Too much Paris?

My last day in Paris for this trip was typical of the way I travel – try to jam too much into too little time, run late and finish up exhausted.

I had to return the bike to Yamaha, which is a 40 minute ride if you know where you’re going, and I didn’t. So I got the directions on my iPhone from Google maps an did screen captures of not just the map, but also the directions. By doing it this way I didn’t use any expensive 3G data on my way, and I didn’t get lost, either.

But next time I’m spending 3 days in a foreign city I’m getting TomTom maps for the iPhone. With the maps stored on the iPhone and the GPS getting your location, it doesn’t use 3G data which costs so bloody much outside you’re home country, and you get turn-by-turn navigation in your headphones.. And even if they cost $100, at least you’ll have the maps if you return one day…

Anyway, after getting to Yamaha I starting walking to the train station – 32 minutes according to Google maps. Corinne and the boys called while I was walking and I stupidly turned right where I should have turned left and ended up having to walk across a paddock to get to the train station.

At least I’d worn joggers and had a fresh band-aid on the blister, so it was uncomfortable rather than debilitating.

An hour or so later I was back at the hotel, swapping bike gear for camera gear and heading for The Louvre, Notre Dame and whatever else I could make it to. Back on the metro – I had the hang of this now – and into the city, where I got lost, again. but eventually, by walking another million miles or so, I was at the Louvre.

This is one of the most impressive places I’ve ever been. Squillions of people, a reasonable price (9.50 euro), no extra for Mona, and exhibit after exhibit after exhibit.

I walked my feet off.

Outside, the combination of classic old building and glass pyramid roof over the now underground entry foyer is awesome. The whole site is huge and I could easily have spent a couple of days exploring and photographing the architecture, the space, the people and even the exhibits.

I was surprised at how close you could get to many of the major works – indeed, I could have reached out and touched paintings which I’m sure wore worth millions, but everyone had a healthy respect for the art. Most people even managed to take pictures without flash, as per the rules, but there are always a few how can’t/won’t/just don’t get it. And although many antiquities were in a cabinets, only one painting was – the Mona Lisa (or Monna Lisa as I saw it spelt in one spot). It lies behind a tinted(!) glass shield, a shelf and rope barriers, although I’m sure the last is just to keep people that bit further away so more people can see it.

To be honest I think it is an awesome work, but why it has become the painting by which all others are defined is a mystery to me, but one had to be the best, I suppose.

After a few hours at the Louvre, including a walk around its reproductions shop where the prices are quite staggering, it was off to Notre Dame. One of the most famous churches in the world, you can visit for free… and it’s well worth a look. Thousands of years old and huge, it is impressive and deeply historical.

I can’t begin to imagine what the peasants of France thought when they first saw the place – it must have been intimidating and terrifying in its time.

I was pretty worn out by this time so it was back to the hotel, pick up the luggage and get to the airport. I tried to go by train but that turned out too hard, so it was into a taxi – and I’m pretty sure this guy took my on a wild goose chase around the airport itself, I don’t think he really had much concept of where terminal 2A really was.

55 euro later I’m totally out of cash, the ATMs won’t give me anymore (problems with the financial system communicating with Australia) but at least I can buy stuff on credit.

I’m finishing this story on the plane: it’s 3.15am Sydney time (one the ground in less than three hours!) but I’ll be home before it actually gets posted to the web.

I had a great time in paris, I’d recommend it to anyone who can enjoy a fast, big city. I found navigation a problem – I’ve never got lost in my life like I got lost in Paris – but the metro is easy to use, the food is great, the people aren’t as bad as the reputation which they have attracted and the climate in May was good, if a little damp at times.

Paris isn’t a cheap place to visit, but it’s no worse than Sydney. There are ways to economise, but don’t do that too much – it’s a long way to travel for all of my friends, get over there and get into it.

Next time I go back I will go up the Eiffel Tower, see the Moulin Rouge and speak the language better. I hope.

No champagne for you!

Can you imagine going past seemingly hundreds of cellar door champagne outlets and not sampling even one of them? Yes? You must be a bloke, because I can’t remember meeting a woman who didn’t drink champagne.

Me, I would have loved to have sampled any number of the many, many types on offer along the Champagne Route, a tourist drive just outside Paris. But I was riding a borrowed motorcycle on the wrong side of the road, so it was No Champagne for Me (with apologies to Sienfeld’s Soup Nazi).

