Sunday 6th August Colmar to Paris Homeswap
Today we’re off to our Paris homeswap. Last year when we were organizing our great homeswap in Amsterdam, the owner wrote to us to say he was doing another homeswap in Paris, and that Alain, the Paris owner, was having trouble organizing a swap in Sydney, and would it be OK if he gave Alain our details. After looking at Alain’s apartment on the web, we were very keen to do a swap as it was a beautifully furnished apartment in a 6-storey building built in 1760, on the border of the 1st and 2nd arrondissement, and only 600 metres from the Louvre. This is where we are heading today.
We do some fairly frantic phone Skyping to get Mike and Debbie a taxi to the train in the early morning. In spite of yesterday’s taxi driver saying that Sunday taxis are no problem, and having a taxi business card, it took about four phone calls before they didn’t hang up. The replies were a bit garbled, but we hear “on arrive” at last, and go out the front to wait with them. Bid them farewell and good luck for their Swiss and Slovenian legs, then retire to the house to do a leisurely clean up and pack.
We were going to get Corinne to ring a taxi for us because of the earlier difficulty, but note the car is absent. Later we notice a door is open, so go down and find Lucien at home while the ladies are off doing the spa and yoga thing. We ask him if he can ring for a taxi, and he expresses doubt that we will get a taxi, and he has no car to use. This galvanises our thinking. We know it is only 2.4 km to the station, on the flat, and we have maps.me to guide us, so, when Lucien has tried four different taxi companies without luck, we rig our baggage for long distance, bid Lucien goodbye, and set off about 11.30 for our 13.00 train. We bought the tickets three months ago with the “Trainline EU” app for 25 euros each. If we bought them today they would have been 107 euros each!
It is a pretty long haul with baggage, but we manage, with pain but no real difficulty. We even find time for some farewell photos along the now-familiar route to the station. Our train is on the board, so we use the lifts to cross to the platform, find our train starts from here and is already at the platform with the doors open. We decipher the complicated numbering system for the double deck carriages with some difficulty as the numbers don’t appear right, but find what we think are our seats in our carriage, and settle in with our luggage stacked up right beside us and wait. Not long after, we find that the number of the carriage shown on a screen has changed from 16 to 17, so we have to move to find the same seats and luggage location in the next carriage. The train isn’t particularly full, so Murray is able to commandeer a set of four seats to make sure he is facing forward. Surprisingly for Murray, the train starts off heading north toward Strasbourg, and our allocated seats do face forward.
The train starts right on time, and follows the wine route along the foothills of the Vosges, and we can get farewell photos of the castles and villages we have visited. The country we pass through is prime agricultural land, with low rolling hills, corn and wheat fields, dairy cattle, scattered villages, and larger towns mainly on higher ground. As with most of Europe we have observed, even farmers live in villages and commute to work. This could account for the 5 to 10 km spacing of villages.
We pass through Strasbourg, but don’t see much of the historic centre, just what are possibly old defensive walls near the railway. Later we pass beside an active canal port, and cross over a large commercial canal.
We arrive on time at Gare de l’Est, hail a cab from the rank outside and our Vietnamese driver drops us at our homeswap 10 minutes later. We follow our instructions for getting in, and do a two-man carry of the bags up the 98 steps to the fourth floor, in effect walking up twice, and down once. We are pleased and relieved to find our host at home. He has a train to catch, but takes time to run us through all the instructions for running the apartment, which is very spacious, with separate vestibule, lounge room, dining room, main bedroom, small second bedroom, study, kitchen and bathroom. He leaves, then is back shortly after to pick up the shopping he is supposed to take with him.
It is beautifully furnished, with interesting items, particularly lights, sculptures and artwork, and stacks of books and magazines, all in French. Our host is a keen sailor, so there are a lot of marine paintings and books. Being built in 1760, there are a few quirks. The floors are all timber parquetry, and are very squeaky, particularly as you get to the side of the apartment where the bedrooms are. For some reason there is quite a slope on the floor at this end as well. Apparently there used to be one apartment per floor, and there are now three, so on this side of the apartment there are some strange doors that don’t open, a corridor leading to the toilet, and an internal window leading on to a disused stairwell. None of these things detract from the apartment at all, but are just interesting.
After we settle in, we get our secure travelling act together and head out looking to buy transport and museum passes. We walk down Rue Richelieu to the Louvre, which is 600 metres away, only a five-minute walk. Find a (relatively) big queue at the Louvre Pyramid considering it was due to shut shortly, so figure there has to be a better place to buy the museum passes (can get them at any museum) so walked all the way around the Louvre (a LONG way) not finding any entrance except the Pyramid, so braved the queue to find it was only an entry security queue, and applied at the ticket office downstairs, only to find they only sell the 2-day and 4-day passes, and not the six- day ones (go figure!), and are directed to a tourist office right up beyond the south end of the Louvre.
This turns out to be a commercial tourist bureau, and we are redirected to the official one back down near where we came from. It is getting late, so we have to hurry, but get there in time and sign up for two 6-day Paris museum passes (74 euros each). This sounds a lot, but it entitles us to over 50 museums and monuments in and around Paris, including the Louvre, Museum D’Orsay, Chateau Fontainebleau and Chateau de Versailles. It also means we don’t have to wait in line to buy tickets, though we do have to wait in line for security checks. We get maps and info and move on to the Pyramides Metro Station where we negotiate for two seven day smart cards, in their own special rigid plastic protectors, paying 5 euros each for the permanent card, and 22.80 Euros each for the weekly “Navigo Decouverte” pass which gives 7 days unlimited travel on all RER and Transilien trains (but not TGV), all buses, trams, metro and funiculars in the five zones of the Ile-de-France. We have to paste our own photos onto the pass when we get home, but fortunately there is a glue-stick in the study, and we are set to go.
On the way home we stop at the Carrefour-City only a block from home on Rue Richelieu, for a supply of the basics, including this morning’s bread. It looks like, sacre bleu, we will be having a fresh bread problem in Paris of all places, as we have to negotiate the 100 steps down and up to get it in the morning, and we intend to be at the various museums at 9am opening time every day, and most of the boulangeries in the district have closed for the August holiday season, when it is supposed to be so hot in Paris that everyone leaves. Don’t know what happened about that, as it is quite cool, in the low 20’s.
Back at the apartment, Dianne does a lot of research, and tries to formulate a plan for the next six days of our museum pass, taking into account which days the various museums are closed (usually Monday or Tuesday), which museums have a late-night opening, and when rain is forecast. Decides on the second, small bedroom as a place to get less disturbed sleep, but doesn’t take into account the anti-intruder aspects of 250 year-old timber flooring, and her planning continuing when she was trying to sleep, so consequently she didn’t get back to sleep after 4.30am.
Monday 7th August Paris – L’Orangerie and Fontainbleau
We walk down Rue Richelieu to the Metro at Pyramides, change at Madeline, exit at Concorde for the short walk to L’Orangerie gallery, taking photos of the ornate fountains, the Column, the Tour Eiffel, and the Grand Palais in brilliant sunshine. The gallery has only just opened for the day, and there is no queue. Jump through the security hoops and find ourselves knee deep in paintings by Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Picasso, Van Gogh, et al, all well presented in an all-white gallery with excellent lighting, and a rather small crowd of visitors. In particular, the 10-metre long by 2 metre high curved presentations of Monet’s Waterlilies series of paintings was impressive, if a bit repetitious (there were quite a few of them). The range of paintings by the same artists was useful in showing the development (or degradation) of style in pursuit of novelty.
Back outside, we took photos of Rodin’s “The Kiss”, in bronze after moving along an older woman who had set up a chair right at the base of it, and more photos of Paris in the sunshine.
We had planned to go the underground sewers next, but seeing it was such a lovely day, and rain was forecast for later in the week, as a fairly random move, we decided to go to one of the chateaux with big gardens out in the countryside. Seeing Versailles was not open on Monday, we decided on Fontainbleau Chateau. As this was a spur of the moment decision we had not researched how to get there, but the transport maps seemed to indicate that there was a direct route from Gare de Lyon, on the R line all the way to Fontainebleau Chateau, but when we got to Gare de Lyon we couldn’t find an R line connection anywhere in the underground, so we settled for a green D line to Melun, with the (hopeful) possibility of connecting to the R line and continuing on to Fontainebleau as the D line finishes at Melun. There is a lot of maintenance work going on at present, and both the RER A and C lines aren’t operating between various stations, which makes it harder than usual to plan transport.
