Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Le Havre (Paris)

What can I say about Paris? How can I describe a place I love? On this cruise, the ship docked for one day at Le Havre, and I wanted to spend the day in Paris. The ship had excursions to Normandy, and Mont St. Michel, and several other places, but I wanted to go to Paris. The ship arranged busses to take people to Paris, a three hour bus ride, and I took it. The drive was beautiful, passing beautiful farms along the way, with old farmhouses, all the same light brown color, the color of the stone in this area. Many of the oldest farmhouses still had thatched roofs. The fields were green and perfectly kept, very much like one picture postcard after another all along the way. Once we entered Paris, the trip was very quick to the Eiffel tower, the drop-off and pick-up point in Paris. The guide told everyone to return to the bus no later than 5:00 p.m. for the return trip to the ship, and we were off.

First stop was the public restrooms at the Eiffel tower. Americans are not accustomed to having to pay to enter public restrooms, but in Paris the charge is typically 40 cents. It was here that I got reacquainted with "ugly Americans" again. Even though we had been told that we must have Euros, some Americans on the ship had only American money, and they could not use it to enter the restrooms. Several Americans were irate and making a lot of noise. Would anyone from Europe have been able to use Euros in America? Of course not. I felt shame.

The day was beautiful and I wanted to spend my 5 hours walking. After spending a few moments at the Eiffel tower, just to enjoy the majesty of it, I set off toward Les Invalides and the tomb of Napoleon. Immediately, I was walking through neighborhoods so beautiful that I was really overwhelmed. Again, I was struck by the beauty of Paris, as I have been before. First, the streets are clean and neat and lined with huge shade trees, and behind the trees are buildings, all constructed with beautiful architecture (see photo), with shops on the street level, and apartments above. Immediately, Parisians were everywhere on the sidewalks -- school children dressed in their little smocks with white collars, people shopping, people on their way to or from work. Again I was struck by the overwhelming beauty of Paris, and reminded why I love the city so much.

Les Invalides, with its huge dome, was constructed in the 1600's by Louis IV, to house sick military men. Later, it became the site of Napoleon's tomb. I won't describe it in detail; there are much better, more detailed descriptions available on the Internet. It was nice to walk through the neighborhoods and again visit the gardens of Les Invalides, and peek in again at the tomb.

Then, I took a taxi to Ste. Chapelle, the beautiful 13th century church with walls of stained glass. It was wonderful again to sit inside in amazement as the sun streamed through the stained glass windows (see photo). What a wonderful, almost religious, experience to sit and admire the beauty.

After Ste. Chapelle, a quick walk to Notre Dame again, and then a rest to eat lunch at a beautiful sidewalk cafe. Paris has thousands of wonderful sidewalk cafes, and Parisians seem to fill them constantly, at all hours. All of the tables and chairs are pointed out toward the sidewalks, to watch passersby. I had a ham and cheese sandwich on a long roll of french bread, and then a scoop of ice cream with coffee. Sitting in the cafe and eating wonderful food was an incredible experience, as always.

Then a walk back toward the Eiffel tower, to return to the bus. First, a walk along the Seine (photo), and then through St. Germaine on the left bank, with all its narrow streets lined with shops, food markets, flower shops, and sidewalk cafes -- a feeling of truly being in Paris.

Back at the Eiffel tower, the bus trip back to the ship was a chance to take a quick nap, except that a couple was arguing and keeping the passengers from sleeping. What a shame to argue so loudly and so inconsiderately.

Paris reminds me again and again how deeply I care about beauty. Napoleon decided that Paris would be beautiful, and he made it that way. But he did so much more than that, he developed a culture of beauty in an entire nation, a culture that extends to every aspect of society, and lasts until this day. All countries could be beautiful if they wanted to be, but they don't, and to me, that is a shame.

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