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time flies like a jetliner

i can’t believe it’s the last day of my paris trip…that was 6 days?

we packed quite a bit in but i know there was still so much left to see and do. europeans are so lucky. travel within europe is inexpensive and everywhere is so close. flights from london to rome is only a 2.5 hour flt! apples to apples, that’s more exciting than travel from vancouver to los angeles! intra europe flight deals on ryan-air or ez-jet can border on the ridiculous. i’ve seen £1 roundtrip plus service charges with only one carry on baggage allowance. i can live with that. If i was european, i would be on a flight every chance i get. meanwhile airfares withinin north america remain too costly.

but i digress…

for our last day in paris and after our croissant breakfast on the cinema bench in clichy (such creatures of habit we are), we decided to go to the immense and sprawling grounds of hotel des invalides, along the seine’s southern bank. also there was the eglise du dome, a golden dome you could spot anywhere in the city. it’s under the dome you’ll find the tomb with the remains of napolean. as neither of us don’t care a hoot about dictators, we skipped seeing this.

walked across the bridge to gawk at all the statues and columns. the french were not subtle with their architecture and decor. everything radiates blindingly of pomp and bombast. it’s like a texan woman’s belief that the higher the hair, the closer to god. the french proudly screamed excess back in the heyday. the word minimalist? you may as well be speaking a foreign language. i’m not trying to slag the french. not at all. on the contrary, i went through a phase where i liked, bought or decorated with classical statues and gold gilded accoutrements, but that was over 10 years ago and my decor style pendulum has swung 180 away from such flashery. and i’m sure the french has too, with the very modern (and at that time, controversial) pyramid in the louvre’s classical square.

we walked to the nearby place de la concorde, the city’s largest square. in the centre of the square stands a 3300 year old pink granite obelisk given as a present from the egyptians in 1831. this square is huge. you can probably fill 10 piccadilly circuses in place de la concorde. and don’t even try to jay walk. there’s no rhyme or reason to the cars driving through the square and little chance to dart across the wide streets, so you end up using all the crosswalks the long way around. looking like some pending presidential visit, there were barricades and grand stand seats being installed. it ruined the postcard picture taking moment, but then we realized it was all for the upcoming bastille day celebrations july 14.

once on the other side of the concorde, we cut through the tuileries gardens. it’s very resplendent, with a couple of oversized fountains thrown in and open air cafe’s darting the edges of the grass. there’s also a bigger than big ferris wheel where the gardens meet the square of the louvre. and so continues the thinking of ‘go big or go home’. for me, my aesthetic sensibilities much prefer the luxembourg gardens.

chris thought it would be great to spend the afternoon up at montmarte, as it was on the same part of town as our hotel. taking a last walk through the hill, you can’t blame tourists for making sure to check out montmartre. it really has an incomparable view of the city below. and it’s worth climbing all those steps tp get up there. or if you’re lazy, there is a small gondola tram you can use to go up and down the hill. we found a little divey place with questionable service to eat our official last meal in paris. normally i don’t eat savoury crepes, preferring the sweet ones instead, but the egg, cheese and tomatoe sauce crepe was pretty darn good.

we leisurely walked down the mountain and went into pigalle and came to have our last drink in paris, coincidentally at the first cafe we had our first meal in paris, at cafe mansarat. on our way back to clichy, we walked through the cimetiere du monmarte. so this is where the felines of paris are, as we caught sight of what must be 3 resident cats of the cemetery. ironic that in hindsight, our last day is our first day in paris, but in reverse order. funny how things work themselves out like that.

(bottom right picture courtesy of chris)

we grabbed our baggage from the hotel storage room and tubed it to gare du nord. something was amiss as we entered the train station and on the display board, all the trains’ status said ‘retard’, which means ahem, late. not one or two trains, but all of arrivals and departures. late. security and checkin closed. how bad was it? how late?

our train’s check in was on the second floor and the queue stretched so far back, and in some places, 4 persons deep, that there wasn’t enough room for people to get in line at the back where the escalator comes up. on the whole ground floor, imagine the worst human traffic jam standing about. i’ve never seen anything like it, and i’ve been to grand central station in new york. this was quite the catastophe that the evening news cameras were there. eurostar’s people have no pr skills, telling us it was a track problem and not making nice with bottles of water or any sort of good will. all the trains coming in late at the same time on different tracks and platforms? i’d wager not likely. it would be more believable as a computer or technical malfunction.

