A curiosity stop at Paris at sentimental trip from Boston to Saint Petersburg.

by Leonid Sakharov

An account of short visit to Paris during transfer flight from Boston to Saint Petersburg. Walking Seine River from Notre Dame, stepping by Louvre to Eiffel Tower and back is described and presented in video.

Trivial life circumstances these are irrelevant for content of the story but clocklike defined time when I had to fly from my place in Boston to my place in Saint Petersburg, Russia in late October of 2014. Intercontinental air tickets are quite expensive even out off season so I tried to optimize the trip to see the place I as student French literature had read so much, Paris.

The master plan was to use time between connecting flights to see Paris, France to have several hours for walking historic places of the France capital. There is sticky phrase in old soviet intelligentsia circles: “To see Paris and die”. There are several levels of meanings: to see everything best; after reaching peak of life no reason to continue to live, Paris is must to see the capitol of the known Universe, due to limitation on travel to wild capitalist west one can only dream to see Paris he will die first. Last interpretation was the closest to my feelings during life in “socialist heaven” but now the real problem now is budgeting money. If the choice of vacation the Europe trip to see cultural attractions or winter vacation at Caribbean beaches I would take sun, ocean and cheap night fan to architectural and fine art masterpieces in overwhelming doses with expensive sort of prestigious restaurants. But to see Paris as almost free addition to unavoidable duty trip is an obvious lure I can’t resist.

Finding connecting flights with long stop in the Paris had happened to be simple technical task. I used expedia.com site, chose AirFrance as a carrier and sorted given options by time of whole trip. The longest flight that has 9 hour time in the Paris was shown at the top of the list. I got Paris from 8 am to 5 pm in my exclusive possession. The transportation out and back Charles De Gaulle Airport looks like reasonable easy task by RER train and will extract only about two hours. So by clicking at button “Buy” I sealed the deal.

I did some research before the trip about pocket money in Paris and for transportation from airport in Russia. The idea to by prepaid international credit card looks at first very attractive for the person used to credit cards for all purchases in Boston. Really there is no need for carrying cash here. Credit cards are safe, make traceable any purchase and in addition offer bonuses. You need just pay whole balance in time. Other deal is on other side of the pond. They are custom for smart credit cards so my Americans ones could not be accepted everywhere I read in Internet articles. Maybe in reality it is not so inconvenience but when time is a precious commodity the best alternative is cash. And the best place to buy Euros and Rubles in sense minimum formality time wise and in Boston is Prudential (if anybody mentioned in the article would want direct link I am open to offers.)

To have double citizenship is sometimes a convenience but also a source of confusions. Misunderstandings started in Boston in attempt of register my ticket online. Flying to Russia I should enter my Russian Passport requisites. Logical to me was to use American passport when in USA. It was mistake. Correct answer is when flying to Russia the password is alternative of visa that is really logical but counter-intuitive. There was nothing really troubling although sort of extra stress to explain, show passports, make excuses and self-deprecate but in addition to generally pressing airports atmosphere its better to make everything right from the very beginning.

Delta-AirFrance flight from Boston to Paris was nice. No more, no less, just nice. I used to see last Tom Cruise movie planned for theater but missed in turbulence of life. It had happened not bad to short time and it was definitely the best choice from available ones at the aircraft. Food was eatable; drinks are in assortment even with alcohol without extra charge. It was some time for relaxation although my problem is that I cannot really sleep on the back. Nevertheless time to Paris passed quick enough.

A distance from plane terminal to the train station of airport appeared to be endless. I used my American passport to enter France. The detail is worth to be mentioned because coming back I need both passports and e-ticket: American one to put back visa from France and Russian passport for ticket in Russia. But nevertheless except waiting in line that I dislike strongly everything works smooth enough.

RER train from CDG airport has some tricks for Bostonians. At first it is unexpectedly expensive. Ten Euros one way is strangely much. How people can afford so such whole in budget if using every day may I ask? My guess is that only tourists are really paying whole price from their pocket. All native people should have same sort of perks. There was one more puzzle with tickets. I bought for round trip at ones and I was given two identical small tickets. When put one of them in the enter gate slit the ticket was returned back and enter was opened. You need the same ticket to be allowed out of metropolitan. So in train I wonder what ticket from two should I use exiting? Examination two of them revealed time stamp printed on the back of ticket when I enter. It is the right one. American system is much less suspicious to people – exiting there are free, end of story, just go good man and don’t care about crooks because for all incidents insurance would be paid. I like American system better.

My first encounter with Frenchmen was in train. I always try to read general mood of country from behavior of crowd in public transportation. In RER train from airport I feel nothing special except a girl at seat affront of me. She was really pretty self-absorbed Philippine like type. In general riders of RER train impressed me not. I saw crowd like that in Boston everyday. The view of Paris suburbs outside was dull sleeping district: somewhere mountains of apartment buildings some places look depressing poor habitats with long forgotten history.

