Thursday, May 31, 2012


Day 1: Intro to French
    Today was a travel day. I woke up a little earlier than usual to get a quick, last peak around Brussels. It was a misty morning and it had been drizzling earlier. After making my way back to the Bourse, checking out the Chinese quarter, and Grand Place i rejoined my wife for breakfast.

fish for breakfast anyone?

Our train to Paris didn't leave til 12:37 PM but we still gave ourselves plenty of time. OK....maybe a little too much time. An hour and a half to be exact. Check in and security at the Thalys terminal took mere minutes. When we have this much time on our hands we take turns exploring our surroundings while the other stays with the luggage. I remember thinking why the metro lines weren't as clean and modern looking as the train stations.

Bathrooms aren't as readily available as back home and it irritated me to see that i needed half a euro to do the honors. I decided to just go on the train. I get bored very easily in airports, train stations, and such. Before long i was twiddling my thumbs so i ventured outside the station a little bit. Port de Hal was something i didn't get around to seeing but when i saw how close it was to Bruxelles Midi i had to go.

The Port de Hal (Halleport in Dutch) was like something out of a fairytale

It was one of three remaining gates that used to enclose the city as a defensive wall. I pretty much jogged my way over to it, took some photos, and walked back. Our high speed train was on time and we got on the right car this go round. The ride itself was almost a carbon copy of the Eurostar trip from London. Hills, small towns, and the occasional windmill in about the same time. Fortunately, the gloomy weather that Brussels is known for seemed to stay behind us as blue skies laid ahead.

inside our cabin

entering Paris

My wife was alarmed that high speed trains don't have seat belts. The way i figured, if we derailed at 180 MPH no belt was going to keep our bodies from disintegrating into a ball of fire. She wasn't amused by this.
     Just like Brussels, graffiti greeted us as we drew closer. I was a little surprised by how quickly we arrived. Gare du Nord station was very big and a bit chaotic. There were so many signs, digital displays, and marquees but the only one i was looking for was the letter "M" for the Metro.

     Like London we had several options for our transportation options. Buy a Paris Pass which included free admission to museums, pay per use tickets, or a carnet of tickets. We didn't want to rush from attraction to attraction to make the pass pay for itself so we opted for the carnet. You get 10 single metro/bus fares for €12.50.
     Immediately upon boarding the first car, you knew this was Paris. The PA announcements broadcast the stops in French which i really appreciated from a pronunciation standpoint. People here weren't necessarily dressier, but definitely more fashionable than the other places we visited. Men wore pointy dress shoes while i sported my black sneakers. Ladies wore black spandex underneath their skirts and short shorts. Black leather boots that came up to the knees. Silk scarves were common too. Even the men wore scarves. It was like a fashion show!
     After a change we got off at the Rome stop and found our hotel, The Cervantes. Unlike Brussels, the front desk clerk let me converse in French until i exhausted my extent of it. They honored my request to stay on the 5th floor with a distant view of the Eiffel Tower. Our room and amenities was pretty simple and clean for the most part, about the size of the Leonard.

Our hotel was just down this street

no frills

The hotel itself was located in the 8th arrodissiment near two metro stations: Rome and Europe. After leaving our stuff behind we set back out to grab a late lunch. We didn't want to spoil our dinner so we figured we'd grab a sandwich or something.
     We already knew that the Sacré-Cœur would be our first destination but we wanted to explore our arrodissiment a little bit and get acquainted with where things were. There wasn't much on Rue de Bern where our hotel was but Boulevard des Batignolles had loads of stuff. We passed a few boulangeries before being lured into one by the smell of freshly baked bread. We ordered a couple and sat on a bench just outside.

 Wow, was this something else! My bread was hard as a rock outside but soft inside. My sandwich had egg, tomato, meat, cheese and a couple of other fillings. It was fantastic! We couldn't shut up about our first experience with French cuisine. Something as simple as our first sandwich was already better than anything i'd ever had at Panera Bread back home. We relaxed on that bench observing things like dedicated bicycle lanes and the green hanging trash bags blowing in the wind. We could actually see the basilica from here perched on it's hill and that's where we were headed.
     We boarded the metro and got off at Anvers. The Montmartre district in the 18th arrondissiment is one that is adored by many tourists but unfortunately, we would only cut through it. As we walked uphill there were lots of little souvenir shops and places selling cheap clothes.

It then became very crowded and i was on edge a bit when i noticed some seedy looking characters walking close behind us. We finally reached the bottom of the church stairs where there were buskers and beggars all over the place. I'll be honest... Montmartre wasn't my favorite place in the world until i realized that we'd only passed through a small part of it. My wife and i came up with a secret word for when one of us suspects that a shady character is too close to one of us. There's no way i was going to let a pickpocket ruin our big trip. In that event, we'd simply say "pineapple" to alert the other.
      Majestically perched on top of the hill's summit stood the Basilica de Sacré-Cœur. There was no way in hell we were climbing all those steps to reach the top so we took the funicular just to the left. It costed a metro ticket each way but it was money well spent with the walking we would do.

funiculars that lead near the top

 From the top you had spectacular panoramic views over Paris. This was actually the highest point in the city. People lounged on the steps taking in the view and watching the buskers performing.

 I heard the vendors here were very aggressive but a simple "non merci beaucoup" was enough to tell them you didn't want a necklace.  I took many photos from the top of the steps and of the outside. I had always thought the basilica looked more like a Muslim temple than a Roman Catholic Church.

      We went inside to have a look. It had the same white brick appearance on the inside as well as the outside. I love walking into a church while there's organ music playing. This would happen twice to us in Paris. The triumphant depiction of Christ under the dome was nothing short of amazing.

no photography inside- stock photo

 It was fairly noisy in there for a church and at times i wondered if half it's visitors realized that it was a place of worship. I say this with a Nikon slung around my neck ;-)
Photography isn't allowed inside but there were people in there snapping away. I was extremely tempted but decided against it. After we were done we went back out to gaze at the view once more before leaving. We were offered assorted crap near the bottom but politely refused while moving on. No need for the funicular as the walk down the steps was a breeze.

looking up from near the bottom

     There were two large monuments in the 10th that were very close together so we set off to check 'em out. We got off at Strasbourg- St Denis which was directly in between them. Both structures were triumphal arches erected by King Louis XVI to glorify his military accolades.

Porte de St Denis
Porte de St Martin
 Le Porte de St Denis was first commissioned by the king for his defeat of the Dutch. The other was Le Porte de St Martin, which Louis had built for his victories over the Dutch and Spanish. My wife definitely thought St Denis was the more handsome of the two monuments. 
     Several shops were nearby including some shoe stores so we stopped into one to look around. It was a small store but the prices were reasonable. I found a good looking pair of leather dress shoes for only 25. I was quite happy with the purchase. It was a bit aggravating to walk around the streets of Paris armed with only a black pair of Adidas. Now i could wear slacks and the other button down shirts i packed. 

the smell coming from this stand was sublime

     I made several observations after walking around these two arrondissiments. The first was the amount of bicycles, mopeds, and bikes here. If you were crossing a street or heaven forbid a roundabout, it wasn't the cars you had to watch out for. Seedy isn't the adjective I'd use to describe this neighborhood but let's just say rough around the edges.  

There was definitely an amplified police presence in this gritty, ethnic enclave. It reminded me a bit of Marble Arch in London. Like Brussels alot of people here smoked so cigarette butts on the sidewalks weren't uncommon.
Endless bike racks, bakeries, and decorative buildings added to the flavor. I especially loved the art nouveau style metro stations.

