Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
Paris, France - February/March, 1992
Monday, March 9, 1992
Today, on the Rue St. Michel in the Latin Quarter of Paris, I bought this little book to use as a journal of sorts. Not being sure what to put in it, I thought I would just start with a short synopsis of my doings in Paris to date:
February and March
Friday, February 28, 1992
I was met at the airport with a typical French greeting (“Bonjour!” and two kisses, one on each cheek) by Sharon, my sister. She’s already been in France for a week having been to the Olympics and only has a couple of days before she heads home. She’s took me back to Beatrice and Christophe’s apartment in Clichy, just outside the Paris city limits but still on the Metro. I’ll stay here for a night or two and if I’m lucky, for my entire stay. Beatrice is a woman my sister first met as a Junior in High School when she spent a month during the summer with a French family. They’ve stayed in touch over the years.
After dumping my stuff, we then went to Mont Martre to visit the Sacre Coeur and artist area there. We managed to complete our souvenir shopping there. We grabbed a bite to eat at one of the many Greek fast food places there and then headed back to Clichy. On the way, I stopped to call Roy Mann, an ex-pat Brit living and calling Square Dances in Paris. We spent the rest of the evening back at the apartment with Beatrice, Cristophe, and Karen.
Saturday, February 29, 1992
Sharon and I set off for Versailles in the morning, buying some croissants to eat on the Metro along the way. Taking the metro was uneventful. At this point, we started having, err, fun!?! We bought our tickets, found our track (or so we thought) and were waiting for the train. While waiting, we met Jay and Sean, a couple from Texas and Hilkka and Mary, two women traveling together, all also going to Versailles. A train came in so Sharon says “this is it” so we piled onto the train, rode it to the end of the line, and realized we were nowhere near Versailles.
So we boarded another train and asked at every change until we get to Versailles. There were no more problems.
We spent the day together, touring the Hall of Mirrors, walking around the other building on the grounds and finally walking from Mo. Madeliene to the Place de la Concorde and finally toward l’Arc de Triomphe down the Champs Elysees.
Hungry and ready for dinner, we looked for a Chinese restaurant where one of the guys, a vegan, could eat. Sharon said “good-bye” before dinner, needing the time to do a bit more shopping, while the rest of us went in for dinner. The restaurant was something, with aquariums all around including under the glass floor and over the glass ceiling. Even the cashier’s desk was an aquarium. All of the fish were tropical fish ranging in size from a couple of centimeters to 30 or more centimeters. It was a very colorful display.
After dinner, we finished our walk to the Arc de Triomphe, chatted a little, and made plans to meet for dinner in a couple of days under la Tour Eiffel. Together we found the Metro and went our separate ways.
When I returned to Clichy, Sharon, Beatrice, and Christophe were just getting ready to leave to go pick me up and go to a creperie. I joined them. The creperie was very nice. Sharon managed to get a dinner crepe and then we split two dessert crepes; one with banana, hazelnuts, chocolate syrup and whipped cream and the other with ice cream and chocolate syrup. When the bill came, Sharon and I were happy to treat them as a token of our appreciation for their hospitality.
By now, my hosts have made it perfectly clear that I am expected to stay with them for the duration of my stay in Paris.
Sunday, March 1, 1992
I got up early to have breakfast with Beatrice, Christophe, and Sharon. Then we all walked to the Metro to see Sharon off. It was early so we walked back to the house and I went to sleep for another couple of hours.
In the afternoon, I made my way to the Bois de Boulogne. I walked around the large lake to the hippodrome (race track) to the polo grounds, and then back to Port Dauphine. At the polo grounds I met a woman on a horse who had studied English at a Harvard University summer program. She told me to return Wednesday afternoon when people would be in training and the gate to the stables would be open. Even though it’s a private club, if the gate is open, I could probably just walk in and look around.
Upon leaving the Bois de Boulogne, I walked to l’Arc de Triomphe, ate at a “Quick” and then made my way to Clichy. That evening, I read in Olivier’s room until Olivier and Sophie returned from Nancy. They then kept me up late, struggling to speak French. It seemed my conversations with Sophie must have been comical; I understand very little French and she understands very little English. There were a few times when we would absolutely no common ground, laugh, and try to find another topic we could communicate about. Often, Olivier or Beatrice would translate for us. Altogether it was an enjoyable evening.
