Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Paris - ring o ring the (roundabout) rosie

Things that make Hel laugh - sirens and burping irons that sound like growling lions! What a laugh huh! She was ironing her jeans when she came out with that little gem. Not a big brekky today - gosh, we were still full from the cheese last night - no, make that earlier this morning!

Planned for a big day today - over to the Arc de Triomphe travelling by metro and then down the Champs Elysee. Hels is not a fan of the underground rail system - whether it be the RER or the local metro. She finds it grubby and smelly and crowded - not good for someone who can get a little claustrophobic at times. All of a sudden I realise that she has never spent any significant time in anywhere with an undergound rail system - unlike Michael and I who commuted in Sydney for years and years. Now I am thinking that I should plan our trips around the bus network, but she insists she is OK - very brave of her (I am not being condescending).

You emerge from the subway onto the Champs Elysee facing the Arc de Triomphe - and what an awesome sight it is. Helen had no idea how big it was - I think I felt the same the first time I saw it. And the traffic that rushes around it put her hearth in her mouth just like it did mine! You hold your breath thinking there is going to be one huge pile-up, but there isn't. It is just so crazy and frenetic. There are a couple of German girls from near Stuttgart of all places trying to get a photo and I offer to take one for them. And they are more than happy to reciprocate. They are excited - they leave the for the US tomorrow and I can't resist giving them a little advice to make dealing with the entry requirements a little easier.

Last night the American couple we met had given us their tickets for one of the open bus tours - the tickets are valid for 2 days and they were leaving today. As luck would have it, the correct bus was sitting at the bus stop at the Arc. Now, Michael and I have used these buses in many cities - some are great, some are very ordinary. I wasn't sure if Helen would be happy to do a tour - it limits you to the main sights route - according to someone else. But no, she suggested that we use the tickets.

It was the best thing we could have done. With the limited time that we have in the City of Light, this was a great way to see all the major sights - and especially those that we knew we are not going to have time to visit seperately. And it gives you a bigger look - you are off the ground and can get a clearer impression of the siting and impressiveness of a place this way. She moved from awed silence, drinking in the atmosphere and the magic of this place and verbal excited chatting. I am so glad that I have her here in Paris with me. I really don't think that there is another person on this globe who sees so close to what I see (and then some I suspect).

When I was downloading the photos we took today (733 between us - her 440 of them!), we have unknowingly taken so many the same or similar in terms of the style, subject and perspective of a photo. Wow, thats my friend, mon ami!

You know there was so much to take in. Helen more than me was in visual overload and I am so glad that she has so many pics because she won't really be able to process them mentally until she is back at home in Australia and over her trip. Been there, happenend to me too. So, what did we see?

So, we left the Arc de Triompe and headed bravely across the intersection where there are up to five lanes of traffic, no lines and almost no rules. But as I said to Helen, the bus is bigger than the rest of the traffic, so we are pretty safe!

The route we follow is:
- down the Champs Elysee, into Winston Churchill Avenue to the Grand and Petit Palaces
- across the Seine to the back of the Trocadero then crawled slowly past so that we could all get a photo with the Eiffel Tower in the background
- around the front of the Trocadero and across the Pont d’Iéna to outside the Eiffel Tower where today there are thousands of people queueing for tickets
- through the Champ de Mars looking on one side back to the Eiffel Tower and on the other to the Ecole Militaire
- around to the Musée du Louvre where we are going tomorrow, admiring the space and use of architecture
- onto the Ilse de Cité to the Notré Dame
- down the Rue Lille to the Musée d'Orsay where the statues on the outside of the building are amazing
- around pass the stunning Opera House with all its gilded statues atop the corners that gleam in the sun
before we turn back onto the Champs Elysee for the journey back up to the Arc de Triomphe. It was quite a journey and the fact that we took so many photos is testament to the amazing sights that the City of Light provides.

By the time we got off the bus a couple of hours later we needed to make a comfort stop. We are passing McDonalds on the Champs Elysee and off Helen trots to join a pretty long looking queue. I didn't expect her back any time soon. After quite a while, she comes out all flustered - she had been stuck, locked in the toilets in Maccas! Hot ladies room, dark walled loos and my poor claustrophobic friend. Gosh, why did it have to happen to her. Anyway, we leave and get her some air outside and look for a nice open cafe to have a coffee. A little further down the Champs Elysee we find it.

We sit inside at the Cafe George V (little tip guys, terrace or pavement orders cost considerably more and I am sure the waiters knowingly encourage tourists to sit outside!) We even managed to order and repsond to our very obliging and engaging waiter in understandable French (wow, I am impressed with us!). We ordered Cafe au Lait and Crepes - mine with Grand Manier and Helen's with Creme Marron - both with Chantilly cream - yu-um! He very kindly offers to take a photo for us as soon as we have the camera out! But it paid off - he got a nice tip!

Cross the road to get a better photo of the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the road and find the banks are all on this side of the street - hurrah, we can replenish our dwindling cash! Then it is back across the road to go to the Virgin MegaStore so we can pre-buy our tickets for the Louvre tomorrow and so avoid the queues - we pay a tiny bit more, but well worth it. Continue down to get photos of the amazing gardens at Franklin Roosavelt Avenue - even though it is now winter and the blossoms are past their best, but the gardens are still stunning.

Then its on to the Metro to go back and have a look at Notre Dame and get there literally 5 minutes after they have closed. Helen had her first encounter with Gypsies around Paris today. Merv (the travel agent back in Maryborough) had warned her about the Africans selling souvenirs near the Eiffel Tower. But the Gypsies are another thing altogether. They are persistent and niggly - they invade your 'space' and here, the opening line is "Speak English?" so if you look dumb, don't make eye contact and just keep walking, the soon lose interest. I have been told by people in a number of cities as we have been travelling that the clever ones can bank up to €2,000 a week!

Afterwards we had a very ordinary dinner at Quasimodo Notre Dame. Guess that close to the Cathedral they serve a-la-tourist food - quick to cook, quick to serve. Get em in, get em fed, get em out!

So what stood out today? Gosh, what a stupid question - we are in Paris for gods sake! But the monuments and fountains are amazing as is the Paris skyline in general. And the Iron Lace on balconies gives the Parisian buildings a look of not only completedness, but also of eternal elegance. It does not matter that it differs from building to building. Because it all follows the same line, they look seamless. Absolutely fabulous!

We see the tunnel where Princess Diana met her death and remember where we were on that day. We hear the bells of the Cathedral chime out across the City.

The dinner cruise boats on the Seine are unbelievable. I mean there are boats running up and down all day long, but those at night have these incredibly strong lights that are directed to the shore. From the Eiffel Tower the other night they are so strong that when the are passing, you lose all your night vision. And when we are in the apartment, they light up both sides of the riverbank. I am so suprised that the powers that be have not legislated against them. It is the arrogance of the tourist industry and visual pollution at its very worst.

So a huge day and we get home knackered. Helen goes to bed early and will no doubt be up halfway during the night! Another big one tomorrow with the Louvre planned.

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