December 2008

Monday looked warmer than Sunday, but I think we have never been as cold (and we thought we had come well prepared). Our plan was to sort out some travel arrangements for the rest of the trip at Gare de l’Est and purchase tickets to Versaille, but we found that purchasing en avance was not necessary and, given the queues we found today, not advisable.

Our route took us to a small street of Champ de Mars, where were to collect our D-Day tour tickets. The bike company was swarming with Australians and we were sorry for Lisa, the office manager, who was friendly and helpful.

The leaflet for Bateau Parisienne told us to go under the Tour Eiffel, and we visualised a ticket office rather than a sign to the quai. We had the “privilege” of seeing the biggest crowd and longest queues we have ever seen (45 minutes in below zero temperatures to buy tickets). All of Western Europe had come to Paris on a mission. New Year’s Eve will be interesting if this is any indication.

The cruise was a fantastic chance to see Paris from a different angle. I insisted we sat outside to get better pictures, but at halfway realised that even the noon sun would not save us from exposure.

It had seemed like an idea to to Montparnasse to ascend the tower and take some panoramic shots, but by then any sign of a line was a disincentive, so we abandoned that idea for the cemetary and introducing Paula to the thawing qualities of hot chocolate at a local cafe. I have pictures of Becket’s grave and that of Sartre and de Beauvoir. Another day off the tax.

We did not feel like an afternoon in the cafe, so settled for a read and warm shower before dinner. We splashed out on the food, deciding to eat a good Parisian meal rather than bistro food. Though only twenty euro more than our usual fare, it was delicious: proper onion soup, and a fantastic entrée with scrambled egg in fillo, veal and duck. It was a good choice: by the time we left, it was packed.

Inevitably, much of the real impression of what we are doing is lost: I hope Paula is feeling descriptive, because we are experiencing more of Paris than last time and dreaming of one day living here for a month.

If I keep writing at this level of detail, we will need to wake early each morning to chronicle.

Our goal was d’Orsay, but we found ourselves outside la Madeleine and popped inside for mass. Suitably sanctified, we strolled over to la Rive Gauche and up the quai.

The gallery was Paula’s nightmare; huge crowds, long queues and a lot of
artists that weren’t her favourites. I’ve always been partial to late 19th Century painting, but Paula’s more of a
Renaissance woman, in every sense.

We saw a fair bit in two or three hours but found the crowds a bit much. We strolled through the gardens in front of the Louvre but found ourselves a bit tired to dive into the Latin Quarter. Back at home base, we decided on a power nap and slept for three hours, which was a mistake.

A bistro meal and some planning rounded out the day. One can only hope that the body clocks sort out today.

Monday’s plan is train tickets, a cruise on the Seine and a trip to Montparnasse. Versaille is Tuesday.

Of course, we woke far too early. Jet lag kicked in at five in the morning and Paula was ready to party. With the temperature at -4 degrees outside, we were’t going anywhere soon, so we sat in bed and read and used the Net on our iPhones.

This has been the surprise of the trip. If you can get to a free hotspot, then the phone comes into it’s own as the ultimate travel aid. We’ve not needed to go out to bank or send emails: it’s all here on the phone.

After all this electronic stuff, we went down to breakfast at seven, well rugged-up, or so we thought. We were fine inside over a very good breakfast, but once outside on our walk, the cold made its presence felt in no uncertain terms.

We decided to move along pretty quickly, down the rue Magenta towards la place de la Republique. In spite of the blight of America’s shame (fast food restaurants), it was impressive and encouraged us to walk further towards Bastille.

The streetscapes were superb: like no other city. The number of cafes, bistros and restaurants was still surprising, even on a second visit. Europe prefers to live life small – none of the spread or tendency to giganticism that marks the new world. I’m sure there are hypermarkets in the suburbs, but not inside the ring.

We found a local market just of the Place and were amazed at the quality and variety of the produce. Meat was expensive but fish was not; and the sheer range of vegies and fruit, their colour and texture, was impressive. We have a long way to go in the presentation of food, of this was typical. Paula bought a hat, though it has not been quite warm enough to keep her ears warm on a day where we have been below freezing most of the day.

We headed back to the pub – another success, by the way – to dress for more serious undertakings.

Forgive the lack of accents on various French words. I have been to lazy to sort this out.

We have arrived and sit together in bed after 36 hours of travelling, jet lagged but still on one piece. We will not be long awake, but after a good meal and some wins, we feel entitled to celebrate each in our own way.

The Hotel is fine and the trip, though long, was pretty easy. We were stuck in St Pancras for four hours as we has been too conservative in our planning, but that played to our advantage. I scrabbled together enough French to buy Metro passes and we knew the location of the Hotel from Google Street view.

Tomorrow Musee D’Orsay and the Left Bank. Bienvenu a Paris!

We’ve been sitting in a great cafe called Pain Quotidien, enjoying a remarkable brunch of organic breads, ham and drinks. It’s freezing outside – literally – and the queues for the Eurostar are huge, with skiers ignoring the meltdown to piste away their cash.
Paula has added yet more layers and even I am about to add a beanie. Our Lady of Hat Hair is thinking of head coverings!
We have failed to change our train times, so we still have time to burn. We are ahead I’d time so far – and so good!

So how does one describe the experience of the stopover? Is it one of those rites of passage that all those who travel to and from Australia must endure?
Paula describes Bankok Airport as souless. I prefer to think of it as a kind of Limbo before Hell – or perhaps Purgatory – starts in earnest.
So here we are, somewhat dehydrated, ready to take aspirin, valerian, water and whatever spirits are available in the plane, on the off-chance that we will sleep. So far, it’s been Brideshead, Hellboy II, a third of my le Carre novel and forty minutes of fitful doze.

Ah, the joys of blogging on the iPhone. Here’s hoping that my belief in wifi in Europe is well-founded, otherwise this blog might be very abbreviated.
Anyway, here is the reading list that is tucked in the bag and the phone.

1. Bean’s Anzac to Amiens, which I was able to download from the AWM site in chapters;
2. Margaret Drabble’s The Witch of Exmoor
3. Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy (very appropriate foe the battlefields)
4. Le Carre’s Our Game
5. Lot’s of electronic stuff: Madame Bo art, a couple of Henry James, etc.

And there’s Paula’s haul as well. That should last until we get to London’s bookshops!

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