Thursday, August 02, 2012

Le Grand Tour: Paris Day 7

Saturday was our last day in Paris...the days had gone by too quickly! I had wanted to explore Canal St. Martin and Parc des Buttes Chaumont, but our apartment greeter said that most shops probably would be closed for the Fete Nationale, or Bastille Day as we call it. She mentioned a celebration at Versailles, so we decided to go to the palace, especially since our Paris Museum Pass covered admission.

First we walked to the weekend food market on Avenue St. Ouen in search of picnic fixings. We picked up a baguette and fruit tart at the patisserie near the apartment, where I spotted several pooches. I was not sure if the market would be open for the holiday, but we saw a few people with baskets, so we followed them. After a few blocks, we found the produce vendors and other food shops, hooray! We picked up French plums, saucisson sec, pate, and carrot salad. Dan was admiring the rotisserie meats at the boucherie... the butcher did not speak English, so a kind customer translated for us, saying it was what we eat at Thanksgiving...a roast turkey leg! We decided to get the turkey for dinner, since we had not made reservations anywhere, didn't know when we would return from Versailles, and which restaurants would be open. Plus we had to pack.

Laden with picnic supplies, we took the Metro to Invalides and got RER tickets for Versailles. (Our Navigo Decouverte passes only covered the Metro and RER within Paris.) Note: The machine doesn't sell round-trip tickets to Versailles, just buy two sets. Or buy the return ticket upon arrival in Versailles, to avoid the extremely long lines later in the day. We learned this the hard way.

After a short RER journey, we arrived in Versailles and it began to rain. We walked toward the palace, where the number of people and tour buses was overwhelming. I couldn't even count them all. I was feeling discouraged and unhappy, but I remembered reading about free entrance to the grounds at the Queen's Gate. So we walked along along the road and eventually found it. It was much more pleasant away from the crowds...we saw people riding bikes, jogging, and strolling along the path...and we saw sheep!

French sheep
French sheep

The grounds of Versailles are enormous. The rain stopped, and I was feeling much more encouraged. Eventually we found the Grand Canal and sat down for a picnic.

Picnic at the Grand Canal
Picnic time

Many people were wearing white for the holiday. We enjoyed our picnic, then walked toward the Grand Trianon. We toured the rooms on one side and then explored the gardens. We saw a few fountains, but shortly after a man began turning off all the fountains! Later Dan asked someone at the Grand Trianon about it, and she said the fountains are rarely turned on and it was the first time she had seen them flowing. Dan thought it might have been for the holiday.

Grand Trianon
Grand Trianon

Carol at Grand Trianon
Carol at Grand Trianon

Fountain in Grand Trianon gardens
Fountain behind Grand Trianon

After touring the rest of the Grand Trianon, we walked toward the Petit Trianon, passing the French Pavilion and a pretty green tiled structure that I liked. There were people walking around, but it was nothing like the crowds at the main entrance of the palace, thankfully.

Green tiles
Pretty green tiles

We peeked into the Queen's Theatre (gorgeous! crouch down to see the gilded ceiling) and walked around the Belvedere, where I sat down for a rest on a pretty green bench. And Dan found the grotto.

I liked this green bench
I like this bench

Dan found the grotto
Dan outside the grotto

Then we continued on to the Queen's Hamlet, which was quaint and lovely. Especially if you were Marie Antoinette and didn't do any of the actual labor!

The Queen's hamlet
Queen's hamlet


Of course we had to check out the royal animals. The highlight for me were the vertical ducks, which I had never seen before in real life, just drawings in storybooks. I am now obsessed and want a vertical duck. They look so funny when they walk around.

Dan and a burro
Dan and a French burro

Baa baa black sheep
Baa baa black sheep

The Royal sheep
Royal sheep

A French duck
A vertical duck

After watching the animals for awhile, we headed back toward the Petit Trianon, stopping at the Temple of Love.

Temple of Love
Temple of Love


After we toured the Petit Trianon, it started pouring rain. I was feeling worried because the walk back to the train station was very far. I saw a tram stopped outside, and we got in line to take it back to the Chateau. Lucky we did, because after we got on, the rain came down even stronger, and I heard thunder. And it turned out to be the last tram of the day.

