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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

TP goes to Paris. A travelogue.

It’s long, if you don’t have the time, skip the text and just check out the pictures.

Day miuns 1
I finished work early, because it was my last day and I could. At 8 I drove to Coventry with Him, where we stayed over with the friends we were going to Paris with, lets call them Gem and Jam.

He went to bed early, because he loves sleep and was preparing himself for the 3:30am start the next day. I went to bed shortly after him because I was preparing myself for the 3:30am start the next day. Gem and Jam are vampires and like to stay up late. They went to after 12, at least that’s what I think.

In the night we were visited by Gem and Jam’s cat – although I slept right through it.

Day 1 – getting there

Meep meep!!!!
The alarm went off at an ungodly hour. We didn’t bother to close the curtains because we were getting up so early it would be dark anyway. The cats came and investigated the voices they heard, and invaded the bed. I dragged Him out of bed – at this point he would’ve slept right through the holiday if he could.

Gem and Jam had showers! They are bonkers, it’s 3:30 in the morning! There’s no breakfast for me because I don’t eat milk and there’s no bread – so we all resolve to eat at the airport.

Bleary eyed Him, Gem, Jam and I load the car and set off to the airport. We go into the wrong carpark. When we try to leave it tells them us we have to pay £6. The carparking machine is having a joke. Jam presses the buzzer and admit to our blunder. We find the right car park, park and unload our stuff. I am carrying by far the biggest bag because I am vain and think Paris will be my own personal fashion show. As is always the case this vanity backfires later on.

We find our departure terminal and join a queue for the departure desk – except it is for Amsterdam not Paris. We would probably have been in the wrong queue until we reached the front if I wasn’t such a nosey parkers as to listen to other people’s conversations.

Sans bags (already using my French!) we go up the escalator, through passport control (I think?) and through security. At which point I’m stopped. I’m always getting searched. I must look shifty, like a drug dealer. Either that or it was the studded belt I was wearing.

Breakfast was terrible and overpriced. I do not recommend departures at Birmingham airport for meals.

Arriving in Paris
Excited, we filed off the plane, onto a bus and to the airport, where they were successfully allowed into the country. All our bags arrived too, that is, except mine. Frustrated, but resigned to my fate, I asked an airport woman where my bag was in terribly phrased, broken French. The airport woman took pity on me and replied in perfect English for me to follow her.

The bag, the biggest bag of them all, a monument to my madness, was lost. Airport woman did not know where it was. I described my bag and left. Somehow loosing my favourite scarf at the same time – and not even noticing until I was on the Rossibus to the centre of Paris.

Luckily I had packed the Time Out guide to Paris in my hand luggage, so we were able to find our way to their hotel with relative ease and only a few cross words all before the rooms were available. I say rooms, but on arrival at the hotel, only Gem and Jam’s room was booked, not my room. So far it was not going well.

The man on reception at the hotel understood my pseudo-French and found a room for us, which even had a balcony. Bags were dropped off, except mine, which was somewhere in the ether, and the ‘gang’ set off into town. Most probably to find food.

There was a bakery just down the street from the hotel – this provided daily nourishment, fortifying us before we left to explore the city.

Day 1 – after arrival
Day 1 is a bit of a blur – I was missing my bag, this preoccupied my mind. Through looking through photos, I can piece together the following.

We walked down rue Saint-Michel to the Seine. It was raining a bit. We then walked the ‘wrong way’ down the Seine and came to a homeless encampment. There were a lot of tents here, under the numerous bridges the cross the Seine. We did not stay long – it was raining more.

We wandered along some more, crossing the river and heading towards the Bastille. After a LOT of walking, we found it – it’s not there anymore. It’s an opera house, and an ugly one at that. There’s a statue – but it commemorates something else. So we had coffee. Except I had tea and Gem had hot chocolate and He had nothing.

