SUNDAY 3 JUNE 2007...
So here I am, back in Paris, enjoying the sunshine on a bench in the Tuilleries Gardens, which extend from the imposing bulk of the Louvre to the Place De La Concorde where traffic roars in its mad, unfathonable dance. This is one of my favourite places in the world, right here where hazy orange sunshine filters through deep green leaves on trees that cast peaceful shadow on this haven. Heavy air and massive cumulous clouds build up the promise of a thunderstorm. It is early summer and warm enough that Cinderella and I are wearing light summer dresses and pretty shoes that were a lot more comfortable when we left our hotel opposite the Sorbonne this morning. A couple of hours roaming the vast halls of the Louvre in search of the still unimpressive yet must-see Mona Lisa, and the more impressive Venus de Milo (which has been moved, by the way, since my last visit, causing us a great deal of unnecessary walking), have turned our pretty shoes into feet-eaters. So now we sit and rest on a bench in the shade. Cinderella has her eyes closed and is lost in the world of her MP3 player. I'm playing spy with my camera and giving vent to the need to write that always comes over me when I'm in Paris. I've seen all the sights here twice before so I'm in no hurry to move. Now I finally get to do what I want to do in this city: soak it up and allow it to inspire the writer in me.
For me the best part of being in Paris is this, right here, right now; and twenty minutes earlier when we sat drinking coffee at one of the outdoor restaurants in the gardens.
It is a myth, by the way, that French waiters are rude; a smile goes a long way here.
Paris has a magical quality, especially on an early Summer day like today. Elegant beauty wraps around madly impatient traffic; all around people go about their business - Parisians with purpose, tourists meandering aimlessly and a cocktail of both resting in the sun... being here in the midst of it all breathes life into my soul. Pigeons peck at unseen crumbs around our feet; children laugh and play on the jungle gym and tourists speaking every conceivable language amble past us - most of them wearing far more sensible shoes than we are, I might add. Across the emerald lawn from us a stylish mother is trying to entice her toddler to a donkey ride. The little girl dubiously consents, unsure as to what all the fuss is about.
Despite the ever-present drone of traffic in the background, there is a sense of peace here.
LATER THAT DAY...
Against all odds we made it all the way up the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe on foot, stopping at a pharmacy (remembered from similar circumstances during a previous visit) and a nearby park bench to ply our poor feet with blister plasters. The interesting shops appear to be closed this Sunday afternoon. Our budget probably heaved a sigh of relief!
However, it is my belief that one important requirement of a visit to Paris is to sip coffee at a restaurant along the Champs Elysées - the coffee and pastry were delicious but I do think €20 for the two of us was a bit steep - especially since we were both still hungry afterwards. Would you think any less of me if I confessed we then dined at MacDonalds?
Thus fortified with fake food we paid the ransom to board one of the open-top tour buses. These are a great way to see the sights, be educated about our surroundings through little earphones that plug into the bus, and rest our weary feet. We stayed on the bus all the way back down the Champs Elysées over the river Seine and along the winding, shady avenues until we reached the Eiffel Tower. Cinderella is 16 - she's not particularly interested in all the other buildings but the Eiffel Tower, well that's different.
One cannot fail to be impressed by its enormity and she, of course, wanted to go all the way to the top. The queue was diabolical, however, and after waiting probably half an hour and not moving much we decided to give it up and return tomorrow, earlier in the day. Shadows were growing longer - well perhaps not, since it stays light so late in Summer - but we had both had enough for one day.
The tour bus provided a convenient and scenic way to get back to our hotel. We hopped off when it stopped at Notre Dame and hobbled from there across the river and up Blvd St Michel to the Place de la Sorbonne, a little square opposite the university and just around the corner from where we're staying.
