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Report 1263: Paris, in a Dream

By Kim from NJ, Spring 2006

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Page 4 of 8: On My Own - St. Chappelle, Notre Dame and Marais

photo by Kim

Jardin Tuileries Early in the Morning

Chris set the alarm pretty early six or so, so that he could run and I could walk. Before we left on our separate routes, we decided to meet back in the room before breakfast so we could have that together before he left for work and I left to tour.

My route this morning took me down Boulevard Haussmann to Rue Halevy to Boulevard Capucines to Rue Royal to Rue Rivoli. I turned left and walked in front of the Louvre then down passed the parking garage on Rue de L’aAminal, then down along the Seine. I passed the occasional runner along the way and though I was speed walking, I did take my camera with me and did snap some shots. Walking along the Seine did give me pause though, as the unmistakable aroma of urine in the summer heat wafted my way, not to mention spying the occasional vagrant sleeping under a bridge. I high-tailed it back up “above ground” at the next available staircase and made a mental note to curse Chris when we returned to the room for suggesting this walk along the river.

The Jardin des Tuileries had just opened as I approached so I strolled through before retracing my steps to head home. Having the gardens to myself, and getting a cool spray from the morning sprinklers proved to be an unexpected but refreshing surprise.

We compared morning adventures once back in the room (about 7:30 or so). Chris enjoyed his run and commented that you could tell the French runners from the Americans. The former had coordinated outfits while the latter ran in shorts with whatever crappy t-shirt they grabbed from the drawer. I commented on the fact that he had a coordinated outfit but he just mumbled that it wasn’t as nice as the French and hopped into the shower. Oh and for those keeping track, my morning walk was 2.29 miles or 6056 steps (I wore a pedometer while in Paris).

Down to breakfast we went, which the Ambassador serves in their adjoining restaurant. It’s buffet style and in addition to the normal continental offerings, you could find eggs, limp bacon and warm potatoes. I crave eggs after a morning workout, but Chris was right, these weren’t the farm fresh eggs we enjoyed in Castelmuzio, but tasted more like a reconstituted dehydrated version of something served in our college cafeteria. I did love the steamed milk used to make a café crème and the pain au chocolate didn’t suck either. Oh, and of course I had some of the yogurt but the famous fig variety still eluded me.

After breakfast, Chris went off to work and I went to tour with the agreement that we would meet in the lobby at six thirty in the evening. I followed the route I pretty much took this morning as I was headed to Ste-Chapelle. I was wearing my new Rockport Sandals and all I have to say is, ouch. I should have broken them in before the trip better. Along the route, across from the Louvre, I stopped in a pharmacy and purchased some band-aids and the French version of blister blockers. At a park bench across from the Louvre, I sat to do some first aid and I have to say – those things work great!

Across the Pont Neuf, then some navigating and double-checking and I found myself in front to of the Palais de Justice. With a little more detection, I figured out it was one entrance for both destinations but the line on the right was for the Palais and on the left, for Ste-Chapelle and headed through the metal detectors and in. Mental note, need to do some research on Palais de Justice. Why were all those people waiting? What’s worth seeing there?

Now I forgot to mention this, but before I left our hotel room, I wrote my name on the back of my Museum Pass, and dated it with the current date. That gave me four consecutive days to visit museums and monuments without additional payment or lines. At Ste-Chapelle, I avoided the first line, not a long one, but did manage to edge out a decent size tour group, feeling all powerful. The normal price was €6.50, €5.30 for professionals and tours, and €4.50 for 18 - 25 year-olds.

Downstairs you’ll find your normal hollow cavern with a gift shop along one wall. I believe this is where the plebes used to pray. But up the stairs and wow! How do you describe Ste-Chapelle, it’s like Technicolor television for the middle ages. Just beautiful. I knew the moment I sat on one of those benches that line the walls, this would be a must-see stop for every trip to Paris. Yes, I hadn’t been there for 24 hours yet, but I knew I would return. Some things that struck me, how I wish I had a pair of binoculars, 40 year-old eyes suck. Yet, I could still make out Cain killing Abel, Moses with the Pharaoh, and was that Queen Esther with a giant hamentashen on her chest? Only kidding.

I spent a good amount of time there, trying to just absorb it but man, after a while, it’s like that robot from Lost in Space, “Danger, Will Robinson, danger.” You can only take so much before your circuits overload.

So back out into the glaring sunlight, but not until after I checked out the gift shop to make sure I wasn’t missing the opportunity to buy something truly remarkable. I didn’t. Now, onto Notre Dame.

I have to admit here, I hadn’t read Hugo’s book (though I was reading Les Miserables during this trip). So my experience with the story basically related to the spoofs I had seen on cartoons growing up, and then later, the Disney movie I had seen with my girls. Oh and not to mention all of Chris’s talk about flying buttresses, which seemed to fascinate him. Ow, sorry, rolled my eyes so hard there, they hurt. Okay, so, I’m not sure what I was expecting but an incredibly large church in the middle of an equally large courtyard swarmed with tourists wasn’t it. I guess I’d always expected the church to be buried within the city, I don’t know, maybe like Saint Patrick’s in New York City. Anyway, I headed in. I strolled through the church, wondering at what I saw, and wishing I had my Paris Blue Guide. When I came across the treasury, I tried flashing my museum pass, but no go, it was an extra charge. I paid and went through there too.

After I left the church, I headed for the Crypte Archeologique, because I’m all over anything ancient. Plus, I knew that one was covered by my pass. There was no line to get in and other than a group of American high school students on tour, no one else was down there. I have this note in my tiny journal:

“St. Genevieve de Ardents: At the very bottom is all that remains of the foundation of the church of Saint-Genevieve de Ardents, demolished in 1747. The church was established in the Cite during the great Norman siege (885 – 886) to house relics of Sainte Genevieve, patron saint of Paris ...”

Okay – now I’m really wishing for my Blue Guide or for some basic knowledge of Parisian history. Who was Sainte Genevieve? Why was she the patron saint of Paris? Why were the Normans laying siege to Paris anyway? I thought the Normans were French (I mean they came from France to conquer England in what, 1086 or something). My knowledge of French history sorely lacks. And I have to say, since my return, I’ve set my Tivo to pick up stuff on French history from the educational channels. And other than shows on the revolution (but nothing post revolution) and World War II, there’s not much out there. It’s as if the country didn’t exist until the 1700s and then disappeared again from the mid-1800s until 1939. I need to hit the library.

Oh, another interesting note on the crypts for all of you Harry Potter fans. On one of the little signs set up for us tourists to read was this:

“Nicolas Flamel, said to have made his fortune in alchemy, had a portal built here at the end of the 15th century.” I’m assuming they mean portal as in an entrance to a tunnel or mine. But anyway, how cool? So JK Rowling based Mr. Flamel from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (or Sorcerer’s) stone on a real person? Or, maybe, the entire story is true. Maybe Harry Potter is an expose by Rowling of another world we muggles know nothing about (creepy music please).

St. Chapelle, check. Notre Dame, check. Crypt, check. Now it was time for the next item covered by my museum pass on the Isle de la Cite, climbing to the top of Notre Dame. You see, I was on a mission to get the most bang for my buck from that museum pass. I walked back across the courtyard to the church, and around the side looking for the entrance to the Towers. Unfortunately, the line looked to be about 75 to 90 minutes long and as I was on limited time, I decided to pass this opportunity in order to fit in some other things on my “agenda.” I did take a stroll around the church, though, and saw Chris’s flying buttresses, so now I know what he was talking about. It also reminded me, I should read Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, again.

Time to leave the Isle de la Cite and head up to the Marais, where I had decided to spend the rest of my afternoon. Along the way, I stopped in a café for an espresso (€1.10). As I was sitting there, taking pictures of my drink (don’t ask), a French man struck up a limited conversation with me. As expected his English was much better than my French and I really regret not being more proficient in the language of the country I am visiting.

Okay, after my caffeine pick-me-up, it’s time to delve deep into the Marais. I have a few stops I want to make this afternoon. I’m looking for a chocolate store recommended on SlowTrav, the famous falafel place, and of course, the elusive nomination charms. Not to mention two museums, the Carnavalet, and the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire de Judaisme.

I get turned around in the Marais. Part of it is me and part of it is the street names, I think anyway. There is a Rue du Temple, a Rue Vieille du Temple and a Boulevard du Temple, which totally screws me up. A lot of needless walking ensues.

First stop though is Cacao et Chocolat on 36 rue vieille du Temple, where I drop a pretty penny, on three different types of chocolate confections for my mom, Becky and Sammi. Nice stuff – would have loved a free sample. By the way, they also have locations on 29 rue de Buci and 63 rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Isle.

Next stop – some falafel. Now I hadn’t had a good falafel since I used to work in New York City and would visit Moshe’s falafel cart on 47th between Fifth and Sixth Avenue about every third week or so. So, when I heard that there was a place in Paris known for its falafel, I had to give it a try. L’as du Falafel is located on 34 rue de Rosiers, closed Friday night and Saturdays. Luckily I had seen a picture of the place on the Internet, so I knew what to look for because there were several falafel places along this street that I could have tried.

