Actually, we have had several rainy days. At this point the small umbrella that my wife packed for me is gradually disintegrating. I am hoping it lasts at least through tomorrow and then I can leave it to its destiny in a French landfill.
On Tuesday, we took a day trip to Bruges, Belgium, and that was our first rainy day since London. Bruges is a very well-preserved medieval city in northwest Belgium. As we strolled around the town it seemed like around every corner there was another incredible castle-like ancient building or another charming stone bridge over another narrow canal. Though it was wonderful to wander the winding streets and hidden passages through the town, it was also very crowded. We heard languages from all over and it was clear that Bruges was a very hot destination. We had not even heard about the city before we saw the Colin Farrell film “In Bruges” when it came out back in 2008 and we wondered how many of the other visitors were in the same boat. The wife and I agreed that the great old-world beauty of the place coupled with the massive crowds made it all seem very much like being in Disney World’s World Showcase area. That’s a shame but I suppose a compliment to Disney!
We were damp but had a great time for our 5-hour visit. Mental note made that if we ever get back there it must be in the fall when most people are at work and kids are in school. Same note for London and Paris by the way – more later on that.
One note on our day trip to Bruges – we both thought it was odd that we were able to take a train from Paris to Brussels, a local train from there to Bruges, walk around Bruges, then the two trains in reverse back to Brussels and Paris – and at no time did anyone ask to look through our bags or to look at our passports! I gather the reason for that is that we were already inside the European Union. It must have been assumed that if were legally in Paris, then we were A-OK to go to Bruges. That all seems a little lax to me, but nobody has yet consulted me on the policy!
Yesterday we went up (in both latitude and altitude) to the Montmartre area of Paris, best known for the huge white Church of The Sacred Heart (Sacre-Coeur) that looks out over Paris from the city’s highest point. It was another area of storybook streets and ancient houses. Perfectly appointed little shops and sidewalk cafes everywhere, but like Bruges, it was crowded like Times Square. We can’t take a whole lot of pushing through crowds of people so we toured around and got out of there pretty quickly. We got there via the Abbesses metro stop, which has one of the remaining very fancy art-nouveau station entrances. We got some good pictures of that that I will share in another blog entry.
By the way, not far from that metro stop and the Montmartre area is a little cabaret called The Moulin Rouge. We did not feel any need to brave the certain crowds to see that. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I only recently realized that the “moulin” is the windmill, or mill, itself. Therefore “La Moulin Rouge” is “The Red Mill” in French.
It rained not long after that as we toured around another part of town. When the rain came down we simply had no choice but to duck into a small café and order a bottle of wine. We thought it was wonderful to be in Paris in the rain in summer.
When in a big city we have always thought it fun to take a cab ride to somewhere, but we haven’t done that in Paris. The metro is just so efficient and easy to use that it’s hard to pass up. There is an elaborate bus system also that I gather is probably well organized, but we haven’t dabbled in that yet. Of course, busses are subject to traffic, and there is plenty of that here, so chalk up a point in favor of the metro!
This afternoon we used the metro to go to the Montparnasse area of southern Paris hoping to get into the catacombs. The line was so long – several hours potentially just to get in – that we bagged that idea for the day and headed back up to the Latin Quarter for a late lunch. Our plan is to get back down there about 45 minutes before the catacomb’s opening time tomorrow morning. Mrs. Working Stiff really wants to “do” the catacombs and so do I. When do you get a chance to see thousands and thousands of human skulls so artfully arranged? If the line is prohibitive again tomorrow, well, then that’s another thing to be done in the future some time.
Overall, we’re having a great time and doing a lot of simply wandering around. We have made a conscious effort to NOT rush around from museum to museum, monument to monument. And again, as I noted for Bruges, the place is crowded. Fortunately for us we love to just sit in a café and sip wine, which is the official Parisian pastime. Oh, and that thing with the French people walking around with a bag of groceries with the baguette sticking out – that’s no joke. There are people walking around everywhere with that loaf of bread.
Most of today’s pictures are of a little confectionary shop near us on the Ile de St. Louis. The place was so beautiful I felt like I was Charley in the Chocolate Factory. It was magical and the cookies were delicious.
I will try to get another entry out tomorrow and hopefully will report that we have been through the catacombs. More soon!
The Working Stiff