j’ais un stylo

Monday, September 21

Our crossing from the British Isles to continental Europe was uneventful, marred only by the crazily loud Brits in the seats in front of us. That did not deter Tomo from sleeping though, as all Japanese are specially trained to sleep in any moving vehicle. We arrived at Paris Gare du Nord on time and with bags in tow. The train station is huge, and so much different than a Japanese station. We made our way to the taxi stand and of course got a negative reaction to our luggage. Hmmm, the taxi stand was at a major international train station – should he expect everyone to be free of luggage? On the taxi ride to the hotel, Tomo commented something like, “Paris is ugly.” Admittedly, the area around Gare du Nord is not beautiful, but I thought, “Uh oh.”

We arrived to the hotel and were luckily upgraded from an incredibly tiny room to a really small room due to my platinum status. Hotel rooms in Paris are small, and we knew ahead of time that the room would be small, so it was no big deal. The room was quite nice – the time we were staying at the Renaissance Paris Vendome. It is considered a “boutique hotel in the heart of Paris.” The location is great – just off the Rue du Rivioli near the Tuilleries. I was able to use a couple of free nights there too, so the cost was amortized. That’s the only way I can look at it. Hotels in Paris are expensive, especially with the weakness of the dollar right now.

Tuilleries Metro Station

 

(Recall, I’ve added a gallery using Apple’s MobileMe gallery. Check it out here.)

As part of my frequent stay status, we are allowed a “welcome gift” so we thought champagne would be appropriate. Usually the welcome gift is given shortly after your arrival. We went to the room, unpacked, relaxed a little, and waited. And waited. In the meantime, since I cannot live without the thought of being connected to the interwebs, I hooked up my computer to get online. We were meeting a friend the next night for dinner, so I had to get online to check the when and where. The connection was dead. We called the front desk, and a kid was sent up to look at it. We tried several different options, and still dead. He gave me the Gallic shoulder shrug and short “pfft” sound and said, “Someone weel loook at eet toomarrhow.” Great. (Tomo asked me why the French say, “eeet” instead of “it” – interesting question. Because the “i” sound equals a long e sound in English I guess.) Ah, I really was in France!

We gave up on our champagne and decided we’d just get some dinner. We went to the truly friendly (as in truly friend, no sarcasm at all in this statement) front desk and mentioned about the internet, our lack of welcome gift, and did they have any good dinner recommendations in the neighborhood? They gave us a free internet pass for use of the computer in the lounge, said they would look into the problem tomorrow, delayed our welcome gift, and suggested a good restaurant. Tomo and I both decided that we wouldn’t worry about the internet – if the hotel wasn’t able to fix it then we would assume they would change our room. We won’t talk about my attempt to get access to the electronics behind the wall, and the cracking sound that happened when I tugged on the board that I thought was an access door. Now I’m not sure that it was.

We asked to go to a simple bistro / brasserie nearby because we were a bit tired. We were sent to L’Absinthe on Place du Marché St-Honoré. I was expecting something a little less upscale, and was surprised by the €50 price on the meal. Oh well, c’est la vie. The meal was very good, but the ensuing drama behind us was disconcerting. The weather was remarkably mild, so we chose to eat outside on the patio. One thing about Japan – there’s really no eating outside. It is too hot, or too rainy, or too buggy, or just too too. But as anyone who was been to Europe knows, eating al fresco is quite popular.

We were settling nicely in to our meal and then heard a ruckus behind us. An American couple, or at least they seemed American, were having a fight. Something happened, we think it was with the woman complaining about some aspect of the service, and the husband reacted. The husband stormed off, returned, and then stormed off again. Public conflict always gives me the shakes, and I don’t like seeing it. Unfortunately, the voyeur in me can’t keep from watching or being interested. So throughout meal, we tracked their progress. They ended up waiting for each other within 50 yards, but invisible to each other. If one or the other had walked to the edge of the Place du Marché St-Honoré they would have seen each other. Instead, their obstinacy won out and they departed separately. Oh boy, I’d hate to be near their hotel room that night. How horrible on vacation.

Our meal was very good, and I was quite satisfied by the recommendation. It was getting late, so the restaurant was actually quite pleased to get us on our way.

