Friday, October 16, 2015

Unforgettable experiences

Day 14: City Hall, Monet, a special lunch, and more Monet

On our first trip to Paris in 2003, we stayed in the Marais for three nights at the Axial Beaubourg Hotel.  We walked past the Hotel de Ville at least twice per day and I was intrigued by this beautiful building.  On subsequent trips (2005 and 2012), we didn't have time to finagle a tour of Hotel de Ville.  But this year I was determined that I'd get inside this building.

Per the instructions on the website, I called 2 months in advance to request a visit.  The man I spoke with said I needed to email him 2 weeks before my visit and they would try to accommodate us.  While we were in Lyon I received the email confirming our visit for 16 October on a French only tour.  Yes!

We woke to a rainy, cold day.  This was the worst weather of the trip.  We walked over to the Hotel de Ville and got there a few minutes before the appointed time of 10am.  I asked the guard about the tour and he said to wait with another group of about 6 people.  A group of about 8 American students on a French immersion trip came after us.  We all hovered under umbrellas trying to stay warm and dry until about 10:10am when we were allowed through security and into the first room.  Up the stairs bathed in red and blue lights to the ballroom reminiscent of Versailles' Hall of Mirrors.  We gaped in wonder at each the beautiful room (I think we saw 7 or 8).  We couldn't understand a word of the French being spoken but the place was so spectacular that it didn't matter!  I remember calling it the most beautiful City Hall in the world and, now having been inside, I think that must be true.  We were ushered out around 1120pm.  I'm so glad we were able to do this tour! 

We had a 130pm reservation at Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse for lunch.  We decided to visit L'Orangerie which was nearby the restaurant.  We took the Metro because the weather was still crappy.

L'Orangerie (free with museum pass) is a Monet lover's paradise.  We visited Giverny and this museum in 2012 but I think I enjoyed it even more this time.  The canvases are huge and beautiful and perfect for the rooms in which they're displayed (just as Monet intended).  I loved it.

On our last visit, we didn't see the rest of the collection and what a nice surprise it was! We quickly walked through a photography special exhibit then started looking at the paintings in the galleries.  Renoir was prominently featured along with other impressionists.  We ran out of time and will need to come back to this lovely collection on a future trip. 

While planning this trip, we had decided to have one splurge meal while in France and this was it: 3 Michelin star Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse (228 rue de Rivoli).  From the moment we arrived until we left 2 hours later, everything was perfect.  No detail was overlooked.  Examples: Husband had to borrow a jacket and the hostess was extremely apologetic for bringing him the wrong size the first time; my purse was given its own special little leather stool instead of resting on the floor.  The staff were efficient and helpful without being overbearing.  It was a lovely experience with exceptional food. 

I started with a delicious glass of rose champagne (which proved to be very expensive!) while the head waiter explained the menu.  Husband decided on the 130E option (everything!) while I went with just the starter and main (85E) figuring I'd taste his cheese and dessert.  We ordered a half bottle of red wine (delicious Domaine Faury Cote-Roie) and still Evian.  Because I don't like oysters, my amuse bouche was a poached quail egg taco to husband's oyster taco.  Followed by vegetables (in rock salt) to dip in a savory green sauce.  Next was more vegetables, some with a subtle pickled flavor, and fruit.  The bread, with choice of salted or unsalted butter, was delicious.  The main dish was guinea fowl, liver, salad and veggies.   I didn't like husband's desert which was figs and cream in a fig leaf bowl which he loved.  I liked the ice cream with red wine granita.  We both enjoyed our finale sorbets (passion fruit for me; grapefruit for husband) served from a cart with artfully displayed tropical fruits. 

Everything was delicious, beautifully presented and unique.  The dining room was gorgeous--we could have been dining at Versailles or Hotel de Ville! The price for lunch, without alcohol, was reasonable for the quality and the exceptional experience.  The booze made it pricy, as always ("that's where they getcha" lol)!  Husband agreed that lunch at Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse can be our new tradition whenever we come to Paris!

Pleasantly full, it was on to the next sight: Musee Marmottan Monet which we had only visited once before in 2005 (no museum pass).  We took the metro from Tuilleries to La Muette and walked through the pretty neighborhood and park to the museum.  No pictures, no coat check (it was kind of hot inside).  We got the audio guide.  We arrived around 4pm so only had two hours to view the collection.  The art and displays in the house itself were fabulous.   They had a number of illuminated manuscripts, some really pretty china and furnishings.  The rooms themselves were very pretty (I love house museums!).  The Berthe Morissot exhibit was outstanding.   I felt like a knew her after seeing it. 

We made our way to the basement for the Monets.  The paintings are displayed chronologically and the audio guide was helpful in explaining what we were seeing.  I listened to every number!  Sadly, my favorite, Impression Sunrise, was on loan.  I lingered here until it was about closing time.  This Monet collection is probably my favorite because of its variety.  Monet was prolific and so very talented.  He's definitely my favorite artist.  I'm so lucky to have seen so much of his work!  

I spent a few Euro in the gift shop and we walked out with the security guards.  We decided to stop at Tabac de la Muette for drinks before venturing back to Ile de la Cite.  We watched a frustrated Audi owner who was blocked in by a double parked Smart car.  He was apparently there for 45 minutes unable (to not figure out how) to get out of his spot (we had some solutions for him) until the person behind him left.  Just at about this time, the owner of the double parked Smart car (a young woman) came out from wherever she was hiding and got into her car and ended up pulling into the Audi's spot.  We thought the Audi owner was going to block her in and chew her out but he just peeled out and left.  The consensus from four Americans (a couple from Arizona had been watching the scene for about an hour) was that he was nicer to her than we would have been.

We paid up and headed back to Ile de la Cite.  After trying unsuccessfully to make reservations at L'Ange 20 and L'Florimond for dinner the next night (our last), we walked down to Ile St. Louis looking for a place to eat (and to check out some of the recommended restaurants on that Ile).  We ended up at Sens'o (, a mediocre pizza place that did pretty brisk delivery business.  The weather was still cold but not wet so we took the long way back to the apartment for the night.  It had been another fantastic day in Paris!

1.  Hotel de Ville is spectacular!
2.  Splurging on a special meal Paris is a very good idea :)
3.  There's no such thing (to me) as too much Monet in a day
4.  There's a reason I research and keep lists of recommended restaurants...
5.  We may stay in the 16th next time.
6.  I really love Paris!

Next: Our last day, n'opera, shopping, 3 museums

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