May 20, 2009

Day 4: Paris Je T'aime

We had two choices for the day - a trip to Versailles or we could simply wander around Paris. We voted for the latter feeling the palace would be a bit of an overdose.

We landed back in the metro station and walked into a boulangerie for breakfast. The baker didn't speak English and I tried my forgotten French - I did remember the s'il vous plait - and amidst a lot of nodding and gesturing and laughter bought ourselves some warm croissants and doughnuts. We ate it all up at leisure and got into the train deciding to see the more modern part of the town for that day.

Accordingly, we went to La Defense. Most of the metro stations had posters of two upcoming pictures, both I was hoping to see. Anges et Demons and Star Trek.

The glass and steel mega buildings of the business district was even more impressive than the buildings in Canary wharf, London. The Grand Arche in the line of sight from the Arc was larger and more awe inspiring but did not have the same romance. I suppose a monument for humanity ought to weigh in more than a monument for military triumphs, yet without personalization the romance is somewhat lost. I sat simply on the steps of the Arche
observing nothing in particular yet enjoying the moment.

We then caught the metro for a dramatic view of the Eiffel tower - after all we can't go home without the classic Paris picture of the tower in the background. I chose the Parc du Champ de Mars liking the interesting contrast of a wall of peace in a park named after Mars the god of war. The glass and steel structure with the words Peace was the first of its kind I had seen - it made me wonder if such a design could possibly be erected at a place of a terrorist attack. We took our pictures of Eiffel tower straddling a block in the background and then walked further.

Lunch was a sandwich and juice on a side walk cafe, to the accompaniment of street musicians.

After the meal drifting by seemed like a great idea and so we decided to catch a Bateaux Mouches for a river cruise. I settled in one of the chairs on the open top to lazily watch all the grand buildings to the right and left. It reminded me of the other river cruise I had taken a few years ago in London and I contemplated the tale of the two cities and how much they are interconnected throughout their histories in the last millennium. The edifices watching us from the bridge as we went under was unexpected as was the balmy sun.

After the cruise, SR declared that he couldn't leave Paris without seeing all the fashionable boutiques so we walked some more along upscale shops Armani, Bvlgari, Gautier, Dubal - it wouldn't even qualify as window shopping since we did not even know what we would buy if we wanted to - when we encountered a crowd staring at a boutique. A quick check with a woman nearby and we were made aware Beyoncee was shopping inside. SR and AS wouldn't budge and we all stood there with the increasing crowds. It was a lot of fun and of course we only saw the body guards from time to time and after fifteen minutes, my patience ran thin and we wandered out back to Champs Elysees. Paris is a city of sweeping tree lined boulevards no doubt, I thought enjoying the soothing evening with an ice cream as we strolled the length of the boulevard.

The baker's assistant spoke English as we got bread for our dinner back near the metro station and she informed me that the baker wanted me to have a freshly baked breakfast sweet bread on the house. I was delighted and smiled my thanks to the nice man.

A bus was leaving the station and we ran to it realizing it must possibly be the last bus. After about fifteen minutes I realized we were in the wrong bus. It was past 9 o clock and we had no idea where the bus was heading as it moved farther and farther away and no familiar buildings from the route we had taken the last two days were visible. We were by now the only passengers in the bus and I ventured towards the bus driver and tried to explain with a lot of gestures and broken words in French our predicament and asked where should we get down to possibly get a taxi or another bus back to the hotel. When he finally understood he shook his head and muttered a series of sentences in French, his expressions leaving no doubt his feelings on the matter. He gestured to me to sit down and then off we went another fifteen minutes - I realized he meant we will eventually return back to the station and from there we could get a taxi. And then the dear man stopped the bus and waved at another driver going in the opposite direction, talked to the other guy, put us in the bus and waved us off. The other bus, empty but for us, neatly came to a halt in a bus stop ten minutes later and the driver informed me pointing at a street sign that thats where we get off. Lo and behold our hotel was just a block away.

Vive Le France!

We walked back blowing dandelions, laughing, happy with our good luck, my faith in humanity restored.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité - the words rang over and over in my head as I slowly drifted to sleep.

May 20, 2009