BJJ Grrl

"Be gentle, kind and beautiful, yet firm and strong, both mentally and physically." ~Sensei Keiko Fukuda

Not BJJ: Paris (Part II)

on December 23, 2008

***Now with pictures*** And a link to my album.

Tuesday

The only day that the tour company planned. An early day, breakfast & the ATM, and then waiting in the hotel lobby for Catherine, the tour guide for the day. She popped her head in, we grabbed our stuff, and then we chased her across several streets to the tour bus. Bus drivers in Paris — wow, they’re amazing. (It probably helps in some cases that they’re driving the largest thing on the roads.) He squeezed us through spaces I didn’t think a Smart car could make, like the Night Bus from Harry Potter. He did slow down to inch between double-parked cars on a one-way, one-lane street, but otherwise he stomped the accelerator and zoomed through the streets.

We still had to pick up two more sets of folks from hotels on the opposite side of the city, which necessitated looping around Paris through the Arc de Triomphe. It’s a big traffic circle there around the Arc, with 12 roads feeding in and out. No traffic lanes, no traffic signals in the circle; it’s every car, moped, and bike for themselves. Everyone’s moving and blowing their horns, using turn signals to indicate “Ready or not, here I come!” We were all gripping the seats, sure that there would be a huge accident at any moment. But there wasn’t; everyone made it by thatmuch. Catherine commented that French drivers all want to go fast, and they all want to be first.

After we picked up the folks, we headed back to the Arc de Triomphe, and now Catherine started on her tour guidey stuff, telling us about the Arc and its history. As the tour bus drove around the circle one full time, she told us that it was built by Napoleon to commemorate his victories and that he had originally wanted to build a statue of an elephant. She also pointed out the Eternal Flame and the Tomb of the Unknown Driver… er, Soldier, yes, of course.

Then the bus cut across traffic, narrowly missing several Smart cars, and we headed through the ritzy side of town toward Versailles. There was a modern art exhibit going on in Versailles (an American, I think, who makes weird, huge plastic statues), and Catherine mentioned it before we got there and said that it wasn’t to her tastes but she had been warned about making desparaging comments about the exhibit, so that was all she was going to say about it. During the tour, she stuffed lots of history into our heads, especially about Louis XIII – Louis XVI. (“XIV built it, XV lived in it, XVI paid for it.”) My French history is nearly as bad as my French itself, and I’ve read too much Three Musketeers and Scarlet Pimpernel to get everything straight.

versailles gardens fogAfter the palace tour, we could walk around the gardens for a bit. However, it was very foggy, so no visibility. And winter, so nothing but the green stuff. Still, Jennie and I walked around because we’re nuts like that. At some point we turned around and couldn’t see the palace at all. We got back to the group, and then we all headed back to Paris for another Night Bus tour. As we came back to the city and around this one turn, we were supposed to be treated to the sight of the Eiffel Tower rising over everything… but it was foggy, so the Tower wasn’t there. Zipped around to the fashion district and the Opera Garnier (is that the Phantom’s opera? I forgot to ask.).

We were supposed to be dropped off in from of the Galleries Lafayette — a department store in three huge buildings — for shopping and lunch, but the road we needed was closed and there were lots of police and army standing around there. Found out later that they had found a bomb device (it wasn’t rigged up quite right, though, and wouldn’t have exploded) in or near the Galleries Lafayette that morning, and had safely detonated it. After that, though, there were far more police and army at every major tourist area, and we heard from Marianne that they were stationed at the larger stores and were searching people as they came in.

So, because traffic was bad and we didn’t know what was going on, the bus dropped us off a few blocks away, near where we were heading next, the Fragonard Perfume Museum. We were given a little over an hour for lunch and shopping, so Jennie and I went wandering. We found a tiny little sandwich shop built in the stairwell of a building, with the cooler, panini press, & microwaves at the bottom of the stairs and barely enough room for the owner or the customer to stand; you walked up the narrow little stairs with your tray, and there were chairs pushed under a small shelf that had been built in the hallway there. We both had paninis — ground beef for me (tasted like stuffed peppers from home, yum!) and ham & cheese for Jennie. We wandered around and stared at all the famous designers’ stores sitting right there until it was time to meet up with the tour again. Several of the other people had gone to the Galleries Lafayette and had been allowed it, so apparently the bomb threat was pretty much over at that point. The Perfume Museum had lots of cool stuff in it, but the guide rushed us through most of it to get us to the shop at the end. We did get to smell some of the more popular perfume; I don’t generally like perfumes, but these actually smelled pretty good.

