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Day #1 - Friday
Our first glimpse of France was the landscape of the Charles de Gaulle airport viewed through the plane window. As we came in for the landing, it was possible to see wildflowers and grasses growing on the little islands of greenery among the runways. Cottontailed rabbits hopped around the miniature meadows.
The section of Charles de Gaulle that we landed at was new and still under construction—you could smell fresh wood and new flooring. After a very long walk, we found the exit where we met the shuttle that took us to our apartment in Montmartre.
The shuttle driver was friendly but drove like a madman. We had a riproaring ride through the French countryside, through a small town called Gosselle. Fields and old-fashioned houses with wooden shutters whizzed by. When we finally got into the city, Paris was just as Kathy expected—tall stone buildings with mansard roofs, little shops and cafes on the street level. Driving into Montmartre we passed the Moulin Rouge, and to Kathy’s surprise, Le Chat Noir!
Exhausted from our trip, we spent
most of our first day in Paris napping. But later in the day we ventured
out to buy a few things in the local shops. We bought “gana” bread
(may also be known as La Flute Gana) in the boulangerie
which tasted like more of a sourdough than a regular white baguette.
A bit of gana bread with a chunk of camembert on top was pure heaven!
Day #2 - Saturday
Yves (David’s Belgian friend from college who invited us to Paris for his wedding) had asked us to meet him for brunch which actually turned out to be an all-day whirlwind walking tour of Paris. We took the metro to the Bastille stop (the actual Bastille prison no longer exists) and found Yves standing in front of the Opera. He lead us through a street market where you could buy all kinds of fruits, vegetables, herbs and seafood to an Algerian tea room (La Ruche à Miel, 19 rue d’Aligre).
Then we set off on our walking tour. First stop was the Marais, one of the oldest districts in Paris. This is the main Jewish neighborhood in Paris and we walked by a big synagogue that was just letting out. David borrowed someone’s yarmulke and went inside to see the sanctuary and the beautiful stained glass windows. We could not take pictures of the temple as people were worried about security issues—anti-Semitism is unfortunately a problem. As it was Saturday, most of the stores and restaurants were closed. We passed a Judaica store called “Diasporama”! The Marais is also the main gay neighborhood of Paris and has the prerequisite trendy restaurants and shops. We saw balloons, posters and streamers put up for the big Pride parade later that day. Gay and lesbian couples were everywhere.
We had lunch outside at a little creperie called the “Cat-Man Cafe.” Don’t know the reason for the name as there were no felines in sight. But David had a yummy crepe with a chicken and mushroom filling. At a cafe or restaurant you are always brought a small basket of baguette slices. Paris is known for it’s wonderful bread however sometimes these baskets have bread that is not so fresh so you can’t use that as a measure of Parisian bread. However this time it was particularly old so Yves complained and depsite their protestations that it was fresh and all they had they brought him a new basket of fresher bread!
As we walked, Yves was constantly pulling us into little out-of-the-way courtyards and alleys. Away from the noise of the street and surrounded by the faces of ancient buildings, it felt like stepping back in time. We took a break and sat for a bit in the Place des Vosges, the oldest park in Paris which dates from the 17th century. It is quite beautiful with fountains and trees surrounded by quintisential historic Parisian buildings.
From the Marais, we walked to Ile de la Cité (also known as Ile de Cité which means city island, the heart of Paris) and stopped briefly to see the Holocaust memorial — a solemn place (see also). Yves definitely kept us moving, however. From there we crossed the Seine to the Rive Gauche and the Quartier Latin. It is full of interesting book stores and cafes. We finally took a rest at the famous Cafe aux Deux Magots (see also) (former haunt of Sartre and de Beauvoir) and met up there with Yves’ friend Steve from California. Crowded with tourists and fashionably-dressed Parisians, the cafe is quite expensive and is obviously exploiting its famous history. However it is worth it to go at least once on your visit.
We ordered glacé (ice cream),
sorbet, and limonade. The chocolate ice cream was extremely dark
and rich — David loved it. Yves had mango, lemon, and berry sorbet
which was quite flavorful. Kathy preferred the limonade which was sweet
but not sickeningly so like American lemon/lime sodas. It was fun
talking with Steve who used to work as a gem cutter. His wife, he
said, has cut stones that are now in the Smithsonian. After our break at
the Deux Magots we walked around a bit more in the crowded 5th. Then
we took the Metro back to Montmartre and picked up more groceries before
collapsing at the apartment.
Day #3 - Sunday
Suffering from jet lag, we found that it was very difficult to get up in the morning! Kathy wanted to go to the antique flea market at Porte De Clignancourt that she had read about in the Fodor’s guide. It turned out to be very disappointing. Basically, when you get out of the metro station, there is an initial market that sells shirts, pants and tourist crap. David bought a really funny alien lighter with red flashing eyes! The market had every type of chatchki you can imagine such as snow globes and Eiffel Tower key chains and replicas etc. (Read more about buying chatchkis in the Paris Info section on this site!) You have to keep going beyond that to find the real antique flea market. Once we finally got there, everything was expensive to the point of the ridiculous. You could probably spend some time bargaining but even then who knows if it would be worthwhile.
