Wandering Around Paris

Moulin de la Galette

Wandering Around Paris

Moulin Rouge

It was still dark when I woke up and I needed to start moving to work the stiffness out of my legs from all the travel. It was cold outside and light snow flurries were forecast for the day. I bundled up and headed out.  My hotel was on Rue Cler, Parisian street well known for the daily Farmers market.  The vendors set up in the morning with wide variety of food, fruits and vegetables, the seafood monger and the Fromoger (cheese). These street shops are all open in addition to all the permanent shops, so the area is too crowded for all but foot traffic only.  As I strolled down the street, I watched the vendors taking care to set up their tables to make their product look appealing. I was craving familiar food. My first order of business was to get a cup of coffee. I love to get coffee in Europe just for the full experience of the ambience. I settled in with cup of espresso and cream, served in a small little white cup.  I sat in a bistro chair facing outward looking on to the cobble stone streets at the quaint little shops.  That was the essence of Paris in a snapshot.  There was no reason to hurry, I took it all in and enjoyed every moment of sitting there observing the activity on the street and sipping the delicious beverage.  After my morning coffee, I walked further down the street to the patisserie, and perused the freshly baked pastries. The pastries are an art form here and I never tire of seeing them.   I finally ordered coque monsieur. This is a very common French sandwich consisting of French bread topped with ham and a béchamel cheese sauce and baked in the oven until the cheese is melted and slightly crispy.  It is probably more often eaten for lunch than breakfast but I could not wait that long. I ordered the sandwich and ate it as I continued my stroll; I was in heaven.   After breakfast it was time to get on with my day.  I made my way to the closest metro station and headed to Montmartre. This is the area of the city where the artists hung out in the 1800’s and is still home to many today. I had my little walking tour maps with me and when I got off the metro. I was so busy looking at my map and the street signs to make sure I am going the right way that I had forgotten to lookup to see the sights.  Finally, I felt sure that I was where I wanted to be.  I looked up and staring me in the face was the famous burlesque nightclub, La Moulin Rouge. HA!  I really was in Paris. I followed my little map and wound my way along the steep, icy cobblestone streets.  It had snowed lightly the night before and a few flurries were still falling. It was so pretty to see the stones gleaming in the morning light.  This was an art tour for me and I diligently followed the map looking for all the right landmarks.  I passed the former homes of Vincent Van Gough and Toulouse Lautrec.  I climbed the hill to the only vineyard left in Paris and it was directly across the street from the famous Laupin Agile. This was the local cabaret frequented by many of artists, during that time.  It was easy to understand why these landmarks became favorite haunts; they were all within a few blocks of each other.  I stood there trying to get a sense of what life was like a century ago.  I continued my journey and stopped to visit the Muse de Montmartre. It was a small art museum mostly dedicated to the famous artist that lived in the area during the late 1800’s.  It had a collection of paintings and posters mostly revolving around life in the Moulin Rouge. It was absolutely perfect as a local museum; it did not promise anything more.   I continued to climb the hill and stopped to make sure I am going the right direction and again I looked up from my map and “Viola”   La Moulin de la Galette.  Unbelievable!  Moulin means windmill in French. This building was named after the bread, “Galette”, that was baked on sight from the freshly milled flour.  The building was immortalized in many paintings by Renoir, Van Gough and Pissarro as a place where they ate bread, drank wine and danced.  After staring for a few minutes, I continued my upward climb until I had I finally reached the top of the hill. I was at the top of Montmartre, the highest point in Paris.  Sacre Coeur, (Sacred Heart), sits right on the top of the mountain.  I walked in to the sound of nuns singing.  It gave me goose bumps to listen to those beautiful female voices singing in French and echoing through the massively tall church.  I sat down to absorb it all, it made me cry.  I lit a candle for my mom and dad. They loved Paris and so did I.  I left the church and I walked down the famous iron staircase, where many artists set up to sell their paintings. There were no artists on this day it was just too cold.  My legs protested the whole way down but I had a lot more that I wanted to see so I kept going.

