9-8-05 - Day 3
We asked for a 9am wake-up call at the Montana hotel in London, but we were up before that. We finished packing and went down to breakfast. On the way to the Waterloo station, where we would catch the "Chunnel" train to Paris, we initially went the wrong direction on the "tube" but got off at the first station and went across the platform to go back in the right direction. After
getting to Waterloo and following the arrows and enough escalators, we presented our tickets and passports and went through security. The trip from London to Paris takes about three hours and you have to set your watch one hour ahead. At 2:34 pm we arrived in Calais, France on the way to Paris. First impression: a lot of open fields, country farmland and graffiti on buildings. We had also seen a lot of graffiti when coming into London and would see it elsewhere through our trip. I guess graffiti is universal?
We had no problem going from the GareDu Nord station to the Le Militare station. It took us a few minutes to get our bearings. The subway was hot and humid with poor ventilation, and it was often necessary to walk through long corridors to transfer or exit. In London, it seemed like there was more of a "breeze" that was created from the trains themselves coming into the stations. The Paris subway could be stifling at times. We got a three day train pass so we would have unlimited use of the subway and you could get just about anywhere you wanted to go in Paris on the subway (which was the same in London).
Our hotel is located on Rue Cler, which is a small
market street closed off to traffic. It is sidewalk cafes, fresh produce stands, cheese shops, bakeries and very Parisian. You could spend a couple of days just hanging out here but we didn't have time for that. It came highly recommended on the internet and we agree that the Hotel Leveque is a great place to stay.
The elevators at the Hotel Leveque were even smaller than the one at the Montana Hotel in London. Only one person and a suitcase or two people could get in at a time. Here is a picture of me standing in this tiny elevator on the first floor.
The hotel also included breakfast the first day but after that was 8 Euro/day for croissants and coffee.
This was a lovely room as you can see below. You can see the bathroom at the Hotel Leveque. It was small but a little more comfortable than the Montana in London.
The next pic shows a view from our room on Rue Cler. We had requested a room that overlooked the street because we had read on www.tripadviser.com that this was preferable since it is such a charming location. The double paned windows were pretty good about blocking out most of the noise but we also carry a white noise machine when we travel. There is some street noise late into the night as people sit in the sidewalk cafes to drink and socialize long after they have quit serving food.
The room also had air conditioning and so we were able to keep the windows closed at night.
Our first evening in Paris we took a stroll along the Seine river...
...and then continued along the Champs Elysees. We stopped at a Hagen Daz and got some ice cream.
Then we continued on until we reached the Arc de Triumph. We asked a passerby to take our pic and then we went inside and paid a little fee to ride the elevator to the roof of the Arc.
From the roof of the arc, we took some pics.
And then we got on the subway and went back to our hotel.
9-9-05- Day 4
Milton slept in while Sylvan went to the train station to get the reservation for the train to Venice we would be taking a couple days later. Sylvan forgot the Eurail pass and was unable to make the reservation. He went back to the hotel and got the Eurail pass and asked the desk clerk if there was a way to make the reservation without going all the way back to the station. The desk clerk said there was a train "boutique" a couple of blocks from the hotel. Sylvan went there and waited in line but when he talked to the women there she did not speak English. It was determined that the train was sold out! We had tried to book this reservation before leaving the states but were told to wait until we got to Paris to book it. That was a big mistake. Sylvan went back and
got Milton and let him know about the glitch and we both returned to the train station. There was a "night train" available the night before we had planned to leave which meant that we would be losing a day in Paris. I already regretted not having planned to stay in Paris more time. There was just too much to see here for the time we had planned on and now we would have even less time! We booked the night train and had to pay an extra hundred dollars or so on top of our eurail passes. We didn't really see any option though for getting to Venice.
Once we got our train reservation, we set out to find the Paris Vision tour we planned to take but when we got there we discovered that it was not a hop-on, hop-off tour and was directed to the Grayline, Cityrama tour. We prefer the idea of being able to get off and on the tour as we like so we can explore what we want. After we bought our tickets we were told where to go to start the tour which was right across the street from the Louvre.
On this tour there was only the headphone option. There was not a live guide. You plugged in the little ear pods they gave you and switched a channel to whatever language you wanted. You had a personal volume control as well.
We took the tour as far as Notre Dame. We found some other tourists to take our pic .
We paid a little fee and went in and looked around. The stainglass windows were beautiful. We didn't see Quasimoto though. I thought it was interesting that Notre Dame was almost torn down at one point and it was partly because of the book "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" that there was renewed interest in the church and that was partly why it was restored and saved. It boggles the mind that anyone would have considered tearing down such a treasure!
It is just a short walk to Saint Chappelle from Notre Dame. We paid another little fee and went in to see another beautiful church. Again, the stainedglass windows were incredible
Then we got back on the tour bus and rode it for a while seeing the sites of Paris..
We got off the bus at the Eiffel tower...
..stood in line and paid a little fee and took the elevator to the top. There was another entrance if you wanted to take the stairs.
It was a spectacular view.
It was breathtaking.
After coming back down we went back to the hotel and told the desk clerk about the changed plans and that we would be staying one less night. She said "no problem." This is one of those hotels that tends to sell out months in advance so she would have no problem renting the room to someone else.
After a little rest in the room, we headed back over to the Louvre.
We saw the Venus de Milo...
...the Mona Lisa...
and an exhausting amount of other masterpieces...
The place is huge...
Room after room of great art...
An amazing sculpture garden...
We saw Napolean's apartment.
...and then we saw some more... it is just TOO MUCH to take in by that point and we give up.. we are just worn out... you would need a week just to see this one museum... again, most places you vacation, there might be one or two "sites" to see but in Europe, it is exactly the opposite problem.. there is just TOO MUCH to see.. it is overwhelming at times and you just have to resign yourself to the impossibility of seeing it all. With our time in Paris being cut short by the train reservation glitch, we just had to keep moving.
We decided to head over to the Hotel de Ville area which is kind of a "gay" area in Paris. We turned our gaydar on and followed the signals. There were a lot of outdoor cafes and people enjoying the evening. One of the things I noticed about both London and Paris was how multicultural they both are. We like that. It is also amazing at how safe you feel almost anywhere in Europe. You would never see elderly people out on the streets of urban areas in America but they are everywhere in Europe. Personally, I think that this feeling of safety has something to do with the limited availability of guns in Europe. There just seems to be less paranoia. You do have to watch out for pickpockets in urban centers throughout Europe like you would in any urban center but violent crime is relatively rare compared to America. Personally, I much prefer art and culture to guns and violence... but I digress...
We could barely walk another step by this time and headed back toward the hotel. As we came up to an intersection we heard a police siren and whistles. A crime in progress? No-- suddenly coming down the street were literally hundreds of people on roller skates. We stood for about five minutes as this crowd zipped by dancing and blowing whistles. When they had finished going by, they were followed by another hundred or so people on bicycles... a little Paris surprise.
9-10-05- Day 5
Our hotel only gave a free breakfast for the first morning
and then it was 8 euro for each breakfast after that. Milton and I had breakfast that morning which consisted of croissants, baguette, coffee and juice. Although the sign said "all you can eat," no one ever came by to ask if wanted any more. We
went back to the Eiffel Tower to get some souvenirs and we took them back to the hotel and packed them in a little box Sylvan had got the day before at the Louvre post office. Even though we had brought only carry on bags, we realized that we had still brought too much stuff and we mailed home a couple items along with souvenirs From there we went to Forum de Halls area and had lunch and a place we had read about called Flunch. It is an inexpensiv
e cafeteria style restaurant and was very good. After lunch we went to the Pompidieu museum.
The escalators are on the outside of the building in tubes. They look kind of like they were made for giant gerbils.
The Pompidieu is a "modern" art museum. We saw this famous Warhol and many other amazing pieces of art. We had planned to try and squeeze in the d'Orsay museum too but by the time we had spent a couple of hours at the Pompidieu, we were just burned out no museums and art.. absolutely satiated..
I headed to the Pantheon. Completed in 1780. I have provided a link if you are interested. In 1851, Léon Foucault demonstrated with a pendulum here that the earth spins on its axis. I have seen pendulums based on his experiments at different times growing up but somehow the whole thing eludes me. I just don't quite get it I guess but this is where the whole thing originated.
On the way back to the subway station, it is drizzling and we start hearing a lot of music and we see a big crowd of young people. I asked someone what was going on and they told me it was a "techno parade."
There were several trucks loaded down with speakers blasting techno music and everybody was dancing. Another pleasant Paris surprise.
We headed back to Rue Cler and stopped in for some Chinese food. I said to Milton, "we come to Paris and eat Chinese food?" That was just convenient at the time and sounded good.
We picked up our suitcases at the hotel and headed for the train station to catch the night train to Venice. Our train was to leave at about 8:30pm and arrive in Venice the next morning.
I was reading "What's the Matter With Kansas" an excellent book by Thomas Frank about the rise of conservatism in Kansas.
We shared our compartment with an Italian man that had been in Paris for work and an old Arab man that didn't speak any English at all.
The Italian's wife was also on the train but for some reason having to do with who booked the tickets, she was traveling second class which meant there were 6 people in her compartment rather than four in ours.
Sylvan enjoyed talking with them and comparing a few things between the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans. The Italians said that American t.v. and movies are definately better. We talked about g
as prices (higher in Europe but goes to taxes to pay for better transportation and health care and not just profit for o
il companies); health care (America spends twice as much and covers only 40% of the population). We talked about how Europeans routinely get eight weeks vacation every year! The Italian man did not feel that this was a good thing though although 8 weeks vacation sounded pretty good to me at the time.
The conductor came around to check our tickets and he asked for our passports. I was a bit nervous giving up our passports but the Italian said that this was standard procedure and it was so that we would not need to be awakened in the middle of the night when we crossed through Switz
After a couple of hours of riding in our seats, we took the sheets and blankets that had been left in the compartment and made our own beds. There was a little ladder to get up to top berths. Milton and I took the top since we thought it would be easier for the old Arab man to sleep on the bottom and the Italian man could sleep on the bottom so he could take care of the old man as he had promised the old man's daughter. Even though we both took a sleeping pill, the old man must have had prostate problems as he was going in and out to the bathroom all night. When he was not opening the door of the compartment, he was rattling through some plastic bags. He was either eating or going to the bathroom all night long.
It is interesting how many Europeans travel by train and seem perfectly comfortable sleeping in a compartment with five possible strangers or three other possible strangers. I don't thinkn the compartments
were even separated by sex (we were all men in our compartment though). I wonder how many Americans would feel comfortable sleeping in a compartment with strangers? Why are we so much more fearful of one another? I am reminded of the book "The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things" by Barry Glassner.