Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Paris 17/4/2006 

It has been a nice day today. There has been sunshine for most of it and blue skies.

We went to the Opéra de Paris Garnier. This is a large and very well appointed opera house. Very nice, very plush and dripping with gold. It was very difficult to take pictures there because of the low light levels but I tried and hopefully I will have some to put in my gallery. I had to crank the camera up to ISO 1600 and shoot at less than 1/40th of a second but the pictures seem clear enough in the LCD.

After that we took the Metro to Montmartre, where we took the walk up the streets to Sacré-Coeur. I got ambushed by some man who wanted to see me a hand-woven bracelet for 20 Euros. I didn’t have that much on me and took great pains to tell him that but gave him a handful of change for his trouble.

Sacré-Coeur was as beautiful as ever and the view from the top of the hill as impressive as ever. The crowds and the squads of aggressive artists were a little threatening. I was reminded of the last time we were here and my bag was raided near the Moulin Rouge. The prospective thief got nothing that time as there was nothing valuable at the top of my bag but this time I was wary and kept my camera bag in my hand on not on my shoulder at all times.

We took lunch in Les Deux Moulins, a café that featured heavily in the film Amélie. The food, as with anywhere in Paris, was good and they had a special dish of Crème Brulée d’Amélie. There was nothing special about the dish but the film, as it introduced the characters, said that one of the things that Amélie liked the most was crack the sugar on her Crème Brulée with a spoon. I took some photos of David with his Amélie-face cracking his Crème Brulée. We were laughing like school-children about that.

Then we took a brief walk through the Marais, taking in the Place des Vosges and some of the gayer parts of Paris on the way back to the hotel. The Place des Vosges was lovely, a small park surrounded by square-cut trees just starting to burst into leaf, with that subtle yet intense green that speaks of Spring and hints at Summer.

The streets of the the Marais were small and filled with people walking too slowly and cars driving too fast. The shops looked small and expensive and chic.

The gay area was pretty much like any other gay part of any other city. Lots of odd shops and bars with identical half-starved men sat outside, smiling at each other in that affected way that we sometimes have. At least the men in the Bear’s Den were real and not these mincing phonies.

After that, we stopped off at the Hôtel de Ville. Owing to the peculiarities of language and the vagaries of history, this is not a hotel owned by a woman with a penchant for Dalmatians. No, it is the city hall of Paris, a rather ornate building with some dramatic fountains that were picking up the bright sunshine in a truly magical way. Of course, I took photos. The place was calling to my camera.

After a brief rest at the hotel we took a boat ride on the Seine. We elected to travel with Védettes du Pont-Neuf from Pont Neuf, surprisingly enough. This took us down river to the Eiffel Tower and then back up river past the Ile de la Cité and the Ile St-Louis before returning to the quay at Pont Neuf.

The guide made the whole thing very entertaining by pointing out the sights alongside the river and some of the history behind them. The sun began to set during the trip and the light began to fail. I seemed to be able to get some interesting photographs of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. I was especially pleased with those shots as the sun had just set behind the Ile de La Cité backlighting the cathedral rather nicely.

Then we made our way to the Eiffel Tower. My guide book said it was best to go at night because the queues were shorter.. This was indeed correct and the tower was certainly impressive up close when lit. However, it also meant there wasn’t realistically time to go all the way up. They would sell us a ticket for the top floor but it was easy to miss the sign that said there was a half-hour wait for the lift to the top floor. We saved ourselves some money by just going up to the second floor which, by the end of our visit, was giving me the colly-wobbles. Goodness knows what I would have been like on the top floor.

Night-time Paris had a magical quality to it that my photos will not do justice. The light levels demanded that I increase the ISO level, open the iris as fully as possible and leave the shutter open for a long time. I used the tripod and that helped a lot although the wide-angle lens I was using meant that a lot of details were lost. It was too cold and windy at that time of night to fiddle around changing lenses. Also it meant that I wanted to go as soon as possible.

We got back to Le Châtelet at about 11.45 but we still managed to find a restaurant/bar open near to the hotel.

All in all we walked 22,303 steps.

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