Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Roaming around The Left Bank

We spent our first Saturday and Sunday roaming around The Left Bank and beyond. We had a list of things we wanted to see and worked out routes that included them, nothing too much, just relaxing walks taking in the streets and being part of the parade.

Saturday was miserable for sure, constant rain and very cold, we caught a train right round to the National Library, a new complex of 4 huge skyscraper shaped like open books, each taking a corner of a huge open plaza. There was also a huge multi cinema complex within the area, a restaurant and cafes. The parts of the library you could access were underground, and it was good to get out of the rain. Security was tight and you could not get into any of the reading rooms without a pass, but you could sticky beak from the corridors. Each reading room was divided into subjects, history, literature etc and looked amazing. The corridors were filled with photography, art etc and in one section there were two huge globes belonging to Louis XIV.

We caught the train back to the next station, Austerlitz, and got out straight at the Jardin de Plants, you could spend a whole day there and not see everything. It had lots of galleries and a small zoo attached to it, we just walked through the park, the rain down to a light drizzle, so it was rather pleasant.
From there we headed to The Arena, from 1 AD, it was interesting, but after Verona and Rome, was a bit ordinary. The little streets in this area were cute and twisty with unexpected cafes or buildings at each turn of the corner.
Next we headed to The Pantheon, a massive structure surround by other large and important buildings with views down to The Eiffel Tower. We paid to go inside, there were many amazing reliefs and mosaics. A stunning dome and ceiling and a copy of Foucault's, an amazing thing to see, spinning from the very tip of the dome and marking the time. The original was moved to a museum in the 1990s.
Underneath was a large crypt with many important French people buried there. I loved that Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Alexandre Dumas are all buried next to each other in the same crypt. Marie Curie is the only female buried here.
From there we explored The Latin Quarter, quite a happening place, lots of little shops, and heaps of cafes and restaurants, all competing with each other. Most do a three course menu with about 5 or 6 choices per course, ranging from 10 to 25 Euro, which is excellent value, but bloody hard to choose what to have. We decided on Mexican, and it was very good. We shopped and wandered till late and then caught the train home exhausted.
Saint Severin Church and it's gorgeous gargoyles
Paris by night
The next day, we set out for the local markets that are under the train line at the end of the street every wedesday and sunday. What an experience, they had the usual clothes,shoes, jewellery, handmade fare and of course fresh food. It was unbelievable, the types of food and the amount of stalls! It made the local farmers markets look pretty poor, which is not saying they are bad, just this was exceptional.
We cut through at the end of the park the Eiffel Tower is on through to Invalides. This is where Napoleon is buried, we walked around the impressive structure, but did not go inside.
From there we went in to The Rodin Museum, we only took a ticket to the garden which was one whole euro. There was so much to see, it was a fantastic experience and a beautiful garden. So many sculptures and the gardens looked exquisite with them in. The Thinker of course was a highlight. How wonderful it was to be able to see these on such beautiful day, if I lived here, I would visit all the time.
We the headed into St Germaine, which is on the edge of The Latin Quarter, except a bit further back and much the same, lots of shops and places to eat. We found a great bakery and had cakes for lunch/afternoon tea...naughty but amazing...we had covered some ground.

We were close to The Luxembourg Gardens, so we headed in and had a look around, a sunny Sunday afternoon and it was packed. So many people, kicking back, relaxing, having fun...lovely to join them for a bit.
Next stop was Shakespeare and Co., the famous bookshop. I had tried to find it the previous night, but had the streets mixed up, how I missed it I have no idea, it is in a very prominent spot near the Notre Dame, so I had been close to it on more than one occasion. But it is a little further back from the street.

Shakespeare and Co. is famous for supporting struggling writers, giving them a place to sleep. Sylvia Beach, who started the original shop, published Ulysses for Joyce when no one else would. She was also a firm supporter of Hemingway and he mentions the shop numerous times in his classic, A Moveable Feast. I had wanted to read this while in Paris, but couldn't find a copy anywhere at home. There were dozens stacked in piles here!
The shop is mostly second hand books, and mostly in English, a rarity in Paris. It has atmosphere with a double capital A. There is also new books, some french titles and a rare book room. It is jam packed and you just want to spend time there and never leave. This particular day it was very packed, so much so we just couldn't make it upstairs. I bought some books and bits and pieces. Each book you buy gets stamped with a Shakespeare and Co. stamp and you get a bookmark...impressive. Outside the shop are more books, chairs to sit and a small courtyard area with trees and lots of fairy lights, they hold events here.

It was late afternoon, and we caught the train to Austerlitz, further into the Latin Quarter/Left Bank area and met up with Mum and Dad for dinner at a pizzeria. They were leaving in a day so we would not see the until we return.

Another full day, with an early start in the morning, we headed home for a rest.

Paris: the overview

When the travel agent suggested a two day pass for the hop on hop off bus, we were not entirely sure about this, it seemed very touristy, however it was one of the better things she suggested. It did 4 types of tours, a 2 hour overview of Paris, and 3 other shorter tours of specific areas.

