After a lovely relaxing week in Austria and Germany, we were ready for Paris. We drove 5 hours across Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. The landscape flattened out gradually but was still beautiful. We stopped at the Luxembourg American Military Cemetery along the way. It was quite moving with about 5,000 American military buried there, including General Patton, mostly from the Battle of the Bulge.
We parked the car in the outer rings of Paris for our time there…and Michael is still recovering from that drive into Paris. Unbelievable. No American city could have prepared us for it…I don’t understand how anyone could drive there. And we were only in the outer suburbs. We took the train into the heart of Paris where Henry the apartment owner was waiting at our apartment. Lovely old chap…very hospitable. Our apartment was on the fifth floor (no lift) of an old building right smack in the middle of the Latin Quarter…we could open our balcony doors and gaze/listen down on the people, musicians, jugglers and all sorts of activity. Great source of entertainment. Finally the rain was gone and the temps were in the 70’s all week.
Our first full day in Paris we attempted to visit Versailles, along with a billion other people. We got there around 9:30 which was very late. Already there were several hundred people in line…more than an hour wait. So we went around back and visited the gardens. They were quite grand. There was a marathon going on that was finishing there so we sat and watched the runners, and the kayakers, and the people, and the fountains. We spent three good hours in the gardens, and did see the Grand Trianon there…Louis IVX smaller getaway palace. We walked around to the front of the palace and there were perhaps thousands of people lined up in the courtyard. No way. Easy mutual decision to return to our apartment. I might mention that I researched this trip extensively and had in my notes to be at Versailles right when they open at 8:30, but I couldn’t get the family going early that morning. It wasn’t worth hurrying them, and we had a nice day even without seeing the palace. You have to be flexible when traveling!!
After resting, we headed a few blocks away to the Luxembourg Gardens. Beautiful tree lined walks, flowers, statues. Chopin was being played on a grand piano. Children were sailing miniature sailboats on a pond. Hundreds of Parisians were picnicking, talking, enjoying their Sunday afternoon. We wandered around and came to an area where a dozen or so chess tables were set up with old men playing speed chess. Groups of men gathered around watching. Nathan, loving chess, watched intently. He played one game with a lovely older women that smoked him. Cool experience.
After dinner in our apartment, we went a couple blocks over to see Notre Dame. It was closed but we enjoyed walking around. The kids got to feed sparrows from their hands. We walked across Pont de l’Archeveche, a small bridge over the Seine covered in love locks. Lastly we visited the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. Very cool with some neat history. Finally back to our apartment where we tackled some laundry.
We slept in the next morning. First up was the Georges Pompidou Center, home of the largest modern art collection in Europe. We were 30 minutes early, so we grabbed some crepes in the square first. Mmmm. I picked this museum mainly for Caitlyn, and she really enjoyed it. The rest of us all found some things we liked…but overall not our favorite. The Picassos I like…but the large white blank canvas…not so much. After two hours we left, and passed a sidewalk chalk artist on the way. Paris is full of squares full of musicians/artists/entertainers trying to make a living.
Next we thought we would try something different and did the Paris Sewer Tour. Yes, we toured the actual Paris sewers. Pretty gross, somewhat interesting. Caitlyn opted out and roamed around Paris on her own before meeting us back at the apartment. The few times she roamed around by herself may be her favorite memories of Paris!
Afterwards we made our way to the Army Museum which is housed in Les Invalides. An incredible complex of buildings built by Louis XIV, with a cathedral based on St. Peters, and which now houses Napoleon’s tomb. The army museum is one of the best. Its collections are immense, and the WWI and WWII sections are really good. We were tired and sat often as Nathan meticulously read every map and viewed every part.
We also passed Pont Alexandre bridge…the most extravagant bridge in Paris. Quite extraordinary.
After walking many miles…we returned to our apartment to rest for a while before going to see the Eiffel Tower that evening. We dressed and headed out. Perfect weather. When we were close enough I reached for my camera and realized I had left the sim card at the apartment. Dang…no Eiffel Tower pictures for our trip to Paris. We walked around at the base (opting to not stand in the long lines to go up inside it). Then we walked over to Trocadero Plaza for a perfect viewing of the Eiffel Tower and even waited until it grew dark and they turned the lights on. Michael took some video with the video recorder and later I was able to extract some grainy pictures…better than nothing!