Sunday, 20 May 2012

France, Day 2: Paris

29 April 

After a great sleep in a bed so wide I had to keep stretching my arm out to make sure I wasn’t alone, we woke to a perfect Paris spring day. Whoever wrote “I love Paris in the spring time” probably had the wonderful good fortune to first meet her in that lovely season when I am sure there are at least 100 flowers for every tourist. Solomon, indeed, in all his finest was not dressed as grandly. 

A fantastic hot shower in soft-as-silk Paris water, a dash of make-up (for me at least), and we were ready for breakfast, so down we headed to the ground floor and into the breakfast room, a room with yellow stone walls and wrought iron furniture, a small room where nobody could remain unseen and anonymous. Having been tipped off by wonderful travel guides such as the DK Eyewitness series on the importance of acknowledging other people in shops and restaurants, as we entered the room we politely offered a “Bonjour” to our fellow diners, all four of them. As it turned out, one couple was Italian – their French, of course, was far superior to ours – and the other couple was English, and their accents were such that it actually made us feel a little better about our own attempts.  

Our waitress, a delightful woman of African descent whose name was, if I recall correctly, Iris, brought us coffee and we feasted on light as air, buttery croissants, pain-au-chocolat and delicious, creamy yoghurt. It was a great way to start what was to be a day, indeed, of awe and wonder. 

Leaving the hotel, our first stop was the Jardin des Tuileries.  Through the gates by the metro entrance, and we were in a world of true beauty.  To our left, the Louvre in all its magnificence, but we wanted to keep that for later, to prolong the anticipation; today was just for walking and looking.   

Jardin des Tuileries
With our shoes becoming whiter and whiter by the second from the dust of the chalky white pathways, we strolled through avenues of magnificent trees, past statuary both stunning and whimsical, paused at fountains which in another city would have a park  all to themselves such is their loveliness, were wooed by banks of perfect spring blooms.
The white pathways = dusty white shoes
(so worth it)

We delighted to see donkeys taking small children for rides under the elms and mulberries, were transported back to childhood ourselves by a fabulous carousel, and were oh-so-impressed by elegant Parisiennes promenading in their beautiful clothes and high heels, looking themselves like part of the artwork on show. 


With our back to the Louvre, we walk toward the Place de la Concorde, and the Eiffel Tower came into view slightly to our left. Straight ahead of us, lined up in perfect symmetry to the Louvre and the gardens, is the Arc de Triomphe. Wide stairs lead us up to street level. We pause to admire some superb artwork, huge hands that hold the promise of friendship and connection. Fantastic!  A young guy comes up to us and asks us to take his photograph. We oblige, of course. He then offers to return the favour. We hesitate, thinking of all the dire warnings we have read on Trip Advisor about people who have lost valuable camera equipment to unscrupulous people offering just such a favour. Stuff it, we think, life is too short to spend every moment expecting the worst. We hand over our camera and pose with the magnificent Obelisk of Luxor in the background. Our photographer - who we discover is from Brazil - tells us he thinks we will like the photograph, hands our camera back, shakes hands with us and wishes us a happy holiday. See, it really does pay to maintain some faith in human nature. 

Wonderful work - one of my favourite things in Paris

Leaving the gardens we spend some time taking in the Obelisk, this 3300 year old piece of Ancient Egypt.  We are indeed in awe. It is quite breathtaking, everything about it perfectly formed and it is SO OLD! Coming from a place where we get excited over buildings which are less than 200 years old, this is indeed a thrill. 

Place de la Concorde

I love that this spot which was once so drenched in blood during the Reign of Terror, this place of execution, vengeance, of justice and treachery, is now named the Place de la Concorde, the place of concord, of agreement, of peace. It seems to me it’s a very good name for such a site. 

Dignified National Assemby building, fittingly
sited opposite Place de la Concorde

Walking to the left we approach the Seine – ah, the river at last – and cross at the Pont de la Concorde. They don’t do things by half, these people of Paris. It seems that every building is constructed with a view to the view, if you know what I mean. Nothing seems haphazard, beauty is never left to the whims of chance. And so, there in front of us, on the other side of the bridge, lined up perfectly for effect, is the imposing National Assembly building.  If ever a building looked like a seat of power, this one does. It looks as though it has stood since Centurion was a rank and not a tank, as they say. Indeed, it looks as though it could easily have been the regular meeting place for the Roman senate, and you just know that if a barrel chested man in a toga walked out through the main doors at that moment it would somehow look absolutely right. It is just as it should be, no more and no less, and so for me it immediately goes onto my “favourites” list. 

