Paris is the world's number one tourist destination. We have a Rick Steve's book. We advise from friends and relatives. We have our own idea of what to do and see.
We have five days.
Arrive by train
|Gare du Nord (North Station)|
Metro from train station. Walk to hotel. Get lost. Paris streets were laid out by drunken cows, no doubt. Ask directions. Drop bags at hotel. Get map from desk clerk. Walk back to Metro. Get to St. Michael's Place for Sandeman "New Europe" walking tour.
|St. Michael is very popular in the Netherlands, Belgium and Paris. |
He's everywhere, like Martin Luther was in Germany.
Tour group is large, but tour is very good. Guide is ex-pat from LA (Los Angeles, not "Lower Alabama"). Native English speakers are predominently from Enland with many Americans and some Australians mixed in. The rest of the group is from other place in Europe except Spain. (see "We learned a few things" below)
We learned a few things.
The Metro system goes everywhere. The ticket machines are really easy to use and take cash. Paris is huge, so there is a lot of walking to/from/between metro stops to get where you are going.
During our time in Brussels, we heard the contrast between the Dutch and the French was the Dutch were all about commerce and function. The Dutch place-names almost always described function and were business related. The French place-names almost always alluded to grandeur and flowed off the tongue smoothly and beautifully - provided you could figure out how to pronounce them. This was doubly true in Paris. Paris was full of fabulous architecture, art and open spaces.
Since the French revolution, they have been very busy tearing down statues and putting up the same or different ones. There were many statues of kings before the revolution but only a few now. There's a parallel here with the Catholic/Protestant church iconography defacing/destruction we saw in the Netherlands. Probably just human nature shining through...
We learned that is was spring break week in Spain and they were all in Paris.
More scenes from the tour
|Faces allegedly made from sketches of drunk guests at King's party.|
|King Henry IV. About the only King statue left in the city. They like this guy. He was big on public works, including the "new" bridge.|
|Love locks. Craze gone crazy. This is about a year's accumulation.|
|The island where Paris started.|
|Former Royal Palace, now the Louvre.|
|Obligatory Louvre pose.|
|Here we are! In Paris!|
|Oh, no! There's a bird on my head! What shall I do?|
One of the few pieces of art in Paris not featuring a half-naked woman and/or someone fighting some strange combination of beasts.
|Luxor obelisk. "Borrowed" from Egypt. |
Includes classy brass hat designed by Yves St. Laurent and instructions for installing on pedestal on base.
It replaced the Guillotine on Concorde Place.
After the tour:
Head over to Notre-Dame. Get lost in underground Metra/RER station. Fight our way to the surface - remain lost. Wait! It's right here! Go inside. Nice church. Not Notre Dame. It's Saint Eustache. Get oriented. How'd we get way over here? Walk a long way... "I think I see it!" Nope. Large bell tower turns out to be Saint Jacques tower. Keep walking....a total of a mile and a half later...
Finally! We make a short visit.
|Gothic guys abound...plus Mary and Jesus above.|
|Mass was taking place, so we didn't linger.|
|Quite an ornate place|
Day two: Museums and stuff
|Orangerie. Napoleon grew oranges here - because he could.|
Now, Monet's giant Water Lillies painting lives here. No pictures allowed inside.
|Just a tiny bit of Water Lillies...|
|Former train station is now a massive collection of impressionist art work.|
|On the way there...nice to see an statue of a boy from back home.|
|You're not supposed to take pictures of the stuff inside, but I suppose an overall shot won't kill anyone....|
|The building was a train station, hence the big clock.|
|I always smile in train stations.|
|Looking out the clock toward Sacre Coeur to the north|
|...clock reminds me of the movie Hugo.|
Montparnesse tower. The Eiflel tower is a good place to go to get a look around, but you can't see the Eifel tower from there. But, you can from Montparnesse tower.
|...and large Eifel Tower|
|Looking down Rue de Rennes. St Sulpice Church (two towers) and St. Germain de Pres (single spire) both on right of road. St. Eustache beyond that on other side of Seine.|
|Us with that tower thing in the background|
|Of course, all this touring can wear you out!|
...and the Arc d'Triumph - which was being repaired...which made it kind of ugly
|Over the past two centuries, lots of armies marched through this arch to celebrate. Germans twice. French twice. British and Americans once.|
Most nights we conked out about dusk, but this night we headed out to see Paris after dark.
|Eiffel tower at dusk|
|No bridge over the Seine is unadorned. Even the modern ones.|
|"New" bridge (now the oldest...) with King's "party heads" on it.|
|Paris lights up everything at night - even the bridges|
Day Three: St Chappelle, Concierge, Sacre Coeur, Tuileries Garden
Saint Chappelle is another medieval church. What sets it apart is the stained glass. They are in the process of restoring the stained glass, so several windows were not viewable, but the remaining ones...
|Small chapel at entrance...just getting warmed up.|
|Massive stained glass windows|
|Each window was a story, and each panel in the window was a sequential portion of the story.|
|From the outside, including 19th century add-on steeple|
It was a very old building - early Medieval - used for a variety of functions over it's life, including a palace, but the most notorious was as a "holding pen" for the 40,000 or so about carted off to Concorde Place for a close shave.
|Main area where the soon to be condemned had their simplified trial and brief waiting period prior to execution.|
|Room where Marie Antoinette stayed prior...Cake was not served.|
We wandered along the island and found a nice place to sit and eat the bread and cheese we toted along for lunch.
|Square de la Place Dauphine (the square at crown prince's plaza?)|
|Cafe in Montmartre|
We spent the rest of the day in and around the Tuileries Garden.
|Joan of Arc keeps watch over Concorde Place|
|Napoleon marched his Grande Armee though this one. The horses on the top are ushering in "peace".|
|This fellow rents sailboats to sail in the Garden's ponds.|
Day Four: Versailles
It's a short train ride out to Versaille on an RER-C train.
|All aboard! |
Actually, in Europe they traditionally blow a whistle to close the doors and get rolling.
These trains and the Metros have simulated whistle tones that replace the "all aboard" call Americans are used to.
We purchased and printed our tickets way back when we were still in the Netherlands - including a guided tour of the King and Queen's apartments.
...which was good news and bad news and good news.
The good news was that our tour tickets allowed us to bypass the entire security line and get checked in for the tour directly, joining the throngs in the palace at the end of the tour. No long security line!
The bad news was, we didn't know this and waited through the long security line, only to leave the secure area and buy a garden's ticket - which we should have done directly in the first place...just in time to leave that and go on our guided tour. Wasted a bit over an hour doing this cha-cha.
The good news was - well - "It's good to be the King!"
In fact, it's so good to be the king, Versailles gets it's own blog page!
Day Five: Climbing up Eiffel tower, Louvre
We had to. We just couldn't not. We had to go back to the Eiffel tower and walk up. So, we did.
|First you have to brave some pretty substantial lines.|
|Structure with style!|
|She's got legs! (and knows how to use them)|
|Quite a bit of less-than-substantial steel work. |
Lacey trusses between box beam.
|What used to make the elevators go|
|Stairs! Lots of them! We climbed all the way up to the second floor. 700+ steps. |
Got shooed off the first floor because of an unattended bag, so went straight up to second floor.
|Lines are like this all day long. Not very well organized or policed.|
|All is right with the world. Belgium chocolate and Diet Coke (aka Coca Cola Light)|
|Lots of cool symmetry.|
|Ants. And this from only part way up.|
|Looking down the Seine.|
|Metro over. Tour boat under.|
Finally, the Louvre. A monumentally large place. You can get "museumed out" in a hurry unless you choose which sections interest you most.
|From the inside, looking out.|
|Typical gallery hall|
|Marriage of Figaro|
|This guy has the most important job!|
|Appropriate for the day before Easter!|
|Glazed brick lion|
|A bazillion artifacts|
Venus de Milo...
|circa 1860 dining hall...|
Some statues...there were lots and lots
|Some babies watching some other babies getting mauled by some cat/dog looking thing.|
|Stone cold stupid.|
|I think this is a very important thing. |
Something like an early "bill of rights" or Magna Carta perhaps?
Thus endeth Day Five.
Our hotel and neighborhood.
