Friday, January 28, 2011

Tourista, Book VI

We flew back to Orly airport in Paris from Biarritz to begin the final leg of the European tour, my first. Paris! Containing my excitement was difficult. We rode the Metro several stops before hitting the streets. What an efficient subway, perhaps even better than NYC? More on that later.

The city's Old World charm and architecture was a pleasant eyeful as we struggled with our luggage. After several blocks, I moaned enough to merit the hailing of a taxi. Hilariously, it turned out that our hotel was only 2 blocks further! Merde! The Hotel France Louvre sits unassumingly amongst a cluster of structures on the Rue de Rivoli in the fourth arrondisement (administrative division, or district). It was a modest but just fine place for us to crash each night after a whirlwind day in the city. The main reason my wife selected it was for its centrality. We were close to many of our destinations to be discussed. I recommend it especially for that reason, and if you only have a short stay in which to hit the main sites.

Our room was tiny and the shower stall was the narrowest I've yet seen. Turning in it was a near impossibility. The breakfast room, seen above and below, was my favorite feature. A stony cave in the basement. The fare we had on our second day was "Continental", and most acceptable.
For our first day, we wandered around nearby Notre Dame and strolled the Seine River. We followed it for a few miles as we noted the amazing number of motorcycles and roadside vendors. Even in some of the grimier spots, the walk is just so romantic. The remainder of that day we hopped on and off the Paris Metro. I have ridden several rails throughout the U.S. and most are adaquate, sometimes confusing. The Metro is a model of convenience and functionality. Even for me, a non-native speaker. I do understand quite a bit of French, however, but I believe that even if I did not the designations and overall access of this system would still be exemplary.We spent a fair portion of the day wandering the Montmartre area, the centerpiece of which was the Sacre Coeur Basilica (or The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Paris, as it's known) church on a hill which happens to be the highest point in the city. The building was completed in 1914 after a groundbreaking 39 years earlier. We climbed to the upper reaches and were treated to prime vantage points of the city, including this famous POV:The walls in the outdoor stairwells were unfortunately covered in amateur graffiti ("Jules loves Jim", "Rick '78", etc.), but somehow such blasphemy was also interesting to me. It made me think of all the previous tourists who ambled this amazing place of worship, even if their more questionable actions got the better of them. BTW, the indoor strairwells were quite dark and narrow. The U.S. is quite wide in many comparative respects.

Another POV from the top:Down below was the expected circus of tourists. There were also a number of performance artists: one guy was breakdancing to the Knight Rider theme on his old school boom box; another was a mime, skin painted white as he pantomimed atop a stone column. The most memorable was the lady below, playing a standard saw with a horsehair bow usually reserved for stringed instruments.The disturbing, yet eerily soothing sounds of this were audible as we made our way down the stairs. We stood and watched and listened for a good while. As you can see, we kept our distance! She appeared as if a refugee from a David Lynch film. I'd bet he'd be mesmerized, too.

Next time: The Most Famous Tower

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