Paris Adventure Day 2: French Breakfast and The Isles!

I’d love to say that we popped out of bed on our first morning in Paris and hit the tourist schedule at the crack of dawn but that would be a lie so I’ll tell you, instead, that we slept in hard core before heading out for our first French breakfast.

First to note, this was a super-packed day! Consequently this is a really long post with lots of words and pics. Grab a bottle of Bordeaux and start playing some accordion tunes ‘cuz we’re about to take you to the heart of Paris!

Second to note, our late-rising selves seemed to fit right in; from what we gathered the working French appear to start their mornings a bit later than the Americans. Things were a lot less hectic over there. (More on that later in a ‘Joie de Vivre’ post!)

Third to note, French breakfast was one of the top 10 things I was looking forward to doing in Paris. (I’m not sure what that says about me, but after having tried real French breakfast, I would keep it in the top 10 things to look forward to!)

Anyway, we finally left the hotel and set off to breakfast which, in short, was delicious! I’ll be brief here because food-critic Ben will definitely be sharing deets on this meal later, but here we are in a quaint cafe munching brunch:

Ben's First French Breakfast

I’ll take a minute to note the atmosphere of this place, though. It was precious! Very rustic with rough-hewn tables, exposed bulb lighting, and metallic accessories. Definitely stored away some inspiration ideas from this place!

Once we were properly nourished, we set off to explore Les Iles.

Brief explanation for anyone who is not overly familiar with Paris’s geography:

Long ago the city of Paris began on those two little islands you can see in the Seine. As the city grew it spread to both banks of the Seine (Le rive droite and le rive gauche.) Some of the oldest histories and structures of Paris can be found on these iles, so of course my history-loving self wanted to stop there first- the heart of Paris!

On the way, we stopped by the Tour St. Jacques. To be completely honest, I can’t remember the importance of this tower, but since this blog is as much a documentation of our lives for us to look back on as it is entertainment for you, I thought I’d note that we stopped by; you never know when I’ll have to say whether or not I’ve been to the Tour St. Jacques! Anyway, it was a lovely structure with a quaint little garden around it. Also seemed to be the place of choice for the homeless population.

*Apparently we took no photos of this; either that or I can’t find any… sorry!

Anyway, so on to L’ile de la cite! Here’s a brief history of the place: l’Ile de la Cite was founded by a Celtic tribe (called the Parisii- namesake, we assume) around 300 B.C. which thrived until the Romans stopped in to build a palace-fortress at the western end of the island around 52 BC. Along about the 10th century, Frankish kings improved this Roman palace, and what remains of this exceptional compound today is Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie prison. (Photos and details on those gems below.) The first place we stopped L’Ile de la Cite was:

Pont Neuf: To get onto L’ile de la Cite, we had to cross the Pont Neuf. This bridge was built in 1607 and was the first of Paris’s bridge to be built of stone (as opposed to wood.) It is Paris’s oldest remaining bridge and it connects the western tip of L’ile de la Cite to both banks. Here she is:

Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf up close

Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf

La Cathedrale Notre-Dame: One of the most amazing features of Notre-Dame is her flying buttresses. It is truly incredible how massive these structures are, particularly when you know that the cathedral was constructed between 1160 and 1345. How in the world did people achieve these architectural feats without modern day technology and equipment!? Anyway, Notre-Dame was designed in the Gothic style and was actually one of the first examples of a Gothic cathedral in Northern France. Here are some pics of her:

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame- look at the buttresses

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame ceilings

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame ceilings

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame Rose Window

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame Rose Window


La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame Entrance

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame Entrance; look at the sculpting

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame Entrance

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame Entrance; what excellent craftsmanship!

Crypte Archeologique: so, this place was really cool! Apparently, before the construction of the existing Cathedrale de Notre Dame, there was an original cathedral built in this site, along with an even older city! And what is even cooler is that you can see the archeological remains of the ancient city and cathedral! Of course we stopped in to check it out. Beneath the ground level in front of the existing Notre-Dame is a permanent archeological site that is open to the public. You can see the foundations of structures from medieval times and some that date back to as long ago as the Gallo-Roman times!

*Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos of the site; sorry we talked about how cool it was and can’t show you anything…

Le Conciergerie-This is one of the structures that remain from that Frankish palace we mentioned above. This prison is Paris’s oldest Prison. In fact, Marie-Antoinette and other Revolutionary figures were incarcerated here during the Revolution (most of which were later executed…) Despite the tragic history of the building, it was truly beautiful and absolutely fascinating. Actually, the exact notes that I wrote on Le Conciergerie in our travel notebook are “Beautiful gothic architecture; tragic history.” Take a peak:

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall Fireplace

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall Fireplace

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall Fireplace Closeup- Seriously, we could both stand in this side by side with space to spare; it was huge!

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall Fireplace Closeup- Seriously, we could both stand in this side by side with space to spare; it was huge!

Le Conciergerie- green square where prisoners would gather just before their executions

Le Conciergerie- green square where prisoners would gather just before their executions...

Le Conciergerie- execution bell?

Le Conciergerie- execution bell?

Le Conciergerie- water fountain

Le Conciergerie- water fountain

Sainte-Chappelle-OK this place was “Breath-taking; absolutely stunning” (words from our travel journal.) Also a vestige of the Frankish palace compound, this cathedral was absolutely stunning. The ground level cathedral was rumored to have housed holy relics like Christ’s crown of thorns and pieces of the cross on which Christ died. None of those relics are there currently, but the real treat is the second floor chapel. WOW. 3 of the 4 walls of the upstairs room are made of stained glass. And each panel of glass tells the story of the Bible. In fact, if you read the windows beginning in the North, you can read the stories from Genesis through the Passion of Christ, to Revelations. Aside from the stained glass, all surfaces are intricately painted or tiled; the whole effect is just beyond words:

* Some of the interior shots are blurry

St- Chapelle entrance carvings

St- Chapelle entrance carvings

St- Chapelle ceiling

St- Chapelle ceiling

St- Chapelle ceiling

St- Chapelle ceiling

St- Chapelle wall

St- Chapelle wall

St- Chapelle statue

St- Chapelle statue

St- Chapelle floor

St- Chapelle floor

St- Chapelle altar and stained glass

St- Chapelle altar and stained glass

St- Chapelle stained glass

St- Chapelle stained glass

Place Dauphin: after visiting all the beautiful architecture we mentioned above, we thought we’d hit up some green spaces.

Square du Vert-Galant: Named for Henri IV and his lusty trysts, this square can be found at the NW end of the island. It is apparently a popular hang out for lovers.

L’Ile St. Louis: After all the fantastic (but exhausting) sight-seeing on L’Ile de la Cite, we headed over to L’Ile St. Louis. Oh my stars. We are so glad we made it to this island. My notes were: “Adorable! Great architecture, much less crowded, boutique shops & restaurants-Can’t miss this.” This island was so quaint; beautiful window boxes, tree-lined streets, fabulous architecture. Just beautiful. See what you think:

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Sign- Ben's Favorite

L'Ile St-Louis Sign- Ben's Favorite

L'Ile St-Louis Cafe

L'Ile St-Louis Cafe

Phew! At this point in the day, we were getting exhausted. So we hopped back to the hotel to kick up our feet for a minute before heading to a restaurant that our dear friend Mackenzie recommended: Chez Francais. And for the record, Mackenzie was SO right! When night fell, we got all dolled up for a date night and took the metro over to Chez Francais, which happens to boast a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower. We enjoyed the view, which included a slightly spastic light show, over creme brulee, chocolate cake and wine. There really is nothing like sitting in an open air cafe sipping wine and sharing a beautiful view with your best friend:-) Especially when you’re in Paris!

Eiffel Tower from Chez Francais

Eiffel Tower from Chez Francais

Date Night at Chez Francais

Date Night at Chez Francais-

End of second day a Paris.

Has anyone ever been to Chez Francais? Or how about L’ile St. Louis? What about the window boxes? We would love to hear about your favorites from the Isles of Paris!

Our French Adventure Begins

Hi everyone!

