Saturday, July 31, 2010

Nous sommes passées la journée près de notre domicile dans le Quartier Latin.

Today, we stayed close to home in the Latin Quarter. We took another City Free Tour, this time with Tamara, who was full of interesting information about our district, the 5eme Arrondissement. The Latin Quarter, as it is known, is an area named for the language spoken by the scholars who attended the universities in the district. It is located at the centre of Paris, on the Rive Gauche (left bank), so-called because of the left-wing political leanings of the students and academics who resided there.

I've already shown you some of the important sights in this area: Notre-Dame, the Panthéon, Shakespeare and Company bookstore. We visited those locations again today, plus many others which I will share.

We met at the statue of Charlemagne in front of Notre-Dame. Charlemagne was the King of France in the late 8th-early 9th century. He made many improvements to the country, which I will not describe here. I've included a link to Wikipedia in case you're interested in learning more.

I know you've already seen some photos of Notre-Dame, but I wanted to share a little story that Tamara told us.

Okay, see all those statues up there? They are statues of the Kings of France. The cathedral of Notre-Dame was constructed beginning in 1163 and ending in 1240-something, but during the French Revolution (1789-1799), parts of it were destroyed by revolutionaries who wanted to rid the city of references to the monarchy and the power of the Catholic church. They cut off the heads of those statues! New heads were added in the 19th century, and the original pieces are now on display in le Musée National du Moyen Age. (I am definitely going to see that!)

Next, we visited the Square René Viviani, which is the park I mentioned a couple of days ago. It is so pretty, with all the rose-covered arbours. And it has free WiFi.

Those roses smelled heavenly!

The oldest tree in Paris, dating from 1601.

The fountain in the centre is dedicated to Saint-Julien le Pauvre (also known as Saint-Julien de Le Mans) and tells the story of his life. Do you want to hear it? It's interesting, I promise.


When Saint-Julien's mother was pregnant with him, she and her husband were told that he would one day kill them. They disregarded the prophecy and he grew up as a normal child. One day, while he was hunting, Julien had a vision of a stag that shared the same prophecy with him. He was concerned and decided to move far away from his parents. He built a house, got married, and went on with his life, secure in the knowledge that since his parents were not close by, they would not be in any danger.

Then, someone told him that his wife was cheating on him. He was suspicious, but did not confront her. His parents were travelling and decided to stop in and visit their son, whom they had not seen for a long time. When they arrived at his house, there was nobody home. Since they were tired from travelling, they lay down in a bed for a rest while they waited for his return. Julien came home, saw a man and a woman in the bed and, believing it was his wife and her lover, killed them. The prophecy had come true.

To atone for his sin, Julien built a hospice on the left bank of the Seine River. He and his wife (maybe she wasn't a cheater after all?) cared for the sick and the poor, and ferried travellers across the river. Legend has it that one of the travellers was Jesus, disguised as a leper. Saint-Julien was forgiven.

I love these kinds of stories!

This is the church of Saint-Julien le Pauvre, which is adjacent to the square. This is the oldest church in Paris, built in the 12th century (begun in 1165).

We moved on to another church - Église Saint-Séverin - which is just around the corner from our apartment. In fact, it is the steeple of this church that I can see from our window. Remember the photo I posted on our first day?

Église Saint-Séverin is well-known for its gargoyles, although these critters can be found on many churches in Paris, including Notre-Dame. Gargoyles serve a practical purpose as well as a more ornamental function. They are waterspouts, designed to convey rain away from the stone walls, plus they were meant to scare people into being good. (If they do not function as waterspouts, they are not gargoyles - they are called grotesques instead.)

And, just up the road... the remains of some Roman baths.


Which are adjacent to Le Musée National du Moyen Age.

See - more gargoyles on this building!

When I was a teenager, my mother bought me a sweatshirt that said "L'universite Paris-Sorbonne". I loved that shirt and wore it until it wore out! Well, here it is - the Sorbonne. It is one of a number of institutions that make up the University of Paris.

