In the heart of Morocco

Up at 9 to enjoy breakfast in our room. The shower’s not very strong but then again it’s probably normal and we’re now so spoilt we can’t tell the difference. After Mirinda had finished another two hour grid, we left for a walk.

Napoleon’s column in Place Vendome

Our first site, not far from the hotel, was the Place Vendome, built by none other than Hardouin-Mansart! It’s an amazing eight sided open area with a massive great Trajan-like column made from melted down Austro-Russian cannons. It is to commemorate that rare thing, a French military victory – that of the 1806 Battle of Austerlitz.

Chopin died in number 12 and there’s a shop called Fred. Mirinda was tempted to buy a little silver statue until she realized we’d need to remortgage the house to afford a down payment. She was also tempted to step inside Cartier’s but her runners thought better of it.

After a brief moment of panic when we realized we had no idea where our hotel was, we continued down the road and crossed to the Jardin des Tuileries. The garden dates back to 1570. It was home to a bunch of French tile-makers but in one fell swoop, which perhaps makes you understand the need for the French revolution, Catherine de Medici decided to clear it all away for a palace and grounds. A century later, Louis XIV had it redesigned and it has changed little since then. There are some fantastic statues dotted around, including a Henri Miller which Mirinda recognized – “Isn’t it weird when you can recognise an artist’s work” – and lots of naked women appearing to lurk within hedges either side of the wide path.

Just before the Louvre, we passed beneath the very impressive Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (not to be confused with the Arc de Triomphe) which, again, celebrates the Austerlitz win. Apparently Napoleon is reputed to have said “Paris needs more monuments” and boy did he fix that! The arch was designed by the architects Percier and Fontaine and completed by 1808. Originally the bronze horses on the top were stolen from Saint-Marc in Venice but these were returned after WWII. I particularly like the rose marble columns.

From here it was just a hop across the road to the pyramid entrance of the world’s biggest art gallery. Thinking we’d just check the place out and then realizing that there was no queues, we decided to make our move.

After buying tickets and picking up a map it was off to a handy café (there’s lots) for a coffee and a planning session. It was decided we’d see what I wanted first (the 17th, 18th and 19th century French paintings) then the Rodin room for Mirinda. Almost straight away, we found a Saint Sebastian by Camille Corot. We spent an hour and a half going around three sides of the second floor of the Sully. Of the 73 rooms, we managed 40. We were exhausted. We had hardly scratched the surface.

Among the many lovely paintings were such memorable works like The Three Graces, Diana at her Bath, a Riesener (if you want to know more about him look here) and this wonderful example of early road rage.

Road rage in ancient Paris

We then managed to get lost trying to locate the exit. The place was filling rapidly and Mirinda was starting to feel the walls moving in on her so with all the skill of the white rabbit, I darted for each corner and waved her on. The bottom of the pyramid entrance eventually hove into view and I breathed a sigh of relief while Mirinda went in search of a Louvre Loo.

Of course we had to visit the shop and I bought a guide book which was only for the section we’d seen – it is 175 pages!! – and some postcards to post when we get back to the UK! We then fought the ever-increasing crowds to get out. Phew! So nice to be in the outside air rather than the constant 21° of the art gallery – glad I’m not a painting.

We made our way to the Seine before heading up to the Café du Pont Neuf where Mirinda had salad and I accidentally (and I apologise a million, million times) had a horse hamburger with an egg on it. To be fair, the menu calls this delicacy in English ‘Hamburger with a fried egg’ but the French, which I failed to read, quite plainly says ‘Cheval hamburger with oeuf’ or something like that. Cheval being horse. It tasted a lot like beef and was barely cooked – sort of like raw mince with a bit more flavour. I didn’t eat all of it but even so, Mirinda said she wasn’t going to kiss me for a fortnight. I drowned my sorrows in a pint of Leffe.

Men playing boules in Paris

Leaving the café (and fighting down an odd urge to gallop) we took a long, circular route leading back to the hotel which took us via the Jardin des Halles and the impressive St Eustace’s church where Moliere’s funeral took place way back in 1673. We sat for a while and watched the men with the rubber retrievers playing boules between the formal rows of trees.

We then searched for the mysterious Jardin du Palais Royale which is in the middle of a row of buildings and like some tranquil oasis. As it turned out it is very easy to find when approached from the Commedie Francais. Still, where’s the fun in that? And had we not roamed the back streets we’d never have found the oddest shelter in the world and Mirinda would not have snapped my picture inside it. If anyone can figure out what these are for and why they exist, I’d love to know (it’s in the photo album).

Moliere’s residence from 1622, Paris

Now fate would decree that the cutest music box shop in the entire world would not only be in this garden but also be the only shop open so Mirinda just had to buy one. To be fair, they were mostly quite irresistible. Emerging from the opposite end of the park we found ourselves on the Rue Moliere and a wonderful statue of him. For those that are unaware of the fact, I am a big fan of Moliere’s work – have been for years – and this chance meeting with his statue was a great moment for me. Imagine then my joy when we also found the house that he lived in 1622 until his death! There now resides in his place a rather strange looking Little Britain-esque type guy on the second floor and an empty art gallery on the ground.

Mirinda quickly found a patisserie where she bought a meringue and a hazelnut tart and we heading straight back to our room for the ritual devouring. We collapsed, exhausted and devoured. Sad to report that almost immediately Mirinda grabbed her Sudoku book for another fix while I wrote up my journal as per usual.

Today also saw a few sightings of ‘dog handbags’. These are, as the name implies, handbags (with straps for the shoulder) for little dogs. They come complete with puppy paw print designs and, one assumes, are completely washable. It’s quite cute walking behind someone when a tiny fluffy head pops out of one and peeks at you.

I then relaxed before the TV and watched, surprisingly, the World Weight Lifting Championships in German! This has happened to me before but I cannot for the life of me remember when. Still, it was fun watching the Armenians Danielyan and Khazarian fail to lift past 180kg and Shi of China blitz them with straight lifts of 180, 185 and 190kg! The final lift sent the German commentators into paroxysms of pleasure as they yelled “bunda boosta” many times.

At 8pm, as the lifting drew to an end, we left for dinner. In the afternoon we’d spotted an elaborately decorated Moroccan restaurant and Mirinda was determined we should find it once more and eat there. We did. It was called Le Maroc and we recommend it highly. We both had lamb tagine, Mirinda’s with almonds and sultanas and mine with almonds and boiled egg. Absolutely delish! It comes to the table still sizzling and the meat just melts. For dessert Mirinda had a choice of sweetness presented to her on a huge multilevel tray – she chose lady’s fingers, a sesame gherkin thing which I called antelope shit and Turkish delight – while I had Coupe Ali Baba (three scoops of ice cream and grapefruit). We finished with mint tea and coffee.

The interior of the restaurant is absolutely amazing, you’d swear you were in the heart of Morocco and the head waiter looked exactly like Quark off of DS9. When he started speaking I thought he was a Ferengi but then I realized, of course, he was French.

A short stroll back to our hotel then sleep. A lovely day.

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