Posted in Europe, France, Paris

Paris, je t’aime – Day 7


27 March, 2010

The day turned out very… German! In the sense that wherever I went, I mostly kept hearing German speech around, while it hadn’t been the case previuosly.

In the morning I felt like visiting The Centre Georges Pompidou. I took the metro to Les Halles, walked out of the station and… stood agape. First, the weather was so nice and pleasant! Second, my eye was caught by the very beautiful Saint-Eustache church, around which everything was blooming with white and pink flowers. And third, I saw a black cat. Then – another one at a distance, and one more a little further. These were live cats, not figurines, as I initially thought: they were moving their heads and ears, licking and grooming, although sitting in the same place all the time. But when a fourth cat, also black, jumped down from somewhere above, I thought I was going crazy!

Generally, the place – Forum des Halles – was unimaginably beautiful! All the greenery, flowering trees, fountains, bridges and crossings, and the sky with white puffy clouds looked absolutely fantastic (okay, the sky did turn grey at some points, but I really don’t know how come all my pictures seem to capture only these moments)!

After a bit of a walk around the place, I found the Centre Pompidou, but for some reason decided against going in. Instead, as I was feeling like walking even more, I took the tube to the Luxembourg Gardens.

On the way, a guy with some papers came up to me and started shilling for something, but I cut him short: «J’comprends pas!» – I told him cheerfully. The guy made ​​another attempt: «Español?» – «Non!» – I replied. «English?» – Again: «Non!». Looks like this simple trick was the best I could think of – the guy just shrugged and walked away.

I really enjoyed the Jardin de Luxembourg. Again, largely because of the weather – it turned out that it majorly affects your impressions about a particular place. From time to time it was drizzling, but despite this it was bright and sunny, and beautiful white pillow-like clouds were sailing across the sky. Among the rich greenery, here and there, there were sculptures of various French queens – starting from the canonized Clotilde, Bathilde and Mathilde up to Mary Queen of Scots and Marie de’ Médici. I couldn’t find Marguerite de Valois or Catherine de’ Medici though – not sure whether it was me not searching properly, or for some unknown reason they are not represented there at all.

Around noon, I deigned to dine at the brasserie “Le Luco” on Boulevard St.-Michel. I had duck fillet in pepper sauce, and crème brûlée for dessert.

After fortifying myself with nice food, I walked to the Montparnasse Tower, in order to head up its viewing platform – I had heard that the queues there were much shorter than to the Eiffel Tower, plus you would get a view of the Eiffel Tower as well. So, together with other tourists, I took the lift to the 56th floor, the whole outer wall of which was basically one large window providing excellent panoramic view of the whole Paris. There I also came across a Russian tourist group of a very impressive size: apparently they had just arrived, as the tour guide, who, by the way, was telling very interesting stories, kept repeating: “This I will show/tell you tomorrow/the day after tomorrow/later”.

From the 56th floor, I got to the last one, the 59th, where the viewing platform was. Great view, it’s just a pity that the Champs Elysees were far away – I really wanted to get a bird’s-eye view of the Place de l’Étoile to make sure that the place really looks like a star.

Then I went back to the hotel, where I somehow managed to twist my ankle (right in the hotel room, wearing ordinary slippers and not killing stiletto heels as one might have thought!), so didn’t go anywhere in the evening. My ankle hurt so badly that I was struggling to walk the distance from my bed to the bathroom! So I called my Azeri friend, who had twisted her ankle a week before, and she brought some gel, which made me feel better. We stayed in all evening, listening to music, eating sandwiches, chatting and laughing.

Posted in Europe, France, Paris

Paris, je t’aime – Day 3


23 March, 2010

There wouldn’t be need to write anything if the day hadn’t been somewhat… well, stupid. It started quite sensibly though. We took the good old city sightseeing bus again, as the ticked was valid for 48 hours (and thus, the whole previous day we had been using it as public transport, circling and circling around the same places), intending to go to the Arc de Triomphe. But then, just as the day before, our plans changed en route. We learned from the driver that the Seine cruise tickets could be purchased directly from him and decided not to waste time while the weather was so lovely. We got off near the Eiffel Tower and went down to the Seine. Having already bought the tickets, we successfully avoided a very long queue, which included an unimaginable number of school-age children – mostly British, interspersed with a few German and French kids – in short, a pretty noisy crowd.

On the boat we were accompanied by a guide, who was making comments in French, English, Spanish and Italian. An hour later, we disembarked near the Eiffel Tower (again!) and started thinking of the quickest way to get the Champs Elysees (Attention, the first and stupidity of the day is about to begin!).