Monday, March 2, 1992
I got up early to get to the 3 Ducks Hotel early enough to get a reservation. When I got there, I found it closed and while it was expected to reopen today, I had no idea what time. So, I tried the suggestion posted on their door and made my way to the Aloha Hostel. As it turns out, this hostel is more convenient to the dance I’m going to tonight so I paid for a nights lodging to reserve a bed for tonight. At the hostel, the proprietor used the “Minitel” to look up the local office of BBN for me. The Minitel is the computer that the phone company provides as an alternative to the phone book. As it turns out, the street that BBNC is on is just a block away but when I walked there, I couldn’t find the right address.
I went to the Poste to mail my postcards and then walked past the UNESCO building to find where my dance is going to be tonight. I then walked to la Tour Eiffel, decided not to go up again (I had spent the better part of a day on the tower in 1987). My feet already hurt from all the walking I’ve been doing and I want them in good condition for the dance tonight.
I walked over to the Trocadero and spent the afternoon alternatively watching the lunatic rollerskaters, talking to the occasional American tourist, reading my book (Peter Matthieson’s “Snow Leopard”), and actually snoozing in the sun.
At 2:00, I made my way to a phone and called Michele. She didn’t answer so I left a message with the number where I’m staying.
I walked around looking for a good place to eat this evening. I found nothing. I returned to the Trocadero and ended up talking with more Americans and then walked back to the Eiffel Tower with them. They continued on and I sat down to wait for my friends. Shortly after 5:00, I met up with Hilkka and Mary and then a couple of minutes later, we met up with Jay and Sean. We decided to go to the same restaurant they had successfully eaten at the day before. Of course, when we got there, it wasn’t open so we ended up eating in a brasserie. The quiche I had was absolutely delicious. It was an individual quiche, more like a pizza than the pies we get in the US. The filling was soft and creamy and when it came to the table, it was still sizzling and bubbling from the oven. I actually had to let it sit a couple of minutes to cool and solidify.
I couldn’t sit for long after dinner as I had to get to my dance. Before I left, at Hilkka’s invitation, we were all going to try to meet again in San Francisco at Christmas time. Generally, I prefer to travel when others are not but if that’s when they want to get together, then I’m game. I wished them well on the rest of their trip and gave them my number in Clichy. Perhaps we’ll get together one more time before we all leave Paris.
I reversed my morning’s route to get back to the UNESCO building. I was surprised not to find the dancers there. I tried calling Roy Mann, only to realize the phone card I was using was spent. By the time I got back to the dance room, the dancers were assembling. Turns out, the dance was schedule for 8:00, not 7:30 as I had been told.
It was a small dance with just one square at less than mainstream level with a few calls not on the lists. Roy is a horrible caller but the only one around. Perhaps as the dancers improve, so will his calling. In any case, it was interesting to dance with them. Break time was supplemented with apple cider – the alcoholic kind – to help celebrate one of the dancer’s birthdays. Not anything you would find at an American dance.
In addition to the squares, we also did a couple of rounds with the same music for both. The dance ended at 10:30. We walked out together, said “good-bye”, and then everyone went their own separate way. It was plenty early enough to have gotten back to Clichy but since I already paid for the hostel, I might as well use my reservations there.
At the hostel, everyone was very friendly but they all seem to smoke and drink. While the bathroom seemed cleaner than the rest of the place, the whole place seemed rather dingy. I was glad to be returning to Clichy the next day.
Tuesday, March 3, 1992
I was up early and returned to Clichy with both my breakfast and lunch. I ate, read, showered, slept, and ate again. Michele called and it was kind of fun receiving a call from the US. I stayed in for the rest of the day sleeping and reading on and off. I ate dinner with my hosts. We had an aperitif (appetizer) with nuts and crackers, followed by the main course of rabbit with soupy mashed potatoes with carrots and peas. The rabbit was kind of like chicken only, umm, a bit gamier, I guess. I would definitely eat it again. We did not finish diner until well after 10pm – almost 11, in fact. Cheese and pudding rounded out the dinner.
