Trip to France, part 1: Paris
Ruzyne Letiste, Prague Airport. We took the cheapest flight by Smart Wings to Paris so you can imagine how remote is the gate located:-). The one and half hour flight was OK and we also enjoyed the pretty sunset.
Our first encounters with French people brought interesting experience:-). We met a young, dynamic French artist who loves and is inspired by unique plants such as carnivors. He purposedly flew all the way to Czech Rep. to bring home rare australian carnivor plants from one exhibition in Prague. He gave us some info on France and welcomed us to contact him if we reach Rennes city.
But the meeting did not stop there, we found out later that he is quite famous, at least in France, as a TV journalist picked him up in the airport and recorded his days as part of her report on his work and exhibition plan. And it is easy to guess that he and the reporter warmly "insisted" and gave us a ride to the centre of Paris. Well, we couldnt say no:-).
We had a nice ride seeing lively nightlife at REPUBLIQUE and all the way to BONNE NOUVELLE and gaped at unbelievable amount of restaurants and shops swarmed and packed the streets. This is definitely a happening city as one myth was answered. and so was another one:-).
Frenchs' passion for car and driving leads you close to the adrenalin level made by heart pumping-bungee jumping or eye rolling-roller coaster. After few minutes, well maybe few hours... well maybe.. few years:-), you can adapt and rest on your backseat with fixed eyes on the street. It's always good to practise your focus and peripheral response in France even if you are not driving:-).
However, their classy and easygoing lifestyle pay all tributes to French high profile. Going to nightclub or chick bars with Ondra and his proud slack shortpants might easily invite frowning on:-). Fortunately we went to a relax bar on our first night whereas dress code doesnt matter:-). Although we were a bit dissapointed that they stop serving food beyond dinner time.
We were so lucky meeting our Aussie friend, Viisti who studied in Paris and is currently working there. Her hospitality entailed us to be her guests in STRASBOURG ST DENIS for first few nights. In this place, we enjoyed our first homy French breakfast with those big tasty pastries from buttered croissant, choco-croissant, French baget, the savoury margarine spread to fresh fruits and jams, accompanied by fresh boiled coffee.... What do you expect more:)?
Although Paris was quite cold around 5 degree, we expected sunlight and waisted no time to go to VERSAILLES PALACE in the outbound of Paris. We took 1 day package including entrance and returned train tickets for 21 Euro each. We had to take RER C5 (intercity/intersuburb train) which is connected with one metro (underground) station. Paris metro ticket pass doesnt include RER, so people who live outbound must normally buy RER pass. Travelling with public transport in Paris can be daunting experience but once you know the system of those multi connected metro, bus, and RER and dilligently memorize or at least have one practical map, you will survive. Even though Greater Paris comprises of 10 millions people, Paris itself is quite compact and well planned city so it is easy to find your way home.Hey! Paris is not as big as Jakarta after all:-)!
VERSAILLES is definitely one of the grandest palace in the world and so far is the best one for me. The complex was so huge, the architecture, interior, design, and setting were superb. It boasts centre of French histories as the building of this palace and the stories unfolded in it were controversial. In this piece of land, the French politics were knitted where the great royal families and emperors ruled, rewarded, punished, entertained themselves and lived their secluded and secret lifestyle while peasants toiled and were highly levied. In this piece of land too the French Revolution plagued the monarchy in 1789 and passed its power from Louis XVI on to people.
Despite its controversy, Versailles remains the symbol of French greatness and attracts the perennial tourist flows. This palace was built with all expensive and precious things humans could ever imagine. All wooden and wall details, the gold plates, the painstakingly beautiful frescoes,rare gifts from around the worlds, customized furniture and decoration, and the genious work of tapestries, paintings, and statues. Not to mention the huge handsome JARDIN (garden) which accentuate the top quality of the palace. The other myth was proven, the marvel of French garden. Its marvelous design,vegetation, fountains, flowers,and canal imbued romantic and inspiring days. You can recognise Roman influence on their statues, architectures, and gardens as Romans once ruled this Gaul land up till fifth century. The only setback was the additional 9 euro fee for the garden which we supposed included in the day package.
We were so lucky that along with hundreds of Parisians (the paris residents:-)) we could enjoy the unique firework in La Villette. Young people and families from all background secured places and gave time to see it. It was so unique because it was actually a real fire work because the performers manipulated the fire and instruments such as screen, metal bars, music equipments, and acrobatic gadgets to create spectacular shows based on various themes.
Not only were we given the unusual fire and acrobatic performance but also we were intrigued by their respective social, political, or environtmental concerns. This sort of mass education is indeed interesting! The place and street were packed by people so in the end we decided to walk home in the lovely cool night to Canal St Martin and Republique direction .These are some of the pictures that we took. Enjoy:-).
