Sunday, October 26, 2008

Paris, 25th Oct – Day 3

I think I have walked my feet off already. Yes, I did say that all of Paris was walk-able… but when I’m cramming a walking tour of the entire city in two days, it does wear down the feet, knees and back. To give you a feel, take a look at the map below:

Day 1 is in blue. I arrived late and was totally disoriented so I did not venture far. Day 2 is in green and was concentrated around the centre of Paris, which are the two large islands in the middle of the Seine River, according to Google Maps. Day 3 was in red and was a LOT of walking, with the exception of an interruption in the walk when I took a metro from Victor Hugo to Montmatre and continued walking there.

I had quickly learnt that maps in English are of no great help when you are walking the streets of Paris. At a business meeting earlier in the week, a Parisien had told me to sod the map; get lost in Paris and you’ll appreciate it much more. It has been the single best piece of advice anyone has given to me about this city yet. Hence, you will see the meandering routes through neighbourhoods I had no idea were there because they are not on tourist maps. I simply wandered and gravitated towards pockets of activity and believe me, the whole city is full of life and activity. It’s even nicer that streets are off the beaten tourist track and thus, you won’t see tour buses dumping their load of non-French speakers.

Westward along the Seine: This must be where doggie heaven is… there an abundance of pet shops along the river bank… yeah…

Jardin des Tuileries: Gardens and parks in Paris are never short on space and this one is no different. Situated directly across the road from the pyramids in the yard of the Louvre, it houses strange, modern art installations… like a neatly arranged stockade of grain bags which were starting to sprout and looked like it was either waiting to head for a famine-struck African nation or they were expecting to call in the military for war games. Either way, I think I am not that way inclined… I mean arty-fartily…

Champs Elysees: It’s a gorgeous boulevard. Even more so when adorned with autumn colours.

Marche Ave du President Wilson: Finally! A market and in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower too. I love walking fresh markets in Europe. Always makes me fill with inspiration to whip up a dish because everything is so fresh and appetizing.

The Eiffel Tower & Trocadero: I packed myself a seafood paella from the market and sat on a park bench outside the Trocadero, facing the Eiffel Tower. It was a lovely fourteen degrees out, making it a perfect lunch.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica: One wouldn’t quite expect the neighbourhood surrounding a church to be kitsch but entire area of Monmartre seems to abound with shops that sell all types of trinkets and odds and ends to tourists who can’t seem to get enough of it. The streets leading up to the highest point in Paris are narrow and crowded with casual tourists, those who have come on some sort of pilgrimage and locals who go there just to hang out. It has a beautiful vista of the city and on a clear day, one would be able to see the edges of the city all around.

The interior of the basilica is magnificent with the reverence that is paid to it by all visitors alike. I noticed how people from all walks of life took off their hats and reduced conversations to hushed tones and no one took photographs, although there was only a tiny, little notice at the entrance. But in all its magnificence, I could oddly feel little piety, for want of a better term, inside the basilica. I think I felt more of it inside Notre Dame.

Trivia: The Sacré-Coeur Basilica is built of Château-Landon stone, a type of frost-resistant limestone that constantly weathers out its calcite, so that it bleaches with age and effortlessly remains chalky white.

Lafayette & Strasbourg St. Denis: I wandered a lot today. And the result of my wanderings led me to accidentally bump into areas which are obviously local favourites like Lafayette and Strasbourg St. Denis today, St Germain and Quartier Latine yesterday and Rambateau on my very first night in the city.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Paris Virgin No More...

Paris, 24th Oct - Day 2

Revolution Walk – A darn good investment. Context Tours is highly recommended for those who don’t mind walking and have a strong interest in European history.

Our fearless leader (or docent) for this walk and talk on the lengthy subject of the French Revolution, was a young American woman named Patricia who came to Paris to study this part of France’s illustrious history. The tour was almost three hours long and took us to four main locations; Bastille, the Carnavalet Museum, Hotel de Ville and the Napoleon victory monument.

Today, the Bastille is a traffic roundabout with a monument in its centre to commemorate the revolutionaries who lost their lives in the three-day revolution. But a very long time ago, the Bastille was a garrison where political prisoners were held at the King’s (dis)pleasure. In the first revolution during the reign of King Louis XVI, hubby to Marie Antoinette, the building was destroyed by rioting peasant masses.

Trivia: Did you know that there are no cobblestone walkways to be found in Paris around areas that are notoriously known to cradle revolutions? Those entrusted with keeping law and public order decided to rip every cobblestones out of the ground before another rioting peasant did the same, only to hurl them back at the cops.

From Bastille, we walked through the winding alleys of the Marais (French for swamp, because that was what it was before, a very long time ago) to the Musée Carnavalet, which houses ‘the history of Paris’ in two buildings that were affluent, private residences a very long time ago.

We spent the most time at the museum where the docent used every painting and artifact to tell the story of every revolution that has taken place. I think there has been four in total and every time one happened, the result of it was a new republic. Today, France is in what it calls the Fourth Republic. However, history has proven that every 100 years or so, the French do fancy a good ol' revolt… so stay tuned and watch this space.

