Paris in April!
The famous adage held true for
us on our exciting trip experiencing "Paris in April." The city was meticulously clean with bursts of color in bloom everywhere. Our drive from the airport to our hotel brought us directly through the plaza of the Louvre, complete with the spectacular glass entrance pyramid in the center.
The Hotel Marsollier Opera, about an 8 minute walk to the Louvre or to the Opera Garnier was home for the next seven days. With the help of AMBUSH webmaster George Patterson, we did a search finding our hotel via the Internet.
This quaint 3 star hotel was only 630F [$113.75] a night. For an extra 45F [8 bucks] each, the hotel threw in a continental breakfast, which we would find an affordable luxury. You got a pot of coffee or tea giving you about 3 cups, a glass of ojay, a croissant and a baguette.
A couple of mornings after arriving, we slept late missing breakfast. Four cups of coffee and one cup of tea at one brasserie set us back 138F or $25. We did not sleep in late again.
After arriving in Paris at 11am
with a bit of jetlag, we showered and took a nap. Heading out at 5pm, we did a bit of exploration, familiarizing ourselves with our new surroundings.
A brisk walk brought us to the Grand Louvre. We headed through the impressive glass pyramid, passing through a security check complete with airport style metal detectors, descending into the overpopulated lobby. Security, we would learn is a way of life in Paris. Practically every museum or historical monument was equipped with complete security checks designed as a protection against terrorism.
First on our agenda was the purchase of a 5 day museum pass at 200F [$36.50]. These passes allow unlimited entrance to 65 museums and monuments in Paris. We did not have to pay admittance to anything except the Eiffel Tower. It was quite a buy since most admittance fees were 55F [$10] per person. With 7 trips to the Louvre alone plus another 19 museum/monument visits, it proved to be an economical way to see Paris, saving us each about 1,224F [$223].
Heading back to our hotel via
Avenue de l'Opera, we decided to have our first meal on the Avenue at the Restaurant Royal Opera, 1 1/2 blocks from our hotel. It was kind of a Paris version of TGIF Friday's. The ambience was great with windows across two sides of the restaurant giving an excellent view of the street action. We fell in love with the place and would have dinner here four more nights.
However, our favorites would continue to be the Feuillere d'escargots [puff pastry of snails in garlic butter sealed with a parsley paste], Confit de canard pommes sautees [broasted duck with roasted garlic/sausage potatoes] and Poulet Roti Frites [called roast chicken but was actually half a Cornish hen with french fried potatoes]. The desserts were all wonderful, but the Creme brulee and citrus sorbet [lemon sorbet with sugared bits of lime rind] would be our favorites.
Our first full day brought us to
the spectacular grand Paris
opera house, the Palais Garnier! Inaugurated in 1875, the "new" opera was built by order of Napoleon III under the direction of Charles Garnier. The frescos, gigantic chandeliers, marble, miles of red velvet, loads of golden accents and objects d'art make the Opera Garnier a must see stop.
Next was our first real visit to the Louvre. It took hours to see just the incredible Rome, Greek, Egyptian and French sculptures. It was indeed an oasis of the grand objects of the past brought to life in marvelous displays both indoor and through the huge glass covered courtyards.
The second full day of exploration began at massive Notre-Dame. It was the first time we would see a statue of Joan of Arc [Jeanne d'Arc], patron saint to many in Paris. Missing our own home patron Saint Jude on N. Rampart, we lit our votive candles and made our prayer offerings.
The massive stained glass windows throughout the cathedral were incredible, but none could compare to the rose windows on either side. We could hardly believe we were actually standing in Notre-Dame.
But this was just the tip of the iceberg... le Tresor [Treasures of the Sacristy] were not to be believed. The life size statue of Virgin and Child in sparkling silver by silversmith J-B. Cl Odiot, stood at the doorway leading to the "treasure room." The Vatican in Rome should take a few lessons on display techniques from Notre-Dame. We were weak in the knees after seeing the huge monstrances in diamonds and precious gems, as well as all of the gem encrusted chalices, crosses and crowns. The pastoral rings of various archbishops were certainly attractive to one of us. Any one of these jewels would certainly make a great addition to any collection.
