On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

In Paris

June 9. Paris.  Took taxis from the dock at Pont Morland to the hotel in Paris.  Twelve of us are staying at the Hotel Beaudelaire in the Opera district and the rest elsewhere. The taxis were not too efficient, with the first arriving around 9 a.m. but the next 2 at least an hour later. Three taxis to the same place and all 3 had different fares.  Welcome to Paris. Once we settled in our rooms – small but palatial compared to what we were crammed into for the past 2 weeks – most of us took the metro to the Eiffel Tower. The line for the elevator to the top was about 4 hours long but we wanted to climb the tower anyway so went to the stairs line.  It was only an hour long and only cost 5 Euros, compared to E10.50 for the lift.  The climb was nice, after standing around for so long, and the views from the first and second decks are tremendous.

View towards Trocadero

As it happens, you can take the lift from deck 2 to the very top (stairs not open to the public) for another 5 Euros, with no lineup, but I was happy with the deck 2 views. After climbing back down, we had snacks and started walking back to our hotel on the Champs-Elysses.  History and views all the way – past Place de la Concorde, Museum of Modern Art, the Grand and Petit Palaces, Tuileries Gardens (where we stopped for a beer) and the Louvre. The main streets in Paris are wide and straight but the side streets are a chaotic jumble.  They seem to start and stop in the middle of nowhere and radiate in all directions.  They also seem to change names if more than a 10 degree jog in direction, so it is easy to get lost.  The walk back to the hotel took about 2.5 hours, including the beer, and we were all feeling pleasantly fatigued after the climb and the walk.  Supper was at a restaurant recommended by the woman at the hotel desk.  Because we made the reservations so late, the earliest we could get was 8 p.m.  The place was packed, mostly with locals from the sound of the din, the tables crammed tight together and the servers were looking very harried.  I asked ours if it was like this all the time or if this was a typical Saturday night.  “Oh no – it is always this busy. Every day, at all times”. Yikes, I’d go deaf working there.  She was right though – there were still people coming in at 10 p.m. to eat a full supper and every table was full. The meal was so-so and expensive – E40 with wine.  We had much better and far cheaper meals in Peronne and Bougival, but this is Paris!

June 10. Paris. Gerry and I spent the day in the Louvre, about 10 minutes away from our hotel.   The doors opened at 9 but we got there at 8:30 so were only a hundred feet down the line and got in very quickly.  Cost is only 10 Euros, which I think is a great deal considering that there must be about a billion dollars worth of art in there!  We walked over to the Italian painters area first thing, before the hordes got to Mona, but there were no crowds at all and we had a great view.

Gerry and Mona

Took our time and wandered through the whole building, every floor, every wing, for the rest of the day.  What a fantastic place but it is easy to get overloaded with all the artworks.  It really should be best seen a bit at a time, over several days, so you can linger, but 1 day is all we had available for it.  We were done (in) by 2:30 and headed back to the hotel for a rest. I don’t know if it was the physical or mental  exhaustion that was worse. Later, I wandered around the neighborhood we are in, getting lost multiple times even with a map, trying to find reasonable restaurants and grocery/wine stores before calling it a day. Gerry picked up a bout of food poisoning and spent the rest of the evening in bed so I bought a baguette, cheese and wine (an amazingly good Bordeaux for E4.95) and enjoyed a simple and inexpensive meal in my room.

June 11. Paris.  Gerry still ill so I headed out alone to walk to the Arc de Triomphe.  Pleasant walk of a few miles along the Rue de Rivoli, opposite the Louvre, then over to the Champs-Elysees.  I just sauntered along, checking out the souvenier stalls and stores for anything interesting.  Found a few selling Tour de France and other biking jerseys, but the TdF ones were E89.  Out of my price range, especially since I already have a yellow jersey from Brendan 2 years ago.  The polka dot jersey would have been nice though. Climbed the AdT (E9.50) and took a bunch of pictures and videos.  Again, great views – not as high as the Eiffel tower but, because it is right on the Champs-Elysees, very picturesque. Place de la Concorde, the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre in one direction, La Defense in the other.

