Their Heads!!!”
I spent some time lolling lakeside in the Tuilleries Garden, found more churches, saw the Leopold bridge where lovers put locks as a token of their love, walked past Notre Dame again (the lines were just too long), and had some very groovy Pomme Frittes ( French Fries) from a street vendor.
I decided, as an experiment, to go to the farthest point on my direct Metro line. It was Chateau de Vincennes; the oldest remaining fortress/castle in Europe. It had a lovely little chapel, which had an odd display of plastic birds on the floor. I never did figure out the significance of them
Afterwards, I headed back to town and the Latin Quarter, did the Pantheon (more dead people), saw Foucault’s Pendulum, visited yet another beautiful church (St. Etienne) and had an early evening meeting with the head of the Bill Evans Institute. He was really lovely and I enjoyed the visit. I may do a fundraising event for them next year. The wandering continued for a couple of hours then I stopped at a café for a vino and met Simon, a very nice actor who chatted me up. Finally, seriously pooped I headed back to La Defense
The next day I had a coffee date with another new friend, Alex Dutil and his friend Pascal…. They are critics and huge music fans, so it was a great time. They also introduced me to serious French cheese. Loved it! Alex has a web radio show called Open Jazz. Check it out at www.francemusique.com
Afterwards I did the usual… wandered; A couple of churches including St. Marie, where the organist was practicing, I visited The Pompidou Center, the Stravinsky Fountain, saw a sweet, free photo show about The River Seine at the Hotel de Ville, and finally, Notre Dame. This time there was no crowd! It was great, but I have to confess that seeing St
I headed off in a different direction and made it to the Eiffel Tower first. The lines were long and the cost to go up it was very dear, so I just hung around for awhile before walking to Napoleon’s Tomb, also too expensive, but still lovely from the outside. I did, however, treat myself some mint tea at a Moroccan café, and to the Rodin Museum. Fabulous! While I was very happy I went into the museum, if you are on a serious budget, the hot tip is to save the bigger ticket and just do the wonderful gardens for 1 euro. His sculptures are everywhere and you could bring a picnic and hang out all day!
After a few hours with Rodin, I decided to head home. As I approached Pt. Alexander Bridge the world suddenly went seriously Baroque. The Grand and Petit Palace, as well as the statues on the bridge were just over the top with gold and curlicues, and fluff. I loved it, but whoa... long day. It was time to go home.
Well, you may have noticed that “Museum Woman” here had not done much in the way of museum visiting. Today was the day, before the weekend crowds. I went to The Louvre and The Orsay. BIG mistake! Luckily Jenny had hipped me to “The Carousel” entrance, which is not a carousel, but a mall, in which lives the magic tourist booth where you can get tickets… no line! I got tickets in short order for both museums and whizzed past the poor plebs in line. I almost felt sorry for them…almost.
The Louvre was completely overwhelming and I barely scratched the surface, not to mention getting completely lost. I swear it is the size of a small country. I saw lots of sculpture, including The Marly Horses, Napoleon’s Bedroom, lovely tapestries, and some Renaissance, French, Italian and Dutch painters, but, since I tend to go in the opposite direction of the crowds, I never found my way to the biggies. No Mona Lisa for me. Luckily, the Louvre allows picture taking w/o flash, otherwise it would all just be a blur.
After a short lunch break, I tackled the Orsay. Much more doable in size, but by then I was fried. Still, I rallied for my favs and really enjoyed the place. It is in a beautiful old train station and has a great collection of 1850-ish through the post-impressionists. No picture taking allowed though, bummer.
I collapsed outside the museum, had a snack at the stand and I watched street performers until I managed to get the energy to drag myself home… exhausted
Boy-Oh-Boy… more dead people! This time at Pere Lachaise cemetery, where some of the real biggies are buried: Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas (Alice is listed on the BACK of the tombstone…) Chopin, Balzac, Bizet, Oscar Wilde, Callas, Piaf, and yes… Jim Morrison. That was just for starters. We were there all afternoon, and they ran us out before we got to Sarah Bernhardt and a few remaining folks that were on my list. Unlike at Montmartre, where we got locked in and had to find the security man to let us out… Pere Lachaise has scooter- riding security that round you up like cattle and push you towards the closest exit. Even if it is not where you planned to go… Git along tired doggies… get along! Jen and I had a bit-o-vino at the closest café and made our way to meet my new pal Simon in the café Mistral. We had another very friendly chat and some more vino, watched the Eiffel Tower do its light show over the Seine at 9:00 and headed home. Beautiful day!
The last day… MAJOR SAD! We saved it for Versailles. Holy cow! As Jen said, “Now we know why there was a revolution.” Decadent squared. The little golden cherub gods of baroque went nuts here. My head was swimming from all the gold and eye candy. There was NOWHERE to let you eyes rest.
The grounds were also huge, but extremely beautiful
It rained as we left, and we got a bit chilled, so into a café for some hot fish soup. Delicious! We took the train home and crashed early, a good days touristing under our belts. My last night in Paris, next stop, Berlin!
I spent almost 2 weeks in Paris and I did not even get to see all the biggies, much less all the intimate wonders it has to offer. I must confess, in spite of my skepticism, The City of Lights has cast a spell on me, and I intend to return as often as possible to get to know the nooks and crannies of this beautiful place.
Fall was a lovely time to be there. Fewer crowds, although at the big sites there are always lots of tourists, and the weather was not too hot
Once you understand how to use a Metro system, Paris really quite easy to navigate. If you like to walk, most of the sites are actually within fairly easy walking distance; just don’t try it all at in one day! For that, stick to the Hop on Hop off bus tour. It is great for a one or two day adventure.
Here is a bit of info about some of the places I mentioned. If there is no direct website, I am sure you can find more info at
or try Wikipedia.
St. Chapelle: 13th Century High Gothic Cathedral. BEAUTIFUL windows. UNESCO site
Chateau Vincennes: 14th Century medieval royal residence turned prison. Held the Marquis de Sade, among others.
Pantheon: A church until 1791, it was turned into a monument to French heroes. Hugo, Dumas, Marie Curie and others are buried there. It also houses Foucault’s Pendulum.
Notre Dame: Took 200 years to build starting in the 12th Century. UNESCO site.
Versailles: Favored palace of The Sun King. Marie Antoinette called it home, for a while, eh? www.chateauversailles.fr UNESCO site.