TRAVEL with pat and lew

* Paris – July 2008

Posted by Lew Weinstein on October 27, 2008

Sunday, 7/22/08

We travel to Paris from Amsterdam, and the return trip on Thalys is as elegant as the trip to Amsterdam. We taxied from the Paris Nord station to our apartment on Bd. St. Denis, a short ride for which we were charged only 6 euros, not the 8.50 euro minimum. I gave the driver a nice tip instead.

Our first challenge was the 100+  steps up the circular staircase with the luggage. We had so dreaded this challenge that we were able to pack differently, less stuff, one large bag. This proved its worth when the climb turned out to be easier than we had anticipated.

Nevertheless, we will have to plan each day’s activities with the climb in mind, and make sure, in future exchanges, to more carefully consider the vertical location of the apartment.

 

Monday, 7/23/08

There is a convenient Monoprix across the Bd. St. Denis, where we buy the basics: bread, coffee, soda, and paper goods.

I’m sniffing and wheezing; allergy? cold? I decide to stay in, to rest and try to write while Pat goes shopping. She negotiates the Metro with no difficulty and comes home from Galeries Lafayette with goodies, including a 700 page novel, since she’s almost done reading everything she brought.

We’re living in what we characterize as an upscale La Boheme, a garret apartment looking out over the roofs of Paris. It’s a relatively large garret, with one combination living room, dining area and office, a small bedroom, a bathroom and and lots of  step up-step down; the beams, however, are great looking.

Across the street we envision Mimi. Then, from a top floor window, she appears, hanging her laundry on a rack on the tiny balcony. It appears she has washed all of her clothes, since she is totally naked. We enjoy the view.

We have dinner in the neighborhood, at a restaurant recommended by our exchange partner Arnaud. It’s a classic French brasserie; we have an excellent meal and enjoy the ambiance

One of our goals in home exchange is to learn different neighborhoods. This neighborhood is different and takes some getting used to. There are hookers and pimps outside our door, but they do their business and we do ours, never the twain need meet. We learn from our Paris guidebooks that this has been a traditional area for prostitutes for centuries.

 

Tuesday, 7/24/08

Today is our long planned excursion to Giverney, the place where Monet painted all those water lilies.

We metro to our meeting point at Gare St. Lazare, find track #22, join the assembling group. There are 20 people and our Fat Bike Tours leader, a student at Texas A&M with a great summer job. The train ride to Vernon, on the outskirts of Normandy, takes over an hour. We sit across from Paul and Betty, from Brooklyn and Pittsburgh, strike up a good conversation.

In Vernon, we walk to the charming shops and buy a picnic lunch. Then we pick up the bikes from a nearby garage maintained by Fat Bike Tours, take a short ride to a picnic spot along the Seine. After a pleasant lunch on the grass, we’re off on a 20 minute bike ride to Giverney.

We spend 2 hours on the grounds. Monet’s lily pond is beautiful, in my judgment far more interesting than his water lily paintings. The light changes constantly as clouds cover then uncover the sun. Monet’s house is impressive. He was not a starving artist.

We reverse course; the train back to Paris Gare Lazare takes only 45 minutes. During the trip, we make arrangements for dinner Wednesday with Paul and Betty.

We have our dinner this night at the American Dream diner near the Opera, a wonderful place for American food. I have chicken soup for my allergy/cold symptoms.

 

Wednesday, 7/25/08

Again, not feeling terrific, I stay in and write while Pat goes out to the Valentino exhibit at the Museum of the Arts near the Louvre. She’s feeling very comfortable on the Metro around Paris.

Late in the afternoon, we head to Café deux Magot for before dinner champagne. Then we meet Paul and Betty at the Monteverdi, our favorite Italian restaurant in the 6th arrondissement. Making new friends is one of the great benefits of the travel we do.

We take a late night Metro 15 minutes to our stop; the 125 steps to our apartment are getting easier as the week goes on.

 

Thursday, 7/26/08

Paris Plage is now in its third year. For about a month each summer, the bank of the Seine opposite Isle d’Cite and Isle St. Louis is turned into an urban beach. There’s sand (not so much this year as last), beach chairs, great misty showers, and of course, since it’s Paris, cafes. We stroll, test the showers, have a crepe at a bench along the Seine. Not bad.

It is not surprising, of course, that the Marquis de Lafayette is buried in Paris. But where he is, and in whose company, is not what you might expect. The tiny Picpus Cemetery is in the 12th arrondissement, in a residential area far from any tourist attraction. In 1794, during the period of the French Revolution known as “the Terror,” the guillotine’s sojourn through the city brought it to this neighborhood. Between June 14 and July 27, 1306 persons, including children and aged, nobles, soldiers, priests and 16 Carmelite nuns, lost their heads. The bodies were carted off and secretly disposed of in an unmarked common grave.

