Saturday, August 9, 2008

I love Paris, in the summer, when it sizzles

To quote a bit of Cole Porter (lyrics that were part of a show I used to do at sea, one I don't miss) I did love Paris, and it did sizzle. It was my first time, but armed with my own private French- speaker I was ready to take on the Ville-Lumiere.

We took the 6.30 Eurostar from St. Pancreas. In order to do this, we got a bus at 4am. This is what we look like, waiting for a bus at 4am.

We arrived in Paris, after like 2 hours in a dark tunnel at the Gare du Nord, and took a short metro ride to our quartier, St. Germain in Paris' Latin Quarter, and hotel, the Hotel Califonia (yes, really. It was a cheap internet deal, okay)

Paris' metro system is sound, the train's are larger than our London 'Tube', but there are a lot more stairs in the metro and a lot less escalators.

They do have these very gothic signs outside each station, almost as if you're entering a theme park attraction.

And our hotel room was actually great. Our view was lovely,

and we were 2 minutes' walk from this baby, Notre Dame on the Ille de Paris. We even got the AC to work on the 2nd night, which we needed as temperatures hit 32 all three days we were there.

The land-locked Parisians have found a way to deal with the heat though, with sand hauled in to make 'La Plage' beside the Seine, every July.

Eric took in the scenery.

We walked across to the Ille de Paris, passing this statue commemorating (we think) the winner of the turn-of-the century ladies' naked table tennis championships.

A thing you quickly learn about Paris is: it's all in the details. Faces on bridges, gargoyles on Cathedrals, even cherubs on public water fountains. I couldn't actually believe it until I saw people filling up their water bottles from these plentiful Godsends.

We returned to actually check in to our hotel (at 1.30pm) having stopped for a gallette (savoury pancake to me) and discovered arguably the best way to see Paris.
Reader, let me introduce you to Velib!

Here's the deal: They are racks of bikes attached to little docks, distributed around the city.
You buy a ticket, as Eric's showing, which is 1euro for one day, or 5euros for a week.

THEN you put a credit card into the central machine, which takes a deposit of 150euros in case you keep the bike.

If you replace the bike within a half hour (ie you journey across the city and clunk the bike into one of the docks there) it's free, as many times that day as you want! If you keep the bike over half an hour they charge you another euro or so per hour. If you nick the bike, they take the 150euros from your card.

Amazingly, nobody seems to do this! Perhaps it's because the bikes are specifically designed and can only be fixed by Velib technicians, but I think it's more than that, something to do with the sense of pride, the notion of right and wrong I got from people in the city. People were courteous, polite even to a Brit like me, and fair.

I regret to admit, this great system would work in my hometown, which is a shame, because the bikes were a cheap, fun, quick way to see Paris, and much cooler than the stuffy, devoid of Air-Con Metro!

One word of warning: they freeze up that 150euros for as long as a week, while they tally up all the retruned bikes. Just, you know, if you needed the money....
We cycled (or Velibbed) from our hotel where conveniently there were a bunch of Velibs lined up, down the Champs-Elysees, pausing to check out the direct line from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, all the way to the Arc itself.

Here we are.

Next, on to the Tour d'Eiffel, which we cycled (ok, pushed our bikes) right under.

And if you think this looks impressive,
check it out at night! But more on that later...

We cycled North, to Rue Raynouard, and left our bikes in a dock there, right near the house of famous writer Balzac.

Time for a cider, in one of Paris' street cafes. See, the thing about cafes in Paris is, THEY WORK. The staff are efficient, quick, bring you what you want and leave you alone. It's a thing the English don't seem to ever get right, but is so great when done well. We dined in cafes several times, a 24hour cafe became our local in fact. And I didn't find them expensive either. Almost all we visited had a 2 course lunch menu for around 10euros. Try seeing how much you can get in a cafe in Venice for 10 euros!

Refreshed, it was on to Balzac's house. For an impoverished writer, he definitely liked to live in style. There are letters to landlords here, in his former dwelling, on the one hand explaining how his rent would be late, and in the same correspondance, expressing a wish to purchase statues/chairs already in the apartment!

Here's his desk

a few of his notes

his coffee pot, which he overused to the point of gastric trouble, staying up all night writing

the intricate family trees he created for his characters, all interweaved

examples of the illustrations of these characters

and someone even thought to make a bronze caste of his writing hand!

Onto another velib, it was back to the Hotel California for a nap.

Later (much later) we went back to the Eiffel Tower, and managed to get up to the 2nd level (the highest level, the 3rd, was closed) by midnight. The queues are greatly decreased late at night,

and as you can see, the views over the Seine are great.

The last 5minutes of every hour in the evening, the light show on the Tower begins, making it twinkle in a Disney-esque way.

This thing is an amazing feat of engineering for 1910! Luckily, the elevators have been updated, in the 60's and more recently, so that now a computer monitors the weight in each lift and refuses to launch one up the tower if it is over-filled. Phew!

We got our first taxi back to St. Germain to find food (a charcutiere from our local, the 24hour Petit Pont cafe), and then Jazz.

Paris' nightlife often takes place in Caves, of which there are several. This one, the Caveau de la Rouchette was as entertaining for it's jive dancers as it was for the

Scott Hamilton jazz quintet, headed by a fantastic Vibrophone player.

I guess they finished at 2.30am, I don't really remember, but I do remember Eric on the way home.

What's he doing?

He's trying to steal Montagne's shoe.

Next morning, following our new rule: Do the must-see's either very early or very late, we were walking round the Notre Dame Cathedral at 9am. But I must finish this post, publish it and write about our 2nd day in a new post!

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