Sunday, November 30, 2008

A weekend in Paris: Part 2

We got up bright and early in the morning. It was cold, and the small patch of blue sky above us soon closed over to gray.

This small dog on the Metro was unhappy. I don't think it liked the noise and movement. We were lucky - because we were under 26, and it was a weekend, we could get all-day Metro (subway) tickets for E3.20, the price of a return ticket. Paris seems to have quite a few discounts if you're under 25 or 26 - good for frugal backpackers!

We were following a suggested walk on Wiki Travel, which quite often has useful suggested itineraries. The first stop was the Arc de Triompf. It's bigger than it looks.

Built by Napoleon to celebrate his war victories, the Arc is at the centre of a large, 6-laned roundabout. Driving around it is completely chaotic, as we shall later see, and it has no specified lanes.

It was freezing cold as we walked from the Arc de Triompf to the Champs Elysees, the main shopping street in Paris. It started to snow! Tui was very disappointed as all her friends told her about it, but she was inside working.

Because I was travelling with two boys, we had to stop off at the Peugeot showroom to look at concept cars. This is the back of one. I think it looks like a bug. A very shiny bug, but still a bug.

This is my favourite shop in the world. I'm so disappointed they don't really have Sephora in the UK. At least, I've never seen it there.

It's probably also worth mention the number of scams we came across at this part of our trip. Brendan had read up on them before we left, and pretty much every one described happened to us! I guess the problem with big cameras is that it always marks you as a tourist, even when I try and keep the camera itself inside my bag and just wear the strap showing. My hands were freezing, because unlike Geoff and Brendan, I had to keep one hand on the camera and my bag at all times.

Anyway, the most common one was that a young woman or boy would come up to us and ask, "Do you speak English?" If we had said yes, they would have started a sob story about how they were trapped in Paris with no money to get to their child in another city. This happened to us at least 6 times in the one day, at various places. After the first three, we just said "No" in Spanish instead, or ignored them, and they didn't pursue anything further, even though they would have heard us speaking in English.

Another scam was a man who asked Brendan to put his finger in this loop of string. The idea being that you couldn't step back as easily when he asked you for money, as your finger was caught in the string.

Here is the Grand Palais. I assume the glass fountains are usually on.

This statue in front of the Grand Palais celebrates the French Revolution, or something similar.

It was really cold, as the snow turned from huge flakes swirling occasionally, to full rain. We searched for hats and Brendan for gloves, finally finding some on the street markets at the end of the Champs Elysees.

This woman was cooking sausages and things in what looked like a giant wok, complete with massive handle.

The Square at the end of the Champs Elysees was quite pretty, and contained a lot of fountains and monuments.

From here we headed past the Square and into the gardens at the end. Although it was a bit too cold for lovers today, Tui said that it normally was filled with the stereotypical "lovers in the park".

Geoff took a rest while I stressed to Brendan about the camera and how it was getting fogged up and wet all the time and couldn't take good photos and the sensor wasn't working again. (Can you tell I am obsessive about being able to take pictures?!)

At the end of the gardens lives the Louvre Museum, home of the Mona Lisa and many other amazing and famous paintings.

We were quite frozen by now, so we went into the Louvre to have lunch. Unfortunately though we didn't have time to stand in line and look at paintings - we'll have to save that for next time!

Next, we met up with Tui and headed along the Seine river. It would have been very nice to walk along here in summer, but at the time it was windy and raining, and our umbrellas weren't impressed.

On an island in the Seine, is the cathedral of Notre Dame.

Inside, half the church was shut off for a Mass at 4pm, and tourists wandered around the rest. It was very beautiful.

The famous stained-glass windows in the nave.

This is just before the service started - I got in the way of the priests - oops!

View from the front of the church:

The choir hang out before the service. They're surprisingly small, a chamber choir. I felt very lucky to hear them.

At the back of the church, behind the altar, there were a series of rooms which were the graves of wealthy people buried there. The stained-glass windows here were incredibly detailed.

Mass in progress.

From Notre Dame we said bye to Tui and went to the Eiffel Tower. It's one of the few famous monuments that's actually far bigger than we expected! The elevators go up and down on an angle up the legs.

Obligatory tourist photo...

There were a lot of police around, and soldiers with automatic weapons. I guess the Tower is a bit of an obvious target. I still can't get over the amount of security in other countries compared to NZ sometimes. It's a pain, because people don't understand that you're just a tourist, and freak out when you take photos. Argh.

There was a little pond at the back end of the park.

The Arc de Triompf beckoned as it started to get dark. We managed to get discounted tickets (E5.50 instead of 9.00) for being under 25, yay! You can climb up inside the Arc onto the roof, to get a fantastic view of Paris. It was well worth it.

The French version of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is under the Arc. The only time the flame has ever gone out was when a drunk Mexican guy peed on it! Yucky.

The stairs are a bit like the ones in Gaudi's Sagrada Familia - narrow, spiral and many. There are 285, I think.

We stood out on the roof and watched the crazy chaotic roundabout that the Arc sits on. With traffic coming from 6 directions, controlled only by stoplights onto the intersection, cars tend to bunch up in lanes of three.

After a while we decided to go back inside and wait for it to be a little darker. Here are some views to compare, between early and later evening:

Looking towards downtown Paris (in the second photo you can see some of the crazy roundabout antics)

The Champs Elysees

The Eiffel Tower (lit up in blue, with the Euro flag)

Finally, as we left the Arc, there were some soldiers standing silently at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was pouring with rain. The enormous flags flapped. One of them had to catch his red beret as the wind took it.

We drove the long journey back to Calais, arriving around 11pm. I got out of the car on one street to take a photo, and rapidly got back in the car when I saw a group of 6 guys walking down the street a little way off, towards us. Unfortunately I lost my beret, and it was too late to go back and get it since we were already through customs.

Here is the famous town hall in Calais. I am extremely sad about my beret. Maybe I can get Tui to buy me another one when she comes over at Christmas.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A weekend in Paris: Part 1

Lying awake in bed at 11pm, we were too excited to sleep. In just a few short hours we had to get up again and drive to London.

At 3am on Friday night, we were meeting Geoff on the outskirts of London, before driving to Dover, and catching the ferry to Calais, France. From there we would drive to Paris.

As well as driving on the right hand side of the road again (not a big deal for us, of course, but more so for Geoff who forgot twice), driving in France is more of an expedition than in Britain. For a start, there are a whole lot of additional requirements under "Things you need with you in the car":
  • reflective roadside triangle
  • fluorescent vest
  • spare bulbs for your headlights
  • first aid kit
  • mini fire extinguisher
  • GB sticker for the back of your car (denotes RH drive car)
  • headlight covers/ stickers (to point the headlight beams in the opposite direction)
Also, the signs were in km not miles, so they required mental calculation sometimes. Entering roundabouts on the right took a bit of getting used to.

Dover is very picturesque, with the white cliffs towering over the houses all stuck together. We went through customs on the UK side first. The sailing was at 6am. I stood outside on the deck in the cold, watching the sun rise, for much of the hour-long trip, since I didn't want to feel sea-sick.

The English Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world. I counted about 9 boats on each side just heading out of Dover!

We decided to avoid the toll motorways and drive through the French countryside instead. It was absolutely gorgeous. Little villages every few miles, each with its own church and houses stuck together. (I don't understand why there is so much space and yet the houses are still stuck together.) The sky was dark and heavy. It snowed the first snow of the season, splatting on our windshield.

We stopped off in Arras, about 2 hours' drive from Calais, to see a site of particular interest to New Zealanders. The Wellington Quarry was one of a number of chalk quarries around the town of Arras. In WWI, New Zealand sappers were tasked with linking up the quarries with a series of tunnels so that 25,000 men could hide in the tunnels undetected for several months, before a successful attack on the German front lines. The New Zealanders were all "bantams", guys who were too short for the army. They named the quarries after their home towns, e.g. Wellington, Auckland, Blenheim, Christchurch. The Wellington Quarry has been restored, and turned into a museum. (I think they confused Australia with NZ here. The koala on the left is not a NZ national symbol, but an Aussie one. The Kiwi is, however.)

The black writing and numbers are how the men found their way around.

In WWII, the tunnels were also used as air raid shelters for the townspeople of Arras. The writing on the walls from that time is red.

Soldiers drew graffiti on the walls. This one commemorates a fallen comrade. Look for the crucifix and the sad face.

It was very damp and cold in the tunnels, and the chalk walls were wet. Occasionally a large drop of water would fall. One can only imagine the plight of one soldier, who complained that his bunk bed was dripped on constantly and he had to sleep under a waterproof sheet! Above ground, it was snowing.

Here's a tunnel dug by the sappers, with one of the original mining buckets. British engineers built a small railroad to take the rubble out.

When it was time for the battle, the men were told to leave their greatcoats (heavy jackets) behind, even though it was freezing. They went up these stairs, and a hole was blasted to the open trenches. The sign on the left you can see in the photo, says "No 10 exit to circular trench". Many men died in this battle.

When we finally got into Paris in the evening, we called our friend Tui and met up with her. It was awesome to see someone we actually knew! It's a bit lonely out here in the country.