Tag Archives: Paris

From Paris to Port en Bessin

our Paris address…

Au revoir, Paris

On Friday, we said au revoir to Paris with some sadness, but also with a sense of relief that we actually made our way out of the city – in peak-hour traffic (at 10 am…), without a scratch.

Sylvia, our fabulous GPS voice that gently yet insistently guides us, is our new best friend. Gagged (well, bagged) since we left home, she is suddenly wonderfully vocal – and faultlessly directs us out of what is essentially a spaghetti-bowl of roads circumnavigating Paris.

You know those days when technology really lets you down – and winds you up? Today is not one of them.

Bonjour, Port en Bessin

After sticking to the toll roads until Leviers, we convince Sylvia that we really do want to take the narrow, meandering pathway to Normandy. Thanks very much.

After Paris, Normandy’s wide open spaces are a surprise – and the villages along the way are breathtaking. Literally at times, when we squeeze between ancient stone walls and around blind corners.

Sylvia finally leads us into Port en Bessin and to our hotel – which is facing the fishing port or face en port. This fishing village is beyond picturesque, and it’s easy to lose track of time here…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Port en Bessin, Normandy

We suddenly realise it’s six o’clock – and the sun isn’t even thinking about setting. Time to find the seafood restaurant a local has recommended, while Sylvia has a well-earned rest.

Strolling the Louvre

Ce n’est pas la Joconde…

It’s no wonder the Mona Lisa (La Joconde) has that enigmatic smile. The madness she’s seen…

Tourists jostle to get close enough to her to get a snap. Others work their way to the front row and immediately turn their back on her.

Their quest is to be photographed with her. They check their friend’s photography efforts (gotta love digital), nod and walk away…

I pause for a moment to look into those serene yet knowing eyes.

I have someone’s elbow in my ear… and is that a camera almost resting on my head? The price of being short I guess.

Mais non, ce n’est pas la Joconde soit. C’est EB…

The magnetic Mona Lisa is unperturbed. Long after the snaps feature in slideshows and photo albums, long after the memories have grown tired, she will be here. Ever the celebrity.

Down the hall, a young woman holding a lime green-covered iPad is walking towards us – well, almost over us.

She is spinning slowly, taking in the artwork through the screen.

Every now and then she peeps out from behind it.

I guess there are ways and ways to see the Louvre…

Monumental travel moments…

Notre Dame, Paris (Copyright: Louise Ralph)

Grimacing guardians of Notre Dame

I’ve never really been a big fan of guidebooks, although I’ll admit I  do have a few on the bookshelf back home.

The problem is, when I actually open them and start reading the suggested itineraries, I start having an anxiety attack.

Like about ten minutes ago, when I finally opened our France guidebook…all those churches and museums, art galleries and architectural icons, places to eat, things you must do. Aaaagh.

Don’t get me wrong – they are fantastic to have on hand and really do cover-off on the best things to see, and what to avoid.

It’s just that ticking off the tourist sites has never been a big thing for me. Luckily, EB and I are on the same – um – page.

We like to arrive somewhere, dump our bags and head out the door. We often get lost, but that’s usually when we have the most fun – like when we were hopelessly lost in Venice and desperately in need of a coffee.

A tiny trattoria caught our eye and we pushed open the door. It was brim full of locals, who all stared at us with astonishment.

We soon discovered it was run by two elderly sisters and they hadn’t seen a tourist there in years. They welcomed us like celebrities and proceeded to feed us up to the gills.

Trying to get across the whole ‘vegetarian’ thing required much gesticulating, with the occasional Italian word thrown in. I ended up with half a roast chicken and a glass of vino. It was definitely a ‘Mr Bean’ moment, with EB gobbling bits of it when no-one was looking. Clearly my ‘interpretive dance’ communication method was a monumental failure…

Then there was the impromptu game of cricket with the sherpas on the Annapurna trail in Nepal – thanks to pair of socks balled-up in duct tape, a plank for a bat, and lots of enthusiasm.

Later, our tour group celebrated and danced into the night with the sherpas, fuelled with very watery whisky and nepalese beer, and to the rhythm of a single drum. Even the local villagers turned up to join in.

