Friday, 1 July 2011

Paris- The City of Lights and Love and Stifling Heat!

The high speed train from Bordeaux to Paris travelled along at just over 300km an hour. You didn't really notice that speed too much until you passed another train going in the other direction. Then there was a great noise and whoosh of air and the whole carriage seemed to rock.

The train station in Paris was huge and we were warned again to be on our guard for pickpocketers. We are lucky to be staying in another luxury hotel with air conditioning that works! It has 24 floors and even though I am on the eight floor the view over the expansive city is spectacular .It is a stifling 39 degrees and is sweltering outside as we head off to our included excursion to the Louvre-perhaps the greatest museum of art in the world.

We didn't beat the crowds here....people people everywhere and the heat generated by them means you brace yourself and accept the fact that it’s a small price to pay to be in amongst art that is the most acclaimed in the world. We were able to call on the" great ladies of the Louvre", the lovely Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and Winged Victory (alas sans head!). One of them even managed a smile :)).

Taking a picture of Mona Lisa was an experience in itself and in some ways it was much more entertaining to watch the crowds elbowing their way to the front. Our local guide showed us how to do it and we were off on our mission. Shame she is so small. Two hours went by so very quickly, I think 2 days you may do the Louvre justice. We were back at the hotel for barely an hour and thankfully our bags had arrived by bus. We had been warned that sometimes the bus is delayed due to the traffic in Paris.


We had been looking forward to The Moulin Rouge show and we were grateful that Mark knew all the tricks to smooth our path. We arrived early and he managed to get us in the front of the queue and in the air-conditioned part while the rest of the queue we outside in the stifling heat. This risqué world-famous cabaret, performed in a 19th-century windmill, has been exciting audiences since 1900. It currently has 2 shows a night, one that starts at 9 and another that starts at midnight. 900 each sitting so you would have to wonder what they served for dinner and how! We were lucky enough to be at a table close to the stage where there was a band playing but we were rather jammed in. Dinner was amazing, beautiful smoked salmon and bread, a tender steak and scalloped potatoes (no greens, they are light on those) and a to die for rich chocolate mousse. Wine was included with champagne served with desert....the French way.

When the show started an extra piece of the stage rose out of the floor and came shooting toward the table. Eventually it banged up against our table us a bit of a jolt but fortunately we managed to not spill a drop of champagne. I was sitting next to the stage but one and could reach out and touch it. What can I say about the show other than to say it will be a memorable night and one of the highlights of the tour. The dancing, the singing, the costumes (after a while you didn't notice the topless dancers- most of the 50 strong females) and the colours! In between sections of the dancing they had some other performers, a juggler, a couple doing acrobatics and a ventriloquist all of whom were outstanding in their own right and top class. At one point the stage section that moved slid back away and beneath it was a huge perspex square pool that would have been about 2 meters deep and probably about 5m X 5m that rose up. In it were 3 big fat 3metre long snakes. Then to make things more exciting they tossed in one of the performers who swam around with the snakes wrapped around her body for some time. Amazing!! No photos allowed

We were all a buzz the end with even some of the men who had been reluctant attendees in the beginning saying wow!  Money well spent for a memory that will last a lifetime.
Next morning we headed off for the must do tourist attraction in Paris- The Eiffel tower. The 10,000 ton dark metal structure is more inspiring close up than when seen from afar. Built in 1889 it has been a source of wonder for a very long time and at 317m was the world's tallest building until 1930. The hawkers were onto us like bees around a honey pot and they are ever watchful of the police seen roaming nearby. Some of our group that didn't come with us to Moulin visited the night before buying champagne and plastic glasses from the hawkers and sitting on the grass with thousands of others. Apparently when the police came along the hawkers drop everything. The police then descend opening the bottles of champagne and water, emptying them and then continue on their way....then the hawkers return and start off again. It’s a game...and both sides know it.