The place did not disappoint. First, there’s a window in the front of the establishment at which you can place to-go orders but there’s also a dining room inside. Not realizing the latter, I opted for getting a falafel from the window and eating it on the street. I would really have liked a bottle of water to go along with it but since I still hadn’t figured out how to order a bottle of plain water (i.e., not fizzante), nor which still water belonged to Chris’s client, I suffered my thirst in silence. Anyway, good falafel, nice addition of the mildly pickled cabbage and roasted eggplant.

Sustained with deep-fried food, and having found a café at which I ordered a Bedouit for €2.50 while standing at the counter (I remembered the name at least of the gassy water), I headed over to the Musee Carnavalet, the museum of the history of Paris. You get in free to this museum, though they still give you an admission ticket, so no need for the museum pass here.

I grabbed an English language map, and wandered through the museum, all the while wishing I had studied my Parisian history or at the very least re-read A Tale of Two Cities before my trip. I jotted down some random thoughts with regard to the museum and here they are:

  • There’s a copy of the Declaration of the Rights of Man – interesting to hear the Italian women standing next to me translating it. I did better understanding their translation than the document.
  • Louis XVI’s portrait makes him look pudgy, not pompous, hapless maybe. Definitely not a cruel tyrant that deserved his outcome.
  • How come many of the portraits have a 5:00 shadow? Was that the fashion? Did they just have to sit for that long?
  • I never knew there was a Louis XVII. Was there a daughter too?
  • Did the First French Republic parallel Rome in anyway?
  • Why does the name Marat sound so familiar (later I found out about him).
  • Was Francois I related to Henry VIII of England? They look alike to me.
  • Catherine de Medici was no looker; it’s a good thing she brought good cooking to Paris.
  • What is that thing on Henri de Lorraine’s face?

After wandering around the museum for some time, I tried to find the Prehistory to Gallo-Roman period section but could not. Even after asking a docent, with his directions I still ended up at a special exhibition, not in the Roman era. Okay – enough and I still had one more museum on my agenda for that day. Oh, let me mention here too, that I found this museum pleasantly not crowded.

Next up, I trekked down the Rue Des Francs Bourgeois, to the Museum of Jewish Art and History. A wonderful thing happened in this museum; they introduced me to the audio guide. After going through security, both me and my bag, I went to pay admission, another museum not covered by my museum pass. I opted to pay the extra €2, allowing me access to the Dreyfuss exhibit, for a total admission of €8.50, which included the audio guide (apparently, no matter what, the audio guide is included in the price of admission).

I hadn’t done an audio guide, well gosh, I think the last time I did one was when my parents took me to the National Gallery in Washington DC when I was a young child. It bored me out of my mind and frustrated me to no end that this audio guide was on a tape, and you couldn’t skip around but had to listen to the entire thing, start to finish. The man’s voice made me want to sleep.

These new audio guides were digital – you punched in a number of something that interested you, and you could hear information about it. Something didn’t interest you, you could skip it. Plus, often, it offered me information on a subject merely by punching in an additional number – perfect! Oh, and the next day, I learned what a good deal the admission, including the audio guide really was at €6.50 because in other museums you could end up paying an additional €5 for an audio guide above the cost of admission. My only complaint about the audio guide, I wish everything had a number.

I wandered through the exhibits which contained history and artifacts from Jews not only in France, but Europe and then expanded to the rest of the world. Here are some notes I made while touring the museum:

  • There was a picture of Judith after she cut off Holofernes head; her pose reminded me of the depictions of Perseus after he cut off Medusa’s head.
  • The Torah ornaments from China looked like silver pagodas.
  • Gravestones from the 1200s contained Hebrew writing justified in the same manner as the Torah.
  • Chanukiahs from the 1300s
  • Purim collection from Spain circa 1310.
  • It now makes sense to me why there’s little artwork left pre 1492 and for the period of 1492 until the 1700s.
  • I can read the Hebrew in an Ashkenazi liturgical book from 1312-1313. I think that’s pretty cool.
  • According to the Talmud, “Since the completion of the world, g-d has devoted his time to forming couples.” The original J-date I guess.
  • The Sephardic section has these vests that remind me of Johnny Bravo. We chose him because he fit the suit – remember that?
  • Until the 1800s the Jews were treated as a nation within a nation in France. Then it was decided, “Deny the Jews everything as a nation but give them everything as individuals.” That’s one way to assimilate.
  • Boris Taslitsky created some haunting paintings of the barracks in the concentration camps.
  • Four paintings/prints by Marc Chagall reside at the museum. Le Salut looks like a thin Fidel Castro. Le Morte has an image of a fiddler playing on a roof. Which came first the print or the play?

I also briefly toured the Dreyfus exhibit though somehow ended up entering this special exhibit at the end (it was organized chronologically), and had to return to the beginning. Plus, there was no audio guide information on it (how quickly I had become dependent), so no real impressions remain.

