But sadly, je only parle un peu de computerese, as evidenced by the way the post I was writing last night just disappeared. ::::poof::::
I'm still not sure what happened to it but I am now more convinced than ever that some of the "improvements" folks make with software while trying to make everything more "user friendly" aren't really improvements at all. I think it is all part of some giant conspiracy to make me feel stupid, to keep themselves in business and to get me to call "Peggy" in Punjab.
I suppose I could take the :::poof::: as a sign not to write another post about my trip -- and I am sure there are a few folks who wish I would -- but that would be admitting defeat.... to it, and to "them". And unfortunately for those of you that want to read quilt-related stuff -- that's coming soon, I promise -- you'll just have to figure out a way to silence the friends and family who don't live in Phoenix and are hounding me for pictures of my trip.
Before I forget... about the Hotel Verneuil in Paris. I didn't get a picture of my room! Can you believe I forgot that? While my room isn't one of those pictured on the website, there are pictures of many of the rooms, enough to give you an idea of what they're like. There wasn't anything about the hotel that I didn't like -- even the shampoo/bath gel smelled good. Simply put, I would happily go back.
Now about Paris... On my first full day in Paris -- Monday -- I had arranged to meet up with Mary and Alise, the sisters-in-law I had met at the Chateau. We made plans to meet in front of the Cathedral de Notre Dame.
It seemed like a good idea when we discussed it in front of the Chateau on Sunday morning... or maybe I should clarify that. I was in front of the Chateau on the way to the van leaving for the airport and Alise was in the window of her room on the third floor. It probably doesn't come as any surprise that since none of us had ever been to Notre Dame, we weren't really sure how big an area that might be, or how many people might be there. But it is a Catholic cathedral so miracles can happen -- we found each other and it didn't take more than about ten minutes.
Since we obviously knew where we were and what we were doing, we got in line, the one closest to where we were. Which happened to be on the side of the building... they go the same place, right? Uh, not exactly. As we entered "the building", we found ourselves in a staircase, a circular one. Lots and lots of stone steps -- 240 of them, to be exact. Up and up, round and round... all the way to the first level, the gift shop. As an aside, I think the lovely folks at the Cathedral de Notre Dame need to put a sign up somewhere telling folks that some of the items available in that particular gift shop aren't available elsewhere. Then again, maybe they do it on purpose. These "special" items are your reward for having climbed the stairs... and if you leave without buying, that is your penance because you won't find it again unless you climb the stairs again. (Yes, there was a small print that I thought I might need to have. No, I didn't get it while I was there, and yes, I regretted that decision. No, I wasn't climbing all those steps again just to get that silly print.)
While I hadn't really thought about it beforehand, I was surprised that all the gargoyles were different. There was an elephant, a pelican, a leopard, and all sorts of gargoylish-looking figures -- one of them was even eating another little creature. They are kind of cool. Off in the distance, that is the Basilica de Sacre-Coeur.
This is one of my favorite pictures, it was taken from the top of Notre Dame, though not the top of the tower. That would have meant another 147 steps so I bailed volunteered to go stand in the sun to wait in line for entry to the main Cathedral. It was a really long line. And what I really wanted was a bottle of water, which I knew I could get outside. If they had had bottles of water at the top of the tower, I would have gone.
Despite all the people -- most of whom were more than a little noisy -- I loved that the Cathedral still managed to seem quiet in the way that only churches can be quiet. I look forward to going back one day when it isn't so crowded -- when there aren't so many tourists. I know, I'm one of them.
One of my favorite things at Notre Dame -- and at all of the churches and museums I saw -- was the ceilings. From the way the light came through the windows to the beauty of the stonework, I think I enjoyed the buildings themselves more than the artwork. But it did make me wonder... how is it that workers in the 1300s, using what can only be described as relatively primitive tools, build something as complicated as this while I can't find a contractor who can properly align the gate on the patio so that the lock works using hyper-fancy pneumatic tools and computer-aided leveling equipment? I'm just wondering.
After lunch at a lovely cafe, we spent an hour touring Paris from a boat on the Seine. This was taken from the east side of Ile del la Cite, it shows the other side of Notre Dame. Several friends had recommended taking a cruise as an excellent way to see the city and get oriented, and while I agree with that completely, I don't think I would recommend going when it is as hot and sunny as it was that day. As beautiful as it was, we jumped ship (not literally) at the stop near the Louvre. From there we wandered through the gardens and park on our way to do some shopping -- and window-shopping -- on the Rue St. Honore.
Window-shopping in Paris just might be better than the actual shopping as the French are world leaders in presentation and packaging. Whether the shop was selling cheese, roses, chocolates or vegetables, everything was so beautifully arranged and displayed. A single chocolate in a small box was given the same attention as a 10-carat diamond... well, maybe not exactly but I'm trying to make a point here so work with me. And that point is that everything was treated as being important and special, something to be savored, appreciated and enjoyed, if for no other reason than for the care given to the manufacture and presentation of that item. As someone who likes to make "stuff", I loved seeing that an attention to detail still matters.