Of all the treasures, our favorite was the Reliquary for the Crown of Thorns by Jean-Charles Cahier. The relic itself sealed in crystal is one of the most famous relics of Christianity, the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ. Saint Louis [King Louis IX] acquired this relic and had the Sainte Chapelle built to enshrine it.
And Sainte Chapelle is where we headed next. The sumptuous shrine held the Crown of Thorns for centuries. Louis IX in 1239 acquired the precious relic from emperor Baudouin II of Constantinople for the [at that time] outrageous sum of 135,000F [$24,490]. By contrast, the Chapelle itself cost a "mere" 40,000F [$7,286] to build.
The 6,458 sq. ft. of stained glass windows predominantly in red and blue, and brilliant wall and ceiling colors, encrusted in gold in both the lower and upper chapels is incomparable to anything we have ever seen in our life times.
Then it was back to the Louvre to see da Vinci's Mona Lisa and the hundreds of other precious paintings on exhibit. We had heard the Mona Lisa was a tiny painting, but we found it to be much larger than we expected. Never did we dream we would be an arms length away from this incredible piece.
We also visited Napoleon III's lavish apartments. From the gigantic Baccarat chandeliers, to the tremendous amount of objets d'art including Marie Antoinette's baccarat and gold dressing table and stool, it was an era when money was no "objet."
Saturday, April 5th rolled around
and it was off to the Eiffel Tour
and its spectacular view of the City.
Les Invalides followed and a visit to the Tomb of Napoleon I. This shrine to Napoleon was marvelous, and you could feel the power and influence this emperor of France must have had in this palatial resting place.
Then via Pont Alexander III, we visited Le Petit Palais and Le Grand Palais. From there we went to La Madeleine built by Napoleon, a Greek style temple housing a church dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene.
We did a little shopping at the Fouchon, an exclusive block long store catering to exotic delicacies, both in the food and drink varieties.
Sunday was a beautiful sunny
day and we headed to the Place
de la Concorde with its spectacular fountains and Egyptian obelisk form the temple of Luxor.
Then following a stroll down the beautifully "in bloom" Champs Elysees we ended up at the Arch of Triumph. The view from the top of the Arch afforded a close up and personal view of the City.
From there we cabbed it to Le Marais, the old aristocratic quarter, and the gay section of Paris.
We stopped in at Au Tibourg, 29 rue du Bourg Tibourg, a quaint restaurant, for brunch. Frederic, Gerard and Frederic made us feel right at home. The cold brunch plates we chose were one of smoked meats and one of smoked fish complete with caviar. Unfortunately, plans to return to this fabu little restaurant did not materialize on this trip.
Around the corner and down to rue Vieille du Temple we discovered Hotel Central Marais, an intimate bar with its own hotel above.
A few steps down the street landed us at the just opened Amnesia Cafe. This bar was simply adorable. Playing music from 6 months to a year ago by New Orleans standards, the Amnesia Cafe was rockin'. Many in the packed house sang along with the American hits being played. It was amazing! Most could not speak English, however they knew every word to every song in English. It almost felt like we were back home in New Orleans at Happy Hour!
We also visited the Cox Cafe and Skeud, but neither bar carried rose or white zin so we did not stay. Closer to our hotel was the oldest gay bar in Paris, Le Vagabond.
Monday's excursion began at
Place du Chatelet with the
Chatelet Fountain complete with 4 water spewing sphinxes. From their we visited Tour Saint-Jacques, a beautiful Gothic tower.
Next we visited Musee national du Moyen Age and some of the most spectacular tapestries on Earth, including one room with several huge ones of "The Lady and the Unicorn" c. 1484. The gold and jeweled religious icons were also marvelous.
Then it was off to the Palais du Luxembourg and its beautifully landscaped gardens and fountains. Heading back home, we stopped at the Louvre for pics of Winged Victory, Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa.
NEXT ISSUE: VERSAILLES & SHOPPING IN PARIS-our last day.