France by Pete - 1998
Wednesday 3/25 Paris
We arrived in the Paris Gare du Nord station, changed our Belgian Francs to French Francs and took the subway to the Champs-Elysees. Our hotel was only a 5-minute walk. The Residence Lord Byron was supposed to be a 3 star hotel. I would give it a one. It was very dingy and worn. The only nice item was that my top floor room had a nice view of the Eiffel Tower. We put our luggage away and took a walk. After owning the London Fog overcoat for about 18 years, I finally discovered the inspection tag in the pocket.
We walked around on the Champs-Elysees for a while. I felt very much at home. We walked down the Avenue George V to see the spot where Diana was killed. There was graffiti all over the exit side of the tunnel. When we walked to the entrance side it was blocked off with some fences. We hopped over and walked down to the entrance. There was a little graffiti and several pictures of Diana pasted up. Looking into the tunnel we could see the post they ran into was painted up pretty good. We walked back to the Champs-Elysees and ate dinner at one of the Pizza cafes at a nice table overlooking the street. After walking around for a little while we went back to the hotel and went to sleep.
Thursday 3/26 Paris, Chantilly, Senlis, Crepy-en-Valois, Paris
We decided to take a good walk in the morning before heading towards the plant - JI Case in Crepy-en-Valois. This is about 45 minutes north of Paris. Our plan was to try to visit St. Denis the burial place for the French Kings, then visit the Chateau at Chantilly, then stop at the Cathedral at Senlis, before going to the customer. As usual we misjudged the time. We had a lousy breakfast at the hotel. We immediately decided the rest of the time we would take our chances elsewhere. We started walking/running at about 7:30. We walked down the Champs-Elysees to the Place de la Concorde, then up to the Madeline. We went inside for a minute or two, then walked to the Opera. The Opera was closed so we just took a couple of pictures. Next we walked to the Place Vendome. This is the famous square in Paris where all the worlds high priced jewelry shops are. In the center of the square is a huge column made of the bronze cannons that Napolean captured at the Battle of Austerlitz. Napolean is at the top. It also happens to be the location of the Ritz Hotel where Diana last stayed. It was very interesting to watch the tour busses pull into the square. The people would get out, look at the Ritz, shake their heads, take a couple of pictures and get back on the bus. I did not notice anyone but us looking at Napolean! From there we walked to the Palais Royale. This is the palace that Cardinal Richeleau gave to Louis XIVs father. It is where Louis XIV and his brother spent most of their childhood. It had a huge courtyard with some very nice gardens. From the street you would never guess how big it is. The government now uses it and you cannot go inside. There were two big modern sculptures that looked like pinballs that I had to get my picture taken by.. From there we walked to St. Sulpice. This is a huge cathedral that the people of the right bank built as their reply to Notre Dame. I had always wanted to see it but there was never time. It was surprisingly hard to find. On three sides it is mostly enclosed by other large buildings. The inside was very nice, but the outside was very disappointing. Time was getting short so we walked thru Les Halles to the train station and bought our tickets to Chantilly. We had a little trouble finding the correct train and track. We were running late, and it would have cost us an extra ticket to see St. Denis, so I reluctantly removed this trip. Chris managed to find a rat down on the train track. I rested most of the way to Chantilly and we took a cab from the station to the Chateau. We knew we were going to be very short on time. We rushed through the Chateau. It houses the Musee Conde. This is a branch of the Royal Family. We saw a lot of very famous paintings of the French Royal Families from the 1600s & 1700s. There were also a lot of small medallions and trinkets with paintings on them. One whole wing was closed until 2:00. We did not get to go through and I would like to return and view that wing of the Chateau some day. We walked through the gardens and it was drizzling a little. It was pretty nice but there were not many flowers. It was also a little overgrown. It must have been great at one time. The chateau is located on a small lake next to a racetrack. The largest Eucuries (horsestables) in all of France are nearby. We only had time to take a picture.
