Monday, June 25, 2012

Au Revoir Paris

Our last morning. I could only lust for the yummy pastries that met us each morning in the breakfast room, as our cab would be picking us up shortly to take us to the airport. Alas...

One of our very friendly and helpful front desk staff, bidding us a goodbye.

Our airy little breakfast room.

Yummy pastries.
Looking up to our corner room on the top floor.

Apparently arrondissment 8, is one of the "cool" places to stay.
Who knew?

 The trafic was very light as we drove to Charles De Gaulle Airport. I went to get my VAT tax receipts stamped and mailed and then we check ourselves in with Air Canada.

Like most airports, terminal 2A at CDG, seemed to be under construction, causing us to walk further in a convoluted way to get us to our departure gate. A week of walking has taken its toll on my Mom as her asthma, arthritic knee and sciatica were all causing grief now. I arranged for us to get assistance when we landed in Toronto.

Three moves watched on the flight: The Hoax, a classic Cary Grant movie, and Canadian Going Down the Road Again.

I had time to reflect on our week as I watched where we were on the navigational map on the screen in front of me. Often after a trip you think - did that all really happen? I do have the photos to confirm it. It was indeed eventful - both good and bad, insightful and whirl windy. We didn't do all we wanted to - as you seldom do - did some things we wish we hadn't - & won't dwell on them. Wish we had taken a cooking course, which is surprisingly just coming into vogue in Paris. I also thought creating my own perfume would have been fun, but that's why there can always be a next time.

This was my Mom's milestone 75th birthday trip, and friends Ian and Sue contributed in making it special. My Mom and I are both acutely aware of her various health issues and therefore savor each and every birthday and each adventure we have the privilege of doing together. Or time together is precious and we try to enjoy it — through the good and the bad, the frustrating and the enlightening.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Shopping in Paris

This is our last full day in Paris — and we were not going to let it slip away.

By now my Mom's poor feet have been perpetually swollen and her arthritic knee was starting to seize up. We had to plan our course of action carefully today, to take advantage of my Mom's stamina level. What were our priorities to see and do?

Since we were in the hub of Paris' foodie stores, we decided to explore them first, since they were literally around the corner from our hotel. Both Hediard and Fauchon were on Rue de la Madeleine.

 Hediard sits on the corner of Rude de la Madeleine and Rue de Seze. As we entered Hediard we were greeted with gorgeous house colour packaging of red/orange and black on an array of tea and coffee. The staff were rather aloof in this store. Perhaps we looked too touristy for them. They had mustards, spices, chocolates and packaged champages. I saw a 3 pack of Vintage Dom Perignon for a mere 975 Euros. I was swayed by the packaging, and bought a two pack of chocolates that were in a little round hat box, a house blend tea in an oldstyle tea caddy tin with a domed lid and an old grainy mustard. Not sure if the chocolates will make it home.

Crossed Rue Tronchet and Fauchon was on our left. A beautiful window display of chocolates in their trade mark hot pink, black and white packaging enticed us in — not that we needed much enticing. On the left were chocolates loose and boxed in any combination, on the right were colourful macaroons in enticing flavors. The upstairs had a restaurant that served tea in the afternoon. I bought a lovely long box of 12 macaroons. since we were so close to our hotel, we went back to drop off our bags before heading up to the big department stores of Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.

We meandered our way up to Printemps. The outside of these stores were a beautiful representation of 1880"s architecture, complete with domed roof areas.

Printemps greeted us first. I've never seen so many sales people. At home  you can never find any help when you need it, or are followed by the "Gap" greeter, but we could be assured if we had a question, we would get an answer here. There were line-ups to get into both the Chanel and Louis Vuitton boutiques inside the store.

At Galeries Lafayette next door, the food hall in the basement summoned me in. I always enjoy looking at different packaging of food products — some we get at home & most new to me. I must have seen a dozen different types of mustards by the French mustard company Maille. We only get the traditional Dijon in Toronto. Since we were in France, I bought French breakfast tea, as opposed to English breakfast tea. I also bought a bag of mini Madaleines, to snack on later. I saw a 5 kg jar of Nutella — it looked like it belonged at Costco.

