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  Monday 3rd November 2008 Driving in Paris/Paris Hilton/onion soup au gratin  
  Off to Paris.  Flight from Edinburgh landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport.  Was easy enough finding the hire car desk and getting to the car.  The Fiancé set up the sat-nav and within minutes we were out on the French highways.  All was fine, then we got to Paris.  OMG, it's all true, Parisians are terrible drivers, they just don't care about their cars.  We watched a refuse lorry being directed by a bin man, in a jam situation, another lorry parked on the left, parked cars on the right, making for too small a gap to pass, the guy doing the directing kept waving the refuse lorry on, it slowly tore a mirror off a parked car, the directing guy kept waving him on.  CRUNCH, SCRAPE...the lorry just drove on afterwards.
  This kind of behaviour is a common occurrence, every day we were in Paris we witnessed drivers boxed-in, bumping back and forth off other cars to get out of their parking space.  Also saw a lot of highly-desirable motors on the streets of Paris, Porches and Jags, a Lamburgeni, an Aston Martin remained parked on a side street next to our hotel the entire time we were there, gathering more and more leaves with each passing day, but due to pure luck, no bumps from what we could see.  We started to think the owner must've died in an apartment close by or summit.
  We had a parking space in the Hilton underground car-parking facility, so weren't too worried.  We didn't drive around the city, the parking would've been too risky, we only took the car out to and from the airport and the day we drove to Versailles.
  As we got into the centre of Paris the sat-nav played a dirty trick, before we knew it, we were on the roundabout at The Arc De Triomphe!  'Take the 7th exit on the right'.  7th???  The Fiancé enjoyed the harum-scarum aspect of it though and was happy when it did it to us again on the way back to the airport.
  The Hotel parking doesn't come free gratis, I think it should, your paying enough already, but it's an extra 28 a day.  The sat-nav tries to take you down some side-streets that are one-way, the wrong way, so you can't follow it's instructions blindly, keep a close eye on the road signs too.  But without the sat-nav The Fiancé wouldn't have attempted driving in Paris.
  After The Arc De Triomphe the next instantly recognisable tourist attraction we saw was The Eiffel Tower.  The first words out of my mouth were, 'it's not very big is it?'  This, it turned out, was because we were a distance away, when you actually see it for's pretty damn big.  When we saw it, all lit up blue and sparkling with starry lights, like giant glittery Xmas fairy-lights, we reckoned it must always look like that at night, but it turns out it's usually lit up gold at night.  This special blue and starry Eiffel Tower flashes with stars for 5 minutes every hour on the hour during the hours of darkness.  I suspect it had summit to do with me, Starry goes to Paris, but apparently this special arrangement is in celebration of some European thingy.
  We booked into The Hilton Eiffel, room 523, which is just one wee side-street away from The Eiffel Tower.  Maid service is twice a day so you have to make good use of the 'Do Not Disturb' sign, cos she just walks in on you otherwise.  We dumped the cases and took our first walk out on Parisian Walkways.  We were in search of a cash machine and food.  But first we found The Seine and the cruise boats.  We booked a dinner cruise for the Wednesday night and went off again in search of a cash machine and food. 
  The only cash machines we found that night were at the foot of The Eiffel Tower, and they were crap.  They gave us money, but the written instruction bits that should have shown up on the screens didn't, there were just blank bits, we had to judge from memory what we were pressing on the screen by their position on the screen.  It worked though, and The Fiancé had spending cash, which we gave to a waiter at Le Ribe, a restaurant round the corner from our hotel.  This resulted in Onion Soup Au Gratin.  My new favourite soup, which reminds me, I have to Google for a recipe I can try at home.
 Tuesday 4th November 2008 Eiffel Tower/Arc de Triomphe/red buses/Moulin Rouge
  Up early on a beautiful sunny day, and went directly to The Eiffel Tower.  Obviously a must-do Paris experience and the best time of the day to do it.  We took an elevator to the top, enjoying the sensation of reaching such heights as such speed.  The views all the way up are fantastic.  Even me with my vertigo, I felt safe all the way, it's an amazingly beautiful building.  
  We got down from The Eiffel Tower and fighting off the entirely coloured population of street-purveyors of Eiffel Tower tourist tat, we bumped into the touristy Red Bus experience on Quai Branly.  Purchased a couple of two-day tickets and jumped onboard.  
  These buses come by every ten minutes, and offer a good way of orientating yourself to what you want to go see in Paris.  We got off the bus at the Louvre, where we learned that The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, but we wandered around the surrounding area then took a walk along in the direction of Notre-Dame.  We stopped for lunch at a cafe on Place du Châtelet, sat outside and basked in the heat of the sun.  Took a little wander round the near-by shopping streets and found hunners of cash-machines, the first we tried was fully-functioning, with written instructions on the screen, and even the choice of having the instructions in English. 
 We headed over to the island of Île de la Cité and Notre-Dame, but all the way along, it's wall to wall famous buildings and bridges.  Notre-Dame is obviously a fabulously wonderful place.  Entry is free but we paid to go into The Treasury.  We were intending on going up to the roof, but the queue was horrendously long so we gave it a miss.
