Our journey to Paris required a change of trains in Marseille. The original plan was for us to stay for a night, but the reviews in relation to theft in the hotels and railway station gave me the creeps. We now just had one hour to be on full alert. As it turns out, we needed to be.
The day didn’t start well when the taxi from our hotel to the station in Aix en Provence didn’t show. We made a run for the train with full packs and jumped in as the doors were closing. As Maxwell Smart may say “Just made it by that much”. By the way, the original rationale for the taxi was so that we wouldn’t get hot and sweaty before such a long journey.
The arrival in Marseille was somewhat dampened by the sight of some heavily armed police escorting two hand cuffed young men out of the station. Bunkering down on a seat in the ticket office seemed to be the best option.
Directly behind me, I could hear the constant murmurings of someone apparently praying. Sure enough, there was a heavily bearded man doing his duty to Allah. In the middle of it all, his phone rang. He then proceeded to shout in an extremely loud agitated voice at whoever was making the call. Maybe he was upset at the interruption, but it was enough to arouse the attention of the whole ticket office – shouting over, back to praying. After another ten minutes he was up and off. I am not sure why, but for some reason I was compelled to look under his seat – just in case he left his bag behind. Isn’t it a great pity that suspicion can be aroused so easily?
This episode was soon followed by a young lady who was offering me a paper. We had been warned. She then proceeded to play with my cap. I assumed that she was after my wallet and not my body.
The fast train couldn’t come soon enough and our allocated seats were just fine. The only issue for Karyn was that they faced the wrong direction. It was backwards all the way into Paris. On arrival, we fought our way along the platform through a smoky haze created by a stunning proportion of desperate passengers. Thankfully, at least the trains are smoke free. As I mentioned in an earlier note, the French are big on smoking and the Parisians are the champions.
Paris is open mouth gob smackingly stunning, but for some reason, it took us a while to fall in love. Maybe we had been on the move for so long, we needed a break. As it turns out, our apartment for six nights was just the place. It was located near an open market, opposite the Metro and just down the road from the Eiffel Tower – all very convenient.
The Eiffel is a must visit for millions and the line up in the heat of the day is a wonder in itself. One couple decided to beat the rush. I was out running early on the banks of the Seine, and the only other life forms visible were market people getting ready for another day. The young couple looked rather strange, dressed in their wedding outfits with camera in hand, as they scurried along in the semi dark. I imagined that they were determined to get their compulsory shot at the tower without interference. The bride was doing it tough in her long dress and heels.
We spent our time in Paris on our feet and in the Metro as we checked out the usual sites. Karyn was keen to have a go at the local Velo bike hire scheme. I was not so sure and after an hour, and a couple of close calls, we gave them back.
The line up for the Notre Dame Cathedral was huge and I spent my time watching the professional queue jumpers in action. Some of them were very slick. I sometimes wonder, that if you make the decision to cheat, why not go to the top of the line rather than just half way. Thankfully our time in the sun was short lived as the movement was constant and the entry free. The inside and the exit are another story. Karyn purchased an audio, so she knew what we were looking at. As the audio office wanted something of value for security, I thought I may have to remain behind. Fortunately my driver’s licence was sufficient. I have to say, for a building that is over 850 years old, it is very impressive. The stained glass windows are amazing.
We were approached by a woman who wore a cross and wanted to show us around and talk about the glory of God. She was selling religion. We declined. A priest was hearing confession in a corner and the faithful were lined for their turn. He was selling redemption and that is never free. We didn’t join the queue. At the exit door, there was another woman dressed in religious regalia, whom I assumed was a nun. She had a collection bowl. We declined again. Just outside the exit, there was another woman dressed in rags who was also looking for money. There was no opportunity to respond to this request as she was very quickly given the short shift by the church officials. It was quite obvious that in this location, charity begins at home and stays there.
The queues to the Louvre are infamous, so we checked out the options through the wonders of the internet. The secret is to go early, do it on Sunday as it’s free, thereby avoiding another queue, and take the Metro. It only took us twenty minutes of air conditioned comfort, in a line through a shopping mall under the complex. We were in. The lovely lady with the slight smile is still there along with thousands of other exhibits. A five hour marathon did me in and we only just scratched the surface.
Food is very big in Paris, so we decided to do a guided walking tour for foodies to see what all the fuss was about. It had come highly recommended by friends. Now I am not one to wear a green dot on my shirt and follow someone with a flag, but this promised to be a small intimate group. And as it turned out, it was – Nine Aussies, coincidently, and Roberto, our wonderful guide and now friend. He said we were his family and treated us that way for our time together. Roberto turned out to be not only an expert on food, but on a vast range of social, cultural and political issues in relation to all things French. It was a wonderful day.
We spent our last full day on a visit to Versailles. Apparently, the entry queues make the Louvre feel like a picnic. We’d been warned to expect time in the sun for up to three hours. Once again, the internet came in handy and following some great detective work by Karyn, we found a door to the side that led straight to a ticket counter, a guide, and a special visit to the back rooms and hidden apartments of the King and Queen – just amazing, no queuing and no chaotic crowds.
However, the day turned out to be a bit of a struggle as once we rejoined the throng, the congestion in the main part of the Chateau reminded me of the conga line we had at Cinque Terre. Versailles is an amazing place, but the opulence and extravagance of royalty at the time left me feeling cold. I was inclined to shout out “Vive Le Revolution!”
On our last evening in romantic Paris, we wanted to celebrate with a nice dinner. There are restaurants everywhere. The problem is that the majority of eating at this time of year is out doors and every table has at least one smoker. In the city of love and good food, it was time to through caution to the wind, find its direction and choose the least intrusive spot. The meal was lovely, and our lungs survived.
We now head for Amsterdam and are going by train with allocated seats.