Quiet Day in Paris – Canal St Martin

17th July 2013

Tour boat on the canal in Paris

Tour boat on the canal in Paris

With so many possibilities in a city like Paris, sometimes you get spoilt for choice. I’ve been feeling quite overwhelmed most of my time in France – it’s all so……. well…….French. I’ve really immersed myself, heart and soul, in Paris and everything french and it’s hard work on my own.

I think I made a good choice today to go to the Canal St Martin, so very peaceful, relaxed, down to earth and not so hectic. I even stumbled across the very un-French backpacker place, St Christopher’s Inn, where everyone spoke English, the food was very American and they had rugby on the big screen tv’s – made me feel quite at home. Almost right outside the inn was one of the unique bridges, pont de Crimée, across the canal; it’s hydraulic and lifts to let boats pass under – pretty cool to watch, as it’s so tiny.

Underground canal, Paris

Underground canal, Paris

After a long walk along the canal, (where I was totally intrigued by the urinals), and back to my starting place, I caught a boat cruise lasting a few hours. We navigated, I think, 9 locks, passed through a couple of bridges that opened to let us pass and under some really pretty footbridges. There’s even a long stretch of the canal between Bastille and Republique that’s been covered, it was quite eerie gliding almost noiselessly along in near darkness.

Gliding along the canals of Paris

Gliding along the canals of Paris

It gave me a nice insight into different parts of Paris. In one direction we passed massive new cultural areas with science and music museums and futuristic building. Then the other way was more like the Paris I know, slightly shabby (okay, sometimes more than slightly), sometimes chic, sometimes just everyday ordinary, but always interesting. I enjoyed the commentary, and yet again, I wish I could remember all I heard!

It’s strange to think the canals were the brainchild of Napoleon built back in the early nineteenth century to bring fresh water to the people of Paris – I usually associate him with war! They were also used industrially but now it’s mostly tourist boats using them.

End of the ride along the canals

End of the ride along the canals

I wasn’t prepared for the fact I’d finish the cruise at a different place to where I started, but I think I’m becoming quite used to the unexpected. I just followed the crowd for a while, did some window shopping, had a coffee and cake, then found a metro station to take me home – if all else fails, take the metro!!

So ends another day in Paris – actually my next to last day in Paris! Tomorrow I’m off to the French countryside.

 

 

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Big day at the Palace

16th July 2014

Arriving at the Palace of Versailles

Arriving at the Palace of Versailles

From Pyrénées to République to Invalides on the metro and then on the RER to Versailles Rive Gauche – I think I was one of about 50 million who decided it would be a good day to visit the palace at Versailles. I had a little trouble getting from the metro station to the train station at Invalides, who’d have thought? But eventually I found someone to ask and off I went on my next adventure. Another place it pays to have pre-purchased tickets I’d say, I queued for about 40 minutes just to buy my ticket. The ticket office is just across the road from the train station at Versailles, apparently you can’t buy them at the palace itself. Then a five minute walk and – whoa, what a line-up, I’ve never seen anything like it, the queue snaked up and down the massive area in front of the palace, absolutely insane – and, it was boiling hot. I decided then and there to go investigate the gardens first and hope the line disappeared later in the day; I’ll let you into a little secret – it didn’t!

The Grand Trianon, part of Palace of Versailles

The Grand Trianon, part of Palace of Versailles

The gardens are amazing and the fountains are unbelievable, honestly, you could spend days there wandering around and still not see it all. I headed towards the Apollo Fountain, taking little detours along the way, it’s like a big maze, once you take a side track, you don’t really know where you’ll come out again – well, I didn’t, maybe that doesn’t happen to everyone. I just loved it, and once again, was transported back over the years, imagining all the people, apart from us tourists, who may have walked these same paths. All the gardeners who planted, trimmed and loved their charges, the courting couples who might have slipped into one of the secluded areas for some privacy  - it’s magical to just let my imagination run riot and immerse myself in the feeling of being somewhere so special, and unbelievable as it might seem, peaceful.

I took a right just after the Apollo Fountain and walked through a forest-like area towards the Grand Trianon, a smaller and utterly lovely palace built in the late 1600′s. Even from the outside it looks peaceful and elegant, much more livable than the huge buildings of the main palace. The gardens are a little like a cottage garden in places, really quite sweet. I must admit I cheated a little from here and caught the little train when I eventually headed back to the main palace.

