26 March, 2012

Yesterday was my last day in Paris.  It seemed like it was going to just be another day of ordinary sightseeing.  I got off to a pretty slow start as I wanted to check in for my flight and begin to pack.  I decided to see one last bit of the city in the neighborhood of Marais.  This area was built on a marsh as the Seine had a slightly different route years ago.  I walked across the Ile de la Cite and over to the Hotel de Ville.  I was going to catch another bus from there but started walking.

I followed the signs to the Place de Voges which is the oldest planned square in the city.  Walking through the arches you suddenly come upon a large park.  Families were strewn about the grounds, picnicking or resting or watching their children play.  One thing is clearly true, children are the same all over the world.  “Maman, Maman, regardez!!”   in French equals “Mom, Mom.  Look!” in English. 

After a few peaceful minutes on a bench (where I quite enjoyed the various flavors of some macaroons)  it was time to be off.

I continued walking down towards the Bastille.  Nothing survives of the prison, but there is this column in the center of the square to commemorate citizens who died, not in storming the Bastille, but…  Across the square is the new opera house.  Apparently the acoustics are amazing.  Something would have to be as I think it looks a bit out of place here.  But it was built in the 80’s to make the opera more accessible to the public. 

Then on the bus I went.  Not too much more to share on this tour, just more modern parts of the city.  Including this sports arena.  Pretty cool design and they can host pretty much any sport here.

Then back in the area of my hotel it was time for some souvenir shopping.  There are dozens of stores in the area, but they pretty much all carry the same thing.  You would think there would be some variety to draw people to one store over another, but no.  After that and a little nap it was time to head out to dinner.

I may have mentioned to some of you that I discovered a man named Jim Hayes who runs a Sunday night dinner out of his home every week.  He began it about 40 years ago as a way for tourists to meet each other and talk.  I was a little skeptical about going to some random dude’s house in the middle of Paris.  But, I cannot stress this enough, it was the best night I had in Paris all week.  After taking the metro and walking for about 10 minutes into the neighborhood, you approach a green gate and enter a code.  I saw several normal people entering so I joined.  Outside the gate I met Melissa, a fellow American from Pennsylvania.  She was traveling with two friends, but both chickened out of joining the dinner, so Melissa braved it alone.

The gate opens up onto a long garden with a row of apartments to the right.  Immediately we were greeted by other guests and directed to Jim.  After signing in and meeting Jim for the first time, we were instructed to put our coats and bags away and grab a drink.  Throughout the whole dinner, Jim holds court on a stool next to the kitchen.  He’s friendly and funny and has created this amazingly warm safe atmosphere for strangers to become friends.  The ages ranged from Jim’s 84 (or 85, he can’t remember) to early 20s.  Everyone speaks English or is trying very hard to speak English and every conversation begins with, “Hi, I’m…… tell me your name.”  Seamus was the cook on this particular Sunday and we began with the most amazing soup.  Couldn’t even tell you what was in it other than onions and some peppers and tomatoes.  Served with sour cream on the side, it was delicious.  You simply grab a bowl and head out into the garden.  People swirl around from group to group meeting new people.  You hang out with someone for a bit, part and the find them again later in the evening if you enjoyed their company.  I met several Americans, quite a few Brits and one or two Parisians.   Dinner was salmon with some kind of stuffing and maybe couscous and a carrot salad.  (I’m told by one frequent diner, that it wasn’t even the best meal he’d had there)  But I enjoyed it.  (maybe it was all the beer)  By the end of the night I was fast friends with Melissa and another woman named Brita.  (Brita is from Seattle by way of Arizona)  We also made friends with Brad, a 60 something American gentleman who had just moved to Paris two months ago.  He retired and said what the heck.  He now lives in a tiny apartment and has a 27 year old girlfriend.  (Melissa gave Brad no end of grief about that)  I also met Pascal, a lovely Frenchman who makes films by day and works in a pharmacy by night.  (I’ll have photos of him once Brita returns home)  I also met Laura, an aspiring filmmaker from London who was on a mini break to Paris with her friend Amy.  So many other lovely people, an older couple Eugene and (I can’t for the life of me remember her name) who only have been together for four years and will be getting married this year, but seem like they’ve been together forever.  Such an amazing experience and one that is a must for anyone going to Paris.  Just email Jim and get on the list ahead of time as there is a waiting list for others who want to join.  Don’t be nervous, if I could do it, you can!

So now I’m headed back to the states.  Finishing this up as I sit in the airport.  I’m glad to return to all of you my friends and my own bed, but I do wish we were all off somewhere else now. 

My intention is to continue the blog when I go to Barcelona in June.  Until then Au Revoir!  And safe travels!

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