Trip Report: Paris, France (Day 9)

From the Tour Montparnasse

From the Tour Montparnasse

On my last day in Paris, I woke up very early so as not to waste a single minute of it. I honestly thought about going to Versailles as a day trip but the more I looked into it the more I knew that I wanted to wait for my return trip. I think coming in winter is great for seeing the sights without excessive crowds, but I can only imagine how splendid this city is in full bloom. I think Versailles as a whole might be better in spring.

Instead, I opted for Tour Montparnasse. I said before I wasn’t really big on going to the top of things but I saw pictures online that it has a glass enclosure. They don’t just let you walk around willy-nilly up there. I think it’s about 55 stories or so, and I have to admit that it was pretty amazing.

Not your average commute.

Not your average commute.

First, I went to Galaries Lafayette at the Commerce Centre. It’s far less manic here, so if you want to do your high-end shopping I would suggest this one rather than the one near Opera Garnier. It doesn’t have the same wide selection but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if all you really want to do is shop.

I bought myself that perfume I wanted, but unfortunately the Chanel counter at this location does not have jewellery. I was not able to get my friend the earrings she wanted. Chanel has been selling earrings for a hundred years.  They’ll still be there in May when I come back.

It costs 15E to get to the top of Tour Montparnasse. It really is a bit of tourist trap. When you first come off the elevator they take your picture in front of a green panel. This is so you can have a “photo” of you directly in front of the Eiffel Tower or some other location. I tried to opt out of this but they said, “It’s no obligation.”  I gave them my ‘black people don’t smile’ look and they did not bother me again.

I walked around in the enclosed area for a second or two. There’s a café and a gift shop, but they had half of it closed off for a private event. So I went up to the 59th level, the part where you can go outdoors.

I still think the view from Sacre Coeur is the best, but the Tour Montparnasse is a close second. Because it’s so high up you can really get a very wide view of the entire city and its outer lying areas. It’s sunny today so I think it’s pretty spectacular. As someone told me there were not that many tourists at all. I think perhaps a total of eight of us were on top. One guy had a really fancy camera; it looked like a movie camera. I’m sure it cost into the thousands, and I bet his photos were really good. Whatever. I’m happy with my iPhone photos.

I left just in time because a huge group of about 200 Chinese tourists showed up. There was even more downstairs waiting to come up in the elevators. When I went outside I saw five tour buses pulling off. I bet the private event was for them.

After Tour Montparnasse, I decided to have one last crepe. I used Yelp to find a nearby creperie and it came back with a little street that was full of creperies. None of them opened until noon, so I sat on the steps of a church, reading reviews for 20 minutes. I think this is one of my happiest moments in Paris.

It’s sunny and very peaceful. I can people watch and I really don’t have a care in the world. Sure, I have a little bit of sadness that in just 24 hours I would have to go back to my life but to even have an opportunity to travel at all is simply amazing. I have so many friends who have never left their home towns. I have even more friends that really want to go places but they feel confined by their lives. I think I am lucky that I lived outside the US in my youth. It helped give me an appreciation for other cultures. My sister and I look back on those years living in Japan and count it as some of the best years of our lives.

From the Trocadero at night

From the Trocadero at night

I think I am also blessed that I can even afford to go someplace. These days, people are just trying to make a living. More people are concerned about feeding their children and putting them through college, then going on an excursion to a foreign country. I don’t usually get on a soap box but I will put in a plug for a worldly education. It can significantly enhance their worldview.

At any rate, I chose Le Petite Josselin because the Josselin Creperie was closed for some reason. Josselin Creperie had the best reviews, but La Petite came in a close second. It was extremely crowded inside. I know the French don’t mind being so closely seated but I was uncomfortable. I’m not a small person and I felt like I couldn’t fit into the area the server wanted me to sit. Usually I don’t like to sit with my back to the door, but there was no way I could slide into that bench between the tables.  I felt like my ass was gonna be in somebody’s soup.