Never mind, it was a great ride. Peter from Yamaha recommended it when I told him I had a few days in Paris with a bike, and it sounded as good as anything else I heard of, so off I went.

I only got a little lost leaving Paris – navigation is difficult when all the signs are in a foreign language (can’t imagine how hard it would be in a country which doesn’t at least use Roman script – I’ve been flying Etihad and Arabic is completely indecipherable).

Anyway, back to the champagne: which is actually a region, not a grape or drink, which is why you can’t buy Australian champagne: there’s only one Champagne, and it’s in France. Anything else is sparkling crap, or at least that’s what the French want you to believe. To reinforce that, check the the price of a bottle of Dom Perignon: it should come with four pre-paid hookers and a taxi home it costs so much. I didn’t buy a bottle.

I would have loved to have done the cellar tour at Moet & Chandon, but I physically couldn’t: the blister caused by my boots when I did all the walking to get to Yamaha was giving my absolute hell. I did stop and bought some bandaids, which helped, but the fact it was VE day meant I’d gone nearly all the way to Moet’s cellar before I’d been able to buy any, and by that time walking was hell.

I probably looked like I’d copped a Boche bullet the way I was limping. And it was a small blister. Seriously, I needed a large can of harden the F&@! up…

Anyway, at least the blister didn’t hamper the riding. Awesome stuff around here: French roads are pretty good: there is the occasional bad one, but really they’re few and far between. And while the reputation for French arrogance is probably deserved – but I doubt it’s as bad these days, they seem used to tourists – they can seem to be a bit short and intolerant of anyone who doesn’t speak French.

Then again, they seem to be short with anyone, French speaking or not: I’m not convinced they really single out tourists (and your comments on this matter are welcome below).

Back to the Champagne Route. It’s a fun ride on a bike, lots of twists and turns, although nothing to get your knee down on – more a fun riding road than scratcher’s delight.

There are numerous little towns to pass through along the way, mostly picturesque ancient villages, although there’s some modern developments, which individually look fine, but when they build 100 in the same area, it’s as ugly as any new suburb in Australia, and does spoil the ambience a bit.

Which the French probably don’t give a rats’ arse about. Housing is expensive anywhere, and if building homogenous homes is a way to put a good roof over a lot of people relatively cheaply, upsetting the sensibilities of a Australian tourist isn’t likely to be a major consideration.

Having posted my last blog entry and then gotten lost getting out of town, I was running late, again. So I had lunch in Epernay about 3pm and decided to hit the freeway for the return journey.

A 130km/h limit is a seriously good idea. Flexible policing means 150-160 is the average for big bikes. It’s worth the constant tolls for these speeds…

So by the time I got back to Paris it was getting late. I had a good run back, having decided to stick to the ‘Paris’ signs until I really recognized some landmarks, which would give me the best chance of getting back to my hotel without getting lost en route.

This approach worked, but the landmark was Notre Dame… which is so close to a bunch of other landmarks I decided to stop and photograph them. I think I finally made it back to my hotel about 8pm.

Being VE Day, I assumed there would be some celebrations around the Eiffel Tower, so after a shower I was on the metro (underground trains) and over to have a look. At least by getting rid of the motorcycle boots I could walk again… But there were no celebrations. I hung around for a while and got chatting to a couple of amateur photographers from Germany and Columbia, but essentially the Tower was nothing more special than it usually is.

When the rain started to sprinkle, I decided it was time to find some dinner. But I went the wrong way and ended up in a quiet part of town, so with an aching foot and tired eyes I hit the metro, bought a pizza and took it back to my room and watched a podcast about making eBooks for the iPad. As I type this I’ve just ordered an iPad via WiFi from Abu Dhabi Airport from the apple Store in Australia.

French Roulette

You’ve heard of Russian Roulette, haven’t you? You know, one bullet in the chamber, spin, point the gun at your own head and pull the trigger. One chance in 6 you’ll be dead. We’ll, French Roulette is when a tourist rides around the Arc de Triomphe…

I started my first full day in Paris full of enthusiasm and loose plans to get things done. But by the time I’d posted the blog, had breakfast, found somewhere which said they could wash my clothes (luggage limits meant this wasn’t an option for me) and had wasted time trying to buy a French SIM for my phone (“It does not work. I do not know why,” was the comment from the sales guy. He wasn’t going to try too hard to make it work) it was well past 10.

