Sunday 21 September
A couple of weeks prior, a truck fire had closed the Channel Tunnel and with a limited schedule we were concerned that we might not make it to Paris. Fortunately the waitlist system they had in place worked well for us and despite a slower journey time through the tunnel itself we were in the City of Lights by early afternoon.
In contrast with our previous trips to Paris, when we were staying outside the Peripherique, we were able to walk from Gare du Nord to our studio accommodation, well recommended by our neighbours Linda & Frank, which turned out to be a stone's throw from Sacré Coeur in Monmatre (seen below by night). Our hostess Valerie at Studio Amelie welcomed us warmly and after settling in we went for a wander around this charming tourist region, stopping at our corner Boulangerie / Patisserie to buy a picnic lunch.
Since we were last here about 12 years ago, the locals seem to have become more accommodating of people like us with severely limited French skills. After visiting the magnificent basilica on the hill (and noting various locations used for the film Amelie), we zig-zagged down, admiring a number of quirky storefronts and elegant boutiques. Back on the flat we quickly found ourselves in the lively though far less salubrious suburb of Pigalle - the red light district famous for Le Moulin Rouge. (Incidentally, while we didn't see Nicole Kidman in her Roxanne vamp, we did find only half a block away the now-overhyped café featured in Amelie).
Dinner was at an interesting though somewhat amateur restaurant half a block from home, with a matronly northern African chef and similar clientele. After a few language difficulties and a long wait (apparently while the chef started her prep for the evening), the food when it arrived was unexpectedly tasty. It had been a big day and we retired gratefully.
A bit of a cliché, but
Next stop was the Ile de la Cité where we made the obligatory pilgrimage to Notre Dame, still as superlative as ever. From there we wandered across to Ile Saint-Louis where Flick discovered chocolat chaud à l'ancienne - hot chocolate heaven, not equalled despite several attempts elsewhere in Paris.
Back on the mainland we tried walking past a playground, but Charlie wasn't going to let us get away with it, providing a diverting pit stop. We finished up at the Place de la Bastille before heading back via our local supermarché for a home cooked meal after a satisfying day's sight seeing.
Tuesday featured a trip up the Eiffel Tower followed by a meander down the Champs-Élysées, off which we discovered the magnificent Grand Palais and its neighbour the delightful Petit Palais. It's free, it was practically empty when we visited, it's a manageable size, has a lovely central courtyard with a little café (which Charlie had great fun crawling round in), and in the tradition of Parisian museums you can find a Renoir next to a Monet next to an ornate sedan chair and a modern photographic exhibit. All in a beautiful Baroque style building (actually built in 1900 for the Universal Exhibition).
Afterwards we took in the Place de la Concorde, Opera and a visit to the Galeries Lafayette department store and Maxims café (where Charlie had a good furniture surf - luckily the place was fairly empty).
We set off on Wednesday for a visit to the Louvre, only realising half way there on the Métro that we had forgotten Charlie's blankie. Uh-oh! It was too late to go back and when became tired (in the Italian gallery) there were tears involved. To his credit (and our relief) he did manage to get himself off, allowing us to extend our visit (after the obligatory Moaning Liz and Venus di Chocolate Milkshake) to take in some romantic and Roman sculpture (including a well hung Mr Tumnus),the fabulous Napoleon suite and Louis XIV galleries.
Back outside, we crossed the Seine via the Pont des Arts (fittingly) to explore the Rive Gauche neighbourhood of Saint-Germain. Our route was guided by the Paris Luxe Guide, which took us down little lane ways past beautiful buildings (including the ancient church of Saint-Gemain-des-Prés, hot chocolate (again) at the lively Café Les Deux Margots and fabulous shops: a book store devoted to gardening; Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, an amazing perfumery where you put your head into glass chambers, each filled with a different exotic scent; chocolatier Debauve et Gallais (appointed by French royalty) where we sampled sublime chocolate orange for €1 (about A$2) per mouthful; and the Barthélemy fromagerie where we bought some amazing cheeses for our pre dinner snack.
In the evening we ate at Le Progrès, a character-filled restaurant with big windows overlooking a cobbled crossroads near the Abbesses Métro station (the deepest in Paris owing to the location of its entry some way up the hill to Sacré Coeur). We struck up a conversation with English speaking diners at the next table, and in a classic case of six degrees of separation one of them turned out to be a fashion design teacher from Ireland specialising in sportswear, who had taught several of Flick's fellow students from her degree.
On our last morning in Paris we headed into the city and wandered from Châtelet via the Hôtel de Ville (where we mailed post cards) to the Pompidou Centre, home to many iconic designs of the 20th Century. From there we continued our exploration of the 3eme Arrondissement, past the Picasso Museum (closed for renovation), a brief stop at the Musée Carnavalet (which details the history of Paris) to the wonderfully preserved Place des Vosges a square of beautiful conjoined mansions rising above a colonnade constructed in the early 1600s, overlooking a tranquil park. By then we'd run out of time, and regretfully we had to collect our bags and bid farewell to Valerie before heading back to Gare du Nord for our return train to London.