OUR PARIS TRIP JOURNAL : Day 7

On Sunday morning, I woke up a few minutes before our 7 AM wake-up call. We were leaving Grand Hotel Leveque¬†by 8 AM to catch a taxi to Charles de Gaulle airport. In other words, our Paris adventure had come to an end. I have to admit I was a little depressed. I¬†reflected on the amazing¬†things¬†we had seen and the food we had eaten. I thought about the joy of sharing it all with Jacki. But Paris had left more than just a vacation-like impression on me. It’s a¬†marvelous city that I had completely fallen for. I could stay there forever except for two very good reasons – our children. This had been the longest we had been away from our two wonderful kids and I was itching to see them. I laid there concocting make-believe scenarios that allowed me to go pick them up and bring them back.¬†But the reality was I couldn’t have it both ways and, even though I love Paris, the desire to see our kids easily won out.

Pont Alexandre III

Soon Jacki was getting ready and packing the last of her things in her carry-on bag. I opened up our windows to hear the morning sounds of Rue Cler one more time. As luck would have it the skies were bright blue and the sun was beaming down. We had only one day like this during our stay and we laughed at it being such wonderful weather on the morning we were leaving. Soon our bags were packed and it was time to leave. Grand Hotel Leveque had been the perfect place for us, certainly not luxurious, but clean, comfortable, and with a street side view that I was already missing. We took the tiny glass elevator down and turned in our key. We left our Paris abode and just stood on Rue Cler for a moment. As silly as it sounds, it was like saying goodbye to an old friend. Rue Cler has more personality than many people I know and it was hard to part ways.

Paris, France

Before leaving Rue Cler¬†we thought it fitting to stop back by the Artisan patisserie¬†for breakfast to go. It was one last croissant for me and a pastry almost too pretty to eat for Jacki. We¬†decided to take them to the Taxi stop and eat them while waiting on a cab to arrive.¬†When we arrived in Paris one week earlier I still wasn’t sure the best way to get back to Charles de Gaulle airport. But¬†in the days that followed I really felt comfortable with our¬†neighborhood in the 7th¬†¬†arrondissement. We had traveled Rue Saint-Dominique, Avenue Bosquet, Rue de Grenelle, and Avenue de la Motte-Picquet multiple times. We had learned where the restaurants, supermarkets, metro stops, and taxi stands were. In other words, we knew our little neighborhood in Paris.

Tuileries Garden

We arrived at the Taxi stand on Avenue Bosquet¬†but didn’t have the time to eat our warm pastries. Two cabs were waiting. We got in a middle-aged man’s new Volkswagen where he immediately let us know that no eating was allowed. As we took off we both watched Paris pass by through our¬†backseat windows – the lovely streets, beautiful buildings, and¬†ever-present cafes. The Arc de Triomphe stood high, Paris’ final wave goodbye to these two first time European travelers. Just a week earlier, Napoleon’s stunning monument met us and introduced us to its city. Now it was the last of Paris that we watched disappear from sight. What an incredible¬†adventure it had been.

Bistrot Le P’tit Troquet

We arrived at the airport and found¬†seats to sit and enjoy our breakfast. It was still warm and flakey after all that time. We drudged through all of the processes required to get ready to board the plane. As we sat in the terminal awaiting our call, I thought back on all that the city of Paris had given me. Unlike¬†the golden tan left from a¬†Caribbean¬†cruise¬†or a week at the beach, Paris left no physical evidence of a vacation with the exception of blisters on my feet. But the mental and emotional impressions left on me by the¬†“City of Light”¬†can’t be described with mere words.

The Champs Elysees

Paris was magical but¬†not just because of¬†the city’s physical beauty and¬†rich history. I found myself drawn to the culture itself. Parisians love their city. They take pride in it. They keep it clean. It’s part of their very identity. Parisians are social people. Meals aren’t just hunger cures, they are social experiences. Parisians enjoy their food but they enjoy their company more. Time spent in the local park is one part relaxation but it’s also about social connections with families, friends, and neighbors. Cafes can be found on almost every street, another testament to the Parisian’s willingness to stop and talk.¬†It’s just part of their makeup and their happiness in being a Parisian is evident (maybe with the exception of riding the metro where obviously a “no-smile” code is strictly enforced).

