Day 2: The Historic Heart of Paris

Sainte-Chappelle

Best of Paris Itinerary: Let’s begin where Paris did, on the Île de la Cité. Your guide will lead a walking tour of the city’s early history, including visits to a pair of the world’s most significant medieval Gothic churches: the legendary Notre-Dame Cathedral and the exquisite Sainte-Chapelle. Then we’ll take a stroll through the bohemian Latin Quarter, with free time for lunch on your own. We’ll end our afternoon at the Cluny National Museum of the Middle Ages, where after an introduction, you’ll be free to visit the sublime Lady and the Unicorn tapestry and have a rare, up-close look at the artistry of original stained-glass windows from Sainte-Chapelle. Walking: moderate.

Journal

Monday, May 2
We met with the tour group after breakfast, and jumped right into an orientation on the Metro system – at Monday morning rush hour! We bravely took the underground subway to the Île de la Cité, historical center of Paris. First we stopped at the fabulous Sainte-Chapelle, famous for its beautiful stained glass windows, and continued to Notre-Dame, Paris’ cathedral, known for its hunchback Quasimodo. We spent a lot of time looking at the facade and portals to the cathedral, learning about the significance of the statues and the the stories they tell.

At lunch time, we joined Julie and Suzi for an outdoor salad lunch in the Latin Quarter. After lunch, Arnaud led a tour through the quaint Latin Quarter, passed by Odeon theater, Luxembourg Gardens, the Pantheon, the Sobonne University, and Musée de Cluny, which is entirely dedicated to medieval art, and has a display of the famous The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. We explored the museum, then headed back to the hotel with some others from our group.

I tried out the Google Translate app to interpret an urgent-looking sign at the bus stop, but it has its limitations – the bus route was either cancelled completely, or just one stop on the route was closed. Our small group compared notes about whether anyone had actually seen the bus we were waiting for … and eventually, one showed up, so all was well. Note for next time: work on more vocabulary about transportation – tickets, closures, delays, “where is the Metro station?” and “why is the airport terminal closed off?” 😬

In the evening, we had a light supper with Katie at Bistro St Dominique: baked camembert cheese with honey, served with a baguette; ham & cheese omelette. As we walked home, Mom was struck by a sudden urge for crepes, so we popped into an odd little restaurant down the street. (The place always seemed closed, with a locked door, although you could sometimes see a woman standing in the back.) The creperie was empty but its door was open this time, so we gave it a try – the sweet crepes were fine, mine was even served on fire! 🔥 A good ending to an action-packed day.

“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.”

– Thomas Jefferson

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Day 3: Montmartre and a Seine Cruise

Paris sunset on the Seine

Best of Paris Itinerary: This morning we’ll hop on the Métro, then hike up Montmartre to tour the colorful neighborhood which was the haunt of artistic geniuses a century ago—including Van Gogh, Picasso, and Renoir—and generations of hopeful artists since. We’ll end our walk with spectacular views of Paris from the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. You’ll be free for lunch and have time to explore more of the city on your own this afternoon. We’ll regroup this evening to enjoy a wine tasting and dinner together before embarking on a dreamy Seine River cruise. Boat: 1 hr. Walking: strenuous.

Journal

Tuesday, May 3: Bon Anniversaire!
What a happy coincidence that on my birthday our tour was scheduled to go to Montmartre, site of the Moulin Rouge and one of my favorite films, Amelie. It was surreal to walk through the cobblestone streets and hear an accordion playing a tune I know so well from the soundtrack … I kept expecting Amelie to appear and lead me on a little tour.

We met our tour guide at the top of a tram ride to picturesque Montmartre – he kept us entertained with many bad puns and colorful stories about the history of this artists’ village. During the Belle Époque, many artists had studios or worked in this area, including Salvador Dalí, Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro and Vincent van Gogh. It was an absolute thrill to be in this place with so much artistic history and inspiration. We also saw locations from the films Amelie and Paris, je t’aime.

After the tour, Mom and I had lunch at Amelie’s restaurant, Café des Deux Moulins (of course!) – and I was sitting about in the place where she is cleaning the glass behind the object of her affection. ❤️ After lunch, we did a little window shopping, and stopped for crème brûlée and espresso. Then we visited the Musée de Montmartre and Renoir Gardens. What a charming museum! Founded in 1960, the museum was built in the seventeenth century as the Bel Air House and is the oldest building in Montmartre. During its heyday, 12 rue Cortot served as a residence and meeting place for many artists including Auguste Renoir, Suzanne Valadon and Émile Bernard, who held their studios here. We got to peek into Valadon’s apartment, and got goosebumps. In the garden, you can see the actual swing depicted in Renoir’s The Swing. More goosebumps.

We spent the afternoon exploring the museum, and I especially enjoyed the number of black cats I saw in the Chat Noir exhibit. The afternoon flew by, and I realized we’d better get ourselves back to the hotel in time for wine tasting. We retraced our steps to the Metro stop where we had arrived with the tour group – uh-oh – we couldn’t find it, and the streets seemed unfamiliar. After getting jostled by an aggressive street hustler, we almost chickened out and just called a taxi. In our stressed-out wanderings, we finally happened upon a different Metro stop, and figured out a route to return to home base. Whew! 😓

Back at our hotel, a wine and cheese tasting event had just started. Mom went to the room to rest, and I let some delicious French wines take the edge off. 🍷 We regrouped for dinner with our tour group at Bistro Saint Cirgues. This sweet family restaurant served up risotto with mushrooms for dinner, followed by a waffle with strawberries for dessert … mine came with a candle and a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday from our new friends. Paris is a great place to celebrate!

We finished the evening with a cruise on the Seine River. I wouldn’t describe a boat tour packed with high-energy teenagers and tourists as “dreamy”. However, this offered a unique and lovely perspective on the city at twilight, and it was a real treat to see the twinkly lights of the Eiffel Tower on the hour. Just as I was about to take a video of the spectacular light show event with Patrick’s camera, it ran out of battery! 😳 But we saw it, and it was magical. ✨

“There are only two places in the world where we can live happy: at home and in Paris.”

– Ernest Hemingway

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