Monday, 21 June 2010

Europe Part 2: Paris

In Paris, we stayed near the Gare du Nord, where the Eurostar trains arrive from London. Normally, I like staying near where we leave, not where we arrive. But because we arrived at 7 PM, and I knew that would result in a late dinner, we opted to stay close to the arrival station.

The dinner was in fact much later than we wanted. As a rule of thumb, I like to have a good idea from the guidebooks or other sources where to eat the day we arrive anywhere. KC and I had picked 2 places about 5 minutes walk from our hotel, but surprisingly both were closed on Saturday night. There was a place across the street (L'Ardoise Gourmande) that was open, and they had a nice formula menu that we liked. At 8:30 we tried to get in, and despite the fact that there were no more than 3 tables occupied, they had "trouble" finding us space. The food was great. The service was atrocious. We arrived at 8:30, had our order taken at 9:00, got wine at 9:30, got appetizers at 9:45, got our main course at 10:15, got our desert order taken at 10:45, asked for the bill at 11:00 and finally got out of there at 11:45. In the 3+ hrs we were there, everyone else came, ate and left. We were sitting outside and while it was warm at the start, we nearly froze to death by midnight. We were the third table to arrive and the last table to leave.

Welcome to Paris.

The Gare du Nord is a quick walk from the Montmartre area and the Sacre Coeur church (I find it easier to call it Sacred Cow). This was, as always, worth a visit. In addition to the chuch itself, we paid to climb the dome.

We headed out through Montmartre, a beautiful and fun neighborhood, buying lunch in the markets along the way, and passing the original Moulin Rouge.

We took Chesley to the Trocadero Metro station, because I knew the million dollar view of the Eiffel Tower from there would blow her away.

And it did, clocking in as the third best jaw dropping experience of the trip.

After a world class great picnic in the park with the tower as a backdrop (the baguette was amazing. Did I mention I liked French bread?), we stood in line to get up the tower. Stupid me; I wasn't aware you could make reservations to go up. So we didn't get to the top, because the crowds were just too big. But we made it up to the second level, and the views were still pretty cool.

We headed off to the Arc du Triomphe to see really bad traffic, and the lines to climb it were terrible, too, so didn't make it to the top.

The traffic wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. But the reason was simple: the Champs Elysees was closed. In fact, it was an art project, and was full of trees, plants and shrubs -- and about 100,000 people -- from the Obelisk to the Arc.

It was closed for 3 of the 4 days were were in Paris, wrecking one of the great "Paris experiences" - walking the Champs Elysees and window shopping. Ah well. We fought with the RER to get home. I like the Metro; I hate the RER trains. For dinner, we opted to go back to Montmartre and have cheese fondue at Le Refuge du Fondues (fabulous)...

...but the really fun part was that the wine was served in baby bottles.

While up in Montmartre, we caught the sunset with about 10,000 other people

Day 2 in Paris we decided to start our day at the Obelisk...

...head up the the Jardin de Tuileries...

...(note the trees and other greenery on the Champs Elysees in the last shot) to the Louvre.

We had no intention of going into the Louvre. The place is too big and there's just too much of the art that we're not smart enough to appreciate. Instead we started to seek lunch products (notably bread and cheese) on the Left Bank in St. Germain de Pres. On the way, we stopped in at Ste Chappelle to gawk at the world famous stained glass windows.

However, we failed miserably at finding lunch stuff so instead grabbed sandwiches and picnicked in the shade of Notre Dame.

After lunch, we headed into the cavernous monster that is Notre Dame, king of the Gothic churches. These folks who dress up in black and call themselves Goths don't know what they're talking about.

It was right around here that I learned my camera is very good at indoor low light photography.

After, we grabbed some ice cream that despite being incredibly good, was a lot less like food and more like art.

After dinner in the St Germaine de Pres area, we had to see the City of Lights all lit up, so headed over to the Eiffel Tower and Arc to see them in their lit up glory.

By now Chesley had figured out that we were trying to kill her with all the walking we were doing (we had started referring to this vacation as the Baatan Death March). Well, what better place to kill someone than at a cemetery? We opted to spend a morning wandering around Pere La Chaise cemetary, where such luminaries as Rossini (composer of the Barber of Seville), Seurat (famous Impressionist painter), Balzac, Sara Bearnhart, Pissaro and even Jim Morrison are buried.

We stopped by the Musee D'Orsay to pay homage to Monet & Van Gogh, then headed to the area around Montorguil and the Forum/Les Halles to shop (my daughter likes to shop).

Also in this neighborhood is another of those flying buttressed churches, Egliese Saint Eustache

Alas, it was time to leave Paris for Lyon.

Best Paris experiences:
1) The first view of the Eiffel Tower from Trocadero
2) The view from Sacred Cow on a clear day
3) French bread
4) The fight that broke out in the bar while we had breakfast
5) Too much cheese for dinner

Worst Paris experiences:
1) Fighting to figure out the RER 3 times
2) The flooding of our bathroom every time anyone took a shower
3) The crappy service at our first restaurant;
4) The crowds and reconstructive surgery going on at the Musee D'Orsay;
5) Paying €60 for drop & go laundry

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