Monday, May 21, 2012

21 May, Monday: The End

Monday, 21 May:  Taxi arrived as scheduled but since we didn’t know the terminal we were departing from, got unlucky and were dropped of at 2E when we should have gone to Terminal 1.  We joked with niece that we couldn’t leave Paris without one last train ride!  We checked in without problems, went through security (I was patted down; niece was patted down and her carry on searched), did a little shopping, boarded the plane (niece’s carryon was searched again—what are the odds?).  Flight was uneventful—coach is never comfortable but the service was good, the entertainment system worked a little better, and the food was ok. 

We got to Houston 10 long hours later, went through Border Control where niece disclosed having foie gras so we were sent to Agriculture to be searched again.  Thankfully, the foie gras did not get confiscated; they’re looking for raw things.  We went  through security one more time to catch our connecting flights and all made it home just fine (except for niece’s suitcase which was delayed several hours!). 

So hubby and I are back to work and niece is enjoying a respite before her next vacation—oh, the life of a college student who doesn’t have to go to summer school! 

Paris was wonderful and I can’t wait to go back, probably within two years.  But next up is Germany in December for the Christmas Markets!

Thanks for reading, y'all.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

20 May, Sunday: Musee Nissim de Camondo; Saint Denis and a party

Sunday, 20 May:  This was our last day in Paris.  We visited the Musee Nissim de Camondo near Parc Monceau.  What a beautiful area in the 8th!  The mansion was incredible, so full of treasures, so comfortable and well designed.  Niece and I would move in tomorrow (but who wouldn’t?!).  We used the audio guide to tour all the rooms and were impressed at the collection amassed by Conte Camondo for his children, neither of whom lived to enjoy it:  son Nissim died in WWI and daughter Beatrice, her husband and kids were sent to Auschwitz and not heard from again. 

Parc Monceau's entrance gate
Entrace to the Musee Nissim de Camondo

Afterwards we grabbed the Metro to Opera Garnier. Wow, what a beautiful building! We were unfortunately unable to tour it due to a ballet performance (I had checked online the night before for closures but it wasn’t listed, bummer). We also couldn’t shop at the Galleries Lafayette or Printempts because of it being a Sunday. Those of you who like to shop probably already know that stores in Paris close on Sundays, but I had no idea. So we had a quick lunch and grabbed the Metro to St. Denis to see the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Denis.

This would be the entrance for visitors
It's spectacular on the outside

 After a cafĂ© break on the square overlooking St. Denis and the frolicking kids playing football, we toured this magnificent Basilica. It was Notre Dame (smaller, yes) without the hordes of people. So beautiful, so peaceful. We paid our fee to see the Royal Necropolis containing tombs of pretty much all the kings and queens of France including Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, various princess and princesses, and other notables. Very impressive but I wished for more explanations in English. Rick Steves does not have this Basilica in his book so I thank the good folks on the France forum for recommending it. We all thought it was a very worthwhile excursion.

It was a crowd free Notre Dame

Louis the XVI and Marie Antoinette are buried here

Very rare metal tombs for baby princes

We had plans to attend Jim Haynes’ Sunday Dinner at 8:30pm so we Metro’d it back to the apartment to relax and change.  I hadn’t told niece what we were doing so she was surprised to walk into Jim’s garden and see all the people; she said, “we’re going to a party”!  Jim was holding court in the kitchen as his friends served up a lovely vegetarian soup.  We took our bowls outside and started talking to a nice couple from North Carolina (he’s a teacher; niece is majoring in early childhood education).  We also talked for awhile with a gentleman from Sydney, Australia; a Medieval Historian from Baltimore; a young engineering student from Michigan; a man from Jersey/Mass. whose wife fell and injured her ankle upon arrival in Paris the day before; girls from Tennessee; etc.  Hubby was making friends of his own inside.  The main dish (French fries, pork, pickles, mushrooms in a nice sauce) was not as good as the soup  and dessert was pretty bad.  The box wine was fine but they ran out of beer before the end of the evening.  Overall, we all had a good time even when the rain poured down midway through the evening.  I would go again if in Paris on a Sunday night. 

Back to the apartment to pack up and get ready for departure the next day.  Our G7 taxi was scheduled to pick us up at 7am.  I went to bed after the 1am Eiffel Tower sparkle show grateful that we could share this wonderful city with our niece.  And certain that hubby and I would be back before too long; after all, Paris is my favorite big city in Europe!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

19 May, Saturday: Notre Dame and her neighbors, plus macarons

Saturday, 19 May:  As today was the last day of our Museum Passes, we had to visit Notre Dame and climb its Tower, St. Chappelle and the Conciergerie.  We hoped for smaller crowds but the lines were just as bad as the day before.

Long line for the Tower, around 10am
Notre Dame's facade

  We again took a detour into the Fete du Pain tent before walking over to Sainte Chappelle. 

We waited in line a bit before they opened up a second line for Museum Pass holders. We got right through security, bypassed the second line for ticket buying, and were marveling at the stained glass chapel in no time.   Felt like rock stars!

