Paris Day 5 – St. Eustache & Dinner

Sunday afternoon we returned on the RER train from Versailles to the St. Michel-Notre Dame station then transferred to our home station at Les Halles.  We had not yet visited Sainte Eustache, a Gothic/Renaissance cathedral built between 1532 and 1637 and rivaled in Paris only by Notre Dame.   Sunday seemed an appropriate time.

Just prior to leaving for Paris, I’d heard from a distant cousin who shares my love of genealogy.  She wrote that if we had a chance, we should visit St. Eustache because of ancestral ties.  The guidebooks subsequently revealed that Mme. de Pompadour and Richelieu were baptized at St. Eustache. So were my seventh and eighth great grandfathers before they came to Quebec in the mid-1600’s.  When I read her email I smiled.  In the photos we’d seen of the apartment we’d already reserved, one window view showed St. Eustache.

The roof of the grand Cathedral was a daily sight for us from our 6th floor apartment; seeing it up close was awesome.  In the cooling air, we walked around the outside then stepped inside for a tour around the roped off perimeter of the seating.  Parishioners were seated but all was hushed.  A posting told us of an organ recital at 5:30, followed by the 6:00 PM Mass.

The pipes of a large wall organ echoed gloriously inside the huge church.  Later we were asked if it was doom and gloom or alleluia music. Neither and both, I think, and purely magnificent.  The sounds seemed to transport us back in time to an earlier era.

Mass was spoken and sung (beautifully) in French, of course.  Since neither of us are fluent in the language, we did not understand many of actual words.  But from the order of the Mass and from the intonations, we did understand the prayers, and their meaning.  Very moving.  Spiritual.

After Mass at St. Eustache, we walked over to a nearby restaurant,Au Pied du Cochon.  Although the restaurant was crowded we did not wait long for a seat.  We dined on beef and duck and vegetables, and shared a small bottle of Bordeaux.  Afterward we enjoyed dessert – creme brulee at its finest, and rich chocolate.   The suited waiter seemed amused when I wanted to take home our small empty wine bottle (labels make a memorable souvenir).  As we finished, our waiter brought us small glasses of Grand Marnier.  The fine orange liqueur provided the perfect ending to a delicious meal.

Monday would be our last day in Paris. I didn’t want to think of leaving.

Paris, Day 5 Early – Versailles

Sunday we took a day trip out of Paris to the Palace of Versailles.   Château de Versailles is located about 20 km. southwest of Paris, and started as a hunting cottage for Louis XIII.  His son, Louis XIV, the Sun King, transformed it into a lavish palace.  In 1682 it became the seat of the Royal Court and the French government.  Louis XV and Louis XVI enlarged both the palace and the gardens.

For a shorter walk, our guidebooks suggested we take the RER train to Versailles—Rive Gauche.  The train was filled.  After about 30 to 40 minutes, we arrived at Versailles—Chantiers.  The train stopped. It was not continuing to Rive Gauche.  Everyone eventually got off, some of us confused since the signs said this was the Rive Gauche train. Instead, we were directed to walk straight, through the town and toward the Château.  The walk took about fifteen minutes.

As it had on previous days, our Paris Museum Pass helped bypass the long line for tickets.   Just as we passed through security I heard a plop on the floor ahead, looked down, and saw a man’s wallet.  I picked it up and saw a Texas driver’s license.  My husband yelled “Texas!” to the crowds ahead, thinking the Texan would turn around.  No one responded so he gave the wallet to Security.   In the crowded tourist spots of Paris, we saw many warning signs about pickpockets.  Hopefully, the owner didn’t assume his pocket had been picked, and was able to claim his wallet.

The palace courtyard was vast, windy, and cold.  We followed the crowds  into the royal halls.  English audio tours allowed us to key in to each of the Salons, learning a bit more about the palace, and those who had lived there.  The Hall of Mirrors was especially stunning.  Just after the Queen’s bedchamber, where Marie Antoinette had given birth to her children, a ceiling restoration was in progress.

It’s difficult for me to describe my feelings as we walked the halls of Versailles.  The lavishness is beyond belief.  Rich, sumptuous. Seeing it helped me better understand the horrors that came in the French Revolution.  The story of the palace preservation for history is equally remarkable.

After the self-guided tour we stopped into a crowded cafeteria to grab a sandwich and salad.  We ate then stepped back into the courtyard with a plan to tour the gardens.   A bitter wind swept in.

