Friday, June 30, 2006: This morning, we run to a patisserie for pain de raisins and then to Starbucks, where we sit at outdoor tables and enjoy watching fashionable Parisians stroll past. After gathering our bags, we take a taxi to the Hotel Invalides to Europcar, where we pick up our blue Renault Laguna, squeeze our luggage into the trunk, and take off for Normandy.
The drive is straightforward and uneventful, although I’ll never get used to the speeds on European roadways. We stop for a nice lunch at a roadside stop: for me, a salad with chicken, corn and cheese. We have trouble locking the driver’s side door, and after finally figuring it out, we realize we have to do it manually every time. What a pain!
We make a stop in Arromanches before heading to our hotel in Normandy, the northern region of France corresponding to the former Duchy of Normandy. This area grew out of various invasions of West Francia by the Danish, Norwegians, Vikings, and the Anglo-Danish in the 9th century. Normandy began in 911 as a fief, probably a county, in the sense that it was held by a count (Wikipedia: Duchy of Normandy).
The name is derived from the Vikings (“Northmen”), who settled the territory from the 9th century. For a century and a half following the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, Normandy and England were linked by Norman and Frankish rulers (Wikipedia: Normandy).
We see the artificial port remnants from the Normandy campaign in World War II. We have 1664 beers at an outdoor cafe then stroll through the little town. We also treat ourselves to eclairs and croissants at a boulangerie/patisserie.
During the Second World War, the D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches, under the code name Operation Overlord, started the lengthy Battle of Normandy, eventually liberating Paris and restoring the French Republic. These landings were a significant turning point in the war.
Normandy’s population is around 3.45 million, accounting for 5.5% of France’s total population (in 2005) (Wikipedia: Normandy).
Lower Normandy is predominantly agricultural in character, with cattle breeding the most important sector (although in decline from the peak levels of the 1970s and 1980s). The bocage is a patchwork of small fields with high hedges, typical of western areas. Upper Normandy contains a higher concentration of industry. Normandy is a significant cider-producing region, and produces calvados, a distilled cider or apple brandy. Other activities of economic importance are dairy produce, flax (60% of production in France), horse breeding (including two French national stud farms), fishing, seafood, and tourism (Wikipedia: Normandy).
The region is bordered along the northern coasts by the English Channel. There are granite cliffs in the west and limestone cliffs in the east. There are also long stretches of beach in the centre of the region. The bocage typical of the western areas caused problems for the invading forces in the Battle of Normandy (Wikipedia: Normandy).
We drive on to the Manoir d’Hérouville and check in to the pigieonnier. After moving into our rooms, we take naps, since we feel a little drowsy after our long drive and the beers in Arromanches.
In the evening, we go out for dinner at a lovely French restaurant called La Grignotiere, where the chef greets us personally. We have Picot biere accompanied by mackerel and salmon spread on bread. My meal is wonderful: noix de lotte au chou vert et au lard fume (walnuts with green cabbage and smoked bacon). The boys loved their brochettes of beef. Alex liked his profiteroles (cream puffs), but Adam didn’t care for them.
Back at the pigieonnier, the boys encounter a “huge” spider, so they’re afraid to sleep upstairs in their loft. Mike brings a mattress downstairs and the boys camp out watching the video Cool Runnings. We fall asleep with a cool breeze whispering over our heads.
Thursday, June 29: This morning, Mike and I go out for a 3 mile run in the Luxembourg Gardens. Then we go to a patisserie and Starbucks for breakfast with Adam before we shower. We bring Alex, who stayed in bed, some pastries. We then take metro to the Rue Cler Market near Invalides and the Eiffel Tower.
At Rue Cler, we pick out raspberries, strawberries, pears, apples and nectarines, along with a baguette and pain du campagne, brie and Gouda. Mike and the boys get sodas from a market. Then we walk to the esplanade (park) near Invalides (Place des Invalides) and eat our picnic. Mike and I enjoy a petite bottle of wine in the shade, sharing bread and brie and the fruit.
We don’t open the Gouda because we plan to snack on it later. I pack up the food into two of the bags and the trash in the third. I take the trash bag and Mike and Alex pick up the other two. A garbage collector in front of us changes the trash bag and into the new bag, I throw my trash bag. Mike says, “What are you doing?” and he tries to pull out my bag. “Oh no, what’s this?” he says when he realizes it’s trash. “Where’s the other bag of food?” It turns out he thought he had the bag of trash and threw it away. And the trash collector just hauled it away, along with our Gouda and bread.
We all give Mike a bad time about throwing out a whole block of Gouda and our late afternoon snack for the rest of the day.
After our picnic, we take metro again to the Louvre. On the way we pass the offices of Air France, the wonderful airline that carried us here to France, and numerous monuments and statues.
