Sunday, June 14, 2009

not your usual travel journal - PART 2

(PART ONE is available here.)

* * * *

May 21, 2009

"The First Day"


We arrive in Hotel Berne, a three-star hotel in the Opera area. While it's clearly more posh than a hostel, it is small and has that bed-and-breakfast feel. This Hausmann building was probably a high-end apartment complex before it became a hotel.

There are no bell boys here; you carry your own luggage to your room, and the elevator can only fit two people (with two carry ons). Nevertheless it is quite lovely, and is very near Rome station on Line # 2 (Porte Dauphine-Nation), providing direct access to the Arc de Triomphe-Champs Elysées station Europe Line # 3 (Pont de Levallois-Gallieni). That means we are about 1.20 euros away from everything.

Our room is more spacious than we expected. There is a big bed plus a sofa by the window, where we sit for a whole hour to soak in the view and get our bearings straight. The street was quite narrow, so we can peek into the homes of locals living in the residential building in front of us.

Households in central Paris are mostly single-occupant dwelling. Apartments are minuscule, much like condominiums in Metro Manila. (Suddenly, our pad doesn't seem so small). In one of the verandas we see a stylish woman washing clothes. Out the gate below goes a car (a compact Renault). The driver is probably late for work. Not that he should be worried. The French are known to "work to live" rather than "live to work." They are slaves for only 35 hours a week (no overtime), and get about 9 weeks of paid vacation every year. Shops close early (compared to Spain or to the Philippines), and work starts late. Without the pressure to make and spend money, Parisians have more time to build and enjoy relationships, sit pointlessly in cafes for hours, and basically just be "French."


It is while looking at this view that MSP gives me a 36-diamond Tiffany celebration ring, which he hid carefully in his jacket. The ring, he says, is a celebration of our eight years, of the dreams we realized, and of our future. It is now official: We would travel the world together, I as the official translator, and he as the map-and-compass reader :)
We would never get lost.

10:00 am

The front desk tells us that today is actually a holiday, and that only the Louvre and the restaurants are open.

With nothing much to do, we just walk around the Montmartre area to get a sense of our base in the city. The weather was nice and cold. We are literally on a hill in Paris, so it is chilly. I wish out loud that summer doesn't rear its head just yet. I want to enjoy spring.

We are standing in Opera. This formerly bohemian town is now filled with touristy attractions, not the least of which is Moulin Rouge (in boulevard de Clichy). But it wasn't so long ago that artists like Picasso and Van Gogh roamed the streets. I could almost imagine them tucked in one of the apartments, with the easels, going mad.


The Paris metro is dingy and inefficient. The French may be great lovers, but they clearly aren't the best engineers. Signs contradict each other. Tunnels lead to unexpected platforms. Even Columbus could get lost here.

I expected "first-world" trains and waiting areas, but got ghetto instead. Coaches are mostly old and unstable. There was graffiti everywhere (as always).


(Click to enlarge and see how dingy it is.)

Parisians are beautiful, however. They are slim, chic, and carry themselves well. They smell odd, but if you don't breathe, they are poetry in motion.


We somehow figure out how to navigate the metro and find ourselves in our first touristy district: the Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysees, and Grands Boulevards area.
Countless domestic dogs and their owners walk the street. The book says about 200,000 of these pets live in the city, which may explain the smell. I am just guessing here, but I think dogs outnumber children.

We have only half a day today, and we decide to get the shopping and touristy dining out of the way. Tomorrow we could be more "local," but for now, we would be tourists. Filipino tourists.

12:00 noon

And what do Pinoy tourists in Paris do? They eat.

Lunch was at the pricey La Maison de la Truffe (19 place de la Madeleine). We stand out front at first to check out what they sell.


Inside, the place is divided into two: a takeaway store, and a formal restaurant. The English-speaking waiter leads us to a nice table.

We go for the big time and order the elusive black diamond truffles sprinkled generously on ravioli and veal. The bill is 88 euros for two (no wine), and is totally worth it. We'll have to eat cheaply in the next days, but what the heck. We already paid too much to be here; we might as well stuff ourselves with expensive Parisian food.


After a very short walk outside, we see the Eglise de la Madeleine, which is styled like a Greek temple (complete with 52 Corinthian columns). Unfortunately the church is closed, so we couldn't see the frescoes, marble, and gilt decor in the interior.

A nice Parisian man offers to take our picture, but we do not need help. We have Joby :)


The jet lag + time difference is kicking in. We figure we need sugar and head to Fauchon.


This black-and-fuchsia shop sells melt-in-your-mouth macaroons in the most inventive flavors. I could live here.


We eat the macaroons right outside the shop the moment we step out.


After more walking we stumble upon the Triangle d'Or, home to the historic haute couture flagships.

I am truly OVER shopping. Hong Kong still has THE best discounts even on French brands, after all. And shopping is boring now. I don't get as amused as I used to. But we're here anyway, so we might as well check out Chanel, Dior, Lacroix, Comme des Garcons, Givenchy, Hermes, Gaultier, Lanvin, YSL, and of course, Louis Vuitton. MSP's mom wants us to buy her one of the many LV bags. I am ashamed to even be in the store along with logo-hungry tourists (mostly Japanese), but what can I do? I get the bag she wants, patiently wait in line to pay, and hurry out.
I make a mental note of just how much time we wasted queuing for the bag.


