Day 1 – I flew Air France out of Chicago/Detroit to Paris in 2013. I really like that airline. Staff is efficient and the food is really good for airplane food.
As we were coming into Paris, we were met with a pretty bad storm and some hail. The pilot got on the PA and said, “Well, uh, the weather in Paris is not all that nice, so, uh, we probably ought to prepare for it. “ He then proceeded to tell us to all sit down and buckle up. I wondered if he was uncertain about the weather situation or if he just wasn’t very fluent in English. I was sitting right behind the wing and watching the flaps. However, I really kept my attention on the man sitting beside me by the window. He was a flight engineer and I figured as long as he didn’t seem troubled, it was ok.
Arriving in Paris from the US is quite different from my last trip flying in from Dubai, partly because I checked luggage. I had checked one bag and just kept my personal item with me because the airline people were really begging people to check luggage because the flight was so full. Once I arrived at the airport, the walk to the baggage claim seemed like miles. None of us United States citizens really knew what we were doing. I managed enough French to find out from an older French couple that we first had to ride the train to one point and then walk a lot further. As I got off the train, I followed in with a mother and two children who had been on our plane and spoke perfect French. She is native French but lives in the US and spends every summer in Paris. She was also pretty lost for a while and then spoke with the French director of the area and found out where we were to go.
I had a bad experience in 2011 when I had reserved a shuttle from the airport into the city. My hotel this time was offering to connect me with a private driver and I agreed. As I arrived at the private driver pickup room, there were many drivers holding signs. My name was not on any of them. They supposedly keep track of landing times so they can be there once the traveler gets through customs and passport control. I was beginning to wonder about this method of transport, but my driver arrived about an hour after I got to the room. He apologized profusely for his tardiness and blamed congested traffic.
Once I had settled into my hotel, Hotel de Londres Eiffel , at 2:00, I went to the grocery next to me and bought food for a picnic and walked to the Eiffel Tower and sat on a bench and had lunch. I had only one person stop and ask for my food. I returned to the hotel, stopping at my favorite ice cream place, Amorino.
The hotel clerk, Cedric, had made dinner reservations for me at FL (the fancy restaurant next door) for 7:30, which is early supper for the French. I returned to my room to rest up from the overnight trip. The meal at FL was amazing, but I am sorry to say that by the time I returned in 2015, it had closed.
Day 2 – On the second day in Paris, I slept in a little bit and, after the hotel breakfast, headed out to the Arc de Triumph. It was 71 degrees when I left the hotel and a beautiful day. When I arrived at the arch, I found what I had read about access to be true – short lines for access to the climb to the top. They actually have a huge tunnel under ground to walk from the other side of the street to the arch since there is a “driving circle” around the arch. Now I know, though, why they have elevators in the Eiffel Tower. The climb goes up a single person wide concrete, winding stairway. It is very steep, but there were places along the tight circle where one (namely me) could scoot over and let people pass while one catches her breath. There are 284 steps, but feels like more.
By the time we got to the lobby upstairs and thought we were done climbing, we were all drenched in sweat and breathing hard. There were seats and everyone rested when they reached the top and let out the one universal word around here “whew!!”
Then we had to follow the sign that said “terrace” (top). That sign led us to another stairway, probably less than 100 steps in this one. What a beautiful sight! The panorama of the city was great. It is fun to watch the cars drive the circle below. There are no lanes. Everyone just squeezes into this 4-5 lane wide road as he wishes. It reminded me of traffic in India.
When I came outside and was taking pictures under the arch, I saw that the flag that usually hangs from the middle of the inside of the arch was lying in a heap on the ground. I took a picture, thinking, “You wouldn’t find an American flag lying in a heap on the ground.” A little later a couple of workers came, and, come to find out, the place where the flag attaches had broken. It was neat to get to video them raising the flag again.
I then made my way down the Champs Elysees. I made a small purchase just to have something from there and made my way on to a restaurant I had read about online, La Mere Michele (not to be confused with the one by the same name in California).
I was hoping they were still open for lunch since it was 1:45. I arrived about 2:00 and they were open so I sat at an outside table. The manager was very friendly and we talked a long time about travel and his trips to the U.S. Lunch was great. It consisted of cold melon soup, and a hot/cold dish of cold pasta salad topped with herb-cooked beef. Dessert was what we would call a chocolate lava cake, raspberry sorbet, a lacy cookie, a guava, sliced almonds and some kind of crumbles. After I paid the bill, I was brought a small glass of candies. I popped my head in the door before leaving to assure the man that I would be back. He gave me his card and reminded me to reserve ahead of time if I came for dinner. (More on this place later.)
