6eme, Berthillon, France, Gibert Jeune, Jardin du Luxembourg, Pantheon, Paris, Rousseau, rue de Buci, rue Saint Andre des Arts, Smith's Bakery, St-Germain-des-Pres, Val-de-Grace, Victor Hugo, Voltaire
After the jam-packed last few days, we decided to have a relaxing Saturday. My original plan for us was to visit the flea market at Porte de Vanves, but that would have meant another early morning start, which hubby wasn’t entirely keen on. So we decided to sleep in instead. The markets would have to wait till our next trip, again.
By the time we woke up, after we did a little laundry in the apartment, and were ready to head out, it was late morning. Feeling rather peckish, we decided to have a picnic brunch in Jardin du Luxembourg. We picked up some jambon and fromage from our local store, a baguette from Paul’s (I know it seems sacrilege to buy bread from a chain-store, but when you’re in a hurry, it’s still decent bread), and a bottle of champagne from the caviste. Hubby even found a store down the road that sold really yummy looking palmiers, so we got some of those too.
Since it was a beautiful day, we decided to walk to the garden. Jardin du Luxembourg is the second largest public park in Paris, and a very popular one at that. Designed for Marie de Medici, who later became Queen of France, it is modelled after the gardens she was familiar with in Florence, bringing an Italian Baroque influence to the formal French garden design.
It is a calm oasis of green trees, fountains and sculptures, right in the heart of the city. It is very popular with the lunch crowd, who congregate around the pond to have their leisurely lunches and catch-ups with friends.
We were lucky to find a seat around the pond and promptly set ourselves up for our picnic lunch. All around us were local Parisians enjoying the afternoon lunch break. There were senior citizens enjoying the sun, families with young children playing with their sail boats in the pond, there was also a group of uni students having a group picnic, seated on the ground next to us. It was a glorious day. It sounds cliché, but it was definitely one of my top moments in Paris.
We had a simple but very satisfying lunch – fresh crusty bread with ham and cheese, washed down by the icy cold bubbles of the French champagne… And for dessert, delicious hand-made chocolate and sweet, crispy, flaky palmier. You could not ask for more!
After our leisurely lunch, we took a short stroll to Val-de-Grâce. Val-de-Grâce is a military hospital located in the 5ème. The church of the Val-de-Grâce was built by order of Queen Anne of Austria, wife of Louis XIII, and previously childless after 23 years of marriage, to show her gratitude to the Virgin Mary after the birth of her son. It is a fine example of Baroque architecture. The opening times for this church are very limited, and we arrived during the opening hours but the doors were shut and no one appeared to be around. So unfortunately we did not get to see the inside.
Moving along we took a detour down rue Saint-Jacques, l’Université Paris-Sorbonne. My tutor studied at this university and she told me that if I was in the area, I had to take a stroll by the university. We then doubled back to The Panthéon. When Louis XV recovered from a life-threatening illness in 1744, he was so grateful that he decided to build a church to honor Sainte Genevieve. The design was entrusted to Jacques-Germain Soufflot, who planned the church in a neoclassical style. Consruction began in 1764 and continued after Soufflot’s death until 1790. During the Revolution, the church was turned into a Panthéon – a location for the tombs of France’s good and great. Napoleon returned it to the church in 1806, but it was secularized, then desecularized before finally being made into a civic building in 1885. Inspired by the Roman Pantheon, the temple portico has 22 Corinthian columns. Walking through the front entrance, you get a certain sense of awe, like you’re in the presence of greatness.
The inscription above the entrance reads ‘AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE’. This is the place where France buries her great men. This acknowledgement is not given lightly. Interment here is only given by a parliamentary act for ‘National Heroes’. Its necropolis holds the remains of famous men such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo. In fact, there is only one woman interred here based on her own merits – Marie Curie, the woman who discovered radium, the first female Nobel prize winner, and a pioneer of the study of radioactivity.
I have to admit that I had misgivings about exploring the crypt. Not that it was very scary. It was in fact, quite well-lit, with lots of installations, videos and plaques, each detailing the famous people who are buried there. And then there were the big tour groups. The French have a very healthy respect and regard for their famous, dead people. There were groups of guided tours, all speaking French. To my surprise, it was a very interesting visit. You get the sense that you are surrounded by history of greatness and achievements. Suddenly, you are face to face with names you read about in books. I stood in front of the crypt of the author of my favourite book of all time – Victor Hugo. That was a big deal for me. (Glad to see his neighbour is Alexandre Dumas, another favourite author of mine.)
When it was time to leave, I was surprised to find that we had spent over 2 hours there. On our way back to the apartment, I had to stop by at a bookstore my tutor had told me about – Gibert Jeune. Gibert Jeune is a monster of a bookstore. It has 4 buildings full of books on place Saint-Michel alone (there are 5 other buildings). I loaded up with grammar books, story books… To my delight, I even found a French abridged version of Les Misérables.
Dinner that night was a simple fare of bread with pan-fried foie gras – we had to finish the block we bought the day before. For dessert, we went down to Smith’s Bakery on rue de Buci. This Americanised bakery sells our favourite Berthillon ice-cream. Feasting on our cones of delicious ice-cream, we wandered around our ‘quartier’, taking in the sights and sounds of the neighbourhood. The St-Germain-des-Prés is a well-heeled neighbourhood, almost a little too touristy, but there sure is a lot to see and there is no shortage of restaurants and eateries, and the night-life is very vibrant.
Turning in for the night, we left the windows open as it was a warm night. The sounds from the busy street below (yes, even at midnight) came wafting through the apartment, as we fell asleep to the sounds of the streets of Paris.