The trip across the Atlantic was uneventful; we left from BWI and had a long layover in Newark. Took a sedative but that didn't help either of us sleep. We had the address of the apartment, but had no idea where it was located. The cab driver got us to downtown, then through a series of back streets we got to Rue Mouffetard. This is in the Latin Quarter, where the opera La bohème was set, on the Left Bank of the Seine a short walk from Notre Dame. The block was insanely picturesque, like a Disney set of what Paris looks like... wine shop, bakery, cheese shop, butcher, restaurant, then repeat all of the above. The apartment was a surprise, but a delight. A small front room, and a smaller bedroom, and bathroom. The walls were covered with modern art, and art books abounded. We couldn't have asked for a better location. The first day we got settled, had lunch close by, then went back to have a long nap. The World of Macaron across the street had the best Macarons I've ever eaten, but they were pricey.
What you see here is the line to get into the Catacombs, it stretched around the block. Steven booked the skip the line tour, so we did get to skip this. We were told by the guide to go get a coffee, then come back at 10:00. We went to a cafe across the street and it took about 20 minutes just to get served. We gulped down the coffee when it finally came and rushed to the meeting point. Of course we needn't have hurried, we then just stood around for half an hour for no apparent reason. I learned this on the tour, in the 1800s Paris was running out of room to bury dead people. The solution... dig up all the existing graves and stack the bones in abandoned mine tunnels running below the city. Freaky right? So now it is a tourist attraction with human skulls and leg bones and what not all piled into artistic patterns. The tour was way too long, you have to walk through a mile of tunnels just to get to the bones. As Steven pointed out, Americans would have done a much better job running this attraction, there would have been a tram car and holographic skeletons singing the French version of its a small world.
I was very excited, this was the first time I got to see the Eiffel Tower in person. Steven planned this as a good start for our sight-seeing, but it was drizzling and overcast. On the way down to the boat, he slipped on the wet marble steps and ended up pulling something that hurt him for the rest of the trip. The odd thing is that there was no commentary, like 'on the right you will see the grand palace', it was really just a floating diner. Tried to get a picture of the model for the statue of liberty framed against the Eiffel Tower, but it didn't turn out well.
So Pantheon (literally All Gods) is somewhat a misnomer. This is really a tribute to famous Frenchpeople. I learned about Foucalt's pendulum in physics class so was interested to see this. A demonstration that the earth rotates every 24 hours, contrary to the view that the sun revolves around the earth. In the basement we saw the graves of Victor Hugo, the Marie and Pierre Curie, and a bunch of other people we had never heard of. I kept hoping to see a monument to Marcel Marceau but I guess he didn't make the cut.
Later we walked past the place where the Bastille used to be before they tore it down, now it is a monument in the middle of a traffic circle. We were in that area to have dinner with Steven's coworker who now lives in Paris. After dinner he took us to a speakeasy where you go through a pizza restaurant then into a walk-in freezer, then through a hidden door in back to get to the bar. Funny... even though they were playing nothing but American music, nobody understood English and they still couldn't make a good cocktail
Steven's coworker recommended a restaurant that he wanted to try before our tour of the palace. Le Train Blue is located in a train station on the East side of Paris. The food was excellent and the art work on the walls was amazing. We then took a train down to the Palace of Versailles.
what can be said about Versailles that hasn't be said a million times before. The building is fabulous, the artwork is fabulous, the landscaping is fabulous. We were quite lucky; this was the last weekend before they closed the gardens for the season. To me the most interesting thing was our tour guide, a perky little history major who kept trying to convince us that Marie Antoinette and King Louis were really not that bad, they just happened to be ruling France at the wrong time. The Sun King had images of the sun, and lions, and statues of nude men scattered all around. There is a fountain that portrays men being turned into frogs, which is really funny because the derogatory term for Frenchpeople is frog. So Frenchies are becoming frogies. The day started off overcast, but we had some sun by the end of the tour. The palace and grounds were crowded while we were there, I can't imagine what it must be like during the summer at the peak of tourism.
The first stop on our tour this day was the Louvre museum. This tour was just the right length. get in, see the big 3, then out. First stop, Venus de Milo, Not sure what is so interesting about some tart without arms. Next stop, the Winged Victory The way the garments flow about the torso, and the incredibly detailed wings, this is one amazing piece of sculpture even if it doesn't have a head. Finally we get into the crowded room with the Mona Lisa. In front of it were a line of people with cell phones held aloft. Getting close was a struggle, but finally we get to see the smile in person. There were a number of other fantastic paintings close by, but we really weren't there to appreciate art.