After the museum, our docent led us to the Hotel de Ville, as it stands today. A very long time ago, the building and the huge square in front of it was used as the Town Square where guillotine executions took place, including that of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Trivia: Did you know that the guillotine was the standard method of execution in France until it was recently abolished in 1981? The guillotine was accepted as the ‘equal’ method of execution as opposed to different types of execution accorded by social status. Since the revolutionaries fought for equality for the lower classes, a guillotine execution was considered an equal death for all.

Finally, we ended the tour at Napoleon’s erection, a monument in praise of himself and his victories. ‘Napoleon Complex’ immediately comes to mind…

Jip’s Café: You haven’t seen eclectic until you’ve been to Jip’s. It serves up your choice of Cuban, African or Spanish cuisine… I ordered the daily special, Plat du Jour, and honestly had no idea what it was about but what a surprise it turned out to be! The main was grilled white fish, which sat atop a stewed compote of onions and cabbage… talk about creating energy from wind and natural gas. On the side, were slices of grilled bananas and the most delicious sweet potatoes I have ever tasted. Since I roughly know what to expect from Spanish and a little bit about Cuban, I’m guessing this dish could only be classified under African…

Notre Dame: There are lots of tourists in Paris at this time of the year. I actually noticed that there was a lot of American-ese spoken around me as I waited in line to climb the towers and meet the gargoyles. The view from atop Notre Dame was a spectacular 360˚ view of the city, which was a good thing because I could then look at Paris and realize the true scale of the two tourist maps I was holding.

Here is the good news; most everything that one might want to see and do in Paris on a first visit is within walking distance. It might take an hour to walk the entire orientation of the Seine River. But here’s the next bit of good news… it is impossible to be bored when walking in Paris. Especially in autumn.

The Pantheon: A very long time ago (you can tell by now, that I am useless with dates), the Pantheon used to be a church dedicated to St Genevieve, patron saint of Paris. It now houses the tombs of great men and women of the revolution; Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, Marie Curie and Voltaire, to name but a few.

Jardin du Luxembourg: A very pretty garden which belongs to the Luxembourg Palace, in the corner of the grounds. The garden is now a public park and is lovely in autumn.

St. Germain: A lively neighborhood on the right bank (rive gauche) of the Seine. Paris is a city where you can choose to eat food from any part of the world on any given day; from Tibetan to Mexican, from African to Mongolian. And St Germain is the place to be if your affliction is gastronomical wanderlust.

The Louvre: I went, I saw, I took the pictures. The glass pyramids made famous by Tom Hanks and The Da Vinci Code and had everyone in the square looking for the Rose Line. I am not a big appreciator of art, so I shall tick off the Louvre as done and spend my time tomorrow wandering other streets in this pretty, awesome city doing other things.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Paris Virgin on the Loose...

2008 for me, would be marked by the significance of my first visit to Paris... here's a taste:

Paris, 23rd Oct – Day 1

No matter how many times you might have heard this before, I still feel the need to state the obvious; Paris is a truly English-unfriendly place. Aside from a general dislike for Englishmen, the French don’t like English-speakers of any other nationality either. Nor do they weakly attempt to communicate in the language; and when they do, it is with disdain.

RER. The metro was my planned route into Paris from the airport. It took me a long while of reading signs and deciphering some French phrases before I got on the right train.

Hotel Agora. A stroke of genius, if I may say so myself. I had scoured the net and settled on this hotel because of its proximity to the RER stop of Chatelet de Halles, a convenient stop that was at the centre of Paris with close proximity to just about everything I would want to see on foot. Further research into the Hotel’s location reinforced the notion that it was a good pick… it was on a street full of cafés and pedestrians. And I was so spot-on right.

Funny thing about the hotel tho; some things are tiny… The elevator that guests can use to reach the upper floors, presumably necessary when one has heavy luggage to tote, is a 2½ feet by 2½ square shoe box. Let me put it another way. The only way I could fit my hard case bag was if I had stood it upright and I sat on top of it, otherwise the bag and I could not go up the same lift together… the shower stall in the room was the same size except this time I thankfully didn’t have to deal with luggage in a confined space as well. Having said that, it was still a challenge to soap my toes because I couldn’t bend over to do it. But that really is all I have to say about the hotel that slants negatively.

Oh and the staff spoke English, just as the brochures said they would, but I'm beginning to think that the disdain that they spoke it with might have been taught to them as a default method of expression that went with the language... or something...

Food. A good and hearty, hot and spicy Turkish kebab in 12 degree-temperature on a Paris sidewalk café had hit a spot. Ok, ok… so it isn’t quite close to French cuisine, but I already had my fill of Franco-Italian, pseudo-fine-dine three nights running in Monte Carlo and thought a break from routine would be nice. ;-) Besides, I had noticed that there are probably equal, if not more, foreign type restaurants than there were French ones in the section of Paris that I was in, so it isn’t really unusual or exotic to have an unpatriotic dinner.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Like a seed of a thorny bush of blood red roses
planted inside a fertile heart.

No, like a blinding shot through the head
like a an unbearable migraine.

No, like a finger being slammed in a door
reduced to a crushed and bloody pulp.

No, like a tumour that spreads like a plague
invading every crevice of being.

Or like a needle driven into flesh
under the nail.

And for this pain, there is no remedy but time.