20 July 2012

ticket for train

How many bones must a man throw down?

Only two things on the list today: Train ticket and the Paris Catacombs.
Back to Gare du Nord. Back in line. This time we try the TGV. When we get to the desk, we are told you cannot buy TGV tickets at the TGV ticket desk (? so french) So we line back up at the French railway ticket desk. This time we get lucky. This lady speaks english and is willing to help us. We love her! The only downside is that the trains are full and the only ticket available to Macon leaves at 6.45 in the morning from a station across Paris. This will mean a very early rise, but we have no choice. The trains are all booked as today is the start of summer holidays for most of Paris. We have to be in Macon tomorrow as Anna’s brother will be there returning a rental car.
The early wake up is nothing to look forward to, but we do look forward to the catacombs.

Before it’s called a catacomb

The Paris catacombs is the biggest necropolis in the world. Not in size, but in the amount of people buried there. About six million. Back in the day, they quarried the stone for Paris’s big buildings here. When later the city cemeteries got full and became a health hazard, they moved all the bones into the old quarry tunnels. Later, when it was opened for the public, they rearranged the bones a bit to make it look more attractive.
We expected a line, but not one as big as this. The entrance is in a little building on the edge of a round park. The line stretches three quarters around this park, and does not seem to move much. We join and try to be patient. It takes almost three hours to finally buy a ticket and make our way down.

And how many bones must a man go through?

This better be worth it. We waited for three hours to do a one hour walk. The catacombs are very big, but we are only allowed to do this one walk and not explore on our own. We do understand it, but it does take the fun out of it a bit. The skulls and bones are nicely stacked up at the front. Femurs, skulls, femurs, skulls, etc. Everything else was chucked behind. They missed a big opportunity to do something more creative with it. We were not allowed to take photo’s with flash, so sorry if they are blurry.  Winding our way through the named streets underground was interesting though, and although, not fun, was fun.

Before he finds great Auntie Joan?

When leaving, our bags get checked. They want to see that we did not take any bones with us. Andrew makes a joke, but that is not appreciated. To prove his point the Frenchman shows the catch for the last few hours. He has a bag full of bones and even whole skulls that people have tried to smuggle out to take home. Why do people do that? What are you going to do with a strangers skull any way?





19 July 2012

Notre Dame
Museum of Medieval History

Last day of the museum card, so we have a lot to do! We have decided not to go back to the Louvre as we really did not like it. We are going to Centre Pompidou and the Notre Dame today. As the museum is open late tonight we’ll start with the church. First though we need to buy our train ticket south for the day after tomorrow. We walk from the hotel to Gare du North. This turned out to be a bit further than we expected, and were exhausted by the time we reached the station. It is a big train station where it should not be a problem to get some info and book a seat. Should not be a problem.

A lot of things should not be a problem in France. It is a modern western country after all. Than why is everything a problem and so bloody complicated? We go to the office of the France rail way and wait in line. Here we get told that we are in the wrong line and need to go. Go where then?? That we are not told, so we try the other ticket office further down the hall. After about half an hour it is our turn. We politely ask if the lady speaks english. “A little” is the reply. Oh, great, that should make things easier! We would like to buy a ticket for the train to Macon for the day after tomorrow.. “Not here” ok, where then? “Not here” She points behind us. Her little bit of english seems to be just two words. We still don’t know where to go, but she obviously doesn’t want to help us. We go to the automated ticket machines. We seem to find the tickets we need, but they seem ridiculously expensive. Sigh. We give up. We have spend enough time doing this, and we need to make the most of the museumcard today. We will get a ticket tomorrow then..

No time for a river cruise. Too busy building the beach.

After waiting in line for half an hour to buy a metro ticket (they really need to put in more automated machines) we go to the Notre Dame. We get out on the island and start with having lunch along the Seine. A bit chilly today, but hopefully it will warm up. Heading to the Notre Dame we come across the chapel that we also want to see today, but the lines are so long, we leave it for now. (not allowed to jump line here) A little bit further we see the Concierge. Another museum. Not very popular as there is no waiting line at all. Perfect for us. It turns out to be the old prison. They even locked up Marie Antoinette here before they chopped of her head. They made a nice museum here, and the signs are in four different languages! (did you hear that Louvre? A tiny little museum can do it in four languages.) So we actually know what we are looking at! Definitely worth the time.

THE Church!