Rainy Versailles
Rainy Chateau

Since the tram stopped at the Chateau, we decided to tour the royal apartments before closing. In the first few rooms the crowds were manageable, but then there were huge tour groups and we could barely move. I can't imagine what it was like earlier in the day.

Royal Chapel

The Venus salon
Venus Salon

Hall of mirrors
Dan in the Hall of Mirrors

Hall of mirrors
Hall of Mirrors

I am so glad we toured the palaces of Trianon and Marie Antoinette's estate first, as I found that area of Versailles to be much more pleasant. We saw some of the gardens of the main palace on our tram ride, but there were many more beyond that. Versailles is huge!

The rain had stopped, and we walked back to the train station, then waited in extremely long lines for the ticket machines (see note above). Eventually, we made it back to Paris. On the way back to the apartment, I picked up a pain au chocolat for the next day, and one last chocolate eclair. We enjoyed a nice dinner at the apartment on our last evening, and then it was time to pack.

I wanted to see the fireworks over the Eiffel Tower, so we walked up near Sacre Coeur to find a spot. This turned out to be a very bad idea, but Dan was a good sport about it. The crowds increased as it got darker, and the Eiffel Tower sparkled at 10 o'clock. The fireworks were scheduled for 10:30, but did not begin until 11 o'clock. By this time I was restless and squished. And the lights of the Eiffel Tower were TURNED OFF during the fireworks! I don't understand why. I thought the whole point of setting off fireworks near the Eiffel Tower was to see fireworks and the Eiffel Tower. I was very disappointed. We watched for a few minutes, and then decided to head back to the apartment. The fireworks continued for quite a long time. If I am ever in Paris again on the 14 of July, I want to stay near the Champ de Mars, or have a view of the Eiffel Tower from my window.

Early the next morning I ate my last pain au chocolat, and we checked out, took the RER to Charles de Gaulle, and traveled for over 20 hours to get home to San Francisco. I missed Paris as soon as we left, and I hope we will return soon. On my list for next time: Berthillon ice cream on Ile St. Louis, ride Velib bikes, eat buckwheat galettes and drink French cider, Canal St. Martin and Parc des Buttes Chaumont, go inside the Louvre, and so much more...Paris, je t'aime!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Le Grand Tour: Paris Day 6

I wanted to explore the Abbesses area during our stay in Paris, since it was near the apartment and also featured in the movie Amelie. We had walked up Rue Lepic a few times for dinner, passing Cafe des 2 Moulins where Amelie worked. But many of the shops were closed by then, so on Friday morning we continued onto Rue des Abbesses for breakfast at Le Coquelicot. I had a big bowl of hot chocolate and brioche with jam, and Dan had a poached egg in brioche, and a croissant amande. We observed the gentleman next to us slathering butter on his baguette, and though he did not speak much English, he expressed that it was very delicious...reminding me that I had read about how wonderful French butter the time, I did not think butter could be so different, but now I decided that we would have to try some. We picked up a baguette and set off to explore.

We passed Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre, which has gorgeous tile mosaics, and the Abbesses Metro station. I love seeing all the beautiful buildings and the different signs for shops.

Pretty tiled church

Accordion player at Abbesses Metro station

Charcuterie cuisine

We wandered into a store devoted to buttons, so many different kinds! I did not buy any, but I love that there is store devoted to buttons. At the time, I did not realize this area is known for its fabric shops...silly me...this may be a good thing, as I have more fabric than I need at home. But I would have enjoyed browsing. Next time, perhaps. We also popped into a shop that sells pretty colored lights, and I was very tempted to buy a string of them. We walked by the carousel in front of Sacre Coeur and eventually made our way back to Rue Lepic. I was thinking about lunch by now, so we went into a fromagerie and bought a bit of salted butter from the giant mound behind the counter. (I wish I had taken a picture.) Then we stopped at a traiteur for some cabbage salad with gruyere and walnuts, and saucisson sec, which I think of as the French version of salami. Next, a wine shop for a bottle of Bordeaux. It was hard to choose a dessert at Les Petits Mitrons, a little patisserie, but eventually I decided on a beautiful fruit tart. At the spice shop next door, I bought some fleur de sel de Guerande to take home, and Dan got some sausage de Toulouse at the boucherie.