The idea to take the tour bus again was rejected by me, as in this case we would have to make almost a full circle. The idea to walk was rejected by Mom – although, as it turned out later, it would have been the best one.

Then I suggested taking the tube, as it looked like we’d get there with no changes. So, we reached the station, the sign above which read «RER», with a notice that the Métro station was 300 metres away. We followed the indicated direction until we ended up in a really stupid place, and there was no tube station in sight. I said we should go back to the RER station and take the train there – for some reason it got in my head that it was an RER line indicated on the map, rather than a tube line. Naturally, it turned out that the RER wasn’t going to the Place de l’Etoile from there! We had to try walking in the direction of the sign once again and ask how to get to the tube, and we found out that we had to walk about fifty more metres from the aforementioned “stupid place”. Well, who would have known that the station called «Bir-Hakeim – Tour Eiffel», which was supposed to be the closest one to the Eiffel Tower, was actually a mile and a day away from it?! And then we had to walk even more under the ground until the Arc de Triomphe exit. By the way, the Paris Métro was not particularly impressive.

On top of all the “joys” of the day, I got stuck in the turnstile! I’m sure that the ticket was validated normally, because I saw the words: «Reprenez votre billet», and so I had to push the turnstile, and then the double door gates. Now, the turnstile worked as it should, but the gate simply wouldn’t open! In the end, I somehow managed to slip through a crack between the gates.

When we eventually reached the Champs Elysees, it was already lunchtime in full swing, so we decided to find a restaurant. Among those rejected was an Italian restaurant (it’s ridiculous to go to one in Paris!) and the famous «Fouquet’s» (too few dishes on the menu for too high a price). Looks like we made the correct choice in the end: we really enjoyed the «Chez Clément» restaurant with its nice interior a lot. And most importantly… they had oysters! I was even able to explain what we wanted to the waitress in French. I asked her which ones were the best. She replied that she didn’t eat oysters, but usually the largest ones are the most delicious, and the largest oysters on the menu were the Creuse de Bretagne № 2. She brought us the oysters – six large molluscs on a bed of crashed ice, with vinegar and lemon. The taste was very original. I find it hard to say with certainty how much I liked them, but at least they weren’t disgusting. They had a mucus-like texture and tasted somewhere between black caviar (mind you, I’m no oligarch, it’s just that I come from a country where black caviar is quite abundant and relatively cheap!) and pickled herring (especially if eaten with vinegar).

After lunch, we tried to do some shopping on the Champs Elysees, but weren’t really in the mood for that. Plus, in one of the stores – attention, another stupidity! – I nearly left my camera in the dressing room.

So we decided to walk to the hotel, via the Place de la Concorde and Rue de Rivoli.

Once back in the hotel, I called a friend to meet him in the evening. We met at Saint Germain des Près, where I arrived without incidents this time, albeit in a terrible rush hour.

We wandered through the neighbourhood a bit and then took a tube to the Trocadero square in order to take photos of the Eiffel Tower illuminated by night. And it was really beautiful! It turned out that it sparkles with lights for five minutes every hour, and we arrived just in time to see that. The Trocadero was crowded, much more than in daytime.

Posted in Europe, France, Paris

Paris, je t’aime – Day 2


22 March, 2010

It was a long and rich day full of impressions! It began at 9 am, when we left the hotel after the breakfast. The original plan to go to the Louvre was dropped immediately, because the weather was delightful and promised to stay delightful all day, so spending a day indoors would have been a sin!

And so we walked to the quay of the Seine, and decided to go to the Champs Elysees from there, but this plan was soon changed as well, and we headed to the Eiffel Tower.

The road to the tower was not much impressive, but something strange happened there. Some dodgy-looking guy rushed towards us with a gold ring, asking if it was ours. After he learned that it wasn’t, he began actively trying to foist it on us, pointing at its countersign and insisting it was genuine. And then he began to beg for money to buy a sandwich and a Coke. When we asked a completely fair question on why he wouldn’t take the ring instead and sell it, he said that he was a Baptist. Somehow he managed to wheedle 4 euros out of us (yes, I always knew that the word “DUPE!” was written in large letters on my forehead). As for the ring, we decided to throw it out of harm’s way, as the whole story seemed too suspicious. Thinking back now, I realise that there wasn’t need to worry too much – the ring, according to its weight, was not gold at all, and most probably this is a common scam.

Then we walked to the Eiffel Tower without any incidents. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to go up, as the queue was unbelievable and we didn’t want to waste time standing in it. Especially that there were a lot of gypsy beggars scurrying around, soldiers with weapons, and more dodgy guys selling Eiffel Tower figurines and trying to palm them off on us. However, at some point they suddenly started off to run somewhere simultaneously! Most likely, they were running from the police, but my mom’s comment really made me laugh: “Where are they running? Did anyone tell them that more dupes had arrived?”