There was to be a fountain exhibition at 5:30 PM, one of the last of the season, but it was only early afternoon.  On a warmer day we would have enjoyed seeing the lighted fountains, and the domain of Marie Antoinette.  But so much remained to see in Paris and only one day remained.  We strolled back through town toward the train.

Paris, Day 4 – The Louvre & More

Early Saturday morning rain fell on Paris. We woke to the sounds of it on the roof.  A good day to keep inside, touring museums.   We fixed a quick breakfast in the apartment then walked five blocks toward the Louvre.  The gray clouds were swept away with a moderate wind and the temperature was around 47 F.

As we approached the vast museum, we saw a camera rig, filming a car driving.  Not sure if it was for a film, or a commercial.  One of the many trucks behind the Louvre said “En Location.”

Our Paris museum pass let us by-pass the growing long line to buy tickets and proceed fairly fast into the museum.  Like most spots we’ve visited, we had to go through a security check, including a bag scan.   Then down the escalator and under the tall glass pyramid.

I’ve been in many museums but never imagined the enormity of the Louvre, until we started walking toward the room that held the Mona Lisa.  Our guidebooks told us to stop there first since crowds increase as the day goes by.  The room was already half-filled.   The Mona Lisa is beautiful and serene, but her protective glass filters any real clear view.  Sad.  Still,  I’m glad I saw her.

We walked on through gallery after gallery of magnificent paintings, stopping mainly at favorite artists, or periods of art.   Periodically, we had to consult our maps to re-orient ourselves.   I enjoyed seeing artists studying the masterpieces, learning from them through sketching and painting the works.  Like a musician learns by playing, and a writer learns by reading others’ work.

After a late lunch at the Louvre Cafe, we walked outside and through the Jardin de Tulieres toward L’Orangerie, a museum that houses Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works.  In the vast gardens, we strolled by statues both classic and modern, and by beds of flowers still in bloom.   The air was crisp, breezy, and approaching cold.  Everywhere we heard the sounds of a multitude of languages.

In his last years, Claude Monet was losing his sight but he planned one final series of paintings from his gardens at Giverny.  Eight huge paintings are hung on curved panels in two rooms at L’Orangerie.   As we walked around the rooms, we found ourselves awed by the timeless beauty of these works.

Downstairs in this museum are other magnificent works by Monet’s contemporaries and friends — Manet, Degas, Cezanne, and Renoir.  Magnificent!

On a long stroll  “home” we window shopped at the fine shops along Rue Saint Honoré.  At some point we decided to eat in, to just relax and unwind in the apartment.  We stopped at a shop that sold deliciously prepared items and enjoyed a quiet evening.

Sunday brings a day trip to Versaille!

Paris, Day 3 – Filled with wonder

Friday morning started with a metro trip down to Cluny-Sorbonne. Before our first site, we felt the need for American coffee.  At a Starbucks we found Café Allonger or Café Americain.  We sipped our still strong brew and ate breakfast on the cafe’s second floor surrounded by university students studying, talking, debating, and laughing.

Outside other students were marching.  Not sure why.  Costumed in assorted dress, they seemed to be having a great time — singing, shouting, and laughing.  As we left Starbucks, two of the groups came together with shouts and hugs.

We strolled over toward the National Museum of the Middle Ages or Musée de Cluny.   We took a short walk around a park across the street then went inside the medieval building, checked our coats, walked through the gift shop and into a room filled with masterpieces.

Awesome is too tame a word to describe the wonder that is Cluny. Room after room of paintings, illuminated manuscripts,chalices, statues, and the ornamentation of medieval churches.  And then then there were the centuries old tapestries!  We stepped into the large, darkened room that held the Lady and Unicorn tapestries and once more were struck with breathless awe.  Literally.

Guidebooks say to allow one hour for Cluny.  We were there over three and could have stayed all day,  but other wonders called.

We headed north, walked along the Seine, then crossed over the bridge to Notre Dame.  In the courtyard outside the Cathedral, a string ensemble played classical music.  The lines moved quickly into the church.  There was a Mass in session but still visitors strolled around the perimeter of the inside of the massive, majestic Cathedral.

The Tower was closed Friday, but the man at the gate assured us it would be open throughout the weekend.

Due to the late hour, we skipped Sainte-Chappelle for the day and headed instead back toward our apartment.  We had wine and cheese to pick up.