And the chapel at the Place de la Sorbonne, built in honour of Cardinal Richelieu.

We walked up to the Panthéon next, but I already told you about that so I'll show you this instead:

This is the official building of the 5eme Arrondissement. Paris is made up of 20 arrondissements, which are organized in a kind of snail-shape (escargot) around the Seine River. These 20 districts hold about 2 million people. There are another 10 million living in the suburbs. I do not plan to visit the suburbs of Paris.

Every arrondissement has its own character and charm.

I'm going to show you yet another church. This is the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, which is located behind the Panthéon and contains the shrine of Sainte-Geneviève (the Patron Saint of Paris).


Yup... more gargoyles.

Almost done, folks. I didn't realize I had seen so much today.

Did you know that Ernest Hemmingway lived in the Latin Quarter? He did. Here's where he liked to drink (and write, I assume).

Hemmingway lived right around the corner. I took a photo of his house, but it didn't turn out very clearly, plus there's a porta-potty out front.

Our last stop on the tour was the Square des Arènes de Lutèce, the remains of an old Gallic amphitheatre (Gaul was the Roman name for France and Lutèce was the original name of Paris).

Arènes (arena) actually means "sand". The sand was ostensibly used to soak up the blood from the gladiator games (all those lions and Christians...).

So, that was the end of our tour and we said thank you and good-bye to Tamara. On the way home, we made another important discovery:

Voilà! Mes nouveaux souliers rouges que j'ai achetée pour 5€. (My new red shoes that I bought for 5 euro!) Sandi bought a matching pair - but we won't wear them at the same time ☺

Tonight we went out for supper to celebrate notre première semaine à Paris (our first week in Paris). Although, for some odd reason, I've been craving Italian food lately - pizza from Naples, gelato from San Gimignano, that fluffy white formaggio Parmigiano that just floats down to coat my pasta - we went to a (surprise!) French restaurant.

I have to tell you a joke here - it was one of my father's favourites:

Customer in a French restaurant: Garçon, do you have frogs' legs?

Waiter: Oui, Monsieur.

Customer: Well, hop on over there and get me a bacon sandwich.

I did order frogs' legs, but they were all out. Pity. Instead, I got the escargot.


That was some serious business, trying to get those rubbery little nuggets out of the shells without upending the whole mess onto my lap. But well worth the effort.

Dessert came with dinner, so there was no crêpe hunt tonight. Sorry to disappoint. No doubt there will be many more to come, though, so stay tuned.

Until next time... bonne nuit.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Nous sommes allées à la Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre

A few days ago, I found the website of City Free Tour so I reserved two spots in the Montmartre tour for this morning.

Sandi and I hopped on the Métro and headed to the 18ème Arrondissement.

The journey took about 12 minutes and, while we were hurtling along, I got thinking about the pubic transportation I've taken in other major cities - London, Rome, New York. They're all pretty much the same: smelly and seedy-looking, but extremely efficient. The Paris Métro goes nearly everywhere in the city for the small sum of 1€70.

We met our guide, Chris, and the rest of the group by the Métro station and headed across the street to the Moulin Rouge.


The tour was 2 hours long - up hills and down hills (some stairs too, but mostly hills) as Montmartre is built on a "butte". We saw some very interesting sights and heard fascinating stories of the area. You can click on the purple words if you want more information. Some people would rather just look at pictures than read all the history, but I'll add links when I can so if you're really interested, you can explore.

We saw the house where Vincent Van Gogh lived with his brother, Théo, before he went a bit crazy.

Then Chris told us the sombre story of these plaques that were affixed to the outside of elementary schools in Paris to ensure that citizens never forgot what happened to Jewish children under the Vichy government (who collaborated with the Nazis) in World War II.

I don't know if you can read that, but it says in the 18ème Arrondissement (District) of Paris, over 700 children were rounded up and sent to concentration camps between 1942 and 1944. If you want more information, this is an interesting site.

