Tourist First

Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

France: Paris, Crowded but Still Paris

     Jane and I spent a few days in Paris at the beginning of our May-June vacation.  Having stopped in Reykjavik, Iceland, en route, we joked that Paris, one of the world’s most expensive cities, seemed not so expensive.  I lived in Paris briefly in the early 1990s, and Jane had visited there before, so we thought we knew what to expect and what we wanted to do.
Few tourists walk along the pleasant Canal Saint Martin.
     We had not known, however, that this visit would coincide with a French four-day holiday weekend.  That Friday we decided to visit Versailles, which Jane had never seen.  It was packed, with possibly just as many French people as foreigners.  After more than an hour on the ticket line, we shuffled slowly through the chateau’s grand rooms like vertical sardines as everyone and their mothers took cellphone photos of every bit of gilding, every silk drape, and every sign explaining what the room was.  There was no chance to take in what we were seeing until we got to the Hall of Mirrors, where the crowd could spread out because of the room’s size. The gardens weren’t so crowded, of course, but work on an upcoming exhibition apparently involved closing some sections and several paths.

      In Paris itself, the crowds were also overwhelming: long lines at the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, both of which we viewed only from the outside. No hope of dinner in a nice restaurant without a reservation. Fortunately,we bought a French cellphone with 30 days of nationwide service and were able to make reservations and later to call ahead to find hotel rooms once we left the capital.  And we found corners of the city that weren't on most tourists' lists of must-see places. 
The arch at Rue Saint Denis and Blvd. Saint Martin. Again, few tourists.
       We stayed at the Hotel du Haut Marais at the beginning of our vacation. It’s in a decidedly non-touristy neighborhood but within a healthy walk of much of what we wanted to see in Paris. It’s really a chambres d’hotes (bed and breakfast) in an old building with exposed beams throughout. Our room was very small but had a spacious bath and was spotlessly clean.  There’s a small elevator, but you have to walk up a flight from the street level to reach it.  Click HERE for its website.
      When we came back to Paris after driving around France for three weeks, we had daughter Katy with us; she joined us in Marseilles.  This time we had an amazingly tiny two-bedroom suite (but again with a spacious bathroom) at the Saint-Paul le Marais Hotel (click HERE for its website). It is just off the Rue St. Antoine in the heart of the trendy Marais neighborhood.


Ticket line at Versailles.  Those people in the background are ticketholders on line to enter the chateau. 



The gardens and the Grand Canal as seen from the chateau's terrace.
 Those are rowboats on the canal. Below, what do you think about this 21st-century
arch stuck in the middle of an 18th-century setting? To me, it doesn't work
 as well as the famous pyramid at the Louvre.  This arch resembles a slat of metal bent
 into a semicircle and held in place with large boulders.
Interesting, yes. Appropriate? I don't know.

Rodin's "The Thinker" at the Musee Rodin, one of Paris's many good small museums.

Katy and Jane take a selfie at the Centre Pompidou fountain.


For most of our time in Paris, I touted Berthillon as having the best
 ice cream in town.  We finally went, on our last day, and the ice cream
wasn't very good.  Jane said the chocolate was too sweet and we both agreed
 the pistachio was flavorless.  The vanilla was only OK.  We had better ice
creams as desserts in restaurants. This is, I think, the original Berthillon shop
 on Ile Saint Louis. There are several others now on that island, and the ice
cream is available at brasseries and bistros on Ile Saint Louis and Ile de la Cite.