I have visited Paris five times (if you don’t count that one time I got stranded there on my way home from my study abroad program), and every single time I am happy to arrive again. This is the second time Dustin has arranged a surprise trip to Paris. On the first occasion he proposed to me (spoiler, I said “yes”), and this second occasion marks ten years of happy marriage (officially, as of the 21st).
Paris is a comfortable kind of foreign. We know (generally) its streets and its customs. We know a lot about its history and how to find a good meal. We know how not to be Those Horrible Americans making asses of themselves on the subways and in the cafes.
On the other hand, these days I remember only enough French to embarrass myself. Fifteen years ago (FIFTEEN!), at the end of my study abroad program, a French man in the Paris airport told me I spoke French beautifully. It’s been a downhill slide since then, the bottom of which was illustrated on this trip by the fact that I could not prevent Parisians from switching to English while talking to me.
No matter! We passed a beautiful five days in the French capital, visiting a few of the nooks and crannies I’ve missed on previous trips, munching on fresh pastries in the spring gardens, and toasting to ten years over meals fit for kings.
A few highlights:
We rented a tiny apartment on Rue St. Michel, just across from the Jardins Luxembourg, with a straight-on view of the Eiffel Tower. A perfect location and a perfect view.
All of Paris came out to sit in the parks on Monday, which was a beautiful, sunny day after a long cold spell. The fountains were full of water and toy boats, the gardens were full of flowers and pigeons.
Tuesday morning was our first chance to sleep in, and we took advantage of it. Then it was off to find the day’s fresh pastries and hot beverages, followed by a guided tour of the Opera Garnier, the opera house made famous by Gaston Leroux’s (and maybe, more, by Andrew Lloyd Weber’s) Phantom of the Opera. Most of the tour was dedicated to the astonishingly beautiful architecture and design of the building (called a “palace” for its grandeur) as well as its history, but our friend le fantôme certainly got a mention. We learned that the lake he supposedly inhabited below the Opera does not exist, but there is a pool of water down there, intentionally built by the architect to counterbalance the negligible weight of the interior stage area against the immensely heavy marble outer portions of the building. Also, it’s full of goldfish rather than murderous musical savants.
Dinner on Tuesday night was an accidental adventure, when I misunderstood the waitress’s explanation of what “rongles” were, confused “ris” with “riz” and managed to order myself a bowl of kidney and pancreas stew. House special!
Wednesday we headed down to the Catacombs, an ossuary established in an old system of mines after the cemeteries started becoming public health hazards in the 18th century. The remains of some six million Parisians are at rest down here, dating back to medieval times and beyond. It’s difficult to comprehend the enormity of it all, but it was very impressive nonetheless.
Thursday, official date of our anniversary, we took a train down to Giverny, home of impressionist painter Monet. We got off the train in Vernon and rented bikes to cover the last six kilometers to the gardens. What a fantastic way to see that bit of countryside and town.
We and six zillion other people then enjoyed a tour of Monet’s painting gardens and home-turned-museum. I’d visited once before, on a high school trip, but I don’t remember the gardens being anywhere near this magnificent. (Stand by for a LOT of photos.)
(Look! I’m a flower!)
Incidentally, while we were in Monet’s house, I found a new stove for my kitchen.
Friday we headed to the Grand Palais, one of the magnificent buildings constructed for the same World’s Fair that produced the Eiffel Tower. They were hosting an exposition on rare books and art prints. Dustin teased me, going in, that we might have to buy another suitcase before leaving, but all we could afford to do was gawk. The manuscripts on display were incredible. Everything from illuminated medieval Bibles to letters written my Napoleon. I paid less for my house than I would have paid for some of those books.
Next stop was a tour of the towers of Notre Dame, a wildly popular tourist activity in Paris that I’ve managed to miss every single time I’ve visited. Dustin wisely scheduled it for after public hours, which meant we (our group) got exclusive time on the towers.
The views were incredible, the gargoyles were delightful, but the very best was the bells. We only got to see the two in the south tower – Emmanuelle and Marie (catholic bells are named and baptized) – but boy, were they doozies. It used to take eight men to ring Emmanuelle. She is the oldest of the bells, cast in 1686. The other bells had dated to 1856, when they had been cast and hung during restorations after the French revolution, but they were recast in 2013, following 160 years of complaints from the choirs that the bells were ringing off-key.
The last stop of the day was for dinner in a restaurant called Dans le Noir, a dining experience that happens completely in the dark. It is staffed by blind guides who lead you through total darkness to your table, serve you a mystery meal that you cannot see, which you eat in the dark however you decide is best (I may have used my fingers a lot), and at the end, led back into daylight, you are shown the menu of what you ate. We don’t have any pictures (obviously), but the meal was delicious and the experience was absolutely fascinating.
And now, having gobbled down one last delicious pain au chocolate, we are en route to…. Istanbul! I am wiggling with excitement. Opportunity and exhaustion permitting, I’ll post slightly more frequent updates as this next adventure unfolds.