Right, well, what did I do today. Might be easier to ask what I didn’t do and work backwards from there!
Difference between Venice and Paris: cars. I wondered why I was sort of tense and stressed out as I started on my day. Figured it out after a while – all the cars everywhere. There are no cars in Venice. So nice, the only sound footfalls and boats puttering slowly down the canals. Here it’s cars and trucks and motorbikes and scooters rushing everywhere and honking. After three days of Venice, it’s a bit of a shock to the system. In that respect, Venice is much more to my liking. The pace of it. Even on the canals, there was no way to really get anywhere fast. You didn’t see anybody rushing about. The pace of the city was completely different. In Paris, everybody wants to get everywhere as fast as possible.
I’m back at the room now – 7:00. Another little picnic dinner. More gourmet than yesterday though – this baguette with tuna and egg and spicy mustard. Quite good, from a little baguette stand down the road. I was too tired to go find somewhere nice. We’ll have a good dinner tomorrow.
So, today. A lot of bloody stairs! Some serious hiking today. It was sunny when I started, but they were calling for rain (and I was expecting it – huge thunderstorm last night. Woke me up at 3am with thunder and lighting – I’ve never heard such thunder, shook the hotel). The rain never came of course, so I was pretty much overdressed and overheated all day, but oh we’ll.
First stop – “the stairway up to la butte” (see my blog from last night) refers to the Sacre Coeur cathedral, beautiful old church near here, up a hill, the highest point in the city, with fantastic views of the city. The stairs made me sigh (there was a tram thing up the hill, but I opted for the stairs – a theme for the day).
I think I’m nearing my saturation point for huge churches and monuments and old buildings though. Not quite the thrill it was two and a half weeks ago. Nevertheless, a beautiful city. The scale of it is the most impressive thing. It just goes on forever. You could spend months exploring it.
Anyway, next stop was the Arc de Triomphe, and then a stroll down the Champs Élysées – sort of a much bigger, much older, and much prettier Robson Street. The Louis Vuitton store was quite something. Notre Dame – not quite as impressive as I thought it would be, especially compared to some I’ve seen on this trip.
The goal was to get to the Louvre by mid-morning. A good thing too. My god, what a zoo. The main entrance area (through that big glass pyramid) felt more like train station or an airport than a museum. Every tourist in the city with a camera pushing to get to the two main attractions – the Venus di Milo, and the Mona Lisa of course. You couldn’t get near the Mona Lisa without liberal use of elbows. They allow cameras, so it was like a pack of Paparazzi around Angelina Jolie or something, click click click click. Well I elbowed my way in with the rest of them just to say I saw it. But you couldn’t really look at it in any meaningful way. Anyway. There were some much quieter areas of the museum with some very impressive works – paintings, sculpture, gold and jewelry, tapestries, carvings. It’s like five or six museums in one. I let my feet take me where they wanted to go without caring too much where that was. Emerged a few hours later. Glad I got the crowded part over with first – the rest was really quite pleasant. And I came away with some nice pictures as well.
After that was coffee – there was a Starbucks in the museum. And I can report that French Starbucks is better than Canadian Starbucks. I think they use better beans or something – or it could be that they put extra shots of espresso in their lattes.
Next was a walk along the bank of the Seine River to the Eiffel Tower. It had clouded over early on, but the sun was peaking out by now. So that was perfect. I took the stairs up (two thirds of the way – you have to take an elevator to get to the very top). Primary reason: the line for the stairs was considerably shorter than the line for the elevator. Crowds crowds crowds! But it was pretty neat up there. Views amazing of course, the whole city.
After that, a sort of somber stop – the Vel d’Hiv memorial at its former site. This is a story that a lot of people don’t know about (or seem to particularly care about). Something France obviously isn’t very proud of and would rather have go away. Look it up if you’re interested – but here’s the basics. The Vel d’Hiv was a big stadium, a velodrome. During the war, the Vichy regime rounded up several thousand Jews (the numbers on the memorial were 1129 men, 2916 women, and 4115 children), put them in this stadium for a couple days (many died there – the conditions were terrible, no sanitation, no food, no water, just crowds of people like cattle), and then put them in boxcars off to the Auschwitz. The stadium has since been demolished, and on the site now are modern apartments and office buildings. All there is on the site is a small patch of grass, some flowers, and a plaque – maybe ten feet by ten feet. It’s just a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower and no one even knows its there or that this even happened. There are no signs pointing to it, and while I was there, I was the only one there.
After that, crossing the river, back to the Champs Élysées, heading home. Stopped again at the Arc de Triomphe. It wasn’t open yet when I passed by in the morning, and as it was sunny now, I paid the fee and climbed some more stairs to the top. Some more fantastic views. A break in the clouds and the sun hit the pure white dome of the Sacre Coeur, way off in the distance. Beautiful.
The Metro home, and we’re caught up to now. A more relaxing day tomorrow, and then that’s Paris, and we really will be getting to the end of this. The final travel day, the final day in Amsterdam, the 30. But we won’t get into any of that. Plenty of time yet.
The courtyard where I’m writing this –