No matter where you are, rush hour is not fun. Sorry, not even on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
On the Eiffel Tower side of the Arc de Triomphe, crowds gather and marvel at the Parisian icon. The other side remains empty and sparse, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t stop to take a look.
It is interesting how I change and see things differently after a period of time. Photos that were once overlooked are now interesting. Back when I posted about our third day in Paris back during Adventure 2012, I had mentioned the king’s bedtime story depicted in the glass, but I did not post a close-up of the panels because I didn’t think my photos of them were any good. When this photo showed up in my slideshow this morning, the intense colors and the artistry of the panels caught my attention, and the first thing that came to my mind was, “Hey, this is a pretty good photo”.
October 9, 2012 (Tuesday) – our last day in Paris. I made a post on that day as we rode the Eurostar out of France, but that was more of a commentary on our stay rather than a journal of the last day. So, here is the journal version.
We woke up at 10 again and decided to have one last meal at Pomme de Pain, since their food was pretty good and it was close by (checkout was at noon).
I like studying the menus of the places where we eat, and I think I’ll remember for a long time that “chaud” is French for “hot” after seeing it so many times on Pomme de Pain’s menu. Seeing “C” on the hot water faucet helped to reinforce it as well (as opposed to “F” for “froid”). Anyhow, after some nice sandwiches and coffee, we made our way back to the hotel and made some final preparations before heading downstairs to check out. We experienced one bump which was a charge on the final bill for some items from the goodies tray in the room. As a rule, JC and I never take items from hotel mini-bars, and I had to repeat myself a few times before the receptionist agreed to drop the charge.
With four hours until the Eurostar was scheduled to depart, we stopped by the laundromat again. I put on the telephoto lens and captured some Parisians going about their business:
Well, it was almost smooth sailing because I kept setting off the metal detector at Gare du Nord. I emptied my pockets, took off my watch, and even removed my belt, but each time the infernal machine would beep. The female officer took me aside and waved the detector wand over me. When she got down to my shoes, we both realized it was the steel toe inside my boots; she tapped the toe with her fist, gave me a knowing smile, and shooed me out of the customs area. What a magnificent woman.
We didn’t have to wait long before boarding the train, and soon we were on our way out of Paris. At the time, I wrote that I would probably not visit France again, but after writing these posts and recalling all of the things that we did, I take back what I said. If I ever get the opportunity again, I definitely will go to France and Paris.
Other Random Notes from Paris
One funny thing about the laundromat was that I finally learned what the Baron in Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown was shouting when his chateau was on fire: “Au secours! Au secours!” (“Help! Help!”) I was reading JC’s guidebook while waiting for the laundry and it just dawned on me. I was pretty giddy after that. Here’s the clip on YouTube, and here I am being giddy:
In our neighborhood there was dog poop everywhere. One definitely needed to watch where one was stepping. Apparently, this is a common thing in Paris.
There were a few interesting things about the Paris Métro. First, some of the trains run on tires, resulting in more of a floaty and bouncy ride. I’d never seen that before. Second, many (if not most) of the trains require the passenger to open the doors manually. When the train stops, the lock clicks and you pull up on a lever to open the door. Some people pull up on the lever before the doors unlock to get a head start, and a few times the doors opened before the train came to a complete stop. Pretty cool. Third, some of the trains that we rode on were pretty small and more like light rail cars, with corresponding smaller stations (vs. 10-car BART trains or the MTR). Fourth, when in operation, the trains had a trumpety, siren-like, wailing sound. Hearing that sound and seeing the train bounce around on its rubber tires as it entered or exited the station was quite a spectacle. Lastly, at any moment, someone on the train can bust out with an accordion and start singing and playing. Busking seemed to be a common and accepted (read: ignored by the locals) practice on the trains.
