Today was a fun, long, tiring day. We got up super early to be at the Louvre before they open. Tickets are not available in advance and we didn't want to be standing in line forever. We arrived at 8:40 AM and when they opened at 9:00, we were in quickly. They have self-service ticket kiosks where you can buy your tickets once inside, and by 9:10 or so we were in the museum. 10 or 15 minutes later we had been to the Mona Lisa... it was really amusing getting caught up in the rush of people rushing to the Mona Lisa before the crowds got there. The painting is beautiful but I was honestly more interested in the people taking photos of the painting and the security.
It was here that Rick Steves let me down for the first time. We've relied on his guidance and maps for everything so far but his maps of the Louvre are awful. I couldn't figure out where we were, where we were supposed to go for his "highlights" tour, etc. We just wandered around a bit and saw a few different sections and then we were both tired of the museum. We found it to be one of the least enjoyable experiences on the trip so far... I'd pick the Orsay Museum over the Louvre any day. We left the Louvre after an hour or so and stopped at a cafe on the left bank for a break.
By the way - I've always thought myself to be terrible at languages but I am finding that I am picking up some basic words and phrases pretty easily, and really enjoying using them. I had 3 years of French in high school and couldn't speak a sentence when I graduated. I went through 8 CDs of French over the last couple months which was a good refresher, and I am finding that I can get though most basic situations... asking directions, ordering from a menu, etc. It would be awesome to be here for a year or so and really learn the language.
After our break, we headed further south into the Left Bank to visit a shopping area near the Bon Marche department store (enormous but not high end). We stopped in a few boutiques along the way (lots of shoes and purses around here) and then visited the Bon Marche food department. It's basically a complete supermarket in a separate building from the main store. It's like a mega, gourmet, international Whole Foods. Their prepared food section alone was amazing... and they had a full section for pretty much anything you could imagine. 20 or 30 brands of smoked salmon, bakery, wine, pastries, beer, foods from different countries (USA featured Oreos, etc.), chocolate (I picked up 2 bars of chocolate including Lindt with wasabi) and pretty much anything else you can think of. We picked up a few items to sample (some mini pastries, a spanikopita, a little pasta, a skewer of 5 different mini breads, a couple mini sweet raisin rolls) and checked out. We grabbed a taxi and had a few minutes to sit under the Eiffel Tower to enjoy our snacks before our 12:30 PM ticket time.
With our reserved tickets in hand, we went into an entrance with no line at all - walking past the hundreds of people waiting in the normal line. The wait must have been 90 minutes or so. The first level was closed due to renovations so the elevator went right to the second level. We walked around a bit, bought tickets to the very top. After visiting the top it took a while to wait in 2 elevator lines - one to get to the 2nd level, one to get back to the ground. It's tiring... but the visit to the Eiffel Tower was really fun and so nice to experience together.
Back on the ground, we sat by the carousel across the street to relax and drink some water. I had a chicken and cheese crepe (delicious). We were really tired. These little breaks are really crucial.
We headed towards a nearby metro stop, seeing what we thought was some domestic violence on the way. A man was walking with his two little girls (about 4 years old), yelling at one of them (in French) and slapping her a couple times. His wife was walking behind him. At some point he yelled and took her cell phone and threw it into the busy street, where it broke into several pieces. We looked at her and she looked back as if to say "what can I do". She went into the street to get her broken phone and we talked about what we could have done to help her... at home Rachel would have given her a card with the number of her agency's hotline, but here we weren't sure how we could have helped.
We took the metro to the Printemps department store, which is one of the 3 grand department stores in Paris. The largest and most high end is the Gallerie de Lafayette. Printemps is on the same block and slightly lower in pricing and style, and Bon Marche (where we were earlier) seems somewhere below both of them (perhaps like a Bloomingdale's). Printemps is enormous. They have three connecting buildings, each one consisting of many floors, each with a different focus. In all, there are 24 floors of product and 7 restaurants in Printemps.
Our plan was to visit all the floors that interested us (about 8 of them) and then go to Monoprix (supermarket) and then the G de L. After 4 floors of Printemps, we were exhausted. We rested at a cafe, I visited Monoprix to pick up a couple French candies and cookies to take home, and we headed back to the hotel to rest.
For dinner, we were going to go to a nearby bistro called l'Esplanade which was recommended to us, but they had a small and pricey menu (entrees were around $40 each) so we went back to Rue Cler to eat where we were last night: Le Petit Cler. We got a table outside this time and ordered the exact same thing: warm goat cheese on toast and curry chicken with baked potato. I had a belgian white beer to accompany this. Everything was as delicious as the day before and we really enjoyed it.
Afterwards we walked down the street to a well known gelato shop called Amorino - I had a small cup with pistachio and coconut (amazing) and we walked back to the hotel.
Tomorrow is our last day in Paris - we will be exploring Le Marais again - our favorite neighborhood in Paris so far.
A few random photos: