Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Teeritz Clan's European Trip, Part 1 - Paris: "Effing Hell, All The Cliches Are True!"

Prologue

August 20th, 2016
                            Paris. The City of Lights. The city that I've visited through countless movies my entire life, from "Casablanca" (1943) to "G.I. Joe - The Rise of Cobra" (2009). 
The city with a tonne of history and a tonne of promise. And yet, I don't know what to expect.
Suppose I'll find out soon enough.

It would be a big trip for us, and it would be some time before we'd be able to travel to this extent again. Of course, if we were going to go to a country in Europe, it would make sense to visit another country as well.
You see, Paris was not the main focus of this trip, but merely the first leg.

(Warning: Some coarse language ahead)

                                                                  ***************************

This trip had been on the cards for some time. A few days after my Mother's funeral in April 2012, I called one of my Aunts in Italy. "When will you come to visit me?", she asked.
In all honesty, I hadn't given much consideration to traveling to Italy back then. I had recently switched jobs and my new gig was a real drag, the kids were young and the thought of a trip to Europe was perhaps the last thing on my mind. We had outgrown the house we were living in and all thoughts (and expenses) were directed towards doing some renovations with a view to getting a larger house at some point.

It was maybe a year later that my wife said to me; "We should think about going to Italy. It's important for the kids, to give them some idea of continuity with their grandmother. It would be good for them, and you, to meet your Auntie. And God knows we could all do with a trip."
Not much more was said. We devoted our time and energy to fixing up the house and putting it on the market. Once that was done, we began looking for a new house, which we ended up buying about 18 months ago.
Towards the end of 2015, life had calmed down enough to the point where the idea of an overseas trip began to sound feasible. We checked our finances and figured that we could do a trip without punching too big a dent into our savings. So, we planned a trip.
Since we would be going to Italy, the idea was to choose one other country to visit. No point going all the way to Europe and just seeing one place. 
We chose France as the other destination to visit. My wife looked into AirBnB and spent an exhaustive amount of time checking out places to stay. We sat down and planned the trip; five nights in Paris, five in Rome, and six nights in my parent's home region of Abruzzo, over on the Southern coast of Italy, across the Adriatic Sea from Croatia.
We would stay in my Mother's home town of Pescara. This would be the "beachy, relaxing part of the holiday" after what would surely be a whirlwind trip through the cultural riches of Paris and Rome.
The trip was booked for September 2016. This would put us on the tail-end of the European summer, but from all reports, there would still be plenty of sunny days in early autumn.  

And so, 2016 rolled around soon enough. I landed a new job in March and promptly told my interviewers that I had a three-week trip booked for September.
They quickly looked over at the planner/calendar on the wall; "Yep, that's not a problem."

Fast-forward to mid-July and I reminded my manager of my upcoming trip. He didn't say anything for a few seconds. Then; "Oh yeah...I forgot."
And then he added; "Is this gonna be a regular occurrence?"
'Not on what you pay me', I thought to myself.

September 6th- My final day at work for a while and I was busy tying up a few loose ends. With regard to the day before you go on holidays, somebody once said to me; "Don't start nothing, don't finish nothing."
I understood what he meant and so I did as much as I could before I left the office that last day, but I knew I wasn't going to do it all. Everyone at the office told me not to worry. They'd handle things while I was away. 
Good enough. 

September 7th- I made sure that I had forgotten nothing as I planned and packed my suitcase. In retrospect, I had once again packed too much. Gotta learn to travel lighter.

September 8th- The flight to the Abu Dhabi stop-over would take off at 10:00pm that night. We were all packed and all set. A house-sitter would be coming over to look after the house and our cat while we were gone. She turned up at 6:45pm. Our limo driver was due to show at 7:00pm. Now, we ain't millionaires, but for twenty bucks more than a taxi cab to the airport, we got a driver with a comfortable and smooth-handling late model Mercedes-Benz, and he would help us with our bags in and out of the car, and he would be at the arrivals gate in three weeks to collect us when we land. 
We gave the house-sitter a bunch of hurried instructions and told her to make herself at home for the next few weeks; "Just lock the doors and feed Madame. And take things easy."

It was a smooth and trouble-free drive out to the airport. We checked-in our luggage and had about an hour to kill before we had to be at the departure gate for our flight. Stupidly, we went to Cafe Vue for coffees. Two years ago, we had a snack at this cafe before our flight to Thailand. My wife had a chicken breast sandwich and later felt sick in the stomach on the flight. You'd think we would have learned something from that experience, but no. 
This time around, I ordered two cafe latte and a hot chocolate. And then I got the bill. Eight bucks for a hot chocolate, $5.20 for a cafe latte that tasted like lukewarm milk with the barest hint of coffee flavouring.  
'What is this, a kid's drink?!', I thought to myself. Needless to say, I didn't finish it. Actually, yes I did. And I still didn't get my money's worth.  
"I realise it's a business, but I really feel like I'm paying their fucken' rent", I said to my wife as I took my final sip.
If you ever read this, Mr Bennett, your airport cafe is an extreme rip. 

