May 18, 2011

Paris - Right Bank

Paris, May 2010 - We arrived in Paris yesterday on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy. And I was excited to find pains au chocolat on the breakfast buffet this morning to accompany my cafe au lait. We needed to fortify ourselves for the sunny but blustery day ahead of us that would start with a brief sightseeing tour, followed by a visit to the Eiffel Tower.

Les Invalides, Paris

The tour stopped for photos at Les Invalides, the site of Napoleon's tomb. Then we arrived at the Eiffel Tower, where the lineups were long and a strong wind whistled down the Champ de Mars. We huddled together for warmth in the crowded elevator that took us to the first viewing platform, and back out into the wind. It was a clear day, so the view was excellent.

Palais Chaillot viewed from the Eiffel Tower, Paris

Most of our group members were taking the optional tour to the Louvre (39 euros), but we were venturing out on our own to explore the Right Bank of Paris. But first, we stopped for lunch at Café le Nemours (another of Rick Steves' recommendations) on place Colette at the Palais Royale metro stop.

Palais Royale Metro Station Entrance, Paris

Unfortunately it was too cold for us to eat outdoors on the square like Angelina Jolie's character in the movie The Tourist, but the cafe's cozy interior was welcoming.

Café le Nemours, Paris

We had a delicious lunch of goat cheese and zucchini quiche, salad and wine for 16 euros each.

Lunch at  Café le Nemours

After lunch we headed north up rue de l'Opera to the Opera Garnier

Opera Garnier, Paris

and the nearby Galeries Lafayettes.

Galeries Lafayette, Paris

I wanted to go inside to see the beautiful belle epoque dome and balconies of this Paris landmark, and was not disappointed. This was not, however, the place to shop for inexpensive gloves.

Heading south again, we continued on to Laduree on rue Royale. The tiny storefront sells exquisite French pastries, and we were lucky to find a table in the tea room. This salon dates from 1862, its painted ceiling decorated with charming angels and fairies.

Laduree, rue Royale, Paris

Making a selection from the menu was difficult - there were so many tempting options. So we shared an assortment of Les Macarons, Laduree's most famous creation. These treats resembled tiny berets nestled atop a creamy ganache filling (we picked caramel, blackberry, pastachio and raspberry). I noticed that the tables and chairs in French restaurants are compact and close together. How do Parisians maintain their trim physiques when faced with temptations like these?

Les Macarons, Laduree

After tea, we continued south past La Madeleine

La Madeleine Church, Paris

to the Place de la Concorde, site of the guillotine during the French Revolution.

Obelisk of Luxor, Place de la Concorde, Paris

From the square, we entered the Tuileries Garden where white limestone gravel pathways crunched beneath our feet, and blooming chestnut trees lined the walkway.

Chestnut Trees, Tuileries Garden, Paris

From here we crossed the Seine via the Pont des Arts to the Musee d'Orsay. We were surprised to see a parade of locks penned with lovers' names and clamped to the sides of the bridge. I have since learned that this is the newest form of graffiti among teens in Europe and around the world, prompted by the work of Italian novelist Federico Moccia in Three Metres Above the Sky.

Love Padlock on Pont des Arts, Paris

Musee d'Orsay, Paris

We used our Museum Pass to enter the Orsay, a former railway station now housing the world's greatest collection of impressionist art.  This pass provides entry to over 60 Parisian museums and monuments, as well as allowing you to bypass many ticket lines. We purchased the two-day pass for 35 euros.

Art students wandered through the Orsay's exhibits, or stopped to do a sketch. The highlight for me was seeing Pierre Auguste Renoir's Bal du Moulin de la Galette. (For anyone who is a fan of Renoir, I would recommend the book Luncheon of the Boating Partyby Susan Vreeland, which gives a great feel for the era in which impressionism was born.) We also checked out the museum dining room where we had plans to return for dinner the next night, and it was a bright, beautiful space filled with chandeliers and mirrors.

We then crossed back over the Seine to visit the Louvre, which was open on Wednesday evenings. Our Museum Pass gave us free entry here as well. We took the escalator that would lead us to the Denon Wing, where we headed towards the Mona Lisa. I had seen her on my first trip to Paris, but she is worth a return visit. This time she was more heavily secured under bulletproof glass, behind a railing to hold back the crowds.

Napoleon III Apartments, Louvre, Paris

Later we headed to the Richelieu Wing in search of the Napoleon III Apartments, up many stairs through a vertical maze, receiving poor direction from the posted signs.

From the taxi stand on rue de Rivoli we returned to our hotel, the Novotel Tour Eiffel (12 euros) where we planned to have dinner. I had to try the "knuckles of poultry" listed on the menu. (They turned out to be tender chicken thighs simmered with vegetables in a tasty broth.)

We had only one more day left in Paris, which we would spend exploring Ile de la Cite and the Left Bank.

Next:  Paris - Left Bank

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