Wednesday 21st December – The Local Tourist

Today, my strategy was all about avoiding as many queues as possible so I was up at 7am. Another session of coughing and spluttering in the shower to try and shake the sickness from my body, after which I had breakfast and made lunch. Not bad to do all meals except dinner on EUR3! I called my Mummy over breakfast, feeling sick and sorry for myself and in need of some motherly sympathy. I feared another sinus infection like I’d had a few months ago since I wasn’t recovering and Mum instructed me to get myself to a doctor for some meds. I asked at the desk for some doctor information and it all sounded too hard and very expensive without insurance, so I decided I’d give it another day or so.

Having bought another bike ticket, I planned to ride down to Notre Dam. I was stoked to find one bike at the station right outside the hostel, but it was a trap. No matter how hard I tried, it would not release from the stand. I gave it three goes, trying at first to be forceful, then gentle, then downright destructive and each attempt failed. No matter, the station around the corner had plenty of bikes that freed themselves. I felt a little like a commuter since it was just before 9am and I didn’t even have to look at my map to navigate the streets south towards the river. By the time I got to the cathedral, there snot all over my face so I cleaned myself up before heading into the populated square in front of the cathedral. Those tissues I bought yesterday are turning out to be a life saver!

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The queue for the main part of the cathedral was barely out the door and there was no queue yet for the tower, as I predicted. I joined the small tour group of Asians in the short queue for a security bag check. While in the line, I remembered that it was “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo that had been the story of my childhood. It all came rushing back! I even remember the hunchback’s face! After a bag check, I was inside the great cathedral and quickly tagged onto an English-speaking tour where I learnt a bit more about the cathedral’s architecture and stained glass windows. The stained glass is impressive and most of it is original. I loved the purple colour that seemed to stand out amongst the rest, it created a nice glow all throughout the cathedral. Inside, they had a detailed timeline of the building’s construction, which lasted hundreds of years and endured many renovations and formations.

I spent a good hour wandering around inside, visiting each of the small chapels that surrounded the perimeter of the building, each with a different vigil to pray to. The treasury cost EUR5 to get in and they didn’t accept my museum pass, so I left the cathedral to queue for the tower. The queue was about 100 people strong and it was ten minutes before opening time. No privileged access with the 2-day museum pass I’d bought for EUR48 so I joined the plebs in the cold to wait. I was next to a couple from New Zealand and Wales so we swapped our Paris stories while we waited. After forty minutes, we were in! A pathetic bag check which involved a quick glance and I was ascending the stairs. There were a few red doors on the way up and tiny bow-and-arrow windows before reaching the store where you had to wait five minutes before ascending the rest of the way (nice strategy tourism). I hung around near the entrance so I was the first one to go up. The narrow stone steps were well worn in the middle and nearing the top I was dizzy. The first platform was at the Belfry where many gargoyles stood poised, keeping a watchful eye over the city. The bell inside the tower was huge and when the clock struck once at 10:45am we were lucky it was in the opposite tower and not the one we were standing in.

After navigating through the narrow passages between wall and gargoyles which many Americans would struggle with, I took the next set of spiral stairs to the top of the towers. It didn’t seem like it was very far and the height was nothing compared to the tip of the Eiffel tower but the views over the city were still impressive. It was nice to see Paris during the day after seeing it lit up at night. We were allowed up here for five minutes, which was plenty of time considering the cold wind, before heading all the way back down. The whole experience had been about twenty minutes. At EUR15 for entrance and a queue time of double that, I’d be disappointed if I’d paid without my museum pass.

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Since I had free entry and wasn’t on a time schedule, I crossed the courtyard in front of the cathedral to the Notre Dame crypt. No queuing here, but another bag check. The crypt housed the foundations of the original city of Lutetia on the island in the middle of the river. They also had a collection of coins minted by the Romans and the Greeks and other small trinkets they made, including a tiny phallus from the sixth century!

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Next, after seeing a Tesla taxi on the street, I got on my bike to go to the Visite Publique Des Egouts De Paris, which translates to the museum of sewerage. Not exciting to most, but I thought it would be cool to see the underbelly of the city where people used the underground network during the revolution to escape or remain unseen.

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Turns out it wasn’t that good and I didn’t really enjoy the smell but I did get to see some of the actual sewerage network. It was authentic! Looking down an access tunnel through the dim light I saw a mouse kicking around. They had a bunch of information about the history of the network which was also interesting, especially since they had it bad for so long with waste water out on the streets that caused the plague. Napoleon was sorry that we wasn’t more well known for what he considered his greatest contribution to his people – a functioning waste water disposal network.