we ended up waiting over an hour upstairs, and then check in and immigration opened. having passed that, we waited about another 1/2 hour before we were allowed to board. having to stand about in the teeny, tiny departures lounge, under the hot lights was making everyone a little this side of rioting. it was ridiculous, as we were sweltering in the lounge and yet we were right up to the stanchions, where we can see the platform outside and downstairs. and of course feel the slight breeze and fresh air just steps away. it’s awful how the heat can make people who are detained feel slightly rabid.

when the stanchions came down, people raced to their air conditioned rail car to sit down. hallelujah! we were on our way after just over an hour’s delay. it was a relaxing ride, otherwise, but i was tuckered out. 2.5 hours later, we pulled into st pancras and before it could fully sink in that we were back in london again, we bought our tube tickets quickly just as the announcement that the victoria line just shut down service for the night. chris and i had to make sure we both caught our northern line and piccadilly line trains, respectively, before the metro shut down altogether and we were both stranded. because that would just be icing on the cake if that happened.

still our return did not detract from the whole of the trip. paris was amazingly beautiful and its people and culture absolutely enchanting.

so i come back to london a little heavier, a little feet weary, a whole lot tanned and a whole lot relaxed.

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never say die

french rap music sucks.

okay, maybe it doesn’t suck, but it sure does at 2 or 3 in the morning. some flippin’ dillhole was blasting that wretched noise out of what seemed like airhorn speakers from either his car, with his doors ajar or his flat with the windows opened for the whole of our block to hear. probably for a stretch of up and down a few blocks. where the heck was the noise police? needless to say, i didn’t get nearly enough sleep as chris and i planned on going to the louvre early this morning. i woke up alittle cranky. aargh.

everyone has one of those days when they’ve been travelling a while or living in another city, when you have one of those, ‘i hate (insert city name here) today’. well, today was my i hate paris day.

things did not improve my lack of sleep mood when we were on our way out and i noticed a big wad of gum stuck on the bottom of my purse. brilliant. it probably happened yesterday when i set my black leather bag down at whichever restaurant or cafe we were at. bloody hell or ‘putain’ in french. my day has not even begun yet! aaargh!

we got to the louvre and surfaced from the metro station, right under the glass pyramid, made famous by a little movie called, the da vinci code. maybe you’ve heard of it? with its endless corridors, the louvre is the world’s largest museum and is a treasure trove of over 35000 works on display. the louvre was heaving with people, as today is a wednesday and kids don’t go to school on wednesday. great, tourists and kidlets make for memorable manouervering, n’est-ce pas?

everything was about queuing up…to buy a €9 tix, queuing for the bathrooms, for taking a pic of the ‘venus de milo’, for taking a picture of the ‘winged victory’ (from the superb scene with audrey hepburn and fred astaire in funny face) and of course jostling your way in a moshpit sized amount of people to catch a glimpse of ‘la jaconde’, better known the world over as the ‘mona lisa’. it was a zoo!

people a whole room width wide and half an exhibition room deep. everyone elbowing their way to the front of the wooden railing (and you’re still pretty far back from the painting too) to view the only picture mounted to the wall, behind practically floor to ceiling thick bulletproof glass. like any art lover, i just had too see da vinci’s masterpiece with my own eyes. it’s just one of those things. and no, the clouds did not open up and no rays of light beamed down, accompanied by an angelic choir either. but it was worth being in the moshpit of tourists and almost worth it being touched by said sweaty strangers to see ‘la jaconde’. Ewww and aargh.

truth be told tho, i like da vinci’s ‘madonna on the rocks’, that was hung in the outside corridor, much more. and not because of the freakshow circus quality the ‘mona lisa’ has. it just simply is a more exquisite painting in my eyes.

other highlights from the louvre include the ancient egypt wing, with mummified animals and just one mummy. this is, after all, a family oriented museum. my favourite sculpture has got to be antonio canova’s statue of ‘psyche revived by cupid’s kiss’. it was a marvel! and so surprised it wasn’t besieged! the floor to ceiling large format french paintings wing is definately worth a visit too.

