Friday, June 13, 2014

From modest Sacre Coeur to opulent Versailles

Day 9 (Tues, 10 June 2014)

Our last day in Paris and we had another full itinerary planned. First, we made our way to Montmartre for our breakfast destination - Coquelicot!

A short walk from Abbesses Metro station, this very French bakery bakes its own traditional French pastries everyday. Baguettes, brioches, croissants, etc.

Apart from the bakery, they also serve hot breakfasts. One of its specialty drinks is the hot chocolate in a bowl. That's one humungous bowl! The hot chocolate is better than the coffee. For some strange reason, I can't seem to find good coffee in Paris.

We ordered the croque monsieur, which is two thick slices of bread with ham and a truckload of cheese in between, grilled to perfection. The king of grilled ham and cheese sandwich! I ordered it once at Tiong Bahru Bakery and it was a sorry imitation of the real stuff.

This one was full of gooey, cheesy goodness in every bite. And only €4.50 (about S$7.60)! We're finding food in Paris to be very affordable, especially in comparison with London. You can frequently get prie fixe (2 or 3-course set menus) at brasseries from as low as €10, especially for lunch.

Andre had the croque madame, which is the croque monsieur topped with a sunny side-up egg.

We sat outside, enjoying the bracing fresh air.

After breakfast, we set off for Sacre Coeur, a Roman Catholic basilica that sits on top of Montmartre. You can walk up the steps or take the funicular.

Sacre Coeur sits on the highest point of Paris.

Admission is free, unless you want to climb up the dome. It's small compared to Notre Dame but like most cathedrals in Paris, it's exquisite inside.

We couldn't take as many pictures outside as we wanted to as it was raining in earnest. There are gargoyles outside the building and with the rain, it looked like they were drooling. Lol!

We walked around the back of the cathedral to Place du Tertre, where artists hang out. At one time, Montmartre was the centre of modern art. Picasso used to live here when he was penniless. Today, it's a tourist area so it's more commercial and word has it that the real artists can't afford to be here. Ah well. There are still plenty of amateur artist hopefuls. Cobbled stones and narrow winding paths, interspersed with cafes. Quaint and pretty place. If you have time, you can sit outside a cafe and people watch while sipping your cafe au lait.

We had booked a half-day trip to the Chateau of Versailles, so we took the Metro to Pyramides station where our meeting place was.

20km southwest of Paris, Versailles was created in the 17th century by King Louis XIV.

It seemed like half of Paris was at Versailles on this cold, wet day. The past few days in Paris were dry and hot, so we weren't quite prepared. Andre was in a dry-fit t-shirt and bermudas, and froze in the 18 degree weather.

We were glad to go inside. The interior of Versailles is eye-popping. Imagine the most opulent display of wealth and pomp you can think of, and multiply that by 1,000. Every room was designed with majestic architectural forms and furniture, as well as dressed with paintings on the walls and ceilings.

This is the famous Hall of Mirrors which served as a ballroom and where King Louis hosted major events.

This was King Louis XIV's bed. It was made from embroidered gold and wasn't too comfortable so he couldn't even sleep in it. Go figure.

This was Queen Antoinette's bed. Queen Marie Antoinette, by the way, lived in such luxury that she was oblivious to the poverty of the people. When told that the people had no bread, she famously uttered "Let them eat cake." The people were not having any of that and revolted. She was eventually publicly beheaded.

The Versailles gardens are of equal magnificence to the palace. They've been mostly kept unchanged from King Louis' time. Thankfully, when we came out, the rain had retreated and bright sunshine greeted us. What a blessing!

We were told that there was a musical fountain show in the gardens that afternoon and we imagined it to be something like the Sentosa musical fountain. However, 3.30pm rolled by and we didn't see any show. After a while, it dawned on us - the show was basically the fountains being turned on! Classical music was being piped throughout the gardens.

By 4pm, the fountains were turned off, which diminished the grandeur of the pools somewhat.

Not to take anything away from Versailles, the gardens are truly gorgeous. Definitely well-worth a visit.

We had had a long day and upon returning to Paris, we took the Metro back to Gare du Nord and went to the restaurant we'd wanted to have dinner at a couple of days ago. It's La Brasserie Le Bouquet du Nord and this time, it was open. Hurray! Online reviews say that it serves great homestyle French cooking.

Incidentally, Gare du Nord area is in the 10th arrondissement which has become a hip place with independent cafes popping up every other week. We ordered four steak-frites (steak and fries, a French classic). Grilled in Bearnaise sauce and pan-fried in pepper sauce.

All were delicious. If you don't like the charred bits on grilled steak, go for the pepper steak. The bread Paris restaurants serve with the meal is from a baguette and it's unbelievably delicious. Crusty on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside.

A satisfying end to a fabulous Parisien holiday.

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