|Had a great weekend in Paris. The weather was ... varied, sometimes within the same hour, but never too bad. This picture of a typical Parisian square shows how lovely it was at its best, with sunshine and the trees showing their autumnal colours.|
I visited Paris with Friend M who has rheumatoid arthritis and can't walk long distances, so uses a folding wheelchair, which made our excursion interesting, and not necessarily in a bad way. Since I lived in Paris for a year, I was prepared for a certain amount of rudeness (I should point out that I feel Parisians aren't particularly ruder than other city dwellers, they just have a lot more visitors to be rude too!) However there was an abundance of help and good humour from locals and fellow tourists. The Batobus operators who were always willing to lend a hand into the boat, the Rotarians (assumed) old boys outing that gentlemanly squired M down a long spiral of stairs, random cafe owners who opened the door for us when we paused outside, the incredibly fast-walking Eurostar staff, the French lady who noticing our interest in the flowers in the Jardin des Plantes, pointed out a lovely dahlia with the dew still on it. No one was actually rude to us, although we did encounter the phenomenon of M being invisible when sitting in her wheelchair.
So what did we do? I went armed with selected printouts from Access in Paris which proved very useful, particularly the Good Loo Guide. One of their suggestions for somewhat able-bodied travellers was the Batobus which is a Hop On Hop Off riverbus service. There is a stop at the bottom of the Jardin Des Plantes, and since we were staying at the Timhotel Jardin des Plantes we would walk through the park in the morning and catch it easily. We paid 14 euros each for a two day ticket and used it several times, so a real bargain compared to the usual cruise boats like the Bateaux Mouches although you don't get a commentary.
On our first day we headed off to the Eiffel Tower, which despite being the most touristy thing you can do in Paris is still worth it for the amazing lift ride inside the metal legs and the wonderful views. This was the first place we encountered the advantages of Travel with a Wheelchair. Using advice from the Access guide, I loitered near the staff while looking rather helpless and one of them guided us to the wheelchair lift then gave me a voucher and showed me a side route to the front of the ticket queue where I was able to purchase two half-price tickets. We then went round the back of the main lift and when the next group exited we were let in first. Once at the second storey (as far as you're allowed to go with wheelchair) we had some great views of Paris, helped by the changeable weather. On our descent we walked through the Champ de Mars, past Les Invalides and off to the Musee Rodin which was unfortunately shutting when we arrived, so we headed back to the Batobus. At the landing stage waiting for the boat there was a heavy cold shower, we were already sheltering under the awning of the ticket office, and had another example of the unexpected kindness of strangers when the crowd formed a windbreak around us until the shower passed. Admittedly they were also keeping dry, but much amusement was had by everyone as they shuffled to and fro filling up gaps where the wind was getting through.
Dinner that evening was at Le Jardin des Pates just round the corner from the hotel, which served lovely tasty and unique pasta. It also had white walls and old tiled floors, which with a mostly youthful clientele gave it a fresh ambiance.
Saturday we had another attempt at the Musee Rodin, and because of the lovely sunny weather had a wonderful lunch outside (just sandwiches but very tasty) in the cafe in the gardens. Then strolled round the garden, looking at the statues, culminating in "The Burghers of Calais (Les Bourgeois de Calais)". There we encountered a German gentleman who has seen the statue 6 times including the one in London, and still finds it very moving, particularly since it commemorates an event in the longest war ever. We went into the house on a somewhat steep ramp, and inside were able to see "The Kiss" and "The Cathedral" (a study of two hands about to clasp) which are another two of his most famous works. After an exciting exit backwards down the steep ramp, we headed off towards the Seine, stopping off for a hot chocolate in a cafe near the square pictured above.
That evening we dined at the restaurant next door to the hotel: L'Écureuil, l'oie et le canard. Completely different to the night before, with good robust traditional Frence meals such as cassoulet and pot-au-feu. We were also tempted by the Creme Brulee and Chocolate Mousee afterwards :-)
Sunday we headed off on foot (or on wheels) and walked down to L'Ile de la Cité and into Notre Dame. We arrived while a service was in progress, the participants keeping to the main nave of the church while the visitors circulated in mostly respectful hush around the outside aisles. There was some beautiful singing, produced by quite a small choir when we saw it, and the rather unexpected viewing of the congregation coming up for communion. I think you'd have to be quite a stalwart Catholic to come here for a service and be ogled by everyone! However, I think we had a very peaceful, enriching visit.
Heading into a part of Paris we hadn't been to before (not even me, with my year of living there in the eighties) we tracked down the Picasso Museum, and unfortunately found it closed for renovation. Argh! However, we did make small detour en route and visited the Galerie Menouar attracted by the display of paintings by Charles Goldstein. The lady looking after the shop gave us a great description of the pieces and the life of the artist which made our small viewing fascinating. We stopped off for brunch at the Cafe Du Trésor, with pastries, eggs and some yummy fresh orange juice. Fortified we headed for the Rue de Rivoli and through the courtyard of the Louvre. After a brief discussion we decided not to visit but to continue on through the Tuileries to the Orangerie. Since the wind was getting up and the paths of the Tuileries are very dusty, there was something of a spaghetti western tone to the journey. Once arrived we did our usual 'head to the top of the queue and look helpless' act and were ushered in a side door immediately. Our first stop was Monet's Waterlilies, which seemed even lovelier than last time I viewed them. This may have been due to the renovation that has been done since then see here for details which allows the paintings to be seen in a diffuse natural light. We noticed that there was a similar feeling of whispered respect in the viewing rooms as we'd heard that morning in the cathedral. We had enough time to explore the rest of the museum and were able to see some Picassos which was a boon after our thwarted attempt of the morning. There were other famous paintings there, although I particularly enjoyed the work of André Derain who I'd never heard of before and whose pictures of people I found engaging. When we were thrown out of the Orangerie at closing time we made away back along the banks of the Seine, past the bouquinistes to opposite Notre Dame. We almost stopped there for a meal, but couldn't really find anywhere with enough room or a good view of the cathedral. Also I was flagging a bit by this time, so we headed on back to the hotel and had a pleasant if not outstanding meal just around the corner, helped by M and I sampling Kir (a mixture of white wine and blackcurrant liquor) for the first time on our visit.
Our only major hiccup of the visit occurred the next morning when we had to wait longer than expected for a taxi, but when it arrived it shot up to Gare Du Nord in under 30 minutes, and we were able to catch the 11:13 back to London St Pancras. From there our connections all worked to take us back to Winchester.
More pictures of our holiday can be found here