Paris, Day 4 – Walking, Pâtisseries, and the Louvre

Louvre Pyramid
Going to the Louvre on Sunday

October 7, 2012 – this was our fourth day in Paris, and the only Sunday that we would be in the city. How do Parisians spend their Sundays? We thought we’d walk around our neighborhood to see if we could find out.

Instead of walking along the main boulevard (Avenue Kléber), we decided to try one of the back streets instead. The street we were on is called Avenue Raymond Poincaré; if you look for it on Google Maps Street View, you’ll find that it is kind of a back street, narrow and with 2-lane traffic, perfect for a Sunday morning stroll.

Sunday Church

As it is all over the world, people go to church on Sundays. Here, we are passing by the Church of Saint-Honoré d’Eylau. I am guessing that these people just got out of the morning service and are catching up with their fellow church members. It’s nice to see smiling faces and babies. Coming from California, though, it’s different seeing so many people smoking everywhere, even amongst kids. I noticed this everywhere we went, not just Paris.

Place Victor Hugo

Soon, we reached a roundabout with a sign that read, “PLACE VICTOR HUGO”. Victor Hugo. The name sounded very familiar but we couldn’t quite put our fingers on it. Luckily, Google is our friend: Victor Hugo. “Oh! He’s the Les Misérables guy! Huh huh huh”.

Sunday Filming

On this Sunday there was some filming going on in the roundabout. It was an old Mercedes Benz convertible in front of the camera. I wonder what they were filming for? Maybe the company site has some answers.

Giant Blocks of Granite Buildings Made of Stone?

Walking around an old city such as Paris is really awe-inspiring and fascinating. Where I’m from, there aren’t many buildings from the 1800s that have survived World War II (and these are probably some of the younger ones!). I suppose it’s not too surprising that these buildings have stood so long because they simply look so solid; they look like someone carved them out of a bunch of gigantic slabs of granite that conveniently formed in city-block sizes. Maybe that’s why Paris doesn’t have rectangularly-shaped city blocks, because the granite randomly formed all over the place!

Without new, there can’t be old. Here’s a newer-style apartment building, along with some creations brought back from the New World:

Apartment Block in Paris Starbucks in Paris

Red Pepper Burger, McDonald's Paris Royal Cheese, McDonald's Paris

I don’t know why I like McDonald’s so much. I guess I like seeing what kind of localized offerings are available, seeing what the product managers at McDonald’s think locals will like. Don’t know about the Parisians, but I didn’t like that Red Pepper Burger too much.

From our seat on the 2nd floor of McDonald’s, we could see a store across the street called “picard”. The only thing I associate with that word is the captain of the Enterprise, and I ended up spending my lunch doing lame Captain Picard impressions (“Make it so”). After lunch, we went inside to take a look, and it turned out to be a frozen-gourmet-food market. No wonder their logo is a snowflake.

picard picard Frozen Desserts

After picard, we headed south on Rue des Belles Feuilles (the Street of the Beautiful Leaves). Referring to Wikipedia, it seems that the street used to border a park which is no longer there, hence the “beautiful leaves”. Now, there are various culinary establishments selling everything from Chinese food to sausages to roast chicken to lemon pies. The place selling the chickens was packed and had a long line (apparently, the Bresse is a top breed of chicken in France). The lemon pie place was opened by a famous French baker named Frédéric Lalos. Why do I suddenly feel sick that I had McDonald’s for lunch?

La Mandarine Chinese Food Au Poulet de Bresse

DSC_3846 Lalos Tarte Citron

Well, no need to feel sick because at the end of the street, at a roundabout known as the Place de Mexico, we got another view of La Tour Eiffel. It’s kind of neat that you can do your own thing in your neighborhood like shopping at picard, drinking Starbucks, and buying roast chicken, and then you look up and the Tower is there. It seems reassuring in a way. We made a right and proceeded down Rue Decamps and saw what I presume to be an incinerator with a giant chimney.

La Tour Eiffel The Incinerator

Soon, we arrived at Avenue Georges Mandel. Again, the name sounded familiar (maybe because of Howie Mandel?), but after checking Wikipedia it turns out he was a member of the French Resistance who was executed during World War II. The street sign said as much. Speaking of which, it’s pretty cool that some Parisian street signs come with a little caption explaining who the street is named for. Rue Decamps was named for a painter and engraver. Coincidentally (though under different circumstances), both Mandel and Decamps died before their time in a forest outside of Paris known as Fontainebleau; perhaps that is why the rue and the avenue intersect.

Intersection of Avenue Georges Mandel and Rue Decamps

At this point we were pretty close to the Rue de la Pompe Métro station, so we decided to Métro instead of walk back to the hotel for a short break. Take line 9, transfer to 6 at Trocadéro, and get off at Boissière. Voilà!

