May 20, 2011

Paris - Left Bank

Paris, 2010 - We were in Paris on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour, with a free day ahead of us. The previous day we had spent exploring the Right Bank and today we would focus on the Left Bank, la Rive Gauche.

We started our morning on Ile de la Cité, the birthplace of this great city. Our first stop was the Gothic chapel Sainte-Chapelle to view the stained glass windows of the upper chapel. Our Museum Pass covered our admission here, and also allowed us to bypass the long line for tickets. Some of the windows were under renovation and covered by scaffolding, but the remaining windows in their rich reds and blues were an inspiring sight.

Upper Chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

Lower Chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

The nearby art nouveau La Cité metro stop sign stood against a backdrop of the pale mauve flowering trees which I had seen enroute to the Eiffel Tower the day before. Our guide told me that they were catalpa.

La Cité Metro Station, Paris

The highlight of our day would be our visit to the top of Notre Dame Cathedral to commune with the gargoyles. But first, we stopped for a café au lait and chocolate croissant at the Brasserie Aux Tour de Notre Dame to fortify ourselves for the long climb ahead of us. As we were leaving the brasserie we were surprised to see the floor open up in front of us to load dishes for the basement kitchen.

Cafe au Lait and Chocolate Croissant

We then crossed to the square in front of Notre Dame Cathedral to join the long lineup for the tower. The wait was over an hour, as only 20 people were allowed in the tower at a time. Our Museum Pass covered our admission here, but unfortunately did not allow us to bypass the queue.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

But finally we began our ascent, round and round the ancient, circular stone staircase. The stone was worn concave by centuries of climbers who had gone before us.

Notre Dame Chimera

And when we emerged from the windowless tower to the rooftops of Paris, it was worth the wait and the effort. The walkways were narrow, bringing you face to face with the mythical creatures guarding the massive cathedral. I learned that only some of them were gargoyles, which are rain spouts. The remainder are actually called chimera.

Bouquiniste along the Seine, Paris

We then crossed Pont Saint-Michel to the Left Bank where we planned to have lunch. The weather was just sunny enough that we chose a sidewalk table on one of the cobblestoned side streets off Place Saint-Michel. Sitting in the warmth of the sun with a plate of coq au cin in front of me, I was content.

Fountain on Place Saint-Michel, Paris

After lunch we entered the medieval courtyard of the nearby Musée Cluny, home to great works of art from the Middle Ages such as the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. This museum is also covered by the Museum Pass.

Courtyard of the Musée Cluny, Paris

Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry

I was a little surprised that there were no French poodles walking the streets of Paris. (I know, cliché). Instead, there were terriers everywhere. And I would later discover that the poodles had moved to Italy.

We planned to do a little shopping today, and I was still on the lookout for warm gloves. I finally gave in and paid 75 euros for a pair made of sumptuous taupe leather from Le Bon Marché which will forever remind me of Paris when I wear them.

After a lot of walking, we were ready for a break at Les Deux Magots on Boulevard St. Germain. We found seats out on the busy sidewalk, surrounded by a profusion of pink hydrangeas.

Les Deux Magots Café, Boulevard St. Germain, Paris

The "Deux Magots" inside the Cafe

Carrying on along Boulevard St. Germain, we passed many shops: a patisserie selling macarons for 64 euros per kilo; a custom-made umbrella shop with duck head handles like the one owned by our tour guide in London; and a florist adorning the sidewalk with a splash of colourful rose bouquets.

Left Bank Florist, Paris

And everywhere were posters and billboards advertising Karl Lagerfeld's own Coca Cola Light, with his familiar silhouette on the bottle.

Karl Lagerfeld's Coca-Cola Light

Our final destination for the day was the Musée d'Orsay, where we planned to have dinner. But first I wanted to photograph the nearby Pont Alexandre III, the most beautiful bridge in Paris.

Pont Alexandre III, Paris

Art Nouveau Lamp Post

Our last dinner in Paris was at the dining room of the Musée d'Orsay - 55 euros for a four-course dinner (smoked salmon, salad, steak and frites, and a fruit tart), including two wines. The room, which opened in 1900, is a historical monument and provided an elegant atmosphere for a delicious, leisurely meal and friendly service.

Restaurant at Musée d'Orsay, Paris

After a relaxing evening, we returned by taxi to our hotel to prepare for the next leg of our journey to the French Riviera.

Next:  Riviera Fireworks

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