Exploring Paris... and a very nice dinner with friends in a classic French bistro.
As we tend to do when arriving in a "new" city, we had booked ourselves onto yet another walking tour today. It didn't start until 11am so we had some time in the morning to go slow.
Regardless, at 9am we were on our way out, having decided to stroll from our apartment at 16 Rue Alibert to Place St Michel where the tour would commence a stones throw away from Notre Dame on Rive Gauche (the leg bank) of the Seine.
First a few pics from around where we stay. Our apartment block is hardly the most glamourous building from the outside.
The lobby though is nice enough, with lots of plants to liven up the place.
Out the back where our windows are on the 3rd floor, 2nd from the left, with brown shutters on both sides.
Note the girl on the 2nd floor, 3rd window checking out us as we were taking this pic.
Looking down the street where Canal St Martin is just behind the red lights.
Our apartment building is in that gap to the right of the red awning and five streets meet just here.
This was how we walked from home towards the Place St Michel.
A few pics along the way... This beautiful building is a circus/theatre and can be found on Boulevard Du Temple.
As can this shop with a familiar theme... Apparently Jim Morrison of the Doors, if he would have still been alive today, would turn 70 years of age soon as we saw several posters announcing some kind of "birthday party". Gone but not forgotten. They loved Jim Morrison in Paris.
Some inventive street art... We did notice a bit of Berlin style street art on the streets of Paris where the artists had been utilizing rolled on paper and stencils.
This square called Place Des Vosges looked really pretty. We bet that housing here would cost a bit and the surrounding galleries and restsurants looked elegant and expensive (but what isn't in Paris?).
Of course, you know you are in Paris when signs explicitly tell you to keep off the grass. So un-Australian.
We arrived at Place St Michel around 10.30am which gave us enough time for a cuppa. Notre Dame cathedral can be seen through the window in the centre distance.
You know you are in a tourist Mecca when you pay these kind of prices and even locals agree this is too much. Two cups of coffee is 10€60 which would be around A$16 or A$8 per cup. Don't think about it...
Just before 11am, we were all gathering at the fountain at Place Saint Michel. Lots and lots of punters here today and we were told to wait so that all got registered with tickets for the "free" walking tour.
Another selfie towards Pont Saint Michel.
But hold on, who is that in the background? Is that Austin Powers?
Our guide, Estoban, was from Bogota, Columbia, spoke very good English and knew a lot about Paris even though on his own admission had only been here for a couple of years. We've found all Sandemans tour guides to be of high quality and give them good reviews in TripAdvisor.
First stop, just across the road from Fountaine St Michel...
...where you could also see this somewhat famous building to the left.
According to Estoban, the book "The hunchback of Notre Dame" was originally called just "Notre Dame" and was about the cathedral itself that at the time had fallen into a bit of disrepair but Victor Hugo was nevertheless very fond of it. The book was intended to raise awareness for Parisians of the poor state of the church, and it worked. Notre Dame looks recently sandblasted and cared for (of course there is always some scaffolding somewhere and we did catch a glimpse...)
At the statue of Henry IV on Pont Neuf, we learned another thing about statues with royalties and war heroes on horses. Apparently, there is symbolism in the horse's legs as follows:
- If the horse has both of its front feet in the air, the rider had been killed in battled
- If the horse has one of its front and one of its back feet in the air, the rider had been murdered or killed under suspicious circumstances
- If all four of the horse's feet are on the ground, the rider died a natural death.
Interesting. Henry IV was stabbed to death with a dagger despite being a popular king. Turns out some of his subjects never accepted him due to his Protestant background.
Pont Neuf, means new bridge, but ironically now the oldest bridge over the Seine. It was the first stone bridge to be built as all previous bridges were made of wood, which didn't last with some collapsing as people lived on top of them with many casualties as a result.
Off we go.
Next stop is Pont des Arts and we had never ever seen so many locks on a bridge or any place with a view for that matter.
The locks were not just on the railings but also on the street lights and anywhere else where a lock could be fit.
Of course, this being Paris, there were entrepreneurs selling locks on Pont des Arts. The loan of permanent markers came for free as well.
And some of the locks had been subject to graffiti...
Estoban, our guide, chatting yet again with the Musee de Louvre in the background. Di upfront paying attention. We actually learned a lot. For example Paris dates back to 200BC when a Celtic tribe settled on Ile de la Cite. Of course the Romans followed, wiping out the Celtic town and it progressed from there.
That infamous Egyptian style pyramid that covers the entrance to the Louvre. No Robert Langdon (Da Vinci Code) here.
And from another angle. We will give the Louvre a miss this time as we were there last time in 2006 and instead in our week intend to focus on places we haven't seen before in Paris.
Our walking group outside the Louvre where we were hearing about Loius XIV and his need for a grander palace than the Louvre, hence Versailles was built.
We moved on to Jardine de Tuileries or Tuilieries Garden, which we were told meant tilers garden as this former Royal park used to be place of mud where the mud was taken and made into tiles for Paris rooftops.
The centre of Tuilieries Garden forms part of an 8km long straight and symmetrical line starting and finishing at he two Paris arches; Arc de Carrousell outside the Louvre and Arc de Triomphe at Place Charles de Gaulle. It turns out that despite the French nature for creativity and chaos there was a time when alignment was seen to add to the aesthetics of a garden or architecture. We could see how that worked.
