Greetings – in 2006 I returned from a week in Paris and a few days in London either side. And no, I did not do the Da Vinci Code tours, trails or related journeys. Here are my trip notes:
A is for Art: Paris being Paris is full of wonderful musuems and galleries. I went mostly to see old favourites and see new discoveries. My favourite artist is Claude Monet – I was mesmerised when the exhibition came to Auckland some twenty years ago or so and have been struck by the beauty of the Impressionists ever since. Having seen many of the originals before, this trip was very much about completing a somewhat incomplete education you might say by visiting the recently reopened Musee de l’Orangerie and the Musee Marmottan Monet.
Over the last six years, as the MusÃ©e de l’Orangerie (located on the Place de la Concorde end of the Tulieries Gardens – website : http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/) underwent a USD 36 million renovation and expansion, its most valued treasure, the eight tranquil paintings of Monet’s large-format waterlily series, remained trapped inside a noisy and muddy building site. The Waterlilies (Les Nympheas) could not be detached from the walls where they were installed in 1927, one year after Monet’s death. Abour four years behind schedule, the new renovation was aimed at restoring the museum to the way he had imagined it. The second floor (which had been built in the 1960s) was demolished so that once again the nympheas enjoy natural light, which, with the changing weather, seasons and hours of the day, constantly alters their mood. It is simply stunning and the queue out the door is testament to what is on offer.
The history of the Musee Marmottan Monet (website: http://www.marmottan.com) is an interesting one – The Museum possesses the world’s largest collection of works by Claude Monet and the paintings are housed in their own hall. over 150 works and personal effects were gifted by the artist’s son, Michel, in the 1960s, all of it his own inheiritance. You can actually see works from throughout his career – the detailed early works, the defining works including some of the smaller nymphÃ©as, a larger Japanese bridge but most importantly (I think) many of the later works which perhaps showed what he saw with his deteriorating eyesight. These are amazing pieces which clearly show a movement away from definition through shape and colour toward abstraction and minimalism and point toward such later artists as Picasso, Kandinsky and (perhaps) Mondriaan as well. It is a truly fascinating collection and a marvellous education.
Visited the interesting Musee Picasso and the Musee Rodin. Of the two, I have to say that I preferred the latter even though I am not a huge fan of Rodin – not only because you can see the Porte de l’Enfer (Gates of Hell), Le Pensuer (The Thinker) and Le Baiser (The Kiss) but also the rose garden was in full bloom and was simply gorgeous. Revisited the Musee d’Orsay to see the fantastic Monets and van Goghs resepctively. My favourite Monet (Artist’s Garden at Giverney- painted in 1900) is housed in d’Orsay. Ticked off a thing to do by walking across the Pont des Arts at long last.
B is for Beer: France is a civilised country beyond doubt. You can order a Kronenberg lager with your McDonalds combo or Quick (French / Belgian equivalent) meal.
C is for Champagne: I went on a Cityrama tour which took in Piper-Heidsieck in the morning, the cathedral at Reims (pronounced “hrrrrrrum” in French), and Moet et Chandon in the afternoon. Piper was like Disneyland – you get in these small vehicles (max. 5 persons) and you go on this stylised tour of the process of making champagne. The commentary is completely over the top – the glories of nature, the holy trinity of the three grapes that make the stuff (pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier for those of you who don’t know), the wonders of double fermentation, the excitement created by the disgorgement etc, etc ad nauseam. Piper touts itself as the champagne of Hollywood – that’s true. It’s a great thing to drink in summer and the tasting glass you get at the end of the amusement ride was very welcome and their shop is good as well. Epernay and Moet & Chandon in the afternoon was more traditional but essentially a walking tour in the cellars – cave after cave of plenty of bottles sitting there. It gets a little monotonous after a while (I saw more and learned a lot more at Domaine Chandon in Australia !) and you need the drink at the end. The shop is not as impressive unless you are able to get hold of the Dom Perignon gear of which there is only a small amount. However, there is a distinction between Moet and the Dom ! (Footnote: it’s about a two hour drive to Reims and Epernay from Paris each way – best bet would be to stay there overnight.)
