Thursday, July 7, 2016

Reflections on our last night in Paris

Sadly, we're leaving Paris early tomorrow morning after six days here. It's also the end of our six week vacation. (Don't think I've ever needed a complete break so desperately before. See previous posts re me and my old mum.) This holiday, torrential rain notwithstanding, has been wonderful. And I'm writing that despite all the anxiety incurred renting and driving a whopping great 'camping car' - let's call it a truck/lorry/camion - from Munich across France to the Atlantic coast and back. Not to mention the €700 bill for the damage I caused to the van by navigating Al into a hedge. (This was our fifth camping car rental, by the way. We've only managed to return our van once without damage of some sort. Hehe.)

Al and I have been to Paris five times now. This time we had no real plans of what to do for six days. I had a vague idea that I wanted to return to a fabric store - Sacrés Tissus - because I'd bought some lovely unusual  fabric there a couple of years ago. (Went. Didn't find anything.)

I'm making myself gag now. Here I am in the 'city of light' and all I want to do is buy a couple of metres of fabric. But, I'm a dressmaker and that's what I like to do. Suppose one should have sympathy for Al, who follows me around; hangs around at shop entrances in his Aussie cowboy hat pretending he's a tall Crocodile Dundee. (He looks quite cool, I think.)

To summarise a bit of our week in Paris:
It's always an immense relief when one arrives at one's Airbnb rental and discovers it is as described and more. This is our third Airbnb rental in France and second in Paris. Seems there are a few more service charges than there were when we rented in Bordeaux in 2013, but back then the company wasn't advertising on television as it is these days. (Hope they haven't got too big for their britches.)

You don't need a description of our apartment. Let's just say it's near Porte d'Orléans and on 'our' corner we have a couple of decent restaurants and the beautiful Parc Montsouris to wander through. The closest métro, at the other side of the park, is also a direct line to Charles De Gaulle airport. Should prove useful in the morning. The apartment is close to boulangeries - croissants! Tartes aux champignons! Etcetera! - markets and supermarkets. Parfait - perfect - as I've just written in a note to our host, Françoise.

Over the last six days we have walked our feet off. I don't care if I look like a tourist. My expensive  running shoes, and my regular jogging back home, ensured that despite having walked countless ks I have remained blissfully blister free. Decided against chancing Velib - the bike rental system - this time. Have already fallen off my bike once (good sight gag, I imagine) - cycling around beautiful Bodensee - Lake Constance - and nearly cycled myself under a bus last time I was in Paris.

So much for a summary. Too much information, I know, but indulge me, dear reader. I'll be teaching surly adolescents six days from now.

Last Saturday, several bridges across the river Seine were closed due to the massive gay pride march that we just happened upon. Massive crowds. Uplifting experience. Enormous police presence - and not just in the march. Our bags were searched by police carrying rifles as we crossed the Pont Neuf to see what was going on. 

Very conspicuous armed police and military presence all week in Paris, especially yesterday when there had been a demonstration - if I understood my French source correctly. Yesterday was the day that the government implemented its changes giving more power to the bosses and less to the workers, according to my source. Walking along the Seine amongst hundreds of armed police in full on sci-fi riot gear was somewhat unnerving but if there was any shit going down, I'm glad they were there.

On Sunday, we spent a long time on the métro and SNCF - the railway - going to and from Claude Monet's house and garden at Giverny. Guess what? It rained the entire time. Still. So beautiful. I read somewhere that Claude Monet said his garden, developed over 40 years if my memory serves, was his greatest achievement. It was wonderful. It really was. But, and I know I'm one, tourists. Blerk. We queued, and shook our sodden umbrellas over each other and poked each other in the eyes with them. We shuffled around those tiny paths blocking each other's views of Japanese bridges and lily pads. We tried to absorb a sense of the place; to have impressions - pun intended. Wonder what Monet would have made of us all disturbing his place. Could he ever have imagined the travesty that we tourists would make of his creation?

The hour train ride back to Paris was interesting. It was so packed that I couldn't even place my feet in such a way that I could balance. I clutched Croc Dundee by the chest hairs and tried not to cry. Really. That bad.

Still, glad we spent the money - about €100 for two of us counting a 'light lunch' - and visited Giverny.

(If you want to see extremely glorious medieval French villages and towns though, try the Alsace region - Colmar, Kaysersberg - birth place of Albert Schweitzer - Strasbourg. Actually, lots of France if our experience is any indication.)

Revisited Sacré Coeur on another day - it's close to my fabric shop!  I'd hate to be a physically impaired tourist in Paris. The climb to the cathedral is quite a challenge. Suppose you could catch a bus, or tootle around in the ubiquitous little white tourist train. Another word on sodding tourists. Yes, sod them. There are clear signs in about four languages forbidding the taking of photos inside the cathedral. Completely ignored. What is wrong with these people? 

Sacré Coeur highlights: lovely music in the lane outside. Three musicians, all harmonising, one guitarist, one beating out a rhythm, one mc-ing. So good.
Second thing? A delicious hotdog with onions and hot mustard. (A few trips to Germany and I've become quite the sausage aficionado.)

A word on Parisian hospitality, and I've probably written this before: people have been so helpful. Note well: I can speak French. In fact I speak it really well. My problem is my aural comprehension. I fool people and then I haven't got the heart to interrupt their responses to ask them to slow down. Croc Dundee, Al, understands French but can't really speak it yet he meets with neither aggression nor arrogance should he ask a stranger for assistance. I don't understand these scathing commentaries I've read here and there about people having trouble communicating with the French. In fact, all the young people seem keen to practise their English

Look, you know what, there's much more, but it's getting late and I have to get up at five. Thanks so much for reading.

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