Paris Métro - 16th Arrondissement

Short break over, we were now on our way to the Musée du Louvre, but by way of a couple of pâtisseries in the 6th arrondissement (JC is a student of the culinary, particularly pastry, arts). If I’m not mistaken, we took the 6 and transferred to the 12, getting off at Rennes.

The first one was pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris on Rue de Vaugirard. As can be ascertained from the name, this is a pâtisserie with Japanese origins, with stores in Tokyo and Taipei, in addition to Paris. You’re not supposed to take photos inside the store, so I snuck one in from outside.

pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris

Heading east, we found our way to Rue Bonaparte, which is where the second pâtisserie we went to is located. Pierre Hermé has been called “The Picasso of Pastry”, so naturally there’s a huge crowd outside the store:

Pierre Hermé

It was a little too much excitement for me, so I went and hung out across the street, at the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice:

Fontaine Saint-Sulpice

There was a little café nearby, Le Café de la Mairie, so we sat down for some espressos and some rest. When we first sat down, there were a couple of empty tables next to us and no one waiting. I sat next to JC, so both of the seats opposite from us were empty. Later, a party of 4 came and took the remaining tables, and after that a couple came in and stood around the bar. I was kind of in my own little world and not really paying attention, but then I started noticing that they were staring at us, and then the lady started shaking her head. I caught on and moved to sit across from JC, the couple sat down, and it was thumbs up all around (they literally gave me the thumbs up sign, hopefully it wasn’t the French way of flipping the bird).

Inconsiderate Tourists, First Person Perspective

From the café we walked over to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Métro station to take line 4 and then line 7 to the Louvre. The cool thing about the station was that instead of billboards, it used spotlights and slides to create displays on the walls.

Saint-Germain-des-Prés Métro

As it turns out, it was the first Sunday of October, so admission to the Louvre was free. Even though it was late in the afternoon, there was still a significant line to get in. Fortunately, the wait was pretty short and soon enough we were inside.

The only thing I know about the Louvre is that it’s where the Mona Lisa resides, so of course that was the first exhibit I went to. When I think about it, it’s kind of odd that people would crowd around a painting and take a bunch of photos of it, but that’s what people were doing. I couldn’t resist either and snapped a few photos. What are these forces that cause people to do odd things? Perhaps that’s part of the mystery surrounding this historic painting.

Mona Lisa Crowd Mona Lisa

After the Mona Lisa I just walked in whatever direction my curiosity took me. One of the things that struck me was that people used to actually live in the museum before it was a museum. I wondered what that must have been like, thinking about basic human needs such as eating meals and going to the bathroom. When I think about it, I just shake my head at how incredible it is.

When I read history in a book, the timeline is arranged in discrete centuries and years, in black and white. One might be inclined to think that at the end of one era and the beginning of another, things immediately changed. In reality, change happens slowly, like how it is in the present, incrementally, and almost unnoticeably. A law here, a natural disaster there, and the way people live changes. A few hundred years from now, people will look back at today and say, for example, that the internet exploded in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. To someone in the future reading a history book it may seem like someone in our time flipped a switch and turned on the internet. In reality, we know that it was built a piece at a time, adopted by sections of the population at a time, built on and accessed with different and new technologies as they were invented. It’s like trying to grasp the concept of infinity and limits in calculus, very analog. I have to crane my neck and think really hard just to keep that glimmer of understanding in my head.

And so it is with the Louvre. Over hundreds of years, piece by piece, it has become what it is today. Here is a portion of the Louvre from the 12th century:

Medieval Louvre


Later on, I stumbled into the Egyptian exhibit and saw some real mummified humans. The feeling I got when I looked at the mummy, knowing that underneath the bandages was a face, a body, arms and legs, was indescribable. And yet, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about these displays. I imagined the family of the deceased saying goodbye to their loved one, mummifying the body and placing it in a place where it could rest forever. I’m not sure how I would feel if someone dug up someone I cared about and put her on display, thousands of years into the future. On the one hand, I’d be dead already, so it probably wouldn’t matter. On the other, I might take some comfort in knowing that my loved one could provide a glimpse of how we used to live.

JC and I had gone our separate ways at the Louvre and had agreed to meet at a seating area beneath the pyramid, but a security guard asked her to leave as it was closing time. I must have sat there for 30 minutes (strange that no security guard ask me to leave) before it occurred to me to go upstairs to see if she was there. As long as our day had been, though, it was still going: our next stop was Galeries Lafayette, a famous Parisian department store. Since it was just a few line 7 stops away from the Louvre, we figured we’d squeeze it in.

Well, it was bad news for me as it was just too crowded and I was tired and cranky. I took the Métro back to our hotel, but not before stopping by Carrefour Express again to buy some food and wine for dinner. JC came back a little while after, and we enjoyed a relaxing night at home after a long but enjoyable day 4 in Paris.

