Europe Day 14 & 15 Paris - Happy Anniversary
30 Sep 2012
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Saturday 29th September
Grenoble to Paris 600km
Today is our 28th wedding anniversary.
We are on the bus at 7.30am, and our first stop after breakfast was not for three hours. There is a great atmosphere in the market town of Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy. There is not a lot of English spoken, but we get by and it is a lot of fun trying. There are market stalls all along the street to the main square, where there is farmers market. In a huge hall is a big selection of cheese, meat, and fish. Outdoors in the square we have fresh fruit and vegetables. We find it is a hard decision – what to buy for lunch… we get some cheese and fresh fruit. Soon after we leave Beaune, we pass through the mustard town of Dijon (but didn’t stop).
We probably stopped somewhere for lunch later that day, but a huge chunk of these notes were accidentally deleted, so there is no record of the stop. Cannot have been that memorable! This diary is taking a long time to rewrite, vague memories aren’t helping, but our photos are a great help. Just as well we took photos of signposts, etc as we travelled around, and dates/times on the photos help fill in a few blanks.
Mariella tries to keep us awake on the bus trip by playing bingo, we are answering questions based on the tour so far. Get the question right and you can choose a number to cross off on the board. Tony gets the first line, and passes his card forward. Mariella says she does not know how we play Bingo in NZ, but this is not a winning card. Tony tells her to look and see if his name is on the card, and sure enough the ones in front had swapped his card over. It was all in good fun, and Tony won a shot glass. First prize, a small bottle of Limoncello in a bottle the shape of Italy, was won by Josh, the eleven year old on the tour.
When we arrived in Paris (probably around 4pm), there was an optional tour, EUR40 to go up the Montparnasse tower, followed by a cruise on the Seine. We chose to shop at the mall below the tower, and Cynthea bought some Tweety Bird socks. We find out later that we could have gone quite some way up the tower for free. We are then taken to near the Eiffel Tower so those on the optional tour can have their river cruise. Those of us not on the cruise took a stroll in the brilliant sunshine around Eiffel Tower area. Tony is wearing his Tshirt from Eketahuna to get a photo in front of the Eiffel Tower, that is three out of the four ticked off – London, Eketahuna and now Paris. Just New York to go, but the poor shirt is getting worse for wear, let’s hope it makes it to the States.
There is a street parade the other side of the tower, looks to be a West Indian or Caribbean group. There is a lot of noise, drums and whistles, and everyone is having a great time. The Eiffel Tower was erected in 1889 as the entrance arch to the 1889 World's Fair. We briefly considered going up the 320m tower, however we had done that when we were last here 17 years ago. The queue for tickets was 45 minutes long, so we headed back to the river and watched the con men playing to the tourists. We had a bit of time to watch what was happening, and it was soon obvious who the “plants” in the crowd were. They also gave the occasional free game to passers-by, to try and get them to part with their money. For EUR50 you watched as they shuffled three black coasters on the ground. The aim was to pick which one was black on the underside. They made it easy until it came time to play for money, haha. And of course the plants in the audience always won. Tony had a free game, and got the pick right, but was not prepared to wager EUR50 on it. He watched a bit longer, and got all the guesses right while the “plants” played, but as soon as a genuine player (sucker?) came along, Tony got the guess wrong four times out of five. With this bridge, Pont d’lena, linking the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadero there was no shortage of people silly enough to give it a go.
We head to our hotel, the Holiday Inn in Clichy, as the sun is setting around 7.30pm. If we hadn’t been in a bouncing bus negotiating the streets of Paris we would have got some great photos.
The hotel is very nice, we are up on the fourth floor in a large room with a queen size bed. There is even tea and coffee making facilities. The optional tour tonight is a dinner and cabaret show, EUR65 ea, but the budget didn’t allow it. We later added up the cost of all the optional tours, it came to EUR1200 each if we did them all.
We had dinner at the hotel with Bob and Diane. They got Cynthea’s order wrong, she had ordered scallops as an anniversary treat, with a side of vegetables but they brought out salmon instead. Cynthea said she ordered scallops, and they made out her order was yet to come, and wouldn’t be long. We reckon they quickly went back to the kitchen to start cooking them, just as well it was quick to do! The scallops arrived, and Cynthea asks where the vegetables are. They show her a couple of spoonfuls of mashed artichoke, surrounded by beetroot jus, under the scallops. Cynthea tells them she ordered a side dish of vegetables, and they apologise and scurry off. Later we went to pay the bill and they just charged us for salmon. We think that was on the original order, and they left it like that to make up for the error. Either way, we saved a lot.
We had a couple of bottles of wine up in our room, so asked the bar staff for four wine glasses and Bob and Diane joined us for drinks.
Sunday 30th September
We got to “sleep in” today, the bus tour around Paris didn’t leave until 8.30am, and first stop was Notre Dame, a beautiful example of French Gothic architecture that began construction in 1163. The cathedral suffered considerable damage during the French Revolution in the late 1700's’ and was restored to the original state in the mid 1800’s.
Continuing on the tour we drive past the ornate bridge, Pont Alexandre III, completed in 1900 and named after Tsar Alexandre III who concluded the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892. Four gilt-bronze statues of Fames watch over the bridge, supported on massive 17-metre plinths that provide stabilising counterweights for the arch, without interfering with monumental views of the surrounding areas (Champs-Élysées and the Eiffel Tower). We have a short visit to the Eiffel Tower before being taken to a café near Place de la Concorde where we had lunch. Cynthea ran into someone from Balclutha that she had met during her nursing training there.
Those of us not forking out EUR65 on yet another optional tour, this one to Versailles, had around three hours free time here, longer if we wanted to make our own way back to the hotel. Nick and Tony are keen to walk to the Arc d’Triomphe, in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle at the western end of Champs Elysees, and we also want to see the Louvre gardens. We have to meet at the Opera House around 3.30, so we will not have a lot of time to visit anything. Julie and Cynthea join us on the walk, and although there is talk of getting bus to make sure we cover everything, we decide we have time to walk it, and will use a taxi if we run short of time. We have a wonderful day for it, the weather has stayed fine and there is a clear sky. We start off around the Place de la Concorde, and head up Champs Elysees past all the high end stores that makes the credit card curl just being near them. There are a few sales on, but no one finds anything that takes their fancy. At times you can hardly move for street traders, some just spread a blanket on the ground and they can be a damn nuisance if you are not watching where you are walking. Some appear to be illegal, either the stalls or the operators, or both, as from time to time we see them gather the blankets by four corners and make a quick getaway.
The 50m high Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile was completed around 1836 and honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. It is so wide, at 45m, that in 1919, in the weeks following the victory parade in Paris, a biplane was able to be flown through it. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. We were to find a second, smaller arch of similar design near the Louvre.
At Arc de Triomphe the traffic is not as hectic as we have previously seen it, though it still makes us shudder at the thought of twelve intersections and bugger all in the way of lanes or traffic control that we could see. There are a group of street performers nearby, and quite a crowd has gathered. Tony warns the others to watch out for pickpockets as they tend to operate where people are distracted.
We head back towards the Louvre, taking a detour off the Champs Elysees to walk along the river bank. We get a closer look at the Pont (bridge) Alexandre III, and see how elaborate this structure is. We take the riverside path towards the octagonal Place de la Concorde. At nearly 9ha it is the largest public square in the city, dominated by a 3,300 year old, 23m high obelisk that once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple in Egypt. There is not a lot of traffic around here either, although there are a good number of people about, especially at the Jardin des Tuileries (Garden of Tuileries). We take some time to admire the beautiful gardens before continuing towards the Louvre.
We come to The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, at 19m high and 23m wide it is much smaller than the more famous arch to the west of here. Housed in the Louvre Palace, The Louvre is one of the largest museums in the world, and is home to the Mona Lisa. We are not able to visit as the queues are lengthy, and our time is short.
We walk to Palais Garnier, completed in 1875, home to the Paris Opera, famous as the setting for Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel The Phantom of the Opera, subsequently adapted for films and Andrew Lloyd Webber's popular 1986 musical. We must have walked a good 9 to 10km this afternoon, we are well and truly ready for that bus back now.
The tour group is a little late getting back from Versailles, and then we are taken back to the hotel in Clichy to freshen up before tonight’s dinner – another option, EUR58 each. The meal is billed as dinner and orientation, it seems funny to orientate someone on their last night. We decide to go on this as it is our last night together, and figure most will go, which they did. We are told we are in for a special treat tonight, and we speculate that we will be going to see the Eiffel Tower light show that runs on the hour until 1am each night.
