We woke up on Sunday morning about five hours after going to bed but no less energetic or excited for the day. We were getting ready to leave the hotel when Kelsey got a text from our friend saying “we didn’t know this, but the Tour de France is ending today in Paris”. I had NO idea that the Tour was anywhere near over, so this was an awesome surprise! We immediately reworked our “plans” to include watching the racers come in on the Champs-Élysées.
In the meantime, we took the metro over to the Jewish area of the city, Marais, home to cool shops and the world’s best falafel. We joined a queue outside and watched eagerly as men behind a window stuffed pitas with delicious falafel, veggies, and sauces. Once we had ours, we walked about ten minutes to the Place des Vosges where we ate on a bench under a tree while watching others sunbathing in the grass and listening to a true Parisian band of strings and accordion who had set up just across the street. We ultimately ended up joining the people on the grass and could easily have stayed there all day. It was the perfect way to spend a Sunday.
However, we had other pressing items on our agenda, like buying éclairs and macarons at a specific bakery several blocks away. On the way we stopped in a bookstore and ended up buying some poster of old French ads, which will go well with my Eiffel Tower paintings. The éclairs were nothing like the ones I’ve seen in the US: rather than being the texture of donuts and filled with a very creamy, sweet concoction (which, don’t get me wrong, is one of my ultimate guilty pleasures). I sadly neglected to take a picture of them, but we got them with both dark and white chocolate, and each was delicious. I also bought a variety box of macarons, which despite being squashed in my purse tasted glorious and brought me back to Paris with each bite I took in the days following our return to the Hague. Here’s a poster with all the ones I got:
From the Marais we rode the metro to the Champs-Élysées to see what was going on with the Tour de France. Hundreds of people lined the street, and we walked past official souvenir and snack stands. We soon learned from a friendly British man and his young son that the riders probably wouldn’t arrive for another two hours or so but that the winner was a British guy, which explained why were seeing the Union Jack everywhere we turned. (It’s quite strange to be in Paris but surrounded by British flags.)
We decided to wait out the riders by visiting the last place on Kelsey’s “agenda” for the weekend: the Rodin museum. We bought tickets just for the garden, which is where you can see “the Thinker” and several other statues. The garden is appropriately picturesque; roses of all colors bloomed along the pathways leading to each of the statues. I’ve always loved “the Thinker” and was glad to see it in person:
We got back to the Champs-Élysées with about 25 minutes to go before the riders arrived. We joined the throng alongside the rode, and I got mildly harassed by a sketchy old man who pretend to be oblivious to the fact that he was deliberately pressing up against my back. Still, the energy of the crowd was infectious, and we started cheering loudly with the rest as we watched the riders approaching on the jumbotron.
I don’t think I had fully appreciated before just how fast these men can go on the bikes. We didn’t stay for all of the laps they had to do, but they went past us about eight times, and each time they were a total blur – I got closer to the front each time and was amazed that my camera could capture individual people. I suppose I saw the winner, but I certainly wasn’t aware of it at the time! Here is one of the better shots I got while standing in the crowd.
Alas, it was time for us to head back to our hotel and make our way to the airport. We had time for one final crêpe before getting on the train, and I savored every bite while watching the people stroll by.
My only complaint about Paris is the public transportation. The metro trains are narrow and hold maybe 1/3 of the people that the cars on the DC Metro can hold, plus most of that space is taken up by seats rather than standing room. Even worse is the train station, where Kelsey and I first had trouble getting tickets (the machine just wouldn’t accept our credit cards and wouldn’t take cash) and then followed the misleading signage on a wild goosechase in search of the train to Charles de Gaulle. We ended up on the one we wanted but had to stand most of the way in the vestibule with no air. As a result of all of this, we were significantly worried about missing our flight back. With luck, our gate was quite near the terminal where we arrived, and we were able to breeze through security (where, comfortingly, the men checked US out rather than our bags). We got to our gate just as boarding had begun.
Anyway, that aside: Paris deserves every accolade I’ve heard. It is truly a magical city. I’m so glad that I got a taste of it this summer. I know that I’ll go back and do more of the touristy things (like see the underwhelming Mona Lisa), but I think Paris is more a city of experiencing than doing or seeing. It is a city of tasting, of moving to the beats of the bands on the street, of strolling through the parks and playing with children. I loved everything about it except the transportation – and even then, in a city so beautiful, why spend so much time underground? When I go back, I’ll do more walking.