There was still a lot to do in our last couple days in Paris. I had arrived in France with a huge list of things to see and I was determined to do the important ones. Laura and I dragged our boys out of bed to breakfast at a restaurant nearby. Jeremy decided he would surprise me and pick up my ring at the jewelers where it was being sized to fit my finger. While we waited for our breakfast he claimed to need to use the restroom and disappeared. The whole plan began to backfire when the jewelers turned out to be really busy. Jeremy was gone so long that I became concerned about him and this only got worse when I realized he was not actually in the bathroom. In a state of frantic worry, I sent Marco out wandering the neighborhood in search of the fiance that had now been missing for 45 minutes. When he finally showed up I was pretty upset, but I forgave him when I saw the ring.
The first thing on our agenda for the day was to see the Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise, the final resting grounds of many famous individuals. There were many celebrities on our must-see list, but there was only one grave Jeremy was anxious to see. In preparation for seeing the grave of Jim Morrison, Jeremy spent much of breakfast using the internet at the cafe to download several Doors songs.
I was amazed when we arrived at the cemetery. It was unbelievable and extravagant. There is no other way to describe it. It was huge and would take days to see all of it. The graves were tightly packed in rows. Instead of gravestones there were these structures that looked like a cross between a temple and an outhouse. A few of them had open or broken doors so we got to see what was inside. It looked like a place to pray or commune. They often had some type of alter and occasionally a stained glass window. Not all the graves had these funny rooms. Some had busts or statues and many were quite creative. There were a few graves that had gravestones. This included Jim Morrison's grave, which looked rather plain next to all the splendor. This did not stop tourists from taking tons of pictures. We were no exception and spent quite some time taking pictures in front of the grave while Jeremy played his Doors songs in tribute.
There was one resident of the graveyard that was living. It was a large orange tom that I dubbed the death cat. He seemed to enjoy the flow of tourists walking through his domain. While I was petting him, Jeremy walked up and startled him. This caused him to jump into my lap, which startled me and almost caused me to topple over. Laura also found the cat pretty entertaining until it bit her. After that we stuck with the dead residents. Among these we found Frederick Chopin, Oscar Wilde, and Kardac (founder of spiritualism). We also saw the grave of somebody who helped design the rail system in France and some pretty amazing statues including one that was a dead ringer for Robin Williams.
Throughout the graveyard were many statues that did not seem connected to any particular grave, many which were quite stunning. Sometimes you would come to a circular area with a statue in the center. The statue would have grass around it and would be surrounded by an iron gate; not unlike what you would find at a park. As we headed for the exit we were inexplicably drawn to a large building inside the graveyard. Upon closer inspection we realized that it was the largest crematorium we had ever seen. I have never been interested in crematoriums,but curiosity dragged us in nevertheless. Unfortunately, the inside was nothing out of the ordinary and we quickly left.
After the cemetery we headed over to the Isle de St. Louis. To get there you cross this huge, beautiful stone bridge. On this day there happened to be a small band playing old blues music on the bridge. The band members were dressed as if from a bygone era and occasionally one member would stop playing and pull someone from the audience and twirl her around in an old-fashioned dance step. We stopped and listened for a while. It was wonderful.
Our first order of business on the island was to get Jeremy the ice cream he had heard so much about. He ordered a strawberry tomato ice cream cone for the novelty of it and decided that there was a good reason why it is not more common. We spent some time on the island exploring the unique shops. Jeremy thought the cool old-fashioned streets were as neat as I did and we bought some really great gifts there. Our favorite place was the marionette store. The store had a magical kind of creepiness to it with elaborate puppets of every kind and size hanging from the ceiling. We were served by a friendly man who strongly resembled his puppets.
Our last stop of the day was at one of the many boat tours down the River Seine. This river splits Paris in two and travels past many of the biggest tourist attractions. We bought tickets for the sunset tour and grabbed seats on the top level. We had a nice sunny day and the setting sun made much of the scenery picturesque. It was difficult to catch all the details being announced. They were given in 6 different languages as we went along and it was tempting to just sit and chat or take photos. It was a nice way to end the day.
The next day was Laura's last day with us. She had to return to work before Marco did. We raced around town trying to see the last things on my list. We decide to start the day by heading over to the 8th arrondissement to walk the famous Champs Elysee. I was warned by my guide book that the famous street has not retained its former magic, unless you find expensive shopping magical, but I still couldn't resist. I had wanted to walk down the Champs Elysee ever since I heard the song about this avenue in French class. This street is known in France as the most beautiful avenue in the world. It became trendy back in the 1700s because it was physically lovely and the home of many hangouts of the rich and royal. Despite the fact that many people still pay rent over 1 million to live there, even the french would admit that it does not live up to its former splendor. In present day the Champs Elysee is lined with global chain stores and overpriced restaurants. It still was worth it for seeing the Arc de Triomphe, the street performers, and the chance to hum the tune as I strolled along.
The Champs Elysee is part of the Axe historique ("historical axis"), which is a line of monuments, buildings and thoroughfares that extends from the center of Paris, France, to the west. It is also known as the "Voie Triomphale" (triumphal way). We actually only walked half of it, starting at the Arc de Triomphe and heading east until we came to the Obilisque de Luxor in a grand courtyard with several extraordinarily ornate fountains. This courtyard is the Place de la Concorde, once the home of the guillotine and many brutal acts of revolution. The Obilisque is a 3,300-year old monument that was given to France by the Viceroy of Egypt in 1829. The hieroglyphics appearing on the structure commemorates the reign of the pharaoh Ramses II. Its presence seemed oddly foreign on such a french historical sight.
After the Place de la Concorde we came to a set of huge gates that the signify the beginning of the Champs Elysee. On the other side of these gates is a large park with several big ponds. Around each pond are these reclining chairs and a wide array of statues. This area is called Les Tuileries. It is famous place to lounge in Paris. It is huge and comes right up to the Louvre. Unfortunately there was no time for lounging. There were still a few places to check off my must do list.
The last items on the list were the opera house that the Phantom of the Opera was based on and the Moulin Rouge. Unfortunately, I found both of these structures a bit disappointing. The Opera was gorgeous, but the inside tour prices were a bit prohibitive, especially since I was the only one really interested in seeing it. We snapped a few pictures of the architecture and headed over to the Moulin Rouge. I am not sure what I was expecting, but the inornate, red mill before me was not it. I quickly got over my disappointment and had fun with Laura and Jeremy posing for pictures in front of the Mill. Sadly, it was nearing to time for Marco to take Laura to the airport. We said our goodbyes to Laura, who had become such a good friend in such a short time. Marco agreed to meet us for dinner later.
We were supposed to have dinner with Narayan and Candace that night. Upon arrival at the chosen restaurant we found a closed sign and spent a frustrating period of time trying to locate all participating parties without the aide of cell phones and inform them of the situation. Thankfully, all turned out well and we did manage to have dinner at a different restaurant a bit later than planned. The dinner conversation was geeky, loud, and rather drunken. I hope we tipped well.
Now down to a trio, we spent our whole last day in Paris tackling the Louvre. To actually see it all without going crazy you would need months. As we only had a day, we tried to pick and choose our must see areas. We selected the Egyptian display, a large selection of famous statues, and Renaissance paintings that included the famous smile herself. The Egyptian display was fascinating. It displayed huge statues of mythological beasts and gods/goddesses, as well as several artifacts that depicted ordinary life in ancient Egypt. However, the best part of that section by far were the mummies. They had several human mummies and a large collection of mummified pets that included birds, cats, fish, and crocodiles!
In the statue section we viewed several beautiful works of art of varying detail and size, but there were a few famous ones that could not be missed. These included the Death of a Slave by Michelangelo, The Venus de Milo, and (our personal favorite) Cupid and Psyche. The last bit of our time was spent among the paintings. Sometimes we recognized the artists, but often not. Where is an art major when you need one?;) Many of the paintings were awe inspiring, but the highlight for me was seeing the Mona Lisa. Many people had warned me that the painting was over-rated. I heard that it was dark and small. I, however, was not disappointed in the least and I could easily see how the painting charmed so many. This may have been due to the recent relocation and cleaning of the masterpiece. We barely made it through the majority of the paintings on that floor when the museum announced it was closing.
