There is but one Paris and however hard living may be here,
and if it became worse and harder even – the French air
clears up the brain and does good – a world of good.
-Vincent van Gogh
The day after our lavish soiree into French wine culture, we boarded a TGV train for THE city. La Ville-Lumiére. Paris. Having ridden a TGV from Charles de Gaulle airport to Avignon upon our arrival in France, we efficiently found the proper seats in the proper car of the proper train. During the ride we tried to finalize our plans for when we would see each of Paris' many cultural and gastronomical attractions. With Hillary's proficiency in organization and my attention to detail, "planning" means tagging our guide books with color coded bookmarks for restaurants, cultural sites, and activities. Then I plotted each one onto a map of the city and geographically grouped them into itineraries to make efficient use of our time. Once in the city, we used our wizard city-folk skills to surf the Métro subway system to our apartment in the 8th arrondissement, between the Eiffel tour and Arc de Triomphe.
The 6.5 storied building, only a block from the Seine, has tall, slender windows with ornate, black, wrought iron railings over Juliet balconies. Leafy plants dangle through the railings, reaching for some of that fabled French air. Quintessential Paris. A friend of the landlord met us outside and let us into the building. Through the entryway of plush, blue carpet and past the heavy, gold-trimmed double doors we found a wide, carpeted stone spiral staircase. The 3 foot wide cage elevator, retrofitted into the center of the staircase, is older than most buildings in the US. After stuffing it full of our luggage (yay for carry-on bags!) and ourselves, we rode up to the top floor. Exiting (more like rupturing) the elevator, we went through a door into what appeared to be electrical room for the building. Gone were the lush carpets and gold trimmed doors. We followed a bare wood staircase past the electrical meters and fuse boxes into the unfinished attic. A hallway of bare drywall showed a row of doors down the length of the building. Then our guide showed us to our cattle stall "apartment".
Genie: "Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty bitty living space."
Based on the size of the Ikea futon, which completely filled the room when pulled out, the apartment is not much more than 50 square feet -- a quarter of the legal minimum for a 2 person dwelling in Kent County, MI. Laying on the futon, I could easily stretch the length of the apartment. This picture is taken from the doorway. Beyond the sink, by the mirror, is a stall shower. The kitchen counter with the induction burners is actually hinged to the left wall and folds up to reveal... the toilet. Because of the prominent location of the toilet, we quickly realized that we would probably, literally, shit where we ate. This was by far the most expensive living quarters we have ever rented.
But whatever, this is Paris. An apartment need only have a bed to crash on at the end of the day. So after finalizing some plans and getting situated, we took a walk. Across the Seine and around the Musée du quai Branly (featuring an art exhibit of the "modern" Americas: 1710-2010) we found this:
The next morning we walked up to the Arc de Triomphe -- stopping to get pastries and espresso of course.
The weather wasn't actually cold. The French wear scarves and coats unless it's blazing hot.
In spite of the construction, we were able to climb up to the top and take in the commanding view of the city through the morning haze.
180 degree panoramic view from the top of the Arc. What a beautiful day for a walk through the city.
Then we walked down Champs-Élysées -- originally built because the Queen wanted an exclusive shopping mall nearby. We perused some stores, did some people watching, and found Hillary's birthday present for next year: a $75,000 Mercedes convertible. Our walk took us to the Grand Palais, where we crossed the Seine and headed to Musée d'Orsay, which took some doing since all of Les Invalides seemed to be barricaded off for a diplomatic envoy.
Couldn't ask for better weather.
DC's National Art Gallery is pretty impressive, but Orsay has the world's finest collection of Impressionism, including Hillary's favorite, Renoir. Naturally, I prefer the precise realism of 17th Century Dutch painters, but I guess Renoir was pretty good too. It'll be a few more years before I get her one of those for her birthday. Just a few. On our way home, we swung by the Eiffel Tower again.
The next morning we took a stroll through the Latin Quarter, where many universities were located in the Middle Ages. The old, narrow streets are filled with colorful bistros and shops, with a handful of small parks where students still eat their lunches and relax. Which is exactly what we did for our lunch of savory crepes.
With our stomachs filled with deliciousness, we headed to Île de la Cité. Paris's final refuge against the attacking Romans, then the Huns, then the Merovingians, then the Vikings, etc, etc, is now best known for being the ground that holds up Notre Dame.
Yes Sam, lots of flying buttresses!
Also on the island is Sainte-Chapelle, a stained glass chapel built by Louis IX in the 13th Century to house his collection of passion relics, including Christ's crown of thorns. The upper level is entirely stained glass, casting luscious, rosy light on the gold trimmings.
This is less than one fifth of the stained glass.
To return home, we found a Vélib' bike share station. Risking life and limb, we biked down the busy streets and sidewalks of Paris, until we found a ramp to the service road where we could bike along the Seine. Oh yea, and we stopped by the Eiffel Tower again before returning to our "apartment."
Hillary and I travel for food. New Orleans, New York, Paris, we test the merits of each culture with our stomachs. We prioritize food on our trips, but in particular we dedicate a certain portion of our budget to one blowout, créme-de-la-créme experience. After our dare devil bike ride through Paris, we dressed up and used Uber to have a black sedan take us to our dinner. Restaurant Spring is frequently considered one of the best, most wanted restaurants is Paris. Thanks to Hillary's planning, we managed to get a reservation for two of their 30 seats even though they receive up to 1,000 requests every day. Each day, chef Daniel Rose crafts a new set menu, made fresh from local foods he picks up that morning. Turning away from haute french culture, the walls, floors, furniture, and dinnerware are all pleasantly plain as the entire focus of the meal is on the food. We chose to have his recommended wine pairings, each chosen to compliment the 6 course meal (especially appreciated after wine tasting in Burgundy). It is probably one of the greatest restaurants we'll ever eat at -- and Hillary refuses to know how much it cost.
Whew. That was the first few days in Paris. We'll round up our dream vacation in the final installment, Part 4: Big bridges and little bridges.