January 1, 2001
We landed in London just after 10.00 PM local time in heavy rain. We went through customs with absolutely no problem. The inspector did not look at our luggage at all, and we were soon in the free area of Heathrow's Terminal 3. We went to the American Airlines vacation desk to arrange for our trip to our hotel. The agent was very helpful, and we were soon in the back seat of a taxi, heading into London on the M4 highway. The only snag was that our AA agent failed to give our transfer vouchers to the cab driver. Fortunately, the driver worked with AA nearly every day, so he would get reimbursed for our trip eventually.
We checked into the Copthorne Tara Hotel and headed for our room, number 322. It was just past midnight, but our bodies believed that it was 6.00 PM.
January 2, 2001
The morning was rainy and windy. We got up a little later than planned, but we got ready quickly and headed downstairs for the Continental breakfast included in our room price. We had a choice of rolls with butter and jam, cold cereal with real milk, fresh fruit, juice and coffee .
Even though it was still nasty outside, we headed out for some sightseeing. We walked from the hotel to Kensington High Street, a major thoroughfare lined with shops, pubs, restaurants and office buildings. Traffic was heavy in both directions, dominated by busy black taxies and red double-decker buses. We walked about two miles, looking at the buildings, dodging pedestrians, and trying to remember which way to look as we crossed the streets.
We stopped to take pictures of Royal Albert Hall and the Albert Memorial across High Street in Hyde Park.
The Royal Albert Hall has been the 'Nation's Village Hall' since 1871. Albert, Prince Consort, husband of Queen Victoria, had the idea in 1853 of building a Great Hall as part of a cultural centre to be based in Kensington, South West London. Inspired by the sites of Roman amphitheatres in Europe, Albert's concept was originally for an immense ovoid auditorium to house 30,000. This was rationalized due to financial restraints and today the auditorium seats just over 5,000. The Hall's distinctive architecture is a lasting memorial to a remarkable era, an enduring celebration not simply of Victorian vision and creativity but also of the technical brilliance of their engineering skills.
Rain fell at intervals as we wandered along. At Knightsbridge, Brompton Road intersects with Kensington to form Knightsbridge Road. Harrod's department store is located on Brompton Road, a gold-painted Victorian-style building that occupies an entire city block.
The first floor of Harrod's was occupied by perfume counters and food departments, along with entire rooms selling items strictly for the tourists who thronged the store. We ate lunch at the Rotisserie and had lamb kebobs and chicken kebobs. The seating was on backless stools at a U-shaped counter surrounding the small kitchen and grill area. The food was very good, with well-made sauces and nicely grilled meat. Our waitress was apparently new to the job, and she made a few errors on several orders, but our lunch was finished with no incidents, international or otherwise. After lunch, we toured the food counters, where virtually all types of food were available. One could have sushi, cheese, fish, cold-cuts, raw shellfish and old-fashioned meat pies while seated at counters. One could order, for takeout, meat pies, pasta dishes, desserts, grilled vegetables, and cooked meats. One could also do one's grocery shopping; fresh meat and vegetables were available to take home.
Unfortunately, Harrod's appears to cater to tourists, and
so it was remarkably ordinary. Even so, Harrod's attracts 35,000
visitors a day - making it London's leading tourist attraction.
The Financial Times says that under the ownership of Mohamed Fayed, the store has established close partnerships with several retailers in Asia and hopes to strengthen these ties through its new Web site: http://www.harrods.com.
After tiring of the tourists, we headed for the first exit we could find. The rain had stopped, and we continued east to St. James Park and Buckingham Palace. We knew we were too late for the changing of the guard, but we wandered around in front of the palace for a few minutes looking for good camera angles. After taking a few pictures and noting that a sign stated that the next guard change would be on Thursday, we headed off to find Westminster Abbey.
Westminster is an example of the highest form of Gothic cathedral design, with French roof rib detailing, large areas of stained glass and flying buttresses to provide lateral support for the high slender walls. Westminster is a very popular attraction, and we were among hundreds of other visitors who paid five pounds for the privilege of visiting the Cathedral. The Abbey is full of the tombs of departed kings, queens, writers, poets, priests, royal servants, royal confidants, and England's Unknown Soldier. The decor was sparse, with the tomb monuments and the altar forming the bulk of the interior decoration. The choir was complete with the chairs and statues of the knights, each one decorated with the knights' family coat of arms. The Abbey has been the site of the coronation of most of England's kings and queens, and we saw the Coronation Chair, constructed during the 12th Century and used ever since for coronation ceremonies.
