OUR PARIS TRIP JOURNAL : Day 2

After a wonderful night’s sleep we woke up refreshed and ready for our second day in Paris, France. We immediately opened our third floor streetside¬†window and were greeted by overcast skies and a bustling Rue Cler below. That’s all we needed to hurry up and head out. We cleaned up, dropped off our room key at front desk, and walked out of our hotel to jump headfirst into the scene.

The Rue Cler Markets

It was Tuesday and Rue Cler¬†was in high gear. The tinging¬†of cafe dishes and¬†the smell of pastries filled the air. Children on scooters and with backpacks were heading to school and the markets were loading their store-front stands with some of the prettiest produce I had ever laid eyes on. This was indeed the Rue Cler¬†I had read about. I wanted to stay and just watch the local’s day unfold but we had a date with the Musee¬†d’Orsay. We branched off of Rue Cler¬†and found a cozy little patisserie¬†with inside seating. We walked in and were greeted¬†with a hearty “Bonjour” by the owner. We both had cokes and flaky pain au chocolates. Wonderful!

We headed out and walked to the Orsay. We got there just before opening and the line was long. We hopped right in and waited for our turn through the doors. It started sprinkling and umbrellas popped up throughout the crowd. A group of men were ready and pulled out umbrellas selling them for 5 euros each. Opportunity knocked and they were ready. We laughed as umbrellas bumped together as the line moved forward. A little old lady no higher than my belt buckle had been here before. She made her way through the line, cutting in front of people without them even noticing. Some of us that had spotted her were amazed at how slick she was.

The Orsay

We waltzed through security where the exquisitely laid out Orsay awaited. You would never know this was once a train station. A center of amazing sculptures is lined by floors of incredible paintings including an amazing Impressionist collection near the top. How amazing it was to look on Monet, Renoir, and Van Gough’s masterpieces. Then you have the breathtaking view from behind the clock that looks upon the Seine and its architectural treasures on the other side. The crowds were intense and I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that it did hinder the experience a tad. But it was still a memorable time that Jacki and I enjoyed.

The Orsay

We reluctantly left the Orsay and decided to grab a bite at the extremely busy Les Deux Musees bistro right behind the museum. It was a little overpriced and the food was nothing that blew us away. The waiters were nice enough but they were extremely busy. This was clearly a stop full of tourists and a few French locals. After our meal we headed over to the Seine where we got our Batobus passes and hopped onboard. The hop on/hop off Seine river cruise was relaxing and comfortable. We rode along until we reached the Hotel de Ville stop. Off we went.

We crossed the street and noticed a gorgeous building to our left and a beautiful old church tucked behind a square to our right. At the time we had no idea we were looking at the back of the Hotel de Ville.¬†The next street up was¬†the famous Rue de Rivoli, an amazing street named after one of Napoleon’s earliest military victories. Jacki’s¬†attention immediately ¬†moved¬†to the huge shopping center in front of us (we later learned it was called Bazar de l’Hotel¬†de Ville). In we went! There was something like eight floors selling everything from designer fashion to bath towels and hacksaws. It was impressive. After plenty of browsing, Jacki bought a¬†pretty little French scarf and we were on our way. Still unsure of the astounding building to our left, we finally crossed the road to investigate. After noticing some fountains up ahead we walked forward to see a huge square and, of course, the front of the Hotel de ville!

Hotel de Ville Square

WOW! The building literally blew me away. Paris’ administration has been housed¬†in this location¬†since the 1300’s and the sense of history as I gazed up was astounding. The building has had several additions and subtractions but it’s architecture was unlike anything I had ever seen. I found myself walking back and forth taking picture after picture and examining every little detail. I think Jacki got a kick out of me. This was one of my favorite buildings of the trip even though we never made it inside.

Hotel de Ville

Jacki finally got me away and we started to explore. We roamed around looking at buildings and just enjoying the beauty of the city. After a few fun wrong turns we found ourselves at the Shoah Memorial, a holocaust museum that showed the darker side of France during World War 2. After finally figuring out how to get inside we made our way through this powerful and sobering history of the Jewish people and their struggles during that terrible time. It was well worth every second.

