Eurotrip 2013 – Paris

Missed most the train trip from Munich – the side effect of the prior night’s trip to the Hofbrauhaus. I remember it snowing as we started, eating a really swell breakfast (hooray 1st Class), and vaguely trying to open my eyes for a view of Stuttgart, but I pretty much spent five and a half hours of the six hour trip in a comatose state.

Hopped a cab from Gare De L’Est and were off to the hotel. Our cabby was great, pointed out some of the sites and extolled his love of New York City. He picked up my lack of enthusiasm (live in AZ, but was a Bostonian as a kid), and shifted to Vegas, where we were equally enthusiastic. Viva Las Vegas, mon amis!

Checked in to our hotel, Hotel Europe St Severin, in the Latin Quarter, but right next to Boulevard Saint Michel and the 6th. I knew it was close to the sights, but was almost shocking how close we were. Saint Severin was just 100 yards or so up the street (my favorite church we visited), and turn a corner… BOOM! Shakespeare and Company was right there, immediately beyond that, Ile de la Cite, the Seine, Notre Dame…

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(Note: We had set some goals for this trip after our first 48 hour stay in Paris. Actually cross bridges. Use the metro- we were too jet-lagged/non-French speaking/intimidated last time and ran away. Go into shops – specifically each of the following: boulangerie, charcuterie, fromagerie, and a patisserie. )

Crossed Pont au Double towards Notre Dame and checked off at least the bridge from the list. Took in the exterior of the cathedral while making our way to the Deportation Monument, which was stark, cold, unfeeling… succeeded in driving home the point in a somber way. Feeling a bit hungry, we continued along, crossing over to the 4th, strolling some of Rue Rivoli before popping in to a boulangerie and grabbing what would become the usual… Deux croissants, un baguette, deux café, s’il vous plait. Two croissants, a baguette, two coffees. Sat down on a bench and enjoyed our feast.

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After heading back to our hotel for a brief break (her: a nap, him: watching American crime shows in English on France 4), we headed out again, heading up Boulevard Saint Michel (Boul Mich), passing the Sorbonne clock and finding our way to the Jardin du Luxembourg, a beautiful little (compared to the Englischergarten the day before) park. A harbinger of things to come, got slightly disoriented in the park, having read the map incorrectly, and ended up the far end from the Medici Fountain, Craig’s primary point of interest. After enjoying some relaxing time in the garden, we headed out, eventually stumbling upon Saint Sulpice, enjoying that, and heading to Boulevard Saint Germain to make our way back to the hotel and dinner.

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Or so we thought.

While I had studied up on the areas around us, didn’t look too much into the farther 6th. We ended up getting horribly spun around, and wandering in the general direction of Montparnasse. Seeing the giant modern skyscraper was a big “uh… we’re going the wrong way” warning, so we spun the other way and walked until the Eiffel Tower came in to view. Uh. We had wandered in pretty much the exact opposite direction intended… all while it started getting dark and the temperature dipped. We had already logged probably 5-6 miles today easily, so were a bit tired. Enough so that when we eventually stumbled on to Boulevard SG (far side in the 7th), we started trudging back towards the 5th. Cold enough and tired enough that we ended up stopping at a café along the way – the famous Les Deux Magots – and somehow confused the lunch menu (13E50 Croque Madames) for the dinner one, stopped in. Ended up spending 20E on a club sammich for her, and 27E on a chicken with white truffle risotto. The meal was good – but expensive – and perhaps a tad disappointing because when something is expensive you expect more than “good.” At least it was warm and the wine was fantastic.

Finally made it back to the hotel, rested our legs a little before upgrading coats and heading out to Pont Neuf for a river cruise.

Oh my.

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We’d done one before by day on our prior trip, and it was equally beautiful in the dark. Only it was increasingly cold… Enjoyed the trip but it was mighty chilly. Annoying teens and school kids were making so much noise on the other end of the boat we couldn’t even hear the tour guide give info. Still enjoyed it, though.

Stopped in at a little bar/café I noticed on the way in, Quai Quai, for a Lagavulin for me, wine for her before retiring to call it an evening.

Day two in Paris started with us going in and checking out Notre Dame before popping in line to ascend the bell tower. Ended up getting close and personal with the gargoyles, partially nervous around heights Craig became further unnerved by a class of 8yo’s making a ton of noise and running amok in tight spaces as the bells went off rather loudly. (Calgon, take me away!)  – tour ended by climbing to the top of the tower closest to the left bank/our hotel. We received a beautiful view of the city for our efforts.

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We followed this up with a trip to Shakespeare and Company. While it is a tourist stop/site, it is still a wonderful book store. It’s old, narrow passages along tall bookshelves stacked with old books… Something about it just feels right and comfortable. Picked up a hardcopy of Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”, had it stamped with the special S&C stamp.

Afterwards we continued away from the Seine, heading further into the 5th. Found a nice little boulangerie on Rue Ecoles. Lost in translation (Craig still had some language lag and was occasionally responding in the little German he had picked up), instead of getting our croissants and café to go, enjoyed them at the counter. Was worth the extra Euro or two to take in the conviviality of the establishment and enjoy some warmth.

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Continued along looking for Rue Monge, but upon spying the Pantheon (where we would have stayed on the canceled trip – well, at least a hotel immediately overlooking it) altered our directions. Explored the exterior of that place and moseyed our way to the Place Contrascarpe, Hemingway’s former house on Rue Cardinal Lemoine, and then enjoyed a walk down Rue Mouffetard. Opted for a cheap but delicious lunch – went into a market and picked up a couple apples and pears, picked up another baguette at a boulangerie, and stopped in a wine store for a bottle of le vin rouge. Shopkeepers had been and were friendly (aside from one on Boul Mich), but the folks here made me feel right at home. Asked what I wanted (Bordeaux, mild), took me to the shelf, with the expensive bottles up top, price dropping as your eyes dropped – saw me looking low and picked out a nice 8E bottle. During some conversation, I asked if we could drink it in a place/square with a picnic, then when I asked if he had an opener we could buy, he just opened it up for us and gave us some cups so we could enjoy it with our meal.

Off we went to some unnamed little circle up a street from Place Constrascarpe… there were lots of motorcycles parked in a ring around the tree planter, so we called it Place de Motorcycles. Headed back afterwards, found a nice artisanal boulangerie that also had macarons in the window. Grabbed a couple treats (framboise – raspberry- was my favorite – and this place ended up winning the gold from the various places we bought macarons from) and were back on our way.

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Visited the Pantheon after that, a remarkable building where many of France’s great citizens are buried – including Hugo, Dumas, Voltaire, various revolutionaries. (Napoleon has his own place else in the city.)

After another rest at the hotel, we headed back to Place Contrascarpe for a dinner reservation at L’Epoque, right across the street from Hemingway’s apartment. 60E or so was enough to get us two three course prefix dinners – entrée, main course, desert – along with a nice bottle of le vin rouge. I tried frog legs (ok, a tad weird to eat), lamb shank, and some raspberry ice cream. She enjoyed crayfish ravioli, a great chicken and mushroom dish, and a monstrous desert that resembled Mont Saint Michel on a plate, along with a mini boat of ice cream and a mini Mas of some liquid custard. A feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

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For whatever reason, while strolling through the cramped quarters of the Latin, uh, Quarter, we stepped in to a fancy looking patisserie and scored more macarons for later. This time not just two, but a half dozen.  Nom nom.

We got up bright and early Saturday morning, grabbed our croissants and café, and wondered over to the right bank to take the metro (zounds! Another item off the list) to get to Sacre Coeur and Montmartre…

[Side note. Craig is a map moron sometimes. As we later discovered, the line that goes near Sacre Coeur actually has a stop at Boulevard Saint Michel that is about 100 feet or from our hotel. Oops.]

We wandered through the third, eventually finding the metro stop at Les Halles. Used to be the open air market. Now it is an underground mall that has a metro stop.

Montmarte – a tale of two faces. We disembarked on the “front”/ Seine side of the hill, followed Boulevard de Rouchechouart before cutting north once the cathedral was visible. This area was, uh, not as pleasant as, well, the other parts of downtown Paris we explored. As we cut up the alley towards the White Cloud on the Hill, garbage lined the street . A vacant store had a chickenwire fence sealing off the front – the garbage in that space, an assortment of food wrappers, was knee high.

The grounds leading up, Up, UP to Sacre Coeur were much nicer. Despite the beautiful setting Craig did his best to mask delight with clenched jaw and an imperious air designed to preemptively deflect the “Friendship Bracelet” people… they’ll approach the unexpecting tourist, tie a friendship bracelet (a piece of string, nothing more) around their wrist, then ask to be paid a couple Euro for their masterwork. The look was enough to dissuade most, the lone “friend” who approached me amusingly responded to my stern “Non, merci” by singing Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” before moving on to easier quarry.

(Side note – Paris is rife with various scam artists, scams, pick pockets – seemingly more so than other cities. Not violent encounters, mind you… you won’t get mugged, just picked. This would be our singular encounter with such peoples. It happens, but being aware and precautions can guide you through without incident.)

