The Arc de Triomphe is the home of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the arch has been the symbol of various military defeats and victories throughout France's history since Napoleon. Especially in World Wars I and II, victorious armies marched (or goose-stepped) under the arch as Parisians looked on.
It is also home to Place de l'Etoile (now Place Charles de Gaulle), Paris's largest traffic roundabout, with twelve spokes and an undetermined number of lanes. (Wikipedia says eight, but there are no markers and traffic pretty much just drives around as it pleases.) The roundabout amused Rob greatly, and he was very thankful that he didn't have to drive around it. It seems that we should be grateful, too - insurance companies have special clauses written into their policies if drivers are bold enough to attempt this traffic circle.
The arch is also home to many, many tourists, one of whom told me to get out of his picture. Argh!
The Arc de Triomphe is a couple hundred steps to the top, and at this point, you might be noticing a theme in our journey: lots of steps. But the 360-degree view of Paris is worth it.
After descending the arch, we walked down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, one of the spokes coming out of the arch and also Paris's most famous avenue. We checked out some very expensive clothes, as well as some Swatches, and then decided to head to lunch, where we did:
The Ina Garten Tour of St-Germain
Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while (or have ever cooked with me) probably are aware of my deep admiration for Ina Garten, a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. As such, I thumbed through Barefoot in Paris, her French cookbook that has a list of fabulous restaurants and shops to visit in Paris. So, of course, I marked some shops on a list and we made a pilgrimage for lunch.
First to visit was La Maison du Chocolat in St-Germain - and yes, you franglish speakers identified this shop's name as "House of Chocolate." Ohhhh baby.
Diane and I drooled at the amazing collection, and we bought a pack of chocolate truffles, some raspberry truffles, a cinnamon truffle, and a banana-chocolate truffle. Holy lord, I cannot emphasize how good this shop smelled, or how amazing the chocolate is. The banana-chocolate was my favorite.
This epic chocolate shop has locations all around Paris, as well as some around the world. Let's just say that the next time I'm in New York, I'll be sniffing one out.
Next stop was La Grande Epicierie de Paris, a vast collection of specialty foods, including shelf goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, deli cheeses and meats, and a variety of baked goods that will make you drool intensely.
And I really mean this shop is vast - the shop was overwhelming to all of us, but we somehow managed to pick out a selection of delicious foods for lunch. Dave and I got a spinach & salmon tart, a goat cheese veggie tart, and a block of chevre rolled in green pepper. The others got similar tarts and some fresh fruit.
I desperately wanted to buy more wondrous things, but I knew we should buy light, considering we were flying back the next day.
Last stop on the Ina train: Poilâne, one of Paris's most celebrated bakeries.
The shop is most famous for its delicious sourdough bread, so I got about half a loaf, as well as some cute apple tarts. Unfortunately I had an embarrassing run-in with the staff when I tried to grab and wrap my own bread, but we got it sorted out. (Thank goodness Ina wasn't there to see!)
After we got all our goodies, we were ready to return to the real world and eat lunch in the Jardins du Luxembourg: the Luxembourg gardens.
On our way to the gardens, we stopped at St-Sulpice, a serene church where some action in the Da Vinci Code occurred. The church seems displeased at this and has some placards explaining the errors in the book. Whoops! Still, the church is worth a visit, as it is full of light and contains a really interesting solstice marker on the floor.
Then we arrived at the Luxembourg gardens. As is typical of Paris's public parks, the Luxembourg gardens are a beautiful and quiet respite from the hustling streets outside. We parked on a bench and ate our food, and Mike and Rob fell asleep (again).
The Luxembourg gardens are also home to a lovely Italian-style grotto, as well as the French Senate, which sits in the Palais du Luxembourg. We enjoyed walking along the winding paths and watching the police kick French teenagers off the lawns.
After soaking up the gardens, we walked back to our hotel through St-Germain and the Latin Quarter, and Diane and I got some fun jewelry at a store that basically seemed like the European equivalent of Claire's. I got some cute peacock hair clips, some earrings, and a jeweled ring.
The group split up to do some last-minute shopping and to change for dinner. Outside La Maison du Chocolat, I made phone reservations at a nice, traditional French restaurant recommended by Let's Go: Les Noces de Jeannette. So Dave and I went back to our hotel to change, but not before we had one last gelato on the Ile St-Louis.
Throughout the Paris portion of this story, I have forgotten to mention that we habitually visited various locations of Amorino, a delicious Italian gelato stand that creates beautiful cones of gelato that look like flowers. This is the one I got on the last day, lemon and strawberry:
After we were all changed and pretty, we walked over to Les Noces de Jeannette. We were all really excited for a multi-course French dinner, and Jeannette did not let us down.
We ordered kirs all around, as well as a bottle of white wine, and we each got an appetizer, a main course, and dessert. Some of the boys tried snails in their appetizers, and I was very proud of their bravery. I had a salad with smoked duck, chicken cutlets in a mushroom sauce, and a raspberry cake thingie for dessert.
This last day was really hard to choose pictures for, because we did (and ate!) so many great things. It was a good way to say goodbye to Paris.