After leaving the Abbey, we walked to the nearby House of
Parliament, which was lit in the approaching dusk. The Tower
of Big Ben was silhouetted against the heavy gray clouds and
the nearby London Eye glowed with purple lights. The Eye is a
Ferris wheel erected in honor of the new millennium. It is lit
with blue and red lights that alter their intensity as the wheel
slowly turns. One revolution takes about a half hour and each
car can hold about 20 people. Actually, it is quite out of place,
as close as it is to the Houses of Parliament.
After dinner, we headed back out to take night pictures. We took the subway to Victorian station and walked a few blocks north to Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, there were no lights illuminating the exterior of the palace, so we could not take any pictures. However, the nearby monument to Queen Victoria was brilliantly lit, so we got a picture of that. Then we walked along St. James Park toward Westminster, which we found beautifully lit. We took several pictures from various angles, then we went to the Houses of Parliament, which also was lit, but less brightly than Westminster. We took a few pictures of the west side, then walked out onto Westminster Bridge. We set up the camera just as Big Ben began to chime at midnight. We had taken one or two pictures just as the chimes started, and were setting the camera for another, but the lights all went out in the middle of the chimes. We stood on the bridge for a few seconds laughing at our good fortune to have gotten the pictures that we did before the lights went out.
We went across Bridge Street to catch the Circle Line subway to the Kensington High Street station and went back to the hotel for the night.
January 3, 2001
The morning was partly cloudy with a chilly wind. After breakfast, we went to the subway station and took the Circle Line to Notting Hill Gate, where we transferred to the Central line to St. Paul's station. We climbed out of the subway station right next to St. Paul's Cathedral. Built in 1675 to replace the cathedral that burnt down in the fire of 1666, St. Paul's is a major landmark in London and was the location of Prince Charles' wedding to Lady Diana. The exterior stones have been blackened by city soot, which lends a certain mysterious air. It survived the London Blitz of 1940 with relatively minor damage, but the altar was destroyed during a bombing raid, and it's replacement is distinctly more modern that the original. The interior is, of course, much different than Westminster because it is about 400 years younger. The altar screens have gold accents, and the ceilings above the altar and choir are richly decorated with gold and mosaics.
The church is used on a daily basis for communion and other rites, and we heard part of the noon prayers during our visit.
After leaving St. Paul's, we walked along Canon Street, past the Great Fire Monument, along Eastcheap Street, along Great Tower Street, to the Tower of London.
Although the Tower of London is a major attraction, we were in no mood to see dungeons and implements of dispatch and places where various people met their untimely ends, so we went looking for a place to eat. After a good pint and a good meal of bangers and mash, and fish and chips at the Minories Pub, we felt better and walked to the nearby Tower Bridge. The once partly cloudy skies had turned heavily clouded and light drizzle was falling with a stiff cold wind. We looked at London's buildings from the bridge's observation areas, then walked to the pier in front of the Tower of London. We decided to get on a river cruise downstream to Greenwich and back. The boat was modern and spacious with comfortable seating. Most importantly, the lower deck was enclosed and heated. So we sipped coffee and watched the riverfront buildings glide by in the ever-deepening dusk.
The trip to Greenwich took a half hour and we remained on the boat when it docked there. We saw the clipper ship Cutty Sark, moored within a protective pier, but it was too dark by that time to take pictures of the once-fastest clipper ship. After dropping off and picking up passengers, the boat turned around and headed upstream to London. The city lights were beautifully reflected on the water, but it was drizzling off and on, so we were glad for the warm dry comfort of the boat. We stopped again at the Tower of London pier and then headed further upstream to Westminster, near the Houses of Parliament, the end of the trip. We got off and walked along east along the river embankment, looking across the river at the London Eye, brightly lit against the heavy clouds.
We walked past two Ministry of Defense buildings, and then turned up Horse Guards Avenue to find Downing Street, the location of the Prime Minister's residence. Downing Street is heavily guarded, but we saw the Christmas tree in front of Number 10, visible through the iron gates at the end of the street.
We walked along Whitehall Avenue to Trafalgar Square. Since it was rush hour we had quite a task crossing the streets to get to the square itself. Nelson's Tower Monument was lit up and could be seen most the length of Whitehall Avenue. Generally, Trafalgar Square is a traffic circle with several monuments to the eighteenth and nineteenth century glory of the Royal Navy, and it is home to legendary hordes of pigeons. The National Art Gallery forms one side of the square, taking up at least a city block.
