We left you with the “cliffhanger” on the last post. “The holiday continued to”… Paris! We had gotten a shot of warm weather in Athens over the beginning of the Christmas break, but decided that spending New Year’s Eve in Paris would be something we wanted to store in our memory banks while we are in France. When we had booked our tickets to Athens via Frankfurt, we booked our return flight to Paris. On Dec. 30 we bid Αντίο (ahd-yoh, sounds like adieu) to Athens and hopped on two Lufthansa flights to CDG (Charles de Gaulle) airport.
The flights went well, but it took us two hours to arrive at the hotel from the airport using the RER trains and the Metro. When we had worked on making our reservations back in November, it was slim pickings as far as available rooms around New Year’s Eve. We did our homework and booked what may have been the last available room in Paris at Hôtel de Saint Germain in the sixième arrondissement (Saint-Germain-des-Prés district). Not only was the weather a big change when we arrived, but we found the rooms in Paris tend to be, shall we say, smaller and much more expensive than in Athens. Le petit déjeuner is definitely not an Athens grand buffet and is not included in the price of the room. But, after all, this IS Paris!
New Year’s Eve was cloudy and cold, but still full of novelty for us. A wonderful museum that is not well known to tourists had been recommended to us by some of our French belles-mères. The Musée Marmottan Monet is located in a 19th century townhouse on rue Louis Boilly, (click on the English version at the bottom of the their webpage), and it was a warm, moderately uncrowded museum in which to enjoy Monet’s and other impressionists’ canvases.
The last evening of 2010 lay ahead, and we had made reservations for dinner at a cozy restaurant, Café de l’Alma. We boarded the train at the stop close to the hotel and arrived at the restaurant. After enjoying an excellent meal, we joined the people headed toward la tour Eiffel. By 10 pm, the crowds were starting to gather, and a carnival atmosphere was palpable. We watched the crowds grow and offered our services as photographers for excited young couples anticipating a night of revelry in the heart of Paris. Because we have welcomed a number of new years, by 11:15, we decided to head away from the boisterousness of the Eiffel Tower area and find a cozy spot on one of the bridges close to a Metro stop for a quick getaway after midnight. We stationed ourselves on Pont des Invalides, watched the flashing lights on the Tower, and popped a cork on a small bottle of champagne à minuit. The crowd was getting rowdy, and a young reveler shook his bottle before uncorking it and sprayed most of us with cold, cheap champagne—had it been Dom Perignon, I might not have been upset. Happy New Year! Finding a place on the crowded metro car headed in our direction, we traveled back to the hotel in the wee hours of January 1.
The next day, Paris was quiet and cold. Most of the usual tourist sites were closed because of the holiday, so we decided to spend the morning at Notre Dame Cathedral, looking at my favorites, the gargoyles, and the architecture. The square in front of the cathedral was bustling with tourists who had the same idea that we had—visit one of the only places open today. We joined the line that snaked around and made it into the church quickly. Une messe (a mass) was beginning, so we sat and enjoyed the music in this beautiful cathedral. As we sat there and breathed in the history and beauty of the 700-year-old cathedral, I remembered our last visit to Notre Dame in June 2001 and the beauty of the rose windows with the sun streaming through. No such luck on this gray day, but it was nonetheless breathtaking.
The Seine River figures so prominently here in Paris. It splits Paris in half—left bank, right bank—and of course, Notre-Dame sits in the middle of it on an island, lle de la Cité. There are 37 bridges (Click to see some of the bridges and their features) that cross the Seine in Paris, , three are pedestrian only, and two are rail bridges. They are truly works of art that often go unnoticed except for the more well-known bridges like Pont Neuf. I particularly like le Pont Mirabeau with its statues that seem to be climbing up the bridge out of the water. On some of the bridges there is a fad that the city is halfheartedly trying to discourage—lovers inscribe their names on a lock and affix these Love Padlocks onto the bridge and then dramatically throw the key into the river to seal their eternal love. This supposedly originated in China, but in Paris, the City of Love, this romantic gesture fits right in.
Sunday morning seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out St. Sulpice, a short walk from our hotel. Steve was well aware of the reputation of Le Grand Orgue from his pipe organ-building days back in New Jersey. The organist, David Roth, makes it worth your while to attend the 10:30 mass to hear him play and soak in the sounds of the organ that has been played by the best—Marcel Dupré and Charles-Marie Widor, among the masters.
First Sundays in France usually mean museums are free entry. We had forgotten that when we saw the line into the Musée d’Orsay, the premier Impressionist museum in France. This indeed was the first Sunday, January 2, and we waited in line a mere 40 minutes to see what was on display. Between a renovation that is underway and the loan of about 50+ Monet paintings to the Grandpalais for their exhibit, I was afraid we wouldn’t have much to look at. After about four hours at the museum, we came away without any disappointment. We left the museum with a hankering for some Italian food for dinner. Surprise! We found Pizza Vesuvio, (I couldn’t believe I found this video on YouTube!) and the equivalent of the holy grail in France, authentic mozzarella, on our pizza! See the egg on the pizza?
The TGV (train à grande vitesse that clicks along at 300 km/hour) was to return us to Grenoble for Monday, January 3, but our train wasn’t leaving until late afternoon. That would give us time for our plan to hit the Louvre complex. You may be familiar with the famous I.M. Pei pyramid as an entry into the Louvre Museum, but you may not know that there is a whole world below the pyramid including shopping, a post office, and an entrance to a metro and to the Tuileries. On a visit the evening before, we had found that we could buy our tickets for the next day with a small surcharge at le tabac. With those tickets, we could bypass the lines the next morning and enter by the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall—a virtual city with shops and eateries. Apple, McDonald’s, perfumeries, and bijoux stores, along with a Virgin Airlines bookstore, live right beneath the Louvre.
When we arrived underground the next morning, we stopped for un petit déjeuner and then looked for the coat check area. We had our luggage with us and were pleasantly surprised to find that the folks at the Louvre had thought of almost everything to accommodate the tourist. We were able to check our bags, including Steve’s laptop, which was a great convenience because we were planning on heading to the gare for our return to Grenoble right from the museum. Steve simply documented the laptop in a grand register book (by hand), and we were off on our tour.
We had decided which Louvre salles (rooms) we wanted to visit the night before and headed for some of the more famous pieces. I was glad that picture taking is allowed there unlike the Musée d’Orsay, where photos are prohibited. I jockeyed for position to take a photo of the Mona Lisa against a woman sporting a moustache and who looked like she could whip Mike Tyson in two rounds of bare-knuckle boxing. Neither of us was giving way, but by using my line-backer thighs and considerable weight, I won! (Yes. I was raised in New Jersey.)
Stopping in the Museum Café for lunch, we had a relaxing and satisfying meal before the crowds started around 12:15. We returned to the galleries and hit the Flemish and Dutch sections. By 2:45, we were tiring and decided to head to the train station, the Gare de Lyon. We collected our stuff from the coat and valuables check, took the métro to the station, and boarded the TGV. Three hours later, we were back in Grenoble after a fantastic trip to Athens and Paris. Life doesn’t get much better than that!
belles-mères :literally,step-mothers/mothers-in-law, but my affectionate name for the wonderful French women who are helping us along our journey in Grenoble.
à minuit: at midnight
un petit déjeuner: breakfast