The next day we decided to go to the Gare Austerlitz (as recommended by Frenchman, Mr. Bliss) to buy our tickets to the Loire Valley. I loved the little train station, if not the metro ride to it (although we got to take the metro over a bridge outside, so that was kind of neat). The lady at the station told us she only spoke "a little" English and then proceeded to answer all of our questions, so that was nice and much easier than we had anticipated when we didn't see the little American flag at her stand indicating an English speaker.
We were shocked to find out that buying the tickets in person in Paris was drastically cheaper than ordering them online. When we looked up the prices from the U.S., we were anticipating it would be about 70 euro more a person. Very nice surprise.
From the train station, we walked through the Jardin des Plantes and over to Rue Mouffetard, one of my favorite areas in all of Paris. While I do love me some wild, untamed English country gardens, the French gardens' symmetry and sense of order were also appealing. I loved walking through all of the gardens we went to during our trip.
And yes, I did wear Uggs and I wasn't alone. Prior to leaving several people tried to talk me out of - nee, begged me not to bring - the Uggs. Well, I'm hear to tell you that everyone wears jeans and several people - including French teenagers and younsters - wore Uggs. I didn't see them on the older people, of course, (although Pamela Anderson was there at the same time and we know how much she loves Uggs), but I wasn't standing out like the stupid American that several said I might be.
While in "Le Mouff" as were heard it referenced, we picked up the best camembert ever (!), a tomato and chevre sandwich, a baguette and a couple of cans of Orangina for lunch in the Jardins de Luxembourg.
(Note to readers: chevre and camembert does NOT mix with Orangina.).
After having a nice, leisurely lunch in the gardens (where I fed a poor, lame pigeon), we walked over to St. Sulpice Church.
Those who have read The DaVinci Code will recognize it as the church where Silas follows the rose line and he thinks he's found the chalice buried underneath a marker. Again, no roseline, although there is an obelisk that tells the time based on the sun coming through a stained glass window. I guess a lot of tourists come to the church looking for the rose line so they've put up a note telling visitors that the novel is a big old piece of fiction. While St. Sulpice doesn't have a religiously/politically charged history (or maybe it does, but I don't know about it), it does have one of the largest organs in all of France (maybe Europe?) and the acoustics are phenomenal. At one point a pigeon flew past us and it was LOUD and it echoed. No Oscar winning sound mixer could have done better.
After leaving the church, we sat in the square outside for a bit while we decided what we'd do next. Unfortunately, my knee - which had been feeling slightly "off" all day - decided that it was going to start hurting incredibly bad, so I was somewhat hobbled for awhile and walking even a block or so was excruciating for me. I popped some more Advil in hopes that it would at least dull the pain enough to walk and away we went. There were times when I had to stop because I was convinced I had torn my ligaments again, but it never got to the point where I was writhing in pain on the sidewalk and I wasn't going to let my crippled knees ruin our vacation, so I put on a brave face and toughed it out. (By the time we'd get back to our hotel at night from this point on, they'd be a throbbing, somewhat swollen mess ... but they never "gave out" on me, even though the pain did continue for a couple of days even after we got home.)
We then took the train to the Musee Rodin, a single museum honoring the life and work of Augustus Rodin, one of my favorite sculptors. I absolutely adored this museum! Rather than having everything he'd ever worked on sitting in a building somewhere, his sculptures were scattered throughout a formal garden, with benches placed about so you could sit and admire the work before you. Since it was another beautiful day, this was a welcome respite from the 80 degree indoor museums elsewhere.
After the museum, we weren't quite ready to go back to our hotel, but we also weren't up for a ton more walking (see above). We decided to hit up the Bateaux Mouches for a scenic cruise down the Seine. To get there, we took the RER named Nora. :)
We were on the cruise with a lot of English highschoolers (I wonder if they had chaperones? Throughout our whole trip we'd see groups of 20 or 30 of them at any one time, but never any adults around ... is that what English kids do on spring break - visit Paris?) The other funny thing was there was a couple onboard - the husband was very stern and his wife was very submissive toward him. He made her take like 100 pictures of him, over and over again, until he saw one he liked. But - and this is the part that cracked me up - he never smiled or posed. It was essentially the same picture, but he kept scolding her for how poor of a job she was doing. I felt bad for her, but it was immensely entertaining. Us? We took a ton of pictures of one another - both good and bad - and had a great time doing it. Seeing the sites by river was a really interesting experience.
I definitely recommend if you're planning a trip to Paris that you set aside some time (it only took 2 hours total) for this sightseeing cruise. It was really relaxing and enjoyable. When we got off the boat we hit up a brasserie near the Pont de Alma for a cup of Cafe Viennois and steamed vanilla milk (I thought I was ordering a vanilla latte - oops). It was getting chilly so it was nice to sit inside at a great table with comfortable chairs and just relax for a bit while we let the warm liquids soothe our chill. I wished we had done more of this sort of thing, but I found myself feeling so intimidated the couple of other times that we tried, that they weren't really enjoyable experiences. This was definitely a highlight of the day for me and it was something as simple as sitting with my husband in a Parisian brasserie, drinking a cup of coffee.
After our nice little coffee break, we went back to the room to rest for awhile before dinner. We decided to go back to Chez Robert et Louise as it had come so highly recommended. So it was back to the Marais.
Okay, I don't want to speak poorly of the restaurant, because I'm sure in some people's mind it is a great little gem of Paris. But ... I felt somehow underwhelmed. While the hostess/waitress was delightful and sweet, the ambiance was somewhat lacking, or maybe just not what I expected when reading about it. For one, everyone in there was American. Should we blame our guidebooks? Or Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations Paris episode (as that's how we heard about the restaurant). Either way, that killed some of the mood. We sat at a table with another American couple (Los Angeles-based) and talked to them about our culinary experiences in Paris thus far while we waited for our food to arrive.
Oh, I forgot to mention - one of the qualities of this restaurant is that it's this tiny little whole in the wall that's been owned by the same family for several years. There's really not a lot of kitchen to speak of - rather, the chef cooks all of the meat in a fireplace at the back of the restaurant on a slab of (some metal, I guess?) over hot coals. So it's definitely authentic and there's no fancy saucier to disguise a bad cut of beef.
We ordered a plate of six escargots as our appetizer. I figure when in Rome ... err, Paris, do as the locals do. I was worried about the snails, I admit. Even as I was putting the first bite to my lips I thought it was going to be one of the single most horrifying experiences of my life (due to a college era slug-slash-full-bathtub experience, I'm forever scarred when it comes to these sort of creatures). And yet, it wasn't. I'd say the texture was very much like eating a clam, the flavor somewhat like liver (meaty?) with a nice herbed butter sauce. I didn't hate it. In fact, I rather liked it. Although I have to admit that as I'm writing this I'm picturing the snails and thinking to myself, "eeewwww, you ate snails." So I'm glad I did it, but given my phobias, probably won't do it again.
Our tablemate's food started to arrive and the woman's steak was far too rare for her liking so she sent it back. I have to admit that at this point I thought she was being a fussy American. So did the chef - he was cursing up a storm (in French, of course) and yelling at the hostess. Obviously, he hates Americans who don't understand fine food. So, as I said, I thought she might have been a bit strange for sending back her meat. I saw it and it looked like it was cooked to me. And then our steak - which Alan ordered medium rare - came. And it was RARE. As in, cool in the middle and still raw rare. I didn't dare send it back because I didn't want the nice hostess to get yelled at again (or rather, "more" since he was still back there carrying on). So we ate it. But my, that was the rarest cut of beef I have ever consumed. Okay, that's a lie too. I eat raw kitfo (ground beef in Ethiopian spices) on a regular basis. But it's safe to say each bite was the most rare CHUNK of meat I've ever consumed. It was rather disconcerting at first, until I realized that the flavor was quite good.
We finished our meal and hopped on the metro back to our hotel, smelling of meat and smoke. It was a good meal, but I don't know that I'd tell anyone going to Paris that they *have* to go to this particular restaurant. If you like rare meat, then yeah. Otherwise, I'm sure you could get just as good a meal somewhere else without going out of your way (ie, visiting it twice to eat there when you realized it was closed the first time) to do so.
And then I crashed. Good lord, this trip is exhausting.