You can listen to Edith Piaf anywhere, but her sound/lyrics take on a whole new dimension once you’ve visited Paris. And “Sous le ciel de Paris” captures a little bit of what makes Paris magical and lovely. The river, the lovers, the accordion, the birds, the skies, and the beauty. We could not have selected a better season or city to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.
In September, we took our first trip to Paris (see that post here). We saw the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, took a boat tour down the Seine, enjoyed views from the top of Montparnasse, took in a morning in Notre Dame, and wandered throughout the Latin Quarter with Jim’s mom and friend who were visiting. It was a lovely first trip, but our second trip, this trip, was even better.
We started our long weekend with a trip to the Musée de Louvre. The Louvre is architecturally beautiful from the outside (and inside). On our first trip we were surprised to learn the Louvre used to be the palace in Paris, but it was deemed “too cramped” and Louis XIV moved his permanent residence out to Versailles while the Louvre became the home of the royal art collection. What’s more, the Louvre is the largest museum in the world (it also feels a bit like a HUGE maze) and the second most frequented museum in the world. We can definitely see why.
This was the #1 thing Jim wanted to do while in Paris, no matter what. I’ll estimate we spent a good four hours in there plus lunch in their cafe. I want to say we arrived around 10am and waited in line maybe 20 minutes, tops. We opted for the audioguide (which is the fanciest one I’ve ever encountered with an interactive map, self guided tours, directions for how to find XY or Z art, etc.) and started off (of course) visiting the main attractions (below): Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and Venus de Milo as well as taking a couple of the tours, visiting the apartments, and knocking off more of the top 51 works to see. I’d recommend getting it, as I think it’s only a couple extra euro added to the ticket price, but worth the help and commentary.
Jim was incredibly excited about seeing Winged Victory in person, something he’d wanted to do since the first time he saw it, decades ago. These three pieces seemed close (enough) together to us. We imagine if you wanted to, you could easily see all three in under 30 minutes if that was your goal (though not sure why that would be your only goal in a place like this). The only piece with a crazy crowd/line seemed to be the Mona Lisa, which is much smaller than I would’ve ever thought. In contrast, my two favorite works (below) were Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss and The Coronation of Napoleon.
I had seen photos of Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss before, and in person it spoke to me even more. I think the spot in the room along with the light from the window really made this one pop. There’s so much detail between the two, it’s beautiful. I don’t believe I had ever seen The Coronation of Napoleon before, but our audio guide offered lots of background on this one, which was interesting and telling. For example, it was originally supposed to be Napoleon crowning himself, but they changed it to Napoleon crowing his wife (Josephine) and his mother is painted up in the balcony, while she (in reality) did not attend because she didn’t approve of their marriage or something else Napoleon did (she was making a point, but the actual point now escapes me). This kinda background gives a whole new meaning/light to the work.
We opted for some fresh air and a stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries after our Louvre experience. For a little background, the Tuileries is a public garden that stretches from the Louvre down to the Place de la Concorde (on the way out to the Arc de Triomphe) full of fountains, trees, and various green spaces. In short, it’s an autumnal wonder. On your walk toward the gardens, you’re first met with the below arch (Arc de triomphe du Carrousel). Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good angle of the chariot at the top (my favorite part), but we learned from our audioguide that this spot is where the term for a carrousel came from, as this spot (a circle) is where horses used to parade in circles. Neat.
I also fell in love with the heavy, metal lounge chairs found throughout the gardens (see me lounging by a fountain in one). They had some that were upright and then lounge-y ones like mine. American parks take note, these chairs are amazing, please buy some and scatter them about.
We stopped for a coffee/hot chocolate break on our way out to Sacré Coeur at a location I cannot recall (though it was quite good) and started our first of many trips on the Parisian metro. Let me just say I think we might’ve spent a full 8-12 hours, total, on the metro throughout this trip. It’s a really amazing and efficient system. Anyway, we took a train from Invalides up to Montmartre. Now, if you’re unfamiliar is the Montmartre area and/or Sacré Coeur, suffice it to say it’s up on a hill. This hill has a funicular. It’s a hike. This is also (sort of) the area where you can find Moulin Rouge (we didn’t go).
We didn’t take the funicular and walked up all the steps to the top. We’d heard it was a great spot for a sunset, so we planned to be there about a 45 minutes to an hour before the sun was scheduled to set. Unfortunately, it was a pretty cloudy day, so we didn’t get much of a sunset and it really just went from light to dark without color in the sky. But, it afforded another great view of the city, which was nice.
Following the sunset, we made our way to our dinner destination – Madame Messieurs for croque madames (avec oeuf) and croque monsieurs (sans oeuf). This is a gem of a little neighborhood restaurant with a delightfully charming hostess/waitress who (I swear) sounded just like Edith Piaf. In fact, I was rather proud of myself as we engaged with her entirely in French, and she seemed delighted we were doing so (even if that meant she had to repeat herself a little and speak a little slower). All in all, we felt like it was a great end to our first night back.
The next morning we woke up and started our day with a trip out to the Cimetière du Père Lachaise. This was one of the things I really wanted to do in Paris. In hindsight, it was kinda nice to make a trip out to a cemetery over All Saints Weekend. Anyway, let me just say this cemetery is HUGE and it is a maze and the maps you find online use different numbers from the maps in the cemetery and signage isn’t great. But, it’s really beautiful, and it felt very French. On this trip it really started to feel like fall, my favorite season.
As we wandered about (found it best to stick to the outside streets and then creep in for various graves), we found the graves of some of my favorite musicians and writers like Oscar Wilde (below on the top left), Jim Morrison (below on the bottom left), Chopin (below on the right), and Edith Piaf (not pictured). Wilde and Chopin weren’t too hard to find, but Morrison and Piaf were more inward and tucked away.
I was surprised when we came to Morrison’s grave, as it wasn’t what I expected (I was looking for the bust) and it was completely blocked off from the public (lots of lovable defacing in the past). I found this article online, which provides a good visual history of his gravesite which is interesting as well as sad/disturbing for the others in the cemetery around him, as their graves were also defaced. It’s a little hard to make out the inscription on his headstone, but it says, “KATA TON DAIMONA EAYTOY” which translates to, “Against the Demon within thyself.” Seemed pretty fitting to me. I texted the photo to my friend, Jamie, who introduced me to The Doors many moons ago and who is a die-hard fan. Brought back many a memory. Have to say, “Riders on the Storm” seemed like the perfect tune to hear throughout our wandering.
After working up a healthy appetite, we made our way to the 2nd at a restaurant/bar – Candelaria for mind blowing tacos and tequila/mezcal cocktails. This spot was recommended by our friend (Anne!), and it was exactly what we needed. I wouldn’t have originally thought I’d go to Paris and eat tacos, but it’s been about eight months since we’d had a decent taco and it was heaven. We ordered the black bean soup, guac & chips, a carrot mole taco, chicken taco (I can’t remember what else was in it, but it was sooo good), carnitas (yum), and one other (which sadly escapes me, but it was equally amazing). To top it all off we had a cocktail that was eerily similar to the Copa Verde from Padrecito. I think we had two/each at lunchtime! Cannot recommend it enough if you’re jonesing for good Mexican.
After lunch we made our way to the Musée d’Orsay to get our French impressionist fill. While Jim (I think) preferred the Louvre, I think the d’Orsay was more my speed/style. I’ve always been a huge fan of all eras of impressionism, so it was really nice to see so many different works all together from Monet, Renoir, Pissaro (a new favorite), Van Gogh, Manet, Cezanne, etc.
Some of my favorite pieces were the (above) Toulouse Lautrec work as well as the industrial Monet (below). I’m quite fond of artists you know with works you’ve never seen before and aren’t traditionally what you’d think of with that artist. Similarly, there was a Renoir landscapes exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art many moons ago, and it was just fascinating to see so many landscapes by Renoir as you typically only think of him for portraits. Anyway, there are three floors of amazing art along with (more) great views of Paris out of the clocks on the top floor. Something else I really like about Parisian museums is how they convert old buildings into museums – the Louve (palace), the d’Orsay (train station).
After the d’Orsay we made our way out to L’AOC for dinner. This was another spot that was quite tasty where we were met with a delightful husband (the chef) and wife (hostess/head waitress) combo. We attempted to lead this entire meal in French, as well, but (thankfully) after I ordered what I thought was cheese, the waitress alerted me it was actually headcheese (“also delicious,” she said) and we then settled on a starter charcuterie platter, which included rillons. Rillons, if you’re not familiar, might be my new, favorite French food. It’s pork belly that’s been slow cooked for a long time. It looks like a whole lot of bacon fat, which I thought might taste like fat, but it had a delightful texture and was amazing. AMAZING. As we paid our bill, our hostess/waitress wished us well and to have a lovely time for the rest of our weekend and in Toulouse and we told her how much we loved the rillons (which she told us earlier they made in house). At this point, she wrote down the name and said it’s a speciality from the region her husband is from (Loire), then her husband (the chef) popped out and began chatting with us. We asked if we could get Rillons down in Toulouse and he chuckled, “No!” then said, “But I can send it to you.” I love France. What a high note and great way to end our second evening.
More on our remaining two days to come…