Jour 19 – Eiffel Tower, Pont de l’Archevêché

6 Sep

The time had finally come – our last day in Paris. We had to make it meaningful…and we did. We began by buying a small statue to commemorate our trip. It is a replica of a midieval statue in which a man is reclining with his head in his maiden’s lap. Very sweet. We will put it in the new place.

We then bought a padlock and Sharpie and headed toward the Pont de l’Archeveche. When we crossed this bridge earlier in the trip, we were floored by all the padlocks people had attached to the wire fencing. Each had a name or names and some had pithy or sentimental sayings. On ours we wrote, “June 25, 20011 – Jeff & Joan got engaged!” What a great memory. I bet we’ll find it next time we go. If you go, will you look for it?

On to the Eiffel Tower! We thought seeing the tower at night would be the perfect way to end our trip. It was a balmy, humid evening. We considered climbing the stairs but it was hot and as you remember from Jour 19, my feet were killing me! So we decided to take the elevator with 9 million of our closest friends. As you can imagine, we had quite a wait. At last we rode up to the first level – the views are so beautiful! Then up to the top. It was dark by then and cold (yes, it was a long wait) but so spectacular. My favorite part was the light show on the hour – stunning!

We meandered our way back to our apartment around midnight – for the last time.

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18 Jour – Refuge des Fondus

10 Jul

Yesterday we decided that the last few days would be about relaxing, shopping and just hanging out. No more sightseeing! A girl has her limits, after all. I came to realize that my feet also have limits which is why we started taking the Open Air Bus. Several companies own double-decker buses with the top level open. What luxury! we could sit in comfy seats, enjoy the sights and, if we wanted, listen to some history. Of course we chose to sit on top – nice breezes and better views!

We were on our way to Montmartre again, but this time we would shop and eat fondue. The 3 meals we had to have in Paris were soufle, crepes and fondue.

Once the bus let us off in Montmartre, we strolled the neighborhood looking for last minute gifts. After little success we decided to have a drink at a cafe – Rose of course.

It was finally time for fondue. We walked up at hill to the restaurant and found a line out side waiting for the doors to open. Once opened, the fun began! As each couple entered the small, dimly lit space, the owner offered his hand to help the woman of the pair climb (yes, climb) over the table to sit against the wall. It was a narrow room with two long tables along each side. There were no openings between tables so hence the climbing. Fun! Luckily I was in pants. As decoration, the walls were covered with signatures and messages from past patrons. We meant to buy a sharpie on the way there but forgot. Oh well, we’ll just have to go back!

We had a choice of cheese or meat fondue. We chose the meat. After ordering, we were brought a plate of pickled and savory appetizers – dips, pickles, pate and cornichons. We were also asked whether we preferred white or red wine and were brought baby bottles filled with our choice. The baby bottles were a clever way for the owner to get around paying taxes on serving wine. Apparently if an establishment serves wine in glasses, it has to pay taxes. No one said anything about baby bottles, though! What a clever way to get around paying taxes! Not to mention a great gimmick written up in all the tour books.

17 Jour – Catacombs, Musee Gustave Moreau & Crepes

9 Jul

Can you say creepy? Then you’ve described the Catacombs of Paris. The Catacombs are an underground ossuary located south of the former city gate (the “Barrière d’Enfer” at today’s Place Denfert-Rochereau).

A bit of history from Wikipedia: The ossuary holds the remains of about 6 million people and fills a renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of Paris’stone mines. in the early 18th century, the cemetaries in Paris were overfull and creating less than sanitary conditions in the city. They decided to move the bones to this ossuary. Behind a procession of chanting priests, began a parade of black-covered bone-laden horse-drawn wagons that continued for years to come. In work overseen by the Inspector General of Quarries, Charles-Axel Guillaumot, the bones were deposited in a wide well dug in land bought from a property, “La maison de la Tombe Issoire” (a house near the street of the same name), and distributed throughout the underground caverns by workers below. Also deposited near the same house were crosses, urns and other necropolis memorabilia recovered from Paris’ church graveyards. The Catacombs were opened in the late 18th century. The underground cemetery became a tourist attraction on a small scale from the early 19th century, and has been open to the public on a regular basis from 1867.

I thought it would be cool as in a wax museum kind of way. However, it was quite disturbing to see bones and skulls piled high. I kept thinking about who these skeletons belonged to, what their life had been like…I felt sad.

Since I needed something a bit uplifting after that, we visited the Musée Gustave Moreau. This charming little museum is dedicated to the works of Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau (1826-1898). The museum was originally Moreau’s house, transformed by his 1895 decision into a studio and museum of his work with his apartment remaining on the first floor. Today the museum contains Moreau’s drawings, paintings, watercolors, and sculptures. A very enjoyable (and happy) way to spend a couple of hours.

