Paris II: Bridges of Love

It was late morning before I ventured out. I decided to take my time, avoiding schedules and rushing, unlike the last 2 1/2 weeks which, although a wonderful time, had entailed a lot of scheduling and rushing.

I had to slow it all down for myself. That’s the beauty of solo travel; establishing your own pace. Today my goal was Notre Dame and whatever else came along was a bonus.  Plus I had to pluck my eyebrows…

I ate my yogurt in my room over repetitive BBC specials on television (everything else was in French), read the current news online, and got ready for the quest to find cappuccino somewhere towards the Seine River.

Ending up on Blvd St. Germaine, I saw two cafes on opposite corners which both looked crowded and upscale. I decided on the Cafe de Flore’ since it reminded me of being the Paris version of Churchill Downs in London (the pub with all the flowers growing on the outside and the hanging memorabilia on the inside, shown and mentioned in an earlier post).

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I walked into a frenzy of activity and saw it was packed to the gills. I knew this place was famous, just wasn’t sure why…maybe a movie. Going into the atrium, I managed to find a seat as I felt an almost electric charge of activity in the air. It was a Friday morning, almost lunch time, and the “It People” of Paris were carrying on business meetings, girlfriends were catching up, and solo traveler Me was just wanting an espresso. I looked at the menu, saw the price of €8 for a cappuccino, saw how busy the server was, and left the cafe. I later discovered that Cafe’ de Flore has its own Wiki page and a history dating back to the late 1800s. Too bad I wasn’t in the mood to linger; some other time it would be fun. Kind of like paying a fortune for a drink in Venice‘s Cafe’ Florian, which is actually older that Paris’ Flore, and just as expensive. One night, on my 2nd visit to Venice, I sat with an acquaintance in the Florian, sipping overpriced drinks (this is where I fell in love with Limoncello) for about 3 hours and having a very memorable time.

Same deal on another visit to Venice when having a couple of drinks at Harry’s Bar (Famous for creating the Bellini, but not as much fun as the Florian. However there was a ‘Duke’ loosely involved during that visit which is another story altogether.). It’s the ‘experience’ of these places which stick in the mind. I feel it’s worth at least one coffee or one drink in an overpriced historical establishment for the memory alone. But, on this particular morning, it wasn’t worth it.

Just down the street was a clean and colorful looking fast food cafe where a coffee would cost me less than half of what Cafe’ de Flore was charging. It was quiet as I sat and had my first cappuccino and Pain au Chocolat in Paris.

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20130415-043515.jpg Coffee and a pastry here was reasonably priced and tasted just fine.

 As I continued walking toward the river, I figured out that the street Rue de Seine would be a logical choice to get me to the river Seine (Also confirmed this with the small laminated walking map which was included in Steves’ Paris Handbook which, I must say without sounding like a ‘groupie’, came in very handy on this trip.).

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20130415-044840.jpg I followed the building signs reading Rue de Seine

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These forks and spoons caught my eye. Very cool design.

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Old city water cistern

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I had no idea what the front of this building would look like which makes travel all the more interesting

The storefronts in Paris have colorful personalities and people just go about their business like everywhere else in the world. I never felt uneasy, as some cities can make you feel. It was an easy flow to just “Be There Now”, so to speak. However, by the time I got to the little city park with the statues (who was “Carolina” and why was she naked?) I had to also wonder, “WTH was the river?” Not sure whether to take a hard right or a soft meander going forward, I chose the latter. After going through a portico, I was astounded. I had indeed reached the River Seine…among other things. These buildings were massive. I don’t recall seeing buildings this enormous before. Maybe I have, somewhere in other places in Europe, but maybe it was the setting which made these particular buildings in Paris pop out. Wow.

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20130415-050222.jpgThe Institut de France manages approx. 1,000 foundations as well as museums and chateaux open for visits.

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Institut de France, 1795, it also awards prizes and subsidies and in 2012 it amounted to over 5 million euros, many recommended by academies

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This building on the other end of the Pont des Arts is the central square of the Palais du Louvre

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It surprised me how much I was enjoying Paris. There is an element of artistic freedom, beauty, intellectualism, nonchalance, and anonymity. I like that. An attitude of “Que sera sera.” My mother used to sing that song. “Whatever shall be, shall be.” As I write this, the US is still reeling from the bombing in Boston and I think about how all the cities I’ve just visited, London, Manchester, and now Paris have endured terrible tragedies like this over the years but they carry on. There is nothing most of us can do but hope and pray the madness will stop.