We stepped back out on the street and realized we were going to have to shave off some of our itinerary. We decided to stroll over to Place des Vosges, Paris’ oldest constructed square stuck right in the Marais. What a great decision. We made our way there, sat on a bench with a view, and just watched the people. Kids kicking balls on the grass and riding scooters all around. Parents watching and laughing. Couples snuggled up as close as we were. It’s here that I actually felt as though I was part of this city, this neighborhood. How could things get any better? I know, how about with a snack?

Macaroons in Place de Vosges

We walked out hoping to find a nearby place to grab a pastry and drink to take back the park. We found a lovely patisserie on the corner. It was time to try our first macaroons. We grabbed some bottles of water and a large chocolate macaroon for me, coffee macaroon for Jacki. We made our way back to the park and found an even better seat than before. After tossing a ball back and forth will a smiling but curious young local, we sat down to enjoy our treats. We toasted Paris and our beautiful setting then chomped down on our delicious macaroons. Oo la la! Tres bien! They were so good and we both wolfed ours down in a snap. We could have stayed at Place des Vosges all evening but we were a long way from the Hotel de Ville Batobus port and even farther from our hotel in the 7th.

We took off on a different street but an equally beautiful one. We explored several tight little avenues filled with cozy cafes and clothing stores. Then the clouds opened up and it began to rain. At first we shared an umbrella which I must admit was quite romantic. The cheesy but true realization that we were walking the back streets of Paris during an afternoon shower really hit me. Jacki on the other hand was just getting wet. So out came umbrella #2 (which was probably the smartest thing anyway). The locals just kept moving, never allowing the rain to interfere with their day. We embraced that mentality as well. We made a left turn and eventually walked along the quirky looking but closed Pompidou Centre. Before long we came upon the Eglise Saint-Merri Church. In we went.

Eglise Saint Merry

It was nice to get out of the rain but this was actually the first old church of the many we were to see.¬†The gothic designed church’s¬†origin dates back to the 16th century and it’s bell in the bell tower is said to be the oldest in Paris. A small service was going on in the¬†back so we quietly made¬†our way around¬†in awe¬†of the architecture¬†and humbled by the silence. Nothing could be heard but the occasion rumble of thunder and the subtle singing coming from the small group of parishioners. We eased out after the service was concluded, popped our umbrellas along with the little old ladies who had just finished worship, and like them went our separate ways. We took one more trip by Hotel de Ville, went down to the port, and hopped onto the Batobus for a Seine river ride to the 7th.

We hopped off at the Eiffel Tower port (literally right next to the tower) and walked to our hotel. We caught our breath, freshened up, and headed out for a nice French meal. No cafes! One of my goals was to treat Jacki to some fine meals. I had done lots of research so I chose Restaurant Mariette. Now I had went against sound advice and had made no reservations since I had no idea when we would be getting back to our hotel. It was a chore to find the restaurant but soon we arrived. The rain had caused cancellations and the charming waitress seated us immediately. It was a small but beautiful restaurant and we giggled as we were about to have a true French dining experience. We were such tourists. The waitress helped with the menu (her English was much better than our French) and we placed our orders. We met a couple from the States that clearly recognized us as Americans and shared a few words. Soon the entrée (what we call the appetizer) arrived РEscargot Stuffed Ravioli, tres magnifique! I had a wonderful cut of steak with potatoes and a chocolate dessert to die for.

Escargot Stuffed Ravioli

In Paris, your meal is intended to be an event. Fast service is considered rude. The table is yours and they want you to stay, enjoy your company, and enjoy your food. After two hours we paid and got up to leave. Our hostess introduced us to her sister. Soon her husband the chef came upstairs to meet us. They owned the restaurant and were truly thrilled to have us visit. We talked about everything from the weather to family and soon we were sharing pictures of our children. We walked out with big smiles on our faces amazed at the wonderful meal but more so on how we had just been treated. Rude French people? Not at Restaurant Mariette!

