My Tuesday began with a very pleasant and civilised breakfast at La Villa. Met a friendly Scottish family and a quiet German couple who are also staying here. Marie, the owner, is very friendly and accommodating and switches between English, French and German without the slightest pause. I keep meaning to ask her how many languages she actually speaks.
In line with the theory that the best thing to do is fill up on the free breakfast so that you don’t spend too much on food throughout the day, I was trying to eat as much as I could, and made a pretty good effort I think. But even after the three cups of coffee, the pain au chocolat, 2 small croissants, a bowl of Special K and a baguette with cheese I had barely made a dent in what Marie provided for me, and was feeling very full. Just as well there was lots of walking to be done!
I headed out towards the Cité Universitaire, and on the way was captivated by the beautiful Parc de Montsouris. It was so quiet and lush and pretty that I just enjoyed meandering through it, feeling the sun on my hair and the coldness on my face. It was a wonderful day, weather-wise; not hot, not too cold, a bit of cloud, a bit of sun. Great for wandering around.
As you may know, my sense of direction is atrocious. So because I went into the park I got a bit confused and missed the Cité Universitaire metro stop. But thankfully, Paris isn’t really that big and if you walk a little way in any direction you’ll soon come across a metro or bus stop. So I kept walking past the elegant and stately university buildings until I found the next metro, and caught it to St Germain des Prés.
I came out at the St Germain des Prés church, which is the oldest church in Paris. It was closed so I couldn’t see inside. The square outside it is all cobbled and opposite is the legendary café Les Deux Magots, where all sorts of famous writers and artists used to congregate. I doubt that many go there these days though, as the coffee is 4-5 euro for what you could get elsewhere for 1. So I didn’t stop there, but appreciated the fact that I was wandering around where Oscar Wilde used to hang out.
I was meeting Camilla in an hour, so decided to wander along the Boulevarde St Germain des Prés. Of course I ended up walking in the wrong direction. But that was fine because I got to see lots of lovely shops and soak up a beautiful part of Paris.
One place I was pleased to stumble across was Alexandra Sojfer’s shop, which I had read about somewhere. She makes parapluies et ombrelles – parasols and umbrellas. They are the most incredible objects, just holding them you know they are perfectly formed and something to treasure. However. I don’t think I would ever pay 480 euro for a parasol, no matter how gorgeous (yep, you read that right. That’s about AU$820). Still, I was glad I went into the shop; it’s whimsical and lush and you feel just hearing Alexandra speak, that you’re listening to a true artisan (Karen, you would have loved it).
I turned around and walked back in the right direction towards Notre Dame, where I met Camilla again. I introduced her to my travelling companion Totoro, and she delightedly photographed us together (though it looks like I am trying not to spit something out of my mouth, I can assure you the odd expression is just because I’m mid-laugh).
We wandered around again, as we had the day before. We had lunch (baguettes with ham and cheese), and then I made her come to the Île-St-Louis so we could try the Maison Berthillon ice cream. I had canelle (cinnamon) and it was divine.
We meandered through the Marché Aux Fleures, a flower market on the Île de la Cité. There are a few little glass-roofed arcades full of flower shops, and the effect of all the colour and scent of springtime is very pleasing indeed.
Then to the bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. It’s the sort of place I could spend hours; books up to the ceiling, lots of people browsing, a helpful and knowledgeable staff (the woman behind the counter was Australian, oddly enough). I bought a copy of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, had it stamped with the shop’s seal, and desperately wished I could go to their festival in June, which will be on Memoir and Autobiography.
Camilla had to go to a job interview on the other side of town, so we parted ways. She recommended I go to Sainte Chapelle, as it beat Notre Dame hands down for beauty. I must admit I haven’t really done a heap of research about this trip and so the name wasn’t at all familiar to me. According to the website,
In 1239, after two years of negotiations, Louis IX bought Christ’s crown of thorns from Beaudoin II, the Emperor of Constantinople, for a considerable sum. In 1241 he acquired some more relics from Byzantium and decided to build a monument worthy of such treasure, within the Palais de la Cité itself.
