Where do you go in Paris on Easter Sunday? Why, to the mosque, of course! But first, we had to deal with breakfast. Today, however, it passed off without a hitch.
Tigger had been studying the map and working out bus routes but I didn’t know where we were going until we started out. “Georges Pompidou Centre,” announced Tigger, adding confidently “but you’ll hate it.”
We thought we needed the 47 bus but couldn’t find the stop. A bus was standing nearby so I went and asked the driver. He told me where it was and as I turned to go added “Mais il ne marche pas le dimanche.” If our bus didn’t run on Sundays, what were we to do? Without prompting, the bus driver told me what bus we needed and where to find the stop.
That is something that I, used to London ways, notice about this city: people take time to help you and are amiable about doing so. London impatience is rare. On setting out, we had gone down into the Métro to buy one-day travel cards. I met the same unhurried courtesy there: the ticket clerk explained that the tickets were good for all travel modes – bus, train and Métro – within the city. I went back a couple of times with more questions and to ask for a map and met the same polite and smiling response.
We found our bus and off we went. We got off at the Georges Pompidou Centre and I nearly fell over backwards looking up at its heights. “They built the Lloyds building after this,” said Tigger, “and I know how you hate that. So you’ll hate this too.”
“It’ll be nice when it’s finished,” was all I would say.
We had a walk around the area and looked at an ornamental pond they have there with surreal art objects rising out of it. What I liked best was a pair of ducks, male and female, standing in the water preening. Another thing that strikes me about Paris is the number of birds in the city, especially sparrows, which are relatively rare in London.
Then we took the bus for the Mosque. This is a famous landmark in Paris near the Gare d’Austerlitz. It is a beautiful building and completely lacks the embattled feel of mosques in London. We infidels are positively welcomed into the entrance area which performs the role of a cafe and restaurant. The whole is beautifully decorated in Arabic style with moulded pillars and tiles. We had mint tea while taking it all in and watching the antics of a pair of sparrows who flew in looking for crumbs and were obviously tolerated.
Out in the street again, we waited for a bus to take us on he next stage of our trip. Service is a little slower on a Sunday but it was a fine day and we didn’t mind waiting, chatting excitedly about our experiences.
The first bus took us a little way up the road to the Institut du Monde Arabe. This is a modern building designed with unusual angles but very elegant. Here we changed buses and were carried to the Champ de Mars, and the Eiffel Tower.
We now stopped for a tea in a cafe. Our waiter was a lively and frolicsome character. I decided to check the Euromillions ticket we had bought on Friday. He wanted to check his too and invited me to blow on it for luck. Alas for him, it did no good. When they checked my ticket, they found it was for next week, not this week. Not to worry: if I win a major prize I’ll be only too happy to make a special trip to France just to collect it.
As you might imagine the whole area of the Tower was crowded. Even so, the Tower itself is so huge that in comparison the people look like ants. You really cannot help wondering how something so small and insignificant could think up and build something so big and imposing. I shuddered just to think of those men climbing the girders and adding more as they gradually raised this structure towards the sky.
We went into the Champ, found shade under a tree and sprawled looking up at the Tower, the red and yellow lifts sliding up and down and little dots of ant-people at various levels.
We also watched the pigeons, sparrows, wood pigeons, crows and starlings hunting for food and squabbling over their finds. Need I say that we also watched the antics of the human fauna too, just as entertaining in their own way.
When we had watched enough, we went to look for refreshment. It was now well into the lunch “hour” and the cafes were crowded. Nothing daunted, we walked into the Bar Castell and were immediately shown a table for two. I was able to admire the speed, skill and good humour of the waiters. We are wrong to take them for granted (if we do) because they are skilful and work very hard.
After lunch we were off again on the bus. Tigger wanted to show me what I will call Little Miss Liberty until I can look up her real name. After a bus ride and a walk, we came down beside the Seine again and found Little Miss Liberty, a small replica of the better known Statue of Liberty that resides in New York Harbour. Like her sister, this one – about 20 feet high, I would guess – holds her ice cream cone aloft in a noble gesture. Her spiky crown is gilded and shines becomingly in the sunshine.
Walking up from the river we came upon Bar Les Ondes and stopped for lemon tea. When the waiter came to take our order, he spoke a phrase that I had heard from other waiters and which struck me as odd. “Je vous écoute,” he said, much as might a lawyer or doctor or other professional waiting for you to present your case to him.
We decided to take the train (SNCF) for the next stage of the journey. We needed to go a few stops to the Musée d’Orsay. It was a bit like using the suburban rail services in London except that the train was a double decker, roomier and cleaner than our old crates.
At the Musée d’Orsay, we took to the street for a few hundred yards to Solferino, a station on line 12 of the Métro. This too was similar to, but different from, the London Tube. We only went 9 stops so it would be unfair to make comparisons.
The target of our journey was Monmartre and the Sacré Cœur. Unsurprisingly for a main tourist attraction on a warm sunny Sunday, the place was crowded. To get to the Sacré Cœur itself from our street level you either take the funicular or walk up a staircase that makes that at Bank station look like a kick stool. The funicular was out of order owing to an unspecified “technical incident”. There was a replacement bus service but such were the crowds (there were even long queues at the mechanical toilets) that we gave it a miss. Tigger contented herself with a few photos from where we were.
Instead we found a bus that took us to the Gare de l’Est, on our doorstep, so to speak. In the hotel room we made tea and I wrote up the day.
Tomorrow we are to return to London so we hope to have a special final dinner. Will we succeed, dear reader? At this point, I do not know.
We walked down rue des Vinaigriers and crossed the boulevard to a restaurant we had noticed previously. Called Plaisir des Iles, it offered Indian, “creole” and Mauritian dishes. A quick look at the menu convinced us that this would fill the bill perfectly. We had a very good meal with lassi. We spoke French to the waiter though I am pretty sure he spoke English. (If he was from Mauritius, he would presumably be bilingual.) The food was slightly different from the Indian food we are used to in London – maybe because they have adapted their dishes to French taste.
After dinner, we strolled to the nearest Métro station and took the train. We realized we were going to wrong way and at Austerlitz changed to the SNCF, which took us to Neuilly Porte Maillot, the nearest station to the Arc de Triomphe. As we walked towards it down the rue de la Grande Armée, we caught intermittent glimpses of the Eiffel Tower, illuminated and sending out its rotating lighthouse beam.
The Arc itself is huge and makes Marble Arch look like a croquet hoop. It stood like a sheer illuminated mountain against a black sky, almost overwhelming in its scale and grandeur.
Turning our backs on it at last, we went underground and took a SNCF train to Châtelet les Halles and changed there to line 4 of the Métro which carried us back to the Gare de l’Est and our hotel.
On reaching our room, we flopped gratefully onto the bed, tired out by our excursions.
We start back to London tomorrow after breakfast. This has been a most enjoyable holiday. I love Paris and want to return. There are things we haven’t seen and places yet to visit. It was fun talking French again and interacting with Parisians, most of whom were friendly, good-humoured and helpful.