Our tour director for the weekend is a Brit by the name of Joel. He is a terribly funny guy, and I am actually hoping to work with him again. Though he is based in London, he does speak French and Spanish, so there is a chance that I could book him. He has been doing this for years, so I imagine he has much repeat business. If there is a way to have him for my spring tour, I intend to arrange it.
After posting earlier, I went downstairs for the brief Tour Director Orientation. This is the first meeting that the tour director holds with a group to brief them on the location of the hotel, making sense of the metro, etc. and so on. We then walked over to the RER station and headed off. We took the A train down to Nation (a station) where we got off of the RER and made our way to the metro. We took the #1 line to Hotel de Ville, the Parisian City Hall.
Once we exited there, I truly felt that we were in Paris. It looked like Paris, if that makes sense. We stood there for a while, and Joel talked about how the French and we Americans are more alike than admit. When it comes to forms of government, he is right. Though we count the UK as a great ally, we have more in common with the French style of government. After the civics lesson, we began to meander through Paris.
After a short stroll, Joel stopped us in an alleyway. He pointed out that the huge building to our left was completely bowing out in the middle… if you looked up the wall, it is obviously bulging. The reasons for this include the fact that the building is at least three hundred years old; plus, it was built on marshlands. As he prepared us to move on, he mentioned that around the corner was a 700 year old church (which he described as being “ten for a penny in Paris”) which had a rather whimsical fountain, the Igor Stravinsky Fountain, in front of it.
Whimsical doesn’t begin to describe it. It was incredible! It included such pieces as huge red lips with water shooting out, a snake with water coming out of its mouth, and a mermaid with water coming out of one nipple! What is astounding to me is that you find such modern (postmodern?) things right next to the ancient. On the other side of the fountain is the Centre Georges Pompidou which is an architectural wonder. It is the building that is famous for having the guts on the outside.
We then wandered around through an area that is home to a seven story mall (which Joel pronounces as mal). The interesting thing about the mall is that all seven stories are subterranean. After we walked past it, we saw the back of L’eglise St-Eustache (the Cathedral of St. Eustice). Joel gave a wonderful explanation of flying buttresses, then used me and three others to give an example of how they work to support the walls of the cathedral. I am hoping somebody can email me some pictures of that one.
From there, we walked over to the place which was the birthplace and original home of Louis XXIV. I think I got some good pictures of the perspective gardens there. We then made our way past the back of the Louvre, down to the metro, and over to dinner.
For dinner, we ate at a restaurant called Flam’s. It is a neat place though not as cool as the place where we ate last night. The food was good, and there was lots of it. They served a dish called flammekueche, a very thin bread (think ultra-thin pizza crust) with a cheese melted on top and various toppings. It is somewhat pizza-like, and there is a chance we will eat there in March.
After dinner, some of the group was simply too tired to go on, so they returned to the hotel. The rest of us went up to Montmartre, a huge hill here in Paris. The name literally means Martyr Mountain, and it is named for St. Denis, the patron saint of Paris. He was the first bishop of Paris, and many people became believers because of him. As a result, he was decapitated with a sword. Apparently, after he was beheaded, he picked up his head with one hand and then walked several miles… preaching a sermon the entire time. At the top of the hill is the church Sacre Couer which is simply amazing. Also from the top of the hill, I caught my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. The Parisian skyline is breathtaking from up there.
After wandering around for a bit, we made our way back down the hill to the metro station. After riding back to Nation, we got back on the RER to head back to Val de Fontenay.
And now my little story for the day ends, as I am tired. Tomorrow will come early, and it will bring the business portion of the trip. We will spend the morning in conference until at least 2:00. After that, who knows? I am in Paris, and there is a world of possibilities!