This is another little haven; Cinderella has an enormous glass of orange juice in front of her and my Earl Grey tea is really hitting the spot. In the centre of the tree-lined square, fountains provide background music. It was here that we had breakfast this morning, joining professors wearing leather-elbowed tweed jackets for coffee and croissant; in the late afternoon sunshine the professors have been replaced now by students writing essays, their pages of notes strewn across the tables and held in place by glasses or ashtrays to prevent the breeze blowing their knowledge away. I feel tired and hot, but when the sun breaks through to throw a warm glow on the beautiful setting around us, that magical feeling is as strong as ever.
SAME DAY, ALMOST MIDNIGHT...
There's nothing like a day of sightseeing to make a girl enjoy a quick hour's nap before donning her finery (well, her finest jeans, anyway) and heading out to dinner. Since our hotel is close to the Luxembourg gardens we stepped inside there for a few minutes while trying to decide which of the restaurants across the road was fit to feed us this lovely night. Like everything else in Paris, the gardens are really pretty with manicured lawns, bright flowers, heavy trees and perfect white statues.
The Luxembourg Café/Brasserie took our fancy for dinner and we seated ourselves at a small table inside.
Perhaps I shall take a moment her to explain about Paris restaurants, for those of you who haven't been.
It seems to me that on every wide, tree-lined boulevard, you will find restaurants, cafés and brasseries. You seldom see just one - they tend to be a few together. They all have both inside and outside seating, and there is a price difference (on drinks, at the very least) depending on where you sit. Outside is more expensive than inside; of course most people prefer to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air and atmosphere (let's pretend, for a moment, that exhaust fumes don't exist in Paris). We chose to sit inside this evening - although the front windows were all open so it was almost as good as being outside - as the air was a little too fresh and I'm not wild about cold raw steak.
Ah yes, the steak. The French chef's joke. The waiter always asks how I want it cooked. I always say "medium-to-well-done, si'l vous plais". The chef always sends it to me rare anyway. Still, it was very tasty, and the basin of chocolate mousse that followed was worth every minute of the almost 2 hours we spent eating it. Yes, I said "basin". Upon such a large chocolate mousse we had never before laid eyes! I did the female species proud :-)
Of course the sugar rush that followed had us both giggling like schoolgirls (OK, one of us is a schoolgirl, but I have no excuse!) and the waiters had taken an amused and slightly indulgent air towards to us by the time we left. (This happens to me a lot when I travel though I'm not entirely sure why.)
When at last we could eat no more (or in my case, there was no more to eat) we strolled back to our hotel. We have a new room tonight - last night they had us in a double room and because the hotel was full they couldn't move us until today. We're both thankful we don't have to share a bed tonight - I snore, and Cinderella hogs. The windows are open but the warm evening air barely moves in this still, beautiful evening. Sitting upright on my bed, my belly full and my soul at rest, I have a yearning to write a love story.
The yearning to sleep is stronger, though. It's time for bed now.
TUESDAY 5 JUNE 2007...
We were up not so very bright nor terribly early yesterday morning. My logic is that one cannot enjoy exploring if one is tired and ratty, so I allowed us to sleep in a bit. Choosing more sensible shoes this time, we made our way back to Notre Dame after breakfast, where we did not have to wait long for the familiar red bus to arrive. I had almost thrown away the tickets the previous night, until I saw that they were valid for two days, not just one as I had thought.
When the bus stopped at the Opera we jumped ship (yeah yeah, I know) as Cinderella wanted to see the Moulin Rouge and apparently the red light district is not on the tour bus route.
We found our way to Gare St Lazare, from where we took the Metro to Pigalle. From there it was just a short walk (with another short stop at a pharmacy and park bench to refresh our blister plasters) to the Moulin Rouge. Yep, that's right Cinderella, it's a big old fake red windmill... now I know she would have been more impressed had I taken her there at night when it is all lit up and the whole area looks less dingy (although just as seedy) but I wasn't keen on dodging pimps and prostitutes with a 16-year-old after dark. So she took a photograph and we headed on, stopping for coffee and a milkshake of indeterminate flavour before descending into the Metro station again.
