Thanks to everyone who shares their knowledge on this board--lots and lots of your great advice was heeded...
Sunday, February 22. No glitches getting out the door, an easy flight from Dulles to CDG (United messed up our special meals, and had run out of the preferred entrée two rows ahead of us (and with seven rows to go!) but, really, who gets worked up about airplane food?), a quick and painless whisk through French immigration, and we were to our Parisian home by 8:30 Sunday morning.
Our apartment was along the Quai des Grands Augustin, two blocks from Place St. Michele, and was beyond lovely. The building is owned by one family; the four flats in the building are occupied by the Mmle, the daughter, our host(top floor loft); the rental apartment (third floor-us!); her mom (second floor), and on the first floor by Mom’s staff. Our flat was filled with horse-y prints and statues—even horsey print tableware. (Our host rides horses and is a former jockey.) Needless to say our horse riding daughter was ecstatic with the apartment. The entryway that we shared with Mmle contained a beautiful writing desk and was the room from which we delighted in the view of Saint Chapelle as we came and went.
Once we had settled in and Mmle showed me “the things my husband wouldn’t be interested in” (the kitchen and its appliances) we made haste to the nearby market for provisions, having learned that markets close early on Sundays. Terrines of campange, triple crème bries, baguettes, and other assorted delicious treats filled our cart; after our feast we napped for a couple of hours (really, collapsed is more like it.)
We were out the door again in the early afternoon, and wandered down the street and across Petit Pont to Notre Dame. The line to climb to the top of the towers was very long, and we weren’t really feeling up to the climb to the top anyway, so we walked around the structure for an exterior tour. We had to laugh at the tiny little sign in the garden behind the cathedral noting the presence of a Wi-Fi hotspot—perhaps to Twitter a higher authority? From there we stopped for crepes before wandering around the Marches aux Fleurs a bit. The market was lively, with lots of birds in uncovered cages even though the temperature was only in the upper 40s at best. The children discussed how many bird pets we would have if we lived in Paris, until I mentioned that we’d probably have to have quite a few since our dog would likely keep eating them! The market is also my favorite place to buy lavender sachets to give to friends at home, and on this day they were but 1 € each! A tremendous bargain, I thought. We stopped for cafe and chocolat chaud (between the crepes and the hot chocolate, I think the children have their menu for the week pretty well set!), pointed out the Shakespeare and Company bookstore and explained the meaning of its street name, wandered down Rue de la Huchette past all of the ticky tacky souvenirs (nothing like your 12 year spying a t-shirt with “Favorite Paris Scenes” of various, ahem, “positions”), and then finally meandered home. The children discovered Monopoly Europe in one of the closets, and set up a weeklong game on the desk in their room. Dinner was a Parisian staple of rotisserie chicken, haricot verts and garlicky potato gratin that we purchased from the same gruff chicken lady we visited on our last visit. And, of course, French wine.