These were all over the place. Simple touches like this just reinforced the idea that Paris was set on being the world's most beautiful city. We had a couple of hours of daylight left so we decided to check out the most Parisian of attractions; Le Tour Eiffel.
     We spent a good while on the metro, about 23 minutes in all to reach Trocadéro. There are other places to view the Eiffel Tower but i thought this one would be the most impressive. After exiting the station and walking through the Palais Chaillot, there she was. At first glance it hit me like a ton of bricks that i was in Paris.

I can't believe it was almost dismantled after the world Expo. Back then Parisans thought it was an ugly eyesore. Today it's the national symbol. We had no intention of going to the top or anything. Walking around the fountains and enjoying the weather and view were quite good enough for us.
     Sarah was needed several times to take photos of other people. I always found it funny to turn around and see her aiming a camera at a smiling couple.

Sarah's photo services

car show
  Sometimes I'd help her out and other times I'd just ignore what was taking place with a smile on my face. There was an exotic car show going on at Le Place du Trocadéro. Trust me... there was plenty to look at.
      We made our way towards the tower while pausing on the Pont d'lena. From here we got our first view of the River Seine with the Sacré-Cœur in the far distance.

 along the Seine with the basilica farther out

We used the pineapple code as two African men followed us after pretending to not know one another. I knew something was up when i saw one eyeballing my day pack and then say something to his friend. I was vigilant however and they moved on. I took out my 200mm zoom lens and shot pictures of tourists at the very top.

The view must have been spectacular. We would return to Paris one day and probably enjoy the same view but not this trip. I had something else in mind for a super view of the city.
     By this time we had maybe a half hour of daylight left. I figured we could squeeze one more sight in before we thought about dinner. The Pont de Bir Hakiem was within range so i fumbled around with the GPS to reach that general direction. I stopped several times to turn around and admire the marvel we just walked underneath. The setting sun cast a pink glow on one side of it as well as on the apartment buildings below.

French folk music leaked out of a cafe we passed by. Pigeons cooed on the sidewalks probably looking for breadcrumbs. This was the quintessential stroll you read about. You didn't need a guide book... just a few minutes to wander.
     We reached the bridge and took a good look around. I loved the movie Inception and remembered how Ariadne transformed it as they walked underneath.

 There was a little lookout area off to the side that faced the Eiffel Tower and the Seine. We took a break and relaxed in this spot with a few other couples. I was waiting for it to get dark enough to see the tower light up and maybe even sparkle.

 It continued to get darker but as it still stood unlit, my patience finally gave out. My wife left her coat at the hotel and the temperature dropped a little anyway. To my amusement, i saw they turned the tower's lights on when we reached the subway station.


the lights don't come on until we leave of course...

     We took the metro at Passy and rode it all the way back to Strasbourg- St Denis. Paris did have something in common with NYC: the subway passengers were always glued to their phones. This resulted in some fairly quiet rides.


Instead of going back to the hotel room and changing, we decided to just do dinner while still out. We only hit up one Indian restaurant in London so we decided to get our Pakistani on here in France.
     I researched a covered gallery called the Brady Passage. Locals nicknamed it "Little India" for the many spice shops and curry joints. After passing through the Port St Martin we searched all over for it without success. Pictures of this place made it look plenty big on the inside but the entrance wasn't. We continued to look but only came across a deserted alley full of closed Indian cafes.

this can't be it
There were African shops where i thought this area would be. I must have plotted it incorrectly on the GPS. I felt we were close so i cleared my throat before asking a girl who was talking to friends. "Excusez-moi de vous déranger madam...vivez-vous ici? Nous sommes perdus. Où est le Passage Brady?" I can only imagine what my accent sounded like. She smiled and spoke slowly, instructing us to go straight through two streets and look to the right. After thanking her we set off and did just as she instructed. Lo and behold there it was.

 It might sound cheesy but it made me feel good being able to communicate with a local without looking like the dumb American tourist. 
     The split second we walked into this place an Indian waiter approached us with menus. I could see there were many other choices ahead so i thanked him and moved on. The very NEXT waiter that approached us promised us the best Pakistani cuisine with fixed price specials featuring free cheese naan and ice water. Unlike most of Europe, most American restaurants have free ice water so that sounded enticing. He was funny and quickly won us over.

Palais des Rajpout was the name of this small joint. The menu was quite lengthy and i had a hard time deciding on what to order. The woman next to me was eating something that looked and smelled great. After asking her in French she filled me in on what she ordered. This was the 2nd time that a complete stranger was kind enough to offer assistance to me. Any preconceived notion that the French are rude was quickly dismissed. They are simply a very proud people and efforts to speak in their language pays dividends.

 She was nice enough to fill me in on what she ordered and that ended up being my selection. Our food was really tasty! Again, not very spicy and that was okay for our American taste buds. My baby goat masala was delicious.

I still don't know that cheese and naan go together but it was different. The portions were on the small side but this is what i had come to expect in France. It was a reasonably priced, straight forward dinner that was low on the adventure scale. 
     After our meal we walked along the narrow Brady Passage politely refusing the new waiters that would approach.


 The decor and colors would have you forget you were in Paris in the first place. We agreed it was a neat little enclave and headed out.
     Rue de St Denis was now alive with nightlife and pedestrians. Large groups of people, mostly younger, congregated on the sidewalks.There was a large mixture of ethnic take-away cafes along this street.

this place had an electric pulse
 You could find pizza, gyros, kebabs, sandwiches, Turkish cuisine, Greek cuisine, etc. They competed with each other with colorful neon signs. 
     We then decided to throw in the towel for the evening so we walked to the metro station. Paris' RATP was quickly becoming my favorite subway network. The first thing i appreciated was that you didn't have to go very deep under the ground. It was fast, fairly clean, and the platforms made it clear which direction you'd be headed. Like some London stations a display told you when the next train would be coming for you. Each approaching station was announced in French which was icing on the cake. 

The street our hotel was located on is a quiet one after dark. Even thought our room faced toward the St Lazare train station it never once bothered us. We settled in for the night watching some French language TV. I opened the balcony window and set my tripod up. It was only a matter of time before the Eiffel tower got around to sparkling.

It looked amazing but in my hypnotized state, i failed to capture much of it. It only happens for a few minutes on the hour. "Oh well" i thought, "we'll be here 3 more nights". It was nice to just watch it do it's thing.

     While Sarah read her book I finally got around to using hotel wifi. I uploaded a few facebook photos and saw that my college basketball team had lost in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament. Normally I'd be quite pissed off but the news hardly bothered me. I was having too good of a time with my wife to really care.

Day 2: Freeze your ass off at the Notre Dame

      What a mess outside! Opening the window was a poor decision as cold air swept through the room. The morning greeted us with heavy rain clouds and a big dip in temperature.

In every country we would visit i had at least one "rainy day" itinerary should the weather refuse to cooperate. Indoor activities like museums and churches were staples on days like these. The Louvre seemed like the way to go.
     Our room rate didn't include breakfast but this wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Part of the lure of staying in Paris were croissants and coffee at a charming cafe. These were as ubiquitous as the mopeds that zipped by. Europe would be the metro station we would use so the search for a cafe took place nearby.
     It didn't take very long before we found one and were greeted with a friendly Bonjour! The nice lady let us choose any table in the near empty cafe.

 We ordered some croissants, orange juice, and hot chocolate to combat the cold weather. I witnessed first hand as our oranges were freshly squeezed. I was really not expecting this but looked forward to it. The lady's husband showed up with their little boys. After a kiss he came around the bar to help her out with the customers that began to come in. I liked the idea of little family owned establishments.
      Breakfast was fantastic! The hot chocolate was unlike anything I'd ever had before. I don't know how it was made but it sure as hell wasn't some Swiss Miss powder. The croissants were BIG... buttery and flakey as you would expect.

We inhaled this and were done within a few minutes. My wife was antsy and wondered why the owner kept passing our table with a smile when it was clear we had finished. I explained to her that the French way was to take your time and relax. This suited me as well because we Americans are always in a damn hurry. Nobody gathers around a meal anymore or stops to read the paper. Fast food and Starbucks have slowly become the norm. The bill came out about 20 minutes after we finished which was just fine with me.

      On the way to the Louvre we needed a line change at Opéra. It was a crowded car and neither one of us were able to squeeze our way out in time. The next stop was Quatre Septembre but only my wife managed to slip out before the doors closed. She frantically turned around as she realized we would soon be separated. Our only rule, other than the church one, was to not be separated as neither of us had a phone. As my car began to move i first pointed to her, and then repeatedly at the ground. A nod told me she understood that she was to remain there and wait for me. I jumped off at the very next station, hauled ass up the stairs, and changed directions on the other side of the platform. I was relieved to see my wife on the other side but it was the wrong one. I pointed at her once more and then to the stairs so she could change directions also.

     After that brief fiasco we successfully changed at Opéra and were back on track. As we got closer we began to feel that the gigantic British Museum's collection was still fresh in our heads. Sculptures, paintings, artifacts, statues, masks, etc. One could take the British Museum and mate it with the National Gallery, multiply that by two, and that still wouldn't be as large as the Richelieu wing of the Louvre. That's right.... one wing. Neither one of us were willing to devote that kind of attention to the world's largest museum. Maybe on our last day if time permitted.
     We got off at Palais Royal- Musée du Louvre and simply explored the grounds. I had planned to come back here at some point for some night photography but still wanted to poke around nonetheless.

The line wasn't terribly long, but then again it was mid-March; not exactly peak season. We would have entered underground where lines are shorter anyway. The complex itself was vast and that was from the outside. Navigating this colossus would be another adventure for another time. Nearby stood the exquisite Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
This Napoleonic monument strongly resembled the Arch of Constantine in Rome. It was constructed the same year as the more famous Arc de Triomphe l'Étoile, but was a fraction of the size. Napoleon stole the horses and chariot from Italy but later returned them.
The wind whipped around us making it feel colder so we moved on to keep warm. Walking along the right bank of the Seine was very pleasant, even in this weather. Vendors were out there selling everything from roasted pistachios to oil paintings.


We got a good view of the 1st and Île de la Cité, the oldest part Paris. I read that to actually live here, you had to be a millionaire or something. I kept an eye out for fancy cars around this area but saw mostly mopeds and buses zip by.

It was here that i noticed large groups of people who were probably part of a tour. We helped photograph a couple with their camera, a favor they'd reciprocate. It was obvious that neither one of us spoke each other's language (it sounded like Russian) but we spoke just enough French to communicate.

Universal hand gestures sure helped as well. This was one of the neatest parts of foreign travel, especially a place that attracts a variety of different cultures. After a bit of walking we came across a column and fountain called Le Fontaine du Palmier. This thing was cool!

It was a triumphal column commissioned by Napoleon for his Egyptian campaign. In addition to this, he actually ordered several fountains built to help beautify Paris. The sphinxes spitting water at the bottom sprayed a light mist on anyone that got too close. I momentarily lost my wife here. After snapping photos she was nowhere to be seen but turned up on a bench nearby. That was a bit nerve wrecking but afterward we set back on along the Seine.
     Upon crossing the street we ran into the first of many groups of "clipboard girls". These young dark haired kids, some wearing cloths over their heads, run up to you waving their hands for you to sign a deaf/mute petition. I was warned online that this was a scam. If you try to say "non merci" or heaven forbid "no thanks" they'll walk along side you and try to change your mind. At first this was only slightly annoying.
     On the other side of the bank the Conciergerie was getting a face lift from the outside, at least on three of her turrets. It was a short walk across the Pont au Change and we would be seeing other attractions on this small island anyway.

 It seemed like a good idea to go inside to beat the chill for a little while. This former palace and prison is best known as the last holding place for Marie Antoinette and countless other prisoners during the French Revolution.

Many were sent to their deaths by the guillotine. One was even on display. (not the whole thing but just the blade itself) It was a very humbling experience to walk in these dimly lighted corridors. There wasn't a ton to see though a good part of the Conciergerie was available to explore. I found the Hall of the Guards very interesting.

If i stared down it long enough, wandering tourists would disappear into another room or behind the columns. This created the illusion that i was alone, and back in time. 

i think i know whose initials those are..
There was very good detail in each room with lots in English. The most popular, of course, was that of Marie Antoinette. We saw what we wanted to see in about an hour and then split. To be honest, neither one of us were particularly impressed but my expectations were properly set by online reviews. It was a good way to beat the cold for a little while.
     We walked straight along Blvd du Palais passing St Chapelle and a very fancy gate on the right.

St Chapelle and Palais de Justice
Originally the plan was to visit that right after the Conciergerie with a combo ticket. Since we would be seeing the Notre Dame soon, i decided to pocket that idea for another time.
     After ignoring more clipboard girls we crossed Île de la Cité and walked to Place St Michel. This small square was marked by a monumental fountain called Le Fontaine St Michel. Saint Michael the Archangel is a popular figure in Europe. First the spire at the top of town hall at Grand Place, then the bridge in Ghent, and now this.

Like much of Paris it was lined with a row of motorcycles. If the whole thing had been marble white, i could see this in Rome but it wasn't. It sported red Corinthian columns similar to the arch outside the Louvre. I've never seen something this fancy just "pop out" of the side of a building. As gorgeous as it was, some hooligan had taken the liberty of tossing an orange traffic cone onto the sculpture. It didn't detract from it's beauty in the least bit, however. I took plenty of photos that cropped it out completely.

 Crowds gathered to snap pictures, point to the cone, and then move on which is exactly what we did.
     The flamboyant Notre Dame Cathedral was within a fairly short walk so we made our way towards the 4th where it was located.

This Gothic beauty is the gold standard for which Roman Catholic Churches are measured. She was majestic from the outside. A statue of Joan of Arc greeted visitors. The stonework of the 3 holy portals were mesmerizing.

 Along with the façade, the stained glass rose windows and flying buttress were marvelous. You couldn't really see the latter until you walked around the rear though. Inside it was pretty crowded. The interior could seat a thousand people. It wasn't as flashy as Westminster Abbey but had every bit as much soul. Different lighting schemes filtered color into the nave which made for a unique ambiance.

         I admit now that my mind was focused more so on the gargoyles waiting for us upstairs than anything down below. We queued for what we thought were the tickets but it was only for gifts. After a 10 minute wait the lady directed us outside and to the right of the church. As we did as instructed two things wiped the enthusiasm right off our faces: 1: the size of the line. It stretched around towards the rear of the cathedral! and 2: the weather began to worsen. Not only did the wind pick up but tiny rain droplets started to fall. Sarah knew that i really wanted to see those gargoyles so she stuck it out for me. We bought a couple of sandwiches nearby and ate them before joining the line. Damn the French take bread and cheese seriously!

