Monday, December 05, 2005

Paris Recap - Day 3, God, Shopping, and Rock and Roll

If you've come here first, here are the links to Day 1, and to Day 2...

Day 3

You’ve all been so patient waiting for the continuation of my Paris recap, so here’s Day 3! Unfortunately, you’ll have to do without photos for now, but I will get some new photos up soon. I figure you’d rather read this without photos than wait another day. I did, however, add a few photos from the web.

The day was sunny, but snowy. The concierge at our hotel would later tell us that snow is a rarity in Paris because of the pollution. We didn’t mind, because it wasn’t too cold, and the snow was the big fluffy kind that makes everything a little magical. We hopped the Metro to Notre Dame.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame in the snow was amazing, but the plaza in front was crawling with panhandlers seeking to hit the tourists up for a bit of their vacation budget. I don’t mind the people who work for your donations; the street musicians and performers are amazing, but there is also the breed of beggar who feels that they can simply come up and ask for money. I have little patience for this.

Perhaps it’s because I am living in Detroit, but when a homeless person walks up to me and starts rattling off a spiel that sounds pre-rehearsed, I know it’s the French equivalent of “Sorry to bother you but my car is broken down around the corner and my three kids are inside it and I just need 43 cents so I can get bus fare to Pontiac for a job interview and buy some gas to fix the flat tire…” and I simply shake my head and keep moving.

Nicole is the same way. When a homeless woman walked up to her at Notre Dame while Nicole and I were talking, the exchange went like so:

Beggar (in a thick accent): Do you speak English?
Nicole: No. (Turning back to me) So, anyway, what I was saying was…

Don’t think we’re callous and insensitive, but you have to realize that where we’re at, we are set upon by people looking out for handouts on a daily basis. I have no problem sharing leftovers when I leave a restaurant, but if I gave money to every sob story I’ve heard, I would be living worse than I do now.

So on to Notre Dame. Words can’t describe what a massive building this is on the outside or the inside. This is a massive cathedral built with the idea that in order for God to hear your prayers, you need to get as close to God as possible. It was amazing on the inside.

I’m not sure, though, how I feel about these places being tourist attractions. While not necessarily the most devout Catholic, I was raised Catholic, and there is a portion of the beliefs that I subscribe to. Even if this were not the case, I recognize this cathedral is, to many, a holy place. I removed my hat when I entered. I was quiet, and respectful, and didn’t use my camera. Why is this a foreign concept to so many people?!?!

There were people who didn’t take off their hats, who used a flash, who marched into the roped off area reserved for people who were about to attend mass. They were tourists of all kind: Japanese, German, British, French and American. There Muslims and people who appeared Christian. Why is it so hard to show respect to a place that the Catholic Church does not have to make available to the general public?!? Ok, that’s how I feel about that.

In Notre Dame, we lit a candle for Nicole’s mom. She was an amazing lady who lost her battle with breast cancer a few years ago. She loved Paris, and the whole time we were there you could really feel her there.

Exiting Notre Dame, we walked around the side to climb the tower. This was a narrow stone spiral staircase that climbed over 400 steps and over 200 feet into the air. The staircase was cold, the steps were worn from hundreds of years of feet and it was claustrophobic. That being said, we climbed and climbed… to a gift shop!?!?

I was little perturbed about it at first. While interesting (the area pointed out the location of Esmerelda’s cell from Hugo’s The Hunchback of Nôtre-Dame), I couldn’t help but people had been scammed into paying an amount of money (it was covered by our museum pass, but those who didn’t have one had paid) to be herded into a place to make them spend money. Fortunately, my feelings were ill founded, because then they let us up the rest of the stairs.

At the top, there are two amazing things: first, you have an amazing view of the city spreading out for miles, and second, you are face to face with hundreds of gargoyles of all kinds. Almost all of the gargoyles that you are familiar seeing are from Notre Dame, and there are tons more. I think that was the first time I realized that these, the original gargoyles, were all hand-carved, not cast, and each one is different. It was an amazing view of the city.

Then, of course, we had to go down all of those stairs once again…

Leaving Notre Dame, it was time for breakfast. It was nearing noon, and we hadn’t eaten yet. Lunch was at a little café around the corner from the cathedral where we had a bottle of wine (of course), I had a crepe with ice cream, hot fudge and walnuts, and Nicole had French onion soup. After a cup of espresso, we were ready to tackle the city once again.

Q: You know what the French call French Onion Soup?
A: Onion Soup.


Sainte-Chapelle is another beautiful Catholic church. My ire toward tourists in this on was lessened by the fact that A.), I had just had a few glasses of wine, and B.), in Sainte-Chapelle you only tour the upper chapel, with its hundreds of stained glass windows rising high into the air. It was like being inside a kaleidoscope, and I imagine it would be even more amazing on a sunny day.