Shops and services are lining up all the way on almost every streets in Paris. The abundant choices of food and apparel might confuse you and either creates shopping-mania or purchasing-phobia which is clear which group Ondra and me belong to:-). In this nice bright sunday morning we planned to visit some landmarks while the sun is still up. You cant imagine how erratic was the French weather! From Strassburg St Dennis to the Opera we passed heaps of clothing shops and restaurants. Many enjoyed brunch al fresco and sunbathing at the same time. The fresh and mouthwatering seafood which were displayed in those restaurants no doubt developed our tastebuds for French seafood. Too bad, the awful cars accident also displayed in front of us. Learning how many Frenchs drive really made you have goosebumps and definitely from time to time demand victims. Pozor will ya!!
The Opera itself was a remarkable precinct with beautiful statues and carvings. Tourists also swarmed this place and queued to go inside. This is also one thing that we learnt in France that the number of tourists and visitors there was unimaginedly alot! heaps! huge! It was almost impossible not to queue in tourist attractions. This place is also a meeting point (rendezvous???) where people meet and continued to go somewhere. Spending few minutes on its stairs while checking the maps also gave few interesting sights on romantic and warm meetings:-).
The journey continued to Louvre and Palais Royal. Viisti got info that on that day, some buildings that used to be closed to public are open like Palais Royal. The winding and unending queue confirmed its rare exhibition:-). Louvre Museum hosts the famous Monalisa painting and remains one of most visited historical galerie in the world. What is also frequented by people are the glass pyramids at its yards. Their singular existence had made us not able to say no to picture them like all common, normal tourists, sigh...., and this touristic virus affected us since then. but hey, this is our first time in Paris and who knows would be the last time, so we must make use of the camera right? right? right:-)? If you see how lovely Jardin des Tuileries, the buildings, the statues, the people, and the food, you only can say yes to those pictures taking and money spending:-(. There are many public places to spend time with friends/families or just for getting inspiration during the day. The gardens are well groomed and chairs are provided. How I envy you Frenchs:-)!!!
The historical Place de La Concorde, Champs Elysees, and Arc de Triomphe were on our next plan. Going further from the garden we could see the obelisk-type de La Concorde. Just across it, there is a nice fountain with some interesting figures. You might overlook it if you didnt see the whole bunch of married couples who were keen on taking pictures at the fountain. We dont know why does the fountain which is located in the centre of the roundabout attract brides and grooms? We went around it and were still perplexed... Maybe they see some charm that we cant see:-). However, we definitely cant resist the charm of Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe. There is something about the pedestrian area and the famous gate on that boulevard. The cosmopolitan atmosphere and the high profile people add value to this area. Ondra was also tempted to have his first scrumptious expensive Haagen Dazs here, slurp!! What is also interesting about France or especially Paris, finding supermarket or minimarket is not an easy task. Even Carrefour, the French hypermarket giant, is only one in each city. The explanations vary from the soaring price of land so that it is too costly to build big shop in the centre to the local habit of buying things in speciality shops. It means that locals prefer to buy cheese from the FROMAGERIES, bread and pastries from BOULANGERIES and PATISSERIES, meat from BOUCHERIES etc. A bit hassle but might be worthy as French meal and drink quality become benchmark for culinary world. at least the positive point is that local traders do not suffer from marginalization caused by so-called multinational-chain hypermarket:-).
To reach a breathtaking view of Eiffel at night we ought to take a route to the Palais de Chaillot through Avenue D'Iena and passing the Palais de Tokyo. This quiet road is full of office buildings and very few residential ones. However, there is a small, nice, quite isolated garden where we saw Indonesian group had little picnic and meeting which can be traced down from Palais de Tokyo park where in the dark of the night seemed to be a place of various transactions! Again, a little crepe outlet near the souvenir shop there successfully tempted us. This time we tried the salty one, cheese!!! What would be a better evening except hanging out across the glowing eiffel tower while enjoying the crepe and hugging your soulmate? Wait.. one thing is missing... yeap! pictures, surely:-).
Public transportation in Paris was excellent and complex. At beginning, it is important to have the le SNCF map for your RER, train, and metro planning so that we can study the commuting system and know how to travel around. Fourteen lines of metro are available anytime to transport you underground. Nevertheless, the handicapped and old people might not have the advantages of the exhausting and not-friendly entrance and exit ways. These multiline metro, RER train, and widely covering bus route were complemented with the BATOBUS ferry. This French version of Brisbane's city cat offers various package for tourists to enjoy the ride. Asking and using student card are always wise things to do in France. Although there is no guarantee that discounted price available especially for climbing Eiffel tower, at least so far versailles, batobus, and Montparnasse view we got the priviledge, twink twink:-). Hopping on Batobus on Seine River at night from Eiffel to Quay de Louvre levered the pleasure of our trip. Love in the air, romance within distance, laugthers on the water no doubt became the themes of the day:-).
