Cité Des Sciences et de L'Industrie
Having enjoyed watching the street crowd celebrating the New Year from my balcony, I spent an extra hour or so at the computer before hitting the sack. Got a very late start after sleeping in to a deliciously late hour and headed for the Cité Des Sciences et de L'Industrie, Paris's idea of a Science "Museum" that rivals the best there is. It is quite huge, and given my penchant for science and science museums, I spent all of five and a half hours walking about simply soaking up the science displays and in many cases attempting to translate from the French so I could understand the discriptors.
Entrance to the facility includes the tour of the French Submarine Argonaut (permanently stationed in the backyard), the museum, and the planétarium.
Musée de Monnaie
Musée des Egouts
The Musée de Monnaie didn't open until 12 so I wandered about the 6th for a periiod before entering. This museum has a collection of coins which depicts the history of Paris through coins and medals -- ancient to present. All in French.
Most people, I understand, want to simply flush and be done with it. But my curiosity goes beyond that. I finally got into the sewer! The Musée des Égouts de Paris is the first museum that had virtually as much English as "Foreign" language. It is a fascinating museum wherein one literally does descend into the sewer system. There is much to see and read, and it is, actually, quite clean. The lusty, musky, dusky odor (which is not actually bad, and does not smell as one might expect), might lead one to think they were in a New England cellar at the end of winter--and I've been in lots of those! It is one place that I would be sure to recommend to anyone visiting Paris.
One does not often stop to think about where one's water (or food, for that matter) comes from, and where it goes to to be recycled once you are done with it. And that is and has been a big problem for a city as old and as large as Paris, and the story is well told in several languages. It is a little disconcerting at times, however, to be standing on a grate just a couple of feet above a roaring greenish grey river that, because you know where you are, you know what it is, and if the grating were to collapse...well, then....
Though a bit spritzy in the morning, the weather cleared up by 3 to make a very sunny and pleasant day. I spent what remained of the day enjoying a leisurely stroll along the Seine and simply hanging about the Tuileries and Louvre area. The "living statue" to the right is but one of many that can be seen along the Seine on any good day.
A Sunday. What more can I say about Sundays in Paris. Well , this one was rainy in the morning (What else is new?) but turned to be a bit sunny with strong winds by early afternoon. I believe I could now qualify as a meteorologist here. The weather always seems to be so predictable. My present museum pass has expired so I'm now taking a few days off to just explore.
From the Tuileries, one can look to the Left Bank and see, towering behind the National Assembly building, a pair of twin, gothic spires. Deciding to determine what was under them, I set off at a leisurely pace and soon found myself in front of the Basilique Sainte Clotilde. It has both a beautiful facade and entranceway under the twin spires, and upon entering, I found myself every bit as awed by the arcitecture and stunningly well-done stained glass workmanship as I was by that of Notre Dame.
It was 12:30 après midi (in the afternoon) and I was the only soul in the building. Somehow it seemed very strange to me that this beautiful Catholic basilica should be virtually deserted except for the other couple of tourists who wandered in while I was there. This is a definate spot on my return tour agenda. It is very photogenic. Oddly enough, it is not even mentioned in either of the 2 tour books that I possess, and is only labelled on my largest Paris plan (map) by Michelin that I bought in San Diego. I'm probably breaking some French law by letting you know that it is there and I won't be welcomed back....
Wandering back to the Concorde, I bought what the French call a "Gaufres" which they pronounce "goof," which seems to break the French rule of pronunciation, but what do I know? Je parle anglais. Aaanyway, Americans call them "Belgian Waffles" and eat them as a breakfast whereas in Paris they are consumed all day long as finger food. This treat, along with a thimble and a half of hot chocolate costs 20 francs, or about $4 American.
I headed for the Pizza Pino and had another great Spaghetti meal then headed home to consume great quantities of wine, do a bit of computing, and answer my Email.
I didn't mention this yesterday as I didn't want to build any anticipation, but I had stopped off at the Gare de l'est on the way into town to inquire as to how I could go about catching a train for Vitry-le-François, a city about one hour and 40 minutes to the east where friends, Michel and Giselle Renard maintain a home. They had written and extended an invitation for me to come see them. I had some Christmas gifts to deliver to them from the Deichlers so was determined to make the trip.
A problem existed. I was to call before making the trip. And just how would I do that not knowing how to use the French phone system? "Well," replied the kind lady at the tourist desk in the belly of the Louvre, "all you have to do is buy a phone card for $10 and make the call." I questioned the reasonableness of buying a card for a single call, and after showing enough of my true ignorance, she placed the call for me right there and then! How nice!
Giselle, who speaks no English, answered and informed me that I would have to come tomorrow (Monday) as Michel was gone for the day. I, who speaks not nearly enough French, handed the phone back to the kindly tourist person who translated for me. " It seems," she said, (and I paraphrase), "that you will have to visit tomorrow as Michel is leaving for the south on Tuesday." I informed Giselle through my personal translator that I would be arriving at the Vitry gare at 2:47 après midi, on the earliest train. After hanging up, Sophie and I went to dinner and spent a great evening together..... NOT.
In any case, now it is Tuesday and I am back from Vitry-le-François. The train got me there right on schedule and Michel picked me up for the drive to his home about a mile or so away from the station. It was a very nice, day, "almost like July," he said, and we took a long walk about the town. It has a population of about twenty thousand and except for the "Porte de le pont" (The door of the bridge) and the local ancient Cathedral, also called "Notre Dame" with some closely surrounding outbuildings, it is almost totally post war construction. It seems Hitler had been wounded in Vitry during the 1st World War and when he had his way, he ordered the city flattened in retribution. What he didn't manage to destroy (but for the above mentioned) the Americans finished off with bombs. C'est la Guerre. The only evidence I could see of the conflict are a few machine-gun chinks in the masonry at the rear of the cathedral, but I understand that a bomb actually went through the roof but the massiveness of the structure prevented its destruction save for blowing out the windows. Sunday service is still held in this venerable Catholic church, as it is in most churches in France, old and new.
Before the evening meal we drove a short distance and I was introduced to Michel and Giselle's daughter Silvie, and her family: husband Cristian, son Cyril (about 14), daughters Leticia (12) and Maude (10). Maude sang some songs for me in German and French, and a couple that she is now learning in English at school. They made me feel welcome in their home and plied me with more than enough apéritif.
Later, back at Michel's, I delighted in a wonderful, vegetarian (in my honor) repas, a 5-course French supper prepared by Giselle. They secretly (in good humor) call me "Mr. Cholesterol" because of my penchant for not eating meat, cheese, oil, and in general, pastry--all staples in France!
Tuesday morning (today) After a typical French breakfast of coffee, bread, jelly/honey and a croissant, I took another early morning walk about the city to take some more photos. Michel and I then set out for for a drive in the countryside where we visited and photographed another beautiful church. Some of its timbers and supports date to 1240 AD.
Also along the drive were many fields with Cranes hopping about looking for food. It appears that they used to migrate to Africa for the winter but these days there is plenty of forage here, not to mention a huge man-made lake that they frequent. The lake was constructed in the 1950's to prevent the flooding of Paris by runnoff from the Marne in the Spring. It has 35 kilometers of shoreline, 7 large and well-kept beaches, well manicured grassy areas, not to mention the obligitory boat launches and marina. Shades of many of our California reservoirs.... When they constructed the levy to hold back the water, 2 towns were inundated, lost forever. The only evidence of their existence is -- what else but another church! It had been built on a high hill at the edge of one of the towns and therefore escaped being covered by the lake. It is now a tourist attraction accessible by a walking bridge almost a kilometer in length (about a half mile). Michel informs me that on any given summer day their are literally thousands of people, both French and foreigners, who come to camp, swim, boat.... Just like home. It seems use of the facility is free. NOT like home!
