Today (Friday, 14 July) was Bastille Day, a French national holiday. We had originally planned to be out of Paris before Bastille Day in order to avoid the crowds and any disturbances. As it happens we are here because Majella’s friend, Therese, is here with her husband, Chris, to celebrate her birthday (today) and we were invited to join them for the evening in an apartment with a view to the Eiffel Tower and the fireworks display.
That was reason enough to be here but Majella’s cautious plan had been to avoid public transport and walk to and from our touristic activities. In the end we decided to take the Metro so as not to exacerbate Majella’s malady. We were able to plot a course from a nearby station that ran to our destination across the river from Notre Dame cathedral without passing near the city where the parade would go down the Champs Elysée.
We must be settled in the local time zone because we woke without alarm at about 6:30 am. After coming back from breakfast of coffee and croissants at a local cafe we got organised and set off at about 9:00 am for our 10:00 am tour. We had a short walk from the nearest Metro station and after checking in with the tour operator had time for coffee at the cafe next door.
Our tour was Set in Paris, which Majella had selected from the Paris Pass package. It offered a 2 hour walking tour around a selection of sites that had been used as locations for movies. Our guide was a young man who had qualified as a criminal lawyer but found he could not deal with defending many of his clients and was now completing a masters degree in history. He was born in Paris but grew up in Nice before returning to Paris to work. He was enthusiastic, well informed, and equipped with a collection of photographs of the locations as they appeared in movies.
First stop along the way was a cafe used in The Devil Wears Prada and other movies. Evidently even in Paris there are some sites that are especially photogenic but, with many fims being shot each year despite the bureaucratic challenges of gaining permissions, almost all of Paris is a movie set.
We moved on from there past the oldest tree in Paris which has been used in multiple movies but leaned too far and now needs a concrete column for support. We saw a church that figured in a vampire movie and a jazz club which provided one of the cellars that stood in for the catacombs of Paris because they were regarded as too hazardous for permission to be granted. From there we walked by the Shakespeare and Company bookstore which has figured in multiple movies. It specialises in English books and has a 60 year tradition of offering free accommodation to visitors with conditions that include working in the store and writing an account of life in Paris.
Soon after we crossed the river to see Notre Dame cathedral we were treated to multiple fly pasts of military aircraft that were part of the parade down the Champs Elysée. There were 8 or more groups of different kinds of aricraft that flew by but the first was most impressive with the red, white and blue smoke streaming behind. All of us in our small tour group enjoyed the spectacle but the aircraft noise did make it hard for our guide.
On the forecourt of Notre Dame we had a brief recount of the history, especially how the popularity of Victor Hugo’s novel about the hunchback had averted a move to demolish and replace it. Instead it was restored and has featured in many movies since.
Across the road we explored the courtyard of the Hôtel Dieu, a hospital that featured in one of the Pink Panther movies. Each year it accepts just the best 100 of French medical students for specialist training and the incoming class is permitted to paint the statue in the courtyard. This year he is a matador but last year it was painted in Batman costume.
From there we walked through the Paris flower markets that have featured in movies but were listed for demolition. They were saved when Queen Elizabeth of England visited, talked with workers and later intervened with the French President.
We were surprised at our next stop to learn that the Madeline stories were little known in France but were a USA phenomenon. La Reserve de Quasimodo occupies the building owned by the author of Madeline who operated it as a restaurant. After he left for the USA it became a nightclub for a time to the consternation of US visitors who expected to find it as described in the books. It has since returned to being a restaurant.
Around the corner we saw the vine covered ‘house’ of the Madeline books. It is not a house but a restaurant, the Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole, which has operated on the site for 500 years. We we able to go in for a look at the upstairs dining area decorated in rich red.
Just a couple of doors down the street we stopped opposite the site historically occupied by the barber and butcher who provided the basis for the Sweeney Todd story. They lured foreign students, the barber slit their throats and the butcher prepared the meat for pies that had a unique flavour and were favoured by the king. They were discovered when a dog belonging to a murdered student followed its master and attracted attention to the scene of the crimes. The building was demolished and the ground salted to expunge traces and prevent future use. It is now the site of a police station and armed officers watched as we looked.
We made our way back to base via the rear of Notre Dame which has also figured in movies. Back at base we thanked the guide and bade farewell.
Majella had decided on lunch at La Reserve de Quasimodo because it was recommended by our guide for its French cuisine. On the way back we heard sounds of the parade and walked to the river bank where we saw the last of the mounted military troop past on the other side.
We had been seated in the restaurant just long enough to study the menu and place our orders when Peter and Dorothy, a US couple who had been on the tour with us arrived. We moved to join them and enjoyed conversation about our lives and travels. Majella and I shared a warm goats cheese salad for entree, she had veal and I had pork curry for mains, and we shared an apple sorbet laced with calvados for dessert, all lubricated with rose and red.
After lunch we walked back across the river and up to the Pantheon. It is a massive monumental building that commemorates some key figures in French history. It exudes a sense of civic religion but has quirky features like Foucault’s pendulum suspended from the top of the central dome.
We didn’t spend long there. We were tiring and needed to save energy for the evening, so we walked back down to the Metro and headed back to the hotel to rest, pack, and prepare.
Soon after 6:00 pm we packed up and headed off to join Therese and Chris in their rented apartment with unobstructed views to the Eiffel Tower. The streets were packed with people heading to the festivities and restaurants were doing great trade. We enjoyed champagne and gourmet treats with the sunset. When Chris went to open a magnum they had bought for the occasion he noticed that it was red wine which neither of them drinks. We had brought a bottle of the white we got at our wine tasting on Tuesday and agreed to exchange the red for the second bottle. I walked back to the hotel to fetch that.
Sunset was not until 9:50 pm and fireworks need dark so they were scheduled for 11:00 pm. We ate dinner and continued to enjoy the sunset in good company. The fireworks when they arrived were spectacular and lasted 30 minutes. I shot more than 100 photos but most are probably rubbish and it will take me some time to sort out any that are worth sharing.
We walked back to our hotel through crowds leaving the event. It was just after midnight when we hit the bed to get what sleep we could in preparation for an early start.