D is for Driving around the Arc de Triomphe: I figure that the perfect holiday for a motor vehicle claims insurance manager would be a deck chair around the Arc de Triomphe and see how many accidents and near-misses one could see. I find it amazing how people manage not to crash into each other – presumably this is some sort of display of French logic. I was driven around it a couple of times and looked on bemused at the near-misses while observing a ceremony under the Arc at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I do think it is a minor miracle if you survive even one trip around it !
E is for Eiffel Tower: I’m indebted to Emma Kirkland for a very useful piece of advice that applies to going here – get there first thing in the morning. That would be about 8.30am for the opening at 9.30am. The reason is simple – at about 8.30, the “Individuels” queue was about 30 or 40 deep – that’s ok. About 9.00, the group queue starts to build and the individuals queue is now about 80 to 90 deep. The Tower opens at 9.30am. Within about half an hour, you’ve got queues at all of the columns (tip: only the Pillier Nord [North Piller] has the elevator – the rest, you have to hike up to the First Level). So you would be waiting for at least an hour to get the lift or the stairs ! Tickets to the top level cost EUR 11 (don’t skimp – go to the very top) and the views are marvellous. Best Place to take photos of the Tower – from the Palais de Chaillot (you get there from the Trocadero Metro station). Also, the Tower is lit up at night for about 10 minutes on the hour. In summer, the first lighting is 10.00pm. I think that the best place to see it is from the Arc de Triomphe, actually.
J is for Juliette (Collonne): If you think you can see anything left of the Bastille Prison, think again. The Collonne (column) is more or less the place where the prison used to be and the storming took place but any riots are likely to be at the nearby Opera Bastille if the audience think that the latest production of whatever is outright crap.
K is for Kleber: I put this in only because it is the only time I can recall anything in Paris starting with the letter ‘K’. The Kleber I am referring to is a Metro station
near the Arc de Triomphe.
L is for Louvre: Revisited the Louvre to see the Venus de Milo, the rehoused La Gioconda (the Mona Lisa to you), the French Portraits and a few other things. So many tourists ! (See ‘Y’ below).
M is for Metro: The only way to get around – avoid the RER (not as safe) and buses are only more confusing. Tip: work out where you need to get to first so get a good physical map and overlay the metro lines. It’s the only way I know how to ensure that your journeys are hassle-free. The eye-candy on the Paris Metro is far better than on the London Tube.
N is for Notre Dame: Must have a look – the bells are something else. Didn’t do the tourof the crypt or the towers but saw the gargoyles clearly enough.m
O is for Opentour: If you are like me (I fully realise that 99% of you are not), you might look to maximise the time you have in any place. So what is the cheapest way to see as much as possible for the least energy expended ? L’Opentour – four routes – the Grand Tour (taking in the Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, Champs Elysee, Madeleine, Invalides, Notre Dame and so forth), Montmartre tour (Oper and Auber areas, past Moulin Rouge, Pigalle, foot of Sacre Coeur, Gares du Nord and Est), Montparnasse (Boulevard St Germain, Latin Quarter, Notre Dame, Montparnasse, Invalides), Bastille – Bercy (Notre Dame, Bastille area, Bercy, Palais de Onmisports). If you are lucky, you could do all four in a day – the Grand Tour takes about two hours, the rest about an hour to an hour and a half. Commentary in eight languages is available and you can buy tickets for one or two consecutive days.
P is for Paris Visite: First time in Paris ? Not sure how to get around ? Get a Paris Visite card – 1, 3 or 5 days of metro travel between zones 1 through 5 inclusive on the Metro, RER (rapid rail service), buses and other transport such as the funicular railway up to Sacre Coeur. There is much debate amongst the cognoscenti on tripadvisor.com as to whether the Paris Visite is worth the price. People cleverer than me often think that the Carte Orange is better value. This may well be but my theory is that in a city where you may not be able to speak the language and whose metro network can be confusing, think of paying a bit more for travel insurance i.e. if you make a mistake, you can always retrace your steps. Costs for a 1-3 zone 5 dayer are about EUR 27, 1-5 zones 45. A day pass is about EUR 9 for 1-3 zones. Website is http://www.parisvisite.com/en/index.php
Q is for Qantas: Not bad on the whole but I’ve had better. It didn’t help that the flight up to London was full to the point of only about 10 seats or so free (over 300 in economy class ! Total capacity 315). However, on the British Airways codeshare back, things were less crowded and the seat is more comfortable and the audio / video programming is better. Tip: try and fly Qantas but on the BA codeshare ! They also cancelled my original Auckland – Melbourne flight – however this worked out well in the end.
