After leaving Normandy after a wonderful time from Honfleur to Omaha Beach, we drove to Paris. We are staying with friends who have a home in Colombes, a suburb of Paris. We have spent roughly a week in Paris. This is the first time for the kids and they were awestruck. The sheer beauty and deep history of the city is overwhelming and a perfect culmination of our three-week tour in France.
We bought museum and train passes, which are a real convenience both in terms of avoiding lines and saving on costs. The metro is easy to use and goes everywhere that you may want to go in Paris.
We started at the Musée d’Orsay, the former train station that is now one of the world’s greatest art collections. I love the works of Van Gogh and Rodin so Musée d’Orsay is like a trip to art Mecca. It was quite crowded, but it remained a treat. The building itself a wonder.
We took the kids to the Louvre and let them play at the carnival set up in the summer outside (with one of the highest Ferris Wheels in Europe). We also walked over to Angelina — viewed by many as the location for finest hot chocolate in the world. You may think that you have had hot chocolate, even great hot chocolate. However, after a pot of Angelina’s hot chocolate you will never view the drink in the same way. It is the most rich chocolate that I have ever tasted. (I suggest splitting pots. We ordered everyone their own and could not finish without triggering an attack of hyperglycemia). It is something that everyone should try when visiting Paris. There was a wait — made longer by our family of six. Ironically, we were standing in line in Paris when the family behind us tapped us on the shoulder. It was a family with a girl in Jack’s class in McLean. The odds of such a meeting are so remote as to be incalculable. (This followed the night before of our running into one of our friends living in Paris while boarding a metro train). Angelina is not great for food which takes a lot of time and tends to be pretty undersized for the cost. Moreover, they served the hot chocolate first so you are already in a hyperglycemic coma by the time that they bring it to the table. Yet the first floor of the restaurant (where you should prefer over the upper floor) is a quintessentially Parisian space.
We, of course, went repeatedly to buy my favorite Macarons at Ladurée — the pistachio is the best of the choices. Near Angelina is also a new favorite for the family, The Cure Gourmande, which serves delicious cookies, biscuits, and candies (shown here). They wisely give you a free sample that hooks you for a whole box to be filled from dozens of choices.
While on the subject of food, we also returned to my favorite Paris restaurant, Le Grand Colbert, as well as the always fun Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte with its famous steak sauce and frites. My only complaint about Le Grand Colbert is the huge posters from a movie with Diane Keeton. (I forget the name which is not a good sign). They even have the movie playing near the restroom. This is such a lovely space and being the scene in an American movie is a pretty trivial fact that would warrant at best a little page of acknowledgement. There is so much going for this restaurant with its ambiance and food — they can lose the movie obsession.
We visited the Centre Georges Pompidou and the National Museum of Modern Art . We first went to the modern Stravinsky Fountain, which the kids loved. Indeed, the Pompidou museum proved the favorite museum of the kids in Paris. While I love the collection, I have never been overwhelmed by the building with its exterior supports and pipes. It strikes me at trying to hard to be unconventional by elevating the usually hidden parts of the building. It is also the site of a terrible act by Georges Pompidou whose blind obsession with the modern led to his tearing down the beautiful Les Halles market which was built in the 1850s and was a favorite spot for residents and tourists alike. He replaced it with modern and somewhat bleak concrete spaces and an underground mall that is generally unpopular (and has a disturbing smell that some believe is due to breaking down ancient catacombs). It is the type of thoughtless destruction of historical areas that drives me to distraction.
The nearby church, Saint-Eustache, is one of the most overlooked sites in Paris despite being its second largest church. The church has a memorial structure to the destruction of the Les Halles market.
The kids enjoyed going to Les Invalides — another favorite of mine in Paris with the nearby Musée de l’Armée (one of the world’s best military museums). They saw Napoleon’s impressive tomb and the gorgeous Chapel of Saint-Louis-des-Invalides with its ancient battle banners hanging from the ceiling. When we arrived, a funeral was being held for what I assumed from the insignia on a flag to be a man who served with the Free French army in World War II. It was a striking moment with a bugler and drums and honor guard.
One thing that struck both Leslie and I on this trip is the increasing amount of graffiti in the city. It is unbelievable but graffiti is now appearing on ancient sites and famous artistic works. Graffiti is everywhere in France. It is the sight of graffiti on some of France’s most cherished buildings and art that is most distressing. One would have hoped that even the most thoughtless teenager would hesitate to deface historic pieces, but there is nothing that appears immune from the spray paint as shown in this picture of one of many sites along the Seine ruined by taggers. Even pieces like Henri de Miller’s incredible “Ecoute” (“Listen”) sculpture in Les Halles is now defaced with graffiti.
The kids loved the spectacular Jardin du Luxembourg, particularly its large playground. While you have to pay to get in, the playground area is a relative rarity in Paris which is not the most kid-friendly place. There are fewer public parks than in the United States.
I was also able to finally visit the Rodin Museum, one of my favorite artists. The gardens around the museum are incredible with the Thinking Man and the Les Bourgeois de Calais. If you like Rodin, this is heaven.
We have had a ball in Paris. We even got caught in an unusually heavy rain after visiting the Place des Vosges — a square including the home of Victor Hugo (and now a museum to the great author). We ducked into a passage that was hundreds of years old and led into a cute courtyard. We talked about how people have been probably ducking into this little passage for hundred of years to avoid the rain.
After roughly a week, we still have only scratched the surface of this magical city. A good excuse to come back . . .