Sunday, September 21, 2008

Travel journal -- Sept. 11-12 London-Paris-London

Monday, September 11, 2006
So good to be back from Paris. I am not singing “I love Paris” with Cole Porter. I got up at 5 a.m. yesterday (September 11), and was at the Underground stop with my overnight case, by 6:30, obeying the advice of the Tube guy from the night before.
Took the Tube in to Waterloo station. Waited around for almost 2 hours until boarding the Eurostar “chunnel” train. After security and passport control, we boarded. I had a window seat, so I could see the countryside as we headed toward Dover. I took some pix through the glass.
We entered the Channel Tunnel from between walls and embankments, so I never saw the white cliffs of Dover/Folkestone, nor did I see one drop of water or one vista of the English Channel. We were in the tunnel for about 20 minutes, and it was completely dark outside the train, with no lights or anything to see outside the glass. We suddenly came up into bright light on the French side, and I took some pix of the northeastern parts of France, on our way to Paris. Nice countryside, with villages, wooded hilltops, and harvested corn and hayfields. Normandy, the home of most of my English ancestors.
After about an hour, we came into the Paris Gare du Nord train station. I went through the station and out to the street, where it was quite hot. I was wearing black pants, a black short-sleeved jacket, and gold sleeveless shell. From my hotel reservation, I believed my hotel was 0.2 miles from the station, but I finally found that sucker after TWO full miles of walking through construction zones, ethnic neighborhoods, dodging pedestrians and bikes and sidewalk vendors, studying a couple of street maps on major boulevard corners, etc.
Even when I walked with the green pedestrian light, I still had to watch for red light runners. Traffic was bad. I finally had had enough walking and was hot and mad, when I finally, finally, finally found a taxi stand. They asked where I was going, and said, Oh, that’s right at the top of the street and around the corner, no more than 100 yards. I’m pretty sure it was another half mile, but they weren’t willing to load me and drive me.
So I found Comfort Inn St Pierre, on 10 Rue de Clignancourt, a minor street. My hotel was supposed to be two stars, and I paid $114 for one night, but it was, in my opinion, a no-star place. It was clean, but that’s the best I can say for it.

September 12, 2006
I purchased a two-day pass to the Grayline L’Open bus tour of Paris, which is a hop on-hop off service to the major tourist sites and areas. The first Grayline bus didn’t come for about 20 minutes. Then when we did get underway, we stopped at a couple bus stops for 5-10 minutes, so we weren’t seeing much of the Montmartre District. I transferred to a major-points tour, and we rode past the Louvre, the Palais d’ Justice (ancestors’ palace>prison>courthouse), the St. Chappelle church built by ancestor St. Louis IX, and Notre Dame. I got off the bus there and walked around the church interior, took some pictures, prayed for a few moments, then hot-footed it back to the bus stop.
Another 15 minutes of waiting for the correct line to come around. When it did, we rode down the Champs d’Elysses at rush hour, which means we crawled past the super-designer stores like Louis Vuitton and Guerlain. That’s Paris’ Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive, I guess. The 6:00 “closing time” for the bus tours came and went while we were stuck in traffic. Finally, we drove in a huge circle around the Eiffel Tower and Place de le Concorde, the huge square where the French Revolution guillotine executions took place. When we got back to the Rue Madeleine, home base for that bus line, we got dumped off. No more buses to get us back to our starting point, since it was about 7:15. So hundreds of tourists got dumped wherever the driver decided to hang it up. I had to take the Metro, the subway, back to the general area of my hotel, but it was at least another MILE from the hotel’s door.
On the way, I went through a red-light district, with a huge building lit up with a sign something like “Sex Emporium.” There were adult video stores, etc.
I walked and walked, found a grocery store and bought lait, fromage, et pain (milk, cheese, and bread). I stopped at an Internet place but only sent one e-mail because the French keyboard was quite differently laid out than the US or UK keyboard. I couldn’t even find the underscore key, but not from lack of trying. The keyboard was so dirty that the symbol was hidden. Geez, cootyville.
When I got back to my hotel, I showered and scrubbed the day off my feet in particular. I collapsed onto the concrete-like bed and tried to find something in the available TV stations that I could somewhat understand, since I was way too tired to read. I found a movie that had equal dialogue in French and English, with French subtitles when the British were speaking. I can read a little French because of word cognates, so I think I understood about 75% of the movie.
The next morning, September 12, I decided not to chance my destiny with Grayline’s tour buses, so I took the Metro subway (changing trains once) to the Basilique St. Denis (sahn duh-nee’), where many of my French ancestors were buried. That was a nice place, a royal mausoleum for a thousand years! It is so NOT on the tourist track that I could only find it mentioned in one tour book at Barnes & Noble. (Which of course is the one I purchased.)
The church bookstore clerk, who spoke no English, understood my pitiful French explanation that mon granperes et granddames were buried there, and she showed me four English guides/histories of St. Denis, of which I bought three. I also purchased a Euro 4.50 ticket (discounted 2.00 because of construction work on a transept where my ancestors were NOT buried) to see the crypt and the memorials. Apparently, most of the hundreds of burials were destroyed or vandalized during the French Revolution, but a few were re-created or restored a few years later.
I took photos of the many effigies I found set up around the chancel. I believe that these are restorations made in the 1800s, because the originals would have been destroyed in the French Revolution.
There’s one vault where the bones, dust, and ashes were deposited together with a long plaque of names, because it was of course impossible to identify the bodies or which tomb they’d come from. And one can view part of the crypt under the church nave, where there is evidence of archaeological excavation. There were flat granite tomb covers, including one for King Louis VII, who is my ancestor twice over: through his first wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and through his third wife Adela of Champagne, and his son King Philippe II Augustus, whose line goes down to Isabella of France, queen consort to Edward II, king of England.
I tore myself away from St. Denis earlier than I wanted to, so I could visit a few more ancestral spots before my evening Eurostar train back to London. I took the subway back to my hotel, grabbed my rolling bag, then took a taxi to the island in the Seine, home of the Louvre, the Palais d’ Justice, the St. Chappelle church built by ancestor St. Louis IX, and Notre Dame. Being Tuesday, some tourist sites were closed and every tourist in Paris had come to St. Chappelle, which was open, to take the tour. There was NO chance I'd get in (much less out!) without missing my 5:30 Eurostar.
I started walking, looking for an ATM, as I'd spent my last few Euros on the taxi. I walked for blocks, looking for a bank or ATM, and finally found one after about 45 minutes! I walked back over the Seine bridge to a taxi stand at a green park. I pushed the taxi call button, and a couple minutes later, the taxi pulled up in front of me. A stunningly handsome man jumped in ahead of me and flashed a charming smile, before riding off in the taxi I'd ordered. Cochon!
I called another taxi and got back to the Gare du Nord and the Eurostar. I liked some of the souvenir items and duty-free cosmetics in the train station, but they were too costly and I'd have to haul them around for several more weeks.

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