Palaces and Princesses

A bit of a lie-in today, Saturday, after two very long but very different days. It’s been said many times but we both feel as if we need a holiday after our week here in Paris.

We’re still coming across French or Parisian stereotypes and clichés. Watching the Olympics with a French commentary is very entertaining. I thought the ‘ooh lala’ was pretty good. But during the skiing down a halftime event, someone crashed out and we were treated to a ‘ooh lala lala lalalalala lala’.

Beware: in some restaurants, the vegetarian salad option boasts salmon as a main ingredient. Mostly though, while it’s been difficult sometimes, I’ve enjoyed the veggie food, even when it’s a bit, let’s say, unusual. White pizza is one that has no tomatoes.

We were entertained on a train by a man playing his piano accordion. A medley of French tunes which had a few of the passengers dancing in their seats.

The tickets to Versailles were valid on any reasonable route via Metro or RER. Which sounds typically French in a way. And the RER train itself was decorated to look like one of the great Halls at the palace, even the ceiling.

More people seem to smoke here than they do in London but we’ve seen very few electronic devices being enjoyed. You have to hold your breath while entering some eating places as the enclosed but ‘outside’ seating area is for smokers.

The train journey to the Palace of Versailles revealed that most graffiti in and around Paris is nothing more than tags, ugly and not very creative. Such a contrast with the artworks here and at the Louvre, for instance.

We left the station, Versailles Château Rive Gauche, to be greeted by a depressing sight of the unholy trinity: a KFC, a McDonalds and a Starbucks. Under slightly different circumstances, this would be cause for a revolution.

The Palace of Versailles is huge. Most of the halls are bigger than our house. The Hall of Mirrors is as big as Wales. The audio commentary was purely factual but in the end I think we both took a dislike to all the opulence. It could very well cause a revolution under slightly different circumstances.

One of the halls contained busts of notable men from mostly the arts. Men. Yes, apart from a queen and a mistress, I don’t think women were much good in those days. I was pleased to see a couple of astronomers and mathematicians represented, though, Cassini and des Cartes for instance.

We declined the offer of a 20-minute wait for lunch and instead walked back towards the railway station, and in particular, to a nice, small, independent coffee shop by the name of The Stray Bean. The carrot cake, pistachio cake and the coffee all scored maximum points.

We briefly met up with Monica and Neha on our return. But we went out and had dinner on our own: a surprisingly tasty rice-based veggie burger with chips.

Friday we all got together again for a day at Disneyland Paris. We were joined by a friend of Monica’s, Hannah, who’s from Ireland but studying in Lyon.

For Neha, I think the highlight of the day was the Princesses’ Lunch. While eating, we were addressed by Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel and Aurora. Sadly, no Belle. The waiter, Moez, insisted on referring to the ladies as princesses and called me Doctor. He asked a couple of times where he knew us from and given the present, young company, I’m glad I didn’t respond that I’d been in a couple of porn movies recently that he might have seen.

We walked and stood and waited in line and queued up for several rides. It was cold, though: the wind was biting, some puddles were still frozen and there were icicles in the waterfall. But Neha didn’t care, she was just excited to be there.

The Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ride was too much for my back which was beaten black and blue by the hard plastic. Don’t mind the 360° turns and being upside down but please stop bashing me on the same vertebra over and over and over again.

There were a couple of more peaceful rides , drifting along the water being serenaded by children from all around the world. The depiction of England was wonderful: a red bus jumping over the opening bascules of Tower Bridge.

Altogether, we walked over 10 miles on this day and I think we were all glad to get to bed.

During the day, three different estate agents called. One more, improved offer on our house, but we’ll hold out for a few more days. So now it’s a, it’s a, it’s a Drive-in Saturday. We’re on our way home.

I’m sure we’ll come back to Paris at some point, probably before the 2024 Summer Olympics. It’s a great place to just wander round, the signage, the architecture, the transport systems are all fascinating in their own way. It’s so easy to compare with London of course, but 40 years in London v one week in Paris is hardly a fair fight.

Not everything is real at Versailles as revealed when the green screen system breaks down.

Paris in the Springtime

Walking around the streets of Paris, it’s easy to make comparisons with London. We’ve seen far fewer rough sleepers, just a couple really. But there are many more beggars, each with a much-used old paper cup with only a couple of coins in at the most. Some have dogs but most don’t. What most of them do have, that beggars in London don’t have, is a nice, big, comfortable cushion to sit on.

Another ploy is to come up and ask you to sign a piece of paper. You assume it’s a petition so you read it. Then you find out the person is ‘deaf and mute’. They’re asking for money and you’re supposed to indicate how much you’re donating when you sign. You’ve got to admire their bottle, but, pretending to be deaf?

And on the Metro, we’ve been privileged to have heard three different speakers presumably asking for the price of a coffee or a small contribution for their lodging tonight.

Ignoring all these people, some of whom may be in genuine need of help and not really just trying to fleece ‘tourists’, is tough. But I’m not really a bad person. I made friends with a tiny, old French lady in a bookshop who couldn’t reach what she wanted from the top shelf. We agreed that it was nice buying books for grandchildren, but that’s as far as my French language skills went.

The other problem we have is that our phones lose charge and we don’t have the correct adapter to charge them. I looked in an Apple shop that we happened to pass, but 25€ for a plug with an Apple logo seems a bit OTT. Fortunately, Monica came better prepared. So, my phone is fully charged now and my thumb is typing away and sometimes hitting the correct letter at the first attempt.

Earlier today, I was alerted to a new voicemail message. When I called to listen to it, the nice man said there weren’t any. However, I did retrieve it later, and a second one, both from our estate agent, asking me to call back.

Two more offers have been received, neither of which we want to accept right now. Someone really wants a downstairs toilet but doesn’t want to spend £25,000 installing it. I’m assuming it’s Donald Trump looking to install a gold-played one for that price. Another one wants to rent the house out but wanted to buy the house for a small amount, cheeky devil. There are a couple more people due to view the house later in the week. Yes, it does feel weird having hordes of strangers looking around our house while we’re not there, but equally, it feels wrong when we go and look at other people’s houses and flats.

Meanwhile, back here in Paris, many of the museums and other attractions are closed on Tuesdays. So yesterday, we all went for a long walk, via the Hôtel des Invalides and the Musée de l’Armée. Napoleon’s Tomb is in a church nearby, but we didn’t pay to see it.

We caught a bus, when we eventually found the correct bus stop, to start the main mission of the day: a tour of chocolate shops!

Lots of free samples were enjoyed of course, and we all bought a lot of chocolate to take home. How much really gets back to England, well, we’ll see.

Bon Marché is a big shop. Liesel, Monica and Neha looked around while I took refuge in the book department. I’m reading A Tale of Two Cities right now, it seemed appropriate, but I couldn’t find a French translation. This is where I met the little old French lady, by the way. I went for a coffee because the seats in the café were more comfortable than those in the book shop itself.

Today we visited the Louvre. It’s huge. I wanted to see he Mona Lisa of course, it being the star of a few stories that I’ve enjoyed over the years. Liesel enjoyed the Egyptian section, stuffed cats, stuffed crocodiles and all. I looked at a lot of Italian art and it was nice to see that not every Italian painting from the olden days is a Madonna and Child, which is what I remember from Florence, especially. The Islamic art was also interesting, and I learned a lot about Arabic script.

Yes, I was moved by seeing Leonardo’s most famous painting in the flesh, but it’s sad that it has to be hung behind a thick layer of bullet-proof glass.

We were hoping to take a boat to the Eiffel Tower but the river was flooded, the jetty and many riverside restaurants were under water. Literally, in Seine.

We took a bus instead, the 69 again, and queued to be security-checked then queued to buy tickets then queued for the lift and queued a few more times to take the lift up and back down again.

