Les Beaux Souvenirs
13.12.2011 - 13.12.2011 8 °C
The Hôtel Les Degrés is set in a 16th century building and our room was a 70 step climb up a narrow spiral staircase. The room was beautifully appointed with a lot of original artwork on the walls and a clear view of one end of Notre Dame from the window.
My birthday started with a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, after which we ventured out in the rain across to Notre Dame where we spent some time in the cathedral. Although I've been there a couple of times previously, it is a very special place and we again stayed for quite a while during which time we lit some candles for absent loved ones.
Turning 50 seemed to be interfering with my capacity for decisiveness and choosing a restaurant for lunch became a complex exercise. We eventually found one near the Palais Royal that we had read about in Australia but it was a little "too nice" with a rather expensive menu card. It looked good though but we decided to leave it to consider again when Frances arrives. We then walked back past the Louvre and many other Parisian landmarks to a Rough Guide nominated place back on the left bank. Sadly, it looked like it was not operating at this point in time so we just headed into a little café bar at random. The food (including a lovely pear tartin) and wine here was great and I enjoyed practicing my language skills with the waitress.
After lunch, we walked off to find Maxime who was meeting us at the Paris Mosquée. Maxime is a lovely young man who was teaching my French class for a time while he was on an internship in Toowoomba. At that time, he had said that if ever we were in Paris, he would show us some of his favourite places. As time was getting away, we hired Velibs and cycled off towards the mosque area. Going too far gave me a chance to inflict my bad French on an unsuspecting young man in the street but we eventually found Maxime as intended. It was fabulous to meet up again and he took us on a tour of the mosque. This was fascinating and was of special significance to Maxime who is of Syrian descent. It was also kind of special to do this on the same day as a visit to Notre Dame to reaffirm my belief that we are indeed all the same, only different.
Maxime also took us to the Jardin des Plantes nearby which is an enormous botanical gardens with a number of greenhouses and a menagerie. His field of study is plant related and he enjoyed showing us the gardens as well as some confused looking little wallabies that live in the menagerie. After this, we returned to the tea house that is attached to the mosque. This is also a busy and fascinating place with North African decor, delicious green tea and sweets. Maxime then showed us his place of study (Agro Paris Tech) in the 5th arrondisement as well as La Rue Mouffetard which is a great street of restaurants and providores. Maxime bought me a bottle of wine from his home region near Nantes which was a very special thing to do for a young man living in Paris on student earnings.
We then walked back past the Pantheon to the front of Luxembourg Gardens where we said our good-byes to Maxime and embarked on a "spoilt for choice" decision-making process regarding a place to eat. We eventually settled on a friendly little Afro-Carribean place which was delightful and incredibly cheap by Australian standards.
After a bottle of wine with dinner, we decided that the most sensible thing to do was pick up a velib again and ride to the Eiffel Tower. We wandered around the 5th for a while before we found La Seine and followed it along to 'le tour'. The lights of Paris are always delightful and the journey did not disappoint. At this point, some residual jet-lag kicked in so we put the bikes on a nearby rack and took the train back to some hot chocolate at the hotel.
It was indeed a memorable birthday.