The line just went forever!!

The line just went forever!!

There weren’t as many people in the queue when I finally joined it – but, it was another hour and a half before I got inside! Thankfully the family in front of me sent one of their boys off to buy bottles of water a couple of times and he bought some for me each time; and thank goodness for the heat in one way – you sweated too much to ever need to go to the toilet. One of the hazards of travelling alone – no-one to keep your place in line. Once inside it was pretty much a free-for-all type of shuffle, shuffle, elbow your way through if you’re game or just hold the camera up and hope for the best. I didn’t do the place justice, I know that for sure, but I tried to absorb some of the smaller details when it wasn’t possible to get close to the main focus. I feel like I’m having a whinge, when I was trying to do the same as everyone else, but I was quite disappointed that it was so overcrowded and would love to return some time to properly appreciate the grandeur, the furnishings and the art. All that aside, in quite a few rooms, I did manage to back into a little corner were I could gaze in wonder at the excesses without fear of being in someones way or getting pushed out the other side.

The unisex public toilets near one of the cafés was an eye-opener, the women all came to the end of the line and stopped. Not the men – they all looked at us in the line then went charging to the front – only to be turned back if someone was game enough to point out it was a shared zone. The looks on some of their faces was priceless, well worth the queue just to see them realize they had to wait too!!

Ahhhh, there it is, just waiting for me to come home

Ahhhh, there it is, just waiting for me to come home

My feet were so sore by the time I headed back to the train, I really, really, wished I could have just stayed where I was, but as is so often the case, the journey home was lightened by my fellow  travellers; we all had a grand old time comparing stories. I think by the time I got back to the apartment was the tiredest and sorest I’ve felt so far. I didn’t even go the extra few yards for a glass of wine at my favourite bar down the road, straight upstairs and feet up on the balcony with a Coke to drink in the Eiffel Tower again – how magic can the end of a long day be?

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Back to the tower

15th July 2013

I called in to the tourist office during my second week in Paris to ask about booking a ticket to go up the Eiffel Tower; the guy I was speaking to actually laughed in my face when I said I wanted it for during the next week. I couldn’t believe how rude he was – “don’t you know Paris is the most visited city in the world, and the Eiffel Tower is the most visited monument in Paris? You have to book months ahead”. So, instead of buying multiple tickets from them I just left with a smile and a “merci”, all the while muttering under my breath about typical bloody Parisians. WELL, I went online and bought a ticket to go up the Eiffel Tower for 3 or 4 days ahead, no trouble at all – and without any snooty attitude, too. So today it’s Centre Pompidou in the morning and Eiffel Tower ride in the afternoon.

breaky while waiting for the centre pompidou to open

brekky while waiting for the centre pompidou to open

Surprisingly, I was too early at the Pompidou, I’m not usually one to arrive before the museums open; must be the excitement of going up the tower later. There’s never a shortage of people to watch over here so I sat and had the yummiest coffee and chocolate croissant for breakfast and took in all the activity around. A woman in long lacy skirts and woolen coat with a couple of wicker baskets floated past the coffee shop a couple of times. After a while she plonked herself down in the middle of the huge cement area in front of the Pompidou, set about unpacking her baskets and began making beaded jewellery – she was still there four hours later when I came out, woolen coat and all in the boiling heat.

Lichtenstein at the Centre Pompidou

Lichtenstein at the Centre Pompidou

The Centre Pompidou houses the modern art gallery among other things and the building is so not Paris, but totally suits its role. The air conditioning barrels and I don’t know what else are on the outside of the building, it’s brightly coloured and very modern looking. I just loved the Roy Lichtenstein exhibition, and was happy when I found plenty of biographical info to read along the way as well as marveling at his style. I did my usual backtracking a few times through the center, I always feel like if I go too slowly to start with I won’t get to see it all, so I wander back and forth all over the place. I think I say this every time I see another modern art gallery, but, this one is really something wonderful.