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I sat and had lunch in some dim sun by the river watching the people go by, mainly workers out for a lunch time run. On my way to the Arc De Triumph, I walked past the Branly museum where I’d bought my museum pass. While I wasn’t really interested in this museum, I figured I would stop in for just a quick look. It focused on Asian art and I only needed a quick look, though there were some pretty interesting carvings and statues in there. People back in the day had some pretty dark imaginations and very crude ways of representing male and female private parts, especially boobs, they were triangular?!

As I got closer to the Eiffel Tower, I found it hard not to take photos of it, I had to stop myself as I walked away. It is such a photographic monument! I walked across the river to the Palais de Chaillot where there were tourists, buskers and gamblers in abundance, all trying to make the most of the grand view of the Eiffel.

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Another opportunistic museum stop, I went to the musem of architecture (Cite de L’Architecture and Du Patrimoine). This is easily the most useless museum I went to, it contained replicas and actual pieces of architecture taken from Notre Dame and other famous castles and structures throughout France. I understand the want to have them all in the one place, but they didn’t really have the same impact when isolated from the buildings they came from. I also got in trouble because I was trying to find the stained glass collection and apparently went somewhere I wasn’t supposed to. They weren’t very friendly here.

Next, I walked to the Arc. Having seen it all lit up at night, it was just as imposing during the day and probably more chaotic. I found the tunnel underneath the road and joined the crowds of people heading in the same direction as me. I skipped the lines thanks to my musem pass and only waited a few minutes in the security queue. I went straight up to the top, via the metal spiral staircase. I nearly slapped a girl silly as we went up because she was being such a mean bitch to her sister. She was ahead of her overweight sister, who was struggling a little to get up the stairs and she kept saying, “Hurry up Meg!” Eventually Meg yelled back at her sister that she was coming. At the top, the sister said, “Someone’s not in shape.” I was incredulous and should have said something to her. How about “Come on Meg, you’re doing a great job, nearly there!” Instead all she got was put down.

Just before the top, there was a mini museum with interesting dates, but the top was the best show. I could have stood here for hours just watching the traffic but they didn’t have any comfortable seating. There are TEN roads entering the round about that surrounds the arc and there isn’t a single line marking on the cobblestones. At first, it seems like utter chaos, but after a few minutes watching, you realise there is some method to the madness, even if only a little bit, everyone seems to understand that there is a certain way of doing things. I marvelled at the cyclists braving the sea of metal but they probably had the easiest job of all.

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I descended back to ground level after checking out the museum and caught a bike over to the Louvre. Mum and Dad had suggested to allow a whole day for this but it was open until 10pm tonight so I figured six hours would be plenty.

Once there (no queuing since I already had my pass), I decided I would not be staying long, I was tired and my sickness was not helping matters, I would suss it out, have a quick look, then come back tomorrow for a more in-depth explore. I got my map and checked out the special exhibitions where I found some cool drawings and a painting of a guy with a dick for a nose. Now what was the artist trying to depict here I wonder?

I tried my luck at navigating the museum and managed to find my way to the Mona Lisa. Wow, this must be the most photographed painting on the planet. People are crazy. I took a photo of the people taking photos and was satisfied with that.

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Now tired, I made my way out. On the escalator down, a French guy (mid-40s, tanned, salt and pepper short hair and beard, well dressed) started talking to me in rapid French. When I asked “Parlais vous anglais?” he was surprised that I wasn’t French. “But you look so French!” he said. He asked if I am into athleticism, which I replied yes and when he asked I said that I mountain bike and climb. “Are you professional?” Haha, I wish. “You have just the most perfect silhouette” He said this while holding his hand and moving it up and down vertically to emphasise what he was saying. “I’m an artist, I would love to draw you.” Wow, now I was flattered, but a little weirded out. I said as much, smiling, and he couldn’t believe that no one had ever offered to paint or draw me before. He asked if I would be free, then when I said I was leaving Friday, he asked if I would be coming back to Paris. He seemed to very much want to put me on paper! I asked if he had a studio, which he did, at his house. Alarm bells!! I’m sure he had pure artistic intentions, but we’ll never know, I was flattered anyway and he wished me well on my travels and I with his art.

Outside the glass pyramid, I rode off on my first ride in the dark. I made sure the lights were working on the bike before I went anywhere and managed to navigate myself home without a map. It resulted in riding around in circles near the Louvre trying to find a street with traffic that flowed in the right direction, but eventually I was on my way and had parked my bike outside the hostel just within my free 30 minutes. I was happy to be back before 7pm for an early night. I had dinner in the bar next to the hostel for less than EUR10, then retired to my bunk for some relaxation and a much needed early night’s sleep.

France Fact #3: The coat room in the Louvre is totally free and self-service, even without a museum ticket, so if you’re in Paris and in need of somewhere to put a bag, the Louvre is a good bet!

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