Our neighbours turn on another surpriseSeptember 17, 2017 in France
The weather when we'd arrived in Paris the previous afternoon had been less than brilliant. It was overcast, and when we went out for dinner, we were quite cold. We expected this, our first full day, to be much the same, in which case we were all set to undertake indoor activities such as visiting museums. However when we set off for breakfast we could see that it was partly cloudy and really quite pleasant - a perfect day for walking.
Where to start? The hotel is a bare 100 metres from Les Invalides, so that seemed like a fairly logical place. Off we set, and it was great. At that time it was too early for the tourist hordes, though that soon changed as the day progressed. Being a Sunday, traffic at that time was really light too. The previous day's rain had cleaned the air, and the morning light made it great for photos. Brian took many in and around Les Invalides.
In September 2014, when we'd stayed previously at Hôtel de la Tour Maubourg, we'd been woken up on the Sunday morning by a lot of commotion. It had turned out that they were celebrating the centenary of a major event in French history, the First Battle of Marne. On that occasion the French government had commandeered all of the Paris taxis, somewhere between 250 and 500 of them, to transport the French troops to the front, from where the invading German army was forced to retreat. We were witness to the commemoration and partial re-enactment of that event.
This time round, we wandered in to the precinct, taking in the wonderful views and impressive buildings. Outside the beautiful chapel at Les Invalides, which contains Napoleon's tomb, a crowd of very formally dressed people was gathering. Those greeting the guests at the entrance were in spectacularly fancy dress uniforms in various designs, with so much by way of medals, gold braid and giant epaulettes that we almost had to put our sunglasses on. They looked like characters from a historical drama. Clearly, they were getting ready for some sort of commemorative church service, and any casually dressed visiting Australians with cameras around their necks weren't going to be encouraged. Most of the guests were dressed very formally, and many of them looked like long-retired military officers. A large number were in wheelchairs and could well have been WWII veterans. We weren't able to find out the reason for the commemoration, but clearly it was a pretty big event, even if it wasn't quite on the scale of the 2014 Marne celebration.
From there we decided to head in the direction of the Eiffel Tower, about a 20 minute walk. As we'd expected it was pretty crowded there, in the Jardins de Mars, but we still enjoyed wandering round and taking in the sunshine and scenery. Having already been there, done that and got the T-shirt, we had no wish to climb the tower. It was just as well because the crowds were huge. As we'd observed previously, there are large numbers of street vendors all round the precinct, all trying to sell replicas of the Eiffel Tower and other tacky souvenirs. No matter how hard one tries, they're hard to ignore. We then wandered across to Place du Trocadéro which is just across the river. Again, Brian took many photos. From there it was a nostalgic walk up to the Arc de Triomphe and down the famous Champs Élysées.
All the way down there, we could hear really loud doof-doof music but couldn't tell initially where it was coming from. As we got closer to the Place de la Républic we could see that a large area had been closed off to traffic and that there was some sort of free concert going on. It at least provided us with the opportunity to get photos, particularly of the adjacent Grand and Petit palaces, without any traffic to block the views. One thing we did notice was the massive police presence and the large number of barricades which had been set up. Sadly, France is having to take its security very seriously.
We then decided to utilise our Paris transport passes and go by Metro to the Left Bank area. Easier said than done. We got to La Motte-Picquet easily enough but then, when we wanted to change to a different line for the rest of the trip, we were told that the short section of the line that we had wanted to travel on was closed for the weekend to allow maintenance work. Special buses would be covering that section, but when we got to street level we saw some really black thunder clouds hovering overhead and decided to head back to base instead. Even that became complicated when another section of line was closed due to a suspicious parcel having been seen. These minor setbacks are part and parcel of travelling, so don't bother us too much. It was still a most enjoyable day and a good opportunity to get back into the atmosphere of Paris, Mary's favourite city.
After the less than inspiring dinner of the previous night, we decided to go a bit more upmarket. Brian had seen reports on line which gave a restaurant which was a 15-minute walk from us very high ratings. That was a good enough reason for us to give Cafe Constant a try. We got there around 8.45pm only to find a long queue out to the street of people waiting to get a table. This must be good so, despite Mary's misgivings, Brian decided we'd join the queue. We had to wait a good half-hour for a table, but it was worth it. The food was very good though nowhere near the standard we'd been enjoying over the previous week. Brian was pretty happy, though. He had a delicious duck and potato pie, and given that he'd pigged out on a raspberry tartlet, made with fresh berries, for his afternoon tea, he'd once again partaken of his two favourite foods. The restaurant didn't feel too touristy even though we heard every language other than French being spoken by the patrons.Read more