From London to Paris...
Trip Start Sep 02, 2007
5Trip End Sep 07, 2007
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Our Eurostar train left Waterloo station at precisely 11:34am. Our seats were right next to a huge wall, pretty much nixing any chance to look at the countryside as we rolled along at 100mph. The tunnel under the English Channel was pretty cool. It was just an intense blackness accompanied by the sounds of the tunnel walls reflecting our air around. There was a 130 feet of water right above us, but you would never know it.
Coming out on the other side of the "Chunnel", we were in France. The French countryside rolled on and on and on and on. A brilliant mixture of greens and yellows and oranges. Laura and I both passed out at this point, waking up when we pulled into Paris' Gare Du Nord station. We hopped off the train, giggled like little kids that we were in Paris and bought ourselves a 5 day metro card each, allowing us to have unlimited use of the Paris subway and bus system for our entire stay. Our first French debacle happened shortly after, when Laura's bag got stuck in the metro entry point with people waiting behind. A kind Samaritan came up and started rattling off in French to Laura... we had no clue what she was saying. After some wiggling and lifting and French friendliness we got the bag unstuck and we were on our way again.
The Hotel Royal Phare is in what can only be described as a flawless location. In the heart of the extremely French Rue Cler neighborhood, the hotel is old, has a lift no bigger than the smallest closet in the world and stairwells that would severely punish those who might take a wrong step. I had requested to be on the top floor, mainly because Rick Steves had recommended it. He claimed that if you were lucky you might get a room with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Well, we were one of the lucky ones I guess. On the other side of our teensy-weensy little room, a knob on a pair of French windows invites you to open them up, take in the fresh air and then have that fresh air taken right out of your lungs by the beauty of the tower in front of you. After gazing out at the awe-inspiring Paris landmark for a couple of minutes, we set up shop in our cozy room and then hit the Paris streets. It was time to explore.
Not long after we started wandering around Paris, our hunger alarms began to ring at an ear shattering volume. Here came our first challenge in France: Finding a decent place to eat and then ordering food, without understanding much of anything. True, there are plenty of restaurants in Paris that speak English and cater to English. But is that really experiencing a foreign country? If we wanted to speak English the whole time we would have stayed in London. We scoured the neighborhood for food, two determined Americans looking for dinner in Paris. Finally, we settled on a little café about two blocks north of our hotel. I inhaled a steak with béarnaise sauce. Laura enjoyed a rotisserie chicken. Both of us pretty much froze when we tried to say anything French. The waitress, seeing the look of panic on both of our faces, would immediately switch to English when necessary. We shall try again tomorrow.
Leaving the café, we made our way over to the Eiffel Tower.
Moving along but turning back every minute or so to see the tower again and again, we aimed towards the closest Metro station so we could get over to the Arc de Triomphe. We passed by Trocadero Square on the way, which has magnificent, full scale views of the Eiffel Tower.
You can lean against a brick façade and spend the evening staring at the monument, all while the sounds of screaming French youths and rap music envelop you. Laura and I stood there and listened to everything around us, a chaotic symphony of French and five other languages all melting into something confusing and refreshing. It's kind of nice to not be able to understand anything. Ignorance really is bliss.
Besides feeling ignorant in a country where I don't understand what anything means, standing in front of the Arc De Triomphe brought on a whole new level of bliss. Once again, I had no idea of the sheer size of this famous monument. Built to honor Napoleon's soldiers after victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, The 165-foot high arch sits on an island in the middle of a huge roundabout. Laura and I watched the traffic going by in circles. Can someone explain to us how these people merge into traffic?
There were no signs. No general direction of how anything was supposed to go. Just a bunch of cars coming from 3 different directions, all merging onto one huge street and blaring their horns at each other. It was amazing. Inside the arch lies the humbling Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a humbling little marker with a bronze plaque, fresh flowers and a flame that is lit every evening at 6:30. The outside of the Arc is by far the best part though. Four massive reliefs adorn both outward facing sides of each pillar.
My favorite was the relief of Napoleon in a toga, while Paris kneels before him and his power. Too bad he died before it was finally completed. Good for him that he never saw the Arc de Triomphe in its worst predicament... from 1940 to 1944, a Nazi Swastika blew in the wind from atop the Arc.
With our Paris introduction completed, we hopped back on the subway and made our way back to the Hotel. Before going to bed for the evening, we stopped at a little fruit stand and bought a couple of apples and bananas... and some ice cream treats because we really, really, really love ice cream. Paris at night is a whole different world than Paris in the day.
Walking back through Rue Cler, the old brick streets enticed those with an adventurous spirit to wander down abyss like alleys, or climb gothic fire escapes to the roof of a building. The city feels much more brooding and dark than that of London. If London ever had an ambassador it would have to be Benny Hill for me. Being in the city, that's all I could think of. When is Benny Hill going to pop out? In Paris our first evening, I expected the Grim Reaper to come around the corner at any second as we walked around. I like that.
Where I stayed