Our bags are packed, we’re ready to go
We’re standing here, outside our door
Waiting for our friend to pick us up and take us to the airport, we are about to embark on a month-long adventure in Paris. For a short time, we are going to live like the French in an apartment in the 16th arrondissement. I am ready to eat croissants, drink wine, roam little side streets, visit the markets, and enjoy life in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
We are now in our Paris apartment-plane on time, not too jet-lagged, all keys and codes to get in worked, and we love it. After unpacking, we explored our neighborhood and tried to buy a weekly metro pass. My French may be a little rustier than I thought, so tonight I am planning what I need to say, and we are going to try again tomorrow.
Feeling a bit grubby after being in our clothes for two days, we decided to dine in, and had a wonderful meal of wine, bread, four cheeses (never had any of them before), grapes, olives, and chocolate. After dinner, we took a little stroll to the Eiffel Tower.
This is the view out our living room window.
Beautiful weather welcomed us to our first full day in Paris. After fresh croissants from our corner patisserie, we tried a different Metro station for a weekly pass, and voila, my French improved overnight, and we got our passes. Our pass starts on Monday, so we spent the day walking in the Bois de Boulogne, the second largest park in Paris and 2.5 times larger than Central Park in New York City. Hiking back to our apartment we passed the Roland Garros Stadium, home of the French Open and the Jardin des Serres Auteuil, a beautiful botanical garden where I plan to spend more time. According to Paul’s Fitbit, we walked 13 miles today. Dinner tonight was at a French/Asiatic restaurant recommended by our landlady. I ordered our entire meal in French and got a “thumbs up” from our waitress, which probably means my French was understandable but far from flawless.
When I went for my morning croissants, life in the 16th arrondissement was much busier than it was when we arrived this weekend. Children of all ages were heading out for school, and adults were on their way to work. One of the joys of staying in an urban residential area is feeling like we are part of life in Paris. We must be starting to look like we fit in because this afternoon a man stopped us to ask for directions in halting French. He was so happy to find out we were Americans and could help him out in English.
Our goal today was to master the Metro (Paris subway) and visit a number of different areas in the process. After making four transfers on one trip, we feel confident we can now get anywhere in Paris on the Metro.
The Hotel de Ville (below) is home of the Mayor of Paris and local administration. Ever since 1357, the City of Paris’ administration has been located on this site. Two days a year, Paris celebrates Heritage Days by opening the holy shrines of buildings which are normally closed to the public. On this Saturday (the first Heritage Day), we will be able to tour inside this spectacular building.
Our first stop today was a visit to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the world’s most visited cemetery and final resting place of illustrious French residents. Some of the famous people buried here include Moliere, Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Colette, and Gertrude Stein. Many of the grave sites are elaborate towers and mini-chapels, often holding numerous members of a family.
From there we went to the home of Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Then on to Places des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris built between 1601 and 1612. We ate lunch by the Place de la Bastille, site of the Bastille prison until its destruction between July 14, 1789 and July 14, 1790, during the French Revolution.
The highlight of my day was receiving a compliment about my French from our waiter at dinner. Since he responded in English, I am not feeling too confident about my fluency. After I complimented him on his English, and Paul told him we would be back, he told us which nights he works. So now we have a French waiter buddy.
Paul taking a photo of me taking a photo of Chopin’s grave site.
Today was our first market day in our neighborhood, and we were not disappointed. The produce was beautifully arranged, the array of fish, meat, olives and cheese was mind boggling, and the people were helpful and happy. We got bread and fruit (discovered a new fruit-mirabelle) for breakfast and salad, meat and hericots vert for dinner. Now that we know what is available, we are already planning our strategy for Saturday, the next market day.
After breakfast, we strolled along the Champs-Elysees, one of the most beautiful and famous streets in the world. At one end is the Arc de Triomphe, which honors all those who fought and died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic War. We shared a yummy sugar crepe and then walked through the Tuileries Gardens.
Later in the afternoon, Paul worked and thanks to a mutual friend, I met a Parisian woman with whom I had been e-mailing who is also focused on coaching people about retirement and positive aging. She invited me to visit the 7th arrondissement annual Forum Day, a program designed to acquaint residents with available services. The Mayoress of the 7th arrondissement visited the program and shook my hand. She was quite stylish in her blazer, skinny dark jeans and blue suede stilettos, not like any mayor I have seen in the USA. I also talked with a young Parisian man who had spent three months interning at Disney World in Orlando and loved Florida. After the program, my new French friend and I sat outside at a beautiful French cafe, enjoyed a glass of Sancerre wine, and had a great time discussing life.
