|Date:||Thursday, September 17, 1998|
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
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...
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.
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:
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!
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.