Wednesday, 20 June 2012

France, Day 5: Garnier Opera House, Handbags and a French Waiter

2 May

Today we continue our ambling around Paris, without any fixed schedule but just allowing the flow of the sidewalks and the sights and smells around us to guide our footsteps. 

Place Vendome
On leaving the hotel, instead of heading to the left, toward rue de Rivoli, we turn right, up to rue Saint-Honoré where we make a left and then continue on until we reach once more the understated elegance of Place Vendome.

Place Vendome looking toward the Ritz

So simple, so elegant


Don't think my Visa card is up to this

From here we again turn to the right, further away from the river, and stroll along rue de la Paix until we see, right there in front of us, the Garnier Opera House. To say it is impressive is just silly understatement; it is magnificent. 

Ta dah!
 Wondering whether the Phantom is watching us from some hidden eerie, we walk around the building, wanting to see it from every side. Sweeping staircases, superb carvings – it’s really almost too much to take in. Even the scaffolding, which seems to be ever-present in Paris, does nothing to dull the effect of this place. This building is so different to the Gothic magnificence of the Louvre, so different to the rounded symmetrical Haussmann architecture which surrounds our hotel; this is plainly and simply OTT gorgeous! Oh, and I’ll swear that the Music of the Night wasn’t playing only in my head; I’ll swear that it was emanating from the very stones and windows of that stunning building.
The beautiful foyer.
And so we go inside. We purchase our tickets to wander more or less at will, and prepare ourselves – or think we have, silly us – to feast our eyes on bling extraordinaire.
Stunning doorway.
There are wonderful items contained with the museum of the Opera House, items such as beautiful sketches of performances, programmes, artwork, and – breathtaking –Anna Pavlova’s costume for Swan Lake. You look at that, so tiny and beautiful, and know that you are in a world apart.

But of course it’s not the museum we have come here to see, is it; it is the full-on gorgeousness that the very name, Garnier Opera, offers. And it doesn’t disappoint. If the French economy starts doing a Greek (or a Spain, an Italy, an Ireland) dive down toward the bottom of the pool, they could always sell off some of the zillion tonnes of gold on show in this building. The strange thing is, opulence is often just garish and quite offensive, but this isn’t; this is just stunning.

The staircase, with the magnificent lights on either side, the little seating areas, the salon where patrons would linger and make clever conversation during intermissions, they are all quite breathtaking. This is indeed a feast for the eyes. I really can’t do it justice or describe it in a way that could convey to you any concept of what it is really like, and so I will just add in some photographs and hope you enjoy looking at them.

 Have your eyes recovered?  Oh, really? Try these.
It’s amazing, isn’t it? Oh, I just loved that place. Unfortunately, there was a rehearsal happening at the time and so we weren’t able to go into the main theatre area, but that is a joy we can put off for another time.
 We left the Garnier and walked down Avenue de l’Opera, and in this way we came to a Fragonard store. Slim, elegant, beautifully “finished” sales attendants made a fuss of my husband and, basically, ignored me. While I sampled various scents he stood there glowing while gorgeous young things on either side offered “Monsieur”this and that men’s fragrance, piling him with samples to take home. Left more or less to my own devices, I selected a charming little lingerie bag as a gift for a cousin back home, but no perfume. You need to know that when you shop in small shops in Paris – even patisseries – the wrapping of the item is most important. This little piece of frivolity, this small lace bit of nothing, was lovingly ensconced first in layer after layer of tissue. It was then carefully wrapped in the sort of beautiful wrapping paper which we reserve for those dearest to us. That then was topped off with a ribbon, and then that, and my man’s collection of freebies, placed in an elegant carry bag. Ah, I love this place!
And still more?
We cut through back to rue Saint-Honoré and – oh, joy of joys – came across a handbag shop to make handbag lovers cry for the beauty of the window display. Could I pass it by? Don’t be silly. We entered to find a store of nothing but beautiful, real leather handbags of every colour of the rainbow, and – here’s a bonus – all made in France. I could easily have just sat down and spent a few hours gazing at the goodies on offer. However, my eyes had been drawn to two particular handbags, one in powder blue and white, the other in bone and tan. The owner of the store – an immaculately suited Asian gentleman – noting the direction of my loving gazes, removed those bags from their shelves and took me to the rear of the shop where, in front of huge mirrors, he invited me to “try them on”to see if they suited. Now, perhaps I’m the odd one out here, but I had never been invited to “try on” a bag in front of a mirror in my whole life; it was a new experience. Checking from all angles, twirling in front of those mirrors, I simply fell more deeply in love. Yes, of course I have those two handbags, and they are still loved, and they still live in their feather soft muslin bags, and I delight in seeing other women’s eyes grow large with admiration and envy whenever I “wear” one of them.
Could you resist this?
Sunshine, laughter, new handbags, and with the images of the Garnier still there on the front page of the mind, this is one wonderful day.
We drop our purchases off in our hotel room, happy little campers indeed, and then it is time to acknowledge that our tummies are trying to tell us something. There is a little café around the corner on rue de Rivoli, and so we go there to pick up a couple of baguettes avec jambon et fromage and then cross the road to our lovely Jardin des Tuileries, where we find a seat under a shady tree and watch the children laughing and giggling on their donkey ride as we munch happily on our delicious, cheap and simple lunch.
Where better could you eat your lunch?
With hunger sated, we walked along by the river until we came to a spot where one of the red hop-on-hop-off buses stops. We noticed one of the buses swaying from side to side, making its way slowly along the street towards the stop, and so we decided to take advantage of its appearance.

We purchased a two day ticket, took our seats and happily did the whole 2.5 hour circuit. It’s probably really a 2 hour circuit, but our driver, who looking like a backing vocalist for Bob Marley, had to take time to smoke at least one cigarette at every stop.
On the coach we got chatting to a young girl from Brisbane who was visiting Paris by herself for four days. She was staying at the Mercure Hotel on the Champs Elysees, which one would think of as a great location for a single traveller. Not her, though. She said she felt really unsafe in Paris. Interesting, isn’t it, how people react so differently to places. We don’t feel particularly safe in our home city, but do feel safe in Paris. Okay, I’ll qualify that: we feel safe in central Paris. Those ugly, economically depressed suburbs are not places we would venture to, and so they form no part of our Paris.

Now, I honestly believe that hop-on-hop-off buses are fantastic. When your feet are sore but you don’t want to miss a thing, they are a great option. We make use of them wherever we go, and it allows us to decide, “Oh, yes, we must go there”, or “Nah, that just doesn’t do it for me”.

One place we saw on this circuit which just captivated us was the Trocadero, on the opposite side of the Seine to the Eiffel, offering the best views of that iconic tower to be had in Paris.
When the bus dropped us back near our hotel, we agreed that it was high time to treat ourselves and visit a patisserie. There is a wonderful one on rue Saint-Honoré, just around the corner from the Emeraude Louvre Montana, and so we headed there. Joining the queue of ladies waiting to be given their daily bread, we had time as we slowly edged forward to check out the delicacies on offer.
Had to pop in another one, just because.

Now, I know that Acland Street in St Kilda has some great cake shops, but what you find in Paris – and elsewhere in France – is on a different level entirely. These are works of art, and selecting was difficult. It is also really noticeable that these cakes are not the huge, giant sized things which we see in cake shops here, which leave you with nothing but an enormous sense of guilt and a need to loosen your belt. No, these Parisienne lovelies are small and perfect. We chose our cakes, and headed back to our hotel room to relax with a good book, a delicious cake and a cup of coffee (remember, always go for a hotel where you can make yourself a cuppa in your room – so important!).

For dinner this evening we decided to try a different restaurant. We walked along rue Saint-Honoré until we found one that looked inviting. It was a simple little bistro and obviously quite popular with the locals as most of the conversation which flowed around us was in French, not English, Italian or German. On checking the menu, my man spotted an item called Andouillette Saucisse. Well, he thought, sausages might be the way to go. When the waiter took our order he peered over the top of his glasses at my husband and, with raised eyebrows and a look of doubt on his face, asked, “Do you know?” What an interesting question. I mean, just simply, “Do you know?” Obviously, we didn’t know but we were not going to admit that, so my husband smiled, nodded his head, and said, “Oiu, je sais”.

Okay, one last one.
Hm, hands up anybody who has been to France and, not knowing, has ordered this particular very-popular-with-locals dish? Well, the first thing you notice when your meal is placed on the table in front of you is the smell. You really want to get up and leave right then and there. This smell is B-A-D. I have read websites that refer to it as “the smell of death”, and some that call the Andouillette Saucisse “the sausage of death”. I was so glad that I had gone for a nice piece of veal with a creamy Normandy sauce and, of course, the obligatory frittes. My man, nevertheless, was determined to not be put off by the smell. He was, however, put off by the taste. It was disgusting. He offered me a bite. I took a tiny nip. I was put off, for life. Not wanting to give the waiter too much satisfaction, he bravely made it through half of his meal. What a man!

We have since discovered what goes into these particular sausages. Some are made the traditional way, with the skin actually being from a pig’s colon. The filling in the sausage is variously described as tripe, intestines, chittlings – but most often intestines. So, here we have a bunch of intestines, and other more solid looking bits that you really don’t even want to think about, all neatly, and tightly, encased in a pig’s colon. Now, doesn’t that sound delicious to you? I have since discovered that there are many, many French people who almost throw up just at the memory of Andouillette, and I have come across two other men – my brother, and my dentist – who having unknowingly ordered this French speciality. Their minds are cruel enough to hold the memory of the experience front and centre. Urgh!!!!

Our waiter, no doubt extremely pleased that my husband hadn’t really known, hadn’t quite finished with us, however. As is the habit here in Australia, and no doubt many other places in the world, when we ordered our dessert we also ordered our coffee. We definitely did not know that this is considered a huge faux pas by some French people. Obviously we did not want our coffee with our dessert, but we were just getting the ordering of it out of the way. The top half of our waiter’s torso pulled back so that his body was slanting away, obviously trying to seek refuge from these ignorant foreigners, and, peering once more over his glasses, he asked, “And when would you like that served? Would you like it with your dessert, after your dessert, or perhaps you would like it at breakfast time?” Well, what does one say – or do – in such a situation? Was he being incredibly rude, or was he being a smart-mouth? Who knows, and who really cares. I prefer to think of it as being a smart-mouth, the sort of thing you expect on a 30 minute sit-com set in New York, and so I refused to take offence. We assured him that after dessert would be fine, and he trotted away as happily as his repertoire allowed.

Ah, tomorrow!

Ah, what a fantastic day, just wonderful. Catch you tomorrow, when we’re off to the Louvre – aaahhh – the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides and the Trocadero. See you then. 


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