proto-blogging | 365:048


Back in the dark days before blogging was a widespread “thing”, and well before there were smartphones and tablets and other machines with the type of portability that allowed for being brought along on bicycle trips through europe, there was a thing called “writing” in “journals”.

Cleaning out all of my shelves yesterday, I found my travel journal from my bike trip through France and Switzerland back in 1999. There was one guy on the trip who would periodically check his email – by tracking down an internet cafe and paying for 20 minutes of use once every couple of days.


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I love Paris in the winter…


Although I admit that it would probably be more pleasant to actually visit in the spring.

Pictures are being uploaded now.

Here’s a breakdown of my weekend.

I landed on Saturday afternoon, and immediately upgraded my room to one with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, the fog was pretty thick and it made actually seeing the Tower a bit of a challenge (it shows up less well in photos than it did in real life). and took a quick walk around the Saint Germain neighborhood, down to Les Deux Magots. It’s a spot I remember from my trip ten years ago, and back in my scrapbook buried somewhere in NY (back in the dark ages before websites and digital cameras), I’ve got a photo of myself, backpack and all, standing out front. All in all, a good way to orient myself for the first day (and confirmation that my decision to stay in the same neighborhood was a good one).

Sunday morning I woke up with my grand plan to go to the Musee D’Orsay. I’ve mentioned in previous entries the trials and tribulations I’ve experienced in the past with this museum, but this time? success! The Orsay was open, and I probably took more pictures than I really needed to. Here’s the entrance, and here’s some highlights…the building itself is a work of art, having formerly been a railway station…scale models of the Opera GarnierDegasMonetVan GoghCezanneToulous-Lautrec…and Gauguin. Just for a few.

After I was done with the Orsay (and I’m pretty sure I missed stuff, but that just gives me an excuse to go back again, right?), I walked all the way over to the Eiffel Tower (starting here), passing the National Assembly, a whole bunch of bridges, Les Invalides (where Napoleon is entombed), the Tsar Alexander III Bridge and finally hitting the Tower. Once there, I picked up one of the NY Times recommended boats run by Bateaus Parisiens, and took a whole bunch more pictures, starting here, and which took me past the Louvre, Ile de la Cite, Notre Dame, and the smallest house in Paris. Exhausted, I hit dry land back at the Eiffel tower, and took a cab back to the hotel in time to actually see the light show at sunset from my balcony.

Monday was Christmas, and, not surprisingly, everything was closed. So I took another walk, this time to the Louvre grounds, and wandered through the Jardin des Tulieres, where I ate a crepe and got stalked by some seriously aggressive birds, who finally won. At the other end of the Jardin des Tulieres, is the Place de la Concorde, where they used to behead people and now there’s a ferris wheel. I’m not sure this is progress. From there, I trekked up the Champs-Elysees to the Arc d’Triomphe.

Tuesday was my departure day, but I thought I could squeeze in actually going inside the Louvre before I left. Unfortunately, the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays (I am happy to say that I did get in 10 years ago, so I’ve already seen the Mona Lisa), so I resigned myself to wandering around Saint-Germain some more (and admiring how Paris makes even the subway seem pretty). Compare the hotel I stayed in 10 years ago with the one I stayed in now!

So that’s it. I didn’t take pictures of things like the hotel bar, even though i managed to have at least one drink there every day, or the craziness that is flying EasyJet (unassigned seating by group doesn’t work so well when you all have to take the same damn bus to the airplane way out on the tarmac, yet people still all push to the front of the "line").

All in all, I admit to only seeing a fraction of the city, but it was a good fraction. I enjoyed myself, drank some champagne, saw some pretty things, and managed to make that first trip (oh so many years ago) a bit of nostalgia rather than the city-souring experience it had previously been in my head. I’d definitely go back. But next time I’d go in the spring, when the trees and gardens are blooming. That would only make it better.

[Update 2015] In an effort to reduce the number of holdover pages on the blog, I am slowly (very slowly) integrating these albums into the appropriate historical posts on the blog itself. As such, all photos now appear directly below.

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The more you travel, the more you learn.


Like, for instance, that the really nice terminals at most international airports are saved for flights and/or airlines that are truly international. Upon leaving Paris, I decided to come to Charles de Gaulle airport a bit early, both because I needed to leave the city in the middle of evening rush hour and because, from my past experience flying through CDG, it has some pretty good shopping.

Well, apparently it’s some other terminal that has really good shopping (like, perhaps the one I transferred through when flying home from Prague a few years ago), because the extent of shopping at Terminal 3 consists of one duty free shop that consists of nothing but perfume, cigarettes and alcohol, and a bar. So that’ll teach me to get to the airport three hours early. Even though this is technically an international flight, it’s pretty much treated as domestic. I don’t go through customs, I don’t get my passport stamped, and we get to wait at the terminal that’s less sophisticated than Teterboro.

OK, so…the trip. The trip was awesome. I didn’t get to see everything I wanted, because I was only really in town for three days, one of which was Christmas (when everything was, obviously, closed), but I have finally fallen in love with Paris. It only took ten years and three trips, but I finally get it. I finally understand what other people had been saying all of these years. Paris is just…beautiful. Even when everything is closed, I could just walk for miles (and I did) admiring the outsides of buildings. This trip has all but erased for me the bad memories of that trip ten years ago. I haven’t even left yet, and I want to come back again. Maybe when it’s a little warmer, but definitely, I need to come back again. And again.

When I get back to Milan, I’ll post some pictures (and also this entry, as I’m not paying for wifi at the airport).

I’m really glad I took this trip though. I had been debating maybe going to London instead, because I know London, but then I thought I should give Paris another chance. And it was well worth it (even though my feet have pretty much rebelled at this point).

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Fortuitous timing


So, the NY Times travel section regularly does this little feature called "36 hours", where they visit a city for a weekend, and then essentially publish the itinerary, which consists of reviews as well as advice on what to see and what to skip when you’ve got limited time in a city. So earlier this week, I figured I’d see what they had listed for Paris. I’ll be there for more than 36 hours, but not much more when you discount Christmas Day, when I assume everything will be closed. But when I went searching on Monday, they hadn’t done one for Paris. Which kind of surprised me, but I set about printing out some of their other articles just to get myself oriented.

So then, I click on the Times this morning, and yup, 36 Hours: Paris was posted. It’s like they knew. At least now I’ve got my itinerary for the weekend (I’ll probably jumble things up a bit, and I’ve been to certain places before, so they get de-prioritized (not that I won’t fit them in if I’ve got time, but the Louvre can be a four day trip in itself).

I’m off to go finish packing, and to figure out how I’m getting to the damn airport. Again.

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City of Lights…


So, after much wrangling this morning with the easyjet website, much of which involved the fact that they kept rejecting my American Express card (which makes no sense, as I was able to use it 20 minutes later to book a hotel on Expedia) and my having to break out the backup, never used, Mastercard, I can now safely say that I’ll be spending Christmas weekend in Paris. Because it takes a whole hour to fly there. How cool is that?!

We get a four day weekend for the christmas holiday here, because apparently the 26th is also of religious significance in Italy. I have no idea what significance, as I am not even christian, let alone catholic, but four days seemed like a good enough amount of time to jet off to another city for a few days, particularly when everything in this city will be closed anyway. I had been thinking I should go to London, just to sate my apparently monthly need to speak english, but I’ve been to London plenty for work, and I was just there in May.

I have been to Paris before, twice, but the last time I was there was in the year 1999, and that was only for a day stopover between legs of my post-bar exam three-week bicycle trip through the French countryside. So it seemed like a good idea. Plus, it will (hopefully) make me actually like the city for once.

The first time I went to Paris was when I backpacked/Eurailed through Europe between college and law school, which is now over ten years ago. The first part of my trip, I was travelling with a "friend" from college who had been living in London for six months (and had previously studied in Paris). Unfortunately, said "friend" spent all of the money she was supposedly saving for the trip on a TEFL course, so that she could go to Korea and teach english for two years. Which was great for her, but severely limited her ability to do just about anything on our trip. So I met up with her in London, where she was living, so that was free. Then we went to Paris. We travelled by ferry, which was a high-speed catamaran-type boat, and I spent the entire way over just absolutely seasick. Just thinking about it now, ten years later, I still get green. We finally get dropped off by the bus, in the middle of Paris (not at the train station like our ticket said), with no French money, at five in the morning. This was years before the Euro conversion, so we had to change money every time we went over a border. So we finally, laboriously, find an ATM, and make our way to the cheapest hotel in the guidebook (remember, friend with very little money).

This hotel…well. About the only good thing you could say about it was that it had a great location. It was right down the street from the Pantheon, so it was easy to go other places. But the hotel itself. Friend and I got a "double" room that still managed to involve us having to share a bed. I have never been so happy to have a sleeping bag in my life – not because I had a problem sharing a bed with a friend, I’ve done that plenty, but because the bed itself was so disgusting that the only way that I could even go near it was to essentially wear a giant body condom. Oh, and the room had a distinctly funny smell. The bathroom was literally in the middle of a stairwell, and the shower…

…sorry, I had to go be nauseous again. You had to pay to use the shower, which we did on the first day, and when we got the key for the shower "room", we realized that we just wouldn’t be showering for our entire stint in Paris. This building was about 100 years old, and the shower had likely never been cleaned. So. three nights in Paris, no bathing. This is after an overnight trip from London, and a plan to take another overnight train to Amsterdam at the end. Which means that by the time I got to Holland, I hadn’t showered for almost a full week. A week which started with repeated vomiting off the side of a boat.

I saw lots of really great things in Paris (as was the case with all famous buildings everywhere I went, Notre Dame was of course covered in scaffolding), and I fully agree that it’s a beautiful city. But the hotel just overwhelmed things. Oh, and the fact that I was counting on my french-speaking friend to show me around? Well, the fact that she had no money, and had seen everything before, meant that she sat around our hotel room for three days (pointedly mentioning that she wouldn’t have even come to paris but for my wanting to) while I went out and did stuff. We lived on bread and cheese. But the kicker? was the last day, when we were leaving. We had saved the Musee D’Orsay for the last day, figuring that we could check our backpacks at the coatcheck and wander around for a few hours until our train. So we traipsed, in the rain, to the MD’O, to discover that the museum workers’ union had called a city-wide strike. So it was closed.

The second time I was in Paris, when I only had a day? I figured that I could check out the MD’O because I had already seen the Louvre and other stuff. So, I traipsed over there again (in much better weather), to discover that the darn place is closed on Mondays. Monday being the only day I was in Paris. I did have an excellent dinner in chinatown that night with a bunch of the bike tour guides who were also in town, but that whole thing was more like a layover than a trip.

So, I feel like I have to go for a few days just to redeem Paris for myself in my head. I’ve already checked the website, and the MD’O is open on both Sunday and Tuesday, even though it’s christmas, so I’m getting in come hell or high water. Seriously. that place has become my white whale. Ten years I’ve been trying to see those friggin’ paintings!

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