We were surprised that ours were virtually the only white faces on the crowded platform for the D train, and this situation continued all the way to Melun which turned out to be 60 km southeast of central Paris, which surprised us greatly! We have information that our transport card is valid this far out, as it is still in zone 5, but we find it hard to believe. On the way we get views of the Seine upstream of Paris, and cross what has to be the Marne, a large tributary coming in from the east. All the way to Melun, the ethnic mix on the stations remained roughly the same. We pass sixteen stations, and the massive Bois Le Roi, a forest park near Fontainebleau.
At Melun, we finally saw a few white faces, mainly tourists on the way to Fontainebleau. We couldn’t find a lot of information on the R train, which appears to be a TGV, but we were assured by staff that we could get it to Fontainbleau on our pass, and were on the right platform. At Fontainbleau Chateau station, we enquired at the ticket office, and found our pass would get us to the Chateau on the bus, so crossed the road to wait for it. We were dropped just near the entrance to the Diana Gardens of the chateau.
We found a narrow passage from the gardens to the main courtyard of the chateau and crossed to do the now familiar security check and Museum Pass check, which enabled us to go straight through rather than wait in the line to buy tickets. The chateau outside is an attractive, manageable size, and inside, is sumptuously decorated, with ornate ceilings, paintings on ceilings, ornate barrel vaulted halls with inset paintings, rich furniture and draperies, statues and tapestries. Many rooms have paintings, some taking up whole walls. Some of the Grand rooms and galleries are completely over-the-top, with almost every surface decorated or covered with paintings. The chapel has scaffolding in the middle of it being dismantled, but we can still get in to see the highly decorated walls and ceiling.
Outside, we are able to walk the gardens and around the lake, which is lined with large trees and is quite pretty, with the chateau reflecting in it. There are other parts of the chateau grounds we don’t see the need to visit, as we have had a pretty good look, and the formal gardens and ponds are flat and uninteresting. We have arrived at 13.20 and leave at 14.50, only a short visit for 120 km of travel, but well worth the trouble, as we really like this chateau.
We exit the gardens from a different place, have an interesting conversation with an Algerian working on a trenching job in the street regarding the location of a bus. Get directions but find the bus stop before we have to do serious interpretations of the instructions. The bus gets us back to the near side of the station about two minutes after the train leaves for Paris, so have to wait about half an hour for the next one. We are not sure if this is a TGV or not, but it is definitely an express with limited stops and lots of tourists (very different to our trip out here) -a lot quicker than the outward journey, with a lot less concern about where the hell we were heading. Gets us to the train section, rather than the metro section of Gare d’Orleans. We make our way back to Pyramides Metro, stop at the nearby Monoprix for a different selection of provisions, and a longer haul home, taking photos on the way of an interesting hotel on Avenue de l’Opera, and the enormous building with the Academie de Music written across the front of it in gold lettering. We later find out that this is actually the Opera House, known as Palais Garnier.
Tuesday 8th August Paris – Museum d’Orsay and Museum Egouts (the sewers)
The weather has turned, with drizzling rain, enough for umbrellas. We get bus 68 from Avenue de l’Opera to the Quay d’Orsay, take photos of wet weather along the Seine on the way, and arrive about 9.20, ten minutes before opening, with a line already formed. Have to queue for about a quarter of an hour, in light rain before getting under the shelter of an awning. We circulate through the museum till 12.30, by which time we are really in need of a break, and something to eat. With our pass, in theory we can go out, and come in again, but you would never do it, as by the middle of the day there is an enormous queue outside, waiting to get in. We spoke to someone who arrived at 10.30am, and had to line up for an hour to get in. We decide the answer is to eat in the museum, so have a soup and a Caesar salad in the rather upmarket restaurant up the top. Very happy to have slow service, as enables us to recover. Do another hour around the museum before calling it a day. The museum is in the former Gare Quai d’Orsay, a railway station built when rail travel was at the height of its popularity and no expense was spared on it. Later it became a hotel, and it still has the furnishings of a very elegant upper class hotel within part of the structure, and the elaborate railway clock remains to dominate the public space. From the upper floors there are good views across the river to the Sacre Coeur Church and the Louvre, particularly the iconic photo through the glass clock face. Unfortunately the terrace has been closed because of the weather.
As the home of the National collection from the impressionists, post-impressionists and art nouveau movement, from the mid-19th century to the early 20th, all the well- known painters are represented, with classic pieces including Whistler’s Mother, Degas, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro and Sisley. There was also a special exhibition of portraits by Cezanne, which is touring London, Paris and Washington.
At ground level are collections of household items refined to works of art, and the sumptuous rooms of the former hotel. The main public space is devoted to sculpture, particularly Rodin, but also classical pieces and sculptures by artists better known for painting.
An interesting section is devoted to France’s colonial history in the desert regions of Africa, with a number of large paintings by Leon Belly of desert campaigns, caravans, forts and pilgrims going to Mecca. There is also an interesting model of the Academy of Music (Palais Garnier Building), just up the road from us, showing the complexity of a large, live theatre, and miniature models showing typical stage scenery arrangements.
We leave the museum at 14.20 in drizzling rain, and catch a bus to the Quay d’Alma to enter the Museum Des Egouts de Paris (museum of the sewers) right on the river bank. We get an immediate entry, without a lot of security checks, and descend stairs into a tunnel where information is displayed. We have been warned about the smell, but it is not a lot worse than the sort of street sewage smells you encounter, even in modern Europe. Displays detail developments, from the sophistication of the Roman city to deterioration in the Middle Ages, then the systematic improvement in both water supply and sewage disposal over the centuries, with pictures and busts of the heroes of the battle.
The mechanical drawings, models and actual working or workable machinery indicate that there hasn’t been much change to the self-flushing induced by flow restriction and head buildup used from the earliest of times, with the various cross sections of tunnels arranged with deeper, narrower channels at the bottom to confine the flow at low-flow times and keep the speed of flow up to move sediment (for want of a nicer word) along. Methods of blocking flow to produce scour include gates on movable trolleys which can be lowered to near the bottom, floating wooden or steel balls for circular ducts and pipes, hand held wheelbarrow-like scourers for the non-faint hearted, and barges which can float down the larger tunnels.
There are deep pits at intervals to slow down the flow and let heavy solids settle out. These are serviced by clamshell grabs mounted on overhead rails which dump the collected solids into barges.
We walk through tunnels to see the various sized tunnels, screening and settling chambers, and collection and cleaning equipment. At one place there is an exhibition of stuffed rats, and we may have seen a real one in a narrow, ill-lit tunnel at eye level.
Leaving the tunnels, we find that it is raining really heavily. We deploy our umbrellas before the exit stairs, but haven’t thought about our next move. There is an overcrowded bus shelter nearby, but there isn’t a lot of shelter for the crowd, so we jump onto the first bus which comes along, and sort out our next move. As luck would have it, this is a bus which goes past Madeline Metro, so we get the Metro to near home, then walk home through Galerie Colbert, a covered arcade, buy provisions and are home before 5PM.
Wednesday 9th August Paris – Louvre and Isle de la Cite (Conciergerie & Sainte Chapelle)
We arrive at the Pyramid entrance queue for the Louvre at 9.05am, having walked for about five minutes from home, and are through security by 9.20am. Proceeded to follow the Lonely Planet plan on how to get a good overview of the Louvre in half a day, which is not easy as there is a labyrinth of galleries and staircases in the three wings, and four floors. We get off on the wrong foot straight away, finding ourselves in the reconstituted ramparts of the old bastion and donjon, instead of the target Sully Wing. We skip the Egyptian section, regroup, then ask for directions and head towards the Greek sculptures. See Salle des Caryatides (caryatide is an architectural column which takes the form of a standing female figure) which takes its name from the four female statues from 1546; the statue of Artemis with a Doe (the goddess -Diana to the Romans, Artemis to the Greeks, was Apollo’s twin sister and the goddess of chastity, and a tireless hunter whose arrows could punish the misdeeds of men). Take photos of Hermaphrodite, and the Venus de Milo over a sea of heads. We only saw one side of the Hermaphrodite sculpture as there was a large tour group huddled around it. What we saw looked like a female, but it was only later when we googled it that we saw what they were looking at – a definite male penis. Look at other Greek sculptures, then move on to the Romans with a large mosaic floor, and the sculpture of Le Tibre (the Roman river Tiber as a traditional river-god) with Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf. The statue is from the late first century AD, or even earlier. Look at walls full of reliefs. Moved on to paintings by the Italians, including five Leonardo da Vinci’s, Raphael, and Michelangelo (including the Mona Lisa, seen from an angle over a sea of heads).