Monday, February 23. 49,188 Steps around Paris
(That includes the 70 steps to get to our flat at the end of our long day, about 6.2 miles each.) DH and I awoke at 5:30 (ugh!)--I started the coffee and we lounged in bed listening to the rest of Paris waking up. The very sleepy children were dragged from their beds at 8:30, but eager to enjoy their Frosted Flakes, a totally banned breakfast food at home. As DH didn’t have any meetings until the afternoon, we decided to tour Notre Dame together in the morning. A light drizzle started to fall as we left the flat so we ruled out climbing to the top, but we did tour the interior of the cathedral. Getting to the top of the cathedral became an important goal for the week. Though this was not the first time we’ve visited Notre Dame the music, the incense, and the lighting (not to mention the sheer size of the building) make the experience different each time. From the cathedral we paused via a crepe stand to plot the rest of the day, which ended up with all of us having lunch at the Louvre (insert long and uninteresting story) before bidding a bientot to DH, with plans to meet “at the south tower of the Eiffel Tower at 6:00 p.m.” The baguette sandwiches and apple tartin from the Louvre café were fairly enjoyable, and just the energy we needed to tackle the Sully wing of this museum. DD is currently studying ancient Egypt in school, and so to keep the promise to her teacher of at least some learning while we’re in Paris, we explored the many, many galleries of ancient Egyptian artifacts. We also cruised past the popular stuff (the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and so forth), but all the camera-clickers dampened our enthusiasm, so we wandered off to the Richelieu wing to tour the Napoleonic apartments. My last trip had been in late January, two years prior, and I’d had the museum practically to myself (the children had not come along); this time, however, many European school children were on winter break, and many of them had decided to spend their break in Paris. This wasn’t a bad thing; in fact, I think (our daughter, at least) liked having people her size around her. She and the European young ladies smiled nicely and examined one another’s clothing; the teenagers—that was a whole different story. DS paced himself a few steps away from us, moving his Flip video recorder around the galleries, acting as aloof as all of the other teenage boys. This was especially true in the halls of ancient Roman sculptures, where there is considerable nudity.
This cultural immersion lasted nearly three hours, but Mom continued the Museum Death March with the promise of “a whole room of beautiful water lilies” at the complete other end of the Jardin du Tuilleries. Imagine how happy the children were to discover sailboats in one of the fountains along the way! Two euros bought them 30 minutes of time to push toy wooden sailboats around the fountain (and Mom, 30 minutes of bench time!)
At the L’Orangerie the children (and I) delighted in finding faces and objects among Monet’s many brushstrokes, and then we wandered over to watch the swirl of traffic at Concorde. With about an hour to go before meeting DH we decided to search for the Monopoly European game at BHV--not a wise decision, of course, in terms of travel, and so it was nearly 6:30 when we reached the South tower of Le Tour Eiffel. DH was nowhere to be found, and even the evening lighting of Le Tour couldn’t cheer us up--DD was afraid Daddy had gone on home because we were late. Since we were all cold, tired and getting hungry by this point, I suggested we sit on the bench for a bit before trekking home, too. Big mistake. Remaining stationary anywhere near the tower attracts the cheap souvenir guys with their flashing Eiffel Towers, inflatable Eiffel Towers, Eiffel Tower key chains, and, well, you get the idea. But just as we were about to make haste for the RER, DH appeared! Hurrah! We were able to get up to the second observation level just before the twinkling lights of the tower turned on, too! In that setting, how could we not kiss? We made our way home arm-in-arm, the children chattering about their day in front of us--how wonderful to be in Paris.
Tuesday, February 24. “Only” 42,591 Steps Around Paris Today
Blame it on the 6.2 miles I walked the day before, or the jet lag, or perhaps the bottle of 2006 Duc du Terme Cuvee DH and I consumed Monday night with dinner, but somehow the alarm got set for 6:30 PM instead of 6:30 AM, and suffice it to say that there was no lounging in bed listening to Paris awaken for us today when our eyes opened at 7:32. Whoops.
The Museum Death March began for the children today at the Musee d’Orsay. We started at the top with Impressionism,, and wandered through some of the sculpture along the mezzanines before heading to lunch in the museum café. DD selected the Menu Enfant of “lasagna,” a cheese filled tubular pasta more like manicotti—the Orangina that came with the meal helped a great deal. DS ordered the baguette equivalent of a Croque Monsieur, and I had the first of several fromage plat I would enjoy this week. While we relaxed and blissfully enjoyed our lunch, an American couple across from us sat and glowered at each other over their shared Perrier, speaking very little. How sad for them to be so unhappy in Paris. After lunch the vote was for the Musee Le Des Egouts, the Museum of the Paris Sewer System. Yep, we bring our children to Paris and they want to see where Remy lives. I have to admit, however, that in spite of the smell (even in late February), the Paris sewer system is very interesting. And no, we did not see Remy.