While Chris was taking the picture of the stables, I tried to call a cab from the Chantilly ticket building. It kept disconnecting me after about 5 seconds. I finally figured out to put about 4 dollars worth of change in to give me some time. I told whoever answered the phone CHANTILLY CHATEAU and hoped he understood me. We both bought a sandwich and pop at a portable café. As soon as we bought our lunch the cab driver arrived. He would not let us in the cab, a Mercedes, until we had finished our lunch. Of course the meter was running. It cost us about $2.00 to stand there and eat. He spoke no English. When I told him where we wanted to go, he thought I was kidding. When I showed him the company letterhead for JI Case and he knew I was serious, he said it would be very expensive. He was right - $57. On the way to the customer we stopped for 3 minutes outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Senlis. This is supposedly the tallest spire in France. It was pretty neat, but I didnt think it was that high. We arrived at the plant about 2:15 and did not leave until after 6:00. For the last time we misjudged the timing of the visit. Chris ended up sorting over 200 converters and I helped him with another 100 after I was done with my business. Chris bought us two tickets back to Paris. We both fell asleep. I woke up just in time to jump up, wake Chris up, and jump off the train at the Gare du Nord again.
We were finally done with business and free to goof off. We felt we had earned our free time. Chris was filthy from sorting parts and we were both beat from running all over the place. We took a different route from the train station to our hotel than last night. We got off at the Champs-Elysees Clemenceau station and walked back to the hotel to drop off our briefcases and change. We went back out walking and decided to buy a ticket to go to the top of the Arch. They didnt tell us it was nearly closing time and that the elevator was closed. We had to climb up 287 steps to the top. We had very little time in the museum room, they practically kicked us out. We were on top for about 15 minutes and they made us climb down. We were both pretty mad. We ate dinner on the Champs-Elysees again. On the second story of a pizza café and then went back to the hotel to sleep.
Friday 3/27 Paris Versailles Paris
I knew this was going to be my favorite day, Versailles was waiting for me. We woke up early, skipped the hotel breakfast and started walking about 7:00. Our goal was to get to Versailles at 9:00 when it opened. We walked down to see the spot were Diana was killed again because we wanted a good picture. Chris was hurting big time. He had some God awful rash on his feet. I think it must have been from the hotel linens. He was trying to blame it on the shoes. I spent the rest of my nights sleeping with my socks, pants and shirt on just to be on the safe side. We then walked along the Seine to the Trocadero and climbed up the stairs to the Palais de Chaillot. I took Chris picture standing in the Hitler spot with the Eiffel tower in the background. It was deserted and the fountains were not turned on yet. We crossed the river towards the Eiffel tower and walked down towards the Champ de Mars subway station. We were getting hungry. I wanted a crepe. We turned down one street, went into a café and stared at the food. I thought Chris was going to order something. I felt like an idiot when we left without buying anything. The subway station was not yet open so we walked a little farther down the river. We found a sidewalk café and we both ordered a ham, cheese, and egg crepe. It was great, but a little messy and the egg was runny. I felt like Rocky eating it. Chris wanted two, but we didnt have time. He later said he would have had no room. They are extremely filling. The Statue of Liberty was covered up and we couldnt see it. We went down to the subway and caught the train to Versailles. We arrived right on time 9:00, I was hoping we would be back to Paris by 3:00. I wanted to do the two tours that Elaine and I had missed on my last trip. The first tour was the Louis XV apartments and the Opera. It was a guided tour, The second was a tour of the Louis XIV apartments and bedchamber and this was the type with the headphone. When we inquired about the first tour we were informed that our tour of THE KINGS apartment would start at 11:30. The woman spoke about the King as if he were still alive, it was pretty funny to hear. Our admission included the same self guided tour that Elaine and I had taken. Chris and I rushed through that tour so we would be back for our 11:30 guided tour. I bought a very nice Versailles tour book that was organized by room. I used it the whole day. There were a ton of Japs on a tour at the same time as us and we had a hard time keeping away from them. The book was a big help. I wished I had more time in each room. It is much more interesting when you know what you are looking at. The Hall of Battles painting room was closed and the view out of the back of the Hall of Mirrors was blocked by scaffolding. On the guided tour we learned that the restorations of rooms was always 100% authentic. The original brocades had been burned to recover the gold. The restored versions had real gold. The gold gildings were also restored with real gold and not just gold paint. I bought a souvenier CD of the music of Versailles that has turned out to be great. We had some time before our guided tour when we finished our self-guided tour. We walked out to the Orangerie then made a quick 2.50 franc pit stop. I was spending enough money going to the bathroom that I would need to have a separate item on my expense sheet!
