January 26, 2013

An American in Paris: Day Two

Day Two of our Paris adventure, began in a slightly unexpected way. Our original plan was to go straight to Notre-Dame, but we just had to see the Eiffel Tower during the day! Viewing it from the rooftop of Au Printemps and then seeing it close up at night became the teaser changing our plans. When we saw the small shops of the Christmas market below, going back to the Tower took precedent over Notre-Dame - at least for our first stop of the morning. You see, Christmas decorations and such seem to be removed by January 7 each year, and it was already the 4th. Didn't want to miss the opportunity.

A little stall at the Christmas Market.
The Eiffel Tower is facing it.

After a pretty good night's sleep but not 100% back in the groove, the Metro took us back to the Trocadero stop and the Christmas Market. We had intended a quick breakfast treat, something traditional. Instead, what caught our eyes in one of the small stalls were fresh macaroons in an array of flavors: orange, coffee, vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, and our favorite, cassis or currant. The very friendly chef explained that wrapped macaroons we saw for sale were actually stale and old, and the real French versions were always served when fresh and soft. (To me, it seemed on the consistency of a soft-baked cookie in the States.) Oh, the flavor! It'd be a treat that would satisfy my sweet tooth for the rest of the trip. And I'd be on the hunt for the fresh version once I was back in the States.

I'm just a bit tired,
but the display from one of the ski resorts
 made a great photo opportunity!

Wandering through the Market, we discovered much about the diversity of the city. Stall owners came from all parts of the world, displaying their wares with a wide variation of how the holiday was celebrated. Mulled spiced wine was everywhere, however.

One of the aspects of the city we appreciated was its emphasis on family activities. For such a sophisticated place, the French seem to always take the time to provide offerings for the youngest of children. Wintertime was no exception, and we stumbled upon a small snowshoeing course just for kids along with an ice rink. The kids and families enjoying themselves made the very grey skies much more pleasant!

Not a bad view to ice-skate by!

A special trip for some kids in daycare.

I was very aware of the passing of time at this point. The last two trips, time slipped by, and we missed going to the top of the towers of Notre-Dame by arriving after the last tour was available. This time, I was determined I wouldn't make the same mistake again. 

Walking down a few more streets, we traveled to the nearest RER station. In minutes, the train approached, and we hopped aboard for the stop we needed. Notre-Dame was an easy two block walk from where we got off. Gotta say, transportation is very easy, even if the stations are not always spotless or without a bit of graffiti- and the fares are much cheaper than even the Denver Light Rail!

There was a huge line to go inside the cathedral to see the beautiful Rose Window and such. We had already "done that" before, so we walked around to the side for the line to go up the towers. It was just as long. Someone said two-plus hours, but it was actually more like an hour and a half. Once we survived the almost 300 steps up a narrow staircase, the views of the city and the building itself were incredible. Well worth the wait. See for yourself:

That's Sacre Coeur in the distance.

The entire experience from walking up, touring, and walking down  tallied a little over an hour. Had it not been for the hunger pangs, we could have stayed longer. It really was pretty incredible!

We decided to do a bit of exploring and not eat at the cafe right next to the tower entrance. Smart move on our part! Our journey took us behind the building to a beautiful little street, yielding sandwiches of fresh baguettes, bright red tomatoes, lettuce, and rich brie, all presented in a tasty light dressing. Simple, hand-held, and delicious. It allowed us to walk and explore even more.

Who would have guessed this charming street
 would be found behind the cathedral?

Continuing on, we came upon a curious sight- hundreds if not thousands of bicycle locks attached to a small bridge. Many of the locks were inscribed with the initials of lovers as in the days of old when they used to be carved into tree trunks. Fascinating! Just on the other side of the bridge, an old man was playing "La Vie en Rose" on his guitar. It wouldn't be Paris without hearing it at least once, and we never grow tired of hearing it.

Locks of love and La Vie en Rose- so Paris!

Time to continue our walking tour. Saint-Germain-des-Pres was a previously unexplored destination. We were close by, so we took a leisurely stroll, delighting in our discoveries along the way. I took over 400 photographs in a four day trip. So much to look at, so little time!

Rooftops in a little courtyard gallery. 

We got happily lost and found this little carousel next to the fountain (below).
In a public square. 

Since we hadn't been paying attention to where we were walking, just following our instincts wherever we wanted, we really didn't know what we had stumbled upon. Turns out, it was Place Saint-Sulpice. Later we discovered the fountain was named Fontaine des Quatre Points Cardinaux, portraying four bishops that never made it to cardinal. Guess even those less celebrated are celebrated in  Paris!  

Since there was a funeral happening with a hearse in front of the church, we wanted to honor the family and friends of the deceased by not going in to sight see. It was late afternoon, and it seems as a reward for respecting their privacy, we later happened upon this beautiful little restaurant shown above. Notice the roof, the beautiful wrought iron work, and the delicate woodwork on each panel. One of my favorite little discoveries on this trip!

Cafe de Flore is a pretty famous dining establishment alongside the likes of Le Deux Magots. High prices come along with fame in the City of Light, and so do the crowds. It was nice to see these haunts of writers such as Ernest Hemingway.

Saint-Germain-des-Pres is stuffed with the most expensive of shops and restaurants. Hiding behind the Ralph Lauren store was this little covered arcade revealing what I'm assuming is the company's restaurant, Ralph's. It wasn't time for dinner, but this would have been one of the top contenders!

Ralph's restaurant on Saint-Germain-des-Pres.
Hidden off the beaten track.

Even in the most inclement of weather, Parisians eat and drink outdoors. Each cafe seemed to be filled with people regardless of the wind, light rain, or drizzle. Just toss on a coat, a scarf, and sit by a large space heater restaurant style. It works!

We continued to wander the city, every discovery bringing reason to stop and enjoy the surroundings. Bakeries begat more delicious  macaroons of even greater varieties of flavors, chocolate shops tempted us with their wares, and a stop at the local Starbucks was a tradition we wouldn't pass up.

We hopped on the Metro once again, heading out to another part of the city. Too much to explore. Night fell, and our bistro was a small one tucked between the intersection of three streets. We enjoyed a simple meal - including a mac and cheese concoction with incredible fresh French cheese- and watched the world go by. Seemed there wasn't a tourist in sight either inside or outside the restaurant. We were clearly in a "locals" zone. It was a perfect way to end the day... but we had one more thing to do.

An evening stroll from the middle of nowhere eventually led us back to the beacon of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. Incredibly, the line to go up to the top was short. It took us a total of 45 minutes to go from the bottom to  Level One and onto the top, including a short stop at Level Two. By this point in time, my camera battery had died. But I didn't bother crying over it. I was at the top of one of the world's most amazing structures with my lovely wife of 30 years, enjoying a spectacular view of the world's most beautiful city. Could it get any better? 

We walked down from the first level to the street all by ourselves, stopping at different points to admire the view and take in the richness of the evening. God has been so good to us! In the middle of a year of so much change, He had seen fit to bless us with this small trip that seemed out of reach. Long story there that I will not go into, but years from now, I know my children will read this and understand exactly what I am saying. He's been so faithful!

We walked back down the street, catching the evening light show on the Tower before returning to our small hotel. Tomorrow, we'd head off for a day at Disneyland Paris. It meant there were only two days left here before the business part of our trip, but there was no time to be sad. I was excited to see the most beautiful of Magic Kingdoms all decorated for Christmas!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

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