We walked along Cockspur Street to Haymarket, and along Haymarket to Piccadilly Circus. The Circus is a small version of Times Square in New York City, with huge neon advertising signs and hordes of people heading to theatres and restaurants. We worked our way upstream through the circus, eventually getting to Green Park subway station on Piccadilly Street. We took the Victoria Line subway to the Circle Line subway and went back to the hotel to nurse our aching feet.
January 4, 2001
It was raining again, so waiting outside for the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace was out of the question. Instead, after breakfast, we took the Circle Line subway to the Victoria Line, and got off at Pimlico Station, near the Thames River. We walked about two blocks east to the Tate Britain Art Museum. The work on display included paintings and sculptures from the 1700's to modern times, and was arranged by subject matter, such as home, family, country, and dreams, rather than chronologically. This arrangement allowed one to study the way artists from diverse areas viewed and expressed their subject matter.
We stayed about two hours and then went back through the rain to the subway station, backtracking to the Blackfriars Station. Our purpose was three-fold: we had to find an ATM for some cash, we wanted to eat lunch, and we wanted to find the newly opened Tate Modern Museum. The first ATM we found, in Blackfriars station, would not accept our card. So we went in search of a bank ATM and we were successful on Fleet Street. Armed with fresh cash, we found the Olde London Pub on Fleet Street. The basement pub was cozy and friendly and we were soon sitting down to heaping plates of cottage pie and boiled potatoes washed down with pints of Fosters Ale.
The neighborhood around Fleet Street, within the shadows of St. Paul's, was a small part of old London that remained after the Blitz. This neighborhood, with its narrow streets, ancient buildings, and dozens of small shops, would have been worth exploring in depth had we found it earlier.
We walked back to Blackfriars Station and then crossed the river on Blackfriars Bridge. From the bridge we had an excellent view of St. Paul's on the hill on the north side of the river. At the south end of the bridge, we turned left and walked along the river for about two blocks through an old industrial neighborhood that had been renovated into homes and offices. The publicly funded Tate Modern Museum occupies an old power generating plant. The interior of the plant has been completely refurbished and now contains exhibition space on seven levels. Unfortunately, because the museum has no entry fee, the galleries are horribly crowded, making the art very difficult to view. Viewing modern art is supposed to be a personal intimate experience, which was impossible with so many people bumping into one another. We retraced our steps back across the river, stopping for coffee in a tiny shop. Then we got on the subway and went back to the hotel for a short rest and a change of clothes. We had tickets for the theatre for our last night in town. The tickets were purchased at the theatre desk in our hotel lobby for a new show called "Notre Dame de Paris" at the Dominion Theatre in London's West End. We took the Circle Line subway to the Central Line and got off at Tottenham Court Road. The theatre was almost at the top of the subway station steps.
We got to our seats in plenty of time for the 7:45 PM show. As in New York City, the theatre was old and just a little shabby. As in New York City, the patrons were excited to be there and were anxiously awaiting the curtain rising. But unlike in New York City, and more like in a movie theatre, food and drinks were allowed in the theatre and the staff sold popcorn and drinks in the aisles during intermission. But once the curtain went up we were not bothered by crowd noise. The music, the singing, the dancing, and the stage sets were spectacular. It was a retelling of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," written by Victor Hugo. The story was told entirely with music and, of course, each character had a unique musical theme. The final scene, where Esmeralda is killed along with the gypsies who were seeking asylum, was chilling, and I don't think there was a dry eye in the place as Quasimoto sang a song called "Dance My Esmeralda" over her body before he died of a broken heart. The final image of the gypsies' spirits dancing towards heaven was a show stopper. The audience literally jumped to its feet in a long standing ovation as the curtain fell. It was a wonderful way to finish our stay in London.
We went back to the hotel for a late supper in the Mozart cafe and then went upstairs to pack for our trip to Paris.
January 5, 2001
It was raining again as we checked out of the Copthorne Tara and walked to the Kensington High Street subway station for the last time. We got on the Circle Line and transferred at Westminster to the Jubilee Line, the newest subway line in the London system. One stop later, we were at Waterloo Station, and we followed the signs for the Eurostar departure lounge. The check-in and boarding procedures were more like an airport than like a train station. We had to go through a metal detector with all of our luggage, and we were directed toward an escalator to take us to the platform above. When the gates opened, we went up and found ourselves next to Carriage 2, our assigned car. We stashed our luggage and settled into our seats. Exactly at 11:59 am, the published departure time, the doors closed and the train began to move. Our seats faced toward the rear of the train, so we spent the trip watching where we had been, rather than where we were going.
