Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Day 22 - Amsterdam to Paris by Thalys; Concert at Notre Dame

Tuesday 17th April 2012
It’s a mad rush to the train. I let hubby sleep as long as possible but now we are paying the price.  We’ve had some brekkie.. been delayed by the tantalizing prospect of one last Dutch pancake. Delicious. I quickly shower and pack the bags. I’m quicker than hubby at.. well…at everything really.  We are out the door at 8:40am.  We are racing up the street to get the tram to Centraal and the Thalys which is due to depart at 9:16. We have no idea where to go at the train station.  Looks like we’re going to miss another train.  Just as we are reaching Hobbemastraat a no 2 tram goes past.  Oh dear.  We hurry across the road in the hope that another tram isn’t too long.  Hubby fossicks for some euros as our pass has expired by now.  A temporary reprieve from pressure as we travel through Amsterdam for the last time. We're too focussed on the task at hand to be melancholy.  When we alight at Centraal the pressure is on. We ask a staff member where to go for the Thalys. Right down the other end of the station. Oh no.  We scurry along as fast as my short little legs allow. We go in. “There’s a lift” says hubby excitedly. “She said to go up”.  I was intent on following everyone else. Noone else is getting in the lift.  I tell my inner harpie to shut it and cooperate with hubby. He’s much better at directions than me in these parts. The lift is slow. So slow.  The doors eventually open. Hmm. Here we are isolated on the wrong platform a long way from where we need to be.  “I think that was a mistake” I say in what was probably a reasonably forced "patient" voice.  We press rewind.  Back in the right place we scurry down to the end of the corridor. A momentary hesitation and I’m just thinking about lapsing into wild panic when the various station entrances peter out at 14, then I see a little sign 15b this way. Phew.  “there’s a lift” says hubby. As far as I can see it’s behind some barriers.  “I don’t care! go up the stairs!” I say picking up my heavy luggage and hoisting them with difficulty up the stairs. We emerge onto the platform. Phew. No train yet.  That buys us time to find out were we need to be.  I leave hubby with the luggage and head off to do a reccie.  I see an older couple examining their tickets.  They don’t look like Dutch people to me, though I couldn't say why.  “Excuse me, do you know how to tell where the particular carriages pull up?”  An Australian voice answers “well the numbers on the platform start at 1 up that end and then after 7 they change into letters. We were told thirteen so we reckon that’ll be about here.. 18 should be down that way, but the important thing is to get on the train. You can walk down through the carriages.”  Makes sense to me so back I  go.  We wander about sampling various standing positions and moving on to try another one and no doubt looking rather like a pair of dills, but end up deciding to stand in a bit where other people aren’t - where we were originally.  We’ve got a good  5 mins to spare. Phew. We look again at the notice board. Train is delayed by 15 mins. Oh. Hubby pipes up. “We could have got the lift.”  “yes”.  We wait.  The sign has changed. Now delayed by 20 mins. Due time approaches. Sign changes to 30 minutes delay. Glad we didn’t skip the pancake.
Suddenly, earlier than now expected, the train arrives. It takes a while for everyone to board. We ask the guard where we should be – last carriage. Time for scurrying again. The people ahead of us are taking their own sweet time to move in from the doorway.  The guard on the platform blows his whistle vigorously.  No better way to say “hurry up you lot”  The people ahead of us quickly move out of the way and ask “are you in?”  “We’re in”.  The doors slide shut and now there’s nothing left but to stow our luggage and make ourselves comfy.  Make that very comfy.  What a delightful train. Comfy seats; powerpoints for the notebook; big picture windows; a large table that folds down from the seat in front that is big enough for e-Notebook, camera, and notebook; and if you feel like it convenient head rests to facilitate napping.  I’m happy as a clam.  Better still the scenery is nothing special for quite a while, and the train is going so fast photos out the window are pointless so I get caught up with lots of journalling.  I say with the manic enthusiasm of the convert  “Why on earth would you fly when you’ve got this as the alternative!!” I resolve to plan for plenty of train travel between destinations in Europe in future.
It seems like we've no time at all before the announcement comes that we will soon be arriving in Paris.  We’re content to be last off the train. I’m happy here with my notebook.  In due course it’s clear everyone else is gone and we get ourselves together and alight from the train. It’s 1.10 pm.  Oh. It’s raining. We stop under cover and pack ourselves up properly for the transfer. 
It is a simple matter finding our way to the tourist information booth, waiting in the queue to buy our Paris-visite card and on the spur of the moment I buy a museums pass as well along with train tickets to Versaille.  The lady in the booth is very good: efficient and helpful. She explains everything very well.  By 1.40 we’re standing wondering where to go for the bus. There is an immaculately dressed woman walking back and forth.  She's wearing killer heels in a glorious rich blue suede. Legs. Matching blue scarf fetchingly draped across the shoulder of a stylish fawn coat. 