 We made our way up to the lingerie department where my Mom had to return a pair of pajamas she had bought earlier in the week. The French are known for their lingerie — and it was evident here. Ive never seen such a huge bra department. They were gorgeous - all price points - all styles - all colours - none utilitarian.

Beside the lingerie department was an organic food restaurant where we decided to have lunch. I had a sky high tuna and tomato quiche and my Mom had smoked salmon on a baguette. It was a calm little oasis in the middle of this massive department store and an excellent place for my Mom to rest her feet.

Next stop - cashmere. Yes I found another sweater that had my name on it, as did my Mom. By this time we were both ready to leave - just in time for the obligatory clouds to greet us outside, as the wind picked up. We started walking towards the Opera Garnier, but since I had seen the inside of the Opera already, and my Mom's feet and now sciatica were kicking in, we opted to head back to the hotel de l'Arcade - popping in and out of little boutiques along the way. We took our time and managed to make a few more purchases too.

Our hotel reception staff knew our faces by now, and handed me the key to our room without me having to prompt them with the room number. The staff were very friendly and helpful, with whatever queries we threw their way.

Our ever changing view from our room attracted me. The rooftop gardens were cute and typically French. I stood out on our little balcony that ran the outside of our room and watched our little world around us: our neighbor's cat sleeping & the local Kestrel perched on a weather vein eyeing the few pigeons that were brave or stupid enough to venture in his sights.

It was our last night wich meant packing up all our goodies. Did I really accumulate all these little things? I had brought along my trusty Heyes luggage scale to make sure my luggage weight was evenly distributed between checked and carry-on.

Bon Nuit Paris.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Coupe de champagne at the Opera Garnier

Act V: The sun came out and a clear blue sky greeted us this morning.

What a gorgeous morning. The sun greeted us head on this morning with the dark clouds moving on. Having said that, this was a three coffee breakfast.

The four of us decided to take on the Impressionist at the Musée D'Orsay. Both Ian and I are enamored by this period - Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Seurat and Van Gough. Ian and I have now done several museums together, The Metropolitan in New York city, Van Gough  and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the National Gallery in London, but he said that this was his favorite. The National Gallery in London has long been my favorite, so, I was curious as to how this would compare.

French Jazz musicians outside the Musée D'Orsay.

 The Musée D'Orsay is a former train station built in the 1880's, on the left bank of the Seine,  that was converted to a gallery spaced and re-opened in 1986. The space is bright and airy and the best of the original features of the building were left and utilized to the peak advantage.

I saw many of my "must knows" from my art history classes — Seurat's Circus, Van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles, Gauguin's White horse, Renoir's Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, Cezanne's Bathers and Monet's Poppies. What a haven for the Impressionist fan. This truly was a wonderful museum, set up on five floors, with the centre space open, and artwork running around the perimeter of the building in defined gallery spaces. Floors two and five were where I found my favorites. On the fifth floor, there was access to a terrace, on the Seine side of the museum, allowing for wonderful views up to the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre. Also on the fifth floor were the two massive clocks from the original train station. The clock at the far end was surrounded by clear glass, allowing us to see up to the Sacré Coeur through the 15 foot tall clock, as it were. It was an interesting perspective. Sorry, no photos were allowed, otherwise I would have snapped it.

On the fifth floor terrace, looking up to the Sacré Coeur.
It really is quite the landmark on the hill.

My Mom with the Sacré Coeur in the background.

The roof, very typical of it's period.

The original dining room for the train station's hotel is still a dining room today, and that is were we decided to have lunch. What a magnificent room. The grand room has twelve huge chandeliers with a facade of windows running the length of the room. It was a very pleasant place to have a very calm and civilized lunch.

Lunch in this grand dining room.

Fish for Ian and Sue, Vichyssoise for my Mom and me.

We thought we would take a bateaux up to Notre Dame, only to discover that we would have to purchase a day pass and opted to go up to the Opera Garnier, and do a self guided tour. Before we hit the taxi stand, both my Mom and I bought artwork outside the Musée D'Orsay. Yes, I had to agree with Ian, this museum has just snuck ahead of the National Gallery as my favorite, but only by a hair.

