Monday, July 29, 2013

Gay Paree

There are 2  main airports in Moscow - Domodedovo International (DME) and Sheremetyevo International (SVO). Our departure was from SVO. We boarded a Scandinavian Airlines CRJ-900 to Copenhagen, en route to our final European destination - Paris.

We waited about 3 hours in Kastrup Airport before boarding an Airbus A320 and arrived in the serpentine Terminal 1 of Charles de Gaulle Airport at about 6.00pm in the evening.

We stayed in a small hotel in the middle of the city. I liked the view outside our hotel room. It was so typically European.

Next morning, we set out to explore Paris. Eddy and Bee did not join us. They went to Nantes to see their daughter Joanne. The remaining 4 of us took the Metro (underground) to Trocadero station. We exited the station, took a left turn and wow! We were hit with the imposing monumental Eiffel Tower in the distant. We did not expect such a majestic sight.

We were at the Palais de Chaillot. This beautiful complex comprised 2 big identical buildings. In the middle was an open terrace and below a beautiful park and garden. One of the buildings houses the Musee National de la Marine (National Naval Museum).

We lingered in the terrace between the two building and then walked down the steps to the garden below.

It was a magnificent park - with flowing water, fountains and gilded statues. Lovely place for photography.

We strolled down the park and crossed the Seine River.

And we were below the awesome Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889, designed and built by its namesake Gustave Eiffel. It soars 324 meters (1063 feet) high. It may not be the highest tower in the world, but its fame is unmatched. It receives more than 7.2 million visitors per year - or about 20,000 per day. A staggering figure indeed.

Our intention was, but of course, to go up the tower. But the queue was a million long. I approached a guy in the middle of the line and asked him how long he had been waiting. He told me "more than hour". It seemed like an impossible wait to go up. We should had bought our tickets on the Internet before we came.

But as it turned out, lady luck smiled on us. We bumped into a tourist guide we had earlier met and got to know while we were on the cruise in Greece. She was apparently guiding a group in Paris. To chance meet someone we had just got to know in a cruise ship 3,000km away was simply amazing. We asked her if there was anyway she could help us get to the top. She quickly dug into her bag and came up with 4 tickets. And that was not all. She offered the 7.5 euros tickets to us for just 5 euros each.

So up we went. The Eiffel Tower has 3 levels. We bypassed the lower level and went straight up to the 2nd floor.

From there we bought another ticket and went to the top.

The views from the tower were astounding. Paris is indeed a beautiful place.

This was the Palais de Chaillot and the Trocadero garden from the top.

We were exactly 10,433 km from home. The Menara KL is 97 meters higher than the Eiffel.

From the Eiffel Tower, we went down to the bank of the river.

Crossed the Debilly pedestrian bridge.

And had a very relaxing and leisurely walk along the Seine.

We came to this well known bridge - Pont Alexandre III. It was a wide beautiful bridge. In the background was the Palacio Nacional de los Invalidos.

We turned left into Winston Churchill Avenue and 2 palaces greeted us. On our left was the Grand Palais.

On our right was the Petit Palais.

We stopped at a nice restaurant in the Grand Palais for coffee and to rest our feet. And yes, toilets too.

After the Grand Palais we turn left and voila, we were on the famous Avenue des Champ-Elysees. This is most happening stretch of road in Paris - equivalent to the Oxford Street in London.

We walked up the wide busy Champ Elysees. Along the way were cafes and shops retailing all the up-market brands.

Then we reached the mighty Arch de Triomphe. This world famous monument was built in 1806 to honour the people who fought and died in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars.

The 50 meters monument stands in a huge traffic round-about known as the Place Charles de Gaulle. It is accessible via underground tunnels. One could even climb to the top of the structure. But on that day, they had some military ceremony at the arch. And the public was barred. So we loitered around the Champ-Elysees and took pictures to our hearts content.

This brought us to the end of day 1 in Paris. Dinner was at a small Vietnamese restaurant near our hotel. We had been beef and chicken noodles. They were not bad.

