Paris: Part One

The computer geeks saved Chester’s memory card! Here’s one of his photos!

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been back from our France trip for more than a month. Those two weeks were the best, and I’m glad to be reliving them through these posts. I’m also glad that when I’m 90, I’ll be able to refer to the Internets to remember what I did and ate in the good old days, when I can no longer do or eat anything worth writing about.

Anyway, in my last post about the trip, we made it to Paris relatively unscathed (if you don’t count the slight carsickness on my part). Those four-and-a-half days were the longest stretch of time that we stayed in one place during the trip. It was nice not to heave our bags up and down hotel stairs every day, and also to be in a bustling city after a few days in farm country. I loved every single second of our time in Paris, and I’m already thinking about when we can go back.

Outside the apartment

We discovered a little café down the street from our apartment, Le Cavalier Bleu (143 Rue St. Martin, Paris), on our first day. It served the most amazing croissants ever. They were crispy and flaky, and easily had a pound of butter in each bite (okay, maybe a slight exaggeration). Chester’s eyes lit up in a way I’ve never seen before when he bit into one.

We ended up going there every morning while we were in Paris. We always sat at the same table. It was a nice place to people watch and it was a pretty good deal, too. For about seven euros, you could get the “Classique”—a croissant, baguette, butter, jam, orange juice, and coffee. For nine euros, you got all of that, plus eggs and bacon.

After breakfast, we would set out for the Metro to start our sightseeing for the day. The Metro is fabulous—it’s clean, well lit, and it smells better than SEPTA. When you look at a map of the touristy areas of Paris, it’s kind of deceiving because it seems like all the sites are within walking distance of each other. But places like Montmarte and even the Eiffel Tower were pretty far from our apartment on, so it was wonderful to be able to jump on the subway to get anywhere that we wanted to in minutes.

So what did we do in Paris, besides eat breakfast?

Day One

We decided to use the two-day voucher that came with our Paris Pass to take the sightseeing bus tour. The bus passes by all the major sites and you can hop on/off as much as you want to over the two days. They give you headphones so you can listen to a commentary along the way. It’s a great way to see the city and get the lay of the land. Since we had a lot of walking planned for our time in Paris and the rest of our trip, it also gave Chester a chance to rest his foot.

After the tour and a quick stop for coffee near Notre Dame Cathedral, we hopped onto the Metro and went over to Père Lachaise Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Paris. It’s said to be the most visited cemetery in the world, probably because it’s the final resting place of many famous people, including Edith Piaf, Chopin, Moliere, and Samuel Hahnemann (like a good Drexel alum, and then employee, I paid a visit), and Jim Morrison.

In the early evening, we made our way to Montemarte, in the northern end of Paris. Montmarte has traditionally been an artists community—Dali, Monet, Picasso, van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec all had studios here. Parts of it are a little seedy. I don’t know how I would feel about being around here really late at night, but in the daytime, it’s packed with tourists and is a lot of fun to walk around in.

We climbed to the very top of the hill—about 130 meters—to the Basilica Sacre Coeur. There is a tram car (the funicular), which you can use your Metro ticket on to get up and down the hill in less than two minutes. It was not running on our way up, but we did take it on the way down.

It was the feast of the Ascension—a holy day–when we visited, so the basilica and surrounding area were pretty packed. Mass was going on when we visited and the atmosphere outside the church was very nice, too. People were just sitting around on the steps, listening to the street musicians. And, the view from the top of the steps of the Basilica overlooking Paris is pretty breathtaking.

I made Chester find the Moulin Rouge. I love the movie that was out a few years back. At Drexel, I was always trying to convince my co-workers that we should have a “Spectacular, Spectacular” themed Alumni Weekend. They didn’t go for it (if you guys still decide to do it, I’ll definitely volunteer to help plan!).

Dinner that night was at Chez Toinette, a little restaurant tucked into a side street. The restaurant is run by a husband and wife team—he was working in the kitchen, she was waiting on all the tables. Like most of the other places we ate, the restaurant is tiny (seats about 30), so reservations are a must.

The food was pretty traditional French country style (it reminded me of the hotel restaurant from the first night in Normandy) and it was good—although not as good as what we had on our first night. I had a salad, with sheep’s milk cheese melted on a piece of crunchy bread, followed by the veal with apples and cider sauce, mushrooms, and carrots. Chester had the gambas prawns in a curry sauce and the lamb chop. The portions were very generous, and I had no room for dessert, which was sad because it looked fabulous, from what I could see at the other tables around us.

