At last Paris! I so need to get a fix of the city of light from time to time and our recent trip had been postponed when we drafted ourselves in to help with the Bopes' big move. We were able to sell on our, otherwise unexchangeable or refundable, tickets for their full face value via an excellent internet site, Troc des Trains ..
Just sixty minutes on the hourly punctual TGV shuttle; it always surprises me a little just how quickly we can be in Paris. It takes less time than the train from London Kings Cross to Grantham and the change is equally impressive. Disembarking at Gare du Nord the buzz is almost palpable, the place smells of the present and the past and of history and style AND of drains!
We're experts at the Métro these days and already have a supply of Tickets T+ to avoid the queues at the machines. It's Ligne 4 direction Porte D'Orléans, correspondance à Strasbourg St-Denis, then Ligne 9 direction Pont de Sèvres destination Exelmans. The names of the stations alone evoke something magical and historical.
Installed we made our way, as is our wont, to the local Carrefour. Transformed over the last year this underground bunker of a supermarket finally gets to be the kind of emporium that a chic quartier such as Auteuil properly deserves, nestled as it is against the péripherique and just a hop and a skip away from Roland Garros and the Parc des Princes.
Armed with my 24€ voucher and with Max on the trolley we had but a few items to purchase as I had brought most of our meals with us. I remember looking at my list and the voucher and thinking " I mustn't drop this" and, of course, somewhere and somehow, I did just that. I had a prolonged panicked moment - about a quarter of an hour - as we both searched the aisles and shelves we had visited but the voucher was gone, vanished, disparu. My heart is pounding at this point not only at my own stupidity but at the waste at a time when every € counts. This didn't prevent me from buying a couple of bottles of very drinkable Bordeaux it must be noted...
There are few advantages to be had in France for the man in the street but being the holder of a Carte Passe in Carrefour is surely one of them. There is always a till awaiting a Carte Passe holder and if it is not "manned" then someone will magically appear and whisk you through. We explained our predicament to the very helpful and charming cassière who told us we should ring the four digit phone number and speak to the loyalty card team. Unbelievably, but with great relief, we learned that they could cancel the voucher AND reissue it at no charge.
Back at the flat we did manage to watch a little light French TV - their version of X Factor. I am a little confused about this as the existing show, Nouvelle Star, was to all intents and purposes X Factor with the same music and logo format etc. Oh well, one thing I've learned about France is to accept that making things less understandable and more complicated is a way of life. Maybe it has something to do with not taking things at face value but philosophising about it for a moment?
Otherwise the telly was very well behaved and didn't turn green after an hour. I should explain that the set itself remains a plastic approximation of silver/grey but that the picture often suddenly becomes green tinged. Indeed we sat through the last six or so episodes of Mad Men series one on DVD with a fine image.
On Friday we took ourselves off to Belleville. No particular reason but we have seen the brilliant animation of Belleville Rendezvous (Les Triplettes de Belleville) more than once and it has developed a reputation as being a trendy happening part of town. It's definitely on the way up as can be seen by the steep hill we climbed away from the Boulevard de Belleville. Lots of asian restaurants - the pictured one with a strangely off-putting name - and shops, a little grimy but with some nice leafy corners and a park being renovated. This looks like a good place to invest if one had the resources! We were too late for the market and I have it it mind to get along on another occasion. Apparently it takes place Tuesday and Friday up till 1430.
We strolled through the Marais along La Rue du Temple to get to the next point on our itinerary: an exhibition about Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the famous iron lady of Paris, entitled Gustave Eiffel, le magicien du fer. Sadly this was the victim of our postponement: the exhibition had closed two days before. We instead whizzed around another exhibition on the other side of the Hotel de Ville - Bertrand's pad - Latitudes 2009, an exhibition of contemporary art from "overseas" taking in Guadeloupe, New Caledonia, Cuba and the Dominican Republich amongst others.
We resisted the urge to buy some nail varnish for Paco but were intrigued to hear that Uniqlo had opened their first central Paris store only the day before. They had a small presence at La Défense but this truly marked their arrival in France. In Rue Scribe just opposite the Opéra Garnier and around the corner from Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, this is their flagship. It was hugely popular - unsurprising given the price of clothing in France - and on the first day over 800 people waited in line for the doors to open and then for an hour and a half to get through the tills! We thought we'd take a peek but the bouncers on the doors and the lingering lines of people waiting put us off. OK jeans at 9,99€ sounded attractive but ... Following a brief diversion via Le Louvre des Antiquaires where we checked out their exhibition of images of Paris before and during the Haussmann travaux which transformed the centre into the place we know today and which has hardly changed since. Thereafter, off we went to say hello to Tatie and Henri where a bottle of champagne was awaiting our detailed attention.
