Thursday, April 11, 2013

Paris, continued ...

My visit to Paris enabled me to experience what it's like to really be a stranger in a city - like many I take around in New York.  Only having read guide books, and books about Paris, just how would I do?

Yes, figuring out what to do next can be very challenging!

But, Paris is, and I almost hate to say it, easier than New York to get to know and enjoy.  Expecially if, like me, you have booked at a hotel in the center of where you want to be.  I was booked at the Hotel Central Saint Germain, at 3 rue Champollion right in the center of the 5th arrondissement - the Latin Quarter, and right around the corner from the main building of the Sorbonnes.  

The view from my window might not seem like much, but the window itself was quite accommodating, opening in quite wide to let fresh (albeit chilly!) air in.  So, well, normal!  I enjoyed just walking out to begin the day.  And so on my third full day I ventured to the Metro! 
What I saw on my first day, which was a clean, quiet subway, was surpassed on my third.  Who would have imagined the extent to which good design had gone? 

Oh, sure!  We have art in our subways too - but really?  Hardly!  How can these stay clean and visible - unobscured by graffiti?  I don't know!  There is graffiti in Paris, but, well, not here!  

This was the Sorbonne/Cluny Station, near the St. Michel/Notre Dame station, and each is connected to the other underground.  Although I used the No. 4 line most, and did that morning on my way over the Seine (I do mean under!) to Montmartre, the No. 1 was the first to be opened, on July 19, 1900 - exactly nine years before my father was born (in Altoona, Pennsylvania, but that's a completely different story).  

Yes, I was on my way to Sacre Coeur on Montmartre - the mount of the Martyr St. Denis, the patron saint of Paris.  

I had begun my morning looking out my window, as usual, checking the weather - and looking for that glimmer of sun that might promise a good day.  Ah hah!  I see it!  Perhaps today is the day for Montmartre!  The temperatures in Paris were pretty much the same as they were in New York, and the weather too.    So, I went our for my "formule."
I learned of this on my second morning: for 15 more cents, I could get a fresh-squeezed glass of orange juice!  Just the thing to help me begin the day.
I entered the No. 4 line, and joined the passengers on their way north, to Montmartre.  But, can you see?  The cars in this new metro are not separated from each other as they are on their older ones, and as they are in New York's subway.  It's all "one car" so to speak!  One can walk freely front to back, no problem.  People sat in their seats, some reading, some talking, and there isn't noise or commotion to interrupt them - and to make their journey uncomfortable.  Hmm.  How civilized!  In one of the oldest transit systems in the world.  (I'm told I should now see what Moscow has done!)

When I exit the Metro, I sense where the hill is, and proceed.  I see a sign pointing to Sacre Coeur, and walk there - and here are clustered some of the many scooters and motor bikes that are all over Paris.  Wonder of wonders, the traffic in Paris.

What seems to brilliant about Paris is the sense of business, or purpose, but without the frenetic scurrying that so permeates New York.    I continue up the hill.

Yes!  I see the sun! 

And, I see the stairs.
No problem, there's a railing, and it's one step at a time.  I knew there was a hill (a guide book had warned me), and I enjoy this climb.  For, at the top: 
The Basilica of Sacre Coeur was begun in 1875 and completed in 1914, but only officially dedicated after the end of World War 1, in 1919.  Officially dedicated to the 58,000 lost in that conflict, it is more customarily held in honor of those many who died in the gypsum mines and tunnels in that butte during the uprising of the communard in 1871 in that very neighborhood.  

I realize how little I know of French history!  There is so much, so many conflicts, so many different governments and organizations - so much life.  I went into the basilica - noting that photography is not permitted.  

I have obtained through Wikipedia, however, a photograph of that interior so that you can appreciate the beauty: 
(From Wikipedia)
Turning around, and walking out, I saw - Paris! 
You might just make it out in the far distance, toward the left.  It's the Montparnasse Tower; at 689 feet high (210 meters) and built from 1969 to 1972, it is so out of place in the cityscape that respects only the Eiffel Tower is the reigning tall structure.  The Montparnasse Tower is the tallest building in Paris proper (and second only to Tour First in the Paris suburbs at 271 meters or 758 feet high).  But neither is taller that the Eiffel Tower: it is 279.22 meters, or 915.7 feet, high - which is not in this view. 

But the best view of Paris is from the top of the Montparnasse Tower - because it's not in that view! 

So, yes, I loved Paris - and will go back.  There really is no comparison I can make that can do anything except make New York seem to be of an entirely different species.  Paris is the biggest village I've ever seen. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Early Spring Update

The Street Teacher Visits - Paris!

Surprise surprise!  Yes, I finally got all my frequent-flyer points together and booked a round-trip flight to the City of Light.  There must be a reason I still remember the French I took for six years - through junior and senior high school - and for 6 weeks at the Alliance Française in New York (during the Monica Lewinsky dust-up - that's how I remember the time, because our teacher was so amused by the "moral outrage" that would have been dismissed in a moment in France!).