Our guide was very good. She also spoke about the King as if he were still alive. The tour of the apartments was very good, there was a lot of original furniture, and a couple of very neat clocks. Louis XVs roll top desk was very impressive. We also saw several rooms that were not restored or in the process of being restored. They were in very sad shape. The inner courtyards were also in very sad shape. The last part of this tour was the Opera. This is the only major construction project that was not done by Louis XIV. It was very impressive and well worth the tour all by itself. It is still used for special events. I think you must have to have some pretty good connections. On the way back and forth to the Opera we passed through some statues that turned out to be copies from casts of the tombs of the French Kings.
After this tour we went on the headphone tour. This was very interesting too. There were many famous paintings and busts that I remember seeing in books. I stood in the bedroom where Louis XIV slept and died. It is right in the center of the building and overlooks the Marble Courtyard. The tape told some pretty interesting facts. Chris got a kick out of the fact that the King would receive visitors and do business in the morning sitting on the crapper!
We were getting very hungry and decided to start walking through the gardens. I had some fountains I wanted to see and also I planned on visiting both Trianons and the Queens Hamlet. It was a long walk down to the Apollo Fountain. Very impressive. I will be sure to come on a Sunday next time if at all possible. The fountains only run on Sunday. There was a little restaurant right at the beginning of the Grand Canal across from the Apollo Basin. We decided to eat there because we were starving and because we hoped to use a free bathroom. We both ordered Croque Madames grilled ham & cheese with a fried egg on top along with a beer. It was very good. The bathroom was very French. It was one room with two stalls one mens and one womans, one sink and two mens urinals in plain sight of the sink. Chris said he waited for the stall. We walked to the Grand Trianon and took the tour. It was smaller than I thought it would be but very impressive. I would like to see the gardens in the summer. The building is made mostly of pink marble. After this tour we walked to the Queens Hamlet Louis XVI built this for Marie Antoinette and she liked to play peasant girl here. It is an extremely bizarre place considering why it was built. Our last stop was the Petit Trianon. It was closed so we could only look inside. It was not very big. On the way back, many of the fountains that I wanted to see were closed off. All of the statues along the Latona Garden were covered up. We never even walked on the South side of the gardens. We also did not have time to walk down the North fountains by the Chateau and Opera. I have noted these items for my next trip. I think that I could easily spend 2 or three days at Versailles. The Green Carpet was closed. New grass and trees were being planted. Chris was convinced that the fountains had half human, half fish people. He searched for a while and turned out to be correct. I had been looking for the part of the chateau with the faces that went from baby to old man. I think I found them, but I will have to check some books when I get back. I took Chris picture next to the statue of Louis XIV riding his horse. We made it to the train about 6:00 and headed to Paris. We were way behind schedule and I was upset that I had not even seen everything I had planned.
Back in Paris. We walked along the Seine to the front of the Eiffel tower. I was nearly killed by a motorcycle crossing the street to the tower. It was as close as I have ever come to getting hit. The motorcycle was going very fast and it passed in behind me and in front of Chris. I could feel the breeze. It scared the hell out of me. Our plan was to go up the tower. It was getting dark and the line looked kind of long. We decided to skip it and come back tomorrow. This would turn out to be a big mistake the line was 10 times as long the next night.
We walked down the Champ de Mars park to the front of the Military School. Then we walked over to the Church at the back of the Hotel des Invalides (built by Louis XIV). I was almost hit by a car this time. Chris pretty much saved me this time. Napolean is buried under the Golden Dome. It was closed. We walked around to the front courtyard of the Hotel des Invalides and looked at all of the cannons. We walked out the front entrance and it was getting dark. I think we were the last ones out before the closed. I am glad we didnt have to scale the moat to get out. Chris took a good picture of the top of the building. The windows appear like the chest of the soldier all along the top of the building. We walked up to the river and started walking towards Place St. Michel. We noticed some strange lights flickering in the trees back towards the Place de lAlma where Diana was killed. We thought it must be some weird new memorial. As we passed the front of the Musee DOrsay we figured out what these lights were. The boats along the Seine now run at night and are equipped with lights that are like the ones at Tiger Stadium. They shine them along the banks of the river so their customers cans see the sights and so people like Chris and I are blinded for 10 minutes. We walked along the river all the way to Pont Neuf and then headed towards the Boulevard St. Germain. I was looking for the hotel Voltaire that we had tried to stay in. The book said it had a view of the Louvre. I saw it and I will try to get in next year. It is a prime location and it looked pretty nice. It was certainly nicer than the Residence Lord Byron. The side of the Louvre facing the river is almost completely restored. The scaffolding is down and they did a tremendous job. The Left Bank was just as hectic as I remember it. We walked around for a while and sat down for dinner in a Chinese Restaurant at around 9:30. I think it was the same one that Elaine and I ate in. Outside the restaurants there is always someone trying to get you to come in. It is pretty annoying. The Chinaman assured me that the almond chicken was breaded. Of course it wasnt, but it was very good anyway. We walked around for a little while longer and found a souvenier shop. Chris spent at least ˝ hour picking out shirts, souvenirs, and a Paris book. I spent that time looking at some China dolls. They looked like something I would buy tomorrow night. We walked over the bridge to see Notre Dame. I asked Chris to let me see his Notre Dame book because I wanted to try to find the statue of St. Denis on Notre Dame. That is the one where he is holding his head. I noticed that Chris had purchased a great book if he only spoke French. We walked back to try to exchange it. The lady did not have an English one and she would only agree to give Chris a cheaper English version and a partial refund. We were both quite mad, but the woman was extremely stubborn. I decided that was NOT where I would buy my souvenirs.
We decided that we would walk around a little longer. We walked around the back of Notre Dame, crossed the bridge to the Isle de St. Louis, then to the Right Bank. We walked around the front of St. Gervais, behind the Hotel de Ville (city hall) and stopped out front. Chris was getting desperate for a bathroom, we could not find one. He tried the subway and had to go to a Quick Hamburger place. He tried to sneak in, but they made him buy a coke.
We walked past the Tour St. Jacques, then up to the Centre Pompideau. I wanted Chris to see the inside out building that has the escalator on the outside and the fountain with the spinning lips. The spinning lips are now gone, but the building is as ugly as ever. We walked up the Rue St. Denis to the St. Leu church. I wanted Chris to see one of the sleazy sides of Paris in case we couldnt go over to Place Pigalle tomorrow night. We came back past Les Halles and saw St. Eustache lit up for the night. We decided to walk down to the Rue de Rivoli and take the subway back to the hotel. Somehow we missed two stations and ended up all the way down to the Palais Royale subway stop. We passed the Oratoire du Louvre, whatever that is. We got back to the hotel after midnight and went to sleep. We were planning on another 7:00 start! This was by far the most walking I have ever done. Here is our conservative estimate:
Left hotel at 7:00 sharp, Returned at 12:00 = 15 hours gone. 1 hour on subways/trains, 1 hour lunch, 1 hour dinner, 3 hours of tours (some walking on tours) = about 9 hours walking 3 to 5 miles per hour walking speed = 27 to 45 miles walked. It sure felt like it!
We were back at the Hotel about 12:00. Chris knocked on my door at about 12:30 in a panic. He could not find his plane ticket. He was convinced the maid took it. I re-packed my stuff and locked my suitcase with my 25 cent locks and decided to carry my ticket in my waist pouch. I thought he might have left it at the Birmingham Airport. I was just about ready to start looking through my stuff for his ticket when he came back and said he found it with his postcards the only place he hadnt looked before.
Chris was late coming down. They forgot his wake up call. The Lord Byron was not being good to Chris!
We took the Subway down to the Place de Concorde. We walked around there for a while, then walked through the Tuileries Gardens to the entrance to the Louvre.
The tour of the Louvre was much more interesting since I have read the French history books. The Apollo room with the Objects DArt was about 90% items that belonged to Louis XIVs private collection. There was amazing detail on the items. One whole room of paintings was all large paintings of events from Marie de Medicis life. Chris took my picture by the painting of Louis XIV by Rigaud. The colors were very bright and I could see why the King decided to keep it instead of sending it to his grandson the King of Spain as originally planned. I saw many Le Brun drawings and paintings that I had seen in books. An audio tour would bed nice if we had time. I came across original portraits of young Louis XIV, XV, XVI and Cardinal Richeleau that I had seen in books. I also stumbled into a room and saw a beautiful painting of Madame de Pompadeur that is also in many books. We also found Louis XIVs bedroom from when he was a little boy. In the new wing, we went into the Marly Courtyard. They have managed to get most of the original statues that were at Marly before it was destroyed during the revolution. Each statue had a brief history of how it ended up at the Louvre. Most were in the Tuileries for a long time like the 4 horses at the end by the Place de Concorde. The ones outside are now cast copies. We ended up spending about 4.5 hours in here instead of the planned 3.0. Everytime I have come to the Louvre, it is larger and more organized. The new wing is more like an American museum. The rooms are made to display the Art or Objects. If the room had nothing in it, there would be nothing to see. In the old section, many rooms dont need anything in them Ceilings are painted, marble walls, Bas Reliefs, etc. We skipped Napoleans apartments.
When we left the Louvre, we walked out the front past the fountain. The kids were racing their boats. We walked along the river to the Isle de la Cite and walked across the Pont Neuf bridge. No time to walk down to the park. Maybe next time.
We walked towards Notre Dame. Next time I will go in the Concierge and see Marie Antoinettes cell. We passed the hospital where Diana died. No gawkers or graffiti here. The front of Notre Dame was mostly scaffolding. The 3 archways were all blocked up to the statues of the row of Kings. I wanted to see St. Denis carrying his head. We went inside and walked around. It was very crowded. Next time I will go to the top. On the way out, I peeked behind the scaffolding and saw St. Denis. Next time, the scaffolding will be down and I will take a picture.
We crossed over to the left bank and headed towards the Parthenon. The Pantheon church area is where the Church is with only one tower. I remembered going here with Mike Winegard, but did not know where it was until right then. No time to go in. The Pantheon is a very nice domed church, but you had to pay to get in.
We headed for the Val-de-Grace. For some reason there were tons of cops and the streets were blocked off. Someone important must have been close by. We found the Val-de-Grace. This is the Church that was built to celebrate the birth of Louis XIV in 1638. It is also where the entrails of the Royal Family members were interred after they died. I could not find where that was. This is in a rough looking area. It is very pretty inside and has recently been completely restored. There is a small military museum on one side that we did not have time to go in.
We walked through the Luxembourg gardens as quickly as possible considering how sore Chris feet were. There was a nice ring of statues of the former Queens of France. I wanted more time, but we didnt have it. This would be a good place for a picnic. There were lots of kids, horse rides, carriage rides, tennis courts, and playgrounds. The kids were sailing boats in the bond. The building looked nice, but you cant go in.
We walked to St. Sulpice next. This was built at the same time as the Val-de-Grace. They ran out of money and one of the towers is still not finished this did not happen on the Kings project at the Val-de-Grace! There was a nice fountain out front. We stopped for a rest and I know Chris would have loved to soak his feet in the fountain. Inside this church is a very large organ. It was very dark inside. They need to restore this one like the Val-de-Grace.
From here we took the subway over to the Ecole Militaire and walked down the Champ de Mars to the Eiffel Tower. We spent 3 hours at the Eiffel tower. One hour just to buy the tickets. I was sorry we hadnt waited yesterday. We ended up at the top at about the same time as we would have yesterday. Construction again blocking part of the tower. We spent a lot of time at the top. It was kind of neat to be at the top at night for the first time. Bad for Chris. It was impossible to get any good pictures. It was foggy but worthwhile.
After we were done at the Eiffel Tower, we took the subway back to the St. Germain area on the left bank and walked around for a couple of hours looking for gifts. Chris spent about one hour picking out a couple of dolls for his daughters. I think he looked at everyone in the store at least twice. We took the Subway to the Military Museum, walked across the bridge to the Champs Elysees passing in front of the Grand and Petite Palais. I wanted to show Chris the fake Perpetual motion machine that was in one of the Galeries along the Champs Elysees. I finally found it on our last night. We stayed there for a while listening to some people in a bar singing some terrible Karoke. Walking back to the Hotel I could not help thinking that this was my first trip to Europe without setting foot in McDonalds.
