Paris (Part 1)

My plan worked… which was taking Nicola to the top of a very high mountain, where the air is thin, and deprive her of oxygen for a few hours before I pop the question. She said “yes”… not 100% sure she knew who I was or what I just asked her… but I definitely heard “yes”.

Thank you again to the gang team Pritchard and Page for supplying the champagne, which we drank on arriving back at our really romantic and highly expensive accommodation, “Chateau La Tent”…


So that’s it… we’re getting married, and for anyone who is interested in when or where… we are working that out so will keep you posted.

Also, thank you for all of the messages of support and love from family and friends who read the announcement on our blog, sorry let me rephrase that, for those of you that read it on ‘Facebook’ because most it appears can’t read anything longer than an SMS… there are a few exceptions of course, those who have been following our blog religiously… you know who you are and again thank you for finding the time to read my rants.

We had planned to head to Paris the next morning and, as the cable car ticket person had predicted, it was a rather nasty day. We could hear the rain all night coming in waves down the valley as we slept in the small tent, warm and dry. Energy and will power are all that is required to leave that comfy bed, I kept saying to Nicola as I slowly began to pack up around her. “Come my love… step out into the cold rain… It’s not so bad.”

It’s horrible to be honest, as regardless of how careful you are to keep everything dry you get an overall feeling of damp. And just as you finalise the packing you have to then look forward to about seven hours riding in the rain… Oh the joy of motor biking.

It was a journey both of us would rather forget as we had rain the whole way to Paris. Hours and hours sitting on a busy AutoRoute, stopping regularly to empty our pockets at the tollbooths to continue the journey. As we rode I watched people’s faces with the expression “God, I’m so glad we are in this nice dry car, listening to the new cd I just bought, ‘Hits form the 80’s’.” We were soaked by the time we reached the outskirts of Paris, not entirely sure I hadn’t actually wet myself as it felt that way.

After Goggling into the iPad, ‘Paris Summer Hotel’ we received a message back that said ‘Are you joking… hope you have more than 400 euros a night’. Given we were on the end of the trip and we didn’t want to set a new precedent to what we had established as the norm, much cheaper… we wrote back, ‘thanks, but no thanks.”

The hotel we had booked was on the outskirts of the city center, which was the best value we could find. It was slightly depressing but as we were both tired and cold and had paid in advance we couldn’t be bothered looking for an alternative. It appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, a sea of crappy warehouses and abandoned truck trailers and to top it off the hotel looked like it was in the middle of being renovated with the smell of wet paint in every corridor. Now I know what the our Royal Highness the Queen of England experiences, apparently she thinks the world smells of wet paint, because every time she visits anywhere in the world, the buildings are usually newly painted for the occasion.

But it didn’t take long to work out that the train station was just around the corner and had direct trains into the city center in 15 minutes. There were also some fantastic restaurants that sold all things other than French, due to the eclectic mix of races in the suburb and once you got your head around the fact that the area looked like a ghetto, it was rather nice to be somewhere normal. We also appeared to have struck gold, as the day we arrived was the last day scheduled for refurbishments, so the noise of hammer drills stopped and the army of tradesmen packed up and left. We were the first of the guests as everything, towels, beds, sheets, TV’s, furnishings, were all brand new. Just as you think things could not get any better, they turned on the complimentary super-fast broadband and pointed us to the free coffee machine that saved us an additional 20 euros a day. “Sir there is also a secure car park around the back for your bike that requires your room key to enter”…
Value v’s first-impressions…

Nicola had wanted to come for a romantic week in Paris since the day we had met, before then I’m not too sure, because there was no romance in her life before I… obviously…

With the slightly cheesy name “the city of love” and “La Ville-Lumière” (“The City of Light”) it has attracted millions from all over the world to see ‘magnificent Paris’. It’s the sort of place you can’t leave easily without a sigh and a promise to return; it’s the epic history of the place… buildings designed and constructed to scream, “have I got your attention?” and deep love affair with art and great food. It incidentally boasts over 9000 restaurants, of which 70 are Michelin-starred, more than any other city in the world, which is definitely more restaurants than we have curry-houses in London and that’s saying something.

We walked and walked and walked until our feet were killing us and then after a small rest we walked some more… That was day one; where we simply wanted to absorb the atmosphere and hold hands, enjoying the sights and sounds of the place together. I’m engaged to be married now, so I’m allowed to write as much ‘bucket hugging’, sloppy-stuff as I like… besides which, we are in Paris the ‘city of love’ and Nicola is a sentimental fool… I’ve not really been too romantic in this blog, so I feel I should share a couple of Romeo moments… so you can quietly dry-reach.

We enjoyed the journey back on the train with the locals; the ethnic mix in Paris is quite remarkable… One always has to be extremely careful saying anything to do with race, colour or creed, as well as whether you are for, tolerant or against multicultural mixing within the cities of Europe, especially these days in a blog when everybody has his or her own opinion and whatever you say can be misconstrued. However, I’m a firm believer that just because it’s a sensitive subject doesn’t mean that you should nail the subject shut… and besides, I find it fascinating, it’s certainly controversial and as more and more take advantage of the no-boarder European policy and governments feel the need to get involved in theological matters, the more controversial it will become.