One of the nice things about Paris is you can stay in a small hotel that's in a residential neighborhood. We stayed in "Hotel Joyce" which is a part of a larger chain, but was right in the middle of the ninth arondissement (district).
|Nearby plaza - typical of central Paris|
|The elevator was this wide. Just big enough for two with suitcases.|
|Breakfast area used old car seats.|
|Nearby Pizza joint "Pi Hour". They had Belgium beer on tap!|
|Room had a view...sort of. |
Montparnesse tower in the back. Peaked roof opera house in front of that.
|Hotel had LED lights embedded in the floor. Weird, but cool!|
Odds and ends
A Belgium TV channel played US movies every night with Dutch subtitles. It was the only TV channel with English-speakers other than the news and BBC. One night, "Inglorious Basterds" was on. I watched a bit. All was cool until the characters started speaking in German, which they did a good bit. The American version used English subtitles during this part, but I got Dutch subtitles in Brussels. What did I learn from this? Dutch and German are very similar, they just build their sentences backwards from each other.
Dutch and German words also sound a great deal like they're spelled - using standard English phonics, that is.
Then there is French.
Trying to tease the meaning out of written French is almost possible. English and French both share some common Roman/Latin heritage so there are lot of similar words with similar meaning. It ends there, though. Listening to French is maddening and trying say anything is even worse. They only seem to use about 1/3 of the letters in a word but which ones get pronounced when appears to be completely random. The best lesson I got in French pronunciation was riding the Metro Line 2 which had automated station announcements. I thought I might be getting somewhere until I heard "Hchumm". Was the automated voice clearing her throat? Too much phlegm from smoking too much? No. That's how they pronounce "Rome". That's when I gave up. But, I can find the ham (jambon) and cheese (fromage) sandwich on any menu!
Smoke gets in your eyes
This man is "Mr. Smokestoomuch". Don't be fooled by that British accent. He must be French. They definitely smoke too much, particularly the young people. Unlike the US and elsewhere, where smoking is declining, it's actually increasing in France. It's a bit disheartening...and annoying. If you don't like smoke, then you pretty much don't want to sit outside at a cafe. You will get smoke blown on and around you - although a little secondhand smoke never killed anyone, I hope.
French grocery stores have huge wine sections. That's bad and good. It's bad, because there are too many to chose from. It's bad because none of the French wine seem to have familiar names. You want a Cabernet Sauvignon? Good luck! It's good, because it really doesn't matter what you choose. It's ALL good.
Paris is a cloudy, rainy city. Or so we've heard.
Not while we were there! Paris was a city of limestone dust! (and lots of sunshine, as you can see from the pictures!) Practically every park walkway was made from native limestone and there was nary a drop of rain to keep the dust down. Started out the day with black jeans, came home with gray.
Boston is not so bad
Most of American cities, even the older ones have streets laid out in nice grids. Boston is probably the worst with lots of curvy streets right in the heart of town. But, that's nothing! These old medieval cities were laid out by drunk cows! There are no right angle intersections anywhere. Amsterdam, Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, Paris - all bad! Paris was the worst, mostly because of it's size and how street names changed at every other intersection. We got thoroughly lost going three blocks from the Metro to our hotel - and we had directions!
Pardon me, do you speak English?
In Paris, the answer is always "no", if you want to hang on to your money, that is. Paris must be world headquarters for pickpockets. There are warning signs everywhere - even inside the Louvre. The main scam being run is by people, mainly young girls, asking, "Do you speak English". Once you stop, you're toast, apparently. You will either get conned or pickpocketed or both. The statistics are grim - something like 1 in 50 tourists get hit. I spent a lot of my time with my hands in my front pockets on my wallet, camera and phone....and, no, I don't speak English!
We got your Eiffel towers right here....everywhere!
Everywhere you go in the touristy areas of Paris there are guys selling Eiffel towers. Big ones. Small ones. Ones that light up. Ones that are key chain fobs. Red ones. Blue ones. Silver ones. Gold ones. All kinds - and sometimes other stuff like hats and purses. They are apparently not allowed to do this, as the Police will occasionally chase them away. They keep their displays on mats with handles for making fast exits. Sometimes you see them running en masse with the gendarmes right behind on their bikes.
Here's a whole gauntlet of them set up near Concorde Place.