Paris – Day 6

IMG_6896.jpgKnowing that most Parisian museums are closed on Mondays, I saved the islands and cathedrals for my last full day in Paris, wanting to make the most of my time in the city.

To finish off the trip right, Rachel and I decided to splurge on breakfast at the prestigious Cafe de Flore on Boulevard Saint-Germain during our last day. I ordered the Quiche Lorainne with my cafe creme, and it was definitely the best quiche I’ve ever had! The light, flaky crust was just the right texture against the creamy and flavorful egg-and-cheese filling. I was thoroughly impressed.

IMG_6654.jpgThe waiters at Cafe de Flore were resplendent in black vests and bow ties, so we sat for a while in the quaint atmosphere, sipping our lattes and looking out the glass walls at the pedestrians passing by outside. I sat and sketched while Rachel read a book; then I helped a couple from Portugal decipher the French menu when they caught my eye and smiled apologetically, looking sheepish.

Once we felt it was time to relinquish our table, Rachel and I took the Metro to Notre-Dame on Ile de la Cite. Coming up on the North side of the cathedral where visitors enter was disappointing. I expected to see the rounded spire and flying buttresses, but instead we saw the two boxy towers of what I had always considered the back side of Notre-Dame. We waited in line in the rain, and once inside, I felt much better because the inside was just as beautiful as I’d imagined.

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The Rose windows were especially breathtaking, but I was frustrated to see signs everywhere instructing visitors to pay in order to light and candle and pray. I realize that Notre-Dame is now a tourist attraction that expects to take in funding, but it made me think of Matthew 21 when Jesus says, “You have turned my Father’s house into a den of thieves!” It also made me thankful for John 4:23 and 1 Cor. 3:16. We don’t have to worship God at any particular place; we are called to worship in Spirit and in Truth!

IMG_6802.jpgBack outside in the rain, I took Rachel around the quiet, unfrequented South side of Notre-Dame and was rewarded with a stunning, unobstructed view of rose gardens encircling the majestic flying buttresses around the nave of the cathedral. This was where I wanted to spend my time – away from the crowds and in the presence of great beauty, both natural and man made. I took in a deep breath, savoring the moment and literally stopping to smell the roses. It was magnificent and moving; a memory I will cherish.

The rain really starting coming down as we walked the length of the island to Sainte-Chapelle, and we passed a man whistling “Singing in the Rain”. The familiar tune and his carefree vocalization made my heart happy. Twenty minutes later, I stepped inside the lesser-known chapel of Ile de la Cite, and it took my breath away.

Rich colors dominated the surprisingly low ceiling, and this close, the detail work and structural patterns of the vaulting were more readily admired. A narrow spiral staircase took us to an upper floor where the king used to worship, and it was probably the coolest cathedral I have ever been in (significant, since I’ve visited St. Paul’s in Rome, St. Patrick in NYC, Westminister in London, Washington National Cathedral in DC, St. Michael’s in Brussels and more).

IMG_6861.jpgStained glass windows dominated the room, reaching nearly floor to ceiling and telling the story of the bible bottom-to-top as one moved clockwise around the room. It felt simultaneously secluded and awe-inspiring; majestic and intimate, just like the One intended to be worshiped.

Leaving the island, Rachel and I went to the highly-ranked Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore but quickly left, disappointed. All the books were brand new and in English, and patrons stood elbow-to-elbow at the shelves.

Decided to spend the rest of our evening on Ile Saint-Louis, we settled at La Chaumiere, where I ordered a Nutella crepe with my cappuccino. Rachel was generally embarrassed of me when I talked to people around us, but in this instance, it paid off for her because we were seated next to a foursome from her hometown – remarkable because it’s a basically unknown small town of just six thousand people.

IMG_6911.jpgWhen the foursome left, Rachel got out her book, and I continued my sketching and journaling. The waiter kept trying to flirt with us, and when I got up to go to the bathroom, he wrapped me unexpectedly in a hug with the other waiters looking on and laughing. I figured if he could be that bold, I could, too, so when I got to the top of the stairs from the bathroom and he grabbed me for another hug, I disentangled myself from him, asked if he could read English; then handed him my bible where I’d bookmarked John. I asked him to commit to reading it, and he said he would, but God only knows if he will. I’m praying that if he doesn’t, my bible will end up in the hands of someone who will!

Rachel and I moved on to Creperie la Sarrasin et la Froment, where I got a framboise (strawberry) crepe and socialized with the genuinely friendly owner, a refugee from Iraq. It was a slow evening, perfect for my last night in Paris. Coffee, crepes and good company? A girl can’t ask for much more.

Authentically Aurora

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Paris – Day 5

Sunday was our planned day trip to Versailles, so Rachel and I got up early and started our morning at Kozy, a breakfast cafe she’d found on Yelp. It was unremarkable and fairly westernized, with hipster chalkboard menus hung on the walls and written entirely in English. Regardless, any morning begun with a latte and chocolate croissant is a good morning!

We finished breakfast, walked to the Metro, bought our RER C tickets and got on the train for the anticipated hour-long ride. At the Javel stop, we were surprised to spot the original Statue of Liberty out the window. Pretty cool.

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Once at Versailles, we found it to be beautiful but crowded. Our Paris Museum Passes were supposed to gain us entrance to the Palace and Gardens, but at the gate to the gardens, we were told we had to buy an additional ticket for entry since the water show would be held later that evening. I argued with the attendant that their website said water shows were only on Saturdays (it was Sunday), and anyway, that day’s show was at 8:30 PM and it was only 10:00 AM. We would be long gone by the time the water show started.

The ticket puncher wouldn’t budge, so Rachel and I went to the nearby Versailles Cafe to burn off some steam. But the line was out the door. So we went to the Versailles Laduree. They would only sell a minimum of six macaroons at a time; customers had to buy an entire box at once. Beaten down, we got in line for the Palace. Over an hour later, we made it inside, where we waited in yet another line to go through security.

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The Palace was ornate but, in my opinion, not worth waiting for. Even the Hall of Mirrors – the entire reason I wanted to visit Versailles – was so full of people that the effect of the potential majesty was lost. The grandeur of the famous glass and crystal hall was diminished by all the madding crowds.

I also made the observation that all the paintings were of wars, French nobility or Greek mythology. One of the rooms is even called the Apollo room, but there is nothing remotely biblical throughout the Versailles Palace, at least not that I could see. I found that curious, considering how prominent biblical paintings and sculptures are throughout the rest of Europe, regardless of what the current inhabitants believe.

Ready to leave Versailles the instant the tour was over, Rachel and I took the train back into town and had lunch on Rue Cler. I ordered a Cobb Salad from Cafe Central; then we both got Nutella ice cream cones, which we took to a nearby park where little French children were playing, climbing trees and splashing water on each other from the fountainhead. It was interesting watching the French children play; they were very adventurous and active (and frequently without pants…?). Although we were in the midst of Paris, they acted like rural kids would in the States.

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We continued on to the grassy area around Les Invalides, where I laid in the grass for a while before putting in earbuds and walking around the park, quietly singing worship music over the people there. I felt the void of having missed my church community that morning, and I longed for God to be praised in this place.

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It was a beautiful day – sunny and 75 – so Rachel and I walked to Place de la Concorde; then through the Carrousel Garden and Tuileries Garden. We made it back to the greenery around the Louvre, where we were joined by Thomas and sat talking for a while before heading home to our Airbnb. As before, the Metro skipped over our Passy stop (perhaps it only stops at certain stations after a certain hour of the evening?), so we again walked home from Trocadero, rewarding ourselves with much-needed hot showers after climbing the 127 steps to our shared room. And then? Sweet sleep.

