DEC
2019
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Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
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Frank Bernheisel
Posted 05.22.15
Just Outside Washington

FRANK BERNHEISEL
All photos by author and Kathy Cavanaugh

From Paris in style and comfort, on a canal boat

On the internet it seems like everyone wants to sell Paris. We looked at hotels, tours, and packages. Then I received a special eight-day river cruse from Viking for a river cruise starting in Paris, right near the Tour d'Eiffel. Kathy and I signed up and left for Paris on May 2.

We were met at Charles de Gaul Airport by the Viking rep and whisked to the Pride on Quai de Grenelle in central Paris for a 7:30 a.m. breakfast in the dining salon. There was anything one could want and everything was good.

This was 'turn around day,' so we checked in and the last cruise group checked out. This all went off smoothly. It was a grey day with a light rain so we sat in the lounge with our books until lunch.

KathyLunch was available in the dining room -- which was a full lunch -- and in the lounge, which was soup and salads; house wine was included in the meal. We chose to eat light. [A note on the food: All of our food was provided in the cruise package, including the meals on shore. The menus were designed to provide local fare; it was varied by day with a variety of choices at each meal. The ship's chef had suppliers at our stops to provide fresh produce and bread; great baguettes, and croissants. The food was very good and more than any of us needed.]

After lunch we joined a group of twenty for a guided walking tour of the nearby area of Paris. We crossed the Seine River into a commercial area with office buildings including the headquarters of Radio France. On the corner was one of Paris' city bike rental stations. The neighborhood changed into a residential area with people living in apartment buildings with five to ten floors; Paris has a height limit in most areas.

Based on ads in an agency window, the apartments ranged from 700 to 1200 square feet at prices, provided by our guide, that seemed comparable to a U.S. city. The apartments were both older beaux arts buildings from the 1800s and new buildings with small parks interspersed. In addition there were many small shops and restaurants. It looked like a nice place to live. Our guide pointed out that there were many Iranians living in the area, which was supported by the signs and menus on the marquee and windows of the shops and restaurants.

buildings

After our walking tour, all the cabins and staterooms were ready and the crew had moved everyone's bags in. We had just enough time for a clean-up before our orientation briefing. Our cabin, not a stateroom, was on the lowest level with a small window just above the waterline. It had two single bunks, a bath and enough storage space, small but we did not spend much time there. The orientation briefing was in the lounge, and there was also time for a wine before dinner.

At the orientation, we were told we needed to leave Paris right then rather than at a later point that night as scheduled. All of the recent rains had raised the water level in the Seine and it was still rising. In Paris, the bridges are low and while the ship was built low to clear them, the water was rising to the level that the ship would be trapped in Paris. So with a flurry and in a hurry we got under way to Conflans, a town twenty miles by road and fifty miles downstream. We heard later that ship traffic in Paris had been halted.

[Great call, mon capitaine!]

Our second day, now in Conflans, started with a sunny sky and it was warm enough to shed coats. Perfect for a coach tour of Paris with Thierry, our guide [pronounced Tearry. First, we experienced Paris commuter traffic which is pretty slow. Kathy and I generally do a 'city survey' tour when we visit a new city and so the coach tour worked fine for us.

cathedralThe coach stopped for us to visit two sites on foot: Notre Dame and le Tour d'Eiffel. For Notre Dame, the coach dropped us in front of the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) on the right bank, and we walked across a bridge to the Ile de la Cite. This island is small and it is hard to believe that the original town was confined to the island. We had a receiver and ear piece so we all heard Thierry's very informative and humorous narration; Thierry was very Parisian, gay and terrific. After returning to the coach, we had a tour of La Rive Gauche (left bank) which is where in an earlier era: artists, writers and philosophers, including Colette, Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald hung out.

Eiffel Tower

We drove by the Hotel des Invalides, which houses Napoleon's tomb and then a picture stop at le Tour d'Eiffel. The tower is still impressive at over 100 years old; it was completed in 1889 for the celebration of la Révolution française. After the picture stop we returned to the ship for lunch and the trip to Coflans was quick. Paris is clearly a tourist destination, and I am glad we preceeded the high season; note the buses at the Eifel Tower.

After lunch Kathy and I joined the optional tour of the Louvre. Again our guide was Thierry who turns out to have a Masters degree in art history. There is lots of walking on a Louvre tour, even when one is dropped right at the door. Thierry said we would concentrate on the big three: the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory, and La Joconde (Mona Lisa). To get to these we passed many exhibit items with running commentary by Thierry through our receivers. Sometimes we would stop for a lecture on history and composition, which we did at the painting of Napoleon's Coronation by David. Thierry identified the players, some of whom did not really attend, and how its composition worked with a vertical axis formed by the cross. Clearly the Pope did not look happy as Napoleon crowned himself.

We spent the most time at La Joconde, which is now encased in a separate climate controlled, free-standing exhibit case in the middle of one of the rooms.The museum is not air conditioned and Thierry pointed out it gets over 100 F inside on some summer days. I am glad we were there in spring when the tourists are not in full bloom. However, we did pick a week with French holidays and so there were many French; they were much better behaved than many tourists. We had time to wander on our own and were to meet under the glass pyramid at a set time to return to the ship.

A close look at one of the bicycle stations shows each bike locked to a post from which it can be released for use. The system is called Velib' (translating roughly to 'bike in freedom') and it is run by a private company. Paris Velib' has a large fleet of 20,000 bikes and 1,800 rental stations around the city. A rider uses a credit card to release a bike from the stand and is automatically charged. Even though the first half hour is free, we did not take advantage of the bargain.

bikes

We returned to the ship in Conflans for the welcome reception and dinner. At the reception, with champagne, we were introduced to our Captain and senior staff. During the night the ship sailed for Vernon.

Un excellent début.

Rendezvous with Monet

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