Wednesday, October 15, 2008

France 2008 Day 2 Le Bon Marche, Notre Dame, Hotel-Dieu, Jewish District

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Some of the following is based on fact, and some is not.
(Scroll Down for Pictures)


Margarite and I decided to go for a short easy run in the morning we meet at 8am. The plan was to run to the Luxemburg Gardens and back maybe 3 miles. We found out there are no straight streets in Paris and many 5 and 6 way intersections. Within 10 minutes of our run we were lost. While I had brought a map it did not have the detail we needed. One hour five minutes and 5 miles later we returned to our hotel. We were staying at La Meriden in the Montparnasse area of Paris. Luckily for Margarite and I there is very tall office building next to our hotel, a building that can be seen from a long way away. Our hotel is 25 stories tall and the office building has got to be 3 to 4 times taller then the hotel. Once we located the office building on the skyline we just winded our way toward it. It was 9:10am when we returned back to our hotel. We saw “The Rock” in the lobby. He said Bebe was running late so we don’t worry about holding up the group.

We meet for breakfast at a sidewalk cafe. We had been told by a friend sidewalk cafes were the best places to eat in France especially Paris. The service was great and the food even better. While we had breakfast the ladies put together the agenda for the day.

During our discussions at breakfast it became very clear to “The Rock” and I it would be best if we just followed and kept our mouths shut. Our input was met with no response, a puzzled look or a simple "SHUT UP". I was not gaining points with Margarite. As we left the cafe Margarite headed one way and Bebe another, “The Rock” and I knew it would end up being a long day.

Fortunately a Frenchman that spoke English saw the confusion and attempted to get Margarite and Bebe on track. After an hour and a half of walking we found ourselves at a department store. “The Rock” and I were very puzzled and asked if this was really one of our stops, we traveled from Botswana to France to go to a department store? We got a very stern "YES" with a short explanation. "Would you go to London and not go to Harrods?" The name of the store was Le Bon Marche, which means “the good market” or “the good deal” in French it is the most famous department stores in Paris. It is sometimes regarded as the first department store in the world. Although this depends on what is meant by 'department store', it may have had the first specially-designed building for a store in Paris. The founder was Aristide Boucicaut. The store was founded as a small shop in Paris during 1838, and was a fixed-price department store from about 1850. It was a successful business, and a new building was constructed for the store by Louis Auguste Boileau in 1867. Louis Charles Boileau, his son, continued the store in the 1870s, consulting the firm of Gustave Eiffel for parts of its structure. Louis Hippolyte Boileau, the grandson of Louis Auguste, worked on an extension to the store in the 1920s.

It was more like a Macy's then a Harrods. “The Rock” and I quickly found an area we could sit as the ladies shopped at Macy's. Two nice ladies from San Pablo, Brazil started chatting with “The Rock” and me. We exchanged emails and they left as Margarite and Bebe returned. Connected to Le Bon Marche was La Grande Epicerie Paris which is a high end department store of food. This was worth the visit. The pastries and desserts were out of this world.

We completed one stop on our tour for the day and it was time for lunch it was close to 1 pm. After lunch we headed to Notre Dame. As we walked “The Rock” and I noticed we were passing the same places two and three times. There was no way we were about to say anything to the ladies as we knew our heads would be taken off. We are of the male gender and as such are members of the 100% wrong club. So we felt it better to keep our mouths shut then risk a confrontation. Finally we caught a break we were about to pass a statue that I had taken a picture of an hour before. It was a unique statue half horse half human. I opened my camera and showed the ladies the picture with the time stamp. This unique picture had been taken an hour before. Of course they had a very rational explanation, that neither “The Rock” nor I could follow, as to why we had gone by this statue at least two times.

What was interesting even though the ladies had admitted no wrong doing after the picture incident our travels seemed to get a lot more efficient and they seemed to pay more attention to their maps. Lunch was just ok another sidewalk cafe. Bebe had escargot (snails) and enjoyed them. Margarite had ordered a burger done medium, but it was more like steak tartar, inedible for a person who has lived in Botswana and has seen the effects of poor food preparation on the human body.

Our hotel was on the left bank of the Seine River so we had been slowly heading north to cross the Seine and arrive at Notre Dame. Notre Dame sits on an island in the middle of the Seine River (The Ile de la Cité (City Island) in Paris). No matter how often and how many churches I visit in Europe and some cities in the U.S. I am still overwhelmed by the size, the detail of the buildings. The art work / stain glass are of the level you expect to see in top museums. Notre Dame is no different. By the time we arrived at the church (not sure why it took us so long to get there) the line to climb the tower was over an hour long so we just toured the main cathedral.

