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At Sacré-Cœur: our only sunny day in Paris
In a city as large, historical, and diverse as Paris, we have been able to come back for four and a half days... and still see an itinerary of completely different sights than we did four months ago in December. Our accommodations this time are at the Hôtel Bretagne Montparnasse, which is a part of the "Best Western" chain. We have a single room with a double (rollaway) bed and two singles -- a far cry from the mini-apartment we had last time -- made even smaller by having all of our suitcases in it. But the price is fantastic for four people in Paris (€135 per night) and there is a large bathtub, much to Gail's delight.
On our first half-day, April 24th, it was so sunny and warm (25° C or 77° F) that we took the metro up to Sacré-Cœur at Montmartre, where a Romanesque-Byzantine church atop the hill overlooks all of Paris. At this extremely touristy spot, we saw (male) people out with their shirts off, and we braved the gauntlet of crowds and souvenir shops. We cooked dinner in our room for the last time; after that, we took advantage of the many streets of cheap, good food in the Quartier Latin. Over the course of the next several days, we enjoyed everything from raclette (Joss' request, at Le Menhir -- literally, "the big rock") to Greek food (at Restaurant Santorini -- delicious).
April 24th was also the only sunny and warm weather we had; starting on April 25th we had rain. But this did little to interfere with our sightseeing. We visited the Musée du Louvre (Cameron's request), where we spent a good four hours seeing everything from ancient Greek sculpture to French romantic paintings (Cameron and Joss spent a lot of time folding their maps into origami creations). We went to the Conciergerie (which Joanne had taken Russell to in January), where we learned more about the French Revolution at the prison that housed Marie Antoinette, France's last queen. At the Centre Georges Pompidou and its museum of modern art, Joss got bored rather quickly, but Cameron was absolutely fascinated and didn't want to leave (he said he got lots of ideas for projects of his own). We were particularly entertained by a 20-minute-plus film in which tires, fires, and other mechanisms kept initiating further motion and kinetic activity by bumping into or igniting new things in a chain reaction, Rube Goldberg style. And we took the RER train to Versailles, the decadent palace built by Louis XIV, the "Sun King." Gail had been here in rain and overcast skies ten years ago, and was looking forward to seeing it in the springtime. Strangely enough, her new memories are still of rain and overcast skies.
Le musée du Louvre
Le centre Georges Pompidou
Le château de Versailles
We had other adventures as well. We helped an American couple who couldn't figure out the metro system. As a result, Russell ended up on a metro train with them whose doors closed before Gail, Cameron, and Joss could get on. (We ended up reunited very shortly, but from then on Joss' mantra was "Don't rush the metro"). Cameron and Joss became experts on the metro system; they adopted the task of reading the maps and leading us to the correct trains and transfers. (Cameron and Joss have also learned how to do animation on the PC, so there is even more negotiating for PC time.)
At one point, Joss was standing on the sidewalk looking at all of his Euro coins in his hand. A beggar woman (Paris is full of them) came up and held up her hand of coins next to his -- she thought he was making contributions, and she started pointing to her mouth to signify hunger. Joss just looked at her, dumbfounded.
We bought four cartes musées (museum discount cards) before discovering that children don't need them. We tried unsuccessfully to get a remboursement (refund) on two of them -- the museum said we had to go back to where we had bought them, and the metro station (where we had bought them) directed us to a central office that was closed until Monday, the day we were leaving. We finally resorted to standing next to the ticket line at Versailles and yelling in English, "Does anybody want to buy two museum cards?" We ended up selling them (at a loss) to an English-speaking German couple -- we can only hope that they bought what they thought they were buying, and don't feel that they got cheated by some Americans.
And at the Cathédrale de Nôtre-Dame, Gail discovered a demonstration against Le Pen by the Jewish people of Paris.
But our nicest surprise was meeting up with Russell's brother Curtis and his wife Ming-Yean in Paris on April 26th. Curtis had talked Ming-Yean into joining him for a business trip in Nice, and they just happened to stop in Paris for a few days (Russell's sister Joanne was actually the one who realized that we were all in Paris at the same time). We only had one afternoon to spend with them, so we all had lunch together at yet another restaurant in the Quartier Latin (French cuisine this time, at Ming-Yean's request -- she and Curtis had escargot).
The World Trippers with Curtis and Ming-Yean (at Notre-Dame)
Overall, Paris is a city that doesn't thrill Gail (she is not a fan of big cities), but it is one of Russell's most favorite places on earth. So after each day of excursions, after the rest of the family returned to the room, Russell would continue to go out exploring on his own. One memorable conversation took place when he tried calling the room from a payphone:
Russell: Hello? Is this Cameron?
Voice: No, it's me.
Russell: Um... hi, Joss. Is mom there?
Voice: She's taking a bath right now.
Russell: Can you ask her if it's okay if I stay out for another half-hour?
Voice: I think you might come back before she's done with her bath.
Russell: No, I need you to go and ask her if it's all right.
Voice: Okay. Hold on.
Phone: Click. Bzzzzz.
We realized later that this is probably the first time that Joss has ever answered a telephone himself.
We tried for a couple of "grande finale" events before we left the City of Lights. On April 27th we went to the Île de St.-Louis to have a nice French-cuisine dinner at l'Auberge de la Reine Blanche, where Joanne had taken Russell for his "birthday" dinner. Unfortunately, the boys were acting up atrociously (as Gail said, it was the one time when she really wished that we had a babysitter), and we ended up having Italian food at La Castafiore down the street instead.
From the moment we returned to Paris, Cameron and Joss (and Russell) were hoping to see the movie of The Lord of the Rings in English for a second time. On April 28th, our last full day, the four of us went all the way across town for a 2:00 PM showing, only to discover that -- contrary to the directory -- it was not the v.o. ("veersione originale"), but the v.f. ("version francaise"). Fortunately, there was just one more cinema house showing the movie in v.o. at 6:00 PM, and we were successful in getting into that (although Joss fell on his tailbone while playing on some cement stanchions).
The rest of April 28th was spent repacking our suitcases once again, this time to board an airplane (all of the soft things in the soft cases, all of the more fragile things in the hard cases, etc.). Returning to Paris once again really showed us the contrast in how much we've grown and how comfortable we've become over the last four months. At that time, the end of April seemed like such a long time away in the future. And now, once again, it's already time to leave...
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