Paris, March 2010

The Gallic Shrug: 

Le Metro is our friend

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First things first!  20 million Frenchmen shall not be denied – your cell phone will continue to work in the depths of the Metro!  No dead zones in Paris!  Paris continues to be the height of chic – and no one would want to be caught out without the latest in mobiles attached to their ears.

Paris is awesome.  We strongly suspect the rest of France will also be awesome, but this is as far as we’ve gotten so far.   But let us catch you up with what’s new.

Our friends, a delightful French family whom we met last year in Argentina, invited us to stay with them at their home outside Paris while we awaited La Tortuga’s arrival in Belgium.  Everything has gone according to plan.  We’ve been in Nogent-sur-Marne, a really beautiful suburb on the east side of Paris, for two weeks, and La Tortuga is due in Zeebrugge in a couple of days.  We will leave shortly to take the high speed train there, where we will have a couple of days in a hotel before picking up our coach.

While here we have made many trips into Paris (about an hour by train-bus-metro or some combination thereof), starting with a fun orientation trip that included the entire Chavance family, the day after we arrived.  We were too jet-lagged to get too far, but we all made the most of a very nice Saturday together.  Since then we have seen most of the sights, have become Masters of the Metro, and have wandered the streets of Paris during sun and gloom and outright rain.  Paris is awesome (did I already say that?)  

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Everyone who has visited Paris has their own favorite spots; we have several, of course, but right there at the top is the small Musée Carnavalet with its terrific exhibit on the history of France and Paris (sure filled in all those gaps).  We fought the crowds to see the Louvre and Ste. Chapelle, ditto Versailles; would hate to see what this place is like in the summertime.  I have to thank Rick Steves for the suggestion of where to see the oldest clock in Paris – totally cool even if it no longer has hands.  And if you didn’t know it, there are Roman ruins in Paris – an arena that has become a neighborhood playground.  Not awe-inspiring, but one doesn’t want to miss out.  

The Arc de Triomphe was another special spot; I really enjoyed the tomb of the unknown soldier from WWI at the base, with its eternal flame.  A rather unique evocation of war right at that spot was interesting.  There is a metro station close at hand, and the escalator machinery is slightly malfunctioning; as a result it makes a rhythmic tromping sound at a certain spot – it sounds very much like troops marching through the streets.  We had no trouble putting ourselves in the midst of the battles being memorialized there.

A museum we knew nothing about was la Musée Quai Branly.  It’s a relatively new museum in Paris and covers “primitive” arts from many countries.  Primitive is absolutely the wrong word, of course.  “Different” would be better.  We saw incredible stuff, no surprise, including ceramics from Peru similar to those we saw in Cuzco; but a real delight was native costumes from southern China.  They were spectacular!  If you haven’t been there, it’s definitely a must when you can do so.  And of course the Eiffel Tower; what a grand spectacle!

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In our first couple of weeks on the ground in France, we’ve picked up a lot of new vocabulary and can sometimes even be understood, though not often.  One time, after struggling to ask directions of a nice gentleman on the Metro, he asked if we were Dutch; probably not a good indication of our growing language skills.  Interestingly, our biggest problem so far is lapsing into Spanish of all things, but one thing Rick has been able to successfully adopt is the universal gallic shrug; a lift of the shoulders accompanied by a slight poofing sound.  He loves it.

Riding public transportation and walking about the city has been very good for us.  I started out knowing there was no way I could dress properly for a visit here; I don’t even own the right clothes, much less have them with me in the small amount we hauled with us on the plane.  But not everyone looks like a million bucks and the height of fashion – although scarves are definitely “the thing” in this colder weather, for both men and women – you do see everyday clothes on everyday people – every day.  It’s a combination of very conservative and very outré.  Lot’s of LOLs (that’s Little Old Ladies, you text-freaks) have very orange hair.  So you wear what you’ve got, and hope you don’t run into somebody important.

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During our time here, we have experienced very cold and rainy weather at times, but have had some nice days too.  For the most part the weather has proven to be better than the forecast, so that is good.  We finally gave up trying to schedule our outings based on the forecast and have just gone ahead, generally with good results.  Also during these weeks, we have witnessed the outbreak of spring.  The trees and bushes that were bare are now showing color and budding leaves, and we see more silk than woolen scarves.  We will soon be going further north, into Belgium, but trust that the better weather will follow us.  Hopefully you are well into printemps yourselves.  

Bisoux from Rick and Kathy

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