That Trip… Quatorzième Jour: Midnight in Paris

On our last day in Paris, I wanted to shop. We started with Rue Montorgueil, which was interesting enough, with its cafés and food supply shops. Onward to Galleries Lafayette, with a detour to l’Opera first. Very very grand everything, from the grand staircase to the halls, and the main auditorium. Elaborate details everywhere you looked – the chandeliers, the set designs, the floor, the clock. Beautiful Chagall on the ceiling. Morning well spent.

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Galleries Lafayette was my worst nightmare come true. Because of the sales in all shops, there is a flood of people, and Galleries Lafayette was full of Asians looking for bargains on their favourite brands. We hadn’t even venture into the Louis Vuitton store because of the long queue there! We ran out in record time, had a big lunch of soup/ sandwich/ burger, and headed off to look for Berthillon ice cream on Île de la Cité. Had our scoops, and started to walk home, zigzagging through every connecting street between Rue de Temple and Rue des Archives.

Completely dissatisfied with the (non) shopping, I searched for the Merci shop, one of the last items on the recommendations list, and finally found the spot. This concept store had some fun, quirky stuff that I was so happy to buy.

We had a little rest after that, and post dinner of à emporter neighbourhood pizza, we set out with the camera and tripod for some night photography of our favourite tower.

All the way to Trocadéro just before 11 pm in time to set up the camera and get some shots of the sparkling Eiffel Tower:

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Our final stop was at the Louvre, for some pictures if the illuminated pyramids. Not as grand as the Eiffel Tower, but a quiet dignity nevertheless.

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And just as we were being shooed out of the Louvre, we had our final glimpse of the sparkling tower. What a way to end an exciting holiday!

That Trip… Treizième Jour: Two Towers

This day was like a grand finale to our holiday. We’d already got lucky with the Eiffel Tower; our tickets were for Thursday, not Wednesday, and after a 2-day strike the tower opened and visitors were allowed up.

First we made a superhuman effort to get out of home by 9 to queue up for the Notre Dame climb. Thankfully the queue was not too long yet, but it was a little wet and miserable morning, only made bearable by a fresh hot Nutella crepe. The Notre Dame Cathedral isn’t much different from other cathedrals we’ve seen, but it is the exterior that is the big draw. I have always thought the structure ugly. The tower is tall, around 350+ steps, but the climb is punctuated either for buying tickets, or for viewing levels, so it’s not as strenuous as the Arc the Triomphe, all 284 steps in one go.
When you climb the Notre Dame tower, not only do you get treated to fabulous city panoramas, but also come face to face with those ugly, vicious gargoyles that lend the Notre Dame it’s character. And you understand how ugly is beautiful. This morning I changed my opinion of this building, feeling every bit of its grandeur.
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Being close enough to home, we walked up to the Marché des Enfants Rouges for a falafel lunch, and took a train to the Eiffel Tower. No surprises here, predictably the crowds are large, there’s a carnival atmosphere, and long queues for everything. While we’d bought our tickets online already, we still had to wait in line for the elevators. And the views from the top – wow! The history of the tower is as colourful as you’d expect – one man’s vision, derided by his peers, threatened to be torn down, how it was saved by aligning it to the future, and now is the symbol of Paris. (There’s a nice little app to read about it on your phone as you wait in those lines.)

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Oh lovely tower, how I will miss you!

That Trip…Douzième Jour: Swinging Fortunes

When you wake up and see a clear sunny morning, you think nothing can go wrong on this day. So you walk energetically all the way to the catacombs, and find a mile-long queue with no hope of getting in for 3 hours at least. 😦

Luckily, you’ve passed some Lebanese food shops on the way, so you are motivated to walk back, pick up some kebabs and falafel, and you realise you’re so close to Jardin du Luxembourg, so you go and have a repeat picnic. 🙂

Then you scramble to get a refund for the Eiffel Tower tickets because they are on strike, and suddenly you find that your tickets are for the next day, so you can jolly well hold on for another day! 🙂

By now you’re standing on Île de la Cité, but the queues are long for Saint Chapelle and the Notre Dame tower. So you queue up for entering the cathedral, and get in quickly enough. You’re tired and need a pick me up, and you walk right into a pretty alley and find a cupcakery. 🙂

