Friday, 19 April 2013

Au revoir Paris - nous reviendrons!!

19/4/13 Friday
Our last full day in Paris, which feels a little bittersweet in all honesty. I've enjoyed this experience so much, we've had a sensational honeymoon and this exclusive time together has been such a blessing and a wonderful way to begin our marriage, but I've missed home (we both have) and our children and friends, and it's time to go back. It does feel strange today, though, to know that this is the last day.
We spend the morning packing and organising - and have a few anxious moments of uncertainty about whether or not we'll fit everything in and if not then whose gift will have to be left behind......... only joking ;-) (about the gift, not about the couple of anxious moments...........!!)
Once we're satisfied that all will fit, we decide to get out and about in the fresh air for the afternoon, following another recommendation from our apartment host, who suggested that we take the Metro to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. The weather was sunny earlier in the day, but has turned chilly again and it's raining as we set out, so we turn back for our brollies. But we've weathered Paris' freezing temperatures and I've endured snow, so a little rain is not going to stop us now!!
It's a bit convoluted on the Metro to get to this park, as the station we need is closed for renovations, so we have to go one station further, then backtrack on another line. We end up alighting at the deepest Metro station in the world - honestly, we truly are in the bowels of the earth, and it's 175 steps up to daylight!! When we get to the top we see the elevator that we could have taken.............. :-)
The park is right next to the Metro station, and it's green and lovely, and now we know what "butte" means - it's a hill (actually the direct translation is "hillock" or "mound" but it looks bigger than they sound, so I think "hill" will do nicely). We should have guessed really, as the Montmartre area is on the Butte Montmartre, and that's no small mound!!

It's still raining lightly when we arrive, but it's fun walking with umbrellas up, enjoying the lush greenery of the park. At first we think we've covered it all in about 15 minutes, but then we realise we're just at one corner, and there's so much more.
The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is in the 19th arrondissement, in the north-east of Paris and covers about 25 hectares - just a trifle compared to the Bois de Boulogne, but really lovely. Like the Bois de Boulogne, it too has a chequered past. Before the invention of the guillotine, the hill on which the park now stands was the site of the gallows that were used to hang criminals. It was also a refuse dump and a depository for sewage in its day, so I'm glad they decided to make it into a park during the reign of Emperor Napoleon III, and it was opened to the public in 1867. They have such interesting parks in Paris!!!

We enjoy wandering and exploring, taking some photos of the beautiful spring colours and the view from the Belvedere (temple) of Sybil, from where we can see Sacre Coeur quite clearly. I get disoriented and try to locate la Tour Eiffel and other familiar landmarks, but then realise that they're in the opposite direction and obscured by the rest of the park and the surrounding buildings.

We wander on, down the hill and through the grotto, complete with stalactites and stalagmites, and around the lake. Parisians are out and enjoying the park despite the earlier rain.

Just outside the main park gates is a pâtisserie - oh dear, how unfortunate.............. afternoon tea on a park bench by the lake ;-) The sun has returned and the park is stunning. We wind our way back through the park, under the unfortunately named "suicide bridge" and eventually back to the Metro - to count the steps that we traipsed up earlier in the day. At least this time it's all downhill :-)
Back in the Bastille, we dine out again (the fridge and pantry are now empty) at another restaurant recommended by our host. The waitress is very helpful and explains every main course in English. As we're leaving, she calls my lovely husband over to the bar and offers him a free cigar from a box - "very French" she says. He's delighted (even though it tastes disgusting)! ;-)
As we walk home, we reminisce about our time here and take in "our stomping ground" one last time. A little later, mon beau mari takes his camera and tripod to the Place de la Bastille to capture the night life before we leave - our familiar turf while we've been here.

This will be my last post from Paris. Tomorrow sees us heading off to the airport around lunch time for the long haul home. My wonderful two months in Paris (and our amazing 5 week honeymoon) is almost over. We have some beautiful memories, not to mention thousands of photos to remind us of our time here. And I have no doubt we'll be back at some stage, and next time we won't feel the need to do any of the touristy stuff!!!
Au revoir Paris, and g'day Perth!!

Just one more............ and a wedding dinner

18/4/13 Thursday
As our time in Paris comes to an end, I find myself feeling a little wistful about leaving, and I have an urge to to revisit all our favourite places, and do all our favourite things............... just one more time before we go. But it's not possible and the reality is that I've already been and done most things more than once, our favourites anyway.
But if I could................. then these are the places I'd go back to for just one more..............
Our favourite pâtisserie on Rue Saint Antoine - for just one more macaron, one more Bastille ganache, one more yummy something....... anything :-)
The islands - Île Saint-Louis and Île de la Cité - just to wander and explore one more time.
The Latin Quarter - again, just to wander, soak up the atmosphere and the history.
Our local Amorino, for just one more thick, silky Chocolat Chaud............. mmmm!
The Jardin du Luxembourg and the Jardin des Plantes - for one more stroll, to watch the trees becoming greener and the flowers bursting into bloom.
Our local boulangerie, for just one more Baguette Tradition - crusty and chewy and satiny in the middle - divine!!
Just one more view of la Tour Eiffel, one more ride on a Velib, one more cruise down the Seine.
Just one more photograph from a bridge, of the other bridges, one more visit to the markets, one more glimpse of Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, the pyramids of the Musée du Louvre.
Today we visit our local markets on Boulevard Richard Lenoir, one more time. We buy souvlaki wraps for lunch and sit in the middle as the market stall-holders begin to pack up for the day. Then because the sun is shining again (still!!!), we walk down Boulevard Henri IV to the Seine and wander along the rive droite (right bank). This is the panorama that greets us, and my clever husband captures it beautifully with the panorama feature on our little camera - isn't it magnificent? No wonder we've enjoyed this view so much. We think of it as "our view" now :-)

We wander back home by the riverside book sellers, one more time.

Our apartment host pops in later in the afternoon to say farewell. She asks us about our time in Paris, and then suggests a couple more things if we have time to fit them in. Since we've planned to eat dinner out tonight, we ask her for a recommendation in our local area, she used to live here after all. So we take note of her suggestions, one of which is, if we feel like a walk after dinner, to try the Promenade Plantée. Now I've seen this green strip on the map, just a block away, but when we walked in that direction I could never see a park or indeed anything that could be considered "green". But that's because I didn't know what I was looking for.
The Promenade Plantée is not what or where I expected it to be. It's actually a disused railway track ABOVE the street. We've walked under it several times and never really taken notice of what's above. It's a tree-lined walkway that follows the old Vincennes railway line, beginning just east of the Opéra Bastille. At this point it's called the Viaduc des Arts, 10 metres above the line of shops, and follows a 4.7km path eastward. The shops are located in the arches of the former elevated railway viaduct, with the parkway supported above the viaduct. The renovation was started in 1984, and is the first green space constructed on an elevated viaduct.

It's truly beautiful and unique, as we discover when we get up there, and very well patronised by local Parisians who walk (themselves and their dogs), jog and run, use the spaces for Tai Chi, or simply sit to take in the sunshine and the view from above the city.

It also, apparently, appears in a couple of films. I don't know if you're the same, but I love to watch a movie that has places featured in it that I've actually been to (I'm very annoying, I keep saying "I've been there, I stood there, I walked there"), so I'll be looking for this one on DVD when we return to Australia.
We walk about 1.5km, as far as the Jardin du Reuilly, which opens out into a beautiful park and playground area at ground level. This is where I'd come if I lived locally and still had small children. We're glad we decided to do this walk before dinner, in the early evening when the light is so lovely. We could keep walking right to the Bois de Vincennes, but that's another 3km so perhaps not! There's a wooden footbridge over the top of the park, and we take this to head back the way we came.

For our wedding a couple of months ago, a group of lovely friends gave us a gift that would allow us to do something special and memorable together in Paris. So tonight, our second last in Paris, we decide to have a celebratory wedding dinner at a lovely restaurant called Le Square Trousseau, a short walk from our apartment, on Rue Antoine Vollon. The restaurant, one recommended by our apartment host, is out of the main traffic area, in the corner of a square overlooking a pretty park.

