Thursday morning in Paris, France gave us something we had not seen yet. We woke up and opened our windows to see Rue Cler buzzing under a bright sun and clear blue skies. How could we not be excited? Our plans were to head up to the 8th arrondissement and visit Parc Monceau, a late addition to our itinerary. The weather couldn’t have been better for a morning in the park so we dressed, said our good morning to Rue Cler, then hit the metro and headed north.
One of the coolest things about the metro is walking out, especially for the first time in a new part of Paris. Climbing up those stairs you never know what delight awaits you. Such was the case on this day. We popped out right next to the park’s ornate fencing and with beautifully constructed buildings across from us. Thick shade trees let through small beams of sunshine all around us which added to the neighborhood’s beauty. We turned towards the park’s entrance and headed in. It was a gorgeous park filled with joggers, pigeons, and little children enjoying the morning. We sat on a sun-soaked bench and admired a beautifully arranged pond bordered by old Greek/Roman styled pillars around the outer edges. Joggers ran in front of us scattering curious pigeons looking for a morning meal. Some joggers looked ready for the Olympics. Others looked ready for an ambulance. We chuckled as a little local boy no older that 2 chased the pigeons around. The people-watching at Parc Monceau was splendid.
After a bit, we got up and walked around the park. What would make the warm, sunny day better? A picnic of course. We found our way out of a different exit and came out of a lovely street lined with cafes. On the corner we saw the cutest little boulangerie opened for business. In we went. Freshly made breads, sandwiches, salads, and pastries sat behind a glass counter making our mouths water. We were a little early for lunch but the nice French ladies let us grab some grub. Jacki picked out a delicious looking fresh salad while I got a warm sandwich and a chocolate macaroon. We made our way back to our park bench and enjoyed our wonderful little picnic. While we were eating, an older French gentleman walking by saw us and said “Bon Appétit”. “Merci monsieur” I responded. Jacki and I looked at each other and smiled. “I love this city” I thought to myself.
We hated to leave but we had other things to do. I figured out early that the park and garden scene was one element of the French culture that we were made for. Much like the long meals enjoying each other’s company, the parks were something that both of us could spend hours enjoying just like the Parisians. Nevertheless we left and headed over to the nearby Musée Nissim de Camondo, a beautiful home with a sad history tied to the holocaust. We enjoyed the tour of the 18th century furnishing and the glimpse into how the wealthy once lived. Afterwards we said goodbye to the area then headed back into the subterranean world of the Paris metro.
Our next stop brought us to the awesome Arc de Triomphe. Walking out of the metro stop, the towering monument to those who fought in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars took center stage. Plopped right in the middle of Place Charles de Gaulle, the Arc is a spectacle surrounded by a sea of fast-moving and chaotic traffic. I stood amazed. Jacki was…well…not as impressed. We snapped photos and looked from different angles yet couldn’t figure how to get over to it. We knew there was a tunnel but it was well hidden among the ocean of people. We soon found it and before long we were standing under one of Paris’ grandest sites. We decided to head to the top (thank you Paris Museum Pass) and were greeted by a huge winding staircase. Jacki wasn’t exactly thrilled with the trip up but it was worth it. We were rewarded with an amazing view of Paris. Going down was a lot easier and our next stop was right ahead of us – the Champs Elysees.
There’s no denying that the Champs Elysees has been highly commercialized. But it was still a lot of fun. The famous avenue connecting Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe was best known for the historical marches that took place there. Now it’s known for it’s pretty chestnut trees and upscale shopping. We saw fancy storefronts for Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, and more. Cool car showrooms from Mercedes, Peugeot, and Toyota had motor enthusiasts drooling. Then there was McDonalds. Yes, the Champs Elysees had a McDonalds. We thought it would be fun to pop in for a coke and fries just to say we did. Not the smartest thing. The line was long and this was the first place where we were met with rude service. My fractured French also ran into a wall. We ended up with four orders of fries and two cokes. I tried to clarify but our server would have none of it. We just took it, ate, and left. Just like in the states.
