The Eiffel Tower - Photo Taken September 2010

Monday, September 9, 2013

Day 3: Paris in the Rain

I must still be on Seattle time, because it took quite awhile for me to fall asleep last night.  There was some street noise, but with the window closed, it was pretty quiet.  Once I feel asleep, I slept really well.

Following my routine, I went out for my demi-baguette, then had breakfast - same as yesterday with the addition of melon and strawberries I got at the market yesterday.  I really didn't have a plan for the morning, but had an appointment with Paris Greeters at 2:30.  I also needed to get my prepaid cellphone SIM card charged, so first stop was at The Phone House, a block or so away, to top-off my phone.  It was not to be as they didn't open until 11 AM and it was only 10:40, so rather than wait, I decided to do some sightseeing.

Using my new transit pass, I took the bus to Place de la Bastille.  My plan was to walk along the Promenade Plantee, which is a park built on a former elevated railroad bed.  It is a lovely walk with shrubs, trees, and flowers planted along the nearly 5km route.  Parisians use it for strolling and jogging. It gives a birds-eye view of the Paris street scene below.  Under the park is a series of arcades which have been converted into studios and shops for artists and craftsmen, called Viaduc des Arts.  My idea was to stroll along the arcades on my way back after walking along the Promenade.  I walked maybe 1 km or so before going back to street level.  I stopped at a cafe for a coffee, sitting outside.  Just after my coffee arrived the first rain drops fell, so I moved inside.  By the time I'd finished my coffee it was a downpour.  The cafe wasn't busy and was comfortable, so I decided to wait out the storm there for a while.  After about 30 minutes, I thought this would be a good place for lunch.  I had a very nice lunch at Le Viaduc Cafe: a tomato tart, a circle of puff pastry baked with tomatoes on top, garnished with greens and salad dressing; and for the main course, thin slices of pork loin, pan seared and served with a light sauce and mashed potatoes.  By the time I finished lunch, it was still raining, but I couldn't spend the whole day there, so walked to the nearest bus stop, and rode back to the apartment to get my raincoat. 

I rode the bus to Place des Vosges where I met Jordi, my Paris Greeter, in front of Victor Hugo's house (it is closed on Mondays). Jordi is a retired computer programmer and about my age.  His english is better than my french, and we managed quite well. Paris Greeters is an organization of volunteers who love Paris and voluteer their time share it with tourists.  The walks are free, but the organization accepts donations through their website at the time the tour is booked. Apparently, there are about 360 parisians who volunteer in this way. 

Our "stroll" was through Le Marais, which is an old part of Paris with many buildings dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries.  Originally a marshland from when the Seine flooded its banks (the last big flood was in 1910), Le Marais became fashionable when Henri IV had Place des Vosges built.  The square is surrounded on 4 sides by what were originally 9 mansions for royalty and friends of royalty.  Evenually Le Marais, fell out of fashion, and over time the mansions and other buildings in the area were used for other purposes with many falling into ruin.  In the mid-20th Century the area was saved from ruin and many of the buildings restored. It is once again a fashionable area, but the former mansions have been broken up into smaller apartments. Our walk included Hotel Sully; the church of St. Paul; Village of St. Paul, a maze of old buildings providing "social" housing for low income, and several antique stores; a section of the 12th century Paris wall; and the Jewish Quarter. Jordi pointed out several things that one probably wouldn't see without a guide.  For example, a canon ball lodged in the facade of the church of St. Paul from the revolution in 1830, and the original street names carved into the corners of some of the buildings.  We also peeked into some private courtyards and gardens. Many of the buildings have interesting carvings on them, faces and gargoyles. We walked for 3 hours over cobbled-stoned streets, and in rain ranging from mist to drizzle! 

One thing I noticed today is the graffiti and the homeless.  I saw some plywood and tarp-covered shanties outside of Paris when I came in from the airport, but today I saw several people in tents outside the Bastille Opera House.  I've also seen some begging, but not aggressively - one chap had his cup out in the middle of the sidewalk while he kept dry under the overhang of a building.  At lunch yesterday, a man held out his hand at those dining at the tables closest to the sidewake.  One fellow offered him a cigarette, but he turned up his nose at that.  As far as tourists are concerned, a bigger issue is the scam artists, many Roma (gypsies) and North Africans who approach tourists.  One scam is the "petition girls" - they are usually Roma and approach tourists with a clipboard, asking if they speak english, then want them to sign a petition.  While the unsuspecting tourist signs, having no idea what the petition is for, either a confederate of the first girl picks his pocket or they hit the him up for money.  The hope is that the confused tourist will fork over some euros just to get rid of them.  I was approached once yesterday, but being "in the know," I was able to shoo them away.  The scammers mostly hang out in the busier tourist areas, such as the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Louvre, etc. They are not dangerous, just annoying.  These scams (there are 3 or 4 others) are discussed in Rick Steves' books and in forums like the one on the Trip Advisor website.

Before going back to the apartment, though I was exhausted and my knee hurt, I walked the additional block over to the Phone House and was able to get my cellphone topped off, so now I can make some calls.  I can call from the apartment for free, but only to land lines, and since Mom, Catherine and Margaret are going on a trip themselves, I need to be able to call them by cellphone.

Once back in the apartment, I took off my wet clothes and put on my robe.  Dinner was leftovers from last night.  I think I'll sleep well tonight.

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