Sunday, July 26, 2009
It is our last morning in Paris. It has been so wonderful and we feel so much at home here. It is really difficult to leave. We will definitely be back and much sooner than we thought. We had discussed taking Kenny on an Alaskan cruise for his graduation present next summer, but we may try to finagle a way to bring the family here. The apartment is very cheap and we have learned how to eat cheap here too. The really big thing would be the airfare. Hmmm.... We cleaned up the apartment and walked through Buttes Chaumont, the beautiful park nearby and made a last stop at the boulanerie on the corner. Now we are sitting here waiting for the landlady to arrive.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
For our last full day *sniff* in Paris we decided to take the “strange and interesting walk #1” described in Tom’s Guide to Paris. On the way there we made it a point to ride line 14 – a fully automated (no driver) metro train. It was way cool. We also stopped at a McDonalds – to use the bathroom, sheesh what do you think we are? Americans? – But the McCafe in the front was pretty cool so I took a picture. And I soon found out the big bouncer looking goon in the expensive suit was actually a bouncer. A bouncer at McDonalds at 9 am? Weird! He was keeping a close eye on everyone that walked in and out of the place and its not like it was a bad neighborhood. The other cool thing there was the touch screen self-order kiosks. But back to our walk - Sorry Rick Steves’ fans – Tom has a much better idea about what truly is Parisian than Rick does. I like Rick Steves and I’ve learned a lot from him – his radio show on KVPR on Saturday mornings whets my appetite for travel – but Rue Cler left me cold. In contrast Tom starts you out at St. Eustache in the Les Halles district and sends you up Rue Montorgueil which has a much more authentic feel. It is a fascinating collection of fromageries, chocolatiers, boulangeries and patisseries, butchers, fishmongers, florists, and cafes. I could spend a week there – I may actually do that next time (in fact, Juli and I are desperately trying to figure out a way to move here). St. Eustache itself is a beautiful gothic church with flying buttresses and an awesome pipe organ. We stopped at a chocolatier and had a piece of chocorange – melt in your mouth dark chocolate studded with bits of candied orange – Heavenly! and I don’t particularly like chocolate. The fruit markets smelled wonderful. If I had thought to pack a knife with me, we would have got one of those Tuscan melons, but we settled for bloedbessen – a tart berry from the Netherlands that we have seen all over the place since we got here. The smell of rotisserie chicken was killing me, but I settled for a small Quiche Loraine from a boulangerie filled with tasty treats. We then walked down the grand avenues to the Opera Garnier – famed for being the opera house on which Phantom of the Opera was based. Juli almost talked herself out of going inside, but I insisted and it was worth it. Absolutely gorgeous. We didn’t see the Phantom, but we saw the chandelier and got some great pictures. When I was researching for this trip (I know, type A), on a whim I decided to look up the cost of opera tickets – how cool would that be? I found out that nosebleed tickets could be had for only 6 euros! I was so there – then I found out that the opera season ended the week before we arrived here. C’est la vie. We walked further to the church of the Madeleine. If I remember right Eva Longoria got married here the week before I arrived in Paris two years ago. We didn’t go inside, but we did try a nutella and banana crepe from a stand nearby – oh, so good! Next came Galleries Lafayette a department store that is so full of so much stuff and people it is hard to comprehend. This is big game shopping. Wow, very overwhelming! We backtracked some and found that an impromptu concert was going on in front of the Opera house. A lively group of young people on wind and percussion were playing some really good music, so we sat on the steps of the Opera and ate some sausage, bread, and cheese we had packed with us. Then we headed back to our walk. More great shops and more discussion on how we could move here. After a short sidetrip to do some last minute shopping - Julie got a skirt and I was going to settle for a Nepalese shirt (all these native costumes must have rubbed off) but I saw a Nepalese jacket that was simply awesome and made the mistake of trying it on…well you don’t need Paul Harvey to tell you the rest of the story (I’ll post a pic later, its packed up now). We finally stopped at a café halfway up Montmartre and sat and people watched for a few delightful hours sipping espresso and tea and sharing a bowl of the best onion soup I have ever tasted. We must be fitting in, despite all the tourists, the waiter addressed me in French (they’re usually pretty good at spotting the tourists) and a passerby asked me in broken French which was the way to the basilica – I answered in French of course and left him none the wiser. Sitting there watching the world go by was so relaxing, no wonder it’s the national pastime. It was a perfect end to a perfect week.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Today was our trip to the Chateau du Versailles built by the Sun King Louis XIV. It is an absolutely gorgeous palace – actually there are several palaces there. There is and an enormous set of gardens that are stunningly beautiful. I got to tour the main palace two years ago, but this is my first visit to the gardens, the Trianon palaces, and Marie Antoinette’s domain. We spent a couple hours touring the Chateau (the main palace) and the rest of the day getting lost in the gardens – with a few picnic stops along the way. The smaller Trianon palaces were beautiful too, but Marie Antoinette’s domain was surreal. It looked like some kind of Disney fantasy hamlet and I guess that was what it was. The story behind the Trianons and the domain was that they were retreating further away from public life. The Trianons are tucked way back in the gardens and the domain was where Marie Antoinette assumed the life of a simple peasant. Well, a peasant that could create a fantasy world protected from all the harsh realities of actual peasant life. I seriously have a hard time believing that the buildings I saw there were not created when they built Disneyland Paris. Even the rabbits had little houses – creepy. If I remember the story right she actually installed some peasants there and she and her children worked the land occasionally with them and it was where she got her eggs, butter, etc. It’s kind of sweet actually. Poor Marie Antoinette so oppressed by palace life that she had to escape to faux peasantry. I don’t mean it as harsh as it sounds, although I do have a hard time feeling too sorry for the wealthy and powerful. One part by the music pavilion looked like something out of Peter Pan. I expected the Lost Boys to pop out any time. We really enjoyed our day in the gardens though. The man-made lake and the Grand Canal (it’s a mile long) were gorgeous. It would have been really cool if the warship that Louis used to sail around the lake was still there. They also said that they stocked the Grand Canal with gondolas from Venice and brought over actual gondoliers to live on the grounds and take the nobles out on the water. You could rent rowboats there now, but we decided to pass. There was no way to explore everything. I think the entire estate covers some 64 square miles. We managed to escape the thunderstorm that hit about the time we hit the smaller Trianon palace, but got rained on some when we walked to the Temple of Love. (we got soaked yesterday in a thunderstorm too, but really the weather has been great. Mostly in the 70s) After we thoroughly wore ourselves out and finally found our way back to a part of the gardens we recognized, we headed “home” with a stop at a creperie for more crepes a la champignons aux fromage and a hot dog. A hot dog! you say? Oui, a French hot dog. They split open a baguette and lay down a couple of hot dogs and mound it thoroughly with cheese. They are really good. We made it an early night since tomorrow is our last day and we have ambitious plans to hike from Notre Dame all the way up to Montmartre following a Tom’s Paris guide recommendation.