Now, let’s go to France!
In June this year my best friend Cheryl came to visit me. It was her first trip to Europe and she did it up right! She took me on a whirlwind trip from Munich to Paris to Berlin and back again. I’d say for being here only two weeks that she crammed about as much as anyone could in such a short time. Therefore, so did I! Thanks, girlfriend!
She landed in Munich where I met her at the airport. Not too worse for wear, we headed to Marienplatz for a brunch of Weisswurst and a beer, as is the custom. She checked out the Glockenspiel and then we checked into Litty’s Hotel for the night. Litty’s is a good place for budget travelers and it’s only two blocks from the train station. Americans would find it weird that, even though there was a sink and shower in the room, the toilet was across the hall. Later we visited the Viktualienmarkt and famous Hofbrauhaus.
Next day it was off early to Paris! After an almost-empty train from Munich to Stuttgart, we boarded a VERY crowded train to Paris. Thank goodness we had reservations. It was like sardines in there. A German woman in our compartment took it upon herself to arrange luggage for everyone, and bless her for that because it was a feat of engineering of the highest order. I don’t know how she did it. There was much shuffling of seats as people got on and off at each station, but she was on top of it. When she got off, I noticed she grabbed bicycle bags, and a few minutes later I saw her with a bike on the platform.
We had a very educated mix of people in our section. The people across the hall were discussing genomes and archaeology in American and German accents. A Canadian man ended up across from us who told us he was a biologist on sabbatical to Germany to study hermaphroditic mussels in the Rhine River. He was on his way to Paris for a conference. You could just feel the intelligence!
The Metro in Paris is wonderful, but it can be very trying to navigate, especially when the stop where you are supposed to get off is closed for construction. In addition to that, there are no escalators or elevators so you understand quickly why they call it “luggage.”
But we managed to get to our hotel (Hotel Turenne). Interestingly, it turned out to be the exact same hotel I had when I was in Paris in 2004!
I was excited because I remembered how close it was to the Eiffel Tower and how delighted I was when I rounded that corner a few blocks away to see her in all her French glory! We stowed our bags and I couldn’t wait to take Cheryl for her first look! We hurried across the bustling streets filled with tiny cars and past cafes filled with stylish people.
We rounded that corner and there she was!
Cheryl had gotten online reservations and we had an 8:00 p.m. appointment with the top level. We didn’t have to wait in lines for long, considering the number of people mobbing the place.
Later we had a dinner of l’entrecote de boeuf et frites (ok, steak and fries) at a sidewalk bistro while we watched people and traffic go by. We are sure we saw Jason Bourne that evening and several times during our visit, especially when we heard the French sirens.
We were up early the next morning to visit the Louvre. We came up from the Metro at the end of the Tuilleries Gardens opposite the grand museum. Therefore, we got to stroll through this large, lovely park in the morning sunshine. I’d never been through it before, so it was a real treat.
We entered the Louvre through the glass pyramid:
Here’s a shot of what’s directly underneath:
We went straight to the Mona Lisa, since it gets the biggest crowds. It was early so we managed to get as close as the velvet rope allows before the room was mobbed.
On the way we saw Da Vinci’s Madonna of the Rock. Last time I was there, hardly anyone was looking at this painting. Now it’s behind glass and tourists were snapping pictures of it like mad. I guess Dan Brown has had his impact! I also visited the nearby St. John, also by DaVinci – one of my favorites, not yet behind glass.
Since I’d seen most of the sights in Paris before, I shot lots of people pix, like this one:
We just wore ourselves out in that museum, which is easy to do. We had lunch in a café there before heading off to walk along the Seine to the Ile de France. This small island is the original site of Paris and it’s also where you can find Notre Dame:
We toured the church and the nearby Archaeological Crypt before admitting that we were just too worn out to walk any further.
Therefore, we boarded a nearby hop-on-hop-off bus and rode around the city for the next couple of hours. This is a great way to orient yourself as a tourist. We rode the entire loop as we rested. This gave us an opportunity to note the sites along the route we wanted to visit later.
We hopped off near our hotel which is also near the Invalides which is also near the Rodin museum. I remembered what an oasis the Rodin museum can be in the middle of that city, so we headed there. I couldn’t resist shooting this man at the crosswalk:
Wouldn’t you love to know his story?