Beautiful architectural details on the museum.

Sue, my Mom and Ian looking up at one of the clocks on the fifth floor.

We taxied up to the Opera Garnier only to discover that there was a performance on that night, and that we would have very limited access and time to look around. The Chagall ceiling is a must to see, and that area was already closed, due to the performance. Plan B - coupe de champage in the Opera's streetside cafe. We wanted to take advantage of this drizzle free day. Sitting outside in a street cafe is just so Parisienne - and so suited all of us this afternoon. Surprisingly, the day moved quickly.

Ian and Sue had a late night flight back to the UK, so we bid our adieu's, until the next time.

10:00 at night, and it's still light out. My Mom and I have just come home to the hotel after having a yummy Italian meal. Queen's Jubilee shortbread from Mark's & Spencer, care of Ian and Sue, supplied our dessert back in our room.

Tomorrow we will plan to return to the Opera for our walk-about, and then explore the foodie shops in our neighborhood and La Madeleine, and the up to Printemps and Galeries Lafayette for a little last minute shopping.

I fell asleep to the roar of motorbikes flying up the narrow street of Rue de L'Arcade.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The watch incident or The Mona Lisa & Quiche

Ever have one of those trips and you wonder why you are on it with who you are on it with? Well, this was one of those trips. Let's just say — don't ever go on a trip out of "obligation" and know that sometimes your worst nightmares about what can happen, can happen. I shall just call this the "watch incident." Omissions have been purposefully made in these blogs, to, well, make this a positive adventure overall.

Another grey day - wondering if it will rain by the end of the day, as it typically has. A bit of a late start, and made breakfast just before the breakfast server closed up the breakfast room for us.

We walked over to Ian & Sue's hotel. My Mom had thoughts of doing a tour of the Opera, but that was in the middle of the afternoon at 2:00. We found out that you can do self guided tours of the Opera, and I suggested that, so that we could do that on our own, on Thursday or Friday. The Louvre was going to be our focus this morning.

Ian, Sue and I were to walk down and meet my Mom in front of I.M. Pei's Pyramid at the Louvre at a designated time. By now, constant walking everyday, and being on her feet, having taken their toll on my Mom's swollen feet. Struggling to find shoes she could wear, comfortably, seemed to be the order of each morning, so opted to cab to places, and save her walking for the inside of the Louvre.

Again, we walked down towards La Place Concorde, through the Tuileries Gardens towards the Louvre. It was the perfect temperature for a stroll. Unlike Monday, when the odd person was sitting outside, today, we saw couples, families, friends and tourists enjoying the seating in the gardens.

This lovely flower stand was beside La Madeleine.

Ian, ahead of me, walking through the Tuileries gardens.

A lovely day for a break.

Looking back to the Arc de Triomphe and
the Obelisque in Place de la Concorde.

The Eiffel Tower in the distance.

I loved these ladies,
as they seemingly walked above the shrubbery.

 There were massive queues outside the pyramid. Massive, but actually moving quickly. My Mom had amused herself for an hour, shoe shopping, and met us in the queue. It looked like a scene out of The DaVinci Code, going down into the depths of the museum. We passed our bags through security and made our way into another queue to purchase tickets. It was very warm now under the pyramid, but we were determined to make our way to see the Mona Lisa. Today my Mom's feet were very swollen and her arthritic knee was really bothering her. We took it slowly up the grand staircase, pass "Winged Victory" through the corridor into where the Mona Lisa was surrounded by her admirers. I  didn't even bother getting anywhere near the Mona Lisa - but enjoyed her impish smile from afar, after all, this wasn't our first meeting. It was a mob scene, truly. Cameras up in the air by dozens of people, just randomly snapping.

Winged Victory straight ahead,
with my Mom walking up on the right.

My Mom & Sue taking a break in an alcove
that overlooked one of the museum's work rooms.

Paint the Mona Lisa, and they will come.

Camera everywhere.