Tea cup egg

It was still raining, but I had an umbrella, and the metro was just outside the café – so we pushed onward. We had dinner. Again someone took pity on my poor attempt at French. The sink rocked.

the sink

Next, on Andygrrl’s recommendation, we went to Shakespeare and Co., a little English language bookshop right opposite Notre Dame. Crammed to the rafters. and with books in every nook and cranny, Shakespeare and Co. did not disappoint – in fact we wanted to move in and live on the beds tucked away among books in the reading rooms upstairs. The mirror of love was mesmerizing.


Advice in Shakespeare & Co.

Mirror of love

Now dead on our feet, we mooched about the outside of Notre Dame, then got the metro back to our hotel, where we tried to drink very cheap French wine, and I tried to call the airport in an attempt to locate my missing bag.

As I settled down to a night in travel tired clothes with dirty teeth and smudged eye make up, accepting the fact I would look a shocking sight the next day in borrowed clothes from Him I got a call from reception – my bag had arrived! It had been missing for about 14 hours.

Day 2 – the world’s longest day

Much to our confusion we woke at 10, but it was really 11, and then later it was actually 12. We went to rue Mouffetard (muff tard!) to see the market. Gem and Jam have better pics – mine sucks.

rue Mouffetard

Quintessentially French looking people were dancing to karaoke outside the market. The gang then walked up rue Descartes, and to a large building that none of us could name. So we took some pictures, of it and the surrounding buildings, Frenchness oozed from them. There were yellow ribbons tied to everything – from what we could figure there was a fundraising event for cancer going on. It turns out it was the Pantheon.


French appartments

This is the first time we saw the Eiffel Tower.

View of the Effel Tower from the Pantheon

We couldn’t go down the road we wanted because it was closed off – due to protests and riots that had taken place the day before. The French prime minister wants to introduce an English initiative to reduce the 23% unemployment among French youth (under 26s) [tangent]which means I am still a ‘youth’, as such I should be out causing trouble not typing a million word travelogue that no one will read all the way through [/tangent]. The law, designed to make ‘youth’ more attractive to employers will mean employer’s can fire anyone under 26 within 2 months of employing them without having to give reason. This sounds pretty wank, but apparently this is the ‘probationary’ period we have in the UK.

After eating (the search for food was a key feature of this holiday) we went to Notre Dame. Inline skaters were turning tricks for cash outside.

From the top of Notre Dame looking down at rollerbladers

The tower tour was worth the queue, and the view was fantastic. We even saw the famous chimera (which was in Scooby-doo this afternoon, they were in Paris – I recognised all the sights!) and the bell. No hunchback though.

Stained glass window, Notre Dame

Chimera, Notre Dame

View of Paris from Notre Dame

Bell tower, Notre Dame

From the top of the tower we could hear saxophone, and through my monocular (a leaving gift from work) I spied a band playing on a bridge from the island over to the right bank. This is where we headed next.

They were a jazz/blues band and they were taking turns to perform with a guy and bicycle, while one was performing the other was having a break.

Blues band


Next we headed to the Louvre, passing theses ingenious ‘shops’ on the way – boxes attached to the walls along the Seine.


We didn’t go in the Lourve, we just checked prices, tried to find food, and in the end headed back to the hotel, agreeing to go see the Tower in the dark, before getting some dinner and going to a jazz club (ooh la la).

The Eiffel Tower was fantastic. Heavily guarded by armed soldiers, but fantastic. Brilliantly lit, amazing views, bats flying past us, little tiny birds, fascinating structures and workings (for me, I’m a geek) and hardly any people. The hourly light show was on while we were up there.




from the top of the tower

inner workings

Along the seine from the tower

Arc du Triomphe from the Eiffel Tower

I don’t know how long we stayed, though it was about to close when we finally left at what must have been about 11:30. We rushed to the station, the metro closed at 12:30, and took the train to Notre Dame for dinner.
We sat down, to our salads in bread bowls, at about 1 am. Washed down with a Chardonnay and a game of cards, we didn’t make it to the jazz club in the end – it had already closed.

Late dinner

Because the metro had stopped running we knew it was going to be a long walk home to the 13th arr.