It didn’t take too long to eat lunch, but I am learning to eat like the French, taking my time and doing some people-watching. When I am home and eating alone, I usually eat quickly and leave – not exactly healthy physically or mentally. A Parisian I met at the Detroit airport said the only reason to leave a café in Paris where you are drinking coffee and people-watching is to move to a different café to do the same thing.
I had mentioned before I left on this trip that I wished I could buy a pair of shoes in Paris, and I found the perfect ones on the way back to my hotel. Imagine – me in a pair of shoes from Paris!
As I had walked around the last couple of days, I had noticed some interesting things. A large percentage of French women, regardless of age or social status, seemed to wear their dresses to where they just barely cover their underwear on their backside. Also, women on the street here smoke while walking around. Since smoking is done more in Europe, the amount of smoking did not surprise me. However, it did surprise me that it seemed to be only the women who walk around smoking. The only men I have seen smoking are sitting outside at a café or a couple of times someone standing on a curbside, apparently taking a break at work.
I walked around in the evening until I found somewhere that looked interesting for supper. La Terrasse is great and you will hear a lot more about it this trip and in my 2015 trip. It has become a regular “go to.” When I arrived, I was rather tired and, instead of sitting outside, I asked to sit inside where there are red velvet stuffed chairs. I sat right next to the window so could still do my people-watching. This is a busy intersection with a metro access and a newsstand so there was lots to watch.
Later in the day, I stopped by my local grocery and purchased some plastic spoons. While shopping on the Champs Elysees, I discovered that the Publics store had delicious looking carry-out food. However, they did not have utensils to use for eating it. I would be ready next time.
I really missed American coffee. When I went to the grocery, I also bought some Nescafe instant and mixed it with hot tap water and no milk. It was still better and bigger than I could get anywhere else I had found in Paris.
Day 3 – On day three, I walked from the hotel up to where I left off (east and west wise) on day two. This put me on the eastern part of the Champs Elysees. I started there, at Franklin D. Roosevelt Street, and walked east toward Place de Concorde, the Tuileries Garden, and the Louvre.
Place de Concorde is the area that used to be home to the famous guillotines. This circle now is the home of a monument and a couple of beautiful, huge fountains. This is also located right at the gates to Jardin des Tuileries. The Tuileries garden was landscaped this way in 1664. It is adjacent to the Louvre and Musee L’Orangerie is on the garden grounds.
I sat for quite a while by a pond in the Tuileries garden – many chairs provided. I not only watched people, but also birds. Paris life must be hard on birds. The birds I focused on had legs with three prongs on front and one in back. All birds may have this; I don’t know. Anyway, the interesting thing about the birds here was how many were disabled. One had only two prongs on his right foot and on his left had a club foot. I was really feeling for him and other birds missing prongs until I saw the one who only had one leg. However, he seemed to get around just as well as his mates.
I walked around the garden for a long while, taking pictures and then headed across the bridge to Isle de Cite, where Notre Dame is.
Once on the island, I stopped for a lunch of Warm Goat Cheese Salad. I had seen it on various menus previously and decided, as much as I love goat cheese, it was time to try it. It was a plate of mixed greens, topped with pancetta, walnuts, and tomatoes. On top of that the chef had placed three half slices of toasted bread. On top of each piece of bread was a slice of goat cheese, very thick and about 4 inches in diameter. The cheese on the bread had been toasted so it was brown on top and nice and creamy in the center.
As I approached Notre Dame, I was really thankful that I had taken good pictures in 2011. They were celebrating Notre Dame’s birthday and had many tents and temporary walls build up in front of the church.
I stopped for some Berthillon ice cream when I passed a shop. I had tried to get some of this ice cream, which they make on the neighboring island, Isle St. Louis, in 2011, but I had been in this side of town too early in the day.
I was now a little over 3 ½ miles from my hotel and quite tired. I had been walking for 7 ½ hours already so I decided to take the Metro home. I bought a carnet of tickets. This is the cheapest way if you will be taking the Metro at least 10 times during your visit. You can buy a carnet of tickets (10 separate tickets) for the price of 6-7 single ticket purchases.
I was reminded quickly that, when one is leaving the Metro, it is important to choose the proper exit because they are labeled as to which street you will emerge on. I was not thinking and just exited. I started walking what I thought was west, trying to see the sun trough the tall buildings, but I had to finally admit I was lost. However, I had my map. I looked to see where I was on the map, but the streets at that intersection were too small to be on the map I had. I knew continuing to walk and having no idea which direction I was walking was not wise.
This intersection was a rather round area of shops with six roads going out like spokes. I saw a florist out in front of her store with a customer. I stepped up and excused myself, opened my map, and asked in my best southern Illinois French for them to show me where on the map we were. They explained in part French and part English when I told them I wanted to get to the Eiffel Tower. I knew how to get home from there. They said to take Rue Laos. “Laos Street?” I thought. “I am really far away.” After walking a few blocks on this street, I could see the ET through the buildings. I was excited to find that I was approaching it from a different way than ever before. There were several large playgrounds and lots of stuff for kids to do.
After getting to the hotel and resting a while, I noticed that the weather was getting questionable. I checked my computer and found that a major storm was headed for us from Africa. I had some time before the arrival of the storm so went to my grocery and got a picnic meal to eat at the hotel. I was snug and dry and enjoying my picnic about 5:30, while watching an old movie on the ipad, when the storm hit. I then napped until 8:00. I was still hungry and noticed that the next wave of the storm would be in within the hour and decided it was time for the neighborhood artisan bakery for a treat. I purchased a Paris Brest. This pastry is so large, I only ate about a fourth of it and saved the rest in the fridge for a few other days’ treat.
Day 4 – After breakfast on day 4, I walked to the Eiffel Tower and roamed around for a while. Then I walked northwest of the ET, going west on the river side. I remembered that somewhere out that direction there was a small replica of the Statue of Liberty. I had taken a picture of it in 2011 while I was on a dinner cruise. I wasn’t sure where the statue was, but thought it had to be this direction so kept on walking. Once I came to the Pont de Bir-hakeim and noticed it crossed the end of a very skinny island, I was pretty sure that had to be it.
I started crossing the bridge and found that, indeed, there was a stairway that led down to the island. I started walking down the island and found it to be a long path, mostly tree covered. This island is a little more than a half mile long and 36 feet across at its widest place.
Just as I stepped under the tree canopy, it started raining really hard. I also had my umbrella, but the trees helped a lot. I didn’t know at the time how long the island was and was just hoping that, once I got to the end, it would have the statue and would have a way back up to the mainland.
When I got to the furthest end of the island, there was a ramp of sorts back up to a bridge for that end of the island. To the side of the ramp was a stairway down. At the base of the stairs, and under the bridge, there was a really large outdoor exercise/workout room. Beyond that, on the other side of the bridge, in a small space on the point of the island, I found the small Statue of Liberty. It was raining so hard and the wind was blowing so strongly, I had to stay back under the roof of the workout room to take a picture of the statue, so I only got a picture from the back. (Fortunately, I went back in 2015 in the dry.)
I went back up to the bridge and the water flowing down the steps looked like Niagara Falls. I was really wet from the knees down and water was squishing in my shoes and socks, but there was more to come. I headed back to the left bank, the side of the river where I had started. There was a lot of construction as soon as I got to the street, Quai Branly. I could still walk on the sidewalk heading back east, but could not cross the street for another block. The only problem was that the sidewalk was right against the road and there was a construction fence along the other side of the sidewalk – no way to move back from the road. Only one time did a bus hit the puddle right beside me. It created an often seen scene in movies where the innocent young lady gets splashed big time. This gave me a good soaking. I crossed the road and asked myself aloud, “What would Gene Kelly do in a case like this?” I knew the answer and smiled and started singing “Singing in the Rain.”
Later in the afternoon, after lunching at Iolanda Café and going to the hotel for a dry wardrobe and a rest, I headed out the Galleries LaFayette. This is the Paris version of a mall. Actually, there are two buildings, but they are several stories high and all enclosed like malls in the U.S. The architecture is fantastic and really impressive to see. However, there are many stores that are so exclusive (i.e. expensive) that there are guards at the entrances and they only let a few people inside the area at a time. The bottom floor, where these vendors were, was a mad house. It reminded me of movies of New York department stores on the day after Thanksgiving with the sales. It was really wild and I didn’t stay long.
I took the metro home, arriving about 6:15. A little after 7:00, I decided to walk to Rue Cler for supper. I had read that having dinner at Cafe du Marche was impossible without a reservation. However, I arrived at 7:15 and got right in – front row patio and my waitress spoke English like she was from my hometown.
I had Confit du Canard (fried duck leg). I understand that the Café du Marche makes some of the best in Paris and I had never tried the dish so now was the time. It was fantastic and was served with round fries and a salad. I had a crème brulee for dessert. I decided as much as I like crème brulee, I needed to try the French ones and see if they are as good as those in the U.S. It was the best I had ever had. It started raining while I was eating and the café automatically extended its awning to cover all of us. I stayed there until about 8:45 watching people. The difference in eating at a French café and at a restaurant in the states is that in France, one is expected to linger and enjoy the repas (meal).
Day 5 – Day 5 was a Friday and I ventured to the Marais. This is the neighborhood north of the Nortre Dame island. There is a huge Jewish and Muslim population in this area.
I first stopped at the Bastille, which is where I got off the Metro. This is famous for its part in the French revolution of 1789. The fortress that used to be here (nothing here but a monument now) once symbolized tyranny, but is now a symbol of Paris emancipation. It was the big uprising of “the people” here on July 14, 1789 when citizens stormed the place and set prisoners free that is the cause of their “independence day” on July 14. This day used to be called Bastille Day, but is now called Fete Nationale.
My next stop was at Place des Vosges. King Henry IV built this in 1605 and his son’s statue is in the middle of the square. Henry planned that this building would turn Le Marais into an exclusive neighborhood in Paris. This is a huge square with a park/garden in the middle of the square. The buildings are hooked together and are identical except that two sides are taller. There is a sheltered walkway all the way around on the courtyard side of the buildings. Each side of the square is about the size of a city block and each side contains 9 buildings. The two tallest sides of the buildings were for the king and queen but were never used.
In the corner of this square is Victor Hugo’s home. I visited there and it is free. It was interesting that there was a school field trip in Hugo’s home and each student had a book of questions to complete as s/he toured the apartment.
I then made my way to Rue Rosiers and to L’as du Fallafel, the most famous fallafel joint in the area and supposedly the best. It is so famous that the lines stretch on and on. I got there at 2:00 for lunch and still long lines. There was a man out front to ask each customer if he wanted to eat in or eat out. There is a separate line for each. Those doing take out give their order to the man and pay him and he offers a receipt. About 15 minutes later, I arrived at the window and watched the men assemble my fallafel.
I then walked to the Pompidou Centre (modern art museum). This magnificent building is built with the infrastructure on the outside (pipes, drains, heating, etc.) Beside the museum, there is a large concrete area about the same size as the museum’s footprint. Artists and musicians were working with their talent, some for selling and others just for entertainment.
Across the street is a modern art park named for Stravinsky. The sculptures are in a water fountain and most are in motion. There was a group of school children visiting the Stravinsky Fountain and drawing their favorite sculpture. One man was creating a large picture with chalk. It pained me to think that it would disappear with the next rain.
This day was the special day in June in Paris which is a 24 hour music festival. So as I walked along this day, I saw many musicians on the streets and in the metro tunnels and on the metro cars offering entertainment.
I left for a grocery about 7:30 and bought picnic supplies. I took my dinner down to the Seine. When I was here in 2011, this particular area had a highway that came down close to the river. However, that road has been eliminated and they have turned this area into a wonderful pedestrian playground. There were now several 50 ft. pontoons that were turned into green spaces with trees and various flowers and plants. Back on the river bank are many areas for families to play – skateboard park, playground, wall climbing, assorted games.
As I left this area, I directed myself past The American Church in Paris, where I planned to go the next morning. I then made it over to the Eiffel Tower to be there for the 10:00 lighting of the sparkling lights. I met some folks from Minnesota and South Carolina while waiting on the lights and we took turns taking pictures of each other – remember daylight lasts until late in the evening here.
BLOG REPORT FOR THE LAST FIVE DAYS OF THIS TRIP WILL BE LINKED HERE ONCE IT IS PUBLISHED.