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July 24, 2015 / Jim Fenton

Europe Day 17: Back to Paris

Friday, June 19, 2015

Last night we made the final decision to include a short trip to Berlin in our itinerary, so we’ll have a limited amount of time in Paris. We got a fairly good start today in an effort to get checked in at the hotel, return the rental car, and still have a significant amount of time to do some sightseeing.

The trip back to Paris was routine. We stopped by the hotel first to check in and leave our luggage so we could go sightseeing right after dropping off the rental car. There was the usual heavy traffic around Paris (I was driving this time) as we made the trip on city streets, first to fill the tank, and then to Gare du Nord station. But we made it, unscathed.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

After a quick lunch, we made our way to Sacré-Coeur, which none of us had visited previously. The way from the Métro station to the church was mega-touristy: souvenir shops and stands everywhere, lots of scams (“find the ball!”) and street vendors hawking selfie sticks, water, little models of the Eiffel Tower, you name it. When we got there, the church was very nice, but newer than we had realized. The view from Montmartre was wonderful though.

We went through the gauntlet of street vendors, scams, and such back to the Métro station, to go to L’Arc de Triomphe. It was very crowded and we pushed onto a train and others pushed in behind us. I quickly realized that my wallet wasn’t in my pocket; it was dangling from the lanyard to which I had clipped it. I looked and the Euros were gone, but everything else looked intact.

There was an urchin (boy) right behind me wearing a shoulder bag who was the obvious thief. I’ll call him Gauvroche, after the urchin in Les Misérables (I also understand that the French word for urchin is gauvroche). I grabbed Gauvroche by the wrist and pulled him around in front of me, largely to let him (and others nearby on the train) know that I knew he had done it. But of course he denied anything, and I realized that he had been careful not to take anything that was identifiable as mine. So I let him go, and some of the other passengers told him to get off at the next station, which he did. The other passengers nearby were friendly and sympathetic, and asked to make sure I was all right.

What I ended up with was a €150 lesson in pick pocketing. It could have been so much worse, especially in terms of inconvenience, if he had made off with my credit cards, driver’s license, ATM card, etc. I got off easy, but it still took most of the rest of the day to settle down. The lanyard probably gave him something to grab and told him which pocket to target, but without it my wallet would probably have been dropped or handed off to an accomplice, so who knows what would have happened there.

We walked under l’Étoile (huge line to go up in L’Arc de Triomphe, and that wasn’t a priority anyway) and headed for the Eiffel Tower. Again we were in a tourist zone with all sorts of street vendors, but fortunately they were less aggressive than at Sacre Coeur. At the Eiffel Tower there was, as usual, a significant line, and we determined that my Swiss Army Knife that I was carrying didn’t pass security, so we decided to do the Tower tomorrow.

Orsay Museum from the Seine

Orsay Museum from the Seine

Next stop was to take a cruise on the Seine. We walked down a couple of bridges to the tour company recommended by a friend, and just missed one of their departures, so went for dinner and came back. The tour boat had a capacity of 1000 and was maybe about 60% full, largely with people from many tour buses. The ride, about 75 minutes long, was pleasant, but it was almost as much fun watching people take pictures and brandish selfie sticks. The recorded narration was in first in French, followed by English, German, Spanish, Mandarin, and Japanese; this limited the amount of information available in each language.

We returned to our hotel at dusk via the Métro, and it was evident what a marginal neighborhood our hotel was in. We hurried the few blocks back from the station. The hotel (Suite Novotel) itself is very nice, but apparently the neighborhood accounts for its low cost.

This article is part of a series about our recent vacation in Europe. To see the introductory article in the series, click here.

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