Okay, after finishing up my second museum for the day, I needed to do some more shopping. I knew there was a store nearby that sold Nomination charms and if I had a bit better in my planning, I would have visited that store after the Carnavalet museum because it was located closer to that, actually past it I believe, along Rue Des Francs Bourgeois. So it was back down the street, in the opposite direction from my hotel. So much for my giant loop plan without back-tracking. Luckily, though, I did manage to secure three French flag charms but sadly no Eiffel towers.

I did find another cool store along the way though with all sorts of funky neat items. It was called La Chaise Longue, located at 20 Rue des Francs Bourgeois and in it I bought the cutest Scottish terrier salt and pepper shakers (€20). Yes, we own a Scottie, named Fala.

Oh and I saw the funniest thing as I was marching up and down Rue des Francs Bourgeos (I’m thinking of just calling it Rue des Francs; I’ve been all over that street today, I feel like we should be on a first name basis). Anyway, the funny thing, a man, riding a bicycle, in workman overalls, grabbed one of those large garbage cans on wheels, filled with trash and was riding down the street with it in tow. One hand clung to the can, and the other steered the bike. I suppose that’s one way to collect trash and must definitely help keep unemployment down.

Now it was time to traipse all the way back towards the hotel. I got a bit turned around at one point, and with my head buried in my Plan, almost bumped into a young man, who proceeded to then try to “dance” with me in the street. You know, blocking my way here and there. Finally, I looked him in the eye and said, “No.” He got the hint. You know, maybe another time I would have found it cute but I was hot, tired, and my feet hurt. I was in no mood.

Okay, after one course correction I was back on track. I walked past the hotel and since I had some time, went to my spot, the Cordial Café. Another glass of wine and bottle of water, and though my feet didn’t feel much better, (I knew the next day would be a sock day), I felt almost human again. After writing in my journal a bit, it was time to meet Chris back at the hotel.

He was in the lobby with Matt, and we decided to have dinner together but first Matt was heading out for a run. Chris and I enjoyed a drink in the lobby bar (lousy service though I must say - hard to get anyone’s attention and it was filled with smoke) but fun in that another World Cup Match was on the wide screen television. While Matt ran, we went through my notes and decided on Le Grand Colbert for dinner as it wasn’t a far walk and the part it played in the movie Something’s Gotta Give, drew us in. We had the concierge make us a reservation for four people, not knowing if Matt’s boss, Paul, would be joining us but wanting to be safe, just in case. As it turned out, poor Paul was on conference calls to the States until after 10:30 and never did make it to dinner.

Later, we hit the road walking down Haussmann, past where it turns into Boulevard Montmartre and hanging a right onto Rue Vivienne. It was an easy walk. Matt, having also seen the movie, thought it pretty cool that we were dining there and he and I strained our necks a couple of times trying to determine at which table Dianne Keaton, Keanu Reeves and Jack Nicholson sat.

Now there’s always some pressure when you take “the client” out to dinner. From a good restaurant standpoint and from a “my wife is interacting with my client standpoint.” I can at least say Chris did well with the first choice. Since Matt’s still a client, I guess I didn’t mess up the latter part too much.

We started with a round of drinks, Martini for Chris, champagne for Matt and my new favorite, a kir royal for me. An aside here, we bought some cassis on the way home and this became my drink of choice throughout much of the summer. As a matter of fact, after introducing several of our friends to it one hot summer night, we ended up kicking several bottles of champagne at one seating. Ah, good times.

Okay for our first course, Chris went with the escargot, Matt with an arugula and Parmegiano salad, and me with this salmon tureen dish that I thought was something different but still good. For our entrees, Chris and Matt shared the Chateaubriand that had the best roasted potatoes (I’m into side dishes), while I enjoyed a lamb curry dish. We washed it down with some red wine but don’t ask me which, I do not recall. For dessert, the profiteroles for me, some crème brulee for Chris and I do not remember what Matt had but for some reason ice cream tickles my mind. The profiteroles, covered in a chocolate sauce, were wipe the plate clean, best I ever had. The gentlemen followed with some dessert drinks Calvados, I believe (oh and don’t ask about the discussion on how you pronounce Calvados), and hours later we rolled out of the restaurant to head home. Oh, but not before making a reservation for the next night. Since Paul hadn’t joined us, and Matt thought Paul would love this place, we decided to return. I’m always torn on returning to a place. I feel often, you get better service, more attention on the return, but with a limited number of meals in Paris, who wants to repeat – tough call.

We returned to the hotel, and collapsed into bed. Today I walked 11.24 miles. Oh and one more thought, if the area around Haussmann, reminded me of the Upper West Side, then the Marais reminded me of the Village or maybe Soho.

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