Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 1 in Paris - Seine River cruise

Since today is Sunday and my wife is a devout Catholic, I have planned to visit a Catholic church to attend Sunday Mass in English. From my research, there is an English Catholic church, St. Joseph, that is very near the Triumphant Arch. So from Bastille, we made our way to the Metro stop, CDG Etoile, that is at the Triumphant Arch. Since it was still early, we walked around the Arch, admired the Champs Elysees and took some videos.

The St. Joseph church is located at Avenue Horche, one of the 12 avenues radiating from the Arch. As I have not yet found my bearing, I asked two policemen near the Arch for directions. They were young and friendly and after fooling around a bit, they pointed me to the right direction. Th church is a small, modern church and it was full during the 11am mass that we attended. For those interested, the other Sunday masses are at 9.30am, 12.30pm and 6.30pm. and all are conducted in English to make you feel at home.

We walked down Champs Elysees after mass and we felt hungry after all the excitement of being in Paris. We found the nearest restaurant that offered the set meal or formule and sat down at Bistro Romain. At first we thought that it would be a 3 course meal but when we did the ordering, we realised that it will be just 2, it will be the main course with either the starter or the desert. Here we have the first taste of eating in a French restaurant and we learn the leisurely pace of meals that we were told earlier. The food came slowly and so did the bill and thus we learn to factor in more time for sit down meals for the future. (Tip: to save money, order table water i.e tap water that is free instead of soft drinks that cost 3-4E.)

After admiring the colourful Louis Vuitton store, we took the Metro (stop George V) back to our hotel in Bastille to check into our room.

The room was clean and not as small as I have though after reading about how small the Paris hotel room can be. We could just drop down and sleep after the long flight but to avoid jet-lag, the best thing to do is to adopt to the new time zone immediately. So after resting for a short while, we ventured out into the Parisian air once again to take advantage of the sunshine. There was a kind of fair with many stores at the corner of the hotel and we looked around before walking across Bd Henri V towards the two island on the Seine leaving the Bastille Column and the new Opera house behind.

BTW, we always saw a lot of police presence around the Opera house and on Sundays there are plenty of people sitting on the steps leading the the Opera, protesting or demonstrating against something. But they were all very peaceful.
Once we reached the River Seine, we saw many cruise boats and people relaxing on the quays by the banks of the river.

We then went on to the island of Ile St Louis where Berthillon, the most famous ice-cream of Paris is located. In fact there were many shops selling Berthillon ice-cream with many people queuing and the longest queue was in the main shop.

Since my wife is not fond of queues, we just bought some ice-cream from one of the many shops nearby. It did not taste that creamy and I thought maybe this was an imitation but later I found out that it was actually sherbet and not ice-cream so you must make sure if it is ice-cream that you want. Since I was not satisfied, I bought some from another famous brand down the road, Amorino Gelati, the Italian stuff. In fact, I preferred this since it was ice-cream and not sherbet.

There were also some street performers on the bridge (Pont St. Louis) leading to the second island of Ile de la Cite. Below is one of the more popular performers.

We arrived at the back of the Notre Dame and there were many artists selling their wares in the garden. Here's a shoot of the front that is very imposing. We were to revisit Notre Dame again later since this was just an orientation walk.

Next we walked pass the flower and bird market but since it was evening, many of the stalls have closed.

As we were rather tired, it was very welcoming when we reached the boarding point of one of the many river cruises, the Vedettes du Pont Neuf. We rested our tired feet while waiting for the next cruise to depart at 7.00pm. The cruise itself was very enjoyable as we were able to see the many historical buildings on both sides of the river, the different bridges, the quays, etc as seen in the photos below. This was even more enjoyable because of the rest it provided after the long walk. There was a live commentary by a lady and her wrong English pronunciation maid it more fun.

After an hour on the river, we went back to Bastille to look for our dinner. We walked along Rue de la Roquette where there were plenty of eating places, bars and night spots but we were not too adventurous for French food and instead opted for Chinese fast food where we can see what has been cooked instead of deciphering the menu. This was something like our mixed rice back home, except that the dishes were sold by weight. We did not realised this and thought that the prices shown were for per helping so we ended paying for more than what we can finished. It was still cheap at about 25E for three dishes with rice for both of us. The spare pork ribs were very delicious and we were pleasantly surprised.

We went back to our hotel after a satisfying meal and slept like a log after our long first full day in Paris.

(Added later). Here's a clip of the Eiffel Tower seen from my Seine River cruise.

Ronald Kwok

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