This blog is a bit out of sequence, as what I describe here is two weekends ago.
On Friday evening Cara and I took the TGV from Basel to Paris, remarkably (to me) an only 3-hour journey. This is super-easy, way easier than plane travel with its remote airport locations, long lines, body scanners, body-bending coach seats. I did a brisk walk to the Basel train station, can go directly to the train as late as seconds before the precise departure time, and I'm on my way. Cara, wisely, took the Basel tram to the station which runs reliably every 7 minutes. It's all very low-stress, shorter than my friend's San Francisco Bay area commute. With European discount air fares it is more expensive than flying, but you get what you pay for. Flying coach is dehumanizing in comparison.
In Paris, we took the Metro from Gare Charles de Gaul to our hotel not far from Le Tour Eiffel. The location was excellent, and for that we paid plenty. The room had a private bathroom, but it was so small the shower door opened only sufficiently to function as an effective BMI filter. The toilet was installed so close to the wall the cover wouldn't stay open. Maybe they should have attached a hook to keep it up.
But it was wonderful. The street, at least on the weekend, hosted an open air market, and was lined with a boulangerie serving the most incredible bread and pastries, two produce markets selling cherry tomatoes which tasted as if they'd been picked from the garden the day before (in comparison typical US supermarket tomatoes are at best convincing stage props), and a Carrafour City food market with a wonderful selection of yogurt, quark, cheese, etc. It's a wonderful thing when simple foods are a wonderful experience. In addition, we had paninis and a croque-monsieur (Cara) from local venders, a very simple matter of baked-that-morning bread and cheese which in the US would likely be considered "artisinal" cooked in a simple panini press, perhaps with fresh tomato. All simple, all incredible.
Saturday we did tourist stuff, including the Louvre where I was in irrational awe over my first live viewing of Mona Lisa. Mona Lisa is in a huge triple-glass frame, the frame about the size of what I'd expect the work to be, but contained within the work itself the size of a small poster. But isn't the small size an essential part of the almost supernatural fascination the work attracts? The model sits there, staring into your eyes whatever your viewing angle, her enigmatic smile reflecting 16th-century thoughts. Once I got my front row viewing spot, considerably easier than I anticipated, I was transfixed. That alone was worth far more than the ridiculously cheap 12 Euro entry fee.
But to say the Louvre is all about the Mona Lisa is beyond absurd. Every room was a masterpiece in itself, in addition to the masterpieces housed there. I had to remind myself with each new room to look upwards, the ceilings incredibly detailed 3-dimensional works of incredible genius and dedication. I could have stayed all weekend had not early afternoon hunger gotten the best of me. Then it was out to an outdoor cafe with a panini, listening to classical street musicians play through a series of popular classic tunes by memory.
From the Louvre, we used our Metro day passes to go next to the Cathedral Notre Dame. That was a free entry, but the lines outside extended all the way across the extensive square outside to the adjoining street, despite it being off-peak season. The line moved quickly, however, and soon we were in, passing the poster for a Mozart Requiem scheduled for 23 Sept. Tempting, so tempting.
I've been to many impressive churches before, for example a cathedral in Pisa where the intricasy and extent of the art was almost incapacitating in its depth. Notre Dame was modest in comparison, but while it lacked the overwhelming artwork of Pisa or Florence, it was a masterpiece of architecture and design. I had had decently high expectations, but these were far exceeded.
After donating to the nun collecting at the exit, we exited for a second, substantially slower line for a tour of the towers (no pun intended). This involved waiting in a long line, sitting against a ledge along a tourist-filled but nevertheless pleasant street, as groups were sent into the stairs in groups. We went first a brief way to a first room where we paid the 8.50 Euro entry fee, then up a first set of stairs to a first viewing level where we were held for at least ten minutes, then ushered up a second set of stairs to the vertigious viewpoint from the top of the 69-meter tall towers. I had expected to see the bells ("The bells! The bells!") but this was not to be. Instead the highlight was the close-up view of the diverse set of supernatural animals sculpted along the walls, a 19th century addition to the 12th-to-13th century cathedral. It was worth the time and the entry fee, but not as impressive as the cathedral interior.
After Notre Dame, it was back on the Metro, where Cara, using an app, recommended one connection-and-stop-intensive route back to the hotel. Looking at the map, I saw an alternate, apparently far more direct route, with the C-line to Invalides then connecting to the 8 for a 2-stop trip to L'Ecole Militaire, near our hotel. But this turned out to be a big mistake. The C-line is more of a long-range commuter express, with a less-frequent schedule, and at Invalides a pathlogically long foot transfer back to the Metro. I should have stuck with Cara's app.
As the day faded, we saw the Tour Eiffel as first the lights came on and then a modest light show impressed all. It was great. There was a contrasting combination between the locals enjoying the view and the grass and tourists being set upon by a bunch of vendors selling toy Tours Eiffel, flying-lighted toys you tossed into the air, and even one selling bottles of wine. All very nice.