How long: 4 nights/3 nights
Guidebooks used: Frommers, Rick Steves, Eyewitness Top 10 for each city, and the inimitable advice from my fellow travelers here.
Museum pass tally: Paid 45E, went to 52E worth of museums!
Friday, May 5/Saturday, May 6
Departed Boston on time and arrived in Paris on time at 8:35 a.m. Flight and service were fine, as I usually experience with Air France. I called Paris Shuttle after I made it through Passport Control but by the time I got my luggage (last off the plane, apparently) the shuttle had already been around twice for me (so said someone standing nearby waiting for another shuttle) and I waited about 15 minutes more for him to arrive. I was at my hotel by 11 a.m. after dropping off one other party.
This was my fourth trip to Paris and first trip to Venice, but first solo excursion to both. I had a list of things I wanted to revisit or see for the first time in Paris and I was ready to tackle it.
Since the room wasn't ready, it was off to explore. It was overcast, warm and a bit muggy, but I was ready to tackle St. Germain, where I'd never been before. The hotel was about 2 minutes from the Tuileries metro stop and the Tuileries garden itself. I strolled around outside, hoping the constant exposure to outdoors and bright light would reset my clock faster. Little did I know I'd spend the next 6 hours walking, walking, walking'
Crossed over to St. Germain and headed immediately for St-Germain-des-Pres and St. Sulpice. I had noticed on the webcams before I left that there is construction ongoing on the left-hand tower at St. Sulpice, which sort of detracted from the view of the façade, but hey, it took me 2 tries to see Notre Dame without scaffolding, why should this be any different? The church is much larger than I expected. I had recently re-read The Da Vinci Code in preparation for this trip and the movie release (so shoot me, I liked the book!) It was interesting to confirm that the Rose Line is really a hoax, but more interesting to learn about the obelisk in the church which allows sunlight through a hole in the top of it at certain times of year and illuminates the altar through it. Things like that (Stonehenge, Newgrange) tend to fascinate me. And this did. I can barely thread a needle, so to be able to construct an obelisk to do this rates in my book.
Off next to the Musée National du Moyen-Age, aka the Cluny, which had been on my list years ago after reading The Lady and the Unicorn. Here I bought the four day museum pass for 45 euro. I was one person Paris would lose money on with this pass. The museum was wonderful. I am not usually impressed with medieval art or such, but this really was quite interesting. The Ste. Chapelle stained glass exhibit was pretty and the pieces from Notre Dame interesting to see up close. But the unicorn tapestries stole the show. They definitely tell you a story but certainly leave you wondering just what it is her heart desires. This was a wonderful experience.
Next I walked on to the Pantheon, enjoying the neighborhood and fresh air along the way. Foucault's Pendulum was certainly a curiosity and unique to see in person, but I would not have made the trek here for that. I managed to find the tombs of Hugo, Curie, Voltaire and Dumas down in the basement. While that was somewhat novel, I don't think I'd say the Pantheon is a must-see for anyone and if I'd known how anti-climatic it would be I probably wouldn't have walked up hill for it. But a 20 minute walk brought me to Notre Dame and'
LUNCH. After much research, I carefully selected where I wanted to eat in both Paris and Venice. Many of my ideas were fueled by the passionate posters on this forum. And if you followed me through Prague and Vienna on my first solo voyage, you'll know that I eat a big meal mid-day to get into places I would otherwise need reservations for and I might not feel as comfortable at alone at night. I decided to follow suit here. It also turned out to be considerably cheaper than dinner too in some cases. Le Caveau d'Isle on Ile St. Louis was my destination and I was not disappointed. I started with salmon tartar on toast, with some diced onion and olive oil. It had a bit of a bite to it and was a wonderful warm up to my main course ' the oh-so French (not!) thai shrimp on rice. Not sure why, but that was what appealed to me at that point. I kick myself now for letting jetlag get the best of me because now I'd give anything to have a French plate put in front of me, but in all reality it was excellent. There was sliced zucchini with it that was pretty tasty. I followed this up with my first crème brulee of the trip, which was excellent. You don't get it like this at home, no matter how you try. Total cost for lunch was 19.95 plus 5 for a bottle of Evian.
Call me crazy but anyone who can pass Berthillon without one is a better person than I. So despite just having a rather good meal, I had an ice cream too. Hey, it's not dairy farm sized like at home, so two little golf ball of ice cream won't kill me. I had the white chocolate and dark chocolate orange, a great combination and something nice to enjoy on my walk past Notre Dame and on to Ste. Chapelle.
Now here is where the question cropped up for the first time. Why, oh why, don't people buy the Museum Pass? I must have passed 300 people, easily, on the way to the front of the queue. I suppose I shouldn't complain because if everyone did what we savvy travelers do, there'd probably be no benefit to us. But there was no way I was going to spend any of my vacation in line like that. Crazy!
This was the first sight/museum I went through metal detectors for, and I don't recall having done that in the past. I've talked to a few people about it since I got back, and some say it's part of the post 9/11 world, others say it's due to a rash of violence against artwork that's happened of late. Anyone know?
So I passed some time revisiting the stained glass and chatting with fellow travelers also referring to Rick Steves' guide (this would become a recurring theme). I'd been to the church on each of my previous trips, I love it that much, so coming back here now was like revisiting an old friend. As would my next stop: the Rodin Museum. I bought a carnet of metro tickets and was on my way.
I absolutely love Rodin and this would be my fourth trip here as well. They've rearranged the museum since my last visit. The Kiss is no longer right inside the front door and the gift shop is out on the street where you first enter. But otherwise, the sculptures are as beautiful as I remember, and I found it interesting that my taste and favorites have changed the 5 years since my last visit. It was somewhat overcast and rain was threatening, which gave the gardens an eerie feel, particularly with the black-colored statues, but there was finally a cooling breeze coming through as well. One noteable addition to the collection that I don't recall from before is a Munch colored pencil sketch of The Thinker in the garden. Quite small but very pretty.
I stayed until the museum closed, which was delightful having it essentially to myself with so few people inside. I returned to the Hotel des Tuileries to check out the room and have a shower. As I mentioned in another post, the hotel's location cannot be beat. I left my hotel at 8:15 a.m. and was in line at the Louvre by 8:22. The neighborhood was extremely quiet. Plenty of ATMs and shops for buying water and snacks nearby. Internet cafe right around the corner. Tuileries metro about 2 minutes, Pyramides about 4 minutes away. Could walk to Opera in about 10. Angelina's about 8.
The hotel's staff was attentive and friendly. However, the hotel itself and the room appeared clean but there was just something about it that didn't sit well with me. My room smelled a bit off (garbage-y, but I couldn't find the source). It wasn't until I moved on to my wonderful hotel in Venice that I realized it just didn't feel clean to me. Breakfast (not included but convenient) was great, and the girl serving was quite pleasant. I can't give it a wholehearted recommendation, but if you go in expecting to get what you pay for (115 euro a night for that central a location), you shouldn't be disappointed. I've stayed in a lot worse, unfortunately!
Rested for about 45 minutes then headed out to a local brasserie for a croquet monsieur and salad. This cost me 20 euros, more than my wonderful lunch! Crazy! In bed at 9:00, jetlag be damned!
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