Years later, three sisters of the Noailles family, including the wife of Marquis de Lafayette, determined to find the place where their mother, grandmother and sister had been buried. With the help of a woman who had surreptitiously followed the carts of the dead, they were successful. They then decided to build a chapel, and asked the nearby nuns of the Sacred Hearts of Mary and Jesus to set up a perpetual praying service for the souls of the victims. To this ‘family’ site were later added the graves of the marquis and his wife.

We entered the long shaded walkway adjacent to the nun’s cloister, walked quietly to the small cemetery about 200 yards away. In the furthest corner of this small cemetery an American flag marked the location of the Marquis de Lafayette’s final resting place. The flag has flown without fail since the 1800s, including throughout the period of Nazi occupation of Paris in the 1940s. A plaque on the stone, “in memory of a patriot and dear friend of George Washington with the warm thanks of the American people” was placed there by the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association in 2004.

The unmarked mass grave of the victims of the Terror lie just beyond.

I have resolved that the several books of French History, covering the period before during and after the revolution, will come off my shelves this winter, as well as a biography of Lafayette which rests so far in my amazon.com cart.

Each trip to Paris has included a special moment. This week that moment belongs to the artists of the restaurant Bel Canto. Pat has been planning this for months, maybe years, and the reservation was made many weeks ago.

Bel Canto, located of the Quai de Hotel de Ville, is a small restaurant which features opera singing waiters and waitresses. The atmosphere is dark, red and romantic. There is a fixed price menu, including entrée, main and dessert, for 72 euros per person, wine and other drinks not included. SO it’s not cheap. But it is a magnificent evening.

Our reservation is for 8:00 pm, and we just make it, taking the Metro to Chatelet and walking along the Seine. We are greeted by a tall bearded man, thin, with a deep voice, who asks us where we are from and knows about Collioure. He will be one of the four singers for the evening.

We relax and enjoy the room. The first aria begins before we have even ordered and the last ends just before 11:00 pm. The singers move about the room, interacting with the diners, flirting, scowling, playing their roles. The four voices, two men and two women, are outstanding; it’s a thrill to hear them from so close. They stop to chat while they serve dinner.

The food was wonderful. We each had a shrimp on a skewer entrée. Pat had a lobster based risotto and I had roasted duck. For desert, we shared a mouth watering chocolate cake and three scoops of ice cream.

All in all, an enchanting evening.

 

Friday, 7/26/08

Every neighborhood has its particular unique interests. The first time we visited Bd. St. Denis, back in June, we noticed several men who stood at the top of the subway stairs as we exited. We have since come to understand that they have no interest in us and are not a threat of any kind. The men hold printed cards with a picture on it. I thought it would be photos of their girls, but it seems to be a photo of themselves. They are not seeking clients for their girls, they are seeking more girls for their group.

The girls, maybe 15-20 of them, prowl the block in front of our apartment from early morning to well after dark. They walk slowly, in groups of 2-5, occasionally approaching a man who shows interest. I’ve only seen one girl lead a client away, after pointing to the next block.

It’s cooler than the past several days, perfect for a nice long walk through Paris. We set off heading south on Bd. San Sebastian, toward the Pompidou Center, which we again confirm is one of the ugliest buildings ever constructed. We then go to Les Halles, another architectural monstrosity.

But inside Les Halles is a great technology store – TVs, video, cameras, computers. Our interest is information about a small laptop computer to become our ‘travel’ computer, the one we take with us on our exchanges and other trips. We learn that Sony has a new very small Vaio which takes a SIM card and can access the web by itself, no ethernet or wireless connection needed. We will do more research with the intent of making a purchase after returning to Key West in November.

Two purchases today: a set of salad implements from Pylones that Pat has had her eye on for months, a Paris (very tourist) cooking apron for me.

We have pizza in a restaurant we’ve been to several times, just off Bd. St. Michel in the Latin Quarter, and take the Metro back. The girls are still patrolling their turf.

Saturday, 7/28/08

The Paris Metro is the easiest, most clearly marked, safest Metro we have ever used. And it’s entertaining. Consider the chamber orchestra performing at the Chatalet station …

 

Sunday, 7/29/08

Leaving means packing our luggage and getting it down the 6 flights of stairs, which is easier, of course, than going up.

It was also easier than expected to get a taxi on the street to take us to Gare Lyon and the train back to Collioure.

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