Act II: Paris

Trip Start Jun 28, 2011
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Trip End Jul 14, 2011


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Where I stayed
Hôtel de L'image
What I did
Bought French SIM cards at SFR
Visited Centre Pompidou, Place des Vosges & Musée du Louvre
Took the Paris Museum Visit Pass

Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Wednesday, June 29, 2011

We arrived in Paris EARLIER. We were scheduled to arrive at 9, but we arrived at 8:30 instead. That really, really raised my spirits. We were ahead in the itineraries, which gave us more time, but I was very certain that it would be eaten away soon enough.

Before going out of the plane, I took a look at my two sisters' faces to see how excited they were. Paris, the city of love, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, a place of romance, scandals, triumphs of human endeavors, a city thick with high culture, fashion centre... are all these true?

Of course, when we got out of the plane, the sight of CDG could not bring the slightest hint of how Paris might look like, except a few traces here and there. Some of the sandwich shops are similar. There was the shop Relay, of course. There were litter bins probably unique to Paris (browse pictures to see what I mean). However, no Paris unless we get out of the airport just yet, and getting out of the airport needed a number of steps.

In the beginning, we tried to buy the metro tickets from the machines, but they didn't accept our credit cards. We had to buy from the ticket office. I bought 5 2-day Paris visit pass tickets, but there wasn't any information that there were different kinds of card there as far as I could remember. Apparently, there were tickets for zones 1-6 and zones 1-3. We didn't need the tickets for zones 1-6. That was our first budget bubble.

For those who were curious, if you buy the Paris visit pass, there was no longer any need for you to buy the €8+ tickets just to get to the Paris city centre from the airport. Also, very important, it was written on the signs there, the usual Metro tickets couldn't be used to travel from the airport into the city centre. They considered this a special ride.

I hadn't calculated the number of times we'd have to take the metro on the first two days, so to save the trouble, I decided to just buy the unlimited rides for two days. It wasn't the most cost-efficient decision, but it saved time and hassle. Given the luxury of time, that wouldn't have happened.

Anyway, a certain member of my family hadn't prepared herself enough to go for this trip. In other words, she didn't know enough about the context of the place she was going to visit. Indeed, that would probably not be necessary if she had traveled in an organized trip all the way from the start to the end, with little to no interaction with the locals.

I don't suppose it was necessary for anyone to know exactly the details of the political climate in France, or whether it was necessary for anyone to know every single details of the French history. However, it was very, very crucial to know that France, for the longest periods of time, had a bitter enemy throughout her history: England.

This would be a good lesson for everyone who had difficulty understanding why learning French was essential in France, and breaking this unwritten norm would be considered rude. A faux pas, in short.

It was like going to Poland and at least understand why they didn't like the Germans. It was like going to China and at least understand why they didn't like the Japanese. Going to France and DEMAND them to speak English was in a way like going to Poland and DEMAND them to speak German, or to go to China and DEMAND them to speak Japanese.

That would be the last thing they wanted to do. Of course, the situation IS a bit different for France, because the English language had become a global language. The perspective that people had on the English language varied from places to places. That wasn't wrong. I believe, with the American hegemony in the economy after the cold war and the American domination of the television shows globally, perhaps most people didn't even relate the English language to England anymore. Then because America was very rich, people started to respect those who manage to go to America and live or work there.

The bias for being capable to speak English, I feel, is still apparent, but may not be for the same reason anymore. Its emphasis is now as a communication tool, as a bridge in this globalized world. However, I won't be surprised if the former view still persists.

In any case, DO know that it hit France very badly when the 100 years' war came about, when the English started to claim their rights to the throne in France. France very nearly was absorbed by England in Henry V's campaign, if Henry V hadn't died prematurely. Later, when France was arguably the most powerful nation under Napoleon, had their expansion cut short by the English. Napoleon wanted to become friends with the English because he saw the difficulty of fighting the English, considering that he had to cross the British channel. He tried to forge this friendship and failed. England was the reason why Napoleon couldn't hold on to Egypt. England was the reason why Napoleon had to go eastwards towards the Russians. We all know what going against the Russians eventually meant for Napoleon.

Even though today the relationship isn't as strained, both countries have a bitter attitude against each other. It's very interesting that they try to form a coalition army.

Last year, when I told my French friends in Tours that Singapore's official language include English, they were very amazed because they couldn't imagine that happening in France. Why should they speak English? What is wrong with French? Is France not a very proud and strong nation?

I'll give you, the readers, a chance to call some of them as arrogant, since it's sometimes a thin line. I do get annoyed by some of the French no matter if I speak French or not. However, I'm prepared to say that most of them are very polite and friendly towards foreigners, if the foreigners do respect the locals and natives, and be very aware that you are the guests, not hosts, even as you bring your money to their pockets.