After getting completely lost, going up and down, and finding more and more rooms, by asking questions and consulting the map, we find the Winged Victory of Samothrace (also called the Nike of Samothrace), a marble Hellenistic sculpture of Nike the winged goddess of Victory that was created about the 2nd century BC. Move on to the ornate Gallery d’Appolon, and various decorated hallways, and find some Botticelli’s, and three Tintoretto’s, and, after circulating around one-way galleries to approach it the right way, see lots more paintings, including the Raft of the Medusa painting by Theodore Gericault; “Liberty leading the People” by Eugene Delacroix with the woman with the tricolor flag; and “The Four Seasons” by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, a very interesting and unusual painting done in the 1560’s and 1570’s, with the seasons represented by people with features of fruit and veggies.
Cross to the Richelieu Wing, looking for the Napoleon 111 apartments, only to find they are closed for renovation. Stop for a much-needed rest and some lunch in the terrace snack bar- a ham and tomato baguette for Murray, chicken Caesar for Dianne with Coke and a bag of crisps each as part of the menu meal. We have a great view from here, and the sun is shining, so take photos including of the massive queue, then head for the Dutch masters, with Rembrandts and only one obvious Rubens.
We move on to the sculpture area and the Michelangelo’s, then call it a day and exit at 2.15pm via the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall around the inverted pyramid.
We get a bus to the Ile de la Cite, and walk to the UNESCO-listed Conciergerie, which was originally a Royal residence, but the Kings of France abandoned it at the end of the 14th century to settle in the Louvre and in Vincennes. It then took on a judicial role, and part of the palace was converted into prison cells, and it became one of the principal places of detention during the French revolution. There is a hall of fan-vaulted columns, and historic cells and a chapel associated with the confinement of Marie Antoinette prior to her execution. It has some nice stonework and architecture, and we could use our museum pass, but we wouldn’t have bothered paying 9 euros each otherwise.
From here it is a short walk to the Church of Sainte Chapelle, which was consecrated in 1248. We have seen the lacy spire of this church, but have never had a good look at it. It turns out to be within the Palais de la Cite Enclosure, heavily guarded, and subject to strict security. The church is UNESCO listed because of its structure, which is narrow stone window frames for the full height, and almost all stained glass (1,113 stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible). The structure itself must be pretty delicate, considering the slenderness of the support columns and their extreme length, but it has been in place for a long time. The entry is into the lower floor, which is fan vaulted, relatively low-ceilinged, heavily gilded on the ribs of the vaulting, and painted or wallpapered in dark blue with closely spaced stars. Upstairs, the design is similar, with a much higher ceiling, and the walls entirely of stained glass in between the columns. From inside, the light through the stained glass is stunning (which doesn’t show up that well in photos) but from outside it just looks like most architectural glass – in need of a good clean. Definitely worth the visit.
We have to exit through a turnstile at the main gates of the compound, and are counted out. From nearby we catch a bus back to Rue de Rivoli, and walk home through the grounds of the Palais Royale and up Rue Richelieu, after another exhausting day.
Thursday 10th August Paris – Palais de la Decouverte, Arc de Triomphe, Quay Branly-Jacques Chirac, Hotel Des Invalides, Rodin Museum
Our 44th wedding anniversary. This was the day we were planning to go to Versailles, but decide against it as the forecast is for rain and cold, with temperature of 12-19C. Had also planned to go to dinner with eatwith.com, but where we wanted was booked out, so going Monday, which is actually better, as we will have finished our Museum Pass, so won’t be as tired.
We’ve worked our way through most of the best-known places on our museum pass, so today we’re going to have a quick look at quite a few. We can always come back if we find something particularly interesting. Dianne uses the wonderful Paris transport app (RATP ) to plot a course to the Palais de la Decouverte (bus 67 then bus 72 -13 minutes including 4 minutes walking). Every morning before we leave we use this app, which gives us various alternatives, using bus, metro, RER etc. We can get the information for “leaving now” or “departing after” or “arriving before” a certain time. It also shows how much walking is involved, and we can send the details to ourselves by email. Unfortunately it doesn’t work offline, so not as good for getting home, unless we find free wi-fi, which is available in a lot of the museums etc.
We miss our stop due to the pre-recorded stop announcement on the bus being one stop behind, and are carried a long way past it to the next stop, so have to walk back through quiet streets of upmarket six-storey buildings, mainly residential, but with some commercial and hotel buildings. The Palais de la Decouverte (Discovery Palace) is in the west wing of the massive Grand Palace, and has columns across the main entrance on a street leading away from the river, with interesting colourful ceramic reliefs on the walls. Security is about average, bag search plus metal detector, but no really hard look at the camera, umbrella or other articles passed across beside the metal detector. It has permanent exhibitions for mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology and biology. Dianne climbs the massive flight of internal stairs to the planetarium level, but it is not open yet, and costs extra anyway. Murray does the rounds of the interactive experiments in electricity and magnetism, which are quite good education tools, checks out the French/Russian lunar rover, then joins Dianne at the upper level, where major scaffolding is in place for work on the dome which is invisible above. We look at some of the biomedical display, then decide to move on towards the Arc de Triomphe.
We walk past the Grand Palace (which is closed for renovations), taking photos of the exterior and domed roof, then walk to the Champs Élysées where we can look up the hill toward the Arch, then catch a bus all the way to it, where there is a fair sized crowd. Walk across the street a couple of times to get photos looking straight up the hill, then take the underpass to the Arch, passing through security to start the long climb up 284 stairs -first to the open area directly below the terrace, then up more stairs to the terrace, which is pretty crowded, but has enough spaces at the rail to squeeze in for photos all round, mainly down each of the radial avenues, but including major landmarks, including the Grande Arche at La Defense, and the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, which dominates the landscape. The weather is cold, overcast and threatening to rain, so photography is not great, but we still get some good shots of major buildings we are now familiar with, and others which are on our long list of possible visits. On the way down we get some interesting photos of the helical metal staircase. Dianne manages the steps OK, but her foot starts to ache and swell by the end of each day.
We spend a long time looking for the Metro Station we know is nearby. Have to ask, and find an unmarked stairway covered in advertising material, which leads us to the station. We are able to make a connection to the Bir-Hakeim Station, on an older line which still has the rubber-tyred carriages which we thought so avant garde 40 years ago. By the time the train emerges from the tunnel to cross the old steel bridge to the station, it is raining very heavily, and we can barely make out the river. We kill some time in the station waiting for the rain to ease, but still get pretty wet, including our shoes, from a leaking roof flooding the landings on the stairwell. We follow the crowds heading for the Eiffel Tower, slow going because of the crush, and not all that secure following the knife attack at the Tower earlier in the week. It is still drizzling, but we are able to get photos of the tower from the footpath, and across the road on the bridge. To avoid the crowds, we stay on the river bank, walking through a temporary fast food park, pretty deserted in the rain, but still selling snack food at top prices. We resist, and push on up the Seine, past an interesting building with a living wall, to the ultra-modern Quai Branley-Jacques Chirac Museum, which sits on high columns over an extensive tall-grass garden. It is painted a red primer colour, and looks a bit like a stranded super tanker from below.
The museum, which is on a number of levels, has access mainly by sloping ramps, with some well-concealed lifts for the munted. The initial beige-coloured winding ramp into the complex is lit from above by moving white laser projections of words which give the impression of a winding stream of water snaking its way downhill.
