C. had never been to Paris, and my best friend from childhood is currently researching there for a term. (For her PhD in Middle Eastern history.) Of course we went to visit. A.S. met us at the Gare du Nord and saw us safely to our hotel. We'd hadn't booked the trip more than a week in advance, so our hotel selection was limited. Oddly enough, we stayed in a Scottish-themed hotel. The room was typical Parisian miniscule, but the elevators were by far the biggest I've seen in a Parisian hotel. That's not saying a great deal, but I was still impressed that we could fit in the elevator with our luggage and have a bit of room left over.
In the morning, after a pain au chocolat and drinks, we wandered over to Notre Dâme and joined the hordes filling up the cathedral's penumbrous interior after the requisite slew of exterior photographs. After a game of phone tag, we met back up with A. at the zero kilometer marker outside the cathedral, the point from which all distances in France to Paris are measured. I found it niftier than they did, I think. Because it was my favorite memory from a childhood trip to Paris, we then went over to Sainte-Chappelle, to see the glowing walls of glass, tendrils of stone providing all the support they require. There's such magic in that light. Someday, I'd like to spend several hours really looking at the imagery there - although I suspect that's even easier to do - and involves less neck ache - with various already-published books.
By now we were thinking of lunch, so we consulted the Chocolate & Zucchini guide to Parisian eateries I'd remembered to print out the previous day. Boulangépicerie caught our eye (although we seriously considered going to the cheeserie), and so off we went, exiting the Métro at the Arc de Triomphe for a little fly-by tourism. We spent the next hour walking back towards the city center and an appointment with a colleague of C.'s, stopping at the Maison du Chocolat for chocolate and candied chesnuts en route, before meeting on the steps of the Madeleine in a blaze of mid-afternoon sunlight. C.'s colleague took us to an old local café of his for drinks, although we abandonded the stylish sidewalk-side tables in favor of indoors when the one brief rainshower of the trip chose that opportunity to join us. Afterwards, he guided us to the Lafayette department store, which my guidebook and C&Z guide agreed was an excellent place to go high-end grocery shopping. Nearly all my souvenirs were edible.
We had dinner plans, but we also had plenty of time, so we all split up for a rest at our respective residences, before meeting back up for - C., A.S., and a friend of hers - for dinner at Roger de Bayreuth, a Lebannese restaurant. I don't know Lebannese food at all, but there were a number of real highlights to this meal which most of us ate tapas-style, including an aged cheese with thin deep-fried bread. Inspired by lemoulin's earlier Parisian exploits, C.and I started the meal with Kir royales.
The hotel thoughtfully left us a notice saying we should get up at 3 am to change our clocks back to 2 am. The French notice was written more appropriately in a passive voice.
The next morning, after C. and I wandered around the outside of the Panthéon for a while, A. met us at the Institut du monde arabe, for which I had seen a poster on the Métro the previous day. They were hosting an exhibit on the golden age of Arabian science, and really, how could I possibly turn down an exhibit of medieval Islamic science? We started with the building's architectural marvels - it was designed by Jean Nouvel, the Parisian architect of the moment. The southward facing outside wall is designed like a wooden screen protecting private quarters, but the appearance is deceptive, composed of a mulititude of metal plates which spiral in and out according to the intensity of the sunlight washing over the façade. We took the elevator up through corridors of glass to the roof terrance, which offers spectacular views of the city. (I have photographs!)
The exhibit itself was extraordinary for me. A good half of the exhibit objects were twelfth and thirteenth century manuscripts, most in Arabic, but some Latin translations. There were nine or so astrolabes, an orrery, automata, medical tools, ceramics, reasonably intelligent explanatory texts and maps. A. and I spent a while deciphering one of the maps, a view of the world reminiscent of Christian T-O maps, but - as A.'s Arabic skills revealed - with the Red Sea at the map's heart instead of the Mediterranean. Of course I bought the lavishly-illustrated catalog.
From there, we found lunch at a nearby bistro, since A.'s first choices of lunch locations were closed for Sunday. We decided we were all tired of walking everywhere, and made our way down through the botanical gardens (once the precincts of the Abbey of St. Victor!) to the touristic boat-bus. Eventually it arrived, crowded, and took us on a tour through the center of Paris and across to the Eiffel Tower, that requisite touristic destination. We didn't go up and we didn't stay. We walked back through the Champs de Mars, taking photos at regular intervals, and went on to our inadvertant stop at Gare Montparnasse with its high-speed moving walkways.
The afternoon grew late. It was early for dinner, but we hadn't had a French meal yet and our train wasn't until after 9, so we went to a brasserie near the hotel for a light meal - it was fine, nothing spectacular - and to collect our luggage. A. bid us farewell. (We can meet again soon in France or Syria or Turkey or New York!) And then we went to wait and wait for our train and eventually come home to sleep.
This was by far my most satisfying trip to Paris to date. It helped, I admit, that this was the first time I've had much real input into what my group of travellers was doing while there. Travel was generally unstressful, we ate well, saw a pleasing variety of sights, and met up with more than one friend. None of it was rushed. I came back with a lovely exhibition catalog, candied chesnuts, chocolate, macarons, bite-sized sausages, and Christmas presents.