25 June 2009

I awoke at 8:00 AM to the sounds of Jackie packing bags. We took our time getting around and talked with Avern, our hostess, about life in Provence and politics "back home". As an ex-pat California, Avern is more interested in what goes on in the US than most people in France, but it seems a bit far away to her. She did say that the impressions of the people she knows about the US and Americans has greatly improved with Obama getting in office.

We drove into the city center for a pastry and coffee. When we were getting coffee on Monday morning, we saw a pastry shop that had a "grosse meringue", which appeared to be the meringue topping off a pie. So she ordered one and I had a croissant. 30 minutes later, both of us buzzing from the sugar high, we spent some time exploring the Roman ruins at Glanum, just south of town.

I pulled into an Esso station in Avignon, not far from the train station. Our Peugeot was a diesel engine, so I pulled up to the green pump and started to fill it. A truck driver in the next lane saw me and told me to stop. In broken English, he explained that I was putting Petrol (gasoline) in my diesel tank. Ooops–in the US diesel pumps are green. I don't think I put more than about a quart in the tank–I hope it doesn't hurt things too badly.

Getting to the TGV train station was easy enough, but finding the secret road that led to the rental car lot took 2 or 3 mistakes to get right. Once we were inside the station, I had a beer and cooled off, because there really isn't any A/C in public places in France. Our train was late, so we had plenty of opportunities to listen to the SNCF TGV jingle. By the time the week was over, we decided we liked the tune, so I found a version of the song put to a synth beat, edited it and now use it as a ringtone.

The train to Paris took a little more than 3 hours. If we were on an airplane, it would've taken 30 minutes, but we would've wasted a lot of time getting to and from the airport with a lot of stress. The train is a much more civilized way to travel. We spent our time looking at our photos, eating the remaining cherries and tapanade and watching the scenery go by. The car was a bit warm, so we also dozed a bit.

Inside the Paris train station, once again it took us a while to get our bearings. We finally found the Metro (subway). I wasn't completely sure which train to take, so we stood in line at an information booth and hoped that the attendant spoke some English. The attendant had a full uniform and looked like a caricature of a French train attendant than the real thing. I began with a very polite "Parlez vous anglais, sil vous plait?" He looked at me sorta funny, then looked a Jackie, and started talking to her. She said we needed to get to the Louvre. He suggested that I pay for the tickets and the two of them could go to the Louvre and I could run the ticket office. Ah, the French humor. Welcome to Paris.

The ride on the Metro was pretty packed, as it was about 4:30 pm and people were starting to go home. We managed to get to the Louvre station easily enough. We took a wrong turn or two, but we finally made it to our hotel, just a few blocks away. We unpacked our clothes and then headed out into the streets of Paris. The rain was starting to fall.

Hungry and thirsty, we sat down at a cafe near the Louvre called Cafe Le Nemours, underneath the canopy. The rain came down harder and several lightning strikes hit nearby as the thunder was deafening. We enjoyed our beer and spent an hour just people-watching. We ordered food from the menu and for run-of-the-mill cafe food, it was awesome. I don't know if we were exhausted or just excited to be in Paris, but everything tasted great.

After our meal, we walked around the gardens of the Palais Royale. We watched men of various ages tossing petanque (bocce) and several groups of well-dressed young professionals having an impromptu picnic. I think this is a common occurrence to show up at a place with a loaf of bread, some wine, some cheese, and spend a few hours talking. From the Palais Royale, we walked up the Avenue de la Opera, toward the Opera House (where the Phantom lives).

From the Opera House, we made it down Rue Madeleine to Place de la Concorde and started walking up the Champs Elysees. By this time, the sun is about to set, but it is plenty bright. Being so far north right during the time of the summer solstice means that the days are long, the nights are short, and twilight makes it easy to see your way around.

The Champs Elysees is a shoppers paradise and there were tens of thousands of people taking advantage of the annual sales. We did some window shopping, but didn't try to buy anything. We finally made our way "up" to the Arc d' Triumphe as the last blues of the night were fading away. We spent some time taking photos and we traded shots with a couple of young American girls who seemed so excited to be in Paris on their own.

Faced with the prospect of walking 3 miles back to our hotel or trying out the Metro again, we opted for the Metro. It took us 2-3 tries to get the right train, but we were getting better at reading the maps. Back at the Louvre, we walked around a bit. We listened to a man playing his saxophone for spare change, while we looked in one of the public galleries in the Louvre. We walked out into the big open courtyard and took some photos of ourselves by the big glass pyramids.

We finished the evening at a cafe around the corner from our hotel. With a cold glass of pastis and an Orangina, we watched well-dressed late night revelers going to and fro. We collapsed in our bed after midnight, exhausted and happy.

Tomorrow – Notre Dame cathedral, Montparnasse cemetery, The LouvreIf you want to skip all the talk and see the pics, just browse over to my Photo site.