Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Discovering Paris in the Marais

Saturday evening

Ah, so nice to be home! Of course, I only have a couple of days till I'm off again, but I mean to spend them hanging around doing nothing. My back was a bit better today, but I walked around a lot and my feet are pretty sore.

Last night I left a ton of time to get into the centre of Amsterdam, before having to take a bus out to a different suburb than my hostel, and then, typically, faffed about at the central station and then realised I didn't know where the bus actually left from, resulting in a bit of a panic. It all worked out fine though, unlike for the one poor young gentleman who left his bag on the tram and eventually set off for Paris without it.

My heart sank when a group of about half a dozen noisy young cock-of-the-walk French teenagers turned up, loudly announcing their intention to smoke a joint before the bus set off, singing songs, saying stupid incomprehensible things in English to be cool, etc. I decided the only way forward was to fight fire with fire, so I countered their boisterous teenager routine with my own sulky teenage routine, full of sighs and eye rolls and angry looks. I felt a bit silly when the bus got going and they all turned out to be as quiet as little lambs. I really shouldn't be pointing any fingers when it comes to maturity levels.

In fact, the return trip turned out to be much better. I had stupidly picked the seat directly behind the driver (I think from memory there were few options available when I booked) and I realised at once that that would be no good, with constant headlights and so on coming through the windshield. Luckily enough, once again some people didn't turn up and as soon as the bus started off I raced down the aisle quick as a flash to claim the only other unoccupied row. I didn't feel like I slept more than the outgoing journey, but I must have since I arrived in Paris feeling relatively fresh (and I'm still up at 10.20 pm, not having slept yet).

We got to Paris at 6.30 am or so, and I decided to walk over to Austerlitz with my suitcase. Stupidly, I went the wrong way and had to come all the way back, and it ended up taking over an hour, by which time I was very sick of my suitcase. I left it in the lockers at Austerlitz and, following Mary Kay's suggestion from Tuesday, headed to the Marais to explore a little bit.

I think I've somehow managed to avoid ever setting foot in the Marais before Tuesday, and it was nice to wander around its narrow streets before the many tourists got there. Seems like a pretty cool neighbourhood, but those tourists would drive me mad! I caught a little of the early sun before going to the Musée Carnavalet, which covers the history of Paris. At first, I wasn't overly impressed by the museum. I'll admit that I didn't bother reading most of the labels on the pictures (which were generally very brief anyway), but it didn't really do a good job of teaching you about the history at all. Rather, it just presented paintings and objets d'art from each historical period with very little context. There's only so many paintings of dead guys in wigs I can look at without getting bored.

However, as the museum went on, I found there were some cool things, particularly the reproductions of period rooms. I always love seeing these and imagining I'm a fancy 17th century lady or whatever. There was also a gorgeous pharmacy designed by Mucha (and I gave myself many bonus points for thinking "that looks like Mucha" before reading the label. I wish someone else had been there to witness me being smart) and a ballroom decorated with scenes from the story of the Queen of Sheba.

Gate to the Musée Carnavalet

Imagine having this dude in your house, you'd never be in a bad mood! I think it's an actor from the Comédie Française in the 19th century

Interesting stained-glass window from the Chat Noir caberet. At the left, a black cat attacks "virginity" (hidden meaning not so difficult to interpret), while in the middle a woman seems to be strangling a baby in front of a golden idol. 

The furniture from Marie-Antoinette's room in prison in the Temple. Looks pretty cushy!

Revolutionary-era families liked going to the guinguette too!

Some monkey business going on here

Exterior of the pharmacy designed by Mucha (unfortunately there was no space to take a better photo)

Interior of the pharmacy. I wish my pharmacy looked like this!

I thought this Revolution-era plate was cute, it looks like Saint-Exupéry's drawings for Le Petit Prince or something. The caption says "I announce (or foretell, herald) to you the happiness of France"

A painting of a rat ready for eatin' during the Siege of Paris in 1870-71

One of the pretty panelled rooms

This room was particularly lovely

They had a whole room full of pub and shop signs from Paris. I wish these still existed!

This was some sort of flag or banner. Bet someone was pissed when they realised they forgot the "r" in "liberté". Also: couragé ?

