So, I thought it was about time I posted something about our trip to Paris trip – since it was a week ago that we got back, and I’ve finally upload the pictures and sorted them into a sensible order, so here we go…
So, the first day was mostly taken up with a poor decision on my part – I was not keen to use the French Toll roads, for some reason I recalled you requiring a sticky on the window to use them, and/or it being incredibly expensive if you didn’t. I now think this is the Swiss toll roads, but might still be suffering from insanity.
Anyhow, we got a bit lost – google’s directions were at once misleading and terribly accurate – and after getting to within a mile of our hotel (and one roundabout) we turned around, retraced our steps, and did it wrong. It wasn’t helped by the fact that we were navigating with the AA Europe atlas which is great – but not terribly detailed.
We stopped en-route at what must be the worst service station in all of Europe and were supplied with a substance they claimed was fish, in what I believe had once been a white sauce. The crunchy dried out over cooked rice was just the perfect accompaniment to this dish, as was the demonstration of “Surly can’t be bothered with you service”. Having headed back out into the very cold night with an admission that we should, quite definitely try the toll roads tomorrow, we continued on our very long way.
We ended up lapping the square and suburbs of a little French village several times before pulling up and us asking at a Grocery store. The people there were really kind – drawing us a map, coming outside and pointing at the right exit from the square, running through the directions with us to make sure we were clear – and through our limited French and their (far superior) English we ended up at the Hotel.
Rested, (although the new bed meaning we were not particularly well rested), we came down for a very very pleasant French breakfast before piling in the car again and heading towards Versailles. After a bit of a discussion we’d decided to head to Versailles on the first day – then take the car into Paris afterwards – thus saving us from coming back out of Paris as it was sort-of on our way. Some detours later, and a new road map purchased (Kathryn exclaimed ‘It has details!’) and we rocked up at Versailles.
We forked out for the very handy Museum Pass and made our way into Versailles. The museum pass saves you queuing for a ticket before having to join the (very long) queue to get in – which was convenient – and Versailles was every bit as delightful as it is meant to be. It was insanely busy for an icy cold day in February, this being how busy it is off-season I hate to think what it’s like during summer.
Outside we saw a couple, the female member of which was sporting the first ever Polaroid instamatic camera…loaded with film. It was clearly a new toy, and she experimented with it producing what I have to admit wasn’t a great photo although the development in the freezing cold may have been a bit of an issue (and isn’t all the instamatic film out of date now?).
While I said to her that it was a very cool camera, I wish I’d had the nerve to ask to take the shot I wanted, of her, Versailles, and her instamatic shot held up in roughly the right place. I should *so* get over myself, what’s the worst she could have said? No? Gah. Anyhow.
We meandered round – enjoying Rick Steve’s audio commentary which does bring out some exceptional features that we’d not have spotted otherwise – particularly aspects of the gorgeous ceilings; I played with my camera cursing the 200 ASA film that I’ve got (seriously, I should have got something faster) – but got some fun photos…
Although annoyingly, this one – which is my favourite fun photo – is blurry. Too big an aperture, but the ceiling’s nicely exposed!
Of course, what’s interesting to note is that some of the ceilings in Versailles were never finished, and they’ve only recently decided to finish them off. This is a shot of one of the painters, Jenny le Peintre, one of the fabulous artists tasked with filling in the blanks in the Versailles ceilings:
Unfortunately, being the middle of February, the gardens weren’t at their prettiest, but the light outside was just incredible.
No polarising filter required, that’s just what the sky looked like.
As the sun came down, and an increasing chill settled around us we piled back in the car and made for Paris, and an attempt to terrify us all.
See. When we planned this trip and the concept of driving in Paris was mooted I thought – “Hey, can’t be that bad, just briefly”. Let’s just say that the French clearly take Liberté very seriously, even to the extent of not bothering with road markings. Signposting also seems to follow a different scheme to that used in the UK where we’re a fan of ‘signposts before the junction’. Let’s just say that some of the most unnerving driving I’ve ever done was in Paris*.