Some of you know I have been dealing with a leg injury. Today for the first time, it acted up. So we decided to take an open air bus. And let me tell you – it was a joy just to sit back, be driven around and feel the breeze in our faces. A welcome change to the Metro.

Since it was Saturday and we only had two more days, we decided to go to restaurants dedicated to traditional French food. Tonight would be crepes, tomorrow would be fondue. The restaurant we chose was near the Eiffel Tower and was amazing! 142 Creperie Contemporaine was a truly French Parisian experience. We were the only tourists in the place! I had a salmon and spinach crepe and Jeff ate one with Mozzarella and ham. These were accompanied by side salads – tres fresh! To wash it all down, we chose cider. I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this but it was perfect with the crepes. Great meal to end a terrific day.

16 Jour – Opera Garnier & Cafe Universal

8 Jul

Our friends Kathy and Bob met with us before we traveled here to give us some “Paris tips”. She told us that the cafe to the right of the Opera Garnier is exquisite. Indeed it is! It was hard to get good pictures, but if you’re ever in Paris, definitely have a drink or lunch here. We had a light lunch before we visited the Opera. Delicious and the service was attentive and friendly. By the way, I want to say a word about the service in Paris. It was great! Every waiter was friendly and wanted us to be happy with our meals, etc. We did not find any of the typical stereotypes applied. Everyone was friendly and polite. We always made an effort to speak French. With our broken phrases and gesturing, it all worked well. I think they really appreciated our efforts. I always like when I can prove a stereotype wrong.

The Palais Garnier is one of my favorite buildings in Paris. A little history: It is the thirteenth theatre to house the Paris Opera since it was founded by Louis XIV in 1669. It was built on the orders of Napoleon III as part of the great Parisian reconstruction project carried out by Baron Haussmann. The project for an opera house was put out to competition and was won by Charles Garnier, an unknown 35-year-old architect. Building work, which lasted fifteen years, from 1860 to 1875, was interrupted by numerous incidents, including the 1870 war, the fall of the Empire and the Commune. The Palais Garnier was inaugurated on 5 January 1875.

As you probably know, this is the Opera House of Victor Hugo’s Phantom of the Opera. As we walked through, I could see why it inspired the tale – mysterious, grand and beautiful. We took the tour and got to see the theater, complete with the ceiling painted by Chagall. I loved every minute. A definate favorite!

The Grand Foyer at the Opera

After we left the Opera, we walked over to Jardin du Tuilleries. In the summer they set up a little carnival for children. There is a huge ferris wheel, so of course we had to get on it! Wow, the views! My favorite is always seeing Sacre Coeur in the distance. So beautiful!

After dinner we walked over to Cafe Universal to hear some jazz. There was a duo playing. The pianist was wild. He was all over the place. Made it a little difficult for the violinist. He kept getting this confused look on his face, like he was thinking, “Where in the hell is he going with this?” They did, however, do a great rendition of My Funny Valentine – really beautiful. Yet another great day in this amazing city.

15 Jour – Notre Dame & French Cooking Class

7 Jul

Our goal before we visited Notre Dame was to read The Huntchback of Notre Dame. As you can imagine that didn’t happen.  C’est la vie! There was a long line but it went quickly. I’ve found that while standing in a line in Paris you have to be rather diligent that someone doesn’t just waltz right in and cut in front of you. This happened in a bakery and at Note Dame. Both times I was able to maneuver my body in front of them to regain my rightful place and of course they didn’t say anything ’cause they knew they cut the line. Okay, I know, petty on my part – just sayin’.

Notre Dame was beautiful. The center of Paris from which all streets flow. Fascinating history and great pictures!

In the evening, we took a cooking class at La Cuisine Paris. They have classes in both French and English (we chose English) and in a variety of formats.

We cooked a simple, traditional French meal:

  • Agneau a l’ail, romarin et moutarde
  • Ecrase de pomme de terre au piment d’Espelette
  • Crepe aux fruits rouges
Sounds fancy, but essentially it was lamb chops and mashed potatoes, with fruit-filled crepes for dessert.

Our classmates came from around the world. Texas, Michigan, California, Melbourne, Vancouver, and even Paris (one expat couple who had lived there for nine years). We had a great time with a fantastic bunch of people and enjoyed a wonderful meal that we cooked.

And for the record, Jeff was the first to successfully flip a crepe in the pan without a spatula.

The Class
Smashing potatoes
Getting ready to cook the crepes
Lamb Chops
Smashed Berries
Cooking Class

14 Jour – Giverny

6 Jul

We visited Giverny, Monet’s studio, home and gardens.  A 45 minute train ride will take you to this beautiful oasis, a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

13 Jour – Rest & Restaurants

5 Jul

Rest day!! Sleep, laundry, email…

And…dinner at La Refuge du Passe. We parked our rental car on rue du Fer a Moulin, a few blocks from our apartment. As we walked by this lively restaurant we decided to try it. It features “cuisine du terroir” which I think means “of the countryside”. Whatever it means, it was delicious! Tomatoes with mozzarella, sauteed leaks, rum steak and veal all washed down with red wine. What’s not to love? The decor was a charming compilation of old theater posters and memorabilia. Good times!

