Sunday, July 31, 2005

First Day in Paris
We arrived in Paris at 9 on July 22, after a 5 hour flight on Air France from Tel Aviv. It was much easier to deal with the Charles de Gaulle airport than when we had passed through on our way to Israel. We took the RER B train to Pari--ticket was 8 euros and it took about 45 minutes. Watched a guy hassle a woman tourist he was sitting next to...oh well. We then walked and transferred to the metro, which let us out just under our hotel. It wasn't too difficult for us to wheel our 21" suitcases and have a carry-on to schlep.

The hotel, Pointe Rivoli, is cute, clean, and small. It is the perfect location for us to have access to many things, and 73 euros a night is a great price for the location. The guide book was correct when it said that the hotel's staircase was probably the narrowest in Paris. Wait until you see the picture! There is a twisty narrow piece of metal along the narrow inside wall of the staircase. Howard schlepped up our two 21" suitcases.
Our room is narrow about 9 feet wide at the widest and 8 feet at the narrowest where a window overlooks the Rue St. Antoine and the St. Paul metro stop in the heart of the Maurais, which is the old Jewish district. Our bathroom is tiny, but modern and clean. It was quite noisy last night, but the window blocked out a lot of the noise. I feel asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow, at about 11:30, but Howard stayed up 2 hours because of the noise, reading and watching Michael Moore's newest movie, Farenheit 911, dubbed in French.
This morning we were out by 10:30 and went to a little bakery recommended by Rick Steves in his Paris Guide. He said it was the place where local hotels got their baked goods. I had a croissaint and got a bottle of water to replace the one I left on the plane, and Howard had a large cafe au lait and a really nice apple tart slice.

Following that, we walked a lot. We saw several men looking like they were returning from Shabbat prayers along the way. First we walked through the Hotel Sully; the two inner courtyards lead to the main residence, which was in a much quieter area. The bookstore had an amazing carved and painted ceiling. We walked through the right back door of Hotel Sully and found ourselves in the Place des Vosges, with a large park in the center with the stature of Louis XIII on horseback.

We found the House of Victor Hugo (where he lived on the 2nd floor from 1832 to 1848, when this was a migrant quarter). Entry was free, but we needed a ticket. His residence was on the 2nd floor in 8 spacious but rather dark and gloomy rooms, which partly overlooked the park. His desk where he worked was quite high, and a picture of him at it showed that he stood as he wrote. There were letters between him and other famous writers of the time including George Sand and Dumas (whom I had not realized was black). There were also sketches and paintings that he had done. Others had done paintings depicting scenes from his plays.
We then walked to the square where the Bastille Fortress had been which was destroyed in the revolution about 200 years ago. Now a huge statue to the French Revolution is there and a big three-lane roundabout around it. Along the way we saw numerous single pumps for gas where a driver could fill up. They were a lot less obtrusive than gas stations.

We then headed SW to the Seine and crossed over to the Ile St. Louis, one of the two islands in the middle of the Seine at that point, and where the ancient city of Paris had begun. The "Parisi"l had lived on the islands when the Romans arrived here over 2000 years ago. The island has one street going down the lengh of the middle and two quais (streets) along the river on each side. We walked along the southern side, where the Seine is wider. We could see the Eiffel Tower from the distance and Notre Dame relatively close, so we headed there, across to the second island, Ile de la Cite'.

On the SE corner is a memorial for the 160,000+ Jews who were deported by the Nazis. Unfortunately, it was closed from noon to 2.

We walked through the gardens at the back of Notre Dame and around the side, looking at shops. We finally got to the front and saw hundreds of carvings, apostles, kings of Israel, gargoyles, martyrs, a huge scene of the last judgment with angels and devils awaiting souls, little buildings, etc. In the middle of the stain glass windows is a statue of Mary with an angel on each side. The square in front of the church was filled with hundreds of tourists, many waiting in line to get in. Howard told me that Victor Hugo saved Notre Dame (which was in disrepair in the mid-1800s, having been built in 1163+) from being torn down by popularizing it through his Hunchback of Notre Dame.

As we crossed back to the North side of the river, we saw some of the "beaches" (areas sand filled in summer where people sunbathe). We looked at the portable stalls along the road and found 4 Maigaret novels for our friend Ron. We then wandered along the way, window shopping and people watching. We stopped at a fast-food Chinese restaurant for a quick lunch. My meal was OK, but Howard's was not. I think we picked the worst one in the area. Since food on display is microwaved, it is best to order items that have been stir-fried and not deep fried or broiled previously. We walked back down the street, eventually going into a grocery store near our hotel. Howard got a small 375 ml. bottle of Bordeaux wine for a bit over 2 euros. He had it back in the room with a bit of cheese and it was delicious. He usually cannot drink red wine without adding water, but this was so smooth, he enjoyed it as is -- me too. He said that drinking it and eating a bit of cheese made him feel like he really was in Paris!