The security line, for non-Museum Pass holders
I had forgotten how spectacular Sainte Chappelle is in person.  It’s just breathtakingly beautiful.  They are renovating some of the panels and the video showing the painstaking process was quite interesting.  The downstairs chapel was pretty too but niece and I definitely would prefer to be royalty, wealthy,  or privileged so we could be admitted upstairs.  After a little shopping in the gift shop, we went over to the Conciergerie.

The restored outside of Sainte Chappelle

Stained glass heaven!

The lower chapel, now gift shop

The Palais de Justice

No waiting in line for the Conciergerie, just straight into the Guard’s Hall which is large and gothic.  We did the circuit of rooms and learned a little more about the gruesome French Revolution.  We saw Marie Antoinette’s memorial chapel and her recreated cell.  It was quite a juxtaposition from the luxuries at Versailles.  Niece and I both felt Robespierre got what he deserved after having guillotined 2780 persons.  We also pretty much agreed that the Revolution was necessary because of the excesses of the kings/queens of France, but sad nonetheless.

Marie's original cell made into a chappel

Marie's sad recreated cell
The exercise yard; don't miss the downward facing spikes
Feeling rather cheerless, we decided to go to lunch and try the macarons at Un Dimanche a Paris.  We took the Metro and found the restaurant relatively easily.  We decided against eating lunch there, it was kinda precious and expensive.  Instead we had a nice meal at Le Relais Odeon: goat cheese salad for me; beef and fries for hubby and niece.  Then we went to the delightful boutique at Un Dimanche to choose our dessert. 

Everything was beautifully presented and looked so delicious.  We enjoyed watching the chefs make the pastries we were about to eat.  Niece and I decided on macarons and hubby got a pastry.  We sat outside and enjoyed.  Niece and I decided that these macarons were much better than Laduree’s, coffee and caramel were tied for the best.  Delicious!
After lunch at Relais Odeon, we had macarons

Un Dimanche a Paris chefs at work

"We''ll take one of everything!"

The map showed that we were sorta close to Jardin du Luxembourg so we walked over there. It is a beautiful park. We grabbed a couple of chairs and relaxed a bit. Watched the kids chase the boats in the pond, the joggers run around, the people milling about enjoying the pretty day, listened to the music coming from the bandstand. Decided against tracking back to St. Sulpice and grabbed the Metro back to St. Michel Notre Dame. We were going to wait as long as we needed to get up close and personal with the gargoyles!

This is one place we didn’t feel like rock stars because there’s no special line for Museum Pass holders--a travesty! It took about 50 minutes to get in (they let in groups of 20 every 10 minutes) so not a horrible wait. The climb was not bad to the first level but a little hairier to the second since it narrows a bit more. Totally worth it, though. We exited when it started to pour down raining and made it into Notre Dame without further lines because of the rain.

The line was just as long at 3pm

The climb wasn't bad

Hello, gargoyles and rainy Paris!

The umbrellas were out in front of Notre Dame

Niece did not enjoy the climb

Notre Dame was very, very crowded. Unbelievably so. When we entered, a mass was about to start so the tourists were limited to the side aisles, making the crowding worse. It’s a beautiful cathedral but it was a hard to see that with the hordes in there. We wandered about, took some photos, saw the start of the mass (love the smell of incense in Catholic churches!), then made our way out through the hordes standing in the doorway blocking the exits. Why do people do that? It’s aggravating and dangerous and seriously, it wasn’t raining that hard (as niece said, “it’s just a little water people, get out of the doorway” ha!). I was quite unsatisfied with this visit to Notre Dame (hubby and I have been twice before and loved it) and I hope niece gets to see it again without the hordes…

The incense smoke made interesting patterns in our pictures 

So very crowded :(

The French mass was familiar

We walked around outside Notre Dame; the rain had gone and it was very pretty again. It was after 6pm, so the Deportation Memorial was closed but we lingered inside the park there for a bit. It’s such a sad piece of history that should never be forgotten or dismissed. I wanted niece to understand that hating people for being different (race, sex, religion, disability, politics, etc.) is never ok and can lead to atrocities such as those perpetrated by the Nazis.   She gets it, I know. But it’s a lesson worth repeating as it needs never be forgotten.

We made our way to Ile St. Louis and bellied up to the pastry counter at Berthillon. We got macarons and a few mini pastries to go. We got ice cream (me, the usual chocolate and coffee) and ate it wandering around the pretty streets.  Niece did not like her caramel ice cream (it was ok, a little burnt tasting), hubby liked his strawberry and coconut and I enjoyed mine. We all agreed that Amorino was better, though.  Also, the pastries were very good but the macarons only ok.  Un Dimanche won the macarons competition, for sure!

Berthillon was a bit disappointing
Back at the apartment, we decided on pizza for dinner again.  It was as good as the first time and we met a really nice man (lives in the 7th) and his 20-something daughter (lives in London, visits Paris regularly).  He said the pizza place was the best in Paris (we agreed even though we hadn’t tried any others, ha!) and recommended a boulangerie on St. Dominique as his favorite.  He also told us we should visit the Cathedral at Chartres (would love to, next time!).