We walk around the extremely capitalist Champs-Elysees and its surrounds. I do not see locals - just foreigners everywhere. Interestingly, Parisians don't seem to be interested in the luxury labels they export.

Just when we thought Paris has turned into one big mall for gullible tourists, we see an antique street market - certainly a nice break from all the big brands in the other street. Here I buy vintage postcards to give to my friends.


The line to the top of the Arc de Triomphe (place Charles de Gaulle) is quite long, so we decide to just take pictures outside and come back tomorrow, when we already have the all-access pass.

We just sit under the Arc, read names after names, watch a military rite being performed, and observe other tourists.

This monument was constructed to commemorate Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz in 1805. It stands right in the centre of Etoile, the world's BIGGEST roundabout. To get to it, you need to the take the underground pedestrian tunnels, which are oddly enough not connected to the metro tunnels. (Inefficient).


It is time to deal with the Paris metro again. The confusing tunnels that lead to multiple platforms, violin-playing beggars, broke tourists asking for train money - only in Paris, I tell you. Of the very few ticket dispensing machines, only one is working. Take me back to Manila.

Here in the madness of the subway, we meet an intellectual gone mad. She is about 45 years old and has a big bag with her. She looks like she hasn't showered in days, but this is not enough to indicate that she is crazy (many normal Parisians do not shower). However, she has really bad shoes and scratches her head like a kooky. Something about the shift in her eyes tells us she's a lunatic.

She approaches me speaking French. When I tell her that I don't understand and ask (in broken French) if she speaks English, she replies:

"I am sorry. I was just asking if it was possible to get 50 cents from you." (Exact words.)

I am awed. The FIRST Parisian to ever speak to me in straight English, with perceptible but minimal French accent. Unfortunately I do not have 50 cents, and I have to turn her down.

"I'm sorry to have bothered you," she says right away. A very cultured, very strange lady. I hold on to my Prada. She walks away.

MSP and I exchange curious glances.She then approaches three Spanish teens, also asking for 50 cents, this time speaking in Spanish.


She must have approached five more people speaking in tongues. A linguist gone mad. I never thought I'd ever meet one.


Two drunk Parisians jump the turnstile. Apparently this is a normal occurrence, as locals do not seem bothered at all.

The metro can be a very scary place. Were it not for the comforting nonchalance of people who ride it everyday, we would fear for our lives.

Next stop: St-Germain des Pres.


I am shutting down. I have slept only 45 minutes in almost two days, and I am starting to dream while I sit on this broken-down bench. In the freaking metro. In the bowels of Paris. MSP props me up, putting his finger in my ear from time to time. He is convinced that annoying me will wake me up. He hardly succeeds.


There she is: Cafe Le Flore. Built in the 1880's, this was where Sartre and de Beauvoir set up office during the Nazi regime. It's quite pricey but definitely less touristy than the cafe beside it (Les Deux Magots). Besides, The Barefoot Contessa recommended that we try the hot chocolate and omelet for dinner. That's why we are here.

We order two types of omelet, some fresh pomelo juice for our immune systems, and hot chocolate. The nice waiter gave us free salad. The bill was around 30 euros. Not bad at all, considering the quality and quantity of cheese in each bite.


I am convinced that I will die in the metro. We get a little lost (again), and I am running on emergency battery. I do not die, of course, and about 20 minutes later, we are back in Rome station. Home sweet home. Shower, change into my big shirt, sleep.


I am awake again. Why is the sun still up? In Europe, it never seems to set. We better close the curtains.

Half asleep, I plan out the next three days.

On Sunday we'll check out Marche Aux Puces de St Ouen and enjoy a local meal in Chez Louisette. But tomorrow, we better get the "big" things done - the Louvre, and the Eiffel. Then the Sacre Couer, then Dali Espace. We'll eat in the "best baguette in Paris" awardee resto, see Musee d'Orsay, the Grand Palais. Maybe we'll take the Seine cruise, and buy a book in Shakespeare and Company. We'll visit the Notre Dame, Sorbonne, Bastille Opera, eat felafels, find the Musee Picasso, Musee Rodin, and Le Cafe Pure (that cafe in "Before Sunset,"). I already saw the hop-on/off bus to take us to all these places.

For less then 30 euros each, it promises to take us to all the essential places in two days. Will it arrive on time? Will it arrive at all? I have no faith in the French transport system.

Back to sleep.
The converted wine cellar in the basement offers a decent breakfast buffet starting at 7am. I can't wait.

To be continued



Anonymous Anonymous said...

violin-playing beggars. i can almost hear them. i know what musical instrument to learn now.

8:18 PM  
Blogger acey said...

i almost had an attack when i saw that "truffe" is almost 600 euros/kilo!

but the macarons! oh, they just look lovely! :D

10:18 PM  
Blogger mussolini said...

barry> i'm sure you can make a career out of begging in paris. all you need is 1.20 euros to get into the subway, and you can stay the whole day. i can imagine your tarpaulin. "filipino professor needs money to go back home."

4:55 PM  
Blogger mussolini said...

acey> the resto was kinda pricey butthey did douse their dishes with real truffles (not just truffle oil). i almost licked my plate.

4:56 PM  
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