the weirdest and ‘why on earth is that at the louvre?’ belongs to the jan fabre ‘l’ange de la metamorphose’ exhibit on the top floor. call it art if you must, but i think the man is one beer short of a six pack. some if his works include: a coffin with a peacock head/tailed feathers, owl heads, gravetomb made of skulls, swords and crosses, birds that sh*t & rats that fly, a roomful of gravestones and the artist imagined as an 8 ft worm, statues of a man and table made of upturned gold thumbtacks, monks robe made of circular disks of real life bones, to name a disturbed few. i tried to keep an open mind, but i just had to take pics, as i’m sure i wouldn’t be believed if i told people what i saw.

after spending 4 hrs at the louvre walking through most of the museum, chris and i threw in the towel. we headed back to l’entrecote in bastille for lunch. for €12 or 18cdn, i got a starter of calamari and shrimp, salmon pasta in cream sauce and a drink. tres bien!

today is the first day of summer madness. stores having sales of 10-60% off. not sure what possessed me, but i wanted to check it out and see if i can buy something in paris. so we headed for the equivalent of oxford street, called rue de rivoli. i ended up buying a black blazer for work at h&m for €15 or 23cdn. chris bought 2 pairs of shoes at zara men for €50. we checked out the not so pretty but darn busy underground mall at les halles. the lunatics are taking over the asylum is what i thought with so many people fighting to taking advantage of first day sales and selections. aaargh.

i’m a britgirl, so i didn’t know or recognize most of the french stores and labels. and as it turns out, asided from the work jacket, it was obvious i’d shop in london before shopping in paris. having my assumptions being correct from the beginning, chris and i went to st michel in search of food and a place to sit outside and rest our feet after walking on them for like, 10 hours or so.

after what felt like walking to tuktiyuktuk and back, we found a place that chris can get beer and i can indulge in a crepe and had free wifi that i could hop on to, we were told the cafe was closing. at 8 o’clock. excusez-moi? i was more chapped that we’d have to move somewhere, not for the nosh i was craving, but surely losing the wifi by having to go elsewhere.

my biggest gripe i have being in paris has got to be the severe lack of free wifi. grrrrr. such a bloody inconvenience! almost all wifi i can hop onto requires registration, membership and a fee. this being paris, starbucks is few and far between. even the one i went into today told me their wifi was down. so i’ve been blogging my entire paris trip on my nokia memopad to post for later. with lack of wifi, i haven’t been able to check email much either. get with the program paris!

we walked some more to a cafe a few blocks away, and i swear i thought any more walking and my arches may surely fall. at this point, i was too exhausted to care about anything and too tired to cry or get upset even when the waiter accidentally knocked my eyeglasses down on the floor and i had knocked over 1/2 glass of water on the table, spilling on my lap and purse. nothing. no anger felt within, just abject resignation to a day that kinda kicked my ass. what else could be thrown my way today, i thought?

although i tried to keep up a brave face, chatting with chris, i know i wasn’t the best company. not at my most charming, i felt like a teathered balloon losing its helium. finishing dinner at 10pm, chris recomended that we walk over to the river for me to catch a photo of the sunset. he thought that i would like it for my last night in paris. (bless)

and he was right.

we didn’t get to be on the oldest and most famous bridge, pont neuf for sunset as we would’ve never made it in time, walking to the farthest bridge. but we spent it on petit pont, 2 bridges back behind pont neuf, first on the left bank of the seine, the walking over to the right bank. it was splenderifirous!

having taken pics at both banks of petit pont, we walked up to the next bridge, pont st michel (one behind pont neuf) for another perspective. and what a perspective! standing on pont st michel, the lit up eiffel tower was in front of us! we watched the sun go down completely, and the night sky go from a deep twilight blue to black.

and then just when i thought my day couldn’t turn around more, it did. and the most wonderful thing i could’ve ever imagined happened. the eiffel tower started to sparkle like crazy! every hour, for 10 minutes on the hour, the entire tower sparkles with 20000 gold tone lights. and i got to see it! a glittering diamond-like effect for a dazzling light show!

we wanted one last nightcap and sat kiddy corner across the street, at le mistral with views of the bridges and the eiffel tower. i finally got my crepe with whipped cream and ate it, taking in the view.

my day had ended perfectly.

paris, je t’aime again.

