Paris [2019]

Last Visted in Oct 2019

It was mid October, and the weather was blah - but we were in Paris We had three days — I had a shopping list of places to explore. Like all my previous plans, it was soon laid to rest. Instead of rushing to see as many sites as possible, we just relaxed and enjoyed a few choice locations.

Getting There

This was our second trip to Paris, and like our first time, it came at the end of our trip to Europe. And, like before, we would be leaving by train from Barcelona.

In Europe, the fastest way to get from hotel to hotel is by high speed train.

Quick Tips:
  • Book train tickets online at RailEurope
  • The train from Barcelona to Paris has two levels. For the best view try and book the upper level.
  • There is a spiral staircase between levels that may be an issue for people with mobility issues.
  •  A seat map for the train is at rail.arukikata.com/ticket/seat/seat-frin03.pdf 

The trip from our hotel to the train station, Barcelona Sants, was quick and uneventful. Catching the train was a bit more exciting.

With the sentencing of the Catalan independence leaders to long jail terms, protests were breaking out all over Barcelona . The airport was already shut down and there was a large armed presence at the train station. Tickets were being checked at the entrance to the station. Those without a ticket were being turned away. Once inside, a barricade separated the departures from the rest of the station. Fortunately, there was one food vendor in the departures section and we were able to get a sandwich and drink to take on the trip. After waiting for the Madrid train to depart, another screening and ticket check we were allowed to track level to board the train. 

The train arrived at Gare De Lyon on time.(Our last trip was 3 hours late) A 20 min. taxi ride took us to Odeon Hotel on l’Rue Odeon. A lovely 3 star hotel one block off Saint-Germain — we stayed on our last trip. The hotel is an easy walk to Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the Luxembourg  Gardens and the Panthéon. Close to the Metro and major bus routes, all of Paris is within easy reach of the hotel.

Checking-in, we found, due to renovations, our room had been upgraded. While the larger room was nice, having to negotiate around the large bags of building material stored in the hallways was a real pain. (I would still recommend the hotel — great location at a reasonable (for Paris) price.)

Quick Tips:

**** In Europe, always check that the hotel has an elevator — many of the less expensive ones don’t.

After unpacking, we headed a half block down l’Rue Odeon to the Breizh Café for tea and crêpes. We were able to an outside table — the place was packed. The crêpes certainly lived up to their reputation. The service — not so much. While my wife enjoyed her cup of tea, I was faced with an empty tea pot. (To be fair — it did have a tea bag in it.) It took a few minutes to get the waitress’s attention and finally get my ‘cuppa’.

Oct. 15, 2019 — The Luxembourg  Gardens & The Panthéon

Map #1

After a very nice continental breakfast, (The breakfast is free when you book online.) we headed towards the Luxembourg Gardens.  

Following a long tradition, Rue de l'Odéon is home to a number of small bookstores.

In the 1915 Adrienne Monnier open a lending library and bookshop, La Maison des Amis des Livres at 7 rue de l'Odéon, In 1922, her friend, Sylvia Beach, moved her bookstore Shakespeare and Company to 12 rue de l'Odéon. The two stores became a literary centre frequented by writers such as Joyce and Hemingway. (In 1922 James Joyce published Ulysses at Shakespeare and Company.) Shakespeare and Company was closed by the Nazis in 1941 and never reopened. (Look for the plaque to the right of the door on the 1st floor level.) Adrienne Monnier ran La Maison des Amis des Livres until her death in 1955.

It is an easy an easy walk to the top of rue de l'Odéon. Watch your step, the sidewalk is narrow and broken in places.

Rue de l'Odéon ends at rue Corneille. 2 rue Corneille is the home of the Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe. The theatre is one of France’s six national theatres. Built in 1779 it was opened to the pubic in 1782 by Marie-Antoinette. 

"Yogi" Berra is reputed to have said “When you come to a fork in the road — take it.”Â It is the same here. Both the road to the left or right will take you to the Luxembourg Gardens.

”The Jardin du Luxembourg, also known in English as the Luxembourg Gardens, is located in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, France. It was created beginning in 1612 by Marie de' Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France, for a new residence she constructed, the Luxembourg Palace. The garden today is owned by the French Senate, which meets in the Palace. It covers 23 hectares and is known for its lawns, tree-lined promenades, flowerbeds, model sailboats on its circular basin, and picturesque Medici Fountain, built in 1620. The name Luxembourg comes from the Latin Mons Lucotitius, the name of the hill where the garden is located.” (Wikipedia)

French Senate from Luxembourg Garden
French Senate from Luxembourg Garden 

The middle of October may not have been the best time to visit the garden — but it was still enchanting. Paris had been experiencing unusually warm weather before we arrived — that had suddenly changed. Overcast and cool, we only spent an hour wandering around the garden. 

