Paris treats

Celebrating a special Paris birthday for my special 14 (yikes!) year old daughter was fabulous. After birthday phone calls, gifts and breakfast, first up was the never-ending quest for good coffee, this time (successfully) at Dose, 73 Rue Mouffetard.

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Then one of those discoveries you make on the way to somewhere else, in this case St. Étienne-du-Mont, which I had never heard of but is a stunning church, with a gorgeously decorated chapel to Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris.

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Next it was on to the Pantheon, interesting and impressing, but I found it a bit severe after the church.

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So amazing to see all those famous names in one place: Hugo, Dumas (born in the same year, I’d never realised), Curie, Voltaire, Rousseau, Braille, and so many others, but almost all their tombs were identical, with no expression of their unique personalities or gifts.

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So many stories, so many amazing lives…

I had to run some errands ( secret Mum’s business), so Peter and Nicola went shopping, and after we met back at the apartment, we all went out for a flash meal at the wonderful Cafe de l’Alma, at 5 avenue Rapp. Not cheap, but a fittingly magnificent end to a wonderful day.

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Avignon, so wet

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We picked up a hire car this morning and headed off to Avignon. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very kind to us, with pretty steady rain all the way there.

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Still, we made it in one piece, and headed off to the Palais des Papes (papal palace) for a tour around the amazing complex dating back to the 14th century.

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The buildings themselves are amazing, some with frescoes either restored or not, but the history was even more fascinating. Political intrigue, treaties made and broken, accumulation of treasures, and then there were the theological arguments…

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Just imagining being there for an audience with the Pope, or to celebrate a special mass, made your hair stand on end.

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We got absolutely drenched getting from the palace to a cafe to warm up, then again making our way back to the car. We were a bit disappointed not to be able to enjoy more of what is obviously a beautiful town, but who knows? We may get back there some day.

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French food

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I’ve realised I haven’t posted much about the food we’ve been eating here in France, so here goes…

I have to say that the first few days were a bit hit and miss in Paris. Peter had a dodgy dessert that gave him gastro, Nicola had a couple of meals that had way too much cheese and rich sauce for her, and never having eaten a croque monsieur before, I finally had one and was not very impressed.

Add to that the fact that you spend Euros like AUD, and the menu prices don’t include tax, and you start to resent the fact that you’re paying very high prices for sometimes very ordinary food.

OK, gripe over. We have actually had some cracker meals too, and I’ll try to include restaurant names and addresses for future reference, just in case…

First great meal is pictured above, sorry I can’t remember the name of the place (near the Eiffel Tower), but the chicken was cooked perfectly, so juicy, and the gravy was fabulous. Didn’t get to try Peter’s prawn risotto, but he polished it off before I had finished my meal, so that’s a good recommendation.

Next awesome meal I don’t have a photo of, but was at a place called Cafe l’Atome, 29 Boulevard de Grenelle, also near the Tour Eiffel. I had chicken and lemon risotto, full of cream and dressed with pesto, so rich and yummy, but topped with a mound of rocket that cut the richness just enough to gobble the lot down! I’ll definitely try this one when I get home.

Skip down to Aix-en-Provence, and we have Hue Cocotte, 9 place Ramus, where the meals were mini-casseroles, served in little pots. Mine was veal, Nicola’s lamb and Peter’s baby octopus, all top notch and very reasonably priced.

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But best of all so far has to be la Cerise sur le Gateau, coincidentally right next door at 7 place Ramus. Also coincidentally, we had beef, lamb and calamari, all cooked in completely different ways to next door, and all fantastic meals.

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This tiny restaurant is a one-man show, with your host, waiter, chef, sommelier and dishwasher looking after you delightfully, in full view as he prepares your meal at the back of the minuscule space.

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The restaurant only seats a maximum of 14, so make sure you book, and bring your cash; no cards. Not that you will need much: we had mains and dessert for 3, plus 2 glasses of wine for €72.

And the food! Absolutely divine, with my fussy daughter wanting to take the chef home with her, and all 3 of us waxing lyrical over the meal. Highly recommended if you ever find yourself in Aix.

Bienvenue à Provence!

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After the stress of yesterday, I woke with a cracking headache (the half a bottle of vin blanc last night probably didn’t help…) so a slow start to the day was in order. I was a bit disappointed, though, to find that we had missed the market of Place Richelme, but we enjoyed cruising the streets and hunting out the makings for lunch.

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The ham might have cost close to $40 per kilo, but it was worth every cent; yum! Plus great bread, cheese and salad, and we were in heaven! Now, the challenge remains to find great coffee; the best we’ve managed to get so far has been deemed “drinkable” by the coffee snob of the family.

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Did I mention our apartment? Right in the middle of the old town, on the first floor of the building between the menswear shop and the crepes place (access via the brown door.)

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On a busy street, but quiet inside, so we’re happy.

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Friday = Strike Day

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Well, I suppose it had to happen. After everything going so well, we neded a bit of a disaster to even things up a bit.

First, after thinking that we’d packed up and left in good time to make our train, navigating the train connections was a nightmare: tickets not working in the station entrance, a train delayed (and not understanding the announcement so didn’t know if it was a 2 minute delay or a 10 minute delay), getting on the right train heading in the wrong direction, and not being able to find a ticket office open to validate our tickets when we finally made it to Gare de Lyon, 3 minutes after our train to Provence was due to leave.