View towards La Defense

Walked back along the other side of the Champs-Elysees this time.  Stopped in to see the Grand Palais (E5), which was a waste of money and time.  Like walking into an empty Rexall Place!  A panelled glass dome ceiling over an empty expanse.  Good place for a rodeo though!  Was probably the first domed stadium of it’s time.  Not really a stadium though, since it doesn’t have any seating – just a surround balcony.  Saw a big Canadian flag down a side street and walked down to check it out.  It was the Canadian embassy and it is in pretty pricey company.  The stores around it were Fendi, Dior, Chanel – lots of other high end stuff.  Pretty swanky neighborhood. Went over to see the Paris Opera House.  This is where my son proposed to his wife 2 years ago and what a place it is!  All marble and gold and sweeping staircases – I’d love to attend a performance there but I don’t have any clothes nice enough!

Paris Garnier Opera

Ended up having supper at the same place we ate breakfast this morning (Le Pain Quotidien) – far better and cheaper than the hotel.  We are slowly finding the good spots to buy munchies and meals.

June 12. Paris.  No real plan of action today. Wandered around in the rain after breakfast, just checking out streets and stores (Galleries Lafayette a maze of shops and yelling Asian tourists), then back to the room for a nap.  No, there is nothing special about Paris in the rain.  You still get wet.  Gerry running on low energy after not eating for a day so he stayed back in the hotel.  I walked over to the Musee D’Orsay after lunch but the lineup was hours long at that time of day so I gave up on that idea.  Went over to the Petit Palais instead, a few blocks away, and glad I did.  First of all, a surprise after all the other Paris experiences, it was free! Second of all, it was a lovely art gallery with pictures from Rembrandt, Renoir, Gauguin, Rubens and many others, as well as a Rodin sculpture.  That was a bonus after throwing money away on the Grand Palais!  Walked back along Rivoli again, taking a few side streets to check them out.  Stumbled onto Place Vendome, which was also under refurbishing. Would have liked to gone over to Latin Quarter but no time today.  Hope to get enough time on Friday, after getting back from Chartres.

June 13. Paris to Chartres. The information we had was that the train to Chartres left from the Gard du Nord station, so took a bus there.  Very handy, as the stop was only a block from the hotel.  Unfortunately, when we got there, we were told that the train left from Montparnasse, nowhere near Gard du Nord.  So we hopped the metro and backtracked to the right station, where we caught the train to Chartres.  The trip took about an hour and we arrived just after 1 p.m.  We walked to the hotel, about a 10 minute walk away,and checked in.  By far the fanciest accommodation we have had to date (Best Western Grande Monarque) – the room is at least triple the size of the one in Paris. Crappy internet connection though!  You would think that a hotel that sells itself as being upscale, all fancy rooms and overpriced dining area, would have a wireless connection that worked!  Not impressed with that part of it.  Rooms in town were at a premium as the Le Mans 24 hour race is on this weekend, Le Mans being very close to Chartres.  We headed out to see the famous Chartres Cathedral, our main reason for coming here.  It was built in the late 1100’s – early 1200’s and looks truly medieval.  Gothic, flying buttresses, immense support columns – it looked like a hunchback should be staring at us from the upper reaches of the towers.

Chartres Cathedral

The arched roof is well over 100 feet high inside and the bell towers are well above that.  We were supposed to get a guided tour but the expert, English speaking, guide was sick so we had to make do with audioguides.  Not the same at all, as the guide is touted to be one of the foremost experts on the place. Also, the main alter was being renovated, so 1/4 of the church was closed off.  Later, we walked around the old part of the town, then bought a few provisions (wine, baguette, cheese) and settled down for our own version of happy hour.  I love the wine in France. Even the cheap wines are excellent!

June 14. Chartres.  Chartres is a nice size – a 15 minute walk will get you anywhere within the downtown area – and attractive.  It has a good layout, with lots of squares surrounded by brasseries, boulangeries and cafes.  Not many places offer breakfast though (even McDonalds was not open till 10) so we bought croissants at a boulangerie and sat down at a cafe.  A lot of locals were doing that too so it must be  the acceptable thing to do.  There is an agriculture museum in Chartres that Bill was interested in seeing, considering his ag background, so we walked over to it and spent a nice few hours being informed about the history of agriculture in the region and checking out the old farm implements and machines.  A nice break from viewing art works, although a lot of the photo displays contained reproductions from Monet, et al, that had farming themes.  The museum was more targeted at French tourists, rather than foreigners, and I doubt that they get a lot of foreign visitors, but it was a pleasant place to spend time.  Headed back to the central part of town for lunch, then just wandered the streets looking at stores and picking up gift items for home.  Gerry had instructions from his daughter to get a specific item at a specific store (St James) that had branch in Chartres but they didn’t have it.  The store keeper gave us instructions on where to find the store in Paris, which promised a further quest.   Following our ritual of a France happy hour (wine, cheese, baguette), we had a late supper and, just after dark, took in the light shows in town.  Many of the churches and other buildings are the sites of projected light shows set to music.

Chartres Cathedral at night

They were very well done, a complete show lasting about 15 minutes on each building.  The relaxed pace of Chartres was like a breath of fresh air after the hubbub of Paris.  No street vendors, panhandlers begging on the street (except for the singing guy in front of the cathedral), or cars flying by on the narrow streets.  This is probably a bedroom suburb of Paris for some people, considering that it is only an hour train ride away, and I can see why some would prefer to live here instead of Paris.

June 15. Chartres to Paris.  Did more last minute shopping after breakfast and took the 11 a.m. train back to Montparnasse.  The St James store that Gerry was looking for was supposed to be on Rue de Rennes, in the Montparnasse area, but turned out to be in the Invalides area, a fair hike away.  But we had lots of time and no other agenda so the 4 of us started walking, rather than take the Metro.  We finally found the place and Gerry was able to get his item, then we walked the rest of the way back to the hotel, stopping again for an overpriced  beer in Tuileries Gardens.  Ended up walking almost 8 km all told.  After supper, Art and Kathy took us to see the Royal Gardens, which was only a few blocks from the hotel and none of us had found before.  What an oasis in the city!  An area twice the size of a football field surrounded on all sides by a chateau, which is why none of us knew about it.  A lot of the buildings in Paris are built in the same way, although on a considerably smaller scale, with a small internal square – normally used for parking cars but sometimes with green space.  The gardens were quiet and serene, with a fountain, flowers, trees and lots of benches.  They also took us to another place  we hadn’t known about – the extensive and very modern shopping centre under the Louvre.  Lots of surprises remain in Paris but no more time to explore.

June 16. Paris to Edmonton.  The hotel had arranged 2 taxis to take the 8 of us to CDG at 7:10 a.m.  Right on time and, unlike a lot of the Paris taxis, lots of space for our luggage.  E60 for the half-hour trip, probably equivalent to St Albert to YEG in distance but most of it through the maze of Paris streets.  Got there with lots of time to spare.  Our plane (Air Canada) was a little delayed but we settled in for the 8-hour flight to Toronto.  The AC 777-300 was infinitely better in comfort and service than the United 767-300 we took to get there.  Roomier seats, nice meal, complimentary wine, more and better movies – what a difference.  Never fly United if you can avoid it!  I bought some wine in the duty free shop in Paris and there was no problem in carrying it in my carry-on all the way to Toronto.  However, once there, we had to clear Canadian customs and re-enter security (stupid bloody system – why can’t they just funnel connecting passengers through a secure area?), so I had to quickly repack the wine in my checked luggage and hope the baggage handlers would be gentle.  After a 4-hour flight we were back home, wine bottle intact (thank you baggage guys), and ready for our own beds.  Great trip!

My lasting impressions of Paris – everybody smokes (impossible to escape from the second-hand smoke), squished dog shit on the sidewalks (apparently much better than in years before but still very noticeable), chaotic driving, narrow streets, superb and inexpensive wines and cheeses (think I’ll miss that most of all), sidewalk cafes and brasseries everywhere, the incongruous compatibility of the super modern La Defense area with old Paris (both wonderful in their architecture). Everyone should visit Paris.

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