Stopping only for a cup-of-tea we made our way to the Panthéon.

The Panthéon Palace is on top of Montagne Sainte-Genevieve. Buildings and monuments have existed on this site from Roman times. The current building was started in 1758 as a church. After the revolution it was designated as a mausoleum for France’s great and good. The walls are covered with tapestries depicting historical moments and statues of the heroes of the revolution abound. 

I was there for another reason — Foucault’s pendulum.

My daughter says I am the only person the world that would go to Paris just to see a pendulum. Maybe, but there were enough people standing and watching the pendulum. I wound up explaining the operation to two ladies from upstate New York.

Foucault's Pendulum
Foucault's Pendulum

Oct. 16, 2019 — Printemps Haussmann & Eiffel Tower

My wife likes to keep up on the latest fashions. One of the best places to see the latest Paris fashions is Printemps Haussmann — that would be our first destination for the day. 

There are two ways to get Printemps Haussmann from our hotel, metro and bus — Google gives the same travel time for each.

  • The Metro — this involved a transfer, with the distinct possibility of several flights of stair in lieu of elevators. 
  • The bus —  there was a direct bus just a few blocks from our hotel.

We chose the bus. Unless we are in a hurry, we prefer the bus, we get to see parts of the city that we would miss on the Metro.

Quick Tip:
  • A pack of ten tickets, called a carnet [“car-nay”] can be purchased at any Metro station or at a "Tabac". (Any store licensed to sell tobacco products)
  • Validate your ticket — Insert the the ticket in the box just behind the driver, wait for the green light. 
  • Keep your validated ticket. Failure to show it when asked will result in an immediate fine.

The bus stop was easy to find and a sign gave the expected arrival time. The bus arrived on time, since we had already purchased our tickets, we just had to validate the ticket and find a seat. The ride, however, left something to be desired. If the bus ever had shock absorbers they had long since died. I have had smoother rides on a hay wagon. Having ridden on the bus system in London, Singapore, Vancouver, Barcelona and Taipei — Paris busses are the worst. (But, for us, they are still better than the Metro.)

Printemps Haussmann

If you ever want to feel out of place, put on your best Walmart outfit, have your camera on a strap hanging from your neck and walk around Printemps Haussmann. 

The building is magnificent. Built in the 1860’s it is a monument to fashion and luxury. With nearly half a million square feet spread over three buildings and 25 floors, it was impossible to get any more than small sample of what was available. In addition to the floor displays, each of the major fashion houses had their own private viewing area. The staff were polite, but clearly bemused. Having no place, or desire, to wear what was on offer, we left after only a cursory look around.

Next to Printemps Haussmann is Galeries Lafayette, a slightly more ‘down scale’ shopping experience. 

Galeries Lafayette

If you only have time to visit one store on your trip to Paris, make it Galeries Lafayette. We were there by accident, but it certainly ranks as a ‘destination’ store. Prices are expensive, and eating at most of their restaurants would have blown our food budget for the entire trip. However, we did pick up some souvenirs and enjoyed a reasonably priced meal in their cafeteria.

Depending on which entrance you use, the first thing you notice is the spectacular view of the glass dome. On all six floors, the areas below dome are open. Around the opening are a series of balconies, one of which has a Starbucks. On the top floor a glass walkway extends over the opening.

Glass Walkway
 Glass Walkway at Galeries Lafayette

Access to the walkway is limited. Groups were let on for five minutes at a time. The man controlling access seemed to have a permanent scowl and was very selective about how many people were allowed on at once. When an elderly Asian lady approached him to get on the walk way, he just pointed to the end of the queue. A short time later two attractive young women approached and were given immediate access. 

There were only a few people ahead of me when I neared the head of the line — I looked at the fellow controlling the line and I knew I wouldn’t be going on next. Sure enough, even though I even though the group ahead of me was small and there had been larger groups allowed on — I was stopped and had to wait another five min. What can you do — I just grinned and shook my head —  I wasn’t going to let him spoil my day. (There is a review on TripAdvisor complaining about the same man.)