We rode the double decker lift up to the second floor and I for one had to pinch myself about where I was! Stunning views as it was a clear day and lots of photos later we were back grappling with the hawkers on our way to the air conditioned bus. It’s sad really as I am sure none of them want to be doing that for a living 7 days a week. The temperature was rising and everyone was talking about it.....unseasonable for Paris... so they say.  Just stifling ...I say.

We criss crossed our way over the Seine going over some of the 14 bridges and  took in the major sights of  Place de la Concord with its imposing Egyptian obelisk with its view straight down the The Avenue des Champs-Élysée and through to the Arc de Triomphe. The distance is 3.2 km and it is understandably the most popular walk in France.

The Place de Concord was the place that the dreaded guillotine was erected and it claimed thousands of heads. The last public "display" was in 1939 but it continued to be used and the last victim who became headless was in 1977!! While there are lots of monuments and fountains the obelisk is the stand out feature as it’s the oldest manmade object in France at 1300 BC. The Champs is known as the "highway of French grandeur" and we can see evidence of preparations being made for Bastille Day. In the past it has witnessed some of the greatest moments in French history and some of its worst defeats such as when Hitler's armies paraded down the street in 1940. It is closed only twice a year....Bastille Day and of course for the finish of the Tour de France.

Intriguing was Le Pont des Arts labelled as the most romantic bridge in Paris. It has been invaded by “love locks” lovers who come to the bridge, attach the lock and throw the key into the river below. The whole bridge sparkles like tinsel!

We were dropped off in downtown Paris for a couple of hours and it was lovely to wander around the "exclusive shops" and the department stores, both had air con. We could look at labels and prices in comfort!  Those wanting to go back to the hotel had an escorted tour of the underground by Mark. All I can say is that I am pleased he was with us as at times he didn't know exactly where to go. Back at the hotel, a cold shower and I was off out exploring ...with map.

This evening is our farewell dinner at a local restaurant and then a Paris Illumination tour by bus. It was a shame that the restaurants air con had broken so we had dinner in a somewhat hot and sticky environment. Some of the Aussies lost their rag completely and in some ways let their side down. It was still a fun night and sad to be saying goodbye after nearly 4 weeks together.

It was drizzling as our bus tour headed off past the “Paris Eye”, Louvre and the golden statue of Joan of Arc. We stopped outside of the Ritz hotel to take photos of the hotel where Di and Dodi had their last meal and continued down the route they took and through the tunnel where they had the accident. That was not before the driver went around a roundabout no less than 5 times! An Italian driver in France need I say more!

It was dark by now and all the lights of the city had come on. Past Arc de Triomphe and the flame for the unknown solider could be seen easily. The traffic here has its own rules that are everyone goes everywhere. It is unbelievable and no less busy tonight than what it had been during the day.

The final stop for us was at 10.50pm in an excellent spot to see the Eiffel tower illuminated. It was well lit and thousands of people milling around all waiting for the magic hour. At 11pm on cue the tower literally sparkled with the sparkle lights. Apparently it was done for the millennium and the Parisians loved it so much they asked for it to continue. So every hour of darkness and for 5 mins the lights sparkle. What a fitting way to end my stay in Paris.

Tomorrow it’s an easy 9am departure for Eurostar back to London.  Only 28 are going back to London with some staying in Paris for a few more days, others already left for States and OZ. I have a few things I would like  to do in London  but given that its really only 24hours  I will be trying to squeeze everything in . I feel very comfortable about going back there knowing my way around a little now. There is talk however of major disruptions at the airports due to government workers strike. Schools are affected the most but all border security and immigration staff are involved and they are advising not to fly if at all possible. In addition police have had all leave cancelled and are going to be on high alert especially as there are demonstrations planned. Scary stuff but I am more concerned about getting off to New York!

1 comment:

  1. Your days sure are busy! What fantastic memories you will have. Planning your next trip?
    Enjoy the New World.
    Don & Rachel here for lunch yesterday in sunny Maroochy _ only 22 degrees.