Trip Start Aug 07, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of France  ,
Sunday, September 10, 2006

Ah Paris, the city of love... Well it would have been if we weren't so busy deciphering their damn public transport system. Liz had been so proud about how she had been able to navigate the London underground and the Bangkok skytrains, but Paris defeated her. It only took us two hours to get from the train station to the camping ground, which is actually in town, not miles away!

The first thing we noticed about Paris was the size of everything. It looks like a city built for giants with massive egos. The streets are very wide, the buildings are only six or seven floors but the doors and windows are built on a grand scale. The park outside the Louvre is equally as grand- large expanses of lawn broken up by impeccably manicured hedges and marble statues. Surprisingly the paths have not been gravelled, rather they have been left with Paris' natural dirt- dusty sandy gravely stuff, which blows in your eyes and makes pitching a tent difficult on.

Being the naive tourists that we are, we thought we could walk to the Eiffel tour from the Louvre without a map, because it didn't look that far. Problem is we didn't realise exactly how far away it is and we kept losing sight of it as we wound our way through residential streets. It ended up taking us at least an hour. By the time we got there we were exhausted and starving - not in the right frame of mind to be constantly approached by women claiming to be Bosnian refugees trying to get home and wanting money. (Its Thailand all over again!). I had always pictures the Eiffel tower being in the middle of a square, but it is actually surrounded by lush gardens - a short respite from the relentless Parisian heat. (I don't think we saw blue sky the whole time we were there - there was constant smog hanging over the city tainting the views). Surprisingly, for such a touristy spot, there weren't very many street vendors trying to hawk off cheap souvenirs, the food was decently priced and the toilets were free!

After killing ourselves with all the walking we had to slink back to the camping ground in shame - it was only 2pm but we were done for the day.

The next day we paced ourselves and had a slow start to the day before we went to the Louvre. It took us a while to find the right entrance, but man it was an impressive set of buildings. In typical Parisian tradition is was stunning architecture on a grand scale with multiple old buildings surrounding a courtyard with a modern glass pyramid in its centre (this was the proper entrance). You Da Vinci Code nutters will know about this.

After paying a tidy sum to get in, we were horrified to discover that just because this is a major tourist destination with thousands of visitors a day, the French have seen no reason to put bilingual explanation plaques up. If we wanted to know what we were looking at and its significance, we were expected to either hire an audio guide or buy a guidebook.... So we muddled our way around the Louvre, appreciating the artwork for its aesthetic value and nothing more. We were surprised to see a fantastic apartment, built in the 1850s in the middle of the Louvre. It was richly decorated with velvet wallpaper, wonderful paintings on the roof and the biggest chandeliers we have ever seen. It's amazing that you can hear so much about a place, yet know so little. We followed the crowds to the Mona Lisa, which looked exactly the same hanging on the wall as it does in every art book and poster we have ever seen. Jonny was a little disappointed by its lack of size, but it was amazing to see the real thing nonetheless. Another favourite was the French and Italian sculptures which were hand carved in marble centuries ago. The sheer quantity of paintings, artefacts, sculptures, and everything in between meant that we were never going to see everything. You could spend a couple of days in there quite easily and still find a new wing or attached building with more to see. Yet again we were let down by our legs - 20,000+ steps on the pedometer!

Camping most of the time can be quite lonely as people tend to stick to themselves more than in hostels, but we met a couple of Kiwis who had been biking around France for a couple of months. They said it was pretty hard going when they started out, but they managed to cover more than 100km a day sometimes. Over a couple of beers they told us some great wee villages to visits, as we mentioned we wanted to get away from the cities for a little while. So we followed their advice and headed towards Beaune, in the heart of the Burgundy wine region. See our next instalment for what we got up to in Beaune....

NB: A while back we mentioned our cell phone number. From NZ it is infact: 00447939397730.
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