The displays are mainly cultural, from mainly indigenous societies from West Africa, New Guinea, Aboriginal Australia, the Pacific Islands, Canadian North West, Rapa Nui, and New Zealand, which has a special exhibit of NZ jade and its cultural significance, including the cultural activity of damaging heads with Jade war clubs. The exhibits are excellent, with some very unusual stuff which is very well displayed, but we just stay long enough to get an over-view.
We consider eating at the attached restaurant, but it is quite expensive, and it looks pretty waterlogged, so we move on, walking a fair distance to catch a bus we hope will take us to the Rodin Museum, but at a critical point it turns the wrong way, and we have to abandon ship. While we are regrouping, we see a pizza and burger fast food shop, so decide to give it a try while we sort out our possibilities as the food seems OK, and reasonably priced. After, we walk till we find a bus going the right way, and get dropped off near the entrance to the Hotel des Invalides about 3pm. We take photos of the Dome des Invalides, a massive church building and dome, which contains the tombs of some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte. Decide we may as well have a look while we are here, as it is covered in our Museum Pass. Go through a more stringent security check, supervised by uniformed soldiers with sub-machine guns. This is the Army war memorial and museum, so obviously considered a likely target.
Inside the building the scale is enormous, with a large circular hole in the floor under the dome opening onto the massive Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and off to the right, a separate chamber for the equally massive tomb of Napoleon. We walk around the ground floor, look through a glass partition in the back wall to the organ at the far end of the attached chapel, but get no access. Descend to the tomb level, but don’t enter, then walk through the open areas of the Army Museum to the gardens and front entrance of the Invalides, where we can see to the Seine, and all the way to the Grand Palace on the other side.
The Rodin Museum is walking distance from here so we walk upstream and around the side of Les Invalides to find the Varenne Metro station and Rue de Varenne which leads to the museum. Security again is medium-tight, and we are let into the garden area, dominated by Rodin’s “the Thinker” on a high pedestal along conical cypress (or similar) trimmed trees. We manage a clear space between the admirers for a couple of photos, then proceed to the extensive and well-kept gardens behind the house to look at a large collection of mainly bronze Rodin’s, in particular, the Burghers of Calais group, as single statues, and also as a group on a large bronze plaque. Definitely a lovely, relaxing place to wander around.
In the house, we get to see the wide range of Rodin’s genius, including paintings, marbles and bronzes, and particularly lifelike and modern plaster or terracotta faces of young women. There was also a sculpture called “Iris Messenger of the Gods” by Rodin with no head and only one arm, but very detailed female genitalia. As well as Rodin, there were other artists shown, including Renoir, Monet and Van Gogh. This is another museum definitely worth the visit.
From the Rodin Museum, we gave up the pleasure of watching Paris scenery by bus for the speed and convenience of the Metro, and arrive home exhausted. We stop near home to get some Asian takeaway which is very enticingly displayed.
In the evening Murray develops a mild fever and the runs, possibly due either to the lunch pizza/hamburger, or the evening duck and vegetables take-away from the restaurant next door with the great-looking, but possibly too-warm, display of oriental delights in the window. Spends a fair bit of the night on the loo.
Friday 11th August Paris -Opera(Palais Garnier building),Centre Pompidou, Pantheon
We had planned a long day at Versailles, so Murray, who is feeling so-so, but not all that confident of continence, takes the recommended dose of Gastrostop, and we set off towards Pyramides Metro. On the way Murray decides an hour in the bus plus an hour in a queue might be a bit too much for his problem, so we change tacks, check out our list of things still to do, and head for the Music Academie (Palais Garnier Building), at the end of Avenue de l’Opera, which we see regularly when we catch buses or Metro.
The building is impressive, with a large but shallow copper dome, gold statues either side of the roof, and an impressive facade of columns and arches. The Academy is not on our list of buildings accessible by our pass, but we go in for a quick look anyway. Get as far as security and the circular vestibule directly below the domed roof, and also get to climb the outside curved ramp to the upper level of the building for views down Avenue de l’Opera.
From nearby we take a bus to Centre Pompidou, for a reprise of our 1987 visit with the kids, when we looked at the outside and the then-working mechanical devices spouting water in the square fountain/decorative pool. This was where Adam and Lisa were co-opted by a clown to help his routine before a large crowd, and Adam in particular was a great hit.
This time we had the Museum Pass, and could go in for a look. We took the lift up to the top floor gallery so we could come from the top down, not realising there were both up and down escalators in the sloping external access tunnel. The gallery offers good views across Paris, some open-air for photographs, and we were able to see most of the landmark buildings.
There were some interesting displays, installations, sculptures and paintings in the Modern Art Collection from 1905 to 1965, including Picasso, Warhol, Kandinsky, Matisse, Chagall, Jackson Pollock, Dada, Mark Rothko and Christo on the top floor, and some interesting, if strange exhibits on the fourth floor. There were also a lot of strange, and not particularly interesting, exhibits. There didn’t seem to be much available on the lower floors, so we caught a bus from the road outside to the Pantheon, across the river on the left bank in the Latin Quarter. The bus we took left us a fair bit short of the Pantheon, not much past the river, but we were able to find our way up the rather steep hill to the top. It is a hard building to miss, almost as much a landmark as the Sacre-Coeur. There is an impressive, but not outstanding church quite close to the main building.
The façade was modelled on the Pantheon in Rome, and the building has the classic row of columns with a low pediment full of sculptures, and the tower and dome not visible over the top of it from within the grounds. The domes and supporting arches are impressive from within the building, and make for interesting photos looking straight up. In the centre of the building is a circular guard rail which protects visitors from the heavy Foucault Pendulum suspended from the centre of the dome (and vice-versa). A perspex cylindrical wall is marked with the hours of the day, and when we were there it was right on time. It is reset at 10AM every day, and with a mass of about 45 kgs, manages to swing across the 15-metre circle all day without getting tired.
There are historic paintings on the walls, sculpture groups in the corners, and paintings in the half-domes around the main dome. We go downstairs to see the mass of supporting columns and arches, and a well-constructed cut-away model of the whole building. Here is where “National Heroes” are buried, including Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Louis Braille and Marie Curie.
Outside we were pleased to find a bus stop right at the front of the building, which takes us all the way to the Madeline Metro, giving us a good look at the Luxembourg Gardens on the way as it almost goes the whole way around them. We get the Metro home, now an established routine at the end of the day when buses are too hard to sort out, buy groceries and take it easy. Dianne has a second take-away meal from last night’s dinner spot, and gets some of Murray’s problem. Definitely last time we will buy anything from there, which is a shame as it looks so good. Murray’s stomach upset seems to be on the mend without antibiotics, which is reassuring.
Saturday 12th August Paris – Chateaux de Versailles et Le Trianon
This is the last day of our museum pass, and we’re determined to see Versailles, though Saturday, and the day of the Musical fountains, is certainly not our preferred choice. Back in 1976 we went there, only to find it was closed, as it was a Monday, and two years ago we planned to go, but didn’t end up getting there, so today is IT. We leave home before 8am in light rain (again!) with a bus route planned to get us there about opening time, and taking 90 minutes, including 18 minutes walking. It involves three sort-of connecting buses, with short walks between them. The walks are no problem, but the bus stops still take some finding. The trip is made more complicated because of the RER lines that are closed for maintenance. We hop off our first (72) bus at Rhin et Danube, then get the 160 to Pont de Sevres, crossing the Seine at Ile Seguin, the artificial island which holds the recently completed, ultra-modern “La Seine Musicale” music centre. The venue is distinguished by a solar sail, covered in 470 photovoltaic panels, which moves on rails to maximize sun exposure during the day.
Find our third bus, from Port Sevres, waiting at the bus station with the doors open but no driver. We climb aboard, select the best seats and wait, only to be asked to go to the official bus stop, 50 metres away, with a fair sized crowd waiting.
The bus drops us off within sight of the main gate of Versailles at 9.15am, where we can see a security station, and long lines of visitors in the spacious forecourt behind the first black iron fence. Inside, we are pleased to see that the longest line seems to be on the B side, for groups and others, while there seems to be not much line at all for ticket and pass holders on the A side. A closer look shows a line across the top of the slope, against the fence, extending to the A gate, and the lines on the B side actually snake back and forth to join it. Murray joins the line while Dianne goes to make sure we are on the right one – unfortunately we are, and enjoy a one hour wait, shuffling back and forward on the sloped cobble stones till we get to the ornate black and gold fence containing the inner courtyard. We get some photos of and through the fence, get into the complex relatively unscathed, and still dry, even though the weather is threatening more than just the fine mist we get from time to time.