The stained glass tells the story of the bible beginning from creation and going all the way to the Apocalypse. There is also a section detailing the construction of Sainte-Chapelle, and of the King traveling to Constantinople to purchase Christ’s Crown of Thorns, which was stored within Sainte-Chapelle. The King paid three times the amount that it cost to build Sainte-Chapelle for them!

Once again, I have to highly recommend Rick Steves’ Paris 2005. His book pointed your attention to many of the high points of the detail in the stained glass windows, which included a rather graphic depiction of Cain clubbing Abel.

We also went to a lesser-known monument of Paris; the Holocaust monument. Situated in a small park behind Notre Dame is a monument to the French who died in the Holocaust. It was a very powerful moving design.

After all this culture and religion, it was time to worship at the altar of capitalism. It was time to go shopping!

Rue De Rivoli

Rue De Rivoli is like the average person’s version of Avenue des Champs-Elysees; it’s cool French fashions at a more realistic price. Nicole was able to begin the purchase of a new wardrobe here.

After a few hours of shopping and a snack of bread, cheese and wine (I could seriously live off this diet!), we dropped everything off at the hotel and headed out for dinner once again.

The Bastille and Rue De Lappe

The Bastille neighborhood is a very raucous area (I just used “raucous” in a sentence!), and this where we chose to find food this evening.

First of all, in an experiment, we had the names of two restaurants right by one another. One was Bistrot Les Sans Culottes from Rick Steve’s book, and one was a restaurant from Frommer’s. Frommer’s pick? It was out of business; there was a pizza place there.

Rue De Lappe. That's the Bistrot Les Sans Culottes on the right.

Bistrot Les Sans Culottes was amazing, but the service was not so good. The waiter was sort of ambivalent to our presence, but the food was frickin’ amazing. We started with escargots served on what was either polenta or mashed potatoes, followed by a beef dish, and for desert we had a frozen fruit concoction served in a puddle of… crème brulee.

It was unbelieveable, but like I said, the service was quite slow.

Dinner service in most restaurants in Paris is slow by American standards. This doesn’t bother me at all; it gave us time to enjoy wine and talking and having a relaxing meal. As it is, dinner last about two hours in a typical French Restaurant. The diner at Bistrot Les Sans Culottes lasted three, and the waiter repeatedly forgot our café, so we opted to just leave.

Also, the French eat quite late by American standards; most restaurants are still seating people at 11. This also agrees with me, but now it was 1 am, and we were finishing diner. This meant we would need to take a cab back to the hotel (the Metro stops at 1), which meant we had time to find a nightcap.

The Bastille neighborhood is very much a young people’s bar-hopping neighborhood, so there were bars everywhere. We wandered down an alley, then down another, and the down one more. There, we were greeted by a little hole in the wall called Le Fanfaron. It had Iggy Pop posters on the window, and American garage rock blaring from inside.

We popped in, and felt like we’d been transported to a Detroit hole in the wall bar. None of the chairs or tables matched, but the beer was good and the music was great. The walls were covered with Russ Meyer posters, sci-fi posters and posters of American garage rockers. It was a total dose of home, and we also felt like we were somewhere that not many tourists get to.

After the bar closed at 2:30 we wandered back to the Bastille. Here’s where we found a flaw in our plan.

The Taxi Stand

In Paris, one doesn’t hail a cab. One goes to the cab stand (like a bus stop), and a cab picks you up. When you have waited until the bars close in a neighborhood like the Bastille, you discover that the line for a cab reaches around the block. We stood in line for 45 minutes until it was our turn. We had gypsy cab drivers try to offer their services for exorbitant sums. We watched a drunk get in a fight with a phone booth and try to pick fights with people in the line as well as climb into cabs with other people.

Eventually, it was our turn. My coworker gave me a tip that I used, and I want to pass on now. If you are ever traveling in France, or any other place you are unfamiliar with, carry a piece of paper with the name and address of your hotel on it. This way, I was able to get in the cab and say “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak French very well. Please take me to my hotel,” and hand the driver the paper. It works very well.

Finally, home at the end of the day, it was 4 am, we had a glass of wine, and collapsed.

See you on Day 4!


Angeline Rose Larimer said...

How clever of you to go so organized. I expect Tom and I would have tried to 'wing it.'
"What's this place?"
"Hm. Looks like that church in that Disney movie. Let's go in and buy a magnet for the kids!"
No, we wouldn't have been that clueless.
But we probably would have ended up eating at McDonalds at least once. Inattentive waiters make me sad. Quarter pounders cheer me up.
I, too, could live off cheese and wine...and eat dinner at 11. Sometimes I seriously wonder if I'm French.
I am SO enjoying these recaps!!

stray_thoughts said...

I'm sure that drunk was a tourist too...b/c you never hear about the French being wasted. Mostly b/c I think the French are always wasted.

fineartist said...

Wow, incredible, and thanks for the tips.

Looks like I need to put Rick Steve's book on my Christmas list.