      We must have waited for a good hour before we finally got in. She allowed me to photograph the rear of the church while she froze her butt off in line. I walked as far as the Pont de l'Archevêch to get a view from the south before i lost all track of time. Then i jogged my way back.

from the south
 By the time i made it back she was 3 people away from the very front. What a relief!
     A narrow staircase got us to all the way to the top. Sarah wasn't expecting all these stairs and her feet were paying the price. The views, however, were astounding from above. I also got a good look at the old bell tower. Space was a bit tight up there but it was well worth it.

it was tricky fitting my lens through these
I found that hanging back a bit as the crowd surges past can be rewarding. That way i didn't have to compete for prime position or shoot pictures over anyone's head. My poor wife was a popsicle by this time. I got as much as i could of my gargoyle friends and the panoramic views of Paris along the Seine, but at a hurried pace.

a look down the Seine and at the Panthéon in the Latin Quarter 

One day I'd be back and it wouldn't be March. That was a definite. 
     I don't think any place in Paris could capture it's history quite the way the Notre Dame does. Here Napoleon was coronated. Henry VI was crowned king of France. Joan of Arc was canonized. All of these events took place here and i got a good taste.
     Upon leaving we were greeted by more kids with clipboards. Dammit this was getting on my last nerve! I wanted to take their clipboards and toss them into the damn River Seine. As cold as it may sound, simply ignoring them was the best remedy. Our fingers were cold as ice as we made our way back to the metro station.

Sarah had braved the Notre Dame and was a big sport about it so i offered to bookmark our tourism and return to the warmth of our hotel. She really appreciated this and proceeded to thaw under the covers for a nap. I took advantage of this time to charge my batteries as well.
We winded down and relaxed as daylight disappeared. After eating fairly inexpensively since setting foot in France, we decided to splurge at a fancier restaurant. Paris was the one city that i didn't invest much effort in pre-picking restaurants. Like many folks on Fodor's will tell you, excellent dining choices are all over the place. After our time here i would have to agree with that school of thought. We didn't have a bad meal all. That aside, it's fun not knowing what to expect sometimes.
     As nightfall arrived we dressed up and set out in search of a place to eat. We used our hotel's location to our advantage and decided to forgo the metro altogether. Fortunately, the chilly drizzle was gone which made our walk an enjoyable one. We made our way along Blvd des Batignolles which wasn't far from Place de Clichy and the red light district we'd see later. We then came across an establishment called Charlot Roi des Coquillages. (which i believe translates to Shellfish King or Seafood King?)

We were immediately intrigued with the interior decor. Lots of scarlet, chrome, and mirrors. Upon being seated and extensive wine list was brought out. Champagne apéritif for our first upscale dinner? Why not! We noticed there were only a couple of other diners here but that didn't worry us. They had some attractive fixed price 3 course meals that we jumped on. I ordered the cod with lentils. For my starter (entrée in French) i had a delicious lobster bisque. At first it looked like a glob of white butter in a bowl and before i could try it i was stopped with a quick but polite "attendre monsieur!" (wait sir!) Our server then covered it with a ladle full of creamy brown soup. Fabulous! It was about this time that i noticed business was quickly picking up. You could barely hear the soft jazz playing over the rumble of the dinner rush. Then our food came out. I expected a fillet of fish so you could imagine my surprise when i saw what appeared to be a plump Venus flytrap haha. Inside the steamed cabbage leaf was cod, carrots, and other fillings.

 It sat on top of a bed of lentils in a creamy white soup. When dessert finally rolled around our taste buds were going into overload. Warm gooey chocolate oozed out of this cross between a cake and a cupcake. "C'est magnifique!! Délicieuse!!" It was a little on the small side of what I'm used to for dinner portions but this was France.

I thanked both the waiter and Maître D' who were clearly pleased their American guests enjoyed their experience. I  expected our bill to be over €100 with the champagne but it wasn't. Prix fixe (fixed price) was a good idea.
     Next we strolled over to the lively Place du Clichy. It was a huge intersection featuring a round-a-bout that fed into Paris' red light district.

Place de Clichy
 There was an assortment of cafes, theaters, and shops that were buzzing with activity night and day. The Moulin Rouge was popular with the tourists that stopped by to check it out. We helped others get pictures taken in front of it. I planned on checking out some cabaret here with Sarah but the prices seemed too steep to be worth it, at least on this trip.

 Sex shops and naughty shows were clearly the flavor here. Neon lights lined both sides of the street as far as the eye could see. My wife's fear was that the red light district would be crawling with prostitutes and drug dealers but it wasn't anything like that.

 a good look down Blvd de Clichy

 Locals zipped by on bicycles while tourists clustered together in hordes. There wasn't anything here that put us in an uncomfortable situation. I even detected a small group of American girls that were having a blast taking blurry cell phone pics. 
     Our last tick mark for the evening was a stroll along the world famous Champs-Élysées so we caught the metro for that. Sarah had gotten her second wind thanks to the 5PM power nap. It was nice to have her with me for night time photos instead of heading out solo. We caught a brief glimpse of the Petit and Grande Palais on the way. The gold domed Hôtel des Invalides could also be seen in the distance. 
Petit Palais
Hôtel des Invalides 

Two Spaniards asked me how to reach it and i had no problem directing them in Spanish. The only thing i was warned about was to avoid the overpriced restaurants along this grand boulevard at all costs. Since we'd already eaten it wasn't advice I'd be in danger of needing. 


      Huge flagship stores and luxury retailers such as Hugo Boss and Louis Vutton lined both sides of the boulevard. I also saw an enormous Adidas that i later learned was the largest in the world. There were some beggars and clipboard girls sprinkled about. The needy here didn't try to sell you anything or play music. A few souls simply knelt in front of small cups. No signs. No eye contact. They simply knelt with their heads hung low.

 Upon placing a euro into one such lady's cup she bowed her head with her hands clasped in prayer. Her head nearly touched the ground, never looking up. A few meters away another lady was doing the same thing. This luxurious street provided a humbling contrast between rich and poor. That memory was a very vivid one.
     At the very end stood the towering Arc de Triomphe. It was the largest triumphal arch in the world before North Korea's was built. All of this was the work of Napoleon: the grand Champs-Élysées and the monument that it led to. I spent time at home looking at photos of the huge reliefs so i forgot to do it in person.

 The roundabout it occupied was a death trap for stupid tourists that didn't use the underground passage. Traffic orbited this like the earth around the sun. We got fairly close to it but never crossed the street for a visit. Once again, that would be something else to enjoy on a future journey to Paris.
     My wife was very tolerant of my photo taking, setting up/ breaking down of the tripod, and changing lenses. We had a good time just chatting it up and walking without a real sense of time or urgency. As the light drizzle returned we decided to pack it in for the night. In spite of the weather we had another fun, yet tiring day. My phone predicted sunshine for the next 48 hours so i looked forward to that. After winding down with some French TV we slept like logs that night.   

Day 3: We meet Napoleon

    The next morning we awoke to a drastically improved sky. Not terribly sunny but at least the rain clouds decided to take the party elsewhere. Yesterday's adventures were so exhausting that we slept through whatever time was reserved for breakfast.

Without wanting to "waste" anytime getting food, we decided to grab an early lunch after our first attraction instead. First on the list would be l'Hôtel des Invalides. 
     We hopped on the metro and took it to Champs-Élysées- Clemenceau after a change at St Lazare. Invalides would have been a closer station but i wanted to walk across the extravagant Pont Alexandre III. This monumental arch bridge connects the Champs-Élysées with the Invalides quarter.

It's assortment of sea nymphs, lamps, and gold statues ensured that no bridge in Paris would match it's elegance. It gave excellent views of the River Seine in either direction. The bridge did a good job framing Invalides from a straight on angle.

       We walked across it to Invalides and admired the impressive exterior. The Musée de l`Armée wasn't open for another 20 minutes or so. The line was very short but we debated leaving and getting food somewhere close first. Grey clouds began to thicken the sky threatening my hopes of a rain free day. In a little while we'd be inside the museum anyway so it wasn't a huge deal.
      This complex was a military/war enthusiast's dream! You had access to Napoleon's tomb, the dome church, and entire army museum for only €9 each. I promised my wife that we'd stay no longer than 2 hours unless she was engaged to see more. (i wasn't counting my chickens here but you never know!) While we waited in line, i checked out the old French cannons on display in the courtyard.  Bonaparte himself had a big statue that overlooked it. There was some anti aircraft artillery and a tank out there as well. The dome was quintessential of the French Baroque style of architecture. When in sight, It was hard to take your eyes off it.

small group checking out Napoleon's statue

     As the museum opened a French brigade had been given a briefing of some kind and was free to explore afterward. The exhibits here were quite impressive and displayed in 4 different languages. You were taken from room to room as France's military progressed throughout the ages. There were costumed models, weapons of each era, old war photographs, strategic maps, and much more.

 I tried not rushing through the medieval or WWI section in anticipation of WWII and Napoleon's tomb. Other than the cadets roaming around, it wasn't crowded at all. I was a little surprised to see my wife lagging far behind me reading up on each installation. By the time i was in the WWII section she was nowhere to be seen! Guess she wasn't so bored after all.
     This was by far my favorite section of the museum. Being a big WWII enthusiast i took my time looking at all the installments of occupied France. There was a large collection of Nazi propaganda posters, photos of Hitler in Paris, and even a German street sign. (Hermann-Göring-Straße....yea right!) They had Nazi helmets, uniforms, stationary of the third reich, everything under the sun you could think of.

 Fantastic collection! I got really emotional when i reached a section dedicated to the United States. It was here, in France, that Americans laid down their lives to defend her not once, but twice. I fought back tears when i saw black and white footage of the horrors of D-Day on Normandy Beach. It's difficult to describe what was going through me. It was a big mixture of pride, gratitude, and just putting myself in the boots of those terrified young boys. France and the US would forever be tethered in bond, brotherhood, and bloodshed. It made me feel good that they appreciated it enough to make it apart of this complex. Further evidence of this could be found elsewhere, like the FDR metro stop for example.
     I was literally sprinting towards the golden dome after we got done. We had to exit out one side of the complex to reach the other. It was beginning to rain as we made our way. Here, the Église du Dôme was in session so we didn't get to see that.
     The big ticket however was the grandiose tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte I. The French spared no expense at making him seem like a God amongst mortals. A triumphal statue seemed to reign down on visitors like a Roman emperor.

 The place was littered with colorful paintings and golden decor. It was another "DAMN.... look at this....wowwwww" moment. Invalides was originally planned by Louis XIV to shelter wounded soldiers so this extravagant crypt for Napoleon was more recent. 

 The only thing that surprised me a bit was the simplicity of his oversized tomb. I imagined something more decorative for someone who did so much for the glory of France. We spent a little over 2 hours at Invalides feeling pretty good about everything we'd seen. I could have spent all day here by myself. 

     It was still drizzling as we high tailed it to Varenne, the nearest metro station. Since the Opéra Garnier was next, we decided to grab lunch near that. We got off and scoped it out a little bit from outside. This was one of the areas where tourists swarmed just outside the station taking pictures of the opulent structure.

I avoided taking too many photos since the rain posed a risk to my Nikon. The Opéra was one of 3 other sights clustered together in a triangle; the others being Place Vendome and L'Église de la Madeleine. I figured once finished the next stop would be within walking distance. As efficient as the metro was here, anytime you can avoid it was a good thing

     We didn't walk very far before stumbling onto a café called Brioche Dorée. I had seen one elsewhere in Paris and assumed it was a chain of restaurants. One of my favorite things about this country were the sandwiches at lunchtime. The bread and cheese never tasted the same but it was always awesome. We picked up a couple of 12 inchers and a square slice of pizza. After only 2 days i could taste the difference between freshly baked baguettes filled with fresh ingredients to the mass produced fast food we were eating. Lunch here was okay but not particularly memorable. We ordered. We ate. We left. We never looked back.

I was mildly annoyed that i didn't realize (or care) that we were dining in a large chain with locations in Chicago, Canada, and even Saudi Arabia. It wasn't a big deal though.
     We walked back over to the Opéra to see there was absolutely no line. I knew it was too good to be true and my intuition was correct. They were closed. "No problem," i told my wife, "we'll come back tomorrow". The next day's forecast predicted favorable weather anyway.
      We set off for the nearby Place Vendôme located in the 1st arrondissiment. 

      A fire broke out in the garage of the Ritz just a week before we arrived so i was relieved to see this pedestrian area open. There simply wasn't much foot traffic here. All the luxury shops were closed being a Sunday. In fact, everything here was closed. Napoleon stood atop his column in the middle. The whole thing had been constructed out of melted down enemy cannons. I didn't feel much like checking out the reliefs.

I would try and check this out solo tomorrow if time allowed since we'd be in the vicinity. The off and on sprinkles didn't bother me so much as the now steady rain that poured down. Luckily i keep a small umbrella in my day pack but taking pictures while holding it was difficult. We rainproofed a couple of jackets back home which we wore. I finally tucked the Nikon away in it's protective case. My wife nicknamed it "the lunchbox". 
     It was only one o'clock so we were definitely ahead of schedule. With the Opéra closed and Place Vendôme wet and deserted our day kind of descended into a "what now" state of affairs. Our list of attractions was a small one by now but i regrouped with a plan in mind. Back home we agreed to see one of two Chinatowns if time allowed plus the Château de Vincennes. There was NO way i was taking my wife to Place de la Concorde or the Panthéon in this crap. Those were A-list attractions reserved for A-list weather my friends. We planned a Chinese massage well ahead of time but decided to visit the château first. 
     We first walked back to the Opéra station and needed a change to get to line 1. Once we did it was a lazy 20 minute ride to our destination. Having a seat after all the walking one does is certainly a luxury. Line 1 basically dead ends at the Château so it was a quiet trip towards the end.

The rain finally let up as we walked to the entrance. There was no admission charge to explore the grounds so that's what i had planned. The château is a large royal castle built in medieval times.

It's original purpose was a hunting lodge for King Louis VII. Like other fortresses of this era it was surrounded by a deep moat. There were a few other buildings located on the grounds including a beautiful old chapel.

Tickets for sale gave you access to this and the castle's keep but we were content to just wander the grounds. It was a relaxing way to kill an hour at no cost. (other than the metro ticket)
     We then jumped back on the metro and took it to Hôtel de Ville. This building is the very essence of French Renaissance architecture. It houses the mayor's offices and plays host to any number of events that take place in Paris.

 Of all the buildings here, this was the one i most looked forward to seeing in person. It's popular with tourists too situated between a busy metro station of the same name and Île de la Cité. Sarah got a bit of a breather on one of the many seats while i briefly explored the perimeter. It was impossible to get it all in the camera's viewfinder!
     We jumped back on line 1 and changed at Châtelet to reach Porte d'Ivry. Since the château this journey covered over 20 stops and took roughly 40 minutes. This was the largest of 3 Chinatowns in Paris and all of Europe.

It wasn't as colorful or camera friendly as others I've visited. Very little pageantry or flair. No friendship gate. Tourism was definitely low on the totem pole here. I still found it charming nonetheless. Les Olympiades had tall apartment buildings that were populated with mostly Chinese and Vietnamese residents. I liked the fact that people actually lived here and didn't simply show up to man Chinese restaurants.
     It didn't take long to find Don Fang's; the massage place i had plotted. Your narrator had tight shoulders and a sore back from all the walking, lugging suitcases, and climbing stairs. A full body massage here was €30 for a half hour. The whole trip, i looked forward to this. Well....dammit if this place wasn't closed. We briefly looked around for alternatives nearby but no place was open.
     Instead of pouting, all we could do was smile and explore the rest of the Chinese businesses along Ave de Choisy.