The train accelerated smoothly and soon we were moving at just under 100 miles per hour through the south suburbs of London. A half-hour later, the suburbs gave way to open farmland. The near-continuous winter rain had soaked the fields, and we saw many areas that were nearly flooded. At one point the sun came out on the west side of the train while heavy blue-black clouds covered the sky to the east. The houses and villages in the distance were brightly lit against the dark background, giving them an eerie glow. Clouds soon covered the sun again, and we saw it no more that day.
We got to the Channel tunnel entrance an hour after leaving London. The train had stopped at a station about ten miles inland to pick up and drop off passengers, so it entered the tunnel at full speed. Our ears felt the change of pressure as the train began the tunnel portion of the journey. We were in the tunnel for less than a half-hour, and quickly emerged in France. Two differences were apparent immediately. First, the cars and trucks on the adjacent highways were traveling on the right-hand sides of the pavement; and second, the public-address announcements aboard the train were now given in French first, followed by English. Also, we had to set our watches ahead one hour. The train accelerated once in France, and we were now moving at about 170 miles per hour. The rural countryside flew by. The homes and other buildings were distinctly French: red tiled roofs with steep slopes, whitish-gray stucco walls, and deep-set windows with small panes of glass. The rural farming villages were surrounded by drenched fields, some green, some bare earth. An hour after entering France, we began seeing more buildings and industrial areas as we neared Paris. We saw an Air France hanger facility with several white Concord SSTs and 747s parked on a runway. The density of the buildings became greater as we neared the city. Finally, we pulled into Gare du Nord at exactly 3:59 PM (or 15H59, the French time designation), right on time. Gare du Nord is an old train station that has an ancient iron and glass train shed over the tracks, and it probably has not been modified in the past 75 years.
A car was waiting for us as we arrived, its driver standing on the platform holding a card with our name on it. He drove us to the Royal Hotel through Friday afternoon traffic, dodging other cars and pedestrians with a calm demeanor. As he drove, he pointed out the landmarks that we passed, and explained the difference between brasseries and cafes. The first is primarily drinks with food, while the other is primarily food with drinks. After making only one illegal U-turn, he pulled up in front of the hotel.
The hotel desk clerk spoke English, and we practiced a little French. If she was amused by our diction, she did not show it, but she was friendly and explained the workings of the hotel. Our room, 602, was on the top floor. It was compact, but contained plenty of closet space. We unpacked and sat down for a few minutes to discuss strategy.
It was getting dark, but it was time to experience Paris in all its glory. Cars filled the Champs de Elysee and the wide street was bumper-to-bumper in both directions, four lanes each way. Pedestrians thronged the wide sidewalks on both sides of the street. Every shop was lit with combinations of neon signs; strings of small Christmas lights, sometimes blinking, sometimes not; spotlights; and wall-mounted fixtures that flooded the building facades with light. The restaurants were full and customers were wandering in and out of clothing shops, car dealers (Mercedes, Toyota, and Peugeot), food shops, perfume shops, and home decorating stores. We walked as far as Rond Point, and crossed the Seine River on the Pont d’Lalma, then turned onto Avenue Rupp and followed Rue de Montessey, which brought us face to face with the Eiffel Tower. The tower was brilliantly lit with gold lights and was accented with blue lights that flashed at random intervals. Searchlights shined in two directions from the top platform, slowly sweeping the cloudy sky. It was raining as we got to the tower, but we bought tickets for the elevator ride to the first level. Elevators climb each of the sloping legs of the tower. The elevators are constructed with two levels within each car to accommodate upbound and downbound passengers on each trip. The view of Paris from the first level was spectacular, with lights everywhere, extending as far as one could see. Although Notre Dame could not be seen in the distance, the various domes, churches, and monumental government buildings were all brilliantly lit.
While admiring the romantic City of Light, David gave Beth a new ring to commemorate our 25th anniversary, the reason for this trip in the first place. It was a few days early, but Paris should be experienced with a romantic frame of mind.
The two restaurants on the towers first level were full, so we went down to street level and backtracked to Avenue de la Bourdonnais, where we found Le Royal Tour, a nice little cafe. The waiter was friendly and knew a little English. We ordered dinner and wine, and we relaxed as we looked out at the wet streets. The house wine was served in a ceramic pitcher, and we had chicken scaloppini and beef steak with shallot sauce. For dessert, we ordered Brie cheese and cafe au lait. The wine was cheaper per glass than mineral water or soda pop.
