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paris trip report part 1

2005-02-02 - 8:15 p.m.

Note: All photos 2005 by Elaine Radford

snow over northern europe

January 24-25, 2005

Minutes before I boarded the first plane to Detroit, I heard my name called, and I went over to be presented with a new boarding class upgrading me to first class. I'd strongly suspected that this might happen, so I hadn't eaten any breakfast. A good thing too, as the omelet, crumb cake, and fruit salad were more than filling enough to keep me going.

In Detroit I signed up for a temporary club membership just to see. I'm still not sure if it's worth it unless you fly every week, or unless you're a real drinker and/or smoker. Some people could do some real damage with that open bar complete with Bailey's. And obviously the smokers need a place to go that doesn't involve passing out of the secure region just to indulge in their habit. But the real attraction of the club room seemed to be the bottomless bowl of Atkin's low carb candy bars. I saw plenty of people loading up on those guys, and I have to admit that I helped myself to my share. If lunch was to be an apple, cheese and crackers, machine-made cappuccino, and a glass of Blackstone Merlot, then I saw the logic in acquiring a few of the magical Atkins power bars in case I got hungry later. I don't know what more I expected -- maybe a buffet table with some sandwiches and shrimp like in the casino club rooms, who knows.

The flight to Paris was almost empty. After a Bloody Mary and a pretty bad chicken-based dish, I got a couple of seats together and tried to sleep. I'm not sure if I really did sleep, but I must have gotten at least a little rest, because my muscles didn't feel tired and achey as they sometimes do when I don't sleep at all. However, I wasn't exactly at my peak of alertness either, as my next experience would prove.

I was excited when I saw snow from the airplane over Europe, because I was hoping to get snow pictures in Paris. However, there was no accumulation when we reached the city, just snow flurries that started while we were waiting to get a gate and which ended before I got out of the airport.

sacred heart basilica
Sacred Heart Basilica

I took the Air France bus into Paris, mainly because it was the first thing I saw. It was 12 euro, and I should have been able to hop on the Metro for another 1.4 euro to get to my hotel. However, along the way to the Metro entrance, I got distracted by a big map near the bus stop, and I tried to figure out where I was going from the map, and I just got more and more confused. Then a helpful Frenchman saw me looking at said map, so he tried to tell me how to get where I was going on the bus and he even walked me over to a better bus stop. He was so nice that I didn't want to tell him, "Eff it, maybe I'd better give up on this project and just try the Metro." Besides, when someone was standing right there and pointing to the map, it sounded so easy.

And it would have even worked except...I think I didn't fully understand the name of the stop where I was supposed to get off and transfer to the next bus. So I got off pretty much at random and sort of walked around and finally just asked a taxi to take me to my hotel. So that was 8 euro I didn't need to spend. But, on the other hand, if I had taken the taxi all the way from the airport, I would have spent 50 euro, so at least in my bumbling around I did save a pretty good sum of money. 21.4 euro is still way less than 50 euro, any way you cut it. And I would have done even better if I'd been a bit less jet-lagged and a bit more alert.

After I got checked into my hotel in the Montmartre area, I was ready to do some exploring. I headed up the many, many stone steps of the neighborhood on my way to the Sacred Heart Basilica. You know, I really don't believe that Jason Bourne could have driven that car up those stairs. Or even down them. Not sure I remember which way he went now. Be that as it may, I soon spotted a corvid that was to cause me all sorts of grief, although I think I've finally ascertained through the help of a good photograph and some kind people on birdforum that it was a Rook. At the time, I was completely flabbergasted. Back home, the choice is Fish Crow or American Crow, and if you aren't sure, you just wait until the bird speaks up and tells you. And the thing is, this bird did speak, but I had no idea what it was supposed to sound like. It just sounded like a pretty cranky caw of the generic crow sort.

view from Sacred Heart Basilica in Paris
View from Basilique du Sacre Coeur in Paris

I met a friendly Wood Pigeon who posed for pictures, not just for mine, but for the other tourists who noticed how he posed for me, and then I watched the sunset over the city.

wood pigeon It's a shame because it was Paris, but the changes in cabin pressure from a long flight always leave me feeling too full to eat, so I just nibbled one of those evil Atkin's low carb bars and turned in early. I wanted to be well-rested for my first full day in Paris.

Jan. 26, 2005

In the morning I got up and found the Metro station, which was steps away from my hotel. I expected to be confused, but I wasn't. A full night's sleep will do that to you.

I got off at the Tuileries, which were, for me, a real let-down. They are a garden of statues, emphasis on the statues, which is great from the standpoint of art but pretty pee-poor from the standpoint of birding or greenery. That's OK. My binoculars would not go to waste, because I then went inside and spent the whole day and on into the evening at the Louvre. Some of the pictures are hung too high, so the binoculars really help out in giving you a look at the details. Anyway, it was the late day at the Louvre, so I didn't have to be rushed in my explorations. We all know what the Louvre is and what the Mona Lisa is, so I had to repress a laugh at the huge numbers of people I saw photographing the Mona Lisa. It's like, dudes, your friends already know what she looks like.

I won't inflict all of my dozens of images on the internet, but I'll post a few, just to give you a taste.

me at the louvre in black and two scarves

You will not be surprised to learn that this photo of me all slung about with camera, bird book, and binoculars was taken by a Japanese man. Actually, he addressed me in English, not in Japanese. In fact, everyone who asked me to take their picture from the gay Iranian couple on down addressed me in English, so I guess I didn't look very French despite my two -- count 'em -- two scarves! I don't usually like to get my picture taken, but he obviously wanted to do it in return for me taking his picture, so what the heck. I might not ever get my chance to be photographed with a homoerotic Michaelangelo again.

This is probably how I'll go out, with a book in the hand.

It was a cooold day in Paris, so I could really sympathize with this man.

Because I'm all about the gold death masks and gold-plated mummy cases...

bloodstone bowl sardonyx bowl

I have no idea if amateurs who have never cut a stone can even appreciate the effort that went into carving the stone objects in the "object d'art" room. I mean, sure, the crowns and the diamond jewels for which heads rolled were nice, but I was stunned and amazed by the quantity and quality of the carved stone pieces. I particularly loved such things as the carved rock crystal gryphon but my photographs just didn't do them justice.

diamonds and sapphires

An Irish woman complained that when the stones are this over-the-top, they look fake.

easter island 
head

Pretty soon they plan to open a separate museum for the American, African, and Oceanian objects, but for now such items as this Easter Island head can still be found in an obscure wing down some stairs and around a corner.

A fig tart from a Paris boulangerie (bakery) rounded out the day.

You have just read part one of my Paris trip report. Continue to Part 2 by clicking right here.

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