Spice shop
The spice shop smelled divine


It started to rain, so we quickly made our way to A l'Etoile d'Or. Though the owner did not speak much English, and I don't speak French, we were able to communicate in the language of chocolate, and I bought some chocolates and buttery caramels to take home, for us and for gifts. (Though I wish I had bought more, as I am nearly done with my supply.) Also, I forgot to take photos. The owner told us that soon she would be closing up the shop for several weeks for her annual vacation...I'm so glad we made it there before that!

We returned to the apartment and had a great spread for lunch. I put some butter on a baguette and instantly became a French butter convert. I only wish I had tried it sooner, instead of waiting until the sixth day. After lunch, Dan read his book, while I researched how to get to the airport on Sunday. We decided to try a bus route to Gare du Nord, find the RER entrance, and buy RER tickets to the airport while we there. Then we took the RER to Jardin du Luxembourg.

We started out walking along Avenue de l'Observatoire, the panhandle of the gardens, where people were playing ball on the grass, and there is a giant fountain with spitting turtles and dolphins at one end.

Spitting turtles
Spitting turtles

At the main entrance of the garden, a sign warned to keep off the grass. We did not see any children sailing boats on the octagonal pond, probably since it had been raining. But it was nice to sit in the pretty green chairs and admire the many statues in the gardens and the view of the Pantheon, and we saw children riding ponies. At the other end of the garden is the Palais du Luxembourg, which houses the French Senate. We also found the Medici fountain.

Please, keep off the grass
Keep off the grass

Luxembourg gardens
Pretty green chairs & view of the Pantheon

Carol in Luxembourg gardens
Carol at Jardin du Luxembourg

Jardin du Luxembourg
Palais de Luxembourg

Medici fountain
Medici fountain

We saw on a map that there were beehives in the gardens! So we walked through the orchard to see them. Fancy French beehives with copper rooftops. Dan even risked stepping on the grass for a closer look.

Dan & French beehives
Dan & French beehives

Dan on the grass!
Taking a closer look

We decided to go to the Pompidou Center (but the French don't call it that, apparently they call it Beaubourg) and headed toward the Metro station. On the way we stopped at Boulangerie Julien and picked up a baguette for later...and I had a chocolate eclair. We also stumbled upon Les Bonbons, a cute little confiserie, but I didn't buy any candy since I had purchased chocolate and caramels earlier in the day. Dan also pointed out that I was eating a chocolate eclair, though I don't see how that relates to candy.

We had seen lots of space invaders and other street art during our visit, though I forgot to take pictures. We spotted Oscar the Grouch near Les Halles. There was more street art by the kinetic sculptures in the fountain outside the museum. And performance artists too.

Oscar the Grouch
Oscar the Grouch

Outside the Pompidou
Outside the Pompidou

We headed up the hamster tube escalators to take in the views of Paris. The signs said to carry your dog on the escalator.

Pompidou (Beaubourg)
Hamster tube escalators at Pompidou

Carry your dog on the escalator
Carry your dog on the escalator

The views of the city were lovely, but I was disappointed the doors to the patios with sculptures and fountains were locked. Maybe because of the rain?

Eiffel Tower from the Pompidou
View of Eiffel Tower from Pompidou

Looking down from Pompidou
Looking down toward St. Merri

Sculptures at Pompidou
Patio with sculptures, Sacre Coeur in the distance

Then we looked at the art. They have a huge collection of modern art! I enjoyed the Kandinsky paintings and learned that he worked in print as well. I also liked the Matisse collages and a few of the Picasso paintings, but much of the contemporary art was beyond my understanding. It was raining when we left, and we decided to head back to the apartment for dinner. Later in the evening, we went to a bal des pompiers (fireman's ball) at the fire station a few blocks away from the apartment, since it was the eve of Bastille Day (though the French don't call it that). There were lots of people, but not much dancing on the outdoor square since it was raining.