Inside, we follow the basic Lonely Planet plan to see everything in some sort of order, and walk through countless rooms with painted or decorated walls and ceilings, joining tightly packed crowds at major points of interest, particularly the Hall of Mirrors, and the long gallery with wall-sized paintings of victorious French battles, organised clockwise by date, right up to the last victorious battles of Napoleon.
We take a break for lunch in the dining room of Angelina’s Restaurant, settling for a very good French onion soup, the cheapest thing on the menu, before heading back into the fray. We decide that Versailles looks better in photos than in “the flesh”. Some of the rooms are looking pretty tired – we prefer Fontainbleau.
We then venture into the garden, which we have seen from various windows in the Chateau, but find that not only can we not see the fountains without a ticket, but we cannot even walk down the side of them to get to the Trianons. Decide we’ve seen enough of the gardens to get the general idea, and get directions to the Trianons which involves going out into the inner courtyard, across past the Royal Chapel and into the town, to find a road down the side of the palace where we reach another security gate before getting back into the gardens for the long walk down the tree-lined cobbled road to the large gates of the Grand Trianon.
On the way a local bus goes past us, and we find it waiting at a bus stop on the return side of the road, just outside the gates. The driver tells us our pass is good, so we keep it in mind for the return trip, as we are not up to the extra kilometres back to the town bus stop.
The pink-colonnaded Grand Trianon was built in 1687 for Louis XIV and his family to escape the rigid etiquette of the court, and renovated under Napoleon I in the Empire style. Its gardens extend down to the Grand Canal, and away into the distance. The Trianon itself has some interesting rooms and history, including one furnished with lots of yellow, but nothing particularly special after the main Chateau. We walk in what we think is the direction of the Petit Trianon, and see some interesting landscaped grounds, but are told by some British tourists we are going the wrong way, so back track to where we can find signs, and walk through more gardens to a view of the building over the top of a couple of fountains. Before looking inside the building, we are side tracked to a hedged garden and end up in a nearby chapel, then walk through the gardens as far as the Orangerie. Find a beautiful but un-named house set in lawns and gardens, and the grotto with a small lake before returning to the Petit Trianon for a better look at how to get into it, as it is not easy. The ochre-coloured 1760’s Petit Trianon was redecorated in 1867 by the consort of Napoleon III, Empress Eugenie, who added Louis XVI-style furnishings. We have a hurried look, but are slowed down by crowds of people in the rather cramped spaces.
Murray thinks we are running short of time to get to the bus stop, and there is some confusion on which is the right stop, so we spend some time in sprinkling rain hoping for the bus, which does eventually turn up just after 4pm. The route of the bus takes us to several possible train stations, and across the main road where we know we can get the bus we came in on. We actually see the bus, but we hang in till we get to Chateau Versailles Rive Gauche station. There are trains waiting at the end-of-the-line station, and we’re told that they are all going to Javel, and are directed onto one leaving in two minutes. We find that they all stop at Javel because that is where the RER trackwork starts, but we decide at least it is close to the city, where it should be easy to get something to home. The train is much faster than our three-bus trip out, and takes us through some new, suburban territory, and leaves us at Javel with no mention of bus links, so we are out on the street considering our options.
We walk across the bridge over the Seine, to find a bus which will take us home, ending up with a 72 bus, the same line we headed out on in the morning. No evening activities, too buggered after a long day.
Sunday 13th August Paris -Day of rest early, then Montmartre & Sacre-Coeur
This is our day of rest as we no longer have a museum pass, and we are exhausted from six days of being out before 9am and not getting home till after 5pm. As well, the local crowds will be out in force. We check with the transport app, find we can get an 85 bus from Reaumur, just up Rue Richelieu, all the way to Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur. The bus route is through narrow streets, busy with pedestrians and shoppers at the many markets. We climb the hill toward Sacre-Coeur, and get out after we glimpse it through a side street, possibly one stop early, but continue to walk uphill and along unmarked trails, emerging at the foot of the park below the church. The steps and grass below are crowded with Sunday family picnickers. Rather than climb the stairs, we use our transport passes to take the funicular, which deposits us at the base of the church. The forecourt of the church is very crowded, so we circle left around it and into the narrow, very busy streets, full of tourists, souvenir shops, bars and restaurants. We get views out over the hinterland on the far side of the ridge on which the church is built, but don’t see a lot to interest us in further exploration.
The area behind the church is pretty quiet, and has a small park. We get atypical photos of the Basilica from the back, before walking around to the front for more classic photos of the unusual domed towers, and out over the landmarks of Paris looking west. We decide against going in as there is an extremely long line. We sit on the steps for a while before walking to the street below for more photos before taking the funicular down.
We keep walking downhill and west through unfamiliar territory, not finding any useful bus routes until we get into the main road system. We manage to find an interesting but not famous church, and ended walking all the way home, stopping at the Hokkaido Japanese restaurant (482 of 14,589) just up our street in Rue Chabanais, next to the building famous for housing the finest little whore-house in Paris at the turn of the century, with such high profile clients as Edward VII, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart. The Yaki-soba and Yaki-udon are excellent and reasonably priced, too much in one serve for Dianne who calls for the doggie-bag.
Monday 14th August Paris Republique-Canal St-Martin-Stalingrad-Bassin de la Villette
We’ve been exploring the canal system all over France during the last few years, and today we want to explore some of the canal system in Paris. We plot another course on the RATP app, and get the 20 bus to Place de la Republique. The square is on the border between the 3rd, 10th and 11th arrondissements with a large monument in the centre. Take some good photos in sunny weather, then walk to find the Canal St-Martin, which is a classic canal, similar to Amsterdam, with locks, bridges, trees either side, and gardens. We walk along the canal toward the Seine until it drops through a deep lock and disappears under a pedestrian precinct with parks and gardens. On the way we pass a workman servicing one of the new automatic loos, and take a photo, as it is almost as complicated as a jet engine. We decide to follow the canal the other way, using the bus system, which diverts from the canal around the large historic hospital of Saint-Louis, which has slate roofs and dormer windows, and takes up a full city block. We get out of the bus when it heads back towards the canal, in case it wanders away again, and intersect the canal before it reaches the bridge, lock and canal complex at Stalingrad. We walk past a tent city of homeless people, with the distinctive stench of unwashed bodies, urine and worse. We keep a low profile and no-one bothers us. Later read that refugees have been evicted from this camp a number of times, but they just come back. When the Calais camp was closed, there were about 3,000 people here.
In this area, one of the rail lines is elevated above the roads and canal, looking a lot like the Loop in Chicago, but with a lot more brick in the construction. We cross the canal to look at the massive round structure which turns out to be the Rotonde de la Villette, built between 1784 and 1788, and used as offices to collect taxes on goods entering Paris. Now houses a restaurant. Look inside with a view to eating, but just use their loo instead.
At this point the canal widens out to become Bassin de la Villette, which becomes a beach resort in summer, with electric hire launches one side, larger tourist barges and swimming pools the other side. We pass a water feature draining into the canal, and walk along the right bank, past playgrounds, crèches, beach lounges, bars and restaurants. Buy a drink and walk all the way to the end, where there is a flash hotel and restaurant, which is as far as we can go along the canal bank. Out in the streets we see that there is a vintage hydraulic lifting bridge for motor traffic, and a hump-backed bridge for pedestrians. We are in time for a boat to go through, so watch it lift, then turn back to find the nearest Metro, Crimee, where we buy a baguette and catch the Metro back home for an early day as we are going to dinner tonight.
