Subject: France visit
Ziners, We've just returned from 2-1/2 weeks in France and, while I'm still suffering from the infernal jet lag, I'd like to share some high points of Paris with you. More will follow later about our stay in Languedoc and Provence.

In Paris, we stayed at Hotel Le Clement (6 rue Clement) from Linda's and Don's recommendations. This hotel is perfectly located for walking throughout the Rive Gauche. It overlooks the Marche St. Germain and we could see the bell tower of St. Sulpice from our window. Some have complained about the noise with a room facing the street. We did not notice this. While the room was small (at 117 Euros/night what would you expect) it was exceptionally clean and the front desk staff very friendly. They speak English so if you fracture your French, it doesn't matter. The hotel is a hop, skip and a jump from a Metro stop.

We simply spent our day and a half in Paris walking around, stopping for lunch and dinner and generally following Frommer's "Memorable Walks of Paris" backwards. It made for some interesting twists and turns but we managed. The Olympics were in the final stages while we were in the city and we noted that very few bars and bistros have televisions - we were trying to catch the triathlon to see if Canada would win. One thing we discovered - all television coverage is biased. French networks were concentrating on French athletes and German coverage concentrated on the Germans. It was refreshing not to have the rah rah coverage so indicative of North America. Watching French coverage of the equestrian events made them seem stately and gracious.

We lunched at Brasserie Escholier at 5 Place de La Sorbonne, watching students come and go. Food was basic and very good. Service was excellent. We had dinner at Seraphin (5 rue Mabillon) which is around the corner from the hotel. The staff spoke English and I was beginning to wonder when I was going to start to speak French. It was a real treat for us to remember that everything is service compris - no tipping. A bonus to visiting France is the professional service in restaurants and bars.

Some highlights: Montparnasse Cemetery was a lovely respite from the hurly-burly of the city. We counted fewer than 10 people walking around. As quite often happens, when you are looking for something you can't find it. So we stumbled on Beckett's grave without realizing it though Sartre's and de Beauvoir's spots are easy to find.

Church of St. Germain des Pres: This is the oldest church in Paris. It was built in 542 to house sacred Christian relics. During the Revolution is was the scene of a mass massacre and the holdings of the dead were auctioned off to the highest bidder. It was rebuilt as recently as the 1990's. Rene Descartes is buried here.

Notre Dame Cathedrale: It was packed with people and we were happy that we'd been inside the church many times so we didn't bother standing in line to wait to enter. We moved on to the Monument of the Deported (far in back of the cathedral along the Seine). This is a tranquil spot. The architect has captured the essence of the horror and it is an important piece of French history.

Next we explored Ile St. Louis and, according to Frommer, found ourselves in a short street which figured largely in mediaeval France as a street which housed a barber and a butcher. Seems the barber provided victims for the butcher, who then sold "meat" pies. The original Sweeney Todd.

We stopped in at the Cluny Musuem, purported to be the repository of the best Mediaeval artifacts in the world. It holds the tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn. While there, we encountered a group of school children about 10 years of age. One of the students was lying on the floor drawing what he saw - a budding artist, I think. He was creating his own renditons of the sculptures that were quite amazing. The Cluny has a wonderful Mediaeval garden - recreations of a herb garden, a scent garden, and others typical of the period.

We moved on to Sainte Chapelle, an odd sort of place, commissioned by King Louis IX (Saint Louis). This two tiered chapel was built to house a piece of the Cross upon which Jesus was said to be hung - a sacred relic for Christianity - and a piece of the Crown of Thorns. The stained glass windows of the Upper Chapel are spectacular as evidenced by the numbers of visitors who were simply sitting in awe.

We meandered over to the Rive Droit, passed Les Halles, and over to the Rue Faubourg Ste. Honore then into the Tuileries Gardens. We discoverd the Pont Solferino (a footbridge built in 1999) which wasn't around the last time we visited Paris. This is a bonus to walkers because it means you can avoid the crossing at Place de Concorde, the original site of the guillotine during the Revolution, and a walker's nightmare.

The bars and restaurants in Paris have "No Smoking" and "No Pets" signs everywhere. They are generally ignored and we found this heartening. (Please no complaints - this is another country and another culture. Go with the flow.)

We left the history of Paris for the sunny climes of the south taking the TGV to Avignon. For those Ziners who have not taken the TGV, it is a most civilized way to travel. We had boarded the first TGV service from Paris to Lille about ten years previous and were impressed. It is rapid, quiet, efficient, on time service. We left the grey skies of Paris and exactly 2 hours and 44 minutes later arrived in hot Avignon to begin our Languedoc adventure. More on that later.

Lucy, Toronto