This video has a good selection of the different kinds of trains on the Métro:
I thought about World War II a lot while I was in Paris. There seemed to be little reminders of the war all over. For example, I’ve already mentioned in the Day 4 post a street named after the French Resistance member Georges Mandel. We passed through a Métro station named after Franklin Roosevelt. When we went on the Batobus and passed underneath all of the bridges crossing the Seine, I wondered how strategically important those bridges were during the war. A little tiny bridge may seem insignificant, but if it’s the only way to send troops and supplies over a river, then its significance increases dramatically.
As I said in my original post, the Aquarium de Paris is the best aquarium I have ever been to. It was very well balanced in terms of what types of animals were on display. In many aquariums I’ve been to, the variety of livestock is usually overly skewed to either saltwater or freshwater, but I thought it was pretty even here. The native area (i.e. the Seine and North Atlantic) was well-represented, in addition to foreign habitats such as tropical reefs and Amazonian jungle. I was also impressed with how clean the aquarium was. There were no scratches on the glass (or plexiglass), and the lighting for each display was appropriately bright or dim. Instead of traditional placards, each tank had an LCD monitor displaying dynamically updated and relevant information. Even their website is better than most, with a detailed catalog of the species on display.
If you’re an aquarium enthusiast visiting Paris, definitely make a trip to the Aquarium de Paris a priority! For now, please enjoy the photo gallery.
Next: Our Last Day in Paris
October 8, 2012 (Monday): our fifth day in Paris. I remember that this was the first day that we woke up relatively late. Up until this point, we had been waking up in the early morn due to jet lag from flying to Europe from the East. It was already 10:00 AM, and as it was our last full day in Paris, I quickly went online and ordered a couple of summit-lift tickets for the Eiffel Tower.
We walked over and stopped by a crepe stand that we had patronized the other day. Their chicken crepe was pretty good and I wanted to eat it again for breakfast. That’s when JC got the treatment from the crepe lady. I had a coffee in addition to the chicken crepe, JC had the jambon, œuf, and fromage. It was good, but not worth the shit that came with it.
Alas, it was a rainy and dreary day, and we wouldn’t realize until we were at the summit that it was not the best day to go up there:
Still, the views from the 1st and 2nd levels were pretty good:
In the end, the whole thing, from the crepe treatment to seeing only white fog at the top of the tower, was pretty underwhelming. I felt like I’d just been in a boxing match except I was the only one taking punches (ouch).
We walked away from the Eiffel Tower, across the river, the gray sky and drizzling rain doing nothing to take us out of our daze. Trudging along, we walked onto an area of dirt that was now pretty muddy from the rain, and looked up: Aquarium de Paris. Aquarium de Paris was here? If this was fate’s idea of a consolation prize, then we were going to take it. Inside we went.
As it turns out, this wasn’t just a consolation prize, but a complete 180. The Aquarium de Paris is the best aquarium I have ever been to. It’s clean. It’s modern. It has a good variety of animals. The tanks are crystal clear. There’s even a miniature movie theater inside (where we took a nap!). I was very impressed.
After viewing all those fish, I was in the mood for some sushi, so while we were back at the hotel for a short rest I started looking around online to see what was good. In a review for a Japanese restaurant, there was a reference to ramen, and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed eating ramen in Tokyo. After narrowing down reviews, we decided to give Kotteri Ramen Naritake in Paris’ Little Tokyo a try.
There was a line outside that blocked the entrance to the shoe store next door (as can be seen in the photo above). The owner came out and gave the ramen people an earful, and then the staff asked us to queue up on the other side.
Once we were in, it was ramen time. Since we could barely speak French and the staff was almost in the same predicament, we resorted to some of our recently-learned Japanese to order (broken French to broken French vs. broken Japanese to native Japanese). I knew not deleting the app from my phone would come in handy! We had a couple of ramens, an order of gyoza, and a bowl of steamed rice. As can be seen from the photo, the ramen was authentic: rich, greasy, and delicious. Oishii!
From Little Tokyo, we took the Métro from Pyramides back to Trocadéro; it was our last night in Paris after all, and we hadn’t yet seen the Eiffel Tower at night, not to mention we needed to walk off our hearty meal. Luckily, unlike earlier in the afternoon, the sky was much clearer and we were offered breathtaking views of the tower at night.
It was still cold and rainy, but our last full day in Paris ended in a completely different fashion than the way it started. That’s the way life unfolds – one moment it might seem like things couldn’t get any worse, and the next moment it might seem like things can’t get any better. If anything, the way this day turned out taught me that you just gotta keep going, because in the end the good will outweigh the bad, by far.
So as not to sidetrack this post, I posted a separate gallery of the Aquarium de Paris photos.
October 7, 2012 – this was our fourth day in Paris, and the only Sunday that we would be in the city. How do Parisians spend their Sundays? We thought we’d walk around our neighborhood to see if we could find out.
Instead of walking along the main boulevard (Avenue Kléber), we decided to try one of the back streets instead. The street we were on is called Avenue Raymond Poincaré; if you look for it on Google Maps Street View, you’ll find that it is kind of a back street, narrow and with 2-lane traffic, perfect for a Sunday morning stroll.
As it is all over the world, people go to church on Sundays. Here, we are passing by the Church of Saint-Honoré d’Eylau. I am guessing that these people just got out of the morning service and are catching up with their fellow church members. It’s nice to see smiling faces and babies. Coming from California, though, it’s different seeing so many people smoking everywhere, even amongst kids. I noticed this everywhere we went, not just Paris.
Soon, we reached a roundabout with a sign that read, “PLACE VICTOR HUGO”. Victor Hugo. The name sounded very familiar but we couldn’t quite put our fingers on it. Luckily, Google is our friend: Victor Hugo. “Oh! He’s the Les Misérables guy! Huh huh huh”.
On this Sunday there was some filming going on in the roundabout. It was an old Mercedes Benz convertible in front of the camera. I wonder what they were filming for? Maybe the company site has some answers.
Walking around an old city such as Paris is really awe-inspiring and fascinating. Where I’m from, there aren’t many buildings from the 1800s that have survived World War II (and these are probably some of the younger ones!). I suppose it’s not too surprising that these buildings have stood so long because they simply look so solid; they look like someone carved them out of a bunch of gigantic slabs of granite that conveniently formed in city-block sizes. Maybe that’s why Paris doesn’t have rectangularly-shaped city blocks, because the granite randomly formed all over the place!
Without new, there can’t be old. Here’s a newer-style apartment building, along with some creations brought back from the New World:
I don’t know why I like McDonald’s so much. I guess I like seeing what kind of localized offerings are available, seeing what the product managers at McDonald’s think locals will like. Don’t know about the Parisians, but I didn’t like that Red Pepper Burger too much.
From our seat on the 2nd floor of McDonald’s, we could see a store across the street called “picard”. The only thing I associate with that word is the captain of the Enterprise, and I ended up spending my lunch doing lame Captain Picard impressions (“Make it so”). After lunch, we went inside to take a look, and it turned out to be a frozen-gourmet-food market. No wonder their logo is a snowflake.
After picard, we headed south on Rue des Belles Feuilles (the Street of the Beautiful Leaves). Referring to Wikipedia, it seems that the street used to border a park which is no longer there, hence the “beautiful leaves”. Now, there are various culinary establishments selling everything from Chinese food to sausages to roast chicken to lemon pies. The place selling the chickens was packed and had a long line (apparently, the Bresse is a top breed of chicken in France). The lemon pie place was opened by a famous French baker named Frédéric Lalos. Why do I suddenly feel sick that I had McDonald’s for lunch?
Well, no need to feel sick because at the end of the street, at a roundabout known as the Place de Mexico, we got another view of La Tour Eiffel. It’s kind of neat that you can do your own thing in your neighborhood like shopping at picard, drinking Starbucks, and buying roast chicken, and then you look up and the Tower is there. It seems reassuring in a way. We made a right and proceeded down Rue Decamps and saw what I presume to be an incinerator with a giant chimney.
