Date: Thursday, September 17, 1998
Location: À Paris

Breakfast is standard French fare:  a croissant, coffee (pas pour moi), yogurt, a quarter pound of butter (to be shared by 4, so the pensione in Rothenburg still wins the butter wars), some corn flakes, a pitcher of milk, and a few bananas.

We rearrange our "booty bag" under the bus, and board.  The lunch stop, about 45 minutes outside Paris, is at an Autogrill.  In Italy and Switzerland, these Augogrills offered good food at slightly elevated prices.  At this Autogrill, we got very elevated prices and mostly poor food.  Brig and I shared

  • a salad buffet with
    • tomato and rice salad (awful)
    • tomatoes, onions, and olives
    • couscous salad (the best of the bunch, but not that good)
    • cuke slices
  • summer plate with fried chicken and carrots
  • bread roll
  • raspberry/kiwi fruit tart (good)
FF110 = $20.  For this?  And we waited in line forever, just to pay for this stuff.

Driving to Paris, the first evidence of arrival is the Eiffel Tower coming into view.  We drive down the Right Bank of the Seine, from West to East, until Johny does his final precision download for us at the Place de la Bastille.  Bye, bye, Johny!

The rooms aren't ready at the Hotel Castex, so we do a WC break and start a walking tour...

A view from Samaritaine dept store towards Sacre Coeur.The Eiffel Tower as seen from the rooftop of Samaritaine.From the roof of the Samaritaine Department Store, we get a cheap (okay, free) overview of Paris.

A ticket to Sainte Chapelle church.Sainte Chapelle from the outside.  Not much to look at, eh?Sainte Chapelle's upper chapel.  This photo is a mere shadow of the real thing.A couple of the stained glass windows in Sainte Chapelle.First stop is Sainte Chapelle.  You have to go through security to reach it, since it resides within the Hall of Justice.  It doesn't look like much from the outside.  Once you get inside, though, to the upper chapel (the lower chapel is mostly a souvenir shop), it is incredible (sorry, there's that word again).  Glass walls were not invented in the 20th century, after all.  This place was built in the course of only 6 years, and finished in 1248.  The upper chapel's walls are perhaps 60 feet high, and primarily composed of stained glass.  The effect is indescribable, and photographs can only give you a very pale hint of what the experience is actually like.  According to Rick, most of the glass is original.  It was preserved by various people during the Revolutionary period.  The chapel was used as a granary for awhile, until people came to their senses and restored the church.

West entrance to Notre Dame de Paris.South side of Notre Dame.  Note the famous flying buttresses.Notre Dame does little for me.  Another vast monument to Catholicism, without the art or grandeur of Saint Peters.  The stained glass is very nice, but after Sainte Chapelle, it's hard to get excited about the relatively small quantity at Notre Dame, and its great distance from the viewer.  Notre Dame is rather dark, and the ambiance is almost oppressive. (Where's Quasimodo?)

The Latin Quarter is indeed reminiscent of Greenwich Village, as Gene suggests.  We pass several eclectic movie theaters, and more eateries per linear foot than Hong Kong has.  Many of these are creperies.  (We never do get a chance to try one.)  And there are plenty of cafes, though it's interesting to note the extreme price difference between eating inside vs. in an outdoor or glass-enclosed cafe.  For many cheaper items, the price can triple (e.g., coffee is FF5 inside, FF14.50 outside).  You're paying for the view, and probably also for the reduced turnover as people linger longer in the outdoor seating.

We return to the hotel to move into our room (#35 in Hotel Castex, on the 4th floor, with shower and washbasin, WC down the hall).  On the way out, Gene and Rick invite us to follow them as they seek dinner.  We stop at their first suggestion, La Poste (a few doors from the hotel).  They keep seeking.

Ling and Ray join us at La Poste (presumably, named for the post office that is across the street).  We take the plattes du jour:

  • tarte au muenster avec salade.  This is a very nice cheese tart, only slightly like a quiche, and clearly just freshly made.
  • rouget aux beurre blanc - red snapper filets in a light white sauce, with rice.  Also very good.
  • a pichet of white wine (not too dry)
  • a pear charlotte.  This is basically a tart, but with a cake base.  Very fresh, very nice, covered in a light, slightly sweet white sauce.
  • a basket of bread.
FF160 or $30.  Not too bad, for Paris.  This was a much better value than the Autogrill!

As the bus brought us down the Champs Elysées, we noticed some aircraft on display, on either side of the street, stretching west from Place de la Concorde.  Brig and I head over there by Metro, and stroll among airplanes, helicopters, and rockets; new and old.  They are calling it "Champs d'Avions," a celebration of 100 years of [French] flight.  More or less 100 years -- they include a reproduction of a man-carrying glider/kite from 1856.  There are a couple of new (to me) aircraft, including one from 1946, the first french jet.

There was a tent pavilion, displaying a couple of guys building an airplane.  The goal is to build this carbon composite bird in 10 days.  They were at the end of their seventh day, and were putting finishing touches on the airframe.  We watched them glue on panels covering the sides of some NACA-style air inlets.  I saw no evidence of lay-up jigs, so I think they're just gluing a kit plane together!

Champs D'Avions poster.  This was in most Metro stations.
Champs d'Avions poster.  This was in most Metro stations.
A Rafale fighter mounted on a plinth at end of Champs Elysee.  (Eiffel Tower in background.)
A Rafale fighter mounted on a plinth at end of Champs Elysées.  (Eiffel Tower in background.)
SO 6000 Triton.  France's first jet aircraft.
SO 6000 Triton.  France's first jet aircraft.  (March, 1946)
Operation Champs Elysee.  Building a plane in 10 days.  This is 7th day.
Operation Champs Elysées.  Building a plane in 10 days.  This is 7th day.
Operation Champs Elysee.  A different view of the plane under construction.
Operation Champs Elysées.  A different view of the plane under construction.
Okay, who can identify this jet trainer?
Okay, who can identify this jet trainer?

Back to the hotel, to crash...

By the way, the Paris Metro is cleaner, quieter, prettier, and easier to use than the NYC subway.  The cars ride on tires, with horizontal tire bumpers to minimize swaying.  Stations are well marked with regard to exit locations and train destinations.  There is no smoking in the stations or trains (in Paris?  Impossible!).  There is only one advantage of NYC subways over the Paris Metro:  In New York, the subway cars are mostly air conditioned.  In the summer, in Paris, count on sweating.