After dinner, we wandered back to the hotel along Avenue Marceau. When we crossed the Seine River again, we discovered a memorial to Princess Diana, who had died in the tunnel next to the river under Pont dLalma. The memorial consisted of a smaller version of the Statue of Liberty torch, with pictures of the Princess pasted on the flame and on the torch. Flowers littered the ground around the memorial, and it was a very sobering discovery.
January 6, 2001
It was cloudy but dry in the morning. Because Paris is so far west in its time zone, it was still dawn at 8:30 am. We got ready and headed downstairs for breakfast, a continental breakfast with wonderful bread, meat, cheese, yogurt, cereal, fruit juice and, of course, strong black coffee with a pitcher of hot milk. Afterwards, we headed out to do a little exploring.
We headed to the Champs de
Elysee and walked east to Avenue Churchill. Avenue Churchill
runs from Rond Point, at the end of the Champs de Elysee, to
the Seine between the Petite Palaise and the Grand Palaise, two
art museums that were constructed in 1900 for the Worlds
Fair. We headed
We continued east along the river, noting the swift current and muddy water. We walked along the Cous la Reine to Place de la Concorde. This is now a very busy traffic circle, but during the French Revolution, the guillotine stood where an Egyptian obelisk now stands. After using our New York City skills to cross the circle, we headed into the Jardine de Tuillerie, the only remaining remnant of the palace of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. The gardens now form the west approach to the Louvre, the world-famous art museum. There were many people in the Louvre courtyard admiring the buildings, enjoying the sporadic sunshine, and waiting in line to enter the museum through the modern glass pyramid in the courtyard.
We decided to keep walking because the day was still pleasant, but storm clouds could be seen in the western sky, and we did not want to waste the short-lived sunlight. We headed south to the river and walked east to the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris, built sometime in the 1600’s. We walked on the bridge to the Ile de Cite, an island in the middle of the Seine that was the location of the original Paris settlement 2300 years ago. The island is now the location of Notre Dame Cathedral and the Palace of Justice, essentially the French Supreme Court.
Notre Dame Cathedral, of course, is the biggest tourist draw in Paris, and the public square in front was full of people. We had an opportunity to wait in line to climb the 250 or so steps to the towers, but we decided against it because the line was at least 100 people long and did not appear to be moving too quickly. Instead, we went into the cathedral and admired the view from the ground floor. The Cathedral is massive and was built between 1163 and 1350, although some work still remains to be done. It is very dark and somber inside, and the little available light comes from candlelight in the various chapels and through the stained glass windows. The Cathedral is beautiful, despite the gloom. We sat in chairs in the nave, absorbing the atmosphere and looking at the details of the roof arches, windows, columns, and statuary. After an hour, we left the cathedral and headed across the street to a small cafe and were soon in the middle of a wonderful meal of Croque-Monsuir, a toasted ham and cheese sandwich that is grilled like French toast. Again, the waiter was friendly and he quickly changed to English when he heard our French diction.
After lunch, we walked along the south side of Notre Dame and used our binoculars to look at the various gargoyles, griffins and chimeras high up on the building. We saw large areas of damaged stones caused by centuries of water infiltration and neglect.
The sky had turned heavy gray, and it was getting cold, but no rain fell. We continued our walk to the nearby Isle St. Louis, one of the oldest parts of Paris. We wandered through narrow cobblestoned streets and window-shopped. We went into one or two churches to see the decor and to further understand the non-tourist areas of Paris. At the east end of Isle St. Louis was a new memorial to the quarter-million French citizens who were deported and killed during World War II. To illustrate the order of magnitude of the numbers, two walls in a cave-like room were covered with illuminated crystals, one crystal for each deportee. The monument is almost at river level, and one has to climb down narrow steep stone stairs to view the crystal-filled room. The stark limestone walls leave one feeling horribly trapped and longing for release from the prison-like environment. It was effective and chilling. The message engraved in the walls translates to "Forgive, but never forget."
We crossed from the Ile to the right (north) river bank and headed west, stopping at the Church of St. Gervis. We sat in the church for a few minutes, listening to a woman singing from the organ balcony. This church was built in the sixteenth century, was less medieval in its ornamentation and layout, and was better lit than Notre Dame. St. Gervis represents a sad episode in the history of Paris. During World War I, the Germans shelled Paris from a distance of about 75 miles using specially-designed guns that randomly scattered high-explosive shells throughout the city. One of the shells crashed through the roof of St Gervis on Good Friday 1918, causing over 80 deaths and countless injuries.
