After our late night at Disneyland Paris, on Tuesday morning we all slept well—and late in to the morning. We’d scheduled very little for the day, aside from schoolwork and time at our neighborhood playground. In the afternoon, Penelope and I took a lovely walk around our neighborhood, stopping in at a jewelry store, a thrift shop, and other stores that caught our eye—before heading for a few hours of playtime at Parc Raoul Nordling, our closest playground. There, Penelope was immediately absorbed into a small group of girls, all closely examining the snails they’d found.
We finished the day with a family dinner of one of Marks and Spencer’s fine prepped meals—peking duck (and an excellent one at that). Tuesday was a good start to what this week was to be (for the most part): small outings and daily life. It’s lovely to be enjoying a slower pace of life as the spring comes to an end.
On Wednesday we decided to again stay close to home, but to take a longer walk. We started by heading south to the Viaduc des Arts and Promenade Plantee… but our path led us directly through another nearby market, the Marche d’Aligre… and how could we turn away from an opportunity to browse? So we spent a happy hour wandering among the small brocante stands, followed by the fruit and veg—saving the interior stalls for another day. Penelope was particularly charmed by a stall selling small rocks and fossils, and she seized the opportunity to enlarge her ever-growing collection. She also enjoyed her lengthy conversation en francais with the monsieur manning the booth, who exclaimed over Penelope’s lack of accent (and complimented her beautiful name). He was not the first Parisian to comment on Penelope’s accent—and it’s lovely to know that she’s mastered this essential element of fluency in another language.
Our shopping concluded (for the nonce), we continued walking to the Promenade Plantee. The French seem to have a penchant for reimagining uses for defunct railways and stations (see the Musee d’Orsay), and they’ve continued that vision here. In 1994, when the Paris-Bastille-Vincennes line ceased to use this viaduct and tracks, the elevated portion was turned into a beautiful walking path, lined with flower beds, murals, and even ponds in some places. Underneath, the Viaduc des Arts, where artisans have both shops and working studios. On top, there are benches scattered throughout, and since we arrived around lunchtime, they were mostly populated by workers taking their lunch outdoors in the lovely weather.
We strolled down the elevated path, enjoying the flowers, the sunshine (which has been comparatively rare this rainy spring), and each other’s company. Penelope translated the various signs for her grandparents and danced and pranced along the promenade. We spotted a pair of artists working on new mural, and in one alcove, a guitarist playing a slow melody. Quite lovely.
We saw a few joggers, but by and large the walkway really does seem to be used for walking… underscored by the sign we soon spotted.
We ended our walk in a gorgeously landscaped park next to the promenade, as Penelope had spotted a playground.
There we paused for a time before walking back the way we’d come, this time on the street level, soon reaching the Viaduc des Arts and enjoying the imaginative window displays of the artists there.
Jewelers, paper artists, an entire store dedicated to doorknobs and another to flutes—it was a wonderfully varied stroll, and most enjoyable. We reached the end and turned our steps toward home, where schoolwork and perhaps even a bit of screen time awaited us.
Two days of small outings gave us the respite we needed to tackle our biggest trip of the week: Versailles! My parents have been to Versailles many, many times—at least half a dozen—so Penelope and I opted for a girls’ day out to the palace. While it would be my third trip, it was Penelope’s first. Thursday was another holiday in France, and so the fountains would be running—making the visit even more enticing.
Penelope and I caught the local metro, then transferred to the RER train to Versailles. One of my favorite parts of living a more urban life during this last part of my sabbatical has been all of the time available for reading on transport. Whether on the metro or a longer train ride, everyone in the family turns on our kindles and happily whiles away the minutes until the next stop. So Penelope and I both turned our attention to our books while en route—though we did enjoy the scenery a bit too, especially after we left the suburbs of Paris behind.
We arrived at the palace around 10:30am and headed straight for the Gardens. We spent the next hour happily wandering the west side of the grounds, delighting in the fountains and the wonderful music that accompanied them. Penelope was astounded by the spectacle—and, as the crowds were very sparse at that point, we had many fountains almost to ourselves.
The Mirror Pool fountain was perhaps our favorite, as it moved most clearly in tune with the music played. Here’s a brief glimpse of the fountain… and of Penelope.
With our timed entry to the Palace drawing nearer, we decided to break for an early lunch, and chose La Girandole, a restaurant in the Garden. Expensive (of course), but quite tasty and really enormous portions.
After lunch, we adjourned to the Palace for our tour. On the ground floor we followed Versailles’ audio guide, but upstairs switched to our usual Rick Steves’ audio guide. As usual, Versailles didn’t disappoint—from the luxurious bedrooms to the beautiful ceiling murals, to the famed Hall of Mirrors.
Our tour of the palace complete, we headed back to the Gardens to see the farther grounds—the Trianons and Marie Antoinette’s hamlet, as well as more fountains.
We ended the day at the final water spectacle, where we enjoyed the sun that had finally emerged, and Penelope added some lovely flowers to our hair.
Another wonderful adventure complete, we headed back to Paris, where a delicious family dinner awaited us.
On Friday morning, it was time for schoolwork and house cleaning—but in the afternoon, Angela was back to babysit Penelope again. My parents and I left Penelope happily chattering away with Angela, and headed for the Petit Palais. Jeremy and I had toured the permanent collection a few weeks ago, but the new Romanticism exhibit had opened, and we all wanted to see it. So off we went, back to the delights of this gorgeous building.
The Romanticism exhibit didn’t disappoint—and in fact, was wonderfully curated. On this trip I’ve noticed more and more exhibits taking a contextual approach to art, including arts and crafts, furniture, books, and even fashion as part of the context for a particular time period or artist. That kind of context is why I’ve always loved the V&A in London, and it’s so wonderful to see this approach replicated on a smaller scale.
The second exhibit focused on drawings and watercolors from Weimar, also from the Romantic period. A smaller exhibition, but worthwhile—there were some stunning pieces here too.
Soon enough our time was up—I left my folks at the museum, where they planned to stay an extra hour or so to enjoy the permanent collection, and headed home to meet Penelope and Angela. As last time, Penelope had enjoyed herself enormously (and Angela didn’t seem too exhausted… always a good thing). 🙂
Dinner that night was another return journey—back to our neighborhood creperie! My folks and I enjoyed the cidre doux, a speciality of the Bretagne region, and Penelope found her small sample quite tasty as well.
And after our savory crepes were gobbled up, it was time for the sweet ones. This time, I managed to have my camera at the ready and capture Penelope in motion.
She may not have pigtails any more, but she’s still totally blissed out by sweet crepes. Not pictured: the rest of us wearing the same expression as we devoured our own sweet treats.
On Saturday, my parents had made plans to spend the day at the Louvre. Yep, the whole day. As previously mentioned, they are museum marathoners. Penelope and I declined a third visit to the Louvre and opted instead for a combination of schoolwork and short outings. We spent the morning at home, working through some math lessons, reminding me once again why I am not meant to teach a) small children or b) math. After lunch, we were off to the movies. After seeing the Broadway musical version of Aladdin in Auckland, Penelope and I were both keen to see Disney’s new live action film. We’d booked tickets at the MK2 Bibliotheque, a movie theatre next to France’s National Library. The movie theatre itself has an extensive bookstore and gift shop, along with the most bizarre representation of “American sweets” I have ever seen. I’m constantly amazed at what grocery stores and food halls stock here in the American section. Honestly, all of Europe seems to think we exist on a pure diet of marshmallow Fluff and packaged cotton candy.
Penelope and I opted for the popcorn, which was… edible. Barely. But we persevered and headed down to our theater. Unlike the last movie we saw here in Paris, we’d decided to see Aladdin in VOST (version originale, sous-titre), so the audio was in English, with French subtitles.
The movie, like the popcorn, wasn’t fabulous—but it was a fine way to spend an afternoon, and Penelope was delighted to see that Jasmine finally had a song of her very own.
After walking around the stark design of the National Library, we stopped at the nearby Parc James Joyce (!) for some running around. Well, I relaxed on a bench, and Penelope did the running. Temps were soaring in Paris over the weekend—almost as though there was a need to get all the good weather over with at once—and it reached a high of about 86F that afternoon.
After an hour or two, I dragged a reluctant Penelope away and we started our walk home. We walked along the Seine for a bit, and then Google Maps helpfully took us through a sketchy underpass in a semi-industrial part of town. While I was nervously checking my phone, Penelope was dancing with her shadow.
We arrived back at the apartment, which was blessedly cool despite its lack of air conditioning, and relaxed for a bit before heading to dinner. I let Penelope choose our dining plans, and she opted for dinner at Mme. Shawn, our local Thai restaurant. Once there, we happily read our books and noshed on chicken satay before heading home for the night. A most excellent day.
Sunday morning I’d planned to return to the Vanves flea market, only this time solo. While Penelope has enjoyed the various markets, it’s just a bit… easier to browse without an eight-year old in tow. So I set out for the market while my folks and Penelope enjoyed a relaxing morning at home.
It was fun to see the market again—and I was glad to arrive early. Temperatures were supposed to rise to the low 90s on Sunday, but the morning wasn’t too bad. Interestingly, the market was more crowded than last time—with some groups that were clearly part of large tours. Looks like we are heading into tourist high season.
But I enjoyed myself enormously, purchasing some art pieces and an antique medicinal bottle for my small collection. And even more than that, just seeing all the wares on offer. The color and variety are simply splendid.
Meanwhile, Penelope and her grandparents had headed for the Pompidou, spurred on by a children’s book on the museum they’d purchased for Penelope some years ago. Using what she’d learned in the picture book, Penelope led them confidently through the museum (much to their reported delight).
We all met back at the apartment in the afternoon, and then it was time for mother and daughter to head to… a magic show.
Penelope had first seen ads for magic shops and shows in Italy, but either the timing or location was never quite right. So I tracked down a magic establishment here in Paris, called Double Fond. It’s a bar and café, with most performances for adults, but every weekend they have a few family shows. Crossing my fingers that we’d understand enough AND that adults would not be asked to participate in any way whatsoever, we set out for the café.
When we arrived, we headed to the small theatre in the basement, where to my initial horror (but eventual delight), we joined just six other people in the front row. And there we were treated to an absolutely delightful close-up magic show. The sleight-of-hand was extraordinarily well done, and the magicians’ patter was entertaining throughout. Penelope, of course, understood everything and volunteered enthusiastically—and since there were only four children, each of them was chosen multiple times to act as willing participants in the magic tricks.
It was an absolutely wonderful show. Penelope raved about it all the way home, and has since asked if there are summer magic camps for kids. Looks like I have some more research to do…
(Also spotted on the way home, the least French storefront I can possibly imagine… an automatic pizza dispenser. Quel horreur!)
And with that, it was home to the apartment for an evening of packing… I’m off to London in the morning!