The first part of our Le Marais-based week
04.07.2012 - 07.07.2012
This is different - for all of us! Although we met up with my parents before in France (in 2008), we've never had an extended holiday with them, and they've never travelled independently in Europe. It was weird even being in the Toronto airport with them. I started a running joke of "hey, what are you doing here?"
Overnight flights are pretty gelling (& I probably slept more than anyone), and so was the nearly two-hour taxi ride in from CDG airport. We're staying in the heart of Le Marais in a classic-looking Parisian flat. It's also the heart of the gay village, which makes it quite interesting in the evenings! I don't understand...why I haven't I got on hit more? Anyway, the building itself is from 1889. Though they added a claustrophobic one-person elevator, we mostly ignore and walk the spiral stairs to the third floor.
Roland, and his little white dog, were there when we arrived and showed us around. My Dad and I foraged for some basic groceries in the neighbourhood as everyone else unpacked or napped a bit.
(Dining room of our flat in Le Marais, with evidence of someone's breakfast.)
It was to be a big first evening: we'd booked advance tickets to go up the Eiffel Tower. This would ensure that everyone wouldn't just crash. And it worked, though it was a little hard to put the time in when you're all in a jet-lagged fog.
We bought our first Metro "carnet" (book of 10 tickets) and got on at our Hotel de Ville stop and figured out a way to the Rue Cler neighbourhood near the Eiffel Tower. It wasn't much to look at, but we had an early dinner at a pizza place (Gusto Italia) near there (just because it smelled good, and we couldn't wait for a real French restaurant to open at 7 or 8), then looked at the Tower from ground level, before hanging out with drinks and desserts in a nearby cafe.
Finally it was up the to the top. The very top! My parents had never done that before. The elevator ride to the highest platform is a bizarre sensation, a little scary. When you finally look out, it's an astonishing view. The perspective actually flattens the hills of Paris. It's so white. Another meaning for the "city of light."
It did turn out to be a pretty exhilarating start to our week in Paris.
To start our first real day in Paris, Jenn wanted to take us off the beaten tourist track. A word about our trip: it was my parent's idea, it's based on having more time to be in Provence than one of the package tours would ever offer. Jenn's role is planning, and she's thrown herself into the role over the past year and a half: a one-woman tour director/travel agent extraordinaire. Jenn's other role during the trip is photographer, so you won't see her in many pictures (none on this blog) and that's how she likes it! My role (other than this blog) will be in driving once we leave Paris. And speaking French: I've been brushing up on my French for over a year using a computer program called "Fluenz," and the encouragement of the colleagues at my school who teach French (I teach History).
So we started the morning at Parc Monceau, a beautiful area of Paris that I'd never heard of, and walked to the Nissim de Camondo museum/mansion. It was a huge hit with everyone. My parents were amazed that so impressive an attraction would not be on any of the travel itineraries. The Camondo family mansion is preserved exactly as it was when opened as a museum in 1935. They were a wealthy Jewish family who had collected French decorative arts objects mainly from the 18th century. Although the museum is named after a son in the family who died as a French soldier in WWI, all of the family's next generation of daughters died in concentration camps in WWII. It's quite a story, showing that no amount of money or status protected French Jews.
(Beautiful and lesser-known Parc Monceau)
To tour the house now is to tour the home as if people were still living in it, surrounded by their museum-quality objects. Particularly interesting were the servant and kitchen areas, and the entire room built just to show off the china sets.
Then we made our way be Metro (pretty easy to get around, although often crowded) to the Arc d'Triomphe. Four years ago we were here with my parents and had our picture taken in pretty much the same spot. Anica's changed the most, of course!
Anica wanted to reprise our walk down the Champs d'Elysees, and go in some of her favourite stores, like the Virgin Megastore and the Peugeot boutique (we will be leasing a Peugeot when we leave Paris). Lunch was at Leon's, a Belgian restaurant right on the famous boulevard.
(A second Triomphe!)
(Original Triomphe - 2008!)
The afternoon highlight was a visit to the Orangerie, and Monet's famous "Waterlillies" rooms. The oval galleries were made specifically for these works.
Dinner: our new Paris favourite, a restaurant called "Chez Papa." We'd had this recommended; there's several locations, but we went to Bastille one, just two Metro stops from our flat. The Bastille has a huge column in the middle of its massive roundabout, dedicated to the 1830 revolution. A new opera house (designed by a Canadian architect) dominates one spoke, and a canal coming up from the Seine dominates another spoke. It was across from the Canal that we made the acquaintance of "Papa." The menu is country cooking: huge salads called "Boyardes" and "planchas" of cheesy, meaty bread. I had the "indecis" which means I couldn't decide and got both. My Dad, whose not known for his adventures in food, got an omelet and loved it. We might even be back, it was so good!
(The reward for my indecisiveness - a little of both at Chez Papa!)
One of Anica's favourite places in Paris (on both visits) has been the Louvre. This time we spent a "mere" three-and-a-half hours, even though, if properly fed, Anica could have spent the whole day there. It's always amazing. Mona was even more enchanting to me this time!
Anica and her Nana, loving the Louvre
We ate lunch just down the street from our apartment on Rue des Archives, in the "cave" (or cellar) level of Le Pain Quotidien, before re-charging for an afternoon exploration of the Montmartre neighbourhood. Unfortunately it was raining, and pretty heavily. We were happy to duck into Sacre Coeur and put our umbrellas down. Even with some rain, however, it's quite a view just in front of the famous onion dome. We dutifully traipsed through Montmartre's hilly streets, spotting artist hang-outs and even the last remaining windmill. But the rain pretty much got the better of us; we glimpsed Le Moulin Rouge, then scampered into the Metro station. We weren't about to hang out there until dinner/evening.
Montmartre windmill, rain, and me
"Dinner" turned out to be problematic at first. Nobody wanted to walk much further and some restaurants were already filling up. Eventually, Jenn and I chose "Picard" dishes for everybody while they waited at "home." It was pretty funny, actually: Picards is well-known frozen-food store, and everybody got their own microwave dinner. But it was so yummy! With a few other fresh food and junk-food items from the neighbourhood to round things out, it was a memorable meal. And no complaints from our diners!