When we came above ground and breathed fresh air, the children put their foot down on seeing “a really cool museum with stuff from five continents,” (Musee Branly) and so we headed in the general direction of the apartment for a small break until meeting Daddy. Along the way I upstaged their coup attempt and redirected us to the Musee Rodin. Ha. They countered by making fun of one of the world’s most highly recognized and most important sculptures, Le Penseur. Children 1, Mom 0.
From the Rodin we returned to the flat to find Daddy home, who apparently lacked the ability to figure out the international mobile phone that I was carrying in order to call and instead had spent the prior 90 minutes in the apartment researching 40 year old work-related data on his laptop because HE DIDN”T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO. IN PARIS. Imagine. I can’t even find the words to finish this...
After our little break of pate, cheese and baguette, we all headed to the Hotel de Ville for some ice skating (the children, that is, went skating. DH on ice skates could have created an international incident), while Mom ducked into the BHV for Kusmi Tea. The Kusmi display is fun, with the tins of leaves on pedestals so that you can sniff all the flavors. I settled on the Russian collection of Troika, St. Petersburg, Anastasia, Prince Vladimir, and the mysterious “Samovar,” a smoky blend; and then wandered through the handbags, caressing the spring offerings before catching up with the family. Afterwards it was dinner back at the apartment and more Monopoly Europe (which, wesadly discovered after a earch on The Google, was a special edition released in 2001 and no longer available.)
Wednesday, February 25. Louis Has Bling.
The Death March got an early start today as we had to catch the RER to Versailles, and really desired to be there before most of the tour buses arrived. The day was sunny and mild--a perfect day to spend at Versailles. Early into the tour of gilded egocentrism our enthusiasm for the bling waned, however, and by the time we reached the Hall of Mirrors it was not so much the many people in the room, but the sheer excessiveness of the whole chateau that inspired us to make haste for the gardens. The gardens were not in bloom, but the smell of spring was in the air and that itself made for a pleasant stroll. Along the way we stopped for baguette sandwiches at a takeaway stand in the garden and continued determinedly to finish the 30 minute walk to Marie Antoinette’s private residence, the Trianon. (Honestly, can you blame her for wanting to be away from him?) With about 10 minutes to the Trianon left DH called to say that his meetings had ended--that was just the excuse we were looking for to leave Louis’ McPalace, and so we turned around and headed out of Versailles (and past the Starbucks and McDonald’s) to the train station. Perhaps on another trip we’ll skip the chateau and just visit the Trianon.
We all reconnected at the apartment in mid-afternoon and headed out to Musee du Quai Branly, a funky contemporary-looking museum in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower that specializes in native artifacts from five continents. The interior of the museum was no less funky than the exterior, and we wandered first through Oceania (heads and ritual symbols and tokens) and then the Americas (pottery, American Indian clothing, beaded jewelry.) We chose to skip the Asian and African sections, both because we had been in the museum a long time, and because we have entire museums devoted to these continents at home. A break in the cafe for glace (vanilla with chocolate sauce for DH and DD, Caramel de Sel for me) and chocolat chaud for DS gave us just enough energy to carry on. Everyone rated Musee Branly quite high overall.
At this point the boys and the girls divided, with the boys going to Saint Sulpice in search of the infamous Rose Line from The Da Vinci Code (which we watched before leaving for Paris) and the girls hitting the Monoprix for lotions, potions, and notions to bring home. I didn’t have the heart (or maybe I didn’t want the boys tagging along?) to tell them that the Rose Line is “not real.” They enjoyed the church nonetheless.
