The Hendersons Three days in Paris with our son Tom
Monday - August 15 - Slane to Paris
Up early, light breakfast, drive to Dublin Airport. Whew. The nice Avis man did not question us about the scratches. TTS thinks that is because the roads in Ireland are so bad that you can't possibly drive for a week without getting some scratches!
TTS has been told by his office mates that 'no one' flies Ryan Air, but we didn't know about this admonition when we made the reservations. We found it to be just fine - we left three minutes late and arrived at Paris Beauvais Airport 10 minutes early.
Douglas Hallawell picked us up at the airport and drove us to Paris - he had scoped out a hotel near his flat (much more reasonable than the Holiday Inn we stayed in on the choir tour - this is only €61 per night, compared to the €488 per night posted at the Holiday Inn). It is in a charming neighborhood and is quiet. After dropping our luggage, we went to Douglas' flat - this was our first opportunity to meet his wife, Kathie (just returned from two months in Cannes and beautifully tanned) and we haven't seen Sophie since she stayed with us last summer (beautifully tanned after a month in Cannes). We had a light snack and a glass of wine, then Douglas took us on a walking tour of his neighborhood - complete with some Roman aqueducts discovered when some new buildings were constructed in the area.
The six of us had dinner at A La Petite Chaise, "Le plus vieux Restaurant de Paris, Fonde en 1680" (the oldest restaurant in Paris, founded in 1680). It is quite small, excellent food - and since this is a holiday in Paris, the customers were mostly Americans and English - the Parisienes mostly being out of town.
After dinner, Douglas took us to view the Eiffel Tower, which is lit at night - on the hour, the lights flash in synchronization for 10 minutes - it is quite the sight. Makes you realize that you are actually in Paris!
Tuesday - August 16 - Paris
Douglas and Kathie prepared a lovely breakfast which we enjoyed on their terrace, overlooking Paris - ah - croissants, pain au chocolat, pain au raisins, coffee and juice. My goodness, this is the life.
Ah, from the sublime to the frustrating. I had a packet of 'things' I wanted to mail back to the US, so Douglas showed us to the post office one RER (urban train) stop from his flat. We were in line 45 minutes before we got our business completed. In defense of the bureaucrats, it was the day after a holiday and it was close to noon, but it was frustrating!
Tom, TTS and I had a baguette lunch in a park, then headed for central Paris. Our target was Musée d'Orsay. We exited the Metro near Notre Dame and, thinking it wasn't too far a walk, started off on foot. Alas! Our map wasn't very accurate to scale and it was a long walk, but it was worth it, because we passed many interesting and beautiful buildings.
I love the Musée d'Orsay for two reasons - the architecture of the building is very interesting (it is a converted train station) and the collection is wonderful. Also, it is more accessible than the Louvre, which is so large and overwhelming. However, it was packed, especially on the fifth floor where the excellent collection of Impressionist art is housed. We took a few minutes and went out onto the terrace to look over the beautiful skyline, then looked at as much art as we could, given the crowds. We have learned that Paris in August is crowded with tourists - as much as we like the city, next time, we'll come in the off season.
Tom's feet were tired after all the walking, so he headed back to the hotel, while TTS and I braved Montmartre. It was a few Metro stops away, then a funicular ride to the top. The district was packed with tourists - and the shops along the way are loud and gauche. Sacre-Coeur is incredibly beautiful, and the officials do their best to keep decorum, but, sadly, many people ignore the admonitions about photography and loud conversations. Because of the crowds, the sanctity of the place is diminished considerably. That's too bad, because it is a beautiful church - it looks very Byzantine to me. TTS and I sat in the rear and just drank in the beautiful altar and artwork.
On the way down the hill, we came across a beautiful carousel - the sign proclaimed it to be 18th century.
This was TTS's first trip to Paris, so he wanted to see Notre Dame. Getting there was a bit of a challenge, because part of the Metro and RER are closed. However, he has navigated subways in London, Rome, Washington DC, New York and the BART in San Francisco, so he's pretty good at figuring things out. We did leave by the wrong exit, which in Paris meant a several block walk, but arrived at Notre Dame well before closing. I've referred to this magnificent cathedral earlier, so no details here.