We also walk across one of the many bridges over the Seine and watch boats cruising down the river.
The Seine is a 776 km (482 mi)-long river and an important commercial waterway within the Paris Basin. There are 37 bridges within the city and dozens more spanning the river outside the city (Wikipedia: Seine).
We take the boys to the Louvre, but they don’t show much interest in it. Adam doesn’t want to go in, but he wants to see the glass pyramid and he takes a bunch of “artistic” photos of it. Mike and I spent a long time here in 2003, and since the boys are bored and antsy, we don’t stay long.
The Musée du Louvre —in English, the Louvre Museum or simply The Louvre—is one of the world’s largest museums. It sits on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 1st arrondissement (district). Nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 60,600 square metres (652,300 square feet). With more than 8 million visitors each year, the Louvre is the world’s most visited museum, according to Wikipedia.
The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace which began as a fortress built in the late 12th century under Philip II. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1682, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection, including, from 1692, antique sculptures. During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum, to display the nation’s masterpieces.
The museum opened on 10 August 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings, most the works being royal and confiscated church property. The size of the collection increased under Napoleon and the museum was renamed the Musée Napoléon. After the defeat of Napoleon, many works seized by his armies were returned to their original owners. The collection was further increased during the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X, and during the Second French Empire the museum gained 20,000 pieces. (Wikipedia: The Louvre)
After visiting the Louvre, we walk back to our hotel. On the way, I separate from the boys and go on a mini-shopping spree. I buy on shirt on sale, “soldes,” and two pairs of shoes “soldes” at Salamander. They’re really nothing interesting, just more of what I already have. The place where I buy the shirt is so crowded that while in the queue I try on the shirt over my T-shirt in front of a mirror in the corner. Other women are doing the same. I don’t know why, I’m surprised to find French women swarming at a sale just like American women.
I meet the guys back at the room and we nap for a bit. We make a stop at a sidewalk café for some drinks. There’s a cute French couple sitting beside us. I’m envious that they’re flirty and cute and have lots to talk about. I want to be the girl, young and French and cute and in love.
How I love the cafés of Paris! I’ve been twice to this beautiful city, and I could be perfectly happy just sitting at a café all day, watching people, drinking coffee, beer or wine, and writing the day away.
We eat dinner at Tokyorama near our hotel. It’s pretty good but they give Mike my tuna and when I ask for my tuna, they say they already gave it to us and Mike ate it. I say, “Je ne comprende pas,” and they repeat it and laugh. I think they think I’m lying and just trying to get free food. That pisses me off especially since it’s their mistake that they gave my food to Mike and Mike had no idea what things came with his meal. I insist we not leave a tip, although you’re only supposed to tip 5% normally. Sadly, my non-tipping doesn’t punish them much.
We stop for glaces. Later we return to our hotel room and gather our belongings together for our trip to Normandy tomorrow.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006: This morning, we all have a rude awakening. We’re sitting at the Brioche having croissants when we see the proprietaire ushering a decrepit old woman out of the restaurant. The woman sits at an outdoor table and keeps trying to light a skinny cigar. She lights the match and holds the flame about an inch away from the end of her cigar. One time she holds four matches and lights them all together, but she still holds them too far away from her cigar to set the cigar afire. Soon she gives up and takes a T-shirt out of a bag. She then starts undressing. She pulls off her pants first so her bottom is bare. She stands up, giving everyone a first class view of her sagging buttocks! Alex and Adam are totally disgusted.
“What a way to ruin my day!” Alex says.
The woman has on what looks like a hospital gown under a T-shirt. I say it looks like she’s escaped from a mental hospital and is doing a quick change. She takes off the hospital gown and puts on the T-shirt from the bag. She has a T-shirt on under her gown too, so at least she never gets naked on top.
A rather shocking episode on our first true morning in Paris!
We get on metro heading to Montmartre. Montmartre is a 130-meter high hill and surrounding district, in the 18th arrondissement in the north of Paris. It is primarily known for the white-domed Sacré-Cœur Basilica on its summit and as a nightclub district.
When we arrive by metro in the district, we walk through the busy streets lined with tacky shops. We climb the thousands of steps to Sacré-Cœur, where midway we’re accosted by African guys who swarm all around us trying to make us braided bracelets. Alex is the only one who allows them to make one for him. The guy wants 2 euros for it, but Mike only has 1.20 euros. He tells the guy, “I couldn’t even afford to buy my kids a drink earlier.”
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica is a Roman Catholic church dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A popular landmark, the basilica sits atop the summit of the Montmartre, the highest point in the city.
After sweating and huffing our way to the top, we sit quietly in the church and look up at the mosaic of Jesus and his gold heart.
