Friday, January 2, 2015

A Tourist in Paris

Paris.  If I had known, I probably wouldn’t have gone.  I don’t mean the grey, wet, and very cold weather I endured there.  I had warm clothes, warm and comfortable boots, my beret, gloves, and an umbrella.  I was invincible.

I’m talking about the sudden and unexpected dip in my income that came about soon after I had already taken the funds out of my retirement account and booked.  There could be no refund.  It would be ridiculous not to go, n’est-ce-pas?

I’d never done an organized tour before – not even a day trip.  This tour was with Road Scholar and was called “Independent Paris: People, Places, Culture”.  Would we be led around like ignorant sheep?  Would the others in the group be good company?  They said the energy level required was fairly high and there would be a considerable amount of walking.  Would I be able to keep up?

None of it was a problem.  The group was varied, I was fit, and the tour was well conceived and well executed.  Brigitte Young our group leader was very good, and James M’Kenzie-Hall, our lecturer/guide was intelligent, knowledgeable, well spoken, and witty (in the best British tradition).

I came by the Spanish/French fast train, to the Gare de Lyon and arrived at the hotel (Le Patio de Sant Antoine) in plenty of time to unpack and then go to the welcome orientation at 5:30.  During our introductions there was one husband who said he had come because his wife made him, and indeed, I believe he managed not to enjoy himself.  In Paris!  Of the sixteen people in our group, six were married couples and the rest of us had come alone.

We would have lectures at our meeting room in the hotel and then off we would go to see the sights and visit museums.  While out and about, we would be connected to our guide by a wireless audio guide system, each of us having an earphone wrapped around one ear.  This allowed James to continue his lectures as we walked and eliminated the need for the leader to wave an umbrella or flag in order to keep us together. 


The first morning we had a coach all to ourselves and were driven around for an overview of Paris with one stop for a photo opportunity at the Eiffel Tower.  When that tour finished the driver had no choice but to pull up to stop on the left of a busy one-way street, leaving us to get off into traffic.  That was our first adventure.

The next evening we enjoyed a boat ride up and down the Seine, seeing Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and what there was to see of the left and right bank of Paris lit up at night.  It was freezing cold and very beautiful.  My photos all turned out to be rubbish.  Taking decent night photos from a moving vehicle can be my challenge for 2015.

One day Brigitte took us to a neighborhood open-air food market not far from our hotel, followed by a charcuterie lunch at a nearby wine bar.  The cheese and sausage and the wine were all excellent, but what I enjoyed the most was the informal, cozy environment that surrounded us in that bar full of regulars – something we (or at least I) would probably not have experienced on our own.  To get to the toilet in this cozy neighborhood joint you exited to the small courtyard at the back and found the door to a tiny room.  The good thing was that the door could be locked.  The toilet, so to speak, consisted of a hole in the ground with small platforms where you were to put your feet.  Having experienced one of these a few years ago in a bar near Avignon, I knew to step back before I pulled on the chain to flush, and thus I did not get water all over my shoes.  The other good thing was that there WAS toilet paper.  This was our second adventure.

At the market

We explored the Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame, Latin Quarter, the Marais, the Palais Royal (where Colette used to live), the Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie, and Montmartre. I did the unthinkable and skipped the visit to the Louvre.   I went on my own to revisit the Pere Lachaise Cemetery and paid my respects to Colette, one of my favorite authors.  I meant also to visit Chopin, Edith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde, but they kept hiding from me and it suddenly became late, and it’s a big cemetery, and I didn’t want to risk being locked in at 5:30 and having to spend the night with my idols.   With Elaine (with whom I shared an interest in Art Nouveau and good food) I went to the Musée Decoratif, the Tuileries Gardens, the Champs-Elysées and the Christmas market, and ate at Le Procope and Le Grand Colbert.  I also had lunch with most of the group at the beautiful restaurant in the Musée d’Orsay.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

This little light of mine...

The Palais Royale where Colette lived for many years

I had one errand to do and took advantage of the fact that you can easily obtain Chanuka candles in France and bought me a box while wandering solo through the streets in the Marais. It was one those small blue boxes that I've known all my life, however, back home when I opened it for the first night, I found that rather than the assorted colors I've always had, these were all white. That wasn't a problem; white candles look nice. Never mind that these dripped like all hell and smelled funny. Then on the eighth night I discovered that the box was one candle short.

Playing football behind the Louvre