1. Oregon to Paris 2. Notre Dame 3. Versailles 4. Mt. Saint Michel to Carnac 5. Chenonceaux and Le Mont Dore 6. Vers 7. Maison de Martin 8. Carcas-
9. Chamonix 10. Lausanne to Paris 11. The Itinerary 12. A Note on the Photographs And a Plea for Feedback!

Journal From a Journey to France
Part X: Lausanne to Paris

Saturday, 26 June 1999

After a fitful sleep between trains arriving and departing, we’re up for breakfast in the hotel, which fortunately is included in the price. As we pack our things and get ready to go, we hear thunder rolling overhead, and soon it is raining in earnest. But by the time we leave our luggage at the reception, the rain has stopped, though it is still quite warm.

We head back up hill past the gare to St. Francoise Place, stopping again at the ATM for another 50F. The market is rather disappointing, but we buy some apricots, flaccid apples, and some wheat-germ bread at a boulangerie. Then its on to the local coop for some cheese and quiches to take on the train.

As I wait outside for MB and Gabriel with our other purchases, a little girl climbs under a sandwich-board on the sidewalk. After wandering around a bit, she begins to cry as someone comes out of the store. She is apparently lost, and the shopper takes her into the store. Soon the mother comes by looking for her, and I gesture towards the store, where the two are reunited. This is a busy place, the most popular store we’ve seen here, though our sampling is, of course, very limited. The coop looks like any other large coop, but I’m surprised to see no trace of the familiar twin-pines logo.

Then it’s back to the hotel to pick up our luggage, and head to the station. The train arrives shortly after we do, so we find our seats and wait on the train. Soon we are winding through the Swiss countryside. The train travels at normal speeds as we snake through rugged forested hills and deep valleys that seem to alternate at random intervals with nearly flat farmland.

As we descend into the Burgundian countryside, the land spreads out to rolling hills where grapes predominate. In other places, the passing storm has pounded grain crops flat in many places, for it is too soon to harvest here. In Dijon, our nearly empty car fills up, and we roll on towards Paris, picking up speed. Soon the sky grows dark and rain pelts the windows, but a poles whizz by at dizzying speeds and the pressure lowers in the car doe to the venturi effect, we leave the storm behind.

We arrive in Paris on time and take the Metro to the Bastille station, not remembering whether the Bastille or St. Paul stop is closer to the hotel. The Bastille station has many exits, and we take the wrong one by mistake, as we soon discover. Arriving on the surface, we find ourselves in the middle of a huge crowd filling the entire Place de la Bastille. I’ve forgotten to get the Paris map our of our luggage, so we ask a passing gnedarme where Rue de St. Antoine is. He mutters something and points at the street sign on the corner of the building. I can’t see the sign, but assume he means we are on the Rue de St. Antoine. We walk to our hotel at #48, and find the number hidden behind scaffolding and construction debris! At the corner, MB goes into a shop to ask directions, and we discover that we are on the Rue du Faubourg St. Antoine, while the Rue St. Antoine is the same street on the opposite side of the Place de la Bastille. The only alternatives to going through the crowd is to take a circuitous route around it (if we can find the way), go back onto the Metro, or do straight through the crowd.

Today, we discover, is Gay Pride Day, and the crowd is celebrating with music, food booths, and costumes. But police vans congregate a couple of blocks away on each of the eight or nine streets which converge on this monument, suggesting a certain tension behind the otherwise festive atmosphere. It is not hard to imagine how someone with a different agenda could turn this into something quite different. Nevertheless, we thread our way through the crowd as quickly as possible, briefly getting separated at one point. But we eventually make it through the crowd and on to our hotel.