By this time the sun had set and tummies were rumbling. We settled in at Le Procope for a leisurely two hour supper of comforting Parisian winter dishes before calling it a day. Le Procope is the restaurant where Ben Franklin used to hang out when in Paris—that impressed the children. I know Le Procope is not the finest in French dining, but the food, in our opinion, was rather good. DS navigated his whole trout beautifully; and DD was quite proud of ordering the Menu Enfant of salade, pomme frites, and sirop l’eau all by herself, and we were very happy that she ate the fries with British ketchup. DH had a plat that included a beautiful salmon dish, and I had another plat that included gratinee l’oignon, Joue Boeuf and raspberry sorbet with pistachio macaroons. Our tummies no longer rumbling, we strolled the five blocks home and tucked into bed...and for those keeping track, 15,049 steps were taken by each of us, for about 5.7 miles of trekking across Paris each.
Thursday, February 26. “Madame, Departe!”
I took pity on the youngest travelers today and let them sleep in, knowing that I’d need them at their best for a days’ worth of shopping. By 9:30 we were out the door and heading toward Galleries Lafayette, the Parisian version of Marshall Fields, and a store for which I would most certainly have a charge card if we lived here. My plan was simple--Floor 5 for toys and perhaps something for my expectant friend, Floor 2 for some casual wear for Mom, and lunch on Floor 6. The glorious dome elicited a couple of oohs and aahs, although DS did fear wandering into the massive perfume section just to look at a stained glass dome. Floor 5 went well, of course, with a French horse jumping set coming home with us, and some Petit Bateau onesies for my friend. Floor 2 went even better since I scuttled the children to the lounge while I shopped (Nordstrom’s needs to learn from this.) Two silky cotton sweaters later, we stopped first on the terrace to take in Paris and then ducked in to have lunch overlooking the Opera Garnier. The children shared the cheese plate (Roquefort, Brie, Chevre and two cheeses I did not recognize) and a carafe of orange Fanta, and I enjoyed the cheese plate by myself with a nice Cote Du Rhone from the cafe "tap."
Our next stop was the Opera Garnier. DS had studied Phantom of the Opera in
his last quarter in school and DD is familiar with Degas’ ballerinas painting on that stage from Katie Meets the Impressionists; plus, we’d all watched The Phantom of the Opera movie before we left so we were all at least slightly knowledgeable about the building. But alas, rehearsals for Madame Butterfly were going on and we were unable to tour the Opera House, or look for the Phantom. Cie la vie. We’ve added this to our To-Do list for the next visit.
I had wanted to visit the Passages, or at least some of them, on my last visit to Paris but lacked the time. Since some of them were in the surrounds on this afternoon we started with Passage Jouffroy. The special charm of this passage was Pain D’epices, a store that features French dollhouse furniture. DD’s dollhouse now has some lovely French furniture accents, a tiny dollhouse baguette for the kitchen, and some dollhouse chickens and rabbits.
Across the street from one end of Passage Jouffroy more or less is the Passage Panoramas, where we had a most interesting encounter. Much of the Passage is devoted to philately and numismatics, and there are lots of vintage post card stores, as well. At one store we paused along with several other people to look through the postcards, hoping to find a gem among the tattered box of 2 € offerings. But while we were looking through the cards, the store owner came out and started shooing everyone away! All I caught was, “Madame, something something departe!” So we put our postcards back in the box and left his storefront. I watched the funny little store owner after he shooed everyone away, and all he did was rearrange the postcards!
We chuckled about the scene as we made our way to Galerie Vivienne, by far the prettiest of our Passage trips on this day. We stopped for chocolat chaud and tea at A Priori The in the Galerie and then carried on toward home as it was nearing evening. DH was late in his return home, so our plans to visit a museum together gave way to (another) rotisserie chicken and roasted vegetables in the apartment. Really, though, it’s not a bad way to spend an evening in Paris--a lovely walk through ancient streets and a stroll through the aisles of a supermarket that isn't quite like the one at home. The pedometer only read a paltry 11,182 steps per person on this day, a mere 5.2 miles each.
