STORIES AND SPARKLES
Saturday, May 9
Today was again spent leisurely roaming the streets of Paris. The “Tassie Fouresome” (myself, Steve, Len and Pauline), continued our walking and just taking in the sights of Paris. We walked up to the Pantheon, another grand building and monument commissioned by Louis XV in 1744.
We eventually came upon the Jardin du Luxembourg, a beautiful big park with a lake and palace. The sun was out, so we joined the people sitting in the seats by the lake, enjoying the sunshine and watching people sail the little remote controlled boats. We had elevenses and three of the foursome enjoyed a very tasty looking crepe and it was lovely just sitting and relaxing in a beautiful park and watching the world go by.
Then off we went and continued our roaming. We came upon a group of buskers that were fantastic. It reminded me of the group Steve and I had seen in Toulouse, a group of people playing brass instruments and drums and being so animated and lively while playing really hip-swinging, toe-tapping music.
We stayed and watched, tapped and wiggled for a while and then continued our strolling towards the Opera and centre of Paris, where we were to do a walking tour of the area around the Opera. We sat on the steps of the building, had a quick lunch, while ducking and dodging the pigeons who seemed to prefer a very low flight path above the heads of the seated folks such as us! We joined up with our walking tour guide, a lovely lady who took us around the back streets, squares and plazas that we probably wouldn’t have seen or explored had we not been shown them. Here are some of the interesting facts and stories she shared with us:
* The city of Paris has put beehives on the top of the National Opera, for ecological reasons. As we know, the bee population is declining, which will have catastrophic consequences for so many things, so the city has begun to do something to help the bees, by giving them hives and locating them on the roof of this grand building. The poor bees must have a very long and tiring flight though, to find something to pollinate!
* The steps at the front of the Opera were the main entrance to the building but Napoleon recognised how vulnerable he was when arriving at such a public place. At the time, the venue of choice for political or aristocratic assassinations, was the theatre or opera, because crowds of people would turn out to see the rich arrive in all their splendour and it was easy for an attacker to lunge from the crowd and do their dreadful deed. So Napoleon asked for a separate entrance to be designed into this building, around the side and with a wide, gated entry. This was then called the “Emperor’s Entrance” because a carriage could be driven right in and up to the door, so the ruling folks could jump out of their carriage and step inside, thus avoiding the riff-raff and staying safe from anyone wanting to knock them off.
* There is a reason why Paris is very uniform in terms of its buildings, with everything looking very much the same and buildings all having the same colour and design, with the balconies and so on. After the French Revolution, there was a real focus on getting rid of the class system and as the city was being developed and designed, it was decided that everything should be built the same to reflect social equality and all classes would live in the buildings. So the beige and balconied Paris cityscape is a purposeful attempt at a sense of equality in housing and to be seen to be without class divisions.
* Another attempt at social equality came with punishment! The place where the large obelisk stands near the Louvre, was the place where public executions were held, which of course always drew a large and vocal crowd. Prior to the Revolution, those who were poor and from the “lower classes” were hung, because they wanted them to suffer as much as possible! People from the upper classes were beheaded with an axe, because it was thought to be a quicker and painless death! Then, after the French Revolution, the guillotine was invented so everyone, regardless of status or class, would be executed in the same way. So there you go…equal opportunity executions!
We also saw the site of the first cinema, invented by the brothers Lumiere. So it was not invented in the US and it’s not a Hollywood thing, it started here in a building in Paris. The first moving picture was shown there and of course no one had seen anything like that and no one knew anything about it, so at the first screening of the two short little films that had been produced, there were 32 people in the audience. The next day, for the second screening there were 2000! Police had to attend to keep the crowds in check, as people lined the streets wanting to see this thing they had heard about, with moving pictures. One of the films shown was considered the “scariest movie at the time”. What do you think it was? Monsters? Murder? Mayhem? No…the scariest movie at the time was titled “Train Arriving at the Station”. Sounds a bit mundane doesn’t it! The movie was simply footage of a train, front on, driving towards a station. So imagine, these people in the audience, who had never seen a moving picture before, sitting in their seats with a large screen in front of them and seeing a train barrelling towards them getting closer…closer…closer…Some people screamed, some people ran, some hid, because of course they thought that train was going to drive straight over them! There you have it, the scariest movie of 1895!
It was a really interesting little tour, just walking around for a couple of hours being told the stories and facts of the area.
After a short rest back at the hotel, we headed out again to see the Eiffel Tower lit up against the night sky. We took the Metro out to the “Iron Lady” (the name given to the Eiffel Tower), found a place among all the people to see the tower as the sky darkened and she didn’t disappoint. The Tower looked so spectacular all lit up and then on the hour, the sparkling, flashing and dazzlingl ight show started, which looked very speccy in the dark.
We then headed for the Louvre, thinking the glass pyramid may have been lit up too and it was, but in a more sedate way, with its regular lights and without the bling of its nearby cousin. As we came out of the Metro and walked through the arches near the theatre beside the Louvre, a man sitting under the arches began playing the cello. That was really nice, walking through the long archway, towards the Louvre in the Parisienne night, with beautiful cello music as accompaniment.
