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.