We figured since we had been in Paris 7 days, maybe we should take the free walking tour, recommended to us by Melissa. We made it to Saint Michel and saw a giant crowd gathering. We waited in line, got a ticket, bought a hat, and waited for the tour to start. They divided the tour into 3 groups of about 25 people.
Our wonderful tour guide was named Arnaud (he is an American whose parents gave him a French name, and who ended up marrying a French woman and relocating to Paris). He did a great job of leading us around the city, and it felt like we covered a lot of ground, even though it was less than 3 miles over the course of 3 hours. We saw Notre Dame, a really cool bridge, walked along the Seine, and walked across a bridge filled with “love locks” (apparently made famous by the finale of Sex in the City).
We walked into one of the courtyards of the Louvre, under an archway, and saw the giant glass pyramid for the first time. The famous architect I. M. Pei designed the pyramid and it was pitched to the city of Paris as an “invisible” pyramid. However, when it came to construction, the glass was too thin to support itself, and all the metal scaffolding had to be added, thus rendering the pyramid quite visible. The world may love this pyramid, but many Parisians still believe it’s an eyesore.
We continued on through the Jardin des Tuileries, designed by Louis XIV’s landscape architect, who also designed the gardens at Versailles. We passed the l’Orangerie, which is an incredible museum now, holding Monet’s famous Water Lilies, but it was created by Napoleon, because he missed having oranges since he was from Corsica. We headed to the Obelisk (Obelisque), where the guillotine once stood, making the streets run with the blood of many during the French Revolution of 1789. We finished up our tour, getting a glimpse down the Champs-Elysees towards the Etoile (the famous roundabout… cf. National Lampoon’s European Vacation) and the Arc de Triomphe. We finished the tour in a nice little park.
After the tour, Arnaud invited whoever wanted to join him to go to a nearby cafe for lunch. We went and sat with some other young people we had gotten to know a little bit during the tour – a Brazilian, an American from D.C., and a Canadian. We tried escargot (Nathan is a fan, Amy thought it was OK). It was nice just chatting and being able to give a bit of advice since we’d been in Paris the longest of those at our table.
Later, we ventured out to one of Sheila and Austin’s recommended bars, La Fine Mousse, which serves lots of great beer, including some French microbrews. It’s on a random corner but has a great vibe, with friendly bartenders with helpful suggestions, and tables spilling out into the street from a cave-like interior.
It was late afternoon when we got started with the day’s tourist activities. We headed to Montmartre, familiar to many Americans as the main setting for the French film Amélie. Our goal was to start at the top, visiting the Dalí museum and working our way down to the Amélie cafe. But it proved to be a bit more challenging than we initially thought. One of the metro stations on line 2 is under construction, and we thought that meant that line 2 didn’t continue running through that station. So, we took an alternate route that dropped us off on the east side of Montmartre in a busy neighborhood.
Paris is a city that is really a collection of unique neighborhoods. For example, the neighborhood where we are staying has a lot of Muslim residents and businesses. This is skipping ahead a bit in the timeline, but when Ramadan started (July 10th), the neighborhood completely transformed in the afternoon and evening. Participating in Ramadan means fasting during the day and breaking the fast at sunset. In the 11th district, this means that shopkeepers and vendors set out all sorts of food and people start gathering in the streets in the mid afternoon. People continue to pack in as dusk arrives, and there is lots of buying, selling and eating of food, and a general sense of merriment and cameraderie. On a side note, living in this area, especially during this time of year, has made us realize how small our circle of friends is and how we need to expand it.
So, back to Montmartre. We stepped out of the metro into an area with lots of immigrants from former French colonies in Africa. A completely different set of businesses, different colors, different sounds, different smells. This happens to you over and over again as you travel around Paris.
