Thursday, May 12, 2005

I'm Back from Paris (Did You Know I Went to Paris?)

I’m back from a very successful vacation. Cathy (Ninja Warrior Princess) came to visit for a week, and we left tracks all over France, freaking out the locals wherever we roamed.

She came in to Charles de Gaulle (the airport, not the dude) last week and the time has just flown. Now she’s airborne and I’m back in Chateau Gontier. Summary time!


Got Cathy in Laval, where we visited the splendid botanical gardens and met baby goats. They were in a petting zoo, but the little guys were sticking close to the pack in the middle so we did not, strictly speaking, pet them. No matter; when baby goats say b-a-a-a-a-a I cannot resist the fact that they are completely adorable. I know this makes me weak but I cannot help it. After goats we came to Chateau Gontier, ate some good pizza, and crashed out at my apartment.


Chateau Gontier again. We also have baby goats here in my town, and this time we got to pet them. Goats here are affection junkies. Right after the goats we went for a quick walk down by the river to visit the horses. They were just being horses, walking around and eating and doing horse stuff. After Cathy and I talked nonchalantly for a couple of minutes by the fence, they came round - but only to eat, of course. Certainly not because they were curious. So our two groups ignored each other companionably for a few minutes: the horses with delectable munchy grass and Cathy and I with talking about Final Fantasy. But they were close enough to touch. Good stuff.

We made our way down to the school in the evening, where the teachers had a little going-away reception for me. It was one of the best things all week. Details later.


Enough Chateau Gontier! Cathy and I hired a helicopter* and sped* our way north to the pirate town of Saint Malo. I have described this before - it is a walled city that was designed to repel serious assault, and it is breathtaking. The walls on the outside are complete and in good shape. They separate the rocky coast and bay from the rather posh botique-ridden inside. Tourists throng inside, but we were hardcore and spent most of the time clambering on rocks outside. We were so hardcore, in fact, that even as the wind picked up and the rain started to fall we took off our shoes and waded into the English Channel. Just like in the Mediterranean Sea, I was Huck Finn. Cathy only needed to gather her skirt, so I guess score a point for girls. But it was a fantastic experience and we got to taste a little bit of the power that is the weather over the sea. When Mother Nature brings a storm to this place, I bet she brings her A-game. Anyway, we rule.

Further adventures include me climbing way out to the inaccessible rocks (no, not the dangerous ones, Mom) and being all satisfied with myself until I came across what looked like a used condom. Clearly there are two someones harder-core than I. Also I did manage to slip and tear a hole in the knee of my pants and then bleed on them a little, which sucks because I always liked climbing and I’ve always thought I was good at it. It’s like trading in a perfectly good pair of pants for a brand new sense of failure. No fun. Anyway, Saint Malo continues to be a fantastic place to go. So go!


Enough Saint Malo! Cathy and I invented underwater jetpacks* and rocketed* to the Mont Saint-Michel, which is one of the seven wonders of the world and, I believe, the only one I’ve been to twice. To recap: imagine the middle of nowhere. Now take away the hills. And the trees. And the grass. In fact, imagine a bunch of mud, perfectly flat for a long way in every direction. Pretty empty, yeah? Now in your mind’s eye plunk down a 300-foot hill with a bigass cathedral on top of it. Impressed? You will be if you go there. If you, as we did, pay your way into the cathedral and walk all the way to the top of it you will look down on circling birds and 500 foot drops and beautiful gardens. If you’re lucky you’ll see the tide come in. Did you know that Victor Hugo once said that the tide coming in could outrun a horse? This place is worthy of the wonder-of-the-world title.


This was mostly a travel day. Thursday and Friday were both holidays (Ascension, I think). France shuts down on holidays and so we had Wild Adventures trying to get back to Chateau Gontier - eventually accomplished with the help of Charline and David, two of the lovliest French people you will meet. Back in C-G we scored three types of cheese and some of the best strawberries ever (picked no more than three days ago) at the Thursday market. Then we had us some lunch and regrouped for more travel. Some gnomes gave us an ornithopter* and we strapped on our goggles and flapped* into Paris*.


This was the Big Day in Paris. We swung by Notre Dame on our way to the Louvre. There we saw TOO MUCH STUFF. My head just kind of swelled and told me to stop looking at stuff otherwise it was going to have to dump my brain in a corner somewhere. Before I gibbered to a complete mental halt I saw the Winged Victory and the Mona Lisa. Winged Victory: Awesome. Mona Lisa: Very small, overshadowed by the crowds jammed around it taking pictures. Any dead curators lying in pools of blood? Nope. So we left and walked directly from the Louvre down the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. Did we go up to the top? Yes, we did! I really loved looking at Paris in springtime from such a great vantage point. I figured out where all the major landmarks are and just generally enjoyed the wind and the sun and the fact that I was in Paris. Epic.

