Punjabi in Paris – Day 5 – Vast Versailles


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Imagine you’re a peasant looking desperately for bread, or at worst, cake. You pass by this gate. Would you or would you not mutter darkly under your breath?

So here we go again. Another travelogue. This time to a hunting cottage of the Kings of France. Now if you’re thinking about a run down, ramshackle wooden cabin in the woods, remember:

  1. This is France
  2. It had a Revolution ( The Revolution ) yup! Capital T, Capital R. Long before the Ruskies, the French showed the world how it was done. In spectacular fashion. “Here your Majesty, if you please. Step up right here. Now, sire, put your head here, like so… Oui, Oui. Allez, Monsieur Bourreau!
  3. Among the reasons for The Rev was royal excess.
Gold topped lodge
Gold topped lodge – I think this is the side entrance….. yeah!

Right! Stage set, then. Off we went, Continue reading “Punjabi in Paris – Day 5 – Vast Versailles”

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Punjabi in Paris – Walking Woes


The Seine below us
The Seine below us

I’d known about the walking bit. In fact, I’d gone out of my way to buy some comfortable walking shoes. But, as the poet Burns said, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley. It was entirely my fault and the fault of my map-reading skills. Apparently, I’d forgotten a lot in the 40 years since I was an Eagle Scout.

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Oh look! There’s that strange iron grid tower again. It’s everywhere !

Our first full day in Paris was supposed to Continue reading “Punjabi in Paris – Walking Woes”

Punjabi in Paris – The Monastery at Mont St Michel


Day 9 of The Great Trip dawned bright, sunny and warm and off we went in our Renault 308 to Mont St Michel on the first leg of our Normandy trip. From the Paris suburb of Neuilly-Plaisance to Mont St Michel is a good 4 hour drive.

1-DSC_2469We took the slightly northern route that skirted past Rouen and Caen on towards Avranches. As  we came off the country roads running through the flat lands of Normandy we Continue reading “Punjabi in Paris – The Monastery at Mont St Michel”

Punjabi in Paris – Normandy Notes 3


This is the concluding part of the Normandy sub-series within the Punjabi in Paris series. You can, of course, read Part 1 and Part 2. Part 2 has more pictures and even, hold your breath for this one, shaky videos!!

1-DSC_2598We left Ste Mere Eglise after a late lunch / tea of fries, beer and Coke and drove out towards Omaha beach. Drove down the highway and came to the exit ramp that would take us to St Laurent sur Mer. However, even at this late stage of the day Continue reading “Punjabi in Paris – Normandy Notes 3”

Punjabi in Paris – Normandy Notes 2


This is where we left off at the end of the first part of the Normandy Notes 1:

We’d missed the morning’s parachute drop re-enactment after an exciting and exhausting drive in. I was thinking wistfully about the stained glass windows of the church in Ste Mere Eglise. One of our regular readers had read Normandy Notes 1 and had written in to say how sorry he was that we didn’t get to see the parachute drop. < You can read about that here >

As luck would have it, Continue reading “Punjabi in Paris – Normandy Notes 2”

Punjabi in Paris – Normandy Notes 1


Yes, I do realize that Normandy is not in Paris and so, technically and pedantically speaking, the Punjabi can’t be in Paris if he is in Normandy. You are quite right. Wrong, too. For it is entirely possible that he was in Paris when he wrote the Normandy Notes. In actual fact, he is writing this in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in the Canadian Prairies, far, far away from Paris and Normandy. So why, you ask, does he title it thus? Continue reading “Punjabi in Paris – Normandy Notes 1”

Punjabi in Paris – Groundwork and Gruntwork


<This is Part Three of the Punjabi in Paris series. Read the first two, too! Part 1 and Part 2 may be found, you guessed it right, congratulations!, by clicking on the words Part 1 and Part 2. Not these ones, the ones earlier in the sentence, the ones that are in blue, the cursor becomes a hand when you place your mouse over them..>

Hmmm - they park on the street, eh?
Hmmm – they park on the street, eh?

As the Boeing took to the skies above Toronto, I was struck by the thought that here we were heading to our first ever trip to a non-English speaking land. Yes, I do realize some of my readers will know that I have been to Spanish-speaking parts of the Caribbean. This however, is different. This is no all-inclusive resort holiday, surrounded by efficient staff trained in the ways of the non-Spanish. We’d have to rely on our own knowledge of French.

