Monday, September 12, 2011

Hospitalisés à Paris - Dad's 60th Birthday

Over the summer my parents made a big move - rivalling their exodus from northern Ontario to Toronto in their early twenties - for my Dad to accept a music ministry position with the World Council of Churches, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.  After months of planning, including renting out the house where I grew up and shutting down their telephone number (!) they moved to Geneva in mid July.  They were just in time to take a quick weekend off from the new job (ha ha!) to meet David and I in Paris, where we all celebrated my Dad's 60th birthday together.

David and I took an eeeearly train from London to Paris (via the aforementioned Chunnel - love it!!), shivering in the cold morning air of late JULY as we walked from the bus to St. Pancras International train station.  We arrived in Paris just before lunchtime, and had the afternoon on our own before my parents' arrival later that afternoon.  We happily undertook the walk from Gare du Nord to our hotel - get this - right by Notre Dame de Paris, stopping on our way for a croissant and a pain au chocolat - so tasty!!

We stopped here to eat our croissants.  Ahh!
I couldn't resist taking a picture of this, and remembered getting to hear Franz Liszt's music in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig!  What an amazing year!
David wayfinding.
Our wanderings brought us past the Centre Pompidou, which I first saw on my trip to Paris with the Kopuli when I was 19.  There was some kind of incredible omelette smell coming from a nearby café, but we resisted temptation because we had such big culinary plans for later in the day.  It did smell good though - grilled peppers or something.

As we approached the hotel we crossed the Seine - ah, Paris!  We got very lucky with the weather because rain had been forecast but the sky was beautiful and the temperature perfect.  We took in the Paris-Plage setup, where they card in sand and giant beach chairs and water misters, and people get a chance to enjoy the "beach" right there along the Seine.  Cute!

After that, thanks to David's wayfinding (and my Mom's dealfinding) skills we had no trouble finding the Hôtel Dieu, where we would be staying for the weekend.  So, it's actually a hospital, which used to be a monastery, and because of the tradition of the tradition of monastic communities being centres of hospitality as well as healing, they've retained this little suite of hotel rooms tucked way away on the top floor in one corner of the hospital.  You can stay there for a good price - really good for the centre of Paris, the location is unbelievable - and it's a nice spot to rest your head.  Plus it's hilarious, you're staying in a hospital.  The running joke was "Oh yes it's Andrew's sixtieth birthday and we're afraid the excitement will be too much for him so we're staying at a hospital."  Hah.

Our hotel / hospital.  Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Beautiful vaulted hallway on the ground floor of the hospital.

Pretty garden courtyard in the hospital!

How do you get to the sixth floor?  Can't find it... oh well this is a pretty view.
I can't find the hotel rooms, but this guy's handsome, let me take his picture.
We eventually found the hotel area, after the elevator left us off on the fourth floor and we had to walk up two flights of very employee-only-looking stairs to get to the sixth floor.  Though the rooms weren't ready, the kind staff let David and I leave our backpacks off with them while we explored the city for the day.  I even did well using my French to speak to the concierge.

The view from the skylight - what did I say, location, location, location!
Freed of our backpacks, we set off on our sightseeing adventure.  We literally crossed the street and this is what we saw!

Seeing Notre Dame again so strongly brought me back to my first trip to Paris in 2003.  Notre Dame had been really high on my list of must-sees and I think it was basically the first thing we did on the first day we arrived - those Kopuli are so good to me.  It was one of the most famous sites I'd ever seen in my life up until then, so you can imagine it made an impact on me.  It's just so beautiful!  Seeing it again, though, it was so interesting to find it looking more low and squat than I remembered - if a cathedral can possibly look low and squat!  I think it's because now I've seen other similar churches that are taller (St. Paul's being pretty high on that list).  Oh, I'm so worldly, Notre Dame looks small.  Ha ha!  

David an I were so excited to be in Paris together again, still having adventures together, about eight years and one wedding later.  He's my travelling companion!

We darted around to the park at the back of the cathedral, another spot I remember loving from our first trip. 