Soon, we arrived at Avenue Georges Mandel. Again, the name sounded familiar (maybe because of Howie Mandel?), but after checking Wikipedia it turns out he was a member of the French Resistance who was executed during World War II. The street sign said as much. Speaking of which, it’s pretty cool that some Parisian street signs come with a little caption explaining who the street is named for. Rue Decamps was named for a painter and engraver. Coincidentally (though under different circumstances), both Mandel and Decamps died before their time in a forest outside of Paris known as Fontainebleau; perhaps that is why the rue and the avenue intersect.
At this point we were pretty close to the Rue de la Pompe Métro station, so we decided to Métro instead of walk back to the hotel for a short break. Take line 9, transfer to 6 at Trocadéro, and get off at Boissière. Voilà!
Short break over, we were now on our way to the Musée du Louvre, but by way of a couple of pâtisseries in the 6th arrondissement (JC is a student of the culinary, particularly pastry, arts). If I’m not mistaken, we took the 6 and transferred to the 12, getting off at Rennes.
The first one was pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris on Rue de Vaugirard. As can be ascertained from the name, this is a pâtisserie with Japanese origins, with stores in Tokyo and Taipei, in addition to Paris. You’re not supposed to take photos inside the store, so I snuck one in from outside.
Heading east, we found our way to Rue Bonaparte, which is where the second pâtisserie we went to is located. Pierre Hermé has been called “The Picasso of Pastry”, so naturally there’s a huge crowd outside the store:
It was a little too much excitement for me, so I went and hung out across the street, at the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice:
There was a little café nearby, Le Café de la Mairie, so we sat down for some espressos and some rest. When we first sat down, there were a couple of empty tables next to us and no one waiting. I sat next to JC, so both of the seats opposite from us were empty. Later, a party of 4 came and took the remaining tables, and after that a couple came in and stood around the bar. I was kind of in my own little world and not really paying attention, but then I started noticing that they were staring at us, and then the lady started shaking her head. I caught on and moved to sit across from JC, the couple sat down, and it was thumbs up all around (they literally gave me the thumbs up sign, hopefully it wasn’t the French way of flipping the bird).
From the café we walked over to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Métro station to take line 4 and then line 7 to the Louvre. The cool thing about the station was that instead of billboards, it used spotlights and slides to create displays on the walls.
As it turns out, it was the first Sunday of October, so admission to the Louvre was free. Even though it was late in the afternoon, there was still a significant line to get in. Fortunately, the wait was pretty short and soon enough we were inside.
The only thing I know about the Louvre is that it’s where the Mona Lisa resides, so of course that was the first exhibit I went to. When I think about it, it’s kind of odd that people would crowd around a painting and take a bunch of photos of it, but that’s what people were doing. I couldn’t resist either and snapped a few photos. What are these forces that cause people to do odd things? Perhaps that’s part of the mystery surrounding this historic painting.
After the Mona Lisa I just walked in whatever direction my curiosity took me. One of the things that struck me was that people used to actually live in the museum before it was a museum. I wondered what that must have been like, thinking about basic human needs such as eating meals and going to the bathroom. When I think about it, I just shake my head at how incredible it is.
When I read history in a book, the timeline is arranged in discrete centuries and years, in black and white. One might be inclined to think that at the end of one era and the beginning of another, things immediately changed. In reality, change happens slowly, like how it is in the present, incrementally, and almost unnoticeably. A law here, a natural disaster there, and the way people live changes. A few hundred years from now, people will look back at today and say, for example, that the internet exploded in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. To someone in the future reading a history book it may seem like someone in our time flipped a switch and turned on the internet. In reality, we know that it was built a piece at a time, adopted by sections of the population at a time, built on and accessed with different and new technologies as they were invented. It’s like trying to grasp the concept of infinity and limits in calculus, very analog. I have to crane my neck and think really hard just to keep that glimmer of understanding in my head.
