We took the train from Bordeaux to Paris. The thick fog returned as we moved inland, covering the landscape in a grey haze. We passed sweet little towns, grand houses that were all boarded up, Art Deco hydro stations, and highly stylized 21st century condos nestled next to run down 18th century houses.
I got to experience the bar car for the first time. We were on an older train, so it wasn’t as well equipped as before. I ordered two espressos and a Milka chocolate bar. I watched as the barista opened a bottle of water and poured it into the espresso machine, then crumpled up the bottle and got out another. Seemed strangely inefficient and unsustainable – two characteristics I do not associate with modern day Europe.
Palais Garnier: Paris Opera
Of all the things to do in France, Matt was looking forward to the Paris Opera most! We took the subway from the train station to our hotel and changed into our proper clothes. Our hotel was just a 7 minute walk from the opera!
We got ready in good time and went in search of a quick lunch. There were mostly fancy sit-down bistros around the opera, but after some walking around, we found a burger joint called 231 East Street. I practically devoured my hamburger – I was so hungry! It came with avocado and cheese!
Impressing the Czar
The four part ballet, Impressing the Czar, was playing at Palais Garnier today. It was performed by Semperoper Ballet Dresden and choreographed by William Forsythe. We had no idea what it was when we bought tickets – we just knew we wanted to see a show there during our visit! We went in blind.
Impressing the Czar combined ballet, contemporary dance, and political satire set to music by Beethoven and Thom Willems. It focused on the American election and the Trump win, combining violent movement and rhythmic dance. We interpreted the crazed schoolgirls on stage as the populous vote. Trump was represented by a pair of large golden cherries.
Inside the Palais Garnier
We had a whole box to ourselves. I had never sat in a box before! Despite one would think, box seats are not coveted locations to watch a show from – the sound is muffled and your view is obstructed. You have to lean in or stand up to see the performance. Fortunately we could get right to the front!
The box was lined in red damask velvet, with red curtains and wooden chairs cushioned with the same velevet. Even the railing was covered in velvet! Each box was locked with a special key, so an usher had to let us in. Upon entering the box, there was a mirror, coat hooks, and a chaise lounge (red velvet of course). I could imagine Parisians of the past getting up to mischief into the shadows of this cosy opera box…
Looking from the box, you could see the stage, the painted ceiling and chandelier, and more gold guild than one could think possible! The seats below were chairs like ours in orchestra, and fold-up velvet wood versions further back. The theatre was smaller than I expected, but still very grand!
During intermission, we wandered the corridors. The halls at Palais Garnier were even more impressive than Versailles. I had never seen so much gold and crystal in a single place in my life! Chandeliers and tall windows that looked out onto the busy streets of Paris lit the room, making everything glow. There were painted murals on the wall and a Christmas tree lit in red lights left over from the holidays. It all oozed wealth and opulence.
After the performance, we tried to wander into the first level to take a peak of the theatre as a whole. Sadly that was not allowed and we were watched closely by ushers as we looked at costumes on display from the past season, and studied the statues and doorways. Once we left, we took photos on the stairs out front and headed out into the night. We felt electric after that experience!
Matt had wanted to check out the glass ceiling of Galeries Lafayette since seeing it on the cover of a tourist guide. As it was just across from the theatre, we wandered in.
I was instantly spellbound by the luxury fashion and perfumes everywhere. Seeing all these fine European shoes and high end fashions had an physical and emotional effect on me that I hadn’t experienced since working in the fashion industry years ago. The fabrics, the leather, the subtle lines and drape of clothing and shoes had me captured. Fortunately Matt was there to keep me on course and spotted the glass ceiling while I was fixated on a pair of emerald green leather boots.
The view of the ceiling was obstructed by the department store’s Christmas display: a giant white Christmas tree with mechanical toys running along lines that crisscrosses overhead. Guilded balconies looked out from the department store’s boutiques, cream and gold – almost as ornate as Palais Garnier!
Pictures taken, I instructed Matt to pull me out of the vortex. Matt did not understand what all the fuss was about. “So a skilled seamstress sewed some expensive fabric? So what?” This statement annoyed me immensely, but I reminded myself that fashion was like art: some people appreciate it, others don’t. I like some forms of art and specific artist’s work, and scratch my head at others. One could like high fashion and designers, or think it’s pointless. Same idea.
We walked over to the Louvre to take a picture of its famous pyramid. We saw people going in, so decided we’d try our luck at the end of the day. Today was free at the museum after all!
Although we could get into the building (after passing through security), we could not access any exhibits. They were all blocked off. So, we wandered the underground pathway system below the Louvre and arose on the other side.
We set out towards St. Germain for dinner, looking for a stereotypical French bistro to have our last meal in Paris at. After peering in various windows and studying multiple menus, we settled on a quiet bistro on a corner: Au Chai de l’Abbaye.
Au Chai de l’Abbaye
We ordered a small charcuterie board and half a graft of wine to share between us. I had the escargot and Matt ordered poulet du Cantal. To my delight, the escargots were served in their shells and I was supplied special utensils to hold the shell and fish out the snail. It was fun!
The staff were charming and seemed sad to see us go. They all waved to us from behind the brass counter as we left, wishing us a good night.
Les Deux Magots
All the guidebooks I had read, highlighted Les Deux Magots. So, we went there to end our evening with an aperitif and dessert. We sat on the patio under a heat lamp. Matt ordered the oldest port on the menu and I had some sort of aperitif with the word fuse in it – I think it was wine and cassis.
Our waiter (in a white shirt and bow tie) presented us with a tray of desserts to chose from. The moment my eye fell on the raspberry rose macaron, I knew that was what I would have! There was even a red rose petal on top with a single dew drop glistening in the lamplight as a finishing touch to this precious dessert!
End to the Evening
We walked home, passing over the bridge and through the gardens of the Tuileries. There, couples were cuddling around the pond, watching the multicoloured lights of the Paris ferris wheel dance in the water. A bat flew overhead and we walked hand in hand back to our hotel, minding not to step in the doggy-doo that litters the streets of Paris.
Back at our hotel, we packed and finished the leftover wine from yesterday. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow! It had been an exciting day – a fitting end to our adventures in France!
Matt did not sleep well, but we managed to get ready in good time. We were glad we only stayed one night at the Richmond Opera Hotel as the elevator was broken and the shower was the smallest we’d ever encountered. Despite being of average height and weight, I kept bonking into the tap and walls. Matt had the same complaints. It was tiny! There was no bath as an alternative either.
We took the Roissy bus from the Opera House to the airport. I was a bit worried at first as the big bus weaved its way through rush hour traffic in Paris, but somehow we got to the airport early!
We checked my backpack and made our way to border control. The officer didn’t speak a word to me, just stamped my passport and off we went! There were some intriguing duty free shops at the exit, but we wanted to get through security first. That went like a breeze, but sadly the duty free shops at the gate had nothing we wanted to bring home.
We had an espresso and chocolate croissant as we waited for the plane. Now I am seated on our flight – next stop Washington, then home to Toronto! Our trip to France has come to an end.