Night had fallen and we had a short but romantic walk back to the hotel. Holding hands and again rattling on about being in Paris made it all the more special. There’s something about the city. Sure it’s filled with history and beauty. But there’s something more that attracts me to it. We reached our hotel and were greeted by another friendly worker. We sent messages back home, showered up, and hit the bed. It had been a long but amazing Tuesday and Wednesday held one of my most anticipated sites to see in all of Paris!

OUR PARIS TRIP JOURNAL: Day 1

After a short hour and a half flight from Little Rock to Chicago my wife Jacki¬†and I were ready for the big leg of this crazy adventure we began planning months ago – Paris, France. The flight from Chicago took off around 5:45 PM. After¬†close to 9¬†hours we crossed the Atlantic and made a successful landing at Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris at around 9:40 AM. Neither of us had slept much on the flight over. Maybe it was excitement, adrenaline, whatever. But that didn’t matter. All of our planning was about to be put to the test and this, the greatest adventure we have¬†set out on¬†in these 17¬†wonderful years of marriage, was upon us.

We navigated through the airport almost as if we knew what we were doing, got our first ever passport stamp, and made our way with our two carry-on bags to the “sortie” (a term I had learned in planning). We found our exit where a steady parade of taxi’s picked up travelers to take them to their destinations. We had an older gentlemen¬†who never spoke a word other than “Bonjour”. I gave him a piece of paper with the name and address of our hotel. He knew right where to go and off we went with a nod. I sat in that back seat thinking “Whew, one of my biggest concerns is behind me”. That concern wasn’t flying. It was navigating the international airport for the first time in a foreign country. It went very well.

Our driver sped along¬†before running into some pretty heavy traffic. We couldn’t help but notice how seemingly few rules there must be to driving in Paris. Scooters and motorcycles zipped by¬†and weaved between cars. Vehicles would, for the most part, force themselves over in front of you. This resulted in a few brake¬†stomps by our driver which had Jacki gripping the seat in front of her. As I looked at the surroundings outside my window, I remember saying to myself “This isn’t nearly as pretty as I expected”. That was soon to change. In almost a snap of the finger, we saw the breathtaking Arc de Triomphe. Welcome to Paris! The city architecture had changed before our eyes and I was stunned at the massive monument before us and the gorgeous buildings¬†running down the street. We took several turns before the taxi made its way¬†down the cobblestone¬†pedestrian street of Rue Cler. Front door service to the Grand Hotel Leveque in the 7th arrondissement.

We jumped out, grabbed our bags, and tried not to look as stunned as we really were. The cab fare after a tip was around 57 euros, steep but the best option for first time travelers. The cool blue and gold hotel metal awning stood right in front of us and we¬†walked in. We were greeted by a friendly young lady who informed us that our rooms wouldn’t be ready until around 2:00 PM. That made sense, after all it was¬†only around¬†11:30 AM. But they had a luggage room so we left our bags and headed out to explore our new neighborhood.

Rue Cler

It was Monday and I had read that Rue Cler¬†wasn’t as lively on that day as others. We strolled through getting acquainted¬†with our new street feeling like we were seeing a real bit of Paris. There were shops specializing in cheese, bread, fish, chocolate, and pastries,¬†some open, others not. Three different cafes caught our attention. It was getting close to noon so why not start out by getting a bite to eat. I broke out my fractured French on a nice young waiter who spoke a little English. Our meal was pretty good but the experience was priceless. French chatter surrounded us at every table and the people-watching was all we envisioned it to be. We set there and smiled at each other fully aware that we were really in Paris.

We finished then started walking. I mentioned walking towards the Eiffel Tower since our¬†itinerary¬†had us starting with it. The clouds were thick and gray and rain sprinkles made it even colder. We made our way to Champs de Mars and there before us stood Eiffel’s tower. It was pretty amazing at first even though we had seen it in hundreds of photos, movies, and TV shows. We walked towards it barely avoiding mud puddles as our eyes stayed focused on the once controversial metal structure. Jacki was wrapped up but kept mentioning how cold she was. She quickly became aware that she had packed too lightly, skipping a¬†jacket for light sweaters. As the rain and wind picked up, we decided to skip the Eiffel line and find her a warmer layer.

