Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Week in Paris (Part Deux)

Houseboats along the Seine, near Ile St-Louis
So by now, I can safely say we've become professional flâneurs, those who roam around with no particular agenda, taking in the scenery and enjoying the beautiful weather.  After a few days where there were occasional rain showers, Thursday was absolutely gorgeous, sunny in the low 70’s – perfect weather for more strolling! 

Hôtel de Ville, much fancier than City Hall in Westfield!
After munching on some delicious ham, egg & cheese crêpes in St-Michel, Kasey and I walked all the way up past Hôtel de Ville (city hall) to the St-Paul metro stop where my parents had rented an apartment when they visited me last time.  There’s a really cool store there called ConfoDeco where they have all sorts of interesting home furnishings, and I found this cute ceramic owl to take with me to Forbach as a reminder of my time spent in Paris.  

Delicious pastries in the window of "Aux Désirs de Manon," one of my favorite pâtisseries in Paris
From there, we headed back to the neighborhood where we went to classes at Sweet Briar and ended up sitting with our feet up on a chair in the Jardin du Luxembourg, where we were consequently scolded by an older lady who was mad that we were putting our feet where people sit…even though she clearly didn’t look around us because everyone else was doing the same thing!  We sat basking in the sunlight, enjoying the peace and quiet, the trickle of fountains and the chirping of birds. 

Jardin du Luxembourg, with the French Senate building in the back
It's hard to take bad pictures when you have such gorgeous subject matter to work with!
Enjoying a break in the sunshine
Apparently this is forbidden, but just for us
Beautiful flowers with Le Panthéon in the background
 Le Panthéon, getting a facelift
I enjoyed yet another French delicacy at Les P’tites Indécises in the Oberkampf neighborhood: parmentier de boudin noir.  In layman’s terms: blood sausage!  That’s right folks, sausage filled with blood.  This dish in particular was especially delicious – a fluffy layer of chunky mashed potatoes was topped with ground up blood sausage, smothered in a light sauce made from apples and onions, YUM!!  It’s really a matter of mind over matter, because if you can get past the idea of what you’re eating, you can really appreciate how great it is.  That’s one of my mottoes while traveling: step outside your comfort zone and try everything at least once, otherwise you might miss something great!  I had had boudin noir before and loved it, so it was great to give it another go.  And remember, just because it’s something we don’t eat at home doesn't mean it’s necessarily bad!  Keep an open mind and you never know what discoveries you’ll make!

My parmentier de boudin noir! Yum yum yum!
Strolling along the Canal St-Martin
Next, we walked over to the Laudrette Théâtre next to Canal St-Martin to go see a play by the existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre called “Huis Clos” (“No Exit”).  This was a play I had read a couple times for various classes in college and found really interesting; the play’s tagline is « L’enfer, c’est les autres »  (“Hell is other people”).  Existentialism’s philosophy has to do with the fact that your actions define who you are, and that pretending you’re something other than you are is pointless; one must live life "authentically."  The play is centered on 3 people who are in the author’s version of hell: they are locked in a hotel room after they die and stuck with each other for eternity, while they all despise each other and can never close their eyes to go to sleep.  And while their hell lacks fire and brimstone, each person drives the other ones crazy.  It might sound strange to those who are unfamiliar with Sartre’s work, but believe me when I say it’s a very interesting play – this coming from someone who despises reading theater to begin with!  And to top it all off, I had found the tickets on the French Groupon site and they only cost 9€ each instead of the usual 19€…I remain a bargain hunter even in foreign lands!

Waiting for Huis Clos to begin
Friday – you guessed it, more strolling! I almost wish I had a pedometer to track how many miles we walked throughout the course of the week.  Paris is only half the size of Boston, but I’m pretty sure we took enough steps to cover the equivalent of all its streets!  That morning I made a solo voyage to Musée d’Orsay, home to the works of the Impressionists & a place where I spent lots of time during my semester here.  It’s a shame you can’t take pictures of the artworks inside, because they’re simply incredible! But, there is this amazing site by Google, called ArtProject, which uses its familiar street-view technology to give visitors virtual tours of lots of the world’s museums, even providing the viewer with extreme close-ups of the art; Musée d’Orsay happens to be featured on this site!

Inside Musée d'Orsay, housed in a beautifully restored former train station
Click here to take your own virtual stroll through the museum! The first floor has sculpture, pre-Impressionist and early-Impressionist works, while the second floor houses post-Impressionist works, and the fifth floor shelters the magnificent Impressionist works.  Using the panel on the left-hand side of the screen, you can select which floor to look at and then click through on the right side of the screen to “walk” around.  Really amazing stuff, I could spend all day on this site!

