Friday, Apr 30
Joel and I woke early to catch a 0655 Eurostar train to Paris. Security is similar to airports but not quite as extensive. It’s slightly over 2 hours by train through the chunnel. Only a very short part of the trip is underground, i.e., underwater. The southeastern English countryside and that in France consists of lots of flat farmland – more trees than Kansas.
Because of the public holiday in France we had to begin our excursions for sightseeing right away. We got metro tickets to Versailles right at the rail station – got a bit turned around because there were two number 4s on overhead signage. Most frustrating thing about Paris was the signage.
So. On to Versailles. Good: there is a left luggage place at the palace so we didn’t have to waste time by going to our hotel first. Bad: there was a huge line to buy tickets. The line moved at a snail’s pace, too. After 45 minutes we got to the doorway of the building and noticed a room where there were automated ticketing machines. The line itself snaked through 2 more rooms if you needed information or wanted go buy tickets from a live body. (see my earlier note re bad signage.) So we lost almost an hour of tour time. Sigh.
With tickets in hand we were finally able to drop our luggage, which was also screened of course.
What can you say? Impressive. Amazing. Splendid. Ostentatious. WOW. Absolutely gorgeous. Thoroughly enjoyed the history, the paintings, murals, sculptures and the gardens. What a place. Definitely worth a visit. Definitely my favorite part of our brief sojourn to Paris.
By five we were on the metro headed back into the city. Got off at the stop for the Louvre because we figured we could get a taxi from there to our hotel. (see earlier note re signage.)
It’s good I had written down the hotel address. Unfortunately I’d failed to get their phone no. Taxi driver looked confused at first but finally found the street on his map. We weren’t far but one way streets and rush hour traffic meant we could have walked there in the time it took the taxi to do the circuit.
Hotel was nice. Check in clerk spoke some English. We figured out we were three blocks from the Louvre. Joel’s boss had arranged dinner reservations for us at a restaurant run by one of their clients. We had the address for the place but didn’t know exactly where it was either. Checked google maps and discovered it was 93 meters down the street! We could lean out our window and see the place! The street name was different of course, which is why we didn’t realize it was so close.
The hotel elevator could either hold two people or one person and one suitcase. Reminded me of a dumbwaiter! We dropped our suitcases and headed to the Louvre. It was open until 9:30, thank goodness, and this was our only opportunity to see it because it was closed on Saturday because of the holiday.
The museum is incredible. You could easily spend days wandering through it. Art lovers must go mad there. So many works of art including the Mona Lisa. There was a crowd around the painting but I managed to make my way to the rope that held crowds back – surprisingly one of the few works of art that had a barrier. Was I awed? The masterpiece is as brilliant as hundreds of others in the museum. What’s cool is seeing something in person that you’ve read about and seen pictures of since you were a kid. The mystique behind her expression, the age of the painting, the fact that it’s a da Vinci make it special. But I think I was just as impressed by other works at the museum.
Dinner was at 10pm at La Tour de Montlhéry – Chez Denise at 5, rue des Prouvaires – as noted earlier – it’s about 3 blocks from the Louvre but is not open on weekends (in case you happen to be nearby). Seemed odd to eat so late but the place was packed. We finished eating just before midnight and there were still diners coming in. Everything runs a bit later in Europe, right? Excellent meal. I highly recommend it.
We took our time on Saturday. First stop after a mid-morning breakfast: walking through the park outside the Louvre. It was a gorgeous day. Next: the Eiffel Tower. Thousands of people, lines snaking around 3 of the 4 bases of the tower. We opted to skip the ride to the top. The wait was far too long. Off to Notre Dame and one of the shorter lines of the trip. A beautiful cathedral but I’ll take Yorkminster and Westminster over it any day. We spent the late afternoon wandering around the neighborhood near our hotel, found a place for dinner, then crashed early so we’d be ready for another early start to catch the train back to London.