Friday, February 27. All Good Things Must Come to An End
Our last day in this wonderful city dawned cloudy and mild. We were out the door early for crepes at our favorite stand near the flat, and enjoyed them on the walk to Saint Chapelle, our first destination of the day. We were able to appreciate the beauty of the uncrowded church, a place I can not imagine being during the peak of tourist season. Although much of Europe seems to have been in Paris for the school winter break this week, the crowds were by no means unmanageable.
From Saint Chapelle we went to the Galerie de la Evolucion, Paris’ version of the natural history museum. The Galerie is one of three tucked into the lovely Jardin du Plantes in the 5th eme, and I could easily see us spending an entire day browsing the galleries and enjoying a picnic on the grounds in finer weather. I will confess that I did not have high expectations for this visit--it was, after all, another natural history museum. Once inside, however, I was as delighted as the children. The open floor plan of the Galerie, the soft lighting (although a bit unfriendly toward photo taking) and the arrangement of the collections made for a very nice couple of hours. We even encountered a few creatures we had not previously seen, including the Narwal, the sea creature we use for the letter N when we play the animal alphabet game in the car!
Lunchtime was upon us, but in the interest of efficiency we decided to have (more) crepes while waiting in the line to go to the top of Notre Dame. En route from the Galerie to the cathedral two small crises befell Mom, however--first, the heels of my boots seemed to be loose! Oh, no! Could it be that my absolutely favorite pair of black boots, the very same ones that had taken me all around Paris before, were going to fail me on my last day? And second, the battery on my camera had just flashed its ominous warning of “low power,” meaning that I had about ten pictures left! What to do, what to do?
Good karma to the rescue. DH rang to say that his meetings had surprisingly ended early--the afternoon presenters had not shown up--so we agreed to meet at the apartment and regroup. The solution was perfect. While waiting for DH I was able to charge my camera battery enough to photograph our visit to Notre Dame, and, more importantly, to examine my boots to determine whether they would carry me through one final afternoon.
And with that our last day in Paris came to a lovely close. The boots carried me up the 287 steps to the top of Notre Dame, and back down, and over to the 2nd eme to the Musee des Arts et Metiers (lots and lots of technological history), and over to the Monoprix for one last basket of French lotions, potions and notions. As is customary on our last night of foreign travel, we endeavor to eat an American dish--it’s a funny little tradition DH and I began some time ago. On this night, though, the closest we could come to American food was steak frites. So while the children wrapped up their Monopoly Europe game, DH and I enjoyed good conversation and good wine in the kitchen, with the steaks cooking and the pomme frites baking in the oven. All we were missing was our part-Bichon doggie, Felix. Over dinner we toasted our week in Paris and then tumbled into bed. Bon soir, Paris!
Paris: The Postscript
DH sent us off at the RER station Saturday morning before heading to Chartres with a colleague for the day. He got another week in Paris, but his meeting dates for 2010 have been set for late January, so we’re already busily making our to-do lists for next year. How spoiled are we? The children and I got to return home to the forecast of 6 to 10 inches of snow in the DC area. I can’t say that I was disappointed by the thought of another day off, although the best we Federal employees got was a delayed start. Our return flight was fine--I got busted at security for having an unsealed container of Camembert in my tote (rookie mistake, how could I?), and not only did it get taken away, but the security agent wrote my name and passport number on a likely list of American cheese terrorists. Cie la vie. The two jars of pate in my suitcase arrived home in perfect condition. So there.
That said, here’s our trip by the numbers.
Museums Toured: 8
Favorite Museum: For DS, the sewers, and for DD, Musee d'Orsay & Natural History
Monuments, Churches and Palaces visited: 4
Approximate number of steps taken by each Mom, DS and DD: 71,000 (about 34 miles!)
Bottles of red wine consumed by Mom and Dad: 6
Crepes eaten: 18 (The hands down favorite was the plain and simple sucre crepe)
Merde du chien stepped in: 0.
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Thanks to everyone who shares their knowledge on this board--lots and lots of your great advice was heeded...