Dianne has read about a site – eatwith.com which has people all over the world hosting guests for dinner in their own homes, and we had decided Paris was a good place to try it. Jean Yves, who won Masterchef France in 2012, and runs dinners about 6 days per week, with excellent reviews, seemed like a good place to start. At 89 Euros each, it’s not cheap, but it’s an experience as well as a meal. We get the Metro line 9 to Saint-Ambroise in the 11th arrondissement, and arrive quite early. In typical Paris style, there’s an impressive church near where we get out. After finding the exact location, we walk around the area checking it out. Some of the backstreets make us a bit nervous, but we see an interesting shop selling steel furniture made with bottle caps suspended on steel wires, then we come across streets where there is plenty of restaurant and bar action. Back at our venue about ten minutes early, we meet up with a lovely young female Brazilian architect who is also coming to the dinner. She rings Jean, who lets us in to a nicely appointed dining room and kitchen on the ground floor. Apparently because he runs it as a business, he can’t do it in his own home. We end up with twelve guests in total – 3 couples from various parts of North East USA, two Brazilians, and an English couple. Jean is very personable, and goes out of his way to explain the ingredients, how they react with each other, and how the food should be eaten to fully appreciate the flavours. We start with a cocktail, then entrée of chicken grilled with lemongrass, wrapped in rice paper; then ravioli with prawns and wild mushrooms in a sabayon sauce; main course of duck breast Rossini with “foie gras”, sweet potato mousseline cream and zucchini cake with a bridge of parmesan cheese; dessert of macaroons with passionfruit and cantaloupe ganache.
Food is accompanied with an excellent red wine. It’s a wonderful night, with interesting company and excellent food. We thoroughly recommend it as a special experience when visiting Paris.
Tuesday 15th August Paris Pere Lachaise Cemetery- night photos of monuments
Today’s excursion is to the 110-acre Pere Lachaise Cemetery in the 20th arrondissement. It’s supposedly the world’s most visited cemetery and was opened in 1804, and holds more than 70,000 ornate tombs, with over 800,000 people buried here, including Chopin, Moliere, Balzac, Proust, Gertrude Stein, Colette, Sarah Bernhardt, Pissarro, Delacroix, Edith Piaf, Isadora Duncan, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.
We have another late start, catching the 21 bus as far as Pont Neuf -Quai du Louvre, then change to a 69 to Roquette-Pere Lachaise which takes us through Marais and Bastille all the way to the front gate of the cemetery. This is even larger than the Montparnasse cemetery we looked at last visit, and a lot hillier. It may have some famous residents, but there is no guide map apart from the plaque maps, with tiny writing, too small to make a readable photo. We walk fairly randomly, looking for groups who might be onto something. Manage to find Jim Morrison, who has had a lot of visitors leaving tributes, and the weird semi-Egyptian tomb of Oscar Wilde, but not a lot else, not even Sarah Bernhardt when we were in the right place. The topography was good, with slopes, narrow “streets” between mausoleums, some massive trees and a very large repository attached to the Crematorium. When we leave we have a certain amount of trouble finding a bus stop (there are a lot of one-way streets, so you don’t go back on the same street you arrive on) and when we do, it is pretty full as it is about knock-off time for the workers. We are in an 85 bus which is supposed to go all the way to Palais Royal, close to home, but it terminates earlier, and won’t be continuing for 10 minutes so we walk to Rue du Rivoli, and catch a bus there which turns out to be the exact same bus, 10 minutes later, which only takes us a couple of stops.
After tea, we venture out at about 9.30pm to get some night shots. Walk to Ave de l’Opera to catch a 21 bus, first taking night photos of the Palais Garnier. Get the bus all the way to Cite-Palais de Justice where we take photos of the Conciergerie and Sainte-Chapelle , plus the illuminated tip of the Eiffel Tower, before joining the crowd in the square in front of Notre Dame, which is brightly lit. Across the road, the government buildings are also well lit, with one section done in red, white and blue.
We take photos of the river and bridges, and the left bank area, just before it starts to rain heavily. We find shelter under an awning, and it is all over in ten minutes – classic Paris weather. We walk the left bank, taking bridge and river photos, cross at the Pont Neuf to get views of the Eiffel Tower, Invalides and the Pantheon from the right bank. We walk as far down the right bank as the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in the Tuileries Gardens to get photos of the Eiffel Tower, but it is a bit far away for clear shots, and the twinkling lights do not suit the hand-held night mode but we did get a surprisingly good video of it. Every hour on the hour the entire tower sparkles for five minutes with 20,000 6-watt lights. They were originally installed for the millennium celebration in 2000 and it took 25 mountain climbers five months to install the bulbs and 40kms of electrical cords.
From across the river we get excellent views of Invalides and in the Gardens we have good views of the Louvre Pyramid lit up at night. We give up at about 11pm and make our weary way home (once again) via Rue Richelieu.
Wednesday 16th August Paris –Place des Victoires, Saint Eustache Church, Les Halles, Bourse de Commerce, Pompidou Stravinsky Fountain, Saint-Merri Church St Jacques Tower, Hotel de Ville, Palais Royal Gardens, GalerieVivienne
We plan a visit to Les Halles, where Paris’s original markets used to be. Walk to the nearby Place des Victoires, with its statue of King Louis XIV astride his rearing horse, where we get the 29 bus to Turbigo-Etienne Marcel. Before we find Les Halles, we come across the enormous, very impressive Saint Eustache Church, which was built between 1532 and 1632, and restored in 1840, which gives it a variety of styles – the façade is Gothic, while the interior is in the Renaissance and classical styles, except for a modern, weird installation of market sellers and produce.
It takes a while to find the entrance to Les Halles, but when we do, find the building is impressive with a golden framed glass canopy over the cavernous entrance to the lower level shopping areas, but it is, basically, only a shopping centre, and we aren’t shopping. We walk out through the Bourse de Commerce end, and find the magnificent circular structure under major renovation, and inaccessible, but the columned, domed circular structure, and sympathetic curved adjacent buildings are very photogenic, in spite of the surrounding scaffolding and construction offices and workshops. The Bourse de Commerce was modelled on the Pantheon in Rome, and is being renovated by Francois Pinault, a very wealthy art collector, to showcase his modern art collection. From here we walk through interesting streets, which include a glass-and-steel equivalent of a half-timbered structure.
Stop at a “Steak n Shake” restaurant for a reasonably priced snack of chips with ketchup and an amazing salted caramel milkshake, which was mostly ice-cream, cream and smashed up pretzels, which is certainly a bit strange. We see nearby an historic, strange boxy fountain with a domed roof which looks like it is missing a statue in the middle of it, then proceed to the Stravinsky fountain in the forecourt of the Pompidou Centre, which is looking a bit tired after 30 years, with only one of the mechanisms functioning.
Just beyond the fountain was Saint-Merri Church, a large and beautiful church which is open to the public. The church features piped birdsong, hanging cane (or similar) copies of very large weaver bird nests, and a lot of green-seeming literature. We are not sure if the church was deconsecrated and re-birthed as the New Church of Gaia, but it looks like it.
Walking from the church, looking for the bus stop we knew was right beside the Pompidou, we start walking the wrong way, passing St Jacques tower (photo), the historic meeting point for pilgrims starting their Camino de Santiago from Paris. Walk a long way towards a tower which Murray suspects was the Bastille tower. Turns out he is right, so we have to reverse our direction, heading to the Hotel de Ville, after realizing it was THE main one, not far from the river, and not all that far from home. Dianne is keen to get the bus back, but Murray has had enough searching, so we catch the metro to the Palais Royale-Musee du Louvre, walk through the Palais Royale gardens and find a passage out the North east end, which connects to the fancy Galerie Vivienne with lovely floor mosaics, and we end up in Place des Victoires where we had started the day. For the evening meal we buy a take-away yaki-soba from Hokkaido, have a fair bit of it for tea, and leave some for Dianne’s breakfast.
Thursday 17th August Paris Marais, Place des Vosges, Eglise Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, St Martin Canal, Coulee Vert Rene Dumont, La Defense, Eatwith experience
Today, we set out to find some missing parts of our Paris puzzle, starting in the Marais to find the Place Des Vosges. We take the metro to Bastille, from where we can see lots of boats in the Port de l’Arsenal which links the Canal Saint-Martin, which begins at the Place de la Bastille, to the Seine. Check out the Place de la Bastille, then follow our map and find the Place Des Vosges without difficulty. It is virtually untouched for hundreds of years, a square of three-storey terraces in a brick and stone combination more like you would find in Holland or Belgium, and in the centre is a large public park with an enclosing fence, green lawns and an equestrian statue of Louis XIII in the centre. We are able to walk out through a secret passage into a private garden and open courtyard which is overlooked by the apartment of la Duchesse Charlotte in the Hotel de Sully.
