Oct 14 - Made it to Paris!October 14, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌧 17 °C
It’s time to start the 5th and final leg of our journey on Canadian Thanksgiving Monday. We have so much to be thankful for - family, friends, good health, opportunities to explore the world and the gift of living in the best country in the world - Canada!
Peter took Angela to the train station in Heidelberg at 6:00 a.m. so she could be at work in Munich by mid-morning. Then he drove us to Mannheim for our 9:40 a.m. train. He accompanied us onto the platform and ensured that we got on the right car where our reserved seats were. Gracious and kind to the very end!
The train ride from Mannheim to Paris is 3 hrs 15 minutes. According to Google Maps, to drive the 500 kms would take 5 hrs 15 minutes. The train at times reached speeds of over 300 km/hour - the speed shows on an overhead monitor. The train pulled into Gare de l'Est one minute early. Oh, to have such fast and dependable train service in Canada!
We didn’t have a full window view - the seats that are in sets of four with two facing backwards with a table in the middle get the full window views. From what we did see, the countryside was mainly farms on relatively flat land.
We took a taxi to the hotel rather than navigate two metro lines with our luggage. Unfortunately, we got ripped off very badly. It looked like a legal taxi, but we realized too late that it didn’t have a proper meter displaying the fare. Live and learn.
We are staying at Hotel du Champs de Mars. We stayed here on our last trip to France in 2015. It’s a small, boutique hotel located not far from the Eiffel Tower. Another attraction of this location is the wonderful Rue Cler just 1/2 block away - it’s a pedestrian-only street full of speciality shops, little cafés and a couple of grocery stores, a fruit and vegetable market, a fish monger and lots of other places.
We set out to explore - it’s rather nice to have our bearings already. Happily, our favourite little boulangerie and patisserie is still open just down the street - we’ll be getting our picnic lunch made up there tomorrow. We found the local Tabac, a tiny hole-in-the-wall place, that sells transit tickets and bought a book of them. At only €1.50/$2.25 each, they are a great deal. We visited most of the places that were close to our hotel on our last visit. The ones this week are further afield. Don’t want to wear out Doug’s new bionic knee.
We headed across the Seine River and then walked along Ave Montaigne, a very high end shopping street - we saw Gucci, Hermes, Fendi, Harry Winston Diamonds, Ferragamo, Givenchy, Yves St Laurent, Chanel, Pucci, Prada and other stores interspersed with ritzy/expensive hotels with bell hops and valet parking. How the other half lives…..
Ave Montaigne brought us to the Champs-Élysées - yes the same one that Joni Mitchell talked about wandering down in her song, “A Free Man in Paris.” The place was full of people and the crazy, expensive shopping just kept on going. There was a 200-person line (mostly teenaged girls) to get into Louis Vuitton and mandatory bag searches to get into the Disney store. Passed on both of them. We were disappointed that the Ferrari store wasn’t still there. We did get to do some seriously-good people watching though.
We walked the entire length of the Champs-Élysées to where it ends at the Arc de Triomphe. One our triumphs last time was climbing to the top of the Arc and soaking up the fabulous views. No need for that cardiac workout on this trip. The traffic around the Arc is crazy - there are no lane markings and cars and buses roar around 4-5 abreast all wanting to peel off in disparate directions at top speed. Not a place for the faint of heart.
We noticed that the traffic in Paris is much heavier than it was a few years ago, and that the roads and streets are now being shared with electric scooters - the two-wheeled kind, not the senior-citizen kind. We even saw couples riding tandem on these over-sized skate boards. Being a pedestrian in Paris is a lot more dangerous than it used to be. We also noticed that cigarette smoking and vaping are incredibly prevalent in Paris. Not good.
We heard the wail of several sirens and saw many police vehicles whizzing around. Right in front of us, seven vans pulled up - each one can hold 8-10 officers. At the next intersection, a police guy with a machine guard was on duty with a lot of police vehicles nearby. All this may be in response to fears of violence at France's Euro 2020 soccer qualifier against Turkey, a match overshadowed by diplomatic and security tensions after Paris condemned Ankara for its military offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria.
We had a late afternoon snack as it had been a long time since we downed the chicken sandwiches we had brought with us on the train, courtesy of Angela and Peter. Watered and refuelled, we continued walking, this time down the Champs-Élysées to Place de la Concorde. This square comprises 19 acres and is the largest square in Paris. It was here that King Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793. Marie Antoinette had been guillotined here a few months earlier. The centre of the Place is occupied by a giant Egyptian obelisk known as the Obelisk of Luxor. It is decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramesses II. It is one of two the Egyptian government gave to the French in the 19th century. The other one stayed in Egypt, too difficult and heavy to move to France with the technology at that time. In the 1990s, President François Mitterrand gave the second obelisk back to the Egyptians.
We crossed the river via the Pont de la Concorde and walked along the river’s edge past the Pont Alexandre III, the most ornate and extravagant bridge in the city. It’s full of Art Nouveau lamps and nymphs and gold winged horses. The bridge has been featured in many videos and movies. Must watch the James Bond movie, “A View to a Kill” sometime to see Bond jumping from the bridge onto a boat.
Next bridge - Pont des Invalides. Very boring after seeing the over-the-top Pont Alexandre III. The bridge nearest to our hotel is Pont de l’Alma. We had considered taking a boat cruise along the Seine, but those are best at night when all the major sights are lit up. It was only 6:00 p.m. and the weather was getting overcast so we headed home. We picked up salads at the grocery on Rue Cler and dined Chez Hotel Room. We pulled the table up to the window and had dinner while we watched Monday night life in Paris.
We can see the top 1/3 of the Eiffel Tower from our room. The Eiffel Tower sparkles with thousands of lights for five minutes on the hour from dusk until 2:00 a.m. (1:00 a.m. in winter). We watched the 7:00 p.m. show from our window. We considered attending the 8:00 p.m. or the 9:00 p.m. show in person, but decided the ~6.5 miles we had walked today was enough.
Tomorrow, we are going to tackle the Paris transit system and go to Sacré-Coeur - the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.Read more