European Vacation: Paris
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European Vacation: Paris

European Vacation: Paris

Day 1

Flew out from Cork today (26th Feb 2011), lovely easy airport to start off the trip. In fact I was the only person going through security at 8.40 am or so.

Going through security that early was a bit of a mistake though, as due to the way Cork is laid out, you get to look at everybody stuffing themselves on fill Irish breakfasts through the glass partition on the other side of security. The options on air side were not so appetising unfortunately.

When I arrived in Paris, it took me a while to find the Air France bus to Gare de Lyon, as I was on the wrong level, after about 10 minutes of aimless wandering I figured it out, and was just in time to catch the bus. Google maps on the iphone got me to the hotel about 10 minutes after I should have foun it, but that was my fault rather than Google. Due to Google Maps hunger for accessing the internet, it won’t be my navigation app of choice.

That honour goes to OffMap2, which lets you download the entire map (or maps) you require in advance, so they can be used offline when needed. You can also access Wikapaedia articles and guides for hotels, museums and more. It’s also got much more comprehensive transport info than Google, which is a must-have when searching for bus stops and metro access. Google totally does not cut the mustard in this area.

I’ll write a separate post at some point about the apps I’ve installed on my iPhone, there’s a fair few of them, both free and paid for.

When I finally Checked in to my hotel, the Pavillon Saint-Louis Bastille, I checked out the teeny tiny room, then headed out to explore the local area. By which I mean get lost a lot and walk in circles. To be honest I only looked at the map on the iPhone when it was time to return to the hotel.

The Colonne de Juillet monument in the centre of Place de la Bastille.

I mainly wandered around Place de la Bastille, with a brief foray into bastille metro station,after intitially trying to enter via the car park 🙂 On my journey I got rained on a lot, and saw a fight between a driver, and some old chap he narrowly missed knocking down at a pedestrian crossing. The old chap had the much younger driver down on the ground with a few whacks from his umbrella, then he started pummeling him. Bystanders intervened and the two went on their way without getting the Gendarmes involved. Very civilised considering, cultured even, one might say.

And anyone who says they’ve been to Paris, but claims not to have stepped in dog shit, is a liar. Either about Paris or the dog turd. A popular area is around the base of trees, which I had to step onto to avoid a crowd coming towards me (luckily their intentions were benign). I didn’t realise what had happened until I started skidding across the road. It was like the sole of my shoe had been coated with teflon. And that’s that for day 1, pretty much. The weather was too dismal to really take any photographs, though I did capture a very cool Metro sign.

I have to admit at first I thought it was an elegant french variant of the McDonalds M, until I got closer. In my defence, there are at least 3 different versions of the metro sign.

Day 2

Did lots of research the night before to plan how to get to La Tour Eiffel for my 9.30 pre-booked ticket, using the excellent(ish) http://www.ratp.fr site, which will provide you with complete travel instructions for your journey, by rail, metro, bus, and bien súr, by foot.

Luckily there is excellent wifi in this hotel, so I could safely leave data roaming turned off on my iphone. Much as I wanted to avoid another early start (5.45 am yesterday) , the latest I could safely leave was 7.30, which meant getting up early again.

I chose not to use the connecting buses as suggested by ratp.fr, instead I skipped on to the second leg. That meant walking a kilometre to get to the bus stop, but it was in straight line for 99% of that distance, so I reckoned I could do it even with early morning brain freeze. Google suggested 13 minutes walking time, but I gave myself double that. Not just as a safety margin, but because I also needed to buy a carnet (bunch of) transit passes from a nearby metro access point. That turned out to be the easy part. It was an older machine, without the multilingual features or the touchscreen, but it was no bother to figure out.

I used my credit card to pay the 12.60 for 10 tickets. Each ticket is valid on the bus, tram, RER railway or metro. It’s a tiny piece of cardboard with a magnetic strip that you stick into the reader on the bus (in my case) You need to place the card into the reader with the (black) magnetic strip facing up. If you do it the other way, you will get a red light on the reader when it burps your card out. This is not good, as the driver (if he notices) will have to shout at you down the length of the bus to get you to return and try again.

