I mentioned in my post yesterday that we had two days in Paris. One day was for a guided tour of Paris city. Yesterday’s post covered this guided tour, where we got to see quite a number of landmarks that Paris is famous for as a tourist destination.
Another day, Paul arranged for us to visit Disneyland Paris. The thing is, the entrance tickets to Disneyland was NOT covered by the tour package. We had to pay an additional €40 to purchase the tickets separately. You know, I am not really a Mickey Mouse/Minnie Mouse fan, so I was never really interested with Disneyland. That was why I also did not go to Disneyland LA when I had the chance. To pay €40 to go some place that I have no interest in was… rather steep to me. As it was for a few other tour group members.
So we made a deal with Paul (our tour guide). We would NOT be joining them to Disneyland. We would spend that day wandering around Paris by ourselves. Normally that would be impossible to arrange, as tour guides would insist we stick to the team. They have a legal obligation to ensure our safety at all times, and letting us wander around Paris without supervision works against that obligation. I forgot how we finally managed to persuade him. I think it went somewhere along the line of us refusing to pay for the Disneyland tickets and offered to just stay in the hotel for the day, and he realized how persistent we were, so he closed one eye and even hinted to us how to get to the nearest Metro station from our hotel.
Which is why today, I am able to, and am going to show you some parts of Paris that your typical tour guide will NOT bring you to. Now these are not necessarily those “off the beaten track” places, what I am showing you are still very touristy indeed.
1. Paris Metro
We were staying in Best Western Saint Maurice (which is now called Hotel Kyriad Paris Est – Bois de Vincennes). This hotel is on the outskirts of Paris city center. To get to Paris, the most economical way would be to take the Paris Metro. It was a 15 minutes walk from the hotel to the nearest Metro station.
Now Paris Metro is a network of underground train system that connects the entire Paris and its suburbs. It is very much like London’s Underground and Rome’s Metro system, which is very extensive, has very many lines, and would make KL’s LRT system look like child’s play.
When we got to the Metro station (Charenton – Écoles), we were given first hand reminder on the Frenchs’ distaste towards the English language. You see, we tried to purchase day passes for the Metro, but no matter how we explained to the cashier, she would just shake her head, say “No English, you speak French here“, and gave us wry smile after wry smile as we struggled. We knew she could speak English, she just didn’t want to communicate to us in English. It was very very frustrating.
Fortunately, in 2007, although smartphones were still in their infancy, phones with camera were already very common, and we all had them. After a few minutes of epic struggle, one of us was smart enough to capture a picture of the pricing table, and shoved it to the cashier. That, coupled with the use of our fingers to point at the price that we wanted, and indicating how many we wanted, finally got us our tickets, and we were on our way!
I cannot imagine what we could’ve done if it was 1997 instead of 2007! God bless Japan/America, God bless camera phones!
This was how a Paris Metro train looked like back in 2007. I wonder if they are still the same or if they have upgraded to newer and nicer trains. If they do things like Malaysia then most likely not.
There was another incident on our Paris train adventure, although this one has got nothing to do with language barrier. You see, the train system is a network of many different lines. We were supposed to change to a train of a different line to get to our destination, but when our train arrived at that transit station, the door did not open. It remained closed for quite some time, then there was an announcement on the train’s PA system (in French, yes).
It was very confusing. What the heck is going on? This incident was how we got acquainted with a Chinese student, Kitty. Kitty was a student in another city in France, and she was in Paris for a solo vacation. She explained to us that there has been a bomb alert on one of the trains on OUR line, so all the trains on the same line were stopped and quarantined for investigations to be done. According to another (local) passenger, this happens quite frequently in Paris, so there is nothing to be worried about. How cool is THAT?
We were stuck inside the train for about an hour before the doors opened for us to leave. By then it was super crowded in the train station, and we had to wait like another hour to get onto our connecting train.
Helluva great start to our “free and easy” day. Super awesome!
2. Jardin du Luxembourg
Our first stop was the Jardin du Luxembourg [Luxembourg Garden]. Why did we come here? It is because of the rich history that this garden has… NOT. It is actually because another friend said according to her uncle, Paris is supposed to be famous for beautiful public parks. So I did a quick search online and based on Google Maps, this one seemed to be the largest in the vicinity of the other places we wanted to visit in Paris. Does this garden has some amazing history and stories tied to it? I don’t know.
This place is basically a garden filled with trees, flowers, lawns and statues, and in the middle of it is a big pond with a fountain (it did not work when we were there) to it. On one side of the pond is the Palais du Luxembourg [Luxembourg Palace].
Wandering around this beautiful garden helped sooth our frayed nerves quite a lot…
3. Galeries Lafayette
From the Jardin du Luxembourg, we proceeded to the next stop of our itinerary. This place is located on the intersection between two main streets of Paris, Rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin and Boulevard Hausmann.
I wonder how many of you have read Alexandre Dumas’ novel, The Count of Monte Cristo. According to Dumas’ depiction, Rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin was one of the high streets of Paris in the 1800s. Although just a novel, Dumas is French, so I believe his depictions should be largely reflective of real life. This was where most of the rich bankers and merchants of Paris lived in. This was where all the operas and theaters were. This was also where one of the super-villain of the novel, the treacherous banker Baron Danglars, lived in.
Quite a number of opera buildings are still around today, although I’m not sure if any of them are still functioning as opera or something else. But, the most popular building is now Galeries Lafayette. This place is very famous, but in case you have not heard of it, it is one of the most prestigious high end departmental store of Paris. They now have expanded to a chain across Europe, but this one is the original flagship store.
