From the ex-battlefields of the Somme, we drove in the direction of Paris, taking the back roads at a relatively leisurely pace. We encountered some trouble when, after seeing a number of route bloqué signs, we eventually realised they were talking about our route, and had to retrace our steps for a considerable distance, in traffic that went at a crawl. After yet another misadventure with another closed road (what is going on here!), we eventually found a route that led us towards Paris.
Searching for water, I spotted a hose at a tiny petrol station, and managed to stumble my way through a negotiation in French with the attendant to fill up our water tank. He only agreed after I offered to pay (je peux vous payer?), and the venture succeeded right up to the point when, after he filled our tank, I accidentally offered five euros for the water instead of about two, forgetting to convert currently while distracted trying to carry out the conversation in French. Merde!
It’s frustrating that while I feel able to put most things into a sentence in French, possibly with the help of my dictionary, once I’m face-to-face with someone, even if I’m prepared, my IQ seems to drop about fifty points and I become a gibbering moron, stuttering over the most simple French sentences. Hopefully this will get easier with time and practice!
Anyway, not wishing to tackle the infamous Parisian traffic during peak hour, we thought we’d stop at the next lay-by and wait it out. Said lay-by never came, and we found ourselves swept onto the motorway heading into Paris. Fairly typical move for us, really!
So, our introduction to le circulation de Paris was a rather exciting experience, particularly when we came across some rather unfamiliar and fluid traffic layouts. Still, with no major incidents, Nigel faithfully led us to the aire de stationnement in front of the magnificent Château de Vincennes: A spacious car park with plenty of space, and many other motorhomes parked up. We took a walk in the adjacent and very pretty parc de floral, dropped into the nearby metro station to check up on the plan for the following morning (damn, the metro in Paris is unbelievably expensive! About $32 AUD for a day pass!), and settled in for the night.
Up early the next day, and we headed to the metro to meet our friend Tiff coming in on the train from London for the weekend. Hooray! We spent the day with Tiff walking through Paris, from la Place de la Concorde, along the Seine, and past the Eiffel Tower — which is one impressively massive construction, by the way — dodging dodgy street hawkers trying to thrust crappy miniature Eiffel Towers in our hands and chanting one-euro, one-euro. We visited Sacré Coeur (dodging pushy guys trying to put ‘friendship bracelets’ on the girls’ wrists), a quite beautiful church, all rounded dome roofs and intricate statuary, perched on top of a grassy hill overlooking Paris. Eventually, footsore, back again to Nettle to sit around and have some cider.
Meanwhile, we had been trying for days to find a way to get in contact with Tim, Jen and Annie, other friends who were also in the country. The solution was presented by Tiff, her working mobile phone, which we used to form a plan to meet at the Eiffel Tower at 9. This fell through and we rescheduled for breakfast, but at least we had a communication channel.
At dusk, we took the metro in to the Eiffel Tower again, a very pretty sight after dark, and took the lift up one of its legs to the mid level (the top was closed!) to take in the view.
The three of us awoke the next day and went to meet Tim, Jen and Annie at the Châtelet station. We were all 10 minutes late, and so ran right into each other at one of the exits, luckily. A rather expensive and sadly underwhelming breakfast at the first café we came to (although croissants are always good), then we split up, me with TJ&A and Katherine with Tiff to do some shopping.
The four of us walked along the Seine, through the Louvre buildings and la Place de la Concorde to Museé d’Orsay, the art museum. Jen and Annie raced off and had finished seeing the whole place before Tim and I managed to do much of the bottom floor, so they went off for lunch while we hurried through the rest. Some very impressive pieces there, including a lot of Monet’s work, and some of Van Gough’s; Starry Night and his self-portrait, among others. Both Timmy and I found ourselves drawn to some others’ work, including lots of great pointillism stuff from Camille Pissarro. I wished I had more education in art history so I could appreciate and understand what I was seeing more. I at least need to come back with Katherine some time, who at least knows what pointillism is!
We finished up rapidly (“love it, love it, like it, don’t get it, brilliant, love it…“), and joined the girls for lunch. Very entertaining and friendly café staff. I had about twenty different kinds of cheese melted on a piece of toast with lettuce on the side. Tasty stuff.
Having found ourselves running out of day, we cancelled our prior plans to see the catacombs and visited the sewers instead (as you do) — a museum inside a public section of the underground sewer system: Smelly stuff. Grey water running about two metres down under a grill making up the walkway! A little disappointing though, not quite what we expected — just a lot of in-some-year-such-and-such-did-something-or-other. Oh, well. We finished up in the park by the Eiffel Tower, lounging on the grass. Brilliant to spend time with them.
I bid farewell to Tim, Jen and Annie, who we were to meet in a few days in Cinque Terre, Italy (we arranged a time and a place to meet there), and headed to Gare-du-Nord station to say goodbye to Tiff as well. A sad farewell, given that Tiff was off back to Australia soon, and we probably wouldn’t see her again for many a year.
Reunited with Katherine (who I had missed terribly during the day!); We called it a night.
Our final morning in Paris we spent in a McDonalds near Châtelet trying to make the wifi work well enough to look up a place to buy second-hand bikes. No workies (plus, they seem to block SMTP traffic, so it’s impossible to send email unless it’s through a web client), and much frustration later we headed onwards and walked through the Louvre buildings, up the Champs Elysees and to the Arc De Triomphe. Many displays of wealth; expensive restaurants, designer labels, showrooms of car prototypes, bizarre to see contrasted with beggars in the street, kneeling down holding cups.
So, the next morning we left Paris — for now, we’ll be back — for Cinque Terre in Italy, to meet Tim, Jen and Annie there.