Sunday, 27 September 2009

Paris days 3, 4 & 5

A very full day today! We left the Hotel Manet (after heading out to the patisserie which we refound again) and headed with our bags over to the Louvre. There we stayed for the whole day – the Louvre has a very good “left luggage” system if you have paid for your ticket – and walked our feet off! We didn't get very far through the Louvre, though – I really couldn't imagine anyone managing to actually see everything in one day! We saw the Greek & Roman statues (plus those which had been almost completely reimagined by renaissance and later sculptors), plus the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. I was vaguely disappointed by ML – to be honest, I think I prefer some of the re-designs that other people have done of her. VdM was a bit more impressive when we first came across her, but there were far too many tourist groups surrounding her! I'm a bit ashamed to say that I actually got a bit bored with the classical stuff – they were all so similar and a bit bland... However, the huge Persian statues just took my breath away – they were really mind blowing and I couldn't really grasp the size of them...
After Louvre, we met up with Vic and it was so nice to see her again! We headed to where she lived, which is an interesting little flat – two rooms only; a bathroom, and a kitchen/living/bedroom. This is apparently usual for flats in Paris – some are even smaller! I think that the size of the flats is one of the reasons that so many people spend so much time outdoors in Paris; wherever we went, at whatever time, there were people out enjoying the city; the parks, the cafes and the bars. We then headed out to Monmatre for supper, at a most amazing cafe. Their main selling point was their salads, which were huge. Unlike most British salads, these could not be termed healthy in any way shape or form; they had the right level of salad-bits, but also included the meat of your choice (I had chicken neck / gizzard, which was delicious), and topped with a thick layer of chips (and these were proper thick fried potatoes – fantastic!); there was no way that I was going to be able to finish mine! Then crepes on the way round to the Sacre Coure, where we also paused to watch a street artist creating a chalk and charcoal portrait of a young girl; he was fascinating to watch. He had quite a severe twitch, but actually used that to his advantage, waiting for the twitches to subside to do the fine work, then using the wildness of the twitches to put in broad strokes for the hair and skin. We headed home past the Moulin Rouge, which was brilliant to be able to see, but there was no giant elephant, nor was there a huge opera singing moon in the sky!

Tis 10.34 PT and feels a heck of a lot later! We have packed so much in today, and given that that included a mega lie-in (as I was the last through the shower, I didn't get up till gone 10...!), that is really saying something. After a leisurely breakfast, we went out via a supermarket to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, which was a beautiful park formed from the quarry where they took out the stones for building the city. (check facts here) We had a beautiful picnic lunch, and spent ages chatting before heading down into Paris to find the Velib, a fantastic system of “free” (i.e. You paid a refundable deposit and then a Euro for each of the first two half hours, then an extra two euros for the next half hour, three for the next, etc) cycles which you could use to get round town. Whilst I was initially very sceptical about riding bikes (I am not someone who enjoys cycling, and the experiences of my cycling colleagues have put me right off; all those who cycle regularly to work have been hit by cars at some point in the last couple of years), Vic persuaded us that it would be a good idea to at least try. We then went to try to find some free Velib's that had been put back correctly (shown by a green light as opposed to a red), which took us nearly an hour, wandering closer to our destination of Notre Dame. We then cycled down to the islands in the Seine – an interesting experience to say the least – although there are some brilliant cycle lanes, both on pavement and bricked off on the road, it was a trifle scary sharing the road with the Parisian drivers! Notre Dame, though, was definitely worth it! The most amazing architecture, it totally took my breath away. Vic then showed us to her favourite ice cream parlour, then had to disappear as she had to go to a friend's birthday party. We had our icecreams, which were indeed delicious (I had caramel and chocolate orange, and John had a tutti frutti and a grapefruit flavour), and walked around the Isles, taking in the sights, and having a cafe on the way (trying to find me a loo where I could actually sit down – we failed! The one thing that I really don't like about Paris – not being able to use a proper public toilet – I can cope with mess, I can cope with smells, I can cope with providing my own paper, I just can't cope with not being able to sit down properly!!). We then wandered up past the Hotel du Ville and the Centre Georges Pompidou, the modern art building which was deliberately designed to look as though the inside was on the outside. Whilst I appreciated what the architect was trying to do, in my mind, it just looked messy and out of place. I could see it working if the pipes had been in steel or chrome, but in blue and yellow plastics, it just looked like a building site that hadn't yet been finished (and having worked next to one for a number of years, I know exactly what an unfinished building site looks like!) We then wandered round trying to find another Velib station where we could get a bike and head up away from the main roads (the traffic by this point was horrendous, with policemen needing to direct traffic around roundabouts even though there were traffic lights and the traffic was going all in one direction!) Eventually we found a station which was working and had available bikes and started travelling up to the Gare de L'Est. This was another interesting experience – without the confidence of Vic to guide us, it was a lot more wobbly and having to stop suddenly at a change of lights didn't do John's heart much good! But we made it up to Gare de L'Est and found a Velib point within our half hour and without doing ourselves or anyone else an injury (plus a nice little uphill slope meant that we were ready for our supper!) This we found at L'Ecu De France by the Gare d L'Est – a brasserie facing the station. The big draw for this initially was that it (a) was close, (b) had a cheap set menu,and (c) looked like it would have decent loos (which it did, though I wasn't impressed at having to pay for them!!). The food was really rather good – John had rabbit in a mustard sauce, and I had a rare beef dish. This came out slightly different to how I was expecting – it was almost a “parma” beef – very thinly sliced and cured rather than cooked. It came out cold with thin parmesan slices on the top, with chips on the side. However, it was very nice, though it could have done with a green salad on the edge of the plate, even just a few leaves. The desserts, though, were to die for (and I would have killed if anyone had tried to take mine away from me!) I had the most amazing chocolate mousse, made in the same way that I do, which is to say that almost all of the air is beaten back out of the egg, and it ends up being incredibly heavy and rich, and sits in the stomach with all the lightness of a bowling ball... However, the chocolate levels were fantastic and every spoonful was heavenly! John had a creme brulee which was also delicious – the perfect lightness of the creme covered with a delicate and crispy layer of caramelised sugar. We then played an interesting game of “attracting the waiter's attention” to try to get our coffees. This was a game which we were playing against an avowed master – he had the perfect level of catching one's eye but letting you realise that he had far more important things to attend to than taking your order right now, but if you had hope then he would get to you eventually. Even when we did finally manage to call him over (and we did have to call – we didn't ever catch his eye in a way which meant that he came over voluntarily) he offered us the bill directly rather than asking us whether we wanted anything more! (and given that he had asked the table down from us, who had arrived about ten minutes after we did, whether they had wanted coffee about five minutes previously, we realised that we were in the presence of pure genius) Fortunately, we did get our coffee, and as it was served with a 70% slab of chocolate, it was definitely worth waiting for! And given that the entire bill, which included a bottle of rose wine, came to 46E, I think we did very well!

When we left the restaurant, we took a side trip via the supermarket to pick up presents for work colleagues (mainly biscuits) and are now back at Vic's flat. I'm probably going to get to bed fairly soon – unfortunately something over the last couple of days hasn't agreed with me, hence the vague obsession today with toilets! I'm hoping that it will blow over soon, but I have a feeling that this may last until I'm back in the UK eating UK stodge... Sadly, that is going to come all too soon – we are leaving Paris tomorrow afternoon, and I'm really going to miss it. Having started the Paris leg really rather preferring Brussels, now that Vic has shown us the real Paris, not just the sites that the tourists see, I can see why people love the city so much. I'm still not convinced that it is somewhere that I could live permanently, but I would love to be able to get to know it a bit better than has been possible over the last few days.


18.11 UK time – we are currently under the Channel on the Eurostar back to London. It has been a very full day today; a relaxed start this morning (as Vic didn't realise that we were awake and we didn't realise that she was awake!) - we didn't leave the flat till gone 12. We had a bit of a walk, then got the Velib down into Paris – unfortunately, after a lovely cycle, we then couldn't find anywhere to actually repark the bikes! It took over half an hour for us to find a cycle park and Vic had a bit more of a yomp round before we got a third space for her bike. Very frustrating as we had left plenty of time to make sure that we didn't get charged for the second half hour, and just couldn't find spaces. We then had a bit of a walk to find lunch – we went over to the Jewish quarter to find some gorgeous falafels – these were apparently the best in the area, and definitely tasted it! The pitta was stuffed with the falafels and salad – they didn't stint on any part of it. We ate in a small park off a side street listening to a trio of buskers playing. Then a trek through town to the (Parc by the zoo/natural history museum) and across to the Jardin Luxembourg, stopping at a Patisserie on the way where we bought some eclairs (finishing up our Euro coins) The Jardin was really beautiful – I'm so glad that we had a change to stop there. It was full of people enjoying the day, including a sax/trumpet band playing jazz, and children playing with boats on the lake (sounds very Victorian!). We then had a bit of a yomp to the Metro and back to Vic's flat to pick up our things, and a dash across to Gare du Nord in order to get the Eurostar. I don't think that we could have cut it much finer – we dashed through security and the platform concourse (getting a bit frustrated by everyone who was clearly there for the next train and therefore ambling through), got told off for running down the ramp-escalator, and got onto our carriage (which was a long way down the train!) just as they were starting to blow the first sets of whistles! The train probably pulled out about two minutes after we sat down, but I think that our stress levels were reasonably high by the time we realised that we could actually relax! We should be getting to London in just over half an hour, and we will then be meeting up with Simon to get my TKD kit back, and then getting the 20.37 train back to Bristol. As we won't get into Parkway till 20 past 10, and therefore home till about half past, I don't think we are going to have much of a chance to look through our photos tonight (just over 200 – not bad for a week!)

It has been a really great holiday – so relaxing, yet we have managed to pack tons into it. Definitely don't want to go back to work tomorrow morning!

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