Paris: Day Two

Read about the first day in Paris here.

Saturday was our second day in Paris, and was our busiest day. Luckily it was extremely warm and sunny, so it was a great day to be outside.

We had breakfast at a little cafe down the street from the flat. Lauren had a macchiato and a Nutella crepe, and I had a hot chocolate and a chocolate-and-chantilly crepe. I love crepes and it’s hard to find good ones outside of France, so I knew we had to take advantage.

Our first major stop of the day was the Catacombs. They are not for the faint of heart. Basically, a couple hundred years ago, the cemeteries started overflowing and neighborhoods were getting diseased. Officials cleared out a lot of the cemeteries and deposited the bones in the remains of the city’s underground quarries. You can walk through the Catacombs and see piles and piles of bones and skulls “artfully” arranged, each area marked based on from which cemetery the bones originated. It’s dreadfully dark, dank and creepy, but really cool.

After that we headed over to the Louvre, where we were pleasantly surprised to get in free based on our EU residency visas and ages (under 25). We landed in the middle of the Carousel, a large shopping center complete with an Apple store and McDonald’s, that adjoins the museum. We saw the major pieces — the “Mona Lisa”, the Venus de Milo and the statue of Nike. The Louvre traditionally “frowns on” modern and Impressionist art and trends toward classical art. No Monet, Van Gogh or Cezanne to be seen.

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Next was the Tuileries, a lovely long stretch of garden with fountains, cafes, hedges and flowers. We got drinks and sat watching the birds, then headed down to the Champs-Elysees. The Parisian Christmas market was on, and there were dozens and dozens of stalls selling chocolate, hot mulled wine, pastries, meat, cheese, arts and crafts and all sorts of other items for the holidays.

We crossed the river to see the National Assembly building, crossed back over between the Grand Palace and the Petit Palace, and continued down the Champs-Elysees. We stopped at the Ladurée bakery, reputed to have the best macaroons in the world. It was packed, and while we waited in line we looked at the wares. Tarts, croissants, pastries, pies, cookies, macaroons, puffs and sweets of all kinds. The shop itself is very ornate and prettily decorated. We each got some macaroons and headed out.

At the end of the Champs-Elysees is the Arc De Triomphe. We climbed it — too many steps, a few hundred at least — and got nice photos of the view. I daresay the view is better than the Eiffel Tower’s; you’re able to see more clearly and recognize what you’re seeing. We ate our cookies atop the arch. I had: two chocolate, one raspberry, one red berry, one coffee, one lemon, one pistachio and one vanilla. They were absolutely delicious.

We had a late lunch/early dinner at an Italian restaurant near the arch. Lauren had a cheese pizza with ham, olives and mushrooms. I had a cheese pizza with prosciutto and we shared water and spent a couple of hours chatting, before we retired to the flat.

Whew! By this time my legs were getting quite sore. Stay tuned for days three and four.

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A damp day in London

I get a bit of a rush whenever I step off the train at a London station. I got it when I went from Reading to Paddington, and I get it when I go from Canterbury to St. Pancras. I love going into London, because it exhausts me — I’ll sleep like a baby tonight — and it challenges me, as I try to find my way around, discover new places and keep up with the fast pace. Best exercise I’ll get all week.

I don’t get to go into London very often, about once or twice a month, so when I go, I leave early and come back late, so I get a full bang for my buck (quid?). Take today, for instance. Instead of leisurely seeing two or three things, I covered a lot of ground, most of it in the West End or in Chelsea/Knightsbridge.

First I hit Hummingbird Bakery near Soho, where I picked up a red velvet cupcake (the house specialty) and a cola cupcake (Friday special). I ate my red velvet cupcake with a peppermint mocha at Starbucks on Regent Street, and visited the Regent Street Apple store, the world’s largest by area.

After that I walked from Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square, where I ducked inside the National Gallery to see a few of my favorite paintings: Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, Raphael’s portrait of Pope Julius II and Da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks. I went to the National Portrait Gallery to say hello to the Tudors and all of their associates — Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, Henry VII, Catherine of Aragon, Mary Stuart, Mary I, Catherine Parr, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Edward VI. They’re all there, although poor Anne Boleyn was getting her portrait cleaned.

It was lunchtime after that, but I was dismayed to find that Tsunami wasn’t accepting lunch walk-ins. Making a note to make a reservation next time, I braved the Charlie Foxtrot that is Tottenham Court Road(work) for the foreseeable future, and had tacos at the UK’s only Chipotle on Charing Cross Road. Verdict: Just as yummy as at home, but they get brown rice as an option!

I was in a museum mood today, so next I stopped by the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Natural History Museum has all kinds of animal skeletons, ecosystem exhibits and fossils, so it’s a popular place with school kids. The V&A Museum has a lot of sculpture, textiles and “industrial”/useful art. Harrods was just down the road so I went to look at expensive handbags, Seven for All Mankind jeans and the selection of dog collars. Harrods is already dolled up for Christmas, and the display theme this year is Peter Pan (when I was at Reading the theme was Casino Royale).

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Harrods was also unbearably hot, so after I finished there I went to Kensington Gardens and found the Peter Pan statue (I saw it once before but it was dark) and walked over to Hyde Park. By then it was getting a little dark and rainy, so I took the Tube to Covent Garden, where I promptly walked out onto the street, slipped on the wet stones and fell flat on my rear. How embarrassing.

There was another bakery near Covent Garden that I was going to try and find, but with the early darkness and rain I didn’t get to it. I grabbed coffee to give myself a boost and get out of the rain, before I went to a hopping Leicester Square to see “Let Me In” at the Odeon. The movie was pretty good and a nice twist on the vampire genre.

After the movie I took the Tube back to St. Pancras, where I observed the people just getting in from Paris and Brussels, grabbed some McDonald’s for dinner — first time I’ve had it since moving here — and caught my train home. Whew!

I’m going in again on Wednesday, and that day I’m shooting to see the Tate Modern, the British Museum and a few of the other parks, or at least St. James Park. Oh, and that second bakery …

(Today was also Guy Fawkes Night, but more on that tomorrow.)