It was a Saturday and I woke up a little less enthusiastic than the previous mornings. I guess you could say that the realization that this was our final day in Paris had set in. Jacki was already up getting ready. I opened the windows, laid back down, and just listened to the rhythm of the street below. It had become almost a routine, a routine that I truly loved. The sounds of Rue Cler made the street feel alive to me. The sounds were it’s pulse. The people were its lifeblood. And they had become a cherished part of my morning. I was really going to miss it.
We finally left the hotel a lot later than intended. First on the docket was a visit to Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides. As we walked down Rue Cler we decided to eat on the go. We had passed a lovely little patisserie called Artisan several times, always admiring the delicious looking treats but never stopping. What a fine time to try my first truly French croissant! As we walked, I gobbled up my soft, flaky piece of heaven, constantly making time to grunt “mmmm” for everyone to hear. Silly, I know. Before long we saw the gold dome housing Napoleon’s tomb. It’s impossible to miss.
We grabbed some great outdoor photos and made our way in just as it started to sprinkle rain once again. There’s no doubting which tomb belonged to Napoleon. At the center of the building directly under the gorgeous fresco-adorned dome lied a huge tomb made of red quartzite. Jacki made the humorous comparison between Napoleon’s well-known short stature and the mammoth tomb his ashes lie in. The entire building revolved around Napoleon’s resting place. Several other significant tombs were present including Napoleon’s brothers and faithful generals. It was well worth checking out.
From Les Invalides we moved east towards something I was really anxious to see, the Rodin Museum. At first I had a hard time getting my bearings. An uninterested yet self-confident pigeon led me in the direction of a pleasant policeman who got us on the right track. A few minutes later we were admiring some of Rodin’s greatest works. We walked through the indoor collection highlighted by the stunning “The Kiss”. Once in the outdoor gardens, we were immediately greeted by the sculptor’s greatest work, “The Thinker”. I was so excited to see “The Thinker” and not even my steady barrage of camera flashes could distract this troubled man from his deep thoughts. This was a true masterpiece.
The gardens at the Rodin Museum were nothing short of fabulous. Many of the sculptor’s wonderful works were placed right in the middle of the perfectly manicured grass and rows of beautiful trees. Unfortunately the overcast skies hid the sunshine which I know would have lit the gardens up with some of the brightest shades of green. Also the rain showers had the benches wet making it impossible to just sit and enjoy the beauty. Still, the Rodin Museum was fantastic and was one of my favorite stops on our adventure.
After leaving we were both pretty hungry. Our afternoon plans focused on Saint-Germain-des-Prés and another visit to The Latin Quarter. We hit the nearby metro stop and soon found ourselves on one of the most popular streets in Paris, Boulevard Saint-Germain. After consulting our trusty map we headed west towards the famous dueling cafes. From the moment I started planning this surprise trip I knew I wanted to eat at either Les Deux Magots or Cafe de Flore. The two cafes have been rivals for years and both stake claims of being the intellectual’s cafe of choice. Both were frequented by Earnest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and now Keith and Jacki Garlington.
We literally stumbled up on Les Deux Magots. The gorgeous cafe is situated right in the bustling Place Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Only a small newsstand separates it from its chief competitor next door, Cafe de Flore. It was equally attractive and equally busy. So which would we choose? We decided on Les Deux Magots for no other reason than our children have fun saying it. Now we could tell them we have been there. We were lucky to get a good table. The intermittent sprinkles had caused the patrons to skip the front row of tables and grab the dryer ones under the awnings. We sat there, just taking in this perfect picture of the Paris cafe scene. Jacki had an interesting chicken salad that she loved. I had the best club sandwich I had EVER tasted, overpriced but delicious. We topped the experience off with Les Deux Magots’ famous hot chocolate. OH MY GOSH! Thick chocolate goodness!
We hated to leave our cozy little table and our wonderful view of the energetic Boulevard Saint-Germain but we had other things to see before our final day in Paris ended. We crossed the busy street and headed further into the Latin Quarter via Rue Bonaparte. Up ahead was the Saint-Sulpice church. What I was even more excited about was the square in front of the church and its tremendous fountain. This was one of Paris’ fountains I was so excited to see. As we rounded the corner and approached the square, we noticed an ocean of white tents completely surrounding where the fountain should be. As it turned out, they were having a local literary festival. People were selling their books and guest speakers were attracting crowds. We shouldered our way to where the fountain stood bone dry. Apparently they shut it off for the festival. I was pretty bummed out.