But things would get better quick as we soon found Laduree, a high quality pastry shop known throughout all of Paris. Jacki’s face shined. She had been waiting for this moment. Unfortunately the fancy shop was closed off for renovations and we had to buy our sweets from a makeshift building on the sidewalk. We bought our macaroons and were off again. We were getting tired and thought about using the metro to get to Place de la Concorde. But my judgement of distance was way off and we decided to walk it instead. By the time we got there we were zapped. Our itinerary had us taking the #12 metro line up to Montmartre and the hilltop Sacré Cœur. We thought about calling it off but decided to press on. We finally found the metro stop and headed north.
At Montmartre we immediately got turned around and headed in the wrong direction. Mix the steep hills in with the walking we had already done and it’s safe to say we were laboring, especially Jacki and her 127 lb purse. I carried the pink purse for her until I was whistled at by a group of playful local boys. Jacki tried to coddle my fragile male ego by saying they were whistling at some young girls, but I knew the truth. I offered several times to turn around and head back but we kept living under the illusion that we were close to the well-known basilica. We topped a steep flight of stairs and found ourselves on a lovely street lined with trees and snug little cafes. We asked a couple of locals for directions. None spoke English but each was extremely nice and understood the universal language of “help”. We moved on and before long we found Place du Tertre, a square once frequented by the likes of Picasso and Renoir, now filled with street artists and street dancers all catering to the steady flow of tourists. We didn’t stay long because Sacré Cœur was just ahead.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart (aka Sacré Coeur) sits upon the highest point in Paris. It’s truly a site to behold. It took Jacki a second to really appreciate what she was seeing. She was more impressed with the fact that she made it to the top of the hill. We realized what all of the fuss was about. The view was phenomenal. From the top steps Paris stretches out before you like a canvas. I can only imagine what it must look like at night. But I have to admit, some things really turned us off. Vendors had set up shop on the top of the steps blocking the view with their cheap trinkets. Others were walking around trying to sell bottles of beer right in front of the church. The clamoring of bottles and loud laughter had an almost irreverent party feel, a feel completely at odds with the spectacular church that stood above them.
Even though we loved our glimpses at the city below, we quickly realized that it just wasn’t our scene so we headed into the church, but even that was a chore. Before entering the doors we were approached by some very pushy scammers trying to get English-speaking people to sign their petitions. This was the second time we had run into this and I gave them a loud and profound “NON” before they could get any closer. An Asian couple behind us was having a harder time getting away from these potential pickpockets. But soon we were in the safety of the church and in a way, I guess that’s how it’s supposed to be.
The church was marvelous. While far from being the oldest church in Paris it’s as impressive as any you’ll see. Unfortunately we were told at the door “NO CAMERAS” and they meant it. We same the camera police usher several people out who didn’t heed the stern warning. A church service was going on and didn’t seem to mind the steady stream of tourists that walked through admiring the amazing architecture. It was something to see and we sat and admired the hard work that went into creating such a place. I sat thinking about the stark contrast between the spiritual and the worldly. I thought about the humble, solemn sanctuary of inside the church while right outside the door, worldliness was in full bloom. While I’m not Roman Catholic, I did have a heartfelt spiritual moment there that I didn’t even share with Jacki. It’s yet another part of the trip that I’ll never forget.
But we were a long ways from the 7th arrondissement so we left Sacré Cœur and found our metro station. After one quick train change we popped back above ground only a few steps away from Rue Cler. In we went to Grand Hotel Leveque to freshen up before hitting the town for dinner. I had a harder time deciding on our restaurant that evening. We chose Le Florimond, again with no reservations. They were full so we wandered down a side street and found Pasco on the corner. We walked in and they sat us immediately. It was a lovely little restaurant and we were treated like royalty. Jacki had a lot of questions about the menu and our waiter went to great lengths to break it down for us. I had a delicious cut of beef and an even better hot chocolate cake with a side of ice cream. We enjoyed the typical Parisian two-hour meal. We enjoyed the food and each other.
Afterwards we had another after dark stroll eventually arriving at our hotel. This was the most exhausting day of the trip and we realized that we had tried to do a little too much. But we also talked about the amazing things we saw and the amazing city we had grown so familiar with. We cleaned up and spent some time with the window open listening to the sounds of Paris winding down for the night. I fell asleep excited about what was ahead. The city literally had me under her spell. I had fallen head over heals for her, without a doubt.