     We poked inside a busy little grocery store to have a look. I was scolded by the owner for taking pictures so my wife and i left. I almost turned around to take one final photo but didn't want to be karate chopped by ninjas in the street or anything.


As we made our way back to the metro i observed one of the only low floor trams in Paris. I love the metro here but trams are quicker and more efficient to me.
     We took it easy back at the room for a while. Our plan for tonight was simple: See Paris from the 56th floor of Montparnasse tower and dinner afterward. 
We took the metro and got off at Montparnasse Bienvenue.

It was very easy to find where we needed to go thanks to a helpful tip on Tripadvisor. Despite all the signs for the attraction, a series of orange awnings led you straight to it. I got a little nervous on the way. The moon nor stars were anywhere to be seen and we were about to shell out €13 each.  

The building itself is something of an eyesore for Parisians. In fact, after it was built, an ordinance stated that no other skyscrapers could be constructed in the city center. I have to admit... this 758 ft giant appeared very out of place here. I think it would have made friends in the business district of La Defense. I was very excited about the views from the top but also worried that Sarah would freeze her butt off up there. I figured she could hang out in the cafe while i did my thing in the observatory.

Tour Montparnasse
     Upon arrival, we joined a small queue and got tickets. A very quick elevator got us to the very top. It was actually the fasted one in all of Europe. Due to construction the 56th floor bar was closed and only the rooftop terrace was open. It was chilly and windy up there but glass barriers helped to contain it.

From this vantage point your breath was literally taken away. You could see everything i was so excited! One of the biggest reasons i opted to skip the Eiffel Tower (besides the queues) was that the tower itself wasn't visible. From what i read, Tour Montparnasse has gained in popularity but is still one of those "inside secrets" that locals reserve for their out of town guests. On similar lines, New Yorkers take their guests to the top of the Rockefeller instead of the Empire State building for the same reason.
     It was a little frustrating for me to get good photos at first, however. The glass reflected too much light behind me and my tripod didn't reach high enough to avoid it altogether.

 When people walked by it vibrated too. This resulted in some annoying, blurry results. I found my niche after 20 minutes or so. There were lots of OOOOH's and AHHHH!'s as the Eiffel Tower glittered on the hour. It's simply one of the most electrifying sights to behold. I could only imagine what it looked like from below but from up here i was mesmerized like a child by his first lightning storm.

I must have taken over a 100 pictures of just this.  Some Asian photographers found some good locations to sneak their lenses through the glass plates. I waited patiently for one of them to move on and picked up where they left off. From this panoramic viewpoint I spotted Sacré-Cœur, Invalides, l'Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, and the Panthéon too. My 200 mm zoom lens caught these from a good distance but the vibration, wind, and sensitivity made it very difficult.



Notre Dame

  Even though the city was completely surrounded by foul weather it's as if there was a force field keeping it out of the center. There was absolutely no obstruction from clouds, fog, or rain which made me a happy camper. My ice cube of a wife was very eager to go so i wrapped up and we left after about an hour. The photos turned out OK at best which was a big disappointment for me. My expectations were much too high given the elements and limitations of a lightweight, inexpensive tripod. Next time I'd be ready!

     There were many choices for dinner after we left Montparnasse. We didn't wander into the Lafayette Galleries but they were close by. One thing that intrigued us as we passed café after café were the large heat lamps above to keep outdoor diners warm. Despite this, we picked a place that had adequate seating inside so Sarah could defrost; Au Baroudeur. (The Adventurer)

We were up for an adventure anyway. French wine was something we hadn't taken full advantage of so our waiter got us started with that. My wife had a glass of red while i ordered a half liter of Chardonnay. As we placed our food orders the waiter warned that my appetizer was a very big one. I insisted but found it kinda funny. He was right though!

My skirt steak with frites was seasoned to perfection and very juicy. A delicious selection of French meats and cheeses accompanied this. Sarah went with the baked chicken and loved it. This was a fantastic meal! To think i had originally wanted to avoid steak in Europe seemed like a big mistake.

     I had an eye on the clouds all night long to judge whether going out solo would be a good idea. There were a few places i wanted to capture at night, mainly the Arc de Triomphe, Hôtel de Ville, and the Louvre. Conditions were favorable so my mind was set. We took the metro back to the hotel where i would leave Sarah for the rest of the night.

 She was pretty worn out and invited the down time with her book while i went back out.
     I started by taking the metro back towards the Louvre. It was pretty dark when i got up there. Since the museum was closed, there weren't any tripod police to prevent myself and other photographers from setting up.

 I was approached by a beggar but he left me alone. After i got what i needed i saw several homeless sleeping quietly against the walls. It smelled like urine here for obvious reasons. I made my way along the Seine capturing beautiful reflections when they presented themselves.

 There were 4 Asian photographers, all with tripods, taking pictures on the Pont au Change. I joined them which they didn't seem to mind in the least. After i finished we all seemed to pack up at the same time and walk in the same direction. Even though i felt plenty safe along this dark street, it's never a bad idea to be near a group. To my amusement they walked over to the Hôtel de Ville just like i did. The lights were turned off (like St Paul's in London) so i didn't have much to work with.

 I separated from my "buddies" and proceeded to the last stop of the night; the Arc de Triomphe.
     After a near empty subway ride i arrived to find an equally as deserted Champs-Élysées. As i setup my tripod some drunk fool came over and asked stupid questions. When he saw i was uninterested he walked away blubbering obscenities and something that began with "the problem with you Americans is bla bla bla". As i focused my attention back vehicle traffic around the arch was non existent.

It was if i had her all to myself. Majestic. Imposing. Triumphant. I could see why Napoleon had it constructed. My only regret was not seeing this Goliath monument during the day. I got loads of good material here but i took too much time doing so.

click here for hi-res stitched from 20 images

      The gates to the Charles de Gaulle station were closed so I'd have to figure another way to get back. This is where things started to sour. On my GPS map the Arc de Triomphe forms somewhat of a wheel with the streets as spokes.

whose idea was this dammit??!

The problem was it was difficult to tell if the street i turned onto was the correct one until i walked a ways. I would turn onto a street, walk down it a bit, and then see that i needed the next one up. It happend about 7 times. This loop was almost a complete 360. A bus or tax at this hour were pretty much out of the question. There were none to be seen anyway. I remember during my planning that the arch was within a 15 minute walk of our hotel so i manned up. The streets were quiet as a chilly fog descended.

The occasional bike would zip by unexpectedly. By this time restaurant owners were turning the chairs on top of tables as they broke down for the evening. There's something intimate about seeing a city "get ready for bed" like this. I reached the hotel after a 25 minute walk and that's just what i did.

Day 4: Nous ne sommes pas prêts
It was our last full day in Paris and it started under gloomy conditions. I was ecstatic to look out my window and see this..... NOT.

 We wasted no time showering and gettin a move on. This morning would find your American friends in the 5th arr. If you want a real taste of this city, don't go to a museum. Go to the Latin Quarter! This charming area is a medieval maze of bistros, students, and winding streets. Finding a cozy little café for breakfast is about as difficult as applying toothpaste to a toothbrush.
     We chose one and were warmly greeted by the owner. Locals sipped coffee at the bar making conversation. The irresistable smell of croissants, cheese, and coffee were inviting. In fact, he was letting molds of fresh cheese dry and harden on one of the tables. His cat was dozing off in a basket near the back of the restaurant.