After the perfume place, we got back on the bus for more whirlwind tour action. Catherine gave us lots more history and information on Paris and the places around it; she was very dry and witty, following up comments about the extravagence of the court or the extreme poverty of the average citizen with “And that is why we had a Revolution.” The bus tour took the rest of the afternoon, and then they drove us around Paris to take us back to our respective hotels. Funny that even though this was the day we did the least physically — slow walking at Versailles, and then mostly sitting — this was the day we were most tired. Went back to the hotel to read, write, and nap, and then went back out for food. We bought quiches from the boulangerie near our hotel and ate as we walked around more. Catherine had pointed out the nearest supermarket, which we’d been missing because they sell clothing on the first floor, and Jennie wanted to get some food, so we went there for a bit. Walked around for a bit longer before heading back to the hotel.

Wednesday

Another early morning, and this time we started walking towards Hotel des Invalides (which houses the army museum and is still used as an army hospital), aiming for the basilica in the back, which was built so the soliders in the hospital didn’t have to walk far to go to church. Just down the street is Musée Rodin — Rodin’s Museum — which Catherine had pointed out the day before. You can see “The Thinker”‘s butt from the street. I wanted to see the other side of him, though, and finally talked Jennie in to going in; she doesn’t like sculpture. But since you could get a pass to both Musée Rodin and Musée d’Orsay, where we were heading later, for a reduced price, she agreed to go in. It was a bit drizzly, and the museum is largely outside, but the rain did let up before we were done.

Jennie and the Gates of HellI admit, I’d really only known Rodin for “The Thinker,” but he did several other very cool pieces, especially “The Gates of Hell,” of which “The Thinker” is a small part. They’re the gates from Dante’s Inferno, and many of the pieces around the garden and in the house had found their way into the piece (or were pulled from it — not quite sure which came first). Jennie loved that piece, though, and then didn’t want to leave the museum. (Secret “Ha, I told you so” moment.) Afterwards, we found a patisserie for lunch: a quiche apiece, a macaroon (no coconut! hurray!), and an éclair for later.

Musée d’Orsay is in an old train station, and they preserved the entire train station, making it part of the exhibit. Very cool building on its down. It houses most of the Impressionist paintings, which Jennie realized were the ones she had really wanted to see Monday at the Louvre (but, of course, they weren’t there). We both found several artists — besides Monet — who we like now, though I’ll have to go find them in an art book to remember their names. *le sigh* Should have written them down. Still, it’s almost surreal to see the painting in person after you’ve seen it in a book so many times; just like at the Louvre, most of the time they’re much, much larger than you realize.

At d’Orsay, we ran in to one of the guys who had been on the Versailles tour with us. (The tour company had several tours running at a time, but we were on the only ones on our specific package, so no one else was staying at our hotel. And there were only about 8 people on the tours last week, though they’re expecting 70-80 for this week!) He from New Zealand, and he’s taking an extended tour of Europe, largely to see everything van Gogh. He was standing awestruck in from of a self-portrait when we left him.

Musee dOrsay terminalD’Orsay has about three full levels, plus a little more. You’re supposed to do the first floor, and then start on the fifth and work your way down. We didn’t know this, yet we still did about half of the first floor and then went up to the fifth and started down. We saw almost everything in D’Orsay, except for a few rooms of sculpture, which Jennie again maintained she didn’t like, earlier brush with Rodin excepted. (They had another version — or the model for the mold, maybe? not quite sure — in d’Orsay, so she got to stare and bask again.) There was even a small display on Le Chat Noir, which I knew nothing about except the ubiquitous poster you see replicated everywhere. It was actually a shadow theater that used cutouts for the scenery and characters.

We were nearly ready to leave, and the museum was closing soon, when we realized we’d missed a display on the fifth floor that looked interesting. So we headed back up the stairs. As we were walking through toward the opposite end of the fifth floor, Jennie suddenly grabbed my arm and pointed out the window. The fog had lifted, and we could see across town to Sacré Cœur on the hill. Until that moment, she hadn’t believed me or Marianne when we said you could see the city from Sacré Cœur because she didn’t believe there were any hills.

Outside the museum, we ate our éclair (a little smooshed but still good), and then headed for the Seine and the boat tours. The tour company had given us two tickets to one of the tours, and Marianne and Catherine had both suggested going at night because most of the landmarks along the river are lit up. We got to the boat ~6 p.m., and it left around 6:15 p.m., so plenty dark. But freezing! And of course, the best place to take pictures is up on the top deck. Jennie’s camera quit on her at some point, so she went back down inside; I stayed up and got more pictures.