2009 La Croix St-Louis

Next: Paris, Day 5 – Eiffel, Aquarium, Ramen, Eiffel Again

Paris, Day 3

October 6, 2012 (Saturday) – our third day in Paris. On this day the first stop on the itinerary was La Sainte-Chapelle, but first we stopped by Pomme de Pain to fuel up:

Pomme de Pain

After some delicious sandwiches and coffees, we took the Metro from Boissière to Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre:

Paris Métro
Looks externally very similar to Hong Kong’s MTR

If you’re familiar with Paris you might be wondering why we got off at Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre to get to Sainte Chapelle. Well, no particular reason, just wanted to walk around and take in the sights. Of course, we couldn’t miss the famous Pont Neuf:

Pont Neuf
5:30 PM. Paris. Today. Pont Neuf. You come alone.

I think I almost saw Jason Bourne looking down at us. Anyway, we finally made it to La Sainte-Chapelle. We paid the admission fee and went inside:

La Sainte Chapelle, Lower Floor

I felt a sense of awe and fascination as I walked around inside this nearly 800-year old building. The length of time is almost unfathomable… how could it still remain standing? How could it be in such good condition? The ingenuity of man is definitely not something to be underestimated.

La Sainte Chapelle Stained Glass

I’m not too familiar with bible stories but apparently the stained glass panels depict scenes from the bible. I wondered if this was the king’s little private bedtime story that he would visit each night. In a time before the printing press, electricity, and television, I’d imagine the stained glass would be as good as it gets. Pretty cool.

Notre Dame de Paris was the next stop. After visiting La Sainte Chapelle, it seemed a bit anti-climactic. For one, there were more tourists and it was a lot more crowded. Secondly, from a religious (or lack thereof) point of view, it was just more of the same to me. I did think that it was cool that people were actually entombed there.

Crypt of Jean Juvénal des Ursins inside Notre Dame de Paris

We had lunch afterwards at a cafe near the Notre Dame. Ugh, what a disaster. Tourist food at tourist prices. Don’t know what we were thinking, but at the same time I guess in a tourist area you can’t ask for much.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Notre Dame Archaeological Crypt. This is a great place to visit if archaeology (and getting away from the crowds) is your thing. We spent more time here than at the previous two places combined, learning about the history of Paris and studying the old ruins. To me, these ruins were even more significant than La Sainte Chapelle or Notre Dame because normal people, as opposed to royalty (or the clergy), once lived amongst them.

Notre Dame Archaelogical Crypt

Having walked all day, we were tired and made our way back to our neighborhood, stopping by the supermarket to buy dinner. Of course, the day would not be complete without polishing off another bottle of Bordeaux:

Chateau Les Moutins
You try taking a sharp picture after a bottle of Bordeaux…

Our 3rd day in Paris, and what a day it was!

Next: Paris, Day 4 – Walking, Pâtisseries, and the Louvre

Our First Day in Paris

October 4th, 2012 – Thursday

We got off the Eurostar and tried to figure out how to get to the Paris Métro. Apparently, there is a tunnel walkway that takes you from Gare du Nord to La Chapelle, but we didn’t find it and walked on the surface streets instead. Our first impression was, “wow, this is pretty gritty”. This was reaffirmed when we finally made our way to La Chapelle station and some guy got up in my face scalping Métro tickets (billets) in French. I was tired and exasperated from being new and not knowing which way to go; I wanted to smack that guy and tell him to get the f*ck out of my face. Eventually, we figured out how to buy tickets (officially) and made our way onto the train and to our hotel.

Once we settled in to our hotel and made our way out, we walked along Avenue Kléber until we reached the Arc de Triomphe. I’ll never forget seeing it in person for the first time. It was so much bigger than what I expected.

Arc de Triomphe, Full View
Amazing, much bigger in person.

We paid the admission fee to get to the top and made our way up the 284 steps. Once at the top, I had forgotten about the Eiffel Tower. When I walked around to the south side, I saw it in person for the first time. It just sort of struck me in the face. The Eiffel Tower! It was unbelievable, breathtaking. It looked more metallic than what I had seen in pictures. It stood out amongst its surroundings. Beautiful. Marvelous. I just couldn’t believe that I was seeing it with my own eyes.

Eiffel Tower
Am I dreaming? The Eiffel Tower seen with my own eyes.

Later on, we stopped by a Carrefour Express to buy dinner. Of course, I had to try some French wine, and went with a Bordeaux. I enjoyed the wine and enjoyed the fact that we had finally made it to Paris, the City of Light.

First Bordeaux
First Bordeaux in Paris.
Arc de Triomphe, Zoomed In
Arc de Triomphe, Zoomed In
284 Steps
284 Steps
Crazy Traffic
Crazy Traffic
Crazy Traffic, Bird's Eye View
Crazy Traffic, Bird’s Eye View
Sunset on Paris
Sunset on Paris
One of Many Leading to the Arc
One of Many Leading to the Arc
284 Back Down
284 Back Down

Next: Paris, Day 2 – Chinatown, Eiffel, Seine, Champs-Élysées