Total amount of French learned by the three travelers? Mom: 3 months at Alliance Francaise in Kolkata back in the ’70’s, sometime in the last century. Dad: Ditto in 1997. Boo: Grades 1 through 10. Collective French skills on a scale from 0 – 10. Spoken: 0 Written: 0. Reading: Mom – 1, Boo – 1, Dad – 1.5 relying heavily on his childhood interest in words and their roots.

Nevertheless, we all had the Mediterranean chicken and rice and prepared to nap. I am no longer allowed to sleep in public places for fear of breaking glass with subsonic sound waves, so I plugged in the headphones and watched “Shuddh Desi Romance”. A complete and unbiased review will follow in a later post, or never,  whichever comes first.

The flight from YYZ to CDG is a shade over 7 hours. If you take away the hour they spend getting up to lets-give-the-buggers-their-freebies height, the hour to watch us eat, the half hour to clear up, the 45 minutes for breakfast and 15 minutes cleaning up coupled with the last one hour of straining to hear the change in engine note that defines the first sign of descent into the “Paris area”, you really have 3 hours to nap / sleep / shift uncomfortably / watch a movie and waste some time looking for something else to watch.

So Lesson 1, kids: do not take an evening flight out east. It is what is called a “red-eye” and for a good reason. More on that in a bit.

We found out 3 days later the reason for this snaky line...
We found out 3 days later the reason for this snaky line…

The approach to Le Aeroport named after Charles De Gaulle is unlike any I’ve seen in major cities. There is no urban or sub-urban development that you see on your way in. All you see is just fields; green, mottled with the occasional brown, darker shades of clumped green showing woods. Then, finally the customary highway just before the perimeter fence, the end of the runway, the zebra crossing and we are down on one wheel, a small bounce, a brake, the second wheel comes down and then finally we’re pointing down the runway and the nose comes gently down. A slightly acrobatic landing to end the long haul across the Atlantic.

We’re in France. My first thought? “I’d rather be in England”, suppressed quickly by the excitement of the moment. The long walk through the terminal took us to the customs hall where we decided to take a leak. Not in the hall, of course! We took turns to guard the carry-ons while the others visited the  conveniently located washrooms, restrooms if American (I wonder why?), toilets or bathrooms, if Indian ( I wonder why? I mean bathrooms? Bath? ). Toronto airport – take heed!

Boo and I waited and waited for the good lady to appear. She did rolling her eyes. Long lines! Then we were through customs and to baggage claim, where the peeing and customing had taken so long that our suitcases were the one of the very few still on the forlornly moving conveyor. Loading up the baggage cart, we headed out to the sign marked “SORTIE”.

Once outside baggage claim and the restricted areas we decided that we would buy our museum passes and transit tickets before heading out to the taxi. After two different “Information Desks” had pointed us to different gates for taxis, we finally found the desk where we bought:

3 x 4-day museum passes. This would allow us access to the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, Notre Dame, Sainte-Chappelle,  Versailles and other such attractions

1 x 10-pack of carnets, the mag-strip tickets that you can use on the subway and buses.

City maps showing streets and subway maps.

Then off to the taxi-stand and our first whiff of the French air. (More on that later, I promise.) The next 45 minutes were spent marveling at the driver’s skill in avoiding the motorcyclists weaving in and out of traffic on the highway. Actually, I lie. After the first 15 minutes, I shed my NorthAmericannness and was home in India. The hotel lobby was small, comprising of the front desk and a sofa. The lady behind the counter started with “Bon Jour” and then broke into perfect English.

Yes, I have your reservation. No, it’s only 9:30 am. Your room will not be ready before 2pm. I may have it by 12 noon, if you’re lucky. Why don’t you dump your bags here and go away for a few hours.

They don't ID, and he's a week short.
They don’t ID, and he’s a week short.

I, as always on holiday, was ready to sit down and have some breakfast. My Beloved Bangalan looked at me as if to say “Air France fed you breakfast on the flight, barely 2 hours ago. What are you?  A human tapeworm?” Coffee, though, we decided, was definitely needed. And so we walked forth, straw hat on head, camera in hand, the perfect tourist standouts (did we mention we are brown?) on our first ever walk in this residential 14th Arrondisement of Paris.

On 2nd May, 1941, in the heat and dust of Africa, the leader of the Free French Forces who had just taken Koufra made his troops swear this oath , “Jurez de ne déposer les armes que lorsque nos couleurs, nos belles couleurs, flotteront sur la cathédrale de Strasbourg.” You shall not lay down arms, until the day when our colours, our beautiful colours, flutter over the Strasbourg Cathedral. That general, born Philippe François Marie Leclerc de Hauteclocque, changed his name to Phillipe Leclerc and as General Leclerc, led the liberation of Paris, the main thrust of his forces coming up this very street on that fateful day in August 1944 from Porte D’Orleans, just 10 minutes walk southwest from our hotel. It’s no wonder they named the street after him.

The first cafe was barely 2 minutes away, at the corner of Rue Daguerre and Ave du General Leclerc. We walked down Rue Daguerre right into a street market. Fresh fish, sea food, butchers, sausage and cold meats were interspersed with cafes and restaurants. Oh look a Boulangerie! No point gaping, we learned soon enough. They are as ubiquitous as paan shops in India, as are the cafes, with the chairs outside all lined up facing the street, tiny tables scattered among them. All have people sitting, drinking caffe, a croissant or just sitting there smoking.

Too tired to figure out whose statue this is. Jardin Du Luxembourg
Too tired to figure out whose statue this is. Jardin Du Luxembourg

15 minutes of walking was more than enough for me. If I’d had a table in front of me I would have thumped it and cried “Coffee! For gods sake, get me some coffee!”. So we walked over to the Cafe Daguerre and sat down, wondering if we had collective French enough to order coffee and light refreshments. We discovered we knew enough to say “Bon Jour”. “Une Cafe olay”, “une cafe no-ar”, making sure we held up the right number of fingers.

Lesson 2: ‘Tis enough. ’twill serve. (They all speak fairly good English)

I ordered a Serrano Jambon and Emmental Sandwich and cafe noir. Boo had the same with a Heineken! The sandwich was a whole baguette, the best damn ham and cheese I’ve had in a long time. And the coffee? Aaahh!! Fantastic. I haven’t had coffee like that anywhere else. Wonderful. We sat there, killing time. When we looked at our watch next though, it said 11am.

Of course, milady had a solution. We would walk down to the Jardin du Luxembourg. According to the guidebooks  and maps it was but a 10-15 minute walk away. We started walking commenting on the architectural detail on every building, the parked cars, the inexplicable lineup in the middle of nowhere.

An hour later, we finally came upon the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Impressive young tennis player, falling dramatically after winning..
Impressive young tennis player, falling dramatically after winning..

This is where the 2nd French Armoured Division of General Leclerc fought off strong resistance from the Germans armed with anti-tank 88s. Here we sat on chairs that lay scattered around wondering what the fuss was about, tired from lack of sleep, walking for what seemed like hours and exhausted with the thought that we still had 2 hours to kill, one of which would be spent walking back to the hotel. The garden looked pretty ordinary and we sat near some tennis courts watching a couple of young boys, 13-14 year old, playing some pretty good tennis. The served well, ran around picking up returns and were a bit of a treat to watch.

I said, “Well, the famed Jardin Du Luxembourg doesn’t seem to be much”.

She said, “Yeah! Hmm, well we should head back that way, since that’s the general direction of the hotel”.

So we walked on and about two minutes later, there it was. A fountain, broad avenues spreading from it and a massive array of tall hedges. So this is the real Jardin! Ok! So it is pretty impressive. Those hedges! Hoohah!

Some hedges! Jardin du Luxembourg.
Some hedges! Jardin du Luxembourg.

So we came out of the garden, spent 10-15 minutes debating the relative skills of Dad’s map reading and Mom’s “sense of direction”. Dad prevailed and 20 minutes later we were at the hotel. (Dad was much relieved!)

Now it’s time to find some eau distillee, or distilled water. I need that for the nose machine I use to sleep. Look, that Monoprix seems like a grocery store. Hmm, lots and lots of drinking water, both sparkling and still, but no distilled water. The pharmacy across the street was mystified at my asking for “oh?” “Oh disteelay?” Directed back to Monoprix. Headed over the cash counter to ask the cashier. Confusion. A customer chimes in “Water? eau?” and mimed ironing clothes. Light dawned on the cashier and I at the same time. “Oui, oui”, I said. I was pointed to towards the household cleaners and there among the bottles was distilled water for ironing clothes. There was no point in trying to explain that I wasn’t a professional ironer of clothes.

Back to the hotel across the street. The room is ready, huzzah. The elevator is designed and has a capacity for a pair of slim lovers only, so bags are taken up one at a time. 10 minutes later we’re all sidling around inside the two rooms. The triple room.

15 minutes later we were all asleep, fully dressed.

Four hours later, refreshed and groggy, I was ready for some dinner. Still dressed in the clothes we’d flown in, we headed to the Cafe du Rendezvous, right next to the Cafe Daguerre. Boo was convinced by the server to try salmon tartare, which he is probably not going to order again. My Beloved Bangalan had a pasta of some kind and I had a steak with pepper sauce. It wasn’t bad, but I made a mental note to leave behind steak as a dinner option.DinDin1

Finally, around 11pm, we were asleep in Paris. Our first night in Paris. Parisians slept too, oblivious to the fact that tomorrow would bring into their lovely city three strange strangers.

Would Paris ever be the same again?

Punjabi in Paris – Final Frenzy


Square in Montparnasse
Head down to the Catacombs – start here.

<Read earlier post here>

Somewhere in the last week, The Beloved Bangalan, realized that we hadn’t figured out the cost-benefit ratio of internal travel. Local transport within the city. Renting a car for intra-city travel made as much sense as driving your own car in New Delhi or Calcutta. I suspect a slight hesitation to trust my notoriously middle-finger based driving skills in a strange city in a far-off land. So of course a spreadsheet was produced to identify the best option.

Carnets are books of tickets that don’t expire. A weekly pass on the other hand runs from Monday to Sunday. We were arriving Friday morning. And the next Saturday we were scheduled to drive out to Normandy. So, folks, Excel does have it’s uses. Who would have thunk it? (I may be betraying a slight, very slight, prejudice against Excel and users who try to use it to model a database and the quirky VBA code syntax that doesn’t exactly follow the code samples in the Help files that Microsoft so unhelpfully provides and the accountants-become-coders who use Macros when a nice little piece of VB code would do and who populate the web with their singularly unsophisticated methods. But, possibly, I digress. What’s that you say? “Get on with the Paris thing?” Well OK then! )

As you can see from the brief schedule above, the weekly pass would not have been cost-effective. You don’t see? You want to see the spreadsheet? No – in deference to the multitudes (well, whatever..) who are shielding the eyes and mutely shaking their heads in a “NO!” manner, I shall regretfully not be posting that spreadsheet. So we bought carnets and used them across buses and the Metropolitan system aka the Subway.

A word about the subway. No – on second thoughts I’ll leave you hanging on that one for this is but the second in the series and we technically haven’t arrived in Paris yet.

So what have we got to?

1. Air tickets: Air France took that responsibility and, dare I say, honour (honor, if American).

2. Hotel in Paris: The Best Western in Montparnasse bang opposite the Mouton Duvernet Metro station. Expedia took care of both #1 and #2.

Entrée de la station Mouton - Duvernet, ligne 4

3. Car booked for the second week: AutoEurope kindly consented to rent us a VW Golf or similar with GPS.

4. Bags packed. Decided that the temperatures wouldn’t yet allow shorts, so regretfully abandoned my pink shorts. The Quality of Mercy shown to Parisiennes, as my friends pointed out. Thanks, people! Besides they really didn’t go with my navy blue runners with lime accents and laces.

5. Normandy visit: Booking a hotel room that offered to sleep three people was a challenge. Ultimately found the Hotel St Pierre in Vire, halfway between Mont St Michel, our Saturday destination, and Ste Mere Eglise, our Sunday morning destination. Decided that going there on D-Day would simply entail dealing with humungous crowds. Displaying masterful cunning we decided to get there 2 days after D-Day so as to miss the crowds. You know what they say? When you assume you make an ass out of u and me. Yeah – I know. They do. I don’t. I hate cliches, preferring to just head them off at the pass. (You smiled! I saw you!)

And then a friend from decades ago who lives in a Paris suburb, whom we had contacted, wrote back and said “Cancel the hotel and stay with us!”. Consternation! Discussions and some back and forth followed. (Did I mention our control freakiness?) Ultimately decided that we would cut the Montparnasse Best Western stay shorter by 5 days. Calls to Expedia and the hotel ensued and after much confusion about the type of room we had booked and were now asking for we had managed that. To clarify, we had booked a triple room, which is what they call a room that sleeps 3. Overlaid on that is the single or double bed. Let me clarify. A triple room could be a room with 3 singles ( a triple single room) or a one double and one single (a double triple room). Ultimately we ended up with a triple room with two doubles. Are you still confused ? Try getting an explanation of all that in a mix of English, French, American and Canadian.

Bikes lined up - Photo by Boo
Bikes lined up – Photo by Boo

Now, finally, we had to work out how we get to the airport. Like any traditional desi family we live within 30 minutes of the main airport, YYZ, in our case. Ultimately, son #1 was co-opted into that duty and so the well-prepared travellers arrived at the Lester B Pearson airport the evening of May 29th.

