To say that Paris is beautiful is about as original a statement as saying 'The sky is blue'...but there is a reason people say that: the sky is blue, and Paris is beautiful. The thing that strikes me about walking around the city (for, despite my carnet of metro tickets and the rain, I have spent the day walking about) is that design, and good design at that, is important to Parisiens (or so it seems to this lover of aesthetic excellence). Everything from the blue and green street signs to the art nouveau metro signs was put there to be pleasing to look at and to blend in with the beauty of the architecture nearby. Public buildings, also, which in England tend towards being somewhat separate and, in many cases, quite obvious and different, are as unnoticeable as any apartment building. Case in point, yesterday we came across a Piscine which, had we not remembered the meaning of the word from middle school french, would have been walked past without comment.
I began my morning by walking Nick to the RER station, slightly bleary-eyed on account of the time, but the promise of a fresh pastry got me out of bed and eager to go. We quickly came across an artisan boulangerie where we purchased a pain au raisin and an escargot du praline. Needless to say they were absolutely delicious...perhaps it was partially the fact that I haven't eaten real butter in a long time but the pastry tasted SO GOOD. That particular boulangerie is going to see a lot of me for the next few mornings...
After I sent Nick off to play with a LASER (or something scientific like that...) I set about planning my day. And while I did this, I took the opportunity to watch some strangely dubbed cartoons. In this instance Pokemon, which, if you've ever watched the English version, you will be as confused as I was to learn that Pikachu, who tended towards the higher registers of human hearing, appeared to be being voiced by Howell from Black Books.
I left the hotel and headed off on the walk suggested by the guidebook to take in the sights of the Jardin du Plantes area, in which we are staying, to take a look at the Roman Theatre. Now, being the daughter of a classicist I am somewhat accustomed to ancient ruins being, shall we say, slightly different to what you imagine them being but this particular one was apoligising for itself a little too much. I sure that once upon a time it was a very impressive and had the aforementioned classicist been there I'm sure he could have told me all sorts of interesting things that weren't in the guidebook, but watching 2 men fail to put up a ladder in the rain in the centre of a once-grand dusty pit was really not terribly exciting. I moved on.
Next I came across a bookshop of curiosities in which the most curious thing was a loaf of Batman White Enriched Bread, still sealed, from the 70s...I think I'll stick to boulangeries for my daily bread, thanks...
I entered the Jardin Du Plantes, as recommended by a good friend of mine who can be relied on to know about nice botanical places, and found myself staring at that most quintessentially French of Creatures...the wallaby. I was, in fact, at the entrance to the Menagerie which, much like London Zoo, has animals that you can see without entering the Zoo itself. Along with the Wallabies, I found a Red Panda enjoying a late breakfast and confused an owl by whistling at it.
I then headed, somewhat soggily, to the other side of the garden where I found the Musee de Histoire Naturale which has some fantastic stone animals as part of its architecture (and they are a tad more vicious looking than the London equivalents) as well as a couple of very cool statues at its entrance but was, like almost all Paris Museums, closed on Tuesdays. However much going into one would have been fantastic in the inclement weather, it was not to be so I headed off in search of a large, apparently famous Cathedral...
I got my first glimpse of Notre Dame in the daylight as I bumbled along the banks of the Seine, musing that if this was Britain, the banks would have high walls (or at least fences) as opposed to being completely open. One might easily find oneself going in seine...ahem...I spotted the flying buttresses and gargoyles and was about to speed up across the bridge when something odd caught my eye. The bridge I was on was covered in padlocks. Nick had mentioned seeing this prior to my arrival but even having had it described to me didn't prepare me for the shear number of locks...it appears that the idea is to write your name, the name of your significant other and the date and lock it to the bridge. There are thousands of the things, and some people seem to have resorted to bike locks to get the message across. I took an arty photo and moved on.
The queue to get into Notre Dame, even the part that one doesn't have to pay for, was stretching all the way back to the start of the square. I made the decision at that point to check what time it opened and to come back early tomorrow morning. Since that is my plan, I shall leave my descriptions of its magnificance until tomorrow.
My final tourist stop today was somewhere that I have wanted to visit for a long time though I can't for the life of me think where I first read about/saw/heard about it. It is Shakespeare and Co., the English bookshop on the bank of the seine, gazing over at the Cathedral. After taking some pictures of the outside (with one being inhabited by a man dressed as Charles de Galle) I headed inside, abiding by the rules and putting my camera firmly in my bag as I settled in for some much needed thawing out and browsing. One of the things that most excited me about it was not the library upstairs but the fact that the tall shelves, which reach to the ceiling, were serviced by wooden ladders with hooks such as I have only previously seen in films and adverts in the Guardian weekend magazine, so that even the vertically challenged among us (ahem...) could reach the top shelves. I spent a few seconds worrying that I would be told to get off the ladder because I had not been properly trained but, blissfully, the member of staff nearby didn't bat an eyelid and let me continue with my quest.
After an hour or so of browsing, I regretfully headed back into the rain. After passing what seemed to be the comic-book nerd district (ok, I say passing, I actually mean stopping, looking around and quite enjoying) I went in the direction of the hotel stopping off at a supermarket, boulangerie and vegetable market on the way to buy cheese, bread and onions for supper. I made an onion soup which we have just devoured with a glass or two of Cotes Du Rhone and some camembert. Delicious, even if I do say so myself!