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paris when it sizzles

since the louvre doesn’t open on tuesday, chris and i decided to spend the afternoon at cimetiere du pere lachaise. i wouldn’t doubt that the 48 hectare pere lachaise is the world’s most visited cemetary. with over 1 million resting here and such luminaries as composer chopin, writers moliere, balzac, proust, collette and gertrude stein and artists pissarro and modigliani, it’s not hard to imagine why. course i wanted to visit edith piaf, oscar wilde and of course, lachaise’s most famous resident, the doors’ jim morrison.

the cemetary is made up of cobble stones and elaborate tombs with rows of shade bearing trees. unlike highgate and monmarte, lachaise is well looked after and tended to. it is hardly morbid, but rather it’s like a park, and i spied some young lovers on benches, groups of family tourists and some random parisiennes having a pleasant lunchtime walk.

we stopped off at jim morrison’s grave. i remember seeing a picture of a bust of morrison on the tomb a long time ago, but it’s no longer there. it’s a simple grave, adorned with bouqets of flowers, candles and cigarettes. someone also left a doors cd and a bottle of wine as an offering. what was more interesting was another person’s tomb in front of morrison’s grave that had been graffiti’d with words and messages to jim. fans wrote messages of love on the walls of this someone else, so any fans to follow can read their thoughts. also a recent thing, i’m sure, is the security guard permenantly posted to watch out for misbehaving fans paying homage to the singer by drinking, getting high or having sex atop his grave. and you can no longer get too close as there’s a guardrail around the grave now.

more elegant was that of edith piaf, france’s little singing sparrow. it’s not flash, but rather a black marble gravemarker, adorned with rosaries, flowers and potted green plants all around the grave.

i had to see oscar wilde’s grave, as i’m a fan of his works and words. the grave is hard to miss, being outlandish and eccentric, just like wilde was. there is a naked winged angel carved into his tomb. although there is a small plaque saying it was illegal to deface this heritage monument, that didn’t stop the thousands of women kissing the grave and leaving their telltale lipstick marks, along with roses as offerings and words of love written on the stone. for the record, i did not leave a kiss. i’m much too much of a germaphobe for that.

the heat and sun was getting the best of us, so we went to a nearby cafe for some cold drinks. feeling bad for the server i decided to order a coke, rather than a glass of tap water. but i got the shock as my glass of coke cost more than chris’ pint of amstel. i was told that beer was cheaper than bottled water in australia, but i didn’t know it was somewhat the same thing for paris! oh well, now i know.

sidebar: i will never understand or be one of those people who can sit out for hours in the direct sun at a restaurant patio. not only would i get sunburned, i’m sure i’d suffer from sunstroke or heatstroke. always a covered patio for me.

only up for one more thing in this oppressive heat, we went to check out musee d’orsay. the museum is housed in what used to be a train station from the 1900s. orson welles filmed kafka’s ‘the trial’ here in 1962. its collection encompasses works from the art nouveau, impressionist and post impressionist eras. on display are artists such as van gogh, cezanne, matisse, degas, monet and renoir. although i’m not a huge fan of impressionism or pastels, we did the quick look on the 5th floor.

chris showed me a favourite of his, thinking i would like it too. and i did. what blew me away was rodin’s ‘gates of hell’, located on 2nd floor. this masterpiece is immense. and i’m sure the keanu reeves/al pacino movie, ‘the devil’s advocate’ scene at the end, takes its influence from this sculpture. i can’t believe this was conceived by the same artist who gave the world, ‘the thinker.’ it even has a small scale thinker at the top of the gates of hell.

i enjoyed the sculptures in the lower court yard and favourite paintings include:

george rochegrosse’s ‘le chevalier aux fleurs’

marianne stokes’ ‘la jeune fille et la mort’

alexandre cabanel’s ‘mort de francesca de riminiet de paolo malatesta’

there was even a 1/100th detailed model of the palais garnier, longitudinal cross section, the original paris opera house, on display in the back wing. there was a rope and stachion set up to close the wing, but the security guard was so nice to us and made an exception for us only; that is, if we were quick about it. bien sur. so kind to let us in that wing for a look when it was closing time and everyone was being slowly ushered out to the front doors.

