Paris, I belive, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman–John Berger
After a lovely breakfast at Esprit St. Germain (they have the *best* tea! and ooh la la the cheese!!), we met our private guide, Andre Paul, to dive into the history of Paris on a morning walking tour. Andre Paul led us through the streets of St. Germain–some of the oldest in Paris and gave us a glimpse of pre- and post- Revolutionary Paris in several of its historic districts.
He spoke of the early restaurant culture in Paris–and that the word, Bistro, was actually a Russian word for quick. The 6th arr. was full of early restaurants catering to the working class–Bistro! Bistro! Quick! Quick! Our tour continued through the eclectic streets of Paris–noting the differences in the distance from the buildings to the street (the newer ones are farther back to allow for the creation of a wide boulevard…which never seemed to happen in St. Germain) and discussing artisan shops, historic restaurants, and those large, beautiful doors on the streets.
The fall colors were stunning against the bridges of the Seine in November!
We wandered inside Notre Dame where we learned the statues of the Kings of Judah at the front facade were beheaded in the revolutionary Off With Ze Head frenzy (but later restored). The Cathedral was subsequently turned into a Temple of Reason, and later a storehouse for food and animals.
It was only after Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame that the cathedral came back into favor and restored to its original function.
I was reminded of the awe I felt as a backpacker from Arkansas gazing at the stained glass windows and the spectacular flying buttresses for the first time! Can you imagine that at one time, the stained glass windows were replaced with white windows to add more function to the space?? Thank you Victor Hugo for calling attention to gothic architecture!!
The three of us strolled to the Conciergerie where Marie Antoinette was held before her beheading. They were renovating her room so we could not view it–but it is possible to visit the room after renovations are complete. Side note: Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund is a great primer to pre-revolutionary paris from the viewpoint of the Queen of France.
We took the metro where they stormed the Bastille during the Revolution. In Place de Bastille, one can see the outline of the Bastille in the cobblestones. If you go down into the Metro, on line five you can see a piece of the original wall of the Bastille formerly and an artistic rendition of the original site on the wall.
Andre Paul regaled us with Parisian stories, discussed Real Madrid’s Ronaldo, stopped a gazillion times to allow our shutterbug tendencies to get a fix, discussed a bit of American and French politics, and told us stories of how his Portuguese family ended up in Paris. Although our initial focus of the tour was French revolution, we applied those concepts to the “revolutions” being revealed in the politics of the modern world. It was enough to make a history geek swoon with delight!
Our pace quickened as we approached our ending time (after all…lunch plans at Jules Verne do not wait for history), but we had to stop in one more hidden gem….Place des Vosges. Before the French Revolution, it was called Place Royale. This is where the members of the Royal Court lived and hung out. Originally, the center was filled with sand for equestrian pursuits. The square is placed around two pavilions, the Queen’s pavilion on the north and the King’s pavilion on the south. Although these are still private apartments, one may at least visit the home of Victor Hugo to get a glimpse of the inside.
Nearby, we made another quick stop to the Hotel de Sully, commissioned by Henri IV. It was home to Maximilien de Bethune, Duke of Sully. The building is considered one of the most beautiful private mansions in Paris. It is now the headquarters for the National Monuments Center.
Like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, we found ourselves late! late! late! for a very important date! Andre Paul called Jules Verne to let them know we were running behind and beg mercy for our reservations (have I mentioned how much I love having a private, expert guide???) and we taxied over the Le Tour Eiffel.
The line was long and my heart sank…but then…over in the corner…I spied the entrance for those with reservations–completely empty! Oh thank ze Lordt! We hustled through security, walked to the entrance of Jules Verne, hugged Andre Paul Goodbye, and walked through the door…
…unsure of just what to expect…will it be cheesy and touristy…snooty and uptight?? Even though it’s Alain Ducasse, it’s the Eiffel Tower…so is the food the equivalent of that of a famous chef’s restaurant in an airport…just…okay?
We waited for our turn to enter the elevator….walked to the hostess desk, removed our coats, and the maitre’d escorted us to our seats… I hold my breath in excitement…
As we turned the corner, we saw our table at the window in the center of the tower…and upon being asked if we’d like une coupe de champagne…all doubts floated away–up to the top of the tower and into the sky. This is going to be ah-mazing!!! We toasted (again) to lunch at the Eiffel Tower.
The service was top-notch…and very personable. Our waiter captain, spying me fiddling with my iphone at the table (I know I know….tacky…but I was taking food pictures to share…) smiled, grabbed my phone and took a selfie with us in the background.
Later, he offered us coffee and tea after our decadent meal. Our regular waiter stopped by to ask us if we’d like coffee or tea and was aghast when we said we had already ordered…”Who??” he asked!! I revealed the selfie on my phone… He asked if he could borrow my phone for a moment and presented it to the wait captain as proof of his shenanigans…they proceeded to take staff selfies and returned my phone unharmed.
Now don’t think that the restaurant is casual because of the server shenanigans…it is quite formal and subdued, but I thoroughly enjoyed that bit of sass…
Back to the food…well presented…intriguing dishes….delicious…with a view.
And did I mention the View?
After lunch, we went out Jules Verne’s private door on the second floor and purchased a ticket to the top. Up Up Up we went–as one *must* go to the top of the tower in Paris!! Imagine our delight when we spied a Champagne Bar (!!!) atop the Eiffel Tower!
Oui Monsieur…je voudre un coupe de champagne sil vous plait!
That delightful *pop* sound is even better overlooking Paris and the Seine…and we toasted (again) to Le Tour Eiffel and our view.
After taking a gazillion photos…
…we went down the upper elevator and then used the private Jules Verne elevator to get to ground level (no waiting in line!). We snapped some great outside photos of Monsieur Tour and took the Metro back to our hotel for some down time before the Opera tonight.
The Hotel Esprit’s concierge secured us fantastic orchestra seats at the Bastille Opera House to see Lucia di Larrimore, Donizetti’s dark opera about a Scottish woman who has to choose between her family and the man she loves (I think this sums up most operas actually).
The performance had several WoW factors including giant swings on the stage where the heroine sang of her love… Lucia is forced to marry a wealthy man instead of the one she loves who is far away. She goes mad after her love returns and murders her bridegroom. The opera is an adaptation of a novel by Sir Walter Scott.
After the opera, we enjoyed Alsatian cuisine at Bofinger. We started with une coupe de champagne (of course) (toast: kling-kling) and enjoyed their choucroute–an Alsatian dish of sauerkraut, sausages, and pork. The service was a bit slow and stuffy…but they were slammed with the apres theater crowd. It was actually the only restaurant in the vicinity open for reservations post-show.
Bowfinger has a lovely setting on the main level. The restaurant opened in 1864 and it feels like vintage Paris. The reviews we read of the restaurant suggested diners stick to the traditional dishes in lieu of the seasonal specials. We did just that and were not disappointed. The food was good (I just love choucroute) and gave a nice respite from the nouveau cuisine we had been feasting upon. Unfortunately, as much as I love choucroute, it’s not a very photogenic dish…and I have no photos to share…
After dinner, we taxied back to our hotel. Tomorrow we visit Versailles and learn to make baguettes!!!