Paris and Memories: A (sort of) tourist guide

The first time we were in Paris back in May 2009, my husband and I thought it will be a once-in-a-lifetime visit. We stayed there for 10 days and went to as many places as our Lonely Planet pocketbook suggested. We spent a day each soaking in Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace plus countless other paintings and sculptures at the Louvre, marvelling at the French’s opulence and decadence while we walked in the grand gardens and palaces at the Chateau de Versailles, breathing in Van Gogh and Manet and Monet and Renoir at Musee d’Orsay, paying homage to Oscar Wilde at Pere Lachaise cemetery, watching the Paris Open where Nadal (and I) suffered at the hands of Soderling, walking hand in hand at Jardin de Tuileries, looking at Paris from the top of Sacre-Coeur, having our pictures taken at the Notre Dame and Arc de Triomphe, eating cheese and drinking wine at Au Petit Bristot and devouring crepes at Chez Nicos in Rue Mouffetard, and bearing witness to the changing of the lights at the Eiffel Tower.

Twice-in-a-lifetime does happen. So we went back just last week, Oct 22-27, 2013 or 4 days/3 nights to be exact. And we loved that there was no more pressure to go to so many places and have our pictures taken amid the Arc de Triomphe and all its panels or the Louvre and all its angles. It was just 4 days but I didn’t feel hurried or harried. We savoured Paris at our own languid pace. It was the best of times.

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So let me share with you our 4-day itinerary, complete with directions, exact pages from the May 2012 edition of Lonely Planet’s Pocket Paris, and some marginal notes. But let me also say that if you haven’t been to the Louvre or Versailles, please allot a day each for this very-French places, no, let me correct myself, these are not simply places, these are events, so please don’t begrudge yourself the experience.

Of course everything begins in Day 1. We arrived in Paris via Air France at 6:10am and hired a cab to Hotel Amarante at Champs-Elysees. Our hotel is just a stone’s throw from Arc de Triomphe, near the George V metro line 1 (also just below the Louis Vuitton flagship store). Let me digress at this point: back in 2009, we stayed at the Hotel Normandy (Pyramides metro line 14) which is about 5-7 minutes from the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, River Seine and Jardin de Tuileries. So you don’t need to ride the metro to go to these must-see places.

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The reception people at Hotel Amarante were kind enough to let us go inside our room even when the sun was barely up, and the usual check-in time is at 3:00 p.m. By 10am, we were already at Musee Rodin (page 26). To get there from George V metro line 1, go to Champs-Elysees, transfer to metro line 13, get off at Varenne, and walk to Musee Rodin (there are signs virtually everywhere, but google maps is the best assistant). Musee Rodin is where The Thinker (originally titled as The Poet) is, plus there are other special sculptures. I love “Eve” best. We ate at the Café du Musee Rodin, which is to your left when you are facing The Thinker. The café offers a variety of salads, cheeses, tarts and wines to go with your order. Please do try their apricot tart; the flavour of the fruit combined with the sweet, soft bread will make your heart melt into happy bits. We spent a good 4 hours gazing at Rodin’s works and the temporary exhibition of Camille Claudel, Rodin’s student/muse whom he had a ‘stormy relationship’ with, according to the brochure. I can relate to all of her works, I imagine her working, temperament barely in check, wrestling with her demons, finding a way to break free from Rodin and his intrusive influence, and coming up with such brilliant-but-intimate works as The Implorer and The Gossips, among others.

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Next stop is the Eiffel Tower (page 24). To get there from Varenne, go to Invalides (same line 13), transfer to line C, and get off at Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel. One cannot tire of the Eiffel Tower. It is simply magnificent, by day, by night, in summer, in fall. If you have time, please do go up to allow yourself to gasp in awe as you take in all of Paris and its grandeur. I got properly engaged in Paris in May 2009, when the husband gave me a beautiful yellow-gold ring. Four years hence, he gave me another (white-gold) beautiful ring prior to our Paris trip. So I’m looking forward to another Paris adventure haha. Yes, this is turning out to be a long engagement but I think, I hope, I pray, that we will get to the altar someday. And for that to come to fruition, I just need an exorcist. Sorry for another digression. Aside note: be careful as you pick your angle with the Eiffel Tower in the background as there are a number of hooligans who disguise themselves as well-meaning individuals, starting off with “excuse me, do you speak English” and before you know it, you’re forced to pay an expensive but really ordinary ‘friendship bond’  or something as ironic as that. We got on the hop-on hop-off tour bus near Trocadero at the Eiffel Tower. It’s a stress-free and foot-friendly way of going about in the city and taking in must-see museums and churches and palaces and other structures plus the opera house and go-to streets and cafes and avenues.