We continued on our atypical route up to the top of Montmartre, marveling at the view and at Sacre Cour, a church built on the highest point of the city of Paris. It took a little while of bumping through the crowds to find the Dalí Museum. It’s a small museum – no one is looking for it; there are just always tons of people in this touristy area where artists set up stalls to paint and sell their works just as they have been doing for over a hundred years.
Inside the Dalí Museum is a collection of the master surrealist’s sculptures and drawings. We are both fans of Dalí, and were very interested to see these works. They did not disappoint. Dalí created illustrated versions of many books, including Through the Looking Glass, Romeo and Juliet, other classical works, and even parts of the Bible. The illustrations combine Rorshach-like splatters of ink and paint with careful pen and pencil sketching and embellishments to entice out a surreal scene from the randomness of the initial blots. It’s a very cool effect. The sculptures are equally bizarre; it was fun seeing a three dimensional melting clock (like the ones in The Persistence of Memory).
After the museum, we went inside Sacre Cour, shuffling along with a river of other tourists. Signs instructed everyone to be silent (you are in a holy place), and absolutely no photos. So far, it’s really been the only place where you can’t take photos. There was a mass going on, with a priest reciting a Latin text. The interior of the church is very colorful, with stained glass windows and a large mural over the altar of a glowing Jesus with a glowing “sacred heart”, arms spread wide. Although the church appears to be old (stylistically), for Paris it’s brand new, having been constructed in 1875.
Outside the church again, we heard some cheering and noticed that everyone was looking down the hill. We made our way over to the steps and sat down, as it was an amazing view and it wasn’t clear what everyone had been cheering for. In about 15 minutes, however, it became clear, as a muscular athlete began to juggle a soccer ball with his feet, while standing on a relatively small pedestal (less than one meter square) next to a lamp post. The routine continued and became more complex as the crowd watched, cheered, and ooh’d and aah’d. He somehow managed to strip off multiple pieces of clothing while spinning, balancing and juggling the ball. Towards the end of the routine, when it felt like it was almost over, he jumped onto the lamppost, holding the spinning soccer ball, and climbed to the top. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, he then let go of the post with his legs (only holding on with one or two arms) and continued to juggle the soccer ball, periodically posing in impossible sideways positions like a talented Olympic gymnast or Cirque du Soleil acrobat, showing off his upper body strength. Like most street performers, he accepted donations after he was done. Many people walked up and gave him some money, shook his hand and posed for pictures with him.
We headed down the steps, picturing ourselves in Amélie, and encountered another… PARIS SCAM!!! This one is called The Friendship Bracelet. Men (usually African), ask you to hold the loop at the end of a bunch of string. If you do, they begin to weave a “friendship bracelet”, and at the end, you get a bracelet, and they get your money. Now, we’re not sure if somehow you are more likely to have your pocket picked during this since you’re holding something and your attention is diverted, or if you have a string tied around your finger and are at your mercy for whatever price they name. And perhaps it is just a friendship bracelet that costs you a few euro. But you never know. In any case, we steered clear.
We ended our day at happy hour at the Amélie cafe (Cafe des 2 Moulins). We had a few beers and listened to the live blues being played. We enjoyed the ambiance, sitting outside in this beautiful setting, watching people and taking silly photos of one another. On the way to the metro, we walked by the famed Moulin Rouge and took a picture (why not?). Many people enjoy shows in the Moulin Rouge. Tickets cost about 100 euro ($130 USD) so we decided to pass it up.
Above: Look Joel, a giant Babybel! Wine tasting at a little spot near the Palais Royal (small batches from local producers). Amy on one of the many “love lock” bridges that always crop up in cities.
All we needed was a good one-two punch of hospitality and friendship 🙂
A Refreshing Day
After our tough travel day Saturday, Sunday turned out to be really positive and refreshing. In the morning, we went to the “American Church” – yes, that’s what they call it on the map. It is near the American University in Paris, which may be why it’s called that. It’s a pretty old church… there are 50,000 expats living in Paris and for many, the church is the heart of their community. It may be the “American” church, but the pastor said well over 50 nations were represented in the congregation.
We went to the traditional service, which felt like a traditional Methodist or Presbyterian service; hymns, pipe organ, choir, doxology, scripture readings, sermon, offering, etc. It felt great to be in church. In all of our travels, this is the first time we’ve gone to church while abroad. The service was very welcoming and international in its focus, reflecting the international audience. And it wasn’t watered down, with the ultimate focus directed at our need for Christ both within the church as we love our brothers and sisters, and outside the church as we love the world. Specific time was devoted to praying for peace amidst the recent violence in Egypt.
The reason why we chose the traditional service is that there was a coffee hour afterwards, where we were able to mingle with some people. We talked with a young couple – an American woman who had been living in Paris for a year and her French boyfriend. After church, one of the church members stood outside where people were leaving and made sure everyone knew where they were going and gave suggestions if they didn’t. He told us we were very close to the Eiffel Tower, so we decided to go there.
So, it turns out the Eiffel Tower is tall. And impressive. There are many places in Paris where you just turn a corner or get to the top of a staircase and turn around, and there it is. It is quite magnificent. We bought a crepe and sat down near the base to eat it, then walked around taking photos. Today was just about basking in the glory of the tower; we’ll return and go up it before we leave Paris.
Sidebar: Paris Scam Alert!! It amazes me that these scams are still active, as they are well documented in every travel book about Paris. The one that seems to be popular around the Eiffel Tower is the “survey scam”. Young people, usually in pairs, will come up to you and ask very sweetly and mournfully, “Do you speak English?” or sometimes just “You speak English?” and then try and get you to sign some sort of petition for the rights of the blind, mute and deaf (or insert other cause here). If you speak English and don’t help them, they accost you with pleas for help. We’re not exactly sure what the scam is – maybe if you sign, your hands are occupied and someone else is going through your bags or pockets. Other times they’ll just flat out ask for money. Either way, the easiest thing to do is either ignore them or say “Non” and keep walking.
Near the Eiffel Tower is a little street that Rick Steves loves (we have his Paris guidebook) called Rue Cler. We decided to check it out, and even though it was Sunday and half the shops were closed, it was still quaint and charming. We ate lunch at a cafe – giant salads. The French cafe version of a salad is a huge bowl with a bunch of meat and cheese, and a few leaves of lettuce and other assorted vegetables. A hefty amount of food with sometimes incongruous pairings of ingredients (to an American, at least).
In the late afternoon, after our lengthy Parisian lunch, we headed to the Musee d’Orsay. The first Sunday of the month, many museums around Paris are free. So, the lines are long and sometimes they close the museums early if they are “overcrowded”. This was announced at the d’Orsay as we were standing in line, but the line was moving quickly and we made it inside. Faced with less than an hour, we decided to head straight for the 5th floor to the Impressionist exhibit. The d’Orsay itself is quite an impressive building, as it used to be a train station. There is a huge amount of art (many sculptures of Rodin-he donated his entire art collection to the state and so you can find amazing Rodin everywhere, more on him in later posts) and we just passed by most of it on our way to enjoy the brilliant collection of paintings by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, Pisarro, Seurat, and many more. Impressionism, neo-impressionism, cubism, pointillism… lots of the isms that we enjoy.
After the d’Orsay closed we walked along the Seine and stopped for a happy hour drink near the statue of St Michael. Then we walked to Notre Dame to check out the exterior and get some beautiful photos as the sun moved lower in the sky. Finally, a late dinner back at the apartment closed out our Sunday nicely.
We hung out and chatted all morning with Sheila, sharing a breakfast of bread, butter and jam… which the French call “tartine” and is what you eat when you have time. Which I think is funny, because it’s so easy… what do you eat when you don’t have time? Coffee. It was great.
Nathan woke up with a bad sore throat, sneezing a lot. We’re not sure if being in the musty cave the night before set off his allergies, or if he’s allergic to some plants, or the large amount of exhaust and cigarette smoke in the city. Or, it could just be a virus.