Not much to say about the flight. I don't really fly well. Also, the difference in time zones meant that the dates in this post would be slightly askew, since I didn't re-set the time and date settings on my camera. So, as I write this post, I'm finding it tricky to remember exactly on which dates we did certain things. Both my wife and I kept journals of the trip, but the entries were fewer and fewer as the time went along. Too busy doing things rather than cataloguing them. Still, between the two of us, this post should represent a fairly accurate account of this holiday. And I'll be relying on my wife's legendary memory, too.

We landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport, grabbed our cases, then a cab to the apartment we would be staying in for the next five days,
The road from CDG Airport to the city's outskirts looked very similar to the road from our own airport in Melbourne. To me, anyway. Long stretches of highway with light industrial buildings along the way. However, as we got closer to the centre of Paris, it finally began to feel like I was in another country.
Prior to this trip, I'd said to the kids; "Just remember, everything in Paris and Rome will look different to what you see here in Melbourne. The streets, the cars, the buildings, everything."
Although, I don't think I myself was truly prepared for how different these two European cities would be to the one where I was from.

Traffic was fairly heavy, but it moved along. On various streets and intersections, I saw groups of Syrian refugees sitting on footpaths, with crude cardboard signs held out.
This was now starting to look like a different Paris to the one I was expecting to find. No striped, long-sleeved t-shirts, Gitanes, baguettes and berets, oh no.
This Paris was a reminder of the entire situation that Europe currently finds itself in, with porous borders that do little to stifle the influx of immigrants from war-ravaged corners of the Middle East.  

We soon arrived at our apartment, located in the 2nd Arrondisement. It had a security entrance and was located on the third floor of a building in a short side-street. Our host met us out on the street and let us in before telling us that he had a bad back and would not be able to help with our cases.
"No problem", we said. 
And then we lugged the cases up three flights of tight, circular stairs. By the time we got into the apartment, our host wasn't the only one with a bad back. Thankfully, we would only have to do this once more, when we checked out.
We were shown through the apartment; "It has all the staples", he said, as he opened pantry doors in the kitchen. Upon closer inspection later on, I found a near-empty bottle of olive oil, a sticky container with some sugar left in it, and half a 250gm bag of coffee. 
"Maybe by staples, he actually meant 'stationery' ", I said to my wife.
I didn't find any actual staples either, for that matter.
We then freshened up and washed away 24 hours of Economy seating, in-flight meals (I had the lamb with vermicelli rice. Pretty good, actually) and recirculated air before hitting the streets to scope out the neighbourhood and find some place to grab a quick bite. It was about six pm. 
It was still light, the late afternoon sky was still blue, and, after landing in this city a couple of hours earlier, I was beginning to settle in to my surroundings and I came to a sudden realisation;

I absolutely friggin' loved Paris!



This is a city that was rebuilt back in the mid 1800s, following a directive from Emperor Napoleon III to his Prefect of the Seine, Georges-Eugene Haussmann.
Here's a more detailed account, courtesy of wikipedia;


Much was done to the city in order to create more housing for her citizens. For me, the most striking feature of these streets is that many buildings don't tend to exceed five or six stories. What this does is it gives the streets a lot more sunlight. It gives us all a lot more sky to see. And it means that you get some wonderful views of Paris.

Georges-Eugene Haussmann's visionary undertaking created a city that took the health, well-being, safety and quality of life of its citizens into consideration. I saw no skyscrapers and, from what I'm told, they are all pushed out of the city centre and are to be found on its outskirts. 
I have to say that I never got sick of looking at these beautiful buildings. From apartment houses to museums, this city contains some breathtaking architecture.

We found a cafe at a busy intersection and had a bite to eat. Thankfully, our waiter's English was better than our French, although my wife knows enough of the language to get by reasonably well in conversation. As we sat there eating, I watched the after-work traffic zip by. My God, so many Vespas on the streets of Paris. And most of the cars that I saw were either black or silver.  Yes, trust the French to coordinate the colours of their cars to match their wardrobe. Lots of traffic on the roads, but no shriek of car tyres or blare of car horns. Everybody drove politely. Made a refreshing change from where I'm from.

Oh, I should mention that the overall mood at the airport when we landed seemed a little sombre. No doubt the recent terror attacks on the city have had an effect. However, security is very tight here, and France appears serious about putting an end to these threats.
After dinner, we had a little more of a walk around before returning to our digs to grab an early-ish night. We were still a little frazzled from the flight and we wanted to start this holiday properly the next day.

Saturday, September 10th
                                          Today, we headed out to the Musee Militaire at Les Invalides. It was my wife's idea to try and fit one major activity into each day of this trip. Lord knows that there is much to see in Paris and only being here for five days meant that we would miss out on some things.
Upon entering the gates of Les Invalides, I saw two heavily-armed guards as I headed to a trestle table to show the contents of my bag to another guard. The guards cradled Famas assault rifles in their arms.
Nous prenons ces questions très au sérieux.