Sue and my Mom noting another painting in the same salon
as Mona's. No crowds here.

We meandered through the large format French paintings from the nineteenth century,  and made our way to a restaurant area at the end of a corridor. It was a lovely little location looking out onto the balcony of this grand former palace and up the Tuileries gardens. Quiche all around. We then walked down to see the "Venus de Milo" along with other Greek antiquities. I'm always reminded of my high school art history classes when I come to a museum such as the Louvre. We had your "must knows", "should knows" and  "could knows". Amazingly the dates and titles of so much of the artwork is so ingrained in me, that I was walking by pieces and naming and dating them in my head.

Quiche all around.

Napoleon wanted to leave his mark, as much as he could.

The gallery stores beneath the museum were an eclectic mix of cheap and friendly Eiffel Tower replicas to gorgeous artbooks, from Alessi-like designed kitchen pieces and Mona Lisa Rubik's Cubes. Alas, no floaty pen with Mona in it for me. Now that's an idea they could capitalize on.

At this point my Mom taxied back to the hotel to put her feet up while, Ian Sue and I continued walking along the Seine towards Notre Dame. We crossed over the Point de Carrousel on the south side of the Louvre, and walked the left bank until we approached Notre Dame, crossing Petit Rue de la Cité onto the island. I could imagine the hunchback of Notre Dame clinging to the bell tower. We enjoyed a lovely moment in the area in front of the church, soaking up the sun. The rain had held off to this point, but dark clouds were quickly approaching, and the temperature was dropping. Ian and Sue continued to walk into the left bank towards La Sorbonne & planned on having dinner there, while I cabbed it back to the hotel to check in on my Mom and to see if she was ready for dinner.

Thousands of locks attached to this bridge,
by couples pledging their undying love will be locked here forever.

By now we were starting to feel peckish and decided to go for pizza at the end of our block, at Pompei ristorante Italiano - Pizzeria. The skies had now opened up, and the downpour began. This was no longer a drizzle. We waited for the rain to subside somewhat and then trekked down the street.

I had a wonderful Margharetta pizza that tasted like my Italian friends Moms used to make.

Then — the watch incident — which I'm sure will go down in family history with infamy. It was a loud moment. Deadly silent. Shouts. Accusations. Crescendo. Silence. Enough said.

Tomorrow is another day, with two more days left in Paris. Ian and Sue leave tomorrow evening and we wanted a relaxing day, not rushing anywhere. Paris will stand out to me for many reasons, but I never thought this would be one of them, the watch incident. Alas, you never know where life leads.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Mom's 75th birthday in Giverny

My Mom had thought long and hard as to where she wanted to spend her 75th birthday. It was also the 75th anniversary of Casablanca, so that seemed like a romantic idea as to where to be, until we discovered it's not really where you want to be in Morocco. We loved Italy, so Rome was an option. I think the heat would have melted my Mom. My Mom would have loved a long windy canal tour through the wine area, but Paris seemed to make her smile, so Paris was the chosen destination.

We walked over to Ian & Sue's hotel, the Hotel de Sèze, and all walked up the the train station, St. Lazare, to make our way over to Giverny, and Monet's home, gardens, infamous lily pond and studio.

What time is it, really?

Our local train staion, Gare Saint Lazare.

There was quite a queue for the train ticket — a good thing we got there early, and made the train with five minutes to spare. Giverny is a 44 minute train ride west of Paris. At Gare Vernon, we boarded a  bus that took us to Giverny, along with what seemed like 90 other Impressionist fans.

Tourists on a bus.

We walked along a lovely quiet town to take us to Monet's house. The gardens were in peak bloom — peonies, roses, aliums, sweet williams, bachelor buttons and poppies were showing their best faces. I saw popppies in colours I didn't know existed.

My Impressionist ode to Monet.
A pleasant mistake.

Monet's home.

Now this is my idea of a lovely garden.
Looking wild and natural.