Bal des Pompiers
Bal des pompiers

It was neat to see Parisians gathering for the national holiday. We hung around and people-watched for a bit, then headed back to the apartment for bed. It had been another busy day in Paris! I was sad the next day would be our last...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Le Grand Tour: Paris Day 5

Since the long line deterred us from going up the towers of Notre Dame earlier in the week, we decided to get there early on Thursday. (Unfortunately it is one of the places you cannot skip the line with the Paris Museum Pass.) Even though we arrived before it opened, the line was already very long. In fact, longer than it had been on Monday! Grr. But we were running out of days in Paris, so we decided to wait. To make things worse, the weather was much colder than the forecast. Dan waited patiently in line, while I wandered around the cathedral, hopped up and down, and tried to contain my crabbiness.

Part of the long line
Part of the long line (Dan is in back)

More of the long line
A different part of the long line (Dan in front)

About 25 people were admitted every fifteen minutes, so it was a long wait. Eventually we made it to the front, and it was our turn to ascend the spiral staircases. Even though I am very bad at waiting in line, I really enjoyed seeing the statues in the chimera gallery up close. And the views of Paris were spectacular, even on the overcast day.

Contemplating the city
Contemplating the city, Sacre Coeur in the distance

Notre Dame
Chimera gallery

Shock & surprise

Overlooking the city
Overlooking the Seine (and the long line to get into Notre Dame)

Left Bank
Left Bank

After all that waiting and climbing 400 stairs, it was time for lunch! We crossed the Seine and walked by the Hotel de Ville to Le Trumilou. Dan was pleased to see a crock of mustard on the table. We were the first to arrive, but later the place filled up a bit. All the other patrons were speaking French. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch and shared a carafe of the house red wine. For entrees, he had the charcuterie plate, and I had a giant artichoke. Then for the plat, roast goat for Dan (we think, as the menu was French...chevre is goat, right?) and beef bourguignon for me. Everything was delicious, and it may have been our favorite restaurant during our stay in Paris.

Hotel de Ville
Hotel de Ville

Charcuterie plate
Charcuterie, ready for mustard

Giant artichoke
A giant artichoke

Then we walked along the Seine toward Musee d'Orsay. It started to rain, so we hopped on the RER. The Orsay seems to be the favorite Parisian museum of many, and it was crowded. But the former train station is a beautiful space, and I enjoyed viewing the collection.

Musee d'Orsay
View from the top floor

Clock at Musee d'Orsay
Backwards clock, Jardin des Tuileries in the distance

After the museum, we walked toward Rue du Bac in St. Germain, and stumbled upon a little shop filled to the brim with old and new china (Bain Marie, maybe?), so many lovely things! Then we made our way to Deyrolle. I can't remember where I read about it first, but what an incredible place. It really feels like a museum... taxidermy animals of all kinds, and an astounding collection of beetles, butterflies, and more. Dan wanted everything, but it was slightly out of our budget. Photography is not allowed, you need to see for yourself!

I was ready for a snack, so we headed to Laduree on Rue Bonaparte. I had hot chocolate and a plate of macarons, and Dan had an amazing millefeuille. Mmm.

Teatime at Laduree
Teatime at Laduree

I wanted to try the macarons at Pierre Herme too, but it was wet and rainy outside. We hopped on the Metro and picked up a box at the shop, then walked over to St. Sulpice to see the Delacroix paintings. By then I was feeling tired and the rain was coming down. I looked for a bakery nearby, and we found our way to Poilane, where slices are sold by weight...perfect! We picked up a few slices, then on our way to the Metro passed a little traiteur where we got some beet salad. Back at the apartment, we made a little dinner with our bread, beet salad, and some cheese, pate, and wine. Then Pierre Herme macarons for dessert, yum! (I thought they were better than Laduree.) Another great day in Paris, despite the crowds and rain.