Bastille Day otherwise known as La Fête Nationale to the locals turned out to be a whole lot of fun for us tourists. The celebrations start the night before with the Bal des Pompiers (Fireman’s Ball) where all fire brigades host their own local fundraising party with music, cheap booze and lots of dancing all night long. It doesn’t hurt that cute firemen in smart uniforms were serving the drinks 🙂
Now after all that dancing the night before you’d think that we’ll get a sleep-in to rest our aching feet? Nope, we dragged ourselves out of bed early and walked for ages to get to avenue des Champs-Élysées to watch the military parade and fly-over. That was worth all the crowd jostling and standing just to see the jets fly over with plumes of red, white and blue smoke. Very cool.
More crowd jostling on Pont de l’Alma two hours before nightfall to get a prime spot for the fireworks, because we refused to camp out for 8 hours in Champ de Mars (the park right in front of the Eiffel with the best view). Our view wasn’t too shabby with the Seine spread out in front of us. And the fireworks? Best we’ve ever seen. I was thoroughly mesmerized and my mouth was literally gaping when the fireworks concluded with the biggest, brightest and loudest bouquet. Some moments stay with you forever. Watching the fireworks in Paris on Bastille Day 2013 is one of them.
We knew we had only one free museum day during our stay in Paris (all museums have free entry on the first Sunday of every month) so we wasted no time and headed out early that morning on a mission to chow down all of Paris’s main museums. We were originally planning to visit Musée d’Orsay but made a boo-boo the Sunday before thinking that that was the free day. We ended up going in but paying, which was worth every penny thankfully.
On this day, we triple-checked the date before heading out first to Musée de l’Orangerie. This small-ish museum located in the Tuilleries is famous for Monet’s large scale waterlily paintings and having seen the gardens in Giverny we knew that this was a must-see. Verdict: We were thoroughly mesmerized by the paintings and more so by the way the paintings were displayed in a very ambient room. No pictures were allowed which was a fair call, allowing visitors to fully enjoy the artwork without distractions.
After Musée de l’Orangerie, we darted off to the Lourve to try and beat the crowds. Bad call. There was a 2 hour queue to get in and we decided to change plans and try the Centre Pompidou which was where all the pictures above were taken. It’s interesting to note that we live literally right next to the Centre Pompidou and it never crossed our minds to visit this museum, until a friend told us about the awesome views at the top.
Turns out that this museum kicks ass! We spent the entire afternoon in this museum and felt so saturated at the end of it that I dreamt of Kandinsky, Miro and Picasso all night long (plus some weird looking objects interspersed). Pompidou is the place to visit if you enjoy modern and contemporary art, which I figured is what the general public prefers. Even if you can’t appreciate contemporary art, you’ll be mildly amused by the interesting things that people classify as ‘art’.
The Aussies and Kiwis have their good ol’ barbeques. The French? They picnic. And they do it in families, as a couple, alone, in groups of girls, even in groups of guys. They are unashamed about it. I love that about the picnic culture here.
Every picnic needs to have at least one baguette, some wine, cheese and fruit. We added saucisson to our picnic fare (it’s a type of cured sausage). Find a nice shady spot by the Seine and voila, we’ve just had ourselves a picnic ala Français!
One fine Monday morning we took the metro to Port Clignancourt, prepared to trawl the famous Marchè aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, Paris’s largest flea and antique market. We barely covered half the market and our poor feet were already screaming for mercy by mid afternoon. The Marchè aux Puces is the largest, most varied and interesting flea market I’ve ever been to. It consists of about 10-14 different markets that specialise in a particular commodity. And mind you, each market can have up to a hundred stalls! No kidding. I could spend a week there.
We first wandered around Marchè Vernaison which had interesting homeware, small furniture, second hand junk and various other bits and bobs. Later on we stumbled upon Marchè Paul Bert and Marchè Serpette which had the most beautiful antique furniture of bygone eras. I’m not an antique expert but I could tell that these furniture would cost a fortune. They have all been painstakingly restored by the vendors.
Marchè Dauphine, our last stop had shops selling old books and magazines, vinyl records, collectable prints and some vintage clothing.Very cool.
Paris flea markets are the place to go if you’re looking for a unique souvenir or one-of-a-kind memorabilia to take home. Now if only we had that extra baggage space….
If I had to pick one highlight of my time in Paris so far it has to be cycling around the city. I love exploring a city on two wheels especially if it is bike-friendly. The Paris velib system is the trump card for us. At a cost of practically next to nothing we can hire these bikes for a day or a week and cycle around the city, park them at the numerous velib stations dotted around the city for a break and hop back on when we want to go home.
We have since hired these bicycles several times after discovering the simplicity of how it works but our first bike adventure took us along the Seine towards Musée d’Orsay where the newly built Les Berges caught my eye. It was so much fun cycling along the Les Berges that I’m keen to go back again. We followed the Seine all the way to Île aux Cygnes (known for the Parisian Statue of Liberty, and nothing else), passing the bridge made famous by the movie ‘Inception’. As always, we were treated to amazing views of the Eiffel wherever we cycled.
My husband cleverly made this video of our bike adventures if you’ll like to see more. I think you can see how carefree and happy we felt on the bicycles. He makes a lot more videos of our daily adventures on his blog if you are interested.
Lately our days have developed into a familiar pattern, usually starting at mid day (when you have daylight until 10pm, sleeping in becomes easy) where we head out to a new spot or sight to explore. On this day we decided to explore the famous food street Rue Montorgueil, known for its boulangerie (bakeries), fromagerie (cheese shops), boucherie (butcheries), fruit shops and countless cafes and restaurants. Wandering through Rue Montorgueil and taking in all the sights and smells gets us hungry soon enough, and we stopped by a cafe off the main street for some croque monsieur (grilled ham and cheese sandwich) and lasagne. Once our tummies have been filled we make our way by foot to the Jardin des Tuileries where we sit to rest our feet and people watch or just bask in the sunshine. Sometimes we pack a sandwich instead and pick the many gardens or parks around our area to sit in and relax. This time we had some framboise (raspberries) bought from Rue Montorgueil to enjoy in the Jardin des Tuileries.
Once we’re ready to head home we take a leisurely stroll along the Seine back to our humble apartment, one of my favourite parts of the day. I can’t fault this simple life in Paris.