The Rodin museum and grounds are actually Rodin’s former home. I’m happy to report that they have made some great improvements to the place since I was there. It now has a brand new entrance hall with a temporary exhibit space and cloakroom. After strolling the garden and visiting The Thinker and the Gates of Hell, I sat in the garden café and wrote while Cheryl toured the house. I shot these pix there:
We hopped back on our bus and continued around the city, seeing the Champs Elysee, the Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, and everything else you see in the guidebooks. Along the way I noticed that Paris is virtually carpeted in Minis!
Here are some more pix I shot along the way. This first one is a tree trunk that looked like an impressionist painting:
That evening we pulled up at a sidewalk bistro on a side street near the hotel. I wish I wish I WISH I could remember the name of that place because they served us the BEST risotto I’d ever tasted! My mouth is watering right now thinking about it. It had asparagus and pesto with fried basil leaves as a garnish. Wonderfully yummy!
Next day we visited Versailles. What can I say? The Sun King did not disappoint, with all his gold and Hall of Mirrors. I barely remembered my trip there some 20 years ago, so it was like my first time. The castle was gleaming in the sun and we enjoyed seeing the extravagant furnishings.
We took a small trolley around the gardens, which I would highly recommend. Otherwise you are on a hike! We saw the Dragon Pond, both smaller castles and lots of well-manicured shrubbery. I shot these two imps playing hide-and-seek in the king’s backyard:
We had a salad at the snack bar there and met a fun couple from Philadelphia. The window of the dining room looked out on the marvelous French pastry case. If they tasted anything like they looked, we should have bought some! But we didn’t. We did, however, notice that one young female employee’s only job seemed to be rearranging the pastries. Wouldn’t put it past the French to hire someone just for that at Versailles!
The next morning we were up even earlier to catch a tour bus to Mont St. Michel. I’d never heard of the place until Cheryl brought it up during our trip planning phase. It’s off the coast of France way north of Paris.
We boarded the bus and were in for almost 5 hours of riding. Even though it was mostly highway, it was a lovely trip through Normandy. I’d visited Normandy back in 2005 and enjoyed seeing the countryside again. I even saw some historical thatched roofs (this one has a TV antenna!):
Mont St. Michel did not disappoint. It is a dramatic hunk of rock with a small village on it. Follow the spiral street to the top and you will find the former monastery. Here’s a view as we approached:
The narrow streets were crowded but everyone was excited to be there. Along the way, souvenir shops and small eateries lined the cobblestones, along with several hotels. We climbed and climbed until we reached the monastery grounds. Then it was further climbing through the narrow passages between the walls of the compound:
At the top was a cloister where I shot this:
When the tide is in, Mont St. Michel is surrounded by the sea, save for the causeway they have built for the tour buses. The tide was out when we were there, but I shot this child in a red coat playing on the gray sand of the tide plain. It was like she dressed in red just for me and my camera!
The trip back through the monastery was downhill, of course, and led through the darker parts of the place. Here is a shot of one of the altars the monks used:
Here’s a shot of St. Michael himself, keeping an eye on the tourists as they leave the gift shop. (V8’s will know this as a “papae”.) Don’t know about you, but I feel protected with that archangel watching over me!
On our way back down the spiral street, we stopped at a creperie for crepes. We ended up having gallettes, a fried cousin of the crepe. It was a wonderful meal! I picked up two bottles of cidre and some souvenirs on the way out. We drank one bottle of cidre (hard, sparkling apple cider) in the hotel that night. I still have the other one. Next visitor gets to share!
So that’s it for my take on Cheryl’s France.
I have to say that Cheryl was a real trooper. She must have been jet-lagged the first few days but never complained, unlike yours truly. She didn’t raise an eyebrow when she had to pay to go to the toilet. Strange food and drink intrigued her – she tried everything. She didn’t waste the experience, that’s for sure! For never having been to Europe, she was a natural traveler! I took cheesy pictures of her all over the continent – you can see them on my Facebook page here.
Our next destination was Berlin and other cities in Germany. Stay tuned for those adventures in my next post!
Photo for No Apparent Reason: