I’d known about the walking bit. In fact, I’d gone out of my way to buy some comfortable walking shoes. But, as the poet Burns said, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley. It was entirely my fault and the fault of my map-reading skills. Apparently, I’d forgotten a lot in the 40 years since I was an Eagle Scout.
Our first full day in Paris was supposed to be a nice leisurely day. Just to get the lay of the land, so to speak and get our bearings. About the only sight we had in mind was Sacre Coeur. We took the bus from right outside the hotel on a coolish day and 15 minutes later were dropped off at Pont au Change. Our first look at the Seine! How exciting! I had inadvertently forgotten to bring my red nose with me, so was unable to jump into the river shouting ‘I’m in Seine!”. That and the fact that I can’t swim and was unsure whether My Beloved Bangalan would have raised a rescue party in such a case ….. ahem.
We gazed around us and we got our first look at the Eiffel Tower in the distance. How exciting! We stood there on the Pont au Change a long time, I think, wondering which to go. The map we had was consulted but the sights all around us were overwhelming to an extent.
We then proceeded to walk around the neighbourhood. We stumbled upon our first look at Notre Dame. How exciting! And those bells, the bells…. Old Victor really stumbled upon a mind-blowing setting for his thick novel.
Actually, the architecture and the detail on the this old pile is pretty darn impressive. I can only imagine the awe it would have inspired in the god-fearing people back in the day. Just check out those lines, the swooping detail from a side you don’t normally see in the tourist brochures. No, we did not go up. This was a dekko mission, remember? A day to take things easy. So then we stopped to take a breather and had a moment together. With the inevitable Chinese tourists closely. These were to figure prominently on our trip…. more about that later.
“We mustn’t overdo it on our first day”, she said, “As it is we messed up yesterday with that long walk.”
“Yes, let’s just take it easy. We’ll take the bus to Sacre Coeur. The buses seem pretty comfortable and easy.”
Route maps were consulted and we decided that the easiest way would be to take a bus to Gare du Nord and then find our way to Sacre Coeur from there. The busy duly deposited us at the terminus and we came out, as lost as first time tourists are. This was the point where I decided that Sacre Coeur was walking distance from Gare du Nord. I see now that if we had cut across to our west, from inside Gare du Nord, we would have managed to do the distance in 20-25 minutes. Unfortunately, we took the North East route diagonally away and then came back across two sides of the triangle.
So we found ourselves in Little India. How exciting!. This was followed by Little Sri Lanka! We trudged on hung a left finally and ended up in Little Egypt, Little Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East. It was like being back in the streets of North Calcutta. How exciting! Shopkeepers called to us to buy Gucci bags, designer watches. We resisted the temptations thrown at us and staggered on. It was a little unnerving to see the strong police presence in the area. We wondered whether something was up. ( Digression Alert #1: The socio-political scenario in Paris became a little clearer later on our trip.)
Finally we stopped at a McDonalds. Yes, I know, what you’re thinking. But no, I needed to pee and get myself a cold drink. In that order.. duh! Close to an hour after leaving Gare du Nord we finally arrived at the base of the hill on which stands the Space Shuttle style cathedral of Sacre Coeur. We paused to watch some dancing and the people standing around watching the people dancing.
Suddenly, I heard Hindi being spoken behind me. I noticed a group of young men, chattering to each other. In Hindi. They were carrying a case of beer in each hand. Some carried cold water bottles in bucket. My Beloved Bangalan and I looked up at the steep hill and the broad steps leading up to the cathedral when suddenly there was a buzz and all those beer and water sellers came rushing past us. They jumped with both feet and the beer cases over a 3 foot fence and were away down the hill in a matter of seconds.
Then we noticed the cops slowly fanning out, eyeing the crowds on the hill with keen eyes. I tell you, some of those young me needed to be trained for the hurdles. They’d do well at the Olympics! How exciting it all was!
Then we got into the cathedral where we walked around taking pictures. We sat in the pews for a while, staring around us at the wonder that religious fervour and middle-ages effort had wrought.
Finally, we left to head back down looking for a Metro station. We walked for about 20 minutes looking for one. Then I decided we were going the wrong way. So we turned and walked back the other way and finally took the Metro from Pigaille to Concorde.
A quick walk through the Tuileries and at the Place de la Concorde we were offered a drive in some supercars. For cash. Boo wanted to. I told the eager businessman that Boo didn’t have a licence. It didn’t seem to bother him. This, unfortunately for him, was hardly likely to get me to fork out cash so that Boo could crash a Lamborghini!
We walked away down the Champs Elysees for our first walk down the famous thoroughfare. How exciting! It was getting towards dusk and we were exhausted from all the wrong turns and heavy duty walking. We settled down at La Duree for dinner. Outside on the Champs Elysees. Dinner! How exciting! The evening turned cold as we finished and then we decided to walk down to the very end and see the Arc de Triomphe.
And there it was! The most famous arch in the world. In the quickly fading twilight! How exciting!
Then we took the Metro back to the hotel to rest our weary feet. Thus ended Day 2.
Tomorrow, Day 3, would be a ride around the Seine and a trip up the iron girders.