04
November
2014

Paris Trip Report, Part III of III

A continuation from Part I and Part II. And once again, the full photo album is here.

Day 7 Monday, 30 September: Marais and Père Lachaise Cemetery
I slept late today: 8:30! It felt good though. I think I am finally hitting the limits of my frenetic vacation-inspired energy.

Recalling how delicious the last goodies from Boulangerie Julien were, I headed back again for more. I ate my warm (!) croissant in the Luxembourg Gardens, where most everyone else seemed to be exercising — a large group was doing Tai Chi. I dropped off the other goodies at home, then headed out to pick up some souvenirs: cookies from Poliane, tea, chocolate and jam from Mariage Frères, a delightful French picture book for a young friend. Along the way I wandered through the Saint-Germain neighborhood, exploring more of the narrow streets and reveling in the small beauties of a twisted iron railing or a bit of whimsical street art.

And I finally made it into Pierre Hermé again! On our 2006 trip the pistachio macaron and Ispahan pastry were my absolute favorites of all the treats I sampled, and I was eager for more. Sadly there were no pistachio macarons, but of course I could not leave empty handed! I selected my old favorite Ispahan, with its layers of lychee and rose and raspberry and that perfect rose-petal with faux dewdrop on top. And I decided to sample the Tarte Infiniment Vanille, after reading a review on a food blog singing its praises. Plus, there was this description: “Pâte sablée, white chocolate ganache with vanilla, tender biscuit moistened with vanilla, vanilla-flavoured mascarpone cream.” These delicacies are not cheap, but I could not resist!

Back home, I met up with Mom and Bob, and we headed off for our day’s adventures. We took the bus to the Marais, getting off near the Hotel de Ville to admire its grandeur, before wandering deeper in search of lunch. Since I do love falafel, I wanted to try the famous L’As du Falafel.

We were delayed for a short time by a colorful group of dancers and singers who appeared to be shooting a music video. All of them were wearing moddish black clothing, accessorized with… bananas. I wish I knew what the final result looked like!

There was a line (of course) for falafel, but the folks working at the shop were cheerful and nice — one fellow took our order and accepted our payment while we were in line, giving us a ticket to hand in when we reached the window. I enjoyed watching the cooks compose the sandwiches: swooping tongs across the tubs of tomato, cabbage, eggplant, freshly fried falafels, layering them all together into the warm pita so you never get a bite that’s all cabbage or all falafel.

We ate our messy meals along the street, leaning against a nearby wall — and definitely needed plenty of napkins. It was tasty, but I think I preferred my falafel from Maoz, because I could control what toppings I put on.

We watched other tourists struggling to consume their falafels with dignity (a seemingly impossible task), then headed onward toward the Place de Voges. Along the way we found an Amorino shop, and got gelato for dessert. I love how the servers will shape your gelato into a flower with such care– mine even had a pistachio nut at the bottom of the cone to stop drips, and more on top to form the eye of the “flower.” We ate our dessert in the peaceful green of the Place de Voges.

Then it was onward toward the Bastille, to catch a #69 bus to take us to Pere Lachaise cemetery. This was an atmospheric site, with the long, sleepy “streets” bordered by the tombs, and all the silent faces of the angels and cherubs watching over us. It seemed as if autumn had come earlier here than anywhere else in the city: brown leaves flitting along the paths, chestnuts thumping down, and the sky turning gray to match the stones. Wandering along one of the outer walls, the song of a saxophone from the living world was a surreal counterpoint. My favorite part of this visit was just wandering the tombs and seeing what sorts of inscriptions and statuary people had chosen to memorialize their dead (or themselves). We picked up maps at the offices just inside the main gates (where we also found bathrooms, a happy discovery). We entered via the entrance on Boulevard Menilmontant (there are several others).

Then it was time to return home, once again via bus. We had our dinner out, at a brasserie just around the corner from our apartment, Le Raspail. Our food was excellent! I had a salad with Emmantal cheese and potatoes on top, with just the right amount of dressing. Bob had ravioli, and Mom had a cheese omelet. We headed home for the pastries I’d procured earlier. The vanilla tart was particularly amazing, especially for something that appeared relatively simple. But the combination of layers and textures and slightly different flavors was perfect. Even now, as I write this months later, my mouth is watering, thinking of it.

Day 8 Tuesday, 01 October: Catacombs

I finished off the last slivers of the Pierre Hermé pastries for my first breakfast. Then Mom and I went out to get a warm baguette and coffee from Secco, which we brought back to supplement (second) breakfast in the apartment. I went out solo to collect another carnet of tickets, and also to visit La Pâtisserie des Rêves. The shop is beautiful, with display pastries under glass bell jars, like precious art.