Speaking of controversial, we were walking past the main square next to where the Minister of Justice has her offices and bumped into a young woman who was part of a movement in Paris that is continuing the demonstration on gay marriage and the right to wear crucifixes in school. I’m not too worried about the crucifix issue; the church is massively powerful and has fought persecution and battles against governance since the day it was founded, plus with a change of Government, which is highly likely one day, things will likely revert to status quo once more and people will be able to wear what they like. However, in April this year France elected that it was in favour of allowing marriage of same sex couples. French Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira took on the fight on behalf of France’s gay and lesbian community, who witnessed such hatred from the religious right, the Catholic church and France’s opposition conservative party throughout the debate on the gay marriage bill.

This young protester we met was a right-wing Catholic who believed that being gay was something you could control and that God was wearing a t-shirt supporting their sentiment. She told us that part of the new laws that the Minister had passed means that you basically can’t have any group demonstrate against this bill, and people who do will be arrested… and the law also says that as long as you are one metre apart you are not technically considered a group. We saw about 200 people protesting in the square, all standing one metre apart like a life-size game of chess about to make its first move.



One of their comrades had been arrested for throwing a bottle at a policeman during the riots where 150,000 anti-gay marriage protestors got over-excited. Apparently it has been a 24/7 protest with thousands of volunteers signed up to stand there, doing shifts of 4 hours each. It’s all Facebook and email based and until their friend is released the demonstration will continue.

Equal rights in France are extremely important and as a nation they seem tolerant… as the Minister of Justice said in one of her speeches when talking about tolerance, “That it is the strength of our society. It is even the basis of our society. It is the basis of our relationship to society.”

And then the Muslim community woke up on the 14 September 2010 to the news that the Senate of France had passed a new law – “Loi interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace public ” (Act prohibiting concealment of the face in public space), resulting in a ban on the wearing of face-coverings including masks, headgear, helmets, balaclava, niqābs and other veils covering the face in public places. The ban also applies to the burqa, a full-body covering, if it covers the face.

But for the small group of Muslims who practice head covering, it was a bit of a shock to be told they could no longer continue. It’s to do with translation of the Qur’an. After all it’s a book… as far as I can tell over the centuries it has been interpreted to suit the person reading it. When something is written down in a book that people take as literal, it can get confusing, especially for people looking for reason. Take for instance the Bible, one must learn to “turn the other cheek” which I take as stand there and be slapped until you say “please can you stop” as opposed to an “eye for an eye” which I think Gandhi got right in believing if that was the case, the whole world would go blind.

Part of the translation of the Qur’an, regards to head covering, is below;
“And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their head coverings (khimars) to cover their bosoms (jaybs), and not to display their beauty except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their womenfolk, or what their right hands rule (slaves), or the followers from the men who do not feel sexual desire, or the small children to whom the nakedness of women is not apparent, and not to strike their feet (on the ground) so as to make known what they hide of their adornments.”

So it comes down to whether you think it was a woman that read the book and interpreted it in such a way as to walk into the living room and say, “Hey honey, I’ve broken it down it and I read it as, I can’t step out the house with an identity… but you can” or whether men have read it and used it as a form of modern day anti-suffrage.

Saying that, there are always people that like to take religion to the extreme. I would love to know how many of them were disappointed v’s relieved when the law was passed…I’d take a guess, but I don’t want to be judgmental.

There are a few sights that after arriving in Paris must be ticked off the sightseers bucket list and one of those has to be the world’s largest museum holding some remarkable doodles…

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Musée du Louvre is massive… it has changed and been added to since the 12th century and was last used as a home in 1682 for King Louis XIV who chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection, including, from 1692, a collection of antique sculpture.




That’s pretty much how it stayed for a hundred years until the French woke up one morning in 1789 and decided that Louis XVI had to go in what is known as the French Revolution. “Off with his head” is probably the quickest way to describe the outcome for the King. In reality it is rumored in the journals of history that it wasn’t actually that quick, because the first attempt didn’t do the business and only cut half his head off. There was a rather nasty thump sound followed with some muttering by the executioner, Charles Henri Sanson, who pulled the handle to the guillotine and said something along the lines of “opps… might need to do that again, sorry about that.” He said the King, to his credit, appeared dignified and resigned to his fate, which is a damn sight calmer than I would have been especially after the first attempt.

For about a year after the poor king got the chop, during the period known as the “reign of terror” from June 1793 to July 1794, the nation had to contend with ‘The Revolutionary Tribunal’. This fun little group sentenced thousands to the guillotine, just about anybody that fitted the bill, including nobility, intellectuals (most of my friends would have been safe), politicians and prostitutes, all were liable to be executed on little or no grounds. Suspicion of “crimes against liberty” was enough to earn one a fun day out with a sudden ending.