When I was finally let on the walkway, things got worse.

I had just started taking pictures when my camera stopped and the screen flashed “Memory Card Full”. I have even posted about the need to use multiple SD cards — yet here I was, using the same card for most of our trip. I did have another card, but this was not the place to be changing SD cards.

Eiffel Tower

Visiting the Eiffel Tower de rigueur when visiting Paris The #42 bus takes about 40 min. to go from Printemps Haussmann to Champ de Mars - Suffren, just a short walk to the Eiffel Tower. The bus goes part way down the Champs-Élysées, you get a quick peak of the Arc de Triomphe.

Getting off the bus we were deafened by two competing tour guides. Each with their own amplifier and over sized speakers. One was Mandarin the other, I think, was Korean — certainly I didn’t speak either one. There were three other tour bus disgorging their content. We were not interested in taking the elevator to the top of the tower and, as expected, the crowds were overwhelming so we took the required picture and went to catch the bus back to our hotel.

Adventure on the Bus

It was about 3 o’clock and we wanted to get back to our hotel before the traffic started to pick up. The #86 bus starts its route at the Champ de Mars bus stop. The problem is it also ends its route at the Champ de Mars bus stop. The bus stops are just on the opposite sides of the street. 

With a bus waiting at the stop, there was 50/50 chance of it being the one we wanted. It wasn’t. The driver was friendly, and pointed us to the right stop. As busses were being repositioned for the ‘rush hour’, a number of #86 busses passed us by before the ‘in service’ bus arrived.

Time to relax — we were on our way back to our hotel.

Not so fast!

Turning off Place du Président Mithouard on to Boulevard des Invalides the was explosion like a 12 gauge shotgun blast. This was followed by what, for me, was even a scarier sound, a high pitched hiss. Anyone who had ever driven a vehicle with air brakes would know that sound — a blown air line. No brakes and maybe no steering.

Fortunately, we were going slow as we rounded the corner, the bus coasted to the edge of the road. The driver was able to manually open the front doors and we found ourselves on the street without a clue to where we were. 

Two of the other passengers, sensing that we were completely lost, came to our aid. There was another bus that would take us passed the Luxembourg Gardens. From there we could easily get back to our hotel. 

Oct 17, 2020 —  Walkabout & Rodin

Walkabout

I Digress

I love the term 'walkabout'. While it maybe 'cultural misappropriation', I use it to describe going for a walk with no real purpose or direction.

The weather was miserable — cool with the occasional shower. Not the best day to go for a walk, but ‘What the heck.”Â

We started in the general direction of the Seine. While the Seine is  relatively short walk from the hotel, we started exploring alley ways and back streets, winding up at the Palais des Beaux-Arts on Quai Malaquais.

I knew Notre Dame cathedral was closed, however, I was hoping to get a picture of the plaque in the courtyard in front of the cathedral that marks the centre of Paris. Paris’s arrondissements  (divisions) radiate out from this point in a counter clockwise spiral.

The sidewalks were getting crowed as we made our way towards Pont Saint-Michel. As we crossed the bridge to ÃŽle de la Cité, I noticed a small crowd gathering at the foot of the bridge. There was a small police presence and the Quai du Marché-Neuf had been blocked to vehicle traffic.

As we walked passed the crowd, I could see it was quite elderly, a few were people carried flags while others had floral wreaths. The police were standing back from the crowd. I took a few pictures and headed up Quai du Marché-Neuf passed the Préfecture de Police to Notre Dame cathedral.

Paris massacre of 1961

Under orders from the head of the Parisian police, . . .French National Police attacked a demonstration of some 30,000 pro-National Liberation Front (FLN) Algerians. . . . [there were ] 40 deaths, . . . due to heavy-handed beating by the police,. . . police officers threw demonstrators in the river Seine.(Wikipedia)

 

Remembering the 1961 Massacre
Remembering the 1961 Massacre

As we approached Notre Dame I could see courtyard in front of the cathedral was fenced off — no chance of getting my picture.

Window at The Tea Caddy
Window at The Tea Caddy

There was a light rain — time for tea. (It is always time for tea.)

In 1964, after Sylvia Beach's death and on the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth, [George] Whitman renamed his store ["Le Mistral"] "Shakespeare and Company," which is, as he described it, "a novel in three words." (Wikipedia)

In 2015 he opened a café next to the bookstore. The store was only a few blocks from where we were. The plan was to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ and have tea at “Shakespeare and Company”Â.