At long last, it’s time we started sharing this summer’s trip to Paris and Provence with you!

Here are some quick details about the trip before we begin, just to give you a little perspective.

Dates: Tuesday, June 14, 2011- Wednesday, June 22, 2011.

Impetus: Since beginning to study French 10+ years ago, I (Sarah) have had a mild obsession with the French language and many parts of the French culture. I had been jonesing to visit Paris, Provence, and Bretagne ever since the first day of French class back in 1999. This past January, while chatting about our goals for 2011, Ben said “Let’s go to Paris this year!” and the rest is history! (As can be following in the upcoming series of posts. Oh la la!)

Interests going into the trip: The things we love about France, and therefore our biggest topics of exploration were (in no particular order): French wine (which we studied up onΒ  a little bit before going), the French Joie de Vivre (see the connection to our blog’s tag line!?), French gardens, French food (bread, pastries, etc. etc.), French tourist sites, French architecture, Provencial lavender fields, Provencial architecture, Provencial landscape. Phew! Lots to do!

Planning: Being in our mid-twenties, we don’t have a ton of extra cash lying around for extravagant traveling, so we planned our low-budget trip on our own, with a lot of help from tour books, the internet, and advice from friends and family that have been to France. This trip proved to us that you don’t have to be rich to experience a wonderful traveling adventure! Get your jet-set on!

So now that you’re on the same page as we were pre-June 2011, we’ll start the series! We’re planning to cover the trip day-by-day for any of you who are planning to take a trip yourself. Additionally, we’ll share several more detailed photo-series of the beautiful things we saw and of course copious reviews of our dining experiences a la Ben. At some point, I’ll share some of the projects I’ve done that were inspired by our trip- France was a great wealth of inspiration and I’ve really enjoyed incorporating some of that inspiration into our home!

Day one starts tomorrow!

A tout a l’heure!

By trolley!

Hi all!

I’m back with a stroll through the Garden District of New Orleans!

I’m gonna try to keep it short and show mostly photos!

I got to the Garden District by streetcar which was the most fantastic way to travel!

My new preferred method of transportation

The little wooden seats with their shaded windows were so precious! They also flipped up and turned over for the return trip in the opposite direction so that passengers are always facing forward– Turn-of-the-century genius!

Little bare light bulbs lit the street car:

And on the way I noticed that the telephone lines were covered in Mardi Gras beads! (At home in Richmond kids throw shoes all over the telephone lines…the beads are much cooler!)

When I arrived in the Garden Districts I decided to just make my way around the neighborhood to enjoy the homes and gardens (with help from my Fodor’s map, of course!) The following pictures are what I got to see:

I thought this marble carriage step was so fun!

Because of how low ground level is in New Orleans, the cemeteries are full of mausoleums:

Aren’t the houses and gardens so beautiful!? I had such a great time walking around the shaded neighborhood on such a beautiful September day.

I highly recommend taking time to do this when you go to New Orleans- there are so many historic homes to discover… enjoy!

French Quarter Fun Part 2

Wednesday morning I set off, Fodor’s New Orleans guide in hand, to discover New Orleans! (Or at least the French Quarter portion!)

The first destination on my little adventure was Jackson Square. This happening little joint has a rich history. At one point this square was a military parade ground and a public execution site. Nowadays it boasts tarot readers, local artists, and some swingin’ jazz bands (and, of course, a few talented beggars.)

Also on in the square is this larger-than-life statue of Andrew Jackson (war of 1812 anyone?) That’s St. Louis Cathedral in the background.

And these sweet wrought iron entrance lamps. (I’ll expound upon the wrought iron magnificence found throughout the city in another post!)

At the top (?) of Jackson Square sits St. Louis Cathedral, The Presbytere, and The Presbytere’s twin building. These three architectural beauts are really something to see.

St. Louis’s is the oldest active cathedral in the United States! (It’s been modified and updated since it’s origin, though.) I didn’t get to go into the garden, but it is supposed to be really beautiful and is on my to-do list for next time I’m here (oh yes, there will be a next time; there are so many things I didn’t get to!)

