Friday, 17 July 2015

Paris: Denis the Headless (a.k.a our new travelling companion)

Paris, France 
When choosing a time to visit Paris, the height of summer is far down my list. First: it's peak tourist season so every entry line zigzags down the street and pickpockets are on form. Second: it's hot. As we had to pick up the car here, we decided only to stay a couple of days and return in the winter. 
Our hotel, selected for proximity to the train station and affordability, overlooked an attractive alleyway that was flushed with a golden glow during sunset. It was situated between the boisterous African and Indian precincts, so friendly banter floated up to our windows mixed with raised voices.
Our rooms didn't have air conditioning or fans, so while blogging I sat by the window to stay cool.
We met up with Yannick's cousin, who lives in Paris, for lunch. The sheer number of eateries with tables spilling out onto the footpath astounds me. While Wellington has a café culture, many of them are contained inside or have only a couple of outdoor tables. It feels like the Parisians are making good use of summer dining.   
Speaking of summer, what better way to stymy the heat than have a refreshing cupful of gelato? Or better still, a zingy lemon granita! We found the one Grom in Paris - a gelateria that we had frequented in several cities across Italy. 
I looked much less composed waiting in the line for seconds. I had to try the strawberry granita, which was a new flavour and very exciting. It was delicious of course, but I still love the lemon flavour the most. (Granita is like a slushier form of sorbet - icy cold and full of fresh juiciness.)
A stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries (with many breaks in the shade to avoid overheating) allowed for some relaxation in the hectic city. The gardens lead up to the Louvre, which I've not yet seen, but am planning to in the colder months. 
For us, a must-see was the Palais Garnier which was the inspiration for the Hanoi Opera House. The French original was much more opulent, with golden statues and the like, and it was interesting to juxtapose the two. 
I particularly liked the ladies holding lanterns around the perimeter. Those definitely didn't feature in Vietnam. 
Something I noticed while walking around parts of Paris I'd never been to is that you stumble across pieces of history that you'd never heard of. We found this archway near where we were staying in the tenth arrondissement. Research later pinpointed it as the Porte Saint-Denis, a rebuilt gate from a destroyed wall. Taking a cue from the DS on the number plate, we've christened our car Denis le Desperado (pronounced in a French accent like Deh-nee) after Saint Denis. 
One of the patron saints of Paris, ole Saint Denis was beheaded by Romans in the third century AD, but that wasn't the end of him. He reputedly picked up his severed head and walked ten kilometres, preaching the whole way. What a guy. Where he finally fell, a shrine was erected which developed over time into Saint Denis Basilica (where the French kings are entombed). 

La Roche-Guyon
Driving in Paris will make you bite your nails to the quick, so we made a mad dash to a pretty village to the west once we picked up Denis. 
We spent the night in a quaint apartment gîte along the main road and purchased a baguette for dinner sandwiches from the local boulangerie. 
The view from our accommodation showed the ruined castle on the hill, as well as the cute houses that lined the street. In the morning we attempted to enter the castle, but alas the fee was too high. We ate madeleines (free with the gîte), drank Orangina and departed.