The Eiffel Tower itself made me want to take an infinite number of pictures of it. And the sight of this beauty was simply breathtaking. However, if you look closer, the tower doesn’t have any special beauty. By essence, it is a pretty ugly construction. So, I think that its beauty is a purely psychological phenomenon – it is the main symbol of Paris, one of the world’s major attractions, so our eyes are used to considering it beautiful.

After viewing the tower on all four sides and at least a dozen of photos made, we decided to take a bus tour around the city, taking advantage of the good weather (quite unusually, it didn’t start raining with wind, as it always happens when I get in an open-topped tour bus!). And this, I must say, was a very good idea. Such tours should always be taken at the very beginning of one’s stay in a city – it allows to understand its structure and logic, and at the same time to determine the places that you want to visit later. Especially that there are always places that you generally do find interesting, but seeing them from the bus is just enough, and in the future you don’t have to spend time on visiting them. For example, the Place de la Concorde, which we drove through so many times that we definitely didn’t want to visit it separately.

We got off near the Notre Dame Cathedral, looking for a place to eat, but for some reason couldn’t find anything other than sandwiches and croque-monsieurs. So we had to get on the bus once again and head to the Galeries Lafayette.

This area is somewhat like the City of London, where the majority of people are wearing suits and there are lots of banks around – Commerzbank, BNP Paribas, etc. We managed to find a restaurant here.

Looking through the menu, I came across a dish called «Rôti de chapon aux cèpes avec Gratin Dauphinois», and became interested, because I had previously heard of Gratin Dauphinois being a very tasty potato dish. I had no clue what “chapon” was, though, so I asked the waiter. He replied that it was “le coq”, and mimed the process of castration. By the way, the poor cockerel tasted quite good, and the Gratin Dauphinois was absolutely fabulous!

After lunch, replete and happy, we continued our tour bus, to go back to Notre Dame de Paris and get inside. As there was still plenty of time before the 6 pm mass, which we very much wanted to attend, we decided to get off near the Eiffel Tower once again and have a cup of coffee in one of the outdoor cafes.

Then we caught another bus and headed directly to Notre Dame de Paris. On the way, I made a few observations. First, it is the love of the French for their flag. It seems to be everywhere: not only over every state institution, but also over all billboards.

Secondly, it is the huge number of motorcycles on the roads, I’ve never seen that many before! And most importantly, they tend to rush at a crazy speed!

And third, I noticed that the names of shops, cafes and hotels are directly dependent on the location. For example, they are all called “Madeleine” in the neighbourhood of the Madeleine Church, or “Notre Dame” in the area of Notre Dame de Paris.

Speaking about the Notre Dame Cathedral, initially, we were prepared to stand in a long queue for an 8-euro ticket. As we approached the tail of the queue, we noticed a sign, saying that there was no point in joining the queue, as that was it for the day. We got very upset, but then decided to ask how to get to the mass, and found out that the entrance was through the church, and it was free! Frankly, I didn’t understand what these guys in the queue were planning to pay 8 euros for, because inside, we were able to view everything free of charge. Actually, “free” is a bit of an overstatement, as we had to spend money on candles, and metal medals “for luck”, and the entrance to the treasury of the church, and the donation after the mass.

The treasury was well worth the three euros paid for it – it had amazingly beautiful goblets, finger rings, busts of various archbishops, as well as objects of unknown purpose, probably just for decoration.

We highly enjoyed the mass itself too. The service started with vespers at 17.45, followed by the mass at 18.15. Everyone was given sheets of paper with the lyrics of hymns and psalms in Latin and French. Since, wishing to see everything well, we sat in one of the front rows, we had to sing along with everyone. But it all sounded truly divine! The next part mostly consisted of preaching and talking about the biblical Susanna and the two elders, occasionally interrupted by chants such as «Kyrie Eleison».

Generally, looking at all this, I come to the conclusion that if I was a believer, I’d certainly be a Catholic. Because only Catholic churches, services and rituals make me feel awe, albeit minimal. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that I would be able to listen to stories of Susanna, the elders, and others like them with sincere reverence.

Leaving 2 euros as a donation, we left the cathedral just in time to catch the last tour bus, which dropped us off at the Grand Opera, from which we had to walk to our hotel. Once near the Boulevard des Capucines, we decided to have dinner somewhere. Seeing «Le Grand Café des Capucines», I got quite excited about oysters in the menu exposed in front of the cafe, but my mom flatly refused to try them. For the sake of revenge, I suggested Pizza Hut, where the pizza was very, very mediocre.