Time to go to the Notre Dame. A beautiful church. Also one of the big touristy things to do, so the line crosses the square in front twice.. Here we cannot jump line so we join. It is a pretty quick moving line though, and it doesn’t take us long to get in. Amazing big rosette stained glass windows. You can climb to the top for a view but as there is a line for this too we decline. We want to do the crypt. We cannot find a sign for the crypt entrance though. We asked and get told it is left of the square. This is not really much to go on. We walk all around and eventually see a small sign on a concrete wall. This is the entrance! With the mass of people it was hard to find. The crypt ticket is again include in the museum pass, and here there are no lines. After making our way in, we discover why. It is not actually a crypt. It is just a space underground, near a church. It is not a burial place. It is an excavation of older Paris. Still interesting, but not what we expected. They have some old walls and building leftovers, along with the pottery shards they have found there.

We feel we are done with the island and make our way past all the nurseries (?) to the bridge south. We are heading for the Pantheon.. The area around is really nice. The Latin Quarter is full of cafe’s, restaurants, and an amazing amount of book shops. All specializing in their own little niche. From comics to french literature, via the occult and pop-up books.

Better then the Notre Dame

The Pantheon was build to be a church, but by the time it was done the revolution had happened and they turned it into a secular building. It is beautiful and impressive. It is huge! Unfortunately it is not in the best condition so some parts of the ceiling have nets under them in case bits fall down. The paintings are very impressive, and only partially religious. The place is used to bury famous french people. Some get nice tombs upstairs with statues looking over them, but most are downstairs, in the crypt (!) Here are lots of Frenchies, but we only know a few. The one we looked out for was Marie Curie and her hubbie. Nice to see that she still gets fresh flowers.

Scratch & Sniff Tapestry

From here we had to walk our way back across town to get to the Museum of Modern Art.  On the way we found a beautiful old gothic building.  This happens to be the Medieval museum.  Again covered by our pass, so we stopped in for a quick look.  Glad we did.  It has to be one of our favorite museums.  The Louvre can learn a lot about how to run a museum from this place.  The information was multi language.  The exhibitions were well spaced.  Not too crowded, and all in theme.  The most famous is a set of tapestries of the five senses.  Not sure of the details any more, but in a dark room with very little light at the top of the building.  The tone was set when we walked into the room, and they dont disappoint.  The only problem was that we had to rush through the last section as it was closing time.  This was all the jewelery and gold.  Still we got a good look on our way through.

Picasso and all the contemporaries are here in Pompidou

A drink at one of the many terraces and a break before the next big one. We are tired, but since this is the last day on the museum card, Anna is determined to see Pompidou. She remembers it from an earlier trip to Paris years ago. This is the modern art museum. We decide to again walk there as it is not far (why?)
We did not spend much time there, as we really did not have the energy any more. Just a quick walk through the permanent expo. The Picasso’s, Dali’s, Braque’s and Miro’s. Then a quick glance at the new modern stuff.  It was interesting, and the collections are massive.  You could happily spend days going through the museum.  Although I want a motorised wheelchair to do it with!
Dinner and wine in our neighbourhood.


18 July 2012

Arc De Triumph
Cafe Culture
Architecture Museum

Skip the Que? Yes Please. I don’t want to wait until tomorrow.

Today we are doing some of the must sees of Paris, starting with the Louvre. We have bought the two day museums pass which gives entrance to most museums and most importantly : You get to skip the lines!
This came in handy already at the Louvre. It always feels good to be allowed to bypass the three hour cue.
Inside we got disappointed. There is hardly any explanation in English! Walking through the old collections from Mesopotamia and the Arab peninsula, it is hard to understand what the cultures and objects are about, if (like us) you don’t read French.. Every now and then there is a plastic card you can pick up at the door, that tells you something about the most important object in that room.. Very minimal.. And we are shocked that one of the most famous museums in the world doesn’t seem to want to make any effort for visiting foreigners. It can’t be that hard to have the signs in two languages. The very small museums in Jordan managed..

Religion. You can’t get away from it.

After some quick walk thoughs of the antiquities, we made our way to the paintings. This is what the Louvre is most famous for, so we have to see the highlights. Once again, nothing but French.. A lot of nice ancient paintings, but the crowds are distracting. You end up almost paying more attention to trying not to walk into people (or avoiding people that seem determined to walk into you) then actually looking at the art. The mandatory highlight is off course the Mona Lisa. Not sure how you are suppose to see it, as there are so many people in this room, and it is all extremely disorganised. We snap a picture from a distance and decide to leave the Louvre all together. We can come back later if we want to, but that seems highly unlikely..

Our best view of the Mona Lisa. Dont know what the big deal is. Can see it better online.

We walk through the park along the Seine. Why are all the Parisians jogging in the middle of the day? It wasn’t the plan to walk all the way to the Arc the Triumph, but it didn’t seem far at the start. The Champs Elysees is longer then we thought, but the Arc does look good from a distance. Up close it is just massive! We make our way in and up to the top. Great views over Paris and the different roads that link up with the big roundabout.