Back to the hotel, freshen up, then over the Hallawells' for dinner. Kathie prepared a wonderful meal, and Douglas combed his 'cave' (wine cellar) for appropriate wines. I'll try to describe the meal, but will not do it justice:
Champagne for an aperitif then
Melon with port (cut the melon in half, scoop out the seeds and out a little port in the cavity) with a wonderful ham Bayonne (sliced thin, like prosciutto, but not quite as strongly flavored) then
Confit du canard (duck - preserved in its own juices) with figs and haricots vertes
Cheese - a goat called Ossau Irraty.
What a superb meal - with the Paris skyline in the background, some excellent wines and fun company.
Wednesday - August 17 - Paris
Once, again, the Hallawells hosted us for breakfast. Douglas picked Tom and me up and drove to the bakery, where we selected some more delights, which we enjoyed on the Hallawell terrace. Then Douglas drove us to an RER station - we were so grateful for his assistance - he spoke to the cashier who told him about the combined ticket to Versailles - it is transportation to/from the chateau, admissions to all sights through special doors which allow the visitor to by-pass the queue and audio guides in the King's chamber and the State Apartments, plus pass holder only visit with audio guide to Mesdames apartments. All of this was much less than had we purchased the parts individually. Thank you, Douglas!
Versailles is so vast it is overwhelming. The entrance, with the yard paved in cobblestones, is magnificent. The rooms we visited were grand, although they are mostly sparsely furnished, most of the furniture having disappeared during the French Revolution. The spirit behind Versailles was Louis XIV, the Sun King. I've read a bit about him - I was surprised to learn that he was extremely religious - somehow, I always thought of him as being pretty decadent, but that wasn't the case - he was actually almost austere. However, the extreme form of protocol which developed under his reign, I think, has had lasting influence even today in France, where people place great store in how they greet one another and the appropriate behavior in shops and restaurants (my theory, could be all wrong).
We learned once again that August is not the best time to come to France - the crowds were very large, and the Japanese tourists were particularly in evidence - taking each other's pictures in front of everything. This seems to be a national trait - we've seen it nearly everywhere we've traveled except in Costa Rica, where we didn't see any Japanese tourists.
One thing that Tom and I found interesting was the copy of David's painting of Napoleon crowning Josephine - the crucifix in the painting is the one that Choral Union followed at the end of Mass at Notre Dame - the original painting is in the Louvre, where flash photography is prohibited (even if a lot of people ignore the rule), but at Versailles it is allowed, so I took this picture of the two Toms in front of the painting. They don't look exactly thrilled, but this was getting late in the day.
We walked more miles in the corridors of Versailles than we care to measure, and TTS and I spent a little time in the garden, but, truth be told, this isn't a place that you can see adequately in one day - it is just too big. However, we were all very glad that we had tickets to Mesdames apartments (these are the apartments of the daughters of Louis XIV) because they were closed to most people, therefore the pace was more relaxed and the apartments are more intimate - it is hard to imagine going to sleep under a cloth of gold, like the kings did.
The audio guides at Versailles are excellent, but we were all surprised at the art work - with few exceptions, the paintings and sculptures were created by people who have not left much of a legacy - we had not heard of most of them.
Back on the train to Paris, then to the hotel. I accidentally pushed the wrong floor in the lift, and we were delivered to six instead of five. Tom stepped out, realized my mistake and stepped back in as the doors tried to close. He and the lift had a wrestling match, which he won, but in the process, managed to confuse the elevator so much that it didn't work the rest of our stay.
The Hallawell family took us to dinner at a bistro "Bouillon Chartier" - what fun, although Kathie was not happy with the noise level (and it was noisy!). We had made our selections prior to arriving by choosing from their website, so Douglas just gave the waiter the order as we walked in. The tables are covered with paper, the waiters in the prototype white shirt and black apron, there are six to a table, so if you have fewer than six in your party, you may end up sharing. In the 19th Century this would have been a working class bistro, but today it is middle class and tourist. The food was quite good and we enjoyed the atmosphere. The only thing missing was a rude waiter - ours was quite accommodating.
Douglas drove us around Paris a bit (we were six in a relatively small Peugot, this was somewhat risky), then took us back to the hotel. We bade TTS good-bye. He had an early flight the next day to return to Ireland, and we are off on phase 5 of our adventure - nine days in France on our own in a Renault.