BootsnAll Travel Network


My flight to Paris took off on time, but the pilot thought he was driving a fighter jet and took us up to cruising altitude with a steep ascent and lots of stomach churning drops (reverse for the descent.) As I was sitting next to a window, I got to see the terrain change below me. We left the desert behind and headed out over the Mediterranean. Coming back over land in Europe, we flew over the Alps which were heavily laden with snow. Landing in Paris 5 hours after take off, I got my bags and took the train, then the metro to the Montemarte area of Paris. Here I was to meet Damien whose home I was going to couchsurf. (For those not in the know, couchsurfing is a website where people with extra space open their homes to travelers to stay for free. I met several people on my trip who had tried it. With the horrendous euro/dollar exchange rate I need all the cost savings I can get.) As it was still an hour before it was time to meet him, I sat and waited at an Internet Cafe. I then walked to his building using a map that he sent me. We met up outside of his building. He lives in a 100 year old, very narrow building on the fifth floor. I was shown the couch where I would be spending the next five nights. He then offered to take me on a bike tour of Paris. I needed to rent a bike which in Paris is very easy. There are public bicycle stations at various points in the city. You have to use a credit card to put down a 150 euro deposit. The bike cost 1 euro (1 euro = 1.58 dollars) for 24 hours. There is a very annoying catch though. You have to replace the bike at a station every 30 minutes, or you get charged more money. This short time span is very annoying as you constantly have to look for new stations. I would rather pay more money up front and get longer time as the money you pay keeps increasing the longer you keep the bike past the 30 minutes. We first rode out of the hilly Montemarte district past the Moulin Rouge which sits on a very open and flashy adult street. Then we rode through the horrendous traffic around the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower. Here the sun was setting and I got to watch a great sunset from beneath the tower. Finally, we headed down the Champs de Elysee to the Place du Concord on which sits an Egyptian obelisk bought to France by Napolean. This ride gave me a good first impression of Paris. The weather is still quite cold. There are lots of trees, and they are just starting to put on Spring foliage. The city at night is especially pretty as many of the fountains and trees are lit up.

Damien left for work the next morning, but was trusting enough to give me a key. I left the apartment with a map and an old guidebook and decided just to wander a bit focusing on cathedrals. My first stop was Sacred Couer which sits on top of Montemarte, the highest point in Paris. It has a very impressive dome. From here I could see out over Paris. Unfortunately it was overcast, so I couldn’t see all that far. I then took the subway out to the Ile de Cite. It, along with the Ile de St Louis, are the founding points of Paris. These two islands sit in the middle of the city in the brown and very fast flowing Seine River. Leaving the subway, I headed toward Notre Dame. The cathedral is enormous. The inside is full of small chapels and artwork covering a span of over 800 years. I was most impressed by the stained glass. The large rose windows (called so because of the shape not the color which is predominantly a bluish purple) were magnificent. There were some higher up windows which showed a vivid red. I am sure that if it hadn’t been so cloudy, it would have been breathtaking. I found a bullentin showing mass times to see if I could make it back there for a mass before I left. ( Here I have a tough decision to make. The Louvre will be free on Sunday saving me 15 dollars, but there is a Gregorian mass in the cathedral also that day. I may just have to compromise and go to a more normal Saturday evening mass.)

I then walked to the end of the island near Pont Neuf (bridge 9). There is a small garden there and I also ran into a lost Scottish lady. She was trying to find a way to get to Beauvais, a suburban airport. She had a bus ticket, but was in the wrong spot. She called her friend to find out where to go and then tried to ask a Frenchman for directions. Between my little French and his little English, we got a coherent set. I walked with her to help find the metro entrance. After leaving her, I headed over to the Tulieries Garden which sits in front of the Louvre. The garden is full of sculpture and stretches from the Louvre to the Place de Concord. I wandered in the garden for a while looking at the flower beds and then headed back to the Ile de Cite. From here I crossed over to the Ile de St Louis. This island is mostly residential and is full of old four to six story building with steep roofs that is very common in Paris. The real estate here is very expensive and in the past has been home to writers and high city officials.

As it was now evening time, I headed back to Damien’s neighborhood. I stopped in a grocery store to buy some food, but couldn’t find peanut butter despite using the back of a candy bar to translate. I found an import /export African food store which oddly enough sold Dutch peanut butter. My last stop was at a bakery for a big baguette. We spent the evening watching a French movie with English subtitles. The movie, unlike US movies, didn’t have a happy ending.