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The cathedral hill offers an ordinarily astounding view of Paris, although it was diminished this day by some haze. Oh well. The weather was warming up enough that my pea coat was increasingly cumbersome and uncomfortable… so I’d gladly take a little haze for warmer days. Also an amusing sight was that a concerned citizen had taken fluorescent pink chalk and tagged various pick pocket hot spots with “Warning! Pick Pocket!” to keep travelers on their toes.

We passed the carousel where Amelie played her games and continued on to enjoy (another) beautiful cathedral.

Afterwards we descended through the hill and Metro’d our way back to the hotel for a quick coat swap. The train was busy and I was preparing to nudge/muscle my way through the crowd to get off. An older woman sitting across from us overhead me practicing désolé – French for sorry – and struck up a conversation. Turns out she had been to Arizona (a surprising number of Euros seem to know an awful lot about AZ – particularly our national parks) and we had a nice convo. Friendliest Parisian we encountered outside of conducting a transaction for food or goods. Merci for the hospitality!

We returned to Montmartre, this time shooting past the cathedral and getting off the metro on the far side of the hill – and found the neighborhood much more charming. We wandered around exploring the picturesque neighborhood with steep stairs going up and down. Earned a “bravo!” from an elderly gentleman who was picking up the few pieces of paper trash on the street and tossing them in the garbage for doing likewise.

After following Rue Custine and Rue Caulaincourt, we whipped out the Rick Steves Montmarte walk from my back pocket, as it conveniently mapped a couple items we wanted to see while in the neighborhood. Cut up a side street and found ourselves on Rue Lepic, a long street that bends around, and were a scant 100 yards or so from the apartment where Vincent Van Gogh stayed with his brother. It’s on a four or five floor building, but easy to spot as someone put sunflowers on the windows.

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We cut further up Rue Lepic and later Rue Norvins – passed the two remaining windmills, saw the (really crowded) Place de Tertre where all the artists sell their wares or their skills and sketch willing tourists. We cut back and followed it the long way down the Rue, eventually finding our way to Café des 2 Moulins – the café where Amélie worked in the popular French flick. Also found a really cool shop, Epicerie du Terroir, which had rows upon rows of various mustards. Scored a nice croc of Dijon.

Headed back from whence we came, stopping at a café on Rue Caulaincourt – the first of the 15 we passed which met Craig’s criteria: a simple Croque Madame (grilled Ham and gruyere cheese sammich with a fried egg or two on top). Enjoyed ourselves a nice, warm meal, although the waitress kinda did a double take when Katie got the Croque Monsieur (no egg) and I got the Madame. “Yeah, we got it backwards. “

We rested up a bit at our hotel – enjoying more NYC based crime drama shows on France 4 – before heading out again to Isle Saint Louis – the island adjacent to Isle de la Cite and the “heart” of Paris for some Berthillon – allegedly the best ice cream in France. We can’t disagree. After that we headed to the park behind Notre Dame just in time to catch the ringing of the bells. Not just any ringing, though. The 200 year old bells had been replaced and we were there for the inaugural ringing of the city’s newest noisemakers. Was pretty cool to be there, and glad I thought about taking the back route, as thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people had flocked to the front Notre Dame, as well as all the area and bridges around it.

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We continued our walk back through the 3rd and 4th, exploring a couple more neighborhoods, scored some macarons from a fancy pants patisserie, and checking out the outside of the inside-out Pompideau Centre before heading back to the Latin Quarter for some cheap eats – ham and cheese crepe for madame, gyro for moi. Good eats.

Come Sunday we had a date with art. After our daily bread we strolled along the banks of the Seine, headed to the Musee d’Orsay and got our culture on. The building was a former train station that was going to be demolished to make way for a hotel. The people revolted. Ok, not revolted. No heads were cut off by the national razor… But they made a big fuss, saved the place, and eventually it was turned into a museum housing 19th-20th century art. Some great sculptures, lots of impressionist art – Degas, Cezanne, Monet, Manet. Oh, and they have several pieces by Vincent Van Gogh which pretty much stole the show.

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After walking a little farther along into the 7th, we were feeling a bit tired after a week of 8-10 miles on foot per day. Katie was also a little under the weather, so she took a four hour power nap while Craig watched Joan of Arc on France4. (Incidentally our hotel also got some English channels, like RealTV or something… no wonder people have odd views of Americans if that is what they see… the network was like Little House On The Prairie and The Waltons non-stop.  Sorry to disappoint, we don’t all live in the sticks. )

Feeling a little better after her long nap, we did make one last little jaunt – took the RER to the Champ du Mars to see that tower thing we visited last time. A short walk around the park we returned “home” for some crepes and gyros.

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We got up early the next morning and headed to Gare du Nord for the last leg of the trip.

About perducci

i am from arizona but now live in asuncion. i am married. have a limited budget, but like to travel.
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