Day 16: Paris, Romantic Capital on the Seine
Sightseeing in the morning with a local expert shows you Notre Dame Cathedral and the façades of the Louvre. Drive from the Place de la Concorde along the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. Paris has grown up on the banks of the Seine and its many landmarks, quays and bridges are best viewed from the comfort of a relaxing River Seine cruise. Food is an obsession in France, so for your final night, enjoy a Champagne Celebration Dinner of seasonal produce at a typical Parisian restaurant with good wine and good company. Hotel: Marriott Rive Gauche/Pullman Paris Bercy Centre, Paris. Buffet Breakfast, Celebration Dinner.
The next morning, we went on an optional excursion to Monet’s garden at Giverny. Along the way we passed a sign that said Les Mureau below a space scene with a rocket and satellites. I looked it up and learned that Les Mureau was just the region we were passing there, but the space stuff was about Airbus having some sort of Space and Military facility there.
The actual gardens were obviously beautiful, but hard to write about because it’s all so visual. There were all sorts of plants, and it was cool to be able to see with your own eyes the scene of some of Monet’s most famous painting. The challenging part was getting pictures without other people in them, leading to amusing things like me putting my thumb up in one of Joyce’s pictures to block out the ugly Americans, and the having to crush them with my fingers. Here I also discovered how much more creative I could get with the camera mode on our phone that superimposes the self facing camera onto the image of the rear facing camera leading to some amusing results. There were also some really good ones too though.
One of the last things I was able to do with my phone before it died, my having forgotten both of my backup batteries on the bus, was take a remarkably clear videoclose up of a bee going after nectar in flowers. That was really cool. After that I had to rely on Joyce to take pictures, and I’d point out things or take her camera to take a specific picture the way I wanted to. It’s really convenient that we have the exact same phone, and when we get home I just complete them all together so it really doesn’t matter which phone I use to take pictures in that sense.
So that side of the road was the pseudo-Japanese garden, Monet was apparently fascinated with Japanese art and that’s part of what led him in the artistically unorthodox direction he is known to have taken. Crossing the road we came across the second more British garden with regular rows of interesting plants. On the other side of this was Monet’s old house which we walked through. It was loaded with reproductions of his own work, as well as a lot of the Japanese paintings which inspired him. Leaving the house we passed by some chickens, which I was of course fascinated by. I love chickens, especially big colored ones. The one rooster strutted around all full of himself, and the rest made chicken sounds as the scratched at the ground here or there, pecked at the ground, found nothing, and tried somewhere else, over and over and over again. Ah, chickens…
Then of course we exited through the gift shop. I was open to getting something, but so much were things I could just buy online, and cheaper. I thought about getting a set of coasters, but I already have Coca-Cola coasters, plus Joyce just made a bunch of fabric ones lately… I settled on a nice bookmark. I believe Joyce got a notebook or two with the artwork on them.
We walked down the walkway where there was apparently an American garden which turned out to not be interesting at all, but there was another gift shop which a quick look revealed still no bottle openers or stickers. We almost overshot where we were to turn to catch the bus, as those ahead of us did, but Mark corrected us in time, and we crossed the parking lot, then the street again, and were reunited with our bus, and the five other tour busses which had showed up behind us. That’s one of the perks of travelling with Insight, it can suck always getting up so early, but it also means you usually show up before most other people.
After having just an hour or so after getting back to our hotel, we loaded back onto the coach for our driving tour of Paris, which would end in our river boat ride. Onto the bus stepped a young redheaded man who assured us that despite his red hair he was indeed as Parisian as anyone else, and if nothing else his thick accent certainly testified to this. Some things he said it was legitimately hard to tell what he was saying; some words you’d have to hear him say them several times before it dawned on you what he was saying.
He made a big point of explaining that if you’re going to be Parisian, you have to make a very bid decision: whether you are left bank or right bank. He explained that we were on the left bank, and that it was obviously superior, as he was left bank. The left bank is for artists and students, and people with less money (though there’s a pretty high floor for how little money you can have and still live within the ring road of Paris). The right bank is for people with money and is more focused on financial services and is where all the rich and snooty (graded on a curve here obviously) people live. It is also of course, where all of the famous landmarks are.
As much as other parts of Paris may have been a little underwhelming, I do so love Paris. From the building architecture to the little art installations everywhere for no other apparent reason than because we are French. Our guide pointed out a café which is now just about the most expensive one in Paris, but which is know, being on the left side, as being the café where back in the day all of the mid twentieth century French existentialists hung out. My people. Oh I’d love to go there. There are so many places in Paris I’d love to explore if I ever had the time. I love London too, but after several days there, you start having to look for new and interesting things to do. I don’t get that sense in Paris.
For example, there are still several museums and art galleries Joyce wants to go to in Paris that we still haven’t gotten the chance to, and I still want to go up the Eiffel Tower on a clear day this time, and we only saw a little bit of the Louvre… I tell you, on this trip, we really had a new appreciation for the first trip I went on, when we had four full day in Paris. I kept lamenting for people who this one bus tour and the later boat ride would be all that they’d get to see of Paris, it’s just not enough. Yes I really appreciated all the time we had the last time I was here, and to be able to remember being in and around in person these places and things were were now only driving past.
We saw a guy stopped in the middle of the street presumably with a broken down car. He was talking on the phone and seemed remarkably unconcerned given his precarious position.
We drove past Notre Dame Cathedral. We were told we were not in the Latin Quarter, and were told that this meant LATIN Latin, not Latin American or Iberian as it is sometimes misunderstood. Latin was apparently widely spoken around the university there as it was the language of learning throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. In the Latin Quarter we also drove past the Parisian Panthéon. I’ve never been inside, but we were told that it was originally constructed as a church, but its completion coincided with the French Revolution, and it was taken over and repurposed as a sort of national secular church, and is now a mausoleum in which many well-known French are buried.
Each French president tries to get someone buried there as legacy project, but the estate of the dead has to agree to have their remains exhumed and reburied there. We were told about how Sarkozi tried to get Albert Camus, my guy, reburied there. Also of note, at one point on our trip we were quite near where he died and his true burial site, and if I’d been travelling more independently there is no chance I wouldn’t have made the pilgrimage to both sites. Anyways, The plan was held up by his son who refused despite his sister being fine with it. He said he didn’t want his father repurposed by the state, and to try to do such a thing was a complete misunderstanding of the man and what he stood for. Whether the objection was on principle or just because the son loathed Sarkozi I don’t care. I love that even in death my hero remains The Rebel.
There are Roman ruins in France, but they are truly ruins and are fenced off, but they are there. We also drove past where I took that video the very first night of the people breakdancing in front of the fountain. I also noticed that the bridge which last time we were here was totally encrusted with locks from people locking them on the bridge and throwing the key into the river as some romantic gesture symbolizing eternal love, romantic the first time, but sad, tacky, and unimaginative every successive time, had been cleared of them. Now there was a fine grate over and through which no locks could be attached to the bars.
Before crossing over to the right side, we passed the Assemblée Nationale, their equivalent of Parliament I believe, and then drove down the Champs-Élysées as Joyce and I remembered walking all the way from the Louvre down the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, getting an amazing Nutella and banana crêpe from a street vendor and the guy being cross with me for trying to buy a three dollar crêpe with a fifty euro note.
We drove around the Egyptian Obelisk and our guide told us that it was his favourite feature of the city because it was so old, thousands of years and the oldest feature in Paris. He also pointed out that engraved in the thing itself is instructions on how to get it upright. It’s quite a sight to see with its gold cap shining in the sun. He told us, and the weight of hearing this weighed heavily on me, that this square where the obelisk was, was the very spot where they had the guillotine set up during The Terror. Right here, in the public square executing royalty and aristocrats and of course so many others. A fun fact he also shared that instead of the Eiffel Tower, the runner up idea to welcome the world’s fair the Eiffel Tower was erected for, was a giant guillotine to celebrate the hundred year’s anniversary of the revolution, yay!
We then drove around the Arc de Triomphe and as I saw more soldiers with large machine guns patrolling near the eternal flame at the tomb of the unknown soldier, I was again glad that the last time I was here we had so much more time, and I remembered climbing the stairs, and looking out over the city on top of the structure.
After that we passed what I believe was some kind of university grounds. We then drove right past the Eiffel Tower (after passing another merry go round), and down to the river front.
After waiting in line we boarded the Bateaux Parisiens (as opposed to the perpetually fun to say Bateaux Mouche we rode last time). Joyce was concerned about being cold but we went up top anyways. I was worried that the views out of the windows from inside would be frustratingly cloudy and scratched. We sat at the back of the boat and waited, but before long we were off. The river rides are nice. So many of the main attractions of Paris are right along the river so you see a lot. It’s also always fun to wave back and forth at people on the bank and on the bridges overhead as you pass underneath.
The bridges are cool. The Pont Neuf translates to the new bridge, because although it is now the oldest bridge, when it was built it was ‘the new bridge’. Why would we change the name? We are French after all.
I never got a good shot of it, but there was a guy on what I can only describe as Segway shoes, not the inappropriately named hoverboard, but two independent shoe versions. I’d never seen that before. We then passed all of the museums Joyce wants to go to at some point. We talk about next time we’re on our way somewhere else, we should stop over in Paris for a few days on the way.
It was also nice to see youtes out on a Sunday, just hanging out in public as opposed to being shut in at home. I’m sure many were of course, but there were so many people who appeared to be locals and were just enjoying being by the river with friends. That was nice to see.
We then rounded around the island which Notre Dame, known as Île de la Cité and the smaller island Île Saint-Louis with some of the most ridiculously priced real estate in the world for obvious reasons, and headed back the way we came. The region in which Paris sits, since the city and thus country originated on these river islands, is know as the Île-de-France. Passing by these river islands on the other side we then returned the way we came. When we went on the boat ride the first time I was here, we did it at night. It was nice to also see it all in the daytime, but it was something spectacular to see the city of lights really light up for us, especially timed as our trip was with the hourly sparkling explosion of light from the Eiffel Tower.
Getting off the boat we went back to the bus, then I went upstream against those exiting to quickly score a souvenir coin, the pièce de résistance, a city of Paris anniversary coin with the big three features of Paris on it. Coin collection now complete.
We then bussed back to our hotel. Right out front of it there was a scooter and motorcycle parking lot, and half it was oddly scorched right down. It appeared that days earlier a fire had burned down half the lot. When I first saw it at the beginning of the tour I wondered if it might be some odd art project, but when Joyce went to take closer look pictures, no it was clearly just a bunch of gated off burned out bones of once mopeds and scooters. Bizarre sight to see, especially right beside other vehicles and buildings utterly untouched.
An hour and a bit later, it was time to leave again for our farewell dinner. These trips all begin with a welcome dinner, and end with a farewell dinner. Some are going on to a Normandy extension of this trip, some are off to another tour altogether all over again, but this trip has come to an end, and this dinner is the bookend.
We found ourselves at pig themed restaurant, complete with a placard out front with an animation of chefs wrangling a terrified looking pig, and hooves for handles on the front door. It was called Au Pied de Cochon, or: Of Pig’s Feet. We were in a very ornate looking room on the third floor, and we sat with the Calgary couple I believe and the siblings from Australia. I showed them my goof pictures from Giverny and they were indeed quite amused.
We started with soup which was almost too much of a good thing. I thought it was just enough, everyone else thought it was too much. It was really an onion soup in my cheese kind of situation and I just ate it up with glee. It was super good.
Since we were in our own room, after soup this gave Ronald the freedom to get us to sing one last time, and the amount of eye rolling and passive aggression from the Australian woman was positively seething, which amused me more than anything else of course. I took a video of the whole scene as best as I could. Then, on behalf of all of us non Hawaiians, Ronald gave Mark and Agostina our driver leis, which irritated Joyce since the rest of us were not Hawaiian. He then made us sing another song for the last time and it really all fell apart.
I then combined my new passions and took pictures of Ronald’s wife taking pictures with me picture in picture, then moved on to taking pictures of me superimposed on my food. This entrée was for the record, a very good beef stew with roasted potato, carrot, and onion. I will say this for French cuisine, they certainly at least have a mean, mean beef stew game. Dessert, was an interesting assortment of desserts. A small crème brulée, a chocolate mousse in a glass, a meringue cookie made up like a pig’s head, a cream filled puff pastry, and a coffee all on a plate, and they were all delicious. Yummy yummy, and I really appreciated the assortment approach.
And then, it was over. We drove to a bridge and with no chance it was an accident pretended to have a bus breakdown (haha.) on the bridge so we could get out and see the Eiffel Tower light up at ten o’clock exactly. I’d seen it before of course, but it never fails to spectacularly impress. The flash lights going off all over and the searchlights rotating about from the top, City of Lights indeed. Astronomy nightmare for sure, but tourism marvel nonetheless. Joyce and I took an obligatory selfie with it going off behind us.
On the way home I noticed a building which had been pointed out to us, one of the tallest in the city due to general height restrictions on buildings, but it had a purple perimeter and lights flashing across it. No Eiffel Tower to be sure, but interesting to see nonetheless.