The Musee Militaire is a permanent exhibition which houses items and artifacts associated with France's military history throughout the centuries. Bear in mind that this is a country that honours its history, and this is something that you see on every corner of every street. 
To say that this exhibition was impressive would be an understatement. 
France has kept everything.

The collections of armour were vast. Absolutely amazing. There was an array on display in store-rooms behind glass windows, and to the side, one could see wooden shelves stocked with helmets, chest plates and gauntlets. You could be forgiven for thinking that France was preparing to invade England. Again.

The firearms collection alone could supply an army, and to see these weapons up close and in such well cared-for condition was truly breathtaking. The intricacy of their design and decorative embellishments were astounding. It would have almost been a shame to fire one of these things in battle.



And the attention to detail was staggering. Would have been a hell of a job making these suits of armour. Can you imagine the thought processes that would have gone into the design of these things? Having to make subtle changes to the shapes and joints in order to allow the widest range of movement during the heat of battle? While still providing protection for the wearer, making sure that no vulnerable part of the body remained exposed.





It's one thing to create something that has a specific use. It doesn't have to have any decoration because it is not used for ornamental purposes. It's designed to perform a particular function. Which is why I found it all the more incredible to see just how much decorative work had gone into these suits. Sure, they were probably made for members of royalty who were going into battle, but I still found the level of detail absolutely amazing, considering the cruder production methods that would have existed back then.



And when I got to the end of the first part of this exhibition and made my way to the exit, this was waiting outside;


I took the photo at an angle because I wanted to get the jousting pole in the frame. We continued on through Les Invalides and stopped at the cafe located on the premises. We ordered some ice cream for the kids and two espressi for ourselves, and I was disappointed to see the waitress walk over to a Nespresso machine to prepare our coffees.
We drank up and paid the bill because we wanted to get to the second half of this exhibit, the area where the wars of the 20th Century were represented.
It was another incredible display. Super-cool seeing a German Enigma machine.


 For some reason, I thought the Allied Forces had only ever captured three of these during the War.


A quick check on Wikipedia shows that quite a few of these were acquired throughout that conflict. Still a buzz seeing this classic symbol of wartime espionage up close.


And, of course, no military museum is complete without some sort of armoured vehicle;


And, given that this corner of the exhibition  concerned itself with 20th Century conflicts, there just had to be a typewriter on display somewhere. (Thought I'd try a larger font size to compensate for all the white space.) 

It was an amazing display and if/when I return to Paris, I'll go through it all again, at a more leisurely pace. Unfortunately, I would be long out of Paris by the time this next exhibition began:


Merde! That would have been grand.

Oh, I forgot the order in which we saw these!  My wife reminded me that we saw the first part of the military exhibition, then we stopped for the crappy coffee and then we visited another section of Les Invalides where the former church is located. This next pic is courtesy of wikipedia;

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4e/Cath%C3%A9drale_Saint-Louis-des-Invalides%2C_140309_2.jpg  
(pic taken by Daniel Vorndran/DXR)

It is here where Napoleon Bonaparte was entombed;


This is his coffin. Nowhere on it does it have his name. The scale of it was truly extraordinary. And directly above this sarcophagus is the domed ceiling;


My God, only day one! Okay, moving on. This was an amazing place to see. If you ever get to France, go to this museum. It is, in many ways, a truly humbling experience.

                     
On the way back to our digs, we crossed one of the love-lock bridges that cross the River Seine. Despite my film noir/hardboiled exterior, I'm a sentimental old fool (is 50 considered old, you young punks?), so I naturally found this practice to be delightfully whimsical. Some of these bridge sections are covered in padlocks, attached by people in love from all around the world. The custom is to throw the key into the river after attaching the lock.
In 2015, city officials ordered the removal of these locks, as the sheer weight of them could lead to structural weakness, but this has not deterred some people, who have found ways to get around the new measures put in place to prevent any further locks being put on the city's bridges.



Pics or it didn't happen.




And this was the typewriter. I don't know the brand. May have been a Japy, but this could just be me inventing a memory of something that never happened. That happens sometimes.


Here's the note that I typed out. Ain't gonna win any awards for originality. And did I say that I used a page out of my Moleskine notepad?  
Memory is sketchy. 
I wonder if this note is still stuck on the ceiling of that tiny alcove? Maybe next time, I should bring some drawing pins. And a little more imagination.

We had dinner in the early evening and then headed back towards the Seine for a river cruise. It would be an hour-long trip that would take us along the river right past the Eiffel Tower. However, I didn't want to see this famous landmark in this way.

Naturally, it was always part of this trip to go and see the tower, but I wanted my first close-up view of it to be from the ground. I wanted to experience the grandeur of it, and I felt that this could only be done as you approach it on foot and the sheer scale of it reveals itself to you as you get closer.
And so, I resisted the urge to look up at it as the boat skimmed past. I put on my sunglasses and busied myself writing these passages that you are now reading (yes, I wrote it all in past tense, including mention of the fact that you are now reading it) into my Moleskine.

The boat soon made a slow U-turn and we were headed back to the jetty where we first boarded. On the return journey, my wife and I noticed all the people that were scattered along the banks of the Seine. There were little clusters of people sitting cross-legged, engaged in conversation. Or debate, as I saw some of them waving their hands in the air while they spoke. Couples sat close together,  dark wine bottles clearly visible between some of them. Others blew out plumes of cigarette smoke.
Further along, we heard tango music as a man in denim swung a girl around a make-shift dance floor. She wore a skirt and sweater. There were trestle tables near them and many people watched as they danced.
My wife said to me, sotto-voce; "Fucking hell, all the cliches are true!" It was uttered with admiration. I knew exactly what she meant. I had already seen numerous couples embracing and kissing, framed in the shadows of Art Nouveau apartment doorways. I had seen various French men and women walking the streets in  late afternoon,  dressed in sharp casual corporate-wear, some with a cigarette dangling insouciantly from their lips. And they all seemed to exude an air of nonchalance that we don't see much of back home in Australia.                                                                        

For quite a while now, I've been thinking that stress can be a real killer, and I've resolved to try dealing with it a little more effectively. So far, so good (to an extent), but it seemed to me that the people of France have a better outlook on it. I'm sure they worry about their jobs, mortgages, health, relationships, etc, as much as the rest of us. It just appears to me that they don't let it show so obviously.
More power to them, and I resolved to try taking a leaf out of their livre. 
It was a warm evening. The sun was setting, the weekend was winding down for the people of Paris and they were just taking things easy for the last few hours of their Sunday.
It was nice to see. La vie est belle.

Monday, September 12th
                                          The plan this morning was to head over to the catacombs;

The Catacombs of Paris (French: Catacombes de Paris, About this sound  ) are underground ossuaries in ParisFrance, which hold the remains of more than six million people[1] in a small part of the ancient Mines of Paris tunnel network.

(Thanks again, wikipedia!)

We hit the street and started walking, with a view to hailing a cab as soon as we saw one for hire. We never saw one, and so ended up walking for ninety minutes till we got to the Catacombs entrance. On the way, though, we stopped at a typically French cafe to get a caffeine recharge and a glass of water.

We got to the building where the catacombs were meant to be, and then spent a few minutes circling the building until we found a very discreet entrance. Which was closed. The catacombs aren't open on Mondays.
Okay, Plan B. Always have a Plan B, folks. We didn't have a Plan B.
No matter. Lady Teeritz and I huddled and discussed our next move.
The Pantheon?  Too far away.
Notre Dame? No, madame. We'd already passed it earlier and the line to get in was way too long. Our plan with Quasimodo's workplace was to get there early in the morning and avoid the queues of selfie-sticks with iPhones on one end and idiots on the other.
Besides, we had pencilled in Notre Dame for another day.
"What about Galeries Lafayette?", suggested my wife.
"Okay, cool, done", I replied.

Galeries Lafayette is a shopping centre. We caught a cab (yeah, finally. Thanks!) and the driver was a cool-looking guy in jeans and white t-shirt. He had wavy grey hair and wore glasses. He basically looked like a film star in his third decade of stardom, Richard Gere-style. He spoke a small smattering of English and, between this and my wife's basic French, a conversation ensued. It was all very friendly.
He dropped us off near the entrance to the centre.We walked in and had our bags checked by security. Once inside, it looked like any other large, upmarket shopping precinct, with cosmetics kiosks for Chanel, Mac, Yves Saint-Laurent, etc, all scrambling to separate ladies from their hard-earned Euros.
But then, you look up towards the ceiling and;


It all begins to look like the balcony seating of a 17th Century theatre. Now, we weren't really there to shop, so we took the escalators up and up until we arrived at the cafeteria. It was getting on for 1:15pm and we were starving.
The cafeteria here offered everything from a sandwich to a steak. I had fish, nicely grilled while I waited.
I ordered an espresso afterwards and quickly downed it before we headed up the the rooftop. Here's the sort of views that we had from up there. From the rooftop of a department store. 
I'll say that again- A DEPARTMENT STORE;












We slowly made our way back to our apartment, making a few stops along the way. We stopped off at a nearby Monoprix store to grab some cheeses and stuff so that we could have a relaxed and early dinner. Monoprix is great. Anyplace where you can buy a Rhodia notepad and a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin is a-OK in my book. Downstairs, it's like a Target store. Alongside this, there's a bakery, and upstairs, a supermarket for groceries and alcohol.
I once read that the French don't tend to do big grocery shopping, but rather, they prefer to do 'top-up' shopping throughout the week, buying only what they may need for a particular meal. Anyone who's lived there, please correct me if this is not the case.
Anyway, we got back to the apartment and had a quick and informal dinner before making a twilight visit to the Eiffel Tower.
Yes, thrill-seekers, it was time.

We got down to the street after our meal and hailed a cab. No ordinary cab, by the way. Nope, this was a black, late-model Mercedes-Benz, driven by a small man who may have been Ethiopian. He looked around sixty, with a thin moustache and dark eyes, and he wore a dark suit and tie with a crisp white shirt. He looked perfect.
The trip took about 20 minutes. We drove through a tunnel that felt familiar to me. Strange, since I'd never been to Paris. Well, not in this life, anyway. It looked like the one where Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed perished back in 1997, along with their driver, Henri Paul.
Moments later, we passed through another one and the familiar feeling felt stronger. The cab driver then said; "Lady Diana accident here."
Of course. I recall the endless news footage of the tunnel.
And I felt the hair on my arms stand on end.
With my fraction of French, I replied; "In une Mercedes noire."
The driver tilted his head slightly and raised an eyebrow, as we continued along.
In a black Mercedes- Benz.

As we approached the Tower, our driver opened up the sunroof to draw our attention to this landmark and Lady T said to the kids; "He hasn't looked at it yet. He keeps averting his eyes." 
Avert my eyes I did. I didn't want to see the tower from a boat the day before and I didn't want to see it from a cab tonight, even if it was a Merc. It was actually quite difficult not to look at it. I could sense the Tower in the periphery of my vision. It was compelling me to turn and look at it. A 300 metre, wrought-iron visual siren-song.
Like I said, I wanted to see the Tower for the first time from a certain perspective.

The driver pulled up at the entrance gates. The place was jammed with people. Hawkers selling bottles of warm water, selfie-sticks (how I learned to absolutely hate those things!), and ,bizarrely, these little sling-shot contraptions that fired a ball up into the air that would reach the apex of its ascent, then split open and gently float back down to earth on fluttering propellers. How very French...not!
I paid the driver (and tipped) as I carefully avoided looking up to my left. I took a few steps before my resolve weakened. So, I turned to look at the Eiffel Tower and it looked breathtaking!

I stood there staring up at it, reaching for my camera as a flood of movie scenes overlapped through my mind. Roger Moore's Bond chased Grace Jones up its staircase in A View To A Kill, aliens vaporised it in Independence Day, a climate catastrophe covered it in ice in The Day After Tomorrow, it converted into a steampunk's dream in Tomorrowland, and even Russian terrorists toppled it in Call of Duty- Modern Warfare 3 on the Playstation 3.

However, make no mistake. Once you've seen this thing up close, nothing will ever destroy it.
The spell was broken by my son saying; "Dad, come on, Mum and ***** are waiting!"
Of course, I couldn't stand there all night. We had come to get to the top of this tower, not to stare at it from below. I took another look at the throngs of people everywhere. The cynic in me hoped that I wouldn't see the worst of human nature tonight. People can get selfish and rude in situations like these. Happily, there was nothing to concern myself with.

We queued up to get checked by security before getting into a longer queue for tickets to enter the tower. It was a warm night and, above the railings that herded us towards the ticket booths, there were  long metal tubes with what looked like steam emanating from them. It was only as you got closer to them that you felt a soft spray of water mist over you. These things were designed to keep everybody cool while they waited in line. I thought it a polite gesture on the part of the French. Merci.

We got our tickets and boarded the elevator that would take us the the first floor, at a diagonal angle alongside one of the tower's legs, before boarding a second elevator that would take us up to the observation deck at the top. Because, let's face it, there was no way I planned to walk up the 1,700 steps to get there.

It was, naturally, crowded on the top deck once we got there, but all you have to do is wait a few minutes and a gap opens up on the grille-enclosed edge of the deck as people move along. By now, it had gotten dark and the view was unforgettable;


And that's why they call it The City of Lights, folks. I took a bunch of photos, but the limits of my photographic skills were plain to see. I probably should bone up on photography one of these days.

We stayed up there for about an hour. I took snaps of the wife and kids, and the kids took snaps of my wife and I.
A lady from Mexico offered to take a family photo of us, which was nice of her. Annie Leibovitz was nowhere to be found, so I handed this lady the camera. I checked the photos later to find two extremely blurry shots of the Teeritz family at the Eiffel Tower. Ah well, I'm sure she meant well.

My daughter pointed to a young couple in a tight embrace. The girl had a small, black velvet-covered box in her hand.
She must have said 'yes'.

Afterwards, I asked the family if they would like to join me for a drink or coffee, so we stopped off at the small corner cafe near our apartment. It was a still warm, so I opted for a gin & tonic. The kids had Oranginas (like Fanta, but with a slight bitter aftertaste) and my wife had an espresso. 
Must say that I could see the appeal of these cafes that are dotted all over Paris.

