Category Archives: Paris 2013

Art and Beauty and Fashion

Every day I see something beautiful in Paris, but today seemed especially full of beauty.  We started our day on the “other side” of the Arc de Triomphe because we wanted to find the meeting site for our wine tour next week.

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We strolled the Champs Elysee, again, and the Tuileries Garden, again, and went to the Orangerie Museum, a most beautiful little museum.  The main attraction is Monet’s Water Lilies displayed in two rooms specially designed to display them.  We were so glad that we had visited Giverny where Monet painted these beautiful paintings before actually seeing them.  There was a wonderful collection of Renoir works, as well as paintings by Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, Rousseau and a number of other painters with whom I was not familiar.

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We stopped for crepes from one of the little stands along the Tuileries Gardens.

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Paris has such beautiful little gardens all over the city.  After finishing our crepes, we washed our hands at one of the many fountains around the city and discovered this little gem, a tiny park with just a couple of benches.

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As we came to end of our walk through the Tuileries, we noticed some tents set up and went to investigate.  It is Fashion Week in Paris, and the tents were for some of the designers.   I have never seen so many beautiful, fashionably-dressed people in one place before.

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We ended our walk in the lovely Palais Royal Courtyards.  As we left the courtyards, we passed a number of vintage designer stores.  Looking at their display windows was like being in a fashion museum.

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We ended our day with a wonderful Moroccan meal in the Marais district.  When we left at 11:00, the restaurant was still full.

Versaille!

Today we took a 20 minute train ride to the opulent and vast Versaille Chateau and grounds.  I had a moment of panic when I couldn’t find the tickets we bought yesterday so we wouldn’t have to stand in a long line.  Luckily, I found them in the garbage where I had thrown them in a purse-cleaning frenzy.

We knew we would see a splendid chateau, and we were not disappointed.  Lavishly decorated rooms, huge crystal  chandeliers, gold leaf and large art was everywhere.  I thought of how Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were living in lavish luxury one day and a few years later were imprisoned and sent to the guillotine.

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Marie-Antoinette wanted a place to experience the “simple life”, so she built her own village of buildings, gardens and animals.  Vegetable gardens adjoin each of the houses and chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits and goats are on the farm area.

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Beautiful buildings, sculptures and fountains are located all over the large estate.

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We have been so lucky in avoiding the crowds.  Versailles is reputed to be one of the most crowded tourist destinations in France with long lines, but by following Rick Steves’ advice we didn’t have any problems with lines or crowds.  Even the famous Hall of Mirrors was not too congested.

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What surprised us most was the beauty and size of the grounds.  It was a gorgeous day, and we spent more time walking the beautiful grounds than we did in the Chateau and other buildings.  Except on special days, the gardens are free, and we saw many people enjoying the gardens-picnicking, biking, walking, running and rowing on the Grand Canal.

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Onion Soup

In France, what we call French onion soup is called soup a l’oignon.  (Fried potatoes aren’t called French fries here either.) Paul and I found a place in Montmarte that serves such wonderful soup a l’oignon that we made a return trip today just to have the soup.  It was such a beautiful day that we got off the Metro early and walked a few extra miles to get there.  We told the waiter we came back for the soup, and he smiled and told us quite a story about the chef and the soup.  The problem with speaking a little French is you usually get a lot of French in return, more than I can understand.  I did understand the waiter saying the soup was the chef’s specialty and he used lots of pepper.  This soup is so good that we are already talking about one more trip up the hill before we go home.

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Later in the afternoon, Paul went back to our apartment to do some work, and I did a little shopping.  Riding home, I was thinking about what a lovely day it had been and how much I love Paris.  I looked up and saw the doors close as my train left my Metro stop.  I got off at the next stop and ended up with a little bit longer walk home.

We eat dinner pretty late, so most days we go out for a late afternoon walk.  One of the things we love about these walks is discovering new things.  Sometimes we take the Metro to a new area and other times we just head out our door.  Today we walked from our apartment in a new direction and found two huge sports stadiums.  One is the Jean-Bouin Stadium, used mostly for rugby union matches.

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The other is the Parc des Princes, a football stadium and site of the finish line for the Tour de France from its start in 1903 until the track was demolished in 1960.  The two stadiums are across the street from each other, and Paul noted that there weren’t any parking lots for either stadium.  Since most people in Paris use public transportation, they don’t need huge parking lots.Image

Rodin

Today was a much better smelling day than yesterday.  We went to the Fragonard Perfume Museum and learned how perfume is made.  While we were waiting for a tour in English to begin, Paul wondered if men took this tour.  Right after he said that a tour group of Indian and Japanese men who wanted a tour in English came in, and we were included with their group for the tour.  Of course, I had to buy some French perfume.

We went to the Musee Rodin.  It was so interesting to learn how Rodin had lived and worked in the Hotel Biron with other great artists and donated his entire collection to France with the stipulation that the Hotel Biron become the Musee Rodin.

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Some of the garden was closed because they were putting up a huge exhibit with flowers hanging from the ceiling.  One of the guides told me it was a private exhibit.  As we were leaving, the workers unrolled a huge gold sign on the front that said “Dior”, so I think it will probably be the sight of the Dior Spring/Summer 2014 show.

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Tonight a friend who lives in Paris invited us to her home for dinner.  She invited two other people, one who lives in Paris and one who lives in Normandy.  It was so much fun to be in her home and meet her friends.  Her apartment has a great terrace with a beautiful view of Les Invalides

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In the Sewer with Jean Valjean

We got off the beaten path today, literally, when we went underground to tour the Paris sewer system.  Paul was excited to see this, and I enjoyed it more than I expected.  Paris boasts the vastest and most hygienic sewer system in the world.  As we were walking the dank sewer tunnels, I thought about the scene from Les Miserables where Jean Valjean carries Marius through the Paris sewer system.  Then we got to a display that credited  Victor Hugo with making the Paris sewer system famous and mentioned his relationship with Eugene Belgrand, the engineer who designed the system in 1850 that is still used today.

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It was a little dark and a little smelly but really an interesting experience.  There was a small gift shop at the end of the exhibit that sold little stuffed animals (including little rats) and water carafes.   Nobody seemed to be buying anything.

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It was wonderful to return to the sunshine and smell the clean air.  We went to a wonderful traditional French restaurant that had been recommended by a friend who has traveled to Paris many times.  Our three-course lunch ended with an amazing pastry. 

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We finished our day with a wonderful dinner at an Indian restaurant.

Giverny

Today was a big day for me.  The proprietor of the boulangerie where I get my daily croissants and baguette greeted me with a friendly, “Comment ca va?” (how’s it going?) when I came.  In spite of my limited French, we had a friendly little chat.  Before today I hardly got a smile.  Since the Parisians are not known to be warm or friendly, I felt welcomed to the neighborhood.

We took a forty-five-minute train to Giverny to visit Monet’s garden.  Paul and I have gotten pretty good at navigating the Metro system and even knowing when we need to hustle down the stairs to catch a Metro just as it pulls into the stop.  We were humbled today when we hurried down the stairs, dashed on board just as the doors were about to close, and realized we had gotten on the wrong Metro.  At the next stop, we got off, boarded the right Metro and made it to the train station in time.

At Giverny we toured Claude Monet’s beautiful gardens and home.  As a middle-aged, successful artist, Monet moved his family to Giverny, about 45 miles from Paris and developed beautiful gardens, including a Japanese garden and lily pond.   

Trellises in the garden in front of his home.

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Monet’s boat.

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Water lily pond

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They even had a few haystacks.

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Paris Walk North to South

 Today we joined our Paris friend for a twelve-mile walk she had planned that took us from the north of Paris to the south.  In addition to the three of us, our group included a young woman visiting from S. Africa and a woman from Canada who is working in Paris.  Meandering through quiet streets, we saw parts of Paris seldom visited by tourists.

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We stopped at two markets.  Some of us bought French lingerie for 1 euro, and we tasted some amazing African food.

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We ate lunch at an Israeli restaurant and greatly appreciated having someone with us who understood the entire menu. I also learned I had correctly translated “head of veal” on the menu yesterday and what I thought was andouille sausage was, in fact, the lower part of some animal’s intestine and definitely an acquired taste.  As Paul said, navigating the French menu is a minefield.

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Beautiful church bells welcomed us as we neared the Pantheon.

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It was a beautiful day, and we enjoyed spending time with our delightful group of new friends.

 

A Walk in the Park

Today was an absolutely beautiful, sunny day that called to us to be outside.  We started our day with a walk in Le Jardins des Plantes, Paris’ main botanical garden.

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After that we walked by the biggest mosque in Paris.  There was a little restaurant inside that looked interesting, but we weren’t ready for lunch.

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We continued exploring new areas, including the University of Paris, the Sorbonne and the Pantheon.  Originally a church, the Pantheon is now the burial place of many famous French people, including Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Marie Currie and Louis Braille.

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We ate lunch at a Mexican restaurant-yes, Mexican food in Paris.  It was wonderful, unique and healthy-no cheese on either of our dishes.  I have had a little trouble with some of the menus.  The translator on my phone doesn’t always give me good information, and my French food vocabulary is more limited than I thought it would be.  For awhile, I thought a number of restaurants were serving tiger (pretty sure that wasn’t right), and I think head of veal was on one of the menus today.  Most of the food has been wonderful, and thanks to recommendations from friends and our own exploring, we are finding some great little restaurants.

Left Bank Walk

It was a lovely day to be outside, so after pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) from our neighborhood boulangerie, we enjoyed a stroll around the Left Bank.  Thanks to Rick Steves (he accompanies me on all my trips), we saw all the highlights of this beautiful and artsy Paris neighborhood.  Starting at the Institut de France where the Academie Francaise decides what new words get in the French language we passed this statue of Voltaire in a street-corner garden.

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We loved wandering around the art galleries and found a beautiful chocolate shop and had more chocolat chaud.  I think I am developing a serious chocolate chaud addiction.  We passed Les Deux Magots where Oscar Wilde, Picasso, Hemingway, Sartre, and Jim Morrison hung out. 

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We toured St. Germain-des-Pres, Paris’s oldest church and St. Sulpice, modeled on St. Paul’s in London.  After lunch, sitting semi-outside in a little bistro, we walked through the Luxembourg Garden.  It’s hard to believe that France’s secret service is “secretly” headquartered beneath this beautiful garden.

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After our Left Bank walking tour, we made a quick visit to the Petit Palais, an exhibition hall built for the 1900 World’s Fair.  We tried to see it yesterday, but the doors were locked.  It wasn’t until we got home that I figured out we were at the Grand Palais across the street.

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For dinner, we went to an amazing Greek restaurant that we discovered on the Left Bank.  I didn’t know that real Greek feta cheese is so different from what feta I have eaten.

Carnavalet

We spent an interesting morning at Musee Carnavalet, a Paris history museum located in two town homes in the Marais district.  Ever since I read Tale of Two Cities in high school, I have been fascinated with the French revolution.  Although the museum covers Paris history from earliest times to the present, we primarily spent time in the rooms devoted to the French revolution -1871.

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We walked some new areas of Paris and continued to be amazed by how we find beauty everywhere we look.

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Thanks to recommendations from MN friends, we got some great new cheeses from our favorite fromagerie today at the market.  In addition to Paul’s favorite comte fruite, we got some mimolette and crottin de chavignol..

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