We had a quiet morning and caught the train to Notre Dame to meet mum and dad for the 2 hour overview. Was a pleasant day and sitting on top of the open air double decker bus really was a great way to see the sights, give you a sense of place, and make you realise that maybe 16 days would not be enough.

We saw buildings that we didn't know, all the buildings we did know, parks, people, amazing, you just didn't know where to look. Being high up also means you get closer looks at the facades of buildings, the ornate balconies, the reliefs and gargoyles on the was quite simply spectacular.

Ornate work on a corner building.
The Eiffel Tower
More gorgeous facades
Invalides dome, where Napoleon is buried
The back of The Thinker from outside, looking down
Traffic near the Champs Élysées and the Palaces
More traffic
Champs Élysées looking to the Arc de Triomphe
Madeleine Church
hotel Du Louvre
Street scape near The Louvre
Place Colette, lots of bikes, behind is Comedie Francais
busy City, near the Louvre
Pyramid at The Louvre
Looking through an arch near The Louvre

We got off the bus back at The Notre Dame and had lunch at The Notre Dame Cafe. Window seats overlooking the street with excellent view of The Notre Dame itself. I had the Quiche Lorraine with salad, never had I had a quiche quite so smooth, light and delicious.
After lunch we took two of the 1 hour tours back to back, they toured round the left bank areas, less large buildings and more smaller details and people watching. The weather turned cold and wet again as the afternoon progressed, so being on the bus was not a bad place to be...we had moved downstairs, still had a good view.
Les Deux Magots, famous cafe where a lot of the writers in the 20s hung out
Arena near The Bastille, a show on that night, people lined up in the rain

The third tour ended and it was raining still, we caught the train back home and collected takeaway pizza and some pastries for dinner.
The next day we took the fourth tour on the hop on hop off bus, this took us to Montmartre. Before doing this, we caught the bus from The Eiffel Tower to the right bank for a bit of high end shopping.

A Chanel lover from a very young age, I had always wanted to visit and possibly shop at the original store on Rue Cambon. It was always a red coat I was going to buy, but age and reality hits and you realise that even if you could afford a red coat in Chanel it is not the best way to spend hard earned money. (for the record, I cannot afford a red coat in Chanel ) I was going for Chanel No. 5 perfume and the blood red nail polish that is their most famous...the colour Uma wears in Pulp Fiction. And that is precisely what I bought, it was an experience to shop there, more salespeople than people shopping, everything was sooo incredibly expensive, but so incredibly beautiful and displayed perfectly. The store was large and we were chuffed with our purchases, and the experience of shopping in the store Coco set up herself and worked above in.
Next stop morning tea, croissants, coffee and hot chocolate in a high end cafe, very fancy, but carrying our Chanel bags we had the impression we sort of fitted in us, but still!!
Musical sculpture in Place Vendome, a very end shopping square

Then Tiffany, Amanda's wish, I had already experienced Tiffany in New York, so knew the items I liked were way out of my price range, so was along for fun. Amanda bought a lovely necklace, very dainty and cute.
Opera Garnier
Another side to Opera Garnier
We then wandered past many other amazing stores and met Mum and Dad at the point the 4th tour left from. By this stage the weather had turned ordinary again. This tour took us around the back area of Paris on the right bank, and mostly through Montmartre. We did a loop of the tour and stayed on for a second go and got off this time at The Moulin Rouge. Closed during the day, we had lunch at a cafe directly outside from the other side of the road. I had an amazing ham and cheese omelette, again the best I have ever had.
Gare de L'Est, beautiful old railway station
View of Moulin Rouge from the cafe
Two shots from inside the foyer

We then walked through the XXX area to get to The Sacre Coeur Church. Was a bit of a walk to the park below the church, and the another steep walk up many steps to get to the church itself. Mum and I decided the view underneath (it was pretty close) was good enough for us, so we took a seat in the park and let Dad and Amanda trek up. The views up there were good, but we could argue the same thing for where we were ;)
We then made our way back down to the main drag, hopped back on the bus, changed buses in the middle of Paris back to the Notre Dame and caught our train home.

That night we headed to the local Creperie, for our first meal. The menu was in complete French, so I had to rely on my own French properly for the first time, but luckily the waitress knew a little English and could help out, but I did ok. We both had Salmon Crepes, mine was with goats cheese and spinach and absolutely divine, never had anything so amazing. Then we indulged with dessert crepes, mine had salted caramel, apples, nuts, ice cream and cream...oh my!! Add in drinks and our total bill came to 50 Euro...why do we pay sooo much in Australia!!

Language: an aside about communicating!

We had no issues in Italy, rarely could we not get our point across, we had a little guide to look up words and made sure we used as much polite Italian as we could, hello, goodbye, thank you etc and it seemed to be enough. Mind you I started off speaking in French when we were in Italy, by the time we got to France, had to remember we were not in Italy anymore and stop saying ciao and grazi, lol!

I did 6 years of French at school, and you would think I would be fluent, but oh no!!! However, it is remarkable what you remember. Understanding the French talking or even having a proper conversation with someone was never going to happen, but I could communicate basically ok. Reading was much better, signs, menus etc, this was a huge help...I think...and better than nothing.