I chose the Saint-Honoré, with its layers of caramelized pastry and chantilly cream, and those cute little mini cream puff baubles along the top. The staff disappeared into the mysterious magical back chambers and returned with one for me, which was beautifully wrapped and presented to me to carry home.

Mom and I then visited the Marché Raspail, which was set up just around the corner from our apartment. We had fun ogling the fruit, fish, and roasting chickens, though we did not end up buying anything to eat. We did, however, get a number of towels similar to those in our rental apartment: thin but absorbent, woven in pretty colors and patterns, to bring home as gifts and souvenirs. I am still using mine happily, a year later! It works well for packing as it is so much thinner than a standard towel.

Then Bob and I headed out on our own, for our tour of the Catacombs. Mom had declined to join this particular trip, since the long climb down would not be good for her knees, so she planned to spend the time sight-seeing on her own. When Bob and I reached the entrance, we were very glad we had splurged for a guided tour, as the line was very, very long! I was a little nervous about meeting up with our tour, but we quickly found some other folks waiting for it, and our guide Adam arrived soon afterward to collect us. He was a lovely young Canadian PhD student, quite a character, charming and capable.

With Adam to guide us, we bypassed the line, and descended into the catacombs. It was very dark and slimy in places, adding an appropriate atmosphere for the tales of overflowing cemeteries that led to the construction of the underground tunnels full of bones! The bones themselves were beautiful, macabre, and bittersweet. I was pleasantly surprised to discover there were other interesting subterranean sites, especially the whimsical miniature houses carved by one of the craftsmen.

We also heard stories of the man who designed the bone placement schemas (including the artistic designs in which bones were placed to form hearts, crosses, and abstract patterns), who worked six days a week for thirty years on the project (can you imagine???).

After we emerged once again into the light, we found ourselves some quick takeaway food from the shops on Rue Daguerre and ate in the small park near the Catacomb entrance. Then it was off on the RER to Saint-Michel, where we met up with Mom at our planned meeting spot outside Shakespeare & Company.

The rest of the day was spent ambling around: through the Tuileries gardens (the Luxembourg gardens remain my favorite!) and over to Angelina’s, to sample their famous hot chocolate. It was fun to see the interior of the tea room and imagine Coco Chanel dining there — I also enjoyed spying on our fellow guests. Most appeared to be tourists, but there was one very regal and well-heeled blond woman at a table nearby, carefully and precisely eating her dinner of salad and salmon, drinking tea, and working determinedly in her small notebook.

As to the famous chocolate, I found it too rich to enjoy, alas! I don’t regret going, but I will be in no hurry to return.

Back home again we had leftovers for dinner, and that beautiful (and delicious) Saint-Honoré for dessert.

Day 9 Wednesday, 02 October: Musée d’Orsay

I woke feeling a little sad that we had only two full days left in Paris. But at the same time. I had begun to look forward to being back in our cozy home and seeing our dog again! And by this time, I was also beginning to feel a bit tired and overwhelmed by all the sensory input!

I worked off my feelings by taking a solo early morning trip to the Champ de Mars, to visit the Eiffel Tower and then hunt up the various prime examples of Art Noveau architecture in the nearby neighborhoods.

I then walked to the Pont Alma, reaching it just as the sun began to break through the clouds. I had a lovely walk along the right bank, then back across Pont Alexandre III, enjoying a close-up look at the gilded sculptures decorating the bridge.

After catching a bus home again, I collected Mom and we walked over to the Luxembourg gardens to sit in the sun and relax and read. We watched the gardeners up on ladders, trimming the topiaries, and packs of school children on educational tours, and lots of health-conscious Parisians. Eventually Bob joined us, and we headed north to see if we could secure a spot for lunch at Little Breizh, the younger sibling of the main Café Breizh in the Marais. We were in luck, snagging one of the few open tables! (Later diners had to wait, or go elsewhere).

I enjoyed the white-washed walls and dark beams, and the comfortable, homey atmosphere. It was rather packed, however, and we had trouble getting our overworked server’s attention for more water, and some forgotten salads. But everyone was very nice, and the food was delicious! I had a savory buckwheat crepe with cheese and tomatoes for my meal, and an amazing salted caramel crepe for dessert. We had some of the Breton apple juice as well, which was tasty!

After lunch we walked to the D’Orsay museum. It was crowded, but not so much as the Louvre! And much more manageable in scope, though I still skipped several exhibits. I especially loved the views of Sacre Cour from the cafe, through the face of the giant clock. And the enormous space of the main gallery!

