Sunday, August 17, 2008

Into Paris

Troyes to Paris

From Troyes to Paris is not far, so we decided to go via Epernay and visit the Champagne region. That was a bit further than we had anticipated, though the drive was lovely; many hills covered with vines and pretty villages. The rain returned at intervals so photography was not the best. In the end, rather than go to a Champagne Cave, the thought of which we found a bit daunting, we went to a cooperative in Epernay. That was really worthwhile as we got some good information on things like grand cru, premier cru and so on. I was not aware that a maker has to have all their lands within a grand cru area to be able to call any champagne they make grand cru, and similarly with premier cru, and small landholders could be premier cru but not well known, so costs are more reasonable. There are only three grape varieties allowed as well, so it is all quite controlled. We had fun choosing two bottles, one of 100% chardonnay and the other a blend of pinot noir and pinot meunier so we could compare the tastes. Fun and not too expensive!

The drive into Paris was long and slow, through dormitory towns and suburbs. Then returning the car at the Gare du Nord was more difficult that we expected and we finally found all the rental car places six floors down in the parking station. Then a cab to pick up the apartment keys and a trip to our apartment just off the Champs Elysee.

Our apartment 4th floor, corner

Very roomy but a bit battered and we had to send an email for more linen as what was there was barely sufficient. However, a lovely view over the rooftops of Paris to the Eiffel Tower and very convenient to the Metro. The tower was blue at night to celebrate a meeting of the European Union.

View to Eiffel Tower

Because we have been in Paris a number of times before, this time we thought to see some of our favourites and some things we have not seen before.

We began by revisiting the Orangerie museum which has been extensively redesigned to display the Monet's Nympheas, two vast oval rooms each with four huge paintings of the waterlilies, now displayed under natural light.


Other impressionist paintings are now hung on rather drab cast concrete walls but they are well curated so they show the development of the individual painters and their contributions to Impressionism. We were particularly taken with the two young ladies in many of Renoir's paintings, friends of the family, who "grew up" on the walls in front of your eyes.

After visiting the Orangerie we walked the Tuilleries and sat in a cafe under the chestnut trees to eat lunch, feeling very French but probably looking like any other tourists. It was a hot day and people were relaxing by the round pond.

Relaxing by the round pond

Boats for hire

Diana and ferris wheel

The latest approach by the gypsies is to pretend to find a gold ring in front of you, pick it up, say it is your lucky day and give it to you, then ask for money for some food. We gave her the ring back and the next one who tried it we laughed at and said we had already seen that one. However, there are many fewer gypsies, beggars and touts selling fake goods than I remember from previous visits.

The forecourt of the Louvre was so filled with tourists that no nice photography was possible so we wandered through to the Palais Royal, looking at the courtyard and in the shops under the arcades. The restaurant Le Grand Vefour was there, but too many, too expensive restaurants...

Arcade in Palais Royal

Art installation, Daniel Buren

Nick had highlighted the Musee Cluny as a must see. The Lady and the Unicorn series of tapestries were absolutely lovely, as was the stained glass displayed close enough to really see it, and a number of beautiful carved pieces. We visited the vast Madeline Church, quite modern by French standards and built on Grecian temple lines. It has the advantage of having been finally built as a coherent whole rather than having bits added over 200 or so years. I found it interesting that there were these rather austere and beautiful marble statues around the church, but the one with all the candles lit in front of it was a plaster of Paris copy of our lady of Fatima found in many churches throughout the world.

The markets and market streets were really enjoyable, including the Marches des Puces at Clignacourt which were huge, mostly selling clothes and rip-off perfumes and bags. No one seemed to be buying so I don't know how people make their money. Behind the stalls were the more permanent antiques markets, some with beautiful furniture, others with silverware, including the gigot holders, we saw first in Provence and some with lovely old tools. Some were just junk. I was amused to see my Cristal D'Arques glassware marked as 19th century crystal and with a large price on it. Ouch!! It cost me about $5 a glass.The large stores were having sales so we visited them too, but ended up doing most of our buying in America. That is, apart from my beautiful Lagouiles steak knives, which I finally bought from a coutellier (there's a type of shop we don't see here) in Paris. Beautiful olive wood handles and the sharpest of blades.

Cupola at Galleries Lafayette

We took a trip out to Parc de la Villette, first revisiting La Grande Arche de la Defense because I think it is an amazing piece of architecture. It is situated at the far end of the Champs Elysees and you can look from one and see the other. Mr Haussman left quite a legacy of the sweeping vista when he redesigned Paris.

La Grande Arche

At the science museum there were a number of displays including one on cell biology that was extraordinary. What progress has been made since my teaching days and how unfit am I now to be a science teacher! Loved the homage to the Citroen deux-chevaux, sixty years old in 2008. These cars can still attract a crowd in a street, particularly if they have unusual paint jobs, They are very cute!

