Sunday (Dec 14) – Welcoming guests and Notre Dame

Today we were due to receive visitors who were going to stay with us for the next few days. My PhD supervisor (and fellow ICIS’2008 attendee) and her husband were due to arrive around 10:30. So Sandy and I spent a lazy morning inside reading and waiting for them to arrive. Of course, we hadn’t provided all the necessary instructions and had them waiting on the sidewalk for a bit before getting inside.

Inside Notre Dame de Paris

After the visitors were settled our plan was to head to Notre Dame de Paris using the second day of our ticket on the tour bus. This was a good thing given that it was still raining. I should make a point that “rain” in Paris is not like the sub-tropical rain one gets in Rockhampton. We’ve never seen much more than a very light drizzle but combine it with walking a few kilometres, a low single digit temperature and the occasional gust of wind and it is not all that comfortable.

Even on a wet, windy, cold December day the crowds at the cathedral were quite large. We only spent some time inside the cathedral and did not both climbing the stairs – yet another line. Instead spent some time wandering around inside. Even with a lot of people it was an experience.

Notre-Dame de Paris an altar?

All the standard cathedral stuff was there. Chapels, statues, windows, altars etc. But the history of a building started in the 1100s and which has hosted a range of events adds something. Of course there were also tourists ignoring various rules (e.g. flash photography) and the odd homeless person enjoying the warmth.

Notre-Dame de Paris

After one complete lap around the cathedral and sometime sitting in the pews it was time to head outside again. We spent some time browsing the “high class” shops selling the cheap, standard souviners that you see all around Paris. One of these days we will complete our list of purchases to palm off on the folk at home.

After that it was back on the tour bus for a drive around town until it returned to the Champs Elysees and a walk back home to the apartment. The early return was required because, alas, it was time to pick up the real reason we came to Paris, ICIS’2008.

Sunday night was the opening reception. We collected Shirley and John from the apartment and made our way to the Palais de Congres for the opening reception. A lot of people in a room with the heating turned up and one free drink did not make for an environment in which a long time was to be spent.

joan of arc at the Notre-Dame de Paris

After a minimal amount of time 6 of us retired to a local Indian restaurant for quite a good dinner. Then it was back to bed, early, as two of the 6 had presentations to give in the morning.

Saturday (13th Dec) – Must be the Musee D’Orsay

After our big night out at Lasserre Saturday morning saw us walking down to the Musee D’Orsay.

The Grand Palais

So once again we traipsed down the Champs Elysees, which is starting to feel like an old friend and perhaps just a bit boring. Perhaps it is time for us to broaden our coverage of Paris beyond just this little bit. But not today. Part of the walk takes us passed the Grand Palais

As with the Louvre there was a line to get through security, a good 10/15 minute wait and then only three or four folk in front of me for tickets. Both Sandy and I have commented that visiting these places during peak times must involved some horrendous numbers of people and long, long waiting times. Even in Winter, most of these places are fairly busy.

sacre couer from musee de orsay

The Musee D’Orsay is an old, big, train station converted nicely into a musuem. It includes a lot of paintings and sculptures and by the end, having only seen a subset of the total, both Sandy and I were cultured out. Though I must admit that some of this was due to jet lag, a lot of walking and some aches and pains. One nice place to sit and relax was a small break in the paintings which gave a view outside towards the Sacre Coeur.

A Monet?

So, obviously there had to be some photos taken of paintings. One which I think was a Monet, but I could be wrong. And of course the one below is a little more obvious in its origins. Of course Sandy thinks that the most memorable painting, much to her chagrin, was the L’Origine du monde. In Sandy’s defense it is quite a striking painting and it was essentially the last one we saw before we left.

vincent van gogh

On leaving the Musee D’Orsay we discovered that it had started to rain. Given the low single digit temperatures and that we were a good 5Km walk from home, this was not a welcome development. As it happened one of the bus companies that do a fixed route around Paris had a stop at the Musee d’Orsay and we got on that to get out of the rain and be taken home.

The excitement machines we are led us to have a late and large lunch. The premise being that we’d eat lots now, go back to the apartment and have an early night. The onion soup I had for an entree was very nice. The rest of the meal wasn’t up to that level. Sandy in particular lucked out with a cold rack of lamb for her main course.

Somewhat disappointed we returned to the apartment, stopping off to buy some red, bread and other necessities and then spent the rest of the evening reading before retiring early. Tomorrow visitors are due to arrive.

Our first afternoon in Paris

After our flight we spent the afternoon of the 12th wondering around Paris, seeing what we could see. The plane was mostly to look at the Champs Elysees and the Eiffel Tower.

arc de triomphe

Walked along the Champs Elysees to the Arch de Triomphe, all not very far from where the apartment is. We’re we feeling somewhat hungry by this stage, time for some lunch. Ended up settling for one of the places close by, which are undoubtedly of the type to pander to tourists that haven’t ventured too far from the sights.

We can’t complain. I had a brilliant Steak au poivre and pommes frites. Very, very nice. Sandy had some sort of salmon dish, the fish melted in your mouth.