And so it is with the Louvre. Over hundreds of years, piece by piece, it has become what it is today. Here is a portion of the Louvre from the 12th century:
Later on, I stumbled into the Egyptian exhibit and saw some real mummified humans. The feeling I got when I looked at the mummy, knowing that underneath the bandages was a face, a body, arms and legs, was indescribable. And yet, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about these displays. I imagined the family of the deceased saying goodbye to their loved one, mummifying the body and placing it in a place where it could rest forever. I’m not sure how I would feel if someone dug up someone I cared about and put her on display, thousands of years into the future. On the one hand, I’d be dead already, so it probably wouldn’t matter. On the other, I might take some comfort in knowing that my loved one could provide a glimpse of how we used to live.
JC and I had gone our separate ways at the Louvre and had agreed to meet at a seating area beneath the pyramid, but a security guard asked her to leave as it was closing time. I must have sat there for 30 minutes (strange that no security guard ask me to leave) before it occurred to me to go upstairs to see if she was there. As long as our day had been, though, it was still going: our next stop was Galeries Lafayette, a famous Parisian department store. Since it was just a few line 7 stops away from the Louvre, we figured we’d squeeze it in.
Well, it was bad news for me as it was just too crowded and I was tired and cranky. I took the Métro back to our hotel, but not before stopping by Carrefour Express again to buy some food and wine for dinner. JC came back a little while after, and we enjoyed a relaxing night at home after a long but enjoyable day 4 in Paris.
After some delicious sandwiches and coffees, we took the Metro from Boissière to Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre:
If you’re familiar with Paris you might be wondering why we got off at Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre to get to Sainte Chapelle. Well, no particular reason, just wanted to walk around and take in the sights. Of course, we couldn’t miss the famous Pont Neuf:
I think I almost saw Jason Bourne looking down at us. Anyway, we finally made it to La Sainte-Chapelle. We paid the admission fee and went inside:
I felt a sense of awe and fascination as I walked around inside this nearly 800-year old building. The length of time is almost unfathomable… how could it still remain standing? How could it be in such good condition? The ingenuity of man is definitely not something to be underestimated.
I’m not too familiar with bible stories but apparently the stained glass panels depict scenes from the bible. I wondered if this was the king’s little private bedtime story that he would visit each night. In a time before the printing press, electricity, and television, I’d imagine the stained glass would be as good as it gets. Pretty cool.
Notre Dame de Paris was the next stop. After visiting La Sainte Chapelle, it seemed a bit anti-climactic. For one, there were more tourists and it was a lot more crowded. Secondly, from a religious (or lack thereof) point of view, it was just more of the same to me. I did think that it was cool that people were actually entombed there.
We had lunch afterwards at a cafe near the Notre Dame. Ugh, what a disaster. Tourist food at tourist prices. Don’t know what we were thinking, but at the same time I guess in a tourist area you can’t ask for much.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Notre Dame Archaeological Crypt. This is a great place to visit if archaeology (and getting away from the crowds) is your thing. We spent more time here than at the previous two places combined, learning about the history of Paris and studying the old ruins. To me, these ruins were even more significant than La Sainte Chapelle or Notre Dame because normal people, as opposed to royalty (or the clergy), once lived amongst them.
Having walked all day, we were tired and made our way back to our neighborhood, stopping by the supermarket to buy dinner. Of course, the day would not be complete without polishing off another bottle of Bordeaux:
Our 3rd day in Paris, and what a day it was!
October 5th, 2012 – Friday
Our second day in Paris, almost 3 months ago…
Based on their intertwined histories, it occurred to me that it might have been worthwhile to try Vietnamese food in France. We made our way to the 13th arrondissement, home of Little Asia and Chinatown. Walking from the Métro to the restaurant we got a feel of what it would be like to live in Paris. We passed quite a few apartment blocks, and it was certainly more of a residential area than a tourist one. For a moment, it seemed as if we were Parisians walking home from work after getting off the Métro.
