Day 4: Bonjour la France!

 

London – Paris

May 28, 2019

In the morning we awoke at an early 5:20 AM so that we could get ready and be checked out by 6:30, when we were to meet up with our tour group outside our hotel. In the lobby we all started gathering, some who had stayed there the night before as well, and some who came in from the street. We checked in with our tour leader Emma and then I grabbed a quick eggs and toast and a Cappuccino from the continental breakfast before we boarded our tour bus. Departing the hotel, we went to pick up another group joining our tour from another hotel. Traffic was awful. Someone mentioned that it may have been due to people going back to work after the bank holiday, but I’m not sure. It took about 20 minutes to go about a mile it seemed. We picked up the second group and headed south toward the English Channel.  Along the way, Emma gave her introduction spiel and we went into information overload for about an hour or so. Definitely informed and up to speed now! On our way, I saw a guy on an overpass dancing around with a sign that said “TOOT TO LEAVE.” I had wondered if I would see anyone protesting either for or against Brexit while we were here.  We arrived at the ferry Port of Dover, and glancing back at the mainland saw the beautiful white Cliffs of Dover. So picturesque!

The White Cliffs of Dover
The White Cliffs of Dover

After going through both French and UK customs, we pulled onto the ferry, and were free to roam the ferry ship until our journey was finished. I took the chance to grab a great breakfast and coffee. We also got a chance to meet some people on our tour, John and Joe. John was from LA, and Joe from Columbus, OH. The journey across the English Channel took about 1.5 hours or so. I didn’t quite have my sea legs prepared for that portion of the trip! Once we were close we all headed back down to get in our vehicles. Once we arrived in France and drove off the ferry, we headed south to Paris. The weather couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to do, as it alternated between rain and sun the whole way down. We stopped midway at what seemed at first to be a “Rest Area” but when we entered we discovered it had a McDonald’s, 2 other restaurants, and a shop. It of course had restrooms as well. Emily had a piece of Brie cheese which was not exactly what I expected it to taste like. It was a bit more raw tasting and kind of bland. She also had a delicious arugula salad with a tomato basil sauce and cherry tomatoes. Good stuff! I didn’t get anything because I wasn’t super hungry, but mainly because all of the French names for things and ordering seemed so scary! The place we stopped seemed to be undergoing renovations. There were workers spreading wood chips on top of retaining walls held back by sandbags, as well as a paved path with empty places for potentially picnic tables. After a 20 minute stop, we continued South to Paris. The French countryside was a beautiful sight.  Whenever we passed a remote village, they all had a church with a distinct high steeple. Never saw one without a tall steeple! 

French Countryside with a small village in the distance
French Countryside with a small village in the distance

Wind turbine after wind turbine towered over the highway as we drove through the countryside. It makes me wonder what the percentage of France’s power use comes from wind.

Wind turbines in the French Countryside
Wind turbines in the French Countryside

Upon arrival at our hotel, which was just at the edge of the city, we received our keys and went to our room to take a quick break and “freshen up a bit” as Emma would always say. We then went on a driving tour of the city and saw just about all of the sights to see, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre plaza, the Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, the National Assembly, the Pantheon, Les Invalides (Napoleon’s Tomb building), and the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

Les Invalides
Les Invalides

We also got to see the Eiffel Tower! Seeing it for the first time was an amazing experience in itself. In my mind I pictured it about as big as the Knoxville Sunsphere. It was probably more like 2 Sunspheres in height! Also, the area surrounding it was stunning in perfect symmetry to the tower. I later learned that this is called the Axe historique (historical axis). More about this in the fun facts below.  

The Eiffel Tower!
The Eiffel Tower!

It is truly a beautiful city! So many of the buildings featured the classic French black iron balconies with hanging baskets off the railing. The layout of the city is just beautiful with symmetry everywhere! The only horrible thing about it is the traffic. They said that there is an accident every 8 minutes in the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe. So many accidents that insurance does not cover these accidents!! This is the case because traffic within the circle must yield to the traffic coming into it. Also, there are no lanes. And there are about 12 separate streets coming into the same spot. Absolute madness. There were several times we had to go around instances of gridlock within an intersection. I honestly don’t know how our bus driver was able to navigate our huge bus through those streets. I made a mental note to never ever ever ever ever drive a car in downtown Paris. Never! After seeing a lot of the city, we were taken to Restaurant L’Escarmouche in the Latin Quarter. It was a pretty nice place with a musician who played for us. Not only did he play but he made us laugh the night away. He’d say, “You love French music?” “Yeah!” we shouted. Then he’d bust into Despacito or LA Bamba. Hilarious guy!