After the tour, we walked west along the Seine to the bridge where the Metro rides over the cars and pedestrians and walked across the river. That bridge is nearest to our hotel, so we followed it back to our café, Café Dupliex. Escargots for me (Jennie tried them, but didn’t like them), and then duck; Jennie had a steak. Dessert, we split a chocolate mousse and crème brûlée. The crème brûlée… there are no words. So so so so good.

In general, we’re trying to speak French. Everyone can tell immediately that we’re not fluent and barely conversant, but usually if we try, they smile and let us. They help us in English a lot and/or repeat what we tried to say in proper French (and a slightly amused tone), so we can get it right next time. Most everyone speaks or understands enough English for us to get by, even the girl at the supermarket, and especially if you make an effort to speak French, they switch to English easily and with a smile. I think they still look amused at us, but everyone’s been very nice and helpful. (You do, however, have to watch out for panhandlers on the street who approach and ask, “You speak English?” If you say yes, they hold out a detailed sign written in English & asking for money.)

Thursday

We had to wait on Marianne this morning to come and give us our bus vouchers to get back to the airport, so we slept in. Marianne helped us with our plans for the days — and scolded us for not having taken the Metro anywhere yet. We set out for the Luxembourg Palace and Gardens, though we decided not to tour it when we got there, and then continued on to the Latin Quarter. So many narrow & winding streets, mostly one-lane roads with just enough room for pedestrians on either side. We finally found a small but busy crêperie (?) with a very helpful guy who helped us choose our crêpes (one savory — ham, mushrooms, cheese, and tomatoes — and one sweet — Nutella! which might just be my new favorite food). He suggested we sit down to eat them, as they were likely to make a complete mess if we tried to walk with them since we were crêpe newbies. Seating in a lot of places is like it was here — a row of small two-person tables, all fitted in as tightly as they could be, with a row of chairs on either side. To get to the seat by the wall, you first had to pull out the other chair and the table, slide in to the chair, and then pull the table back in.

notre dame and christmas treeMore wandering through the Latin Quarter in the general direction of Notre Dame. Stopped at a souvenir shop, and I got a few things for my family. Then on to Notre Dame. It was a cloudy day, as they’ve all been, though actually clear still, so we weren’t exactly following Marianne’s advice to go on a sunny day. It is a beautiful church, and so big. You almost feel disrespectful taking pictures, so we tried not to take too many (although, there was a huge banner hanging over the altar, which itself was a modern art version of an altar). We didn’t do any of the tours there because they cost a lot, though entering the church is free. We did walk to the back, though, to take pictures of the flying buttresses.

Then we headed to Place de la Bastille, the square where the Bastille stood, to look around, and then to Place des Vosges, which our waiter the night before had told us about. Victor Hugo lived in the square; there is a museum for him there, but we weren’t terribly interested in going in; between us, I think we’ve read all his works, but still weren’t all that excited. Sat in the park for a while, then went to find a patisserie (raspberry and lemon tarts, yum!). Back to Place des Vosges to sit again and eat, then off to wander the other side of Île de la Cité (Isle of the City, where Notre Dame is).

Our waiter last night had also told us to go to Bar 10, on Rue Odeón. He had fussed at us for being young but going to bed so early. So we hunted down Rue Odeón and found Bar 10, which is a club. He also said that it has some of the oldest and most original French decor in the city. But, of course, it wasn’t open since it was only 6 p.m. We wandered a bit more and ended up at Boulevard Garibaldi, the main street near our hotel. Found a tiny crêpe & panini stand tucked in between two cafés. While waiting for our paninis, we talked with the guy behind the stand and his friend, who was sitting on his moped. They both said they hoped we were having a good time in Paris and that everyone was treating us well.

We’ve been mistaken for Parisiennes several times now, and it always amuses us. We’ve been stopped and asked for directions several times in rapid French. And in Musée d’Orsay yesterday, we were asked by an American — in slow English — if we could take his family’s picture. He just laughed when we answered in American.