We started the day by going straight to Notre Dame by metro to Ile de La Cite, one of two islands in Paris district. River Seine separates Paris and Ile St. Louis and de La Cite. Actually, almost all interesting places are within walking distance, although some you would gladly take while others sweat you out:-). Notre Dame, a cathedral built in around 12th century, poses a singular white slim complex at Ile de la Cite. Saving its wonderful exterior, its interior does not reserve particular awe, leaving aside the confusing chapels setting. Near its pavement, there is the Point Zero where all distance all over Paris measured from. This small island also hosts Sainte-Chapelle, the private gothic chapel of Louis IX. This chapel has long daily queue due to its attractive stained glass. Of course, Notre Dame is not less famous. Its unique design, watching-over-from-the-roof gargoyles, and overarching front and back pillars seize your attention especially at night view from Batobus. Victor Hugo's story of Hunchback of Notre Dame reaffirms Notre Dame's mysterious magnet. During the day, along Quai des Gr. Agustinus which faces Notre Dame artists sell their paintings and you can also find antiquity such as old comics, fotos, books, and stuffs. This area leads you to the Latin Square, French intellect and knowledge growing nest
Across the river, we could still enjoy Notre Dame. Classic paintings and books sellers, accompinied by the on-street talented painters along the river created fresh air in the area, as fresh as the green and shaddy Latin Quarter area that we passed later on. Its reputation as the intelectual pouch reminded us of "the" Sorbonne University. The trip is not complete without visiting it. Was famous as theological institute and of its influence towards French politics, has even been highly reputed as one of outstanding secular institution since the end of 19th century. Home to nobel winners and high-profile people, Sorbonne with its long history is considered worth a visit. The visit ended up dissapointing. The complex was relatively mediocre in size and architecture. Only selected people and those with ID were allowed to enter. No words, no explanation. Just NO ENTRY. We could only glance towards each other, sighed, and went on with no impression left. huh.... We suspected that they worry about bomb and terrorists. Later on we knew that "the" Sorbonne" has 13 independent universities around France such as Pierre et Marie Currie with those unique square and functional buildings, seemed like a cluster of dices), and Paris-Nouvelle, and Uni Pantheon Sorbonne that we gave up. At least seeing grandeous Pantheon and beautiful Luxemburg Jardin with its white sand and fountain compensated Sorbonne experience.
Jardin Luxemburg perched in the centre of four bustling boulevards; Boulevard St-Michel, Montparnasse, Raspail, and St-Germain. It is close to Pantheon and Latin Quarter, and an Indonesian restaurant.The garden hosts the Senate house which occupies the Palais de Luxemburg. This typical French garden with its duo sandy and grassy fields, centralized fountain and genial carvings, spreadt out benches and friendly birds. It is so amazing that France also manages preserving these soothing public spheres where family, friends, and colleagues can hang out, and discuss their business in the siesta-like atmosphere. We also discussed how France is not falling apart while it seems that the people spend so much time outside their work or school. Especially with the limited working hour regulation and long lunch time, we wondered whether Frenchs are too efficient in working or.... Who knows:-).We just wanted to relax and enjoy the lazy sunny day.
The daylight batobus trip took us from Notre Dame to Hotel de Ville. Hotel de Ville is not a hotel. It is a town hall. In its old times, its large courtyard witnessed demonstrations and death punishment. This elegant white building was highlighted by lovely fountains at all its corners. With the Quay at the background, this pretty precinct becomes meeting point for people. That's exactly what we did on the last day in Paris in order to meet Viisti.
Size does matters. At least, in the case of Eiffel Tower. This tower had hopelessly been unwanted by some high profiles due to its strange symmetry. But who would have guessed that in the future, this peculiar tower becomes Paris icon even French symbol worldwide. All tourists include this tower in their itineraries. And...so do we:-).