In the early evening hours, our niece and her boyfriend showed up.  They are studying abroad — she’s in Vienna and he’s in Madrid.  They flew to Paris for a long weekend and arranged to meet with us.  (BTW – she’s blogging about her experiences in Vienna.) We had a great visit!  Something magical about meeting up with family while traveling overseas.   After a brief but wonderful visit, we walked with them to the Metro so they could meet up with friends for dinner.

We enjoyed our own late night meal in a cafe near our apartment.   Omelet, a hamburger, and salads — such simple fare but truly the best ever.  The French are masters at the art of cooking.

Saturday we’ve reserved for the Louvre, Sunday is Versailles, and Monday we’ll return to see Saint Chappelle and the Notre Dame tower, and a few other places.  The time is going too, too fast.

Day 2 in Paris

Late start this morning but we needed the extra few hours of sleep.  In the apartment, we had a quick breakfast of yogurt and coffee.  French yogurt is delightfully rich.  Wish I could bring some home.  We set out on foot for Musée D’Orsay.

We crossed the Seine on the Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge.  Hundreds of padlocks adorned the railings.  Many had hearts or initials and dates inscribed with permanent marker.  Tonight when we returned to our apartment, after shucking my shoes and propping my tired feet, I searched the internet and found that it’s a way for lovers, young and old, to express their love.  After locking the padlock to the bridge, they throw the key into the Seine.  The combination locks are apparently for those who worry about second thoughts…it allows them to return later and remove the lock.  🙂  Read this link for more info. (Great story scene!)

Lines were already long at Musée D’Orsay but we got in sooner because we were buying a Paris Museum Pass.   D’Orsay is a magnificent converted rail station  from the early 1900’s.  It houses hundreds of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings….Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, and many more.  Currently being renovated so some of the rooms were closed.  And much of Monet’s work is on loan to the Grand Palais for their special exhibition.  (Not a problem; it’s nearby.)  Also not quite as many Renoirs as I’d hoped for but still, so many masterpieces to see.

We ate lunch in Le Restaurant, the museum’s second floor world class restaurant.  Sea bass for him, while I savored a thin vegetable tart with a thyme sorbet.  Exquisite.  Service was like watching a fine dance.  Subtle, almost choreographed.  From the crystal chandeliers and gilt framed ceiling paintings to simple table settings, the decor was elegant.  A unique experience.

After D’Orsay, we walked over cobblestone streets and narrow sidewalks to Musée Rodin.  We were greeted by The Thinker, and many other fine bronze statues.  The gardens surrounding the museum building were peaceful, with roses in full bloom.  In October.  Only in Paris.

From D’Orsay we strolled to La Tour Eiffel – the Eiffel Tower.  After rushing through a gauntlet of pushy vendors, each with identical displays of multi-colored miniature towers, we made our way to the entrance.  Lines were long but moved steadily in Disneyesque manner.   On our ride to the top, we were surrounded by a group of Italian high school students.  Young, vibrant, telling jokes only they understood, they punched each other, then kissed cheeks as they met friends across the railings.

The top of the tower took my breath away, almost literally.  Just before the summit the enclosure is glassed in, but at the top of the last flight of steps the viewing tower is only wired in.  The wind was gusty, cold, but ah, the view!  While we were up there, day shifted to dark.  As we descended, the tower lights came on.

Tired now, well past my bed time.  Friday we see the medieval tapestries at Musée de Cluny, Notré Dame, Saint Chappelle, and more.  Bon Soir!

Bon Soir, Paris!

Roses from my husband

My body is confused by the time change. In Paris it is 4:20 am, Thursday, and I’ve been awake for three hours.  Outside even the motor bikes and occasional police sirens are silent.  In front of me sits the bouquet of pink roses my husband bought from a local vendor, a surprise when I returned from the nearby market. The flowers belong.   After the bustle of traveling yesterday, I feel a sense of peace, despite the time adjustment.  I feel at home.

This apartment on Rue Saint Honore is lovely, historic yet modern.  It is on the 6th floor and has a small roof top terrace.  In the distance we can see La Tour Eiffel and rooftops over Paris.

Rooftop terrace of our Paris flat

After our flight across the Atlantic, we took a Roissy bus from Charles DeGaulle Airport into central Paris and the apartment.  Later, we walked the neighborhood, ate at a creperie, and visited a few area shops.

Today we will visit Musée d’Orsay, the Rodin Museum, Napoleon’s Tomb and the Eiffel Tower…La Tour Eiffel.   For the next several days our schedule is filled.  But just now in these pre-dawn hours I’m savoring the comfort of this peaceful apartment, a cup of hot French tea, and my roses.