Wednesday, May 21, 2014

April in Paris

The last time I traveled to France, I was 16 and with a large group of Methodists. Needless to say, this trip had a slightly different focus. Of course, we saw churches and museums, but we also had leisurely gourmet lunches and drank a lot of wine and walked a lot.


Our first full day, we opted for a super-touristy bike tour. Unexpectedly, we were the only Americans; everyone else was Australian! This was a great way to see all of the highlights and absorb some of the geography. It was fun, but not something I would need to do again. I didn’t find our tour guide to be very knowledgeable despite having grown up in Paris, or at least there were several discrepancies between what she told us and what I had read online and in books.


The next day I scheduled a walking food tour with Flavors of Paris. Lisa, our guide, led us through Saint Germain-des-Pres and we stopped in boulangeries, chocolateries, a store that specialized in olive oils and goods from Provence, and a few other places. She also told us about the history of the neighborhood, showed us the oldest restaurant in Paris, and the cafes where Hemingway and crew would hang out. We had a wonderful time with Lisa, capped off by a stroll through the Marche Saint Germain-des-Pres and a cheese plate with some wine.


We then took advantage of the evening hours at Musee d’Orsay (hint: Most of the museums have evening hours a couple nights a week if you want to avoid the peak crowds). Since our dinner reservations weren’t until 9:45, this gave us plenty of time to enjoy the art and digest from the food tour before heading to Verjus for dinner.


Roast asparagus from Poitou, house trofie pasta, pesto, pea vines, pine nuts, egg yolk, and brioche at Verjus


The next day we visited Notre Dame, and all of the tourists made me stabby. As someone with an interest in church architecture and history, it was maddening to not be able to enjoy it slowly and reverently.


As it was raining off and on, we were happy to head to our lunch reservations at La Tour d’Argent, an institution with beautiful views from the dining room. The service made upscale places in Nashville look like McDonald’s, and it wasn’t a surprise to see photos of John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton eating at La Tour d’Argent. The food, the view, the wine…everything was exquisite.

Amuse bouche and Kir royales.


Coffee service with mignardises.


View of the Seine and Notre Dame from our table.


Even gray and rainy days in Paris are marvelous since all I wanted was to sit in a cafĂ©, drink wine, and write depressing poetry. I kept singing Debussy’s setting of Verlaine, “Il pleut dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur la ville.” Since we hadn’t had enough of the tourist throngs, we navigated ourselves to Sacre Coeur in Montmartre.



The church is marvelous, totally different from Notre Dame and yet just as beautiful if not more so. And, of course, the views from in front of the church are fabulous with the city laid out in front of us.


Again, we took advantage of the evening hours at the Louvre. It’s huge and overwhelming, but I was happy to see some of the things I didn’t get to see at 16, particularly the Sphinx and the Code of Hammurabi. I had a Bible nerd moment in the Ancient Near East hall before we moved on to the Grand Hall. While Joe paid reverence to the Mona Lisa, I took in the enormous painting of the Wedding at Cana across the room.


Our last day in Paris was unscheduled, so we slept in, went for a run along the Canal St. Martin, and went back to Saint Germain-des-Pres to do some shopping. The caviste from our food tour had recommended some jazz clubs, so we had an early dinner at Pierre Sang for the 7 pm seating. I would highly recommend this experience. It’s a steal of a deal, chef’s choice, and the staff makes you guess the flavors.


After our dinner we traveled to Sunside/Sunset for the 9 pm jazz concert. It’s one of the original jazz clubs in Paris, and I was reminded how many African-American musicians spent time in Paris due to limited opportunities in America. While we saw a French quintet, the act downstairs was a jazz musician from New York.


It was a fitting closure to our time in Paris before hopping a train to Burgundy.

Arc de Triomphe from the Champs-Elysees


The top of the Musee d’Orsay from the Tuileries

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Locks on the Pont des Arts

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