As I mentioned in my previous post about Paris, Gay Paree is my favorite foreign city in the very whole wide world. I decided to spend one day taking tours with and dining in the home of locals in order to have some Parisian experiences I had never dared to experience before. But what would I do if I had one day in Paris? What are my absolute favorite places in my absolute favorite city? I am so glad you asked, Internet Stranger! Come with me and I will take you to my favorite museums, the most breathtaking churches, and the most fabulous temple of haute cuisine. Also there will be soup.
Morning: Musee de Cluny
Hours: 9:15-5:45 Most Days, Closed Tuesdays
Address: 6 Place Paul Painlevé
Price: 8 Euros, Audioguide included
As a museum junkie, I could list about five museums in Paris off the top of my head that I adore with all my heart. But my favorite museum in Paris isn’t the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, or the tubular Pompidou. No, the museum that has my heart for all time is The National Museum of the Middle Ages, which is known to its friends as the Musee de Cluny.
The Musee de Cluny has a new wing and an old wing, but of course this being a European building, they have a different concept of what constitutes new and old than we Americans do. The “new” wing is the 14th century former home of the abbots of Cluny. The old wing used to be a Roman bathing house and dates from the 3rd century. I love the whole museum because it’s easier for me to swan about and pretend to be Eleanor of Aquitaine convincingly there than in my apartment. However, I do have a few favorite fun facts, courtesy of the excellent audioguide that I would be privileged to share with you.
three fun facts about the musee de cluny
1) These poor men, who all appear to be great losers in a game of “Who’s Got Your Nose?”, are meant to be the heads of the kings of Judah and they used to be part of Notre Dame Cathedral. However, during the French Revolution the anti-monarchists mistook them for French kings and tore them off the building and then sold them. Revolutionaries are always overreacting like that. If they’re not arresting dissidents or threatening to blow up Gotham City, they’re falsely accusing statues of colluding with the aristocracy.
2) This is the most famous work in the museum and rightfully so, both because of the artistry that went into creating the tapestries and because of the history mystery around the tapestries’ meaning. Five of the tapestries depict a woman interacting with a unicorn and each tapestry panel represents one of the five senses, but the sixth shows the woman retreating back into a tent. This tent inexplicably has the words “My Only Desire” written over its door. What does this mean? What is the woman’s only desire? Is she renouncing physical pleasure in favor of spiritual bliss? Is it referring to the sixth sense, aka ESPN? The world may never know.
I personally think she has her only desire already, which is to OWN A FREAKING UNICORN because that’s the coolest pet ever.
3) This is a page from an old combat manual designed to teach aspiring warriors how to fence. I don’t really understand how anyone could learn how to fight from a little book like this because it’s very difficult to fence and hold a book at the same time. I suppose your teacher could describe the book to you as you practice, but if you have a teacher, why do you need a book? Also I like that one of the fencers in the illustrations is wearing a lovely shade of pink, which was considered to be a masculine color during medieval times.
Travelerette Treasure: This is a rose made of gold. It was used on the fourth Sunday of Lent as a special gift that the Pope would give to someone particularly faithful. Though many of them were made during the Middle Ages, this is one of only three that survives. If anyone was wondering what to get me for my next birthday, this would make a most welcome option. It’s more practical than a real rose because you don’t need to water it and it still lasts forever.
Lunch: Bouillon Racine
Address: 3 Rue Racine
Bouillon Racine is an adorable restaurant dating from 1906 conveniently located near the Musee de Cluny. It is a worthy destination in and of itself because it is gorgeously decorated in an Art Nouveau style with lots of green and glass and curving lines and chandeliers and whatnot. At this point, some of you may be thinking, “Gosh Travelerette, you sure talk about Art Nouveau a lot. Why are you so into it?” I am glad you asked!
An Amusing Anecdote From My Childhood
Bouillon Racine serves a three course prix fixe lunch which, like many prix fixe lunches in Paris, is a pretty sweet deal. Always start with the soup because that is a house specialty. This was a chilled cream of avocado soup that was extremely refreshing on a hot July apres-midi.
My main course was beef tartare, which is basically chopped raw meat. It is highly satisfying to a carnivore like myself. I come from a family of farmers on my mother’s side, so I’m not sentimental about meat. However, though beef tartare is a French classic, it is still raw meat, so never eat it at a place unless you’re sure they’re using high quality beef. Basically think of beef tartare as the sushi of meat. This preparation had a mustardy sauce that gave it a pleasingly sassy kick.