Day 3

Our feet were pounding by now, mine throbbed. Resolving to do less walking, and take the metro more we set off around the Maraias. Walking.

After getting a bit sidetracked, we located the main street and were aghast at the prices. I have no pictures :o(.
Next we were off to the Eiffel Tower again, this time to the top floor. Gale force winds, I swear. Three helicopters flew past.

Eiffel Tower by day, through trees

From the top of the tower

The whole length of it, oooh!

We had crepes, banana and chocolate for me, before walking to the Arc du Triomphe. To be honest, it was a bit disappointing, as was the Champs Elyeese – though I did get two cds after going against Andy’s advice and going into Virgin megastore. My excuse is they’re French, and chanson no less.

Aru du Triomphe

After walking all the way down the Champs Elyeese (remember, we weren’t supposed to be doing much walking today) we tried to go to the Louvre.

Maintaining our anonymity

View of the Arc du Triomphe down the Champe Elyesee

We missed out though, because it closed at 5:30, just as we were arriving (we were oblivious to time for the entire holiday). I took some pictures of the pyramid though.

Louvre pyramid

Glass pyramid of the Louvre

Ducks on the pyramid

Exhausted, we headed back to arr. 13 for dinner. After soaking aching feet we planned to find a chanson bar recommended in the guide as being the smallest venue in Paris and having over 2000 instruments on the walls. It was neither of these things – though it was worth the walk. It was called La folie un tete; the bar man laughed at my French.

La folie un tete

Street ahead

Here am I, after ½ a bottle of wine and a Kronenbourg. Rockin’ the leopard print.


Day 4
For the past 3 days we’d heard news reports about riots and protests planned to take place throughout France, and particularly in Paris on the 28th, the day we were scheduled to leave. Our hotel had recommended we book a shuttle to the airport, tourist information had told us public transport was likely to be off, CNN reported it was gong to be severely affected. We took our chances though.

The metro was running a reduced service – but out line was not hit (phew!). We got to the central station where we could catch Rossirail, the bus we caught from the airport was not running at all due to the strikes. Gar du Nord, the main station, was a warren of platforms and tunnels. The signs were all in French, and the pace was so fast my GCSE French just couldn’t cope. We were totally perplexed – and we looked it. Lucky for us, a young French woman noticed, and advised us twice where to go. We tried, but we were none the wiser. She spotted us looking lost again, and because she was some kind of wonderful woman, guided us through the station right to our train. A train we would never have found if not for her.

Despite what you might hear, everyone we met was nice, friendly and helpful, especially this woman. Don’t believe what 'they’ say about the French.


Andygrrl said...

oh dear, I knew I should have mentioned that bit about the Bastille....

and sweet jesus, you walked all the way from Notre Dame to the 13 arrondissement??

But I'm glad you managed to have some fun! And buying CDs at the Virgin Megastore is totally justified if they're French ;-)

Chameleon said...

Fab pics, TP! I especially appreciated the ones with the magnificent views - as I have a loathing of claustrophobic winding staircases and even if there are lifts am too scared of heights to feel completely at ease, so I never have the chance to savour such vistas.

ms-violet said...

Great pics, TP!

Andrea said...

I can't see half your pics goddamit! :(

Abie said...

Hi, I found myself here completely by chance, looking for a good jpeg of the Shakespeare and Co stamp.
It's always interesting, for a Parisian, to discover how tourists see the city...

Just one thing, though :
"employer’s can fire anyone under 26 within 2 months of employing them"
If only...
The "test period" for this "First Job Contract" (Contrat Première Embauche) was supposed to last for two years, with no explanation to be given if they get fired!
No wonder the students took to the streets.

The CNE (New Job Contract) was essentially the same, but w/o age limit, and limited to very small companies. This one was not withdrawed and is proving an embarrassement everywhere : bosses use it to force their employees to do anything (unpaid hours, working on their off day...) and if they refuse... the boot!

Oh, and great pics too! :)