During dinner we made plans to eat ‘raclette’ the next day. I requested an earlier dinner so I could make it to Le Caveau de la Huchette by 10pm or so. They agreed.
Wednesday, March 4, 1992
Slept late, as usual, and then headed out to the Bois de Boulogne. I ate a couple of croissants along the way and brought a petit baguette and cheeses for lunch. I walked to the lake and rented a rowboat for an hour to row around the islands in the lake. The variety of ducks and other birds around the lake is amazing – either that, or just Parisienne.
After rowing, I walked to Pre-Catalan and then to the polo grounds. There were quite a few horses out and about today and I eventually saw the same woman I had met a few days earlier. She eventually invited me onto the grounds with her. I’m amazed at how her horse stands without a lead and has its legs washed without a fuss. It then rolled on command and only complains a bit when the blanket is put on. The woman has forgotten her carrots but I feed the horse ‘nuit d’ete’, an apple. After, when the woman had to go back to work, she told me to stay and look around so I did. The stable area is paved and the horses have either straw or chips for bedding. The tack rooms are unbelievably neat and clean. I got a good look around the building and then got kicked out. I watched some students for a while and then started back.
I realized I would be near le Jardin de Shakespeare when it would be open between 3:00 and 3:30. I made it by 3:10 and it only took 10 minutes to see the entire garden. The garden is composed of trees, flowers, and herbs that are mentioned in the Shakespeare plays. The garden is in the form of an amphitheater, complete with pit for the orchestra.
When I left the Bois, I headed for the Latin Quarter in search of bicycle shoes. On the way to the store, I saw a sign for dance school so of course, I stopped in. The instructor pointed me in the direction of other dancing in Paris including “Le Caveau de la Huchette”.
The bicycle store I went to only carried touring shoes but pointed me in the direction of another store near the Gare du Nord. As it was getting late, I headed back to Clichy. When I got off the Metro, I stopped in a local brasserie to pick up a chocolate dessert for after the raclette. I got home after 7pm and nobody was home. By 8pm, they had all returned and by 9pm we were eating.
Raclette turns out to be a special table top broiler with six little trays in which to melt cheese and cook food as appropriate. We ate boiled potatoes, a form of bologna, another form of mild sausage, two types of uncooked ham, and some cooked ham with the raclette. The uncooked ham was sliced paper thin so it would cook quickly when it was put in the raclette with cheese. Everything else could go in but mostly was eaten on the plate with the cheese melted in the raclette poured on top. It was really good.
After the raclette, we quickly cleaned up and served dessert. It turned out to be a well received little chocolate layer cake. It was delicious though not moist.
I then excused myself to go dancing. Finding Le Caveau de la Huchette was easy even though it only has a small store front. The door leads directly to stairs going down two or three stories to the cellars of the buildings above. This club had five rooms with room for dancing in each. There was a small reception room, a room for the bar and dancing, the largest room for the band and dancing, and two other rooms. The smallest room had room for only one couple to dance at a time. The larger rooms had tables lining the walls.
It was dark and dingy and the small rooms with hard walls meant the music seemed way too loud. I got there around 10:30 and it was still early. I did the usual trick of changing my shoes where other dancers could see me. It’s a signal to regulars to let them know that I can dance. I quickly met three people who dance there and could tell me a bit about the dance scene. The terminology and even the dancing is a bit different there. Le Roc (or Ce Roc) or Rock and Roll is swing. BeBop is Rock and Roll, and Aerobatic is acrobatic lindy. Ce Roc is a linear dance developed to dance in the cramped conditions of these subterranean dance venues. [It’s similar to, but different than West Coast Swing which hadn’t really made it to the US east coast in 1992.] Once I understood the slot formations of the dancers, I found the dance quite easy to follow.
The men there don’t really like dancing with taller women but put up with me. By the time I left at 1:45, I had given my name and address to two people who might actually make it the U.S.
The Metro stopped running at 1:30 so I had to make my way to the Autobus de Nuit (night bus). The police were very helpful and I had no problem finding the bus but I ended up with a 30 minute wait. Oh well, I could have stayed at the club a bit longer. C’est la vie. The bus went through the red light district on Rue de Rivoli and Rue de Clichy but was OK. I got back to Clichy at 3:00. I was very tired and only read 10 pages before falling asleep.
Thursday, March 5, 1992
No surprise when I woke up late today – though not as late as I would have liked. I slept until 10, not the 11 or 11:30 I would have hoped for.
I got up and out quickly and bought croissants for breakfast and some bread for lunch. Before I got on the Metro, I finally got in touch with Frederick on the phone. He’s visiting his aunt for lunch but can meet me for dinner tonight at 7pm under the countdown clock at the Beauborg Centre George Pompidou. I made my way to the bicycle shop near the Gare du Nord only to find it had moved around the block. No problem. I walked around the corner, into the store, and the first thing I see is two people, the proprietor and a customer, speaking English – both obviously American. The customer is from West Hartford, just a few miles from where I grew up and in a town I spent a lot of time in during high school. The proprietor is from California. Anyway, as expected, the shoes I tried were much too wide – the same problems I have in the US. But he gives me the name of another shop I can check. I went back to Clichy knowing I should change before meeting Frederick.
Then I went directly to Centre George Pompidou. I made and ate lunch when I got there. When I finished, I found the countdown clock, talked to a couple from the Netherlands. I walked around the area but when it started raining, turned back to the center. I found a media center and sat down to listen to some great classical music while reading. An hour and a half later, it was time to meet Frederick. It was still raining so I stood under an overhang watching the countdown clock. Another person meandered over, looked at me and looked at the clock so I went over and introduced myself. Sure enough, it was Frederick.
We headed out to a Metro station to go to an area with typical French restaurants that he knew of. When we got there, there were two restaurants to choose from. Eenie, meenie, minee, mo and we picked one. It’s early and there are only a couple of other people there. We are seated directly and it soon becomes apparent that Frederick will have to translate almost the entire menu for me. For 95F ($20) I ended up with a salad with cold smoked duck in a very pretty presentation; a seafood dinner of some sort of flaky fish steak and prawns. The prawns were complete with head and claws. The tails were tasty but too difficult to eat and I didn’t even attempt the front claws. The seafood was served in a broth with egg noodles. It was all delicious. Afterwards, we both chose dessert instead of cheese and ordered the same cheesecake-like dessert with lady finger-like crust served on delicious kiwi syrup. What a way to end a meal.
While we were eating, we noticed that there was only one other table without a reserved sign on it. We both felt very lucky to have gotten in. Frederick paid for both of us and I’ll owe him a meal when he comes to the US. I really hope he makes it.
After dinner, we went for a long walk around Les Halles, La Marais, St. Michel, and other areas. It is 11:30 before we say good-bye with the typical four kiss good-bye of good friends. I remember that I was supposed to give him a kiss for Michele but it’s too late as the doors closed on the Metro. He’ll just have to come to the US for his internship.
Friday, March 6, 1992
Up and out at a reasonable hour. I headed for the Louvre to see the new entrance. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared but only because the glass pyramids are completely surrounded by the traditional buildings of the area and aren’t visible until you’re up close to them. I think they are completely out of place. I have been to the Louvre in a previous trip so continued my walk. I walked passed the shops selling all sorts of unusual animals, then picked up a Mille Feuille (Napoleon) and headed towards the Notre Dame de Paris. I stopped at a little park along the way to watch men playing lawn bowling while I ate my pastry. I got to the Notre Dame and walked through but declined to climb. I walked around the building looking at all the gargoyles. I then wandered over to St. Michel to do a bit of shopping for a couple of hours. I changed money for much too little – my mistake. I wandered some more and bought a little book to use as my travel journal and continued to le Jardin de Luxembourg. I sat by a fountain with large fish and little sailboats that kids push with sticks.
I started catching up on my Paris journal, taking breaks to read a bit, and talked with some locals. One gave me what I considered to be a great compliment. When she realized I wasn't French but was just taking time to relax in a small local park, she told me I was seeing Paris like the French. I understood that she was implying that most tourists are too busy running from tourist trap to tourist trap to appreciate the local culture. Granted, I had "done" most of those tourist traps on my earlier visit, but this time, I wasn't so inclined and was happy to spend relaxing time outdoors in the unseasonably warm weather Paris was having this year. I didn’t leave until sunset when the park closed. I went back to St. Michel to satisfy a craving for frites. I ate a gyro with my fries, had a crepe, and then went back to Clichy where I spent the evening writing these journal entries as Beatrice, Christophe, and Olivier watched French dubbed Ghost. Whoopie Goldberg’s voice just wasn’t quite right in the dubbed version. I read for an hour before finally going to sleep.
Saturday, March 7, 1992
I was the first one up and already dressed when the others started getting up. I offered to do the breakfast run to the boulangerie. Un baguette, deux croissant de buerre, et un croissant au chocolate (bread, two butter croissants, and a chocolate croissant).
After breakfast, I finished this journal up to this very point.
For the rest of the day, I read and in the afternoon, went to a large supermarket to do my final shopping for my trip home. I bought lots of Nutella, chocolate, and cheese. As we walked home I was informed that I would be eating escargot for dinner. I chose not to join them at a friend’s house for an apperetif and stayed at the house for them to return in for dinner. The escargot were delicious. The homemade quiche that followed was equally good. Once again, I supplemented the meal with a special dessert – this time something they would never buy on their own – a couple of half-liters (slightly larger than pints) of Haagen-Daaz. Premium American ice-cream is different than the gelato served in most of Europe so it was fun to introduce them to the different style of ice cream, albeit at $5/pint.
We talked some, discussing videos and books. When the TV came on, I turned in to read and finished my second book of the day at 2:30am, hoping to sleep late tomorrow.
Sunday, March 8, 1992
My last day in Paris. My last day of vacation. I wanted to sleep late. I woke up at 8am. C’est la vie. I read, meddled in Olivier’s room, packing what I could, and then itchy, declined lunch, invited my hosts to dessert this evening, and then left for my last walk through Paris. With Metro tickets to burn, I decided to visit the Statue of Liberty, buy my tickets to Charles de Gaulle for tomorrow, and munch lunch at St. Michel again. I had hoped to get home between 5 and 7. Unfortunately, today is cold and cloudy. The Statue of Liberty was shrouded in a big box, undergoing reconstruction. I walked to the Trocadero, took the Metro to Gare du Nord and bought my ticket to get to the airport tomorrow.
Rather than hop back on the Metro, I decided to walk and managed to find the sleaziest part of town. Lots of prostitutes wearing not enough clothing to keep warm and mostly black body stockings with lacy coverings. This Rue St. Denis seems to go on forever but eventually comes out near Les Halles as expected. I find I’m not in the mood so move on to St. Michel and found the birds being sold on the island, west of the Notre Dame facing the Right Bank. A quick walk through the area had me wondering about the well-being of the birds in their cages that seem much too small. Then I wandered to St. Michel for my last gyro with fries and a Nutella crepe. Darkening skies and odd weather make me want to get inside so I went back to Clichy much too early and read for the rest of the day. I had dinner with Beatrice and Christophe of soup and ice cream. I stayed up with Beatrice and Christophe, saying my thanks and good-bye. I’ll see Olivier in the morning. I took time to write and then go to bed.
Monday, March 9, 1992
Last night, when I set the alarm, I thought I might be giving myself too much time to get to the airport. Well, I managed to finally leave the apartment at 7:20 to find my way to Gare du Nord without any time to stop for breakfast. I caught a train there at 8:10. I didn’t have any problems making it to the train but it was closer than I expected. As I write this, I still have a seat for my backpack. I got to the first station and wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I was about to hop a train back to Gare du Nord when I realized that wasn’t necessary. With a bit of help, I got on the right train. The next to the last stop should be the airport.
Later: The remainder of the trip home was uneventful. I got home early in the afternoon and had Mark, Karsten, and Michele over for dinner of bread, cheese, salad, and chocolate. Yum!
Note: As I transcribed this journal, 18 years after the period it describes, I was struck by what seemed interesting at the time and how my perspective has changed since then. A $20 meal then was expensive - as was a $5 pint of ice cream. I routinely dance West Coast swing, at swing dances. I never did get out to California in December of that year. I was also struck by my writing at the time. It seems so familiar. I think my writing style has, perhaps, unfortunately not changed very much.
Last updated, May 12, 2010.
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