Yet another live Paris report

Oct 11th, 2013, 06:59 AM
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Yet another live Paris report

Naturally, it was dark and raining hard when I took out the trash just before departing for the train to Paris, and so naturally I stepped hard into a 5-inch deep puddle, drenching my Birkenstock clogs and socks that I was going to wear for the next 24 hours. Immediately, my mind switched into “worst-case” thinking – so, ok, it happened. My feet are wet. The worst that can happen? My feet will be wet for five or six hours. It’s not a disaster.

At the Garmisch train station, I used the instant photomat machine to get photos to use for the Paris Navigo pass that I’ll buy on Monday. The train came, and the heater in my compartment was on high. I slipped off the Birkies and dried my soggy socks over the heating grate. By the time we were in München, everything was bone-dry.

I took a private sleeping cabin in the CityNightLine from München to Paris, departing at 22.50. The compartments are small, but there is room to store suitcases and to stand up and turn around in the small space between the bunks and the bathroom cabinet. So, plenty big enough. The mattress is thin, though, and my bony hips would hurt after an hour or two in the same position, making me switch sides often. I got undressed, turned off the lights, and opened the window shade so I could watch the dark countryside and bright city lights glide by. I just love travelling like this.

After about an hour, I closed the shade and tried to sleep. After another hour, I was sorry I hadn’t brought earplugs to cut out the noise of the lumbering train, which was keeping me awake. Which was surprising, considering that I have no problem slumbering through the train’s lumbering, bright sunshine, children squabbling, and people talking on cell phones whenever I take a train in the middle of the day. Ah well, the vagaries of travel.

Morning brought a very nice breakfast of two rolls, butter, jams, cream cheese, applesauce, orange juice, and tea. Yum. I ate every bite. The train was an hour late, though, so I lay back on the cot and watched the rolling plains of France slip by the window with the duvet pulled over my legs. I thought about Vercingetorex, his tribes of Celts, and the druids that roamed these plains two thousand years ago. I wondered how things would be different if the Celtic civilization hadn’t been so brutally interrupted and overlaid with the Roman one. What would the houses and clustered villages look like?

Today, the farmhouses and villages are all tan and gray, some with green and red vines, as if they had grown right out of the earth and rock itself, just outcroppings with roofs. How different from what I’ve grown used to in Bavaria, with buildings of stark-white stucco and sharply contrasting dark green or brown shutters. France’s muted earth tones seem more unassuming and random somehow, compared to the brisk and joyous order we Bavarians bring to our houses and yards (and, yes, I am being super, SUPER generous including myself in the Bavarian “we” after only five years there).

As we near Paris, I’m trying to get internet on my phone. I’m just geeky enough to enjoy watching the little dot move through the countryside on google maps when I’m on a train. I had ordered a Lebara sim, had loaded it, had bought 250mb of internet usage, and had gotten a confirmation message. However, the phone was as useful as a brick. That’s going to be priority #2 today; I get lost in an acre of ground, even ground I know well, and I have built my plans around using google maps.

Leaving the Gare de L’Est, at last, I caught Metro line 7 to go to the apartment agency on Ile St.-Louis. While Gare de L’Est has wonderful escalators, the metro line does not. I have an “I-don’t-pack-light” suitcase, and down about 2000 steps to get to the metro wasn’t too bad. Crowding into the metro car with my “I-don’t-pack-light-suitcase” wasn’t bad at all. Going up 2000 steps with the “could-it-be-any-heavier-suitcase” to get to the street level was killer. Walking the streets with my “I-don’t-pack-light-enough-suitcase” wasn’t too bad. At the agency office, I learned that the apartment would be ready in just about 30 minutes, so I decided, since I really couldn’t move my arms anyway, to just sit on the couch and wait. And play with the phone and see if banging it a bit would me some internet. It didn’t.

A nice lady from the agency walked me to my apartment and its dramatic, curved, worn, two-story staircase. It took me no more than an hour to haul my “I’m-gonna-take-a-taxi-next-time-suitcase” up the stairs, and she showed me how everything worked in the apartment. By this time I was hungry, so I braved the rain and cold, risked getting lost forever on the Island, and ate at the Flore en l’Ile. I had tartar, which was oddly sweet. Yuk. Great wine though. Then I wandered around the streets of the island, noted some stores to return to, and went grocery shopping. Then back to the apartment to talk to Lebara, to do some work (I am currently teaching two classes online), to unpack, and to enjoy the views from my windows.

The Lebara folks are angels, by the way. They fixed me right up even though I had to call twice because I didn’t write down the necessary pin the first time. Angels.
swandav2000 is offline  
Oct 11th, 2013, 07:06 AM
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Great start and good job overcoming adversity! Dumb question from someone with a throw away phone: is Lebara sim for smart phones only?

