Justin Locke Productions

Justin Locke is an entertaining and inspiring speaker. Phone: 781-330-8143
Contact | THE BLOG | Trips to Rome | Rio | Florence and Venice | The Bahamas

Speaking Appearances | Justin's Books

My Trip to Paris

by Justin Locke

Justin Locke grew up on a farm in Ohio, then at age 20 he magically "got the call" and found himself playing bass in the Boston Pops. In his books and presentations he shares a remarkable journey of personal and artistic discovery. Check out his laugh-out-loud Boston Pops memoir, Real Men Don't Rehearse, along with his other books Principles of Applied Stupidity and Getting in Touch Your Inner Rich Kid. Also check out his recent Berlin premiere!

Well, I saw a cheap fare and a cheap hotel on the internet, and next thing I knew, armed with a ticket, a passport, an ATM card, and a Rick Steves guidebook, I was in Paris.

Here I am on top of the Eiffel Tower . . . note the beautiful weather I had all week (I was there in June 2001), trocadero place in the background, also the Paris high rise office buildings placed far from the city center. Note also that the entire city is color coordinated in beige! Pardon the slanted photo, I had to rely upon the kindness of strangers.

This is a view of the Seine (and some of the larger tour boats that constantly ply it) from the Eiffel Tower elevator.

One of the most fun things I did was find the places where they shot "Charade" . . .

This is the Center Garden of the Palais Royal where Cary Grant and Walter Matthau shot it out . . . (This is not in very many guidebooks- it's a short walk from the Louvre). It is possible that the scene was shot in an identical series of pillars behind me. If you were to turn left, walk about a hundred yards, and turn around, you would see. . .

This arcade, where Audrey Hepburn and the rest would have run towards the camera as well. (she made pretty good time for someone in high heels). On the right, sure enough, is the entrance to the Palais Royal Theater (the theater itself is above me, on the second floor). She may have walked in, but when I was there it was locked up tight. To the left of the pillars is outdoor seating for various high priced restaurants, the restaurants themselves are on the right, I had to dodge waiters constantly.

My first "day trip" was to the Palace of Versailles. This is the entrance (you can't see the army of buses behind me). I confess, other than its size and wretched excess, this place was not that interesting in terms of architecture . . . Every room was a magnificently decorated square box. But every guidebook says you HAVE to go, and the historical importance of the building and the sheer magnificence the exterior made it worth the 30 minute train ride. Climbing all these uneven cobblestones was a nasty task, I had to help an old lady down the hill afterwards . . . slide your browser button to the right to get the full effect . . .

Here I am in the back of Versailles. If you were to sit on the steps and look to the left you would see . . .

the (main) back yard of Versailles . . . At least, the center third of it. Note the man-made lagoon in the distance. This is a good example of the huge expanse of beige dirt that many public spaces in Paris have instead of scruffy grass. When the wind picks up there's quite a dust storm.

Sunday: Off to the D-Day Landing Beaches in Normandy. First stop on the tour (Busfly tours, about 5 hours, cost about $30) was Point-du-Hoc,

where the ruins of the Nazi gun emplacements and fortifications are still in place. You can see where some of the bunkers have been blown to pieces, and even after 60 years there are still 12-foot deep shell craters. Unfortunately, the point at the cliff where the Rangers climbed 100 feet to the top was closed due to a rock slide and erosion. (Note, in "The Longest Day" it is implied that the Rangers climbed this cliff for nothing, when in fact the guns they had to knock out did exist further inland, and they succeeded in destroying them). more pics from another website

Next stop on the tour: This is a panoramic view of Omaha Beach (pardon the photographic flaws-- slide your browser button over to the right to get the full effect). My impression of Omaha Beach from the movies was always that it was a short little strip of sand, when in fact it is about 5 miles long. The 4-hour bus tour gave only 25 minutes at each site, not nearly enough time for a history nut like myself to stand and ponder how the future of civilization was decided not so long ago at this place . . .

We happened to arrive at Omaha Beach at low tide, which is when the landings took place. I wandered down to the water's edge to take this picture. The monument from above is in the center, barely visible. This gives you some idea of the distance the first wave of invasion soldiers had to cover to get to the enemy forces. For those of you who are not up on your history, aerial and naval bombardments failed to hit their targets and the Nazi defenses were largely intact when the landings began here.

On the hill of the above picture and a little to the left . . .

. . . is the American Cemetery, 176 acres of land ceded to the USA, overlooking the beach (you see the water through the trees, right). This is a beautiful place . . . I was brought to tears as I walked through it. As you walk along, the precise rows of crosses (and Stars of David) create a sort of ongoing moire, driving home the numbers people buried there.

