Where better place to begin an adventure than in Paris?
A navette bus from Charles de Gaulle airport brings me to my Novotel hotel late one Saturday afternoon. I‘m early for the tour of France, in order to recuperate after a twenty-four hour flight from Australia. I’ve slept on board so avoid the dreaded jet-lag.
Someone tells me the time, and I set my watch. Next day I’m looking forward to the welcome dinner, meeting the Tour leader and our ‘family’. Alas! My informant was wrong so I miss the meeting and am obliged to dine alone. Now I know why the waiters were so unwelcoming when I fronted up in the empty dining-room for petit dejeuner this morning: God knows what time it was.
I’ve arrived with an excellent travelling companion, Monsieur Cointreau. He never has hissy moods, and is always there to soothe bad throats, or to provide post postprandial nips in hotel rooms late at night. The monks knew a thing or two when they gathered secret herbs and spices to create this delightful elixir. For some reason, my grandchildren chuckle at the idea of grandmere with a huge bottle of liqueur weighing down her baggage!
The thought of visiting the Eiffel Tower brings a frisson of delight. Her delicate iron tracery first appeared on the skyline for the Grande Exposition in 1889, the tallest man-made structure in the world. Meant to be a temporary exhibit, the lady rapidly became a major attraction. She’s brought pleasure to travellers and residents ever since.
I’ll never forget the thrill of my first glimpse, way back in the seventies, while travelling with my late husband, Gordon. These days there’s a long queue but thanks to our coach pass, we enter the lift almost immediately. Those afraid of heights take care not to venture near ‘the edge’. It’s a perfect spot to admire the panorama of Paris. Gazing at other landmarks far below, such as the Louvre, cameras snap like gunfire; happily these shots aim to capture, not kill.
Night and day the Eiffel Tower exerts her magic. In the darkness she glows, revealing every curve. At 9pm she shimmers and scintillates, with a dazzling frenzy of light from top to toe. It takes our breath away! This glitter was meant to be a one-off, but has proven so popular it now takes place on the hour, two technicians regularly checking that all is in order beforehand.
The lady doesn’t share her charms cheaply. A meal in her restaurant, I’m told, costs 60 Euros per head. Most of us prefer to dine in one of the many little bistros where the food is cheaper and it’s whispered – better.
Thanks to modern travel companies, even those of modest means enjoy the architectural and artistic treasures of mankind. Excellent commentaries from our guides, including our excellent Giovanna, bring history to life. Every village has a unique story to tell, images of the past shimmering before us in stone and fabric. And it’s great the way our group jokes and laughs our way around town.
Forty years ago, wandering in almost empty salons of the Louvre, who could have envisioned the scene today? Long queues, carefully arranged appointment for coach groups. Everyone heads for the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, the Victoire de Samothrace…
In decades to come, increasing numbers will need to be accommodated. One ponders how these tours might be managed. Will Virtual Visits become the norm, with perhaps one in ten chosen to view the real treasures??
On a visit to Versailles Palace, some of us recalled days when the Hall of mirrors could be viewed in all its decadent splendour without another human in sight. Now groups of tourists shuffle into the furthest corner of each room to allow others to gain entry, gazing at gilded objects, painted ceilings, angels and ornate furniture. I feel amused when the tour guide declares, ‘Luckily it isn’t a busy day.’
For us, it’s time for the next adventure. We can scarcely can believe the traffic in the Champs Elysee, our huge coach jostling for space with trucks, buses, cars and motor cycles. What drivers these French are! They ease their way through multiple lanes of traffic, keeping their cool while avoiding the smallest ding. A similar situation in Sydney would create chaos.
A night of enchantment follows. At the Moulin Rouge, every seat is occupied. We’re lucky to receive ours, grace of the tour company – and at the best price. The delicious dinner is served with almost military efficiency, while we clap to light entertainment. One of our party grumbles. ‘Probably we’re being had. Won’t see much with such a small stage.’
The meal over, we sip champagne. Suddenly, there’s a swish of movement and glittering curtains open wide. A roll of drums, and on the enormous stage one hundred dancers in dazzling costumes, the glory of youth and young men enhancing slim female loveliness! Bling, rhinestones and plumes, an explosion of movement and colour, an extravaganza never surpassed. Given the applause, it’s clear people are loving every moment.
Amazing feats of endurance are combined with skill, and timing. We’re on the edge of our seats over some acts. All too soon comes the Can Can, one of my favourite dances, and the finale. A long queue awaits the second show, this one without dinner.
This Cabaret was immortalized by Toulouse Lautrec with his famous posters. Everyone should see this magnificent spectacle at least once in their lifetime.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend the Moulin Rouge twice. And who knows?