As it turned out, the closed ticket office was because of a strike, so everyone else was in a state of bedlam too. Eventually we got some advice that our tickets were still valid, and we should just head to the platform and get on the next train. (Not sure whether this was the standard drill, or whether they were in a “don’t care, do what you want” mood because of the strike.)

Anyway, as soon as the platform for the Marseilles train was announced, there was a rush of people for the train, and we scrambled to get seats, managing to find two together for Nicola and me, and one a few places away for Peter. Oops! These seats had been reserved; usually there are markers to show which seats were reserved, but there were none, maybe also because of the strike???

For a while it looked like we might have to stand in the aisle all the way, but then a very kind English woman offered us her seat, as she was going to go and sit next to her husband, and we found a seat nearby for Peter and one a bit further away for me. At least we were on our way!

The rest of the trip was (fortunately) uneventful, and we got our connection on the local bus, and found our way to the apartment. Phillipe, our Airbnb host, was very gracious about our lateness, and showed us around the flat.

After settling in, we found a nice place nearby for a lovely dinner, then picked up some groceries on the way home. A load of washing and then we collapsed into bed.

The Louvre

Today was The Louvre Day! Anyone who has been there knows what I mean. With 35,000 pieces of art, it’s pretty daunting, even if (as we did) you only plan to see a small section of the place. This is partly due to the “OMG look at that” factor, as on the way to the Da Vincis…

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… you get bowled over by a Botticelli:

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Add to that the fact that the building is a work of art in itself…

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and the need to pass through multiple amazing collections…

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… to get to another…

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… and pretty soon you get Art Overload — Big Time!

Our solution is to break up the visit with rest breaks, including picking one piece to sit and do a sketch of, just to calm your brain down from all the over-stimulation.

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Oh, and by the way, what do you think of our new Paris clothes?

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Walking my legs off

Today we had a walking tour through the 6th Arr., hosted by the delightful Perrine, and booked through Paris Greeters. We learned a lot about the local area, architecture and idiosyncrasies of the area, for example the Hermes shop built in a disused swimming pool!

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We also visited Le Bon Marche, a gorgeous department store with gorgeous prices to match. At the bookshop on the top floor, the ceiling was designed by M. Eiffel (of the Tower fame), and like everything else in the store, lovely.

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Specially for TDPM… And no, we didn’t get you one!

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Perrine left us to our own devices, and after some lunch Peter went off to a work meeting, and Nicola and I explored the Saint Sulpice church which, at the time it was built, was the second largest church in Paris, after Notre Dame.

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Then we walked from our apartment to a new shopping centre down the road (I would have taken the train but didn’t know what station to get off at.) Strange that, with all the uniquely French shops around, we end up back at Zara and Uniqlo! But we managed to get a few things for Nicola and myself, so that was great. I limped almost all the way home, though.

Death & decay; war & treachery

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Yesterday and today’s highlights were both the choice of my daughter, both possibly not what you’d expect to be on a 13 year old girl’s list of French holiday priorities.

First up was the Catacombes de Paris, a maze of 780m of corridors running 25 metres or more underground in the 14th Arr. in the southern part of the city, set up as an ossuary to house the bones of millions of Parisians, relocated from the overcrowded cemeteries around Paris in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

You might think it would be sad, or creepy, or disturbing, or even gruesome, to visit such a place, but I found it fascinating, knowing next to nothing about the Catacombs lace until we descended down the 130 steps after an hour and a half wait in the queue to the entrance.

The skulls and femurs were placed in decorative patterns forming walls, behind which the other bones were piled. Pithy sayings about human mortality, Bible verses and tombstones and other grave decorations were also added for effect. The overall effect, for me, was one of a shared humanity with millions of people from times long ago, and a sense of my own historical insignificance, and at the same time an appreciation of the significance and respect owed to each individual on the planet.

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Today’s expedition was to see the Bayeux tapestry, a 70 metre long embroidered pictorial account of the lead-up to, and the events of, the Battle of Hastings. It was incredible that a 1000 year old piece of fabric had lasted so well, but I was also impressed with the embroidery techniques used and the artistry expressed in the scenes depicted on the tapestry. Harold’s treachery against William and its aftermath are depicted realistically and beautifully, to such a degree that you hardly notice the limited colour pallet and the green horses until they are pointed out to you.

Day 1 in Paris

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Well, we arrived safely yesterday and settled in to our temporary home in Paris, a fantastic apartment near the Eiffel Tower.

Unfortunately Peter was feeling pretty ordinary, having eaten something that disagreed with him last night, so I scratched together a meal for Nicola and me, and then we all collapsed into bed.

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A good night’s sleep did us all good, but we were a bit slow to get going, as Peter was madly trying to deal with some work challenges, but eventually we headed off for a coffee and then to the Musee d’Orsay, where Nicola was keen to see the works by Van Gogh, Monet and the other impressionists. I also particularly enjoyed the neo-impressionists (Seurat etc.) and the Art Nouveau school.

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We walked all the way home, via the Hotel des Invalides (top photo), and the supermarket for some essentials. Peter had been invited to see the Wallabies play France (rugby), so he went off with the blokes and Nicola and I stayed in for the evening.