8 Days in France-Day 2
Day 2 began with a bus sightseeing tour around Paris with a stop at the Louvre, a blast past the Arc deTriomphe, down the Champs Elysee', past the Opera House and a stop at the Eiffel Tower and theTrocadero.
This is where we got to get really up close and personal with it and where we began to hear the pretty much hourly mantra that we would hear during our entire journey "Keep you're money hidden and close, beware of pick pockets. They go even inside the churches!" Grim. I thought the states was bad.
Our next stop was the Palace atVersailles with our charming and very knowledgeable guide Thierry who someone said was so good that he was noted in Rick Steve's France guidebook.
I believe it. He knew so many things- times place, dates, but also shared funny little known tidbits about the French Monarchy, like how dirty they were because they thought at that time that bathing opened the pores and allowed disease to come into the body. That's why they used perfume so much and why the powdered wigs were invented. They were smelly and crawling with lice. The Palace, as beautiful and extravagant as it was, had no bathrooms. The King would defecateinto a chamber pot where it would be inspected and shown to the people. According to Thierry, our phrase, "How's it going?" originates from this 17th century ritual. So many people died from constipation and bowel related issues, that this greeting came about as an inquiry like, "Are you well? Are you moving?" So there was always great concern about the King. Priceless stuff that you won't get from a guidebook.
For more of my thoughts on the Palace itself, please read my earlier post "What are the French Thinking." Like the US, there was rampant commercialism every where we went. I as astounded at the Eiffel Tower however, that there was only one lonely little souvenir truck. If they were allowed to park around say, the Liberty Bell in Philly, I think there would be at least 10. Outside of the Palace at Versailles, there were at least 1/2 dozen Nigerians selling made in China trinkets. They would inch as close as possible to the palace gates to entice tourists with their wares by shaking things and yelling and would scatter when the police came riding up.
On this day, I had my first taste of a french baguette sandwich. I thought I had died and went to heaven. I think they could put dirt on a baguette and make it taste good. I got a chicken salad on baguette, (huge and very cheap) and Dyana and I sat on a stoop outside the Palace eating them in the sunshinewhile we waited for our bus and watched the comedy of the trinket sellers.
Next it was back to Paris with a visit the Luxemburg Gardens and to Notre Dame Cathedral. It was a beautiful day and we had a lovely stroll through the Gardens. Apparently the French solution to homelessness and the lack of hygiene that comes with it, was to install public baths around the Gardens. People can go in and shower and get clean, but to be sure that no one decided to camp out in there, the showers self clean every 20 minutes or so. Cool.
The walk over to Notre Dame took us through a little street that foreshadowed the medieval streets of Rouen that we would see the next day. I was enthralled with the little cafes, meat shops, bakeries and boutiques and wanted to stop there and order a glass of wine at a little table in the worst way, but alas, must keep moving!
The cathedral was stunning and everything I imagined it to be when reading about it in my art hsitory books. The line to get in was huge and I was afraid that we wouldn't make it, but it moved quickly and I was able to go in and marvel at this wonder of architecture. The feeling inside was so majestic and peaceful (except for the tourists who apparently couldn't read the "no talking" signs), that I was transported in time. I felt so small, yet hugged by coolness and ethereal precence.
After a brief time for dinner and souvenir buying it was back to our little hotel for some wine and shut eye. Tomorrow was another big day...