It was very warm in there so I hurried up and ordered a Martiniquaise. Coconut ice cream, chocolate, and Grand Marnier. The Grand Marnier is not overpowering, but I don’t really taste the coconut ice cream too much. Still, I think it’s very good.

Now I have to make a decision on the best crepe ever, but I felt like I could not. This street had about 10 creperies on it. I feel that I would be negligent if I made a decision without tasting their crepes as well. I have decided to table the research until it can be continued on my return trip. But for now, I think Ar Poul Gwen is number one, the Bayeux crepe is number two and Le Petite Josselin will be number three.

Now, time for some souvenir shopping. I’m not really big on souvenirs. I would never purchase an “I heart Paris” T-shirt, or a junky old coffee mug. But I do collect snow globes, so that tells you a lot. I really wanted something for my sister and my nephews but I didn’t have a whole lot of room in my bags and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take the time to mail something from France. Instead, I bought some scarves for myself and one for my battle buddy. Also, I couldn’t resist the sales so I bought a pair of boots. How fortuitous that I should be in Paris during the semi-annual sales.

I wondered if France had any big box stores like Wal-Mart or Target. I found a store called BHV in the Marais. BHV is like a Home Depot, Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond rolled all into one. It’s actually a little bit ridiculous, but so much fancier than those individual stores. This BHV has seven stories full of mid-range items. Some reviewers state the prices are expensive but it looks like middle class prices to me. I think it would be the difference of shopping in Walmart vs. Target.

For my battle buddy I also bought her some nuts from le pistacherie. She loves pistachios and cashews and I thought the gift baskets in the window were really pretty.

Seriously, it's the butter and garlic.  I'd eat them again.

Seriously, it’s the butter and garlic. I’d eat them again.

You know what is the most difficult thing to overcome when travelling to another country? It’s not the language or the customs of other people. It’s the metric system! Even though I grew up in Japan where the metric system is used, I still have significant issues. It was like I lived in two worlds, never fully grasping either system. I am also a poor judge of measurement. I say things like, “My apartment is very small. It’s about 50 square feet.” I don’t say it as an exaggeration; I genuinely believe a person can live in a 50 square foot apartment. Or I’ll say something like, “You can walk there very easily. It’s about half a mile,” and it turns out the distance was closer to five miles. Don’t get me started on meters!

When I went into le pistacherie I thought about just buying one of the gift baskets, but the case where you can buy by the gram had so many different varieties. I knew my battle would appreciate cheese-crusted cashew nuts and lemon-flavoured almonds, but how much do I buy? So, what’s sad is my only understanding of the metric system has to do with drugs. I used to work law enforcement, and I knew that a few grams are a night in jail but kilos will get you sent up.

So do I order a few grams of nuts or a kilo of nuts?

Luckily, the kind lady really assisted me. Through some wild gesticulation I was able to show her how much of each I wanted. When I told her it was a gift for a friend, she thoughtfully packaged the nuts so beautifully. You just don’t get that kind of assistance at a big box store in the US.

I spent another hour or so wandering around the Marais before heading back to the apartment to start packing. I did have one last church concert lined up and I also wanted to dine out again. This time I wanted to try l’escargots. I have never had them before.

I asked for recommendations on TA, and someone came back with Chez Denise. I decided against Chez Denise because the menu seemed a little more than I could handle. I read something about pork knuckles and bone marrow and it intimidated me. I’m not sure where I stand on French food. I am discovering now how “French food” is a very broad term. I don’t know the regions just yet, so I don’t know what each region specializes in. Then, of course, you have all the contemporary and fusion places so it’s hard to tell.

Ultimate in Parisian shopping.

Ultimate in Parisian shopping.

