The LeRoys visit Paris, Oct 2006
Dave and I took a short, but eventful trip to Paris last week. Dave had been to Paris twice, many years ago, and I had never been. We took a Thursday AM flight from San Jose to Dallas, and on to Paris, arriving Friday morning 9:30am Paris time. We only had 4 days to spend in the city, so we had to walk fast, look fast, and lose sleep!
From the airport, we took the train to St. Michael/Notre Dame stop and walked about 1.5 miles to our hotel, the Victoria Palace. At first we thought it looked like a dump, but it turns out we were just looking at the front of the parking garage. We were able to check into our room, which was very nice, not too small, and newly renovated.
We left the hotel, found the underground Metro, and headed for Notre Dame. There were mobs of people inside and outside. We got a kick out of the gargoyles sticking out of the sides of the church; most were pretty ugly and some were falling apart just from age.
Next we headed to the d’Orsay Museum, mostly Impressionist paintings and some sculptures. The building itself was beautiful – it was an old train station converted into a museum. Highlights included paintings from Renoir, Monet, Manet, Degas, , and a few Van Gogh pictures (before he got really, really strange).
We just couldn’t stay awake any longer, so we took a 1.5 hour nap back at the hotel. Then we ventured out for dinner. We found a nice little place called Bastide, we think, but we don’t really remember the name of it. We had Bordeaux wine, which we learned is just a combination of two types of cabernet and merlot.
We ate an overpriced, but convenient breakfast at the hotel and ventured out for the day. We first headed to the Arc de Triomphe – built to commemorate the French victories. 12 roads shoot to the center of the monument, and it creates quite a chaotic traffic circle! We climbed to the top of the structure and watched the traffic for a while. We never saw any accidents, but many close calls. When a bicyclist went through there, we were nervous!
We headed toward the Eiffel Tower to start. It was a very hazy/overcast day, so there would be no view at the top of the tower. In fact, the top “floors” were closed. We viewed the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero, supposedly offering the best view of the Tower. Mobs and mobs of people waited in line and gathered around the tower. It is quite an architectural site!
Nearby the Eiffel Tower is “Des Egouts De Paris” – what I have dubbed as the “Paris Sewer Tour.” And that’s actually what it is – a tour and history of the Paris sewers. It was a little stinky under there, but we learned a lot about the problems of the city during its major growth spurts. Napoleon was the financier to clean up the sewer system such that people weren’t taking drinking water right out of the Seine, just after depositing their wastewater in the Seine!
After the sewers, we took a tour of the Wine Museum. It was mostly underground, with displays of old wine-making tools and old barrels. They gave us a free glass of [bad] wine and sent us on our way.
We ventured out to the Hotel de Invalides – where Napoleon’s tomb is housed and many other museums. They closed early that afternoon, so we missed any touring opportunities. But we did have a nice, flat, hot panini sandwich from the street vendor. Yum! We needed that!
A neighborhood friend of mine, Kathleen, lives in Paris with her husband Jeff. He made a big break in the Paris theatre scene and plays a role in “A La Galerie.” Kathleen met us for dinner at a nearby bistro and gave us a run-down of the play (since it was all in French). We enjoyed hearing about Kathleen and Jeff’s life in Paris – what they do, how they spend their time, etc. The play was fun and we went for a drink after. I asked Kathleen what we should buy to take home that was truly “French.” She said a scarf and chocolate. I bought both, but I ate the chocolate long before we got home to the US.
We took the Metro to Sacre Coeur today. It was a little strange; mass was in progress and yet hundreds of tourists (us included) meandered through the basilica, taking photos and trying to be quiet. We thought it was strange that they wouldn’t shut the doors to tourists during this time. The view of Paris was beautiful from the [only] hill. We sat on the steps, watched the people, and soaked in some sun.
We returned to the Hotel de Invalides area (since they closed early the previous day). We saw Napoleon’s tomb and wandered through the Military Museum. The armor was amazing – they had metal parts to cover everything and suits made for children. The swords and guns were quite fancy. It all seems rather silly to me – get all dressed up in fancy armor and have a gold-plated gun to go die in a battle.
We went to Chez Omar for dinner, on recommendation from Daphne, my co-worker at Good. They specialize in Moroccan food – cous cous and lamb. That’s exactly what we had – cous cous and lamb. We thought it was tasty, but nothing super special. We walked for a long time after dinner, enjoying the evening. We took some nighttime photos of the Eiffel Tower.
We ate another overpriced breakfast at the hotel. Turns out, the Parisians put chocolate in many of their morning breakfast cereals. I liked that! We spent most of the morning at the Louvre. We spent almost three hours there and didn’t see even a whole wing! We rented headsets so that we’d learn something. (They even rented “Da Vinci Code” headsets if you wanted to just view the sites that were referred to in the book.) Highlights included the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo.
We went to the “Le Bon Marche” – the oldest and the original deparment store in Pairs. It covered two city blocks and the first floor of one building was all food. They had beautiful food all stuffed, topped, carved, and displayed perfectly.
We returned to the hotel. Dave decided to take a nap. I thought that was the perfect opportunity to go shopping!! I had been eyeing this store called Une, Deux, Trois just right outside our hotel. I was gone more than hour and had a lot of fun! I bought a scarf (just like Kathleen told me to!)
In the afternoon, we went to Luxembourg Gardens, one of the city’s “hang out” spots for Parisians that should have been working but were relaxing instead! It was a beautiful park, 1.3 miles around in circumference. We people watched and took pictures on the sly of many unknowing park goers. We wished we had a baguette and some cheese!
We went all out for dinner. We went to L’Orangerie on Ile St Louis (the little island neighboring Notre Dame). It was a typical formal French meal – a stuffy, rude Parisian host that didn’t appreciate our bad French accent. We tried to warm up to the waiters, but they were stuffy too. One finally cracked a smile. Anyway, it was one of the best meals we’ve ever had. The wine was delicious. I think it was 5 courses in all – I lost count (probably on account of the good wine). Dave had a red snapper salad, I had raviolis in burned butter. Dave had lamb, I had cod. To cleanse our palettes, we had some strange sweet/savory flask of something. It kind of tasted like really good chicken soup? The dessert was the best part. Dave had some apple thing and I had a hot chocolate cake with an egg-shaped sculpture of coffee ice cream. Yum! We highly recommend that place, even though with the rude host!
We had a leisurely breakfast at a small cafe nearby our hotel. We checked out of our hotel and took the metro to the train to the airport for our flight. It was an uneventful flight home, through Chicago and on to San Jose. We arrived at 9:30pm Tuesday night, bleary-eyed but quite content.