Following our picnic day in the Parc du Champ de Mars (alias Eiffel spot), we went down east with our last day Batobus ticket and hopped off at Pont Neuf (Neuf bridge) near Louvre and headed north to Les Halles and Pompidou centre. Targeted for shopping-free souls, this complex secures a public sphere for those bohemians and free thinkers near Pompidou. The Janus face of liberal capitalism rests here.the street artists plus philosophers and branded shops plus Starbuck find this square home. Enjoying those spraycan artists and entertainers and thinkers while accompanied by our nutella crepe and starbuck double macchiato was a rare experience
Our sinful morning activity in Paris was food hunting:-))). We completely, truely, 100% love French mouthwatering sweeties and meaties:-). From chocolate cake to fruitpie, from baguette to croissant, all is perfected by deadly whole day eating schedule. It's deadly because we pretended not having watch, putting no limit on bombarding all food corners either afternoon or night. Eat till you drop!! Fresh ingredients and a wide range of asian and non-asian food fascinated us.(Compared to Czech:-(). Our heaven was sitting in the park, watching people passing by and enjoying our meals in those shiny days. What a day!
Striding along St.Martin canal, near Lumiere, was definitely a boost. The river divides our serene walk and the splashy restaurants across us. It is so soothing to start the day before the street soon channelled us to crowded and dusty business centres.
This connecting train station is so huge. Gare du Nord is the name.I guess it's very typical around the world that you can find almost everything near a train station from groceries to apparel, from electronic to entertainment.
We decided to walk to Montmartre. Along the Boulevard de Magenta to de Rochechouart, you might want to stop by from time to time. It is area where your shopping needs suddenly raise your consciousness. Because you would see many things from the essential things and junks that you might, I said, you might want to buy them coz they are cheaper and available within your reach along the street. Anyway, we managed to climb up to Sacre de Coeur, the white mosque-like chapel with the authentic Place du Tertre which was full of painters, souvenirs and food stalls.This block naturally won our heart. The prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is nice and less commercial with some hidden corners to enjoy quiet moments or Dali museum. If you are not a big fan of demanding walk, there is a funicular route that transports you up to the chapel.
The next trip took us down to Abbesse and Rue Lepic. After we sent postcards home, our eyes stumbled into those luring grill chickens, enticing fresh seafood and fruits, and piles of hundred kinds of cheese in the shops along the street. We bought Camembert and another kind of cheese, a grilled chicken and potato, the grapes and nectarines, and other things that we couldn't remember. We got used to French way of specialities, meaning that you can only buy specific things in the specific shops. Then we rested at street park in the end of the street and enjoyed our food. We realised that Moulin Rouge was at the corner with its proud red building while sex shops and museum just on our rightside. What a neighbourhood:-).
We concluded our day by exploring the China town near Porte d'Italie. We walked fast through La Fayette and of course we couldnt resist those chocolate and other things along the way:-). We changed metro few times to get there. The trip is worth a craving. We went to a classy Chinese restaurants. We were the only couple without "decent" dress as we didnot dress to eat but eat to dress (hmmm... i dont really know this meaning actually:-)). Luckily we could enjoy our meal despite those unfriendly snobbish waiters. This China town is such a big complex where you can get lost if you are unlucky. But of course we equipped ourselves with map (that we found disposed of accidently on the street, hihihi). You only have two options in this area. First, you are dead full because you wanna taste every place. Second, you are dead hungry because you cant make up your mind due to the whole selection of food. Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, you name it. Of course for Japanese food, sushi is still expensive compared to Australia. Too bad:-(.
After checking our itinerary in the Montparnasse train station, we found that there is a nice garden on its roof. We went up and found our bliss. The quiet place where people sunbathe and children play. It even has a clean water tap, which is quite difficult to get in Paris. The top of Montparnasse skycrapper became our next destination. A panorama is offered from the roof of its tower overlooking the whole Paris. This scenic point has two values, first, the fee is cheaper than Eiffel Tower, second we can see Eiffel Tower:-). Although, the autumn fog blocked our pictures taking.
We continued our walk from Galerie La Fayette in MOntparnasse to Rue Daguerre after finishing our takeaway pizza on a street bench:-). Takeaway pizza is cheaper. For us, pizza ala czech still tastes better, sorry:-). Rue Daguerre is a lively small street. Cramped by affordable hostels and little businesses and restaurants, this street is worth a sojourn.
The thriving Rue Daguerre led us to Boulevard Raspail. In the corner, there is a catacombe complex which hosts many visitors each day. No further comment about it.
Cafe Hugo became our last rendezvous with Viisti before we left Paris for Rennes. Met up at Hotel de Ville, we took a nice afternoon stroll around Marais and finalised it at Place des Vosges. We can find jewish quarter in this clean neighbourhood. Although the price is not cheap but the atmosphere and the visitors give values to this Cafe. The last walk took us to Bastille which reminded us of the French revolution which shattered the manifest of royal dictatorial; Bastille prison. Starting it at Place de Republique and ending it up at Bastille, our trip in Paris is a great back-to-the old-times journey in a great country. Au révoire Paris.