Chercher Our ParisIn October we spent eight days in Paris. We have seen a lot of movies and read a lot of books (including non-fiction) about or set in that city. It was Molly's first trip there. We were looking forward to The City of Light and Love.
We were not alone.
The Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau reports that over 40 million people visited Paris in 2017 and that more were expected in 2018 (apparently they’re still counting the 2018 people). This probably explains why, whenever we approached one of The Top Ten Sights of Paris we felt as though we were being sucked into a large tour vortex. We were.
Paris has charm and romance -- we experienced both -- but it is a big, busy city hosting Disneyland numbers of visitors, each with an individual travel vision, stamina limit and sense of personal space. We (eventually) learned that if we gave ourselves enough down time, we could enjoy Paris. But it took more down time than in other places we have been.
|The Paris We Were Looking For --|
An Afternoon In The Park With Friends
London to Paris
We traveled from London to Paris on the Eurostar train which was very comfortable. Boarding in London was very organized and our time under the Channel was not as claustro-creepy as we had worried it might feel. It's not even as creepy as taking BART under The Bay.
But do equip yourself with Euros before trying to use the toilets upon arrival in Paris. At the train station: no Euro, no pee. No credit.
Our Pied a TerreFurther (to our last post) on the topic of Weird Apartments In Major World Capitals:
|The Street Door to Chez Nous on Rue St. Denis|
The key to our (European) first floor apartment was left for us in a grubby lock box attached to a water pipe a block from the entrance to the apartment building. The rental manager's instructions cautioned us to keep an eye out for anyone watching as we entered the lock box code. We expected Simenon's Inspector Maigret to grab us by the collar and take us in for questioning at any moment . . .
Rue St. Denis is an unofficial mixed enterprize zone. By day it is a bustling garment district.
|Boxes of Fashion|
Starting mid-morning and throughout the day and evening one can see evidence of Love for Sale. One woman spent every afternoon lounging against a Vespa parked on the sidewalk, looking very Irma la Douce, though the fact that we saw her frequently suggested she wasn't operating a financially successful enterprise. We wondered if she needed a French scooter – ? We couldn’t bring ourselves to take her picture.
Nearby was one of Paris' four triumphal arches - Porte Saint Denis. We assume if de Gaulle or Hitler had used this arch, we would have been priced out of the neighborhood.
|Porte Saint Denis And Environs|
A Couple Of Museums
One of The Top Ten Sights in Paris is, of course, the Louvre. We were lucky to share our visit with San Francisco friends Christina and Martin, frequent travelers to Paris who are familiar with the ins and outs of the Louvre. This was helpful because the Louvre is huge, confusing, and really, really crowded (sorry to harp on this point but – that’s what we experienced).
|Finding Christina and Martin|
(Not In Red and White Stripes)
Our friends’ crowd survival advice was to avoid the Louvre's Greatest Hits, which is what most visitors are intent on seeing and all tour groups gather around. Excellent advice for one’s second trip. As first time visitors, we couldn’t bring ourselves to completely avoid them.
Some are on the way from here to there:
The greatest of the Greatest Hits is, of course, a little thing: The Mona Lisa.
|Yep - That's What We Saw*|
* In our prior post we acknowledged that our museum photos cannot compete with travel photos taken by professionals and posted on the Internet. However we think this one is actually better than many of the "huge-crowds-in-front-of-the-Mona-Lisa" shots we have seen.
Once we gave up on seeing HER (as Christina referred to da Vinci’s famous painting) and accepted having no more than a passing glance at the other Greatest Hits (well, we couldn’t pass on the Egyptian exhibit) . . .
|Jeeves! (Stephen Fry) --|
. . . we had a more enjoyable day.
We destressed by taking a couple of coffee/water sits and pausing for a nice lunch with a glass of wine at the Café Richelieu-Angelina inside the museum. Surprisingly good and not shockingly expensive for a major museum meal. Though one can go to the Louvre Starbucks. We kid you not.
The Islamic Art Collection was uncrowded - perhaps because the museum's Internet site had said it would be closed for the day.
We participated in Christina’s mission to see the ginormous Peter Paul Rubens’ paintings commissioned by Marie de Medici. (Christina was preparing a talk on Rubens.) Judging by the few people viewing Marie’s vanity pieces, we are not alone in our lack of enthusiasm for Rubens. But we did enjoy the information Christina provided on the paintings, the painter and Marie de Medici. Look Marie up – she was what Molly’s Oklahoma and Texas relatives would call “quite a gal”. FYI, that's not always a good thing.
[Travel Tip: Our friends’ third best piece of Louvre advice was to buy a timed-entry ticket in advance to avoid the entrance line. This can be done via the Internet before traveling. The second best advice -- Lunch With Wine.]
Our other Paris museum experience was wonderful. The Musee du Quai Branly is home to some of the best pieces of Indigenous Mexican Art we have seen anywhere. On the morning we visited the only "tour group" on site was a group of French school children.
The Branly also offers a surprisingly good museum meal. With view.
|Molly, Sun, Map and Tower|
Yes, we repeat ourselves re: museum food in Paris. Background: We purchased a $10 hotdog for a nephew at the San Francisco Natural History Museum more than a decade ago. Just a hotdog. $10. A decade ago. You have been warned.
Other Top Ten SightsAs noted, this was Molly’s first trip to Paris, so we endeavored to see many of The Top Ten Sights.
We toured Notre Dame which proved timely.
|Pre-Fire / From The Seine|
|The Obligatory Rose Window Shot|
|The Crown of Thorns Which, Amazingly|
Ended Up In Paris . . . !
|St. Joan / Maid of Orleans|
A Classic Example Of The Church And Politics
(Burned As Heritic: 1431; Cannonized: 1920)
We walked through the Pantheon. The replica of Foucault’s Pendulum was not operating – though we don’t think it was because the earth wasn’t rotating.
|Bryce - Observing|
The L’Arc de Triomphe was a walk-around.
And by then we were feeling crowded out. The Eiffel Tower had intimidatingly long lines and expensive tickets so we viewed it from the Seine.
But one of The Top Ten Sights did provide a favorite day. We spent an afternoon at the Luxembourg Gardens, where we enjoyed watching the little, wooden rent-a-sailboats.
|Launched By Push Power, Drifting In The Breeze|
Oh, And The Luxembourg Palace (Location of The French Senate)
The Luxembourg Gardens were created for Marie de Medici. Again, a recommendation to look her up: She was so manipulative that her son had her exiled. Christmas dinner - awkward.
Sights Eleven And . . .In keeping with our friends’ suggestion to avoid crowds by avoiding tourist attractors, we spent an afternoon in the Arsenal Marina area. As one disappointed Google reviewer said: “A bunch of boats”.
And the problem with that would be . . . ?
We had a nice stroll.
Theatre wasn’t really on for us, given the sad state of our French. But we arranged for a night at the Orchestre de Paris which performs at the new Philharmonie de Paris – part of a large complex of performing art spaces on the north-eastern edge of Paris. The Philharmonie looks like a silver lame costume abandoned on a dressing room floor, and its interior like the inside of a burnished spacepod. It was a wonderful evening musically and socially -- one of our few opportunities to interact with / observe Parisians not employed in the tourist sector (or at least not engaged in tourist sector employment that evening). We also had a passable meal at a Lebanese restaurant near the Philharmonie.
One day we went shopping. We wandered through Au Printemps, bought a gift and had an expensive and okay lunch on the roof where we thought we had found the worst waiter in Paris.
Nearby, at the spectacularly over-the-top Galaries Lafayette we took pictures, inside and from the observation roof:
|View From The Coffee Bar:|
We Had Plenty Of Time To Take Pictures
|A View From The Top|
and found the truly worst waiter in Paris. The more she smiled the less she remembered about our coffee order until, exuding joie de vivre - she wandered off and forgot us completely.
FoodOther than our good museum experiences and awful department store experiences, we found the tourist restaurants and cafés of Paris to be - just fine, thanks. The chance of serendipitously wandering into a charming little café with excellent food and memorably wonderful wine? Based on our eight day test wander: Very Low. Likely our bad for trusting in serendipity in neighborhoods too close to The Top Ten Sights.
In general, we found the whole sitting in an outdoor café thing disappointing. The tables are squished together to maximize occupancy -- so squished that we pined for the relative comforts of Portuguese and Spanish outdoor cafés. And the cliché that outdoor cafés are full of smokers? Not a cliché.
We still wonder from time to time how the two women who ran the restaurant outside of Notre Dame fared during the fire. Damages to national treasures are sad . . . but we fear they may not have had business interruption insurance. Or billionaire friends.
|The Café We Worry About Was Near . . .|
We sought out two restaurants, a seafood restaurant near our apartment based on a personal recommendation (thanks Martin and Christina!) and a breakfast restaurant highly rated on the Internet. We returned to the seafood restaurant, despite having had uncharacteristically incompetent service on our first visit, because the mussels were terrific. The breakfast restaurant reminded us of a place we liked in Santa Monica. The New Paris (it’s a thing) seems to be a lot like Last Year’s California or Brooklyn.
The take-home food near our apartment was disappointing until we found Rue Montorguiel. Our faith in the legend of French cuisine was somewhat restored once we happened upon this street of food stores. Two lovely, tiny roast chickens, some salads, fruit, cheese and bread made for a couple of very nice dinners “at home”. And though it was fun to “find” Rue Montorguiel by just wandering, we could have dined much better much sooner had we done a more efficient Internet search. [Travel Tip: A Google search for “food store near me” will find the nearest Monoprix (France’s Safeway). For something better and more charming, search for “market streets” and use Google Maps to find the nearest Rue Montorguiel type food shopping experience.]
Getting AroundOur apartment was located near a Metro station so we used Le Metro frequently. It was efficient and a couple of the stations smelled vaguely like a urinoir -- another cliché not a cliché! [Travel Tip: Consider if it is worthwhile to buy a travel card for Le Metro. We found the stacks of little paper tickets an invitation to disaster (dropping them, loosing them, trying to re-use a used one . . . ugh).]
Our favorite, not highly efficient, transportation method was the Batobus (not our misspelling, a French play-on-spelling) – a nautical hop-on-hop-off service that plies a circular route on the Seine. The Batobus doesn’t include the often off-sync audio tour provided on the tourist buses which, for us, was a bonus. We bought a two day ticket and enjoyed the river-view of many of The Top Ten Sights (see above) and other landmarks.
|Pont Alexandre III|
|Bryce's Favorite River Bateau --|
He Has A Small Place In His Heart . . .