Monday, 26 July 2010

Two days in Paris!

Whoa! What a weekend :). It had originally been a random decision, and something born of necessity. I had a weekend to kill between a course and landing up in office, and I wasn't going to get the apartment in Asker till Monday. So I figured, I'll just stay in Paris! Within a couple of days I even had a few people ready to go with me!
But as the days rolled by all that changed, pretty much everyone cancelled and I ended up boarding the plane from Nantes to Paris with no definite place to stay and a dull headache from an ill-advised sequence of events the night before. I'd also just figured out that the Tour de France was due to conclude in Paris the same weekend :|. Okay, I don't follow the sport, and had absolutely no idea, honestly!!! Needless to stay, the accommodation scenario wasn't looking promising. On the up-side, I did have one friend landing up, Morten, my host in Bergen last summer!
Once we met up, we figured a place to stay was something of a priority, cue for a stop at an internet cafe and a frantic online search for hotels/hostels. We even found one that wasn't too far away! But here's the thing, when you find something online under such circumstances, book it! We figured, we'll just have a look in person :|. By the time we got to the place 20 minutes later, the rooms were gone. But this was in Montmartre, so there wasn't any dearth of hotels and eventually we did find quite a decent one that we didn't have to pay all that much for :). Having a place to sleep makes a big difference in the general peace of mind situation, I find :D.From then onwards, there was no looking back, we decided to make the most of our location and check out Sacre Coeur first. And there onwards we made our rather aimless wandering way all the way down to the banks of the Seine right at Concorde. That is where the Tour de France imposed itself upon us. The entire area was a mess of barricades and scaffoldings and such things. We were beginning to feel it might be a good idea to see what the fuss was all about.But for the present we made our winding way along the river, eventually landing up at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower. Now I had only two things that I really wanted to do this time in Paris. Go up the Eiffel Tower, and see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre Museum. The last time I'd tried to achieve the first the gigantic queues and an extreme unwillingness to climb up stairs had done me in. (May I clarify, said unwillingness was not my own :|.) The Louvre had been passed over for Notre Dame.The queues were there, but being somewhat early in the afternoon, there weren't that many takers for the stairs, so that's the way we went! Not too long after I was getting wowed by the views, first from the first level and then from the second. The tall buildings from all around Paris (and there are some seriously gigantic specimens in that town) were beginning to look less and less like mammoth structures and more like pieces in a toy city.Here's the fun part, no one expects anyone to actually climb up stairs to the very top :). You go get tickets to a different elevator once you are at the second level. That cuts down the crowd by a lot! Took us less than an hour from when we queued up for the tickets to when we were plainly gawking at the world spread around us in all directions from some place very very high :D.Nothing impinged the horizon any longer. There was no skyline :). The Sacre Coeur on its hill had blended into the general sea of human construction that was Paris. Nothing could rear its head into the sky, not the 'sky-scrapers' of La Defense, not the tower in Montparnasse! Majesty and awe. How often these two go together! You have to be up there, on the top of the Eiffel Tower to truly see how large Paris really is.Would Delhi look as wide and all-encompassing? In this respect I think coastal cities have a disadvantage, about half the world would be blue :). Sydney and Bergen both have that problem. And it isn't quite the same watching the masses of concrete or the carpets of light, depending on the time of day or night, from a fast moving, high flying aeroplane. You need to stand still, take the time and have a good look around. Let the view sink in slowly.Yup, I was quite impressed :). Unfortunately, now that I think about it, I can't really recall the feeling from when we went up Menara Kuala Lumpur. Don't seem to remember being quite this taken :). I've gotto try the top of the Empire State Building some time!Eventually we did make our way down, and ambled over to the Arch de Triomphe. Even went across the road for a closer look. And having basically walked all the way from Sacre Coeur to Concorde, then to Hotel de Invalides and the Ecole Militaire, up and down half the Eiffel Tower and finally over to the Arch by way of Palaise de Chaillot, all in about 8 or 9 hours, we were finally beat! We took the metro back and I for one, passed out happily for a change :D.Next morning it was going to be that other item on the list, we headed unhurriedly for the Louvre and made it there before the mid morning rush. Imagine this, we didn't even have to queue for the tickets! I actually asked the lady of they were open yet :P.