we had a great day, saw many wonderful things and i’m still impressed with the french hospitality. what i can do without is the 30c weather (i can’t imagine it when summer really comes full on in july/august) unless youre uber rich, air conditioning is a luxury here. it’s been so hot the past couple of days, there’s been 2 blackouts in our area of clichy (one while we were shopping at the market today! never had that happen before!) so the rest of the day, we grabbed some drinks, snacks and fruit to await for the heat to break into a more comfortable night.

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thank you, mr eiffel! you did good!

the best compliment anyone can give me when i’m travelling is to come up and ask me for directions. it’s happened in every city i’ve been to. that is the most flattering to me. this morning while i was sitting on a rail, waiting for chris to get his morning fix, a woman came up to me and asked in french, ‘ou est la fourche?’ (metro station nearby) i pointed in the direction she was going in and said, ‘la fourche est la-bas.’ and then she thanked me and went on her way. what a groovy way to start the morning!

after our brekkie of croissants at our spot, we tubed it to arc de triomphe. when you surface, you can catch a corner of this monument and it made me ‘oh my god’ in delight. it’s so surreal to see it in real life after only seeing it in print or in celluloid since forever. the arc, which was built to celebrate napolean’s victory at austerlitz in 1836, stands in the middle from which 12 avenues radiate like spokes on a wheel. it stands 50m high or 284 steps to the top for city views.

chris and i debated about going to the top but the champs elysee was beckoning. the champs elysee is the most elegant and ritziest avenue i’ve ever had the pleasure to walk on. i would expect no other street in the world could match this one. it’s tree lined all down the avenue with dining patios, designer stores and many flagship stores. it’s the only street in paris that has garbage pickers and sidewalk cleaners on sweeping machines, while all the rest of paris’ arrondissements can be neglected. most of the stores were a ‘tad’ out of my price range but definitely a visit to paris must include this.

after a salad lunch at le xvi, we went to the eiffel tower. absolutely nothing prepares you for this iconic wonder. nothing. even when chris told me it’s around the corner, as soon as i first caught sight of the top of it between some trees blocks away, i was jumping up and down, like a kid on christmas morning. such a nerd. i mean, what a striking fixture on the city’s skyline! when chris and i got out of the metro we walked past apartments that’d clearly have a view of the tower. my lord, i can only imagine what the house prices must go for!

i thought the arc looked unreal? the eiffel tower was so commanding and majestic against the summer blue sky, that it looked so fake! another truman show moment for me. as we got closer to the seine and closer to the tower, i was still in denial, it was that incredulous.

chris and i walked right underneath the tower and marvelled at the art nouveau ironwork. we wanted to take in the immensity at ground level so we grabbed an ice cream and sat down for a bit. i couldn’t believe this is what i was doing today – having an chocolate/vanilla cone at the foot of the eiffel tower and wishing that i could share this moment with everyone i know.

there are 3 platforms to choose between for your visit at 57m, 115m and 276m. you can buy tix for the lift and queue forever or you can take the stairs right away, although the stairs only go as far as the 2nd platform. for €4 each, we opted for the stairs at the south pillar; approx 670 steps to the second platform.

now chris is not a fan of heights and does not take to lifts very much. he had mentally psyched himself up and up the stairs we ascended. for me, i think i’d be afraid more of climbing 400+ stairs, along the outside tower frame, feeling every strong breeze and seeing the landscape fall away from you as you get higher and higher on the stairs. you feel every vibration – from the wind, the lift and its rumbling pulleys and from everyone’s steps above and below you. i would think in an lift would make one feel less anxious as it travels more in the centre of the structure. but then again, if the lift gets stuck with no where to escape and out of your control, i can see panic perhaps setting in. the height didn’t get me as much as my sucky cardio, or lack there of. as well, since i take in everything visual around me, and looking at the steps, as well as in front of me going up the stairs, i’m thankful i didn’t get vertigo or something screwy with depth perception.

we made it to the first platform at 400ish steps and walked around the whole tower taking in the 360′ views. after a rest, we decided to press on slowly and we climbed up to 500ish steps. closing in on the second platform with approx 170 steps to go or 7-8 more flights, we had to turn back and unfortunately didn’t make it to the second platform. no biggie tho. it was more important to me that my friend was okay than to insist on carrying on for some silly personel best. i was very proud of him for being able to climb up so high up already. besides the eiffel tower will still be there and i know this will not be my only visit.

back on terra firma, we caught sight of a rainbow down at the adjoining parc du champs de mars. people have told me that the tower in the daytime is nothing spectacular – it’s just a steel building and that the remarkableness of the tower is when it’s lit at night, (hence it being known as the city of lights). but i disagree. as we walked across to the jardins du trocadero, i remained transfixed by the tower. all the work involved to erect such a beautiful monument. it’s so hard to articulate this romantic splendidness and it was easily the hightlight of the day.

the view of the eiffel tower from the palais de chaillot terrace was breathtaking as well. the terrace with its lovers, kids hanging out, tourists and souvenir sellers is right between 2 museums: musee de l’homme (museum of mankind) and musee de la marine (maritime museum).

we ended up walking back past the arc and into wagram. had a wonderful inexpensive dinner at le petit wagram, outside on sidewalk patio, natch. i’m not into the 5 course posh priced, fancy schmancy restaurants. i take pleasure in simple dishes. the french meals i’ve had are exactly up my alley and always served elegantly. the server was friendly and wonderful so we left him a healthy tip. when he realized we were not asking for change back, he feigned incredible horror and said, ‘non, non, non, you paid too much!’ and then went on to say it was not necessary to leave such a tip! ah, the french dance of modesty. i love it.

to cap off the fine evening, we tubed it down to the area of bastille, a vibrant area known for its funky bars, glam restaurants, hipster crowds, thriving gay scene and party hub. yes, this is the ‘storming of the bastille’ we were taught about in school; the prison that was mobbed on july 14, 1789, igniting the french revolution. nothing remains of the prison except a 52m column topped with a gold gilded winged liberty statue. the opera bastille is located across from the column.

bastille is where all the sushi, chinese and korean restaurants i’ve been looking for in paris is located. note to self: must go back to partake! we found a quieter street with a yellow streetlamp lit cafe called l’entrecote with a sidewalk patio to have a nightcap. it was nicely surreal. in fact, it feels like forever and a world away from london, from vancouver.

the french know how to savour every moment in life and they do it elegantly; be it dinner, having a cigarette or glass of wine, working to live or hanging out. i would think its not dissimilar to a mediterranean pace of life. unlike the dizzying rush and throb of new york and london, everything has a languid breeziness.

i like it!

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you’ll find me by the fountain

another scorcher of a day today!

our first morning out, this is what chris and i found out:
01. there are like, no takeaway coffees in paris unless you search out the not too common starbucks
02. most stores outside of the latin quater are closed sundays
03. there a serious lack of atms, so make sure to withdraw more cash than you would ordinarily carry.

this opens our morning with croissant breakfast on a bench in front of the pigalle cinemas after a trek to find morning coffee. how french movie scene can you get?

we took the metro to st michel station to see the musee national du moyen age aka national museum of the middle ages, which is housed in what was once a roman bath. the collection includes statues, busts, jewellery and swords, but the highlight belongs to ‘the lady with the unicorn’, six 15th century floor to celing tapestries. each one depicting one of the 5 senses. the room you view them in is a cold stone room and dimly lit, as to preserve the integrity of the works and also so you can’t take one decent photograph.

nearby the museum, is a fountain in st michel. talk about polluted. instead of throwing pennies, there was garbage in the fountain. gotta say, there was litter everywhere, despite the profusion of garbage cans all around. we took a minute to check out the world famous university, la sorbonne, with its domed chapel, dominating the latin quarter.

the best thing that i saw today was the jardin de luxembourg, (luxembourg gardens) namely the medici fountain. there is a pond that fronts the fountain, but its the statues depicting the myth of polyphemus, acis and galatea that had me transfixed.

the myth goes like this:
polyphemus was a cyclops and a son of poseidon and crazy for galatea. but he catches acis and galatea in a passionate embrace, and in his fury, told them they were having their last tryst. galatea jumped into the sea to escape and acis tried to run for it, but polyphemus flung a huge rock at him and crushed him to death.

looking at all the trees enclosing the fountain, you can’t entirely believe you’re not in some fairyland. you could be a wood nymph for all you know. this isn’t in a park in the middle of the city! surely! this park is enchanting with its well manicured lawns and is a wonderful place to have your lunch break or just unwind. it makes you want to bring a baguette, cheese, butter and just picnic. it comes with its own palace too, the palais du luxembourg.

we had a superb lunch at chez calde in st michel. i totally recommend this place for its food, laidback staff and reasonable prices. this place is a example of how small bistros should be runned. we must’ve thought right too cuz a tour group of 6-7 stopped at front door with the tour guide rattling on about what why the chez calde is known.

rejuvenated and satisfied, we crossed one of the many bridges over the seine river, linking the ile de la cite with the left and right banks. we passed by the conciergerie where marie antoinette was imprisoned before being sent to the guillotine. we walked through the forum des halles which is an open park/underground mall with sunken courtyard. it used to have a down and out, rough bit of history, but is now a hang out for skater kids and some ‘illicit’ vendors.

something a little bit more colourful is the centre pompidou or aka musee national d’art moderne aka beaubourg. the appeal is really the exterior of the building. bold, box-like, 6 story high and in your face, with plumbing, pipes and air vents forming the external facade. but if you ask me, my first reaction to seeing it was that of a human version of hamster house, with its clear plastic tunnels. we did not have time to appreciate the modern art collection, so chris and i and a hundred others parked ourselves on the inclined square in the front. chris likened it to a city beach, with the pompidou as the surf, with a slight wind breezing through the square and people laying on their backs or propped on their elbows, taking it all in. exactly like we were at the beach.

adjacent, you’ll run into igor stravinsky’s mechanical fountain, but it’s no ordinary fountain. rather tim burton-esque with slightly freaky and colourful skeletons, dragon, lips, fish and other outlandish creatures.

on the way back to the hotel, i stopped to take in the hotel de ville, which is the town hall. it’s a beautiful neo-renassaince building. but what i know of the building was that it was the backdrop to one of my fave pics (and every chick’s too, i’m sure) the iconic ‘kiss st the hotel deville’ by photographer robert doisneau. we’ve all either had the poster, postcard (me), or fantasized about being the object of that passionate kiss (moi aussi)

nearby was the beautiful 14th century gothic cathedral, notre dame. more impression making were all the wonderfully grotesque gargoyles high on the very top of its spires and towers. thoughts of victor hugo’s hunchback, quasimodo, ringing the towerbell from childhood stories played out in my mind. depending on how early we can wake up one morning, we may climb the 387 steps for a bettter look.

after unwinding at the hotel, we grabbed midnight pizza 2 for 1 dinner. chris had explained that french aren’t snobbish when being spoken to in english. the truth is they may not have practice speaking and rather than look foolish saying the wrong thing, they don’t really attempt to at all. i know exactly the feeling. i imagine, once i say something in french, that i’d invite conversation from someone and i’d be stuck telling them i don’t understand what they may be saying or that they talking too fast. so it does make me not say anything besides the basics.

i do have to watch out for one thing though, as in the case of the pizza guy asking me ‘coupez le pizza?’ i can read some french words, and i can understand sometimes or at least make out when someone says something to me in french. but like when i’m spoken to in chinese, i’ll auto answer in english, ‘yes, thank you.’ but all the parisiennes have been really nice to me, whether i attempt the french or if i ask them right off the bat, ‘parlez vous anglais?’

anyhow, dieu merci or thank god, chris is here to translate!

course, i asked him to do more than that.

we all want to know the bad words we weren’t taught in high school french.

tu va faire f**tre

always be prepared for those instances when you need such to know just what to say.