Tickets purchased, I returned above ground and made my way to the bus stop … except it wasn’t. I could tell because a) bus stops have the route number of all the buses that stop at them, and the 69 route marker was noticable by its absence on this bus stop, and b) the number 69 bus turned left before it ever reached the stop. I cursed ratp.fr as I watched it disappear around the corner.

Luckily there are excellent maps on the back of each stop, and I located the correct stop, which was actually 5 minutes back the way I had come. To sing their praises further, they also include digital signs that indicate how far away the next two buses on each route are. Which is fantastic in reassuring you that you’re actually at the correct stop.

Despite my mishap, I arrived at the Eiffel Tower (la tour eiffel) before it’s opening time of 9.30 am. I’d already booked my ticket online back in Ireland, which allows to skip the queue, kind of. You definitely get to skip the cashiers kiosks at least. Since there were only 20 people ahead of me, and the place wasn’t even open, it seemed pointless to push past them just because I had a 9.30 am appointment (that’s when my booking was for)

I have to say that there was a certain amount of “box-ticking” in visiting the Eiffel tower, but I am really glad I went, because it was fantastic. The structure itself is so impressive, but the views are the real show stealer. Paris is a beautiful city, even more so when laid out beneath you like a toy miniature. There is also no limit on how long you can stay, which is just as well, because I spent about 90 minutes exploring.

I took the lifts (as I’m not insane), wandering and photographing from the first, second and then top floors. The tower isn’t huge in floor area obviously, what with the tapering and all, but they don’t half cram a lot in. There’s a couple of cafes, gift shops, historical odds and ends, and believe it or not, a teeny skating rink!

Visibility was good, with blue sky breaking through a fair bit through often dramatic clouds, which was perfect for photography. The wire mesh was also handy for bracing the camera against 🙂

Even though I wasn’t too happy about the 6.30 am wake-up call it took to get to the tower on time, I was more than glad when I looked down at the ground far below to see how much the queues had grown since I’d ascended.

When I’d finally had enough, I decided to take the slightly more energetic way down, via the stairs, only from the second floor though (see previous insanity comment). There were about four or five running up and down the stairs, the crazy mo-fo’s 🙂 It was fine climbing down the stairs, and you get to see the guts of the elevators machinery as you go. I still wouldn’t fancy climbing all the way up though.

Since I’d taken about a gazillion photo’s of the place from the tower, I decided to walk across to the Trocadero and take a look. It’s a very cool (and symmetrical) construction, with lots of water features. Nice. I snuck my tripod out of my bag and took some HDR photo’s of said water features, as well as the Eiffel Tower, being as it was in line of sight and all.

There was a guy doing some pretty gnarly tricks on his longboard. Of course the one I managed to capture on my Casio high speed camera was the one he messed up. I got his attention by shouting incoherent french at him and showed his failure to him anyway 🙂 Luckily he spoke English so he wasn’t upset by my “Monseur, regardez!” and shoving the camera lcd in his face, and he thought it looked cool. Which it did, in an objective sense, didn’t paint him in the best light though.

Unfortunately him and his friend skated off into the distance, so I couldn’t record a more successful trick. Instead I took some fast-slow-fast video of the two Merry-go-rounds on the walk back to la tour eiffel 🙁

[vimeo clip_id=”20490536″]

I was headed back across the road to the tower becuase I’d decided to become the complete tourist cliché, and buy myself onto the open-top tourist bus sell-out. I appreciate that is a lot of hyphens, but I rather regret the decision as I write this (a day later) because it would have been just as easier, and far cheaper, to just use the public bus system. The number 69 bus I took to get to the tower that morning passed almost every touris attraction you could wish for, more than Le Cars Rouge did, it turned out. It did go to Notre Dame though, which the number 69 did not. That’s just an excuse though, I just got lazy, and I paid for it. More on that in tomorrow’s installment.