We each went at our own speeds. I appreciated the no-photo rule, as I felt it cut down on traffic (unfortunately many folks seem to become oblivious to their surroundings when they are running around trying to take pictures of everything). My personal favorites were the works by Morisot, Manet and Van Gogh, and the Art Nouveau rooms. I also stumbled upon the enormous gilded ballroom when there was no one else in it!

We headed home again, stopping en route to pick up sandwiches from Secco to take home for dinner. I still had too much energy (fueled by pastries and end-of-vacation desperation) so I took one final solo jaunt, via metro, to Montmartre. I appreciated it more on this visit than in 2006, when there was a great deal of construction work on the streets. There were still a lot of crowds, but the atmosphere was festive, with buskers dancing and singing and playing. One guitarist had a large crowd singing along, seated on the slope leading up to Sacré-Coeur. It was surreal to pass from this into the shadowy solemnity of the church, lit by flickering votives, with nuns singing an ethereal hymn amid the gilt mosaic grandeur. I sat in one of the side chapels to listen to the service (mostly the singing, as I do not speak French!).

When I returned outside the weather had clouded over, so I abandoned any hope of watching the sun set, and instead headed back home.

Day 10 Thursday, 03 October: Jardin des Plantes

Mom and I ventured out together in the morning, taking the bus to the Marais, to visit a “hidden” garden near the Archives. It was a lovely, peaceful spot, and a nice time to reflect on our wonderful, though nearly-concluded, vacation.

Then back to Saint-Sulpice, where we visited Pierre Hermé once again, and faced the nigh-impossible task of choosing a last pastry (or two, or three). We each picked one (the Sarah and the Ibiza), plus a single macaron (apricot-pistachio). Returning to our apartment, we set these treats aside for later, and headed out with Bob for our final day.

We headed out to the Jardin des Plants, where we ate our takeaway Secco lunches along one of the shady trails. Mine was a Thai chicken salad, which was tasty and fresh but not as flavorful as I’d hoped. By this time we were tired and overwhelmed, so an aimless ramble through the banks of flowers (and to see the red pandas in the zoo) was a perfect way to spend our time.

Our wanderings took us onward to the Île Saint-Louis, where we visited the main Berthillion shop. I preferred our visits to the smaller stalls elsewhere, as the line here was quite long! But my black sesame ice cream was delicious, as was Bob’s cherry cone.

Then we sadly headed home to our apartment, to begin to pack for our early departure. Bob and I ventured out to collect food from a near-ish restaurant called “The Wok Bar” which we enjoyed. It was all freshly cooked, and you could choose a number of combinations of rice/noodles/protein/sauce/veg. I had rice with tofu and sate sauce, yum!

And for our last dessert of the trip, we had our pastries. I preferred the Sarah, which was formed of layers flavored with passionfruit, chestnut and matcha tea. The Ibiza was too overpoweringly orange flavored for my tastes, but when I tried to excise that layer the remainder was too sweet! But the apricot-pistachio macaron was delicious!

Day 11 Friday, 04 October: Do we have to leave?

We woke at 6, ate up the last of our croissants and eggs, then made jam and butter sandwiches out of the last of our bread to eat later on the plane. Our trip to the airport was a bit confusing– though we finally located a board that listed the stops for the RER, so that we were reasonably certain we were getting on the correct train!

The airport was also quite confusing — finding a working electronic kiosk, and then the proper baggage drop off– but the personal were very helpful and friendly. We were just in time for our boarding call!

Overall, I think this was the best trip I have taken so far. I have no regrets about visiting somewhere I’d been before (of course, it helped that it was my favorite previous destination!).

Things I learned/confirmed about myself:
~ 10 days might be too long for me to visit in one location. Not because of a lack of things to do, but because I run out of mental energy to appreciate them. We did spend two weeks in England, but I think that was different because one of those weeks was spent in the Cotswolds, where more of my energy went into just absorbing natural beauty and hiking.
~ It is good for me to be able to go out solo in the mornings, to work off some of my extra energy while my traveling companions enjoy their sleep!
~ I would prefer to pay more to get an apartment with a bathtub, a more comfortable bed, and a quieter location! (Mom’s bed was very comfortable and quiet, but the front room loft was not).
~ I really enjoy a city that is beautiful, in and of itself: architecture, gardens, quaint streets.
~ I love vast, large interior spaces (cathedrals, the D’Orsay).
~ I love people watching!
~ I love having the ability to make my own breakfast and tea early in the morning, and to be able to go shopping in local markets and grocery stores.

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