Travel Journey of the week: Paris

I discovered yet another weekly challenge that a blog called Liberated Travel has started. Each week they will mention a particular place and you can blog your thoughts, photos, experiences from that location. It probably won’t be somewhere I have been each week but the first one is Paris!

The first time I saw Paris was in 1977 on a school trip. We started in Rome, then took the overnight train to Paris for three days. I’m ashamed to say that the first place we students headed once installed in the hotel was out to find food. At McDonald’s! Eek! It might have been a Sunday but surely there were other, more French places available for a casual lunch than that! And, I recall, it wasn’t very good even though, at the time, we all normally loved McD’s. We had a tour of the city including an inside visit to Notre Dame and the Louvre and a trip up the Eiffel Tower though I didn’t go. I stayed on the ground as it was mid-March, and was chilly and windy even without going up in the air on an open tower. I don’t know really why else I didn’t want to go, as I certainly don’t mind heights but there you are. We had a day on our own and a group of us traveled the Metro up to Montmartre.

I didn’t see Paris again until November 2007 when my fiance and I flew over from Manchester for three days. We got there around noon on a Monday and went out from our Left Bank hotel and found somewhere for lunch. Steak Frites! We even sat outside under a heat lamp just because we could and it was Paris and that’s what you do! We walked to the Seine, then over to see Notre Dame which was every bit as beautiful as you would expect. We walked over to Ile St. Louis and wandered around there after a coffee and cake stop. Eventually, as we’d had an early start that morning, we gathered some take out sandwiches and trudged back to the hotel which seemed like a very long walk away though I think we were just a bit disoriented as to which direction we were going. We didn’t get lost but we thought we were. Looking at the map we thought we were coming from one direction when we were atually headed from the opposite one.

Tuesday was a bit rainy and a number of museums are closed but we managed to find things to keep ourselves occupied. We had breakfast breakfast outdoors in another cafe, one with the outdoor tables surrounded by a plastic “wall” to keep the heat in. We knew the Louvre would be closed but we walked over there anyway to look at the building. It was a good idea, actually as there were not a lot of tourists around. Not like there would be if it had been open, anyway. We walked through the Tuilleries  where we experienced  the “Peekpocket” incident” and from there we went to the Musee D’Orsay. The queue was fairly long but before we got to the desk to pay, we discovered that the part of the gallery we particularly wanted to see was closed. There had been a transportation strike that week and today, apparently, some other unions were joining in sympathy and the museum workers were part of that. They must have had enough non-union workers to keep the museum open in general but not enough to staff all the galleries. I’m not really sure but we didn’t want to pay the entrance if we weren’t going to be able to see what we wanted to see.

From there, over to Place de la Concorde where I took a somewhat rainy ride on the Grande Boule (wheel). Good views. A bit damp. We window shopped our way over to the posh Place Vendome and stopped for lunch between there and the Opera house. We browsed, later, in Galleries Lafayettes which is a beautiful early 20th century department store with a centre court and enormous Christmas tree reaching up to a Deco dome.

It’s getting darker now and we hopped on a bus, (all the transport was free when you managed to get one because of the strike. Strangest strike I’ve ever seen!). First, we got off the bus by the Arc de Triomphe and later the Eiffel tower so we could watch it sparkle at the top of the hour! Beautiful! We hung around there awhile and again, didn’t go up. It was cold and there were a lot of people in the line ups even then. There’s probably no time when it isn’t crowded! It took us quite a wait when we found a Metro station but a train did finally come and we got back to the hotel. We ate in the restaurant below the hotel that night and it was very good! Better than we expected.

Our last full day turned out sunny! Finally! This was our excursion to Montmartre. The bus ride was a bit long but it was free and we could see lots of the city as we went along.  We didn’t find it as quaint as we expected, not at first but then the streets got narrower and cobbled and it felt more like the Montmartre you always hear about. We took the cable car up to Sacre Coeur for the view and walked behind to Place du Tertre where, even in November, there are still artists set up in the square though not nearly as many as in summer. Artists kept stopping us along the way, too, offering to draw our portraits (for a fee, of course). We resisted.

We found a really quaint little restaurant nearby called Le Poulbot which had an amusing little sign on the door and a tempting sounding price fixe menu. Sorted! It was a lovely little place with friendly staff and lots of atmosphere. Once done there, we went back around the corner to a Dali exhibit which we enjoyed. We then just started walking. We really weren’t sure where we were going because we were just off the top of the map we had but figured as long as we headed downhill we’d come to somewhere that was on the map! We actually did have to ask a passer by at one point if we  were more or less in the right direction to eventually arrive near the Moulin Rouge. He pointed us to a little staircase down to Rue Lepic, one of the oldest streets there lined with shops and bakeries and cafes. That came out near the big red windmill of the Moulin Rouge and we were back in a more modern Paris.

We weren’t done yet! We found our way to another bus and got off at the Louvre for the evening opening. In retrospect we probably did try to do too much in one day. I had blister on blister and was pretty worn out by now but we wanted to go in and in we went. It was about 5:00 or so by now and the queues weren’t that long. We did find the leaflet map of the museum confusing but found the famed Mona. That was a bit of a zoo but it’s a must see really. My favourite is actually the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a tall arm and headless statue that was probably a ship’s masthead. We saw a couple of galleries of paintings and the Venus as well but I had reached the end of my rope and needed a sit down and a drink. Even finding a cafe was a chore but we did manage. The Louvre really is somewhere you should tackle in the morning when you’re fresh, I think!

Gluttons for punishment as we were, though, we left there and I was determined to go on a night boat tour of the Seine, justifying it by reason that we would be sitting down and resting the whole way! The dock isn’t far from the Louvre so we trudged across Pont Neuf and down to the dock. Tickets were cash only at the gate so that used up our ready money and we had a 40 minute wait for the next boat but once on it, we spent a lovely hour looking at all the illuminated buildings along the river right around to the Eiffel Tower and back.

Whew! That was a long day. We passed a Chinese restaurant on the way back to the hotel and decided that would suit us very well. We were leaving the next morning via Eurostar to London. I’d like to go back to Paris again and at this point, a short visit is in the planning stage for next spring before also visiting Rouen.

More random photos posted on this blog post.