From “Midnight in Paris”

So many other parts of the culture had won my heart. Even though we’ve been home for exactly one week as I write this, the thoughts of having a fourth floor apartment in the Latin Quarter or Marais¬†District still cross my mind. I still daydream of going down to the nearest market street, much like Rue Cler, and picking up the incredibly fresh produce for the night’s meal.¬†Or how about stopping at a local cafe after a day’s work¬†and unwinding over some hot chocolate and people-watching?¬†I¬†say it again,¬†wouldn’t it be great to live there? I wouldn’t trade enjoying¬†Paris’ monuments, museums, and history for anything. But they’re just a part of what makes the city so grand. It’s those big things laced with the¬†magnificent culture that had me realizing that I want to¬†go back. I have to go back.¬†

The Pantheon

Soon we were in our seats jetting across the Atlantic ocean. Jacki slept for most of the 8 1/2 hour flight. I was glad. She needed it. Navigating through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was an arduous task. But our stay there was short and soon we were in Little Rock, Arkansas. We found our vehicle, paid the absurd parking fee, and headed out for the¬†80 minute drive. We were tired but a special treat was just ahead. The reunion with our children was nothing short of amazing. They literally ran to us with huge smiles and some of the biggest hugs we had ever received. We shared pictures, experiences, and of course souvenirs. I miss Paris but this sweet, sweet moment reminded me that I was HOME.

Cafe de Flore

Our journey was complete.¬†This half-baked plan that started as a surprise Christmas gift to Jacki for Christmas had come and gone. All the nervousness and anxiety, which had been overtaken with excitement and anticipation, proved unnecessary. Our study and preparation paid off and Paris treated us to the time of our lives. We also got a good taste of the joy of marriage and the joy of travel. But the big question¬†remains : “Where to next?” My Vote? Paris!

OUR PARIS TRIP JOURNAL : Day 6

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.

Artisan

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.

Les Invalides

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 Thinker” – Rodin Museum

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-Pr√©s¬† 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.

Les Deux Magots

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!

Hot Chocolate from Les Deux Magots

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.

Sainte-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.

Luxembourg Gardens

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.

Medici Fountain

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!

La Billebaude’s Lamb & Potatoes

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”.

OUR PARIS TRIP JOURNAL : Day 3

Wednesday morning rolled around and I woke up pretty excited. The first thing on our list was a visit to the world’s greatest museum, the Louvre. We had a great night of sleep and after cleaning up and getting ready we headed downstairs. We were met with mostly cloudy skies but the same charm and buzz of the busy Rue Cler. Just as it was the day before, the streets were full of young school bound kids and locals hitting the markets early. I could have stayed there and watched all day but I had a date with Mona.

Rue Cler

Wednesday also marked our first exposure to the Paris metro, a cardiovascular-like subway system that runs underneath the entire city. I had traced and traced and traced our route on a metro map so, even though I was a bit nervous, I felt I had it figured out. We found our nearest metro entrance and descended down into this bustling underground world. People were walking faster than most drive and we tried to keep up with the flow. To show my ability to meld in with the locals I walked right up to a kiosk to get our metro tickets. Like an expert I spun the rollerpin¬†controller looking to speed through the process (just as I had learned through a YouTube video). The problem is I couldn’t find where to change the language to English. So much for my expertise. As a line gathered behind me, my “in the way” complex kicked in and we aborted the mission. Luckily a nice lady at the ticket window made things easier. We bought a carnet of 10 single tickets and off we went.

We boarded our train and took off still not sure if we were on the right one. We were. Soon we arrived at the Concorde station where we switched trains. In a few brief moments we were at our Louvre stop. Up we climbed until we were in the mall that led to a museum¬†entrance with a lot less traffic than up above. We made our way through security and soon we were there, the world’s grandest museum. We browsed through a souvenir shop and grabbed a quick breakfast at Paul’s. Just like the Orsay, we bypassed the ticket line thanks to our museum pass and headed to the star-studded Denon wing. We were immediately met¬†by an amazing collection of Greek and Roman sculptures.

“Winged Victory”

We moved with the crowd through amazing works of art dating before Christ until we reached a huge stairway. At the top, the brilliant Winged Victory stood like a guardian looking down upon us. It was a breathtaking display. Admirers¬†surrounded the marble masterpiece and the feverish rhythm of cameras snapping could be heard halfway down the stairway. As we got closer I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that I was actually seeing it with my own eyes. But so much more was ahead. We took the right doorway which led us to none other than Venus de Milo. The Greeks called her Aphrodite and the Romans called her Venus but the Louvre calls her one of their most popular pieces. So many people were catching a glimpse and having their pictures taken with her. I was no different but I did take time to admire this amazing sculpture with an even more amazing history.

“Venus de Milo”

We moved through more amazing sculptures but also took time to admire the building itself. The more we saw of the Louvre the more we realized that the building itself was a work of art. Glorious gold trim and beautiful frescos adorned so many rooms. But finally we reached one of my most anticipated parts, the Italian paintings. But what would a¬†vacation be without a minor hiccup. Jacki’s camera ran out of batteries just as we entered the first room of paintings and I could have cried. We had a whole big package¬†of batteries at the hotel¬†and her camera was going through them like toilet paper. It’s here we made the one goofy decision of the entire trip that we probably shouldn’t have. Underestimating the time it would take, we decided to go back to the hotel, retrieve some batteries, and head back to the Louvre. It took a lot longer than anticipated but soon we were back to experience the Italian masters.

The crowd to see Mona Lisa

Wonderful paintings covered the walls and soon we went into a room to our right. A huge crowd had gathered inside letting us know we had found Mona Lisa. She hung alone on her own wall behind a glass case and with two guards monitoring the crowd. People pushed closer trying to get a great photo of Da Vinci’s masterpiece and I couldn’t help but think that we were witnessing a pickpocket’s¬†paradise. We got our photo but I was saddened at the fact that I couldn’t spend time admiring the Louvre’s first lady. But the disappointment was short-lived. On the opposite wall from Mona hung my favorite painting in the entire museum, Veronese’s “The Wedding Feast at Cana”. The huge canvas made this spectacular work even more impressive. While so many were fighting for the perfect photo with Mona, I had easy access to one of my favorite works. I didn’t want to leave.

Veronese’s “The Wedding Feast at Cana”

We saw so many other great¬†paintings but we soon decided to leave. There was so much left to see and we had planned to come back in a couple of days. But as we walked out I kinda knew our schedule may not allow it. We walked around the grounds enjoying the beautiful fountains and the fabulous architecture before walking over to the Tuileries Gardens to rest for a few minutes. After a breather we went to The Orangerie¬†Museum to check out Monet’s water lilies. These are some of Jacki’s favorite works and I loved watching her just as much as admiring Monet’s paintings.

We still had some time so we decided to wander north of the Louvre and just see the city. It was a great idea. We¬†visited the garden at the¬†Palais Royal before stumbling¬†across Place des Victories and it’s huge statue¬†of King Louis XIV¬†on his horse. We were also able to find and explore the beautiful Saint-Eustache church¬†just as the rain made its appearance once again. After enjoying the church’s beauty, I realized we were close to the Fontaine des Innocents and I had to see it. I have this weird thing with fountains and as we¬†approached¬†it my jaw dropped. It was beautiful and nestled right in the middle of the nicest little square. Cafes and trees lined the square and I remember asking Jacki “Can you imagine what it would be like to live here?” This was a question I would ask many times. The fountain was constructed somewhere around 1550 and that alone is stunning. Sadly, the rain had things so wet that we couldn’t sit and soak it all in (pardon the pun).

Fontaine des Innocents

It was getting late so we found our way once again to the Hotel de Ville Batobus¬†port and hitched a Seine river ride to the Eiffel Tower. We walked to Rue Cler¬†and our hotel where we relaxed a bit, cleaned up, then headed to Bistot¬†Le P’tit¬†Troquet¬†where we hoped to find a seat and enjoy a good meal. We walked in and were greeted by a very nice man who spoke good English. He would later tell us that he had spent some time during the previous summer in Florida doing some humanitarian work. Luckily there were seats available and he took us to a small but cozy room in the back where they had about six tables. We had the room to ourselves. We both enjoyed a wonderful shrimp entr√©e¬†and an even better beef bourguignon¬†main dish. I finished with a cheese plate that was a little overwhelming but incredibly French.¬†It was a wonderful meal with, once again, wonderful service. We were treated like cherished guests.

We walked out the restaurant into the night and decided to take a stroll down to the Eiffel Tower to catch it’s light show. There’s nothing like walking in Paris at night and there’s a reason it’s called “The City of Lights”. The beautifully lit streets and lively cafes give the night a flare unique to Paris. We arrived at the tower and found a nice spot to watch the show. At 11 PM Eiffel’s Tower burst into a five-minute¬†light show that would rival anything you have ever seen. Couples snuggled and tried to take their own pictures with the sparkling wonder in the background. We were no different. It was a sight to behold.

The Eiffel Tower light show

After the show was over, we left arm in arm towards Rue Cler. It was another busy but magical day filled with art masterpieces, flower gardens, romantic walks in the rain, and delicious French cuisine. It’s hard to imagine having a better time and we still had three full days ahead. We arrived at Rue Cler and strolled into our hotel where Khalid, our always cheerful night worker, greeted us with a smile. We checked on things back home, took our showers, and then headed to bed. What did this wonderful city have in story for us next?

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.