Next morning, we got tickets for the hop-on-hop-off bus at Trocadero. It was a 2-days pass. It also entitled us to a cruise along the Seine River. These are pictures from the bus. We just could not escape the Eiffel.

This was the bank of the Seine River.

The beautiful Palais Garnier which houses the Academie Nationale de Musique and the Paris Opera.

The Place de la Concorde.

And the Palacio Nacional de los Invalidos.

We got off at the Notre Dame. But first, lunch. It was in a restaurant across a bridge. This place has a name that is somehow one letter amiss. No, I am not referring to the letter "A". If the "N" had been a "R", it would be Cafe Paris.

The place was busy but friendly. The waiters spoke good English and helped us with the menu.

This was a grilled chicken breast served with mushrooms.

I think it was Benson who had this steak. It came with some salad. I cannot remember what was in the jar. I think it was mash potato, but it does not look like it in the picture.

My choice was this grilled breast of duck. It was superb. The French are good at preparing duck meat and I can say this was perfect. The duck was to be served with mash potato but I asked them to change it to fries. No regret.

It was a hefty satisfying meal, complete with freshly baked bread and coffee.

After lunch, we walked in a slight rain to the Notre Dame. The name means "Our Lady" in French. It was built in the 12 century. With more than 900 years of history, this grand twin tower cathedral is indeed one of the most famous churches of the world.

While we waited in queue to enter the cathedral, we admired this statue of Charlemagne. He was the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in the 8th century AD. The statue was installed here in 1886.

The entrances into the cathedral were amazing fine works of art.

In spite of the hordes of tourists, inside the cathedral it was quiet and solemn. People respected the sanctity of the place. They did not speak. They whispered.

We got back into our hop-on bus and proceed to the Galeries Lafayette for a look-see. The ladies also wanted to do a little shopping. This is the premier shopping place in Paris. The grandiose of the department store was profound. The place was packed with shoppers and a big percentage of them were from China. The mighty spending power of Chinese tourists was very evident here.

Back to the bus and we headed back to the Eiffel Tower. We wanted to do the Seine River cruise and to see Eiffel by night.  The cruise was included in the hop-on-hop-off ticket we bought. The embarkation was just next to Eiffel Tower.

The cruise was not great. The views were not new. We had seen them in our walk the day before. Still, we enjoyed it. It was an hour of relaxation.

We had to wait for nightfall before we could see the Eiffel lights. In the meantime, we checked into a nearby restaurant for dinner. The restaurant was at the bank of the Seine River, just next to where we boarded the cruise boat.

We had a table with the view of the tower.

The menu selection was somewhat limited. Benson and I decided for the beef cheek. I went for this more out of curiosity. I had never tried cheek of a cow. The dish was served in a small pot. It was like a shepherd's pie. The meat, in small pieces, was under a baked mashed potato. It was not fantastic. The cheek, as expected, was quite tender. But there wasn't much of it. We fed more on the mashed potato.

The 2 ladies opted for the fish. I do not know how it tasted, but it did not look terribly interesting.

Both dishes were served with a simple salad.

And fresh bread. I like the way the French make their breads. They were good.

As we dined, the sky turned dark and the lights on the tower were turned on. Even from the restaurant window, it was a glorious sight. The tower had flashing strobes every hour. It was a fascinating sight.

After our meal, we loitered outside for some time, soaking in the festive atmosphere of Eiffel by night. And more pictures. This must the 9th or 10th picture of the tower in this blog posting. I promise - this is the last. It is only because the Eiffel Tower is such an imposing edifice in Paris. You can't escape it. Nor can you ever have enough of it.

On our 3rd day in Paris, we took it very easy. We went to Luxumbourg Gardens (Jardin du Luxembourg). We had some problems finding it. The road signs from the Metro station were absolutely useless. When we finally arrived there, we were not even sure if it was the place. We entered through a side gate and what we saw was most inconspicuous.

But the Luxumbourg Garden turned out to be a very pleasant and relaxing place. The garden was huge and very well kept. There were chairs everywhere.