Sheila took us on a walk to the Bastille, where a large market happens twice a week. We picked up three kinds of cheese and some fruit, and Amy bought a scarf. With the addition of a baguette from a boulangerie (like a bakery) and a bottle of wine from a corner store, we had the makings of a perfect Parisian picnic. By the way, the corner store, which is teeny, has about as much wine as a grocery store! And, it’s very inexpensive. We spread our blankets, took off our shoes, and ate and drank in a grassy area in the Marais neighborhood.
After lunch we walked a lot more through the Marais. It was tiring, as our bodies are not used to so much walking. But we were very glad we had Sheila for a guide, and we wanted to take in the city instead of riding the metro everywhere. So, we walked. It’s sale month in France (and all across Europe) so every store has big signs that say “Soldes” (Sale). This only happens 2 times a year that stores are allowed to heavily discount their merchandise (After New Year’s is the other Soldes). The later in July it is, the better the sales. Some window shopping was followed by a visit to an incredible tea shop, where you can smell scoops of tea from around the world, all stored in antique containers lining the walls. There’s even a history of tea exhibit upstairs. We also stopped in to a showcase of unedited fashion photos from the early 20th century, in a bank (I think because the bank gave the loans to the designers/companies?).
After all the walking we were ready for happy hour, which we enjoyed at The Biarritz Cafe in our neighborhood. Lots of bars and restaurants have happy hour specials from about 6pm – 9pm, like in the States. We had beer and sweetened wine beverages, with peanuts to snack on, and chatted and enjoyed the ambiance while people watching… a favorite pasttime here.
Back at the apartment, Nathan and Sheila made a green curry chicken, which was delicious and quite spicy (we needed milk to help us get through it). We shared some more wine, and lots of bread. Amy contribute by playing the uke while Nathan and Sheila cooked.
We don’t know how we decide(d) to go to a country for three weeks where we don’t know the language. But it is hard. It’s not really a vacation but a different way of doing life a harder way, but perhaps better in the end. We’re tourists, but not exactly because we’re here to live for the month. We’ve never traveled in this way before. It feels a little bit like the bike trip because we’ve bitten off more than we knew. But it’s different because we’re staying in one spot for a while. It was great having Austin and Sheila around to show us their place and Sheila walking around with us yesterday. But it was a bit of a crutch. Nervous, but excited to be on our own. A normalish schedule. Going to bed a bit earlier and waking up earlier too.
Nate and Sheila got us pastries after stopping by the pharmacy to get some medicine for Nate’s sore throat. In France, you have to talk to the pharmacist to get any medicine – he or she is the “first responder” to sickness, and will “prescribe” over the counter medicine or suggest you see a doctor if it’s serious enough.
To allow Austin and Sheila time and space to pack for their vacation, we left the apartment to check out the huge outdoor market directly outside, which also runs twice a week (on different days than the Bastille market!). On our first pass, we just pushed through the throngs and observed. The vendors sing or shout or call out “un euro!” or offer you a slice of fruit, trying to entice you to check out their stuff. We didn’t buy anything on the first pass; we were just overwhelmed by so many people. We regrouped and came up with a plan, and went through again, this time buying produce for next few days for potato & leek soup, and other stuff. The closer the market is to closing, the cheaper the goods get. What was 2 euros 5 minutes ago is now 1. Pretty cool, but crazy.
