21.12.2010 - Today was the first day in Paris when it hadn't snowed, which makes it much easier to to get around. We've decided to do the Eiffel tower and the Musee D'Orsay (http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/overview.html). The D'Orsay proved to be a real winner. In some ways it was better than the Louvre, with collections of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir, Monet, Degas, Matisse, Courbet, Toulouse-Lautrec. Spent half the day there trying to see it all (make sure you play the video on the D'Orsay web site).
Next was the Eiffel Tower. However slight disappointment awaited us. When we got there, the top half was shrouded in fog, so decided to try another day.
22.12.2010 - This morning we spent exploring some more around Monmartre - found a whole new area we didn't know existed. Streets full of Boucheries (butcher), patisseries, bakeries, fruit and veg shops, knick knack shops, and bars & restaurants. Picked up a few supplies and headed back to the apartment for some lunch (fresh baguettes, ham, cheese & tomatoes). Checked on the car on the way back - damn, a parking ticket: Oh well, we're leaving in a couple of days anyway. After lunch the weather was still holding up so we decided to travel into the city centre to see the Arc de Triomphe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumphal_arch), and walk down the Avenue Champs-Elysees (http://www.champselysees.org/champselysees/).
It was a truly amazing sight. The Arc looks big from a distance, but it isn't until you get right up to it that you realise what a magnificent structure it is. Standing beneath it and reading the inscriptions which adorn its walls, you get a sense of what it means to the French (much like the national war memorial in Canberra means to Australians). Standing beneath it you also get a sense of the chaotic traffic which goes around it. There are no traffic lanes marked, and there are 12 entry/exit points surrounding it - get the idea? Watching it for a few minutes and you soon realize that there is some sort of order to the chaos and it seems to work. As the French say, C'est La Vie. The Champs-Elysees is lit up with lights in the trees, thousands of vehicle lights, and what seems like a million neon signs and flashing lights - a wonderful sight. Rain starts to fall as we are walking, but it doesn't matter, as we are too interested in taking it all in. to get some respite we ducked into a Peugeot show room to ogle the cars on display - not the usual ones on the street though. These are their concept cars and luxury sports models (hmmmm .... I'll have one of them, and one of them ..... ).
By now the rain has turned to sleet (snow tonight?) so we decided enough is enough and head back to the train station for the trip home. Big surprise waiting for us back at the apartment. Remember the parking ticket I mentioned earlier? Well, there is now an empty space where the car used to be. Panic!! Was it stolen or towed? All through this trip we have been using a laptop to plan ahead for places to go and stay. It is about to well and truly earn its keep tonight!! Thank heavens for Google. Punched in "Parking fines in Paris", and google soon directed us to appropriate web sites to learn what happened to our car. Cross reference with Google Maps, and we soon had a phone number to ring. Now, if only the person at the other end can speak english. Jackpot!! A few details about the car and we have confirmed that, yes they do have the car, and we can retrieve it in the morning (after paying the requisite fine and retrieval charges of course). Intending travellers beware - ignore parking fines at your own peril!!!
23.12.2010 - Today was so not a fun day. First, had to hang around the flat until a courier dropped off a replacement Visa card I had lost (long story). Then we had to trek across the city via train to retrieve the car from the police parking pound. To cap it all off, it was freezing cold and lightly snowing. We finally found the place we were looking for and after being relieved of 146 euros, we were allowed to drive away with the car.
For some unknown reason, we decided to go driving around Paris (perhaps it was the fact we were nice and warm in the car). So after setting the SATNAV for the Champs Elysees, off we went. Traffic wasn't as bad as we thought it would be and the trip was fairly relaxed. That is, until we got to the roundabout that is the Arc De Triomphe. Almost 100m in diameter, and 12 different entry points (and no traffic lanes marked), we must be mad!! but onward we went. The SATNAV told us in a nice calm voice "At the roundabout take the eighth exit". Eighth exit??? Who the hell can count and navigate this nightmare at the same time??? With the help of Sam, who did the counting, and Jake and Julie who kept an eye out for any kamikaze drivers, we managed to duck and weave our way arounf the Arc and make the correct exit onto the Champs Elysees. Now THIS felt like we were in Paris. The Avenue is about 2km long and ends in another horrendous roundabout This time the SATNAV calmly told us to take the sixth exit so that we could drive back the way we came.
Part way back up the Avenue we hung a left to go across to the St Germaine area - home to the high end fashion houses. Traffic was a bit thicker here, but by now we were becoming accustomed to the Paris way of driving. Weather was getting worse so sightseeing by car rather than by foot seemed the better option.
So, after a less than satisfactory start to the day, it turned out pretty well in the end. And we get to say "I've driven down the Champs Elysees".