 A Red Bus then took us to The Arc De Triomphe, via a whistle-stop tour of, first, past The Musee D'Orsay on the left bank of The Seine, then over Pont De La Concorde, up to the Place De Le'Opera, back down on the other side of the place De La Concorde and up Avenue des Champs-Élysées.  We went through the tunnel to the roundabout island then climbed the 284 steps to the platform roof, and amazing views down to the rundabout below with it's 12 roads meeting up on that crazy uncontrolled cauldron of Parisian driver madness, and the panoramic views of the city, make the climb well worth while
 Tuesday night we took a taxi from our hotel steps to The Moulin Rouge to see the Féerie Show.  It became obvious that the taxi service from the hotel must have had an immediate surcharge, as the taxis we took from the hotel were bout double the taxis we picked up on the streets to get back to the hotel.
  The Star of The Moulin Rouge turned out to be The Fiancé's personal highlight of the entire holiday.  He claimed later that after bout the first hour you stop noticing that some of the girls perform topless.  I'm not convinced, I reckon he was astutely aware of that little fact throughout the entire 3 and a half hour show.  It was a truly spectacular show, and that's my opinion too, me that's not at all effected by the sight of lady-bumps.  Not all the dancers perform topless, the most I saw on stage at any one time was ten...ten topless dancers, not ten breasts.
 If we go again, we won't bother doing the dinner, the food and the service was poor considering the prices they charge.  For the extra 181€ we paid to upgrade from show only (which already included the half bottle of Champagne each), to show with dinner, I expected better.  Eating out of an evening at fancy restaurants in Paris is expensive, but usually the food they proffer is top-notch.
 We got lukewarm soup and half-assed main courses.  The Fiancé's grilled sole may have been excellent if it had been brought to him soon after it left the kitchen, but after making a very professional show of presenting it to him at our table, our waiter then spent so long dressing it at the waiter's table, it was disappointingly cool when he finally got to eat it.  I finally got lobster, I've been meaning to eat lobster  for many years, and there it was on the menu, at The Moulin Rouge, I thought, the best time ever to give it a try.  I waited, full of intrepidity, told The Fiancé, you'd better keep me right, how to eat this thing.  It arrived, disappointingly looking like a stew of lobster, without shell, and it was on the cool side too.  Then I ordered the Bourbon Mille-Feuille for sweet, but got what looked and tasted like an ordinary vanilla slice available for pennies at any bakers back home, and a tiny single scoop of vanilla ice-cream.
 I'd had a Diet Coke, which was a glass bottle of Diet Coke costing 8€, opened at the table, and the empty bottle left sitting there.  Not very posh.  I'd ordered another thereafter, but it never arrived.  When we received the bill we were charged for two.  I informed the guy of the mistake and he altered the bill accordingly, but it was another reason we found the whole eating experience rather perfunctory.
 Back to what was good about The Moulin Rouge.  We'd estimated there must've been approximately 40 or 50 dancers on stage during the finales.  The official website says they have 'a troupe of 100 artists including the 60 Doriss Girls'.  We were sat at a table down very near the stage and slightly to the left.  We found ourselves surrounded in the action, the stage extends into the wings on both sides.  A couple of the performers 'fly' over the audience and there's the surprise of the giant aquarium containing huge snakes, which rose up from front of stage, just a couple of feet away, I especially wasn't expecting that.  Some woman dived in, like she'd been thrown into a snake-invested pool, and proceeded to harass the poor lazy can't-be-bothered-with-all-this-fighting-humans-palaver snakes.  Despite the snake's reluctance to join in, she was very good at pretending the snakes were writhing round her and dragging her under, whereas in reality, she was throwing herself round the snakes and taking them up and down and all around the tank.
 More animals were involved, I hadn't been expecting them either, a troop of little miniature ponies came on during the circus scene.  Once the Champagne started kicking in, I could hardly look at the male dancers, they are so totally camp I was having to stifle out and out guffawing laughter.  One guy was either hitting on the male dancer next to him on stage, or his boyfriend was in the audience off to his right.  The Fiancé was convinced for a great part of the show that he'd pulled.  We've got no idea if we're talking bout the same particular guy, they were all so very gay.
 The acts in between were a ventriloquist, a juggler and a male/female strong and equally lithe couple who twisted themselves into all sorts of positions, balancing on one hand or heads while atop a chair, that kind of thing.  I'm not fussy bout ventriloquism or juggling, but did enjoy the strong couple.  The ventriloquist did baffle me as I could see his little dog was real, and yet when it 'talked' it's face was moving like a puppet.  The Fiancé had it sussed though, a little doggy mask had been slipped on when I wasn't looking.
 Was a magical night of entertainment and spectacle, highly recommended.
 Wednesday 5th November 2008  The Louvre
 We took a red bus to The Louvre and made a point of seeing The Mona Lisa, The Venus De Milo and The Winged Victory Of Samothrace, we're so shallow, but really you need more than half a day to do justice to the place, if you haven't got the time or inclination, just make sure you see the highlights.  The single most surprising thing about The Louvre for me was that people are allowed to use cameras and even the use of flash photography is allowed.  I'd expected to have to walk past the Mona Lisa in single file, not sure where I came by that bit of information in the past, but it's not like that at all.  As impressive as the art contained in The Louvre is, the buildings themselves are awe-inspiring, including the modern Pyramid.

Afterwards we went for a casual stroll which turned into a mammoth walk through much of central Paris on the right bank of The Seine.  We exited The Louvre on Rue De Rivoli, and after a drinks break at a local cafe we set off, a little later we found ourselves at Place De L'Opera, back down and passed through Place Vendôme, which made us think of Lady Di, and I started to wonder what tunnel her car crash happened in.  Given that here we were standing at The Ritz, where she had been just previous to the crash, we figured the tunnel must be close by.  We walked through Place De La Concorde, past the Grand and Petit Palais, along Voie Georges Pompidou and followed The Seine round to The Trocadero.

The Fiancé moaned bout being walked half to death, but what with all the major French food we were consuming I reckoned it could only be a good thing. 
 Paris Cruise Map
 Tonight was dinner onboard a boat on The Seine, the food was wonderful.  It's expensive, but we're worth it.  The food and drink just kept on arriving, we ate for 2 and a half hours, oh god, we did, we ate for the entire 150 minutes.  They just kept bringing it and we just kept putting it away.  Started with Champagne, then tiny little warm olive breads arrived.  After this came another entree, squid in a rich creamy sauce, which was delicious, so I had mine and The Fiancé's.  White wine was opened during the starter course, for starter I had Scallops and Braised Leek flavoured with Truffle.  Wonderful.  Main course was Fillet of Roast free-range Guinea Fowl, juice - sauce with Cep Mushrooms.  The mashed potatoes, mixed veg and different mushrooms came in little dishes on the side.  Red wine was opened at some point.  Then there was the cheese and fruit, two types of cheese, grapes and slithers of apple.  For my sweet I had Crisp Bateaux Finger which was a chocolate and praline delight.

Some little cake treat things came with the coffee.  The complimentary chocolates I took back to the hotel, I couldn't manage any more.  Throughout the meal the waiter ensured there was always bread rolls available on our table and topped up our glasses continuously.  Was nothing left to do but waddle back to the Hilton and get the tight waistband off, fall into bed and snore like greedy fat little piggies.

A photographer goes around taking pictures to sell to you at extortionate prices, I hate this type of money grabbing extra, everywhere you go all over the world, whenever your having an experience some guy'll turn up with a camera, and at the end of your experience there'll be cardboard framed photos, matchstick folders and ashtrays and with your mug on.  This guy approached with his camera, I put my open palm up between my face and his camera, dipped my head down and said "no pictures please", like I'm famous. 

Oh I nearly forgot to mention the entertainment and scenery.  There were musicians and a singer, all very French, and a guide strolled around answering any questions and informing us of random facts about the famous buildings we were seeing, their lights reflecting on The Seine.  Under bridges we glided, glass on all sides of us including the roof, our table was in the front of the boat, by a window, The Premier service. 

Past Parisian tramps snozzled by The Seine, well not SNOZZLED by The Seine, snozzled by the vino.  I was thinking how wise it is to get drunk and pass out on a river bank.  On the one hand it's safely lit-up, no tramp-killing serial killer would be likely to attack you in full view of passing tourists and other river traffic, but on the down side, the risk of falling in and drowning must be relatively high. 
 Thursday 6th November 2008  Versaille  
  Today we drove to the beautiful Château De Versaille, a gigantic fairytale palace where the every whim of the French Royals must have been met with knobs on.  What a fantastic place.  The Fiancé, ever-mindful that he had to find a very romantic spot to drop and give me one, ie The Official Proposal Of Marriage, made good use of the beauty, romance and privacy afforded by The Versaille Gardens.  He got down on one knee and asked properly, and he got it spot on, well done that man.  So that's us officially engaged, though I've been wearing The Rock since March.

The sat-nav took us there and back again, though it told us we'd reached our destination when quite obviously we hadn't.  Further along at the far end of the village there it was, sat there just, like it was part of the village, a massive part of the village, but just right there, you kind of expect it should be away up a very long driveway. 

The one thing we weren't keen on was Jeff Koons.  They've temporarily ruined The Versaille experience by placing these giant garish so-called works of art in prominent places throughout the palace.  I like a lot of art, I like Andy Warhol's work, but this stuff is infantile and of little artistic value.  Of course that's just my own personal opinion...and The Fiancé's.

Tonight is opera night, so we took a taxi to L'Opera de la Bastille to watch Wagner's masterpiece of tragic passion, Tristan et Isolde.  This was a modern version of what should've been portrayed as Arthurian legend, I was hoping for medieval knights and visual spectacle.   But what we got was a bare stage and a bleak video interpretation playing as a backdrop, heavily influenced by Ingmar Bergman, who declared that even he found his own films too depressing to watch.  The video in Act 1 was most distracting, but got a bit less attention-seeking in the later two acts.  The singers dressed in clothes they probably had at home and probably travelled to work in.  They wore anoraks, one of them had a thick woollen crew-neck fisherman's jumper on for goodness sake. Tristan is escorting the Irish princess Isolde to marriage with King Mark of Cornwall. Unable to continue living with their repressed love, the two resolve upon suicide. Due to a mix-up with the potions they drink a love potion instead of poison and their suppressed feelings for each other are unleashed with disastrous consequences.  Tristan and King Mark are ex-lovers too, this seems a bit at odds with the look of our Tristan.  Our Tristan isn't exactly the kind of man that men and women throw themselves at.  Our Tristan wears an anorak and has a balding head and a big gut.  Mind you Isolde isn't exactly the prettiest girl in the castle either.  Lacking in atmosphere, costumes, sets and props, there was no feel for the strong motives derived of the chivalric code that would have played such a large part in Wagner's original.

I've just seen this on Youtube
 That's them taking their curtain call, it may even be from the night we went, on our night Isolde had a problem with her voice and her understudy had to step in, that woman is in the line up.  That's Tristam in the old cardigan.

Anyway, it was fine, but not great.  King Mark and the understudy had the best voices.

The taxi driver on the way to the Opera showed us the tunnel where Lady Di had her fatal accident and explained the memorial, which we had wondered about when we saw it on a previous day. 
 Friday 7th November 2008  
 We took a taxi up to the Opera area thinking there was plenty of shops in the area, but ended up having a long walk instead.  Made our way down to The Seine, taking a minor detour so I could see Hotel de Ville, then we crossed over Île de la Cité, past La Sorbonne and the Pantheon, heading for a metro to take us to The Catacombs at Place Denfert Rochereau.  The Fiancé is opposed to the Metro, because he's opposed to public transport in general, well he thinks it's alright for everyone else, just not for him.  But his legs were protesting so he gave in.  I love the Metro, I'd never been on one till I went to Barcelona, and found out how good it is for speeding a person from one end of a city to the other for very little money.  Three stops down and we found ourselves at the right place, but it's a big double junction and we couldn't see any hint of a sign pointing towards The Catacombs.  The Fiancé suggested crossing this road with a "lets try over there", at which point I'd looked behind us and there it was, a little green door looking suspiciously like the unassuming entry to The Paris Catacombs, I answered "...or we could just go to these Catacombs".

Very difficult photography conditions, after you climb down a long, spiral staircase, then walk through the dark, winding tunnels (approx a mile and a half in all). You enter a chamber with a slightly off-putting plaque...'Arrête! Cest ici l'empire de la mort', 'Stop! This is the empire of death'. Some few & far between wall lights with 20 watt bulbs give the only illumination available deep, deep under the city. Flash photography is strictly forbidden, but if it's not so busy it's easy to hide round a few corners, where if anyone does see the flash they'd be hard pushed to prove you done it.

The bones of approx six million Parisians stacked all around, and me with my claustrophobia and nervous disposition.  It's quite unpleasant actually, an over-powering reminder that we're all going to die.

After this we sat at a street cafe and watched a man and his business.  This guy was preparing and cooking snails on a metal bin lid (probably nicked) on a small home-made metal brazier, in a shopping trolley (probably knicked), ripping pages of a magazine to make the pokey-hats.  He kept on placing the prepared snails on the bin lid, moving them around so as not to burn them.  Who buys the snails?  Does anyone ever buy his snails?  We declined the chance of lovely yummy hot snails wrapped in a magazine page in favour of heading home and dinner at Le Ribe again, I wanted another bowl of their Onion Soup Au Gratin.
 Saturday 8th November 2008  
 Time to go home.  Got to the airport easy enough, wasn't so easy to find Terminal 2B.  Charles De Galle Airport is massive, first we had to find the hire car parking area to return the car.  The Fiancé found it, but no thanks to airport designers or management.  Got into 2F, and then had to get a bus to 2B.  It's a very big, very busy airport, and none too clearly signposted and organised.  So more by luck than design we got to the appropriate check-in gate.  We nearly got on the plane, were standing at the end of the tunnel ready to board, then we met the captain.

The captain was explaining about the flash strike by the fuel workers.  The French like a strike.  As a result we had to all troop back to the waiting lounge and wait.  Everyone immediately started to behave like they'd been stuck at the airport for a couple of days.  People sitting and lying on the floor, cards came out, Sudoku's, crosswords, people went for sandwiches and bottles of fluids.  A man immediately fell asleep on the floor with his jacket as a pillow.  Some strange people in maroon robes and their friends maintained inner-peace.  A few lucky sods got the available chairs.  Two and a half hours later we headed to Edinburgh, and as compensation, a free drink and snack from the trolley.  I got water, the Scottish air hostess never even offered me a snack.
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