26 May 2010

Europe recap 2003, Day 2: Paris

Monday, November 3rd, 2003, had me leave London for the midday train hop to Paris.

The Eurostar ticket had been booked directly at the railroad website before I had left the US, though I did need to manually check in before departure. As for Paris, I had two nights booked, via Priceline.com, at a Mercure hotel in the Montmartre district, not too far from the sleazy sex shops of Boulevard de Clichy making up the infamous Pigalle district. I was not impressed with the price, with the condition of the room, nor with the amenities.

My hotel is only a minute or two away on foot from the world-famous Moulin Rouge ("red mill") cabaret and its topless can-can dancers. This intersection also contains a Métro station - Blanche on Line 2.

The Comfort Inn I had stayed in back in 1998 was located very close to Abbesses Station on Line 12, which is only a few more minutes away on foot.

I would return in the evening to take in the touristy can-can show, but for now, I am sightseeing around Paris. And also getting to use the new Euro currency for the first time, as France had used the franc back in 1998 (and I still hold on to a 50-franc note honoring Antoine de St. Exupery, and his book Le Petit Prince).

While there is a Quick hamburger restaurant, France's homegrown answer to McDonald's, to the right, I don't think I dined at this particular location during this visit.

I don't remember if this arch is from Blanche Station, or from Pigalle Station one stop to the east, but it is one of a number of original Métropolitain arches that mark the entrance to a subway station.

At one time, Paris was busy removing arches like this to "modernize" the Métro, but outcry from the public and tourists saved some of these unique arches. And I love finding quirks like this whenever I travel to France.

I decided to visit a sight that I had missed in 1998: the Picasso Museum in the Marais. A good look at not only Pablo Picasso's artwork, from conceptual pieces like this nude to cubism and other styles, but also at his non-art activities, including politics.

Did not enjoy the experience too much though. Pre-planning via the museum website had been a bit difficult due to it being only in French, and communicating with the locals is a bit of a challenge, between my much rustier French (compared to 1998 anyway) and the reluctance of the locals to speak English. And sticking around for just two nights is NOT conducive to being immersed in the French experience either.

In any case, it was a good decision to visit the Picasso Museum. For my next Paris visit (exactly six years later), Picasso Museum was closed for renovations.

Continuing to walk around the Marais, whose reputation as Jewish and gay enclave I had somehow picked up. Place des Vosges is a plaza that serves as a key focal point of this older neighborhood.

Still having a bit of trouble connecting with Paris, however. In addition to the language barrier, I am also getting a few unwanted stares in the Métro. It is a reminder that while France may not be Spain or Italy, it is still a Latin country with a bit of machismo. The demons from my 1999 Amsterdam trip are still bugging me somewhat, even though Paris had been good to me in the past, and even on this trip, it was not outright rude either (especially a good thing, considering that Americans were really bashing France in 2003 for its refusal to support the invasion of Iraq).

Before returning to the hotel area and the Moulin Rouge cabaret, I will be taking in some modern artwork at Centre Georges Pompidou. Don't remember much about the modern art that was mixing up quite badly in my brain. But do remember the coat check, where the male attendants were clocking me as a visitor from South Korea. I did correct them by identifying Los Angeles as my home, however. In any case, not having a good day, but glad to know that the French were NOT reciprocating all the American French-bashing.

From the upper floors of this building, I also enjoyed the lovely sight of both the Sacre-Coeur Basilica and the Eiffel Tower, as the sun set and the city lights started to take over.

And again, the Moulin Rouge cabaret, with its touristy French-English bilingual shows with a primarily Chinese audience, wrapped up the evening. It was notable to know that children as young as six were allowed to attend; while the mere glimpse of an exposed nipple scars an American child forever, a French child thinks nothing of it, certainly.

The next day, Day 3, November 4th, 2003, would find me taking a half-day trip out to Amiens, then returning to Paris to tour the one major art museum I had not checked out previously - Musée d'Orsay.