August 21 to August 27, 2016. Where to begin? Paris is so amazing, and during our 8 days parked at the Arsenal marina we literally just scratched the surface. As I mentioned last week, the Port de Plaisance de l’Arsenal marina, where Après Ski was parked, is à côté de (next to) la Place de la Bastille, very convenient to numerous metro and bus lines. It gave us excellent access to everything Paris has to offer.
Sunday morning we met someone from Paris Greeters, a volunteer organization that pairs native Parisians with visitors to give a real sense of the place, not just a quick Louvre/Eiffel Tower/Notre Dame look at this incredible city. We wanted to get a closer look, from a local’s perspective, of the Marais, the area north of Île de la Cité. Our guide grew up in the Marais in the 1960’s, so she had some interesting stories about how things used to be.
The most interesting thing we discovered Sunday was on our own, after sunset. I had run down to the Seine to take some twilight photos, and heard music from across the river. It looked like there was quite a party going on, so I called Heather to join me and we crossed to la Rive Gauche (the left bank). Once there, we discovered a whole series of public dance parties, each with their own music (swing, classical, salsa, etc.) and each about 75 meters apart, along the banks of the Seine. In chatting with some locals, we discovered that pretty much every evening from mid June through mid September, someone brings a sound system and people gather at about sunset and dance until midnight or later. I challenge any other major city to have something this cool (and spontaneous).
Monday we took a half-hour subway ride north to Montmartre, a large hill to the north of the main Paris downtown. The area is of course famous for the snow-white basilica Sacré-Coeur (sacred heart), although arguably more interesting is the fact that the older church, Saint Pierre de Montmartre, claims to be where the Jesuit order of priests was founded.
The area is also famous as a major center of art during the Belle Époque (beautiful era), and at the turn of the 20th century counted, as residents, Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh, among many. While the south-west side is completely overrun by tourist shops and restaurants, just one block east of the basilica is a lovely, quiet street full of local restaurants, and we found a delicious crêperie suitable for a long lunch.
The next afternoon I took the subway and a bus line out to Le Bourget, home to the Paris Air and Space Museum. It’s not very well known, and was practically deserted when I went, but it’s really quite nice. They have two (!) Concordes, including one of ones used for the pre-production test flights, a full-sized Ariane 5 rocket, a Boeing 747, and an entire hangar full of trans-sonic and supersonic experimental aircraft from the 1950’s.
Of particular interest to your correspondent was a mint-condition, World War II era C-47, the same aircraft that sits in about 6 feet of water at Norman’s Cay in the Exumas. We snorkeled this plane wreck back in late March during our Bahamas cruise earlier this year. The only real flaw with the museum was that for about half the aircraft on display, the sign only identifies the plane, but gives no other information. But, they’re in the middle of a multi-stage renovation, and the signs in the renovated sections are much more informative.
Back at the port, we shared a couple meals with a couple originally from Annapolis, Maryland, not far from Washington DC. They were originally sailors but “retired” from boating in the USA to live full-time on their canal boat in France. We also took two pleasure cruises on the Seine River, one early in the morning (no tourist boat traffic!) and one at sunset (lots of tourist boat traffic). Our French friend Marine, who has spent a couple Christmases with us in Virginia, joined us for the dinner/sunset cruise.
On our evening cruise we noticed numerous people lingering on the banks of the Seine, either picnicking, or relaxing with friends, or both. One night we joined the fun and took a baguette, a slab of rabbit terrine, and some wine down to a stone quay on the right bank not far from Île St. Louis. We were both quite impressed to see how many young, friendly Parisians were taking the time to enjoy the outdoors in their beautiful city.
After 8 days in Paris it was time to move on, so we locked down out of the Port into the Seine, took one final scenic lap around Île St Louis and Île de la Cité, then pointed south (upstream) and cruised several hours to the waiting quai downstream of lock #9. From there it was a six hour drive to Melun, the biggest town on the upper Seine River.
Melun’s main claim to fame was as a stopover on the Roman road south-southeast of Paris, used to provide fresh horses to official couriers. Nine hundred years later the town became home to the Capetian kings. At this point we are attempting to cover serious distance, and are not lingering very long in any one spot, although we did take time to visit the very nice street market and covered market before continuing our cruise, so I’ll pick up the narrative again in my next post.
France 2016 Cruise – Week 7
- Engine Hours: 14
- Kilometers: 84
- Locks: 7
- Moorings: 91.8 Euros
France 2016 Cruise – Total
- Engine Hours: 96
- Kilometers: 540
- Locks: 158
- Moorings: 345.1 Euros