Nearby on Rue Saint-Antoine is the massive church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, with excellent gothic interior and highly decorated ceiling domes. We take photos, then move on to use maps.me to look for Hotel Jeanne d’Arc, where we stayed in the Marais back in 2003, when we paid A$130 pn for a tiny room. Later we see tiny room is possibly A$200 on special, and good-sized one is A$300. Puts into perspective how much we’re saving for fourteen days in our enormous apartment right in the centre of Paris.
We head back to the Place de la Bastille. On the way, we walk on top of what the map says is the Canal St Martin, but we know from our previous visit that it is roofed over here. In the pedestrian area, an open air market has been set up, and the produce looks pretty good and cheap. Dianne is given a sample of an excellent watermelon, and we are very tempted, except we would have to carry it all day, so settle for four blemished nectarines for 1.50 euro a kilo to have as provisions on our La Coulee Verte Rene-Dumont walk (also known as the Promenade Plantee). The disused 19th-century Vincennes railway viaduct is being used as the world’s first elevated park (opened in 1988 -the New York Highline was opened in 2009). It is planted with cherry trees, maples, rose trellises, bamboo corridors and lavender. It’s 4.7km long, but we’re going to walk 1.5km, as far as the Jardin de Reuilly.
The map and instructions take us past the Port de l’Arsenal, with a variety of commercial and pleasure canal boats tied up in a wide section of the canal branching off the Seine. From here we walk alongside the modern, austere Bastille Opera House, and find the start of the elevated viaduct.
Below the elevated viaduct are 64 arches, named the Viaduc des Arts which house cabinetmakers, musical-instrument makers, textile restorers and other businesses related to the arts. We are expecting budget accommodation for starving artists, artisans and students, but all the shops and workshops built into the arches of the viaduct look pretty damn affluent, and obviously for tastes well beyond the means of the original target tenants – maybe they have all made good. Up on the elevated viaduct the walk is pretty pleasant, better than we had been expecting, with views out through the foliage of a variety of medium high-rise apartment and office buildings, none higher than six storeys. Some of the buildings look new, others look like they were assembled from WW2 bomb-damaged rubble for the end walls particularly, and something nicer for the facades. The full length of the Coulee stretches all the way to the Bois de Vincennes, but there are stairways and the occasional lift for cutting it short.
We decide to take a lift down to check out the accommodation for artisans and artists, but are nearly driven back by the appalling stench in the lift, which we recognise as the legacy of a homeless tenant. Down the bottom, we find the high-rent look of the shops, offices and ateliers unchanged, and have to hold our breath and brave the stench to get back to the top of the Coulee. We walk as far as the Jardin de Reuilly, then call it a day, use a fairly clean toilet , and make it down to ground level via a tortuous route provided by maps.me. We would definitely recommend doing this walk.
It’s now about 1.30pm, and we want to go about 13km to the other side of Paris to La Defense, the modern high-rise and office-tower district of Paris, located beyond the arrondissements of central Paris at the start of the western outskirts of the city. It is the site of the Grande Arche, one of Paris’ most modern and imposing landmarks which we have seen from the Arc de Triomphe, and which looks more like a hollow cube than an actual arch.
We end up right at a 29 bus stop, and in a short time we are on our way to Havre-Haussmann, where we have to find the Rome-Haussmann stop for the 32 bus to La Boetie-Champs-Elysees, changing to a 73 at a stop which has been moved for construction work. We almost miss the connection because the announcement system on the bus is running one stop behind (not the first time either!). The new bus takes us up and over the hill at the Arc de Triomphe and down to the river, passing some sort of massive government building before climbing up toward the Arche and the complex of modern high rise buildings at La Defense. We have worked out where we want to get out of the bus, but are a bit taken back when we end up in a very dark and gloomy underground road system. Murray is not sure if we can easily get out to the surface, but Dianne sees an exit, and we go for it, emerging at a stairway up onto the massive pedestrian precinct, surrounded by a wide range of designs of modern, steel and glass skyscrapers. It is thinking about raining, so we climb the broad stairway to get under the shelter of the Arche and its suspended fabric canopy below. Considering how old the Arche building is (it was opened in 1989) it is in pretty good shape and looks quite modern. We take photos of the pedestrian mall and surrounding buildings, of all different styles, from a Gherkin cousin to a monster reflective fabric dome over a shopping area, the spherical reflective globe of a planetarium, multi-coloured cylindrical ventilation stacks, aluminium-clad buildings with multiple round cornered windows, pink reflective glass towers and a low building with a pattern of circular flashing lights.
Beyond the Arche, there is a stadium under construction and a long, straight road with unfinished buildings along it. Looking back to the city, the main focus is the Arc de Triomphe on the hill on the long, straight avenue beyond the river.
We walk the length of the pedestrian mall, to the south end, which has a rather colourful fountain, and pick up the entrance to the Metro, for a quicker, if less interesting trip home. In a park near the Metro entrance, we see a particularly interesting massive bronze frog statue. It is definitely worth the effort to come here to see the contrast between the old and new Paris.
We resist buying food on the way home, as tonight we are going out to another Eatwith experience, this time with Francoise Guida-Davin in Les Batignolles a suburb beyond Gare St Lazare, which is fairly complicated to reach by bus, but easily found by taking the metro to Rome. We opt for the bus, getting the 29 from the very close Bibliotheque National stop to Havre-Haussmann, where we transferred to the Havre-Caumartin stop for the 53 to Legendre (we’re getting pretty good at these bus transfers now!). Go from being early to being almost late, with our arrival coinciding with a heavy downpour of rain. We get into the building OK using the emailed password for the first door, but are stumped by a second door between us and the lift. It turns out not to be a password operated door, but we need to cycle through the list of names to find the right person to ring. The lift is tiny, basically two person and not much luggage, gets us to the fourth floor, a little early, but not too bad, considering the weather. The apartment is two-storey with a spiral staircase between floors, not as elegant a venue as our first “eatwith”, but pleasant enough. When we arrive, there is Lana, a Russian reporter for NTV, the Russian TV channel, who speaks a fair bit of English, but is hard to understand at times, with her cameraman who has almost no English. They are doing a travel program on things to do in Paris. Also present are the hostess’s young adult son and daughter, both with good English skills, and the hostess’s husband Charles, whose father was a diplomat, and is US educated and speaks colloquial English, and the hostess, Francoise who is French/Italian, with medium English. Christoph, a German man arrives after us, soaking wet, having walked from the Metro and been caught in the rain. Like most Germans, he has pretty good English.
We start the meal with red wine or soft drink, and an Italian/southern French starter of “the bread with no name” – “a crusty and layered bread stuffed with charcuterie and cheese.” Think it was with duck fat and minced meat. The entrée was a cheese soufflé served with aromatic herbs and salad mix. The main course “Mon poivron farci” described as “confit red pepper, stuffed the Provence way, with basil and orange sauce” was a red capsicum stuffed with a meat filling, which had been sitting for a while and is fairly cold, and tastes pretty ordinary. There are two desserts – one of mainly raspberries and a small bowl of cream, and another one in a small glass, described as “a trip in Brittany – salted caramel and the famous Bordier crème served with a Gavotte from Quimper” which turned out to be cream with a caramel sauce and a wafer biscuit. The food is OK, but more like home-cooking than restaurant food, and we think over- priced at 62 euros each. It doesn’t help that we are comparing it with the wonderful food we had with Jean Yves. Despite it suffering in comparison with the other night, we still have a good time. The conversation around the dinner table is quite interesting. The Russians have to leave early for another appointment, the daughter leaves early, and the rest of us sit around till about 11 PM. We walk to the Rome Metro stop with Christoph, and go as far as Stalingrad with him before we leave him to it and do the long transfer to the No. 7 Line for a final stop at Pyramides and a walk home.
Friday 18th August Paris – Bibliotheque Nationale, Covered Passages, Galeries Lafayette, Trinity Church, Madeleine Church
This is our final full day in Paris, and we have a list of things still to do. First one is to stick our head into the National Library (Bibliotheque Nationale) at the end of our block, which we walk past every day. Find a door in the 500-metre long wall with security checks, and are let into a spacious courtyard, somewhat compromised by the presence of modern, temporary, double-storey, containerised accommodation. Inside the main building, built in 1868, the walls are lined with books, and the ceiling is a series of domes, letting in a lot of light for the dozens of readers sitting at desks and tables. The book cases against the walls are about 5 metres high with trees painted on the wall above, giving the impression of reading in the open air.