Saturday was a bit of a failure really. Not totally and not in a hugely disappointing way but most of what we had intended to do wasn't realised. Not that it matters in Paris as just being there soaking up the atmosphere and day dreaming is enough. We worked out a route to see the marché aux puces at the Porte de Vanves in the south of the city. Less well known than its well-established and more permanent cousin at Porte de St Ouen in the north, we hoped for at very least an interesting stroll and at best a real find! Although supposedly open till five even at one o'clock many of the stalls were packing up or even already gone. Our former hope was achieved at least. Our big discovery was that the newish tramway T3 took us all the way to the end of the Pont du Garigliano at the end of which is the beginning of Boulevard Exelmans and a nine minute walk to Tatieflat!
We were invited to have dinner with Tatie and Henri that evening and enjoyed some quality time chez eux and at Le Royal Pereire a reliable brasserie five minutes from where they live. I was encouraged to see that the entire terrace had not been taken over by smokers but that a small section had been dedicated to the deadly weed. Here's hoping this is the start of a trend as it has become something of a mixed blessing sitting on the terraces of French restaurants since the smoking regulations came into operation. We enjoyed a delicious serving of Skate wing with frites.
And so on to the delights of Nuit Blanche 2009. I had previously made notes of events we wanted to see so we headed to Châtelet, found and queued for a free loo - yeeeeeuuuch! - and made our way along Rue des Lombards where jazz was supposed to be playing: zilch. So we wandered over to Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cité and wandered straight over to the left bank having noted the thousands awaiting entry to the night's offerings. The queue to get into the Collège des Bernardins wasn't so bad and since we had so far drawn a blank for Nuit Blanche we joined it. An hour later we were admitted and allowed to join another queue for the exhibition Cellula. The photos on their site look nice but not nice enough for us to wait again. The building both inside and out is beautiful and atmospheric and we could have sat and enjoyed a worthy sounding and looking play in the main room that almost certainly contained lots of thous and wherefores so we went our way... out.
Next stop La Grande Mosquée where we had hoped to experience a mirror linking heaven and earth and emitting a perfume plus some kind of music somewhere. Of course we didn't as the queues went round the block! Never mind, we hadn't been there before.
Final attempt Jardin du Luxembourg where, amongst other exhibits, a giant glitterball - La Maîtresse de la Tour Eiffel - lit up the garden and the surrounding area. At this point we were struggling through the crowds. Later we discovered that we were just 2 of 1,5000,000 to attempt the Nuit Blanche challenge. So we saw said orb and having noted the sign telling us that there was an hour's wait - later extended to two - we decided that we had made enough effort for the day and went back to the 17e. Determined to not duck out completely we watched the final two episodes of Mad Men and got to bed around 2.30am. We know how to party.Up, not too early on the first sunday of the month when many of the museums and galleries and other monuments in Paris are free we headed for the always free Musée d'Art Moderne housed in one part of the Palais de Tokyo. Sadly we found ourselves in the wrong part of the building where there is another exhibition space that is never free but happened to be between exhibitions. So of course it looked as if it was free. We carried on to the Petit Palais
another always free delight opposite the Grand Palais at the end of the Champs Elysées. Lots of nice pictures here and an attractive inner courtyard garden that provided a welcome shelter from the chilly wind.
We debated whether or not to go to Les Invalides but since we weren't able to get a connection on Max's phone to check out whether it was gratos or not we set our sights instead on the Musée D'Orsay. Last time we tried to get in on a free Sunday it was the last day of the massively successful Picasso/Manet exhibition and freezing cold. This time there was almost as large a queue so we again decided against but noticed a smaller building opposite the entrance with only a handful of people outside who weren't even queuing. We discovered that this was the Musée National de la Légion d'honneur et des ordres de chevalerie not only was entrance free but the audio guides were offered for nothing too! And this very visitable space ade for a fascinating account of the history of the Légion d'honneur. Recommended.
The weather broke on Monday and we didn't get to Les Puces at Saint Ouen. Maybe next time. Instead here's a jolly pic of a well known French radio mast.