Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Paris - Here we come!!

Although since my childhood I knew of the Eiffel Tower, but I first heard the 'live account' of Paris from my father, then heading the Interpol in Pakistan, who had gone to Paris to attend the annual Interpol conference for Paris happens to be the headquarters of the ICPO and the Interpol way back in 1964. He brought back sweet smelling perfumes for our mother and many small gifts and presents for us brothers. He would narrate us the beauty of Paris, its markets and hospitality of its people. There were lot so photographs of him posing in front of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.

And based on my father told us about Paris, I wrote a post somewhere in 2012, never knowing that one day I will be heading towards Paris and seeing all the places my father mentioned about. And so did I on 6 September 2014 when after a four days' stay in Holland, we finally headed towards France through Belgium to visit Paris - the tourists' lover!!

I have already in detail written about my stay in Holland and the last night was spent visiting The Hague and Rotterdam. We stayed at a friend's flat in Rotterdam who and his Moroccan wife looked after so well that I will cherish the memories for ever. I have already talked about our Rotterdam travel details and the Moroccan dinner in my earlier post.

The flat we stayed for our last night stay in Rotterdam, Holland 
Above and below: View of Rotterdam from the top floor where our host lived

The Van Brienenoord Bridge as seen from the flat which we were to pass when exiting Rotterdam

I along with Shahid Latif - our host in Rotterdam
The two families for a final goodbye shot

The hospitality of Shahid Latif and his wife is simply unforgettable. Although his wife did not know any language other than Arabic and Dutch, my wife still got along with her quite well and it looked as two old friends or should I say sisters conversing in a broken language only they both could understand. After a hearty breakfast, it was time to leave and say goodbye to one of the best couples I have met so far. Before leaving, our host's wife presented earthen pots and a shield (as can be seen above) as a remembrance and a goodbye gift.

And then we were on the road to Paris through Belgium!!

My sons posing in front of our rented BMW which took us from Germany to Paris

Driving over the Van Brienenoord Bridge over the river Nieuwe Maas

A few words about the bridge: The bridge is named after the underlying Eiland van Brienenoord (Island of Brienenoord) in the river, which was bought by and named after a baron Arnoud Willem van Brienen van de Groote Lindt in 1847.

As per Wikipedia, an average of 140.000 ships pass the bridge, every year. Approximately 500 of these ships are high enough to require the bridge to be opened, a process which takes 18 minutes. Suspending road traffic and opening the bridge takes 4 minutes, letting the ship pass takes 10 minutes, and closing the bridge requires an additional 4 minutes.

While we were entering Holland from Germany, we thought that the border will be signified by some border booths or gates as is normal with each border elsewhere. But we did not know that since the evolution of the Schengen protocol, all formal entries have been done away with and one can freely drive through without being stopped. So we missed photographing ourselves with any entry boards while hopping into Holland. But while driving into Belgium, we were extra careful to to spot the border crossing and have a few shots as a remembrance, as can be seen in photos above and below.

We had earlier plans to go to Brussels, but our stretched stay in Holland, mainly due to instance of my friend Tariq Hashmi and his family, we drove past Brussels as we wanted more time in Paris to see some of its major land marks.

Belgium drive through was simply fantastic - the rather cloudy weather with a cool breeze blowing was simply lovable. Passing through many underground tunnels to avoid cities, our travel to Paris continued.

Entering Belgium we bypassed Sint-Niklaas, a 13th century city, which  is the capital and major city of the Waasland region straddling the East Flanders and Antwerp provinces. The city is known for having the largest market square in Belgium - though we could not see it for reasons mentioned above.

We also went by Antwerp, a city which usually figures out in military history, Brussels (in fact we passed under the city through a tunnel, we entered France at Hensies.

A much awaited coffee break en route
As you enter France, you encounter many toll tax collection booths - about 18 Euros till you reach Paris

We entered Paris with Saint Denis being the last major city before it. We had us booked at Grand Hotel at the Voltaire Boulevard - but somehow we could not reach the place directly due to some reading error of the car navigation system. It took us a while to locate the hotel, in which a considerable amount of time was lost which we could have utilized for site seeings around the hotel.

entrance to the Grand Hotel Voltaire

Dumping our luggage in the hotel, we rushed out and seeking guidance from the road map, we dashed towards the Place de la Bastille, which was the nearest Paris landmark. The Place de la Bastille is the place where once the Bastille prison stood until the ‘Storming of the Bastille’ and its subsequent physical destruction between 14 July 1789 and 14 July 1790 during the French Revolution.

The former location of the fort is currently called the Place de la Bastille. It is home to the Opéra Bastille. The large ditch (fossé) behind the fort has been transformed into a marina for pleasure boats, the Bassin de l’Arsenal, to the south, and a covered canal, the Canal Saint Martin, extending north from the marina beneath the vehicular roundabout that borders the location of the fort.

The area around The Place de la Bastille is full of small eateries and other shops, cafes and restaurants. Although tired of the day long driving, we spent a few hours there before falling back to have a good night sleep - for tomorrow morning the Eiffel Tower was waiting for us. Here my account of travel to Paris ends. From here on, a number of my earlier posts begin in which I shared roaming around Paris and seeing its landmarks.

You may read now my first post on Paris: My maiden glimpse of the Eiffel Tower

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