I’ll just come right out and say it – today was my favorite day in Paris. It was a bit different than our other days here, and, to be honest, I’ve looked forward to reflecting on it in these pages since it started. In fact, I’ve been looking forward to getting to Israel not only because of all that’s in store for us there, but also to gain a bit of perspective on our trip so far.
I woke up today before the sun did, around 5:30am, and simply could not fall back asleep. I was not tired however, and took full fledged advantage of that time to catch up with my dad, check in for our flight tomorrow, look up new restaurants to patron here in Paris, and enjoy some of the over 150+ Instapaper articles that I’ve saved up in the last three months.
With all of the main attractions visited and checked off our list, we began the morning with a casual stroll through Paris, taking our time on our way to the Notre Dame to pick up the Marais hop-on, hop-off bus line. Next door to the Musée Rodin, quite literally next to The Thinker, we sat in a small cafe and enjoyed a few cups of tea, a couple of croissants, and a raspberry tart for good measure, watching discontent Parisians stumble to work at the tail end of the nine o’clock hour.
Once on the Marais bus, we hopped off at the Place de la Bastille (more of a Paris requirement than attraction) and followed Rick Steves into the Jewish Quarter. Walking past the synagogue, door after door to Jewish stores, and all of the French Jews in the neighborhood meant more to me than a fitting foreshadow of the next phase of our trip – it felt like a small bit of familiarity in a foreign land, despite my never being there before and having little to do with the day-to-day life of the orthodox Jews that walked busily past us in that charming little neighborhood. With hunger approaching, we took Rick’s (first name basis now) advice and ordered for lunch a falafel and shwarma which was prepared before our eyes, as our mouths watered from the delicious smell pouring into the tiny alley (should be fun to compare that to the real thing in Israel).
From the Jewish quarter we headed back to the Arc de Triomphe, this time finding the underground passage to view it up close – indeed, it was much larger than I imagined it, and the eternal flame for the unknown soldier was yet another impressive display of the French gratitude for those that gave their lives to defend their country (Les Invalides is the other good example).
Already well-versed in the Paris metro (we’d been on it at least twice!), we strolled down the stairs to the station, bought our usual ticket, and boarded a conveniently approaching train to La Defence, “le petite Manhattan” of Paris. Upon arriving to the Le Defence station (literally the next station although it would have been quite a trek by foot), we stuck our ticket in the exit machine, only to have it beep and not let us through. Luckily for us, a seemingly helpful gentleman in a uniform was standing nearby, looked at our tickets, and guided us over to another uniformed man who served as translator. The conversation went something like this:
1st guy: French French something in French French French
Translator: You purchased the incorrect ticket and he has decided to fine you.
Me: wait what? Really?
1st guy, deadpan, nodding: French French something else in French
Translator: the usual fine is €25 per person but since you are tourists, he wants to only charge you €25 total.
Translator: you can pay with cash or credit card, and you will be issued a receipt.
Dina: ok…but how will we get out of here?
Translator: oh once you pay we will let you out.
As I looked around, there was actually an entire troop of these uniformed officers, each talking to a different tourist and issuing each one a similar fine. So we paid, and were, as promised, issued our receipt and let out. If you were to ask us what exactly we did wrong, we couldn’t tell you. Nor could we tell you how to avoid the fine later (as we found out later, Le Petite Manhattan de Paris is not actually in the same “zone” as Paris, and therefore requires €0.30 more per ticket). So that’s how we became Parisian criminals, and were quite grateful that the Bastille was torn down in the Revolution (it also made it quite clear why Parisians are so prone to revolt). The whole experience – slightly surreal, slightly hilarious, and slightly reminiscent of my Moscow bribe story – did absolutely nothing to make this day any worse, as we stepped out onto La Defence and were warmed by the bright sun that had been hibernating behind the thick clouds of the French winter.
The rest the day was less eventful, and a delicious (Rick recommended) dinner was followed by not one but two(!) apple sauce and cinnamon crepes for me and a nutella and banana one for Dina. Now it’s time to pack our bags, get to sleep, and catch our morning flight to the State of Israel.