Anyway, I took the big red bus of freezing (who knew that the open top of a bus doing 30 mph at the end of February could so damn cold? I shoud have) It’s not like you can get decent photographs from the top either. That was €24 well spent, not. Don’t be tempted, the afore-mentioned ratp.fr and a bit of research the night before will get you anywhere you want to go. You’ll feel more french for it too, mingling with the locals, and the sense of achievement you get from mastering public transport is character building 🙂 More chance of nutters though, as I shall relate next time 🙂

I left the red bus at the first stop, the Louvre. Fantastically beautiful place, and bleedin’ massive, aided by the fact it goes down three stories as well as up a couple. I visited every section, apart from Art Graphique, that was a step too far, literally. There were steps … everywhere. I felt like Eiffel tower was just a warm-up. Those Italian painters sure knew what paid the bills, and that was the Roman Catholic Church and it’s various well-heeled adherents. There were a LOT of pictures of Mary, plus various saints, and Jesus too of course, man and boy. I saw the Mona Lisa too, at least from a distance, as it was surrounded by a large crowd. Never thought she was that hot myself.

Apart from the crowd around her highness, I found the Musée de l’ouvre a very relaxed, though tiring experience. I didn’t feel Iike I was at Ikea, being forced around a one-way system with the herd at my back. I wandered where I might, and admired as long as I wished, all for the glorious sum of ten euro. The queue to get in took all of 30 seconds as well, which was nice.

After about an hour and a half (yeah, yeah, I know, I could have spent a life-time there) I decided to head back to the hotel, helped by the Canon 550D locking up when I replace the battery. The bus stop across the road, where I had gotten off le cars rouge, also happened to be served by the number 69 bus. Ah, my old friend, how sorry I was to have abandoned you.

The story may continue tomorrow, if I have internet access in my next hotel (this blog is a day behind, in real time I’ll be in Milan tomorrow)

No pressing appointments today, so got up at a lazy 9 am, and even availed of the hotel’s breakfast, contintental though it was. As you would expect, the bread was fresh and delicious and the coffee was … I don’t drink coffee so I couldn’t tell you, but smelled pretty damn good.

Unfortunately, though the weather started out clear, with mostly blue sky, but as often also happens in Ireland, as the door wore on, the weather got worse. By the time I left the hotel, it was misty, overcast and threatening rain. No downpour was forthcoming, at least, but the mist delivered in spades.

I was waiting for good ol’ number 69 bus at the Saint Antoine Bastille, when the number 87 arrived, with Bastille flashing on front of it. What the hell, I said to myself, live dangerously. I hadn’t researched this bus, it could take me anywhere. In the end, it took me where I wanted to go (Tour Eiffel again) though it did seriously go around the houses on the way.

On this journey, because I was further back in the bus, I discovered that not only is each stop announced over the loudspeaker, but there is also an electronic display half-way down the bus. It reminds you of the ultimate destination of the bus, in case you’ve forgotten, and also the upcoming and current stop.

Once at la Tour Eiffel, I walked beneath Mr. Eiffel’s behemoth with nary a glance up, so over it was I 🙂 Since I still had a day left on my le cars rouge pass, I decided I might as well make the most of it. I caught it at the other side of the tower, and again chose to punish myself by riding up top. If I thought it was cold the day before, I was wrong. This time it was even colder, and windier, and more painful, and dismal.

I got off at Notre Dame, and took some pictures outside. I was sorry I didn’t bring the tripod this time, as there might have been some timelapse opportunities with the crowd milling in front of the catherdral. I spent a few minutes walking around the entire periphery of the church, then after looping around to the front again, added myself to the queue for the climb to the top. It was about a 10 minute wait, after which our group got to climb a few steps to the gift shop.

Once we were all so coralled and tempted by the produce of Mamon, there was another brief wait for the requisite number of people to arrive, then we continued on. There were many steps, in an extremely narrow stone staircase, but it wasn’t too tiring, and we had a little rest stop half-way up for a step on to the viewing platform (sounds grand, more like a narrow ledge among the battlements) Then on to the top, and another tight squeeze around the roof, where we could see … the ground directly below, and that was about it. It was well misty, so everything more than 100 feet away was just a ghost in the mist.

There was a couple behind me, and without needing to hear their accents I could tell they were Irish, because every second word out of their mouth was “fuck” (pardon their french 🙂 ) In between the cursing, the girl mentioned that she had been to Tour Montparnasse the day before, and it was fantastic. Good to hear, since I planned to make that my last stop of the day.