From the library we follow the instructions on Lonely Planet to walk through a series of covered arcades, some grander than others, with small restaurants and specialty shops. We had already seen Galerie Vero Dodat, Galerie Vivienne, Galerie Colbert and Passage Choiseul, so we continue with Passage des Panoramas, Passage Jouffroy and Passage Verdeau. We emerge to find it raining heavily. Decide to retrace our path on the outside to pick up some specialty coffee at the HEMA shop to replace what Murray has used in the apartment, but can’t find our way back to Rue September 4, so continued on to find Galeries Lafayette department store, with a rooftop terrace. The store is well presented as an upmarket department store, but its crowning glory is the central core some 50 metres across, with about twelve columns supporting two upper floors and the roof, with highly decorated arches supporting a magnificent stained glass dome. We take escalators to the top, stopping at intermediate floors for photos, then up two flights of stairs to the roof terrace and restaurant. The restaurant is not open, probably because all the seats are wet from the recent heavy shower, and half the terrace is roped off, but we still get a very good look over the city to all the major landmarks, except the high rise in La Defense District – even get glimpses of Sacre-Coeur through gaps in the rear walls. Take photos all around in the rare patches of sunshine.
We’ve seen a rather flash church at the end of the street, so walk down to have a look. It’s Trinity Church, but it is closed for repair work, so we have a look from outside, then walk around looking for something to eat, and eventually find ourselves at Eglise de la Madeleine, the enormous Greek Temple-styled church that has had various transitions from when it was envisaged as a temple celebrating Napoleon’s victories. A lot of the outside of the church is under enclosed scaffolding, but the inside is pretty spectacular in a monumental style. We walk on, still looking for food, and find a passageway with very exclusive shops, which features an enormous pair of red high heeled shoes as street art. This is a very expensive area for everything, including food, but we do manage a reasonably priced French Onion Soup and Croque Madame at a sidewalk bar. Fortunately we choose a table under the awning as it buckets down for another typical short, sharp rain shower.
We catch the Metro home, even though Madeleine Metro has a lot of steps and long passages, and you could just about walk home in the same distance. Have a quiet night in, emptying the fridge and packing for tomorrow’s departure.
Saturday 19th August Paris Notre Dame area and Airport Bus.
We fly home tonight at 9pm. We have found that we can get the Roissybus airport bus from near Opera on our RATP transport pass, which is pretty incredible as it is normally 13 euros, and our pass for seven days only cost 22 euros. In the morning we clean up the apartment enough to take photos of the rooms, then go out to confirm where the airport bus leaves from, walking down Petits Champs to the Avenue de l’ Opera, looking for Rue Des Scribes. Due to some inadequate signage, it takes a while to find, even with the address and maps.me, but is easy enough once you know. Having decided walking to the bus is quite feasible, particularly with a mainly clear blue sky, we go to find the 21 bus and take it all the way to Notre Dame. We had been hoping to have a quick look inside, but find a very long queue snaking back and forward on the forecourt, so decide to give it a miss, especially as we’ve seen it before, the last time being only two years ago. Have a final look at the left Bank, bridges and river traffic, taking more photos, then walk down far enough to get a bridge, the dome on Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower in the same photo, before crossing the river and looking at major buildings and structures in the area, including the Fontaine du Palmier in Place du Chatelet, a high column with a gold angel; La Tour St-Jacques; a couple of nice buildings in Place du Louvre; and the Church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois in Place du Louvre. Walk home via the Palais Royal courtyard and gardens.
Back at home we do a final clean-up and packing, and head out at 3.50pm, five minutes later than planned, but are in good shape, or as much as can be expected from three 100-stair trips with baggage. Rig our backpacks for long distance pulling, travelling on the main pack, and make good time to the Airport Bus, without more than a few disruptions to our progress by bags turning over or getting unbalanced. Despite our skepticism, our passes work just fine. Set ourselves up in a four seat group, with the bags on the seats facing us, and hope the bus doesn’t get so full we will have to give up these seats. Some passengers leave their cases in the bendy section of the bus, and find out the hard way that they have to lay them down to stop them running down the aisle.
We pass through some familiar names of places and streets, but don’t see much to take photos of, and are out on the boulevard Peripherique for most of the trip. Our terminal is 2E, and the driver is very careful to check which letter, not just number, as it is a BIG airport. We do a lot of circles and loops before getting to 2E. Find it pretty deserted as we walk the long Departures hall to No. 12. Suddenly there is some sort of disturbance and we are stopped from going further, shops close their doors, and lots of security appears, some with dogs. Turns out someone had left their baggage unattended, and everyone is a bit nervous after a number of recent terrorist attacks in Paris, and one in Barcelona only two days ago. Although we hadn’t been able to check in on-line, staff are very helpful, and booking in is quick and friendly. We are directed to where one gets the shuttle for the L gates, after immigration, but before security, so we still have the passports in hand. Sit down for a while waiting for the shuttle to fill and move off, but at the last moment decide to make a run for it. We just beat the auto doors, and are settling in when Dianne realises she has left her passport and boarding pass on the seat. We try to alert security, but can’t get too much enthusiasm, and are VERY pleased to find it still on the seat when we return.
We have a lot of time to kill, so look at the Instant Paris free lounge upstairs, but it is pretty ordinary, no free food or drinks, so find our gate and settle in beside a charging station. We have a bit of change left, so Murray goes to look, settles for two 1.3 euro snails. The flight is an Airbus 380, only our second one. There is a mile of foot room (33-34 pitch 18 width versus Etihad 31-33 pitch 17.5 wide, or Qantas/Emirates 32-34 pitch 18 width) and with us both on an aisle, it is a painless trip, with good food, plenty of loos, but only a very ordinary selection of movies. Along the way, we experience turbulence as bad as we can remember, surprised how much a 500-tonne plane can jump around.
Sunday 20th August Paris to Seoul
At Incheon airport, we find ourselves in familiar territory, having spent a night here on the way out, but after 10 hours, we are pretty shattered when we start our 4 hour wait, not improved by not enough seating, and shuffling us from Gate 24 to 28, then back to 24 for boarding. We are out of touch with the right time, and are pleasantly surprised when the queue starts to form a long time before we expected to board. We leave only 15 minutes late, but have to queue up in a very heavy rainstorm, and are surprised they don’t delay till it blows over.
The movies look at first like they are all the same as the first flight, but there are more screen pages, so manage to find enough movies to fill the time.
Monday 21st August, 2017 Seoul to Sydney
We come into Sydney from the north just on dawn, flying over Tuggerah Lakes and Broken Bay before heading out to sea and back along the coast of the Royal National Park, to land on the east parallel runway. Long walk to Immigration, but through quickly, then a long wait for virtually the last bags on the carousel. Another long line at the green gate through customs, then finally out to be picked up by Julian and the grandkids, after nine great weeks in Italy and France.
Summary of Our Thoughts on Paris
This is our fifth time to Paris in 40 years, but we usually only spend a few nights there, so have only done the really touristy things. It was really nice to have two weeks there as it enabled us to start to know our way around. The wonderful thing about Paris is that wherever you go, there is always something interesting to see that you hadn’t seen before.
Our homeswap apartment was beautiful, historic, and in a fantastic position, close to plenty of public transport, as well as lots of tourist sites. The only small drawback was the 100 steps at the end of the day, as there was no lift.
It was great, and very economical, having the weekly “Navigo Decouverte” public transport pass which allowed us to hop on and off public transport at will. It was only 22 euros per week, and it allowed you to go to Fontainbleau (69 kms away), Versailles (22kms away), and Charles de Gaulle airport.
Likewise the 6-day Museum Pass was well worth the money. We went to 16 museums on it, at an average price of 11 euros, for 74 euros, a saving of 100 euros! This left over 30 museums that we didn’t have time to visit!
Trying the “eatwith” experience was also a great success.
In summary, we really enjoyed our time in Paris, and certainly didn’t run out of things to see in the two weeks.