Paris and a birthday
I’m tired just thinking about it. When you go to Paris there is a list of things you need to do, in no particular order.
Louvre (closed on Tuesdays)
Musee d’Orsay (closed on Mondays)
Sacre Coeur + Montmartre
Arc de Triomphe
Bridge of locks
Four days really ‘is’ enough to do them all, but what is not on that list is rest or taking time to enjoy the holiday. We also need to factor in watching world cup games at night and the early mornings and late nights make for tired people.
We arrived in Paris and already had trouble with the French as we tried to drop off our hire car. What a great experience it was to drive from Barcelona over the border and all the way up to Paris. Yes there were A LOT of tolls, so people in Australia do not complain; we are talking some tolls that were 30 euros each. We also need to mention the 500 euro fee to drive a car over the border and not return it, but when you find out that trains are on strike through France, any amount of money to not have to worry, jump in and go is worth it. When we found the Hertz office we were told that we needed to go to a different one as it was closed. Trying to navigate in the centre of Paris is not easy, especially finding a small ramp with a even smaller Hertz sign on it.
Once done we had to walk with our bags to the hotel, cab would have taken a long time, but in the end, and a few wrong turns, maybe it would have been worth it.
The hotel was in Saint Germain on the South Bank of the Seine. Very central and close to many different monuments. So we dropped our bags then walked down towards the Musee d Orsay along Rue de Rennes, a large shopping street that also had quite a good little bakery on it. Lunch was baguette and nicoise salad. Better than all that we have had so far in France so this is a good sign. We walked walked waked in the heat to the Museum. The lines were not long at all so we were excited that waiting time would be limited. We took a few happy snaps, it was my birthday after all, then walked round to the entrance only to be told that on Monday’s the museum is closed. Shattered as I do prefer this museum to the Louvre we decided we might as well keep walking to the Eiffel Tower. More walking in the heat but once we made it there it was definitely worth it, plus who would complain about a sunny day in Paris where it is normally grey.
We waited in another line to walk up the stairs, for a lot less than we would have had we chosen to go up the lift. 700ish stairs. Our glutes were definitely feeling it.
The view was great but we were hit with another line, the line to take the lift to the 3rd platform. We considered it but were done with lines for today and would give it a miss, perhaps go back another day. So we exited, took a few more shots on the first platform as there is a viewing area made of glass right that looks over the ground and all the little people below. It is a tad scary.
We walked back to the hotel to watch Australia vs Spain (which ended up not being shown anywhere) then go for my birthday dinner, but just before we left Chris kissed me.
This is how I felt!
I found a little bistro nearby with quite good reviews called La Gauloise. It was on such a pleasant street full of bistros, ours however had nice white tablecloths. Finally able to relax and enjoy some wine.
Entrees came out and we were excited as they looked very impressive. I had the octopus and fennel salad, nice and fresh. My octopus was so soft, citrusy and the fennel was done two ways, fresh and sautéed down.
Chris had what I wanted but sigh, I cannot have asparagus and little did we know there was a layer of peas underneath the thick broth, another no no. The theatre of cutting open the egg with a large steak knife makes this dish even better as the creamy orangey yolk streams out and through the dish. Ok I did have food envy!
Mains were even better, if possible. I had the steamed cod served in a copper pan with pippies and potatoes in a white wine sauce. The fish fell apart at the slightest touch, almost as if it was confit. It was the most flavoursome, delicious fish I have ever had, and how much better can it get for my birthday dinner.
Chris had, surprise surprise, a steak, excuse moi, fillet of beef with pepper sauce. We finished the lot, how could we not, it would be a sin to leave such great food on the plate.
Dessert was a must, no candle though. I had the millefeuille with raspberries. The cream was not like boring whipped cream, it was thicker, more custardy and actually had its own flavour. Yippee. OK call me a pig but I did finish the whole thing. I’m allowed, it’s my birthday. I had told Chris we could share the dessert but he was determined to try the Chocolate pudding. Probably not a good idea. It was huge and I don’t know why something so rich would be served with salted caramel ice cream but it was, which made it even richer. Chris did not finish it.
Seriously satisfied we walked back to the hotel via the Eiffel Tower and just in time to see the light show. Very pretty, maybe not the most impressive thing I’ve seen, but a nice change of location for my birthday.
So Tuesday we DID go back to Musee d’Orsay. On the way we were certain we could find a nice boulangerie for breakfast. Wrong. We walked, and walked, and walked. I’m certain we walked along every single street without a boulangerie in St Germain. By now we were hungry, tired and hot and ended up at a café that we paid the tourist tax in as it was just across from the museum. We did not care. After sustenance we stood in line for 1 hour for the museum. It would not have made that much difference if we booked online as that line was long too, probably half an hour wait. You can see how thrilled we were with the lines.
Inside was so cool and air conditioned ahhhhhhhhh. Floor by floor we went, seeing impressionist after impressionists. Fabulous artwork. We got to the Van Gogh section and it was under renovation so all of his works plus more had been moved to a temporary exhibition downstairs which had another line.
We were sick of lines and decided to do that last after we had had lunch upstairs. The upstairs wing is my favourite with the likes of Monet, Manet, Degas, Renior, Cezanne and there should have been some Van Gogh too, but what I also like is the café in one of the clocks of the façade. I was so excited when we got the table next to the clock, the same table I had 5 years earlier when I visited, and I think the best table there as you can get photos with the clock, which actually turned out more like silhouettes.
We had energy now to wait in line. The estimate was 20 minutes but it ended up being 25. Totally worth it. The exhibition was from the point of view of another artist who wrote an essay about Van Gogh and how he could not have been insane like many thought. It gave an artists point of view on how people at the time should have been praising his work but instead just did not understand it. I think everyone would learn a lot from this exhibition, we were so glad we saw it.
So four hours later we were all arted out and walked back to the hotel, past the shops. Chris actually gave me free time to go shopping. YAY. The only problem was that the sales were starting the day after so I did not buy anything, what was the point, it was all full price still, I returned empty handed.
We rested before the dinner I have been looking forward to for a long time. Chez l’ami Jean. I wished we could have had this for my birthday but it was closed on Mondays. My stomach was playing up a bit from a quiche I had for breakfast so I was not terribly hungry, a point I would overlook for dinner as I knew the food would be great.
We arrived, the most dressed up two people there, me in a short black dress, and Chris suited up. Other diners were in t-shirts and shorts as it is a simple bistro. From looking at it yes, but the food is anything but simple. As it is so popular tables of two are not common so we were seated in a long row of tables along a wall which were moved around like tetris to let the diners sitting along the banquette out. Not quite the experience I was looking for sitting right up next to different group, but it is what it is.
So the menu was all in French and we were told we would get help to understand it. Nope, it was so busy that that wasn’t the case so we just decided to do the ‘Trust the chef” menu which means that the chef would just bring out whatever he felt like. We were then asked if there were any intolerances. All I said was onions, not gluten as I can handle that when absolutely necessary. The waiter looked worried. He went to ask the chef and came back saying it was not possible. I then pleaded and said if it was only small bits in stock its ok, but not fresh onion or chunks in dishes. He went back and again said that the chef refused to give me this menu as there would be onion and basically it was just no. I was deflated. The menu I had had 5 years ago, by myself, that was the highlight of France and something embedded in my mind was suddenly taken away from me. I even thought what was the point then? The waiter said that Chris was welcome to have this menu and I was to choose off the a la carte, which was still in French. So after very brief descriptions I ordered an entrée and main reluctantly.
I think they felt sorry for me as they brought out two bowls both with little ‘croutons’ of peas, bacon, parmesan ready for the holy grail of soups, their Parmesan soup. It was poured and I couldn’t wait but started slurping that up straight away. It is the best soup you will try, Chris agreed and he is not a soup person.
Next my entrée came out. Tuna tartare with strawberry, foie gras, beetroot and white truffle. I have seen the combination of foie gras and berries at a few places now and it is always fabulous, this did not disappoint. The creamy soft foie gras was balanced with the fresh tuna and sweet fruit. Perfect. I gulped that up although I was admittedly getting full, my stomach was still recovering from the morning and giving me a hard time about it over dinner.
As I ate two different tables came in all ordering the “trust the chef”. Chris’ next dish was taking a long time so we thought that the chef was waiting for them to catch up so he could serve 6 at one, makes sense. As my dish was being cleared his was being served. Squid with cucumber and radish in a soy sauce. Fresh and nice he commented.
