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Last-minute detour to Paris: a 4-day live trip report

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Apr 6th, 2014, 09:30 AM
  #1
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Last-minute detour to Paris: a 4-day live trip report

Hi everyone,

As usual, the Fodor's forum was hugely helpful in planning my 'April in Paris!' vacation. I'd like to do my part by chipping in this trip report. I'm aiming to post this live, or maybe with one day of delay, but no more.

Arrival

I traveled via Thalys train from the Netherlands. I had a business trip there, which gave me the opportunity of returning to Paris after 8 years away! I spent a year of college here and absolutely loved Parisian life; I've been dreaming of coming back ever since. I didn't have much time or money, but I decided to seize the opportunity!

Hotel

I rented an apartment via AirBnB. Here is the link: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/693367

The apartment is fine but I probably wouldn't book it again. I'd forgotten just how much I dislike the second arrondissement, or at least the parts near Les Halles. It's hectic, commercial, grimy, and cheap. The apartment itself and the building it's in are kind of worn down, with dirty floors and peeling paint. On Saturday night, the street outside was noisy from a nightclub or bar. But then again, it's $100/night for a full apartment in central Paris. And mostly it's clean, quiet aside from Sat night (I think!), well-furnished, and convenient. I have walked almost everywhere.

Meals

You won't find much about restaurants in this trip report. I'm a vegetarian and not a foodie, so I'm eating mostly at home and making do with simple fare.

I think that's it for now. I've already got the first day's report, so I'll post it momentarily!
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Apr 6th, 2014, 11:05 AM
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Day 1 - Saturday

This was a magnificent first day – or half-day – to start the trip.

I arrived from the Netherlands at 3pm, and I had one goal for that afternoon – get into Sainte Chappelle. I spent a year in Paris and never made it there, as I could never gird enough patience to stand on line. Saturday was also forecast to be the only sunny day of my trip. So I was determined. I got to Sainte-Chappelle by 4:30, or even sooner. At that time of day there were only about 10 people ahead of me in the security line, and it took all of 2 minutes to get through.

The ticket line was much, much longer. Anyone with a museum pass wouldn’t have had any wait at all. For the rest of us peasants, it was overall a 20-25 minute wait. Not bad at all!

I entered and was stunned by the lower level’s beauty. The palace household staff used to worship here. The ceilings are beautiful gothic arches painted blue and dotted with neat rows of fleur de lis. The columns are painted red and topped by beautiful carvings and statues. And apparently the painting just to the left of the altar area is the oldest painting in Paris!

Then I headed up the narrow, winding stone staircase, and entered the Chappelle. It wiped away all thought of the lower level instantly. The view as you enter the chapel is breathtaking. You are surrounded by enormously tall, brilliantly colored glass, rows and rows of it, reaching high up to the vaulted painted-blue ceilings that pale in comparison. Colored light streams in and creates a pale kaleidoscope effect of dancing colors on the floors and lowered walls.

The windows themselves, when you get up close, are intricate and baffling and pristine. Several of the windows, including the rose windows, were covered for restoration while I was there. Luckily, my late afternoon timing worked out perfectly, as the sun shone in on the right side of the chapel, fully illuminating the windows on display.

After the glorious Sainte-Chappelle I made my way over to Notre Dame. Sigh. I don’t know what it is about this area that makes me feel so comfortable and happy. It's got good feng shui or something. The plaza is so wide open that it never feels too full of people, even when packed to the brim. The trees lining the plaza were brightly green. Children ran around and threw temper tantrums left and right, but couldn’t seem to hold on to their anger for long. The sky was too blue, the breeze too pleasant, the scene too pretty.

Notre Dame itself is what I imagine the pyramids must feel like, if smaller. The façade is so magnificent, with such an embarrassing wealth of sculpture that it boggles the mind to think of all the human energy and craftsmanship that went into creating this great work of art. And it is so wonderfully maintained by the good people of this country; they have my gratitude.

I didn’t go inside, just sat down on a bench and enjoyed the weather and the sights for a while. I walked around the park beside the cathedral, which was blooming with pink and white trees and yellow daffodils, practically forcing me to stop every few feet to take a picture. When I sat down in the little parklet behind the cathedral to write in my journal, someone far away on the quai launched into a performance of ‘La vie en rose.’ Lol. Paris in April is such a show-off.

For dinner I joined the masses strolling down Rue Montorgeuil and picked up a quiche and pastry from Maison Stohrer, and a nice squash from Palais de fruits, along with some fruit for breakfast. I sautéed the squash and nuked the quiche, and accompanied both with a bottle of wine left for me by the owner of the apartment. Mostly it was a not great meal, the perfect squash excepted, but who cares, I am in Paris, I had a foret noir for dessert, and took a stroll through the romantic city streets to cap it all off.

And now it is late, and I must to bed.
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Apr 6th, 2014, 11:11 AM
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It's a shame you waited so long to return. Have fun during this short time.
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Apr 6th, 2014, 05:09 PM
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I like live trip reports. For a listener, it's like we can change the course of history with a good suggestion. For the writer, it's like traveling with a group of knowledgeable and supportive friends. I'm glad you're having a good time, but I don't have any life changing suggestions.
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Apr 6th, 2014, 06:44 PM
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imelda, I love the way you write. I miss Paris. Looking forward to more.
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Apr 7th, 2014, 06:08 AM
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Gomiki, santamonica, thanks so much!

If anyone has clothes shopping advice for a young woman with a mid-range budget, please advise! I stopped in Naf Naf today and loved their style, but only one thing fit me properly. Any more like that...?

Also, I am looking for some nice, traditional French vegetarian meals. Any notable meals you guys recall? Nothing expensive, nothing over 50 euros total for one person. Tonight I plan to dine at Le Potager du Marais, which I hear is excellent? Has anyone been to Maceo, which is quite close to me? And do I need reservations for either?

Thanks for any help you all can offer!! By the way Paris is beyooootiful today, even though rain was forecast. It's really a spectacular spring!
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Apr 7th, 2014, 06:31 AM
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When you describe the plaza surrounding Notre Dame in an instant I was there and got that feeling I get every time just standing in front of it and looking at the beauty of it all. As many times as I have been there I get the same feeling. Can't wait til September when it will take my breath away once again.
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Apr 7th, 2014, 02:21 PM
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Day 2 – Sunday

Paris is quiet on Sundays. You get a concentration of people in the touristy areas and parks, but outside of those, on the side streets and neighborhood boulevards, the stores are closed and the streets fairly empty. I really enjoyed strolling the long, narrow, empty streets of the 6th and 7th arrondissements today. Many people have flower boxes outside their windows, adding pink and yellow and plenty of green to the expanse of white stone.

After a breakfast of yogurt, croissant and fruit, I started the day at Musee Cluny, the museum of the middle ages. The Roman bath ruins are enormous and pleasantly cool, and according to the guide used to be dramatically painted. You can imagine what it must have looked like when all the stones and bricks were new, the arches and walls painted in brilliant colors, the floors covered in mosaics. A real hamam experience.

There’s also a room at Cluny with pieces of stained glass, lowered to eye level and lit from behind. Many of them came from Sainte Chappelle, some as old as the 12th century, and it was a real pleasure to see the glass up close, see the brush strokes and scratches, and find the story in each one.

But the best exhibit, of course, is the Lady with Unicorn tapestries. The museum has built a special, darkened room to house the six tapestries, and though it was crowded I was able to linger in front of each one. They really are incredibly unusual tapestries; each one depicts just one scene, of the Lady introducing the unicorn to the five senses. Each one has a bright red background, unusual for tapestries, covered in a riot of flowers and animals, true to the “millefiore”, or “thousand-flower” technique. I am still astounded that so much detail – folds in the skirt of a dress, embroidered designs, delicate facial features – can be accomplished through weaving.

The nice thing about Cluny was that there was no line to get in, and no crowds to fight, even though this was First Sunday, when many museums are free. I went to the Musee Rodin in the afternoon and waited in line for about 15 minutes to get in. It wasn’t worth the wait; I could have just strolled the gardens right away, which are by far the best part of the museum. Unless you’re a Rodin aficionado, I don’t think the interior is really worth it.

But the gardens…the statues stood out against backdrops of lush green trees and bright flowers. My favorites were the Burghers of Calais. During the Hundred Years’ War, the English laid siege to the port city of Calais. The town tried to hold out, but finally surrendered due to starvation…. So the English king offered them a deal. If six prominent townspeople would offer themselves up for execution, the rest of the city would be spared.

And they did. They made their way to the city gates, nooses around their necks and keys to the city in their hands. Rodin captured that moment, each of the men showing a different emotion about the sacrifice they’ve chosen. One is proud, one afraid; the most heartbreaking is bent over with his hands over his head, his face an agony of regret.

After Rodin I went to see the love of Rick Steves’ life, Rue Cler. It was 3:30 by this point and the place was mostly closed and quiet, except for the restaurants, where people spilled out nearly to the middle of the street on outdoor tables. I picked up some dinner fixings, stopped to enjoy a pain au chocolat on the Champ de Mars (my first close-up of la Tour since arriving!), and finally took the subway back home. Exhausted. I’ve got my feet up now and am waiting until I have the energy to cook dinner. I’ve been on my feet for seven hours today and am officially home for the night.

Maybe.
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Apr 7th, 2014, 03:51 PM
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Thanks for taking us along, I'm right there with you. Now I want to go see the Burghers of Calais.
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Apr 7th, 2014, 08:33 PM
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Loving your live report.
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Dec 27th, 2014, 06:54 PM
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Hey Fodorites... my bad!! I guess I got pretty tired during my vacation, and it became impossible to keep up the live reporting. But I've come back to finish the job. Here I go!


Day 3: Monday

I love gardens, and wanted to do something off the beaten path for this trip. So I headed out to the Albert Kahn gardens at the very outskirts of the 16th arrondissement, at Pont de St-Cloud. http://albert-kahn.hauts-de-seine.net

Albert Kahn, back in the early 1920s, travelled the world to photograph societies as they were in that moment in time, before globalization changed them further. The museum displays hundreds, maybe thousands of photographs and film footage that he took of people and places in the remotest areas, on almost every continent. It’s quite fascinating.

But the real attraction are the gardens. They’re a huge expanse divided up into different styles - a neat, pretty, symmetrical French garden beside a conservatory; a wild and rambly English garden; and two styles of Japanese gardens - a traditional, soothing garden with little bridges and tatami huts, and a more lively contemporary garden with fun, unexpected shapes. There’s also different “wild” forests you can wander through, and they are very distinct - one is mossy, dark and mysterious, another is grand, with enormous coniferous trees, etc.

After the garden I took the 9 line up to Rue de la Pompe, my metro stop when I was a student living in a chambre de bonne in the 16th. It was amazing fun to retrace my old footsteps, take a selfie in front of my old building, visit my old local Monoprix, and best of all, stop by my favorite bakery, Bechu, on avenue Victor Hugo.

The baguettes weren’t as good as I recalled, but I picked up a millefeuille and another pastry that lived up to my memories. I sat at an outdoor table for lunch and enjoyed people-watching…. I must say that I like the fashion of the 16th. The women dress very classically, lots of black and white, very simple lines, and very elegant. That’s true of the young women as well as the older ones. They all wear lots of flats, too - I think we’re more attached to heels in NYC than they are in Paris.

After lunch I hurried across the river to the 15th arrondissement to meet my tour guide from Paris Greeters. For those who don’t know, Paris Greeters is an organization that will connect you with a local Parisian, for free, who will give you a tour of their neighborhood. I knew absolutely nothing about the 15th so I was happy when they suggested it.

My tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable, and has been acting as a Greeter for several years. She taught me all about how that part of Paris used to be a separate city, outside the walls of Paris, forced to pay tolls in order to bring in their produce for sale. She also showed me some really beautiful buildings, and brought me into hidden side streets that felt like an entirely different country! One street - I wish I remembered where - was a line of whitewashed houses with vibrantly green window boxes, very Mediterranean.

Best of all, she brought me to a church made entirely out of concrete. I wish I could recall the name - I’ve googled and googled and can’t find it. It was built, I think in the 20s or 30s, like many buildings in the area. The style is a cross between art-deco and arabic. Because it was constructed out of concrete, the architect was able to include the most dramatic arches and flourishes. It’s also covered in mosaics, is enormous, and was just delightful to visit. I’ll keep googling to see if I can find it, because if you’re in the area, I highly recommend a visit!