Notre DameThe room, although it is #16, is on the fourth floor, and by the time we throw our luggage down on the beds, we’re totally exhausted. Not a great room, but at least this one is on a “courtyard,” not the very busy Rue St. Antoine, in the heart of the Marais district. After a bit of a rest, we head out to have a look at Notre Dame again (which is closed by now). Approaching the church from the back this time, I’m amazed at the wealth of “detail” which I’d missed on our first visit: the ornate central spire, a curious clock on the north transept roof facing the back of the church, the saints marching down the roof, and so on. As we cross the Pont de Sully, which has been closed to traffic, a street performer is just beginning his routine by laying a stip of packaging tape diagonally across the street from one curb, almost to the next, where he uses it to support a bicycle, which leans precariously against the tension of the tape. He cleverly gathers the passers by to form a large square around the diagonal stripe, and picks a pretty young woman out of the crowd to hold the other end of the tape. He offers the bulls-eye pinned to the rear of his white trousers as a target for bicyclists who dare to venture through his audience. Eventually he does a mock high-wire act on the tape, a series of stunts on the bicycle, and for his finale, rides a toy tricycle, which is not more than six inches long, around the square. It is a masterful act, which garners quite a few contributions from the crowd.

Continuing on into the “Latin Quarter” for dinner, we are sucked into a Greek place which turns out to have mediocre food served by an extremely rude waiter next to another noisy cash register. I vow to walk out of the next restaurant that offers a place next to the cash register.

As we leave the “restaurant,” we find ourselves outside the door of yet another old gothic cathedral, St. Séverin. This one is not so well cared-for, and seems to be a hang-out place. Much of it seems to be surrounded by a chain-link fence, but a crowd is gathered at the side door, and our curiosity leads us into the church, where it turns out a free orchestral concert is in progress as tourists wander in and out. We enjoy the music, but as they are playing Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Gabriel is having a hard time staying awake, and since this is not one of my favorites, we head back to the hotel.

Walking back in front of Notre Dame, a group of skateboarders are performing daring jumps, we notice that some are missing teeth, and considering the spills they take on the concrete, we hope that is the worst of it. Just beyond, out mime is just concluding his routine again, but this crowd seems to be a harder sell. Crossing the Seine again, we pass in front of the illuminated Hotel de Ville, impressive enough during the day, but even more so at night. Wouldn’t it be great if Forest Grove could have a city hall half as nice as this one?

Paris City HallWe miss our turn just pass the Hotel de Ville, and wander through maze of streets for awhile, which are still crowded with merrymakers from the day’s celebrations and others. Eventually, we make it back to the hotel with the aid of the map, and collapse into bed after struggling to wash out enough clothes to get us by another day. This is a necessity if we’re to see Giverny tomorrow.

Sunday, 27 June 1999

A late start this morning, and we have to rush to the Metro in time to get the last train to Vernon which meets a bus to Giverny. Back at Gare St. Lazarre, we find no open ticket windows, so we try the automated ticket machines. I assume that, like the ATM, that after inserting the credit card, it will give us language options, but no such luck – in fact nothing seems to happen at all. Once again, we’re saved by a passer by, who points out the British flag at the upper right corner of the screen, and indicates that we need to touch that. Voila! It works: we get instructions in English and realize that it is a touch-screen terminal. Another English-speaking couple bound for Giverny is watching over our shoulders, but time is getting short before the train leaves. We get to the end of the process, insert the credit card, and the machine asks for our PIN. Unfortunately, I’ve used the credit card for which we have no PIN, and so we have to start the process from scratch to use the ATM card. Departure time is now just minutes away, and the other couple has moved to another machine to try their luck on their own. We learn later that tickets can be purchased on the train, and we don’t see the other couple again. We can only hope that they eventually make it to Giverny. We run to the train, and as it rolls out of the station and picks up speed, we walk the length of its many cars trying to find three seats together. At the front end, we find three separate seats, and settle in for the half-hour ride.

Three Views of GivernyAt Vernon, we get off and wander around with the others trying to figure our where and how to get tickets and board the bus for Giverny. Soon a bus pulls up and everyone runs to “que up.” We are about twelfth in line when the bus is full, and with the other 30 or 40 people wonder how to get to Giverny. Eventually a taxi arrives, and after an 80F tour of the countryside, we arrive at Giverny.

