Tuesday, December 21, 2004

PARIS Day01//08.Nov.04 - Bonjour Paris!: Montparnasse & Luxembourg Qtr

Morning person that I am, I often relish my ability to naturally wake up early to witness the quiet daybreak. With the screeching of airplane tyres and the announcement that we have arrived at Charles De Gaulle (CDG), the morning of 8th Nov was definitely less quiet. But more exciting. S and I trampled into CDG, which lacked the typical chaos and buzz of an airport since it was still dark at around 6am. Not needing to retrive any check-in luggage, we went to the toilet to freshen up for the adventure ahead.

Our first quest was to look for the station where we will be able to buy tickets that will get us to the city centre. After a few signage and a short bus ride, we finally found the ticket counter. Based on my guidebook's advice, I had earlier planned to buy the Paris Visite 5-day pass, and with that in mind was already practising how to place that order at the counter. With one finger pointing at the Paris Visite illustration in my guidebook, I told the Frenchman in charged "deux Paris Visite cinq jour s'il vous plaît"*. Perhaps it was my earnest attempt, but I have met my first friendly (and most helpful) Frenchman. Not only did he not condescend my juvenile attempt at French by replying totally in English, and yet at the same time trying to be intelligible to a non-French, he interacted with me in a mixture of French and English. He made it very clear to me that I should buy the Carte Orange^ instead of Paris Visite. Not only is it cheaper, it's a one-week pass that I would still be able to use on my last and sixth day in Paris. This genial man's advice^^ saved me enough (at least €31) for a decent meal for two in Paris.

Paris - Carte Orange

Carte Orange in hand, S and I hopped onto the RER**. The journey on the B3 line towards the city centre took approximately an hour and we reached Montparnasse to witness Parisians making their way to work/school, and our first view of Eiffel during daybreak.

Paris - Eiffel @ Daybreak

We arrived at Libertel Montparnasse way before the official check-in time, but was told that we could check into our room. Our room was small, utilitarian and clean. After unpacking and refreshing ourselves, we took to the streets of Montparnasse. Montparnasse is located on the left bank of the Seine and has an arty and literary reputation being once the hangout of artists and writers that came in droves when Montmartre became too commercialised and expensive. True to its nature, S and I came across countless cafes (including the famous La Coupole - Hemingway's hangout) cinemas, theatres, one sleepy cemetery (filled with dead artists?) and Tour Montparnasse (what used to be Europe's tallest building).

Paris - collage_Montparnasse

After walking past cafes after cafes, it wasn't long before we ducked into one (Le Veronese) and ordered our very first French croissant and cafe and partook in the favourite Parisian sport of people watching while sipping coffee. We found the croissant a little cold. Thankfully, such was not the case with our lunch where S had traditional French omelette jambon (ham) and I had omelette champignon (mushroom) for lunch before taking the metro to Luxembourg Quarter.

Paris - Omelette Champignon

Readers of Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" will be able to relate with the next place we visited. St. Sulpice is the church with the controversial "rose line". Thanks to Dan Brown, St. Sulpice is now a must stop for "Da Vinci Code" tours. Tourists flock around the line and read with amusement the disclaimer where the church tries to dissociate itself Brown's fanciful exposition.

Paris - collage_St. Sulpice

Mainstream literature aside, we next made our way to a political landmark - Palais du Luxembourg^^^. A former palace that is now the senate, it is fronted by a garden - Jardin du Luxembourg^^^^. I had a lovely lovely time walking the grounds of this garden with its statues (all female!), fountains and octagonal lake. The crisp cool air, wet drizzle, and kids running admist the mahogany and rust coloured leaves, it was delightfully autumnal and a perfect embodiment of my idea of a park during fall season.

Paris - collage_Luxembourg

Having successfully covered the Montparnasse and Luxembourg Quarter as planned for our first day in Paris, we went back to the hotel to catch some rest before dinner. For dinner, we had it at a creperie just down the road. We found the savoury crepes a tad oily and the blueberry crepe we shared for dessert a little too sweet. Despite that, I was thoroughly enjoying the fact that I was having yet another French fare. After we were induced with calories and glucose, my ever so sweet S suggested that we pay a visit to the Eiffel Tower in order to commemorate our anniversary. It wasn't something that I had planned for that night but it was probably one of our most memorable experience as we marveled at the beautifully-lit Eiffel that literally sparkles and shimmers for 5-10 minutes of the hour. As with all night time photography, it was a challenge capturing the Eiffel in all its glory. After numerous shots, S managed to capture some pretty decent shots and both of us returned to the hotel very happy with how well the first day has turned out.

Paris - Eiffel

* Two Paris Visite five day please
** Réseau Express Régional; similar to the Métro except that it also serves the outlying suburbs and regions of Paris. - paris.org

^ Most economical for anyone planning a full week's visit to Paris with a lot of public transport is a Carte Orange. Sold at any Métro station, it allows 1 full week of unlimited Métro or bus transit within Paris (the 20 arrondissements plus a wide swath of the outlying suburbs) for 14€. To get one, you'll have to submit a passport-size photo. Cartes Oranges are valid from any Monday to the following Sunday, they're sold only on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of any given week, and they're valid only for the week in which they're sold. - Frommer's
^^ Officially, Cartes Oranges can only be sold to residents of the Ile de France, but according to a spokesperson at the RATP, 99% of RATP salespeople never ask for a carte d'identité, and the sale of Cartes Oranges slipped long ago into general usage, including by smart out-of-town visitors. - Frommer's
^^^ Between 1615 and 1627 the Palais du Luxembourg was constructed at the northern end of the Jardin du Luxembourg. It was built for Marie de Medicis, mother of Louis XIII. She was of Italian descent, so the architect, Salomon de Brosse designed the palace in a Florentine style. In 1794, during the French Revolution, the palace served as a prison. It also served as the headquarters of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. It currently houses the French Senate. - http://www.aviewoncities.com/paris/jardinduluxembourg.htm
^^^^ At the center of the park is an octagonal pond, known as the Grand Bassin. Here, children can rent small remote-controlled boats. Another attraction for children is the puppet theater.Around the pond are nice lawns and alleys, all laid out in a geometrical pattern. Numerous statues, including the Statue of Saint-Geneviève - patroness of Paris - adorn the park. This is also one of the parks where you can simply get hold of one of the many chairs and take it to the exact spot where you want to sit. The park is also popular with chess players and Jeux de Boules players. - http://www.aviewoncities.com/paris/jardinduluxembourg.htm


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