Dramatic ballroom of the Wendel hotel. Actually, I think it wasn't a hotel at all, but a hôtel particulier, i.e. fancy townhouse

For lunch, I thought I'd follow the people with felafel and try the "other" place across the street from the As de Fellafel where we ate on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the As de Fellafel was closed, so instead of feeling like a counter-cultural rebel laughing at the sheeple lined up on the other side of the street, I was lining up right there with them. And I've got to say, l'As de Fellafel was better. Better flavour, the spicy sauce was less overpowering, and at this other place I asked for no tomato and they put it in anyway. Plus they had two plastic chairs right outside which I thought must be for customers to use while eating their felafels, but instead a scary old crone came and shouted at me for sitting in her chair. Then I got up and she just moved it to the other side of the doorway with three other (empty) chairs, so I can only conclude that it was a honey trap designed to lure weary/unwary tourists in for a bit of a verbal spanking.

I then chilled out for a bit in the Place des Vosges (again at MK's suggestion - she really does know her way around the city), and may have even drifted off to sleep for a minute. I woke up with a start and an arm flail, and thus had to spend the next 10 minutes doing things like stretching, checking my watch and shaking my arms about in an attempt to look like I hadn't just been publicly sleep-twitching. Oh dear.

Ground-level view of a fountain in the Place des Vosges, after my mini-nap

Was it just in New Zealand where there was a strange Filofax fad amongst young girls in the 80s/90s? What was that about? I think any "cool" diary with a key and with multiple sections was pretty desirable, but Filofax was top of the pile. And did this shop open back then, or are people in the Marais really really into Filofax still? So many questions.
I've been wanting to go to St. German des Prés for ages, but I stupidly forgot my map of Paris in the locker and thus while I managed to find my way to the general area (going past Notre Dame on the way - I really must go in again one of these days when there's not such a long line), I didn't manage to find the exact location. I was definitely close by, but I didn't know exactly what direction it was in and I was really tired of walking around, so instead I went over the Pont des Arts and to the Saint-German l'Auxerrois church across from the Louvre, where I accidentally crashed a wedding. The guests were coming out when I arrived and some tourist-looking types seemed to be going in, so I went in and realised after about 5 minutes that the bride and groom were actually still in there. Since when do the guests leave a wedding before the bride and groom? I suppose they must have been taking photos because they were in there and/or milling about the entrance for a very long time, until I eventually just gave up and went to Austerlitz pretty early to wait for my train. I was really ready to go home by this stage. Shame, since it looks like a very pretty church.

Notre Dame and its long queue

Arch detail on Notre Dame

And again

The Pont des Arts. Apparently you're not meant to put the padlocks on as it causes a huge nuisance for the city having to cut them off (unsure why they need to cut them off, but anyway)

Looking back across the Pont des Arts to the Institut de France

Church of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois
Bedtime now, to recover my energies for next week!


  1. Welcome home.

    I agree about the Marias. I had been going for years and it was a nice neighbourhood with a good balance of locals and tourists but the last four of five years it seems to be more overrun with tourists and all the quaint little privately owned shops have been taken over by multiples. The perfume shop Penhaligans,near the apartment I rented was closed and opened as a shirt shop! and the last time I was near Place des Vosges I couldn't find anywhere you didn't need to queue to get a coffee ( or the toilet!) on a Sunday. (rant over!) Or maybe I have become less of a tourist myself and more of a visitor, because I now like the scruffy Paris areas I hated before, like Oberkampf and Bellville.

    Anyway, thanks for the pictures, I really enjoyed them and thanks for the virtual tour of Amsterdam. Glad you had a quiet journey home.

    Love Denise

    1. Glad you liked them! Yes you definitely get a different perspective on places when you get to know them a bit better! That's a shame that the neighbourhood has changed, but inevitable I suppose...

  2. Still giggling over your honey trap / verbal spanking comment. Only in Paris!

  3. Good morning Gwan! I'm up early in Boston thanks to jet lag and had a wonderful time looking at your photos. They transported me right back to Paris. Or, am I dreaming? I'm happy that the Carnavalet wasn't a complete disappointment. I should have mentioned that it gets more interesting as you go on. Funnily enough, I have a photo of the happy dude, too. He lures you in with his captivating smile that radiates happiness.

    You're such a rebel! I had to laugh at the thought of you all ready to make your statement and show the world that you're not a sheep...only to discover the line in front of the "other" falafel place.

    Public sleep twitching. Ha! I do the same after-the-act moves. "Who? Sleeping in public? Not me!" ;)

    1. Glad you made it safely and that I gave you a taste of home. Stand by for the land of your ancestors! Yes, I definitely preferred the pretty interiors and decorative art.

      Ha ha, yeah, rebel fail! Turns out I'm not too cool for school.

      Glad I'm not the only secret sleep twitcher out there.

    2. Can't wait to see your photos of Norway (or is it Finland?!)! ;)


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