Sunday, 19 April 2009

So, what did we do in Paris....?

We left home on Tuesday last week and went to stay the night with our good friends Rob and Sue who live in SW4.

At 6:45 on Wednesday we took the tube to St Pancras where breakfast was the first order of the day. We boarded the 9:01 Eurostar for Paris – what a civilised way this is to travel. The countryside whizzes by, and we sit in peace and quiet. To my astonishment we found ourselves sitting near Mr & Mrs Guy Thomas and their family. Guy and I used to work together back in 1989 or so and I had not seen him since this time. He was as astonished as me.

From the Gare du Nord to the Hotel took no time at all and after unpacking we set off to look round. Our first stop was a planning session in a local bar! From there we went to Montmatre. Lots of artists, caricature drawers and other people doing their best to relieve the tourists of their euros. It was such a tourist trap that it offended me. We looked into Sacré Coeur to see the eternal prayer. The fact that they sustain prayer 24 hours a day 7 days a week and have done so for many decades is impressive and worthy, but gosh the choral singing is dire.

Rob swore blind that he knew of this splendid restaurant for dinner, so we sought it out and it is pictured below.....

Apparently it is closed on Mondays and Wednesdays.......

A look in the guide book (I can't recommend the Lonely Planet Guide to Paris highly enough) and we found a different little restaurant for dinner which proved extremely decent. We needed a drink beforehand though! Dinner was excellent and good value. Wednesday was Rob's birthday, so we embarrassed him by singing “Happy Birthday” in a full restaurant.

Thursday was a day of walking. We started by finding Rue Mouffetard which is a street in the Latin Quarter where students shop and eat and drink (the name derives from the French for Skunk, and so it was known from then on as Skunk Street – well, by me anyway). Sue is pictured in Skunk Street below....

A decent breakfast (with real freshly squeezed orange juice – I'd forgotten how good that is) fortified us and then we shopped for our picnic supplies. We walked up to the river Seine and across a bridge to the front of Notre Dame. Into the Tuilleries Gardens for a picnic, It was cold and threatening to rain, but it didn't. Our walking then took us to Gallerie Lafayette, a splendid department store. The store guide next to the escalators on one floor promises “Seduction Fashions” but I was not allowed to investigate further.

By now we were all pretty bushed, so retired to our hotel to refresh ourselves before heading back to Rue Mouffetard for dinner. This meal was a bit of a highlight with Rob ordering a fondue Bourginion in which lots of raw steak is delivered to your plate and you cook it yourself in a fondue dish containing hot oil. I am ashamed to say that I enlivened the evening unnecessarily by setting fire to my laminated menu! It isn't the first occasion on which I have done this either, so sympathy was notably absent. The food was excellent though.

Friday we went our separate ways. Jini and I went off for an early coffee and then to the Jardin des Plantes. [See photo below]

After a delightful hour spent in these colourful gardens, we set out to the Batobus (see previous post). These are hop on – hop off boats that ply a circular route round significant tourist attractions adjacent to the River Seine. From the Jardin des Plantes, we went up to the Eifel Tower and most of the way bay before disembarking to find a recommended crêpe shop. A Crêpe du Jour (ham, cheese, onions, potatoes, lettuce and tomato) and a Crêpe du Chef (Aubergines, onions, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes) were acquired and taken to the Jardin des Plantes to be eaten. They were delicious, but very, very filling. Back onto the Batobus for the ride to Notre Dame and a walk to the Musee de l'Orangerie. During the 1920s, the state of France built a pair of oval rooms at the Musée de l'Orangerie as a permanent home for eight water lily murals by Claude Monet. These are amazing pictures displayed as the artist intended, and I've added a photo of one of the pictures below, though it gives no real idea of the scale of the painting.

Monet painted literally hundreds of pictures of these flowers and bought up land around his house and created a series of ponds so that he could have his own lake. Amazing.

After this overdose of culture, I needed an ice cream. The French routinely produce much nicer ice cream that we Brits, and the Apricot glace that I enjoyed so much was a prime example. We met up with Rob and Sue (Rob was having his afternoon snooze some 200 metres from where we were) and then went to look at the Jardins du Palais Royale. The gardens were lovely but the shopping arcade that was one of the attractions was closed for refurbishment. After a look round, we all decided that Stella McCartney, who has a shop in this arcade should ask for her money back. Then it was back to the hotel for a freshen up (and in my case a short snooze). Dinner was good and I worked my way through the dishes of the day in the restaurant we choose.

Saturday, I went off to the Arc de Triomphe (see previous post) and then we had a good lunch. My beloved was laid low by sickness, so we spent a quiet afternoon before taking the Metro back to the Gare du Nord and checking in for our Eurostar ride back to London.

The trip from London was marred by the fact that we found ourselves in amongst the dispersing hordes from Wembley Stadium, some of whom seemed to be lacking any consideration for others and have all the brains of a house brick. Welcome Home!

Overall, I was impressed by Paris and Parisians. The city has an aura of space and tidiness. The public buildings and spaces are cared for in a way that they do not seem to be here. The way of life appears more relaxed and elegant. However, it is expensive. The people were friendly and helpful, and I very much hope that we can go back to Paris in the years to come.

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