After dropping off the food at home, we stopped by the nearby church again, this time going inside to see the beautiful stained glass and various icons. Then we went back to Parc de Belleville, where we played some music and tried to get wifi so we could blog in the park. There’s free but spotty wifi around Paris. There’s always lots of interesting people in the park. Nate was off trying to find wifi and Amy was playing uke, and a guy walked by. He was either mute or deaf – Amy’s guess is deaf. But he saw her playing and sat down, and they attempted to have a conversation. She doesn’t sign but she knows “thank you” and she tried to annunciate as much as possible. She was a little worried when he sat down, but instead of running off with Nathan’s things, he handed them to her so he could sit there. She kept on playing and he kept on trying to communicate. He put his hand on the ukulele to feel the vibrations and after she established that she was married (by pointing vigorously at her ring), his passion for the ukulele seemed to be dissuaded. They parted ways amicably in the traditional Parisian way of kissing on each cheek. It was all very strange, but also a bit normal. Nathan rounded the bend and sat down. Amy debated whether or not to tell him the story at all.
We headed back home to eat dinner and finish a blog post, before meeting up with Nathan’s friend Julien. We weren’t sure where or when that was going to happen. Julien spent 6 months in Orlando about 8 years ago, where he was working on computer graphics research at the same time Nathan was working for the Media Convergence Laboratory in Research Park. We all became friends back then and hadn’t seen Julien in that long, and were excited to reconnect. Julien invited us to meet up with him and his girlfriend Michelle down at the riverside of the Seine in an area where a lot of temporary cafes, restaurants and seating are set up in the summertime. In a few weeks there will be a temporary beach set up near there as well, with truckloads of sand brought in to create another space to hang out and enjoy the river, the sun and the warmth.
There were tons of young people hanging out along the river as the sun slowly set. Many had brought their own food and beverages and were sitting anywhere they wanted. Many more were sitting in the foldout sling chairs around the restaurants and bars. It was tough to find 4 seats together but we managed to after a little while, and sat down, had a few beers and caught up. It’s so nice to be outside in the evening here during the summertime, as the sun doesn’t really set until past 10pm and it’s light for longer after that.
We chatted for hours about many subjects, especially politics and where we should travel around France. It really felt like the 4 of us had been friends for a long time. Traveling has its way of binding you to each other and the people you meet. Strangers all around, so when a familiar face sits next to you, the connection is that much greater.
We slept in after a long and stressful previous day. Sheila and Austin have an espresso maker, so we had coffee and breakfast in the apartment with Sheila. Then we got up the nerve to go out into the city on our own.
We walked around near the apartment, with the skies threatening rain. We bought our first baguette to snack on. First, we went to Père Lachaise, a HUGE cemetery where we saw the tombs of Jim Morrison, Chopin, and possibly Georges Seurat. We explored less than 1/3 of the cemetery, the rest of which includes the resting places of Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, and other luminaries. After the cemetery, we walked to Saint Croix church, and the rain began to fall, so we went back home.
Not long after, we went back out, to Parc de Belleville. This beautiful, large public park is very close to the apartment. There is an amazing playground that looks kind of like an abstract pirate ship that has been built into the side of a fairly steep hill. This would never exist in the present United States, as it looked like an invitation to litigation. But the kids were having so much fun crawling and running in and out, up and down, and all around. The park also has beautiful rose gardens and beds of wild flowers. Kids were playing everywhere… we were definitely in the way but they didn’t seem to notice us. We climbed up the hill to behold an amazing view of Paris… our first real sight of the Eiffel tower. It was just magical, and surreal. We wandered back down, getting lost a little bit on the way home. We stopped by the grocery store, picked up supplies for dinner (pasta with homemade marinara sauce), plus a baguette from the boulangerie outside our door.
Late that night we went to a gypsy jazz jam. This style of jazz is called jazz manouche in French, and if you’ve ever heard Django Reinhardt you are familiar with it. The jam was at La Venus Noire, a bar with an underground cave. Young, amazing musicians played guitars, a saxaphone, a violin, and a cajon for a little bit. We met a bunch of wonderful people, including an Irish and Scottish Texan couple with a newly collegiate daughter. Also, a young lady named Immanuelle from a French island off of the coast of Madagascar, called Réunion. Her English was very good although she hadn’t spoken it much in the previous 4 years. She had relocated to Paris to find a job; there aren’t many on her island.