Soon, we found the restaurant that I had looked up online earlier:
Well, I have to say that although the meal was good, nothing beats pho in the Bay Area. Probably a matter of personal and localized taste. We walked further into Little Asia and noticed a lot more pho restaurants, in addition to a sprinkling of Chinese places. It seemed to be mostly Vietnamese, though. Not surprising due to the history.
We made our way back to the hotel for a short rest. Actually, it was a short rest at the laundromat near our hotel. It was our first time using a French laundromat. Instead of paying individually at each machine, you paid at a central box and punched in your washer’s code. Luckily, English instructions were available and with the help of a nice French lady we were able to launder our clothes.
While waiting for our laundry we had a snack at the bakery across the street. Afterwards, I also got myself a haircut. I never imagined that I would be getting one in Paris. Amazing!
Now, we were rested and ready to walk over to the Trocadéro, which wasn’t far from our hotel. I hadn’t done my homework on Paris so I didn’t realize that after the Trocadéro was the Eiffel Tower. We got to the roundabout and the Palais de Chaillot, and we crossed the street on the side of the Théâtre National de Chaillot. As we made our way around the theatre, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the sight of the Eiffel Tower. Oh, man, you mean it was here all along?! What a tourist.
We made our way down to and across the River Seine. Now, we were right beneath the tower. Usually, when we see it in pictures, it isn’t up close and you don’t realize how much detail and texture there is to the Eiffel Tower. There are actually names engraved into the tower. Fascinating.
There was this pond next to the Eiffel Tower that was curious. It was like a nature reserve or something, complete with fish, ducks, and other birds. There was a fence around the pond and the grass surrounding it, and what was curious was that a lot of people were leaning on the fence and feeding the ducks and birds and having a grand old time, as if the Eiffel Tower wasn’t even there. Kinda funny, actually. We got sucked in ourselves, taking dozens of duck photos.
Since we were already by the river, we decided to take a river cruise on the Batobus. Boat in French is “bateau,” pronounced “bato,” so there you go. The best part was we really were going to the Champs-Élysées (see the map below), so we got our money’s worth on the cruise.
So there we were, sailing along the Seine at sunset. We passed under many bridges, including the famous Pont Neuf (actually I learned about it from the Bourne Identity). To me, it was like sailing past history. Of course, there were the famous landmarks such as the Notre Dame de Paris and the Musée du Louvre, but many of the “plain” residential buildings were old as well. I imagined what we might have seen had we been making our cruise 150 years ago: the warm light of candle chandeliers escaping out of the tall windows, the sound of classical music playing in the background, men and women dancing in their elaborate suits and dresses.
The Batobus stopped just shy of the Place de la Concorde. We wanted to walk the entire length of the Champs-Élysées, so we backtracked our way over. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Place was where hundreds of people were beheaded during the French Revolution. When I think about it, it’s really unbelievable. I was actually there! I remember watching as a child in Hong Kong an anime series that was set during the French Revolution: the Rose of Versailles. The images in my mind of the candlelit rooms and people dancing were probably scenes from that series. I remember an ending, either of a specific episode or the series, in which the guillotine was being prepared for someone to be executed (probably Marie Antoinette), and there was a huge crowd in the square. There was a sort of finality and futility to that scene that has stayed with me all these years.
As the sun set and day transitioned into night, we made our way up the Champs-Élysées. We had already been walking all day, through Little Asia, from our hotel to the Trocadéro and Eiffel Tower, and from the Batobus to the Place de la Concorde. We were tired! Avoiding the many tourist-trap restaurants in the area, we got on the Métro and headed back to our neighborhood for a nice, quiet, French dinner, turning in early afterwards to dream about all those places that we had been to on our second day in Paris.