And sometimes it is frozen. In the form of snow. But that’s okay because today I am going to be prepared with an umbrella and hat. First, I will bring you up to date on our travels.
Today is Tuesday, November 4th and we have been back in Karlsruhe for almost two days now. Sunday morning we hopped a train back from a weekend spent in Paris. Our visit was nice but to be honest about our experience, I have to confess that there were too many folks there for my taste.
From what I gather, Paris is always busy. The weather is no surprise because at this time of year, especially on the Texas coast where we live, we are accustomed to rainy weather, just not the cold wintery part. Anyway, enough rambling about the weather.
Impressions of Paris: Friday the 30th- November
After we departed the train in Paris, we made sure we were bundled back into our warm clothes, and walked outside to the front of the station. The first thing I noticed were the police dressed in full riot gear. And guns. Let me elaborate. Machine guns, batons, and shields. Big, scary guns that made my stomach lurch for a moment. Apparently it is a common sight due to the various political protests, demonstrations and civil unrest that is becoming more frequent in France. These police were actually the Compagnie Républicaine de la Sécurité ( CRS). The regular police dress differently from the riot police but still carry guns and tasers on their belts. After I decided that I had nothing to fear from these guys, my stomach returned to its regular state of looking forward to the local cuisine.
Kris and I didn’t really have a plan for Paris since it wasn’t on our serious bucket-list. We decided to find the kiosk for tourist information and price our options for a Hop-On/ Hop-Off bus tour. We decided on the two-day ticket since the weather might make walking around Paris miserable. The nice thing about the HO/HO bus is that it gives you an idea of where all the historical places are that you might want to tour. The bad thing about the HO/HO bus is that it can take hours to get to each destination and when you only have two days to see your priority spots, it can take up too much of your time.
A problem with Paris is that the streets are crazy with traffic and folks. Many of the large cities we have visited in Europe are like this and learning to access the subway trains is a time-saver. The subway trains also are much less than a taxi. It seems that no matter where you are you must stay alert and watch out for the pick-pockets, beggers, and occasional local youth that is up to no good. This is especially pertinent when you are speaking to one another in English. These people will zero in on you and ask for euro’s, cigarettes, etc. You have become a magnet. I’ve noticed it most everywhere lately so you just put on your best “Leave me alone” face and ignore them as nicely as possible.
Back to the tour- we knew we’d be unable to check in to our hotel so we left the HO-HO bus at the Notre Dame Cathedral stop after riding for a couple of hours. Realizing we were pretty hungry, we scanned the numerous cafes along the River Seine for one that looked inviting. Wouldn’t you know it but the cafe we decided on was right across the street from an ongoing protest and the Compagnie Républicaine de la Sécurité ( CRS) were standing across the street at attention.
Regardless, we found the entrance, sat at a table, and ordered the best hot drink we could find on the menu. The name of this delightful beverage that we ordered is called a “French coffee” and what makes it so tasty is the combination of a shot of brandy, brown sugar, fresh cream, and coffee. It did the trick to warm us to our toes as we’d steadily got more chilled as the hours on the bus went by. I decided that a bowl of onion soup would suffice for my lunch and Kris had a crepe. That old adage “When in Rome”…
After we finished our meal, we walked across the bridge to Notre Dame Cathedral and went inside to view the beautiful architecture of the church. Pictures are allowed (no flash) but Kris and I came to the conclusion awhile back that it feels odd taking photographs inside these incredible places of worship. Besides, there is no way one is able to capture the awe and beauty of any of these churches. I did get a few pics of the outside and will post them at the end of this long-winded ramble.
We eventually made our way back to the train station by subway where we had stored our overnight bags and caught a taxi to the hotel in the Montmarte section of town. Quaint and much quieter than the rest of Paris. Kris had chosen well. After settling in, we headed out to knock about the neighborhood. The desk clerk gave us a suggestion for dinner at a typical French restaurant with several courses of local cuisine but we ended up at a small Italian cafe that was lovely and authentic.