R is for Roland Garros: Didn’t go but got the T-shirt (from ‘La Griffe’ at Galeries Lafayette). Glad to see Justine Henin-Hardenne and Rafael Nadal win their respective tournaments.
S is for Sacre Coeur: An amazing basilica both from the outside and the inside – definitely one of the things you must see whether you are religious or not. The only annoying thing are the African touts who try to accost you and bully you into giving them money. Ignore them and walk quickly past them in single file.
T is for Train (i.e. Eurostar): Except for the fact that the Gare du Nord is not the prettiest place to arrive at, I still think that this is the best way to get from London to Paris. it’s relatively fast, quiet, only takes three hours and you get from city centre (more or less) to city centre (more or less). Book early – best tickets are to be found for the off-peak services Monday – Thursday and all the rest are peak.
U is for Unencumbered: Yes, I was on the trip by myself, thanks for asking.
V is the Roman Numeral for 5 – the 5 strangest things on this trip:
1) The unique quadraphonic stereo at the hotel in Paris: the police sirens (for which the building seems distinctly tuned for), the TV in the next room, the shouting in the room above and the couple having sex in the room below (getting louder all the time).
2) How much Americans know about champagne, the cost of anything in Europe, where anything is, how much taxis cost in both London and Paris and other things generally – you simply cannot have a sane conversation about anything with them. Except about art.
3) The Venezuelan gentlemen who had as his computer wallpaper a picture of a blonde model in a bikini at the beach with an incredible boob job and his wife didn’t seem to mind at all ! In fact, when he was reviewing his photos of his UK trip, it was funny to see that he had got his wife to pose somewhat provocatively at some of Britain’s finer monuments !
4) The Japanese tour party who seem to believe all the hyperbole that their tour guide told them including the “fact” that Paris was one of the greatest cities to live in – visit, yes, live in, no. You are living with the French after all !
5) Although strictly not related to Paris, the chaos on the Tube (Circle and District lines) caused by radio failures – services were suspended for half of the day while the issue got resolved. Still, people tried to use both lines !
W is for World Cup: The only newspaper worth reading in France right now is L’Equipe. It was sensibly divided into to two halves while I was there – the front section concentrated on the football, France’s chances, the form of the top teams and other related reports. The back half reported on the French Open at Roland Garros. This was all you needed to know. Who gave a toss about what was going on elsewhere ?
X is the Roman Numeral for 10 – the Top 10 things:
1) Orangerie – no contest, outstanding, simply mind-blowing (see ‘Art’).
2) Opentour (see above) – best way to see Paris in a short time.
3) Eiffel Tower (see above) – great views, fantastic at night all lit up.
4) Musee Marmottan Monet (see above) – truly an education into Monet’s style during the course of his life
5) Fauchon (see above) – millionaire’s paradise it is. You only live once.
6) Galeries Lafayette (see above) – best of the Grand Magasins
7) Berthillon ice cream (see above) – I want the New Zealand franchise.
8) Eurostar (see above) – quiet, fast and point to point.
9) The tour to Reims and Epernay – have plotted out the locations of Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin, Taittinger and a few others to see next time.
10) Volvic Mineral Water – the best refreshment in the oppressive heat..
Y is for Yankee (i.e. American): Plenty of them about (although there seemed to be more Aussies in town – hateful !) the vast majority seemed to be doing Code-related tours. The French took great pleasure in ignoring or thumbing their noses at them which was very funny
Z is for “Ze End”. Well, they would either just bore you or are none of your business. Fin !
