Saturday, July 01, 2006

PARIS 2001

Septembre 2001 - We started by getting our neighbor (Geoff) to drive us to the Tri-Rail station downtown (Tri-Rail is a train that runs between Miami and Palm Beach). We took the train to Miami where we got a shuttle to the airport. We got to the airport around 5:30 even though the plane didn't leave till 11PM (because of all the new security measures...although it didn't seem any more secure than the last time we flew). We had no problem checking in and spent several hours wandering around the airport. We met a couple of guys from Scotland when we went for coffee and had a nice chat with them. They had to fly to Paris to catch a plane for Scotland. They were supposed to have left a week earlier but couldn't get a flight because of the 911 stuff.

For some reason, about which I still have no clue, I got sick on the plane to Paris and spent most of the night going to the toilet. By the time we got to Paris, I felt fine. We collected our bags and found an ATM machine where we each got 1400 francs (that's about $198US). We decided to take a taxi because we were tired and didn't feel like schlepping our bags on and off of trains and métros. We got ripped off on the taxi but we were too tired to argue about it. We got our key and Robb took a shower. Then I took a shower and while I was doing that, Robb decided he would go out and buy some stuff (shampoo, soap, etc). I didn't realize that he had gone out and thought he must be waiting in the lobby. Of course, when I got there, he was nowhere to be seen. I asked the guy on the desk and he told me that Robb had gone out. Well, I knew immediately that he was lost because the poor guy has absolutely no sense of direction. The deskman told me he had gone to the left, so I walked several blocks and went back. I waited a few more minutes and then tried looking in other directions just in case, but to no avail.

By now I was certain that I would not see him again until and unless, he made his way to the airport but I wasn't even sure if he knew when our flight was scheduled to leave (he always leaves all that up to me). Somehow, through pure blind luck, he had managed to find a taxi and even though he remembered the name of the apt-hotel incorrectly and had no idea where it was located, the driver knew where the place was and he showed up five hours after he had originally left to buy a few things.

The last time we were in Paris, we had met a very nice woman, whose name was Fatima (imagine Elizabeth Taylor when she was young and beautiful), who was a waitress at our favorite restaurant (Chez Adi), so we thought it would be nice on our first night to go there and have dinner and renew our friendship. But Fatima was no longer there and the current waiter had no idea who she was or where she might now be.

As it turned out, we had gotten a place in an apartment-hotel in the Chinatown section of Paris. I had known there was a oriental section, but until now, we had never been there. It was really nice and the area around us was very convenient. We were walking one day and saw what we thought was a branch of Au Printemps (a famous Paris department store) but when we entered the main door, it turned out to be a huge three-story mall (Italie2) with a branch of Au Printemps as well as many other shops and restaurants. Robb spent a ton of money there (not all in one day of course) and I bought a couple of things too. There were great oriental restaurants all around the hotel and that area. I say oriental because they were Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese. I even learned how to eat with chopsticks...something I would not have expected to do in Paris. We had fish almost every night.

The exceptions were one night when it was after 11PM we stopped at a place (Restaurant Fregate) on the Seine and had the only bad meal we had EVER gotten in Paris (in fact, until then I would have said it's impossible to get a bad meal in Paris) and that was beef.

Another night, again after 11PM, we had gotten a taxi because it was late and we wanted to get back to our neighborhood to eat. At any rate, we were a few blocks from our place when I told the driver to let us out at a place I spotted. But because it was late, the only thing they had was steak and frites (large french fries). Earlier we had been walking along the Seine when I saw smoke coming from one of the boats and while I was catching it on video, flames shot up over the trees on the bank. It was a serious fire and I caught the whole thing on tape, including the police showing up with sirens wailing and the fireboat that came and put out the fire (though I'm sure the boat was a total loss). So I showed this tape to one of the waiters (whose name was Abdul and yes, he was cute). He asked to show it to some other people and the next thing I knew, Robb and I were being treated like long lost friends. We drank a lot of wine and had the most fun we've ever had in Paris. It was so cool to actually feel like we were amongst old friends. We were speaking French and a smattering of English. My French is not that good. I can say almost anything I need to say in French, but when they reply, I don't have a clue what they're saying...usually. Mostly I hear a word or two that I recognize and try to guess what they mean from that. It seems to work most of the time. But the French are cool, if they see that you are trying to speak their language instead of demanding that they speak yours, they warm up to you very quickly and use whatever English they know to help you out.

Another time, actually our last night in Paris, we went to a place called Leon de Bruxelles where we had mussels for the very first time ever. Wow...were they good!! We also met these two very nice girls from Africa. They couldn't wait to get back to their home because, although they loved Paris, they couldn't take the 'cold' weather. While we were there, the weather was in the low seventies (sometimes high sixties) during the day and low fifties in the evenings.

There were some indications of terrorism in Paris. For instance, there had been a foiled plot to bomb the Eiffel Tower. And when we went to the Opéra Garnier, they weren't letting people into the building except for the opera performances, because of the 911 thing. I thought that was kind of silly...I mean, after all the 911 terrorists had bought tickets on the planes they commandeered, why wouldn't they buy tickets to the opera if they really wanted to blow it up? Everywhere we went, I had to open my camera bag and show the contents.

