It’s Monday afternoon and we’ve taken some time off to catch up with some personal maintenance and some administration.
Yesterday, we changed hotels to the one from which our tour of France and Italy begins. I have to say that our previous hotel in Rue Tranchet was hard work. Ruth was well established in her room on her own, but Jill & I changed rooms after two days. Rather than feeling like a relaxing holiday, staying in our room felt more like we were camping. Our room was tiny – the only place for our bags was to have them half under the bed and hanging space was very limited. The bathrooms was about the size of a pantry. There was no where to hang the shower rose and we found that the best way to shower was to sit on the side of the bath and then hold the hand-held shower rose and wave it around, being careful not to create too much of a swamp on the floor. Our second room was better, but the one that we now have at the Marriot Hotel in Boulevarde St Jaques is very luxurious and twice the size. (It would want to be at a rack rate of $500 per night!). Our previous hotel was however, in a superb location – very close to main places and good inexpensive restaurants.
Enough complaining about our accommodation; back to our travel doings.
On Friday, we started out by catching the train from the station at St Lazarre to Montmartre. We climbed the hill (Ruth and I by walking and Jill by the little Funicular) to the steps of the Cathedral. It was very busy with tourists but as they were circulating around the sides and back of the cathedral, a mass was being conducted in the central part of the church.
We then had a look around the local area to see the little vineyard, some of the old cafes and the square at Place de Tetre where many artists are painting in the street. We each bought a little painting as a memento.
Down the road, we found a little brasserie which was selling crepes, so we took advantage of the location and had a typically french lunch with a glass of plonk. To finish our visit, we navigated our way downhill towards Pigalle (the major red light district of Paris) where we had a short walk along Blvde de Clichy to the Metro station where we headed back to the major department stores near our hotel.
Jill & Ruth went to look for girl’s stuff, while I had a look around the men’s store and other more interesting departments in both Printemps and Galleries Laffayette.
We headed back to the same little restaurant for dinner as we had been on a previous night and enjoyed their Plate de Jour of Veal with vegetables.
On Saturday, Ruth went off to see the Musee D’Orsay with its fine collection of impressionist paintings, but as Jill and I had seen it only a couple of years ago, we headed off to see some things that were new to us. We started at the Pompidou Centre, which disappointingly didn’t open for an our after the time we arrived, so we had a look at the outside and then walked along to Les Halles.
This was the site of the old wholesale fruit and vegetable market and is now a multi level underground shopping centre. There was a very good electronics shop there and whilst it didn’t really rival the Yodobashi Camera in Tokyo, it was worth looking ta for at least a few minutes.
Nearby is a wonderful gothic church’ St Eustache which is a pretty good parish church. It has a very high ceiling, flying buttresses and some really intricate stained glass windows.
Around the corner is a very Rue Montoguell. This leads down to Les Halles from the area around Bon Nouvelle Station. It is chock-a-block full of fascinating shops selling all sorts of food stuffs.Some shops specialised in selling cheese, another sold fresh fish and others sold poultry, fruit, bread and dozens of other things to relieve the appetite. All were beautifully presented with fascinating with interesting window disp lays. We bought some peaches and a banana in the fruit shop to eat in the park by St Eustache.
We decided on lunch in a little Japanese Restauarnt. Coincidentally, this happened to be just a few metres down the road from a very active protest demonstration by a group of twenty or so people who seemed to have some issue with the local store of a franchised boulangerie named ‘Paul’ They were very good at blowing their whistles, waving flags and chanting whilst we had sushi and yakitori on the footpath. Japanese food here seems to have become ‘Parisionised’ as it came with cheese, for example, that just isn’t part of any traditional Japanese diet. However, it was a change from meat and the french fries that seem to come with almost everything here. The French may know how to cook, but they don’t seem to have much variety in their food. Our lunch location was a great place for people watching, so we ordered another glass of wine and sat for a while longer watching those who passed by and making upo stories about where they might have been going or coming from.
After lunch, we had a longish walk back to the hotel passing the very nice gardens of the Royal Palace and its elaborate arcades in which shops sold boutique goods such as armies of miniature lead toy soldiers.
Then we went past the Bourse and onwards up the Avenue de l’Opera. A quick stop for a beer and a lemonade (not mixed together though) revived us enough to get back home.
Yesterday, we changed hotels as I said earlier to this one where our tour is commencing. We couldn’t get into a room immediately on our arrival, so we checked our bags and sat in the lobby trying to spot other people who may have also been on our tour. Eventually, someone came along with a sign and everybody (including those we had dismissed as potentially being part of the group) fell in behind him for a briefing and introduction.
A few of us walked up the road for a quick lunch before setting out for an afternoon trip to Giverny to see Monet’s garden. It was very much as I remembered seeing it a few years ago, except that we were too early se
e any Irises in bloom, but the gardens were carpeted with colourful displays of annuals and vividly coloured tulips. I took well over 140 photos and I will have to cull out some of them when I get home.
We were late getting back to the hotel because of the volume of weekend traffic and had to do a very quick job of checking into our room and changing for an evening dinner cruise on the Seine. The dress requirement was for jacket and tie and I think that I was able to look reasonably presentable. I’ll be interested to see if I get any more mileage from my jacket again on this trip. The dinner boat was a long and flat boat with wall to roof glass. It held 520 people and even with this huge number, the service was excellent and the food was much more than passable. We were back at the hotel just before midnight and crashed into bed feeling quite tired.
Our day started this morning with a half day bus tour around Paris. Even though it included many of sites that we had seen in previous days, it was still interesting and our local guide, Beatrice, was full of knowledge and gave us a very interesting description of the places that we were seeing. One place that was new to us was the park at Bois de Bologne. We stopped of the gardens of the Chateu de Bagatelle which was built in 1775. They had a very nice sunken garden and a really nice vegetable garden that has inspired me to get back to work on my own at home.
It was easy to see, as we drove around in our bus today, that two of the most common shops -in Paris were the Brasserie and the Pharmacy. The Brasseries are distinguished by a set of chairs and tables under an awning that allow Parisians to have a coffee, beer or a meal while sitting on the footpath and watching the world pass by. Pharmacies are distinguished by a large green neon flashing cross. These seem to flash in a random pattern of stripes and diagonal lines. Perhaps this combination of common shops really suggests that Parisians both eat / drink a lot as well as having lots of headaches.
The remainder of our day has consisted of a light lunch in the hotel cafe, where I received a very bemused chuckle from the woman maitre’ d for patting Jill on the bum as we left. We spent a lot of time-blogging, ironing and sorting out our stuff. Tomorrow morning, we leave Paris early for the Loire Valley.