So that was the day. Another splendid time had by all, walking and looking and learning and just experiencing this amazing city. Steve and I have decided to stay on in Paris for a couple more days, before heading north to catch our ferry, so we hope to enjoy the local flavour for a little longer. The other bonus…the sun is supposed to shine! Paris in the spring sunshine…magic!
HOW SPECIAL IS THAT
Sunday, May 10
Today was the day to check out of our nice Paris hotel, but…we’ve decided to stay on in Paris for another couple of days before heading north to our ferry, so Paris has not seen the last of us yet! We retrieved our bikes from the little hotel courtyard where they had been enjoying a well earned rest and loaded up our panniers. The lady at reception couldn’t believe we were cycling around with all that gear on the bikes and was quite amazed at the sight of us. She took photos of us and then asked if she could put the photos on the hotel’s Facebook page! I said we felt like Parisienne celebrities! Steve’s mum and dad and their lovely friends Rob and Lorraine, were also checking out and moving to another hotel to prepare for their cruise departure, so they waved us off as we pedalled down the road. We were off on a short ride to our next hotel where we’ll stay for the next three nights while we continue exploring Paris but had planned to meet “Team Tassie Tourists” at a park for lunch after they had checked in to their cruise hotel, so we pedalled off towards our lunch spot via the river.
As Steve and I headed for the river, Steve said, “We should be able to ride all the way along the river path.” We started our riverside pedal, only to find that the path was made up of very big and very bumpy cobbles, many with gaps between them wide enough to trap a bike wheel, so it was slow progress. As we were riding along, the touring cruise boats were moving down the river and on one, the people lining the side of the boat saw us and gave us a cheer and a clap!
Then…we came upon steps! We had to haul the bikes up and then bump the bikes down more than one flight of stone steps! Hmmm, are we doing this by choice now!! Then…mud! The river had been quite high and in the last few days had overflowed onto the path, leaving behind it a thick, foot-sucking sludge of river mud! Really! Are we actually choosing to wade through mud! We have tackled some interesting terrain on our journey so far but that has been of necessity, now here we were choosing to tackle steps and mud! Time to abandon the riverside cycle I think! We stopped beside some steps down to the river to rinse our mud caked feet and there began a very special and memorable experience…
…a young woman stopped and asked if we would like a drink because she would be happy to offer us one. She said she had seen us going through the mud and felt for us. She asked where we were from and when I said Tasmania, she said she had visited Tasmania and Melbourne! She then said she would be most happy if we would go to her home on a boat, moored nearby and she would make us a drink. That was how we met the lovely Laure. We followed Laure to the boat where she lives and what an amazing place to live and it was beautiful inside. Laure offered us the bathroom to clean ourselves up a bit, then prepared a platter of cheese, tomatoes and bread and a pot of tea and we sat out on the deck of the boat, in the warm sunshine and it was utterly and completely delightful.
Laure is a doctor specialising in autoimmune disease in both research and clinical practice. She had travelled to Australia for work and during that time had also visited Tasmania. It’s always so nice to meet people who have been to Tassie, because as I’ve said before, we tend to think no one knows we’re tucked away down there. So we enjoyed Laure’s hospitality and had a perfect brunch on the boat, chatting about our respective countries and sharing our experiences. I told her that we were, there and then, experiencing one of the highlights of the trip so far. Those are the special moments you can’t predict or expect, but are so wonderful when they happen. There we were, spending time with a delightful and lovely person, who had been kind enough to stop and talk to two complete strangers and invite them to her home, where she went to the trouble of offering drinks, food and conversation. How special is that. It was a perfect morning, just simply delightful.
After exchanging details and bidding farewell to Laure, we continued on our way (via the road this time!) and met up with our fellow members of “Team Tassie Tourist” and walked to Jardin Tuileries where we sat in the sunshine and had lunch. Paris had finally turned on the weather for us and it was very warm…sooooo nice! After lunch, Steve and I pedalled off to find our hotel, near Mantmatre, checked in and then set off to meet up with Len and Pauline again. We sat outside a cafe, opposite the Moulin Rouge, having a cuppa and I said to Steve, “We’re in Paris, having tea at cafe, across the road from the Moulin Rouge!” It was another moment to just take stock of where we were and what we were experiencing. We then walked Len and Pauline back to their hotel and said our final goodbyes. It’s been lovely to spend time with them and see the sites of Paris together. We’ll be seeing them again in a few months when our paths cross in the UK, but for now we have had a wonderful time together in Paris.
I’d call today one of the highlights of our trip and once again the highlights came in the form of people…moments when we are lucky enough to meet wonderful, friendly and kind people like Laure. This was rounded off with the lovely time of just ”being” by spending time with family in beautiful places and just sharing experiences. Highlights and memorable moments don’t have to be bells and whistles events, they don’t have to be big things, instead they are just moments…shared experiences…it’s about time…sharing time together…they become the memories. Meeting Laure and having brunch on her houseboat will be a lasting memory and our time in Paris, just roaming and sharing experiences with Len and Pauline will stay as warm memories. That’s what it’s all about…people, places, time and making memories. How special is that!