Once back at their home I was presented with yet another great French 5-course déjeuner (lunch) before Michel drove me to the train station.
Today I set out to complete a walking tour of the two major islands in the Seine that constitute the very center part of Paris: the île de la Cité, (the largest, and site of the original city), upon which Notre Dame is located, and île St-Louis. I walked literally every street on both islands, taking some 4 hours to do so and enjoying the day in general. It was clear, warm and sunny, with little breeze to speak of. A wonderful day. all in all, and I found two places I want to return to when I next get a museum pass. I'll mention those when the time comes.
Located adjacent to the Louvre is the Palais Royal, built in 1624. It was the original home of Cardinal Richelieu who, on his deathbed in 1642, gave it to Louis XIII. Louis expanded the Palace and built an enclosed garden behind it 250 yards long. It's very famous, as gardens go.
Within 5 minutes by foot, the National Library, one of the richest in the world, can be found. Among other things it contains 2 original editions of the Gutemberg Bible [sic]. I arrived just at closing time but will return to explore if time permits.
Rainy and cloudy all day. Visited the Tour Montparnasse in the 14th Arrondissement, 59 stories tall rivaling the Eiffel Tower. Did not visit the tour platform, however, as visibility was so poor. Someplace to return to if I have time. Walked about the large indoor shopping mall attached before heading out for the Place des Pyramides adjacent to the Louvre where I signed up for and took a 2-hour Cityrama bus tour. It is in this square, by the way, that the famous equestrian statue of Joan of Arc is located. On May 12 every year many people make a pilgrimage to it. (Note the Eiffel Tower in the background.)
I had the front seat on the top deck and had a wonderful view for the tour, and was pleased to find that the headphones issued plug into an outlet which translates the tour in 15 languages! I only needed one, and found the monolog interesting and very informative. I had previously walked virtually every street of the tour but find that I missed a lot and would revisit if I had time. Unlike in the United States, most Paris places of interest are not advertised with garish signs everywhere. A simple plaque on a door or building may lead one to a great museum, but unless you have the address ahead of time, it could be easy to miss. After the tour I wandered about the streets in the area of the Place des Pyramides as I wanted to revisit 3 places discovered on the tour that I shall now describe.
(Chopin died in 1849 at No. 15 in this same square, now the famous Hôtel Ritz.) The 175 foot high column at the Place Vendôme (1687) is of bronze made from 1250 melted-down cannons captured by Napoleon at Austerlitz. The 1806 column was inspired by the Column of Trajan in Rome and around its shaft is a spiraling series of bronze bas reliefs. Originally it was topped by a statue of Napoleon dressed as Caesar, but it was destroyed in 1814 and replaced by a statue of Henri IV. Itwas again replaced in 1863 with the Little Corporal in military dress, which was (guess what)!) again pulled down eight years later. After three more years the statue was, for the last time one would hope, by a copy of the original. This paragraph would have been a good deal shorter had the French only had a little foresight, eh?
The Opéra, also named the National Academy of Music, is the largest theater of lyric music in the world.It can accommodate 450 performers on the stage at one time. Built between 1862 and 1875, it is said to be typical of the type of monuments of the era of Napoleom III.
The Madeleine was ordered built by Napoleon in 1806 in honor of the Grand Army. It has the form and structure of a classic Greek temple: wide base, 52 Corinthian columns 65 feet high for the collonade. It was dedicated to Ste. Mary Magdalene. Inside it is without isles. Guess that eliminates my need to go to Greece. Pictures to left and right.
Crypte de Archéologique
Musée de l'Institut du monde Arabe
A one-day museum pass in hand, I set out for the Crypte de Archéologique under the Parvis of Notre Dame and arrived just as it opened at 10. Archeological digs expose remains of the original Roman city and up to structures which existed in medieval times. Each station is in French and English. A most excellent archaeological history of Paris.