I had a very hard time sleeping only 3.5 hours . We lost 1 hours sleep because of daylight savings time. I was still sleeping fully clothed because I was convinced that Lord Byron had done Chris feet in. We started walking early. We kept putting off breakfast, and I never did eat because of the rush until we were on the plane. I was half dead and ate my first banana in years. I thought we would have plenty of time to do some sight seeing before we went to the airport. We walked over to the bus stop to check on tickets all OK. We took the subway to the Place Blanche in the red light district to see the Moulin Rouge. The plan was to walk through quickly up to the Sacre Coeur at Montmarte. It was surprising how many places were still open. It was strange there was almost no one walking, but lots of tour busses.
Started walking up to Montmarte hoping to see the markets. Nothing open. I got lost and had to get directions. I went into a very dumpy hotel for a map and we finally made it to the top. Time was getting short so we stepped into the Sacre Coeur. A mass was in progress. There were very few people. It was similar to St. Pauls. Huge churches, miniscule congregations. We went outside for a last picture and panoramic picture of Paris. We walked down through the flea markets again nothing open. The time is 8:15. We wanted to be on the bus no later than 9:00 for the 10:40 flight. We got on the subway, and I wanted to stop and show Chris the shopping district and the back of the Opera. There was no chance. We got off the subway at the Arch, and walked down the Champ Elysees and cashed in some Belgian Francs and a $20 bill (breakfast and duty free spending money). We were still hoping to get a quick breakfast but time was too short so we decided to eat at the airport. We ran back to the hotel and checked out quick. There was time for one more look out the window of the Flea Bag. We hustled to the bus stop. My suitcase was so full it felt like it was full of bowling balls. We blew away the last pictures and got on the bus.
The ride to the airport was quick and uneventful. The fun was about to begin. The airport was very crowded. I asked an airport attendant which direction was the Northwest terminal. She told me that it was somewhere around here and I should start walking. I told her thank you very much. We found it and went to the first passport check and interview. We only had one hour, fifteen minutes till the plane left. 2nd passport check and ticket check was where we were forced to check our bags. It was a good thing I had the Silver card so we could use the Business Class check in. There was no one in the Business Class line. When we walked up, the agent opened up two Business Class windows, cutting off the coach class. I would have been hot if I had been in that line. She made me put my bag on the belt to be weighed. 10kg limit and I was at 15.5 so I had to check it. I forgot and left my sleeping pills in the suitcase and Chris left his blindfold in his.
We started up the escalator to the next passport check. There was a huge crowd at the top. Not moving at all. I was getting nervous. Chris finds a line that was moving quicker and went over there. I stayed. No movement for a couple of minutes, but more people coming behind me. I noticed that Chris was in the ECC/Suisse passport line. I had to go get him and I lost my spot. It looked like the problem may be the pack of Middle Easterners in white robes and hats. Also many young students. The problem was staffing. There were only 3 booths - two with 2 tables and the middle one only had one. Also the whole group of people around me seemed to be UK and European. I couldnt figure out why they werent going through the fast line. Near the front Chris told me that if I was the King, I could just pass through. I replied in a loud voice that if I was King, I would make the people get their asses in the proper line. After we got thru, we seemed to have enough time for duty free shopping. 30 35 minutes before the plane was due to leave. It was very crowded. I bought a nice Italian World Cup hat for Paul. I got in line to buy Elaine a large $13 bottle of Kahlua. Short line behind a short Jap. He was buying large volumes of liquor. He didnt have enough Francs, so he pulled out some dollars. They converted it at the touch of a button. I charged the bottle because I thought I would still have time to get a quick lunch before passing out on the plane. Wrong again, the 4th passport control and X ray was very slow. I was getting nervous again because there is a long walk from here to the plane. They are letting some people ahead of us who were going to Sweden because they were late. They werent getting in front of me. We were finally at the front, I shoved my bags on the Xray machine ahead of those people and so did Chris. Chris could not get through the metal detector. He handed the girl his camera and went back through. She put the camera on the X-ray machine. Chris forgot about it and we grabbed our bags and hustled towards the moving walkway. The security guard chased Chris down. We were lucky. Chris would have lost his camera and our last 36 pictures. At the end of the walkway was the gate for the plane. The attendant said we had no time to eat. We showed our passports again and were interviewed again. I was suddenly very happy that I had to check my bag. On the plane there was almost no room for my briefcase, coat, liquor & camera. I got some dirty looks cramming it all in the overhead bins. I tried to stay awake until the meal came, but I was unsuccessful.