The trouble with museums is time. In most cases it is actually impossible to see everything. And this here is the Louvre, so.. We figured we'd just get the map and find the Mona Lisa. But while we were winding our way through halls and corridors, slipping past tourist groups of all shapes and sizes, we ran into someone we knew!!Right, here's what you do, take all the people that visit Paris on an average summer day, then you consider how many different places they could possibly visit on that day. Then, assuming at some point of time of the day they may or may not choose to have a look in at the Louvre Museum, you thing about all the different parts of the massive sprawling structure they could be in at any given moment. What are the odds then, of two such people, with absolutely no prior agreement to the effect, (and of course, who know each other and live very very far away from Paris :P) bumping into each other next to da Vinci's Virgin of the Rocks in the Denon Wing?Assuming you've worked that one out, you can probably appreciate all our surprise when we ran into Yana, last seen in Miami at the end of our awesome Key West road trip, at the aforementioned location :). As if to underscore the extent of chance involved, we didn't manage to locate each other at all again! For our part we went on to (read, I dragged Morten to) see the Mona Lisa. Had I not known what to expect, I would have been surprised at the actual size of it :). But as it is, I spent more time trying to get a good shot of it amidst the huge throng, rather than actually looking at it closely.While there we did look in at a few other bits and pieces, but to be honest there was no hope of going through anything in any detail. I settled for some of da Vinci's other paintings on display, Venus de Milo, Michaelangelo's The Dying Slave and the coronation crown of Louise XV and everything that fell in the way. I don't think we even made it to the second floor, or the Napoleon III apartments. But by then it was well past midday, so we moved on.Another walk along the Seine, across Pont Neuf, past the Conciergerie and Notre Dame onto a somewhat short foray southwards past St. Michel and La Sorbonne and the Pantheon. Then back towards Notre Dame and Hotel De Ville. By the time we'd made our way back to the Louvre we had to stop for a bit :).I realise that I can be something of a snob when it comes to people striking poses around monuments. But after turning my nose up at roughly 50 different people trying to hold the great glass pyramid of the Louvre with the tip of thumb and fore-finger, I gave up :P. I guess it's whatever keeps your clock ticking, right? But really? What's wrong with just a nice big smile? Why do you have to push it or pull it of lift it or what have you? :)By the time we headed along the Jardine des Tuileries, we though we may have missed all the action. But, as fate would have it, at the Ferris wheel we saw a huge bunch of people and some pretty big Norwegian and British flags, and within seconds a huge roar went up as the cyclists went past us with truly astonishing speed!!! I was too surprised to snap any clear shots! But seeing how most people seemed to be staying, we found ourselves somewhat better vantage positions and waited!
It was pretty easy to spot the next few laps actually, the helicopter headed towards us for one, and then the clearing vehicles ahead as the cyclists came up from the tunnel and took that left turn towards Concorde!! Again and again we waited, wanting to see it one more time, and over and over they kept flying past! Once I got the hang of it of course, I let it rip, a couple of hundred shots, and that was just 'cos I was running out of space on my 8Gb memory card :P.
We did make our way over towards Concorde and sort of eavesdropped on the concluding ceremony via the large screen projected next to the Champs de Elysee. But the euphoria was over, and we were really glad to have felt the rush of those thundering wheels, pumping pedals. I honestly cannot believe how fast these people rode those bikes up that slope of the ramp!! You've gotto see them zoom past I guess :).
It was going to be hard to top that experience, and we settled for a leisurely walk back to the hotel. Going through the roughly 800 pics I had taken in the previous two days (incredible, even for me, yes, but you have to account for the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Tour de France :D) I couldn't quite believe how all of this had actually turned out :). I even got a bunch of pics of Contador, as it turned out :D.All the way back to Asker, on the metros, the flight, the bus, all I could think about was how there was really no way to have actually planned any two days like these :). Yet more proof that if you can survive it, the best trips are the most impulsive ones :).
Currently: still on a high :)
Listening to: Joshua Radin - Sundrenched world

ps: It's way too late now, and I've got to start work tomorrow morning, so I guess I'll get to those pics later :). Phew! That was a lot of photographs! :)

1 comment:

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