We took a boat from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower. The day was overcast and the top of the tower was shrouded in cloud. Our tour included a trip up to the first platform and lunch at the restaurant there. If you wanted to go to the top you had to pay extra and stand in a long line. We did. The clouds cleared away and we got to see Paris stretching to the horizon.
We got back on the boat and headed downstream. This is reported to be the most beautiful bridge in Paris. Our last stop of the
day was Notre Dame Cathedral, a gothic architectural masterpiece.
Flying buttress...Check. Gargoyles...Check. Rose windows...Check. The only thing we didn't get to see was a hunchback. They
should have had one standing in front of the building that you could take selfies with.
We walked back to the apartment and had a nap. That night we tried raclette, something that Steven had seen on TV. There were a number of raclette and fondue shops at the top of our street. Unlike fondue where you dip the food into a pool of cheese, for raclette you are given a plate of cheese that you melt and then pour over your food. We got the charcuterie, but you could also get vegetables.
This day we had no tours scheduled and went out on our own. We took the subway to Napoleon's Triumphal Arch. It took us a while to figure out how to get in, and were surprised that you had to buy tickets. There was a spiral staircase going all the way to the top, it was quite a workout. A screaming face was at the top for some reason, a carving from somewhere or other. The view was impressive and the day was much clearer than when we were in the big pointy thing. From the arch we strolled down the Camps Elysees and 'people-watched'. We found a cafe on the avenue to have lunch. I had quiche and a glass of wine, Steven had a hot dog with fries and a coke. The waiter spat on him when he asked for ketchup. These are some of the people we watched, the French really like their scarves. After this we took the subway to the Seine to see the booksellers stalls. By chance we came across the bridge where couples put locks to symbolize their love, or is it that marriage is like prison?
That night we were thinking about going to the Moulin Rouge, but Steven found online about a drag cabaret dinner show. It was right by Montmartre, a beautiful domed church, so we stopped by there first then took the funicular down to street level. Michou is the RuPaul of France, though we had never heard of him. Apparently he had a couple of hit songs in the 70s. When we walked in they sat us down to have a picture with Michou, who expected us to be thrilled to meet him, but again we had no idea who he was. Dinner was good but the place was packed. It was so hot, when they came by selling fans we bought one. Our waiter, one of the performers, was adorable. He showed Steven how to open the fan the way a drag queen would, with a flick of the wrist. There was a 10 minute speech by Michou that the audience found charming, poignant, and funny; but because we don't speak French was totally lost on us. The performance was fun, the Celine Dion impersonator was amazing. Some of the acts were women only French people would recognize, but all in all it was a good show.
On our last full day we went to the gardens of the Palace of Luxembourg. It was a beautiful day. I had been saving bread from our meals and we had some leftover baguette, so we took these to feed the birds. The guide book said that children sail model boats in the fountain there, and there actually were kids with boats. Weird. We got a number of birds to come to us, and the pigeons would eat out of your hand. The flowers were beautiful, and the trees were gorgeous in the fall colors. We even saw Santa Claus
We ate lunch across the street, with more people-watching. The poster of Hillary and Donald reminds me that this was just a few weeks before the election. There were only a few English language TV channels, but it was non-stop coverage of the debates and polling. Steven was so sure that Hillary would win, but was still obsessively checking the poll results. We all know how that turned out.
That night we went to a recommended restaurant to have seafood. The food tower was impressive and the number of different types of seafood was stunning. Snails are not that bad, just a little chewy. After dinner we took one last walk along the river and saw Notre Dame at night. There is a marker in in the pavement there that was the French attempt to make the prime meridian run through Paris rather than Greenwich England. They say that if you walk over this spot you are sure to come back to Paris in the future.
The trip home was uneventful; no delays, no lost luggage. Because we were flying West, it light for most of the trip home and we didn't sleep. Polly was very happy that we were back home, she didn't much care for the cat-sitter. It was good to get away and was really hard to get back into the groove at work. Of course the election happened a short while after we got back and that smug orange clown snuck into office. Oh well, at least we'll always have Paris.