Thursday, August 8, 2013

Paris: Getting Acquainted

Bonjour, Notre Dame!
We spent our first week in Paris orienting ourselves.  At first it was all pretty overwhelming, but we figured out how the metro works, where and how to buy groceries, the words for some of our favorite staples. Using City Walks: Paris as our guide, on our first full day we explored Île de la Cité, the ancient island at the heart of Paris.  N. was thrilled to look at Notre Dame.  We walked the streets of the neighborhood where we are staying, discovering the Parisian culture of sidewalk cafes, boulevards, and boulangeries.  Two days after we arrived, we departed again for two days in order to attend a wedding just outside of Paris at the Château de Champlâtreux.
Sailing a boat at the Jardins du Luxembourg
When we came back from the wedding, we started going to one or two major sites a day in order to get our bearings.  N. had done some reading earlier in the summer and it was fun to discover how much he'd learned about Paris from books such as Charlotte in Paris and Magic Treehouse: The Night of the New Magicians (huge thanks to Erica at "What Do We Do All Day" for her Paris book lists!). We went to the Jardins du Luxembourg.  We went to the Arc de Triomphe and walked down the  Champs-Élysées.  We went to the Place du Trocadéro to gawk across the Seine at the Eiffel Tower at night.  We walked around Montmartre and went into Sacré-Coeur.  We went to
Père Lachaise Cemetery and saw  Chopin's grave and the monument to Abelard and Heloise.  One morning we went to an outdoor market for groceries and spent an afternoon in the Jardin des Tuileries.  We walked across the Pont Alexandre III and admired the Hotel des Invalides, the Grand Palais, and the Petit Palais.

a gallery in the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine
Finally, exactly one week after our arrival in Paris, we went to our first museum, the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine (we were hoping to escape the 96-degree heat, but it was inconsistently air conditioned!).  It turned out to be the best next step to take as we deepened our acquaintance with France.  I think we spent at least 4 hours there.  The museum consists entirely of architectural casts and models.  There are huge galleries of full-size casts of architectural components of important churches and cathedrals throughout France from the 12th century onwards.  Many of the casts were made in the late nineteenth century.  Even though I was translating the placards rather poorly, we learned a lot about French ecclesiastical architecture!  And there are numerous detailed models of cathedrals such as Laon, Rouen, Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle.  It was absolute heaven for N., who really loves model buildings.  And there is a vast gallery of models of French architecture from the mid-nineteenth century onwards!  N. learned about everything from Haussmann's major changes to the Parisian cityscape in the second half of the nineteenth century to 1960s apartment-block design.  He was utterly absorbed.

Among the contemporary models at the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine was the Citroen Showroom on the Champs-Élysées, which we'd walked by earlier in the week and marveled at without really knowing what it was.  After scrutinizing the model, N. wanted to go in the building, so another day when we walked down the Champs-Élysées again, we climbed to the top of the showroom, enjoying the high-concept new architecture and the Parisian views high above the street.

Without exactly planning it this way, our first week in Paris began in the tiny ancient streets of Île de la Cité and ended in a new automobile showroom with sweeping views of much of the history in between.  And that's how we began to get to know Paris.

Top level of the Citroen Showroom




Lindsay said...

Make sure you also sail a boat at the Tuilleries. The boats there seem to sail better than the ones at the Luxembourg. Oh, what memories! DS lost his first tooth in Paris and the "Fee des Dents" left him a note (of course in French) and extra money to sail a boat again.

CMR said...

sounds lovely!

Erica MomandKiddo said...

Yay! I'm glad the book list was useful! I love seeing these photos of your stay in Paris.