Paris – The Tourist Circuit I

October 2018

Arc de Triomphe at Place de l’Étoile at the top of the Champs-Élysées, a national symbol, but I had no plans for making a trip just to see it. I am not a big shopper. I find it tiring. Besides, my bags were overflowing from all things India. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées therefore held no special spot in my itinerary either. The LO fell asleep as we tried to find the stroller friendly way out of the Louvre, so we decided to skip the Jardin des Tuileries and go get a drink instead. Few minutes later we were on a subway to Champs-Élysées and when we get out we are at Place de l’Étoile, right at the Arc de Triomphe.

Raising a toast in Paris is an art like everything else. Use tchin tchin with your friends and everyone you’re on a “tu” basis with as a fun replacement of the more traditional “à ta santé” and “à votre santé” and semi-casual “santé”. Tchin Tchin!!

When we are done with our drink, it is time to head over to the Eiffel Tower for sunset. Years ago (in 2014) I wrote a blog post on the Esplanade du Trocadéro being better spot for photos than the top of the Eiffel Tower itself. That image of the plaza, with its fountains, pink skies and the Tour Eiffel stayed in heart. In the years that followed, the hundreds of Instagram pictures at the staircase messed my head up. We walked out of the subway station with no idea which way to go. I ask two security guards with my best lost face “Trocadéro Jardin?” They respond with, “Tour Eiffel?” and point us in the right direction. I just don’t get why they say Paris and Parisians are tourist unfriendly. We reach in time for sunset, but there are dark clouds looming and there is the eminent threat of rains. The tall slim frame, the lace like lattice work, the tower is as elegant and sophisticated as the proverbial French people. We didn’t have pink skies, but the light drizzle that followed adds its own charm to the moment and drama to the pictures. We watch as the lights on the tower go on.

The carousal here let’s adults ride. There is a wedding photoshoot in progress. The husband opts to stay out and take a picture while the LO and I go on her first carousal ride. I think she loved it.

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October is a wonderful time to visit Paris. The summer crowds have gone and the winter hoards are yet to descend on the city. It’s not too hot or too cold. We have the most perfect weather imaginable on our trip, bright, sunny, cool enough to not miss air conditioning, yet warm enough to not warrant a jacket. We are out all day, every day. We wake up late and breakfast on baguettes, croissants, orange juice and coffee; reach our first stop in time for lunch.  Our time is divided between attractions and parks. We walk into little cafés for a drink in the evenings. Explore some more. Meals are a leisurely affair. Again, must be a cultural thing. The wait staff take their time to come to you and simply disappear after serving your order. The bill is left on your table, in case you are in a particular hurry.

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Paris – Victor Hugo ; Literature and Architecture

October 2018

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Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in the world. Standing here at sunrise, I see how delicately embellished and ornate the facade is. How slim the carvings are! I caught part of a guided tour while the husband stood in line for us. This is one place where “le poussette”* did not get us ahead of the line. No concessions in God’s house. The flying buttresses and rich sculptures make a great impression from the outside, and the grand organ, vaulted ceiling and rose windows wow visitors inside. The best way to admire the facade is from a slight distance. Look at it from the Pont Petit. I did this on an early morning walk while the husband and LO were sleeping. While they both bring love and happiness to my life, it was wonderful to have Paris all to myself for just that hour or so. This was on a Sunday, around sunrise, so I did really have Paris mostly to myself. Standing there on le Pont Petit, I even got to use my best French lines, “Je ne parle pas français. Parle vous anglais?”** It was to a someone asking me for directions.

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You cannot talk about the Notre Dame and not talk of Victor Hugo. Victor Hugo, the French poet, playwright, novelist, statesman, human rights activist – the man who championed the cause of conservation of the Notre Dame. During the Revolution Notre Dame had been used as a saltpetre plant. By the nineteenth century it had suffered so much neglect that builders wanted to reuse its stones for bridge construction. His Hunchback of Notre Dame was an effort to save the cathedral from demolition. The church is as much as of a character in the novel as Quasimodo and Esmerelda.

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We spend our first evening at Jardin du Luxembourg. Hugo was one of many writers to appreciate its charms. It’s too hot to sit by the water and watch the children push boats, so we head to the carousal.  I want to put the LO on the carousal, but they won’t let me go on it with her. Only children. She’s too small to go by herself and besides she’s never been on one before. We walk further and find a shady leaf spot to let the LO loose. She entertains herself, us and passerbys by collecting fallen leaves. On the way out, I make a quick detour to check out the Medici fountain. A quiet spot towards the back of the garden.

