Monday, July 12, 2010

Bonjour, Paris!

Well, my whirlwind weekend in Paris ended at about 11:00 London time last night, clocking in right at 72 hours, only approximately 10 of which were spent sleeping. I will be catching up on sleep starting tonight, because class was still bright and early this morning, leaving before 8:00 to catch a ferry for Greenwich. But that's another support group, and for that matter another post.
After my last post I ate supper and finished packing, then had a nice chat with folks back home. This kept me enough awake to make sure everything was secured and/or packed properly and stagger downstairs and into the dorm courtyard (a standard meeting place) a little while before 11:00 P.M.
Others who were also going on the Paris subtrip journeyed out at different intervals, and we chatted for a while before the bus (pardon me, "coach") arrived. It was a nice enough ride, a double-decker with enough seats for everyone to fit with only one or two empty ones left.
While I am usually a night owl, I am not very much of one when I am getting over jetlag, so I drifted in and out during the drive to Dover. Actually, I think I was awake for almost all of it, although I was trying to get myself to sleep and rested my eyes right about the time we actually got there. While I (in the top deck, if you were wondering) witnessed the drive out of London and the waiting around at Dover (I think we missed the ferry we were initially aiming for, but since they didn't spread details I'm not absolutely sure), I accidentaly missed the moment when we actually drove onto the ferry. There wasn't a passport check at any point of the process. As soon as the coach was parked, those who were sleeping were roused and we all piled out and up the stairs into the main area of the ferry. By now it was after 2:00 AM. Most automatically claimed whatever couches were around and rested, I prowled around for a few minutes first to get the lay of the land--I didn't feel comfortable going to sleep somewhere I hadn't been before without at least looking around a bit. As soon as we began sailing a number of outlets opened up, including a coffee shop, a store that offered high-end products without tax, and a bookstore (which I saw first but took a while to open up).I was surprised by how much Disney advertising was around the ship, then saw a poster that explained why: there's a Disney themepark in some part of Paris.  I cashed a traveler's check and exchanged it for Euros, then looked around a bit in the now-open bookstore and found a good Paris map for a nice price. When someone in charge feels like it's important for someone my age to do most things in strange cities on their own, a map is a very nice thing to have. Feeling much better prepared for the somewhat imminent arrival, I then settled in a chair in one of the lounges and attempted to rest. It was about 2:30 AM by that time.
Some time later (I wasn't allowing myself to check my watch), we were rounded up and put back on the bus, which then took its turn getting off the ship and continuing on its merry way. This was when I successfully managed to get some sleep, only waking up as we were on the outskirts of Paris a couple of hours later. We had gained an hour's time difference, so it was about 9 or 10:00 when we arrived at our hotel, whose sign simply read Touring Hotel, near the edge of the Latin Quarter on the Rue Corvisard. We offloaded the bus and shuffled in; some lucky ones went up to their ready rooms, the rest of us were shown to a conference room for us to store our luggage in until ours were ready as well. I ran into a nearby restroom with a wipe and my makeup case and felt much better after a nice facial scrub and a quick but effective swipe of undereye cover. I thought I looked like a hag in training, but I was given the unsolicited compliment that I looked "fresh." There was a large box of fresh Parisian pastries waiting for us, which could have been viewed as a bribe or a peace offering by some. Then they handed out two-day passes to the Paris Metro system and--wait for it--free maps of Paris. Ah, well. I had an extra souvenir, but I still think the map I bought was clearer, and since it wasn't crammed for space with advertising bits it was easier to read and navigate by.
After giving us time to wolf down the pastries and encouraging us to have some coffee in the breakfast area of the hotel, we were divvied up into our outing groups, given an interesting pep talk ("I know you're tired, you're grouchy, and you haven't slept much, but....") and sent off into the wild blue yonder of Paris.
The prof in charge of my tour was one that I had met before once or twice, a thoroughly French person with a French name that I don't know how to spell, and so for the time being will leave him nameless. He led our bunch of clueless and sleepless students to the Rodin gardens and museum (technically known as the Musee Rodin), and lectured on the Art of Rodin and the specific contexts of some of the more prominent statues in the gardens. He would get so far into his lectures that our group of less than 20 quickly grew until about half the people in the area had joined our little tour. Then we went out and through historically significant parts of Paris, such as Les Invalides (within sight of the Eiffel Tower, on the horizon!) and into the Musee d'Orsay. We were given 45 minutes to look around on our own, or perhaps get something to eat or drink (it being around lunchtime by this point), and were told to meet at the bottom of the stairs at 2:30. Still being full from the large and late pastry breakfast, I wandered around the museum and admired the collection of works from the impressionist and post-impressionist periods. Plenty of Monet, Manet, Van Gogh (including his self-portrait), Renoir (inlcuding one small but vibrant study for Waterlilies). Checking my clock, I knew my 45 minutes were coming to a close, yet my watch still said that it was a few minutes before 1:30. I looked up at the large clock which is prominently featured in the design of the former train station-turned museum, and found my watch to be short an hour. This was how I found out about the 1-hour time difference between London and Paris. Here's a link to a bit of Musee d'Orsay fun--an interactive map: click on any area of the museum and it will show you what art is kept there.