The waiters wear white shirts and black bow ties and the decor is typical Parisian brasserie with a touch of class. The waitress recommends the Sainte-Foy Bordeaux aoc Château Les Hauts de Martet, so we happily go with her recommendation, and it turns out to be a lovely vin rouge.
For entree, my wonderful husband of 2 months thinks about the dozen Escargots de Bourgogne, but having never had them before he hesitates and starts to lean towards the more familiar Calamar Frits. I encourage him to try the escargots, in my experience usually delicious when properly cooked. In the end we decide to get both and share. We're married, after all ;-)


The escargots are absolutely wonderful, tender and in a delicious buttery and garlicky parsley sauce. My dextrous husband masters the snail tongs and little fork with aplomb, but just for fun I remind him of the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts sends a snail flying across the 5 star restaurant - "slippery little suckers" :-) The calamari is tender and delicious too, but not nearly as interesting to eat ;-)
My carnivorous husband is always partial to anything that looks like it could be steak on a menu, so he chooses the Onglet a l'échalote "Black Angus" for his main course, and I decide on Toujours l'Escalope de Veau à la Crème et aux Champignons. Both are really tasty, but we've been a little disappointed with meat in France the whole time - it just doesn't seem as tender as fillet steak in Australia. The vegetables are perfectly cooked and lovely.

One of the things that has surprised us both is that desserts in France don't seem to be filling as they are in Australia - normally there's no way I can eat three courses, and here I've surprised myself a number of times by being able to put away entree, main course and dessert. And all my clothes still fit :-)
Normally making a beeline for anything chocolate, my dessert loving husband surprises me by choosing the Pavlova aux Fruits Rouges, while I select Des Fraises et Framboises, which are served simply with sugar and cream. Both desserts are delicious, the nicest selection of strawberries and raspberries I've had, and the pavlova speaks for itself.

The restaurant uses brown paper tablecloths and provides a glass of chalk sticks, so during dinner I doodle hearts and love notes on the table. My wonderful husband reiterates his amused comment from a few days before, that I'm just like a teenager. Well, isn't he lucky!!! ;-)
Thanks to our lovely friends for your generous gift, we had a wonderful, memorable Parisian evening! xoxo

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Montmartre (and elsewhere) in the sunshine

Our time in Paris is coming to an end and part of me wants to pack as much as possible into each remaining day, and part of me just wants to relax and enjoy. But the days are long enough now that we can relax and still fit plenty in. So we start today by wandering over to the islands, so close to our apartment and now very familiar, and yes, a favourite.
The weather has been absolutely glorious all week, not as warm as Sunday but sunny and mild and Paris looks gorgeous. The trees are finally bursting into bright green, it's a delight, and I'm so thankful that this week has finally seen the lovely weather I've been waiting for.
A newly married couple are having their photos taken on the banks of the Seine. As her groom helps her up, we notice that the bride is wearing black bike shorts underneath her dress................... I wonder if he'll be in for a surprise later today..........!!

We dawdle across the bridges, making the most of the sunlight sparkling on the Seine, and wander up the river side of Île Saint-Louis to Île de la Cité.

The tourists are out in droves this morning, but it's amazing (and lovely) how quiet the streets can be just a mere block away from the main strip. After our visit to Bertie's cupcakery (see previous post here) we sit on the wall by the river and enjoy the sunshine and our delicious treat, then we wander on towards Place du Chatelet with a plan to catch the Metro to an area we haven't spent so much time in - the steep, windy, cobbled streets of Montmartre.

As we wander it seems that every day we find something we've never noticed before, even in areas we've visited already. Today we spot a large building at the end of a hilly street, so since we're nearby, and the sun is shining.............

It turns out to be the church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, and Parisians are enjoying the sunshine on the steps at the front. That's a typically Parisian thing to do we've discovered - if there are steps bathed in sunshine, then the locals will congregate - workers having lunch, homeless warming themselves, mothers with children, and tourists too no doubt.

Inside the church is cool and dark, with a huge vaulted ceiling and massive columns, lots of gold and the ubiquitous statues. It's impressive, as are most churches in Paris we've discovered. I'm now at the point of saying "really not interested in popping in to another church". It reminds me of when I was in Florence, and got to the stage where I felt that if I saw another painting of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus I'd scream ;-)
We don't intend to climb to Sacre Coeur again but we catch sight of its white dome between the buildings and we end up there anyway. Today it looks gorgeous in the sunshine - a big difference from the cold, grey, overcast day we had last time we were here.

The warmer weather has brought the scammers and black marketeers out in force, and we're accosted by several men who are blocking the side paths up to the cathedral so that everyone who wants to walk up that way has to pass through. They're very insistent and they grab arms, wanting to engage each person in the making of a plaited bracelet. Of course if you comply and hold the end of the coloured threads while they're plaiting, then you will be asked to pay for it. We're firmly polite but it takes some doing to discourage them. We watch them accost several others, and when one man refuses to take "no" for an answer from a young woman on her own, my protective husband performs a blocking move to foil their plan. It's a shame that a simple "no thanks" doesn't suffice, and it's a pity it's come to this but at least it's only in the more touristy spots. Where are the gendarmes when you need them??
We spend the rest of the afternoon wandering in Montmartre, which is the perfect area to do just that. The narrow and hilly streets are home to an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants with residential spaces above. Almost every street has something interesting to look at, and it's not crowded away from the main tourist spots.

We're definitely relaxed now, and simply enjoying still being together in Paris, with no particular direction to go, commitments to keep, or time to be home. And so we wander on................
(Don't worry, we do get home eventually) ;-)

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A Parisian cupcake or two

17/4/13 Wednesday
Yesterday we walked home via the Île de la Cité, along a little street just one block removed from the craziness around Notre Dame, with the intention of finding a shop I'd read about called Bertie's Cupcakery. I'd stumbled across it a few weeks ago while exploring the island, then came across it in a blog. We found it again no problem yesterday, but unfortunately it was closed.
So this morning we head there first, before we continue on to our next destination. It's open today and at the moment we walk in we're the only customers. The owner (and cupcake maker) is a Canadian lady by the name of Bobbie, who moved to Paris last year with her husband, and opened the cupcakery.  They're both behind the counter this morning and are friendly and interested in knowing where we're from. When we say Australia, they're even more interested because they've just returned from a trip downunder. And when they ask where in Australia we're from, it turns out they visited Perth, which they loved, and spent 3 days on Rottnest Island as well. We enjoy chatting with them, as well as buying our cupcakes - chocolate vanilla for mon amour (with a cute confectionary eiffel tower on the top) and strawberry lemonade pour moi.
We head to the river to sit in the sun and enjoy our delicious cupcakes. Here's a plug for Bobbie's shop and these yummy treats And here's a photo or two:

The cupcakes are truly delicious. Bobbie says that since she opened last year it's been fairly tough getting the business established. She thinks that being a street away from Notre Dame means that the typical tourist, who is just interested in seeing the main sights, doesn't even bother exploring the little streets, even just one block away. I'm sure she's right, and having been here on the coldest of days I can imagine that many people would just rush from one sight to the next, simply wanting to get it over with and get out of the cold. I suspect, though, that price may also come into it for many. At 3€50 per standard size cupcake (smaller than a standard muffin), she's competing with the well-established and very traditionally Parisian pâtisseries that charge the same for substantially bigger gâteaux. A glamorous cupcake in Perth costs around $3.50 (and the more you buy the cheaper they get) so these are definitely more expensive. At 7€ for two, and as lovely as they are, I'd baulk at going back for seconds. But they are truly delicious, the icing is light and fluffy, the cake is soft and moist, and the flavours are exceptional. And they are a visual feast too.

So if you're ever on the Île de la Cité then do pop in and have one, even if you only have one, just so you can experience the gastronomic delight of a cupcake from Bertie's.

