We leave Verdun and head towards Paris where we will be for Bastille Day and we look for an aire closer to make the trip better. We settle for Chateaux Thierry which we find after debating going back a bit as we need fuel. We have been a bit slack about filling up as we put a deisel injecter cleaner in the fuel and want to run it down before we refill with premium deisel. We decide to risk finding it tomorrow than drive back 25kms to the Total we know is there. The aire is ok but backs onto Maccas so there is the noise of orders and with the school holidays boy racers on their noisy 2 strokes till around 11pm. We pay the fee but not for power as it is for 12 hours only which means no coffee in the morning. We put the power on next morning so we can have Nespresso – $2.50 well spent.
We head off towards Paris and happy days see a servo so fill up so risk averted. It is like a golden rule to fill up when under half as fuel runs out real quick and, murphys law, we will not find servos. We cant afford to run out as apparantley you have to get the vans computer rebooted plus the many card machines wont take foreign cards. We work our way towards Paris on the motorway with traffic getting heavier by the mile. The van is still smoking and running sluggish so hope the cleaner and premium deisel will kick in. We are a bit worried because as you get closer to Paris the pollution laws kick in but luckily our campground in outside the area. We pass a refugee tent camp just off the motorway and it looks like what you see on tv in africa with plastic and makeshift tents and rubbish everywhere. So close to the best city in the world and the government cant stop it so sad. After winding through a myriad of streets and lanes we find the camping ground, settle in, have lunch and pack everything for our three days in gay paree. The bus comes right to the door every 15 minutes takes us to the train station we get an overground to another station then the underground to our stop a short walk to our hotel. We are instantly hit with the noise, drama and exitement of downtown Paris which where we are has a huge asian look about it which we dont remember from 8 years ago even though we are in the same area. Maybe we just didnt notice it then but lots of japanese restaraunts especially.
We find our hotel which is central to the louvre and all the areas we want to see. We have a rail ticket for two of the three days so can travel on trains and buses if we want. Our room is fantastic for the type of hotel (or is it the fact we live in a camper?) with a large bed-firm- and great (but very tiny)shower. No view but who cares we have luxury, a real bed and a shower that is not a facecloth! We have a short rest, I have a refreshing beer and we set off to Sacre Coeur and the Montmatre area as this is close enough for a late afternoon walk. Vicki has an uncanny knack for direction and can remember areas from last time we were here but I have no idea and just go with the flow and we walk the mainly uphill journey to where the Sacre Coeur sits on top of a high hill. This is where I proposed to Vicki so it has a special place in our hearts. The climb is quite long but we are rewarded by the sight of this beautiful church and the not so beautiful sight of the 294 steps to get to it. It is really packed with tourists both just sitting around revelling in the wonderful views of Paris and lining up to get into the church via security. We opt to bypass the church for the moment and head to the Montmatre market and art area which has a cultural and quirky feel to it. We look around as Vicki missed out on getting a painting as a souvenir last time but it seems to have changed a bit and less local and meaningful work and geared more to tbe quick buck portraits and crap sketches. A lot more of the artists are of Asian descent and it seems to me that a lot of the paintings everywhere are not painted here but are the same as what we see everywhere where the style is so Thailand/Indonesian mass produced with a French theme. How different from last time and very disapointing though the atmosphere is still here but nothing to what it was like when it was the bohemium enclave of painters an artisans that made this area so marvellous. Vicki bought a neat french t shirt which is at least printed in france and we head to the Irish bar for a drink-Guiness for me wine for Vicki as a reward for the 294 steps! Then it was back down the stairs and off to find a pizza place which we find and have a yummy pizza and carafe of red. Then its the quiet meander mainly downhill back to the hotel basking in the Parisness of this amazing place.
Bastille day next morning so we are up early (as it turns out not early enough), have our croissant and cafe breakfast and head out. Paris have a military parade on at 10.30am and we know it will be crazy and the security tight. What we hadnt anticipated was the approx half a million people all trying to get there as well and the fact that the security was so tight, they had blocked off all streets within about 1km of tbe champs elysee and made all spectators walk about an extra 3km around the outside of the no go zone. They only allowed us to enter at a couple of points. By the time we got there, there wasnt a hope in hell of seeing anything as the crowd was at least 10-15 deep and some points impassible and it seemed we should have got up at 6am to get there early. So we stopped on a side street where we could get a glimpse of the passing parade and lucky for us all the horses came and waited down our street to join the end of the parade. We also saw about the 60 odd aircraft flying over which was cool. It wasnt quite what we had hoped to see but we were there. It was almost as if more people than normal had come out in solidarity taking a stand saying we wont be fearful of attending these events.
The parade finished about midday and we headed away which was a long trek, but stopped for coffee on the way. We found a metro station that was open and took it to the Louvre which isnt far from our hotel. The Louvre is free on Bastille day and i had read that it doesnt get as busy as you think so we checked out the line for about half a second and decided the 2 hour wait wasnt worth it. We sat and enjoyed the sun in the Tuilleries along with hundreds of others before going back to the hotel for a rest for an hour or so.
We headed out early to the concert and fireworks that were on at the Eiffel Tower. The concert started at 9pm and the fireworks at 11pm. We walked to the metro and took it to a nearby station but discovered there was also a massive exclusion zone around the Eiffel tower and we had about another 3km walk to get to the concert. The security was really quite unbelievable. You could not have snuck in anywhere. If you lived in the exclusion zone you had to show paperwork and photo id to get in and no cars were allowed. We had bag checks at one point and then to get into the concert we had another bag check. We had 2 water bottles which they wouldnt let us in with unless we threw the tops away. So you could take any topless bottle in which we thought was hilarious. We watched those who knew and they pocketed their tops well before security so it wasnt a problem. We decided to sit outside the concert area where the view was acceptable of the tower. Since we were early we had to wait 3 hours for the fireworks. Not so bad if you were maybe having a few drinks, however they had maybe 12 toilets for the half a million spectators – something France does incredibly badly and so the queue was about an hour wait. Scot even had trouble finding a bush with the thousands of soldiers and police patrolling as he didnt want to be in trouble. I just didnt drink as it wasnt worth the hassle. At no time did we feel unsafe there and the police and soldiers were watching everyone closely, occassionally pulling someone up and searching their bag and body. They were ready for anything but thankfully it was an uneventful night for them.
Although our view was limited a little, the 35minutes of fireworks are the most spectacular we have ever seen. The view from the gardens across the Seine would have been awesome but they had reserved that for vips. It was worth the trip but i wouldnt do it again. We then had to walk back to our hotel as the metro would have been so full it also wasnt worth the hassle there either. Our hour + walk was tough after maybe already walking 15 or more kms that day. It was lovely to finally see Paris by night – a first for us both. I had wondered about walking back to our hotel at that hour but we were joined by hundreds of thousands of other revellers so i think it was only the last 100m we walked in almost solitude. It was about 7km back and my body and legs were killing me. I dont know the last time i walked nearly 25kms in a day.
The next day we had a slight sleep in and after breakfast packed our bags, left them at reception and did the walk up the Tuilleries. We continued on up the Champs Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe. The big thing here now is to hire a Lambourgini or Ferrari for a drive around Paris. I have no idea of the cost but there were those signing up. The latest scam is the Romanian beggars getting you to sign a petition and giving over money to them to help some cause or other which was obviously pocketed. We didnt get approached but saw people telling some who were, not to do it. We walked around a bit more and eventually went back to the hotel, picked up our bags and headed back on the metro, train and bus to the campground and Morrie.
We love the atmosphere in Paris and it was nice to be back for a short stay.