We also got an intriguing lesson on Parisien architecture, specifically the Haussmann style, which is known for the balconies on the 2nd and 5th French floors (the French do not count the ground floor as the "first floor" - our apartment is on the 5th French floor, which means it is five floors above ground).


The Moulin Rouge is not (and never was) a real, working windmill. But, the Montmartre district was known for its windmills. There are now only two remaining - les Moulins de Gallette.

The top one is a heritage site and is being restored, but one in the bottom photo is part of a restaurant.

Have you heard of Marcel Aymé? He was a French novelist in the early-to-mid 20th century. One of his most famous stories Le Passe-muraille centres around a character who had the unique ability to walk through walls. He believed it was a curse and went to the doctor to get some pills that would relieve him of this strange skill. However, he put the pills in a drawer and forgot about them when he realized that his ability would allow him (among other things) to visit his married lover without getting caught. One night he had a rendez-vous scheduled with his girlfriend, but he had a headache. He didn't want to miss the tryst so he reached into the drawer and took what he thought was a headache pill, but instead he mistakenly took one of the pills his doctor had given him. As he was walking through the walls to meet his lover, the pill began to take effect and he found himself frozen within the wall. That is how he was caught by his lover's husband.

This statue commemorates Marcel Aymé and it is considered good luck to shake his golden hand.

Paris's last vineyard, which used to be owned by the Catholic church but now belongs to the city.

And across the street, the Cabaret Lapin Agile - an artistic cabaret where people would meet to discuss art, philosophy, politics, literature. But not to party in the modern sense.It is necessary to make a reservation to drink and dine here, and most Parisiens don't bother with it.

The summit (in more ways than one) of our tour, was a visit to la Basilique du Sacré-Coeur.

You may have noticed that I like to climb things. Today I climbed about 234 very slippery and narrow steps from the base to the dome of the cathedral.

It was well worth the effort and the 5€ to go up there. Look! Another Eiffel Tower sighting!

Afterwards, Sandi and I climbed down about a million more stairs to get back to the Métro so we could head to our "home" in the 5ème Arrondissement.

Crêpe update!

I had my very first crêpe of the trip today for lunch. It was a crêpe salée (savoury) rather than a crêpe sucrée (sweet) - champignons et fromage.

Mushrooms and cheese.

Mmmmm... so good!

Sandi had one too. We're not sure if this will be her "Crêpe du jour". She might need another one for dessert.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Aux Champs Elysées

Today we strolled along the Champs Elysées, which apparently is the most expensive strip of real estate in Europe.

We browsed in some shops.

And avoided some others.

Cool window displays, but a little bit out of my league.

We stopped for tea at Ladurée (click to check out their website - go ahead; I'll wait here for you).

Thé Earl Grey de Fleurs for me. Thé Marie-Antoinette for Sandi.

Plus three little pastries. (There were three... I forgot to take the photo before I started eating.)

(I stole these photos from the internet - I was not allowed to take pictures of the pastries.)
I am going back the day before we leave to buy some macarons and tea to take home.

Then we walked to the Arc de Triomphe.

You have to go through an underground tunnel to get there from the Champs Elysées.

That makes sense - would you want to brave the traffic in le Place de l'Etoile? Traffic comes from twelve different directions (the points of the star).

(I stole this photo from the internet, too)

And I climbed up to the top - two-hundred and eighty-four stairs! (Sandi took the elevator.)


What a magnificent view!

Can you see La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre on the hill? We are going there tomorrow.

It seems no matter where we go, we can get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.

The Champs Elysées, looking east towards the Louvre (that great big palace at the end).

Always look UP!

I know you're dying to know what kind of crêpe Sandi had tonight, so I won't keep you in suspense any longer.

Honey and Almonds

The rating statistics so far:

#1 Nutella (x2)
#2 Honey and Almonds
#3 Butter, Sugar and Hazelnuts
#4 Butter, Sugar and Cinnamon
#5 Caramel

(For those of you who are keeping track.)

Well, it's late (almost midnight - I might turn into a pumpkin), so I will wish you all a bonne nuit et des beaux rêves... à bientot!