Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Encore France: Day 3 - Stunning Church, the Pantheon, Luxembourg Gardens

After a fabulous deep, restful sleep we were eager to get out onto the streets of Paris again, just to breath it all in and take in the sights and sounds. A quick shower and we were off. Down rue Monge and onto Boulevard Saint-Germain where we found a great bistro that offered breakfast of fruit juice, baguette with jam, croissant, ham and cheese omelette and coffee all for just 8 each. Couldn’t resist that, could we? And honestly, it was all absolutely delicious. The place was fairly full, and mostly with locals, which is always a good sign.

With satisfied tummies we set off on an amble to explore the area, and – joy of joys – came across a really fantastic street market. The fruit and vegetables were nothing short of beautiful. The smells and colours were such that you never get with our homogenised, pasteurised, blandestised supermarket offerings back here. It was actually wonderful just to walk around that section. Olives, cheeses, pates, wines. Ah, totally gorgeous. We spent quite a bit of time chatting to various stallholders, who all invited us to sample their product and were more than happy to spend time chatting (just make sure you point out that you are Australian, not English). There were, of course, stalls other than food, and I selected some lovely scarves as gifts for folks back home. I also picked up a fabulous hat for myself and one for my man.

Donning our new headgear, we headed back to the hotel to deposit our goodies and change into cooler tops as the day was warmer than we had expected.

Out again, and this time we strolled up rue Saint-Jacques, pausing to look at that lovely hotel of the same name, which had been on my shortlist because of the charming decor. Our –maybe-we’ll-get-there-maybe-we-won’t destination was the Pantheon. On the way there, however, we veered off to streets right and left, always discovering lovely bits of architecture or little secret gardens. Thus it was that we found ourselves outside one of the loveliest churches ever, Saint Etienne-du-Mont. Built in 1492, the year that Columbus was bumping around the Caribbean, this stunningly beautiful church deserves to be one of the major tourist attractions in Paris, but I am so glad it isn’t because we were the only people there and were able to just sit and take it in in peace and quiet.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia
I didn’t even take our camera out of the bag; just had a feeling that the place was so lovely that I only wanted to enjoy it with my eyes. It was light, and light-filled, and spoke of a religion based on love and not condemnation and fear. The photographs I’m adding here are from Wikimedia, copyright-free, and I’m offering them so that you can perhaps appreciate how sometimes you don’t feel inclined to reach for the Lumix.
Stunning isn't it.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
After such a beautiful stop on the way, we walked slowly the few blocks to the Pantheon. It is indeed impressive; it is indeed quite beautiful. We could – we did – spend quite some time there, fascinated by the Fulcrum and the stunning works of art adorning the walls. My man did descend into the bowels of the building to the crypt where so many famous people are interred – Marie Curie (the only woman to be so honoured), Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Louis Braille, René Descartes (go away, Monty Python song). It’s a really special place, incredibly elegant and a fitting resting place for such great minds.


Back out on the street, we paused to admire some of the surrounding buildings and colleges. Hugely impressive was the town hall for the 5th arrondissement, as I’m sure you’ll agree. After this, we will never again think of our local council offices as excessive.
It was now a lovely downhill stroll to Luxembourg Gardens, but on the way – oh, do envy me, please – we came upon the most incredible ice-cream shop (better, in my opinion, that Bertillon), Amorina Gelato. Honestly, what we purchased in there were not ice-creams; they were works of art. The ice-cream is scooped out with a flat paddle and built up petal by petal (yes, that’s what I said) until what you have as the finished product is the most perfect flower, opening out delicately at the top of the cone. And let me assure you, the stunning flower is in no way let down by the flavour. These ice-creams are beautiful to look at and wonderful to eat.

And so we came, still on our Amorina high, to the Luxembourg Gardens, that lovely, lovely park which some people declare to be the most beautiful park in the world. Are they? Ask me when I’ve visited all the parks in the world. Photographs never do them justice. They are like something out of a fairy tale, complete with a lovely castle overlooking their walkways and fountains. I do know that we absolutely love Jardin des Tuileries and always will, but Luxembourg Gardens are nothing short of magnificent. Could I choose between the two? I don’t think so; they are both special and magical to me.

We wandered around the gardens for quite some time, stopping and sitting for a while on a bench to watch a young female diving into huge piles of autumn leaves while her boyfriend filmed her joyous antics. That was gorgeous, and I have to admit we wished it was us jumping into those enormous piles with such abandon.

We also discovered a tiny little garden where everything is in miniature, just a scaled down garden for scaled down little people – and no smoking allowed in there. Wonder of wonders!

From the gardens we walked through the 6th until we came to Saint Sulpice. Now, I know that this church is a must-see for those who enjoyed Dan Brown’s “Davinci Code”, but I found it gloomy and horrible. Even the doors were somehow forbidding, and I thought it seemed more like a place of condemnation than salvation. At the time of our visit, a film crew was making a movie there and so we, and other visitors, had to stand back for a while, watching the proceedings, until we were allowed to enter through that dark, heavy door. I wish I knew what the movie was. I watch quite a lot of French films, and the actress certainly looked familiar but I couldn’t think of her name. Anyway, our visit to this church was quite short, and we both felt so relieved to just get outside and back into the sunshine. Urgh!
Just so stunning.

It was by now, as you can appreciate, mid-afternoon and we were starving. Somewhere along Boulevard Saint-Michel we spotted a café which appealed, a tiny place full of lovely wafting cigarette smoke so that we could indulge in a bit of passive smoking to our hearts’ content while feasting on delicious Croque Forrestier and quaffing the usual delightful Cote du Provence rosé. Ah, perfect.
I know you want to see more of this fabulous place.

It was then quite a walk back to the hotel, stopping along the way at a Fran Prix to top up the milk, munchies and vino supply. A long lovely bath waited.

Dinner was taken at Le Twickenham, a restaurant on Boulevard Saint-Germain. We had really hesitated about going there as the name put us off so much. Let’s face it, that name just reeks of a place frequented by visiting Brits, and so wasn’t at all appealing.  We were about to walk past and go elsewhere but a waiter who was both pushy and charming (can there be such a combination?) inveigled us inside, and so we found ourselves seated – not surrounded by a bunch of Brits, not surrounded by anybody really – inside and partaking of our evening meal there. The meal was ordinary in the extreme, and the Twickenham is not an experience we will repeat. Just glad that it wasn’t too expensive.

And how about this guy? Fabulous in the extreme.

A slow stroll back to the Agora, a glass of port for another top day in Paris, and our heads were ready to connect with the pillows and we slipped into the arms of Morpheus.

What an image to take into dreamland.

Catch you tomorrow, when I’ll tell you about one of the most memorable restaurants we have ever visited – actually, I can’t imagine anything ever equalling it.

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