Full photo set for this post can be found here.
It’s hard to say anything about Paris that hasn’t already been said. By me, even. I love it – I love how green it is, despite its size. I love the Eiffel Tower, because it’s pretty. I love that you can’t get bad food (at least I never have). I love how walkable it is. And I love that it’s crammed full of history, everywhere you go. And that, wherever you are, unexpectedly, you’ll look up and get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.
So, I left off at the train to Paris. On the train from Bruges to Brussels, on the car that we randomly chose to sit in, there was a TV crew. Turns out, they were filming practice runs of a Cash Cab-type gameshow. Basically, they ask people (with their consent, of course), questions and make them accomplish small tasks. If they answer correctly, or execute the task, they can win money. Otherwise, they are let off at the next station, regardless of whether it’s their destination or not. Since it was summer vacation, they were just practicing for when the season starts up again in the fall. They got a few people to participate, and encouraged the rest of the passengers in the car to applaud or express sadness as loudly as possible whenever the answer was right or wrong. There were trivia questions, all offered in rapid-fire Dutch. I only understood snippets, but did manage to understand enough of one question to be able to answer it correctly. There was also a paddle-ball test (I think the participant had to hit the ball 15 times without dropping it). They went around filming random passengers on the car, asking them questions, and when they got to us, they switched to English. It was funny and weird and made the trip a lot of fun.
For the trip from Brussels to Paris, due to late booking, for some reason the First Class tickets were cheaper than the Second Class ones at the time we booked. So we took it. Big cushy seats, snacks, free wifi. It was nice.
We were met in Paris by Jean-Marc, who is friend of Dr. Thingo’s (I think they may have collaborated too). He very kindly had offered to let us stay with him in Paris, but decided that his apartment was too small, and arranged for us to stay at a friend’s apartment instead (the friend was away on vacation, like most of Paris in August). He took us there, via the Metro, gave us a fast tour of the neighbourhood, and then went off back to the train station to meet another friend who was arriving in town later that same day (I owe him a knit hat, which I will make soon!).
It was so good to be in a country where I speak the language fluently. I felt more relaxed. Not that I was all that stressed-out about deciphering Dutch, but it’s very nice to see a sign and immediately know what it means. Or know that if I ask somebody a question, I’ll understand the answer, and I won’t feel like a doofus for having to admit I don’t speak any Dutch. The kids did ok too!
This visit was fairly low-key. We’d been travelling for almost two weeks by the time we got there, and the sight-seeing was starting to get tired. We did manage to do a fair amount of it. Unlike my only other visit to Paris, we actually went into some of them.
We went up the Eiffel Tower. Well, part of the way up. The queue to take the elevator up to the top was ridiculously long (and apparently there was another wait to take the elevator up to the top from the second floor. Noticing how short the stair queue was, we decided to walk up. This meant that we could only go up to the second floor (there are three viewing levels), but it made for a much shorter wait. 670 steps later, we were there. The view was amazing!
We also went into Notre Dame cathedral. It’s a beautiful monument. It seems impossible that it was built so long ago. It would be neat to run around and check out all its nooks and crannies. But climbing the tower meant another queue, one that I wasn’t willing to wait or pay for. Also, most of it is off-limits, understandably.
And we went to the Louvre. I was surprisingly disappointed. Like Craig said, it’s the art equivalent of reading the phonebook. Part of the problem was undoubtedly the fact that we tried to take in too much in one day. It’s huge, and has an astonishing collection of art, but there’s so much of it, in every room, that it doesn’t seem like it has any kind of rhyme or reason to it. There were some beautiful pieces, of course. And the Michaelangelo statues they have were amazing. But it’s all too much to take at once. Jean-Marc later mentioned that he used to work nearby and had a membership, so he used to pop in on his way to work, just to look at one or two rooms, and then leave. That’s the way to do it. Clearly, I have to come to Paris for two years and do this!
I did brave the mob of people and pushed my way to the front to actually see the Mona Lisa. Most of that mob of people was taking a picture (why???). The Mona Lisa itself is kinda small. I was surprised.
We went to the Palais de la découverte, which is a science museum established in the western wing of the Grand Palais. The Grand Palais itself was built in the late 1800’s for the Exposition universelle of 1900. The museum itself was quite good – like the Ontario Science Centre, only better, I think. And they give these great demos and small talks throughout the day. We went to a dinosaur one that I enjoyed a lot, but the presenter spoke very quickly, so most of it was lost on the kids. But I learned a lot! We went to meet Jean-Marc and see the exhibit on symmetry that he helped create, in the Math section.
My favourite part, though, was Les Berges. This is a temporary (I think) installation of play areas on the banks right next to the Seine, between the Pont de l’Alma and the Pont royal. They have boardwalks, and gardens, rest areas, lounging areas, a bouldering wall, cafes, exercise stations, a music zone. It’s a 2 kilometre stretch, and we had a good time walking and letting the kids try out all the stuff (and us too sometimes. I still can’t do chin-ups. Sad.)
And, in the only bout of shopping we had since we left Canada, we hit the Pralus store for yummy chocolate, La droguerie for a yummy scarf kit, and Gibert Joseph for comic books (en français) ostensibly for the kids, but really for me.
And then it was time to go! We came back to London on the Eurostar. Which was a little scary during the 50-kilometre stretch when we were underground in the pitch blackness, under a body of water, ears popping from the change in altitude, trying not to think what happens if the train stops suddenly and you have to get out somehow. Maybe that’s just me. But we made it, safe and sound.
I would like, if we go back, to go to the catacombs, and Montmartre, and just wander around some more. We should go back. It’s less than 3 hours away by train!
It’s good to be back in London and get settled. And wear something different from the 5 t-shirts I brought with me on vacation. And not have to worry about packing every couple of days, or cooking meals that will generate zero leftovers. But what a good trip it was! And now we get to explore London. Well, in a few days, at least…