Our dark table,

Our first meal in Paris

 

Place du Marché St-Honoré,

Place du Marché St-Honoré

 

The evening was beautiful, the food was heavy, and it was our first night in Paris so we decided to go for a walk even though it was late. We walked across the Rue du Rivoli and entered the Jardin du Carrousel. From there, we could see the Arch de Triomphe du Carrousel and look across the Tuilleries, the Place du la Concorde, down the Champs-Elysées, to the Arch de Triomphe. Look to the left a little, and there was the Eiffel Tower in all her majesty. Turn around, and the Louvre and the IM Pei pyramid is right there. So much fanstasticness in one little spot. Paris is definitely not ugly. How the city maintains its grand feeling in these modern times is very special. I love Paris (I will avoid the cliché) and always will.

Here is the Louvre at night,

The Louvre

 

The Louvre

 

As we were walking back to the hotel, the clock struck midnight and the Eiffel Tower sparkled for a while as tons of strobes blinked on and off. To think that the Eiffel Tower was hated at the time it was built.
 

Tuesday, 22 September

Paris is for walking, and we had a pretty big plan for Tuesday. First on the schedule was the Eiffel Tower. At least that was my schedule. Tomo wanted to hit the Arch de Triomphe first to get a map of the city in his head. Not a bad idea, of course, since all roads lead there anyway. You can walk to the top and get a great perspective. Before climbing to the top though, we enjoyed a view of the Champs-Elysées.

Champs-Elysées

 

We climbed the stairs to the top, and it was a rather gray day. It looked like the morning haze would burn off though, and the temperature was fine. From the top, we got a great view across the city, and I could point out all the areas we planned to visit.

A hazy day in Paris,

From the Arch de Triomphe

 

While we were inside the Arch de Triomphe, we saw what Tomo reckoned was a tribute to Fred Perry. It might have been about peace.

Fred Perry Flagship Store?

 

We found a statue inside that reminded us of Aunt Linda from Saturday Night Live, a Kristen Wiig character who does movies reviews. “Whaaaaat?!?! I give 3 ‘are-you-kidding-me’ and a ‘mleh.’” Tomo is doing his best to imitate in the background.

What?!???

 

Going down the staircase to leave the Arch de Triomphe, Tomo snapped a really good picture of me.

On the descending spiral staircase

 

We then went by subway to Trocadero to approach the Eiffel Tower from the North. In this time of year and this time of day, this is not the best photographic approach. All photos were shooting straight in to the sun, so it was almost impossible. Turn around though, and it is a beautiful blue sky. There’s really not a lot to write about visiting the Eiffel Tower. It is majestic, and the area approaching is beautiful too. There are lots of illegal vendors selling souvenirs, but they scatter when the bike cops ride by.

Remember, you can see higher resolution photographs of Paris, in color and black and white, here.

Eiffel Tower

 

Eiffel Tower

 

Eiffel Tower

 

Eiffel Tower

 

Near the Eiffel Tower

 

We decided not to go to the top of the tower. In the past I’ve done it, and we thought we’d be better off just wandering around a bit. It was also getting close to lunch, so we decided we’d slowly make our way towards a restaurant. Once we got to the southern side of the Eiffel Tower, things brightened up a bit. And finally, I can prove that I was actually on this trip.

Eiffel Tower in the background

 

We walked down the Avenue du la Motte Picquet towards a restaurant recommended in Tomo’s guidebook, L’auberge Bressane. Interestingly, they have a Japanese website as well. Hmmmmm. The food was heavy, but good of course. As we were walking, I saw an old, beautiful building that felt very much like Paris.

Paris street scene

 

Next stop was Les Invalides, and somehow we approached it from the Musée de l’Armée side. I got a good picture of the courtyard, and then we went in to the Eglise St-Louis des Invalides. Just on the other side of it is the Eglise du Dôme where Napoleon’s Tomb is located.

Court of Honor

 

Eglise St-Louis Des Invalides,

Eglise St-Louis Des Invalides

 

Eglise du Dôme,

Eglise du Dôme

 

The tomb of Marechal Ferdinand Foch, which is brilliantly lit by deep blue stained glass,

Marechal Foch

 

I didn’t find the tomb of Napoleon that interesting as it was, quite naturally, far too large and overstated. However, I did find the mosaic in the floor to be interesting.

Napoleon mosaic

 

The day wore on, and we were getting tired of course. We continued towards the National Assembly, and on the way passed an interestingly named shop. This picture is for my friend Ben, and while the name of the shop is quite correct, I think he’ll get the connection.

moooi

 

At the National Assembly, we crossed the Seine via Passerelle Léopold-Sédar Senghor and made our way back to the hotel. At this point, we wondered if we were going to receive a Treatment Parisian regarding the interwebs, or if a solution would be provided.