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My broken French, everyone else’s decent English, my fellow people from the sub-continent and natural charm get us to the riverfront. From the riverfront we make our way to the Notre Dame. The Cathedral is closed, so we walk around it and settle down for supper followed by the cutest icecream I have ever eaten. Rose shaped! Rose shaped using any flavour of your choice and as many flavours as you want. I went with sorbets. +1 to being vegan.

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We are not done with Victor Hugo. The man who loved Paris. The next day we head over to Place des Vosges. After letting the LO explore a fountain and make a mess of her clothes, we walked around the park looking for Number 6 -“Maison de Victor Hugo”. I take a quick peek and posed happily in the doorway down from Number 7. It’s a gorgeous looking mansion with a lovely front yard. Few steps later I see a plaque for Number 6 and security at the entrance. It’s almost lunch time so we skip the museum in favour of a short walk to at Marché Bastille.  Fresh, fun lunch, a surprise viewing of the National Monument and we were on our way to the Louvre.

 

 

 

* poussette – baby stroller

** “Je ne parle pas français. Parle vous anglais?” – I don’t speak French. Do you speak English?

Paris – for Vegan-etarians

October 2018

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I am vegan, is Paris for me? Absolutely! Paris is a big city. I am vegan. I am not committed, I cheat without guilt, but I try. I found it really easy not to stray. Expect for the croissants I had for breakfast, a couple of crêpes, few glasses of wine and one pastry, all of which could have easily been avoided, I think I was very good.  Paris is a gastronomical delight. You can find foods from all over the world. We ate Lebanese, Thai, Indian.. all of which have vegan options. Pasta can be ordered without cheese and meat. Sandwiches can be made without cheese and meat. I had warm vegetable soups, which in addition to being good for my vegan soul were also very soothing for my sore throat. I have been told that outside of India Paris is the only place where Mac Donald’s serves vegetarian fare. Ask for “without cheese” and you are sorted. Paris has some lovely vegan restaurants and cafes. There’s Le Grenier de Notre Dame near Notre Dame, L’Abattoir Vegetal at Montmarte,  Hank’s Vegan Burger, Le Faitout… Happy Cow can give you the whole list. Head to the wonderful local markets and buy what you need. A baguette, some jam, fresh fruits and veggies. If local markets are not your thing, go to a supermarket. Learn to say no to those macaroons and pastries that look too beautiful to eat anyway, and you are safe. Paris is for EVERYBODY!

P.S. I used to think vegan was a dietary preference but it seems it has now evolved into a lifestyle choice.

Paris – The Palace of Versailles

October 2018

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Cellphone photo-please excuse the quality

Today is devoted to Versailles – the palace, the city, the perfumery. Okay, we are only going to see the palace and grounds. After a very Parisian breakfast at the hotel, we set out. We choose not to buy our tickets in advance online. This did not end badly for us, but I think it’s always smart to buy you tickets in advance if you can and avoid wasting time in queues. When we get to the palace, there is a long line to get in. Luckily there is no line at the ticket counter. I buy us tickets while the husband and LO join the line. They have made considerable progress by the time I get back, but I the lady at the ticket counter had told me we don’t need to wait in line since we had the more expensive tickets. The man minding the line is of a different opinion but the “poussette” gets us sent to the front of the line. Strollers are not allowed inside the palace. We check the stroller in and wear the baby. I have to say this about my baby carrier, I wore the LO throughout Paris- at the museum, the Palace, the streets, the markets, hundred stairs up a particular subway station and didn’t feel the strain. Not in the least. The king’s chambers befit royalty. So grand!!  The ceilings take my breath away. When we get to the fabulous Hall of Mirrors, even the LO is impressed. She keeps looking up and clapping with joy. In the rooms before, she is a little irritated with the crowds, but in this room, she transforms back into the happy child she is.

