Posted in Europe, France, Paris

Paris, je t’aime – Days 8 & 9


28 March, 2010

This was my most idle day in Paris. I was going to meet a friend for lunch, and didn’t know how to kill the time before that. I couldn’t really go anywhere as my ankle still hurt. When I saw 12:00 on my mobile, I started getting ready, but then, giving my watch a glance, realised that I somehow managed to change the clock not one hour, but two hours ahead, so it turned out I had an extra hour to kill!

When I arrived to the place we agreed on (near the metro Bastille; while getting there, I saw the Canal Saint-Martin from the train window, where Amélie Poulain was throwing pebbles, not sure where exactly – the channel is pretty long), I had to wait for my friend for an hour! It turned out that she was coming by car, and not by metro, in order to save time, and it turned out even worse – some roads were closed.

But at least, on her way she called the Latin American restaurant “Barrio Latino” we were intending to go to, and made a reservation (we found out that you had to make one to be allowed in). So there we went, and we had a very good time. The restaurant was absolutely packed, because on Sundays, those who took a brunch buffet were offered free salsa lessons. We were sitting on the second floor, watching people dance downstairs.

As for the rest of the day, I had to spend it in my hotel room – all my friends were busy this evening, and I still wasn’t able to walk by myself.

29 March, 2010

My last day in Paris – hopefully, the last one this time. In the morning I rushed to buy some makeup, and also chocolates for my colleagues in the office (my ankle was doing much better). The weather was very good, and all the beggars had gladly poured into the streets. Speaking of beggars, I didn’t mention earlier that there were a lot of them here! Some of them just sat quietly and peacefully in the streets with signs saying there were hungry, and always with pets (mostly dogs, although I once saw a cat too). I don’t quite get the point of this, probably they have those pets for company, or maybe the sight of a poor hungry animal is intended to soften the Parisians’ hearts more than that of a poor hungry person. And some others keep constantly pestering you in the street, coming up with different tricks – just like that scam with the ring that we had had the pleasure to witness and take part in.

So, after shopping, I decided to visit Versailles, especially that the weather, as I said before, was good. But, as a Ukrainian proverb says (I couldn’t find its English equivalent anywhere), if a poor man is going to get married, the night will be short. In the beginning everything was going fine. I took the metro to Saint-Michel, then changed to RER to Versailles – and there I went, admiring the beautiful scenery along the way – the suburbs of Paris are much greener and more picturesque than the city itself, especially with all the flowering trees!

Once in Versailles, I decided to have lunch first. The waiter in a local restaurant was just bursting with compliments – ah, “princesse”, etc.

After lunch, I walked to the palace, and once in its territory, paid attention to the suspiciously small number of visitors for such a famous landmark. My worst suspicions were confirmed when I went to the ticket office: “Le château est fermé le lundi” (“The castle is closed on Mondays”) – read the sign categorically. Who would have thought that it might be closed on a day like Monday! I should have checked though…

But at least, the park and gardens were open, of course. I wasn’t really up to walking around on foot, but luckily I noticed a little train running through the territory. The ride on the train was very enjoyable – the sun was shining, there were beautiful green lawns and sheep everywhere.

Having made a full circle, I went back to the station, and returned to Paris. But before going to the hotel, I went to Montmartre to see and photograph the Moulin Rouge! And in the evening I met some of my French friends.

Overall, I liked Paris a lot. It’s true that I didn’t have to deal with any local crime or the local bureaucracy. But still, it’s a wonderful city, and I hope to be back some day!

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 6


26 March, 2010

Today our ranks have thinned – Mom took a flight back to Baku. The day didn’t turn out particularly exciting – perhaps to some extent because of the weather: it’s quite cold today (well, not like -20C, of course, but still very little enjoyable), windy, raining occasionally (if not hailing!), even though the sun kept peeping out every now and then.

First thing in the morning, to my displeasure, we went shopping. Well, not quite shopping, but rather exploring the Galeries Lafayette , shocked with the prices. Okay , these were designer brands – Gucci, D & G, Prada, Céline, Versace, etc. But for goodness’ sake, they weren’t worth this much money! The red dress for more than two thousand euros, which I mentioned yesterday – yes, that one was really gorgeous. Here though, you can come across dresses for 13,000 euros, which, honestly, I wouldn’t even take for free (well, that’s a lie probably; I would take them for free!).

We did manage to buy quite decent stuff in nearby shops at the end, even though we got stuck for a good 40 minutes in a  in a plus size store, where my Mom spent ages choosing clothes, trying them on, and on, and on. It wasn’t actually her fault; it’s just that the sales assistants here differ radically from their London colleagues. In London they don’t bother you unless you specifically address them, and even in that case, generally don’t tend to go beyond the scope of your request. Here though, as soon as they see you looking for something particular, they’ll start offering you more and more new models until you are eventually forced to buy something.

After all this hassle I was already sick of shops, so we went to have lunch at a Japanese restaurant. Then we went back to the hotel to take a short nap, and headed to the Boulevard Montparnasse, but weren’t particularly impressed. I’m not sure whether it was because of the grey weather (that’s when it started hailing, by the way), or the Boulevard is really not extremely remarkable. I think it was more due to the weather – in sunny weather all the street cafes would be working, and the atmosphere would be much happier and nicer. But never mind, the weather had already been very nice to us before, giving the opportunity to see the most interesting places.

So pretty soon we went back to the hotel. Mom left for the airport, and I went out with my Azeri friend, her flatmate and classmates. We went to have dinner at an Azeri restaurant. Actually, the restaurant itself is called «Caucase», but the owners and chefs were Azeri. And the food was absolutely delicious!

Posted in Europe, France, Paris

Paris, je t’aime – Day 5


25 March, 2010

This day didn’t go without stupidities as well, and I must say, I’m incredibly exhausted! We started the day with a visit to the Hôtel des Invalides, intending to see Napoleon’s tomb. The turnstiles in the metro weren’t working: «Ça marche pas!» – happily exclaimed a guy walking by. So we took a free ride and got to Les Invalides.

We bought our tickets, and first popped in the Army Museum, located in the same place. It’s really surprising to see how patriotic the French are and how much they respect and love their history. Unlike back home, where with each new form of government the old one is anathematised, everything is renamed, all monuments are demolished. Here they appreciate everything, starting from the Gauls, all the Louis’, the Emperor Napoleon, all their republics… And also it looks like they are a very warlike nation – no surprise they are represented by Gallic roosters. Everything seems steeped with wars; the whole city is full of historic sites dedicated to various victories and battles.

What I liked the most in the museum were the figures of French soldiers of different eras, especially the ancient ones: Gauls, Normans, Carolingians, Merovingians …

We didn’t want to spend too much time in the museum – after all, we are not extremely excited about arms. So off we went, right to the Dome church, where the Napoleon’s tomb was. It was cold there (just like it should be in a crypt), and right in the centre was the magnificent tomb of Napoleon. In principle, the reverent attitude of Parisians to Napoleon is quite understandable – he constructed a lot of streets, built houses, including the Hôtel des Invalides for disabled veterans.

It felt relatively warm outside, after the cold church, but it was raining. It was the first time it rained here since our arrival. As I was intending to have frog legs for lunch, we went to the Latin Quarter and found the same restaurant (Auberge de Saint-Sévérin) on the Rue Saint-Sévérin.

By the way, we took the RER, and not the metro, to get there. It was more convenient, as we would have to make two changes on the metro. But we entered the metro station first and then changed to the RER station. And we had to spend an extra ticket there, so as they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch (i.e., the non-functional turnstile in the morning).

Coming back to the frog legs, I quite liked them – they tasted somewhat like poultry, although a little bit dry and insipid. I also liked fish with sauce – after all, who, if not the French, knows how to prepare excellent sauces? Of course, they are all excellent! What I liked the most about this whole situation was the fact such a wonderful three-course meal with wine for two cost us only 40 euros including tip. And the restaurant had a beautiful cat!

