Europe 14 - Day 4
We were up reasonably early (judged by Parisian standards) and had a very nice breakfast at the hotel - fresh croissants and pastries, fresh fruit, coffee etc. Then we walked across the road to the Seine and headed downriver towards the Eiffel Tower. On the way we passed numerous bridges, the Place de la Concorde, L'Hôtel des Invalides and finally Le Tour Eiffel, where the queues were rather long. So we went back to our Hotel and found a local cafe for a drink and then another for dinner.
Despite the St Michel area being well regarded it is a tourist trap where the bars compete for the worst service (they nearly all win without any effort required) and cafes seem to compete for the lowest common denominator - the cheapest meal possible. There are good restaurants and we found two but on L'Ile de la Cité NOT in St Michel. So read on to learn a little more about the range of cafes and the worst bars in the world.
St Michel to Place de la Concorde
It was a lovely clear warm(ish) morning as we headed along the Rive Gauche. Not many people about, even though it was after 9 am. They are not early risers in this part of the world. In view of the lovely warm morning and the clear air they don't know what they are missing. And I suppose if they did, they would all get up and ruin it for us.
There are many styles of architecture to be seen, but all are ornate. The bridges too, are excessively decorated. Even the most plain of them is now covered in thousands of brass padlocks (with the corresponding keys in the river below). One section of this bridge broke away and fell onto the road a few days after our visit, overburdened by all the brass.
Pont Alexandre II
From Place de la Concorde we walked towards the Arch de Triomphe along the tree-lined Champs Elysées until we reached Avenue Winston Churchill. There are great bronze statues of Clemenseau (a famous French General) and Winston Churchill, who is still revered by many in France. Here we turned left and crossed the Pont Alexandre III, an ornately decorated bridge that took us to L'Hotel des Invalides.
Hôtel des Invalides and the Tomb of Napoleon
Des Invalides was once a hospital for wounded French soldiers but today it is a vast military museum, covering armour and armaments from the Middle Ages to the early 20th Century. The building also houses the tomb of Napoleon, his relatives and successors and other famous military figures.
Part of Des Invalides is a military museum, which houses a wonderful collection of military equipment. Here a re a few photos to provide some indication of the scale.
Bars and Cafes - the good and bad of Paris
Be warned. Many of the French waiters in Paris are not there to serve you. After all, they became free and equal to other French (but not foreigners because you were not part of the Revolution). As a result, they do not "serve", which implies some form of "servitude". This is especially obvious in the bars and cafes with the best views closest to the tourist areas. We had the experience of the bars close to the river on Rue St Michel. Plenty of tables, plenty of arrogant, self-important little men strutting around, but can you get a table, or worse, order a drink - what on earth were you thinking?
All I can do is quote from Tom's Guide to Paris in which he explains this problem exactly:
OK, I thought a long time before I put this in, but I decided since you're probably going to end up on St Michel anyway, you might as well know which café to go to. It's Le Départ, at the very beginning of the boulevard, right by the river (1, place St Michel). It's big and sprawling, and there's almost nothing to recommend it. But if you go, you'll be rewarded by two things: a very, very good scene passing by in front of you; and sometimes you'll get a truly interesting waiter - but only sometimes. Generally speaking, though, the service here is actually pretty appalling, and you can wait 15 minutes sometimes before a waiter will bother to look at you. Do not eat here (unless it's a croissant at breakfast). Not even ice cream. But it's a very good place to nurse a drink (once you actually get it). One day if the service gets a little less hostile I might change my mind about this.
But they are not all like that. Some are worse. The area behind Rue St Michel backs onto the Sorbonne, full of tourists and students where the streets are full of people and cheap cafes. You should be instantly suspicious when a restaurant in the centre of Paris has to announce it serves "authentic, traditional French cuisine" - after all, what else would you expect in Paris. To understand what you can get, see the photos below.
There are islands (more like little atolls) of hope in this sea of dispair. We were well looked after in a small bar/cafe almost across the road from the Masters of Gallic Arrogance, (aka Le Départ - the name being quite apposite) at a place named Rive Gauche. We had a tolerable meal at a cafe nearby, and we had the best dining on our whole holiday just a few minutes walk across the bridge at Cafe Paul and Ma Salle a Manger on Place Dauphine.
Last updated: 18/08/2014