Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A good introduction to Paris

Kristina’s visit. Mid-May 2009

Kristina is my sister-in-law. Well, my sister-in-law’s little sister. So we figure that makes us sisters-in-law. It works for us.

She is in Sweden right now visiting her dad, so it was the perfect time for her to jump down and get a nice introduction to Paris. Let’s call Kristina’s time in Paris the greatest almost experience. Although we were blessed with sunny skies during her trip (well at least until that storm hit the day before she left), some of our plans missed the mark on a few occasions...but, we went with it!

Stina arrived on a Thursday and I picked her up and got her home before I had to go out to work. Friday we did a tour of Paris, hitting the main attractions, like the Arc de Triumph, Champs Elysee, Moulin Rouge, Montmartre, Sacre Coeur and the Bastille, before I sent her home on a bus and went off to work again (where I played Cat and Mouse with the kids…for some reason I am always the cat in this scenario). Friday night we attempted to go out with Darcy and some of her friends…got all done up…found Darcy’s friends house…then, we all got on the metro to take a ride. Which is pretty much all we did because no one actually knew where the club they wanted to go to was. So we rode the metro, walked around for a bit and then took a taxi home. It wasn’t exactly the ‘Paris by night’ that I was looking to show Stina but hey it was another part of town at least.

Saturday we had planned to go to Giverny to see Monet’s house and infamous gardens. As I don’t have internet at my house, we had to guess when the train would leave for Giverny. Unfortunately, we guessed 10 minutes too late and we didn’t get the train we would have liked, so we had to wait. While we waited though, we hopped over to a Café for brunch. Stina got to try her first Croque Monsieur, though, so perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.

The train doesn’t go all the way through Giverny (it is much too picturesque a town to allow trains to disrupt its peacefulness), so you have to take a shuttle from the train station which turned out to be a nice little ride through a typical French village. Fairly storybook, I might add. Now here’s a trick for anyone planning to travel to Giverny to see the famous gardens. When you get to the end of the road, turn right. Signage in Giverny is severly lacking. Stina followed the group and turned left. We got to the museum which displays Monet’s work chronologically, which is fascinating to see the progression of his work throughout his life, especially towards the end of his life when he didn’t even cover the full canvas. Anyway, we walked out of the museum, missed a sign that said Monet’s foundation (read: house, but how were we supposed to know that?!?), and turned left again, because there were pretty flowers and we THOUGHT we were walking into into his gardens. When we realized that this was too small to be the actual gardens, we consulted a sign (which did not mention Monet’s house again) and decided that we might journey up the street to see his grave site. It was a rather nice walk up through the town of Giverny. We passed a hostel that Renoir, Degas and other famous painters stayed at while they visited with Monet and became inspired by his gardens. We passed the most charming bed and breakfast with an amazing view of rolling hills and flowers. Someone had turned their front yard into a sand sculpture area, with giant sculptures of a boat voyage, the last supper and Joan of Arc. His sign (which directly targeted English speaking tourists) said “I’m no millionaire, if you snap a photo, leave a piece). So I did.

Monet’s grave site is shared with his family and covered by planted flowers. Very beautiful. Just a few steps down from Monet’s grave site sits a tribute to seven British soldiers whose plane crashed nearby during WWII (I believe). They were protecting the town of Giverny when they were shot down and the citizens are very grateful for their sacrifice.

Ok enough is enough, it’s 3 o’clock and we need to find this house, so we walk back to the museum and ask the helpful sales clerk in the gift shop where his house is.
“Oh just out this door and a few kilometers to the left.” Hmm, we pass the area where we entered and finally see a mass of people who knew to turn right at the split in the road. The line is verrrrrrry long. Perhaps it’s just for the house. Time is getting tight, so maybe we should walk around to the back of the house to just see the gardens, surely they don’t make you pay for that.

I guess they do.

By this time we had about an hour and a half until our train would arrive and we still had to take the shuttle back into town. As adorable as that bed and breakfast was, the price to stay the night wasn’t exactly in our budget. We decided to walk around and try to peek in to see as much as we could of the gardens and found some other very serene areas. The brook was especially peaceful and it was so clear we could see to the bottom. Finally we said goodbye to Giverny and went back into town. While we waited for the train to come we stopped at a little restaurant for a hot chocolate, a coke and some fries to tide us over until dinner. It happened that sitting for a bit helped us in the long run because when the train arrived, so did that entire mass of people we had seen at the entrance to Monet’s house, and they all wanted to get on our train. Bummer. We tried to push our way forward, but unfortunately it was standing room only in the cabin between the trains. Talk about a tight squeeze!