The wind whistled through some of the metro stations and it was bone chilling cold.   I caught the Metro and moved on to San Sulpice.  I was curious to see this church as it was featured as part of the adventure in The Da Vinci Code Book and movie.  It is only slightly smaller than Norte Dame and is famous for the large pipe organ that sits in the upper balcony. It was undergoing renovation so I did not stay long, but I stood there wishing for a brief moment that it was Sunday so I could attend the organ concert that occurs after services. I moved along so I could stop in to St Germain des Pres, the oldest church in Paris. It was small and painted in dark blues and gold inside.  I must have been luminous in its heyday. The neighborhood surrounding the church became well known for the intellectual’s, literary artists and musicians in the 1940’s.  I loved how history just melded together across time.  I enjoyed both of the old cavernous churches and I welcomed the silence and solitude they provided.  I had walked a long way and I was tired and hungry it is 2:30 pm and I needed sustenance.   I was determined to find Paris’ most famous bakery, La Poulaine.  After a brief visit to the bakery, I stopped in the café next door and had the most incredible salad of my life.  I am not sure if it was so good because I had not had any salads in three weeks or if it was just stellar all by itself. I did not care; I ate every bit of the greens and lentils topped with mustard salad dressing and the small open faced ham and cheese sandwich on the famous bread.  As I sat there enjoying my lunch, the jet lag hit me full on.  I was exhausted.  I knew I had to leave right away or I would be in trouble. I could feel my mental capacity slipping.    I wanted to see the Latin Quarter,  I didn’t. It would have to wait for another visit. I walked to the metro and made my way back to my hotel.  I slept for a couple hours and walked down the street to Café du Marche for dinner.  I ordered the roasted chicken and mashed potatoes. It is pure comfort food.  I remembered this dish from previous visits and it did not disappoint me. I took a moment to smell the flavor. It smelled and tasted so chickeny. There was just no other way to describe it.    It was enough for two and I ate what I could, savoring every bite.   I looked at my watch and remembered the Eiffel Tower sparkles every hour. I had to see it one more time.   It illuminated the sky and surrounding park and I watched for a few minutes but I did not delay long. The park was relatively dark and I was alone, I walked quickly back to my hotel.   I had to have one last treat before calling it a day, so I purchased a lemon crepe from the local shop.  My senses were satisfied from all the things I had witnessed during the day, my stomach was beyond full and my legs were aching from the long flights and walking all day. There were just too many planes trains and automobiles in the last three weeks.

Paris had been a good choice to re-set my internal clock. It allowed me to feed my artistic soul and to be responsible for only myself for about 48n hours. I was going home tomorrow. I was beyond ready.

I woke up in the morning and one last time walked the familiar street and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. On my way back to the hotel I saw the produce man was setting up his fruit for the day. He greeted me “Bonjour Madam”. My mind froze. For the life of me, I could not think of the response in French so I responded in English. “Good morning”. He was completely disappointed.  “Ah American ce damages”. I started to laugh out loud as I knew exactly what he had said, “American… oh to bad.”  I was still laughing when I responded, “ce damages.” He started to laugh as well.  How could I be offended? It was pure French culture right there in action. The French just love all things French.  They greet you in a formal way but I did not miss that he was slightly flirting with me and that was precisely why he was disappointed. It was hilarious.

I paid my hotel bill, grabbed a cab and headed for Charles De Gaulle airport and the short trip to London.  I had to go through immigration one last time in London. I finally got on the plane and settled in for the next few hours.  When I arrived in San Francisco, I collected my luggage and arrived at US customs. The agent looked at me and said “you have been to a lot of places.” I smiled and said, “I can’t tell you how happy I am to be standing in San Francisco right now.”  As I walked away I looked at my passport.  I had been to Beijing, Shanghai, Chongching and back to Shanghai, in China, landed in Singapore, then on to Bangalore and New Delhi in India, off to Paris for two nights, a brief stop in London and back to my original starting point in San Francisco. I had literally traveled around the world in three weeks’ time.  I was relieved and immensely happy to see my husband as I stepped out of the airport. I felt like I was home.  I got into my own can for the last two hour ride.  It was 100% familiar in every way and it gave me just the amount of time I needed to integrate back into my own life.

After arriving home, at the end of January, I was tired for days and my immune system was stressed. Along with my cold, I had I came down with a full blown case of shingles. When my cold cleared, I got another one almost immediately.  I had had so many shots in preparation for the journey, I had eaten so many different foods, been in so many very unfamiliar environments and too many different airplanes and hotels. It was all too much. It seemed like it was spring before I felt better.   I had learned a valuable lesson. Next time, I would not be gone so long. I would plan differently.

Sacre Coeur at the top of Montmartre
Lapin Agile
Vincent Van Gogh lived here

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05.06 | 05:29

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04.06 | 20:35

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03.06 | 01:04

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18.11 | 19:06

Picturesque.

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