We started off with a French onion soup which was great. We learned that if it is served as a starter, then there is no cheese or bread in it. For that it is only served as a main course. We had beef bourguignon (also called beef Burgundy) for our main course and a French vanilla ice cream cake with raspberry sorbet. We also split a half liter of the house red wine. It was light but at the same time very complex and full bodied. Additionally, we were very hungry going into dinner, but the portion size was perfect and left us very satisfied! We headed back to the hotel to plan our our day tomorrow. Absolutely can’t wait to see more of the city!

Dinner at L'Escarmouche
Dinner at L’Escarmouche

Step Metrics (est): 8,848 steps; 4 miles; 402 cal; 1h 37m time  

 

Self Q&A

Q: What is the 107.7 frequency specified on the highway road signs?

A: In France this frequency is used by low power transmitters along the motorways/highways to provide traffic information services to drivers. Several networks (e.g. Radio Vinci Autoroutes, Autoroute Info, Sanef 107,7) air their programme on FM 107.7 by low power transmitters, which can only be received on the highways and in a short distance away from the highway. These three stations are all well-known for their frequent traffic reports (every 15 minutes), although the music accounts for 90% of their daily programming, with ten songs per hour.

 

Q: How much electricity in France is from renewable sources? From wind alone? I ask because there are wind turbines EVERYWHERE along the highway.

A: During 2016, renewable electricity accounted for 19.6% of France’s total domestic power consumption, of which 12.2% was provided by hydroelectricity, 4.3% by wind power, 1.7% by solar power and 1.4% by bio energy. France does have the second-largest wind potential in Europe, and the government is committed to developing a large offshore capability  

 

Q: Where is XPO based out of? We saw hundreds of these trucks along the highway.

A: XPO Logistics, Inc. is an American corporation and one of the world’s 10 largest providers of transportation and logistics services. XPO’s corporate headquarters is located in Greenwich, Connecticut. Its European headquarters is located in Lyon, France.  

 

Q: What’s the pretzel graffiti sign I see painted everywhere? 

A: No idea!  

 

Q: Why was Napoleon so significant? 

A: Napoleon headed up the French Revolution, which overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.  Napoleon’s influence on the modern world brought liberal reforms to the numerous territories that he conquered and controlled, such as the Low Countries, Switzerland, and large parts of modern Italy and Germany. He implemented fundamental liberal policies in France and throughout Western Europe. His Napoleonic Code has influenced the legal systems of more than 70 nations around the world. British historian Andrew Roberts states: “The ideas that underpin our modern world—meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances, and so on—were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon. To them he added a rational and efficient local administration, an end to rural banditry, the encouragement of science and the arts, the abolition of feudalism and the greatest codification of laws since the fall of the Roman Empire”.  

 

Fun Facts

  • The French have a different speed limit when it’s raining. 130 kph normally, 110 when raining. 
  • For off ramp speed limits, the French have multiple signs in the same off ramp that mark the speed limit which decrement by 20 kph, down to 50 kph in the middle of the curve. The markers are at 90, 70, and 50 kph. 
  • Looking for a pharmacy? Look for a big green plus!
  • The Eiffel Tower is painted often. The most recent being a mustard brown.
  • At one point the government offered the public a chance to vote on the next color, but the majority voted Barbee Pink. The government overruled this decision, though.
  • I’m the heat of summer, the Eiffel Tower grows about 15 cm in height. Additionally, the tower sways about 15 cm in windy conditions.
  • The river Seine is pronounced “sane” as in “he is mentally sane”
  • When eating outside on the street in Paris, the seats are all facing the street. If there’s 2 at a table, they will sit next to each other. This supposedly because they like to have their fashion visible as well as people watch “to see and bee seen”.
  • The Axe historique (historic axis) features the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, the obelisk of the Place de la Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, and the Grande Arche of La Défense, all on the same line of sight. See below:
Axe Historique
Axe Historique

 

Looking down the Axe Historique
Looking northwest down the Axe Historique from the Carrousel Arc de Triomphe near the Louvre

 

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