On the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar Senghor,

Tomo over the Seine

 

I’m happy to report that upon arrival, we were told the internet could not be fixed so they had moved us to a different premium room. The room was slightly different but a little more bright than our previous, the internet worked, and all was well. In addition, our delayed welcome snack was brought to us and we enjoyed champagne after a long day.

In the evening, we met my friend Blaise for dinner. I met Blaise when I was participating in a 9 week study program in Strasbourg in 2003, courtesy of our companies. Blaise and I talked shop and reminisced while Tomo did his best to follow along. It was great catching up with Blaise, who is genuinely a great guy, and hopefully it won’t take 6 years to see him again.

Another highlight of the day was walking past Michael_Kors on Rue St-Honoré. Yes, that Michael Kors of fashion and Project Runway. We were too late to stop him and ask for a picture. He was walking down the street gabbing with a friend, looking very much like he was gossiping. A friend said, “Did he have on blue jeans, a black t-shirt, and a blazer?” Why, yes he did as a matter of fact.
 

Wednesday, 23 September

What would a trip to a major city be for Japanese without a visit to a major department store? Or in our case, TWO major depart stores! We planned to get おみやげ on this day so that we wouldn’t have some last minute panic prior to leaving. We decided to go to Opéra and the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores. On the way, we happened to stop at Celio, which is a sportswear shop. On my first trip to Paris 20 years ago, it was so hot when I was there that I had to buy some shorts. At Les Halles, I bought some shorts at Celio. Now, 20 years later, we were shopping at Celio again. Tomo found a really cool shirt that they had in XS. I wanted one too, but it would be sort of silly to have the same shirt. As we were checking out, the cashier could not find a pen. In my best French I was able to say, “J’ais un stylo.” I have a pen! It was a proud moment in my trip. For the first time, I uttered a complete sentence in French without mixing in a Japanese particle or Japanese word.

We wandered around the department stores, purchased the necessary gifts for colleagues in Japan, and ate a very unimpressive lunch. You can’t always pick the right restaurant while wandering about the city.

Inside Galeries Lafayette,

Galeries Lafayette

 

Galeries Lafayette

 

Our plan for the afternoon and evening was to visit the Louvre, which is open late on Wednesday nights.

We headed over to the Louvre at around 5:30 pm, walking through the Tuilleries and the Jardin du Carrousel again. The day was just beautiful, and the color was fantastic.

Tuilleries

 

Louvre

 

We arrived inside the Louvre just in time to take advantage of the noctourne admission price. Hey, that wasn’t the point but I have no issue taking advantage of a cost saving. Of course, there is way too much to see in the Louvre, and you cannot expect to see the entire museum at once. As a matter of fact, it is a bit crazy to even try. You’ll be so tired of the art that you will become numb. I can spend about 3 hours in a museum alone, usually a little less time if I am with someone else. Since this was Tomo’s inaugural visit to the Louvre, we HAD to see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and the Vermeer works. We passed a lot of beautiful work on the way to the Mona Lisa, but we had a sense of purpose. The Louvre has renovated since the last time I was there, and the Mona Lisa is much more protected and has a room basically to herself.

The Mona Lisa

 

I found the scrum around to view her as interesting as the painting itself.

Around the Mona Lisa

 

My favorite picture, perhaps of the entire trip, is the picture Tomo took. Kudos to Tomo for this great photo.

Bored at the Louvre

 

Similarly, the scramble around the Venus was interesting.

Venus de Milo

 

Unfortunately, Tomo found out his favorite Vermeer was on loan for an exhibition in … Japan!

Disappointment at the Louvre

 

Our required pieces checked off, we were able to reset and start browsing the galleries.

Louvre

 

While we were wandering around, a group of performance artists entered the gallery we were in and began a performance. I’m not sure what sweet nothings were getting whispered.

Performance art at the Louvre

 

As always, I gravitate towards the sculptures. They are great portrait subjects because I don’t have to pose them at all. Just frame them or shoot.

I guess two of them got bored standing around alone for centuries and got together to gossip about the others in the gallery,

OMG, and then HE said ...

 

While another was enraptured by his own anatomy,

What's this?

 

In context, he and his colleagues are supposed to be supporting a fountain on their backs.

Dramatic lighting and a rich background can make a typical black and white shot also interesting in color,

Louvre

 

As we were leaving, we noticed the entry has a much different feel at night than during the day. The staircase to the exit was very interesting at night.

Louvre

 

We had saturated on French food by this point, and decided that Thai would be refreshing. It was, although it could have been spicier.

 
Thursday, 24 September

If you have read this far, you probably need a rest. We probably should have scheduled in a rest day as well, as we were getting mighty tired. There was a lot of seeing and doing on a daily basis, and although our pace was reasonable, a spa day might have been nice. But nope, we had things to see. Thursday morning was our day to go to Notre Dame, but Thursday morning kind of slid to Thursday late morning, early afternoon. The day was overcast compared to other days, and a little cooler. As always, we walked through the Louvre to get to the Pont des Arts to cross over to the left bank and work our way back to the Île de la Cité. On they way, we saw a more industrial side of the Louvre,

Cleaning the pools at the Louvre

 

Louvre facilities

 

On the Pont des Arts,

On the Pont des Arts

 

Notre Dame’s face was clear, for the most part, of scaffolding

Notre Dame

 

And the inside was dark and crowded,

Notre Dame

 

Of course, we climbed all the stars to the top to appreciate the view and get a glimpse of the gargoyles. As I’ve mentioned before in this entry, I have even more pictures posted here, so please visit this additional site for larger, higher resolution pictures. The roof was surrounded by a large wire mesh netting, so once on top there was no way out. No jumping, no climbing, and no easy way to take pictures without poking your camera between the wires. It very much limited what I could take.

Notre Dame

 

Notre Dame

 

Notre Dame

 

We stayed up on top for a bit and enjoyed the view and the detail the gargoyles have to offer. We crossed over to the Quartier Latin and had a nice Lebanese lunch. We caught a Seine river cruise and had another couple in the middle of drama behind us. We tried our best to stay awake on the boat, but I did, maybe, nap a little bit. I managed to wake up long enough to get a view of Notre Dame from the back and from the water.

Notre Dame

 

In the evening, we were going to Montmartre and Sacré Cœur. We asked our waiter for a recommendation where we could get good galettes. He didn’t have high praise for restaurants near Montmartre, and the only place he could suggest was booked. Instead, he sent us to another restaurant that, although I thought was on Montmartre, was really on the base almost along Blvd de Clichy (actually rue Cavalotti). We walked through Place Vendôme first for a picture on the way to the Metro. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera so I went back to the hotel to pick it up while Tomo checked out the Ritz and the Park Hyatt.

Place Vendôme

 

We actually had another nice, but heavy dinner at Le Bouclard. We made our way up the hill again, on our way to Sacré Cœur.

Montmartre

 

I took us some roundabout way, and what should have been fairly bright and full of restaurants ended up residential and quiet. We did eventually end up at Sacré Cœur and the basilica looked white and shiny and pretty.

Sacré Cœur

 

Unfortunately, the place was loud, boisterous, and felt a little more dangerous than it had in the past. Lots of drunk teenagers, and lots of drunk foreign teenagers. Never a good combination. What should be a really nice view of the city just felt dirty and creepy, so we left pretty quickly. Of course, below Montmartre is Pigalle, which has its own dirty and creepy feel. Like most seedy places, it has gems amongst the ick, but I don’t know where the gems are. The Moulin Rouge, or the current incarnation of it, has certainly benefited from the movie of the same name.

Moulin Rouge

 

And so ended our last full day in Paris.

 
Friday, 25 September

We had a late evening flight out of Paris, so we basically had another half day to wander about. We were able to arrange late checkout, so we could come back to the hotel and shower before heading off to the airport. We walked some more, and somehow on the last day I developed blisters. We window shopped along Faubourg St-Honoré and also Avenue Montagne. I saw some street kid get in a fight with a woman at Rond Pont Champs-Elysées Marcel Dassault and he spit at her. I’m not sure what was happening there. We ate a light lunch at a deli, and also FINALLY walked down the Champs—Elysées. Our trek to the airport took longer than expected, but since we had given ourselves plenty of time, we had no difficulties. We realized that we had a 4 hour layover at the Seoul airport, so we decided that it was a good time to get a massage. After a 12 hour flight, a massage is a very, very good idea and we felt invigorated as we headed to Nagoya and Tokyo. At the Nagoya airport, I had some drunk American get in my face and make some glasses remark, but whatever.

The vacation was fantastic, and recounting it on the blog was fun. There are so many pictures I have not posted, and some stories I’ve missed. Hopefully though this will be somewhat enjoyable for you too. This entry has taken over 5 hours so far, and that’s just the writing. I’ve spent countless hours editing photos, and still need to get this from a written document to a post. More work ahead!

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