The next morning I woke up very early to go to Versailles which lies 18 km outside of Paris. I took the metro to the Gare du Nord (North train station). Here I bought a combination entry and train fare ticket for Versailles from the ticket office. Buying this ticket saves a person about 6-7 euros. The train trip out to Versailles took about an hour with waits on train connections. On the train I met a tourist from Singapore and we walked to the chateau together from the station. Versailles was built by Louis XVI as he wanted a palace outside of Paris because he didn’t trust the residents. The palace is currently under restoration so its outside is covered with scaffolding and canvas. The palace crowd was not too bad as it is still early in the tourist season. The Singaporean guy and I were soon seperated as I had an audio tour so stayed longer in each spot. The first stop was the king and queen’s apartments. They were extravagantly decorated in guildwork and paintings (many with Greek mythology themes) covering every inch. Louis XVI reign was the height of autocratic rule in France and he was known as the sun king. The sun emblem is all over the palace. The famous Hall of Mirrors was stunning. It was laid out in a large rectangle. One side had windows overlooking the large formal garden which stretched for kilometers. The other side had huge mirrors which reflected the garden. There were many chandeliers hanging down from the ceiling. Leaving these chambers, I went through the toned down chambers for the crown prince and daughters of the king. The palace housed over 10,000 people all fawning over the king. Court life was ruled by strict rules of etiquette. This helped keep people from fighting over important things like who got to wipe the royal behind after it deposited the royal poo in the royal chamber pot. (Yes, there was a position for this. It makes one wonder if the lucky someone ran around screaming that he would never wash his hand again after doing the deed.)

Leaving the chateau, I then explored the garden on my way to the next tour stop. The gardens behind Versailles are laid out in formal French fashion broken up by secluded groves of trees around different themed fountain and marble statuary. Gravel paths give access to these areas. The gardens stretch for kilometers. There is a large waterway called the Grand Canal which was built in the shape of a cross. At the end of the garden sits some less formal accommodations for the king and queen. The first was the Grand Trianon built as an escape for the king from the confines of court life. (I am assuming the behind wiper went with him though.) It was a one floor structure made from several rectangle shapes built out of multicolored marble and looked out over more gardens. Today it is sometimes used to house foreign heads of state. Near it is the Petite Trianon orginally built for one of the kings to meet his mistress. Marie Antoinette took it over as a place to live as she hated the confines of court. She had English and French gardens built around it with several outside reclining areas built on artificial islands set amongst the trees. She also had an Celtic village built so that she and her children could play rural life. The buildings in the village were closed, but one could still walk around the outside. There was a lake complete with white swans, fish, and numerous ducks. At the end of the village was the farm which is still in use with sheep, vineyards, shaggy mules, and goats. After viewing all this my feet were killing me so I sat for about an hour on a bench in the garden reading. Not many people come out to these areas as it is an extra ticket so it was nice to see some splendid palaces and gardens without the crush of people in the main chateau.

I took the train back in the evening and went grocery shopping with Damien when he returned from work. He was cooking rachlette for one of his friends (Helena a Portuguese travel agent) in the evening and wanted me to cook something. Unfortunately there wasn’t much time and what I know how to cook isn’t quick so I made a potato salad. It tasted a bit different as I had to use substitute ingredients because there was only dijon mustard and some unusual pickles to be found. The three of us ate supper that night speaking in English as his friend is learning. We did lapse into French when words weren’t known. We had various types of meat including tripe which I tried, but didn’t like. With raglet you melt cheese in a hot plate and then put it on plate and eat it with the various meats which are cooked on top. sort of a different take on fondue. We also had a 1999 Bordeaux to go with it.

I spent most of the morning doing some research for the Iceland and Faroe Island portion of my trip. Tiring of this and the day was nice, I decided to head back up to Montemarte to get a better view of the city than I had gotten the other day and see the other church on top. The church is small compared to the Sacred Couer but is built in the Romanesue style. After leaving the church, I walked through the winding streets on the hillside past artist painting portraits for people, cafes, and gardens. I ended up in the cemetery which was started in the 1800s. The graves were usually top with very ornated chapels or statues. It is still in use but the modern graves are much simpler. I returned to the apartment via the adult neighborhood to get a better look at Moulin Rouge.

