Friday, May 27, 2016

We’re back in Paris!

Exciting, and this time the weather is warm(er) than it was last November! Of course, after being in Montpellier, in the south, we’re now used to actual warm weather, so it still seems a bit chilly here. But why quibble!
Getting here was quite a trip too – in the non-transportation sense. The transport part was easy. A 20-minite walk to the train station in Montpellier, bit of a wait, then board the TGV (tres grand vitesse, the high-speed train). Quiet, smooth, and fast, in about 3-1/2 hours we’d covered the 450 miles to Paris. The actual speed was displayed inside the car, and was mostly between 260 and 285 KPH (about 170 MPH).
The TGV in Paris (not my photo)

Confirmation of how fast it really goes (289 km/hr = 180 MPH)
Once in Paris we had little trouble negotiating the Metro and getting to the stop near our destination, but things got a bit sticky after that. We turned the wrong way coming up from the underground. Eventually, though, thanks to help from some friendly locals, we found our apartment, and the owner was waiting outside for us! Turns out Nicolas, our Airbnb host, went above and beyond. He was scheduled for a business trip for this week, which is why he was renting his place to us. But oops, his trip got cancelled. But rather than kicking us out – which would have been tough for us! – he found another place in Paris. Whew!
The 12' door to the courtyard in our Paris Airbnb apartment building
We quickly got the knack of the neighborhood, learning which way to turn coming out the door to get where we wanted to go. And, since the beautiful white domes of Sacre Coeur were visible from the street, we headed in their direction.
The white domes of Sacre Coeur

Once in Montmartre we returned to Il Pomodoro, a pizza restaurant run by a Sicilian, where we’d eaten when we were here, in November. The place was as good as ever, with the same fine Sicilian wine. Rested and refreshed, we headed for the Basilica, which meant climbing stairs with about a zillion steps. (Ah, but I exaggerate; there were only about half that many.) And once at the top, we found the place packed, with at least a zillion people (verified!). It was a beautiful Sunday in May, and getting near sunset – that being about 10PM – and everyone wanted to see those last rays strike the city.
Il Pomodoro restaurant, a nice find tucked away near the top of Montmartre

But the crowds became oppressive, and the sky clouded up, so we made our way down through the park, stepping gingerly around the puddles of urine left by the beer-drinking homeless (a problem endemic to parts of the city). Once out of the hills of Montmartre, we were on the main road (Blvd. de Rochechouart), the one full of tourist trinkets and hucksters. Dusk was falling, and we didn’t really want to be here after dark. (I’ve never been in a part of Paris where I felt unsafe – although there are many areas I haven’t been! – but there are some areas that are certainly less interesting than others.) We came upon a bus stop, waited for a few minutes, and when the bus arrived, we climbed aboard.
While the bus system is somewhat harder to understand than the underground Metro, and gets delayed by surface traffic, it doubles as a sightseeing platform, moving through the city much faster than a walk (and the bus rarely gets lost!). We stayed on the bus past our stop, and rode it clear to the river (that would be the Seine).
The city grew up along the Seine, and the banks remain an extremely popular (read: high-priced) area. It’s always interesting, and forever romantic. We walked out on the Pont Neuf to watch the tour boats cruise by, then sat and gazed downriver as the clouds parted from the horizon just as the sun set.
Sunset from the Pont Neuf

Heading home we passed the huge, very old, and fabulously decorated Hotel de Ville, the seat of government for the City of Paris. The 85 bus was waiting for us (well, not for us, so much, but it was waiting), and we were soon back at our new apartment.

Hotel de Ville, center of government for the City of Paris

OuiShare Fest, the conference for which we came to Paris, started on Tuesday. There was a volunteers meeting Monday evening, which meant we had a whole day to explore, and re-visit, before we had to start “work.”
First on our list of “must dos” was a visit to the “old neighborhood,” the area where we’d stayed for five weeks in November and December. We headed over to the canal we had enjoyed so much before, then followed it to the terrace where we’d come that first night seven months earlier. This time we passed up the bad wine and expensive beer on the terrace, and visited our old street.
A walk along the Canal d'Ourq is still a favorite; now with leaves on the trees!
The built-in ping pong tables see heavy use in pleasant weather
It was almost surreal, being back. We last time we were on this street was at four in the morning, getting a taxi to the airport. And here it was, exactly as we’d left it. We bathed in a bit of nostalgia, then returned to the canal. And saw something we had been longing for the entire previous trip: a boat passing through the locks in the canal. The boat lowered slowly, slowly as the water drained from the upper lock; then the gates opened and the boat moved through into the next lock. Repeat, as needed.
An empty lock, awaiting a boat -- gates (background and near foreground) are closed.

Water draining from the upper lock --

as the boat waits for the water level to drop and the gates to open.

These locks, and the canal, were built about the same time Baron Haussmann was exercising his radical urban renewal on Paris, in the first half of the 19th century. Originally they were a major transportation link, but their importance diminished with the rise of rail, and later, roads. Now they are a very pleasant diversion from the busyness of the city, a long linear park running north from the river.

The hour grew later, and we ran up against a hard fact about life in Paris (and, indeed, France as a whole): you can’t get a meal between about 3PM and the start of dinner, around 7:30. Restaurants aren’t serving; the many people in the always-crowded cafes are drinking, not eating; the boulangaries have run out of sandwiches. There are always pastries, but we really needed more, having kept moving long after we should have stopped.
The crowded terrace, seen from the crepe stand

Eventually we passed by the terrace again, and found a little crepe stands tucked away. The nice lady was making both sweet (sucre) and savory (salee) crepes. The former have sugar, chocolate, Nutella on them; the latter, chicken, fried onions, mushrooms. We had a couple of the latter. They were yummy!

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