Friday

Our shadows in parisSun! It rained overnight, and this morning the clouds broke up, and there was light. After breakfast, Jennie wanted to use the Internet at the copy shop across the street and then to go to the wine shop around the corner. After that, we meandered to the Musée de l’Orangerie, which is at the far end of the Jardin des Tuileries from the Louvre. Paris is even more beautiful in the sunlight. I wanted to revisit everything to see it in the light. We didn’t, but we did see the Eiffel Tower from all over the city; it had been so foggy all week that we didn’t realize how dominating the tower can be. Wandered into another patisserie and ordered a gaugette (?) jambon fromage and a raspberry something. More yum. We always try to order something different everywhere we go, and then we split or at least share bites.

Then l’Orangerie finally and — wow. Just, wow. Waterlilies. Monet. Eight paintings, two large oval rooms, four per room. Together, the paintings run almost the circumference of the rooms, with just enough room for four doors. The paintings are massive. You can sit in front and watch, and soon you’re sitting on a quiet bank, watching the water ripple. Oh…

We sat for a good long while up there, and then went downstairs to the rest of the museum. Nothing too exiting down there, and several schoolkid tour groups to dodge. We finally went back up to the Waterlilies and sat again. We finally left unwillingly as one of the tour groups was starting to come in. We didn’t have a plan for the rest of the afternoon (Jennie wanted a nap, but I wanted to see something, and she didn’t want to go back through the Louvre), so eventally we headed back down to Notre Dame. The sun decided to hide as we got there, though, so we still couldn’t follow Marianne’s advice of visiting Notre Dame when it’s sunny. Pooh.

It was after 1 p.m. by this point, so we found a sandwich/crêpe stand. Jennie got a pannini, and I got a crêpe, but this time without the benefit of a table to eat at. I went slowly, though, following the timeless Greek words of wisdom inscribed on the wall at Souvlaki back home: “Peel it back; don’t unwrap.” Still, the crêpe collapsed in on itself and did everything it could to end as a pile of goo. Did manage to finish it off just before it had completed the transformation, though.

Then Jennie decided she wanted to see the Statue of Liberty on the western side of the city; it faces back toward our own Statue of Liberty. So we started walking and got on the Champs-Élysées, which connects the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, ending at Place de la Concorde, which is where the guillotine stood during the revolution. We followed the Champs-Élysées up to the Arc. The Champs-Élysées begins, at Place de la Concorde, with monuments and museums — and a Christmas faire — and ends with high-end shopping (Louis Vitton and Cartier).

As we were walking, we started needing to find a bathroom, but weren’t having any luck. There are the free public toilets built on the sidewalks, but neither of us was quite brave enough to use them. (Another story from Catherine — the toilets used to be pay toilets, with a maximum time of 15 minutes. You inserted your money and the door opened. And when your 15 minutes were up… the door opened again. The only way to close it was to walk out and add more money.) We finally passed a McDonald’s sign, and though we’d swore not to go in a McD’s or Starbucks in France, we just had to. The sign actually said “McCafé”, which we didn’t think much of at the time. But inside, there was a whole coffee bar & pastry shop area, much like a Starbucks, and then the main counter was at the back. We didn’t go look at the main menu, though my brother mentioned when I got back that the menus are very different. We did get frappacinos, even though it was freezing outside, and went up to the second floor, which is all seating. Some of the seats overlooking the Champs-Élysées were taken, though there were some seats if we had just crammed in like in all the smaller places we’d been, but Jennie didn’t want to sit so close to anyone.

After the frappes, we finished the hike up to the Arc de Triomphe by walking under the Charles de Gaulle Étoile (Star) (thank goodness, because the crazy drivers were still up there) and coming back up inside the Arc’s area. We could see down to the Louvre on one side and down to La Grande Arc in La Defénse, the business district. Tried to capture the cars and bikes and mopeds and buses all careening toward each other, but not sure it came out.

Me at TrocaderoThen on to the Statue of Liberty. We’d chosen roads that would take us by Trocadéro, so we had to pop out on the square, which had a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. We sat for a while and watched the lights start to come on as the sun set. After resting for a while, we headed off again for the Statue. Wound through another shopping district, and then came out by Radio France, which was our nearest landmark for the statue. Not too many good places for pictures of her, though. We did stand behind her and wave to America.

It was only 6 p.m., but we were tired and hungry and had walked over half the city, so we headed back to our hotel, picking up quiches from one shop and dessert (Opera and an apple tart) from another.

