Although we were only a short walk to Metro line 8 (Balard), which would have easily dropped us at sightseeing locations, now that we were residents of the 15e we decided to wear comfy shoes and light clothing and walk to areas of interest instead of taking a Metro--where all you see is a narrow underground cave.
Walking through the 15e Commerce district (it became our favorite), we passed shops with handsomely displayed foods, parks with nannies visiting and tending to babies in carriages, and small boutiques filled with the latest Parisian fashions. While walking, we each made mental notes of places we would revisit during our stay.
We wound our way through various arrondissements to stroll through the Tuileries. Appreciating art and nature, as we do, we were overwhelmed with the artful manicured gardens, restaurants, fountains and statues. In addition, the overwhelming sense of history, much more ancient than we're accustomed to, left us in awe. It seemed as though every time we crooked our necks, we spied something else of interest, including a life-like bronze oak tree lying on its side. We saw a small plaque and did a double take when we realized that it was a sculpture commemorating all the trees that fell across Europe in the 90’s when devastating winds swept across the country. Our lesson was that we needed to keep our eyes and minds open or we might just miss something.
We decided to table the tour of the Louvre until another day, realizing that we had too little time to see everything on our list and knowing it would be a full day of adventure in such an amazing place. We did inspect the exterior, however, and found the building itself to be spectacular from the statues poised high up on its eaves to the pyramid designed by I. M. Pei (the architect commissioned by Jackie Kennedy to design the JFK Library and Museum). It was interesting to learn that the pyramid was designed to allow natural light into the museum because artificial lighting was having a detrimental effect on some of the art collection. We also thought to wait for a ride on the giant ferris wheel in the park—it had too long of a line--although we'll definitely do it as we understand it has a fabulous view of Paris.
One thing that seemed to overwhelm but delight me was the color gray. Statues, buildings, streets, bridges--everything seemed to be gray. Oddly, it didn't create a drabness at all but rather it signified the ancient history of this marvelous place. Against the blue sky, it dazzled me.
We visited the 6e, taking in Les Deux Margot where Hemingway and other famous people hung out. We shared a tasty smoked salmon plate and some delicious Burgundy and watched people who were watching people. I enjoy writing, and creative writing is my current major as I work toward an additional degree, so sitting there in the same café where Hemingway pondered and scratched out stories had a deeper meaning for me than simply eating and drinking at the establishment.
We also stopped at Moufftard in the 5e. This is a delightful open market area with boutiques lining both sides of the ancient street. The aromas wafting through the air are no doubt the same as they have been for hundreds of years. One of my French textbooks at the University of Hawaii, where I study French, involves a story that unfolds on the Mouff (this is the short name for the street), so it was as if my book came to life. It’s one of my favorite areas and is very near the Pantheon, another hulking ancient building in the 5e worth touring.
We walked to Notre Dame de Paris, intending to take a tour. It was just too hot, so we checked out the inside lower level of this handsome cathedral, then ducked out and into a brasserie on the corner where Doug enjoyed a cold beer and I a glass of cold Chardonnay.
A word of warning: We were accosted twice by "gypsies" as we walked on the busy touristy Quai du Louvre toward Île de la Cité where all the poster and souvenir stands are placed. Gypsies and beggars will try to con you. An old woman had placed a ring on the ground as we approached. She then picked it up and asked if it was ours. We suspected something just in time, as a young man on a bicycle was heading toward us while she distracted us and he was going to snatch my purse. I turned to avoid him, having seen this scam once along the Arno while we were in Florence. Also, our friend in Hawaii carried a cloth purse while traveling in Paris. While she was shopping in a store and distracted by the merchandise, a thief slit the bottom of her bag and the contents were all gone within a second. Big cities attract people who steal, so be careful. Try to avoid direct eye contact and always be aware of your surroundings. When approached by an aggressive vendor, simply say firmly (not rudely) "Non, merci" and move on.
A metro station gave us relief from walking and the heat and took us swiftly to the Montmartre neighborhood where we rushed forth to catch a quick glimpse of Sacré Cœur. I know this is a lot of territory to cover, but we just wanted to see these well-known monuments so that we could be done with it and move on to being neighbors in the 15e, dining there and experiencing the local culture. We mistakenly chose to take the tram up to the cathedral steps. They not only charged a fee, but crammed way too may people into the tram; at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, it was most uncomfortable. We made it to the top then mounted the stairs for the cathedral. Warning: Don't take pictures inside. This is a place of worship and a French guard will swiftly remind you. So, save yourself the embarrassment. After our tour, we decided to descend the stairs instead of using the crowded tram--a much better idea as it turned out. We noted a young girl working in a shop printing in the old fashion print fashion. She was quite talented. We were pooped by the time we got to the bottom of the hill and back onto the Metro.
By this time, we had logged nearly eight miles by foot (we had a counter), had taken a few rides on the Metro system, and now it was time to return home and spruce up for the evening ahead. We retraced our steps to the Metro. We were anxious to return to the Eiffel and enjoy the late evening at a café near there.
We stopped at the Monoprix in our neighborhood and filled two plastic recyclable bags with some delicious delicacies to munch on since it was a while yet until dinner. The French dine at about 9-11 p.m., rest (or return to work) during the late afternoon, then have an apéro for a few hours while they converse before dinner. Our plan was to have dinner near the Eiffel, then stroll late into the evening. We bought some dark rich French coffee (called Café Noir) and some cream, but not a baguette as our friends had already told us that if we go to the local Boulanger we would be able to purchase a fresh baguette at 7 a.m. for less than one euro. There’s nothing finer than a fresh still-warm baguette—we know this because during our stay in t he 15e we saw hundreds of French people walking home with loaves tucked under there arms or in hand and almost always one end was missing! The resistance is simply too much to handle.
A few hours of rest and a nice shower refreshed us for the evening. Although we'd already walked our share, we decided to stroll toward the 7e to the Eiffel and see what was happening along the way. We were surprised to find Paris slowly coming back to life again. People were pouring off of the Metro and onto the streets. We were electrified by how the city sprang to life after the rest period. We strolled down the Champ de Mars and saw lovers lying on the grass in mellow conversation, children playing simple games, in-line skaters gliding by, groups of friends enjoying food brought from home or take-out and sipping wine, and visitors from every walk of life snapping pictures of the glorious Eiffel Tower. We joined all of them by settling onto the lawn and relaxing and snapping pictures.
We hadn't eaten a lot and had expended a great deal of energy this day, so at about 9 p.m. we walked to a 7e brasserie and settled in for a nice dinner. As I noted earlier, I was a beginning french student and still not certain of many french words. I did, however, recognize "veau" as "veal" and since I'd seen Doug devour a very tasty-looking veal chop the night before at Oh! Duo, I could hardly wait to enjoy the same. The thing I didn't realize was that "ris" of veal didn't mean "chop" it meant sweetbreads--in France this means thymus, thyroid gland and pancreas. I didn't care for it and fortunately had some pasta on the same plate, so ate the pasta. Our waiter was not happy with me, and I learned to be more careful. I think he felt bad, as I was apologetic--telling him I was "fini." His disappointed look caused me follow up with the statement that I had saved room for a dessert (this is always a good thing to do--enjoy the coveted french pastry). So this brought a smile back to his face. He even asked if we'd like him to take our photographs. Of course, we agreed and he mellowed out immediately. Another cultural lesson to tuck away.
By the time we finished lingering, it was time for the light show. It was amazing to still be able to see jet contrails streaking across the sky in the backdrop of the tall tower at 10:30 p.m. We settled onto the lawn again, and it was now more crowded as large groups came and filled in empty swatches of grass. The air was warm and sweet and we were living a dream. Life, we thought, just couldn't get any better. Paris. Our new affliction.
I almost forgot to mention the Wallace Fountains. Keep your eye peeled for these cast-iron sculptured drinking fountains created by Charles-Auguste Lebourg at the request of Richard Wallace. Wallace came into a fortune and, although an Englishman, he loved France and her people. He wanted to make sure all people, including the poor, had equal access to fresh drinking water--hence his donation. We enjoyed locating the fountains, many of which are positioned along major streets.
Just one more thing: I've included a couple of pictures of rain, below. I spoke mostly of hot sunny days. I put these pictures here to emphasize that within minutes the weather in Paris can change. We left home one day and it was sunny and hot. We went to the Corona to visit with some people who spoke English at the Metropole Club on the Quai du Louvre. Suddenly the sky turned black and a huge downpour followed. We were stranded for several hours, as the metro closed due to water flowing down the stairs and filling the underground waiting area. So, be ready for just about anything when visiting Paris!