The Presbytere and its twin are Spanish-colonial style buildings that sit on either side of St. Louis’s. I loved the color of the buildings as well as their windows and ‘steeple’ (there is probably a proper architectural term for this; if anyone knows it, please enlighten!

Here are some more detail pictures:

The ‘bottom’ of Jackson Square is flanked by the Pontalba Buildings, two buildings constructed in the 1840’s by Baroness Pontalba. The coolest thing about these buildings is the wrought iron: Baroness Pontalba designed the iron to reflect the initials of her maiden name (‘A’) and her married name (‘P’):

Also at the ‘bottom’ of Jackson Square is Washington Artillery Park. This little park overlooks the Mississippi. When I got to the top I was serenaded by a steam boat playing ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’! Too perfect!

The park actually honors the 141st Field Artillery of the Louisiana National Guard

After scouting the Square and its surroundings, I headed down Dutch Alley, an adorable little artist’s alley that I stumbled upon

where I fell in love/was completely inspired by these doors:

and these balconies:

I have been contemplating the idea of adding this color to our bedroom for a few weeks now and these doors totally convinced me! (More on this later as I figure out how to do it!)

Also in the alley, I happened upon this sign, of which I took several photos in honor of my fam! (My maiden name is Peters)

On my way out of the alley I wandered up Gov. Nicholls Street to find the Beauregard-Keyes House. For all of you Civil War buffs, this building was the home of General P.G.T Beauregard for a short time. (Frances Parkinson Keyes, the author, also lived there for some time and helped restore the building.) Again, I didn’t get to check out the gardens, and again I will have to return! But here is the front:

And a detail photo of the wrought iron railing:

Another really interesting building is the ‘Madame John’s Legacy’ building. It’s architectural style is West Indies and it is the only example of such a style in the French Quarter. Look how different it is from everything else! So neat.

And that, dear friends, concluded my jaunt around the French Quarter!

It was interesting to sight see by myself! I was a little nervous to pull out my map and guidebook for looking unaware of my surroundings and likewise didn’t take too much time to focus the camera well in all of these photos; I apologize for the poor photo quality and promise better in the future! πŸ™‚

Next, I’ll share my mosey through the Garden District complete with a Street Car ride straight from the turn of the century!

French Quarter Fun Part 1

We arrived safely in New Orleans yesterday evening and set out to first, of course, explore the cuisine!

On recommendation (from Ben who was actually here 2 weeks ago) we ate dinner at the Palace Cafe in the French Quarter.

The front sitting area was adorable and was so very much like all the French cafes we visited in June! The bistro tables and wicker chairs gave this open-air sidewalk dining area an authentic franco feel. It made my heart smile to remember the wonderful times we had in France!

We did not, however, sit in the cute sidewalk cafe area, but instead ate inside the palace (it’s not really a ‘palace’ but was apparently originally a multi-story music store.) I unfortunately neglected to photograph the beautiful interior (shame on me!) but imagine a 2-story room with gold ceilings, delicate wrought iron work, and scalloped balconies surrounding the atrium-like opening in the center of the dining room. Comfortably luxe!

As wonderful as the surroundings were, the food was definitely something to write home about! Among the four of us we tasted the gumbo, corn and shrimp chowder, excellent seafood entrees and of course, dessert. Bananas Foster, which they made on a wheeling cart right in front of us:

These are the ingredients waiting patiently for the show. (I got a kick out of the ice cream mountain…)

After dinner we ventured to Bourbon Street to check out the infamous debauchery.

(*Please excuse the poor quality of these next photos; my super-paranoid self was too busy being aware of my surroundings to manually focus the camera…)

Walking the bar-lined street was such an experience! My PG self didn’t even photography the scandalousness we encountered, but I did capture some of the most entertaining signs:

Anatomically correct neon:

Speaks for itself:

Best tagline:

Lastly, a shout out to my Gator parents:

Our jaunt down Bourbon Street was a good preview of the tawdry activities of Mardi Gras; we all noted that if this is what the street is like on a weeknight in the middle of September, we can’t imagine being here for Mardi Gras!

More French Quarter fun to come!