More, please.
TDudette is offline  
Oct 11th, 2013, 09:16 AM
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This is going to be a GREAT trip report! I'm enjoying your style of writing. I'll be early waiting each installment!
Dee_Dee is offline  
Oct 11th, 2013, 09:18 AM
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Yikes..... that should be eagerly not "early"!
Dee_Dee is offline  
Oct 11th, 2013, 09:42 AM
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Intriguing so far. I will follow with interest.
nukesafe is offline  
Oct 11th, 2013, 09:42 AM
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I had tartar, which was oddly sweet

Might it have been horse meat, which is said to be sweeter than beef?
Michael is offline  
Oct 11th, 2013, 10:20 AM
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Horse meat is almost impossible to find.

Excellent writing, but Ile Saint Louis? What an awful mistake for a real Parisian experience (assuming that you might have wanted one)!
kerouac is online now  
Oct 11th, 2013, 01:59 PM
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Great start, swandav. This is going to be fun! Love your sense of humor.
StCirq is online now  
Oct 11th, 2013, 04:41 PM
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I'm enjoying this so far. Please don't stop!
irishface is offline  
Oct 11th, 2013, 06:37 PM
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Following. Can't wait for the next installment!
happy_one is offline  
Oct 11th, 2013, 08:27 PM
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Love your style, Swandav. I agree with kerouac. Having visited just last month, Ile Saint Louis was my least favorite place, but the architecture is lovely and upscale.

I truly understand the "couldn't be heavier" suitcase, and (in my case) additional bags up and down flights of train station stairs. Looking forward to more.
susan001 is offline  
Oct 12th, 2013, 12:03 AM
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You missed the snow chaos in GaP! Lucky you - or not! LOL

Well, if you had invited me to tag along I would gladly have hauled your “could-it-be-any-heavier-suitcase” up the 2000+ stairs ;-)
Ingo is online now  
Oct 12th, 2013, 06:03 AM
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Fun report--looking forward to more.

OK, so I'm a tourist and happen to love staying on Ile St. Louis. What apt. are you staying in? We always enjoy the view from a window table at Le Flore en I'lle. The food---sometimes really good, sometimes just so-so. Usually can rely on the roast chicken(it's hard to ruin a roast chicken) and the fish with dill sauce. Onion soup always a winner.
TPAYT is offline  
Oct 12th, 2013, 06:07 AM
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Thank you so much, everyone, for your kind words. I truly appreciate them after spending a few hours wrestling with students who don’t quite see my brilliance. Eh?

Yes, why Ile St. Louis? Well, living in Garmisch, I’ve grown used to awesome landscape views – the view from my living room is the wide-open expanse that ends with the Alpspitze rising at the edge of town. The last time I was in Paris (2009), it felt like the people in the buildings on the other side of the street were right in my living room, they were so close. I felt claustrophobic and stressed; I realized I need to have some wide expanse of air or lots of nothing outside the window to make me feel relaxed. So, I thought that views over the Seine would do the trick. They do, and it is!

Do I want a Parisian experience? I want a big-city experience, that’s for sure; I want a good contrast to my little life in my little town. I definitely want a French experience; München just doesn’t do it for me anymore, and I want something with more . . . je ne sais quoi. Parisian? I lived in Paris for a year when I was in college in 1975-76. I guess I did all the things Parisians do – went to class, shopped, visited friends, sipped a single glass of wine in a café for an entire afternoon. But I lived in a maid’s room in the 16th, with the toilet and shower down the hall. Well, I don’t want that experience again! But if y’all have recommendations for apartments with wide-open and expansive views in other areas of Paris, I would love to have them! (Just a word of caution – I don’t much care for the crowds and the noise of the Latin Quarter, so I won’t consider an apartment there.) I do know of one apartment in the 7th with good views that is on my short list for a return visit.

For TDudette – Lebara sim is for any phone that’s unlocked. I had to add the internet package for my smart phone.

For TYPAYT, I'm staying at the Mimosa by Guest Apartment Services. It's lovely here . . .

Ingo – Yes, I heard about the snow! I saw the photos some friends posted, and I was sorry I missed it. I know that we’ve gotten our first snow of the season in October every year for the past five years, so I wasn’t surprised. Oh, hey, NOW you tell me you would have carted my case; I would’ve invited you if only I’d known. But. This is a studio apartment, and I’m sharing it with my cousin, who arrives in a few days. How much do you wannnnna share???

So, back to the heart of the matter.

Even after living in Paris for a year and visiting numerous times, I never cared much about the history or context of all the beauty I was enjoying. I determined that this time, I would actually learn about what I was seeing. I asked a question here at Fodors a while ago about the best way to read, learn, and walk without walking into lampposts or being an obvious target for pickpockets, but I didn’t get any really wonderful ideas. There are guidebooks – but the historical information is on one page and the maps are pages and pages away, and the reader is flipping around using two hands. There are apps and online tours and Kindle books, but my middle-aged eyes don’t always see the screen clearly, particularly if it’s a sunny day; I end up juggling my sunglasses and my reading glasses while trying to find a spot of shade to read in. Plus, again, the maps are many clicks away from the historical texts.