The window behind this clock offers amazing views of Paris
And, for a great example of the super-zoom feature that belongs to lots of the collection’s more famous paintings, check out this.  If you roll over the smaller version of the painting on the right side of the screen, you can move the slider to zoom waaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy in, and then move the little box around on the smaller painting in order to see amazing details of the real painting.  With this Renoir, you can see every little brush stroke, and even right down to the texture of the canvas in some spots. Bravo, Google, you've outdone yourself once again!
Sacre-Coeur as seen from the clock window
We grabbed some sandwiches on crispy baguettes and then walked over to Ile St-Louis’ famous ice cream shop, Chez Berthillon, for a refreshing afternoon treat.  While their ice cream is a little pricey – pretty sure I paid a bit more than 4€ for two scoops on a sugar cone – the taste is to die for!  A velvety scoop of dark chocolate perched atop some salted butter caramel ice cream…miam miam!  Buyer beware: many cafés on Ile St-Louis advertise that they sell Berthillon’s ice cream, but don’t be fooled!  Go straight to the source: it’s on the main drag almost all the way at the island’s farthest end from Ile de la Cite, with a brown façade on the right hand side!

Chez Berthillon
Enjoying our glace from Berthillon’s we meandered down along the Seine to the Jardin des Plantes, Paris’ botanical gardens.  While the peak season for blooming flowers is behind us, they did have a lovely garden full of dahlias and sunflowers, making for a picturesque afternoon. 

At the Jardin des Plantes

Right around the corner from the park is one of the city’s ancient Roman vestiges: Les Arènes de Lutèce.  Tucked away around the block from the Jussieu metro stop you’ll find the remains of an arena/amphitheater built to hold 15,000 people during the 1st century AD, when Paris was then the Roman settlement of Lutetia (or Lutèce, en français).  Now more of a park with free wifi access and a place where kids kick around soccer balls down on center stage, les arènes aren’t the only remnants of Antiquity still visible in Paris.  Les thermes de Cluny, remains of a large bath house, are located near the St-Michel neighborhood and form part of the Musée de Cluny, a museum highlighting works from the Middle Ages.  There’s also the crypte archéologique located under the square in front of Notre-Dame – while I’ve yet to visit it, I hear that there are excavations from Roman times as well as settlements from the Middle Ages here…it’s definitely on my To-Do List next time I’m in town!    

Les Arènes de Lutèce
Part of Les Thermes de Cluny
We decided to save a bit of money that night by cooking at our apartment.  Kasey, Eric and I concocted a gourmet feast of chicken with sautéed peppers and onions cooked in a red pepper pesto sauce, all served over rice, had a bottle of wine each, bread with an expertly-selected cheese plate, and finished it all off with some cheesecake topped with blackberry glaze.  Our apartment at 125 rue de la Glacière may not have been a 5-star restaurant, but it worked for us!
Our gourmet home-made dinner!
You can see the Eiffel Tower's spotlight from our living room
Saturday was my last full day in Paris, so I got up early and once again returned to Montmartre, easily one of my favorite neighborhoods.  Although it can be crowded with tourists at times, the area is so artsy and quirky that I can’t help but love it.  Paris is a relatively flat city, but Montmartre is the one spot where it gets a little steep – literally meaning “hill of the martyr,” you get a good workout walking up steep sidewalks and climbing endless stairs to reach the top, but the view and cultural attractions found there are definitely worth it. 

One of the neighborhood's many street performers
Oh, Paris...
I had just recently discovered that there exists a Musée de Montmartre.  Housed in an old building once home to Renoir’s studio, the museum exhibits a vast array of posters, paintings, drawings and lithographs all from the hands of artists who called Montmartre home at one point or another.  

Fresh pears waiting to be picked in the museum's gardens
Through the artwork you get a sense of the convivial atmosphere that pulsed through the neighborhood during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  From posters advertising entertainment venues like Le Chat Noir and Le Lapin Agile to sketches of burlesque performers dancing the can-can by Toulouse-Lautrec, this relatively small museum had a surprisingly impressive array of artwork on display. 

An original poster from the collection at the Musée de Montmartre
The property also includes Les Jardins de Renoir (“Renoir’s Gardens”), whose various characteristics provided the inspiration for some of his most famous paintings.  For example, the swing in the backyard was central to Renoir’s “La Balançoire,” and when you take a seat in the yard, with a bit of imagination, you can almost see the artist posed with his easel and palette just beyond the tree…

Renoir's "La Balançoire"
The swing from his garden, serving as his inspiration
The backside of the property is home to one of Montmartre’s best-kept secrets: les vignes.  I had no idea that Paris still had a fully-functioning vineyard in its boundaries, but my nose led me to the sweet smell of ripe grapes and voilà.  While the vineyard isn’t open for visits, I hear they have a harvest festival there sometime in October where you can volunteer to help pick the grapes right off the vines…maybe I’ll add that to my bucket list?

Les Vignes de Montmartre
Harvest season's right around the corner
And then it was once again time to pack all my life away back into my 2 suitcases, for Sunday I was finally moving to Forbach.  I’ll attribute my superb packing skills to all the time I've spent playing Tetris on my phone over the years…

"In an old house in Paris, covered in vines..."

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