Travel the world

bonjour par-ree

i’m a nightowl. always have been, always will be.

even when i have the excitement of a paris trip in front of me, i’m scared that there’s a good chance i’ll sleep through my alarm. it didn’t help that i got back from evesham after midnite. then i had to pack.

in order to make sure that doesn’t happen, i asked ‘chris of the 3 alarms’ to wake me. i barely awoke at 8am and with great effort, choose not to listen to that little voice in my head, (just 5 more minutes). got ready and met chris in the hubbub of kings cross/st pancras for our eurostar train departing at 1028am. with check in and security screening okayed, we both fuelled our bodies with tea and coffee.

the train ride was smooth and we travelled in the chunnel for about 20 mins. you hardly notice the descent into the water. before you know it, we were whizzing by the french countryside, which didn’t look too unlike the english countryside, and we pulled into gare du nord in paris.

we thought it best to get checked in before venturing the city, so we got a 5 day travel card. metro travel in paris is the same as tube travel anywhere. once you get train travel down in new york and london, everywhere else is easy peasy. the tubes of paris is less claustrophobic than lon/nyc but the trains are dirty like nyc’s n/q/r/w and a/c/e line. I find london trains the cleanest of all 3.

we arrived at hotel viator in clichy and checked into our tiny 2 bed room on the second floor. it’s clean, has private bath, central and cost €177 for 5 days each – a great deal for what you get.

walked up to pigalle and the temp was 29c plus humidity…a proper summer solstice day, compared to london’s rainy mist this morning. place de clichy is similar to trafalgar square. paris streets are wider and tree-lined and adorned with pretty houses with wooden shutters and wrought iron balconettes.

but it wasn’t until chris brought me under a bridge to show me the cimetiere de montmarte that i got excited. a beautiful cemetary right in the midst of the city, under a highway! all the graves were above ground, with mausoleums that had beautiful stained glass and guardian statues. some famous residents include edgar degas, francois truffaut, nijinsky and writer alexandre dumas. we could have stayed there longer, but decided we should explore more of monmarte.

(top left picture courtesy of chris)

checked out the famous cabaret, moulin rouge in pigalle, yes of the windmill fame and baz lurhmann film. i liked how it looks better in the daylight vs nightime with its tourist trap sparkling neon lights. sidebar: clichy/pigalle is paris’ main red light district, along with montparnasse and les halles. but if you ask me, i wouldn’t have thought so, which goes to show how fairly tame it is.

i’ve been so overwhelmed with all the eye candy that i found myself feeling alittle out of body nauseous. then i realized that it was 6-ish, i hadn’t had a proper meal all day, been ohhing and ahhing for hours out in the humidity and sun and terribly dehydrated. we had lunch at cafe mansarat lunch in pigalle. after an omelette and green salad, couple of carafes of water and letting it all settle in my system, i felt much better. i was afeared i’d have to go back to the hotel to cool off and lay down.

but i was fine after the meal, so we headed up montmarte, a wonderful place for a wander and we trekked up the steep streets to see the roman byzantine basilica, sacre couer. at the front steps of sacred heart basilica, there are breathtaking views of notre dame and eiffel tower from the other side of paris.

on our way up, we passed through the place du tertre, the main square where artists hang out to do caricature portraits amidst buskers and crowds of tourists, not to mention restaurant tables and chairs spilling out onto the sidewalk and square. all i kept thinking of was the movie, amelie, which was filmed in montmarte.

paris is so colourful and mellow. today is the summer solstice and the fete de la musique, a free, city wide festival of eclectic music performances. we came across a gospel band, a folk group playing steel drums and a reggae-pop band.

the lofty views from the top of the montmarte overlooking the whole city is nothing short of spectacular! we descended down the hill and stopped to check out moulin de la gallette with its windmill dated back to 1205. everyone knows the place through those toulouse lautrec paintings.

chris was jonesing for a cold one, whilst i craved dessert. we found this cafe in clichy that accomodated us. the nice owner only served drinks, but rather than have us leave, he rushed over to the creperie next door serving crepes and asked him to make me one so i can eat it at his cafe with chris. our first example of french hospitality! after a couple rounds, and a couple hours of conversation, chris and i walked back to hotel.

a great start to our trip, judging from us passing out so quickly after coming back to the hotel!

Travel the world

paris bound

in excitement of my upcoming trip to paris saturday morning, here are some of my favourite films set in the city of lights…

paris, je t’aime

love me if you dare


moulin rouge

audrey hepburn in funny face

jean paul belmondo and jean seberg in breathless