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Back from Paris
» Home : Blog : July 2009
Susan and I took Max and Ben to Paris last week. If you're interested, here's a tabblo of photos from the week:
Here are some other random observations...
I was impressed at how courteous the drivers were to pedestrians if you were crossing at the right place and time. The drivers always stopped to defer to those on foot. On the other hand, if you were not in a crosswalk, or the light was not in your favor, you took your life in your hands.
Smart cars and motorcycles and bicycles are much more common than in the US, naturally. We were tempted to rent the public Velibe bicycles, but you need a European-system credit card, and anyway, then we'd be bicycling in the Paris traffic, a daunting prospect.
Small things about the cityscape were different. For example, the street signs are attached to the corners of buildings rather than hung over corners or streets. I knew this before. But I hadn't realized that street lights are hung on the near side of intersections rather than the far side. This means the first driver can't see the signal, so they hang a smaller light at drivers-eye level pointed at the first driver so that he knows when to start.
The Metro worked great for us, and even here there are small differences: on some lines, the doors don't open unless you work a lever or button to open them when the train stops. Also, each platform only has a single line running through it, so the trains have no identification on the front. If you're on the platform for the 4 train, then only number-4 trains will come along, so no need for them to identify themselves as 4's.
Also in the Metro, we once came upon a 9-piece band playing their music, including two accordions and a cello. They were playing up a storm, but the Parisians didn't seem to think it was so unusual, so I guess it wasn't.
I know it seems cliched to say it, but the Eiffel Tower is really really big. And as large as it seems to me now, I can't imagine how the natives dealt with it in 1889 when it was built. We're used to being up high, what with skyscrapers and airplanes. But back then, it was the tallest building in the world, almost twice as tall as the runner-up, the Washington Monument. It's well-known that Parisians considered it ugly, but how did they make sense of its sheer size?
The Tour de France ended the day after we left, and the final eight laps of downtown Paris carried the riders right past our hotel on Rue de Rivoli (or as I heard a woman on the Metro call it, Rue de Ravioli). I watched the final on the internet, and finally began to understand something about the intricacies of the race.
The catacombs were every bit as spooky as you'd imagine, with thousands of bones piled in abandoned quarry tunnels. The oddest thing about it, though, may be that when you emerge from the depths, you are in what looks like a nurse's office, with a bench and a defibrillator machine, and two skulls nonchalantly sitting on top of the first-aid kit. Then you walk outside onto an ordinary side street with no idea how to get back to where you entered the crypts.
I enjoyed exploring a new cityscape very much, and though we won't be going back to Paris soon (it's expensive!), I'd like to be able to hold on to that spirit of adventure in other ways. It was fun seeing what most appealed to the rest of my family: Susan (treats, flowers, beauty, history), Max (capturing video, speaking French), and Ben (climbing, exploring, rides).