Above and Below Paris

Fraser and Barberry in the Arsenal Marina.

There is quite a lot to see and do in Paris. It’s a busy place with lots of traffic, bikes everywhere and police/ambulance sirens going almost permanently- a bit of a shock after the tranquility of the river. Crossing the road is an art form here. We took a while to master the technique once we had dragged each other back from bikes and buses a few times. It seems the technique is to not show hesitation. Kerry mastered this well before Fraser and she was often half way across the road leaving him standing at the edge, still nervously looking in both directions for a gap. The bikes and taxis just steered around tourist Kerry. This was seemingly the norm for them. 

So many bicycles in Paris!

For some reason we had visions of eating in French restaurants in Paris, but Paris is not like that. Food is available for every persuasion, and we ate at a lovely Italian restaurant the first night and a couple of days later in a Turkish Kebab House. We did get really nice coffee and crepes in a café overlooking Joan of Arc, so I guess that counts as French. €6.50 for Fraser’s cappuccino, but Kerry persuaded him it was worth it. 

We had coffee and crêpes in a café by this statue in memory of Joan d’Arc

We did some local exploring on Sunday, to visit the Bastille, on the way witnessing the local game of pétanque then caught up on our washing, showering (amazing showers) and blog writing. Monday was our first big tourist day. We had carefully planned to visit the Paris catacombs, as what can be better than lots of old, dead bodies? We found the Metro, bought our tickets, then as Fraser double checked the location it popped up on his google maps as ‘closed today’— oops. A quick rethink later and we headed back to the canal to catch a boat tour. Yes, we have our own boat and we have spent the last 6 weeks on it, but still a boat tour on a different boat seems attractive — it was a lot bigger, and had a bar. 

Canal St Martin runs beneath the streets of Paris. Crystal clear water, as it used to supply Paris with drinking water when first built.

It took us under Paris (we seem to be a bit obsessed with tours below Paris for some reason), through an old canal, originally designed to bring clean water to Paris, probably more famous now for the scene from the film Mission Impossible though! Once back in the open air we travelled though several double locks where Fraser got very cold, despite layering up in his usual several fleeces. This was mainly because Kerry insisted on sitting at the very front of the boat, well away from the crowds of tourists further back. The reason for the front being unpopulated by tourists soon became clear, as the sluice gates opened on the first lock, spraying us with water. But retreat was not an option for Kerry, so Fraser did the honourable thing and kept her company in the ‘wetting zone’ as the other tourists looked on in fascination. 

The reason we were alone at the front of the boat. We got quite wet!

Later that day, and once dried out, Fraser decided he still needed to warm up, so he planned a mission to get fuel. Fuel is notoriously difficult to get on the canals and to run out would mean being completely stuck forever. We have a 100 litre tank, plus 80 litres of fuel cans, stuffed into a cockpit locker. We estimate that we’ll use about 20 litres a day when travelling on the canals, so that gives us about 9 days a travelling, although we don’t want to run low as we don’t know how many days until the next fuel station. Often there is not a pump next to the canal so we need to venture into a town to find a car filling station. Fuel is heavy so Fraser had thoughtfully asked for a folding trolley for his previous birthday. This now came into its own as he headed off on his expedition to find diesel. 

Parisians playing Pétanque on the side of the road.

With hindsight maybe timing this with Paris rush hour was a bad idea, but he battled his way past bikes, pedestrians, cars, trains and sirens and found a fuel station. He was now faced with a predicament. There were queues of traffic pushing their way to every fuel pump, and he was just a man with a can. What’s the etiquette here? Should he push in or stand in the line of cars, with the possibility of being crushed? Fate decided- a timely fuel lorry arrived and blocked the entrance to traffic. Horns blasted, but Fraser now filled his 20 litre can with the entire fuel station to himself and made his escape before the cars realised the predicament and started reversing in though the exit. 

Place de la Bastille, where the infamous prison was torn down during the French Revolution. This is just at the end of our marina.

Success! But Fraser can only manage 20 litres of fuel at a time, and needed 60 litres to bring the total on board to 180 litres, so he has two more trips to make. He decided to pace these out over the next couple of days as he needed recovery time. The next morning he set off determinedly again — this time in morning rush hour (let’s face it, Paris is in permanent rush hour)! This time fate was on his side again. A van had broken down at the entrance to the fuel station and was blocking it, so he casually sauntered in and filled his can. That evening he tried again, this time gaining confidence and squeezing in between some motorbikes. Three trips later and we have 60 litres — lets hope we can find more on the canals! 

One of many selfies from the Eiffel Tower. Kerry looks a little frazzled (she doesn’t recommend the summit of the Eiffel Tower for anyone who suffers from vertigo!).

Tuesday was big excitement — our trip up the Eiffel Tower. Kerry had this all booked in advance for 1pm, with lift included of course. We left early, stopping off at the boulangerie for lunch supplies, then heading to the Metro. Fraser was excited about the Metro, but Kerry associated it was lots of stairs, and she is no fan of stairs, so muttered something about buses. We found the right train and settled down for our trip. A few minute later we were evacuated, having not gone anywhere, and then unceremoniously escorted out of the station with no mention of a refund. It turns out that there was some sort of medical emergency on the line. So what do we do now? Fraser suggested getting the bus, which is what Kerry had wanted all along, but preferably without going up and down all the steps at the Metro beforehand. We caught the 72, which is Kerry’s ‘wonderbus’ that takes you just about everywhere a tourist might want to go in Paris. And guess what?- without lots of stairs. 

Even more imposing close-up than it was as we sailed past it a few days previously.

Despite the travel issues, we got to the tower in plenty of time. Most of the tourist population of Paris seemed to also arrive at the tower and there were long confusing queues everywhere. We did not know which queue to go in so chose the closest, which eventually got us past the first security barrier, only to find lots more queues inside. We’d had too much of crowds at this point and wondered around until we could find a really quite bench in a lovely bit of park that the main throngs did not seem to have discovered. Here we sat with a few pigeons and shared our lunch of cheeses pastry and quiche. 

A lovely, quiet lunch spot away from all the Eiffel Tower crowds.

We found a queue, which looked like the right one for our tickets, stood in line for about half an hour, then crushed into to lift, by strange coincidence, next to a Northern Irish student, from Magherafelt. It was strange hearing an NI accent next to us! There are two stages to getting up the tower. The first lift takes you in a slanty direction up one of the four legs (causing the contents of the lift to fall sideways) and the next one straight to the top, some 330m above the ground. Views were amazing and actually not that busy at the top, as the number of persons is restricted. Kerry had vertigo, but the barriers are safe, so fortunately she did not fall off the tower in her slightly dizzy spell. There is a champagne bar there, but we resisted. 

The views from the tower are worth the effort of booking and queuing for ever!

Eiffel Tower was our big ‘must do’ activity ticked off, but we were keen to see a few more things so bought a multi pass ticket for the next day, to allow us unlimited travel. There are so many amazing art galleries in Paris, but art is art, so we decided to do a trip down the Paris sewers instead. This was recommended by Kerry’s friend Laura — they must have similar tastes! The sewers (égouts) museum was very realistic. Fraser saw lots of brown things floating past and commented that they looked real. Kerry replied by informing him they were real. Oh wow — this was amazing, no computer simulations here. Even the smell was convincing. They also had giant balls on display, that are used to unclog the sewer pipes — apparently you roll them through, just like in Indiana Jones. Fraser touched one before realising its purpose. He then found some toilets, where he made a small donation to the museum, before thoroughly washing his hands.

Actual sewerage passing through the sewers beneath Paris. Fraser thinks he might have recognised something that floated past…

After the sewers, with our travel ‘multi passes’ we went by bus to various sites including Napolean’s Tomb, the Louvre, the Jardins des Tuileries and Place de la Concorde (which displays a 3000 year old pointy thing ‘acquired’ in Egypt). This involved a fair amount of walking too, but Kerry decided that she still had energy and enthusiasm for a to visit the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre.

The 3,000-year-old pointy thing. Apparently they left its twin in Luxor.

This was a bit further away and involved catching the Metro. It was all going so well and we even found as lift out of the Metro (rather than the dreaded stairs) when we arrived. Maybe we were not paying enough attention to the French lift announcements but when we got out at what we thought was the exit level, we found a long circular staircase, going up and up and up, seemingly unendingly. When we finally escaped the Metro, poor Kerry was exhausted and needed a sit down.

Visiting the Louvre. The queues to go inside went about twice around the square, so we decided the view from the outside was just fine.

We eventually set off towards the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur, but it was all uphill and we then found a long and steep flight of steps that looked rather daunting and Kerry decided this was too much and walked back to the Metro (where she chanced upon a Wallace Fountain, also found in Lisburn, Northern Ireland!) while Fraser continued the climb and took a few photos at the top. Kerry’s dislike of the Metro is now considerable and it will be buses from now on.

This Wallace Fountain, one of 106 still remaining in Paris, was the brainchild of former Lisburn landowner, Sir Richard Wallace. We thought it looked familiar!

Kerry had been to Paris once before, all-be-it a very long time ago, to celebrate her 16th birthday. Despite this immense passage of time the restaurant chain that she went to still actually existed: the Hippopotamus. So for old time’s sake, we tried it on Thursday. There was one very close to the boat at the Bastille, and we chose outside seats looking over the famous “Génie de la Liberté” memorial. It was a steak house, so suited Kerry’s tastes, which do not appear to have changed much since her teenage years. She did manage to polish off a bottle of wine though, so something has changed! [Edit by Kerry: I wasn’t alone, drinking that wine!]

French pavement restaurant, lunch at the Hippopotamus.

Friday was our last day in Paris before heading out along the River Marne into Champagne country. We did all the jobs like a final wash of clothes, never knowing when our next opportunity would be, and stocking up on food and water for the same reason. We were excited and a little daunted for the journey ahead, which Kerry will be covering in the next blog.

A different view of one of the bridges we motored under when we arrived in Paris.

2 thoughts on “Above and Below Paris

  1. Hi Kerry, I enjoy reading this nice story with lovely photographs.
    Wish you and Fraser have a great time in France.


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