We arrived on the 29th. An adventurous cab ride from de Gaulle brought my husband and I, jet- lagged and greasy, to the charming 4th arondissement and our tiny lodgings at the Hotel de Nice on rue de Rivoli. My tentative command of the French language had been met with great patience and good humour by the native speakers.
We met my family and dined early at Cafe de Panis, on the other side of the Seine and near Notre Dame cathedral. Our waiter was quite a character and made us laugh as we enjoyed simple meals ranging from salads, steak and frites, to beautiful cheese plates.
The two of us were exhausted by 10 pm and retired to our fourth floor room.
In the morning I awoke refreshed, but before 6 am. In this neighborhood, the shops remained closed and no coffee available until 7 am. I took a brief walk through the quiet streets all the same, in a fruitless search for an open cafe. The only persons about at that early hour were the garbage collectors, who diligently swept and washed and dumped the aftermath of Sunday evening’s merriments at cafes and bistros circling the square adjacent to our hotel.
This part of town seems to awaken fully around 9 am. At that the time the shops begin to open and the streets are suddenly alive with shoppers and commuters.
We took the metro from the Hotel de Ville station to Musee du Louvres, where we purchased museum passes good for several attractions – including the Louvres, Versailles, the Arc de Triumph, and the modern art museum. My husband and I wandered around the Louvres for a couple of hours, but managed to see only a small part of the extensive collections – it’s huge! In the morning we saw Venus de Milo, which is extraordinary and detailed, dating to sometime between 130 and 100 BCE. We met the rest of the family for a small meal at the museum cafe, and separated again – some to shop, some to rest, and my husband and I to brave the Italian collections where we intended to see the famous Mona Lisa. We did squeeze into the crowd to catch the obligatory glimpse, and both of us concluded that the detail, the light and the shadow, are quite remarkable, particularly when compared to the works of contemporaries found in the same hall.
Other works of interest we enjoyed were Gregor Erhart’s Sainte Marie-Madeleine , circa 1515, which was rather in the tradition of the Birth of Venus, prettily colorful and a fascinating confusion of sensuality and chastity. Antoine-Jean Gros’ Bonaparte visitant les pestiferes de Joffa (not dated that I could see, but Gros lived 1771-1835), which was an immense – I do mean HUGE – painting depicting Bonaparte as some sort of god, as those suffering from disease reached out toward him hopefully, as if to be healed.
We then returned via metro to our station and our miniature hotel room, where my husband rested his sore feet. His boots and cobblestones do not cooperate.
In the evening we met the rest of the family in the hotel living room, and decided to take the train to Pont-Neuf, where my husband had seen a restaurant the night before. We ate hearty meals at Cafe Pont-Neuf at sidewalk tables affording a view of the amusing thoroughfare and the quay beyond. My brother-in-law shared the secret to healthy pedestrian life in this busy city: cross the streets at a steady pace so that drivers can estimate how fast they ought to drive around you in the crosswalk.
Again we were most fortunate to receive excellent service. My dad, fearing a flat soda, inquired as to how much gas was used in the soda dispenser, and the good-natured waiter was quick to reply, ‘Just like McDonald’s.’
After the leisurely meal we walked to the boat dock at Square du Vert-Galaent, where we purchased tickets for a 10:30 pm boat ride (Les Vedettes du Pont-Neuf – 033-01-46-33-98-38). The guided, hour-long tour highlighted several great historical and architectural structures along the Seine, including the curvy glass World’s Fair building, the Eiffel Tower, and the many unique bridges under which we passed. We sat atop the boat, open to the mild summer night, and took in the spectacle of Paris. A precocious American teenager and her humourous father sat in front of us, and provided a knowledgable supplement to the guide’s patter. They urged us to visit the Musee d’Orsay, which they had toured earlier in the day.
Along this charming boat tour we spied a hotel on Ile-de-France called Hotel de Vertes – a charming place by the looks, with an awesome aspect over the Seine.
One of our friendly boat tour companions recommended reading Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, which he said is about the building of a cathedral.