We re-emerged into daylight at the Arc de Triomph and caught up with the tour bus there, enjoying being driven around in the open air with no real hurry to get anywhere or do anything which was a good thing, as the route to the Eiffel Tower from there was somewhat circuitous. After a quick munch on a rather chewy baguette we joined the queue for the lift to take us to the top.
We queued for the tickets.
Then we queued for the lift to the 2nd level.
Then we queued for the other lift to to the top.
I felt myself growing old, the queues were that slow. I detest queues. I get bored in queues, and when I get bored I have a tendency to get mildly dilinquent, much to young Cinderella's initial embarrassment, and then amusement. Sure, what else is there to do in a queue but annoy one's family members and laugh at the other tourists? There must have been a hundred or more people waiting for the lift to the top and the uniformed men (wearing orange ties - orange!) were only letting about five people onto the lift at a time. Finally our turn arrived to enter the glass elevator. Cinderella laughed with glee as we shot up the middle of the big tower, partly because she enjoyed the ride and partly at me - I'm not so mad on travelling in glass lifts at speed and I had my hands full trying to behave like a sane person instead of a madwoman on the verge of hyperventilating each time I peeked out of one eye from behind my hands. If you thought the Eiffel Tower looked big from the ground, try shooting to the top and looking down.
Yikes! Fortunately the viewing platform is well closed-in so I was able to look around instead of huddling in a corner in the foetal position crying for Mother Earth. Unfortunately it wasn't a particularly clear day but we snapped our photographs nonetheless.
And then we queued to go back down to the second level again, where we queued once more for the other lift to the ground. Our little excursion to the top of the tower and back again probably took around 3 hours in total - yep, not exaggerating about the queues!
It was late afternoon by that time and Cinderella announced that she had a mission to buy a birthday present for a friend of hers, so we took the bus back to the Louvre, for there are dozens of souvinir and gift shops around the area perfect for finding "typical" gifts from Paris. Except she couldn't find exactly what she wanted - the lass is a fussy shopper, to put it mildly. So we trudged from one shop to the next until I eventually put my foot down (gently, as even the comfortable shoes were hurting by this stage) and we chased another red bus to get us back to Notre Dame. An immensely strong coffee and chocolate-macadamia cookie from Heaven (actually, it was a Häagen Dazs) restored my humour to not quite its former glory and provided the energy to start on the walk back to our hotel. Meandering through the Latin Quarter, though, we got sidetracked into a small shop selling pretty dolls and shiny things, and the elusive gift was purchased. The planned trip back to the hotel was canned and we sat down for dinner at a small restaurant instead, where Cinderella adventured into the land of Coq au Vin and I supped on a meal of rabbit that took me back to my childhood, when my grandmother would cook bunnies for special occasion meals. We ate slowly and watched the world go by. Some of the world went by in the shape of some rather well-sculpted breakdancers; we weren't short on entertainment.
I had wanted to take a photograph of the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night but there was no way we were traipsing all the way back there that evening. Instead, we turned back to Notre Dame as it was only a couple of blocks away. We arrived in front of the famous Cathedral to find a group of young men entertaining the crowd with fire tricks in the square out front: flaming batons, poi and my least-favourite, the fire-eating, appear to be a great way to earn money as a street artist. I stood well back (facing two phobias in one day is a little much for my nerves) and thanked Fuji for the zoom function on my camera.
Eventually, the sky faded to deep purple and the lights came on; I got my photographs and we hauled ourselves back to the hotel where we fell into bed like wounded soldiers.
We didn't wander far from the hotel this morning and we spent a lazy time browsing in shops around the Latin Quarter before establishing ourselves at a table in the sunshine in the picturesque Place de la Sorbonne again. The coffee is good, the sun is shining and I am breathing in as much of this place as I can, trying to stamp it into my memory. I feel sad to be leaving. I'm glad, though, that I am with Cinderella, whose favourite thing to do is sit and be restful. It gives me a chance to say goodbye to this magical city that brims with life and love and beauty; my Paris.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
SUNDAY 3 JUNE 2007...