Unforgettable A small, offbeat perspective.
e had been planning our trip to France for over two years. Our plan was to see France but not as the usual tourist through a group of operators who have a set itinerary. So we made our own. We decided to spend a week in Paris and see all that tour operators show and also take a few offbeat tours out of Paris and then go on to Lyon, which is considered the food capital of France. In both places, we decided to stay in apartments.
As our knowledge of French is almost non-existent, we planned to buy a phrase book—english to French—as we had heard that the French are notorious for not understanding English or at least claiming not to. We somehow never did manage to buy the phrase book but found out that like people anywhere in the world, there are good and helpful people in France
also, who would go out of their way to help us and, like everywhere else, there were grumpy, crotchety people also here, who refused to help us even when they could understand perfectly what we were saying.
The very first helpful person was our taxi driver, who not only took us to our apartment but, on the way, went out of his way to get our cell phone fitted with the local SIM so that we could at least contact anyone in France, like our landlord.
In Paris, our apartment was right next to Monoprix, a department store that is something like our Big Bazaar. So we had no problem in buying provisions for our daily use. There was also a Mcdonald’s right next to it, and the entrance to the underground metro was barely 20 metres from our apartment.
Apartments generally are equipped with washing machines, hotplates, ovens, microwaves, and TVS and have free wi-fi, etc, as was our apartment. Of course, the TV was useless as the channels were all in French.
On the very first day, we took a hop-on-hop-off tour of Paris so that we would be able to decide what exactly we wanted to see in the four days we had free. We visited the Eiffel Tower and went right to the top. The view from there was breathtaking. But that was in the morning. We returned at night when at the stroke of eight, nine and 10 every day, the famous tower is lit up like a Christmas tree. It is a treat to watch. We visited the cathedral of Notre-dame, or NotreDame de Paris, as it is called, and tasted our first hot chocolate with piped cream outside one of those famous roadside cafes. That cream on top was something! I have never tasted anything like it.
On one of our free days, we visited the war museum, Les Invalides, which houses not only the weapons from various wars fought by France but also some of the best pieces from the Second World War. It also houses the tomb of Napoleon, where his body lies inside a sarcophagus lined with lead.
We took two trips out of Paris. One was the wine tour, where they took us to two vineyards where they showed us how famous French wines are made. At Moet & Chandon, which is one of the most-famed winemakers,they took us on a tour of their underground cellars, which stretch for over 28 kilometres and are damp and really cold. There are hardly any lights as the wine stored there in millions of bottles can spoil if exposed to too much light. It was pretty scary there and reminded me of the underground tunnels mentioned in Enid
ON ONE OF OUR FREE DAYS, WE VISITED THE WAR MUSEUM, LES INVALIDES, WHICH HOUSES NOT ONLY THE WEAPONS FROM VARIOUS WARS FOUGHT BY FRANCE BUT ALSO SOME OF THE BEST PIECES FROM THE SECOND WORLD WAR. EIFFEL TOWER
Our second trip out of Paris was to Normandy. I was keen to see the beaches where in World War II the Allied landings had taken place. This was an experience out of this world. Some of the bunkers used by Hitler’s troops are still there. We entered one and looked out upon the English Channel, and I could just imagine what those look-out sentries must have felt when they suddenly saw thousands and thousands of ships looming up over the horizon and suddenly realised that the invasion had begun. Those bunkers were made of such solid concrete that time and weather have hardly dented them. Of course, most of them were blown up by the Allies.
We also saw some of the artillery guns used then still in their bunkers. Till a few years back, we were still using those in our army. We visited a World War II museum where one single man had collected all the memorabilia over a period of 40 years but unfortunately had died just before the museum opened up. We saw documentaries of some of the veterans of those landings who were still alive and were moved to tears. They are still grieving for the comrades they left behind on those beaches that day on 6 June 1944.
We visited the American War Cemetery,the only piece of land owned and administered by America in France, where so many thousands of American soldiers who died in that invasion were buried. Here we saw the graves of two brothers on whom the picture Saving Private Ryan is based. His third brother had gone missing but returned after the war. Here some of the graves of the soldiers who could not be identified are marked as “Known only to God”, which brought a lump to our throats. Here also lies the time capsule buried by General Eisenhower, the overall commander in chief of the Allied troops when he visited this area as US president in 1958, containing all information of that time, with newspaper cuttings, etc, to be opened a hundred years later.
Back in Paris, we took a trip to Versailles, the old seat of the French kings. The gardens of Versailles are famous. We went one way by a minitrain, but walked back, which was tough on my knee as it is uphill, but it was worth it. We got some unexpected compliments from people who commented on the family picture we made as my daughters helped me. The wing of the palace open to the public was beautiful.
We also went to see the famous Mona Lisa, which is kept at the Louvre. Surprisingly, it is not insured as no one knows its exact worth. It is considered priceless and the premium would be stupendous. They prefer to spend the money on its protection. The other paintings stored here are also breathtaking, and there are so many. There are also so many sculptures here. We saw the original Venus de Milo, which a farmer discovered in his fields, and no one knows who is the model for it.
The night before we left for Lyon, we visited a small chocolate museum and the famous cabaret Moulin Rouge. It is the original one and the oldest and has been going on for over a hundred years or more. Photography is prohibited, and the topless beauties are something! But, surprisingly, exactly after five minutes, excepting for the first gasp, you forget their nudity because they dance so superbly. People who had ordered food and drinks forgot to eat and drink and watched with their mouths open but without leering or even a sound. It was an experience!
One day, we walked down Champs-élysées, which is very crowded and has shops on both sides, something like our Janpath, and the girls went up the Arc-deTriumph, which again has no escalator or lift and more than 300 steps – not recommended for the elderly or the infirm. There we saw a working model of the handgun used by Napoleon. But it was too heavy and expensive for our pocket.
Let me warn you about another
VISIT TO NORMANDY THE NIGHT BEFORE WE LEFT FOR LYON, WE VISITED A SMALL CHOCOLATE MUSEUM AND THE FAMOUS CABARET MOULIN ROUGE. IT IS THE ORIGINAL ONE AND THE OLDEST AND HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR OVER A HUNDRED YEARS OR MORE. PHOTOGRAPHY IS PROHIBITED, AND THE TOPLESS BEAUTIES ARE SOMETHING! CROWDED PLACE