The coffee and cupcake make you delusional, and you believe that the Paris Opera is close enough to walk. You hobble over, walk all around to the entrance and find that they closed 1 minute ago. 😦 You can barely move, you rest on the steps of the opera and watch a man drag and set up a piano all by himself, then play some classical pieces effortlessly. 🙂

You take a deep breath and decide to tackle the mighty Louvre, but not before peeking into a few shops, all of which have gone on SOLDÉS -50%! 😕

There is no queue to enter the Louvre, so you lower yourself into the base of the pyramid, use their lovely loos, then head straight for Venus de Milo. 🙂

You’re really there to see the most famous painting in the world, not for its art alone, but for the scandal generated when someone tried to steal it. You have to go past a whole lot of peintures Italienne and see that Leonardo had a few more beautiful portraits that nobody cares about. Mona Lisa has a wry smile watching all the people elbowing each other to get a photo with her. :-/

You’re in the Impressionist phase and want to look at the French paintings, but to get there you need the stamina of a marathoner, to climb 150 steps. Then you need the stamina of a I-don’t-know-what to look at rows and rows of art, without finding a single Monet or Renoir. 😦 So you ask someone and they point you in the opposite direction from where you came. So you go back all the way seeing all those paintings all over again, and find what you want, and flop on the bench, not willing to move. You would like to see some of the Dutch paintings in the next pavilion, but your body really doesn’t want to move. 😦

After another deep breath (this is your 1264th), you haul yourself out of the pyramid and give yourself a foot massage at ground zero. :-{

You start the long walk home, looking for dinner that’s not (a) cold sandwiches, and (b) Nutella crepe. You jump for joy on spotting a couscous takeaway, and order a lot of food. You get home, eat a sizeable portion of that steaming hot food, chase it down with a glass of wine or two, and collapse into bed, dreaming about the gargoyles of Notre Dame :-O

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That Trip…Onzième Jour: A Beautiful Day

The day was to be spent on the islands. But the queue to the tower of Notre Dame was looooong, so we nonchalantly walked right past, shared a Nutella crepe to keep our strength up, and found our way to the Latin quarter instead. That’s the area on the left bank, across the Pont Archevêché, around the Sorbonne University, so named because the Uni students spoke Latin in the old days.
It’s a lovely area, full of young folks, plenty of niche libraries, not so touristy.
We walked to the Pantheon, and were reminded of the one in Rome, only from the outside. This one is a tomb, which holds the remains of the most prominent contributors of the country (except the military who are in Les Invalides), and no politicians, rightfully so. An interesting fact about the Pantheon other than its stated purpose is that Foucault first demonstrated his pendulum experiment suspended from the dome.

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It was a lovely warm day, perfect for a picnic. We’d passed through a market earlier on, and went back to pick up some food and wine for the picnic. There was a queue at the Boulanger – it was that good!

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Heading off to the Luxembourg Gardens, we found a cool bench and enjoyed our merry meal of hummus, basil tapenade, red peppers stuffed with feta, baguette and wine. Magnifique! And the 20 minute snooze after that was a must-do!!

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Then on towards the Musée d’Orsay, via the Institute of France, a big imposing building where they decide what new words to add to the language, and the Seine, with the old bookstalls selling all kinds of knick-knacks.

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Getting into the Musée d’Orsay was a breeze with the museum pass (now we’ve recovered the value of that pass). It’s a massive old building that was once a train station, and now has thousands of artworks. Our art preferences are not very developed. We stuck to our favourite Van Gogh and the impressionists. Some of them were old friends – they’d come to Singapore, and Vaishnavi & I had seen the exhibition together. That was nicer because they let you take pictures, unlike at this museum. Of course there were many many more to admire here, in their permanent home, and 2 hours is too less a time to spend, including a quick cup of coffee in their ornately decorated café.

We were at the museum until closing time, and as we stepped out, a few street performers had started their various acts right outside the museum.

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Such a clear and sometimes sunny day was just right for a visit to Trocadéro, for (more) Eiffel Tower photography. We got distracted by the Seine river cruise instead, and spent an hour admiring the bridges and monuments along the river.

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Back to the Eiffel, time to thaw in the sunshine and finish the remains of the picnic lunch with more bread.

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And then it hit us. We have tickets to get to the top of the tower on Wednesday, but the tower staff are on strike. WHAT?!?

That Trip… Dixième Jour: The Glory of Napoleon, and Some More

Souvik and I had a long debate on whether to buy the Paris Museum Pass, and finally decided yes. Then we had to juggle our itinerary to include a few museums to make the pass worthwhile. Yes, we’ve got the Louvre in now, as well as the Musée D’Orsay, but agreed to start with the most manageable Musée de L’Orangerie.

The Musée de l’Orangerie is best known for the being the permanent home of Nymphéas, a series of large paintings of water lilies in two oval galleries designed by Monet himself. I believe we had our money’s worth, just seeing these water lilies on such a grand scale.

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Next stop: across the Seine to Les Invalides, built in the 17th century by Louis XIV as a hospital for unwell soldiers. It is also the final resting place of Napoleon, and has some military museums too.

The structure itself is on a grand scale, but I can’t say much about France’s military history, and the section on the world wars seemed to focus far more on the army uniforms than anything else. Well, this is France, the fashion capital of the world, so I suppose that’s to be expected. The church is grand too, and so is the tomb, but we came away unimpressed. The ornate dome is inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and has a way of popping up in many of the panoramic photos.

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We weren’t ready to tackle another museum today, so walked back to the right bank to Place de la Madeleine. A Greek-styled church built as a temple to the glory of Napoleon’s army, La Madeleine is now known for the gourmet and haute couture shops around. We had a bit of retail therapy, shopping for mustard at Maille and then macarons at Ladurée.

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By now my feet were killing me, and we had a long trudge home. Also, the sun had come out after ages, so the crowds on the street had doubled. I was grumpy-groany all the way back, and relieved to flop on the sofa. After resting our tired feet, we decided on dinner at Chez Omar, recommended highly by Dan, just 5 minutes from home. We got there early, having heard reports of long waiting queues. The speciality of Chez Omar is couscous, the quantity sumptuous, and the taste divine. It was such a pleasure to eat hot food after ages! And the hot sauce accompaniment – off the charts!

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Good food equals happiness, and heavy meal means that Souvik quickly falls asleep. I let him. Until 9.15pm. The sky was clear, a perfect night for photography from the top of Arc de Triomphe this time. Still not recovered from the day’s exertions, we took the train. Waved our museum pass at the entrance, but we had to climb those 284 steps again. And quickly. So there we were, me huffing, not permitted to use the tripod, taking long exposure shots at night. I will surely cringe when I see these on the laptop! But Champs Élysées looked so beautiful!

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The iPhone didn’t do too bad either:

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We were all shooed out of there at 10 minutes to 11, not even allowed to hang out until the hour when the Eiffel Tower would sparkle. Spoilsports! I caught sight of the moon rising, and went back for a very quick shot.

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Down below, it was easier to play with exposures, and we had a few good ones, including a portion of the Tower in its glittering glory.

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By now I’d used up all my energy reserves. Getting home, we decided that a midnight snack of La Fermiere yoghurt was the perfect way to end the day!

That Trip… Neuvième Jour: Twinkle Twinkle Little Tower

Our Sunday was entirely dictated by what would be open – nothing! We had bought tickets for the cruise on the Canal Saint Martin, and what better day than the one when everything else is closed. We walked to the Place de La Bastille, just a little over a km from home.
The Bastille is one of the most famous icons of France, but there’s nothing left of the former prison. The only monument is the colonne de Julliet.

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However, among the modern day attractions is the very exciting Sunday Market, but we had no time to stop and stare. Still managed a few photos:

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The other sight that made Souvik bemoan missed opportunities was that of people running – not just this race, but all over, Sunday runners.

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The only place we were running to was the port at Bastille, the starting point of our cruise. We got there just in time,and were off almost immediately. The canal cruise has no major monuments to view, but its the crossing of the locks that is the point of interest. There is a height difference of 24m from one end of the canal to the other, which is crossed by passing through 8 locks, each one raising the boat by 3m. And a very interesting operation is that. Adding to that, there are a couple of ‘turning bridges’ and one bridge that gets raised to let the boats pass. And the section of the canal is ‘underground’, just for a little more spice to the trip. Wow!

