Fellow Travellers

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Paris May 2009

Paris is one of my favorite cities on earth. Although it is a city built through the annexing of towns and villages, it is a triumph of city planning. The grand boulevard, Champs des Elysees, the numerous monuments and beautiful green spaces such as Jardin des Tuileries, Parc Champs de Mars et le Jardin du Luxembourg make every corner of the city a delight to wander.

We departed Amsterdam on an early train arriving at Paris Nord just after noon. After some confusing moments trying to figure out which Metro line to take we quickly proceeded to our hotel in Marais on Rue des Archives. We were very pleased with the hotel and recommend it for quality of accommodation and location.


Ambitious as always, I had organized an action packed afternoon. Our hotel was situated across from the Ile de Cite and therefore Notre Dame. The weather was gorgeous so we walked over to the cathedral enjoying the architecture along the way.

We decided to forgo the official paid tour and opted to go and feast our eyes rather than our ears. On entering you pass through one of two intricately carved stone doorways. The apostles, St John the Baptist and Jesus are there to welcome you home along with the faithful followers. Once inside the church you could hear the soft murmur appreciation from the pilgrims and tourists. The choir flanking the altar and carved in wood, was glorious from the back as it was from the front. It would have been wonderful to attend an Easter or Christmas mass to hear the acoustics.

There were many stunning statues depicting religious figures. The altar was somewhat modern which seemed a bit out of place. Behind the altar was a delicately carved statue of the virgin with Christ, flanked of course by the King of France. How cheeky! However, Royalty did consider themselves next to God did they not?

The stained windows depicting the saints and the glass rosettes at either end of the cathedral were stunning. It is hard as a tourist to take a photograph that communicates the beauty of the glass work. There is so much detail in each window it is a wonder to look at. There are many churches throughout France name for the virgin, but there truly only one Notre Dame.

Vivre Notre Dame!

We crossed to the other side of the Ile to the Latin Quarter and I dragged Cliff to Shakespeare and Company, an English book store. Used and new books in my native tongue! I searched the stacks of books packed in rows in the tiny store to accompany me on my work commutes and was not disappointed. Only wish I’d bought double as I go read a book a week!

From literature to art, on we went to the Picasso Museum which is situated in Marais. The museum houses not only works by Picasso but also some of his own personal collection. It was interesting to see the progression of his work through the years and also what inspired him.

Ambitious as ever I pushed Cliff on to a visit to Pompidou. He declared mutiny and insisted I sit down for drink in the square. I relented and we enjoyed a beer while and did some people watching. When I started to get squirmy and make noises about getting onto the schedule he quietly finished his and indulged me. I had wanted to see the special Kandesky exhibit however we had purchased museum passes which did not include extra exhibits. Fortunately the permanent collection is outstanding so we spent a couple hours enjoying the contemporary art.

We returned to the hotel rather spent, refreshed our clothes and went out to the bistro I had booked for dinner. It was a rather awful dinner and we were not very satisfied with the food or the wine. Terrible to have a dull unsatisfying ending to an otherwise fantastic day. Que sera sera!

May 22

We woke up a little later than planned and dashed off to the Eiffel Tower. I had planned for 1.5 hours at the tower, 1.5 hours at Musee D’Orsay, onto to the Musee Rodin avec picnic and then some shopping après dinner. Ha! We arrived at the Eiffel Tower at 9:45 and stood in line until close to noon! How drool! Not a coffee or croissant in sight! We were dry and famished in a town where food is literally everywhere!

We spent 2 hours watching every shyster shimmy up to the line and squeeze in without a second thought. It was infuriating! Being polite Canadians does nothing for you in these situations, you just pull out your best passive aggressive behavior and stand between them and the front of the line. We finally ascended to the top and enjoyed the spectacular view of the city from all directions.