Finally in about hour there is my destination: Notre Dame Station. My plan to see Paris in several hours was simple and almost mistake free. I was going to walk along Seine River till Eiffel Tower and back for four hours. The only weak link there was real probability of nasty rainy day. All month ahead of the trip I checked one weather website that offers forecast up to months ahead. According to this source weather in Paris for October 20 had happened very “volatile” all months ahead of the trip. It starts with rain all days at and around of the time point. Then there were a happy period of sunny expectations. Just days ahead of projected travel Gonzalo the Hurricane promised to spoil everything with horizontal windy rain. I did all humanly possible preparations including buying rain-proof pants and took umbrellas together memorabilia court from my son graduation. I was ready sort of. But Gonzalo did delay over Bermuda and I in fact had dissent conditions for walking in jacket with unnecessary small backpack with all anti-rain equipment.

There is YouTube video of my promenade along Seine:

Walking Seine River in Paris France from Notre-Dame to Eiffel Tower and back.
When flying by business from Boston to Saint-Petersburg, Russia there is lucky chance to see Paris in economy style in between connecting flights. You will need at least 7 hours (in my case it was 9) to take RER train back and forth - 20 Euros and about 2 hours. Walk from Notre Dame Cathedral by Seine river bank via Louvre and Tuileries Garden to Eiffel Tower. Take elevator to second level 9 Euros. Buy souvenirs for 20 Euros. Walk back to Notre-Dame. You will see Paris for almost nothing that is what it really worth.

My general impression of the Historic Paris was domination of the low color saturation. The first word associated for me with the Paris is grey. Waters of Seine is not looks like pleasant to swim. At about 9 am their banks were almost empty. People around are divided on several categories: tourists with Chinese type domination (one person on my video looks like William Hung double), art students, souvenir sellers, occasion busy Paris natives and crooks.

I had at least three encounters with attempt to trick me into some trouble. First and third was with woman who asked me have I speak English and them by twisted logic ask me to sing in list for deaf and blind. Sure. Ha! Second one was much more sophisticated. Person walking toward me bent down and demonstratively took from ground big (really big) gold ring. He asked me is it mine? Being first time in Paris, walking along Seina river and first time in life had happen in front of lost gold ring… What is the probability? The answer is small enough to jump in terror from the criminal.

Near the Louvre there are bridges with memoir locks. They are cute and touching. Souvenir sellers have such locks in stock so anybody can write some on it and attach to the bridge throwing the key into Seina to seal the feelings forever. The skeptical thought is about limiting place at the bridges… My guess is that locks are cleaning out periodically. Forever memory is too long period for small bridges to keep more than a year I estimate. Maybe I wrong, romantically better to be so.

Being limited in time I decided not to visit Louvre museum itself passing invert pyramid and passed Arc de Triomphe du Carrouse that is not as famous as Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile that is bigger and in distance from my path. But I so the famous arc too walking along Tuileries Garden. On the way to Eiffel Tower the attraction impressed me most was Fontaine des Mers at Concorde square just by its shameless luxury reflecting true Paris spirit in my mind.

Finally there is Eiffel Tour. The spot of Paris between its four legs was the most crowded in Paris during my trip. I chose the one with elevator to second floor for 9 Euros. The line to ticket boxes looked like manageable and in fact took about half a hour. Security checkpoints were organized not convenient due to lack of space for preparation of your staff before. But it is in fact the common point for security in museums and places like that, mostly embarrassing but generally harmless.

The view of the Paris from above was stunning… not for me. City is big. Some areas on the horizon are appeared intriguing enough wishing to have extra time to be there sometime like La Défense business district with typical appearance American downtown with its skyscrapers gathered alike gigantic mushrooms family. Nevertheless the visit to Paris would be incomplete without starring down at its whole historic architecture in one short glance. It is refine, noble and grayish. Among main themes of impressionists paintings weren’t buildings of the Paris now I feel why. They are not impassive enough to inspire for art revolution, field of poppy are.

At the way back to Notre Dame RER station I paid more attention to the people around. I hope to see typical Parisian. Maybe several persons looked charming with business like attitude: a couple at boat café, young women jogging at the low level of Seina bank, stylish woman entering a Bank, a fast moving girl instantly sat at bench for cleaning a shoe from street trash and disappeared in crowd. I guess only months of full immersion into Paris everyday life could give close to true guess why Hemmingway called Paris “A Moveable Feast”.

I left Notre Dame RER station for Saint Petersburg flight at about 2pm that was too safe but better wait than sorry. I was like to be in express train without most of stops but with entertainment of lip service singer-woman given impersonation of popular in USSR Argentinean singer Lolita Torres.

It was good idea I think to see Paris for cheap like this. I would really reject as reasonable option a several day tourist stay that will be quite expensive and will bring you nothing additional to several hours walk. To have business and live in Paris at spring… I wish I never did.

Initially submitted at Nov. 17, 2014; 22:54

Dec. 9, 2017; 11:36 EST


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