Wednesday, 26 October 2011 – Part I
I woke up in the middle of the night and realized I forgot my European plug converter so I had no way to charge my camera, after using it a lot the night before (I couldn’t imagine not getting photos of everything I had planned for the day!) or my iPod (my only way of accessing email or the Web). I got really frustrated by that – I had every converter with me EXCEPT the one I needed. (The kit came with one for the U.S., UK, Asia and Europe, I believe – yes, they all use different outlet types.) Once frustrated, sleeping isn’t much of an option. Plus, I was hungry, so I got up and smoked out on the balcony and enjoyed the quiet of that hour on the streets of Paris. As a result, I had a hard time getting up in the morning and got a later start than I had planned, given how much I still wanted to see. On the up side, it didn’t get light until later in the fall morning, and the sky was finally clearing by the time I did get up.
I went to find my “included breakfast” and discovered there was a basic little cafeteria-style room in the basement. There was a decent selection of breads, sweet breads, fruits, and cereal. I had two pain au chocolat (dark chocolate in a croissant-type bread), a croissant and a mini-baguette, with café and jus de pamplemousse (grapefruit – not sure why I have remembered that word since I first learned it in junior high). I went to see “my friend” (mon sauveur! i.e., savior) at the front desk to pick up an adapter. I had checked before breakfast and explained my situation, and he told me they had several there that others had left behind and to stop by on my way back from breakfast. I really wish I had the eventual exchange on video; it was a clear example of the extent of communication that can actually take place between two people who aren’t particularly skilled in each others’ languages.
When I returned to the desk after breakfast, the bon monsieur hoisted a box of converters from the back room and pulled one after another out shaking his head “non,” not the type I needed — pretty much everything else but. Eventually, at the bottom of the box, he got to multiple ones hooked together that looked like it included what I needed – then he sniffed it and wrinkled up his nose. He looked at me, looked at the converter, studied it a bit, pulled apart the pieces and moved away a bit to sniff one of the pieces. He finally indicated it was the part I needed and thought it was okay, that it was the other part that was the problem, with a disclaimer to watch it carefully to ensure it didn’t fry or anything. OK, now imagine getting through all that, and letting him know I understood, without completing any given phrase in one language – it was one part French, one part English and two parts Mime (she writes with a big grin on her face), but it worked!
And mon sauveur was correct – the part I needed worked fine and got the job done pretty efficiently. I was able to charge all my stuff (using the handy little device I got that has multiple USB ports for charging off one outlet), watching carefully all the time, and was still able to head out by foot about 10:30 am.
From the hotel, I walked east down Avenue de Tourville to the Hotel Des Invalides and Musee de l’Armee and went through the grounds and breezeways. There was a ceremony going on in the central plaza area with a military band warming up on the north side of the building. (I had come in from the south.) I stood and studied the view from the front of the building, both facing back to the building and facing out toward the Seine. There was a crazy traffic circle (or so I thought at the time – realizing later it’s all relative), Place des Invalides, and beyond that a beautiful esplanade (Esplanade des Invalides) with ornate décor leading to and adorning the bridge (Pont Alexandre III) across the Seine.
Heading east on the walking path along the river on this striking fall day, I decided to take a seat on one of the many benches along the pathway and enjoy the calm autumn view of the river and surrounding trees, before heading across the busy street to Place de la Concorde. It was only moments before I realized it was not so simple to relax unbothered in this area, as I quickly became acquainted with the apparently latest-and-greatest gypsy con – what I like to call the “Wedding Band Scam.”
Generally, the con “artists” bend over as you are passing by and act like they picked up something you dropped. They extend their hand to offer you what looks like a gold men’s wedding band, knowing human nature is to take something extended to you. I’m not sure how the con goes if you take it, since I never did and I never saw anyone else fall for it either (which makes me wonder why the tactic is so darn popular!). My thought is that, once you have it in your possession, they want something in return – or perhaps are hoping you will open your purse or wallet so they can grab what you have and run if you aren’t careful. They are very persistent and sometimes aggressive, I assume in an effort to try to make you uncomfortable so you give in and give them something.
In my case, the scenario was particularly suspicious, given that I was sitting on a bench and the scammer was coming from the opposite direction from whence I had come (meaning anything he picked up in that direction could not possibly be mine). Guess it was kind of slim pickings in that area at the time though. My vibe put me on high alert as the “game” was about to start and only sounded a stronger alarm when the guy spoke Italian to me (yet looked what I would most closely identify with as Filipino). It wasn’t until later, in Rome, that I realized he was probably trying to speak to me in my “native language.” When he figured out I spoke English, he switched to mime and one-word “requests,” asking for money for a cup of coffee (while he kind of eyed my purse) and then, when I shook that off, for a cigarette, acting like he didn’t really speak English very well. When I said no, that I only had a few left, his English suddenly improved when he said, plain as day, “F#*% You, Bitch!” and strode off. It certainly made me uncomfortable, if nothing else, but that is the game.
