02 April 2016

I'm tired, I'm footsore .... but I'll soldier on

This is one for me.

We finished the first stage of our English buying in Hungerford, a lovely village in Berkshire. There are 11 antiques shops in this village, but only one to visit if you’re on a budget. I found nice glass, ceramics and metalware, mostly stock but one big old ginger jar for myself.

Then it was onto a ferry to Dieppe. A huge storm had blown across England and we expected a rough crossing. When we boarded the captain warned everyone it would be a rough crossing. But it was all good. A bit of swell, but mostly smooth. As soon as we got to Dieppe we visited a brocante and bought a nice oil lamp with a very pretty deep cornflower blue glass font. Then it was time for moules a la crème at our favourite restaurant in Dieppe, Tout Va Bien.

The view from our hotel window in Dieppe.
The next day we travelled further into Normandy to visit Serge, an old favourite of ours. Serge has barns full of good things, but he’s not the tidiest person you’ll ever meet and you really have to hunt to find them. It took me ages to communicate that I wanted glass pate pots, but eventually he understood what I meant – confit pots. Then, voila!, he burrowed deep into one of the barns, lifted a few heavy, dusty boxes off an old trunk, and there were 40 pate pots. Just what I wanted.

Serge and my pate pots.
Then I had to remember the word for ‘sheets’, but eventually I got there. He strode off to yet another barn, moved a couple of armoires, and I scored some really thick linen sheets, 3m long each. Plus a number of linen smocks. They will all need a good launder when they arrive in Australia, but they’re about 100 years old and it’s probably been a few decades since they were last washed.

Serge runs a scrap metal yard, as well as his barns of stuff, and he obtains lots of metalware from churches that have been demolished throughout Normandy and beyond. So I selected a nice range of ecclesiastical metalware, which I don’t expect to last too long once I start to offer it. There are angels, there is Mary with Gabriel, there are cherubs, curlicues and other decorative bits and bobs. It will all make for an interesting display. Serge never lets me down when it comes to interesting old church metalware.

Then, into Paris. This is such a fun city to play in. And so beautiful. This time we decided to get all touristy and do some things we hadn’t done before. So first stop was the Arc de Triomphe.

There is no lift here.
Wow, it’s an impressive monument. Doug tricked me into believing you could catch a lift to the top. But that was a lie. A dirty big fat lie. I should have known by the fact that his lips were moving.

I counted eleventy-hundred steps to the top, but Doug tells me I’m a sook and it was actually only 292. Either way, it was not a lift.

It was fun watching the amazing traffic circling below. It’s like some type of frantic computer game, where you must move your car into the closest available space before anyone else can. And everyone else is trying just as hard as you. But gradually, sometimes shuffling, sometimes at high speed, everyone gets where they’re going without incident.

The endless spiral stairs at the Arc de Triomphe.
Without incident doesn’t mean without stress, though. Even from the top of the Arc you could hear the insults exchanged by irate drivers way, way down below. And of course there was the nonstop application of horns. But when a Police car approached the chaos with sirens blaring, the chaos immediately ceased and a clear path was left for them to hurtle through. Then, back to the chaos, insults and application of horns. It was very entertaining.

Then we strolled a few kilometres to the Eiffel Tower. Yes we’d been there before – who visiting Paris doesn’t go to the Tower? But we’d never made the trip to the top, and this time we were determined to get it done.

And it was then that we discovered the amazing multicultural experience that taking a trip up the Eiffel Tower involves. It’s that most quintessential of English activities – queuing. And queuing. And queuing.

Anyone not recognize this?
First you have to queue for over an hour to get to the first security check. That gave us ample time to figure out the logistics of a successful attack on the Tower. Yes old habits die hard, but we spent years anticipating and thwarting bad guys. And it’s a particular concern in Paris these days.

Not that you’d know it at the Eiffel Tower. It’s scary, but it wouldn’t be that hard to at least damage one of the pillars, with a view to bringing it down and causing mass casualties. So despite all their show of having security precautions, our assessment was that it would be an easy enough target.

And that assessment wasn’t helped by the first security check. At the Arc de Triomphe you have to go through a thorough bag check, empty your pockets and step through a metal detector. Much like an airport. Doug caused enormous amusement to the guards at the Arc by having an endless array of stuff in his pockets.

It was like one of those movies where you can’t enter the presence of the monarch if you’re armed, so you must divest yourself of all weapons. And our hero pulls from his pockets gun after gun, knives, ninja throwing stars, garrottes, nunchukkas, knuckle dusters and more guns. This was Doug, at the Arc de Triomphe. Took him ages to get through security.

The Tower seems quite delicate.
But at the Eiffel Tower, as he pulled the first of his travel essentials from his pockets the guard clearly saw that this was going to take a while, so just waved him through. We raised our eyebrows at each other. Not impressed. Especially after waiting for an hour for that cursory check.

Then we had to queue for another hour to get to the ticket booth. But could we buy a ticket to the top? Mais non, the top had been temporarily closed so we could only buy a ticket to the second floor. Not happy, Jan!

Then it was on to the second security check. My bag was x-rayed, but naturally I wouldn’t be carrying anything bad in my bag. D’uh! Then a step through a metal detector. Yet again, as Doug began to unpack his pockets, the guards told him it was fine and he could go through. It was hugely inconvenient to have to wait for such a long time to get through these security checks, and then to find they were so poorly conducted wasn’t reassuring.

A corner of Paris from the top of the Tower.
But at least we were through security and could get to the second floor. After queuing for the lift, naturally. The second floor is actually about 10 stories high, and the view of all of Paris is stunning. But we were determined to reach the top.

So time for another queue for a ticket to the summit – because now they had reopened the top and were prepared to sell tickets to get there. Then another queue for the lift to the summit. There was zero prospect, none at all, nil, zip, forget it – that I was going to climb the stairs to the top of the Tower. It’s 324m tall, and I was getting to the top by lift.

The Seine and Trocodero Gardens.
So eventually we reached the top. And the view of Paris is spectacular, all white and glowing.  Most of the roofs are grey and everywhere you look it’s stylish. It was quite a smoggy day but it was very lucky for us there was no breeze and especially no rain – it would have been just awful to do all that outdoor queuing in horrible conditions. But Paris laid on some weak Springtime sunshine and it was pleasant.

Then, tired and footsore, it was time to navigate the Metro back to our hotel. With a good map it’s pretty easy to get around the city and very cheap. Then some nice French Asian food for dinner, and now we’ve settled in for the night so we can get up early tomorrow to hit the Porte de Vanves market.

This is always a fun market to visit, and my buying this trip has been excellent so I have high expectations of Porte de Vanves. The last time we visited there was a brawl between a soccer team from a neighbouring field and some antiques dealers. But my camera had run out of battery so I couldn’t record it! This time it’s fully charged and I’m ready for whatever drama unfolds.

A wall of the Australian Embassy - good spot for an office.
So tomorrow it’s back to work – this is a buying trip, afterall. But we’re really glad we made the effort to see some sights properly, even if it meant interminable queues. We’ve decided on some couth and culture for next trip. It’s been years since we visited the Louvre, and we’ve never done a cruise down the Seine. But that’s next trip. Now it’s down to business for the French leg of the trip, so fingers crossed that we find lots of nice things. I’ll report soon.

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