We were planning to do some shopping after lunch, but once outside we realised that the rain had stopped, the clouds had parted and the weather was gorgeous. So we played it by ear and walked along the Boulevard Saint-Michel.

The boulevard was lively and cheerful, especially in such weather. We even were able to do a bit of shopping and bought a pair of shoes each. As the Sorbonne was supposed to be very close, we decided to take a look at it. However, as I tried asking various people the question «C’est où, la Sorbonne?», one man replied «I don’t speak French!», another woman looked puzzled and misunderstanding, and only the third Madame explained how to get there. So much for Paris, with the alleged impossibility to address to people in English, and their desire to respond only in French. On the other hand, it sometimes happens that you get “responded in French,” even when you ask nothing. For example, the old woman in Montmartre yesterday. Or today, when we turned off the Boulevard Saint-Michel to the no less cheerful Boulevard Saint-Germain, discussing how far away the  Saint Germain des Près metro station was from here, we were approached by an elderly man who said: «Le métro Saint Germain des Près, c ‘est là-bas! », and pointed in the opposite direction of our movement.

And by the way, we were interested in the metro for a particular reason. When I walked with my friend in these neighbourhoods the other day, we wanted to go to the Café Ladurée, serving fantastic sweets (according to my friend!). The cafe was closed then, but in a shop window next door, I spotted a gorgeous red evening gown. And now, I wanted to find that very boutique. We went round and round the narrow streets, and were just about to give up (as our feet were already pounding with pain!), when we noticed the Café Ladurée, and next to it – the shop we’d been searching for. We rang the doorbell, went in and asked how much it cost… Deux mille-something (€2000+) … Yeah, dream on, Leila!

On the way back we nearly got stuck in the metro – suddenly the train stopped in the tunnel, the lights went out, and the driver said something very fast – in fact, so fast that I didn’t understand a single word. But luckily it didn’t take longer than ten minutes.

In the evening once again I met with my friend and his friends and colleagues at the La Cordonnerie pub on Réaumur-Sébastopol.

Posted in Europe, France, Paris

Paris, je t’aime – Day 4


24 March, 2010

Another busy day began, finally, with visiting the Louvre. We walked into the courtyard and right up to the glass pyramid, which is maybe even more famous than the Louvre itself thanks to The Da Vinci Code, and got inside.

We bought our tickets and decided to see the Venus de Milo first of all. We spent quite some time looking for it, but in the meantime had the opportunity to view other Greek and Roman sculptures. I have to mention that we recognised the Venus from afar – by the great number of people around it.

That’s when we realised that it was a good idea to find the Mona Lisa immediately, while it was still pretty early, because later there would be an incredible pandemonium around it; and after that take our time and see some less popular paintings. And it paid off – there was already an impressive crowd gathering around the Mona Lisa by the time we found it, and later we wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere close to it. As one Russian guy said to another: “In a crowd like this you can’t really find the hidden meaning behind this painting!” But judging by the photos that I made, the meaning was hidden in the bald head of a man, which was reflected in the painting’s glass 😀

After enjoying La Gioconda for a while, we took our time to see some Italian, and then Spanish paintings (and the latter, we enjoyed the most). In the end we went upstairs to see the Dutch School representatives.

I would say, the optimal time spent in the Louvre should be no less than three days. And spending the whole day there, I believe, would be too tedious, and impressions would get all mixed up. As for a half-day visit, you can either gallop around the museum and not really see anything, or, as we did, choose beforehand what you most want to see, and devote your time to it. By the way, I was impressed by the large number of Russian tourists in the Louvre.

As we were done with the Louvre, we went to Monmartre. Mom was grumbling about the need to climb to the Sacrè-Cœur Basilica, but it was totally worth it, because the stairs were really beautiful, and the view on the city from there was magnificent. Plus, I have to admit that we hadn’t been able to find the funicular. Even despite the fact that, while we were standing near the metro station on Place Pigalle, feeling lost and staring at the map, an elderly lady came up to us and offered her help, and when we asked her how to get to the Sacrè-Cœur, she replied that there was “un petit bus” somewhere around (obviously, she meant the funicular), which accepted normal tickets for public transport and it was better to use it, otherwise there were too “beaucoup d’escaliers”.

