A day filled with blue sky and we were on our way to find the Hop On/ Hop Off bus before 10:30. We saw from the website that there was a stop at the Opera House but having walked to this wonderful building but we couldn’t find a bus stop with our bus’s logo. Many streets converge at The Opera House and we were stuck. At that moment, while admiring the imposing facade of this famous music building with its larger than life sculptures of composers I glimpsed a security guard in the foyer.
So, we went into the Paris Opera house to inquire about a bus stop! That takes some beating. The subterranean “lake” below the Paris opera house inspired the Phantom of the Opera’s lair. Beneath the opera house, Palais Garnier, there sits a water tank, and some folk say that once a man lived there who had no face. “The Phantom of the Opera” was based upon this place. We didn’t see the phantom but we did get the information we needed from the security guard and we boarded our bus. We were paying the driver by credit card but his credit card machine wasn’t responding. Daunted not in the least, he pulled out into the crazy, heavy traffic and continued to simultaneously drive and fiddle about with the machine while we stood by the driver’s seat hanging onto the rails for dear life – quite unnerving. Eventually he gave up and told us to take a seat and he’d pick up a new machine at a stop later in our ride. We headed upstairs and in spite of being a little disappointed that this bus still had its awning in place , so it wasn’t quite ‘open top,’ we got great views of Notre Dame under cover, all wrapped up after last year’s devastating fire, with mighty cranes looming overhead.
Scaffolding covered some walls and it did give a sense of what it must have looked like during its original construction. The flying buttresses are supported by wooden frames and all the cranes were active. We decided to get off the bus and have a closer look and we browsed the outdoor photo exhibition of the fire.
We stopped at an outdoor bistro directly across from the cathedral and had the most expensive cappuccinos of the trip – 6 Euros – but that’s rather cheaper than in St Mark’s square in Venice.
We took out our watercolors and painted for an hour – what a view of the cathedral we had from our table! Several times police sirens broke the quiet as a dozen or so police vans filled with policemen in what looked like full combat gear whizzed past at high speed. When we came to re-board the bus the whole bus lane was taken up by a parked convoy of police vans.
Several tourist stalls were set up along the river bank and Anna bought a new bobble hat.
Our next stop was the Eiffel Tower, constructed in 1889, and we approached it through a park with rows of strangely pollarded trees.
We weren’t going to go up the tower but the line to go up didn’t look too long. Up this close the engineering feat just blew my mind – how could anyone could design something that had so many separate pieces all riveted together? Apparently there are 2.5 million rivets. (Thanks to Griff again for that piece of trivia.) It’s also the world’s most visited tourist attraction. We walked towards the steps at the end of the boulevard. Anna wanted to get her profile photo taken there a while ago updated.
We were now deep inside tourist territory with people glued to their phones posting their photos to social media , admiring the street artists and browsing the souvenir stands. However, in all this I simply could not find a bathroom. We wandered around for what seemed like an hour, someone eventually directing us to a street toilet, but the door wouldn’t open. Finally I entered the Museum of Man (!) and used their facilities. As we came out I took a photo of some gold colored statues on the side of the square. It wasn’t until I arrived home that I found that my dad had taken a photo from exactly the same spot. When I was quite young, maybe about 8 years old he had organized 2 trips to Paris for his high school art class in the Easter holidays.
He took a few slides that have deteriorated badly but I had them digitized a few years ago and so now, with this trip, I was able to identify the exact places that several of them were taken from. It wasn’t until that moment that I connected these trips taken in the early 1960’s with Anna’s love of Paris, the only place ‘abroad’ that my dad ever visited.
Back to the bus and our next stop was the Arc de Triomphe. Known as ‘the greatest obstacle to road safety in Paris’ twelve major roadways converge at this famous landmark. There are no road markings of any kind and we were relieved to find a subway. When someone at choir the following week asked me about my trip she related the story of how her and husband had walked across!! When I’d gone to Paris in 1984 I’d stayed at the bottom of the monument while Colin had gone up to the lookout point so this time I was eager to get to the top.
A staircase leads to the top but several displays about the building on various levels break up the climb. We had timed it just right and we were able to watch the sun set, along with many others vying for the best position to take their photos. After the battle of Austerlitz Napoleon promised his victorious troops that they would enter Paris through a triumphal arch. However, it wasn’t completed until 50 years after his death. Beneath the arch is the tomb of the unknown soldier which is relit in a military ceremony every evening at 6:30 and we watched the uniformed men preparing, though we didn’t stop to see the event because, with the setting sun, it had suddenly got much colder.
We ran to catch the bus back to our hotel, Anna fortunately retrieving her new bobble hat that she’d left on the bus. After freshening up for half an hour we were back out, this time heading for a bar to watch Manchester United v Manchester City in the Carabao Cup. We’d inquired earlier if this bar would be showing the game and the barmaid had even checked to see if it would. When we walked in she recognized us and immediately turned the two screens onto the correct channel.
During the game we were able to observe locals at play. It was strange to us how all the men gathering in groups kissed each other as a regular form of greeting. There were several groups of men, chatting, checking their phones, but there were also many tables with a couple of guys enjoying an evening together. This felt quite different from both England and the U. S. There were no loud cheers or moans during the game and it was obviously that only a few people were watching it. The backdrop to all this activity was loud music, very loud hip hop with some African style too. It was a good job we hadn’t come in for a quiet chat! Nemanja Matic put United ahead with their first effort at goal though he was later sent off but it’s City who will go through to the next round at the beginning of March. As the match came to a close a few people got up to dance and the curtains onto the street were closed. The bar had turned into a club which would be open til 2 a.m.