Paris, Day 4: Versailles

May 31, 2008

Tired again! Versailles was lovely. Tomorrow is a free-for-all day; if I go to bed in the next few minutes (it’s 10:15 pm local time), maybe I’ll be able to write a bit tomorrow about yesterday and today before going out to visit a museum or two. Cheers!

Seamus with his literary hero, Jean de La Fontaine, in the Palace of Versailles.

A spaniel in a painting in the Palace

Seamus with his new buddy Cornelius (Jack got him at the Middle Ages Museum yesterday) hanging out together at Versailles. All the dots of colour in the background are people sitting on the steps waiting for the fountains to start spouting.

Dry fountain turtles and lizards. Ready, set…


There were these areas called bosquets — I’m not sure if the word refers to the neatly fenced-in woods or the circular clearings in them, like the one where we had our picnic lunch on a curving wooden bench. The woods were thick and dark and full of songbirds: Greenfinches, Bluetits, (European) Robins, Magpies, and Blackbirds were the ones I could name. At one point a piece of the fence was broken. Seamus said that if he were a tortoise, he would love to live right here.

Paris, Day 3: Dogs, Cats, and Turtles

May 30, 2008

Too tired. No explanations. Tomorrow.



Paris, Day 2: From the Marais to Messiaen

May 29, 2008


We walked from our apartment towards the Musée Carnavalet this morning. On the way, we came across this 16th-Century church. I forget its name, but couldn’t resist photographing the message so elegantly chiseled, several times, across the entire length of its side wall. You can see the first three words above. The full message, translated, says “No urinating on the church walls.” Ah, the good old days…

stairwell-2The musée Carnavalet is dedicated to the history of Paris. Most of what we saw were old paintings showing landmarks such as Notre Dame de Paris in the background. I most enjoyed two things, though: the old shop signs — wooden, wrought iron, painted or not — displayed in one large room on the ground floor, and this staircase, built in 1661, with a surrounding eternal soirée painted in 1748. That guy on the pedestal is just 2-dimensional. Neat, eh?

Since we didn’t leave home till 10 or so, we decided to skip the Cognac-Jay museum. (We had walked by the Tour Jean-Sans-Peur, but it’s not open today. ) It was already lunchtime after Carnavalet, so we headed down to the rue des Rosiers where a guy convinced us to eat at his kosher restaurant, and I’m so glad we took him up on it — I had the most fabulous falafel ever!

After that, we headed for Place des Vosges, a 17th-century square of rich people’s homes, and had a peek into one in which Victor Hugo lived after he published Notre dame de Paris, what we call The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I suppose his pompous taste in interior decorating was right for his time, but… I guess I liked the book better.

Then we walked north up to Paris’s oldest science and tech museum, the Musée des Arts et Métiers. It was pretty cool. I should have borrowed E.g.’s camera to take snaps of some of the intriguing navigational instruments from the 18th Century: the loxocosm, the armillary sphere, and the English Backstaff. I have no idea how they were used, but there was a beauty in their form that appealed to me.

After a supper of cold chicken, boiled small potatoes, and strawberry-laden salad, we trooped out north-west this time to the Sainte-Trinité Church, where Olivier Messiaen was organist for 60 years and wrote the most amazing music. This year is the one hundredth anniversary of his birth, and tonight the church was featuring a free concert, a work in 18 movements called Le livre du saint-sacrament. The first 12 movements are based on biblical passages that move through the life of Christ, while the final six focus on parts of the Catholic Mass. It is VERY difficult music to listen to. The eleventh movement, called “the resurrection” — which I had expected would sound joyful — knocked our socks off with its scary dischords and its volume. It was as if we were hearing the rocks shatter! When this movement came crashing out, E.g. burst into a huge grin. It was like the happiness not of seeing an Easter Lily but of bungee jumping!


Paris, Day 1: Settling In

May 28, 2008

Vive les amis!

Hi, everybody, and welcome to Paris!

It took about 21 hours, from the time we left home to drive to the Toronto airport, to get here. We had to fly to Frankfurt and wait six hours for our connection to Paris. It was because we flew standby that we had to overshoot our destination and double back (and pay for the doubling). So, while it was less expensive, it was also pretty exhausting. It is now just on 10 pm local time, and my travelmates have all been in bed for an hour already.