Wild is the Wind. Really wild. And very cold. So while I’d wanted to climb the stairs initially rather than taking the lifts, in the end, I was quite glad I didn’t. The cold wind went in one ear and out the other, despite my fleece ear-covering hat.

And while the views from the very top of the Tower were wonderful, it was a nice, bright , sunny day, it was bitterly cold in that wind.

On the walk back to our hotel, we stopped off for hot chocolate and crêpes with hot chocolate sauce. So much sugar, so much chocolate, but so nice to sit down in the warm.

Having watched TV a few times now, I can say that I’m very disappointed by the lack of Olympjcs coverage: we have to watch Eurosport 1 in German and we see a lot of German competitors, especially the medal winners.

Car adverts are just as terrible in French or in German, and all the roads are just as unrealistically empty as they are in British ads.

Trails for reality/talent shows are just as annoying as they are at home.

And of course, you can always find a food-based programme or two, just like on Freeview.

I was hoping to listen to some French radio but the device in the hotel room either doesn’t work, or it’s too complicated for little old me. And listening online, on my phone, would be OK, if I could guarantee being able to charge it again afterwards! I know, I know, first-world problems!

Liesel, Monica and Neha sought out cheese fondue for supper this evening, I was happy to eat whatever was in the room, but no, I didn’t eat all the chocolate, not his time.

Here are Monica, Liesel, Mona, Lisa, Neha, Mick and some other character at the Louvre.

Nôtre Dame

The first full day here started quite late. We watched some coverage of the Olympics from PyeongChang, with a French commentator. I was delighted to hear the phrase “ooh la-la” used when someone came a cropper on her snowboard.

After breakfast in the hotel, we travelled by Metro to our first destination. Not at all disappointed that there is not a free ‘newspaper’ named ‘Underground’.

We visited Nôtre Dame cathedral and climbed to the top of the towers to enjoy a somewhat murky view of Paris. The gargoyles are fab. One even looked a bit like someone we know.

The Pompidou Museum of Modern Art is interesting too, though there is far too much to see in one visit. Everything from Indian photographs to yarn-based sculptures. Even pictures which are the sort of thing I doodle when I’m on the phone.

The only Olympjcs coverage on TV in the evening was in German and Romanian. Pas de Française. But whatever the language, it’s nice to see how excited some of the competitors are when they Win.

Now, think of saffron.

Paris – Day 1

We took five trains between home and our hotel in Paris. The Reginald Bosanquet. Or Hôtel Relaia-Bosquet as they would have it. The Eurostar was the star of the journey although Liesel’s comment after coming out of the tunnel in France was quite funny: Was that it?

Despite aches and pains, we had to go for a walk to the Eiffel Tower. Couldn’t get really close, presumably for security reasons, but close enough to confirm that we were indeed in Paris, Mick for the very first time.

We stopped at a coffee bar where we asked for café au lait but because they didn’t have any big cups, we had to make do with espressos. I’m not normally a fan of espressos bug this one was really good, as we bought s Sweet Thing to go with it, a vanilla éclair.

So far, we’ve only seen one typically French beret on a head, but no strings of onions or black and white striped shirts. People smoke a lot here but I have a soft spot for Gauloises, as it contains all five vowels.

The hotel room is quite nice, with a lovely view over a small courtyard and the wall opposite. The toilet is just a hole in the floor, which is really annoying for the people in the room below.

Monica and Neha have arrived from Anchorage, via Seattle and London. Yes. London. Their flight to Paris was significantly cheaper than a flight to London, yet they stopped in London on the way. So is that due to airport taxes or just more general greed?

We’ve been out for an evening meal, and both Liesel and I chose the very cheesy pizza. Something French. We were served by an Iranian.

All the careful planning paid off: we brought plug adapters that work in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, but they’re no good here in France.

This is our first sighting of the Eiffel Tower.