Since I know everyone is particularly curious about the food in Paris, I have to tell you about our dinner on Monday night. Kaari Meng, the French General herself, had told Mary and Alise about her favorite restaurant in Paris, Le Relais de l'Entrecote.
Le Relais is famous for the entrecote sauce, a green-ish sauce that is described as a complex butter-based sauce containing tarragon, marjoram, dill, rosemary, thyme, basil, paprika, anchovies, and numerous other condiments and spices. Dinner begins with a mixed green salad with a terrific dressing, and is followed by a steak-like piece of beef cooked to your preferred done-ness and pommes frites. Loved the pomme frites. Le Relais is very popular with tourists, to the point that the line started forming 30 minutes before the restaurant opened. Within a few minutes of the first guests being seated, the place is full and there is still a good-sized line outside. Diners are asked two questions -- how would you like your meat cooked? And, would you like red or white wine with your dinner? Okay, three questions -- would you like dessert?
The sauce is "interesting". I didn't dislike it but I didn't love it. While dinner was very good, let it suffice to say that I can now put Le Relais on the "been there, done that" list. Of course, maybe I was already full... or maybe I had liked the cafe where we had appetizers better.
You see, we got to the restaurant about an hour and a half before it opened. We didn't know that until we got there and since we had been walking and shopping all afternoon, we were hot, tired, thirsty and hungry. We were ready to sit down and partake of some refreshments. So rather than stand and wait in line, we went to a cafe sort of caddy-corner to Le Relais. Le Petit Zinc.
Of all the restaurants and cafes I visited in Paris, this was my favorite. We had the most incredible Gazpacho served with a scoop of Champagne sorbet. Please forgive me but I didn't think about taking a picture until I was trying to do something to occupy my hands lest I pick up my almost-empty bowl to lick it clean. It was that good. Since we still had time, we ordered a cheese plate... to go with the wine we still had left.
Do you see what I mean about the presentation of everything? So when you get to Paris, my recommendation would be to skip Le Relais and head to Le Petit Zinc. Everything about the place was terrific -- the food, the service and the wine.
Mary, Alise and I also spent a day in Montmartre. I took the Metro and met them outside the Musee des Arts et Metiers -- and to what was my favorite Metro Station, Arts et Metiers.
We took the Metro from here to the Abbesses Metro station in Montmartre -- changing trains to switch lines twice at Chatelet and Saint-Lazare. After a few fall starts -- I have a knack for getting on the right train going in the wrong direction -- I finally got it into my head that you need to remember two things: the color of the line and the name of the final Metro stop of the direction you need to go. It shouldn't be that hard, but I still managed to get it backwards. Though in my defense, have you ever been in a Paris Metro station? It is sort of like an ant-farm. I would love to see an over-head, cross-section diagram of some of the stations, especially the switching stations. In many cases, there are multiple entries to the station and after you go through the ticket gate, you go down at least one flight of stairs. That leads you to a hallway where you choose a direction -- hallway -- based on the line and direction you're traveling. Down more stairs and sometimes through more hallways, and down more stairs. In a few of the stations, I'll bet you could walk a mile or more without ever leaving the station. There are maps located throughout the station, and hallways and platforms are well-marked.
As for the trains, some are "older" and some are very new. Some are crowded and some have less than a dozen people per car. The stations were also quite clean -- cleaner than the many of the New York subway stations I've been in -- and I regularly saw police officers of one sort or another patrolling the platforms. (On a side note, if you have ever been to Paris... what is up with the French policemen? Is this where male models go when they are too old for GQ? Almost every officer I saw was tall, very buff, and extremely good-looking... and yes, you could call them sexy. I don't know if it is the tight t-shirts and well-fitting cargo-ish pants tucked into combat-style boots, or the short hair but Lord, have mercy. The thought of committing some kind of minor transgression crossed my mind... more than once.)
Where was I?
Montmartre. This is the Eglise Saint-Jean de Montmartre. If you want to know why every American comes home from France with so many pictures of churches, it is law. As you enter the country, you are issued a form that you are required to sign and depending on the duration of your stay, you are told how many pictures you are required to take. Failure to meet your quota results in the forfeiture of everything you bought in Paris. I just barely met my quota of 687 pictures. Thankfully, bad pictures count.
This lovely church bordered the little park where we exited the Metro station. After a very nice cafe creme, we walked down the Place Saint-Pierre to the park below Sacre-Coeur, the Square Louise-Michel. It is here that were faced with a very difficult decision... ride the funicular or climb 863 steps. Steps? Funicular? For the price of a Metro ticket -- less than 2 Euros -- it was an easy choice.
The views from Sacre-Coeur are worth the trip up the hillside.
One of the other big draws of Montmartre is the shopping to be found below the Square Louise-Michel. Tissus? That is French for fabric.