After stopping for sandwiches we took the metro back to Ile de la Cité to see the cathedrals. The first stop was St. Chapelle, built in the 13th century. There was a separate chapel on the main floor for the common people, but the largest and most spectacular (on the second floor) was built for the king and nobility. The enormity of the place and the brilliance of the stained glass was awe-inspiring. As a symbol of royal privilege over the common people, it did not surprise Kathy to read that St. Chapelle was burned during the Revolution. Fortunately for us, it was restored in the 19th century.
Next stop was Notre Dame. Again, the enormity of the cathedral and the beauty of the windows was incredible. Statues of the different saints lined the walls and hundreds of tables of candles gave off a beautiful light. Many people were there to pray and others were respectful and quiet. Just being in Notre Dame was a spiritual experience.
It was relatively cool in the cathedrals, but outside was baking hot. We stopped for a much needed late afternoon snack at a nearby cafe. David had a croque monsieur (ham & cheese sandwich with melted cheese on top as well) and Kathy had a Nutella crepe (yum!!). We were both hot but Kathy wanted to browse the “bouquiniste” stalls along the Seine where they sold old books and artists’ prints. Kathy bought a Christmas tree ornament and found (to her amazement) a CD of Yvette Guilbert and Aristide Bruant. The Bruant songs were recorded in 1910-- here was her little piece of history to take home.
We returned to the apartment and showered. Ready to drop from exhaustion but hungry once again, we ventured out to Pigalle and ate in a Japanese restaurant. (I believe it was simply called Restaurant Japanoise. It’s the only one closest to the Pigalle metro stop going down the street in the general direction of Sacre Coeur.) We had yakatori (grilled meats and seafood on skewers) which was wonderful and quite tasty. One skewer even had a beef and cheese combo — this was definitely Japanese/French fusion cuisine! The waitstaff spoke only a little English but were quite friendly and helpful.
It was remarkable how late sundown
was in Paris. It really didn’t begin to get dark until 10 pm or so.
This allowed for more sightseeing and daylight type activities (energy
level permitting!) later in the evening.
Day #4 - Monday
Monday was cool and rainy, a great day to go to the Louvre, n’est-ce pas? Non! After waiting in a security line for almost an hour and then another 30 minutes or so for an automated ticket machine that broke down, we gave up and left. The Louvre is attached to an underground mall (the Louvre Carrousel) so we had lunch in the food court. It was American-style in the extreme and featured food from all over the world. However, we ended up paying a lot of money for a pretty mediocre lunch.
We walked off lunch with another marathon journey. From the Louvre, we walked through the Tuileries which now features a little rundown amusement park midway with rides and games, etc. Kathy had to stop and put a Euro in the gypsy fortune-teller machine, but has yet to translate the fortune. There were beautiful little carousels in the Tuileries and throughout Paris.
The weather was very strange, windy and alternating between sun and rain. We continued past the Place de la Concorde and down the Champs-Elysees. We walked all the way down to the Arc de Triomphe but decided not to spend the money (€7) to go to the top. The Champs Elysees was great for people-watching as there were tourists from all over the world. Everything exclusive and expensive—from car dealerships to clothing stores and fancy patisseries line the street.
We rode the Metro to La Tour Eiffel where the sun finally broke through the clouds. We took the elevator all the way to the top, marveled at the views of Paris, and took pictures. Gustav Eiffel’s apartment is preserved at the top and features wax figures of Eiffel and Thomas Edison who actually came to visit him. A lower tier featured a really fascinating short film explaining the history of the Tower without the use of language. Kathy found the history to be extremely interesting.
It took a long time to get the elevator back to the ground, but we finally made it. We stopped at a nearby cafe for dinner which clearly catered to American tourists. Cheeseburgers were on the menu and the waiter spoke English. David had steak and fries and Kathy had julienne salad. (There is really only one kind of salad in Paris, apparently, and definitely only one kind of salad dressing! It is white and like a thin mayonnaise. Salads seem to be comprised of bitter greens, tomato, swiss cheese, ham, olives and canned corn, also sometimes hardboiled egg. ) More ice cream (glacé) for dessert which was excellent once again! Have to be careful though because some cafe’s like this one, charged more for a soda (€7.50) than beer or wine.
After dinner we went for a cruise on a Bateaux Parisienne ship not far from the Eiffel Tower. In spite of the cool air and little spritzes of rain we sat outside instead of under the canopy. We listened to an audioguide in English about the historic sites along the Seine. True to everything we’d read about the Bateau rides on the Seine, we saw couples snuggling and smooching on the riverbanks! A photographer took photos of all the boat passengers before we left the dock. We had decided not to buy a photo to save money, but it turned out to be a really nice picture and we relented.
There are a few different boat companies that run Siene cruises from various points such as the docks near the Eiffel Tower and Pont du Neuf on Ile de Cité. Some allow you to get on and off at various points of interest all day like a water taxi and others run a round trip scenic cruise. I would suggest taking one which has boats with seats on the top of the boat for an unobstructed 360 degree view (Bateaux Mouche)! Otherwise your view is obstructed by the canopy or the engine smokestacks.
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