Wednesday, September 16, 2009

France on $70 a Day - Paris - Day Five

Yesterday was one of those days to be expected on any trip.

It rained Monday night (a treat for us Southern Californians who haven't seen rain in months), so Tuesday the city was freshly showered and sparkling. We started at the Luxembourg Gardens, a 25-acre or so expanse of grass, flowers, statuary, and fountains in the St. Germain des Pres neighborhood on the Left Bank.

Luxembourg Gardens

There are puppet shows and a carousel for children in the garden, but it's also a calm oasis for adults who walk its gravel paths and admire the flowers which are changed three times a year. The Medici Fountain, originally built in 1630 by the widow of King Henry IV, has been re-located here to a lovely little grotto surrounded by topiary. It's a peaceful way to begin a day of sightseeing.

The Medici Fountain

The next stop was supposed to be the Musee de la Monnaie de Paris, the money museum, but we had two serendipitous surprises first. Wandering the streets of the sixth arrondisement, we came upon one of the largest churches in France, Saint Sulpice, built in 1745. The 6,588 pipe organ is impressive, as are the Delacroix frescoes and the Pigalle statues, but the church is probably best known to fans of The Da Vinci Code for its pivotal scene in the book. It is here that the albino monk, Silas, searched for the secret to unlock the Holy Grail.

We did not discover any secrets there, but in our wandering, we came across my own personal holy grail, the Cafe des Deux Magots. This cafe was the hangout for Picasso, Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and I'd longed to see this cultural center all my life. We sat at a sidewalk table and were served a 7 euro Chocolat des Deux Magots a la Ancienne by a black-tied waiter. Forget ambrosia. This hot chocolate, so thick it coated the spoon, surely is the food of the gods. We lingered as long as possible, thinking about the ways in which this cafe had served as an intellectual melting pot for so many years, before finally, and, in my case, reluctantly, moving on to the money museum.

Les Deux Magots Cafe

David has been a coin collector since he was twelve, so, in a way, I suppose this was a holy grail for him, too. We admired the strike plates used to fashion early coins (The metal was placed on a mold and then struck with a hammer to imprint the design.), and David studied the later coins and medals while I enjoyed the view from a bench. It was a small museum, one of few small edifices in Paris, so we finished in less than an hour.

Our next stop, after a stroll along the Seine, was the Musee D'Orsay, a former railroad station converted to a museum. If you spent thirty seconds looking at every work in the Louvre, our guide had told us, you would finish--assuming you did not eat, sleep or use the toilette--two months later, so we knew the d'Orsay was probably also time-consuming. Not having a spare month or so, we concentrated on the fifth floor where the Impressionists' works are housed. I'm still not certain of the difference between Monet and Manet, but we enjoyed the paintings nevertheless.

And so ended our day. One of those to be expected on any trip. A day when everything goes well and there are even a few welcome surprises!

Practicalities -

We bought a museum pass for four days (They are available in two, four, or six-day increments.) and were impressed at the way it works like a magic charm. We waited seven minutes at the d'Orsay instead of sixty, and at smaller museums we've been ushered inside without waiting at all.

If you buy a pass, do not enter the date until you go to your first museum because, once activated, the pass must be used on consecutive days. Incidentally, no one has checked the pass closely at any of the museums we've visited. The clerks have been satisfied with a quick glance. We even forgot to write the date on the back the first day and no official asked us to do so.

We've zipped around Paris using the Metro and the RER thanks largely to David's skill with maps. When we've run into a snag, however, we've found the site to be invaluable. Click on the flag in the upper right corner for the English version, input your starting point and destination, and the site will generate the route for you.


  1. Hi Guys,

    Wonderful reading; I feel like we're there with you. Glad everything is going well.

  2. More great suggestions that I have bookmarked for my upcoming trip! I'd love to make a pilgrimage to Cafe des Deux Magots, and the tip about the museum pass is helpful. Thanks!