Thursday, June 14, 2012

kate and miguel march on paris

Today's soundtrack:
"I Hate Work" by Shred Kelly
"You Know?" by Harvest Breed
"Dirty Windshields" by Leeroy Stagger
"Running on a Wire" by Del Barber
"Boo Hoo Hoo" by No Sinner
"Big Men Go Fast on the Water" by Bidiniband

So, where was I?  Ah yes, Paris.  This was quite the adventure.  We start in sunny Madrid, which is where everything started to go wrong.

Miguel had joked that in Paris there's always a strike on Friday, so it was a good thing we were arriving midweek.  Not long after, a loud groan reverberated down the corridor in Barajas.  Apparently, no one told the French air traffic controllers about the Friday rule, who decided to go on strike and effectively cancelling all the flights until ours.  Instead, our flight simply stated the optimistic "delayed".  Delayed with no idea if we'd be able to take off today, tomorrow, or at all.  Eventually, they corralled us onto the plane, with no guarantee that we'd take off in 15 minutes or 5 hours.  All we knew is that as soon as the air traffic controllers said we could land, we had to get in the air as quick as possible so they couldn't change their minds.

With dangerously low blood sugar, we finally took off for Paris in the evening.  Flying into Charles de Gaulle was lovely, as we flew over the city and it was all lit up.  Of course, it was nearly midnight and we just wanted to get to the trains and our friends' house to sleep.

Of course, it was nearly midnight and even a large city like Paris allows the trains to take a few hours off.  By the time we'd bought tickets and forgotten all the French we'd ever learned, a rather surly attendant told us that all the trains for Paris had gone.  No trains until the morning.  Miguel looked around at the airport and thought we'd crash on some chairs.  

Did I mention my dangerously low blood sugar?

So we found a hotel with reasonable rates and, as seemed customary, a surly attendant.  Miguel's convinced still that he was lying about room availability.  Perhaps Miguel's blood sugar was low as well.  Either way, after a trip that lasted twice as long as it was supposed to, we crashed in our hotel room.

The next morning we caught an early train to La Hacquinière.  I hoped.  I followed Petra's expert directions and caught the train for St. Remy, but not being local I wasn't completely convinced we were headed in the right direction.  Luckily, the train was full and I thought I'd ask the lady sitting across from us.  I mustered up all my French.

"Perdonaz-moi, madam?"


"Perdonaz-moi, madam?"

She looks right at me, sees I have a question, and blanks me.  For the rest of the trip, she refuses to look at me.  

Well, my opinion of the French is plummeting.  So far, every bad stereotype has been confirmed.  Snotty, rude, and intolerant of anyone who doesn't speak fluent French.  I'm beginning to think this trip to Paris is a massive mistake.

Once we arrive in La Hacquinière, Petra and Floh made us feel a little better about it all and gave us some advice about what to see in Paris.  So we dropped off our bags and walked back to the train station to return to Paris.  

Dread, understandably, filled my gut as we approached the ticket kiosk.  And oh gods now a station attendant is coming towards us.  Crap, we're going to get all snottied-at again.

"Tourists?" he asked.  We say yes.  "Where from?" "Canada."

"Oh," he smiles, "I have a cousin in Toronto!"

And with that he helps us get our tickets, fills our hands with maps of Paris and all kinds of information, and sends us on our way.  The single friendliest station attendant I've ever met.  Things are looking up. 

By the time we arrived in Paris, the sun was shining and blood sugar was stable.  We got off at St-Michel-Notre-Dame.  Whilst Notre Dame might be fascinating for most people, for those of us who put that puzzle together year and year, seeing Notre-Dame was beyond anything I could have expected.

Sure, there weren't any angels, devils, nuns or priests, but the detail was stunning.

Okay, I did find a devil or two..

Plus, I got to say "flying buttresses".  Repeatedly.

Miguel had been to Paris before, so he had a plan.  After Notre Dame, we walked over to the inside-out wonder that is the Pompidou.  

Before continuing on to the Louvre, 

where Miguel snapped this fantastic photo.  

We didn't go into either the Louvre or the Pompidou because we had 20 km to walk and only one day.  Besides, who would want to be inside on such a beautiful day?  After a lunch at Le Véro Dodat in a charming covered walkway, we hiked up to Montmartre.  

The stairs and lawn up to the Sacré Coeur was full of people taking advantage of the beautiful April day.  The Basilica is late 19th-century and looks like a combination of Greek Orthodox and Islamic architecture, mixed with a healthy dose of Romanesque.  A stark contrast to the Gothic design of Notre Dame.

By the time we reached the top of the hill, we needed to duck inside for a quick break from the heat and sun.  But as we still had miles to go before we could rest, we started out again, this time towards the Arc de Triomphe.

So, I didn't really understand the whole Arc de Triomphe before.  I thought, oh it's a big arch in the middle of the city.  The "de Triomphe" bit apparently escaped my notice.  Not anymore.  In fact, both Miguel and I took a little bit of an issue with what was considered a "triomphe".

See, I think my ancestors might have disputed that a bit.

And Miguel disputed that a lot.  "We kicked you out!" he shouted, waving his fist in the air. Both of us sat there, a little perturbed, but the Lonely Planet Paris: City Guide description cheered us up:
The Triumphal Arch is 2km northwest of place de la Concorde in the middle of place Charles de Gaulle (aka place de l'Étoile), the world's largest traffic roundabout and the meeting point of 12 avenues (and three arrondissements).  It was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon to commemorate his imperial victories but remained unfinished when he started losing - at first battles and then whole wars.  It was finally completed under Louis-Philippe in 1836.  Among the armies to march triumphantly through the Arc de Triomphe were the Germans in 1871, the Allies in 1919, the Germans again in 1940 and the Allies again in 1944. (124-125)
I love that the most important feature about the Arc de Triomphe is that it's a traffic roundabout... as well as the fact that the French army isn't mentioned as ever marching through the arch.  The relief work is spectacular, however.  What the French lack in conquering or even triumphant armies, they make up for with beautiful sculptures.

So that's a trade off... of sorts...

Next, we walked over to the Eiffel Tower, which is much more impressive in person than in photos.  The sheer beauty of the ironwork is worth the cost of a trip to Paris.  Although no amount of money on Earth could convince me to go up the Eiffel Tower.

But it was getting late and threatening rain, so we walked back to near Denfert-Rochereau to meet up with friends of dinner at this great Basque-French restaurant, before returning back to La Hacquinière for the night to rest our weary bones and well-earned blisters.

NB:  While I'm thrilled our evening in Paris ended with a bit of drizzle, I will happily concede that had it rained all day our trip would've been quite miserable.

The next day we flew back to Scotland where it struck me how much I stick out here.  I couldn't pass for Spanish in Spain, nor Scottish in Scotland, but I felt my most blended-in whilst in Paris.  Not that I'm nearly as fashionably dressed or even able to speak French, but I felt like I stuck out less.  I was just as nondescript as every other person on the street.  For 24 hours, it was a bit like being back in Canada.