A very exhausting day. It started sedate enough. Mirinda decided we’d catch an open topped tour bus and hop on and off as we pootled around Paris. We wandered over to the Place de la Concorde where a lot of them seem to congregate and eventually found the bus stop outside the Automobile Association. Unfortunately it is next to the Hotel Crillon.
I say unfortunate because as we stood waiting a huge armed escort arrived with some visiting dignitary in tow and the suddenly the area was abuzz with traffic. We spotted the tour bus opposite the Place and wondered where it would stop. We needn’t have worried. By the time it semi-circumnavigated the obelisk, most of the mass media had fled for news anew and we mounted successfully. I have no idea who it was and didn’t dare take any photos after noticing the circle of machine-gun toting minders surrounding him.
Seated on the top deck we obediently plugged our green earplug in and listened intently as Paris opened up before us. Well, that was the theory. Apparently Mirinda’s ears are too small to hold the earplugs, so she missed most of it. Also the commentary was ahead of itself as we boarded so we didn’t get to see the lions at the beginning of the Champs Elysees.
Although very cold we managed to take in the Arc de Triomph (massively massive with a very big flag), the Eiffel Tower (pretty much the same as it looks in it’s photographs) Hotel de Invalides, La Madeleine, Opera, Louvre and Notre Dame, before FINALLY getting off. A lot of facts and figures were thrown at us by the narrator (“10,000 gaslights originally in the tower”, “52 columns around La Madeliene”, “There were once poodle shearers wandering across the Pont Neuf soliciting business”) but after a while it was just nice to sit back and watch the city and laugh at the tourists around us trying to work out how to hear the commentary in their language.
While we’ve been in Paris, and after the previous fortnight of rioting in the suburbs, the French have banned unscheduled meetings of big groups meaning the police go in with submachine guns and break them up. While we waited at the Eiffel Tower I noticed three armed policemen making sure the queues kept moving in case they became unscheduled meetings.
We hopped off the bus on the Ile de la Cite and immediately left it to find lunch. We accidentally found ourselves in the Greek restaurant quarter where young Greek men try and entice you into their restaurants by displaying their abundant wares. Unimpressed we entered a French provincial café. In a space big enough for 30 people, 137 chairs and 70 tables were squeezed and we just managed to shoe horn our way into a couple of spaces. We ate heartily and happily until Mirinda went to the loo. A very rude and opportunistic Frenchman leapt into her vacated place. That ended our lunch.
We returned to the streets, planning to finally see St Chappele but one look at the queue and we decided a lovely stroll along the boutique shops of the Ile de St Louis was a more pleasant alternative. However, before leaving the Ile de la Cite Mirinda felt that typically English Sunday urge to visit a garden centre and, would you believe it, she found one! So she managed her visit – though I insisted that a 25′ acer would not fit on the train back.
After a lovely stroll by the shops, stopping and visiting occasionally, particularly at the patisserie for a white choc éclair, we continued strolling up the Boulevard Henry IV and into a café overlooking the Place de la Bastille (where the bastille once stood ). Instead of the bastille there is now a column with the usual gold statue on top – the Spirit of Liberty – placed there presumably with a touch of irony, to commemorate the replacement of Charles X with Louis-Philippe in the July Revolution of 1830.
Our plan was to take another bus tour but a huge sign reading “Maison Victor Hugo” drew us like moths to a singing (that’s as in singe, not sing!). Here we discovered an interesting fact. Victor Hugo looks remarkably like Nick. So much so that the question needs to be asked “which of his ancestors visited Paris or Guernsey in the early 19th century and had a quickie with Mr Hugo?”
The house is in the Place des Vosges, a lovely square of pink façaded houses facing in on a grassy area where children frolic and the French smoke their Gauloise. In fact this is the oldest square in Paris dating back to the early 1600s and is full of lovely linden trees and was commissioned by Henry IV. The house (free entrée) is an odd mix. Hugo lived there from 1832-48. When they left (Hugo was exiled until 1870) the apartment was altered and their furniture auctioned. It has been sort of restored, based on contemporary accounts and a memoir kept by Guigon, Hugo’s floor polisher (!). I say ‘sort of’ because it reflects different periods and therefore different houses. Before exile, during exile and after.
He spent his exile in Guernsey and he decorated Hauteville Fairy for Juliette Drouet in a strangely Chinese manner. They were lovers according to the guide and their initials (apparently) are dotted throughout the highly (and overly) decorated room.
The final part of the house is a recreation of his house at Rue de Clichy and the Avenue D’Eylau (today renamed the Avenue Victor Hugo). All very nice and bizarre, especially having Nick appearing every now and then. I bought a postcard in case the Cansfields refused to believe us.
Quote of the weekend comes once more courtesy of an American tourist couple standing outside the house. I was searching aimlessly for Mirinda at the time and couldn’t help overhearing this exchange:
HIM: Victor Hugo? Who’s he?
HER: (with a noticeable shudder) A writer.
And with an exchange of disdain they rapidly left. A writer!!!! I bet they’ve seen or at least heard of Le Mis and possibly Disney’s Hunchback. A writer indeed! Not to mention the fact that he looked like Nick!
Continuing with our odd plan to catch a bus we ended up at the Musee Carnavalet which purports to be the history of Paris in 147 rooms. All very confusing even given the English guide sheet. We looked at lots of decorated rooms and many representations of the storming of the bastille (and progressively larger models of the building itself). I think we were pretty much exhausted by the time we left. So we found a café and collapsed into chairs on the pavement.
A coffee and a chocolate later and we joined the Sunday night hordes heading for Rue de Rivoli. It seemed like an age but eventually we found our hotel and collapsed – Mirinda read while I watched the weight-lifting.
TWO HOURS LATER
To finish our weekend properly, we decided to find a lovely French restaurant for tea. Boy, did we ever find one. Le Petit Celadon at 16 Rue Daunou, Paris is fantastic! Food superb, service perfect and the Japanese tourists taking photos of their desserts were worth the tip. I had game pie (no Basil Fawlty jokes please), pike and crème brulee while Mirinda dined on Pate, steak and profiteroles. All superb. There are too few superlatives. This could easily become our Paris restaurant. Once back in the UK we found out it is a Michelin star restaurant and so it should be! Go there, it’s brilliant.
We wandered back to the hotel and to bed – we have an early train to catch tomorrow.