Google+ The Norris Files: August 2009


Paris Day 2

After breakfast at the hotel I left early for the Champ de Mars metro station to catch the RER line C train out to Rive Gauche which is the closest station to Chateau Versailles. Forty minutes later I had arrived and from there it was a walk of around 1km or so to the Chateau. Even from a distance the Château is impressive as it is located on a slight rise at the end of a main thoroughfare the Rue de Paris which leads you directly to the Château’s impressive gates.
Being a weekend there was a long line up to gain entry into the Chateau. Disappointingly, the Paris Museum Pass no longer allows you to bypass the line, so it was a case of waiting in line. Once I was in the grounds I skirted around to the front of the Chateual to the courtyard which looked up to the royal balcony. It was here on October 6th 1789 that an angry mob had gathered after marching from Paris and demanded that Marie Antionette the Queen present herself. It was on this very balcony that she appeared and curtisied with such aplomb that the angry mob was briefly pacified. However, hours later her and her husband the king were led captive back to the capital where they were held captive for 2 years before eventually executed. So I guess I could say that I was standing on the spot where the French Revolution had its origin.

From there I moved inside the Chateau into the State Apartments and the beautiful Royal Chapel hidden behind its golden doors and built exclusively for the King and Queen to attend mass. Passing by the Chapel I entered the Hercules Drwaing Room which was the main banquet and reception area of the Chateau and then onto the Salon of Abundance before entering the Diana Room which was the billiard room. Next up was the Apollo Room which was the grand throne room where the King held court and from there I entered the next room probably the Kings greatest triumph The Hall of Mirrors. This hall is 250 feet long, 17 arched mirrors are matched by 17 arched windows which refect the view of the gardens. Lining the hall were 24 gilded candelabras hanging from the picture ceiling which chronicles the military accomplishments of the King and completed by a central panel showing the King with cupids playing cards at his feet.

A brief walk took me to the Kings bedrooms and apartments which looked out onto the Chateaus central courtyard. Returning to the Hall of Mirrors at the far end I entered the Peace Room where at the end of the Sun Kings reign and tired of war, he granted peace to Germany, Holland and Spain. Passing through the Peace Room I entered the Queens Room and her apartments in which 2 Queens died and 19 princes were born. Next was the Queens antechamber where the Royal family dined publicly follwed by the Coronation Room which honours Napoleon who became a Frances virtual dictator after the overthrow of the monarchy.

Paris Day 1

The next morning following a shower in a recess that was so small I was half hanging out of it, I headed downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast was held in the open central courtyard of the hotel with a view to the open sky above. The courtyard was littered with all sorts of junk; an old mini car, rusting bicycles and broken machinery. It sounds awful but it had its own charm and was a pleasant place to eat the cereals and pastries on offer and watch the creeping wines on the internal courtyard walls reach skyward.

I headed out into the Parisian pre-dawn grey that was being washed orange by the first rays of the morning sun with the plan of catching the train to central Paris. The streets were still very quiet, occupied by only a few street cleaners and locals heading home from the bakery with a baguettes under their arm.

As per usual I was lost within five minutes of leaving the hotel but I didn’t mind as the streetscape was so fascinating. After wandering past Ecole Militarie the 18th centry military school from which Napoleon graduated I arrived at Hotel des Invalides, the impressive 17th century complex which houses the tomb of Napoleon and found Invalides railway station. After buying a carnet of tickets I headed into the metro only to find that RER Line C was closed for renovations between Invalides and central Paris. This threw a spanner into my plans as I had organised most of my travel around Paris on the suburban RER trains on line C rather than the busier, more crowded metro trains. Being a bit hesitant of using the metro trains I decided to walk to central Paris, a crazy decision as I was to learn later as the metro trains of Paris are fantastic and secondly my feet never recovered from that first day walking around Paris as I covered around 30km’s on foot.

After a long walk I eventually arrived at the crowded square outside Notre Dame Cathedral and the historical centre of Paris. After a brief tour through the cathedral during which a service was being held as tourists filed through its outer wings, I headed back outside. After bypassing the long line to climb the tower, and avoiding the gypsies and con artists in the square outside I circled around the cathedral. In actual fact I found the flying buttresses on the rear and side facades of the cathedral more impressive than the frontal façade. After touring the attractive small park at the rear of Notre Dame I crossed the street and entered the iron gates into the park at the tip of the island which houses the below ground Mémorial de la Déportation.

The Memorial de la Deportation commemorates the 200,000 French victims of Nazi concentration camps. As you descend into the memorial you are surrounded by walls and as the city of Paris disappears my only view was the sky and small glimpses of the river Seine below. A hallway appeared that was illuminated by 200,000 lighted crystals and at the far end the eternal fame of hope burned.

Leaving the Deportation Memorial I crossed over the Seine to the left bank and walked along the river towards the front end of Notre Dame and the spectacular side view of the church from across the river. Continuing past the Left Bank booksellers with their displays of second hand books housed in green metal stalls spilling out onto the parapet, I crossed the pont au Double strolled past the a small park, place Viviani and past the small rough-stone church of Julien-le-Pauvre.

Walking back towards the river I passed the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore and continued on towards rue St Jacques, a bustling north-south boulevard that was Romans busiest boulevard 2,000 years ago with chariots racing in an out of the city via this route. Turning away from the river I passed the Gothic church of St Severin and into the Latin Quarter. Wandering straight ahead I entered Boulevard St Michel with its café and artsy scene. After a café break I walked to the triangular place St Michel, the rallying point for social upheaval even up to this day.
Continuing on I passed the 13th century gothic Sainte-Chapelle church, the Conciergerie a gloomy prison that was the last stop for 2780 victims of the guillotine and the tranquil triangular park Place Dauphine. Exiting Place Dauphine I bumped into a statue of Henry IV and directly behind it a triangular tree filled piece of land with a boat shaped prow jutting into the Seine. It was the Vert-Galant, a popular park in Paris and one of my favourite spots during my first day in Paris.
Leaving the Vert-Galant I turned right onto the famous Pont Neuf. Pausing at the little nook halfway across I look downstream to the next bridge the pedestrian only pont des Arts, ahead on the right bank the Louvre Museum my next destination and in the distance the Eiffel Tower.

Next up was the Louvre Museum. After finding the place to buy the Paris Museum Pass I gained entry to the museum. The Louvre was very busy and if I’m honest at this stage I was more interested in seeing Paris not being inside a museum. I did quite a quick tour of the Louvre the highlights being; the Venus de Milo, the Apollo Gallery a tribute to the home of the French Monarchy, The Grand Gallery displaying Italian Renaissance art, the Leonardo Da Vinci painting Virgin, Child and St Anne, La Belle Jardinière by Raphael, the Mona Lisa, the Marriage at Canna a huge canvas, the Coronation of Napoleon painting, La Grande Odalisque a nude painting, the Raft of the Medusa painting, Liberty Leading the People canvas, and the two statues of slaves by Michelangelo. This was only a very small part of what there is to see in the Louvre but for me it would do for this trip. It made for a good excuse to come back to Paris one day, if an excuse is really needed anyway.

By this time it was getting late in the afternoon and I wanted to sort out how I was going to get back to the hotel. I had found out that due to the metro line closure a bus was being provided to transport passengers between central Paris and Invalides railway station. However, when I got to the bus stop I was told that it had been cancelled due to a protest that was taking part near Notre Dame. I had noticed an increased police presence around that area but had thought nothing of it. In the end I decided to walk back to the hotel, a bad move as it was another long walk and probably took me more than two hours to get back to the hotel. I ended up roughly following the left bank of the Seine back towards arrondissemont 7 and ended up at the Eiffel Tower. The parks near the Eiffel Tower were filled with people picnicking and at the base of the tower there was a long line of people waiting to gain access to the top of the tower. I decided to give the trip up the tower a miss for today due to the long lines and if I had time I would fit it in another day. From the Eiffel Tower it was a fairly short walk back to the hotel but as usual I got lost but not to badly and anyhow Paris is not a bad place to get lost as there is always something interesting to look at.

After a shower and a rest back at the hotel I headed out to get some dinner. I had no real plans I just thought I would eat at whatever place caught my eye. I ended up having dinner at a restaurant located on a five-ways street with street lamps dimly lighting outdoor tables on a footpath that jutted out into the intersection like a ships prow. Surrounding me scooters flew past taking hair-raising risks on the intersection missing cars and pedestrians by a only a few feet. The low hum of my French speaking fellow diners was only muffled by the occasional thundering from a passing train on the raised metro platform across the road. It all sounds a bit chaotic and a rather unpleasant spot to eat a meal but it tuned out to be my favourite spot in Paris to eat. The food was good the staff friendly, though they didn’t speak English. Unfortuanetly I was never able to find this place again, even though I searched for it the next night. After dinner it was back to the hotel and bed as tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

Kuala Lumpur to Paris via Heathrow

This morning was pretty much the reverse of yesterday. Leaving the hotel early I walked to the monorail station, caught the monorail to KL Sentral and then the KL Express to the airport. It was still fairly dark when I left the hotel but there was plenty of traffic about. I don't know whether it was the morning smog but the fumes from the traffic as I walked to the monrail station were overpowering. Together with smells of the street vendors as they set up their food stalls, the noise of the traffic and the constant blasting of horns, it all added up to an assault on the senses.

