Paris: Part II

Today, I’m picking up our France trip recaps on our third day in Paris, which was extra special, because we celebrated one year of wedded bliss! The year flew by so fast, and celebrating in Paris on an absolutely gorgeous day was the perfect way to mark the occasion.

We started the day out at Notre Dame Cathedral. The cathedral is considered one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture. It is extremely ornate and detailed—it’s no wonder that construction took about 200 years—and is probably best known for its stained glass Rose windows, the gargoyles that line the façade, bells and Quasimodo (have you ever seen the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame? It cracks me up how completely opposite it is from the book).

If you want to be able to go up into the tower, I would probably recommend getting there much earlier than we did. When we arrived around 11, the line stretched down the block and there was a 90 minute wait to go up. We decided to save that for our next trip. Instead, we stopped by the Crypte Archéologique de Notre-Dame, which is an underground museum that houses remnants of the early Roman tribes the settled in Paris long ago. It’s kind of eerie to see the ruins and the artifacts that have been preserved from those early civilizations, but it just underscores what a rich history the city has.

Our next stop was La Sainte-Chapelle. The chapel was built by Louis IX as part of the royal palace. The palace today house government offices, and the chapel has become kind of obscured as the complex was built up around it. Definitely put it on your list of things to see, because it’s easy to walk by without knowing what you are missing out on.

The chapel houses the most extensive collection of stained glass from the 13th century. Amazingly, the structural support is very minimal, so when you stand in the center of the upper chapel, you can feel all of the color and light just pouring in. It is an absolutely spectacular sight.

Upper Chapel in St. Chapelle

We stopped for lunch at an outdoor café. I don’t know if I mentioned the love of baguette sandwiches—particularly those made with ham and cheese—that I developed on the trip. I don’t even like ham and cheese that much in real life, but for some reason, I could not stop myself from ordering it when I saw it on a menu. There was just something about the whole combination—the fresh, crusty bread, creamy butter and cheese, and salty ham—that was so satisfying to me (Randomly, the best one that I had was one that Chester and I bought at a café and shared on our second day in France, while we drove from Rouen to Bayeux. I think I had just taken a big bite out of it when we got pulled over).

Anniversary Lunch. Ham and Cheese Baguette and Omlette

We rounded out our tour of churches with a stop at the Pantheon. Originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, who is said to have saved Paris from an attack by Attila the Hun, today it is the final resting place of many of the heroes of France, including Victor Hugo, Pierre and Marie Curie, Alexandre  Dumas, and Voltaire to name a few.

To commemorate our anniversary, we left a lock on the Pont des Arts Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that stretches over the Seine to link the Institute De France and the Place de Louvre. Hundreds of locks in all shapes, sizes, and colors have been attached to the bridge by husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, friends, (and probably random hook-ups too) to signify their undying love for each other. How romantical.

I’ve read a couple of things online that said that the city thinks that the locks are an eyesore and plans to remove them from the bridge. I really hope they don’t. It’s such a nice, sweet tradition. And, I’m sure even if they did, people would just continue on with the tradition and the bridge would be full of locks again in no time. In any case, there are police patrolling the bridge, probably to discourage this practice, so we just waited until they had their backs turned, picked out a good spot for our lock, attached it to the gate, and threw the key into the Seine. Now, Chester will really be stuck with me forever. Chester geotagged our lock with his phone so that maybe someday we can come back and find it. That would be pretty cool.

Defacing Public Property

After a quick trip back to the apartment to change (the mountain man left so we got to move into his room. Hooray for being able to shower whenever we wanted!), we headed out for a celebratory dinner at Paul Chene.

The restaurant is located in the Trocadero neighborhood, and has been around since 1959. It’s a favorite of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip; Jean Gabin (do I have any Les Mis fans here? He played Jean Valjean in one of the film adaptations of the book. Just a bit of trivia for you, should you ever be on Jeopardy), a popular French actor dined there often too. He has a mackerel dish named after him and his regular table, where we sat, had his picture above it.

The service was impeccable and typically French. The maître’d kissed my hand and flirted with all of the female customers (I thought it was funny that they gave me a menu without any pricing information included). The waitress expertly juggled refilling water glasses, clearing plates, and making Crepes Suzette behind the bar throughout the night.

This was easily the best meal that we had in France, if not one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my life. I started out with the fish soup. I thought it would be similar to the stew I had for lunch at Mont St. Michel, with whole chunks of fish. Instead, it was a velvety, flavorful puree, which was accompanied by bowls of croutons, cheese, and Dijon mustard to use as a garnish. The portion size—and in fact, all of the portion sizes for the evening—was extremely generous. I had to make myself stop eating it so that I could have room for the rest of the meal! Chester had the langoustine salad, which I didn’t try, but it must have been good because he decided that langoustines were his new favorite thing.

I don’t usually order steak when I’m out because I can never finish it. But, I figured it was our anniversary, and I hardly ate any of the steak that we had at our wedding reception (too excited to eat!), so that’s what I chose for an entrée. They brought out at least half of a cow, which was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and served with a rich truffle sauce. A ridiculously large plate of thin, crispy French fries, served with a ramekin of sea salt, accompanied the dish. They were as addictive as potato chips (needless to say, I couldn’t finish either dish). Chester had a porterhouse cut veal chop, served with a side of egg noodles. We hadn’t had a meal that was served with any type of starch but potatoes up until that point in the trip, so I thought was weird. But when they combined with the rich morel sauce that accompanied the veal, it reminded me of beef stroganoff.

Of course, I managed to find room for dessert. I ordered the profiteroles, which were served with vanilla ice cream (I was surprised, but glad, that they didn’t use pastry cream). The waitress doused the entire dish in a rich chocolate sauce. When I couldn’t fit any more of the puff pastry and rich ice cream, I just spooned that up like it was soup (I know, I’m classy). Chester had the Crepes Suzette, which as I noted were made to order, served with house made orange liquor.

The pacing between the courses was perfect. We didn’t feel rushed at all, but it wasn’t like some places where we waited and waited and waited for the check. When we left three hours later, it was raining, but the maître’d had already called us a taxi to take us home. And, luckily, that was the only time it rained on the entire trip.

After that meal, it was a good thing we had a lot of walking planned for Sunday, our last day in Paris! We started the day out at the Hotel des Invalides. This huge complex houses museums and monuments related to military history, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for veterans.

The main reason for our visit was to see Napoleon’s tomb. Chester was a history major in college, and studied Napoleon extensively, so this was one part of the trip he was really looking forward to.

Chester Channels Napoleon

Napoleon died in exile in Saint Helena and was originally buried there. But, in the mid-1800s Emperor Louis-Philippe decided to transfer his body back to France. A national funeral was held, and a grand sarcophagus, which is made out of Russian red porphyry and actually holds six separate coffins with Napoleon’s remains, was constructed under the stunning, gold dome of the Eglise du Dome Church.

Eglise Du Dome Church

Inscriptions detailing all of the great things Napoleon are etched around the rotunda. The tomb itself is surrounded by 12 statues representing his victories, and at the back of the crypt is a gigantic statue of the man himself in his coronation robes. A bit over the top, yes?

After paying homage to Napoleon, we walked over to the Eiffel Tower, since we had timed lift tickets. We grabbed a snack while we waited for 1:00 to roll around. A hot dog in a baguette is just wrong. Way too much bread!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I highly recommend buying tickets in advance. There’s a designated line for advanced ticket holders, and although there was still a bit of a wait to actually get into the lift, at least you get to bypass the crazy ticket window lines.

Self-portrait under the Eiffel Tower.

Our tickets just got us to the second floor, but that was high enough for me. I’m sure I would have freaked out at the very top. Be patient when you get to the observation deck. It will be crowded, but sooner or later there will be a break in the crowd and you’ll be able to appreciate the views around Paris.

View to the top, from the second level.

View from the Effiel Tower, looking towards Montemarte

When we were back on ground level again, we headed down to the Musee D’Orsay, which is housed in a beautiful building that used to be a train station on the left bank of the Seine.

We visited on the first Sunday of the month, when admission is free, so there was a bit of a wait to get in. But, it was nowhere near as crowded and overwhelming as the Louvre. It was definitely my favorite museum of the trip, and is not to be missed if you are a fan of Impressionism, as it houses an extensive collection of Impressionist artworks by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, and others.

After the museum, it was snack time, so we meandered over to Laduree, the birthplace of the double-decker macaroon. Wikipedia tells me that they sell 15,000 macaroons every day, which, based on the crowd which was lined up nearly out the door, and the pretty green bags that I saw every other tourist toting around during our time in Paris, seems pretty accurate.

Laduree has three locations in the city; we visited the one on the Rue Royale. Next door, to the shop, there is a tea room, where you can sit to have your snack, but we opted to get some to go (mostly because there was a Starbucks nearby and we were in the mood for full sized coffee). The inside of the shop looks like every little girl’s (well, at least this little girl’s) dream—light pinks and greens with gold accents everywhere, pedestals piled high with mouthwatering sweets, and the smell of sugar in the air.

I picked out ten flavors to sample. That little pink box of goodness wasn’t cheap, but oh my goodness, are they worth it. A chewy, melt in your mouth shell gives way to a sweet, creamy center. The vanilla, coconut, salted caramel, and chocolate flavor were my favorites–they tasted exactly what they were supposed to taste like.

Snack time!

Unfortunately, they only keep for about three days, so we weren’t able to take any home with us. Ever since, I’ve been wanting to make macaroons at home myself, but I know I’ll just be disappointed. Luckily, on August 26, Laudree is opening a shop in New York City, so you can bet that every time I visit, I’ll be stopping by.

For our last activity in Paris, we planned to go on a boat tour, a ticket for which was included in our Paris Pass (I told you it was a good deal!). Since we had time to kill beforehand, we ended up going to this random restaurant, overlooking the river beforehand. I do not recommend it. The only nice part about it is the view of the Seine. Otherwise, the servers were not very nice and the food is not very good.

The tour, however, was a nice way to end our time in Paris and provided a different vantage point to admire the monuments and bridges and to take in all of the activity—couples strolling, people walking dogs, dancing, and street musicians performing—on the banks of the river.

Au Revoir, Paris. One last view of the Effiel Tower, from a boat on the Seine.

Paris absolutely lives up to the hype. I cannot wait to go back (I just hope our lock will still be there!).

Next time I post about our trip, we’ll be heading to the sunny and hot South of France!

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