Saturday Damien decided to sightsee with me so we went by bike. I made use of the roadside bike rental stands again. I had wanted to see the catacombs but they were closed so we went to Pierre Lechaise instead. This is a very large graveyard in the same style as Montemarte but has several notables buried there including Jim Morrison of the Doors, the author Oscar Wilde, and philosopher Moliere. Leaving here, we went to the Luxembourg Gardens which sit outside of one of the Parliament buildings. On the ride back to the apartment, we ran into a French bachelorette party. The very attractive bride-to-be explained something in French to Damien and then kissed him, then proceeded to kiss me. They then asked our weight. After they left I learned that the bride had to kiss 10,000 kgs worth of men. It started to rain. As I didn’t have a rain coat I decided to return the bike and come back via the subway. In the evening, we went to the movies. We went to different cinemas as I went to see a movie in English about the court of Henry VIII.

On Sunday, I decided to go the Louvre later in the day as I really wanted to go the Gregorian mass at Notre Dame. I got there about an hour early so I got a seat near the front. They did vespers first with a fantastic singer and then the mass with Gregorian chants. The acoustics in the cathedral were wonderful especially when paired with the pipe organ. All this while sitting under the beautiful rose windows. I left the cathedral and walked to the Louvre. Surprisingly it was not that crowded even though it was a free day. The weather started out cloudy and cold, but the day cleared up as well. I spent about three hours in Louvre (yes, I know people spend days there, but I can only spend so much time looking at art and have seen a lot in my cathedral and chateau tours). My first stop was the Mona Lisa which is very tiny, yet has a whole wall to itself and is surrounded by milling crowds. I then went through Napoleon’s apartments and the mideval part of the Louvre which has remains of the old castle. This was found during the building of the glass pyramid during the 1980s. In the afternoon I returned to the apartment and picked up my things to go to my next sleeping place. I took the subway and met up with Brian my next host.  It started to rain again and then this turned into a light snow. I didn’t think I would see snow until Iceland, but c’est la vie. The snow stopped a bit and Brian and I took a walk out to the Eiffel Tower to see it lit up at night. It very pretty and is lit up from the inside. Every hour sparkling lights go off in a pattern that is sure to give someone an epileptic fit.

 For my last day in Paris, I headed back to the Eiffel Tower via the Champ de Mars which has a nice garden. The tower was blocked off and a ceremony was going on in preparation for the Olympic Torch to come through. Chinese acrobats and performers were bouncing all over the place and they had a large paper dragon that they twirled around. I waited and waited to see the torch, but finally left when it didn’t seem like it was going to come through. I guess it finally did. Boarding the subway, I headed down to La Defense. La Defense is sort of like an modern take on Arch de Triumph and is a functional building. It is shaped like a cube with the center removed so there is an open space in the middle for concerts and such. This area is also the modern business district of Paris and is full of all sorts of funky glass clad buildings. I found a bookstore in a mall near there that had an Iceland Guidebook in English. I spent the better part of an hour reading up on Iceland since I have no guidebook for the country. I returned to the apartment to finish up this blog entry. Since my flight to Copenhagen leaves early tomorrow morning and the subways don’t run late at night, I will probably have to spend the night at the airport again.  What fun. The airport is always such a warm and welcoming place at night. I will spend four days in Denmark before catching the boat to begin my island hopping back to the US. I would like to thank Brian and Damien for hosting me while in Paris who without my cost would have been a lot higher. It was also nice to be able to interact with local people.

I have posted my Egypt pictures on the website.


(view pictures below at your own risk. Author is not responsible for any medical injuries as a result of any fainting, shortness of breath, or screaming that might occur. Not recommended for those pregnant or with a heart condition)




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7 Responses to “Paris”

  1. Llew Says:

    You actually (by which I don’t mean anything disparaging, of course) look pretty good with the old chrome dome!

  2. Heidi Says:

    Put some sunscreen on that pate!

  3. Posted from United States United States
  4. Mary Lynn Says:

    Hi, Barry
    Can’t believe you went to France and didn’t visit Mont St. Michel or Normandy Beach! Those were two of my favorites.
    Keep those stories coming!

  5. Gashwin Says:

    Well, I’m glad I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, else it’d have come right up … 🙂

  6. Preeti Says:

    What a great idea for the next time I have to host a Bachelorette Party!

    Wasn’t Louis XIV the Sun King and his grandson the XVI the husband of Marie Antoinette and the unfortunate guillotine victim during the French Revolution?

  7. Posted from United States United States
  8. Danielle Says:

    I just wanted to say that I love this site

  9. Posted from United States United States
  10. Rick @ 300 LB Olympic Weight Set Says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now. It is one that I really enjoy and keep coming back to read when my busy schedule allows me to.
    Please keep up the nice work.

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