Champs Elysses forms part of this line and over the Christmas period, so does the Ferris wheel behind Di.
The former train station behind Hans here is Musee D'Orsay where we are going next week.
The tour took us deeper into Tuilieries Garden and up on a small landing (we couldn't really call it a hill).
But wait, what is that between the two buildings to the left....
...yes, in the distance you could see the top of the Basilica de Sacre Cœur. We will probably see it up closer during our Montmartre tour on Sunday, but we have no plan to specifically visit it this time around in Paris.
The tour concluded here, at Place de la Concorde, where we had views, with background information, of the Eiffel Tower and several other Paris landmarks including the centre obelisk.
Estoban finished off by telling us the story of how the destruction of Paris at the end of WWII was avoided due to the heroic effort of a high ranking nazi who disobeyed direct orders from Hitler to set off bombs all around Paris as the nazis withdrew. We knew that something like that had happened but were not familiar with the details so it was good to know. The high ranking nazi was never thanked for his efforts and instead was a POW in America for most of his life.
We thanked Estoban for his efforts and provided him with our "voluntary contribution" before taking the metro from Concorde to Saint-Paul for some lunch as we had passed there earlier in the day and knew that there were "cheap" (not much is cheap in Paris) Asian eateries there. Time now was almost 2.30pm so we were ready for a bite.
This was the place we chose, and our lunch ended up costing us €22!! Why? Well we didn't understand the system, which we do now. You order and pay per weight of food, which will get heated up in a microwave oven. There were at least 4 different sizes of containers and you decide what food would go into what sized container. We worked out later we could have still eaten well for less than 15€.
Needless to say, we ordered too much food... It was pretty tasty though although a long long way from a good Asian feed in Sydney.
From Saint-Paul, we decided to walk back home, hence another 3 kms should be added to the already 10-11 km we had walked today.
Paris is filled with lots of "nooks and crannies" and these lovely small squares, very nice.
A lazy few hours before part two and the highlight of the day, dinner with Lise and her fiancé, Greg. We were due to meet at their place in Rue des Taillandiers at 8pm, very close to the Bastille.
An easy metro trip from Republique and as usual we were early (Di...) so we wandered a few streets locally and were surprised when we recognized this small street, Rue de Lappe, from our trip here 7 years ago. We recalled it being full of bars and restaurants and it still is. Good to see.
Parisien parking makes us laugh every day. These hard plastic bollards we think had been erected to prevent people parking over the pedestrian crossing. That worked...Not!
Lise and Greg live in a small apartment on the top floor here and at 8pm on the dot we rang the doorbell.
It was great to see Lise again, who had been an exchange student living with Di for 6 months back in 2002 (pre Hans). We caught up on a bit of news before Greg who arrived home from work at about 8.30pm. They work lomg days here and on top of that Greg still has a few years of studying before he will become a fully qualified surgeon.
The happy couple in their living space of their apartment.
Lise and Greg are getting married in July next year so we celebrated with great champagne and lots of chatting before heading out to dinner just before 10pm to a restaurant they had booked.
The centre of Bastille is just around the corner and on a Friday night was pretty busy, including a bunch of bikers having a party just there. We could hear the song "Jungle Boogie" from Pulp Fiction...
We took a small detour to see the end point of Canal St Martin at the Bastille, which is where we get on our canal cruise tomorrow afternoon. Trust us there is water down there to the right of the photo.
The chosen dinner place was Brasserie Bofinger (pronounced Bor-faunge-er).
It was a beautiful building and very popular with people still waiting for tables at 10pm.
Bofinger is supposed to be one of the oldest Brasseries in Paris. This restaurant opened in 1864, and specialises in food from Alsace, the region surrounding Strasbourg. But what makes it gorgeous today are the renovations that took place in 1919, with the decor changing to "Belle Epoque" and it is colourful, full of life and elegant.
This is from their website because we could not capture the image properly with our camera. We sat nearby on the ground floor near the front window, a great table!
The meat eaters about to tuck into Fois Gras de Canard (apologies for those who do not want to think about how this is "farmed"). It was delicious.
The seafood side raising spoons to dive into a Velouté (thick soup) of a small crustacean. Also delicious.
Dinner portions were very generous, not what you might think of Parisien dining, but in Alsace they specialise in bigger serves, and especially Charcoutre which is an enormous platter of meat, sauerkraut and potatoes.
Di put on a brave face to start her huge meal, but in the end she only managed half of it. Of course our waiter made some jokes about her not liking it but when quizzed by Lise did admit that almost no one finishes it.
Lise and Hans had the salmon which got thumbs up as well.
It was a gorgeous dining experience and with choosing from the set menu the price was very reasonable - with wine for 2 it was 90€. A great choice by Lise and Greg. We walked out full and happy just after midnight.
Au revoirs were followed by an easy trip home for us on the metro back to Republique. We had a few laughs on the metro as a small group of older UK tourists sat next to us and were remarking on the mouse in the restaurant where they dined at Gare De Lyon. They said the restaurant cat had recently died and hence the mice were getting cheeky. Funny and very Parisien.
The Republique area was still busy after midnight with plenty of people wandering between bars, drinking and partying. No issues getting home. In bed and asleep around 1am. A very good night.