Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Paris by Foot Again

September 14
By Chuck
This posting is coming to you from McDonald's on The Champs-Elysées and offers free WiFi. However, we can't seem to upload the photos so those will be brought to you by our campground restaurant @ €2/30 minutes.

We’ve moved – from Q28 to P20; this may not sound like much, but it has us directly overlooking the Seine. We continue to enjoy watching the barges go by. Sunday, there was a major swimming event in front of our site – there must have been over 100 swimmers going up river. This became the explanation for the floating, colored plastic jugs lining the far side of the river and the “SWAT” teams cruising up and down in advance of the event. The swimmers were surrounded by kayakers who watched out for their safety. A large group of bystanders gathered on the far side to watch the event; and a gaggle of excited kids on bikes on our side alerted us that something was about to happen.

Claire continues to acculturate and is still immersed in Julia Child’s “My Life in France” while I make the croissant and baguette run to our little market. So fresh they should be slapped.

Each campground has its peculiarities. Here, everything seems rather run down and the staff seems unconcerned with our fate. We were appalled that the Internet fee was 2 Euros per 30 minutes. When we were finished, Claire approached the café owner to pay and asked if he was Egyptian – something about his appearance and speech led her to believe he was from the same country as one of her favorite ITV instructors. He was, at first, curious to know why she wanted to know; but, he warmed up as she explained and by the time we left he was sharing his political views on the US: “America good; Bush no good.” Actually, he indicated the negative judgment with the universally understood thumbs down. I guess he figured he was safe in speaking because we were not dressed like affluent Republicans.

Walking through Paris streets last Saturday, we were so impressed with the children here – they all spoke fluent French! One boy was sobbing inconsolably. I was touched by his tone, so French; however, his mother was wholly unmoved – and continued to drag him through the crowds, ignoring him completely. I guess she has heard it all before.

We both remarked, on the return trip from Paris today, how considerate and quiet the mobile users are: Either they have far better manners than Americans – imagine that! – or they have better phones. Their voice levels were no louder than their normal speech. Of course I assume that they were acting normally and not engaged in a conspiracy against us.

Speaking of paranoia, we have noticed far more police that we are used to having around in the U.S. On Saturday, there was a convoy of police cars racing up The Champs-Elysées, sirens ablaze; we also noticed squads of police located at intersections near important monuments; and, we have noticed men in camouflage outfits strolling along underground in the metro stations with sub-machine guns.

The sirens remind me of the interesting sounds we hear as the rail and metro doors open and close. Often, when they open, it sounds like the beginning of a French accordion piece; the other sounds are less pleasant. Speaking of the metro, I recall that on our first trip, we were waiting to enter a train and a woman reached the door first; since she was presumably a local and knew the ropes, I deferred to her, letting her pull the lever to open the door; but, she was carrying a package and only had one free hand; she assumed that I knew the ropes and became upset that I was not also pulling a handle – this was a two-handed operation. Once again, your obedient servant is humbled by the process of traveling.

Totally out of left field here (no pun intended), I recall several methods of baling hay – none of them familiar to me. In the Netherlands they form it into rolls, some covered with plastic, some not. In France, so far, I have seen both rolls and flats – the flats are more like our packed hay bales, but with different dimensions: maybe 4’X4’X4”.

We did a walking tour of Montmartre, today; this included hiking up to the magnificent Sacré-Cour Church. I was astonished to find that it was only begun in 1875. This was a pleasant walk through the former Bohemian haunts of Toulouse-Lautrec and gang. We did this to the accompaniment of a Rick Steves walking tour of Paris on Claire’s Kindle. It actually worked out quite well using the electronic book – it is lighter than the guide book and it returns automatically to the place you left off. Rick took us to Restaurant Mére Catherine which is often called the first bistro since it is where Russian soldiers first coined the word by saying “I’m thirsty, bring me my drink bistro!” (meaning “right away”).

Some shots of our walk through Montmarte

Clos Montmarte Vineyard—last Vineyard in Paris

Au Lapin Agile Cabaret at rue St. Vincent where Picasso, and other artists and writers gathered

We stopped at a small park for our lunch of hard boiled eggs, cheese and apples (a regular for us). The park was tucked away in the neighborhood for some good people watching and a statue or two:

Park Women

St. Denis with head

Body in wall

Stopped at a boulangerie on rue Lepic for an Apricot Anglais and sat outside at a table to consume it.

Saw another view of the Eiffel Tower with us standing in front of the Maritime Museum.

I just had to have another treat so we stopped at another boulangerie in Masions-Laffitte on our walk home from the RER train station to pick up éclairs and another baguette. The éclairs really hit the spot back at our campsite, watching the river go by. We are both tired after another 8 hour day, navigating around the city.

We did better on the transit system today. We rarely lost our bearings totally; and we made it home before dinner time. However, we have yet to fathom the mystery of why one or the other of our transit passes fails to work. We tried to exchange Claire’s bad ticket; but, the information person told us that she only provided directions; we needed to talk to someone upstairs to exchange tickets. Claire bravely approached the woman upstairs, asking “Parlez-Vous Anglais?” The woman responded “Non” and turned away abruptly. Claire had committed the Cardinal French sin of impoliteness: She had not greeted the woman with “Bon Jour.” She clearly deserved the rejection she received. Our solution? Whenever Claire was unable to get through a turnstile with her ticket, I would come up close behind her – we are married; it’s still all right – and put in my ticket and slipped us both through on that one. I was apprehensive at first; but, then I remembered that France had outlawed the guillotine in about 1977, and I relaxed somewhat.

We have new neighbors – Hans and Nel from the Netherlands. They travel throughout Europe extensively and have been to the US, too: They have been to San Francisco and Yosemite. They invited us over for German white wine, liverwurst and sausage; it was delicious. They had two folding bicycles – one was electric. They also had a centrifuge for quickening the drying process – campers will understand what I am talking about. I was surprised to find that his computer was a make with which I am wholly unfamiliar – it’s still so hard to realize that we are not the center of the universe. Talking with them is a pleasure, since not only are they delightful; but, they speak fluent English – which is becoming rarer as we travel further from Amsterdam.

I will never forget how impressed I was with the Eiffel Tower at night seen from the Seine, below – the grandeur and beauty. Nothing had really prepared me for how truly spectacular this construction is. It was shocking to hear that – like almost everything new, apparently – Parisian’s did not like the Eiffel Tower after the 1889 World’s Faire and wanted it torn down; Monsieur Eiffel, however, had an apartment there and also managed to place a radio antenna on top – convincing the public that the site had redeeming social value after all.

Expenses for two days:

Camping, 2 nights, €31.84
Internet, €4
Yogurt, €1.95
RER/Metro all day passes for two, €19.80
Baguette, €.65
Apricot Anglaise, €1.50
Baguette & 2 chocolate éclairs, €4.90

Total: €64.64

Running Total: €26,711.17

A note from Claire about the running total: I've been making a mistake all along. I've been adding dollars rather than Euros; the real running totals have been updated on all the posts. So, on paper, we've saved about $20,000! Thanks for questioning that Jamie! It took me awhile to get it. I think from here on, I'll just keep a daily total. Too much math!

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know.
And you are the one who'll decide where you'll go.
Oh the places you'll go. ~ Dr. Seuss


Holly said...

Hi Claire and Chuck,

It is such a treat to read your blog at the end of the day. Chuck, your observations and comments are hysterical! You are even funnier in writing than in you are in person. I continually laugh out loud when I read your entries. Your wit is sharp as a tack! Keep the delightful sense of humor coming.

The photos are absolutely wonderful too.

Happy travels...

Love, Holly

MansTouch said...

There are so many great places to see in France like Notre Dame and Eiffel Tower. Just to walk around is already an experience. Sipping a cup of coffee while cruising the Seine is one of the few things you can do to savor your trip. Of course no one should ever miss to visit the art galleries of world renowned painters.
The Truth About Paris