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I must mention that Souvik’s favourite sight was of one of the bridges on which a French movie, Amelie, was shot. I guess we’ll be watching that one once we get back home.

The cruise boat dropped us off at Parc de la Villette, and we needed the walk back, having had very little physical activity since the morning. Catching interesting sights along the way was a bonus.

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And taking a detour into the Marche des Enfants Rouges for a falafel sandwich was totally worth it. We have to go back there to eat; it’s just 300m from home!

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For the first time on this holiday, we were home in the afternoon, and I was able to have that beloved siesta. Souvik went out to run in the evening, and came home drenched. We decided to brave all odds to go up the Tour (tower) Montparnasse for the panoramique night views.

The Montparnasse tower is the ugliest building in the city of Paris, responsible for the ruling that no building higher than 7 floors will be allowed in the city. It has the best view because that’s the only place from where you can’t see the tower! And there we were at 10pm, still in daylight, howling winds and freezing cold.

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The sparkling lights on the tower were so pretty that we waited for darkness to watch them again at 11pm. And tried to catch some other prominent structures, all lit up too.

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We walked back home in an attempt to thaw, and were treated to a third sparkle at midnight, crossing the Seine. Souvik insists, this trip will be memorable, not so much for the view, as for the bone-chilling experience!

That Trip…Huitième Jour: A touch of the Bohemian

Our next stop in Paris was the area of Montmartre. Only about 3km from home, we set off walking again, this time through some more residential and humbler areas of Paris. The grocery shops, ATMs and other utilitarian spots that stayed out of view on the first day showed themselves up. I hobbled up the Rue de Temple (foot cramps, you see), we had our late breakfast of coffee and croissant.

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We turned left at the Republique statue, onto Boulevard de Magenta. It was Souvik’s day to navigate, and he did fine. It was a straightforward route, turning left onto Bd de Clichy, past a lot of wedding dress shops, up the hill to La Basilique du Sacre Cœur.

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It was a cold and windy day, inside the Basilique was warm but imposing. The place was teeming with tourists and touts, and we had enough quickly. We wanted to head to Rue Lamarck for lunch, but not before me doing to Souvik what he does to me sometimes – not believing the navigator. The Good Lord was watching, and made us climb the hill a second time as punishment. Now cold and tired, we still trudged to this cafe called Soul Kitchen. One of the owners/chefs here is the daughter of the couple who run a restaurant in Itterswiller, Alsace, and had given us the address. We were curious, so we stepped in. The cosy feeling in the cafe, plus the delicious aromas of food, and we were sold. The meal was as good as the smell, and we were transported back to Alsace with the 3-course set, though much more reasonable portion sizes. The highlight was the tomato soup and scone au Parmesan, and the dessert of frommage blanc with homemade jam. Ummmmm.

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After this deeply satisfying meal, we were rejuvenated to climb that hill for the third time, now headed to Place du Tertre, the artists’ hangout, my favourite part of Paris so far.

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The crowning glory was this man playing a beautiful version of Debussy’s Claire de Lune, setting up the mood of romantique Paris.

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Place du Tertre was as bohemian as an artists’ village ought to be. Souvik found a movie store, I found a quirky souvenir shop – Le Chat Noir, France’s answer to Hello Kitty! We then strolled over to the sleaze district of Pigalle, past the sex shops to admire from outside the Moulin Rouge.

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The walk back home via Rue Pierre Fontaine and Grand Boulevards had a few good food stops –
Chocolate

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Yoghurt La Fermiere

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Some bread, cheese, ham and wine, for a happy dinner at home

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With just a week in Paris, we’ve made a complex itinerary based on recommendations from French and Francophile friends and our own wish list. There’s river and canal cruises, marché des enfant rouges, Notre Dame, la Conciergerie, top of the Eiffel Tower, Trocadéro, Montparnasse, place de la Madeleine, the catacombs, not to mention interesting shops, macarons, glacés, and moutarde to chase.

If you have a favourite store/ spot in Paris, please go ahead and share!