Ahh, time for a quick sit!
The clouds began to threaten a little but we still struck out on our walk.  We took a good long stroll down along the Seine, enjoying the Paris-Plage goings-on and all the beautiful buildings of Paris.

Fabulous sand castle project going on at the plage!

The Louvre

Me in the Louvre courtyard!

We found a little grocer a couple of blocks south of the Seine and bought a simple lunch - goat's cheese, prosciutto and fruit.  Then we popped into a boulangerie and bought a big baguette and some little cream puffs for dessert.  We brought our treasures with us to the beautiful Jardin des Tuileries, which is dotted with green metal chairs for the public to relax on, and ate our lunch and soaked up the sunshine.  I could have sat there forever.

We sat, dozed and people-watched for a good long time, and kept saying we couldn't believe how lucky we were with the weather, when rain had been forecast for much of the weekend.  Some of these metal chairs that they leave out for people are even shaped to recline in - ahhhh.

Where to now, travel buddy?

We continued our nice walk along the Seine, gradually making our way back to the hotel.  We got back there with time to have a bit of a rest before meeting my parents, whose train arrived around 3pm.

With David's transit instructions, they had no trouble finding the hotel, and we had a very joyful reunion across from Notre Dame.  It was the exact day of my Dad's birthday - I couldn't believe we were all there in Paris together.  When I think about it, if you have told me ten years ago on my Dad's fiftieth birthday (it's ten years since he got his lute!) that we would be in Paris together for his sixtieth, I would have thought "WOW, we're going to take a huge family trip to Paris together [i.e., from Toronto!] to celebrate Dad in Paris, what a big trip!"  I never would have imagined David and I would have been living in London, and be able to hop on the train and be in Paris in two hours, to meet my parents fresh from Geneva.  What an amazing life this is.  I'm grateful every day for these experiences.

We wasted no time in getting the party started.  After settling my parents in their room (the hotel people had kindly put David's and my stuff in our room once it was ready!) we gathered for birthday presents.  These were punctuated with my parents' stream-of-consciousness stories from their first week or so in Geneva, including starting the flat hunt, getting set up at the WCC, braving Swiss beaurocracy, trying to figure out how to get their laundry done (harder than it sounds) and my Dad's experiences in Jamaica and Armenia as part of his new position.

One of Dad's gifts - marmalade from London.
We spent a good long time opening gifts and cards, sharing stories, and saying things like "can you believe we're in Paris together?"

After that, we got dressed and went out for birthday dinner at a suitably Parisian hour.

What fun!
David did a ton of research and chose the restaurant for Dad's birthday dinner.  We walked from the Hôtel Dieu to the edge of the Quartier Latin to Le Petit Prince, which came highly recommended by the online community.

We had an amazing meal - good choice, David.  My appetizer was Verrine de roquefort aux noisettes en crumble de fruits secs - a soft Roquefort cheese dish, almost like a parfait, with a sweet crumble and dried fruit on top that you ate with crusty bread.  Delicious!  David had Poelée d'escargots et pousse d'ortie, jus d'herbe corsé - escargots with a very interesting and tasty herb compote, kind of like a wheatgrass compote.  For my main course I had the special which came highly recommended by the server, a fish filet (Cod?  I can't remember, but a white fish) with a thai-inspired peanut dressing accompanied by very French creamy potatoes.  David had a very interesting lamb dish garnished with watermelon coulis - made all the more interesting by the fact that he was sure he'd ordered the duck confit.  My Dad the birthday boy treated himself to Minute de bœuf sauce poivre - filet of beef with peppercorn sauce.  Doesn't it all sound so much better in French??

We all enjoyed noticing the French-language turn of phrase " son..." when describing a dish; as in "Noix de Saint-Jacques en persillade et son millefeuille de légumes," meaning "such-and-such with a side of such-and-such, but roughly translating to "something with its something else."  We decided it was like the main dish has a sidekick; roast chicken, and its sidekick, scalloped potatoes!

We enjoyed a carafe of wine and each other's company very much, and fêted Dad the very best we could.

Mom's dessert - Tarte Tatin aux pommes "maison", glace caramel au beurre salé 
My dessert (my favourite) - Crème brûlée au carambar

You can't tell, but we're in front of Notre Dame!

The next day we set out on our big site-seeing day.  We really only had one day all together in Paris, so we did want to take advantage of it.  We started out on a walk similar to what David and I had done the day before, along the Seine.

The Paris hôtel de ville
So, which picturesque sidewalk cafe do you want to stop at?
We ate breakfast in the outdoor area of a cafe that looked across a plaza to the Centre Pompidou.  We had a nice slow start to the day and took in the passersby.  Mom and I poked around a street shop and bought pashminas that we both like very much.

Nearby the Centre Pompidou


Part of the Paris-Plage along the Seine.
Back toward the Louvre!
Me and my Mommy.
After a nice long walk we arrived at the Musée d'Orsay, which we had decided was a must-see for our brief trip.  This is the large collection of Impressionist paintings, which tons of people have told me is their favourite thing about Paris.  What I hadn't known is that the museum is housed in a former rail station - WOW, so gorgeous.

Statue outside the museum.

Of course there was no photography inside, and actually it was an interesting experience of the museum because large parts of it are under construction and the collection was jammed into a relatively small number of rooms.  Still amazing, though - hugely famous works by Monet, Renoir, Dégas et al.  Mom and I were particularly taken with a pastel portrait of a woman with a creamy, wispy dress and a great eggplant-coloured hat; we were sad when there were no prints of it in the shop.  I was also taken with a hugely ornamental clock, which would have been the station clock, in the grand hall.  I could have sworn I took a picture of it, but now I don't have one, so I think it's just the picture in my mind.

After that we hopped on the Métro to make our way back to the hotel.  After a brief rest, we got ourselves ready for our evening's activities - mass at Notre Dame and another nice dinner right nearby.

The mass was a hubbub of tourist activity.  Once we got inside Notre Dame, the front two thirds of the congregation was already full.  We were jostled around by fellow tourists who continued talking and shuffling as the procession and mass began.  I tried to stifle my urge to clutch at my pearls amid what felt like a very unliturgical din - they continued to allow tourists to stream around the outer part of the sanctuary as the service progressed.  We tried to sing along with the responses, but we didn't know them and the music wasn't printed - they needed a Catholic worship enlivener!  We enjoyed it nonetheless and I was even able to follow most of the sermon.  When we came to a long part of singing that I couldn't follow, I just enjoyed staring up at the vaulted ceiling - wow.  After the service we wandered up to the front to have a look at the alter, but after a couple of minutes a low, booming voice - God?? - announced that the cathedral was closing and all visitors should make their way to the exits.  The mass had been almost completely full - what a great chance to experience worship in the heart of Paris.

After that, we still had some time until our dinner reservation, so we walked down a ways away from Notre Dame and our hotel, and stood on one of the bridges across the Seine visiting and taking in the scenery.  Seinery?

Wearing the pashmina I bought.

Je t'aime - nous voici à Paris!
Happy birthday plus one, Dad!

Our evening meal was at Au Bougnat, which is actually very close to Notre Dame.  It was the runner-up for Dad's birthday dinner, and David and I decided to make a reservation there for the second evening so that we wouldn't be searching around for a restaurant with an available table.  We are so glad we decided to do this - the restaurant was great!  It had a wonderful atmosphere and the food was delicious.  We had unbelievable smoked salmon as an appetizer, which was very rare, almost like sashimi.  My main dish was Filet de canard à la plancha, étuvé de navets ronds au thym et laurier - a completely delicious duck filet, and its sidekick, steamed turnip with thyme and laurel.  David chose the unbelievably delicious Pavé de colin en croute d'herbes, riz arborio comme une paella et coulis de crustacés - hake filet with an herb crust, YUM, and a creamy rice paella.  We all agreed David had done very well with the restaurant selection.  

We had hugs all around before going to bed, and David and I headed back to London the next day.  What an amazing time, seeing each other in Paris!  I hope I will be back soon, but I'm not sure any visit could top such a wonderful time with family.  Plus I need a bit of time to work off all the cream sauce.

Mon cher papa,
c'est à ton tour
de te laisser parler d'amour.

Joyeux soixantième, papa!

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