We continued walking past Hôtel de Ville (Paris City Hall) and headed toward the Georges Pompideau Center for Modern Art. Built during the 1970’s, it caused a minor scandal because it was built "inside out", with all of its mechanical systems, escalators, and air intakes very visible on all sides of the building. Also, the color scheme includes bright reds, yellows, and blues, in contrast with the tan and gray earth tones of most of Paris’ buildings. We arrived just as it was closing for the evening, so we studied the exterior of the building while we rested in the adjacent public plaza.
We walked further west, looking now for a subway station. The nearest one was at Les Halles, once the site of Paris wholesale food markets, but now the site of an underground shopping mall. Where once wholesalers and chefs haggled over the prices of fish and meat and produce, there is only a desolate expanse of poorly maintained grass, trees, and public ornamentation. The mall is peopled by the same brand of mall rats that inhabit malls around the world, and the surface park is haunted by groups of less-than-honorable people that inhabit neglected parks everywhere. In short, Les Halles is a very visible example of the futility of building city malls in the name of progress. We never felt in any personal danger anywhere in Paris except at Les Halles, where we felt just a little uneasy.
We waded down through three levels of Gap stores and French versions of B. Dalton to reach the subway. Individual tickets were 8 francs (just over a dollar), but packets of 10 tickets were just 58 francs, a savings of about 27 percent. We got onto the A train and rode to Charles de Gaulle Etole, the station under the Arc de Triumphe, about three blocks from our hotel.
We rested for a while, then went out again at about ten PM in search of food. We ate in a tiny crowded Italian place just off the Champs de Elysee. We had some very good lasagna and white wine while wedged between two groups of people celebrating the weekend. We got back to our room at about midnight.
We found that American Airlines had delivered to our room a nice bottle of Bordeaux wine to thank us for booking our trip through them.
January 7, 2001
It was almost a clear morning, although still cool. We ate breakfast and headed out. After visiting an ATM machine, we got on the subway (the 1 line) and headed toward the Louvre. Unfortunately, about 300 people were standing in line waiting to get inside. We were disappointed, but we made the decision to come back the next day. We found out later that the Louvre was free for everyone on the first Sunday of each month, so that explained the crowds.)
We crossed the Seine and walked toward the Musee d’Orsay, a relatively new museum that was constructed in an abandoned train station. This museum was also free, but since it is less well known, it attracted smaller crowds. The museum contains paintings and sculptures dating from 1858 to 1914, including work by Impressionist Painters such as Renoir, Surat, Monet, Degas; and Post-Impressionist painters such as Gauguin. It also included the work known as "Whistler’s Mother", actually entitled "Study in Black and Gray".
After a two-hour tour of the museum, we went across the street to eat lunch at a cafe. We had breaded veal and sautéed duck breast, both done to perfection. Afterwards, we strolled along the left bank of the river toward the Invalides. As we tried to cross the Qui d’Orsay, we were blocked by several hundred roller skaters moving en masse with police escorts. The procession ended in the park north of the Invalides, so we just stayed where we were for a few minutes. Soon three or four police vans, acting as the end of the parade, went past and normal activity resumed. We crossed the street and entered the Invalides complex, visiting the Englise St. Louis des Invalides.
This is known as the soldiers
church, and we saw a few older gentlemen being wheeled into the
church for evening mass. The domes claim to fame is that
beneath it rest the remains of Napoléon Bonaparte. Both
the church and the hôtel were built in the late 1600s.
(The word hôtel is used to refer to a large building or
mansion in French, and not just to a hotel as it is understood
in the English-speaking world.) The gold that you see on the
dome is the real thing; the dome was re-gilt for the Bicentennial
in 1989, at considerable expense. The rest of the Invalides complex
was originally designed as a military hospital, and it is still
partially used for that purpose (although there arent too
many patients left). Most of the complex today houses a large
military museum called the Musé de lArmée;
it is one of the largest military museums in the world.
January 8, 2001
Monday, and the sky was partly
cloudy. After breakfast, we took the subway to the Opera House.
The building is extremely ornate, with painted ceilings and gold-painted
ornamentation. Although we could have bought tickets to take
a self-guided tour, we decided to visit the Louvre instead.
with bulletproof glass, motion sensors, and a fire-suppression system. We ate lunch in one of the Louvre’s many high-priced cafes, and then headed outside. We got back on the subway and headed to the north side of the city to a neighborhood called Montmarte. Located on one of the highest points of Paris, the entire city was visible from several vantage points.
