Monday, 19 July 2010
Oxford Travel Diary: "L'Edition Paris"
Bonjour, mes amis! I am newly returned from my trip across the Channel, where, I am delighted to report, I found Paris to be entirely bewitching- the art, the chansons, the baguettes and puff pastry, the bridges and fountains, and the multicolored bateaux cruising up and down the Seine.
My train arrived Saturday morning at Gare du Nord, and I was thrilled to see this fellow waiting at the depot:
First up was a quick stop at Hotel Therese, which was very conveniently located within walking distance of nearly everything on my 'must-see' list, and lovely to boot, with a cozy library, chilled champagne in the lobby, and a huge, ancient gold room key, adorned with a decorative tassle. How quaint! After depositing my superfluous bags, it was time to hit the ground running. Due to its size and our time constraints, Phil and I made the executive decision to skip this museum:
Instead, we made a beeline for the left bank of the Seine and the Musee d'Orsay, where, after browsing the works of Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, and Renoir, we were treated to a combo of French musicians, (complete with accordion player!) while eating quiche and baguettes on the museum steps.
Following this light lunch, we strolled over the Pont Neuf to Ile de la Cite, where we toured Notre Dame Cathedral, taking a brief respite to enjoy the choir.
Next, we crossed a smaller bridge to arrive at Ile St. Louis, home to the celebrated Berthillon ice cream, as well as the most enchanting collection of candy-colored storefronts- cafes, patisseries, boulangeries, confiseries, and fleuristes. We ambled up and down the narrow streets while savoring our ice cream cones, (Phil: L'abricot, Me: Le framboise...)
Soon it was time to change for dinner, for me that meant my puffy-skirted blue and white 'Bastille Day' dress. We took the Metro up to Montmartre, and I literally mean 'up', as this historic district (and home of Amelie!) is the highest point in the city, crowned by the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur, which affords incredible views of Paris, and is thronged day and night with residents and tourists alike, there to take in the skyline as well as the bohemian ambience that is still alive and kicking in this quarter known for its cabarets, (including the Moulin Rouge), in addition to the numerous singers, poets, and painters who have lived and worked in the neighborhood. We had dinner at La Maison Rose, a pretty little Parisian cafe immortalized in an Utrillo painting. After sampling escargot, I dined on a fromage et champignon omelette, salad, baguettes, and a glass of vin blanc. For dessert it was deux cafes, followed by a crepe stuffed with Nutella.
Note to the makers of Nutella: Je t'adore. Vous etes tres beaux.
Note to George: I am changing your name to Nutella.
After dinner, we wound our way up the steep Rue des Saules to Le Lapin Agile, a cabaret dating back to the mid-1800's, painted and frequented by Picasso, where we were ushered up a handful of steps, past a burgundy velvet curtain, and into a cramped and dimly lit room. Spectators lined the perimeter, some huddled at long wooden tables, drinking kir, singing along in french, and clapping time with the accordion player. She performed, at times accompanied by a pianist or by the owner, who would poke his head in for a song or two, a number of French classics made famous by the likes of Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet, etc. It was such good fun, and a little after midnight, Phil and I left, gliding back down the hill, wishing for all the world that we could sing in French, (Well, maybe that was just me...), and making big plans for the next day.
Sunday morning, we indulged in a traditional "continental breakfast", which includes fresh juice, croissants with preserves, tartines, and, in my case, a nice big mug of chocolate chaud.
We ate outdoors at a cafe near La Sorbonne, and afterward walked the couple of blocks to Jardin du Luxembourg, adjacent to Luxembourg Palace, where clever Parisians flock on weekends and sunny days to lounge in the most beguiling 1920's green metal chairs, surrounded by formal gardens, apple and pear orchards, and gravel paths and swathes of lawn dotted throughout with statues. In the center of all this sits an expansive octagonal fountain, where the children of Paris float their model sailboats. C'est charmant!
Making our way back through the Quartier latin, we found ourselves in the middle of an outdoor market, crowded with peddlers proffering all the makings for a very fine picnic- wines, pastries, fresh fruits and vegetables, and more exquisite cheeses than even I could dream how to serve, though I am certainly not above trying.
We finally made it over to Shakespeare and Company where we bought our postcards, lingered in the tiny rooms, thumbed through a book or two from the precariously stacked piles, and then took advantage of the cafe tables and chairs out front to lament our misfortune that Dylan was not one of our party, (yes, we did), and to watch the passersby.
Phil and I ended our day, and our weekend excursion, at another sidewalk cafe, with yet another French classic, the Croque-Monsieur. Then we bid our adieus to each other and to Paris and I hopped back on my train.
I am very sorry to report that I have retained no photographic evidence of Phil in his (tres chic) black scarf, smoking his hand-rolled cigarettes, and sipping his espressos. Quel parisien!
I am also loathe to admit that in the past week I have toured Avebury, Stonehenge, and Salisbury Cathedral, but in the shadow of Paris, am now struggling to remember any items of singular interest to share with you, diary readers. My apologies to the Church of England. And to any neo-pagans or Druids who may be reading.