Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Au Revoir Corsica, Bonjour Paris

We said goodbye to Corsica on Friday afternoon, after having had crepes at a place down the street from where we were staying.  It was a beautiful evening, and we enjoyed watching the sun set over Ajaccio Bay (above).

Our flight for Paris left at 2:40 Friday afternoon, my birthday.  I had been a bit apprehensive because of our last-minute change in plans, i.e., as to whether everything would work out; but by the time we got to Paris at 4:30, we were very glad we had gone ahead and made the changes.  The thought of taking the ferry to Toulon, lugging all our stuff out to the ferry entrance, then taking a taxi to the train station, then transferring everything onto the train, then the train ride to Paris, then transporting everything to the airport ... OMG, it was exhausting.  If we were 30 years younger, or even 20, or even 10, it would have been different.  

As it was, we deplaned, immediately entered the baggage claim, retrieved our stuff, checked my large bike bag at the airport, then took an underground shuttle to the RER (local rapid transit) station, exited the station and - voila! - we were at our hotel.  We checked in, changed clothes, then took the RER into the heart of Paris.  We were in Place Saint-Michel, a couple of blocks away from Notre Dame, by 6:30.

(As a side note, as I had tried, during the last days of the cycling tour, to locate lodgings in Paris, I noticed that rooms were filling up at a dramatic pace.  I couldn't imagine what in the world could be going on in Paris at the end of September that would result in hotel after hotel being sold out.  It wasn't until Saturday that we learned that we had arrived in Paris at the beginning of "Fashion Week," during which all the French fashion houses unveil their new lines, *and* at the beginning of a large car exposition, at which French automobile manufactures unveiled their new lines as well.)

From Place Saint-Michel, we walked up to the Boulevard Saint-Germain, then headed toward Place Saint-Germain-des-Pres, perhaps 15 blocks or so away.  We had seen lots of cafes, bars and eateries along this street when we were in Paris a few weeks before, and I thought it would be a good place to find somewhere to have a birthday dinner. 

We first stopped at the Neo Cafe (above), where we had a beer and watched life pass us by while seated at our sidewalk table.  Then we explored some of the side streets in search of a place to eat that had a nice menu but wasn't exorbitantly expensive.  I was surprised:  there actually seemed to be a number of them, and we eventually settled on a place down the street pictured below, where we were each able to have a three-course meal for under 25 Euros.

After dinner, we continued our walk down the Boulevard Saint-German, stopping at the same street vendor as we had the month before in order to get crepes.  As these things seem to work, the crepes didn't taste quite as good as they had before, but we still enjoyed them.

Along the way, we had seen announcements of a concert to be held that evening in the Eglise Saint-Germain des Pres, the old church about which I had written several weeks before.  A string ensemble would be playing works of Vivaldi and other Baroque composers, including the Four Seasons and Pachelbel's Canon in D (my favorite piece of music).  

A painting of the Church and the Place by Antoine Blanchard
The interior of the church (photo taken from the Internet)
Even though the program had already started by the time we got there, we purchased tickets and went in and were able to hear the complete Seasons as well as the Canon.  Needless to say, it was a cool experience to be sitting there, next to the man I love, in that ancient church where, among others, Rene Descartes is buried, where so much history has occurred, and listen to some of my most favorite pieces of music.

The next day would be a long but rewarding one.  We headed toward Paris around 9:30 or so, again taking the RER, which we boarded in the station adjacent to our hotel at the airport.  We had decided that our first stop would be Montmartre.  I had been there at least once while on my mission, but it was Mark's first time.  We ambulated through the streets, which were thronged with tourists, making our way up to Sacre Coeur, the white-domed church that has been a Paris landmark, though it is only about 125 years old.

We had exited the Metro at Place Pigalle - one of two metro stops that had been declared off limits to missionaries when I was serving my LDS mission in Paris  back in winter and early spring of 1985.  As Mark and I walked down toward the Moulin Rouge, I could see why.  Sex shops lined the street as we headed toward the next stop, near which the storied Moulin Rouge, home of the famous can-can dancers, still stands.  My companion and I, daring souls that we were, once got off at the above forbidden metro stop, and went up to street level just long enough to take each other's picture.

January 1985
I think it was that same day that we went up to Montmartre, to wander around the streets, see the famous Place du Tertre and Sacre Coeur.  Though I don't remember doing so, we apparently climbed up to the dome, for I have pictures taken from up there.

Place du Tertre, 1985
Last Saturday
Winding our way up, contemplating life
Mark was very taken with the architecture of Sacre Coeur.  We went inside, walked around a bit, then made our escape, for the place was absolutely crawling with people.  I was on a quest to find the following staircase of which I had taken a picture on that bitterly cold winter's day back in January of 1985:

My recollection was that it is very famous, and has often been depicted in film and art.  Alas, however, after walking around for awhile (and without the benefit of the picture, having not done my homework beforehand), I eventually conceded defeat.  

In the process of our ambulations, however, we ran across Le Grenier a Pain, a boulangerie that had been awarded 1st prize for its baguettes, as proudly proclaimed in their window:

Here, we bought some delicious sandwiches, made from their prize-winning baguettes, and some heavenly millefeuilles, which we washed down in the Place des Abesses with a Diet Coke. :)  Thus nourished, we boarded the Metro for our next planned destination:  Place de la Concorde, pictured below.  I will pick up the story from that point in my next post.

(Internet photo) Place de la Concorde, looking toward the Madeleine

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