Euro Trip 2014, Part 9: Paris & Versailles

Arrivederci, Italia! Bonjour, France! We had boarded the TGV in Milan, headed to Paris for the weekend. By the late afternoon, we were already walking around Boulevard Pereire, checking out a neighborhood brocante (flea market) before settling in for dinner at Dix-Huit.

The first stop on the following morning was a stop at Basilique du Sacré-Cœur to watch central Paris rise. From Montmartre, it was a quick ride on the Métro to Canal-Saint Martin, where I picked up a little something from Artazart, an amazing design bookstore tucked into a small storefront along the canal. The shop has a particularly impressive selection of eye-catching children’s books—just the thing for my little gift recipient (more on that later).

Lunch was at Breizh Café, a popular crêperie in the Marais that caters both to tourists and locals alike. My husband and I managed to walk in without a reservation during the busy lunch hour for a quick bite: buckwheat galettes with andouille sausage, gruyère, and a fried egg. French andouille is much more rustic than its American counterpart. It is made entirely of offal (tripe and intestines) instead of pork shoulder, giving it a distinctive aroma and taste.

"La paysanne" translates to "the farmer", an appropriate name for this buckwheat galette with andouille sausage.

“La paysanne” translates to “the farmer”, an appropriate name for this buckwheat galette with andouille sausage.

After lunch, it was back on the cobblestone streets of the Marais for an afternoon of window-shopping—or, as they say in French, “faire du lèche-vitrines” (licking the windows).

Delectable highlights included Merci, the sprawling lifestyle emporium with its iconic Fiat 500 parked out front; the old-fashioned photo booth at twee children’s store Bonton (a pretty dope souvenir); and the Scandinavian-chic café meets sporty boutique The Broken Arm.

***

The Marais district is brimming with museums—in a city full of them—but the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature) is an underrated treat.

Renovated in 2007, the museum is curated around the relationship between humanity and animals. Historic and contemporary objects are assembled in fantastical displays, bringing a fresh (often surreal) perspective to the antique collections of hunting regalia, trophies, and depictions of the hunt.

For fans of natural history museums, taxidermy shops (like Paris’ famed Deyrolle or San Francisco’s quirky Paxton Gate), and bizarre cabinets of curiosities, it is an absolute must.

***

Continuing the theme of man and nature, the art-filled garden of the Musée Rodin was our next stop. The museum interior was undergoing a massive renovation (completed in 2015), but the vast garden remained open to the public. Some of Rodin’s most famous sculptures, including The Thinker, The Kiss, and The Gates of Hell reside in this urban greenscape. Entry to the garden was a bargain at only two euros,1 but the price has gone up since the museum’s reopening.

To rest our tired feet, we capped off the day with a touristy (but satisfying) sunset boat ride on the Seine.

***

Eventually, one can come to Paris and not do any sightseeing at all. The most precious time of the weekend was a Sunday spent in Versailles—not at the Palace of Versailles, but at the apartment of one of my dearest friends.

When a job in Napa Valley took her to Bordeaux, then Paris—and eventually to Versailles, where she started a family—we promised to visit and meet her newborn baby. With a box of Dalloyou pastries2 and the aforementioned children’s book (pour le bébé) in tow, we hopped on the RER C train headed to Versailles.

A decade ago, I had visited her on my very first trip abroad, taking in all the sights of Paris before meeting up with her in Toulouse, located in southwestern France. At the time, she was participating in a university study-abroad program. She introduced us to her housemates, her friends—and her new love. Not her boyfriend (that didn’t last), but France itself. Although she eventually returned to the Bay Area to work in Wine Country, it wasn’t long before she found her way back to France.

So there we were, years later—four grown folks (debatable) and a baby (adorable) strolling down Boulevard de la Reine with the other families on a Sunday afternoon. We had just finished a leisurely lunch at the apartment, a casual spread including garlicky shrimp, grilled peppers, and charcuterie, all procured at local markets.3

When the baby had enough for the day (right around Marie Antoinette’s Le Petit Trianon), we bid farewell and continued on to the palace gardens as they headed back home.

Winding through the allées with the palace far off in the distance, I didn’t mind that we skipped the golden Hall of Mirrors or the elaborate salons of the King’s Grand Apartments. I’d already had a royal day in Versailles.

The Palace of Versailles

 

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