An accidental self-portrait from Paris…
If that store had been open when we passed by, I probably would have left Paris with a new wallet, clutch, and perhaps a dress if they had any in my size.
Writing this post led me to look up the designer whose name is written on that big heart in the photo, Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, and I just found an online store full of super cute items to dream about buying!
Sadly, since gluten and I don’t get along, I wasn’t able to enjoy any crepes or macarons in Paris. But I was able to buy a pretty decent gluten-free baguette at my favorite Parisian natural foods grocery store, Naturalia. Other memorable finds at Naturalia included organic cherry soy yogurt, chocolate soy milk, hazelnut milk, and unbelievably yummy gluten-free madeleines and little chocolate chip cakes!
In addition to our usual travel staples of Indian and sushi restaurants, we ate at a couple of great vegetarian restaurants in Paris as well. Le Potager du Marais, located at 22 Rue Rambuteau, is a fantastic little vegetarian restaurant. The menu was loaded with tantalizing options, but in the end I had an amazing quinoa patty with a creamy – yet vegan – mushroom sauce and Jeff had veggie chili. I really appreciated that when the waitress brought bread for everyone before the meal, she brought me my own plate of gluten-free bread (which was surprisingly tasty!). We also enjoyed a quick lunch at Maoz, a vegetarian falafel and salad-based fast food franchise restaurant.
As an aside, I also wanted to mention that we never experienced the stereotype of French people being rude, even though we were those supposedly maligned tourists who don’t speak French beyond bonjour and merci. I found our waiters/waitresses to be pleasant and attentive. Our hotel staff were downright friendly. And the Metro ticket saleslady, who didn’t speak much English, went out of her way trying to explain the ins and outs of how to use our Metro passes, even though we assured her we would be fine. People tend to avoid eye contact on the Metro or when passing on the sidewalk, but that’s typical in most big cities. When we were in Vernon, the men at the bike rental and the waiter at the restaurant were more brusque, and less proficient in English, but I still wouldn’t call them rude. So my conclusion from our experience is that if you, the tourist, are not rude, then the French will generally not be rude to you. Just like anywhere else.
We took a day trip from Paris to Giverny to visit Claude Monet’s gardens and house. We traveled from Paris to Vernon by a very crowded train, then rented bicycles from a cafe across the street from the Vernon train station and rode on to Giverny. Tour buses and taxis were also available, but we had a perfect day for a bike ride. Most of the bike ride was on a quiet bike path, where we encountered a few butterflies! We passed a bright field of rapeseed on the way to Giverny.
And once we turned onto Rue Claude Monet, we knew we were on the right track.
The line to get into Monet’s property was very long, and parts of the gardens were rather crowded, especially around the water lily pond. The gardens were lovely though, and I enjoyed trying to put myself in Monet’s place, appreciating the changing effects of light and shadow in the gardens.
When I was at the Belvedere in Vienna, I saw a painting of Monet’s gardens with his house in the background. I bought a postcard of that painting at the Belvedere gift shop, and brought it along to the gardens. The photo below shows the painting postcard in the spot depicted in the painting.
We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the house, but I liked seeing the art that Monet hung on his own walls – lots of cool Japanese prints.
Ready to escape the throngs of tourists, we hopped back on our bikes and rode back to Vernon. We stopped by the Seine in Vernon to check out the castle shown below. There was no signage about it or mention of it in any of my pre-trip research, so I guess it’s no big deal to the French, but it’s called Chateau des Tourelles and was built in 1196!
We also thought this old mill over the river was cute and picturesque.
Back in the center of Vernon, we stopped to admire the collegiate church Notre Dame, which dates back to the 11th century.
We had a late lunch in a small family-run restaurant across the street from the church, then returned our bikes and headed back to Paris.
Paris is one of the most-visited cities in the world, and after spending a few days there at the end of April and beginning of May, I definitely believe that! I was blown away by the frenzied crowds of people everywhere we went and the extraordinarily long lines to see any of the most famous attractions. I have to admit that I had some naive expectations about the city based on movies like Amelie and Midnight in Paris, and we had to try very hard to find the quieter spaces where one might have a thoughtful or whimsical interlude like in those movies. So we didn’t end up seeing some of the things I had planned on seeing, because we didn’t want to put ourselves through waiting in line for hours to climb the stairs to the first platform of the Eiffel Tower (and there was no hope at all to get to the top because some of the elevators were out of service). Similarly, we weren’t so interested in waiting in a long line to get into a fabulous museum, only to be followed with fighting through massive crowds to get a glimpse of a corner of artwork. Instead, we walked along the Seine for hours. We wandered around the charming hills of Montmartre.
We found a rare quiet spot near Sacre Coeur.
We climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe shortly before it closed for the night…
…and were rewarded with a lovely view of “The City of Light” at night.
It is often said that traveling is an excellent opportunity to learn – not just the history, details, and culture of the places that you’re seeing, but about yourself as well. I think Jeff and I learned here how much our preferences for our surroundings have changed since we lived in Boston. We now treasure the quiet pretty spots, and sightseeing in Paris turned into sort of a quest for quiet and seclusion.
We did wait in line to get inside Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur. We admired the Eiffel Tower from the bottom. We appreciated the romance of the love padlocks on the Pont des Arts. We were charmed by the accordion player busking on the metro train (although the charm wore off quickly – accordions are mighty loud). We found the Moulin Rouge and the cafe were Amelie worked in the movie. And we tried to escape the crowds with a day trip out of the city – more on that in my next post!