My Viking Seine River Cruise allowed me to visit Malmaison, the former home of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine, in the western suburbs of Paris. Before this cruise, and like most tourists, I had never heard of the estate. Unfortunately, the property is difficult to reach via Paris public transportation, and a taxi would be expensive. So, lucky for me, but sad for all those who miss it.
The excellent Viking Cruise excursion guide provided some background information on Napoleon and Josephine during the bus ride to the mansion. Josephine de Beauharnais was quite the character, and the guide made me so interested I went home and read a biography on her fascinating life.
Took three trips to Paris for me to finally get into Sainte-Chapelle (sant-shah-pel’), but worth the wait. This chapel is one of the most glorious places I’ve ever seen.
Sainte-Chapelle lies in the courtyard of the former royal palace on the Île de la Cité (Central Paris). Since I stayed in a center city hotel, I could easily walk. First I stopped outside Notre Dame to stare at the gargoyles. Just loved those medieval rain gutters!
I love Paris and have the urge to sing that famous song while there.But, truthfully I stifle myself. Anyone who knows me can attest, I have the worse voice in the universe.
So here I was, strolling down the streets of Paris humming until my daughter protested, “Stop, Mom.”
But I continued; I was the child, the one filled with glee.Chock it up to lack of sleep from the flight, my joy of actually being in Europe or simply the magic that is Paris?
We arrived via an overnight plane from Boston, connecting to Paris through Heathrow. A taxi took us to our little boutique hotel, Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, in the afternoon.
We stepped in the hotel’s small lobby dominated by (what I learned later) a rare 1792 piano-forte.Candles and chandeliers created the charm of a private home, circa Mozart.The English speaking staff welcomed and assisted us with luggage.And “yes,” they assured us, the hotel offers free WiFi.
We took the elevator up to our room on the third floor- twin beds draped in white spreads, a desk or make-up area and by European standards a large, shiny, modern bathroom with a shower/tub and decorative tile.White hand towels were fresh and emblazed with the hotel logo.
Best part of our room was the window with a view, which I immediately popped open, stuck my head out and took this snapshot.I saw shops and a multitude of restaurants and cafes, including many ethnic varieties. Mmm.Was that croissants I smelled?
After a short rest and we took off, happy to discover Caron de Beaumarchais was only two blocks from the Seine. The city sizzled, not from the heat but with activity. A Sunday afternoon crowd included couples smooching, tourists checking guide books, booksellers standing by their wares and artists at work. Numerous roller skaters zoomed by, not many joggers; perhaps they are more abundant in the early morning hours. How romantic I thought; even if your spouse or love is missing, this city is enchanting.
The sidewalks along the river felt comfortable because they looked familiar; I’ve experienced Paris so often through movies, TV shows and books. I pinched myself; the sights, sounds and smells were everything I wanted them to be.
Laura and I crossed a bridge heading for Notre Dame.We entered through the arched doorway framed by statuesque columns of saints and found the unexpectedâ€”a prayer service in progress. To think a historic cathedral over 850 years old was still in use.I liked that.
We spied a little diorama showing the medieval construction methods used to build the church.The exhibit of tiny workers, oxen, ropes and pulleys should not be missed if you’re traveling with children.
Sunlight poked through the famous Rose window (stained glass) and outside,the gargoyles kept watch as they have for centuries.We didn’t have time to wait in the queue of tourists snaking round the corner.They were ready to climb to the top of belltower, however, Laura and I moved along feeling the city under our feet.
We crossed back over the river on a different bridge and were astounded by the hundreds, and I do mean hundreds, of policemen dressed in SWAT gear.What in the world was happening?A major demonstration planned?
No.Later it was explained that the date, June 21st, is the longest day of the year and is celebrated as a city-wide Music Fete.
Lisa, an American friend who lives in Paris met us at our hotel.She navigated the subway, getting off at the Louvre.We dined with abandon at the fashionable Le Cafe Marley overlooking the Louve’s Pyramid and courtyard.(See my restaurant review at my food blog.)
To start, we tasted a traditional French appertif- Kir Royale (champagne and cream de cassis.)I was so taken with the location I cannot remember what type of fish I ate. However, I can remember dessert. Laura and I indulged in a chocolate lava cake- oozing a molten center and Lisa chose a raspberry macaroon.
We strolled past the Pyramid, through the gardens, an arch and into Place de la Concorde.We continued up the Champs Elysees all the way to the Arch de Triumph to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. On the stroke of 11:00 PM, it light up like a huge sparkler, a burst of energy in the distance.We oohed and aahed but feeling totally exhausted, caught a cab.
However, the taxi couldn’t get us close to our hotel because of the massive street party.Fortunately, I recognized the shops we passed on our ride from the airport and maneuvered through the fete back to our hotel.We squeezed through crowds like New Orleans during Mardi Gras. I hugged Laura and my camera close, but the Parisians were a happy crowd.
Needless to say our little room with a view no longer remained a quiet retreat.All those cafes were now rowdy with revelers.We were so tired we fell asleep despite the boisterous noise out the window. Funny, but when the crowd dispersed around twoin the morning, I woke up to the silence.Oh, how I love Paris.