We took the RER from the Charles de Gaulle airport, and arrived at Chatelet-les-Halles at 5 pm. The view from the train had looked pretty much like Ontario which, when one is as sleep-deprived as we were, is more comforting than disappointing. But as soon as we emerged from the Châtelet-des-Halles station, we were bombarded with la différence.  There was St-Eustache church towering up on on side, with these narrow, busy pedestrian streets stretching straight before us. One of them was the market street, rue Montorgueil.

We walked the several blocks up this street towards our rental apartment, behind a daycare of a dozen or so preschoolers all chanting at the top of their lungs, “A la queue-leu-leu! Choo-choo!” We didn’t look much different from a train ourselves, five of us in single file towing our wheeled carry-ons.

At the corner of our street, a young woman addressed us, and then called to a man and his wife sitting at the streetcorner café. It was the landlord, a very friendly man who spoke only français. With his bilingual helper and our varying amounts of French, he settled us in to this fabulous fifth-floor, two-storey, three-bedroom, two-toilet and two-shower apartment. In the photo above, you can see Seamus meeting the residents. We were thrilled. Cross-eyed with weariness, but thrilled. My mum joked that she wouldn’t bother seeing Paris, she would just hang out in the apartment for the ten days.

After the paperwork was done, we went onto the market street, Montorgueil, and stopped at five different shops to pick up a few basics and tonight’s supper. We feasted — feasted! — on a baguette, some slices of whole-grain bread (called “Viking” bread), a plate of four kinds of wonderfully reeking cheeses, and a salad assembled of lettuce, fresh tarragon, a tomato with real flavour, lovely olives, and a bowlrubbing of garlic, le tout washed down with a bottle of merlot, and as dessert we nibbled on the most delicious grapes I’ve had in ages. There’s espresso and yogurt and bread and butter and 15% cream and four kinds of fruit laid in for tomorrow’s breakfast before we go exploring the marais.

Paris has begun! 

Disguise of the Turtle (Paris Trip Eve)

May 27, 2008

Flightwear, 2008

With sighs and a trembling lower lip, I bid farewell to my jeans and plaid shirts. This is not adieu, beloved schmattas, but à la prochaine.

And now, cue the music from The Saint, as I prepare my suave espionage wardrobe, complete with hidden passport bag and James Bond movie-style T-shirt under brandspankin’ new trousers and button shirt. Add the elegant velcro-strap wristwatch, the indestructible cotton kleenex (what will the techies think of next?) and the hat-and-shopping-bag attachment line, which doubles as a trousers belt (so brilliant!) and Turtle, Secret Agent is ready.

Bookbag disguise

Central Headquarters has thought of everything — even this lustrous, water-resistant shoulderbag, disguised as a catfood company’s promotional freebie, to conceal my bookbag. The colour coordinates with my outfit, to let me blend in with the unsuspecting masses even better.

Qui es tu

Even my own dog doesn’t recognize me.

Clown Time

May 26, 2008

fire eating

…and don’t forget your prescription meds.

I was out playing ball in the front yard when John and his dog Coco joined us.

“So, are you and E.g. on clown time now?”

I usually call it “doing the headless chicken dance”, but I like John’s version better.

And yes, we’re on clown time. Someone needs to buy pyjamas. Someone else finally remembered to get traveller’s insurance. Someone remembered just in time to get her keys back from someone else so that a third party could watch the domicile.

There are still extra itineraries to print off, authorization letters to write up for petsitters, contact info sheets to photocopy, keys to hand out, kibble to buy. This morning, since we forgot to bring it with us on Saturday, I couriered Fergus’s heartworm meds to his breeder. Who’s going to carry the concert tickets? Do we have enough pencils for the puzzle books? Which guidebooks should we pack? You’re not taking that sweater, are you? I thought you were going to water the plants. Where did you put the passports? Where did I put them — I thought you had them!

Oh yeah, better get out the red noses and the twirly oversized bowties. Do you think we’ll be allowed to fly standby in our new outfits?

Paris Plans (the Itinerary)

May 25, 2008

bassist, computer sketch by aka Lavenderbay, 2008

If music be the food of love, play on! — John Keats.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with either stupendous hubris or daft optimism that I unveil to you… my proposed 10-day itinerary of our vacation in Paris!

