Sunday, October 16, 2011

The French Market Experience

Notre Dame
My 3 day unlimited metro pass expired today and so instead of renewing it (about 27 euros for another 3 days which wouldn't even get me to the end of my time in Paris) or paying for a book of ten metro tickets (again probably wouldn't last me the rest of my trip and still cost about 13 euros), I decided to join the bike share Vélib' for a week which cost about 8 euros and would last me the rest of my time in Paris. I woke up Sunday to another beautiful morning excited to ride my bike into Paris center. I had made plans to meet up with Dan at 11 at Place Monge where there is an excellent French market on Sundays. Paris is divided up into many districts and it is required by law that each district hold a market two days per week so that the people of Paris can have access to the freshest foods - produce, meat, cheeses, flowers, you name it! Since I had some time prior to meeting Dan, I decided to go see Notre Dame up close and see the inside of it. One nice thing about churches is that they are free to go inside and visit unlike many of the museums and other attractions in Paris. So I biked my way to Notre Dame and made it without a problem on the bike. The line was not too long and a service was taking place as I wandered through Notre Dame. It is as magnificent as I ever imagined it would be. The ceiling on the inside is very high so even though the church was crowded with people, I did not feel claustrophobic. I got a little teary thinking about this incredible historical and holy structure I was inside that I had heard so much about from stories. Interestingly (I also learned this on my bike tour), Notre Dame was in danger of being torn down because it had become quite run down after the French Revolution. The revolutionaries hated religious institutions as much as they hated the monarchy and so during the revolution, churches were outlawed and looted. During the time of Napoléon, it was being considered to tear down Notre Dame. Victor Hugo was greatly opposed to this, and so used his influence as a very popular French writer to save Notre Dame. He wrote the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame (or, as he preferred to call it, Notre Dame de Paris) as a way to bring attention back to the church and as a plea to save it. His strategy worked and Notre Dame has since been restored to it's original glory. In 2000, it had a major cleaning of the outside and instead of being a black, gothic-looking structure, the dirt and grime was cleaned off to reveal the marble beneath. Currently, Notre Dame is in the midst of another controversy over it's bells. The bells were looted during the French Revolution (all except one of the 200 originals) and when the church was restored in the 1800s, the new bells were not of as great of quality. Over the past couple hundred years, the bells have lost their tone and the plan is to replace them with bells that sounds like the original bells prior to the 1789 looting. This is planned to be done in time for the 850 year anniversary of the church. Some people support this plan, others argue against it. I actually read an article about it in the paper on my flight back to Stockholm...
inside Notre Dame

Anyway, so the church was incredible and if you are ever in Paris, you must go see it because it is a beautiful piece of architecture with such great historical, literary, and religious history. After leaving Notre Dame, I walked the rest of the way across the Seine and was in the neighborhood where the Shakespeare and Company bookstore that I had failed to find a few days ago should have been located. I decided to resume my search for the infamous bookstore. A couple of days of navigating Paris improved my locating skills, and I found the bookstore! It was as charming as I imagined it would be, and like an appropriate English major tourist, I purchased a copy of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast from the bookstore. From there I found my way to the nearest Vélib' station, retrieved a bike and headed to meet Dan at the market at Place Monge.

the American ex-pat writer hangout of the 1920s
The market reminded me a lot of the downtown St. Paul Farmer's Market at the heart of the harvest season. It was busy and full so much color! Everything was freshly laid out and Dan and I spent a little while wandering through the aisles of the outdoor market trying to decide what we should buy for lunch. We decided on getting some fresh bread, fresh cheese, some kind of meat, and a fruit. After sampling some of the various cheeses, we decided on one. We then made our way to the meat vendor. Dan was determined to have me try something that embodied the essence of France which ended up being mousse de canard - congealed duck liver. Not exactly what I would have chosen as I personally like to avoid organs of any kind and like my meat cooked (unless of course it is sushi in which case I happily will eat raw fish - miss you Jenn and Mags!!) But, when in Paris...right? So we found ourselves some amazing looking bread and since pears happened to be in season, we also got a couple of those. We then headed out of the market to this delightful old Roman amphitheater from way back when in Parisian history that the Romans controlled the city. It was sunny and gorgeous and we sat and ate our French market meal. The mousse de canard was very rich and although I probably would never order it for myself, it was definitely worth a try! The meal was fabulous, the company was fantastic, and I couldn't imagine any place I would rather have been on that Sunday afternoon.

Roman amphitheater
After a couple of hours, Dan needed to head to the library to work on some school projects and I had more of Paris to see. My sunglasses had been lost on the flight to Paris, so I decided to head back towards the Opera to Galeries Lafayette - an impressive French department store. Unfortunately, with a 35-hour work week, nothing is really open on Sundays and so when I got there, I was disappointed to find that it was closed. This made my decision for my afternoon much easier. I had considered seeing Père Lachaise Cemetery that afternoon since it was such a beautiful day, but without sunglasses, I thought the experience may not be quite as pleasant. Instead, I headed to Musèe d'Orsay to see the impressionist collection.

French market lunch
Supposedly if you went to the museum after a certain time, the ticket was discounted. This was false. My ticket cost the same as if I had gone earlier in the day. So for all of you traveling to Paris, don't wait for the last 2 hours because it might be cheaper - it won't be. Also, the time to be in Paris is when you are 25 years of age or younger...again, I missed that one by about 9 months. Tickets for museums are drastically reduced in price, if not free, for those 25 years or younger (they are pretty much all free if you are 18 or younger). At any rate, the collection was incredible and I enjoyed wandering through the fairly crowded galleries to visit some of VanGogh, Monet, Manet, Rodin, and several other of the great impressionist artists. The art was stunning and like the rest of Paris, the building the art was housed in was stunning in and of itself. There really is nothing like walking through art to see art. 

Musèe d'Orsay
When I left the museum after it closed (also, good to note that closing times mean everyone is out the door by that time - you actually start getting shoed out about 20-30 minutes before the listed closing time...) and headed toward a Vélib' station, I ran into my Canadian friend from the bike tour! He had also been at the museum. We chatted for a bit about the rest of our plans for Paris and then headed our separate ways. It was quite a lovely afternoon and a beautiful one to bike back to the hostel. Tired, I decided to get to bed a little earlier for a change (as in midnight instead of well past midnight) and looked forward to spending the following day doing some shopping in Paris and seeing Père Lachaise Cemetery.

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