Acclimation . Sept 9 - Oct 6

The Top of Paris - Sacre Coeur, Monmartre Village

September 21, 2010

Arrived at Chuck de Gaulle Airport in Paris on a non-stop from somewhere in Kentucky at 5:30 am Paris time on September 9th with my research assistant who would assist me thru the 21st before heading back to the U.S. We'd been advised, and appropriately so it turns out, to stay active thru the first day to avoid the effects of any jet lag. Arriving at the Hotel Central St. Germain well before the allowed check-in time, I left my gear at the hotel's luggage room and lit out for some morning brew at one of the tens of dozens of ubiquitous brasseries or cafes.

The plan was to spend the initial two weeks setting up and getting acclimated to my base of Paris before leaving for a first excursion through Scandinavia. I was unable to find a permanent place in Paris prior to arriving, hence the hotel stay, which lasted through the 18th. The hotel is located in what to me is the perfect spot, near the dividing line between the Latin Quarter (5th Arron.) and St. Germain Des Pres (6th) on the left bank, just below the Seine as it traverses East to West across the center of the city.

The Latin Quarter is famous for the Sorbonne [a part of the University of Paris] and Paris' version of the Pantheon (less ancient than Rome's), and is full of intellectual and street life. St. Germain Des Pres is a tourist Mecca full of shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, jazz clubs, parks and all manner of visual eye candy. Its name comes from the Abbey of St. Germain Des Pres, a church older than Notre Dame itself and the oldest in Paris. Directly across a side street sits what is probably the quintessential Parisian cafe, the famous Les Deux Magots [The two statues].

It was in this area that I had hoped to find a furnished rental unit to park myself in through December, however I discovered that there was little to be had in the waning part of the 'high season'. A little panic sunk in as I realized I was about to be homeless in an unfamiliar city. I ended up in an area called Place de Barcelone, at the West end of Pont Mirabeau (Mirabeau Bridge) in the 16th arrondissement, through a strange bit of luck.

Fatemeh is an Iranian-born resident of Paris who owns an internet and copy shop on Rue Champollion, a few doors down from the hotel.  I frequented the shop for internet access on an almost daily basis for the first 9 days, checking email, communicating with my office back home, and searching for an apartment that would serve as my home. The shop it turns out, was the very first internet location in France, having been opened 22 years ago by Fatemeh's husband, who apparently introduced the internet to this country. Near the last of our visits to the shop, Fatemeh happened to ask if I was looking for an apartment after retrieving a print I had sent of an apartment project our office is working on in Indy. After some discussion it turns out Fatemeh is also a trained architect, has a son in architectural school in Boston, and an apartment for rent in the 16th Arrondissement. We worked a deal to pay in dollars [saving a bundle on the exchange rate], visited the unit, and I moved in the following day. It is a huge unit on quai Louis Bleriot on the edge of the Seine that sleeps six, and is 145 square meters or 1560 sf--far more space than I need, but it allows for a very comfortable work environment, and plenty of space for visitors.

Place de Barcelone is a leafy area of well-to-do retired Parisians, working professionals and its share of shops and restaurants, but without the near 24-hour bustle of the 5th and 6th. I use the number 10 metro line back to where the action is, and in the opposite direction is a direct train to Versailles, where I will travel to on occasion to the U of I's school there.

Bridge Over Seine River

Street Performers, Paris

September 27, 2010
I guess I'm acclimated now. With all the touristy stuff in Paris out of the way and the best of the weather behind us, it's time to begin what I came here for. I have to admit that I've struggled with getting started and figuring out a first step beyond an intent to visit Scandinavia first, before it gets too cold. My original intinerary had me leaving for Oslo on September 23rd, but that went away when I scaled back my 31-city plan in the wake of the exchange rate hit I'm taking on the dollar, with the school's blessing.

Last night I watched the Colts/Broncos game at The Princess and the Frog, a Franco-Anglo pub in St Germain Des Pres, and encountered a group of four Norweigians on, yes - a cognac tasting tour. Unlike Parisians, almost all Norweigians speak English, and it was a great shot in the arm to for once have a conversation in the native tongue, especially since mon Francois nes pas tres bon. I gathered a lot of good information about what to expect in Norway, best travel arrangements, and the like, and came away inspired to go on and get the first excursion started, which will include Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and maybe Malmo, Sweden, where Calatrava's "turning torso" tower stands. Helsinki and St. Petersburg are out. My friends from Bergen, Norway advised that while you can get to Oslo by train from Paris, flying is the way to go. So I'm thinking of backtracking by train to my first destination and trying to figure where I'd enjoy visiting twice. My hunch is Stockholm or Copenhagen, but this may mean two flights instead of one. The four Nords, who names I did not get, wanted to know if I was a famous architect, knew that Michael Jackson was from Indiana, and warned me about the hookers and dealers in Oslo.

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