The trip to the restaurant is not without delays, and long ones at that, all part of the Paris experience as we get caught up in the famous gridlock. Things started to go wrong when a police officer walked out in front of our bus as we crossed an intersection. A cordon was drawn across the road in front of us, without warning, leaving the bus blocking the intersection. The only way to go was back where we came from, a hazardous task as Ciro tried to reverse while traffic continued to come at us. We were just thankful that the traffic was so heavy the other vehicles were lucky to travel at more than walking speed.
We watched with amazement and amusement as cars drove right up to the side of the bus, and then turned side on to oncoming traffic, and sometimes even headed back on the wrong side of the road, between two lanes of on coming cars. Finally enough cars had the sense to stop and let the bus get out of the way, but Ciro then had to work out how to get us to the restaurant. As Ciro looked for a different route more roads were closed off, we never did find out why, there seemed to be no reason for it, except to say that this is Paris! We watched in horror at one intersection, controlled by police, as a cyclist with a small dog in the front basket hit a bump in the road. The dog went flying out of the basket, and was left hanging by its’ lead. The policewoman immediately stopped all traffic and rushed to assist the dog, and then proceeded to give the animal lots of hugs and cuddles to calm it down. Meanwhile traffic was at a total standstill for several minutes… At least the dog was not badly hurt.
Traffic was getting heavier as we approach the Place de la Concorde, in fact it could be described as a complete shambles. With no lane markings vehicles were packed across the width of the road like so many sardines in a can. We were going nowhere fast, and watched in amusement as those in the same predicament got creative to get out of there. Some cars turned side on to the traffic and heaven knows where they thought they would go heading in that direction. Motorbikes and cyclists had the distinct advantage, and simply squeezed through the nearest gap and disappeared into the distance. Smart cars also fared well, with several driving up onto the pavement and carrying on unimpeded.
It took a good 90 minutes to get to the restaurant, and there wasn’t really much in the way of an orientation of the city, although we had some good lessons in why you shouldn’t drive a car in Paris! At the restaurant we were warmly welcomed, and shown to our tables. We felt a bit like we were in a bunker of sorts, with low curved ceilings. It was tightly packed, with other Cosmos groups here too, as well as other diners. We had wine on the table, and a choice of meals. Cynthea chose frogs legs but regretted it later when they came out. The legs were in pairs, and still joined at the hip. Chris took some off of a plate near him and “hopped” them down the table, it was hilarious, leaving Cynthea was even less inclined to eat them, but she did. Tony tried some too, and both found them fairly tasteless, perhaps a little like chicken, but the taste was mainly in the sauce. There was not a lot of meat on them either, but we can now tick that one off the list. As for snails, no, we didn’t, and probably wont!
Chris gave everyone an origami crane, and when we unfolded the paper bird we each had a recipe. Shortly before 9pm we were bundled out of the restaurant for our “surprise”. We were taken to a high spot in the city where we overlooked the Eiffel Tower as it put on a dazzling light show. Then it was back to the hotel, where we all had a few farewell drinks in the bar. This is what had been missing the whole tour, not the farewell, but everyone enjoying a social night together. A pity we had all been too tired to do this more often. We are given the “good” news that those heading back to London on the Eurostar at 11am will leave the hotel at 8am, so that means dragging ourselves out of bed around 6am if we want breakfast. Allowing nearly three hours to get us to Eurostar seems a bit excessive, but then after seeing what the traffic was like early in the night it would pay to be safe.
A few of the group headed up to Chris’s room to continue the session, but Cynthea decided she was having an “early” night. Tony was offered some Limoncello, and found it to be quite sweet, and probably not that good on top of the beer and wine he already had. Liam decided he wanted to try some too, and drank out of the bottle at the same time as Tony. Some miserable sod took photos of it. Liam was a little worse for wear by now, and lay down on the spare bed. It was funny to watch as one of the girls sat beside him, and then we see Liam with his hands on her leg. She laughs it off, and is not at all worried, but when she leaves Liam’s Dad sits on the bed next to him. Next thing we know Liam is stroking his father’s leg, it looked hilarious, and we made sure he knew about it at breakfast!
At 1am we watched the final light show of the night, we could just see the Eiffel Tower from here. The final show for the night is a little different, this one features only white lights. Unfortunately the tower was a bit far away to get a good photo or video (nothing what-so-ever to do with the photographer having had a few!).
As we go to leave around 2am someone is rather ill, and doesn’t make it to the bathroom. Tony and a couple of others spend the next couple of hours trying to clean it up (red wine was involved). The hotel staff happily supplied a pile of old towels to work with, in the hopes that the damage was limited.
By the time Tony got to bed it was 4am, hardly worth going there!