Full of energy we decided to climb the Arc de Triomphe and see what we could see. Your certainly get a good view of Paris from the top. Provided an opportunity to understand where things lay. The following shot of the Eiffel Tower was taken from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe

You get to the Arc de Triomphe via an underground tunnel that goes underneath the round about that runs around it. It’s an experience in itself simply to stand and watch the traffic as it goes around. It certainly appears that the Australian round about rules don’t apply. There are no lanes – choose your own. And you give way to any folk to your right. Which means cars do stop on the roundabout to allow for in coming traffic. I guess that cessation of motion causes the odd bingle. And we happened to catch the end result of such.

a bit of road rage - paris style

After this we headed down the Champs Elysees and through some other streets to get to the Eiffel Tower. The grand plan being that we would go up the top and perhaps partake in some ice skating. The following shot was taken on the way there. During this journey, the closer we got to the Eiffel the greater the concentration of hawkers trying to make money selling souvenirs.

The Eiffel Tower

Once we arrived at the Eiffel tower the grand plan to head up the top was thwarted by three factors. First, and foremost, was that it was cold. Too cold for Sandy she was not looking forward to being out for too much longer. Second, was the line. Even on a winter’s afternoon the line was quite long. Lastly, by this stage we were getting pretty tired. 30+ hours of travel was starting to take its toll so sadly, we wussed out and started walking back to the apartment for sleep.

The Intrepid Polar Explorer and Friend

By the time we were getting back near the Arc de Triomphe the moon was up and so we had the opportunity for the following shot. After this we stopped at some small stores in a “square” just near the apartment and purchased some coke (to go with the 12 yo Scotch) and some bakery products for food. Retired to the apartment for an early dinner and then to bed.

ArchDeTriomphe and Moon

Singapore to Paris

After much shopping (mostly winter clothes – much needed and used already) and a bit of time in the QClub – time to get back on a plane for the 13+ hours to London. The upgrade to Business didn’t come through but the nice check in lady from Brisbane had put us in the next best thing. A row of seats behind a partition that meant we had enough room to our legs out straight. Very nice. Both Sandy and I slept a reasonable amount for this type of thing. Watched a number of movies and basically waited for the flight to be over.

The highlight for me as about halfway into the flight when we were over the middle East somewhere. Having a window seat I looked out to see clouds below shining in a full moon. Just above and to the left of our plane were two contrails from other planes. One of which I could see their navigation flights flashing in the distance. The moon was shining on these and making them glow. Very nice. Pity the camera was lodged up above and the scene only lasted for a few minutes.

On arrival at Heathrow (Terminal 4) we had to make our way to the new Terminal 5 that has been in the news for last bags (thankfully ours made it through no worries). However, we did have a long walk through various cold and draft passage ways to get to the bus for Terminal 5. What followed was a good 15 minutes on the crowded bus. The time taken did generate some negative comments from the locals.

Once inside Terminal 5 things went okay. Very noticeable that it is a new terminal. The security process is fairly quick and well though out, however, it is somewhat different from previous experience (e.g. you don’t take your computer out of the bag for screening) and the novelty seems to slow folk down. At this point I could also make disparaging comments about whinging Poms who did not seem happy with the process, but I am now more culturally aware and realise that this sort of generalisation is fraught with weakness. Of course, all the way through this process there were signs along the lines “Don’t talk nasty to us as it won’t help you get through any quicker you whinging pom”.

Inside the terminal there were lots of nice shiny and large duty free stores including some with very nice deals on alcohol. However, we didn’t have time to partake as by the time we visited the facilities we were being called to our gate. A gate that happened to be down stairs and out of the way. The size, location and lighting did not bode well.

The process for getting on the plane, once the boarding pass was checked, was to go outside onto another bus (remember this is a winters morning in London – 1 degree and wet – though not raining). After a 10 minute drive we’re back outside climbing up into a Airbus 319 that is parked with others away from the terminal. Thank god it wasn’t raining. At this stage it was then another 20 minutes before we started moving, another 20 minutes taxing before a 40 minute flight to Paris.

The flight went well in Paris quickly. A reverse of the Heathrow experience in terms of bus and terminal. Pick up a bottle of 12yo Scotch and pass through customs – quick look at the passport and through.

Now came the big test. Would our bags have made it through Terminal 5 and all subsequent change overs. It wasn’t looking good, waiting, waiting. One of the baggage service folk came over for a talk, but no, we’re not the ones they were after. A few of our other colleagues from the flight were milling around looking worried. Just as it was looking bad, out comes our bag. There’s a win. Things might be looking up.

Next to go through security. Four stations either side of an open hall. No line, people walking through. Do we walk through? Why not. Yep, all the way through, no checks.

Now comes the task of ringing our landlady. First set of phones would not work. Credit card, coins (had to get change for Euro coins) and phone card did not work. Bugger. This might not work well.

Move onto another set of phones. Ahh, this one takes coins. Put 1.40 euro in the phone, make the call and wallah – talking to Mme Rivaud. Organise to meet her out front of the apartment building in an hour – but the phone cuts out before we could say goodbye. Lets up she doesn’t take this the wrong way. The funny thing is, the phone gave me back 40 euro cents. It only like the $1 euro.

Outside for a taxi and a hope that the written directions will be sufficient for him to get us there. A 40 minute drive and we’re deposited outside the apartment. At which we have to wait for 10 minutes or so for the landlady to turn up

Waiting for Mme Rivaud

Not all that bad, get a chance to walk around the neighbourhood, but it is cold. Sandy’s putting her “cold” boots on when the landlady arrives. Shows us the ropes, helps us settle in and then were alone in our little French apartment for the next 7 days.