So I set up a video chat with the family which was a lot of fun (the look on Damien’s face when I told him I’d eaten escargo the night before was priceless), then confirmed with Yamaha the bike I was borrowing would be ready… it was, so into the riding gear and onto the train…

Two trains, one bus and three hours later, having walked so far in my motorcycle boots I’d generated and burst a blister, I was happily in the saddle of a TDM900GT, the GT giving me small panniers, a top box and a lower fairing in addition to the bike we get in Australia. Close to half of the walking was through massive train stations: indeed at one point where a machine would sell me a 5 euro ticket (I didn’t have change, it didn’t take notes and my credit card wasn’t acceptable) I had to walk back at least half a kilometre to find a machine which would take notes… and back again. That’s frustrating.

I then got lost.

I knew this would happen and I didn’t really care, indeed, I was treating it as a tour. There was no hurry and plenty to see, so I just tried to go in the general direction of the city. At one stage I found myself motoring slowly through sections of Paris where the poor people live, with tight streets, run-down housing and kids who could use new shoes… and then minutes later it was mansions on large (by Parisian standards) blocks of land. Indeed, these houses looked like they had been built on a park a long time ago. In typical Paris style they were tall rather than sprawling, but I think if you buy a free-standing house in Paris, you’re rich. Not Packer style rich, but so far in front of other Parisians it’s not funny.

My accidental tour ended at the Arc de Triomphe. By this time I was getting tired of riding, but I was well-attuned to the attitudes of French riders and drivers. Basically, everyone wants to get where they’re going with the least amount of fuss, so no-one bats an eyelid at anyone on two wheels carving up the traffic. Indeed, you’re considered a little strange if you don’t.

I can’t say I ever really felt comfortable pulling over into lane of on-coming traffic and shooting up beside the line of stopped cars on my right, pulling back into the lane as vehicles started coming toward me. But locals do it all the time.

Anyway, back to the Arc. It’s a roundabout where 10 or 11 roads come together. Seriously. And what you end up with is about five lanes of traffic on the roundabout all happily carving up their compatriots in an effort to get where they’re going.

And with no linemarkings, it’s a free-for all which works. People look out for each other because they don’t want to crash. No one I saw was going very fast and it’s becomes just a tangle of vehicles all making their way.

I loved it. With no linemarkings and the only rule being ‘don’t collide’, the car drivers just steadily go where they want and the two wheelers go around them.

If this roundabout were in Australia it would be covered in lanes, signs and traffic lights. It would take 10 times longer to get through and wouldn’t prevent any accidents.

Being May 7, there was also a commemoration of the unknown soldier going on under the Arc, so there were cops everywhere, tourists watching from the outside rim, but there was no way Paris was going to stop motorists using the roundabout: I reckon gridlock would happen pretty quickly if they ever did.

I stopped and walked around the roundabout (not allowed on it today…) and it’s certainly an impressive structure.

From there it was back to the hotel, shower and back on the metro and into town for dinner: French Onion Soup followed by boeuf bourguignon (French beef casserole). It was so good I ate too much.

Snails, steak & brulee

I went with the snails, but the memory of Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean and the episode of the steak tartar meant I went for cooked version: and very good it was, too.

A wonderful little Sydney restaurant, sadly closed now I believe, The Little Snail, served wonderful escargo, better than la place, where I’m sitting right now, within view (just) of the Eiffel Tower.
But the steak was excellent. With the exchange rate at 70 Euro cents to the dollar, not bad value either: you be hard Pressed to eat in Sydney as well for the money.
The Saint Emilion red wasn’t bad, but at $10 a glass it should have been good. It tasted like a shiraz to me.
Shame they had the price wrong on the bill, overcharging €6 if I hadn’t noticed. Given I took the two course deal and not the three course charged for, i won’t fly off the handle.
Don’t know where all the arrogant, insufferable Frenchies are yet: I haven’t met any.
Damn, the price was right – sort of. The €18 price is only at lunch: the €24 price is dinner, but it includes dessert.
So I’m having a creme brûlée I don’t need.

It’s a busy place: after 10.30 and there’s a steady steam of people still coming in for coffee and drinks. The dinners have slowed, but there’s still a nice vibe to la place.
Paris’ reputation for everyone smoking, walking a dog and making out under every lamppost is no longer true, if it every was.
Smoking seems banned for anywhere indoors – which means I won’t be eating al fresco this trip – and I’ve hardly seen any dogs or making out – only one incident of each, as it turns out, but I suppose there’s still time.
The pistacio brûlée sounds better than it really is: ok but not great. I don’t finish it heading off to the lightshow at the tower.