Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Paris 2 - From the Boulangerie to Brussels

The next morning was Sunday and I was happy to enjoy the treats of a French mania - bakeries. The bakery at the end of the street was obviously open - fresh croissants and bread for breakfast. The bread is miniature (length and diameter)...probably all that you need when you buy fresh bread whenever needed.  So small it was, that for lunch I had to prepare myself 5 sandwiches. Our neighborhood was the Parisian 'Florentine' (for our non Israeli readers see here). Full of young artists, galleries, humming with cafes and bars at night, manga shops and other interesting stuff.

The daily tourist menu included: Saint Chapel (the old royal church), supreme court, Notre Dam de Paris, the Pantheon, Rodin's museum, saying hello to Napoleon's tomb and Les Invalides and getting to the Tour Eiffel at sunset. Later we had dinner with Udi and Ayelet at Cité Internationale Universitaire.

Some remarks following this day. The Parisian Metro is filthy, not accessible for handicaps, the connections to the train are problematic (difficult to understand where to go) and it isn't as nice as other metros, e.g. in Saint Petersburg. On the bright side, it is very accurate and the trains are very frequent. When we were stopped for ticket checking the inspector was accompanied by 4 (!!!) police officers - not very comforting for a tourist who want to use the metro.
Notre Dam isn't special from within. Really nothing special. From outside it's impressive and its gorgols look like mongooses.  Actually, we visited it from within only the day later. On a Sunday the queue was horrendous.
The pantheon is a must visit just for going up for views from it's dome. It's location on top of a hill provides great views.
The building itself if impressive but not beautiful and D's necrophilic  thirst wasn't satiated since the tombs at the crypt can't be really approached. You can take our work - Foucault's pendulum is indeed there and it works.  We had an internal debate about whether this death cult is proper for a liberal society or not. Basic opinions were:  on one hand, this is primitive. On the other hand, it's for the live and not for the dead (the idea is to show the appreciation of the nation to whomever makes a big contribution).
Rodin's museum is beautiful. Point. Nothing to add.
When passing through Les Invalides, we indeed saw a French war "invalide". French watering cans were put upside down in the garden in front of the Napoleon's tomb as if they were growing there.
Les Invalides is an impressive project, showing how advanced was the French state over 400 years ago. The monarch and later the republic  understood their duty to server veterans who served the state. And no...they didn't privatize it recently…
Another short walk and we got to Tour Eiffel. J again walked a lot. She's amazing. Our warmest recommendation is to come to see the Eiffel at sunset (we assume you won't come at sunrise - like we won't) - a metal beast bathed in the warm reddish color!
We were disappointed with the rubbish all over Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel. Just reminded us of Jerusalem's dirt, just that Jerusalem is even more dirty.
The city map we had showed that nearby Eiffel is a metro station, so we headed there. "Nearby…." - Indeed there was something related, a sign post pointing to another point. A few hundred meters later we managed to identify another sign posts pointing further.  Eventually, we got a nice ride in line C which is on an upper  train  line elevated over the city's building, thus providing a nice night view.
Here comes another pain in Paris, which is consistent with the Belgium attitude of "If you do not know where you are heading to, you don't deserve getting there". The metro/tube in Paris has different sign posts and a tourist will be baffled over and over again how come he doesn't find the station that according to the map should be right here!

The international university city where our friends live is an amazing project from the 1920's founded by private people  and public entities to host 10k international students, researchers and artists. It's just a living location and not the university itself. Next time you come you should visit the place, it's an amazing campus. It's till today a combination of public and private money - yes...public money…. and international students who'll come to learn here are an interest of the government….

Our day ended just before midnight with a hot crêpe.

The way it is run reminds me of one of the great things Europe has - the sense of public service, humanist spirit is a goal and relentless execution over years. The compound is  perfectly maintained.
In our last day in Paris, we visited Notre Dam from within, strolled the Latin and Mare quarters with D & A & U, got pastries (see the beginning of this post) and visited the Pompidou center and Montmartre. The Pompidou center is an interesting building, we have a difficult to say about it nice. It's a perfect mixture of the good and bad in Paris.
A free library, with free (!!!) WiFi, a nice museum with cultural activities for everyone including children.  Everything is aimed at bringing culture to the masses. On the other hand, when we stepped to a balcony, it was full of people smoking and very dirty.
Our day came to an end visiting Montmartre. Even though the place is quite touristic, it is a nice out of city environment. The famous Sacré-Cœur basilica is impressive in its size from outside, clearly ugly and not interesting in anyway from inside. The chocolate and souvenirs shops in Rue de Steinkerque leading from the Metro to the church were definitely more interesting.
Painters pack the small nearby Place du Tertre where I made the mistake of photographing one of them. The old man got mad! I asked him if he wants me to erase the picture, to which he categorically responded 'No!'. He just wanted to reprimand men for not asking for permission. So I let him finish the teaching and apologized again.
The way downhill via rue Lepic winds between nice buildings constructed in this previously village like area and some old or old-like wind mills, one of the immortalized by Renoir, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and others - Moulin de la Galette. The neighborhood was a place of dancing, prostitution and a general escapist location for Parisians. Nowadays, this part of the once-village is expensive and touristic . It's previous 'functions' moved to the bottom of Rue Lepic, where Moulin Rouge can still be attended for a cabaret show.
Just to remind us one last time that we are in Paris, the Metro signs were different than any other - specially designed for this neighborhood.

We rushed to the apartment and from there to the bus station, 7 metro stations away. The tickets office got us tickets for 2 different buses to Brussels, which we found out only when trying to board the bus. My French bus driver couldn't care less, but J's German Old Mad bus driver, eventually softened and let me on the bus, which left over 30 minutes late.
It was a drive to remember.
The bus was smelling horrible from the toilets and each time someone complained, the old man got started shouting in German that it's not his fault, "within 2 hours we are going to be in Brussels, so you'd all rather shut up and go to sleep!", during long minutes he unsuccessfully tried to find the button that will turn off the bus internal lights  while trying to keep his word and accelerating like hell. Needless to mention, most of the people didn't understand any German and were asking each other "what did he say?"  - so someone translated him to English, someone else from English to French and so on. A wheeled tower of babel.
By the way, we got to Brussels in about 2.5 hours instead of 4!
J got a nice Russian girl to talk with during the drive, and I got Nasser from Jenin who just got his Spanish citizenship and was happy to chat in Spanish. Both of us had a very interesting drive. And no, don't bother to ask - Nasser and myself didn't get close to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - it was easier to loath politicians, talk about social problems in the Arab world, observations about middle eastern immigrants in Europe and how much better is the food back in the holy land.

One last word. Paris architecture reminded both of us of St. Petersburg and Buenos Aires. Only one of us got nostalgic, given the mess, smells and "tidiness."

No comments:

Post a Comment