This is the Luxumbourg Palace. It was built in the 17th century and was the resident of Marie de Medicis, mother of King Louis XIII. It now houses the French senate.

Infront the Luxumbourg Palace was a large pool. Here children and adults sailed their model boats.

This is Medici Fountain - a very picturesque place.

Our next relaxing stop was a French cafe. No visit to Paris would be complete without a drink at a road side cafe. We did what Parisians do best...

With a nice French beer.

And their renown creme caramel.

Dinner that evening was at an old restaurant very near from our hotel. It was apparently a very popular place among nearby residents. And was strangely named Bebe (baby).

It was old and almost run-down. The furnitures had seen better days. Grand-pere (grandpa) would had been a more appropriate name.

Still it was a charming place.

I was on the verge of ordering this seafood dish. But I changed my mind. The 2 ladies did. It was a plate of grilled dory, prawn, mussels and squids. I think they enjoyed it. It certainly looked very nice.

I remember Benson had this pork chop. It came with a serving of rice. Perhaps he ordered it for the rice.

My choice was this T-bone. And it was absolutely no regrets that I did not take the seafood. It was one of the best steak I ever had. It was medium rare, done to perfection. The meat was tender and delicious. It was served with some fries, beans and a black pepper sauce. The fries lived up to their French reputation and were very good.

Dessert was this interesting combo. There was a cup of coffee, a scoop of ice cream, a piece of chocolate cake, a small glass of mix fruits and a piece of French cookie. Could anything beat this?

The following day, Benson and Nelly flew home. My wife and I were the only ones left in Paris. We decided to spend our final day at the Louvre.

The Musee du Louvre is one of the largest art museum in the world. Certainly it is the most well known. The total exhibition floor area is almost 15 acres. Nearly 30,000 work of arts are on display.

The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace which was built in the 12th century. It was converted into a full museum in 1793. In the middle is a huge glass pyramid. The pyramid is the main entrance into the museum. We queued to get in.

Down the escalator, we came to a huge lobby. There were several ticketing counters and 3 entrances to the various wings of the museum.

Inside it was an perplexing maze of corridors, rooms, halls and courtyards. The exhibits were everywhere - in all 3 main wings of the museum, floors and floors of them. One could easily get lost in this place.

Perhaps the most famous piece of art in the museum is the Mona Lisa. She is also known as La Gioconda. It was painted by Leonardo da Vinci in 1506. Everybody in the museum wanted to see it. It was kept a glass enclosure with barriers in front to keep away the surging crowd.

I had to squeeze my way to the front to take this faint photo shot. The quality of the picture was abated by the glass pane.

This is another famous lady in the Louvre - the Venus de Milo, also known as the Aphrodite. It is an ancient statue of the Greek goddess of love. It is believed to be about 2100 years old - sculptured between 130 to 100BC.

The 3rd famous lady is the Wing Victory Samothrace. She is a statue of the Greek goddess of victory Nike. Like the Aphrodite, she is about 2100 years old. And like the Aphrodite, she is incomplete; Aphrodite without her arms, she without her head.

I took a lot of shots of the paintings in the museum. It is not possible to post them all here.

The sculptures were no less impressive. The details on most of them were amazing.

We managed to visit the Egyptian section.

Our visit to the Louvre was exhausting. We walked till my feet could take no more. It was impossible to cover everything in a day. We were there for more than 5 hours, and we estimated we went through only about 10% of the exhibits.

With the Louvre, we came to the end of our visit to Paris and our tour of Europe. Next day, we were at the Terminal 2 of Charles de Gaulle Airport to come home. Our flight back was on an Emirates A380.

In the 4 weeks of our tour, we visited 7 countries and 7 cities. We travelled on 7 flights, 2 ships and a high speed train. We saw some most fascinating places and dined in numerous restaurants. It was an experience of our lives. And we enjoyed every single day of it. But what was most important was the company we traveled with. It made a world of a difference. We really enjoyed travelling with Benson, Nelly, Eddy and Bee. And we have already started talking about the next trip. Thank you also to my many readers and followers. You are the impetus of my blog.