Montmarte, [Fr.,=hill of the martyrs], hill in Paris, on the right bank of the Seine River. The highest point of Paris, it is topped by the famous Church of Sacré-Coeur. Parts of the ancient quarter on its slopes were long a favorite residence of the bohemian world. Until the 20th century. Montmartre retained a rural look and provided material for Van Gogh, Pissarro, Utrillo, and other artists. Montmartre is also famed for its nightlife; among its many nightclubs is the Moulin Rouge. The town of Montmartre was annexed to Paris in 1860. The hill, a natural fortress, played a military role during the Paris Commune (1871) and other periods.
The highlight of this area, besides having a history steeped in art, is a cathedral called Sacre-Coeur, built around 1900 as a memorial to the victims of the Franco-Prussian war. The cathedral is reached either by a very steep stairway or a very modern funicular tram. We opted for the tram, because, at a dollar a ride, we decided to trade cash for wear and tear on our feet.
The interior of the ceiling and dome are covered with mosaics and gold-painted ornamentation. Spotlights illuminated the ceiling, and the light from the setting sun was filtering in through the windows. We sat in the cathedral for a few minutes, then went outside to explore the rest of the neighborhood. We walked behind Sacre-Coeur to see St. Pierre de Montmarte, a medieval church built in 1300. This church, the original parish church in the neighborhood, was in a state of disrepair, but was starkly beautiful in it’s own right.
The center of the neighborhood is the Place de Tertra. The painters are always ready to sketch out your face some of them refuse to take no for an answer. Many pennyless artists lived a Bohemian life here in the early 20th century ie, Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso among others. It’s hard to tell if the millions of tourists create demand for their work, or if they are there to prey on the tourists. In any case, it is like walking a gauntlet when one tries to enjoy the neighborhood. Fortunately, most of the artists began to pack up as the sun began to set.streets and staircases with magnificent views Paris
We ate dinner at the Au Clarion des Chasseurs after dark. While the sun was setting, we joined lots of other tourists taking pictures of Paris at dusk, with the lights just beginning to come on.
We returned to Sacre-Coeur for evening Mass at 6:30 PM. Of course, it was in French, but the
rhythms of the speech, combined with the echoes and reverberations throughout the church, were beautiful.
Afterwards, we took the funicular back down the hill and went back to the subway for the trip back to the hotel.
January 9, 2001
It was our anniversary, and it was cloudy and raw outside. We got on the subway and headed to the Picasso museum, near the Louvre. Unfortunately, it was closed, as was the Georges Pompidou Center. So we were zero for two for the day. We walked past the nearby Les Halles and stopped in the St. Eustache Church. Construction began on this Church in 1532, and in its day it was a beautiful place. Unfortunately, it was in a poor state of disrepair, with missing stained glass, deteriorated stones, and peeling paint. Work was underway to renovate the exterior, so much of the exterior was sheathed in scaffolding.
We found the subway station near Les Halles and rode to the Left Bank, to the Rodin Museum. Rodin was a sculptor who produced "The Thinker" as the centerpiece for his "Gates of Hell" bronze door commission.
As we reached the street at the Vorenne Subway station, we saw the tail end of a demonstration or parade presided over by dozens of French national police in riot gear. The street leading to Rodins museum was blocked by about 20 such cops standing with riot clubs, mirrored sunglasses, blue helmets and shiny black boots. Rather than try to talk our way past them, we decided, very quickly, that it was suddenly lunchtime, and we ducked into a nearby cafe to hide.
After a lunch of omelets and quiche, we tried the street again. The roadblock was gone, but there were lots of busses parked on the sides of the nearby streets with cops lounging inside. We werent sure if it was entirely safe, but we put on our best innocent tourist faces and got to the museum without further incident.
The Rodin Museum contained hundreds of sculptures created by Rodin before he died in 1917. The work on display ranged from incomplete studies and partially complete work to full-sized, complete works. He was quite prolific and he was capable of creating work showing extreme emotions such as anger, fear, and agony. A highlight of the museum, at least in summer, is the sculpture garden with dozens of sculptures and a cafe. Part of the garden was closed for the winter, but we saw most of the displayed work.