From one classic to another, I finished my meal with that old standby, creme brulee. I just love the physical sensation of eating this dessert. It’s so fun to tap, tap, tap on the crust and then dig into the custard underneath. I feel like a kid again every time.
Early Afternoon: Latin Quarter
Why is there a neighborhood in Paris called The Latin Quarter? Shouldn’t it be called the French Quarter instead, or something? I’m so glad you asked! It is called the Latin Quarter because it has historically been the academic center of Paris and naturally in the Middle Ages this meant that Latin was spoken here. The famous Sorbonne University is still located here.
The Latin Quarter became a center of learning because of a fascinating medieval scholar named Abelard. He was hired to tutor a young woman named Heloise who was the niece of an important figure in the church, Canon Fulbart. Abelard and Heloise fell in love and Heloise became pregnant. Abelard and Heloise married but apparently this was not satisfactory to Canon Fulbard because he had Abelard castrated anyway. Those medieval scholars did not mess around.
Anyway, Abelard sensibly decided to devote his life to his studies after this and he and his followers moved to the area that soon became known as the Latin Quarter. Now everyone liked to come here to see the adorable winding streets, medieval churches, and official and mysterious plaques marking that something of historical significance happened here.
the approximately top five best things to see in the latin quarter
Late Afternoon: Le Pantheon
Address: Place du Pantheon
Price: 9 Euros
Le Pantheon used to be a church, but after the Revolution it was turned into a monument to Reason and Science. I had seen the exterior before but had never gone in to explore the building. I soon discovered that this was a mistake on my part because Le Pantheon has many delights for the modern tourist, most particularly the woman who works behind the ticket counter and the benches because she asked me if I was under 25 and an EU resident. If you are both, you get a discount to most museums/historic sites in Paris. I am neither, but thanks muchly for the compliment, Madame!
Aside from this charming woman, I also liked the fact that the Pantheon has many comfy benches on the first floor, so you can do as much sitting as you like.
Some of you may be looking for information with more historical relevance. Happy to oblige!
three fun facts about le pantheon
1) Lots of great Frenchmen (and a few women) have been interred at the Pantheon. Its primary function, in fact, is to honor the best and brightest that la France has to offer by offering a suitably splendid home for their remains. Famous internees include Rousseau and Voltaire, who are honored with giant, imposing tombs in the basement.
The amusing side effect of this goal is that once enough people decide that a person doesn’t deserve to be in the mausoleum anymore, they are summarily dismissed without even the benefit of a fair trial. This very punishment was inflicted on Marat, who was initially placed the Pantheon and then cruelly evicted later, one can only assume by someone twirling a mustache.
I really hate to break it to the people in charge of this sort of thing, but I can’t imagine that it upsets people very much to be moved to a new location after they are already dead. Maybe it would have been better to think of a suitable punishment when they were still around to be aware that the punishment was taking place.
2) Joan of Arc is my most favorite Frenchwoman because of her courage in battle and her pioneering efforts to popularize the chic bob hairstyle. I was surprised to find nothing about this blessed saint at the museum dedicated to the Middle Ages that I had visited earlier that day and yet here I was at the greatest temple to French secularism in the world and lo and behold I find four panels illustrating her life.
But now that I think about it, it makes total sense that there would be a tribute to her in the Pantheon. Whatever your thoughts about Mlle. d’Arc’s religious experiences may be, it is undeniable that she walloped the English on the field of combat and that is something that all French people can celebrate to this day.
3) Sadly this little golden ball is neither sporting tiny wings, nor will catching it give you 150 points towards your Quidditch win. Instead, it serves as a serious commentary on the omnipresence of the contemporary police state and the inextricable ties between sexuality, government, and power in the modern world–
My bad again, though this is called Foucault’s pendulum, it has nothing to do with Michel Foucault, well-known grad student fan-favorite and the author of Discipline and Punish. Rather, it is an experiment performed by an entirely different Foucault named Leon, who was a scientist determined to prove that the earth rotates instead of standing still. Apparently this little golden ball, which is attached to the roof of the Pantheon by an invisible string, proves that the earth rotates but I am not exactly sure how.
What I do know is that watching the ball move back and forth across the floor is mesmerizing and soothing. When I write The Lazy Person’s Guide to Paris I am going to recommend sitting in the Pantheon and watching Foucault’s Pendulum move as a highlight.
Early Evening: Jardin du Luxembourg
If watching Foucault’s Pendulum is a highlight of The Lazy Person’s Guide to Paris, the Jardin du Luxembourg is the absolute number one attraction. If you like looking at pretty things and sitting, this park will give you everything you have ever asked for and more.
This park has everything: statues of fancy French ladies
an abandoned unicorn who ran away from the Musee de Cluny
French poet Charles Baudelaire
and the Statue of Liberty!
So there’s really something for everyone!
Travelerette Treasure: There’s often free performance going on in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I randomly came across a piano concert in the middle of the park. But my favorite show to watch is the old French guys playing petanque, which is kind of like a French version of bocce. Just don’t take their picture! I think that’s kind of rude unless you ask permission, and they probably won’t take kindly to their game being interrupted for a photo request.
Travelerette Tip: If you haven’t gotten enough art during your stay in Paris, check out the free museum in the Jardin du Luxembourg called the Orangerie. When I was there, there was an exhibit of an artist named Alain Kramer who is a photographer with an unusual technique he refuses to explain. It’s hard for me to believe the above work is a photograph! Was it taken in a desert on the moon?
Address: 15 Rue Lamennais
Hours: Closed Weekends
Taillevent is a two-Michelin-starred Parisian legend. I remember hearing about it for the first time when I was about eleven and one of my teachers told me that she and her husband went to this restaurant for their anniversary. She made it sound so glamorous that I dreamed of going there someday. Even though the restaurant is out of my normal price range, I always save up my sheckles before I make a trip to Paris so that I can dine here.
I’m sure they can tell by my clothes and shoes that I’m not rolling in the green stuff, but they always treat me like a princess, and the sommelier usually sends over a free glass of wine or a cognac. Every meal at Taillevent starts with their amazing gougeres, which are light as air cheese puffs. I always have to stop myself from filling up on them because they are so scrumptious. But I have a whole tasting menu ahead of me!
I visited in the summertime, and so the amuse bouche was a perfectly seasonal gazpacho that tasted exactly like a tomato that was living its best life. My favorite thing about the food at Taillevent is that it is the epitome of the philosophy of classic French food: to choose the best ingredients and to prepare them simply so that the product can shine.
The first course was the classic Remoulade de Tourteau a l’Aneth, which is this stunning molded crab with dill with the perfect circle of radishes on top. I’m sure if Sebastian the crab knew he was going to be prepared into a dish like this, he wouldn’t have run away during “Les Poissons”.
The second appetizer was another dish that is usually on the menu: the Epeautre du Pays de Sault en Risotto, which is this magical spelt from Provence that is turned into a risotto-like dish. It is topped with those decadent morel mushrooms. As good as traditional risotto is, this is better because the Provencal spelt has so much more flavor than Arborio rice.
The meat course was this stunning duck breast. I just love the rich meaty taste of duck, and the sweet sauce perfectly complemented the powerful taste of the flavorful bird.
Taillevent has a cheese cart and a dedicated cheese waiter. This waiter is a certified Cheese Nerd, so I highly recommend just telling him what kind of cheese you like, and he will be able to pick out the right ones for you. I told him I like them stinky (though of course I said it in a much classier way than that), and so he gave me three powerful cheese, though each had a different age, texture, and flavor, so they ended up going together beautifully.
My favorite tradition at Taillevent is that there are always two desserts on the tasting menu. The first one was a kind of deconstructed tiramisu. Usually I don’t like tiramisu because the ladyfingers get so soggy with the coffee liqueur, so separating the dish into its component parts of cream, cookies, and coffee made so much sense to me. Also it is undoubtedly the prettiest tiramisu I have ever seen in my life.
This next dessert was just the pastry chef showing off. It was all kinds of different textures and tastes in one dish: cookies, meringue, bright green herb sorbet, vanilla ice cream…basically every time you took a bite it was like a 4th of July fireworks display in your mouth. Or since I am in France, I guess I should say it was a Bastille Day fireworks display in my mouth.
Finally came the mignardises. My favorite thing about these was that there was one in any flavor someone could want in a dessert: fruit, chocolate, nut, coconut. I’m sure no one could turn this plate away disappointed.
Travelerette Tip: Just let the sommelier pick the wines to go with each course. I think a half glass with each course is a good amount (and there won’t be a separate glass with the amuse bouche and mignardises normally). They always choose wines that are not too expensive for me without my having to ask, which I really appreciate!
And That’s How to Have a Perfect Day in Paris!
What would you do with one day in Paris? Do you think it makes sense to punish people who are already dead? And why is the Statue of Liberty in the Jardin du Luxembourg? Do the French want to take her back? Please leave your thoughts below!
My next travel goal is to visit all 50 states (and DC) in five years! If you want to contact me, I am available at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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