Twenty years ago, Paul, Samantha and I stood in line more than 2 hours to see a special impressionist exhibit at the Musee d’Orsay, the former train station and now premier museum housing 19th-century art in Paris. Today, contrary to what the guide books led us to expect, we walked right in. We spent most of our day enjoying the beautiful paintings and sculpture and especially enjoyed seeing the works of my favorite painter, Renoir, and Paul’s favorite, Van Gogh.
Outside the d’Orsay:
Leaving the d’Orsay, we crossed a pedestrian bridge full of “love locks”. A couple writes their names on a padlock and locks it onto one of the bridges. The lovers then throw the key into the Seine River as a symbol of their undying love. For couples who come unprepared, vendors sell locks right on the bridge.
A “gold ring” scammer approached us. Thanks to Rick Steves, I knew immediately that we were being set up, so I said, “Non, Merci”, and we kept on walking. The scammer pretends to find a gold ring (which is really brass) on the street and states it doesn’t fit her and offers to sell it. It seemed like an odd scam to me when I read about it, but now I know it really does happen.
We had a wonderful dinner at Le Beaujolais d’Auteuil, a traditional Parisian bistro in our arrondissement. Our waitress tried out her English with us and helped me with my French. The Parisian wait staff have been great French tutors.
We started our Montmarte walk at Paris’ highest point in front of Sacre-Coeur Basilica. Compared to most of the beautiful architecture in Paris, Sacre-Coeur, completed in 1919, is relatively new.
We then walked a few blocks to Place du Tertre, the town square of Montmarte since medieval times. Great artists such as Picasso, Renoir and Van Gogh lived and worked in Montmarte, and Place du Tertre is a small square filled with working artists. Twenty years ago one of the artists sketched Samantha’s portrait.
We saw Le Bateau Lavoir where poor, unknown Pablo Picasso lived and painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, invented cubism, and became famous. I think these students next to Paul were on a field trip; they all rushed over, checked off something on a piece of paper and left.
After seeing where Renoir painted Bal du Moulin de la Galette a few blocks away, we saw the former homes of painters Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh. Then we ambled past Cafe des Deux Moulins, made famous in Amelie, and moved on to the Moulin Rouge where the cancan was created.
We finished our walking tour on a section of Boulevard de Clichy know as Pig Alley because it has so many sex shops, peep shows, etc. It wasn’t as seedy as expected, but it definitely wasn’t a lovely part of Paris.
Even though it drizzled most of the day and I somehow managed to leave my umbrella inside Sacre-Coeur, it was another great day in this beautiful city.
Today we decided to tackle la fromagerie at the market. I had read that cheese shops don’t give samples in France, but rather the cheese masters listen to how you plan to use the cheese and what you like and make recommendations. In my best French, I told the fromage vendeur that we wanted some cheese to eat with bread and wine that didn’t smell too strongly. When he smiled at me, I realized, my French was probably shaky and of course, all French cheese goes with bread and wine. But he was kind and we had a great time choosing cheese with him. After asking us when we were going to eat it, he recommended a cheese with an ashy skin. After we agreed on that one, he gave us samples (imagine our delight) of two others which were equally wonderful. We left with a St. Nectaire fermier, a comte fruite, and a brie fermier.
After a wonderful breakfast of a baguette from our boulangerie, fruit from the market, and our three wonderful cheeses, we took the bus to the Hotel de Ville, the city administrative offices of Paris. Today was one of two days a year that this building is open to the public. Like most of the architecture in Paris, it was opulent and beautiful. My new theory is that Parisians dress so beautifully because they work in such beautiful places. Although the building is normally closed to the public, the library is open to anyone in Paris.
For dinner we had an amazing three-course meal with wine pairing and champagne at O-Chateau. Our chef was a Cordon Bleu Culinary School graduate and our sommelier had trained for six years. My favorite part of the meal was the salad with melon cream on a little pastry with crisp prosciutto.
Today was the sunniest day of the week, and the Parisians were out enjoying the beautiful weather. We visited an art market and a flea market and walked some new neighborhoods. Our walk took us past Les Invalides, where we saw Napoleon’s tomb.
The highlight of my day was chatting with an older French man who sat next to us at lunch. The tables in French cafes are very close to each other. He initiated a conversation with us and complimented me on my French. I didn’t want to say too much after that for fear he would change his opinion.
After lunch we walked along the Seine. Children rode their scooters, roller bladed and played games on big boards painted on the asphalt. Adults played checkers and backgammon. People of all ages wrote on a giant chalkboard. On the Pont des Arts, a man made beautiful music playing a saw.
The Pont des Arts had many more “lovers’ locks” on it than the bridge we were on earlier in the week. One couple had just put their lock on the bridge and were getting ready to throw the keys into the Seine.