Tuesday, September 13th
                                          I briefly toyed with the idea of heading back to the Eiffel Tower, but as time wore on, I thought about the queues and decided that it might not be such a great idea after all. My wife would try taking the kids back to the catacombs, since we missed out on them the day before, but I'll admit that I had no real desire to see them.
So, off they went, while I took a stroll to see where I ended up. I stopped at a Tabac and had a coffee. The Tabacs are everywhere. They all sell cigarettes and lottery tickets and they all have coffee machines and seating areas. I walked around a little more before heading back to the apartment.

We headed out later in the evening to grab dinner someplace. No firm plans, so we just walked until we found some place that looked interesting. We ended up at a small Turkish restaurant. Nothing fancy, it looked more like a take-away place, but the staff were friendly and the food was wonderful. They were deceptively small portions, but surprisingly filling.

Wednesday, September 14th
                                              Today was the day we would pay a visit to the Ile de la Cite,  for it is here that the Cathedral of Notre Dame is located. On a tiny sliver of island in the middle of the River Seine. We got there reasonably early and the crowd wasn't too bad. Although, once inside, I found it a little too crowded for my liking. Not only that, but seeing a whole lot of people in there snapping away with point-and-shoots and iPhones, actually began to put me off a little, but I couldn't pinpoint exactly why. I found this to be an impressive church, to say the least.

One thing about these church visits; while I'm in no way overly religious, I do have a respect for the extraordinary levels of engineering and building skill that would have gone into the construction of these houses of worship. My wife, who is a greater lapsed catholic than I, has an interest in old churches, from an historical point-of-view, so this is why we visited so many of them on this trip.

AND THEN SHE SAID...

Whoa there! Yes, Mr T, I am lapsed, but it's not all history-based (my forays into churches). I still revere the process of worship and faith and there's a church on every corner in Paris (and Rome too, for that matter) and they ALL have amazing pieces of art, beautiful marble floors and some quiet. 

It felt like a mini museum (less the crowds, hassle, charges and tourists) you could go in and out of at your leisure. That's amazing in such a big city and these buildings were loved and used. (Just didn't want to seem like some freaky history nerd there, I'm a bunch of fun!)

Yes, ma'am. Yes you are.


I looked around inside the church for a few minutes. My wife came up to me moments later and said; "I just lit a candle for your Mum and Dad, Tee." 
Bless her. One thing I did in every church that I visited on this trip was light a candle for my departed parents.
Because they would have liked that.

To say that Notre Dame was impressive would be an understatement. I'm certain that experienced travel writers have said it better than I ever will. I marveled at the sheer size of this church and the attention to detail and the level of craft that went into this house of worship. I took a few photos;


Throughout this entire trip, I saw places that had been built three, four, five hundred years ago, or more. And here I am, from a country that was officially founded in 1788.
Not to sound too trippy, but that kept blowing my mind.
It's not that I was surprised by it all, but seeing it up close really brought it home for me and it was astonishing to see such perfectly realised and preserved architecture still standing strong.
                           Below is a detail of some of the extraordinary stained glass of Notre Dame.




















I didn't take a lot of photos here. I can recall looking around and seeing people inside Notre Dame with selfie-sticked iPhones and tiny point-and-shoot cameras and I instantly felt like I was desecrating this particular church by being so 'touristy'. I capped the lens of my Olympus.
There would be other churches to take pictures of before this trip was over.

Later, we headed outside and debated whether or not to go up to the observation deck of this historic church. By this stage of the trip, I was experiencing cultural overload and was beginning to get locations mixed up. So much history in this city!
My wife and daughter were feeling a little fatigued and my son wasn't sure if he wanted to go up a bunch of stairs to get to the deck.
So, we passed, figuring that we'd do it the next time we visit Paris, whenever that will be. Although, maybe we should have gone up there because the view would have been worth it;

File:Eiffel Tower viewed from Notre Dame, Paris 13 September 2010 002.jpg
Photo courtesy of and downloaded from www.wikimediacommons.org.
Attribution listed below;

Yep. Would have been cool. Who doesn't love a gargoyle, after all?

Outside Notre Dame, 25% of the Teeritz family took turns taking photos of the remaining 75% of the Teeritz family until a young blonde gal from the United States offered to take a pic of all four of us. Very nice of her, so we reciprocated by taking a few pictures of her outside the church. She was from the MidWest and was traveling alone. Very polite young lady.

We decided to take a rest-stop at a cafe across the road from the church. Military presence was extremely high at this Paris landmark;

I had a coffee and sat there watching people go by. Not all of them were carrying Famas assualt rifles. 
We took our time, figuring that we had all day, even though this was our last full day in Paris. We would be taking a flight to Rome later the next day.

We  decided to check out the BHV Department store.