Actually, I'd say that best of all was that almost the entire 2+ hour tour was in French. Whew! An awesome and exhilarating chance to use my rusty French!
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Dec 27th, 2014, 07:08 PM
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I'm so glad you did come back! What a wonderful trip you had. Your descriptions so far really capture the magic of those places. I really want to get to the Albert Kahn museum in a future trip. Do you have a day 4 coming?
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Dec 28th, 2014, 08:24 AM
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Skatterfly, thanks! And the Albert Kahn house is work the trek (it really is way out there).

And yes, I will post the final day shortly!
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Dec 28th, 2014, 08:28 AM
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Also, I think I should update my review of the airbnb apartment rental I had.

After a day or two of staying there, I got used to it. Although it's true that the apt floors were kind of old and stained, I came to like the charm of the old building. And the noise from the nearby bar that I heard on Saturday was indeed only on Saturday, so the remaining nights were quiet.

I'm still not a fan of the Les Halles area, or the 2nd in general, but for someone on a budget that apt isn't a terrible choice. And the bed is quite comfy.
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Dec 28th, 2014, 09:17 AM
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Imelda72, I enjoyed your report. Somehow I missed it last April, so I'm glad you added more to it!
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Dec 31st, 2014, 07:14 AM
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Day 4: Tuesday

This was my last full day in Paris. Let me take a second to mention some things that didn’t fit in anywhere else.

While in Paris I stopped by the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Place des Vosges, two of my favorite places in the city.

The jardin du Luxembourg was perfection. On that day in early April, all of the lawns were lined with flowers, a riot of different yellows, oranges and whites 10 rows deep. The sky went back and forth between thick cloud cover and blue. And in every direction I looked, I saw beauty.

That is really the gift of Paris. Even in the 2nd arrondissement, which is a bit of the exception to the rule, you can’t walk for 15 minutes in any direction without being surrounded by calm, beautiful, old streets. Or parks. Jardin du Luxembourg is meticulously and luxuriously landscaped, extravagantly large, and open to everyone. It is well kept up for everyone’s enjoyment.

The French motto is Liberte-Egalite-Fraternite. It isn’t the liberte or the egalite that explains wonderful public goods like le jardin du Luxembourg - it’s fraternite. It’s the sense of shared society, of community, where if you create something free for all to enjoy, then everyone benefits. I think that in the US we got through liberte and egalite and stopped just short of fraternite.

Place des Vosges is equally lovely but in a completely different way. It is secluded, smaller, quieter. All the houses are red brick with just a bit of white stone mixed in. It’s a homey sort of park, but also regal and beautiful, and far from traffic. Adults sit on the benches while students hang out on the grass in small, generally quiet parties; I also saw numerous school groups with tiny kids in uniforms filing through the place on their way to god knows where. The sky was blue, the trees bright with their young leaves, and I watched a bird bathe itself in sand. I wanted to spend all day in the little park.

My last activity in Paris was to take a ride on the Vedettes du Pont Neuf. My plan was to catch an 8:30 boat, right around sunset, but I was so exhausted by that evening that I had to rest my feet in my apartment, and missed it. I’d pre-booked the ticket online for a discount of a few euros, and it was no problem at all to change the time of my ride for the 10pm trip.

I’m glad I missed the earlier trip. I saw Paris lit up in the dark, its white stone glowing, Notre Dame looming beautiful and eery, people still out dancing and making merry along the quais. But best of all, by far, was La Tour. The good people at Vedettes time the ride perfectly so we pulled up in perfect view of the tower *just* as it started to sparkle. It was splendid and magical, by far the best view I had of the Eiffel Tower the whole trip. I danced all the way back to my apartment.

I departed Wednesday afternoon. Before leaving I stopped in at Maison Stohrer, the famous patisserie on Rue Mouffetard, one last time. I picked up a millefeuille for my mother, and brought it in a tupperware container all the way back to NYC. It held up well, and my mom enjoyed the hell out of it.

And that was my magical, last-minute, 4-day detour to Paris. I’m glad I came back to finish this trip report, because to be honest, I forgot just how wonderful that trip was.

Sighhhh. Vive la France.
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Jan 1st, 2015, 02:31 AM
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I don't know what you do for a living, but you write extremely well. Your recent pieces were even more evocative than your April posts.

Thank you.
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Jan 1st, 2015, 07:00 PM
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!!!!

Why thank you, Ackislander! You made my day.... And I had a pretty great day.
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