This cemetery has about 9,000 of the 30,000 Americans who died in the Battle of Normandy. I am sorry I had no chance to take any pictures of the English or German cemeteries (see link below) . Notice in this picture I am still looking out over the water, but as you can see from the difference in the trees this is completely different section . . . And there are just as many graves laid out on the left of the path. There were several people laying out wreaths of flowers, but I didn't take any pictures of them.

Here is an aerial view of the cemetery (borrowed from the American Military Cemetery site. There are 124,000 U.S. dead interred in cemeteries like this around the world). You can link to a site with pictures of Normandy cemeteries of other countries.

Here you see the remains of the artificial harbor at Arromanches (again, slide your browser bar). The Allies towed big concrete boxes over from England and sank them offshore in a big crescent to form a breakwater. The lines in the sand are the remains of the foundations for the pontoon docks that extended out into the harbor. This was interesting, but (on this Busfly tour) we spent twice as much time at the museum here (over an hour) as we did at any of the other sites, which was a poor use of time from my perspective.

Here is a shot of the street (Rue de Gross Caillou, or "Street of the Big Stones") where my hotel "L'Hotel Tour Eiffel Rive Gauche"-- was located, down on the left. It was cheap, they had rooms at the last minute, and it was truly a bizarre experience. They were doing construction on rooms that had been rented . . . I came home one day to find the guy from next door seated in my room as the construction guys were installing a headboard in his room. Boy was he ticked . . .

It seemed as though every street in Paris was a movie set, sort of unreal how beautiful it all was . . .

(above, two courtyards found on Rick Steves' "Marais neighborhood walk").

By sheer luck I happened upon the Paris Canal-- the Canal, and the pleasure boats that ply it, eventually go underground as they reach the Seine. (Speaking of water-filled tunnels, the Paris sewer tour was really interesting. Of course, they call them "catacombs . . .")

Here you can see the last remnant of the stone wall constructed to protect the city when the entire Paris army marched off to the Crusades. Note the typically well dressed schoolchildren.

I borrowed this photo of the grand foyer of the paris opera from another website. When you see the interior of the opera and you also go on the sewer tour, you suddenly see how the Phantom of the Opera is not so far fetched as it may seem.

One thing you simply MUST do is take the boat tour of the Seine . . . here you can see the downstream end of the "Ile de Cite," the island in the middle of the Seine where the city was originally settled back in 1000 BC or some such.

Some famous sites:

The north side of Notre Dame, and

the main entrance . . . the lines were so long I never made it in. I wasn't too heartbroken about that. You seen one cathedral, you seen 'em all. There is a great shot of the river side, the side briefly seen in "Charade" (according to Rick Steves, "one of the great views in Europe"- and I agree, although no photo can do it justice), at greatbuildings.com.

Here is a panoramic view of the Louvre (again, slide your browser bar), with its famous pyramid, underneath which is a grand central station of thousands of art lovers trying to find their way around, you could spend days in there. (If you ever visit, be sure to get a museum pass in a subway station and go to the entrance to the left of the pyramid- - saves an hour of waiting in the hot sun.)

WELL here is another shot of me at Versailles . . . (Note the Louis XIV trash can.) That was my trip to France, or at least a few highlights. It was, quite frankly, a little overwhelming . . . so much to see and do and not enough time to do it. There was so much History- 3,000 years' worth- that I couldn't assimilate it all. And after seeing so many movies shot in Paris, it was impossible not to have a lot of preconceptions about it, and most of it wasn't anything like what I thought it would be. But I was not disappointed! Time to check the fares on Travelocity . . . au revoir . . . jl


If you're thinking of going, here are a few things I learned:

The Rick Steves Guide is really good, especially for a first time trip, but it lacks adequate info on dining beyond cheese sandwiches (try Cheap Eats in Paris). The book emphasizes seeing "the sights," and I am not complaining, as it expedited that process, but after a while I began to realize that little side streets, parks, cafes, and shops were just as interesting, if not more so.

Cash Machines were a breeze. Just like ATM's at home, and they have them at the airport. NOTE: A friend of mine tells me that the Paris ATM's only take 4 or 5 digit passwords. If your password is longer, I think you should only punch in the first five numbers (there are no letters on the keypads) . . . At least, that's what I hear. Check with your bank to make sure.

The public phones only take cards, available in the post offices. EASY to use.

Museum passes are available in many subway stations, about $10 for a day or $20 for 3 days, covers typical museum fee of $3 to $5, but most important, you don't have to wait in (long) ticket buying lines. This is very important when you're jet lagged and on a tight schedule.

The Paris subway is fantastic. Your first time it takes about 5 minutes to figure out the system, after that it's a breeze. To save money, buy ten tickets (a "carnay") at a time. There are other deals - "carte d'orange"- but it didn't work for my schedule for some reason.

There is a great stereotype out there about rude Parisians, but I found this to be largely a myth. In France, it is important to be polite, and if you are rude to them I suppose they will be rude to you in return, but I never had any problems. Speaking at least a little French helps a lot. I highly recommend the Pimsleur language method for learning some basic phrases before you go. (Pricey, I got my copy from the library.) When you go into a French shop, it isn't like America where they jump up at customers like a dog whose master has come home. My advice: wait to be acknowledged (about 8 seconds), always say "Bonjour," and then say "Pardon, Je voudrai" (Excuse me, I would like). That got me thru most of the trip.

For the price of a glass of wine you can sit in a cafe for 3 hours and no one cares. Try the Brouilly.

Generally speaking, the quality of food in cafes is inversely proportional to the quality of the view.

The Orsay Museum is extremely difficult to navigate. Staff and signs are useless. Everyone walks around lost. But if you can manage to find them, the van Gogh's are worth it.

Parisians dress well. I mean really well. All the time. I ended up wearing my dress shirts every day, and even then . . . By Parisian standards, most Americans dress like slobs, and it is offensive to do so in a place where so much effort is made to make everything look so good.

Do the Seine boat tour at dinnertime rather than late at night, the flashbulbs and spotlights are distracting. There are many options for tours, from a $5 tour at Pont Neuf to a full night of dinner with crazed Japanese businessmen for $100.

The Eiffel tower at night is a religious experience. Just gorgeous. People hang out there with buckets of iced beer. They shut off the lights at 1:00 am.

In June, the sun sets at about 10:30 pm.

I found some east coast swing dancing on the Seine on the left bank just upstream of the Ile St Louis. It was outdoors, on a Tuesday night. I was on a boat so I couldn't get any info. There was no dance the following night, but students hang out there I guess.

I found a great vegetarian restaurant called Les Quatre et Une Saveurs at 72 rue Cardinal Lemoine. (From Metro Lemoine, go up the hill) Tel. 01 43 26 88 80. I also found another veggie place called Po Mana (39, rue des Vinaigriers Tel. 01 40 37 19 19). Just like home. Only one thing on the menu. But the protein was milk based, not my style. A list of vegetarian Paris restaurants is at http://vegelist.online.fr/iledefra.php3.

The sewer tour was fascinating.

I took all of these pics with a CVS disposable camera.

You might want to read a book on the French Revolution before you go, there are a lot of references to it in the historical sites.

If you want to take a day trip to the Normandy Beaches, if you can live without seeing Point du Hoc, I recommend just taking a cab from Bayeux to the American Cemetery. The Arromanches museum was interesting but we spent too much time there. The tours are for kids, not for history nuts like me. Note that the Normandy sites really need a few days, they are so spread out and so emotionally overwhelming. Next time . . .

I flew British Airways, with connecting flights in London. I arranged my return trip to get in to Heathrow at 9 a.m.and fly out at 6 p.m. So I got a bonus 7 hours in London. The Heathrow Express is pricey but it gets you right into the City, I recommend the British Library and the British Museum, they're free, and get a veggie burger at Mildred's in Soho in between. (Be sure to buy an "all day" [after 9:30am] subway pass, much cheaper.) You can take guided bus tours but I found if you just get on a city double decker (the all day subway pass covers them), the Londoner sitting next to you will give you the same tour for free!

Some Rick Steves recommended sites that I found to be dull:

Invalides and Napoleon's tomb (yawn)

Champs Elysees Walk was like any big city shopping street

Unless you have a personal connection, I don't recommend the Deportation/ Holocaust Memorial behind Notre Dame, as a tourist site it isn't very interesting, and there is a VERY testy guard there and if you do anything she doesn't like, you get yelled at.

The Arc de Triomph is a lot smaller than it looks in the movies. Also, no elevator if you're under 65 and not pregnant. Ouch. However, the traffic circling around it was one of the best sites in the city-- 12 streets converge there, and traffic entering the rotary has the right of way. I sat there for a good 30 minutes watching in absolute amazement. And I'm from Boston.

Also, visit the Paris tourism website (great for finding a hotel): http://www.paris-touristoffice.com/

See you there! jl

For more info, questions, etc., email me at justinlocke1@gmail.com.

Come visit My main website

This material may not be reproduced or re-transmitted without permission from the author.