Ah, how would you like to be ...

Turning left – how appropriate on the “left bank” side of the bridge - we strolled slowly along, pausing often to admire the work of local artists or to browse the wares for sale by the many bouquinisters, those keepers of small green pop up stalls that line the footpath overlooking the river.  The main items for sale are books – often old, rare, smelling musty and wonderful – but you will also find movie posters, artwork, postcards (including some of those old black and white naughties from years long gone), traditional French house number signs, and of course all the usual souvenirs such as fridge magnets, face powder compacts, playing cards, etc.  Checking out what is on offer, watching the delight of people who come across some literary treasure, is a fantastic way to spend your time. The bouquinisters are an icon of Paris, one that should not be missed. We purchased a charming print called “The Cats of Paris” – yes, we are cat people – which we really love. Haven’t had it framed yet, but one day it will hang on the wall and whenever we look at it we will remember our first day in Paris. 

Fabulous bouquinista stands
(photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

All around us were the scenes of movies, of imaginings. We wanted to take it all in at once and just fill ourselves to bursting with the place. We wanted to be on the right bank, the left bank, the islands all at the same time. When we came to the Pont Neuf we crossed over to the Ile de la Cité and wandered around the flower markets on Place Louis Lépine .  Heavenly doesn’t begin to describe it. The colours and scents that come at you from all sides are truly out of this world, and even if you have no interest in gardening, a visit here is an absolute must. 

One of my favourite photographs - love this shot of the Louvre
taken from the Left Bank

Blissed out, and with tummies rumbling after having walked for hours, we decided to find somewhere to eat.  Heading back towards the Louvre we decided that the Café le Corona looked like a good bet. It is right there on the Quai du Louvre, and we were able to sit outside at one of the tiny little round tables which are the norm for eateries in Paris, enjoy a Croque Monsieur and watch the passing parade – the elegant locals, the back-packed-bum-bagged-baseball-capped tourists, the leather–jacketed-slightly-scary-looking Eastern Europeans, the cute-as-buttons-in-their-tartan-miniskirts-and-long-socks Japanese teenage girls making V-signs for holiday snaps, and the cops on rollerblades. Yes, cops on rollerblades. You have to love this place.  With so much entertainment, it was easy to linger at the Corona, sipping on a couple of beers and then rounding it off nicely with a good, strong espresso. 

By this time we had been out and about for over 8 hours, and most of that time had been spent walking, walking, walking. In case I forgot to mention it, I was actually still feeling the effects of a broken ankle and multiple fractures sustained a few months previously, and the pain gremlins were beginning to bite.  Some time spent with my foot resting on something nice and soft, such as a cushion atop a bed, was called for and so we headed back to our hotel for some well-needed rest. 

As we were getting ready to head out again for dinner the heavens opened. The day had been a perfect spring day, with stunning azure skies and warm sunshine on our faces. There had been no hint of rain, but here it was, beating down with the intensity of a Darwin “shower”. Phew, unbelievable.  But of course, Paris suits rain so much that it only added to the charm. The receptionist had handed us a couple of umbrellas, and so we were able to enjoy a stroll around the block watching the rain turn the stunning architecture into a soft-focus photograph. 

We checked out various restaurants, but the one which caught our eye was one right on the corner across from the Louvre, Café le Carrousel. Right in front of the café is a superb statue of Joan of Arc on her horse, gleaming and glittering in gold. Okay, the café is definitely more popular with tourists than with locals, but it is one of those places where the position is so fantastic that you are willing to forego fantastic food. Some of the best meals we have had in France have been in little villages where the furtherest you can see is into the kitchen. But this was our first dinner in Paris, and to enjoy it while gazing across the street to where soft yellow light flowed from the windows of the Louvre while Joan kept watch over everything made for a total package that was nothing short of wonderful. Oh, and we were introduced to Kir Royale, so what more could you possibly want. 

I never tire of thiswonderful  statue - must
have 20 photographs of it.

You do want more, hey? Well, when we had finished our meal, when we were ourselves warm and fuzzy with food and drink, we crossed the road and stood for a while watching the Eiffel twinkle in the distance. Now, come on, you could not want more than that, definitely. 

Catch you tomorrow.

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