We arrived in Paris on Friday October 25 in the afternoon and decided to take a cab- foregoing the metro because of our luggage- to our rental apartment. Our first apartment was located on Avenue de Suffren, a large avenue off of the Eiffel tower. Very well located from that perspective but unfortunately very noisy (street traffic mainly although we also got into it with the neighbor because of noise on the last day!). The apartment was also quite small (which is the usual Paris fare) but we made do. On our first touring day, in the morning we played parisian and went to the local open air market in rue cler where we bought some fresh fruits and veggies as well as visited the local bakery for our daily bread, cheese and sweets.
As a side note, in France, we tried really hard to find a bad bakery but couldn’t find one! We ate so many eclairs, gateaux, flans, tartes, brioches and pains au chocolat that we have gained at least an additional 10 pounds each since the last reported weight gain! Oh well…hopefully we will lose some weight in Spain before unveiling our bodies in the Seychelles.
That afternoon, we walked around the Tuileries garden before meeting up with Olivier- our friend Val’s French cousin who works for the Louvre-for our own private tour of the museum. It was so great to have someone with lots of knowledge walk you through the maze and hit the main highlights. We saw Mona Lisa of course and Venus de Milo but also some other small wonders and famous paintings as well as Napoleon III ‘s apartments.
Entrance at the Louvre
We finished the evening spending a couple of hours at La Duree, a famous parisian tea house, for a hot chocolate (super thick…to die for), coffee, and delicious macarons.
Sunday was a rainy day so we decided to tour Paris underground and took the metro (french super efficient subway system) to go see the Catacombs. The Catacombs is a network of underground tunnels that holds human remains. Catacombs in Paris emerged in the 1700s as a creative and discreet solution to a dire public health problem. Mass graves in certain districts of Paris were overcrowded with improperly disposed bodies , creating unsanitary conditions that led to the spread of disease. So these cemeteries were shut down and the police moved all the remains buried in the cemeteries to an underground network of ancient limestone quarries – the now infamous Catacombs of Paris. During World War II, some sections became hideouts for French Resistance fighters, while other areas were converted by German soldiers into bunkers. Today, Paris’s nearly 300km of catacombs lie 30m under the ground’s surface and still house the remains of around six million people. It was eerie yet fascinating to visit and who knows one of our ancestors might be buried there.
We finished the day off at the Luxembourg gardens for a brief stroll watching kids race sail boats, lovers kissing, people reading books, and many just relaxing in the many chairs spread around the beautiful park.
The next day we strolled the Champs Elysees and went to the Arc de Triomphe where we not only enjoyed the immensity of the arc, but also watching the crazy traffic in Place de l’Etoile. The arc was built to commerate Napoleon’s victories and was started in 1806 but not completed till 1836. On Tuesday, since the weather was looking promising, we visited Montmartre, a touristy but charming neighborhood of Paris, complete with its basilica and artists of all kinds. We wandered around the many shops, ate a Nutella crepe, and passed by the famous Moulin Rouge (the French cabaret known for cancan dancing).
Basilica of the Sacre Coeur, Montmatre (above and below)
Montmatre orange tiger
Old mill in Montmartre
We had to move to another apartment the next day, so we went to the Seine early and caught the first boat cruise we could find. The narrative was good explaining all the sights along the river and the weather fantastic.
Pont Alexander III, the most beautiful bridge of Paris (above)
Notre Dame Cathedral (above and below)
After the cruise, we ran back to the apartment to eat, check out, and get our luggage. We shlepped them down the narrow streets, trying avoid cars, people, and yes, dog shit (people in Paris very rarely pick it up – that’s the city’s job!). We showed up at the apartment just slightly late, but our landlord was nowhere to be found. Almost resigned to having to hit the streets and look for wifi with luggage in-tow, Sylvie said “French people usually put the key under the mat, so look there”. Voila! We let ourselves in and 2 minutes later the plumber showed up letting us know the toilet didn’t work and he wasn’t sure if he could fix it. Apparently our landlord not only forgot to mention the toilet situation, but that he wouldn’t be there and the key (for us and the plumber) would be under the mat (ahhh, French service). It all worked out in the end, we were able to jump on the metro and tour the Latin Quarter that afternoon. We ate dinner in a rather touristy area and then walked back to our apartment along the Seine, taking in Paris at night.
The day before last was dedicated to the palace of Versailles, where we visited the hall of mirrors, the king’s grand apartments, the gardens, the Grand & Petit Trianon, as well as Marie Antoinette’s estate.
The Palace of Versailles is the central part of a complex that housed the French government, most notably its royalty, during the reigns of Louis XIV (France’s famed “Sun King”), Louis XV and Louis XVI. After the French Revolution in 1789, it ceased to be a permanent royal residence.
Before the construction of the palace by Louis XIV, this settlement was little more than a hamlet but by the time of the revolution it had a population of more than 60,000 people, making it one of the largest urban centers in France.
Hall of mirrors
On our last day in Paris, in the morning we hunted for the famous eclairs from l’ Eclair de Genie….we found the store in the Marais neighborhood and chose a couple… verdict is …while they look beautiful and cost a fortune (3x as much as the regular eclair), they were good but didn’t live up to the hype. Oh well, it was still decent patisserie (and that week they donated 1 euro to a children cancer foundation).
We then hoofed it (as in pig hooves :)) to the Pere Lachaise cemetery to not only see Jim Morrison’s grave but also those of famous French writers and other artists. It was a fitting day weather wise, the air was crisp, the leaves falling and the sky gray. Some of the tombs were huge and quite elaborate. Quite a somber place but in a very beautiful setting.
Jim Morrison’s grave: not fancy but the most visited in the cemetery
We finished the day by attending an All Saints mass at Notre-Dame. We had seen Notre-Dame from the outside a few days before but didn’t have the patience to stand in line for hours. This time, it was starting to rain so the lines were shorter. We got in just before the 6:15pm mass and were amazed at the beauty and elegance of this 850 year old French gothic cathedral.
The mass started with the all saints procession and the organ playing a rather macabre piece…the mass itself was interesting and we recorded some of it…