Basilique Saint Denis - a final resting place of kings

16/4/13 Tuesday
King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie-Antoinette, have figured large in our time in Paris. We've encountered them in various places along the way - Château de Fontainebleau, the Conciergerie, Château de Versailles, Place de la Concorde, and not forgetting our Hollywood encounter (via movie) early in the piece ;-) Then yesterday, as we walked away from the glamour of Chanel, Dior, YSL, Givenchy and the like, and into the 8ème, we happened upon the Chapelle Expiatoire on Rue Pasquier. Going into the pretty grounds, which are bursting into spring bloom, for a closer look, we read the plaque over the door which states:

Le Roi, Louis XVIII à élevé ce monument pour consacrer le lieu. 
Où les dépouilles mortelles du roi Louis XVI et de la reine Marie Antoinette. 
Transférée le XXI Janvier MDCCCXV dans le sépulture royale de St Denis. 
Ont repose pendant XXI ans. 
Il a été achevé la deuxième année du règne du roi Charles X, l'an de grâce MDCCCXXVI.

Or in other words:
King Louis XVIII raised this monument to consecrate the place 
where the mortal remains of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette, 
transferred on 21 January 1815 to the royal tomb of Saint-Denis, 
reposed for 21 years. 
It was finished during the second year of the reign of Charles X, year of grace 1826.

Aha, so this is the original site of the Madeleine cemetery where the mortal remains of Louis and Marie-Antoinette were placed after their executions - what could be found of them anyway. Apparently there was a lot of gathering up of bodies after the French Revolution's "terror" and wave of executions, and many were dumped here in a mass grave and covered with lime. Louis XVI's brother Louis XVIII, who became king after Louis XVI was executed and little Louis XVII died, had the chapel built to house the remains temporarily, and then another brother, Charles X, had the remains transferred to the Basilique Saint-Denis during his reign. So many Louis!!!!
Unfortunately the Chapelle Expiatoire wasn't open yesterday so we couldn't see inside, but today we think it only fitting to see Louis and Marie-Antoinette through to their final resting place before we leave Paris. It's north of the city almost at the end of Metro line 13, just outside the 18ème in le banlieu Saint-Denis.
The area around the basilica is nothing special, just a shopping mall really. The church itself is steeped in history and situated on the site of a Gallo-Roman cemetery, and the archaelogical remains still lie beneath the cathedral. It's now referred to as the Necropolis of the kings of France, with almost every king from the 6th to the 18th centuries buried there.

There is also a mysterious and well-established legend surrounding the church. Saint Denis, reported to have been the first bishop of Paris, was martyred (decapitated) on the hill of Montmartre around 250AD, and legend has it that he then walked 10km, carrying his severed head and preaching a sermon the whole way, to the site of this church, indicating that he wanted to be buried there.
Under the church is a tomb but apparently they only found animal bones there. So where is the mysterious Saint Denis then???

The cathedral contains a series of wall panels depicting the legend, with drawings of Saint Denis, head tucked under his arm, neck a bloody mess. Hmmm, I dunno, the cynic in me wonders if maybe it didn't happen quite like that............. makes a great story though ;-)

It's a lovely Gothic church, the current building dating to the 7th century, with beautiful stained glass windows, soaring columns and arches, and contains numerous recumbent statues and several upright ones.

There are 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses, and 10 "great men of the realm" buried here. There is also a chapel containing cenotaphs (no bodies) in honour of the Bourbon dynasty, and a crystal vessel containing the preserved heart of Louis XVII, the infant son of Louis and Marie-Antoinette.

And yes, you can see the little shrivelled heart of poor Louis, who was separated from his parents after they fled Versailles during the revolution, and who, after the death of his father, became nominally the uncrowned king of France until his death from illness while in the care of a cobbler and his wife a couple of years later. Long story really, go look it up on Wikipedia!!! (and no, I didn't want to photograph his little shrivelled heart inside its crystal canister..............).
The tales surrounding Louis and Marie-Antoinette and their family are pretty gruesome, and it's hard to know how much of it is accurate so many years down the track, and there are mysteries and unsolved parts.

But their tombs now lie peacefully side by side in the crypt of Saint-Denis (that's them in the middle of the six, Marie-Antoinette on the left, Louis on the right), and above in the Saint Louis chapel is a pair of praying statues commissioned by Louis XVIII when the ashes of Louis and Marie-Antoinette were returned to Saint Denis.

The church is a sombre but beautiful place, containing an amazing history of the French monarchy over the years, and worth a visit if you like that sort of thing :-)