We descended the tower and began our walk towards the Musee D’Orsay (yes my schedule was blown to bits by then) and decided to take a spot of lunch at a local brassiere. Chicken being the special I indulged and we enjoyed a ½ carafe of rose. I am truly growing found of a chilled rose in the mid day. J

We spent the remaining part of our Friday at the Musee D’Orsay and in fact lingered so long we were kicked out! It’s so hard to see it all in 2 hours! We almost missed my most favorite pointillist, Serat. Monet, Gauguin, Cezanne, Chagall were all here in their finest form. The art was fantastic although the museum itself is overrun with people. There is no moment to enjoy a painting in solitude so one must just consume what they can and take it away. We retired back to our hotel to prepare for a night at the Buddha Bar.

Although some would be skeptical at venturing towards ethnic cuisine in a city such as Paris, I’ve read that Paris does not really have it’s own specialty. Rather it is a city that has come together by annexing villages and towns and accepting foreigners into its bosom. Thus what better city to sample foreign cuisines than Paris! The Buddha Bar did not disappoint and in fact reminded me much of the one in New York.

We arrived for our 8:00 reservation and were seated right away. The restaurant was sultry and dark which added to its urban ambiance. We started with a glass of prosseco (a new favorite way to begin the evening!) The specialty was seafood and the kitchen did not disappoint us. We both had a delicious meal, mine sea bass and Cliff had gambas (shrimp in Dutch). We selected a crisp Riesling to accompany our meals and our only disappointment in seafood is that it does not pair with red wine!

After dinner we ventured towards the Place Concord to see the Eiffel Tower light up at night. A memorable ending to a memorable day.

May 23

Okay did you ever have one of those shopping days where everything fit? I disguised my shopping trip with a stroll down the Champs-Élysées culminating in a visit to the Arc de Triomphe. Sneaky hey?
One of my favorite stops on the boulevard is Laduree, an extraordinaire patisserie . I had forgotten how absolutely lovely it was and the baking is scrumptious! We took away some gorgeous macaroons and chocolate croissants to savor later with a coffee. In fact I horded mine until the last day. Yummmm check it out at

I did some serious damage to my bank account and Cliff was a trooper through the whole event. Our marathon ended at 7 pm and we hauled our loot back (okay my loot) to the hotel. I seriously replenished my spring/summer wardrobe that day (and it didn’t end there….I discovered Ted Baker London on that last day - just a few more things). We booked a local restaurant and ate a late dinner then went home to collapse in bed!

May 24

On Sunday we did what every tourist must do in Paris – we visited the Louvre. The museum is impossible to see in one or even two days . It is composed of four buildings all of which use to house royalty. The architecture is fantastic which is forgotten when you are viewing the massive collection. It would likely be a full time job for a week if you really wanted to see it all.

We decided to focus our efforts on the Italian masters for this visit (see already planning the next one!). We took audio guides as without them it would have been impossible to know what the art historians consider the key pieces. Of course we saw the famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci but also works by Rembrandt, Raphael, and Michelangelo. The Mona Lisa is always surrounded by hordes of tourists many of whom spend more time photographing the art rather than actually looking at it. I will never understand why anyone photographs a famous piece of art. What do you do with such a photo? It can never capture the texture or brush strokes used by the artist. It can never capture the tenderness with which the painter represents the child Jesus or a lamb. Perhaps they are just too cheap to buy the museum book?

It was a three hour journey through two buildings and in the end we couldn’t remember how we got in and now how would we get out! In the end it took us 20 minutes to figure out how to exit – I told Cliff we should have left a trail of popcorn!

Finally out we found ourselves in a scorching hot summer day. We headed up to Montramatre to see the Sacre Coeur Basilica on our way to the Moulin Rouge (we though perhaps we should confess before we go to the burlesque show?). We were fortunate to find a mass taking place and were able to enjoy the choir and atmosphere of the service.

A quick bite on a touristy sidewalk café, then onto the infamous Moulin Rouge. We were seated in the last row of tables and jammed in with the other voyeurs. The room was somewhat charming with all the little table lamps lighting up the dim room. A sense of nostalgia somewhat takes over when they finally begin the show. Flashy costumes, bare breasted dancing ladies, jugglers, ventriloquists and chanson dazzled us for the next 1.5 hours. A dramatic ending to our first whirlwind visit of Paris.

We can’t wait to go back!

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