Destination: Paris, France, June 23 – 28, 2006

1 USD = .793 euro (or more conventionally, $1.26 USD = 1 euro)

Four of the nine from the Iceland trip carried on to Paris where we rendezvoused with two more friends from the States.

After having spent the better part of the previous four months in a non-urban environment, I was, yet again, unprepared for my entry into Paris. There are something like 10 million people in the greater Parisian metropolitan area and it seemed like we saw every one of them en route from the airport to our lodging destination, Mary’s Hotel.

We decided to go cheap for our Paris visit and settled on the 3-star Mary’s Hotel located between the Bastille and the place de la Republique (60 euro/night for a triple room, book on-line for additional savings). The rooms were cozy and clean; with a bit of juggling, the three of us managed to fit our many bags and our big selves into the room. This small hotel was staffed 24/7 by a friendly family and offered internet access — it was perfect for our needs.

What can I say about Paris? After a day of my ‘culture shock’, I got back into an urban groove, digging the walking around, jumping on and off the Metro, viewing parks, architecture, and museums, and patronizing the endless cafes and restaurants. Ah, Paris in the summertime…..

Highlights of the trip:

* An afternoon at the Musee D’Orsay, Musee Rodin, and Musee Carnavalet (Museum of History): redon_bouddha.jpgNot having much time, we did a whirlwind visit through these three museums. It was our first visit to each. Once a former hotel, areas in the Musee Carnavalet reminded me of a mini-Versaille with the opulent reconstitued palace rooms filled with fine furniture and decor. The Musee D’Orsay exceeded expectations: housed in an old train depot, the museum boasts one of the finest collections of impressionist paintings. Both Bruce and I independently discovered and fell in love with one painting by an artist unfamiliar to us: Le Bouddha by Odilon Redon. The Rodin, in addition to being filled with fine Rodin sculptures, boasts having the prettiest gardens of any museum. All worthwhile.

* Visiting the Catacombs: CatacombsThis was one of the wierdest places I have ever visisted. Six million people’s bones are here, neatly piled up in orderly rows six feet high and many feet deep througout the tunnels. In the late 1700’s, when Paris was growing rapidly, the city cemetaries started to overflow and cause hygienic problems. So the government decided to make use of all the old quarries and underground tunnels and had the bones and rotting corpses moved into the catacombs. It took 15 months to dig up and cart the bodies/bones across the city, usually done in the wee hours of the night so as to not distress the non dead. There are close to two miles of tunnels open for public viewing. The disturbing thing is not the bones themselves, after all, people die and their bones have to go somewhere (yes, usually not for public viewing though); the disturbing thing is the careful artistic display of the bones — some crazy overseer had people sort through all the bones, pulling out the leg & arm bones and the skulls and neatly arranging them in macabre patterns; the rest of the body bones were just randomly thrown into piles out of sight.

* A day at the Louvre: Our second visit to this fine musuem. Sucked in by hoopla surrounding “The DaVinci Code” movie release, I purchase the audio tour promising to take me on a davinci code’esque tour of the museum. It’s really just the normal audio tour which happens to take you by the many fine pieces featured in the book. My favorite collections this go around: the Objects de’Arte of Islam, Midieval Lourve, and Roman Eqypt.

* AbinstheAbsinthe sampling: I’m not much of an absinthe lover, but Bruce and some of the others really dig it. A handful of establishments in Paris serve absinthe and we ventured to two of them (in the Bastille on Rue de la Roquette). Serving absinthe is an artform: A carafe of ice water with a special spigot is used to drip water over flaming sugar cubes on slotted spoons into the absinthe, making it turn from emerald green to milky white. Sip slowly and enjoy. Beautiful. For me, I enjoyed an absinthe and champagne cocktail which was quite tasty!

* Picnicking in the Jardine de Luxembourg: Jardin de LuxemborgThere are so many gorgeous parks in Paris to be enjoyed year-round, but especially in summer when the flowers are in full bloom and the sun shines well into the evening. We loaded up on cheeses and wine and head to the park for a rendevouz with the others. There’s lots of great scuptures and art in this park — I particularly loved the bamboo and blue-dyed gravel lined walkway where interesting opaque 5×4′ prints of people fluttered in the wind along with bamboo chimes. Striking.

* Experiencing some magic: One night at dinner, DG said we needed to manifest our energies to bump into someone we knew from San Francisco unexpectedly while in Paris. So, over some cocktails, we concentrated and manifested. The next night, as the six of us cruised around the Bastille, on a very narrow street, enjoying the celebrations and gaeity of Gay Pride weekend, we suddenly found ourselves side-by-side with a long-time friend of mine, Martina. Oh, my, god. Martina & I go back 10+ years and we hadn’t talked since my move to New Zealand. I had no idea she was going to be in Paris and there she was with some of her friends. Hugging, laughing, and drinking ensued as we remarked on this fateful encounter!

We enjoyed so much more: Sacre Couer, Montmarte, meeting with New Zealand curious Parisians, eating crepes; but you get the gist — everyone should visit Paris!

(more photos in the Photo Gallery)