Paris: Where memories and discoveries are lasting souvenirs

Senior editor Gay Nagle Myers and her husband, Tad, rediscovered Paris on a recent trip to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Here is their story:

It could have been a big mistake to choose Paris to commemorate a date in 1975. Tad and I had very different agendas. I had not been to Paris in three years and wanted to see all that was new, open, on exhibit and for sale since my last visit.

He wanted to don his beret and relive his days as a Sorbonne student back in the Dark Ages, finding the old haunts, friends, addresses and memories.

Statues are as much a part of the Paris landscape as are gardens, cafes, museums, historical sites and playgrounds. This one holds center stage at Place Victor Hugo on the Right Bank. Our Paris trip became a voyage of discovery and rediscovery that worked for both of us, and it began as soon as we arrived.

Paris sparkled. Gone were the dark, gloomy buildings, crumbling monuments and neglected statues that Tad remembered, replaced now by pressure-hosed, gilded facades that shimmered.

"Where's all the grime? Where are all the bicycles, the kiosks, the pissoirs, the berets, the attitudes, the car horns?" he asked.

Those were the first of many questions.

The Paris Top 10 attractions were, of course, still intact, although the Centre Pompidou and the glass pyramids of the Louvre were new to Tad.

Gauzy purple hats drew the shoppers into Printemps department store.
New to both of us were the in-line skaters who whizzed through the heart of Paris; the restored 125-year-old Palais Garnier, which took the wraps off its scaffolding in June, and the Jewish Museum of Art and History, which opened this spring in a 17th century mansion in the Marais district.

On foot and by Metro, we covered the city. Whenever we saw lines and crowds, we went elsewhere.

We discovered tiny squares and small museums with few visitors. We found streets in Tad's former neighborhoods that were as he remembered them.

We picnicked in gardens. We avoided the bateau mouche (open boat) Seine rides with the loudspeakers and captive tourists, but we did stand under the Eiffel Tower at midnight and in Notre Dame at dawn (well, actually at 8:30 a.m.).

In the course of nine days, we assembled our own list of the top attractions, which follows, along with the appropriate Metro stop:

An antique lutemaker's sign still hangs above a doorway near Place Republique.

  • Musee Cognacq-Jay
    (Metro: St. Paul)
  • We were the only visitors that day in a restored-mansion-turned-museum that housed an amazing display of 18th century European art, ceramics and furniture.

    The museum is on Rue Elzevir in the Marais district near boutiques, cafes, galleries, private homes and the Bastille.

    After our visit, we bought flaky pastries at Patisserie Tout au Beurre, (29 Rue Vielle du Temple) and later sipped wine next door at La Belle Hortense, a cozy bar with a small library.

  • Musee Marmottan
    (Metro: La Muette)
  • After a day trip to Giverny, we wanted more Monet. This museum delivered the goods plus a bonus of Picasso, Renoir and medieval manuscripts, all packaged in a 19th century mansion near the Bois de Bologne, the 2,200-acre park just west of Paris.

  • La Sorbonne
    (Metro: Cluny La Sorbonne)
  • I'd heard the stories many times of Tad's glory days as a Sorbonne student. I heard them again when we entered the Sorbonne's main courtyard, unchanged for hundreds of years.

    We sat on the worn granite steps, and he spoke in French with students who were gracious and actually interested in his tales.

    He found the lecture halls with wooden benches where he had taken medieval French history and the classrooms where he had sweated through classical literature. I actually thought he might reenroll.

    Surrounding the Sorbonne in the Latin Quarter were bookstores, the cafe-lifestyle scene, musicians, the Luxembourg Gardens and general joie de vivre.

  • Ile St. Louis
    (Metro: Pont Marie)
  • We were tourists here with our three-scoop ice cream cones ($3 each) from Berthillon (31 Rue St. Louis-en-L'Ile) and our picnic fixings from Brasserie de l'Ile St. Louis (55 Quai de Bourbon).

    Our visitor status was further revealed when we bought a watercolor on the Pont St. Louis and flowers at Marche aux Fleurs on Ile de la Cite.

  • Menilmontant
    (Metro: Menilmontant)
  • This working-class neighborhood in northeast Paris is not overrun with tourists.

    The few we did see were at the shrine of rock star Jim Morrison in the Cimetiere Pere Lachaise, the largest cemetery in Paris.

    Far more interesting to us were the tombs of Colette, Chopin, Honore de Balzac and actress Simone Signoret.

    Tad located an apartment he'd lived in briefly and a house where he'd once rented a room.

    We also discovered a shop called A La Tentation, at which we purchased dinner plates, and a flea market selling old black-and-white postcards.

  • Pigalle
    (Metro: Pigalle)
  • We visited this lively red- light district by day, but not for the peep shows.

    Tad's quest to find another of his student addresses led us to the area where we had the best jambon (ham) sandwiches of the trip on Place Republique at Aux Noctambules (translated as the revelers, people who party all night).

    In Montparnasse, Tad located his favorite statue of Balzac by Rodin, and Le Dome, his hangout cafe (now disappointingly modernized).

  • Store windows
  • These are works of art. We never tired of what the French call leches les vitrines (window shopping). We ogled the designer boutiques on Rue du Faubourg St. Honore and Place des Victoires.

    On shop-heavy Rue de Rennes, we succumbed and went inside Arthur, a high-end children's boutique, for grandchildren's gifts and priced backpacks in Tati, Paris' equivalent of Kmart.

    On Boulevard Haussmann, the grand department stores sucked me in.

    I checked out gauzy purple hats in Printemps, and we both took in the city view from the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette.

    Pistachio macaroons from nearby Laduree (16 Rue Royale) near Place de la Madeleine were our midmorning treat.

  • Giverny
    (Metro: Gare St. Lazare)
  • A visit to Claude Monet's home and gardens outside Paris had long been on my wish list.

    We took the express train from Gare St. Lazare in Paris to Vernon, a 43-minute ride northwest, and then a public bus for two miles.

    More than 600,000 visitors come here each April through October when the gardens are in bloom.

    Monet chose Giverny as his residence because of the soft light of the Seine Valley. He lived there for 43 years until his death in 1926 at the age of 86.

    The gardens are informal, with flowers spilling across paths in riots of colors and arbors, trellises, climbing vines, flowering trees, Japanese bridges, lily ponds and roses, roses everywhere.

    I did see some weeds which, as an amateur gardener myself, pleased me no end.

    Monet's pink house with green shutters had a warm family feel to it, especially the buttercup-yellow dining room and the bright blue-tiled kitchen.

    Reproductions of Monet's works and many Japanese prints, which he collected, hang in his airy studio and throughout the house.

    The grounds had a gift shop, a cafe and restaurant.

  • Architecture
  • It is the thousands of individual buildings, many of which were erected in the 1800s, that make Paris a feast for the eyes.

    We constantly stared up and at wrought-iron balconies, stonework, carved wooden doors, doorways and rooflines.

    Add to that the fountains, tree-lined boulevards, street gardens and monuments.

    Paris is definitely seductive. It's a city to look at, taste, smell and feel. Paris is where memories are made and reborn.

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