Saturday

Sacre CoeurLast full day in Paris. Slept in, and then we took the Metro to Place de la Republique, and from there walked up to Sacré Cœur. We did take a slight wrong turn (went right instead of left) and ended up in the fake Rolex district for a block or two. When we were past, we looked up and saw the tower of Sacré Cœur behind and left of us, so we started zigging and zagging through the streets to get to it. Ended up going through the back way, up a flight of narrow steps, and coming out by a garden behind the church.

From in front of Sacré Cœur, you can look down over most of Paris. (They helpfully provide maps at the lookout spot that point out the landmarks around the city. The Eiffel Tower requires a small side trip because it’s hidden by a building and a few trees.) It was overcast but clear, so we could see the city. Marianne had said to go on Saturday because the artists and entertainers come out then, though there weren’t very many because it was so cold. Jennie had just made a comment about kicking a mime if she saw one — and then the “statue” ahead moved and she jumped. There were three mimes scattered around, all pretending to be statues. They’d hold a pose for a few minutes, then “come to life” for a little skit, and then freeze again.

We went inside the church. It was during Mass, so we sat for a little while to listen, but no photos and no talking. (There was an official “shusher”, who went around silencing the tourists.) The nuns were singing, and it was very pretty. In some ways, I liked this church better than Notre Dame, probably because it was a little smaller but just as beautiful inside. We did finally start walking as the nuns were singing the closing hymns.

Moulin RougeLunchtime by then, so we headed down and found a nearby café. I had the cheeseburger maison, which actually had a bun and was very good, and Jennie had pasta that came with an egg over easy on top; we had expresso and split a crème brûlée. The crème brûlées have been huge, but this one was the biggest yet, and probably the best. Then we tried to pick streets to angle back towards the river. Instead, we started seeing signs for peep shows and lap dances (and much, much more — and a lot of it in English) — yep, the far end of the Moulin Rouge. (Which isn’t actually the district’s name but the name of one particular building, and which actually means “Red Windwill,” because it was built with a red windmill on top. Why, I have no idea.) Middle of the day and lots of other tourists; we did walk down to see the Moulin Rouge itself, though the windmill was under repair and had lots of scaffolding around it.

More angling back, and we finally ended at the Grand & Petit Palaises. Popped over a few blocks to a café, one of the first where no one seemed to want to speak English. We sat outside, since we hadn’t done it yet and this was our last chance; it wasn’t a café with warming lights, though, so it was cold out there. Drank cappuccino and hot chocolate. Then we walked over toward Les Invalides to walk through the basilica there, but we hit during Mass again, and this time the church was closed. Couldn’t think of anywhere else to go right away, so we wandered back to the hotel. I wanted to go back to “our” café one more time, but Jennie didn’t want to wait on the service (they’re a lot more relaxed than in the States; none of this “Rush, rush, get in, shove it down, get out” stuff) and then decided she wasn’t even hungry, so we stayed up in our room and read and played Uno.

Sunday

Up early because we had to catch the shuttle to the airport. We hadn’t even checked out yet when the driver popped in to get us. Rushed to check out and follow him, and then we were at the airport in no time. We checked in for our flight, which we had been told before we left had been changed to 12 p.m., only to find that we’d been switched back to the 9:55 a.m. flight (it was nearly 9:30 at that point) — and it was delayed until noon. So we ended up still on a noon flight. Apparently there was bad weather back in the northeast, and our plane was delayed getting to Paris. This one was more crowded, so we couldn’t stretch out at all, and it took nearly 8 hours. Still, made it, and then found that our flight from Newark to Richmond had also been delayed by about 2 hours, so we didn’t miss it. Got back to Jennie’s house around 8 p.m. Virginia time, which was 2 a.m. Paris time. We called our parents again, and then both went straight to sleep for twelve hours. Left Jennie’s around noon on Monday and came home. Out to dinner with my parents and brother last night, and we ordered crème brûlée… and it wasn’t the same. The best crème brûlée in the town, and it wasn’t nearly as good as Paris. Sadness.


Jennie & I were talking Saturday night, and she was getting excited about going home and seeing her friends and her parents and her pets and having her horseback-riding lessons and everything else. And I was thinking about what I’m going to be doing over the next few weeks, and I remembered jiu-jitsu. Oh, right, this jiu-jitsu thing I do… It’s, er, wait, what now? My mind and body are both saying, “How’s that go again?” Everything is filled with Paris still. Anything besides walking and aching seems so distant. I was just getting used to pattiseries and cafés and expresso (and laughing at “Cafe Americain: expresso with too much water” on the menu) and musées and beautiful bridges and “Merci” and Dior on every corner. I’m going to miss Paris.

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