Little touches like this added to the unique charms of Paris, like a signature.
Le petit dejeuner consisted of hot chocolate, croissants, baguette with fresh preserves, and fresh squeezed juice. These small breakfasts were always the perfect way to start the day. I'm actually glad that our hotel room's rate didn't include it.
trust me...this never got old
     It was here that we realized just how much processed food Americans consume. Aside from produce, there just isn't much that isn't stuffed with fillers, hormones, and preservatives. Fresh ingredients really did make all the difference.
     We moved on wandering aimlessly through the narrow streets. Where wasn't terribly important because we were within striking distance of the Panthéon. You could see the top of the dome peaking up above the surrounding buildings.


There was a tiny square with a fountain in the middle that we found exceptional. As much fun as i was having with the tourist attractions, strolling around and bumping into stuff like this was my favorite part.

 You know... the stuff not found in a guide book. On a future trip I'd try to set more time aside for this kind of exploring.
     The Panthéon waited for us as the skies began to clear a bit. My hope was that it would be nice and blue out when we were done. The exterior was visually impressive, like a cross between St Paul's and the Panthéon in Rome.

 Admission was €8,5 each. This enormous church gave us a different look we hadn't previously seen before in Europe. Upon entering your eyes are instantly drawn to the undulating symmetry of the ceiling. It's kaleidoscope of arches and circles were outlined with elegant carvings and French frescoes.

 It was clear their purpose was to accentuate but not dominate. They added just enough color to avoid an all out greyscale. Tall Corinthian columns connected this to the simple, yet effective patterns of the ground below. We saw clusters of white statues in many of the corners as well. Any of these could've been standalone monuments on a typical Parisan roundabout. My initial thought was that photography was prohibited until others snapped photos in clear sight of staff members. Jackpot! If it were Sunday it's doubtful my Nikon would've seen any action here.
      There wasn't a single chair to be found making me think it resembled a museum more than a church. The big ticket here, however, was the pendulum that attracted small crowds.

A French physicist demonstrated the earth's rotation with an experiment here but the original model was moved elsewhere. We also checked out the crypt below, final resting place to scores of famous French dead. We came across such names at Louis Braille, Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie.


My wife was delighted to find detailed descriptions of these people. Once again it lent to the feel of a museum. This necropolis seemed to house important nationalists as opposed to the war heroes found at Invalides. It also housed a replica of the exterior structure which was neat to look at.

     After getting our euros worth we were content to stroll back through the Latin Quarter on the way to a metro stop. The dreariness was beginning to fade as we walked out. Straight ahead was the Garden of Luxembourg but that wasn't on our plate this trip. I'm sure the sunshine was welcomed by it's many flowers as well as my now thawed wife. Better late than never, right? As it turned out we wouldn't see another rain cloud for the duration of our time in Europe.
just out front of the church

La Sorbonne church
 As we made our way back college kids came out of the woodwork as it got closer to lunchtime. This area is home to several universities and campuses. All of a sudden these quiet streets were swarming with activity.
     After zipping along on the metro our next stop was Place de la Concorde. This historic plaza was framed by the Seine, Tuileries garden, and Champs-Élysées. In fact, you could see all the way down it to the Arc de Triomphe.

  It served as the spot where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were beheaded. Over the years it transitioned into a beautiful pedestrian area as opposed to a place of execution. The American embassy was just around the corner as were other office buildings. The traffic surrounding it was heavy at times but you were safe within it's confines.

     This was the largest public square in all of Paris, and in my opinion, the most scenic. You got sweeping views of the city with the Eiffel Tower off in the distance. Two large fountains and the ornate lamps gave Concorde a unique flavor. Water sprayed on and off of these fountains surprising unsuspecting passerbys. It was fun watching people pose for photos only to be sprayed by cold water moments later. 

     The Luxor Obelisk is the centerpiece of Concorde and was an instant tourist magnet. This 3,300 year old relic is one of two that used to mark the entrance of an Egyptian temple. Hieroglyphics at it's base shared the technology that was used to transport it.

  In the 1800's Egypt offered one of them as a gift to France. It was fascinating to stand next to something so ancient outside of a museum setting. My wife took her time strolling along here soaking in the sun under blue skies.
      After some dilly dallying our bellies began to rumble. The next place we'd be seeing was a church called l'Eglise de la Madeleine. I didn't have it in me to do anymore sightseeing on an empty stomach so we looked for a sandwich shop or something close by. The church itself was a Roman-temple like masterpiece from outside.

It's original purpose was to glorify Napoleon's army but after his overthrow it was turned into a church. We only got a quick glimpse before turning right onto a street dotted with cafes.
     Choosing one was an easy task. A pretty young waitress quickly finished a smoke just before we walked in. She greeted us with a friendly bonjour and showed us the 3 course lunch for 8,40 which seemed like a deal. I couldn't articulate what i wanted to say in French so she switched over to English for us.

She explained that she lived in Australia as well as other parts of the world so English was easy. When asked which her favorite place to live was she closed her eyes and smiled. "Rio" was her reply. 
     I had a very tasty sandwich on a poppy seed bun while my wife had something similar. Mine had egg, tomatoes, soft cheese, ham, and a zesty mustard of some kind. Fantastic! The chocolate pie for dessert was equally as good. Once again, the chocolate we encountered here in Europe was richer than anything back home. I tried an orange Schweppes to drink as it was something different to me.

As was the case in most places we went, it was just enough food for us. Delicious and inexpensive. We retraced our steps back to the Greek-like church when we were finished.
     It was difficult to fit the whole thing in my viewfinder so i jogged across a couple of streets to do so while Sarah waited on the steps. Admission was free and photography was allowed. Just what i wanted to see!

l'Eglise de la Madeleine

sun on the church steps

 Like other places of worship tripods and camera flash were banned. After 10 days in Europe i expected these to all run together but La Madeleine separated itself from the others. It was fairly dim on the inside. Actually, it was very dim. Most of the lighting poured in from the oculus above the altar. This cast graceful shadows on the statues as well as other sculptures nearby. With the exception of that, the interior probably looks just as dark as it does at night. Golden accents helped trim everything from the columns to chandeliers. 



As i made my way towards the altar to take a closer look it happened. A high pitched melody floated through the air like a flute. I turned around and caught a glimpse of an enormous pipe organ surrounded by spectators. The shadows it casted made it appear larger than life. The man playing was extremely gifted.

Little by little the song got gradually louder until angry, chaotic chords smashed down upon those of us in complete awe below. The look on people's faces, as everyone's attention was on the organist, suggested that nobody was taking their eyes off him until the song finished. It sent chills through me. Wide open jaws and applause followed as he finished on a harmonically, triumphant note. I've never heard anything like it before. Simply astounding! We took a little bit of quiet time to reflect in prayer before leaving. 
     We completed the last section of our "tourist triangle" with a short walk over to the Palais de Opéra Garnier. This time around it was open. We wanted to sample some Parisen grandiose without going to the Château de Versailles. There wasn't time on this trip to immerse ourselves in a palace that size but the opera would give us a good taste. 
      We walked up a red carpet inside where we purchased tickets and waited.

 When it was our turn to venture in, everyone including a guided tour we opted out of gravitated to the grand staircase. Very nice indeed! Women took turns having their husbands take pictures of them at the top.