DSC_0663We packed a picnic with us and eat it in the gardens. The LO takes a post prandial nap in her stroller. Strollers are allowed in the garden. We want to take the trolley around the grounds, but the man says the stroller needs to be folded. While we wait for the LO to wake up, I fill the husband in on the French Revolution history. When the LO wakes up we take the trolley around the grounds. We get off at The Petit Trianon and let the LO play around for a bit. Marie-Antoinette, who had such trouble adapting to life in the court, received the Petit Trianon as a gift from Louis XVI in 1774 and developed a great attachment to this estate. The queen used the hamlet as a place for relaxing walks, or to host small gatherings. We don’t go into the house, preferring to play with the LO outside. The estate of Versailles is vast. You can spend an entire day going from garden to beautiful garden, admiring the landscaping and sculptures.

DSC_0694As we make our way out, we find ourselves under the King’s window and I exclaim how marvelous it must be to wake up to this view. Perfectly manicured gardens rolling out as far as the eye can see, bounded by woods. “And, one day, he saw thousands of people running towards him.” “The Revolution.”, he volunteers. I try to explain that’s not how it happened. I mean it sort of is, but the royal family escapes. Almost, they get caught because of the foolish King. “He came for his wallet? “. “What!!” “Passport?” This man never lets me forget why I married him!

 

* poussette – baby stroller

Paris is a very good idea ❣️

October 2018

I don’t know French. Can I get by in Paris? Yes. A big resounding YES. I’ve said this before, I’m saying it again – most people speak some English. Between that, hand gestures and google (search, translate and maps) you will be fine.

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*cell phone photos. Please forgive the image quality

Paris and Parisians are so pleasantly different from the stereotype. Far from being rude, cold and unfriendly, people are as nice as strangers can be. They smile at us, pat the LO’s head and baby talk to her. Almost everyone speaks some English and their English is way better than my few words of broken French. The undertone to their English is not snooty or supercilious, just vexed. How annoying it must be to have everyone simply assume they don’t know English when most of the people we meet are reasonably fluent in it! You get what you give, so be nice.

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*cell phone photos. Please forgive the image quality

Being Indian helped when the above got complicated. I simply look for my paisanos; desi folks; people from the sub-continent. They are everywhere, often hidden in plain sight – working in stores and restaurants; running stalls at local markets; driving taxis. Find them. Find them and they will help with a smile. If you are not Indian, doesn’t matter. They usually know French, English and one Indian language.

Learn the golden words – please, thank you, sorry and excuse me. Learn to greet. I can count from 1-10. I know the days of the week and months of the year. I can read menus and order food. The word I found most useful was “lait” – milk.  “Au lait, pour le bébé.” I use it in restaurants and super markets, and always get what I need.

Paris is a very good idea ❣️

Paris – Art and Wine

October 2018

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*cell phone photo. Forgive the quality please

On the cards today is sunset at Montmarte – with the grand dome of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur behind us and the metropolis of Paris sprawled below us. When we reach our stop, we see a bunch of young people queuing up for the tiny elevator at the end of the platform. Annoyed at their laziness and not wanting to wait we take the stairs. I carry the LO, while our dear friend RP and the husband carry the stroller and diaper bag between them. Ten minutes later we know why the young and healthy were waiting for the elevator and who the fools were. These stairs wind on and on. As we get out, the men ask me what the plan is. I want to take the LO to a park and not just any park, I want to take her to the park with the Le mur des je t’aime* – the wall with declarations of love in different languages.  RP suggests we start with the park in front of us instead and voilà, the wall is right in front of us.

I would love to wander around so more before heading further up. Art history buffs know that Picasso, Vlamenck, Derain, Soutine, Modigliani, Van Gogh and countless others lived and worked in these narrow streets. Picasso painted one of his most noted works Les Demoiselles d’Avignon here. It was in Montmartre that Picasso and Georges Braque co-founded Cubism, one of the most famous and influential art movements of the 20th century. Renoir’s old home at 13 rue Cortot. It’s now the museum of Montmartre. We don’t do this. No one wants to be walking back up the hill after that subway stair climb.

Perched atop a hill, Montmartre was initially a rural village dotted with vineyards and windmills. The area’s picturesque appearance and its views of the metropolis below made it very popular with artists. I assumed that these creative people flocked to Montmartre to be inspired by these spectacular views, or that they were attracted by the cheap rents before they got rich and famous. Then I found out about the tax-free wine.

