Hotel de la Tulipe
Place de Concorde
Chez L'Ami Jean

Saturday - March 2, 2002
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel to Paris for work, and I took a few extra days to explore the famous city. Landing at Charles de Gaulle airport in the pre-dawn rain of a Saturday morning, I was exhausted and disoriented. It took a while to decipher the vague directions from the information desk, but eventually I found the train into Paris. I arrived at my hotel just as the city began to awaken, but I started my visit with a much-needed nap. For the first few days I stayed Hotel de la Tulipe in the neighborhood between the Eiffel Tower and the Hotel des Invalides. It was a typical neighborhood, with more shops and houses than hotels. My small room overlooked the hotel's bright, leafy courtyard, a remnant from the convent which once stood on the site.

Once rested, I had lunch at a local cafe then ventured out with no real plan other than to wander. The River Seine was just a few blocks away, and despite overcast skies the scene was impressive. Heading east along the river, I came across the Grand Palais and Petit Palais, impressive exhibit halls built for the 1900 Worlds Fair. Just beyond is Place de la Concorde, the square where crowds cheered as Louis the 16th, Marie Antoinette and thousands of others lost their heads to the guillotine. Since 1829, the square displays the Obelisk of Luxor, a 2,300-year-old gift from Egypt. The black and gold fountain was also very impressive. Spotting a crepe stand, I fortified myself with a lemon crepe and wandered on.

The Place de la Concorde sits at the end of the Champs-Elysées and in front of the Tuileries Gardens, the city's most famous park and home to many museums, including the Lourve. Overwhelming with the size and breath of its collection, the Lourve is also a beautiful building. Even the glass pyramid, added in 1989, is impressive. I popped inside for a few hours to see Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, Mona Lisa and a few other masterpieces before exhaustion caught up to me.

I returned to the hotel at twilight as nearby church bells echoed in the little courtyard. After another rest, I ventured out again for what I thought was a late dinner. A few doors down from the hotel I passed a Basque restaurant and was surprised by the lively singing and applause inside. It was a small place, just a dozen or so tables, and the warm, loud hum of conversation filled the room. I was the only one eating alone. About every 10 minutes, a group of men with a guitar would break out in song, joined by the entire restaurant. These weren't hired musicians, just patrons who had brought their guitar. A man at the next table explained that rugby was popular in the Basque region, and earlier that day underdog France had beaten England. This was the "third half," the celebration after the game. The songs continued all night, with people standing up and down or waving their napkins or clapping during the various folk songs. The food was incredible, from the goat cheese salad to the tender duck to the flaming tart for dessert. A group of rugby reporters were all to happy to refill my wine glass. When I left at 11pm, the tiny entryway was packed with people waiting to be seated for dinner

Just wandering around aimlessly, I had seen a half dozen major sights and found wonderful places to eat. After one day, Paris had already won me over. next>>

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