I was then served main. Roast chicken with olive, green beans and you guessed it, more foie gras. I don’t think I could handle more. The chicken was so moist and soft and with the foie gras did taste divine, not like any chicken I could ever cook.
Next Chris and the other 5 next to us were all served crispy skin salmon with more Asian cucumber;
followed by poached tuna with miso and sesame;
next was sole (I think) with rosemary and orange burnt/infused on top and roasted pepper puree;
another fish we cannot remember with the parmesan soup ‘foam’;
and then finally some meat.
The problem was Chris was struggling by this stage to eat more, forcing more and more and more. The duck was roasted with crispy skin and served with shrooms and mash. It was rich, it was decadent, it was a memorable duck, what was consumed anyways. Toilet breaks were becoming more frequent as we tried to finish, knowing that dessert is still to come, and yes dessert was coming. We were given the option to have the cheese course first, which we opted out of, but looked on in disbelief as others nodded away. It was a hard cheese sliced thin served with fruit compote. I think we were cheesed out after Biarritz. Dessert was then served but was really two desserts in one. The famous rice pudding with salted caramel cream and praline of nuts, but also shot glasses of vanilla and chocolate milkshake and then a fruit and custard bowl.
A few spoonfuls and that was it. The towels were thrown in. Officially cannot consume anymore. We left and I was glad that Chris was overwhelmed thinking about the meal he just had, the experience I wanted to give him. They tried their hardest to give me the same but this time round things were different, that is what intolerances do to you, you have to adapt and sometimes are left without, but it is better than being sick so at least I had what I could.
It was probably a good thing that Day 3 we booked a walking tour, we definitely needed to burn off some of that dinner. Eeeek run run run we were late. We tried to catch the metro only a few stops to St Micheal but we could not even buy a ticket. Stupid French ticket machines, so we ran there and arrived 10 minutes late and worried we would miss out. PHEW they were still there taking group shots, probably getting all the housekeeping. We were allocated a group and off we went. First past the police headquarters on the small island in the middle of the Seine where Paris originated then past the ‘New Bridge’ with funny faces carved in stone displayed along it which the story goes the King at the time got his artist to sketch guests’ faces at the end of a huge party he threw and then they started popping up on the bridge.
We then crossed over the bridge of love/locks which interestingly had a panel of the bridge fall off the week before as the locks are so heavy the handrails cannot cope, hence they are continually being cut off.
The Louvre forecourt was the last stop before lunch which Chris and I were hanging for since we did not have time to grab breakfast that morning in the state of rush we were.
Fed and coffee’d we then walked through the Tuileries Gardens and up to the bottom of the Champs Elysees where the Obelisk from Egypt was, one of Napoleon’s accomplishments. The gold pyramid at the top however is not original and was the finishing touch by Yves Saint Laurent.
The tour was over but we were just getting started. I could see a street of shops, on sale I might add, but what Chris saw was the Arc de Triomphe to visit. As we walked up the Champs Elysees I kept having to remind myself, as we passed shop by shop, that I am on a honeymoon, more commonly known as time to spend with new husband, not time to run away from husband and spend all his money. So walk we did, t o the top, under and up onto the ‘round a bout’ where the Arc de Triomphe stands.
We saw the Unknown Solider grave and the Eternal flame. We did not wait to get up on top of the Arc, it also was another 9 euro entry fee and a view we felt we did not need after being up the Eiffel Tower just days before.
Back on the other side we just watched. Apparently there is a car accident every 15 minutes here as there are no lanes its each for themselves. We would definitely not drive in Paris after watching this.
Our walk back down the Champ Elysees was halted when Chris said he was hungry, a quick stop at Maccas for a “Royal with Cheese” or in Aussie talk “a quarter pounder”. The problem was that this must be the busiest McDonalds in Paris. Chris waited in line for 30 minutes just to order! He consumed in 5 minutes and then we left. Although there was some ‘free time’ I ended up with one jumper and Chris waked out of GAP with bags galore. Good for him I thought, the more he buys the more I am allowed to buy later 😛
We walked back quickly to get ready as we had tickets to the Moulin Rouge that night. What to do for dinner, time was running out? We ended up stopping at the corner bar/café for a meal. I ordered salmon in a butter sauce with sautéed potatoes and Chris had a steak. They were terrible! My sautéed potatoes were just fries and Chris’ steak was overcooked and dry. No time to find a better meal, we ate what we could and got ready. By now we were running a tad late so caught a cab and thankfully made it in time with 5 minutes to spare.
Unfortunately we don’t have photos from inside as they are not allowed but it was spectacular. So much glitz, glamour and variety of dances and scenes. It’s almost unbelievable so much can take place in two hours.
After the show we considered watching more world cup at a local bar but realised it was on a free to air channel and could watch it in comfort from our hotel room. Yippee (I could fall asleep before the end).
Day 4 we were up early to visit the Louvre. Our tour guide the day before had told us about a secret entrance. We were so happy just thinking about the lines we did not have to stand in. So we casually had our breakfast, no rush as we are skipping the lines, then walked to the secret entrance. Yes we did find it, yes it was another was in but no we did not pre buy our tickets. Back in line for us. Angry and not looking forward to lines in the heat we walked back to the pyramid to stand in the security check line.
Someone was watching over us as it was moving very quickly and it only took up 20 minutes to get down and the ticket line was minimal. I would liken our entrance into the Louvre, along with many others, like the scene in Rat Race where the race starts and Mr Bean says “It’s a race!”. Who can walk to Mona Lisa the fastest, dodging oncoming traffic. Do not get distracted walk walk walk. Everyone was heading in that direction so it was no surprise that when we got to Mona the crown around the barrier was large. Chris did eventually get to the front to view ‘him’, I waited from the side which was actually a better view. After Mona we saw Venus de Milo then spent a few hours in the Ancient Egyptian wing. I was desperately needed to sit down and consume some coffee by this stage, it was midday. We walked through a few more areas on our way to one of the café’s inside. I was done with Louvre art, it is not my style so I decided to stay at the café then visit the gift shops while Chris saw some more.
Lunch at our favourite chain of bakeries, Erik Kayser, then more walking to Notre Dame then Sacre Coeur. Notre Dame was free to visit but by this stage we are just over lines and waiting in the sun. I had such a different experience 5 years ago as it was raining every day and lines were very short.
So we saw the front but for me I think the back of Notre Dame is much more interesting and beautiful with the gargoyles and huge buttresses holding the church up.
It also has a nice park at the back with my favourite French tree. I don’t know what it is but I love how full they are, the colours of the leaves and the contrast to the white sand they always stand on. The only thing that would make this photo more beautiful would be if it was raining.
Tick tick. Only one more thing on our list and with only 6 hours left in our last day we made it with time to spare. A metro ride to Sacre Coeur however we got on the metro at the largest station, Chatelet – Les Halles, and had to walk through what felt like never ending tunnels, probably all the way there, well close. We did make it to Montmartre the suburb that Sacre Coeur is in and walked all the way up those stairs to see the view.
Many people were relaxing on the stairs or grass taking in all in and yes those men at the bottom were still tying string around girls wrists, why you would fall for that I do not know. I should mention that we also had a crepe up here but it was mediocre so that is all I will say. Tick though.
Tired and in need of rest we made our way back to St Germain for our last night. I looked up good bistros in walking distance and we set off, determined not to end up at the corner bar for terrible food again. We found the bistro and the owner came out, shook our hand then said he was full. If you could hear disappointment then as we walked off it your ears would be ringing. It looked so cute, so promising and now we had to find a plan b. Walking the streets when you are hungry is not a good situation to be in as you need to remember what you want, good food, not cheap bar food. We ended up a block away from our hotel and had a look at a restaurant we did notice on the walk up to disappointmentville. It was Russian, a first for both of us, and the menu looked good so we sat down. Chris ordered Chicken Kiev which came with rice and mushrooms and I had tuna and scallop tartare on blinis.
Both were fantastic and very tasty, just what we needed. It might not have been the perfect send off from Paris but it did us just fine.
To sum up Paris I think the past 4 days were full of tourist lists, sight seeing and must do’s. At least now I can say I had my birthday in Paris where my new husband and I kissed in front of the Eiffel Tower after a beautiful dinner (a bit corny I know). I can also say that we did a road trip across Europe. From Barcelona up the west coast of France, to Nantes to visit our friend Francine and into Paris. 1760km later and many funny memories had. I probably would not rush back to Paris or France for that matter. Beautiful and lovely as it is I don’t feel drawn there as much as I do to Italy which I am in love with……with that said, Bon Voyage and take me to Rome!