Saturday, December 13, 2014

Amsterdam-France - day 5

21 September 2014

We were leaving for Paris today! We looked all over for Tiger so we could say goodbye, but he was out visiting his friends. We took a tram to the train station. It was packed, and I was amazed that no one offered me a seat even though they could see I was struggling with a big bag and Xena. Something to think about. Singaporeans may complain all the time about this, but I'm sure I'd have got a seat if it was Singapore. Oh well.

We reached the platform and deposited ourselves and the luggage on one of the benches at the platform. Our train was in an hour and just when we were wondering how to kill time (and entertain Xena especially), along came a lady... with a guitar! She sat on the adjacent bench and started singing. It was awesome. Then she spotted Xena's funny jacket and asked her, "Are you a shark?" "A dragon!" Xena said. The lady laughed and then asked me, "Got any more of these dragons or just this one?" "This one's more than enough!" I said. Then she asked Xena which nursery rhymes she knew, and proceeded to sing them - from Twinkle twinkle to ABCD! It was good fun.

Finally our train came and we boarded. Viv had told me that the Thalys train was very very fast, but it didn't seem all that fast to me. So he turned on Runkeeper on his phone, which showed 300 kmph!
Xena and me on the train

Family selfie on the train

We were in the first class and our tickets came with a yummy lunch. 

After lunch, Xena was ready to nap. And it looks like... so was her Poppy!

This left me to enjoy the views and the relaxing train ride by myself.

At one point, it even started raining, making it all the more enjoyable. It kind of reminded me of the train rides we used to take in India as kids (but a cleaner and more sophisticated version, of course!).

Nord station put a damper on my my fantastic expectations of Paris. It was dark and dingy, and not at all representative of what I'd thought my first impression of Paris would be. We asked a guard for directions and I finally got to practise the French I'd been practising for weeks by going through my university French notes and Youtube tutorials before the trip! (Yes, I did. Nerdy me. But it was super useful, as you'll see.) Of course, my first words to the French guard were "Parlez vous Anglais?" Do you speak English? He did an iffy shake of hand, and we proceeded to converse partly in broken English and partly in broken French. 

We followed his directions to the exit and tried to look for an elevator to get to the street level. To our utter shock, there wasn't any! Poor Viv had to take our suitcases up the stairs. I have never seen him sweat like this outside of a workout. This further added to my feeling of misery about Paris. Wasn't it supposed to be a beautiful, modern city? 

And just then, we got out of the staircase on to the street. I was blown away. What a stark contrast there was between the underground station and the city of Paris! It was breathtaking, to say the least. 

Our apartment was a short walk away, and thankfully all of our luggage had wheels. In a few minutes, we had travelled in the world's smallest elevator (it couldn't even take both our suitcases!) and were being greeted by our adorable French hostess. She spoke very little English, so we mostly spoke in French. I was so proud and relieved that I could actually hold a conversation with her. I even answered her on behalf of Xena who was trying to hide behind me when the hostess asked her how old she was. 

Our apartment was the tiniest one you can possibly imagine. It was a loft. Viv estimated that it was probably not more than 200 sq feet in area. But it was very cosy and cute. 

This was the view from the window. 

Viv sets up wireless, while Xena looks on.

We rested for a while and then set off to explore the city. The apartment was smack in the city centre and we could walk everywhere. We decided to start off with Pont des Arts, one of the famous bridges over the Seine river. Built between 1981 and 1984, this UNESCO World Heritage site was modelled after a bridge that used to stand there more than two centuries ago, under the reign of Napoleon I.

On the way, we saw lots of police and some kind of protestors, but we couldn't tell what it was. 

The roads seemed very empty compared to Amsterdam, mainly because of the prominent absence of the bikes we'd learnt to dodge. We saw a lot more of the two-seater cars. Another thing I noticed was that not everyone was fashionably dressed like what I'd imagined of Paris. In fact, very rarely did we see people really dressed up. Also, everyone seemed friendly, and not at all snooty like what I'd read in some travel review sites. 

And oh, Paris in itself was beautiful. Everywhere I looked, there was something spectacular. I felt like I was in a postcard all the time. 

The serene Seine river

In about 10 minutes or so, we had reached the bridge. It was a bit shocking to see the state of the bridge though, because of the gazillions of locks attached to it. 

Viv and Xena pose at the Pont des Arts. The bridge is a real eyesore because of the locks.

The original engineers would have never imagined how much heavier the bridges would get in a matter of a few years. Apparently, this phenomenon is not at all a Parisian tradition, but was started in 2008 by tourist couples, who wrote or engraved their names on locks, attached them to the bridge and threw the key in the river. To show their undying love for each other, they are making a beautiful bridge die. 

Every few steps, there are peddlers selling the locks and engraving services. The number of locks attached to the bridge is overwhelming; there is actually no more space for newer locks, so people have resorted to attaching their locks on to existing locks! It was estimated that by February 2014, the number of locks was more than 700,000, weighing more than 60 tons! I can't imagine what the count and weight would be now. 

Many parts of the bridge are starting to break under the weight of the locks. 

Aside from vandalism and safety, the keys thrown in the water also cause environmental damage. There is a petition called 'No Love Locks' started by two American women living in Paris, calling for the removal and banning of the padlocks. I sure do hope the government takes it seriously.

A tad disappointed by the bridge, but loving the sites along the way, we walked back.

Everywhere we went, we saw beautiful sites -- bridges, historical buildings, statues. It was heavenly to walk around in the lovely city in the lovely weather. 

Our next stop was the spectacular Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden) near the Louvre museum. Huge, green, spacious, beautiful, it was awesome. I found out later that the garden was actually commissioned as early as 1564 by Catherine de' Medici, queen of France from 1547 to 1559. The name comes from the workshops that had occupied this area since the 13th century. These workshops, which made tiles for roofs, were called tuileries. The Tuileries Garden became a public park after the French revolution.

The Tuileries Garden in all its glory

In the middle of the park is an octagonal pond called the Grand Bassin. It is flanked by chairs on all sides and many tourists are found resting on them. Viv and Xena take a breather on the chairs. 

Xena was fascinated by the ducks in the Grand Bassin. 

We got her a crepe from one of the stalls in the garden, and she actually ate some of it by herself!

And then we found Xena's favourite part of the entire trip - a carousel! It moved slowly enough for her to feel safe, and by the second round, she was thoroughly enjoying herself. 

They allow one parent to accompany toddlers, so even I got a ride!

The beautiful carousel that Xena refused to get off of

We also roamed around looking at the numerous statues installed all over the garden. 

Next, we took a short walk to go see the Louvre, the world's most visited museum. Like in Amsterdam, we had no plans to actually go inside any of the museums, so we just roamed around and took photos. 

The Louvre, Xena and me

Xena does a funky pose. 

If we ever go back to Paris when this jumpy monkey is older, I'd like to go inside the museum. 

The museum is housed inside the magnificent Louvre palace. 

Another view of the palace

It was getting dark so we wrapped up for the day and went hunting for a dinner place. A French place in particular, because I was dying to have the much-recommended French onion soup. We finally found one, and the onion soup was truly out of the world. I didn't expect it to be so filling! I just had that with some bread and I was done. 

Family drinks at dinner!

Click here for Amsterdam-France day 6. 



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