What I say I don’t like is that some of the food can be quite bland. I know this is because I was raised on spicy food drowned in garlic and chiles. If it’s not burning my lips off then it’s not hot enough. French food does not have these attributes. I’m not the American that grew up on pot roasts, potatoes and casserole dishes, so some of the French food is really a leap for me. On the other hand, I absolutely adore seafood and everything I’ve eaten on that score has been delectable. Having said all that, I did not have a bad meal at all. I think the best thing I ate was oxtails and scallops. I could have done without the beet juice dish at Jules Verne.

Instead of Chez Denise, I went to L’escargot Montorgueil (spelling). It was hardly a block away from the apartment. I told the server that I had never had escargots before and please recommend the best version. They had different options and I really couldn’t tell what the difference would be. He chose for me the traditional garlic, butter and parsley.

Before I went on an escargot escapade, I watched several YouTube videos on how to eat “the slippery little suckers.” Anyone who has ever seen Pretty Woman, remembers the scene where Julia Roberts flings a snail into the air. I did not want to be That Guy, flying snails all over the place.

After the videos I felt confident I would be able to eat them without making a fool of myself. When they arrived, I looked down at the plate skeptically. It really is six snails nestled into a plate specifically designed for them. The shells are turned upward to hold the garlic, butter and parsley concoction like a little bowl.

I picked up the tongs and the little fork I was given and began to dig in. I pushed the fork way down into the shell like the video said so but all I could pull out were parsley flakes. I started to wonder if that’s all it was, just some garlic juice with butter and parsley. There was nothing to chew. In the video the guy had meat on his fork. I thought, well, maybe this one doesn’t have any, like sometimes when you get a bad oyster or a crab with very little meat. I was disappointed so I picked up a second snail and tried again.

Success!

I was able to pull out the meat, but now I actually have to eat it. I decided there was nothing for it but to pop it into my mouth, so I did.

La Madeleine Eglise.  I thought it was a museum.  It's a church.

La Madeleine Eglise. I thought it was a museum. It’s a church.

It reminded me of a very strong portabella mushroom. It was a little bit chewy but otherwise it tasted perfectly fine. I think the actual taste comes from whatever garnish they put on it. I think the snail itself doesn’t taste like much. Before eating the snails I thought they would be slimy, but I discovered they aren’t at all. I would definitely eat them again. I had a glass of Beaujolais blanc. The waiter suggested it would go well with the escargots. He was right.

I still had quite a bit of time before my concert so I went to the Trocadero again to see the Eiffel Tower one last time. It is evening time now, so it is lit up and I think it looks even better than it does during the day. There are actually more people out here than there was that first day I came.

I stayed up there admiring it until it was time for my concert.

Afterward, I attended my final church concert. It was a playing of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at La Madeleine Eglise. Yet another beautiful evening of music in another beautiful church. A string quartet opened up with a familiar song, but I couldn’t remember the name. Then they went into Pachelbel’s Canon in D. That damn song again.

A rail thin singer came out for a selection of songs, including Ave Maria. Frankly, I did not think she was that good. Her voice was not big enough for the church and the strings overpowered her. While technically proficient, she lacked warmth and I was glad when her set was over.

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is a piece of music that a lot of people know but may not know the name. It is a Baroque violin concerto for the solo violin and quartet. You’ve heard “Summer” a thousand times. I know I have, and I never get tired of it. I wanted to learn how to play the violin based off that piece alone. My parents didn’t want to suffer the screeching, scratching of a new violinist so they never put me in lessons.

They really played quite well, but it wasn’t the Four Seasons that did it for me. They played two encores. The first one I didn’t know but the last one was Camille Saint-Saens’ Le Cygne. This is truly a haunting piece of music, and hearing it in this church….it gave me a chill. The song is basically about a dying swan and is based on the notion that swans are mute their whole lives until they are about to die. Upon death, they sing a most beautiful song that makes you weep when you hear it.

I thought it was almost symbolic to end the evening on that song.

This is pretty much my version of Paris.

This is pretty much my version of Paris.

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