Paris

Saturday 28 June

Upon leaving the airport, had some trouble initially finding my hotel after leaving the nearest train station, Gare de Lyon. In fact, later on the same day, got “lost” quite often… However, Paris is still a relatively safe place to be lost in, unlike some other big cities, like New York, for example. By later part of the day, I was able to change to different lines on the metro left, right and centre like nobody’s business.

At about noon, I visited Notre Dame and happened to witness a church service. In fact, I was up on the tower when the bells rang later. Boy, were those bells loud!

In the afternoon, went to the Marmottan Museum (located near the La Muette metro stop) which contains many works by Monet. I was actually hoping that this was the same museum I went to over 6 years ago because I had actually forgotten the name of the place, and I was proven correct!

Almost gave up after spending half an hour looking for the place, but in the end well worth the effort! However, it seems the really large paintings of water lilies which can cover an entire wall had been relocated to the Orangerie museum. By the way the Orangerie museum is under renovation and will not open for another year anyway. Well, at least I managed to see them the last time I was in Paris. 🙂 Another curious thing was that I was able to bring in my camera the last time, but not this time around.

Photos of Notre Dame (opens a new window)

Sunday 29 June

Decided to go to Monet museum (his house) out in Giverny today. This involves a train ride of about 40 mins or so to Vernon, followed by a short bus trip of about 20 mins. A quick note: better arrive early to avoid the crowd because I had to wait for another 20 mins for a second bus to come when there were simply too many people for the single (doh!) bus to handle.

Made this change of plan last night since weather forecast on BBC News was predicting heavy rain for western Europe, so I postponed my plan of going to Mont Saint Michel till the next weekend. Sincerely hope that nothing would come in the way of that plan, because I really want to see Mont Saint Michel on this trip. Well, turned out it was false alarm anyway as it was a gloriously warm day.

Details of Monet’s House to follow when I have more time – back in the comfort of Singapore, instead of fighting against time in an internet cafe…

Also moved over to the next hotel today. While the staff was friendly and very helpful, the difference in price meant a similar reduction in creature comforts. Well, the saving is about 20 euros per day (or 10 euros per day when I change into a room with its own shower on Tuesday) so can’t really complain I guess.

The room is simple as simple goes: double bed, a sink, a desk and a place for hanging clothes. In fact, my first impression was that it was so much like Van Gogh’s bedroom as painted by himself. It was colourful and spartan. However, somehow I don’t think the similar slant in the floor is due to the same artistic spirit exhibited in Van Gogh’s painting… This will be my place of rest for the next two nights.

Had dinner at this Tibetan restaurant just across from my hotel. Strange that there are actually 2 Tibetan, 2 Vietnamese, some Spanish restaurants very near the hotel.

Afterwards, had a nice stroll along Seine, beginning from the Notre Dame (about 5 mins walk from my hotel, and I am on the southern side) and finishing at the Musee D’Orsay. Quite pleasant, not too warm or cool. There were still some tourist milling about, some on roller blades.

Photos of Giverny (opens a new window)

Monday 30 June

Wasted the whole morning trying to get some cash using my American Express card. It turned out the budget place I was staying at only accepts cash – kind of misleading given that I booked the first nights using my credit card and all. Very frustrating. Not yet desperate but definitely wishing that my troubles would come to an end. 😥

However, eventually resolved that no troubles are unsurmountable so went on with my sight-seeing anyway. But I must acknowledge here the generous offer made my friends in Australia, for their willingness to extend a helping hand to a friend in need!

Later on, spent some time in the Opera, then headed down to St Madelene. Then sat at the adjoining area near Concorde and read a book I brought along; incidentally, this was also the place where I took a rest during my 1997 trip, after walking from the Louvre.

Had dinner that night with some colleagues at one of the caf�s along Champs Elys�e.

Photos of the Opera House and misc shots in Paris (opens a new window)

Tuesday 1 July

Changed into a supposedly more superior room today, one with its own shower. Ended up with an attic room, and very old, but at least generally clean.

Eventually managed to find “Tango along the Seine”! It is kind of an interesting arrangement. There is a number of open-air amphitheatres along the Seine (near Austerlitz station side), with steps for the audience to sit on. So there you have, a group of people Tangoing away, “squashed” between a group of people doing some acrobatics with flame torches on one side, and some Bongo drums on the other. More details in this thread.

Official information: Quai Saint Bernard, just East of Notre Dame (Left Bank) near The Jardin des Plantes, Metro Gare d’Austerlitz; June through October, starting around 8 p.m. (weather permitting) and ending at dawn.

Conference tomorrow, so early night tonight!

Tango along Seine (opens a new window)

Wednesday 2 July

Conference days so not much to report, officially at any rate…

Had dinner at an Egyptian restaurant. Food so-so but good company: Haley and Thushara, both from ANU. Chatted till late into the night.

Thursday 3 July

The conference banquet dinner was combined with a cruise along the Seine. That was quite pleasant. Afterwards, walked along the river to find the Tango group again. Enjoyed a bit more Tango music before heading back to the hotel – a 10-15 mins or so walk along Boulevard St Germain.

Friday 4 July

Spent the last night with my Australian friends. Had dinner up at Monmarte, and then later decided to walk over to Moulin Rouge. Call me naive, but I had no idea this was the red light district! Kind of an eye-opener, although not as interesting as the similar area in Amsterdam.

Saturday 5 July

Joined a day tour today to Mont Saint Michel. My original intention was to go there on my own and then hopefully spend a night on the “rock”. It was not to be because the costs were simply too much: return TGV train fare to Rennes was already 100 euros! On top of this, I needed to include bus fare to Mont Saint Michel, hotel cost and food of course. The day tour was 135 euros, and included two meals.

Well, ended up spending a good part of the day in the coach – about 3 1/2 hours each way – and about 4 hours at Mont Saint Michel itself. We drove through Normandy, and it was a little hard to imagine this was the scene of fierce fighting during World War II.

The Mont was most impressive, even from a distance. Its majestic half Gothic, half Romanesque abbey, built right into the rock face, sits atop the rocky structure. Really blows your mind to think how they could have built such a thing in the first place.

Another little ‘discovery’: found out from a lovely old Japanese couple on the same tour that there is an interesting walled city of Aigues Morte in southern France which is definitely worth a visit in future.

On my final night in Paris, went to the Tango again. Seems that Saturday nights draw a larger crowd, with between 25-30 couples dancing at the same time! A nice way to finish off the night with Tango still ringing in my ear.

Photos of Mont St Michel (opens a new window)

Sunday 6 July

On this last morning in Paris, decided to visit the Louvre museum after all.

Frankly, I think the Louvre is quite overrated as a tourist spot, simply because it is too big and its exhibits too diverse. There are too many things too see, and as anyone who has been inside any art gallery or museum for more than 2 hours can attest to, you can easily become overloaded with information. In fact, I would highly recommend going to other smaller galleries which are more focused and you can benefit a lot more. If there was no Da Vinci exhibition while I was in Paris, I would definitely have given this supposedly world-class art treasury a miss altogether.

Afterwards, headed over to the Luxembourg Gardens (not far from the Pantheon). Really wonderful park and a good place for a family day out, and definitely worth a second visit the next time I come back to Paris.

Subsequently had no eventful incidents on the way to the airport on public transport, fortunately.

Photos of Luxembourg Gardens (opens a new window)

Postscript for Paris

My observations of the French way of doing things:

  • Don’t get too worked up with the French not being too helpful with those who cannot non-French-speaking. That’s the way things are here. Just ignore these idiosyncrasies and get on with your holidays.
  • The usual impressions of the French society being one full of art, literature, and romance, they are also very bureaucratic in how they handle things. That is, although every i’s and t’s are crossed, it is rare that anyone will go “beyond the call of duties”.
  • It seems on this trip I have mostly seen the worst side of the French. The term ‘French hospitality’ is mostly non-existent. Given the caf� owners, the people who operate newspaper stands, etc., are in the service industry, you would have thought that they would try to be more accommodating or sympathetic. But no! “No stamps”, “No smaller change???” were commonplace.

    People in France should step back and consider this: 1) French is not the most commonly spoken language outside of France, 2) tourists do help to support the local economy, 3) learn the meaning of the word “courtesy”! OK, guess that is enough bitching for now.

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