Afterwards, we headed up the steep hilly streets towards the Sacré-Cœur Basilica built in the late 19th and early 20th century’s. The Sacré-Cœur is inspired by eastern Byzantine architecture and is a picture of contrast to the Gothic look of Notre Dame. I found it to be one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. It is built of Château-Landon stones so when it rains, the stones react to the water and secrete calcite, which acts like a bleaching agent. Hence the stark white beauty of the cathedral so many years later. Gorgeous in the light of a full moon.
We verified that people were going in and out of the church so we went in to stand in quiet awe of our surroundings. One thing that bothers me about some people is that many have no regard for the rules that state politely “No pictures- Quiet please,” etc., etc., etc. These rules are given in many languages so there is no excuse to ignore the obvious. Big sigh…
At this point of the evening, it was getting late so we decided to take the funicular down the other side of the steep hill and caught a cab to our hotel to rest up for our last day in Paris.
Saturday the 1st of December:
It is well known that Kris and I love to cook and bake. I had researched the internet for any specialty type stores in Paris that would have certain items that Kris and I are fond of using in the kitchen. I found a store called La Grande Epicerie Paris that I decided we needed to explore. I believe we spent about three hours in this place once our taxi dropped us off. It is a combination of Whole Foods, Eatzi’s (for those of you that remember), Central Market, Spec’s (downtown location in Houston), and Trader Joe’s with a definitive French flair. Can you ask for more? I sampled my first fois gras blended with a tapenade, expensive olive oils with crusty breads, interesting juice, and chocolate. I think we got out there with a bare minimum of two bags with some carefully chosen items. Kris was joyful when we finally exited…
After that, we meandered down a few streets ducking into a cafe to have some more of that wonderful “French coffee” before we made our way to the HO-HO bus stop. At this point, it had begun to drizzle rain steadily and get noticeably colder.
I have to inform you about Kris and the cold. Though she is from Pennsylvania where one must be accustomed to freezing temperatures, she has been in Texas far too long and cannot abide the cold anymore. She has remained wrapped up in at least 4 layers of clothing the entire trip. I, on the other hand, cannot handle the extra layers and feel trapped. Claustrophobic. But- I will admit that I concede to her point of view that you cannot have too many clothes on when riding on top of a HO-HO bus. Enough said.
We knew that it would be impossible to visit the Louvre because of our time limitations but we did get to see it and the glass pyramid in front. One day we will come back to visit the museum. The bus drove down the Avenue des Champs–Élysées and into the Paris Christmas Market madness. It took forever to get through the traffic and I now have a new respect for the drivers that venture into the crazy business of tourism.
One really funny thing about the HO-HO bus tour on Saturday afternoon and evening was that there was a group of ten women from somewhere in eastern Europe judging from their accents. They were a hoot- drinking out of small flasks then eventually just pulling out fifths of booze to share amongst themselves. I’m sure they stayed warmer than the rest of us. They were loud and boisterous but not obnoxious and quite entertaining. Occasionally they’d break out into a song that sounded like an anthem. The women eventually explained to us that they were from Moscow and only had one holiday a year to vacation so they had chosen Paris. Those Russians know how to party but it made me awful tired watching them.
The bus finally made it to the Eiffel Tower and we marveled at how pretty it was at night but chose not to go to the top. I figured that it had to be unbearably cold up there and Kris agreed. We did get a few nice pictures though.
We finally made it back to the last drop off bus stop that evening and had a very late light dinner with our favorite Parisienne beverage to warm us up. Paris night life is quite festive but we were tired and called it a night. While waiting for a taxi, I people watched. Interesting and if we hadn’t had to get on our train to Karlsruhe so early, we might have sat in a cafe to check out the night scene. ‘Au revoir, Paris! It was fun.
Artisan pannetone in La Grande Epicerie Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral
Funny candy packaging
Major funghi display.
Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, or the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montemarte
Driving under the Eiffel Tower
Passing the Louvre on our bus tour
Check back soon for more commentary and pics. I’m off to go find something to do today before it starts snowing again. As the Stones would say “gimme shelter or I’m gonna fade away.”