Our final day in Europe!

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Europe » France
June 19th 2011
Published: October 22nd 2017
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(Erin here.) It's our final day in Europe, and Paris seems the perfect place to spend it. We are delighted by our hotel breakfast because it includes more than just cold cuts and cheese for once. Today we're actually treated to warm, flaky croissants. Some are even filled with ooey-gooey chocolate which has us wondering how we've ever lived without chocolate-filled croissants every morning of our lives in the States.

We spend the morning on a bus/walking tour of Paris city proper—taking in the traditional sites of the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, Notre Dame Cathedral, and Napoleon's gold-domed tomb. It's when we get out of the bus to walk around on the back streets when we really begin to get a feel for the city. Because it's Sunday, many of the shops are closed until later in the day, so we have the streets wholly to ourselves. No other pedestrians or vehicles compete with us. We're alone to walk in the middle of the lanes, and take in the unique storefronts (it's forbidden for them to be changed to preserve the historical integrity). There are blue painted doors, hardwood window frames, marble archways, and old gray stones with etched store names. There are tailors and butchers and bakers and art galleries.

The sweetest surprises, however, are the little gardens, completely quiet and serene on this Sunday. Our local tour guide leads us through a complex network of back streets, only to emerge into a small courtyard filled with perfectly manicured boxwoods and marble fountains, awash in morning sunlight. I for one felt the gardens had been opened just for our benefit for how private and lovely they were. One showcases an apparent homage to the underappreciated mole; he is built from iron, larger than life, and emerges gleefully from a pile of dirt. Another uses geometric patterns carved in stone, and still another displays the goddesses of spring and autumn, flanking opposite sides of the garden's entrance. All contain flowers, immaculately trimmed hedgerows, and water fountains. It's easy to imagine spending a lazy Sunday afternoon in Paris: buying some bread and meat from the local delicatessen for lunch and passing the hours, reading on a park bench or people-watching in the waning sunlight.

As we reenter a more mainstream part of town, we find that some of the shops are beginning to open. We enter a patisserie called Carette (their website http://carette-paris.com/fr/ is worth checking out!) and I treat my students to some of the finest, most brilliantly colored macarons we've ever seen. In the States, macaroons are thought of as coconut sweets, but here, they literally look like (not taste like) miniature hamburgers because of the pastry on top and bottom, and the sugary filling in the middle. They come in the brightest of neon colors. Carette displays chocolate, caramel, coffee, pistachio, raspberry, strawberry, marionberry, and cherry, among others, so I select an assortment for our group. As I pay at the counter using my minimal French vocabulary, I can't help but snap a photo of a woman sitting at a table near me. She is dressed in purple and pink from head to toe, eating her pastries, and feeding some sugary bits to the pet bulldog who waits at her heel. What a painting she would have made!

That afternoon, Sean and I split up from the group who headed out to the palace of Versailles. Because we had visited it in 2005, we couldn't really justify spending the money for a second excursion. Besides, to be honest, the prospect of having a few hours alone together in Paris on our final day was just too tempting to pass up. We said au revoir to the group and made our way back to Monmartre, our favorite part of Paris (well, that we know of!). Last night we had noticed the ramps erected on the steps of the cathedral, and today they were being put to the test. Hundreds of people lined both sides of the fences and watched as, one by one, daring mountain bikers sped down the ramps. They flew over jumps (with picturesque Paris spread out before them) and arced up the banked turns, screaming down the stairs and breakneck speeds. In fact, we even witnessed a close call when one biker nearly hit a delivery truck which obviously didn't get the memo that there were going to be bike races on his delivery route that day. How he got through the gates and ended up on the course during the ride was a mystery, but one biker very nearly broke his neck. Luckily the collision was avoided at the last possible second.

Later we enjoyed a nice long lunch at Au Clairon des Chasseurs, an open air restaurant in view of the
glowing white Sacré Couer Cathedral (Cathedral of the Sacred Heart). And since it was our last day and calories simply don't count while you're on vacation (especially in the city of love!), we indulged: ham and cheese crepe, pizza margherita, a fresh garden salad, and two iced teas. We even had a nutella-filled crepe for dessert. Yum! To look at the photo, you'd think we just devoured two plates of cheese for lunch, but if you've ever dined with my husband, you know that anything involving melted cheese or butter hits the spot for him!

Then we strolled through the shops, and marveled at the artisans in the street who recreated famous Parisian scenes on their canvases in vibrant blues and reds and golds. Others offered to paint our portraits while we sat for them. We even encountered a Cat Stevens look-alike, singing "Country Road" in perfect, folksy English. What a perfect afternoon!

Later that evening, we reconvened with the group for a disappointing dinner at the very same mediocre pizza restaurant where Sean and I had dined in 2005 with our then-tour group, EF Tours. (Not that we needed further sustenance after our filling lunch, but still!) The pizza was bland, too thin, and doesn't deserve another sentence. Onto the bigger and better sites of the night!

We rode the metro to the famous marble plaza in front of the icon of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. The late afternoon light had turned gray and flat with the impending storm, but the sight was no less commanding. The Eiffel Tower dwarfs the buildings of Paris the way the Space Needle only does in reputation. (It's lovely in its own right too, don't get me wrong; it's just that when you actually see how small the Space Needle is relative to the skyscrapers of Seattle, well, it leaves a little to be desired. Not the case with Monsieur Eiffel's tower!) We took a short riverboat cruise on the River Seine, cruising past the Alexander III Bridge and the Notre Dame Cathedral. Then it was back to the foot of the Eiffel Tower where Manuel arranged for us to get tickets for an ascent to the top—definitely an experience to have at least once in your life!

Darkness fell while we were waiting in line to get to the first and second elevators (there are three, total), so with each reemergence to a new platform, Paris was transformed from daylight and dirty urban sprawl, to nightfall and a glittering, sparkling canvas of city lights. At its pinnacle at 1,063 feet (well, OK, the top floor is really only at 896 feet), we truly felt on top of the world. I couldn't have dreamed up a better way to say farewell to Paris, to Europe, and to cap off our incredible vacation.

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