Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Each romantic but in their own way

You and me both fella

Big tip for anyone going to Paris, DO NOT GO ON BASTILLE DAY. Seriously write off the next several days in huge long lines and claustrophobic crushes as well as risking life and limb getting on the metro (nearly 2 weeks later my forearm is still tender where the door tried to shut on it). I estimate 2 billion people are in this city during this period (Elizabeth thinks my estimation skills need practice).


Eliz helped untangle his bike
On the plus side it is a time of military parades, fireworks over the Eiffel Tower, firecrackers in the streets, lots of energy and excitement. The choice of day was coincidental and matches the same time I was here 20 years ago (also coincidental, snap).

So near but so far...
The first day started with the long walk along the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. Then we continued on to the Eiffel Tower which had just been closed to prepare for the night's festivities. We completed the round trip back to the hotel by going to the Notre Dame Cathedral.

We decided to see the fireworks and took the metro, with standing room only and squashed up so tightly people near the doors or trying to squeeze in were regularly getting stung by the doors. At the stop we just flowed like a river with the crowd to the best available vantage point. What followed was near on an hour (to midnight) of a phenomenal fireworks display and light show on the tower. The theme was disco with classics like I Will Survive, Dancing Queen and other memorable hits of the 70's, in English. The tower came complete with a huge mirror ball and glitter lights that would flash periodically. Really strange but amazing and very cool.


Getting home was difficult, the subway we came in on was shut down with military in front and we kept getting herded to 'the next subway', which never eventuated. Around 1:30 we pulled out the map and the phone compass and headed in the general direction of the Arc de Triomphe and home on foot. Finally we did find an open subway and took it the rest of the way, very tired and having clocked up 28km for the day according to my pedometer, a new record.

Hall of mirrors
The next days were a bit more normal just incredibly busy, we visited the Palace of Versailles, the highlight being the hall of mirrors (King Ludwig tried to copy it) and the huge gardens. The Louvre was huge and as ornate as the Palace, and included the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo statue among its artworks. Finally we did get up the Eiffel Tower, all the way to the top, staying there to witness the sun go down on Paris before the next day's train whisked us to Amsterdam.

The giant has a missus
Gardens at the Palace
Elizabeth on the Eiffel Tower 
From the Eiffel Tower


The red light district
Amsterdam has got to be one of the strangest cities I have ever been in. Scantily clad beautiful ladies behind windows kept smiling at me and beckoning and a strange smell kept wafting out of 'coffee houses' that did not sell coffee (seriously they were called coffee houses and had their own tour) and Elizabeth became strangely protective and would not let me out on my own.


Where else in the world can you do a tour during the day and witness an orchestra in the main square playing the classics and also do a tour at night through the red light district witnessing two sides to a city that live in harmony and peace with each other and without the seediness and danger prevalent in other cities? Large crowds of people, couples, families etc wandering cheerfully and safely through what is normally the seedy and dangerous underbelly of other cities.  In fact the tour guide says the hard drug scene is nearly non existent and sexually transmitted diseases are low compared to other similarly sized cities. If this is a great big social experiment then it seems to be working.

We also took a delightful cruise through the canals and visited the Van Gogh Museum in a city that must be one of a kind in the world. So as I drifted lazily and strangely calm taking in the strange smells of the city I reflected on what our next stop, Copenhagen, will have in store for us.