All this public artistic endeavor surrounds my favorite places for deep contemplation and quiet appreciation of the fantastic creations of those blessed with the gift of creating great beauty. In Paris, there are so many museums, cathedrals, and galleries sharing great art and French history, that I usually spend days wandering from one to another in a euphoria of art and history overload. The Louvre, Musee de Orsay, Notre Dame, the Cluny………..
No, our time in Paris would be dedicated to randomly wandering, shopping, eating, and just being in the moment with the French people and other tourists who like us were playing hooky from the tourist route.
We were to stay in Paris twice on this trip. The first time we would be staying on the Right Bank, upon our arrival in France, for two days before we picked up our rental car and headed for the Loire Valley. The second time we would be staying on the Left Bank for three days just before our departure. We would be experiencing Paris “in the moment” and using the “non-agenda” approach during both stays.
Let me tell you. It was a lot of fun! We both felt tremendous relief and a sense of relaxed freedom as we navigated through the narrow pedestrian shopping lanes of Chatelet where you can find trendy boutiques sitting right next to tacky shops for teens filled with clothes made in China, and down the busy Rue de Rivoli where the upscale chains are located. Buying clothes in French stores is a highlight no woman should miss when visiting Paris. Yes, the exchange rate is horrendous, but European clothes, handbags and shoes/boots are beautifully designed and trying on clothes in another language just seems to be more fun than doing it at home! Americans……get over your inherent foreign language fears and take the leap. It’s an experience you shouldn’t miss!
Our favorite street was easy to find just from smell alone. The Rue Montorgueil is a charming shopping street filled with some of the city’s best meat and fish markets, cheese shops whose cases are brimming with fresh creamy and sharp pungent cheeses. Chocolatiers display beautifully wrapped boxes and trays of bite size candies and truffles, their sweet sent luring you in to buy yummy presents to bring home. Naturally Jim and I had to stop by the wine shop to pick up a bottle of Bordeaux to bring back to the room “just in case” we didn’t get enough wine during out stops at the many bistros and cafes that abound in Paris. This was an event we didn’t really expect to happen, but any excuse to buy French wine works for me!
I did sneak a couple churches into our walk. I simply couldn’t pass by the arched portals that called to me like a siren song. Jim sighed, rolled his eyes and tagged along. The first was Eglise Saint-Leu of-Saint-Gilles on Rue St. Denis. DON’T MISS THIS CHURCH!
The Rue St. Denis was originally part of the great pilgrimage route to the Abbey of St. Denis. It was the route taken by the kings of France after their coronation when they made their solemn entry into the city of Paris. The church itself was begun in 1320, but only a few parts of the façade remain from that period. The choir and side isles are from the 17th and 18th centuries.
While the church is beautiful and peaceful, it is most important for the fact that it is home to the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. While you are inside, you must see the relics of Saint Helena , who as Empress was a humble Christian convert and the Mother of Roman Emperor Constantine. The relics were brought to St. Leu by the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, who continue to assemble at the church.
We had a truly French bistro dinner of pate, escargot and steak with pommes frites (French fries) washed down with a dark red Bordeaux. A perfect way to ease into French life.