The Sacré-Cœur Basilica was designed by Paul Abadie. Construction began in 1875 and was finished in 1914. It was consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919. (Wikipedia: Sacré-Cœur, Paris)
By the end of the 19th century, the district had become the principal artistic center of Paris, frequented by artists such as Camille Pissarro, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and African-American expatriates such as Langston Hughes. These artists worked in Montmartre and drew some of their inspiration from the area.
Since Montmartre was outside the city limits, free of Paris taxes and no doubt also due to the fact that the local nuns made wine, the hill quickly became a popular drinking area. The area developed into a center of free-wheeling and decadent entertainment at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. (Wikipedia: Montmartre)
After leaving Sacré-Cœur, we walk around the square in Montmartre where all the artists are set up. We buy two watercolors of Sacré-Cœur and the Eiffel Tower. We eat lunch in the middle of the square. I have a salad with warm goat cheese. Yum!
In a little shop downhill from Montmartre, I buy a turquoise flowered wrap shirt and Alex buys a cool looking hat and a T-shirt.
After lunch, we wander around Montmartre, where we come upon this cool sculpture, Le Passe-Muraille (the Passer-Through-Walls). Le Passe-Muraille is the title of a story by Marcel Aymé about a man named Dutilleul who discovers that he can walk through walls. (Cool Stuff in Paris: Le Passe Muraille)
We stop in to visit the Montmartre Cemetery (Cimetière de Montmartre), which is built below street level in the hollow of an old quarry, with its entrance on Avenue Rachel under Rue Caulaincourt.
A popular tourist destination, it is the final resting place of many famous artists who lived and worked in the Montmartre area. Some artists and famous people interred there include Edgar Degas and Alexandre Dumas.
We head next to Moulin Rouge, the famous cabaret, co-founded in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller, who also owned the Paris Olympia. It is marked by the red windmill on its roof.
Moulin Rouge is best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance revue evolved into a form of entertainment of its own and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe. Today, Moulin Rouge offers musical dance entertainment for visitors from around the world. (Wikipedia: Moulin Rouge)
We take metro back and have drinks at Les Éditeurs, a hybrid cafe, restaurant, bar and library with over 5,000 floor-to-ceiling books. Feeling a little sleepy from our drinks, we head back to our rooms for naps. Later, we have dinner at Creperie des Arts, where we unanimously decide we like crepes best for dessert. We then take the metro to the Pont-Neuf station to visit the Arc de Triomphe.
We pass some lively street musicians on our way.
We make a stop at the Arc de Triomphe but sadly, I don’t take any pictures of the Arc itself, as I took pictures of it when I was here in 2003. What am I thinking? Now, when I travel I take hundreds of pictures, even if I’ve been to a place multiple times. This evening, I only take pictures from the top with a view of Paris.
Beneath the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I, interred here on Armistice Day in 1920. It has the first eternal flame lit in Western and Eastern Europe since the Vestal Virgins’ fire was extinguished in the fourth century. It burns in memory of the dead who were never identified (now in both world wars). (Wikipedia: Arc de Triomphe)
We walk back along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées until we reach a metro stop. After we return by metro, we find a glacé place, where I enjoy a delectable walnut caramel glacé.
Monday, June 26, 2006: Today, our family leaves Washington, D.C. bound for two weeks in France. This is the first time we take our sons, Alex, 15, and Adam 13, to Europe. My mother-in-law drops us off in the pouring rain at Dulles International Airport.
I’m wearing black knit gauchos, a white stretch lace-top cami and a gray knit hoodie; it’s just like wearing pajamas!
Our flight is relatively uneventful. We sit in row 44 in the back of the plane; I sit squeezed between the two boys. I sleep fitfully for maybe 2-3 hours, probably helped by the Valium I often take while flying. Before going to sleep, we watch Failure to Launch with Mathew McConneghy and Sarah Jessica Parker, which is just okay.
On flight, the flight attendants serve dried-up ravioli. Adam refuses to eat at all. He also refuses to eat breakfast. Alex, on the other hand, eats everything heartily.
Tuesday, June 27: After arriving in Paris, we take the shuttle bus to the hotel, where we meet a guy who works with a friend of ours at the U.S. Geological Survey. We leave our luggage in the luggage room at our hotel, Grand Hotel des Balcons, and head out for brunch. We’re starved! Alex, Adam and I eat omelets and Mike has rarebit. Luckily we only have to walk around a short while because our hotel room is ready by 1:00.
We check in, take naps and showers, then we venture out to explore Paris, heading first to the Île de la Cité, one of two remaining natural islands in the Seine, in the city’s fourth arrondissement.
Our first stop, Notre Dame de Paris, also known as Notre Dame Cathedral or simply Notre Dame, is a historic Roman Catholic Marian cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité. Widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, Notre Dame is the cathedral of the Catholic Archdiocese of Paris. The cathedral treasury is notable for its reliquary, which houses the purported crown of thorns, a fragment of the True Cross, and one of the Holy Nails — all important relics of the Passion.
Notre Dame de Paris is often reputed to be one of the most prominent examples of Gothic architecture in both France and in Europe as a whole. The first period of construction was from 1163 into 1240s. During the radical phase of the French Revolution in the 1790s, much of the cathedral’s imagery was damaged or destroyed. An extensive restoration removed remaining decoration, returning the cathedral to an ‘original’ Gothic state (Wikipedia: Notre Dame de Paris).
We want to climb to the top of Notre Dame, but sadly we just miss the cut-off to climb.
Since Mike and I came to France three years earlier without the boys, I don’t take any pictures of the outside of Notre Dame on this trip because I had taken many photos during our 2003 trip. Sadly, at the time of this trip, I wasn’t so much into photography as I am now. I don’t take advantage of the many photo opportunities offered by Paris. 😦
The South Rose Window, a central element of Notre Dame that looks over the transept façade, was constructed in 1260 as a counterpoint to the North Rose Window, which was built in 1250. Like its north sister, the South Rose Window reaches 12.90 meters in diameter and, if you include its bay, a total height of nearly 19 meters. This rosette is dedicated to the New Testament (Notre Dame de Paris: South Rose Window).
We stop for an early dinner at The Brioche Cafe, where we have pizzas and wine. 🙂
After going to Notre Dame, we head to Shakespeare and Company on Paris’s Left Bank (Shakespeare and Company). Having been an English major at the College of William and Mary and having attended an exhibit on Hemingway’s life at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, I was keen to see the place where Hemingway and other famous writers from the 1920s gathered to share ideas and get inspiration.
The original Shakespeare and Company was opened by Sylvia Beach on 17 November 1919. During the 1920s, it was a gathering place for writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford. It closed in 1940 during the German occupation of Paris and never re-opened.
In 1951, another English-language bookstore was opened on Paris’s Left Bank by American George Whitman, under the name of Le Mistral. Much like the original Shakespeare and Company, the store became a focal point for literary culture in bohemian Paris, and was frequented by many Beat Generation writers.
In 1964, after Sylvia Beach’s death, Whitman changed his store’s name to Shakespeare and Company in tribute to the original venture. He described the bookstore’s name as “a novel in three words,” and calls the venture “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore.” Customers have included Henry Miller, Richard Wright, and Anaïs Nin. The bookstore includes sleeping facilities, with 13 beds, and Whitman claims as many as 40,000 people have slept in the shop over the years. Regular activities that occur in the bookshop are Sunday tea, poetry readings and writers’ meetings. Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, now runs the shop. George Whitman died at the age of 98 on December 14, 2011. (Wikipedia: Shakespeare and Company (bookstore))
We happen upon a store, Diwali, where I bought scarves the last time we were here three years ago. This time, I buy two pink scarves. We also buy a lot of postcards and stamps and a phone card at the post office.
We then head to The Eiffel Tower, built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, which was to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the French Revolution. It was constructed in 2 years, 2 months and 5 days, a great technical achievement. It was a feat of French engineering personified by Gustave Eiffel, and a defining moment of the industrial era.
It was only intended to last 20 years, but Eiffel encouraged scientific experiments that saved it, in particular the first radio transmissions, followed by telecommunications. Since the 1980s, the monument has been regularly renovated, restored and adapted for an ever-growing number of visitors.
The Eiffel Tower is France’s symbol in the world and today it welcomes nearly 7 million visitors a year (around 75% of whom are foreigners), making it the most visited monument that you have to pay for in the world (La Tour Eiffel: The Eiffel Tower at a Glance).
We have to wait in line for nearly two hours to get to the top level, where we eventually have grand views of Paris. The second level would have been fine, because the top level is indoors and extremely crowded. There are lines to go up and lines to go down at each level. It’s frustrating! Alex says all along he doesn’t want to go to the top, and then he keeps saying, “See, I told you it wouldn’t be worth it!”
Because of our long wait, we’re able to see the monument all lit up after dark, which is something different for Mike and me. Some of these pictures are taken by the boys, who have fun taking artistic pictures.
When we return from the Eiffel Tower, we find Creperie des Arts on rue Saint-Andre-des-Arts, where we have dessert crepes topped with ice cream, chocolate and Chantilly (whipped cream). After this, it’s quite obvious that the French beat Spain in the World Cup soccer game. Everyone is in the street celebrating, yelling: “Allez! Allez! Allez!” People are honking, dancing in the streets and singing. So much unleashed energy!
Even after we return to our hotel and get into bed with our windows open, we can hear the celebration. I fall asleep to a cool breeze and joyous honking on the streets.