These are the moments we remember, long after the monuments are just travel snaps in an album.

Roman Krznaric reminds us of the history of travel in his article Capturing life, not landmarks (Psychologies, July 2012) and its influence on how we travel today, guidebook in hand:

“Few of us realise that our holiday itineraries were set by aristocratic travellers more than 300 years ago. We are the unsuspecting inheritors of the Grand Tour tradition of the eighteenth century, when upper-class gents – and the occasional lady – embarked on a high-culture European tour of renowned artworks, monuments and churches, to complete their classical educations.”

So yes, we’ll tick off some of those iconic places, but mostly we’ll hang out on the streets, or let our curiosity take us where it will.

Let’s face it, any monuments we miss aren’t going anywhere. And it’s a good excuse to come back again…

Flâneurs à Paris

EB on the rue St. Louis en l’Isle

I’ve discovered there is a word for people like us who like to explore places on foot: flâneurs or ‘strollers’.

Although we did master the Metro today, nothing compares to  wandering the streets of Paris.

Negotiating cobblestones and catching the delicious smells that waft from the boulangerie (and the not-so-delicious from god knows where).

Drinking in the shapes and colours of buildings that will outlive us all.

Hearing l’enfants laughing and playing somewhere behind a school’s high stone wall or the piercing ee-aw of police sirens on some urgent mission.

Or stopping to people-watch and savour double expresso avec du lait sur le côté. 

Eiffel Tower

la dame de fer

But let’s back track to Sunday… possibly the worst day we could pick to see the Eiffel Tower – an engineering masterpiece but, mon dieu, the lines.

There was no way EB was going up there if he had to wait in a line of more than a hundred people. So we took the stair option to the second floor… then stood in line for an hour to get the lift to the top.

Gustave Eiffel’s winning design for the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair, the Eiffel Tower was originally built to be torn down. Even so, the protests began as soon as work commenced on the latticed iron tower in January 1887.

Nicknamed la dame de fer (Iron Lady), very few Parisians appreciated their city skyline dominated by this apparent monstrosity.

Today, it’s said to be one of the most recognised monuments in the world – and one of the most visited. Surrounded by hot, bothered tourists anxious to get to the top, I’m easily convinced.

Needless to say, we flâneured (is that a word?) out of there pretty quickly and recovered over a glass or two of Ruinart, my favourite French champagne. Ah Paris, voilà ce qu’est la vie.

Getting around and getting the knots out…

If you’re not completely insane and you like to wear something other than sensible walking shoes, taking a Batobus (boat-bus) is a good option and gives you a different perspective of Paris. It’s hop-on, hop-off at eight different stops along the Siene. A five-day pass cost us €21 each. A day ticket is €18.

After a long day on your feet, relax  with a brilliant Thai massage at Nuad Thai Sabai on the Quai de la Tournelle (Metro: Pont-Marie, Sully Morland or Jussieu).

Eat, sleep, play… in Paris

St-Germain des Pres From the moment EB and I stepped out of our quaint, oh-so-Paris apartment on the Ile Saint-Louis this morning, I knew I was ‘home’.

It just felt like the right fit for me in every way, and I immediately felt myself relaxing.

I love the way women dress here – relaxed, understated and not a nose-bleed-height heel in sight. Except on tourists who are willing to risk their ankles on the uneven cobblestones.

And in spite of the bad wrap Parisians often get, we’ve found them friendly and helpful. They don’t gush and they don’t try to impress, but they seem comfortable in their own skin and I like that.

Best of all, after years of having conniptions over conjugations, I’m finally speaking French without hyperventilating… ordering breakfast, asking a man on the street for directions (and even understanding the answer!), and buying supplies at the marché.

Later, exploring the deliciously charming streets of St-Germain de Prés and nearby Left Bank neighbourhoods, I could very well have been in heaven.

At the end of our first day in Paris, EB has already walked my legs off… and hopefully the day’s indulgences.

I suspect tomorrow will involve, among other things, not taking the lift up the Eiffel Tower. As if 88 stairs up to our apartment isn’t enough already. Not that we’ve counted.