Descending from the lofty heights of Notre Dame was quite interesting, because another tour group was coming up against us, which made for some interesting manoeuvering. After finally making it to the bottom, I declind the Archpriest’s kind invitation to enter the Cathedral proper, since he didn’t wish me to enter with luggage. I’m sure it was awesome inside, but if I can’t take worthwhile pictures I’m not that motivated. For something as dark (to a camera) as the inside of a church, you really need a tripod to allow for the long exposures needed. I could have pumped up the ISO (sensitivity of the camera) but that comes at the cost of increased noise.

I caught the tour bus again across the road, and rode it until Musée d’Orsay in the relative warmth of downstairs this time. I alighted and walked over to the Museum entrance, only to discover that it’s closed on Mondays … nice of the driver not to mention that when I got of the bus at that stop.

Waited around for about 10 mins for the next bus, then skipped the Opera Garnier and got off a the final stop, the Champs élysées . Took some pictures, some of them of the other people taking pic’s, to give the Arc de Triomphe some context.

There’s an underground tunnel underneath the Arc, which also gives access to the top, but it was €9.50 and I’d paid to see enough mist for one day so I gave it a miss (not quite, as it turns out)

Walked Down the Champs till I got to the number 28 bus stop, heading for Montparnasse, past the poshest / trendiest shops Paris has to offer.

This one’s for the ladies 🙂

On the way I ventured in to Citroën fashion week, truly, even car makers have a fashion week in France. And wow, I’m not a car guy but it was one hell of a display. There were 5 levels, and each level housed a Citroén statement car revolving on a turnstile, with a staircae spiralling around the cars. It was all very shiny and moderne, as the picture/vdeo below shall testify. Major kudos to the deigner who dreamed up that display.

ABOVE: the view from the ground floor upwards in the Citroen store, there was another level below me

BELOW: yes, it’s a disgusting colour, and a funny shape, but it’s a citroen 🙂

My next destination was the tower at Montparnasse, which has a panoramic café and observation deck on the 56th floor, with reportedly fabuolous views of Paris.

After my bus journey to Montparnasse, I discovered I was being screwed by the weather again, the ticket clerk told me that the terrace was closed for renovations, and the top floor was, quite literally, in the clouds … or at least mist. So, looking through the windows only, and not much to look at even then. He did correct my pronunciation.of billet, helpfully though, not in a mean way.

Even though visibility was poor, I was hungry and thirsty, so I bought a snack, which wasn’t a total rip off at €7.95 for a drink, crisps (chips) and ham salad bap, I feel good I resisted the Mcdonalds I walked past down the Champs Elysees.

In the end I stayed for a couple of hours, waiting for darkness and the Eiffel tower light show. Even though I could only shoot through the glass, this time I felt it was worth seeing, even if the images turned out shite (that’s an intentional ‘e’, I’m Irish) There were lots of reflections, but standing directly behind the camera blocked some of those out, and I had a polarising filter attached to the lens, which helped a little.

As to the light show, I don’t know what schedule it ran on, but it sparkled for a bit, then stopped. More constant was the searchlight revolving around 360 degrees. I shot some video, and also some long exposures. I set the camera to shoot for 25 seconds, to allow the traffic lights to become trails, and also let the camera collect enough light to form an image.

I finally left the 56th floor of Tour Montparnasse at 7 pm or so, and found my next bus stop just around the corner, for the journey back to the hotel. It was one of the doubles this time, joined in the middle with an accordion joint. It was packed for most of the journey, with the added local colour of a big drunken nutter. He took a shine to young man with his leg in a splint sitting opposite him, and wouldn’t letthe poor guy off. The drunk guy had very a blob of a nose that appeared to have been busted many times, and every one of his knuckles was scarred and cut from fighting other bums, or perhaps punching a wall in a drunken rage, who knows.

Eventually he reached his stop, but the young guy had to ride to the end of the bus route so he could get the return bus to get back to his actual destination.

And so ended day 3 in Paris, tomorrow it’s an early start to catch the train to Milan. Au revoir Paris.

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