True Rest and Relaxation

Uncharacteristically, I slept in on Sunday and then set off in search of a restaurant recommended by Pudlo to serve a good American-style brunch (Gilles Pudlowski is a respected Parisian restaurant critic whose book was recently translated into English). Sadly, the restaurant did not open until noon, an hour that I think puts it firmly in the lunch, not brunch, category. Given the effort I made to research places to eat before making this trip, I’ve been somewhat disappointed at the results.
 
So I had a muffin and Chai Tea Latte at Starbucks instead. Yes, Starbucks; they are here, of course. There’s even one in the basement of the Louvre. The "barristas" and their customers are somewhat less regimented than in the States, though. Same decor, same menu (no Half-n-Half, which doesn’t seem to exist here), and same outlandish prices for a cup of coffee or tea.
 
I spent the remainder of the day lounging in the Luxembourg Gardens, where I listened to an audiobook, took in an orchestra concert in the gazebo, and just generally "vegged" in the great weather. At 4:00 pm I walked up to the Sufflot Cafe and watched a bit of rubgy on their TV over a glass of red wine.
 
I posted pictures of several bicycles, some of the 10,000+ bicycles the city of Paris bought and has made available. This is the "Velib’" program and the bikes are part of a high-tech system installed recently to discourage car use. Here’s how it works: each bike "docks and locks" into a steel post that comes out of the pavement and a nearby kiosk can be used to sign-up to use the system. Once enrolled, you swipe your membership card and can take a bike; you ride it to your destination and then leave it at another dock and lock station. The first 30-minutes of usage is free, next 30 minutes: $1.30, next: $2.60, etc. They’re nice 5-speed bikes, with self-balancing front and rear braking, lights, and a large front basket.
 
There are about 20-30 bikes and docking posts at each station (which takes up about 3-4 parallel parking spots at the curb) throughout the city. They say there are at most only about 300 meters between stations, so they are everywhere. Naturally, the location, condition, and status of each bike is tracked by computer. It sounds like a great idea and, if you make mainly short trips, you might never pay a cent. The program has worked very successfully in Lyon where they only had about a 10% bike attrition rate (theft, damage) and cut down on traffic by 20%. By the end of next year, the plan is to have 20,000+ bicycles available in Paris. Of course, you must be a fearless tourist to decide to hop on a bicycle and brave Parisian kamikaze-style traffic! 
 
Random Paris observations:
– When you buy a meal or drink, your receipt may contain the access code needed to use the establishment’s bathroom. This is their way of ensuring that only customers use their facilities.
– In restaurants, there are no napkins, condiments, or other consumables available out in the open in unlimited quantities, the way there are in the U.S. If you need a napkin and ask for one, they’ll give you one.
– Same thing happens every multi-lingual trip: my Italian continued to improve after I left Italy and I mix it into my French in Paris. Luckily, the French (like most Europeans) speak 2-3 languages and understand me perfectly.
– No hotel wi-fi or Internet; I’m posting these reports from an Internet Cafe with 100 PCs!  And one thoroughly infected with viruses: each time I use my USB drive to transfer photos, a virus is installed on it (which I then delete). Caveat Emptor.
 
Today, Monday, I awoke to gray skies and drizzle, so I jumped on the RER (a variety of Metro train) and went to spend most of the day at the Hotel des Invalides. This massive building was built by Louis XIV as an "old soldiers home" but now mostly holds military museums and Napolean’s Tomb (see photos) which is six nested coffins and stands about 25-feet tall (his body was brought back to Paris 16 years after his death). In the Medieval Armor museum, I saw more suits of armor, pikes, and swords than you would believe, and came out of the World War I – World War II Museum rather depressed about man’s inhumanity to man. Did you know that 74 million soldiers took part in WWII? France lost such a large percentage of their male population that their society was affected for decades. Definitely something to think about. I think more congressmen, national security advisors and presidents should visit these museums…
 
I took the bus back to Latin Quarter and the sun and a blue sky came out as I walked back to the hotel – I think I’ll take a turn in the gardens before dinner. 
 
On that happy note, I’ll conclude my reporting from Paris. I’ll pack my things tonight and head for Charles de Gaulle airport in the morning, on my way to London. See you there!
  
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