Sunday, October 15, 2023

France 2023: From Markets to Museums to Catacombs

There is nothing quite like walking a few steps to a bakery in the early morning to pick up fresh croissants and coffee and reaping the spoils of somebody else's fine baking, which all happened while I slept. I also pick up some muesli, milk, fruit, and marmalade from the grocery shop and Ana and I have a lovely breakfast together.

We walk to the Bastille market. What was yesterday a long, empty boulevard is today a metropolis of nutrition. Fresh food vendors lined up in perfect rows sell a bewildering array of items - fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, prepared foods, fresh meat, cold cuts, a gazillion types of cheese, bread and pastries, then also some clothing, jewelry and household goods. People cram into the spaces between the rows and everyone is a buyer. As we slowly walk though the passages the smells are overwhelming. Spanish paella being cooked in an Olympian-sized wok. The tang of ripe cheese that nearly knocks me over. Fish odours from the flounder, sea bass, sardines, crab, squids, shucked oysters and sharks. One team of guys has a huge chicken roaster running with at least fifty birds at a time in rotation. There is the unmistakable smell of Thai chili and fish sauce coming from the green curry and spring rolls at one counter. Ladies at the creperie fold up remarkable packages full of Nutella, fruit, and jam, the smell of which is drawing a huge crowd. The wafting air from fresh cut flower stalls and lavender vendors tickle the nosebuds.

This is likely the most amazing market we have ever visited. Sure, some in Asia are larger, but the quality of the food here is simply unparalleled. And the damn thing didn't even exist yesterday! And it will be gone tomorrow.

From here, we walk, and find a café in front of the Hotel Sully where we stop for a coffee. We have a video chat with Magnus, who is in Kuala Lumper on a backpacking trip and has just booked a flight to Tokyo. We check in with Stella too, as she traveled with some friends to a northern cottage for the weekend. I realize with glee that this is the goal we have wanted to achieve since our children were born - having two independent, confident kids that spread their wings and explore the world...while we do the same. I feel a tear develop in my eye, then realize that it's actually from a bird that just pooped all over me. Ana wipes me up and we continue our walk.

As we approach central Paris there appears more and more retail shops. I don't recognize any of them but Ana knows them all. Half of them look to be panty stores, or I guess lingerie as it's known here. There're all sorts of panties on display in the windows, some that contain no fabric whatsoever and seem to be made of knitted fishing line.

"Do you need new panties?" I ask.

"No, I already have drawers full of them," Ana says.

"But those aren't the lingerie type, I presume?"

"You're dumb."

You'd think a sandwich shop right across from the Louvre would be dreadful, but in true testament to French quality, our meal is amazing. We walk to the Louvre entrance but you can barely see it for the thousand people in line. So we skip it and instead cross the river to the Museo D'Orsay and after a short wait are welcomed in. It's culturey as shit. We see paintings by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne and incredible sculptures by Rodin, including the Wall at the Gates of Hell that must have taken years and a lot of opium to complete. The entire building is an art piece - the structure, the walls, the ceiling, the floor. I love to visit galleries and museums when we travel but because Ana spends most of her conscious hours in an art gallery, she is generally less enthused, so she generally goes shopping while I'm arting it up. But today, she very much enjoyed it too.

We continue on to Saint Germain des Pres, yet another mile of designer fashion shops and find the Louis Vuitton store where Ana bought her original handbag so many years ago. We just finished paying it off.

Because we'd already walked halfway across the city we couldn't stop now so we keep on going and strut all the way down to the Catacombs of Paris, stopping only for a quick round of drinks at a theater café along the way. This is the one tourist attraction we both wanted to see so we had prepurchased tickets for a 6:15 time slot.

It was an experience. Imagine claustrophobic tunnels deep underground passing through the stacked up bones and skulls of millions of long dead Parisians with ominous Latin and French etchings in the stone column supports. My thoughts as I walked these tunnels? We will all end up a pile of bones, probably sooner than we'd like. So let's not waste any time.

The Latin Quarter is a 30 minute walk back towards home so we again shun the public transport options and leg it there until we find the perfect place for dinner - Le Cercle Luxembourg restaurant. Our meal is amazing - onion soup, fish of the day, pesto penne, crepe Suzette. The atmosphere is classy and the server is great. We linger for quite some time, people-watching through the window, talking, listening, taking it all in.

We decide to take the metro home, but first we stop at McDonalds to check two things: Ana wants to see if the coffee good and I want to confirm that a Big Mac is called a Royale, as I learned from Vincent in Pulp Fiction so many years ago. It was a yes on both counts.

After 17 kilometres of urban street walking, we finally reach reach the apartment and collapse.

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