St Germain des Pres & the Latin Quarter

Staircase of our flat in Paris

Staircase of our flat in Paris

Had a small sleep-in…while the nights are definitely getting later and later, the sleep time isn’t increasing at the other end to balance it! But nothing will deter us from our exploration of and enthusiasm for Paris! Our morning was spent wandering through St Germain des Prés on the left bank, and as a result, we have found a new favourite part of Paris to base ourselves on our next visit. The people-watching and window-shopping opportunities were abundant and lush…on this occasion, terms made more apt by the increasing summer temperatures of the city.

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To orient ourselves, we did a bit of a tourist walk through the area, and our wanderings took us to quite a number of famous and glorious Parisian landmarks. The first ‘stop and stare’ moment came at the Cour du Commerce St-André (previously a tennis court and once part of the wall of Phillipe-Auguste), was converted in 1776, and named after the shops that lined the passageway. Its modern incarnation is simply delightful – all tea houses, chocolatiers and restaurants fronting the street, and the historical gems of the Court of Rohan and the remains of the wall of Phillippe-Auguste coyly hidden, waiting for the curious to notice them.

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We set course for St-Sulpice…distracted only occasionally by one or two chocolatier establishments! The Roman Catholic 18th century Classical place of worship is the second largest church in the city (only slightly smaller than Notre Dame). It gets a mention in The Da Vinci Code for its quite fancy gnomon (an elaborate sun dial – not really an accurate description, but it’s complicated – google it!). But there is much more to gawk at and admire in this magnificent beauty – the baroque interiors, murals and Great Organ for starters! The Marquis de Sade was baptised here in 1740, and Victor Hugo was married to Adèle Foucher here in 1822 – also the final resting place of many an important French patriot.

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Leaving the cool embrace of St-Sulpice, and drinking in the architecture that continues to slap us about with its sheer beauty, we made our way to the Jardin et Palais du Luxembourg. The Palace is now the seat of the French senate and not open to visitors, which is a tad disappointing (yet understandable!). We made do with ‘shade sitting’ on those distinctive dark green metal garden chairs, gazing at the palace and foliage and fountains.

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We continued on our meandering way through to the Latin Quarter where I had scouted out a lovely little vegetarian place called Les Cinq Saveurs d’Ananda. We sat on the sidewalk, being served by a very sweet old man who spoke very clear French for us accompanied with lots of gestures – which all actually helped heaps. It was also delightful to have gigantic plates full of beautifully prepared and very tasty vegetables and legumes, and our much loved avocados!

After lunch we headed to the Panthéon – finished in 1789…just in time for the revolution, so it was turned into a mausoleum instead! There are many famous and important dead interred here: Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Emile Zola, Marie & Pierre Curie, Voltaire…the list goes on. It’s an amazingly beautiful building, and we’ve never seen a crypt like it before (and we’ve seen a few!).

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More wandering through more shopping streets in the Latin Quarter, taking much delight in choosing cheeses and other treats for some friends visiting in the afternoon. While most of the “shopping” of the day involved not actually spending money, just looking, we did manage to find a funky little gadget-cum-kitchen shop, and definitely had to buy a tea towel, but not your bog standard tourist ugly – a cool, arty number with the iconic images ‘drawn’ in bright blue, pink, green and red on a white background. Quite nice, actually. This ‘find’ was made on rue Mouffetard (rue Mouff’ to locals), which is the perfect location for a downhill stroll that completely captures a sense of the traditional market street, with its butchers, cheese shops and green grocers.

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We made it back to our flat in time to open a bottle of wine and ‘decant’ our cheeses as our guests arrived. It’s always a special treat catching up with mates on holidays – especially when it’s an impromptu, unexpected thing and you are on the other side of the world from home! Facebook is a great facilitator!

Evening plans for all of us beckoned, so we said goodbye and prepared for our venture to the Paris Opera Bastille for a contemporary ballet – Signes. Loved some of it, but not all of it. The music, set and costumes were impressive, but the choreography wasn’t always amazing – which is what we had been expecting. This was one of the performances arranged by the drama conference, so there were many, MANY drama teachers sharing their opinions afterwards, so no one was in doubt as to how everyone felt about the piece!

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We had made arrangements to join other friends at Lapin Agile in Montmarte, so we made tracks, but had to pause for peckish tums. My suggestion was to grab a pizza, and it was the wrong move for far too many reasons. The waitress was the epitome of all the badly drawn caricatures of arrogant waiters with no charm. She was abrupt, impatient, and when we only wanted to order one pizza between three of us, we were told ‘non’ – especially cause we didn’t want drinks either, just water. We had to order another pizza. I actually wanted to leave and say, fine – we’ll take our custom elsewhere, but Jane and John were much more patient than I! And it is no exaggeration to say it was the most disappointing pizza I’ve EVER eaten – nothing but oil and cheese, and REALLY ordinary flavour. Do yourselves a favour and do NOT take your custom to La Tavola Pizzeria on rue de la Roquette, just off the Bastille intersection. There are plenty of other places deserving of your patronage – and you will get a much better meal!

Lapin Agile awaited, so we headed off and arrived about 10:30pm. It was just as I remembered it from 13 years ago, which is apparently how it has been for 50 years. Even the grandson of one of the women we heard sing on our previous visit was running the place now. Yes, it was all a bit kitsch and hammy, but it was fun, and it must be doing something right, because it’s been packed every night since Lautrec and then Picasso used to hang there. We only stayed an hour because we were all very tired and Jane had a paper to prepare for, but even that hour was enough to give us such a lovely atmospheric moment of Paris as it once was – completely enhanced by its location in Montmatre.

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About bontaks

Nic is the the 'Bon' part of 'Bontaks.' Together we are Nic and John - two travel-addicted teachers who enjoy every opportunity to go places, meet people and experience life.

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