On approaching the famous lily pond, you could hear the chatter of bull frogs. They were loud. It was wonderful to hear their conversations and watching them darting about in the water. Not doubt they were complaining about the throngs of people surrounding their beloved sanctuary and gawking at them. It was amazing the "bridges" didn't collapse under the weight of the tourists. Everyone had to have their photo on the large bridge, that Monet painted so many times, including me. Unfortunately, I have more "out of focus" photos of myself, that there isn't one I like. Alas.

The birthday girl on one of the smaller bridges,
hence no tourists clambering to get on.

The "big" bridge in the background.

Monet's house was decorated with his actual pieces. Beautiful bedroom with a corner view of his garden. His dining room sat 14 comfortably, with spare chairs  tucked along the wall. His salon was filled with his work. It was a proper gallery in its own right. His studio space was massive, almost train station like in design with a tall peaked roof made of glass with a curtain acting as diffuser strung underneath the roof line. Walls were wide enough to easily accommodate his enormous canvases of the water lilies we saw the day before. The studio had two over-sized "husband waiting area" couches, that were original to Monet's era, that were a pleasant relief for husbands to plop into while their wives shopped for Monet souvenirs, in this converted studio.

In front of Monet's door.

Take a break on the "husband" couches
in Monet's studio/souvenir shop.

We walked beyond his house to "La Musardier's" restaurant, the creperie, for lunch. I think we all had crepes for lunch — either savory or sweet. I had a buckwheat crepe with camembert and apples. Yummy.

We sauntered back slowly towards our bus area, going along quaint country roads, that I'm sure have not changed much since Monet's day. We saw the same hillside poppy scenes that Monet painted. I bought floral sachets that were made in France. They were a bouquet in my purse. The rain held off till we almost made it onto the waiting bus.

The vines on this house were enormous.

Gotta do the tourist thing.

Our bus driver was a card. Tall, dark, stylish & 25ish, we seemed to take up a little banter with my very broken French. I honestly don't know how it started, but isn't that usually the case? We had tickets that needed to be validated once we got on the bus with a little machine. I was the keeper of our bus tickets, and the last of my little group on the bus. Well, somehow he got me to put our tickets in the machine. Flirting shamelessly, putting his arms around me, showing me how to use the machine. Yup, I could be a cougar, if this was my pup. But I digress. It was all good innocent fun as he then had me validate all the remaining passengers' tickets - as they boarded the bus. He asked if I was with my sister, and I said my mother, en francais, & that it was her 75th anniversaire, today. Well, a big sing song, broke out on the bus with kisses for my Mom from our cute driver. My Mom was tickled. Alas, my little flirt was over & we were in Vernon, walking in to the train station, waiting for our train back to Paris.

To kill time in the train station, I used one of those old style photo booths and had my photo put into a postcard that said, "I love France." My Mom couldn't resist getting the fun kitsch done too. We all collapsed on the very full train back to St. Lazare Paris.

Once again, we asked Praxede at the front desk, suggestions for dinner for tonight. "Le Madeliene C", which was around the corner, was recommended. It was a neighborhood restaurant, that was cute, had good ambiance and an easy walk away. I had brought a candelabra birthday candle from home, to the restaurant to put on my Mom's desert.

We all had the specials for dinner — Scallops in lobster bisque and Ian had the prawn & "best lobster he had ever had." I couldn't resist, & ordered my favorite dessert, crepes suzette. My Mom didn't want dessert. Well, I went back to the kitchen & asked them to put the candelabra on any dessert they thought it would work on. The restaurant's lights were dimmed, and the gateau au chocolate with the candelabra & sparklers came out with the entire restaurant singing to my Mom. It was great. Then the owner/maître d', put a little firework that shot up a foot on the cake. 1, 2, 3 and she blew out the candles. It was a fun moment that was accompanied by a glass of champagne. Somehow our hotel had given the restaurant a head's up about the birthday. I later discovered that Praxede at the front desk, had let the restaurant know, when she made our reservations. She had overhead us talking about celebrating a birthday in the lobby. Now that's what I call, attention to your detail.

The mini flame on the gateau au chocolate.

My Mom's birthday was a fun success. We walked back in the drizzle to our hotel to plot our moves for tomorrow, which, as always, will be weather dependent.