 It was here that my wife and i split up. After some wandering about i noticed that my Nikon's battery was very low. My Sony had plenty of juice but nowhere near the low light capabilities of the D3100. The spare was uncharged so i'd have to make do and be very selective. I had a hidden agenda as i made my way to the exit.
     Because it was now gorgeous out, i wanted to revisit the nearby Place Vendôme. I erroneously chose a door that lead to the outside with no way out. I then snuck back indoors and found the exit in the rear. I'd love to have seen what a security watchman was saying if he saw that. I literally jogged my way over there, unbeknownst to my wife, weaving between pedestrians. "Excusez-moi monsieur!... merci merci! excusez-moi madam......Je suis désolé!" haha I must have looked like the perfect American asshole tourist. All i needed was a large rimmed hat and white sneakers.
      Place Vendôme was much nicer this time! Look at that wonderful blue sky!

I walked around as i tried to catch my breath. My heart was beating so hard that it was difficult to hold the camera steady. I got a much better look at the column and observed fancy clientele that frequented this ritzy plaza.

detail of the column
 Customers weaved in and out of boutique shops and high end jewelers. It was like a completely different square than the same one we visited yesterday. I then trotted back to the Opéra Garnier hoping my wife wasn't looking for me.
     It didn't take me long to spot her as she asked what i thought of the Grand Foyer. I never stumbled upon that so she showed me where it was. Holy cow was it opulent! Paintings, mirrors, and lots of gold molding decorated the ceiling.

 In fact, i don't think i looked at anything BUT the ceiling. This room made even a novice photographer look like a master. We took a look at the actual opera as well as the balcony. While the view was charming, it was limited to nearby buildings and the street below. OK, but unimpressive by Paris standards.

Security personnel began to restrict access by roping off rooms and locking doors. They finally shooed us all off while everyone was corralled in the staircase area. I managed to snap this last picture of my wife seconds before the mass exodus.

Apparently there was a recital scheduled and our group was the last to tour the Palace. I felt just a little bit guilty for not taking my wife to a ballet here but smiled at the thought of returning.
     As we left i got some good photos of exterior, mainly the front facing façade. You get a much better view of the green dome the further away you get.

As we made our way back i went over a list in my head of things we hadn't seen/done in Paris but wanted to. St Chapelle was a definite. An opera or ballet at the palace we just saw sprang up. I wanted to show my wife the Gardens of Luxembourg and Tuileries under warmer conditions. Maybe ascend the Eiffel Tower?...hmmm.......meh. the lines are always so long. Probably the Arc de Triomphe. Next trip we'd have ample time to dedicate to both the Louvre as well as Versailles. Musee d'Orsday if we had room in our itinerary? We haven't even left the friggin' country and i was already thinking of a repeat trip. Paris will do that to you.

     On the subway i looked at our list of attractions with only two remaining: La Défense and La Fontaine des Innocents. It wasn't even dark out yet and i was both impressed and amazed that we covered so much ground in 4 days. We took the subway near Châtelet and got off near the Hôtel de Ville.  
     We walked towards the curiously awkward looking Tour St Jacques which sat in a quiet park. This odd structure was all that remained from an ancient church that was demolished.

 My GPS app has an offline wiki feature where you could read a thing or two about the attraction you were looking at complete with photos. I fired this up and let my other half have at it while sitting on a bench. She appreciated this as it allowed her to learn at her own pace. I took this moment to grab a few photos of the Hôtel de Ville right around the corner.

 Like the Place Vendôme, it's beauty warranted a do-over with the foul weather a not so distant memory. As i reached for my Sony i noticed it wasn't there. Upon returning to the park bench, it was just sitting there untouched. I was amazed that nobody made off with it but thankful. I rejoined my wife and set back off for the fountain.
     Les Fontaine des Innocents as it was called was a beautiful monument designed in the new style of the French renaissance. Like the nearby Tour de Jacques it was part of a larger structure and relocated. I couldn't help thinking that it was the place where Clark Griswalt got his camcorder stolen in European Vacation.

 There were a few seedy characters milling around this busy area but nobody would be laying a hand on my equipment. The Halles station was nearby so we jumped on that.
     Our feet were throbbing a little bit so we used the metro to get us back to the Cervantes. We took a short rest and recharged my camera's batteries as well. Originally i was going to take my wife to one of the flashy restaurants i had her pick out in the Latin Quarter. Instead, i wanted a little change of scenery. Since arrival we'd been looking at structures of historical importance so i transitioned that over to the ultra modern style of La Défense district.
     After a change we took line 1 to the very end. We were immediately greeted by the towering Grand Arch.

This thing was so big you could fit the Notre Dame completely inside. We then explored this concrete jungle which was Paris's business district and headquarters to several European companies. It's skyline didn't look much different from Canary Wharf in London or even Jakarta for that matter. It did appear very clean and even a bit futuristic. Modern looking sculptures gave the area an ultra hip look. The absence of roads was a welcome change.

 One of my favorite parts about traveling though is finding contrasts that distinguish that city from others. These differences, however subtle or great, add to that place's identity. The grand arch and abundant walkways were a great start. 
     There appeared to be several shopping centers towards a globe-like structure so we made our way over there. We needed more Euros so we took advantage of an ATM plus the only free water fountain I'd seen in all of Europe.

 On the inside it didn't look much different from any of the fancier malls in the US. Americans are big consumerists so our shopping malls are grand, spacious, and in some cases elegant. I like lots of things under one roof.... shops, restaurants, department stores, movie theaters and this had all of that.

under the globe

 I liked walking around window shopping. Like most of what we observed here store were very sheik and modern. We ducked into a small store looking for a small shampoo bottle for my wife but came up dry. There was a grocery store i took a peak at too. As expected the cheese and pastry selection was huge. There were only a few cereal selections which i found funny. With the vast selection of pastries, croissants, and bread for breakfast, i could see why demand for cereal would be low. This particular mall didn't have any restaurants that looked particularly interesting to us so we decided to catch one near our hotel. There was a Leonidas Chocolatier kiosk that got my attention so i went over there to check it out.


The chocolates in Brussels were fantastic but i didn't get to try much. After a sample i chose about 12 pieces that fit in a gold box for a reasonable price. That would be my dessert for the evening and last me about a week. It was now fairly chilly outside so i promised my wife I'd only take a few photos of the area once more.

 The grand arch was illuminated like the moon while the rest of the skyscrapers slept quietly. La Défense definitely marked it's place a unique business district that doesn't roll over and die like some others. The glass, steel, and concrete wasn't nearly as warm and charming at the old part of the city. Nonetheless It was a nice break from all the old monuments of old Paris. Even though we didn't end up dining I was glad we came here.

La Défense

     We boarded the RER A at La Défense and took it back to the 17th. We picked a traditional looking restaurant called Le Monceau Café. I had a French sausage called andouillette which was loosely packed with small pieces of seasoned pork and herbs.

my wife enjoying a glass of wine


 As far as texture goes it was a little squishy inside but quite tasty and served with a mustard sauce and frites. Sarah had a glazed chicken breast with rice that she found very good. Bread and wine are staples of French cuisine and accentuate ANYTHING you could eat for dinner. It's fantastic everytime and this was no different.

     Once we got back we had the miserable task of packing up. 4 days here got us acquainted with the French capital but i could have easily done 4 more. Our next destination would be Portugal so we had to be at CDG early enough to not stress it. I ate a chocolate or two before bed and abandoned any urges to shoot night-time photography. A full night's rest was going to be key to enjoying our half day in Lisbon the next day.

What I liked:
- French cuisine
- Top shelf attractions
- Efficient metro system
- Tour Montparnasse
- The locals

What I didn't like:  
- Fairly small dinner portions
- Kids with clipboards
- High volume of beggars and homeless
- Aggressive vendors selling junk
- More expensive than London

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