Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Paris! Tuesday - July 5th

Oh beautiful Paris!
We managed to get up at the required 4AM to get down to the station by 5:30AM to catch the Eurostar to France. We actually slept little as our room was across from the train station and we were too excited to really sleep much and too worried about over sleeping our alarm. Too, around 3AM there were men unloading large pieces of sheet metal and shouting to each other across the way who were apparently at the station to do some work. We readied and packed up what little we had unpacked and met Paul and Sherilee D. downstairs at 5:20AM to cross over to the station. We hurried across and qued up for the Eurostar. Jeff and Sherilee D. waited in line while Aurora, Paul and I went back up to the second level to get breakfast bagels and latte's for everyone. We got back to the line just in time to check in and after we checked through stood around eating our breakfast. A young man of about 19 or so came and stood with us...he was quite drunk and friendly just looking for someone to talk to in the early hours. He was supposedly going to go to work by 9AM and we all wondered if he would manage to have his head back together by then. He was a nice young man though and when we had to go to through the gates to board Paul asked him if he would take our breakfast garbage for us and he did!
We went through the gates and past the duty free shops to coach number 15 and loaded our cases and found our seats. The odd part here is that we were all facing backward! Apparently the do not turn the train around...so going to Paris you sit backward and coming back you sit forward. It made for an interesting ride...kind of felt odd...but as long as you don't look out the window too much, it is okay. The train goes quite fast, top speeds can hit 186 miles per hour, but they generally do not go that fast. We stopped at one other station along the way for more passengers, but our coach was not full. When we entered the tunnel that goes under the channel the train speed hits 100 miles per hour! You are under the channel for a mere 20 minutes and you see some low lights in the tunnel if your cup your hands around your eyes and peer through the windows and a few pipes running along the sides of the tunnel. You are through before you know it and in France! The French countryside is really lovely and picturesque. Small farms and an occasional little town dot the countryside, but it truy looks for all the world like a picture post card from 100's of years ago except the occasional paved roads and vehicles here and there.
Arrived at last!
We arrived at the station 2 1/2 hours or so after we left London and easliy spotted our first day guide with the Golden Tours sign. We all followed him out of the very busy and very large North Station to find the tour bus. We were immediately treated to a site I can only describe as "Beyond Madness!" Paris traffic is not to be believed! I thought we had bad traffic in Seattle! Try adding narrow lanes, motor scooters galore with people on them who think they obviously are immortal, taxi drivers who are sure they own the roads and bicyclists and tons of tourist buses and you will beging to get some picture of traffic that either goes nowhere or goes all at once in a rush! I saw motorscooters that would squish their way between our bus and parked or moving cars all the time...they gave not a care that there are lanes or turn signals! Amazingly most of the Parisians seem to just take it nicely in stride while all the tourists on the bus occasionally suck in their wind with noisy gasps! It was really rather funny in a crazy way...I wonder if they have a French version of road rage?
Our bus driver after negotiating through the business district showed us the Grand Opera House, pointed out beautiful architecture, showing us the beautiful wrought iron railings outside nearly every window, the gargoyles and lovely statues outside or a part of so many buildings, we drove round the Arc deTriomphe it is quite grand much larger than I ever thought it was having seen it in so many photos over the years. The large circular drive that goes around the Arch has no traffic rules (our bus driver advised) but is large enough to have many lanes... if any were painted! So basically people just get in the circle and drive round and round with no lanes weaving in and out and trying not to hit each other! It is quite a mad site to see and amusing while some what disconcerting. Either 6 or 8 major thoroughfares feed into the circle including the famous Champs Elysées which is 8 lanes wide and it is an amazing boulevard packed with cars feeding in and out. You can learns more cool stuff about the Arc de' Triomphe at: http://www.paris.org/Monuments/Arc/ The one really cool thing we did not know (any of us) is that you can go to the top and look down on all of Paris. We decided then and there that this is something we will do later! We also found out that there is a tunnel that you access it via the underground to the trains to get safely to the center...and I thought that all the people must have been really brave to negotiate the traffic on foot! HA! We drove past the Louvre museum and the Tuileries Gardens as well and of course the Eiffel Tower! My goodness...it is really huge! Makes the Space Needle look rather small! Here is a fun fact for you...in fact...Space Needle (Seattle): 605 ft. (184M) Eiffel Tower (Paris):984 ft. (300M) Maybe that will give you a mental picture, it really is enormous! After going by several other points of interest, our tour took us to a boat on the River Seine. We took a lovely long ride down the river and then back up again. There are many bridges crossing over the Seine and no two really look a like. There are really a lot of them and some of the architecture is really lovely. There is a small island on the Seine, and this is where the famous Cathedral of Notre Dame is to be found. It is a large and imposing structure and one expects to find Quasimoto still up along the edges looming and looking down at you. Incidentally... the French prounounce his name Kazimoto... no "qu" sound at all. We were surprised to find the Eiffel Tower sits right on the bank of the river as well, and it was just near the tower our tour on the boat ended. We all got off and got in the tour group line to go to the tower! The good part about being on the tour is that you get quick access to the tower, the draw back is that you do not get as much time as you would probably like to spend and you only go to the second level, which mind you it utterly breath taking! The view of Paris is spectacular. Way out on rim of the city is the newer high rise structure area of Paris. The rest remains much as it looked many years ago they say. Paris is the most visited city in the world according to our guide, and one can see why when looking out across it's grandure.

...More later on this adventure.... I leave you for now on top of the tower!


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