St. Martin Canal, St. Germain & St. Sulpice

The shops along Canal St. Martin

On Tuesday, we started off at Canal St. Martin. My mom said, “There’s not too much action going on,” but that’s probably because we went to early in the day for much to be going on. That, and the fact that she was just looking down at the cobblestone sidewalk where there’s hardly ever any action! Anyways, lesson learned – visit Canal St. Martin in the evening to get the true experience. Regardless, it was a nice walk and it was fun to see the canal “cruise boat” go through the dams and changing water levels.

The dams along Canal St. Martin

Next up, a bathroom break at good old McD’s where I also got a Cafe Noisette – which I just learned means espresso with milk. Nice little pick me up (it’s literally a shot of espresso with milk in a tiny cup).

We walked to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, which was quite an undertaking. Although I must admit that it lacked the charm (and the cats) of the Montemarte Cemetery.

We did see the graces of Bizet, James Morrison, Sara Bernhardt (whose tombstone was romantic, but not over-the-top) and Oscar Wilde (whose Egyptian-themed, lipstick-covered gravestone was very over-the-top, in the best way). But I’m proud to say that Chopin’s grave was the most adorned with flowers and mementos. Then again, maybe that’s because it’s the year of Chopin.

Bizet's tomb at Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Random but beautiful tomb at Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Oscar Wilde's tomb at Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Chopin's tomb

I also stopped at Victor Noir’s grave – his tombstone was him lying down, and the bulge in his crotch was rubbed bronze, from so many visitors rubbing it. I wasn’t sure who Noir was or what his crotch was symbolic of, but I gave it a quick rub too, just in case! I just Wikipeda-ed him, and apparently Noir was a French journalist and his tomb is recognized as a fertility symbol. Oops…

Getting through the cemetery was truly an exhausting mission – it is HUGE – so good thing we had a bag of madeleines to fuel us.

Finished, we hopped onto Bus 69 per Rick Steves’s recommendation (it apparently goes past a lot of the big tourist destinations). Two stops later, we were at the end of the line since we got on the bus going the wrong way. Once we actually got going the right way, though, it was smooth sailing & sightseeing. We hopped off at Hotel Deville and finally made it across to St. Germain.

At last we were at St. Germain des Pres church, which is the oldest one in Paris. The inside was beautifully painted in deep navy blues and burgundies, which apparently used to be the preferred interior decoration of churches back in the day.

Inside St. Germain des Pres. The photo doesn't do these colors justice.

Next on our church tour was St. Sulpice – scene of the Da Vinci Code! In my mind, I was expecting some small church, but that must have been a different scene from the book/movie, because this church was huge! My highlights from St. Sulpice:

  • Altar with some saint and skeleton (yes, I know my detailed and well-researched descriptions are breathtaking). Similar in theme to the one I saw at St. Peter’s Basilica.
  • Main altar, where a figure of the Virgin Mary was floating on 3D stone clouds coming out of the altar.
  • The scientifically-structured monument built in a way that the sun hits its golden ball and marks the solstices. I believe this was the key part of the church for the Da Vinci Code.
After the church, we explored the St. Germain neighborhood, which is lined with cute boutique shops and expensive designer stores. And how could we leave without strolling down Rue Bonaparte? Lots of cool antique shops, too. As darkness fell, the area continued to get livelier with people dining and drinking at all the cafes. We decided to dine & drink back at Latin Quarter.
Cute boutique in the St. Germain neighborhood
Cafe near Rue Bonaparte

After dinner, I guided my mom on the Rick Steves nightwalk through the two islands (Ile St. Louis & Notre Dame) in reverse. We gazed at the spotlit Notre Dame and crossed over to Ile St. Louis. It was a nice, calm, quiet walk – except that I had to pee really bad after all that wine I had for dinner! I ended up having to run into a random pizzeria in Marais to relieve myself (wait, is that the right phrase?). As I tried to stroll out nonchalantly, one of the waiters asked me something in French along the lines of “bien?” Apparently, I wasn’t as nonchalant as I hoped to be when I ran in! And that was my classy ending to a long day in Paris.

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Putzing around Paris

…as my mom would say.

Our first destination for the day was the old opera house. But that didn’t stop us from getting distracted by some shopping on Rue de Rivoli and at Desigual. But eventually, we finally made it to the Palais Garnier (opera house).

The Grand Staircase

The Palais Garnier is very beautiful and extravagant – I loved the intricate marble Grand Staircase. Chicago’s opera house seems to pale in comparison. Actually, it seems like even Warsaw’s opera is nicer than the Lyric. Or maybe I just didn’t look around enough my one time there.

Chagall's ceiling
The Grand Foyer at the Paris Opera

The other cool thing about Le Palais is the more-modern Chagall-painted ceiling. It’s also nice that you can step outside on the balcony.

Sidenote: As I was looking for links to include, I checked out the Wikipedia page for the Palais Garnier and learned that several buildings in Poland were actually based on the design of this opera house.

Ok, back to my story.

As long as we were by the area, we dropped into Galleries LaFayette to see the gorgeous, colorful dome. Even more gorgeous were all the designer clothes and purses! Besides drooling over the Louis Vuitton, Dior and more, I actually found some cute, more affordable stuff, too. But I didn’t buy anything. For now.

Dome at Galleries Lafayette

I was feeling quite tired and cranky at this point, so we grabbed some brochures from the tourism office, bought a couple chocolate croissants and headed to Tuileries to sit down. Deja vu! While it felt good to sit down, it was quite chilly, so it was time to move again.

Sunny (but cold) afternoon at the Tuileries Gardens

We walked over to the Place Madeleine to pee in the Art Nouveau toilets. I had high expectations, and they were pretty much met. If only all public toilets looked like that!

But of course the (other) real reason we headed to the plac was to see the Ste-Marie Madeleine church. It certainly did have a lot of columns, as advertised.

Since we were in the area, I went ahead and bought a bunch of macaroons from Laduree.

A cold & gloomy day in Paris

Our second day out, it was pretty cold and gloomy (again). My mom and I started walking towards the Seine River and detoured towards Place des Vosges. But first, a second detour for coffee and croissants.

Park at Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges was nice. It’s basically a big square with a park in the middle, and closed off by buildings housing various art galleries and cafes. The park in the center is quite charming, with rows of trees and benches, and the surrounding art galleries are interesting to visit. Oh, and Victor Hugo’s house is here as well. To be honest, it was just too cold for me to enjoy much of anything this morning!

Braving the cold, we finally made it to the river and beyond. We visited the Pantheon (well, we visited the outside) as the sun peeked out for two minutes.

After a pit stop at a public toilet (more complicated than it sounds), we explored the Latin Quarter. I was glad to have more time to walk around this area since I didn’t explore it that well the first time (despite our hotel being located in this neighborhood).

Strolling through the Latin Quarter

Our goal was to head towards Saint-Germain-des-Prés, but on the way we made impromptu stops at two other churches.

Saint Severin church

Saint-Séverin was cozily situated in the Latin Quarter, its walls forming part of the narrow pathways into the neighborhood. Inside, the main attraction were these very modern stained-glass windows designed by some contemporary artist. But I have to admit, I prefer the old-school, traditional stained-glass windows. Although it was an interesting concept to juxtapose that old church with its modern windows.

Inside Saint Severin church

At this point, it started to rain again and it was quite cold and windy. I couldn’t take it anymore!

We gave up and headed back to the room for a nap under the warm covers. As much as we didn’t want to leave the room and head back into the rain, a girl’s gotta eat.

After laying in bed for an hour reading about recommended restaurants, we just went to a random cafe across the street, Cafe du Temple. The decor was….interesting. The cafe was decorated in animal prints, feather boas and Marilyn Monroe plates. However, the hostess was super nice and the food was really good – it ended up being an Italian spot.

I had this delicious spinach and sheep’s milk pasta/canoli thing. And a little chocolate mousse for dessert. In addition to our red wine, the hostess even hooked us up with some post-dining, nutty liquor. Altogether, a very satisfying meal!

Update based on a comment from my mom: “Restaurant was Italian-Sardinian, the liquor was chesnut schnapps, the best ever, and remember, the mousse was served from a pot, you could just dig in and take as much as you wanted. I want to go back!”

Montmartre has my heart!

Our first full day in Paris, we tackled Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. I didn’t get to explore this area at all my first time in Paris, and we easily spent an entire day in the neighborhood.

The streets of Montmartre
Montmartre

Montmartre is how I imagined Paris – narrow, cozy streets lined with cafes serving cafe au lait and crepes, with faded red-painted exteriors. Plenty of roaming cats. A piano player in one cafe, another across the street. Just the feel of those old buildings and stone walls with climbing greenery is the country-in-the-city feel I pictured.

Montmartre
Cafes along the streets of Montmartre
Piano player in a Montmartre cafe

Sacre Coeur is beautiful, but it’s almost more impressive from further away, when it looks more distant and untouchable, floating on the horizon, than when you’re standing on the steps leading up to the church, surrounded by tourists and street vendors. Oh, and armed guards. Like, heavily armed. With AK-47s.

Sacre Coeur

Overall, I enjoyed visiting the church. The huge mosaic on the ceiling of Jesus with his golden heart is beautiful and inviting.

At that point, it was time for a break and a crepe!

Then, we went to check out the Dali Museum in Montmartre. It was interesting because it focused more on his sketches and sculptures than his traditionally-known art. His illustrations were actually quite interesting, including ones inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Romeo & Juliet.

Here’s a quote from Dali: “The speed of time, while precise in scientific use, is widely variable in human perception.”

As we tried to locate the two remaining windmills on the hill, Moulin Gallette, we stumbled across the Cimetiere de Montmartre and decided to go in.

I’m so glad we did, because the cemetery was beautiful. It was wooded just enough to create the proper atmosphere without getting too dark and creepy. And it truly felt like fall with the colorful leaves on the trees and in heaps in the aisles, and chestnuts on the ground. The perfect season to wander around a cemetery.

Dalida's grave at Cimetiere de Montmartre

There were beautiful tombstones and we visited the graves of singer Dalida, painter Degas, composer Offenbach, dancer Nijinsky, Adolphe Sax and others.

Nijinsky's grave at the Cimetiere de Montmartre
Polish poet Jules Slowacki's grave

But the best part was all the cats roaming around (yes, I know I’m a crazy cat lady) and chilling on the tombstones. It was the perfect scene – quiet, calm, with few people around and just these silent, feline observers. And of course I saw a couple black cats. The detour ended up being one of the highlights of our tour through the neighborhood.

Black cat at Cimetiere Montmartre de Paris
Me-ow

Note to visitors: if you’re strolling through the cemetery, take a photo of the map at the entrance that shows where all the famous people are buried. Otherwise you will spend lots of time wandering around and trying to find them. Which is what we did until I finally walked all the way back to the map and snapped a shot.

After the cemetery, we finally found the windmills, which really weren’t anything more than a photo op.

My windmill photo op

We started back to the hotel, and were thoroughly exhausted, not to mention hungry. I’ll blame these two factors for the fact that we decided to eat at a train-wagon-themed restaurant. Yep, we literally sat in a little “wagon” booth, complete with burgundy cushioned seats and a storage compartment.

Bonjour, Paris (again)

The last stop on my gypsy travels through Europe is Paris. The first time around, I only got to explore the city for a few days, so there is a lot I still want to see.

My mom met me in Paris, and it was good but weird to see her. On the one hand, I’ve been away for three months. But then again, I’ve had the chance to see and talk to her over Skype pretty regularly. More than anything, now that my trip is nearing its end, I feel like it went by so freaking fast!

The flight from Warsaw was ok, although my trip started with having to pay over $100 for my overweight luggage. Hey, you accumulate a lot after three months of travel. Plus my grandma gave me a humongous suitcase that I can literally fit into!

Although the plane I was on was probably the smallest I’ve ever flown in, the flight itself was relatively ok. I think I actually prefer flying in those smaller jets. But this one only had three seats per row. And of course I was in row 13 again!

Flying into Paris

My mom and I reunited at our hotel, Relais du Marais. Our room is ok – a bit small and not in the most central location, but at least it’s very clean. And not across the street from non-stop construction. And close to the metro and busses. So overall, a pretty decent value.

Goodbye, Warsaw

I’m sad to leave Warsaw, even though I’m excited to come back to Chicago. I got used to being in Warsaw; walking down Nowy Swiat street, taking buses wherever I need to go. It reinforces my belief that I can get used to most situations and environments fairly quickly. So I left Poland with mixed emotions.

Overall though, I’m glad I had the chance to spend so much time in Poland and get to know Warsaw all over again.

Along the Wisla (Vistula) river

My last week in Warsaw was pretty busy as I tried to squeeze in all my last-minute sightseeing.

I finally went to check out the University Library, which is a really cool, modern building along the Wisla. It’s an interesting area, right by the river, with new, elegant, contemporary apartments popping up around the library.

Entrance to the University Library

Luckily, I found another poster guy at the library, so now I have two poster websites from which I can order my Polish posters (the other guy’s store is at Rynek Startego Miasta/Old Town Square).

I went up on the roof to see the library’s garden – yep, it’s up on the roof. It was well worth the visit. It’s such a peaceful, relaxing environment, with views of the Swietokrzyski Bridge, Stare Miasto (Old Town) and the Wisla (Vistula) River.

Stairs leading up to the rooftop garden
At the rooftop garden

Next, I walked along the Wisla River to get shots of Old Town from that angle. I love seeing the hill crowded with red-roofed, old houses from that perspective. Of course, pictures won’t do it justice, but I tried.

Warsaw's Old Town as seen from along the Wisla River

It looks like some quaint village in the country from a hundred years ago. From that angle, you’d never guess that the capital of Poland lies right behind those houses.