Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Paris - Day 3 & 4

The question everyone asks me now is, "Is it true that French people are rude?" Well, France is a big country, and I'm sure it has plenty of rude people, and I'm sure it has plenty of very pleasant people too. All I saw was a small sampling of people in a large city in a small country. How can I make such a generalization?

My daily interactions were quite pleasant for the most part. Few people seemed to look down on me for not being able to speak French or for being American or for wearing the wrong shoes. Most of the folks I met were servers and receptionists and ticket takers and shopkeepers. Being rude to me would certainly not benefit them monetarily. I had many pleasant interactions with Parisians.

Then there was on incident that made me wonder. Kevin and I were walking around our neighborhood shopping for some necessities. I came upon a Sephora.

There has been something I have been meaning to get from Sephora for the past few weeks, so I decided to go in and see if the Paris branch carried it. I found it and went to the register to make a purchase.

There were two registers open. One had 3 or 4 people in line. One had only two men who appeared to be together. Obviously I chose the shorter line. It turned out to be the wrong line. The two men in front of me were having some sort of issue and were filling out a form. The cashier looked at me sympathetically and assured me she would help me as soon as she was finished with them. I told her it was fine. I considered jumping into the other line, but it had grown longer.

Finally, a third sales person walked up to the registers and conferred with the other two. She saw me waiting there, clearly looked at me, and opened up the register. She then said, "Next," (she may have even said it in English) and looked right at me.

Before I could take another step and get in her line, the next person in the other line jumped right in front of me. The cashier gave me a sympathetic and puzzled look, but I was not about to start a fight with the line jumper. I let her go ahead, went in line behind her, and made my purchase.

Was the line jumper French? I don't know. Kevin thinks she was American. I don't think it matters. Rude and selfish behavior is not confined to one culture.

Every day I dealt with nearly being run down by Parisians on their way to this place or that. We squished together in the Metro. Parisian residents who aren't in the service industry have no need to be nice to tourists when it's not going to benefit them. I'm not saying that they were being deliberately rude. I'm just saying that they were just living their lives. These are people who just want to go to work, go home, have dinner, shop, and just be where they need to be. They're in their own individual worlds, out for themselves.

Paris is a big city, and people who live in big cities tend to be @ssholes. It's the nature of city living. When you live in a city you're constantly surrounded by people. You are likely to be paying ridiculous amounts of money for housing - and rather tiny housing at that. It's a very stressful way of life. You're not out there enjoying the endless pleasures the tourists are taking in. You're working and living in a real world. You just want to focus on making your way and it helps to ignore the throngs of humanity around you. Being surrounded by thousands of people also instills a certain level of paranoia and mistrust. That's not just Paris. It's New York. It's London. It's LA. It's Tokyo. It's Chicago. It's Mumbai.

So no, French people are not rude. They're just people. Human like you and me.

Day 3 - This was our busiest day of all. Too bad it was another gloomy day with intermittent rain.

We began our day with a trip to the Musee` D'Orsay. We thought it would be fun to use the Batobus for transportation. It's a hop-on/hop-off boat that goes up and down the Seine, stopping at the major tourist points. It's a pay-one-price ticket for the full day, which seemed like a good deal. It's also a scenic ride.

We picked up the boat at Notre Dame, which meant that we had to wait for it to go all the way up the Right Bank and then back down the Left to reach the museum. It was a longer ride than we anticipated. It was close to 11 when we arrived. Then we had to wait on a very long line. Even with the museum pass it took at least a half hour due to the security checkpoint at the entrance.

We were unable to take photos inside, so all I have are the statues on the outside.

We spent about two hours inside the museum. Knowing we couldn't see it all in one day, we concentrated on the impressionists and post-impressionists. We saw Van Gogh's famous self portrait along with paintings by Cezanne and Degas and Gaugin and Renoir and Manet.

After the museum we fortified ourselves with crepes and soldiered on. Ha ha. That was a great pun since our next stop was Le Invalides and the Musee` D'Armee. We thought it would be cool to see Napoleon's tomb.

The tomb is in an open crypt with a balcony looking down into from the floor above. There is a high dome above the crypt and over the entrance is a big altar.

My thought was, "All of this elaborate burial regalia for a leader who ended up exiled!" I suppose it's less extravagant than the Taj Mahal.

After that we were over the beautiful Pont Alexandre and on to Place De La Concorde. We were actually doubling back by doing this, but I thought Kevin would have some good opportunities for photos with the obelisk and the fountains.

Then we made the long walk up the Champs Elysee`s to the Arc De Triomphe. It's a pity that it began raining harder around that time, making the scenery a bit dull and less colorful. The leaves on the trees would have looked so beautiful on a sunny day.

We made it to the Arch. Exhausted as we were, we were still crazy enough to climb to the top. What the heck. Our museum passes got us in, so why not?

We could have had to have walked back to the Champs Elysee`s to catch the Batobus again, but we were far too tired for such a long walk. We just took the Metro back to our hotel.

For everyone who has ever told me how wonderful the Metro is, I would like to know what you are smoking. Whatever it is, I wished I had smoked it too before using the Metro. Yes, the Metro is a bit easier to navigate than the NYC subways, but it's just as dirty and congested. Connections take forever because they are so spread out in the terminals. Let's not forget the inconvenience of having to open your own doors when the train stops. (It's a good thing we discovered you have to do that before we had to get off at our own stops.) The seating is horrible. It's rows of facing seats instead of the bench seats you see on the subway in NYC. That means fewer places for riders to actually sit. I was rarely ever able to plant my tired butt in a seat on the Metro. The Metro does not even compare to the London Underground.

After walking down the chi-chi Avenue with its many chain shops, I was grateful to finally be back in my cozy, unique, little Latin Quarter!

I actually took another walk around the neighborhood before dinner. I hadn't really explored the Latin Quarter and its shops and sights yet. We had dinner in a local cafe and went to bed as early as possible. We had an early day ahead of us.

Day 4 - Today we took a tour of Versailles. We opted to go with a small group van tour. The RER could have taken us there right from our hotel, but we liked the idea of having someone guide us and having everything prepaid. Our tour picked us up a little after 8AM and we were on our way. We were joined by a mother and her teenaged daughter who were from Boston along with a middle aged man and his mother who were from London.

We started out with the palace, going through the major rooms including the Hall of Mirrors and Louis XIV's bed chamber.

Then we had about 45 minutes to walk the grounds before lunch. Our lunch at a very nice restaurant was included.

Then we went on to Marie Antoinette's hamlet. I loved this place. It is an educational working farm now and there were gardens and animals and even a vineyard. It was the perfect place for a traditional Fall day in the country, particularly with the backdrop of the changing leaves. It was too bad that the rain continued that day.

Next was the Grand Trianon, the palace of the kings' official mistresses. Here was saw Napoleon's bed. The gardens here were very blue.

Then there was the Petite Trianon. This was another,smaller estate belonging to Marie Antoinette. There were some interesting artifacts here like some of the actual china in the kitchen and a royal baby carriage. The gardens were also quite beautiful here.

We arrived back at our hotel in the late afternoon. We had a few hours until dinner so we opted to take a walk around the Ile St. Louis and explore some of the shops. We were particularly interested in some of the sweet shops we had spotted on our way to dinner on Sunday night. There were several interesting boutiques there as well and we managed to get a head start on Christmas shopping.

The day was also our 9th anniversary. Our dinner reservations that night were at the famous La Coupole. It meant another Metro ride *grumble* to get there, but we had a very tasty dinner to make up for it.

Another day down. Our week was now half over.

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