There’s a sign for the no 65 bus pointing out the doors.  Nothing looks much like a bus stop. I suggest one of us goes out there and does a reccie. No deal. Hubby says we have to line up and ask the lady. Or rather I have to ask the lady.  We do this.  Go out the doors and over to the right. Having discussed the practical interpretation of the instructions we’ve just received, we locate a bus stop and find it’s not the right place, but there’s a handy map on the bus shelter and we find our way through the rain to the right place.  Mild panic as a number 65 bus pulls up. We’re trying to manage the luggage and figure out how to also put the ticket through the machine.  Bus doors close. Bus drives away. We’re still on the footpath.  Oh. We need to move a bit faster evidently.  Not to worry, here comes another one almost immediately.  We’re ready this time.  Bugger the damn ticket. We just get on. This bus has a lot fewer people too, so it’s all good. I mind the luggage and hubby goes down to the front to try to figure out the ticket machine. He does all sorts of silly things. Holding the ticket against the machine, looking around in puzzlement. The lady driver ends up reaching over and tapping the machine to indicate what he needs to do. Ah. Merci.
We settle in on the bus. Taking over some seats next to our luggage as they are vacated.  We’re studying the stops coming up on the indicator.  Then I suddenly think.  How do we know we’re heading the right way on route 65?  Oh. We discuss and decide if we’ve got that wrong it’s an adventure. I spot the route map on the bus up the front. I go to examine. Phew. We’re heading the right way.  Easy peasy to alight at the stop we’ve been told to use.  Yep. There’s the market just as expected. Now. My Open Paris is in the building next door.  Closed security doors by the look of it.  A lady is going in.  she does not understand our question.  Hmm. Nothing on the signage there about My Open Paris. Hmm.  It’s still raining we’re getting increasingly wet.  We go in the exit of the market.   The beeper thingies go off.  I’m expecting to get told to bugger off out into the rain again at any moment.  But all that happens is a nice black man comes over and in his best English explains that it probably went off because of our clothes.  We ring and are soon rescued by our hostess and we head back to the security doors, which are open; through the green door – which is open; and then she shows us up to our studio and gives us the run down on everything we need to know.  My god, she must think we’re so so stupid.  At any rate she is very polite.
We quickly copy the directions to the recommended patisserie and boulangerie and don our raingear. No shoes are allowed in the house here so we retrieve them from the handy shoe cupboard downstairs (I resolve to photograph it. I need one of those..) and off we trot in the rain. First we head to a pharmacie.  Man Paris has a lot of pharmacies and they are very sure they want you to notice them. They are lit up like Christmas trees.  Thank God.  We need some sinus meds.  We acquire some pseudo ephedrine.  We don’t realize until we get home that it’s double the strength at home and not combined with a pain killer.  Mm. I like this!  
Our pharmaceutical needs met, we head off into the unknown to find the bakery. Every now and then we duck into a handy doorway out of the rain to check our map, but without too much difficulty we find what we are told is one of the best bakeries in Paris.  Everything looks tempting and we are hungry. Excess is bound to ensue.  The first is easy: a croissant, and I’ll have one of those things with apple on the top. Hubby gets a chocolate éclair and a Paris-brest and we also get a small loaf of bread.  We manage to pay and get out of there, I hope without being too horribly rude. We did make a point of saying bonjour and merci. And Pardon when I didn’t quite catch something. All in all. OK. I think we can get the hang of things.
Next we stop by the Carrefours market next door for some basics. Butter.. a little yoghurt and crème fraiche.  Hubby gets some little heart things he likes the look of. We are heading home by ten to four.  We share everything.  Hubby’s eyes sparkle and he bears a large grin as he says.  “Paris-brest was the best…. I win!”.  Yep you win.  We break open the pseudo ephedrine and waste no time about taking some.  Time now to get the internet up and working and have a relax before heading out tonight.  Hubby goes to take some allergy stuff too. No worries done in a trice. Then he says. “There’s day and night tablets.”  “Which ones have we taken?  The night ones no doubt” I reply.   Haha “Yep. We’ve taken the night ones.”  That bodes well for the concert at Notre Dame this evening! Oh dear.
Hubby is delegated the job of making sure we know what bus to catch.  Our hostess has recommended the bus to us and they have provided a bus guide book in the apartment for our convenience with the relevant route pages marked with a flag.  Wow. We sure did the right thing booking My Open Paris.
We hang around at “home” until the last minute. We so don’t feel like going out in the cold and rain tonight, but the tickets are booked and we go.  It’s an easy walk to the stop at ?Austerlitz just across the Seine. We come up to the bridge and there in the distance is our first view of Notre Dame.  It’s probably a dreadful picture but I take it anyway. 
We have a short wait for the bus, but Paris has an extra, convenient feature. On the bus stops is an electronic text device that tells you when the next buses are due and how far away they are!  There are also route maps for the buses that stop here. It’s simply brilliant. 
It’s a short ride to our stop near Notre Dame.  The cathedral is tantalizingly visible through a stand of trees just coming into their spring foliage.  I snap another photo of this process of slow unveiling of one of the world’s architectural masterpieces.  
We walk across the Seine onto the island and the evening  light is perfect for viewing the façade and showing the intricate detail of statuary and ornate ironwork on doors that although it is 8 oclock, remain steadfastly closed.
Nearby is a huge statue of an imposing figure on horseback flanked by two warriors.  I have no idea who they are, but this is a marvelous statue and certainly one of the biggest I’ve seen.
A long queue has formed for entry to the concert so we reluctantly curtail our wandering and make our way to the back of the queue.  A couple of American ladies come up behind us and ask if this is the queue for the concert. We agree that this is the perfect time of day to be queueing here in front of the cathedral. She's a school teacher and has watched the Rabbit Proof Fence with her class. We get into a nice conversation, about our two countries similar history, various issues with policy on indigenous matters and the sights to be seen in the mid west, Colorado, South Dakota and big sky country. She's had lots of friends visit Australia and New Zealand.  We've been quite enjoying ourselves and before we know it we are going through the doors and on to our first sight of the interior of this splendid cathedral. There is a sign erected requiring silence by all who enter.I didn’t see it but Hubby brings the silence rule to my attention.  Most other’s seem not to have noticed it or not able to control themselves, but the grandeur of the place inspires hushed conversation and the atmosphere is one of awed excitement.
As we’ve been admiring Notre Dame we have observed the similarity to Peterborough Cathedral in England. Same square front effect. The similarities are continued as we note the fine high, arced ceilings are constructed of individual bricks similar to Southwark Cathedral, but Notre Dame is much bigger.  The other thing that strikes me is the simplicity of the interior. There appears to be very little in the way of additional memorials or “clutter”.  It is a massive understatement to say that Notre Dame is beautiful.  It is a wonderous sight.
Despite having been behind such a long queue for entrance we are still quite well positioned and sit quietly taking photos (no flash) as we wait.  The concert is due to start at 8:30.  The material is Chant Gregorian et musiques medievales which I would translate as Gregorian chants and medieval music.  The commencement of the concert is announced by a man addressing the audience in French only. I’ve got no idea what he was saying but assume it was an introduction… and probably the request to turn off your mobile phones.  Then it begins.  The first sound is the single note of a hand rung bell. Repeated slowly. Then voices. Glorious voices ring out and reverberate in the cathedral behind us.  A small group of about 7 slowly walk up towards the cathedral and pass right by me.  I am amazed that there are so few of them, their voices fill the huge space so completely.  All the performers are in black and one woman is wearing a long dress reminsiscent of a monks robes. All the while as they proceed in their stately passing, the pure single note of the bell ringing out a slow almost meditative chime.  What an entrance! 
I gaze at the ceiling as the glorious voices fill the cathedral. This is the way to see Notre Dame. It is perfection.  It is a marvel. It is pure and heavenly.  Heavenly.  I feel a new appreciation of the word.  How humbling and awe inspiring such music must have been to the poor and illiterate people in the past.  Surely it must have seemed miraculous that human throats could create such a sound in such a place.
Periodically the performers voices are rested by what seems like more secular medieval music, beautifully rendered on period instruments with a toe tapping beat sounded out on a lightly voiced drum.  Then, after a pause a return to the chanting. 
After about an hour, when there is a break, people start to dribble out of the cathedral.  I guess it is late, but I find it hard to understand why you would take a seat towards the front if you were just going to listen for a while and head out.  Fortunately there is an upside and people from the back, just a few, decide to take the positions vacated for a better view.  At around 10pm the concert concludes.  There has been silent appreciation throughout, and no applause between musical numbers, but now the audience erupts into an enthusiastic standing ovation. I’m on my feet with the rest and in truth, I’m applauding both performers and venue, for this ancient cathedral was as much a player in the musical effects as the ensemble members.
We walk slowly out into the night. Paris is in lights. The Cathedral is in evening wear.  The skies have cleared and the stars twinkle above as Paris sparkles below. Off in the distance the Eiffel tower pokes it’s head above the buildings and a search beam sweeps the sky.  Across the Seine restaurants are lit up.  Sidewalk tables are hunched under overhanging canopies.  We walk towards the cafes, and down the street, I feel like we’re wandering aimlessly, I don’t know where we’re going and I’m finding it hard to care.  We make a left hand turn and I feel an internal gasp as we find a lovely winding alleyway, cobblestones sparkling in the light thrown by period street lights. 
The spell is broken by the feel of hubby’s hand in mine. He is cold.  He is not too well either. We need to get home and warm and sleep.  We wander around trying to find the stop for the no 24 bus. We do eventually find it, but the service has ended for the night.  We could try to find the metro station, but hubby is keen to just walk back along the Seine.  He pulls his hood up on his raingear.  His hand warms a little. I relax a little.  Half an hour along the locked boxes of day time vendors, past the museum en plein air and beautiful views of the cathedral shining in light and shadow and we’re home.  What a start to our time here.  They say everyone falls in love with Paris.  It’s true. We do. 

No comments: