Eric had wanted to take a day to take the train into Paris, to feel that he had really been to "the Continent." I thought it sounded like fun, but that a day trip would be ridiculous. I scheduled us to leave for Paris on Friday morning, and to fly home directly from Charles de Gaulle Sunday afternoon, giving us about 48 hours to spend in Paris, which seemed much more worthwhile. Once we started the trip, with all of our luggage, though, it became apparent that we needed a lot of extra time at the airport, and that we wouldn't really be able to do anything on Sunday other than have breakfast and go to the airport. So, we really only had 1.5 days.
It all started with my being molested at the train station. I was taken entirely aback, because I wasn't expecting this sort of treatment at a train station rather than an airport, and for failing a mere metal detector rather than body scanner. I was groped without warning, completely startled and thrown off my game. I was so poorly treated that I have begun the process of filing a complaint with Eurostar. This of course put me in a miserable mood from which it was difficult to recover, especially as I knew I would be facing a real airport security check two days later. It was very difficult to feel the romance of Paris under these circumstances.
On arriving in Paris, we found that Gâre du Nord had been closed due to some stupid security emergency, and, rather than being allowed to enter the station (with its services like bathrooms, ATM's, and the like), we were dumped out into the street, in a new country, in a neighborhood that did not seem at all safe, with none of the local currency, and no idea which direction in which to walk to get the money to pay for a taxi. This cost us an hour and a half in the struggle to get our hands on euros, then look for a taxi, and, after twenty minutes of failure to get a taxi, finally having to drag all of our bags on another metro system that frequently lacked elevators or escalators. By the time we got to our apartment, we were angry, frustrated, and exhausted, and it took another two hours in the apartment to recover from our misery. By the time we actually went out to see anything, it was already 18:00, and our planned two days in Paris had been pretty much reduced to only one.
I noticed that each had names and hearts on it. Apparently, Parisian lovers write their names on locks and attach them to the bridge.
This and many other statutes we saw in Paris were marred by graffiti, which was sad to see. I don't remember seeing this in London.
The cheapest boat ride on la Seine is the Bâtobus, just a non-narrated city bus, similar to the River Bus in London. The Bâtobus is still expensive, though.
Immediately upon getting off of the Bâtobus, we were accosted by one man after another selling chintzy little replicas of la Tour. These guys were all over every tourist attraction in Paris, and they were very much in-your-face. At first, I tried saying, "Non, merci," to them, but this often did not make them go away, and, as the day went on, I became increasingly more aggressive, pushing the trinkets out of my face. These men spoke many languages and were prepared to try to sell you a stupid trinket in whatever language you spoke. We had seen nothing like this anywhere in London, so I figured it must be illegal there (and what a good idea!). However, I think it is illegal in Paris as well, because later we saw the police verbally reprimanding a large group of these men, and even later we saw a police officer physically strongarming one of the men with a baton. It was an ugly sight. There were another ugly sight we saw in Paris--a street brawl starting. We crossed the street to get away from it, but somehow someone defused tensions and it stopped before blood and teeth were flying into the street. London seemed much more peaceful by comparison.
There was a lot of confusion as to which line was which (we found this was generally a problem in France), and we were further confused by signs saying that the top of la Tour was closed. After some debate, particularly over the frustration that we would have to pass another metal detector, we decided to take the stairs up to the second level. When we bought the tickets, however, they told us we could buy tickets for the top on the second level. It was all very confusing and information was not well promulgated, even though there were signs in English.
Yes, there were a lot of stairs (345 to the first level, plus another 359 to the second level [Source: Eyewitness Travel's Paris]), but we actually got to the first level sooner than we expected.
When we got to the second level, an English-speaking tourist explained to Eric that you could not take the stairs to the top, only the elevator. The top had been closed earlier, just because there were too many people up there, but it was open now. We had to wait in line for tickets, and we had a fun conversation with a guy from Leblon, Rio de Janeiro. Things became hilarious when we got to the front of the line and I was going back and forth between speaking to the ticket agent in French and speaking to our friend Daniel in Portuguese. It became apparent that, at this point, we were both more fluent in Portuguese than in French.
Once we were done with la Tour, with all of its lines, elevators, and stairs, we found it had taken most of our day. It was already about 17:00. At least it had been fun, and we were able to say that we had seen a major Paris attraction.
It was hard to figure out how to get across the street to L'Arc, as it was in the center of a busy traffic circle. You had to walk around until you found a tunnel underneath. In the tunnel, they were selling tickets for the top, but we figured we had done enough of that for the day.
We apparently came to L'Arc at the wrong time, because the police were clearing everyone away from the bottom for some processional to honor the unknown soldier. This may happen at a certain time every day, or every hour on the hour, or maybe it was only on Saturdays, we don't know. But we just barely had enough time to take a few pictures before we were shooed away.
We were as underwhelmed by les Champs-Elyseés as we were by le Quartier Latin. Both of these places were surely once glorious, but while le Quartier Latin had been turned into Fisherman's Wharf, les Champs-Elyseés had been turned into Union Square. Sure, there were a few pretty Beaux-Arts buildings, but most it was the same perfume and shoe shops we have in San Francisco. We decided not to waste the time walking down it, but to get on le Metro to get to les Tuileries faster.
We were somewhat disappointed by les Tuileries as well. They didn't seem as pretty as the gardens in London (although, to be fair, this may have been a weather issue). There were more of the men pushing trinkets into our faces, and this is where we saw the police strongarming one with a baton. I consented to finding one cache, but I was eager to leave the area and get a good dinner.
We followed a guidebook recommendation for Bistrot Victoires. I was a bit concerned that we would be underdressed for a Parisian dinner, but the waiters were wearing t-shirts and invited us right in. They sent us a waitress in a Minnie Mouse shirt who spoke English. The tables were small and crowded together, but the food was very, very good. I had a roasted chicken and Eric had a duck confit. The chicken had all the fresh herbs just like Chef Olive taught me. They had a steak dish that was served with some burning embers on top, very pretty. I was too full of chicken for dessert, but Eric had a lovely banana dessert, and I licked some of the yummy chocolate sauce. The only strange thing was that they didn't give us butter with our bread--packaged ketchup and mustard instead. In any case, dinner was a great Parisian experience.
In an ideal world, we would have gone out on the town in Paris Saturday night, to help ourselves readjust to Pacific time. But I was still quite exhausted from all of the disturbances on Friday, and had forced myself to get up in the morning to try to salvage something out of our time in Paris. I managed to make myself stay awake until 23:00, but then we went to bed.
I had given up on the idea of seeing anything the next morning. I was just trying to sleep enough to overcome my exhaustion. Eric got up before me and took a cab to click in his badge at Household Name Technology Company's Paris office. The place where we had had pastries on Saturday was closed on Sundays, but we found a place that had even better pastries, ones with almond paste. Yum! The pastries in Paris were everything we'd been promised, but I will say that the ones at Paris Bakery in Monterey are actually a reasonable facsimile.
We had just a little time before the airport shuttle to walk down and take one last look at la Seine from le Pont Neuf.
The food in Paris was great, and we were glad to have had a chance to see another country and another city. But all the trouble we had on Friday reduced the value of the trip significantly, and we probably would have had more fun if we had just stayed in London for two more days. If only things on Friday had not gone the way they had.