One of the things I’ve noticed about myself is when I’m on a good thing I stick to it, I’ve mastered trains and subways and rarely venture on to buses. So with that in mind I decided to catch a bus to the Eiffel Tower. I wandered back towards the city and caught the right bus. Everything was going fine until we turned up a street with a truck blocking the way, nothing unusual there, it often happens, but they mostly move on quickly. Not this time, without a word of a lie, it was at least 15 minutes before word filtered to the bus driver that the truck had broken down and we wouldn’t be going anywhere in the foreseeable future. You can imagine what had been going on until then, all this french being thrown around, lots of hand waving and shouting, then it just went quiet and everyone got off the bus and walked away. Bloody hell, I had no idea where I was and my ticket for the tower was for about half an hours time – see what happens when you don’t stick to what you know!!

lift driver going down the eiffel tower

lift driver going down the Eiffel Tower

Best I could do, I figured, was head back towards where I reckoned the river was and go from there. That seemed to be okay but after about ten minutes I decided I wasn’t going to make it in time by walking so hailed a taxi; thank goodness I did because it was still miles away even then. Times like these are when I wish I had better phone service/data plan or something, half the time when I need directions I don’t seem to be able to get service, grrrrrrr. But………….. I got there in time, took miles more photos, pinched myself again and went to the supposed quick line for those with tickets, and waited, and waited and bloody waited. Again word filtered through – they were evacuating all the levels of the tower and not letting anyone else up, no idea why though. You wouldn’t read about it would you? Finally, an hour and a half after my allotted time they started taking people up again. Apparently, (not sure how true it was) a backpack had been found up top which caused a bomb alert, everyone had to be taken down, bomb squad went up – just someones backpack left accidentally, no bomb, grrrrrrr again!

It was all worth it though and wouldn’t have missed it for quids. I liked the fact that you’re not herded up and back with no time to just enjoy, you can stay pretty much as long as you like. I took plenty of time and had a chocolate crêpe at the place near the carousel before I left – more calories than I like to think about, but, oh so yummy.

Not content with my day so far I then wandered pretty much aimlessly over the other side of the river until my feet started protesting too much and I found a metro to take me home. To cap off an eventful day I had the loveliest chat with a woman at ‘my’ bar near the apartment. She grew up in the 19th arrondissement but has lived away for years and was just home for a visit. She had about as much English as I had French, but we chatted for ages with lots of sign language,laughter and a couple of wines – meeting people like that has got to be one of the best parts of travelling.

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Life gets in the way and Bastille Day 2013

Well – it looks like life got in the way of my blog for quite a while, feeling very guilty that my last post was way back, a week before Christmas. I do want to keep writing about my travels, but things may go slowly at times as I get back into a normal life. Just a little one to get back into the swing of things!

14th July 2013 – Bastille Day

La Fete Nationale or le 14 Juillet in Paris and I slept half the morning away! I’d seen helicopters practicing their low fly pasts last week, but today in my area everything was quiet and just like any other Sunday. Thought it would be best to stay away from Champs-Élysées where all the festivities are held so I made my way to Montmartre on the metro to visit the Sacré-Cœur. Every time I navigate my way to a different part of the city on the metro, I feel so very chuffed with myself, it gives me a real boost – probably ill deserved, because I really think it’s very easy! Finding my way from the metro to where I’m going is sometimes a bit hit and miss, but I guess I see plenty of extras on the way, so that’s always a bonus.

The streets leading towards the hill where Sacré-Cœur sits were crowded with tourists and hawkers, lots of little stalls selling all sorts of cheap, and probably nasty, souvenirs, although I wish I could draw and paint even a tenth as well as the people who do the sketches and paintings I see everywhere. As well as the ones with the cups and ball taking money off the gullible among us there were plenty of guys around with their trinkets for sale, spread out on a large piece of circular cloth with a drawstring around the edge – so they could quickly pull the drawstring to close the sack, throw it over their shoulder and run like the wind when they needed to. I’m guessing they’re either illegal immigrants or have no permit to be selling – either way, rather them than me.

Just because it was something a bit different, I caught the funicular to the top and joined the hordes wandering around taking photos and generally just enjoying being there on a beautiful day.I have to admit, I didn’t go inside the church, I was just happy to sit and try my hand at drawing for a while, people watch and remind myself – oh yeah, you’re really in Paris, on Bastille Day, at Sacré-Cœur - WOW!!

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