So, I came up with my own system – maybe one or two of you will also find it useful. First, I scoured what I considered the best guidebooks to find the kind of information I wanted – Michelin’s Green Guide, Eyewitness, and Fodors among them. I decided that I liked Michelin’s the best, so I copied all the walks I was interested in. I cut out the text and glued it onto a 6 x 7 inch sheet of poster board. From google maps, I downloaded detailed maps of the area, printed them, and added walking arrows and notes for restaurants. Then I glued the map to the back of the text and laminated each sheet. At the end, I have a tablet-sized sheet of easy-to-read text with the map conveniently on the flip side; each walk takes about two of these sheets.

It worked splendidly. It was infinitely easy to hold and read a single sheet of laminated paper with one hand. Flipping over to look at the map frequently (remember, I am map-challenged) was so simple I could do it . . . . did do it . . . a hundred times. I walked past lots of folks using two hands to hold open and read a guidebook, and I knew I had a better solution. Here’s hoping publishers get onto this quickly. I packed my purse with four laminated sheets for two walks I thought I’d want to do today (they took up about 2cm).

I love ancient history. I told a colleague this once, and he replied with, “Oh, the Civil War?” Hmmm. No. Ancienter. I am fascinated by Celtic and Germanic tribes, the Roman Empire, and development up until about 1200 AD. I’ve been to the Archeological Museum (Parvis de Notre Dame) and want to do it again, and I’ve been to Cluny and want to do it again; but my friend, who also wants to see those places, asked me to see them with her when she gets here in a few days. So, today will be tribal and medieval Paris without those two important museums. I started the day with Rick Steves’ audio tour on “Historic Paris” and thought it worthwhile; it was easy for me to imagine the Parisii, the Roman Temple of Jupiter, and the 6th Century church that followed. I could see myself in medieval Paris, among the peasants, laboring to produce the church. I didn’t go inside Notre Dame or St. Chapelle because I’d done them before (St. Chapelle with a guide). I felt like I was in another world with earphones cancelling out the modern cacophony and sealing me into that medieval world. I could almost smell the sewer along Rue St. Severin. It was mostly easy to follow the directions and to focus on the lessons. Steves’ tour ends at Pont Neuf, and that’s where the Michelin tour of Ile de la Cite begins, so I went right into that, followed by Ile St. Louis. I took a long break in between at the Bistro Marguerite and enjoyed a big chicken leg with wonderful mushrooms and mashed potatoes. I so enjoyed watching Parisian life flowing by the café in front of me. I have spent the past five years insisting on bucolic country views from my chosen restaurants, so the vitality of the scene in front of me was joyously different. I fell in love with a caramel-colored coat worn by a pretty, animated woman in front of Hotel de Ville; the coat wasn’t sloppy, but it was soft, sensuous, and relaxed. I thought again how much style one can pick up in Paris just by . . . . being here.

There wasn’t anything really remarkable about the men’s urinal exposed in a small alcove in the toilet area of the Marguerite; after 20 years in the Army it takes more than the back of a man with knees bent over a urinal to embarrass me. But there was something remarkable about the man speaking volubly . . . to the wall? . . . . to his penis? The other waiting Dame and I exchanged arched eyebrows.

Now time to work on my classes, and if possible, pop out again later to buy a scarf at Diwali . . . . (money is flying out of my purse . . . )
swandav2000 is offline  
Oct 12th, 2013, 06:09 AM
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I see that you went with Guest Apartment---good choice. We had excellent service from them and stayed in HIBISCUS apt.
Hands down our favorite out of 4 different apts. we've stayed in on Ile St. Louis.
TPAYT is offline  
Oct 12th, 2013, 06:40 AM
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Bookmarking to enjoy a trip to Paris vicariously...
Sidny is offline  
Oct 12th, 2013, 07:45 AM
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Most of those people talking to themselves are actually talking on the their mobile phone.

I always enjoy sitting in Bistrot Marguerite -- one of the calmest cafés in one of the busiest parts of Paris.
kerouac is online now  
Oct 12th, 2013, 07:53 AM
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Thanks for the phone info, swandav2000. Since many men give their p*nis a name, it's possible he was talking to it. It does run the life of many men I've heard.

Enjoying your TR very much.
TDudette is offline  
Oct 12th, 2013, 08:23 AM
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Wow, Swandav. What a great solution you came up with for "guide" with map. I was one of those fumbling people (in the rain) with a map. And I gave up on the guidebooks. I will definitely try this next trip.

I can understand your reason for booking this location. A view over the Seine sounds wonderful!

Looking forward to more...
susan001 is offline  
Oct 12th, 2013, 09:00 AM
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I loved your description of the train travel and the difference in types of villages. Lovely report so far. Thank you!
Trophywife007 is offline  

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