Day 3: A late start, getting French-ier, “we’re like little ants,” the Eiffel Tourist Trap, an exquisite La Rive Gauche (Left Bank) dinner, and a foosball/Kronenbourg nightcap

10 09 2013

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Bon soir!

It’s an early night tonight (only 2:00am) so I’m gonna share as much as I can before my wine runs out and my forehead hits the keyboard.

Today, was another jam-packed day full of ups and downs. We got off to a late start and so lunch –breakfast was served while I was dreaming in my sleep– had to be a quick affair. The answer: grabbing a french sandwich (baguette, jambon, oeuf dur, crudités, beurre) on the street. Let me just say, for a little less than 5 Euros, nothing beats scampering down a busy French boulevard while scarfing down a delicious sandwich out of a bag. The validation was that there were bags of sandwiches floating all up and down Le Boulevard St. Michel

I haven’t been able to comment on it yet, but this needs to be said: the Paris metro system (subway) is absolutely INCREDIBLE. Keep in my mind I have yet to experience the London Underground, and have only experienced the New York MTA Subway… but the Paris metro system is a traffic engineer’s nightmare/dream. Living up to my title as world’s-most-mediocre-son, I dragged my 60 year old parents all up and down Paris via the subway today, even during rush hour. During one of our long transit hikes in the Châtelet station, my mom, short on breath, muttered, “this reminds me of ants.” The sheer size of the rail network, amount of riders, and up to the second efficiency is really a work of art. One shouldn’t be surprised though: in a city where art can be found at almost every street corner, one of it’s most impressive works lies underground in a network of 214km (133mi) of track covering 303 stations. The Paris Métro is the second largest subway system behind Moscow, and serves 4.5 million riders every day. Châtelet – Les Halles station provides transit for 5 metro lines and 3 commuter rail lines (RER), and is the world’s largest subway station. I was enamored with the New York Subway system when I was there a few years ago, but with all due respect to Uncle Sam and Mayor Bloomberg, I have a new favorite metropolitan transportation system.

EDIT: For clarification. I’ve also been on the D.C. Metro but did not include it as a reference point because it would be like telling you I beat the snot out of some 4th grade kid at 1-on-1 basketball today.

You know how when someone warns you a plate is really hot and that you shouldn’t touch it… you go ahead and touch it anyway just to see if that’s true or not? That’s what my Eiffel Tower experience was today. You read about how it is a tourist trap, everyone tells you it is a tourist trap, and you know it’s a tourist trap… …but you go anyway and are disappointed because, surprise, it’s a big fat tourist trap.

Now don’t get me wrong, the tower itself is absolutely stunning. I hadn’t planned on doing more than taking pictures of it from afar, but when our tour bus came round the bend, and the tower came into my view for the first time this week, my jaw dropped. Simply put: its sheer size is breathtaking. Paris is full of large statues, old churches, and random dudes on horses who have apparently killed a lot of people. But the Eiffel Tower makes most of them turn into paperweights you use to spruce up the heavy oak desk in your study. La Tour Eiffel is like inviting Kobe Bryant to a college, lunchtime, intramural basketball game. Or, like John Mayer, Eric Clapton, and B.B. King to your neighborhood open mic night on Mondays. Opened in 1889 as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair, the 324m (1,063ft) is as tall as an 81-story building and is the most visited paid-monument in the world.

But, like all tourist traps, the beauty and presence of the tower gets drowned out by the mass of humanity scurrying in every which direction. Young couples making out, loud visitors calling out to others in the distance, kids chasing each other, street peddlers, and worst of all, gypsy-looking women and children pestering (following you) to fill out some sort of petition –they all diminish the experience so much that after I got my requisite photos, I quickly escaped underground and rode away on the RER train. To be fair, I did not take any tours or ride the lift up to the second or third levels (the lines were atrocious, and no one in my family had anticipated the tower being so striking), so perhaps I didn’t ‘fully’ experience everything the tower has to offer. But in my own humble estimation, I know the view of the cité from above would have been gorgeous, but I don’t think that alone would’ve washed away the bad taste in my mouth as I fled the scene.

Getting late so I’ll wrap things up quickly here.

I took my mom out for a special 60th birthday dinner on the left bank of the River Seine  at Atelier Maître Albert. The restaurant menu was apparently designed by or in conjunction with Guy Savoy, the world renowned French chef. As expected, the service was good if not very good, the wine was also good, food and drink were pricey, and the atmosphere was classy and slightly formal. The food itself was good if not very good, but for the price that we paid, I’d say the whole experience was memorable at best, and above average at worst. In short, I expected just a little more from the food for the price we paid.

After 3 days of trying to pronounce the French ‘R’ and eating every slab of pâté we could get our hands on, my sister and I were ready to ‘let our hair down’ and just have a good old fashioned beer. We stumbled upon a place not too far from dinner called The Long Hop –a boisterous British/Australian pub with Kronenbourg on tap. After a mom/son vs. dad/daughter foosball game that ended in bitter defeat for me, we finished up our pints while listening to the three blonde haired, blue eyed girls from the States chat up the bartender from New York State. Without starting a war of words here, it’s only been three days, but I am starting to understand (not agree, mind you) why Americans perceive the French to be a certain way and vice versa. This topic deserves its own conversation and will definitely revisited soon.

In the meantime, enjoy more some more pics from today. Sorry, there aren’t too many; the Musée d’Orsay does not allow any photography within its walls. Naturally, I snuck one of its huge clock overlooking the ground floor.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why I don’t have any shots of the tower, you’ll have to wait till I upload my sister’s shots. Wide angle, panoramic, and fisheye views were her department.

Bonne nuit.

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3 responses

11 09 2013
J-C Hugly

I love your story-telling style, Jonathan. What a refreshing view of Paris!
Sorry you didn’t enjoy L’atelier Maitre Albert so much. It means that it has gone down a notch from what I remember (except for the price; I do remember that quite well)…another good place that’s gone…”tout fout Le camp!” 😦

11 09 2013
Lunani

Oh! Go to Eiffel in the morning if you can. I had to go right after sunrise and it was breathtaking and best of all, no tourists! The first time I went was Bastille day so it was still different since it wasn’t all tourists. And I actually never went up it ’cause I hate lines.

I hear the best view of Paris is from Arc de Triomphe. And also try to go to Sacre Ceour right when they open. No tourists and it actually feels like a church without people milling around. I never went into Notre Dame because I didn’t have time and I’d already heard it’s very gothic (dark, etc) and I heard Sacre Coeur is light and airy and beautiful.

What other cities/countries are you guys going to?

11 09 2013
Lunani

Sorry. One more thing. If you have another night in Paris, go to the banks of la Seine. There’s bars along parts of it and sometimes there’s underground dance parties. So awesome! And so summer in Paris. I walked probably from Alma Marceau to near Notre Dame, but there’s people all along the bank just hanging out.

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