The plane wasn't leaving until 10:05am so I had plenty of time to kill at the airport. I was seated in an isle seat just on and slightly behind the right hand wing of the plane. The flight to Heathrow was fairly uneventfull just long and tiring at about 12+hrs. There was a little bit of turbelence over parts of India and Europe but nothing to dramatic.

We arrived in London at around 16:15pm to clear skies and it was nice to see the green fields as we flew in as well as the Thames. I couldn't make out any other landmarks as the plane was constantly banking. I was surprised how long the final approach into Heathrow Airport is. After a very long walk from the Malaysian Airline terminal I cleared customs in about 50mins. I had a low opinion of Heathrow, the staff I came across were unfriendly and it was dirty and crowded.

Leaving customs I found the airport tube station easy enough and caught the Piccadily line to Kings Cross St Pancras station. In actual fact I caught three trains as the first two terminated unexpectedly and we all had to transfer to other trains. Combine that with the peak hour crush that leaves you struggling to breathe in the carriage, it would be an understatement to say that I was happy to glad to get out at Kings Cross station and cross over via the mainly underground walkway to the Eurostar Terminal at St Pancras.

St Pancras station was quite impressive with an arched roof and refurbished shopping/eating/waiting areas. The train didn't leave until around 20:05pm so I had time to eat and clean up a bit before I boarded. I scored a window seat on the Eurostar but not long after leaving London we went into the tunnel and when we emerged it was night in France. Actually I didn't event realize we were in France until we stopped at a station that had a French name.

I arrived at Paris Gare du Nord at around 23:30pm Paris time and caught a taxi to my hotel after a fairly long wait at the taxi rank. It was definitely the most hair raising taxi ride I have experienced as the driver sped down cobbled stoned Parisian streets at over 100kms/hr, pedestrians and parked cars only inches away. Through narrow single lane arched ways he speed onto the main road along the Seine and into the Pont de l'Alma road tunnel where Princess Diana was killed. My hotel the Hotel de France Eiffel was on rue St Charles not to far from the Eiffel Tower and I had a room in the roof. One person could barely fit into the hotels creaky old elevator and my room had paper thin walls which you couldn't swing a cat in without hitting but it had everything I needed. After showering I hit the sack and slept like a log during my first night in Paris.

Kuala Lumpur

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur this morning around 06:30am instead of the scheduled time of 05:45am due to delays with the plane leaving Sydney/Brisbane. The flight was not to bad, just some turbulence and the plane trying to drop out of the sky over the Timor Sea and Indonesia.
It was barely daylight landing in KL, but what was obvious was the amount of smog surrounding the place. The airport is nearly 60km’s from the city centre but an express train gets you to Sentral Station in about half an hour and from there a monorail trip brought me to within walking distance of my hotel. After booking into the hotel and having breakfast I set out for the KL Tower and a trip up the observation tower. They warned me the view wouldn’t be that great due to the smog but I decided to check it out anyway. They were right, the view wasn’t great, but it highlighted how spread out the KL really is with high rises nearly as far as the eye could see.
On the walk down the hill from the tower there is a little patch of rain forest that I decided to take a stroll through. At the end of the walk there was a sign saying that poisonous snakes and deadly scorpions could be found in the area. Nice! Pity they didn’t put that at the start of the walk! I then took a walk around the Golden Triangle area which is the shopping area of KL and then deciding I had seen enough of the place went back to the hotel.
The humidity is unbelievable here, just taking two steps outside leaves me dripping with sweat. I was surprised how poorly maintained a lot of the highrises looked, some even gave the appearance of having been in a war zone. The traffic is beyond belief, with no road rules and constant blasting of horns. Small motorbikes or scooters are the main form of transport here and at times even jump onto the footpath and zoom past you without warning to bypass the traffic. On top of this the air quality is terrible and the smell of fumes makes it difficult to breath near some of the roads.Late that afternoon we had a tropical storm that passed after half an hour and only made the humidity worse. I had dinner brought up to my room, watched a little bit of Asian TV, laughed at the non-existence of scaffold on the high rise being constructed next door, and went to bed. Got to say I would be happy never to set foot in this country again, some people may love it but its not my idea of a good time

Leaving Brisbane

Well not the best start to the trip. The plane arrived about an hour late from Sydney with an initial engine problem that delayed it from leaving Kuala Lumpur. Originally I was supposed to depart Brisbane at 23:40 but it was closer t0 01:00 before we finally got in the air.