Generally, Monmartre is an amazing place! Narrow cobbled streets, a huge number of cafes, street artists, a fabulous view of Paris … By the way, Montmartre is part of that very 18th district, which I didn’t like on the way from the airport. I found the Sacrè-Cœur a lot more beautiful than the Notre-Dame on the outside.

In the evening I met my Azeri friend once again and we went to the Latin Quarter to have dinner. It is also a very interesting and colourful place. Narrow streets are packed with endless restaurants – French, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Korean, in other words, anything you may wish; in front of each there is necessarily a tout, trying to persuade passers-by that their restaurant is definitely worth visiting immediately. After we already had dinner, I found that one of the restaurants on the Saint-Sévérin street served fried frog legs. So tomorrow I will come here again!

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.

Posted in Europe, France, Paris

Paris, je t’aime – Day 1


Since I’m not travelling anywhere right now, I decided to dig out some of my old writings. Unfortunately, the photos aren’t as good as the ones in my posts about China – I didn’t have a very good camera back then, and my photography skills were much worse than now too. Voilà:

21 March, 2010

Here is the city of dreams – Paris, ladies and gentlemen! It starts with the Charles de Gaulles airport, with its moderately “jemenfoutiste” (something like “I-don’t-give-a-damn-ist”) staff, who don’t bother doing any unnecessary inspections.

The road from the airport is quite far from dreams, and so is the 18th district, through which we have to drive: dusty worn signs, dirty buildings…

It doesn’t take too long to get to the centre, or, more precisely, the Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal, where we will be staying. The staff here speaks English pretty willingly, thus saving me from unnecessary embarrassment – I am still somewhat scared to speak French.

But right after that, in a restaurant, I have no other choice than to do so. And I realise that I am understood – which is really good! Waiters in Paris restaurants (so far, on the particular example of the Les Fontaines de Saint Honoré restaurant) are totally unlike their, say, London colleagues – they are more fun, more bustling and more relaxed at the same time. So, cheerfully, bustlingly and relaxedly, they served us the famous French onion soup. The whole idea of an onion soup arouses scepticism among some people, but in fact it is something incredible… A thick rich broth + pieces of bread floating in it + melted cheese = something delicious and amazing. Yum!

We were taken for Spanish, and when we explained that we actually came from the former Soviet Union, for some reason all the waiters came into enthusiasm and even said: “Spasibo!”

After lunch we went out to scout the territory. It turned out that the Louvre was literally a few steps away from our hotel.

I was feeling quite stunned by the fact that everyone around was speaking French! I find it hard to break the mental barrier and start speaking it too yet. On the other hand, when I do, I see that it’s considered absolutely normal. That is, the French perceive foreigners speaking French to them as a totally natural thing.

So we walked from the Louvre to the Paris Opera (which we didn’t recognise at once – it looked like the Paris Opera, but the deceptive inscription read “Académie Nationale de Musique”), and then turned to the Boulevard des Capucines. This is a very busy street, with endless bistros, cafes and restaurants, with a smooth and imperceptible transition into the Boulevard des Italiens.

On our way back we dropped in a drugstore to buy some water and toothpaste. I couldn’t find toothpaste immediately, but just as I wanted to “show off” my language skills and ask “Est-ce que vous avez du dentifrice?”, I immediately noticed it.

In the evening, after a good nap, I met with an Azeri friend and we made the same route once again, ending up in the Bistro Romain on the Boulevard des Capucines. My friend strongly advised me to try carpaccio – thinly cut slices of raw beef or salmon, with some sauce. Surprisingly, I liked it.

And of course, I should mention the wine served everywhere – it is magnificent! It has none of the bitterness we are accustomed to, it is full of fruity aroma, in fact it has a “bouquet”, as wine experts call it.