I was amazed at the architecture of the fountain even if I didn’t get to see it in action. But all was not lost. The Saint-Sulpice church stood tall and mighty overlooking the square. The church is one of the largest in all of Paris, second only to Notre Dame. It had a truly unique exterior accentuated by it’s two mismatched towers that greeted us as we headed to the front door. In we went. As it turned out, Saint-Sulpice was right up there with the mighty Notre Dame in my book. The interior was filled will stunning sculptures and amazing frescos. Eugene Delacroix’s brilliant murals, including the amazing “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel”, decorated a small side chapel. I could have admired them all afternoon. But we continued through what would be the last church visited on our trip, gazing up at the high gothic ceilings, taking in the array of incredible art, and looking in awe at what’s called one of the finest organs in the world. I was so glad we didn’t miss Saint-Sulpice.
After leaving the church and sharing one last grumble over the waterless fountain, we headed south towards Luxembourg Gardens, the last actual thing on our itinerary. The short walk there was great, but the reality of our short time left in Paris was setting in for me. The thick gray clouds had their way all day and as if God were ending our trip with a smile, the sun begin to peak through just as we entered the gardens. We walked hand-in-hand along the west side of the park enjoying the carefully cut shrubs and strategically placed sculptures. The park was lively, filled with kids, the elderly, snugglers, and readers. Parisians love their parks and we could see why. We came up on some Boules players and I had to watch. The popular French game resembles horseshoes in a way but instead it uses metal balls. I loved just watching these Parisians engaging in a key part of their social culture, a culture that over the last several days I had grown to feel a part of.
Jacki finally got me away from the Boules game. She had a special fountain on her mind that she was dying to see. Time wasn’t on our side so we hurried through parts of the park we would have loved to admire and skipped an entire section. But when we came out at the center of the gardens we had to stop. Down some steps was a huge square of beautiful green grass, every blade the same perfect length. The grass was outlined by gorgeous yellow and white flowers, planted with precision. The amazing Luxembourg Palace stood in the near background. It looked like a postcard. Chairs surrounded the entire grass square and they were filled with people enjoying the day. We did find two seats with the perfect view that we couldn’t pass up so we sat down and melded in with the locals. Almost on cue, the sun beamed it’s brightest of the day leading to a lot of smiles and shed jackets. I didn’t want to leave.
I had another one of my “I wish I lived here” moments. I daydreamed of having an apartment nearby. How great would it be to lounge at Luxembourg Gardens after a day’s work and before heading to a local cafe for an evening meal? The French culture had really effected me. I was certainly no expert but my exposure to the alluring Parisian way of living had left an indelible mark. After watching some girls hand feed some birds we decided we better get moving but not without finding Jacki’s Medici Fountain. It was a fountain with a relaxing tree-lined pool in the front. It was yet another lovely ingredient to this delectable garden.
As much as we hated to, we needed to head back to our hotel. We had to checkout early the next morning and would need to get a head start on packing. We admired some more of the garden’s flowers and got a great look of the Pantheon from the east gate. We walked north through another fabulous part of the Latin Quarter and soon were on the metro heading back to the 7th arrondissement. Following our routine, we arrived at our hotel, cleaned up, and rested before heading out for our final French dinner. I really wanted the final meal to be memorable. I chose to take Jacki to La Billebaude, the smallest little restaurant we visited but one that received great reviews from Trip Advisor. My only fear (since we had no reservations) was that we wouldn’t get a seat.
La Billebaude was located on the small street Rue Exposition. Once there we were met by the lone waiter who showed us to a table close to the front door. We had our seats, what a relief. I’ve used the word cozy a lot during these blogs but La Billebaude was the picture of cozy. The one small room was nicely decorated and held about ten tables at the most. Soon the restaurant was full and the one waiter worked each table like a well-oiled machine. He was amazing to watch. He was also very nice and very French yet he spoke good English. We ended up choosing the herring as our starter. It was very good and it was a meal in itself. For the main course Jacki ordered steak, I decided to try the lamb. This was my favorite meal of the entire trip. My lamb was tender and tasty and the creamed potatoes were the best I think I have ever had. Jacki finished her meal with an ice cream souffle while I went with the cheesecake. Unbelievable good!
We finished our two-hour dining experience gazing out at the street and talking about our amazing adventure. We talked about Paris, the people, and all that we had learned about both. It was sad to think that we would be leaving the next morning. We got up and had our final night-time stroll through the streets of Paris. It was a beautiful night and I was trying to savor ever single step. We walked onto Rue Cler, seeing it at night for the last time. When we reached our hotel we hesitated before going in. We looked down both ends of the street. We adored our temporary French home and missed it already. We went in Grand Hotel Leveque and up to room 32. We opened the windows and once again soaked up the late-night ambiance. I missed the city already yet there were two really big reasons that made leaving easier. We packed a bit then headed to bed. The next morning would be our last in “The City of Light”.