Sunbathing in the City. The sand wasnt ready on the Seine yet.

Its bigger than it looks!

That was the planned part of the day done. We go for a wander around the smaller streets of the neighbourhood. Freakishly expensive lunch in a local cafe. No idea how a sandwich can cost this much, but we guess that is just Paris.  Considering that we had avoided lunch in the main streets to save a few euros.  It was probably more expensive…

Architecture Museum. Not just about doorways.

We come past the Architecture museum and as it is also covered by our museumpass, go in. This is a really well set up museum. The first area is full of plaster casts of different architectural features of old buildings all around France. The carvings above church doors, statues and gargoyles all in actual size.
Upstairs is an expo on government housing and the different problems and solutions people have come up with.

Do we really need to tell you what it is?

By now our feet where killing us! We where a bit surprised. We did walk a lot, but we have been walking a lot everywhere on this trip. We struggled to make our way out. Next door is a little park, looking out on the Eifel tower and we took a break here. We were entertained by a group of American Christians dancing and singing about the lord. It was time to leave when they invited us over for a talk..
The thing we have started noticing the most is the amount of outdoor music and busking.  This is great, as there is a free concert on almost every corner.  Then there is the music from the buskers reverberating throughout the metro stations.
We took the metro home.


17 July 2012

Arrive Paris
Church on Mountain
Finding Hotel

Leaving Jordan.  Happy but would have liked to spend longer there by the end.  Andrew was great, and although the Cliff is not the most fancy place, he is a gem.

Grabbing our bags we tried to take a taxi.  The first refused to turn on the meter, and only wanted to take us to the airport directly.  The second wanted 5JD and the third was just a car.  They wanted 3JD.  finally we managed to catch a taxi to the trusty North Bus station.  2JD with Meter.  However he kept asking how the car was, and whether we wanted to take a tour.  Even though he knew we were off to the Airport.  At the bus station we were harassed by taxi drivers as soon as we got out of our taxi.  What were they thinking?  We caught a taxi to the bus station, just so we could catch another taxi?  On finding out we wanted to go to the Airport, they kept telling us how expensive it was by bus, and that it would be cheaper to pay the 12JD to have them take us there.  Not accepting this, mainly because we are sick of taxis, we kept walking and found the bus.  It seemed like an eternity of telling people no, we are not interested.  In reality it was only a few minutes.  The busses to the airport are clearly marked, and easy to find.  They leave on the hour, and only cost 3JD a person.  Better yet, they are proper buses and have storage for bags.  We cannot say we were not worried.  The express bus is comfy, and pretty good.  It just isnt express.  It takes about 1 hour for the bus to get there, and considering how far it is, that’s pretty good.

At the airport, we had to go through security before we could even get our boarding passes.  This should be easy.  Put your gear on the xray machine, and walk through the metal detector.  No.  That’s too simple.  Andrew was told to join the women’s line with Anna, and after going through the que, was told that he would have to go back to the Mens.  No surprise.  They were feeling up the women (by a woman), rather than letting them go through the detector.  So Back in the Mens line, I was told to go back to the women’s.  No.  That will not happen twice.  Stripping down anything metal, belt, shoes (in case I had stepped on metallic chewing gum) Wallet, etc.  The same as any airport over reacting to non existent terrorist threats, and justifying the money they get from governments to increase security.  Considering if anything was to happen, it would be a baggage handler, rather than a passenger.  However you have to be seen to do something….

As Anna was stuck with the bags, I breezed through easily.  Just waiting for the people in front to pass through.  On the other side, I  found someone going through Anna’s bags, as she stood there looking annoyed.  It was all good though.  They didn’t find the stash of 10,000 year old antiques we were smuggling out of the country in the broken wheels of our suitcases ;).  That done we were allowed to go get our passes.  Nope.  Still not done.  On leaving the table where all the contents of Anna’s bag were examined under a microscope, we came across a jumped up little turkey that wanted to prove he was important, and sent us back to the table to go through it again with my bag.  I was a bit miffed by this stage.  We were getting bent over before we could leave the country, and I do not like the feelings associated with this.  I started to lose my temper.

The bloke assigned to go through the bags was also surprised.  He was good enough that between him and Anna, I could cool down while he did his job.  Still, If your airport is incompetent enough that you cannot use an x-ray machine, let us know at the start, and we will try flying from a different country.  I am sure Israel can do it better….  On looking back, it was only westerners that were having their bags checked.  Male or female, it did not seem to matter.  We talked about it, and it seems as if it is payback.  Imagine being a Muslim going through customs in America.  I would not like to be that person.  So this could be a bit of leveling the playing field.  Completely understandable and probably nowhere near as bad as what some people would have to go through.  We have heard stories of well paid Jordanians with no criminal history that are Catholic, but are still refused visas to visit family in New Zealand and America (not sure about Australia, but would not be surprised) so let them.

After feeling like a pinball for the last 45 minutes, we were allowed to check in.  This all went smoothly. Customs and Immigration was a breeze.  Seriously.  It was really well done, smooth and easy!  The airport itself is pretty boring.  Expensive shops, food at three times the price of an expensive restaurant, and bad seating, so we made our way to the gate to wait.  When we were there we found a power point to charge the Ipod.  However I had forgotten to pack the adaptor.  Typical.

Our second flight on Royal Jordanian started out well.  A shuttle but out to the tarmac.  It was a smaller plane, and it turns out that it was only half full.  Score.  Before we found this out however, we found out how much leg room there was between the seats.  I was surprised… There was lots!  More than I have experienced on most cattleclass flights.  It was great.  During the trip we had multiple servings of wine.  Not the best, but as it was the first we had drunk in a while, on a Muslim airline, it was pretty good.  The food was even edible.  All in all, a great flight and we have to reevaluate our opinion of Jordanian air after this.  I would even go as far as recommending it (If you don’t get the standard 747 that we had on the way here.).

Love the streets of Paris

Our arrival in Paris was greeted with no fanfare, and very little ceremony.  Just the way we like it.  Immigration was a breeze and it was the first time I have ever cleared customs before the baggage has left the plane.  Seriously, we were waiting at the carousel for about 20 minutes before the bags arrived.  Normally Customs and Immigration are a pain in the everything.  In Paris it is walk to the start of the line.  Give your passport and wait for 20 seconds then go through.  There was only one small issue.  Anna did not get a stamp, and was not happy at this.

Catching the train to the city also posed no problems.  It is nice being in a western country again.  Just not used to the prices any more.  The ticket was a fortune!  Well, 27E (euro) for the two of us.  Still it is a shock.

The metro is very clear, and easy to find your way around, again a pleasure.  Just the steps up and down were a pain.  To Gar De Nord (North Railway Station) and change to Line 4.  Simple.  Really it was.  The hotel is just around the corner from the metro station, and although they don’t speak much english (not surprising) we checked in and checked out the room.  The matress was a bit springy (not enough padding on the springs) but that was solved with a few blankets under the sheets.  The room is a good size and the shower was tiny.  Still this is Paris.  They only discovered running water in the 1990’s.  It will do us for the next couple of days nicely.  It even has powerpoints.  (If weird french ones that don’t fit any of the plugs we have)

As we had made it in good time, and it gets dark late at this time of year, we set out to get our bearings in this strange big city.  This is not onerous, as we know if we get lost, it is only a metro ticket home.  Our current objective was to find the big church on the hill.  Sometimes this appeared over the Parisian skyline of 7 story high buildings, but more often than not, was out of sight.  We found every staircase we could going up.  Walking past a lot of Bars, and Cafes demonstrating the love the french people have of sitting or standing out on the sidewalks watching life go by.

We made it up the hill eventually, and it was worth the walk, as the view over the inner city of Paris is fantastic.  Apparently a lot of other people thought so as well.  The place was more packed than a pub giving out free beer.  There were people everywhere.  This is a bit unsettling for us now.  Living in the desert, and being in weird places during the off seasons.  Crowds are a bit of a novelty at the moment.  The babble of voices, people pushing past both ways, cars honking their horns and hawkers trying to sell key ring sized Eifel towers.

Picture? Paint your Picture Sir?

The building itself is impressive.  Perched on top of the hill, rising up over the city.  We had approached the back way, and fond an impressive set of stairs leading directly down the hill.  It seemed that this is one of the prime viewing spot for sunset.  The church is Sacre Coeur.  A perfect gothic cathedral rising up out of the hill.  The inside is as ornate as the outside, and a perfect place to start enjoying the french ambiance.

As we were leaving the area, we wound back around the hill towards Montmartre, passing live music and lots of artists.  caricatures, painting, lots of small galleries and plenty of restaurants.  We started looking for a place to get a drink, and considering how many terraced cafe there were, this was a surprise.  They were all full.  Eventually we found a place near the hotel.  It was good to sit for a bit and have a drink.  On the way home we picked up a (very un-french) pizza, from the local Tunisians next door.  Surprising them with our shukran (thankyou in Arabic).  A good start to our stay in France/Europe.