Eiffel Tower

We made our way down a couple of streets and eventually to a souvenir shop where Jacki bought an overpriced pink hooded sweatshirt that screamed “I’m a tourist”. She didn’t care and quickly pulled it on. It’s not that the hoodie was ugly, it just stood out brightly among the grays, browns, and blacks worn by the locals. The sweatshirt became an ongoing joke throughout our trip and in turn a fun memory that we wouldn’t trade. With both of us now dressed warmly we¬†took to¬†the streets once again.

At first I was worrying that even with my usually solid skills at navigating and learning my surroundings, this was going to be tough. We meandered through streets trying to get our bearings and match them with our Fodor’s¬†map. We finally ended up at Les Invalides. We headed to the Army Museum and after tons of searching we finally found the entrance. We bought our six-day¬†museum pass at the ticket counter and then went straight to the World War I and World War 2 wings. AMAZING! The amount of exhibits and information was overwhelming. From authentic uniforms to authentic weaponry, the museum starts at the beginning of the war and moves to its end¬†touching on everything including the rise of Nazism, the American entry, the Russian progression, the concentration camps, and the eventual end of the European campaign. We were blown away by what we had seen.

Les Invalides

We finished our tour just as the museum was closing and at closing time they waste no time ushering people out.¬†After a few pictures of the building, we headed to the front of the Invalides¬†and sat on the¬†small wall and watched the traffic. This was another one of those small moments that we will cherish. A high traffic circle is in front of the Invalides¬†facing the Seine. There are no traffic lanes and the cars weave and cut in to try to get where they’re going. Bicycles shoot right in the middle of¬†the¬†congestion with unwavering confidence. Road rage only goes as far as honking horns. All of that made for good theater for these two new travelers from Arkansas.

After watching the cars for a bit, we crossed over and headed towards the beautiful Pont Alexandre¬†III bridge. We snapped photos and admired the beauty of the bridge and the Seine it covered.¬†On one side of the bridge¬†a bride was having her wedding pictures made and several other tourists posed for pictures that, like ours, would end up in a vacation photo album. We left the bridge and admired the Grand Palais and Petit Palais before hanging a right¬†at the Champs Elysees. At this point we were getting a little tired. It wasn’t that we were feeling any real jet lag. In fact, that really surprised me. I was expecting some sort of internal clock malfunction that would cause us to flatline. Instead we just felt like we had been up past bedtime (which we had).

Place de la Concorde

We sat on a little bench and watched the traffic before hopping up and heading to Place de la Concorde. I was so excited¬†to see what I thought were two of the prettiest fountains in Paris¬†and of course the Obelisk. So much amazing history is tied into the square and it was pretty overwhelming. Cameras snapped and cars whizzed by but I still felt as¬†though I was standing somewhere very, very significant. We scooted across the busy street to the beautiful Tuileries Gardens. We lounged in¬†two of the cool reclining chairs by the huge pool and made ourselves believe we were Parisians. After making our way to the other side of the garden, we crossed back over the Seine and ended up on Boulevard Saint-Germain. It was getting late and we were getting hungry so we stopped at a little cafe and had a pretty good meal. It wasn’t the best but the waiter was friendly and the time together talking about what we had seen was wonderful. After a¬†fantastic chocolate dessert we headed out. It was dark and we enjoyed the rather lengthy night-time¬†stroll back to Rue Cler. But we were ready for some sleep.

Our hotel room was waiting for us. Grand Hotel Leveque¬†has one tiny glass elevator for one person and a piece of luggage. It was quaint as was our hotel room on the third floor, room 32. We arrived and opened the streetside window to let in some of the street’s ambiance. Our room was small but clean and it offered everything we wanted. We showered, turned out the lights, and had no problem falling asleep. It had been a really long day. But it was also a perfect way to kickstart our vacation and we had so much more ahead of us.