After a bit of hunting we found a parking spot – at least for the night – unloaded and landed in our Hotel. Having dumped our stuff, we then went and had a really incredibly nice Pizza at a really incredibly nice Pizzaria where we got given free Kir, and had our hands shaken on departure in a really friendly way. He put up with our broken French and we ended up with some excellent Pizza.
We then collapsed into bed, and awoke the next morning to explore the delights of Paris. Pausing only to move the car to a painfully expensive car-park, we made our way into the city centre via the Metro. Paris’s metro is delightful and efficient, except for the odour of stale urine which seems to pervade several of the stations, in some cases quite strongly.
Our first stop on that first day was the Musee d’Orsay, which is just gorgeous. Located in an ex-cathedral-to-science-and-technology (or railway station), the museum houses 19th and 20th century art, largely ‘where the Louvre leaves off’ – and has a rather nice exhibit on the Opera house too.
The statuary is just incredible (meet Sapho) and terribly interesting in terms of it’s position in history and style.
And not Sapho:
The Musee D’Orsay is interesting in that not only does it house incredible art in the traditional sense, it also includes the decorative arts – and up in the galleries there are some gorgeous pieces of Art Nouveau. While the photograph isn’t great (hey, 200ASA, okay?), the room is just incredible:
We also saw some truly incredible pastels that looked like they were being backlit. The incredible glow from the pastels was astonishing. Unfortunately the Musee D’Orsay is currently undergoing renovation, and we needed to eat somewhere a bit cheaper than the Museum’s Restaurant (which, incidentally, is housed in what was originally the restaurant of the hotel in the station).
We headed out though, into the damp, and made our way to our first French Lunch and then on to the Rodin Museum.
This is a terribly interesting little museum housed in what was once a hotel in which Rodin stayed. The gardens are taken up with Rodin’s statues, and inside a mixture of statues, , drawings, paintings, even some tapestries lurk. Kathryn, who’s been there before, got down to her sketching while I meandered around taking photos of both the Museum – which is interestingly run down – and Rodin’s works:
As the chill took us we headed out into the cold for a very interesting Lebanese meal. I can’t recall where we were aiming to get to, but we ended up a bit further out from the centre of Paris, and were hunting for a cheap dinner. A Lebanese restaurant took our fancy, with it’s cheap meals, and we sat down and were enjoying tasty food and a seemingly friendly restauranteer, when the conversation turned deeply racist. After we’d established that I wasn’t within what he classes as the ‘black’ group of people he informed us that he, apparently, thinks there are “too many black people” in L.A. (I think it was). The sudden urge to finish and leave came upon us both. In a foreign land with very limited language skill, a discussion on the finer points of race relations was not something we were keen to have; although Kathryn did try gently to guide him towards a less racist path, as we paid and sprinted from the place.
The food was nice though!
We made our way home to our hotel, and the next day sallied forth for a ‘walking tour of Paris’ with, of course, the inimitable Rick Steves. Only it didn’t quite work that way. It was cold. It was raining. We started off at the wrong church.
Only we, with our incredible sense of direction could be stood infront of wholly the wrong church going ‘it’s not as big as it should be’ ;)
We eventually found Notre Dame, and had the Rick Steves tour of the place (although we were entitled to a free tour with our museum passes the queue was exceptionally long, and it was quite wet). Kathryn did some sketching, I made some rudimentary attempts at an agreement with god that would allow at least some of my photos to come out (clearly, she wasn’t listening).
I did get a few shots which weren’t too blurry, including the required ‘Kathryn Sketching’ shot… My question for you is ‘why are the demons so much more interesting than the angels’?
Kathryn got pretty chilly sketching and we made our way off to get lunch? hot drinks? Something like that. Ironically our next stop on the trip was to be only a few hundred yards from Notre Dame, the awesome Shakespeare and Co.
I don’t think I need to say much more about the place, apart from the fact that it’s awesome. We did, of course, come away with a few books – some of which were free, and all of which are interesting :)
Now I seem to recall it was this day that we headed off to look at one of the record shops I’d been fancying. See, for the podcast I wanted to get some French music of some sort, and perhaps should have done some more research or learned the French for ‘Say you wanted an introduction to French Rock/Pop/Jazz, what would you recommend’?
The first shop was incredible, but also ‘not cheap’, and thus it was that we ended another day.
I can’t remember what we had for dinner that night – I recall it was a different nationality every evening though :)
Our last full day was spent having mild, but interesting failures. We went to see one of the record stores I was interested in, it was closed until midday (we’re not used to the french opening hours yet), we made our way to another store we wanted to see, it was also closed, we went to a photography exhibit, it was closed – and the staff didn’t suggest that it was opening later.
It was in a very interesting building though.
It also allowed us to
pass by go into a tea shop and buy some very nice tea. Eventually, we made it to Born Bad where Kathryn picked out some suitably French Vinyl and I selected a 1950s French Rock and Roll CD – my podcasting desires satiated, we headed off to the Cinema Museum.
The incredible, and somewhat sad thing about the Cinema Museum is majority of the collection was once British. We sold it, and no museums in the UK thought ‘hey, that would be good to own’. So the collection went to Paris where they’ve made a terribly interesting museum centered around the French film archive. There’s some incredible early equipment, films, and such. And time wise we only really explored half of the museum, the plan being to go home, get changed and come back in to an interesting English language zine launch (at Shakespeare and Co), and a nice dinner. It didn’t quite work that way, because our timings were deeply off. We made it to Angelina’s for some awesome hot chocolate. Unfortunately, while Kathryn passed as ‘acceptably neat’ I looked like ‘scuzzy tourist’ (my bright red Off World Colonies hoodie topping off the jeans, with my bike jacket over the top) and we were relegated to the ‘scuzzy tourist’ zone of the restaurant.
But the Hot Chocolate. Wow. That is seriously delightful, if painfully expensive, hot chocolate. And the macaroon-fruit-type-thing I had as an accompaniment? Delicious. Truly, utterly delicious.
Having filled ourselves up on this healthy dish, we had some time to kill before getting dinner (Friday being our planned ‘really treat ourselves foodwise’ day**). We headed to the late-opening Louvre, where Kathryn and I got our Sketching on. Kathryn doing her usual high standard of artwork, and me producing something that was vaguely reminiscent of the object I was drawing, if you squint a bit. I blame the pen… or the paper… or both.
I also took some more desperately under exposed shots, my favourite of which is this one:
We went to Le Taxi Jaune for dinner, a restaurant I can definately recommend. The food was delicious, and the service excellent – tolerating our French and ignoring the fact that I’d turned up looking as slovenly as before (no time to get changed!).
Not really any good for a true veggie, but we ditched our principles and had really delicious food which was actually very reasonably priced – and meant we finally had a proper French dinner (we’d had lots of French Breakfasts and Lunches).
Saturday morning we spent hunting around Les Puces. I got a bit peeved because I couldn’t find any Gramophones, but Kathryn patiently put up with me and finally directed me into a store which I’d dismissed, and there behind the counter were some Gramophones. When I returned later I realised they also had a whacking great chunk of Gramophone records at the front of the store too, which I’d somehow missed (I think where I was standing they were obscured by the pole, and I’d lost hope anyway so wasn’t looking too carefully).
The market was full of loads of interesting, but generally somewhat overpriced stuff – I think the tourist attraction that is Les Puces has slightly reduced it’s effectiveness as a real market. I think someone was asking for 300Euros for a broken radio in need of restoration – the sort of thing you can pick up on e-bay for a few tens of quid, indeed I picked up a valve radio a few years ago for a fiver… and it worked, sort of.
Anyhow, we piled into Chester and made the long drive home (a job which was made somewhat harder but the sudden appearance of snow and sleet on the way) and that, my happy campers, was our trip.
The complete set of photos is here.
* I’m also aware that I may have run a few red lights simply because I didn’t see them.
** I think we had very reasonably priced, if not exceptional sushi for lunch that day too.