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At about 5:00 p.m., we headed back to the hotel to freshen up for our first traditional French dinner at Le Hide (page 43). By 6:00 p.m., we started walking from our hotel to the said restaurant, which took us about 15-20 minutes. Since we were early for our 7:00 p.m. reservation, we scouted the area and took some pictures with the autumn trees in the background. By 7:00 p.m., we were hungry and raring to sample the much-celebrated French menu. We went for the three-course dinner of starters, main course and dessert. I had escargot, pan-fried monkfish in lemon butter, and meringue cake “floating island” with ice cream. My husband had shrimps (lots of shrimps that the description was really “shrimp and shrimp…”) in potato cream, baked shoulder of lamb, and chestnut cream cake. I had white wine and he had red wine. I cannot completely describe what I felt as we went from one course to another. But let me describe the Englishman to our right. He was moaning. That to me said it all, especially coming from someone who looked to me as your typical Englishman when he came in – snobbish and cold-ish.

Day 2: To complement my husband who went all serious with his meeting, I also went all serious with my shopping. I went to Longchamp across the St. Sulpice metro station (line 4). Longchamp bags are way cheaper in Paris than anywhere in the world, I hazard. Factor in the 12-percent tax refund, and I am a happy buyer. Add to that, all colors and sizes and designs are available. After an hour, I went back to the hotel and got held back by the LV shop on the way. There is a queue starting at about 3:00 p.m. So if you want to buy, be there between the opening hour of 10:00 a.m. until about 2:00 p.m. I was there early at 12 noon and had a stressful time looking and finally choosing. So many nice bags and wallets equal to so many hesitations and guilt feelings on my part. In the end, I settled for those I’ve decided on beforehand. And I think this is important: print out/take note of the items you really, absolutely, resolutely want before you go to the store, and avoid inflicting agony upon yourself by just doing it- going ahead and buying those which are in your notes, because even after you’ve looked at all the designs, you’d most probably end up with the ones in your print-out.

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In the afternoon, I went to the Musee National d’Art Moderne, which is inside the iconic Centre Pompidou (page 90). To get there from George V, go to Chatelet (same line 1), transfer to line 11, get off at Rambuteau, and follow the signs leading to Centre Pompidou. I’ve always loved art but contemporary art will always remain a puzzle to me. It does not bring out the same happy and soothing feelings that the impressionist paintings evoke, even just at a glance, mainly because modern art challenges my perception of the world and all its nuances or to put it succinctly: it makes me think. And thinking can be exhausting. After you had your fill of contemporary art (which was a good 1 hour or so for me), go to the top of the building: you can’t miss the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Hall of Justice, and other famous structures. I met up with the husband and went to dinner at a brasserie in Madeleine street (a 10-minute walk from the Concorde station, line 1), and capped the night with upside-down apple pie, berthillion sorbet in peach and raspberry, and red wine at one of the cafes along Champs-Elysees avenue.

Day 3: Musee D’Orsay day (page 142)!!! If Alzheimer’s disease hasn’t caught up with me yet, I’d say this is my fourth time to go there, 3x in 2009, and once during this particular trip. To get there from George V, go to Concorde (line 1), transfer to line 12, and get off at Solferino station. It is a nice walk to the museum as the narrow street is lined with souvenir shops. I got there at 9:00 a.m., and there was a queue already. So if you know you will stick to your itinerary come hell or whatever, purchase your tickets in advance. But if you shun such (unnecessary) pressure and have room for some surprises, then a roundtrip ticket to Paris is enough. D’Orsay is a little different now. For one, security is strict. Picture-taking is not allowed, and if you’re caught, security will shout ‘s’ilvous plait’ at the top of their lungs and everyone will look at you like you’re nuts while security erases all your buwis-buhay pictures. And anyway, why bother with some stolen shots when you can purchase and frame and hang the same Monet or Van Gogh painting in your living room. There is no substitute to being soothed by Monet’s Poppies Blooming or being teary-eyed just by looking at Van Gogh’s Starry Night. The paintings and sculptures have also moved. Van Gogh’s are in Floor 0 (yes zero), and Impressionist paintings are in Floor 5. For purchases, just go to the bookshop near the entrance rather than buy per floor. It makes the decision-making process easier. I spent five hours at D’Orsay and I could never have enough. I was late for the late lunch with my husband. So we went to Rue Mouffetard (page 130), perhaps our third time to go there. It is our favourite and happiest part of Paris. It is where great but cheap food fuse with delicious chocolate shops and the festive ambiance. We had La Crepe du Chef (for me) and La Crepe de Maison (for him) at Chez Nicos, bought chocolates at Mococha Paris where the lady seller (and I think also the owner) happily (as in almost bouncing/skipping) chose the chocolates that would fill our order of 3 layers/boxes. It rained suddenly as we were browsing the shops, so where else to take cover but at the gelato shop across Chez Nicos. I had pistachio with nutty chocolate and licked away ohsohappily. To go to Rue Mouffetard from George V, go to Palais Royal Musee du Louvre station, transfer to line 7, and get off at Place Monge. Rue Mouffetard is to your left, about 5-7 minutes from the metro.

