Train station in Limoges.
The train station in Limoges is beautiful. It was easy to wander around taking photos of the station before my train arrived taking me to my virginal Parisian experience.
My seat ticket assigned me to the rear of the car (which is good for someone like me who can be too nonchalant about getting off a train in time) next to a young man who had been sleeping, until I woke him up, and behind a seemingly eccentric woman, around my age, who kept standing up watching us and occasionally saying something in French or broken English. I just wanted to quietly enjoy the 2 1/2 hour ride. Soon after the train left the station, I saw the singular seat next to a window across the aisle was empty. I nabbed it and enjoyed the peace of the ride while occasionally taking a photo of a depot we were passing.
It was cold enough outside for my camera to catch the exhalation of
smoke from this girl’s cigarette.
As the train pulled into Paris I was the first one at the door. The train stopped and I waited for the doors to open, for what seemed like a split second, when “eccentric woman” (who had more train smarts than I did) leaned over my luggage, nudged me out of the way, and opened the door. On every train ride I seem to learn something new. On this ride I learned: a) the train doors do not automatically open like a subway or bus, and b) next time be the 2nd person in line, not the first.
The Austerlitz train depot in Paris is huge, noisy, and confusing. I had no sense of what direction the street was to even leave the station; I stopped into the ‘i’ (Information) office to ask. I have absolutely no problem asking ANYONE for directions as the City of Paris would find out. (Note: When I was growing up in San Francisco, as a child, we would always get dressed up with hats and gloves to shop in downtown S.F. My favorite department store was called “City of Paris.” It was an architecturally beautiful store with the most beautiful feminine things.)
Exterior of Austerlitz Train Station in Paris
My first glimpse of the outdoor cafes in Paris.
The cab driver wasn’t sure where it was that I wanted to go, so luckily I had written the name and address of my hotel on the notepad I carry in my crossover handbag. (This was the first Euro trip when I didn’t use my crossover Rick Steves’ front pack. I miss the light weight of that pack especially in comparison to this heavy leather number I bought in the US. I thought it would look so-called “sophisticated” for London and Paris. I don’t think it worked; no matter what, I will still look like an old hippie. I’m going back to ‘the comfort look’ and to hell with sophistication.)
The Hotel Bonaparte.
One thing about traveling solo is we can count on being given the one restaurant table, with one chair, near the toilets, or, we can also be given, what I call, “The Nun’s Room” in a hotel. I really wasn’t expecting a single bed when I registered as a “single” traveler, but that’s what I got.
Other than the bed, the room was clean, it had a small refrigerator, and it was on the third floor facing an interior courtyard, so it was quiet. I had arrived in Paris.
I found this hotel listed in Rick Steves’ small handbook version of his Paris guidebook. Eventhough I do have several of his books, daypacks, luggage, live in the same town, and have been attending his free lectures for many years, I am not a “groupie.” Whatever I have bought has been usually at special discounts; for instance, attending the free lecture on France, there was a 20% discount off any book on France in the Europe Through the Back Door Travel Center. This place, and the lectures, are in the town where I live: Edmonds, Washington. Early last year, day packs were on sale for $5 ea via a special online sale, and I could pick them up at the Travel Center, so there were no shipping charges. I love a bargain and I am not a groupie. Even in San Francisco at the height of the music scene in the 60s, I would see several bands over and over but I was never a music groupie either. I am so independent that I find even joining a book club too limiting for me!
Most places Steves’ books recommend are higher in price than what I can get on my own, but Hotel Bonaparte was an exception. Every place in Paris seemed expensive to me. I tried finding an apartment at first, but there was not going to be much of a price break this time, especially since I wanted to be on the Left Bank or at least close enough to the River Seine, Notre Dame, etc. If I ever go back and stay longer than 3-4 days, an apartment would be the way to do it. Last year my family and I rented apartments in several places throughout Spain and Portugal which was perfect, especially when traveling with kids.
Since some hotels say there would be a discount if you mention Rick’s name, when I asked the concierge if that was the case here, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He said people keep asking that and when Mssr Steves last stayed there, they asked him if he had mistakenly advertised a discount for this hotel, he told them, “Non!” I told him that was correct, but I wanted to ask anyway – just in case. Poor guy. Maybe he was a member of the 4th generation family who owned the hotel all these years (I later learned he wasn’t, but obviously he was a dedicated employee.)
When driving in from the railway station, the cab driver (who became friendly and chatty after he heard it was my first time in Paris) pointed out that the Luxembourg Gardens were a block from the Hotel Bonaparte. I decided that since it was 3 p.m., although I would rather take a nap, I could go for a walk to check the gardens off the list of things to see in my 4 nights, and 3 short days.
When booking the room, I noticed that breakfasts were not included in the price of the room but were available for €10. That was too steep a price for me to spend for breakfast every day, so in my first walk in Paris, I would hit the Luxembourg Gardens and a supermarket. I had a fridge so this was one way to save a few euros.
What I saw first, around the corner from the hotel, was St. Sulpice church and my first Parisian fountain. I spent almost an hour wandering around the church and fountain area.
View from St. Sulpice church to the corner where
my hotel was located
The first fountain I saw in Paris, located in front of St. Sulpice Church.
An art installation in front of St. Sulpice.
Another art installation in front of St. Sulpice
Girl on cell phone texting as her mom lights a candle.
Photocopy of the famous Shroud of Turin
This obelisk was featured in one of Dan Brown’s books. There is supposed to be a pinhole in the wall opposite which points sunlight on the obelisk telling time.
Confessions are now heard inside plexiglass ‘confessionals.’
Entering this church, by the front doors was the familiar sight of beggars, as seen in most metropolitan cities in Europe. I saw a woman (men rarely beg) who appeared to be with her daughter at the front door of the church. When I left and proceeded to the other end of the columns, there was a little girl, dressed in black, veil included, on her knees, hands folded in prayer, furtively praying and crying and pleading for money (since she was speaking French, this is an assumption on my part). She was so dramatic that I paused, as well as a man nearby, and we just watched her theatrics. Was it real or was she part of a family scam? I walked away and will never know, but her face and the sound of her voice still haunts me. I hope it was all an act…
Luxembourg Gardens was a huge area which I couldn’t possibly cover this late in the day without expending more energy than I had. It was also bare because of the time of year. It must be beautiful in spring when the trees are full and the flowers have bloomed.
Even with the cold gray weather, it seemed everywhere I looked there was something extraordinary to capture on camera. Paris was like eye candy for me.
In my supermarket quest, I took photos along the way, while asking people, mostly women with children, where the closest market was located.
Chess games continue even if it is cold outside
An empty area of the Luxembourg Gardens
Even the balconies of buildings have statues
School is out
Two days later I found out this is the top of the building
holding Napoleon’s tomb
It took me a very long time and a lot of walking to finally find the supermarket, even with several people telling me the direction. I totally missed it the first time because it looked like a clothing store. Finally another mom told me the market was down the escalator BENEATH the clothing store. Then she continued on with her cute little daughter singing songs while they walked (hearing her made me remember that I used to sing with my own kids when we walked, so it brought back good memories).
When I finally got downstairs to the supermarket, I picked out the easiest things like yogurt for the morning, pre-made salad for dinner, some bread to go with the cheese I brought from Limoges, dessert, and a bottle of wine. When I returned to the hotel, it was already getting dark. I asked the desk clerk for utensils and a corkscrew which he very nicely provided along with a plate. Perfect. It was a good ending to the first afternoon and evening I was spending in Paris. Three full days ahead…
A ‘touch of the old world’ in my hotel room