By this time, it is nearly noon, so we buy sandwiches and pop after standing in a very slow line at the concession stand (“It must be run by volunteers” MB surmises). We eat while standing in line for the garden – at least we assume it is, there being no evidence one way or the other. Eventually we are able to join the throngs inside the garden walls. The most popular question overheard seems to be “what would Monet have thought of these crowds trampling his garden?” And they do just that to get the “right picture” of Uncle Joe on the Japanese Bridge. Despite the crowds, the gardens are exquisite, especially the water lily pond. MB finds it hard to resist picking seed pods from some of the poppies, but many others show no such restraint.

The atelier has been turned into a gift shop, so it is hard to appreciate this room with its huge skylight and the paintings (reproductions) on the wall. One of the huge paintings from the Musée de L’Orangerie dominates the wall above the display racks. The house is full of wonderful Japanese prints which would be nice to enjoy at leisure, but it’s hard to get more than a glimpse of a few with the crowds moving through the narrow hallways.

Outside the garden, we have the second half of lunch while waiting for the bus. This time we allow plenty of time so we can be near the front of the line. As it turns out, this does us no good – we can’t purchase a ticket back to Vernon and “no return ticket, no bus ride.” What a screwy mess this is, one would think the foundation that runs the garden would show a little more concern for its visitors. As the rain threatens, a crowd of disgruntled tourists think unkind thoughts about the local transportation “system.”

MB spots a mini-van run by a tour company arriving with visitors, and boldly inquires of the driver if he could give us a ride back to the train station. He graciously volunteers to do so, after concluding some business inside, and allows us to wait for him in the van. Along with four others who are in the same predicament, we are certainly grateful as the rain pelts the windows of the van. He has nothing else to do while his tour visits the gardens, but it is still a very generous action for which our small tip is probably little compensation. This is one time when a tour bus might have been the more sensible option.

It’s nearly dinner time by the time we get back to Paris, so we wander around the hotel neighborhood a bit, then wind up at a pizza place on a little square along Rue St. Antoine. Unfortnately, their “menu” isn’t available until 7, so we order a la carte. It is much more pleasant than the night before, and we get to watch people people passing through the square or stopping at one of the other restaurants located there.

After dinner, we investigate the concerts at St. Chapelle, but it is still early, so we go for a slow walk around the very large block occupied by the Palais de Justice and the Conciergerie. Once again we go through the security check, but this time we actually go into the Palais de Justice where we are able to buy tickets for the concert. At 9 p.m. we are still waiting to get in, but soon the doors open. Instead of the huge crowds we had expected to be jamming a massive gothic cathedral, we find instead that we are in a group of not more than a hundred people occupying only the front third or so of this magnificent, but surprisingly intimate chapel.St. Chapelle -- four views

The program is nothing like what had been advertised, but is delightful, none the less, opening with Pachelbel’s Canon in D. A fairly Romanitc interpretation for my taste, but how can one complain in this setting. The stained glass windows seem to extend up endlessly around us, supported by surprisingly slender columns. This is so unlike any other gothic cathedral it is astounding. Of course it was intended as an intimate chapel for the royal court, but it is clearly something different from the ordinary. Even the magnificent rose window behind us seems only an afterthought.

What a delight! Fortunately we know our way better by now, and the walk back to the hotel is fairly direct. But it is pretty late, and we fall into bed again, exhausted after another long day.

Monday, 28 June 1999

Our last full day in Paris, and so much left to do!.We both wake up with headaches this morning, and realize that we had had no coffee the day before. We’ve become addicted to our strong morning coffee, and now we’re paying for it! So like any addict, we head for the nearest cafe to get our morning fix.

Our first choice for the day had been the Musée de Orsay, but it is closed on Mondays, so that leaves the Louvre. But our first task is to find Gabriel’s boules, so we head for the Samaritaine Dept. Store, which also has a great viewpoint on its roof. Our route leads through a trendy shopping district south of Rue St. Antoine, and along the Seine. Here there is a concentration of pet and plant stores, which are too much for MB and Gabriel to pass up, we miss our Daisy and Yoda.

It is a chore to find the sporting goods department once we get to the store, but we eventually find the boules. Not surprisingly they are about half the cost of the sets we had seen in a window in Chamonix. With that mission accomplished, and a stop at five-star restrooms, we head for the observation deck. I guard our bags as MB and Gabriel head down to the basement where they sell grocery items. This turns out to be a “you can’t get there from here” experience, and it takes them at least an hour to buy some fruit for out lunch.

With such a wonderful view of the heart of Paris, there are certainly less pleasant places to be waiting for someone. And reunited again, we buy very expensive coffee from the cafeteria there and enjoy a late lunch. Then it’s up to the observation platform for an even better view.

Shakespeare & Co. BookstoreBy this time it is after 2 o’clock, and we head for Shakespeare & Company for books to read on our return flight. This is an interesting experience in itself, the bookstore has obviously resisted the pressure towards crass commercialism which seems to pervade the rest of the Latin Quarter. Books are piled everywhere, and narrow stairs lead to more stacks of books upstairs. When I ask for the price of our books I get two different prices. Since we are trying to spend down our cash, I don’t have enough, and they don’t take plastic, so I have to go in search of an ATM. By the time I get back, having gotten lost in the process, a third clerk is at the door, and I get a third price for the books (which is fortunately not the high end of the range).

By this time it is 5 p.m., and clearly too late to “do the Louvre.” But it’s not too late for a last visit to St. Chapelle, since we didn’t really get to look around at the interior or the stained glass during the day. So it’s back through the security check once again, and we have not much time left before closing. This time we enter through the lower chapel, of which we had seen no trace the evening before. But since time is growing short, we head up the spiral staircase at the rear corner (being thankful that this is not another 135 steps!). this time, though, we can sit and just stare at the windows, two-thirds of which are apparently original. Soon, one of the attendants swings shut the massive doors of the upper chapel. With the doors closed, the lack of glare reveals the ornate decorative painting above the door and below the rose window. But soon they are turning off lights, and we head down to the lower chapel again, through the spiral staircase on the opposite side of the doors. The decorative motifs in the lower chapel are similar, but the relatively low ceiling here is in marked contrast to the soaring columns and high ceiling of the upper chapel. Here, too, is the gift shop.

Leaving St. Chapelle, we wander around a bit through the commercial maze of the Latin Quarter, eventually finding a restaurant that seems pleasant enough, and in which we get decent seats. We order a half-bottle of Cote du Rhone, but get a full one instead, and we are surprised that we finish it off with our last shot at mussels. We enjoy a pleasant conversation with a woman and her two daughters at the next table who are from the East Coast. Then it’s back to the hotel. We try to verify the RER train schedule, but the hotel clerk assures us that they run so frequently, we won’t need a schedule. We pay our bill and pack our bags as well as we can.

Tuesday, 29 June 1999

We’re up early to allow plenty of time to get to the airport. We walk to the St. Paul Metro stop, zip to the Chatelet stop where we transfer to the RER, which does leave almost immediately, and delivers us promptly to Charles de Gaulle Airport. MB is so anxious about missing the plane that we skip any opportunity for coffee until we check in, get through security and passport checks to the waiting area. Then it’s on the plane, fly to Atlanta (where we almost get to switch to a direct flight to Portland), then to Salt Lake City, and to Seattle. By the time we leave Seattle, it is already 11:30 p.m. and the ticket agents are beginning to feel sorry for us, we look so exhausted. What a pleasure to see a familiar face waiting for us in Portland, and to be whisked to a comfortable bed in Beavercreek. How pleasant not to have to drive home until the next day!

The Photos: a view of Notre Dame from the Seine; City Hall; three views of Giverny (note the overgrown Japanese Bridge); four of St. Chapelle; Shakespeare & Co. bookstore

1. Oregon to Paris 2. Notre Dame 3. Versailles 4. Mt. Saint Michel to Carnac 5. Chenonceaux and Le Mont Dore 6. Vers 7. Maison de Martin 8. Carcas-
9. Chamonix 10. Lausanne to Paris 11. The Itinerary 12. A Note on the Photographs And a Plea for Feedback!

Text and photos copyright 1999 Meredith L. Bliss