We were so full that we were afraid we will not enjoy our other reserved-in-advance and much-anticipated dinner at La Fontaine de Mars. This is where the Obamas dined. We ordered snails of Burgundy for appetizers, seared baby calamari (for him) and roasted duck breast (for me) as main course, washed down with a bottle (yes, one big bottle just for us) of red wine, and topped it off with the dessert of the day- chocolate in ganache with citrus sorbet. The food plus the wine made me want to somersault, ‘delicious’ doesn’t even begin to describe the food, so I won’t. Suffice it to say that to understand ‘French food,’ you have to sample the menu in this restaurant. And Magneto/Gandalf himself was just a table away. I kept drinking wine to muster enough courage for a photo op. But he left early when I was still half-way through my glass of red wine. I was mighty envious of the guy near where my husband was seated, he (obviously) waited for Gandalf to finish up and when he finally stood up, the guy was ready with his big toothy grin, and Gandalf rewarded him with a polite nod. To go to this restaurant, get a cab. I’m sorry, it was drizzling when we were about to go so we hired a cab, and it took us just 7 minutes from Champs-Elysees to La Fontaine de Mars. Another marginal note: please print out the exact address (and google map on the side is helpful too) to avoid speaking in tongues with them French taxicab drivers.

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Day 4: Unfazed by the frenzy that last days normally threaten to bring, we took our time savouring the free buffet breakfast at the hotel by sampling the croissants, baguettes, au pain chocolats and have-nots, plus eight kinds of fromage (the goat cheese and blue cheese were my favorites), bonne maman marmalades and spreads, prosciutto ham plus two other ham choices, some sausages, a market-like variety of fruits, all these so I had to say no to the cereals and dried fruits.

At 9:00 a.m., we went to Musee de l’Orangerie (page 58) and lined up for 1 and ½ hours. Again, if you have spot-on very-definite plans, please buy your tickets in advance so that your queue time is reduced by half an hour at least. Otherwise, be there early at 8:00 a.m. When we finally (read: almost fatigued, almost exhausted, almost fighting) got in, we were determined to deeply (with emphasis please) savor Monet’s eight Water Lilies. They were astonishing: really huge murals in different settings. We just sat there, in awe, plus more awe. We moved to the temporary exhibit of Frieda Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera. The murals and paintings of Diego Rivera tell a story that we can empathize, especially for us Filipinos who have gone the route of revolution, replete with heroes- historical figures and modern-day idols. And then we were in a smaller room that housed Frida kahlo’s art and that painful story called her life. It was so intense and painful and sorrowful that my first thought was: they should have housed Frida’s paintings in an open space. I couldn’t breathe. I don’t know if I should wail out loud to relieve myself of emotions that were too sad and confusing or if I should take it all in and let my soul deal with her pain and my pain mixed together. In the end, I walked away. Although, it is my custom to go back and look at once more those paintings that have made a dent in my heart and soul, I didn’t dare look back at Frida Kahlo’s. I was scared that she will not only dent my soul, she will wreck it, I was sure of it. To go to Musee de l’Orangerie from George V, get off at Concorde (same line 1), stay on the left side and the museum is just around the corner, inside Jardin de Tuileries. If you have time, which we did, take a stroll at Jardin De Tuileries. It does amazing things to your spirit.

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In the afternoon, we went to Grand Palais to look at modern art. It made me dizzy, all these modern art stuff. To put it bluntly, I decided I am not and will never be enamored by modern art. And the root of it all must be that I am an old soul, or sigh, I am plain old.

We decided to have a last look-around at Paris before we head to the airport. So we went to Rue Montorgueil, which, to our delight, is a busier version of Rue Mouffetard with 10x more people in the streets and a lot more shops. We had very early dinner at L’Escargot (page 63). We had, but of course, escargot (snails in parsley and garlic) for starters, and main course of softly-roasted poulet (for him) and pork in honey sauce (for me), plus beer (2 bottles please for him and him alone) and sparkling water (for me). We decided to have our just desserts at where-else but Café George V. So we had French coffee with rum and whipped cream to go with our raspberry cheesecake and soft chocolate. The French coffee should be re-titled to French rum-with-coffee. It was that explosive.

And then the inevitable back-to-reality time came. But with a 4-day adventure filled with happy memories, serious and not-so-serious conversations, and unforgettable bonding time, we were ready to face them (children) once again. It is a fact of our life. We work to live it up.

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