As we made our way in the store's general direction, we saw this --->
It was a recharging station for hybrid cars. I had to marvel at the fact that this country was taking steps to assist owners of these kinds of cars. Not sure how one of these would go here in Melbourne. One day, perhaps.


We got to the BHV Department store and I had a quick look at sunglasses, but didn't see any worth pursuing. I was on a passive hunt for a pair of Persol 714 or 649 frames, like the ones Steve McQueen wore.  I'd seen a pair at an optometrist in another part of the city, so it looked like I'd be going back there at some point.

After this, we passed the St Gervais church, so in we went. Again, I was staggered by the artwork and statues found within;





















That evening, we went out to a traditional French brasserie to have a traditional French meal. That was the plan, anyway. My daughter ordered pasta, I had a steak, can't recall what my wife and son ate. Actually, she tells me that they both had roast chicken. It was a great meal and the service was excellent.
                                                               
Walking back to our apartment, I saw this.

"All men die, but only some live." 

Existentialism on a street corner. Man, even the graffiti in this city is profound.

In the side street near our apartment, we saw a couple of  working girls plying their trade. One of them looked to be in her 60s. We had passed by her before. My wife commented that her skin was beautiful, and her perfume was fantastic.

Our host had told us a few days earlier that these ladies are very sharp-eyed and will often notice if there are suspicious characters in the area, especially if school children are nearby. He also mentioned that this older lady had once nursed his son when he was a baby. He added that these ladies don't like having their picture taken, not that we were planning to do so, anyway. I can understand why this would piss them off.
Truth be told, I actually have more respect for a prostitute than I do for a real estate agent. My wife just read that line and said I was doing prostitutes a disservice by mentioning them in the same sentence as real estate agents. With a prostitute, what you see is what you get, she said, whereas real estate agents are so full of bs.

Anyway, this was our last night in Paris. Walking back to our apartment, I asked if anyone would care to join me for a final drink in the City of Lights. My wife and son were tired, so they headed back to the apartment. My daughter and I took an outside table at the cafe 20 metres from the door to our lodgings. She had an Orangina and I had a gin & tonic, along with a Lucky Strike. When in Paris...

We sat there on this warm night and talked about the trip. She had had a wonderful time on this holiday so far, and I must say that she didn't complain once about all the walking that we did. I would imagine that there were times when her feet must have ached due to her having to take more steps than the rest of us, but I never heard a peep out of her. She was good company as we sat there chatting about the things we'd seen over the past week and the things we were yet to see on the remainder of this trip. It was a nice way to spend the last evening in Paris.

Thursday, September 15th
                                           Our departure flight for Rome's Fiumicino Airport was at 4:05pm. We got up reasonably early that morning and my wife and I made a quick pit-stop at the Monoprix to buy some bits and pieces for the apartment. Things like tissues, toilet paper, sugar, etc. We cleaned up the place, which was easy, since we didn't make a noticeable mess to begin with, emptied all the perishable food out of the refrigerator and put it all in a plastic bag. The plan was to give it to the first homeless person that we saw out on the streets.

"The Pompidou Centre!", exclaimed my wife. "We can leave our bags here for a couple of hours and take a quick look at it.", she added. 
I was a little tired, and the cultural overload of this city had worn me down a little, I must say. However, we were here in Paris, and the Pompidou was a five-minute walk from the apartment.
We'd make a quick trip to it and take a look.

It was an impressive building, to say the least. It's funny, but I'd always thought it would be some old 18th century structure. How wrong I was, as we entered this futuristic-looking facade.

We hadn't gone to many galleries. I wanted to get to The Louvre, if only just to stand next to the pyramid structure on the outside. I blame The Da Vinci Code (the book, not the movie). Dan Brown painted a very vivid picture in my mind of how this glass pyramid looked, and I wanted to get a first-hand view of it. It would have been interesting to have seen the Mona Lisa, without a doubt, but I had heard that trying to get a look at this painting would involve moving past it among a throng of other tourists just to catch a glimpse of it.
Either way, there's always next time, I suppose. We'd only scratched the surface of this astounding city.
There were some impressive artworks on display at the Pompidou. Paintings by Dali and Mondrian, for example. Although, I was only looking at them half-heartedly by this stage because I had one eye on the time and I kept thinking about our flight. We made our way up to the observation deck to get some wonderful views of the city. It was a cloudy day, but it all still looked impressive;


We headed back to the apartment afterwards to get our suitcases and say goodbye to our host. He informed us that the pedestal fan (which sat in the corner of our bedroom) had been broken. This was odd considering the fact that we didn't use it at all during our stay, and we told him so. I got the impression that he didn't believe us. I was tempted to let him know that I had left a fresh full bag of coffee in the kitchen, which was more than what he had left me, but that would have put a dampener on the trip.
We left positive feedback about our host on AirBnB. Yes, we were a little too generous.
He didn't end up leaving any feedback for us, l'idiot. My wife e-mailed him when we got back to Australia and asked him if he'd left us feedback and he gave us some line about how he'd missed the deadline for leaving comments. Not only that, but he actually replaced the packet of premium-quality toilet paper that we had bought for the apartment's next guests with a cheap-assed pack of single-ply recycled paper. Something I noticed when I used the bathroom of this apartment one last time before we struggled down the stairs with our suitcases. Our host has a bad back, remember?
"Hey, can we change the feedback", I asked my wife later.
"No. What's done is done."