Authentically Aurora

Paris – Day 2

IMG_5639.jpgRachel and I started our second day in Paris with a mid-morning brunch at Le Tourville near Ecole Militaire. I ordered a Croque Monsieur and cafe au lait; then watched people hurrying through the morning rain from the safety of my covered awning.

While Rachel made use of the cafe’s Wi-fi connection, I met a nice German couple from Stuttgart and also made friends with our waiter, Leandre. He taught me some new phrases (“C’est bon”) and invited us to join him that evening at Hobo Club discotek.

Due to the EuroCup, Champs de Mars was closed to the public, but we were able to at least walk by, and in the process, we also passed right by the base of the Eiffel Tower. Circling back to Ecole Militaire, we found Rue Cler and enjoyed its Open Air Market despite the drizzling rain. Rachel bought raspberries, I got blueberries, and we strolled in the rain eating our bite-sized fruit.

IMG_5672.jpgAround the corner, we stumbled upon LeNotre. The little bakery specialized in macaroons, and although I have never liked macaroons in the US, I decided to try some, and they were the best macaroons I’ve ever had! Throughout the rest of the trip, Rachel and I ate a lot of macaroons, but no one – not even the famous Laduree – came close to LeNotre’s macaroons: soft and flavorful with just the right amount of chewiness.

While eating my strawberry hibiscus and dark chocolate macaroons, I accompanied Rachel to a bookstore where she bought a children’s book in French for her nephew. She has decided to buy him a book in every country she visits. He won’t be able to read them, but she thinks someday he will appreciate having a collection of children’s books in other languages. Time will tell.

In the afternoon, we made our way to Rue du Commerce, a street of boutiques where the locals shop. I got a really cute coral pencil skirt with scalloped edging. Afterward in the Metro, we got stuck behind a Polish football fan whose RATP card wouldn’t work, so Rachel gave him one of hers.

IMG_5743.jpg“Where you from?” he asked us, wondering at the kindness of strangers. When we told him America, he invited us for beers and to join them in watching the soccer match. I told him we were on our way to a cafe instead. “Cafe?! No, no no,” he said to me. “Cafe bad. Beer good!” the boisterous Polski declared with a grin before running off with his friends singing a song in Polish at the top of his lungs.

Back at Rue Cler (quickly becoming one of our favorite hideaways), Rachel and I each ordered cafe au lait and split a scrumptious raspberry tart at Le Petit Cler. Although the maitre d’ was outrageously rude, the food was delicious, and we made a lot of new friends:

  • 3 British soccer fans took a liking to us and poured us some champagne when I joked that, “obviously,” I was pulling for Britain in the EuroCup.
  • 2 Welsh guys in their 40s, one of whom (Garreth) took a liking to me and had a great, long conversation about politics (e.g. effect of the legal drinking age of 21 in the US and decline of the pub scene in Britain) as well as religion. Garreth just started reading his childhood bible about two months ago and invited us to the Half Penny Pub when he left. We got invited for drinks by nearly everyone we met!
  • 2 young, fashionable women were seated next to us at Le Petit Cler, and when I heard one of them speak, I picked up her American accent. Daria, as she soon introduced herself, turned out to be from my hometown, and she’d met Agathe – her French companion – when they both attended Fashion School in London.

IMG_5755.jpgRachel and I hit it off so well with Daria and Agathe that we all walked down the block to Cafe Central where Agathe insisted we all try the famous Berthillon gelato. I ordered the nut flavor, and it was delicious (similar to Nutella)! After we all exchanged contact information (yay for new friends!), we said good night (“bonne nuit”).

Our Metro line 6 skipped over our Passy stop, so Rachel and I got off at Trocadero and walked through the picturesque Palais de Chaillot – lit up at night – to get home to our shared full-sized bed and porta-shower at the top of our seven flights of stairs. I found that our temporary “home sweet home” made my actual home all the sweeter. C’est bon.

Authentically Aurora