Copies of passports – check

Passports – check

Euros – check

Checked in bags, 1 each – check (we don’t travel light. We say we’d like to, but we don’t really do…)

Carryon bags, 2 backpacks and my sleep machine, large purse for the lady – check

Books to read – Check. Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” for dad. (Pages read on the trip – none).  Rick Steves – Paris 2013 for reference.

And then we were on the Boeing 777.

Ahead lay Paris, France, the city that Col Henri Rol-Tanguy had cried “was worth 200,000 dead”.

Obligatory Paris shot of wedge building.
Obligatory Paris shot of wedge building.

 

Paunchy Punjabi in Paris – Writer’s Intro


Well, there you are, my dear folks. I’ve been there and “done” Paris, but did not get a t-shirt. Most of them had glittering fronts that said “I {heart symbol} Paris” in small rhinestones and, as you already know by now (or should), rhinestones are not right for my idiom.

First view of Paris's 14th Arrondisement - Rue Daguerre.
First view of Paris’s 14th Arrondisement – Rue Daguerre. And my Virginian gentleman’s straw hat…

The trip was stressful in the planning, exhausting in it’s execution, exhilarating in it’s aftermath. To give you a sense of the level of stress, consider the following facts. Keep in mind that Mom and Dad are both A-type personalities and control freaks.

0. How long should the trip be? When should it be? Should it include London as well?

1. Travellers include a middle-aged mother, father and a nearly nineteen year old son. In the series to come after this ( you thought you were getting off lightly by reading this post?) they shall be referred to as Dad aka I aka Me aka Mine, Mom aka The Beloved Bangalan and Nineteen-year-Old aka Boo.

2.Flights to be booked. YYZ is one of the most expensive airports in the world. Any flight that comes / goes from Lester B Pearson airport requires a minor mortgage to be taken out. Mom hates takeoffs and landings so direct flights are important.

3. Hotels to be booked. Where in the city should they be? What about hotels in Normandy? The trip coincides with the D-Day celebrations (Dad at devious best) means all hotels are booked well in advance.

4. List of sights to see. In Paris there are museums, cathedrals, tourist traps such as a tall, very tall, collection of riveted steel. Modern art or the impressionists? Rodin? Turns out sculpture isn’t quite the thing. La Joconde is a must, I suppose, since how can you say you visited Paris and did not see the enigmatic smile?

5. List of places to visit. Louie’s hunting cottage in Versailles is a must, they say. The cathedral at Chartres, the chateau at Chenonceau. A drive through the Loire valley. Mont St Michel shot into prominence on the back of the last Tour de France coverage and travel show, goes up high on the list, but is more than 3 hours away from Paris.

Linear Programming polytope.6. Transport modelling using linear programming methods to optimize viewing and minimize travel time

7. Rental car – to book or not. Check insurance coverage umpteen times (we are Canadians, you see…)

8. If rental car then understand driver’s licensing requirements. Turns out our licence is bilingual in English and French so we’re good.

9. If rental car then see #6 to optimize viewing and minimize driver fatigue.

10. Update camera equipment with new digital lens, filter and spare flash memory card. Surely 2x32GB should be enough?

11. Take the little point & shoot digital camera as well? Decisions!

12. Ipad or laptop? We took both, ultimately.

13. Cell phone and Ipad plans. At the end of this discussion, Dad left his phone at home, Mom got the office to put her on a plan as she is a big noise in technical operations and no mouse dare move without her consent. Boo got his own text plan as a wireless leash, so he could wander a bit but yet stay tied connected to Mom.

14. All hotels promised free internet so Ipad data plans were deemed unnecessary.

15. Boo is in the middle of University registrations, so internet, a fast one, is necessary.

16. Adapters for the various electric appliances / gadgets. Check voltages on all.

17. Packing. Ahh! Americans on the web have worried about their apparel in droves. Shorts or not? Should I pack shorts? Will a paunchy, middle-aged, brown guy in pink shorts and navy blue and lime running shoes with white socks with a purple band stand out? All possibles are put into the spare bedroom then physically load balanced on the day of travel while safeguarding breakables/squishables into the middle of the suitcase buttressed by t shirts and things. It’s all very scientific….

18. Shoes. What shoes do I wear on the flight? What do I wear there? Go shopping for slipon casuals that will do double duty as good walking shoes.

19. What kind of jackets do we need, if any? Slightly less casual clothes for dinner? Check weather reports.

20. Print off all the reservations, copies of the passports in case passports are stolen.

21.Call the bank, order Euros (3-5 business days for the local branch to have them ready for pickup). Call credit card companies and let them know.

Not Ripley's but a subway station
Not Ripley’s but a subway station

Come back, you glutton for punishment, as the series continues!