We did go to the top of the Eiffel Tower this trip and it was pretty cool. Not to mention windy! We also had dinner at the Eiffel Tower. There are two restaurants there. One is very famous (the Jules Verne) and you need to make a reservation almost a year in advance in order to get in. But the other one (Altitude 95) is very nice and the view is just as dynamic. We got there just as the sun was setting and since we were on the west side of the tower, it was simply spectacular. Something you must experience if you ever go to Paris. I avoided it before, but I'm glad I had the good luck to go this time. We went to the Tower both during the day and night, because I wanted to get pics and videos of that and a few other places at night when they're all lit up. We went to several places that we missed on our last the Panthéon, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Moulin Rouge, Pere Lachaise cemetary, the Funiculaire in Montmartre and the Georges Pompidou Centre. We went to a show at the Pompidou but the artist was not very good. His name was Jean DuBuffet but I have seen art by kindergarten children that was better than his, but the other people at the show seemed to like it so I guess it's one of those things about which you say 'different strokes for different folks'. The show wasn't good, but the Fromage Blanc we had in the dining room was excellent and the dining room is on the top floor so you can look out over almost all of Paris while you enjoy the food.

There are several big department stores in Paris and when I say big, I mean BIG! All of them are at least two entire buildings of six or seven stories and one of them, les Galeries Lafayette is three buildings (two are seven stories high, while the main store is ten stories), I bought a cashmere scarf there which I never used. The main department stores are Les Galeries Lafayette, La Samaritaine, Au Printemps and BHV, and the most expensive of all of them, Le Bon Marché. And of course, there is Chanel, Van Cleef and Arpels, Gucci, Cartier, Hugo Boss, Valencia and St. Laurent if you want to drop a bundle.

There is a church in Paris (surprise!) called La Madeleine. We went to a concert there and it was just magnificent. You would not believe the way you hear sound there. Now I understand why some classical pieces are written with parts that you can barely hear on a stereo. In the environment for which they were written, you can hear every note, no matter how softly it is played. And to make it even more wonderful, they played all my favorite pieces. I managed to video a part of the Four Seasons but, although it's pretty good on the video, it's nothing like it was in person. Robb managed to lose his program and we went back the next day to try to get another. We first approached a woman who worked the souvenir store but she was no help at all. Then, as we were about to leave, I saw a woman talking to some people and I told him to ask her if she could do anything. She did at least try to help. She even went so far as to look in the trash can in case someone might have tossed one but there were no programs to be had. Then when she found out that Robb was an American, she blessed him! I was rolling on the floor...but discreetly, of course.

We strolled along the Champs-Elysées and stopped at a café for coffee. The Champs-Elysées starts at the edge of the Tuilleries Garden (next to the Louvre) and ends at the Arch of Triumph. Well, actually, it starts at Place de la Concorde which is a large square at the edge of the Jardin des Tuilleries. Place de la Concorde is the square in which the guillotine was located. Yes, the same guillotine they used to chop off the head of Marie Antoinette. While we were strolling along, I picked up a chestnut for a souvenir. Paris is full of chestnut trees and you can find the nuts laying all over the ground almost everywhere you go. Also, a lot of guys make some money by setting up little stands where they roast them and sell them. Basically, they're just steel drums turned on end in which they build a fire and roast the chestnuts on top. I don't particularly care for chestnuts, but they do smell good when they're roasting in the open like that.

One day, just to be like real Parisians, we went to the Café de la Paix and sat on the sidewalk (at a table of course) and had cappucino and watched the people and traffic going by. Actually, real Parisians wouldn't be caught dead at the Café de la Paix, it's much too touristy!

We went to Sacré Coeur one evening and since we both needed money we went looking for an ATM machine. After we had found one we were walking back to take the Funiculaire to the top of the hill when we saw a pizza place, so we decided to stop and have a pizza and some wine. Pizza in Paris is a whole different experience. First, it's in Paris! Then, it's not the usual stuff you get at Pizza Hut and add to that, that it costs a hell of a lot less then a pizza here. It turned out that the guy who owns the place was Egyptian. We always think of the US as being a melting pot, but I'm telling you, there are more people from more countries living in Paris than anyplace else in the world.

I took a LOT of pictures and shot a lot of video. It was easier to use the video cam than the Sony Mavica. In the daytime, I couldn't see the LCD because it was too bright and in the evening, I couldn't see anything because it was too dark. So most of the time I was just pointing and clicking. I got lucky and most of the things I was trying to get on disk came out pretty good. Not great but not too bad and I think they would have been better if I had known more about how to use the thing. I took a shot of myself sitting on the couch in the apt, but before I remembered to push the timer button, I got a ton of pictures of my ass as I walked away from the camera. I also got a lot of video footage of my feet (the pun was definitely intended) because I would think the thing was off when it was still on. Oh well! Oh yeah, that reminds me...when we were walking to the Pompidou Centre, I saw a couple of cops who had stopped a couple of guys and were asking for their id's (they can do that in France, so you must have your id with you at all times, else you will become very familiar with the French jail system). So I taped them but one of the cops saw me and called me over. He told me to erase the part of them and the two guys. I did, of course, and they let us go on our way. more Robb story. Robb was running short of cash so we stopped at a post office ATM. But instead of putting his card into the card slot, he somehow managed to push it into the machine just above that slot. Well, of course, his card was gone and he went into panic mode. I suggested that since La Poste was open he could go inside and ask for help in retrieving his card. So he did and they did try to help but there was no way for them to get the machine open to get his card. So while we were sitting inside trying to figure out what to do about his ATM card, a guy came in and said he was trying to get money from the machine and out popped this card and does anyone know to whom it belongs. Yep, it was Robb's ATM card! I mean is this guy lucky or what?

And with that story, I'll end this novel about Paris for now. We had a wonderful time and can't wait to get back. We're already talking about going to Italy and Paris maybe next year. We'll see.

No comments: