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My first day in Paris was a day defined by drugs.
I stepped off the plane at some far too early point in the morning -- probably 6 A.M. As mentioned previously, I had not yet slept. I'd spent twelve hours traveling, and we were not preparing to spent twelve hours hotfooting it around Paris, sight-seeing, eating, drinking, and generally taking in the experience. The only way I was possibly going to get through this was through careful pharmacological regulation. Don't worry -- we're not talking about anything exotic here, just the basic three:
Caffeine in the States comes in many forms, but for for me, it comes in some kind of carbonated beverage -- my suspended solution of choice is usually Dr. Pepper, which has less caffeine than Coca-Cola and allows me to feel mildly virtuous. In Paris, there's only one source worth talking about: coffee. Coffee is an inescapable staple of every meal you obtain in France, and for the next week, I became a coffee drinker.
I usually avoid coffee -- I find that, while it promises much, it usually fails to deliver. Specifically, I think the smell of coffee is the most amazing thing in the world -- and the taste of coffee is the most obnoxious. This isn't helped by the couple of times I wolfed down café au laits as a teenager, only to be kept up all night with a feeling like there was some strange alien in my stomach, clawing to get out. However, coffee in Paris seems to be a) tastier, and b) served in sane serving portions (about half the size of a coffee mug here).
Even better, coffee serves as the corner-stone for a Parisian meal format that I was to come to love over the next week: courses. Every -- every -- meal I had in France came as such:
Unlike in the US, these courses were each of a modest, yet filling size. Which mean that I could regularly eat five courses a meal (including desert!), and still walk around afterwards without feeling like a blimp. I highly approved.
Anyway, after straggling off the plane, and navigating the public transportation to our hotel (the name of which I no longer recall, but might have been something like "the central hotel" -- it was cheap, decent, and the front desk guy spoke English, which made it aces in my book), our first mission was to get breakfast and the aforementioned caffeine. Breakfast in Paris is a joy -- every morning, we would find some little bakery (there's one on every corner), get some pastry and some juice, and then set out. For that first breakfast, though, I needed caffeine, and I hadn't yet resigned myself to the inevitability of coffee, so I had some nice black tea instead.
Once nourished, we set out to see the town. We scoffed at little things like "sleep" -- we knew if we slowed down now, we'd never overcome jet lag.
My first picture taken in Paris isn't of a great monument or cool architecture -- it's just one of the first streets we set out along. I was struck by the Parisian streets. It's clear when you walk around this city that this is a very old town. The transportation infrastructure is more influenced by centuries-old needs for pedestrian traffic and horse-drawn vehicles than for modern conveniences like cars.
(There are also apparently no pooper-scooper laws in Paris, meaning you have to watch your step, and that a faint odor of feces always hangs in the air. The polite way to say it is that Paris is like a beautiful and earthy woman -- the impolite way is to call it the city of lights... and dog shit. Call me an ugly American if you will, although I've yet to see a US city that didn't have a certain stench to it, as well.)
I took this picture for a few reasons. First, to illustrate how teeny the cars are (most cars I saw in Paris were smaller than the smallest cars I usually see in the states -- I assume this is because of the small streets and the high gas prices). Second, to show you, Gentle Reader, once of the hundreds of equally quaint bars (every block seems to have one if not two sidewalk cafes of this general stripe). And third, because I thought the title "American Bar" was kind of funny.
One thing which is not demonstrated in this picture is the omnipresence of Heineken beer -- a good 95% of all bar awnings sported the Heineken logo on it somewhere. But I didn't go to Paris for the beer.
One last thing -- note that the car is just cinched up there on the sidewalk -- I saw almost no parking spaces or parking garages when walking around. Cars that were parked were usually up on the sidewalk like that. One of the pictures on the lost roll also shows an in-town gas station, which is a tiny affair -- usually, it's just a couple of pumps on the sidewalk, without the usual gas station infrastructure you'd find in the US.
In this case, I was struck by the cool detail and stonework on this building (by the way, you can click on any of these pictures for more detail, although the low quality of the scans means there isn't that much more detail), and by the fact that it was between two streets that met at an acute angle. Downtown Pittsburgh also has some buildings that are architecturally interesting in this way.
Next: the Luxembourg Palace
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