It is also with an ulterior motive that I do this: you and I will have a reference point for each daily post-card-length entry. You can do your own research (Who was “Jean Sans Peur”? What’s the Pantheon? How did the Latin Quarter get its name?) . Then when  I write things like, “Windy, so no Eutelsat. 😦 ” , you’ll know what the heck I’m talking about. Here goes!

 key: museums; castles, palaces, and prisons; greenspace; churches; music; other

Tuesday, May 27: Fly to Paris [Already plans are awry: no seats left. We’re going to Frankfurt instead, and doubling back, arriving five hours later than we had originally planned. Eesh! ]

Wednesday, May 28: Locate apartment and landlord, 2nd Arrondissement. Get groceries on nearby rue Montorgueil. Turtle takes Jack to final day of Foire du Trone funfair [this last plan is already scuttled since we’ll be arriving so late. Not batting a thousand yet, am I?  Instead, after supper maybe we’ll go up the Eiffel Tower — the crowds are thinner at night.]

Thursday, May 29: 1 000 ans du Rive Droite (1,000 years on the Right Bank)

  • 10 00  Carnavalet Museum (historical artifacts of Paris)
  • 11 30  Victor Hugo’s house
  • 12 00  find a creperie or something
  • 13 30  Cognac-Jay museum (French objets d’art, mainly 18th Century)
  • 14 30  the Tower of Jean Sans Peur (a real-life “Brave Sir Robin”, for Monty Python fans)
  • 15 30  Musee des Arts et Metiers
  • 18 00  supper at the apartment
  • 20 00  Messiaen centennial organ concert at Holy Trinity Church (where he played for 60 years)

Friday, May 30: Les Jardins à travers le temps (Gardens old and new)

  • 09 00  look around the Jardin des Plantes
  • 10 30  buy picnic things on Avenue Mouffetard
  • 11 00  visit the Museum of the Middle Ages, including a presentation of medieval motets, and the medieval garden
  • 13 30  picnic lunch in the Luxembourg Gardens
  • 15 00  Bourdelle museum
  • 16 00  Post Office museum
  • 17 00  Jardins Atlantique; then home for supper

Saturday, May 31: Versailles, including the Grandes Eaux Musicales; home in time for supper

Sunday, June 1: Les Musées sans frais (Free museum day, 1st Sunday of each month)

  • Morning:  choice of Louvre, Orangeries, Orsay, Pompidou, Rodin, or Picasso; lunch at a café
  • Afternoon:  a different museum from the same list; home in time for supper

Monday, June 2: Chartres. See the Cathedral, explore the town; home in time for supper

Tuesday, June 3: La génie de Paris (The genius/engineering of Paris)

  • 10 00  Le Corbusier house, 16th Arrondissement
  • 11 00  buy lunchables in Square d’Auteuil
  • 12 00  Parc André-Citroen; picnic; 10-minute ascent in the Eutelsat balloon (the following day, June 4, is the 225th anniversary of the first public flight of the Montgolfier brothers’ invention!)
  • 14 00  walk along the Seine past the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower; visit the Musée des égouts; home in time for supper

Wednesday, June 4: Les Savants (The Learned Ones)

  • 09 00  Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral
  • 10 30  the Conciergerie and the Sainte-Chapelle
  • 12 00  walk through the oldest Latin Quarter streets
  • 12 30  picnic in the ancient Roman arena
  • 13 00  the Pantheon and/or the Marie Curie museum
  • 14 30  visit to a post office that houses a bit of the old City Wall in its basement; buy souvenir envelope there
  • 17 00  home for supper
  • 20 00  musical “Porgy and Bess” at the Opéra Comique

Thursday, June 5: Le 8ième (How to Spend Next to Nothing in the Most Expensive Part of Town)

  • 09 00  window-shop on the rue Royale (and look for the Nicest Bathroom in Paris); church-hop the Madeleine Church and St-Augustin
  • 11 00  buy lunchables at market on Corvetto Street
  • 12 00  picnic in Parc de Monceau
  • 13 30  Arc de Triomphe; walk down the Champs Elysées
  • 15 00  Stamp Market, then the Petit Palais across the street
  • 17 30  home for supper
  • 19 00 Musée d’Orsay open late

Friday, June 6: Memento Mori (All good things must come to an end)

  • 09 00  Père Lachaise Cemetery
  • 11 00  Belleville Cemetery entrance (highest elevation in Paris); buy lunchables at market in Place des Fetes
  • 12 00  picnic at Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
  • 13 00 shopping, packing
  • 17 30  supper at the apartment
  • 20 30  concert, Duruflé’s Requiem at the Basilica St-Denis 

Saturday, June 7: Skedaddle to the airport.