Also located on the îls de la Cité in the Palais de Justice, only a block away from Notre Dame is Sainte-Chapelle, another 13th century church with a most beautiful array of colors and stained glass. The lower floor is lavishly colored and climbing to the upper level one finds a panorama of stained glass windows nearly 50 feet high, containing 1134 scenes illustrating both the old and new testiments. The church was built for St. Louis IX to contain the Crown of Thorns, which the sovereign had purchased in Venice in 1239. Well worth a visit.
Next on the agenda was a walk to the Musée de l'Institut du monde Arabe (Institute of the Arab World) located on the Left Bank just a few blocks to the east. Across the Pitit Pont at the SE corner of Notre Dame and I was off. The museum is located on the 6th and 5th floors of the institute and contains a collection of various materials depicting Arab and Islamic art and civilization. The descriptors are completely in French. This mostly glass building does have, on the south side, a unique "sun shade" system the parts of which open and close much as the iris of a camera with the intensity of the sun.
The eastern terminus of Boulevard Saint Germain is located in front of the Institute, so I set out to walk its length westward to its western terminus just on the eastern side of the Assemblée National and directly across the Seine from my next objective, the Musée national de l"Orange des Tuileries. I discovered it closed until May of 1999 for some type of renovation. What with strikes and renovations, I'm continually running into roadblocks in my quest to cram as many museum visits as possible into my stay in Paris, but all was not lost as I found in the yard to the west, Rodin's sculpture of Le Baiser (The Kiss), this time in bronze.
After a petit lunch I headed for the National Library (Bibliothèque National de France) where I was again disappointed at finding it to be just a library. Wonder of wonders. None of its great possessions are on display. Oh, well. So I spent the next 2 hours wandering about the Louvre in areas that I had not covered well as yet. I'm beginning to believe that perhaps one can't really "cover" the Louvre well without spending a great deal of exploring. It has many nooks and crannies.
The Sacre-Coeur Cathedral (late 1800's) is almost due west of my apartment and can be walked to in about 30 minutes. It is built on the top of Montemarte and upon climbing up into the 262-foot high dome one has a rather nice view of all Paris from the north side. Its belltower has a bell weighing 19 tons, one of the largest in the world. A visit into the crypt is worthwhile; a combination ticket for the dome and crypt can be bought for 30 francs. St-Pierre-de-Montmarte, what's left of an ancient abby begun around 1134, contains pillars of a Roman temple which had previously occupied the site. From inside the dome, one can see both the Eiffel tower and the Montparnasse Tower (picture directly above).
Adjacent to the the cathedral and still on top of the hill is the Place de Tertre where artists of all sorts gather and want to paint or draw or cut out, or in some manner produce a likeness of you, for a fee. Fees are often negotiable, depending on the weather, time of year and the degree of starvation of the artist.
I made a noontime switch as deep into the Left Bank as I had just been to the Right at Sacre--Coeur, and finally got back to the Catacombs when they were open! Upon entering the small, inconspicuous doorway in the middle of Place Denfert Rochereau, one decends a narrow, circular staircase about 60 feet downwards and then must walk over a kilometer through a maze of narrow, subterranean corridors which were originally a Gallo-Roman limestone quarry. It seems in the late 1700's the cemetaries above ground were occupying far too much valuable real estate for a bunch of bones, so the bodies of some 6 million, it is written, were dug up and placed in very neat alignment in these meandering chambers. The bones themselves were separated by type and the femurs (long leg bones) stacked neatly to form head-high walls behind which the other bones were deposited. Skulls of many, undoubtedly picked by some random selection process, occupy various spots in different levels of the "wall" of bones. It's a rather fascinating "museum".
Upon leaving the catecombs, and after but a few minutes of walking, I was at the Montparnasse Cemetary, started in 1824. In it are buried many famous writers, sculpturs, painters and composers of the era, including Satre, Baudelaire, and Guy de Maupassant I can only describe it as looking like a tiny, model city. Burial plots are crypts rather than bearing headstones.
Almost connected to the cemetary proper is the Montparnasse tower, an imposing 686-feet high, 59 story building. When it was built in the 1970's, it was the tallest office building in Europe. There is a 360 degree view from the open-air viewing area on the roof, and I took it as a "photo-op" even though the 4 PM skies were not too clear.
At 8:30 PM William, my landlord, came to pick me up to take me to his apartment for supper. Valérie had prepared, in my honor, a vegetarian meal. I fully enjoyed a variety of French vegetatian delights along with ample wine, good company and conversation. I struggled a great deal with my French, they with their English, and together we solved the world's problems. I didn't get back home until after 1 AM.
Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
Palais du Luxembourg
Place du Panthéon
Brrrrr. The temperature today wasn't much above freezing. A real "winter" day. Nonetheless I set out on a walk to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise just a few kilometers to the southeast in the 20th Arrondissement. Covering some 115 acres, i t is the largest cemetary in Paris and is the final resting place of dozens of famous personages known to the world, such as Balzac, Daudet, Moliére, Proust, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Bizet, Dukas, as well as the American rock star Jim Morrison. It is a quiet and pleasant place, I think, and worth a return visit. The cemetary dates to the mid 1700's.
A quick Metro to the 5th and I found myself walking about the extensive garden (57 acres) of the Palace of Luxembourg. It was acquired by Marie de' Medici in 1612, who, after the death of husband King Henri IV, she decided to live there instead of the Louvre. It was originally the mansion of Duke François of Luxembourg, hence its name. The Palace itself is now used for governmental space, but the grounds are open to the public.
Visible from the Palais graunds is the Pantheon, originally built as a church in 1774. Not only an exceptional piece of architecture 360 feet long and 272 feet high, but also a final resting place of dozens of such famous characters in French history as Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Voltaire, and even Pierre and Marie Curie (the only female).
Panels in the crypt (in English ) tell of the rich history of the Pantheon. It was here, also, that Foucault (SP) demonstrated to the world with his famous pendelum, now duplicated in science museums the world over, evidence of the turning of the earth.
Immediately behind the Pantheon is St-Étienne-du-Mont, begun in 1492, but not completed until 1622, one of the most unusual churches in Paris because of its rather bizarre mix of both Gothic and Renaissance styles. It contains the only roodscreen know to exist in Paris, as well as the tombs of Pascal and Racine.
Château de Vincennes
l'Arc de Triomphe
Brrrrrrr. Another chilly day, but this time I donned my as yet unworn down ski jacket and was quite toasty. The only problem is that as nice as the day was, other than cold, I forgot my camera and was half way to the Château de Vincennes before I discovered it.
The Forest of Vincennes, some 2300 acres, was given by Napoleon III to Paris as a Public Park. It is the largest in Paris. The land was acquired in the 11th century by the crown and a castle was started there in 1334 by Philippe IV. It is the nearest thing to a true "Castle" that I've seen in France to date, moat (dry) and all. It has been used for a variety of things over the centuries including a porcelain factory, a state prison, and a powerful asenal under Napoléon. Considerable damage was inflicted in 1944 when the Germans blew up part of its fortifications. Worth goinig back to for photos one day.
The Château de Vincennes, by the way, is at the very eastern end of Metro line #1, nearly across the street from the Metro exit. Also at the Metro exit, within a stone's throw, is a really excellent tourist bureau with more information and in more languages than you can shake a stick at.
Back on the Metro, I decided to take in a nice Italian dinner and a little wine at the Pizza Pino that I can now say I "frequent," and then headed back (same Metro #1) to the Arc de Triomphe. I found that the strike is over and so paid my 40 francs (about $8 American) to climb 269 steps to the top. Alas, I still had no camera, and the view of Paris from there is truly grand on such a clear day.
I spent the rest of the afternoon browsing and looking at architecture in the area of the Pantheon.
