Last Days in Paris

On Saturday Rachel headed back to Charles de Gaulle to continue her French vacation at a chateau in Tornon-d’Agenais, and Penelope readied herself for another long-awaited visit: this time, a play date with one of her best friends from school back home in California.  Sophie and her brothers spend the summers with their grandparents in Paris and Nice, and their Parisian grandparents had generously invited us to join them for lunch at their apartment.  So off we headed to the 5th arrondissement. 

First sighting of Sophie across the courtyard…
Friends reunited!

After a delicious four course lunch, we adjoined to the local park and playground, located at the the Arene des Luteces.  On the way there, we passed both one of Hemingway’s houses and Descartes’ residence as well—this is quite a storied quarter of Paris.

When we arrived at the Roman arena, Sophie’s grandparents helpfully shared a bit of its history—how it was built and used when this part of Paris was a Roman city.  The arena even hosted naval battles!  Today, however, the space was being set up for a weekend festival, with an arts and crafts market, musical performances, and other artistic endeavors (in lieu of the usual petanque or football played on the open space).  We watched one performer for a bit—a mélange of physical comedy and juggling tricks, combined with all-body application of wet clay.  Quite something!

After some time at the park, we returned to their apartment for “le gouter,” or afternoon snack—which on this hot day meant ice cream cones.  The kids played happily for another hour while I chatted with Sophie’s grandparents.  Did I mention that I managed to speak French all afternoon?  While I’m quite sure their English was more than proficient, once they knew I spoke a bit of French, we conversed en francais… the whole time.  I admit, I’m impressed that I managed… though my brain was definitely aching by the end!  🙂

All in all, it was a wonderful day with Sophie’s family—her grandparents could not have been more gracious hosts to us!  And such a treat to have a homemade meal with a French family while we’re here in Paris.

On Sunday, we had our final day trip beyond Paris: we were headed to the 36e Medievales de Provins… the largest medieval festival in France.  My mother had heard about this festival before arriving in Paris, and she’d added it our wish list.  Provins is about two hours away by Metro and train, but the trip was more than worthwhile.  Have you ever been to a Renaissance Faire in the States? Imagine that, but now multiple it… by at least ten.  The entire walled village is turned over to the festival—and some of the newer parts of city beyond as well.  It’s absolutely enormous, with performers roaming down every lane, jaw-dropping costumes, and delicious food and drink at every turn.  We had a wonderful, wonderful time.

Walking through the gorgeous village–and starting uphill to the walled part of town.
An amusing sign at the ticket booth.
Following the mostly-costumed festival-goers uphill.

We’d tried to order Penelope a medieval dress in advance, but had no luck… fortunately, there was a seamstress at the festival who had a warehouse filled with beautiful creations, ready to rent for the day. Penelope selected this lovely gown and spent the ensuing hour (and whole day, really) dancing and posing in her new outfit, complete with flower crown.

Tents outside the walls of the medieval city.
The festival was filled with musicians–these are just three of the performances we saw.
There were kids’ activities scattered throughout the village as well, from calligraphy to…
…medieval games of chance and skill.
Some of the village’s permanent shops were truly remarkable, like this bookshop down a flight of stairs from the street above.
And everywhere we went, folks in wonderful costumes!
Though my personal favorite might have been the “leper” colony.
And since it’s early summer here, the gardens were in full bloom as well!
Pausing for a mid-afternoon snack break in the shade.
I fell a little bit in love with this tiny leather top hat fascinator… but chose a few pairs of gorgeous earrings to bring home instead. More practical, perhaps, but next time I’ll spring for the whimsy. 🙂
Penelope posing as a medieval princess in front of the Tour Cesar, a 12th century watchtower… but it definitely felt more like a castle today.

At the end of the day, we returned Penelope’s rented gown to the artisan vendor and walked back to the train station—we arrived early, wanting to secure seats on what would undoubtedly be a very full train.  By 9pm we were home again in Paris, exhausted but elated by the wonderful day we’d had.

Monday morning we all spent the morning at home, enjoying a lazy day after yesterday’s big outing.  But by early afternoon, Penelope and I were ready to cross off one more item from her Paris wish list: cruising the Seine.  As with Versailles and the Eiffel Tower, my parents have been many times on river cruises, and they decided to stay home and work on planning the next leg of their travels: eight weeks in England and Scotland. 

Penelope and I headed to the Pont Neuf, where we boarded one of the many tourist boats that cruise up and down the Seine, passing many landmarks along the way.  By the time we left, on the 2:30pm sailing, the sun was shining fiercely down and the temperature had soared to the low 80s.  So we opted for a seat downstairs in the shade—but right by an open window, so we had excellent views.

We spent a most enjoyable hour on the water, seeing museums like the Louvre and the d’Orsay, marveling at the detailed carvings on the bridges (most only visible from the river), and—at the midpoint of the cruise, enjoying great views of the Eiffel Tower.

By the end of the cruise Penelope had decided to stand at the front of the boat, and managed to somehow end up stationed between the captain and the first mate.  When I asked her about it, she said it seemed like the right place to stand.  But of course.  🙂

Our cruise complete, we decided to wander around Paris for a bit—and to have our last ice cream treat at Amorino.  On the way there, we admired the beautiful Samaritaine building—under renovation at the moment…

…and the amazing creations in the window of the Les Halles Lego store.

And then we arrived at Amorino, where we both indulged in a delicious treat—the ice cream cones were perfect for a hot afternoon of strolling around Paris.

Our outing complete, we headed for home, to rest and then have an early dinner before one of the items on my Paris wish list: playing petanque in the park!

You can’t miss the many groups of people playing petanque or molky in the evenings—or afternoons—they are in just about every Parisian park.  So I’d signed us up for an evening lesson with a local, Arnaud, to teach us the basics of the games.  Penelope and Arnaud formed one team and my dad and I the other—my mother opted for the role of spectator on the nearby bench.

Penelope listens intently to advice from Arnaud.
Lining up a throw.

 After instruction and practice, we began our game—it was a tight race, but Penelope’s team triumphed in the end! 

Victory is sweet!

Though we very much enjoyed both games, the Molky was our family favorite—we’ll have to find a set when we get home to California and introduce Jeremy to the game!

Our lesson complete, we decided to walk part of the way home, enjoying an absolutely perfect Paris evening.  The weather had cooled off, and we were approaching the golden hour… at 9:30pm. It’s not fully dark here until nearly 11pm, which makes for wonderfully long and lovely days. 

And so ended another very full day in Paris—and, at 22K steps, a tiring one as well! 

On Tuesday my folks were off to spend the day at the Musee d’Orsay while I started the mammoth task of… packing.  With our flights home just two days away, it was time to see if everything would actually fit back into our suitcases.  Penelope occupied herself with schoolwork and reading (and more screen time than usual) while I sorted and organized and eventually started packing our luggage.  By early evening, when Grandma and Grandpa returned home for dinner, we were about 90% done.  Not bad!  Earlier that day, Penelope and I had walked down the street to select our final pastries from our favorite patisserie.  Each of us chose one… and I added an extra—so we shared the five delights between us. 

All good things must come to an end… but we certainly savored this fond farewell to our favorite patisserie.

On Wednesday, Grandma had plans to take Penelope to a traditional French puppet show at the Jardin du Luxembourg, so I decided to take the opportunity for one last stroll around Paris.  We hadn’t yet been to the covered passages, so I took the metro over to the 9th arrondissement to wander through a few: Passage Panoramas, Passage Jouffroy, and Passage Verdeau.  As in the past, the storefronts alone are worth the trip.  Where else might you see a winged wolf with a diamond necklace?

In the Passage Jouffrey I found the toy store we visited in 2014, when Penelope was just three years old—the charmingly named Pain d’Epice.  They have a staggering array of dollhouse furniture, traditional French toys, and wonderful games.  A veritable model of restraint, I selected only two items: a tiny framed Mona Lisa for Penelope’s dollhouse, and a wonderful box of accessories called Si J’Etais La Maitresse.  Inside there are dozens of items for the budding teacher: tiny cahiers, a roll book, award certificates, and textbooks for lesson planning—all perfectly sized for Penelope to use with her dolls and stuffed animals. 

Given her penchant for playing school with her assorted dolls, this couldn’t have been more perfect!

Afterward, I walked the four kilometers back to our apartment, snapping photos of typical French scenery: bistros on every corner, the delightful windows of patisseries, the traditional Metro signs, and even the French practice of rinsing the streets with water gushing through the gutters.  A California born during a drought, Penelope doesn’t believe that explanation—she still insists that there’s a water leak every time we see water flowing down the street.

And to my utter delight, I also passed the very store Pixar used in a memorable scene from Ratatouille: the one where Remy’s dad takes him to see how humans really treat rats… an exterminator’s store.   It turns out that this particular store is quite a real place: Aurouze, founded in 1872.  As the storefront declares, the store is dedicated to the destruction of “nuisance animals.”  And on the right-hand side hang more than a dozen trapped and killed rats… all found in the Les Halles area.  Quite something to pass on a weekday afternoon!

Meanwhile, Penelope was enjoying the performance at the puppet theater with her Grandma—and some time at the park afterward.

By late afternoon everyone returned to the apartment for a final evening in Paris: last-minute packing and a family dinner.  Tomorrow my parents will return to their camper (parked about an hour away from Paris) and start driving toward their Sunday date with the ferry to England.  They’ll be spending the next two months exploring England and Scotland, ending in an apartment in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival in August.  And Penelope and I will be homeward-bound! 

And so ends this penultimate post for my sabbatical blog… Paris has been a wonderful place to spend two months of our nearly five months of travel—but we are very much looking forward to being home at last.

2 thoughts on “Last Days in Paris”

  1. Did not know you could take a Petanque class! Will definitely do on next trip. I know I should prefer a photo of something more cultural or literary but, honestly, I think my favorite photo is the incredible display at the Les Halles Lego Store. 🙂


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