F is for Fauchon: Although it ought to be included under ‘G’, Fauchon (address: 24-26-30 Place de la Madeleine, Paris / website: http://www.fauchon.fr) is an institution – known as a millionaire’s folly to some (such as the club sandwich 10cm x 10cm x 6cm being three layers for EUR10) , it’s divided into three divisions that include an epicerie (for jams, crackers, pastas, and exotic canned goods); a patissier (for breads, pastries, and chocolates); and a traiteur (for cheeses, terrines, pates, caviar, and fruits). Prices are steep, but the inventories — at least to serious foodies — are fascinating. Great place to buy wines – I bought a Moet set (which I found out later you could get cheaper at Sydney Airport !) for a nice little sum. Still, you only live once.
G is for Grand Magasins: The two most famous are Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps – both are within the Opera quater and walking distance of each other. Galeries Lafayette (website: http://www.galerieslafayette.com/index.do) is located at 40 Boulevard Haussmann. The main store (women’s fashion, cosmetics, perfumes), is an architecturally wonderful building, a must-see. Seven levels of high fashion – guys, go straight to the collection for men in the next building connected by the air bridge. Foodies, exit both and cross the road for Lafayette Gourmet and then cross back to the men’s store (Level 1) for the champagne, coffrets (gift baskets / boxes) and so forth If you only have time to shop once, this is your venue. Tip: Your Paris Visite card (see below) will contain a voucher for a 10% discount which you can activate by going to the Information Desk and producing your passport (certain items are excluded such as food, already dicounted items etc). Spend EUR30 and you get a free shopping bag – ok, it isn’t that much but it is a nice souvenir and you will spend EUR 30 pretty easily.
Au Printemps (website: http://www.printemps.com/) is not so far away at 64 Boulevard Haussmann – fashion is well catered for and you can download their 10% discount card off their website. Their catalogues are good to have a look through (as are Galeries Lafayette’s – both are different)
In competition to Fauchon in the Place de la Madeleine stands Hediard – (address: 21 Place de la Madeleine, Paris / website: http://www.hediard.fr). Their signature item (in my opinion) is their tea caddy. Like Fauchon, their main store is quite a sight for foodies and almost as good. Outside of the main CBD area lies Le Bon Marche and it’s sister store Le Grand Epicerie de Paris. If you are on a self-catered itinerary as I was, this is by far and away the best place to get food.
H is for Hotels: I stayed in a two-star hotel – the Relais de Paris Gare du Nord also known as the Hotel Londres et Anvers. You don’t get much for NZD 140 a night – a bedroom, desk, chair, closet, and bathroom. No airconditioning, no fridge, a very small TV and a telephone. There was a one-star hotel next door. I shudder to think what you don’t get. Why did In stay here ? Five minutes walk (or struggle with bags) to / from Gare du Nord which is the Eurostar Terminal. Did not relish a taxi to any other part of Paris. And NZD 150 was my budget in any case. As for our own, well I couldn’t stay there – staff rates were, for some reason, unavailable. I am able to report that the lobby area of Millennium Paris Opera looks like the photos on our website but seems a little smaller in reality. In London, the Millennium Mayfair (recently refubished) is excellent particularly if you need to base yourself in Grosvenor Square / Oxford St. / Bond St. area. And of course the Millenniumm Gloucester is very good – still my preferred choice in London due to its locale and easy connections to tube and to Knightsbridge and Kensington.
I is for Ice Cream: In doing research for this trip, I was told time and again that the best artisinal ice cream in France could be found at Berthillon (address: 29-31 rue Saint Louis en l’ile 75004 Paris / website: http://www.berthillon.fr ). Berthillon‘s fame derives in part from its use of natural ingredients. Its ice creams are made from milk, cream and eggs and natural ingredients to provide the flavours. Given that its devotees make a semi-religious pilgramage every time they are in Paris, I had to try this. Purely for research purposes and on your behalf, I sampled the Cacao Extra Bitter ice cream, the Almandine, and the Fraise des Boise (wild strawberry). Put simply, you have to try these, they are simply amazing ! The cafes around Paris do stock a limited selection but it is better to go the place itself which I am told gets crowded during the afternoon.