I was so nervous about choosing the flight - the right flight - that I simply called my agent: American Express Travel.  After all, it was their "points" I would use, so why not get that out of the way and be most efficient about it.  

Well, as many of you may know, the least expensive flights are rarely the most direct ones.  So, I may have booked through American Airlines, but it was Iberia that took me first to Madrid, then to Paris.  The photo above was taken from the window seat of the second leg of that flight - a little cramped for sure, but for just a little less than two hours - although we did have to wait on the ground for 45 minutes before taking off.  And the first, night flight I had the aisle seat.  Much better. 

But the plane was full indeed; the young woman sitting next to me was a graduate student at the Stern School of Business at NYU with about 15 students on their way to Morocco to study the way women are treated in that country.  A most "un-spring-break-like" Spring Break, indeed! 

Landing in Madrid at about 6 in the morning (I left JFK I think a little before 7 on the previous evening), I had a connection to make for the ultimate arrival at Orly in Paris at 10:10.  

But how to know where the flight is! 
Sure!  The Airport is gorgeous - but there was - is - no signage upon exiting customs directing us to that connection - none whatsoever!  All those students were, of course, connecting to an entirely different flight, so where they were going wasn't necessarily where I would go - and did they know where to go? 

The airport is huge - and makes JFK seem like LaGuardia in comparison.  But, of course, in spite of seeing no one who was official in any way, I managed to find one sign with all the flights on it; there was no gate, yet, but at least I knew where to look for it.  

Yes, after that 45 minute wait on the ground, we're off to Orly - and arrive 10 minutes early.  They're tricky, these pilots. 

Yes!  Off the RER B at St. Michel/Notre Dame, and I'm in the Latin Quarter!  Who couldn't love this?!  I'm only a few blocks from my hotel - although, truth be told, it was a challenge to navigate the unusual arrangements of the streets.  Those of you who think getting around in Greenwich Village can be a challenge - well!  Paris for a new-comer can be a real challenge! 

My room was ready - I had arrived after 12 - and I went up.  Here's my view out one of the two windows of my room.  Quite adequate - and only on the fourth floor (the ground floor there is 0, not 1, by the way - and there is an elevator), so it would be easy to go in and out.  Only 35 rooms in this little hotel (The Hotel Central Saint Germain, at 3 Rue Champollion). 

My room - 
- was quite comfortable - although this picture may betray the fact that I took this picture in the latter part of the day - after my requisite tasting of red wine (I always bought wine for less than 3 Euro - or $3.86 - wine is the one thing that is really cheap there).

But once I dropped my bag - I was out on the street again.  Paris is definitely a walking city.  You simply have to walk; I took the metro occasionally (and you should also at least buy the "Carnet," or ten ticket choice: its "full price" is 12.70 Euro, whereas an individual ticket is 1.70.  Do the math, and you'll see that the individual price is cheaper than New York's - although one cannot transfer freely to a bus, although one can, within zones, transfer between the suburban RER trains (which take one to the airports) and the Metro for free.  Definitely worth it. 

There are all sorts of "passes" available, and if you're intending to visit museums then they're worth checking out: and, which last site covers almost everything you could imagine doing there.  It will consume a whole day to determine just which package will suit your desires - but it may be worth it!  

Suffice it for this traveler, however, to say that I didn't indulge in the Louvre, or the Gare d'Orsay, or even some of the smaller museums.  Except for the Musée des Beaux Arts, which I stumbled upon as I walked - on a day when it was free, as it happened - I didn't visit too many obvious tourist sites.  

Except, of course, for Notre Dame. 
Yes, it was a little cloudy that day, and rainy even, but not a deluge, and nothing I couldn't manage with my umbrella.  (No, I didn't betray my nationality with a baseball hat!  I had a beret - which I lost over there, and which few French in Paris actually wear.) 

This year, however, is very special for the Cathedral de Notre Dame, for it is celebrating the 850th year since it's construction was begun. 
So there are tourists!  But, and in a way this felt a little weird, most of them were French, and French school children too.  So, I was among the French nonetheless virtually all the time. 

I arrived on March 16, a Saturday, so I was looking forward to attending services at Notre Dame on March 17, St. Patrick's Day.  So, I got up early the next morning - 

- and had my petit dejeuner formüle for 4 Euro early, looking out toward the Place St. Michel.  After I  walked the short distance over to Notre Dame. 

Yes, I could think, well, it's smaller than the Cathedral of St. John the Divine - but it's finished and it's 850 years old!  I was there comfortably early, before the 8:30am service, and found a good seat in the first 10 or 15 rows of the nave. 
Ah, no, I couldn't imagine Quasimodo swinging on his bell rope to rescue Esmeralda - but I'll have a greater appreciation of the movie when I see it again! 

End - Part 1