We boarded the Air France plane in Manchester on time but then had to sit there for about an hour and 20 minutes because of fog in Charles De Gaulle in Paris! Aggh! You don’t really think of Paris as having fog issues do you? We made up some time and landed about 50 minutes later than scheduled so not too bad. Flight itself was fine but we only got a small cupcake and a coffee/tea on board. We were pretty hungry! All the flight attendants were men too, a bit unusual in my experience.
The airport didn’t seem to be as busy as I thought it would be. Perhaps it was just that terminal, (2F) I don’t know. It’s a huge airport though, but very modern and lots of windows and light where we were. Because there is a transport strike on, we asked about transport at the information desk and she said that she'd heard the RER was running a few trains so that was good news. The train only went as far as Gare du Nord but we managed to find the metro line we needed from there. It was very crowded, hot and sweaty! We arrived at the Odeon station, a couple of blocks from our hotel in St. Germain. We started off in the wrong direction first but got oriented and found the hotel ok. (Welcome Hotel, see hotel review)
So we’re in Paris!!! And we were starving! We walked down Rue de Seine away from Rue St. Germain. It’s always a bit of a head case trying to get yourself oriented to what you see on the map, what is in which direction. Going this way, we’re walking towards the Seine. The street here has a few cafes already and a small grocery store and you come out onto Rue de Buci which has even more cafes. I knew Paris was famous for them but wow, are there ever a lot of café/bars! There are small tables outside even in winter! Many places have heat lamps outside and some also have a clear plastic enclosure around the outside seating. They don’t have a smoking ban so we would usually keep an eye out for smokers when deciding where to sit.
We strolled along and checked out the various menus. The waiters were all very enthusiastic, putting the stereotype of snotty French waiters to rest. They all tried to get you to come in to their restaurant and were all dressed impeccably with the full torso apron tied around as well. We picked one because the waiter had even brought out the menu to us and pointed out the set price meal which seemed reasonable.
Our first lunch in Paris in a real French café with a real French waiter. It did seem to specialize in seafood with a display of fresh shellfish of various kinds set up outside. We had a lovely lunch of onion soup, steak and fries, dessert and a half litre of wine with it and coffee after. Steak and fries (steak frites) is actually a fairly popular meal there. We sat outside and it was a little chilly but we were under a heat lamp so it wasn’t too bad. The atmosphere was worth it!
I was quite pleased with myself during these three days. I only took French in school and haven’t used it since. Not much anyway. I didn’t do too badly making myself understood and figuring out what was said to me most of the time. I know they would be able to tell I was English and many would switch to English but I managed to catch a bit of most things and figure out what I needed to. Menus weren’t too much of a problem and many of them had English translations as well.
After lunch we walked down a street that would ultimately lead to the river but before we got there we found a little park behind this large domed building which turned out to be the Institut de France. The park had an interesting statue and a couple of park benches that looked like open books!
And there it was, the Seine! The traffic was pretty busy and we were to discover the truth about crazy French drivers! Along we walked, and then across a bridge to Ile de Cite. We walked past the Palais de Justice where Sainte Chapelle is. I did want to see that but we didn’t get around to it in the end. We walked through where the flower market is, past a metro stop (Cite) with a green wrought iron art deco entrance and eventually came to Notre Dame.
It’s a huge gothic cathedral, dark and peaceful inside, with astonishing stained glass windows high up over the arches. It was started in the 12th century and not completely finished for about 150 years. It’s been altered and sometimes nearly destroyed and it’s had it’s treasures destroyed during several political upheavals but it’s managed to remain and is still used as a Catholic cathedral. Outside the structure, there’s a round marker embedded in the ground to denote the centre of Paris. All major national roads in France apparently have their mileage starting here and if you stand on the stone in the ground, you will return to Paris someday, something like tossing a coin in the Trevi fountain of Rome, I guess! You can go up in the towers and down in the crypt for a price though we didn’t.
We did spend about a half hour inside, looking at the beautiful windows, the artwork, the vaulted ceilings and other details. The stone carved and painted chancel screen showing scenes of the New Testament in particular was awesome.
We left there and walked down the side of it, looking up at all the gargoyles leaning out away from the walls. We crossed over to Ile St. Louis after a look in the park behind Notre Dame. Ile St. Louis was transformed from farmland to 17th century townhouses and is very picturesque and and exclusive place to live now. The main street has lots of little unique shops, restaurants and cafes of course, galleries and tony hotels and flats. It’s very picturesque and quaint, the 5 and 6 storey buildings with the ubiquitous Parisian wrought iron balconies over the window/doors.
We stopped at the start of the island for a coffee in one of the cafes which probably does cater to all the tourists but that’s what we were, after all. We asked for a coffee crème for Graham and a hot chocolate for me and looked at the case with the cakes. The waiter ran back and brought out a chocolate cake and that’s what Graham wanted. He went back to prepare it. It took a few minutes. It’s only cake, right? Or so we thought. He brought it back, four or five thin slices arranged on the plate, with sauce dribbled over it and the pate and whipped cream around it as well. Wow! This was something that happened a lot. Even a breakfast of an omelet was arranged artistically! It made eating a pleasure, even if it was just a snack let alone a meal.
We wandered through the island, window shopping and we picked up some sandwiches and drinks to have at the hotel later. Walked back to the river and across, catching a little bit of sun in the late afternoon, finally. My feet were pretty sore now and we were both very tired from the early start. Rue St. Germain actually came out very close to where the bridge was so we knew all we had to do was follow that but it was longer than we thought and I thought we had past where we needed to be at one point.
We finally did get to the hotel after another stop at a chemist to get bandaids because I was already developing a blister. That’s another thing we noticed about Paris. There are a *lot* of pharmacies. They are identified by a large green cross, usually neon, and they were all over the place.
We got to our room and took nice hot showers which revived us and we relaxed and looked at our pics on the digital cameras and had our snacks. It seemed like a long night, I kept waking up but a strange bed is always hard to get used to. The pillows were nice and soft though I did get a bit too warm so was throwing off the covers all night. The traffic on Rue St. Germain was noisy but we had double windows which kept it to a manageable level and it wasn’t what kept me awake, though it was noticeable when I was awake.