With this in mind, a certain member of my family behaved in such a way that really embarrassed me. Make this a lesson to those who are unaware that this could be considered rude. My relative waved to an officer in the face, as if he was a lesser person, and said HELLO! to him. So much for 'Liberté, égalité, fraternité'. The least that could've been done was to say EXCUSE ME, even in English. My relative didn't do that. It would be better to say 'excusez moi', which is 'excuse me' in French, and before asking things in English, ask first if the person could speak English. In Paris, yes, many of them are rather educated to speak English, but this is not something that you should expect if you travel in France to smaller cities.

It is understandably difficult to learn French, just like it is understandably difficult for the western countries to learn Chinese. However, it does make a lot of difference if you try to learn a bit of French than not having learned at all.

In any case, I had to explain and remind my family member about some perspectives. It didn't become the most enjoyable experience in the sense it wasn't always just being happy, but I felt that this was more important than simply seeing the sights and not understanding much.

Moving on, we took the RER B train into the centre of Paris. Then we changed to Metro line 1 at Châtelet, stopping at Porte de Vincennes. The hotel wasn't very far from the Metro. I told my mom to take a look at some of the foldable seats in the Metro. I told her I thought it was a brilliant idea. That way, when the Metro isn't full, people who otherwise must stand can sit.

The weather was awesome, but Keren felt that this was too cold. She wasn't prepared for this sort of weather, and wished that she had brought thicker clothes. She wasn't expecting this in summer. Well, it WAS summer, but it wasn't in the southern France. So, the least she could do was search it up in the internet.

We checked in, but we didn't take the keys. We were of course too early, having arrived at 10:30 am. I changed clothes because I was wearing an ACS t-shirt. It would've been fine if I was in Singapore. It felt inappropriate in Paris.

After that, our next destination was 25 Rue des Pyramides, office de tourisme. That was where I had to pick up the Paris museum visit pass (4 jours) because I had asked my family members to book it and have it delivered to Singapore before we reach Paris, but none of them had bothered (Keren didn't receive it because it was sent to her old e-mail, which she no longer checked. I had no idea she didn't use it anymore) so it bothered the schedule to eat lunch at Polidor.

The area around this office de tourisme already gave hints to how pretty and magnificent the city of Paris was. I asked my sisters to take a look at the people here, how they looked and how they dressed. It wasn't just me who thought that the guys here have a much better chance to looking very attractive, even though they were both equally dressed.

Anyhow, we got there to office de tourisme. We took the paris museum visit pass, and also asked where the nearest location was to buy a sim card. The lady directed us to the nearest SFR just a few minutes of walk away. There, we queued up, and it took quite sometime. With mediocre English and French, we managed to buy 2 sim cards to be used in our iPhones. The wait was long, and everyone was hungry, so it was just daddy and I who stayed behind, whilst the rest went off to a nearby restaurant. It didn't taste very good. That needed not happen, but it did. The desserts were at least decent. It was a restaurant right across Chocoline, by the way. I didn't bother remembering what restaurant it was.

After that, our immediate destination was centre pompidou. I checked my iPhone for details and looked at the map to see how we should travel because in my iPhone, the plan was to go to the nearest FNAC at St Lazare instead of to SFR to buy the sim cards. Oh, and before leaving the area around SFR, we took some pictures because we could see the Opéra Garnier from afar.

We managed to get to Centre-Pompidou, though, if late. On the way there, we also came across the Fontaine St Sulpice and took some pictures there. About Centre-Pompidou, to be honest, I didn't understand most of the arts here, but I saw some which I could like. Even those art objects that I had read and had understood the concept behind it didn't necessarily convince me. I suppose it would be just like an artist's spirit to want to try something new, such as separating art from aesthetics. Personally, I wouldn't want to run after something that far if it isn't also something beautiful. We spent about two hours there, if I wasn't mistaken. Since we arrived there late, we got out of it "late" as well, according to the schedule.

After that, we went to Place des Vosges nearby. On the way to the bus stop, Kezia complained that her feet got blisters all over because her shoes were too small. It was probably not hers, but she hadn't checked before, and her mom claimed it was hers. Whatever. We went into a shoe shop which had the word 'SOLDES' written all over and managed to find a cheap replacement.

Obviously, we couldn't keep up with the time anymore. We went into Place des Vosges which was a nice, simple, small park with a small fountain in the middle. It was very symmetrical and thus very French. On the outskirts of the park were trees lining up in twos and benches to sit on. It was really quite common to have such parks in France for people to just relax. One of the sides of this park neighbored a row of nice buildings. We took a number of pictures and had to move on. Our next destination was Musée du Louvre.

On the way to Musée du Louvre, I figured that I had to compromises already. I shouldn't aim anymore than just visiting Musée du Louvre. Already I knew I had to skip walking from Louvre all the way to L'arc de Triomph. Forget visiting Place de la Concorde and walking through Champs-Élysées. So, when we saw a C&A, since they wanted to buy some water, I said mom and dad find the nearest place to buy water and get back here. Keren didn't bring a pair of sunglasses because she didn't have any and didn't know just how important it was to bring one. We went into C&A. Keren and Kezia bought a pair of sunglasses each. Kezia bought a gray hat. Daddy got there and managed to rush going up and bought a jacket because of the queue.

After that, we got to Musée du Louvre. When they entered the courtyard, everyone was just gasping at the grandeur. Kezia and Keren didn't believe the reality that they were there. Keren told mom she wanted to touch the buildings to check if it was real. Apparently, mom had already told my sisters that we would be entering through the glass pyramid. There was a long line, as usual. I looked around for where to skip the line. Kezia said, "Where got such thing? If got then everybody would've done it also."

Wrong.

We definitely skipped the queue using the Paris Museum Visit Pass. That pass was so essential to save time in our trip. A good use of money is to save time. May the stingy travelers learn this to get the most out of their trips. Having skipped the line, I kept bringing it up to Kezia, asking her what she said about line-skipping and she kept saying she had no idea what I was talking about.

When we were inside through the pyramid, we were immediately in the middle of the three grand wings of the Louvre. The wings are named Richelieu, Sully and Denon. I took two maps (in English, of course) of the museum. One for the rest of the family and the other one for me. I circled the attractions to look out for in one of the maps, and asked them if it was alright to separate since I had already been here. They said it was fine. I circled attractions such as Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Wings of Victory, Code of Hammurabi, the Coronation of Napoleon... while I myself intended to visit the moat, some of the statues that I missed the year before, Napoleon III's apartments, and the paintings section. I ended up seeing some of the things I had seen, such as objects from Mesopotamia, Sumer and Akkad. I also ended up seeing those magnificent statues from Persia, and the Code of Hammurabi.

When I went back to meet them, it was time for dinner. I wanted to eat at Le Grand Café, but the waiters were too busy with their present customers. We ended up eating some sandwiches from Paul. Everyone else was dead tired, and when I checked, they only managed to look at Mona Lisa, Wings of Victory and the Code of Hammurabi. Keren told me they got lost, which wasn't surprising, but it was indeed a pity.

Kezia was jet-lagged because she couldn't sleep in planes or cars. Keren had "sleeping pills", but Kezia didn't ask for them either. The pills were muscle relaxants she said. Should I say "sleeping pills" or "muscle relaxant" pills? Kezia should really have forced herself to sleep. I asked if it was possible for me to explore for just 15 minutes because I hadn't managed to catch Napoleon III's apartments. They asked if it was okay for them to just go back into the hotel and rest. I said that would be fine, except they didn't know how to get back to the hotel by themselves. The ones who knew were Keren and I. Fantastic.

In the end, they decided to wait for Keren and I to finish looking at Napoleon III's apartments. Thank God we did because it was bloody magnificent! We took a little bit more than 15 minutes, though. It was more like half an hour.

We got back, and we traveled back into the hotel. Mom saw someone at the exit of the Metro selling fruits, and because they were cheap, she bought some. Keren had to stay behind to guide her back into the hotel. Impulse shopping.

I told Keren that we were supposed to look at L'Arc de Triomph that day too, and she said she would want to maximize the whole trip, but I told her that our feet wouldn't be able to sustain ourselves the next day. It was a bit ambitious for a first day, I must admit.
 
Kezia got knocked out, but I made sure she apply Gehwol Fußmassage before she slept because she would need it. I had to transfer photos, recharge my camera's battery, recharge my iPhone, apply Gehwol, and get the details for the itineraries for the next day. I would've wanted more sleep, but nobody else knew about the itineraries except me, so the responsibility lied on my shoulders.

I also told everyone to apply Gehwol before they sleep. Nobody prepared it because nobody could anticipate how tired and sore our feet would be except for me.

By the way, the Counterpain that I bought and brought was used for unexpected functions. Keren's hips hurt from all the traveling. She was the only one whose hips hurt. We were all confused as to how she walked that her hips would hurt. Keren used the Counterpain on her hips. Apparently, it helped a bit.
 
Thank goodness the internet here had a strong signal in the room. Just the kind of "wifi connectivity" you should expect if the hotel promised that there's a wifi connection available in the room. However, that's not the case for most of the hotels that I go to in France. To be fair, they aren't expensive, but a promise broken is a promise broken. This hotel didn't break that promise, and kudos to them, Hôtel de l'Image.

ps: for those who would like to see more pictures from Musée du Louvre, the ones taken by me the year before, check out my Facebook photo albums "Paris 3/4" and "Paris 4/4"

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