22-23 January 2009, Thursday-Friday—One of the reasons I left the USGS in 1999 was to have more time to travel. Riding cross country was the main goal, which was accomplished in Fall 1999. Another goal was to spend time in Paris, London, and Amsterdam visiting art museums. Finally this year I had the time and money to plan a trip to Paris. I chose Paris first in part because of the new bicycle sharing system Vélib'. Of course some of the greatest art museums in the world are located there as well. I planned the trip in winter since that is when I have the most free time. It's also when there are many fewer tourists and the museums should be much less crowded than other times of the year.

After much searching I booked a room at Hotel Louvre Forum, located a couple of blocks from the Louvre Museum. One major factor in this decision was whether a bathroom was located in the room or down the hall. Many inexpensive hotels use communal facilities. I decided to splurge a little and get a room with a bathroom, and all of the Hotel Louvre Forum rooms had one. One regret is that when booking the room for 7 days I didn't try to get a better deal, especially in these desperate times it would have been worth a try. As it was, I paid 95 Euros a night. It was a good find with a few minor quibbles; the room was small, and the shower was microscopic; it was difficult to bend down and reach my toes it was so narrow. Plus, the hot water pipe was scalding so one needed to bend over very carefully or risk touching the pipe. Having said that, the room was clean and in good condition, was cleaned well each day, and the staff were very friendly and the front desk staff spoke excellent English. I highly recommend it.

Hotel Louvre ForumHotel Louvre ForumNotre Dame in evening light

I have a folding bike and I fly with it often. However, since I planned to use the Vélib' bikes, I wouldn't need my own, and it was a relief to be able to travel light for a change, only needing a helmet for riding. I brought a minimum of clothes, a few art supplies and reading material, and that was it. Everything fit into a backpack, making it easy to walk long distances when necessary.

About 2 months before the trip I checked the going rate for flights from Dulles to Paris. With about a month to go the fares on Lufthansa fell to around $650. On the flight over I met Jocelyne, an artist who lives outside of Paris and was returning from a long visit to Hawaii with friends. She told tales of her life traveling the world and was especially fond of the years spent in Tahiti with her friend Bernard Moitessier, the famous sailing legend. Moistessier has written several books about his adventures.

To prepare for the trip I checked out several travel books from the library, the best of which I thought was Rick Steves' Paris 2009 which contained good, practical information about getting around Paris. The book included a sketch of Charles DeGaule Airport and how to get to the train station for the trip into the city. The train stopped at the Les Halles/Chatlet metro station, a few blocks from the hotel. It was a short walk to the hotel in the pouring rain. Thanks to Google Maps Street View I had an idea of what to look for as I approached the hotel.

There are several shops and restaurants near the hotel, including two small convenience stores around the corner. I had a cheese and tomato sandwich for lunch and stopped at a pastry shop to check out the goodies. When the clerk tried to help me, in French of course, I responded with "parlez vous anglais?" Her response was a sarcastic "parlez vous francais?" which flustered me and I finally blurted out that I had reached the extent of my French. It's understandable that the French would expect visitors to at least attempt to speak the language, and they must get tired of having to deal with tourists who lack basic language skills, especially when selling a $2 pastry. That was one of the few negative experiences of the trip; most people were very accommodating and would either speak English or would attempt in their way to communicate. Nevertheless, the next time I travel to France I'll make an effort to learn more of the language beforehand.

At dusk I walked along the Seine to Notre Dame where I took some photos in the fading light. It turned out to be one of the last times the sun shone for the next several days.

I was so tired that I didn't want to deal with dinner. I had one of the energy bars I carried from home, read for a while, then went to sleep at around 8pm, waking throughout the night to write some notes, read, and try to sleep until dawn.

24 January 2009, Saturday—I was up early and very hungry and took off in search of breakfast. The hotel breakfast was €11 or around $14 but I just wanted a pastry and a drink. While there are many pastry shops, few have a place to sit and eat. Near the Place de la Republique I happened across a small bike shop on Rue Dupetit that sold Bakfiets which are cargo bikes, Brompton folding bikes and even an Optima recumbent.

The plan for the morning was to check out the famous flea market on the north part of town near St. Denis, Marché aux Puces. I found a Vélib' bike after breakfast and rode north. On the way I saw a sign for Pere Lachaise cemetery so I parked the bike and walked into the cemetery. Of the many famous people buried there, Jim Morrison's site seems to draw the largest crowd. I went to high school in England with Jim's brother Andy, before The Doors first album was released. Andy was a bit crazy; he used to do a balancing act on bridges, hanging precariously over the tracks below. At one point during the year he broke his arm after falling from a tree.

Jim Morrison's graveGeorges Rodenbach's tombLouvre/Rivoli Metro sign
designed by Hector Guimard

There was a small crowd gathered at Morrison's grave. I took a few photos and continued to tour the cemetery, walking by Delacroix's tomb and not being able to find Balzac's. It's advisable to have a map before visiting. It was time for lunch. I had a good meal at Tien Hiang, a cosy, reasonably priced vegetarian restaurant with a menu in English.

Most days I would return to the hotel at midday to rest and recharge before venturing out for the afternoon's adventure. It took a few days to overcome jet-lag and have enough energy to get through the day without a nap. That afternoon I walked to the Left Bank, a short walk across the Seine, wandering around and checking out the many art galleries and shops. I had just read Hemingway's A Moveable Feast and wanted to see where he lived while writing it in the 20's. I had hoped to walk through the Luxembourg Gardens but it was closing at 5 p.m. as approached. Instead I lived dangerously and rode a Vélib' bike back to the hotel, without my helmet which I usually carried but didn't have at that point.

The day before I had noticed an English pub near Place de la Republic, so I returned there for a dinner of Guiness and Kilkenny beers and fish and chips for €24,5. Felt a little unadventurous for seeking an English-speaking pub for dinner to avoid language hassles, but the feeling didn't last long, especially after the first pint. Before retiring I strolled across the Seine on Pont Neuf and back.