Le Refuge du Passe

12 Jour – Mont Saint-Michel & D-Day Memorials

4 Jul

On the Fourth of July, we woke early to beat the crowds and experience Mont Saint-Michel during the daytime. We hiked up the grand staircase of the Abbey, beating the tour groups, and took the self-guided audio tour of this magnificent abbey. We learned about the architecture and history of the structure, as well as daily life at the Abbey.

After our tour, we walked the same cobbled streets we walked the night before, but shoulder-to-shoulder with crowds of tourists. As we said yesterday, be certain to visit late at night to appreciate the beauty in relative solitude.

We lunched in a small cafe on the upper level, with views of the channel and the mainland. Joan had mussels; Jeff had Perrier.

Jeff says: “I was hit with something that disagreed with my stomach. I’m guessing (just a hunch) that it might have been the raw ground beef I had for lunch the day before. I didn’t eat well until dinner.”

With bittersweet sorrow, we left Mont Saint-Michel and headed for the site of the D-Day landings in Normandy. We visited the American Memorial Cemetery. The displays at the visitor center were informative and very moving. It was a somber, but fitting way to spend our Fourth of July in France — remembering the sacrifices of our servicemen and women.

The drive back to Paris seemed much longer than the drive out. Avis closed at 10pm, but we didn’t make it back to the city until 10:10. On the positive side, we did get to drive around the Arc du Triomphe. Jeff did an amazing job navigating the crazy traffic — not an easy task.

Jeff adds: “The GPS unit was a lifesaver. Don’t leave Paris without it!”

11 Jour – Mont Saint-Michel at Night

3 Jul

Today is the day we visit Mont Saint-Michel. We picked up a rental car from Avis (more on that later) and headed out to Normandy. The French countryside is even more beautiful than I expected. We enjoyed sweeping views of cows grazing in pastures, rivers, forested hills and charming homes. There are even those round hay bales you’ve seen in photos and movies.

Jeff had fun while waiting for our dinner.

We stopped for lunch in Caen — about halfway between Paris and Mont Saint-Michel. Jeff ordered the steak tartare with the local favorite — cider. As is the norm in France, meals are an unhurried affair. Lunch took about two hours, but we enjoyed sitting and soaking up the atmosphere. To cap the meal, our host poured us a complimentary apertif — another local favorite: Calvados.

After two more hours of driving through the idyllic French countryside, we arrived at Le Relais du Roy — our hotel for the night. We ate in the hotel restaurant which proved to be a gourmet experience. My meal started with asparagus creme brulee. Sounds “different” but it was exquisite. My plat (what we call an entree) was salt-lamb — a regional specialty — with country vegetables. These included ratatouille, a triangle of polenta with tomato paste, and sauteed vegetables. Delicious! Jeff ordered another regional specialty — the omelet. Light and fluffy and washed down perfectly with cider.

After dinner, we walked down the causeway to view Mont Saint-Michel as the evening sun set over the English Channel. Jeff took an amazing photo:

Le Mont Saint Michel

What continues to amaze us is how late the sun stays up. The sun did not disappear until a little after 10 pm! The long days are great for seeing all the sights, but we also end up staying up quite late.

After the sun set, we entered the medieval village of Mont Saint-Michel. Walking through the winding, narrow cobblestone streets and passageways, we felt we were transported back to the 12th century, visiting the abbey after a long pilgrimage. If you ever go to Mont Saint-Michel, plan to spend some time visiting  in the evening.

Grand Rue

Grand Rue at Night

Mont St. Michel

Mont St. Michel at Night

10 Jour – The Paris Flea Market

2 Jul

Shopping!!! Clothes, jewelry, art, books, furniture…anything you’d like, you can shop till your heart’s content at Puces St. Ouen: The Flea Market at Porte de Clignancourt. Paris’ sprawling flea markets (march aux puces) are over-sized garage sales. They started in the Middle Ages when old, flea-infested clothes and discarded possessions of the wealthy were sold to eager peasants. The Puces St. Ouen has 2,000 vendors selling most anything you can think of but mostly antiques. It is a collection of individual markets in covered alleys, each with a different name and specializing in a particular angle on antiques, bric-a-brac and junk.

We walked down the “spine” of the market, Rue Des Rosiers, and explored each marche including Vernaison, Dauphine, Biron and Serpette. My favorite was Daiphine. This one had the best clothes and art. I was able to score 3 pairs of earrings for 15 euros – not bad!

We ate lunch at Chez Louisette and listened to latter-day Edith Piaf. French chansons were supported with an accordian and keyboard while the crowd sang along. Good times and good food!