Paris: The Good, the Bad, and the Food

I’m feeling nostalgic as I compose this last blog post because I’m already home in Ottawa, safe and sound, and back to real life, work, and laundry. The kind of life where you don’t drink wine at 12 noon everyday, gallivant around from gallery to monument to park to landmark, and eat fancy things in restaurants watching the fashionable people stroll by.

But…I had that in Paris. And I LOVED it. I don’t know what possessed me to tack a quick stop in France onto the end of our Italy adventure, (well, I guess see the reasons above) but I am so, SO glad I did. I’d love to go back and spend more time in Paris…and in the meantime, going over all of my photos and memories will have to do.

Arriving in Paris was somehow refreshing after the dusty streets and insatiable crowds of Rome. We passed a huge, green space right away where dozens of people lounged, kicking a ball around or reading in the tall green grass. We found our hotel fairly easily on foot. And after we’d dumped our bags off and figured out where we were, we stopped at a nearby cafe for the largest, juiciest, thickest burger and crisp golden french fries. I didn’t realize how little meat I had eaten in Italy (surrounded by a sea of pasta, I didn’t miss it) but that was a GREAT meal. Our waiter was funny and had a great french accent, and was dressed in a crisp white shirt and black apron, just like in a movie.

After we were full and happy, we walked straight to the Eiffel tower and it was so huge and beautiful – it looks almost light brown in the early evening light, and walking underneath it we spotted a little stream with ducks splashing nearby. We kept going through because we saw a crowd and wanted to find out what was going on – and it was an old, 1920s tune playing scratchily out of some speakers in front of a beautiful building, and pairs of dancers were waltzing right there in the square!

Eiffel Tower

danseur in Paris

Next morning we rose really early to fulfill the mission that probably was the reason I wanted to go to Paris in the first place: to go to the Louvre. We got in line about a half an hour before the doors opened, and it shuffled along pretty quickly until we were inside (and waiting in a second line).

Louvre Pyramid

The wait itself went quite fast and so I told myself that maybe the crowds wouldn’t be so bad either – it was early, on a Monday morning, after all – and we headed into the Sully wing, squeezed around the Venus de Milo, and took a good look at the other amazing sculptures, and then I decided we should go look for the Mona Lisa. Even walking into wing was annoying, tripping over tourists posing in front of every single painting, and when we managed to stuff ourselves into the room where the great painting was housed – it took a good twenty minutes to even get close. I did want to take a picture, too, and after getting in and out I was impatient, sweaty, and unhappy. Sigh. I would have just loved to take my time, walk by, gaze at it and enjoy it, but it wasn’t meant to be. At least I saw it, in real, I suppose.

Mona Lisa

It’s funny, I took a ton of photos in the last few weeks, but in the Louvre (where you can take pictures without flash) I took maybe a dozen at the most. I didn’t feel the need, I’d rather just look, and we ended up racing through the rooms, covering a lot of ground but really trying to steer clear of the swarms of people. I did like the floor to ceiling, eerily realistic paintings, dark in some cases and others bursting with color, nestled in their gilded frames, and the sense of history seeping through them but I couldn’t help feel disappointed that we lost the true experience of the Louvre in the crush of the crowd. We left after a few hours and headed out into the nearby Jardin des Tuileries to sit in front of the fountains, feel the spray misting our faces, and relax.

Jardin de Tuileries

We walked all the way through the Jardin, under shady, leafy trees, past shiny stone sculptures, and tons of flowers in every shade of the rainbow, and the Eiffel tower peeking up out of the trees to loom gracefully in the background.

The Jardins end, and you spill out onto the street, into the Place de la Concorde with this tall stone spine ending in a gold top as pointed as a razor and covered in hieroglyphics, called the Obelisk, in the centre, and flanked by buildings and fountains spitting and spilling water up into the air.

Place de la Concorde

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the pretty, peaceful streets of Paris, stopping to sit out on a patio for a drink, before we started ambling toward the Île de la Cité that holds the gorgeous Notre Dame Catherdral. We realized along the way that we were hungry and stopped into a random place to eat and opted for the long, 3 course set menu. We both chose french onion soup to start and it was amazing, all sweet onions and rich broth pooling around the cheesy bread. I don’t know if every restaurant in Paris is fantastic or if we just had really good luck, but the food was so good – finishing with, in this case, creme brulee for me and this rich moussey chocolate dessert (Tyler had ordered it, but I couldn’t help dipping into it…a few times…)

french onion soup

Walking down the Seine river in the evening light has to be one of the most magical parts of our trip. The sun was starting to set and cast a golden glow over the bridges (this one pictured below covered with Lovers locks), the water was soft green ripples, and the little island at the end yielded one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the mass of churches we had seen over the last couple of weeks. I squinted but couldn’t see the Hunchback anywhere.

Lovers Locks

Notre Dame cathedral

Nearby, a man in a patched sweater and hat thrummed his accordion; roller bladders set up a ribbon to leap over and others swerved and swayed around pylons, and a couple of French fellows engaged us in conversation that started asking where we were front and ended in religion (I think – my french is pretty rusty and I also wandered off to capture a few photos of the sunset out over the river).  Once the sun was low, the air started to get chilly so we got brave and tried taking the Metro (successfully!) back to our hotel.

Next morning was another early one. After my disappointment the day before with the Louvre, I decided we should go to the Musée d’Orsay, this treasure trove of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art that is housed in an old, converted train station. We arrived half an hour before opening ,again and the line up filled up around us, but this time was much better. The museum was more open and cameras weren’t allowed which was more than fine by me – I loved checking out the artwork slowly, and I took Tyler from room to room like a kid in a candy shop, exclaiming over each find. I’ve never seen so many lovely works by Monet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Signac, Renoir, Van Gogh, all in one place. I was overwhelmed by it and it definitely made up for being underwhelmed the previous day!

Even just being in the building was impressive – the huge vaulted ceilings, and on the top floor there we looked out from behind the massive clock to gaze along the river.

Musée d'Orsay clock

Musée d'Orsay outside

Our next excursion meant figuring out the Metro again to take it one of the cutest, most picturesque neighbourhoods in Paris (and probably the world): Montmartre, where we stopped first for a cappuccino and chocolate crepe, before climbing the upward sloping cobblestone streets, through the bustling Place du Tertre and towards the snow white domes of the Sacre Coeur cathedral, which you look at in awe, then turn right around to see all of Paris laid out before your feet in a sweeping view.



We walked back down through the streets, past the apartment where Van Gogh stayed with his brother Theo, through market stalls alight with fresh strawberries, stalks of asparagus, wheels of hard white cheese, and along ru‪e Lepic‬ until we got the the Deux Moulins cafe – a tiny, cramped little space with small formica topped tables, and including images from a super cute and whimsical movie filmed there called Amelie (which I love!) and stopped in for a drink.

deux moulins

Last stop was the Moulin Rouge exterior before we bought an obscene amount of sugary candy to munch on, and clambered back onto the Metro to take a ride out to the Père Lachaise Cemetery and visit Jim Morrison’s grave.

Moulin Rouge

Jim Morrison's grave

Back in our own neighbourhood, we walked around the Rodin Museum, a small, pretty area with a lush garden out back, where we paid 1 euro to roam around, smell the roses, chill out on a bench in the shade, surrounded by sculpture after sculpture, and check out the Thinker.

Thinker Rodin

Last day in Paris called for one last awesome meal, and we ate at the restaurant beside our hotel. I forget what it was called but I do remember that it was another delicious, drawn-out affair with a starter and that Tyler had escargots – garlicky, and rubbery but actually pretty good. We picked up a bottle of wine to drink as the sun set by the Eiffel tower, plastic cups and all, enjoying the last few moments in paradise as the sky turned inky black and the stars glittered overhead.

eiffel tower paris



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