Because it took others in our group (including the instructor) longer to figure out the difference in time, I joined a couple other people who were done and walked back to the hotel. Did I mention that Paris was rather hot? By hot, I mean that we all baked. I was astonished to find that after Paris I had the beginnings of a tan. To be clear, I am still only slightly less pale than someone who lives in a cave or some other sunless place, but now that paleness is a little more golden than it was. It's slight enough that someone had to examine my face for about a minute before they could detect it, but since it's the closest thing to a summer tan I've had in years I am thrilled. But back to the baking, and still un-airconditioned Paris. I'm pretty sure that I chugged my body weight in water in a continuous attempt to remain hydrated, and was most definitely "glowing," to use the genteel term for what (from anyone but a lady) might be called sweating. Fellow students waxied poetic about the fans they had left behind in London. A common discussion topic (besides ice and personal fans) was How Many Showers Have You Taken Today? What amused me was the fact that all the showers mentioned were taken with hot water.
To continue with the narrative, I had a small lunch back in my hotel room (my first ever all to myself), then freshened up. After allowing myself some time to look over schedules, plan, plot, and journal, it was time to assemble for The Dinner. This was something mentioned throughout all of the planning for this trip, without very many actual details. What it ended up being was everyone starting out in a long caravan of hungry people who, upon direction from the person who set up reservations, split off into various eateries around Paris. I was in the second-to-last group, after the largest group and before the vegetarians and vegans' group. There were about a dozen of us in a cozy French restaraunt, armed with translated menus for a 3-course meal with blessings and a promise of payment from the program director. While some people ordered the item which they didn't know anything about, I stuck with food that consisted of ingredients I knew. First I had an appetizer of ham and cheese wrapped together very nicely (it was fancy enough that I took a picture to show you), then beef and onions with a side of potatoes--also something much more fancy and utterly delectable than it sounds (San Antonio friends, it compared to The Barn Door in taste!)--finished with a dessert of fruit. While some were ready to hit the karaoke bar they saw on the way, I and a few friends found our way back to the hotel and went to bed. Unfortunately for me way up on the fourth floor of the hotel which was generally agreed to be about 20 degrees warmer than outside, I couldn't get my window open that night, so I didn't sleep very much. However, I did manage to get enough sleep to get up the next morning bright and early and be ready in time for an excursion to the Louvre, where I spent the rest of the morning and a bit of the afternoon. I saw the one and only Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, the Muse of the Louvre (a little-noticed but beautiful statue), Psyche and Cupid, and the Venus de Milo, among many other amazing sculptures, paintings, and some "awesome ceiling alerts." Then I took off with two new friends, a student and a literature professor (who knows French very well, and translated as needed), and we saw some more sights. A beatiful and moving memorial for those who were deported from France when Hitler was in control of Paris (I'm providing a link to the Wikipedia page about it), the historical and well-known bookstore where Hemingway was known to hang out called Shakespeare and Co. The lesser-known Canadian bookstore which was marvelously jam-packed with books, Notre Dame Cathedral, a small eatery with marvelous sorbet that we ducked into to avoid some rain. Just a little bit of everything in Paris. We had some time off after we got back, then it was off to the Eiffel Tower, or the Tour Eiffel as the natives call it. We met up with the rest of our group in the middle of the area underneath, then at the appropriate moment all moved down to the river Seine where we had tickets to a lovely boat cruise as the sun set (starting at about 10:00 at night, in case you were wondering). Then we oohed and aahed at the Eiffel's lights, and dispersed. I and a small group of friends did a quick trip over to the Arc de Triomphe, getting there just too late to cross in the underpass and actually stand in it but still getting a pleasant view from an adjacent street corner. Then it was back to the hotel and to bed, with a friend managing to open the previously obstinate window in no time flat.
Sunday morning I arose, got dressed, packed almost everything, went down for breakfast, came back up and packed my toothbrush and toothpaste, checked out of my room, stowed my bag back in the conference room, then went out with the group to a Gregorian mass at Notre Dame Cathedral. I loved the music, and the acoustics were absolutely amazing. Afterwards our group did a short self-guided tour around the cathedral as another mass started, then exited the building, walked over the bridge, and ate lunch at a pleasant Italian restaurant outside where we only had to look over in a certain direction to see the cathedral. Then we made our way back to the hotel, loaded our luggage into the bus, waited a while and then loaded ourselves into the bus, and began our journey back.
The good news: we made it back to the dorms safely, and no one was deported at the UK passport check in Calais. The bad news: our bus had no air-conditioning, and were my fellow students not so limp from heat I think there would have been a mutiny. As it was, most people inhaled ice cream at the one stop before Calais, and almost everyone bought a water bottle only slightly smaller than themselves. We enjoyed the crossing back over. I translated my euros back into £, walked around an open deck for a bit in the marvelous breeze, and then had my first fish and chips in the ferry food court. Then it was reluctantly back into the bus for about another hour and a half, and then just unloading back at the dorms. I was asleep within the hour.
Image from Microsoft ClipArt

1 comment:

  1. Megan! You write so charmingly! Keep it up and continue to have a MARVELOUS time as you travel. You will relish these notes and narratives once you get back. Don't forget to relish the "being there" now!

    Ginny Hurst