Sorry for the delay in posting about Paris. First, we spent lots more time running around seeing things than we'd planned, and second, the Internet connection in the hotel was dodgy at best. Hélas!
But now, back to the travellogue!
We arrived in France on Sunday (I think), too late to do much except stumble blearily over to the restaurant in the hotel next to ours (ours didn't have one that was open for dinner, and it would not have been particularly opulent if it had). Oh, what an introduction to France was that meal! My order was simple: a shepherd's pie stewed beef in wine sauce, covered in mashed potato. Its execution, however, catapulted me into Food Heaven. It was...perfect. Perfect. Margaret had the same, and agreed. Houston had the salmon lasagne, and his, too, was perfect. The moral of the story: if you must prioritize your expenditures in France, spend your money on food first, lodging and tourism a distant second.
The next day we started off looking at the Cathédral de Notre Dame. I have never, ever, ever in my whole entire life seen such an absolutely remarkable and astounding conglomeration of religious art and good religious art at that. I've spent most of my life sitting in, standing in, praying in, singing in, peering into, churches, and I've never seen anything even remotely like this. Here are some shots:
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the Latin Quarter, a district of great antiquity, full of densely packed and complex streets (including some heartbreakingly expensive stationery shops). We also walked a bit on the north side of the Seine, which is a bit less quirky, but also very interesting. I was heartened to find that my French, which has lain almost unused in a musty wooden chest somewhere in my mind for 25 years, is still fairly serviceable, and that it kept getting better as the day wore on. All those semesters slaving away at Georgetown to pass my French proficiency exam were not wasted!
The next day we started on the north bank, paying a visit to l'Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique, a bit of a pilgrimage for Houston (and something that probably qualified this day for inclusion on the Geek's Tour). Right outside the office is a fountain the length and breadth of a swimming pool:
We ate crèpes the diameter of New York pizzas, folded around a thick smear of Nutella and sliced bananas. I thought I'd never eat again (turns out I was wrong). Then it was off to the Eiffel Tower. Big tower. Cold winds. Great view. Crowded elevators. Global icon. What more can I say?
Just to continue a theme, we paid a visit to Shakespeare & Company, the famous English-language bookshop. I know, I know, it's not the original, Hemingway-and-all-that Shakespeare & Company, but it's still pretty famous. It's right by the St Michel metro station, and from its door you look straight across the Seine to Notre Dame, which you need to know, because if you start to ask around as to where it is, you'll get as many answers as the number of people you ask. Particularly if your French is only so-so. (Or, in my case, not even that more like merely so.)
For dinner, we ventured back into the Latin Quarter (which, after all, is literally just a few steps away) and found a Moroccan restaurant. FABULOUS.
By the way, something needs to be said here. There is a stereotype I've heard repeated many, many times (as stereotypes often are) that Parisiens are nasty to tourists, nasty to foreigners in general, nasty to those who dare to attempt to speak their beloved language. Note to all my readers (and I hope you spread the word): this stereotype is crap. Crap. Yes, there were some brusque and nasty people, but aren't there in every city? For the most part, just about everyone was helpful, compassionate, even indulgent about my not-quite-adequate French. And they were thrilled to hear Margaret have a go at speaking French (which she studied for a few weeks this year at school). They didn't show a trace of irritation when Houston resorted to English. So now you know.