Our last full day in France had finally come and we were determined to spend it well. Marco, Jeremy, and I hopped on a train to Champagne, the region where bubbly had its birth. Technically, you can't call it champagne if it isn't from Champagne, but I think some people still get away with it. We arrived in Reims in the early afternoon and started our adventure admiring the local architecture. The main street was lovely, but very touristy. The main walk way was lined with gorgeous restaurants with outdoor seating. The unique thing about these restaurants was that its outdoor seating often included love seats, couches and comfy chairs like you find in a Starbucks or someone's trendy living room. Besides restaurants there were a few really cool monuments and fountains, and each side street was lined with little shops.
A huge Cathedral towered at the end of the avenue called Notre Dame de Reims. We decided to explore the cathedral while we waited for the visitor center to open. You would think that another large, Gothic church would not be appealing, but it actually was my favorite out of all we had seen. I found the stained glass at this cathedral especially beautiful. It had what looked like a large cuckoo clock in one corner and several statues depicting saints. It also was in process of renovation and had several displays showing the old statues and their new counterparts with descriptions of the process of determining what the original must have looked like. We were also irreverently amused by the bird's nest upon the thorn-crowned head of Jesus carved elaborately above one of the door ways.
Once the visitor center opened we purchased bus tickets to the Taittinger Champagne house. We had some time to kill until the bus arrived, so we decided to have lunch at a nearby cafe. The food there was so beautiful it was a shame to eat it. We felt wonderfully decadent sitting there in the stylish restaurant sipping our afternoon champagne.
The Taittinger house was pretty cool. The tour started with an informational video on the beginnings of champagne and of that particular champagne maker. Then we were lead down into the caverns were they showed us each step of the champagne making process. The bubbles in sparkling wine are created through a secondary fermentation achieved by adding more yeast and sugar after the first fermentation. As the wine is fermenting they are kept on specially made holders, which position them horizontally and tilted downward Skilled workers slowly rotate them regularly in order to cause the sediments to move toward the cork. Then the tip of the wine is frozen with dry ice and removed. The wine is then quickly re-corked to prevent any escape of gas.
After the informational tour our guides expertly poured us each a glass of their standard champagne. We were allowed to savor our drink and peruse the gift shop, which included all of the different types of champagne made there. There were also several pieces of expensive art around the rooms there for viewing.
Our last adventure prior to leaving Reims was to enjoy dinner at one of the lovely outdoor restaurants. We were, unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it, too early for dinner and we had to wait at a small table and drink champagne until we were allowed one of the large tables with a couch. This scenario went downhill quickly and I suspect I am the only one who does not know how many bottles of champagne were actually drunk at that dinner. The food was fabulous. Marco and I both ordered a specialty that involved seafood in a champagne based sauce, although I believe Jeremy had more of my meal than I did. Toward the end of the meal I realized that we were in danger of missing our train, which was the last train out of Champagne for the day. Remembering how I am always the one desperately trying keep up in rush situations I volunteered to take our shopping bags and head for the train while Jeremy and Marco finish up and pay. I rushed off expecting the boys to follow soon and arrived at the station as the train arrival was being announced. I validated all 3 of our tickets and stood at the track waiting for them. Passengers were piling on and I began to ponder whether I should leave if they didn't come in time. Thankfully, they arrived just in time with Marco looking the worse for wear and both of them quite drunk. Apparently, their tardiness involved another bottle of champagne.
That night we decided to go for one last night cap at a cafe near our motel. They advertised a wine from Bergerac that Jeremy insisted we had to have. Jeremy and I are both big fans of the play, Cyrano de Bergerac. It was probably the only bad wine we had during the whole trip. Luckily, the experience was only amusing as the whole trip to France had been wonderful. The next day we parted ways and returned to our lives in our own countries.