While sewing is making a comeback here in the United States, it never "left" in France. The Rue d'Orsel and the neighboring streets are filled with fabric shops. If you've ever been to the garment district in a city like New York or Los Angeles, then you have an inkling of what it was like. Huge shops filled with hundreds and hundreds of bolts and rolls of fabric. But not just a dozen or so shops, there were several streets where every shop on the street was a fabric shop. Silks, satins, wools, linens, and cottons in every weight, color and pattern imaginable. Bolt after bolt, roll after roll... shop after shop. And the notions! Buttons, ribbons, trims, zippers, threads, and books! I could have come home with a couple hundred yards of just linen. Ginghams, stripes and solids, in lightweight to medium-weight, with prices that would have shocked you at how reasonable they were. Most of the linens I fondled were less than $20.00 a meter. If it makes you feel better, I saw some very familiar "tissus de patchwork" that cost $40.00 a meter.
This was one of my favorite shops -- okay, it was the only one where I remembered to take a picture. And that was probably only because I was standing outside waiting for Mary and Alise to finish making their purchases. I had already managed to get into a little trouble here with the books... trouble that followed me all the way home. Two beautiful French sewing books and an embroidery book -- and yes, I promise pictures of those soon.
Alise and Mary returned home the next day and I continued to explore Paris by myself.
I saw the Louvre though I was only able to spend a few hours there. Of the museums in Paris, the Musee d'Orsay was first on my list so that is where I spent the most "museum" time. Interesting fact -- If you spent 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the Louvre, and you spent just 3 seconds looking at each exhibit and item on display, it would take you more than 3 months to see everything. I think that means I need to go back.
I found the little needlework shop on the Rue Chabanais recommended by the Blackbird Designs ladies, Des Fils et une Aiguille. A couple of meters of ribbon and several cross-stitch charts by Renato Parolin of Italy found their way into my bag.
One of the best things I did in Paris was take a cruise on the Canal St. Martin. I chose to start at the Quai de la Loire in the Bassin Villette, near the Parc de la Villette, and cruise to the Bastille. Because of the locations involved, more people start at the Bastille and cruise toward the Parc... but I often do things backwards. The cruise took about 2 1/2 hours to cover about 1 1/2 miles, going through tunnels, under bridges and through a series of locks that changes the water level about 15 feet from start to finish. What I loved most about the canal -- and the cruise -- is that it takes you through a much quieter and more residential part of Paris. While there are shops, cafes, hotels and parks, the streets and neighborhoods along the canal are less crowded than those along the Seine. The pace is quite different and so is the atmosphere. And yes, this is the canal in the French movie, Amelie.
This picture was "borrowed" from Google. In the rush to get out of the hotel in time to get to the Bassin Villette, I left my camera behind. The pictures I took with my iPhone were either very dark or blurry. For more pictures, click here.
Tomorrow I will tell you about the two walking tours I did one of the days in Paris. They deserve a post of their own. If you doubt that, just consider the titles of the two tours -- From Baguette to Bistro: The Culinary Traditions of Paris and the Chocolate Walk. Yes, I have pictures of pastries. And yes, Laduree and Pierre Herme were on the itinerary of the Chocolate Walk.
I don't remember where I read about Spring, a little restaurant on the rue Bailleul owned by three Americans. Located less than fifteen minutes walk from my hotel, what caught my attention was the recommendation for the wine tastings held in the late afternoons at the restaurant. Paris. Wine. Tastings. What time should I be there? And do I need a reservations? (4:00 pm and yes.)
No, that's not my bike. I was still sitting on mine while I took this picture. (Not really. While riding a bike through Paris would be great fun, riding through all that nutty traffic on a Friday night after having a little wine didn't seem like a particularly good idea.) While investigating further, I learned that the restaurant also offered something they called a Wine and Cheese Lab, a tasting that taught about the pairings of artisinal cheeses and wine. If the wine tasting sounded good, this sounded so much better.
From left to right: St. Maure - a goat's milk cheese from Loire / Camembert -- a cow's milk cheese from Normandy / Rochebaron -- a cow's milk cheese from Auvergne / Ossau-Iraty -- a sheep's milk cheese from Basque Country / Comte -- a cow's milk cheese from Jura / Bleu des Causses -- a sheep's milk cheese from Auvergne.
I am moving to Auvergne. With frequent trips to Basque Country. And Jura. The cheeses were incredible, and not like anything we can get here in the United States, even the exceptional artisan cheesemakers in various parts of the country. The difference is that the best cheeses in France are made with raw milk, only large commercial manufacturers pasteurize the milk. Cheeses that are produced for export to the States must be made with pasteurized milk. As you can probably imagine, the difference in taste is subtle but there is definitely a difference.
When you get to Paris, this is another one of the things I would highly recommend. It was great fun. I learned a lot. And spending two hours in a lovely restaurant drinking good wine and eating great cheese isn't a bad way to spend your last night in Paris.
After leaving Spring, I walked along the river for awhile before going back to the hotel to start packing -- I admit it, I didn't want it to get dark and I didn't really want to go back to the hotel because that meant my time in Paris was over. I took this picture as I crossed the Pont des Arts.
Of all the pictures I took in Paris, this is probably the one I'll carry in my head... at least until the next time.