Now here’s the kicker and not everyone knows this. Who is the least likely person, or more profession, that you would think of to come up with the design of a machine for chopping somebody’s head off? Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was a doctor… if that’s not irony… But saying that, Guillotin was opposed to the death penalty, so he said, and the reason he designed it was to hopefully provide a less painful method of killing someone. He believed that decapitation made executions more private and individualised and was the first step toward a total abolition of the death penalty… Not sure I would go along with that as a reason personally, given during the revolution the guillotine was used so much that it earned the name “Madame Guillotine” or “The National Razor”. Estimates of the death toll range between 16,000 and 40,000.

Imagine letting that little accomplishment slip at a cocktail party, “Nice to meet you, I hear you are a doctor. Sorry I didn’t get your name”… “Oh I see… (Awkward silence) OK… well… might go and find my wife.”

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Some love it and some hate the modern large glass pyramid in the middle of the main square, but regardless of what you think of it you have to enter the Louvre through it. 12.50 euros is possibly the best value for money we have spent on the trip so far to visit something that is so beautifully designed. It’s very easy to get about and even on a busy day it feels relatively un-crowded due to its vast size. If you haven’t been and want to visit, I suggest you buy your ticket the day before, giving you a whole day to start one end and see as much as you can before your feet fall off. To give you some idea of size of the place, if you were to only visit the toilets in the Louvre you would need two days… I made that up… but you can’t see it all in a day so pick your targets carefully.

One of our targets was obviously the most famous, most written about and most visited painting in the world. Leonardo da Vinci’s half-length portrait of a woman called Mona Lisa.


She hangs in a room the size of a tennis court, covered in special glass to protect her from the flashes of the idiots that forgot or didn’t care to turn their flashes off. It’s interesting again to watch the people only there getting a photo, not of the painting, but one of themselves with the painting. The “look at me” culture that seems to have gained massive popularity since the creation of Facebook is most evident when visiting famous sights around Europe.

I guess its better than some photos people put on Facebook, inept photos like “this is what I ate for breakfast” or those stupid “look at me” shots, because I get the urge to hit the comment button… which is the reason Nicola has banned me from managing my own Facebook, she thinks I will lose us friends…

Ok… I was sliding into a rant there but just caught myself before I went on to say something about “twitter”… All I’ll say is I don’t care what ‘Shame Warne’ thinks…

Let’s get back on track and continue this fascinating look into the unfinished work of Leonardo da Vinci, painted between 1503 and 1506, although it is estimated that Leonardo may have continued working on it as late as 1517. I’m not sure how big people think the picture is, but according to the guidebooks she is smaller than most people imagine. I have only ever heard of two things that everyone gasps in surprise at how small it is, the Mona Lisa and my mate Tim standing on the beach in a pair of budgie smugglers.

She has had a turbulent history; she was stolen twice, the first time occurred after it was acquired by King Francis I of France and passed down through the generations of his family until the republic killed the lot of them and stole it for the nation. The next time it was taken was on the 21 August 1911. Back then a very crafty chap, a former Louvre employee no less called Vincenzo Peruggiaby came up with an extraordinarily complicated plan to steel the painting. After months of planning to the nth-degree he set off on that night of August 20th and hid in a broom cupboard… Brilliant plan Vincenzo… knowing that the gallery would be closed the next day he stayed there all night and because he knew the layout and that work would continue by museum employees the next day, he popped a white smock on, which is what they wore, and just as he heard a couple pass the broom cupboard he slipped out. From there he could have switched off the laser sensors, deactivated the cameras and overrode the pressure switch… but in this case all he had to do was to stride up to the painting, lift it off the wall, walk in under the stairs, take it out of the frame and pop it under his smock. He would have said goodbye to the security guard on his way out, but the guard was fetching a pail of water. Why? Nobody knows…

He hid it in his apartment for two years and the painting was thought to have been lost forever; however, greed and stupidity (often these two things are not far apart) brought it out of hiding when he contacted Alfredo Geri, the owner of an art gallery in Florence, Italy, where he was finally caught. He did six months for his crime.

She was hung back on the wall with a new policy regarding fetching pails of water and there she was quite happy until in 1956, the lower part of the painting was severely damaged when a vandal threw acid at the painting. Then on 30 December of that same year, a young Bolivian named Ugo Ungaza Villegas damaged the painting by throwing a rock at it. This resulted in the loss of a speck of pigment near the left elbow, which was later painted over.

Then they decided that if people could not be trusted to simply enjoy the art without the overwhelming feeling of throwing something at it, then they would have to shield her behind toughened glass. Which was not a bad call given in 1974 a woman, upset by the museum’s policy for disabled people, sprayed red paint at her while it was on display at the Tokyo National Museum. On 2 August 2009, a Russian woman, extremely miffed over being denied French citizenship, threw a cup, purchased at the museum, at the painting in the Louvre; the vessel shattered against the glass enclosure. In both cases, the painting was undamaged.

Things are slightly different these days, as they don’t want any more repeats she is now kept behind atomic-proof glass, with an alarm system that only matches the security for the crown jewels.


5 thoughts on “Paris (Part 1)

  1. Still enjoying the blog tupela! I understand researchers are now studying the Monarch Lisa trying to establish whether she may have been a he. Is this correct or do I have the wrong end of the stick?

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