Day Two

The next day, we went to the Louvre. One word to describe that visit: Overwhelming.

At more than 625,000 square feet, it’s one of the world’s largest art museums and houses 35,000 objects from prehistoric times through the 19th century. I had no idea that it was actually built as a fortress in the 12th century. It then became the lavish palace of Louis XVI before he moved to Versailles, and only opened as a public museum during the French Revolution.

I highly recommend getting your hands on a gallery map and/or researching what you want to see online before you go. It’s would probably be impossible to cover the whole museum in a day (you might need about a month!), so you’ll need to prioritize. Luckily, our host had a map at the apartment, so we were able to do some planning the night before our visit.

Even so, it was difficult to get our bearings once we were inside. The galleries, are spread over four floors, and although they interconnected it’s kind of difficult to tell when you are passing through from one to another. And, the crowds are ridiculous (hooray, again, for the Paris Pass for letting us skip the long lines for tickets). Like Versailles, it’s not the kind of place that you can go through a leisurely stroll and really take in what you are seeing.

If you have a lot of time in Paris, it might make sense to plan a couple of smaller visits, and group the kinds of art that you really want to see together. But, since we had a limited amount of time, we just did the highlights, including the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, some works by David and Vermeer, and Napoleon III’s apartments.

After our whirlwind trip through the museum, it was lunchtime. After nearly a week of eating nothing but French food, we were craving a taste of home. So, what did we seek out? The Golden Arches, of course. I do like to visit at least one McDonald’s (or McDo as it’s called in France) when I go to Europe. It’s different over there–in a good way. The meat doesn’t taste processed. And, the ketchup tastes better (sweeter, I think).

There’s always have some kind of menu item that fits with the country. In France, you can get a Croque McDo. And, also, beer.

We got the French version of Quarter Pounders. Also, McFlurry’s are pretty popular over there–everyone had one. So, we got one too.

After lunch, we headed down the Champs Elysses, to the Arc de Triomphe. Commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon at the height of his power, and serves as a monument to those who died in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. The names of French generals and victories are carved in the inner and outer vaults of the 164 foot tall monument.

We climbed the 240 steps to the top, for some amazing views of the city.

On top of the Arc.

View from the top of the Arc, looking towards Montemarte.

View towards Le Defense, the more modern area of the city. Not as pretty as the old stuff.

When we came down, we started to walk toward the Trocadero neighborhood. This is a wealthy, mostly residential area near the Seine, although it is home to several museums and the Eiffel Tower.

We ended up just parking ourselves across the street from the Tower and staring at it for awhile. It’s pretty amazing, and much bigger in person than it seems to me in pictures. I love it, and took photos from every possible angle every time we passed by it. Luckily, we had timed tickets to go up the tower later that weekend—the lines to buy tickets for the lifts on-site were ridiculous!

Slightly crooked photo, but spectacular sight nonetheless.

After our McDonald’s fix, we didn’t mind indulging in French food once again. We had dinner that night was Le Billebaude. This was definitely one of the richer meals that we had.

The highlight, for me, was the foie gras appetizer. I’ve had the dish once or twice before at restaurants around Philly, but those versions were not as rich and buttery as this (it was literally like eating butter). I could not even finish the huge slab that was on my plate. For an entrée, I had sea bass, which was served in an equally buttery, creamy morel sauce. I can see why give you a huge basket of bread with all of the main courses France—the sauces are too good not to soak up. Chester had a salad with stuffed quail for his starter, and an Irish hanger steak (a little on the tough side, but full of flavor) with cheesy potatoes for an entrée. For the second night in a row, we had no room for dessert, although I was tempted by the chocolate soufflé on the menu.

The other nice thing about most of the restaurants we visited that I haven’t mentioned yet is that you can get a 500 ml bottle of wine (Maybe this is case across Europe. I remember it being this way in Spain too), in addition to full bottles or wines by the glass. This was the perfect size to share, but kept us from getting too tipsy to get up the next morning (this probably applies more to me than to Chester. I’m a lightweight). Sadly, though I didn’t take notes on any of the wines we sampled. They were all good—it is France, after all. Enough said.

I was going to try to do one post to recap everything for Paris, but this is getting long already. So, I’ll stop here for now. Macaroons for anyone who read this far 🙂

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