Notre Dame de Paris is a Gothic cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité in Paris, with its main entrance to the west. It is the cathedral of Paris and the seat of the Archbishop of that city. Notre Dame de Paris is widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. It was restored and saved from destruction by Viollet-le-Duc, one of France's most famous architects. The name Notre Dame means "Our Lady" in French. Notre Dame de Paris was one of the first Gothic cathedrals, and its construction spanned the Gothic period. Its sculptures and stained glass show the heavy influence of naturalism, giving them a more secular look that was lacking from earlier Romanesque architecture.

Notre Dame de Paris was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress [arched exterior supports]. The building was not originally designed to include the flying buttresses around the choir and nave. After the construction began and the thinner walls (popularized in the Gothic style) grew ever higher, stress fractures began to occur as the walls pushed outward. In response, the cathedral's architects built supports around the outside walls, and later additions continued as such.

The cathedral suffered desecration during the radical phase of the French Revolution in the 1790s, when much of its religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. During the 19th century, an extensive restoration project was completed, returning the cathedral to its previous state

After Notre Dame we visited Hotel-Dieu, which is regarded as the oldest hospital in the city of Paris. It is located on the Île de la Cité, next to Notre-Dame. The gardens and court yard were just out of this world the colors and details were fantastic enough to make the sickest patient feel better.

The Hôtel-Dieu renowned for its extensive support for charities, it is also known for the exceptional caliber of doctors and surgeons who have been residents at the facility. The Hôtel-Dieu de Paris has acquired a reputation for excellence in many fields, including oncology, ophthalmology, as well as dietary and nutrition studies.

Founded by Saint Landry in 651, the hospital still resides on the Île de la Cité — where the facility was originally built. As a result of its central location, the hospital has always shared the fortunes of the city, both beneficial and catastrophic. Although the facility has been ravaged by disastrous fires on several occasions, the hospital remains in existence today (the current architecture dates back to 1877.)

From the hospital we headed toward the Jewish District Bebe had been told by a friend that lives in Paris that the Jewish District had a shop that made the best falafels in the world. You can not get a falafel in Botswana so we were all up for this adventure. On our walk we passed government building and churches. As we crossed the Seine to the right bank or Paris we could see the Eiffel Tower off in the distance to the west. It was a very cool sight.

It was 4pm, school must have been letting out as the parks and squares were filling with school kids playing different games. One park we passed had a unique pond with fountains made to look like different kinds of characters, very artistic and colorful.

We passed a couple ice cream and Gelato shops so we had to treat ourselves. Once we made it to the Jewish District and found the street we were told the falafel shop was on we ran into a big problem. There were 4 falafel shops. All of which told us they were the best in the world. So what to do? We asked some of the locals their opinion and figured out the one that should be the best. Marianne’s we sat down to order I wanted lamb on my falafel so I asked and the waitress had a puzzled look on her face. She knew no English fortunately I speak fluent situational French. This is when based on the situation you can communicate with a person that does not speak English. In this case I simple went "BAH BAH" like a lamb would sound, instantly the waitress shook her head no. Clearly we could communicate without knowing each others language.

Since they did not have lamb we decided to try another shop. We narrowed it down to two shops. Dividing and conquering, the guys went to one shop the ladies to the other. Both served good falafels I would recommend both, but nether held a candle to the falafels I had in Jordan. So the question arises what gives a shop/store the ability or right to put up a sign that says, "BEST XXX IN THE WORLD" with xxx being a product or service. While this is clearly false advertising who is going to enforce the "BEST IN THE WORLD"? Maybe I should take on this role. My concern is all the people that have had falafels at this little shop in Paris with the sign stating they are the “Best Falafel in the World”. Think they truly have had the best falafels in the world, when they have not. Eventually they die never knowing they never really had the best falafel or for that matter the best hot dog. The more I think about I feel I should take on this responsibility of regulating the best in the world list.

Once we had our falafels we went to sit down, but were told since we ordered at the window we could not sit at a table in the shop, I think the falafel cost more if you ordered from a table so we stood and ate our falafels.

The below link will take you to an article that was in the New York Times about the shop the ladies ate at.

The video is from the shop "The Rock" and I ate at.

It was 6:30pm and we were beat! It had been 9 hours since we left the hotel. We had been on our feet most of the day including dinner. We decided to take the metro (subway) to the hotel. The metro was very easy to use, we had one hiccup we had to switch trains and by mistake instead of going to get our next train we exited the station, so we had to sneak back in to get our next train. The cost is 1.60 Euro to go anywhere in Paris. We made it back to our hotel in 40 minutes it was an easy pleasant trip except the one hiccup.

Bebe had an excellent idea for the next day, take the metro out to what ever is the furthest site we want to visit and then walk back to the hotel. This way as we tire we get closer to our hotel. The idea was met with great accolades. With that we all head up to sleep it was 7:30pm and we were wiped out.

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