We decided to walk back to the hotel following the river. We walked past the Invalides and then crossed to the right bank. A company called Bateaux-Mouches operates river cruises, and we decided to make reservations for a dinner cruise to celebrate our anniversary. Although the cruises are full during the summer, they were less than busy on a Tuesday night in January. We made reservations, then hurried back to the hotel to change into better clothes and shoes. We went back to the pier via subway and arrived in plenty of time to board. We had some champagne and hors d’ouvers in the waiting room, and then boarded the boat to find our table. We were shown to a small table on the left side of the boat, next to the window. Several other couples were seated at similar tables. There were three or four anniversaries and at least one honeymoon couple from Japan. Larger tables near the front of the boat were occupied by a busload of Japanese tourists and by one or two groups of businessmen.
The meal was first class in every respect, with French-style table service consisting of two waiters working under the direction of a captain, who in turn was under the direction of the maitre’d. The captain took our order and was responsible for plating the courses. The waiters brought bread, wine, and soup, and cleared dishes between courses.
We began with a cream of artichoke soup. The, with an entree, or first course, consisted of pate de foie gras for David and escargot in puff pastry for Beth. The main course was a rack of lamb for two, served with green beans, au gratin potatoes, and a carrot terrine. Following that was a salad course with cheese. To top off an incredible meal, the desert was Baked Alaska. We were given a bottle of Champagne during the soup course, and a half-bottle of Bordeaux during the main course. As the dessert course was beginning, the captain brought us a fruit tart with a large sparkler throwing sparks about a foot off the table, managements way of helping us celebrate our anniversary. There were several such special desserts around the boat, and we got a round of applause, especially from the Japanese tourists.
Rather than being a typical mass-produced tourist-level meal served in a hurry-hurry atmosphere, this was pure romantic Paris at its best. The sights of Paris were gliding past the windows, the lights of the city were reflected on the water, the dining room lights were low, and an accordion player and an organ player provided French and American love songs. The service was professional, the food was superb, and the wine was among the best. There was no hurry to finish eating, but the 2-½ hour cruise seemed to fly by and we hated to leave the boat when we returned to the pier. We agreed that this cruise was the best possible way to celebrate our 25th anniversary.
After dinner, we reluctantly headed back to the hotel to pack for the trip home.
January 10, 2001
The last day in Paris began with heavy rain pelting the windows. Since most of the packing was complete, we went down for a final Parisian breakfast and then checked out. Our driver arrived at 11:45 AM to take us to the airport.
We drove west on Rue de Friedland, circled the Arc de Triomphe, and traveled along into the heart of "New Paris", the business center of the city that is dominated by new high-rises, average hotels, and world wide companies like AGFA and SONY. Tourists never, or almost never, visit this entire area.
We turned onto the A-1 highway, a beltway around Paris. The highway signs pointed the direction to Charles de Gaulle Airport, and we were sad knowing that we were actually leaving. We could see to our right, in the distance, Montmarte and Sacre-Coeur, silhouetted against the clouds.
We arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport in plenty of time for our 2:45 PM flight. After checking in, we went to the gate to wait, but then had to switch gates because of a change of airplanes. The second gate area was crowded because it was much smaller, with less seating area.
The published boarding time of 2:00 PM came and went, and the mood of the crowd started to turn restless. Finally, at about 3:00 PM, the gate personnel began to check passports and tickets. Instead of walking directly onto the plane, we were loaded on an airbus for transportation to the plane that was parked out on the runway. The plane, a 767, was quickly loaded, and we started to taxi out. Our seats, 37A and B, were near the rear of the plane, behind the wings. The 767 did not have a position map, so we had no way of knowing where we were during the flight. All we were told is that we would fly from Paris, over London, over Northern Ireland, across the Atlantic, over Newfoundland, and over Quebec to Chicago. The flight went smoothly, except for some turbulence over Ireland. The pilot dove down from 39000 to 37000 feet, where it smoothed out. The eight hour flight went quickly, with two meals and drinks in between. We were chasing the sun the whole way, but it was slightly ahead of us and had set by the time we landed in Chicago. Although we were about an hour late leaving Paris, we landed right on time in Chicago.
We went through customs to get our passports stamped, and then waited for our luggage to be delivered. After picking it up, we went to the final inspection point, where they have the option of inspecting everything. But we were basically waved right through. We were officially back on United States soil.
Our connecting flight to Minneapolis St. Paul was, as usual, cancelled due to "mechanical problems." The ticket agent called Northwest Airlines and found that their flight, due to leave at 7:00 PM, had plenty of seats, so we were sent to that gate. We checked in, and after a slight wait, we boarded the much smaller 757 to find about 25 people on the plane. The flight attendant told us to sit anywhere we liked, because assigned seats were unnecessary. The one-hour flight went quickly and soon we were waiting for our luggage at Minneapolis St. Paul airport.