My husband and I just got back from eight days in Paris. The daughter of good friends married a Frenchman, and six of us went over for eight days to celebrate. It's the second time we've been to France, and it's been fun to brush up on high-school French, and to plan the trip, despite the unpropitious exchange rate. To economize, we stayed in a gritty suburb east of Paris called Noisy Le Grande for most of the week, and then moved to the beautiful medieval town of Pierrefonds northeast of Paris for the last two days, where the all-night wedding reception was held.
For the week up to the wedding, we took the metro into Paris each morning and walked around the 6th, 7th, and 8th neighborhoods, looking up in awe most of the time at the extraordinary architecture. Here are a few views from our walks:
St. Eustice Cathedral
Front door to private residence in the Seventh arrondisement (on Left Bank of Seine.) You can see why your eye is drawn continually upward (a little like swooning).
Public planting on Champs Elysee
One day we drove with friends to Versailles, but because it was school vacation, the lines into the Palace were too long. We turned away from the bumper-to-bumper traffic waiting to get into the parking lot, and drove out to a road on the periphery, where we discovered that we were passing by the gardens. The gates were open, and there were ample parking spots, so we walked in and enjoyed a beautiful afternoon exploring the garden. Some people were disappointed there weren't any flowers, but the geometry of the garden - wide green paths between columns of yellow-leaved Lyndon trees pruned to look like long trains of boxcars, with a misty far horizon like this one below at the end of the rectangular pool - was irresistible, pulling you forward to find out what's at the end. One path ended in a sheep-meadow, another a field of horses, another in a pond with a sculpture of Neptune overlooking his realm, and another in red-tiled rooves of distant chateaux.
Here is the medieval castle of Pierrefonds, the little village northeast of Paris where we stayed for the last two days of the trip. Built in 1393, the castle was bought by Napoleon early in the 19th century and refurbished by architect Viollet-le-Duc. The village had grown up around it, and the castle overshadows the village in a hovering, protective stance. It is full of defensive sculpture: gargoyles to scare away enemies, lizards that do double-duty as downspouts to empty water from the rooves and also to make you feel cold, wary, and edgy.
Pierrefonds B&B: Here's where we stayed the last two days, and where the wedding reception was held. It was a reward after the gritty town of Noisy Le Grande for the first five days of the trip. Rooms were big and beautiful, and there were trails through beautiful forests to a village of wonderful cafes and markets. In my dreams of the perfect retirement, this is a village I'd like to live for a year or so while I become more fluent in French.