After our semi-stressful Day One that involved waiting two hours to meet up and then five hours at a café to set up in our Air BnB, we dipped our toes in the water instead of jumping right in. It was such a relief to not have to coordinate meeting points or times. My brother had spent a few weeks studying in Germany. I’m not clear on the details but apparently he had washed his clothes in a bathtub and laid them out to dry before leaving Germany. They didn’t entirely air dry before he had to stuff them into his backpack so they acquired a nice mildewy smell on his journey. Our first destination?
We spent a few hours there which should seem like a complete waste of time but…it was kind of great! There is something special about doing quotidian things as if you were a local. The locals in the 5th arrondissement were incredibly friendly and helpful. We tried to let another patron (he looked like a student our age… well, I mean, my brother’s age!) and he was having trouble understanding us. I was embarrassed, thinking my French was really just that bad and it turned out he was also American and a student studying abroad (this part of Paris is near the Latin Quarter which has been a center for academia and student life since the middle ages).
While his laundry was drying, I insisted that we go somewhere to just get some coffee. I was tired but I just in general feel like the day can’t properly begin without coffee. We walked down the street to a bistro where sigh there was an espresso machine and a counter where you stand and drink coffee like a local.
Many Americans might be surprised to find that most coffee is served in a demitasse and is more akin to espresso than our typical brewed coffee (café americain). The French version basically comes in two variants in most places: café and café au lait (where the barista leaves a bit of room and the cream comes in a small stainless steel bell creamer). The exception is Starbucks where there is slightly more variation depending upon where you go. The small shops at the train stations were confined mostly to espresso, café au lait, and caffe Americano (this may have changed since 2015) but you have the choice of lait écrimé (skim milk) or lait entier (whole milk).
But I digress because this isn’t an entry about my favorite thing.
So we got our coffee, finished up the laundry and folded it up and put it back in David’s backpack, and walked down Rue Monge…
…to our first planned touristy destination, Arènes de Lutèce. Arènes de Lutèce was discovered by accident when in the 1860s, the area was being excavated for the construction of a bus stop (it was a horse-drawn “Omnibus” situation). Victor Hugo was actually involved in restoring the arena to become a public square. The arena was originally constructed during the Gallo-Roman era in the first century AD for public entertainment (yep, gladiators) and could seat thousands of people.
Arènes de Lutèce
Address: 47 Rue Monge
Métro ligne and stop: to Cardinal Lemoine
Pictured you can see men playing pétanque, a game similar to the Italian bocce. The arena is a nice, open public place that allows for lots of nice warm sunshine on clear days. It’s a great place for lounging, pétanque, or picnicking on the steps.
Continuing in the theme of ancient Gallo-Roman history, my brother and I next went to a place that I was unable to see during my high school trip: the thermes de Cluny. These are the ruins of an ancient thermal bathhouse from about the 3rd century AD. The ruins are both outside of and incorporated into Musée National du Moyen-Âge.
Musée National du Moyen-Âge (formerly Musée de Cluny)
Address: 6 Place Paul-Painleve
(South of Blvd St. Germain)
Hours: 9h15-17h45 Wednesdays-Mondays (ie. Closed on Tuesdays)
Cost: Free the 1st Sunday of the month, otherwise 9€
*Free for children younger than 18 and for European students 18-25 years but honestly, I think they gave the discount to my brother with his student ID
Métro ligne and stop: to Cluny-Lasorbonne
The museum hosts six famous handwoven tapestries known as La Dame à la licorne, or the Lady and the Unicorn. These tapestries were commissioned by a wealthy aristocrat around the 16th century and are thought to be symbolic of the 5 senses but the intended symbolism is debated.
I am so glad to have been able to go to the museum after 11 years of wondering (the day we happened to be in the area in high school, the museum was closed). It didn’t appear to be as popular or visited as some of the more common tourist destinations (Louvre and Versailles, namely). There were other visitors including a school group (which was a bonus for me because I was able to listen in on some of the history) but mostly it was very low-key and quiet. It is entirely dependent upon your interests, but I am always awestruck at medieval or earlier artifacts and architecture because it is incredible to think that something I am looking at was looked at by someone so long ago and might have inspired the same feelings I had at that moment– a link through history. We take for granted the things we can now accomplish (and not even with relative ease) with our technology and increased life spans when there are so many amazing historical artifacts that are beautiful and complex but were created with limited means and resources.
Later that day, we attempted to go to Picpus Cemetery but got a little lost on the way and were unable to visit with enough time remaining. The silver lining is that we were able to locate the cemetery so we could make it there the next day. Since we were in the area, we spent time at Place de la Nation where the guillotine was set-up during the Reign of Terror.
You can go back to the first post the chronicles travel details and our first day in Paris here or go ahead to the next post about our visit to Ile de la Cite and Montmartre here. Or if you prefer, you can check out some more of my photos on Instagram from this trip using my hashtag #honeybisesparis.