Paris started out a bit rocky. In leaving London that morning (Friday, March 4), walking to the tube stop with luggage was a challenge. People do not look up when they are walking, nor consider that people might be walking the opposite direction (with luggage towards a national rail station) and NO tube stop is without stairs, even the ones that are “accessible” have stairs to get in or out. Crazy. So, that didn’t start out well. I knew dragging luggage with me to a tube stop to get to St. Pancras would be like that.
I took the Eurostar train from London St. Pancras to Paris –Gare du Nord. The train ride was fine, and it was a beautiful sunny day!
I got to Paris. Gare du Nord (station) is huge! I emerged outside and suddenly realized that I didn’t speak the language. (I knew this, but…) I have a few French words, but not many. There were people outside the train station just waiting for tourists who looked lost and who wanted to sell you something, material or just b.ss (and of course THEY speak English). I was really put off by that, and the creep factor was in high form. There were tons of creepy looking characters (I was told by someone else later that “the creepy look is in”)
I then got lost finding my hotel, it really wasn’t that hard, but there are two hotels with the same name in the same vicinity. Someone directed me to the wrong one!
By the time I reached the hotel, I was really frustrated and a bit freaked out. I don’t freak out easily, I travel in cities by myself well. I didn’t feel safe (turns out it was fine) Once I got into my hotel room, travel weary from the whole journey, I just wanted to get the next train back to London. London, I understand AND, they speak English. I was really quite upset and wondered why I thought it was a good idea to travel BY MYSELF to a city where I don’t speak the language. I stayed in that night and got a good nights sleep.
Saturday, after many supportive facebook comments and suggestions, (so thankful for friends, and facebook!) I decided I would figure it out. I could certainly handle the Metro (I can handle the Underground/Tube, the NY subway, the L, the T, the BART, I must be able to handle the Metro too)
So, I took the Metro down and even successfully transferred train lines. I went to the Musee D’Orsay, which everyone has recommended highly above the Louvre. I understand why. They have a huge collection of the French Impressionist painters, one of my favorite eras of Art! I got to see Degas, Renoir, Monet, Manet, Matisse, Cezanne, Gauguin,. etc. (and got to see Whistler’s Mother!)
It was a bit crowded, but I enjoyed it. I also had lunch there in an amazing room with paintings on the ceiling. I had purchased a museum pass before I arrived. That was definitely worth it! I avoided the queues (lines) and got in right away. That probably saved at least 40 minutes!
I then walked down the Seine on a sunny, but hazy day. I took lots of pictures. I walked to the Eiffel Tower and took many pictures there. The queues were very long (Saturday, of course) so I opted not to go up on a hazy day and hoped to go back sometime later in the weekend. I had hot chocolate in a local café and had a lovely day.
At dinner, a lovely French couple seated near me tried to have a conversation with me. They really tried and I just didn’t understand. They were very sweet! They even made sure to use the 6 or so English words they knew. As I left, I made sure to say “bonsoir” and they said “Good night” (they were pleased they knew that word) So, in my experience, some of the Parisians are friendlier than the Dubliners!
Sunday was great! I went to the American Cathedral in Paris for church. It was nice to attend an Episcopal service and have actual music, not just lyrics to the hymns! I met with their Journey to Adulthood leader and the Rite 13 leaders, and got to meet the 13 year olds. I love that age (one of few who do) but they were great, and several of them chatted with me for a while. They loved that I was from Chicago!
I then walked along and had lunch on the Champs Elysees, then walked the Jardin des Tuleries. It’s a huge public park with two ponds with fountain, statues, outdoor cafés. It was a beautiful sunny day. It was fantastic. (there are lots of pictures) I walked then to the Louvre, took many pictures outside. I opted not to go in the Louvre, but went to the Musee L’Orangerie instead. (good choice!) (museum pass made all the difference again) They have more French impressionists, with two full rooms of murals of Monet’s Water Lillies. They are circular rooms and are amazing. I spent a lot of time in there taking it all in!
I then decided to stay out and watch the sun set over the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t go right to the tower, but got a good view from a bridge on the Seine. It was great. (got amazing pictures!) (it was very cold outside, so I about froze my fingers off doing it, but worth it) I got to see the lighting of the tower at dusk too. It was very cool. I was exhausted by the end of that very full day. (and had stood for an hour or more watching the sun shrink lower and lower and waiting for the lighting of the monuments! My feet hurt, but it was worth it!
Monday, we won’t get into. I should have gone to the Eiffel tower first thing and waited. Instead, I went to Sainte Chapelle, which everyone recommended. I waited in line over an hour, only to be told as I got to the entrance, that they were closing for a couple of hours, go away and come back later. (I had to catch a train back, could not come back later) I was furious. I ended up wasting my last morning in Paris. (so much more to do!)
The train ride back to London was uneventful. There was a group of young people in their late teens (students) with a chaperone. I enjoyed being seated near them, and even learned a new game. Only I would enjoy being seated near an energetic group of young people!
Thoughts on people.
I had also read the guidebooks about Paris (I’ve got to learn to take the comments about the people with a grain of salt) I was expecting Parisians to automatically hate me as an American and I was expecting rudeness. That was not the case. People tried really hard to help me and to use English words when they could. I used as much French as I could (but I only have words, not many sentences)
As to the guidebooks, I had my expectations too high in Dublin and too low in Paris. I have to just remember that people are people wherever you are. If you are polite, you can expect the same, if you are rude, you may also expect that. If you are nice and try, it makes a difference!
And back in London…
Today (3-8-11), doing laundry at the Soltis, for which I am grateful!