A Deux-Chevaux

However, the main reason for going out there was to take the boat trip back through the Canal St Martin, which goes through many locks, falling 26 metres in 4.5 kilometres to the Seine.

Opening bridge, Canal St Martin

It also goes through an underground tunnel for some distance as Haussman wanted the vista for the town houses to be uninterrupted by a canal. While we went through the canal our guide, a Pom who spoke fluent French, played the clarinet, which resounded beautifully. It was a pretty and most interesting few hours.

Tunnel, Canal St Martin

The food street markets of Rue Cler and Rue Montorgueil were a delight. There are lovely fruit and pastry shops, fish shops with prepared food like salmon mousse in artichoke hearts and boucheries with such beautifully prepared meat, tied ready for the oven with barding fat wrapped round. Meat is often cut differently too, so that it has fewer seams in the piece. This time round we were not planning to self cater for dinner, but we could have done with knowing about Rue Montorgueil last time, as it was quite close to our Marais apartment.

We walked through the food shops of Hediard and Fauchon. If you think Jones the Grocer is expensive you should see these places. But they are absolutely stunning with their food displays and prepared meals. I bought 125gm of coffee at Hediard for our breakfasts with advice from the gentleman who was roasting and selling it. He treated my purchase very seriously, all E3.00 of it. To make a purchase there you select and have it weighed and packaged. The salesman then gives you a docket which you take to a cash register. They give you change and a docket to say you have paid, then you can pick up the purchase. It was probably devised so one could make multiple purchases and then pick up all the goodies at the end of one's shopping spree. A very rich part of town. We rather got the giggles when we walked through Place Vendome and saw all the jewellery shops, Van Cleef and Arpels,Chopard,Bulgari all in together. I might have been able to stretch to a pair of Mikimoto stud ear rings but that was about all.There were lots of police there too, no doubt guarding someone important staying at the Ritz, probably for the European Union Mediterranean conference. However, about eight vans of gendarmes seemed a bit much.

Restaurants in Paris were a mixed bag. I have written a separate blog on the Jules Verne as that was a special evening. However, we had other experiences, including Les Bouquinistes on the Quai des Augustines. This restaurant has some involvement of Guy Savoy, a Michelin three star chef. (We ate at his restaurant last time in Paris and it was the best night ever for us in a restaurant.) Anyway, beautiful food and attentive service. I had jarret de veau with peach and artichokes, Nick the chicken, rolled and cut in slices with a creamy sauce and truffled mash (you could see the bits of truffle, too, not truffle oil). I had a selection of cheeses with fruit chutney and Nick, naturally, a chocolate confection consisting of a chocolate capuccino, a chocolate mousse on a cake base and chocolate ice. He deserves nightmares!

We also enjoyed dinners at several quite traditional bistros, La Victoria which was fun and had well cooked and prepared meals using proper stocks and flavourful ingredients, and a place near the apartment called La Casita, all traditional wood panels and banquettes where I had a relatively simple meal, gazpacho and salmon tartare, that was really appropriate for the weather and my mood. In 1997 we visited a restaurant called 27 Gourmet which was really quite new with a young couple just starting out in their own business. A revisit was a delight, not only for the quite tasty food but to find that the owners were still there and the restaurant still very pleasant.

27 Gourmet

A few others, however, are best forgotten, including the one on the Champs Elysees. We would have liked to visit a few more that were recommended by Jill Dupleix but distance from "home" became a problem after being out all day.

On July 14, Bastille day, the Champs Elysees was closed for the parade. We had been hearing music at 4.30 in the mornings that sounded like a church organ. Nup! It was the brass bands practising for the parade. The airforce practiced its flypast the other day too.

Preparing for the parade

Anyway, we walked down to the Champs Elysees to see and found the crowd so thick that we couldn't see anything. There were little tanks parked up the middle and police cars and vans in all the side streets and just about everyone with any pretensions to military got in the parade, including the pompiers, who are fire/rescue.

UN tanks in the parade

We went back to our apartment and watched from the window so we had this side on slice of things passing by and the sharpshooters (or possibly photographers) on the roof , as well as planes and helicopters flying past.

Missed getting the jets with the red, white and blue smoke as they were first and so fast I didn't have the camera ready.

There was a great fireworks display in the Champs de Mars in the evening. After reading accounts of the crowds we again decided to watch from the apartment. Past displays had finished with a spectacular finale on the Eiffel Tower, so I set the camera up trained on that so I could do time exposures. The result was that we got nothing at all. People in the hotel opposite our apartment could see but we had a building in the way of the main show and then they didn't use the tower after all. Alas, no fireworks for us on our last night!

Eiffel Tower after Bastille Day

The next morning a prosaic blue shuttle to the airport, though the wait in the business class lounge was much nicer than waiting in the general gate area. Next stop Boston!

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