The American Church
Today I was in a rather grand funk as it was to be my last day in Paris and I was not at all ready to leave. I tidied up the apartment a bit, began a bit of packing, then headed out with no particular destination in mind. Being Tuesday, the Louvre, was closed and the whole area relatively deserted. It was near freezing and the sky was rather ominous.
I wandered about for a bit and ended up at the American Church just downstream of the Louvre on Rive Gauche. There I subscribed to The Voice, an ad rag similar to San Diego's "Reader" with all kinds of offerings, rentals, etc., which will come very much in handy for my return trip in the near future. I also found an information bureau in the bottom floor and struck up a conversation with the hostess. Among other interesting things, I was told that I could go directly to the airport by a line called the "Roissy Bus" which leaves every fifteen minutes from in front of the large American Express building next to the Opera-(Picture to right)-and for only 45 francs (about $9 American). This valuable little tidbit of information relieved my angst about just how I was to get there (the airport) tomorrow. How convenient that the Opera is a stop on what I have come to call "my" metro.
Upon leaving the American Church, I walked to the Opera to check the exact location for myself, and after satisfying my need to know, I set out for the Hôtel de la Cité, just opposite Notre Dame. Time was running short now, so I took the Metro and upon exiting just next to the Patinoire de la Mairie, (the Mayor's free outdoor ice skating rink) I was absolutely delighted to find it to be lightly snowing. It was near dusk and the spotlights had been turned on. One of those large, mirrored balls, such as is often seen in dance halls, was still hanging between two buildings at the edge of the square (Christmas lights and ornaments being still in place all over town). Reflections from it made the air literally twinkle and the snow falling through all this reminded me of what I can only describe as a Courier and Ives scene. I cannot imagine a more beautiful last memory to have of this visit. The wind was gusting and blowing the illuminated snow in every imaginable direction and the scene so filled me with nostalgia from my childhood that I loitered about for just over an hour, watching the skaters and completely enchanted by the ambience.
Parisians imbibe at all hours of the day. Lunch is an occasion for a quick kir, wine, or beer. Bread, aspecially the bagette, is eaten in quantity as at any given hour, one can see people on the streets carrying them tucked under their arms. On the way home I popped into "my" marché (grocery store, in this case) and bought my last bagette, a small bottle of Chateau Neuf de Pape, a middle price range, quite pleasant French wine (red) and in my apartment I sat in front of the balcony doors and watched the snow falling for quite some time as I proceeded to get pleasantly tired. Occasionally I would open the doors and step onto the balcony so as to feel the snow on my face. I can remember that as a child in Massachusetts I used to love to watch it snow, and take long walks in it as it fell. For some reason quite lost to me, I find falling snow to be thorougly enchanting. Always have.
Last photo. I just had to put this one in. Its a new automobile called the "Smart" car. It is just over 6 feet long and catches the eye because of its unusual shape much as the old VW (and the new Bug). Note: The Smart Car is scheduled to be marketed in the U.S. in 2008!
William, my landlord, arrived at 8:30 A.M. so we could "settle up" for any phone bills damages...all those landlord-tenant sort of affairs. The snow had stopped about midnight and most was already melted away leaving the streets a bit slushy so he volunteered to drive me and my luggage the 2 blocks to the Metro stop. We said our goodbyes and via the Metro and Roissy Bus I shortly found myself at Charles DeGaulle airport. A nearly 11 hour direct flight to San Francisco and an air shuttle to San Diego found me back in shirtsleeve weather once more. I was set up and again at home in my RV before 7 P.M. It was then the middle of the night in France, there being 9 hours difference between Paris and San Diego time, so I went to bed before 10 in an attempt to ameliorate the effects of jet lag.
I'd be glad to answer any questions you may have regarding what I learned of Paris. I can be reached by Email at
Because of time constraints I won't launch into long dissertations, so feed me one question at a time, please. I get a lot of Email daily.