There were plenty of other people nearby and passing, so I didn’t feel a real threat, but it certainly interrupted the moment of soaking up the awesome sunny day and chilly breeze along the river under a perfectly blue sky – in other words, a perfect fall day, especially for walking. So, I simply got up and moved on (and quickly learned just how popular the Wedding Band Scam was, seeing everyone from an attractive young woman to a hunched-over elderly woman trying it on other people every few steps in the highly tourist area I next entered).
I crossed over to the Place de La Concorde – boy, what a crazy scene that is! There are multiple lanes of fast-moving traffic whizzing through what here is actually a traffic “oval” around two ornate fountains (Fountaines des Mers & des Fleuves, according to Google – fountains of the seas and the rivers, respectively) flanking the piece de resistance, the Luxor Obelisk, and heading out in a northwesterly direction up the Champs-Elysees. Getting through it as a pedestrian is a fairly challenging thing, trust me, especially when you are compelled to keep shifting around to find the “perfect spot” for photos of the fountains and obelisk. Making it through the traffic and the photo shoot, I headed east to the Jardins des Tuilleries, passing several “Wedding Band Scammers” of various shapes and sizes plying their trade one after another (no exaggeration here – I watched two or three of them at one time within a few feet, all working different folks).
The Jardins (gardens) are truly amazing, an oasis of peace and beauty (even in late fall) in the midst of the crazy fast-paced metropolis. I would LOVE to visit here in the spring/summer. The spacious grounds are very well-tended, with a lot of shrubbery and little flower gardens here and there, with a pond in the middle surrounded by chairs and benches all around. So many places throughout to sit and enjoy “la vie” in the moment, forgetting the fast pace of the world outside! Ooh la la!
At the east end of the gardens, heading toward the Louvre (art museum, home to the Mona Lisa), is the Place du Carrousel, the centerpiece of which is l’Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, the arc with the lovely statuary atop that I now use as the background photo on my Facebook page. I spent some time trying to get a decent picture of the Louvre with the heavy traffic passing by; every time I thought I had it a bus would pull up to block my view, but patience is a virtue! The line to get into the museum was outrageous, way beyond what I had seen waiting to ascend the Eiffel the night before. Once I had my photos, I strolled back along the perimeter of the Jardins and through the shopping area on Rue de Rivoli around the back of the Place de la Concorde. This was the route I opted would be easiest (taking into consideration the wide roads and whizzing traffic) for getting to the Champs-Elysees, the starting point for the trek to the well-known L’Arc de Triomphe.
Heading west from Place de La Concorde, walking the Champs-Elysees is really more like traversing a large park. On both sides are grassy areas with trees and benches along the way, with little vendors selling beverages and snacks. There were also costumed characters offering photos for a tip – King Tut and maybe a Tin Man (not even sure anymore since that is par for the course here in Vegas, meaning it didn’t register quite as much as other things). When you get closer to the Arc, it turns into an upscale shopping district. It was an absolute ZOO when I was there. I think I must have hit the French lunch time, on top of all the school break tourists with…wait for it…strollers. It was quite a battle just to make it up the sidewalk for over a mile, I would say. Between the sidewalk cafes and the throngs heading in and out of shops, it was one of the more challenging obstacle courses I’ve encountered.
When I finally reached the hub where the L’Arc de Triomphe is located, I paused and took some photos, also looking back down the length of the Champs-Elysees and surveying the craziness of all the roads feeding into the traffic circle surrounding the Arc. Yes, this beautiful historic memorial is located in the middle of many unmarked lanes of zipping traffic going in a circle with 12 feeder streets. (I guessed 12 and then did my research – sure enough, per Time’s site: “The Arc de Triomphe stands at the center of Place de l’Étoile, the hub from which 12 grand avenues — including the idyllic pedestrian mall, the Champs Élysées — radiate to form the star (Étoile) for which the Place de l’Étoile is named.” NOTE: The traffic circle roadway itself is named Place Charles de Gaulle.) There are actually videos on YouTube if you want to see for yourself. Traffic circles with four feeders into two zipping lanes are crazy enough for me. I can’t IMAGINE trying to navigate that. Makes NYC streets seem almost sane…
So, anyway, because of that insanity, there are actually tunnels that take you under the roadway from multiple directions so you can visit the memorial. I entered from the Champs-Elysees and walked around the island, taking in the view – first looking back the length of the Champs-Elysees, then meandering among the names of those fallen, with a long moment at the Eternal Flame. Really amazing the sense of history coursing through my veins at this point, even though its origins and significance were not necessarily a vivid memory from my schooling. In fact, I’m not sure I learned anything about it other than as a landmark in French class.
After spending some time reflecting on the flame and the history contained on “the island,” I descended into a tunnel going to the opposite side of the circle from where I began, ready for a Metro ride. (I’m not quite sure how I made it that far by foot, looking back at it. Guess if I was on an adventure in a new land every day, I might be more inspired to get some exercise. Actually, I can do the same thing on the Las Vegas Strip or downtown without thinking twice because there is so much to look at. I just don’t feel as comfortable with the public transportation here to get to or from an interesting area. Something to think about…)