Institut des France

Institut de France

Crossing Pont des Arts (Bridge of Art, I assume), I see all the ‘love locks’ and remember how I come from a family of romantics. My mother, father, grandmother, and even the grandfather, whom I never met, were all romantics. My grandfather’s 1930s letters to my grandmother are filled with the heartbreak and angst of losing her.

‘Love Locks’ are carved with the initials of the lovers, locked on the railing of a bridge, and the key tossed into the river. There were a few in Porto, Portugal I saw last year, too. But there were thousands here and I have read that Paris is trying to figure out what to do about the situation.

Pont Des Art

Pont Des Art

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What I didn’t know, the next day, was that if I went through that center portico in the above building, I would have gone into the Palais de Louvre and it would have been an easier way to get to “The Louvre.” This was not the way I walked the following day, instead walking the long way around.

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From this vantage point, I could see the island where the Notre Dame is located.

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Getting closer.

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The Pont Neuf, meaning New Bridge, is the oldest and most historical of bridges in Paris. The first stone was laid by King Henry III of France in 1578 (son of Catherine de’Medici), and apparently he was in tears because his two most loyal friends had died in a duel the night before. Hence, it was called “Bridge of Tears.” I’ve been on the “Bridge of Sighs” and now the “Bridge of Tears.” That’s what I love about Europe, it makes no excuses for all the melodrama and romance. (This bridge looks cool at night according to a photo I saw.)

. Europe is like an aristocratic old woman who, sadly and passionately, recalls her life experiences and lost loves as her eyes well and spill with tears.

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The Samaritaine building (meaning Samaritan Woman) was once a well-known 11 story department store opened in 1869 and renovated in the art deco style in the 30s . It closed in 2005 due to loss of profits and safety issues. A Japanese firm has bought it now turning it into offices, apartments, and a hotel opening sometime during this year, 2013.

It had been also well-known for its rooftop café. Sitting up there with a view of the river and the city would have been worth an €8 coffee to me.

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Finally I saw the Eiffel Tower!

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Lovely place to sit awhile for a rest.

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Now I can see what this side of the island looked like.

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Paris has such style.

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Henry IV graces the Pont Neuf. The original was melted down for cannons in 1792 during the French Revolution but was recast in 1818 on the same spot.

Bike program: Paris

Wonder if all these bikes are rented during tourist season. As I walked along toward the cathedral, I was drawn to a window with lovely clothes in earthy pastel tones. A woman came to the door and told me I could come in as this was a

pop up shop, or something like that. Designers showcase their clothing in an empty storefront for a long weekend offering their clothes at discounts. The designer came out to talk to me about her line. The only thing I could justify spending money on was a scarf but then reconsidered while thinking I should be more budget conscious and not blow 35 euros on a scarf. But they were lovely, one-of-a-kind scarves and I should have just bought one. Instead of ‘buyer’s remorse’, I am having ‘budget conscious remorse.’

Spring on the Seine in Paris

At one point, I looked over the ledge of the bridge and saw these two young women talking by the river’s edge and sharing a bottle of wine. The buds of spring are just arriving in Paris.

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I rounded a corner and saw this ‘official’ looking building, which I believe might be the equivalent of a Department of Justice, along with some guards as well as the news crew. I didn’t want to be arrested for taking too many photos so I clicked quick. I recall seeing something in the news about Sarkozy, former president of France, being in some trouble and having to go to court, so maybe…

Rounding the next corner and oh my! The Gendarme were having a slow day apparently….

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View of one of two bridges connecting the Ile de a Cite’ island with the mainland.

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This bridge, Pont Saint Michel, connects the Left Bank with this island Notre Dame sits on. There are two bridges to the island of Ile de a Cite’. There is the Pont Neuf starting from the Right Bank (the side where the Louvre is located) and the other, Pont Saint Michel, which connects the Left Bank (the side where my hotel was located). The island is one of two natural islands on the Seine. Before this visit, I didn’t quite understand the island but now know it has a history going back to 52 BC when a small Gallic tribe, the Parisii, lived here. It was a safe harbor when there were invasions but was also prone to flooding.

I had arrived on the island and Notre Dame Cathedral was next…somewhere around another corner. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but one thing I didn’t expect was that the cathedral was celebrating its’ 850th birthday. Nor did I expect a set of bleachers set up facing the entrance and all the people waiting to go inside.

Next chapter: Inside Notre Dame and an Unusual Reminder of My Previous Catholic Life

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