We ate in and decided to go see Night at the Museum 2 at the theater. Maybe it was our day, or maybe it’s the amount of comedian’s in that movie but it was really funny! The Frechies found the jokes about Napoleon to be pretty funny, but some things just don’t translate, so Kristina and I were generally the only two laughing in the whole theater. It was a fun experience.

I had to work Sunday morning, so while I took the kids to a merry-go-round in the Tuileries garden, Kristina went to a friend’s for quality conversation, quality internet time and quality grub. We reconvened that evening and took a boat tour of the Seine. Taking a tour on the Bateaux Mouches is a great way to see the many of the most popular monuments from your seat on the Seine. It also made me realize how long it’s been since I’ve been swimming! It was so hot and the water looked so refreshing. Don’t worry. I didn’t get any crazy ideas because the Seine is DIRTY!

After our tour we walked for an eternity and grabbed pizza at a somewhat Italian spot in the Latin Quarter. Italian or not, my Margarita (I dunno if I spelled that correctly) pizza was scrumptious!

Monday, we took a much anticipated tour of the Louvre (in English!) We spent the morning sipping on our Café Cremes and pains au chocolats, and taking a stroll through the Tuileries gardens…it was another HOT day in Paris-dise.

The tour of the Louvre was very interesting. It began at the beginning, literally. We went down to the foundation to see remnants of the original castle that used to stand in the place of the Louvre. Our tour guide was a cute little French woman. She led us up to Venus de Milo and then onto Winged Victory. I learned that all the marble statues we see today were painted back in the day. It makes perfect sense to me now, but I never thought about it. I just assumed they were always white. We went to Mona Lisa (of course) and I learned interesting information about the Wedding Feast at Cana...apparently there has been turmoil over the repainting of one of the men in the forefront of the painting. His coat used to be painted red, which brought out the oranges and yellows in the tableau, but it was repainted green during its renovation, so an observer notices the blues first now. Such a minor detail, but I guess it is a major point of contention in the art world.

We saw another painting of David and Goliath which was painted on both sides by the artist in order to depict the superiority of painting to sculpture. Painters and Sculptures have been feuding about this for centuries, just like Giants versus Dodgers, proving that nothing much changes over the years, except the topic. I learned a few interesting tidbits about one of my favorites…the Coronation of Empress Josephine. Mostly it related to painter himself. You can see him and his family in the background. As well as a Napoleon’s mother, who wasn’t actually at the coronation because in general, she wasn’t on the same page as her son. Napoleon asked the painter to put her in the center of the painting so that the world would always think she supported him. I guess she lost that battle. I knew this little fact but I never knew which person she was in the painting. Now I know.

Hopefully, I haven’t bored you too much with the little bits I found interesting from the tour, I have a few more but I think I better stop before you stop reading.

I took Kristina over to the Palais Royale to get a glimpse of my ‘office’. We rested for a bit on a bench and watched a game of rolling balls, before I had to go to work. After work, I stopped for a baguette and a bottle of wine to share as we sat on the Seine and took in the atmosphere. It was quite a Parisian evening.

That night the storm hit and we hoped that it would pass by morning so that we could go up the Eiffel Tower. We were in luck…sort of. We got up early so that we could get to the tower at opening, and beat the lines. As hot as it had been all weekend, it was that COLD. We froze as the icy wind hit us on the second story waiting for the elevator to the top. It was all worth it though. Part of the top is inside, so we were able to defrost just before we descended and the rain decided to join us again. Why hadn’t I thought to bring my umbrella after my little experience the night before? We ran to the bus stop and hopped on but we were very wet by the time we got to my apartment. Luckily, we ran into my neighbor on the way and she threw Kristina’s clothes into the dryer so that she wouldn’t have to sit on the plane back to Stockholm in wet clothes. We went down to the Tobac and Kristina had one last Café Crème and Croque Monsieur before her flight.

Since then the weather has been rather unpredictable, but it seems to be happy with warm this weekend. I hope it holds out because this is how I want to remember Paris. Sunny, warm, and perfect!

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