PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES
One can never get enough of Paris. No matter how many times one goes there, one will always find something new. We came to Gare de l’Est, Paris, in May. As promised, Holiday Inn is really directly opposite the train station. It is nice and comfortable, with multilingual staff, and all the creature comforts. One has to pay extra for wi-fi though, which is a shame. Breakfast is sumptuous, which is important if you want to spend the day sightseeing. All the information you may need is right there in the reception area. Get the city map and go. We turned left to Boulevard Strasbourg, and had a mild shock: it seemed to us that we were transported to Africa. Maybe it is one of the streets where the immigrants live or congregate. One can see people of all nationalities at work or studying, they seem to be well assimilated and adjusted to the life in any big city. Groups and crowds of mostly young idle men can make one uneasy anywhere. One cannot help but wonder: how do they get into the country? Where do they live? Do they work? When this long street ended, it seemed that an invisible barrier appeared, and we were back in the usual multi-racial metropolitan mix of people who were running along with a purpose. Walking back, we tried a parallel street, Boulevard Magenta, and it was OK. From the historical center, past the monstrosity called George Pompidou Center, past the impressive gorgeous statue of La Republique, past St. Martin’s Church, and then you can see Gare de l’Est. Somewhere along the way you may stumble on a street where, it seemed to me, all the jewelry and bijouterie stores were situated. Right next door to the hotel is a pretty restaurant called “La Strasbourgeoise”. The prices may seem a bit steep at first, but if you read the menu carefully, you will find dishes for any budget. The food is really good and the service excellent.
We went to Le Louvre to see the real Mona Lisa, and the recently discovered copy, together with some other masterpieces by Leonardo. It is fascinating to see the copy of perhaps the most famous picture in the world, but it is just that – a copy. Tickets to the museum can be bought in advance in participating store chains, like Carrefour and Achan, but one has to buy a separate ticket for the Leonardo exhibit (it does not include the original Mona Lisa, the picture is still in its usual place in one of the halls). Le Louvre holds several most easily recognizable depictions of women; one of them is Mona Lisa, and the other is Venus de Milo. One cannot describe them, one can just stop and stare.
Walking along Rue Rivoli past the Louvre and the gardens, one will find “Galignani’s” and “W.H. Smith”. In spite of the Italian-looking name, the former boasts that it is the very first British bookstore opened in Paris, while the latter says, “Opened in 1903”. Both have a good selection of books in English; W.H. Smith is perhaps more democratic in its tastes.
Chestnuts of all colors bloom all around Paris in May, along its beautiful boulevards and embankments, near Notre-Dame and in numerous parks and gardens. Transportation is easy. The metro goes all around the city. One has to look carefully at the plan and choose the correct line number, then check the desired direction. If you wish to go somewhere else, just tell the cashier the name of the place, and you will get a ticket which will allow you to change from the metro to RER trains. RER routes go by letters, not numbers; again, be sure to check the desired direction. Get a return ticket if needed. Even if the clerk does not speak English, you won’t have any problems explaining what you want. The French are very good with gestures, and people are always ready to help a tourist. Naturally one has to be careful in the street, especially at night. If you want something original, use batobus, the riverboat. Hop on/hop off anywhere along its route, and enjoy Paris in a novel way. When it’s really hot, as it was in May 2012, a boat trip may not be a bad idea 🙂