We weren’t the only ones with that idea. There was a long queue just to get into the store. I don’t do queues unless I absolutely have to.

There was a small tea shop just around the corner called, appropriately enough, ‘The Tea Caddy’. Like many (most) buildings in the area, the building had a history. It was the home of the 17th century poet Issac de Laffemas. The decor was 17th century. While the furniture was probably reproductions the windows could have been original.

After a nice cup of Earl Grey and scones, we decided to head back towards our hotel, looking for a place to eat along the way.

Quite by chance, we found ourselves on Rue de la Harpe , a street lined with cafés and curio shops. The concept of ‘too many choices’ was playing itself out — what to do.

At the end of Rue de la Harpe, next to the McDonald’s, was just what we needed, a small, ‘hole-in-the-wall’ crêperie. There was already a queue for service, but the service was fast and the crêpes look delicious. Each crêpe was about 18 inches in diameter. Once the filling was added the the crêpe was folded in half, then in half again making a triangular shaped crêpe sandwich.

We bought two ham and cheese crêpes and took them to across the street to a small park in front of the Cluny Museum.

Street Crêperie
Street Crêperie
Quick Tip:
  • Always carry a little cash with you. While most stores will accept credit cards, street vendors don't.

 

Rodin

Le Penseur
Image by Douglas O'Brien

With four bus tickets left and long lineups at the Louvre, we decided to visit the Rodin Museum. Those of us of ‘a certain age’ may remember “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”Â on CBS. At the end of each show the title character gave a summary of events under a copy of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’. (Like Foucault’s Pendulum, just revisiting my childhood.)

It is about 0.5 Km from our bus stop to the entrance the Musée Rodin, about half that distance is along a wall that surrounds the museum. Rodin donated his estate which included an extensive art collection as well as his sculptures, to France providing his house was turned into a museum.

The Musée Rodin  was opened in 1919 and receives over 700,000 visitors annually. Even though parts of the garden were closed to the public, we spend so much time wandering around the garden, we didn’t have time to explore the paintings and sculptures within the museum.

 There were 28 castings of ‘The Thinker’ (‘Le Penseur’) made. This one has ‘pride of place’ at the entrance to the garden. Unfortunately, my skills as a photographer let me down. A big thank you to Douglas O’Brien for allowing the use of his picture.

Hôtel Biron 

Rodin lived at Villa des Brillants, which houses another museum of his works. His workshop was at the Hôtel Biron. 

The Hôtel Biron, known initially as the Hôtel Peyrenc-de-Moras and later as the Hôtel du Maine, is an hôtel particulier located at 77 rue de Varenne, in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, that was built from 1727 to 1732 to the designs of the architect Jean Aubert.[1] Since 1919 it has housed the Musée Rodin, dedicated to the work of Auguste Rodin. (Wikipedia)

Hôtel Biron from the garden
Hôtel Biron from the garden

Oct 18, 2019 — Leaving Paris

Our plane was scheduled to leave at 14:20 for Charles De Gaulle (CDG) airport. We like to arrive at the airport early — given Paris’s notorious traffic, we booked a taxi for 10:00. The trip to the airport took about an hour, leaving us plenty of time should things go wrong.

And, of course they did.

Our airline, Westjet, doesn’t have a fixed check-in area. I had checked online, and was able to confirm we were leaving from terminal one. We walked around the terminal, baggage in tow, but could find the Westjet check-in. After a long search I finally spotted the information booth. There was another bank of check-in areas one floor down. (I haven’t been able to find a detailed map of CDG online.)

Except in Canada, we have yet to go through check-in and customs without some sort of mix up. This time it was my wife’s turn to have problems. While I was able to scan my passport and get my boarding pass at the kiosk, my wife’s passport wouldn’t scan. After waiting inline for about fifteen minutes the ticket agent was able print my wife’s boarding pass. He also put the wrong destination on her luggage tag — fortunately I spotted that before it went onto the conveyor belt. 

To CDG Airport by Taxi — 2019:
  • There is a €7 charge for pickup at your hotel
  • The flat rate €50 (Right Bank) or €55 (Left Bank) includes luggage.
  • Allow an hour travel time.

Epilogue

After visiting Paris twice in the fall, I was looking forward to visiting there this spring (2020) —  COVID-19 made those plans impossible.

I still hope to return there. Paris is a fascinating city and we have barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer.