Friday, March 13, 2015

Notre Dame

After yesterday's 26 hrs of travel torture we were all able to fall asleep pretty quickly last night. Taine slept like a log and so did we....for about 3 hrs. Luckily I had downloaded some (pretty boring) podcasts before we left home so I was able to while away the hours until the sun starting coming up on Paris at about 6.30 am.

One of the reasons I booked the Novotel was their 'child stays free and eats breakfast free' special. I had been warned to expect little more than croissants and coffee at a Parisian breakfast so we were pleasantly surprised by the buffet in the hotel restaurant. Given that Taine can eat his own weight in bacon, the bed and breakfast deal may turn out to be an inspired choice and will certainly start to balance the taxi rip off/ camera losing debt. The french tradition of soup bowl sized coffee helped to blow a few jet lag cobwebs away and thanks to my Facebook friends I knew to ask for cafe creme rather than the bowl of warm milk called a latte.

The view from our room is of a lovely courtyard behind the Gare de Lyon train station. If you overlook the homeless people urinating on the walls down there (and also avoid stepping in the resulting rivulets running down the path when you're walking through there), it's quite a pretty vista and it's great to have opening windows in the room.

After our magnificent breakfast, we decided to orient ourselves by taking a walk through the 12th arrondissement. Our internal compass points didn't quite match with the way we were reading the map ( after 5 minutes we had NFI where we were) but after a wee bit of circle work we found ourselves on the banks of the Seine and followed the river toward Paris proper.

We thought we'd spotted some authentic Parisian artists down by the river bank. They were wearing artist's smocks and looked like they were painting the riverscape on their ancient looking easels. Closer inspection revealed a number of Japanese film makers putting the final touches to a movie set but it certainly gave a pretty impression of what the banks of the Seine might have looked like a century ago!

We popped into the Jardins des Plantes but declined a visit to the zoo after spotting a couple of over crowded ostriches. The gardens around the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle looked amazing though and we might get back there if we have time.

The love locks over the Pont des Arts were irresistible and we succumbed to buying an engraved lock of our own with which to declare our love and connect us to Paris until we come back and unlock it (or until the city council chops it off because the love locks are starting to be a problem.

The Notre Dame Cathedral loomed large on the other side of the river and despite a long queue it didn't take us long to get inside. Whatever your opinion of religion or the excesses of historical pay offs to appease God, its impossible not to be impressed by the grandeur and splendour of the carving and stained glass windows in Notre Dame. We happily donated a few euro to light a candle and think happy thoughts about our loved ones.

From Notre Dame we started to wend our way back to the hotel via Les Marais, one of the oldest remaining areas of Paris. The architecture here is amazing. No two angles on any of the houses are the same; goodness only knows how they stay standing. There are so many French stereotypes in Les Marais, you keep expecting Belle to coming running out of the bibliotheque or Gaston to appear from a tavern. Through the window of one of the bakery/cake shops we could see some girls making magical confections of meringue and cream. They tasted every bit as good as they looked.

From Les Marais to the Bastille, another impressive erection commemorating the tenacity of french and a glimpse inside the training grounds of the national guard. We called in at the marche for some wine and cheese and one of our favourite holiday activities, supermarket snooping. You can learn a lot about a culture from their shopping baskets and I'm pretty sure chocolate bread (petite pain au chocolat) is about to become my new bagel.

Whilst most Parisian shop keepers have been very tolerant of our minimal understanding of their language, the lady at the Information Bureau at the train station was not. When we inquired did she 'parle Anglais', she replied 'of course' but then commenced to be anything but informative. We were asking for information about the Metro and since we were at the train station this seemed a fair request to me but she simply shrugged and said, 'I know nothing of the trains'. Hmmm.

Central Paris seems quite quiet compared to other big cities we've visited. Life seems to move at a more leisurely pace and there are lots of opportunities for sitting and taking coffee and conversation. But despite the calm mannerisms of the people in the city, there are clear signs of the heightened terrorism status here. There are many, many uniformed gendarme around and we saw several groups of flak jacketed soldiers carrying automatic weapons in the streets and the shops. While these young men were polite and calm, their fingers never left the triggers of their guns and their eyes were constantly searching the crowds. It was a reminder that Europe is on high alert and that the traditional way of life here is under threat.

I was a bit foot sore by the time we got back and my faithful hush puppies were almost destroyed. Tomorrow I will wear my runners and risk the condemnation of the fashionistas.

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