Into the City of Bread, Crepes and Wine

Trip Start Mar 12, 2005
Trip End Mar 20, 2005

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Visit Klenske, Ink.

Ushered under the channel, via the chunnel, and into Paris, arriving at Gare du Nord around 11:30 PM. There's nothing better then arriving in a foreign city and being met with either a taxi driver holding a sign with your name on it or, even better, a Chris Ward. Chris and Tina met us at the station, found us a cab and took it with us to our hotel, making life much easier. Both speak good French (or at least it seemed good to us, but they could have just been speaking gibberish and it would have passed our test) and Tina acted as an interpreter between the cabbie (the most friendly one in Paris) and the rest of us. He jokingly asked what us Americans were doing in France, kindly pointing out that our dollar was worthless here. According to our amused driver, he knew of four Americans in all of Paris and all four were in his car. After arriving to our hotel, a nice and quaint place in the Latin Quater, Chris and Tina helped us settle in and then had to take off to catch the Metro and we called it a night.

People always talk, and sing, about springtime in Paris. When we told people where we were planning on spending our Spring holiday, they would get a wide-eyed-excited expression and begin to hyperventilate as they asked, "Paris in April?". It was like there was some secret laying within Paris that only comes out in April and we were to be lucky enough to get in on it. You can probably imagine their disappointment, which bordered on disgust, when we informed them that we would not in fact be there in April, but instead would be experiencing Paris in Mid-March. Now I am sure that there is something special about April in Paris that is worthy enough to start skipping and singing about, but when I woke up, my first morning in the City of Light, I began skipping around and singing something about Mid-March in Paris and how April could kiss our ass. The sun was shining both brightly AND warmly. There was not a cloud in the sky, there was a soft breeze in the air and it was going to be above seventy degrees. It was Spring and we were in Paris. If that isn't reason enough to skip and sing in your underwear at 8 am (not caring about the questioning onlookers from the balcony across the way), I don't know what is...

We ventured out into this land of French Speakers for the first time, looking for a cafe to sit outside and enjoy the weather. Knowing really only a few practical words, we ended up doing a lot of pointing. Somehow we pointed right and ended up with deux cafe cremes and a croissant. So far so good. It was time to find Notre Dame.

Notre Dame is actually located on an island, the Ille de la Cite, located in the middle of le Seine. The classic gothic cathedral was originally built in 1163 by Pope Alexander III and is one of the most awe-inspiring churches one will ever see. Inside the pillars tower high above, meeting in the middle. Along the sides are numerous chapels, dedicated to various saints and popes, including Joan of Arc. The Rose Windows are huge, circular stain glass windows which shed colorful light into the shadowy halls of the cathedral.

After spending a half an hour or so in the cathedral, we wondered around the Ille and made a stop by Ste Chapelle, another great church. By then our religious side began to fade and our outdoors and eating side emerged. It was time to make our way to the Sacre-Coeur, perched on the grassy hill of Montmartre. Although Sacre-Coeur is definitely another church, we were going for the famed views and picnicking area. But between us and our picnic was the Metro, and so after locating the station we ventured down.

Paris' subway system is excellent. Although a bit rougher than the Underground (and a bit more 'aroma' filled), it is easy to use, rather not expensive (Tina informed us that the French have no word for 'cheap') and can take you within a few feet of anywhere you want to be. And so we took it from the Ille across to the northern edge of the city, at the foot of Montmartre.

One of my favorite films is the French flick "Amelie". Numerous scenes are filmed in Montmartre and around the Sacre-Coeur, and I remember thinking how beautiful the views are and how nice it would be to picnic on the lawn of the great church, taking in all of Paris. That is what our mission was, to be Parisian. Grabbing a couple of sandwiches on the way up and edging around some confrontational street vendors, we made our way up the hill, claimed a piece of grass, enjoyed our lunches and the view, and then sat back to soak in the sun and the scenes. For about an hour we laid there, watching school groups head up to tour the church, high school kids making out on the hill, a girl chase her runaway orange down the hill, a little girl trying to climb a light post, and many people doing exactly as we were: relaxing. A walk through the church and some time at the top, with the Eiffel Tower floating in the hazy horizon, all this Paris-ness made us think, "let's get ice cream". With a bit of pointing, we were happy as clams, making our way back downhill.