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*cell phone photo. Forgive the quality please

Vineyards have flourished on Montmartre ever since the Romans built a temple dedicated to Bacchaus, their god of wine, on the hill. At the end of the nineteenth century, Montmartre was covered with vineyards. Even the local nuns made wine. At this point, Montmartre was still officially outside the city limits so the wine wasn’t subject to Parisian taxes. It’s easy to see why and how this area became a popular place to drink. Today, the vineyard of Clos Montmartre is a tiny relic of those times. Every year the vineyard hosts the Fête des Vendanges. We are just in time for it. This Grape Harvesting festival is known to attract large crowds and I really am not sure if it would be the right place to take the LO. Had the husband known, we probably would not have gone, but he doesn’t know; we did go and she has a blast. We stayed around the steps of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre. There were lots and lots of happy people. People playing music.  Stalls selling wine. A lot of people had brought their own bottles and cheese. Despite the free flow of wine, we did not have to deal with drunk revelers.  We took the funicular to the top of the hill and then back down. I have never taken a funicular before.  We paid our respects at the altar of the gorgeous basilica. The husband and RP climb three hundred steps to get to the great white dome, hang out with the gargoyles and take in the view. I made the LO my excuse and stayed down. RP says the climb down was harder and it gave him vertigo. Somehow, I am responsible because I suggested it. We make our way back to the funicular and down the hill. RP, the LO and I make our way out of the crowds, but the husband and “poussette”** are nowhere to be seen. I look at RP, he shrugs and says,” He was right behind me!” Then we see the husband walk straight past us in a hurry to, I think, catch up with us. Dinner is Thai food. Another point for being vegan. After dinner we take a “ride-hailing” “app-based” taxi back to the Latin Quartier. The taxi takes us through Pigalle and past the Moulin Rouge. When we get back to our hotel, the men go hang out at Place de Contrescarpe while the LO and I stay in our room and get ready to wake up beautiful.

 

* Le mur des je t’aime  – I Love You Wall

** poussette – baby stroller

Paris – The Tourist Circuit I

France doesn’t just have a culture; the word itself is of French origin. Culture = cultivation of the mind. Paris has been home and a source of inspiration to many artists. Picasso and Renoir; Van Gogh; Monet, Manet to name a few. While I am familiar with Picasso, Monet and Van Gogh, I made acquaintance with Renoir and Manet at the Musée d’Orsay.

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Le Louvre. One of the things about going during off season is no lines and with the poussette * we were ushered ahead of even the four people in front of us. Inside the Louvre, much to my surprise, I find that I have learnt to appreciate art. I am no longer staring at paintings listlessly, secretly wondering how much longer I need to keep up the charade. I am actually enjoying them. Yes, the Mona Lisa is small, but I can see why people think she was beautiful. Napoleon’s coronation and Les Noces de Cana are rich in detail as is the Madonna of the Rocks is in meaning.  I am inspired enough to decide to visit another museum the same evening, dragging the husband and LO along. Between the museums we squeeze in a walk down Champs-Elysées, a drink, magnificent views of the Tour Eiffel from the Esplanade du Trocadéro and a carousal ride.

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The LO is done for the day, but she holds up like a champ. The husband is done too, but Van Gogh buys me some time. The Musée d’Orsay, housed in a very unique location, is open after hours only once a week. *rubs hands with glee* Moody interiors and railway clocks – the building is an unused train station repurposed as a museum. I half expected the man at the reception to say, “Impressionist masters on level 5, special Picasso exhibit downstairs and the train to Académie de Magie Beauxbâtons (Beauxbatons Academy of Magic) on platform number 9 3/4. If you think the Highline is neat – take that.

What I found annoying about these museums was how “reduced mobility” unfriendly they are. We struggled to find elevators yet, I did see people in wheelchairs everywhere in the museums. Maybe they get a separate map showing all the hidden wheelchair friendly passages. Also note, the air conditioning is not particularly strong in the museums, which means they could get terribly hot on a crowded summer day. This is true not just of the museums but also of restaurants and hotels. It must be a cultural thing. At the Louvre, the air vent grates are on the floor. You can stand over them and have your own personal Marilyn Monroe moment. Another must be cultural thing is that the diaper changing stations at the museums are all next to the Men’s Rooms. Looking at the signs I thought they were *in* the Men’s Room, like they usually are in the Women’s Room, but there next to it. The sign is always with the Men’s Room sign and not with the Women’s Room. Go for it daddies!

* poussette – baby stroller