Paris - Part 2
Our visit to Notre Dam was, of course, from afar with all the barriers set up around it. We did see Sainte Chappell which was originally built to house the Crown of Thorns. This church, now decommissioned, is undergoing a major restoration due to the massive stained glass windows. Also, as they do this restoration, they are developing an ethics policy for all future restorations.
The Musée d’Orsay was one of the highlights of our visit. It was great to see the paintings by the impressionists and to learn the story of how the impressionist group came about. They no longer wanted to paint the subjects of the renaissance which was limited to religious, political or royal figures. They wanted to paint real people in real situations. Their style of painting was also different using bold brush strokes. We spent 3 hrs there and probably could have spent more time. The d’Orsay is an example of how the Parisians have preserved their old buildings. This used to be a train station. Instead of demolishing it, it was converted into a museum. Hence, the picture in front of the clock.
The Palais Garnier, (Opéra House) was also a spectacle of grandeur- very ornate and classy. One could imagine all the ladies in their gowns going up the grand staircase. It is still used although primarily for ballet as Paris has a new Opera house. Close by, was the Galleries Lafayette - a major department store. Reluctantly, the guys went with us and were they in for a shock as it wasn’t the shopping we were interested in but the building. We had a coffee at Starbucks and gazed out into the store in wonder. Everything in the store was out of our price range - even the souvenirs. Even the coffee - cost $12 for two Americano coffees. Prices for things here are mostly the same as they are in Canada but of course they are in euros making it expensive for us who are paying with Canadian dollars. But the price of the cherries blew me away. See the picture. $1.50 to the euro. Figure it out.
The Eiffel Tower, or Tour Eiffel as it is called here, was built for the 1889 World’s Fair. While the Hodges and Browns went to the top of the tower, John and I only went to the second story. The top was too high for me and the view was better for photos from the second floor for John. We walked down the stairs and it was amazing to be inside the foot of the tower and see the structure up close. This is one of the world’s icons and it is hard to believe the Parisians of the time thought it was a big eyesore and wanted it torn down. Later, after a cruise on the River Seine, the tower was lit up in all its glory. A wondrous sight. Unfortunately, we missed the light show when they have thousands of twinkling lights on the tower.
Security is very tight here. Everywhere we went, there were groups of 3 or 4 armed police or military wandering around watching the crowds. At all historical venues, we had to go through a security gate and put our purses through the X-ray machine. But at the Tour Eiffel we went through security to get to the ticket line, then again to go up into the tower. We didn’t see any ‘yellow vests’ but they apparently are more prevalent on a Saturday. Everywhere you go, there are signs or announcements to beware of pick-pockets. Had one experience with them getting onto the metro. I got pinned between two of them and couldn’t get completely on the train. Robbie came to the rescue and was just about to poke one of them in the back with his walking stick when I stepped to the side. All of this was going on unbeknown to me. I was just trying to get on the train before the doors closed. Robbie said the girl behind me was all over me. The two of them hopped off just as the door was closing so we knew then what they were up to.
Finding a washroom in Paris is not an easy task and when you do find one they are often €2 ($3) to use. But they do have some interesting ones. These are self-cleaning toilets. After you have left, the toilet is automatically entirely washed down. Now Glenda decided to use one of these toilets in the Metro station. You press the button on the outside, go in and press the button on the inside to lock. When you are finished you press the button on the inside for the lock to release and allow you exit. Unfortunately, when Glenda pressed the button the lock did not release and she couldn’t get out. We went to a couple of metro attendants for help but they thought we wanted in and kept saying - no, occupee - and pointing to the sign. She finally pressed the button for longer and got it to release but she did say the toilet paper and hand towels were starting to recede into the wall so she thought she was going to get a shower.
When the guys and Audrey went to pick up the car, Glenda and I did some venturing on our own. First to the Arc de Triomphe. Here, besides the arc, we encountered a young Parisian girl who was a beauty. See if you can tell in the photo which one is the Parisian beauty. We then walked down the Champs E’lyses stopping for a coffee at one of the sidewalk cafes. It was a very famous one called McDonalds. Later, we strolled the Montmartre area - a typically Parisian neighborhood, and enjoyed watching the many artists at work.
Our last day in Paris was, unfortunately, not in Paris due to the transit strike so we missed seeing some of the areas such as the St Germain area. But by now, we had picked up our van that we leased from Citreon, so decided to venture out of town to Vimy Ridge. This is a Parks Canada site staffed by young Canadians and built as a memorial to the Cdns who died fighting there in WW 1. We were given a tour of the battlefield seeing the trenches and the tunnels that were built to defend the ridge and fight back the Germans. We then went to the memorial which was massive. What made it even more meaningful is one of our party, Robbie, had his great-cousin on his grandmother’s side killed there and we found his name on the memorial.
Our van is an 8 pax van which we leased from Citreon. Brand new with only 6 Km’s. All warranties, fully insured with zero deductible and roadside assistance included. It is, however, a standard. Both John and Robbie said they could drive a standard, so we filled up and off we went. It didn’t take us long to start thinking neither of these boys knew what they were doing. It was sputtering and jerking a lot. Finally, when we got back to our place and filled up again for the next day, the car decided it had had enough of these two drivers and refused to go any further. To make a loooong story short, we had filled the car with gas instead of diesel. Citreon has been very good to deal with. They towed the car to the dealership, drained the tank and the carburetor, put in some diesel and sent us on our way. All for €40.
So, farewell to Paris and on to the motorways heading south for Carcassonne to pick up our boat for our Canal du Midi Trip. So why is Paris considered one of the top cities in the world to visit with 42 million visitors/year. What is the aura that it has, all about? For me, it is the wonderful job they have done to preserve their old buildings. Paris itself is the older district - narrow streets, pretty apartments, sidewalk cafes and restaurants. Add to this the grand boulevards built by Napoleon and Haussmann and the wonderful iconic structures scattered throughout, and you have a truly magnificent city.