We took from the Arc the street that pointed straight at the Eiffel Tower and on our way passed by the Place des Etats-Unis (this basically means USA Place). It’s kind of tucked away, not far from the river, and it has a little park in the middle. Moms and dads and tons of kids playing, sunlight and a tiny breeze, no traffic. We found a patch of grass and busted out my Best Frisbee Ever, the portable Royal Observatory fold-up number that I bought in Greenwich. This bit is possibly my favorite part. In between all the epic events of Paris - just me and an old friend playing frisbee on a beautiful day in a beautiful park in the middle of the City of Light. Doesn’t get much better than this, folks.

But of course we still needed to get to the Tower. We finished our walk and bought tickets from a fast-moving line at the base of the West Leg. I’ve noticed over the course of my time in France that I have a fear of heights that flares up whenever I’m WAY TOO FAR UP IN THE AIR, so I was a little nervous about going all the way up this vertical monstrosity. But up, up, up we went. At the first platform (which is going to be the beach volleyball location if Paris gets the 2012 Olympics) we had to wait in line for a long time, but when we finally got into our elevator it was a hell of a reward. I got used to being so far up at the top, and then we got to see the sun go down over La Défense and watched day melt into night. This part I can’t actually describe. All I can really say is that I didn’t want to leave, even when we’d been at the Tower for 3 hours and seen basically everything there was to see. What kind of magic is this? I guess you call it Paris, yeah?

Last thing about the Tower: it’s just packed with strobe lights. Every hour or two they all go off at random intervals. The whole thing sparkles for 10 or 15 minutes. We waited on the platform of the Trocadero for the lights to go. At exactly midnight, they did. We watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle its metal heart out, then we grabbed the métro back to the hostel and enjoyed the feeling of a trip well spent.

* Actually, we took a train [BACK]
* It was kind of slow [BACK]
* A couple of buses, actually [BACK]
* The slowest rocketing you’ve probably ever seen [BACK]
* No, they didn’t [BACK]
* Complete fabrication [BACK]
* At least this part is true [BACK]


At 12:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Extended Special Edition Commentary from Cathy

Chateau Gontier

OK, the first thing all you Midwestern folks need to know is that unless you have left your home state you can not possibly have an idea of what 'old' means as far as towns go. There is this tiny punk town north of Milwaukee called "Cedarburg" that claims to be old and it is *so* not old. *Real* old towns have castles just sitting in the middle of town, unassumingly (like Laval), and back roads that were clearly not designed with the internal combustion engine in mind. *Real* old towns have crypts. *Real* old towns don't need to build new hospitals, they just refit the old nunneries they have sitting around.

The farewell event Matt spoke of was pretty neat... I got to try my hand at speaking real French to real French People, and made a valiant effort at describing what I did for my job and for hobbies, and where Matt and I would be heading over the next few days. I think I got a couple points across.

To jump ahead in the trip a bit, a few days later when we came back into Chateau Gontier there was a travelling market here, and I cannot convey to you in words just how amazingly good (and large) the strawberries were. Their cheese and bread is pretty darn good. Heck, the food alone practically makes the trip worth it. Speaking of bread, they have this awesome thing called "pain au chocolat" which is bread... with chocolate in the middle. Yummy. Anyway, on to the rest of France...

Saint Malo

Cool things about Saint Malo that Matt didn't mention: There's the big main pirate fortress thing (with all the walls and the rocks and stuff), but then as you look out across the channel, there are a whole bunch of tiny islands that have stuff built on them as well -- other fortressess, some guy's tomb.

Oh, and standing in the English Channel in the rain, just because it was awesome, was pretty fun. Especially with all the weaker-than-us tourists who were huddling under battlements, afraid to get wet.

Mont Saint-Michel

I echo the sentiments. This place was impressive. Like something you'd only expect to see in a movie and then scoff and say "it's only a model" -- except it's totally real. One of the most interesting parts, I thought, was all the winding back corridors and avenues you can find yourself in, each hiding its own little cemetary or chapel or shrine or lookoutspot or, sometimes, even, an ominous pit of despair.


My mind didn't blow any fuses while strolling through the slice of the Louvre like my companion's did, so I think I got a more coherent experience out of it. We did see the Mona Lisa, but the real attraction is not that painting but the company it's in -- there is some amazing stuff in that general area, all their renaissance paintings. These days, it seems we're pretty jaded to classics like the Mona Lisa since we've seen reproductions of it hundreds of times in our life, for me it was the paintings I'd never seen before that were the real enchantment.

We covered a lot of ground, geographically, in one day -- all the way from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower. A nice town, all in all. Oh, and the jets that flew over the Champs-Elysées with the olympic colors were nice to see -- Paris is vieing for the 2012 Olympic Host city (and I do hope they beat out New York).

As a closing thought, I thought I'd point how totally not snobby the French are in my experience. They're really quite nice, actually.

Oh and yes, I do have pictures, and one of these days I'll actually getting around to dumping them up on the web for people.

Cathy out.


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