Anyhow, we'd had a wonderful travel experience here in Paris and I wasn't going to let this little hiccup spoil it. And, as centrally located as his apartment was, we had already decided that we would stay elsewhere when we came back to Paris.

We quickly found a cab and made our way to Charles de Gaulle Airport. One the way, we passed by the Gare Du Nord train station. Man, I would have loved to have taken a closer look at that!
Next time. There will be a next time.

OBSERVATIONS

The French
                   Forget whatever you've ever heard or read about the French people being rude or arrogant. I did not experience one instance of this whatsoever. Everyone we encountered or dealt with was polite and friendly, and those who spoke a little English were very helpful to us.
Of course, as with anywhere that we've ever traveled to, it has always helped to know simple phrases such as "Hello", "please" and "thank-you". A little bit of manners goes a long way. We've always started off polite and we've never had a problem.

Obviously, I'm no expert on the people of France after having visited this city for only a week, but they gave off an air of a calm and relaxed attitude. I noticed the cafes doing a brisk trade at around six or six-thirty pm most evenings, as people mingled at curb-side tables over an espresso. Some folks stood at chest-height round tables nursing a coffee and small biscuit, with a burning cigarette waving in the air like a miniature baton as they engaged in conversation.
People walked briskly down the streets after work, but nobody looked like they were in a mad hurry to get home.
'I could get used to this', I thought to myself on more than one occasion.

The Beggars and the Homeless
                                                    There were a lot of them in Paris. I saw a Syrian family camped out on the footpath on our first day in the city. While we were out walking the next day, they were nowhere in sight.
While hurrying back to the apartment one day to get ready for dinner, I saw a very thin old lady lying on the footpath of a side street. She was eating some grapes from a plastic container. Her skin was very tanned, her grey hair matted, and her clothing was dirty and torn in places.
Some young jerk walked past her and said; 'Bon apetit.'
Maybe not all Parisians were charming. 
Out late one night, I was stopped by an old beggar who put his arm around my shoulder and then pointed down to his bare feet. "Look, look", he said.
I looked down. He had six toes on his right foot.
I gave him a couple of Euro coins, resisting the urge to say; "Pfft, that all you got? I have bunions on both feet that would make you shriek in horror."
I was stopped by a couple later that night. The man said something to me in French. I gave him the old "Excuse-moi, mais je ne parle pas francais", as taught to me by my wife at the beginning of the trip.
I offered him and his female companion a cigarette. They were now both standing at right angles to me. I didn't like their placement, since I couldn't keep a sharp eye on the both of them. He declined the smoke, but asked me for my lighter instead. Playing it safe, I handed over the green plastic BIC disposable. He thanked me and they went on their way.

Many of the side streets smelled of urine, I have to say. Perhaps the beggars were working overtime. Well, as long as they're keeping their fluids up. But even this didn't diminish this experience for us.
I'd go back to Paris in a heartbeat.


We made our flight to Rome on time. The plane took off and we settled in for the five-hour flight to the next stage of this trip.
So far, it had been a wonderful experience.


And I did manage to snag a pair of Persol 649S sunnies, too.






Thanks for reading!

TO BE CONTINUED...

Friday, 10 March 2017

Friday 10/3/2017 -This Week's Wristwatches.

Short one this week, gang. Had a couple of very rude and very unreasonable customers to deal with by phone and e-mail this week.
However, it's Friday and they are fast becoming a distant memory.

Okay, last Saturday's watch was the recently-arrived Enicar Ultrasonic.


Sunday, I switched over to the Omega Seamaster 300. Here it is, in a nice, grainy surveillance-style photo. I will have to get that West German chess clock fixed one of these days. 
I should probably learn to play chess first.  




Tuesday rolled around, and I still had the Seamaster 300 clamped to my wrist. As far as dive watches go, it's a perfect design. Clear and legible, sparse and no-nonsense.

Got home from work on Wednesday and popped open a cold one before getting changed out of my work wardrobe and into more casual duds. 


And got home a little later than usual this evening because I had to make a pit-stop to grab some cheese, salami and pizza bases. My usual market was out of these bases, so I had to kick into Plan B and head out to another supermarket where I found the last two packets on the shelves. 
I tell ya, it's some kind of conspiracy. All I wanted to do was make a pizza, but it seemed to be a trickier proposition than I thought it would be.  
Not the end of the world, though. I got there in the end. 

Anyway, another week down and a three-day long weekend coming up. All's well. 

Thanks for reading and have a good weekend!