Despite this dubious little factoid, I lined up behind an American couple who soon took to chatting to me (some people find the thought of a woman travelling alone distressing and feel the need to include her). They were going on about the crown of thorns but I had no idea what they were talking about. When they mentioned the Da Vinci Code and said the professor in that would have been able to answer their questions, I just smiled and pulled out my book and started reading. This didn’t really deter them from talking at me and inviting me to climb the Eiffel Tower with them, but I just kept smiling politely and then made a break for it once we got past the security checkpoint.
I climbed a narrow winding staircase, not really knowing what to expect, but when I emerged into the chapel itself, my heart started to beat fast and my breath was literally taken away (and it wasn’t from climbing the stairs). The room is long and high and because the walls are essentially windows, it is just filled with the most glorious light. It’s like being inside a jewelled box and no photo can do it justice. It wasn’t especially crowded, and there are single rows of chairs lining the walls so you can just sit there quietly and look up at the panels of glass. Which I did, for about half an hour.
I later ventured into Notre Dame and pretty much left straight away. I have been there before, and was impressed by the huge round stained glass window, but after Sainte Chapelle, it was dark and crowded and oppressive and pointless.
I wanted to go back to the Musée d’Orsay so headed off in what I thought was the right direction down the Seine, but of course it was the wrong direction (this is a recurring theme). That was fine, though, because by that stage many of the bouquinistes, who run the little bookstalls by the side of the Seine, had opened up their stalls. I meandered along, looking at books and souvenirs, taking photographs, and just revelling in the fact that I was in Paris, walking along the Seine.
I eventually reached the Musée, but was very tired by that point. I went in, but it was so crowded. The last time I was there was in winter, and it wasn’t too bad. But this time there were tour groups of American teenagers and other throngs of people just pushing and shoving around. Nobody really seemed to be looking at the art for very long, and it was too stressful if you did want to look at the art. So I left.
I went down to the metro station to see whether that line went anywhere interesting. And with no other plans, I decided to go up la Tour Eiffel.
It was busy, but not too busy. Well, by that I mean that I only had to wait in the ticket queue for half an hour instead of two hours. And then when you get up to the second floor and change lifts for the top floor, you have to wait another 45 minutes or so. But hey, you have to do it. It was spectacular of course, and very cold. And I was stuck in the queue in front of an extremely irritating American family, who complained about the height of it. “I’m going to hate it when I get to the top…I already hated coming up sideways in that lift.” The mind fairly boggles. Why. Why would you do it?
It’s funny trying to get yourself in photos when you’re on your own. You don’t want to smile too enthusiastically (or at all) because you kind of look like an idiot. I quite like seeing how I can frame the shots though.
It occurred to me that many people come to propose at the top of the Eiffel Tower. I really don’t know why though, unless you could swing it at a time of day when it wasn’t crowded. It was very beautiful up there, but not especially romantic. Maybe I’d think differently if I actually had a boyfriend, but I don’t think so.
Above is the general area that I walked around today – and off to the top of the photo. Queued again to get downstairs and realised I was absolutely ravenous. Claire had made me promise to get a nutella crepe on her behalf, and I had no idea what she was talking about, but when I saw the crepe stall opposite the Tower, I made a beeline for it. And oh. The crepe au chocolat was the most divine thing; hot, runny chocolate wrapped up in a crepe and scoffed while sitting on a wall under the Eiffel Tower. My my.
I had been walking for almost 10 hours by this stage. I didn’t think I was that tired until I got down from the Eiffel Tower and my legs were sore and aching from having just stood in a queue in the cold all that time. So I headed for home, and stopped between the station and La Villa for dinner (at 9pm) at a cute little restaurant called La Bouche a Oreilles (which means, literally, ‘the mouth has ears’. Hmm). I had lamb with chips, a lovely glass of Cote du Rhone red wine and the most incredible créme brulée.
By the time I got back to La Villa, my body felt like it had been pummelled by a thousand tiny fists. I had a hot shower, checked my email, crawled into bed and was probably asleep before my head hit the pillow.