If you want me to speak in a language understood by Malaysians, this is one of those places that the Fat Lady of Cincin [Malaysian insider joke] would approve of as one of her destination for shopping escapades. The lower floors are those more “public friendly” brands like Chanel or Gucci etc. The upper floors houses those brands that us commoners probably would never have seen before.
To me though, the most impressive feature of Galeries Lafayette is this, the smaller scaled inverted Eiffel Tower.
Holy crap! – That’s what came out of my mouth when I saw this structure…
I know, I know, I have shown you the Louvre on the post yesterday. But we came back again anyway. And twice we came back. Not because we wanted to check out the exhibits, but for something else.
You see, if you visit the Louvre with a tour group, you will be ushered into the museum’s compound and inside the museum itself. You can get photos of the pyramid, and photos of the Mona Lisa, and photos of everything else. But you won’t be able to get photos of this. And this was the reason we came back today in the afternoon.
Jeanne d’Arc, a bronze sculpture of Joan of Arc (her name in French as well), stands tall at one of the road intersections just OUTSIDE the museum compound. If you didn’t know better, you would just drive past it without giving it any second thoughts like it was just any other statues. But we DID know better.
You guys know Joan of Arc, right? She is mighty famous, especially among the Roman Catholics. She was supposed to be a great military strategist which she claimed was due to her having visions from God. She is a super heroine in France. She is one of the ultimate symbol of female power in the world.
And this bronze statue outside the Louvre, is one of the most famous sculpture ever built to commemorate her, because this is very close to where Joan was supposingly shot on her leg with a crossbow when she led the French army to retake Paris from the English army. Yes, the English and French used to go to war for 100 years, that’s why they hate each other so much.
We went some place else after this, but came back again to the Louvre at nightfall. Because we wanted photos of the Louvre Pyramid at night. This is something that you will never get if you join a tour. No tour guides in their right frame of mind would bring you to the Louvre at night because, well, the museum is closed!
The next stop from the Louvre is somewhere fairly close. This stop, is an entire street that is world famous, and stretches from Place de la Concorde (the ferris wheel and the obelisk) at one end, to the Arc de Triomphe at the other end. This, is the Champs-Élysées.
We came back here not because of the arch. We came back here, because this street is the current high street of Paris. This is where the rich, but not so rich, do their shopping.
According to Alexandre Dumas’, this was also where The Count of Monte Cristo lived in when he was in Paris to plot his revenge. I tried looking for the address that the novel mentioned, I think it was a McDonald’s in real life. 😐
Unfortunately, even when we came back to wander by ourselves, I still do not have much photos to share on this wonderful street. You see, the photographer with us today is a girl. You know girls won’t take pictures when they go into a LV, right? More like, they won’t remember to. When a girl goes into a LV flagship store, there are a million other better things to do that take photos…
We did also go into the Adidas store and Toyota showroom here. In Adidas, they have an awesome display of every iteration of World Cup balls that Adidas sponsored since 1978. Since football is not something a girl takes interest in, here there are photos.
Just like there are photos in Toyota, because girls are less interested in cars and engines and technology and whatnot. I mean most girls anyway. I just remembered a certain lady blogger who ARE into planes and robots and machines…
Anyway, it was awesome in the Toyota showroom. They have a Prius out on display, which is dedicated for visitors to scribble on. Being the jakuns the we were, you know what has got to happen… 😉
6. Princess Diana
We stumbled onto this purely by accident. It was already nightfall, and we wandering around the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower, waiting for something special to happen, when we came across this.
A memorial monument for Princess Diana! You guys know Princess Diana, right? Right?? That famous English princess who died in a car crash in a tunnel in Paris? This monument is built on top of that tunnel, and we chanced upon it by accident.
It was then the 10 years anniversary of her death (or is there another word for this?), I thought maybe it was fated that we stumbled across this place…
7. Eiffel Tower Night View
I mentioned we were waiting for something special to happen to the Eiffel Tower, didn’t I?
Well, this was because, we were originally just intending to wander around Paris and taking photos. Everywhere we went, the Eiffel Tower was clearly visible. It was very pretty, seeing the tower lighting up the night sky with bright yellow and green.
And then, suddenly…
Hundreds (or maybe millions) or lights flashed from the tower, like those camera flashes, except it flashed non stop for the next 5 minutes. It was super amazing!
We checked our time, it was 8.00PM. It could be a one off every day, or maybe a one off every month or year. But we speculated that maybe it was a once every hour thing. We wanted to try our luck anyway. That was why we wandered around and waited that hour off. We slowly made our way towards the tower when it was almost 9.00PM.
Seriously, even without those flashes, I thought the Eiffel Tower at night is already beautiful enough as it is.
Anyway, our speculation turned out correct. At 9.00PM sharp, we arrived beneath the Eiffel Tower just in time to witness this happen!
Millions of lights flashing again! It was really a sight to behold! We spent the next 5 minutes quickly getting our pictures taken with this flashing Eiffel Tower.
It was the last thing we saw before we took the train back to our hotel. This was our last night in France and the last day in continental Europe, for the next day we headed back to England and our Europe Tour came to an end.
Spectacular! Freaking amazing! What a way to end our Europe Tour with a bang, quite literally!
And… I have finally come to and end of my Europe Tour 2007 travelogue. It was so long ago, but I had so much fun rewriting and rekindling those memories when I write these stuff, as always. I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have written them. 🙂