The evening was spent at the Centre Georges Pompidou, an inside-out building. Literally, the pipes, escalators, everything that should be on the inside is attached to the outside. They did this to create more room on the inside. Makes sense, even if it is a bit funny looking (the Parisians seem to hate it, but then again they originally hated the Eiffel Tower also). After a snack and a bottle of wine at an outdoor cafe, where we were entertained by a mime, we headed into the Pompidou center to check out the Museum of Modern Art. Kara and I are both fans of modern art, and this museum contained everything from Picasso and Matisee up to Warhol and the abstract squares and lines that we find so fascinating. Following the museum, we had a light dinner at another outdoor cafe and met up with Chris. From there we walked through Paris, up to the site of the Bastille where we met Tina, who teaches English at a school in the area. We finished the night at a small wine bar, splitting several bottles of wine, spilling one glass, and having to remind our waiter to both open our bottle of wine and to bring us another. Obviously everyone there was celebrating the weather. It adds a lot to one's experiences in a new place when they have friends there. It seems you get to "know the city" better and are able to leave the city with better stories. It's often in situations like these, in a foreign city with friends and alcohol, that you begin to wish you could just stay. After a fine first day in Paris, we already found ourselves entertaining those thoughts.

The next day was an art day. After a breakfast near the Pantheon, we began with the Musee d'Orsay, which has art from 1848 to 1914 (where the Louvre leaves off and the Modern Museum begins). This is probably my favorite museum we went to, with its wide array of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, including Van Gogh's, Monet's "Waterlilies" and "Haystacks", Renoir's "Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette", numerous Degas, and Toulouse-Lautrec's "Jane Avril Dancing", to name just a few. From here we continued our walk to the Hotel des Invalides (where Napolean is buried), where we had a quick lunch on the side of the road before going to the Musee Rodin. Being another gorgeous day, we spent several hours wandering and lounging in the museum's outdoor sculpture garden and the provided lawn chairs. Of course, the highlight of the visit was "The Thinker". This is the perfect museum in that it is outside and not very crowded.

Finally, it was to the biggest attraction of all, the Eiffel Tower. No matter how many pictures, movies or little statuettes that you have seen of it, there is nothing like actually standing in front of the real one. It's one of those sites that screams out at you, "you're in Paris!". Like the Empire State Building screams out that you are in New York, or the Golden Gate Bridge says "You're in San Francisco" or the lakes of Minnesota yells "You're in Minnesota, Why?" Anyways, we made our way to the top level and enjoyed the views of all the places we had been already and the places we had yet to go. We then pushed our way through the crowds of loud annoying American teenagers more involved in a discussion why Sarah, Shelly's best friend, wouldn't talk to her anymore. I mean you're at the top of one of the world's greatest cities and you expect me to enjoy the if!

Chris and Tina, being the great hosts that they were, invited us over for a delicious dinner of curry chicken and rice. They told us their apartment was small, but I'd say it's economical. You can cook, clean, shower, eat and go to the bathroom without having to walk more than two feet. Really, just put a recliner and a TV in there and one could be in heaven. Honestly, the place is great. You glance out one of their sky lights, and look over the heart of Paris and towards the Eiffel Tower, which on the hour sparkles like the phallic shaped disco ball it is. After dinner, it being St. Patrick's Day and all, we joined several of their friends at a semi-Irish bar for a few pints, a chat with some British blokes, and a conversation with a Parisian who will be studying in the states soon. We tried to explain to him what the meaning of St. Patrick's day was, but no one could figure out how to explain the whole chasing the snakes out of Ireland thing, so we just decided it was all about drinking. That we could all understand-Cheers (and don't forget to look everyone in the eye)!

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mdidier on

bringing back memories...
and reviving urges of a life-long globe trotter....

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