Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Day One: Our apartment and our first foray along with a French restaurant lacking croissants

We barely made it to 8:30 on the night of our arrival; being awake for 35 hours just isn't as easy as I remember it. The apartment slowly warmed up as the night wore on, moving from "tomb-like" to "root cellar" over the course of the 11 hours we were conked out. This was a noticeable improvement over the cold that drove us to bed so early last night. The sound of rain was nice to fall asleep to but portended a cold and wet day. And once out in the street that portent was confirmed.

But first a few words about our apartment. It seems to be tacked on to a much older building and judging from the stone walls, used to perhaps be a carriage house or garage. It's very spacious, much more than what we normally rent and is comprised of 1-1/2 baths, a bedroom, kitchen "fireplace room" and grand salon that even includes a grand piano. Off to one side of the big room is a nook with a pull-out bed and a wonderful old chest that is filled with someone's grandparents treasures. French military medals, a cavalry sword, tiny Chinese statues and several old journals. Very interesting things, and a surprise to me that the owners are trusting enough to leave them here. In terms of details, the place is a bit shop worn but not so much as to be unpleasant. And quite importantly, the kitchen features a Nespresso machine. It's not perfect, but it's pretty nice.





We only made it to the first interior courtyard before going back in for the second umbrella. It was raining that hard. Cold and damp are bad enough, but adding rain just makes you want to go back to bed and read all day. But given our limited time that was not an option so we made our way off to the Hôtel des Invalides. Founded in 1670 by Louis XIV as a home for the veterans of his wars, it opened in 1674. At the end of the 17th century, it housed more than 4000 residents. The on-site chapel, Saint Louis des Invalides was converted to a military pantheon by Napoleon the Consulate and the 1st French Empire. In 1840, Louis-Philippe ordered the Emperor's remains removed from St. Helena and entombed under the dome and the project was completed in 1861. Today his remains reside in a massive brown marble sarcophagus at the center of a circle surrounded by statues commemorating his military victories. He is joined in his final rest by Marshals Foch and Lyautey, Napoleon II, brothers Joseph Jérôme and assorted generals. The grounds also house the Grand Musée de Armée as well as continuing housing for retired and convalescing soldiers. 

The tomb was quite spectacular in an almost over the top sort of way and I'm glad we took the time to see it. The rest of the place was about what you'd expect from a military pantheon, reserved, dignified and respectful. We skipped the military museum as our appetite for military hardware is still well sated from our visit to the Royal Armory in Madrid two years ago. We took an alternate exit out of the place as a short cut to our next destination, the Musée Rodin which turned out to be closed for renovation although a tiny auxiliary gallery containing Roman and Greek statuary was open for full admission price. It was still raining and quite cold so we ducked into a café on the corner, figuring it was time for coffee and a pastry.

And thus we come to the title story, The French Restaurant That Lacks Croissants. The waiter liked us well enough until we ordered coffee and croissant at which moment he removed the silver ware, napkins and paper table clothing, throwing them on the table next to us. I ordered pain au chocolat and My Lovely Wife ordered a plain croissant with jam, purportedly the national food. Well, it seems that on this day, by 10:45 AM the croissants had gone to earlier customers because he quickly informed us it was deux pan au chocolat or nothing at all. MLW had coffee de creme and I had a double espresso which were handed out backwards when they arrived in spite of his asking for specific instructions. From then on, he ignored us completely until it came time to collect the money to which he was graciously attentive. This guy was our first exposure to the notoriously rude French which was surprising because so far everyone has been very nice. The place was starting to fill up with the lunch crowd so we headed back out into the drizzle and on to our next stop, the Musée de D'Orsay.

What a great place, a fantastic collection, a beautiful building, well thought out placement and enough visiting Chinese to make me feel right at home. The domed wall at one end of the main hall holds a most amazing clock, one that made me sorry that photography was banned in general (a rule ignored by many of those smartphone toting Chinese and gratefully MLW as we were getting ready to leave. Our justification - we limited our few photos to the architecture, not the art.) Many, many excellent pieces including quite a few Impressionist works I remember from Art History class. A truly great way to spend the afternoon.

Heading home we stopped at a little hole in the wall offering quiche and panini to eat in or take away sold in package deals just like a fast food emporium back home. We each had a Quiche Lorraine and a Diet Coke and I opted for a cherry and apple custard tart to top it off. And excellent lunch in a most auspicious package.

We made a quick stop at Carefour for a few more staples (more coffee) where the cashier remembered us from yesterday (probably my butchered French) and then back home for an espresso and a couple Lindt chocolates. All in all a worthy first day.










 

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