What day is it? Monday? We started off in a cafe with the guidebooks, Metro and bus map, and some coffee. I had wanted to go out to St Denis, right outside Paris to see the Basiliuca and the Museum. We figured we'd stop off at Opera on the way, since we've never been inside the Opera Garnier.
After taking our lives in our hands to cross the street, we walked around the outside for a bit. It's like a huge, over-the-top wedding cake. And inside, even more so. Gilt on top of mirrors on top of marble on top of polished wood on top of red velvet. And just for the hell of it, more gilt.
It was fun to poke around, seeing the grand staircase, lobbies, auditorium with Chagall ceiling, and small library/museum with set models and paintings. Sadly, the ladies room was quite dull.
We wandered around the area for a while, and were amused by the limos double-parking next to the department stores. I guess not everyone is as affected by the exchange rate as we are. We followed some office workeers into a cafe, and had a reasonable lunch. I will say the frites were a guilty pleasure well worth every calorie.
We got onto the #13 Metro line, and stood with far too many people in far too much heat. Luckily the crowd thinned out after a few stops. I had heard various things about the town of St Denis. It's definitley multicultural, a bit gritty, but certainly not somewhere to stay away from if you want to see the Basilica. The area was quite lively with people shopping and sitting in cafes. The basilica is just a two minute walk from the Metro, across a wide plaza. Some homeless people had set up camp there, but weren't bothering anyone.
The basiica was stunning--one of the first Gothic cathedrals. It's had more than its fare share of wear and tear--from weather, from vandalism, from destruction during Revolotion. Several churches were on the site to honor St Denis (he's the guy usually represented holding his head), and the present building was begun in 1135. The first king to be buried here was Dagobert in one of the old churches on the site in 630, and since then, about every king and queen of France has been placed here. There were only French-speaking visitors, many of them families taking kids for the same reasons we drag kids to Washington DC.
The basilica is very light and airy inside, with wonderful stained glass, and pale stone. You go outside to buy tickets to visit the tombs and crypt. There's an interesting little exhibit of the history of the place, and a short video of archaelogical excavations. And then you enter to see tomb after tomb after tomb. It's a lesson to see how little of Franch history I really know. The crypt downstairs holds even more residents, and you can see the very oldest part of the buriel site and excavated area. Very interesting, and well worth the schlep. The Blue Guide was again helpful for this site.
I had really wanted to visit the museum, which is supposed to have a great exhibit of Paris's social and political history. But we were dragging by this point, so decided to save it for another time. We hardly need urging to plan another trip to Paris.
Headed home, stopped off to rest in a cafe, and then made a dinner reservation for a restaurant (actually open!) near the Montparnasse tower called L'Opportun. It's a very small place with old-fashioned Lyonnaise cooking. Lots of bits and pieces of veal on the menu, which many people were ordering. I was excited to see quenelles in Nantua sauce, which I've always wanted to try. We shared a fantastic entree of homemade terrine. It was probably veal and chicken based, with lots of chopped pistachios and herbs. An enormous serving, with a salad with mustardy vinaigrette that was a great complement.
Larry had a special of blanquette of veal, a delicious white stew of veal, carrots, and creamy sauce. My quenelles were amazing. It's a light fish dumpling that gets mixed with pate a choix dough, so that when the dumplings cook the eggs make then puffy and light. Sauce Nantua is based on a crayfish stock, so it has a delicate shellfish taste. The dish was served in a boiling-hot terrine that had been gratineed to crisp the top. It was heavenly.